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July, 2006:

Guest post: Ana Hernandez

Renewal of the Voting Rights Act

In 1975, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was extended to Texas for repeated violations of the Act with regards to the rights of Mexican-American voters. Texas is required to provide election observers in 18 counties, and bilingual assistance in Harris County. Very seldom are such observers present, nor is bilingual assistance always available. Since the Voting Rights Act was last reauthorized in 1982, Mississippi is the only state that has received more reports of violations than Texas (120 to 107, respectively). The Census Bureau reported that in 2002 there were over 800,000 limited English proficient Spanish speaking voters in Texas, and that in Harris County alone there were over 17,000 limited English proficient Vietnamese speaking citizens of voting age. The Department of Justice recently confirmed that there is widespread noncompliance in Harris County with regulations regarding the availability of voter registration forms, official ballots, provisional ballots and written voting instructions in Spanish and Vietnamese. In 2003, the Harris County Clerk failed to ensure that the eSlate ballots were available in Vietnamese, and only at a few polling places were Vietnamese translations of sample ballots available. Since 2003, voter turnout among Vietnamese-Americans has doubled, no doubt playing a role in the election of my colleague, Hubert Vo, in 2004. Were all election laws properly monitored and enforced, just think how many more Latinos and Asian-Americans would vote, and how many more candidates that they chose would be given an opportunity to represent them in our courts, city councils, school boards, at the Legislature, and in Washington, D.C.

The VRA has served to demonstrate the idiosyncrasies of Texas law. Surprising to some, Texas is either the only state or one of a handful of states in the nation to have unreasonable restrictions on voters. These laws include prohibitions on same day registration, onerous identification requirements for voters who misplace their registration cards, allowing biased selection of early voting locations, allowing the moving of polling places without notice, and permitting the unavailability of ballots and election materials in other languages. A review of the effect of these laws in Texas, most particularly Harris County, would make one think we lived in the Deep South in Jim Crow days.

Now that the Voting Rights Act has been extended to 2032, let’s get to work passing laws during the upcoming Legislative Session in January to make Texas polls more accessible to all voters.

Ana Hernandez
State Representative
House District 143

Interview with David Harris

I had the chance recently to sit down and talk with David Harris recently. He’s yet another of the fine crop of Democratic challengers we have lined up for Congressional elections this year. Here’s the interview:

Link for the MP3 file is here.

Previous interviews:

Gary BinderimInterview
Glenn MelanconInterview
Jim HenleyInterview
David HarrisInterview
Ted AnkrumInterview
Shane SklarInterview
John CourageInterview
Nick LampsonInterview
Mary Beth HarrellInterview
Hank GilbertInterview
Joe FariasInterview
Harriet MillerInterview
Ellen CohenInterview

RIP, Monopoly money?

This is wrong on more levels than I can articulate.

While Monopoly is the paragon of good ‘ole fashioned board game fun, the “old fashioned” part had to go. Parker Brothers is phasing out the cash-based version’s funmoney and replacing it with an “Electronic Banking” flavor that could leave Mr. Moneybags turning his pockets inside out as his stash is replaced by a magnetic strip. New kits are completely devoid of the famous multi-colored bills; instead, you’ll find phoney Visa debit cards and a calculator / reader which keeps a running tabulation of your riches — or lack thereof. A deal was struck with Visa to design the mock cards and readers, presumably after surveys showed that 70% of adults used cash less often now than they did a decade ago (no surprise there). When asked about the dramatic change, Parker said replacing cash with plastic “showed the game was moving with the times.”

Yet another cultural metaphor of my youth going down the tubes. Is nothing sacred?

Via Fighting Jay Lee (none more surly than he), who notes that the old-fogey cash-enabled game will still be available “while supplies last”. Get ’em while you can, kids.

KBH and the Wright Amendment

Did you hear about the effort by Senator Hutchison to broker a deal in the battle over the Wright Amendment that ran afoul of the Justice Department?

The agency’s antitrust division told lawmakers restrictions in the local agreement to repeal the Wright Amendment in eight years “would be hard-core, per se violations of the Sherman Act,” according to a copy of the memo obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

The agency’s concerns refer to an agreement among Texas officials to eventually repeal the so-called Wright Amendment and legislation sponsored by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, containing the agreement.


The Justice Department said the gates to be torn down could be used by other airlines to enter and compete there. Razing them “is the very kind of collusive output reduction that the antitrust laws are designed to prevent.”

The department said the parties to the local agreement are aware of the antitrust violations because they have sought blanket immunity for the agreement, instead of including an “antitrust savings clause,” which the agency said is commonly done to preserve competition under antitrust laws.

Oops. Gotta watch those details. Stephen Yellin has more.

A product whose time has come

I have four words for you: Beer flavored potato chips.

Inventor Brett Stern can hear the cries echoing through stadiums and arenas across the land: “Get yer ice-cold beer!” And, more germane to his current project, “Get yer fresh Beer Chips here!”

Beer Chips are his invention, and you can try your first packet today at the 19th annual Oregon Brewers Festival, which runs through Sunday at Tom McCall Waterfront Park. It’ll attract as many as 80,000 beer fans, making it the perfect place to introduce Beer Chips, which are thick, kettle-style potato chips that are sweet, salty and subtly flavored with real beer — with the alcohol removed, so they’re legal for all ages.

(If that sounds like an unlikely taste sensation, you should’ve been at the story meeting this week where I passed around one of the prototype bags of chips. The legend is that journalists love food, and the freer, the better. But that doesn’t explain the feeding frenzy that erupted and soon had me scuttling back to my desk for another bag to share. “Be sure and save some for the photo!” one of the graphic designers yelled.)

If you’re like me, right about now you’re slapping your forehead and saying “I can’t believe no one thought of this before.” That’s pretty much how this came about.

When he realized that no one had thought to make a potato chip flavored with beer, he checked the name Beer Chips and the domain He found both were available, a situation he soon changed. “I thought, ‘Great! Now I’m in business! And I’m not sure what a Beer Chip is yet.’ ”

Truly, we live in a wondrous age.

River Oaks Theater update

Via Houstonist, the effort to keep the River Oaks Theater from being demolished has gotten a lot of traction.

In less than a week, an online petition sponsored by the Web site has attracted more than 13,700 signers.

At Historic Houston’s Web site, more than 4,000 individuals have registered to receive e-mail updates about the River Oaks Shopping Center and the Landmark River Oaks Theatre.

City Councilwoman Ada Edwards, whose District D includes the shopping center, said more than 100 letters and e-mail messages have flooded into her office — none of them form letters. She and other council members hope to persuade Houston-based Weingarten Realty Investors to change its plans.

“We’re going to fight to find a balance between historic preservation and development,” Edwards said.

Such issues haven’t gotten much traction in Houston, where preservation laws are among the weakest in the country and residents have often watched passively as old buildings are torn down for new development.

“I haven’t seen anything like it in the years I’ve been here,” said David Bush, spokesman for the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, which set off the furor last week when it named three art-deco landmarks to its Endangered Buildings List: the River Oaks Shopping Center, the Landmark River Oaks Theatre and the Bookstop in the former Alabama Theater.

I don’t usually think much of online petitions, but anything that’s gotten this many signatures for an entirely local issue is worth noticing. Here’s the petition if you want to join in. Calling your City Council member probably wouldn’t hurt, either. Metroblogging Houston has more.

Guest post: Carol Alvarado

It’s time to call the “debate” over the Houston Police Department’s policy concerning illegal immigrants for what it is. Unfortunately anyone who believes this so-called debate, fueled by a group that calls itself “Protect Our Citizens,” has anything at all to do with the police or immigration is going to be disappointed.

On the surface, what members of this organization want is for the voters of Houston to authorize a change in police policy that would, in effect, require all Houstonians to prove their citizenship whenever they are ordered to do so by the police. They don’t advertise it that way, of course. They describe it as a means of enabling the police to become more aggressive in identifying illegal immigrants in our midst.

Designed to appeal to a narrow slice of our city’s voting population, this petition drive and possible referendum is built on the assumption that the people inclined to vote for it won’t ever be affected by the policy change because they “look like Americans.” Those who will be affected by it and will be forced to “show their papers” to the police don’t matter because they aren’t the target of this ugly effort at voter outreach.

The goal is not to make our city safe from the supposed scourge of illegal immigration, nor is to help the police solve crime. The goal is to increase turnout at the polls among this thin slice of voters – turnout that supporters calculate will benefit one political party over another.

I like to call this scapegoat politics. In scapegoat politics, you designate a certain group of people as somehow inherently evil and responsible for all the ills facing society. You then persuade your targeted voters that they must rush to the polls to support a ballot item that will eliminate this scourge and, while they’re at it, vote for certain candidates who are on the right side of this pressing issue.

In 2005, Republicans did this with the Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage in Texas. To this day I do not believe the Republican leadership gives one whit about gays who might wish to enter into legally binding monogamous relationships but by scapegoating monogamous gays they were able to persuade numerous conservative voters to come to the polls who might otherwise have stayed home.

This year, in Houston, the scourge of the moment is the illegal immigrant. And, let’s be honest, it’s not the illegal Canadian or British or French immigrant. It’s the illegal Latino immigrant (the one that doesn’t sufficiently “look” American). There is no need to have a real debate about the issues facing our community when you can persuade people that our crime and our economic challenges are all a result of our tolerance of this evil group and if we just get tough on them our city will, once again, be the land of milk and honey.

For evidence of just how cynical this is I need only to look to my immediate left when I am sitting at the City Council table. There sits an elected city council member who has long been either neutral or even somewhat sympathetic to the city’s immigrant population. Suddenly, she is one of the most ferocious supporters of this petition drive. It is merely a coincidence, she says, that her position radically changed at the same time that she was launching a bid for Congress the success of which requires the support of the very same people who will be inspired by this anti-Latino anti-immigrant effort.

Ironically, a victory for “Protect Our Citizens” would be a defeat for public safety. The police often desperately need the cooperation of the general public in their hunt for suspected criminals. If members of a certain segment of the general public know they are going to be forced to prove their citizenship every time they encounter a police officer, that cooperation is going to dry up. Those who are not citizens won’t cooperate because cooperation will mean possible imprisonment and deportation. Those who are citizens but don’t “look American” enough are also going to be less likely to cooperate because of the indignity of being forced to prove their bona fides due, solely, to their skin color or accent.

With less cooperation, our police officers will have a tougher time protecting all of us. In other words, the citizens who stand to be protected the most from the efforts of “Protect Our Citizens” will be criminals.

Illegal immigration is a serious issue facing the United States, but it is a federal issue. The Houston Police Department policy of assisting federal officials while not actively engaging in enforcing federal immigration rules is a healthy and balanced one. It enables them to work with all who live here to protect Houston, and it provides the federal government with sufficient support.

Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe our community should be engaged on the issue of illegal immigration and members of the community from all perspectives should be working together to discuss and debate it. But that is not the debate we have today. Instead, we have a group with a name that suggests a desire to protect us and make our city safer but whose actions will do nothing more than divide us and make it more dangerous.

Carol Alvarado
Member, Houston City Council
District I

(Note: A Chronicle story from Tuesday on the kickoff event for can be found here, and a report from event attendee Toni Medellin is here.)

A TTC four-pack

Did you know that there’s a bunch od hearings about the Trans Texas Corridor going on around the state? No? Well, it’s not getting that much play in the big city papers, mostly because all the action with the TTC, at least in the near term, is going on in the rural parts of the state. And they’re none too happy about it. Eye on Williamson has been following the news about the hearings closely. His latest about them:

The Startlegram, The TTC & Conspiracy

Report From Last Night’s TTC Meeting In Georgetown

More On The TTC Hearings

My Impressions From A TTC Hearing

There’s more over at BOR, too. One thing you’ll note in all this is how several downballot Democratic candidates have been showing up at a lot of these meetings, making some headway in areas that haven’t been too friendly with Dems lately. Hank Gilbert, the candidate for Ag Commish, has particularly been a force at these events. How successful will this strategy be? It’s too early to say, but you can be sure that Todd Staples will not be in attendance at any of these things. So who knows?

UPDATE: One more report from EoW. Also, via the comments, here’s a link to some video.

Gone fishin’

Well, not exactly, because I don’t fish. But I do take a break now and then, and now is the time. We’ve got a bunch of extended-family activities going on over the next week and a half, so I’ll be mostly away from the keyboard between now and next Saturday. I’ve got one or two things of my own drafted for publication during this time, and the usual cast of guest stars is in the wings to do a little standing in for me as their schedules permit. This time, I’ve also solicited some guest input from a number of local elected officials and candidates, and I will publish their efforts while I’m slacking off as well. Each of these will have a title that begins with “Guest Post”, so you’ll know who wrote them even though my name will still appear in the permalink at the bottom. This is because it was easier to ask them to send me a document than it was to create a bunch of new author accounts and show them how to use Movable Type.

Anyway. I’ll be back to my regular schedule a week from Monday. In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy what all the fine guest contributors have to offer.

Yates verdict reactions

I’m running short on time here, so I’ll just point you to this story and this story about reactions to the Andrea Yates verdict. My own extended thoughts are here.

More briefs in the DeLay replacement lawsuit

The Chron tells us what we already knew about the three-judge federal panel from the Fifth Circuit that will hear the appeal of Judge Sam Sparks’ ruling in the DeLay ballot replacement lawsuit. They also note some new amicus briefs that have been filed.

13 current and former Democratic legislators who passed the election law in 1983 filed a friend-of-the-court brief saying the Legislature did not want to make it easy for political parties to change nominees in mid-election.

The brief said the law was passed to prevent both political parties from “engaging in gamesmanship in the conduct of elections.” It said both parties had engaged in “abuses” of candidate swapping.

In the 1980 primary season, eight candidates declined their party nominations and were replaced. In the next election, 10 candidates did the same.

Both parties used stalking-horse candidates. If they thought the other party nominee could be defeated, their nominee would withdraw and be replaced with a stronger candidate.

“The Legislature intended that the voters’ choice be respected and preserved, regardless of political considerations,” said the brief as written by attorney Susan Hays of Dallas.

Vince has the brief (PDF) plus an extensive set of excerpts from it. I think this will be a pretty persuasive document. Read it for yourself and see what you think.

As for the other brief:

One of the prospective candidates who wants to replace DeLay on the ballot, Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace, also filed a friend-of-the-court brief.

Wallace’s brief argues that the Texas Democratic Party is trying to have an interest in “choosing its opponent, a notion inimical to the foundations of our democracy.”

Wallace said Benkiser was following a procedure for replacing an ineligible candidate, not adopting new, unconstitutional standards of eligibility.

“It would undoubtedly cause voter confusion and frustrate the democratic process to force DeLay to remain on the ballot given the conclusive evidence that he will not be a resident of Texas upon election day,” said Wallace’s brief, by attorney Andrius Kontrimas of Houston.

According to Juanita, Kontrimas is Wallace’s campaign treasurer, and he’s asking to have his services on this brief counted as pro bono work. Dave’s quite a guy, isn’t he?

The Press on the Cohen-Wong race

The Houston Press devotes a big portion of this week’s news hole to a story on the HD134 matchup between Ellen Cohen and Martha Wong. It’s got some good anecdotes, and is certainly more than we’ve seen elsewhere in the papers on this race, but I need to do a little nitpicking. For instance:

Wong’s vulnerability is emblematic of a Republican Party that is increasingly divided and struggling to support a consistent message. A schism in the party is being led by Carole “One Tough Grandma” Strayhorn in her independent bid for governor against Republican Rick Perry. Strayhorn has given voice to a more moderate wing of the party concerned with a lack of progress in education and health care. Few observers believe Perry will lose — he has the support of conservative rural voters — but his close allies in more moderate districts might get caught in the crossfire.

While it is true that “few observers” think Rick Perry is in electoral danger despite his tepid poll numbers, he’s got some issues with rural voters right now thanks to widespread opposition there to the Trans Texas Corridor. And besides that, much of Perry’s strength, like the Republican Party in general, has been in the more populous suburbs – think counties like Montgomery, Collin, and Denton.

That wasn’t so bad. This was:

Wong doesn’t deny that her district is socially moderate, but it’s unclear whether she possesses enough armor in Austin to cast moderate votes and get away with it. If she had voted against her party, she likely would have found herself in the shoes of Carter Casteel (Republican, New Braunfels), a moderate who faced retaliation from Republican bosses in this year’s primary and was ousted. Of course, now she faces Cohen. “Martha is just the tip of the iceberg on this,” Stein says. He thinks if enforced conservative voting patterns persist, many more Republicans in major cities, such as the suburban Houston reps Peggy Hamric and Joe Nixon, will also become vulnerable to moderate Democrats.

I’m pretty sure Bob Stein is aware that neither Hamric nor Nixon is on the ballot this year, as both stepped down in an unsuccessful attempt to win the GOP nomination for SD07. I’m therefore going to assign the blame for that to the author, since Stein wasn’t quoted directly here. It would have been fair to say that their districts will (or at least may) become vulnerable to moderate Democrats, but who knows what the 2011 redistricting will do.

Not the author’s fault:

Citing another reason why he’s not concerned about the race, [Harris County GOP Chair Jared] Woodfill points to Wong’s 2002 campaign against State Representative Debra Danburg. Ousted from her Montrose stronghold by Republican-led redistricting, Danburg ran against Wong on the wind of support from many of the same groups that are now supporting Cohen. Danburg “had way more name ID than Ellen Cohen and a lot more money at the time,” Woodfill says. “The Democrats were saying that Martha was vulnerable to Danburg — and she beat Danburg soundly. So what’s changed? They’ve got a weaker candidate that has less money.”

Oh, Jared. Wong got 53.1% of the vote in a district that was over 61% Republican in 2002. She was lifted to victory by that year’s GOP tide. A win this year would be much more impressive, since she isn’t going to have that kind of wind at her back.

And for what it’s worth, some of us think Danburg ran a crappy campaign in 2002. In fact, such sentiments were voiced in the very pages of the Houston Press back in the day. Ask around and see how many people who are familiar with Ellen Cohen would call her a weaker candidate.

Anyway. Read it, and go listen to my interview with Ellen Cohen when you’re done.

No Olympics for Houston again

I had a post drafted last night about this story concerning the US Olympic Committee’s intent to trim two potential host cities from its list of 2016 hopefuls, but other events overtook my ability to finish and post it in time. Just as well, because as with the 2012 Games, we lost. We may be in line for a consolation prize, however.

Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco were named as finalists for a potential U.S. bid for the 2016 Games. Houston and Philadelphia, the remaining candidates, “will step to the sidelines at this time,” USOC board chairman Peter Ueberroth said during a news conference at a Denver airport hotel.

The USOC has plans, however, for its sidelined suitors. USOC chief executive officer Jim Scherr will visit Houston later this year to discuss Houston’s potential to bid for 2008 U.S. Olympic trials and world championships in 2009 and beyond, and Houston businessman George DeMontrond III floated the possibility that Houston will bid for the 2011 Pan American Games.

“We need to work on our international appeal, and the way to do that is to aggressively go after events to host so that we can show off the city in an international sports context,” said DeMontrond, who chaired Houston’s 2012 bid and helped coordinate the 2016 bid along with Mayor Bill White and Astros owner Drayton McLane.

“The Pan Am Games are out there for 2011 (after Rio de Janeiro beat San Antonio for the right to host the 2007 games), and it’s a major multi-sport event. I haven’t put a pencil to the economics, but it’s an intriguing possibility.”

I think either the Olympic Trials or the Pan Am Games would be about as good for Houston from an exposure and economic perspective, without all of the baggage that the full-blown Olympics brings with it. I’m guessing they cost a lot less to prep for. So even though I’ve been rooting for Houston in this, count me as un-brokenhearted by this development.

Houston’s elimination hinged on the fact that, based on the USOC’s survey of 58 members of the International Olympic Committee and 42 leaders of international sports federations, it lags badly behind Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco as a perceived center for international sports.

“Even though Houston is a great international city and highly respected, it’s not that well known as the other cities (among international sports leaders) as the cities that are going forward,” Scherr said. “That’s a critical factor.”

That perception, Ueberroth said, was enough to sink Houston as a 2016 candidate despite strengths in several areas, topped by the leadership of White and Harris County Judge Bob Eckels, who met with USOC officials in May in Houston and in June in San Diego to discuss the city’s bid.

“They (White and Eckels) were spectacular. They were in a class by themselves in terms of administration,” Ueberroth said. “They were just so far ahead of any other city, it wasn’t close. … If that were the only criteria, they (Houston) would have won.”

Can’t say I’m surprised by that.

Last open house on the Universities line

Last night was the final open house by Metro on the route for the Universities line. I don’t think anybody expected a consensus would be reached, but at least the pro-Richmond forces were acknowledged.

Supporters of a Richmond line stated their case at City Council on Tuesday and also at a Metro board meeting last Thursday.

About 150 people representing both sides of the issue mingled Tuesday night at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church downtown, where Metro displayed large, aerial photos and maps of its proposed routes as it had at previous sessions.

Opponents contend that voters approved a rail line on Westpark and not Richmond, where they say it would be disruptive.

“Everyone who wants it doesn’t live or work on Richmond, and they don’t have a stake in it,” said Daphne Scarborough, who owns a business just east of Shepherd on Richmond.

Much of the most vocal opposition to the Richmond rail has come from the Afton Oaks neighborhood that borders Richmond just inside the West Loop. But Scarborough said at the St. Paul’s meeting that a poll of 204 business owners and residents on Richmond from Main Street to Shepherd showed 200 of them oppose the Richmond line. “They say the only ones who don’t want rail on Richmond is Afton Oaks, but that’s wrong,” she said.

Tom Valega, a property owner in the Sunset Terrace/Montclair Subdivision south of Westpark said, however, that Metro can pick up more riders on Richmond, and it must show ridership to get federal funding.


At a public comment session of Houston City Council on Tuesday, architect Doug Childers, chairman of, said about 1,000 residents had signed petitions in favor of the Richmond rail.

He previously had presented the petitions at the Metro board meeting Thursday, saying he represented “hundreds of residents, businesses and organizations who want neighborhood-friendly light rail on Richmond.”

No mention of any reaction to that statement by city officials, but that’s the way it goes.

Metro spokesman George Smalley said Metro staff is expected to decide by Aug. 8 what route it will recommend to the board. No date has been set for a board vote.

And that’s when the real fun will begin. Stay tuned.

Yates “not guilty by reason of insanity”

Andrea Yates has been found not guilty by reason of insanity in her retrial.

The verdict upholding Yates’ insanity defense comes after the jury deliberated more than 12 hours and spent two nights sequestered at an area hotel . Yates appeared shocked and sat staring wide-eyed with her lips slightly parted as State District Judge Belinda Hill asked each juror individually whether they agreed with the verdict.

The acquittal in Yates’ second capital murder trial follows nearly a month’s worth of exhaustive testimony, capped by four hours of emotional closing arguments Monday, during which Yates broke down in tears and her former husband, Russell Yates, abruptly left the courtroom.

The jury’s verdict means Yates, 42, will be sent to a state mental hospital for treatment, rather than be sentenced to life in prison.

Shortly before 10:30 this morning, the jury sent a note requesting exhibits showing a family portrait and a photo of the children before their deaths.

Over the past two days, the jury appeared to focus on medical expert testimony from both prosecution and defense witnesses.

Tuesday, they asked to see video tapes mental-health experts made of their interviews with Yates after the killings as well as testimony from Park Dietz, a prosecution expert witness, about Yates’ statements regarding Satan’s presence.

It is unknown how long Yates will be hospitalized, but she will be subject to periodic reviews by state District Judge Belinda Hill’s court.

To answer the question currently on the Chron homepage, I say yes, justice has been served. Judging from today’s letters to the editor, I’d also say that’s what most people in Houston would say as well. May Andrea Yates now finally get the help she so desperately needs.

UPDATE: I have more thoughts on this at Kuff’s World.

Richard Garcia’s web ad

Now this is nicely done:

Other formats: YouTube | WMV

I can’t think of a good reason why any candidate, at any level, wouldn’t want to try something like this. All you need is a digital video recorder, some editing software, and the ability to create a YouTube account. Get on board now, while it’s still a relative novelty, and you may even get yourself some free media to go along with it.

Oh, and look for in a web browser near you. Your move, Orlando.

UPDATE: For whatever the reason, the embedded video works fine for me in Firefox, but not in IE. Those of you using IE should try the YouTube link, which does work in IE. Sorry about that.

Jim Henley fundraiser tomorrow

Tomorrow is the big fundraiser for Jim Henley:

Jim Henley Fundraiser and Film Screening


The Hunting of the President with special guest Susan McDougal

Thursday, July 27, 2006

7:00 PM at River Oaks Theater

Ticket Prices: Reserved $100
Preferred $50 / General $25 / Students $10

Reserved tickets receive special seating and entry into a private reception with Susan McDougal at La Griglia following the film.

For tickets click here or call 713-527-0234

Susan McDougal, in case you didn’t know, is Henley’s sister. Tickets will be available at the door. You can listen to my interview with Henley here.

Deliberations in the Yates trial

The jury in the retrial of Andrea Yates has completed its second day of deliberations, and they have asked to review some evidence while they come to their decision.

Earlier today they asked to see a slide presentation compiled by Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution, saying Yates knew the killings were wrong and killed her children for selfish motive, not to help them.

They also asked to see a video tape Dr. Phillip Resnick made of his interview with Yates after the killings. Resnick testified Yates was mentally ill and believed she had to drown the children to save them from eternal damnation.

The jury deliberated about two and half hours Monday following closing arguments.

I think Dr. Welner’s testimony was a reach, but if the jury is impressed by it, that will be bad for Yates.

This jury has already deliberated a lot longer than the first one did.

The jury has already deliberated more than 11 hours in two days, trying to decide if Yates is guilty of capital murder for drowning her children or not guilty by reason of insanity. That’s more than three times as long as a previous jury deliberated before convicting Yates during her first trial four years ago.

The panel of 12 appeared tired and weary as they walked back in the courtroom before state District Judge Belinda Hill excused them for the night. They were sequestered for a second night at a hotel.

The jurors had indicated they might be close to reaching a verdict when they sent out a note about 5:30 p.m. asking that they be allowed to continue deliberating for another hour. But they reconsidered – and quickly sent a follow-up message.

“Rescind the last request. We need some sleep,” the jury’s final note stated, prompting everyone in the courtroom to laugh when Hill read it aloud.

We’ll see if they were close or not. If there’s not a verdict by lunch, this could take a while.

Galveston Judge Susan Criss, who famously presided over the Robet Durst trial, has some comments on the jury’s task as a guestblogger at Grits for Breakfast. Check it out.

Three times for Ciro?

Will Ciro Rodriguez run again for Congress? Depending on what map is ultimately adopted by the court, the answer is Yes, according to Aaron Pena.

Returned a call from former Congressman Ciro Rodriguez who wanted to inform me of his interest in the redistricting process. He wanted it to be known that he was actively preparing for a run for Congress if a certain district developed between the San Antonio and Deep South Texas regions. This campaign would happen if a particular map was selected by the federal three judge panel. I asked if he wanted this kept confidential. He responded that he wanted as many people to know of his interest. So there it is …

Vince has more. Let’s just say that as much as I like Ciro, I’ll be a little gunshy a third time around, at least until I see who his opposition is and what his fundraising looks like. And who knows what may happen in the event of another round of appeals.

A twofer on Strayhorn

Couple of news items of interest regarding everyone’s favorite political chameleon, Carole Keeton Strayhorn. First, a little backscratching on taxes.

In early June, a lawyer and an accountant who represent businesses challenging taxes collected by state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s office met with a legal adviser to Strayhorn. By month’s end, the visitors and their colleagues had given more than $400,000 to Strayhorn’s gubernatorial campaign – 13 percent of the $3 million she raised from January through June.

Strayhorn’s office said Monday that there was nothing inappropriate about the confab initiated by an Austin lawyer and a Dallas tax consultant. Aides said talk focused on drafting plans for rules implementing the business tax created by lawmakers in a spring special session.

“It was kind of an innocuous meeting,” said Tim Mashburn, the agency’s general counsel, who hosted the visitors. “I have an open-door policy. Anyone who calls and comes by is going to get to talk to me.”

Mashburn said there was no mention of campaign donations. “Absolutely not.”

He was echoed by Jesse Ancira, associate deputy comptroller, who said he reminds agency directors at weekly meetings about the wall between politics and government. “I would hope that (mention) would never occur,” Ancira said.

Democrat Chris Bell’s campaign, which learned of the meeting through documents it received after an open records request, disagreed, saying the meeting and donations raise questions about possible political abuses of the office responsible for collecting state taxes and determining refunds.

Last September, the State Auditor’s Office reported that more than 750 taxpayers received $461 million in tax credits and refunds from the comptroller’s office less than a year after they or their representatives donated to Strayhorn’s campaign.

Auditors said they were not implying wrongdoing by anyone, though they recommended that lawmakers prohibit contributions to the comptroller or comptroller candidates from a person or group, such as a law practice or an accounting firm, that represents taxpayers before the office.

Bell spokesman Jason Stanford said Monday: “Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right. You shouldn’t take money from people you regulate. It’s unethical.”

This is a continuation of an old story, but a little reminder never hurts. It may well be that meeting in question was innocuous, and it may well be that every one of those tax credits and refunds were wholly legit. It’s also the case that any reasonable person looking at the plain facts will naturally be suspicious of the whole thing. The State Auditor’s recommendation here may be a bit broad, but it’s better than the status quo.

Meanwhile, Strayhorn paused her cuddle-up-to-Democrats strategy for a moment to curry favor with a rightwing group that’s filed a lawsuit over a constitutional cap on state spending.

Strayhorn had been named as a defendant by Edd Hendee, executive director of Citizens Lowering Our Unfair Texas, which filed the lawsuit in June. But in a court filing last week, Strayhorn said she wanted to be aligned with CLOUT.

She said she “welcomes and urges” a review of the issues presented in the lawsuit, which is pending in state district court in Travis County.

Hendee is asking the court to enforce a provision in the Texas Constitution that limits the state budget from growing more than the state’s economy.


Hendee said he is “heartened” by Strayhorn’s response and said he wished the other officials would join her lead.

“I question why a private citizen should have to go to court to see that the constitution is followed,” he said.

They’re having a hoot with this one over at Lone Star Times. I’m perfectly happy for Strayhorn to make her pitch to the disgruntled conservative faction (though judging by the comments there, she’s got a ways to go to convince some of them she really means what she’s saying). Hell, I wish she’d do more of it – maybe we’ll finally get some tangible evidence that Rick Perry’s base is actually going to retailiate against him for the school finance bills. (One wonders what Dan Patrick will say to these folks – will he give them the Kinky treatment?) I’m just going to say that any politician who tries to make nice with Edd “Tom DeLay’s BFF” Hendee is someone all Democrats should be very wary of.

Anyway. LST has all the lawsuit info – the original filing, the state’s response, and Strayhorn’s response (all PDFs). I tried to find the state’s brief, but no one at the Attorney General’s office had a clue where I could find it – the closest I got to an answer was a suggestion to check the court’s website. Of course, they couldn’t tell me what court to look for. Way to keep the public informed, Greg Abbott!

Again with the east end of the Universities line

More feedback to Metro about the eastern portion of the Universities line, whose route may include Wheeler Avenue through the Texas Southern University campus.

Dozens gathered around aerial maps at the Third Ward Multi-Service Center, which outlined the proposed paths of its University corridor rail line. Many were focused upon the plan to build a rail line from Wheeler to Scott, which requires reopening a portion of Wheeler on TSU’s campus that was closed in 1984 and converted to a pedestrian mall, now known as “Tiger Walk.”

“Wheeler was closed because students kept getting hit by cars,” explained Gabrielle Green-del Bosque, a TSU student. “Students would have to cross the rail line to get to classes and I’m not too thrilled to have to wait on a train.”


“The train line will destroy the sense of community that the closure of the street has generated inside the campus,” TSU’s acting president Bobby L. Wilson wrote in a letter to Metro President and CEO Frank Wilson. He also cited safety, noise and interference of ongoing campuswide renovation and landscaping projects as other reasons for the opposition.

The issues being raised are perfectly valid, and all viable alternatives should be given full consideration. I’m not quite sure what Ms. Green-del Bosque means by “having to wait on the train”. This isn’t a mile-long freight train we’re talking about, it’s a compact light rail train. I’ve sat at the crossing at Greenbriar and Braeswood many a time, and we’re talking 30 seconds or so, the duration of a red light. Of all the possible objections, I’d file that one way down the list.

Minister Robert Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam’s southwest region and a TSU graduate, said a rail line would be beneficial to the Third Ward neighborhood, but he favors Alabama or Elgin as alternate routes rather than cutting through his alma mater.

“It would be disruptive going down the heart of the campus,” he said.

But, he clarified, residents are willing to compromise rather than miss out on the economic boon light rail would bring to the community.

Metro can’t ask for more than that from the community. Let’s hope what gets proposed is ultimately acceptable to the majority. There’s another open house on the Universities line tonight from 5 to 8 PM at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 5501 South Main Street.

Meanwhile, the pro-Richmond forces are preparing to take their voice to City Hall this afternoon. From a press release:

We invited Houstonians to speak out for Rail on Richmond. In less than 4 weeks more than 1000 citizens have signed our petition declaring their support for neighborhood friendly rail on Richmond.

We promised to make their voices heard. We are going to City Council on Tuesday with petitions in hand.

Houston City Council Pop-Off Session
Tuesday, July 25, 2006 at 2:00 pm
City Hall, 901 Bagby @ Walker

I look forward to hearing what kind of reception they got.

Finally, Blue Bayou has a nice long riff on the Richmond controversy. Check it out.

“The problem we all live with”

Great story in today’s Chron about Lucille Bridges, the mother of Ruby Bridges, better known as the little girl in Norman Rockwell’s powerful and iconic painting The Problem We All Live With. Mrs. Bridges is now living in Houston after having been evacuated from New Orleans during Hurricans Katrina, and she got to see the original Rockwell painting for the first time at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, where it’s currently on loan.

When she was growing up, Lucille Bridges said, she wanted to go to school so bad that she’d cry. But her family share-cropped in Tylertown, Miss., and school was a luxury tasted only after the crops were in. Even that education stopped after eighth grade.

She wanted a better life for her children, so she and her husband, Abon Bridges, moved to New Orleans. He worked at a service station. She cleaned houses and worked nights in a chicken factory.

When the NAACP recruited black families willing to integrate white schools, Lucille argued with Abon until he agreed to sign on. Of 135 black children who took the school system’s entrance test, only six passed. The school board found grounds to reject one; one chose not to go; and three went to another school.

Only Ruby Bridges went to Frantz.

Lucille Bridges says she told her daughter only that she’d be going to a new school and that some people wouldn’t want her there. Ruby didn’t understand why the marshals were picking her up, or why the neighborhood joined to buy her new clothes.

The marshals arrived in three cars. Mother and daughter rode in the middle one, protected on both ends.

Roughly 400 angry whites stood outside Frantz. They threw eggs and screamed threats. The girl didn’t realize the mob had anything to do with her. She thought maybe it was Mardi Gras.

Her mother, though, understood why the marshals unbuttoned their suit jackets. She knew they wanted easy access to their guns.

The marshals escorted them from the cars, up the stairs, and into the principal’s office. Ruby spent the day scribbling in her tablet and talking to the marshals.

Throughout the day, white parents withdrew their children from the school. By the end of the day, almost all the pupils were gone.

After the marshals escorted Lucille and Ruby Bridges home, they stationed cars at the ends of the Bridges’ block. Lucille noticed that they were armed with machine guns.

The situation grew uglier still. The next day, 5,000 segregationists marched through the streets of New Orleans.

One of only a handful of children left at Frantz, Ruby was literally in a class by herself. A new teacher, fresh from Boston, agreed to teach her.

Abon Bridges’ boss fired him after he refused to remove his daughter from the school. The NAACP told him to go straight home, where he’d be safe.

But even there, the phone rang all night with anonymous threats.

Abon Bridges wanted to give up, to take Ruby out of the school. His wife insisted that she stay.

The NAACP found him a new job. But it was a year before the marshals thought it safe to leave the family’s home unguarded.

Over time, the Bridges family faded into obscurity. Children trickled back into Frantz, and Ruby Bridges became the first member of her family to graduate from high school – an integrated one. She became a travel agent, got married and had four sons.

I love happy endings. God bless you, Lucille and Ruby Bridges.

Leora Kahn Q&A

Continuing with my series of Q&As with local judicial candidates, today I bring you Leora T. Kahn.

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

I am Leora T. Kahn, the Democratic Candidate for Justice, Fourteenth Court of Appeals, Place 6. I am running in ten counties, including Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington.

2. What kinds of cases does this Court hear?

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals hears the appeals of both civil and criminal cases from county and district courts in the ten counties above. The appeals from the county and district courts include, for example, DWI, serious felonies, child custody, divorce, probate, and personal injury, to name just a few.

3. What are your qualifications for this position?

I have been a trial and appellate attorney in the area of criminal law for approximately 15 years. Since my admission to the Texas State Bar, I have tried many cases before juries and have authored numerous appellate briefs, including five death penalty appeals. I have presented oral arguments before both Texas Courts of Appeals and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, respectively. I have been admitted to practice in all courts of the State, the Federal Southern District of Texas, the Fifth Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court.

My experience as both a trial and appellate attorney has provided me with a firm grasp and understanding of the rules and procedures of trials and appeals.

4. Why are you the better candidate for this position?

I bring with my candidacy for the bench, years of experience as a lawyer, community volunteer and counselor, medical social worker, wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, hospital worker and clerk. I bring to this position a unique understanding of the impact of the Court of Appeals’ decisions on the lives of the people before it as well as the community-at-large. I have always loved the law and the practice of law. This passion has manifested itself into a desire to become a justice.

My background has enabled me to develop a vision for the future of the Court of Appeals as a “safety net” for all people. Thus, I will work to ensure unfettered access to the Court for all. Additionally, as justice, I will restore the independence of the judicial branch.

5. Why is this race one we should care about?

The decisions made by the justices on the Courts of Appeals impact everyone! Their interpretations of laws affect each of us directly or indirectly by telling each of us what we must do or refrain from doing in our business, educational, social, familial and professional lives. Appellate court decisions shape every facet of life in Texas as we know it. For example, personal privacy including the ability of individuals to make personal life choices; quality of goods and products and the duty of sellers and service providers to guarantee their products and services; rights of citizens to be free from unlawful searches, seizures and interrogations; duty of parents to protect and care for children; access to public education and polling booths; duty of hospitals to care for the critically ill; duty of landlords to ensure the safety of residents.

Texas needs justices who will ensure unfettered access to the courts, fair and impartial review of issues and causes on appeal, honest interpretation and application of the law, and independence to act as the safety net for all citizens.

6. What else do we need to know?

I serve on the Boards of the Susan G. Komen Cancer Foundation – Race for the Cure, Houston; the Anti-Defamation League Southwest Region; and Congregation Beth Israel (Board of Trustees). I am an active member and supporter of R.O.A.D. Women (River Oaks Area Democrats), Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas, Jewish Federation of Houston, Hadassah Medical Hospital and Research Foundation, National Council of Jewish Women, and I am a sustaining member of the Harris County Democratic Party.

I graduated with honors from South Texas College of Law, Houston, and served as Note and Comment Editor of the Law Review. I am a member of the Houston and Texas State Bar Associations, Texas Democratic Lawyers, Texas Women Lawyers, Texas Trial Lawyers, Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys.

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

The new Rice AD speaks

Rice fans hoping for big things from new Athletic Director Chris Del Conte, in particular hoping for a better venue for basketball, may find some solace in these remarks to the Chronicle.

Our men’s basketball program should be an economic resource to help offset the cost of playing guarantee games in football. First and foremost, we have to redo Autry to make that a revenue source, so that all of a sudden we don’t have to play those (guarantee games).

This is an entertainment dollar. We’re trying to build an athletic program and maintain the success that Bobby had, yet we put ourselves in position (to fail) because we have no other revenue sources coming from all of our other athletic events.

It’s the chicken and the egg, and the egg needs to be Autry. (First-year football coach) Todd Graham will win, but we as the administration have to meet him halfway and give him the tools necessary to be successful. I want to be our neighborhood team. The Texas Medical Center has 28,000 people. We have West U, Southgate and Southampton. There are 60,000 people within a three or four-mile radius of Rice University. We want to be that neighborhood team.

I want to focus our energies right here where we’re at. There are enough people here that we should be a vibrant part of their entertainment dollar and a vibrant part of their community.

Yes, I know, he doesn’t actually say the magic words, but he’s pointing in the right direction. One takes hope where one can.

Other changes at Rice:

The results of the ongoing facelift of Rice Stadium could pale in comparison to the wholesale changes in the athletic department once the fall semester commences.

Three longtime members of the department – senior associate athletic director Steve Moniaci, sports information director Bill Cousins and marketing director Mike Pede parted ways with the university on Wednesday morning.

According to several people familiar with the athletic department, Moniaci, who came to Rice in 1980, resigned from the post he had held since May 2001. Cousins, who joined the Rice staff in 1983, and Pede, who recently completed his 12th year on South Main, also will not return in the fall.


Moniaci joined Rice as the executive director for the Owl Club and athletic promotions. He was promoted to assistant AD of operations in 1985 and associate AD in 1997.

Cousins, the second full-time SID in Rice history, served as an assistant to Bill Whitmore before becoming his successor in 1984. Pede spent eight years at his alma mater – Houston – before coming to Rice in 1993 and earning several national marketing awards.

All three of these gentlemen were well thought of in the Owl community. It’s not a surprise that with a new AD comes this kind of change, but it’s still a sad day when familiar faces leave. I’m sure I speak for many Rice fans when I say I wish them all the best.

Finally, speaking of the stadium renovations, longtime MOBster Grungy has pictures of the work in progress.

Fifth Circuit to hear DeLay appeal next Monday

I don’t see it on the news wires as I draft this, but according to Paul Burka, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the appeal of Judge Sam Sparks’ ruling on the DeLay ballot replacement lawsuit on Monday, July 31. Says Burka:

The Court had the option of deciding the case on the briefs alone, so a reasonable conclusion is that the legal issues are sufficiently clouded that the judges want to ask some questions and hear some answers.

True, but one might also reasonably conclude that the Court wants to go out of its way to ensure that no one can complain about how it approached the matter. A summary ruling might well be seen by the losing side as unnecessarily brusque. There’s no reason not to care about appearances.

In any event, the three judges on the panel are (via Juanita): Edith Brown Clement (appointed by W), James L. Dennis (Clinton), and Fortunato P. Benavides (Clinton). Make of that what you will.

Finally, Fort Bend Now tells us what will happen to all those online petitions that Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill collected.

Lawyers familiar with the case now before the 5th Circuit say it would do more than that. If presented to the court, such a petition could be construed as an ex parte communication which, if generated by an attorney, would constitute a violation of at least one of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.

Plus, lawyers tell me, the petition could anger 5th Circuit judges sufficiently that they could strike the state Republican Party’s brief before the court, if they felt like it.

“It’s an extraordinary tactic,” said one attorney familiar with the case. “It’s just bizarre.”

But no worries really, says Harris County GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill.

Despite the statement saying that petition “will be delivered directly to the 5th Circuit,” it won’t.

“There will be no attempt to actually talk to the judges per se,” Woodfill said. It’s not going to be delivered to the front steps of the courthouse.

Instead, the petition “is an opportunity for people of the district to let their feelings be known,” Woodfill said, through an expression of free speech.

A mock petition, if you will.

So, never mind.

Certainly a mockable petition, if you will. Ladies and gentlemen of the 22nd Congressional District, Jared Woodfill wants you to know that he cares about your feelings. I do hope you appreciate that.

On the matter of the other, more official, outside influence on this decision, Marc has a pointer to the amicus brief (PDF) filed by Attorney General Greg Abbott. He also has some criticism of the substance of that brief.

And finally, our day wouldn’t be complete without one more bit of speculation about DeLay’s future as a potential candidate in CD22. The Washington Times does the honors.

“He can’t see himself ever becoming majority leader again, let alone House speaker – and he sees no point in crawling over glass to get elected only to be a backbencher after so many years as a member of the House leadership,” a Republican confidante of Mr. DeLay says.

Well, yeah, which is why the rumors have been about him running for the express purpose of resigning again and allowing a special election to replace him.

Publicly, his stance is different. “The Hammer,” who faces trial in Texas, has implied that he will campaign hard if Democrats win their legal battle to keep the Texas GOP from replacing his name on the November ballot.

His chances of winning have improved as sympathy for him has grown even among Republican voters in his district who had developed “DeLay fatigue” after 21 years of his service in Congress.

Don’t know who the source is for that, but I’ve not seen a lot of evidence that Republicans are anything but unhappy about having to run through this gauntlet, especially since it didn’t have to be this way. Various others have suggested the sympathy angle, but at this time I ain’t buying it. And remember, sympathy only gets you so far when the campaign cash math is against you.

Friends say Mr. DeLay will make a run only if his party concludes it was necessary to keep Texas’ 22nd congressional district from going to a Democrat in November.

This sentence makes no sense. Either DeLay can be replaced on the ballot or not. If he can, obviously he goes away. If he can’t, either he makes a run or he concedes the seat to Nick Lampson. There’s no other calculation, unless you try to factor in the possibility that DeLay making an active run could cause collateral damage elsewhere.

Anyway. July 31. Stay tuned.

And more polls

From Zogby Interactive, via Damon, here are some more numbers on the Texas governor’s race:

Perry: 38.3% (+0.6 since June/no change since January)
Bell: 20.8% (+1.1/+2.9)
Kinky: 20.7% (+3.2/+6.3)
Strayhorn: 11% (-3.1/-9.5)

I’ll be blunt: Even with the litigation follies, I have a hard time believing that’s a true number for Strayhorn. You can criticize Zogby all you want for its online methods, but it’s been pretty consistent with the SUSA and Rasmussen numbers we’ve seen, with this one exception so far. I can believe that Friedman and Bell have taken some support from Strayhorn, but I’ll need to see more results like this before I buy it.

Zogby also pegs the Senate race as Strayhorn Hutchison 52, Radnofsky 37. Let’s just say that I think this is a far more accurate picture of the race than their first cut at it was.

Over at Kuff’s World, I’ve got a look at the latest SurveyUSA poll of the race and of Governor Perry’s popularity. Two items of interest here: Check the comments for some feedback from a SurveyUSA person on their methodology, and while bearing the usual small sample size warnings in mind, note that Chris Bell has gone from a ridiculous 32% support from Democrats in an April poll to a slightly-less-ridiculous 44% in this one. I don’t know what the over/under will be for Bell’s level of Democratic support in the end, but it will be higher than that. If polls ever reflect that, then the cycle-long story line of Perry versus three clustered opponents may finally start to change.

And finally, as if to provide a cranky counterexample, Rasmussen has the race as Perry 40, Strayhorn 20, Friedman 19, and Bell 13. I don’t believe that any more than I do Strayhorn having 11. It also says that Strayhorn has a higher approval rating among Dems than Bell does. Again, I rather doubt it, but that’s what they’ve got. Link via Political Wire.

UPDATE: Fixed error in Senate poll. Thanks to Larry Renolds in the comments for the catch.

Closing time in the Yates 2.0 trial

Time to check in on the Andrea Yates retrial again, where closing arguments are going on. Both sides brought out their strongest expert testimony last week, and though there was some new testimony overall, this trial was in many ways a lot like the first one.

Mental illness was again a predominant theme of the trial, since Yates had struggled with that since 1999, surviving two suicide attempts and several psychiatric hospitalizations. The 15 people chosen to sit on the jury – 12 regular jurors and three alternates – heard more about postpartum depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, delusions and auditory hallucinations than they will probably ever hear again in their lifetimes.

They viewed Yates’ medical records, listened to her doctors, heard her best friend and her former mother-in-law describe how she unraveled in the weeks before the drownings and heard about the good life she led as a young woman – graduating as valedictorian of her class at Milby High School in 1982 and working as a nurse at M.D. Anderson Hospital before becoming a mother.

They were exposed to the awful aftermath: crime scene photographs and videos of her five children’s bodies after Yates drowned them – ages 7, 5, 3, 2 and 6 months – on June 20, 2001. Jurors also viewed portions of Yates’ videotaped interviews with various doctors in the months following the deaths and earlier this year.

But the new trial differed in some marked ways from the preceding affair in 2002.

Perhaps most notably, jurors this time cannot consider the death penalty since the jury in Yates’ first trial rejected that option.


The jurors in state District Judge Belinda Hill’s courtroom during the past few weeks also did not hear from Yates’ former husband and the children’s father, Russell Yates, although he had been sworn in as a witness and showed up at the courthouse frequently during the trial.

Likewise, this jury did not hear from Yates’ mother or other family members – but did watch testimony offered by her best friend, Debbie Holmes, and Yates’ former mother-in-law, Dora Yates, who described the accused woman’s deteriorating mental state in the weeks before the drownings.

Jurors also heard from a forensic psychiatrist who just joined the case late last year and watched video segments from a 14-hour interview he conducted with Yates in May. That new expert witness, Dr. Michael Welner, testifying for the prosecution, said he believes Yates knew the drownings were wrong and alleged the children’s deaths were motivated by her selfish needs.

Prosecutors presented unflattering testimony from one of Yates’ former cellmates, who said Yates told her about chasing the oldest child through the house and becoming angry with him during an intense struggle before overpowering and killing him.

I’ll get to Dr. Welner in a second. Dr. Park Dietz was a smaller figure this time around, as any mention of his erroneous testimony in the first trial was barred by Judge Belinda Hill. That decision has generated some controversy.

There are few courts in this land as pro-prosecution as Texas’ 1st Court of Appeals, and few judges as conservative as the panel that reversed Andrea Yates’ conviction, citing Dietz’s false testimony, the prosecution’s use of it and its potential impact on the jury’s guilty verdict. In fairly short order, the case was returned to the lower court, Yates’ case was set for retrial and Judge Hill ruled against any mention of Dietz’s false testimony. Thus unburdened, the prosecution once again offered the testimony of its star witness, Dietz.

Ask any lawyer: It is a bedrock of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence that every witness who takes the stand may be shown to have bias or prejudice toward the party he is testifying against. The reason is obvious: The trier-of-fact, whether judge or jury, is entitled to that information in order to determine whether the witness is honest or not.

By any standard, the defense should have been able to undermine Dietz’s current testimony – that Yates knew right from wrong, the legal test of insanity, primarily because Satan, and not God, told her to kill her sons. Unshackled, most trial lawyers would have left Dietz’s testimony like shards of broken glass on the courtroom floor. Instead, Judge Hill protected the doctor, handcuffed the defense and shielded the jury from the truth.

Another legal maxim holds that appellate courts seldom reverse convictions solely because of a mistaken evidentiary ruling. Not so this time. That Dietz was allowed to testify cleansed of his unforgivable distortion, deprived Yates of critical impeachment, and thus, a fair trial, arguably the most important right enjoyed by any citizen. If the jury doesn’t “cure the error,” finding her not guilty by reason of insanity, and rejecting Dietz’s curious “the devil made me do it” theory, some other court will, reversing the conviction and sending the case back for trial once again.

And Andrea Yates will be right back in Judge Hill’s court, fighting to be sent to a mental institution for the remainder of her life, and not to jail – where enlightened societies send only sane people who have done terrible things.

Just what we’d all want. I daresay the prosecution would claim in such a scenario that Dr. Welner’s testimony was what carried the day for them, but it’s still a potentially messy situation. Perhaps the jury will acquit and spare us all the trouble.

Rusty Yates was also absent from the stand this time around. Like the expert quoted, I’m not sure whom he’d have helped or hurt more, so I can certainly see the reasons to avoid him. And I think I speak for many, many people when I say that in general, the less Rusty, the better.

On to Dr. Welner, the state’s new star, who put a spin on the killings that I can’t say I’d seen advanced before.

Michael Welner, a prosecution medical expert who interviewed Yates earlier this year for about 14 hours and reviewed other doctors’ reports about her, told jurors that Yates felt overwhelmed with child care responsibilities and that she and her husband, Russell Yates, were not intimate or communicating well weeks before the drownings.

“She felt she was failing not only her children, but also her marriage,” he testified.

Welner also said the drownings were a benefit for Yates, not a spiritual act to help the children avoid hell, as other medical experts have testified Andrea Yates told them.

“In my opinion Andrea Yates committed the crime to help herself, not her children,” Welner said.

That’s a mighty cold reading, one that equates Andrea Yates to Susan Smith. Given that everybody, including Dr. Welner, agrees Yates was psychotic, I’m a little skeptical about the jury buying that. But of course, you never know, and I wasn’t there to see their reactions, so take that for what it’s worth.

The defense told a different story, of course, with their last witness.

Andrea Yates believed one of her sons would become a serial killer, another would be a mute homosexual prostitute and that both would burn in the fires of hell if she did not kill them, a psychiatrist told jurors today.

Dr. Phillip Resnick, who interviewed Yates twice after her children’s deaths and also reviewed other psychiatrists’ interviews with her, said Yates believed she had ruined her children and that they would grow up to sin and then be sent to hell.

She believed she could save their souls if she killed them before they reached age 10, which she considered the age of responsibility, Resnick said.

He said Yates believed that John, 5, would become a serial killer.

“Another son would grow up to be a mute, homosexual prostitute,” Resnick said.


Resnick, a psychiatry professor at Case Western Reserve University’s medical school in Cleveland, Ohio, testified that Yates’ mental illness made her delusional, resulting in her belief that she was doing the right thing by killing her children to save them from damnation.

He said she believed she had beaten Satan in the battle for their souls because they would go to heaven.

Yates’ religious beliefs, he said, were the “trellis” on which her delusions grew. She believed, he said, that she had caused her children to stumble and Satan wanted them in hell.

“Mrs. Yates began to believe that not only was Satan tormenting her, but tormented her children,” Resnick said. “She believed that Satan would have her children.”

After the deaths, she believed that she would be punished and executed by the state of Texas, the only entity that could destroy Satan, he testified.

Note that this belief that she would be executed for what she did ties nicely into the defense argument that society’s idea of knowing right and wrong is not necessarily meaningful to a delusional person. What they want the jury to conclude is that Yates may have believed her actions would be judged by others as wrong, but that she herself thought she was doing the right thing. It’s a critical difference.

Dr. Resnick also addressed Dr. Welner’s construction of Yates’ actions.

In the 16th day of testimony of Yates’ capital murder retrial, Dr. Phillip Resnick – a mental health expert summoned by the defense – bristled at a suggestion that Yates drowned her five children in an attempt to draw her husband closer to her.

“I’m shocked you would suggest her concern is with her husband when she’s killing her kids … To suggest this is the result of some family tiff is way off the mark,” Resnick told prosecutor Joe Owmby during cross-examination.

Resnick said there is no evidence to indicate Yates thought she and her husband “would walk into the sunset” without their children, calling that “a ridiculous hypothesis.”

Had Rusty Yates been called to testify, it would have been interesting to have him explore Dr. Welner’s hypothesis.

I don’t know what will happen, or how long it will take the jury to come to a decision. The one thing we do know for sure is that no matter what happens, Andrea Yates will be confined to a state facility for a long time.

Twenty cool things about Houston

Anybody else catch the style section cover story from yesterday called Twenty Cool Things About Houston?

We asked eight trendsetters — all cool themselves — to list special things about Houston that never go out of style no matter the season. See if you agree.

I’ll leave you to peruse the list. While any such compilation done by rational people would naturally include the Menil, it’s all pretty much subjective, so of course there’s plenty of room to disagree, especially on a list as short as this one. I’ll get to my suggestions in a minute, but first I’ll point out the irony in the panel’s second item, the potentially doomed River Oaks Theater. When it comes time to convene a group of experts to determine Twenty Not So Cool Things About Houston, the number one result ought to be “The fact that each and every one of these cool things can disappear on a moment’s notice to be replaced by a soulless cookie-cutter strip center or housing development, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Yes, even Lyle Lovett.”

Anyway. My list would include the Beer Can House, the Art Car Museum, Lai Lai’s Dumpling House, McGonigel’s Mucky Duck, and all of the sculptures of David Adickes. What do you think they left out? Leave a comment and let me know.

Nick Lampson talks about space

I had a chance to speak with Nick Lampson over the weekend. I’d done a previous interview with him at the Democratic convention in Fort Worth on more general topics (MP3 of that is here), so this time I thought we’d talk more specifically about NASA and space exploration, since that was one of his main areas of expertise while in Congress from 1996 to 2004. We did talk a little about the state of the race in CD22 at the end, but it’s mostly about space. Here’s the interview:

Link for the MP3 file is here.

Previous interviews:

Gary BinderimInterview
Glenn MelanconInterview
Jim HenleyInterview
Ted AnkrumInterview
Shane SklarInterview
John CourageInterview
Nick LampsonInterview
Mary Beth HarrellInterview
Hank GilbertInterview
Joe FariasInterview
Harriet MillerInterview
Ellen CohenInterview

Electoral Lotto

I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of my regular readers vote (why would you be reading a political blog if you weren’t vested in the process?), but on the odd chance that any of you don’t, would the prospect of winning a million bucks change your attitude?

Of the four top gubernatorial candidates, only independent Kinky Friedman would favor having a $1 million lottery to get people to vote.

“I’d favor anything that would get more than 29 percent of Texans to vote,” Friedman said, citing the percentage of voting-age adults who turned out in the 2002 governor’s race.

Arizona voters this fall will have the opportunity to vote on a ballot measure that would set up an election lottery. Anyone who voted would be eligible to win $1 million.

The petition to get the Arizona Voter Reward Act on the ballot was pushed through by a politician who is frustrated with what he perceived as Arizona’s low voter turnout, according to The New York Times. Although 77 percent of the state’s registered voters cast ballots in the 2004 presidential race, just 56 percent voted in the 2002 governor’s race.

Of course Friedman favors this. It’s unsubstantive yet flashy and attention-getting, so it’s tailor made for him.

I believe in making it as easy and convenient as possible to register and vote. Same day registration, voting by mail, voting centers – there are lots of proposals I’d favor to lower the bar to entry in Texas. But at the end of the day, if the idea of voting for its own sake isn’t good enough to draw someone to the polls, then I can’t say I’m unhappy by his or her absence. I too wish more people voted, but I really wish more people participated in the sorts of activity that naturally lead to voting, like joining civic organizations and attending public meetings. I don’t know how to make it easier to do those things. I do know that when people talk about the world being run by those who bother to show up, that’s what they mean. If that doesn’t do it for you, then you may as well leave it to someone else.

Van Os conference call

I couldn’t tune in to last night’s blogger conference call with David Van Os, but when people like Vince participate, I can still feel like I was there. Other callers include The Muse, Bay Area Houston, Houston Dems, and Half Empty. Check ’em out.

Measured opposition on Richmond

Given that there was supposed to be another Metro open house on the Universities line yesterday, I was hoping there’d be an article on that in today’s Chron so I could do one post on that and on this story from yesterday, in which Richmond Avenue property owners fret about the amount of space the rail line might take from them. No dice on a story for today, as far as I could see, so I guess I’ll just go ahead with something on yesterday’s story.

“According to the drawings Metro released last Tuesday, what you’re seeing is an 86-foot right of way they will require – and that line is the edge of the street,” said gallery owner Robert McClain.

He was pointing to a blue line on the driveway of McClain Gallery on Richmond between Kirby and Greenbriar. About 80 residents and business people from the neighborhood gathered there Friday for a rally and news conference.


McClain pointed to a map with about 100 red stickers on it and four blue ones. He said [shop owner Daphne] Scarborough took a walking poll along the segment east of Kirby, and the stickers indicate sentiment against and for rail there.

Metro spokesman George Smalley said he would like to know more about the poll. “Because we have not seen the survey and don’t know how that question was asked, it is difficult to know whether the results are valid or not,” he said.

“People can ask leading questions. I’m not saying it was biased or unbiased, but it was conducted by people who are passionate against rail on Richmond.”

As to the blue lines on the concrete, Smalley said, they are based on the “potentially flawed assumption” that Metro will need equally wide right of way on each side of the current median.

I presume this question came up in yesterday’s meeting, but as of this posting, I can’t say what happened from there. Maybe there’ll be a story on Monday.

(UPDATE: My bad, the next meeting concerning Universities is today, not Saturday. Thanks to Kevin in the comments for reminding me of this.)

We do, however, get an editorial in favor of the Richmond option, which suggests that our options aren’t so much Richmond or Westpark but Richmond or nothing.

Of the five proposed new Metro transit lines, only the route linking the University of Houston and Texas Southern University on the east to the Galleria area and beyond has generated significant controversy. Metro’s preferred route would run along Richmond from Main Street to South Rice near the Galleria. Some trains would continue north on Post Oak, while others would go west on Westpark to the Hillcroft Transit Center, giving Park ‘n Ride patrons access to the expanding rail system.

That is the most direct route and the one surveys reveal would attract the most ridership. Without sufficient ridership, the line will not qualify for federal financing. Without federal financing, the line needed to connect all the other transit corridors cannot be built.

It doesn’t have to come to that, of course – there may be an alternate route that’s more acceptable to more people, won’t cost more than the Richmond line would or be any more disruptive to any more people and businesses than the construction on Richmond would, and would have a comparable potential for ridership to Richmond. I’m not aware of such an alternative, but that doesn’t mean one can’t exist. Maybe between now and the end of the third open house meeting with Metro, we’ll hear more about such an alternative. It would be nice.

Charles Whitman, forty years later

I finally got around to reading this powerful Texas Monthly story about August 1, 1966, the day Charles Whitman shot 43 people (killing 15) from the top of the UT Tower in Austin, and I’m glad I did. I really didn’t know very much about Whitman’s crime, which was the first of its kind and which spurred the creation of SWAT teams around the country. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure why I didn’t know all that. For whatever the reason, I just haven’t seen much written about it before now.

Anyway. The story is done oral-history style, by the people who lived through it, and it’s very moving. It’s there for the usual limited time, so check it out while you can. It’s definitely worth your time.

No rudeness!

First they came for the beer bongs. Now they’re coming after rude behavior.

Families have been feeling increasingly alienated on the picturesque waterways around New Braunfels, local leaders say, prompting them to crack down on rude behavior.

“In the past we have loved the sinners’ money more than we hate the sinners’ behavior,” said City Councilman Ken Valentine, who lives along the river and has led the campaign to keep what he considers riffraff out of the water. “The message is: We invite you to our party, but we make the rules. Here are our rules and if you don’t like them, don’t come.”

Yes, that’s Ken “No Bong” Valentine, continuing his crusade. Say this for the man – he sticks to his principles.

The City Council is considering a noise ban on the water from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. and later this month will consider a way to prohibit Jell-O shots, a concoction of gelatin and alcohol.

You knew that if beer bongs were targeted, Jell-O shots would be next, right?

Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce President Michael Meek said he supports the city’s goal, not its timing.

Meek said all the attention being paid to the bad behavior and new rules at the height of the summer season is turning people away. Anecdotal evidence shows sales are down at restaurants and other businesses that get a lot of business from out-of-town tubers, he said.

“It’s detrimental in-season,” Meek said. “We would prefer that we have a comprehensive plan put together in the offseason and then go forward and communicate it properly. … It’s almost self-inflicted wounds.”

That’s probably true. It would certainly seem less silly if they did it this way.

I make fun here, but I’ve got some family in New Braunfels, and I know from speaking to them that there really are problems with obnoxious tubers. It’s certainly not ridiculous to want to exert some control over the worst offenses. New Braunfels is a booming little town, and it’s in a great location – close to San Antonio and Austin, and surrounded by natural beauty. If I thought I needed to raise my kids in a small town, it’s the kind of place I’d want to live. I daresay that’s a common sentiment, and as such that’s a big driver of its growth. It’s likely at a point where the tension between its traditional economy and its newcomers who aren’t used to putting up with that kind of stuff is coming to a head and needs to be dealt with. I’m not sure that this is the best approach – I tend to agree with those who say that stricter enforcement of existing laws would suffice and that new laws targeting narrow, specific behaviors are not needed – but I wish them well in finding it, whatever it is.