Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

August, 2006:

Questions and answers in CD22

Here’s my latest entry at Kuff’s World, in which I take the cheesy framing device of asking myself a bunch of questions, none of which were too hard for me to answer, about the state of the race in CD22. And as long as I’m tooting my own horn here, be sure to read this Reason story about what the national Libertarian Party is up to over there. I’d recommend that piece even if the reporter hadn’t quoted me, which as it happens he did. Check it out.

RIP, Maynard Ferguson

Maynard Ferguson, hero to trumpet players everywhere, has passed away at the age of 78.

The cause was kidney and liver failure, said his personal manager, Steve Schankman.

Mr. Ferguson had a stratospheric style all his own. He possessed “a tremendous breadth of sound and an incomparable tone,” said Lew Soloff, a prominent trumpeter who started out with Mr. Ferguson in the mid-1960’s. The writer Frank Conroy once noted, “He soared above everything, past high C, into the next octave and a half, where his tone and timbre became unique” – sometimes reaching, as Mr. Schankman said, “notes so high that only dogs could hear them.”

He pleased far more crowds than critics. John S. Wilson, reviewing Mr. Ferguson’s big band at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival for The New York Times, called it “screaming” and “strident.” Yet that same year the readers of Down Beat magazine voted the band the world’s second-best, outranked only by Count Basie’s.

Today, record collectors pay hundreds of dollars for rare Fergusons. “Very few rock superstars can command that kind of prices for used CDs or records,” said John Himes, who runs the Maynard Ferguson Album Emporium in Cypress, Calif.

I still have several of his albums on cassette tape. I’m gonna need to try and find some of them on CD now.

More from the Globe and Mail:

Ferguson moved to the U.S. at age 20, playing in big bands – including Jimmy Dorsey’s – and performing solo in New York City cafes. He then joined Stan Kenton’s orchestra, where his shrieking, upper-register trumpet formed the backbone of the group’s extensive brass section.

In 1956 he formed the first of several 13-piece orchestras known for the crisp vigour of their horns. They helped launch the careers of such jazz notables as Chick Corea, Chuck Mangione, Bob James, Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul.

Zawinul later wrote the classic tune “Birdland”, which was one of my favorite Ferguson pieces. (The Manhattan Transfer later added lyrics to it and made it one of their staples.)

I saw Ferguson on Staten Island in 1985, when he was touring with a fairly classic big band, and again in 1987 when he visited the Trinity campus with a smaller funk/fusion group behind him. The two shows were very different, but I enjoyed the hell out of each of them. We may never see his like again. Rest in peace, Maynard Ferguson.

Pluto: Not a planet

Remember when I said that Pluto was still a planet? Apparently, I was wrong.

Astronomers debating Pluto’s future as a planet Thursday were forced to choose between science and culture.

Culture lost.

More than 75 years after its discovery by Clyde Tombaugh, Pluto has been booted from the fraternity of planets in defiance of grade-school textbooks.

It’s not a decision astronomers wanted to make, but one many felt increasingly forced to make. In recent years they have found a dizzying array of planet-like objects in the outer solar system including one, nicknamed Xena, that’s bigger than the former ninth planet.

The question was whether Xena and a host of other solar system objects should become planets. If not, however, Pluto must be disqualified, too.

“It would be disastrous for astronomy if we come away from the general assembly with nothing,” said Michael Rowan-Robinson, president of the United Kingdom’s Royal Astronomical Society, shortly before nearly 400 astronomers voted to reclassify Pluto Thursday. “We would be regarded as idiots.”

I think it may already be too late for that, dude.

SciGuy has the breakdown of the voting. As one who believes in the sanctity of childhood mnemonics, I will not accept these results. I do have an alternative idea, however, one that I think can satisfy the traditionalists as well as the scientists. Remember how back in elementary school we were taught that the vowels were “A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y”? I think we should start calling Pluto a “vowel planet”, as in “There’s Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, and sometimes Pluto”. Who’s with me on this?

UPDATE: Jim Henley has a replacement mnemonic for those times when Pluto isn’t a planet.

Spare that landmark!

It’s little more than a symbolic gesture, but at least we have it.

The committee that advises Houston City Council on historic preservation unanimously approved a letter to Weingarten Realty on Thursday, urging the company not to raze the Landmark River Oaks Theatre, the former Alabama Theatre and segments of the River Oaks Shopping Center.

“Please do not deny future generations the experience of connecting to their past by erasing such vital elements of our heritage,” wrote the 11-member Archaeological and Historical Commission.

The letter, addressed to Weingarten CEO Drew Alexander, carried no threat of city action. Houston’s preservation laws are among the weakest in the country and like almost all buildings in the city, the three Art Deco structures lie outside the commission’s feeble regulatory power.

Far less than 1 percent of Houston land falls within a city historic district; and to date, only one owner of a commercial building has applied to have it designated a city landmark.

But preservationists still regard the letter as significant in a city known for a lax attitude toward protecting its heritage.

Houstonist has more on the the preservation designation process. You can see how little weight this carries. Weingarten is under no obligation to do anything different, and it has basically no example to follow.

Kevin has suggested that the way to affect Weingarten’s behavior is to contact them directly.

While petitions are an easy, feel-good form of activism, nothing gets the attention of businesses and/or politicians like swarms of calls and letters.

Unfortunately, I think this is equally useless. What really gets the attention of a business is a swarm of calls and letters from its customers (or in the case of politicians, from their constituents). The reason for that is simple: Such calls and letters carry an implied threat of taking one’s business elsewhere unless the request/demand is met. You and I aren’t Weingarten’s customers; at least, those of us who aren’t in the business of purchasing and developing real estate aren’t Weingarten’s customers. We have no more leverage over them than we do over Senators and Congressfolk from other states. Maybe calling and writing Barnes & Noble and threatening to never set foot in the bookstore that they plan to build on the ashes of the River Oaks Theater might be effective, if it gets them to have second thoughts about buying the land. Beyond that, I can’t see how Weingarten would care what any of us think about their plans. They’ve got a bottom line to worry about, and our feelings about this project don’t affect that.

No, the more I read about this plan, the more I am convinced that the only course of action that has a chance of success is CIty Council action. Unless there’s a way to force, or at least strongly encourage, developers to not tear down historically significant buildings, they will continue to do so. And we’d better get cracking on this:

Demolition of the first building – the River Oaks Shopping Center structure at the corner of Shepherd and West Gray – is expected to begin soon after Christmas.

So write those letters and make those phone calls to Mayor White and your City Council person. I say they’re the only ones who can do anything about this.

UPDATE: More from Houstonist.

Another contender in CD23

The field in the newly drawn CD23 has expanded by one.

Lukin Gilliland Jr., a San Antonio businessman and longtime Democratic fundraiser, said today he’d run in the newly redrawn Congressional District 23. And he backed up his bid by plowing $500,000 into his campaign account.

The first-time candidate will challenge Republican Henry Bonilla, a 14-year incumbent, in the Nov. 7 open election. He’ll also face at least two fellow Democrats: former Congressman Ciro Rodriguez and El Pasoan Rick Bolanos.

So far, Bonilla, Rodriguez and Bolanos have filed to run with the Texas secretary of state. Gilliland said he’d so the same Friday, the filing deadline.

Gilliland, 54, said he seeded his war chest with $500,000 to show the seriousness of his commitment.

“I will focus on the issues of critical concern in our communities,” Gilliland said in a statement released to the press. “And I won’t hesitate to defend myself or my supporters against the inevitable attacks from Washington D.C.-style politicians.”

I’ve said before that I think Democrats need to focus on this race as a golden opportunity to do all kinds of good. I don’t know if Lukin Gilliland is the guy to beat Henry Bonilla, but if he’s really going to drop a half million bucks into this, and in doing so helps drive up Democratic turnout for this race and others downballot, that’s all to the good. The goal here is to hold Bonilla under fifty percent and force a runoff, where you can be sure there’ll be plenty of money and attention to go around. We’ll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, over in CD21, John Courage has made his official filing. He’s been a beneficiary of the Netroots August fundraising push, and he’s got a BOR diary that gives an update on his campaign. (All links via Texas 21.) Check ’em out.

Debate deciding is hard work

Poor John Carter. He’s having such a hard time fulfilling his role as the debate decider.

U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, said Wednesday he does not know if he will join District 31 challengers Mary Beth Harrell, a Democrat, and Matt McAdoo, a Libertarian, in a public television station KNCT-TV (Channel 46) candidate’s forum in October.

The station invited candidates in five area races to participate in forums to be taped in early October and broadcast one per night the week of Oct. 16-20.

Station rules, said Max Rudolph, general manager, are that each forum must include all candidates in a race to be broadcast. In the District 31 race, Rudolph said Ms. Harrell and McAdoo have accepted the invitation but he has not heard from Carter.

“No, no, no – I don’t believe I’m going to be able to do that,” Carter said. “I mean, that’s public television and that’s public radio. I will have to think about that. I might do it. I haven’t decided yet.”

Asked if he would appear in some other forum, Carter said, “We’ll see.”

Carter was asked if he told the Austin American-Statesman that Harrell had not earned the right to appear with him on stage.

“No, not exactly,” he said. “(To) the American-Statesman, what I said was, ‘you earn the right to debate me – by (showing) your credibility,'” Carter said.

Sure is easy to see how he’s such a qualified evaluater of credibility, isn’t it? I can almost feel his authoritative aura from here. Thanks for the link to Vince, who has an appropriate picture for the occasion.

Another debate for Cohen and Wong

From the Bellaire Examiner:

Whenever the question of a debate arose early in the campaign, observers say, District 134 State Rep. Martha Wong brushed off the possibility.

Why would she want to give her opponent that stature, the value of her own high name recognition, she asked.

But last week, one debate between Wong and hard-charging Democrat Ellen Cohen was locked in and another was being negotiated.

It’s hard to brush off an opponent who has over $200K cash on hand, isn’t it?

“This district is one of the most educated – if not the most educated – in the state, and the idea that candidates don’t have to let voters compare them side by side is unthinkable,” said Cohen’s campaign manager, Bill Kelley.

“We think this is great,” said Josh Hamilton, Wong’s campaign manager. “That’s what democracy is supposed to be about – candidates meeting face-to-face to explain their positions first-hand to voters.”

Wong and Cohen, on leave as executive director of the Houston Area Women’s Center, will meet at 7:30 a.m. Sept. 20 in a breakfast debate sponsored by the Houston In-Town Chamber of Commerce, Upper Kirby District and Museum District Business Alliance at the Briar Club, 2603 Timmons Lane.

Seats are $20 for members of those organizations, $30 for non-members, and tables of 10 are available for $250.

For reservations, call 713-524-8000. Nancy Sims of Pierpont Communications will be the moderator.

I imagine this will sell out, so get those tickets now if you’re interested.

A second debate at Rice University is in the works, sponsored by the student Republican and Democratic organizations.

Campaign managers for the two candidates say they have agreed to the debate “in principle” if a mutually agreeable date can be found.

Both campaigns had commitments on the first proposed date.

“We’re very flexible,” said Ryan Goodland, president of the Rice Young Democrats, working with the Rice College Republicans.

Goodland said Rice students on both sides are interested in the race. “This is turning into a contest of ideologies,” he said. “Wong has established a conservative record, and Cohen is clearly a moderate. Voters should have every opportunity to hear them articulate their positions.”

Here’s the letter the Rice groups sent to each campaign. If you think debates should be free, this is the one to go to. Well, okay, the debate may be free but the parking won’t be on the Rice campus. Take the train if you can.

Referendum to alter Prop 2 set for the ballot

As noted before, there will be a referendum on the ballot to alter the changes made to the city charter by 2004’s Proposition 2. Two referenda, actually:

Voters will decide whether to alter the revenue cap known as Proposition 2, which limits annual growth in all city revenue to the combined rate of population increase plus inflation.

[Mayor Bill] White wants voters to remove the cap from the city’s mostly self-sustaining “enterprise funds,” which pay for airports, the water and sewer system and convention facilities without using property taxes.

Property and sales taxes produce revenues in the general fund, which pays for core city operations such as police and fire protection, libraries and parks. Growth in the general fund is capped under a White-backed measure known as Proposition 1 that voters also approved two years ago.

“I want to run this city in a way that respects the basic intent of Prop 1 and Prop 2 and also allows us to remove any impediments in those propositions that mess up our ability to deliver basic public services,” the mayor said. “People can find common ground where we run the city in a fiscally conservative position.”

Voters also will be asked Nov. 7 to approve a second measure that would let the city raise $90 million in additional revenue that the mayor says might be needed to hire more police officers and fund a recent firefighter raise.

Fine by me. The voters can decide if they like the system as is, or if they would rather make these changes. It’s the democratic process, whether you like what it’s being used for or not.

Some deft politics here by the Mayor:

In an unusual move, the council postponed its final vote to 4 p.m., so White could meet with key Proposition 2 backers to build consensus.

The Proposition 2 proponents in the meeting – former Councilman Carroll Robinson, Republican state Senate candidate Dan Patrick, Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt and local businessman Bruce Hotze – emerged disappointed that they only met with White on Wednesday.

Robinson said the group was heartened that White agreed in recent weeks to let the council scale back some of the proposed revisions. They also hoped the council might hold an emergency meeting Monday – the last time the panel could alter the ballot language by law – to address other concerns.

White said such an emergency meeting still is possible.

“He has come a long way down the road, but we didn’t make it all the way home,” Robinson said. “We’re willing to wait and hear what the mayor has to say.”

[…]

Councilman Michael Berry, who won passage of an amendment stating that water and sewer revenues can be spent only on that system, said the vote would let the city know precisely what voters wanted two years ago. Wiseman said voters had spoken on the cap in 2004 and that White’s rationale for the changes was overblown.

“To suggest that we have any impending doom is a misrepresentation,” she said.

But Berry said he doesn’t think most voters really wanted to cap airport and convention revenues, which some argue would stymie development of those systems.

“I feel comfortable and confident that we are capturing the essence of what voters intended, or at least the vast majority,” said Berry, who was initially skeptical of White’s plan.

If Mayor White can blunt the opposition, even a little bit, he’s a lot more likely to get these propositions passed. I doubt that the Hotze/Patrick/Bettencourt crowd will be mollified by this, but just keeping them from actively fanning the flames ought to be good enough. Having Berry on board can’t hurt. We’ll see how it goes from here.

Finding common ground on immigration

If you felt a disturbance in the Force yesterday, this story might explain the reason for it.

The Texas Association of Business and the Texas House Mexican American Legislative Caucus contend that an orderly immigration system is needed that matches employer needs and the desires of immigrants for work.

[…]

Bill Hammond, president and CEO of the TAB, and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus agreed that immigration reform must include:

  • Tougher enforcement of border security
  • Allowing an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to earn citizenship
  • Creating legal ways for immigrants to enter the country to fill low-skills jobs

House Republicans, including Texas members, prefer an immigration reform plan that emphasizes border security.

“I think unfortunately for a lot of different reasons, they’ve got it wrong,” said Hammond, whose group is the state’s largest business organization.

That’s the Texas Association of Business, the group whose illegal campaign money “blew the doors off” the 2002 election by helping a boatload of Republicans get elected to the State House. They go with Democrats like mustard goes with chocolate. I can’t think of a similar joint effort by them in the recent past.

Having said that, for the first and possibly only time in my life, I say Good Luck to Bill Hammond. He’s going to need it, and in this specific case he deserves it.

The status of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants is one of the controversial parts of any immigration reform plan.

“You can’t ignore them,” Mexican American Legislative Caucus Chairman Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, said. “It’s unrealistic to try to round up 12 million people. … And there’s no one to take their place in the American economy.”

Hammond was equally emphatic: “They should be allowed to stay and be given a path to citizenship plain and simple.”

But those unauthorized workers should be required to learn English and American civics in addition to paying any back taxes and fines for breaking the law when they crossed illegally, said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

“We are not for amnesty. That’s the first thing you hear from opponents of comprehensive immigration reform,” Anchia said. “Amnesty is automatic, no questions asked. We don’t want that.”

The need for secure borders is undeniable, Gallego said. “We need protection from drug dealers,” he said. “We need protection from terrorists, but we don’t need protection from dish washers and maids and baby-sitters and gardeners.”

“We have the push from Mexico and the pull from America,” Hammond said. “If we don’t meet the demands of the marketplace, we will never have control of our borders. It cannot be done.”

Not much else to say here but “Amen”. I just hope the people who need to hear it are listening.

Candidate Q&A: Albert Hollan

Continuing with my series of Q&As with local judicial candidates, today we visit Fort Bend for a chat with Albert Hollan.

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

Albert Hollan. I am the Democrat running for Judge, 268th District Court, Fort Bend County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears both civil and criminal cases; however, it is not assigned family law cases. As a trial court of general jurisdiction, it can handle anything from a breach of contract to a capital murder case.

3. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a licensed attorney with 18 years of trial experience. I am Board Certified in Civil Trial Law and in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I have an A/V rating (the highest peer-review rating) and have never been disciplined by the State Bar for any reason.

4. Why do you believe you would do a better job than the incumbent?

The incumbent was publicly censured by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for willfully “failing to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary”. Judicial Inquiry # 75, Order of Public Censure of Brady G. Elliott, Judge, 268th District Court. I have a clean record, will treat with respect all who appear in the courtroom, and will abide by the ethical code that judges must obey at all times.

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

Public Censure of a sitting District Court judge is rare. Most judges would resign rather than have that stigma on their record. However, the incumbent did not resign. He is running for re-election. Though the incumbent had a Republican challenger in the March Primary, the majority of Republican voters ignored the Public Censure and voted to keep Brady Elliott on the bench. It is important that we replace judges who cannot follow the Canons of Ethics.

6. What else do we need to know?

I am married, father of two, and have lived in Sugar Land since graduation from law school in 1987. This is not my first campaign. I was the Democratic candidate for the 400th District Court, Fort Bend, which was an open bench in 2004 until Gov. Rick Perry appointed my opponent 80 days before the election so he could run as the incumbent. I know that Fort Bend is perceived to be overwhelmingly Republican, but this county is changing. Democrats will be competitive in November.

Thank you, Albert Hollan. I’m working on some more Q&As with Fort Bend folks. Here are my previous interviews, with Harris County candidates:

Richard GarciaInterview
Leora T. KahnInterview
Chuck SilvermanInterview
Bill Connolly – Interview
James Goodwille PierreInterview

North Corridor route selected

Metro has designated a route for the North Corridor BRT line.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority board chose a route today on North Main, Boundary and Fulton for its planned North rapid transit line from the University of Houston-Downtown to Northline Mall.

The board rejected an alternative with a center segment on Irvington and Cavalcade, which some had favored on grounds that a Fulton route would hurt businesses and endanger schoolchildren.

John Quintero, president of the Parent-Teacher Organization at Roosevelt Elementary School, 6700 Fulton, said concerns about pupils having to cross the tracks were addressed by Metro’s plan to elevate the line in that location.

“A vote on any route but Fulton would ignore the ridership in favor of personal property interests,” said Quintero, one of five speakers who urged the board to adopt that alignment. Several also urged Metro to get it built as soon as possible.

“It’s time to saddle up and get going,” said Richard Leal. He also advised the board to “brave up” and not give in to pressure from opponents.

“We’ve been waiting a long time,” said Ed Reyes. As to the impact on business, he added, “There are a lot of bars and cantinas that need to be weeded out.”

That’s an interesting take on the issue of business disruption. Reyes is the president of the Lindale Park Civic Club, which as we know very much wants this line built, and the sooner the better. The Fulton route was what he and his neighbors wanted, so I imagine there’s a lot of happy people over there today. Well done all around.

UPDATE: Christof reviews how we got here.

“Real World: New Braunfels”

Oh. My. God.

The title may not be as sexy as “Laguna Beach,” but television producers and management of a Central Texas water-based theme park are betting a new show will become a darling of the high school set.

With the succinct working title “Waterpark,” the show could invade homes the world over a year from now, if MTV producers follow through with plans to film a reality show at New Braunfels’ Schlitterbahn.

A casting call of current staffers began last weekend and continues through Sunday. Those who work at the water park – from lifeguards to food and beverage personnel – are encouraged to submit a headshot, bio and photos of friends. So far, about 50 have.

[…]

The show’s premise would be a coming-of-age story about the park’s workers, the majority of whom are 16 to 22.

Drama naturally occurs in that age group, as young people deal with all kinds of teenage angst, from first job jitters to unrequited crushes, said Layne Box, 27, a supervisor at the park who has submitted his headshot for consideration.

“There’s lots of real-life drama,” he said. “There’s no script needed with high school students.”

[Schlitterbahn spokesman Jeffrey] Siebert said camera crews would follow the cast members around the water park as they deal with the issues of the day, and after work as they hang out with friends. MTV producers should have plenty of folks to pick from, since more than 2,000 employees are hired as seasonal workers at the park, which stretches over more than 65 acres.

“If you want to be on the show you have to work here first,” Siebert said. “You never know when a star might be born.”

[…]

Siebert said “Waterpark” would be more like a younger version of “Airline,” a show on A&E that follows Southwest Airlines workers.

If the show is picked up, production could begin next spring, Siebert said. The first episode would air about a year from now.

The beautiful thing is that you can buy alcohol at the Schlitterbahn at several hot tub and float-up bar locations, so you can have the “more-patient-than-I’d-be employee dealing with obnoxious drunk customer” scenario just like they have in every episode of “Airline”, too. For better or worse, neither beer bongs nor Jell-O shots will be part of the equation whether inside the park (where those things were never allowed) or outside of it (surely at some point they’ll show footage of tubing on the river).

All I can say is that I’ll be avoiding any rides that feature rolling cameras during all future visits to the Bahn. I’m not part of the MTV demographic, and I plan to keep it that way.

Perelman declines Fields medal

As a followup to my previous post on Grisha Perelman, the reclusive Russian mathematician who has apparently conquered the Poincare Conjecture, Matt emails me to point to this story about Perelman declining the Fields medal and quite possibly the one million dollar Clay Mathematics Institute prize.

“I regret that Dr. Perelman has declined to accept the medal,” Sir John M. Ball, president of the International Mathematical Union, said during the ceremonies [at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Madrid].

[…]

In June, Dr. Ball traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia, where Dr. Perelman lives, for two days in hopes of persuading him to go to Madrid and accept the medal.

“He was very polite and cordial, and open and direct,” Dr. Ball said in an interview.

But he was also adamant. “The reasons center around his feeling of isolation from the mathematical community,” Dr. Ball said of Dr. Perelman’s refusal, “and in consequence his not wanting to be a figurehead for it or wanting to represent it.”

Dr. Ball added, “I don’t think he meant it as an insult. He’s a very polite person. There was never a cross word.”

Despite Dr. Perelman’s refusal, he is still officially a Fields Medalist. “He has a say whether he accepts it, but we have awarded it,” Dr. Ball said.

To each his own, I guess. Dr. Perelman will be forever remembered by the mathematical community whether he wants to accept their congratulations or not.

Urban transit corridor planning meeting this Saturday

Also from the inbox, a note from the I-45 Coalition about an urban transit corridr planning meeting this Saturday.

WHEN: This coming Saturday, August 26th – 8:30 am to 1:30 pm

WHERE: George Brown Convention Center, Room 301 – 302

WHAT: The City of Houston is hosting an opportunity to help shape the neighborhoods & commercial areas along six transits corridor (including the North Corridor)! This is the 1st phase of the planning process. The flyer says that “Citizen input will lead to changes in city ordinances and policies”.

Do you want more and more concrete poured? Do you want double decked freeways? Do you want a tunnel? Let them know! Often!!! Here’s a great opportunity to do just that. I believe that this is the 1st time ever that the City has encouraged its citizens to get involved in the planning process on a scale of this magnitude. This is a perfect opportunity to express your thoughts on how you want this city to be, instead of City of Houston and TxDOT engineers!

PLUS, as a bonus, lunch is provided!! FREE!!

But, you need to fax back the attached form (to 713-837-7703) or send an e-mail to [email protected]

The form to fax is beneath the fold.

(more…)

“Sure Bet for Texas” fundraiser for Harrell and Van Os

From the Inbox, an event in Central Texas that should be worth attending:

Texas Legends are chairing Mary Beth Harrell’s biggest fundraising event ever in Georgetown! US Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Texas Representative Elliott Naishtat, former US Congressman and Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox support Mary Beth because they know she is a “Sure Bet for Texas.” We’re thrilled to have these three Texas Legends coming out for Mary Beth.

You can join Mary Beth “a Sure Bet for Texas” on Saturday, August 26, from 7:00 pm-11-00 pm at Kindred Oaks Ranch, 2100 CR 176, Georgetown.

Individual tickets will be available for $75 each. Please e-mail your RSVP to [email protected] or call (254) 616- 0058 to make arrangements to attend this fundraiser.

Can’t make it? Well we’ll miss you, so make your contribution online now to Mary Beth’s campaign.

First the Band of Brothers, Seven Texas Veterans running for the US Congress, hosted a hugely successful press conference in Sun City to show their support for the courageous Soldiers’ Mom.

Now, the Texas Legends are coming out for Mary Beth, “A Sure Bet for Texas”, and chairing a night of fun, food, refreshments, and casino-style gaming at the beautiful Kindred Oaks Ranch.

If you can’t make it, then simply make your contribution on-line now, and help send a Soldier’s Mom to serve you and your family in Congress!

Mary Beth needs your help to get the word out. With your contribution, we’ll buy commercial airtime, and mail out cards to her voters. So, join Texas Legends – US Congressman Lloyd Doggett, Texas Representative Elliott Naishtat, former US Congressman and Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox, to help Mary Beth – “A Sure Bet for Texas” – win this election. Again, e-mail your RSVP to [email protected] or call (254) 616-0058 to attend this extraordinary event or make your online contribution now.

PDiddie has more about this event, at which David Van Os will also be a beneficiary. Check it out.

UPDATE: Mary Beth is also asking to be written in as a “Candidate for Change” contestant.

Helping the homeless in Houston

Mayor White has a plan for helping the homeless in Houston.

As one of several new city initiatives to battle homelessness, White is asking Houstonians not to give money to street beggars, but instead to donate to organizations that help the homeless.

“We want people to give, but we want to give in a smart manner,” said White, who recently began spreading the word through radio advertisements. “If you see somebody begging in the streets, and you feel sorry for them, don’t give to that person, but instead give to organizations to help turn around lives.”

One often hears that this is the best approach to the issue of homelessness, and it certainly has some intrinsic appeal. I’m curious if this has been tried at the municipal level like this. The article doesn’t indicate, nor does it quote anyone who seems to oppose it. It would be nice to know more about these things.

The city also has set up a special municipal court that encourages homeless to clear outstanding traffic tickets and other minor violations. Outstanding cases prevent people from getting driver’s licenses or identification cards they need for housing and employment.

[…]

The Coalition is helping steer homeless people who want to clear tickets through the new court that meets on the fourth Wednesday of every month. Violators must agree to participate in the Coalition’s rehabilitation program, and they can perform community service in lieu of a fine. Most homeless who attended the court since its start two months ago have had traffic-related violations, said Judge Berta Mejia, presiding judge at Municipal Courts.

“It helps the person remove their legal barriers and be able to obtain housing, be able to be employed, and it clears the cases in our courts,” she said.

This sounds like a clear winner. For sure, having a traffic ticket outstanding should not get in the way of getting housing. Whatever else there is to this proposal, I hope this happens.

And in certain neighborhoods, it soon may be illegal to sit or lie on sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

That’s already the law in downtown and Midtown, but three other close-in neighborhoods – Old Sixth Ward, Avondale and Greater Hyde Park – have petitioned City Council to expand the ordinance to their areas.

The panel will hear from the public on that issue today.

[…]

[Former Council member Gordon] Quan and other advocates for the homeless say the mayor’s suggestion to donate to groups instead of individuals and the creation of the new court docket will help people get off streets and into assistance programs.

They are less enthusiastic about expanding the so-called “civility” ordinance that prohibits sleeping on sidewalks during the day in certain areas, saying it just pushes the homeless elsewhere.

“It’s anything but civil,” said Anthony Love, president of the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston and Harris County, who supports the mayor’s initiatives. “It tends to move the people around and not get at the core issues that contribute to homelessness to begin with.”

That part I’m not so enthusiastic about, either. I sympathize greatly with the homeowners in the affected areas, but I tend to agree with Mr. Love as to the actual effect of such ordinances.

Chron on the TTC hearings

The Chron follows up the Statesman with a story about the statewide series of hearings about the Trans Texas Corridor and how much Perry-bashing went on at them. It’s not terribly different from the Statesman story, though it has more quotes from people who testified at the hearings, which are worth checking out, and it spares us any smarmy think-tank denigration of the opposition to the TTC, for which I’m grateful. A couple of points to make:

Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said the corridor concept is the only feasible means of easing congestion on state highways while guaranteeing future expansion when needed.

“For every 14,000 people who congregate and protest, there are 1.4 million in downtown Dallas and Fort Worth that recognize congestion on 35 is a problem and somebody’s got to do something about it,” Williamson said.

Dallas-Fort Worth area officials have been generally neutral on the corridor concept, but questioned the specific plan because its route bypassed the cities and would have done little to relieve local congestion. Perry last Friday ordered the corridor study to include an alternative route proposed by local officials.

Dallas County Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield, a Republican, said he thinks people in the Metroplex would largely oppose the plan because it relies heavily on tolls and has included little public input.

“I dare say, if you took a vote in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, it would be voted down,” he said.

For a project that’s supposed to relieve urban congestion, the TTC makes a pretty strong effort to avoid any actual urban areas. It’s telling to me that Governor Perry finally forced TxDOT to consider a route for the I-35 alternative that touches the Metroplex. That’s some pretty strong Republican turf, and I think his intervention here is a sign that he recognizes how precarious the support is for this project among his base. It’s no accident that the state GOP platform calls for the repeal of the TTC.

“Fourteen thousand people is a nice turnout, but the fact of the matter is we’re looking for input, any better ideas,” Perry said of the hearings.

“Those that came out are just against – you know, the agin’ers. It’s easy to turn out a bunch of people who are just agin a particular project,” the governor said.

When all else fails, insult the intelligence of the voters. How lucky we all are to have a governor who knows our needs and preferences better than we do.

Greg Gerig, a corn farmer and a director of the Blackland Coalition opposed to the corridor, said there is a feeling state officials have been arrogant.

“Perry has in effect said, ‘We don’t care what people at the hearings said; we’re going to build it anyway,’ ” Gerig said.

I can’t imagine where he might have gotten that idea.

One final point:

One of Perry’s fellow Republicans on the statewide ballot – U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison – also has criticized the project, saying it imposes too heavily on rural landowners.

That’s an overstatement of Hutchison’s criticism. Here’s a fuller version of what Hutchison said.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, apparently trying to distance herself from Gov. Rick Perry on the controversial toll road issue, said Wednesday she was “very concerned” about how Perry’s proposed Trans Texas Corridor would route new highways across the state.

She said bypasses to major, congested freeways, including Interstate 35, are needed, but she said it was unnecessary to build a toll road connecting South Texas to San Antonio.

“I just don’t see the need for that, and I think the taking of property for that is a very serious matter that needs to be studied carefully,” she told reporters after addressing the Texas Association of Counties.

[…]

“I’m very concerned about the Trans-Texas Corridor,” Hutchison said.

She said parts of it are “very necessary” but questioned whether there has been enough public input, despite the series of hearings.

She called for a “whole lot more study of the routes” and said the state needed to make sure it was adequately using existing right of way.

“I’m not saying I’m against another route for bypassing the major, clogged freeways that we have. Interstate 35 is a parking lot,” she said. “But I think that going too far outside of the major metropolitan areas is an issue that should be resolved.”

That sounds more like hand-wringing than criticism to me. You can interpret it however you like, but according to Barbara Radnofsky, who genuinely opposes the TTC, some people haven’t gotten the message about KBH’s “concerns”.

Louis Bronaugh, who is on the I-69 committee, said, “I think Strayhorn is making it political, because she needed to attack the present governor anyway she can, and we understand it. It’s a political football, we just don’t know how it’s going to bounce, I talked to Senator Hutchison and she is very much in favor of this.”

That’s a different piece of the TTC (KBH’s remarks were about the I-35 component), but it’s still going to be going through mostly rural land. Basically, KBH has criticized one aspect of one component of the TTC. She thinks it can be tweaked, while a lot of people are saying it should be scrapped. Those are two very different things.

Checks, please!

The Tom DeLay/TRMPAC criminal trial is back in the news today as attorneys for DeLay associates Jim Ellis and John Colyandro are pursuing an appeal of their indictments.

Lawyers for two of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s political associates asked an appeals court panel Tuesday to toss out their money-laundering indictments because the underlying election laws are too confusing.

“The law must be so clear that a person of ordinary intelligence” won’t mistakenly run afoul of it, said Joseph Turner, who represents John Colyandro, executive director of a political action committee founded by DeLay.

[…]

A panel of three Republican judges on the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals heard the arguments. Colyandro and Ellis initially were indicted one year before DeLay was charged in the alleged conspiracy last September.

Ellis’ attorney, J.D. Pauerstein, argued that the state’s money-laundering statute in 2002 did not include transactions involving a personal or business check. The Legislature last year expanded the definition of “funds” to include checks and money orders.

Yes, this is the checks are not the same as cash argument that Judges Perkins and Priest refused to accept. I don’t think the passage of time has made it any less ludicrous, but we’ll see what the court says.

Pauerstein said laws prohibiting corporations or labor unions from donating to political campaigns but allowing contributions to be used for a PAC’s administrative overhead are unconstitutionally vague because they require those accepting the money to determine the intent of the donors.

This argument too was rejected by Judge Priest last year. I say that the statute is crystal clear and the reason why there’s no case law on the subject is because no one’s been dumb enough to try to challenge it before now. And even if you accept Attorney Pauerstein’s logic, the state’s evidence in the case showed that the defendants themselves understood the distinction between administrative overhead and other types of expenses. I hate to predict what judges will do, but I just don’t see this one.

I should note that the reason why DeLay is not pursuing this line of appeal is because at the time he was hoping to have everything more or less wrapped up before the March primary, and this route was expected to take much longer to resolve. If Ellis and Colyandro do strike gold, however, then as DeLay’s attorney says in the article it’s highly likely that his indictments will get tossed as a resiult as well. Stay tuned.

Commissioners Court approves Dome hotel plan

Yet another step forward for the Astrodome Hotel plan.

Commissioners Court unanimously gave the go-ahead to a private firm’s plan to spend $450 million reinventing the mostly dormant, county-owned Astrodome into a convention hotel.

[…]

With its vote, the court gave the the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp., permission to sign a letter of intent with Astrodome Redevelopment Corp.

No public money will be put into the project.

The letter of intent states that by March 2007, Astrodome Redevelopment must obtain financing and the approval from Reliant Park’s tenants, the Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Hotel construction would begin at the earliest late next year.

The county would lease the Dome to Astrodome Redevelopment for 50 years and give it an option to extend the lease another 20 years.

Astrodome Redevelopment would pay the county $2.5 million in rent annually and 2 percent-3 percent of gross revenues.

The letter of intent prohibits Astrodome Redevelopment from operating a casino or sexually oriented businesses.

[Harris County Judge Robert] Eckels said the project is a good one for the county. Private entrepreneurs, he said, will assume all the risk but may succeed in giving new life to the much beloved, aging Dome. If the plan works, Houston will begin attracting more conventions and more money will be pumped into the local economy, he said.

More on this project is here and here. The next step, in which the Dome Redevelopment folks have to convince companies with money to part with large sums of it to serve as their capital to do the construction, will be the crucial one. Tory did some back-of-the-envelope math on this back in July, and he’s skeptical about the Dome Hotel’s ability to generate enough revenue to cover its nut. We’ll see if the professional moneylenders feel the same way. Meanwhile, the question to ponder is what happens if financing falls through? I get the feeling that the Dome is running out of options, and may well face the prospect of demolition again. At least if that happens, folks like Judge Eckels who fear being tagged as “the guy who let the Dome get torn down” can say they tried their best but even a private investor couldn’t make it work. We shall see.

Another contender in CD21

Via Strange Bedfellows, there are now four declared candidates in the new CD21.

Tommy Calvert Jr., a community activist and an international anti-slavery crusader, got the word out this morning that he’s in the race for Congressional District 21.

“I am running for Congress to clean up the mess in Washington and give the people of the 21st Congressional District of Texas a leader that they can talk to, so they can believe again in America’s promise,” Calvert said in an e-mail to supporters.

He’ll challenge Rep. Lamar Smith, a San Antonio Republican who’s held the seat for 20 years. He’ll also come up against at least two Democrats – perennial candidate Gene Kelly and John Courage, the party’s nominee before a redistricting decision earlier this month forced Nov. 7 open election in five congressional district, including the 21st.

[…]

“The recent redistricting has presented the community with a unique opportunity to unite a seemingly disparate district,” he said. “I grew up in the heart of the (district)). I lived near Perrin-Beitel Road for almost 20 years, and attended school at MacArthur Park Lutheran, St. Luke’s Episcopal and St. Mary’s Hall.”

I don’t know a thing about Mr. Calvert (Karl-T says he’s a Democrat running as an independent), but I don’t mind having another voice against Lamar Smith in the race. Meanwhile, John Courage has a new ad out that you can see at BOR, and he’s a national netroots candidate. He was in this race from the beginning, and I hope people will remember that.

Who actually wants rail on Westpark?

Christof makes an observation about the Universities rail controversy.

It’s important to realize first of all that nobody is speaking for Westpark. The vocal proponents of Westpark are those who are against rail on Richmond. They don’t want Westpark because they think rail on Westpark is good; they want rail on Westpark because it means no rail on Richmond. That’s in contrast to Richmond, where, while there is considerable opposition, there is also considerable support in the surrounding neighborhoods for Richmond.

And there are those who oppose rail on Westpark. There are residential neighborhoods directly bordering Westpark between Edloe and the Union Pacific railroad; they lobbied against Richmond in the and will do so again. And any alignment that tries to avoid Richmond east of Shepherd either by elevating above 59 or by running at grade alongside the freeway trench will run into two very organized civic groups (Boulevard Oaks and Neartown) that are already on record for a Richmond alignment and that know how to organize (they’re the reason 59 is depressed under Montrose now). And what about the businesses along Westpark, especially those with back driveways that cross the METRO right-of-way?

The point is that without a vocal constituency in favor of a line on Westpark, it will likely die. Will John Culberson actually champion building the line on Westpark where he insists it has to go, and will he fight to ensure that it gets FTA funding as other cities have gotten via earmarks, thus upholding the will of the voters by seeing the Universities line through to completion? Or, since he’s never before lifted a finger to support mass transportation in Houston, will he be content to let it die and thus finally overturn the referendum that he fought in vain to defeat in 2003? You know what I think.

The DCCC welcomes Sekula-Gibbs to the race

I’d forgotten about this.

Republicans in Washington are famous for accepting congressional pay raises even though the debt has reached $8.5 trillion under their watch while they continue to do nothing to balance the budget. Congressional candidate Shelley Sekula-Gibbs was one of five on the Houston City Council to accept a pay raise during a city-wide financial crisis in 2004. At the time, Houston faced an $8 million budget shortfall and projected gaps of more than $70 million for the following year.

[…]

In 2004, Sekula-Gibbs was one of only five of fourteen City Council members to accept a pay raise, despite maintaining a private medical practice on the side. The Houston Chronicle reported that Houston “faces an anticipated $8 million shortfall this fiscal year, according to the controller’s office. The gap for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, has been projected as high as $74 million by the finance and administration office.” Sekula-Gibbs declined to comment on acceptance of the 12% raise. [Houston Chronicle, 1/15/04, 1/16/04]

Welcome to the table, Shelley. The Chron articles cited can be found here and here. The full story is more nuanced than this, since the money for the raises goes to the Council members’ budgets whether they take it home as pay or not, but that’s life in the big city. I don’t imagine ads funded by the $3 million of national GOP money will be any fairer than that.

Besides, I figure that for the most part, Shelley will be mostly if not totally ignored in Nick Lampson’s advertising. This race is not much different than most well-funded-incumbent-versus-little-known-challenger campaigns. Especially with the write-in component, there’s no percentage in Lampson adding to her name recognition. I don’t expect the DCCC or any other organization to spend much if anything on attacks ads for the same reason. I could be wrong about this, especially if a big barrage of anti-Lampson pieces hits the airwaves, but at this point I don’t see it.

A preview of the coming budget battles

I like the link title for this story: “Some fear state budget will hurt health, education”. I believe that one goes into the “No s–t, Sherlock” file.

Unofficial estimates from Gov. Rick Perry’s office identify money totals – factoring in “conservative” revenue growth, an economic boost from tax changes and the balance in the state contingency fund – that come close to covering his staff’s estimates of major spending needs in the coming two-year budget period. The needs, identified in May, include such things as Medicaid growth but not recently high-profile issues such as parks funding.

For the two-year budget period after that – the one lawmakers won’t write until 2009 – forecasts are more uncertain.

In that period, the state would be $300 million short of paying just for the school and tax package under what Perry budget director Mike Morrissey called conservative revenue projections. He said the estimates don’t fully account for factors such as potential economic growth.

In short, if you accept the Governor’s notion of “conservative” revenue growth estimates, and you accept that the special session tax swap will be a boost to the economy (I’m a little unclear on that one), and you assume that the previous surplus projections haven’t already been allocated at least twice, then we’re only $300 million shy of a balanced budget. Assuming nothing else bad happens, of course.

As you might imagine, not everyone sees it that way.

Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, House Democratic Caucus chairman, dismissed the figures from Perry’s office as “ludicrous estimates.”

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, Senate Finance Committee chairman, said: “The budget is going to be tight. But I don’t think it’s going to be anything that we can’t manage.

“I think we’re going to be fine. I’m not 100 percent sure,” Ogden said. “I think the next biennium, we’re going to be OK. I’m not ready to speculate on the biennium beyond that.”

[…]

[Comptroller Carole] Strayhorn estimated the effort would create a shortfall of $23 billion over five years. The nonpartisan Legislative Budget Board put it at $25 billion.

The comptroller is the only one who can make official revenue estimates, a point Morrissey noted. The comptroller is required to make such an estimate for the next Legislature, which returns in January 2007.

Deputy Comptroller Billy Hamilton emphasized that point when asked about Morrissey’s figures, and he disputed the idea that there would be a huge economic response to the tax changes.

“You can come up with all sorts of scenarios, but really, the proof is in the pudding,” Hamilton said. “And right now, the pudding says $23 billion to $25 billion short in the plan. That’s $5 billion a year, and that takes a lot of economic growth to make up.”

I don’t blame Sen. Ogden for not wanting to talk about the next biennium. It gets ugly in a hurry. Strayhorn’s revenue estimate for January of 2007 will be her last as Comptroller. That will bear watching.

Poincare update

This, via Chad Orzel, is from last week, but what with all of the CD22 craziness I never got around to posting it. It’s an update on the status of eccentric Russian mathematician Grisha Perelman and his reported proof of the Poincare Conjecture (see here for more). Perelman has gone into seclusion in Russia since his proof was published almost three years ago, but the work he did appears to be standing up to scrutiny. Among other things, there’s a million bucks riding on this:

Also left hanging, for now, is $1 million offered by the Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Mass., for the first published proof of the conjecture, one of seven outstanding questions for which they offered a ransom back at the beginning of the millennium.

[…]

In his absence, others have taken the lead in trying to verify and disseminate his work. Dr. Kleiner of Yale and John Lott of the University of Michigan have assembled a monograph annotating and explicating Dr. Perelman’s proof of the two conjectures.

Dr. Morgan of Columbia and Gang Tian of Princeton have followed Dr. Perelman’s prescription to produce a more detailed 473-page step-by-step proof only of Poincare’s Conjecture. “Perelman did all the work,” Dr. Morgan said. “This is just explaining it.”

Both works were supported by the Clay institute, which has posted them on its Web site, claymath.org. Meanwhile, Huai-Dong Cao of Lehigh University and Xi-Ping Zhu of Zhongshan University in Guangzhou, China, have published their own 318-page proof of both conjectures in The Asian Journal of Mathematics (www.ims.cuhk.edu.hk/).

Although these works were all hammered out in the midst of discussion and argument by experts, in workshops and lectures, they are about to receive even stricter scrutiny and perhaps crossfire. “Caution is appropriate,” said Dr. Kleiner, because the Poincare conjecture is not just famous, but important.

James Carlson, president of the Clay Institute, said the appearance of these papers had started the clock ticking on a two-year waiting period mandated by the rules of the Clay Millennium Prize. After two years, he said, a committee will be appointed to recommend a winner or winners if it decides the proof has stood the test of time.

“There is nothing in the rules to prevent Perelman from receiving all or part of the prize,” Dr. Carlson said, saying that Dr. Perelman and Dr. Hamilton had obviously made the main contributions to the proof.

As the article and a commenter at Good Math, Bad Math note, Perelman actually proved a stronger version of Poincare, which is Thurston’s Conjecture from 1982. That’s really impressive. What’s exciting about this for mathematicians is not just that a longstanding historically significant problem has finally been solved, but that the solution has deep connections to other, seemingly unrelated, areas of math. That’s sure to generate tons more research opportunities, and who knows where all that will lead.

So in the last decade or so, Fermat and Poincare have fallen. There are still some lucrative problems to solve. Personally, I’m rooting for the Riemann Hypothesis to go next, but to each his own.

What about Bob (Smither)?

I’ve noted that among the advantages Shelley Sekula-Gibbs will have over the usual write-in candidacy are higher than normal name recognition and news coverage of her race. Well, those factors apply to the Libertarian candidate, Bob Smither, as well.

[G]iven the exit of Republican Tom DeLay, a division within the local GOP rank-and-file about who to back in a write-in campaign and paired with a few endorsements from nationally recognized GOP members, Smither isn’t the only one who likes his chances against Democrat Nick Lampson.

Last week, former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, best known for his participation as one of the prosecutors in the President Clinton impeachment proceedings, offered his endorsement of Smither.

Smither also received a nod from Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who cautioned that should it be determined a write-in campaign would likely not be successful against Lampson, conservative voters should give serious consideration to Smither’s campaign.

“Republicans must focus solely on one issue. Does a write-in campaign have a chance of success?” Patterson said. “If the consensus is it does not, we should seriously consider supporting Bob Smither.”

[…]

“Smither’s great advantage is he is on the ballot,” said University of Houston political science professor Richard Murray. “The problem is he has that Libertarian title.”

Murray said when it comes to voting, despite regular outcries from the electorate of wanting more choices, Libertarians are still considered a fringe political movement.

“Even in the best of circumstances in a two-man race, a Libertarian candidate gets 12 percent to 15 percent of the (total) vote,” said Murray. “He will pick up a faction that don’t like Lampson or the Democrats, but outside of having that major party support, I don’t see it happening.

“It should be Lampson’s race to lose.”

Smither countered this is an unusual race. He noted this with his recent announcement that if elected he would caucus with Republicans and would back a Republican speaker of the House, he has started to hear from a lot of diehard GOP backers who indicate they will support him.

Much of that support has come as Smither positions himself as “the only conservative candidate on the ballot.”

I’ve long thought that Smither would be a major threat to the chances of any write-in candidate. The GOP is more unified now (at least publicly) than it has been during the process of finding somebody (anybody! except David Wallace, of course) that it can rally behind, so Smither’s moment in the sun may be over. It’ll be interesting to see how prominent he remains in the news coverage from here on out. Link via Easter Lemming.

More on Wallace’s withdrawal

Fort Bend Now has just about everything I could want to know.

In an afternoon press conference at Sugar Land City Hall, flanked by his wife and daughters, Wallace also said he will not seek re-election as mayor of Sugar Land, but would not say whether he intends to run in the Republican Party primary for Congressional District 22 in 2008.

He can’t come out and say it, of course, because that would be admitting the reality of Representative Lampson. Assuming, that is, that he wouldn’t go ahead and mount a primary challenge to Shelley Sekula-Gibbs in the event of a miracle for her.

Wallace took a swipe at [the process that selected Sekula-Gibbs as the consensus choice] Monday. “In a session closed to the public, an alternative candidate received the endorsement of the Texas Republican Party by winning a straw poll of 83 precinct chairs that were allowed to vote for what was labeled ‘the Republican choice’ for the write-in candidate to replace Tom DeLay,” he said.

Since that night, “I have received hundreds and hundreds of emails and phone calls” by “people who were not allowed to vote” at the Thursday meeting, and who “strongly encouraged me to continue to run,” Wallace said.

“Without exception, these callers and supporters questioned this made-up process and asked why 83 individuals could determine the ‘Republican choice’ candidate for over 33,000 Republican primary voters across the district,” he said. “Rather than unifying our party, it has only caused further fragmentation.”

Nonetheless, Wallace said, Texas GOP Chairman Tina Benkiser announced that “she had a commitment for $3 million for this race from Washington” as long as there was only one GOP write-in candidate.

“I believe that with those promised resources, and a masterfully crafted campaign, a write-in candidacy is a winnable venture,” Wallace said. “Therefore, in an effort to support the Texas Republican Party, I am going to Austin on Wednesday and ask Secretary of State Roger Williams to withdraw my name as a write-in candidate for CD-22.”

He sure doesn’t sound like someone who really wanted to drop out, does he? Well, maybe if there wasn’t a carrot for him to depart there was a big enough stick. We may never know.

On Monday, Wallace said his campaign has spent the last few weeks meeting with White House representatives, members of the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Texas congressional delegation.

“We have a stellar finance committee comprised of some of the biggest fundraisers for President Bush and influential business leaders recognized throughout the district,” Wallace said. “However, this entire team agrees that it is impossible to win this write-in campaign with two Republican candidates in the race.”

He urged voters in the district “to join me in writing in Shelley Sekula-Gibbs on Nov. 7. Together, we will defeat Nick Lampson.”

Yeah, well, good luck with that. I’ve crunched a few numbers on this over at Kuff’s World. You tell me how realistic this is.

Lampson campaign manager Mike Malaise said he believes “we’re getting to the point where people in the district are tiring of that bickering back and forth. And,” he said, “they want to hear somebody talk about the issues.

“That’s why all of the mail we’re sending out, and the TV, is pro-Nick Lampson, and defining his stances on the issues,” Malaise said.

Normally, of course, I’d expect a wad of money to be spent on anti-Lampson attack ads. I just wonder how much of that $3 million kitty will be budgeted to driving up Lampson’s negatives, and how much will be devoted to educating people about the write-in process. As with so many things in this year’s election, there’s just no precedent to guide me in taking a guess.

One last thing, from today’s Chron story:

Sekula-Gibbs does not plan to resign her Houston City Council seat during the congressional race. Her council term runs until the end of 2007.

So either she’s going to be a part-time candidate (one presumes the national GOP might expect more for its $3 million commitment than that), or she’s going to start shirking her duties in City Council. Let’s keep a running total of how many Council meetings she misses while campaigning.

Name that park!

Houston’s new downtown park needs a name. You can help.

“We want Houstonians to feel like it is their park,” said Guy Hagstette, director of the Houston Downtown Park Conservancy, which is overseeing development of the $81 million, 12-acre park near the George R. Brown Convention Center.

The contest, which continues through 5 p.m. Sept. 18, is open to all U.S. residents. The winner will receive dinner for two at a new restaurant to open in the park, a framed political cartoon by Houston Chronicle cartoonist Nick Anderson and a collection of Houston Astros merchandise.

Hagstette said the conservancy’s board will review submissions and make a recommendation to Mayor Bill White, who will make the final decision. The name of the park will be unveiled at an Oct. 16 groundbreaking ceremony.

Parts of the park are scheduled to open in fall 2007, with the entire park open by January 2008.

In its logo and promotional materials, the conservancy refers to the park as “downtown’s backyard,” based on the idea that people tend to be more comfortable in their backyards than their front yards, said Nancy Kinder, the conservancy’s board chairwoman.

The conservancy wants the park’s name to convey the same sense of comfort and intimacy – a goal that also was reflected in soliciting public ideas to influence the park’s design, Kinder said.

Houstonist has more on this. You can learn more about the park here, and more aout the contest and its rules here.

Wallace withdraws

David Wallace will not pursue a write-in bid in CD22.

Wallace announced his decision about the Congressional District 22 race today at a news conference at Sugar Land City Hall.

The decision comes after Republican party leaders from Fort Bend, Harris, Galveston and Brazoria counties selected Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs as the party’s choice to run in the November election as a write-in candidate.

I’m sure there’ll be more on this later. According to Juanita, Wallace said “the GOP in Washington” (RNC? NRCC? Big Time Dick? unclear at this time) will send three million bucks to support the “consensus” candidate. I still don’t understand the cost/benefit analysis behind that, but hey, it’s their money. Between this, the SCOTUS-ordered open Congressional primaries, and the four-headed Governor’s race, political scientists will dine out on the 2006 campaign season for years to come.

UPDATE: Fred attended the press conference, and summarizes as follows:

He is withdrawing from the race to unify the party.
He received no outside pressure from the party chairs.
When asked what happened last Thursday and why he wasn’t selected his answer was simply, “I don’t know”
He will donate the maximum amount allowed to Shelley Sekula Gibbs campaign.
Again and again he said he did not receive outside pressure to withdraw.

How many of these items do you believe? The only one I’m sure of is that he doesn’t know why he wasn’t selected as the One True Write-In.

Interview with Diane Trautman

I’ve done just about all of the Congressional interviews that I wanted to do, so now I turn to the State House, where there’s a fine slate of Democratic candidates in Harris County and elsewhere. Today’s interviewee is Diane Trautman, who’s running against the odious Joe Crabb in HD127 up in Kingwood. She’s also one of several former teachers who are running this year. Here’s the interview:

Link for the MP3 file is here. I hope to cover as many of the Harris County Democratic State Rep candidates as I can.

Here are all my previous interviews:

Gary BinderimInterview
Glenn MelanconInterview
Jim HenleyInterview
David HarrisInterview
Ted AnkrumInterview
Shane SklarInterview 1, Interview 2
John CourageInterview
Nick LampsonInterview, Interview about space
Mary Beth HarrellInterview
Hank GilbertInterview
Joe FariasInterview
Harriet MillerInterview
Ellen CohenInterview
Diane TrautmanInterview

Thode points a finger

I’d been wondering when a member of the GOP establishment would publicly blame Tom DeLay for the mess that they’re in now. At long last, here’s one, talking about the prospect of Congressman Lampson and Speaker Pelosi:

“Absolutely atrocious” is the phrase Eric Thode, who got his start in politics putting up yard signs for DeLay in 1978, uses to describe that scenario.

“No question it’s possible,” said Thode, GOP chairman in DeLay’s home county until a few months ago. “I would hope that any logical thinking Republican will realize where the blame lies. The blame lies with Tom DeLay.”

Ah, Eric Thode. Let’s take a little trip down memory lane, to the May issue of Texas Monthly:

IT WAS EARLY IN January when Eric Thode got the phone call from a member of Tom DeLay’s staff. Thode was a little surprised to hear from DeLay. As the chairman of the Fort Bend County Republican party, Thode was responsible for running the March 7 primary election, but that was two months away, and he expected DeLay to win easily against three opponents. Surely DeLay wasn’t concerned about it. So what could the eleven-term congressman from Sugar Land, the majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, want to know?

As Thode remembers the conversation, the staffer said DeLay was “contemplating his possibilities.” What if he were to win the primary with a less-than-solid showing? What if Ronnie Earle, the Travis County district attorney who had secured two felony indictments against DeLay involving the misuse of corporate funds to help Republican state legislative candidates in the 2002 election cycle, was able to win a conviction before the 2006 election? What if something happened in the federal corruption investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whom DeLay had once described as one of his closest friends? If any of these circumstances came to pass, the Democrats could win the seat. His seat.

Where was this leading? The answer wasn’t long in revealing itself. At what date, asked the staffer, could DeLay withdraw as a candidate? Was there a way for the GOP to replace him on the ballot after the primary? Thode explained the complicated procedure that allows the Republican county chairmen from the four counties in DeLay’s district (Fort Bend, Harris, Brazoria, and Galveston) to pick a replacement for a seat that becomes vacant due to death, resignation, or ineligibility. When he hung up, Thode knew what no one else in America would know for three months: The end of Tom DeLay’s political career was at hand.

And as we know, the Democrats cited this story as evidence in their lawsuit to prevent the Republicans from replacing DeLay on the ballot. One wonders when Eric Thode will acknowledge that maybe if he’d told DeLay back in January that this was a stupid idea, none of this would have happened.

Ah, well. It’s a start. Link via Greg in TX22, who is thinking along the same lines.

Behind the Universities lines

The West U Examiner has a look at how the Southwest Freeway elevated plan came into being. According to Mayor White, it all comes back to you-know-who, John Culberson.

In an Aug. 4 memo to Metro officials, the mayor first related a 35-minute conversation with Culberson on Aug. 2.

“He was clear that he would try to fight about the portion west of (the University of) St. Thomas in any way. He was specific,” the mayor indicated.

“He asked me to repeat my commitment that I would defer to his ultimate preference in routing.

“I told him that I was disappointed in his action on opposing a viable routing without advocating a viable alternative. I told him that it would be unfair to other members of Congress and the public with destinations to be served along the line if there was a ‘hole’ in the middle of the line because he did not support any routing and was given veto power.”

Finally, White indicated, he got a commitment from Culberson: “He said he would support a routing within the IH59. He said Metro should study that.”

Based on that conversation, White said Metro “should seriously consider both the cost and the viability on ridership of some structure, presumably elevate in some portion, from St. Thomas to a point where it can cross IH59,” although the mayor indicated he did not think such a study “should significantly delay” its route selection.

Late that day, Metro announced that a plan “on behalf of” Culberson and a similar recommendation by Clutterbuck, a former Culberson aide, had forced its staff to delay a recommendation to the Metro board that was expected to come Aug. 7 or 8.

I presume “IH59” is someone’s mistranscription of “US59”. All I can say here is that I’m glad to see Mayor White pushing Culberson to do something constructive, even if it’s likely to be useless. Now he needs to keep pushing him until we get something that might actually work.

And you have to admire the footwork here:

“Neither Congressman Culberson nor anyone from his staff has submitted any kind of alternate route proposal to Metro,” wrote Nick Swyka, the congressman’s district director in an e-mail to the Examiner.

Swyka also figured in the Metro correspondence, asking Metro to credit Culberson for certain points in the new route study along U.S. 59 while simultaneously distancing the congressman from making a specific proposal.

“Please just make sure that it’s understood we’re not directing y’all where to build, but urging y’all to look at various alternatives,” Swyka wrote to Thomas Jasien of Metro on Aug. 4.

Mm hmm. Let’s be clear about something: When the options are limited, directing where to build and directing where not to build are functionally equivalent. For all of the backseat driving that Culberson is doing here, he can at least own up to that.

Link via Banjo. I saw this story myself in a print version of the Examiner a week or so ago, but it wasn’t online when I looked for it, and then I forgot about it. I’m glad to be reminded of it.

Behind the toll road turmoil

This is one of the better articles I’ve seen lately about the state’s toll road debate, and one of the few I’ve seen in a major metro daily regarding the Trans Texas Corridor hearings that have been taking place. I’ve got a few points to highlight, starting with a comment from a think tanker that just rubs me the wrong way.

“That’s why you don’t see a lot of big changes in public policy, because they are risky,” said Robert Poole, director of transportation studies for the California-based Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank. “It may be that the general public isn’t yet persuaded that this is a crisis. In day-to-day, average-person political terms, traffic congestion may not be bad enough yet.”

Well gosh, Mister Expert, maybe the public is aware of the situation and they just think that privatized toll roads is a dirt-stupid response to it. Maybe the public thinks that roads should be public goods. Maybe what they want is a political leader who can find a solution that allows for that.

On the subject of how the Trans Texas Corridor came to be:

The state’s population has increased more than 20 percent since 1990 and annual miles traveled on the state’s roads have gone up about 50 percent. Meanwhile, the Texas highway system, with increasing maintenance costs and more expensive urban construction needs, grew only 4 percent during that decade and a half.

The inescapable conclusion to be drawn from those numbers, one borne out by most people’s experience behind the wheel, is that Texas roads are more congested than they were 15 years ago.

The state Transportation Department’s budget, meanwhile, has tripled since 1990, including an 80 percent jump from the budget Perry inherited from George W. Bush to this year’s $7.7 billion spending plan.

Perry and his people say that’s still not nearly enough to deal with the state’s transportation needs now or, especially, in the future. Using figures gleaned by asking local transportation planners what they would build if money were no object, they say the state will have $86 billion in unmet transportation needs over the next 25 years.

In other words, the Trans Texas Corridor is based on unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky projections. Hey, imagine what our public education system would be like if money were no object. Free laptops for every student, better pay for teachers, unlimited funding for the arts, science labs, vocational training, etc etc etc. I’d bet you could put a similar unmet-needs price tag for the next quarter century on that if we framed the discussion in those terms. What would the answer be if these guys had to prioritize and separate out the need-to-haves from the nice-to-haves?

They say the only way to close that gap, to extinguish the blaze, as it were, is to put tolls on every road you can and recruit private capital to build as many new toll roads as possible. Increasing the state gasoline tax, frozen at 20 cents a gallon since 1991, is not an option, Perry and his fellow GOP legislative leaders say, particularly with unleaded gas selling for close to $3 a gallon. But that was already his position when gas was selling for well under $2 a gallon.

Perry’s November challengers Carole Keeton Strayhorn, an independent, and Chris Bell, a Democrat, agree with him on that point, as does Libertarian James Werner. Only independent candidate Kinky Friedman says he would be open to increasing the tax.

“Frankly, I think Texans will go for raising it a few cents rather than having toll roads,” Friedman said.

A few cents, in Perry’s view, would be irrelevant. Each penny raises about $100 million in a year, or enough for one fair-sized freeway interchange with flyover bridges. So a 20-cent increase, which would give Texas the highest gas tax of any state, would bring in an extra $2 billion a year. Perry says that wouldn’t be nearly enough to return Texas’ transportation system to its former lofty status among states, particularly as hybrid vehicles and other improvements from Detroit increase gas efficiency and cause gas tax revenue to sag.

A 20-cents-a-gallon increase in the tax would cost the average driver about $100 a year. That’s much less than a driver regularly commuting on a toll road would pay. The U.S. 183-A tollway due to open next year will cost $2 for one trip through, or about $1,000 a year for a five-day-a-week commuter.

I’ve been making that exact argument for a long time now. To get back to the smug Robert Poole for a moment, maybe the public hates this idea because they realize just how expensive it will be for them.

Look, why can’t we have a discussion about what that extra $2 billion a year would mean for current road construction and planning? While we’re at it, let’s discuss how much TxDOT has wasted on certain projects through bad planning, inefficiency, or just poor design. And hey, why not go whole hog and discuss some ways that we can encourage behavior and lifestyles that don’t depend on long commutes to work every day. Maybe that $2 billion a year will go farther than we think.

Oh, and we’d be getting an extra half billion or so in education funding with a gas tax increase, too. Just FYI.

Strayhorn’s and Bell’s combination of stances – against toll roads but also against raising the gasoline tax – is the crux of Perry’s electoral pitch against them.

“If someone has a better idea . . . please lay out that plan,” Perry said. “None of them do. My point is, if you’re going to be afraid to lay out plans to take the state forward, you might choose a different line of work.”

sigh This is a silver platter issue, and I fear it’s being fumbled because no one (besides Kinky, God help me) wants to be honest about the gas tax. All I can say is “Argh!”

Link via South Texas Chisme.

The many faces of Carole Strayhorn

I don’t actually have much to say about this article regarding Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s chameleonlike political career. RG Ratcliffe does a nice job laying out Strayhorn’s all-things-to-everyone position on a variety of issues. I’m certainly not one who thinks that once a politician takes a stance on something he or she needs to believe that very thing for the rest of his or her life. It’s just that I at least tend to prefer a politician who makes me believe that the change in heart really comes from the heart, and not from the needs of whatever campaign is currently being run.

Anyway. The one thing I do want to highlight is this:

Strayhorn is the only candidate for governor whose Internet site lacks a page dedicated to her position on issues.

I complained about Strayhorn’s pathetic campaign website two months ago. I see it’s no different now. Maybe they’re just waiting for her to settle on what her stances actually are before the campaign commits them to print. Check back again in two more months and we’ll see.

Wallace to make his announcement on Monday

Former Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace, the Chosen One Who Wasn’t, talks to KTRK.

The first person to file as a Republican write-in candidate, Mayor Wallace had not commented publicly ever since Republican precinct chairs chose someone else to throw their support behind. But now, he’s opening up to Eyewitness News about the unusual selection process and his future plans.

While it’s no secret that Wallace wants the job DeLay left behind, it’s also quite obvious that on Thursday, Republican precinct chairs picked someone else — Houston Councilmember Shelly Sekula-Gibbs to support. And Wallace admits he’s not a fan of the closed door selection process.

“We’ve got a large voter base in Congressional District 22 and having the voice of 83 individuals coming together, is that representative of the entire district?” he asked.

What’s so funny about this is that Wallace was once hoping to be the choice of four individuals that were selected collectively by not much more than 83 other individuals. From a small-d democratic standpoint, the Benkiser Gang anointment process wasn’t all that much different from the original Gang of Four process. Mostly, they had a lot less time to work with. It’s just that Wallace was able to deceive himself into thinking that he had a shot with the Gang of Four, but even he could see the writing on the wall with the Benkiser Gang.

But Wallace has an even tougher decision — whether or not to stay in the race as a write-in candidate against Democratic nominee Nick Lampson. Our political expert, Dr. Richard Murray, says it’s almost impossible to win with one write-in candidate. He can’t imagine the Republicans would have any shot with two.

“It’s complicated, but my guess would be he’s best advised to pass on putting his name as a write-in candidate and yield this to Ms. Gibbs with the expectation it won’t be very helpful to her,” said Dr. Murray.

Mayor Wallace says he’ll be announcing his decision on whether to stay in the race on Monday. And a lot of people will be waiting for an answer.

“With all of the different changes that took place this week, obviously I am doing a lot of soul searching, meeting with a number of representatives to talk about the next step and that’ll be announced on Monday,” he said.

Yes, as Chris says, it’s pretty impressive being able to get on TV to announce that you’re going to make an announcement. Will he unfile, if that’s even possible? Or will he stick it out? Either way, I agree with Fred: this is all about his 2008 campaign, because it’s all about him.

Juanita thinks Wallace has nothing to lose. Muse channels The Clash for Wallace. For what it’s worth, I think Wallace has nothing to lose, either. Again, if you assume that being the Congressman from Sugar Land is what Wallace wants to be, then what could anyone entice him with to drop out now? The only thing I can think of that makes any sense is a promise to support him in 2008 regardless of what happens this year. If you want to get into a little conspiracy theorizing, imagine someone like Tom DeLay telling Wallace that all that talk about providing massive financial help to Sekula Gibbs was a load of hooey. They know it’s a lost cause but while they couldn’t bear the idea of having no Republican at all, they didn’t want to waste someone who’d have a real shot at Lampson in two years by making that person a laughingstock now. So they settled on Shelley, whom they don’t truly respect, and now they want to make sure Wallace doesn’t make a fool of himself so he can finally be the true Chosen One, supported by all, next time.

You can take that line of thinking all kinds of places, but there’s still a big hole in it: Why would anyone – at least, anyone who is supposed to be officially neutral in these matters – promise to support a specific candidate for 2008 now, when we don’t know who else might get into the race? What if Robert Eckels decides that maybe he isn’t so worried about spending time with his family any more? What if Paul Bettencourt decides he’s bored with being Harris County Tax Assessor? How silly would you feel as a Wallace ’08 supporter if something like that happened? And that doesn’t even address the issue of what happens if Sekula Gibbs actually wins. I know, we’re in ConspiracyTheoryLand here, but I imagine the question would come up in our hypothetical conversation. Look at it this way: Given everything you know about Mayor Dave, if you had to explain this grandiose scheme to him, would you then trust him to keep it a secret? You can see why none of this seems realistic.

So I guess there’s one last what-if scenario to play out before we finally get down to the by now mundane business of actual campaigning. Maybe we’ll start to get a handle on how much the Republicans do plan to spend on this race, too. As always, stay tuned.

UPDATE: Bob Dunn thinks Wallace will stay the course.