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August 7th, 2006:

Announcing the TexRoots candidates list: Round One

Support TexRoots candidates

It’s been a crazy day today, so I’m getting to this a little later than I’d originally planned, but as of today the Texas Progressive Alliance — a collection of over 20 Texas blogs united to promote Democratic and progressive candidates and causes — has launched the first round of endorsements for our online fundraising drive. The three candidates we’re touting in this go-round are:

Hank Gilbert, who is running for Agriculture Commissioner.
Shane Sklar, who is running for CD14.
Juan Garcia, who is running in HD32.

I’ll save myself a little typing and point you to BOR and The Red State for all you need to know about these three fine fellows. We’re hoping to raise $3000 total in the next two weeks. You can help by clicking the logo at the top of this post or on my sidebar and using the new features of ActBlue.com that we told you about to contribute.

As a reminder, I’ve got an interview with Gilbert here and with Sklar here. I have another interview with Sklar in the works, and of course he was kind enough to do a guest post for me last week. Phillip has more on Gilbert here (and I’d be remiss to omit a mention of the blog about his opponent), with a link to video of his Democratic Convention speech here. I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting Garcia yet, but I’m working on it and will interview him when I get the chance. He was in the news over the weekend, and you can watch a short bio video of him on YouTube.

You’ll hear a lot more on these folks, and of the endorsees to follow, in the coming weeks. Please help us help them. Thanks!

And don’t forget the Alabama BookStop

I’ve expended a lot of electronic ink lately on the plight of the River Oaks Theater, but as today’s Chron reminds us, it’s not the only historic building that’s currently being threatened by the bulldozer.

Whole Earth Provision Co. has shared the Shepherd Alabama Shopping Center with Bookstop since the mid-’80s.

Joe Jones, one of Whole Earth’s owners, said last week that representatives of Weingarten Realty Investments, which owns the center, have approached him about the possibility of razing the historic building.

“They said, ‘What if we wanted to redevelop?’ ” said Jones. “We said, ‘We’ll talk to you.’ We’re not going to close down the conversation.”

Jones said Whole Earth has 17 years left to run on its lease on the store, currently the Austin company’s only Houston location. At 5,600 square feet, it’s the smallest in the chain. Though the location performs well, Jones said Whole Earth believes its new stores should be roughly three times that size – so he’s open to new ideas.

“We’ve been talking to Weingarten for a long time,” he said. “Real estate guys think long-term. With them, the wheel turns real slow. None of this is happening tomorrow.”

Any change, he said, would be at least two or three years away.

Which means that any action in response to this would need to get started now. Once these things are in motion, it doesn’t take long for them to become irreversible.

A few years ago, Kaldis Realty sold its share of the shopping center to Weingarten Realty Investors. “I have a different mind-set than a developer like Weingarten,” explains Andrew Kaldis, who for years managed the property. “We decided to part ways.”

Kaldis has gone on to develop many historic properties, including the buildings that house Gravitas and Hugo’s restaurants; the 1909 Scanlan Building downtown, now loft office space; and the Villa Serena, a 1913 orphanage that’s now a condominium building in Midtown.

Finding new uses for historic properties is a challenge, said Kaldis. “You have to specialize in urban development and go out and find tenants who fit the space instead of building space that fits the tenants.”

He noted that his projects have been profitable and said historic properties such as the Alabama are well worth saving.

“Those buildings add personality to the city in a way that we’ve neglected over the years,” he said. “And my real reward is that those buildings will be there after I’m gone.”

At this rate, I wouldn’t count on that.

I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that if people in Houston want to save the Alabama Bookstop and the River Oaks Theater, they need to take action now. It’s great that some high profile players have gotten involved – usually, this sort of thing take a lot of grassroots work before it bubbles up to the surface of public consciousness – but what’s the goal here, and who’s leading the charge? I say the goal is a review of the city’s historic preservation statutes, with an eye towards creating new guidelines, incentives, regulations, whatever works best to save these two buildings and create a framework for preserving the Alabama Bookstops and River Oaks Theaters of the future. As I said before, I think incentives of some form are likely to be the best received option, but I’m not married to any one method, and there’s sometimes a fine line between a tax incentive and a giveaway. But that’s the goal, and anyone who has agitated over this, including all of the petition signers should find a way to bring it about if this is what they really want. As that includes me, I’m going to do a little asking around to see what I can do. Stay tuned.

On the court decisions

I finally had a chance to give a little thought to the two big court decisions from last week. You can read what I came up with over at Kuff’s World. And for another fine take on the CD22 situation, read Bob Dunn.

UPDATE: The Republican Party of Texas has now officially asked the US Supreme Court to get involved.

Texas Republicans today asked U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to issue a stay that would allow the GOP to replace former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay on the general election ballot.

The 41-page motion argues that there is a good chance the full court will want to hear the constitutional issues that the case raises. The motion also says it will be in the best interest of voters to allow the Republicans to pick a new candidate for DeLay’s 22nd District seat.

“The Fifth Circuit’s decision restricts the voters’ range of choices because it requires the (Republican Party of Texas) to keep an ineligible candidate on the ballot,” said the motion by Republican lawyer James Bopp Jr. “It limits their choice because the opportunity to vote for an ineligible candidate is no choice at all.”

[…]

Scalia could stay the injunction pending a review of the case by the full court, which would allow the Republicans to move forward to replace DeLay on the ballot. Or, he could effectively end the fight by rejecting Bopp’s motion.

Chad Dunn, a lawyer for the Texas Democratic Party, said he feels confident that Sparks’ injunction will remain in place.

“We have felt confident that we’ve been correct on the facts and the law in this case,” Dunn said.

An earlier version of this story noted that Scalia is the judge that handles such reviews from the Fifth Circuit, which is why he’s been petitioned. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Holy Original Intent, Batman! That didn’t take long.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Monday rejected a request by Texas Republicans to block an appeals court ruling that says former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s name must appear on the November ballot.

[…]

“Wow! That was quick,” said Cris Feldman, attorney for Texas Democrats who had not yet heard about the stay.

“That was a lightning-quick response. We’re very pleased by the court’s decision to deny the stay and it’s now time to move toward the general election and put this matter behind us,” said Feldman.

No kidding. Doing a Google News search on “Scalia” and sorting by date, the first stories about the GOP request hit the papers two hours ago. That’s as fast as I may ever see the judicial system working.

According to the story, Tina Benkiser may ask another judge for a second review. I can’t imagine that will work, but until that happens or the RPT officially raises the white flag, it ain’t over till it’s over. Thanks to Jeff N. for the tip.

UPDATE: I just heard on KHOU that the Republicans will not appeal to the full Supreme Court. Say good night, Gracie. Fort Bend Now confirms it:

Justice Scalia’s denial of the GOP application appears to have closed the door on any chance the Republicans had to find a replacement candidate for DeLay.

“The efforts to get relief through the courts prior to the election have been exhausted,” said attorney James Bopp Jr. “Obviously the party is considering their options.”

Sweet.

Three cheers for the guest bloggers

I’m back to what passes for normal now, including being mostly readjusted to Central time. We were in Oregon at just the right time, a day or two after their annual heat wave had dissipated. I mean, how much would it suck to go from Houston to Portland in late July and find that it was cooler back home? Thankfully, the weather was great, and Olivia got to spend a lot of time outside. Woo hoo!

Anyway, I want to thank all the fine folks who gave me stuff to publish while I was out of the office, as it were. My sincere gratitude to:

City Council Member Carol Alvarado, for her post on the “debate” over the Houston Police Department’s policy concerning illegal immigrants.

State Rep. Ana Hernandez, for her post on the Voting Rights Act.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, for her post on why anti-immigration rhetoric affects not only Hispanics, but everyone.

The next Congressman from CD22, Nick Lampson, for his post on environmental issues.

The next Congressman from CD14, Shane Sklar, for his post on the future of agribusiness.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, for his post on the Green Ribbon Project.

A big round of applause for all of the guest bloggers, please. I hope you enjoyed reading their contributions as much as I did. Thanks, everyone!

Matthews violates probation, goes to jail

Catching up on some local news, I see that former local right-wing talker Jon Matthews has gone from the frying pan to the fire.

Former radio talk show host Jon Matthews surrendered at the Fort Bend County jail today after an arrest warrant was issued for him for allegedly violating probation.

Matthews received a seven-year deferred adjudication sentence two years ago when he pleaded guilty to a charge of indecency with a child.

According to court records, Matthews, 61, tested positive for alcohol, and was discussing sexual fantasies over the Internet.

Matthews was placed on probation after he admitted exposing himself to an 11-year-old girl in October 2003 in his Sugar Land home.

Among the conditions of the probation were that Matthews abstain from alcohol use and refrain from viewing sexually obscene material.

According to Fort Bend Now, Matthews had racked up several probation violations in the past year, but is just now being locked up for them. Lucky for him he wasn’t originally busted in Harris County, where probationers aren’t nearly as coddled.

Be that as it may, what I said about Matthews back when he gave a smarmy, self-serving statement about how the criminal justice system had screwed him is just as true now. Enjoy the accomodations, dude. You’ve earned your stay. HouStoned has more.

More on the Comal River follies

The Sunday Chron has a cover story on the recent and ongoing battles over who can do what while tubing down the Comal River in New Braunfels (see here, here, and here for previous installments).

For decades, New Braunfels tiptoed around the issue, giving more weight to economic and commercial interests than the social impact of alcohol-centered tourism.

“In the past, we’ve loved the sinners’ money more than we hated the sins,” as [former Houston oil executive-turned-city councilman Ken] Valentine has become fond of saying.

But now, with more college crowds and more “riffraff” from the Guadalupe, homeowners say the Comal has reached a boiling point.

“We’ve seen people out here feeding Jell-O shots to pit bulls,” said Valentine. He documents many of the indiscretions with his digital camera and periodic “surveys” of tubers.

[…]

So far this year, [New Braunfels Police have] issued more than 1,700 citations and made more than 475 arrests, he said.

“New Braunfels for many years has been a family environment, and we want to keep that,” [officer Kristen] Malish said. “What we don’t want is for this to be a Bourbon Street or a Key West, just a party town where people come and get rowdy.”

But Kody Smith, a Granbury middle school football coach who grew up in New Braunfels, said he barely recognized the river where he used to be a lifeguard.

“It’s just too constricting. There’s way too many more rules,” Smith said as he relaxed with fellow coaches by the river. “New Braunfels is going to hurt themselves doing this because there are other rivers in Texas.”

“How can you regulate public water?” he said. “That’s dumb.”

I figure someone like Tory could get at least a half dozen paragraphs out of a comparison between NB’s crackdown on its tourist industry and the attempt in the 90s to impose zoning on Houston, but I’m not quite up to it. I’ll just say that I’m not sure if the likes of Ken Valentine are killing the golden goose or saving it. We go to New Braunfels for the Schlitterbahn, so this doesn’t directly affect me. I’ve got a fair amount of sympathy for the homeowners, but I’ve also got a nagging feeling that they’re biting the hand that feeds their town. What do you think?