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August 8th, 2006:

More on the end of the DeLay ballot replacement lawsuit

All right, so as we know from yesterday, the litigation process in the matter of Tom DeLay and the CD22 ballot has come to a close, with the Republican Party of Texas finally giving up the ghost after suffering a judicial shutout. You already know the details of the story, so I’ll just highlight this little bit of whimsy for you:

DeLay was at his Sugar Land home Monday, but refused to come to the phone to discuss his intentions. When a reporter knocked on his door later, no one answered. Dani DeLay Ferro, DeLay’s spokeswoman and daughter, did not provide an immediate response.

You know, for a guy who claims to be a resident of Virginia, he sure does spend a lot of time in Sugar Land. And am I the only one who read that paragraph above and pictured DeLay in his room with his fingers in his ears going “LALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!!”

Regardless, the issue of DeLay’s whereabouts does provide a nice lead-in to this campaign season’s official Moment of Zen, as related in Fort Bend Now.

Neither DeLay nor Benkiser could not be reached for comment on Monday. Fort Bend County Republican Party Chairman Gary Gillen said Monday evening he has not heard from DeLay or Benkiser.

“We are 92 days away from an election, so we need to move forward,” Gillen said.

As for the party’s candidate, the fact DeLay now apparently is a Virginia resident would not be a barrier because he could easily move back to Texas by election day, Gillen said.

Um, Gary? Just FYI, but the point about DeLay being able to “easily move back to Texas by election day” was precisely the basis for Judge Sparks’ ruling in favor of the Democrats in their lawsuit. I mean, I’m glad that you see it our way and all, but I’ve got Tina Benkiser on Line Two wanting to talk to you about message coordination. You might want to take that call.

Anyway. More Gillen:

However, he added, “I don’t know if that’s his plan or not, and we need to give him time to think this through. He needs to think very carefully, what’s the right thing to do.”

Well, I’m not sure if DeLay is the one who thought this up or not, but the hot rumor now is that the GOP is exploring the write-in candidate option.

The write-in effort in the 22nd District of Texas would bring a fresh, unsullied face to the hunt. “Lampson’s best shot has always been against DeLay–Lampson’s record is too liberal for a Republican district,” a GOP official said, signaling the tack the party plans to take. An official close to DeLay said: “Nick Lampson would lose this race to a write-in candidate who had any name ID at all.”

The write-in candidate has not been chosen, but Republican officials in Washington said they have a good chance of retaining the seat if it is a credible candidate like a mayor, judge or state legislator. Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace has expressed interest in running. Write-in candidates have until Aug. 29 to apply for a slot on the ballot. National Republicans are prepared to put money into the write-in campaign if a promising candidate is found. “You can buy name ID,” said a Republican official, using campaign shorthand for making a candidate well known in the district.

But the notion of a write-in campaign drew a different reaction in Texas. “This would be met with ridicule and scorn,” said Bill Miller, a Republican consultant with close ties to the state’s GOP legislative leadership. “This strategy would be like handing the seat to the Democrats on a silver platter,” Miller said. “Tom Delay will be remembered for the craziest end to his political career.”

Miller said it is arrogant to think voters will support a write-in gambit. “Anointing a candidate never works,” Miller said. “Voters are likely to say, ‘The hell with ’em’ and write in their own name, their kid’s name.” Plus, if his name remained on the ballot, it is likely DeLay would attract some of the vote away from the write-in candidate.


Royal Masset, the former political director of the Republican Party of Texas, said DeLay’s old district is till “winnable” by the GOP even with DeLay as the candidate, but a write-in campaign would be “a disaster.” Masset warned his fellow Republicans to recall the last time they ran a major write-in effort.

In 1976, Donald Yarbrough, an unknown with a mess of legal woes said he was called to run “by God” for a seat on the state Supreme Court. Yarbrough won the Democratic primary on the strength of sharing the same last name with several notable Texas Democrats. Republicans thought they saw an opening and launched a statewide write-in campaign for their own candidate who also boasted a famous last name – Houston, as is Sam Houston. Masset said the GOP bombarded voters with free pencils and copies of sample write-in ballots. But Yarbrough won with over 90% of the vote. Later, Justice Yarbrough was indicted for perjury by DeLay’s nemesis, prosecutor Ronnie Earle, then fled to Grenada and was discovered there attending medical school when the U.S. invaded the Caribbean island nation.

Greg thinks this is a head fake, though I at least can’t tell what the real move is if it is just a fake. I’ve written about the write-in option before (here and here), and I agree with Miller and Masset. I’d put the over/under on a write-in candidate at 20%, and I’d probably bet the under. A write-in would get no straight-ticket votes, and I can just about guarantee that many voters who are forced to try and spell out a candidate’s name using the eSlate trackwheel will find the process highly annoying.

Chris Elam also mocks the write-in plan, while suggesting that the last best option at this point is for the local GOP to start pushing Libertarian candidate Bob Smither. I agree that makes more sense than the write-in scenario does, but it’s still not without some risk for the Republicans. For them to push Smither, they can’t have a simple “vote straight ticket” message. Getting away from that gives people room to think about voting for other non-Republicans as well (like, say, one of the Republicans-turned-Independent in the Governor’s race), and also increases the likelihood of undervoting in downballot races. It also risks alienating party loyalists who think Republicans should support only Republicans, or who have philosophical disagreements with the Libertarian platform. I think if the local GOP does decide to push Smither, he’ll have the best performance by an LP candidate ever in Texas (which is not too high a hurdle to clear, at least based on 2004), but he’ll still lose.

All of this, of course, assumes that DeLay will ultimately make his de facto withdraw official, which seems to be the way the wind is blowing today. I figure he’s got to make a decision sooner or later – even the hairbrained write-in option has an August 29 deadline looming, with a requirement to gather petition signatures to get those votes to count. We ought to know soon what the plan is from here.

UPDATE: He’s outta there!

Dogged by scandal, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay intends to withdraw as a candidate for Congress, a Republican strategist said today, a step that would allow the party to field a write-in candidate in hopes of holding his seat.

May I just say YES! Woo hoo! Hot damn! Hell, let’s all sing a song.

Happy days are here again
The skies above are clear again
So let’s sing a song of cheer again
Happy days are here again

Altogether shout it now
There’s no one
Who can doubt it now
So let’s tell the world about it now
Happy days are here again

The best part of this, of course, is the apparent embrace of the write-in candidate strategy. Let me just say that I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of dumping a million bucks or so into a Name Recognition/Voter Education process for getting people to cast a write in ballot. Be sure to provide a spelling guide if the Chosen One for this is Shelley Sekula-Gibbs.

In a statement late Monday, Bopp warned Democrats, “Be careful what you ask for.”

As of now, I’ve already got it. Thanks very much.

UPDATE: Fort Bend Now has more.

In the statement announcing his withdrawal, DeLay said, “I strongly encourage the Republican Party to take any and all actions necessary to give Texas voters an up-or-down choice this Fall between two major party candidates.”

But GOP officials and office holders contacted Tuesday were unclear about how that could happen.

With DeLay off the ballot, it appears the only way a Republican has a chance to square off against Lampson in the congressional race is as a write-in candidate.

“It doesn’t make much sense to me,” Kathy Haigler, a Harris County GOP precinct chair and Senate District 11 representative on the Texas Republican Party Executive Committee, said of a write-in campaign. She said she could see a scenario where several of the candidates who’d campaigned to replace DeLay on the ballot would become write-in candidates.

“If you’ve got seven Republican write-ins, Lampson would win,” she said. The only way it might work, she added, would be if DeLay promoted a particular write-in candidate.

Well, we all thought from the beginning that DeLay wanted to handpick his successor. I just didn’t expect it to happen this way. Bring it on, I say. The Stakeholder has more.

I have a copy of DeLay’s full statement beneath the fold. Click the More link for a breathless display of disingenuousness, arrogance, and self-pity.

UPDATE: Bride of Acheron suggests a candidate the Republicans can unite behind as a write-in. And I’ve added a statement from Texas Democratic Party Chair Boyd Richie beneath the fold as well.


Sunset hearing for OSFR today

According to Phillip, today is the day that the much-maligned and scandal-tinged Office of State and Federal Relations faces the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission to see if it still has a future. By all rights, it shouldn’t, but you never know how these things will go. I’ll check back later for updates from the hearings. You can get more background on this here.

Clutterbuck’s alternative rail plan

City Council member Anne Clutterbuck has revised and extended her earlier statements about an alternate plan for the Universities line that drew the ire of fellow Council member Ada Edwards. After making nice to Edwards about ot consulting her beforehand on a plan that affects her district, Clutterbuck clarified her vision.

Clutterbuck explained that while driving on Dallas’ North Central Expressway she had seen a light rail line suspended over the wall of the freeway and asked Metropolitan Transit Authority officials to consider a similar arrangement here.

“Metro showed me their plan and said ‘you’d take all these houses,’ but I said, ‘You’re not listening – that’s not what I’m asking. You wouldn’t have to take all those houses if it’s cantilevered.”

Morgan Lyons, spokesman for Dallas Area Rapid Transit, said he consulted with a DART engineer and neither of them could think of a DART line suspended as described. Lyons said parts of the system are elevated over freeways at crossings or run parallel to freeways, possibly appearing cantilevered when seen from a car.

Clutterbuck said she also asked Metro to study “the best practices” followed in other cities and avoid crossing Kirby Drive in the street.

That doesn’t exactly give me the warm fuzzies. But there’s an issue with cantilevering, or elevating, or suspending, or whatever you want to call it, and that’s cost. Putting these tracks up in the air is a more expensive proposition than running them at grade. Will Metro be able to afford that? Will John Culberson, who has asked Metro to study this option, see to it that Metro can afford it if it keeps his precious Richmond business owners happy? If the answer to either of these questions is No, then we’re just wasting our time here.

One more thing:

Glen Eisen, who lives on Castle Court a block north of the freeway, said that even if the rail were suspended, Metro would still have to take some homes to reach Main. Clutterbuck said she had not investigated how Metro might accomplish that transition or how the cantilever technique would affect the signature bridges over the freeway.

We’ve all heard plenty from the anti-Richmond crowd. Is Culberson going to be as responsive to the homeowners who live near this alternative route as he was to the Richmond folks if they decide it will destroy their neighborhood? These are his constituents, too. I can just about guarantee that if this alternate route winds up getting taken seriously, the affected homeowners will kick up a fuss. What will Culberson do when that happens?


The state’s plan for handling contraflow lanes in the event of a hurricane evacuation have been released.

Carol Dawson, deputy director of traffic operations of the Texas Department of Transportation, said the plan is “much more detailed” than the spur-of-the-moment plan utilized during Rita. The department, she said, has eliminated bottlenecks along the route, found ways to smooth the contraflow conversion and tested its plans in mock evacuation drills.

In the plan announced by [Harris County Judge Robert] Eckels, incident coordinator for the 13-county evacuation region, threatened residents would flee the metro area on Interstates 10 and 45 and U.S. highways 290 and 59.

Dawson said the interstate routes – I-10 would be one-way from Brookshire to San Antonio, I-45 from near Conroe to Ennis – would be activated first. U.S. 290 would be one-way from FM 1960 to Burton.

U.S. 59, whose frequent intersections outside the urban area pose access problems, would be activated if needed.

An earlier version of this story gave the specifics:

Details of the contraflow plan for the major highways include:

— I-10: Contraflow lanes will begin east of Farm-to-Market Road 359 at Brookshire, and end at Loop 1604 in San Antonio.

— I-45: Contraflow lanes will begin at State Highway 242 south of Conroe, and end at U.S. 247 near Ennis, about 40 miles south of Dallas.

— U.S. 59: Contraflow lanes will begin south of Kingwood Drive and continue to Nacogdoches.

— U.S. 290: Contraflow lanes will begin west of Farm-to-Market Road 1960 and continue to Farm-to-Market Road 1948 east of Brenham. Northbound traffic on State Highway 6 can turn west into contraflow lanes at U.S. 290.

The press release (PDF) contains a map. I’m a little concerned in that it looks from this like I-45 has already narrowed down to two lanes before SH242. I could be wrong about this, but if not, I’d be worried that traffic would be backed up because of that narrowing, which would partially defeat the purpose of the contraflow lanes. During the Rita evacuation, contraflow lanes were (eventually) opened as far south as Spring. Especially given that I-45 is the evacuation route for Galveston and other points south, I hope an effort will be made to start the contraflow lanes earlier than that.

Gov. Rick Perry’s state fuel coordinator, Valero Energy executive Wade Upton, said coastal residents will be encouraged to keep their gas tanks half-filled during hurricane season.

As a storm approaches, electronic highway signs and broadcast public service announcements will urge them to keep tanks totally filled.

Scott Fisher, an executive with the Austin-based Texas Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, said gasoline tanks at service stations along the escape routes will be totally filled. Usually, he said, economic factors dictate that the tanks, which can hold up to 12,000 gallons of fuel, are only partially filled.

Fisher, who was a member of the governor’s fuel team, said a communications system would be activated to keep station operators current on a hurricane’s advance.

This part sounds good. I hope there’s enough supply to keep all those service station tanks full, but that may be beyond anyone’s control.

One more piece of good news: Experts are now predicting that this year’s hurricane season won’t be as bad as they had first predicted.

“The probability of another Katrina-like event is very small,” said Phillip Klotzbach, lead forecaster for the hurricane research team at Colorado State University in Denver.

The researchers reduced the number of likely hurricanes to seven from nine and intense hurricanes to three from five.

There is, however, a considerably higher-than-average probability of at least one intense hurricane making landfall in the United States this year, 73 percent. The average is 52 percent.

Researcher William Gray said Atlantic Ocean surface temperatures are not quite as warm and surface pressure is not quite as low, both factors in the decision to revise the forecast.

“Overall, we think the 2006 Atlantic basin tropical storm season will be somewhat active,” Klotzbach said. “This year it looks like the East Coast is more likely to be targeted by Atlantic basin hurricanes than the Gulf Coast, although the possibility exists that any point along the U.S. coast could be affected.”

Gray and his team say hurricane activity will continue to be above average for another 15 to 20 years.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami in May predicted 16 named storms in the Atlantic, six of them major hurricanes. As of last Thursday, there have been three named storms.

“Our next update is Tuesday. They are still noodling the numbers. It is more likely than not that it will be an above-average season,” said Frank Lepore, the center’s spokesman.

I’ll look for that update later today. For now, I’ll take good news where I can get it.

Metro gives enviro statement for Southeast BRT line

Metro has prepared its Draft Environmental Impact Statemet for the Southeast Corridor BRT line.

The environmental statement and a separate assessment of impacts to cultural resources and parklands are part of the federal transit funding process. They may be viewed online at, as well as at these locations: Central Library (Julia Ideson Building), 500 McKinney; Lonnie E. Smith Library, 3624 Scott; Young Library, 5260 Griggs; University of Houston, M.D. Anderson Library, 4800 Calhoun; Texas Southern University Library, 3100 Cleburne; Metro offices, 1900 Main; and Houston-Galveston Area Council, 3555 Timmons, Suite 500.

There will be a public meeting and question-and-answer session from 6 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 17, in the Palm Center Business Technology Center, 5330 Griggs, and a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 29 at the Third Ward Multi-Service Center, 3611 Ennis.

After the comments are received, the final environmental impact statement is prepared. This is then reviewed by Metro and the Federal Transit Administration. If funding is approved, construction would begin in mid-2007.

No word yet from Congressman Culberson’s office as to whether or not this line should be run down Westpark instead.