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August 21st, 2006:

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.