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August 24th, 2006:

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.