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September, 2006:

Back off, man, we’re a scientist PAC!

An idea whose time, frankly, is way overdue.

Several prominent scientists said yesterday that they had formed an organization dedicated to electing politicians “who respect evidence and understand the importance of using scientific and engineering advice in making public policy.”

Organizers of the group, Scientists and Engineers for America, said it would be nonpartisan, but in interviews several said Bush administration science policies had led them to act. The issues they cited included the administration’s position on climate change, its restrictions on stem cell research and delays in authorizing the over-the-counter sale of emergency contraception.

In a statement posted on its Web site (, the group said scientists and engineers had an obligation “to enter the political debate when the nation’s leaders systematically ignore scientific evidence and analysis, put ideological interest ahead of scientific truths, suppress valid scientific evidence and harass and threaten scientists for speaking honestly about their research.”

The group’s organizers include John H. Gibbons and Neal Lane, who were science advisers in the Clinton administration, the Nobel laureates Peter Agre and Alfred Gilman, and Susan F. Wood, who resigned from the Food and Drug Administration last year to protest the agency’s delay in approving over-the-counter sales of the so-called Plan B emergency contraception.

“The issues we are talking about happen to be issues in which the administration’s record is quite poor,” Dr. Lane said. But he said the goal was to protect “the integrity of science” so that Americans could have confidence in the government’s science-based decisions.


The group is looking at the Senate race in Virginia between George Allen, the incumbent Republican, and James Webb, a Democrat; a stem cell ballot issue in Missouri; the question of intelligent design in Ohio; and Congressional races in Washington State, Mr. Brown said.

Dr. Lane is a big shot at Rice University here in Houston. Someone should tell him there’s an election right here in Texas involving a science-friendly candidate that might be worth his group’s time to check out. Thanks to my buddy Matt for pointing this story out to me.

Two-way wrist radio update

Are you one of those people who carries a cellphone but doesn’t always have it in a conveniently reachable place when it rings? Have no fear, a Bluetooth wristwatch can help.

Next time someone calls you on your cell phone, you can check your watch to find out who’s calling instead of dishing out the handset from your pocket. Sony Ericsson has designed a Bluetooth watch, the MBW-100, that lets you control your mobile phone and answer calls through a wireless head set.

The watch is not as chunky and ugly as other Bluetooth watches available in the market, but features a stainless steel construction with silver facia. A tiny OLED display under the analogue watch face tells you who’s calling you while your mobile is stashed away.


The invention may sound like a lazy way of operating your mobile, but might be very useful in a crowded, noisy place and where you can’t hear your phone or feel it vibrating.

Too bad they didn’t build a speaker right into the watch so you could have the full Dick Tracy experience.

Mark Foley

I blogged some of this over at Kuff’s World yesterday, and I really don’t want to get too bogged down in it because it’s impossible for me to keep up with a story like this, but do note what Josh says about now-former Rep. Mark Foley of Florida.

In this story at the ABC site, reporters write that “according to several former congressional pages, the congressman used the Internet to engage in sexually explicit exchanges.”

There’s another point too though. This all started to come out yesterday when ABC reported on a series of suggestive but not explicit emails between Foley and a House page. That appears to be the then-16 year old page who had been sponsored by Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-LA). Reportedly, that page became concerned about the suggestiveness of the emails, cut off communication and reported the emails to a member of Alexander’s staff.

The graphic IM exchanges, which blew the story open this afternoon, are clearly from a minor who actively engaged with the congressman. So it seems clear it’s a different page. The clincher is that that the published IM exchange is from 2003, two years earlier. So it’s clear there are at least two different pages in question.

So the Republicans had a serial predator in their caucus, one who ironically enough had a leadership role in crafting legislation against child predators. And House Majority Leader John Boehner knew about what Foley was doing but took no action.

Remember when Paul Burka said the following?

The terrorist plot to blow up airplanes will completely change the midterm elections, and the big beneficiaries are the Republicans and George W. Bush.


A major event has occurred that is going to remind the public that the danger of terrorism continues to exist. That is going to change the dynamic of the election. And there is nothing the Democrats can do about it.

I believe the proper response here would be “Often uncertain the future is”.

Culberson to debate…somebody else

So it turns out that contrary to prior reports, Rep. John Culberson is willing to participate in a debate. He’s just not willing to participate in a debate that involves his opponent, Jim Henley. The following is an email from Culberson’s office:

The Houston Club presents Congressman John Culberson (District Seven) U.S. House of Representatives and Charles C. Foster, President of Tindall & Foster, P.C. debate immigration issues so important to our city, region, and nation: The Rio Grande Great Wall; Guest Workers; Amnesty; Stiffer Criminal Penalties on Illegals and Employers; Do Nothing.

The non-members and the general public are invited to the luncheon and debate on Monday, October 2, 2006 at 11:30 am – 1:30 pm. $37.00 Reservations: 713-229-2215.


Mr. Foster heads the Immigration Law Section of his firm, has served as a principal advisor to President George W. Bush on U. S. immigration policy and is past National President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. The views of the nationally respected attorney differ sharply from those of Congressman Culberson.

Monday, October 2, 2006 11:30 am – 1:30 pm
The Houston Club
811 Rusk St. Tenth Floor – Texas Room
Luncheon Tickets: $37.00

Reservations: 713-229-2215

So, to recap: Culberson WILL debate if his opponent in the debate is not his opponent on the ballot, and if it costs money to get in the door. Culberson WILL NOT debate if his opponent in the debate is his opponent on the ballot, and the event is free to attend. Got that?

Sadly, I will not be able to make this event. But I will be glad to purchase an adult beverage of your choosing to anyone who does attend and manages to ask Rep. Culberson why this is an acceptable forum for him to debate but Rice University against Jim Henley is not. Let me know what happens.

Former Pro Tem staffers indicted

The grand jury has handed down nine indictments against the four former staffers of the Mayor Pro Tem office who were fired for taking improper bonuses.

The grand jury issued a total of nine indictments against Rosita Hernandez, Florence Watkins, Christopher Mays and Theresa Orta, all of whom were fired after the investigation began earlier this year.

Each is charged with theft by a public servant of more than $200,000 and tampering with a public record. Watkins is named in two tampering indictments.

The indictment alleges that unauthorized bonuses totaled $143,500 and unauthorized raises brought the total to at least $200,000, said Assistant District Attorney Don Smyth.

The grand jury did not indict Councilwoman Carol Alvarado, who was mayor pro tem when the employees got the payments.


The indictments conclude the investigation in the Office of Mayor Pro Tem, Smyth said, but the investigation now will look into all other city departments to ensure that no more improper payments have been made.


Alvarado, who has not been implicated in any wrongdoing related to the bonuses, testified voluntarily this week. The four former employees appeared before the grand jury last week in response to subpoenas.

“She testified, answered all the questions that we had,” said Smyth. “I think the grand jurors received the information they wanted.”


Employees in Alvarado’s council office, as distinct from the separate mayor pro tem operation, did not receive bonuses and are not suspected of wrongdoing.

This should be the end of any major worries for Carol Alvarado. The Fired Four have claimed multiple times that Alvarado knew what they were doing, but the grand jurors didn’t buy it. She’ll still have to endure a cross-examination some day, and there may be some land mines lurking for her there, but her business with Chuck Rosenthal is over. That’s the biggest thing, and it means she can go full steam ahead as before.

Here’s Alvarado’s statement on the indictments:

“I want to thank the Harris County District Attorney and the members of the Grand Jury for their diligent and thorough review of the facts. I believe the right conclusion has been reached.

In many ways this is a sad day because it is a stark reminder that four employees of the office of the Mayor Pro Tem betrayed my trust and, more importantly the trust of the people of the city of Houston. They are now, appropriately, in the hands of the criminal justice system.”

It’s still too early to say what kind of political damage Alvarado may suffer and how that may affect any future campaigns she may run, but the worst is definitely behind her.

Mehlman and Abramoff

I’m not going to spend too much time on the new revelations about Ken Mehlman, Karl Rove, and Jack Abramoff, because sites like TPM Muckraker will have this covered nine ways to Sunday by people who blog for a living, but I do want to highlight this.

There’s already a lot of evidence out there that Ken Mehlman was Jack Abramoff’s prime favor man in the White House — but this new congressional report provides the most damning example yet.

From The Washington Post:

One exchange of e-mails cited in the report suggests that former Abramoff lobbying team member Tony C. Rudy succeeded in getting Mehlman to press reluctant Justice Department appointees to release millions of dollars in congressionally earmarked funds for a new jail for the Mississippi Choctaw tribe, an Abramoff client. Rudy wrote Abramoff in November 2001 e-mails that Mehlman said he would “take care of” the funding holdup at Justice after learning from Rudy that the tribe made large donations to the GOP.

So in exchange for political contributions, Mehlman made sure the Choctaw got their $16 million contract. I believe that’s called a quid pro quo.

It’s by no means the only example of Mehlman’s favors.

The point here, once again, is to remind everyone that the Jack Abramoff saga really is a Republican scandal. The presence of one party-switching former DINO doesn’t change that. In a way, that reinforces it. Ralph Hall was given the chance to save his political hide by formally joining the party that he’d been a spiritual member of for well over a decade. You weren’t a friend of Jack Abramoff unless you were a friend of Tom DeLay. Is anyone surprised that means you had to be a Republican?

UPDATE: Funny, isn’t it, how many people who think not putting bad stuff in writing seem to forget that email is forever? Good thing for the forces of truth and justice, but man, is that dumb.

TTC docs to be released

Ready to learn more about that boondoggle known as the Trans Texas Corridor? Pull up a chair, because the state is releasing some documents that will tell you more than you know now. For the most part, the crucial bit is right here:

The report also predicts the initial cost to motorists when the first sections open around 2014. Cars and small trucks will pay about 15.2 cents per mile, or $56.24, to travel the entire route. Truckers initially will pay 58.5 cents per mile for a cost of $216.45 to travel the entire route. Final toll rates will be set when the state negotiates contract terms on each section of the toll road.

Let’s do a little math here. The full route is 370 miles. How many miles per gallon does your car get on the freeway? We’ve got a Saturn coupe that exceeds 30 MPG on the highway, and a Subaru Outback that gets between 25 and 30. But let’s say you’ve got a Hummer, and that 370 mile trip would take you 20 gallons of gas (18.5 MPG). At that crappy level of mileage, the gas tax would have to increase by $2.81 per gallon to match the toll price. Let me say that again: That toll equates to $2.81 per gallon extra in gas tax. If we simply doubled the existing gas tax – from 20 cents per gallon to 40 cents per gallon, which would make ours the highest gas tax in the country – you’d have paid an extra $4 for that 370 mile trip.

Four dollars versus fifty-six and change. What a deal, huh?

I’ll say it again: If this were the only proposal on the books, I wouldn’t be so worked up about it. But it’s not. This is far from a one-off, it’s the wave of the future if Rick Perry gets his way. Sooner or later, the plan is that your favorite road will be tolled, too. If you want to start paying two orders of magnitude more per gallon for routine trips, pay no attention to this issue.

Link via Eye on Williamson. Meanwhile, the Statesman says that by releasing these documents and thus dispelling whatever secrets the TTC’s opponents may think they contain. I think this is an accurate assessment of that:

Jason Stanford, a spokesman for Chris Bell, Perry’s Democratic opponent, said putting out the documents will not change the candidate’s opinion about the corridor deal.

“Even if it’s not a secret deal, it’s still a really horrible deal,” Stanford said. “This is a titanic land grab that benefits a foreign company. I don’t know what these documents could show that would make that worse.”

What’s bad about the TTC is not what we didn’t know. It’s what we did know. People at those public meetings around the state weren’t fired up because of a conspiracy theory. They were mad about losing their land for a benefit that’s highly unclear to anyone but Cintra/Zachry. There’s no secret about that. Link via South Texas Chisme.

More on the Wong sign story

Didn’t get to this yesterday, but I’m amused by this KTRK story about Martha Wong and the altered campaign signs.

Drive through District 134 and you can’t miss them. Signs are plastered around much of central Houston, including Bellaire and West University, but it’s what you’re not seeing that has some stirred up.

If you noticed the campaign signs, you may have also noticed a lot of red tape; not the usual government type, but the real deal — red tape over the word “Republican” on Martha Wong’s signs. The tape was put on by her own party. Why?

“We use one campaign sign when we’re running in the primary, and we use another sign when we’re running in the general,” said Wong. “It’s that simple.”


Gary Polland, former Harris County Republican party chairman, says this strategy is typical in a general election, especially in a swing district, where votes may be tight.

“The voters who will decide this election are independents, not Republicans or Democrats, and that’s why they don’t put their parties on their signs,” said Polland.

Political analyst Peter Roussel agrees. With the eroding of party loyalty, candidates don’t want to limit potential votes.

“Nowadays, most political signs don’t have a party affiliation on them anyway because the candidates are trying to appeal to the largest possible audience and independent voters,” he said.

Wong’s party also said those signs were old signs created for a primary election. The newer ones they had made up do not have a party affiliation on them. The election is November 7.

OK, that all sounds logical. Except for one thing: Martha Wong didn’t have a primary opponent. She would have known that fact since January 2, when the primary filing deadline passed. Are you saying that she’s been sitting on those outdated, only-for-a-primary signs since last year? If so, why deploy them at all for this general election? Surely with her $400K cash on hand, she could have afforded to buy a few new ones. She could have even been forward thinking and planned to save them for 2008, just in case. I mean, she’s not going to ask for those signs back after November, right? So why use them if their purpose is for a primary?

I think we know what the answer to that is. She didn’t give the matter any thought until she discovered a little too late that being identified as a Republican this year was not a good thing. And for whatever the reason, she decided that editing would be preferable to replacing. So much for that.

BOR has the video of the story if you haven’t seen it.

UPDATE: This is what I get for hitting Publish before I check the Chron.

Wong campaign manager Josh Robinson said the taped signs are leftovers from Wong’s first legislative race in 2002, when she was running in a newly created district drawn to elect a Republican. She defeated an incumbent Democrat.

Wong’s 2006 signs read: “Re-elect Martha Wong. State Representative, Dist. 134. Principled. Passionate. Persistent.”

“Our signs were depleted quicker than we expected,” Robinson said, so the campaign distributed some old signs that were in storage.

I smell baloney here. For one thing, I’ve done a lot of driving around HD134 these past few weeks, and I see a heck of a lot more Cohen signs than I do Wong signs. (I actually see more Jim Henley signs than anything else, but that’s a different story.) Second, it still doesn’t explain why taping over the word “Republican” is a better idea than either leaving it be for the relatively small number of affected signs or just telling people to wait a few days till more signs have been received. I mean, c’mon, how can a well-funded campaign like Wong’s run out of signs? They’ve been pretty free and easy about putting them in vacant lots. Why not let those sit signless for a few days while fulfilling the extravagant demand from real voters for signs in their yards?

Admit it, Josh. You goofed and you got caught. End of story.

The immigration choice

One often hears of a choice between spending money on schools and spending money on prisons in budgets debates, and the effect that more spending on one can have on the other. In a related vein, Grits looks at the choice between detention beds and crop pickers. Which one do you think deserves a higher priority? I know what my answer is.

Houston Press Best Blog awards

Looks like the Houston Press has expanded its Best of Houston awards to cover a wider variety of blogs. That was probably overdue by at least a year, but better late than never. My hearty congratulations to Slampo (who won the new Best Local City Life Blog award), to HoustonSoReal (who ended my two-year run as Best Local Blog; the readers’ choice was HouStoned), and to a couple of blogs that are probably not safe to read at work.

And as long as I’m handing out the kudos, props to ‘stina’s sister Claudia for her award. I think my fave so far this year among the other awards is the Best Use of Taxpayer Dollars, which is sure to get a hot reaction in certain quarters. Enjoy!

We need cleaner air

A new study by eight scientists at five local universities says Houston’s air is more polluted than other major US cities’.

The study is the third to be released this year on toxic air pollution in Houston, a problem distinct from the city’s other air-quality woe – smog, a lung-irritating compound also found in concentrations here well above those of other cities.

Industrial facilities in Harris County emit more benzene and 1,3-butadiene, two potent carcinogens, than anywhere else in the United States. There is increasing evidence, beginning with a January 2005 Houston Chronicle investigation, that people residing by the region’s chemical plants and refineries are being exposed to concentrations of pollutants here that would be illegal in other states.

Where the research breaks new ground, however, is in showing how and why Houston’s air is more polluted than that of other cities: namely, the combination of a dense concentration of industrial plants and traffic that presents challenges for state and federal regulators.

As part of the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, businesses such as refineries, petrochemical plants and dry cleaners were required to install advanced technology to reduce toxic air pollution.

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the program successfully reduced hazardous pollutants nationwide by more than a million tons annually, including big reductions in the Houston area, the agency acknowledges it did not reduce risk enough in some heavily industrialized neighborhoods. The goal was to have no one exposed to pollutants at concentrations that could cause 1 additional person in 100,000 to get cancer. Numerous communities in Houston, the study points out, still exceed this threshold, more than 10 years later.

“We took industries one at a time and didn’t look at how they might be situated,” said John Millett, a spokesman at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. ”It will take federal, state and local efforts, along with industry and communities to make (more) progress.”

The study compared the highest measurements of three air pollutants – benzene, 1,3-butadiene, and formaldehyde – in Harris County in 2004 to the highest values recorded that same year in St. Louis, Chicago and Los Angeles. The air in Houston’s most polluted neighborhoods trumped the most contaminated spots in those cities by as much as 75 times.

The researchers also analyzed the level of these three pollutants, and diesel particulate matter, by census tract, and in communities without pollution monitors.

In many areas, concentrations of chemicals exceeded the limit at which one additional person in a population of 100,000 would be expected to get cancer from pollution, a level above state and federal health risk goals.

You can get more background from the Chron’s multipart series on Houston’s air quality, and from GHASP, which has linkage to the report and some supplemental material. This is a problem that will require political action to solve, so bear that in mind when you vote for Governor and for your state representative.

The majority of Houston-area lawmakers in the Texas House voted against legislation intended to protect the public from toxic air pollution, a Houston Chronicle analysis of 2005 voting records has found.

The five rejected amendments would have made the state’s health screening levels for pollution more strict, required companies to continuously monitor emissions and set fines for the periodic releases known as “upsets” that plague fence-line neighborhoods.

Yet 20 of 34 representatives in the eight-county region, where toxic pollution problems have been well-documented, particularly along the Houston Ship Channel, voted to table these actions.

All 20 of the dissenters are Republicans, some of them representing industrial districts such as Pasadena, Baytown and Seabrook, where people and industry exist side by side.

Just so you know.

Still more Zogbys

Another round of Zogby Interactive polls, for which BOR has the Governor’s race summary. Basically, it’s still Perry leading but in the danger zone at 33%, Bell in second but back a bit at 22%, Friedman farther back at 19%, and Strayhorn with her best showing in recent memory at 15%. The main curiosity here is that the sample stretched over six days; usually polls are three-day affairs. The time frame (September 19-25) covers some of the Kiny Friedman dustup and some of the time that Chris Bell had an ad running. (I can’t seem to escape Strayhorn ads these days. One of her promos just about took over a page on that I was trying to read yesterday. If there’s anything I hate more than popups, it’s ads that drape across the screen and force you to click a box to close them. Please, please, somebody tell me that Firefox 2.0 can block that crap. The release notes don’t say.)

Also of interest is the Senate result, which puts KBH ahead of Barbara Radnofsky by a 53-30 margin. This is a significant variance from last month, where Zogby pegged it as 48-39, and brings it much more in line with Rasmussen’s polling – their August data point was 58-32. Makes me wonder if Zogby’s sample is a little different this month, and if so which one is the outlier from their perspective. Also makes me wonder if the movement in each poll is related.

Anyway, it’s nice to see polling frequency increase as we get closer to the election. I expect we’ll see more SUSA and Rasmussen results soon, too. The more data, the better.

Abramoff, Rove, and Mehlman – BFFs

Roll Call:

Hundreds of contacts between top White House officials and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates “raise serious questions about the legality and actions” of those officials, according to a draft bipartisan report prepared by the House Government Reform Committee.

The 95-page report, which White House officials reviewed Wednesday evening but has yet to be formally approved by the panel, singled out two of President Bush’s top lieutenants, Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, as having been offered expensive meals and exclusive tickets to premier sporting events and concerts by Abramoff and his associates.

In total, the committee was able to document 485 contacts between White House officials and Abramoff and his lobbying team at the firm Greenberg Traurig from January 2001 to March 2004, with 82 of those contacts occurring in Rove’s office, including 10 with Rove personally. The panel also said that Abramoff billed his clients nearly $25,000 for meals and drinks with White House officials during that period.

Rove, Mehlman, and other White House officials have denied having any close relationship with Abramoff, despite the fact that Abramoff was a “Pioneer” who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Bush’s White House campaigns.

“The documents depict a much closer relationship between Mr. Abramoff and White House officials than the White House has previously acknowledged,” committee staff wrote in a three-page summary that accompanied the report. Reps. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman and ranking member of Government Reform, this summer subpoenaed e-mails and billing records from Greenberg Traurig and other firms, including Alexander Strategy Group, which was run by one-time aides to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). They examined more than 14,000 pages of documents from Greenberg Traurig, including 6,600 pages of billing records and 7,700 pages of e-mail.

During the period examined by the committee, Bush administration officials repeatedly intervened on behalf of Abramoff’s clients, including helping a Mississippi Indian tribe obtain $16 million in federal funds for a jail the tribe wanted to build.

Can’t imagine why some people continue to express shock at the perception of l’affaire Abramoff as a Republican scandal. Sure seems pretty clear to me. Link via Political Wire.

Gods. Mythical beings. Cheap beer.

As a onetime PhD student at Rice (long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away), I enjoyed reading this feature story about its notorious grad student pub Valhalla. It’s pretty much like the piece describes, and unless you drink there very frequently, you probably won’t truly get its charm. I’ll say this – the one good thing about Rice’s draconian parking restrictions is that the place can now handle this kind of publicity without fear of getting overrun by riffraff.

Back in the ancient days of Bush 41 when I was doing my indentured servitude in the math department, a cup of Shiner would set you back 35 cents. That went up to 50 cents in the early 90s, just before they switched from Shiner to Lone Star Bock after the Spoetzl Brewery decided its flagship offering was a premium beer and set its price accordingly. I don’t know what they serve now – it’s been too long since I last visited – but it’s good to know that it’s still the best bargain in town. Well, modulo Rice’s parking fees, anyway.

So here’s to you, Valhalla. I was told once that Rice used to be the third largest consumer of keg beer in Houston, after the Astrodome and the venue formerly known as the Summit. Some names may have changed since then, but the spirit of Valhalla remains as ever. Down the hatch, y’all.

Only $2.9 million to go

Big Time Dick Cheney is coming to town to help Shelley Sekula Gibbs’ futile write-in campaign.

The national Republican Party has joined the fight to replace former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, donating more than $100,000 to the Republican candidate’s write-in candidacy and sending Vice President Dick Cheney to a Houston fundraiser for her next week.

Although the party has yet to deliver anywhere near the $3 million once claimed by state GOP Chairwoman Tina Benkhiser, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee confirmed Wednesday that the group had donated $99,465 to assist the campaign of GOP candidate Shelley Sekula-Gibbs.

Cheney is scheduled to appear in Houston on Oct. 4.

Perhaps he can expand on Shelley’s remarks to City Council yesterday. I’m sure he’ll have just the healing words for the situation.

It wasn’t on the independent expenditures report as of a couple of days ago, but I’m told that the $99K indicated in the story is going to the firm of Feather, Larson & Synhorst DCI. They sound like exactly the right kind of organization for Shelley:

FLS-DCI specializes in creating phony front groups to make it appear as if there’s a groundswell of support for its clients’ issues.

One of its most prominent front groups is Voices for Choices. This fake coalition of conservative groups is runing ads nationwide in support of AT&T’s key issues. AT&T, which has donated millions to the Republican Party and the Bush Campaign in 2004 – and whose general counsel served on Bush’s transition team, is one of FLS-DCI’s largest and most important clients.

Other FLS-DCI phony productions include Responsible Electronic Communications Alliance and Hands Off the Internet.

Hands Off The Internet was an astroturf group that opposed Net Neutrality earlier this year. You can read more about them here. Like I said, this is a perfect fit for Shelley.

Prior to this, back in August, the NRCC spent $21K on a poll in CD22. I’m not sure if that’s the infamous Baselice poll or another one whose results did not get released. According to this accounting, that money went to Public Opinion Strategies (search for Sekula to find the entry).

Anyway. Those of you who will be attending this event with Cheney, be sure to remember your face masks and bulletproof vests. The rest of you, read In the Pink for the funny.

Shame on you, Shelley

Apparently, Shelley Sekula Gibbs has noticed the fact that she hasn’t been in the news much lately, not that this should surprise anyone. What surprises even me is the way she went about getting attention for herself.

Several City Council members walked out on Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs Wednesday, saying her rhetoric against a police policy on illegal immigrants exploited for political gain the death of an officer whose funeral they had just attended.

The symbolic move was the only time in recent memory that a group of council members left the chambers to protest a colleague’s comments.


Wednesday’s walkout occurred near the end of the weekly council meeting, when members get time to talk about issues of their choice.

Dressed in black after attending the morning funeral, most members offered condolences to the family of Rodney Johnson, who police allege was killed by an illegal immigrant he took into custody last week.

Johnson’s death has reignited debate about whether police should be able to ask people about their immigration status, an inquiry now prohibited by police policy unless the person has already been arrested on a serious misdemeanor or felony.

Several council members said they were proud that Houstonians had put that debate aside for the day as the city joined Johnson’s family in mourning his death.

When it was Sekula-Gibbs’ turn to speak, she said Mayor Bill White now had the chance to repeal what she calls the department’s “sanctuary” policy.

“I hope that you will use this opportunity to make this change that has been needed for many, many years,” she said.

At that, members of varying political stripes rose from their chairs and left the chambers. They returned after Sekula-Gibbs finished speaking.

“I was embarrassed to be in the room with somebody talking like that,” said Councilwoman Toni Lawrence, a Republican and one of the first to leave.

“There’s a lot of things I disagree with, maybe the way immigration is handled, federally, and this is not the time to make a comparison.”

Alvarado, a Democrat who has been on council since 2002, said she couldn’t remember another time when council members walked out on a colleague because of a comment. Some members left a meeting with former Mayor Lee Brown, but that move was a parliamentary tactic to keep the panel from voting on a contentious issue, she said.


White did not join the other council members when they exited the room during Sekula-Gibbs’ comments. When asked why, he said he was presiding over the meeting and filling out paperwork at the time.

“I’ll let other people judge whether they should make death a political issue,” he said.

Councilman Ronald Green, who spoke after Sekula-Gibbs, was applauded by his colleagues for denouncing her comments.

”You wouldn’t stoop so low to use this man’s memory to advance a political career that may or may not be going anywhere,” he said.

For shame. About the only way this could have been more dishonorable would be if she had concluded her remarks by singing her stupid jingle. Council Member Lawrence is correct: This was an embarrassment. If Shelley Sekula Gibbs doesn’t recognize that, she’s not just an unqualified candidate for Congress, she’s an unfit human being.

Well, you got your name in the papers, Shelley. I hope it was worth it for you.

Why they call it “gossip”

I guess it’s good news for Kinky Friedman that after all this time, some people still think of him as a Celebrity Candidate, where the fact that he sometimes says funny things trumps the substance (or, as is often the case with Friedman, the lack thereof) of what he says. How anyone who has spent five minutes paying attention to Friedman and his unsubtle appeals to the Dan Patrick crowd might think that Ann Richards would have fallen for his baloney is beyond me. But just so we’re clear:

The Richards children – Cecile, Dan, Clark and Ellen – issued a statement saying Richards did not support Friedman.

“Ann Richards did not support Kinky Friedman for governor of Texas nor endorse him before she died. She was very concerned about this election. She always voted a straight Democratic ticket,” they said.

‘Nuff said.

A Williamson twofer

Vince continues his interview series with the other Williamson County Democrat for State Rep, Jim Stauber, who’s running in HD20. Stauber has a tougher task than Karen Felthauser does, as HD20 was about eight points more Republican than HD52 in 2004. He still has all the same issues to pound on, and should also benefit from the better climate and Williamson’s blue trend.

Speaking of Felthauser, she was a featured candidate on the Democracy for America blog Tuesday. She definitely deserves some attention from the activist class, so hopefully this helped her raise her profile a bit. Eye on Williamson has the details.

Senate candidates invited to debate at Rice

Another email of interest:

The Rice College Republicans, Libertarians, Young Democrats, The N.A.A.C.P. and Rice Vote Coalition have invited Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Ms. Barbara Ann Radnofsky and Mr. Scott Jameson to a candidates’ debate at Rice University on October 7, 2006 at 7:00 p.m. in Keck Hall, room 100.

I feel pretty confident that Barbara Ann will be there, and I’d expect the Libertarian dude to show up as well. Will KBH make like her fellow Republicans and duck out? Her track record so far is not encouraging.

Is Houston Avenue still on the table for I-45?

Last January, a Downtown Management District board member proposed rerouting a section of Interstate 45 to run along Houston Avenue. That proposal was not well-received, and was more or less disavowed by TxDOT’s Pat Henry in a subsequent neighborhood meeting in the Woodland Heights. Now it seems that the idea may not be well and truly dead. From an email from Jim Weston of the I-45 Coalition:

You may have heard that there was, at one time, a proposal to re-route I-45 along Houston Avenue instead of keeping it along its current route. I had heard numerous times that due to the overwhelming public opposition that the concept had been rejected. The opposition was mainly centered on the total potential devastation of the neighborhoods that a widening and re-routing of I-45 would create.

It appears that maybe it has NOT been rejected! According to this upcoming meeting being held by The Urban Land Institute (ULI) next week on 10/3/06 at the Hilton Americas. Pre-registration is over TOMORROW on September 28th – after that the price goes up by $10.

Please attend if you would like to hear first hand what the current proposal for “rerouting and depressing of the I-45” means. It scares me!

Please consider attending this meeting if you can! You can call 1-800-248-4585 to register & pay by phone. If you call and you are not a member of the ULI, tell them you are a member of the I-45 Coalition (a non-profit) and it will save you $10. (Non-member rate for a non-profit or a student is $50; after 9/28 it will be $60).

Here’s the details of the event. Mark Cover is the guy who floated the I-45-on-Houston-Avenue idea in the first place, so when he talks about “the rerouting and depressing of the I-45 and I-10 freeways”, bear in mind that at least at one time, that’s what he meant.

Eternal questions, Episode One

So I was reading Green Eggs and Ham to Olivia this evening, and just as I was getting underway she pointed to the story’s protagonist, the guy who does not like green eggs and ham, and said “What’s his name?”

Umm. Uhh. Let me get back to you on that.

Tiffany overheard my dilemma and came to my rescue, as Olivia had apparently asked her that same question last night. “We call him the Hat Man,” she informed me. The Hat Man it is. When Olivia pointed at him again later in the story and said “Hat Man”, I understood.

I figure this is just the first of many, many questions that she will ask me that I will have no idea how to answer. Clearly, I need to work on my improvisation skills for the future.

How would you have answered?

Alvarado testifies

City Council Member Carol Alvarado took her turn before the grand jury today.

City Councilwoman Carol Alvarado testified for three hours today before a Harris County grand jury investigating improper bonuses at City Hall.

Alvarado, who supervised four Office of Mayor Pro Tem employees fired over alleged payroll padding, testified voluntarily. She is not implicated in any wrongdoing related to the $143,000 in bonuses city officials say were unauthorized.

“I answered the questions and told the truth,” Alvarado said as she left the grand jury room at 12:35 p.m. “That’s what I was looking forward to doing.”

It’s pretty simple at this point. Either the Fired Four say something that convinces the grand jury (and DA Chuck Rosenthal) to go after Alvarado, or they don’t. Either the prospect of an indictment goes away for her, or Rusty Hardin gets to do some heavy lifting. Alvarado went into the jury room not a target of the investigation, despite statements from the former employees’ attorneys that she knew what they were doing. If she comes out of it the same way, she can really start to put this behind her. If not, her troubles are just beginning. That’s about all there is to it.

For what it’s worth, I think she’s at her journey’s end, not its beginning. But you never know, and I’m sure she’ll sleep better when it’s over. We’ll see.

Candidate Q&A: Farhan Shamsi

As with my State Rep candidate interviews, I’m just about done with my Q&As with local county candidates. Today i have the last of the Fort Bend Democratic contenders, Farhan Shamsi, who is running for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3.

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

My name is Farhan Shamsi. I am running for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 of Fort Bend County.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Justice of the Peace court is the “Peoples’ Court” as it deals with the most basic community issues. The cases heard in this court are both civil and criminal. These cases include traffic court, juvenile court (including truancy and alcohol/drug issues), small claims up to $5,000, and landlord/tenant issues, such as evictions. The administrative duties include issuing marriage licenses and performing marriages, as well as serving as the coroner by investigating deaths.

3. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have lived in the western part of the Greater Houston area for more than thirty years, and I have seen this area grow and change with time. I have been involved in community issues since my youth, and continue to work on these issues as an adult both professionally and personally.

I am the executive director of an outpatient substance abuse clinic. My career has been spent intevening in the lives of those afflicted with drug addiction, mental health ailments, and mental retardation; these experiences have led me to work with various law enforcement and criminal justice systems on issues dealing with these populations.

My professional experience with the issues facing the JP court is extensive, but I also have deep ties the community in general: I have been involved with many organizations in the community including the Parent/Teacher Association, School Board forums, and I have been asked to advise various elected officials and candidates on the community issues. With the growth of population and diversity in Fort Bend County, I feel that my unique experiences dealing with minority issues, at-risk youth, and substance abuse can be used to bring a better understanding in the community.

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

The current Justice of the Peace has chosen not to run again for this position. I want to build on the achievements she has made in the court by bring a bigger focus on youth. As the youth are the future leaders of our community, I would like to offer juveniles who stay out of trouble an incentive program by rewarding them for good behavior. Our youth need to be recognized for their good behavior and accomplishments. For those juveniles who do end up in trouble, they will get a dose of tough love. The JP court must be a sobering experience for kids, not merely an introduction to a life in and out of the criminal justice system. Along with making sure that the juveniles learn from their mistakes, I want to add a program like the award winning Teen Court that Judge Joel Clouser uses in Precinct 2.

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

Although this race is listed at the bottom of the ballot, I feel that it should be the first item to be voted on in the election. Precinct 3 is the fastest growing Precinct in Fort Bend County and it has the largest number of voters in the county. If we can make our community, Precinct 3, a safer, more secure and friendlier place to live, the whole county can benefit.

6. What else do we need to know?

The time has come for more people to get involved in the community in which they live. Developing the youth into positive role models by being good citizens is the first step in bringing family values back to our county.

Thank you, Farhan Shamsi. Here are all my previous interviews with Harris and Fort Bend countywide candidates:

Richard GarciaInterview
Leora T. KahnInterview
Chuck SilvermanInterview

Bill Connolly – Interview
James Goodwille PierreInterview
Albert HollanInterview
Neeta SaneInterview
Rudy VelasquezInterview
Veronica TorresInterview

“Ineffective and embarrassing”

The Lone Star Project sums up the career of Rep. John Carter, debate ducker par excellence.

Historically, Texas Members with leadership potential begin to distinguish themselves by their second term in office. Both Charlie Stenholm and Martin Frost were already recognized as rising stars in the House by their second terms. The same is true for Jim Turner, Max Sandlin and even “hard right” Republican ideologues like Dick Armey and Tom DeLay himself. Carter entered his second term with some promise as a new member of the Appropriations Committee, but concludes his term as an abandoned DeLay follower who has drawn attention to himself only long enough to make embarrassing public statements on issues ranging from voting rights to child predators.

Eye on Williamson has the rest. Poor John Carter.

“Boondocks” not coming back


The Boondocks comic strip will not return “in the foreseeable future,” Universal Press Syndicate, its distributor, announced Monday.

Creator Aaron McGruder took a six-month break earlier in the year but was expected to return this fall to his provocative strip about two black kids from Chicago who move to a primarily white suburb to live with their grandfather.

Syndicate president Lee Salem said McGruder could not commit to a date for when his strip would resume. (Salem added he hopes to work with McGruder in the future.)

“Aaron McGruder has been a huge creative force, but it’s unrealistic to expect a comic strip artist to commit to 20 or 30 years these days,” said Kyrie O’Connor, Houston Chronicle deputy managing editor for features. In April, the Chronicle filled the vacant spot with F Minus.

F Minus is mildly amusing. Boondocks is funny. This stinks.

Ethics complaint filed against Seaman

The countdown clock for State Rep. Gene Seaman is ticking along as a constituent who is a Republican and a former supporter has filed an ethics complaint against him.

The complaints were filed Thursday by Jay Masterson, 63, a Republican who now is supporting Seaman’s Democratic challenger, Juan Garcia. She claims Seaman’s $1,000-a-month rental payments for the condo since 1999 amounted to using political contributions for personal gain and to purchase real property, in violation of the code. The roughly $500 a month he paid in condo association/homeowner association fees also violates the code, according to one of Masterson’s complaints.

Seaman’s office faxed a copy Friday of a May 4, 1999, letter from the Ethics Commission to the Caller-Times that says it is permissible for Seaman to pay rent to his wife as long as the condominium is his “wife’s separate property.”


What Masterson says she wants reviewed is whether Gene and Ellen Seaman have separate property. Masterson and lawyers contacted Friday and Monday say the condo most likely is community property – unless the Seamans can prove otherwise – because they have been married for 50 years.

In a required 2005 personal financial statement, Seaman says he is a real estate developer and owner, financial planner and insurance agent. The statement lists Ellen Seaman as a housewife.

Texas law presumes that everything owned during marriage is community property, said Ann Coover, a local lawyer, board certified in family law.

“Unless the parties involved can show evidence that the funds paying for a particular asset were a gift, inherited or owned at the time of marriage, it is presumed to be community property,” she said.

If Gene Seaman provided his wife with the funds to buy the condo, it would constitute a gift and would be viewed as community property, lawyers said.

Property also can be separated contractually after marriage, lawyers said. The contract, called a partition and exchange agreement, must be in writing, signed by both partners and notarized, lawyers said.

Monday, Seaman’s spokesman Mac McCall said there is no written property separation agreement between the Seamans. Ellen Seaman paid cash for the condo with her own “personal income and assets,” McCall said. He declined to disclose Ellen Seaman’s source of the money.

“It’s a personal matter of a private citizen,” he said.

I’m sorry, but that’s a really weak explanation for a case where the facts just don’t look too good. Remember, the Seamans also received two homestead exemptions, for which they have since paid $11K in back taxes. If they didn’t know what they were doing, their household finances are awfully disorganized. This story isn’t going away, and it’s not going to do anything for Seaman’s image in the meantime. Juan Garcia is already a great alternative, and he’ll become more appealing the longer this drags on.

Link via The Red State. Meanwhile, in other ethics news, Muse has a followup on the charges filed against State Rep. John Davis, and Juanita has a story about ARMPAC and the discount it gave itself on its conciliation agreement with the FEC. Check ’em out.

How to get smart about getting tuff on crime

Courtesy of Grits, here’s a real public safety agenda for Texas:

What follows is the first installment of a list of proposals, most of which would have to be enacted by the Texas Legislature, that I think would make a real, substantive difference to actually improving public safety, not just symbolic changes designed to “send a message.” These ideas are aimed to actually improve the lives of Texans and reduce crime in the short and long term. In some cases, they’re designed to expressly counter the criminal justice system’s excesses where it has destroyed lives and corrupted civil society.

I’ll be adding to this as we head toward the 80th Texas Legislature, but here’s a start: What would state leaders be doing if they really cared about public safety?

He’s got ten suggestions, all of which sound eminently reasonable to me, and all of which together would cost less now and in the future than building three more prisons. Check it out.

Target housing

I know the name of this project is the Sawyer Heights Lofts, but given its location, I’ll be thinking of them as the Target Lofts.

Houston-based Martin Fein Interests Ltd. is building a 326-unit, four-story project known as Sawyer Heights Lofts, two miles west of downtown. The complex at 2424 Spring St. replaces two older industrial buildings that were recently torn down on the five-acre tract.

The apartments are going up next to the Sawyer Heights Village Shopping Center under development by Houston-based Property Commerce. The Target-anchored center has become a new landmark on the heavily traveled Katy Freeway.

Sawyer Height Lofts will range in size from 683 square feet to 1,344 square feet. The interiors will feature simulated wood flooring in common areas and carpet in the bedrooms. Kitchens will have granite countertops, custom cabinets and upgraded plumbing fixtures.

The complex will have an exercise room, game room, library, party room, conference room and pool.

Link via Houstonist. Given the proximity of a major interstate, a Target parking lot, and a street that features a lot of eighteen-wheelers, I’d say the most important aspect of the design here will be soundproofing.

(On the plus side, you’re only three blocks away from the Giant Presidential Heads. I’m thinking a loft with a view of the Adickes studio should cost a little more. It’d be worth a premium to me, if I were in the market for a quasi-urban domicile.)

Anyway. They’re a little concerned about what a couple hundred housing units will do to traffic in the area at the Houston Architecture Info Forum. I don’t know that I’m worried about the traffic effect – and I say that as someone who regularly uses the Taylor/Sawyer interchange at I-10 – but I will say that widening Taylor between the Target and Washington Avenue to two full lanes would be a big help. You can take Taylor all the way to Memorial for a pretty nifty back route into downtown when I-10 is a parking lot, but it doesn’t take much traffic to back this up, especially at the lights at Center and Washington. I’ve got to think that this is on the drawing board somewhere. For the sake of the future residents of the Target Lofts, who will surely discover this alternate route, I hope it is.

Martha Wong and the Case of the Missing Party Identifier

What do you do when your campaign signs identify you as a Republican in a year where that isn’t such a great thing to be? Why, you do a little ad hoc editing, of course. See? Duct tape really is the force that holds the universe together.

Now many campaign signs, including those of Ellen Cohen, don’t identify a candidate’s party. There is a version of the Wong sign that doesn’t include the Republican label at all – driving around the Rice area, I saw more with no mention of the word Republican than I did with it. What amuses me about this is that either those signs were done accidentally and then handed out anyway for whatever the reason, or the Wong campaign made a strategic change after realizing that the R wasn’t doing her any good. Whichever is the case, applying tape to the offending signs is funny. Guess Martha didn’t want to spend any of her sizeable war chest on replacements. She can always claim she’s just being fiscally conservative, I suppose.

UPDATE: At least Wong didn’t do this.

Bar owners argue against expanded smoking ban

City Council took up the question of widening the ban on smoking to include bars yesterday, and bar owners railed against it for the most part.

While various organizations have expressed support for a stronger ban, it was clear at Monday’s meeting that some still adamantly oppose the change.

“Draft an exception to allow bars to continue to operate and make the decision whether they want to be smoke-free or not,” Philip Brinson, who owns three bars in Houston, urged council members.

I’m not sure how that’s different from the status quo. Surely any bar now can choose to be smoke-free. They’d have to enforce it themselves instead of being able to call the cops, but that’s about it.

Councilwoman Carol Alvarado, chairwoman of the committee, said she hopes the council will vote to approve the measure at an Oct. 11 meeting. She plans to hold one last committee meeting on the issue next week to discuss the language of the ordinance, which now is being drafted by the city’s legal department.

“Bar owners, they’re just looking at the bottom line,” Alvarado said. “We have to stay focused as public officials as to why we’re doing this: It’s a health issue. It’s the dangers of secondhand smoke.”

I appreciate Council’s rationale, but the bottom line certainly matters. We’ve got conflicting reports out of Austin as to the effect of the bar-inclusive smoking ban there. We need to understand what this will mean as best we can before we take action.

Alvarado’s committee held a meeting last month on those dangers, citing the U.S. surgeon general’s recent recommendation that smoking be banned from all workplaces.

This time, council members considered a study on the economic impacts of smoking bans. An independent consultant used data from the first several months after Houston’s ban was implemented to show that it has had no effect on the sales of restaurants, including those with bars inside.

The study also considered other cities with similar bans and concluded that smoking bans do not hurt the restaurant industry overall, but can have different effects on various sectors of the industry, such as bars.

Some bar owners said a comprehensive ban would devastate their businesses because customers would instead go to bars outside city limits, where smoking is allowed.

That probably affects a relatively small number of bars. How far are you willing to drive for a pint? Unless there’s a unique draw – a musical act, a sporting event on satellite TV, etc – I figure most people will opt for convenience. Not everyone, of course, but most.

Since the city’s proposal is not yet complete, it’s unclear what exceptions might be included, though some say smoking should be allowed on outdoor patios. Michael McCoy, who owns McCoy’s Fine Cigars downtown, said he hopes shops like his that permit customers to light up inside also would be exempted.

“If they end up banning it in cigar shops I’d probably just close,” McCoy said. “It’s not like business is booming down here. You want to make it harder?”

One of his customers, Vance Burns, agreed as he puffed on a Flor de Oliva in McCoy’s lounge. “It’s like saying you can’t eat in Chipotle,” Burns said, gesturing to the burrito restaurant across the street. “That’s their business. That’s their livelihood.”

These are certainly reasonable exceptions, and I hope that if Council goes forward they will include them. You’re not going to satisfy everybody, but if this is definitely going forward, then a strong effort should be made to consider all special requests and grant exemptions where appropriate. Allowing smoking in bars that have sufficient ventilation systems, for example. Give the bar owners some options so they don’t feel stuck.

Fastow gets six years

Andy Fastow receives his punishment, and it’s less than what it could have been.

Andrew Fastow, Enron’s former chief financial officer, received a 6-year prison sentence today for his role in the 2001 demise of the energy company.

Fastow’s sentence had been limited to no more than 10 years in prison as part of his plea agreement to testify in the trial against Enron top executives Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt had the option to shorten that sentence.

Hoyt said he showed mercy for several reasons, including that Fastow had provided help to the shareholders; that Fastow was persecuted and scapegoated after Enron collapsed; and because of the suffering Fastow’s family endured, specifically pointing to the fact that his wife went to jail.

“The family had take a particularly acrimonious hit,” Hoyt said.

Before the sentencing, an emotional Fastow, 44, shed tears as he told the judge today he has publicly and privately taken responsibility for his actions, and he will struggle with the fallout and shame for the rest of his life.

“I wish I could undo what I did at Enron but I can’t,” he said, his voice choking.

He said he was blessed with family and friends, but ” have failed them. I have to work every day of my life to keep their trust.”

He also said “I will serve my sentence as part of my repentence that I’ve already begun.”

I don’t know Andrew Fastow, so I don’t know how much I believe that his remorse and repentance is real. I’ve got enough Catholic in me to believe in redemption, so I’m willing to give him a chance. Some former Enron employees also apparently feel the same way. Ultimately, what powers redemption for me is taking action to make up for what you’ve done. Fastow is saying the right things now, and that second article indicates he’s been doing some good things, but the jury will be out on this one for a long time.

Baseball’s living history

Meet Silas Simmons, the oldest living player from the black major leagues near the turn of the century.

Simmons, known as Si, was born on Oct. 14, 1895 – the same year as Babe Ruth and Rudolph Valentino, and before F. Scott Fitzgerald and Amelia Earhart. He played at the highest level of black baseball while a boy named Satchel Paige was still in grade school.

That Simmons is still living was unknown to baseball researchers until this summer, when a genealogist near the nursing home where he lives in St. Petersburg alerted a Negro leagues expert.

A member of the Center for Negro League Baseball Research confirmed a baseball historian’s dream: that Simmons was indeed a man who had pitched and played the outfield in the equivalent of the black major leagues on and off from about 1912 through at least 1929, and that he had played against such stars as Pop Lloyd, Judy Johnson and Biz Mackey.

Lloyd was like “the second Honus Wagner,” Simmons said. “Judy Johnson, they called him Pie Traynor.”

Simmons added: “It was a thrill to watch players like that. After a while they were in the big leagues, playing ball, which you thought would never come. But eventually it did come. And that was the greatest thing of my life when I saw these fellows come up and play big-league baseball.” Simmons is not the oldest-known living American – that title belongs to Lizzie Bolden of Memphis, who turned 116 in August. The oldest living person who played Major League Baseball is Rollie Stiles, 99, who pitched for the St. Louis Browns in the early 1930’s.


Wayne Stivers, who spearheaded the fact-finding committee that led to 17 people associated with the Negro leagues being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, said: “We were aware there was a Si Simmons and that he played. But we didn’t know he was still alive. We figured, 110, no – this man is not alive. My reaction was, ‘We need to talk with him immediately.’ ”

Simmons’ first games were not in the Negro leagues as they are now remembered. The first established circuit, the Negro National League, started in 1920. Before that, local all-black teams would play against one another, against all-white teams or occasionally against groups of big leaguers barnstorming in the off-season.

Having grown up in a central Philadelphia row house on 17th and Bainbridge Streets, Simmons was a left-handed pitcher who was signed by the nearby Germantown Blue Ribbons, a well-regarded team. He said he started pitching for the Blue Ribbons at age 16 or 17, meaning 1912 or 1913. Box scores and articles from The Philadelphia Inquirer describe the 5-foot-10 Simmons as routinely striking out 10 or more batters while getting a hit or two a game.

Simmons had difficulty remembering all the teams he played on. While unable to explain in detail, he indicated that players, particularly pitchers, were often picked up by other teams for brief stretches, so he might have played select games for other teams as well. (Experts confirmed that this practice was commonplace.) Researchers have uncovered box scores and game recaps with his name from many years throughout the 1910’s and beyond.

Amazing. And while you marvel at the life of Si Simmons, take a moment to wish a happy 90th birthday to former Yankees shortstop Phil Rizzuto, the oldest living member of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Feel free to ask him about his collaboration with Meat Loaf while you’re at it.

Interview with Rep. Ana Hernandez

In addition to interviewing all of the Democratic candidates for State House in Harris County, I wanted to make sure I also spoke to the incumbent Reps who face Republican opposition. With today’s interview of Rep. Ana Hernandez, the incumbent in HD143, I’ve completed that task. Hernandez won a tough special election against a big field last November to fill the seat of the late Rep. Joe Moreno, for whom Hernandez had once worked. She did a nice job in the special sessions earlier this year, and is one of the growing number of bright spots for the Dems in the House.

Here’s the interview:

Link for the MP3 file is here. Rep. Hernandez also did a guest post for me earlier this month.

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
Bob SmitherInterview
Hank GilbertInterview
Joe FariasInterview
Harriet MillerInterview
Ellen CohenInterview
Diane TrautmanInterview
Rep. Scott HochbergInterview
Kristi ThibautInterview
Rep. Hubert VoInterview
Dot Nelson-TurnierInterview
Sherrie MatulaInterview
Sammie MillerInterview
Mark McDavidInterview
Janette SextonInterview
Rep. Ana HernandezInterview

Lampson poll

I’m sure you know about Shelley Sekula Gibbs’s “if wishes were horses” poll from a couple of weeks ago. I’ve now received word from the Nick Lampson campaign about their own poll, one that is (shall we say) a bit more reality-based. Here’s the scoop:

Vote for U.S. Congress

If the GENERAL ELECTION for U.S. Congress were held today and the candidates were: [ROTATE]

o Nick Lampson, the Democrat
o Bob Smither, the Libertarian

for whom would you vote or would you write-in another candidate? (IF WRITE-IN) Who would you write in?

LAMPSON                             43%
SMITHER                             10%
WRITE-IN (OTHER: SPECIFY _______)    7%
(UNDECIDED)                         26%

That’s a lot of undecideds, which probably suggests there’s still a lot of people who don’t know any of the candidates. Note, however, that even if you assume Lampson has topped out, he’s still going to win. Shelley could get all of those votes, and she’d still lose. Bob Smither’s presence on the ballot makes a critical difference, as I’ve said all along. If the undecideds all represent non-votes for this race (I expect a fair amount of them will), Lampson would wind up with 58% of the actual tally, with Shelley getting 19, Smither 14, and others 9. Given that Lampson hasn’t been blanketing the airwaves yet (I assume, anyway – I’ve not heard of any TV or radio ads on his part), I’d say he has a fair amount of growth potential. A lot of this will come down to GOTV. Lampson is very well positioned for that. The question is not whether Lampson will get a majority of the actual votes cast, but if he will still have a majority after you include the undervotes. I believe he has a very good chance of doing that.

Oh, and how’s that $3 million of national money thing working out for Shelley? I quote from a CQPolitics interview with NRCC Chair Rep. Tom Reynolds:

On Texas’ 22nd District, where Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs is waging a Republican write-in campaign against Democratic former Rep. Nick Lampson for the seat that former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay vacated in June:

Reynolds: “… What I’ve found – what seems to be the indication of Shelley and others – is that there’s a very keen awareness in [Houston-area] Harris County and the surrounding three counties that they know it’s a unique circumstance, there’s not a Republican on the ballot and that it would require a write-in. If it’s true that there is a keen awareness to that, it presents a good opportunity. It is a very good Republican seat. …

“We are going to watch it very closely. She’s developing a good campaign. The state [GOP] chair is involved. We’re definitely in consultation with that [campaign] to see how it evolves. … I have not written off that seat [just] because I don’t have a Republican candidate [on the ballot]. … It is something that is very much on our radar screen.”

Mmm hmm. To quote Weird Al Yankovic for a translation of Reynolds’ remarks:

The check’s in the mail (Hey!)
You’re beautiful
Don’t ever change
You know what I mean
My girl will call your girl
We’ll talk, we’ll do lunch
Or leave a message on my machine
So baby, won’t you sign
On the dotted line
Gonna make your dreams come true
The check’s in the mail
Would I lie to you?

Ahem. The poll memo is here (PDF). It doesn’t say, but I’ve been told the sample size was 400, which means the margin of error is 4.9%.

UPDATE: I stand corrected about Lampson running ads (thanks, Muse!) I still believe he will capture a decent share of those undecided voters, however.