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October, 2006:

Endorsement watch: Puzzlement

Today the Chron gives its most puzzling endorsement of the cycle. Not because Rep. Kevin Brady is an oddball choice for re-election – frankly, given what a nut Brady’s opponent is, I’d be pushing the button for him if I lived in Montgomery County. What’s odd about this is the timing of the endorsement – why not include Brady in with the Harris County Congress endorsements; surely it didn’t take this much extra time to arrive at the decision to recommend him – as well as the choice to make a recommendation in this particular race. If the Chron is going to venture outside of Harris County – something they really ought to do, as both the Morning News and the Star Telegram endorse in races from multiple counties – then why pick this uninteresting and uncompetitive race (Brady got 69% against the same nutty opponent in 2004) instead of the much more compelling and potentially competitive race in CD14?

Maybe the Chron is going to pick a side between Shane Sklar and Rep. Ron Paul. Good for them if they do, but c’mon already. There’s only three days of early voting left. The more they wait, the less it matters. I admit that how much it matters regardless is an open question, but the principle remains.

Finally, if the Chron is going to venture outside the Harris County borders, there are a number of hot races in Galveston and Fort Bend Counties in which they could endorse. Again, if they were going to do this they should have done it weeks ago, but better late than never. In the end, though, if CD08 is the only exclusively non-Harris County race in which the Chron makes a recommendation, then I will remain puzzled as to why they bothered. We’ll see what happens.

TV or not TV?

Is today the last you’ll see Chris Bell on TV? Maybe, maybe not.

At least two Houston television stations – KPRC and KHOU – have no Bell campaign commercials booked or paid for to air after today. Two of Bell’s rival campaigns say that is true at television stations across Texas.

Bell said late in the day that Houston trial lawyer John O’Quinn had given his campaign another $300,000 to keep his advertising on the air.

[…]

Bell’s campaign reports showed that as of Saturday he had only $84,106 in cash available for the final drive. And Bell lamented to reporters early Monday that all the money he had received from O’Quinn was gone.

When reporters asked Bell if his campaign was about to go off network television, he replied: “We’ll see today.” Bell spent the afternoon in Houston trying to raise more money.

Bell campaign manager Jason Stanford said rumors of Bell going dark on TV are premature.

“We have substantial new money that will keep us up as we are now currently. Not going dark. It’s late-breaking. … Scout’s honor,” Stanford said.

However, Bell’s campaign staff on Oct. 17 told reporters that O’Quinn had guaranteed a $1.5 million bank loan for Bell. The campaign finance report released Monday showed O’Quinn actually guaranteed a loan of $1 million on Oct. 18. That was in addition to a $1 million donation he made Oct. 12.

In addition to O’Quinn’s money, Bell raised another $790,000. The money was spent on heavy network television advertising during the past two weeks.

Given that a month ago, nobody thought Bell would be on TV at all, I can’t say this is the worst news I’ve ever heard. And it’s interesting that both the Perry and Strayhorn camps saw fit to point this out to reporters. Maybe they’re breathing a sigh of relief.

Meanwhile, Paul Burka looks at the latest Zogby Interactive poll for Governor, which as previously noted paints a picture of a much closer race than the Chron Zogby poll does, and he comes up with another reason why not.

The bad news for Bell is that his success seems to have come not at Perry’s expense but at Strayhorn’s.

Dude. All campaign long you’ve said that the reason why Rick Perry is unbeatable despite poll numbers in the 30s is because none of his opponents have been able to coalesce the anti-Perry vote. Now we see Chris Bell doing exactly that – this is what it means when some of Strayhorn’s support migrates to Bell, as was the case when Friedman started losing voters to Bell – and it’s still bad news? Is there anything that could happen in this race that would constitute good news for Bell by your reckoning?

I’m not saying that Bell is suddenly a favorite to beat Rick Perry. Heck, if he does go dark over the next week, he could very easily slip back to the pack and be in danger of falling behind Strayhorn. And yes, Perry’s numbers have ticked up a bit from the shockingly (improbably?) low 30s to the 37-38 range, where even I will concede he’s approaching nigh-unbeatable territory, though quite clearly Bell’s upward mobility has been faster. All I want is a little consistency. Is that so much to ask?

Chron poll #3: Senate

What is there to say about the third Chronicle poll, which shows Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison winning by a 61-27 margin over Barbara Radnofsky? Well, that poll was done by Zogby, which as it happens just released its latest batch of Zogby/WSJ Interactive polls. That poll pegs it as Hutchison 55, Radnofsky 36. Zogby says his interactive polls are valid, so it’d be nice to see him explain the differences between the two.

That same Interactive poll, by the way, has the Governor’s race as Perry 36.7, Bell 28.5, Strayhorn 15, Friedman 14. Like I said, it’d be nice to have Zogby explain why one set of results is so different from the other.

As with the CD22 poll, 90% of the respondents said they were “very likely” to vote, with the rest claiming to be “somewhat likely”. Either this means they also talked to a bunch of non-voters, whose results they then excluded, or it’s as much BS as the CD22 sample was. Whatever the case, taking the respondent’s word for it is highly suspect. You could screen by past voting history instead, for instance.

One interesting thing from the crosstabs, which are in popup windows that I can’t link to: The respondents were asked whether the US was going in the right direction or the wrong direction. By a 47.9-43.7 margin, they said “wrong direction”. Hutchison gets nearly 80% of the “right direction” voters, but Radnofsky wins the “wrong direction” folks by a slim margin, 41.6 to 40.9 (the Lib candidate gets 8.9% of these, with the rest being “other” or “not sure”). I didn’t see where they asked the same question for Texas, but they have data on that. People are more sanguine about Texas, with 52% percent saying “right direction” and 40% saying “wrong direction”. KBH gets 75% of these “right direction”ers, with Randofsky taking 45% of the “wrong”ers (to 39% for KBH). It’d be useful to know which of these groups is really more likely to vote, but alas, we don’t.

Will there be a rail effect in CD07?

Take a look at this last mailer that Jim Henley is sending out to district residents this week. The top bullet point for Henley is his promise to “secure funding for Houston’s light rail”, while the top point for John Culberson is taken from the recent Chron non-endorsement lecture which notes Culberson’s opposition to Metro’s proposed routes and his unwillingness to help fund the Universities line. I believe that given the high profile Culberson has had on this issue, the two candidates’ stances on rail will be a factor in the election. What I don’t know is in what fashion it will be a factor, and by how much.

I drive around the Inner Loop portion of CD07 almost every day. There’s an incredible number of Henley signs in that area – more than for any other campaign, as far as I can tell. The one place where you don’t see a bunch of Henley signs, in fact where you see visible support for John Culberson, is on Richmond, especially east of Kirby and west of Weslayan (which is to say in Afton Oaks). I got to wondering recently how these folks voted in the past, and whether we may see a difference this year.

With an assist from Greg Wythe, who figured out which precincts I needed to check, I can answer that first question, and be prepared for the second. Here’s the relevant data for the 2004 election, and for the 2003 Metro referendum:

Pcnct Culberson Turnout Pct Metro Yes Metro No No Pct =========================================================== 39 473 1809 26.15 740 243 24.72 60 422 1625 25.97 612 201 24.72 123 236 866 27.25 333 117 26.00 139 773 1688 45.79 556 322 36.67 177 635 1024 62.01 291 254 46.61 178 905 1346 67.24 346 412 54.35 233 837 1597 52.41 448 303 40.35 802 46 237 19.41 59 11 15.71 Total 4327 10192 42.45 3385 1863 35.50

You can see a map of the precincts here. Basically, precincts 39, 60, 123, and 802 are east of Kirby. Precincts 139 and 233 are the Greenway Plaza area, and numbers 177 and 178 are Afton Oaks. Obviously, this covers more than just Richmond itself, but this is as fine as I can slice it.

Not too surprisingly, Culberson was unpopular in the Montrose-y areas east of Kirby, and well liked in Afton Oaks. Also not too surprising to me was the fact that Culberson was more popular than the anti-rail vote in Greenway Plaza. The relative level of support for the rail referendum in Afton Oaks was interesting, but one could take that as their belief in the line being on Westpark if one wants to.

Bottom line is that overall, more people liked the rail proposal in 2003 than Culberson in 2004. Note that Culberson’s percentages are measured against total ballots cast, not just ballots cast in his race, so his actual level of support is slightly higher than that. I did it that way to give a comparison to the other Republicans on the CD07 ballot. I’ve got a spreadsheet with the full details here.

As for part two of my questions, give me a couple of weeks and I’ll let you know. For now, at least, we can ponder about whose stance will resonate more among the people in the area. I look forward to seeing what the precinct data ultimately says.

The ABA rides again

Did you know that the old American Basketball Association has been reincarnated as a regional minor league, with a total of 53 franchises across the country, including a new one here in Houston? Me neither, but it sure sounds like owner Larry Leonard has got the whole loose, fun-loving thing down.

“I was on the Batman ride at Six Flags and we went over the cemetery,” he said. “That’s when it hit me – the Undertakers. That’s who we had to be. People will remember us. Especially when we bury them.”

To that end, Leonard has purchased a coffin and plans to have pallbearers on hand to carry it onto the court late in the game each time the Undertakers have wrapped up a win. Call it a ghoulish version of Red Auerbach’s old victory cigar.

[…]

“We’re definitely not trying to compete with the Rockets or any other sports franchise in Houston,” Leonard said. “We’re looking to provide an entertainment alternative and a fun, exciting kind of basketball. That’s why we’ve gotten the legendary Jackie Carr to be our head coach. Our goal is to win games and make headlines with our style of play, which will be all about putting points on the scoreboard.”

Who is Jackie Carr, you ask?

The first time they met as a team, the coach gathered his players all around and asked them a simple question.

“What wins championships?”

The hands shot up immediately, and a dozen heads nodded with confident smiles.

Easy question.

“Dee-fense!” they all shouted.

The coach threw back his head and laughed.

Trick question.

“How many of y’all ever seen them put defensive points up on a scoreboard? You win games, you win championships, by scoring more points than the other guy.

“Anybody know another way?”

Not Jackie Carr.

The Wizard of Wheatley High won four state championships, eight city crowns and 11 district titles and rolled up a 532-112 (.826) record in 17 seasons from 1969 to 1985 doing things his way.

Now, at 77, he’s back out on the court in charge of a minor league team called the Houston Undertakers that will play this season in a resurrected version of the old American Basketball Association.

“I was sitting around, just playing checkers, when the young fella who owns the team came and asked me if I wanted to coach again,” Carr said. “It wasn’t really something I was looking for. But I thought for a minute and figured maybe it would be fun.”

[…]

Carr is to fast-break basketball what a microwave oven is to rubbing two sticks together. A quantum leap.

His 1973 Wheatley team that featured Eddie Owens, Steve Jones, Michael Long, Willie Davis and Robert Jammer went 43-1 and captured the state title while averaging just over 110 points. That’s in just 32 minutes on the high school clock.

Back in the day, Carr even had a rule for his Wildcats. If they failed to break the 100-point barrier in a game, they faced a five-mile run the next day at practice.

“I laugh when I hear coaches say their players won’t run,” Carr said. “What do you mean ‘won’t run?’ Then get new players.

“I hear coaches talking about how they need a center or a point guard or a power forward or something. I hear kids come in now and tell me they play the ‘three’ or the ‘four’ or the ‘one’ position. I don’t know anything about any of that. Just give me some boys with two legs, and I’ll get them up and down the floor.”

Somewhere, Jeff Van Gundy just lost another hair. Gotta admit, this sounds interesting. I’ll have to check their schedule and see if I can catch a game.

Trick or treat!

Houstonist guest writer Crystal lays down the law for Trick or Treating at her house: You must be old enough to walk, but not old enough to shave, and you must be in costume. Fine rules, and not too much to ask in general, but here in the Heights, there’s just too much traffic to enforce such a thing. I’ll try to get a picture or two so you can see what I mean, but we see something on the order of 400 or 500 Trick or Treaters in the course of the evening. It’s just crazy. We’re giving out Mardi Gras beads as we usually do – they’re cheap, the kids like them, and it eliminates the temptation to eat half the stash before anyone shows up. What are you giving out this year?

I can’t talk about Trick or Treating without mentioning the Candy Man, also known as Ronald Clark O’Bryan, who murdered his son by giving him poisoned Halloween candy in 1974. That took place in Deer Park, which is about 20 miles southeast of here, and effectively ended the Trick or Treat tradition for a whole generation of kids in Houston. The memory of that event still lingers – last week KACC radio advertised its annual Fall Festival as (among other things) a “safe alternative” for kids. They didn’t mention Ronald Clark O’Bryan, but I was pretty sure that whoever wrote the ad copy had him in mind.

I loved the Houston Press cover story on the business of haunted houses (the HouStoned blog has more). The one question I wish they’d addressed is what do the owners do with the houses for the rest of the year? The article certainy makes it sound like this is a lucrative business (once you recover the surprisingly high startup costs), but can you make a living on six weeks of shows? Alas, it doesn’t say. Read the sidebar piece about the actors, too. You’ll never wear flipflops to a haunted house again.

Specs for the Intermodal Terminal

Christof reads the environmental assessment for the proposed Intermodal Terminal (formerly known as the Northern Intermodal Transit Center) so we don’t have to. He summarizes the most interesting bits, which are worth reading to see what Metro is up to with this project. For example:

5. It’s intended to create a new neighborhood.

METRO’s site plan shows a grid of streets between the railroad tracks and White Oak Bayou. Those streets aren’t needed to access the transit station, and most won’t carry through traffic. Their purpose is clearly to be the “bones” of a new neighborhood. METRO isn’t saying much about that – the site plan shows these as on grade parking. But they’ve clearly though about it. Most significantly, the streets are connected southwards, not northwards, directing traffic from new development towards Downtown, not residential neighborhoods. METRO has already acquired much of this land because it needs parts of it for the transit facilities; presumably it would either sell or lease to developers. Were we in a city that wasn’t planning-phobic, there would already be a process underway to figure out what kind of place this would be. Instead, we’re letting the transit agency figure it out.

Check it out.

Candidate Q&A: Jim Sharp

Here’s one last entry in my series of Q&As with local candidates: Jim Sharp, running for the First Court of Appeals. This one runs a little long, so I’ve put it in the extended entry.

(more…)

Chron CD22 poll

Obviously, the big news today is the Chron poll of CD22 (reported last night on KHOU), which claims that the race is a lot closer than anyone thought it would be. Here’s how the Chron puts it:

Thirty-five percent of respondents said they would vote for a write-in candidate, a statistical tie with the 36 percent support for Democrat Nick Lampson, according to the poll of more than 500 likely voters in the 22nd Congressional District.

Most who say they will write in a candidate plan on naming Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, the Houston city councilwoman backed by the Republican Party. Two lesser-known candidates also are running as write-ins.

One voter in four is still undecided.

Libertarian Bob Smither, the only person besides Lampson on the general election ballot, drew 4 percent support.

“Most” means about 80%, according to the poll’s internals, which you can see here and here (both PDFs). Which in turn means that Lampson leads the written-in Sekula Gibbs by a 36-28 margin. Not quite as sexy as 36-35, but there you have it.

There are many points to discuss in this poll. Most of what I’ll be referring to comes from one of the two PDFs linked above.

– The poll sampled 504 registered voters, of whom 450 said they were “likely” to vote this year. I’m here to tell you, ain’t no way in hell any random sample of 500 registered voters contains 90% likelies. SurveyUSA has been pegging about 58% of its samples as likely voters, presumably based on past voting history. That’s too high as well for a non-Presidential election, in which 35-40% turnout is the norm. In this case, it appears the voters self-identified as likely. And a lot of them fibbed about it.

– Where that may make a difference of course is in its mix of partisan identity. The sample is 32% Democratic, 52% Republican, and 16% Independent. But how many of each of those groups is really likely to vote? That matters quite a bit. This is a weird year in many ways, so any method for determining voter likelihood is not much more than a guess. Are the Democrats more fired up here, as is the case around the country? Or are the Republicans excited about maybe winning a race they’re supposed to lose? I don’t know how you can judge from this poll.

– Forty percent of poll respondents say they normally vote a straight ticket; the rest say they do not. I’ve looked at straight ticket voting several times, and in 2004, over 70% of the votes Tom DeLay got in Harris County came from straight tickets. As with the likelihood question, I think some of these respondents are not answering truthfully. Most people don’t want to admit they don’t vote, and most people don’t want to be thought of as rigid partisans (this is why there are more self-identified “independents” than there are people who genuinely vote both parties).

– About half of Democrats in the sample say they’ll vote a straight ticket; for Republicans it’s 42% straight, 56% not straight, 4% not sure. The Dem numbers are in line with historical patterns, the Republicans are a bit low, but understandably so given the advertising telling them to not vote a straight ticket.

– A total of 149 Republican repondents said they would not be voting a straight ticket. A total of 146 Republicans said they’d vote for a write-in candidate. To say the least, that’s a high concentration. It suggests that this may be Sekula Gibbs’ ceiling of support.

– Conversely, 108 of 161 self-identified Democrats said they were voting for Lampson, with an additional 35 saying “not sure”. This suggests that Lampson’s support may be understated.

– 26% of Republicans (69 out of 262) and 24% of Independents (19 out of 81) say they’re not sure who they’re voting for. It’s hard to judge what they might eventually do. In a subsequent question that named Sekula Gibbs on the ballot, the 61 “not sure”s were pushed, but only 18 then identified a candidate. No such pushing was done for the Lampson/Smither/Write In question, where there were twice as many (123) “not sure”s. One might surmise that these are the people least likely to vote.

– It’s hard to believe that Bob Smither will get only 4% of the vote. Past history suggests that Libertarian candidates, when they share a ballot with only one major party contestant, get 10-15% of the vote. My guess is that Smither will pick up a number of the not-sure voters, probably more Republicans since those are the ones he’s specifically targetting.

– One last point to note is that the war in Iraq was by far the most important issue cited by the respondents, easily beating terrorism, the economy, and immigration. Nearly half of Democrats listed it first, as well as neearly half of Independents, while it trailed only terrorism among Republicans. I point this out mostly because it jibes with the recent poll in CD04, where the question wasn’t asked but the pollster reported that almost everyone wanted to discuss it.

The bottom line is that I think this article makes the race sound tighter than it is. I do think it’s tighter than I thought it would be – while it hasn’t spent $3-4 million, the NRCC has spent over one million dollars, and that’s had an effect – but to characterize it as a tossup between Lampson and Sekula Gibbs at this point is an overstatement. Kos, Juanita, Vince, and MyDD also discuss this.

Mother Jones on Martha Wong

Mother Jones has a profile of Martha Wong that’s worth reading. There are a few things to discuss in it, starting with the headline “Deep in DeLay Country, a Backlash Takes Shape”. Personally, I think of Fort Bend as “DeLay Country”, not HD134, but maybe that’s just me. I also think an article on the feisty countywide campaigns being waged by the Fort Bend Democrats might have been more illuminative of the backlash effect, but whatever.

Right off the bat, we get this:

Until recently, few people in Houston would have called Martha Wong conservative. She was the first Asian American elected to the city council in this blue-collar town and was a champion of immigrant workers; once in office, she fought for hiring more Chinese-speaking police officers, funding low-income housing, and preserving the bus system. Urban voters sent the Republican to the state Legislature in 2002, believing she was a political moderate.

I guess that’s a matter of perspective. I’ve thought of Martha Wong as a conservative ever since the thong incident while she was on City Council. I can’t speak to the items cited during her term on Council, as I wasn’t paying particularly close attention back then, but her campaign slogan for State Rep has been “Be Right, Vote Wong” all along. Frankly, I think that’s a pretty sizeable clue as to her true nature.

As Wong climbed the rungs of power at the state Capitol, however, she seemed to cast aside many groups that define her district. For example, environmentalists have been drawing attention to extraordinarily high ozone levels in the part of Houston that Wong represents, yet Wong voted against five separate clean air measures. Schools are a big issue in the highly educated district, yet Wong, a former elementary school principal, opposed a bipartisan proposal to raise teacher salaries. Wong acknowledges that voters in her district are independent-minded yet in an interview couldn’t cite a single instance in which she’d voted against her party. The closest she came was on a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage: She supported defining marriage as a union “between a man and a woman” but opposed a ban on civil unions. “Since voting either for or against the bill would have put me in conflict with my beliefs,” she wrote in a statement, “I abstained.”

“We might as well have a mannequin in the chair,” says Jeffrey Dorrell, a precinct chair in Wong’s district for more than a decade. Dorrell supported Wong over a more conservative Republican in the 2002 primary and then watched with chagrin as she scrambled once in office to demonstrate GOP bona fides. Dorrell, who is gay, is so angry about Wong’s stance on the marriage amendment – which was opposed by nearly 60 percent of District 134 voters – that he has resigned his post with the party and is organizing “Republicans for Cohen.”

The ironic thing, of course, is that an abstention on HJR6 really was as good as a No vote, since it needed 100 Yes votes to pass. That said, Wong voted yes in committee, which allowed HJR6 to come to the floor. That’s where she really could have made a difference, and she chose party loyalty over her district. I’m not exactly shedding a tear for her as a result. The fact that she couldn’t think of a single example beyond that of bucking her leadership tells you everything else you need to know.

The rumors that I hear say that the Republicans expect to lose this race. That stuff comes to me at least second hand, so take it for what it’s worth. I’ve thought all along that Ellen Cohen was the candidate to take Martha Wong out, and I see no reason to change that assessment. I will be surprised if this isn’t a pickup for the Dems next week.

RIP, Red Auerbach

NBA legend and Boston Celtics fixture Red Auerbach passed away over the weekend at the age of 89.

Arnold Jacob Auerbach was born on Sept. 20, 1917, the son of Marie Thompson and Hyman Auerbach, a Russian immigrant. Red grew up in the familiar and hardscrabble Brooklyn neighborhood called Williamsburg, where his father ran a dry cleaners. Red helped out with some of the pressing duties and also earned nickels washing taxi cabs. He was a teenager during the Depression, when unemployment in New York rose as high as 50 percent.

“I appreciated the fact that my father was a hard-working man,” Red once recalled, explaining his father’s influence. “Also that he was well liked.”

Auerbach gravitated to basketball because that’s what he had.

“In my area of Brooklyn there was no football, no baseball,” he said. “They were too expensive. They didn’t have the practice fields. We played basketball and handball and some softball in the street.”

[…]

In 1943 he enlisted in the Navy. By the time Auerbach was discharged in 1946, Walter Brown had helped start the Basketball Association of America. Mike Uline, owner of the Washington Caps, wanted to hire Auerbach as coach.

But Auerbach was married and soon to start a family, so the move was risky for him.

“I had a permanent job already, but I felt I could always get a job if it didn’t work out,” he recalled.

He took the job, filling a roster with the names of players he remembered from his days in the Navy. Red was only 29.

“Some of the guys on the team were older than me,” he said. “I just sold the guy a bill of goods to get the job. A lot of guys had better credentials.”

He paid no one on the team more than $8,500 and insisted on defense and conditioning from his players. In the 1946-47 season, his team finished 49-11. After three years of coaching the Washington Capitols and the Tri-Cities Blackhawks of Iowa in the BAA, and winning 143 of 225 games, he was hired by Brown to coach the NBA’s Boston Celtics. Brown was in debt and looking for a head coach for one last go-around with Boston.

Fortunately, Auerbach had Bob Cousy during his first year at the helm, helping him turn the Celtics from a 22-46 team in 1949 into a 39-30 team in 1950. Cousy was good right out of the box, scoring 15.6 points and averaging nearly five assists a game in his rookie year. But Auerbach almost didn’t get him.

Auerbach wasn’t short on opinions about who should play on his team.

“Am I supposed to win here, or take care of local yokels?” he asked, suggesting that Cousy was touted merely because he played at nearby Holy Cross.

Auerbach passed on Cousy in the draft, instead selecting 6-11 center Charlie Share. Local fans were irate. Due to outrageous fortune — several teams had folded — Brown offered Cousy $9,000 a year. He signed. Had Cousy taken umbrage at Auerbach’s “local yokel” remark and not signed, things might have turned out very differently. Celtic luck may have been born right there.

As former Celtics and Rockets coach Bill Fitch said, Auerbach was one of a kind. They don’t make them like him any more.

I grew up a Knicks fan, and though I’ve since adopted the Rockets as my team, to this day I despise the Celtics. It was ingrained with me as a kid. The reason why they’re worth hating after all these years is because of the success and the stature of Red Auerbach. It doesn’t matter that their last title was 1986. You just have to respect everything he did. I’ll always have some awe of that franchise because of him.

This Bill Simmons piece from 2002 gives you a great flavor of the man. He will indeed be missed. Rest in peace, Red Auerbach.

Chron polls Governor’s race

Here’s the first of three promised Chron polls, this one for the Governor’s race.

Perry leads a five-person field with 38 percent support, according to the survey. Democrat Chris Bell has 22 percent support, and independent Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn has 21 percent – a statistical tie. Independent Kinky Friedman trails badly at 10.5 percent, and Libertarian James Werner has just 1 percent support.

Disapproval of Perry’s job performance is almost universal across Texas’ demographic groups, according to the survey. Perry still has solid support from conservatives and Republicans.

“Could this have been a competitive two-person race? Absolutely. But it was never a competitive two-person race,” said pollster John Zogby. “You get back to that one point: Bell and Strayhorn are blocking one another.”

Bell – despite a saturation television-advertising buy paid for by $2.5 million in donations and loans from Houston trial lawyer John O’Quinn – remains largely unknown to four of every 10 voters. And Bell has yet to consolidate even his own Democratic base.

Strayhorn shows strength among women, blacks and self-identified independents, but she has failed to make significant inroads with Democrats or Republicans.

[…]

“The difficulty here is Perry has solidified in the high 30s,” Zogby said of the challengers. “It would take two candidates to implode, and the odds of that happening are very, very nil.”

The Zogby International telephone survey of 1,003 likely voters was conducted between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25. The margin of error in the survey is plus or minus 3.2 percentage points. The sample was 63 percent white, 23 percent Hispanic, 12 percent black and 2 percent other.

Perry spokesman Robert Black said the survey did not reflect a large Republican turnout that the campaign is expecting.

“The governor believes that the Texas voters are going to prove the national pundits wrong. They’re going to turn out, and they’re going to re-elect him by an overwhelming margin,” Black said. “This poll confirms that those two campaigns (Bell and Strayhorn) are getting awfully close to throwing in the towel.”

[…]

Perry’s greatest weakness is that 54 percent of those surveyed said his performance as governor has been fair or poor. Among independent voters, 62 percent disapproved of Perry as governor.

Of those who say Perry has done only a fair job as governor, a third are supporting Strayhorn and a quarter are voting for Bell. Among those who say Perry has done a poor job, 45 percent are for Bell and 30 percent back Strayhorn.

Slightly more than half of those surveyed said Texas is headed in the right direction, but 40 percent said the state is off track. Out of wrong-track voters, Zogby noted, 39 percent favor Bell; 23 percent Strayhorn; and 15 percent Friedman.

[…]

Bell holds 53 percent of support among Democrats, but 18 percent say they will vote for Strayhorn and 10 percent for Friedman. And 29 percent of the Democrats surveyed said they are too unfamiliar with Bell to have an opinion about him.

“There’s no way a Democrat can win getting just 53 percent of the Democrats, and that’s where Bell is,” Zogby said.

And the two ethnic groups that usually provide strength to Democratic candidates are divided. Blacks typically vote almost exclusively Democratic, but this year 43 percent say they support Bell and 35 percent name Strayhorn.

Hispanics typically throw three-quarters of their vote to Democrats, but only 25 percent said they will vote for Bell. Perry has the strongest showing among Hispanic voters, netting 37 percent.

My comments:

– This poll stands in contrast to three others released recently (SurveyUSA, Rasmussen, and Zogby’s own WSJ/Interactive) that all have Bell at 25 or 26, and Perry at 36 or 37. I have an easier time believing Perry at 38 than I do Bell at 22 at this point.

– Similarly, whatever this poll says, I don’t believe that Bell will only collect half of the self-identified Democratic vote. Until proven otherwise, about half the Democratic vote will be straight ticket. I expect Bell’s share will ultimately be in the 75-80% range.

– I note with interest Robert Black’s statement about Republican turnout. Maybe he’s right and Texas will defy national trends, I don’t know. But I do know that we can do better than guess at this point. We’ve got at least five days of early voting data available, and we can tell which precincts are turning out relative to others. That’s a question the Chron could have investigated.

– On a related note, early voting turnout itself may be up relative to 2002 around the state, but I don’t think that’s necessarily indicative of an overall boost in turnout. I think more people are voting early these days – in Harris County at least, more people voted early in 2004 than in 2000, and more voted early in 2002 than 1998. I’m not confident of any formulae to project overall turnout from early voting.

– Finally, even if you believe everything about this poll, then even with only half the base in his corner, with so many people still not knowing who he is, and with underperformance among black and Hispanic voters, Chris Bell is still ahead of Carole Keeton Strayhorn, as he is in those other polls I listed (Strayhorn claims second place in an internal poll). For what I hope is the last time, I’m going to say that the idea that only Strayhorn could beat Rick Perry is thoroughly discredited. Why it ever gained currency in the first place will forever be a mystery to me.

HHSC commissioner fails to disclose financial info

And another story you may not have seen, via Ramblings of an HHSC Employee: Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins has failed to disclose his ties to a non-profit that has received millions of dollars from the state of Texas.

Democratic candidate Chris Bell is raising ethical concerns about one of Perry’s top appointees. Bell says Hawkins–the executive commissioner for Texas Health and Human Services is on the board of a non-profit organization that’s received more than a million dollars in state contracts.

State lawmakers and heads of state agencies control billions of taxpayer dollars and to make sure the public knows if one of the decision-makers benefits from any of the state contracts, officials are required to file personal financial statements with the Texas Ethics Commission.

They must disclose if they have a relationship with any business or organizations.

CBS 42 pulled commissioner Hawkins filings for the past three years and found he did not disclose his position as a member of the board of trustees for the Texas Institute of Health Policy Research.

In the past couple of years, the group has been awarded more than a million dollars in consulting contracts by the state.

Hawkins is listed on the group’s Web site and in the group’s IRS tax returns. He was appointed to the position by Governor Rick Perry.

CBS 42 caught up with Perry on the campaign trail.

“Number one that’s news to me,” Perry said. “If that’s a conflict we’ll get it addressed quickly.”

Of course it’s news to Rick Perry. He doesn’t concern himself with this kind of trivia.

“The problem you have with this kind of behavior is people in power can steer state contracts to organizations and charities they are involved in and can influence state policy,” said Public Citizen spokesman Tom Smitty Smith. “It’s a double edge sword.”

Failing to disclose such relationships is both a civil and criminal violation.

Commissioner Hawkins spokesperson released this statement, “commissioner Hawkins considered this as an honorary position and never attended any meetings. But, nevertheless, he will file a corrected financial statement.”

CBS 42 will let you know what happens.

I’ll tell you what has happened so far: No news stories have yet reported Commissioner Hawkins’s compliance with state law. The Statesman picked up the story yesterday, with both Hawkins and Perry spokesman Robert Black whining about how mean it was of Bell to point out Hawkins’ ethical lapse. Strangely, neither one of them mentioned this fact:

According to state law, Hawkins should have disclosed the board affiliation to the state ethics commission. He said Monday he will amend his personal financial statement.

Emphasis mine. Hawkins failed to live up to his responsibilities. He can complain about the timing of the revelation all he wants, but the fault is his. If Rick Perry cared about this sort of thing, if it were a priority for his administration, maybe Hawkins would have been in compliance all along and we wouldn’t be talking about this. But he doesn’t, and Hawkins didn’t. They can blame Bell all they want for their own shortcomings, but it doesn’t change the facts.

Abbott uses taxpayer money for campaign ads

Here’s a story out of Dallas you might have missed: Attorney General Greg Abbott is using videos shot with equipment paid for by taxpayer money in his campaign ads.

Earlier in his term, Abbott spent $66,000 on video equipment and hired a special photographer at a salary of $70,000 a year, Dallas television station WFAA reported in a story aired Friday night.

“The TV crew works with us as we go out, and on occasion to expose wrongdoing,” Abbott told the station when he was asked about the expenses three years ago. “We consider it to be a critically important function of our office. We use them for a variety of purposes.”

Now they are aired as part of political commercials and can be viewed on his political Web site, the station reported.

“It is representative of how Abbott has used his position for four years, and that is to promote himself,” Abbott’s Democratic opponent, David Van Os, a San Antonio attorney, told the station.

But Abbott’s campaign director told The Associated Press on Saturday night that the video used by the campaign was obtained through an open records request.

“Any individual or organization may obtain records or video from the office of attorney general by filing an open records request, which is exactly how Texans for Greg Abbott obtained the video,” Hodge said. “Doing so is completely appropriate. We are proud of Attorney General Abbott’s record of arresting sexual predators and will continue educating Texans about his strong record protecting Texas children.”

Mighty convenient, that. I’m sure it never crossed Abbott’s mind when he spent that money that the footage captured might come in handy down the line. Just serendipity, I suppose.

PDiddie has more, including a link to the WFAA report.

Tap this

Want to know what beer to try at the local pub? Look for the most interesting tap handles.

Breweries have tried for decades to attract attention by making tap handles larger and more colorful, but the microbrewery movement has brought a proliferation of artsy and exotic ones. Some are full-fledged artwork, a small brewery’s main advertising and a way to entice beer drinkers to sample a specific brand in the competitive craft market – specialty brews typically made in small regional or local breweries – that grew 11 percent in the first six months of this year.

You name it and it’s been fashioned into a tap handle: Orca. Saxophone. Bloody hatchet. Pelican. Lightning bolt. Rocket ship. Hockey glove. A turtle floating on a raft. Frog leg. Lighthouse with working light. Lobster claw.

With so many craft beers available, breweries are designing the tap handles to distinguish themselves from their peers in some bars that can feature 20, 50 and even 100 or more different beers on draft.

About 10 percent of all beer sold in the United States is on draft, including kegs sold retail.

“When I sit at the bar and watch people come in, the first thing they look at are what taps you have,” said John Lane, a partner with the Cleveland-based Winking Lizard Tavern, which has 12 locations in Ohio. “The tap handle is like a trophy.”

[…]

[T]ap handles really got inventive with the craft beer movement in the late 1980s and 1990s when microbreweries and brew pubs popped up across the country. Knowing they didn’t have the advertising budgets of major brewers that produce Budweiser, Miller and Coors, the craft brewers tried to attract attention anyway they could, including making unusual tap handles.

Today 1,371 craft breweries are operating in the country, with annual retail sales of craft beer hitting $4.3 billion last year, according to the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colo.

I usually just look for the tap handle that resembles this guy, but checking to see what stands out is a good strategy when one feels adventurous. Some of these things could probably be sold separately as souvenirs – they really are cool looking. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m feeling thirsty.

Shelley accused of breaking election law

Oops.

State Democrats said today they want prosecutors to charge Republican congressional candidate Shelley Sekula-Gibbs with a misdemeanor, claiming she broke state election laws by campaigning inside a Sugar Land polling location on Thursday.

Chad Dunn, general counsel for the Texas Democratic Party, said Democratic poll watcher Jane Borden Matcha watched Thursday as Sekula-Gibbs wandered through the early-voting location at First Colony Conference Center and introduced herself to voters.

“She committed a crime yesterday by campaigning within a polling location,” Dunn said. “It’s a play out of the (former House Majority Leader) Tom DeLay playbook of winning at any cost.”

Dunn and Mustafa Tameez, a Democratic political consultant, said Matcha signed an affidavit and planned to ask the Fort Bend County Attorney’s Office to prosecute.

Sekula-Gibbs acknowledged visiting the polling location to campaign Thursday, but said she stayed at least 100 feet from the door, as required by law. She went inside briefly to use the rest room, she said, and inquired about voter turnout.

“I just said to the person there, ‘I’m Shelley Sekula-Gibbs. How’s turnout?'” she said. “I did not approach any voters. I was not campaigning, and once again Nick Lampson is attacking me because he’s afraid to tell the voters about his stands on the issues.

She said that to which person where? From context, I’d say she means a poll worker. At least, if she means one of the people sitting behind a computer, checking voter’s reg cards and generating the eSlate access codes, then I’d say she has a defense against this charge. If it was anybody on the other side of the table, then I’d say she should be in trouble.

Dunn said he also would ask the Texas Secretary of State’s office to assign inspectors to other polling places.

Matcha told Dunn and Tameez that she saw Sekula-Gibbs enter the polling place and introduce herself. Matcha said Sekula-Gibbs peeked inside a voting booth, spoke with voters and introduced herself to Matcha. Matcha said she complained to the election judge about Sekula-Gibbs’ actions, but the judge chose not to respond.

“He said he didn’t see it as real campaigning, so he was going to let it go,” said Dunn.

One of these two accounts cannot be true. And this doesn’t sound to me like a problem of interpretation, either. Someone needs to talk to the other people who were there and find out whose story can be confirmed. The Stakeholder has more.

More on Bolsover

And speaking of the Bolsover project, there’s an update in the Examiner on the reaction to City Council’s decision to let it go forward.

At the annual meeting of the Southampton Civic Club, Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck said she supported the Lamesa Properties development that on “first glance” she considered “ugly” and “high.”

“It was a really tough decision,” she told fellow residents, later adding, “Make no mistake about it, this project will be built” with or without the abandonment.

Clutterbuck said she believed the development would satisfy market demand for both upscale retail shops and condominiums, thereby keeping out “another, say, 27-story project.”

It would also include green space, better flood-control measures and 53 more parking spaces than required by city ordinance. Of that, it would add 19, most likely metered spots on Kelvin and Morningside streets that would be available to the public, she said.

However, the Public Works recommendation requiring the installation of left-turn lanes on both streets where each intersects with Rice Boulevard would appear to eliminate an equal amount of street parking.

I wonder what the alternative is to Weingarten’s River Oaks shopping center makeover. Could it be worse than what is currently planned? At least for Council Member Clutterbuck, that’s not her problem – the River Oaks shopping center is in Ada Edwards’ district.

River Oaks development update

Via Houstonist, the latest news on the eventual River Oaks shopping center redevelopment.

Cynthia Rice has lived in her home for 18 years, and on clear nights, she said she likes to look at the sky. But that might change. If Weingarten Realty goes through with its current plans for the River Oaks Shopping Center, she could soon be faced with a three-story parking garage seven feet from her property line.

Rice and about a dozen other residents of Brentwood Drive, behind the center’s north side, recently met with Weingarten. And several said they were told not to disclose details of the meeting.

But Rice was not happy to hear the news. She said she was told that part of the center from the Black-Eyed Pea to Jos. A. Bank would be redeveloped into a two-story structure with a parking garage behind it.

“Being one of the people to have a three-story structure on the back of my property line, I can’t say they really care whether I like it or not,” she said. “That leaves our property wide open to people jumping over the fence and breaking into our houses.”

[…]

John De Meritt, a vice president of leasing for Weingarten, said the neighborhood association had contacted Weingarten in regards to the property, but because many residents had questions about rumors they had heard, the center was also discussed.

“We did give them an update on where we were,” he said. “But I told them this is all preliminary, and when we do have final plans, we will let the public know.”

De Meritt dismissed rumors that the space would be used for high rise condominiums.

Yet, an employee at Jos a Bank, who asked to remain anonymous, said that is what he had heard. However, he added, “the plans change every time.”

It’s all speculation now, though frankly I tend to disbelieve anything that a Weingarten shill says, as they’ve not exactly been straight shooters during this saga. Far as I’m concerned, this aspect of Weingarten’s master plan for the center is of a piece with the Bolsover story, which is to say it’ll be a lot of really dense development in an area that already is over-trafficked. I don’t drive on that stretch of West Gray for the same reason that I avoid the Rice Village. The streets there just can’t handle the volume of cars as it is. Whatever Weingarten ultimately decides, it’s unlikely to make that situation any better, and unlike the Rice Village area, there’s no way that a crazy light rail shuttle scheme could help out. It’s just a mess, and I’m not sure what can be done about it short of enough obstacles from City Council to frustrate Weingarten out of whatever they have in mind. I’m not holding my breath for that to happen.

They still don’t like Ron Paul in Victoria

I have to wonder: Has the Victoria Advocate always hated Ron Paul, or is this a more recent development?

Gov. Rick Perry publicly expects to win re-election comfortably. Even so, he agreed to participate in a debate with his rivals.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison publicly expects to win re-election comfortably – more so than the governor. Even so, she agreed to participate in a debate with her rivals.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul publicly expects to win re-election comfortably. So why will he not debate his Democratic opponent for the 14th Congressional District seat?

“Civic organizations throughout District 14 have created numerous opportunities for libertarian Congressman Ron Paul and Democratic candidate Shane Sklar to appear together in public and speak on the issues that matter most to Texas’ Gulf Coast families,” a news release from the Sklar campaign notes.

But “Ron Paul has refused all of these generous invitations, turning down at least six such opportunities,” the news release continues.

Paul is far from shy when it comes to circulating his famous cookbook.

Paul is far from shy when it comes to taking credit for getting funding for programs and projects in the 14th District, even though he has secured passage of no legislation in the past six years specifically benefiting this region.

Paul is far from shy when it comes to voting no against all manner of legislation – some of which would directly aid his constituents.

Paul is far from shy when it comes to introducing legislation that has no chance whatsoever of passage by Congress.

Paul is far from shy when it comes to trashing the United Nations and President Bush.

So why has Ron Paul all of a sudden developed a debilitating case of stage fright that keeps him from appearing with his opponent to discuss how their respective programs would benefit the residents of the 14th Congressional District?

Is it because he has nothing worthwhile to say?

Is it because he knows anything he does say will underscore for voters just how out of touch he is with the real needs of working people and families in this part of Texas?

Is it because he is too busy touting his odd libertarian agenda to pay attention to what really matters to voters in the 14th District?

Is it because he believes voters somehow owe him yet another term, despite the little he has done for the district?

Time is running out for Paul to do what incumbent Sen. Hutchison and incumbent Gov. Perry – both his fellow Republicans – understood voters had the right to expect of them.

Time is running out for Paul to face off against his opponent and give voters this opportunity to compare the two side by side and decide which could better represent the 14th Congressional District. What is he so scared of?

If this were a football game, they’d have been flagged for piling on by now. In case you’re keeping score, that’s one, two, three strikes he’s out (if you don’t mind my mixing sports metaphors). And while Paul may be publicly confident of his re-election, not everyone would agree with that. Not that anyone will get the chance to debate that point, or any other, with him.

Comment problem

I had some kind of problem with comments starting last night. I’m not sure what it was, and it seems to have magically cleared itself up today, but when I first discovered it, one of the things I did to troubleshoot was try to leave a comment myself. That comment never made it into the blog, which means it’s possible that other people’s comments got lost in a similar manner. Thus, if you commented here last night and don’t see that comment now, it’s because I never saw it. Please leave it again, and my apologies for the inconvenience.

Blame Canada!

This is the worst campaign ad I’ve ever seen. Words like “clownish” and “amateur night” don’t do it justice. Just watch, and try to keep your jaw from hitting the table. And remember, this ad was produced and approved by an incumbent state representative. One who is obviously very, very desperate.

On a lighter note, check out the Worst Political Websites, featuring two Texans.

Endorsement watch: The final four

At long last, the Chron has finished its endorsements, at least of State Legislature races. I’ve kind of lost track, but offhand I can’t think of any other races that they haven’t touched on yet. The final four contained a few surprises, two good and one bad.

  • State representative, District 126, Chad Kahn – A Democrat running for this open seat in the Texas House, Khan wants to focus on serving the FM 1960 area district by improving education, public safety and mobility. He supports a significant pay raise for teachers and believes creation science has no place in the public schools. The owner of a travel agency, Khan says the new business tax falls heavily on small-business owners without providing the support public education requires. He wants Texas to make maximum use of the federally subsidized Children’s Health Insurance Program to reduce the number of uninsured children.
  • State representative, District 127, Diane Trautman – The holder of a doctorate in education, Trautman is a former teacher and principal who now trains teachers who want to be principals. The Democratic nominee and a professor at Stephen F. Austin State University, Trautman wants to make education state government’s first priority, followed by greater access to health care and protection of the environment. Trautman, who lives in Kingwood, pledges to work to make government more ethical and transparent to voters.
  • State representative, District 129, John E. Davis – The Republican incumbent of this Clear Lake-Pasadena-La Porte district, Davis holds a seat on the important House Human Services Committee. While Davis at first defended cuts in the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the hiring of a private company to determine eligibility for state health services, he subsequently worked to restore full services to CHIP. Davis also acknowledges that the private company has underperformed, is liable for financial penalties and must swiftly correct its shortcomings.
  • State representative, District 150, Dot Nelson-Turnier – With a background in international banking and financial consulting, Nelson-Turnier is well-suited for service in the Texas House. The Democratic nominee, she is disturbed that Texas is at or near the bottom in almost every measure of society. If elected, she wants to focus on what she calls the “killer E’s,” education, the economy, the environment and equality. The Republican incumbent in this race, state Rep. Debbie Riddle, believes that state government should shrink and invest even less in social services than it does now, even as the state’s population doubles.

Let’s start with the non-surprise, which is to say the one out of these four I called correctly: Diane Trautman, whose endorsement was easy to see partly because she’s such a good candidate, and partly because the Chron endorsed the Democratic challenger in this race last time. I get the feeling that once you lose the Chron endorsement, it’s gone for good. Check back in 2008 (if necessary) to see what happens to John Culberson for a test of this hypothesis.

The two good surprises were the selections of Chad Khan and Dot Nelson-Turnier. I had thought the Chron would pick one from each party in the two open seat races, and I had thought their usual pro-incumbent preference would be enough to carry Debbie “Pit of Hell” Riddle over the finish line. (This may be another future test of my Once You Lose The Chron, The Chron Is Gone For Good thesis.) I am more than happy to have been wrong in both cases. Congrats to Chad and Dot for getting the nods.

The bad surprise is mystifying. Sherrie Matula is as good a candidate as you’ll find in any race this year. I think the key is in the reference to Davis’ “hold[ing] a seat on the important House Human Services Committee”. I don’t have the time to trawl through the archives right now, but that reminds me of the language they used in endorsing Talmadge Heflin in 2004 – as the chair of the Appropriations Committee, they didn’t want to lose his influence. Fair enough as a consideration, but frankly if the editorial board really believes that Davis has worked or is working to “restore full services to CHIP”, then they must have also believed Little Bunny Foo Foo when he promised the Good Fairy that his field mice-bopping days were over. If Davis actually did work on this, he failed miserably, and unless he intends to fire Accenture, he’s still part of the problem. Maybe if the Chron had sent someone to cover the Matula-Davis debate, they wouldn’t be so easily fooled.

So there you have it. I got 21 out of 25 right, and I’m happy to be wrong about three of those four. Anyone else surprised by these picks?

UPDATE: Once again, I forgot to link to the interviews I did with these candidates. Here they are:

Trautman
Nelson-Turnier
Khan
Matula

Doing city WiFi right

Dwight reports that the city has narrowed its search down to two vendors to provide its wireless Internet service. They expect to pick the winner by the end of the year. Dwight also says that there are more access points visible around downtown.

The RFP itself is here (PDF), with Dwight’s comments here. I was thinking about this, and took a few minutes to review the RFP after reading this MIT Technology Review article about the San Francisco/Google/Earthlink WiFi experience. To put it mildly, the author is not impressed at how the Golden Gate City is managing this process.

San Francisco’s specs for the network were forbidding. The city’s request for proposals insisted that the network function seamlessly for users traveling at 30 miles per hour, a trick Wi-Fi engineers haven’t quite perfected. The city also called for 95 percent outdoor and 90 percent indoor coverage citywide, which would require an unusually large number of Wi-Fi access points in any city, let alone one as hilly as San Francisco.

In their proposal, Google and ­EarthLink strove to meet these expectations. Google would foot the bill for free Wi-Fi service, which would run–or crawl–at 300 kilobits per second, about five times the speed of a dial-up modem connection. EarthLink would build the network hardware and offer, for $20 a month, a megabit-per-second service with customer support. The proposed network would require at least seven Wi-Fi access points per square kilometer, mounted on city property such as light poles and traffic lights. At this density, the network would meet the city’s coverage goal but would not be guaranteed to reach above the second floor of buildings. In April, San Francisco provisionally accepted the Google-EarthLink proposal, pending successful contract negotiations.

In May, however, when I sat through a LAFCO meeting (California’s Local Agency Formation Commissions handle county contractual service agreements like the proposed Google-EarthLink Wi-Fi deal) at San Francisco City Hall, I got the impression that city managers remain either deliberately indifferent to or clueless about fundamental aspects of the Google-EarthLink proposal. Of the three commission members present, one remained silent throughout. A second–Tom Ammiano, a former stand-up comic who once ran for mayor–admitted that he was still using dial-up. Otherwise, the meeting was uninterruptedly run by Chairperson Ross Mirkarimi.

Mirkarimi, a Green Party member sporting a modish soul patch and representing District 5, which includes Haight-Ashbury, at least posed some of the right questions. Would users of the ad-supported Wi-Fi simply go through a Google portal page, he asked, or would they also have to suffer through pop-ups? And since Google said that its technology could “target advertisements to specific geographical locations and to user interests,” what would prevent users’ locations from being tracked? To such questions, the response from the bureaucrats at the city’s Department of Telecommunications and Information Services (DTIS), and from the private consultants they’d hired, was essentially, “Wise up and quit griping–the city is getting a great deal for free.”

The DTIS officials were equally unforthcoming when asked whether it made much sense for San Francisco to effectively grant Google and ­EarthLink a monopoly on wireless Internet service for the proposed 10-year term of the contract, given how rapidly information technology advances. As Ralf Muehlen, director of the nonprofit Wi-Fi network SFLan, pointed out, “In 2021, 300 kilobits per second is going to seem a bit ridiculous. […] it’s a great solution for, like, 1996.”

The good news is that this experience seems to be anomalous – the author singled out Philadelphia as an example of how to do this in a thorough and thoughtful manner. It’s something to keep an eye on as Houston’s project progresses.

Coming back to Bell

Via BOR, a letter from a former Friedman supporter to his erstwhile candidate’s camp on why he pushed the button for Chris Bell.

He had my vote until his abysmal performance in the debate. He articulated no policy and no numbers and no plan, other than testy sound bites. And he capped it that night with his asinine statement about the Internet being the “work of Satan.” Well in one sense, it is – from your perspective. Your fervent net.supporters feel betrayed, and are turning away from your foolishness in droves.

Now I see that he voted at the Kerrville court house – for Lamar Smith and Kay Bailey Hutchinson. And then he went outside and said, and I quote, “It was a time for change. I’m very excited.”

Change?? Holy Mother of God.

Listen folks, I was a true believer. I’ve played benefits for Kinky. I knew about the campaign months before it was publicly announced. I (among others) suggested him for the keynote addresses at more than one music festival. I’ve blogged about him. I talked him up. I made phone calls on his behalf. I “saved myself” for the campaign and signed the petition.

He had two years to get his act together and study the issues and formulate policy. He didn’t. And he does not deserve my vote.

[…]

If the Kinky campaign wants to make a difference and be more than a laughingstock, it can pull out of the race now and endorse Chris Bell — and the then-former candidate can spend the last two weeks of the season campaigning his ass off for Chris Bell.

There are times when I would have said something sarcastic about how long it takes some folks to realize certain things, but this isn’t one of those times. Getting it is what matters, and this guy clearly does. Read the whole thing, he does a better job of dismantling most of Friedman’s arguments than any hostage of the “two party system” such as myself ever could.

And truthfully, it’s not so much the regular voter types among those who could or should be supporting Bell that bother me. Candidates matter, and if you can say that Friedman or Strayhorn speak to you in a way that no one else in the race does, well, that’s democracy. However much I may disagree with or despair at that choice, I can respect it. What I’ll never respect is the mentality of surrender that has so thoroughly permeated the so-called movers and shakers within the Democratic Party for their abandonment of Bell from the get go. SMU poli sci prof Cal Jillson sums it up in this excellent AusChron piece on Bell.

Is it too late for Bell to narrow the distance to catch Perry? Even with things looking up for Bell, the odds still heavily favor Perry, says Cal Jillson, a political-science professor at Southern Methodist University. The problem for Bell, he said, is the crowded field. “All three of them [Bell, Strayhorn, and Friedman] know that if each of them takes 15 to 20 percent of the vote, they’re all going to lose by 15 to 20 points. The question is whether anybody is going to fade fast or drop out,” he said, suggesting that Strayhorn and Friedman would be the likely fade-outs. “That leaves Bell, whom people wrote off for most of the race.” Still, Jillson believes that despite the campaign’s recent momentum, the window of time is too short for Bell to close the gap. “After the debate, a lot of Democrats were saying, ‘You know this guy isn’t as pitiful as we thought, so maybe we ought to get behind him,'” Jillson said. “But I think it’s going to be too little too late.”

Jillson lays the blame squarely on Bell’s party. “You just want to look at these guys who are supposed to be the brains of the Democratic Party in Texas and say, ‘What were you guys thinking when you abandoned your own nominee to get behind a Republican who’s now an independent? How did you think this is going to work?’ So now, late in the game, they’re coming back to their nominee.”

Had Bell the financial means to get his message out earlier, voters would already be familiar with him. Instead, the refrain from voters for most of the year has been, “Who is Chris Bell?” Said Jillson: “He was always a name that sort of mystified people, and they didn’t know enough about him to form an opinion. And when that’s the case, the opinion can’t be positive.”

Yeah. What has Bell lacked all through this campaign? Not experience, not a message, not a plan to win, not anything to make a like- or open-minded voter reject him. Just one thing: the money to get his message out. It’s no surprise that his support in the polls has risen, surely in tandem with his name recognition, as the money has finally rolled in. People like what they see when they see him. He just hasn’t had the resources to give enough of them the opportunity to let them see him. There’s no justifiable reason for that, and every single check that every high-dollar Democratic supporter handed to Strayhorn will serve as a shameful lesson in self-marginalization.

One more thing, for Paul Burka’s benefit. Here’s Burka’s words of wisdom:

Can he beat Rick Perry? I think the answer is no. There is a difference between Rick Perry’s being beatable, which any candidate with just 34% of the vote surely is, and actually figuring out a way to beat him. Bell needs just over half of the anti-Perry vote to win. There are three ways for him to get it:

(1) Take votes away from Perry. Forget it. Republicans will not vote for Democrats (although the reverse is not true).

Oh, really?

Since the debate, Bell’s blog (www.chrisbell.com/blog), which had languished in cyberspace for most of the year, has been running at full throttle. He’s even won over a good many Republicans. In one e-mail to Bell, Ray Hunt, a Houston police officer who had served on then Gov. Bush’s law enforcement commission, wrote that he had planned to vote with his union’s endorsement of Perry – until he watched the debate. “I am a life long Republican and have never voted for a Democrat in a state wide election,” he wrote, “but I AM VOTING FOR YOU FOR GOVERNOR!” He concluded with an offer to assist Bell in the campaign and says it will be the first time he’s ever voted for a Democratic statewide candidate.

“There’ve been a lot of e-mails like that,” Bell said, as he scrolled his Blackberry for more Republican converts. I’ve always felt that Rick Perry was vulnerable, and that was my original inspiration for running.”

Take that!

Ghosts!

It’s from Tuesday, but Kriston Capps wins the Quote of the Day award:

More Americans believe that they have personally seen or felt the presence of a ghost (22%) than approve of the job Congress is doing (16%).

I’m not sure which of those two groups is scarier.

Endorsement watch: More judges

First, the good news: The Chron endorsed Bill Moody for the State Supreme Court.

Texas Supreme Court, Place 2, William E. “Bill” Moody – A former prosecutor and an experienced trial judge with a focus on civil cases, Moody won the State Bar’s judicial poll – significant for a Democrat running in a Republican-leaning state. Moody recently worked to persuade the Legislature to increase jury pay, causing more summoned jurors to report for duty. Moody’s Republican opponent, incumbent Justice Don Willett, has little experience handling the type of cases that come before the Supreme Court and has produced little since being appointed.

The Chron joins the Morning News in making the right call on this race. Well done. More about Moody is here.

Now, the bad news: The Chron not only endorsed Sharon Keller, they seem to think she’s getting better as a judge. Admittedly, it’d be hard to see how she could get worse, but given how historically bad she is, she’s got a long way to go before she could even be considered fair to middling.

And then the Chron endorsed Annette Galik:

Judge, 245th Family District Court, Annette Galik – No stranger to controversy, Judge Galik has grown in her 12 years on the job and has acquired the skills and experience she needs to excel at this difficult and sometimes dangerous post that must deal with families at their most stressful moments. Galik prides herself on being fair to both parties and favoring no lawyer over another.

That would be this Annette Galik.

Annette Galik has been a most unconventional family law jurist since she was elected as a reform candidate in 1994. She campaigned on a commitment to cleaning out a court system known for its incestuous ties between judges and the lawyers who practiced there. She has been backed consistently by Republican morality crusader Dr. Steven Hotze, who is again endorsing her in the current election.

But after elected to the bench, reformer Galik took thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from lawyers whose firms had cases in her court.

Court observers began questioning Galik’s judgment early on, when she accepted free plane tickets, hotel lodging and meals from Hotze to attend a prayer breakfast he sponsored in Austin for the gubernatorial inaugural of George W. Bush.

Just as quickly, Galik had problems in her relationship with fellow family court judges. Shortly after assuming the judgeship in 1995, she was elected by the nine-judge group as their administrative judge. Within months, five of the judges signed a letter asking for her resignation. They claimed that Galik had excluded the other jurists from deliberations about court matters, and had taken actions without consulting them.

Judge Jim Squier told commissioners court Galik had requested the remodeling of several floors of the Family Law Center unilaterally, without consulting fellow judges who worked on those floors. Other judges complained that Galik had lobbied the Legislature to get a change in state law that would allow her to hire a person who lived outside the county as associate judge in her court. In the process, Galik told legislators she had the approval of other judges to lobby for the change, when she had never consulted them. It turned out that Galik had already appointed an out-of-county associate judge, in violation of the existing state law.

Under pressure, Galik resigned as administrative judge and Squier was unanimously elected to replace her.

And this Annette Galik.

It’s not often a member of the Harris County judiciary gets to make local legal history, but Family Court Judge Doug Warne just might have done it last month. He issued an order temporarily restraining a fellow family court judge from overnight stays at her oilman boyfriend’s River Oaks mansion when the man’s daughter is there.

Warne presides over a marathon four-year divorce donnybrook in his 311th District Court, which pits 64-year-old multimillionaire Hal G. Kuntz against his remarried ex-wife Vesta Frommer. The divorce was granted three years ago, but the continuing legal struggle centers on the division of a sizable oil and gas fortune. It’s now further complicated by the awkward involvement of Family Court Judge Annette Sanderford Galik, 53, who’s romantically linked with Kuntz.

The Kuntz proceeding is similar to cases Galik rules on every week in her own 245th District Court, but since her election to the judiciary she’s shown a penchant for getting snared in such personal entanglements herself.

[…]

Galik’s relationship with Kuntz had previously caused problems in Warne’s court. The case mediator, former judge Ruby Sondock, had to recuse herself two years ago after revealing a conflict of interest. It turned out she was Galik’s morning gym workout partner.

No stranger to controversy indeed. Galik’s opponent is Mary Kay Green, who was the only Democratic challenger this year to win the Houston Bar Association Judicial Preference Poll. This one has to be a strong contender for the goofiest endorsement of the year for the Chron.

Oh, and we’re now four days into Early Voting, and there’s still no recommendations for the last four State House races. Tick tock, fellas, tick tock.

HD129 debate report

John Cobarruvias attended last night’s debate between Sherrie Matula and Rep. John Davis, and gives a report of what happened. Doesn’t look like there was any media there, so this will probably be all you get. Check it out.

Border walk completed

Jay Johnson-Castro’s walk along the border has come to an end.

Johnson-Castro, the owner of a bed-and-breakfast in Del Rio, set out on his walk Oct. 10 from the main square in Laredo. He ended it in Brownsville with Mayor Eddie Trevino escorting him into the palm-shaded Dean Porter Park shortly before 5 p.m. They were accompanied by Brownsville police and met by 30 enthusiastic supporters.

”He’s become a symbol of the voices who are opposing this whole idea of a fence,” Trevino said. ”His walk has worked to garner attention that this isn’t wanted by the people of South Texas.”

Johnson-Castro, tanned and visibly leaner, said the mostly Hispanic border residents were both insulted and offended by the proposed fence.

“Most people relate to it as a Berlin Wall,” he said.

President Bush today is expected to sign a bill authorizing the fence, which could cost more than $6 billion.

Actually, what Bush will sign is a symbolic gesture designed to rally the base. But hey, it’s an important symbolic gesture. We wouldn’t want an unimportant symbolic gesture, would we?

Strayhorn releases audit of Accenture

Remember back in May, after the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (THHSC) had to bring back workers it had let go to keep things from completely falling apart on Accenture, when three lawmakers (Democratic Sen. Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso, Democratic state Rep. Carlos Uresti of San Antonio, and Republican state Rep. Carter Casteel of New Braunfels) asked Comptroller Strayhorn to do an audit on Accenture’s contract and performance? Well, yesterday she released the results of that audit. (Never let it be said that Carole Keeton Strayhorn lacks a sense of timing.) And it’s brutal.

Dear Senator Shapleigh, Chairman Uresti and Representative Casteel:

In May 2006, you requested my assistance in researching the Integrated Eligibility and Enrollment contract between the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) and Accenture LLP. I have completed this research.

At this writing, the project is behind schedule and $100 million over budget, without a revised plan to get the project back on course. Accenture has not met its performance requirements and has not been held accountable for its failure. Clients are still reporting delays and inaccuracies in processing their applications. HHSC has proven it cannot manage Accenture and the contract.

My conclusion is that this project has failed the state and the citizens it was designed to serve. The contract with Accenture must be ended. I recommend the Legislature pass emergency legislation that removes HHSC’s direct management of the project and places the responsibility with a turnaround team composed of experts who can effectively manage state resources and stop the drain on tax dollars. And, most importantly, make sure children receive the health insurance for which they are eligible. In addition, the Legislature should review this administration’s 27 major policy changes that have resulted in even more children losing health insurance.

[…]

The state’s automated eligibility determination system, the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System (TIERS), has cost taxpayers $279 million to date, and despite this expenditure, is being used in just four state offices in Travis and Hays counties after three years. Both HHSC and Accenture have hired hundreds of additional personnel to address a myriad of costly problems with TIERS.

As of August 31, 2006, HHSC has paid Accenture more than $123 million to process eligibility for a fraction of Texas’ applicants, and the project that was intended to save the state’s budget will end up costing the budget $100 million more. This project is over budget and under performing.

There’s quite a bit more – the whole report is 171 pages. I’ve got a summary document here and a statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman about this report here (both Word docs).

There is one more thing that needs to be highlighted:

Some of the key fi ndings that my staff uncovered in their exhaustive review of the program include the following:

[…]

2. The contract provides Accenture with perverse incentives to process applications inefficiently.

  • Accenture’s payments are based on a complex combination of more than 70 prices for transactions processed per application. This payment structure gives Accenture the incentive to process as many paper-based “touches” to the client as possible, when the intention of the call center model is to make the process simpler, more customer-friendly and cost-effective.
  • Accenture is paid when applications are completed and ready for the state’s final determination. Accenture also is paid, however, when applications “time out” because clients have not submitted sufficient information for processing. These applications are sent to the state for denial, and Accenture is paid the same rate as for completed applications. This payment structure does not provide Accenture with any incentive to seek necessary information from clients before their applications time out.
  • The contract specifies that Accenture is to be paid only for completed and “appropriate” transactions, but HHSC has not established any effective mechanism to determine whether transactions are appropriate before paying Accenture. It can only recoup inappropriate payments after the fact, not prevent them.

In other words, the structure of Accenture’s contract along with the needless and punitive eligibility requirements for CHIP combine to create a strong mechanism for reducing CHIP’s enrollment numbers. You want a good argument against privatization of this sort of government activity, there it is.

The bottom line is that the whole reason to privatize THHSC was to save money. That hasn’t happened, it isn’t going to happen, and along the way the people who need the services that THHSC provides are getting hurt. What more do you need to know? It’s way past time to fire Accenture and fix THHSC while we still can.

UPDATE: Almost forgot to include this SEIU-produced ad about CHIP that’s running in the D/FW media market right now. Check it out.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story on Strayhorn’s report. I’ll highlight some of the responses, none of which are surprising to me.

The comptroller’s report found that since Accenture took over the CHIP eligibility program in December, enrollment had fallen by 8.5 percent, or 27,567 children, through August.

CHIP enrollment began to rise this month, and HHSC officials cited more and better trained call center workers, as well as policy changes that allow families to provide some missing data over the phone instead of requiring documentation to be mailed or faxed.

Stephanie Goodman, a spokesman for HHSC, said Strayhorn’s report is based on outdated information.

“It’s pretty clear the report is based on a lack of understanding about the contract. The findings don’t appear very relevant,” Goodman said.

As we saw before, this is tinkering at the edges. It’s policy that is mostly responsible for the CHIP enrollment reductions, policy that was specifically designed to reduce that enrollment. Accenture’s incompetence helped, to be sure, but firing Accenture will only get you so far. The policies have to be changed so that a competent implementer of those policies can make a real difference.

Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, said the governor expects “Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins to give the report all the attention it merits.”

Goodman said the commission’s legal staff is preparing a recommendation to Hawkins that could include fines against Accenture for not performing to some contract standards.

[…]

An Accenture spokeswoman echoed the commission’s criticism of Strayhorn’s report.

“We have worked diligently for months in areas such as staff training, application processing and call center operations and have seen significantly improved performance,” Jill Angelo said. “Unfortunately, the comptroller’s report ignores the progress we have made.”

[…]

Strayhorn’s report said that instead of saving money in this biennium, the contract will cost the state almost $100 million more than budgeted.

The costs include expenses related to the state hiring more than 1,000 temporary workers to help process applications.

But Goodman said that $100 million will be offset by reductions in payments to Accenture due to the delayed rollout of the integrated eligibility centers.

[…]

Goodman said Accenture is paid based on its workload.

“The contractor has no motive to either approve nor deny” benefits, Goodman said.

I’m sure there will be more on this, and I’m sure the subject will come up again in the 80th Lege. If we cut CHIP to help fix a $10 billion deficit in 2003, and we have a “so friggin’ big” $15 billion surplus now, we have no excuses for not fully restoring what was lost.

Poll in CD04

There’s another poll that’s got people buzzing, and it comes from CD04, home of dinosaur and former DINO-turned-Republican Ralph Hall. The particulars are here, which I’ll summarize:

(Registered voters, sample size = 403)
If the election were held today, for whom would you vote?

Ralph Hall – 49%
Glenn Melancon – 39%
Other – 2%
None/Undecided – 10%

(Self-reported likely voters, sample size = 354)

Ralph Hall – 48%
Glenn Melancon – 41%
Other – 1%
None/Undecided – 10%

More bloggage on this poll can be found at Kos, Capitol Annex, and Annatopia.

Needless to say, this is a stunning result. There are several things that need to be discussed.

– It’s not directly noted in the survey results, but according to the pollsters (both of whom I’ve spoken to via email and/or phone), the partisan mix was 40% Republican, 36% Democrat, and 18% Independent, 6% other/no answer. I told them that I thought this was too few Republicans for this district. This was the data they got, they told me. They also said they seemed to reach more older respondents, who might be disproportionately from the old school Southern Democrat tradition, as Hall himself was until 2003.

If you go through Table 3 and multiply the number of respondents for each candidate by the percentage of that candidate’s vote based on party identity, you get 150 Dems, 182 Republicans, and the rest independent/no answer. That’s a 55/45 split of Rs to Ds, which again seems a little low on the Rs to me, but it’s what they got. Hall did draw slightly more support among self-identified Democrats than Melancon did among Republicans, but those numbers are relatively tiny to be predictive.

– The phone call started with a recording announcing that this was a survey and asking the recipient to press 1 to continue. Those who chose not to continue had the call ended. It’s possible that Republican voters were less interested in participating in a poll, which in turn may be an indicator that they’re less interested in voting this year. That could bias the result, or it could be some solid evidence that the disparity in voter intensity we’ve seen in poll after poll at the national level holds true for Texas as well.

If this is evidence that Democrats are about to turn out at higher levels than usual, while Republicans will turn out at lower levels, then this is very bad news for Rick Perry and the like. CD04 is solid Republican turf – President Bush got 70% of the vote in 2004. If they’re staying home, look out. This is of course far from conclusive, but it’s another straw in the wind.

– One point that might bias the result a little towards Hall comes from the order of the questions asked (see page four). Just before the “who will you vote for” question is a question asking if the respondent knew who their representative was. Normally, following such a question with a “who will you vote for” question tends to favor the person they just named. Interestingly, Hall did measurably worse among those who knew he was their rep (51/49) than among those who did not (59/41). Perhaps this is a measure of anti-incumbent sentiment, or perhaps more Democrats knew who Hall was.

As I suggested with the Ankrum poll, I believe that anti-incumbent sentiment is at play here as well. I am told that Melancon has a strong campaign sign presence, so maybe by now his name recognition is reasonable, but I still think this is as much about incumbents as anything. I think the higher percentage of Melancon voters among those who knew who Ralph Hall was supports this hypothesis.

– On the other hand, CD04 is one of many places this year where the Democrats are running a much more vigorous campaign than they did in 2004. After that election was over, Ralph Hall held a fundraiser to help retire the debt of his opponent, Jim Nickerson. That’s one of the nicer ways in which Hall is a throwback, but how tough a campaign would you be waging if you knew that the guy you were running against would be picking up the tab afterwards? Glenn Melancon, who’s young, dynamic, and forward thinking, provides a very sharp contrast to Hall. It’s not at all hard to imagine that this has had a positive effect for him.

– One thing that pollster Bigelow told me on the phone that I thought was highly interesting was that a lot of the respondents wanted to talk about Iraq, even though that was not part of the poll. He said that while there were some people who expressed a strong “stay the course” message, by far more people spoke about how bad things were and how they couldn’t believe things had gotten. Again, this is in tune with national polls, and again this suggests bad news for incumbents, in particular Republican incumbents.

At the end of the day, I find this result encouraging, even as I’m not sure how much faith to put in it. If I had my way, there’d be five current polls for every contested race so we could get a better feel for what’s what. This poll is at least consistent with those in other Texas Congressional districts that have suggested a slackening of Republican support. This one has more slack than those do, but the previous polls are several months old by now, so things may well be worse for the GOP. All I can say is we’ll see what happens.

Finally, I did an interview with Melancon while we were at the Dem convention in Fort Worth in June. The Morning News, who declined to endorse anyone in CD04, might not like some of his positions, but I liked what he had to say just fine. Listen and judge for yourself. Thanks to TPM Election Central for the heads up.

“Ineffective Paul must be replaced”

Do you get the impression that someone in Victoria just doesn’t like Ron Paul? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you.

During the past six years, Paul sponsored 223 measures, according to the Library of Congress’ THOMAS online service for tracking legislation.

The vast majority of Paul’s proposals were referred to committee or subcommittee, never to be heard of again. A handful actually got to the floor of the House in the form of amendments to other legislation. Of those, the House passed only three.

[…]

Another measure of Paul’s ineffectiveness is how little success he typically had over the past six years in recruiting co-sponsors for measures he carried.

Very rarely was he able to persuade even 20 of his more than 200 fellow Republicans in the House to sign on to back his proposals. In most cases, he secured only handfuls of co-sponsors. And in more than a few, he could not get even one colleague to support his legislation.

Most members of the House of both parties, including his own, recognize that supporting Paul’s proposals is toxic to their effectiveness.

Yet another measure of Paul’s ineffectiveness on Capitol Hill is that the only leadership position his colleagues entrust to him is the vice chairmanship of an obscure subcommittee that has little to do with the many needs of the 14th District – the Oversight and Investigations Committee of the House Committee on Financial Services.

[…]

Ron Paul has a long record of being all but useless in meeting the legislative needs of the district he seeks to continue representing. The 14th Congressional District of Texas can do better.

Indeed they can.

UPDATE: Via Dennis in the comments, I see that the Galveston Daily News has endorsed Sklar.

In the race for U.S. House of Representatives District 14, we recommend Shane Sklar, a Democrat. He’s running against Republican Dr. Ron Paul, one of the most principled political figures in Washington.

There is much to admire about Paul. Whether you agree with him or not, it took enormous courage to oppose the war in Iraq.

His voting is scrupulously in line with smaller government, reflecting the views of a man who was once the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate.

He votes consistently against expenditures of federal money, whether that be for funding to NASA or for aid to hurricane victims.

He’s argued forcefully that money now being spent on bridges in Baghdad should be funding public works in Texas.

While admiring his idealism, we believe that Paul’s district gets punished, even with a GOP majority, when federal dollars are divided.

Paul disputes that and points to federal grants for the Galveston airport, for the University of Texas Medical Branch and for port security as examples.

But we just don’t believe that the constant no votes are the most effective way to secure the funding that the district obviously needs.

When congressional district boundaries were redrawn, Galveston County became part of Paul’s district.

Now the district needs federal money for dredging projects in Texas City. It will need money for the Galveston National Laboratory on the campus of the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Sklar’s campaign has been about putting ideology aside and focusing on the financial needs of the district.

He points out that Galveston County has a tradition of representation by strong congressmen, such as Jack Brooks and Tom DeLay, who disagreed wildly on political philosophy but who were aggressive in pursuing federal dollars for the district.

This is a choice in approaches to government.

Our view is that Galveston County’s interest would be best served by Sklar.

I’m not sure how much of their praise of Ron Paul is based on reality – what “public works projects in Texas” has Paul “argued forcefully” for? And how does that jibe with his “voting consistently against expenditures of federal money”? – but the point here is that you can admire Ron Paul, you can like Ron Paul, but if you want someone to actually represent your district instead of his own ideology, you need Shane Sklar. On that, we agree completely.

They also endorsed Nick Lampson:

[Lampson is] familiar with the area and its needs. He was also far more interested in serving his constituents than in political ideology.

Longtime readers will recall that we sometimes disagreed with Lampson. But we do not see a serious challenger on the ballot.

On the ballot or not on the ballot, as the case may be.

KBH poll report debunked

Oh, well. Paul Burka, who had heard about the same poll that I had, now says it didn’t happen. Well, mostly.

Earlier in the day I mentioned the rumor that the Bell campaign had a poll showing their candidate just five points behind Perry (32%-27%). Not so, says Jason Stanford with the Bell campaign. He did state his belief that Perry’s ceiling has dropped to 35% of the vote.

[…]

There’s no love lost between Hutchison and Perry, as everyone knows, but I can’t imagine that Hutchison would implant that dagger between Perry’s shoulder blades (as much as she might like to), or that Bryan Eppstein, who does almost all of his political work for Republicans, would release a poll that hurts Perry and possibly the entire GOP ticket.

Burka had heard the poll in question was a Bell poll, whereas I had heard it was a Hutchison poll. (Why would Hutchison also poll in the Governor’s race? As a sanity check. Quite a few of the State Rep and Congressional polls of which I’m aware have done similar things.) The fact that Bryan Eppstein would be reluctant to release such a poll doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but I’ve since heard from another person, whom I trust, who says that he didn’t conduct any such poll. So, that’s all there is to it. I ran with a rumor and it bit me. My apologies for the confusion. I will update the earlier post to reflect this.

Of course, the reason why I was willing to believe this is that this mythical poll was in fairly close agreement with polls that we do know about, one from SurveyUSA and now another from Rasmussen. SUSA has Bell at 26, and Rasmussen has him at 25, in each case in second. They have Perry higher, at 36, but a third result pegging him at 32 would not have been ridiculous. It was believable and I believed it, but it didn’t exist. Sucks to be me, but there you have it.

Endorsement watch: The propositions

I trust that nobody is surprised to see the Chron endorse all eight ballot propositions. They’re good on the merits, and they’re utterly consistent with recent Chron editorializing. No surprise at all.

What is a surprise is that three days into Early Voting, there are still four unendorsed State Rep races – HDs 126 (Khan/Harless), 127 (Trautman/Crabb), 129 (Matula/Davis), and 150 (Nelson-Turnier/Riddle). I know that some incumbents have been skittish about making the trek to 801 Texas this fall, but what in the world is the holdup here? Let’s get this done before Early Voting ends, okay?

I don’t know about you, but I got three pieces of mail relating to the propositions yesterday, two in favor and one opposed. The latter, plus one of the former, were addressed to Tiffany, who apparently once voted in a Republican primary and thus gets all of the really interesting campaign mail here. The pro-prop G mailer to Tiffany was headlined “Why Proposition G Is Fiscally Conservative” and featured the faces and endorsements of 5 out of the 7 City Council Republicans – Berry, Lawrence, Clutterbuck, Khan, and Holm. I think that will be an effective piece of mail. What have you been getting in your mailbox?

Where have all the CHIP enrollees gone?

I’ve spent a lot of time bashing the contract Accenture received to privatize services that were formerly provided by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (THHSC). And they richly deserve it, as their performance has sucked, with none of the exuberantly optimistic savings panning out amid lost forms, unanswered calls, untrained staff, and so forth. Even some Republicans have called for Accenture’s contract to be revoked.

The thing is, though, that firing Accenture would only fix a small part of the problem of drastically reduced CHIP enrollment. The real reason why CHIP’s rolls have dropped 40% since 2003 is structural. The Legislature and Governor Perry, in passing HB2292, deliberately made it harder to apply and qualify for CHIP, and they did so for the express purpose of reducing its beneficiaries.

Rep. Garnet Coleman put together an information packet that puts all the pieces together. I’ve got a copy of it here (Word doc), and I strongly encourage you to read it. I’m going to highlight a couple of points from the section entitled “Changes in CHIP Enrollment Policies Made in 2003” to show you what HB2292 has done to the people who need help getting health insurance for their kids.

Prior to 2003, renewal forms were pre-populated with previously submitted information and only required the family to cross out inaccurate information and make corrections. Now, renewal forms are blank so the entire application must be completed anew every 6 months, including income, vehicle information, and bank balances. I just did my annual re-enrollment for benefits where I work. All of my information was pre-populated with the bennies I had this year. I only had to make updates where needed. If I did nothing – if I failed to even log onto the web page and click OK – I’d have gotten the same benefits in 2007 as I got in 2006. No such luck if you’re on CHIP. You have to start from scratch every six months, and if you forget or screw up, you automatically get kicked off.

The point of CHIP is to provide a benefit for lower-income working families. It’s not Medicaid. It’s a program to give health insurance to the children of people who couldn’t otherwise afford it. Before HB2292 in 2003, it didn’t have an asset test, which means that those families could try to put some money aside to save for their kids’ future college educations without it costing them their CHIP eligibility. Not any more: As of 2003, CHIP families with incomes at 150% of the federal poverty level can have no more than $5000 in total assets before losing CHIP. That includes savings, and most frustratingly, automobiles. There’s a $15,000 exemption for a first car, and a $4650 exemption for a second, meaning that a family in which both parents work, one of them had better be driving a junker (or not driving at all) or it’ll go against their ability to get health insurance for their kids. And you better hope your kids qualify for scholarships some day, because you can’t save for their tuition costs. And this is what Rick Perry thinks about that:

He doesn’t mince words when asked about matters such as Children’s Health Insurance Program rules that count assets such as autos in deciding eligibility.

“If someone thinks that their car is more important than their kids, we’re going to try to teach them a little personal responsibility here,” said Perry.

Too bad if you need to get that car to get to work. You’ve got to choose: Food or CHIP? Rent or CHIP? How personally irresponsible of you to not want to face that choice.

Oh, and the income requirements for CHIP are now based on net income, not gross. Meaning that if you have to pay for child care while you (and your spouse, if you’re married) are out working, there’s no deduction for it. Too bad you weren’t responsible enough to have a parent nearby that could mind your kids for free. That’ll teach you.

I could go on, but you get the point. There’s one other point that needs to be made, which is that we already have the money we need to get everybody who’s lost CHIP coverage since 2003 back on. Go down to page 5 of that document I linked, and see about the $400 million in funds that were allocated for Medicaid and CHIP but never spent. That money has carried forward into 2007, and it would not only cover the 200,000+ former CHIP enrollees, it would leave almost $250 million still unspent. Since CHIP is insurance rather than coverage for actual health services, it’s actually pretty cheap – $450 per child per year. (How much does your insurance cost you to cover your kids?) We could cover all thes kids and more if we wanted to. But we don’t, and it’s by choice.

And let’s remember why we pared the CHIP rolls so vigorously:

In Texas, where more than 20 percent of children are uninsured, the highest percentage in the nation, officials in 2003 imposed new premiums, eliminated dental coverage and began requiring families to re-enroll their children every six months rather than yearly.

“There was a $10 billion [state] budget shortfall,” said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

That was then. And now?

Gov. Rick Perry, who is seeking re-election, predicted that the Texas Legislature will soon be sitting on its largest budget surplus ever, and he said he would like to use some of that money to cut state business taxes before they take effect.

During a campaign swing through deep East Texas, Perry said a booming Texas economy has caused the state Treasury to swell from growing sales tax collections, permit fees and other sources of revenue. He predicted the surplus would exceed $8 billion, taking much of the pain out of the appropriations process and making a business tax cut possible. Some Capitol insiders suggest the surplus could top $15 billion.

“Our budget surplus is going to be so friggin’ big,” Perry said. “So why not lower the [business] tax rate down to three-fourths of a cent, or a half-cent?…I’m all for that.”

Why not restore CHIP to the way it was in 2003 when our deficits were “so friggin’ big?” It’s a choice. Rick Perry would rather spend that money elsewhere, even though CHIP costs would be a tiny piece of that so-friggin’-big surplus. Those are Rick Perry’s priorities.

Vince is on this as well, and he has some extra linkage. The bottom line is that we’re letting kids go without health insurance because Governor Perry isn’t interested in fixing a problem he himself created. He’s made his choice. And you can make yours.