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April, 2007:

HB626: Not any better

OK, forget what I said about HB626. The new version isn’t any better.

Instead of spending $220 for fresh copies of naturalization papers, the bill would now simply make the Secretary of State vet birth certificates and naturalization papers when cross-checking voter registration applications with social security and drivers license records.


Whether Anchia, Gallego, and Hochberg sign off on it or not wouldn’t change the fact that if the Secretary of State can’t find the naturalization papers, then s/he wouldn’t approve the registration, hence the application is dropped.

So your future voter registration would be in the hands of a bureaucrat. You can imagine the potential for error, especially if you have a very common name, or an easily-misspelled name. It’s almost preferable to make people spend their own money on the certified copies. And you just know that the SOS office will be underfunded and understaffed for this, because when has the Lege ever allocated anough money for this sort of thing? No thanks, I say.

Compromise on HB626?

Well, this sounds promising.

Phil King has been talking to Democrats about a possible solution to the voter registration bill, which, in its original form, required voters to prove their citizenship in order to register to vote. This onerous requirement would have made it impossible in practice to conduct a voter registration drive, since most folks don’t have certified copies of birth certificates or a passport lying around their houses. King’s floor substitute shifts the burden of verifying citizenship to the Secretary of State’s office. Under a recent federal law that took effect on January 1 of this year, states must cross-check voter registration applications with social security and drivers license records. King’s proposal would add birth certificates and naturalization papers. If the voter’s citizenship still cannot be verified, the secretary of state would contact the appropriate local officials who would get in touch with the prospective voter to see if additional information is available.

The Democrats (Anchia, Gallego, Hochberg) are currently vetting the proposal. That may take awhile.

Like Eye on Williamson, I’m not exactly sure how this would differ from what we’re currently doing. Be that as it may, if the Democrats Burka names say they’re okay with what comes back, then I expect I’ll be okay with it as well. We’ll see what happens.

UPDATE: I’m now hearing that any optimism on this may be premature. Stay tuned.

Early voting in Farmer’s Branch

Our local election may not generate much turnout, but that’s not the case for the Farmer’s Branch referendum to make it illegal to rent an apartment to an undocumented immigrant.

[A] popular former Farmers Branch mayor, David Blair Jr., has come out against the ban and last week detailed his concerns to the City Council, which has unanimously backed the ordinance requiring landlords to check the citizenship or immigration status of apartment complex renters.

“This has been tremendously divisive,” Blair, who served as mayor from 1988 to 1996, said in an interview. “This wasn’t vetted by the community before they took action and it was done very quickly.”

Echoing a chief campaign theme among opponents, Blair said the city’s legal costs to defend the measure already have reached $270,000, and another $440,000 has been budgeted. “I don’t see it ending there,” Blair said, adding that he doubts federal courts that have allowed illegal immigrants access to public schools and heath care will favor a local law that bars them from renting apartments.

Still, Blair said his sense is most people favor the ordinance, which he expects to pass.

“I think they are looking at it (the city’s measure) very narrowly. They see it as a vote against illegal immigration,” he said. “People are very frustrated with the federal government’s immigration policies.”

Although the city of 27,000 is roughly 40 percent Hispanic, Anglos will decide the outcome. Fewer than 10 percent of the city’s 14,000 registered voters are Hispanic.

Organizers on both sides are predicting a turnout of four to 10 times normal for a city election. Last year’s council election drew 800 voters, under 6 percent of those registered.

“Nobody wants to talk about anything else,” said Tony Salerno, one of five candidates running for two open council seats. Salerno and two others are opposed to the rental ordinance. “The first thing people want to know is which way are you going on the (rental) ordinance.”

My guess is that it passes with a shade under 60% support. And then never gets enforced as one court after another strikes it down. We’ll see.

Early voting starts today

Here’s where and when to vote between now and May 8. I’ll be casting my ballot for Melissa Noriega, and I hope you will, too. Lord knows, you shouldn’t experience much of a line wherever you go to vote.

Matt Stiles has a PDF graphic of the companion piece to yesterday’s article on the race, in case you missed it. All of my candidate interviews can be found here if you haven’t had a chance to listen to them yet.

Round Two of voter ID today in the House

BOR reminds us on the next assault on the right to vote that will come up in the House today, Rep. Phil King’s odious HB626. Here’s a list of legislators to call and urge a No vote on this sucker.

At this point, I’ve made all the arguments I know how to make. Either you think voting is a right that needs to be protected, or you think it’s a privilege that can be restricted at whim by a legislative majority. That’s pretty much all there is to it.

Open letter to Mayor White about Houston Media Source

Robb Fickman of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association has written an open letter to Mayor White asking that Houston Media Source continue to be funded by Council. Apparently, Mayor White has proposed defunding HMS and giving its money to the Houston Police Department. I confess, I’ve never paid much attention to HMS, and as such I don’t consider myself to have a dog in this fight, but I’m passing this along for those who do.

Money talks, but only if you can hear it

Lisa Gray uses her new column space to make a plea for saving the River Oaks Theater, River Oaks Shopping Center, and Alabama Bookstop.

Yes, it’s a long shot — but it’s not too late for one of those “win-win” outcomes that the City Council likes to tout. It’s not too late for Barnes & Noble and Weingarten to emerge from this debacle as heroes, saviors of the city’s heritage.

But first, we need to get their attention. And to do it Houston-style.

This week, let’s stage a buy-in.

Sometime between now and next Sunday, let’s all visit the Alabama Bookstop. And let’s all purchase something: a book, a magazine, a birthday card, a Mother’s Day gift. Let’s drink lattes in the coffee bar. Do our Christmas shopping. Whatever.

The point is to show that we care enough about the city’s historical buildings to make a point of spending our money in them. We’ll show that we’re paying attention and that we’ll reward preservation of the places that make Houston special.

We won’t have to make threats. We won’t have to hint what we’ll do if the first domino falls, or scream that we’ll remember who destroyed Houston’s landmarks.

Our dollars will say that for us, and they’ll say it in the language that Weingarten and Barnes & Noble understand.

When money talks, Houston listens.

This is an expansion on a theme she explored as a features writer last September, which I blogged about here. I should also note that the petition to save the Alabama Bookstop specifically mentions not patronizing the new Barnes and Nobles if Weingarten goes ahead with its plan to destroy the Bookstop.

Which, as I said before, I’m totally down with. I’ll make a point of buying something at the Bookstop this week in solidarity. What I think is more important, however, is to make sure that people keep buying stuff at the Bookstop after the new B&N has become reality. Shopping there now, while nice, isn’t going to affect Weingarten or B&N in any way. Hell, they may not even notice the effort. Having a no-customer grand opening for the B&N, along with a publicity campaign saying that will continue until we get some guarantees, now that they’ll pay attention to.

I realize that my plan assume the River Oaks Shopping Center is already a lost cause. That’s a damn shame, but I’ll take a shot at saving two out of the three if I can. My concern is that however good we all may feel after a week of Bookstopping, we may feel equally depressed after the bulldozers arrive at West Gray and Shepherd for part one of the Weingarten project. Really, there’s no reason people can’t shop the Bookstop now and stay away from the B&N later. I just hope everyone keeps their eyes on the prize when the first setback occurs.

Possibly the only Chron story you’ll see about the May 12 election

Given the headline “Race to replace Sekula-Gibbs a blip on the radar” and the fact that it was buried inside the Metro section today, I’ll be surprised if we see another article on the May 12 City Council election. Barring some kind of “scandal” or publicity stunt by a candidate, of course.

Couple things to add to the piece, which didn’t mention any actual candidates by name (there’s a companion piece underneath, which I didn’t see at first glance online, which contains a teeny bio and a brief statement by each contender):

“I don’t think there is anything driving anyone to the May 12 ballot at the moment,” said David Beirne, a spokesman for Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, whose office administers elections.

Kaufman’s office expects a turnout of 8 percent.

That would put it on par with the May, 2004, city charter amendment election, which made changes to pension benefits for city employees. Frankly, I think Beirne’s estimate is too high. There was a lot more noise about that election than there has been about this one. I’d put the over/under line at five percent turnout.

It would be foolish for candidates to spend resources campaigning to the entire city, political consultant Allen Blakemore said. Instead, they should focus on a small group of voters who are likely to show up at the polls, he said.

“A low-turnout election is not the place for TV, radio and billboard advertising. This is the time for direct mail, phone banks and grass-roots, door-to-door (campaigning),” Blakemore said. “None of these campaigns have a lot of money. They are limited in their ability to gin up interest.”

Well, of course, one candidate has raised more money than all other candidates combined, and has more cash on hand than any two candidates has raised. In other words, one candidate is a lot less limited in her ability to gin up interest than the others are. Blakemore is a well-known Republican consultant, so it’s not exactly surprising that he didn’t care to name names here. But don’t be fooled by his misleading statement.

“No one knows there is a special election,” political consultant Marc Campos said. “This is going to be the hard core of the hard core who shows up.”

Campos, who is not working for any of the candidates, said endorsements will mean more than usual in this race. Voters will look for cues from civic groups, police and firefighter unions, corporate organizations and other elected officials.

And Campos has given his endorsement to the one candidate who has garnered the support of the Houston Police Officers’ Union PAC, the Houston Police Retired Officers Association PAC, the Houston Professional Firefighters Association Local #341, and a raft of organizations and elected officials.

Because of the crowded field, a runoff in the race to replace Sekula-Gibbs is expected.

“These races are difficult to handicap,” Blakemore said. “The more candidates and the lower the turnout, the less predictable it becomes. It’s something of a crapshoot.”

Yes, races like this are difficult to handicap. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a frontrunner.

Chron endorses Melissa Noriega


The Chronicle endorses Melissa Noriega, a candidate with a diverse range of useful experience and a demonstrated commitment to learning, and solving, Houstonians’ needs.

Noriega, who grew up in Austin and Houston, has a master’s degree from the University of Houston College of Education. She worked for 27 years in HISD, in roles including administration, research and initiatives to increase community involvement.

Two years ago, Noriega shot into the Texas spotlight. Her husband, state Rep. Rick Noriega, is a lieutenant colonel in the Texas Army National Guard and in June 2004 was deployed to Afghanistan. Melissa Noriega stepped down from her job to take his place in the Legislature. She served with aplomb, sitting on the Defense Affairs and State and Federal Relations Committee, as well as the Corrections Committee. Her colleagues awarded her the Joe E. Moreno Public Service Award.

Noriega has developed a detailed agenda for Houston, including swift replacement of retiring police officers, flood abatement and better equipment for Houston’s first-responders. She would fight to preserve dwindling green space as a way to improve the city’s competitiveness. And she supports drug courts, affordable housing and better schools as cost-efficient ways to prevent crime.

Noriega is especially attuned to the needs of Houston’s poor and fragile. While Rep. Noriega was out of the city, she monitored developments in his district, at one point visiting a complex where a house fire had killed three children.

She found a physically and emotionally devastated community that had gone without electricity for two weeks. Noriega spearheaded the effort to restore power and other services.

This mix of competence and compassion makes Melissa Noriega the Chronicle’s recommendation for council member at-large, Position 3.

I can’t say this was unexpected, but it’s still good to see. Early voting begins tomorrow, and runs through May 8. Election Day itself is May 12, which is also the date of the Art Car Parade, so don’t dawdle.

Tiffany and I hosted a house party for Melissa yesterday. Click on to see a couple of pictures from the event:


The clock is ticking for the West 11th Street Park

This does not sound good.

Those who are raising funds to purchase 5 acres of the West 11th Street Park have until August.

That’s the time that has been estimated the Houston Parks Board should post the land for sale before a loan secured to purchase those acres becomes due in February 2008.

“Nine months is the time it would take (to complete a sale) and that’s probably fairly aggressive to look for the right buyer and find the right buyer so they could get their money in place,” Parks Board Executive Director Roksan Okan-Vick said.

“Come the middle of May, we’re going to have to start thinking hard about how much time we have left.”

Man, that sucks. And this isn’t any better:

The $3.5 million, 12-month loan comes due in February 2008, but if the money cannot be raised by August, the Parks Board would need to consider selling the park.

Since taking out the loan, the Parks Board and grass-roots groups have raised about $235,720, according to Kelly Ahrens, who is helping the group Save This Park! with fundraising efforts.

Okan-Vick said the loan is accruing $700 in interest each day, which at some point becomes too big a burden, and selling the land is not necessarily an easy task.

Yeesh. Any sugar mommies or daddies out there want to have a park named for you? It’s only three million and change.

If the Parks Board has to sell the 5 acres, Okan-Vick said, “we really want to work with someone who is going to be very responsible with what they construct next to this fabulous park.”

Okan-Vick said the Parks Board would only consider selling the 5 acres for residential use.

A small mercy, but not much of one. For better or worse, it’ll be high-end townhomes.

[Said Lorraine Cherry, president of Friends of the West 11th Street Park], “It’s frustrating, but I understand there are a whole lot of people who need money to do a whole lot of worthwhile things.

“I really do believe we will get the money raised by August.”

I hope you’re right. If you want to help, here’s what you need to know:

Why don’t you come back here and say that?

So this Texan goes to visit Australia, and while he’s there he takes a tour of an Australian ranch. The Aussie rancher tells him how big the ranch is, and the Texan says “Big deal. Where I come from, we’ve got ranches big enough to be their own country.” They go to see some of the cattle, and the rancher explains how big the steers are, and the Texan says “Big deal. Where I come from, we’d consider anything this size to be a runt.” It goes on like that for awhile, when suddenly a kangaroo goes bounding past them. In surprise, the Texan says “What the hell what that?”, to which the Aussie replies “Oh, just one of our pesky little grasshoppers.”

For some reason, I was reminded of that joke when I read this story about Governor Perry’s visit to Pittsburgh.

With the Texas House poised to consider a border security bill and state budget writers deciding how much to spend on the effort, Gov. Rick Perry told a Pittsburgh newspaper that some border-crossers with al-Qaida ties have been apprehended.

“The information that we have is that there have been individuals who have crossed, and some that have been apprehended, that have ties back to the al-Qaida network,” Perry told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on a trip to the city to speak at a Boy Scouts dinner.

“I don’t get confused that with the lack of manpower and the lack of resources that the federal government has made available that you can cross the border, and you can cross the border with enough frequency and with enough items to create a lot of havoc,” he said.

Perry spokesman Ted Royer said Friday the statement was a continuation of comments the GOP governor has made for years. The comments have been based on federal intelligence sources having “confirmed that al-Qaida and other terrorist networks view the Southern border as a prime point of entry,” Royer said, with people from countries where al-Qaida has a known presence having been apprehended not just in Texas but all along the border.

In other words, Royer “confirmed” what his boss said by saying “well, we know that al Qaeda thinks that they could sneak people across the Texas-Mexico border, if they ever get tired of coming into the US on student visas and stuff like that, and we’ve caught people who came over that way who originated from countries where al Qaeda operates, which could include the US if you stop and think about it.” Damn those pesky grasshoppers!

I’m not sure what has me chuckling more about this story, Perry’s pathetic braggadocio, or the fact that he couldn’t be bothered to tell members of the Senate about this little nugget of intel:

“We have absolutely no information” about such apprehensions, said Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, International Relations and Trade Committee chairman. “I would urge the governor to call us in, and give us a briefing, so that we can better serve our communities along the border.

“It’s alarming, if that is so,” he said. “I would very much … be interested in knowing when this happened, and how it happened, and what law enforcement agencies were involved in the apprehension, and where those individuals might be today.

Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, said of the governor’s comments, “I’ve never heard that. I’ve heard accounts where people have said that, but I’ve never seen an independent, verifiable report that makes that allegation.

“To use al-Qaida as a ruse to try and get a border security bill before the people is not helpful,” Shapleigh said. ” I hope when he comes back he’ll discuss it with those of us who live and work on the border.”

If he didn’t discuss it before, I don’t know why he’d bother now. Note that Democratic Senators aren’t the only ones in the dark.

GOP Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said only that he had heard of illegal entries by people from the Middle East, but the individuals aren’t labeled as terrorists.

Obviously, this was on a need-to-know-basis only, which is why Perry waited till he was safely out of state before sharing it with a public audience.

I can only presume that Perry’s remarks were intended to put pressure on the Lege regarding HB13. Given the pushback it’s gotten from border police chiefs and other legislators, he must think it needs the help. I just don’t know if that’s the kind of help that it needed. Express-News link via Dig Deeper Texas.

A new toll road concern

Long as we’re talking about toll road issues…In a completely under-the-radar move, the H-GAC Transportation Policy Council has approved a proposal by TxDOT and the HCTRA under which HCTRA would send some of its toll revenues to TxDOT to fund local projects. What does that mean in real life? Christof explains:

The problem is that the procedures which allow affected neighborhoods and the general public to scrutinize and influence transportation projects — public hearing, environmental review — are required because of federal funding. If a project doesn’t require federal funding, no public involvement is required. It is literally possible for a neighborhood not to hear about a project until the eminent domain notices show up in the mail.

Thus, giving TxDOT toll funds would allow it to push through projects that have significant public opposition or major impacts. For example, most of the I-45 widening project is relatively uncontroversial. But the section inside 610 is facing significant opposition from the residential neighborhoods bordering it. With toll funds, TxDOT might split the project, seeking federal funding — and undergoing public review — only for the section outside 610, and building the section inside 610 with local toll funds and no federal environmental review requirements. I haven’t heard anyone suggest this, and I don’t have any reason to think TxDOT plans to do this. But we’ve learned often that tools that are open to abuse get abused.

The second problem with the resolution is that is includes a list of projects (pdf). Some of these are projects that are undergoing at least some public review process — 290 — and some are projects we’ve known are going forward — the Hardy Toll Road Downtown Extension. But there are projects on the list that we had thought were dead due to neighborhood opposition — the Fort Bend Toll Road extension to 610 — and others we’ve never heard of. The most notable among the latter: the the extension of the Westpark Toll Road along Westpark as far as Kirby: 4 lanes, presumably elevated, directly next to residential neighborhoods.

Once a project is on a list that gets approved by the TPC, it’s a lot closer to happening. Months or years from now, a neighborhood might object. And they’ll be shown the list and told, “it’s in the plan. It got approved. There’s nothing you can do.” Pieces of paper can have a lot of power.

And this piece of paper came out of nowhere. There was no public announcement, let alone hearings. It was a last minute addition to the agenda. David Crossley of the Gulf Coast institute spotted it only because he was looking through the TPC web site.

Christof lists some of the members of the TPC, which includes City Council members Pam Holm and Sue Lovell. Might be a good idea to ask some of these folks a few questions about this.

And the toll road confrontation is on

HB1892, the much-ballyhooed two year toll road moratorium, has passed the Senate and is headed back to the House for final passage before going to Governor Perry and a potential veto.

The state Senate voted 27-4 on a transportation bill that includes a two-year moratorium, opposed by Perry, on private company toll roads and other highway-building restrictions, which could trigger his veto.

If so, lawmakers are ready to try to override his veto in a power battle not seen since 1990, when the Legislature failed to override a Gov. Bill Clements veto of a school finance bill.

“Unfortunately, there is a fundamental disagreement between the Legislature and the governor about the future transportation policy of our state,” Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said. “This bill is the last chance we have to address that.”

Once the House passes the Senate’s bill, which is expected early next week, Perry said he would look at it but added that he opposes any effort that “shuts down road construction, kills jobs, harms air quality, prevents access to federal highway dollars and creates an environment within local government that is ripe for political corruption.”


Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, author of the House version, said he would accept changes to his bill. Smith wants to send the bill to Perry next week, giving lawmakers time to try to override a veto before the Legislature adjourns May 28.

Both Smith and Williams expressed hope Perry would not veto the bill.

“Obviously, it’s a very popular piece of legislation from the Legislature that will be going over there,” Smith said.


[M]ost legislators have soured on the state’s transportation department and Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor plan that relies heavily on private company toll roads and long-term contracts involving hundreds of billions of dollars in profit for those companies.

“Texans must decide if roads should be built for the benefit of taxpayers or private shareholders,” said Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, a former state transportation commissioner and the main architect for the moratorium.

“This is a major victory in our efforts to protect Texans from private toll road deals that would hamstring our transportation system for the next half-century,” Nichols said. “A two-year moratorium will give an appropriate cooling-down time to evaluate the terms of these contracts before they cost Texans billions in penalties.”

I need to put in a call to Sen. Nichols’ office and ask him a few questions about this. I realize that the TTC was more Ric Williamson’s baby than anything else, but his transformation into the leasing critic of this project (yes, more so than Sen. Carona at this point) is really amazing and (to me, anyway) unexpected. You just never know, I guess.

Anyway, we’ll see what Perry does, and if he warms up with an HPV veto first or lets that one slide by. Vince has Perry’s statement, Eye on Williamson notes a federal connection, and the Observer comments on Sen. Patrick’s statements regarding TxDOT. Stay tuned.

Early voting starts Monday for the City Council special election

Are you ready to vote in the May 12 election? Here are the times and places for early voting:

Harris County

8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through May 4
7 a.m to 7 p.m. May 5
1 to 6 p.m. May 6
7 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 7-8


Inside Loop 610

1. County Administration Building, 1001 Preston, first floor
2. Moody Park Recreation Center, 3725 Fulton
3. Kashmere area: Julia C. Hester Houston, 2020 Solo
4. Ripley House, 4410 Navigation
5. HCCS Southeast College, 6815 Rustic, Angela Morales Building
6. Palm Center: Justice of the peace-constable entry, 5300 Griggs
7. Fiesta Mart, 8130 Kirby
8. Metropolitan Multi-Service Center, 1475 W. Gray

Outside Loop 610

9. BeBe Tabernacle Methodist Church, 7210 Langley
10. Galena Park Branch Library, 1500 Keene, Galena Park
11. Cleveland Ripley Neighborhood Center, 720 Fairmont, Pasadena.
12. Sunnyside Multi-Service Center, 4605 Wilmington
13. The Power Center, 12401 South Post Oak
14. Bayland Park Community Center, 6400 Bissonnet
15. Tracy Gee Community Center, 3599 Westcenter
16. Harris County Courthouse Annex No. 35, 1721 Pech
17. Acres Homes: Multi-Service Center, 6719 W. Montgomery
18. Hardy Senior Center, 11901 W. Hardy

Outside Beltway 8

19. Octavia Fields Branch Library, 1503 S. Houston, Humble
20. Fire Station 102, 4102 Lake Houston Parkway, Kingwood
21. North Channel Library, 15741 Wallisville Road
22. Remington Park Assisted Living, 901 W. Baker, Baytown
23. Harris County Courthouse Annex No. 25, 7330 Spencer Highway, Pasadena
24. Freeman Branch Library, 16616 Diana Lane, Clear Lake
25. Alief Regional Library, 7979 South Kirkwood
26. Lac Hong Square, 6628 Wilcrest
27. Courtyard by Marriott, 12401 Katy Freeway at Dairy Ashford
28. Franz Road Storefront, 19818 Franz
29. Bear Creek Park Community Center, Bear Creek at Patterson
30. Jersey Village City Hall, 16327 Lakeview Drive
31. Tomball Public Works Building, 501 B James, Tomball
32. Barbara Bush Library, 6817 Cypresswood, Spring
33. Ponderosa Fire Station No. 1, 17061 Rolling Creek

More information

Harris County

And of course, here’s the candidate to vote for. I’ll have some Melissa Noriega house party pictures up tomorrow. May 12 is two weeks away. Are you ready?

Michael Berry, radio mogul

Matt Stiles notes that Michael Berry, City Council member and talk radio host, is now the boss of Clear Channel’s AM stations here in Houston. Congratulations on the new gig, Council Member Berry. To answer Stiles’ question, I’ve no particular problem with local politicians having media gigs, as long as everything is up front and subject to full disclosure. For what it’s worth, I don’t think being a media figure makes you a better politician, or vice-versa. There’s some overlap in the skill sets, but being one is not a guarantee of the other.

The real question in my mind is whether this means we’ve seen the last of Michael Berry the candidate/office holder. I’ve always figured he’d run for Mayor in 2009. Is this his departure from that stage, or is he just trying on a bigger microphone? I guess we’ll find out.

Voter ID again on Monday

As you know, only one of the two pernicious voter ID bills that were brought to the floor of the House made it through. The other got sent back to committee on a point of order. That bill, HB626, is expected to be back on the floor this coming Monday. The True Courage Action Network has a call to action:

If they pass HB 626:

* You’ll be required to produce a certified copy of your birth certificate or passport or naturalization papers to register to vote.
* You’ll be required to produce your birth certificate or one of those other hard-to-find and expensive documents to re-register (20% of Texans move between election cycles).
* Voter registration drives will be a thing of the past because we don’t carry around our birth certificate (if we even have one) when we shop.
* The voter turnout rate in Texas, already the lowest in the nation at 26%, will drop even lower.

We expect a floor vote on Monday. This time, in addition to calling your own rep (contact info here), we’re asking you to call the following House members who are believed to be undecided, and ask them to stand up with courage and vote NO on HB 626:

Kirk England (512) 463-0694
Mike Krusee (512) 463-0670
Pat Haggerty (512) 463-0728
Mike Hamilton (512) 463-0412
Harvey Hilderbran (512) 463-0536
Delwin Jones (512) 463-0542
Tommy Merritt (512) 463-0750
Todd Smith (512) 463-0522

A lot of American citizens in this state don’t have birth certificates – basically, anyone born at home, which is a common thing in rural areas, may not have one. They’ll be pretty much out of luck if they need to register or re-register. You’ll need a certified copy of your birth certificate if you ever move to another county, which will require a re-registration. And you’d better hope it doesn’t get lost in the mail, if you like your identity as it is.

This bill is (I presume, anyway) covered by Sen. Ellis’ letter of intent to block on the Senate floor. And I see that Dems in the Senate are on their guard about any back-door maneuvers.

On Tuesday the Senate considered Senate Bill 1464, a proposal by Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, that says if someone is excused from jury duty because of a lack of citizenship or because they do not live in the right county, they cannot vote in that county.

Before a vote on Janek’s bill, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, had a few questions for Sen. John Carona, who was presiding over the Senate in place of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Actually, the questions were really for Senate Parliamentarian Karina Casari Davis, who was advising Carona just as she does whoever is the presiding officer.

Watson asked whether the voter ID bill would be a proper amendment to attach to Janek’s bill. Carona, based on the parliamentarian’s counsel, said no, that such an amendment would be subject to a point of order. Watson asked if the House attached the voter ID language to Janek’s bill, would it be subject to a point of order and have to return to the House. Carona said yes. Essentially, Watson’s questioning established that the voter ID language is not germane to Janek’s bill.

Don’t be surprised to see similar questions about other Senate legislation related to voting.

Bring it on, I say. Frankly, a point of order to kill the whole calendar wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world right about now.

Friday random ten: The group participation edition

Have I mentioned lately how much I’ve enjoyed this little Friday diversion? Well, I have. As noted on Monday, I’m looking for some collaboration on this one. If you’ve got a list, send me the link or leave it in the comments. And so, without further ado…

1. I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow (instrumental) – John Hartford. I forget if there’s three versions of this song on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack or four, but it doesn’t matter. They’re all worth listening to.

2. Justify My Love – Madonna. “Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear. Doesn’t make me Madonna. Never will.” One of my favorite movie quotes of all time. If you ask me nicely, I can say it with a pretty passable imitation of Joan Cusack’s Staten Island accent. Given that all of my sister’s friends in high school sounded like that, this should be no surprise.

3. Take The “A” Train – Duke Ellington. One of my favorite versions of this song was done by the Ray Brown Trio, on the awesome album “Soular Energy”, where it was rendered as a slow, funky waltz. I’ve gotta track down a copy of that CD some day – all I had was a taped version of the CD my summer-of-1987 housemate Pete owned, and Lord only knows where that is now.

4. Don’t Give Up – Peter Gabriel. Do you think anyone’s ever told Kate Bush that she could cut back on the breathy-voice thing by about fifty percent without losing the overall effect? Just curious.

5. Pick Up The Pieces – Average White Band. I could swear I played a jazz band arrangement of this sucker back in high school. You’d be amazed what they arrange for jazz band.

6. For The Longest Time – Billy Joel. In my senior year at Trinity, the concert choir sold singing telegrams as a Valentine’s Day fundraiser. I got to co-sing the lead on this one, which was all kinds of fun. We also offered “You Can’t Hurry Love”, “My Funny Valentine”, “You Are My Sunshine”, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”, and – easily our bestseller – “Sit On My Face (And Tell Me That You Love Me)”. Hey, it was college, you know?

7. Rock Around The Clock – Bill Haley and the Comets. Like (I suspect) most children of the 70s, I can’t hear this song without thinking of the TV show Happy Days. Sit on it, Pottsie.

8. Deal – Doctor John. From an excellent collection of Grateful Dead covers called “Deadicated”. I don’t think I have the original version in my collection, but I do have a lot of original/cover combos for other songs. I may have to base a Random Ten on that some day.

9. Bitter Tears – INXS. Is there a band with a more distinctive sound than INXS? As in, you can tell within a few beats that you’re hearing an INXS song, whether it’s one you’ve ever heard before or not? I can’t think of any offhand.

10. Home, Sweet Home – Aerosmith. True story: In 1997, my dad and I were driving through the back roads of Oregon, on our way to some small town for a minor league baseball game (it might have been in Bend, I don’t remember exactly) where we’d meet up with my uncles and some cousins. Somehow, we’d managed to find a decent radio station along the way. Just as we were approaching a road sign announcing that we had entered the city of Sweet Home, Oregon, this particular song came on the radio. Clearly, we were in the right place at the right time.

That’s my ten for the week. What’s yours? Send me a link or leave ’em in the comments.

UPDATE: Here’s Greg’s list.

UPDATE: Coyote Mercury and H-Town Grooves join in.

Lactation consultation

There are many things that “they” don’t tell you about before you become a parent. You know, things like how often you have to trim tiny baby fingernails, the fact that you’ll be lucky to squeeze your one-month-old into 0-3 month clothing, and that babies aren’t born knowing how to be breastfed. It may look natural, but they have to learn how to do it right, and until they do it can be a frustrating and (take Tiffany’s word for it) painful experience.

That’s where lactation consultants come in. We were fortunate that our doula was also qualified to assist in this matter, but a reliable resource isn’t always available. In fact, the term “lactation consultant” is an unofficial one that doesn’t require a person calling herself that to have any specific training or background.

There’s a bill in the Lege, HB703 by Reps. Mike Villarreal and Jessica Farrar, that would define the term and put some restrictions on its use. Here’s a blurb from the Central Texas Healthy Mother Healthy Baby Coalition in support of HB703:

The Lactation Consultant Licensure bill, HB 703, is a title protection act, which means it restricts the use of the term “lactation consultant” (LC) to individuals specifically trained in lactation management. It does not restrict unlicensed individuals from helping mothers with breastfeeding.

Currently, LCs are certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners. To obtain IBLCE certification, the individual must complete education specific to lactation science, complete a specific number of hours helping breastfeeding mothers and babies, and pass an exam to test their knowledge. They are also required to complete 75 hours of continuing education within 5 years, and to re-certify by examination at 10 year intervals to demonstrate continued competence. HB 703 describes this process. The intent of HB 703 is to augment LC certification with state licensure so that consumers will be able to 1) identify trained lactation consultants, and 2) have a place to lodge complaints locally in the event of bad or unethical care.

The Texas Medical Association and the Texas Pediatric Society have decided to oppose HB 703. Currently, the policy of the TMA and other medical professional organizations is to block the establishment of any new health care professions. The rationale for this is several-fold, but appears also to include concern over shrinking shares of medical dollars. While this position benefits physicians, it does not benefit consumers.

TMA also argues against the bill on the basis that physicians should be able to provide lactation care without being licensed as LCs. HB 703 does not require physicians to become licensed as LCs in order to do so. The bill also specifies that nurses do not have to be licensed LCs to provide lactation care. The bill would provide title protection but not practice protection. That is, anyone who holds themselves out as a Lactation Consultant would have to be licensed as an LC, but LC licensure would not be required to simply help a mother with breastfeeding.

A somewhat wordier version of that is here. Unfortunately, HB703 is currently pending in the Public Health committee, where it may die without ever being heard on the floor if nothing happens soon. If you think this is a good idea, and especially if your State Rep is on the Public Health committee, please contact them and let them know that you’d like to see the House take action on this. Thanks very much.

Scarbrough’s petition

I finally have a copy of Daphne Scarbrough’s Section 202 petition to require Metro to undergo discovery for her possible lawsuit. It’s here (PDF) for your perusal. It’s not very long, so take a look. Any input from the lawyers in the audience as to where it falls on the Valid Inquiry/Fishing Expedition continuum would be appreciated. Metro should theoretically file its response by today. I’ll see if I can find a copy of that when they do.

Uptown corridor planning workshop

I’ve mentioned that there’s a series of urban planning workshops for various corridors going on. The last of the bunch, the one for Uptown (i.e., Galleria/Post Oak area) is next week, Wednesday & Thursday, May 2 & 3, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm at The Pavilion at Post Oak, 1800 Post Oak Boulevard, Houston, TX 77056. You can see a flyer for it here (PDF). An unofficial version of the flyer, aimed primarily at the folks who have freeway noise concerns, is here (PDF). Nothing like a little rabblerousing to spice up a planning meeting, right? Check it out.

Help Eagle Pass

The following is from State Rep. Pete Gallego.

Yesterday, Eagle Pass and parts of southwest Texas were hit hard by terrible storms and a destructive tornado. Today we honored those in the community who have lost their homes and loved ones in the recent storm.

I have a fondness for Eagle Pass. Years ago, the community helped me establish my political career. I was privileged to serve Maverick County for 12 years before redistricting and it is the home of Pete P. Gallego Elementary.

Donate to help Eagle Pass today!

It is always difficult to understand and handle the loss of life especially when it is caused by the sudden andp destructive hand of Mother Nature. With the strong leadership of county and city officials and the helping hand of local and state-wide neighbors, I have no doubt that the community of Eagle Pass will get through this difficult time.

In the wake of this tragedy we are working with the local community, state agencies, elected officials, and the federal government to assist any way we can. Can you help too?

Donate to help Eagle Pass today!

We are grateful for the immediate response of the rescue workers operating well into the night. As hospitals fill up and shelters continue to take in families, other problems and needs may arise. I have offered my full support to Rep. Tracy King and his office who currently represent the area.

Make a donation today and help Eagle Pass and the surrounding area.

Please feel free to contact Senator Carlos Uresti, Representative Tracy King or if you have any further questions please feel free to contact me at my office. Thank you for your support in helping Eagle Pass.

The donation links go to a page on Gallego’s website that has local banks’ contact and account information for the American Red Cross Maverick County Tornado Disaster Relief Fund, plus information on making non-monetary donations. You can always also give directly to the American Red Cross.

HPV showdown looming

The HPV conference commitee did its work in short order, and now HB1098 is on its way to Governor Perry’s desk.

There was no word on what Perry would do about House Bill 1098. He has 10 days from the date the bill reaches his desk, excluding Sundays, to decide whether to sign it into law, let it become law without his signature or veto it.

“The constitution provides the governor 10 days from receipt to make a decision. And he’ll take those days and announce his decision when he believes it is appropriate,” spokeswoman Krista Moody said.

Perry was traveling to Eagle Pass to assess the aftermath of deadly tornadoes there when the House agreed to changes in the bill made by the Senate, including one that would require lawmakers to reconsider in January 2011 whether the vaccine should be required for school enrollment.


Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, the bill’s author, has said he hopes Perry won’t veto the bill.

Both the House and Senate passed the bill with the necessary two-thirds majorities to override a veto.

The Senate sponsor, Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, said lawmakers should reconsider the safety and effectiveness of the HPV vaccine in four years. Merck’s Gardasil was approved for sale in June.

When Janet Elliott blogged this story, she thought Perry would let the bill become law without his signature. I think the odds slightly favor a veto, as one last defiant show of power by Perry. The votes are there to override, and I daresay it’d happen easily enough, but I think he may make them do it. I could be wrong – Elliott’s scenario makes a lot of sense. I just think he’ll be stubborn about it. We’ll see.

System benefit fund advances

He had to overcome a Talton point of order, but Sylvester Turner is one step closer to getting the System Benefit Fund restored.

Public interest groups hailed the tentative passage of House Bill 551, sponsored by Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. The bill would restore the System Benefit Fund, ensuring that a monthly fee paid by Texas electric customers is used for the purpose for which the fund was established — helping low-income residents with their electric bills.

“We’ve been fighting for this for two years,” said Toni McElroy, president of Texas ACORN, an advocacy group. “We’re thrilled.”

Since 1999, Texans have been paying an average 65-cent monthly fee on their electric bills that initially was collected to lower electric bills for some 710,000 low-income Texans; to weatherize homes and pay for an education and marketing program to alert Texas customers to the state’s utility-deregulation laws.

But in 2005, lawmakers decided to raid the fund, using the collected fees to help balance the budget. The fees continue to be assessed; today, $408 million in fees sits in the state’s treasury.

Turner’s bill would require that the electric fees collected be used for the purposes established by the Legislature eight years ago.

His bill would double the discount allowed under the old program, enabling eligible customers to receive as much as 20 percent off their bills.

That’s a good start, but as the Observer blog reminds us, the funding still needs to actually be allocated. At least Turner is a conferee, so he has a chance of affecting the outcome. Given how penurious the Senate has been, though, it’s far from a sure thing. Stay tuned.

Editorial roundup on HB218

Eye on Williamson surveys the editorial landscape for reactions to the voter ID bill that passed out of the House on Tuesday. The verdict, not surprisingly, is uniformly negative. I particularly like the Caller‘s classification of HB218 as “the most creative solution to an essentially non-existent problem”.

Meanwhile I’ve pondered how one might go about actually stealing an election over at Kuff’s World. Check it out.

Freeway noise at Memorial Park

What’s that you say? Speak up, I can’t hear you. There’s a plan to reduce noise at Memorial Park? Well, why didn’t you say so?

Under a plan that would be financed by the Texas Department of Transportation, the city’s parks department is weighing whether to allow a large sound-barrier wall in a 2,000-foot swath along the freeway between Washington and the West Loop.

The 16-foot-high wall, which could cost as much as $480,000, could substantially reduce the traffic noise in a popular area near the small, asphalt track and nearby tennis center, parks officials say.

“It would make quite a bit of a difference,” said Joe Turner, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department director. “This is the piece where we’re right on top of the freeway, with a huge concentration of runners and tennis players every day.”

The barrier still is in the conceptual stages, as officials work to get input from City Council members and key stakeholders, such as the Memorial Park Conservancy.

Sally Tyler, the conservancy’s executive director, said her organization is working with the city but isn’t yet sold on the idea. The park’s executive committee recently wrote Turner, saying it wants to see designs before passing judgment.

“In lieu of a concrete wall, trees might serve as a natural sound barrier,” she said, adding that sound could travel over and around a wall.

I guess a wall is okay. I don’t spend that much time at Memorial Park, so I really hadn’t given the matter any thought. I kind of like the tree idea, truth be told, but I daresay it’d take awhile to show some real results. Color me ambivalent.

Ambivalent to method, that is, not to the benefit. Reducing noise in general, especially near I-10 and 610, is a Good Thing. You may recall there was a lawsuit filed against TxDOT last January over the design of the interchanges at those freeways; the suit alleges that TxDOT did not follow federal regulations for noise abatement. More on that is here. I’ve also received
this letter (PDF) regarding the noise levels for I-10 near Memorial Park. It’s pretty technical – I know I’ve got a few transportation geeks in my audience; this should be right up your alley. I’m hearing there’s going to be a lot more, well, noise, regarding this issue, so stay tuned and we’ll see what happens.

Alabama-Coushatta settle with Abramoff

With Jack Abramoff back in the news, here’s one more item to file away.

The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Livingston has settled a lawsuit with the former employer of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff for an undisclosed amount of money.

The lawsuit was settled with the law firm of Greenberg Traurig, whom Abramoff worked for while representing Indian tribes on casino issues before Congress. The settlement ends the case against Abramoff and two other Greenberg Traurig employees.

The tribe dropped its complaint against media consultant Michael Scanlon, who had been the press secretary for former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, before going to work with Abramoff. It also dropped a complaint against Ralph Reed.

“We are satisfied with the settlement, and we are pleased to have the Abramoff matter resolved,” said tribal Chairwoman Jo Ann Battise. “We are now focused on restoring our right to game so that we may create employment and business opportunities for us and our neighbors.”

The lawsuit in question was filed last July, which strikes me as a fairly short interval from there to resolution. Whatever the case, I’m glad the Alabama-Coushatta were able to collect something for their troubles.

Berman’s campaign finance bill advances

Rep. Leo Berman’s HB2491, the only campaign finance reform bill to make it out of committee so far, is now one step closer to passing out of the House. For what it’s worth.

Craig McDonald, executive director of the Austin-based campaign finance reform group, Texans for Public Justice, said the bill “should have taken the opportunity to define (issue advertisements) and should have made it clear that corporations can only support their own political action committees.”

McDonald said corporate money in the past has been used to fund issue ads that were political in nature, even though the ads did not specifically say “vote for” or “vote against” a particular person.


Berman’s bill clarifies a list of administrative expenses that corporations and unions can fund under Texas law through their political action committees. They include office space, telephones and utilities.

The bill also spells out expenditures that corporations and unions cannot fund, including political consulting to support or oppose a candidate, telephone banks to communicate with voters to support or oppose a candidate, electioneering brochures and direct mail.

Berman said he tried to win over critics by defining electioneering, a nonpermissible expenditure, which he said includes political campaigning or direct mail. He said he couldn’t fathom anyone opposing his bill now. “It specifies what you can and cannot do,” he said.

Well, I don’t oppose it, but as I indicated in my previous post, it’s not clear to me that this is a better approach than the common sense one we had before. In nearly 100 years of the current law’s existence, it wasn’t until someone as brazen and amoral as Tom DeLay and his crew came along that anyone really tried to flout it. I recognize that Berman’s bill would have slammed the door on the approach DeLay took in 2002, but the problem with specifying what’s forbidden is that it invites the seeking of loopholes. Maybe he’s covered the bases better, I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel like it’s really doing anything, I guess.

Spinal Tap!

I gotta see this somehow.

Spinal Tap is back, and this time the band wants to help save the world from global warming.

The mock heavy metal group immortalized in the 1984 mockumentary, “This is Spinal Tap,” will reunite for a performance at Wembley Stadium in London as part of the Live Earth concerts scheduled worldwide for July 7.

The original members of Spinal Tap will be there: guitarist Nigel Tufnel (played by Christopher Guest), singer David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) and bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer). Rob Reiner, who both directed “This is Spinal Tap” and played the fake documentarian Marty DeBergi in the film, will also be in attendance.

Just one question: Given the band’s notorious history, who’d want to play drums for them?

A new 15-minute film directed by Reiner on the band’s reunion will also play at the opening night of the Tribeca Film Festival in New York on Wednesday. The slate for the opening gala, to be hosted by Al Gore, was previously announced, excepting the Reiner short.

The festival is to open with a showing of several global warming-themed short films produced by the SOS (Save Our Selves) campaign. SOS is also putting on the Live Earth concerts, to be held across seven continents.

Reiner spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday to explain the reunion of Spinal Tap — a band always known more as a parody of rock `n roll excess than environmental awareness.

“They’re not that environmentally conscious, but they’ve heard of global warming,” said Reiner, whose other films include “When Harry Met Sally” and “Stand By Me.” “Nigel thought it was just because he was wearing too much clothing — that if he just took his jacket off it would be cooler.”


The director said the new short film explains what the band has been doing with their lives lately. Nigel has been raising miniature horses to race, but can’t find jockeys small enough to ride them; David is now a hip-hop producer who also runs a colonic clinic; and Derek is in rehab for addiction to the Internet.

Sounds about right.

Here comes Mario

While I was critical of Clay Robison for his characterization of the then-upcoming voter ID fight, he did identify an important issue:

If the Democrats stick together, they will prevent Republicans from mustering the necessary two-thirds vote to advance the proposal. But Houston Sen. Mario Gallegos’ health will be key. Gallegos, a Democrat, has returned to the Capitol only twice since liver transplant surgery earlier this year.

The two-thirds vote is calculated on the number of senators present. Democrats can block the motion when all 31 senators are there, but the 20 Republicans, voting together on a strictly partisan vote, can run over Democratic opposition if one Democrat is absent.

Today, Sen. Gallegos informed Lt. Gov. Dewhurst that he wants to be notified in time to make it to Austin for this vote.

Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, who continues to recuperate from a liver transplant and is only attending legislative sessions part-time, said today that he has asked Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to give him 24 hours notice before attempting to pass the controversial voter ID legislation.


In January, Dewhurst agreed in writing to give Gallegos 24 hours’ notice “one time for a vote on a single piece of legislation.”

But Dewhurst also told Gallegos, “I did not promise, and obviously, I cannot in good conscience promise to hold all votes during your absence.”

The good news is that according to Patricia Kilday Hart, Dewhurst intends to maintain the two-thirds rule for this debate, something which was not a guarantee from the beginning. Of course, since this bill might wind up as an amendment to something else, Gallegos’ presence may not ultimately affect its status. But it still matters, and I knew he’d step up. Thanks, Sen. Gallegos.

When good things happen to bad bills

As the title on the Observer blog post says, “Oops!”

Due to a technical blunder, two anti-abortion bills died despite overwhelming support in the House State Affairs Committee. House Bill 175, a trigger ban on abortion in Texas should Roe v. Wade be overturned, and House Bill 1750, an abortion and judicial bypass reporting bill, had the support of seven of the 9-member committee and were expected to pass. They only received a vote of 4-to-2, just one short of the five needed to pass them out of committee.

The committee’s chairman Rep. David Swinford (R-Dumas) called the vote in an April 18th meeting on the House floor upon adjournment. Though he saw seven members present, only six had in fact been recorded as present in the roll call, Swinford says.

“It was my fault,” Swinford says. “It was unintentional.” The bills can only be reconsidered at the request of one of the opposing votes, who have decided not to do so, he says.

Good for them. The reps in question are (I presume, anyway, given the makeup of the State Affairs committee) Mark Veasey and my own rep, Jessica Farrar. These victories may not stick, since there’s still the Senate version of the bills to consider, but I’ll take what I can get.

Targeting 2008: Pete Sessions

This is the first in what will surely be an irregular series of analyses of Texas Congressional districts. My main interest will be the seats that I think are at least potentially competitive for 2008, but I’ll likely go beyond that as well. Time permitting, of course.

This Texas Observer article about some of Rep. Pete Sessions’ more ethically interesting friends (also spotted by Digby is the impetus for today’s piece. Sessions, as you know, won an incredibly expensive and nasty battle with Martin Frost after the 2003 DeLay re-redistricting, coming home with 54.3% of the vote. Last year, running against a lesser known but not completely unfunded challenger in Will Pryor, he captured 56.4%, in each case with a Libertarian running as well. Given Dallas’ strong blue shift in 2006, and given that Sessions is currently the biggest target standing at which Dallas Dems can aim, it seems fair to assume that he’ll face a stiffer fight in 2008. Let’s dive into the numbers and see what we can learn from last year’s race.

All data comes from the Secretary of State numbers. Everything is done on a straight R vs D basis, so percentages may look skewed. I have the 2006 numbers in this spreadsheet, and the 2004 numbers in this one.

As I’ve said in previous posts that analyzed Harris County races, I’m going to go by countywide race data wherever I can, as it provides a bigger data set as well as one with less variation. Generally speaking countywide Democratic candidates fared better, so in the comparison to an individual race like CD32 I think it gives a clearer picture of the relative parties’ strengths. Where I can’t easily use that data, I’ll sub in the top and bottom statewide races to give a range; that’s Hutchison/Radnofsky and Willett/Moody.

With all that out of the way, let’s get started. There were 26 contested county races in the SOS sample. I’d have died of carpal tunnel syndrome trying to break them all out for individual comparison, so instead I aggregated them. Here’s a summary of that picture:

Candidate Votes Pct ========================== Hutchison 79,000 63.4 Sessions 71,461 57.8 County GOP 67,807 57.4 Willett 63,704 54.5 Moody 53,250 45.5 Pryor 52,269 42.2 County Dem 50,374 42.6 Radnofsky 45,679 36.6

Basically, Sessions was about an average countywide Republican in CD32. As every statewide Republican other than Don Willett did better than that percentagewise, I find that encouraging for the Dems. It says to me that Sessions isn’t particularly beloved, or at least that his money didn’t buy him extra love at the ballot box. For comparison purposes, CD32 was a smidge under 60% GOP in 2004, with Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez winning slightly over 42% there.

Things get very interesting at the State Rep level:

Candidate Dist Votes Pct =============================== Goolsby 102 8,423 58.4 Sessions 102 9,061 62.8 Willett 102 8,050 59.4 Miller 102 5,990 41.6 Pryor 102 5,361 37.1 Moody 102 5,502 40.6 Harper-Brown 105 6,267 58.0 Sessions 105 6,479 58.9 Willett 105 5,835 55.7 Romano 105 4,530 42.0 Pryor 105 4,520 41.1 Moody 105 4,638 44.3 England 106 3,199 50.5 Sessions 106 3,722 58.3 Willett 106 3,215 52.9 Hubener 106 3,137 49.5 Pryor 106 2,658 41.7 Moody 106 2,867 47.1 Keffer 107 2,537 50.6 Sessions 107 2,982 57.4 Willett 107 2,541 52.8 Vaught 107 2,477 49.4 Pryor 107 2,209 42.6 Moody 107 2,270 47.2 Branch 108 13,108 71.3 Sessions 108 12,676 67.4 Willett 108 11,387 64.7 Borden 108 5,229 28.7 Pryor 108 6,127 32.6 Moody 108 6,214 35.3 Hartnett 114 13,475 56.6 Sessions 114 14,368 58.8 Willett 114 13,040 56.6 Shinoda 114 10,313 43.4 Pryor 114 10,079 41.2 Moody 114 10,009 43.4

In the districts where the Dems ran a strong candidate for the State House – in particular, Hubener in HD106 and Vaught in HD107, with Miller in HD106 not far behind – Sessions outpaced his local counterpart. In districts where the challenge was lighter, such as HDs 105 and 108, Sessions ran closer to even or behind. What this suggests to me is that there are persuadable voters out there who were reached by some campaigns but clearly not by Will Pryor. Targeting those areas – and the good news is that Goolsby (51.93%), Harper-Brown (55.08%), England (49.16%), Branch (55.99%), and Hartnett (55.58%) are all clearly appealing targets – has the potential to gain a lot of votes. Plus, John Carona, whose SD04 is one of maybe three genuinely purple State Senate seats, will also be on the ballot with a lot of overlap. There’s a lot more to going after Pete Sessions than just his Congressional seat.

The bottom line is that Dallas Democrats will have the wind at their back in 2008 in a way they didn’t have it last year – they’ll be like the Harris County GOP in 1996, in a position to pick up everything that wasn’t available to them in the prior cycle. They should have no trouble fundraising, no trouble finding strong candidates up and down the ballot, and no trouble generating excitement to get out the vote. CD32 is within their grasp if they want to take it. We’ll see what they do about it.

Saints preserve us!

Or, failing that, HAHC preserve us, with the “us” being the River Oaks Shopping Center, the River Oaks theater and Alabama Theater/Bookstop.

Betty Chapman, who chairs the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission, said Tuesday the commission will vote on whether to designate the properties as historic landmarks. It would be the first time the commission has launched the designation of a building as a historic landmark and without the approval of the buildings’ owners, Weingarten Realty Investors.

Weingarten Realty could not be reached for comment.

“We are going to initiate that, and then there is a process we have to go through,” Chapman said. “We feel the buildings are so important that they need the designation of being historic landmarks.”

Sounds good, though of course in and of itself it means little – as Houstonist points out, that just means there’s a 90-day delay before the bulldozers can do their job. Still, this is an important statement for the Commission to make, whatever its practical effect may be. We’ll see how Weingarten reacts.

Meanwhile, Miya Shay teases us with the possibility that there may be a plan to actually save the River Oaks Theater. One can only hope. Click over and check it out.

Is that all there is?

When you see a headline that says DeLay associate tied to Abramoff probe, you kind of expect the story to be all about an associate of Tom DeLay’s and his alleged ties to Jack Abramoff. That’s not quite what we get, however.

[P]rosecutors could decide within weeks whether to bring charges against former DeLay staff chief Edwin Buckham, according to sources close to the investigation who spoke on the condition that they not be identified. The decision should give a clear signal on whether DeLay remains in legal jeopardy, the sources said.

In recent days federal prosecutors have served notice that their sprawling Abramoff case has remained very much alive.


Investigators have looked closely at the $115,000 that Buckham’s lobbying firm, Alexander Strategy Group, paid Christine DeLay at a rate of $3,200 a month beginning in 1998, soon after Buckham left his job as DeLay’s chief of staff. A nonprofit company set up by Buckham, the U.S. Family Network, received a major part of its funding from companies with ties to Abramoff. Then, the nonprofit paid Buckham and his lobbying firm hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.

Buckham’s attorney did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment.

The payments to Christine DeLay resembled, at least superficially, those Abramoff’s former lobbying firm gave to Julie Doolittle’s company, Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions Inc., between September 2002 and February 2004.

[DeLay attorney Richard] Cullen has said the money for Christine DeLay was a legitimate payment from the lobbying firm for work she did to compile a list of charities in House members’ districts.

Most of the rest of the article is a rehash of stuff that has happened, like the guilty pleas of former DeLay staffers Mike Scanlon and Tony Rudy, plus a recap of recent activity by the FBI. I don’t want to be dismissive of the idea that prosecutors “could decide within weeks” whether or not to charge Ed Buckham – if such a thing is being said to a reporter, it almost surely means there will be charges brought, and that is big news – and I’m always happy to see a reminder of DeLay’s sleaze in the papers, but still. That headline was more tease than delivery.

TPM Muckraker has more on all this, but the guy who’s really been on top of it all around here is Greg in TX22. Give him a good look if you want to catch up. And have some popcorn supplies laid in for when the prosecutors make their decision on Buckham.

“Jessica’s Law” passes out of Senate

And speaking of “Jessica’s Law”, it’s out of the Senate and into a joint committee.

The Texas Senate passed its long-awaited “Jessica’s Law” Tuesday to protect children from sexual predators, but it reserved the death penalty for those twice convicted of the most heinous child rapes.

The bill also creates a new offense for “continual sexual abuse” of a child, increases penalties for certain child sex offenses and removes the statute of limitations for victims of child sex crimes.

“I am confident that this legislation will help protect the safety of our children and send a clear message to those who would prey on them. Don’t do it,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville.

The Senate’s bill now returns to the House, where members can concur or call for a conference committee to work out differences.

Unlike the conference committees for the HPV vaccine and toll road moratorium, this one is under little time pressure. Governor Perry can’t wait to sign it.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, the only dissenter in the 30-1 vote, said he’s concerned about expanding the death penalty in Texas when DNA tests have exonerated several inmates who served time for crimes they didn’t commit.

“All of us have to make tough choices, but at some point we have to know where to draw the line between what’s politically right but morally wrong,” he said.

He also pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that the death penalty for the rape of a 16-year-old girl was unconstitutional because death should be reserved for murder.

There’s sure to be a Supreme Court ruling on this law as well eventually. Given the nature of the Roberts Court, however, I wouldn’t be so confident that it’ll be struck down. Nonetheless, kudos to Sen. Ellis for his stance, and for reminding us of how problematic the death penalty has been in Texas. Grits has more.