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May, 2007:

The new trash fees

Trash has been in the news quite a bit lately, from the solid waste management task force (whose report is here) to the new pickup schedules. The initial report called for a $3.50/month trash fee to cover things like enhanced recycling and dumping enforcement. Now there’s a story about a another fee proposal, which I must say is confusing me a bit.

Houston households could see a new charge on their monthly water bills starting this fall — a $2.25 fee to help the city adopt more environment-friendly waste practices — but payment would be optional.

City officials estimate the fee, which is included in the mayor’s 2008 budget but requires a separate ordinance for approval, would bring in about $4.8 million next fiscal year to enhance recycling and composting programs and enforce illegal-dumping laws.

See, that’s exactly what the $3.50 fee was supposed to be about. Does this represent a reduction in that proposal, or a new fee for something else? It’s not clear in this story.

The charge would appear on water bills for all households except those who ask to opt out of the program, said Judy Gray Johnson, the city’s finance and administration director. It was unclear Wednesday what steps residents would take to decline participation.

Officials estimate about half of Houston households would pay the $27 yearly fee. But “we will have no idea until it happens,” Johnson said.

So what would we get for that $2.25 a month? I have no objection to this if it does something useful, but I need more information. And is the city going to try to sell the idea of this to civic-minded folks, or is it just going to assume that most people won’t notice it or won’t bother trying to opt out? Lots of questions to be answered here.

The fee first was proposed nearly two months ago by a mayoral task force as a $3.50 mandatory monthly charge. That would have generated as much as $19 million a year, officials said.

Residents who pay the fee would not receive any special services that wouldn’t be available to those who don’t pay, Johnson said. But the entire community would benefit from payment because certain solid-waste programs would be enhanced, she said. For example, curbside recycling could be offered to more homes and illegal-dumping laws would be better enforced in neighborhoods.

That sound you hear is my head spinning. Can we please get a follow up on this, either a story or a blog post, so that whatever this is can be a little clearer? Thank you.

No! Don’t come back!

Listen to me carefully here, people. Be very careful what you wish for.

Consumer groups are calling on Gov. Rick Perry to order the state Legislature back into session to make changes to Texas’ competitive electricity markets.

AARP Texas and Texas ACORN, which advocates for low-income families, said a bill that died in the final hours of the legislative session on Monday fell short of making the kinds of changes they wanted to see, but would have been better than nothing.

A spokeswoman for the governor said he has not yet decided to whether to call a special session.

Bonnie Mathis, an ACORN board member in Dallas, said in a prepared statement that the group was glad $170 million was returned to the Systems Benefit Fund designed to give some low-income customers some relief.

“But that’s not enough to solve the utility crisis we face in Texas,” she said. ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, wants rate reductions and protection from electricity shutoffs for the elderly and low income who fall behind on their bills during the summer, Mathis said.

AARP Texas State Director Robert Jackson said in a letter to the governor that he wanted legislation in a special session to provide a 20 percent rate reduction for customers and to address a wholesale pricing system that he said inflates rates across the board.

I didn’t follow the saga of SB482, the bill that was supposed to help with electric rates but got killed at the end by a point of order. Maybe it was a good bill, maybe it wasn’t – you’ll have to forgive me for not giving anything sponsored by Phil King the benefit of the doubt. If we could have a special session that did nothing but reconsider SB482, I’d have no qualm with that. But we don’t live in that world. We live in a world where the Governor sets the agenda for a special session, and as sure you’re reading this one of the items on the agenda for a special session would be voter ID legislation, which by the way is something that the AARP and ACORN both oppose, for good reason. Is the benefit of one – and again, forgive me for having my doubts about whatever would get passed here – worth the cost of the other? I for one say no, and while I respect the right of AARP and ACORN to think otherwise, I sure hope they’re taking the full cost of what they’re requesting into account here.

More on Turner for Speaker

Burka thinks the Turner for Speaker campaign is a stalking horse.

There’s no way for Sylvester to win. Republicans can’t vote for a Democrat for speaker. The best Turner can hope for is to hold the Craddick Ds (who may not be as solid as they were before the blowups) and to add some of the WD-40s and some of the more independent Ds like Strama. Let’s say he can get to 25-30 supporters. That gives him a chance to be kingmaker, but not king–and we know who he’ll be kingmaker for. More likely, this is not a play for speaker at all. It is a play to protect the Craddick Ds from a primary challenge. Turner’s candidacy gives the Craddick Ds the opportunity to pledge to a Democrat. This removes the main argument that can be used against the Craddick Ds in the primary. Then, safely reelected, they can deliver their votes to Craddick in January 09.

Much to think about in there. One point I want to make is that of all the Craddick Ds, I think Turner is the least vulnerable to a primary challenge. Unlike some of his Craddick-crat colleagues, Turner has a real record of accomplishment (think HB109, for starters), and is very well liked in his district. He’s not an apostate like Ron Wilson was. He’s not an out-of-touch relic like Al Edwards was. Mounting a primary challenge against him would be very difficult. While I can see him laying down cover for some of his colleagues who’ll need the help, like Kevin Bailey and Dawnna Dukes, I seriously doubt he himself has anything to worry about. As such, I reject the notion that he’s doing this to protect himself next March.

On a side note, be sure to check out this video at BOR that compiles editorial reactions to Tom Craddick’s power grab. Good stuff.

UPDATE: Two points from the Chron story, which I didn’t get to earlier. One is further evidence that it won’t be Sylvester Turner unifying Democrats in his Speaker’s bid:

“Mr. Turner has worked against the interest of Democrats by propping up Mr. Craddick. That is not something that is forgotten,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston.

Coleman, who has had differences with Turner, said he doesn’t believe Turner can win. It takes 76 votes to win in the 150-member chamber. The current makeup of the House is 81 Republicans and 69 Democrats.

“It’s not because Sylvester isn’t smart and has the tenure. It’s because he’s made bad choices,” Coleman said, adding that “if Sylvester is a serious candidate, Craddick is dead. He is defeated now.”

From your lips to God’s ears, Garnet. Until somebody else actually gets elected Speaker, I’m going to assume that Tom Craddick isn’t really dead but merely comic book dead. It’s too risky to think otherwise.

Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, Appropriations Committee chairman, said he’ll support Craddick if he runs for re-election as speaker but that he hadn’t heard from Craddick about his plans.

He also said it’s possible that a Democrat could be elected to the top spot in the House, noting the group trying to unseat Craddick came from both parties. He said he believes there are Republicans who would vote for a Democrat for speaker.

So Chisum disagrees with Burka about Republicans voting for a Democrat for Speaker. We’ll see who’s right. For what it’s worth, I can’t speak for Republican primary voters, but to revisit the cases of Ron Wilson and Al Edwards again, it wasn’t their support of Tom Craddick that galvanized the opposition that eventually ousted them. Wilson was a huge enabler of the 2003 re-redistricting, and basically spent that entire year openly pissing on the Democratic Party and his colleagues. The campaign ads against him wrote themselves. Edwards made some bad votes in 2005, but the real clincher was the Sexy Cheerleading bill, which turned him into a national laughingstock. Point I’m making is simply that one’s vote for Speaker, at least historically, has not been that big a deal in and of itself. Admittedly, things are different now (thanks again, Tom!), and given where we are today I’d probably consider a vote for Craddick in 2009 to be an unforgivable sin for a Democrat. Whether the Republicans see it the same way from their perspective, I couldn’t say.

600 Sq Mi deadline tomorrow

Houstonist reminds us that the deadline for submitting entries for the 600 Sq Mi photo show is tomorrow (Friday), June 1, at 11:59 PM CDT.

600 sq mi is a juried exhibition of photos from Houston. We’re leaving it up to you guys to figure out what that means: skyscrapers, trees, people, neighborhoods, art, freeways, music, food, the sky (or smog) — as long as it’s Houston, it’s fair game. For a low, low $10 entry fee, you get to submit up to three photos, from which a panel of professional artists/photographers/curators will pick enough to fill the walls of M2 Gallery in the Heights. The show will be up through the month of September, with an opening reception set for Saturday, Sept. 8.

Enter now, or forever wonder what might have been.

Why do they call you “Hot Tub Tom”, Hot Tub Tom?

For those of you who have not yet read Jeffrey Goldberg’s New Yorker article on the current unpleasantness within the Republican Party, let me nudge you towards it, as it’s a fine read. I’ll outsource the Tom DeLay-related snarkery to my friend Juanita (and again) and will simply address the following amusing tidbit:

“Bush was never a conservative, but Tom DeLay was one of us and he betrayed us,” Richard Viguerie, a founder of the modern conservative movement, says. “He’s like a lot of these guys. They campaign against the cesspool. ‘I’ll clean up the cesspool of government,’ but after a while they all say, ‘I made a mistake–it wasn’t a cesspool, it was a hot tub.’ That’s what they called him, you know, Hot Tub Tom.”

I’m not sure if Viguerie is simply connecting DeLay to his current meme about how “conservatism” has been betrayed, or if he’s creating a just so story about DeLay’s old nickname, but as we all know around here, DeLay earned the moniker “Hot Tub Tom” back when he was in the Texas Lege, and it had to do with his party animal proclivities. See, for example, this WaPo profile from 2001:

Tom DeLay was always a top student, an athlete and popular with his peers, but also did his share of drinking and carousing. After two years as a pre-med student, DeLay was asked to leave Baylor University for behavior that was partly fueled by booze and that thwarted his chance of fulfilling his father’s ambition for him. (He eventually got a degree in biology at the University of Houston.) Later, as a Texas state legislator from 1978 to 1984, DeLay had a reputation in Austin less as a lawmaker than as a partyer and playboy known as “Hot Tub Tom.” He roomed with other fun-loving male legislators at a condo they dubbed “Macho Manor.”

Here’s a CNN transcript that says basically the same thing. This isn’t to say that Viguerie’s formulation isn’t clever, just that it isn’t true. So please don’t be misled.

How to speak to global warming skeptics

I’d recommend that you read Grist’s How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic page, but be warned that the weight of evidence they bring is depressing. File it away for future reference in any event, as you’ll be sure to need it some day. And while you’re at it, bookmark the Talk.Origins FAQ as well, since I daresay there’s a lot of overlap between the two groups of disbelievers. Thanks to Ezra for the link.

Henry Cisneros to buy Carol Burnett’s house

Sort of.

A local organization led by former U.S. housing secretary Henry Cisneros has committed to raise enough money to save the childhood home of comedian Carol Burnett.

American Sunrise, a nonprofit housing and education program, said it will raise the $75,000 to $100,000 needed to move the century-old house from its current location in San Antonio. The Bill Miller Bar-B-Q restaurant chain wants to use the site for a parking lot.

Cisneros said the house will become a part of the American Sunrise campus in San Antonio.

American Sunrise was founded by Cisneros, a former San Antonio mayor, and his wife, Mary Alice Cisneros, who was elected to the City Council this month.

Burnett lived in the folk Victorian home until she was 7. She has often spoken of her memories of the house, including cold enchiladas for breakfast, donated used girls clothes and roller-skating on the hardwood floors.

In May 2006, the gray house with red-and-white trim was listed for $225,000.

Anybody know where in San Antonio this house currently is? I’m wondering if I’d ever driven past it without realizing what it was.

Metro’s partnership

This article on the status of Metro’s current projects such as the North Line BRT is both encouraging and frustrating.

Two of Metro’s bus rapid transit projects will be part of a federal pilot program to measure the potential cost savings of public-private partnerships, a move that could expedite the development of the transit corridors, officials announced today.

One private firm or a consortium of private companies will be responsible for all construction and project management under the terms of the Public-Private Partnership Pilot Program, known as Penta-P, U.S. Transportation Department officials said.

Washington Group Transit Management Co. was selected earlier this month to handle Metropolitan Transit Authority’s four corridor projects, including the North and Southeast bus rapid transit lines chosen for inclusion in the federal program. Although no formal agreement has been reached, the company would maintain and operate the lines, assume partial risk and share in the profits.

Metro and the Idaho-based parent company still are negotiating those issues.

It would be very nice to have some kind of basis for comparison to other public/private partnership projects here. How does this stack up to, say, the Trans Texas Corridor, or any of the local RMA toll road projects that are going on? These things have generated a lot of controversy, while I’ve not heard a peep about Metro’s plan so far. Maybe that’s because there are fundamental differences, and maybe it’s because not much is known about Metro’s plan yet. From what there is here, this sounds more like subcontracting than anything else, but I find myself groping for descriptors. More information, please!

This is the encouraging part:

Construction on the North and Southeast bus rapid transit lines, which ultimately may be converted to rail lines, will begin this year and service should be available in 2011, Metro spokeswoman Sandra Aponte Salazar said.

The capital cost for both lines comes to about $432 million, Salazar said. A combination of federal grants and Metro sales tax funds will cover the cost of the four lines, estimated at more than $1 billion, Metro officials have said.

“This shows that the federal leadership is interested in the project and committed to it,” she said.

The selection of one firm for the public-private project could save money and development time, Transportation Department officials said.

Salazar said the inclusion of the two corridors in the federal program could shave about two years from the project. She could not provide an estimate of cost savings.

“Metro’s inclusion in this program is a significant step toward our promise to Houstonians to build a comprehensive transit system plan to help solve our region’s traffic congestion and air quality problems,” Metro board chairman David Wolff said.

We knew a little of this already, but it’s nice to hear again, and it’s definitely nice to see real, tangible progress on the 2012 Solutions plan. I can’t wait till groundbreaking.

Sly for Speaker?

Yesterday, the Chron Texas Politics blog reported that House Speaker Pro Tem and staunch Tom Craddick ally Rep. Sylvester Turner was non-committal about who he’d support in 2009.

Turner says he’s a free agent as far as the 2009 speaker’s race is concerned.

Turner, who was already back in his Houston law firm Tuesday afternoon, said he’s had enough speaker’s politics to last him six months.

“I don’t want to think about the speaker’s race for the duration of the year,” said Turner. “I haven’t made any commitments or signed pledge cards.”

The first question members need to ask themselves is whether they plan to return to Austin in 2009, he said. Beyond that, they must assess who will best govern the House.

“Anyone who commits or tries to nail something down now would be acting prematurely,” Turner said.

Apparently, Turner is disregarding his own advice, because it seems he is thinking about the ’09 Speaker’s race, and he does have a candidate he’s committed to: Himself. QR has the scoop.


Key Craddick supporter jumps ship

In his statetment, Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) said, “I don’t ever want to have another legislative session like the one just completed where taking care of the people’s business took a back seat to political agendas. We have too many problems in this state to waste most of a legislative session on political agendas that do not include providing lower electric rates to the low-income and elderly or more funding for mental health programs.”

“I have worked effectively in the House under a Democratic majority,” Turner said, “and I have worked effectively in the House under a Republican majority. I have sought to treat every member with the utmost respect and I have worked to operate the House with the utmost degree of integrity.”

“I sincerely hope that over the next 18 months, members will evaluate and assess my abilities,” Turner continued. “I believe I am the best person to serve as Speaker in 2009 and I hope the members will give me the opportunity to serve as their Speaker.”

Turner’s full statement is here (Word doc). This just got a whole lot more interesting, and a whole lot messier for Craddick. The question is whether Turner can unify Democratic support, or if they’d prefer to stick to Senfronia Thompson. I have no idea right now how this will play out. But it’s all good from where I’m sitting. I don’t see how Craddick gets to 76 votes without Turner in his corner. That’s the best news I’ll hear this week.

UPDATE: Early indicators are not positive for Turner as the One True Democratic Candidate for Speaker, at least as far as BOR is concerned.

Fox versus Crosby

Diane Trautman alerts me to an interesting town hall meeting that took place in Crosby (small town northeast of Houston) last night.

[A] recent Fox-26 news [report] showed that supposedly 1 in every 30 residents in Crosby is a child molester. Turns out the lady who did the report has admitted she went to the “wrong website” to get her statistics but has never really apologized to the community for her error. The truth is more like 1 in 320…and the reporter said she spent 3 months investigating the story. This has the potential to hurt home sales, business development, and morale in this peaceful little town.

I just returned from a town hall meeting in Crosby where the chamber provided information on the stories, retractions, and lack of any real apology from the reporter. These people are really hurting about this story. They feel insulted, cut to the quick, and baffled as to why someone would do this. As a candidate for state representative last year, I became very well acquainted with the people of Crosby and very active in their chamber organization. Crosby is truly Hometown USA and could not be more friendly, down to earth, and family-friendly. They welcomed me with open arms even though I live in Humble.

I guess what I would like to see happen for these folks is a public apology from Fox and the reporter but more than that I would like to see Crosby get its due by showing the caring, community-minded, and collaborative spirit that I see everytime I visit.

Thanks to Diane, I have a copy of the PowerPoint presentation that was used at the meeting last night. I’ll excerpt the main point here:

[Reporter Carolyn] Canville reported that Crosby has a population of some 1700 people, and that there are 63 registered sex offenders living in Crosby, making the ratio of sex offenders to residents approximately one in thirty.

To come up with her numbers, Ms. Canville used different geographic areas for comparison. She took the number of registered sex offenders for the much larger geographic area served by the Crosby zip code, 77532, and compared that number with the total population of the significantly smaller geographical area comprised of an area called Crosby CDP by the Federal Census Bureau (please see the enclosed maps).

The Census Bureau does report the total population of the larger geographic area served by the Crosby zip code, 77532. Had Ms. Canville any interest in reporting the facts, she would have used that number, which is 20,143. However, 63 sex offenders in a population of 20,143 is not nearly as “news-worthy” as 63 sex offenders in a population of 1714. And this is still with using population data from 7 years ago compared to the sex offender registry of 2007, so even those numbers are askew.

In reality, there are 5 registered sex offenders who report residence addresses within the smaller Crosby CDP area. The actual ratio in the smaller Crosby CDP area is 1:343. The actual ratio in the larger Crosby zip code area is 1:320. Nothing near the 1:30 Ms. Canville would have us believe.

There’s more to the story, such as how Canville referred to the registered sex offenders as “sexual predators”, which is an obviously loaded phrase, as well as the fact that FOX26 declined to post a correction on their website, saying that they gave a correction on-air, and besides the story is no longer on their site. It’s interesting stuff, and I’m curious about how this will resolve itself, since the folks in Crosby are not satisfied with the lack of response they have gotten so far. If I get any updates, I’ll post about it.

Governor Perry’s first veto

According to Grits, Governor Perry’s first veto of 2007 was for HB770, a “bipartisan bill that drew no organized opposition at the Lege”. But it would have made it easier for ex-cons who have fully served their sentences to vote, and we just can’t have that. Read Grits’ analysis for why this was such a petty thing to do.

“We’ll go somewhere where there’s cheese!”

A little bit of California comes to the Panhandle.

“It is remote, and I’ll tell you what: It took a little getting used to,” said Richard Avila, who’s in the process of moving much of his family’s 119-year-old Northern California dairy operation to the Panhandle. “But every time I go back home to California, I can’t wait to get back to Texas. There are too many people there.”

Jobs abound in the northwestern Panhandle right now, but despite Dalhart’s quaint brick streets, tree-lined neighborhoods, clean air and water and country living, its isolation makes the town of 7,300 a tough sell.

How remote is it? The nearest city of more than 100,000 residents is Amarillo, 70 miles to the southeast. The closest large cities — Albuquerque, Oklahoma City and Denver — are more than 270 driving miles away.

Dalhart is nearer to six other state capitals (Cheyenne, Denver, Lincoln, Oklahoma City, Santa Fe and Topeka) than its own, and it’s a shorter drive to Mount Rushmore than to Houston, which is 690 miles down the road.

Yet those lonely High Plains around Dalhart, the scene of epic drought-born sandstorms in the 1930s, are now seeing an economic perfect storm of sorts, stoked by a massive cheese plant, the influx of large-scale dairies and a booming ethanol-fueled corn industry.

Add existing employers, such as feedlots, a meatpacker and the Dalhart Unit state prison, and the area’s slogan may as well be “Help Wanted.”

So far, Avila has moved 600 Jersey cows from California, and 750 more are on the way, with a goal of 2,400 head by 2009. He said fellow dairymen are resettling around Dalhart and Dumas at around $1,200 an acre after selling land back home at $25,000 an acre.

But money is only part of the reason behind the new migration, he said.

“It’s a $47 billion industry in California, and they’re hell-bent on forcing us out of there with all the crazy regulations they have,” Avila said, bemoaning an alphabet soup of state and local agencies, mostly environmental.

“It’s not that Texas doesn’t have regulations. Texas does, but they’re consistent and constant. Unlike California, they don’t change their minds every week.”

Well, there’s an argument for a biennial Legislature if ever I’ve heard one.

Hilmar Cheese, named for the central-California town, eventually plans to make a half-million pounds a day of cheddar, Colby, pepper jack and Monterey jack. Texas currently doesn’t produce enough cheese to be listed by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, but Hilmar by itself would cause it to rank 10th at full production.

“Our decision to expand our operations to Dalhart was based on several key factors, including Texas’ positive business climate, reliable regulatory environment and an up-and-coming local dairy industry in Dalhart and the greater Amarillo area,” said John Jeter, chief executive and president of Hilmar Cheese.

Taxpayers chipped in, too. In competition with Idaho, the Texas Enterprise Fund ponied up $7.5 million, and the plant secured millions more in grants, tax breaks and tax abatements from local and regional governments.

The plant will employ about 120, eventually ramping up to 300 as more dairies justify more production capacity. Avila said dairies hire approximately one person per 100 head of cattle, meaning more than 1,000 milkers would be needed for the Dalhart-Dumas area if all current and permitted projects stock their allotted number of Jerseys or Holsteins.

Let’s do a little back-of-the-envelope math here. We don’t know how much “millions more in grants, tax breaks and tax abatements from local and regional governments” means, but let’s say it’s equivalent to the $7.5 million that the Rick Perry Slush Fund ponied up. Let’s assume also that a total of 300 jobs will eventually exist, and that none of this would have happened without the incentives provided. That’s $50,000 per job, assuming all the moneys are one-time only. Does that make economic sense? I’m not qualified to answer that question, but I sure can ask it.

One more thing:

Panhandle milkers can earn about $36,000 after three years, Avila said, outstripping the base salary of veteran correctional officers at the Dalhart Unit, where overtime is mandatory because staffing is under 70 percent.

Warden Eddie Wheeler is trying to stay positive in the face of the area’s opportunity onslaught, which threatens to make his unattractive jobs even more so.

“You get a married couple that moves here, one works (in the dairy industry), and hopefully we pick up the other one,” he said. “That’s the way I look at it.”

You think any of that new prison spending that was just authorized will go towards helping Warden Wheeler with his employment situation? Call me crazy, but I’m thinking “No”.

“Lost” Season 3 screen cap recap

Did I mention that I finally got to see the Lost season three finale over the weekend, thanks to my in-laws’ TiVo? For those who still haven’t seen it, all I’ll say is Wow. Just, wow.

Now, for those of you who need to catch up a bit before finally cueing up the TiVo to watch that last episode, may I direct you to this Season Three recap, done entirely in screen caps and silly captions. It’s hilarious, and moderately disturbing to realize there are people with that kind of free time and fanatical devotion. On the other hand, if that’s not why God gave us the Internet, I don’t know why we have it. Enjoy! Link via Linkmeister.

CD Death Watch: One more Christmas

Another post in my occasional series on the impending death of the compact disc. Today’s entry: This could be the last good Christmas for the music industry and its CD sales.

Despite costly efforts to build buzz around new talent and thwart piracy, CD sales have plunged more than 20 percent this year, far outweighing any gains made by digital sales at iTunes and similar services. Aram Sinnreich, a media industry consultant at Radar Research in Los Angeles, said the CD format, introduced in the United States 24 years ago, is in its death throes.

“Everyone in the industry thinks of this Christmas as the last big holiday season for CD sales,” Sinnreich said, “and then everything goes kaput.”

It’s been four years since the last big shuffle in ownership of the major record labels. But now, with the sales plunge dimming hopes for a recovery any time soon, there is a new game of corporate musical chairs afoot that could shake up the industry hierarchy.

I’ll pause here to note that one of the features of the Chronicle’s online edition is a little box called “Search Results”, where they have links to related stories in their archives. One such piece is headlined Tough tactics give music industry new sales hope, dated January 14, 2004. It’s about how the industry’s combination of suing downloaders and aggressively entering the online music sales world would finally reverse four years’ worth of declining sales. So much for that.

For the companies that choose to plow ahead, the question is how to weather the worsening storm. One answer: diversify into businesses that do not rely directly on CD sales or downloads. The biggest one is music publishing, which represents songwriters (who may or may not also be performers) and earns money when their songs are used in TV commercials, video games or other media. Universal Music Group, already the biggest label, became the world’s biggest music publisher on Friday after closing its purchase of BMG Music, publisher of songs by artists like Keane, for more than $2 billion.

Now both Universal and Warner Music Group are said to be kicking the tires of Sanctuary, an independent British music and artist management company whose roster includes Iron Maiden and Elton John. The owners of all four of the major record companies also recently have chewed over deals to diversify into merchandise sales, concert tickets, advertising and other fields that are not part of their traditional business.

Even as the industry tries to branch out, though, there is no promise of an answer to a potentially more profound predicament: a creative drought and a corresponding lack of artists who ignite consumers’ interest in buying music. Sales of rap, which had provided the industry with a lifeboat in recent years, fell far more than the overall market last year with a drop of almost 21 percent, according to Nielsen SoundScan. (And the marquee star 50 Cent just delayed his forthcoming album, Curtis.)

There’s a lot of good reasons why the music industry is in the tank, from their sue-the-customer approach to downloading to the stagnation of radio. But don’t overlook the abundance of crappy music as a factor. I realize I’m nobody’s target demographic, but I can count on one hand the number of major-label CDs that have come out in the last year or so that have made me think “I really ought to buy that”. I may not be representative of anything, but I bet I’m not the only person who feels this way.

One more thing, on a personal note:

More than half of all music acquired by fans last year came from unpaid sources, including Internet file sharing and CD burning, according to the market research company NPD Group. The “social” ripping and burning of CDs among friends — which takes place offline and almost entirely out of reach of industry policing efforts — accounted for 37 percent of all music consumption, more than file-sharing, NPD said.

So far, I have not ripped any CD that we don’t already own. I’ve only approached one person about it, and that’s my buddy Matt, who was my roommate for many years and whose CD collection I still think of as partly mine. I have this bizarre sense of guilt about borrowing other people’s CDs to rip, which I can’t quite explain. It’s not like I didn’t borrow friends’ albums and CDs back in the day to tape them. I’m sure I’ll get over this, but it’s still weird.

On the wrong TEAM

You may recall that some counties experienced problems with the statewide voting records system during early voting for the May 12 elections. As a result, some of them are now abandoning that system for one that is used by Harris and 27 other counties at their own expense instead.

Critics of the system, known as Texas Election Administration Management, or TEAM, say former Texas Secretary of State Geoffrey Connor made a mistake by accepting the higher of two final bids for an unproven system.

Connor says the critics are wrong. “I remain confident that we made the best decision we could at the time with the information that was available,” Connor said.

Enacted in response to allegations of fraud during the 2000 presidential election, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires that states have an interactive centralized list in which election workers can easily determine whether a person is eligible to vote and to prevent citizens from being registered in more than one location.

Two counties, Hidalgo and Tarrant, recently confirmed they were leaving TEAM to contract with VOTEC, the vendor that Connor rejected in a close contest. The defections raise the number of counties abandoning TEAM to five, and others are considering a similar move.

Connor chose a $13.9 million bid from IBM and Austin-based Hart InterCivic instead of a $13.1 million bid by Science Applications International Corp. and VOTEC.

Connor said the bids were not the only factors he took into consideration in the decision he made in 2004, nor was he obligated to go with the lowest bidder.

He said states across the nation were in the same predicament as Texas in being compelled to deal with technology that had not been tested to comply with a new federal law. Some states modified existing statewide systems while others built new ones.

“It wasn’t just about the money, it was about selecting the best product,” Connor said. “It was about technology, innovation and leadership.”

But Connor’s recollection of events puts him at odds with one of his strongest critics, Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt.

“If it’s his discretion, he made a poor choice,” Bettencourt said. Bettencourt blames Connor, saying he passed over the low bidder with a proven system already in use by Harris County for a proposal from a bidder lacking experience in voter registration systems.

I certainly don’t consider Paul Bettencourt to be an unbiased source, but as Harris has never experienced the kind of problems that other counties saw this month, he’s got the better of the argument. Databases can be tricky beasts, and especially for something like this it’s really important to get it right. I don’t see why TEAM can’t be made to work – it’s not like IBM is some fly-by-night outfit, after all – but someone needs to light a fire under the current Secretary of State to make it happen by next March.

UPDATE: More from Racy Mind.

Eight for ’08

With the 2007 Legislative session at a merciful end, it’s time to start thinking about what comes next. It’s clear that the 2008 election will go a long way towards determining who the Speaker is in 2009, and it’s equally clear that for best results, the Democrats have to win as many seats as they can. Better to have enough votes to name your own Speaker than to hope there’s a consensus among disgruntled Republicans for who should replace Tom Craddick.

So, with that in mind, here’s a list of eight incumbent Republicans that I’d like to see the Democrats target. Not all of these folks are in obviously swing districts, and this is by no means an exhaustive list – I’ll discuss some of the more clearcut targets in future segments – but if I had the power to pick and choose, and if I didn’t have to worry too much about resource allocation, this would be the starting point for my to-do items.

1. Dwayne Bohac, HD138, Harris County.

The author of the noxious voter ID bill HD218, Bohac is in a district that has a fast-growing Hispanic population, which he knows full well augurs poorly for his electoral future. With the coordinated, Dallas-like campaign for Harris County Democrats in 2008, Bohac presents an appealing target. Though ’06 opponent Mark McDavid ran on a shoestring, falling short of the countywide Democratic index in the process, Bohac spent much of his campaign warchest last year, and started out this year with very little in the bank, meaning that his next opponent won’t begin the race in a hole. A strong voter registration effort in this district would go a long way towards bridging the gap here. Note that the District Election Analysis provided on his State House page doesn’t list the top score attained by a Democrat there, which was Jim Sharp’s 46.3%. Seven other countywide Dems out of 18 scored at least 43%.

Prognosis: Winnable. On the short list of must-have seats if the Dems hope to achieve a majority in 2008.

2. Linda Harper-Brown, HD105, Dallas County.

One of the least liked members of the House, who earned several enemies after endorsing Leininger-backed primary challengers to folks like Charlie Geren in 2006. One of about a half dozen Republican House incumbents in Dallas County who was re-elected with less than 60% of the vote in 2006. One of Tom Craddick’s more vociferous defenders. Need I say more? If the blue tide that swamped Dallas County in 2006 leads to a stronger collection of State House challengers for unclaimed seats like this one, she could go down.

Prognosis: Winnable. Not quite on the short list of must-have seats if the Dems hope to achieve a majority in 2008, but close.

3. Will Hartnett, HD114, Dallas County.

Another diehard Craddickite, another Dallas rep with less than robust re-elect numbers in 2006. Unlike Harper-Brown, who ran about even with the countywide Republican index, Hartnett lagged his partymates; his 56.8% trails all other Republicans except open-seat judicial candidate Karen Willcutts, with the next worse score by an incumbent being 58.8%. While this makes his district tougher overall, the strong showing by 2006 opponent Philip Shinoda suggests there’s room to win by persuasion in addition to boosting turnout.

Prognosis: More of a longshot, though not out of the question. If Dems win this race in 2008, it’s been a very good year.

4. Charlie Howard, HD26, Fort Bend County.

I mostly include this to make my blogging colleague The Muse, who has the misfortune of living in Howard’s district, smile. This is a Republican district – Bill Moody’s 39.9% was the high water mark for Democrats – and while the Republicans there like Howard just fine, he’s not much of a heavy lifter in the Lege. His pet bill on “voluntary student expression of religious viewpoints in public schools” needed a last-minute rescue to get passed. Howard’s the kind of mostly undistinguished party-line guy who should be challenged as a matter of course. When the demographics of his district start to change, he’ll start to become vulnerable.

Prognosis: No real chance of winning, but a decent campaign here can help countywide candidates, and can lay groundwork for the future.

5. Sid Miller, HD59, Central Texas.

A swing seat candidate in an otherwise solid red district. What can you say about a guy who ran a full seventeen points (!) behind ticket leader Kay Bailey Hutchison? Even Don Willett, the weakest statewide Republican on the ballot, did five points better than Miller. I don’t know if Miller is that unloved by his constituents, or if ’06 challenger Ernie Casbeer ran that strong a campaign, but when you see a guy do this poorly for what should be a gimme seat, you have to take notice. I just hope the HDCC has done so.

Prognosis: This should be a no-hoper, but with the right candidate and enough funding to get a message out, who knows? Depending on how candidate recruitment goes, could be a nailbiter, or could be he runs unopposed. As long as it’s not the latter, keep an eye on this one.

6. Anna Mowery, HD97, Tarrant County

The first known-to-be-open seat of 2008, as Mowery announced her retirement shortly before sine die. Mowery was another underperformer relative to statewide Republicans, which may mean it’ll be harder to win her seat now that she won’t be on the ballot. But you can’t think that way, and if the Tarrant Dems are serious about challenging Kim Brimer, this seat shoots up the priority charts.

Prognosis: Winnable, albeit a bit of a reach. Not a must-have, but definitely a nice-to-have.

7. Wayne Smith, HD128, Harris County.

One of only four Harris County Republicans to go unopposed in 2006 (and the only one of those four to have a 2004 challenger), Smith is not in a particularly purple district. I’d rank him fifth or sixth in terms of vulnerability, definitely beneath Bohac, Jim Murphy, Robet Talton, and John Davis, perhaps also beneath Joe Crabb. I see this as a longer-term project, maybe two or three election cycles out. But with Nick Lampson running for re-election in CD22, and with a strong challenger already lined up for SD11, I cannot fathom leaving the House sponsor of SB1317 uncontested. Call it a personal privilege choice, if you’d like. All I know is I’ll be mad if Smith skates next year.

Prognosis: Like I said, more of a long-term project than realistically winnable. But you’ve got to start these projects sooner or later, and I can’t think of a better time than 2008 for this one.

8. Bill Zedler, HD96, Tarrant County.

A two-time bad-bill author from this session, thanks to HBs 159 (for which he also gets plagiarism points), and 180, which was a failed effort at more governmental meddling in marriage. Zedler squeaked by with 54.2% of the vote in 2006 – Bill Moody got 47.2%, and local judicial candidate Brenda Cornish got 46.0% – so on a partisan performance basis, this district is about as purple as you could want. As with Anna Mowery’s HD97, this district should be a key component to any effort to also knock off Kim Brimer.

Prognosis: Winnable. If it’s not on the must-have list for 2008, it’s the first one out on the bubble.

Who do you really want to see challenged next year? Leave a comment and let me know.

At long last, sine die

The legislative session is finally over. Before they adjourned, the House voted to finish up business left undone by the Sunday quorum busting, which meant the last day was a lot busier than usual. The good news is that this meant HB1919 got passed; the bad news is that SB11 also got passed. One bill that didn’t pass was SB482, which was supposed to provide some electric bill rate cuts, but it died on a point of order. Paul Burka thinks this might be a fulcrum for Governor Perry to call a special session. I can’t begin to tell you how much I hope he’s wrong about that.

So that’s all she wrote. Let the 2008 elections begin.

Barry vs the Hall


As Barry Bonds nears his record 756th home run, he’s stockpiling quite a collection of souvenirs — bats, balls, helmets and spikes, pieces of baseball history perfectly suited for the Hall of Fame.

Whether he’ll donate any of them to Cooperstown, however, is in doubt.

“I’m not worried about the Hall,” the San Francisco slugger said during a recent homer drought. “I take care of me.”

No wonder those at the museum are getting concerned, especially with Bonds only 10 homers shy of breaking Hank Aaron’s career mark.

“There’s uncertainty,” Hall vice president Jeff Idelson acknowledged.

Around 35,000 artifacts are shown and stored at the shrine, and about a dozen pertain to Bonds.

There is a bat from his rookie year and cleats from him becoming the first player in the 400-homer/400-steal club. Unsolicited, he sent the bat and ball from his 2,000th hit. A batting practice bat from the 2002 World Series was the last thing Bonds provided.

“Doesn’t everybody have the right to decide to do it or not do it?” he said last week.

The most prized items, the ones that fans would really want to see, are missing.

Nothing directly from Bonds to highlight his 500th home run. Ditto for homers 714 and 715, when he tied and passed Babe Ruth. Same for anything tied to him topping Mark McGwire’s single-season total of 70.

Hall president Dale Petroskey went to visit Bonds at spring training last year, and instead walked smack into his reality show. The Giants talked to Bonds this year, and hope he’ll be in a giving mood as the big moment comes and goes.

So far, Bonds has not indicated he intends to share any Aaron-related memorabilia.

Barry Bonds has the absolute right to do whatever the heck he wants to do with his memorabilia items. Donate them to the Hall of Fame, bury them in his backyard, go on a national fire sale tour with Pete Rose, it’s all his business. But what this is going to do is give more grist to the mill of those who will ridiculously claim that Bonds doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. That’s the last thing those jokers need, and my head hurts already just thinking about the column inches this story will generate. It’s like Barry Bonds is daring the establishment to disrespect him. Please, someone, get this man a publicist and spare us all the soap opera.

Another Corpus Christi WiFi update

Dwight pays another visit to Corpus Christi, and says their WiFi installation is much better than it was the last time he was there. Yes, EarthLink is their provider, so that’s very good to hear. Check it out.

New trash days coming for some

If you live in Houston, be prepared for a possible change in your garbage pickup schedule.

On July 2, the city’s trash trucks will begin navigating new routes, changing the regular garbage and yard-waste collection days for about one in six residences.

The city is planning an information campaign ahead of this new collection schedule, which affects about 67,000 homes. The campaign will include at least three direct-mail pieces, radio advertisements and neighborhood signs.

“We hope that most of our customers will get the message, but we know that a number of them won’t,” said Thomas “Buck” Buchanan, the city’s longtime solid waste director.

Buchanan is planning the change at the same time the city takes over 23 routes serving about 85,000 customers, mostly in northeast Houston, when a contract with private hauler Republic Waste Services ends this summer.

During this transition, and armed with new software, Buchanan decided to rethink what would be more than 100 trash routes citywide to boost his department’s efficiency and save money.


Buchanan hopes to reduce the number of routes to fewer than 90, saving money on drivers’ pay and truck expenses.

Buchanan said his team realized that it would be most efficient to change some collection days, when factoring in the service centers where trucks are stored and maintained.

The changes won’t affect heavy-trash collection and curbside recycling, or residents in apartments.


Two neighborhood activists said the service-day change shouldn’t be tumultuous.

“They just need to make sure people know,” said Richard Leal, vice president of the Rose Garden Civic Club, whose neighborhood’s pickup days will stay the same. “I don’t think the change of the date is going to be all that significant.”

Vicki Fiedler, president of the Park Civic Association, where residents will see a change, agreed.

“I can’t imagine that it’s going to be a big deal after a short period of time,” she said.

In addition to the letters and other efforts to get the word out, Buchanan also is budgeting some overtime for his drivers to pick up trash from residents who either don’t get the word or forget about the plan.

There will undoubtedly be a few bumps in the road early on, but I agree with Ms. Fiedler, once everyone who’s affected gets used to it, it should be no big deal. Unless you hear otherwise, assume you’re not affected, but pay attention to your mail to be certain.

Lampson not running for Senate

I had been aware for quite some time now that Rep. Nick Lampson was strongly considering a run for the Senate next year instead of a re-election bid in CD22, so this comes as a surprise to me.

Mustafa Tameez of Houston, a political consultant to Lampson, said this morning that Lampson, the Democrat who last year captured the U.S. House seat vacated by Tom DeLay of Sugar Land, intends to seek re-election instead–fully knowing that his district historically leans Republican.

A Senate bid is “not going to happen,” Tameez said. “It sounds goofy, but he feels like he made a commitment to the people of Congressional District 22.” Tameez said Lampson feels a Senate try would be “disingenuous.”

Tameez aired Lampson’s decision to stamp out speculation regarding a Senate bid. “We just want it to stop,” he said (unwittingly the desire of some observers of this legislative session).

To see what speculation, peek here and here. Lampson has also fielded criticism for possibly abandoning the district for the uncertainty of a Cornyn challenge.

Assuming Lampson’s decision holds, that leaves former State Comptroller John Sharp, state Rep. Rick Noriega of Houston and Mikal Watts, a San Antonio trial lawyer, as confirmed Democratic prospects to tackle Cornyn, who’ll be seeking his second six-year term. Their ambitions could shake out soon.

Lampson’s constituents, as well as one of the critics of his purported Senate bid are happy at the news. As, I must say, am I. I like Nick Lampson a lot, and I’d have been happy to support him for Senate if he were the Democratic candidate. But he was not my first choice for that candidacy – Rick Noriega is. Having Lampson run for Senate would have meant punting CD22, and might have meant the best candidate to take on John Cornyn (in my opinion, of course) would not have been on the ballot. This represents the best of both worlds – Lampson running as an incumbent is the only Democrat who can hold CD22 – it won’t be easy by any stretch, but it is at least doable – and we can maybe get some new and exciting blood at the top of the ticket. All things considered, I couldn’t ask for more.

What passes for normal

Talk about your anti-climaxes…After the fireworks this week and especially last night, the House appears to be conducting its normal business today, what will hopefully be the last day they’re in session until 2009. Bills are moving, with the parks bill passing easily (that ought to make PM Bryant happy). Governor Perry has finally weighed in – sort of – on all the chaos. Still no indication as to whether or not he thinks there needs to be legislative overtime. As Ryan Rusek points out, Perry has some political calculations to make, too.

Meanwhile, the “Democrats for Real Reform” are tooting their horn about things that did get accomplished this session. Vince takes a closer look at their claims and finds them wanting.

Finally, for future reference, click More for a list of things said recently about Tom Craddick by his fellow Republicans. Enjoy.


Quorum busted after budget vote

If passing the budget wasn’t the big news yesterday, then this would have to be it.

Tempers finally spilled over on the House floor this morning with two lawmakers shoving each other and members walking out of the chamber after Rep. Pat Haggerty began taking a roll call on who supported Speaker Tom Craddick and who wanted to remove him from office.

The House had to adjourn when the walkout left the chamber without a quorum.

“Tonight was the only way that people could express their vote of no confidence in the speaker,” Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said. “The way this session has been run by the speaker has been an example of someone using absolute power to corrupt the democratic process.”

The House had approved a new state budget before the disruption, but the walkout jeopardized several other major bills, including a new water plan, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice sunset bill and a bill involving parks funding.


[Pat] Haggerty, an El Paso Republican, began taking a roll call during a personal privilege speech, which triggered an all-out rebellion.

Turner, D-Houston, a Craddick ally, told Haggerty he had to stop his roll call, which showed more members favoring Craddick’s ouster.

“It’s the only way to send a message,” Haggerty said.

He also blasted Craddick’s new parliamentarians, whom the speaker brought in Friday night after his parliamentarian and her assistant quit.

Terry Keel and Ron Wilson, both former House members, are Craddick’s allies and issued rulings indicating that Craddick had absolute power not to recognize members for a motion to remove him. Both Keel and Wilson lost elections.

“Where did they go to parliamentarian school that somehow makes them better than God?” Haggerty asked.

That’s my new favorite quote from the entire session. My sincere thanks to you, Rep. Haggerty, for providing it.

Among the many notable things about last night’s action is the increasing number of onetime Craddick supporters who are now speaking against him. El Paso Democrat Norma Chavez, who was quoted in that E-N story. Round Rock Republican Mike Krusee:

“This interpretation of our rules has erected a wall between the leadership and the membership,” said House Transportation Committee Chairman Mike Krusee of Round Rock, one of several House chairmen who began the session supporting Mr. Craddick and ended it vowing to replace him. “Mr. Speaker, we must tear it down.”

But earlier, Mr. Krusee acknowledged that Mr. Craddick held all the cards.

“When the speaker rules that he can overrule all the House rules, where do you go?” he said. “You have nowhere to go.”


“This will be dealt with in the rules next session,” said House Financial Institution Chairman Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, who carried the House rules through its ratification in January and said it was “never the intent of the rules” to give the speaker absolute authority. “Whether I do it again, or someone else does. But it will be dealt with.”

Solomons has spoken before about the way the rules he helped implement have been interpreted. One person to watch for is Warren Chisum, who was one of Craddick’s most powerful allies this session, and who’s known to be very respectful of the House as an institution. I suspect Chisum doesn’t much care for putting one person above the House as a whole. Should he come out and say so publicly, I’d consider that a death blow to Craddick.

Craddick’s supporters claim that since there were 94 legislators left on the floor after the walkout, that means he’s in even stronger shape than he was at the start of the session. Karen Brooks has a response to that:

[B]y my count, there are about a dozen who were voted in that 94 but may not have voted against a motion to vacate.

I’m not making assumptions about anyone, I’m being very conservative, so I’m going to give you the most obvious among those: Jose Menendez, D-SA; Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston; TODD SMITH (a leader in the insurgency); Chente Quintanilla was in the bathroom and didn’t walk out OR vote (though someone voted him.)

In short, however, this number is no more meaningful than the 87 who voted to overrule the chair a few weeks ago. The insurgents didn’t have 87 votes then, and Craddick doesn’t have 94 now.

What I’ve noticed is that there are no new voices speaking out for Craddick. Maybe they’re just keeping their mouths shut, but there’s a lot of new antis making themselves known. Make of that what you will.

BOR followed all the action last night for the insomnia crowd. Looks like several major bills, including the zombie version of HB13 are likely dead (again, in some cases), which makes the Observer wonder about a special. We’ll know when Governor Perry finally breaks his silence on all this. Stay tuned, the House convenes one last time for this session today at 2.

Budget passes

What can you say when the budget gets passed and that’s nowhere near the biggest news of the day?

The Texas Legislature approved the $152.5 billion state budget after midnight, with supporters defending it as fiscally responsible and critics calling it a pork-bloated plan embroiled in speaker’s race politics.

Just one day before the Legislature must adjourn today, the House voted 114-35 and the Senate voted 25-5 for the two-year spending plan, which covers everything from public schools to prisons to health care for the poor. It now goes to Gov. Rick Perry for consideration.

“This is a responsible budget that will meet the needs of Texas,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, after leaders staved off potential filibusters that could have killed the measure.

In the House, Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, had a different view: “The time has come to say enough is enough. We have a duty to pass an honest, responsible budget, and, members, this budget is neither of those.”

The House vote for the bill was 114-35, despite efforts by opponents of House Speaker Tom Craddick to kill it.

Failure to pass a budget would mean a special session, which would give Craddick foes another chance to try to unseat him if they don’t do so by the time this session concludes.

There seems to be a lot of anti-Craddicks calling for a special session at this point. I’d rather there not be, since there’s a lot of bad legislation that would be resurrectable in a special. Far as I can tell, Governor Perry has not said anything about the possibility since his veto of HB1892 was not overridden. I’ve no idea what he thinks of all this yet, but at least he doesn’t have to call a special if he doesn’t want to.

Duck and cover, or head for the hills?

I have a feeling that this is a subject we’ll visit again and again in the coming years.

More than half of all evacuees from Hurricane Rita lived on ground high enough to avoid a surge of water from even the most powerful storms.

Some hurricane experts say most of these 1.5 million “shadow evacuees” must heed the mantra of emergency planners — run from water, hide from wind — if Houston’s next evacuation is to avoid the myriad problems of Rita’s exodus.

Marc Levitan, director of Louisiana State University’s Hurricane Center in Baton Rouge, La., and Walter Maestri, former director of emergency management for Jefferson Parish, La., both said the key is offering inland residents credible options for sheltering in place.

“There are two main strategies for reducing exposure to hurricane hazards: evacuation and sheltering,” Levitan said during a recent hurricane conference at Rice University. “Houston has embraced one, but it has, apparently, forgotten the other one.”

Added Maestri in an interview, “With evacuations we are facing an impossible task. It cannot be done. Getting everyone out safely and quickly is like asking how many people we can get to dance on the head of a pin.”

I don’t doubt that most of Houston has little to worry about from a storm-surge perspective, and that sheltering is the safe, rational, and cost-efficient solution for the vast majority of folks here. But speaking from my own personal experience, there are factors beyond flood waters that go into everyone’s own accounting of the risks. It’s wise for the city to preach and teach preparedness, and to have places for people who can’t shelter in their own residences to go. It’s foolish to think that everyone who “should” shelter in place by some rational calculation will do so. It’s foolish for the city to base its emergency plans on that as well. That’s all I’m saying. SciGuy has more.

North Line BRT groundbreaking in July

Lawsuit or not, at least one part of the Metro expansion plan is moving forward.

Metro officials Thursday told Greater Northside Management District executive director Rebecca Reyna and other members of the North Corridor Coalition that construction of the 5.4-mile North Bus Rapid Transit line could break ground in early July.

The project will go from the University of Houston-Downtown to Northline Mall. It will run along Fulton Street north of downtown through the Greater Northside district, which is bordered by West Little York, the Hardy Toll Road, Interstate 45 and downtown.

“How much notice will we get before you start construction?” Reyna asked members of the Metro project team. “We really want to work with the businesses and residents in our district.”

The North Corridor Coalition is a group of business and civic organizations along Interstate 45 that support the implementation of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s 2025 System Plan and a mass transit system from downtown to The Woodlands.

Pete Finn, Metro’s North transit line project director, said Metro’s project management company planned to roll out a comprehensive public outreach plan that includes community, town-hall and stakeholder meetings.

I wonder if the bogus attacks about the line’s route will come up again. The anti-Richmond lawsuit threw in stuff about BRT in its filing, even though plaintiff Daphne Scarbrough doesn’t live or work near any other line.

Speaking of the route, here’s a reminder of what it is:

Before the Metro board approved the route last fall, the alignment was switched from Irvington/Cavalcade to Fulton because that is what the community wanted, Finn said.

The North Bus Rapid Transit line starts at the Intermodal Terminal Facility on North Main near the University of Houston-Downtown.

Following North Main out of downtown, an aerial structure will extend about one-half mile to the first Northline station –Burnett Station — and then beyond to a point south of Hogan Street where the tracks return to ground level.

North of the second station — Quitman Station — the line turns east on Boundary Street and joins up with Fulton Street.

The line continues north on Fulton to Northline Mall, with stops at Catherine Station near the intersection of Fulton and Irvington; Cavalcade Station at Cavalcade and Fulton; Graceland Station at Fulton and Graceland; Melbourne Station north of the Fulton/Loop 610 intersection; and the Northline Station at Northline Mall, which is located near Fulton and Crosstimbers.

The Quitman Station will probably be the closest thing to my house. Too far to walk, but bicycling might be an option, if there isn’t a parking lot there.

Though most of the major construction would not start until after the design/construction contract is awarded in February 2008, Finn said the project would break ground in early July and some construction activities would start soon after.

“We plan to start in the vicinity of Northline Mall and go south,” Finn said.


Jack Drake, president of the Greater Greenspoint Management District and a North Corridor Coalition member, asked if Metro would consider converting the North line from a bus rapid transit system to a light rail system when ridership numbers climbed high enough.

Finn said that it would. In fact, he said, if the Washington Group found a way to build a light-rail line with money allocated in the initial project, they could forego the bus-rapid transit system. If not, tracks for the light-rail system would be constructed in the bus-rapid transit guideway.

“We were told that 2012 may be when we could jump on a vehicle at UH-Downtown and travel to Northline Mall for lunch,” Drake said. “Is that still the plan?”

Cyndi Robinson, Metro’s senior project manager for planning, engineering and construction, said the plan is to start construction next year and finish by 2012.

Can’t happen soon enough, I say.

Reports of HB13’s death were exaggerated

Cripes. Some bills just won’t stay dead.

Rep. Frank Corte, the House’s number one law-and-order-civil liberties-be-damned legislator is trying to ride to the rescue. According to sources on the conference committee, Corte is trying to shovel some of the worst provisions in HB 13 into his SB 11 (another awful homeland security bill). In particular, Corte wants to put the fusion center, a fancy name for a huge intelligence database that will house both private and public information on Texans, into the governor’s office.

The bad news is that Corte has gotten this past the committee conferees on SB11. The good news is that, as Grits notes, it’ll take a 2/3 majority to pass due to the route Corte took to get it this far. Surely fifty Nays is not too high a hurdle to kill it. Right? If all else fails, maybe the House just won’t have time to get to it. Keep your fingers crossed.

Talton the Torpedo strikes

Rep. Robert Talton, the biggest bill-killer this session, has apparently called a point of order on the budget bill, HB1. He was one of a few anti-Craddick Republicans to complain about pork in the budget, and it looks like he’s found a way to put his feelings into action (after being thwarted on the CHIP bill earlier). I’m told they’re conferring now, to try and figure out what to do with the wrench he’s just thrown into the works. Lord knows there’s been no rhyme or reason to point of order rulings, but who knows how this may play out. The Senate has delayed its action on the budget till tomorrow. A special session is hanging on this. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Craddick rules against Talton, then after muttering some dark imprecations Torpedo Bob makes a gentlemanly retreat. Special session averted for the time being.

Comments on Memorial Day

The following is from Rep. Rick Noriega:

Comments on Memorial Day

LTC Rick Noriega

May 27, 2007

Our great country is at war. This Memorial Day weekend, as we move from barbecue to pool, we need to take a moment and reflect on the true origin of this weekend holiday. We need to remember the sacrifice of those who have gone before, those who are serving now, and those who have lost more than most of us could ever imagine. Memorial Day has grown from various solemn remembrances of the sacrifices of our soldiers as far back as 1868 in Waterloo, NY, and was declared a federal holiday in 1971.

One of the things this holiday may represent is that people have died for our right to disagree. In the face of such service and sacrifice, using overheated, incendiary language normally used to typify armed conflict to describe divisions in the Texas House of Representatives is not helpful and possibly irresponsible. “Insurgents,” “rebels,” “storming,” “charged,” “anarchy” are not appropriate terms to describe the occurrences in the Texas House this weekend. It is dramatic to use such over-the-top expressions, but it is not accurate or appropriate.

Genuine differences in opinion, concern about appropriate use of Texas House rules to stifle debate and disagreement, fundamental discussions of the use of this great state’s resources to meet the needs of its citizens–all are in play at the Texas Capitol this holiday. In the face of such drama, it is tempting to go over the top to try and convey the intensity of the discussion and the strong differences in opinion of the members of the Texas House. For the sake of accurate reporting and the gravity of the discussion, it might be more responsible to take the language down a little and leave the war analogies to CNN and Fox News.

Democracy is messy. Democracy at its best is not everyone agreeing, of not knowing the answer to every question. Democracy is hashing out all the sides and listening to all the voices, and bringing forth the common ground for the common good. We would challenge you to not silence the voices of discontent, but instead embrace the fundamental tenet of democracy, that of listening to a different view.

We are at a critical time in our history and in the Texas House of Representatives, and there is fundamental bipartisan disagreement in the Texas House about our future, its leadership and the rule of law.

As our men and women overseas defend our freedom to argue and discuss and compromise and disagree, please honor their service by a responsible use of language. And please understand that our duty and responsibility for the common good, for democracy, suggests that the current bipartisan effort in the Texas House must have its voice heard. God bless Texas.

I see that Burka is still using the language of “insurgents” and whatnot, but he’s got a pretty clear-eyed view of te situation (see here and here for more), so I’ll let it slide this time.

Elsewhere, Vince is liveblogging, BOR is keeping track of the Craddick Ds, and the Texas Democratic Party is calling on people to sign their petition to “encourage Speaker Tom Craddick to respect the will of the people as represented by our elected Representatives and ask that he either resign immediately or allow the Texas House to vote on a motion to vacate the Chair”. Stay tuned.

Oh, yeah, the budget, too

We may finally get to some budget debate today, too. If you want to know where things stand, the CPPP, in particular Scott McCown, says:

“While the budget will spend almost 95% of General Revenue on education, health care, and corrections, too much has been set aside for tax cuts that mostly benefit upper-income families. As a result, many important needs will go unmet, while our tax system grows more unfair. The budget will keep Texas at the bottom in what we invest in our children and how we care for our most vulnerable.” Here CPPP has prepared county-level information to illustrate the current and potential impact of state government spending in local communities. More detailed analyses of program-level impacts will be made available as soon as possible.

There’s multiple links there with detailed analyses for those who want to know. Check it out.

CHIP deal reached

With all the craziness in the House yesterday, the news that a CHIP deal was reached by Senate and House conferees got overlooked. Which is too bad, because it looks like it’s a pretty good deal.

Under the agreed-to plan, which still needs a final OK from the full House and Senate, the CHIP families with the highest incomes would have their eligibility checked after six months in the program. A family of four can earn up to $41,000 and still be eligible for CHIP.

The families of about 9 percent of CHIP children — some 29,000 children — would be affected. That’s a change from the 40 percent of families the Senate plan proposed to check. The House plan didn’t have the electronic checks.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has said that the electronic verifications would ensure that only eligible children are enrolled. Opponents to the checks, such as Turner, argued that it would be red tape for families.

The compromise plan would add 127,556 children to the program by easing enrollment restrictions put in place in 2003. It would eliminate a 90-day waiting period for uninsured children to enroll and it would allow families to stay in the program for a full year instead of having to re-apply every six months.

More from the AP:

Sen. Kip Averitt said House and Senate negotiators have signed off on the deal and plan to seek each chamber’s approval on Sunday.

“I think it’s an excellent opportunity for the state to enroll a significant number of new children into the program,” said Averitt, R-Waco, who led the Senate’s negotiating team.


The compromise plan increases the income level where checks begin so that fewer families go through the process. State officials estimate that at least 27,000 more children would be covered under the compromise plan than in the Senate’s version.

House and Senate budget writers have already approved almost $90 million for CHIP, though neither chamber has adopted the spending plan yet.

One advocacy group hailed the compromise as an “important victory for Texas children.”

“Texas will be able to reduce its number of uninsured children, children will receive care in doctors offices instead of emergency rooms, and Texas will be able to maximize federal matching funds instead of sending our tax dollars to other states,” said Barbara Best, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas.

Hopefully, this final version of HB109 will get passed in both chambers so that even if there is a special session there won’t be any need to revisit this. They should be back in chamber now, so we’ll see.

What next in the House?

So we’re down to the wire for the Lege this session, with a lot of unfinished business to deal with amid all the Speaker strife. I know that Tom Craddick will be more powerful if he makes it through to sine die as Speaker, but there’s a part of me that would rather see his deposing put off till 2009 if the alternative is not passing the budget and going to a special session. While I don’t doubt that there are some budget items that need scrutiny, a special session means that all kinds of bad legislation that we thought were dead is back in play (at least one such bill has already been resurrected). Basically, a special session means the two nasty voter ID bills become law.

Given that choice, I’d rather go home and fight it out in the elections. I’d rather have the specter of Tom Craddick as Supreme Dictator For Life be the dominant image from this session rather than give his supporters the chance to claim that the opposing forces put the Speaker fight above House business, with the special session as proof. Especially since it’s looking like more Craddick supporters are reassessing their positions going forward.

“Obviously, he’s damaged goods after this deal, in terms of leading a bipartisan Legislature,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Warren Chisum said about 24 hours after the House had descended into chaos over Mr. Craddick’s use of the rules to quash any effort to unseat him.


“We have respected him as speaker up to a point, but there’s a lot of dissatisfaction in the House over the way it’s being run,” said House Financial Institutions Committee Chairman Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, who has staunchly supported Mr. Craddick’s speakership. “Three sessions [as speaker] is enough.”

Mr. Solomons, who carried the resolution writing the House rules in January, said he was stunned at the speaker’s interpretation of his own power.

“As the person who did the rules and served under a number of parliamentarians, I was unaware that there was that absolute power on the part of the speaker,” he said. “The speaker always had a lot of power, but not absolute power. That was not the intent of the rules. … No legislative body in the country provides absolute power to any one individual.”


Dallas GOP Rep. Dan Branch, a loyal Craddick ally since he entered the House in 2003, said that he was “reserving judgment” about 2009 until the House can make it to adjournment on Monday – and that he wants to focus on state business until then.

“After that,” he said, “I look forward to sitting down with the speaker and talking about his future and what’s best for the state.”

Asked whether he would support Mr. Craddick’s drive for another term as speaker, Mr. Chisum, R-Pampa, said he’s still waiting to see if he’ll run.

“He’s going to have to do a lot of soul-searching before the rest of us can decide what to do,” he said.

I don’t know what will happen today, and to some extent you have to take remarks like these with a grain of salt. And of course with various filibuster threats on the budget, there may not be a choice in the special session matter. All I’m saying is that I hope we’re all on the same page strategy-wise.

I was going to do a roundup of news coverage of yesterday’s action, but South Texas Chisme saved me the trouble. As always stay tuned.

Strip clubs get an stay of execution

The Astrodome may have lost its reprieve, but it appears that the local strip clubs have gained one for themselves, at least for now.

On Friday, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans issued a stay of enforcement pending the outcome of an “expedited” appeal to be argued as soon as August.

The stay prevents the city from arresting employees and owners at the Colorado Bar & Grill and The Men’s Club, and possibly five other large businesses that have joined in the appeal: Ritz Cabaret, Treasures, Trophy Club, Gold Cup and Centerfolds.

“We’re quite excited, and very, very pleased for the clients and the citizens of Houston,” said John Weston, a Los Angeles-based lawyer representing Colorado Bar & Grill and The Men’s Club.


It was unclear Friday how many other businesses would be protected from enforcement by the stay. The court’s order lists several other topless clubs and bookstores. Some businesses’ names and owners have changed since the case was filed a decade ago, so a precise number couldn’t be determined late Friday.

Don Cheatham, a senior assistant city attorney monitoring progress in the case, received word from the appellate court by phone late Friday. He said he wasn’t yet sure how the ruling would affect the city’s plans.

“We don’t know how broad it is or what it covers,” he said of the ruling, which he hadn’t yet read.

Houston police Capt. Steve Jett, who commands the vice unit investigating the businesses, said he was surprised by the decision and would have to discuss it with city attorneys before proceeding.


To get Friday’s stay from the 5th Circuit, the clubs’ lawyers had to show there were substantial legal questions remaining in their appeal, and that they would suffer more if the enforcement continued than the city if it were halted pending resolution of the case.

The ruling offered a glimmer of hope to at least some businesses, who had been preparing to close, move or change their operations to comply with the ordinance.


Their appeal argues against the distance provision in the ordinance, saying the city can’t justify that the businesses have negative “secondary effects” at their current locations.

“There was no constitutional justification for expanding the distances such that it had a retroactive impact upon the previously licensed businesses,” said Weston, who has argued seven cases before the U.S. Supreme court.

Among many issues raised in the appeal, they also argue that there aren’t enough alternative sites for them to legally operate, and that the judge erred by examining the availability of those locations based on decade-old, not current, conditions in Houston.

I keep coming back to the distance provision. It doesn’t seem right to me that a business that has operated legally for a decade or more under one requirement can suddenly be declared illegal. And I’m also not sure what the public interest is in keeping something a certain distance away from a church. Residences and schools, sure, but churches? I don’t understand. Looks like getting this injunction was a nontrivial thing, so maybe there is still hope for the clubs. We’ll see.

Not so fast on that Astrodome reprieve

Miya Shay reports that the effort by Sen. Kyle Janek to make the Astrodome redevelopment project eligible for certain tax rebates may not make it through after all. With all that’s happening in the House, if this wasn’t a sure thing before, I wouldn’t think much of its chances now. But we’ll see. FYI, this is a video report, and you have to sit through a 20-second commercial first.