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May 15th, 2007:

Craddick: Bring it on

Keffer may be in, but Tom Craddick isn’t going away. And he has lots of money. The question is whether Keffer will strike before the end of the session or not. It makes sense that he will, but predicting the future is even more of a mug’s game than usual these days.

By the way, the Texas Alliance for Life has sent out that pro-Craddick email again, after Keffer had officially filed his papers. Anyone want to say whether that changes things from a legality viewpoint?

Dewhurst: Sleazier and sleazier

Honestly, I don’t know what else there is to say about David Dewhurst’s actions today.

Carlos Uresti came down with a serious bout of the flu Monday, and left the Capitol after fellow senators noted how bad he looked shivering in the Senate lounge. In particular, Dr. Kyle Janek advised him to get to bed, amidst joking from others present: “What do you think is going to happen? That we’ll call up the Voter ID bill?”

It now appears that Uresti’s illness may have prompted David Dewhurst to recognize Troy Fraser on the controversial bill, which set in motion an emotional outburst midday Tuesday over Dewhurst’s refusal to count John Whitmire’s vote.

This again is why I’m skeptical that in a similar situation between now and sine die, any Republican Senator will let his or her professed distaste with Dewhurst’s actions be a brake on a future attempt to do an end-around with HB218. I hope I’m wrong, but I wouldn’t put any faith in it. BOR has more.

Mayor disputes pension story

Mayor White has a letter to the editor that strongly disputes the nature of yesterday’s pension fund story. I’m reprinting it here for future reference:

The Chronicle’s May 14 Page One headline that said that the city of Houston “can’t keep its promise to the pension fund” was simply untrue. This administration has increased the city’s contribution to the Municipal Pension Fund and made it more secure by reducing unfunded liabilities by about $1 billion.

Neither I nor anyone in my administration has ever stated that the city would pay the “statutory rate” for contributions to the Municipal Pension Fund.

In 2004, we defined annual contributions for three years and agreed to negotiate with the Municipal Pension System concerning our contribution thereafter. No other promise was made, and for years I have told all who would listen that the statutory rate is unrealistic.

The article’s subheadline also was wrong in stating that I am citing “strained resources” as a reason for letting workers “contribute less, get fewer benefits.”

To give our work force more options, our chief pension executive has proposed to allow workers to contribute more or less, and obtain more or less pension, depending on their personal choices about retirement planning.

In March, our finance director stated that we would budget the same percentage of payroll as we did last year — this is not breaking news.

We have budgeted to pay 15.8 percent of municipal payroll into the pension fund, a higher contribution than the 14.5 percent rate which was the basis for enhanced pension benefits in 2001.

The Municipal Pension Board has the obligation to bring benefits in line with the costs, which they advertised in 2001.

I assure municipal employees that our city’s contribution to the pension fund, including both cash contributions and the transfer of the Convention Center hotel, has increased pension security. We avoided massive layoffs or pay cuts to pay for the Pension Board’s 2001 mistake or outright fraud. We are fully and deeply committed to the security of the pension system.

We have not broken any promise. We look forward to working with the municipal pension board to keep the city’s contribution affordable and sustainable to make municipal pensions more secure and to give employees more options.

-BILL WHITE
mayor, Houston

To which Matt Stiles responds:

First, I stand by the reporting in the story, and the mayor agrees with me on that. He might have a beef with the headlines, which I didn’t write.

It’s also true that the mayor and the fund worked together to reduce the unfunded liability. But it’s been creeping back up, in part because the city, by agreement, hasn’t paid the full contribution in recent years.

Paying the “statutory rate” might be unrealistic, but it’s the law, at least according to the pension fund.

Finally, the city’s position has been clear for weeks. But it’s “breaking news” now because the budget is set for release. We hadn’t reported it before because there are plenty of other stories breaking at City Hall, and I wanted to see what the negotiations would bring. As I’ve said, there haven’t been any negotiations. That’s newsworthy.

There’ll be more from the pension director tomorrow. I want to see what’s actually in the budget, because that’s where the he-said/she-said will end and the real business will begin.

By any means necessary for Dewhurst

The more I see and hear about Lt. Gov. Dewhurst’s attempt to ram through HB218 today, the more appallingly sleazy it becomes. Patricia Kilday Hart fills in more of the gruesome details.

Today, Dewhurst recognized Fraser at a point in the session when most members thought the ceremonial resolutions were still proceeding. Indeed, many members had not yet made it to the floor: some, like Van de Putte and Kirk Watson, had checked in with Senate Secretary Patsy Spaw and ventured to the House to lobby their own bills. Van de Putte got an urgent cell phone call when Fraser was recognized; she shouted to Watson that they needed to get back to vote ASAP. Watson sprinted through the Rotunda and Van de Putte followed (as best she could, in high heels).

When Spaw began taking the vote, Whitmire held up two fingers indicating he was voting no, and thinking he would have to filibuster, took a quick bathroom break. Unbeknownst to him, Spaw had not seen his vote. Royce West saw that Whitmire’s vote had not been recorded and informed him. He asked Dewhurst to show him voting no, and Dewhurst rejected his request. Then all hell broke loose.

“I just started hollering, ‘you are not going to keep me from voting on this bill,'” Whitmire acknowledged. Calm down, Senator Whitmire, Dewhurst responded. Returning to his desk, Whitmire, slammed his hand on his desk. Again, Dewhurst scolded: Senator Whitmire, calm down, or I will have you removed from the floor.

“I was on the floor and he tried to pull something that goes against everything we stand for around here,” Whitmire said.”We leave the floor all the time. You don’t try to catch people off the floor and not let them represent their districts.”

[…]

Eliot Shapleigh’s son graduates next Tuesday, and he asked Dewhurst after today’s imbroglio if Dewhurst would promise not to bring the bill up that day so that he could attend his son’s graduation. I can’t guarantee you that, Dewhurst reportedly told him. Democrats now are rounding up Republican allies to allow Shapleigh to attend his son’s graduation.

Wow. Sleazy, sleazy, sleazy. Forgive me for being cynical about Sen. Van de Putte’s assertion that even her Republican colleagues were shocked by this, or about the likelihood of finding a Republican ally to have Shapleigh’s back on Tuesday. This bill is as nakedly partisan as redistricting was in 2003, with the same effect. I hope there’s someone who’ll prefer winning by the rules to winning by any means necessary, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

And yes, this is all about David Dewhurst’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign. What else will Dewhurst do in pursuit of that goal? And what might the Democrats plus any Republican Senators who don’t support his candidacy do to throw sand in his gears? Just think, we’ve got a whole ‘nother session after this one to find out.

Keffer files for Speaker

No maybes about it, we have ourselves an official, unprecedented-for-this-time-of-year Speaker’s race. Via Quorum Report, here’s Jim Keffer’s statement:

“State Representative Jim Keffer (R-Eastland) announced today that he has filed his candidacy paperwork for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives for the 81st Regular Session which will begin in January, 2009.

“Keffer said he will formerly announce his candidacy for Speaker at the Texas House Republican Caucus meeting scheduled for early this afternoon.

“During the past few days, a majority of the members of the Texas House have agreed that we need a new Speaker and most have stated that they would prefer the selection of a new Speaker upon adjournment of the Regular Session rather than by placing a call on the Speaker during the session.”

“Keffer also challenged incumbent Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick to publicly join with him in committing to a three-term Speaker limit.

“In my opinion, Speaker Craddick needs to announce that he will not seek another term and let the members pursue a new Speaker’s race,” said Keffer. “However, if Craddick does pursue another term, I will aggressively challenge him and will welcome others to also enter the Speaker’s race.”

“Keffer also said he will pursue a House Resolution for a three-term limit for the Speaker’s office to ensure that the power of the Speaker’s office is used for the purpose of public service and nothing more.

“Craddick was first elected House Speaker in 2003 and is currently serving his third term that he narrowly won after a strong challenge by Plano Republican Brian McCall and Waxahachie Republican Jim Pitts this past January.

“Since Craddick took over as Speaker, Republicans have lost 7 seats in the Texas House and several Democrats who have supported Craddick have been defeated in Democratic primaries. Craddick has also been the first Speaker in over 35 years to be over-ruled on a point of order by the Texas House membership which occurred in early May. Upon completion of the current term, Craddick will have served 40 years in the Texas House.

“I am committed to the three-term limit and if elected by my colleagues I am committed to being a Republican House Speaker in a Republican majority who will honor the rules, respect each member’s district, and pass good public policy.”

As an aside, sources close to Keffer tell us that he has received calls from supporters in the district telling him that Craddick is attempting to recruit and fully fund a challenger for the next election.

QR notes in a subsequent item that Keffer filed today because “another House member had contacted Granbury mayor David Southern on behalf of Craddick in an effort to recruit him for a challenge. The member assured Southern that Craddick would fully fund the challenge to Keffer.” Southern then confirmed the story to Keffer, but said he wouldn’t run against him. What a tangled web, eh? Once again, stay tuned. And wonder how next week, the last week before sine die, could get any more action-packed.

Voter ID chaos in the Senate

How wrong I was to think that this week was going to be the calm before the storm.

Chaos broke out in the Texas Senate on Tuesday as Democrats blocked consideration of a voter identification bill after successfully arguing that the original vote wasn’t properly counted.

Under Senate rules, two-thirds of the chamber, or 21 senators, must agree to bring a bill up for debate. Democrats hold 11 seats, just enough to block a bill from being considered if they vote together.

Democratic senators revolted after the original 19-9 vote was revealed, loudly arguing that Sen. John Whitmire was on the floor but his no vote wasn’t counted.

“Right is right. Wrong is wrong. You tell the man I have a right to have my vote counted,” Whitmire growled before slamming his fist on the desk.

After a few minutes of tense debate, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst allowed a re-vote. By that time, a sick Democratic senator made it to the floor to cast his vote.

The final vote was 21-11.

I’m told that pretty much everything in the Capitol came to a halt as this was playing out. Apparently, Whitmire went completely ballistic, for which I’m very grateful. I had predicted that Dewhurst would wait till Gallegos was not in Austin, then try to bring up HB218. Seems he didn’t want to wait that long – I’m told Gallegos was there at the time. Oh, and that final vote should be 20-11, unless they’re counting Dewhurst, because the Senate only has 31 members.

I’m sure there will be plenty more on this soon. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: According to Eye on Williamson, the “sick Democratic Senator” was Carlos Uresti. What a sleazy maneuver by David Dewhurst.

UPDATE: The newspapers and their blogs are weighing in now. DMN:

Democrats were able to prevent consideration of the voter ID bill when Sen. Carlos Uresti of San Antonio — who had been absent with the flu — suddenly walked out on the Senate floor just as a vote was being taken on whether to debate the measure.

Mr. Uresti was summoned from his apartment near the Capitol, where he had been resting, by his Democratic colleagues, and he scrambled to the Senate chamber. As he walked to his desk, he held up two fingers to signify his “no” vote.

[…]

Mr. Uresti’s absence from the roll call Tuesday morning prompted Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, to quickly bring his voter ID bill up as the Senate started its agenda for the day.

Democrats immediately began looking for a way to halt the debate, but they lost an initial vote when Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, moved to cut off questions and begin polling members on the bill.

Mr. Dewhurst announced the vote as 19-9, enough to move forward on the legislation. That brought howls of protest from Democrats, including Sen. John Whitmire of Houston, who charged that his vote had not been counted.

“I have a right to have my vote counted,” Mr. Whitmire said in a booming voice intended to be heard by Mr. Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate. Mr. Whitmire, the longest-serving current senator, cursed as he walked around the chamber, and Democrats began demanding a verification vote.

Mr. Dewhurst then warned Mr. Whitmire that he was about to be removed from the Senate chamber.

“You’re going to compose yourself or you’re going to leave this floor,” Mr. Dewhurst announced from the Senate rostrum.

As Democrats prepared to use delaying tactics on the measure, Mr. Dewhurst said he would allow a second vote, insisting that it would make no difference in the final outcome. That was because one Republican’s vote also was not counted in the 19-9 tally on the initial vote.

So Fraser wins the Co-Sleaze prize. Here’s the Chron blog:

Republican Glen Hegar, R-Katy was absent during a roll-call vote needed to bring the bill up for debate. But Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst also counted Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston absent even though he had been on the floor mobilizing opposition to the bill.

Dewhurst announced that 19 senators voted for debate on the bill and 9 in opposition – which would have allowed the bill to proceed.

Whitmire was livid. He had momentarily visited the member’s lounge.

“I have the right to have my vote reflected,” an irritated Whitmire said, adding an expletive.
Dewhurst warned: “You are going to compose yourself, or you are going to leave the floor.”

After some tense moments, Dewhurst agreed to call the roll again, guaranteeing that the outcome would not change.

By then, Hegar appeared on the floor.

And then, less than 10 seconds before reaching Uresti’s name, the San Antonio freshman senator walked into the chamber – amid applause from several colleagues.

“He was in his office, throwing up all morning. He’s sick as a dog,” Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio said.

With Uresti’s presence counted, Dewhurst announced the 20-11 vote total.

And the bill could not be considered “at present,” he said.

Uresti immediately headed to the Senate lounge.

Better keep a cellphone close by, Carlos, just in case. Note that with Hegar’s absence, had Whitmire’s vote been properly counted, the whole thing would have ended right there, as the 19-10 margin would have been enough to keep the bill under wraps. But that would have been a lot less dramatic.

Finally, Postcards from the Lege:

Whitmire was not on the floor at the time Dewhurst asked for a roll call vote to suspend the rules to discuss the bill. Whitmire was in a back room and entered after the vote had been taken.

In spite of Dewhurst’s insistence that he called Whitmire’s name several times before slamming down the gavel on the roll call, Whitmire contended that he was on the floor all the while marshaling forces to defeat the bill.

The vote was 19-9, a two-thirds majority necessary to bring the bill to the floor.

“That’s dirty,” Van de Putte muttered in the direction of Dewhurst.

Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, the author of the bill agreed to another vote count, but only after Van de Putte rose to speak. When asked upon which reading she intended to speak, she said, “Whenever I can stop this bill, Mr. President.”

Her speech didn’t stop the bill. The recount did. As the names of the senators were read alphabetically, Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, made a dramatic entrance to cast a “no” vote. A few moments earlier, fellow Democrat Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, had asked that Uresti be given some consideration because he was sick and not in attendance.

As he strode toward his desk, fellow Democrats, who seemed genuinely surprised, applauded Uresti.

As do I. Thank you, Sen. Uresti.

The state of the Speaker’s race

So do we have a real anti-Speaker insurgency in the House or is it just noise? “Maybe,” says the Chron.

One anti-Craddick faction includes the dissident Democrats and Republicans in the House minority who tried unsuccessfully to unseat him in January and have been at odds with the speaker all session.

Now, there also is an emerging group of Craddick “loyalists,” including some committee chairmen, who want a change before the session ends May 28, said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, a longtime Craddick critic.

Still, Coleman said the odds of successfully unseating Craddick with a rare motion to vacate the chair were no better than “50-50.”

“There are more than 76 House members (a majority) who want a new speaker. There are not 76 votes for any one person (successor) at this point,” Coleman said.

But conservative grass-roots activists are concerned enough to contact Republican House members on the speaker’s behalf. And Craddick was meeting privately with some legislators to reaffirm his support.

“There is a strong effort on the part of Democrats to make this (leadership change) happen, and a strong effort on the part of some Republicans,” said Rep. Fred Hill, R-Richardson.

“Republicans have to decide whether they want to be a party to something that removes the first Republican speaker in (modern times), and that’s a big hurdle,” he added.

Hill, chairman of the House Local Government Ways and Means Committee, said he hasn’t decided what he will do if the potential challenge, which is creating a stir among House members, comes to a head.

Craddick, he added, has maintained most of the control of the House in his own hands but has given little clout to his chairmen, his “middle management” team.

“Maybe,” says the Morning News.

“The movement has attracted some people that would surprise you,” said Local Ways and Means Chairman Fred Hill, R-Richardson. “It surprised me.”

Asked whether it would happen Monday, another GOP leader said: “We don’t have our act together just yet. … There’s a lot to be worked out still.”

But to hear many House members tell it, it’s a matter of when, not if. That would be a surprising downfall for a man who has ruled the chamber with absolute authority since 2003, when he earned the job he toiled three decades in the House to get.

[…]

Mr. Craddick has a lot working in his favor. Timing, for one – lawmakers still have bills they want to get passed, and the legislative process could grind to a halt if the House descends into a leadership void. Plus, the speaker sits on a massive campaign war chest that he could use to reward supporters – or punish coup leaders.

But plenty of people say a showdown is coming.

“Someone’s going to make the motion, yes,” to unseat the speaker, said a GOP committee chairman standing strongly with Mr. Craddick. “What do the Democrats have to lose?”

Asked whether they would prevail, though, he paused – the strength of his conviction (or lack thereof) apparent in his choice of words: “If I were a betting man, I’d say – probably not.”

“Maybe not,” says Burka.

Yesterday was a bad day for the insurgency. It’s one thing to have a floor strategy of parliamentary maneuvers designed to loosen Tom Craddick’s hold on the speakership, and it’s quite another to pull together a disparite group of disgruntled members into a united front capable of bringing him down. No one appears to be capable of doing the latter. Consequently, the movement to oust Craddick from the chair has lost its focus. Instead of concentrating on how to achieve their objective, the plotters have fallen out among themselves over who should be the next speaker. Keffer, McCall, Pitts, and Talton all have their adherents and their critics. Geren says he’s out.

Burka goes on to criticize BOR for these two posts that call out Jim Keffer for being a Craddick in sheep’s clothing, and concludes:

The insurgents’s point of view ought to be, ANYBODY is an improvement over Craddick. Any other attitude guarantees failure. Worries about Keffer or anybody else are premature. Keffer is a Republican. It should not come as a shock that he votes like a Republican. The issue–about Keffer, about all the wannabes–ought not be how he votes, but whether he has enough of a following to defeat Tom Craddick. The right questions to ask about the speaker hopefuls are: Can he win? How he would run the House? Would he make fair committee appointments? Would he make fair parliamentary rulings?

While I agree with Burka that these are the right questions to ask, I don’t see why looking at Keffer’s (or anyone else’s) record is a bad way of trying to answer those questions. Nor do I see why it’s unreasonable to conclude that any one of the alternatives may not represent an improvement. It would be nice if everyone agreed on these things, and for sure any arguing among the rebels weakens their cause, but let’s not lose sight of what we’re fighting for.

And speaking of cameras

Well, if you don’t like red light cameras, you certainly won’t like downtown surveillance cameras.

[The Houston Police Department] is pushing ahead with plans to install more than a dozen closed-circuit video cameras downtown and across Houston, hoping the devices can deter crime and illegal dumping.

Downtown, four cameras could be in place in a matter of weeks. They would monitor street-level activity in the blocks of Main just south of Buffalo Bayou, where there’s a high concentration of nightclubs and restaurants.

“What I’m hoping is to have some behavior modifications, in terms of giving the public an expectation that the police are there, or at least watching to some extent the activity in these public venues,” said Executive Assistant Chief Martha Montalvo.

The department hopes the cameras, which will be identified with signs so people know they’re under surveillance, will help them monitor late-night activity on weekends around Main Street’s bars and restaurants. The idea is that the cameras would deter some crime, and allow for quicker response to incidents that do occur.

Additionally, the department plans to install and maintain as many as 13 cameras in secret locations across the city to deter illegal dumping in empty lots. That program, too, could expand, the department’s chief financial officer, Joseph Fenninger, recently told City Council staffers.

Let’s draw a distinction here between Main Street cameras and empty lot cameras, whose purpose is to catch those that dump trash. I at least am a lot more comfortable with the latter than I am with the former, as long as its focus is tightly defined.

The idea of using cameras for crime enforcement isn’t new. Police in Baltimore and Chicago, for example, deploy them across their cities, sometimes with flashing lights affixed as a warning. Officials in both cities say they’ve seen crime reductions as a result.

In Houston, the idea has sparked some controversy, first with the red-light cameras, later with Chief Harold Hurtt’s plan to use cameras to watch for downtown crime.

When Hurtt pitched the idea for public surveillance cameras in February 2006, he said, “If you’re not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about it?”

That’s not the point, said Melissa Ngo, with the Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center.

“I am a law-abiding citizen, yet I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea of being watched at all times,” she said. “And not just being watched, being recorded for later viewing.”

Some civil liberties advocates argue that arrays of cameras not only raise concerns about unwarranted government monitoring of the law-abiding public, but do little to reduce crime.

A camera by itself won’t detect a crime that is occurring. They have to be monitored, said Randall Kallinen, a past president of Houston’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Unless you’re watching really closely, it may be difficult to pick up on a crime,” Kallinen said. “People watching the cameras grow bored really quickly.”

I’ve discussed these points before, and I remain skeptical. At least with a red light camera, you can make the claim that it’s only being used when a crime is actually occurring. I didn’t understand the justification for the downtown cameras last year when they were first proposed, and I don’t understand it now. I’d much rather see a commitment made to bring a greater police presence to downtown than to try this poor substitute.

Still more red light cameras

Matt Stiles has the latest batch of red light camera locations around town. I’m fascinated at how many of them overall so far have been at freeway intersections. I presume these are all TxDOT right-of-ways, which means that their revenues would be subject to the Carona bill. Regardless, what is it about these intersections that makes them so apparently prone to red light running? Leave your hypotheses in the comments. And if you haven’t already seen it, here’s Jim Thompson’s Google map of the red light locations (with an afterword here).

Prom night

I never went to a prom – it wasn’t that big a deal at Stuyvesant back when I attended – so perhaps I’m the wrong person to comment on this story, since my general reaction is “who really cares?” But as the father of two girls, I know this is looming in my future, so I’d better be prepared.

In the high school fairy tale, senior prom is the pinnacle of every student’s senior year. But that’s not the reality everywhere.

Prom attendance throughout the Houston area varies drastically from school to school. At some, a vast majority of seniors attended their final school dance. But at other campuses, including Davis, just north of downtown, and Westbury High School, in southwest Houston, more than one-third of soon-to-be graduates skipped the party.

The reasons vary. Students at some schools say the cost is a big deterrent — especially as prom has ballooned into an estimated $6.6 billion industry. Prom attendees now dish out about $1,200 for the evening’s expenses, said Christa Vagnozzi, editor of PromSpot.com, which offers teens hair and dress advice along with cost-saving tips for the big night.

[…]

In her area of town, Little thinks peer pressure drove up attendance for the Cinco Ranch prom. At that school, it’s a given that students will go to the dance, she said. How they arrive is what matters.

“There is a lot of competition: every group is trying to beat the other group,” she said.

The 18-year-old paid about $2,000 for her big night. That included her dress, getting her hair and nails done, going to the tanning booth, the limo, buying dinner, helping with rent at the Galveston beach house and, of course, the prom ticket, which at Cinco Ranch was only $30.

She said attending dances — homecomings and now prom — is just part of the culture at her school. At first, the cost rattled her parents. Once upon a time, after all, proms were held in high school gyms, not luxury hotels. But Little has worked hard to convince them how important this one dance can be to a teenage girl.

“My parents pretty much think it’s ridiculous,” she said. “They helped me out, but they think it’s ridiculous.”

Put me down for “ridiculous”. I refuse to get caught up, or to let my kids get caught up, in this kind of rat race. I cannot envision giving Olivia or Audrey two thousand dollars to spend on prom preparations. If they want that kind of experience, they’ll have to pay for a significant piece of it themselves. I’d be willing to do a one-for-one match, but to me, this is not an entitlement. If that makes me a hardass, at least I’ve got about fifteen years to work on the lecture that’ll have to go along with it. What do you think?

How about best five out of nine?

So one of the local referenda on last Saturday’s ballot was a smoking ban ordinance for Baytown. It passed, just as it had passed last November when it was voted on previously. That hasn’t stopped the opponents of said ban from vowing to try again, on the grounds that some day, sooner or later, the voters will see it their way.

Voters in Baytown on Saturday upheld a city ordinance that prohibits smoking in public places. More than 58 percent voted in favor of the comprehensive indoor-smoking restrictions. The measure was first approved by voters in November.

[…]

After Saturday’s election, James Haarmeyer, a spokesman for the Baytown Property Rights organization, said the smoking ordinance is not a done deal.

Haarmeyer expressed disappointment after the votes were counted and vowed to petition to bring the same issue back to the voters in November.

“The city’s charter does not restrict us from getting another vote and the city can’t amend the charter to prevent it until May of 2008, which would be after the November election,” he said.

Haarmeyer admits the fight has cost both sides thousands of dollars but strongly believes ordinances should not dictate smoking policy for business owners.

Members of the Baytown Citizens for Property Rights say their personal freedoms are being eroded because of the smoking restrictions. The group was seeking a repeal of the city’s current smoking ordinance and to revert to its original ordinance that permits smoking in bars and public places that have designated smoking areas with separate ventilation systems.

Bruce Kennedy, a doctor and spokesman for Baytown’s smoke-free coalition, said the majority of the city’s voters have now “spoken twice” in support of a ban on smoking in public places.

The stricter smoking measure, which took effect Dec. 1, passed in November with 57 percent voter approval.

Anybody else get the impression that Mr. Haarmeyer needs to learn how to take “No!” for an answer? I at least can’t see why he thinks the next vote will be different.