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May 28th, 2007:

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.

(more…)

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.