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May 29th, 2007:

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

Sigh.

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.