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January, 2008:

Medina’s messy finances

The Chron has a long and thorough story on the financial woes of Supreme Court Justice David Medina, who may or may not face arson-related charges from the Harris County DA’s office some day. It bolsters the existing yet entirely circumstantial case that Medina and/or his wife may have caused the fire that destroyed their house, but it leaves a big question that so far has not been explored, and raises another question that perhaps should be explored in more depth.

On the first item:

Long before his home burned, Medina had used it as a source of ready cash. Assisted by a mortgage company whose name became synonymous with the excesses of the subprime lending frenzy, he took advantage of a rising market to draw every dollar of available equity from his house, even though the result was increasing monthly payments that may have played a role in a 2006 attempt to foreclose on the property.

Over a five-year period, Medina and his wife, Francisca, took out three high-interest, adjustable rate home equity loans amounting to most, if not all, of the entire official appraised value of the property. The loans were made through Ameriquest Mortgage Company, a controversial lender, now defunct, that was the target of lawsuits and attorney general probes alleging unscrupulous or predatory lending practices.


Medina’s final loan translated into a monthly payment of $2,525, which was scheduled to begin adjusting upward in December 2005. He began to fall behind on payments in early 2006. The company that serviced the loan, WM Specialty Mortgage, did not receive a payment after February, according to the foreclosure lawsuit it filed in July of that year.

Medina, who earns $150,000 as a Supreme Court Justice, later blamed the missed payments on a “miscommunication” with his bank. He brought the home out of foreclosure in December 2006.

Twenty-five hundred bucks a month is a pretty hefty house payment, especially for something that was not that extravagantly priced when it was purchased back in 1993. I don’t know if Francesca Medina is employed or not, but that mortgage payment by itself represents 20% of Medina’s gross salary. I can tell you that that’s considerably bigger a share of gross salary than my house payment is of mine, and we’re a two-earner household. So the question this raises for me is what in the world did they need all those home equity loans for? Nobody borrows themselves into that kind of hole without some need for the extra cash. What were they doing with all that borrowed money? I have a feeling there’s another shoe to drop here.

Item two:

After refinancing for the last time — and struggling to meet the higher note — Medina began to look for other sources of money. He sold 110 acres of land in Gonzales County in 2004 and 2006. He reported selling both at a loss.

He also began to draw reimbursement from campaign funds for mileage driven between his Houston home and Austin. From 2005 through 2007, he collected almost $57,000. The Texas Ethics Commission has previously ruled that mileage reimbursement from campaign funds for commuting amounts to using that money for personal benefit, a violation of state law.

Yates has said that Medina received bad advice from an accountant indicating he could charge his campaign for commuting costs. He said the judge will repay the money he withdrew.

As Burka has pointed out, Medina’s excuse is pure hogwash; John Coby provides further evidence of that. But here’s the thing: How often do you have to drive between Austin and Spring over three years to rack up $57K in mileage? Compare Medina’s $57K to the considerably smaller amounts spent by Justices Hecht and Green over a period of time at least as long. Does Justice Medina have the receipts to back up his claims that all that money was spent on travel? Again, I think there’s more going on here than meets the eye. I just hope ADA Vic Wisner’s claim that the Medina case is still under active investigation is true, because I think there are a lot of questions to be answered.

Puente to step down

Retiring Craddick D Rep. Robert Puente is going to vacate his seat early.

State Rep. Robert Puente will leave office Friday, he said in a letter submitted this morning to Gov. Rick Perry.

Puente, dean of the Bexar County legislative delegation, said he’s urging the governor to call a special election to fill his District 119 seat in May.

In October, the San Antonio Democrat announced his decision to retire from the Legislature, saying he wouldn’t seek his ninth full term this year. That opened the way for Democrat Roland Gutierrez.

Gutierrez stepped down from the City Council in December to run for Puente’s seat. As it turned out, he was the only taker; no one else — Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or independent — filed to compete in Texas House District 119.

Puente said his decision to leave office early stemmed from talks with Gutierrez.

“He’s the heir apparent, he’s going to be the next state representative,” Puente said. “The more we talked about it, the more it became apparent that I should resign, let him take over early and hopefully get some seniority built up.”

Seems wasteful to hold a special election for a seat that isn’t contested in November, but the seniority rationale does make some sense. I doubt Governor Perry cares about giving someone like Roland Gutierrez a leg up, but I suppose you never know.

Is today the day Chuck testifies about the deleted emails?

Could be. In the meantime, before that happens, the guy who actually runs the DA’s email servers got himself grilled.

Gary Zallar answered technical questions from U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt for more than hour about the backup capabilities of the e-mail server in the district attorney’s office.

The hearing, in which plaintiff’s attorney Lloyd Kelley has asked Hoyt to hold Chuck Rosenthal in contempt, relates to a federal civil rights case lodged by two brothers against the Harris County Sheriffs Office.

Kelley and Rosenthal’s attorney, Ron Lewis, each had 45 minutes to question Zallar, who estimated that about 2,000 e-mails that Rosenthal deleted are unrecoverable.

Kelley’s 45 minutes were marked by yelling and furious scribbling on a large pad of paper on an easel in front of Zallar, to do the math on how many e-mails remain unaccounted for.

“Is that a lie, or is there some process in your office that you haven’t told us about?” Kelley shouted.

Lewis brought laughs from the gallery when he objected to Kelley, asking the judge to instruct Kelley to stop yelling his questions at Zallar.

Much more quietly, Lewis tried to nail down the differences between sent e-mails and received e-mails, Rosenthal’s public e-mail box and his internal e-mail box.

“It’s confusing, isn’t it?” Lewis asked.


I know what questions I’d have asked Mr. Zallar – questions about backup frequencies, deleted item retention, what the backup policies are for other server drives, where personal folders might be kept, and how long it is before backup tapes got reused, among others. I’d like to see the transcript when it’s available, to see what actually got asked and how it was answered.

Although Kelley has subpoenaed Rosenthal’s executive assistant Kerry Stevens; Republican district attorney candidate Kelly Siegler; her husband, Dr. Sam Siegler; his chief investigator, John Ray Harrison; his political consultant, Allen Blakemore; and prosecutor Mike Trent, the tenor of Hoyt’s order suggests that he only wants to hear from those with direct knowledge about the e-mail deletions. In scheduling the hearing, Hoyt told attorneys not to even file briefs.

Well, that certainly reduces the potential for fun. I’m still looking forward to hearing what Rosenthal has to say for himself. I’m expecting some kind of lame excuse, but I’m prepared to be surprised. It’s not like anything else about this saga has been predictable.

Elsewhere, KTRK did a story on the background of the case, which as we know started with a raid by the Sheriff’s department that led to the arrest of two bystanders who were taking pictures of it. The wrongful-arrest lawsuit that stemmed from that is what ultimately led to the discovery of the deleted and embarrassing emails.

This is all about Chuck Rosenthal. The thing is Rosenthal didn’t know about the raid beforehand six years ago, he certainly wasn’t there six years ago, in fact his name doesn’t even come up in this lawsuit. So then why is Chuck Rosenthal going to court facing jail time in the morning?

“I think something should happen to him,” said attorney Lloyd Kelley.

Lloyd Kelley is the Ibarra’s lawyer. Kelley wanted Rosenthal to investigate the way sheriff’s deputies behaved at the raid.

Kelley claims the DA’s didn’t conduct a proper investigation so he subpoenaed Rosenthal’s emails to see what the DA was saying about the case.

Under court order, Rosenthal turned over hundreds of messages, but deleted 2,500 more. That’s why Rosenthal has to face a federal judge.

“He destroyed evidence,” Kelley said. “You can’t do that in our system.”

There wasn’t anything in the recent emails about the Ibarras, but there sure was enough in there to cause Rosenthal a lot of trouble and help Lloyd Kelley’s friend Clarence Bradford who happens to be running for DA.

Something Lloyd Kelly quickly dismisses.

“You would have to give me power of clairvoyance to know what he had,” Kelley said. “I was looking for stuff about my case. What falls out is evidence of illegal activity, racism – sexism, all sorts of horrible stuff.”

“I’d hate to see a political hit job ruin a guy’s career, but Chuck Rosenthal has a lot to answer for here,” said attorney Mark Bennett.

Houston defense lawyer Mark Bennett is the president elect of the Harris County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

Bennett believes Kelley had political, as well as legal motives, for exposing Rosenthal’s email. In a federal contempt hearing, motive just doesn’t matter.

“I don’t know if he belongs there, but he’s there and when you’re in federal court and a federal judge tells you to do something, you do it,” he said. “If I had a client who did the same thing, I would remind the client it was an exceptionally stupid thing to do. The question is was it contempt of court and was it a criminal violation?”

We should know by the end of the day what Rosenthal had to say, and perhaps what will happen to him. Stay tuned.

Bidding for another Super Bowl

We’ve missed out the last two times we’ve tried, but Houston is once again bidding to host a Super Bowl.

The Texans hosted Super Bowl XXXVIII in February 2004. In the next three years, the Super Bowl will be held in Tampa (2009), Miami (2010) and Dallas (2011).

“When I received the bid specifications from the NFL, I circulated them to leaders in the community to get their response,” Texans owner Robert C. McNair said. “Their response was an overwhelming and totally-committed, ‘Yes, we want to bring the 2012 Super Bowl to Houston.’ With that, I said I would totally support our community’s efforts.”

Houston may have trouble winning the bid since Dallas will host the game at its new stadium in 2011. But Houston officials are hopeful they can lure the game to Texas two years in a row.

Houston also bid on the 2009 and 2010 Super Bowls. Tampa won the 2009 bid in May 2005. In October 2005, Miami won after Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga offered up yachts to each NFL owner at the last minute.

“I was feeling pretty good until Wayne Huizenga said everybody was going to get a yacht for a week,” McNair said after the voting in 2005. “And he guaranteed they’d all be over 100 feet long.

“I offered quail hunting, but that didn’t quite compete.”

Good to know the process is so objective, isn’t it? We’ll see what happens. I personally will be rooting for the delegation to succeed, but it’s not that big a deal one way or the other. What do you think?

Candidate Q&A: Steve Kirkland

Note: This entry is part of a series of written Q&As with judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. I am also doing recorded interviews with non-judicial candidates.

1. Who are you, and what are you running for?

I am Judge Steven Kirkland and I am a candidate for the 215th District Court.

I grew up in West Texas. I moved to Houston to attend Rice University where I graduated in 1982. While at school, I got involved in Houston politics and have been involved ever since. I worked my way through law school as a paralegal at Texaco and attended school at night. In 1990, I earned a position litigating environmental cases for the company. In 1998, I left Texaco and represented residents of East Houston and Harris County in their lawsuit against the ship channel industries to clean up our air. I have also worked with Avenue Community Development Corporation to develop affordable housing. In 2001, Mayor Brown appointed me to serve as Municipal Court Judge, which is what I do now.

You can learn more at

While I am legally single, my life partner and I just celebrated 21 years together.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 215th District court is a civil court hearing cases involving personal injury, property damages, contract disputes and other civil complaints.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The Judge on this bench is a republican appointed by W when he was still governor and while I don’t have any particular beef with him, I know plenty who do. I do have a problem with a Courthouse dominated by one party that hasn’t been challenged for a while. This lack of competition has created an atmosphere where the people get lost in the shuffle and justice falls short. Judges forget that they serve the people and rather than use their powers to make sure cases are heard, they use their powers to shut down the process. The most dramatic example of that is when the Court of Criminal Appeals closed its doors at five o’clock preventing the filing an expected application for stay of execution, but it happens in smaller ways on regular basis in all the courts.

As to why me for this bench, I answered the call of my party. In an effort to manage the chaos that was expected in the wake of the Democratic sweep in Dallas County, the Harris County Democratic Party put together a group of folks to screen candidates and recommend races to them. That group asked me to run in this race.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have six years judicial experience, seventeen years legal experience, both as plaintiff and defendant. I’ve seen the courtroom from all sides which gives me the unique perspective to be a balanced fair and excellent jurist at the start.

I also have twenty-seven years experience of activism and accomplishments in the community and the party, working on diversity of representation, affordable housing, historic preservation, homelessness and many other issues. This is a solid track record to show where my heart lies and how I will l serve you as a judge.

I have been recognized with the Government Friend of the Homeless Award by the Coalition for the Homeless for my work in creating Houston Homeless Recovery Court. This is a Court where folks who are working their way out of homelessness at a shelter or rehab program come to the Court to convert their outstanding warrants to community service orders. This allows them to continue their progress without being placed in jail to clear up the old warrants. While I will not be able to implement a homeless court as a Civil District Judge, I point out the award as an example of how I think and how I seek to make government and the Courts more accessible and meaningful to everyone.

5. Why is this race important?

Our Democratic Campaign for the Courthouse is critical to Justice in Harris County. The Courthouse has become an echo chamber with partisans trying to out do each other in appealing to the far right base of the Republican Party. It is time to restore balance, and Democrats need to turn out in great numbers to make that happen.

My candidacy itself is important to folks who value diversity as it will be the first opportunity to elect an openly gay man to a county-wide office in Harris County.

6. Why should people vote for you in the Democratic primary?

I have a passion for justice. This passion directs my politics, career and community choices and activities. All my life I have stood up for what is right and spoke out against and tried to change what is wrong.


Jim Wrotenbery, candidate for 125th District Court (Civil).

Diane Trautman, candidate for Harris County Tax Assessor.

Judge Susan Criss, candidate for the Texas Supreme Court, Position 8.

Joe Jaworski, candidate for State Senate, District 11.

Baltasar D. Cruz, candidate for Texas Supreme Court, Position 7.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, District 147.

Armando Walle, candidate for State Representative, District 140.

Carol Alvarado, candidate for State Representative, District 145.

Andres Pereira, candidate for 190th District Court (Civil).

Ron Reynolds, candidate for State Representative, District 27.

Sam Houston, candidate for the Texas Supreme Court, Position 7.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, District 148.

Fred Cook, candidate for 215th District Court (Civil).

Adrian Garcia, candidate for Harris County Sheriff.

Got something to say to me?

Now hear this: Christine has declared today to be an International Comment On Blogs Day. So, if you’ve always wanted to leave a comment here but never got around to it before, now’s your chance. Or if you are a regular or semi-regular commenter here, consider this an excuse to do your thing. Let’s call this an open thread, so comment away. Enjoy!

Alvarado scores endorsements

The following press release from State Rep. Ana Hernandez is significant for the candidacy of Carol Alvarado.

Former Houston City Council Member and candidate for State Representative in Texas House District 145, Carol Alvarado has received significant endorsements from progressive leaders of the Texas House of Representatives, including Representatives Ellen Cohen, Garnet Coleman, Jessica Farrar, Ana Hernandez, Borris Miles, Richard Raymond and Hubert Vo. Alvarado’s commitment to the Democratic Party and its principles has not gone unnoticed as these Democratic legislators have pledged their support to her candidacy. During her six years as a council member, Alvarado marched for immigrant rights, fought for tougher toxic emission standards and helped pass a city wide smoking ban. She has served her city council district well and is now ready to continue the fight at the Texas House of Representatives.

These Democratic State Representatives embody the spirit of the Democratic Party as they each have a proven record of fighting for the rights of their constituents and against the current Republican leadership in the Texas House of Representatives. They look forward to Alvarado joining them in the fight to regain the Texas House majority.

This should not just kill the idea that there’s any “squishiness” about Alvarado’s bona fides, it should drive a stake through its heart, cut its head off, and burn the carcass. With that crew standing behind her, there’s no reason for anyone to hesitate. I support Carol Alvarado (whom I interviewed here), and if you live in HD145, I hope you will as well.

Pettite and Clemens

This ought to provide some grist for a lot of mills.

A lawyer for Andy Pettitte’s former personal trainer said Tuesday he believes the pitcher will tell Congress he discussed human growth hormone with Roger Clemens between the 2001 and 2002 seasons.

The lawyer, Earl Ward, said Pettitte talked about HGH with trainer Brian McNamee following a conversation with Clemens, who has denied he used HGH or steroids. McNamee worked with both Clemens and Pettitte.

“We’re hopeful based on Andy’s reputation that he will corroborate Brian’s statements with regard to Roger,” Ward said in a telephone interview.

Pettitte’s meeting with a congressional committee investigating drug use in baseball was postponed until Monday. He originally was slated to appear for a deposition or transcribed interview today, but the date was changed Tuesday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.


Ward said the discussion he was referring to occurred at Clemens’ house.

“Based on what we know, there was a situation where Andy was speaking to Roger in Brian’s presence, then Andy came over to Brian and essentially said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me about this stuff?’ He referred to HGH,” Ward said. “Brian discouraged him, and then several months later, when he (Pettitte) got injured, he came back and asked Brian about it, and that’s when Brian injected him. We believe that based on the fact that Andy came to Brian and asked him about HGH, it was Roger who told Andy about HGH, and that’s why he asked Brian about it.”

Richard Emery, another lawyer for McNamee, said his client and Pettitte also discussed steroid use by Clemens.

“Pettitte is certainly going to tell the truth, and if he tells the truth, everything will be fine,” Emery said.

“There are a number of conversations where Pettitte and Brian talked about Clemens’ use. I think there is everything to believe Pettitte is not a liar.”

Jay Reisinger, Pettitte’s lawyer, would not discuss what Pettitte would say.

“He hasn’t testified yet, and I’m not going to comment on what he’s going to testify about,” Reisinger said.

Lanny Breuer, Clemens’ new lawyer, said the seven-time Cy Young Award winner stood by his denials.

“Roger Clemens’ remarkable success as a pitcher has everything to do with his extraordinary work ethic and his innate abilities, and nothing to do with HGH or steroids,” Breuer said in a statement. “Let me be clear: Roger Clemens never took HGH and he never took steroids.”

Andy Pettite’s admission that he did take HGH was a huge boost to the Mitchell Report’s credibility. Even though discussing HGH with McNamee and Clemens isn’t really evidence of anything, testimony from Pettite that such a thing happened will be seen as a blow to Clemens’ denials of HGH and steroid use. On the other hand, if Pettite corroborates Clemens in some way – like saying he believes Clemens, for instance – that would be a huge win for the Rocket. Needless to say, I think this is going to be the biggest day-after-the-Super-Bowl story out there.

In related news, you may have heard that Team Clemens has released a report that attempts to debunk claims that his late-career surge is evidence of steroid/HGH use. (*) While statheads are not terribly impressed by this effort, it could certainly fool some of the more gullible members of the sportswriting public. And I think the point that Joe Sheehan made that “Clemens’ career path isn’t normal, but the career paths of the greatest players ever aren’t normal” is one that should carry more weight than it does.

And finally, though it’s crappily formatted, Steroids, Other “Drugs”, and Baseball is challenging head on the notion that so-called PEDs have had any measurable effect on baseball players’ performance and statistics. Be prepared to be frustrated with the layout, but check it out anyway.

Farmers Branch asks judge to okay new ordinance

As we know, the city of Farmers Branch passed a new ordinance to restrict undocumented immigrants from renting apartments, with the burden of verifying the applicants’ status falling on the city. They did that in an effort to bypass the legal morass they had encountered with the first ordinance, which they are currently injuncted from enforcing pending the outcome of a lawsuit. They have now asked the judge to consider that new ordinance to see if it makes muster.

The ordinance, which the City Council adopted last week, would require all prospective tenants in the city to claim U.S. citizenship or legal immigration status when applying for an occupancy license. If a federal database check later showed any non-citizens were here illegally, they would lose their licenses and be subject to fines.

The judge, Sam Lindsay, is already considering an ordinance the city’s voters approved last May that bars landlords from renting apartments to illegal immigrants. That ordinance has been held up by legal challenges.

The new ordinance is different in that it applies to houses as well as apartments. It also shifts enforcement responsibility from landlords to government.

“We are committed to getting a final resolution of the legal challenges … in an orderly and timely manner,” said Michael Jung, an attorney for the city.

The Chron has a bit more on this. What’s fascinating to me is that Farmers Branch can’t say for certain that they’re approach of checking with the feds themselves is even doable:

While in Dallas on Monday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Emilio Gonzalez said Farmers Branch first must seek an agreement with his agency to access the database. Then the agency would then consider whether the use is lawful and appropriate.

Obviously, that could render the whole matter moot. I suspect that because of that, Judge Lindsay will not grant Farmers Branch’s request. But we’ll see.

Noriega’s South Texas tour

Just some links and video highlights from Rick Noriega‘s South Texas tour, which you can also follow here.

– From Valley stations KVEO and KGBT.

– From the Texas Politics blog, which also includes some video with Rick’s parents.

– And from Daily Kos, where Rick answered a bunch of questions in the comments.

Oh, and for those of you in San Antonio, there will be a grand opening of the campaign’s headquarters there tonight starting at 6 PM. The address is 7121 W. Hwy 90 @ S.W. Military, Suite 214, in the Gateway Plaza Shopping Center.

More Final Fours!

I wish these guys good luck in their quest.

A delegation from Houston left Tuesday night for Indianapolis with hopes of securing future NCAA men’s and women’s Final Four basketball championships.

Delegations from both Reliant Stadium and Toyota Center will meet with NCAA officials this morning to begin discussions for dates 2012 to 2016.

Reliant Stadium is attempting to lure another men’s Final Four date, while the Toyota Center is hoping to lock down a women’s Final Four during that four-year period.

Reliant Stadium already is set to host the men’s Final Four in 2011 and has a NCAA regional final coming in March.


Houston joins San Antonio and Dallas and seven other cities in bidding to host both men’s and women’s Final Fours.

Each city must submit a formal bid by the middle of June, and the host cities will be announced in August.

What, no mention of the economic impact of hosting these events? Where’s Jordy Tollett when you really need him?

Seriously, I hope the delegation is successful. If we manage to land a women’s Final Four, I want to take Olivia to it. She’d be at an age to really appreciate it by then. Audrey too, if it’s closer to 2016.

On a side note, does anyone have any clue how far along Metro rail construction will likely be by March of 2011? Obviously, the Main Street line is in place, but given how the 2004 Super Bowl was essentially its shakedown cruise (and how shaky it was), I’m hoping that the coming extensions are either fully finished and operational by then, or not close enough to done to try to squeeze their completion in before then. As long as we can avoid the first week, we-have-no-idea-what-we’re-doing impression that we gave back then, it’s fine by me.

Dome lease negotiated

Astrodome Redevelopment: Not dead yet.

A group of entrepreneurs missed a Tuesday deadline for reaching a deal to turn the Dome into a convention hotel, but have negotiated a proposed long-term lease for the aging sports venue.

Astrodome Redevelopment Co. and the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. will forward the lease proposal to the county attorney’s office for review Monday, County Attorney Mike Stafford said.

The sports corporation can ask the Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for input on the lease if the county attorney’s office finds that it does not violate their rights, Stafford said.

“In reading the draft, we didn’t see any problems,” he said.


A letter of intent signed by the sports corporation and the company spelled out that Astrodome Redevelopment had to work out deals with the Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo — Reliant Park’s main tenants — and secure financing.

The deadline for reaching those milestones expired Tuesday — in part because county officials had told Astrodome Redevelopment they needed more time to review financial and legal aspects of the deal.


Sports corporation vice chairman Charles “Sonny” Sowell said the group’s proposal is not dead. “We hope they tailor it in such a fashion that (Reliant Park’s) two main tenants will approve it,” he said.

Leroy Shafer, the rodeo’s chief operating officer, said the rodeo has been waiting for months for Astrodome Redevelopment to revise its proposal to make it more workable for the rodeo.

A consultant’s report on the viability of Astrodome Redevelopment’s proposal will be given to Commissioners Court Feb. 19, a county official said.

We’ll have to see what Bob McNair thinks about this, too. I’m looking forward to that consultant’s report. Stay tuned.

Candidate interview: Adrian Garcia

Note: This entry is part of a series of recorded interviews with non-judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. I am also doing written Q&As with judicial candidates.

I’ve been proud to be a constituent of Adrian Garcia since he was first elected to City Council in District H back in 2003. He’s been a dedicated and conscientious Council member, who has done a lot for the district, and it’s always been clear he has a bright future. I’m excited about his decision to run for Harris County Sheriff, not just because it’s so obvious that we need a change of direction in that office, but also because he’s just as obviously the right person to implement those changes. He has my support in the primary and beyond, and I hope he’ll have yours as well.

The interview is here, as always in MP3 format. I’m starting to get close to the end of this series, which I hope has been useful to you, though I’ve still got a few more interviews and Q&As lined up. I should have most of it done by the start of early voting on February 19.


Jim Wrotenbery, candidate for 125th District Court (Civil).

Diane Trautman, candidate for Harris County Tax Assessor.

Judge Susan Criss, candidate for the Texas Supreme Court, Position 8.

Joe Jaworski, candidate for State Senate, District 11.

Baltasar D. Cruz, candidate for Texas Supreme Court, Position 7.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, District 147.

Armando Walle, candidate for State Representative, District 140.

Carol Alvarado, candidate for State Representative, District 145.

Andres Pereira, candidate for 190th District Court (Civil).

Ron Reynolds, candidate for State Representative, District 27.

Sam Houston, candidate for the Texas Supreme Court, Position 7.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, District 148.

Fred Cook, candidate for 215th District Court (Civil).

A closer look at SD17

I see that Cory disagrees with my assertion that SD17 is “somewhat purple”, based on the spreadsheet I had linked to earlier. Fair enough. Here’s a more detailed look, which as you can see is still a bit of a work in progress. I’ll summarize the relevant data here:

GOP candidate Votes Pct ============================ Abbott 87,643 61.51 Hutchison 88,162 61.46 Dewhurst 85,510 60.54 Combs 85,388 60.42 Patterson 81,029 58.31 Staples 78,889 56.77 Ames Jones 78,321 56.61 Keller 79,830 56.43 Perry 58,089 55.43 Willett 74,538 53.95 Dem candidate Votes Pct ============================ Moody 63,630 46.05 Bell 46,669 44.57 Molina 61,641 43.57 Henry 60,041 43.39 Gilbert 60,077 43.23 Hathcox 57,932 41.69 Head 55,943 39.58 Alvarado 55,739 39.46 Radnofsky 55,305 38.54 Van Os 54,836 38.49

I threw in a Perry-versus-Bell comparison as well just for the heck of it. As you can see, across the board Dem performance was a point or so better in the district than statewide. To my mind, anyplace that Bill Moody can draw 46% of the vote is at least somewhat purple, so I’ll stand by my assessment. As I said before, it’ll take a chunk of money for any Dem to have a chance. But I do believe that chance exists, if the candidate and the funding exist. We’ll see how that goes. And as The Professors note, the Republicans may have to deal with a little internecine squabbling to keep their hold on this one. So who knows what might happen?

Finally, here’s a little update on who may or may not run from the Chron:

Former Harris County Republican Chairman Gary Polland, state Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, and state Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, have said they will consider a Senate race.

Sportscaster and former Houston Oilers football player Spencer Tillman of Sugar Land, who also had been weighing a race, is out of the running because he doesn’t live in the district.

Janek said he had talked with Tillman about running but failed to double check his residence.

“I’m not trying to engineer it (the election date),” he said.

The district has a Republican edge, but Hochberg said it has been “trending less Republican, more Democratic” in recent years.

In a special election, Republicans and Democrats run on the same ballot. If the special election were held on Nov. 4, however, House nominees would have to choose between running for re-election or for the Senate.

Hochberg is unopposed in the Democratic primary and will face a Libertarian opponent in November. Howard has two opponents in the GOP primary.

As we know from the Vilma Luna situation, should either Hochberg or Howard (assuming he wins his primary) resign to run for Senate, both Rs and Ds would get to nominate candidates to run to replace them. That would benefit Rs more than Ds, as Hochberg’s district is much purpler than Howard’s.

UPDATE: WWLBJD thinks the Rs are favored here, but likes the Dems’ chances more against Howard or Polland.

WNBA reaches labor deal with the players

While I’m always glad to hear about a sports league reaching a collective bargaining agreement with its players, I’m scratching my head a bit at this:

The WNBA and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association announced Monday that they have entered into a collective bargaining agreement covering six seasons, starting in 2008 and going through the 2013 season.

The 2007 season was the league’s most successful. The WNBA set attendance records for the playoffs (216,863 fans at 21 games) and the finals (74,178 at five games). Regular-season attendance grew by 2 percent in 2007. The 2007 campaign also was highlighted by a new eight-year television agreement with ESPN, which extends the league’s relationship with the network to 20 seasons.

I’m glad to hear that the WNBA is doing well, and is looking that far ahead. I enjoy going to Comets games, and I can’t wait till Olivia and Audrey are old enough to really get into the action. Olivia already seems to be a bit more interested in sports if girls are playing; she actually sat and watched a little of the NCAA softball tournament with me this past spring.

My concern is that from where I sit, the Comets don’t seem to be doing as well. Their fan base is dedicated, it’s just not very big, and their move to Reliant Arena just reinforces that perception to me. I feel reasonably confident that new owner Hilton Koch will take steps to broaden the fan base, but until I see more fannies in the seats, I will remain concerned. I want my daughters to enjoy the women’s basketball experience. I hope they will be able to do so.

At last! “Lost”!

Oh my God, I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to tomorrow night’s “Lost” premier, which according to the Tubular blog totally kicks butt. Before then, we get an “enhanced” rerun of the Season Three finale, and a for-those-who-just-tuned-in clip show to catch us all up on where we are in the story line. I’m ready, the TiVo is ready, my favorite “Lost”-related blog is ready…Bring it on!

Janek to leave Senate in June

State Sen. Kyle Janek has made official his departure from the Senate.

Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, announced today that he was resigning his Senate seat, effective June 2, to spend more time with his family.

The resignation date, he acknowledged, is different from the March 10 timetable he gave Senate colleagues in a conference phone call on Monday.

He said he prolonged his departure to give more potential candidates time to consider a race to succeed him and to give voters in District 17 more time to consider their options.

A March 10 resignation would have allowed Gov. Rick Perry to schedule a special election on May 10 to fill out the remainder of Janek’s term, which expires in January 2011.

A June 2 resignation means the governor could either set the special election on the same day as the November general election, which is the next uniform election date, or declare an emergency and set a special election sometime after June 2.

In other cases like this, Governor Perry has consistently picked election dates that best served whatever political purpose needed serving, so who knows what he’ll do. If he thinks the GOP has better odds of retaining the seat with a standalone election, he’ll declare an emergency. If not, he’ll let it do till November.

Former Harris County Republican Chairman Gary Polland, state Rep.Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, and state Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, have said they will consider a Senate race.

Hochberg would be an exciting candidate, partly because it’d be great to see him become more influential, and partly because his need to step down to run for the Senate would mean that his fairly swingy seat would go from being uncontested this year to hotly contested as an open seat pickup opportunity for the GOP. The part of me that envisions Senator Hochberg wants him to run. The part of me that imagines him losing, and his House seat falling to the GOP wants him to stay put. I’m also curious to know what other possible Dems there may be for this seat.

Janek said sportscaster and former Houston Oilers football player Spencer Tillman of Sugar Land, who he had been considering a race, is out of the running because he doesn’t live in the district.

So much for Burka’s teaser, though honestly it’s unclear to me why this would be a big deal, given how loosely the residency requirement is interpreted for most other members. Maybe he doesn’t have a relative who lives in the district whose house he could claim as his own.

(On a side note, I guess this means Tillman is a Republican. Alas.)

So. Who do you want to see run – or not run – to fill this seat?

Two for CD10

The Statesman has an overview of the two Democrats running for CD10.

They may share the same goal and many of the same policy positions, but there are some pretty clear differences between the two Democrats who want to take on U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, in the November election.

Lawyer Larry Joe Doherty speaks with a folksy frankness that helped propel him to a starring role in a television courtroom series. “I’ve never had as much fun with all my clothes on,” Doherty, 61, said about his TV gig, “Texas Justice,” which ran locally on Fox.

Such a line is unlikely to come from Dan Grant, a somewhat cerebral 33-year-old who attended the London School of Economics and has spent much of his adult life working on elections and other development projects in war-torn countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Serious times call for serious candidates,” Grant said.

The prize in their March 4 primary fight is the chance to challenge McCaul, 46, in a district that stretches east from Travis County along U.S. 290 to the western end of Houston. The district includes parts of West and North Austin, as well as Pflugerville and Manor. In 2006, as Democrats were capturing enough seats across the country to take control of Congress, McCaul comfortably won re-election over Ted Ankrum, a Democrat who raised virtually no money.

“Comfortably” is a relative term. As I’ve shown before, McCaul did not do particularly well relative to other Republicans in CD10, especially in Travis County. It’s a guarantee that this year’s candidate, running in a more favorable environment and with Presidential turnout a factor, will have more resources to compete than Ted Ankrum had. I wouldn’t be all that comfortable if I were Mike McCaul.

Doherty built a Houston law practice focused largely on legal malpractice cases — representing clients who thought they got raw deals from other lawyers. Around 2000, when Doherty had just moved to Washington County near the center of what would later become McCaul’s district, a friend told him that producers were looking for a judge or lawyer to star in a new reality series.

He beat about two dozen others to win the part, and the show eventually aired nationally. Producers plucked cases from court dockets all over the country, and Doherty presided over court proceedings that functioned, in effect, as arbitration hearings. The role even landed him a cameo on Anna Nicole Smith’s reality show.

“With the last ounce of good sense that some of these people had, they went to small claims court rather than try to take the law into their own hands and get revenge,” Doherty said. “And we ought to encourage that. We ought to make more civil courtrooms available for that.”

Grant, who attended McCallum High School, moved back to Austin last year from Iraq. There, and earlier in Afghanistan, he worked for nonprofit groups that the U.S. State Department hired to help with development efforts. Those included working on the constitutional convention in Afghanistan and helping conduct the 2005 elections in Iraq.

In Iraq, he was helping a country in the aftermath of a war that he had misgivings about.

“I went there to help organize the elections, and the elections themselves were a technical success,” Grant said. “But there was not interest on the part of the Bush administration to actually exercise any follow-through.”

I’ll be posting an interview with Dan Grant next week. I’m waiting to hear back from Larry Joe Doherty’s campaign manager about an interview with him. We’ll see how it goes.

Bob McNair talks about the Astrodome

In this video, Chron football writer John McClain asks Texans owner Bob McNair what he thinks about the Astrodome Redevelopment project. Forward to about 2:50 in the clip to hear the Q&A:

If you don’t feel like watching, McNair basically says that anyplace that can support only being open six days a week during football season is okay by him; anything else, he won’t support. It’s clear he doesn’t think a hotel/convention center meets this criterion. File it away for future reference, for whenever the next plan gets put forward. Thanks to Stephanie Stradley for the pointer. Swamplot has more.

First round to the government in border access lawsuits

No surprise here.

A federal judge ordered 10 Cameron County property owners to open their land to the government for border fence surveying, but not before he denied the government the right to take the land without a hearing.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville ordered 10 of the 12 landowners to comply with the government’s request for access to their land for 180 days. The other two were near settlements with the government.

But Hanen’s order revealed he had denied a request from the federal government for a swift and private order like the one it received in a similar case in Eagle Pass. In filing its suit, the Justice Department asked Hanen to rule immediately without participation from the landowners, a legal maneuver that is allowed in eminent domain cases.

Hanen denied that request and ordered the government to inform all property owners of the hearing, held last Friday.

“This court will make itself available if needed for the resolution of any disputes, but it expects all parties to act cooperatively and with due concern for the rights and needs of the other parties in the implementation of this order,” Hanen wrote in the order dated Friday and released Monday.

By contrast, U.S. District Judge Alia Moses Ludlum received the government’s lawsuit against the city of Eagle Pass and issued an order before the city could respond.

Hanen, like Ludlum a Bush appointee, questioned the government’s efforts at contacting landowners and heard from some property owners and their attorneys at Friday’s hearing.


Hanen also ordered government contractors to work with landowners to make the intrusion as minimal as possible.

Hanen denied the government’s request to access properties adjacent to those included in the order.

Well, at least this judge is giving the landowners a chance to speak first. We’ll see what happens when the disputes move on to the next phase. Stay tuned.

Candidate Q&A: Fred Cook

Note: This entry is part of a series of written Q&As with judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. I am also doing recorded interviews with non-judicial candidates.

1. Who are you, and what are you running for?

My name is Fred Cook and I am running for Judge in the 215th Civil District Court of Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court hears exclusively civil cases and is the highest trial bench in the Texas judiciary. My 25 years of practice have been exclusively in civil litigation.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I screened with the committee of Democrats who were recruiting potential candidates for the judicial races and they asked me to run in this particular race.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

a. I am the only candidate in this race with over 25 years of civil litigation experience in Harris County and throughout the State of Texas.

b. I am the only candidate in this race who is admitted to practice in a federal district court and I am admitted and have practiced in all four federal districts in Texas, as well as the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

c. I am the only candidate that has received a rating from Martindale Hubbell. This system is peer review by other rated lawyers and my rating is the highest rating an attorney can receive from his peers for both legal skill and ethics. I have held this rating for over 10 years.

d. I have served as a director of the litigation section of the Houston Bar Association.

e. I have spoken at various seminars on issues ranging from insurance defense to testifying in depositions and at trial.

5. Why is this race important?

This race provides Democrats with an opportunity to elect a qualified and successful Democratic lawyer who has excellent credentials and experience that will be fair and impartial in dealing with any litigant who comes before the 215th Civil Judicial District Court.

6. Why should people vote for you in the Democratic primary?

I believe that judges should be elected based upon their experience and ethics. My best recommendation in this regard comes from my experience and also, and possibly more importantly, from other lawyers. Through Martindale Hubbell, other lawyers have anonymously rated my skill and ethics with the highest rating which exists, AV. That means other lawyers have rated my legal skill as superior to preeminent and my ethics rating is the highest allowed. I have held this rating since 1997. The fact that I am the only candidate in the race to be admitted to practice in federal court (and I am licensed and have practiced in all four Texas districts and the Fifth Circuit) demonstrates a further depth and breadth of judicial experience that separates me from both of my other opponents. All my work experience in the last quarter century has been in civil law, which is exactly what this court does. Finally, and most importantly, I pledge to bring that skill and experience and that ethical standard to insure that all litigants before the 215th Civil Judicial District are treated fairly and impartially and with the respect that every person deserves. This job is a public trust and I believe my qualifications and background demonstrate that I will carry out that trust better than any other candidate in this race.

I am a lifelong Democrat who has worked in campaigns beginning in 1972, when my mother had to drive me to the McGovern headquarters. I have served as a Democratic Precinct Chair and election judge in my home precinct in Bellaire and, in 2006, Ellen Cohen carried my Bellaire precinct in her Democratic bid for state representative. Since coming to Houston to begin my practice in 1982, I have attended two state conventions and numerous senate district conventions and precinct caucuses. I have the experience, skill and temperament to insure that every litigant who comes before the 215th is treated fairly, impartially and with respect.

I have also been involved in public service throughout my career. I have served as:

a. an initial member of the Bellaire Chapter of the Caring for Children organization (prior to the CHIP) program;

b. a director of the Texas Conference of Churches, a statewide organization that promotes communication and coordinated mission of the various denominations in Texas;

c. a commissioner to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, PC(USA)

d. an officer, volunteer and Sunday School Teacher at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Bellaire Presbyterian Church and ChristChurch Presbyterian.


Jim Wrotenbery, candidate for 125th District Court (Civil).

Diane Trautman, candidate for Harris County Tax Assessor.

Judge Susan Criss, candidate for the Texas Supreme Court, Position 8.

Joe Jaworski, candidate for State Senate, District 11.

Baltasar D. Cruz, candidate for Texas Supreme Court, Position 7.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, District 147.

Armando Walle, candidate for State Representative, District 140.

Carol Alvarado, candidate for State Representative, District 145.

Andres Pereira, candidate for 190th District Court (Civil).

Ron Reynolds, candidate for State Representative, District 27.

Sam Houston, candidate for the Texas Supreme Court, Position 7.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, District 148.

The Supreme slacker Court

Once again, our State Supreme Court is in the news, and once again, it’s not for anything good.

At a time when the Texas Supreme Court’s case backlog has reached record levels, Justice Paul Green was spending Friday driving to Corpus Christi to speak to a group of appeals lawyers.

“It’s 40 (degrees) and raining and I’m driving four hours to Corpus Christi,” Green said from his cell phone. “Yes, I’ve got stuff to do at the office, but some of us like to do this.”

Green, who wrote the fewest opinions — four — of the high court’s nine justices during the 2007 fiscal year, said he thinks it’s important to get out of the office and talk about the court’s work.

“If all of a sudden I said I’ll just stay in my chambers and work on opinions, I don’t think people would like that,” Green said, adding that he has a “bunch of cases” that are ready to be issued.

Jim Jordan, a Democrat who is challenging Republican Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, has a different opinion.

He said Green needs to take care of the court’s business before he travels to “schmooze” with lawyers. When parties in a legal dispute get to the Supreme Court, they already have been through an expensive and time-consuming trial and appeals process, said Jordan, a Dallas County trial judge.

“Texans don’t need to be told they need to take a number and get in line and wait,” Jordan said. “These kinds of delays create a distrust in the legal system.”

At the end of 2007, the court left more cases pending than ever before. The court had heard arguments but not issued rulings in 111 cases, including 36 that were more than a year old and 13 others more than 2 years old.

Jefferson said he’s concerned about the backlog but denied it’s because the justices aren’t working hard. He said the court disposed of a record number of cases last year, but also accepted more cases for review, a trend since 2005.


Although lawyers who appeal cases to the high court may be reluctant to criticize its slowness for fear of hurting their clients, the legal community has taken notice.

Mary Alice Robbins, an Austin-based reporter for the weekly newspaper Texas Lawyer, wrote in December that the Supreme Court members should get the “Justices Delayed Award” for taking almost four years to issue an unsigned opinion compelling arbitration for two couples who accused their homebuilder of failing to install shower pans.

This story now also appears in the Chron, though with Judge Jordan’s comments edited out. Make of that what you will. Meanwhile, Paul Burka looks at all of the ethics complaints that have been filed against sitting Justices, and gets a little frustrated:

I don’t think that the offenses here qualify as egregious. Indeed, the Legislature may want to take a look at whether to allow reimbursement of appellate judges who wish to live in a place other the city where the court on which they sit is located, provided that the reimbursement comes from public funds rather than campaign funds. (If a commuting trip also involves a political appearance, the reimbursement should come from campaign funds.)

The larger concern is that the judges did not make sufficient effort to investigate the legality of their conversion of sizable sums of money from their contributors. They used campaign funds to subsidize their lifestyle. Judges should be held to the highest standard of ethics. Let me rephrase that. Judges should hold themselves to the highest standard of ethics. But the judges on the Texas Supreme Court do not have to worry about how they are perceived, because there is no accountability. The judges are bulletproof. All of them are Republicans. While Democrats have had some electoral success in courthouse and legislative races, they haven’t won a statewide election since 1994. Republican judges have little to fear at election time because they are protected by TLR and the big firms with the big clients who always win — BP being the most recent example. The Court is consistently criticized for being result-oriented at legal conferences, but there is no incentive for judges to change their behavior, either in their decisions or in their ethics, and there won’t be until somebody loses a race.

Maybe if we see enough of this kind of coverage, we can achieve that result this year. I sure hope so.

Are you ready for some Super Bowl ads?

Seems to me the last couple of years there haven’t been any real “OMG did you see that?” kind of ad during the Super Bowl. Maybe this year will be different.

For most of us, Super Bowl ads make fine entertainment. But for the advertisers who make and buy them, Sunday is white-knuckle time.

The blogging boom has created crowds of armchair critics; the price for a 30-second spot is up again, to $2.7 million; and a writers strike has wiped out many other opportunities to reach mass audiences by putting scripted dramas such as Desperate Housewives on hold.

Even against odds like these, many major marketing powers and even a few first-timers couldn’t resist the opportunity of reaching more than 90 million people in a single shot — something that’s increasingly hard to do in any medium.

Advertisers still love the Internet for its ability to deliver measured results from click-throughs and carve audiences into tiny segments. But only the largest of television’s “events” — the Super Bowl, Olympics, Oscars and the Grammys — have the muscle to pull in tens of millions of people in real time.

“There are so few media vehicles out there that reach that size audience that there’s still a big value in not only reaching so many people but in such an engaging manner,” said Andy Donchin, director of national broadcast at Carat, a major buyer and planner of advertising.

Add the extra buzz created by the possibility of the New England Patriots making history with an undefeated season, and advertisers have a lot on the line. The placement is great if they have a winning ad, not so great if the ad tanks. Last year’s viewership of 93.2 million was close to the all-time record of 94.1 million set in 1996, and many believe that record could be surpassed this year.

The results from online advertising often confirm the value of hitting big audiences with TV, Donchin said, because advertisers can measure the upswing in traffic to Web sites after an ad is broadcast.

There are a lot of factors in place to tempt the ad mavens into taking some chances. We’ll see if they go for it. Oh, and for better or worse, there won’t be any political ads, even with Super Tuesday following two days later. I actually think that’s a bit of a shame, but there it is.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 28

It’s Super Bowl week! As you stock up on chips and beer in anticipation of the big game, here’s a full supply of Texas Progressive Alliance blog posts from the past week. Click on for the highlights.


Last word on Louie Welch

Retired political consultant George Strong offers his view of late former Mayor Louie Welch.

It was the fall of 1985 and I was working as a political consultant for the Louie Welch for Mayor campaign against my old dear friend Kathy Whitmire. Whitmire had decided that I was bad news for some reason (I guess I said something that she did not like to the Houston Post) and later when I tried to get on the City’s lobbying team I was told, by an assistant, that no way in hell would the Mayor ever hire me for anything. So, the Welch folks approached me to help them in their campaign. And I was ready for a little revenge. By 1985 I had elected a few folks to City Council and had 12 years of experience in city politics so I joined Bob Heller, Jim Edmonds, George Shipley and a few other experienced folks to see if we could elect Louie.

Welch had not been involved in a political campaign for about 15 years and things had changed. There were TV cameras that used tape and not film for the news casts. Louie had been used to TV stations having to quit “filming” early in the afternoon so they could go back and develop their film. Not any more, they could edit tape in a very short time, day or night. He was not in tune with the new ways of using TV for political purposes.

And the AIDS epidemic was in full swing in 1985, and many voters were asking Louie what should be done. Some of his more conservative right wing friends wanted quarantines and blood tests for many occupations. If you had HIV you would not be employed. Louie was not in favor of such methods and so he developed a more moderate 4 point plan which he was prepared to announce at the TV station.

And he was ready to do a live broadcast with Heller at the studio and that is when he said the solution to the AIDS crisis was to “Shoot the queers” when he was just joking around with the crew and did not know that the camera was live and that the station was taping the broadcast. I have always blamed his conservative buddies for the “queer” jokes they told him for him saying those remarks even in jest.

Louie didn’t think that his comments would do any real harm to his campaign. I did and I told him and his team that not only would the Gay community take offense but that women voters would also not like him saying that anyone should be shot. And after all we were running a campaign against a woman Mayor. Well Louie did apologize for his remarks and we took a poll which showed we lost some voters and momentum and the rest is history, Kathy went on to win not only the 1985 race but also two more elections.

As I said before, it’s the attitude that led him to oppose gay rights in the earlier referendum that to me is the serious sin, not so much the joke. I appreciate that Welch did good things, and that there was a lot more to him than this, but it’s still not something I can’t lightly dismiss. Be that as it may, at least now I feel like I have a better picture of the man myself.

State Sen. Kyle Janek to resign

This was not unexpected.

Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, who moved his family to Austin several months ago, will announce Tuesday that he is resigning from the Senate in mid-term on March 10.

There has been speculation for several months that Janek, an anesthesiologist, wouldn’t complete his current four-year term, and it increased when he enrolled his young sons in an Austin school last fall.

Janek wouldn’t confirm his plans, other than to say will have a news conference at the Capitol on Tuesday.

I had a conference call with some of my Senate colleagues about 45 minutes ago,” he said. “I discussed my future with them, and I’m going to lay it all bare tomorrow at a press conference.”

Other sources, however, confirmed his pending resignation.

Janek, who sold his house in Houston, has been living in a rental house in Galveston, within his district, and commuting to a new home he and his family purchased in Austin last year.

Fort Bend Now and The Professors, who speculate about possible Republican successors (may I just say “UGH!” to the idea of Sen. Dennis Bonnen?), have more. I presume, though I haven’t consulted the election code yet, that there would need to be a special election this year to replace him; it’ll be interesting to see if Gov. Perry tries to shoehorn it into May, or waits till November. Janek’s district is somewhat purple (Excel spreadsheet), though for it to be competitive for a Democrat, he or she would need to start out with a chunk of money and be able to raise a lot more fast. We’ll see what happens.

UPDATE: Greg has more, and Burka has an interesting tease.

Republicans in Democratic primaries

I have written before that having a Republican voting past should not be a disqualifier for anyone who wants to run in a Democratic primary. As I said then, and will say again now, Democrats aren’t going to get anywhere in this state without getting some Republicans to change their preference, and it will behoove us to be welcoming to those who do. That said, it’s certainly a valid issue to explore in a primary, and it’s on the candidate him or herself to convince voters that their change is real and lasting. Anyone can talk the talk – you have to show that you’re walking the walk as well.

There’s an interesting debate going on at BOR regarding the voting history of a judicial candidate, Karyl Krug. Without drawing any conclusions about the relative merits of her candidacy versus that of her incumbent opponent, Judge Jim Coronado, I think Krug provides an instructive case, and that she acquits herself pretty well in the comments. I suspect we’re going to see more examples of people with a GOP primary vote or two in their history, especially during the darker times when a lot of Republicans were running unopposed for judicial seats, and we’re going to have to come to terms with that. There have been rumors for some time here in Harris County about judicial wannabees with Republican votes wanting to run as Democrats, as well as a couple of potential party-switchers. If 2008 is as successful as we hope it is, I predict we’ll see some of this here in 2010.

Now, if we’re talking about a legislative race, the burden of proof is higher, what with Tom Craddick being dependent on Democratic support to maintain his iron grip on the Speakership. Given Craddick’s ability and willingness to get involved in Democratic legislative primaries, any evidence of connections to the GOP is cause for concern, especially when the primary involves an anti-Craddick incumbent. And when that evidence is this clear and obvious, well, there’s nothing more to be said. Some stains can’t be washed out.

More on former Mayor Welch

Here’s the longer obituary for former Houston Mayor Louie Welch, who passed away yesterday at the age of 89. I’m going to highlight the bits that deal with his his infamous remarks of 1985.

“He was one of Houston’s finest mayors,” said former mayor Bob Lanier. “He was a good and decent man who loved public service and fought to make people’s lives better.”

Welch, who served four terms on Houston City Council and won the mayor’s office on his fourth try, was an effective, aggressive politician whose salty comments occasionally landed him in political trouble.

And while younger generations will remember Welch for the “shoot the queers” joke he made while describing his plan for fighting AIDS that submarined his 1985 mayoral bid, Welch made his most lasting mark on city government decades earlier.

It was on his watch that lakes Conroe and Livingston were completed to provide water for Houston. Welch also boasted of closing 40 inefficient sewage treatment plants; beginning the cleanup of the Houston Ship Channel; bayou beautification; and the development of the downtown Civic Center.


After running unsuccessfully for mayor in 1952 and 1954, Welch was elected mayor for the first time in 1963, ousting the entrenched incumbent, Lewis Cutrer.

In challenging Cutrer, Welch’s role was as an outsider jousting with the establishment. As such, he drew support from labor, the poor and minorities. In later years, much of that support evaporated, especially that of blacks.

In 1973 he did not run again, joining what was then the Houston Chamber of Commerce. In his political swan song in 1985, Welch tried to wrest the mayor’s job from Kathy Whitmire. In so doing he alienated another group of outsiders, the city’s gays, who turned out in force against Welch.

During the campaign, Welch, who often referred to the career of politics as a “shooting gallery,” made the notorious remark about homosexuals that was accidentally broadcast during a TV newscast and contributed to his loss to Whitmire.

The newscast included a report about Welch’s four-point program to prevent the spread of AIDS. He offered the joke without realizing his microphone was still on.

The gaffe triggered numerous newspaper articles and denunciations from various political figures and organizations. Some gays struck back with humor, donning T-shirts that sported the slogan: “Don’t shoot, Louie!” Welch apologized for the remark, but the damage was done. He lost to Whitmire.


Perhaps Welch’s most vexing problem as mayor stemmed from the police chief who served under him: Herman Short, a tough, no-nonsense, outspoken chief who became a lightning rod for discontent among the city’s blacks.

These feelings erupted in May 1967 in two days of battles between Houston police and students at predominantly black Texas Southern University. One police officer was killed and about 500 TSU students were arrested. These events created a rift between the administration and many of the city’s blacks.

More than 20 years later, during his race against Mayor Whitmire, Welch acknowledged that the imputation of racism to him in the wake of the TSU episode still rankled.

“It hurt,” Welch said. “It still hurts to be accused of racism. It’s just a bum rap.”

Despite his problems with the black community, Welch boasted of improving race relations in the city. A fluent speaker of Spanish, Welch was deeply interested in Mexican culture. He resented reports that his support among Mexican-Americans had slipped.

As for gay opposition to Welch, it didn’t originate with his “shoot the queers” remark. In early 1985, Welch was a leader in the opposition to a discrimination referendum that sought to extend job protection rights to homosexuals employed by the city government.

More than 80 percent of those voting in that referendum voted against the proposal, a major defeat for Whitmire, who had endorsed the idea.

It’s a more nuanced picture, and the print edition of the Chron includes some fond words for Welch from longtime gay activist Ray Hill, so perhaps bygones should be bygones. I can’t say I see any evidence in this story that Welch changed his mind about gay rights, however, and to me that’s the more serious sin than any didn’t-know-the-mike-was-live joke. As I said before, I’m just glad we’ve at least moved past that type of campaign. Rest in peace, Louie Welch.

Candidate interview: State Rep. Jessica Farrar

Note: This entry is part of a series of recorded interviews with non-judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. I am also doing written Q&As with judicial candidates.

I think I’ve already made it clear that I fully support State Rep. Jessica Farrar in her bid for re-election. I won’t repeat myself here, so please go read that earlier post if you need a refresher.

I’ve been heartened by the number of campaign signs for Farrar I’ve seen in people’s yards (including my own, natch), and by the fact that her opponent hasn’t exactly been enjoying broad-based financial backing. But I think the bottom line is that Rep. Farrar is clearly one of the good guys, and I think most people recognize that you don’t move the ball forward by taking out the good guys. If you live in HD148, I hope you’ll agree with me on that, and support State Rep. Jessica Farrar as well.

The interview is here. As always, feedback is welcome.


Jim Wrotenbery, candidate for 125th District Court (Civil).

Diane Trautman, candidate for Harris County Tax Assessor.

Judge Susan Criss, candidate for the Texas Supreme Court, Position 8.

Joe Jaworski, candidate for State Senate, District 11.

Baltasar D. Cruz, candidate for Texas Supreme Court, Position 7.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, District 147.

Armando Walle, candidate for State Representative, District 140.

Carol Alvarado, candidate for State Representative, District 145.

Andres Pereira, candidate for the 190th District Court (Civil).

Ron Reynolds, candidate for State Representative, District 27.

Sam Houston, candidate for the Texas Supreme Court, Position 7.

Notes from the voter ID hearing on Friday

Eye on Williamson has a good roundup of media coverage from Friday’s voter ID hearings in Austin, to which I’d add this Karen Brooks post and these three Observer posts. I have two comments to add:

– The partisan nature of this really couldn’t be clearer. I mean, the star witness called by Elections Committee chair Rep. Leo Berman (R, Tyler) was Texas GOP chair Tina Benkiser. This isn’t about protecting the “integrity” of the vote, it’s about making it harder for certain people, whom Tina Benkiser knows full well tend to vote Democratic, to cast a ballot. We know this because of the continued lack of evidence that fraud-by-impersonation is any kind of problem at all, by the studied indifference by the GOP leadership to what kind of problems may exist with absentee and vote-by-mail (both of which skew Republican, which means they’re A-OK as far as Benkiser is concerned), and by the equally stark lack of interest in ensuring the integrity of our electronic voting systems. The continued focus on this one specific aspect of elections, and the obvious ways in which it would benefit Republicans at the expense of Democrats, tells the story.

– Interestingly, State Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R, Houston) let the curtain slip a bit in this comment:

“If five or 10 people cast votes fraudulently, that means something to me because every vote is sacred,” Bohac said.

Compare that to this:

Texas has between 150,000 to 400,000 registered voters who have no form of government-issued photo identification, said Toby Moore, former project manager for the Commission on Federal Election Reform.

Bohac, who sounds to me to be conceding the point that fraud-by-impersonation is anything but common, is saying that he’s prepared to disenfranchise up to 400,000 people in Texas in order to ensure that five cases of fraud-by-impersonation don’t occur. The point about this being an extreme overreaction to a nonexistent problem could not be made more clearly than that.

The best way to make this issue go away is to get a Democratic majority in the House. If you’re as tired of this crap as I am, your mission is clear. And if you need a little more inspiration, check out this Google video of State Sen. Mario Gallegos, the hero of the voter ID fight from last year, courtesy of the Lone Star Project.

Grits talks criminal justice with Texas Monthly

Here’s a nice little interview that Eileen Smith, in her civilian guise with Texas Monthly, did with Scott Henson.

What do you see as the most pressing criminal justice needs facing Texas today?

The criminal justice system, including every single subsystem, is completely overloaded, with nearly one in twenty adult Texans either in prison, on probation, or on parole. State prisons and county jails are overcrowded and can’t find enough guards at current pay rates. The Legislature has created over 2,000 separate felonies for which it’s possible to receive a prison term (eleven of them involving oysters). Sentences are longer than ever, and the state can’t pay healthcare costs for the aging inmate population. The probation and parole systems have high caseloads that make it difficult to supervise offenders. Counties can’t afford to pay lawyers for indigent defendants. Crime labs don’t pass muster. The list goes on and on.

We’ve criminalized so many things and so many people–the system doesn’t focus enough resources on protecting people from the most serious threats.

Good stuff. Check it out.

Noriega in South Texas

Rick Noriega is kicking off a barnstorming tour of South Texas today. His itinerary is here, and reprinted beneath the fold. If you’re in the area, especially if you’ve not yet met him or seen him speak, go check him out.

And if you can’t do that, here’s a video of him speaking to the AFL-CIO convention last week:

Easy to see why they endorsed him in the primary, isn’t it? Click on for the South Texas agenda.


RIP, Louie Welch

Former Houston Mayor Louie Welch has passed away.

Louie Welch, five-term mayor of Houston and longtime president of what is now the Greater Houston Partnership, died on Sunday. He was 89.

Family members said Welch, who served four terms on City Council and won the mayor’s office on his fourth try, suffered lung cancer.

He was known as an effective, aggressive politician whose salty comments occasionally landed him in political trouble. Welch was also considered an able vote-getter with a ready smile. A kind of ambassador-at-large for the city, he sang Houston’s praises across the nation and internationally.

I don’t know much about Mr. Welch’s recent activities. But even though I wasn’t living in Houston at the time, what his name conjures up for me is two words: Straight Slate.

In the end, all the sound and fury over homosexuality and the disease AIDS signified little. Kathy Whitmire easily won re-election as Mayor of Houston Tuesday, political experts said, by convincing Houstonians that she was a good Mayor, better able than her opponent to lead the city out of its economic doldrums.

That was the prevailing interpretation today among politicians after the 39-year-old Mayor’s decisive victory over Louie Welch, the 66-year-old former five-term Mayor who was making a comeback attempt. Mrs. Whitmire won 200,788 or 58.9 percent of the votes; her opponent won 138,552 or 40.6 percent. Four other candidates shared the remaining votes.

Mr. Welch, in the final two weeks of the campaign, had stressed Mrs. Whitmire’s backing of job rights for homosexuals and fear of AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, most of whose victims are homosexual.

”The preference of voters on the gay issue never was correlated to voter choice,” said Robert M. Stein, a political scientist at Rice University who has monitored the changing attitudes of 500 voters polled periodically since May.


The campaign left the once-potent Gay Political Caucus on the defensive. Two years ago 18 candidates sought its endorsement; this year none did. The caucus refrained from making recommendations, fearing they would work against sympathetic candidates.

Mr. Welch entered the race after leading a successful effort by the Houston Chamber of Commerce, of which he was president, to repeal the homosexual job rights bill. But his candidacy suffered a severe blow two weeks ago when, unaware that his voice was being broadcast on television, he said one way to halt the spread of AIDS would be to ”shoot the queers.”

Like I said, I don’t know what Mr. Welch had been doing in recent years. It’s certainly possible that he’s renounced his words from 1985 – as a believer in redemption, I genuinely hope so. I suspect I’ll get a better idea when a more complete obituary is printed, and the people who really knew him get quoted. In the meantime, I’ll just say that I’m glad we’ll never see another campaign like that one again.

Regulations and growth

This article on the continuing planning/anti-planning debate is quite good, partly because it gives some depth and nuance to the question about how much effect regulation has on housing prices, and partly because it shows the inanity of the anti-planning arguments. Well, actually, it just let some of the louder voices speak, and they did the rest.

Experts agree housing tends to cost more in heavily regulated cities, but they disagree on the importance of this factor compared to others such as land availability and quality of life.

A 2002 report by the Brookings Institution, reviewing previous studies on the relationship between growth management policies and housing prices, says the impact of such policies was difficult to isolate.

“Housing prices are actually determined by a host of interacting factors, such as the price of land, the supply and types of housing, the demand for housing and the amount of residential choice and mobility in the area,” the report states.

One measure of a city’s housing affordability is the ratio of its median income to its median housing price. By this standard, houses are more affordable in Houston than in Austin, the same as in Dallas and less affordable than in Fort Worth or San Antonio, according to 2006 census data.

All four of the other Texas cities have zoning and comprehensive plans — tools that Houstonians for Responsible Growth and its advocates argue make housing less affordable.

Wendell Cox, a consultant and writer who met with City Council members recently on behalf of Houstonians for Responsible Growth, said an ordinance Houston is developing to regulate certain high-density developments “looks like zoning to me.”

“There’s almost a one-to-one relationship between regulation and housing affordability,” Cox said. He said he could not explain why other Texas cities with zoning have lower median housing prices than Houston’s.

“To try to parse why San Antonio’s prices may be slightly lower — that’s a very difficult thing that we haven’t had time to parse,” he said.

It’s hell trying to make facts fit into a predetermined theory instead of finding a theory that fits the facts, isn’t it? But hey, Wendell Cox is an “Expert” on this subject, so I’m sure he’ll come up with something.

Even funnier:

[Edward L. Glaeser, a Harvard University economics professor who has studied the relationship between regulation and housing prices,] said problems such as traffic congestion — the focus of the new high-density ordinance the city is working on — might be a small price to pay for the economic health associated with new development. If the city feels compelled to enact new regulations, he said, the best approach might be a reasonable fee paid by developers to help offset traffic snarls or other development impacts.

Others are more blunt in arguing that Houstonians should put up with inconvenience in exchange for healthy growth.

“Congestion is actually a sign of prosperity,” said Barry Klein, the president of the Houston Property Rights Association. “It’s really a minor problem in the big picture.”

That’s very interesting, because in his anti-planning manifesto from last Sunday, Randal O’Toole said the following:

Cities with strong planning authority, such as Portland, Ore., and San Jose, Calif., almost invariably have the least affordable housing, the fastest growing traffic congestion and growing taxes and/or declining urban services.

Emphasis mine. So Portland, that den of planning and iniquity, has some of the fastest-growing traffic congestion in America. That’s bad. But congestion is a sign of prosperity, so it must also be one of the most prosperous cities in America, too. That’s good! Well, except that it’s Portland, so it must be planned prosperity or something like that. Clearly, we can’t have that.

You know, I’m beginning to think that the more these guys talk about planning and growth, the less I’m going to have to. They make my case better than I can. Keep it up, fellas.