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February, 2008:

Endorsement watch: Obama and Grant

Today’s been a day of press releases touting unprecedented endorsements. First up, the Houston GLBT Political Caucus endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for President. Here’s the release (PDF):

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus PAC is proud to announce its endorsement of Senator Barack Obama for the Democratic Presidential Nominee in the March 4 Primary.

“This was an exceedingly hard decision because we have two exceptional candidates. After historic conversations with both Senator Clinton and Obama, the Caucus board engaged in thoughtful deliberations and were proud to get behind Senator Obama,” said Jenifer Pool, President of the Caucus, which held interviews with both candidates in late February.

The Caucus board was empowered by the membership to endorse candidates who sought the endorsement after February 6 and before March 5. Both Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton sought the endorsement of the Caucus after its membership meeting in February.

“This is a phenomenal moment in Caucus history. Never before has the Caucus endorsed in a presidential race. We require all candidates to submit their responses to our questionnaire and hold a conversation with our screening panels. When we invited the two Senators to seek our endorsement, we never truly believed we would be forced to make such a difficult decision. But both candidates held conference calls with us and answered our questions. A difficult decision because we have two extraordinary candidates,” said Jenifer Pool, president of the Caucus.

I think it’s both very cool, and a clear sign of how seriously this primary is being taken by both candidates, that they took the time to go through the formal screening process, which is quite thorough. Kudos to all involved, and congratulations to Sen. Obama for snagging the endorsement. BOR has more.

Next, outgoing Travis County DA Ronnie Earle has given his endorsement, the first he says he has ever given for something other than local justice system offices, to Dan Grant in the CD10 primary. I’ve reproduced Earle’s statement beneath the fold due to its length. It’s a pretty ringing endorsement, and another feather in Grant’s cap. Check it out.

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Polls here, polls there

The Chron says Barack Obama is leading in Texas.

Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama appears to be consolidating a lead over Hillary Rodham Clinton among most constituent groups in Texas except Hispanics, according to a new tracking poll.

The survey found Obama leading 48.2 percent to 41.7 percent over Clinton statewide. The poll, conducted Tuesday through Thursday for the Houston Chronicle, Reuters and C-SPAN by Zogby International, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

[…]

The tracking poll, which will be conducted daily until next Tuesday’s election, found Obama leading with both men and women. He and Clinton were essentially tied among Anglos, but he held 84.9 percent support among blacks and she had the support of 54.9 percent of the Hispanics surveyed.

That Hispanic backing helped give Clinton a lead in South Texas of 66.7 percent. She also led in West Texas, which would include heavily Hispanic El Paso.

Obama led in every other region and was supported by about 60 percent of those surveyed in Houston and Dallas — which have more nominating delegates at stake than all of the region from San Antonio to Brownsville to El Paso.

[…]

Momentum is clearly on Obama’s side, though. A Texas Democratic superdelegate — state Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston — Thursday switched her support from Clinton to Obama.

Pollster John Zogby said the statistics that really show the momentum for Obama is the timing of when people made up their mind on how to vote. He said Clinton leads “substantially” among those who made up their minds more than a month ago, but Obama leads almost “two-to-one” among those who made up their minds recently.

That last bit jibes with a People Calling People poll (PDF) that Perry highlights, which shows Sen. Clinton holding a small lead among those who have already voted. Really, the question any poll has to answer at this point is how they determined their sample. With so many new voters in this primary, you simply cannot rely on past voting history. It seems likely to me that any miscalculations here are going to undercount Obama’s support, but that could be wrong as well. We just don’t know. My gut says Obama’s got a decent lead, but we won’t know till Tuesday.

Well, assuming there isn’t a lawsuit, anyway.

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign has raised the possibility of a challenge to Texas’ primary and caucus rules just days before the contest, drawing a warning against legal action from the state’s Democratic Party.

Top strategists for Democratic rival Barack Obama said today they supported the party’s action, suggesting the Clinton campaign was trying to block the reporting of caucus results.

Aides to Clinton said earlier this week they were alarmed at the lack of clarity about many of the caucus rules and expressed their concerns on a conference call with Obama’s staff and state party officials. Texas has a two-step voting process, with a primary and then caucuses shortly after the polls close.

Specifically, Clinton aides questioned a provision allowing caucus attendees to vote to move the location if they choose to do so, and whether people who had cast so-called “provisional ballots” in the primary would have their votes counted in the caucus.

They also expressed concern about the automated phone system precinct chairs would use to call in the results of each caucus, saying the party hadn’t yet trained anyone to use the system properly.

Clinton political director Guy Cecil said he asked party officials to spell out the rules in memo form and to send them to both campaigns.

“We want to see the results in writing, and we reserve the right to challenge something if we don’t believe it reflects something that was discussed on the call,” he said, insisting that if there were clear problems with how the caucuses were being run, “you are allowed to say something about it.”

Cecil today denied that the campaign planned to sue the party, which will manage roughly 8,700 caucuses Tuesday evening.

“There were no veiled threats of lawsuits of any kind,” Cecil said of the conference call.

Glenn Smith suggests a reason for this:

They want to delay and disrupt the reporting of the delegate count. They hope that if they win the popular vote, they can avoid, at least for one news cycle, news reports that even if they do so they will very likely lose the delegate fight in Texas and fall further behind Obama in the national delegate contest.

This is not speculation. This has been the subject under discussion. While I have not been part of that discussion, plenty of sources last night and this morning confirmed this as the core of the dispute.

It is widely assumed that Obama’s organizational advantage will achieve in the caucus portion of the Texas election just what it has achieved in earlier caucuses: a significant victory in delegates. There are 67 delegates at stake in those caucuses. The Clinton campaign would like to delay the reporting of the caucus results, and that is why they have continually “reserved the right to challenge” Texas law and Democratic party procedures.

Throw the Texas delegate results in dispute, and win or lose the popular vote, they will have advanced their case that the contest remains close and should go all the way to the convention if necessary.

Well, good luck with that. Both the Pollster average and the Belo tracking poll are also showing movement to Obama. I can understand this strategy if she wins the popular vote, but not if she loses it, as it’ll sound a lot like sour grapes. But hey, you never know. Thanks to KT for the latter links.

“Garfield Minus Garfield”

This is the funniest thing I’ve seen since the demise of the Dysfunctional Family Circus.

Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness and methamphetamine addiction in a quiet American suburb.

Go and see for yourself, and I dare you not to laugh. It’ll probably get a cease-and-desist letter soon, so don’t wait too long.

On a related note, this story of how the DFC itself came to cease publication was something I hadn’t seen before, and this study of recontextualization in comic strips, including a now-defunct earlier variant of “Garfield Minus Garfield”, is very interesting. Check ’em out.

Turnout watch: Republicans say “Hey! Remember us?!?”

Poor dears.

The party of the elephant is hoping its members don’t forget about it.

Record-breaking turnout in the Democratic primary across the state is causing concerns that a significant number of Republicans may not vote in their own party’s primary.

With the much tighter presidential race on the Democratic side, some Republicans are choosing to temporarily jump ship so they can have a say in a race that is generating more excitement.

At local events, members are lecturing fellow Republicans on the importance of voting in their own primary.

Among the reasons being given are a need to support local GOP candidates and a concern that the results of some local primary races may not accurately reflect the Republican electorate if not enough party members cast ballots.

On Tuesday, the Texas Republican Party e-mailed a “Republican Voter Alert” to supporters statewide encouraging them to vote in their own party’s primary.

“Voting in the Republican Primary is important to keeping Texas the conservative beacon of the nation,” the e-mail said. “Your vote ensures your status as a Republican for the entire election cycle.”

The e-mail noted that only Republicans who vote in their own primary can take part in GOP precinct conventions on March 4 or in the national convention later this year.

Funny, there’s not so much talk about affecting the Democratic result any more, is there? Can’t imagine why.

Meanwhile, Vince compares some Dem primary turnout numbers in GOP strongholds to 2004 general election results to demonstrate that there are indeed enough Dems in these places to support the levels of turnout we’re seeing. That was one reason why I included the State Rep vote totals from 2006 in this post. Take a look at Vince’s work and see what you think.

Harvey Kronberg weighs in on the turnout numbers.

Party activists say the primary numbers are misleading and Republican voters will come home next November.

What I do know is this:

Nationally, people who self-identify as Democrats now exceed self-identifying Republicans by 20 percent, the biggest lead for either party since pollsters started asking the question. While I don’t know what the comparable Texas spread is, I would suggest that Governor Perry’s 39 percent win in the last election is probably the size of the unshakeable GOP base vote.

Maybe it’s little more than an aberration driven by an exciting race, but if Democrats do start competing successfully in hard core Republican suburban counties, Texas may actually become a two party state more quickly than most of us expected.

I’ll say again, I think you can take everything we thought we knew about the electorate here and throw out it. We’ll all be sorting through the data for weeks after Tuesday to try and figure out where things stand now, and we’ll need to start from the ground up.

Yesterday’s numbers, courtesy of the County Clerk: 21,558 Democrats and 6,616 Republicans voted on Thursday, for totals of 135,733 Democrats and 41,290 Republicans overall. The last day of early voting is usually the busiest, too. I bet we’ll see 30,000 Democratic votes cast today. What do you think?

Last day of early voting

Today is the last day to vote early in Texas. I really don’t know why we don’t extend early voting up through Election Day – at the very least, why we don’t extend it through the weekend before; Lord knows we could use the extra days – but we don’t. So this is it. Vote today at an early voting location, or vote Tuesday at one of these Democratic or Republican precinct locations. This is it, time’s running out, no second chances.

If you vote on Tuesday at a precinct location, please note that you must go to the correct one for your precinct. Unlike early voting, where you can pick your spot, your polling place is set. Your voter registration card has your precinct number on it, which you can then use to look up your precinct polling location. If you don’t have your card handy, you can look up your precinct number at HarrisVotes.org – click on Voting Information, then either Address or Name and Address to enter your information to search. You can also determine your precinct location there. The bottom line is that you may only vote at your precinct location on Tuesday. If you go someplace else, you will be turned away. Please know where you’re going before you head out, especially if you vote later in the day.

You’ve probably heard about the “Texas two-step”, which is the precinct convention that follows the primary vote. That occurs at your precinct voting location, so if you voted early and you want to participate in that, you’ll need to look up your location anyway. Be there by 7:15 to take part. It’s a somewhat involved process, which is described in step-by-step detail here. Given the huge number of voters, especially new voters, expect a certain amount of chaos. But this is a big part of the process, so stick with it as best you can, and we’ll all get through it together.

So. How many of you have voted already, and how many of you plan to vote on Tuesday? How many of you plan to go to the precinct convention? Leave a comment and let me know.

Lawsuit filed to overturn tort reform amendment

I will be keeping an eye on this.

Former Dallas Cowboy Ron Springs, who has been in a coma since the fall after surgery to remove a cyst, is one of 11 plaintiffs challenging Texas’ medical malpractice cap in a lawsuit filed Monday.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Marshall, challenges the 2003 Medical Malpractice and Tort Reform Act, which limits awards in Texas. The lawsuit asks the court to declare the cap unconstitutional.

[…]

In January, Springs’ wife filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against two doctors she said caused her husband’s brain damage during a routine surgery to remove a cyst.

Springs, who suffered Type 2 diabetes, had received a kidney from his former Cowboys teammate Everson Walls in February 2007. Les Weisbrod, Springs’ attorney in the medical malpractice lawsuit, has said the coma had nothing to do with the kidney transplant.

The damages cap has been a disaster, and has had no effect on the things that it was supposed to do, like solving the problem of rural doctor shortages. I feel pretty confident that if it were to go to a vote again, it would lose. Given that we’re never going to get 2/3 of the Lege to pass a repeal amendment, this may be the only hope for that. They’re going to ask for class action status, so we’ll see how this goes.

Turnout watch: The SOS speaks

We start today’s look at turnout with a Republican talking point, which I’m sure we’ll hear again in the future.

The excitement of their contest has driven up Democratic primary early voting to dramatic levels. But GOP spokesman Hans Klingler said he expects things to be Republican as usual in the November election.

“In the end, the important vote is obviously going to be cast in November. It is there that, empirically and historically, Democrats in Texas have a tough time turning their people back out to the polls and sustaining that level of excitement post-primary,” Klingler said.

Oh, Hans. What tune is it that you’re blowing as you whistle past the graveyard? It’s a bit of a cliche, but I recommend It’s The End Of The World As We Know It anyway.

Having had my fun with Hans, I will readily admit that all this excitement is going to come to an end, and the candidates (whether both are still actively campaigning or not) will head off elsewhere to the next battles. It’s very much an open question how much infrastructure they will leave, how much resources they will invest here later on, and what if any data they will share with the state and local party organizations (most likely, not much). The record turnout will help a lot with future voter identification, but what that means is a lot of raw data for each individual campaign to sort through. Trying to figure out how many of these new voters will come back in the fall (my guess is most of them) and how many of them will be receptive to voting Democratic downballot will keep many a consultant and campaign manager awake nights.

There’s plenty of good that has come out of this primary experience. People are excited about the Democratic candidates. Democrats have gotten a ton of positive attention in the media. Some number of these new voters will come back no matter what we do, others will come back with fairly minimal levels of persuasion. More people will be involved in organizing and campaigning. And on and on. There is a risk that some people will feel a letdown, or will not come back because their candidate lost, or will focus on the Presidential race to the exclusion of downballot races, but let’s be clear that Democrats are in a far better position now than they’ve been in a long time. I’ll take my chances on the downside.

Whatever else the Presidential candidates plan to do or maybe do here or not later on, here’s one thing they can and should do: Spend some money on TV ads.

Obama and Clinton have spent more money on Texas television advertising in the past three weeks than all the past four Democratic presidential nominees spent on their entire Texas campaigns combined.

It would be nice to see some general election polling now, to see how strong a case one can make for Texas being in play for November, but this strikes me as a no-brainer for them regardless for two reasons. One, as part of an effort to maximize the popular vote, in particular to become the first Democrat to win a clear majority of the popular vote since Jimmy Carter. Claiming a mandate is much easier under those circumstances. And two, in hopes of broadening Democratic majorities in Congress and the Senate, which will go a long way towards getting their agendas enacted.

One positive thing I’ve heard about that has already resulted from the early voting madness is a shift in perceptions among donors towards the statewide campaigns. The belief that we really can win is trickling down. If the primary turnout for Obama and Clinton makes it a little bit easier for Rick Noriega, Dale Henry/Art Hall, and the judicial candidates to raise money, that will go a long way.

On to the numbers:

More than half a million people cast Democratic primary ballots in the first eight days of early voting this year — setting a pace for the party to have more than a million presidential primary votes in the state for the first time since Bill Clinton tangled with Paul Tsongas in the 1992 elections.

Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson on Wednesday predicted 3.3 million people will vote, breaking the 1988 record of 2.7 million who turned out when both parties had presidential nomination battles in Texas.

As noted by Karen Brooks, more people have already voted in Texas than there are in the entire state of Vermont, which is also having a primary on Tuesday. That’s pretty cool. Note that the SOS’ projection works out to about 2.4 million Democrats, which is a shade less than the almost-2.7 million estimate by Dr. Murray. Nick Beaudrot, who had made a similar guess previously, is now backing down somewhat as well, to about 2.1 million. It’s a testament to how insane this has been that I think of that as a bit of a bummer. On a side note, BOR runs some numbers for Travis County based on past early voting performances.

In Harris County, yesterday was the busiest day yet, with another 18,000 Democratic votes cast, for a total of over 114,000 so far. I think we’ll easily surpass 150,000 by close of business Friday, and won’t be surprised if we get as many as 25,000 votes cast on Friday itself. Oh, and it pleases me to note that two more Republicans have voted at the Julia C. Hester House in HD142, thus bringing that total up to three. Woo hoo!

Finally, on the subject of Republicans voting in the Democratic primary:

And the people Obama and Clinton are drawing to the polls are new or only occasional voters, according to a preliminary survey of early vote results from Harris and Dallas counties being done by the Texas Democratic Party.

Through last Saturday, half of those casting ballots had not voted in any of the past three party primaries; 20 percent are not regular general election voters; and about 2 percent are Republican crossover voters, said party consultant Ed Martin.

Once again, the voting history of everyone who participates can be and is being checked. There is no wave of hardcore Rs showing up to mess with the Democrats’ game. Obviously, we don’t know how the general-but-not-primary voters have gone in past Novembers; certainly some of them intend to vote for the Republican this fall. But the voters who are speaking the loudest in this election are Democrats and those who want to me. That’s what you need to know.

Once more with the Ashby Highrise

Mayor White is taking another crack at an ordinance aimed at the Ashby highrise, and has met with some initial approval for it.

The City Council indicated its support of White’s approach by shelving a draft ordinance that had been the subject of debate for many months. Instead, the city will take public discussion for six months, and use an old city law on driveways to force traffic revisions from the Ashby developers, if needed.

The driveway law dates back to 1940, though its current form began to take shape in 1968. White acknowledged that reviving this broadly worded law might have a “chilling” effect on growth, so he circulated a memo Wednesday with criteria on how it would be applied. The memo said developments that meet three criteria will receive “more intense scrutiny” of their traffic loads. The criteria are:

  • A location where 60 percent or more of the properties within a 500-foot radius are residential
  • Driveways that feed onto local or collector streets instead of a major thoroughfare
  • A net increase of 50 additional vehicles going to and from the development during rush hours.

To mitigate the traffic effects, developers might have to add turning lanes or lights, scale back the number of apartments, or change the type of stores, White said.

Enforcement comes from the city’s power to reject a site plan, which shows where driveways connect to public streets.

The city will use these “interim procedures” while gathering public comment through July 1, the memo said. By Aug. 1, the city will issue a new proposal for regulating traffic from high-density developments. But it was unclear if this meant a new ordinance or the adjustment or tightening of current ordinances or policies.

“We are listening to everybody’s concerns,” Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck said. “It’s an extremely complex process, and one size does not fit all.”

Chris Amandes, co-chair of the Stop Ashby High-Rise task force, said he was fine with the mayor’s new strategy.

“They are continuing along the same lines as the high-density ordinance, but this has the additional advantage of not having to pass City Council,” Amandes said.

See here for the previous update. At least this approach now has support from the Ashby opponents, which is a step forward from where we were before. I still think that a narrow focus on traffic is myopic and will not do enough to avoid this kind of situation in the future, and that the risk of exposing the city to a lawsuit over an ordinance like this is a risk that should be weighed very carefully. I’ll be very interested to see what we learn from those six months of public discussion.

Endorsement watch: We endorse ourselves!

So a few weeks ago, this group called the Greater Harris County Democrats, whom no one had ever heard of and who listed no actual members on its web page appeared and circulated via email a group of candidates they endorsed. It caused a bit of a stir, partly because of the “who the heck are these guys?” question, and partly because some of the candidates they backed were not exactly racking up the endorsements elsewhere. I didn’t blog about them at the time because I thought there was no need to give a phony group more attention, but some other folks did, and raised a few more questions about them.

And now we have some answers, thanks to a little sleuthing by the Chron’s Alan Bernstein, who looked into their contributors after receiving a mailer from the group:

There is no information on the card about the folks who are making the endorsements. Ditto for the group’s website. But the Houston Politics blog solved the riddle in a suave snap by going to the Texas Ethics Commission website.

The 10 contributors to the organization include state Rep. Kevin Bailey ($1,000), Constable Gary Freeman ($250) and state House candidate Jose Medrano ($50).

Lo and behold, Bailey, Freeman and Medrano also are on the list of candidates endorsed by the Greater Harris County Democrats. Essentially they paid money to advertise themselves.

Another endorsed candidate is judicial contender Marc Isenberg, shown on state records as having paid $1,500 to political consultant Sheryl Roppolo. And guess who contributed $1,000 to help circulate the endorsement list? Ms. Roppolo, of course. She serves on the Texas Democratic Executive Committee with Joy Demark, whose home is listed as the address for Greater Harris County Democrats.

So these guys paid money to create a “group” that then endorsed them; in Medrano’s case, it’s the only such endorsement he’s received, while Bailey hasn’t done much better. How pathetic. Kudos to Bernstein for ferreting this out.

Meanwhile, in Endorsements That Actually Mean Something, Congressman Gene Green sent out the following email yesterday in support of Bailey’s opponent, Armando Walle:

Dear Friends,

I want to let you know I am supporting Armando Walle in his race against Kevin Bailey in Texas House District 140. I know Armando very well. He has worked on our congressional staff for six years. I saw him tackle tough projects, deal directly with constituents and represent me out in the community. Armando always showed high character and great devotion to service.

At the same time I have watched as Kevin Bailey has become a political opportunist– whether it be attacking Armando’s character in his negative mailings or supporting Republican Speaker Tom Craddick. And while I find Bailey’s campaign tactics disappointing, it is his support of the Republican speaker that is most upsetting.

By supporting Speaker Craddick, Bailey has enabled some of the worse legislation in Texas history to become law. Bailey’s actions have helped the Republican speaker:

  • take away the health insurance of hundreds of thousands of Texas children
  • raise college tuition by 70% at the University of Houston
  • pass an “education” bill that did not give one new dime to schools
  • block all efforts to rid our air of dangerous chemicals

Kevin Bailey will say he did not vote to do these things, but by voting for and supporting the Republican speaker he is every bit as responsible.

That is why I am asking you to join me in supporting Armando Walle for State Representative. Please click here to contribute to Armando’s campaign.

Sincerely,

Congressman Gene Green

Like Scott Hochberg, Gene Green understands what’s at stake here.

And finally, in Austin, actor Mike Farrell, best known as BJ Hunnicutt from M*A*S*H, is supporting Rick Reed for Travis County DA. The email he sent out was very strongly anti-death penalty (Farrell is a longtime death penalty opponent), and despite my own deep misgivings about the death penalty, it came across as a bit harsh and off-putting to me. To be honest, it would probably not have the intended effect on me, but I’m not voting in Travis County, so no harm no foul. I’ve reproduced it beneath the fold, so you can judge for yourself.

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AG to approve HISD bond money

Looks like the last major hurdle for the HISD bond referendum has been cleared.

The Texas Attorney General’s office plans to give a preliminary green light Thursday to the Houston Independent School District’s $805 million bond — effectively ending a three-month long legal standoff that has held up school construction.

With no appeals pending in state court, Assistant Attorney General David Mattax issued a letter this week saying that the critics’ remaining federal lawsuit, which claims that some HISD’s policies discriminate against poor, minority children, isn’t enough to keep the state from signing off on the public securities.

“Rather, (the) policy-making role lies with the local elected officials who vote to place a bond election on the ballot, and the voters who choose whether to approve the bonds,” Mattax wrote.

HISD’s controversial bond, which passed by a 2,000-vote margin in November, is expected to build 24 new schools and renovate 134 others. The AG is expected to approve the bonds after a scheduling hearing set tomorrow on the federal lawsuit. Approval will be final no earlier than March 7, officials said.

So this means construction can begin. There is still that federal lawsuit, but I couldn’t tell you what effect that may have, or when it may have it. The bottom line is that the bonds can be issued without having to wait for further court rulings, which is not how things turned out in Waller County. As someone who voted for the HISD bond referendum, I’m glad to see this.

I’m also amused by this:

Attorney Ty Clevenger, who represented critics of both the Waller and Houston bonds, said he could have salvaged the case against HISD in Supreme Court. He said he’s dropping the case because he never got paid by the opponents, who were organized by State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston.

“I took the Waller case pro bono, but that was never the agreement with HISD,” he said. “And I have not even been reimbursed for my expenses.”

I’m just gonna let that one slide by as it is.

Campaign overview: CD10

I’ve kind of lost track of the campaign overview stories the Chron has run, mostly because they’ve appeared somewhat erratically, but here’s one on CD10, which features a hot Democratic primary between Dan Grant and Larry Joe Doherty.

Thanks to the hyperpartisan congressional redistricting map of 2003, the 19 GOP members in the Texas House delegation all represent districts drawn to create safe Republican seats.

That seems to be the case in 2008, with one possible exception — the radically redrawn 10th Congressional District now held by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin. Despite the new district’s Republican voting tendencies, Democrats are hoping for a national tide that, combined with a huge Democratic turnout in Austin, could help them to unseat McCaul.

I’ve covered this before. Boosting the vote share in Travis County, and making it more Democratic is a big step towards winning CD10, though it’s not likely to be sufficient. Making gains in Harris and the counties in between, even modest ones, will be needed as well. 2008 is probably as good a time as any to make this happen.

The Democratic primary clash is less an ideological battle than a generational and geographical one. The two Democrats seeking the party’s nomination are as different as the two communities anchoring the opposite ends of the oddly shaped district.

Larry Joe Doherty, 61, a flamboyant former daytime TV judge from Houston, has raised lots of campaign cash. The star of Fox’s Texas Justice, he made a first career out of suing other lawyers for malpractice before exchanging the courtroom for the TV studio.

His opponent, Dan Grant, 34, is a wonkish international affairs consultant from Austin whose work for a nonprofit has taken him into war zones in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Doherty has more money, but Grant says it will take more than money to beat the independently wealthy incumbent. McCaul, now seeking his third term, is the son-in-law of Lowry Mays, the chairman of Clear Channel Communications.

You can listen to my inteview with Dan Grant here, and my interview with Larry Joe Doherty here. I think Grant is overall the better candidate, but either one of these gentlemen will make a fine standard-bearer in the district.

The Beer Can Reopener

Here’s a story about the Beer Can House, which is having a grand re-opening party this weekend after a successful restoration.

The Beer Can House is, after all, an homage to individual vision, although Milkovisch, who died in 1988, might have preferred to call it an homage to Texas Pride and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Or a way to avoid painting the house.

Decide for yourself. People will be able to see it up close when the house reopens March 8, one of the few remaining bungalows in a neighborhood now filled with expensive, three-story townhouses. Docents will be on hand between noon and 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, showcasing what more than 40,000 beer cans and other whimsical additions can do for a house. (The house will be open by appointment, as well, and available for rental to groups of 25 or fewer.)

There are garlands made of pull tabs, the tops and bottoms of beer cans and cutouts from the sides of cans, all hanging from the eaves. That shaded the house from the harsh Houston sun, reducing Milkovisch’s electric bills. The small yard is covered in concrete slabs, dotted with glass marbles. Just a way to get out of mowing the lawn, he insisted.

The mailbox and fences are covered with cans, and wooden sculptures are studded with metal letters — AMEN, reads the top of a wooden ladder — and elaborate cutouts.

“John Milkovisch never thought of himself as an artist,” said Julie Birsinger, project manager for the Beer Can House. He was, instead, an upholsterer and a beer drinker.

[…]

Birsinger had to figure out how to renovate a house covered in beer cans, which isn’t the sort of thing taught in art-restoration courses. Her goal was to restore the work to its original condition and to replace any artistic elements that couldn’t be repaired.

The sunlight that once twinkled off the glass and metal is now in short supply as towering townhomes loom over the house, so new lighting will be added to recapture some of the ambience. Originally, the Orange Show had hoped to buy an adjacent lot for parking space; that didn’t work out, so parking remains at a premium throughout the neighborhood.

As for the house’s signature d├ęcor, many of the cans were in good enough condition to be rehung after cleaning — a good thing since Birsinger couldn’t run to the corner store for a six-pack when she needed new materials.

Beer cans have changed. Some brands are no longer produced. Other labels have been redesigned, detachable pull tabs are history and modern cans aren’t even made of the same material as cans from decades past.

No problem, thanks to members of the Brewery Collectibles Clubs of America, who responded to a call for vintage cans from the 1960s and 1970s.

I cannot tell you how much I love the fact that there is such a thing as the Brewery Collectibles Clubs of America, and that they were able to respond to a call for “vintage cans from the 1960s and 1970s”. Talk about one man’s trash being another’s treasure. Anyway, go visit the Beer Can House when you get a chance. It’s a true gem of Houston, and I couldn’t be happier that it’s in good hands.

The death of radio, part 572

I’ve lost track of how many articles I’ve seen predicting the death of old-fashioned commercial radio, but here’s another one with some interesting tidbits in it.

Broadcast radio faces challenges from satellite radio companies for listeners, from the Internet for advertisers and even from automakers who are making it increasingly easy for drivers to turn their car stereos into mirror images of their iPods and skip the radio altogether.

Cutbacks haven’t worked out so well, serving only to speed the exit of listeners and making it harder to maintain smaller and smaller profit margins. Increasingly conservative playlists have made radio less essential to even the most casual of music fans, who don’t feel like they’re missing anything if they don’t listen every day since the same 10 or 15 songs are in heavy rotation for a month or longer.

In the name of cost-cutting and a jaded belief that listeners would tune in to whatever was on, CBS Radio eliminated New York’s heritage oldies station WCBS for a DJ-free hits format called Jack, and turned its alternative rock station K-Rock into an all-talk channel, leaving New York without a rock station at a time when the city’s rock scene was in the midst of a resurgence. Both moves failed and both stations have since returned to their original formats, losing listeners and momentum along the way.

Perhaps it’s because it didn’t replace anything worth remembering, but I think the Jack station here has been the best thing to happen to Houston radio in the 20 years I’ve been a resident. They have a broader selection of classic rock than The Arrow as well as a deeper playlist of 80s tunes than The Point. I’ve yet to say to myself “geez, give that one a rest already” since I started listening to it. It’s not perfect by any means – more new music would be nice, though with the usually-preferable no-DJ formula, you’d only learn about the titles and artists via the Internet, which isn’t much help if you listen while driving. I may yet as sick of this setup as I’ve gotten of others, but for now, it feels like a breath of fresh air. If they resist the urge to cut back the playlist, it’ll stay that way for a good while.

All these previous mistakes seem to be on the mind of the folks behind the new rock station WRXP, “The New York Rock Experience,” which replaced lite-jazz station WQCD on Feb. 5.

At a time when most radio stations around the country try to seem like they could be from anywhere, RXP is pledging to focus on New York area artists and songs about New York. It’s starting with a wide playlist that looks to combine alternative rock, mainstream rock and oldies in a way that will appeal to the 18-to-44 demographic, especially at the wealthier older end.

It’s a good plan to try to introduce Led Zeppelin fans to White Stripes, to let Depeche Mode fans know about The Killers and The Bravery, to let Pearl Jam fans discover Spoon. It’s also an interesting idea to remind rock fans that New York still is a breeding ground for loads of great new bands, including The Hold Steady and The National, who have both found homes on the station.

KACC is your best source of local music – okay, only source – though even they tend to play the same cuts from the local artists they feature – if it’s Sisters Morales, it’s “It Can Only Get Better”; if it’s Bert Wills, it’s “No Other Way”. But hey, at least they play ’em. Honestly, this is so obviously a good idea for both the station and the local music scene that it’s hard to believe no one else does this, even in this homogenized, cost-minimizing age. If nobody in the industry can figure that out, then it deserves to die.

Turnout watch: Two numbers to ponder

For today’s look at the early vote turnout figures, I’m just going to consider two numbers and what they might have to tell us about what’s in store for November. Let’s start with this memo from Professor Murray (PDF), who looked at early vote total in the top 15 counties through Sunday, and extrapolated from there.

Using these totals, we can estimate the total primary vote for each party as follows:

(1) These 15 counties represent 60% of the total statewide vote, so we extrapolate that the entire state’s early vote total as of Sunday was about 600,000 on the Democratic side and 200,000 in the Republican primary.

(2) Based on past patterns, we can conservatively assume that about 50% of the early vote had been cast by Sunday, which means that final early vote total will be about 1,200,000 in the Democratic Primary and 400,000 in the Republican primary.

(3) And finally, we can conservatively project that the early vote represents about 45% of the total statewide vote, which yields a final Democratic primary vote in 2008 of 2,667,000, and a final Republican vote of 889,000.

That 2,667,000 figure, which is Number #1 for today, would shatter all records for Democratic Party primary turnout, even going as far back as 1972, when everyone voted Democratic. It would represent something like 20% of all currently registered voters in Texas. And if those really are conservative assumptions and projections, it means there’s a chance that Democratic Primary turnout could be higher than the 2004 general election vote total for John Kerry of 2.8 million, which is something that Nick Beaudrot had suggested before.

That’s mind-blowing stuff, and I think the first thing you have to do with this is to realize that all previous assumptions about the composition of the electorate in Texas are invalid. As has been pointed out, a huge number of the people voting in the Democratic primary have no primary voting history. Some of them likely have no voting history – I’ll say again I really want to get my hands on this data once it’s available to me. I don’t know how many of these people will come back and vote again in November, but if the person they voted for this time is on the ballot again, I like the odds. The job will be getting them to continue on and keep voting for more Democrats.

And the key for that is money. It’s going to take a lot of money to identify and communicate with all those new-to-us voters. Will the large donors who sat out the 2006 election on the grounds that Democrats couldn’t win statewide (*cough* *cough* trial lawyers *cough* *cough*) get back in the game? Will the DNC send back some of the money it’s been notorious for sucking out of here? Will the Presidential candidates themselves take the time and make the effort to campaign in Texas, as that in and of itself would be a huge boost to Democratic prospects overall? Well, one of them says Yes to that.

State legislators supporting Barack Obama took issue with Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday over her statement that Texas isn’t likely to figure into the general election for the Democrats.

“I’d love to carry Texas, but it’s usually not in the electoral calculation for the Democratic nominee; Florida and Michigan are,” she said in a recent videotaped interview with Texas Monthly.

Democratic Reps. Jim Dunnam of Waco, Pete Gallego of Alpine and Garnet Coleman of Houston, all of whom back Obama, said Texas Democrats need a presidential candidate who will try to win Texas and help rejuvenate the state party.

“It harkens back to the 1990s, when Texas Democrats were basically abandoned,” Dunnam said.

Democrats lost all statewide offices in 1998. They later lost total control of the Legislature. The party has been trying to rebuild ever since.

The lawmakers said Obama has assured them he would campaign in Texas if he becomes the nominee. They noted that he helped campaign for other candidates in red states in the 2006 elections.

That’s what I like to hear. If I hadn’t already voted for Obama, this promise would have been enough to swing me to his side.

Which brings me to the second number to discuss, and that’s 1.7 million. As in, George W. Bush won Texas by 1.7 million votes in 2004. Remember how I said John Kerry got 2.8 million votes? Bush got 4.5 million. That’s a steep hill to climb.

But 2008 isn’t 2004, not in any way, shape, or form. Even if you knew nothing about the crazy primary turnout, it would have been safe to assume that the GOP peaked, and the Democrats troughed, in 2004. With what we’re seeing, who knows where the levels are now. Maybe we’ll start to get some polling numbers to help us figure it out, I don’t know. But when even a pessimist like Greg Wythe is saying that “going from say 2M primary votes to 50% of the 7.4M to eke out a win is something that may also soon enter the realm of the possible”, then things really are different.

I’ll leave it at that for now. We’ll see where we stand after the last early voted does that deed on Friday.

Feds get on board with Metro

Good news.

The Federal Transit Administration is committed to helping the Metropolitan Transit Authority qualify for funding of two light rail lines by the end of the year, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said Tuesday.

Hutchison’s statement came after a closed-door meeting in her Washington office, where FTA Administrator James Simpson and Deputy Administrator Sherry Little talked with Mayor Bill White, Metro President and CEO Frank Wilson, board chairman David Wolff and a bipartisan congressional delegation from the Houston area.

Hutchison, R-Texas, said Simpson was committed to the same goal as the delegation, “and that is a full funding grant agreement by the end of the year.”

Such an agreement would ensure that Metro could complete the two lines, provided it followed required federal procedures.

So far, Metro has pushed the projects forward with a series of small grants for preliminary studies.

Metro has applied for $500 million in federal aid to build the North and Southeast lines. Hutchison said the full funding agreement is important because “once that is committed to by the FTA, then it automatically goes into the budget and we don’t have to fight for it.”

[…]

Federal officials had questioned the level of public support for the light rail system, and the meeting was intended as a show of unity. Hutchison said the delegation “made quite an impression.”

One less thing to worry about. There will undoubtedly still be a fight, and less unity, when the time comes to get FTA funding for the Universities line, but at least that one was light rail from the beginning, so there’s no extra paperwork to be done. Be that as it may, kudos to all for getting this done.

Rosenthal testifies in Sheriff’s lawsuit

Chuck Rosenthal took the stand yesterday during the Sheriff’s lawsuit, and nothing too terribly exciting happened.

Attorney Lloyd Kelley, who represents the Ibarras, tried to establish that the district attorney’s office passed the brothers’ claims to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office for investigation — even as the sheriff’s office allegedly prevented Kelley and the Ibarras from filing an internal affairs complaint.

Kelley also tried to question Rosenthal on Tuesday about deleting more than 2,500 e-mails subpoenaed in connection with the lawsuit, but that effort was halted when Rosenthal’s attorney, Ron Lewis, asked to approach the judge’s bench. Rosenthal still faces a contempt hearing for the destruction of those documents, which is set to resume March 14.

Rosenthal told the jury he asked prosecutor Joe Owmby to look into the Ibarra case after receiving numerous letters from Kelley complaining about the deputies’ actions.

“I did not specifically order an investigation,” Rosenthal testified. “I gave Mr. Owmby the authority to investigate the case if he thought it was reasonable to do so.”

Rosenthal said he later received a memo from Owmby reporting on the progress. “I was satisfied Mr. Owmby had looked into it,” he said.

Owmby ultimately closed the case because he had not received any complaints or statements from the Ibarras, Rosenthal said.

He agreed, however, that some claims raised by the Ibarras — such as false facts in a police report or lying to obtain criminal charges or accepting criminal charges for an act that is not illegal — could be potential crimes. Rosenthal also agreed the District Attorney’s Office has the authority to prosecute officers who destroy evidence. Officers should not destroy film or videotape without a court order, he said.

I guess the key point here, at least from the plaintiff’s perspective, is that the case was closed by the DA’s office because no complaint was received from the Ibarras. Except that they allege the Sheriff’s office prevented them from filing such a complaint in the first place. I presume there will be some evidence offered to back up that charge, at which point things will fit together for them. We’ll see how it goes.

Judge bars enforcent of Speaker’s law during suit

You may recall that a coalition of activists filed suit earlier this month to have the 1973 law banning organizations or groups of persons from expending anything of value to aid or defeat the election of a speaker candidate declared unconstitutional. They asked the judge in that case to suspend enforcement of that law until the suit is resolved. Yesterday, the judge granted their motion.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel barred the state from enforcing portions of the so-called speaker’s statute, which restricts people outside the Texas House of Representatives from spending money to influence the election of the House leader. The court order will be in effect until a trial later this year can determine whether the law is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech, as opponents contend, or until the state gets the order overturned on appeal.

[…]

The court order opens up the possibility of organizations outside the candidates’ campaigns advocating their position on the speaker election in fliers and commercials as well as through the lobbying of House candidates.

Lawyer Hiram S. Sasser III hailed the judge’s preliminary order. He represents the American Civil Liberties Union and two conservative political groups that sued to have the law overturned.

“The most important legislative event that will occur is the speaker’s election,” he said. “If you don’t get to weigh in on the speaker’s race, you are cut out of the process.”

Texas Assistant Attorney General James “Beau” Eccles declined to comment after the decision. During oral arguments, Eccles said the law does not prevent groups from exercising their free speech rights during the primary and general elections. He said the statute primarily governs “a tiny window” of critical time between the November general election and the beginning of the legislative session in January when the speaker is elected.

Eccles argued that a flier (Vote for X because he’ll vote for Y for speaker, for example) would be legal during the primaries and general election. He added that the spending restrictions in the speaker’s statute could be violated during the election season if, for example, a group flew lawmakers to Bermuda to lobby them on the race for speaker.

Eccles argued that the spending restrictions “may look unconstitutional” if not considered in the context of the whole Election Code.

Dallas lawyer James Ho, arguing for the plaintiffs, rejected the state’s arguments.

“The state’s position is both wrong and alarming,” said Ho, noting that no other state has similar restrictions.

The ACLU, the Free Market Foundation and Texas Eagle Forum brought the suit, saying the law has a chilling effect on groups that want to spend money to influence who the next speaker will be.

I disagree with the premise of this lawsuit, and with the assertion that the statute has a “chilling effect”. Given that no one has ever been prosecuted under this law in its 35-year existence, even though Tom Craddick probably should have been as part of the 2002 TAB/TRMPAC business, it’s not clear to me that anyone pays attention to it. I suspect the law will eventually be thrown out, and when that happens I hope the Lege takes another stab at it. We’ve had a pretty clear demonstration lately of just how powerful the Speaker’s office can be, and I think it’s appropriate to have some checks on that power. We’ll see how it goes. Link via PoliTex.

Endorsement watch: Standing up for Borris

Rep. Scott Hochberg understands the stakes in this year’s primary election.

I realize that a lot of people are unhappy with Rep. Miles. I don’t blame anyone for feeling disappointed in him. But Miles represented his district well, he voted right on the issues, and most importantly, he’s anti-Craddick. Returning Al Edwards to Austin is a huge step backwards. We can’t afford that, and Rep. Hochberg understands that. I’m glad to see him stand up for that by standing up for Rep. Miles. We can deal with any further issues later, if needed, once Rep. Miles wins the primary.

And though this has nothing to do with endorsements, here’s some news from the campaign of Rep. Paul Moreno about his Craddickite opponent.

Marisa Marquez’ latest campaign finance report shows she has taken $20,717.27 from Republican donors and special interests groups in the last 31 days, further questioning her Democratic credentials and tying her ever closer to Tom Craddick. This brings the total amount of contributions Marquez has received from Republican donors to $25,217.27.

“Marisa Marquez has shown time and again that when it’s time to live up to her campaign rhetoric, she falls short every time,” stated Roger Garza, spokesperson for the Paul Moreno campaign. “How can voters honestly expect to believe that she is not a Craddick Democrat when Marquez consistently takes money from Tom Craddick’s staunchest supporters?”

The $20,217.27 that Marquez has taken from Republican donors and special interest groups represents over half of her campaign contributions from January 25- February 22. The list includes a who’s who of El Paso Republicans, including Robert “Bob” Hoy, Paul Foster, and Woody Hunt. Additionally, Republican special-interest group, Texans for Lawsuit Reform has donated over $14,000 in that same time span.”

“With her acceptance of contributions from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Marisa Marquez has shown herself to stand on the wrong side of consumer protection issues,” continued Garza. “Marquez would rather put the profits of neglectful corporations ahead of the rights of local El Paso consumers.”

The Paul Moreno campaign reported raising $46,930.12 in that same period. Their largest contributors included the House Democratic Campaign Committee, Fred Loya, Texas AFT, AT&T PAC, the Communication Workers of American, and Mikal Watts.

That report is here if you’re curious. The choice here is clear as well.

Meanwhile, back on the endorsement front, Poll Dancing has a nice roundup of Presidential nods. Just curious: Did any of the West Texas papers give a recommendation? I haven’t seen one yet.

Finally, I have been informed that the Chron’s editorial board was still doing candidate screening sessions as recently as yesterday, so it is possible that we’ll see more endorsements from them before it’s all over, hopefully before everyone in the county has cast their votes. You can add another 16,000 Democrats from Tuesday to the total, meaning we’re at 95,000 Dems, and 29,000 Republicans, with three more days of this to go. We could easily be at 150,000 Dems by the end of early voting, maybe more, which will make my original prognistication of 250,000 total seem conservative. Let me just say again: Wow!

Revisiting Republicans in the Dem primary

And back we go to the question of Republicans voting in the Democratic primary.

According to polling, as well as anecdotal evidence, an unusually large number of Republicans and independents may cast their votes in the Democratic contest next week, a prospect that could tip the outcome of what polls show is now a tight race. Such defections could also affect the many local and state legislative primaries around the state.

I think it’s quite clear that a large number of these folks have already cast those ballots, as evidenced by the off-the-charts turnout so far.

An American Research Group poll released Monday showed Obama leading Clinton, 71 percent to 25 percent, among Texas independents and Republicans who are likely to vote in the Democratic primary.

There is scattered evidence across the state that some Republicans may be voting Democratic, at least for a day. In one precinct in the suburban Houston neighborhood of Kingwood, where 82 percent of voters cast ballots for President Bush in 2004, Democrats were outvoting Republicans 4-to-1 last week in early voting.

Daron Shaw, a political science professor at University of Texas, said surveys he conducted in two state legislative districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area revealed that almost a quarter of voters with a history of voting in GOP primaries planned on participating in the Democratic primary.

Shaw, who conducts exit polls for Fox News, said that while some Republicans are voting in the Democratic primary largely for strategic reasons, he said others may be tired of GOP control of government and are drawn to a fresh face and ideas.

Another factor contributing to the crossover voting is a lackluster GOP presidential contest. Front-runner John McCain is expected to win the nomination, no matter how well rivals Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul do in the Lone Star State.

With the Arizona senator in command of the GOP race, some Republicans are motivated to cast a protest vote against Clinton.

I think the key here is to draw a distinction between those who are casting a vote in the Democratic primary because they want to vote for Obama or against Hillary or whatever, and those who are engaing in some kind of nefarious plot to tilt the primary results one way or another. I think that latter group is small to the point of insignificance, and there’s nothing in this article that leads me to believe otherwise. I also think it’s important to distinguish between those who have generally voted Republican in November but who have mostly not participated in primaries, and those who have a Republican primary history, as I believe the former are more likely to stick with the Democrats, at least at the top of the ticket, in the fall. I’m not saying the GOP primary folks are unreachable, just that I think the Republican-leaning independents are more likely to be comfortable with the idea of voting Democratic and will be more open to doing more of it.

Michael Jones, a 39-year-old self-described conservative Republican who is involved in marketing, said he will cast his vote for Obama in the primary “so Hillary gets out.”

But he isn’t enamored of Obama, a first-term senator whose experience has come under fire from both Clinton and McCain.

“I just wish he would get some substance,” Jones said. Yet Jones said he is undecided about the general election because he doesn’t like McCain, whom he described as “just another Washington senator.”

[…]

Debi McLoughlin, a 52-year-old Department of Public Safety worker who was waiting while her daughter had her hair cut, said she usually supports Republicans. But she is likely to declare herself a Democrat so she can choose Obama.

“A vote for Obama is a vote against Hillary,” said McLoughlin. She may also vote for Obama again in the general election because she thinks the 71-year-old McCain is too old.

Across the street having lunch at Maxine’s restaurant, Dot Berkner, a Republican, said she will check the polls right before the primary, and if Clinton is ahead, she will vote in the Democratic primary.

“I don’t want her in the final choice,” said Berkner, who added she will vote for McCain in the general election.

So the anecdotal scorecard is one Republican who might vote for Obama in November, one Republican-leaning independent who is also leaning (perhaps a bit more so than the first guy) to Obama for the general, and one Republican who will only vote in the Dem primary if she thinks she needs to help deny the nomination to Hillary Clinton. I’ll tell you what, I’m happy with the concept of one in three nominal Republicans thinking about a vote for Obama in November. That would be more than enough to put the state in play, and make downballot races like Rick Noriega’s that much more winnable.

The point I’m trying to make here is simply this: Every nominal Republican who casts a non-strategic vote in the Democratic primary is someone who will discover that doing so will not give them a fatal case of the cooties. Some number of these people will then realize that it’s okay to vote for one or more Democrats in the general election. How big that population is, and how far down the ballot they’ll be willing to go, are the $64,000 questions for this year. I hope we see some polling data to address that, but regardless I hope the lesson that the powers that be in the state Democratic Party take away is that the old rules are no longer valid. The assumption that Democrats cannot win at the state level should be firmly discarded, and the opportunity that is being presented here should be zealously pursued. Anyone still operating with a 2006 mindset should be ignored.

Some Republicans doubt that most longtime party loyalists will actually cross over, in part because they would forfeit the right to participate in some competitive local primary contests, including the races for Harris County district attorney and the Houston suburban congressional seat formerly held by Tom DeLay.

“I think partisan voting is a lot like blood type, impossible to change,” said Hans Klinger, spokesman for the Texas Republican Party.

While I’ve expressed agreement with the basis of this sentiment multiple times, it should be noted that people do change. If they didn’t, we’d still be a Democratic state. My argument is that people who truly see themselves as Republicans will prefer to vote in their own primary and have a say in those races than cross over to mess with the Democrats, so I see no reason to be concerned with that sort of gamesmanship. But the people who are actually crossing over, if they’re like the people quoted in this story, are those who may not be seeing themselves as Republicans, or at least dyed-in-the-wool Republicans any more. For people like that, partisan voting is more like a wardrobe than a blood type, and as such it is entirely changeable. Those people ought to concern Hans Klinger. They’ve certainly got Royal Masset’s attention:

If there is a major change in Texas politics in 2008 it will be caused by the Democrats. Even I have been chagrined to learn that my 13-year-old son Ernesto favors Barack Obama. The world is changing.

May there be many more like you, Ernesto.

Yard sign primary update: The presidentials

When last I checked, I found a lot of yard signs on my neighbors’ lawns, but almost none of them were for Presidential candidates. Two weeks and a crapload of early voting later, that’s no longer the casae. I took another spin around the neighborhood over the weekend, and counted 22 signs for Barack Obama, five for Hillary Clinton, and four for Ron Paul. Nobody that I could see was publicly supporting John McCain or Mike Huckabee. I don’t find that surprising in the least.

Which is not to say there wasn’t any evidence of interest in the Republican primary. It’s just that what interest I did see was, Ron Paul aside, all in the local elections. I counted five Kelly Siegler signs, four Jim Leitner signs, and two for Charles Bacarisse. I also saw one for CD18 hopeful John Faulk, but it shared a yard with a Jessica Farrar sign, so like that Bacarisse/Farrar combo I saw before, it’s either a sign of confusion or of a mixed marriage. Still, the strangest combination I’ve seen is a yard that features a Farrar sign, a Dan Patrick sign (!), and an upside-down Bush/Cheney 04 sign. There’s a message in there somewhere, but I’ll be darned if I can figure out what it is.

Speaking of mixed messages, two of the Hillary signs I saw were accompanied by Obama signs. That too may signify a divided household, or it may be a way of saying “They’re both fine by me!” Much as I appreciate that last sentiment, I still find that to be an odd way of expressing it. You can only choose one at the voting booth, after all.

Finally, after a slow start, JP Dale Gorczynski is now fairly well represented in the area. Not quite as well as Harold Landreneau, but Gorczynski’s presence is definitely felt.

Today’s turnout examination

Another day, another outrageously strong early vote showing in Harris County. Another 15,000 Democratic votes were cast on Monday, bringing the seven-day early vote total to a hair under 80,000. That means that we have already surpassed the entire Democratic primary vote total for 2004 (73,477), and we still have four more days of early voting plus Primary Day itself to get. Let that sink in for a minute.

I know there’s been a lot of talk about Republicans voting in the Democratic primary, whether sincerely or not. I’ve contributed quite a bit of that talk myself. But let’s keep things in perspective here. The fact of the matter is that Democrats are turning out strongly, whatever else may be going on. Here’s one piece of evidence for that: the turnout at early voting locations in the six African-American State Rep districts:

EV Loc Dem votes GOP votes Total votes Dem % ===================================================== HD131 2902 73 2975 97.5 HD139 4143 111 4254 97.4 HD141 5854 1095 6949 84.2 HD142 4103 513 4616 88.9 HD146 7645 490 8135 94.0 HD147 3415 40 3455 98.8 Total 28,062 2322 30,384 92.4

That’s what I call strong Democratic turnout. In these districts, Barbara Radnofsky got over 70% of the vote against Kay Bailey Hutchison in all but HD146, where she got 67.7%. These aren’t Republicans playing at mischief. And these six districts, which have nine of the 34 EV locations in Harris County, have cast more Democratic votes than Republican votes in all of Harris County combined.

(On a side note, my favorite statistic in the entire lot: Julia C. Hester House, one of two early voting locations in HD142, has had exactly one Republican vote cast there. That happened on Saturday. I feel like there should have been horns blowing and confetti dropping when that voter announced himself. Maybe next time.)

Now, just because these votes were cast at those locations doesn’t mean those voters actually lived in those districts. You can vote anywhere during early voting, after all. I can tell you that a cursory glance through the rosters suggests most of those voters were actually in their home locations at the time, but let’s look at this another way. Here’s the Dem performance in various State Rep districts:


EV Loc  Dem votes  GOP votes  Total  Dem %  Moody %  06 Dem
===========================================================
HD126        2344       1100   3444   68.1     35.2    9114
HD127        3003       2131   5134   58.5     33.4   14305
HD129        2775       1653   4428   62.7     39.2   14397
HD133*       2249        824   3073   73.2     43.8    8750
HD134**      1845        498   2343   78.7     51.7   25128
HD135        2150        939   3089   69.6     40.2     N/A
HD137        1151        324   1475   78.0     55.8    5201
HD138*       1591        610   2201   72.3     45.1    8286
HD143         862        151   1013   85.1     69.4    6026
HD144**       706        398   1104   63.9     44.9    8017
HD149        3006        856   3862   77.8     48.7   12621

The ones marked with * are four-day totals; those with ** are three-day totals; the rest are five-day totals. “Moody %” refers to the share of the vote that Bill Moody got in 2006; “06 Dem” is how many votes the Democratic candidate for State Rep got in that district that year. Generally speaking, the better Bill Moody did, the greater the share of vote is in the Democratic primary. Note that the main exceptions are HDs 129 and 144, both of which are in CD22 and both of which have primaries for the GOP nomination for State Rep; and HD134, which also has a primary for the GOP State Rep nomination and where you’ll probably find a higher percentage of people interested in the downballot races than in most other places. To me, there’s nothing in these numbers to suggest any real funkiness going on in terms of crossover voting. Just a fully engaged and motivated Democratic populace.

I’ll keep trying to make something of these numbers as I continue to get the daily rosters. It’s getting to be a bigger chore due to the volume of the data, but I’ll see what I can do. Other looks at turnout come from EoW, where you can see that while GOP participation is stagnant, Democratic early voting is increased eightfold; BOR, which is doing a day-by-day look at the top 15 counties – note also Ken Molberg’s comment that of 57,000 early voters in Dallas, “less than 3,000 have previous R primary history” going back to 2002; Nick Beaudrot, who is projecting that Dems may cast nearly as many ballots in the 2008 primary as they did in then 2004 general election for President (!!!); and Paul Burka, who still hasn’t quite wrapped his mind around all this – how many D-to-R voters do you think there are going to be this year? Not many, if you ask me.

CTC to city: Move that stadium

The CTC has sent the following letter to Mayor White and all of City Council regarding the proposed location for Dynamo Stadium:

Honorable Mayor White and Members of City Council:

We understand that the City of Houston is considering purchasing six blocks for a proposed soccer stadium. We urge City Council to consider alternate sites or design requirements that will preserve street grid access on Capitol and Rusk. Please see the attached 3-page document (969 kb PDF) for maps and analysis.

The current proposed site is bounded by Texas Ave on the north and Walker St. on the south. If a soccer stadium occupies the entire proposed six blocks, closing Capitol and Rusk where they run through that area, that would take out 2 of the 4 remaining streets that connect Downtown to the East End between Bell and Congress, reducing traffic capacity by 50%.

Closing streets may have been acceptable when the area just east of Downtown was largely warehouses. But now it’s sprouting new townhouses, condos, and apartments. Planners expect population density to increase dramatically. New residents will surely generate more traffic. And so will soccer games.

There are alternate parcels of undeveloped land nearby where the City could site the proposed soccer stadium without cannibalizing the remaining street grid. For example, there are six contiguous blocks of parking lots located between Texas and Preston that have the same footprint as the currently proposed stadium site.

A complete street grid is not only the most effective way to carry vehicle traffic, but also the easiest way for pedestrians and bicyclists to get around. As population and employment density increase in East Downtown, the street grid will matter more and more.

In places where we don’t have a good grid, like Uptown and the Medical Center, we are regretting it. Why should we break the grid where it’s still intact?

We cannot undo the damage the convention center did, or the damage the ballpark did, or the damage the basketball arena did. But we can avoid doing even more damage. Now is not the time to further cut off the East End from Downtown or to add a traffic bottleneck that doesn’t need to exist.

Thanks and best regards,

Robin Holzer, Chair
Citizens’ Transportation Coalition (CTC)

Christof has more on this, and there’s some good discussion in the CTC forum. While I do believe that this stadium belongs downtown, near existing or soon-to-be-existing rail transit, that doesn’t mean it has to be at the location that’s currently proposed. The CTC suggested alternative would also be bounded by Texas Avenue, this time to the south, so it would be equally accessible to the Southeast and Harrisburg lines. As noted before, a hearing for this at 9 AM is on the City Council agenda for tomorrow. If you have an opinion on this, that would be your best chance to weigh in on it.

On a side note, would someone please gently explain to Loren Steffy why the Astrodome is an unacceptable option for the team. Thanks.

Yow!

Dammit!

Houston Rockets center Yao Ming will be out the rest of the season and post-season with a stress fracture in his sore left foot.

Yao was examined after Monday’s practice at Memorial Hermann Hospital and met Rockets team physician Dr. Tom Clanton to go over the test results.

The Rockets confirmed the news this afternoon.

“It is not an injury we feel he can play with,” Rockets team doctor Tom Clanton said.

“I’ve made the recommendation that it be treated surgically and we are working with him to get other opinions just to be certain that that is indeed what should be done.”

The Rockets (36-20) have won 12 consecutive games since losing the one game Yao has missed this season. Yao averaged 22 points and 10.8 rebounds this season.

It’s like they’re cursed. Just when I was feeling that they’ve really got it all together, and when they’ve put themselves in a position to win the Midwest Division, this happens. Arrrrgh!

News coverage of the West 11th Street Park dedication

Well, I failed to find any mainstream media coverage of the West 11th Street Park dedication ceremony, but the person who sent me the word about it was kind enough to forward me these links:

KUHF:

Despite intermittent rain, several dozen people gathered to celebrate the official opening of the 11th Street Park.

It’s one of the few remaining large natural forested areas inside the 610 Loop.

Houston Mayor Bill White says the site fits in with the city’s overall parks plan.

“Too often we haven’t thought ahead about preserving the greenspace that makes our city so special as we’ve grown. This is part of a whole change in the culture and direction of our city as a result of the fact that we’re thinking ahead and preserving more and more of our greenspace and special places and things that make neighborhoods real neighborhoods.”

[…]

The City of Houston had already pledged $4 million. And community members and philanthropists were able to raise another $1.3 million. Councilmember Toni Lawrence says saving the park was one of the reasons she ran for office.

“At one of the auctions, I bought a picture of this park. I have it hanging in the hallway. And it symbolizes to my staff if you work hard and, excuse me for kind of being emotional at this, this is a very, very important symbol. This is a symbol of working hard, but it’s also a symbol of the community.”

The 11th Street Park is home to some of the tallest trees inside the loop and is a sanctuary for 101 species of birds.

Houston Community Newspapers:

“This has been a de facto park in the community for years,” said Roksan Okan-Vick, executive director of the city’s parks board. “The rest of us are just now catching up.”

The land had been owned by the Houston Independent School District, which declared the property as surplus when the demographics for a new school at the site and an outcry from the community put an end to those plans.

Civic leaders and the city had worked since 2005 to raise the $9.2 million to retain the area as a park.

An item added to the state’s urban park budget by state Sen. John Whitmire accounted for $3.75 million allowing the parks board to acquire the final five acres.

“It’s amazing what people can do if we just come together,” Whitmire said.

Mayor Bill White said the city had paid a fair price for what is one of the few remaining natural urban forests inside the 610 Loop.

“We rely heavily on private philanthropy in this community,” he said, adding that the decision had been an easy one for the City Council.

The Mayor made what I thought was a pretty good point about this, that in a low-tax community it’s incumbent on private funding sources to fill in the gaps where needed for that community to be truly livable. There’s fodder there for an excellent debate some day. Anyway, just wanted to share these stories. Enjoy!

Endorsement watch: That’s all they wrote

And the Chron’s editorial board once again retreats into its fortress of solitude, leaving a bunch of primaries behind without any input from them. I suppose they may do one last endorsement roundup on Sunday or Monday, but I think it’s equally likely they’ll simply repeat themselves with a warmed-over rehash of what little they’ve done so far. Seriously, guys, you should let us know if all this is too much work for you. I’d hate to see you exhaust yourselves.

Just so you’ll have some endorsement stuff to ponder for today, here’s some State Senators endorsing Art Hall for Railroad Commissioner, and the Statesman’s curious recommendation of incumbent Nelda Wells Spears for Travis County Tax Assessor, along with Glen Maxey’s response to same. From what I can see, Maxey is clearly the better candidate, and if I were in Austin I’d cast my vote for him.

Lubbock ceases red light camera operations

The city of Lubbock has discontinued its red light camera program.

[Lubbock City] council voted 4-3 to remove the cameras. Mayor David Miller and Councilman Jim Gilbreath, who supported the program last year, cast the deciding votes to kill it. They joined Councilmen Todd Klein and John Leonard, who have consistently opposed the program.

“Statistics are in favor of keeping them, but if you listen to the citizens, I believe the majority of them would prefer this issue go away,” Miller said. “I’m elected by the people; I’m going to try to do their will every chance I get.”

The cameras have been installed at 12 intersections in Lubbock since last year. A report detailing the cameras’ first six months of use, released in January, showed a spike in rear-end collisions at intersections with and without the cameras.

Opponents of the system have said studies show the cameras are affecting drivers’ behavior for the worse. But the company, ATS, said six months of data is not enough time to judge them. It also said the cameras are working – accidents with injuries have dropped at the 12 locations.

ATS collected more than $295,000 in fines from drivers caught by the Lubbock cameras in the first six months of operation.

[…]

The city had collected about 70 percent of the fines from thousands of tickets issued last year, but it admitted it had no teeth in its ability to enforce collections. The city also had yet to make more money than ATS billed, meaning all the money had gone to the company. The city was not responsible for the difference.

Still, most council members have been adamant that the cameras are about safety, not money.

“It’s against the law to run a red light,” Councilman Floyd Price said. “I don’t care if a bird sees you or a camera sees you – it’s against the law.”

Price, along with Councilwomen Linda DeLeon and Phyllis Jones, supported keeping the cameras up to gather at least a year’s worth of data.

Miller said he thought the program was working as well but that it was distracting from other projects at City Hall. The number of red-light violations the cameras recorded were cut almost in half in the first six months.

More information, via Grits, is here. Looking at all this, it sounds like Lubbock’s implementation was not optimal, though the results they got were by no means all bad. I don’t get any sense that something similar is going on in Houston, but I suppose we’ll find out eventually for sure. Have I mentioned that I’m very eager to see what Houston’s red light camera data shows in terms of accidents and injuries?

Truitt to drop out in CD07

John Truitt, who had announced his intent to run as an independent in CD07, has sent out an email saying he will abandon that effort. From the email:

With the race for the Presidency so tight, the turnout for early voting in the Texas primaries is already much, much higher than expected. This means that it will be virtually impossible to find enough registered voters in our district who do not vote in the primaries to sign the petition required to have my name placed on the ballot.

Never-the-less, the stakes are too high and our country’s future is the issue. So how in good concience could I ask anyone not to vote? In fact the only patriotic thing I can do under the circumstances is ask that you PLEASE VOTE!

I hope all of you vote. Not just in the primaries, but in November, too. As for our campaign . . . perhaps we’ll try again in 2010.

I’d been wondering what the effect of a third candidate might be in this race since the Skelly polling memo came out. Now I don’t need to worry about it. CD07 usually has high turnout compared to other districts, so this would have been an especially tough year to get the petition sigs needed for an independent run. Nonetheless, I commend Mr. Truitt for his dedication, and for his classy and civic-minded exit from this race. Good luck to you and whatever you do next, sir.

Texas Independence Day party

Trey Fleming, the Democratic candidate for HD135 in November, is hosting a Texas Independence Day party on March 1. It’s a barbecue, of course, as befitting the event it commemorates. Click the link and enter your email address to receive an Evite invitation. Enjoy!

Texas blog roundup for the week of February 25

Are you one of the umpty-um thousands of people who have voted early yet? If not, you’d better get on line now so you can get to the eSlate machines before the poll close. And if you’re still figuring out for whom to vote, check out this week’s Texas Progressive Alliance roundup for some helpful hints. Click on for more.

(more…)

Candidate overview: Supreme Court primaries

Here’s a pretty decent overview of the four Democratic candidates running in contested primaries for the State Supreme Court. Unlike some similar pieces we’ve seen this cycle, it’s more issues-focused than personality-driven, which I always appreciate. It also brings to the fore a little nagging doubt that has been plaguing me for a few weeks now.

For Place 7, Dallas attorney Baltasar D. Cruz is battling Houston lawyer Sam Houston.

For Place 8, Galveston Judge Susan Criss is pitted against Linda Yanez, a justice on the state’s 13th Court of Appeals, based in Corpus Christi.

All the Democratic candidates accuse the Supreme Court of suffering a variety of problems, including: a pro-business bias in its rulings, a backlog in the number of opinions it issues and ethical concerns.

While the court was seen as plaintiff friendly and left leaning in the 1980s, the Democratic candidates say it is now on the far right.

A study last year by a University of Texas law school professor found that defendants won 87 percent of injury and damage cases in the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2005.

“I’m not out to swing it for people who are not in business. I do believe in adding new blood … and swing the pendulum back to the center,” said Houston, an attorney for more than 20 years.

Cruz, his opponent and a civil lawyer for 17 years, said he wants to bring balance back to the court but is also focused on implementing a list of 26 judicial reforms, including prohibiting judges from accepting contributions from parties or attorneys with cases pending in their courts.

The “restoring balance” claim is one I have heard a lot – browse through the judicial Q&As I’ve done, and you’ll see what I mean. In some ways, this is a very appealing argument, one that people who don’t identify themselves strongly as Republicans but have generally voted that way might find persuasive. The problem as I see it is that it’s a platform that necessarily has a limited shelf life, as at some point the court will be “balanced” as Democrats make the gains that seem inevitable in the near future if not this year. Indeed, if Harris County experiences a Dallas-like sweep this year, it’s an argument that can then be used against the Democrats, first by Republican incumbents in 2010 hoping to hang on, and then by subsequent Republican challengers hoping to break up the Democratic hegemony. I’m not criticizing the use of this theme – it’s good politics, and it’s far from the only arrow these folks have in their quivers, as this article makes clear – but it’s not a philosophy in and of itself. Just something to think about going forward.

By the way, did anyone besides me notice that the print edition had a Clay Robison-bylined story, which focused exclusively and in more depth on the Dem races, while chron.com had this AP wire piece that was shallower but included the GOP Court of Criminal Appeals primary? Weird.

Goonies!

This may be my favorite Presidential campaign-related blog post of all time; certainly, it’s my favorite of this cycle. It’s the fangirl-crushiness of it that takes it to the next level for me. I mean, hey, geeks vote, too. And who needs superdelegates when you have Samwise? Check it out.

Early voting: Guessing the downballot effects

The Observer blog takes a stab at what is surely going to be the hottest parlor game among political prognosticators and consultants this summer, Trying To Figure Out Whose Re-election Chances Are Endangered By All This Democratic Primary Turnout:

One area that will be particularly fun to watch is Senate District 10 in Fort Worth. Republican incumbent Sen. Kim Brimer is in deep trouble in his battle to fend off Democratic challenger Wendy Davis. This area is a major focus for the Democratic presidential candidates. The senate district already has deep pockets of hardcore Democrats. These are the folks that keep sending our patron saint of lost causes Rep. Lon Burnam back to the House. Brimer’s district features Democrat Dan Barrett, who shocked pundits when he beat a slew of Republicans in a special election for Republican Rep. Ann Mowrey’s District 97 seat. Primary turnout will certainly help him hold onto the seat. Another Republican who could fall in Brimer’s district is incumbent Republican Rep. Bill Zedler in District 96. Zedler has a strong challenger in Democrat Chris Turner. Zedler won his last race with just 52 percent of the vote against an underfunded unknown. Only about 37,000 people voted. The margin of victory amounted to little more than 3,000 votes.

Well, I haven’t seen any early vote numbers for Tarrant County, but I can tell you about a couple of purple State House districts here in Harris that I think will get a big blue boost from turnout in November. One is HD133, where Kristi Thibaut is rematching against first-term Rep. Jim Murphy. HD133 is in some ways an easy district to analyze. It only intersects two Congressional districts – CD07 and CD09 – and pretty much all of the CD07 precincts are red, while pretty much all of the CD09 precincts are blue. In 2006, the red precincts averaged 41.9% turnout, while the blue ones averaged 21.4%. That’s not the entire story of how Murphy won and Thibaut lost – there are more voters in the red areas than in the blue ones – but it certainly made it hard for her to close the gap.

I don’t know what it’s going to be like in November. I do know that in 2004, red turnout was about 65%, while blue turnout was 48%, and I strongly believe that blue turnout will be higher, perhaps considerably higher, than that this year, while red turnout probably isn’t going to change much. I also know that of 3073 votes cast by HD133 voters in the first week of early voting, a whopping 2249 of them – that’s 73.2% – were cast in the Democratic primary. That suggests to me that we’re in for a pretty good year, but let’s assume for a second that we get what we’ve gotten before – 65% turnout in the red precincts, and 48% turnout in the blue ones. Assuming those numbers, and assuming the partisan mix remains the same as the turnout increases, this district shifts from 58-42 GOP for the average countywide candidate to 53-47. From there, it doesn’t take much to move the ball past the 50-yard line. Put this one on your watch list, because the tide is moving in Thibaut’s direction even before you factor in a more motivated Democratic electorate.

Another one to watch is HD138, which Burka thought was out of reach for Dems before all this primary voting happened and he had a road to Damascus moment. In HD138, 1591 of 2201 early votes so far – 72.2% – have been cast in the Democratic primary. I don’t have a turnout breakdown for this district the way I have one for HD133, but this was a 57-43 GOP district at the average-countywide level in 2006, with 2006’s crappy Democratic turnout. It’s easy to imagine it as being similar to HD133, maybe even a tad bit bluer (Jim Sharp got 46.1% in HD138, but only 44.7% in HD133, so this isn’t a wild assumption), under normal Presidential year turnout scenarios. And under what we might see this year? I like Virginia McDavid’s chances.

Having said all that, there is still an elephant in the room, if you’ll pardon the expression:

If Democrats target the close districts, focusing on the urban areas of the state where they are strong and half of Texas’ voters live, this could be an historic year. Or, being Democrats they could let it slip away. As Leland Beatty, an Austin-based political consultant told us, it’s great if there is lots of crop in the field but if you don’t have the diesel to harvest it…

In other words, if Democrats want to take advantage of these opportunities, it’s going to take money, money, and more money, to drive the turnout that we can and should get. The good news for Harris County is that the coordinated campaign should be doing that; certainly, we’ll see a level of financial involvement that we haven’t seen in years. But given that it’s the race at the top of the ticket that’s really generating all these crazy numbers, it would be nice if whoever wins the Democratic nomination gives a little back and gets into the game here, even if it’s only a few TV ads. Whether you believe Texas is in play or not, running up the popular vote for purposes of achieving a true mandate-level victory would be smart for either Hillary or Obama. I just hope they realize that.

Finally, here are the updated daily totals (PDF) for each EV location in Harris County. You may note it was a very busy weekend – as many in-person votes were cast in Harris County on Saturday as they were for the entire EV period in 2004. Tiffany voted at the Multi Service Center on West Gray and Sunday and called me from there to say she’d been in line for an hour. Statewide, Democrats are at 360,000 in the top 15 counties, which is triple what the Republicans have done. Have I mentioned that this is unbelievable? Stay tuned, we’ll see how high this goes.

From the “Nice Work If You Can Get It” department

Chuck Rosenthal may be gone, but his memory lingers ever still.

Chuck Rosenthal resigned 10 days ago as Harris County district attorney amid a scandal over e-mail, accused of sending and receiving racist, sexist and political messages and deleting others sought in a federal civil rights lawsuit.

But he still is on the public payroll.

Rosenthal, who stepped down Feb. 15 under threat of legal removal from office, will continue to receive his $160,000 annual salary, according to county officials, because the state constitution technically keeps him in office until a successor is sworn in.

Rosenthal, 62, will remain on the payroll until Gov. Rick Perry appoints an interim replacement — or the disgraced former prosecutor submits his retirement papers, according to a memorandum obtained by the Houston Chronicle under the Texas Public Information Act.

“Yes, a replacement must be appointed, and she/he must qualify for office by taking the oath of office and posting a bond,” John Barnhill, First Assistant County Attorney, wrote last week to the county’s payroll director, Richard Foisner. “Then Mr. Rosenthal is out and his pay ends.”

County officials said today that Rosenthal has not yet retired. He was last paid on Thursday, for a work period that ended the day he resigned.

I’m thinking that ol’ Chuck is in no hurry to fill out the paperwork. And frankly, why should be be? What are they going to do to him if he’s pokey about it? Nope, this one’s on Governor Perry. He can put an official end to Rosenthal’s employment. It’s not a matter of fiscal discipline, as I assume the replacement DA will be paid the same, but it is a matter of not paying someone who’s quit his job and really should be off the payroll by now. Seems pretty straightforward to me. What say you, Governor?

UPDATE: Matt Stiles has an interesting update to the question about when Rosenthal’s pay should terminate.

I’ve since learned that the Texas Attorney General’s Office, however, disagrees [with Barnhill]. A deputy there wrote the County Attorney’s Office last week, saying the county “cannot continue” paying Rosenthal. The letter [PDF] doesn’t, however, state why the constitutional provision doesn’t apply.

Curiouser and curiouser…

The soccer stadium and the downtown grid

Christof returns to the matter of the proposed location for Dynamo Stadium and its potential impacts on traffic. He notes that while the matter of east-west light rail transport is being addressed, the much larger problem of further discontinuities in the east-west street grid portend trouble for the future, and I have to agree. Reluctantly, because I think this is a fine location for Dynamo Stadium absent those concerns, but agree I must as those concerns are real and troubling. I don’t know what to do about it, but I do hope it gets as much consideration as the Metro issue does. If we really are “extending the boundaries of downtown”, then we’d better be sure we can handle it.

I should note that not just automotive and rail transportation will be affected by stadium construction on the proposed site. As was pointed out to me by reader Mase, the city’s planned Columbia Tap Trail bikeway would also need to be rethought if Dynamo Stadium gets built where they’re looking at. (You can see a map of the trail and its relation to the stadium location here in PDF format.) I don’t think any of this is insurmountable, but all of it is going to require forethought and deliberation. I’d hate to see us rush into something that we’ll regret later because we didn’t take the time to plan for the easily-anticipated consequences.

And it appears we are going to be taking some action this week, as the City Council agenda suggests:

The first item on the agenda for Wednesday is a public hearing on a plan to have a downtown special taxing district — called a tax increment reinvestment zone — pay up to $20 million for “cultural and public facilities” related to a six-block tract being targeted for the stadium.

Which means, in effect, the city is looking to use property taxes to finance the purchase.

In the east part of downtown, those taxes are collected by a tax increment reinvestment zone, TIRZ 15, which includes the possible stadium tract.

Under a TIRZ, property tax revenues generated within the boundaries are frozen at a specified level. As development occurs and property values rise, tax revenue above the set level — known as the increment — is funneled back into the zone to pay for infrastructure and capital improvements to help attract further economic development.

TIRZ monies also could be used to secure bonds to pay off the purchase of the land.

[…]

“This really is property tax revenue that’s just being diverted into another account; it’s public money,” [Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul] Bettencourt said. He said he would not be surprised if the city ends up investing far more than the $15.5 million offered for the land.

Bettencourt said having public input on a soccer stadium would be a good idea, even if it is not legally necessary.

“As the complexity and scope of the deal expands, the obligations of the city increase, and the need for having a public vote grows,” he said.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. The only thing Bettencourt thinks taxes are good for is cutting. And of course, the only time someone like Bettencourt calls for a vote on something is when he opposes it and hopes to defeat it. It’s straight out of the anti-Metro playbook. Though if the opinions given by the folks who will be most directly impacted by Dynamo Stadium are any indicator, that ploy may be the same loser here as it has been with Metro:

“I’m OK with our tax dollars being used for it,” said Greg Kusiak, general manager of Lucky’s Pub on St. Emanuel, one block from the proposed site. “I think stadiums bring people and money, and we’re one step closer to the Olympics.”

Raul Casarez is building a nine-unit townhouse complex on Hutchins and McKinney. Two of the three-bedroom units already have sold for $350,000.

“I’m very excited,” Casarez said. “Within a few years this is going to be better than Midtown.”

One thriving business that would be displaced by the land purchase is JANCO Food Services, which supplies food and paper goods to restaurants.

“We’ve been here 10 years, and it’s going to be difficult for us to move,” said P. Alex Mousoudakis, one of three brothers who runs the business. “It’s going to be expensive, too.”

His brother said the city was making the right move.

“The Dynamo deserve it for what they did, winning two championships,” Jimmy Mousoudakis said. “If they’re going to clean it up and make it nicer to live around here, then I’m OK with tax money being used for it. But it’s going to be a pain to move.”

A stadium could create more noise and congestion for the nearby Lofts at the Ballpark rental complex, but residents did not seem concerned.

“I moved here because I want the social scene,” said Crystal Poarch, 31. “It’s always crowded here when the baseball games are going on and when there are conventions, so adding one more stadium to it is probably not going to even bother me.”

Not exactly foaming dissent. Be that as it may, I still want to know what the plan is for dealing with the impact on mobility. I hope that’s a big part of the discussion on Wednesday.