Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

May 13th, 2009:

Senate rejects Shanda Perkins

The nomination of Shanda Perkins, the unqualified anti-sex toy activist best known for her war on dildos, for the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, was rejected today by the Senate.

After a brief debate, the GOP-controlled Senate by a 27-4 vote sent the nominee of fellow Republican Perry back to the Nominations Committee, where it is expected to die.

While Perkins’ lack of qualifications were cited as a reason for the surprise move, several senators said Perkins’ involvement in a 2004 controversy over the sale of sex toys in her hometown of Burleson was a factor.

Just last week Perkins had been approved by the Nominations Committee, with a single dissenting vote.

Wednesday’s public vote against a gubernatorial nominee is a rarity, something several senators said had not occurred in years. In most cases when senators want to derail a nomination, they block it so it never gets out of the committee.

[…]

At her Senate confirmation hearing last week, Perkins denied she had anything much to do with it.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, argued that Perkins was simply unqualified for the $95,000-a-year, full-time post.

“This is not a partisan issue. This is not a personal issue … This is a life-and-death position. It demands qualifications.,” Whitmire said.

Three other nominees to the parole board that were confirmed by the Senate are highly qualified, Whitmire said. Two are longtime board members who are being reappointed, and the other is a Huntsville attorney.

“They have multiple degrees … (Perkins) has no college degree,” he said, noting that Perkins has no criminal justice experience, other than working for a time as a prison ministry volunteer.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, agreed. “The basis question is: Are there more qualified people out there?” he said.

As for the lingering issues, Whitmire said he was opposed to the nomination based solely on Perkins’ lack of qualifications. “There are others that could be raised. I wish not to go there,” he said.

After 10 minutes of debate, senators returned to their chairs and quietly voted down Perkins, in a chamber that is usually noisy with conversations.

Good for them. While I think a Governor – or a President – should have a lot of latitude in making nominations like this, some minimum standard needs to be met. The Senate has a constitutional role to advise and consent, and when they’re presented with a stinker like this, it’s perfectly proper for them to send it back. It clearly wasn’t a close call in this case; one wonders why they bothered to let the nomination out of committee. Be that as it may, this was the right thing to do. Thanks to Grits for the catch.

Why words matter

On Sunday, I mentioned HB1323, the anti-bullying bill that Equality Texas helped to draft. It was originally scheduled to be on the House calendar on Monday; it’s on today’s calendar now, but nothing is carved in stone these days. Anyway, Karl-T and the AusChron’s The Gay Place blog have a clear illustration of why legislation like this, which is intended to protect kids from harassment in the schools, is needed. Check it out, and give your favorite Rep a call and ask him or her to support HB1323. Thanks.

We need more early voting locations

Greg made an observation about the District H result that I’d like to explore a bit.

Yolanda’s early numbers were a little surprising as it would have meant a runoff between her and Ed if those numbers held. But even more surprising than that was Welsh leading the E-day returns with 36% to Ed’s 29%.

I was at Maverick Welsh’s return-watching party on Saturday night, and I can tell you that this wasn’t unexpected at all by his crew. They knew that the early voting locations were in parts of the district that were less favorable to Welsh, and they planned to make up the difference on Election Day itself. Which is exactly what happened, as turnout in the Heights was heavier than in other areas. I was a little surprised at how much ground he made up, but the final result wasn’t that surprising.

While I don’t think there was much that could be done about it for an election of this kind, I do think in general that there is a real need for more early voting places. In particular, I think there’s a need for more EV locations inside employment centers, because I think having more of them near where people work would make voting a lot easier. Moody Park is closer to where I live than any other EV location, but I never used it before this election because it’s not convenient to my daily commute; I work southwest of where I live, and Moody Park is northeast from my house. I generally vote at the Multipurpose Center on West Gray because it’s between where I live and where I work, or at the Fiesta on Kirby because it’s walking distance from where I work.

Unfortunately, as the trend towards more early voting continues, those locations become less convenient because the lines are so long. Here’s the early voting by location for this past November. The Multipurpose Center had by far the most votes cast of any EV location. When you realize that it serves basically the entire Montrose/Upper Kirby/Greenway area, and likely a good chunk of the Galleria area, that’s no surprise. Where else are all those people going to go?

The two State Rep districts that have only one EV location and which had the largest number of early votes cast were HDs 134 and 136. The former encompasses the Greenway Plaza area, and the latter includes the Galleria area. Yet neither of those highly dense business districts has an early voting location of their own. Looking at the EV map from November, all of that area is served by the West Gray MSC, which I believe is why it is so ridiculously crowded all the time. I say this has to change.

What makes sense to me would be a new location in the Greenway area, and a new location in the Galleria area, one in HD134 and one in HD136. I don’t know what the requirements and restrictions are on EV locations, but if I could just wave a magic wand I might pick something like the Houston Intown Chamber of Commerce building at 3015 Richmond, and something in the vicinity of San Felipe and Post Oak. Again, I don’t know what the details are, but geographically speaking that’s what I have in mind. Bonus points for locations that will be served by the eventual light rail expansion, as these would be.

None of this would have changed the calculus of the District H special election early voting, of course. You’d have needed an EV location in the Heights for that, and that really doesn’t make sense given that HD148 already has two EV sites, which happened to be the two District H sites as well. But a lot of people, all throughout early voting, expressed surprise to me that the West Gray MSC wasn’t open for this. They didn’t think about it not being in H, they thought about it as being the one place they’ve ever gone to vote early. It’s time for there to be more places like that.

UPDATE: Marc Campos suggests that the reason Heights turnout was so much bigger on Election Day was because voters there didn’t want to cross I-45, which he calls “the Mexican-Dixon line”. I’m sure that has something to do with it, but again, I think people go where it’s convenient to their daily routine, which neither Ripley House nor Moody Park are for me, or likely for anyone who lives west of I-45 and works south of where they live. During the afternoon, traffic on I-45 North becomes appreciably worse north of downtown. Who wants to deal with that if they don’t have to?

UPDATE: Greg adds on.

UPDATE: To clarify something here, I do not claim that the early voting locations had any effect on the total turnout in this election. Rather, I believe, as does Marc Campos, that the fact that Maverick Welsh did better on Election Day had to do with where the early voting locations were. I also believe, as I wrote in this post, that there should be more early voting locations, including some in high-density employment centers, since I believe that people vote early where it is convenient for them.

We need more early voting locations

Greg made an observation about the District H result that I’d like to explore a bit.

Yolanda’s early numbers were a little surprising as it would have meant a runoff between her and Ed if those numbers held. But even more surprising than that was Welsh leading the E-day returns with 36% to Ed’s 29%.

I was at Maverick Welsh’s return-watching party on Saturday night, and I can tell you that this wasn’t unexpected at all by his crew. They knew that the early voting locations were in parts of the district that were less favorable to Welsh, and they planned to make up the difference on Election Day itself. Which is exactly what happened, as turnout in the Heights was heavier than in other areas. I was a little surprised at how much ground he made up, but the final result wasn’t that surprising.

While I don’t think there was much that could be done about it for an election of this kind, I do think in general that there is a real need for more early voting places. In particular, I think there’s a need for more EV locations inside employment centers, because I think having more of them near where people work would make voting a lot easier. Moody Park is closer to where I live than any other EV location, but I never used it before this election because it’s not convenient to my daily commute; I work southwest of where I live, and Moody Park is northeast from my house. I generally vote at the Multipurpose Center on West Gray because it’s between where I live and where I work, or at the Fiesta on Kirby because it’s walking distance from where I work.

Unfortunately, as the trend towards more early voting continues, those locations become less convenient because the lines are so long. Here’s the early voting by location for this past November. The Multipurpose Center had by far the most votes cast of any EV location. When you realize that it serves basically the entire Montrose/Upper Kirby/Greenway area, and likely a good chunk of the Galleria area, that’s no surprise. Where else are all those people going to go?

The two State Rep districts that have only one EV location and which had the largest number of early votes cast were HDs 134 and 136. The former encompasses the Greenway Plaza area, and the latter includes the Galleria area. Yet neither of those highly dense business districts has an early voting location of their own. Looking at the EV map from November, all of that area is served by the West Gray MSC, which I believe is why it is so ridiculously crowded all the time. I say this has to change.

What makes sense to me would be a new location in the Greenway area, and a new location in the Galleria area, one in HD134 and one in HD136. I don’t know what the requirements and restrictions are on EV locations, but if I could just wave a magic wand I might pick something like the Houston Intown Chamber of Commerce building at 3015 Richmond, and something in the vicinity of San Felipe and Post Oak. Again, I don’t know what the details are, but geographically speaking that’s what I have in mind. Bonus points for locations that will be served by the eventual light rail expansion, as these would be.

None of this would have changed the calculus of the District H special election early voting, of course. You’d have needed an EV location in the Heights for that, and that really doesn’t make sense given that HD148 already has two EV sites, which happened to be the two District H sites as well. But a lot of people, all throughout early voting, expressed surprise to me that the West Gray MSC wasn’t open for this. They didn’t think about it not being in H, they thought about it as being the one place they’ve ever gone to vote early. It’s time for there to be more places like that.

UPDATE: Marc Campos suggests that the reason Heights turnout was so much bigger on Election Day was because voters there didn’t want to cross I-45, which he calls “the Mexican-Dixon line”. I’m sure that has something to do with it, but again, I think people go where it’s convenient to their daily routine, which neither Ripley House nor Moody Park are for me, or likely for anyone who lives west of I-45 and works south of where they live. During the afternoon, traffic on I-45 North becomes appreciably worse north of downtown. Who wants to deal with that if they don’t have to?

UPDATE: Greg adds on.

UPDATE: To clarify something here, I do not claim that the early voting locations had any effect on the total turnout in this election. Rather, I believe, as does Marc Campos, that the fact that Maverick Welsh did better on Election Day had to do with where the early voting locations were. I also believe, as I wrote in this post, that there should be more early voting locations, including some in high-density employment centers, since I believe that people vote early where it is convenient for them.

Rep. Kuempel collapses at Capitol

Scary.

The Texas House adjourned abruptly tonight after state Rep. Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, was found collapsed in a Capitol elevator.

A House sergeant-at-arms, Jennifer Irby, said she had found Kuempel, 66, in an elevator about 10:30 p.m. Rep. John Zerwas, R-Fulshear, who is a doctor, attended to Kuempel.

As an ambulance waited outside the Capitol, lawmakers including House Speaker Joe Straus crowded around elevators just outside the Rotunda. Shortly before 11 p.m., a stretcher emerged from the elevator area, and Kuempel was taken to University Medical Center at Brackenridge, several representatives said. Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, then led lawmakers in a prayer.

Officials at Brackenridge Hospital did not release information about his condition early Wednesday morning.

Zerwas said that when he reached Kuempel, he was unresponsive, was not breathing and had no pulse. Zerwas said he oversaw CPR until EMS arrived. He said a defibrillator was used to shock Kuempel about eight times.

By the time Kuempel left for the hospital, he had a heart rhythm and a pulse, and though he was not breathing entirely on his own, he had “some spontaneous breathing,” Zerwas said. Zerwas said it could have been a heart attack but could not say for sure.

“I would be very cautiously optimistic,” said Zerwas, an anesthesiologist.

My very best wishes to Rep. Kuempel for a full and fast recovery.

UPDATE: Here’s an update on Rep. Kuempel’s condition.

More on the House attempt to kill red light cameras

Grits notes with some pleasure a couple of amendments in HB300, the massive TxDOT sunset bill that passed yesterday, which would limit and ultimately end cities’ use of red light cameras. While I’ve never understood the fear and loathing these things have generated, I can’t say I’m surprised by the legislative about-face. The cameras’ opponents have been very vocal, whereas there’s no real pro-camera constituency outside of city officials and vendors. Further, the data on their efficacy has been at best inconclusive and at worst in direct opposition to proponents’ claims of safety improvements. I still think we don’t have a good grasp on the data, and I think it’s possible we’re not using the cameras properly, but frankly if they all do go away it won’t bother me. There are bigger fish to fry, and perhaps if this avenue is closed off cities will take a look at optimizing yellow light times, which to my mind has always been the strongest criticism of the cameras.

Having said that, I continue to be amazed at the gratuitous dishonesty of some camera critics. In one of the stories Grits links to, the claim made by Rep. Gary Elkins that “at intersections [in Houston] using red-light cameras, accidents, mainly rear-end collisions, increased by 118 percent” is reported uncritically. Here’s the much ballyhooed study (PDF) of the effect at camera-enabled intersections on the intersection rate (more here and here). Take a look and see if you can tell me where Elkins got that number from. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Of course, perhaps Elkins, who famously admitted he didn’t know what Medicaid was, despite being on the Health and Human Services Committee, is just confused. It wouldn’t be the first time, that’s for sure.

Finally, as Burka notes, the many amendments to HB300 made it a mess that will likely be completely redone in the Senate. As such, changes like these may or may not make it into the final bill. A separate bill by Isett that also attacked red light cameras passed out of committee at the end of April but doesn’t appear to be on the calendar at this time; if it isn’t approved on second reading by tomorrow, it’s dead. So we don’t know yet what if anything will change with red light cameras this session.

More on the House attempt to kill red light cameras

Grits notes with some pleasure a couple of amendments in HB300, the massive TxDOT sunset bill that passed yesterday, which would limit and ultimately end cities’ use of red light cameras. While I’ve never understood the fear and loathing these things have generated, I can’t say I’m surprised by the legislative about-face. The cameras’ opponents have been very vocal, whereas there’s no real pro-camera constituency outside of city officials and vendors. Further, the data on their efficacy has been at best inconclusive and at worst in direct opposition to proponents’ claims of safety improvements. I still think we don’t have a good grasp on the data, and I think it’s possible we’re not using the cameras properly, but frankly if they all do go away it won’t bother me. There are bigger fish to fry, and perhaps if this avenue is closed off cities will take a look at optimizing yellow light times, which to my mind has always been the strongest criticism of the cameras.

In the end, it may not matter. As Burka notes, the many amendments to HB300 made it a mess that will likely be completely redone in the Senate. As such, changes like these may or may not make it into the final bill. A separate bill by Isett that also attacked red light cameras passed out of committee at the end of April but doesn’t appear to be on the calendar at this time; if it isn’t approved on second reading by tomorrow, it’s dead. So we don’t know yet what if anything will change with red light cameras this session. Eye on Williamson has more on HB300.

More on the House attempt to kill red light cameras

Grits notes with some pleasure a couple of amendments in HB300, the massive TxDOT sunset bill that passed yesterday, which would limit and ultimately end cities’ use of red light cameras. While I’ve never understood the fear and loathing these things have generated, I can’t say I’m surprised by the legislative about-face. The cameras’ opponents have been very vocal, whereas there’s no real pro-camera constituency outside of city officials and vendors. Further, the data on their efficacy has been at best inconclusive and at worst in direct opposition to proponents’ claims of safety improvements. I still think we don’t have a good grasp on the data, and I think it’s possible we’re not using the cameras properly, but frankly if they all do go away it won’t bother me. There are bigger fish to fry, and perhaps if this avenue is closed off cities will take a look at optimizing yellow light times, which to my mind has always been the strongest criticism of the cameras.

In the end, it may not matter. As Burka notes, the many amendments to HB300 made it a mess that will likely be completely redone in the Senate. As such, changes like these may or may not make it into the final bill. A separate bill by Isett that also attacked red light cameras passed out of committee at the end of April but doesn’t appear to be on the calendar at this time; if it isn’t approved on second reading by tomorrow, it’s dead. So we don’t know yet what if anything will change with red light cameras this session. Eye on Williamson has more on HB300.

More on Metro’s costs

The West U Examiner ran a similar story to the one about Metro’s costs and critics last week, in which the same questions about the cost estimates were raised by the same critic. The basic points are identical, so there’s not much to add except my congratulations to Mr. Magaziner for getting his complaints aired in more than one venue.

Meanwhile, Christof looks at the Federal Transportation Authority’s Annual Report on Funding Recommendations, from which Metro just received $150 million in construction funds for the North and Southeast lines, and notes that when all is said and done, a total of $665 million will be coming our way for those two lines. In addition, the Universities line, which isn’t in the pipeline for federal funds just yet, stacks up quite nicely against the many other rail projects around the country in terms of price tag and projected ridership. The pieces are in place for all of this stuff to take a big leap forward once they get going. It’s just a matter of when.

Ike, Ike, baby

I don’t know why I hadn’t seen this story coming. In retrospect, it seems so obvious.

Doctors who work in Houston’s busiest maternity ward say they’re expecting an especially bustling June, leading some to conclude that Hurricane Ike was the perfect storm for making babies.

It’s been eight months since Ike knocked out the region’s electricity, leaving many with no television, Internet access or other distractions for days, if not weeks. Now there’s a curious bump in the number of women who are rounding out their third trimesters of pregnancy.

Several obstetrical practices associated with The Woman’s Hospital of Texas are extra-busy these days with prenatal care.

“I looked, somewhat in shock, at my little book of deliveries for June, and it’s 26,” said Dr. John Irwin, president of Obstetrical and Gynecological Associates.

He routinely delivers 15 to 20 babies a month and called the Ike boomlet “a real phenomenon.” His colleagues in the 35-physician practice have seen a similar increase in patients who probably conceived during the powerless days after Ike.

“There’s about a 25 percent increase in the number of deliveries coming up in mid-June to mid-July,” said Irwin, also chief of surgery service at Woman’s Hospital.

You see this kind of story about eight months or so after major nature events. Back in January of 1985, when a 13-inch snowstorm closed down the city of San Antonio for a couple of days, there was a reported spike in the birth rate that fall. Sometimes this sort of thing is more anecdote than evidence, but I can believe it happened here after Ike. Perhaps it’s time to add “condoms” to the standard hurricane preparation checklist. I’m just saying.