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May 22nd, 2009:

Chubbing

That’s the word of the day, as the Democrats use up most of the ten-minute allotment for discussion of bills on the Local and Consent calendar in order to delay, hopefully to death, the voter ID bill SB362. It’s not a filibuster, as there’s no such thing in the House – the talking is merely designed to slow the whole process down, which it has done in both chambers. Since there were over 200 bills on the Local and Consent calendar, and since the bills are taken in order, taking nearly ten minutes per bill can really grind things down. Dems have noted a way to get to the bills everyone really wants to tackle, by voting to do so on a Senate-like two-thirds vote to consider a bill out of order, but so far there have been no takers on that.

Burka thinks the Dems are making a huge strategic and political blunder by adopting this tactic. I agree with him on one point: Rick Perry will have no hesitation about calling a special session, if the only thing that prevents voter ID from passing is a successful murder of the clock. That’s why I’ve thought for awhile that the best possible outcome is a floor vote that ends with the bill not passing. Maybe that’s not attainable – if so, running out the clock and hoping for the best is about all there is left to do. I strongly disagree with his assertion that they may as well give up the fight, on this and on unemployment insurance, which will surely pass the House but would not survive a promised veto. On voter ID, the Democratic base can forgive losing, especially in a case where the deck was stacked to begin with, but it won’t forgive surrender, not on this. Given a choice between giving the Rs a campaign issue and pissing off the very people they’ll be counting on to help them win elections next year, it’s no contest. As for UI, who’s to say Perry will necessarily follow through, and if he does who’s to say it’s good politics for him to do so? I don’t see the value in punting and am frankly a little puzzled by Burka’s touting of it in either case.

As I write this, the chubbing continues, for who knows how much longer. I don’t know how this ends. More than likely, it ends the way it was seemingly pre-ordained to end when the Senate gutted the two thirds rule so it could ram voter ID through, with SB362 passing. That may happen sometime before Tuesday, the last day for the House to pass a Senate bill on second reading, or it may happen later this summer. I’d still rather go down fighting. BOR and Rep. Peña have more.

UPDATE: Doesn’t look like there will be any way out of this other than straight through it.

Friday random ten: The state you’re in

Gonna switch gears here for a couple of Fridays and do some themed lists. I was inspired to put a few of these together back when I did the spring songs and good songs lists, and I’m finally getting around to posting them now. First up is State Songs, ten songs about states:

1. New York State of Mind – Billy Joel
2. Stupid Texas Song – Austin Lounge Lizards
3. Garden State Stomp – Dave van Ronk
4. North Dakota – Lyle Lovett
5. Old Dominion – Eddie From Ohio
6. California Here I Come – Shorty Long
7. Massachusettes – Greg Greenaway
8. Carolina In My Mind – James Taylor
9. Georgia On My Mind – Ray Charles
10. There’s A Panther In Michigan – Trout Fishing In America

I could have included more Texas songs, but I figured geographical diversity was in order here. What’s on your playlist for this holiday weekend?

Gallery Furniture fire

Like most people in Houston, I was shocked and saddened to hear about this.

As flames ripped through one of Houston’s most notable retail icons Thursday night, Gallery Furniture founder Jim McIngvale vowed to rebuild.

But McIngvale, who earned fame with his colorful commercials and self-imposed moniker of Mattress Mack, acknowledged “millions and millions” in dollars of merchandise had been damaged in his flagship store’s warehouse.

To his employees he promised, “We won’t quit.”

This morning he was at his other location at 2411 Post Oak Blvd., which opened earlier this year, preparing to start selling furniture again. True to form, shortly after dawn he was filming a commercial to remind customers of the new Galleria-area location.

McIngvale said it wasn’t clear when he could get back into the original location, much less reopen it. In the meantime, he said the store is scouting locations for warehouse space to house several truckloads of furniture on its way.

Mack and Gallery Furniture are Houston icons, and if anyone can come back from this, they can. My best wishes to them as they rebuild.

Skinning a cat: Alternate methods

As you know, the TxDOT sunset bill HB300 included among its many House amendments a couple that were aimed at killing off red light cameras in Texas’ cities, by putting them under the authority of DPS and by forbidding the renewal of existing contracts with camera vendors. While it is entirely possible that these amendments will be removed by the Senate, it’s safe to say that there exists legislative will to do away with the cameras. As such, the cities that operate them and which by and large have made money off of them are taking action now to protect their investments.

Officials in Arlington and Southlake are moving swiftly to sign 15- and 20-year deals with their respective vendors in hopes of getting around a plan by lawmakers to phase out the controversial devices.

“It’s not the state’s business. It’s our business in terms of how we regulate local traffic,” Arlington Councilman Mel LeBlanc said Wednesday. “We feel the original decision to institute red-light cameras has a lot of validity to it and is a public safety benefit to Arlington.”

[…]

Meanwhile, Southlake signed a 15-year deal with Redflex Traffic Systems on Wednesday, extending the city’s red-light camera program through 2024.

And Tuesday night, the Arlington City Council authorized staff to sign an extension with American Traffic Solutions through 2027. That hasn’t happened yet, but city officials say they’ll continue watching the activity in Austin and, if it looks like a ban is inevitable, sign the long-term deal before June 1.

Pretty clever, if you ask me. You have to figure that the reps who led the charge against the cameras – Gary Elkins, Carl Isett, and Solomon Ortiz, Jr are the big three – are kicking themselves for not covering that particular base. And because I know you’re curious:

Houston is “reviewing what our possible options are should the legislation pass,” spokesman Frank Michel said. Houston’s contract with ATS expires in June 2011.

I presume the cities with cameras would have 90 days after the bill is signed, which is how long it takes for a new law to take effect, to get their affairs in order. Look for this to turn into a stampede if the amendments remain in place.

Finally, on a tangential topic:

[Arlington] has cameras at 17 intersections and could place them at up to 40 under the contract. Wrecks at intersections with cameras have decreased 30 percent on average, said Steve Evans, management services director.

“We are seeing tangible benefits from the cameras,” said Councilman Robert Rivera, who represents southeast Arlington. “We’re seeing a reduction in fatalities, a reduction in accidents and an increased sense of awareness of safety in intersections.”

[…]

Southlake installed its first two cameras last year and recently installed four more. Accidents at the first two intersections decreased by an average of 17 percent, officials said.

In North Richland Hills, nine cameras are in operation, spokesman Frank Fiorello said.

Crashes decreased by 54 percent at those intersections between September 2007 and August 2008.

Sure does stand in contrast to Houston’s experience so far, doesn’t it? Which leads me to wonder again if that red light camera study was so screwed up as to be completely useless, if the study was fine but Houston’s implementation was fatally flawed, or if it was all just a statistical fluke that will vanish over time. I guess we’ll have to wait till the next study to get some idea of that.

Parker on education

Last week, I noted that Mayoral candidates Peter Brown and Gene Locke expressed very different opinions at a candidate forum about the Mayor’s role in public education, with Brown advocating an urban school district with Mayoral appointees for its board, and Locke disagreeing with that approach. Both campaigns followed up with post-event press releases touting their positions. I’ve now received a similar statement from Annise Parker, which I present beneath the fold. I really need to spend some more time thinking about this, which I hope to do shortly after sine die, when I’m not devoting 80+% of my bloggy brain resources to the Lege. For now, here’s Parker’s statement on education.

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Endorsement watch: Three Senators for Locke

Via email from the Gene Locke campaign, the three Democratic State Senators who serve in Houston have all endorsed Locke’s candidacy for Mayor.

“At a time when Houston needs a strong, accomplished leader at City Hall, the right candidate has come forward. We are committed to seeing Gene Locke elected Mayor of Houston,” declared John Whitmire, Dean of the Texas Senate and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice; Rodney Ellis, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Organization and a member of the far-reaching Committee on State Affairs; and Mario Gallegos, Chairman of the Senate Sub-committee on Flooding & Evacuations and Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Jurisprudence. The declaration came in the form of a joint statement issued from Austin where the Texas Legislature is in the final weeks of its biennial session.

I’ve reproduced the email beneath the fold. I wasn’t following endorsements very closely during the 2003 Mayoral campaign, but my recollection is that there weren’t too many of them being given this early on. The campaign cycle starts a lot earlier these days, thanks to things like early voting and a greater emphasis on social networking, but this is still a nice catch for Locke. With the three main contenders all being Democrats, I suspect there will be more of a push for endorsements like these. There’s video of the three statements at Locke’s web page if you want to hear what they say instead of reading it, which you can do by clicking on.

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Intermodal Transit Center update

Swamplot has a spiffy picture of the proposed Intermodal Transit Center on North Main, which last we checked may or may not actually get built. But we’ll always have the pretty pictures, whatever else may happen. Check it out.