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May 23rd, 2009:

Where things stand in the House

So after yesterday’s chubathon, which lasted till one AM, there are still a bunch of local and consent bills to be dealt with. After that, there are still more bills to go before the House could get to today’s calendar, with SB362 still parked atop it. That makes it function as a de facto blocker bill, the irony of which I trust is lost on no one.

I can’t say for sure that the Dems’ strategy will work, in the sense of stalling long enough to keep SB362 from ever coming to the floor. I’m not sure how the math works out, and I presume the Republicans can and will force everyone to be on the floor as much as possible to try to maximize the time for bills to be brought up. It’s possible the Republicans will go along with the two thirds rule to get to some bills ahead of SB362, and it’s even possible some kind of compromise could be reached to allow SB362 to be voted on once and for all. Hard to say what that could be at this point, but crazier things have happened in the waning days of a session. Until further notice, assume there will be a lot more small talk and clock-watching on the floor.

UPDATE: There are some good bills that are stuck behind SB362 on the calendar. If the Dems’ chubbing effort is successful, those bills will die. That is a shame, but it’s the Republicans that have set the priority by declaring voter ID to be the single most important issue facing Texas today. They’re perfectly capable of re-evaluating that priority.

The zombie nominee

As we know, the Senate confirmation of Don McLeroy as Chair of the State Board of Education, which we all thought had been scuttled back in April, got new life earlier this week when Senate Nominations Committee chair Mike Jackson, who had originally said he wouldn’t bring the issue up if the votes weren’t there to confirm McLeroy, brought it up and got committee approval. The full Senate will take it up next week, and the question is what if anything has changed. Elise Hu games it out.

So the Dems think they can effectively block with commitments of twelve senators to vote no. Meanwhile, TEA sources say they’ve heard something different.

“I’ve heard two or three Democrats [would vote for McLeroy],” said TEA Commissioner Robert Scott. “I’ve also heard one Republican is a hard ‘no’, so no one really knows for sure.”

The timing is everything, considering the number of votes to confirm McLeroy depend on how many members are present at the time of the vote. Assuming all the Republican members will vote in favor, it would take at least three Democratic senators to leave the floor and not cast a vote in order for McLeroy to make it through.

Scott and TEA General Counsel David Anderson reminded us that this might be one of those “devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” situations, saying it’s unclear who McLeroy would be replaced with as chairman, and it’s unknown whether that would be more or less satisfying to McLeroy’s detractors.

The Dems could survive one defection, as eleven votes are sufficient to derail the nomination. Muse and Lisa Falkenberg consider what might happen if McLeroy does get sunk. Muse:

What happens if McLeroy is not confirmed? Governor Perry gets to appoint someone else from the SBOE as Chair. He could certainly appoint someone who is equally as bad – Dunbar, Cargill, Mercer, Leo or Bradley. Or he could appoint a moderate Republican like Bob Craig, who has the best interests of Texas school children top of mind instead of a far religious right agenda.

That’s a nice thought, but I fear Falkenberg is correct:

But another question is whether McLeroy’s defeat will really save the state of Texas any further embarrassment?

Maybe not. According to another bit of scuttlebutt from a lawmaker and few e-mailers today, it could actually make things worse. I always thought if McLeroy were ousted, Perry would pick one of thoughtful, sensible Republicans who serve on the board. There are several good choices: Bob Craig of Lubbock, Geraldine “Tincy” Miller of Dallas and Patricia Hardy of Weatherford.

But the name I heard mentioned today was none of those. It was Cynthia Dunbar of Richmond.

Yes, that Cynthia Dunbar.

It’s certainly makes me wonder if, under at least one scenario, McLeroy’s miracle could actually save us from a curse far worse.

What’s an enlightened Texan to do?

My answer to that question is to work one’s enlightened keester off in 2010 to ensure that we have a Governor who won’t view such embarrassments as good politics. Working to unelect Dunbar, whose SBOE district is a nice shade of purple, wouldn’t hurt either. Not the sexiest answer in the world, I know, but that’s the way it goes.

As far as McLeroy himself is concerned, if I thought there was a reasonable chance that Perry would take this failure as a lesson in the need to moderate, I’d go all in on torpedoing him. But when has Perry ever done that? I believe he’ll just double down on the crazy, since that’s clearly his electoral strategy and this would present him with another opportunity to stroke the aggrieved paranoia of his base while giving KBH another opportunity to not address a hot button issue because she’s too damn wishy-washy. Given that, I say the Dem Senators can do whatever they think is best. Draw the line in the sand, curry favor with Finance Chair Steve Ogden (who happens to be McLeroy’s Senator), come down with a newly-evolved 24-hour virus and miss the whole sorry spectacle, I’m giving a free pass. Just put us all out of our misery and get it over with.

UPDATE: Muse notes that Republicans are calling Democratic senators to implore them to vote to confirm McLeroy. She also has a list of Dem senators whose position on McLeroy’s confirmation are unknown.

UPDATE: And more from Muse, who clearly disagrees with me on this.

RIP, Debutant

I’m very sorry to say that Deborah Greer-Costello, better known as Debutant, passed away earlier this week from the leukemia that she had been fighting since 2005. I never met Deb in person, I only knew her through her writing and through her sister, my friend Stephanie Stradley, but it was easy to see what a vibrant and interesting person she was. From her death notice, it’s clear she accomplished much in her too-short life, including a lot after she first got sick.

As per her request, I’ll be visiting the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center shortly. I ask you to please do the same as well. Rest in peace, Debutant.

The power of burritos

Mmm…burritos…

The hamburger is safe. Pizza probably doesn’t have to worry. Nevertheless, on the menu of perennially popular food, one offering has been gaining steam against competitors: the burrito.

Thanks to favorable demographics in the U.S. and consumers’ growing demand for the food, the burrito is proving to be a moneymaker for some restaurant chains.

Chipotle, which has 15 Houston-area restaurants, reported its first quarter sales increased to $355 million from $305 million during the same three-month period in 2008. Despite the economic dip, the Denver company with 830 U.S. establishments plans to open more than 120 restaurants this year.

While some restaurant chains are shuttering locations or reporting decreased sales, burrito businesses like Chipotle, Freebirds World Burrito and Bullritos are in expansion mode.

“I certainly think that burritos have taken place alongside hamburgers as iconic food in this country,” said Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold. “There’s certainly a lot of reasons for that, demographic changes and broadening of culinary foods, but also the simple convenience of the burrito.”

Freebirds, which has 25 Texas and Oklahoma locations, including six in Houston, plans to open at least six more Texas locations this year.

“It’s a very popular menu item in America,” said Bryan Lockwood, president of Tavistock Restaurants, which owns Freebirds. “It’s probably just behind pizza.”

This is a business-section story, so it’s about expansion and sales figures and whatnot. Which is too bad, because if you’re going to write a story about burritos in Houston, you really ought to mention Mission Burritos, which pre-dates all of these other guys, and in my opinion which makes a better product to boot. Be that as it may, reading this has made me hungry, so if you’ll excuse me for a minute, I’m gonna go get something to eat.