Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

September, 2009:

Election tidbits for 9/30

While it’s an interesting story, I don’t quite see what the fuss is about Rick Perry using monetary rewards for volunteers who get people to sign up with his campaign. As the story notes, rewards of some kind, usually campaign swag, are common enough. In this case, he’s got a jillion dollars on hand, and TV advertising seems like an extravagance given the tiny voter population he’s aiming for. Yeah, the jokes write themselves, but if it works, what does he care?

Republican State Rep. John Davis has a primary opponent.

Not elections-related, but the ribbon-cutting ceremony that had been planned for this Saturday for the MKT Rails to Trials project has been postponed till December.

Take a look at the Issues pages for Annise Parker, Peter Brown, and Gene Locke. Now take a look at the issues pages for City Controller candidates Pam Holm, Ronald Green, and MJ Khan. I don’t know about you, but that gives me a whole other level of insight as to why the latter race is so much lower profile. Fear not, you’ll get to hear all of them speak in much greater detail next week when my interviews with them run.

It’s not a TV ad, but the Gene Locke campaign is putting out door hangers.

Just a reminder, this coming Monday, October 5, is the registration deadline for this election. If you have not registered to vote by then, you will not be able to. Texans Together will be holding a 48 hour registration marathon at Katz’s Deli at 616 Westheimer from noon Friday through noon Sunday, and will be at all of the 9 Multi Service Centers in the Houston area. For more information, contact Dee at 281-702-7864 or email [email protected]

Perry attempts to gut Forensic Science Commission

This is an outrage.

Gov. Rick Perry today replaced the chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which is conducting a politically sensitive investigation into whether the state executed a man based on a fatally flawed arson investigation.

The commission’s new chairman is Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, a tough-on-crime politically connected conservative.

Bradley replaces Austin defense lawyer Sam Bassett as head of the commission, created by Legislature in 2005 to investigate allegations of scientific negligence or misconduct in the criminal justice system.

Bassett’s term expired Sept. 1, and the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association had urged Perry to reappoint him as the commission’s seat reserved for a defense attorney.

Austin lawyer Keith Hampton, vice president of the defense lawyers association, was dismayed at the choice of Bradley.

“This looks an awful lot like a governor who’s interfering with a science commission because the science demonstrated that we’ve executed an innocent person,” Hampton said. “To pick one of the most partisan people in the state and just anointing him as presiding officer is rather breathtaking.”

Bradley’s first act as chairman was to cancel Friday’s commission meeting in Dallas, where fire scientist Craig Beyler was to discuss his recently released report on the 1991 fire that killed three children of Cameron Todd Willingham.

Emphasis mine. No question in my mind that Perry, who thinks this is all a bunch of hippie tree-hugger crap, wants to bury the Commission’s report, if not forever than at least till after the 2010 elections. If I had any capacity to be shocked by his sociopathy, I’d be shocked. For shame, Governor. A statement from Tom Schieffer is beneath the fold. The Contrarian has more.

UPDATE: Grits has more.


Interview with Council Member Jarvis Johnson

Jarvis Johnson

Jarvis Johnson

Wrapping up my series of incumbent district Council member is Jarvis Johnson, who is finishing his second term in District B. Council Member Johnson has been one of the leading advocates for bringing wireless Internet access to various parts of the city, as well as being an adopter of social media through blogging and Twitter. (He and CM Mike Sullivan appear to be the most frequent users of Twitter among the not-running-for-another-office members of Council.) He has one opponent for November.

I want to say that at this point I am done doing interviews. I’ve got two more HISD Trustee interviews to run this week, to be followed by the Controller and Mayoral interviews I’ve got in the queue, but I am not scheduling any more candidate interviews. While I’ve done a huge number of these, I’ve not gotten to everyone. If you are, or you represent, a candidate with whom I’ve not done an interview, I’m willing to run a statement from you instead. Send me a few paragraphs (say about four) about yourself and your platform in which you address one or two issues that I’ve been asking about in these interviews, and I’ll print it. Please do not simply lift a bunch of text from your campaign website. You can contact me via email (kuff – at – offthekuff – dot – com) or Facebook message. I’ll run any statements I get as I get them, with October 30, the last day of Early Voting, being the deadline. Thanks very much.

Finally, you might also note that there’s a new tab on the top of this page called “2009 Election”, which collects all the interviews I’ve done in a more organized fashion, and includes information about early voting as well. There’s also a new item on the sidebar that links to my most recent interviews. Many thanks to Greg Wythe for the additions.

Download the MP3 file.


Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4
Brenda Stardig, District A
Oliver Pennington, District G
Amy Peck, District A
Herman Litt, At Large #1
Natasha Kamrani, HISD Trustee in District I, not running for re-election
Alex Wathen, District A
Robert Kane, District F
Council Member Melissa Noriega, At Large #3
Jeff Downing, District A
Mike Laster, District F
Council Member Jolanda Jones, At Large #5
Mills Worsham, District G
Rick Rodriguez, At Large #1
Council Member Sue Lovell, At Large #2
Carlos Obando, At Large #5
Richard Sedita, District G
Jack Christie, At Large #5
Dexter Handy, District G
George Foulard, District G
Alma Lara, HISD Trustee District I
Anna Eastman, HISD Trustee District I
Linda Toyota, HISD Trustee District I
Council Member Ed Gonzalez, District H
Council Member Wanda Adams, District D
Council Member Anne Clutterbuck, District C
Progressive Coalition candidates
Council Member Mike Sullivan, District E
Council Member James Rodriguez, District I

Commissioners Court approves public defenders plan

The “hybrid” public defenders office that Commissioners Court had been considering was approved Tuesday by a 5-0 vote, though the details still need to be worked out in time for the February 2010 budget meeting.

“It’s going to take however long its going to take,“ Commissioner El Franco Lee said. “It’s now in the hands of judges, and bureaucrats and accountants who will tell us what that costs, can we afford it, and when we can afford if we can’t afford it now.”

Officials are hoping a public defender office will help reduce the backlog of jail inmates awaiting trial in the overcrowded county jail system — currently holding 11,430 inmates in jails from Houston to Louisiana — and divert others with mental problems from incarceration.

“At the end of the day this really isn’t just about money, it’s about justice. We have to ensure the public that defendants are getting an adequate defense,” County Judge Ed Emmett said afterward. “The court’s unanimous vote to move forward is a clear indication of an intent to establish a pubic defender’s office in next year’s budget.”

The 5-0 vote came during the court’s annual mid-year budget review. The court referred the implementation of the plan to the newly formed Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. The council, chaired by Lee and drawn exclusively from elected officials, was created by the court this summer to help alleviate chronic jail overcrowding and streamline the county’s criminal justice system.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia, a member of the council, said he would support a public defender office if the council did. District Attorney Patricia Lykos has said she would support a public defender office or court-appointed attorneys, as long as indigents receive effective legal representation.

It’s a good start, and hopefully by having dedicated employees for the task of indigent defense we really can start to make a dent in the jail population. If they can succeed in getting more people out on bail, and getting those who need treatment for mental illnesses steered in that direction, it should have a real effect. I’m encouraged by this and look forward to seeing the final product. A statement from State Sen. Rodney Ellis, who is one of the champions of this effort, is beneath the fold.


SNCF proposes high-speed rail route for Texas

It’s not the Texas T-Bone, but it’s a start.

Last December, Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters and Representative John Mica (R-FL) announced that the Federal Railroad Administration would begin accepting Expressions of Interest for the development of high-speed lines in the United States. By February, more than 80 groups, including a number of states, train operators, and train constructors, had sent letters describing their interest in being part of the development of American fast train travel. Final responses were due on September 14th.

I’ve obtained documents that show that SNCF, the French national railroad operator made famous by its development of the TGV system, has responded with detailed descriptions of potential operations in four U.S. corridors, all to benefit from train service at speeds of up to 220 mph. The organization refers to this service as HST 220 (220 mph high-speed trains). With the exception of a description of plans by the California High-Speed Rail Authority, SNCF appears to be the only group that submitted a serious, corridor-based response to FRA’s demand, though infrastructure companies Vinci, Spineq, Cintra, Global Via, and Bouygues all sent in letters promoting rather vague interest in involvement.

There is no funding associated with this call for expressions of interest; it is unrelated to the stimulus. Nonetheless, SNCF’s large response — totaling 1,000 pages — exemplifies the degree to which it sees American corridors as a good investment and suggests that the French company is planning an all-out assault on future U.S. rail operations.


SNCF has an entrenched interest in Texas high-speed rail, having been the majority member of theTexas TGV project of the late 1980s and early 1990s. That proposal collapsed in flames after intense opposition from Southwest Airlines and subsequently state legislators. The company has a sincere interest in moving forward with a new project in the state, and has chosen to focus on a Ft. Worth-Dallas-Austin-San Antonio link, rather than the Dallas-Houston link that’s been much-discussed in recent weeks. The company argues that building the former line first would allow further consideration of the connection to Houston; it is clear that SNCF still considers the Texas Triangle an option, despite recent efforts to promote the T-Bone corridor, portrayed on the map above.

At $13.8 billion in construction costs, SNCF expects benefits to outweigh public infrastructure costs by 170% over a period of 15 years. This project would have the highest rate of return of any of the corridors profiled in the studies presented here. The study projects 12.1 million annual riders by 2026 and 15 million by 2040. After predicting 11.4 million annual riders for the Dallas-Houston corridor last month — far higher than the 1.5 to 3 million economist Ed Glaeser assumed in his study of the line — I feel vindicated.

Dallas and San Antonio would be connected in 1h50, with links between Dallas and Austin in 1h13 non-stop. Seven new stations would be built, five in traditional downtown hubs and two located adjacent to airports in Dallas and San Antonio.

You can see their map for Texas here (large PDF). It’s about 275 miles from San Antonio to Dallas, which would be about a four hour drive under ideal conditions that don’t exist, and as I recall a bit more than an hour’s flight. If your destination is downtown, you’d make up quite a bit of time by not having to get there from either airport.

The DMN Transportation blog has more on this. Obviously, I’d like to see Houston connected to Dallas, whether via Austin (which would fit in well with existing commuter rail proposals) or directly. Regardless, seeing an actual proposal from a private company is pretty exciting. What do you think?

On a related note of good timing, neoHouston is embarking on a detailed exploration of high speed rail in Texas and how to make it successful. I look forward to seeing his impression of the SNCF proposal.

You can try, but you can’t out-embarrass the SBOE

The Court of Criminal Appeals has had a good run lately as the public institution that has caused the most embarrassment to Texas, thanks in no small part to the ongoing Keller saga and the recent hot judge-on-prosecutor ruling. But never count out the State Board of Education, where it’s not just a clown show, it’s a way of life, as seen in these clips from the recent hearings on social studies textbooks gathered by TPM Muckraker.

In these clips, the seated officials are members of the GOP-majority board of ed. The woman standing up is the representative of the high school U.S. history textbook standards writing team. Keep in mind, the writing team is supposed to incorporate in its next revision of the standards the input of the board members.

First up, board member Don McLeroy explains the importance of recognizing how “the majority” has helped “minorities” like African-Americans and women. “For instance, the women’s right to vote. … The men passed it for the women.”

(An incredulous female board member can be heard asking in the background, “How many years did it take?”)

I suppose by McLeroy’s logic, I ought to be grateful to all of the people in high school who could have beaten me up but didn’t. That came out almost two weeks ago but just came to my attention, via Twitter. Which means that no matter what ultimately happens, that will be the lasting impression a lot of people have of the SBOE. If only it were an inaccurate one.

It’s hard to get a conviction when there’s no evidence of a crime

The main bit of news in this AP story about the Todd Willingham case review is that the Texas Forensic Science Commission will be reviewing the Beyler report about the shoddy investigation of the fire on Friday. I hope, though the story doesn’t say, that this means it will be an open hearing at which the press, if not the public, will be in attendance. It’ll be valuable to get some idea of what the Commission thinks as we wait for their report next year. The most interesting bit of information in this story, however, is this admission from the prosecutor who helped to kill Willingham:

The prosecutor in the case still believes Willingham is guilty, but acknowledges it would have been hard to win a death sentence without the arson finding.


John Jackson, the prosecutor in Navarro County, about 50 miles south of Dallas, says the original fire investigation was “undeniably flawed,” based on subsequent reviews, but remains confident Willingham was guilty of killing Amber, 2, and 1-year-old twins Karmon and Kameron.

“What people missed is that even though the arson report may be flawed, it certainly doesn’t mean it arrived at a faulty conclusion,” Jackson said.

“I’m an easy target,” he added, shaking his head over media reports on the case “about how we’re all a bunch of bozos.”


Jackson, the Navarro County prosecutor, said the multiple deaths — not the arson — made it a capital murder case. But he acknowledged that without an arson determination the capital conviction would have been difficult.

“I’m not sure the evidence would have sustained a conviction from a legal standpoint if we hadn’t been able to prove a fire of incendiary arson,” he said.

I suppose I should feel some sympathy for the guy, who’s presumably trying to wrap his mind around the fact that he is directly responsible for putting an innocent man to death. But come on. What he’s saying here is the equivalent of “It might have been hard for us to get a conviction in that embezzlement case if the evidence showed that no money had actually gone missing.” Dude, if you knew then what you knew now you’d never have sought an indictment, much less a conviction. There was no crime. That’s what this is all about.

What I’d really like to know at this point is why he still clings to the idea that Willingham is guilty, given that he’s stumbling towards accepting the idea that there was no crime. I understand why Douglas Fogg, who was one of the investigators in the case, remains convinced of Willingham’s guilt – he seems to think that the whole Innocence Project investigation is some kind of liberal plot to, I don’t know, fluoridate his water or something. But Jackson strikes me as different, and I think over time he’ll come to see the light. Until then, I’d like to see reporters ask him why he still thinks Willingham is guilty. I feel like there’s something we can learn from that.

Help Equality Texas

Equality Texas, which lobbies on behalf of equal rights for all Texans, had the misfortune of its office being vandalized over the weekend.

The offices of Equality Texas were vandalized over the weekend sometime  Saturday night or on Sunday.  The large front plate glass window was broken out.  Nothing was taken from the office and there was no entry to the building.  There was no graffiti and nothing to indicate specifically that we were targeted except that we were the only office hit in our immediate area (there being multiple offices with plate glass windows).

  • We have called the police and are waiting for a detective to contact us;
  • We have contacted our insurance company but this type of damage is specifically excluded from our tenant coverage (because we don’t own the building) and our business lease makes us responsible for replacement;
  • We have canvassed our neighbors with flyers and have interviewed the  businesses around us.  We found that one office four blocks away had a back door vandalized on Saturday morning.

So, we cannot determine if this is a specific action targeting Equality Texas.

“We appreciate the concern of our members and our neighbors,” said Paul Scott, Equality Texas Executive Director.  “This act of vandalism, whether random or targeted, is a surprise to us in this neighborhood.   The act was clearly intended to cause damage to an occupied office and has disrupted our activities as well as will have a financial impact.  We thank everyone for their help.”

Repairing the damage will cost around $1,200.  If you wish to help us with the cost, please contribute here.

I hope you’ll consider making a donation to help them cover the cost of this. They’re definitely worth supporting. BOR has more.

New TV ads from Parker and Brown

Annise Parker has released her second TV ad. Before I embed the video, here’s some of the press release about the ad:

The Annise Parker Campaign released its second TV ad today, on the theme of leadership. The ad will run in conjunction with Parker’s first ad that launched Thursday, “Parker Delivers.”

The ad is called “The Only One” and features Parker’s vision of Houston as the world headquarters for the new energy economy and points to her detailed plans to create jobs, grow our economy and attract high-tech, clean-tech companies to Houston. It also highlights Parker’s innovative Hire Houston First policy to ensure that jobs created by city projects go to local workers first.

Parker’s detailed plans can be found on her website at

The ad makes clear, however, that plans alone are not enough: “Leadership means more than plans,” says Parker at the start. “You have to deliver, too.”

So we have one slap at Gene Locke, and one at Peter Brown. At least this one is unlikely to annoy or confuse supporters of the arts. Give her credit for being aggressive. Now here’s the ad.

The ad is on YouTube and as the release notes, is coincident with the release of Parker’s energy plan. Even without the mixed-message issues of the first ad, I like this one a whole lot better. It’s more appealing to me personally, it’s forward-looking, and yes it’s simple and direct with nothing to distract from it. More like this, please.

Meanwhile, Peter Brown is out with TV ad #3.

Also pretty good. Brown speaks for himself for the first time, rather than just a voiceover, and I thought he did well. It too comes with a new plan, Brown’s expanded “Get Tough, Get Smart” public safety blueprint, which is an expanded version of his original crimefighting plan (both PDFs). Brown has made good use of his media budget, at least from where I sit. Again, it’d be nice to see what a poll has to say about that.

Releases from both candidates about their new ads are beneath the fold. Here’s more on Parker’s ad from Greg and from Martha, and more on Brown’s ad from Greg and from Martha. We’re still waiting for an ad from Gene Locke, and I’m still waiting to see either of Parker’s spots on TV instead of the Internet. What do you think?

UPDATE: Stace likes Parker’s ad. KT is unimpressed by both.


Election tidbits for 9/29

Meet Dallas DA Craig Watkins’ Republican opponent. I thought he came across better than the commenters did, but I feel pretty good about Watkins’ chances nonetheless. Via Grits.

Some love for Bill White, including the Bill Whites for Bill White ActBlue page.

Hank Gilbert speaks to WFAA in Dallas.

Get ready for Teabagging II: Electric Boogaloo.

Martha, John, and Stace comment on the Gene Locke robocalls, in particular the one from County Clerk Beverly Kaufmann.

Rick Perry claims his website was hacked. The evidence suggests otherwise.

Don Large, the now-former campaign manager for Council candidate Carlos Obando, informed me today that he is filing paperwork to run for Harris County Republican Party Chair. He’ll be the third challenger to current Chair Jared Woodfill.

Interview with Council Member James Rodriguez

James Rodriguez

James Rodriguez

Next we have Council Member James Rodriguez, who is serving his first term in District I. He’s been busy on a number of fronts, including the construction of the Harrisburg light rail line and the pending Dynamo Stadium deal, as well as becoming a father for the first time in August. Rodriguez is unopposed this November.

Download the MP3 file.


Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4
Brenda Stardig, District A
Oliver Pennington, District G
Amy Peck, District A
Herman Litt, At Large #1
Natasha Kamrani, HISD Trustee in District I, not running for re-election
Alex Wathen, District A
Robert Kane, District F
Council Member Melissa Noriega, At Large #3
Jeff Downing, District A
Mike Laster, District F
Council Member Jolanda Jones, At Large #5
Mills Worsham, District G
Rick Rodriguez, At Large #1
Council Member Sue Lovell, At Large #2
Carlos Obando, At Large #5
Richard Sedita, District G
Jack Christie, At Large #5
Dexter Handy, District G
George Foulard, District G
Alma Lara, HISD Trustee District I
Anna Eastman, HISD Trustee District I
Linda Toyota, HISD Trustee District I
Council Member Ed Gonzalez, District H
Council Member Wanda Adams, District D
Council Member Anne Clutterbuck, District C
Progressive Coalition candidates
Council Member Mike Sullivan, District E

Chron overview of the Controller’s race

Must be getting close to Early Voting, as the Chron has started writing about elections other than the Mayor’s race. Here’s their overview of the Controller’s race.

The city controller position traditionally has been a big draw in municipal races. Previous controllers have engaged in high-profile sparring with powerful mayoral administrations and tried, with limited success, to use the office as a stepping stone to brighter political fortunes.

This year, however, may be different, as council members Ronald Green, M.J. Khan and Pam Holm look back over six years at City Hall with little to distinguish themselves from one another in on a generally collegial, unified council. In a year when polls show that many voters know little about the city’s mayoral candidates, the race for Houston’s top fiscal watchdog may have an even tougher time getting people’s attention.

“If the mayor’s race is off the radar screen, the controller race is simply completely lost in the shuffle,” said Robert Stein, a political scientist at Rice University. “They are not running campaigns that are much above yard signs and block walking.”

Maybe my memory’s a little cloudy, but I don’t recall the 2003 race being all that visible beyond yard signs and blockwalking, either. Of course, that year we had a ton of spending in the Mayor’s race, which would have overshadowed if not completely drowned out whatever the Controller candidates were saying. Greg brings some numbers to show that in pretty much every election, the Controller’s race is a distant echo of the Mayor’s race. With the Mayor’s race this year being at a lower volume than usual, the effect is heightened.

In any event, you can see what the candidates have to say for themselves in this story, and you can hear what they have to say for themselves, in plenty of detail, next week in my interviews with them. This is an important race and it deserves much more attention than it’s gotten so far.

Holm drops some mail

We have our first indication of campaign expenditures outside the Mayor’s race as Council Member and Controller candidate Pam Holm puts out a mailer. Musings has a look, courtesy of @xtinagorczynski on Twitter. It’s a basic intro piece that establishes her brand and as Musings notes reminds Republicans that they have someone to vote for at the citywide level. You’ll hear more about her being a “watchdog” in the interview I did with her, which will run next week. Anyone else out there receive this? I’m wondering how widely it was sent. Leave a comment and let me know. Thanks!

More on scent lineups

The Chron had a good story yesterday about “scent lineups” and the problems they’ve caused in criminal cases. Since one of the main arguments raised by the defenders of the Todd Willingham verdict seems to be that the experts involved are a bunch of bleeding heart liberals, I figured we’d take a look at what the experts are saying about Fort Bend County Keith Pikett and his incredibly accurate dogs.

As publicity spread about Pikett’s work, more and more police agencies and prosecutors began to use him. He has said he has no idea of how many cases his dogs have been involved in, but it numbers in the thousands. He also has testified that his dogs have almost never been wrong. One of them, “Clue,” erred once in 1,659, he has testified, while “James Bond” made one mistake in 2,266 tries.

Well-known police dog trainer Bob Eden, who has written two books on the subject and helped develop minimum training standards, calls such numbers incredible. Literally. Although dogs can perform with amazing consistency, Eden said, handlers are all but certain to make blunders and inadvertently tip the dog to the desired match, or to an incorrect match if the handler has no knowledge of the correct one.

Of equal concern, Eden said, is the absence of carefully recorded training records to demonstrate the dog’s proficiency and error rate. Pikett has acknowledged that he does not keep such records.

“Prosecutors should never put him on the stand without training records,” Eden said. “Everything that is done with that dog should have a training record.”

Three experts hired by the Innocence Project criticized Pikett’s work. The former head of police dog training in the United Kingdom, Bob Coote, reviewed a video of one of Pikett’s scent lineups and was appalled.

“This is the most primitive evidential police procedure I have ever witnessed,” Coote stated. “If it was not for the fact that this is a serious matter, I could have been watching a comedy.”

I look forward to hearing the epithets that will be hurled at Eden and Coote the first time there’s a big push to exonerate someone that was convicted by one of Pikett’s dogs. I suppose if there’s a bright side to this latest innocence frontier, it’s that a lot of the cases that have been publicized so far involved people who were freed before they faced trial, though not necessarily before they spent time in jail. The Victoria Advocate has a couple of good examples, such as this:

On Wednesday, prosecutors dismissed a case against 26-year-old Jamal Miller. Miller was accused in a 2008 bank robbery, based entirely on scent evidence, said his lawyer, Damiane Curvey Banieh.

Prosecutors had video of the robbery, Banieh said, and her client looked nothing like the man in the tape. Miller was 70 pounds thinner and had darker skin than the man in the tape, Banieh said.

Most notably, though, Miller was clean-shaven because he worked at a plant and federal safety regulations prohibited facial hair, Banieh said. The man in the video had a goatee and mustache.

“It’s amazing how bull-headed they were once they had the scent lineup,” Banieh said.

Harris County prosecutor Angela Welton said the case was dismissed because of lack of evidence.

“Scent evidence was one piece of evidence that was looked at,” she said.

You have to marvel at the idea that video of a crime that shows a perpetrator who looks nothing at all like the accused isn’t enough to outweigh a dog scent identification. I can just imagine the summary argument for the prosecution: “Who are you going to believe, our dog or your lying eyes?” Grits has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of September 28

As early voting for the November elections looms on the horizon, the Texas Progressive Alliance says good-bye to September and hello to another weekly blog roundup. Click on for the highlights.


Election tidbits for 9/28

Two weeks till Early Voting begins.

Psst! Hey, Peggy! Rep. Kristi Thibaut represents HD133 here in Houston, not Galveston. Just FYI.

As for the news that the GOP will be targeting State Rep. Abel Herrero, given the 2008 partisan index of HD34, plus the apparent likelihood that the Dems are once again punting on the statewide races and don’t have much of a plan to engage their base in South Texas, it makes sense. On the other hand, Herrero performed pretty decently against a well-funded opponent (he had more money, but not that much more), and I don’t at this time see him as being in much danger; at least, I don’t see him as being in as much danger as some other Democrats. But if I were a Republican, I’d want to take a shot at him, even if I thought it was a long shot.

Republican State Rep. Charlie Geren may face another primary challenger. After taking Tom Craddick and James Leininger’s best shots, I doubt he’s seriously worried.

Speaking of primaries, Democrat Eric Johnson boasts about raising over $100K in his effort to unseat State Rep. Terri Hodge. I think the verdict in the Dallas City Hall corruption case, for which Rep. Hodge has been indicted but not yet tried, will be the bigger determinant in his race than his fundraising, but it can’t hurt to have the resources to run.

Empower Texans, one of the conservative agitprop groups in the state, wants to know if you think Sen. Hutchison should resign or not. Not sure why they think if she does resign it will “save taxpayers up to $30 million”, and I’m not sure why that’s her responsibility and not Governor Perry’s, since the cost of the special election is in part a function of the date he sets for it, but whatever. I don’t expect logic from these guys anyway.

Was that Rasmussen poll that showed a KBH bounceback against Rick Perry a bogus result?

Last week, the Press named Sheriff Adrian Garcia the Best Democrat, and County Judge Ed Emmett the Best Republican. I can’t argue with either of those choices.

Mayoral candidate Gene Locke has recordings of numerous robocalls being made on his behalf by various elected officials that support his candidacy. I’ll say again, I think you ought to be spending your money on other forms of outreach, like mail – in this case, why not do these recorsings as radio ads – and save the robocalls for GOTV efforts. I say this as someone who generally hangs up on robocalls. Maybe I’m the exception here, I don’t know. But I suspect most people find these things more intrusive and annoying than anything else.

Speaking of ads, Peter Brown is set to release his third TV ad tomorrow. I’ll post the video when I get it. So far, that’s Brown 3, Parker 1, Locke 0, and I haven’t seen Parker’s ad on the tube yet. Still wondering when we’ll see new poll numbers so we’ll know if Brown’s air war has moved anyone into his column.

Interview with Council Member Mike Sullivan

Mike Sullivan

Mike Sullivan

We begin Round 2 of the incumbent district Council members with Mike Sullivan, who is serving his first term in District E. As with his colleagues, there’s been a lot of action in his district these past two years, and as such we had much to talk about. Sullivan has one opponent on the ballot in November.

Download the MP3 file.


Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4
Brenda Stardig, District A
Oliver Pennington, District G
Amy Peck, District A
Herman Litt, At Large #1
Natasha Kamrani, HISD Trustee in District I, not running for re-election
Alex Wathen, District A
Robert Kane, District F
Council Member Melissa Noriega, At Large #3
Jeff Downing, District A
Mike Laster, District F
Council Member Jolanda Jones, At Large #5
Mills Worsham, District G
Rick Rodriguez, At Large #1
Council Member Sue Lovell, At Large #2
Carlos Obando, At Large #5
Richard Sedita, District G
Jack Christie, At Large #5
Dexter Handy, District G
George Foulard, District G
Alma Lara, HISD Trustee District I
Anna Eastman, HISD Trustee District I
Linda Toyota, HISD Trustee District I
Council Member Ed Gonzalez, District H
Council Member Wanda Adams, District D
Council Member Anne Clutterbuck, District C
Progressive Coalition candidates

Wolff speaks about Metro

Here’s Metro board chair David Wolff giving a state of the system address in the op-ed pages. I suppose it’s a counter, if not a response to Bill King’s piece from two weeks ago; it offers a defense of the current fare structure, at least. For all the complaining I’ve done lately about the slow pace of getting the new lines built, we are making progress and we can start to visualize what we’ll soon have, and from there what we can have next. I’ll feel better once the last two lines are nailed down and construction has started, but for now it’s good to be reminded that we’ve come a long way.

One point to add:

One of the most gratifying learning experiences for me has been sensing the enthusiasm and commitment to public transportation improvements among our younger generation. I have yet to meet any Houstonian under 40 who questions the priority of mass transit. They “get it.” They have experienced other cities — New York, San Francisco, London, etc. — and know that we cannot have a metropolitan area heading toward 6 million people (and perhaps more) in their lifetime without excellent public transit.

I’m pretty sure at least one of the usual suspects of the Metro Haters Club is still on the low side of 40, but I do think we’ve seen a shift in attitude over the past few years. Nobody argues with any credibility any more that light rail can’t work in Houston. They may carp about “at grade” rail, or complain about other things at the margins, but the success of the Main Street line stands on its own. That gives me hope that when we finally do start talking about the next expansion the argument will be primarily over where it should be, and not whether we should do it at all.

Food stamps fail

News item: Budget board denies request for more food stamps workers.

The Legislative Budget Board has denied a request from the Health and Human Services Commission to hire about 650 state workers to relieve the state’s food stamp enrollment system, which is struggling with backlogs and errors.

The additional workers could help address both of those problems, now-retired Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins told the budget board and the staff of Gov. Rick Perry in an August letter.

This week was the deadline for the budget board or the governor to decide on the request; if they did nothing, the request would be automatically approved.


Celia Hagert of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low- and middle-income Texans, said that waiting to hire the workers isn’t fair to families waiting for food stamps.

“We have hundreds of thousands of Texans needing help affording food and caring for their families,” Hagert said. “The clock has run out for these families.”

News item: Federal officials: Texas could lose food stamp funds if problems aren’t fixed.

Federal officials have warned Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs that unless Texas fixes serious problems with its food stamp enrollment system, it could lose federal funds.

“The current status of (food stamp) administration in Texas is unacceptable and actions must be taken immediately,” says the letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, which administers the food stamp program.

Specifically, the letter says, the state is not complying with federal law on processing applications on time. Applications must be processed within 30 days, but the state is failing to process more than a third of applications by the deadline, according to state data. Processing in the Dallas and Houston areas is especially slow, and in Austin, it’s better than the rest of the state.

Celia Hagert of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low- and middle-income Texans, called the letter “a warning sterner than we’ve ever seen before” from federal officials.

Great timing by the LBB, eh? Reading this, I’m struck by the thought that the feds don’t really have any leverage to make Texas do the right thing. Yeah, sure, they can withhold funds, but all that does is further injure the people who are already being hurt by Texas’ manifest failures. And pardon me for saying so, but taking care of the needy isn’t exactly an issue for GOP primary voters, so it’s not like there’s a political incentive for Governor Perry to clean things up, or for Senator Hutchison to inveigh against him. Maybe, given that Texas is violating the law here, there needs to be some kind of legal accountability for it. If the ultimate remedy were the garnishment of Tom Suehs’ wages, or tossing him in jail, till a satisfactory remediation plan were being executed, I bet that would get a swift response. But turning off the federal spigot? I hope it works, but color me skeptical.

Lucio says he wants to run for Congress

State Sen. Eddie Lucio is looking ahead to 2011 and the possibility that there’s a seat in Congress for him.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio says he will seriously consider running for Congress after the next round of redistricting, which takes place in 2011.

The Brownsville Democrat says the huge growth in population in the Rio Grande Valley over the last ten years merits the creation of two new U.S. House seats anchored in the four-county region, in addition to the district currently represented by Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes.

“We deserve to have at least three congressional districts anchored in the Valley and going north. I will work to that effect next session and I will seriously look at running for one of those seats,” Lucio told the Guardian, in an exclusive interview.

“If I lose another 15 pounds and continue to have the energy I have today I would very seriously like to cap my political career… not so much cap my political career but I would love to address and tackle the issues that are important to us internationally, immigration, health care, water, the environment,” Lucio said.

“I think there are a lot of wonderful things we could do at the federal level that would benefit the Valley and South Texas.”

Sen. Lucio is the least reliable Democrat in the Senate caucus, whose doublecross on an anti-environment bill aimed at Houston in 2007 helped earn him a spot on the Ten Worst list (he was upgraded to Furniture for this past session) and still personally chaps my hide. But I wouldn’t underestimate his ability to get a district drawn that he could win. Just another thing to keep an eye on as we head towards the next session.

With more gambling comes more problem gambling

The never asleep gambling industry in Texas likes to point out how much business the casinos in Oklahoma and Louisiana get, which includes a hefty amount from Texans. But as gambling becomes more prevalent, so do gambling addictions.

Tribal casinos have grown in size and number since voters in 2004 approved a law expanding tribal gaming. There are now more than 100 tribal casinos in the state. Four horse racing tracks, the state lottery and even the Internet offer more gaming options.

“Of course the number of problem gamblers is on the rise,” said Wiley Harwell, executive director of the Oklahoma Association for Problem & Compulsive Gambling office in Norman. “Anytime you have casinos, per se, you’re gong to have this come along with it. If you’re in the casino business, you’re in the problem gambling business as well. We’re just now seeing our fair share of it.”

Figures from the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services show the number of people who called the state’s gambling helpline increased from 627 in fiscal year 2007 to 912 in fiscal year 2009. The number of people seeking treatment for gambling addiction at a state-funded facility rose from 149 to 350 in the same time period.

“Gambling addiction used to be a hidden problem in poker rooms,” Harwell said. “Now you see more and more casino gamblers.”

Harwell said many of people who call the helpline see the number on posters and brochures that are required at casinos.

These numbers don’t address those who seek private help. Many more do not seek help at all.

I refer you back to this post about the concept of “playing to extinction”. The point, simply, is that there is a cost to expanding gambling, and that cost is in my opinion understated. I just want to make sure we all keep that cost in mind, especially if the prospects of casinos in Texas are getting brighter.

Weekend link dump for September 27

What do you do when your kid is the bully?

Turns out conservatives have no ideas about how to reform health care.

Yo, John. Either you did or you didn’t. Admit or get off the pot already.

Just how far down does that rabbit hole go, anyway?

The dinosaurs that lived, at least for awhile, after the mass extinction.

Harold Cook helps the Republican Party of Texas design a logo for 2010.

Putting “The Beatles: Rock Band” into perspective.

It would be fine by me if penmanship gets permanently de-emphasized in the school curriculum.

Apparently, looking at pictures of nekkid women can make boys gay. Or something. No, I don’t understand it, either. But Teresa makes a mighty fine attempt at following it to its logical conclusions.

The down side of “opting out”.

It’s only not OK if you’re ACORN.

Glenn Beck was for the bailouts before he was a teabagger.

Happy 50th birthday to COBOL.

Who says conservatives don’t like government programs?

Apparently, Sarah Palin is ignorant and dishonest. Who knew?

Meet the Wandas.

The real cost of medical malpractice.

LeVar Burton gets something off his chest. Hilarious.

Twitter TMI.

Ever wonder about the packing fraction for breakfast cereals? Of course you have.

Among other things, Jim Rice is a lousy baseball analyst.

Am I the only one who thinks it’s awesome that one of the lead “birthers” is a guy named Kreep?

Congratulations to Dr. Dennis Ahlberg, the 18th President of Trinity University.

Kimberley Young died because she didn’t have health insurance. Why do we let that happen in the United States?

Where high speed rail makes the most sense. The pairing of Dallas and Houston is #10 on the list.

The county’s proposal for a public defender’s office

Next week, a proposal for a “hybrid” public defender’s office will be presented to Harris County Commissioners Court.

It is considered a hybrid because it would allow courts to use both public defenders and private attorneys. For example, two of the county’s three juvenile courts are interested in assigning public defenders to represent 60 percent of the young defendants; the other 40 percent would get lawyers appointed by the judge.

Advocates say creation of a public defenders office can help quickly reduce chronic overcrowding in the Harris County Jail, where more than half of the 11,500 inmates are awaiting trial. The lawyers hired for the office would earn the same as prosecutors employed by the District Attorney’s Office.

The proposal, included in the county’s midyear review before Commissioners Court next week, was applauded by defense advocates who favor the county’s approach to modify the existing system.

“It’s an excellent step in the right direction,” said Jim Bethke, director of the Task Force on Indigent Defense, part of the Texas Judicial Council in Austin. “Ultimately, we want to help county government improve delivery of indigent defense services, and the work and effort they put into this is extremely commendable. They’re not trying to just jump into it and throw something together.”

The proposal, so far, appears to have less than full support among the county’s state district criminal judges.

Only 11 of the 22 state district criminal judges expressed interest in the use of public defenders for appellate work, while only five courts endorsed the concept for felony trials. Two of the three juvenile courts are interested in public defenders, while all 15 county criminal courts have agreed to a hybrid system to represent mentally ill or disabled indigents, according to documents from court administrators.


The public defender proposal, under study since April, was drafted by the Office of Court Management and will be referred to the county’s newly created Criminal Justice Coordinating Council after it’s presented to Commissioners Court on Tuesday.

The proposal was not endorsed by District Attorney Patricia Lykos, nor by the county’s criminal defense lawyers.

“The mission of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is to seek justice. Defendants are entitled to effective representation, and indigent defendants have the right to have counsel appointed,” said Lykos, in a statement released late Friday. “Whether counsel is court-appointed or provided through a public defender’s office is a public policy decision. This office will respect whatever decision is made.”

JoAnne Musick, president of the 600-member Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, said her group is “split roughly 50-50,” and even lawyers who favor a public defender office are reserving judgment until they see how it would be administered. And the county’s judges are unlikely to agree on a program that will curtail their ability to select, and approve hefty legal fees, to private attorneys, she said.

Ana Yanez-Correa, executive director of the nonprofit Texas Criminal Justice Coa­lition in Austin, said the county’s proposal “is one of the strongest proposals we’ve seen in a while.”

It also could provide another benefit, she said, noting that the Harris County Jail is overcrowded, “and what adds to overcrowding is not having a responsible, fast way of handling cases.”

The CJC sent a letter in support of a public defender’s office last week. Grits has more on the proposal itself. I’d be interested to know which judges are in favor of it and which are opposed. Is there a partisan divide? Are the judges who are up for re-election in 2010 more or less likely to favor it? I think we deserve to know the answers to those questions.

City of Houston social media

The City of Houston is doing it in the Facebook with the Twittering, plus some bonus YouTube action as well. Follow BARC, various Community Affairs offices, the George R. Brown Convention Center, and more, some of which update more often and have done so more recently than others. I think this is a good idea, and would like to see more city departments do it, as well as a greater commitment to regular updates from those that are currently doing it. Oh, and I think the page should include a listing of City Council members’ Twitter pages as well. Thanks to Miya for the tip.

School bus billboards

A cash-strapped school district’s gotta do what a cash-strapped school district’s gotta do.

Faced with a projected $9 million to $12 million budget deficit this year, Superintendent Greg Smith told the Board of Trustees last night that it’s time to get creative.

“We are not turning any opportunities down,” he said.

Board members attending this month’s workshop meeting learned Humble ISD is taking in $250,000 this year by turning its buses into billboards, and with 255 buses running 173 routes each day, Clear Creek stands to pocket something close to that. Other school districts already trying it are Pearland, Pasadena, Cy-Fair, Spring and Anahuac.

The idea is still in a “just thinking about it” phase and no date has even been set yet for a vote, but staff researching the possibility found that the district could probably charge about $350 a month for splashing an ad as big as 2.5 feet by 7.5 feet across the driver’s side of the bus where the kids won’t see it while boarding. A 1.5-foot-by-9 foot-ad stripped above the bus windows on either side of the bus could fetch about $175 a month. Plus installation fees of $250.


“Reputable” advertisers such as insurers, car dealers, restaurants, hospitals, home builders and dentists could run 9-month ads on the routes of its choice, perhaps near their businesses or maybe on the freeway where commuters could see them. The ads would have to be age-appropriate, of course, with no promotion of alcohol, drugs or gambling and with no offensive ethnic, racial or religious references.

In the sense that this is vastly preferable to things like laying off employees, dropping programs, or cutting bus service, I have no objection to this idea. In the sense that any school district should have to face these kinds of choices as a result of the continued penury of our state leadership and the bizarre anti-tax mania of too many of our citizens, I find it distasteful in the extreme. On balance, I say go for it. Thanks to Marc Campos for the tip.

Lubbock gets officially wet

You may recall that the city of Lubbock voted to overturn its prohibition on alcohol this May, ending its long history of being America’s largest dry city (the vote was for the whole county, but still). Well, the citizens of Lubbock have been waiting since then for the Texas Alcoholic Beverages Commission to approve permits so that the booze can actually be sold. This week, those permits finally came, and the good times started rolling.

Beer trucks fanned out across Lubbock Wednesday morning making their first deliveries to grocers and other new alcohol retailers in the newly “wet” city.

And the demand, it appears, was bigger than distributors’ ability to reach everybody Wednesday.

“We couldn’t guarantee product in all nine stores today because of the demand on the distributors,” said Eddie Owens, director of corporate communications for United Supermarkets. “Everyone wanted the product at the same time.”

“Everyone,” as it turned out, added up to 83 retail locations that received permits from the Lubbock office of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. That included a mixed beverage permit for a bar and a restaurant mixed beverage permit.

“This was new for us,” Owens said, noting that United had never before dealt with a “reset” – rearranging store design to accommodate a new product – for all nine of its local stores at the same time.

Although there may not have been enough beer to go around, at least there was a lot of beer out there.

Wine fanciers weren’t so fortunate, however. Lubbock has no local wine distributors, so shipments come from elsewhere in the state.

Owens said that on the first day, only United’s Market Street locations had wine, and a small selection at that.

I’m sure that will improve over time. Here’s mud in your eye, Lubbock.

Saturday video break: National Punctuation Day

What, you didn’t know that it was National Punctuation Day this past Thursday? Here, let Victor Borge explain to you what it’s all about:

I remember him doing a version of this on “The Electric Company” when I was a kid – I still pronounce exclamation points like he does to this day – but alas, I couldn’t find a clip of it on YouTube. But this is pretty good, too.

Solar power for Houston

The city of Houston will go solar for some of its energy needs.

Under a 25-year proposed agreement being announced today, the city of Houston will buy power for its buildings from the plant, which will be the largest solar plant in Texas when it’s completed in July. Its 10-megawatt capacity — which will be online only during daylight hours — will provide up to 1.5 percent of the city government’s power needs.

NRG, which won the contract to build the plant through a bidding process, will front the $40 million to build the plant on 70 acres of land at the site of the existing T.H. Wharton power plant near Texas 249 and North Beltway 8. The plant will use thin-film photovoltaic solar panels manufactured by First Solar Inc.

The city will pay 8.2 cents per kilowatt hour for the first year of the contract, but that can change over time and will be based on a combination of factors. For example, the contract prices solar power at 19.8 cents per kilowatt hour, but what the city pays will incorporate lower-price natural gas power when the sun isn’t shining.


CPS Energy, San Antonio’s municipally owned utility, signed a deal this summer for a 14 MW solar plant to be finished by the end of next year.

Austin Energy signed a deal with a solar power plant developer this month to build a 30 megawatt plant. That facility should be up by December 2010 , a spokesman said.

And Southern California Edison is planning two large solar projects with a combined 550 MW outside of Los Angeles for startup in 2015.

But the projects are not without controversy. Solar-generated power costs more than other kinds despite the free fuel source. In Austin some businesses and residents expressed concern over estimates that getting more power from renewables, including wind and solar, could increase bills by 22 percent by 2020.

I love me some green energy, but if cost is an issue it’s going to be a political negative for these initiatives. Fortunately, that shouldn’t be too hard to overcome as the technology improves and becomes more widespread, and Andrew Burleson has some ideas on how to make the best use of solar power:

As solar technology improves, however, building-integrated solar installations will make more and more sense in the Southwest, because they can provide a big additional spike of energy right when our energy demand is spiking – when it gets really hot in the summer. These systems are much cheaper if their purpose is only to absorb the afternoon demand spike – no batteries are needed for that.

Right now the biggest thing holding back solar tech is the cost of the cells. As that cost goes down it will quickly become practical for businesses to amortize the capital cost of the solar cells in the construction of their buildings, and then be protected from the huge energy bills we all pay in the summer months.

This is the great thing about distributed solar. If we use it right it provides extra boosts of power when they’re needed most. This means we can run a more fuel efficient central plant with less total capacity required. The reduction in energy demand spikes would also help stabilize fuel prices, which benefits everyone. That, to me, is the most concrete long-term justification for solar investment. The sooner we can truly stabilize our energy supply, the better of we’ll all be.

Recall also that the city of Houston can make it easier for people to install solar cells in their homes. Matt Yglesias also notes that Germany, not exactly someplace one associates with sunshine, is a leading user of solar energy. We can do more, and over time we will need to do more. No time like now to get started.

Keep talking, Tom

I’ll leave the commentary on Tom DeLay’s dancing prowess to the experts and simply note that he has succeeded in getting himself back in the news. Which means people are asking him for his opinions on things, which in turn means more chances for him to fib and dissemble.

There was one more thing I needed to know, and with the ice pack under his foot melting and his professional dance partner waiting to get back to rehearsing, he himself cut to the chase: “Don’t you want to ask me about Ronnie Earle?” Of course, he was referring to the D.A. who got a Texas grand jury to indict him four years ago, on campaign finance laws; Earle has yet to bring the case to trial, and DeLay has always called the case politically motivated.

So, what is going on with the case? “Well, I can’t get my day in court, that’s what’s going on…Now it’s been four years, one appeal after another, but it’s still hanging out there. All Ronnie Earle ever wanted to do was indict me.”

Of course, the current appeals are being pressed by DeLay’s co-defendants Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, who got a sweetheart ruling from the Republican majority on the Third Court of Appeals last year. The Third Court took forever to get to a ruling in the first place – the appeals Earle made on DeLay’s tossed indictment went all the way to the Court of Criminal Appeals and got a resolution before the Third Court bothered to rouse itself on this one, prompting the Democratic judges on the Court to complain about it being slow-rolled – which the reason why we’re all still waiting for DeLay to get that day in court he says he wants.

Meanwhile, Earle has said he’s considering running for governor, and “What do I say to Ronnie Earle? Run, baby, run. Run, baby run. And I will be at every campaign stop to tell my story.”

I think I speak for every Democrat in Texas when I say please, pretty please with heaping piles of corporate lobbyist cash on it, do exactly that. We would love for you to be out there at every campaign stop, reminding everyone of who you are and why you’re an ex-Congressman. And wear the sequins, too, it’s a great look for you.

Kirby storm drain construction update

Times are tough all over for retailers. They’re especially tough when the street you’re on is all torn up.

The four-phase project to install new storm drainage along Kirby Drive started in 2004. The latest round peeled back the asphalt at the intersection with Tangley in April and is inching its way toward Bissonnet. City officials expect the phase to be complete by next August.

Shops and strip malls along Kirby have become temporary islands until asphalt isthmuses appear wherever the road is peeled up and put back in place.

On a recent Wednesday, a neon sign glowed “Open” in the window of a Subway franchise, its empty parking lot surrounded by a moat of torn pavement. Farther south, Shipley’s is accessible, but the Starbucks across the street isn’t. To get there, you’d have to make a left turn three blocks later and then double back on the side road where, earlier that day, a truck got tangled in electrical lines and knocked out power to an office building.

At Cova, a high-end wine shop, owner Monsterville Horton IV watched the confluence of three Cats gouging out the intersection of Kirby and Quenby, where traffic alternately stopped and lurched forward.

I just want to interrupt here to say that “Monsterville Horton IV” is easily the best name I’ve ever heard in my life. No wonder he’s Monsterville IV – I’d want to pass that name onto my son as well. Oh, I think “Monsterville Horton” would make a great band name, too.

Still, business owners who remember Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 don’t take issue with the reason for the construction.

“It’s going to save us a lot of hassle and headache,” said Aubrey Mendonca, who owns the Perimeter Gallery, an arts and framing store on Rice Boulevard. “I’m one of the highest-elevated stores in the Village, and I had a foot of water from Allison.”

Mendonca doesn’t fault city engineers for the pace of construction: They’re going as fast as they can, he says.

Public works spokesman Alvin Wright says the city has done what it could to accommodate commerce, including promising to halt construction between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“That’s one of the biggest seasons for the Village,” Mendonca said. “They’ve kept us in mind.”

And he doesn’t think construction alone will be fatal to any Rice Village businesses.

“We did see a few businesses fold because of the economy, but I don’t think it’s a danger of the construction.”

I have to say, I agree that the pace of the construction has been as quick as you could reasonably expect. You can literally see the progress if you drive through the area with any regularity. And in an odd way, I think the traffic on Kirby isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. At least, that’s the case headed southbound; the line of traffic to get through the light at Sunset headed northbound is much longer. I think there’s a Yogi Berra-ish “nobody goes there any more, it’s too crowded” effect at play here – I try to take Shepherd/Greenbriar (where there’s now construction blocking a lane of traffic just south of Sunset) or Buffalo Speedway when I can – which surely contributes to the merchants’ lack of business. But it is moving along, and perhaps these businesses’ experience can provide a little hope for those whose shops are along the coming light rail routes. If this is survivable, in this economy, anything is.

Anyway. The status of Kirby Drive, both here and north of the Southwest Freeway, was a subject of discussion in my interview with Council Member Anne Clutterbuck, as all of this is in District C. Give it a listen if you haven’t already.

Friday random ten: Every which way

Herewith is (almost) every song I have that starts with “Every”.

1. Every Little Kiss – Bruce Hornsby and The Range
2. Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic – The Police
3. Every Man For Himself – The Foremen
4. Every Night Of The Week – Lou Ann Barton
5. Every Picture Tells A Story – Rod Stewart
6. Every Time We Say Goodbye – Julie Murphy
7. Everybody’s Everything – Santana
8. Everybody’s Jumpin’ – Dave Brubeck
9. Everybody Loves My Baby – Asylum Street Spankers
10. Everything You Know Is Wrong – Weird Al Yankovic

Couldn’t quite get ten with the word “Every” so I cheated a little. I’m going to have to cheat even more for next week, so get used to it. In the meantime, I can’t deliver a post title like this without invoking one of the many strange things to come out of the 1970’s – the cinematic pairing of Clint Eastwood and an orangutan.

They just don’t make ’em like that any more. And that’s not such a bad thing. How’s everything on your playlist this week?

So long, Savoy, soon (we hope)

Swamplot brings an update about the impending, can’t-happen-soon-enough demolition of one of downtown’s great eyesores, the Savoy Hotel, as well as a doubly-puntastic headline. As that Hair Balls post notes, the Savoy has some historic significance, so under most circumstances its imminent doom would be sad. But it’s been so derelict for so long that there’s really no other choice, and any preservationist grieving about it has long since run its course. I just hope there’s something on the horizon to fill the empty lot.

One step closer to expanded gambling in Texas?

Maybe, though I’m not sure how much closer this really gets us.

[The] Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma is poised to take possession of an existing horse racing track in Grand Prairie. The tribe runs one of the biggest Indian casinos in the United States, just across the Texas border.

Gambling proponents believe the tribe may tip the balance to legalizing casinos across Texas.

“The Chickasaw Nation has very successful casinos,” said Jack Pratt, chairman of the Texas Gaming Association. “They certainly didn’t buy this track just to run the ponies.”

A Chickasaw-owned company, Global Gaming Solutions LSP, is expected to buy Lone Star Park next month as part of a bankruptcy settlement involving the track’s majority owner, Magna Entertainment Corp. of Canada.

The most dramatic change Chickasaw ownership of Lone Star is likely to bring to the casino debate in Texas is to alter the dynamics of the fight in the Legislature to amend the state Constitution to allow casino gambling.

The Chickasaw Nation has put more than $362,070 into state political races since 2006. But because of its Winstar Casino on the Texas border, the Chickasaws opposed expanded Texas gambling. With the purchase of Lone Star, the tribe likely will support casino-style gambling — at least at race tracks.

A Global Gaming spokeswoman said the company will support whatever horse owners at the track believe will make Lone Star successful.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to passing casino legislation in recent years has been infighting between track owners and casino owners. Horse and dog track owners have wanted a law that allows slot machines at tracks but no destination resort casinos. The casino industry has wanted both. Now, there will be a major horse track owner with a foot in both camps.

“Track owners have been cross-wired with the commercial casino owners,” said Pratt. “The track owners have been trying to get a monopoly.”

Mike Lavigne, a spokesman for Texans for Economic Development, an association of track owners that want slot machines at tracks, said his group sees the Chickasaw move as a positive because the tribe in the past has not supported expanded gambling, but now likely will.

Well, there certainly was some bad blood on display between the two sides of the industry this spring, so perhaps this arrangement will bring them all closer, much like the arranged marriages among European royalty in the pre-industrial days was supposed to do. I’m not convinced this makes any progress on an expansion of gambling in the near term, however. None of the constitutional amendments to expand gambling made it to a floor vote in either chamber; only one such resolution even made it out of committee. Rick Perry is still opposed, as are Kay Bailey Hutchison and Tom Schieffer, and while the Governor doesn’t have veto power over joint resolutions, he or she certainly wields influence. I suppose if the industry is serious about getting traction it ought to pour some money into Hank Gilbert’s campaign, since he’s willing to let a resolution come to a vote of the people. (Yeah, I know, Kinky supports casino gambling. I think the gambling industry is smart enough to know where not to place its chips.) Longer term, surely sooner or later a pro-gambling, or at least not-anti-gambling Governor will be elected, and then they can really push if it’s still an issue. Even then, the requirement of a two-thirds majority in both chambers is no small task, and the opposition is quite dedicated. All I’m saying is that I wouldn’t bet on anything being all that different in 2011.

If that’s your best, your best won’t do

We may never actually comply with federal clean air regulations.

Texas’ new plan to improve the Houston area’s famously dirty air may not meet federal limits for smog.

The pollution-fighting plan that state regulators are rolling out today predicts marked reductions in ozone, or smog, levels throughout the eight-county region.

But monitors in Deer Park and Sharpstown would still exceed federal limits by the 2019 deadline, according to the state’s projections. And the entire region would be out of compliance if one monitor showed ozone levels above the standards.

Just as a reminder, the standard we’re being asked to meet by 2019 is the one from 1997, not the one from today or the more stringent one that’s to come.

Still, state officials said the plan will bring Houston into compliance with the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for ozone for the first time.

That’s because TCEQ’s modeling of future emissions doesn’t capture everything that will help reduce smog, such as a voluntary, state-funded program that helps businesses replace old, dirty industrial diesel engines.

At the same time, the Houston region’s air quality is already ahead of expectations, said Susana Hildebrand, TCEQ’s chief engineer.

In such cases, a federal policy allows states to argue that the “weight of evidence” predicts success even without scientific proof. Texas took that position with the smog plan for Dallas-Fort Worth, and the EPA approved it last year.

“All of our trends and analysis show that emissions are going down in Houston even when the population is growing,” Hildebrand said. “That’s what the weight of evidence is all about.”

Yes, well, perhaps if the TCEQ spent more time enforcing regulations and less time with energy industry lobbyists and climate change deniers, then they wouldn’t have to rely on such back-door approaches.