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October, 2009:

Saturday video break: Happy Halloween!

I have two words for you: Pumpkin cannon.

Some people look at something like that and wonder why anyone would want to do such a thing. Others wonder why anyone wouldn’t want to. I’m just wondering if they really know where those things are coming down. Thanks to Lance Mannion, who has more, for the link.

The official turnout projection, sort of

Here’s the Chron story on the end of early voting.

[E]lection officials and political observers said Friday they expect fewer than one in four registered voters will cast ballots in Tuesday’s elections for Houston mayor, City Council, controller and other local races.


Early voting, which concluded Friday, ended down more than 15 percent from 2003, when Houston last held a mayoral election without an incumbent on the ballot.

Kevin Mauzy, chief deputy for the county clerk, said the early-voting totals lead him to expect Tuesday’s turnout will be lower than in 2003, when almost 375,000 people went to the polls.

What, nobody wants to give an actual number? Wimps. I got your numbers right here. Twenty-five percent turnout, assuming we’re talking city of Houston here, is about 250,000 voters, or right at my top projection, which assumes that the rate of early voting was the same this year as it has been in previous years. My non-confident guess is for about 220,000 voters. Feel free to leave your own guess in the comments.

Eversole running for re-election


Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole announced on Friday that he will run for re-election, potentially pitting him against a term-limited Houston city councilwoman and, perhaps, his own tarnished reputation.

Eversole, 66, who was hit with a $75,000 fine in the summer by the Texas Ethics Commission over campaign spending violations, said he decided to seek a fifth term to complete a number of highway projects and a major park complex in his precinct.

“Well, I enjoy the job, I enjoy getting up in the morning and doing what the job involves,” he said on Friday. “At the end of the day, I’ve got projects that were started that I want to see moved along or completed.”

That sound you hear is Toni Lawrence spitting nails. On the plus side, this has the potential to be an even more entertaining Republican primary than Perry/Hutchison. There will be plenty of material for the oppo researchers. I mean, a little more than a year ago, Eversole was convinced that the FBI was out to get him. Surely we’ll be hearing plenty more about that, and who knows what else besides.

Some info on the HCC Trustee District 3 race

I mentioned before that I knew nothing about the HCC District 3 Trustee race, which is the only such contested race on the ballot. In response, Sergio Davila forwarded the following press release from a group called Concerned East End Leadership for Quality in Higher Education to me:

HCC Trustee Candidate Mary Ann Perez a NO-SHOW at community organized forum

View highlights from last week’s forum here:

HOUSTON (October 27, 2009) – On Tuesday, October 20, 2009, one of Houston’s largest and most influential non-profit organizations, Tejano Center for Community Concerns (TCCC), held the last installment of its Catalyst Lecture Series. The event, free and open to the public, was organized as a candidates’ forum to discuss the role of workforce development in higher education while informing those in attendance of the importance of solid educational leadership to bolster the economic future of the East End. To that end, TCCC opened its campus to the two candidates running for the position of Houston Community College Trustee for District III: Diane Olmos Guzmán (incumbent) and Mary Ann Perez. In late September, both candidates were invited and agreed to participate in the event. Tejano Center began preparations by assembling a group of panelists and a moderator to facilitate the forum, as well as inviting families and students from its charter school along with members of the community.

As students, parents, panelists and Tejano Center staff assembled on the day of the event, a call was received that Mary Ann Perez would not attend due to dental issues. This call was placed by her husband around 4:45 p.m., less than two hours before the event was scheduled to start. Many were confused by this, since she had been seen earlier in the day, busily working at the HCC Southeast campus early voting location. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that nowhere on her campaign website or her Facebook group page did she even mention the event, whereas other events she had attended or held in the past were listed. Even more surprising, Perez’s campaign manager, Ruben Landa, stated that Perez and her husband were planning block walking Precinct 218 that evening.

Other than a couple of supporters, no one was present from Perez’s camp. Despite her absence, the forum was still well-attended, with standing-room only. Trustee Diane Olmos Guzmán stated her position on important issues such as the role of trustee in the community, educational opportunities for immigrants, and the importance of the community college, and was well-received by students, parents and community stakeholders.

In response to Perez’s apparent indifference and disinterest, a group of East End residents has formed the Concerned East End Leadership for Quality in Higher Education. This Ad Hoc group consists of community stakeholders, leaders and businessmen, led by Ms. Jesse Goins, Precinct 27 election judge. She said, “How will our community move forward when the challenging candidate for such an important position no-shows at a major forum that was held for the community? How can residents of District III make an informed decision about which candidate is best for the job when one of them doesn’t even bother to introduce herself to the people? Attendees at that event expected Mary Ann Perez to be there and she let them down.”

As if her absence at the event wasn’t enough of a disappointment to those who attended, Mary Ann Perez’s campaign Facebook group page is now populated by numerous photos of her at a campaign fundraiser at Doneraki Restaurant held the following day. Shot after shot captures a healthy, smiling Perez. Goins remarked, “Clearly, partying with her supporters is more important than answering the concerns of the community, the same community she is hoping to represent.”

Yeah, that doesn’t seem like a good way to impress voters. Here’s a scan of a pro-Olmos mailer – side one, side 2 – if you want to know more about her.

Now having said that, it must be noted that Perez has some strong support as well. Here’s an excerpt from an email sent out by State Sen. Mario Gallegos:

Education has always been a priority of mine both personally, and as your state senator. The Houston Community College System has several trustee positions on the ballot this election season. I would like to take this opportunity to tell you a little more about two candidates I am supporting for HCC Trustee positions.

Sherriff Adrian Garcia recently endorsed Mary Ann Perez for HCC District III, stating “Mary Ann Perez will work hard to move HCC in a positive direction, creating vocational and technical programs that address our high dropout rate and increasing early college programs, giving more students a head start on their college education.”

Mary Ann Perez is a candidate for the Houston Community College System Board of Trustees, District III. Mary Ann was born in East L.A. and moved to Houston at the age of 3. She learned early on that the secret to success was through education, hard work and perseverance. With that in mind, she earned an associates degreee from the Houston Community College, and went on to graduate from the University of Houston with a degree in Business Administration, cum laude. Mary Ann owns a successful Farmers Insurance and Financial Services agency located in the East End of Houston. She is currently the President of Meadow Creek Village Civic Club and Chair for Precinct 221. Mary Ann is a member of the National Hispanic Professionals Organization (NHPO), and is a member of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Farmers Employees and Agents Political Action Committee.

Mary Ann has a clear vision for the advancement of the Houston Community College, and she understands what today’s students need to be successful. As a board member, she will work to keep tuition and taxes affordable for everyone, and work with area employers to ensure that students recieve training for the jobs of today and tomorrow. I hope you will join me in electing Mary Ann as one of the newest board members for the Houston Community College System!

Like I say, I don’t know much about this race. For those of you in District 3, I hope this helps you decide whom to support. Thanks to Sergio for forwarding the press release.

City not paying toll road fines


The city has avoided paying county toll road fines using a defense it does not want motorists to use when contesting red-light camera violations.


A city finance official claimed the toll fines are owed by the individual employees rather than the city, which owns the vehicles.

But the city’s efforts to block registrations are aimed at the owners of vehicles involved in red-light camera violations.

“I think the city is talking out of both sides of its mouth. The city wants to use the defense they won’t allow citizens to use,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said.

If you go to the city’s Red Light Camera Enforcement FAQ, this is what you get:

What if I am not the driver/owner of the vehicle at the time of the violation?

If your vehicle was stolen or sold at the time of violation, or was being test driven by another person, you may submit a sworn statement to that effect to the Court to rebut the presumption, that you were driving the vehicle at the time of the violation. A DECLARATION of NON-LIABILITY form may be downloaded from or obtained from the Court. The form must be filled out, accurately and in its entirety. The form must be mailed or hand-delivered in-person to the Court prior to the Notice due date before any additional actions can be taken.

If you are a rental car company or you leased your vehicle, send your letter identifying the driver along with a copy of this Notice within 30 days after the date of the Notice of Violation is received to Violation Processing Center 209 W. Main Street, Mesa, AZ 85201.

Doesn’t really address the question of what to do if someone is just borrowing the car at the time, does it? My friend Dan had the experience awhile ago of a car mechanic getting caught by one of the cameras while test-driving his car. The garage agreed to pay the ticket, but it was a hassle for him. Be all that as it may, the County raises a good point. What does the city say for itself?

Frank Michel, a spokesman for Mayor Bill White, said the city will pay the toll road authority fines and is taking action to improve its internal monitoring of citations issued to non-emergency vehicles.

“It is our position the city is responsible to make sure these fines are taken care of,” Michel said. “Our internal policy is to hold the driver responsible or accountable, and we haven’t done a good job of doing that and we’re going to work on it.”

He added: “Whatever is owed outstanding, we are working with the county to get it resolved.”

On that latter point, there’s a sizable difference between what the city says it owes (about $1000) and what the county says it owes (about $13,000), so this isn’t a settled matter yet. But I suspect the city will pay more attention to this in the future.

The new Saint Arnold brewery

Opening today just north of downtown.

[T]he 15-year-old craft brewery will debut to the public a new plant in a converted warehouse with fabulous views of downtown and easy freeway access. It’s the result of a $7.5 million renovation and the determination of Saint Arnold founder Brock Wagner to move his company into something other than a generic concrete box somewhere off Beltway 8.

“Having a building downtown is part of our passion for being part of the community,” said Wagner, a Rice University grad who started homebrewing in his dorm room more than 20 years ago.

Wagner started scouting locations for a new brewery in late 2006, and he liked what he saw in the Houston ISD food-distribution warehouse for sale at 2000 Lyons Ave. He closed on the deal in June 2008 and began adding on a brewhouse — with room for three, 240-barrel fermenting tanks to supplement the collection of 60- and 120-barrel tanks that will make the move — and adapting the interior of the four-story, 95-year-old warehouse to the needs of a modern brewery.

“You get all this extra character,” said Wagner, “you find a use for it.”

They had a ribbon-cutting ceremony, follow by much beer drinking of course, on Wednesday. You can see pictures of it and of the construction here, and Houstonist has more. Somehow, it’s fitting that the official grand opening is on Halloween. Slainte, y’all.

UPDATE: Oops. No tour today.

Saturday’s scheduled inaugural public tour of the new Saint Arnold Brewing Co. plant has been canceled due to confusion over city permits. No tour will be at the original location, either, as things had already been moved to the new site.

Brewery owner Brock Wagner said he was informed Friday that the new plant at 2000 Lyons Ave. — the scene of a grand opening Wednesday night — did not have the temporary certificate of occupancy that he thought had already been secured.

They hope to have things ready to go for next Saturday.

Early voting: Out with a bang

Today was by far the heaviest day of Early Voting, with 17,072 ballots cast, which is nearly as much as Wednesday and Thursday combined, and also nearly as much as the final day of 2003. In the end, 71,368 in-person ballots and 9,148 absentee ballots were cast, for a total of 80,516; the comparable numbers from 2003 were 76,285 and 17,583.

Now then, to project final turnout. I’ve decided to treat absentee and in-person votes separately. In 2003, going by the countywide Metro referendum returns, there were 20,151 total absentee ballots. That means that 87.3% of all absentee ballots had been returned by the end of early voting. Assuming a similar rate of return this year, that’s 10,479 absentee ballots. In 2003, a grand total of 353,456 in person ballots were cast, which is to say that 21.6% of them were early. Using those numbers, and assuming that 75% of the total ballots will be city of Houston, we get the following:

% early Mail Person Total Houston =========================================== 21.5 10,479 331,949 342,428 256,821 25.0 10,479 285,472 295,591 221,963 30.0 10,479 237,893 248,372 186,279 35.0 10,479 203,909 214,388 160,791

That compares to 298,110 ballots in the 2003 Mayor’s race. I guess we ought to hope that early voting habits haven’t changed that much since 2007, despite the surge in pre-Election Day participation from 2008. If you force me to guess, I’ll go with the 25% scenario, but I wouldn’t bet my own money on it. What do you think?

Friday random ten: Boo!

Are you ready for some Halloween? My iPod is.

1. The Dark Lady – Ceili’s Muse
2. Eighty Hillbillies In A Haunted House – Austin Lounge Lizards
3. The Ghost – Eddie from Ohio
4. Ghost of Stephen Foster – Squirrel Nut Zippers
5. The Ghost of Tom Joad – Bruce Springsteen
6. Ghost Town – Dan Friel
7. Ghosts – Division Day
8. Ghosts of Perdition – Pepi Ginsberg
9. Ghosts Under Rocks – Ra Ra Riot
10. The Witch of the Westmerelands – SixMileBridge

I was reminded to do a Halloween list by Linkmeister, who sent me his contribution:

Ghost In This House — Alison Krauss & Union Station
Ghost Towns Along The Highway — John Mellencamp
Ghost Train — Counting Crows
(Ghost) Riders In The Sky — Johnny Cash
I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You — Linda Ronstadt & The Nelson Riddle Orchestra

What have you scared up on your iPod this week?

And we finally get some coverage of Council races

The Chron has done a good job, as expected, of covering the Mayor’s race, and they’ve provided more coverage than I’d expected of the various HISD Trustee races. But their coverage of the Council races has been basically non-existent, and this story, which is mostly about the two contested At Large races that feature incumbents, doesn’t really add much to what we know. I don’t want to be too critical of author Carrie Feibel, who does what she can with those two contests plus the District D race, but I have to wonder 1) why is it that each race didn’t get its own article – including the Districts B, C, and E races, which get mentioned in passing at the end – as was the case with the HISD Trustee races, and 2) what took them so long to write any kind of story in the first place? I daresay the answer is that they only have so many people available to cover this stuff in addition to the actual news that breaks, and to that all I can say is that it’s a shame it is that way. The story also doesn’t mention any of the five open seat races, which I presume will get separate treatment, maybe all at once and maybe one for the two At Large open races and one for the three open District races. Either way, I’ve got to say, it just ain’t enough.

I should note that in poking around a bit I also found this story that gives a very brief overview of each race along with information about where to vote, and this story from the Alief neighborhood section about that candidate forum, this time focusing on the District F candidates. There may be other stories like that out there, but if so they too were in the neighborhood sections and I didn’t find any of them in a quick perusal. The politics section index page has some other useful information, including a collection of all of the Mayoral profiles and Chron endorsements, plus links to blogs and Mayoral candidates’ social media content, but again not that much about the Council races. And of course you can still listen to my interviews from these races if you haven’t yet. Hope all that’s enough to help you make your decisions about whom to vote for.

Eight days out: Spending on voter outreach by At Large candidates

As with the Controller’s race, I took a look at spending on voter outreach for At Large candidates in the 30 day out report. Given that some large number of people have no clue about who is running for these offices, I figured I’d better look at the 8 day out reports as well. Here we go, starting with the big field in At Large #1:

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ Karen Derr 1,000.00 Advertising (HBAD) Karen Derr 150.00 Advertising (Jewish Herald Voice) Karen Derr 251.00 Advertising (Allen Jamail) Karen Derr 1,813.78 Advertising (Allen Jamail) Herman Litt 300.00 Advertising (Charity Productions) Herman Litt 600.00 Advertising (Jewish Herald Voice) Herman Litt 15,998.63 Mailer Herman Litt 1,110.65 Yard signs L Allsbrooks 2,000.00 Signs S Costello 840.13 Push cards S Costello 970.30 Push cards S Costello 80,000.00 Media buy (Rindy Miller) S Costello 12,625.00 Production S Costello 79,975.00 Media buy (Rindy Miller) S Costello 297.42 4 x 4 signs S Costello 2,846.98 4 x 4 signs Don Cook 315.73 Yard signs Don Cook 432.24 Postcard mailer Rick Rodriguez 1,500.00 Door hangers Rick Rodriguez 650.00 Web ad (Houston Chronicle)

Costello’s media buy is the big news here. You figure that has to be an advantage for him for getting into the runoff, as nobody else is doing anything remotely like it. Only Litt has sent a significant amount of mail, so advantage to him as well. I’ve been getting text messages from the Lonnie Allsbrooks campaign, but did not see an expenditure listed for text messaging; it may have simply been classified as “phones” or “phone service” or some such, however. I also didn’t see anything relating to video production, but that expense may be recent enough to not be in the 8 day report. He does have a contribution of $7280 listed in this report from “The New Beginning hosted by Nosa Edebor”, which I suppose could be an in-kind donation of the video production, but 1) it wasn’t listed as such, and 2) that’s above the $5K contribution limit. There was also a $12,125 contribution from the 30 day report that I’d forgotten about till I went back looking for something that might relate to this, with “friends of Barrett Brown” written in the in-kind box. Not sure what that’s about, but again, over the $5K limit. Oops.

UPDATE: I received the following in response to this:

We, here at the Allsbrooks Campaign, saw your latest blog entry about the At Large Candidates spending on voter out reach. We noticed you had some questions about our expenditures and our contributions.

1. First there is the question of text messages. Those are sent directly from our campaign phone and not by an outside company, so that is included in our “phone service”.

2. Secondly there is the video production of our latest video or slide show on YouTube. That video was done by a friend of Mr. Allsbrooks and will be on our next campaign finance report. Given it came out after the final day of our last report.

3. Lastly there is the question of our actual contributions because they appear to be over the $5000 limit. The “friends of Barrett Brown” and “The New Beginning hosted by Nosa Edebor” were two separate fundraisers that had nothing to do with the video production. The reason they are over the $5000 single person limit is because they were hosted by those people and other people were contributing to the campaign.

Thank you for you time,
Allsbrooks Campaign 09

So there you have it.

At Large #2:

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ Sue Lovell 30,450.00 Media buy (Rindy Miller) Sue Lovell 1,418.04 Mail R Shorter 375.00 Advertising (D-Mars) R Shorter 750.00 Signs Griff Griffin 70.00 Signs Griff Griffin 160.00 Push cards Griff Griffin 300.00 Flyers Andrew Burks 1,957.19 Signs Andrew Burks 376.80 Campaign Literature

My understanding is that Lovell’s purchase is enough for a week on cable – MSNBC was the station I’d heard – but I have not seen a video of her ad, nor have I seen it myself (no surprise since I never watch cable news). Anyone out there seen this? As for the rest, I guess they finally had their fill of Subway sandwiches at Griff’s headquarters, as I saw no more purchases of them. Good news for Lovell that nobody else is spending money, bad news that Griff and Burks come with built-in name recognition, thanks to their tireless efforts to be on a ballot as often as possible. She may win without a runoff, but it’s easy to imagine those two getting 20-25% of the vote each, and that leaves her very little room to get to 50% plus one.

At Large #4:

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ Noel Freeman 4,354.90 Printing & processing bulk mail CO Bradford 125.00 Radio ad (KWWJ) CO Bradford 75.00 Ad (Williams Temple) CO Bradford 1,000.00 Ad (African American News & Issues) CO Bradford 650.00 Radio ad (KCOH) CO Bradford 1,948.50 Door hangers CO Bradford 2,704.52 Push cards CO Bradford 2,186.65 Campaign signs CO Bradford 420.00 T-shirts CO Bradford 5,347.55 Door hangers CO Bradford 500.00 Texting campaign info CO Bradford 225.00 Ad (Jewish Herald Voice) CO Bradford 300.00 Ad (Our Tribune) CO Bradford 530.43 Yard signs Curtis Garmon 357.63 Car magnets Curtis Garmon 525.01 Push cards Curtis Garmon 1,428.48 Bumper stickers Curtis Garmon 2,458.36 Signs Curtis Garmon 1,200.00 Ad (KSEV)

We knew about Freeman’s mail piece, which attacked Bradford; I’m not sure if that had gone out before and this is a second mailing or if it’s just going out now, but he’ll need it to counter some of Bradford’s outreach. As with Gene Locke, Bradford has a paid field campaign, though of course not nearly as large, and he’s been on the radio. Bradford has the better name recognition, too, which cuts both ways for him. Garmon is basically self-financing – he listed no contributions on his form, and all of his expenditures were filed on the Schedule G form, which is for spending money loaned to oneself for the campaign.

Finally, At Large #5:

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ Jolanda Jones 8,521.44 Printing Jolanda Jones 23,115.12 Direct mail Jolanda Jones 21,273.92 Direct mail Jack Christie 3,003.94 Signs Jack Christie 5,000.00 Ad in mailer (Tx Conservative Review) Jack Christie 5,000.00 Ad in mailer (HCRP) Jack Christie 8,865.10 Mailer Jack Christie 30,000.00 Mailer

Jones hits the mailboxes in a big way, though as yet I have not seen what she may have sent. Anyone gotten this? Christie did pretty well in this period after having squat to report with 30 days out. He raised $48K, helped by six $5K donations, including one each from Bob and Doylene Perry. He also spent $62K, which includes that $30K mailer, which was a loan to himself. Makes you wonder what things would be like if he’d gotten an earlier start. Regardless, I think his late push has the potential to make this a race again. I still expect CM Jones to win, but Christie could sneak up on her and force a runoff. I did not see any reports for Davetta Daniels or Carlos Obando; at least in the latter case, he may have been distracted.

Coming Monday: Spending in the district Council races.

UPDATE: See the note above from the Allsbrooks campaign. As of this morning, reports from the Obando and Daniels campaigns were available online. Obando had some expenditures on signs, and Daniels had three entries totaling $3500 on “advertising/marketing”, whatever that means.

HISD candidate spending

After all I’ve done detailing how city candidates are spending their campaign money, I’d love to be able to tell how how candidates for HISD Trustee are spending theirs. I’d love to, but unfortunately I can’t, because that information isn’t available online, and I just don’t have the time to tromp over to HISD headquarters and request printed copies to peruse. Fortunately, Ericka Mellon did do that, and she reports on it. Not as detailed as I’d have liked, but much better than nothing. And with that, I resolve to ask every HISD candidate I’ll interview in 2011 whether they support a requirement that these reports be made available online, as it is with the city, county, state, and feds. That really shouldn’t be an issue this far into the 21st century, but there you have it.

On a related note, you should also read this article about what the Houston Federation of Teachers is doing in the HISD Trustee races.

In a letter to union leaders this month, HFT President Gayle Fallon campaigned for a “pro-employee board” that won’t push for teachers to be fired or put on improvement plans if their students perform poorly on state tests.

For the last three years, the Houston Independent School District has ranked teachers based on their students’ performance and paid bonuses to those at the top of the pack. Some trustees have been calling on the administration to focus now on those teachers ranked near the bottom.

“If our candidates win … the balance of power shifts,” Fallon wrote to her union stewards. “You get a pro-employee board and we end the threats and begin to restore some sanity to HISD.”

HFT is backing Alma Lara, whom they’ve been supporting since before Natasha Kamrani decided not to run for re-election, in District I, and Adrian Collins in District IX. They did not endorse in District V. I certainly sympathize with what the HFT is doing – it’s their purpose to protect the interests of their members, after all – but I also think there’s merit to what HISD wants to do, and by Fallon’s admission later in the article, the threat of which she warns has been overstated.

And finally, if you’re in the Alief ISD, you should read this story about a candidate forum for the Alief ISD contestants.

School board candidates who are campaigning for reform in Alief ISD had few specifics about where they would cut spending. The group includes [Sarah] Winkler’s opponent for Position 6, Baltazar Gutierrez, sales representative for an industrial casting company, along with incumbent Nghi Ho, Tammi Sturm, mother, and business owner, and Marilyn Swick, co-owner with her husband of The Houston Sleep Center.

Graduate student Gary Floyd, who is in the race for Position 7 with Swick and incumbent Gary Cook, did not participate in the forum.

Gutierrez denied he’s aligned with Improve Alief Schools Political Action Committee created by affluent homeowners, but he’s pictured on the group’s flyer, which advocates for a line-by-line budget review to trim 2 percent, about $9 million, from the current budget and give taxpayers relief.

Ho’s competition is for the Position 5 seat by Grace Parmer, 19, a Hastings High graduate currently enrolled in the Honors College at Houston Baptist University. She has aligned with Winkler, Cook, who is a hospital administrator, and retired teacher Ella Jefferson in a campaign to protect and further academic gains the district has made in the past few years. Budget cuts can’t occur without having an impact on personnel and school programs, they say.

You know how I feel about the “tax cuts above all else” philosophy, especially when it’s those who would benefit the most that are pushing it. My interview with Sarah Winkler is here.

Both sides may claim victory, but that doesn’t mean they both achieved it

As you know, last week there was a settlement reached in the lawsuit against the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office over allegations that they improperly rejected thousands of voter registration applications last year. Shortly after that agreement was signed, the Lone Star Project touted it as a major victory for the plaintiffs, who got vindication on many of their claims and agreement from the Tax Assessor’s office to do things differently in several key areas. Earlier this week, the Tax Assessor’s office sent out a press release saying that it was they who had been proven right. Some lawsuits allow for win-win resolutions, but this one struck me as more of a zero-sum endeavor. So who really did win? According to this Chron editorial that praised the settlement, it wasn’t Leo Vasquez.

Vasquez issued a statement calling the settlement a vindication from baseless allegations. But the specified changes in the tax-office procedures for handling registration applications make it clear that the original complaints were anything but frivolous.

The settlement requires that the office’s voter registrar must either process a registration application or notify the applicant why the paperwork is being rejected within the state-mandated seven days.

The registrar must also provide within three business days, upon request by chairs of political parties, reports of all voters registered, applications received, the number rejected, and the names and addresses of those affected.

The settlement also prohibits employees and contractors working for the tax office’s voter section from “having other employment or financial interests in any outside company providing voter information to any candidate, political party, or other person or entity.”

Well, the settlement does include no admission of wrongdoing, as is often the case in situations like this. If Vasquez wants to hang his hat on that, it’s fine by me. I’ll take the substantive changes that were made, and will look forward to ensuring that what happened in 2008 never happens again. You can read the agreement here and judge for yourself.

County puts off vote on helping the city deny vehicle registration to red light camera scofflaws

No surprise.

For the second time in a month, Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday postponed a vote on an agreement with the city to block vehicle registrations for red-light camera violators who do not pay their fines.

Court members said they would not consider the $36,000-a-year contract until it is approved by City Council, and even then made no guarantees they would OK the arrangement.

Compared to the previous story, the rhetoric wasn’t that strong. Judge Emmett wanted proof that the cameras aren’t incorrectly catching people who turn right on red. The cameras have been generating tickets for those who fail to stop before making those turns for two years now, so it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with some data. Commissioner Eversole wanted some assurance about costs. Nobody appeared to draw any lines in the sand, for what that’s worth.

This bit interested me as well:

About one in four violators caught on camera do not pay the civil fines, [Houston Police Department Assistant Chief Vicki] King said. Among them are 500 drivers who have at least four violations, King said.

I’m curious – how many people have been caught multiple times by the cameras, and what percentage of those caught do the repeat offenders represent? Seems to me that if a significant portion of those getting tickets are the same people over and over again, it should change the nature of the argument over the cameras. Is this data available somewhere, or do I need to request it?

Vote to bring the World Cup to Houston

Bored with the Mayor’s race? Here’s something else you can vote on.

As the USA Bid Committee puts together a proposal for the United States to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup to present to FIFA next year, it is asking aspiring host cities to rally their citizens around the cause via online voting.

As one of 27 hopefuls, Houston and Harris County aren’t wasting any time, with the Houston Bid Committee launching a campaign to have citizens and fans show support for the city and Reliant Stadium hosting World Cup games by voting at


Final bids are due to FIFA by May 14, 2010, and the sport’s governing body will announce the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 editions in December 2010.

The USA Bid Committee’s bid will include 20 host cities/venues. Starting next month, the committee will meet with representatives from candidate cities/venues.

If the United States is awarded a World Cup, the number likely will be reduced to 12-14 cities/venues. The voting will help the USA Bid Committee gauge support.

“It’s important because every city and county and region needs to show its support,” said Chris Keeney, general manager of Lone Star Sports and Entertainment, a member of the Houston Bid Committee. “Is it the only thing that matters? No, but it’s kind of like an All-Star vote, where the fans also have a vote. And it’s also important to spread the word.”

I think a World Cup in Houston would be awesome. If you think so, too, go vote to help make it happen.

Early voting: One more day

Tomorrow is the last day of early voting. If you haven’t voted by 7 PM on Friday, you’ll need to show up at your precinct polling location on Tuesday to have a say in this election. Here’s a press release from County Clerk Beverly Kaufman with some information about how things will be on Tuesday:

Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman announced today that 728 polls will be open and ready to receive registered voters on Tuesday, Nov. 3, General Election Day, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. According to the Clerk, 6,600 pieces of election equipment will be allocated throughout the county and almost 5,000 election clerks will be working during this election.

“The election infrastructure is set. I strongly encourage registered voters who did not vote during the early voting period to consider doing so on Election Day”, said Clerk Kaufman, the chief elections officer of the County. “This election cycle may not be as captivating as a national election, but it may be more important.”

During the upcoming Harris County Joint Election 120 individuals will be vying for 40 positions in political subdivisions within County. Of those, sixty-two are candidates for City of Houston public office, including the positions of mayor, controller and city council. Overall, there a total of 60 contests on the ballot. Of those, 20 are propositions. The most prominent contests are the State constitutional amendments.

“Voters should be aware that anytime an election includes statewide propositions those items will appear first on the ballot. In this instance, it means that all voters, whether they reside in Houston or other political subdivisions, will see the 11 state propositions at the top of their ballot before they see anything else.”

The County Clerk reminded voters that the law provides that a voter can ONLY vote in contests offered by a political subdivision which is connected to the physical address in which a voter is registered to vote. To find out which political subdivisions are connected to a voter’s address, a voter may visit the following link on the Tax Assessor Collectors website: An individual may also check voter registration status with the Tax office by calling 713. 368. 2200 or by visiting

The Clerk also reminded voter to know where they are going to vote before leaving their homes on Election Day. The law provides that on Election Day a voter must vote at the poll where the precinct the voter is registered to vote is voting. For voter identification purposes at the poll, registered voters are urged to take at least ONE of the following acceptable documents:

1. A voter registration certificate;

2. a driver’s license or personal identification card issued to the voter by the Department of Public Safety or a similar document issued to the voter by an agency of another state, regardless of whether the license or card has expired;

3. a form of identification containing the voter’s photograph that establishes the voter’s identity;

4. a birth certificate or other document confirming birth that is admissible in a court of law and establishes the voter’s identity;

5. United States citizenship papers issued to the voter;

6. a United States passport issued to the voter;

7. official mail addressed to the voter, by name, from a governmental entity;

8. A copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the voter’s name and address.

For more Election Day information voters may visit and click ‘Find Election Day Poll and View Voter Specific Ballot.’ Voters may also call 713.755.6965, Harris County’s automated election information line.

And we now have the early voting totals from today, in which 8722 showed up to vote. The good news is that this was the best day so far, slightly better than yesterday. The bad news is that this total trailed its counterpart from 2003 by over 3000 ballots. I don’t expect tomorrow to be anything like the 18,000+ votes that were cast on the final day of early voting in 2003, but even with the predicted rain there probably will be more than 70,000 in-person votes cast, or somewhere in the neighborhood of 5000 fewer than 2003. Where this year has really lagged is in mail ballots – 7200 so far, versus over 14,000 at this point then, and over 17,000 total. I don’t know what that bodes for final turnout, but I’ll be thinking about it and will make my guess sometime after the final numbers are in. In the meantime, if you haven’t voted yet, please do so soon. Thanks very much.

Don’t mess with Bill

As everyone expected, Mayor White has stayed the heck out of the race to replace him. So it’s a pretty big deal when he feels compelled to speak up about something that is happening in the race.

Mayor Bill White […] injected himself into the race for the first time to fact-check a mailer City Councilman Peter Brown sent out criticizing his opponents. The mail piece accuses City Controller Annise Parker of missing reporting deadlines for annual audits and “significant deficiencies” that left “Houston’s financial security at risk.”

“The city has not been put at financial risk,” White said in an e-mail released by Parker’s campaign. The mayor, who is term-limited and has not endorsed a candidate, added that the delays in the audits were caused by the implementation of new financial accounting software.

“The Controller is not responsible for these delays and the reasons for delays were discussed openly at City Council meetings with some frequency,” the e-mail says.

You can see the mailer in question here, a copy of Mayor White’s email to Controller Parker here, and Parker’s rebuttal to Brown’s charges here. I have to say, I’ve generally admired the campaign Brown has run, but this was bush league. I find demagoguery about taxes to be tiresome in general, but especially in this election when everyone agrees the city has financial difficulties now and ahead of it, everyone has plans to do stuff that will cost money – things like flood abatement, for instance, which everyone agrees is a big priority – and no one has a plan to pay for any of it besides cutting “waste”, finding efficiencies, and hoping to bring new businesses to town. I find the claim about Houston having a $1.5 billion operating deficit to be mostly crankery, but even if it’s not, it’s not something that just cropped up in the last few months. A two-term member of Council could have been speaking about about that problem for quite some time if it were such a concern. I personally thought the trash pickup fee was an idea worth pursuing. In case it’s not clear, I don’t find much merit in the claims Brown is making in his mailer.

One more thing from the story:

Burt Keller, a former city councilman who supports Locke, said that while some people are quick to criticize negative campaigning, it often is the most efficient way to distinguish between candidates. Voters, he said, are not always as put off as one might think.

“It’s what they expect,” he said. “It’s just like football or boxing. People who watch it like seeing people get tackled, or in boxing, they like watching people get hit in the face.”

If nothing else, attacks force you to really decide whether you like a candidate or not. It’s a lot harder to have vague feelings about a candidate when he or she is under attack, or attacking someone else. Nothing turns a soft supporter into a passionate one faster than a belief that his or her preferred candidate is being unfairly maligned.

Spending on voter outreach: The Mayorals

I didn’t take a look at the Mayoral candidates’ expenditures on voter outreach in the 30 days out reports, as this exercise is rather time consuming, but I figured I’d have a look at the 8 day reports, just to see what we’ve got going into the home stretch.

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ Annise Parker 9,365.91 Research (Celinda Lake) Annise Parker 500.00 Phone bank Annise Parker 175,000.00 Media buy (Rindy Miller) Annise Parker 75,000.00 Media buy (Rindy Miller) Annise Parker 60,000.00 Media buy (Rindy Miller) Annise Parker 3,000.00 Phone bank Annise Parker 5,000.00 Ad (Tx Conservative Review) Annise Parker 60,000.00 Media buy (Rindy Miller) Annise Parker 1,750.00 Phone bank Annise Parker 3,000.00 Phone bank Annise Parker 780.30 Ad (KCOH) Annise Parker 1,789.25 Ad (KROI & KMQJ) Annise Parker 40,000.00 Media buy (Rindy Miller)

Parker reported a bit over $500K in spending on this form, after having reported $738K spent on the 30 days form. $410K of this spending, more than 80%, is on TV. I saw two media buys from Rindy Miller in the 30 days form, worth $500K; there may have been more, but that form was 414 pages long, and I just did a search on “Rindy” to spot-check it. I assume the “Research” entry is for her recent poll. Those radio buys are small compared to Locke and Brown, but since she’s not engaged in an authenticity contest as they are, perhaps they’ll have a greater effect. Parker was one of many candidates who placed an ad in Gary Polland’s Texas Conservative Review; my understanding is that this is for a printed document that will be mailed to some number of households. As all of the others I’ve seen so far with this expense have been Republicans, I presume Parker will tout her fiscal conservative credentials and leave it at that.

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ Gene Locke 28.89 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 25,000.00 Media production (Dixon/Davis) Gene Locke 2,000.00 Media production (Ttweak) Gene Locke 225.75 Ad (Houston Forward Times) Gene Locke 677.25 Ad (Houston Forward Times) Gene Locke 1,102.50 Ad (Houston Defender) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 20,319.00 Printing Gene Locke 2,281.68 Robocalls Gene Locke 6,000.00 Video production (Ttweak) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 5,000.00 Ad (Tx Conservative Review) Gene Locke 4,300.00 Ad (Houston Style Magazine) Gene Locke 50,160.00 Field consulting/management Gene Locke 95,670.00 Field consulting/management Gene Locke 54,862.50 Media/cable (Adelante) Gene Locke 10,649.50 Media/radio (Adelante) Gene Locke 13,584.05 Media/radio (Adelante) Gene Locke 15,747.20 Media/radio (Adelante) Gene Locke 165,770.25 Media/TV (Adelante) Gene Locke 6,300.00 Media/newspaper (Adelante) Gene Locke 250.00 Ad (Linda Lorelle scholarship fund) Gene Locke 100.00 Ad (KEW Learning Academy) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 1,500.00 Ad (The Houston Sun) Gene Locke 903.00 Ad (Houston Forward Times) Gene Locke 1,102.50 Ad (Houston Defender) Gene Locke 1,755.00 Ad (African-American News & Issues) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 36,641.50 Media/cable (Adelante) Gene Locke 22,858.65 Media/radio (Adelante) Gene Locke 139,953.00 Media/TV (Adelante) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 27,005.00 Door hangers Gene Locke 17,721.40 Printing Gene Locke 2,295.30 Robocalls Gene Locke 5,177.10 Research (Stanford Campaigns) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 38,251.50 Media/cable (Adelante) Gene Locke 2,625.00 Media/radio (Adelante) Gene Locke 14,474.98 Media/radio (Adelante) Gene Locke 162,966.00 Media/TV (Adelante) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 11,853.40 Printing Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 49.00 Ad ( Gene Locke 29.00 Ad (Facebook) Gene Locke 17,799.00 Media production (Dixon/Davis) Gene Locke 2,749.80 Robocalls Gene Locke 34.37 Web ad (Domino's Pizza) Gene Locke 23,500.00 Polling Gene Locke 2,205.00 Ad (Houston Defender) Gene Locke 46,800.00 Media/radio (Adelante) Gene Locke 5,725.56 Door hangers Gene Locke 16,235.00 Door hangers Gene Locke 36,120.80 Printing Gene Locke 800.00 Ad (NAACP - Houston) Gene Locke 125.00 Ad (South Wesley AMEC)

Clearly, Locke is leaving no stone unturned. Everything from Facebook to African-American newspapers (no doubt to boost his standing in the community) to TV and radio. Bear in mind that some of that money spent on TV was for ads that ran much earlier in the month; we knew about them before the 30 day reports came out, but the expenditure wasn’t listed in that report. As such, while Locke outspent Parker on TV in this report, she has spent more than him overall. Adelante, which I believe is campaign manager Christian Archer’s outfit, is big on field work/GOTV, which is how one can wind up buying nearly $50,000 worth of door hangers. There were many, many entries relating to paid field workers, which I skipped to maintain my sanity and stave off carpal tunnel syndrome for another day. Other candidates up and down the ballot have similar entries, though not nearly as many; Parker is a notable exception to this, as she’s putting her money into media and is relying on an extensive volunteer network for GOTV activities. We knew Locke was doing polls, even if we never get see any of them. Oh, and Ttweak, of course, are the folks that brought us Houston, It’s Worth It. I give Team Locke style points for hiring them in whatever capacity.

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ Peter Brown 1,214.17 Printed materials Peter Brown 36,675.00 Media buy (Foston International) Peter Brown 43,601.00 Consulting (American Mail Direct) Peter Brown 251,027.00 Media buy (Buying Time, LLC) Peter Brown 888.99 Printed materials Peter Brown 1,742.82 Printed materials Peter Brown 75,120.00 Media buy (Buying Time, LLC) Peter Brown 5,800.00 Consulting (American Mail Direct) Peter Brown 82,225.00 Consulting (American Mail Direct) Peter Brown 449,527.00 Media buy (Buying Time, LLC) Peter Brown 9,949.43 Production (Buying Time, LLC) Peter Brown 27,438.89 Media buy (Foston International) Peter Brown 500.00 Text messaging service Peter Brown 59,213.00 Consulting (American Mail Direct) Peter Brown 449,682.00 Media buy (Buying Time, LLC) Peter Brown 9,125.99 Production (Buying Time, LLC) Peter Brown 42,338.00 Consulting (American Mail Direct) Peter Brown 2,553.00 Printed materials Peter Brown 5,000.00 Media buy (Neuman & Co) Peter Brown 126,485.92 Consulting (Neuman & Co) Peter Brown 4,558.60 Media buy (Foston International) Peter Brown 451,527.00 Media buy (Buying Time, LLC) Peter Brown 117,964.00 Consulting (American Mail Direct) Peter Brown 5,953.75 Printed materials

Behold the Peter Brown media empire. The man has a fortune at his disposal, and by God he used it. The disclosure form listed over $2.4 million in expenses, which is to say nearly five times what Parker spent and a bit less than double what Locke spent. Of that, as you can see, over $1.7 million was spent on media buys, which I presume all means television. I could be wrong – I don’t know what the difference is between Foston and Buying Time, though one possibility is “cable” versus “broadcast”, and another is “radio” versus “TV”. I’m guessing that the $5K and $126K expenditures to Neuman should be reversed, but since all of his direct mail expenditures – all $350K+ of it – were listed as “Consulting”, I could be wrong about that. And in the midst of all this airtime, it’s nice to know they didn’t forget about more modern forms of voter outreach. I’ll bet $500 buys a lot of text messages.

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ Roy Morales 1,976.25 Radio ads (KSEV) Roy Morales 8,650.32 Mailer deposit Roy Morales 3,000.00 Mailer deposit Roy Morales 378.88 Printing Roy Morales 2,500.00 Ad (Tx Conservative Review) Roy Morales 1,000.00 Ad (Tx Conservative Review) Roy Morales 500.00 Mailer deposit Roy Morales 5,000.00 Mailer balance Roy Morales 1,500.00 Commercial purchase

Roy didn’t have much to spend, and what he did have he mostly spent on mail. Kind of piddly compared to what Brown spent, but then most things are. I’m not actually sure what Locke spent on mail, since all I saw were those “printing” charges, which could be many things. Parker didn’t spend anything on mail, but she’s been featured in several third party mailers I’ve received, including one from the HGLBT Political Caucus, one from Annie’s List, and one from the Houston Turnout Project. With friends like those, you can concentrate on other things. Oh, and let’s not forget the Texas Conservative Review, too. I bet it’ll chafe Roy to realize that Parker will have a bigger ad in Polland’s piece than he will. I’m just now realizing that neither Locke nor Brown had an expense for that, which strikes me as odd. Roy also got a $3000 in-kind donation for video production on his ad, and that $1500 commercial purchase, which I presume landed his ad somewhere, was an addendum to his original report. Anyone want to guess what show Roy’s ad interrupted was? Just a hunch here, but I’m thinking it was a one-off.

I’ve got similar reports in the works for the At Large and district Council races. Hope you found this useful.

“I don’t know” wins big!

Just as the Chron poll also asked about the Controller’s race, so did the recent KHOU poll, which went it one better and also asked about the At Large Council races. Not that this told us anything useful.

The poll, conducted by the Center for Civic Engagement at Rice University, reveals that registered Houston voters who describe themselves as likely to vote are unable to settle on a candidate in several major citywide races.

“Maybe what we’re seeing here is a complacency that leads to simply voting for incumbents,” said 11 News political expert Bob Stein, who conducted the poll. “Maybe complacency means simply not voting. And perhaps the turnout will be historically low.”

And maybe what we’re seeing is a bunch of people who have never voted in city elections but don’t want to admit that to a stranger on the telephone not having any idea about who to vote for in an election they weren’t going to participate in anyway. I mean, about 35,000 people in the city of Houston have already cast a ballot, which is maybe 15% of what the final turnout will be. These are people who know who they’re voting for. Maybe that’s who should be getting asked. I’m just saying.

Anyway. The poll has the Controller’s race as Green 12%, Khan 11%, and Holm 9%. None of the four contested Council races had as many as 20% of respondents give a definitive answer. I suppose you could say that C.O. Bradford, who had 11% to Noel Freeman’s 2%, and Council Member Jolanda Jones, with 11% to Jack Christie’s 3%, are “leading”, but I’d also say that as the sample of genuinely likely voters is probably a lot smaller than the number of people queried for this poll, the real margin of error is a lot higher than the 4.6% cited. Use these numbers at your own risk.

No quorum for Lawrence’s Council meeting on 287(g)


Three City Council members fell short of forcing a vote Wednesday on the city’s participation in a controversial immigration screening program after the rest of their colleagues skipped a special meeting.

The city secretary counted only three members — Toni Lawrence, Anne Clutterbuck and Mike Sullivan — present at the afternoon special meeting before it was called off for lack of a quorum. To officially meet on the issue, they would have needed at least eight members of council present.

After the aborted meeting, City Council member Pam Holm joined the trio at a news conference calling for Mayor Bill White to hold a public meeting on whether the city should participate in the 287(g) program, which trains local law enforcement to identify illegal immigrants in the jails.

The lackluster turnout came as little surprise as several council members reported last week that they had scheduling conflicts. Others had called for an informal boycott of the rare special meeting, accusing Lawrence of political “grandstanding” on the sensitive immigration issue.

Lawrence, who is campaigning to become the next Harris County Precinct 4 commissioner, denied calling the meeting for political gain, saying, “I have never grandstanded in the six years I’ve been on the council. I’m very passionate about this.”

Remember when Council Member Lawrence walked out of a Council meeting along with several of her colleagues while then-CM/candidate for Congress Shelley Sekula Gibbs was giving a speech that demanded the city change its immigration policies? Lawrence said she was “embarrassed” to be in the same room as Gibbs was. Funny how
running a race as a Republican changes one’s perspective, isn’t it? And as Stace notes, the claim about never grandstanding is a bit shaky, too.

Now I’m willing to have a real debate about the 287(g) program, as long as it is a substantive debate and not a political stunt. Seems to me we’re going to have to have this debate sooner or later, since most of the Mayoral candidates have talked about closing the city jail and outsourcing that function to the county, where the 287(g) program is being used. We’ve got the County’s example, now let’s learn from it. How many of the inmates they’ve referred to the feds really were “dangerous”? How many left families behind? How can we objectively quantify the effect, good and bad, of doing this? When we get those answers, we can talk about what the city should be doing.

Forget the “human element”, just get it right

Regarding the debate over instant replay in baseball, two facts are incontrovertible. One, the umps have really been blowing some calls lately. I mean, Joe Mauer’s ground rule double to left in Yankee Stadium that Phil Cuzzi ruled foul even though it was fair by a foot was one of the more egregious things I’ve ever seen. And two, baseball has made numerous changes over the years to how the game is officiated, all of which were done in an effort to improve outcomes. Over a hundred years ago they professionalized the umpiring corps to prevent intimidation by home team fans. Over time they added a second umpire, then a third, and then a fourth, because it was too hard for fewer men to call the game. They added umpires on the foul lines in playoff games specifically because those calls can be very hard for an umpire stationed in the infield. Given all that, I don’t see why having an umpire in the booth, with the authority to step in and reverse an obviously wrong call, is such a big deal. To me, getting the call right outweighs any other concern. I fail to understand why that point is even controversial.

Texas’ Madoff money

I’m not particularly upset that Texas had some money invested with Bernie Madoff, which is now gone. I mean, I wish that wasn’t the case, but he snookered an awful lot of people and organizations, so it’s neither shocking nor negligent that a Texas fund was among the investors. I’m glad the amount was a relatively small one, in the grand scheme of things. What does bother me is that we’re just now finding out about it, and only because someone else figured it out and asked Comptroller Susan Combs about it.

Combs spokesman R.J. DeSilva said Wednesday that the $19.5 million was written off last December after Austin Capital notified the state the money had been lost when Madoff’s Ponzi scheme collapsed. The treasury had been investing with Austin Capital since 2006.


Though Austin Capital’s losses have been public for months, Combs’ office did not publicly acknowledge the losses by the state of Texas until contacted by the Houston Chronicle/San Antonio Express-News.


Combs wrote an op-ed on Feb. 26 complaining that Madoff’s lack of transparency had caused investors across the United States to lose money but made no mention of her own agency’s losses.

“While there are no angry shareholders or investors to complain, we are accountable to the taxpayers who fill state coffers with their hard-earned dollars,” Combs said in her op-ed urging transparency in government.

Way to set your own example there, Susan. Were you ever going to disclose this loss if the newsies had come knocking on your door?

Early voting: Two big days to go

Yesterday and today were the two busiest days for early voting so far, with 7193 and 8684 voters showing up on each day. Both were better than the corresponding days in 2003, though thanks to the rain-induced slowdown on Monday, this year still lags the in-person totals from 2003 by a 46,258 to 45,997 margin. There were also a lot more mail ballots returned by this time in 2003 – 10,415 to 6,423 – and as we know the hours were shorter for early voting back then. Still, overall the showing hasn’t been too bad, with prospects improved since Monday’s dismal showing. The final two days in 2003 produced nearly 30,000 votes, however, and especially with thunderstorms predicted for tomorrow and Friday, we may wind up falling way short. We’ll just have to see. I’ll make my final turnout guess over the weekend. If you haven’t voted yet, when do you plan to do so? Leave a comment and let us know.

Endorsement watch: HCC trustees

The Chron endorses in the HCC Trustee races, which even I had forgotten they hadn’t yet done.

In the westside District VI, Sandie Meyers is unopposed as the replacement for incumbent Robert Mills Worsham.

In District III, which stretches from near southeast Houston to Beltway 8, the Chronicle endorses one-term incumbent Diane Olmos Guzman , a public relations specialist and small business owner with a B.A. in journalism from the University of Houston.

I confess, I know exactly nothing about the District III race. I don’t recall seeing any endorsements being made in this one contested race by most of the usual endorsing organizations. Which, when you recall that these are for six-year terms that have no resign-to-run requirement, is a shame. Anyone have any thoughts about this one?

Outgoing District VIII incumbent Abel Davila embarrassed himself and HCC by leading constituents to think he was running for re-election to the central and eastside district, only to be a no-show at the filing deadline. His brother-in-law, Arturo Aguilar, filed instead but then dropped out of the race two days later.

Luckily, retired educator and community activist Eva Loredo had the foresight to register as a write-in candidate and is in position to pick up the pieces left by Davila and provide District VIII with a qualified representative.

That’s my district, which I hadn’t really realized till I got a mailer from Loredo over the weekend; I’ll have a scan of it up shortly. Your HCC Trustee district isn’t printed on your voter registration card – you need to find your registration online to see what district you’re in. She’s the first write-in candidate I’ve ever voted for, and may I say that’s a pain in the rear to do on the eSlate machine. Better than having to pay for a special election because there were no candidates on the ballot, though. I can’t wait to see how many votes she actually gets.

Eight days out: What the Controller candidates are spending their money on

You may recall I looked at how the Controller candidates were spending their money after the 30 day reports came out, and I figured I’d do it again with the 8 day reports. Along the way, I found a little surprise. I’ll get to that in a minute. Here we go:

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ Ronald Green 809.17 Printing Ronald Green 1,301.17 Printing Ronald Green 1,081.42 Door hangers Ronald Green 150.00 Ad (Riverside UMC) Ronald Green 16,573.30 Direct mail Ronald Green 16,573.30 Direct mail

Well, he’s sending mail. That’s something. And I even got one of his mailers yesterday. Progress! Anybody else get some mail from Green?

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ MJ Khan 500.00 GOTV services MJ Khan 6,000.00 Radio ad production and buy MJ Khan 105,048.70 TV media buy MJ Khan 18,300.00 TV ad production MJ Khan 1,100.00 GOTV services MJ Khan 5,000.00 Ad (Tx Conservative Review) MJ Khan 10,000.00 Ad (HCRP) MJ Khan 214,473.00 TV & radio media buy MJ Khan 1,690.00 GOTV services MJ Khan 2,895.69 Printing of signs MJ Khan 2,500.00 Radio ad buy MJ Khan 2,000.00 Ad (Aubrey Taylor Communications)

Pretty decent media buy. Khan’s $300K will get him a fair amount of TV time, including in some places that don’t have very many voters. Note the $5K ad with the Texas Conservative Review, which you’ll see again and again, and the accompanying $10K ad with the Harris County GOP, which most Republican candidates bought at some level as well. Gotta give ’em credit for knowing how to make a buck when the opportunity presents itself.

Candidate Amount Purpose ============================================================ Pam Holm 10,000.00 Video shoot Pam Holm 10,063.82 Direct mail Pam Holm 3,750.00 GOTV field ops Pam Holm 125.00 Ad (South Wesley AMC) Pam Holm 5,000.00 Ad (Tx Conservative Review) Pam Holm 1,000.00 GOTV Pam Holm 10,000.00 Radio time Pam Holm 612.40 Ad (Houston Community Newspapers) Pam Holm 1,650.81 Yard Signs Pam Holm 1,914.94 Push cards and letterhead Pam Holm 14,641.00 Mailer Pam Holm 1,350.00 Push cards Pam Holm 5,000.00 Ad (HCRP) Pam Holm 50.00 Ad (Acres Homes Citizen Council) Pam Holm 1,500.00 Ad (Aubrey Taylor Communications) Pam Holm 487.13 T-shirts Pam Holm 1,850.00 Push cards Pam Holm 4,350.00 Ad (Aubrey Taylor Communications) Pam Holm 2,301.40 Signs Pam Holm 22,158.91 Direct Mail

Okay, something here is missing. We know Pam Holm is on the air – Martha asked around on Facebook and received confirmation from a couple of people that they have seen her ad several times, on CNN. Yet I cannot find a line item in her finance report that would correspond to a media buy of that magnitude. She only listed about $180K of spending in her report, which frankly wouldn’t buy that much TV time if that’s all it were being spent on. Stephen Costello’s report for his At Large #1 race showed $160K spent on a TV buy, and that’s the smallest one I’ve seen so far. Heck, just look at how much MJ Khan spent. She’s been on the air long enough that this should be accounted for in this report – it’s not in her 30 days out report – unlike the situation from earlier this month where Gene Locke announced his debut on TV after the reporting deadline for the 30 day reports. So I’m going to ask here: Where is Pam Holm’s spending on TV advertising documented? Maybe I’m missing something, and if so I hope someone will point me to it. But especially with Holm taking shots at Green about his tax lien, I think it’s fair to wonder why Holm has apparently filed an incomplete finance report.

UPDATE: Via Greg, here’s the purchase order for Holm’s ad buy. Martha has more.

Chron sues Perry over clemency files

Good for them.

The Houston Chronicle and Hearst Newspapers LLC are suing Gov. Rick Perry in an effort to force the release of a clemency report Perry received before denying a stay of execution to Cameron Todd Willingham.

The report is a summary and status of the case against Willingham that was given to Perry at 11:30 a.m. on the day of Willingham’s 2004 execution in the fire deaths of his three daughters. Anti-death penalty advocates say modern fire forensics show the blaze cannot be proven as arson.

Perry’s office has refused to release the report, claiming it is a privileged document. The clemency document was used by Perry in the process of deciding whether to give Willingham a 30-day stay of execution.

“When it comes to human life, there is no place the governor should be more transparent in his decision-making,” said Jonathan Donnellan, an attorney for Hearst and the Chronicle.

“It should raise eyebrows that the governor is seeking to shield communications with his advisers as ‘legal advice,’ when the very idea of executive clemency power is to make a policy decision after the legal process has run its course,” Donnellan said.

In a just world, this would be a slamdunk, but in the world we inhabit, you never know. We know that Rick Perry really loves his secrets, and regardless of the context that’s just bad for transparency and good government. I hope the Chron gets a quick and decisive ruling in their favor.

On a related note, Grits does his own analysis of the case against Cameron Todd Willingham, and puts in an open records request to see if any of the recorded conversations between Willingham and his lawyer contained a confession. I’m very interested to see what he finds out.

The hole the Sports Authority is in

Sure is a great time for stuff like this to happen, isn’t it?

Harris County taxpayers may have to inject up to $7 million a year into the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority for the next two years due to a financial crisis sparked by the souring of bonds used to build Minute Maid Park, Reliant Stadium and the Toyota Center.

Facing balloon payments on $117 million in variable-rate bonds, the authority now is obliged to pay off the debt in five years instead of 23 years. That would require $24 million a year — a figure that, together with more than $30 million in additional obligations, would push the authority to the brink of insolvency.

The alternative: Convince major banks to provide lines of credit that would give the authority a two-year window to refinance. That would cost $7 million a year.

But those deals would create a new set of problems: The authority would have to take $7 million a year now used for stadium maintenance and the expenses of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation and spend it on repaying the loans. To make up the difference, Harris County may have to pick up some of those expenses with property tax revenue, a step that some say indirectly violates stadium boosters’ promise that taxpayer dollars would not be used to pay for the new venues.

Bloomberg had a story about this a few days back as well. I’ll admit it, I voted for the stadium deals when they were on the ballot. I believed at the time that they provided an economic boost for the cities that built them – the research is clear now that that is not the case – and I believed the assertions about how they would not be paid for with tax revenues. Live and learn. I still don’t regret my votes, as I believe the city has gotten value out of all that construction, and I suspect that in the end the refinancing will go through, which will make this not be a crisis any more. But it isn’t what we were promised, and there ought to be some consequences for that – if it means the dissolution of the Sports Authority, or at least a huge curtailment in its mission, that’s a good start. I’m curious as to why the name Gene Locke did not come up in this story, since he has longstanding ties to the Sports Authority and has touted his involvement in the stadium deals as part of his qualifications to be Mayor. Seems like it would be a good idea to get his reaction to this on the record, don’t you think?

Stop for the school buses

My route to and from work takes me through a couple of school zones, and every now and then I wind up behind a school bus and have to stop when it pulls over to discharge some riders. I think everybody knows that when you are behind a school bus and it stops, you need to stop as well, but did you know that the same is true if you’re on the opposite side of the street and you’re coming towards the bus? Well, if you didn’t know that, your ignorance could cost you.

This week, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers throughout the state are participating in a nationwide effort to keep schoolchildren safe. Troopers are riding on school buses and patrolling bus stops looking for violators as part of National School Bus Safety Week, which [ran though Friday].

In addition to troopers and Precinct 1 Constable deputies in Montgomery County, troopers in Harris County are also taking part in the safety program.

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: When you see a school bus pull over to the curb, and its lights start blinking, stop. The exception is if you’re on the opposite side of a street that has a barrier in the middle – I presume a median counts, but as the story notes, a two-way turning lane does not. On my normal commute there are no such roads, so stopping is always the correct answer.

The sting part of this effort is now over, but that doesn’t mean you can zip by again. Putting aside the fact that it’s the right thing to do and not doing it puts kids in danger, police officers have been known to sit in school zones at other times as well.

Now here’s a little thought experiment for you. Suppose some entity decided to equip its school buses with cameras. These cameras turn on when the buses stop to pick up or drop off kids – which is to say, during the time when the buses’ red lights are blinking and vehicles are required by law to stop – and turn off when the bus doors close and the red lights stop blinking. If a vehicle is filmed going past the bus, on a road with no barrier, the owner of the car is sent a ticket, which can be appealed through a traffic court. Would you consider that to be a valid enforcement mechanism, or would you insist that the only legitimate way to enforce this law is by having a police officer catch people in the act? I’m just curious.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 26

The Texas Progressive Alliance is ready for the start of the World Series, and it presents to you its weekly highlight reel as we await the first pitch. Click on for more.


Tuesday mail call

After several politics-free days, my mailbox was overflowing with campaign literature today. Two pieces from the Houston Turnout Project, one that generically advocated early voting and one that advocated for Annise Parker, using language that I daresay we’ll all find familiar. Three concerning the HISD District I race, two for Alma Lara and one for Anna Eastman. And one for Ronald Green, which listed his endorsements yet not his website URL. All were positive pieces – no attack mailers, at least not today. What’s been in your mailbox lately?

Eight day out finances

Here’s the Chron story about the eight days out finance reports, which is all about the Mayor’s race.

City Councilman Peter Brown, who polls show leading the pack, poured an additional $801,000 of his family fortune into the race, pushing his self-funded total to $3.2 million. In the one-month period covered by the report, he spent $2.42 million and has a war chest of $418,000.

Former City Attorney Gene Locke has spent $1.34 million and has $391,000 on hand, while City Controller Annise Parker spent just $506,000 with $83,000 remaining. Harris County Board of Education Trustee Roy Morales’ report was not available before deadline Monday; he has reported raising only a fraction of that of his opponents in previous periods.

Roy’s report is available – it was Locke’s report I couldn’t find. Be that as it may, he raised $35,106.43, spent $28,826.80, and has $7,333.43 on hand; he also listed a loan of $5,927.86. I’ve updated my Google spreadsheet to show the results that have been posted so far. (I haven’t been able to get to any of the district Council races as yet, and the site has been crashing all day today, so don’t read anything into the absence of most of those races.) Note that Roy’s showing since the 30 day report is better than he had in either previous report, and indeed is nearly as much as he’d raised all year to that point.

As for Brown’s lead, and the dueling commentaries among various unaffiliated campaign types, what we’ve got is two polls of registered voters that show him in the lead, and one poll that does some pre-screening based on recent voting history that shows Parker in the lead. I agree with Greg that Peter gets the benefit of the doubt, but I really do have my doubts about those two polls. Which is not to say that Parker’s poll is the gold standard – even if it were, it’s still just one data point, and that poll’s assumptions may be too restrictive or otherwise skewed in some fashion – but I am more comfortable with it, at least in terms of the voter pool it’s drawing from. That said, if Brown’s ad blitz has genuinely raised his profile among otherwise undecided voters, it wouldn’t take too much of a bump in turnout among voters I’ve been considering unlikely to make a difference for him. I just have no way of knowing about this.

What we need to really get a handle on this is at least one poll of truly likely voters by an independent pollster. I mean, for all we know, Annise’s poll oversampled women, or Democrats, or some other group that might be favorable to her. I haven’t seen her poll’s crosstabs, so I can’t judge that. Failing that, a poll from another campaign, one that also does a likely-voter pre-screen, would be instructive. As Martha suggests, surely Gene Locke has commissioned such a poll. Of course, if said poll gives him a lousy result, he has no reason to release it. Draw whatever inferences you want from the lack of a poll release from his campaign.

Brown leads in KHOU poll

Another good poll result for Peter Brown.

According to [an 11 News / KUHF Houston Public Radio] poll, 24 percent of likely voters in the Houston mayoral race plan to vote for Brown. This is up sharply from the five percent of likely voters who said they would vote for him in an 11 News poll conducted in August, before Brown had launched a massive advertising campaign and spent more than $2.4 million of his own money to promote his candidacy.

Brown’s nearest challenger is comptroller Annise Parker, who holds the support of 16 percent of likely voters in the current poll. Former city attorney Gene Locke has 14 percent support, and Harris County Department of Education trustee Roy Morales has 5 percent support. Forty-one percent of likely voters told pollsters that they have not yet settled on a candidate. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.2 percent, which means it is difficult to determine whether Locke or Parker has more support than the other.

“It seems very likely that if this trend holds up, that Peter Brown will be in the runoff,” said 11 News political expert Bob Stein, who conducted the poll with the Center for Civic Engagement at Rice University. “The most likely opponent will be Annise Parker, but that is still very much up in the air,” he said.

Stein said he did not expect to see such a high percentage of likely voters who said they still do not know who to vote for. When Bill White was first elected on 2003, Stein said, a similar poll conducted at the same time showed an “undecided” figure of 12 percent.

I don’t see a link to crosstabs, or any discussion of what “likely” means here. Is it the case that the screen was done by asking people if they were likely to vote, as appears to be the case with the Chron poll, or was there a pre-screen based on recent voter history, as was the case with the Parker internal poll? If it’s the former, and I kind of think that it is, then I have the same issues I did with the Chron poll. I mean, through the first four days of early voting, 75% of all early voters had voted in all three of the last three city elections, according to the analysis done by Kyle Johnston. These are the hardest of hardcore voters. Only 2% of early voters had not voted in any of the last three city elections. I’m sorry, but unless someone has a demonstrated history of actually voting in odd-numbered years, I’m not taking their word for it when they say they’re “likely” to vote.

I also think that the high number of undecideds in this poll, which compares to a 24% “undecided” rate in the Parker poll, is evidence that this poll isn’t really sampling “likely” voters. I believe that among those who really are going to vote, there aren’t that many who don’t have a good idea of whom they prefer. To be sure, there are still folks who are wavering, but I don’t believe it’s that high.

Having said all that, this is now two good polls for Brown, and they have definitely changed the perception of the race. He’s run a good race, he’s got a good message about which he’s been very consistent, and he’s been able to get that message out. That’s got to be having an effect. I’m just still not sure how big that effect has been.

UPDATE: Here’s the KUHF story. The key bits:

Rice University Professor and Political Scientist Bob Stein conducted the survey of 545 registered voters over the last week and a half. He asked people how strong their support was for each candidate.

“Peter Brown’s support is interestingly weak. Tepid would be the right word. Gene Locke and Annise Parker, 3-1 voters who tell us they’re voting for Gene Locke and Annise Parker are strong supporters — 75 percent. In Peter Brown’s case it barely breaks 58-59 percent. I think what Peter Brown has got is a broad base of support. He’s got support in every community. The problem for Peter will be probably that support is not very deep and may not take very much to, how shall I say, peel it away.”

Again, this strongly suggests what we have here is a self-screen for likelihood of voting. I am not surprised.

Roy on the air

Behold the power of Roy:

Just as a reminder, Barack Obama got 61% of the vote in Houston last year. I don’t know how effective a boogeyman he’ll make, though I suppose that depends on where the ad airs. Roy’s eight days out report gives no hint of that, and all we know for sure is “it’s on cable”. If you see this on your TV, please leave a comment and let me know. Houston Politics, Martha, Mary Benton, and Greg have more.

You won’t see this on TV, but At Large #1 candidate Lonnie Allsbrooks sent me a link to the following campaign video on YouTube:

I confess, I’m not exactly sure what the message is that’s being conveyed, but there you have it.

Finally, because some things just need to be linked to, I give you this. I knew this was coming, and yet I was unprepared for it.

The case against Willingham

Most of the pushback against the criticism of the Cameron Todd Willingham investigation and conviction has so far been of the form of “He was a bad guy!” and “We did too use science to prove arson!”, neither of which has been the least bit convincing. The DMN has a story that does a much better job of creating doubt about any claims of innocence. Basically, Willingham made a lot of inconsistent statements over time, the Beyler report never concluded that the fire was not arson, just that arson could not be proven, and some media reports of one juror’s doubts about her guilty vote were overblown. It does not change the nature of the problem with his case, which is that the forensic techniques used to convict Willingham were bunk, and that many other people have been convicted on similar “evidence”, but it was still a bit bracing to read. I know I for one had held some incorrect beliefs about the case based on previous reporting, and it was good to get set straight on a few points.

But again, this doesn’t change the fundamentals of the case, which still all boil down to this:

Gerald Hurst, a Cambridge-educated chemist from Austin, began researching the fire evidence after being recruited in January 2004 by Patricia Ann Cox, a Willingham cousin. Hurst finished his report four days before the scheduled execution on Feb. 17.

His affidavit, filed in the trial court, said “most of the conclusions” reached by fire marshal Vasquez “would be considered invalid in light of current knowledge” in the fire investigation field. It said the finding of multiple origins – a persuasive sign of arson – “was inappropriate even in the context of the state of the art in 1991.”

Hurst did not express an opinion about what caused the fire in the affidavit. However, in a letter sent to Perry on Feb. 13, 2004, requesting a 30-day reprieve for his client, Willingham’s attorney stated “Dr. Hurst’s opinion is that the fire was not intentionally set.”


Beyler delivered his report in August. In it, he said “a finding of arson could not be sustained” based upon current standards of fire investigation or those in place in 1992. He did not say what caused the fire, as Corsicana Fire Chief Donald McMullan pointed out in a response.

In an interview Friday, Beyler said that he had no theory about what actually happened and that the cause of the fire is undetermined.

His report did not try to explain Willingham’s inconsistencies and adopted at least one of his claims as fact: that Amber was in her own bed right before the fire. He said he didn’t realize until The News told him that her body was found with the sheet pulled up near her shoulders, raising the question whether she was tucked in her parents’ bed all along.

Ultimately, he said, the conclusions he reached didn’t depend on Willingham’s statements. Beyler said he focused on the science.

“I do recognize that he said many different things to many different people,” Beyler said of Willingham.

At the end of the day, if the investigation of the Willingham fire had been done correctly, there likely never would have been charges filed. The evidence does not support a conclusion of arson. You can’t be certain what a DA might do, but if the one in this case had proceeded he might well have lost. We almost certainly would not be where we are right now had the fire marshal at the time done the right thing. That’s what it’s all about.

By the way, Cameron Willingham isn’t the only one who has given conflicting statements about what did or did not happen. So has his ex-wife Stacy, who is now claiming that he did in fact confess to her, despite saying the opposite in years past.

In a brief interview at her home in 2004, Kuykendall told the Tribune Willingham never made [a confession]. She confirmed that this year to a reporter from the New Yorker magazine.

Her statement that he confessed — and that he said he set the fire because she threatened to divorce him — also conflicts with other accounts that she has provided.

Eight days after the fire, in an interview with fire investigators and police, Kuykendall said that she and Willingham had not argued for at least two weeks and she made no mention of a threat the night before the fire to divorce him.

On that night, she told authorities, the couple went to a Kmart and picked up family photographs that she intended to give as Christmas presents.

She failed to mention a threat of divorce in a second interview as well, and under oath at the punishment phase of Willingham’s trial said he never would have hurt their three girls.

I’m no more inclined to believe what Stacy Kuykendall says now than I am to believe her brothers. The science is the key, as this Star Telegram article admirably reports (hat tip: The Contrarian). Everything else is a distraction.

Bad web info! Bad! Bad!

The Chronicle would like to remind you that you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Or in your Inbox, for that matter.

The Internet is the wonder of our age — a peerless tool for assembling information quickly. But, as we all know, it can also be a wickedly effective tool for creating mischief. Regrettably, it’s being used that way in the statewide debate over one of the amendments to the Texas Constitution, to be decided in the Nov. 3 election. Informed voters need to know this and act accordingly.

The trouble relates to Proposition 3 on the ballot, one of three proposed constitutional amendments relating to the collection of ad valorem taxes on real property. All three merit a yes vote.


Unfortunately, a misbegotten e-mail campaign has been launched against this proposition. This is downright harmful to the interests of Texas property taxpayers, who shoulder the load for most of the expense of public education and a good bit of the cost of local government.

Those who would sidetrack Prop 3 evidently believe that the word uniform somehow makes this a stalking horse for a statewide property tax.

Which is expressly forbidden by the state constitution, so no worries. Not that I could tell you why exactly such a thing would be so horrible, but then I’m not the type of person who generally bases decisions like that on multiply-forwarded emails. I’m not sure that showing this op-ed to someone who does make their decisions in that fashion will have much effect, but I suppose one must try.