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November, 2009:

Bradley’s penchant for secrecy

I don’t know what John Bradley’s goals are as the Chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. But if one of them is to dispel the notion that he’s Rick Perry’s stooge, who was installed for the purpose of covering the Governor’s ass on the Cameron Todd Willingham case, then he’s doing it wrong.

John Bradley, who took over as chairman of the revamped commission Sept. 30, told state senators this month that the commission must adopt new rules before proceeding with the inquiry.

Bradley, district attorney for Williamson County, has also sought to control the release of information about commission activities. In an Oct. 30 e-mail obtained by the Star-Telegram, staff coordinator Leigh Tomlin asked commission members, “as a reminder of our e-mail retention policy, please delete all commission correspondence.

“If you feel there is something that needs to be saved, forward it to my office.”

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who sponsored legislation that created the commission in 2005, expressed disapproval with the policy, saying “it’s going in the wrong direction.”

“Surely deleting all e-mail correspondence is a nice way of saying, ‘destroy all correspondence,’ ” he said. “It’s the same thing.”

Hinojosa also said that because commission members are appointed independently of the chairman, they should be able to “keep and save whatever e-mail they want to keep.”

Bradley said the policy “simply seeks to make sure that all relevant information is saved at a single location.”

“As you might imagine,” Bradley wrote in an e-mail, “with digital information being sent, forwarded and replied to at the touch of button, an agency can find itself with duplicates of the information in numerous places.

“That makes it difficult for a public information officer to respond to requests for information and be confident about complying with all the legal requirements connected to that responsibility.”

That sound you hear is my bullshit detector blowing a gasket. Having official communications emanate from a single source does not require email purges. The reason you do that is to make it hard, if not impossible, for there to be a complete record of the Commission’s activities. There’s absolutely no justification for a commission whose purpose is to review forensic science procedures and make recommendations about best practices to be concerned about secrecy like this. Unless, of course, they expect to be discussing things that might embarrass someone they don’t want to be embarrassed. This policy needs to be stopped before any real damage is done.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 23

The Texas Progressive Alliance would like to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. Now please pass the gravy and the remote, and click on for this week’s blog highlights.

(more…)

Schieffer drops out, White (may be but probably is) in for Governor

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the news that Tom Schieffer has dropped out of the Governor’s race, and that Bill White is considering switching over to it. I’ll add in a bunch of links later, but for now let me say two things. One, this is where I thought White belonged from the beginning. He is by far the strongest candidate Democrats would have, with a great resume, the necessary fundraising chops, and crossover appeal. He’s also an executive and not a legislator, and I have always felt that for that reason the Governor’s office was a much better fit for him. And two, he really can win this race against Rick Perry – and let’s face it, that’s who he’ll be running against – whereas I have never been clear on how he – or any Democrat – could prevail in a low-turnout special election runoff. Certainly, his presence in the race puts a scare into the Republicans. We won’t know for sure what will happen till December 4, but I feel a lot better about 2010 now than I did when I woke up this morning.

Anyway. Here’s Martha’s report from Schieffer’s presser, and his statement in support of Bill White. Here’s a statement from the House Dems that had backed Schieffer. I’ll have more later.

Early voting locations set for runoff

Via press release from the County Clerk’s office, some dates to mark on the calendar:

IMPORTANT DECEMBER 12, 2009 JOINT RUNOFF ELECTION DATES

First Day of Early Voting – Monday, November 30, 2009
Last Day to Apply for Ballot by Mail (received not Postmarked) – Friday, December 4, 2009
Last Day of Early Voting – Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Election Day – Saturday, December 12, 2009

Early voting locations and hours are here (PDF). Note that there are only nine days of early voting, not twelve, and that voting locations outside the city of Houston are not open, as there’s nothing for most folks outside of Houston to be voting for; the main exceptions that come to my mind are the West University Place and Bellaire runoffs, and maybe the HISD Trustee runoffs, if either of Districts I and IX have non-Houston territory in them.

Red light camera amnesty

Got a red light camera ticket that you haven’t paid? Want to get it taken care of but fear there may be consequences for having waited so long? Well, now’s your chance to do it, as HPD has announced a 60-day grace period, which began Friday, for those with delinquent red light camera citations.

The police department’s news release also warned that drivers who don’t pay late fines by Jan. 30 will not be allowed to renew their vehicle registrations. However, Harris County commissioners have not struck a deal with a city to allow blocks on registrations, and the issue isn’t even on the county’s agenda as of today.

People can pay fines by the going online at www.violationinfo.com; by phone toll-free at (866) 790-4111; by mail; or pay in person at the Municipal Courts Building located at 1400 Lubbock or at a walk-in payment center located at 1301 Travis, Suite 145.

Pay the fine, or take your chances that Commissioners Court will continue to tell the city to stuff it? My guess is that 60 days from now the county will not have changed its position. But I don’t think that will last forever. Perhaps the new Mayoral administration will have better luck with it. Who knows? If you’ve been feeling bad about not paying it, now’s the time. If not, you’re unlikely to be made to feel differently soon, but probably not forever. Up to you. KHOU has more.

Shapiro running for re-election

State Sen. Florence Shapiro was the first Republican to declare her intent to run for the was-supposed-to-be-open Senate seat of Kay Bailey Hutchison. She’s now the first Republican to abandon that pursuit.

In the latest fallout from U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s decision not to resign any time soon, state Sen. Florence Shapiro said Friday she will file for re-election to the Texas Senate post she has held since 1993.

Shapiro, R-Plano, had announced her campaign for U.S. Senate 16 months ago.

“I will adjust my U.S. Senate campaign based on the future resignation decision of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison,” Shapiro said in a statement. “On July 15, 2008, I became the first candidate in Texas to announce for the U.S. Senate. I knew it would be a long road.

Sen. Shapiro is likely to be the only Republican to abandon this race, as she’s the only one who would have to give up her current office to do so; Railroad Commishes Elizabeth Ames Jones (2012) and Michael Williams (2014) aren’t on the ballot, and Roger Williams holds no office. On the Democratic side, well, we all know about that. If KBH does actually resign, then all bets are off, and if the next Senate election is 2012, the same is true. But for now, the field is set, with one person fewer than before.

By the way, here’s an oldie but goodie from my archives, which I found when looking for that link about Shapiro’s initial announcement, in which we learn that KBH will indeed resign from the Senate, because some unnamed Republican Congressman told Paul Burka that he was sure it was so, and I said “I’ll believe it when I see it”. It’s like I was psychic or something.

Metro and the sales tax

Metro chair David Wolff would like to see the portion of the sales tax revenue that gets diverted from its coffers to Harris County and the smaller cities go back to Metro.

Wolff believes METRO can build significantly more if it has access to all of the 1 cent sales tax that was approved by voters when METRO was first established in 1978.

Along the way, 1/4 of this sales tax was diverted to the city, county, and multi-cities for the building of roads. I do not feel this was proper. This money was voted by people of this area for transit, and I think that one of the things that we have to work with the Mayor and the County Commissioners Court over the next five years – this agreement was just renewed in 2009 but expires in 2014 – is restoring to METRO this full one cent sales tax.

Wolff added that this loss of 1/4 of the 1 cent sales tax comes out to approximately $100 million lost annually. He says that this could support about $1.4 billion in bonding capacity “with a 7% constant.” When matched by federal funds, this would equate to about $2.8 billion in new capital, which is slightly more than METRO is spending on the five new light rail lines it is building. “So,” he said, “Metro could double what it’s doing if we’re able to negotiate and work with elected officials to restore our funding over the next five years.”

I’m certainly open to this idea, though I don’t believe either of the Mayoral candidates are inclined to favor it. Nonetheless, I hope it will be on the table when the current agreement expires.

Weekend link dump for November 22

Have you started defrosting your turkey yet?

Avoid black luggage. My grandmother used to travel with a piece of puke-green Samsonite that had the letter K (for Kuffner) plastered on it in lime-green masking tape. No one would ever claim to have picked that off the carousel by “accident”.

Scientist announces that she is call girl and blogger Belle de Jour. If someone isn’t working on a movie treatment for this already, my understanding of how the world works will be totally upset.

The Bloggess visits a sex dungeon in Japan (moderately NSFW). What could possibly go wrong?

The cause of all those spam DMs you’re getting on Twitter.

How to get the most out of that all-you-can-eat buffet.

The statistical case for Bill Belichick’s call on 4th and 2. I’d add in the possibility that the Colts score quickly enough after a failure to convert in favor of the call, and add in their frivolous timeout-calling beforehand as a detriment. David Pinto is more sympathetic to Belichick, and gives a parallel situation in baseball. Oh, and here’s the quantum physics explanation of it as well.

The word of the year is “unfriend”.

Bud flips the bird in Buffalo. You think people might be a bit fired up for tomorrow night’s game?

Clearly, the MOB was ahead of its time.

KBH’s “I’m not resigning” speech, annotated.

Jeffy speaks.

Funny, isn’t it, how only some things need to be deficit-neutral.

Rules are for wusses.

Cash for caulkers!

More ways to get ripped off.

House freshman report card.

Now that’s truth in advertising.

Everything you want to know about Chrome OS.

Fame can be a very fickle thing.

Endorsement watch: For Annise

As noted yesterday, the Chronicle endorsed Annise Parker for Mayor in the runoff election.

With city tax revenues eroded by the continuing recession, the next occupant of the office must be a prudent fiscal manager as well as a leader who can make hard decisions on spending priorities. That will require a detailed knowledge of the city departments that deliver services to citizens in order to wisely prioritize cuts and stretch available revenues to the maximum.

At the same time, the new mayor must also be a visionary focused not just on how things are in Houston but how they should be in the coming decades. Despite a hostile economy, the incoming administration will have to continue improving the quality of life in our increasingly urbanized metropolis. That will entail strengthening public safety, reducing air and water pollution, completing an area-wide mass transit system including light rail, and guiding land development to protect the character of long-established residential neighborhoods.

In the general election the Chronicle endorsed both Parker and former city attorney and public agency lawyer Gene Locke, her opponent in the run-off. As we noted then, they each “offer deep roots in the city and a dazzling range of life experiences and public service.” And our endorsement of Parker should not be taken as a diminution of the skills and qualifications of Locke, whose back story as a civil rights activist, steelworker and successful major law firm attorney offers a compelling narrative.

Houstonians are lucky to face such a difficult choice. But Parker’s background and experience offer a better fit for the mayor’s office at this point in time.

Obviously, I agree with all of that. As Nancy Sims points out, the Chron isn’t alone in coming to this conclusion for the runoff. If there is such a thing as campaign momentum, I believe she has it.

On a related note, you probably missed Friday night’s showing of Red, White, and Blue on KUHT channel 8. It was intended to be a straight up debate between Annise Parker and Gene Locke, except that Locke did not attend. So instead, it was a one-on-one conversation between hosts David Jones and Gary Polland and Parker about the issues of importance. It will be rerun tonight at 5:30, or you can watch the YouTube videos below:

Coby and Greg have more.

Sheriff to try again for new jail facility

Sheriff Adrian Garcia wants to take another crack at building a new jail facility. As was the case in 2007, when a referendum to float bonds for a new jail was voted down, this too would be voted on by the public. Garcia recognizes he has work to do to make it happen.

On Tuesday, Commissioners Court is scheduled to consider County Budget Officer Dick Raycraft’s recommendation that his office, the sheriff’s department and the Public Infrastructure Department tackle the jail problem. The result, Raycraft said, could be a recommendation to the court in June to put a jail bond measure on the November 2010 ballot.

[…]

Garcia pledged to be an active participant in the campaign by educating voters on the need for new facilities. In addition, he said, a new bond measure likely would come with the approval of the county’s new Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. The council was formed earlier this year to bring together elected officials to find ways to alleviate jail overcrowding.

Garcia’s plan would establish a new booking center that could hold 2,193 prisoners. It would have about 1,200 beds and capacity to hold another 1,000 people for the processing involved in being booked into or released from jail.

Garcia said the current facility is stretched far beyond capacity.

“I’m concerned about the safety of my employees, as well as the safety of the people we’re processing,” he said.

My position on this has not changed. Rather than repeat myself, I’m going to reprint an email sent by Alan Bernstein, Sheriff Garcia’s Director of Public Affairs, to Carl Whitmarsh in response to a previous email that criticized the Sheriff for pursuing a new jail:

When it comes to the county’s long-range planning for its entire criminal justice system, this is not the time for critics to shoot first and ask questions later..

First of all, the discussion of the potential construction of a new Central Processing Center is being promulgated by County Budget Director Dick Raycraft, and Sheriff Garcia is glad the subject is being broached.

Second, what my friend David Jones refers to as a jail is a facility primarily intended to take in and release jail inmates for the city of Houston and the county. (Note the title of the facility). Taking over the city’s booking operation, and having the city reimburse the county for doing so, would eliminate duplicative efforts and spending for both governments. Yes, this facility would also include functions that most think of as jail housing functions, such as better facilities for mentally ill inmates and a separate housing area for many female inmates. But, as supporting documents show, the Central Processing Center will not, and is not intended to, solve the county’s jail population problem by adding new beds. Raycraft’s proposal actually states that the construction proposal would have to be interwoven with the efforts of the new Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to reduce jail population through policy changes at the prosecutorial and judicial level as well as elsewhere.

In other words, the sheriff hopes that the number of inmates sent to him will decrease, but we still need a new processing center.

Third, one of the problems with the bond referendum for such a facility in 2007 is crystal clear in David’s e-mail. It was widely understood to merely be another jail space. This was unfortunate, because the facility primarily is meant for something else, as explained above.

Fourth, the current inmate processing center at the county jail is woefully outmoded, including being cramped with incoming inmates. The sheriff has explained that this creates a potential safety problem for inmates and staff. These are conditions that David and others, I trust, would never condone.

So there you have it. Clearly, as noted in the story, there needs to be a much better effort to communicate what this facility is for. Showing real progress in reducing the inmate population through better bail and probation policies would go a long way as well. Note further that we are apparently headed in the direction of eliminating the city’s jail facility, which is in line with stated objectives of each of the remaining Mayoral candidates. That too will bear watching over the next year as the county readies this proposal for a vote.

UPDATE: Grits pushes back, and spells out what should be done to reduce the inmate population.

UPDATE: Alan Bernstein works a little overtime by leaving the following comment on that Grits post:

So much misinformation!

The new Central Processing Center would not add 2,500 beds. It would add about half that, and reserve most of those for special facilities for females and mentally ill inmates. Its prime function would be booking and releasing for the county and for the city, which would pay the county to take over those functions. Inmates would be sent to existing beds faster, and would be released faster when their jail stay is over. A new front door is not a new bedroom, si?

The current processing center is overrun, cramped, outmoded – presenting an unsafe situation that no one wants. The new facility would never “build our way out” of a jail population problem. The sheriff, the county budget director and others involved acknowledge that by 2014, when this new facility would open, there will have to be new policies in place across the entire justice system to avert a continuing inmate population then. Fortunately, all of those things are already under discussion.

The sheriff is moving forward on multiple fronts. George Parnham, chairman of the sheriff’s mental health advisory committee, last month briefed Commissioners Court about plans for a Reintegration Center for the mentally ill, as an example. But we have to plan now to avoid a continuation of the problems we already have with an outmoded, too-small inmate processing center.

The sheriff has not rejected “cite-and-release” but wants to make sure it would make things better, not backfire, before seriously considering it.

The jail has no “immigrant detainees” other than those who would be there as non-immigrants dealing with criminal charges under state law. The county jail does not house inmates solely because they are facing immigration charges.

The public defender’s office, new bonding policies and other ideas, all of which are beyond the sheriff’s authority, are also being considered already.

What has changed since the “jail” (wrong title, to be fair) bond was rejected in 2007 besides there now being a new sheriff? For one, there is now a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council of 11 elected officials who are hashing out the ideas presented on this blog. Many of these officials are restless and eager to move forward.

UPDATE: And here’s Grits’ response to Bernstein’s comment.

2009 Runoff Candidate Meet and Greet

Want to meet the candidates who are in the December 12 runoff? Here’s your chance:

You are invited to attend …

2009 Runoff Candidate Meet and Greet

DECEMBER 3, 2009 – 6:30 PM – The Upper Kirby Building
(details below)

CNU-HoustonHouston TomorrowEmerging Green Builders, and Citizens’ Transportation Coalition are proud to host a Meet and Greet event for the 2009 Houston Runoff Election Candidates.

We’ve invited the following candidates to come to this social event where they can get to know our organization members and friends:

Mayor: Annise Parker, Gene Locke
Controller: Ron Green, MJ Khan
District A: Brenda Stardig, Lane Lewis
District F: Mike Laster, Al Hoang
At-large 1: Stephen Costello, Karen Derr
At-large 2: Sue Lovell, Andrew Burks
At-large 5: Jack Christie, Jolanda Jones

Not only will this event be an excellent chance for us to get to know the runoff candidates, this will be a great opportunity for the members of these organizations to get to know each other better as well. We’re really looking forward to this unique event, and we hope that you’ll join us!

Please let us know you’re coming, this helps us plan our space and refreshment needs!Attend Event

For more information about the sponsoring organizations, follow the links below:

CNU-Houston
Houston Tomorrow
Emerging Green Builders
Citizens’ Transportation Coalition
Event Details:
Thursday, December 3, 2009 from 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM

Here’s a Google map of the location if you need it. Hope you can make it.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, the At Large 5 candidates were inadvertently left out. This has now been corrected. See here or here for more.

Houston Women Fire Fighters Calendar

Via Mike McGuff, the women of the Houston Fire Department have gotten in on the calendar-for-charity act, something their make colleagues have been doing for awhile. Here’s what it’s all about.

Our mission is to represent the diversity, strength, and femininity of the mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives in our department while benefiting breast cancer research and assistance programs locally. Our service to the community is not limited to fighting fires or Emergency Medical Services. We are honored to support those in their fight against the second leading cause of cancer death among women. All of the participants in this calendar have a family member or close friend who have had breast cancer or have been diagnosed with the disease themselves.

Proceeds collected from the sales of the Houston Women Firefighters calendar will be presented to the Houston Affiliation of Susan G. Komen for the cure. This affiliate group supports the men and women of Houston by providing breast health education and resources to the seven county areas it services and whom lack the resources for adequate screening and treatment.

According to Hair Balls, the women will be holding a signing event for the calendar this Friday at The Drinkery on Washington Avenue. You can also order it online. I wish them all much success with this venture.

Saturday video break: But that trick never works!

Fifty years ago this week, “Rocky and His Friends” debuted on TV. Thanks to the magic of the internets, we can watch that first ever episode

You can see a bunch more here at Hulu. For more on Rocky and Bullwinkle and their pals, see here and here. Enjoy!

Endorsement watch: Second time’s the charm

Among the runoff elections, only one does not include a candidate that was endorsed by the Chron in the first round. That race is City Council At Large #1, and today the Chron made their choice for the runoff by endorsing Karen Derr.

[Derr] would bring to the position well-honed expertise on quality-of-life issues, including historic preservation and protecting neighborhoods from unwise development.

“We have neighborhood problems that affect our economic growth in Houston,” says Derr, pointing to the negative impact of flooding, high crime and deteriorating infrastructure. If elected she promises to push for more neighborhood patrols by police, an expanded recycling program and improved drainage. She envisions the city evolving into a series of communities connected by expanded light rail, improved bus service and more hike-and-bike trails. “We need more connectivity where areas can keep their culture and distinctive architecture while eliminating blight,” says Derr.

Congrats to Team Derr on getting the endorsement. I presume from the wording of this piece, as well as their past history, that all of the relevant November endorsements will carry through, meaning Ronald Green for Controller, Sue Lovell in At Large #2, Jolanda Jones in At Large #5, Lane Lewis in District A, Mike Laster in District F, Anna Eastman in HISD I, and Adrian Collins in HISD IX are all still their recommended choices. That leaves the Mayor’s race, which as we know was dual-endorsed in the first go-round. You’ll see it in tomorrow’s paper, and I’ll blog about it then, but the word is already out that the Chron has endorsed Annise Parker for the runoff. Yes, no twofers this time – they made a choice, and it’s the right one. More on that tomorrow.

The reason why those “Bill White for Governor” rumors won’t die

Shorter Burka: “KBH says in her new TV ad that she’s needed in the Senate. So why is she running for Governor?”

It’s a good question. And given that no one knows what KBH will do, it’s the reason why this keeps coming up.

Despite protestations to the contrary from the White campaign — now nearly a year old — it’s easy to find prognosticators and pundits who’d be willing to bet that come Jan. 4, the filing deadline for the primary, White’s filing papers will have “candidate for governor” at the top, not U.S. Senate.

Houston’s own Dick Murray, ubiquitous pundit and fearless prognosticator, is one of those who wouldn’t be surprised. (I haven’t asked him whether he’d put money on it.)

I think if the choice is between that and waiting till 2012, it’s a no-brainer. That’s what I’d be telling Bill White if I were on his campaign team, anyway. There are no guarantees, of course – KBH could still surprise us all and do what she’s been saying she’ll do, for example – but if there were a Vegas betting line, it’s pretty clear what the favorite would be. No matter what White says.

On a related note, you really should read this Texas Monthly story about Bill White, available for the usual limited time only. Greg highlights one of his favorite bits, but there’s too much there to do that justice. Just read and enjoy.

Oh, and avoid Blakemore, too

We already know why you should stay away from Steven Hotze. But Allen Blakemore is the Horace and Jasper to Hotze’s Cruella de Vil, and the same warning applies to him as well. But don’t take my word for it, listen to a dissatisfied customer of Blakemore’s.

In 2005 Hotze endorsed George Hittner in a race against Anne Clutterbuck for City Council District C. Although it is a nonpartisan race, both candidates had impeccable Republican credentials for that generally Republican district. Hittner is the son of a federal judge and general counsel and vice president for governmental relations for American Traffic Solutions in Scottsdale, Ariz. Clutterbuck had long served as district manager for then-U.S. Rep. Bill Archer.

But Hittner hired Blakemore as his consultant and was endorsed by Hotze. The result was a bitter campaign that, among other things, tried to tar Clutterbuck for being endorsed by the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgendered Caucus.

Clutterbuck and Hittner were separated by only 42 votes in the first round, but Clutterbuck won the runoff with 58 percent of the vote.

The campaign left not only Clutterbuck’s supporters angry, but Hittner as well. Now a Washington lobbyist, he says he came out of the campaign wrongly portrayed as a right-wing Republican when he is, in fact, moderate.

He pointedly says he recommends to friends who are running for office that they hire political consultant Jessica Colon, who last year faced off against Blakemore and Hotze in a special election for the state Senate.

In addition to Colon, I’d also suggest Jennifer Naedler, who is Clutterbuck’s campaign manager and who is working with Jack Christie in his race, as a better alternative for Republican candidates who don’t want to be saddled with Blakemore’s baggage. Unless Blakemore’s antics are the kind of thing you want associated with your name forever, of course. In which case, knock yourself out.

City goes for electric cars

This is cool.

A deal between the city and Reliant has the electric retailer converting 10 of the city’s new Toyota Prius gasoline-electric hybrids into plug-in vehicles with greater fuel efficiency and the ability to recharge through a standard home power socket. Reliant is also installing 10 charging stations for the cars around the city, including seven that will be available to the public.

The project is designed to raise consumer awareness about plug-in electric cars and promote the city and state as a hub for future advances in the industry, said Jason Few, president of Reliant. The company also benefits through the possibility of more electricity sales, Few said, and more information on how customers will use public charging stations.

“We firmly believe there’s a business model behind this,” Few said. “The more we know about consumer habits, the better we can provide the infrastructure and the products and services to meet the needs of electric vehicle owners and drivers in Texas.”

[…]

The city of Houston already owns one of the largest fleets of gasoline-electric hybrid cars in the country, with 750 of its 12,500 vehicles powered by such systems.

The new Priuses were part of the city’s ongoing car purchase plan, but the $10,000-per-vehicle conversion and the charging stations are being covered by Reliant.

“Without Reliant we never would have done this project” said James Tillman, the city’s assistant director of finance. “We anticipate saving about $1,400 per year per car, including fuel and maintenance costs. Even if we had to pay for the conversion ourselves, we likely would have broken even.”

Presumably they’ll keep doing more of this as they buy more replacement vehicles. It’s a good idea, and I’m glad to see it happen.

Has the TEC grown some teeth?

Well, no. But they do seem to be levying bigger fines, so maybe their gums are a little harder.

By every measure, the agency is issuing more — and larger — fines, the records show.

“There’s been a shift to focus more on enforcement and compliance,” said the commission’s chairman, San Antonio lawyer Ross Fischer.

He and others who know the agency believe a combination of factors are driving the trend, including technological advancements that make it easy for the public access to analyze records they previously couldn’t see. (The commission’s fine collections, it should be noted, go into the state’s general revenue pool, not the agency’s budget).

The commissioners are also receiving many more sworn complaints than they have in years past, especially during election years. In 2000, for example, 93 complaints were filed. Last year there were 388.

[…]

The commission, of course, is operating on rules crafted from laws passed by members of the Legislature — the folks among the most likely to face investigations and fines.

And not all of them think the system works.

State Rep. Al Edwards, D-Houston, received a $1,000 fine for listing a $25,000 contribution from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, as “B Perry”. He also failed to disclose Perry’s occupation and title.

Both pieces of information are required for large contributors, according to state law, and watchdogs would argue that officials could skirt full disclosure by submitting partially completed filings.

Edwards calls it “nitpicking.”

“They should get the information — the reporting should be thorough — but it doesn’t have to be to the extent that they are doing,” he said of the commission. “The Legislature needs to go through and make sure they’re not going overboard.”

I have no sympathy for Al Edwards, whose basic error seems to be exactly the sort of thing that the TEC should be enforcing, since there’s no good reason to omit that kind of information in most cases, and in this specific instance there’s plenty of motivation to leave it out. Having said that, I will agree that it isn’t easy to get these forms right, and well-intentioned candidates can and do get tripped up by minutia. I marveled during this election about obviously problematic finance reports, and it seems clear to me that the right answer here is a software fix. Imagine a TurboTax-like program for filling out campaign finance reports in a complete and compliant manner, for instance. Even trivial validation checks like not allowing a form to be submitted if a required field is left blank or has an improper value in it would go a long way. This would require legislative action and a funding source, neither of which the Lege is likely to be anxious to do, but I feel that the promise of reducing “nitpicky” violations would have some momentum behind it. I mean seriously, what’s the argument against this?

Anyway. One of the new toys that the Trib has given us is a searchable database of ethics fines, which I’m sure will be popular among the oppo research crowd. Check it out.

He coulda been a contender

Poor Roy.

“I thought we were bullied, personally,” Roy Morales told me this morning.

The conservative mayoral candidate was describing a lunch-time meeting he attended Wednesday with Gene Locke’s campaign manager, Christian Archer, at the offices of political consultant Allen Blakemore. The meeting was an effort on Archer’s part to secure Morales’s endorsement.

“I was strongly asked to support Mr. Locke, and I was very clear that I wasn’t going to endorse anyone,” Morales said.

Just read the whole thing. I don’t think there’s anything I can add.

Friday random ten: To the moon!

So, I didn’t get around to the news about NASA finding water on the moon until after I’d published my Friday Random Ten for last week. But the great thing about Fridays is that there’s always another one coming. So here I present to you ten moon songs.

1. Bad Moon Rising – Creedence Clearwater Revival
2. Blue Moon – The Marcels
3. Fly Me To The Moon – Laurie Berkner
4. How High The Moon – Charlie Parker
5. Kiko And The Lavender Moon – Los Lobos
6. Lua De Sao Jorge (Moon Of St. George) – Susanna Sharpe and the Samba Police
7. Moon Over Bourbon Street – Sting
8. New Blue Moon – Traveling Wilburys
9. Shine On Harvest Moon – Asylum Street Spankers
10. There’s A Moon In The Sky (Called The Moon) – The B-52s

What’s mooning about on your iPod this week?

More on that KHOU/KUHF poll

Here’s the full polling data for that KHOU/KUHF poll. Of greatest interest to me is the bit where they note that they asked people whether they’d voted in the November election; about 75% of them said Yes. Given that turnout for this election was about 20%, I find it impossible to believe that so many respondents in a random sample would have actually done so. Hell, even if they thought the question referred to last November’s Presidential election, this would be too high. But even if you believed them completely, why wouldn’t you then say “thanks for your time” to the No respondents, hang up on them, and then go to the next name on the list till you find another self-reported voter? What possible value is there in asking these non-voters for whom they plan to vote in the runoff? I don’t get it.

Rant aside, the rest of the sample seems reasonable enough. In fact, the Anglo/African-American/Latino ratio is very close to that of the Parker poll, which surely sampled more-likely voters than this one did. I’d say that lends credence to the hypothesis that lower turnout benefits Parker, while higher turnout benefits Locke. Anyway, it’s all there, including the Controller and At Large Council races, so check it out. Link via Robert Dahnke.

UPDATE: As sure as mosquitoes follow the rain in Houston, campaign press releases about polls follow polls. The Locke campaign has sent one out touting the fact that two out of three recent polls – theirs and KHOU’s – show him trailing by a modest amount. Of course, they resorted to the old “statistical dead heat” silliness, about which I will direct you here and here. By my calculation, there is about a 77% probability that Parker is actually leading the race, given the KHOU poll. Given that three different polls have her in the lead, I’d say the odds are greater than that.

Third poll shows Parker leading

And we have our first poll from a source other than one of the campaigns, but like those two before it, this one shows Annise Parker in the lead.

The poll consisted of 500 telephone interviews with registered Houston voters who consider themselves likely to vote in the December 12 runoff election. Early voting begins November 30 and ends December 8. The Center for Civic Engagement at Rice University and the University of Houston Center for Public Policy Survey Research Institute conducted the poll for KHOU-TV and KUHF Radio.

According to the poll, 37 percent of likely voters plan to cast a ballot for Parker. Thirty-four percent say they will vote for Locke. Because the margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percent, the poll is a statistical tie. Twenty-one percent of likely voters still have not decided, and eight percent would not disclose their choice in our survey.

You already know how I feel about a poll in a race like this using self-identification as the criteria for voter likelihood. The previous KHOU poll, as well as the Chron poll, clearly illustrate the danger. The question as always is how many of these people really are likely to vote. My guess is that most if not all of the “don’t know” respondents are at best long shots to show up.

“We see this race as very much a toss-up,” said Rice University professor Bob Stein, who conducted the poll. “The good news for Gene Locke is that we see some room for improvement for him. He needs to get more familiar with African-American voters, and he needs to turn out more of them. When they do vote, they vote decidedly for Locke. The good news for Annise Parker is that her vote is solid.”

The poll showed that 97 percent of the people who voted for Parker in the November 3 general election plan to vote for her again on December 12. For Locke, the figure was 87 percent.

“It appears this is race is one in which Gene Locke is still not very well known to voters,” Stein said. “Our numbers show that if this is a low-turnout runoff, then Parker wins it by five points. But if turnout is higher, then we find it is almost dead even.”

That conforms to the conventional wisdom as I’ve been hearing it. I don’t know how KHOU modeled that, though I presume it involves a higher relative level of African-American turnout. There are no crosstabs that I can see, but there is some demographic breakdown given, some of which you can see in pictures. Note to whoever created those slides: The margin of error for a subsample is larger than the MOE for the sample as a whole. Just FYI.

One more thing:

Among voters who say they supported Peter Brown in the general election, 38 percent say they will vote for Locke in the runoff, and 46 percent plan to vote for Parker. Brown has endorsed Parker in the runoff, and is actively campaigning for her. Among people who say they voted for Roy Morales, 31 percent say they will vote for Locke, and 16 percent will support Parker. Forty-nine percent of Morales voters told pollsters they have not decided who, if anyone, to support.

Well, Locke is certainly working for the Roy vote. We’ll see how that goes from here.

As the story notes, this poll was a joint venture with KUHF. The main thing we learn from the KUHF story is that other races were polled as well.

Councilmembers Ronald Green and MJ Khan are in the run-off to become Houston’s next controller, essentially the chief financial officer for the city. The KUHF-11News survey shows Green has a slight lead with 25 percent of people saying they’ll vote for him, compared to Khan’s 22 percent.

But Rice University Political Scientist Bob Stein, who authored the survey, says 46 percent of respondents don’t even know who they’ll vote for on December 12th.

[…]

According to our survey, two incumbents, Sue Lovell and Jolanda Jones, hold slim leads over their challengers. And the race between Stephen Costello and Karen Derr, which Costello leads by four points, is practically unheard of outside political circles. As many as 65 percent of likely voters say they’re undecided in those races.

My qualms about the voter likelihood screen aside, it sure would be nice to see these results in more detail.

UPDATE: Martha brings the snark.

UPDATE: Oh, and speaking of Locke’s pursuit of Roy’s voters.

Allen Blakemore thinks he knows where the finger lands. The Republican campaign consultant says that if you voted for Morales in October, you’re going to love – sorry, strike that – you’re going to vote for Gene Locke in December.

“It’s not an easy sell for Gene, and it’s not an easy decision for those voters to come to,” Blakemore told me. In the end, though, Locke has two things going for him when you, the right-of-center voter, step into the voting booth: 1) He doesn’t have a voting record and Annise Parker does, particularly on taxes; 2) Parker’s “lifestyle” still gives you pause.

A Locke-Morales pas de deux in the works? More to come shortly.

I for one cannot wait to hear more about this. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the man, here are two prime examples of Blakemore’s work. Fills you up with a warm feeling inside, doesn’t it?

State sales tax revenues way down

The 2011 legislative session is going to be so much fun.

Sales tax revenues have taken double-digit dives for five months running; in each of those months, the state’s income from those taxes has been more than 10 percent lower than in the same month the year before. In a state where a steady rise in sales tax money has become almost a rule, the intake for the last 12 months is down more than 5 percent. And budgeteers assumed not only that they’d match the old numbers, but that they would exceed them.

Budgeteers used one-time federal stimulus money for ongoing expenses in the current budget — in Medicaid, for instance — that create holes to fill next time they write a budget. The programs will still be there even though the stimulus money probably won’t.

And an ongoing “structural deficit” — the kind of term that seems designed to scare people away from a conversation about money — creates an ongoing problem. In 2006, in an effort to lower property tax burdens, the state agreed to spend more on public education. Lawmakers created a new business tax, but it raises less than they agreed to spend on the property tax fix. The gap has to be filled every time they write a budget. Last time, the feds showed up like leprechauns with pots of stimulus money and kept Texas from choosing to use its Rainy Day Fund, raise taxes or make spending cuts. Next time, the stimulus money won’t be there, but the hole will be.

In 2007, that gap was filled by surplus general revenue funds. More surplus funds were put aside that year to pay for the shortfall in 2009. Needless to say, no such surplus will be available in 2011. The Rainy Day Fund, assuming the votes are there to use it, might be able to cover both the revenue shortage and this structural gap, but I wouldn’t be too optimistic about that. But sooner or later, which is to say this session or the following one, that great big unaffordable property tax cut is going to have to be dealt with. The only thing that sustains me when I contemplate the possibility of another term for Rick Perry is the knowledge that this reckoning would have to happen on his watch.

Of course, I’m sure he’ll defend the property tax cut to his last dying breath, and if he has to provoke a budgetary crisis or two to do that, he will. But his options may be limited this time around.

It’s been just a few years since Texas lawmakers, facing a court order, undertook a massive overhaul of the school funding system. But booming enrollment, higher costs on such necessities as utility bills and a public reluctance to pay higher taxes have left many districts in a fix.

“It looks like the state may be walking itself right into another lawsuit,” said David Hinojosa, an attorney for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which was part of the most recent school finance lawsuit against the state that resulted in the 2006 changes.

[…]

“It’s going to be a significant issue for the next governor. I just don’t see any way it can’t be,” said Richard Kouri, a lobbyist for the Texas State Teachers Association.

“It’s moving into the crisis phase.”

The good news is that the solution is obvious and staring everybody in the face. It’s getting enough of them to admit it that will be the challenge. Oh yeah, 2011 is going to be heaps of fun.

You sure you’re married?

Maybe you are, and maybe you’re not.

Barbara Ann Radnofsky, a Houston lawyer and Democratic candidate for attorney general, says that a 22-word clause in a 2005 constitutional amendment designed to ban gay marriages erroneously endangers the legal status of all marriages in the state.

The amendment, approved by the Texas Legislature and overwhelmingly ratified by Texas voters, declares that “marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.” But the trouble-making phrase, as Radnofsky sees it, is Subsection B, which declares:

“This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.”

Architects of the amendment included the clause to ban same-sex civil unions and domestic partnerships.

But Radnofsky, who was a member of the powerhouse Vinson & Elkins law firm in Houston for 27 years until retiring in 2006, says the wording of Subsection B effectively “eliminates marriage in Texas,” including common-law marriages.

She calls it a “massive mistake” and blames the current attorney general, Republican Greg Abbott, for allowing the language to become part of the Texas Constitution. Radnofsky called on Abbott to acknowledge the wording as an error and consider an apology. She also said that another constitutional amendment may be necessary to reverse the problem.

“You do not have to have a fancy law degree to read this and understand what it plainly says,” said Radnofsky[.]

This argument was made in 2005 when that referendum passed, and as it is now it was pooh-poohed then by those who pushed it. I’m not a lawyer and can’t give a lawyer’s opinion of this, but I certainly do remember having the same misgivings, and my archives will show that I wrote about them at the time. I suppose it’s all theoretical until someone files a lawsuit, but now that we’ve had the gay divorce ruling in Dallas, who knows what could happen. The best course of action, on many levels, would be to repeal this petty little piece of bigotry. That, sadly, isn’t going to happen, and I doubt the proponents of this amendment will see any need to modify the verbiage, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if it ever gets challenged. Hair Balls has more.

Who’s your referee?

I don’t follow high school sports at all, but this Chron story about a battle between the University Interscholastic League (UIL) and the Texas Association of Sports Officials (TASO), about who has control over the officials at high school athletic events, was fascinating to me. I don’t have any points to make about the story, which I recommend you read, but I am curious about something. I find that it’s rare for a big change like this to take place without some kind of precipitating event, but the story doesn’t go into that. So does anyone who does follow high school sports know, was this something that was a long time coming and the stars finally lined up, was it the result of some controversy or scandal (I doubt that, as surely that would have been mentioned in the article), or was it really about money, as one of the TASO officials claims? Leave a comment and let me know.

Stay away from Hotze

The following is a message from HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg:

CANDIDATES – ALL CANDIDATES – STAY CLEAR OF HOTZE

Steven Hotze is a hatemonger.

For nearly twenty five years he has stoked the flames of bigotry in this community like no other local politico. In the mid-1980’s he masterminded the repeal of the City of Houston non-discrimination ordinance which had been enacted by Mayor Kathy Whitmire and the Houston City Council. The following year, he fielded a group of right wing zealots to run for City Council on the “Straight Slate.” Their platform consisted of unadulterated gay-baiting epitomized by the reply of their mayoral candidate to a question of what could be done about the AIDS epidemic: “Shoot the queers.” Hotze would not repudiate that response, nor the mayoral candidate who uttered it. Fortunately, they all lost.

Hotze continues vehemently to espouse his brand of extreme intolerance. For example, he regularly insists that the death penalty is fitting for homosexual conduct. And in 2008, he insisted, without one iota of evidence, that gays and lesbians were devoted to “recruiting sexually confused adolescents into their lifestyle.”

Hotze’s bigotry and extremism are not confined to homophobia. His anti-women beliefs are evidenced by his strident insistence that “a wife may work outside the home only with her husband’s consent.” And in 2008, he was reportedly behind the financing of a blatantly racist piece of campaign literature which depicted Barack Obama, Harold Dutton, Congressmember Sheila Jackson-Lee, and the Anglo Democratic candidate state legislature in House District 144, and an ominous line of black crows on a dead tree, with the caption “birds of a feather flock together.” Maybe he wasn’t the person who arranged financing for that shameful piece as has been suggested, but the political consultant with whom he has worked for years was the author of the flyer.

And Hotze is virulently anti-Obama and ardently anti-Democrats. He intently opposes health care reform. And on November 12, 2009, he sent an e-mail across Texas in which he disclosed his commitment to defeating Democratic state legislative candidates in the 2010 elections, asking, “Will we continue down the road of socialism, universal health care, and the leadership of Obama / Pelosi / Reid? Or will conservatives finally stand united and declare ‘Enough!’ in the face of economic and moral starvation?”

Anyone who is as dedicated to destroying the Democratic Party and crushing its candidates and unyieldingly opposed to the anti-discrimination principles of the Democratic Party as is Steven Hotze cannot be embraced by Democrats.

It has been reported that before the November election, more than one Democrat still running for city office in the December 12 runoff sought the support of Hotze or one of the gay-baiting groups with which he is associated. The Houston Chronicle has recently called on all candidates to repudiate the hateful and divisive rhetoric of these folks. (Do The Right Thing – It’s time to disavow the politics of discrimination and bgotry. Click here to read.)

I do, too.

Hotze did not endorse the Democratic mayoral candidate who sought his endorsement before November. Instead, he threw his support to the Republican in the race, Roy Morales. And the Democratic mayoral candidate who solicited Hotze’s help before November has publicly condemned the “divisive rhetoric” and “style of campaigning” Hotze has always embraced. Good for him.

But all candidates – judicial, city council, and mayor – take heed: whether in the December 12 runoff election, the March, 2010 primary election, or the November, 2010 general election, accepting support from anyone who, like Steven Hotze and the right wing extremist groups with whom he is associated, spews homophobic rhetoric, racial hatred, and intolerance, who would subjugate women to the dictates of their husbands, and who is working tirelessly to destroy the Obama administration, block heath care reform, and defeat Democratic legislative candidates would be anathema to Democrats and contrary to the cherished ideals for which we stand. Courting endorsement from such despicable individuals or groups – or failing unequivocally to repudiate and reject it should such support be unsolicitedly bestowed – would be reprehensible, condemnable, and utterly unacceptable to Democrats.

My Dad used to say, “You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.” He was right.

Gerry Birnberg
Chair, Harris County Democratic Party
November 17, 2009

I could not agree more.

Courting the conservative voters

Conservative voters remain up for grabs in the Mayoral runoff, so both Annise Parker and Gene Locke were out at the Pachyderm Club on Tuesday looking to grab a few of them. I found this bit to be revealing:

Parker outlined her public safety initiative to allow any certified peace officer to respond to serious crime, regardless of jurisdiction. She also expressed support for the city’s affirmative action program, but got her loudest applause when she reiterated her pledge to not raise taxes.

“I have stated on a number occasions on the campaign trail that I don’t plan to raise taxes in this economy — that’s the wrong thing to do to struggling taxpayers and business.“ Parker said. “My pledge is not to raise the tax rate — certainly not in the near term. That’s not necessary.”

Locke recounted his East Texas roots, where his father was a farmer and his mother a school teacher, and introduced his wife of 27 years. He told the group he was a devout Christian who had raised five children.

“I’m not going to raise anybody’s property taxes. We’ve got to find a way to give property tax relief,” Locke said.

The voters who were at this forum spoke about “fiscal responsibility”, which is always a popular phrase among voters of all kinds of stripes. To me, being fiscally responsible means ensuring that you have the means to pay for the things you want and need. I have no idea how one can seek to lower taxes while simultaneously pledging to increase the size of the police force, which is not only the single largest line item in the budget already but has also been growing rapidly in recent years even without an increase in the number of officers, but it doesn’t sound fiscally responsible to me. It sounds like a path to deficits and cutbacks in other city services. Locke is painting himself into a corner here. Parker is leaving herself room to deal with reality. Which of these sounds more responsible to you? Mary Benton has more.

Texas to get Powerball

The Texas Lottery Commission is fixing to bring Powerball to Texas.

The commission unanimously voted to publish rules for the game for public comment. If the panel gives final approval to the rules early next year, the first Powerball ticket could be sold in Texas on Jan. 31.

Texas already is part of the Mega Millions multi-jurisdiction lottery game, and officials for years have discussed the idea of adding Powerball to the mix.

The two big games just recently reached an agreement to allow states to participate in both. Previously, states had to pick one or the other.

It was back in 2003 that the TLC approved Mega Millions, after being given the authority to join multi-state games by the Lege. Looking back through my archives, I don’t see why they demurred on Powerball at the time. It may be because its jackpots are not guaranteed as advertised and can be reduced if ticket sales do not reach the needed levels. That’s kind of a sore spot at the Lottery Commission.

One objection that was raised at the time and is being raised again is that Powerball will not bring in the millions of extra revenue that the TLC is projecting.

Lottery watchdog Dawn Nettles, who operates the Lotto Report Web site, predicted, “It’s going to kill (the state jackpot game) Lotto Texas.”

“They’re not going to get more money out of the players, because the people don’t have it to give,” Nettles said. “All they’re going to do is divide their money amongst the games.”

Rob Kohler, a consultant for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, said his group is most concerned about instant-win scratch tickets because they are impulse purchases.

He said that as a jackpot game, Powerball is “pretty benign.” He added, however, “We don’t think it will solve any of the budget problems or add any more money to the state.”

I think that at first, when Powerball is shiny and new, it will spur an increase in lottery revenues. Going forward, its ridiculously large jackpots may draw in more casual players. But I think Nettles has a point – I think a lot of Powerball’s sales will come from Texas Lotto players who have shifted their purchases from one game to the other. At the very least, I hope the TLC tried to include that likelihood in its models. Anyway, for those of you looking for the chance to throw away a few bucks on a one-in-147,000,000 chance, you’ll get it starting next January. We’ll see how much revenue for the state it really does generate.

KBH invokes the power of the Dark Lord

I just have one thing to say about this:

Firing another shot in an endorsement war that is pitting prominent national and state Republicans against each other, gubernatorial candidate Kay Bailey Hutchison landed her most prominent backer to date Tuesday when former Vice President Dick Cheney formally placed his name in her column.

“We Westerners know the difference between a real talker and the real deal,” Cheney told a small but noisy gathering in the Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport. “When it comes to being conservative, Kay Bailey Hutchison is the real deal.”

Remember when KBH was going to win the GOP primary by expanding its electorate with her appeal to independents and Democrats? Boy, those were the days. Funny how nobody talks about it any more, isn’t it?

Solar power for Houston hits a snag

Back in September, I noted a deal that the City of Houston was working on with a firm called NRG to build a solar plant that would supply some of the city’s power needs. This deal has apparently hit a snag because it is a 25-year deal.

The city generally doesn’t commit future taxpayer funds without some sort of oversight and approval, however, said spokesman Frank Michel. Future elected leaders don’t necessarily like being forced to pay for past administration’s decision should they go bad, so the city usually has a clause in long-term agreements that says they have to be reapproved on a year-by-year basis.

Michel said he doesn’t believe state law prohibits the city from making long-term commitments, “But it’s a precedent the mayor does not want to set.”

But NRG isn’t so comfortable with that uncertainty.

“NRG is unable to finance this project without the certainty of future payments under a power purchase agreement,” said NRG spokesman David Knox in an e-mail. In other words (not Knox’s) no company wants to build a $40 million project with just a single-year’s payment guaranteed.

Both sides say they want to do the project with each other, but this disagreement appears to be pretty fundamental to both sides.

Bummer. I hope they can work it out, but we’ll see.

Turning Texas blue the hard way

Obama campaign guru David Plouffe comes for a visit and gives his hope-y vision for Texas as a swing state.

[Plouffe] says Texas could soon become a swing state and drastically alter the landscape of state and national politics.

To that end, Plouffe is urging candidates to use the Obama model for winning elections, which involves heavy grass-roots organizing and the deft use of campaign volunteers.

Mastering technology, especially to network and raise money, also helps.

“We have to organize now, here in Texas,” Plouffe told about 300 people gathered at Deux Lounge at Mockingbird Station. “If we do that, we’ll win.”

From your lips to God’s ears, David. I’ll say this much, that’s far easier to do when there’s an Obama-like candidate to organize around. Be that as it may, that kind of trench work could make the difference in a lower-level state race, like for the Supreme Court or CCA, or maybe for an office like Railroad Commissioner. For races where one side will have millions of dollars available for TV advertising and other traditional forms of voter contact, I don’t think you’ll get very far until you can at least be in that same ballpark. Yes, I know, one of the points of all that grassroots organizing is to build a small-dollar donor network that can compete with the big-check writers. Again, I feel like this is more candidate-driven than anything else, and I don’t have any idea where that stands right now. I also feel that if putting Texas in play is a priority of the national party, they could give this effort a huge boost by bringing in some of their own folks to do some of this work. And maybe they are doing that and I’m just not aware of it. I guess what I’m looking for here is more specifics and less hopeyness. But this is what I’ve got.

And another hatemonger is heard from

It’s almost too depressing to read through this KHOU story about local bigot Dave Wilson and his pathetic attempt to affect the outcome of the Mayor’s race, but it needs to be done. Here’s what I have to say about it.

– Dave Wilson is a reprehensible, sorry excuse of a human being. The same is true of Dave Welch, Steven Hotze, and anyone else like them who has yet to crawl out from the woodwork. This cannot be emphasized enough.

– Wilson claims he’s sending his flyer on his own. My understanding is that it would cost in the neighborhood of $20,000 to print and mail the 35,000 pieces he says he’ll mail. There are any number of ways that he could hide a funding source for this, of course, and one cannot prove a negative. But if he really wants us to believe that, he ought to produce the paperwork to show it.

– That assumes he actually does print and send the thing. He’s already gotten way more eyeballs on his dirty work thanks to KHOU’s coverage than he’d ever have gotten otherwise. I’m sure he was aware of that when he called the station to let them know what he was up to.

– If Gene Locke really means what he says about rejecting any association with this kind of campaigning, the statement to make is to tell Dave Wilson to take his mailer and stick it where the sun don’t shine. Which won’t stop him, of course – you can’t make a deranged person not do whatever deranged thing he’s determined to do – but would at least send a clear message.

– Finally, to answer the question Wilson asks in his mailer: Yes, this is the image I want Houston to portray, so that the world will see the decent, tolerant, opportunity-granting, forward-thinking city that we are. The best way to do that is to forcefully reject what Dave Wilson and others like him stand for.

Happy Riemann Hypothesis Day!

What did you do to celebrate?

Nov. 18, 2009, has been officially declared Riemann Hypothesis Day to celebrate the 150th anniversary of one of the key unsolved problems in pure mathematics. Mathematical events are scheduled across the globe to celebrate this special occasion.

The conjecture deals with the distribution of the zeros of the Riemann zeta-function and offers implications about the distribution of prime numbers.

Bernhard Riemann submitted his findings to the Monatsberichte der Berliner Akademie on Oct. 19, 1859. His paper was read at the meeting of the academy two weeks later and published in November of that year.

To celebrate the anniversary, mathematicians from around the world will be giving lectures addressing various aspects of the hypothesis. The talks will take place at universities and institutions across the U.S., Europe, South America, and New Zealand (a complete list of events is available here).

Two celebrations have already taken place this year. In April, mathematicians at the Riemann International School of Mathematics, in Verbania, Italy, highlighted “Advances in Number Theory and Geometry: 150 Years of the Riemann Hypothesis.” At Yonsei University, in Seoul, South Korea, the week of August 31 – September 5 was dubbed “Zeta Function Days.”

Ain’t no party like a number theorists’ party, cause a number theorists’ party don’t quit. See Wikipedia if you want to learn more about the Riemann Hypothesis, a proof for which will still earn you one million dollars.

Shami and Shapleigh

Farouk Shami will make his entry into the Democratic primary for Governor official tomorrow afternoon at his business’ headquarters in Houston; details are on his website. The Trib gives us a peek behind the curtain.

Shami, running as a Democrat, has lined up an experienced gang to run his campaign: campaign manager Joel Coon, general consultants Robert Jara and Dan McClung, pollster Ben Tulchin, and media specialist Tad Devine.

Coon has worked on several campaigns, helping Democrat Travis Childers win a Republican congressional seat in Mississippi in 2008. Jara and McClung are old hands at Texas and especially Houston races. Tulchin is a California-based pollster who works on races around the country. Devine was an advisor to John Kerry and to Al Gore and has managed several campaigns in other countries.

The field for the Democratic primary is crowded, but more than half the voters are undecided. The names at this point include Felix Alvarado, Kinky Friedman, Hank Gilbert, Tom Schieffer, and maybe Ronnie Earle and Eliot Shapleigh, who haven’t declared but have been making gubernatorial noises. In a UT/Texas Tribune poll earlier this month, Friedman had 19 percent and Schieffer had 10 percent with everyone else in the single digits. Undecided had 55 percent, leaving plenty of room for new candidates.

I think the Ronnie Earle ship has sailed by now. I’m not aware of any buzz around him, haven’t really heard his name get mentioned in weeks, and at this point it’s hard to imagine him getting any traction. Shapleigh’s an interesting case. Since his announcement that he was not running for re-election to the Senate, it has appeared that he’s interested in running for something statewide, a subject that another Trib story explores. With five candidates already in the race, it seems to me it’d be a crapshoot – 20% of the vote might be enough to get into a runoff in a six-person field, and any of the five declared candidates strike me as being capable of doing that. Lite Guv, on the other hand, is wide open (yeah, yeah, Marc Katz – like I said, wide open) and if you’re really lucky you might wind up opposed by some non-officeholder selected by a committee. Certainly the odds of being on the ballot in November are much better in the latter case.

Back to Shami, about whom I daresay there will be many questions asked by primary voters, starting with “Who’s he?” and working towards “What has he done before now?”

Shami’s business, founded in 1986, took off when he signed a distribution deal with Austin-based Armstrong McCall. John McCall is a part owner of Farouk Systems now, and the two men — particularly McCall — were the biggest contributors four years ago to Kinky Friedman’s campaign for governor. Shami gave Friedman $24,400 for that run; McCall was in for $1.3 million and was listed, until last February, as Friedman’s campaign treasurer.

Shami also contributed to former Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, who lost a 2006 race to Democrat Ellen Cohen. And in May of this year, he gave $5,000 to Republican Ted Cruz, who had his sights set on a run for attorney general. In federal races, he’s contributed to candidates of all political stripes this decade, including Democrat Hillary Clinton, U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Houston, Houston Mayor Bill White (for the U.S. Senate race), Ralph Nader (in 2004 and 2008), Tennessee Democrat Graham Leonard, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (the same month he gave to Cruz), and the Republican National Committee (most recently in 2007).

Yeah, that’s going to cause some heartburn. All I can say is I hope he has a good, pithy explanation for folks who ask him about it. Beyond that, I look forward to seeing how his launch goes tomorrow.