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November 21st, 2009:

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.