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November 23rd, 2009:

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.