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November 28th, 2009:

Saturday video break: Mama mia, let me go

Via pretty much everyone on the internets, the Muppets perform Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds.

What can one say? For comparison purposes, stina has a video of the original as well.

Jones v. Christie

And here’s the Chron overview of the At Large #5 runoff between Council Member Jolanda Jones and former SBOE member Jack Christie. I’ve said before that I like CM Jones, and I plan to vote for her in the runoff. I believe she is the favorite to win in the runoff, though not by much. From what I can tell by talking to people, I may be the most optimistic person I know about her chances. It seems to me that Christie may have the strongest level of Republican support among all of the remaining citywide candidates. MJ Khan has never been that popular in Republican circles, Stephen Costello has two Democratic consultants on his campaign staff and downplayed his Republican ties in Round One, and of course both Mayoral candidate are Democrats who will likely split the Republican vote in their race. It wouldn’t shock me if there are more undervotes in the other races than there are in At Large #5 in some parts of town, like out on the west side.

Anyway. My interview with CM Jones is here, and my interview with Christie is here. Both candidates have picked up a couple more endorsements for the runoff, with Jones getting Democracy for America and Christie getting the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, who had originally backed Davetta Daniels. I’d like to know what you think about this race, so please leave a comment and let me know.

Get well soon, Rep. McClendon!

I was shocked to read that State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon was diagnosed a few months ago with stage 4 lung cancer, but I am very glad to see that she has responded well to treatment of it.

“It just felt like I was laid out on the floor, and somebody just dropped a bowling ball in the middle of my stomach,” said McClendon, D-San Antonio, who had quit smoking in 1998. “It was just like — just everything went out of me.”

Then she got busy figuring out what to do.

“You are in shock for a day at least, but then you’ve got to pull yourself together,” McClendon said.

Surgery wasn’t an option, so she embarked on a course of radiation and chemotherapy that drove the cancer into remission.

McClendon plans to start “maintenance” chemotherapy in December. In the meantime, she has gone public with her story because she wants to share her good fortune by urging people to get potentially lifesaving screening and checkups — and not let fear hold them back.

“I wanted people to know if they get detected for it early, if they get treatment, then there is life,” she said. “It’s not a death sentence.”

I’ve corresponded with Rep. McClendon’s staff over the past year – they’ve been very good at sending me information and responding to questions about legislative matters. My very best wishes go to Rep. McClendon, her family, and her staff as she works through this.

BAE Systems

I have four things to say about this story, concerning Sealy-based SAE Systems and the $2.6 billion contract with the Defense Department to build Army trucks that it’s on the verge of losing after 17 years. We first heard about this in September; BAE Systems has been appealing the decision since then.

Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry and the 34-member Senate-House delegation are rallying to salvage a deal for BAE Systems that could be worth $2.6 billion and sustain 10,000 direct and indirect jobs around the sprawling truck manufacturing plant in Sealy.

[…]

The setback for Texas illustrates just how far the state’s political leverage has plummeted since Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Houston, helped BAE’s predecessor win the initial contract in 1991 under President George H.W. Bush, and Sens. Phil Gramm, R-College Station, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Dallas, helped the company retain the contract in 2001 under President George W. Bush.

“We never saw this coming — we were completely blindsided,” says a top aide to Sen. John Cornyn, R-San Antonio, a former member of the Senate Armed Services Committee panel with jurisdiction over military vehicles.

Lawmakers and BAE officials alike felt “sucker punched,” added David Davis, a top Hutchison aide. “ ‘Shocked’ doesn’t begin to describe it.”

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, whose Austin-to-Houston district includes the plant, learned of the Army’s decision while driving to an appearance in his district in late August.

1. Funny, isn’t it, how the federal government is evil and fascistic and doesn’t create any jobs by spending money, except for stuff like this.

2. Am I the only one who thinks that Rick Perry, John Cornyn, and Kay Bailey Hutchison maybe aren’t the best possible representatives to intercede with the Obama administration on BAE’s behalf? I mean, call me crazy, but I don’t think there’s a whole lot of goodwill built up to call on. If I were them, I’d beg Chet Edwards to take the point on this.

3. The story touches on Texas’ loss of clout, but fails to explore the reason for it: the 2003 Tom DeLay-engineered re-redistricting, one result of which was the cashiering of 80+ years of Democratic Congressional seniority. It sure would be nice to have someone like Martin Frost at Rep. Edwards’ side working on this, wouldn’t it?

4. How exactly is it that none of McCaul, Cornyn, and Hutchison had any idea this was coming? I have a hard time believing these processes are so leakproof that there was no advance warning of it. Were there really no little birdies whispering anything into these guys’ ears that something bad was about to happen to their district or state?

I feel like there’s more to this than what’s been reported so far. What do you think? PDiddie has more.

No check for you!

Nice little bit of holiday cheer for Texas’ retired public employees this week.

Retired public employees discovered yesterday that they would not receive additional $500 checks this year. According to Senator Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, they shouldn’t hold their breath for more benefits next cycle either. “I don’t think we’ll be able to,” he said. “The constitution restricts … any sort of benefit enhancement unless the fund is actuarially sound. It’s not.”

The controversy hinges on the wording of the appropriations bill passed in the 2009 session. The legislature set aside $155 million for the additional checks, but rather than distributing the money through state pension funds, the bill put the Comptroller in charge of distribution. The payments would only be made if the Attorney General had a “conclusive opinion that such one-time payments are constitutionally and statutorily permissible,” according the bill’s language — yet the attorney general’s opinion said that there was no way to have a definitive position. “The appropriation provision on its very face makes it impossible for us to conclusively opine that such payments ‘are constitutionally and statutorily permissible,'” the opinion read.

Since the appropriated millions will return to the pension fund, Duncan says the attorney general’s decision will further the fund’s stability. The new money raised the state’s contribution rate to from 6.58 to 6.64 percent. Duncan said he is committed to keeping the fund healthy in the long term, even if that means no additional money for state retirees in the next few sessions. “The popular thing to do is, ‘Give me something today,’” Duncan said of the payments. “But if that’s what we continue to do, these funds will always be short. They will always be actuarially unsound.”

Advocacy groups that lobbied for the additional checks say that in a recession, teachers and other public employees needed the money badly and view the process with the Attorney General’s Office as an underhanded tactic. “We did not expect there to be such a discussion of semantics,” said Tim Lee, the president of Texas Retired Teachers Association. Lee said while the TRTA knew about the decision to go to the attorney general’s office, he did not know the focus would be on the complexities of the word “conclusively.” Duncan, however, said he told groups like TRTA that the language set a high hurdle, and all parties involved agreed to the language knowing the risks.

As you might imagine, the folks who will not be getting those checks in their Christmas stockings aren’t too happy about this. Here’s a press release from AFSCME that laments its loss, and another from the Texas affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers that I’ve placed beneath the fold. It’s always fun times in budget land, isn’t it?

Here’s the Attorney General’s opinion on the matter. Burka weighs in as well. One place he’s wrong is in singling out the Education Committee chairs – according to Rep. Scott Hochberg, whom I asked about this, the bill in question did not go through their committees. I’m sympathetic to the idea of being conservative with pension funds, but the point of this was that it wasn’t pension funds being allocated for this one-time payment, it was general revenue. Using general revenue to boost the pension fund strikes me as iffy at best – if the investments these funds are tied up in continue to tank, it’s good money after bad, and if they recover with the economy, the general revenue infusion was unnecessary. Frankly, handing out a bunch of checks to people who are sure to spend them would have provided a nice stimulus at a time when the state economy could have really used one. But that’s not the sort of thing we do around here, so I guess it would have upset the natural order of things or something.

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