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March, 2010:

Keep hope alive for the Alabama Drafthouse

Crossing my fingers.

More than six months ago, the owners of the Houston-area Alamo Drafthouse locations talked to Weingarten Realty about leasing the historic Alabama Theater. The negotiations fell apart when the groups couldn’t come to an agreement.

Now, with mounting public support to bring the cinema to the former Bookstop location at West Alabama and Shepherd, those talks have restarted, according to one of the owners of the Houston Alamo locations.

“With the groundswell of support, we’ve re-engaged discussions with them,” said Neil Michaelsen, a partner with Triple Tap Ventures. “As time goes on people’s views change. With the combination of support, we thought it was worth inquiring.”


Even though the Alabama space is smaller than desired, Michaelsen said his group has worked with architects to come up with scenarios that could possibly work, including a venue with at least two screens.

“We’ve spent money and time and effort to try and do something there,” he said.

I sincerely hope you figure it out, as do many other Houstonians.

UPDATE: The following message was sent to the members of the Put Alamo Drafthouse in Houston’s Alabama Street Theater! group, which by the way now has 2,143 members:

Here is the official response to our Facebook group from Neil Michaelsen, who is the President of the Houston Alamo Drafthouses and who is responsible for all future Alamo Drafthouse expansions in Texas:

“First and foremost we are flattered and very appreciative of the “Put Alamo Drafthouse in Houston’s Alabama Street Theater” fans for their support of the Alamo. In terms of the Alabama, we agree wholeheartedly with the group’s members that it would make an excellent Alamo location and space. Several months ago, we had a number of discussions with Weingarten in regards to bringing an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to the Alabama, unfortunately at the time, we were not able to come to an agreement with them. We’ve recently reengaged with Weingarten on that subject and we’ll be sure to keep you posted on the progress of these discussions.

It would be a shame to see the Alabama destroyed, and if there is a way to save it we want to take a lead in doing so.”


UPDATE: ‘stina, who gets the credit for coming up with the idea of having a Drafthouse at this location, has more.

Parker taps McClelland as HPD Chief

No surprise.

Mayor Annise Parker officially named veteran police administrator Charles A. McClelland Houston’s new police chief today, citing his long service and leadership skills.

McClelland, 55, has served as acting chief of the Houston Police Department since the retirement of Chief Harold Hurtt in late December. A key part of Parker’s mayoral campaign last year was a restructuring of policing in Houston under a new chief she pledged to find within the department.

Parker said she personally interviewed every member of HPD’s command staff, the Houston Police Officers Union and “community members,” as well as the four finalists selected by the Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum before choosing McClelland. Independently, the forum also recommended him as the best choice, she said.

Calling it her “most critical” appointment, Parker predicted, with 10 of the 14 City Council members standing around her, that McClelland would be confirmed in two weeks and harkened back to some of the highlights of her campaign promises for public safety.

We more or less knew this was coming. The stars definitely seem to have aligned for Chief-to-be McClelland, so hopefully his tenure will be as smooth and uncontroversial as his selection appears to be. Good luck to you, Chief.

KBH to make her decision today

I don’t know about you, but my breath is bated.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has called a press conference for 10 a.m. Wednesday in San Antonio and is expected to announce whether she will stay in the Senate for the rest of her term.

Sen. John Cornyn, her fellow Texas Republican, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will join her for the announcement. Cornyn confirmed on Twitter that he would be on hand but did not elaborate.

Hutchison’s aides could not be reached late Tuesday.

Hutchison said last fall that she would resign her Senate seat after the March primary for governor, which she lost handily to Gov. Rick Perry. But she has been very quiet about those plans since her loss, and several sources close to her have said in recent weeks that she was unsure about what the next step should be.

Texas Republicans in the U.S. House have encouraged her to finish her term, which ends in 2012. So have McConnell and Cornyn, and the fact that they will join her Wednesday could indicate that she’s going to stay in the Senate. A decision to stay would hardly come as a shock to most insiders, many of whom never believed that she would resign if she lost.

I guess that makes me an insider, because I sure as hell never believed she would quit. There really isn’t much else to say here, so let’s just take advantage of what may be the last time I’ll get to run this video:

I say it may be the last time because as always, nobody knows what KBH will do. When she starts floating trial balloons about maybe running for re-election in 2012, I’ll break it out again.

UPDATE: One wannabe replacement candidate down, several thousand more to go.

UPDATE: The circle is complete:

Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison will announce Wednesday morning she will stay in the Senate, flip-flopping on her resignation promise that left several candidates eager for the chance to succeed her.

Sometimes this stuff is just too easy. I mean seriously, who is surprised by this?

Some Republicans argued that the GOP’s electoral fortunes in 2010 make it more than likely the party could hold onto the seat — and that the 2012 landscape could change dramatically, particularly if President Barack Obama is in a strong position to win reelection.

“This is a selfish decision but not a surprising one,” said one Republican who was eager for Hutchison to retire. “The wind is at our backs this year, and it was the best chance we had of getting a solid Republican in this seat. Sen. Hutchison has put the seat at greater risk by pushing the vacancy off until 2012. We have no idea what the political landscape will look like two years from now.”

You sure she’s not going to change her mind again and decide to run for re-election? Say it with me: Nobody knows what KBH is going to do. Why should 2012 be any different?

I’ll worry about what the 2012 landscape might look like another time. For now I’d be more concerned about what Democrat would be in the best position to win that seat. Yes, I know, we already have one running. Let’s just say I think we should keep our options open.

Census update

This is not exactly a surprise.

Households in older, single-family Houston neighborhoods are returning 2010 census forms at the highest levels in the city so far, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data.

Neighborhoods with concentrations of apartments or condominiums, even high-cost rental housing, have lower return rates, said Jerry Wood, a former city planning department official working as a consultant on the city’s census response effort.

The highest return rate as of Monday, Wood said, was 47 percent in a portion of Meyerland, in southwest Houston, near Kolter Elementary School. He described this as a mature, mostly single-family neighborhood with a high home ownership rate.

Just 8 percent of households in Gulfton, a predominantly Latino southwest Houston neighborhood with a heavy concentration of apartments, had returned their forms by Monday.

They think more people will send in their forms this week. I sure hope so.

Some of the reasons for low participation are self-inflicted.

As of Friday afternoon, only 27 percent of Texas households had filled in and returned their census forms — well below the national average of 34 percent — according to computer data from the U.S. Census Bureau. In Harris County, the response rate is 23 percent. Houston’s returns are running at 21 percent.

Contrary to historical trends, some of the toughest challenges facing the agency responsible for measuring the nation’s population are not from counting the traditionally undercounted groups such as African-Americans and Latinos. Instead, a new and growing threat to an accurate national head count is coming from anti-government conservatives who may not fill out their forms to protest against “Big Brother” in Washington.

“There’s a general distrust of the federal government at every level, starting with Congress and the president, all the way down to executive branch agencies,” says Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland.

Not that you or your partymates have anything to do with that, Congressman. It would be mighty ironic if these delusions led to a loss of Congressional representation for these areas. West Texas in particular hasn’t kept up with the rest of the state in terms of population growth. Well, actions do have consequences, you know. Among them is the fact that not sending in the Census form will cost us all money, now and later.

Director Robert Groves issued a statement [Tuesday] morning urging Texans to mail the forms so temporary workers don’t have to collect the information in person. For every percentage point increase in mail response, the bureau estimates it saves $85 million in taxpayer money.

“We’re concerned about the relatively low response from parts of Texas,” he said in a press release. “Every household that fails to send back their census form by mail must be visited by a census taker starting in May — at a significant taxpayer cost. The easiest and best way to be counted in the census is to fill out and return your form by mail.”

I’m sure most of the folks that Rep. Conaway is speaking of consider themselves to be fiscal conservatives who claim to be deeply concerned about the deficit. Funny how these things go, isn’t it?

More on K12RadioHouston

The Chron writes about HISD’s plan for an Internet radio station.

While the station will be professionally run, students will have a role in producing content. Music will dominate the waves, but school performances, athletic events and news announcements will also be broadcast.

Formatting and commercials will target families of the district’s 202,000 students and 30,000 employees.

“We are a demographic in our own right,” said Lee Vela, HISD’s chief district relations officer.

HISD signed a one-year contract with [RFC Media]. The agreement comes with no cost to the district, which will pocket 50 percent of the proceeds.

Much of this you already knew. There are some concerns expressed in the story about advertising and what kids may be exposed to, but I don’t think that will amount to much. As I’ve said before, I like this idea and I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s implemented.

More renewable energy coming?

If the PUC says so.

The Public Utility Commission is mulling a shot in the arm to the renewables industry, as it is to energy efficiency. Sometime after a March 31 public workshop, the commission is expected to put forward a formal proposal that could require the state to develop 500 megawatts of non-wind renewables by the end of 2014. That equates to barely 5 percent of the amount of wind capacity already on the Texas grid but represents a leap for technologies that are almost invisible in the state today. “It’s a big number,” says Michael Webber, the associate director at the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas. There is less than seven megawatts of solar power in Texas right now, Webber notes.

Efforts to go big have so far fallen short. The Legislature tried to pass its own version of renewables assistance last session, and advocates got so optimistic about the dozens of bills promoting solar power that they dubbed it the “solar session.” Yet just about everything failed to pass. This not only disappointed solar installers but dashed hopes of attracting a run of solar panel factories to the state. “We’re much more likely to build a manufacturing industry for solar if we have a market for solar here,” Webber says.

The regulatory push for new renewables would use essentially the same type of incentives that have propelled wind power. Wind surged beginning in 1999, thanks to the clunkily named “Renewable Portfolio Standard,” which required Texas to get 2,000 new megawatts of electricity from renewables by 2009. Once Texas utilities and wind generators got the idea, they quickly surpassed the requirement, and the Legislature came back with a stronger goal in 2005: 5,880 megawatts by 2015. That, too, has long since been exceeded: Texas has more than 9,000 megawatts of wind already installed.

The PUC has already put forward a “strawman” proposal for promoting non-wind alternative power that would require 50 megawatts (one-tenth of the 2014 amount) to come from solar power. The “strawman” designation means that it is not yet a formal proposal but rather a placeholder that can draw early comments.

The solar option seems to have support on the PUC. “We’re going to try to do some more on sun,” Barry Smitherman, the chair of the commission, told an audience at a Renewable Energy World conference in Austin last month.

More here. The solar initiatives failed when voter ID derailed everything at the end of the session. The bills had passed in the Senate but never came to a vote in the House as the chubfest ran out the clock to kill voter ID. One hopes that these bills will get another shot in 2011, but with redistricting and the budget mess on the agenda, it’s hard to see how anything else can get enough oxygen. I hope so, but I wouldn’t count on it. This will have to do until then. More from the Statesman and from Forrest Wilder on a related matter.

Parker to name new HPD Chief tomorrow

From the inbox:

Mayor Parker to Name Her Choice for Police Chief

Who: Mayor Annise Parker
What: Announcement of Mayor Parker’s nomination for Houston Police Chief
When: Wednesday, March 31, immediately following City Council meeting
Where: Proclamation Room, 3rd Floor, Houston City Hall

As you may recall, there were some premature reports last week proclaiming that Parker had tapped interim Chief Charles McClelland as the new boss. They were quickly followed by a release from the Mayor’s office saying she hadn’t named anyone yet and would do so when she was darned good and ready. Now that it’s about to be officially official, anyone want to lay odds on it being someone other than McClelland? Leave a comment if you do.

Alabama Drafthouse Theater idea gains momentum

With the revelation that Weingarten has plans to demolish the interior of the former Alabama BookStop so that it may get turned into a Staples or something like it, more people are expressing the wish that something be done instead to preserve the old theater’s unique look. One obvious idea: Make it a theater again.

Whenever I’ve written about the historic theater and former Bookstop on Shepherd and West Alabama, readers always comment about how great it would be if Alamo Drafthouse took over the space.

Now there’s a Facebook page promoting the movement called “Put Alamo Drafthouse in Houston’s Alabama Street Theater!”

Well, I certainly agree with the idea, which as far as I can tell was first expressed by ‘stina last September. Nancy Sarnoff asked some real estate brokers who didn’t think this was a realistic idea, but until the Alamo Drafthouse CEO (whom Sarnoff has contacted for comment) says it’s a no go, I say keep the dream alive. By the way, as of this publication, there are 1,317 members of that Facebook group. Whether that means anything or not, that’s the question. Hair Balls has more.

Population and voting trends: 2004 and 2008 Presidential election

Taking a look at the voting trends in the fastest growing counties made me want to know more about this, so I broke out the spreadsheets and took a look. I’ll present the results in a three-part series, starting today with a comparison of the 2004 and 2008 Presidential election. Basically, I took the county by county canvass report for the two elections from the Secretary of State webpage, loaded them into a spreadsheet, and went to town on it. Here’s what I learned:

– At a macro level, there were 7,359,621 votes cast in the 2004 Presidential election in Texas, and 8,007,961 votes cast in 2008, for an increase of 648,340. Note that in all cases all I’m considering is the sum of the Republican and Democratic votes – third parties and write-ins are not counted. Bush/Cheney got 4,526,917 votes, while McCain/Palin got 4,479,328, for a decline of 47,589. Kerry/Edwards received 2,832,704 votes and Obama/Biden received 3,528,633, for an increase of 695,929.

– For each county, I compared the total number of votes cast for each party, and the difference between the Democratic and Republican totals. The spreadsheet is sorted by the difference in the Democratic performance from 2004 to 2008, so a negative number means that the Republicans did better in terms of vote total than Democrats did, while a positive number means that Democrats gained ground.

There were a total of 107 counties in which Democrats did worse in 2008 than in 2004. A total of 1,394,368 votes were cast in those counties. They broke down as follows:

– 60 counties in which Republicans gained votes from 2004 to 2008 and Democrats lost them, for a net of 633,754 total 2008 votes.

– 24 counties in which both parties gained votes but the GOP gained more, for 583,941 votes total.

– 21 counties in which both parties lost votes but Dems lost more, for 174,956 votes total.

– Comanche County, which had the same GOP total but 97 fewer Democratic votes. It was 3813 to 1431 in 2004, and 3813 to 1334 in 2008.

– And finally, Loving County, which had the same Dem total, but 2 more GOP votes. It was 65 to 12 in 2004, and 67 to 12 in 2008.

Some highlights from each group, starting with the first. Here are the six counties in which the Republican gains plus the Democratic losses were the greatest:

County Bush McCain Gain Kerry Obama Loss Dem Net =============================================================== Orange 20,292 21,509 1,217 11,476 7,646 -3,830 -5,047 Bowie 21,791 24,162 2,371 11,880 10,815 -1,065 -3,436 Hardin 15,030 16,603 1,573 5,608 3,939 -1,669 -3,242 Galveston 61,290 62,258 968 43,919 41,805 -2,114 -3,082 Cass 7,383 8,279 896 4,630 3,490 -1,140 -2,036 Jasper 8,347 9,022 675 4,471 3,658 -813 -1,488

These are not fast-growing counties. In fact, three of them – Orange, Cass, and Jasper – lost population this decade, according to the Census population estimates. Galveston County has actually grown by more than ten percent for the decade, with no reported drop in population in 2008 or 2009. Much of that growth is at the north end, in Republican territory like Friendswood and League City. And of course, we know what was going on, especially in the more Democratic-friendly south end of the county, in late 2008.

Next, the counties in which everyone lost ground:

County Bush McCain Loss Kerry Obama Loss Dem Net =============================================================== Polk 13,778 13,771 -47 6,964 6,230 -734 -687 Jefferson 44,423 42,905 -1,518 47,066 44,888 -2,178 -660 Milam 5,291 5,217 -74 3,445 3,044 -401 -327 Eastland 5,249 5,165 -84 1,582 1,271 -311 -227

You get into some mighty small counties after that. Jefferson County’s population has declined by about three percent over the decade, though it’s ticked up a bit since a big drop from 2005 to 2006. Milam and Eastland have basically stayed the same, but Polk County actually grew by more than ten percent. I have no idea why its turnout dropped as much as it did given that.

Finally, some of the growers:

County Bush McCain Gain Kerry Obama Gain Dem Net ================================================================== Montgomery 104,654 119,884 15,230 28,628 36,703 8,075 -7,155 Parker 31,795 36,974 5,179 8,966 10,502 1,536 -3,643 Johnson 34,818 36,685 1,867 12,325 12,912 587 -1,280 Chambers 8,618 9,988 1,370 2,953 3,188 235 -1,135 Erath 9,506 10,768 1,262 2,710 3,128 418 -844 Hood 16,280 17,299 1,019 4,865 5,087 222 -797 Angelina 18,932 19,569 637 9,302 9,379 77 -560 Comal 31,574 35,233 3,659 9,153 12,384 3,231 -428 Kaufman 21,304 23,735 2,431 8,947 11,161 2,214 -217

Montgomery and Kaufman, you know about. Comal probably just missed being on that fastest-growing list, as its population grew by about 50% between 2000 and 2009. Angelina and Erath grew modestly, less than ten percent each; Chambers grew by a bit less than 20%, mostly in the last two or three years; the others all grew by 25% or more.

How about the flip side? There were 23 counties in which both parties lost ground, but the Republicans lost more, so the Democrats had a net gain. Most of these were tiny, with the five largest as follows:

County Bush McCain Loss Kerry Obama Loss Dem Net =============================================================== Gray 7,260 6,924 -336 1,289 1,153 -136 200 Hutchinson 7,480 7,029 -451 2,663 2,545 -118 333 Bee 5,428 4,471 -957 4,045 3,645 -400 557 Jim Wells 5,817 4,841 -976 6,824 6,706 -118 858 Atascosa 7,635 5,462 -2,173 4,421 4,415 -6 2,167

Other than Atascosa, which actually grew by about 15% during the decade but apparently replaced a bunch of Republicans with even more non-voters, there not really much to be said about this group. There were 34 counties in which both parties received more votes, but the Democrats increased by more than the GOP. Those 34 counties accounted for 1,615,855 votes, or more than all 107 in which the Dems lost ground. Some highlights:

County Bush McCain Gain Kerry Obama Gain Dem Net ================================================================== Collin 174,435 184,897 10,462 68,935 109,047 40,112 29,650 Denton 140,891 149,935 9,044 59,346 91,160 31,814 22,770 Fort Bend 93,625 103,206 9,581 68,722 98,368 29,646 20,065 Williamson 83,284 88,323 5,039 43,117 67,691 24,574 19,535 Hays 27,021 29,638 2,617 20,110 28,431 8,321 5,704 Brazoria 63,662 67,515 3,853 28,904 36,480 7,576 3,723 Guadalupe 28,208 30,869 2,661 10,290 16,156 5,866 3,205 Smith 53,392 55,187 1,795 19,970 23,726 3,756 1,961 Bastrop 13,290 13,817 527 9,794 11,687 1,893 1,366 Kerr 16,538 16,752 214 4,557 5,570 1,013 799

There’s the rest of the fastest growers, plus a few others that are no slouches – Guadalupe, which abuts Comal, grew by 30%; Brazoria and Bastrop by 25%, Smith by more than 15%, and Kerr by more than 10%. Together, these ten counties by themselves shaved 108,878 votes off the Democrats’ deficit.

You may have noticed that some of the big counties have been absent in this discussion. Well, here the are now:

County Bush McCain Loss Kerry Obama Gain Dem Net =================================================================== Harris 584,723 571,883 -12,840 475,865 590,982 115,117 127,957 Dallas 346,246 310,000 -36,246 336,641 422,989 86,348 122,594 Bexar 260,698 246,275 -14,423 210,976 275,527 64,551 78,974 Tarrant 349,462 348,420 -1,042 207,286 274,880 67,594 68,636 Travis 147,885 139,981 -10,904 197,235 254,017 56,782 67,686 Hidalgo 50,931 39,668 -11,263 62,369 90,261 27,892 39,155 El Paso 73,261 61,783 -11,478 95,142 122,021 26,879 38,357 Cameron 34,801 26,671 -8,130 33,998 48,480 14,482 22,612 Bell 52,135 49,242 -2,893 27,165 40,413 13,248 16,141 Webb 17,753 13,119 -4,634 23,654 33,452 9,798 14,432 Lubbock 70,135 66,304 -3,831 22,472 30,486 8,014 11,845 Nueces 59,359 52,391 -6,968 44,439 47,912 3,473 10,441

Sometimes I think people don’t fully appreciate what happened in Harris County in 2008. Because the Democrats didn’t quite win all of the countywide races, some people consider the effort that year to have failed. All I can say is that I look at the numbers, I see the magnitude of the swing in four years, and I’m just amazed. Dallas is technically more amazing, since their swing was nearly the same size but was done with far fewer voters, but since they had their blue breakthrough in 2006, it too gets a bit lost in the shuffle. Bexar and Cameron, along with Harris and Dallas, flipped from red to blue, while Tarrant, Bell, and Nueces became officially purple. The only deep red county up there is Lubbock, and even it moved in the right direction.

I bring all of this up for two reasons. One is because even though I’ve covered some of this ground before, I feel like it needs to be repeated every now and again, as a reminder. Texas is a very different place than it was as recently as six years ago. That hasn’t shown up in the statewide elections yet, but the shift from one cycle to the next is unmistakable. And two, as a delayed response to Paul Burka, who recently wrote that “National Democrats have done a good job of spinning the myth that Democrats are resurgent in Texas. In fact, the D’s success has been limited to one area, the Texas House of Representatives.” I pointed out in the comments that this completely overlooked the gains that Democrats had made in county elections in places like Dallas and Harris, but it’s more than that. Democrats were in a huge hole after 2004, and it’s hard to overstate how far they came in just four years. If 2012 is to 2008 as 2008 was to 2004, Texas will be a tossup state. Obviously, a lot has to happen between now and then, but the point is that a lot has already happened. We shouldn’t lose sight of that.

Next up, a look at judicial races from 2004 to 2008, and a similar comparison for 2002 to 2006.

More on Grier’s alternative to CEP

The Chron has a story about HISD Superintendent Terry Grier’s recent proposal to replace Community Education Partners (CEP) with a school swap program for some students with discipline issues.

The transfer program, meant to give students a second chance in a traditional school away from their friends, would not be open to violent offenders or to those who require suspension to a separate alternative program under state law. But Grier, who recently floated the idea with principals, said transfers might be granted for students who are frequently tardy or who get caught drinking beer at a football game, for example.

“What intrigued the principals about this is that many times they have seen that kids moving from one school to another school in a year — many times because parents just stayed ahead of the rent collector — do better in different environments because they’re not around old friends,” Grier said.


The transfer students and their families must agree to a contract with the new school, and each child is put on a behavior-intervention plan, which could require meetings with a social worker or an outside social services agency, said Michael Haggen, deputy superintendent of the Recovery School District. A school psychologist also checks in with the students.

If the students misbehave, they can be kicked to an alternative school. Otherwise, the change of setting is permanent, Haggen said. The students do not get to return to their home schools.

Last year, 82 New Orleans students were given discipline transfers while 442 were expelled to special alternative schools, according to Haggen. That’s out of 35,725 students.

[New Orleans school superintendent Paul] Vallas said the Philadelphia school district, which he used to run, had a discipline transfer system, but he acknowledged it didn’t work. Gwen Morris, who worked as Vallas’ chief of alternative schools in Philadelphia and now consults in New Orleans, agreed. She said the old Philadelphia system did not offer students any supports or help them change their behavior.

The idea for Houston is that the transfer school would have money provided to them for mentors for these students, who would have entered a similar contract before transferring. It sounds like there are still a lot of details to be worked out, and there’s not much of a track record for the idea as yet. I refer you back to my interview with Gayle Fallon for the case against making this change.

Something that I still don’t think has been adequately explored in all of this:

According to HISD data, only a quarter of the 2,441 referrals to CEP last school year were for mandatory reasons.

Level IV misconduct will result in mandatory removal to a Disciplinary Alternative Education Program, which in HISD means CEP. Discretion exists for Level III misconduct:

Level III acts include misconduct for which an administrator may suspend the student, place the student into in-school suspension, or, if the administrator finds the Level III misconduct to be serious or persistent as defined in this Code, refer the student to a district-level Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP). The principal or other appropriate administrator makes the disciplinary determination on the basis of the severity of the misconduct. The period of the suspension is limited to three days per occurrence.

Click the link to see the long list of Level III offenses. Fallon has told me that generally speaking it takes six or seven of these offenses for a kid to be labeled persistent and get referred to CEP. What needs to be clarified here is how many of the 1800 or so non-mandatory referrals to CEP were for fewer than, say, five Level III offenses. Superintendent Grier has said that some referrals to CEP are for minor infractions. I want to try and pin down what he means by that, and how often it happens.

Runoff endorsement watch: HCD

The Harris County Democrats, which is a club and not to be confused with the HCDP, has issued its endorsements for the Democratic primary runoffs:

Dem – District Judge, 234th Judicial District

Tanner Garth

Dem – District Judge, 270th Judicial District

Lee Arellano

Dem – Family District Judge, 308th Judicial District

Bruce Kessler

Dem – Family District Judge, 311th Judicial District

Brad Morris

Dem – Justice of the Peace, Precinct No. 3, Place 2

Don Coffey

In the first round, the HCD had endorsed Charles Spain in the 270th and Steve Herskowitz in the 311th, plus Garth, Kessler, and Coffey. In case you’ve forgotten, early voting for the primary runoff begins Monday, April 5, and runs through Friday the 9th, with Runoff Day itself being Tuesday, April 13.

Hunting sacred cows

If there’s one item on the budget fix to-do list for which there is fairly broad agreement, at least in principle, it’s the idea that the existing tax code ought to be examined to see what things are being exempted from it that maybe shouldn’t be. That includes some things – mostly services, but some goods – for which the sales tax does not apply.

At mid morning, Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, held up a palm to plastic and reconstructive surgeon Bryan Pruitt of Dallas, who was about to tell the House Ways and Means Committee how applying sales tax to cosmetic surgery is just a completely, absolutely unworkable and privacy-smashing idea.

Among other things, the panel today is on its third round of looking at tax exemptions, as directed by Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

Pointing to 24 categories of services excluded from the sales tax that are being discussed today, Oliveira cautioned audience members not to read too much into that.

“Just because your particular exemption or exclusion is on the list doesn’t mean that myself or staff or any member of this committee has decided anything one way or another,” he said.

There’s a lot of interesting data in that post, so check it out. Broadly speaking, while I strongly oppose any sales tax increase, which is an incredibly regressive way method of taxation, I am okay with an expansion of the sales tax to some of the items on Rep. Oliveira’s list. That would include elective surgery and tanning salon services (!), whose exception can only be explained by having a really good lobbyist. These things will not be remotely enough to close the looming budget gap, or even to make a serious dent in the structural deficit, but they’re worth doing and would help make some other choices a little less painful. I’ll be very interested to see what this committee recommends.

Oliveira admitted to me, though, that he’s seriously considering filing a bill next session that would close some exemptions and “put some people in a box” — presumably meaning some of his colleagues who complain about spending but never about a sort of spending no one talks about, tax breaks for special interests. The prissy word for that is “tax expenditures.”

All I can say to that is “Go for it!”

Texas blog roundup for the week of March 29

Why not enjoy these posts from the Texas Political Alliance along with the beautiful spring weather?


What’s in a diploma?

My alma mater doesn’t make the news very often, so when it does, I take notice.

A group of students at Trinity University is lobbying trustees to drop a reference to “Our Lord” on their diplomas, arguing it does not respect the diversity of religions on campus.

“A diploma is a very personal item, and people want to proudly display it in their offices and homes,” said Sidra Qureshi, president of Trinity Diversity Connection. “By having the phrase ‘In the Year of Our Lord,’ it is directly referencing Jesus Christ, and not everyone believes in Jesus Christ.”

Qureshi, who is Muslim, has led the charge to tweak the wording, winning support from student government and a campus commencement committee. Trustees are expected to consider the students’ request at a May board meeting.


The debate started last year when Isaac Medina, a Muslim convert from Guadalajara, Mexico, noticed the wording while looking at pre-made diploma frames in the Trinity bookstore. When Medina applied to Trinity, university staff told him it wasn’t a religious institution and that it maintained only a historical bond to the Presbyterian Church.

So the godly reference “came as a big surprise,” said Medina, who graduated in December. “I felt I was a victim of a bait and switch.”

At first, Qureshi and Medina sought a change only for students who desired it. But university staff told them the school would not print custom diplomas, so they requested dropping the words “Our Lord” from all diplomas issued.

That sound you hear is millions of heads exploding. I can’t wait for this to become talk radio fodder, if it isn’t already. Nothing quite stirs pride in one’s old school like the prospect of it being turned into a caricature by a bunch of ignoramuses.

I couldn’t tell you the last time I looked at my diploma – it may have been five minutes after receiving it; I’m just not that sentimental – so I don’t really care if it says “in the year” or “in the year of Our Lord” in that fancy gothic font. Seems to me the obvious answer is to allow for a custom diploma for those who want it. I mean, if textbook publishers can handle special orders, so can whoever prints these things. My advice to the board of trustees is to recognize that sooner rather than later so the nattering nabobs can move on to the next outrage du jour before they get too attached to this one.

You know what they say about free advice

Back when Bill White first got into the Texas Governor’s race, the Texas Tribune asked me to engage in an email debate with David Benzion about his tenure as Mayor. At the time, I said I would not presume to offer his campaign any advice as to how they should conduct their business. Well, you know you can’t trust a promise made by a blogger, so when the Trib asked me to participate in a roundtable on what the Bill White campaign should do now, naturally I jumped right in. Also on the call were actual campaign professionals Keir Murray and Glenn Smith, playing Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston to my Tony Siragusa. If you haven’t already heard too much of my voice for one day, then click on over and hear some more.

Interview with Gayle Fallon

As you know, I’ve been following the news in HISD lately, in particular the political struggle going on between new HISD Superintendent Terry Grier and the Houston Federation of Teachers, over things like the proposal to dump CEP as the disciplinary alternate education provider, and the teacher dismissal plan. In a recent post, I noted that some of the claims Superintendent Grier was making about CEP were completely at odds with claims being made by HFT President Gayle Fallon. That led to Fallon leaving a comment on that post and sending me some data about HISD’s disciplinary statistics, and ultimately to this interview I conducted with Fallon:

Download the MP3 file

It’s clear that Fallon and Grier don’t see eye to eye on a number of issues. I thought she made a pretty strong case for the HFT’s positions; I’d be interested to know what you think. I am working on arranging an interview with Grier and hope to have that done and posted within the week.

David Wolff’s farewell message

Outgoing Metro chair David Wolff takes to the op-ed pages to present a more positive view of his agency and his tenure.

While much had been accomplished by previous hard working boards, we inherited an aging bus fleet, a very confusing fare system that had not been adjusted during a time when inflation had increased costs by 40 percent, an inefficient route structure (11 percent of our vehicle miles were carrying only 3 percent of our passengers), and a new light-rail line besieged by accidents because motorists weren’t accustomed to it.

We also faced financial constraints because Metro’s previous administration had been forced to use $325 million of local funds to build the Main Street line since (rather unbelievably) two Republican congressmen had prohibited METRO from obtaining any federal funds.

Despite these and other challenges, an objective review of Metro’s progress during this board’s tenure would conclude that we accomplished a great deal (I like to say that we moved Metro “from last to first” at the FTA) and have positioned the organization for a bright future.

Here are some facts:

First, contrary to critics, our tenure wasn’t just about building new light rail lines. We made our bus system more user-friendly and sensible, very much appreciating the needs of people who depend on Metro as their primary mode of transportation.

Indeed, during the past five fiscal years we’ve spent $518 million improving bus service.

He goes on to list a bunch of ways in which bus service has improved, and later tots up the accomplishments for light rail as well. Much of what he says here was covered in the interview I did with him a couple of weeks ago, so if you never got around to listening to that interview, you can get the gist of it here. I generally agree that Metro has done a lot of good things over the past six years, and that they don’t get nearly the credit they should for them – though let’s be honest, a big part of that is the result of their own fault, due mostly to their well-documented communications problems – but I feel compelled to point out one place where Wolff is clearly overselling:

A new nonstop service from the Downtown Transit Center to George Bush Intercontinental Airport in 30 minutes for $15.

That is a new service Metro has created. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be doing so well, at least according to the transition team. If you read the report of the Basic Services Committee and scroll down to slide #10, you’ll see what I mean. Reading through that, I’d say there’s a stronger case to be made for eliminating that service than for trying to make it work, but for now at least the recommendation is the latter, and perhaps they’ll prove to be correct. But I would call that a nice idea that doesn’t seem to have panned out rather than a success.

One more thing:

FTA has granted Metro’s entry into preliminary engineering on the University Line, which should ultimately lead to another $700 million in federal funding.

For all the talk about what Metro can and can’t afford to do, until such time as Mayor Parker instructs Metro to not apply for these funds, I consider the University line to still be on the agenda. Slide 12 of the transition team report on light rail says the following:

The University Line is in FEIS phase of federal process, with multiple steps to full funding commitment, which is not guaranteed and dependent on congressional transportation reauthorization. METRO best case estimate for completion is 2014.

(Note: FEIS = Final Environmental Impact Statement) It’s not clear to me if they mean that the best case scenario for completion of the FEIS phase and securing funding is 2014, or for finishing construction. I suspect it’s the latter, but in either event, we’re a ways away from this particular go/no-go decision. The FEIS was filed in January, two and a half years after the draft EIS. These things don’t move very quickly.

Joe Agris

I read with great interest this feature story on Houston plastic surgeon Joe Agris, who was a longtime collaborator with the late Marvin Zindler in getting medical help to indigent children. I did so partly because Agris is a fascinating person with a distinguished career, and partly because he was the Republican candidate for HD134 against Rep. Ellen Cohen in 2008, and his accomplishments and high profile seemed to make him a formidable challenger to the incumbent. Yet his candidacy went nowhere, due in part to the fact that he raised absolutely no money, and had nothing resembling a visible campaign as far as I could tell. I spend a lot of time in HD134 – I drive through it every day on my way to and from work, and my in-laws live there – and I never saw as much as a single yard sign for him; there had been several for Carlos Obando, the opponent he defeated in the GOP primary for the nomination, but they were never replaced by Agris signs. I wish I had some insight as to why he put forth no apparent effort into that race – does anyone doubt that Obando would have run a more vigorous campaign? – but alas, the story does not mention his candidacy at all. So, if you know something about this that I don’t, please leave a comment, because this one is still a mystery to me. Thanks.

Turns out we’re not actually destroying the world one textbook at a time

Good to know.

Though Texas has been painted in scores of media reports as the big dog that wags the textbook industry tail, that’s simply no longer true — and will become even less true in the future, as technological advances and political shifts transform the marketplace, said Jay Diskey, executive director of the Association of American Publishers. Diskey calls the persistent reports of Texas dominating the market an “urban myth.” Yet the myth persists.

“I’ve been in this job about three and a half years, and I see it reported all the time,” Diskey said. “I give my explanation to reporters, and about half of them believe me and half of them don’t.”

Rather than tailoring history books to Texas, then trying to peddle them nationwide, publishers today will start with a core national narrative and edit to suit the sensitivities and curriculum standards of various states and districts, said David Anderson, an industry lobbyist, former publishing sales executive and Texas Education Agency curriculum director. The irony in the current history wars: The more the state board makes a political circus out of the process, the less likely any of its ideology will seep into books for other states, as the California backlash makes clear.

“The core narrative is very similar” nationally, Anderson said. “If you can customize a book for Texas, and un-customize it for the Midwest — and Texas is controversial — then that’s what you’re going to do.”

Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel better. Read the whole thing and you will, too. Martha has more.

Of course, even if we’re not polluting other states, and even if the textbooks themselves are more about what’s on the TEKS than what’s on the fevered minds of the SBOE wingnuts, we’re still stuck with the embarrassment of it all. But every political embarrassment is also a political opportunity, and to that end let me introduce you to the Thomas Jefferson Movement. I have no idea if that will catch on, but it’s a clever idea with an obvious hook. One can also take the more conventional approach of supporting a candidate for Governor who won’t put a crazy person in charge of the process, thus short-circuiting the lunacy before it can take hold. Both work for me.

Farmers Branch loses in court yet again

Yet another loss in court for the city of Farmers Branch and its efforts to make apartment owners check potential renters’ immigration status.

The City of Farmers Branch enacted ordinance 2952 in 2008 but today’s decision in the U.S. District Court’s Northern District of Texas blocks the city from enforcing the ordinance.

“The Court resoundingly rejected the City’s claim that it had the authority to regulate the residence of noncitizens within its borders,” said the Texas American Civil Liberties Union in a press release. The ACLU, along with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), filed suit on behalf of a group of Farmers Branch landlords and tenants. “Noting that the City Building Inspector would be charged with interpreting and applying immigration information to prospective tenants, the court concluded that Ordinance 2952 ‘is an invalid regulation of immigration,’” added the ACLU’s statement.

In her opinion, U.S. District Judge Jane J. Boyle ruled: “Ordinance 2952 is a regulation of immigration and is preempted by the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution because the authority to regulate immigration is exclusively a federal power.”

Judge Boyle had originally issued an injunction against Farmers Branch back in 2008, shortly after the suit was filed.

Nina Perales, MALDEF’s Regional Counsel in San Antonio, said she wouldn’t be surprised if the city appealed the ruling, but indicated Farmers Branch taxpayers might speak out against such an expensive effort.

“Losing defendants often talk about appeals on the day the decision comes down,” she said. “The people of Farmers Branch have to decide whether they are going to continue to throw money away on this. The city needs its resources for better purposes.”

Farmers Branch has already spent millions trying to enact these “illegal ordinances” she added, and expected at some point the “folks have to say, ‘Stop.’”

They’ve spent three point two million, according to the DMN. Which didn’t stop their mayor from vowing to appeal. Honestly, by now it probably would have been cheaper to offer to pay the moving expenses of everyone they wanted to evict from town. Too late for that, I guess.

If there’s a big sporting event in town…

Then it must be time for a story about the economic impact of that big sporting event.

For a city that has hosted the Super Bowl, the World Series and NBA and MLB All-Star games in the past decade, the Final Four represents one more opportunity for a national showcase — and potential economic windfall.

Greg Ortale, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, expects the area to see some $38 million in extra income this weekend thanks to what amounts to home games for the third-seeded Bears and their green-and-gold-clad fans.

“That’s very good, and we’re definitely pleased with that,” he said.

The real jackpot, however, awaits next spring. Ortale, who’ll be at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for this year’s Final Four, anticipates 75,000-plus passing through the Houston turnstiles in 2011. Houston will again host the Final Four in 2016.

“We should at least double what we did in 2008 next year,” Ortale said.

Houston and Reliant Stadium last hosted an NCAA regional in 2008, employing the “mid-field” court configuration and elevated seating systems that now serve as the model for all Final Fours. The attendance then was similar to Friday’s.

“We were north of 38 (million dollars),” Ortale said. “We verified it through a third party, and we think it’s a conservative estimate. We prefer to err on the side of being conservative instead of overstating.”

At least this story addressed the question of what the impact was of a past event, rather than just giving us another projection about a current or future event. Given the financial situation we’re in, it would have been nice to know what effect on the city’s sales tax revenue is to be expected. Was there a noticeable bump in the amount of sales tax revenue Houston received from the state in 2008? If so, given that sales tax revenues have been depressed for months, do we expect the check for March of this year to show a similar or even greater increase? Seems to me that’s what really matters.

Weekend link dump for March 28

Judicial activism, Oklahoma-style.

The next round of Democratic primaries, this year and in 2012, will be something to see.

In case you somehow missed David Frum’s Waterloo article.

All hail Nancy Pelosi.

And let’s not forget the debt we owe to Mitch McConnell for his tactical brilliance.

Mike Tyson, pigeon racing, and PETA. What could possibly go wrong?

Yeah, because they had been so amazingly cooperative up till now.

Americans continue to drive less.

Sunny day, whatever.

Tom DeLay has a cousin in Arkansas. Named “Gunner”. Who’s running for Congress. Do I really need to say any more? (Thanks, Juanita!)

How small a space could the US population be fit in?

I for one would be happy to help Rush pack his bags.

Play Glenn Beck bingo!

If Sen. Jim DeMint weren’t such a tool, I might feel a little sorry for him. Just a little.

How Google tracks suspicious account activity.

I have some issues with Bill Simmons, mostly because he was such an incredible wimp about the weather while here during Super Bowl XXXVIII, but I certainly don’t begrudge him his success.

Vote for the 2010 Name Of The Year.

Aren’t they all?

Letters from Rick.

You like it! You really like it!

Tom Toles predicts the future. Chuck Grassley makes it happen today.

Eric Cantor is a big ol’ liar.

You tell ’em, Rachel.

The idiotic third-party fantasy never dies.

M1EK visits Houston and rides the light rail line. Which he likes a lot.

More of this, please.

Are they finally building something on the Robinson Warehouse site?

Remember the Robinson Warehouse? It’s been more than three years now since the old building at Montrose and Allen Parkway was demolished, and the site has been fallow ever since. But in the last week or so, some signs of life, or at least impending construction, have appeared.

What are they building here?

What are they building here?

I guess they're the ones to ask about it

I guess they're the ones to ask about it

You may recall that the land had been bought by the Aga Khan Foundation with the intent of building a Muslim Ismaeli center there. After all this time, I have no idea if that’s still the plan and it just took them longer than they might have thought to get it going, or if the property has changed hands and something else is about to be built. Anybody know what’s up? Swamplot to the white courtesy phone, please.

Perelman wins but won’t accept Clay Mathematics Prize

Grigory Perelman, the reclusive Russian mathematician who solved the Poincare Conjecture in 2003 has officially been awarded the one million dollar Clay Mathematics Prize for doing so.

The prize was announced [March 18] by James Carlson, president of the institute. It is the first of the million-dollar Millennium prizes to be awarded. They were established in 2000 by the institute for the solution of seven longstanding problems.

Will Dr. Perelman accept? “He will let me know in due time,” Dr. Carlson wrote in an e-mail message, acknowledging that they had been in touch. He declined to provide more details.

It appears now that the answer is No.

Dr Perelman, 43, has cut himself off from the outside world for the past four years, living with his elderly mother in a tiny flat said by neighbours to be infested with cockroaches.


The mathematician is reported to have said “I have all I want” when contacted by a reporter this week about the Clay Millennium Prize.

According to the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper, he was speaking through the closed door of his flat.

Dr Perelman was the first person to turn down the Fields Medal, which would have been presented to him at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Madrid.

“I’m not interested in money or fame,” he is quoted to have said at the time.

“I don’t want to be on display like an animal in a zoo. I’m not a hero of mathematics. I’m not even that successful; that is why I don’t want to have everybody looking at me.”

Well, he’s consistent, that’s for sure. His name will go down in history regardless of whatever else he does. Thanks to Matt for the reminder about this.

Supreme Court hears strip club appeal

The state Supreme Court has heard arguments in the appeal of the strip club fee lawsuit.

Lower courts have sided with the strip clubs, ruling that the fee that has collected more than $13.6 million since 2008 is an unconstitutional regulation of free expression.

The law specifically applies to strip clubs that sell alcohol. Texas Solicitor General James Ho told the nine Republican justices that the fee is justified, since the state could already impose bans on both.

“It would be turning the First Amendment on its head to say that you can criminalize but can’t impose a modest regulation,” Ho said.

The court is not expected to issue a ruling for months.

The 3rd Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the clubs back in June; the state appealed to the Supreme Court a day later, and the Supremes agreed to hear the case last month. The high court is not known for the swiftness of its rulings, and as the Trib notes, this case was heard late in its term, so don’t expect a decision before next year.

Saturday video break: Waterloo

Like yesterday’s video, this one’s been making its way around the intertubes lately.

Here’s the context, in case you’re wondering.

I posted this mostly as an excuse to note that thanks to my father-in-law’s affection for the movie “Mamma Mia!”, Olivia is (without realizing it, of course) an ABBA fan. I am greatly amused by this.

Sports Authority to become Dynamo Stadium landlord

One of the items on the to-do list after the city and county struck a deal on Dynamo Stadium was for the team to negotiate a lease for the stadium. The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority was proposed as the landlord, and now they have formally agreed to take that role.

The city and county asked the sports authority to negotiate a lease of publicly owned land to the Dynamo, to oversee construction and to run the completed stadium. The authority’s board unanimously passed a resolution to take on those tasks.

“This is kind of the last piece of the puzzle,” said David Turkel, director of the county’s Community Services Department. “Now that we have everything in place, our governing bodies can formally consider it.”

Attorneys for the three agencies will craft details of a formal agreement. The City Council, Commissioners Court and the authority board are scheduled to act on the deal in the next three weeks.

So there you have it. Start making plans for the groundbreaking ceremony. It’s all over but for the construction at this point.

The hole keeps getting deeper

I’ve said multiple times that even if we survive the 2011 legislative session, the budget problems we’ll be dealing with next year aren’t going away. The reason for that is because we have a structural deficit, as the giant unaffordable 2006 property tax cut was supposed to have been paid for by the new business margins tax plus a few other things. The problem is that the new revenues have never come close to making up for the cuts, and that gap keeps on growing.

The Legislature’s top budget-writing staff member told a panel Wednesday that the built-in fiscal gap the state faces is nearly $5 billion a year. While they knew that a reworked business tax meant to make up for a large chunk of property tax cuts has sputtered, legislators hadn’t been told in such precise – and stark – terms how big the problem was.

“We expected that of the $7.1 billion a year in property tax relief that the state paid for, that the revenue increases would cover about 60 percent of that,” John O’Brien, director of the Legislative Budget Board, told a newly created House panel. “As it turned out … the new revenue covers about 36 percent of the change in state spending.”

O’Brien, testifying before the House Select Committee on Fiscal Stability, which Speaker Joe Straus created in January to see if shortfalls are mostly recession-driven “or a more systemic problem,” said higher taxes on smokers and some businesses and used-car purchasers have produced $2.5 billion a year. That’s less than an expected $4.2 billion, he said.

Overall, that leaves a $4.6 billion annual gap, he said.

It’s certainly possible that the current economic situation is exacerbating the problem, but let’s be clear about this: We knew from the beginning that the margins tax would fall short of projections. In other words, the hole came pre-installed. This is a big part of the reason why we are still trying to get school finance right, and it’s the top issue the Lege has to face. We can fix it now or fix it later, but one way or another we need to fix it.

They’re brewing up in Conroe

I’m glad to hear that there’s another microbrewery in the area, and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for Southern Star beer the next time I’m someplace that might have a broad enough selection to include it. One item to note:

[Co-founder Dave] Fougeron also would like to see small breweries become local gathering spots. He and [Brian] Hutchins open their business to the public on Saturdays, offering free tours and handing out samples while Jeff Smith and Steve Sumner of the Outlaw Kookers keep the barbecue pits stoked outside. Fougeron said the tours create “a genuine feeling of community.”

“There should be thousands of breweries in America,” he said. “We’re Americans. We drink beer.”

Brock Wagner, the head of Saint Arnold, agreed that his former employee is both passionate and knowledgeable about his favorite subject. Also, he might be in business at just the right time.

Southern Star is only the second craft brewery in the Houston area, and it’s one of just a handful statewide. Yet there is something of a building boom going on, particularly in the Austin area, where four already are open and several others are at least in the planning stages.

Wagner, who runs the oldest and largest craft brewery in the state, sees plenty of room for growth. In Houston, he said, craft beer makes up less than 3 percent of sales.

“Long term,” he said, “I think we should all be working toward making craft beer about 10 percent of the market down here. That will take us all working together.”

Hopefully, one thing they’ll all be working together on is to improve the state of beer in Texas by trying once again to pass a bill that would allow microbreweries to sell their beer on premises. They made some progress in a second attempt at it in 2009 but ran into the usual resistance from the beer distributors’ lobby. Having one more microbrewer in Texas won’t make that much difference, but every little bit helps.

Friday random ten: She’s all that

That’s what she’s saying:

1. She’s A Rebel – Green Day
2. She’s Alright – Muddy Waters
3. She’s Electric – Oasis
4. She’s Got Her Ticket – Tracy Chapman
5. She’s Got You – Patsy Cline
6. She’s My Baby – Traveling Wilburys
7. She’s My Girl – Tom Lehrer
8. She’s No Lady – Lyle Lovett
9. She’s The One – Bruce Springsteen
10. She’s Too Good For Me – Warren Zevon

What’s she doing with you this week?

Entire song list report: Started with “Donkey Riding”, by Great Big Sea. Ended with “Duke’s Travels”, by Genesis, song #1243, for a mere 65 tunes this week. I should note that “Duke’s Travels” comes right before “Duke’s End” on the “Duke” album, but right after it when you play your entire collection in alphabetical order. Those of you who, like me, are old enough to know what an “album” is and why the order of songs on it mattered (sometimes) may find some deeper meaning in that.

Special Friday video break: Hell, no, you can’t!

Finally got a chance to see this:

As they say in sports: Scoreboard, dude.

Kirk Watson’s “Monopoly Busters”

I hadn’t written about State Sen. Kirk Watson’s Monopoly Busters drive before now – see here for his announcement of it last week. The primary goal is to decide which House incumbents will receive campaign contributions from Sen. Watson, but the secondary goal, which really may be the most important one, was getting more Texas Democrats – officeholders as well as the grassroots – involved in social media and online outreach. Turns out that’s been a big success.

Yesterday, we exceeded the 10,000-vote threshold – as well as all expectations for the success of this effort. The organization and energy that have gone into the last 10 days have been inspiring.

The question now is how to keep that energy flowing. As I’ve said before, while the $10,000 contribution that just one legislator will receive provides an excellent catalyst, it isn’t the biggest benefit of the Ballot. Instead, the biggest benefit will be the social media networks and email contacts that every representative will reap from participating. Clearly, this is a rare opportunity to get and keep Democrats engaged in your campaigns, and I want to do all I can to maximize it.

Yesterday, I received a letter from our State Party Chairman, Boyd Richie, which is attached. Noting the positive effect that the Ballot has had in these legislative races, Chairman Richie proposed extending its benefits by doubling the number of candidates who move on to Round 2. I think it’s a great suggestion – one that dovetails with some things I’ve heard and thoughts I’ve had about this effort and where we should go from here. And I’m writing to let you know that I’m taking his advice.

After Round 1 ends at 5 p.m. today, I will announce the ten candidates who will move on to Round 2. I believe that increasing participation and making the Ballot more open will cause the benefits to multiply, as well.

You can go here to cast your vote. I cast mine for Rep. Kristi Thibaut, who is running second right now. Round One ends today at 5, and Round Two will follow shortly. Thanks to Sen. Watson, whose example I hope will inspire some copycats, for doing this.

Where the votes are going

Matt Stiles looks at Census data and notes a political point.

Seven Texas counties — Rockwall, Williamson, Collin, Hays, Fort Bend, Montgomery and Denton — are listed among the nation’s 30 fastest-growing areas, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released [Tuesday].

They are also Republican-voting counties, according to results in the 2008 general election. Sen. John McCain won these counties by a 20-point margin, well over 240,000 votes.

It’s actually a hair shy of 260,000 votes – Stiles had missed Rockwall County in his initial post, and though he added it in for an update, he did not re-do the math. There’s a bit more to this than that, however. Let’s have a look at how these counties voted in 2004:

County Name Party Votes Total Pct ==================================================== Collin Bush R 174,435 243,370 71.67 Collin Kerry D 68,935 243,370 28.33 Denton Bush R 140,891 200,237 70.36 Denton Kerry D 59,346 200,237 29.64 Fort Bend Bush R 93,625 162,347 57.67 Fort Bend Kerry D 68,722 162,347 42.33 Hays Bush R 27,021 47,131 57.33 Hays Kerry D 20,110 47,131 42.67 Montgomery Bush R 104,654 133,282 78.29 Montgomery Kerry D 28,628 133,282 21.71 Rockwall Bush R 20,120 25,440 79.09 Rockwall Kerry D 5,320 25,440 20.91 Williamson Bush R 83,284 126,401 65.89 Williamson Kerry D 43,117 126,401 34.11 Total Bush R 644,030 938,208 68.64 Total Kerry D 294,178 938,208 31.36 Total McCain R 699,183 1,139,175 61.38 Total Obama D 439,892 1,139,175 38.62

Putting it another way, those counties had about 200,000 more voters in 2008 than in 2004. 145,000 of those new voters – 72.5% – voted Democratic, 55,000 voted Republican. That’s change I can believe in, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Obama did do about five and a half points better overall in Texas than John Kerry did, going from 38.22% to 43.68% of the absolute vote (38.49% to 44.06% in the two-party matchup). It would be strange indeed if he didn’t markedly improve on 2004 in these counties. Notice, however, that he improved by a point and a half more than he did in the state as a whole. That’s a good trend, too.

To which you may say, “Oh sure, compare a historic election for which Democrats were super-excited to one where a highly popular Texas Republican President was on the ballot. That’s fair.” Well, how about we compare the election of 2002 to the election of 2006? Since there are no Presidential candidates, I’m going to look at a couple of Supreme Court races, because 1) they’re usually more about party identification than anything else, and 2) we have a couple of races with similar R/D performances: Margaret Mirabal versus Steven Smith in 2002, and Bill Moody versus Don Willett in 2006. Here are the numbers:

County Name Party Votes Total Pct ===================================================== Collin Smith R 88,762 122,655 72.37 Collin Mirabal D 33,893 122,655 27.63 Denton Smith R 69,899 100,260 69.72 Denton Mirabal D 30,361 100,260 30.28 Fort Bend Smith R 47,008 84,153 55.86 Fort Bend Mirabal D 37,145 84,153 44.14 Hays Smith R 14,238 26,129 54.49 Hays Mirabal D 11,891 26,129 45.51 Montgomery Smith R 53,977 71,428 75.57 Montgomery Mirabal D 17,451 71,428 24.43 Rockwall Smith R 10,148 13,304 76.28 Rockwall Mirabal D 3,156 13,304 23.72 Williamson Smith R 46,480 71,981 64.57 Williamson Mirabal D 25,501 71,981 35.43 County Name Party Votes Total Pct ===================================================== Collin Willet R 82,834 125,348 66.08 Collin Moody D 42,514 125,348 33.92 Denton Willet R 63,475 99,380 63.87 Denton Moody D 35,905 99,380 36.13 Fort Bend Willet R 49,953 92,843 53.80 Fort Bend Moody D 42,890 92,843 46.20 Hays Willet R 13,644 27,775 49.12 Hays Moody D 14,131 27,775 50.88 Montgomery Willet R 54,018 74,650 72.36 Montgomery Moody D 20,632 74,650 27.64 Rockwall Willet R 10,331 14,233 72.58 Rockwall Moody D 3,902 14,233 27.42 Williamson Willet R 43,193 75,659 57.09 Williamson Moody D 31,466 75,659 42.91 2002 Total R 330,512 489,910 67.46 2002 Total D 159,398 489,910 32.54 2006 Total R 317,448 508,888 62.38 2006 Total D 191,440 508,888 37.62

Once again, improvement by the Democrats across the board. Dems picked up 32,000 voters, while the Rs lost 13,000. It’s not an exact apples to apples comparison because there was a Libertarian candidate in 2006, but even if you assign all of his votes (23,730 in these seven counties) to Willett, the Dems still have a 32,000 to 10,000 advantage in voters gained. All without any of that hopey-changey stuff.

If you want to see the effect in pictures, I’ve got you covered there as well:

Democratic vote share - click to enlarge

Democratic vote share - click to enlarge

GOP vote share - click to enlarge

GOP vote share - click to enlarge

The GOP vote share ticked up a bit from 2006 to 2008 in Montgomery, and to a lesser extent in Hays, but overall the trends are pretty clear. It’s especially clear when you simply compare 2002 to 2006, and 2004 to 2008.

Does any of this mean anything for 2010? Well, elections are all about the candidates, and every election is different, and blah blah blah. What I’ll say is simply that these counties start out with a higher floor for Democrats than they had eight years ago – I’ll be surprised if Bill White doesn’t carry Fort Bend and Hays, and he has a decent shot at Williamson, too – and I expect that this year there will be a lot more organizing done in them as well; in some cases, that may be the first time there’s been a real, funded, organizing effort. All things being equal, that should certainly have a positive effect. The whole point of this exercise was to show that while these counties are still challenging territory for Democrats, they’re a lot friendlier overall than they once were, and the prospect of them being the fastest growing areas in the state is not a daunting one for the Ds.

Weingarten update

Swamplot keeps digging to find out more about what’s going on with the Alabama Theater. Basically, though Weingarten is being weaselly about it (I know, I’m shocked too), it seems clear they are planning to demolish the interior of the building.

It’s exceedingly unlikely that Weingarten is actively pursuing any strategies for the property other than the demolition plans it had drawn up.

What’s our evidence for saying that?

  • A local construction company currently has the drawings out to bid to subcontractors. The drawings are labeled “Issue for Permit and Bid.” A set of drawings issued for preliminary pricing only is likely to be labeled as such.
  • The same construction company does not appear to have any other projects out to bid for the same property.
  • Nowhere in the bid documents is there any reference to any alternative to demolition.
  • The bid documents do include “alternates.” But all of them refer to demolition.

Click over and see the evidence for yourself; there’s more here as well. And be sure to note comment #5 in the first post, which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.