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April, 2010:

MLBPA opposes Arizona immigration law

Good for them.

New York, NY, Friday, April 30, 2010 … The following statement was issued today by Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner regarding the immigration law recently passed by the state of Arizona.

“The recent passage by Arizona of a new immigration law could have a negative impact on hundreds of Major League players who are citizens of countries other than the United States. These international players are very much a part of our national pastime and are important members of our Association. Their contributions to our sport have been invaluable, and their exploits have been witnessed, enjoyed and applauded by millions of Americans. All of them, as well as the Clubs for whom they play, have gone to great lengths to ensure full compliance with federal immigration law.

“The impact of the bill signed into law in Arizona last Friday is not limited to the players on one team. The international players on the Diamondbacks work and, with their families, reside in Arizona from April through September or October. In addition, during the season, hundreds of international players on opposing Major League teams travel to Arizona to play the Diamondbacks. And, the spring training homes of half of the 30 Major League teams are now in Arizona. All of these players, as well as their families, could be adversely affected, even though their presence in the United States is legal. Each of them must be ready to prove, at any time, his identity and the legality of his being in Arizona to any state or local official with suspicion of his immigration status. This law also may affect players who are U.S. citizens but are suspected by law enforcement of being of foreign descent.

“The Major League Baseball Players Association opposes this law as written. We hope that the law is repealed or modified promptly. If the current law goes into effect, the MLBPA will consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of our members.

“My statement reflects the institutional position of the Union. It was arrived at after consultation with our members and after consideration of their various views on this controversial subject.”

Well said. Though I would prefer for it to not come to that, I hope the union follows through on its consideration of additional steps in the event the law doesn’t get blocked. It would be nice if Commissioner Selig followed their lead, too. Now maybe MLS will take a stand, too. Thanks to David Pinto for the link.

Friday random ten: Brought to you by the letter V

I have exactly 38 songs that begin with the letter V. No more than four of them start with the same word (“voice” or “voices”), so I’m just going to pick ten V songs that appeal to me and call it a day.

1. Van Diemen’s Land – U2
2. The Vatican Rag – Ton Lehrer
3. Vehicle – Ides of March
4. Very Fine Funeral – Eddie From Ohio
5. Veteran of the Psychic Wars – Blue Oyster Cult
6. Video Killed The Radio Star – The Buggles
7. Village Green Preservation Society – Kate Rusby
8. Voices Carry – Til Tuesday
9. Volkswagon Thing – Asylum Street Spankers
10. Vx Fx Dx – Michelle Shocked

What V songs do you have?

Entire song list report: Started with “Giving It All Away”, by Roger Daltry. Ended with “Grunge Song”, by the Austin Lounge Lizards, song #1816, for 131 songs this week.

Ripping vinyl report: Just one since last time, “Songs For Tomorrow Morning”, by The Bobs. Thanks to the vinyl I ripped last week, I now have exactly ten different songs that start with the word “Under” – “Under The Sun”, by Southside Johnny and The Jukes, is #10 – so if I’d gotten around to doing this sooner, I wouldn’t have had to fudge the April 16 entry. Let that be a lesson to me. For my penance, here’s a video of the “Underdog” theme song:

Sadly, I couldn’t find a clip that included “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird” “A plane!” “A frog!” “A frog?” “Not bird, not plane, not even frog, just little old me, Underdog.” I hope you’ll forgive me.

You want more information about term limits?

Of course you do. And I’ve got you covered. Via email from Robert Stein, I give you the following:

– A research paper from 2002, co-authored by Dr. Stein, called “Public Support for Term Limits: Another Look at Conventional Thinking”. It’s a fairly technical overview of research on people’s attitudes towards term limits. The main finding:

We qualify the conventional wisdom that term limits are mostly a Republican issue: Support for term limits is more a function of the incongruence between an individual’s expressed partisanship and the party of their representative than of the individual’s party affiliation. Further, the effect of unsatisfactory representation is strongly related to a voter’s engagement with politics and willingness to monitor political affairs actively.

In other words, if you’re a Democrat with a spotty voting record living in Montgomery County, you probably support the idea of term limits.

– A comparative look at cities with term limits and how their adoption has affected turnover and diversity in their governments.

– Graphical representations of the data in that previous document for minority and female representation on City Council.

– A bunch more links on the city’s Term Limits Review Commission page, including the results of the 2004 term limits survey and the proposed wording for an updated term limits survey.

My thanks to Dr. Stein for sending all this to me. Happy reading!

The historians have their say

The various legislative groups held their SBOE hearings on Wednesday. In pointing out the many ways in which that unesteemed body screwed the pooch on social studies, they joined with others in calling for a delay in adopting the new curriculum standard, pointing out that doing so could save the state a few bucks at a time when such things are needed.

With severe budget projections facing Texas next year, it makes sense to postpone the $800 million price tag for new history books, some legislators said.

“There’s no rush necessary. We have plenty of time to do it right,” said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which organized the special legislative hearing.

A dozen historians and other experts took aim at the proposal, which the education board plans to adopt May 21.

Historians described the document as bloated with detail and a distortion of history that glorifies the achievements of white males. Board members made nearly 300 amendments, changing recommendations of the board’s own experts so significantly that they may have violated state law, some lawmakers said.

That’s a pretty good idea, and it’s also a fairly standard thing to delay making some purchases to help balance budgets. There are certainly plenty of worse ways for the Lege to find cost reductions this biennium.

During the testimony, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott described the SBOE’s whitewashing of history as “payback” by the social conservative bloc. You can read a transcription of his remarks at BOR. You don’t have to be a connoisseur of the McLeroy/Dunbar/Bradley/Mercer oevre to realize that resentment is the main force that drives them, but it’s always nice to have it made clear and on the record. As Martha notes, this was just another way of saying that elections have consequences, which is why it’s important to elect qualified and responsible people to the SBOE. We see what happens when we don’t. EoW has more.

I shot a coyote in Austin just to watch it die

I believe that very little happens in politics by accident, so I feel certain there’s a reason that Rick Perry picked this week to tell us all about that coyote he killed in February. Something like this:

WildEarth Guardians, a wildlife protection group in Denver, offered to pay for a class in assertiveness training for Perry because of his “slaying of a song dog.” The group also offered the governor an alternative to the pistol.

“With all due respect to his manhood, 90-pound women in tennis shoes effectively scare 30-pound coyotes away with a sharp shout,” said group spokeswoman Wendy Keef­over-Ring in a news release. “We’re sending Governor Perry a plastic whistle so he can leave his gun at home.”

[Perry spokesman Mark] Miner responded, “With a name like that (WildEarth Guardians) we’re pleased that they’re against us.”

Am I the only one who thinks that Rick Perry would like nothing more than to get into a high profile fight with a bunch of out of state environmentalists? Talk about your red meat. Perry’s already touting his varmint-vanquishing abilities in Google ads, and being lauded for his valor by Sarah Palin. I guess the only thing that should surprise me about this is that it took him so long. BOR has more.

DART may take a big step back

Dallas Area Rapid Transit, which has built out a much more extensive rail network than Metro and which has plans for a lot more, may instead scrap most of those plans due to serious financial issues.

Final decisions are months away, but Chief Financial Officer David Leininger warned the board that DART probably will have to cut nearly a third of the spending it had planned between now and 2030.

Only one building project not already under construction or under contract – the final leg of the Orange Line to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport – is likely to be saved. And even that rail project will depend on how aggressively the board cuts overhead, including jobs.

Plans for a second light-rail line in downtown Dallas, until now scheduled to open in 2016, will no longer be funded and are likely to be scrapped unless other money can be found. The line has a projected cost of $505 million to $820 million.

Projects that are under construction, including the Green Line rail expansion to Carrollton, scheduled to open in December, and the first two legs of the Orange Line, due by 2012, will be unaffected.

Leininger said the board will need to trim $30 million to $50 million in annual operating expenses. The higher number will be required if DART wants to preserve the Orange Line leg to the airport, he said.


In March, DART officials said disappointing sales tax receipts had caused the agency to take a fuller look at its finances. The agency concluded that its sales tax projections were wildly optimistic.

DART’s revenue problems, the agency concluded, go beyond the recession and are unlikely to improve soon.

For 10 years, sales tax receipts have been essentially flat, Leininger said, and demographic changes in DART’s 13 member cities, especially those in Dallas County, mean sales-tax revenue will probably grow slowly even when the economy recovers.

Dallas County’s population used to be younger, richer and better educated than the national average. By all of those measures, that’s no longer the case, he said.

The new forecasts reduce the agency’s sales tax receipts by $2.7 billion over the next 20 years. But the real impact on DART’s spending will be much higher because those tax receipts would have been used to borrow nearly $4 billion more and to secure about $1.4 billion in anticipated federal grants.

DART will no longer be able to count on any of that money. As a result, it will spend nearly $7.9 billion less by 2030 than the $27.2 billion its 20-year plan calls for now. That’s a reduction of about 29 percent.

That’s a huge amount of infrastructure investment that won’t get made, which will have its own negative effect on the area’s economy and growth. It’s quite the vicious cycle.

You can look at this in a few different ways. You can say “at least we’re better off than they are”, which assuming nothing goes wrong with the FTA is at least true for future construction projects. You can say “that may be us in the future”, which would be a damn shame. Or you can look at it as I do and say “We need to find a better way to fund our infrastructure needs, because they’re not going away”. Frankly, I’d like to see the federal government allocate more money to transit, and to make the process for getting that money more like the process for getting highway money. That’s beyond DART’s scope, but I feel confident they won’t be the only transit agency doing this sort of thing if we continue with business as usual. Oh, and for those of you who sneer at rail transit, remember that TxDOT is broke, too, and for the same basic reason – the funding mechanism we have in place for it is inadequate for its needs. We can’t fix either of these problems until we admit there is a problem that needs to be fixed.

Farmers Branch prepares to waste more money

It sure must be nice to have all these taxpayer dollars to spend on such frivolities.

[Farmers Branch] plans to appeal a court ruling against its ordinance, which would prevent landlords from renting houses or apartments to illegal immigrants — and it hopes to serve as an example to other communities trying to deal with illegal immigration.

“Farmers Branch is a town of law and order … a patriotic, American-loving town,” Mayor Tim O’Hare said. “I think this is important for America. It’s important to show other cities and towns that you can make a difference, you can stand up for what’s right.”

They’ve lost every court battle so far, while spending millions of dollars for the privilege of having their ordinances declared unconstitutional. And those costs keep going up.

A second team of lawyers submitted their legal fees and costs to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas shortly before midnight Monday The team consists of the ACLU of Texas, the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Earlier this month, the Bickel & Brewer Storefront law firm submitted a legal bill of $850,000. The two legal teams are linked by the consolidation of suits and their combined bill submitted to the court as the winning party is now nearly $2 million.

Farmers Branch Mayor Tim O’Hare called the legal bills submitted to the court “a joke.” He added, “When we win at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which I believe we will, we won’t pay one nickel of this.”

Did I mention that they’ve lost every step of the way so far? O’Hare is actually talking about the city’s reserve funds in that story, which is just beyond crazy. I suppose some people just have to learn these things the hard way.

HPD suspends eight for “excessive force”

Uh oh.

Eight Houston Police Department officers from the Westside command’s gang unit have been relieved of duty in an investigation into a videotaped incident of suspected excessive force used against a suspect, Houston police union officials confirmed tonight.

The incident, which happened last month, was captured on video by a surveillance camera at a self-storage business in southwest Houston. The videotape was forwarded to HPD and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office about a week later.

One HPD official, who asked not to be identified, said the officers were seen on the video using force against a burglary suspect after a chase.

One sergeant and seven officers were suspended with pay Tuesday, Mayor Annise Parker said.

More here. That has the potential to be all kinds of ugly, and is just exactly the sort of thing Mayor Parker needs to have to deal with right now. All I can say is I hope it’s not as bad as it sounds. Hair Balls has more, and a statement from Council Member Al Hoang, in whose district the alleged incident took place, is beneath the fold.


Interview with Chula Ross-Sanchez

Chula Ross-Sanchez

Chula Ross-Sanchez

I have one more interview for the Galveston city elections on May 8, that being with Chula Ross-Sanchez, who is running for Council District 6. She is a former member of the Planning Council whose non-reappointment caused a bit of a stir. She has a long history of advocacy for things like mitigating beach erosion and providing affordable housing.

Download the MP3 file

Early voting runs through next Tuesday. You can find early voting locations and hours here.

Will Texas make like Arizona?

If there’s been one small positive thing about the ridiculous Arizona anti-immigrant law, it’s been to remind the rest of the country that states besides Texas do crazy, inexplicable things as well. And I do believe that there’s a reason to be optimistic that in the end, people will learn that this was a terribly wrong thing to do. I’m also hopeful that while crazies like Rep. Debbie Riddle will propose legislation to do what Arizona has done, it won’t get anywhere. She’s done this before, without success, and I don’t see her getting any more traction on it next year.

I could be wrong about that, of course. The good news is that the political implications of Arizona’s actions may play in Bill White’s favor.

“In the best of all worlds, for White to win, there has to be a large Latino voter turnout,” said Jerry Polinard, a political scientist at the University of Texas Pan-American.

He said if the anti-immigration debate nationally is perceived as anti-Latino, it could spark a voter turnout that has not been there for Democrats in the past.

“This is almost like a gift to him,” Polinard said of White.

The anti-immigration voters already like Perry and do not need to be convinced to vote for him, Polinard said.

“What this does is make it harder for the governor to get back to the middle of the road,” he said.

True enough, but this isn’t really what Rick Perry wants to talk about. I doubt he’d have picked yesterday to tell us about that coyote he killed in February if he were eager to discuss Arizona. The list of what’s wrong with Rick Perry is several miles long, but for the most part he’s not been a demagogue on immigration; certainly, compared to some of his partymates, he’s downright reasonable. Sure, he’s tossed around the silly “sanctuary city” charge at Bill White, because he’s never not playing to the cheap seats, and he likes to talk big about frivolous money-wasters like border cameras, but I do believe that he’s unlikely to make a big deal out of this.

Jim Harrington, of the Texas Civil Rights Project, predicted “zero” chance of a similar effort here, saying Texas has “a different relationship with the Hispanic community.”

Such a push “would cause an enormous political transformation of the state a lot quicker than it’s happening at this point,” Harrington said. “It would galvanize the Hispanic community astronomically.”

Asked about the Arizona law, GOP Gov. Rick Perry and his Democratic challenger, Bill White, emphasized through spokespeople that immigration is a federal responsibility.

“You can take the political temperature by just looking at Rick Perry being quiet,” Harrington said.

I suspect Perry won’t change his approach much. He’ll keep bashing the federal government for its failures on fixing the immigration system while doing his usual macho posturing, but in keeping with his norms he won’t actually propose any solutions. White will likely stick to his “it’s a federal responsibility” line, which is true but carries the risk of annoying supporters who want to see him take a stronger stand against measures like Arizona’s. Sometimes, just not being the Republican isn’t enough.

Still, it’s important to remember that even if Rick Perry is kinda not too bad on immigration issues, many members of his party, like Riddle and Leo Berman, are nuts. And this is a serious schism in the GOP that isn’t going away any time soon.

The Texas Association of Business’ Bill Hammond said that while it is likely similar legislation will be filed in the Lone Star State, “I think and hope there’s little likelihood the Texas Legislature would pass anything so misguided as what they’ve done in Arizona. I think it is blatantly unconstitutional.”

Hey, Bill, here’s a suggestion. Instead of blowing smoke about health care, why not do something that you’re actually good at and find primary challengers for clowns like Riddle and Berman, who are the ones pushing this legislation that you say is hurtful and unconstitutional? I know, it’s too late for this year, and by 2012 it may not matter. Point is, this is something you could have taken action on if it really mattered to you.

UPDATE: The Trib has Perry’s statement, which is pretty much what I expected.

Public defender office gets OK from Commissioners Court


The Harris County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to start a public defender office on an experimental basis, as long as the state covers the $4.4 million cost for the first year.

The unanimous vote authorizes the county to apply for a grant from the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense. If awarded the money, Harris County would open an office with lawyers dedicated to representing indigent defendants full time in October. It would start with mis demeanor mental health cases and felony appeals cases.

Within two years, it would expand to a staff of 68 handling about 6,400 criminal cases of all types in the civil and district courts. The office’s lawyers would be involved in about half of all felony appeals, about a quarter of juvenile cases and smaller percentages of adult misdemeanors and felonies, according to projections provided by Caprice Cosper, director of the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

A public defender office would not replace the current system, in which judges choose defense counsel for the indigent from a randomly generated list of lawyers. The result would be a hybrid system for indigent defense in which the public defender and judge-appointed lawyers would share the caseload.

You can learn more about the Task Force on Indigent Defense here; my thanks to Scott Henson for leaving a comment in my previous post about them. Here’s hoping the grant application is successful.

Debating about having a debate

We will eventually have televised debates between Rick Perry and Bill White. But first we have to sit through the kabuki dance.

Belo Corp., the company that owns WFAA and TV stations in Austin, Houston and San Antonio, sponsored a statewide debate during the Republican primary and invited Perry and White to debate this fall.

White accepted. But Perry’s campaign spokesman, Mark Miner, says not yet.

“Once he releases his income taxes and tells the public how he made his money while in public service and as a business person, we’ll be more than happy to discuss debates,” Miner said.

The Perry campaign demands White release returns for all six years he served as Houston’s mayor and two years as deputy energy secretary in 1990s.

White has released only his 2009 tax return since he’s running for a statewide office just as Perry has since 1991. White said he will disclose specific information when asked.

“We’ll take in consideration releasing tax returns or parts of those tax returns,” White said. “We’ve been providing information from them to journalists as time goes on. I just want there to be a standard that’s applicable to all candidates.”

Of course Rick Perry doesn’t want to debate Bill White. He’s an incumbent with a lousy record to defend; why would he want to go on TV and have to answer for it?

The tax return issue that Perry keeps harping on is just an excuse for Perry’s dodge. As Jason Embry has pointed out, several current statewide officeholders have not released full tax returns for the years they have been in office. If it weren’t for that, there would be some other reason why he didn’t want to debate. BOR and EoW have more.

The big picture for health care reform in Texas

The number you need to know is four point two million.

Texas’ uninsured population will drop from 6.5 million this year to 2.3 million once the federal health care overhaul is fully implemented, and about a third of the remaining uninsured will likely be illegal immigrants, [Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs] said Thursday.

Four point two million people in Texas who do not currently have health insurance will eventually have it, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Four point two million people. When Greg Abbott talks about his frivolous lawsuit to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he should be asked why he doesn’t want those 4.2 million people to have health insurance. When Rick Perry and his minions talk about the magic of the free market as the real solution to providing health insurance to people who don’t have it, they should be asked what they intend to do for those 4.2 million people. More to the point, they should be asked why they haven’t done it already. Rick Perry, David Dewhurst, and Greg Abbott are all running for their third full term in their office. They’ve had plenty of time and a legislature full of their fellow Republicans to deal with this problem. If they don’t like the solution President Obama and the Congressional Democrats have created, they had plenty of time to come up with one of their own. But they haven’t, and because of that we have all these uninsured people that the Affordable Care Act will help. Four point two million people. That’s the bottom line.

CCA overturns “checks aren’t cash” appeals verdict

For once, their pro-prosecution proclivities were good for something.

The Austin appeals court erred in deciding that the state’s money-laundering statute – used to prosecute associates of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay – did not apply to transfers made via checks, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled today.

The court’s 9-0 decision also upheld the state’s election laws prohibiting corporations from making political contributions to candidates. DeLay’s associates – John Colyandro and Jim Ellis – had challenged the law as an unconstitutional infringement on First Amendment rights.


In 2008, the appeals court ruled that the money-laundering law did not apply to Colyandro and Ellis because it did not specifically refer to checks.

The law reads: “A person commits an offense if the person knowingly … conducts, supervises, or facilitates a transaction involving the proceeds of criminal activity.” The law defines proceeds as coin or paper money, U.S. Treasury notes and silver certificates and official foreign bank notes.

However, in its ruling today, the state’s highest criminal court chastised the lower court for applying an improper legal standard to its analysis of the money laundering statute.

Writing for the Court of Criminal Appeals, Presiding Judge Sharon Keller said Colyandro and Ellis improperly challenged the constitutionality of the money-laundering statute in a pretrial petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The appeals court had no authority to determine that the law only applies to cash payments, Keller wrote.

You can read the opinion here; thanks to TPJ for the pointer. See background here, here, here, and here. As Vince notes, this ought to clear the way once and for all for Tom DeLay and his buddies to be put on trial for money laundering for the illegal use of corporate campaign contributions in the 2002 election. The wheels do grind slowly, don’t they? I don’t know when the case will finally hit the courtroom, but I do know this: If DeLay appears for his day in court wearing his “Dancing with the Stars” costume, I’ll write a $100 check to the charity of his choice. BOR has more.

UPDATE: More from the Trib.

Don’t play ball with the state of Arizona

What Kevin Blackistone says.

About 10 years ago, the NCAA made one of its most bold and upright decisions: it refused to allow any more of its postseason tournaments, like March Madness, to be held in South Carolina until the state stopped flying the banner of the long defeated racist Confederacy in the face of 21st century societal progress.

NCAA spokesman Bob Williams explained at the time that the organization wanted to “ensure that our championships are free from any type of symbolism that might make someone uncomfortable based on their race.”

As such, it is time for the governors of college athletics to expand their postseason ban. Arizona should be next, immediately.

The University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., should lose the BCS National Championship Game scheduled to be played there next January unless Arizona legislators rescind soon and for good an anti-immigration law they just passed that gives police the right to stop and search for documents anyone police suspect of being in the country illegally.

After all, that law means racially profiling people who appear to be Hispanic, no matter what Arizona lawmakers claim. That means making an entire group of people, as the NCAA spokesman said, uncomfortable in Arizona because of their heritage. That’s unquestionably wrong.

In my previous post, I mentioned former Arizona Governor (and world class bozo) Evan Mecham, whose racist antics cost his state a Super Bowl, among other things. Evan Weiner recalls that, and notes that there are other sporting events that may – ought to – be yanked until the Arizona Lege makes amends.

The Glendale, Arizona stadium, that is the home to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals and hosted the 2008 Super Bowl, is one of the 18 cities that has been proposed for use by USA Bid Committee in an effort to win the FIFA World Cup in either 2018 or 2022.

Houston is on that list as well, with the Dynamo ownership being on the USA Bid Committee. Note to local activists: Why not put a little pressure on the Dynamo to raise a stink about this? If there’s going to be any real blowback against Arizona for this bit foolishness, it’s got to come from the grassroots, and this is a good entry point. Here’s their contact info:


1001 Avenida de las Americas, Ste. 200
Houston, TX 77010

Phone: (713) 276-7500
Fax: (713) 276-7572
E-mail: [email protected]


Let them know, politely, that you don’t want any Arizona city included on the USA Bid Committee’s list for the FIFA World Cup, and that you would like the Dynamo to take a stand on the matter. If you’re a Dynamo fan, especially if you’re a season ticket holder, make sure they know that as well. They have an interest in keeping their fans happy. Obviously, the Dynamo haven’t done anything wrong, but this is how stuff gets done.

And Astros fans can get involved, too.

Major League Baseball is set to hold its 2011 All-Star Game in Phoenix, where the Diamondbacks play, and activists are calling on MLB to pull the game out of Arizona in protest of the new law. The idea is being espoused by activist bloggers at Daily Kos and, hosting a petition on its website to move the All-Star Game out of Arizona.

Some are calling on baseball fans to boycott at least one MLB game. A Facebook group is specifically calling on fans to boycott the Arizona Diamondbacks’ May 7 home game against the Milwaukee Brewers. The group wants the D-Backs to state a position on the new law.

There’s hashtag, #AZMLBB, being used on Twitter for discussion of this movement.

Unfortunately, the Astros do not display Contact information as prominently as the Dynamo do, so you may have to figure out the best way to let them know how you feel yourselves. They’re on Facebook here. As with the Dynamo, they too will want to keep their fans happy. Stace has more.

It’s always something

Good news for Metro.

The “forensic accounting review” by UHY Advisors examined all business expense reports submitted to Metro by its chief executive, Frank Wilson, and chief of staff, Joanne Wright. Both joined Metro in May 2004; Wilson previously was Wright’s supervisor for two years at the New Jersey Department of Transportation and for seven years at a private company, the report states.

The review found that Metro had paid business expenses totaling more than $111,000 for Wilson and more than $29,000 for Wright. While working for Metro, Wright and Wilson took 16 business trips together to cities including Dallas, Washington, San Diego, Chicago and Vancouver, the consultants found.

“There were no expenses submitted by either Mr. Wilson or Ms. Wright that appeared to be improper,” the report states.

Basically, this says that Wilson and Wright didn’t forget their receipts, and didn’t submit any expense claims that were not business-related. It made no opinion about whether or not they were necessary, but as the headline said, there were no red flags. Putting it in more relevant terms for Frank Wilson, nothing of the sort that would get a person fired.

Not so good news for Metro.

A potential new obstacle to federal funding for two of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s planned light-rail lines emerged Tuesday as officials questioned whether Metro had complied with “Buy America” rules in procuring its rail cars.

The Federal Transit Administration’s chief counsel, Dorval R. Carter Jr., said it was his understanding that Metro and its Spanish rail car vendor planned to assemble two pilot rail cars in Spain. Federal rules require final assembly of “rolling stock” in the United States, Carter said in a letter to Frank Wilson, Metro’s president and chief executive officer.

Metro board chairman Gilbert Garcia said he would discuss this issue, among others, in meetings in Washington today with FTA officials. Garcia said he was confident any problems could be resolved.

Metro is awaiting $900 million in grants from the FTA for its North and Southeast rail lines, two of the five lines it plans to build in the next three to four years. Metro officials said this week that they expected to receive final approval of the grants by July.

FTA spokesman Paul Griffo said the agency wouldn’t speculate on the effect non-compliance with Buy America rules might have on Metro’s grant.

You just have to marvel sometimes at the agency’s ability to find bumps in the road. It’s truly uncanny. Note also that it was Wilson and Wright’s trips to Spain that were at the heart of the canoodling allegations that led to the review of their expense accounts. If this issue causes any problems, it would certainly be a firing offense.

And speaking of things that may or may not put that $900 million grant in jeopardy, you may have seen this breathless KHOU story from last week, which was a followup to this previous story in which it was claimed that Metro deliberately misled the FTA about sales tax revenue projections in order to preserve the viability of its bid for those grants. An awful lot was made in that story about what seemed like a fairly boilerplate response from the FTA and a couple of comments from UH economist Barton Smith, whose projections Metro had used. Well, Lisa Falkenberg spoke to Dr. Smith about what he said, and it turns out there’s more to it than what was aired:

Asked if KHOU characterized the situation accurately, Smith didn’t hesitate: “No,” he said, adding that the report leads viewers to the wrong conclusions.

“The problem is that they’re focusing on the one piece of information and not the whole thing,” he told me.

Greenblatt quoted Smith as saying: “The feds ought’ve been given the updated numbers.”

But Smith told me the comment was taken out of context: “He must have asked that question five different times trying to pull that answer out of me.”


If you want to argue that Metro should have submitted the newest sales tax revenue projections, Smith said, then they should have submitted all new projections, some of which would have benefitted Metro by reducing project costs.

The same recession that Smith forecasted would bring down sales tax revenue 16.6 percent by 2015 would also bring down construction costs by 16.7 percent, rail equipment by 14.9 percent, labor by 7 percent, fuel by 5.1 percent, and so on.

Yeah, somehow that never made it into the story. Funny how these things work. Metro Chair Gilbert Garcia is in DC this week talking to the FTA, so whatever obstacles there may be that we didn’t already know about, we ought to know about by the time he comes back. And in three months the grants that Metro awaits will be officially awarded, so we can stop speculating about what might happen with them and move on to speculating about what may come next.

Where’s Gail?

This morning at 9 AM in Austin, a hearing will be held by various legislative groups including the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the Legislative Study Group, the House Black Caucus, and Senate Hispanic Caucus, to discuss the recent changes to the social studies curriculum. You know, the whole dropping of Thomas Jefferson thing and all that. The legislators requested the presence> of SBOE Chair Gail Lowe. She declined, because really, what can she say? So it will go on without her. That’s pretty much how it is these days with the SBOE.

Maybe they should try abstinence-only

Birth control for feral hogs. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

There’s a saying that when a feral hog has six piglets, only eight are expected to survive.

That’s no joke in Texas, however, where the 400-pound beasts do an estimated $50 million in damage to crops and property each year. Texas has half the nation’s feral hogs, but they’re now found in about 38 other states, up from fewer than 20 states 15 years ago.

One Texas researcher had hoped to slow their rapid reproduction with a birth control pill, but that hasn’t worked out well.

Two compounds proved ineffective. One required a very exact dose to work, and the other wore off too soon, said Duane Kraemer, a Texas A&M University veterinarian and researcher.

There also are the problems of getting the hogs to take the drug, keeping it from other animals and ensuring humans who eat hog meat aren’t harmed.

And don’t even ask about the hog condom, or trying to teach them the rhythm method. Not a pretty sight, that’s all I can say.

OK, OK, it’s easy for a citified urban elitist like me to joke about this kind of thing, but feral hogs are a huge environmental and agricultural pest, and there’s not much we can do about them right now that’s helping. I wish Dr. Kraemer and his crew the best of luck in making progress on this problem.

Texas blog roundup for the week of April 26

The Texas Progressive Alliance can’t believe that school is finishing up and summer will soon be upon us. Before it gets too hot, here’s a look at what’s been going on this past week.


Why these term limits?

David Mincberg has an op-ed about the city’s term limits law that makes some interesting points but doesn’t quite get at the issue of whether the system we actually have now is the best way to meet the goals of better and more diverse representation in Houston’s government.

Back in 1991, Republican Clymer Wright led the successful movement to limit Houston’s mayor and council members to three terms that total six years. Over the past 19 years, besides the turnover in mayors, Houston’s had five controllers examining the city’s budget.

At the same time, the wide-ranging turnover in council members has led to a City Council that mirrors a very diverse city. The days when council members held onto their positions for decades — collecting ever-greater campaign contributions from more and more city contractors — are mostly a distant memory.

Term limits have created a more open, transparent city government with fewer conflicts of interest. Coupled with financial reform, they are working as hoped. Restrictions on the amount of campaign contributions and blackout periods for contributions are working.

Mincberg spends a fair amount of time in his piece noting that while Houston’s government has undergone a lot of turnover since 1991, County Commissioners Steve Radack and Jerry Eversole, who is uncontested for re-election and is expected to resign shortly afterward so a successor can be appointed, are still in office. I’ve made the same observation and agree that the lack of interest by the Clymer Wright crowd about this is curious, to say the least, but we’ll leave that for another day. One must acknowledge that all it took to change the city’s law was a single referendum, whereas imposing term limits on Harris County Commissioners Court would require legislative intervention and a constitutional amendment, which is a much steeper hill to climb. It’s still telling to me that no one seems to care much about it, certainly not anywhere near as much as the city’s term limits law.

That’s not what I want to talk about. The question, given that we’re stuck with term limits whether I like them or not, is whether the term limits law we have is fine as it is or if it should be changed in some fashion. I would agree with Mincberg that Houston’s government today is more diverse and representative of Houston’s changing population than it was in 1991, though how much of that is directly attributable to term limits is not clear to me. The fact that Houston is a lot more diverse now than it was even 20 years ago suggests to me that some of that change would have happened on its own. But surely having a steady supply of open Council seats has helped make that happen more rapidly, and term limits gets the credit for that.

Still, just having open Council seats hasn’t meant that people of color will win them, or even run for them. We’ve had exactly two Latino At Large Council members since 1991, none since Orlando Sanchez in 2001. When I interviewed Vidal Martinez and former Council Member John Castillo last year about their lawsuit to force City Council to be redistricted and expanded, I asked them why we didn’t see more Latinos running citywide. Their answer was that it costs a lot of money to do that, and that’s a barrier to entry for many Latino hopefuls. Term limits don’t do anything about that, and neither have the financial reforms of which Mincberg speaks. The solution that I would suggest is a form of public financing for city campaigns, in which matching funds are made available for small-dollar contributions.

Even when Latino candidates do run for At Large seats, they often don’t get a lot of financial support. Rick Rodriguez early on announced a slew of high profile endorsements for the At Large #1 race last year, but ultimately raised little money. Joe Trevino made it to the runoff for At Large #5 in 2007, but also attracted little monetary help. No term limits law will change this dynamic.

And let’s be honest. Even with the reforms that have been implemented, it’s still the case that candidates who can raise the most money tend to win, and much of the money these candidates do raise comes from the many special interest PACs that operate in the city. In this past election, in the five open seat Council races, at least four were won by the candidate that got the most PAC money. The one possible exception is Al Hoang, who still took in a decent chunk of PAC money but who also had an impressive amount of mostly small-dollar donations from individuals. Maybe we’re okay with this as it is. Maybe we like the alternatives, like the one I’ve suggested, even less. All I know is we’re only focusing on one part of the equation, and I think that’s inadequate.

The other question I’d raise about term limits is whether setting them at three two-year terms, for a total of six years in office, is optimal. We can debate the experience-versus-new-perspectives ideas all we want, but I look at it this way: It’s exceedingly rare for an incumbent Council member to face a serious electoral challenge. Once you’re in, you’re in for three terms. We did happen to have two incumbents get forced into runoffs this past year, though only one faced an opponent with real resources, and that was a genuine novelty. If you want to run for a Council seat, why would you bother going against an incumbent? You know the PAC money will be against you, and besides, it’s only six years to wait your turn for the open seat. Better to court the power brokers in the interim and make the pitch that you should be next in line than tilt at windmills. To me, this strongly suggests that allowing for longer terms in office, whether eight, ten, or twelve years, would lead to there being more truly contested races each election. The longer people have to wait for a seat to come open, the higher the likelihood that impatience will kick in, and the greater the pressure to take on an incumbent who is performing poorly. Couple that with some kind of reform that makes it easier for a challenger to raise money, and you might see serious challenges as the norm and not the exception. That’s the point at which I might agree we’ve got a system that truly promotes democracy. Maybe we can even apply it to county government some day.

Papers, please

So if you were to be pulled over by the police today, say for speeding or something, would you be able to prove that you’re a citizen, as the state of Arizona will now require? I don’t know about you, but I’m not in the habit of carrying my passport or birth certificate with me when I go about my daily business. I suppose I could show them my voters registration card, but the Republican Party has spent the past few years trying to convince us that isn’t sufficient identification for voting purposes, so I don’t see how it could be good enough to prove that I belong here. No, I’m thinking it’s going to have to be passports and birth certificates for everyone, unless Arizona decides to issue its own government-issued “Please Don’t Deport Me” ID cards. I’m old enough to remember when conservatives thought that was a Very Bad Idea, but I suppose things are different now.

Of course, I’d never get asked by a cop for my papers because I don’t look like an immigrant. Only folks who arouse valid reasons for suspicion of their legal status, for reasons other than looking or sounding like an immigrant because that would be racial profiling, which the state of Arizona promises us will totally never happen just as it’s never happened anyplace else, will be asked to produce their docs. So in the unlikely event I need to travel to Arizona – I do not intend to choose to visit there any time soon; seriously, have they learned nothing from the Evan Mecham experience? – I shouldn’t need to bring my passport with me.

Anyway. I join with religious leaders, President Obama, State Rep. Garnet Coleman, and many local activists in condemning this racist and retrograde legislation. Hell, even the country’s most notorious xenophobe thinks Arizona went too far. The sooner it is overturned, and the sooner we quit doing stupid things like this, the better.

White in West Texas

West Texas has not been friendly territory for Democrats lately, and won’t be any more so this year, but that doesn’t stop Bill White from seeking out support there.

The Texas Panhandle town of Canadian, where morning weather reports include southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas and the Oklahoma panhandle, is a long way from Houston — 590 miles, to be exact.

The leafy little town on the banks of the Canadian River, population 2,300, also is a far piece politically from the Democratically inclined Bayou City. “Most folks are Republicans up here,” said Lee Haygood, a rancher and futures trader who had just shaken hands with a former Houston mayor who wants to be his governor. “We’re so far from Houston, I don’t think anyone knows who Bill White is.”

The Democratic gubernatorial hopeful ventured into those foreign political climes recently, seeking “common ground” with Amarillo business leaders, a fundamentalist minister who hosts a popular local talk show, Canadian civic leaders and Panhandle newspaper publishers and editors. “We’re picking up support where we can find it,” White said. “We’re not going to neglect the small towns like people in our party sometimes have done.”

More here. It’s a good story about White reaching out to people who normally vote Republican but who aren’t particularly thrilled with Rick Perry. These are voters White will need to win, and what they need is a reason to believe that they will in fact get something better than what they already have when they decide for whom to vote. Bill White is the devil they don’t know, and his job is to de-mystify himself to these folks.

Now contrast all of that to the devil we all know, who spent the weekend helping to make “honorary Texan” Glenn Beck a wealthier man while giving the same “aw, shucks” routine about his Presidential ambitions. When was the last time Rick Perry voluntarily engaged with people who weren’t already his supporters? Of course, he doesn’t need to, or at least he doesn’t believe he needs to, which explains just about everything about his style of campaigning and governing. There are many ways in which one can compare and contrast Rick Perry and Bill White, but this one speaks volumes to me.

Lawsuit over grading policies

A number of school districts, mostly in the Houston area, have a policy of not giving kids a grade lower than 50 in any grading period. The idea is that by setting a floor on grades, it gives kids the chance to still eventually pass the class, which in turn gives them a reason to keep trying. A law passed in the last legislative session has been interpreted by the Texas Education Agency to disallow that practice. The school districts have filed suit to be able to keep doing it their way.

Minimum-grading policies, according to the school districts, are part of a strategy to prevent dropouts because they give students a mathematical shot at passing a course — if they earn high enough marks in other grading periods. For example, a student who received a 30 grade for the first six weeks but passed the next five grading periods with 75s, still would fail the course, with a 68. But if the school gave the student a 50, instead of a 30, the cumulative grade would be passing.

“We’re not giving passing grades. A 50 is way below failing,” Alief school board member Sarah Winkler said in defense of her district’s policy. “All we’re doing is giving them a grade that if they put forth significant effort they would be able to pass. What would be the point of a student making any effort if they cannot pass?”

[State Education Commissioner Robert] Scott, in his response to the lawsuit, characterizes the districts’ claims as illogical.

“Under the districts’ interpretation, a student could complete no assignments and still get a 50 on his or her report card,” the response says. “This interpretation would render the entire statute meaningless … and there would be no purpose to requiring actual grades on assignments and examinations.”

From the testimony given, it seems the school districts have a legitimate gripe.

According to the school districts’ attorney, David Feldman, Scott “totally jumped the gun” by sending a memo to every superintendent in the state in October 2009 explaining that the grading law applies to all types of grades.

David Anderson, the general counsel of the Texas Education Agency, which Scott runs, testified that Scott was simply explaining his understanding of the law, not overstepping his bounds by creating a new rule.

But when questioned about the actual language of the law, he conceded it did not specifically refer to report card grades or cumulative grades.

“That phrase is not in the statute,” Anderson said repeatedly.

Strictly from a policy perspective, I can see both sides on this. I don’t have a firm opinion one way or the other as to which is preferable. But based on what was reported here, it does sound like Commissioner Scott overreached. The Trib has more.

Still trying to save the Dome

Nancy Sarnoff reports.

A new page has sprung up on Facebook called Save the Astrodome.

It was created by the Houstonian behind, a Web site aimed at bringing attention to the city’s disappearing landmarks.

The creator compares the Astrodome to the Eiffel Tower and wonders, “what else it could be.”

That’s the question, isn’t it? As noted before, none of the ideas that have been floated for what to do with the Dome seem to have gone anywhere. I’m sure some of that is a function of the economy, but none of those schemes had gotten much traction before things went south, either. If you can solve the “what to do with it” problem, the rest takes care of itself. And please, the “why not let it be the new home of the Dynamo?” question has long been answered and was never a viable option anyway. I go back and forth on this, but in the end this is what it will come down to. If there’s something that can be done with it, I believe it will. If not, well, kaboom. It’s as simple as that.

Interview with Joe Jaworski

Joe Jaworski

Joe Jaworski

Today is the start of early voting for the May 8 uniform election date in Texas. There’s not a whole lot happening in Harris County, but down in Galveston they will be electing a new Mayor to succeed the term-limited Lida Ann Thomas. One of the candidates running, the one I would be voting for if I lived in Galveston, is Joe Jaworski, who served three terms on Galveston’s City Council from 2000 to 2006 and made a spirited but unsuccessful run against State Sen. Mike Jackson in 2008. I’m obviously not following Galveston’s elections very closely, but I wanted to interview Jaworski about his candidacy, and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do so:

Download the MP3 file

I have one more Galveston election interview lined up and will present it later this week. Early voting runs through next Tuesday. You can find early voting locations and hours here.

Where does your school rank?

How good is your neighborhood school? Not just in terms of its Texas Education Agency’s rating, but in comparison to other schools? Here’s a way to find out.

The greater Houston area is home to some of the best — and worst — public schools in Texas, according to the 2010 Children at Risk/ Houston Chronicle rankings.

The Houston Independent School District boasts seven campuses among the state’s top elementary, middle and high schools, but it also has four that placed at the bottom. The Fort Bend and Alief districts each had one school among the state’s best, while five charter schools in Harris County landed at the bottom.

Children at Risk has ranked area high schools, primarily based on student achievement data, since 2006, but this is the first time the nonprofit advocacy group has rated local elementary and middle schools. The rankings use a formula created in consultation with the Chronicle’s education reporting staff.

The full list was in yesterday’s print edition. A searchable database is available at the Chron and also at the Texas Trib, which adds a few items as well. The Trib delves more into how these rankings came about.

When Children At Risk first started ranking Texas public schools five years ago, it only named the top performers, wary of embarrassing educators and students at campuses that didn’t measure up.

The hesitance emerged even though widespread educational failure had prompted the project in the first place, says Robert Sanborn, the president and CEO of the Houston-based nonprofit advocacy and research organization. The rankings grew out of a conference at Rice University that focused on high school graduation and featured John Hopkins Researcher Robert Balfouz, who talked about “drop-out factories.”

“At first, we didn’t want to make any high schools look bad,” Sanborn says. “But we’ve changed that over the years. What we’ve found is that [spotlighting low-performing schools] proved to be a tremendous advocacy tool for parents — they can ask, ‘Why isn’t my school better?’”

So now, the group’s rankings — including the ones we’re publishing today, for most public schools in Texas — lay out the worst schools along with the best and every gradation in between. That’s a stark contrast from the state’s accountability system, which simply groups schools in one of four broad performance categories: Exemplary, Recognized, Acceptable, and Unacceptable. Though Children at Risk uses some of the same data that are the basis for the Texas Education Agency’s “ratings,” it does something that TEA doesn’t: It gives every school a hard number that compares its performance with that of every other school.

“You see the best in the state and the worst in the state,” Sanborn says. “This isn’t a PR campaign — they are straight-up rankings. … We used to have [district] superintendents angry with us, arguing this isn’t the right way to measure, but they’ve gotten away from that.”

Sanborn was in the studio for Houston Have Your Say: Education Crisis last week. He had an interesting idea about Houston’s high schools in the Chron story:

While HISD had eight high schools ranked in the top tier in the state, the district had double that in the bottom quarter. Jones was listed as the worst high school in the Houston area and the sixth-worst in Texas.

HISD is planning to turn Jones into a magnet school for science, technology, engineering and mathematics that would be open to students across the city.

To Sanborn’s way of thinking, “Big, comprehensive urban high schools do not work. That’s something we see across the whole state.” He suggests smaller, specialized schools would help engage students.

Hair Balls wrote about the Jones proposal last month. Large suburban high schools still do pretty well, though I suspect they will come to have similar issues as their urban counterparts over time.

Anyway. I’m glad and not surprised to see our neighborhood elementary school ranked highly, not glad and not surprised to see our neighborhood middle school ranked poorly, and not prepared to start thinking about our neighborhood high school just yet. How did your schools do?

Another step forward for a public defender’s office

I’m not sure exactly what this entails, but it’s good to see progress.

Harris County plans to launch a limited public defender office in October if it receives a $4.4 million state grant.

The office would start with 30 people defending the indigent on appeals of felony cases and in misdemeanor cases with mentally ill defendants.

If approved, the state money would cover the cost of the office for the first year and a decreasing share of the costs the following three years. At the same time, the public defender office would expand to take on adult felony defendants and juvenile defendants on its way to becoming a full-service in-house defense firm for local criminal court cases.

Currently, judges appoint lawyers for indigient defendants from a randomly generated list. The county spent $33.8 million last year on court-appointed defense.

The proposed public defender office would not replace the current system, but result in a hybrid, said Caprice Cosper, director of Harris County’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

See here, here, and here for some background. I don’t know what state funds are being applied for or what the criteria are for getting them, but I presume the ducks will be in order. There’s an item on tomorrow’s Commissioners Court agenda to deal with it. As you know, I think a public defender’s office is a good idea, and I’m glad to see progress being made on implementing it.

San Antonio proposes texting-while-driving ban

It may wind up being a bit more than that.

The days of eating double-bacon cheeseburgers, putting on makeup and sending text messages from behind the wheel could be numbered in the Alamo City.

Police Chief William McManus on Wednesday made a pitch to the City Council’s Governance Committee for a citywide ordinance that would “prohibit failing to pay full-time attention to driving.” His recommendation stemmed from a memo from District 4 interim Councilwoman Leticia Cantu, who is seeking a ban on texting while driving.

Cantu said she decided to push for an ordinance after a recent near-miss in which she and her 18-year-old daughter were almost hit by an oncoming driver. “The guy was texting,” she said.

That first bit would be the stuff of Ken Hoffman‘s nightmares, but I rather doubt it will happen. My guess is that San Antonio will follow the example of many other Texas cities and simply ban texting while driving. And again, I expect this to come up before the Lege next year, with the goal being a single statewide standard for this.

The Texas Stadium geological survey

When Texas Stadium went boom, in addition to providing space for transit-oriented development, the explosion itself provided the opportunity to do a seismological study of the area.

Dr. Jay Pulliam is a professor of geophysics at Baylor University and one of the people spearheading the study. He said knowing more about the crust and mantle below the Dallas-Fort Worth area can shed light about how the planet’s continents were formed.

That’s because North Texas sits atop the dormant Balcones Fault zone. It’s a spot where continents once collided and pulled apart, eventually forming the Earth’s land mass as we know it today.

“It’s a really interesting story because it’s the site of one of these major plate tectonic occurrences,” Pulliam said.

Yet a good subsurface look at the zone has been difficult. The makeup of matter beneath the ground typically requires two things – energy sources like earthquakes and seismographs to record the waves they create. Texas has never had much of either.

Sounds like more data is needed. I’ll leave it up to the good folks of North Texas to decide which other stadia might be used for these purposes.

Weekend link dump for April 25

The day Einstein died.

No, the year 1880 wasn’t a libertarian paradise in America.

The BYU women’s rugby team had a tough decision to make.

The scientific case for butt-slapping.

Photographing the Iceland volcano, whose name I can neither spell nor pronounce.

Why does Jean-Paul Sartre hate Texas?

If there had been such a thing as a notebook computer in the 1970s, it would have been wood paneled.

Maybe I should rethink Miley Cyrus.

Clayton Williams, meet Jack Kimball.

How will you deal with the end of “Lost”?

Unleash the IRS.

As Atrios likes to say, facts are stupid things.

The rich keep getting richer.

Solving the TP problem.

The case for Tim Tebow as the anti-Roethlisberger.

I didn’t even know there was such a thing as eyelash glue.

The case for nutrition information at restaurants in a nutshell.

The Supreme Court is a series of tubes.

A chicken in every doctor’s office! And now you can calculate how many chickens you’ll need to pay for that MRI or whatever.

Why the teabaggers aren’t touching financial reform.

Diversity comes to Riverdale High School.

In case you needed a reminder why we needed health care reform.

More reconciliation, please.

Minnesota Republicans up the craziness ante.

Darn it, I forgot to celebrate Charles Krauthammer Day again this year. Next year for sure!

Nothing says “limited government” like invasive state-mandated medical procedures.

Those who forget the past are condemned to be duped again.

It’s just different when you’re A-Rod.

The anti-red light camera referendum drive begins

As we know, the anti-red light camera forces intend to collect enough petition signatures to put a charter referendum on the ballot this November. On Friday, they got started.

Because red-light camera citations remain outside the realm of tickets that can be contested with assistance from a lawyer, many who specialize in that work have lined up behind the anti-red-light camera effort.

The push to defend the cameras also has been joined by local furniture store magnate Jim McIngvale, signaling that the political fight over the devices could grow heated by the time it is expected to culminate in a November charter amendment vote.

Paul Kubosh, a lawyer who sent petition forms to more than 20,000 former clients Friday and is bankrolling the effort to seek voter rejection of the cameras, said the devices have increased accidents and do not free up police resources.

“Red-light cameras are dangerous,” he said. “What are they really for? There’s only one thing, and that’s money.”

For all his bleating about red light cameras being about money, I don’t think it had occurred to me before I read that first paragraph quoted above that Paul Kubosh also has a financial stake in this. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but let’s be clear about it.

This story doesn’t mention it, but the Chron story cited in that previous post said that 20,000 signatures were needed by July 1, and that Kubosh claimed to have “at least 50,000 registered voters in my client base”. Assuming they have the resources to get the forms in front of enough people, I don’t think they’ll have any trouble getting the signatures they need.

I’ve mentioned before that neither Paul nor Michael Kubosh is resident of the city of Houston, and thus are not eligible to vote in this referendum they want to force. Turns out that the same is true of camera defender Jim McIngvale. Am I the only person who’s annoyed by this?

There was a lot of discussion in my previous post about the successful effort last year in College Station to pass an anti-camera referendum. There were charges and counter-charges made by the opposing sides, and a post-election lawsuit that was filed over the wording of the referendum; according to Ballotpedia, the judge ultimately ruled that the wording of the referendum was unclear, but the city had already terminated its contract with camera company American Traffic Solutions, so the effect was nil. The Battalion link above mentioned a poll that showed a very similar level of support for the cameras among “likely” voters – 64% in College Station, 65% in Houston. I don’t know how they did their likely voter screen for that poll, but the average turnout for municipal elections in College Station is about eight percent. The 2009 referendum drew twice that amount; I’d guess the poll didn’t account for that possibility. I expect this year to be a higher turnout year than usual, but we’re not going to see anything like that. This referendum will surely be lower profile, relatively speaking, than the one in College Station, which had essentially nothing competing with it for voters’ attention. Whether either of these factors benefits the pro- or anti-camera side, I couldn’t say. We ought to be in for an interesting campaign.

Ray Brookins convicted

Ray Brookins, the former administrator of the Texas Youth Commission facility in Pyote who was indicted on charges of sexually assaulting teenagers at that facility in 2007 was convicted Thursday in Odessa.

The one-word verdict came after a four-day trial and a five-year investigation into a sex abuse scandal that prompted the restructuring of the Texas Youth Commission. A second former administrator, John Paul Hernandez, was also indicted on multiple counts and is awaiting trial.

In two full days of testimony, 11 witnesses testified against Brookins, including the victim himself. Prosecutors also presented DNA evidence that linked the victim’s sperm to Brookins’ office. Brookins did not testify, and the defense offered no witnesses of its own.

If you need a refresher on the TYC scandal, this Observer story by Nate Blakeslee is a great resource. Brookins was sentenced to ten years, and will file an appeal. The trial of Brookins’ co-offender Hernandez will follow later. Grits has more.

Amnesty for the Driver Responsibility surcharges

Scott Henson has a nice op-ed in the DMN about implementing a real amnesty program for those who cannot afford to pay Driver Responsibility surcharges and can’t get their licenses back until they do.

In 2007, the Legislature gave the Department of Public Safety’s governing body, the Public Safety Commission, a mandate and broad authority to fix the program. Last year lawmakers required the agency to establish an indigency program. The safety commission recently published rules in the Texas Register to create just that and will hold a public hearing regarding them at the Capitol on Monday.

But the proposed changes don’t go nearly far enough, and the safety commission has authority to more substantially revamp the program to mitigate its most significant problems. It should do so.

The most gaping omission: The Department of Public Safety failed to propose an “amnesty” program to relieve the backlog of 1.2 million drivers who’ve already defaulted on the surcharge. This not only is bad public policy, encouraging 1.2 million drivers to remain unlicensed and uninsured, it actually leaves money on the table for the state. Potentially a lot of it.

If just one-third of them participated in a one-time amnesty program that let them get their license reinstated for, say, $250 (many owe thousands in back surcharges), it could generate up to $100 million in the near term.

That sure would be nice to have at a time like this, wouldn’t it? Go read the whole thing.

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”

From the twisted mind that brought us Pride and Prejudice and Zombies comes a new work that sounds just as excellent. Here’s the nickel description, from the Murder by the Book email newsletter:

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (by Seth Grahame-Smith; Grand Central; $21.99) From the best-selling author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! Indiana, 1818. Moonlight falls through the dense woods that surround a one-room cabin, where a nine-year-old Abraham Lincoln kneels at his suffering mother’s bedside. She’s been stricken with something the old-timers call “Milk Sickness.” “My baby boy…” she whispers before dying. Only later will the grieving Abe learn that his mother’s fatal affliction was actually the work of a vampire. When the truth becomes known to young Lincoln, he writes in his journal, “henceforth my life shall be one of rigorous study and devotion. I shall become a master of mind and body. And this mastery shall have but one purpose…” Gifted with his legendary height, strength, and skill with an ax, Abe sets out on a path of vengeance that will lead him all the way to the White House. While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years. Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true life story of our greatest president for the first time-all while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation.

You always suspected as much, right? Here’s a positive review of the book, whose movie rights have already been bought by Tim Burton; its predecessor is also headed to the big screen. I can’t wait.