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June, 2010:

Who wants to answer for Rick Perry’s policies?

There was a hearing of the House Public Education Committee yesterday to discuss the Texas Education Agency’s controversial methodology for rating school districts, but the person responsible for that metric declined to show up to explain it.

Rep. Scott Hochberg, chairman of an appropriations subcommittee overseeing the education budget, was not too pleased that Education Commissioner Robert Scott stood up the committee on Tuesday.

Scott’s absence, Hochberg said, reminded legislators once again that “the commissioner only works for one person and he’s the person who lives in that other house.”


The main issue Hochberg and the other members wanted to discuss with Scott was the use of the Texas Projection Measure to improve schools’ ratings under the state accountability system.

Used for the first time last year, the measure is intended to show whether a student who fails the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills is projected to pass the test within the next three years. If so, that student counts as passing for the school’s rating.

Some people have called into question whether the measure is providing an overly sunny picture of improving school performance. For instance, of the 74 school districts that were newly rated exemplary last year, 73 of them earned that highest distinction because the Texas Projection Measure lifted their passing rates.

Hochberg said such a significant one-year increase made him question whether the improved ratings last year was a function of better performance or a faulty measure. He cited an example in which 4th-grader who earned a zero on the writing test could count as passing if he or she had barely passing scores on the math and reading tests.

He suggested that the measure should not be used again when the 2010 scores are released on July 30.

It would be nice to know what Perry appointee Scott had to say about this, but he ducked and covered and left the task to his underlings, who got good and grilled in Scott’s absence. I guess I can’t blame Scott for taking a powder – I wouldn’t want to have to answer for anything the Perry administration is responsible for if I could help it.

Hurricane Alex

Stay safe, everyone.

Heavy downpours and possible coastal flooding are forecast for the next few days in the Houston area as Hurricane Alex churns in the Gulf of Mexico and then slams ashore along the northern Mexican coast south of Brownsville.

The rain and flooding lessen later this week as Alex moves inland across north Mexico and through the weekend.

Currently a Category 1 hurricane packing winds up to 80 mph, the storm may strengthen to become a Category 2, which would have winds between 96-110 mph, just before smashing ashore sometime early Thursday.

The storm is swirling above warm waters in the southern Gulf just off the coast of Mexico and moving west-northwest at about 7 mph this morning.

The storm has prompted officials to issue a hurricane warning in South Texas from Baffin Bay to the mouth of the Rio Grande. The warning extends south in Mexico from the river’s mouth to La Cruz.

A tropical storm warning is in place from Baffin Bay to Port O’Connor, where heavy rain and high winds are expected.

In terms of wind speed and storm surge, Alex isn’t as strong as some other storms. But it is large, and as SciGuy reminds us, the fact that we’re seeing a hurricane this early in the season is worrying. Hopefully, this one will pass by without too much damage, and it will be a good long time before the next one comes our way.

Feds fine Texas for food stamp failures

Our longstanding food stamp problems continue to cost the state of Texas millions of dollars.

Federal officials have fined Texas $3.96 million for errors in issuing food stamp benefits, according to a letter sent to House Speaker Joe Straus.

The penalty is for exceeding 105 percent of the national average rate of payment errors — overpayments or underpayments — for the past two federal budget years, according to the letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Texas plans to appeal the fine, said Geoff Wool, a spokesman for the state Health and Human Services Commission. He said that the number of food stamp recipients in Texas spiked after Hurricane Ike in 2008, increasing 26 percent in the year that followed.

It’s true that Hurricane Ike made a bad situation worse. But it was a bad situation to begin with because of the miserable failure privatization extravaganza that started in 2005 until its merciful death less than two years later. In the meantime, of course, the state had seen thousands of experienced HHSC employees leave the agency, which is the proximate cause of the staff shortages that led to the initial lawsuit over food stamp application processing delays. Ike was a factor, but without that screwed up experiment, HHSC would have been in much better shape to handle the increase in caseload that Ike helped cause. Rick Perry and his Republican cronies took something that was working, and they broke it. And the cost of that – the human cost, not just the dollars and cents cost – keeps mounting. And just as a reminder, one of the guys who helped screw things up in the first place has now been hired to un-screw them.

Speaking of that lawsuit from last year, here’s a brief update.

In December, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid sued the commission in state district court in Travis County over the backlog. The group expanded its lawsuit in June, adding more plaintiffs and arguing that the entire food stamp system is purposely dissuading people from participating.

But Wool said, “We feel that because this is a federal program governed by federal rules, the state court is limited in its ability to provide relief.” The state is seeking to get the case dismissed, arguing in a June 22 court filing that food stamp processing deadlines aren’t mandatory.

“That,” said Cynthia Martinez of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, “is about as ridiculous as it sounds. This is an attempt for them to avoid accountability by making the argument that the king can do no wrong because he is the king.”

Business as usual, I’m afraid. Hair Balls has more.

Poll says people prefer slots to taxes

I don’t think that’s a great revelation – I’d think many people would claim to prefer a bout of the flu to having their taxes raised – but for obvious reasons, this is a noteworthy finding.

A new poll conducted for horse track owners indicates that Texans would rather legalize slot machines at race tracks than pay higher taxes to offset a projected $18 billion revenue shortfall in the next state budget. The poll of 801 registered voters in Texas, conducted by Austin-based Perception Insight, showed the preference for slot machines across the political spectrum – Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Results of the poll mirrored earlier surveys that found Texans generally would rather see new revenue raised in ways other than through increasing taxes. The new poll, conducted from June 8-13, was paid for by Texans for Economic Development, which represents horse and dog track owners in the state. Efforts to expand gambling in Texas have picked up steam as projections for the state’s revenue shortfall next year have continued to grow.

According to the poll, 57 percent of voters favor slot machines over higher taxes when given a choice, while 22 percent would rather raise taxes.

You can see the poll memo here. There’s a lot of context missing – these were a couple of questions from a larger poll, about which we have not been told anything, and there’s no crosstab data – so don’t read too much into it. In particular, I think any time you ask the question “Would you prefer for the state to raise taxes or do X”, I think “do X” is going to win handily most of the time. Not to put too fine a point on it, but even the most optimistic estimate of potential gambling revenue for the state is far short of the structural deficit caused by the ginormous unaffordable property tax cut of 2006, let alone the actual shortfall for this biennium. In other words, this isn’t an either-or choice, even if we assumed there were no other possible options. I understand there’s only so much you can do in a poll, but that means there’s only so much you can take from it, too.

To me, the more interesting finding is that there is no apparent downside for a politician who supports expanded gambling. That’s not going to stop hardliners like Empower Texans, who have been peddling the misleading claim that gambling expansion is a Democratic issue – someone should tell that to Rep. Ed Kuempel, as he was the lead author of the joint resolution and its enabling legislation to expand gambling last session – from trying to scare Republicans about it. It wouldn’t be any fun if it weren’t for stuff like that. Whether this changes anyone’s position or not, I couldn’t say, but it’s not likely to make anyone shy away from supporting more gambling.

Finally, note that the questions only asked about slots at horse racing tracks, not about casinos. As we know, those two interests are competitive and not cooperative, so there’s no guarantee that even if we do see some kind of gambling expansion move forward that it will take this specific form. Maybe casinos would be less popular than slots, I don’t know. Just something to keep in mind.

Another setback for DART

More bad news from Dallas.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit can’t afford to build light-rail service to D/FW International Airport by 2013 as it has long said it would, the agency’s chief financial officer said Tuesday.

The news comes as a sharp reversal, but CFO David Leininger said the only way the project can be built in the near future will be if new revenues can be found, either through a new tax or, more likely but still uncertain, a federal grant that would cover the approximately $275 million cost of the final leg of the Orange Line.

“We are not abandoning these projects by any means, but there simply isn’t room for them in your current plan,” he told board members.


Irving has counted on the line to anchor more than $4 billion in planned developments near rail stations. That includes a $385 million convention and entertainment complex in the Las Colinas Urban Center. The city is shouldering the lion’s share of those construction costs.

That’s on top of the previous announcements about projects being delayed or discontinued. Part of the problem, as I understand it, is that the pool of federal grant money that gave Metro funding for the North and Southeast lines is all used up. Metro got the last two available grants for that. Until there are more funds like that available from the federal government, projects like that and like the University line will at the very least experience some uncertainty. It’s high time Congress took action on this. Alternately, as the DMN editorializes, the Lege can provide funds for regional transportation projects. This is worth doing, and if DART can’t do it by itself, it should get help.

Green Party appeals to Supreme Court

As expected.

Even if allegations about an illegal petition drive are true, knocking Green Party candidates off the November general election ballot before they can be proven imposes “a death penalty,” lawyers for the party argued Monday in a written appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

The party has until Friday to certify its candidates for the fall election, but a judge last Friday ordered it not to proceed because of an “unauthorized illegal contribution” by a corporation with Republican links.

“This case matters because voters should have an alternative to entrenched career politicians. Despite the signatures of over 90,000 Texans, entrenched career politicians and their lawyers want to deny voters the right to choose in November,” said David Rogers, one of the Green Party lawyers.

Rogers, like everybody else working on behalf of the Green Party in this effort, is a professional Republican. Just as a reminder, the issue on which District Judge John Dietz based his ruling barring them from certifying their signatures was that anonymously-donated money used to pay for the third-party-run petition drive was illegal corporate cash. I understand the appeal to idealism here, but how do you address that underlying reality?

Testimony last week revealed that Mike Toomey, a close Perry friend and his former chief of staff, paid $12,000 to recent University of Texas graduate Garrett Mize to organize a petition drive to collect the 43,991 petition signatures necessary to get the Greens on the November ballot.

Mize testified he was approached by a family friend who worked for Eric Bearse, a former senior aide to Perry, and that he was told not to inform the Green Party of the financial backing. When that petition drive failed to get enough signatures, the out-of-state corporation Take Initiative America came in and completed the work. That group also has Republican connections.

Clearly, you address it by not talking about it and hoping that no one notices. Didn’t quite work out, I’m afraid.

One more point, from the DMN story:

Rogers dismissed the Democrats’ consipiracy theory to pull left-leaning voters away from White.

“If the Republican Party insiders are doing stuff like that, we wouldn’t know about it,” Rogers said. “If the Republicans are doing the right thing for the wrong reason, is it wrong or is it right?”

I’m not sure what Rogers means by “the right thing” here, but if ballot access were so important to the Republican Party and its insiders, it was well within their power to modify Texas’ laws that make it so hard for third parties and independent candidates to get certified. I don’t recall any bills being filed in the last four legislative sessions, during which the Republicans have been in full control, to that effect. Putting that aside, if they had done “the right thing” in proper fashion, we wouldn’t be having this argument in the first place.

Anyway. The Supreme Court is expected to rule by Friday, which is the deadline for parties to certify their candidates for November. That may not be the end of it, however.

Candidates for the ballot have to be certified by Friday. The Supreme Court could say that the order from District Judge John Dietz came too late in the process and is therefore moot, or it could say that the contribution was not an illegal use of corporate money, or it could temporarily allow the Green candidates on the ballot while justices take more time to study the case.

But there are other legal ramifications lurking out there. Election lawyer Buck Wood, who often helps Democratic candidates, said Monday that the Green Party leaders who certify the ballot could be susceptible to criminal charges if the Supreme Court agrees with Dietz that the money that got the Greens onto the ballot was an illegal corporate contribution. Or, more to the point, if they do not disagree with Dietz.

They would become vulnerable if they followed through with their plan to certify the candidates on the ballot, Wood said. The key is that they now know that it was a corporate contribution that came in from Take Initiative America, which paid for the petition drive that appeared to make the Greens eligible for the ballot.

“They’ve been told it’s illegal. They’ve got knowledge now,” Wood said. “If I were their lawyer, I’d say, ‘You go ahead and certify those names and hopefully the Travis County district attorney’s office won’t take an interest in you.’”

David Rogers, a lawyer for the Green Party, said, “With all due respect to Mr. Wood, who is a very fine election law attorney, I believe he is misreading the law in an attempt to gain an electoral advantage for the Democratic Party. He is a consultant for the Democrats in this matter, and all his comments regarding the law in this case need to be considered with that in mind. Texas allows corporate contributions for ‘normal operating expenses’ of a political party. If getting on the ballot isn’t a ‘normal’ expense of a political party, what is?”

Actually, it’s well established that this law refers to “administrative” expenses – things like rent and utilities and office supplies. Corporate money cannot be used on political expenses, which I daresay covers signature gathering for a ballot access petition. But what do I know? We’ll see what the Supremes have to say.

Opinions mixed on Terry Grier

So not a surprise. I’ve expressed similar feelings a time or two myself.

To [HISD Superintendent Terry] Grier’s supporters, his thick skin, independence and kids-come-first mantra are proving a successful recipe for shaking up the status quo in Texas’ largest district.

But his rapid rollout of reforms in his first school year — including ousting staff, shutting down the regional offices, removing razor-wire fencing around campuses and ordering schools to serve students breakfast at their classroom desks – has cut short the happy honeymoon with teachers, principals and parents skeptical of hasty decisions.

“Terry’s first 10 months have shown him to be all about children and results,” said HISD board member Paula Harris. “Through this process, he’s definitely ruffled the feathers of adults.

“I have told Terry and other people have told him that we’re nice here in the south,” she said. “We say things nice. And I don’t think that’s a skill he has or he cares to have.”


Mary Nesbitt, the vice president of Parents for Public Schools, criticizes Grier’s strategy as “fire, aim, ready.” As examples, she says, the district is seeking a grant to fund new magnet programs without first evaluating its current ones. Grier also announced he wanted to sever ties with Community Education Partners but then backed down after the for-profit discipline program received a good external evaluation and had majority board support.

“For many parents the jury is still out, but we are increasingly cautious and concerned that changes are happening for change sake,” Nesbitt said.

Caronetta Jones, a member of the Superintendent’s Parent Advisory Committee, said she was frustrated after Grier missed two meetings but appreciated that he ordered his staff to prevent future scheduling conflicts.

“He is very personable, and I like that,” said Jones, the president of HISD’s Council of PTAs.

I can think of more than one person who might quibble with Ms. Jones’ characterization. I’ll say this again, what ultimately matters to me is the result. If Dr. Grier can accomplish the things he says he wants to accomplish, he’ll go down in my book as a very successful Superintendent. If not, let’s just say I don’t think he’ll leave behind many defenders. That’s really all there is to it.

68 is a difficult number to work with

The poobahs of the NCAA are gathering this week to discuss the nuts and bolts of the new 68-team basketball tournament, and they’ve got a challenge on their hands.

After meeting in May, the [10-member Men’s Basketball] committee asked NCAA schools to offer opinions on the recommended expansion to four opening-round games, one in each region. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith confirmed there were three options on the list — making the eight lowest seeds in the tourney play in the opening round, making the last eight at-large teams in the field play or a combination of the two.

The only thing clear-cut heading into the meetings, which start Sunday, is this: There is a wide split between what the big schools and small schools want.

Teams playing in conferences such as the Southland, like [UTSA athletic director Lynn] Hickey’s Roadrunners, or the Southwestern Athletic, a league made up primarily of historically black colleges and universities, don’t want to be pigeonholed into playing an extra tourney game each year. Power-conference schools, which usually take most of the 34 at-large bids, think they should avoid the opening-round games, too.

So Smith and Hickey must figure out how to play both advocate and arbiter.

“My responsibility is to the groups I represent, so I need to be very well informed about what they want,” Hickey said.

I’d say the fairest solution is the combo plan – make the four bottom seeds, and the four last-in at large teams do the play-in games. The main problem with that, of course, is that it slots those at large teams in as 16 seeds, where they would otherwise likely have been no worse than 12 or 13. But it’s also not fair to essentially consign eight conferences to the minor leagues and deny them a guaranteed opportunity to play a team they’d never get to play otherwise. This to me is another argument in favor of the 96-team tournament plan that seemed to be on track earlier this year. An opening round with four games, much like the current play-in game, doesn’t feel like it’s part of the tournament as a whole. It feels more like an afterthought, or an extra obstacle to playing in the main event. There’s little drama, no chance of a Cinderella story, and likely very little audience for it. By contrast, an opening round with 64 teams (as would be the case with NCAA-96) or 32 teams (as you’d have in an 80-team tournament) feels like the real thing, with a diverse set of teams and much higher stakes as some of those teams will have aspirations for going deeper into the tournament. I understand the NCAA’s desire to take a baby step on tournament expansion, but now that they have done so and seen that what they got out of it was a baby improvement but a grown-up problem, I hope they’ll move up their schedule for considering when to take the logical next step.

Carless in Dallas

Meet Patrick Kennedy, the best-known non-driving person in Dallas.

Kennedy moved to Dallas in 2002, after growing up in Pennsylvania and earning a landscape architecture degree at Penn State University.

After living in parts of East Dallas and Uptown, he decided to give up his Toyota Corolla and move downtown in 2008. He moved into the Interurban Building, home to downtown’s only grocery store, and could walk to the job he had then in a downtown office building.

Kennedy thinks there should be more places in Dallas where people can live, work and play without having to hop in the car.

It’s about options, he says, not about giving up your car.

“Just because I did doesn’t mean other people have to,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy writes a blog about his experiences, which is presumably how he came to be known to the media. What was interesting about this story to me was that transit was barely mentioned. Kennedy can do most of his daily routine as a pedestrian, which has the benefit of being cheap and building in an exercise regimen as well. I’d be curious to know how many people live like this in Houston.

The Kinky/Strayhorn effect

As I did my analysis of the Latino vote in the 2006 election, it occurred to me that I had stumbled across a framework for trying to understand what the effect was of Kinky Friedman and Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s candidacies on Rick Perry and Chris Bell. Basically, I would see what percentage of the part vote they got in each State Rep district (SRD), to see if (for example) they were hurt more in areas that were otherwise solid for their partymates. With an assist from Greg Wythe, I got all the relevant data for the 150 SRDs, and went to work. You can see the spreadsheet here (zipped XLS file – it was too big to upload to Google Docs), and a summary of my findings is beneath the fold.

What I did was this: I added up the total Republican and Democratic votes in each of the nine other contested statewide races, and took their average, then computed the R and D average percentage (“R pct” and “D pct” in the header below). I then compared Perry and Bell’s vote totals and percentages to each. “P share” is the ratio of Perry’s vote percentage in that SRD to the average Republican percentage (R pct), and “D share” is the same for Bell. “Diff” is the difference between “P share” and “D share”, so a positive number means Perry retained a higher share of the Republican vote in that SRD than Bell did with the Democratic vote.

While that’s an interesting statistic, what we really care about is how many votes were lost to the third-party candidates. So, I also compared the total votes Perry and Bell got to the party averages in each SRD. “P delta” and “B delta” are the differences between the party averages and the individual totals for each. Finally, I subtracted Bell’s deltas from Perry’s (“P minus B”) to see who suffered the greater loss.

You can see all the data beneath the fold, and you can play with the spreadsheet if you want. Not too surprisingly, as far as the total votes go, Perry and Bell lost the most in the districts where their partymates did the best. That just makes sense, as it’s where the votes are. There wasn’t much of a pattern in terms of vote share in the districts that went the most strongly for one side or the other. Perry and Bell did about as well at retaining vote share overall, though there were some individual variations. Bell tended to do his best at retaining vote share in the African-American SRDs. Perry did well at that in two places: West Texas, and Latino districts. In fact, in SRD31 (Ryan Guillen, Webb County), Perry exceeded the Republican average vote. Bell, by contrast, had some trouble retaining the vote in a number of these districts, though it should be noted that in some of them the overall Democratic vote wasn’t that strong. That as we know is partly a function of the drop in turnout from 2002. But while Perry’s total vote percentage in the Latino SRDs dropped from 2002, it was nonetheless the case that he got his share of what Republican vote there was. Add that to the vote that wandered away from Bell, and it’s clear that there are folks who are open to persuasion. It’s Bill White’s job, and the job of the rest of the Democratic ticket, to keep these voters on their side.


Tell me again why there can’t be instant replay in soccer?

Item one, Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal for England against Germany:

Note how utterly out of position the official’s assistant was for this. Seems to me that if you’re going to have a camera in the goal, you may as well use it. As they say in that ESPN clip, FIFA refs are already using technology to communicate with their assistants. And hell, hockey has used cameras to validate goals for a million years now. What is the problem with this?

Item two, Argentina’s offsides goal against Mexico:

ESPN video is here, and a clear view of Tevez heading the ball in, which I hadn’t noticed at first viewing, is here.

All of this is without taking into consideration the well-known bad calls that affected Team USA. None of this is gray zone, subject to interpretation stuff. These two non-calls today are as clear as you could want, and would have been trivially corrected with any halfway decent instant replay implementation. The debate about this is over. The technology exists. It won’t get everything right, but it will sure as hell get a lot more of it right than what we’re getting now. Hiding behind platitudes about the “human element” is little more than nihilism. Allowing obviously bad calls to stand because there is no mechanism to deal with them is the antithesis of letting the players decide the outcome. It’s well past time that every sport recognized that and took whatever steps they can to integrate technology into their officiating.

Solomons and Berman, not BFFs

This may be my favorite letter from one legislator to another of all time. Any time a missive starts with “You are a liar”, you know it’s going to be fun. By my count, Rep. Burt Solomons used the words “lie” or “lair” ten times to describe his colleague, Rep. Leo Berman, and that’s in addition to words like “falsehood”, “fabrication”, “innuendo”, “distort”, “purposely mislead”, and of course “Pinocchio”. C’mon, Burt, tell him what you really think! Go read and enjoy.

Texas keeps growing

Texas has four of the fastest-growing cities in the country, according to current Census reports.

Among cities with more than 100,000 residents, four of the top 10 that experienced the greatest percentage increase in population were in Texas: Frisco, McKinney, Round Rock and Lewisville.

The population growth was tabulated from July 1, 2008, to July 1, 2009.

Frisco, a wealthy suburb of Dallas, saw a 6.2 percent population spike, making it the fastest-growing big city in the U.S. New York City had the largest increase in population, going from 8.34 million to 8.39 million.

Steve Murdock, a former director of the Census Bureau and now a professor at Rice University, said Texas’ growth was likely due to the state’s ability to dodge the worst of the economic crisis, as well as its growing immigrant population.

“Diversity and growth go together, and Texas has one of the most diverse populations in the country,” Murdock noted, adding that the data is “really is just verification of growth of this decade.”

For what it’s worth, Texas’ ability to ride out the recession is a function of natural resources. Houston’s population is 2,257,926, meaning we have grown over 14% in this decade.

Weekend link dump for June 27

Summertime, summertime, sum sum summertime…

Reform the credit card industry.

An ode to Frito pie.

Apparently, muting commercials makes you some kind of commie. Guess we TiVo owners are really in the soup.

Do you ever find yourself at the gas pump thinking that what you really needed right then was to hear some show tunes? Well, your wait will soon be over.

The case for the EPA to battle climate change.

Why not bring those huddled masses yearning to be free to Detroit?

Among his many other fine qualities, The Slacktivist writes a hell of an obituary, in this case for Manute Bol, who deserves every word of it.

The Florida Tea Party and the Texas Green Party ought to compare notes.

“Beetle Bailey” comics you won’t see in the newspaper.

I suppose I have to link to that.

One house for sale, hold the zombies.

It’s good practice to maintain a low opinion of Republicans, because then you won’t be as disappointed when they inevitably back away from whatever decent thing they may have done.

They never have this at Central Market, anyway.

Poor Karl. And may he stay that way.

It’s always good to be rich.

RIP, Edith Shain. You may not know her name, but you have definitely seen her photo.

You have archaeopteryx questions, HMNS has answers.

RIP, Sputnik. No, not the satellite.

Young people, risky behavior, and the Internet.

Ew. Joe Barton’s oily fingers.

Being lectured about stupidity by Louie Gohmert is like being lectured about promiscuity by Hugh Hefner.

I’m old enough to remember when Republicans supported cap and trade, too.

So who did smear Dave Weigel?

Richie re-elected as TDP Chair, Two-Step survives

The first, Boyd Ritchie’s re-election as TDP Chair, was expected. The second was more unexpected.

Texas Democrats this afternoon overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to scrap the Texas Two-Step system of awarding presidential delegates through both a primary and caucuses.

Those pushing for change lost a preliminary fight in a rules committee meeting earlier today. But they had enough support to bring the matter to debate on the convention floor.

Some background is here, the Trib has a detailed writeup, and Bob Moser has more.

Also of interest yesterday was the new media panel (aside to Abby Rapoport – it’s Martha Griffin, not Grimes) and the speeches by downballot candidates. Stace, among others, has the prepared remarks of Lite Guv candidate Linda Chavez-Thompson; I have the speech given by Rep. Senfronia Thompson on behalf of Hank Gilbert, whose mother passed away on Thursday, beneath the fold. Martha, PDiddie and PDiddie again, The Texas Blue, John Coby, and Texas Politics have more.


Sugar Land stadium site selected

The location for the Sugar Land baseball stadium has been chosen.

Sugar Land City Council has chosen an area near the northeast corner of Hwy. 6 and U.S. Hwy. 90A as their preferred site for a minor league baseball stadium.

The preferred location is part of the Imperial Redevelopment/Tract 3 site proposed by Johnson Development Corporation, Cherokee Sugar Land LP and the Texas General Land Office.

The city will now begin a detailed process to confirm the site’s development capabilities and suitability prior to a final decision by City Council that’s expected by the end of the summer.

Here’s an aerial map of the location, courtesy of Hair Balls. I’ll be very interested to see what the vision is for the stadium and the development that is expected to be built around it. Given that the locals are hoping for this to be a regional attraction that will draw in folks from elsewhere, one way to go with this is to mimic an urban downtown stadium setting, with shared parking for all establishments and pedestrian access between them. They could have something really cool if they think outside the box a bit. Or they could go the standard suburban islands-in-a-sea-of-parking-lots route, which would be boring but familiar. We’ll see how it goes. Muse has more, and you can learn about job opportunities at the new stadium here.

Elections administrator proposal will get a study

Like it or not, Commissioners Court is going to consider the possibility of creating an appointed elections administrator position.

The Court orders studies as preludes to formally adopting a public policy change. Dick Raycraft, director of management services, was charged with delivering his conclusion to the Court in September, at which time the Court could create the office.

It cannot name its occupant. State law calls for the elections administrator to be appointed by a five-member board — the county judge, county clerk, tax assessor and Democratic and Republican party chairs. [County Judge Ed] Emmett has pledged not to appoint an administrator until early next year.

You know my concerns about this. I just hope that if this goes forward in September, there will be some real opportunities for the public to engage and give its feedback.

Smoke-Free San Antonio update

As we know, the city of San Antonio is working on updating its ordinance that restricts smoking. The first draft of that has emerged from committee, and it’s got some teeth to it.

The strengthened recommendations, which will be considered in August by the Quality of Life Committee before heading to the full council later in the month, now include banning smoking in several public spaces, including the San Antonio Zoo, the River Walk, Alamo and Main plazas, parks and outdoor stadiums.

That’s in addition to extending the city’s smoking ban to bars, pool halls, comedy clubs, restaurants and bingo halls, as introduced in April.

I don’t recall if Houston’s updated ordinance mentions parks or other outdoor locations like that. I do know that the Houston Zoo is smoke-free, and I’m rather surprised that isn’t already the case for the San Antonio zoo. The rest is more or less the same as what we now have. That includes some of the arguments against it:

Restaurateur Louis Barrios, an outspoken opponent of a stronger smoking ban, said he wasn’t surprised to learn that the proposed ordinance had strengthened.

“It’s being framed as a health issue, but the reality is that it’s not a health issue because it’s not statewide,” he said.

Opponents of the proposal have said they would support a statewide smoking ban because it would offer a level playing field. They argue that if San Antonio enacts a smoke-free ordinance, then the market would shift to nearby municipalities and business would suffer.

[Mayor Julian] Castro says he doesn’t buy that argument.

“I’d just say the overwhelming evidence indicates that the smoking ban is either neutral or beneficial to bars and restaurants in terms of revenue,” he said. “More people will frequent non-smoking establishments.”

The Lege has tried and failed to pass a statewide smoking ban in each of the last two sessions. I continue to believe that such a thing will eventually pass, but who knows how long that could take. As for the allegations about city businesses losing out to those in the surrounding unincorporated county areas, all I can say is that I haven’t seen any evidence of that here. Doesn’t mean there isn’t any – maybe it’s just a greatly under-reported story – but it at least suggests that the concern is overblown. We’ll see how this plays out. More on the story here and here.

Saturday video break: Life’s great mysteries

For those of you of a certain age, the following needs no introduction:

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t even know there was an extended version of this commercial. Truly, the Internet is a marvelous thing.

In case you’re wondering, my inspiration for seeking this out was the Father’s Day present I got from Olivia:

If there's one thing I can't stand, it's a smart owl.

If there's one thing I can't stand, it's a smart owl.

How cool is that?

Corpus coverage

Due to unavoidable schedule conflicts, I’m not down in Corpus Christi this weekend for the TDP convention. Here are some of the places where I’ll be following what’s going on:

The Trib’s liveblog

Abby Rapoport

Bob Moser

John Coby

David Ortez



Dos Centavos


Letters from Texas

Eye on Williamson

Here’s the Chron story from yesterday. Bill White’s speech, the written version of which is reproduced below, was apparently very well received. (The Texas Politics blog has a few photos) Since the subject of Democratic excitement and the “enthusiasm gap” came up in a couple of these accounts, I’m just going to say something that I hope should be obvious: If you’re a Democrat, and you’re not fired up about voting Rick Perry’s greedy, corrupt ass out of the Governor’s Mansion, you need to see a doctor. I can’t speak for anywhere else in the country, but I really don’t think Texas Democrats are going to have much trouble getting motivated for this election.


Do we really want to save the Dome?

According to the Department of Anecdotal Evidence, we do.

Respondents to an online survey run by Reliant Park’s landlord “overwhelmingly” support saving the Astrodome, according to the official in charge of the survey.

Willie Loston, executive director of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, declined to release a detailed breakdown of the 5,800 votes that have been cast for one of three options for Reliant Park’s future. He said only that the combined votes for the two options that include renovations for the Astrodome outnumber those in favor of razing it.

The results, he said, “overwhelmingly show a desire to maintain the building.” Loston said the results will help shape a recommendation to Commissioners Court, which controls the fate of Reliant Park.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to need some corroboration on this. I have no problem believing that there’s plenty of sentiment to save the Dome – I have some of that myself, though perhaps not as much as others – but the options for saving the Dome are kind of expensive, and all rely on public money. I don’t know how much I believe that people are really clamoring for that at this time. When there’s a single plan, and a final price tag, then we’ll get a handle on how popular the idea is. Swamplot has more.

TPJ files ethics complaint against Perry

It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit watchdog group, filed a complaint [Wednesday] urging the Texas Ethics Commission to require Gov. Rick Perry to provide detailed reports of campaign spending on living and entertainment expenditures related to the Governor’s Mansion.

TPJ alleges that Perry violated campaign disclosure laws by not itemizing how it spent more than $800,000 for such items as food, beverages and flowers. Instead of itemizing the spending, the campaign routinely reports lump sums as much as $63,000 as simply “Mansion Fund.” Since 2001, the campaign reported 145 “Mansion Fund” expenditures totaling more than $816,000, according to TPJ.

Seems straightforward enough, but there’s always room for the TEC to pull a Bill Ceverha maneuver and force the Lege to clean up after them. Never underestimate the possibility of shenanigans, that’s all I’m saying. A statement from the Bill White campaign is beneath the fold.


Please don’t play with the alligator

You would think that this would be self-evident, but I guess not.

For the most part, encounters between alligators and humans are harmless. Already this season in Harris County, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has logged more than 25 calls for nuisance alligators, two of them within the past week, and all have ended amicably — for the humans, at least.

But wildlife officials warn that the reptiles can be dangerous during this active season if provoked.

“A lot of people will throw a piece of bread at the animal and say, ‘Come here,’ ” said Amos Cooper, alligator program leader at the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area in Port Arthur. “The best thing to do is not to mess with it and give it two to three days to move along. If you feed it, they’ll lose their fear of humans, and that’s the worst thing.”

I got nothing. I mean, seriously, telling a gator to “come here”? What, do you want to pet it? There are days when I marvel at the fact that our species has managed to survive this long.

Friday random ten: Three cheers for the red, white, and blue, part 1

For a Fourth of July threefer, here are ten red songs:

1. 99 Red Balloons – Nena
2. Fishbone Is Red Hot – Fishbone
3. Ida Red – Hot Club of Cowtown
4. Little Red Corvette – Big Daddy
5. The Red and The Black – Blue Oyster Cult
6. Red Footprints – Eddie from Ohio
7. Red Headed Woman – Bruce Springsteen
8. Red Hot – Marcia Ball
9. Red Nosed Reindeer Blues – Asylum Street Spankers
10. Red Rain – Peter Gabriel

I’ll have white songs next week, and blue songs the week after that. What’s painting your iPod red this week?

Entire song list report: Started with “Inland Empire”, by Peter, Bjorn, and John. Finished with “It’s You”, by Miss Molly and The Whips, song #2549. That was the last of the “It” and “It’s” songs, for a total of 106 this week.

Ripping vinyl report: No ripped vinyl to report. I probably won’t have any till mid-July.

HISD strategic direction meetings

From an HISD press release:

HISD will be holding two interactive, live TV shows to gather comments and feedback from the community. The first will be on Monday, June 28, from 7:00–8:00 p.m., on the HISD channel, and will be hosted by KPRC’s Khambrel Marshall, Board President Greg Meyers, and Superintendent Terry Grier. Viewers will be able to phone, e-mail, and Twitter their comments during the live show.

The second show will be broadcast on Univision 45 Houston from 5:00–10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 29. The program will be hosted by Board Trustees Diana Dávila and Manuel Rodríguez along with Univision on-air news talent. Throughout the evening there will be periodic updates and interviews during Univision’s regular programming.

The development of the long-term Strategic Direction is a six-month effort that started in February 2010 and will culminate in August with the release of a final plan. The goal is to create a set of core initiatives and key strategies that will allow HISD to build upon the beliefs and visions established by the HISD Board of Education and to provide the children of Houston with the highest quality of primary and secondary education.

Over the past two months, HISD has been gathering input from employees, parents, students, and members of the Houston community, including faith-based groups, nonprofit agencies, businesses, and local and state leaders. After analyzing feedback and conducting diagnostic research, a number of core initiatives have emerged. They include placing an effective teacher in every classroom, placing an effective principal in every school, developing rigorous instructional standards and support, ensuring data driven accountability, and cultivating a culture of trust through action.

For more information about HISD’s Strategic Direction, visit

There’s more information at that last link. Please participate if you can.

Redistricting hearing in San Antonio

It’s that time of the decade again.

Monday’s joint hearing of the House Committees on Redistricting and Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence — on the University of Texas at San Antonio’s downtown campus — marked the unofficial kickoff for that process. The first Texas redistricting meeting held this year outside of Austin, it attracted some of San Antonio’s heaviest political hitters: Smith, fellow Congressman Charlie Gonzalez, state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, not to mention committee members Mike Villarreal and David Leibowitz.


Luis Figueroa, staff attorney for Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, cited Hispanic population growth as the primary reason Texas will gain those seats, arguing that otherwise the state would be looking at only one additional congressional seat. He urged legislators to create new districts that would enhance Hispanic voting power in the state.

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, decried what he called the “fajita strip” approach to map drawing, which he said resulted in long, unwieldy districts.

Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, made the strongest push for the GOP cause, saying at least 45 percent of Bexar County voters are Republicans, “but only 20 percent of its (state) representatives are Republicans.”

The simple answer to Hilderbran’s complaint can be seen in the Spanish surname voter registration (SSVR) numbers for Bexar County. In 2002, for example, seven of the ten State Rep districts (SRDs) had SSVR’s between 56 and 59. In other words, the districts were drawn with Hispanic voters spread out more or less evenly in these districts. (You can see the 2006 and 2008 SSVR numbers here; it’s basically the same as it was then.) That worked as intended – six of those seven districts have Latinos representing them, with Democrat David Leibowitz in SRD 117 being the seventh. The three other districts are SRDs 120, 121, and 122. The former is over 30% African-American, with an SSVR of 33.5%, and is held by Democrat Ruth Jones McClendon; the other two have SSVRs of less than 20% and are the two Republican seats.

Point being, to make any changes in Bexar County, you’d have to pack some more Latino voters into one or more SRDs, thus making one or two others less Latino. The almost inevitable result of that would be the election of a white Republican, which I’d bet would be viewed as a retrogression of voting rights by the Justice Department. Alternately, the GOP could find some candidates that can actually appeal to Latino voters. Republicans are forever talking about how conservative Latinos are, though they never seem to be able to translate that into tangible results. It should be noted that Republican Ken Mercer was elected in SRD117 in 2002; Leibowitz knocked him off in 2004. Also, a strong Republican candidate named George Antuna came close to winning SRD118 in 2006 after Carlos Uresti opened it up by running for State Senate. Though it’s likely harder now than it was eight years ago, it could be done if the Republicans really tried.

Finally, if Hilderbran is going to play that game, someone ought to ask him why Dallas and Tarrant counties, which combined to give Barack Obama 52% of their vote in 2008, have all or part of eight Congressional districts within their borders, but only one Democrat representing them. For that matter, if anyone else wants to take a crack at it, give it your best shot.

Anyway. There will be more of these hearings around the state in the coming months, so look for announcements of one near you, and make your voice heard.

City gets OK on water rate hike

One obstacle cleared.

In a letter to lawyers representing the city and conservative activists Bruce Hotze and Paul Bettencourt on Monday, state District Judge Stephen Yelenosky said the rate increases do not violate a charter amendment approved by voters in 2004 that limits increases to the combined rate of inflation and population growth in any given year.


If Bettencourt and Hotze do not appeal, the city can begin to issue new bonds backed by the higher rates that will pay for vast infrastructure improvement plans and upkeep for the water and sewer system, [City Attorney David] Feldman said.

I presume this was the “rate validation lawsuit”, which Bettencourt and Hotze had challenged. They have not filed their own lawsuit, as far as I know. We’ll see what they do from here – they’re not the give up easily kind.

Score one for science


On its website, the Institute for Creation Research promises an education that is “Biblical. Accurate. Certain.” But there’s one thing they can’t promise: a master’s degree in science education.

In 2008, after the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board denied their request for a state certificate of authority to offer such a degree, the Dallas-based Christian institution took the THECB to court. On Friday, a U.S. District Court ruled against the ICR, upholding the THECB’s right to refuse them certification.

According to the judge’s summary of the case, Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes refused the request because he “found the proposed program’s curriculum was inconsistent with the standards or conventions of science and science education, and secondly, he found the program’s curriculum was inconsistent with the Board’s standards … relating to curriculum.”

It seems the ICR may have acted as their own worst enemy as the case proceeded. In his ruling the judge writes, “It appears that although the Court has twice required Plaintiff to re-plead and set forth a short and plain statement of the relief requested, Plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information.”

You can see that ruling here. All I can say is thank God there’s one less thing for the state to be a laughingstock about. Hair Balls and the NCSE have more.

Greens booted from the ballot

A judge in Austin has ruled in favor of the Texas Democratic Party in a motion to bar the Green Party from the ballot this fall on the grounds that the funds used to collect their signatures were illegal corporate contributions.

Attorneys for the Green Party said they would quickly appeal to the Texas Supreme Court in hopes of meeting a July 2 deadline to get the list of candidates to the state secretary of state for a spot on the ballot.

“We have to have the right to carry these nominees over to the secretary of state’s office and if that’s prohibited, the election moves on without the Texas Green Party nominees,” said attorney Steven Smith, a former Republican state Supreme Court Justice who is representing the Green Party.

State District Judge John Dietz ruled that restricted corporate money was used to support the signature drive and did not comply with state election law. The judge said he expected an appellate court to stay his decision.

“We’re obviously never happy about making it difficult for parties or interests to get on the ballot, but we couldn’t stand for corporations coordinated by the inner circle of Rick Perry’s office trying to buy access for another party,” said Chad Dunn, general counsel for the Texas Democratic Party.

The most interesting testimony concerned Rick Perry’s former chief of staff.

Mike Toomey, a lobbyist and former chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry, personally paid for an aborted effort to qualify the Green Party of Texas for the ballot, according to court testimony Thursday morning.

The testimony came from Garrett Mize, who led the failed petition effort beginning last fall. He said Toomey paid him $2,000 a month for about six months with a personal check.


Mize was approached to run the effort by a family friend, Stuart Moss, who at the time worked for a Republican political consulting and public relations firm run by former Perry communications director Eric Bearse. Bearse said Moss no longer works for him.

Mize quit the effort in April after he grew uncomfortable that Republican interests were driving the initiative and not informing the Green Party.

That wasn’t the only money being spent by Republican operatives working hard to get the Greens on the ballot, of course. There was a whole lot more where that came from.

A group with ties to Republicans paid $532,500 to gather petition signatures to land the Green Party of Texas on this year’s state ballot.

At least one high-ranking Green Party official thinks that money was a corporate donation.


In a June 10 e-mail to other Green Party officials, state party treasurer David Wager said, “I was promised by a representative of Take Initiative America that the organization was not a corporation and that he would comply with all disclosure requests. Today I was informed that the organization is in fact a corporation and they will not disclose their donors. They claim that their collection of signatures and in-kind contribution was not political. I don’t agree. In my opinion, we have no choice but to refuse the signatures.”

That sure sounds like a problem to me. Did you notice how many professional Republicans are helping out the Greens in this effort? Smith, Toomey, Andy Taylor, David Rogers, Cleta Mitchell – it’s almost as if this were really important to them.

Anyway. The Greens will appeal to the Supreme Court, where anything can happen, so they may yet have a chance. The Trib and the Lone Star Project have more.

Cuts for thee but not for me


That comes courtesy of the Back to Basics PAC, and the Trib says they’ve bought $250K in airtime for it. More like this, please.

Mayor Parker’s first budget passes

The deed is done. We know the basic shape of the budget from earlier stories, so I just want to highlight a couple of things. First, an amendment to trim Council members’ budgets that ultimately was defeated:

City Councilman Al Hoang and others backed an effort to apply the same 2 percent budget cuts required of many city departments for fiscal 2011 to council members, who have been allocated $392,222 in the coming year to pay staff and take care of other expenses.

The proposal, which would have required a cut of nearly $8,000 per council office, was rejected by 11 council members. Only Hoang, Councilman Stephen Costello and Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck voted for the measure. The cut would have saved an estimated $110,000.

“I think it’s disingenuous to ask departments to cut their budgets, and not cut our own,” Hoang said in a statement. “We were elected to lead by example, not by decree.”

Councilwoman Jolanda Jones opposed the cuts, saying that council member budgets are used almost exclusively to pay the salaries and health care costs of staffers and should not be compared to departments that can cut spending on equipment or freeze hiring to reach budget targets.

She called the proposal an example of “form over substance.”

“If someone calls my office and I don’t have staff or resources to help them solve their problem, they’re going to be mad at me. … They’re going to be mad at the city,” she said.

I tend to agree with CM Jones that there are better avenues for finding savings. I don’t object to the attempt by CM Hoang, and I do agree that elected officials should lead by example; some, as we know, are better than others at that. But it’s not the Council members themselves who are directly affected by such cuts, it’s their staffers. For the small amount of money in the context of the budget that’s involved, I don’t think the return is worth it.

The other matter of interest was the bilingual budget amendment:

The most controversial item council considered — a proposal to end the practice of paying a $70 monthly stipend to bilingual employees – was withdrawn by Clutterbuck after Parker promised to review the program.

Parker said she will ensure that those receiving the money are proficient in the second language and that the use of it is necessary for their daily jobs. Parker also vowed to ensure that employees only receive tuition reimbursement if the education they seek will help them do their jobs.

My guess is these things will be quietly studied for awhile, then some relatively innocuous recommendations will be made. We’ll see what happens from there.

Statesman slaps Harper-Brown

I guess they weren’t terribly impressed by her video defense against the hand in the cookie jar accusations.

It’s going to be tough to top Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, and her YouTube response to a Dallas Morning News/WFAA-TV report about the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550 she drives that is owned by a firm that has millions of dollars in state transportation contracts.

Harper-Brown is on the House Transportation Committee. And, FYI, her husband also drives a vehicle owned by the firm that provided her Mercedes. Both vehicles feature State Official license plates.

We’ll get back to the details in a moment, but we can’t wait to tell you about how Harper-Brown defends against the apparent conflicts of interest. Actually, in the video, she doesn’t really offer a defense, other than that all of this is a result of liberals, lawyers and the “mainstream media.”

If you watch one YouTube video in your lifetime, please make it this one. There are no kitties playing the piano, but you’re going to love the Harper-Brown performance at

If that’s the response she’s going to get for her efforts, then it’s going to be a long summer for Harper-Brown. The DMN is less snarky but still critical, while Lone Star Project, Harold Cook, and the badly missed Pink Dome have more.

Was there no one in Texas that could tell us about our broadband situation?

I’m a little late in picking this up, so bear with me. Last week, the Texas Department of Agriculture published a map detailing where broadband access exists and doesn’t exist in Texas. Democratic candidate for Ag Commish Hank Gilbert, after criticizing the map as being much ado about not very much, then had some strong words about how the study that led to the map’s creation was funded.

“It was inappropriate for the Texas Department of Agriculture to outsource more than $3 million in federal funding to a Kentucky non-profit organization with a questionable record and significant ties to telecommunications companies when federal law allowed the state to conduct this project on its own,” Gilbert said.

He accused [Ag Commissioner Todd] Staples and the Texas Department of Agriculture of bypassing state agencies and public universities within Texas that could have completed the project.

“The fact of the matter is that federal law allowed the state or any of the public universities in Texas to conduct this project,” Gilbert said, citing the provisions The Broadband Data Improvement Act, 47 U.S.C. §1304, which states that multiple entity types-including government bodies-were eligible for the funds.

Gilbert also questioned why Staples would allow the Texas Department of Agriculture to do business with a company that has left controversy in its wake in North Carolina and Kentucky, signed restrictive non-disclosure agreements with telecom companies prohibiting disclosure of detailed coverage information, and has been accused of providing misleading information to the Federal Communications Commission.

Staples’ response to Gilbert’s charges came from his campaign. As yet, as far as I know, there has been no comment from the TDA itself about the substance of Gilbert’s remarks. (For that matter, neither has the Staples campaign.) Politics aside, that’s a pretty straightforward question: Why not fund the study through a Texas university? Surely any number of them could have done it, quite possibly for less than $3 million. This was paid for with stimulus money, so regardless of the actual price tag, it would have been nice to keep it here. It would be nice if the TDA could tell us why it chose not to do that.

Montgomery County wants in on rail district

Get on board, Montgomery County.

Montgomery County may join a regional rail group to upgrade freight lines and add commuter services throughout the Houston area.

“It’s time that we need to be a part of this,” said Commissioner Ed Chance of Precinct 3.

For the second time, Montgomery County Commissioners Court will vote on joining the Gulf Coast Rail District after first rejecting the plan in 2007.

The agency was created by the state Legislature in 2005 to enhance the economic benefits of rail while improving the regional quality of life.

The agency has identified $3.4 billion in freight rail improvements needed by 2035, when freight traffic is expected to double in the area, and nearly $3 billion to build five commuter rail lines out of Houston.

“It is something that everyone needs to do as they look at future transportation issues,” said Mark Ellis, chairman of the district

Among the projects being considered for Montgomery County is a commuter rail line, which would run from Houston to Tomball along Texas 249.

Montgomery County also would be a future stop for high speed rail lines that link Houston with Dallas and San Antonio, said Maureen Crocker, interim executive director of the Gulf Coast Rail District.

This is a no-brainer in many ways. I don’t know what the role of the GCRD will be in eventually delivering these projects, but they will certainly have one, so getting Montgomery County involved with them makes all kinds of sense. Thanks to Houston Tomorrow for the tip.