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October, 2010:

Weekend link dump for October 31


Here’s my usual reminder about the Candy Man, and how he helped kill Halloween around here for awhile.

Extreme credit card makeover.

The asymmetry of responsibility.

The public knows a lot of things that aren’t true.

It’s your job to protect yourself from salmonella.

The primary problem with “Mallard Fillmore” is that it’s lame, lazy, and unfunny. The fact that it is also gratuitously racist and intolerant should be more than enough to keep it out of publications that like to think of themselves as respectable, but for some reason it gets graded on a curve.

Well, why shouldn’t she do that?

What Ta-Nehisi says.

I thought that with all the immigrant-hating that the right wing had moved past homophobia, but I was wrong.

Rethinking Jodie Foster. Never thought I’d see something like that get written.

Latino voter enthusiasm is trending up. Sure hope some of that finds its way to Texas.

Bidding a fond farewell to the Sony Walkman.

In teabagger-speak, “unconstitutional” means “stuff I don’t like”.

Maybe “Citizens United” was good for the economy.

Apparently, elitism is on the rise. Someone better alert Charles Murray.

I love a story about a spammer getting taken down.

He’s baaaaaaaaack.

There’s no such thing as a deficit hawk, but climate hawks are the real deal. Good thing, too.

RIP, Leo Cullum. You know his work, even if you don’t recognize his name.

“Halloween is the day when America market-tests parental paranoia. If a new fear flies on Halloween, it’s probably going to catch on the rest of the year, too.”

Where do they want to take us back to?

How the sausage is made these days. See here for more.

Not failure is usually the better choice than failure.

They play for keeps in my home town.

Just what the sugary soda debate needs, journalistic “balance”.

We’ll always have counterfactuals.

I don’t have any particular rooting interest in this World Series, but stuff like this makes me want to see the Giants win.

Leave Christine O’Donnell alone. Seriously.

Whether or not you went to the Stewart/Colbert rally, here’s all the misguided reasons why you shouldn’t have.

I hope this guy gets prosecuted.

Final early vote wrapup

As was the case in 2008, we saw record levels of early voting this year in Harris County.

As polls closed Friday before Tuesday’s general election, as many as 450,000 people are expected to have cast their ballots early or by mail, an amount officials say is likely to make up about 65 percent of the total, a record for Harris County in a gubernatorial contest. That would more than double the total number of early votes in 2002 and 2006.

Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman predicted that as many as 300,000 will cast their ballots Tuesday, putting overall turnout at 750,000, or about 39 percent of registered voters.

Kaufman attributed the huge early voter turnout to a “true spirit of cooperation” among voters aware of the August fire that destroyed 10,000 pieces of voting equipment. Immediately after the blaze and before she knew whether the county would be able to obtain enough electronic voting machines by Tuesday, Kaufman began imploring residents to vote early to avoid the sort of lines that could discourage turnout on Election Day.

Here’s the final daily tally for early voting. As of close of business Friday, a total of 444,648 in person and mail ballots had been cast. Mail ballots that arrive through Tuesday will still count, so that number will creep up a bit in the end.

As for turnout projections, we don’t have much history to guide us, as the County Clerk webpage only breaks out early votes for 2002 and 2006. In 2002, by my calculations 188,225 of the 652,682 votes were cast early, including mail ballots, for a total of 28.8%. In 2006, 191,533 of the 601,186 votes were cast early, for 31.9% of the total. (You can see the 2006 daily early vote tracker here.) If 65% of the votes have been cast already as the story suggests, we’ll have final turnout in the 690,000 range. For a final turnout of 750,000, that means only 60% of the votes have been cast already. My inclination is the pick the lower number, and even that may be a tad high. Let’s say the over/under is at 700,000, and as is my habit, I’ll take the under.

As for the breakdown by State Rep. districts where early votes were cast, it looks like this:

2010 last day Strong R = 41.9% Medium R = 9.1% Medium D = 16.7% Strong D = 29.4% 2010 overall Strong R = 46.0% Medium R = 9.3% Medium D = 17.4% Strong D = 25.0% Total R = 55.3% Total D = 42.4% 2006 Overall Strong R = 43.7% Medium R = 11.2% Medium D = 19.2% Strong D = 23.2% Total R = 54.9% Total D = 42.4%

In the end, it looks a lot like 2006 after a very good second week for Democrats. As before, Thursday was more Democratic than Wednesday, and Friday was more Democratic than Thursday. Moreover, the last five days of early voting saw more ballots cast – 211,552 in person for that period compared to 180,984 for the first seven days. What I’ve heard about the primary voting history suggests Dems pulled ahead of Rs by the end, but there’s a lot of people with unknown partisan history – about a quarter of the total – who have voted as well. Some fraction of that is people who were not eligible to vote in Harris County before 2009, for reasons such as being too young or not living here yet, but I’m a bit concerned about that because more people voted in the Democratic primary here in 2008 than have ever voted for a candidate of either party in a non-Presidential year before now. There’s more room for November Republicans in that total than there is for November Democrats, since so many of the latter now have a primary history. Here’s Dr. Murray’s take of how things look, which he posted before Friday’s numbers came in.

Finally, at the state level, early voting in the top 15 counties is up about 60% over 2006. Harris and Hidalgo more than doubled, Fort Bend and Montgomery nearly doubled, while El Paso and Nueces were basically flat. Don’t think this means much for final turnout, but you never know. There were 4,553,987 votes cast in the 2002 Governor’s race, and 4,399,116 such votes in 2006. I am confident this year will exceed 2006, and just on population growth should pass 2002. Let’s say 4.7 million, as a wild guess. Feel free to make your own.

Quantifying my elitism

Apparently, Charles Murray’s latest bit of faux-populism has spawned a meme. Let’s see just how much of an out-of-touch elitist I am, shall we?

1. Can you talk about “Mad Men?”

Yes, but only because I absorb vast quantities of pop culture by osmosis. I can also talk about “Jersey Shore”, “Dancing With The Stars”, and “American Idol”, even though like “Mad Men” I’ve never seen a single episode.

2. Can you talk about the “The Sopranos?”


3. Do you know who replaced Bob Barker on “The Price Is Right?”

Drew Carey. And Johnny Olson once kissed my great-grandmother. Top that!

4. Have you watched an Oprah show from beginning to end?

I regularly see bits and pieces of it – Tiffany often has it on in the afternoon – and have probably seen one all the way through, but couldn’t swear to it in court.

5. Can you hold forth animatedly about yoga?

I took some yoga classes for awhile, but it never really suited me. Among other things, I’m the least flexible person you’ll ever meet. So, while I can speak non-stupidly about yoga, I don’t think I rise to the “hold forth animatedly” standard.

5. How about pilates?

Yep. It’s my main form of exercise other than walking.

6. How about skiing?

Once every four years, during the Winter Olympics, maybe a little.

6. Mountain biking?

Dude, I live in Houston. I don’t even know what a “mountain” is.

7. Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is?

Apparently, this refers to some NASCAR guy and not the helmet-haired former football coach. I saw them mention him on a recent “Fox NFL Sunday”. Does that count?

8. Does the acronym MMA mean nothing to you?

Yes. See the answer to Question 1 and my pop-culture-osmosis ability.

9. Can you talk about books endlessly?

Sure, but outside of mysteries and children’s books I’ll be faking it.

10. Have you ever read a “Left Behind” novel?

No, but I’ve read all of The Slacktivist’s excellent writing about them.

11. How about a Harlequin romance?

Probably not a branded Harlequin, but I’ve read a few similar trashy romance novels of some other stripe.

12. Do you take interesting vacations?

We visit my parents in Portland every year. Does that count?

13. Do you know a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada?

No, but I could probably find the Sierra Nevada on a map if I had to.

14. What about an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor?

Never heard of the place.

15. Would you be caught dead in an RV?

Sure, why not?

16. Would you be caught dead on a cruise ship?

Sure. I’ve been on two, a Windjammer and a Carnival, and would love to do an Alaskan cruise some day.

17. Have you ever heard of of Branson, Mo?

Heard of it? Sure. Have any desire to visit it? No.

18. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club?


19. How about the Rotary Club?

No, but Tiffany has – she got a Rotary scholarship that helped her get through grad school. Boy, talk about your conflict of elitism there!

And though you didn’t ask, I’ll tell you that I once attended a Knights of Columbus dinner at which my godfather and great-uncle Mike was being honored, and once attended a K of C fish fry in El Paso with my best college buddy. Where does that fall on the plebe/elite spectrum?

20. Have you lived for at least a year in a small town?

Nope, I’m a big city boy all the way.

21. Have you lived for a year in an urban neighborhood in which most of your neighbors did not have college degrees?

Never thought about it, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Where I lived on Staten Island was pretty blue collar back in the day.

22. Have you spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line?

I was a grad student for almost three years. You do the math.

23. Do you have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian?

Yes, several. Is it elitist of me to say I know devout members of other faiths, too?

24. Have you ever visited a factory floor?

No, but I’ve been to three refineries and a chemical plant.

25. Have you worked on one?

No, but I worked for several years on a help desk that supported those refineries and chemical plants.

So now you know. How much of an elitist are you? And how much of one do you suppose Charles Murray is?


Now how much would you pay for a trip to the exosphere?

In the half-century since humans first touched the stars, just seven people have paid their way into space, each forking over tens of millions to orbit around the Earth for about two weeks.

But by late next year, more paying customers will make a brief venture into space, and at a much cheaper cost, if plans by two companies flourish. Costing from $100,000 to $200,000, the flights will give customers a few minutes of weightlessness and a grand view of the Earth 62 miles above the ground.

This goal is among the latest efforts in the world of space tourism. Conceived decades ago, the idea to provide spaceflight to the paying customer is starting to become a reality. The tangibility was made clear earlier this month when Virgin’s VSS Enterprise completed its first manned glide flight from 42,000 feet to a Mojave, Calif., spaceport.

“Now, the sky is no longer the limit,” said Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, one of two companies that plan to begin flying commercial suborbital missions for late next year. “We will begin the process of pushing beyond to the final frontier of space itself.”


In addition to getting into orbit, the other challenge is the destination. For now, NASA’s International Space Station could be an option, but while it is quite large, it’s a national laboratory and not generally a space hotel.

Enter Bigelow Aerospace, a company founded by hotelier Robert Bigelow. The Las Vegas company has already flown two prototypes for an inflatable module and has broken ground on an 180,000-square-foot factory to build space habitats.

You can already imagine the ad campaigns about “what happens at the inflatable space module”, can’t you? Me personally, I think I’ll wait till dilithium crystals become commercially available, then I’ll seek out a suitable wormhole and head off for a visit to the Gamma Quadrant. How about you?

Saturday video break: This is Halloween

And this is how you celebrate it:

Happy Halloween!

Last round of polls

The newspapers have another poll, and I have a question about it.

The survey of 673 likely voters found Perry leading Democratic nominee and former Houston Mayor Bill White 49 percent to 37 percent. They are followed by Green Party candidate Deb Shafto at 3 percent and Libertarian Kathie Glass at 2 percent, with 10 percent undecided or unsure. The survey, conducted Oct. 22-27, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

White essentially is mired at the same level of support he had when the race began last March, but Perry has moved up in the past month.

In September, Perry led White 46 percent to 39 percent. At that point, White had been advertising on television for several months, but Perry had just begun. Since then, Perry has spent millions of dollars on TV ads promoting himself and attacking White.

“The big story really here is just that Perry finally seems to have sealed the deal,” said pollster Micheline Blum, of Blum & Weprin Associates in New York. “I don’t think he feels terribly worried anymore.”

The survey was conducted for the Houston Chronicle, along with the San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The Express News version of this story says the poll was of “1,073 registered voters, including 673 likely to vote”. The question I have, given that this poll was conducted between Days 5 and 9 of early voting, is why wouldn’t you ask people if they have already voted? Seems to me those are a decent chunk of your truly likely voters by now. At the very least, you can see how things differ between those who have voted and those who have not (yet) voted. I have no idea why the pollster didn’t take this approach. You can add that to the problems I had with their previous poll.

Oh, and Shafto at three points? I don’t think so. I’ll put the over/under for that at one, and at the risk of repeating myself, I’ll take the under.

I should note that Public Policy Polling did take ask their respondents if they had voted, and their numbers aren’t encouraging.

Rick Perry’s in a solid position for reelection as Governor of Texas, leading Bill White 53-44 on PPP’s final poll of the race.

For White it may be a classic case of the right candidate running in the wrong cycle. He has strong favorability numbers at a 46/39 spread while Perry can only break even on his approval rating at 45% giving him good marks and 45% bad ones. White leads with independent voters 50-44. That makes him one of very few Democratic candidates anywhere in the country leading with that group this year and it’s all the more impressive given that Barack Obama’s approval rating with that same ground of independents is a 33/55 spread.

Ultimately though to win as a Democrat in Texas you’re going to have to win a fair amount of crossover support from Republican voters and in the end White just wasn’t able to do it. Just 11% of GOP voters are planning to support him, a number equivalent to the 11% of Democrats who plan to vote for Perry. In this highly polarized political climate Republicans just aren’t particularly inclined to vote for any Democrat, even an unusually appealing one like White.

You can see their data here. Forty-four percent of their sample reported having already voted, and Perry’s lead with them was 56-44. That is a pretty small sample (44% of their 568 respondents is 250), making its margin of error 6.2%, but that’s a mighty thin reed on which to hang hopes. PPP did report, as it had before, that there was no enthusiasm gap in Texas, which it defines by comparing the partisan makeup of the 2010 electorate to that of 2008. They just didn’t see White getting enough crossover support to win. My gut says that the level of White’s Republican support is understated by PPP, but the only recent poll with a sufficient level of detail to compare it to is that UT/Trib poll, which I don’t trust at all. We’ll have to see what the precinct data ultimately tells us.

“The cul-de-sac battleground”

The Observer has an interesting look at three State House races in suburban areas that were once Republican strongholds but have now become battlegrounds. Two of them are Democratic-held – HDs 52 and 133 – and one (HD105) is still Republican, with all of them having photo finishes in 2008 and all of them being key to the makeup of the 2011 Legislature. To give some idea of how these three districts have changed over time, here’s the average percentage of the two-party vote received by Republicans in each:

Year HD52 HD105 HD133 ========================= 2002 63.9 63.1 63.3 2004 60.2 57.9 56.4 2006 54.5 56.9 57.6 2008 51.9 47.8 48.2

There were eight contested judicial races in 2002, two each in 2004 and 2006, and five in 2008. That year, every Democratic judicial candidate won at least a plurality in HDs 105 and 133; in HD52, thanks to Libertarian candidates getting upwards of five percent, only two of the five Republicans got majorities, with the others carrying the district with pluralities.

You look at these numbers and you realize two things: One, what a huge missed opportunity HD105 was last time around. And two, even without the Obama surge of 2008, there was a lot of Republican erosion in those districts. In 2006, the Democratic judicial candidates ran ahead of their statewide numbers in HD52, as the WilCo Democratic Party was starting to get its act together. Both HDs 105 and 133 showed the effect of non-Presidential year turnout – remember, even as Dallas Democrats were sweeping the county that year, it was almost entirely about a huge decline in Republican votes. It’s all about changing demographics. I have no idea what things might look like this year, but I know you can’t overlook that effect. Combine four more years of such change with better organization and the Democrats in these districts have a fighting chance.

Sign of the times: Prop 3

Spotted this the other day on Old Spanish Trail just east of SH288:

A sign from the anti-Prop 3 campaign

Far as I can tell, the nearest red light camera to this sign is at Wayside and I-45. It’s all I’ve seen of the campaign against Prop 3 till now. You can contrast that with the pro-Prop 3 ad that’s now running on cable. You’re likely to see this ad if you haven’t already, as the Prop 3 supporters are well-funded. The opponents, not so much. Which means you’ll probably see more of these signs, too. And that’s why the experts think Prop 3 will likely pass.

Friday random ten: Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos is what we celebrate after Halloween around here. In honor of that, here are ten songs about death.

1. And When I Die – Blood, Sweat & Tears
2. The Car Hank Died In – Austin Lounge Lizards
3. Dying Is Fine – Ra Ra Riot
4. Live and Let Die – Guns N’ Roses
5. The Night Pat Murphy Died – Great Big Sea
6. O Death – Ralph Stanley
7. Only The Good Die Young – Billy Joel
8. Dead Egyptian Blues – Trout Fishing In America
9. Tom Burleigh’s Dead – Eddie From Ohio
10. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead – Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon

Honorable mention:

Heaven Can Wait – Meat Loaf
Hell – Squirrel Nut Zippers
Heaven, Hell, or Houston – ZZ Top
Very Fine Funeral – Eddie from Ohio

What are you dying to hear this week?

Entire song report: Started with “Overnight Sensation”, by The Raspberries. Finished with “Poisoning Pigeons In The Park”, by Tom Lehrer, which is just totally fitting in a twisted way. It’s also song #4022, so that was 136 tunes this week. The last O song was “Oye Mamacita”, by Los Lonely Boys. The first P song was “P. S. I Love You”, from the “For The Boys” soundtrack, or “Paddy On The Swing Pipe”, by The Mollys, your choice. Have a great weekend, and remember that Dia de los Muertos is also Election Day, which again is totally fitting in a twisted sort of way.

Here comes the late money

The 8 days out finance reports are in, and it’s about what you’d expect.

Millions of dollars poured into Texas legislative campaigns during the past month as interest groups tried to maximize their influence and partisans readied for the upcoming fight over the redrawing of House and Senate districts.

Those millions, predominantly from business owners and trial lawyers, have allowed candidates in the Austin area and across the state to clog the television airwaves with their closing pitches before Tuesday’s election.

“Money flows late because late money follows the races that are being run effectively,” said Republican consultant Ted Delisi. “Because we have two weeks of early voting and we have a lot of polling, you can understand which campaigns are gaining traction and which ones aren’t, so you’re not betting blindly.”

Big-dollar donors and interest groups also give late so that the donors themselves don’t become lightning rods in the campaigns. Candidates did not have to publicly disclose contributions they received after Sept. 23 until Monday, when early voting was more than halfway over.

“The general consensus among operatives is, it’s too late to do anything with it,” Delisi said. “The election is 30 to 35 percent over right now.”

Yeah, this is the time to do the stuff you’re least proud of, because the potential for blowback decreases greatly with each passing day. There’s stuff about particular races in that story, and the DMN and EoW have more. As I didn’t see anything specific to Harris County, I figured I’d spot check a few races here to see who’s getting what. Here are the amounts raised since the 30 day reports:

Kristi Thibaut, $119,649
Jim Murphy, $172,222

Ellen Cohen, $100,279
Sarah Davis, $69,116

Dwayne Bohac, $113,955
Kendra Yarbrough Camarena, $36,815

Ken Legler, $178,299
Rick Molina, $85,969

Legler also collected $184,885 as of the 30 days out report after only taking in $82,135 for the first six months of the year. I’ve heard a rumble or two that he’s in a tighter race than originally thought. Make of this what you will.

Hubert Vo, $109,135
Jack O’Connor, $183,938

O’Connor is a great example of how the late money train works. Almost $170,000 of that total comes from five sources:

– Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund, $40,000 cash
– Conservative Republicans of Texas, approximately $35,000 in kind
– Republican Party of Texas, $23,000 cash plus another $2,066 in kind
– Robert Rowling of Irving, TN (that’s Tennessee, not Texas), $25,000 cash
– Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, $40,000 cash plus $2,300 in kind

All for a guy who had raised about $65,000 on his own all year. He’s not the only one, of course – Legler got $125,000 from Speaker Straus. Murphy got a lot of assorted PAC money plus $25,000 from the Republican Party of Texas Texas Victory State Account plus a $9200 mailer from the RPT, $20,000 from Bob Perry, $10,500 from three members of the Trammel Crow family in Dallas, and $10,000 from TLR. Bohac also got help from the Speaker, $25,000 worth. I didn’t notice any other donations larger than $5K for him, nor did I see anything of the magnitude noted here for Davis. Again, draw your own conclusions about who sees what opportunities and threats.

Finally, on a tangential note, one unfamiliar name I saw in four of the five Republican reports (all but O’Connor) was a Curtis Mewbourne, of Mewbourne Oil, who handed out 16 donations of $5K each to various legislative candidates (plus a $75K gift to David Dewhurst) since September 24, all but two (incumbents Joe Heflin and Mark Homer) to Republicans. I note his name for future reference, since you know that sooner or later there’ll be some pro quo for all that quid.

The fate of the city propositions

This Chron story could easily have been headlined “A bunch of people take wild guesses about what will happen to the city ballot propositions”.

Political analysts say the fate of the three propositions may be tied together for some Houstonians who could paint any or all of them with a broad brush of anti-government sentiment.

“You could see people just voting no, no, no,” said Mark Jones, chair of the Rice University Political Science Department. “Some could see Proposition 1 as a tax increase, Proposition 2 as a means to help out incumbent politicians and Proposition 3 a way to keep these devices that give more money to the government. ”

Officials with the various campaigns representing the propositions acknowledged that the political headwinds may lead some voters to cast their ballots in lockstep on the three questions. But they expressed confidence that their campaign work has been enough to break through any tendency voters may have to say no to everything.

“Like it or not, voters go to the polls and if they’re happy with the direction the city is going in, they vote for all of them,” said Chris Begala, a spokesman for Keep Houston Safe, a political action committee advocating for Proposition 3. “But if they reach the bottom of the ballot and they’re upset, they vote no. I always defer to the individual voter. They always make good choices, and they will make up their mind individually on all three propositions.”

The consensus among the wild guessers analysts is that Prop 1 has a tough row to hoe because it has attracted opposition from a number of different groups; Prop 2 may have a hard time because nobody knows anything about it; and Prop 3 is in the strongest position because it’s being pushed by emergency responders and hospitals, and because its opposition isn’t well-funded. My wild guesses are that I tend to agree with the view of Props 1 and 3, but I think Prop 2’s chances are better than that on the grounds that people vote for scads of constitutional amendments they know nothing about every other year. When was the last time one of those was voted down? But like I said, it’s just a guess. We’ll know soon enough.

Texas tells Amazon to pay up

Well, that’s one way to attack the budget deficit.

Texas has sent Inc. a $269 million bill for uncollected sales taxes on purchases made by state residents from the Seattle-based Internet superstore over a four-year period.


R.J. DeSilva, spokesman for the Texas comptroller of public accounts, said the bill was sent to in August. It wasn’t publicly disclosed until Friday, when revealed it in a regulatory filing.

“The company has requested a re-determination, which means this is an ongoing audit and could be decided as part of the administrative hearings process,” DeSilva said in a statement. “The company would send documents, and this process will continue.”

DeSilva said he couldn’t answer any questions because sales tax and audit information is largely confidential under Texas law.


The Texas comptroller’s office began an investigation of Amazon’s taxing status in May 2008 after The Dallas Morning News questioned why Amazon didn’t charge sales taxes while maintaining a distribution center in Irving near Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

At the time, had sued New York over whether it needed to collect sales taxes there, arguing it had no “physical presence” in that state. That defense dates to a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision covering catalogs and direct mail-order companies but later applied to Internet retailers.

The News report said Amazon had been operating the Irving distribution center since at least 2006. Amazon contended the distribution center was owned by one of its subsidiaries called KYDC LLC, which is located at the same address as its corporate headquarters in Seattle.

In July, purchased the rest of Carrollton-based that it didn’t already own. had held a minority stake in the quirky deal-of-the-day website since 2006.

“I don’t know if this will encourage other states, but I hope it will,” said Michael Mazerov, senior fellow in the State Fiscal Project of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C. “Amazon is very legally vulnerable.”

The company’s defense that “the mere separation of a corporate subsidiary isolates a retail arm from having to charge sales taxes creates no limit to what any corporation could do,” Mazerov said.

He estimated in a 2009 study that state and local governments lose more than $7 billion a year in uncollected sales taxes.

I’ve already said that I don’t see any reason at this point why online sales are exempt from sales taxes. It made some sense in the 90s, but not any more. I’m rooting for the state on this one.

Ryan issues opinions about poll watching

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has issued a couple of opinions relating to poll watching that may help clear things up a bit. The first opinion has to do with where poll watchers may and may not go:

Poll watchers are entitled to observe all election activity from the time the electionworkers arrive at the polling place to set up in the morning until the equipment is packed up andlocked up at night. See TEX. ELEC. CODE § 33.056 (Vernon 2010). However, poll watchers are not allowed to follow voters into the “voting station” to observe the voters unless the voter requests assistance from an election judge or election clerk. See TEX. ELEC. CODE § 33.057 (Vernon 2010).

Questions have arisen as to what area of the polling place constitutes the “voting station.” Generally, this area includes all of the area surrounding the location of the eSlate machines or the privacy booths where paper ballots may be marked.

Disputes may be minimized by marking lines on the floor indicating areas where the”voting station” is located. The Texas Secretary of State’s office has indicated that as long as the lines are placed in a reasonable location, that this procedure is acceptable and has been used successfully in the past.

The second opinion has to do with recording devices:

Poll watchers must provide an affidavit that they are not in possession of any mechanical or electronic means of recording images or sound while serving as a watcher. TEX. ELEC. CODE §33.006(b)(6). This section applies to cell phones if they have the ability to take pictures or record videos. A watcher may not be accepted for service if the watcher has in his possession such a device. The presiding judge may inquire whether a watcher is in possession of such a prohibited device before accepting the watcher for service. TEX. ELEC.CODE §33 .051 (c). This prohibition applies only to poll watchers.

No person may use a wireless communication device within 100 feet of a voting station. TEX. ELEC. CODE §61.014(a). This section applies to any cell phone or other device that sends or receives an electronic communication signal, such as a laptop computer equipped with WiFi. No person may use any mechanical or electronic means of recording images or sound within 100 feet of a voting station. TEX. ELEC. CODE §61.0 l4(b). This section applies to cell phones if they have the ability to take still pictures or videos. A presiding judge may require a person violating these provisions to turn off the prohibited device or to leave the polling place. TEX. ELEC. CODE §61.014(c). These provisions do not apply to an election officer in conducting the officer’s official duties or to the of election equipment necessary for the conduct of the election. TEX. ELEC. CODE §6l.0 14(d).

Both seem straightforward enough. We’ll see if they make a difference. Unfortunately, it’ll take a lot more than that to deal with stuff like this.

[R]esidents in local African-American neighborhoods are being told some misleading information about their vote.

The mysterious fliers were handed out in parts of Sunnyside and Third Ward Tuesday night, and it is adding confusion to an already tense early voting period.

The fliers start out by saying “Republicans are trying to trick us” and goes on to urge voters not to vote a straight Democratic ticket. It also says a single vote for Bill White is a vote for the entire Democratic ticket.

In the Sunnyside early voting location, several voters say they were handed such fliers.

“They just said, ‘Here take this,’ and I told them I didn’t need it,” said Gary Carter.

The flier says the Black Democratic Trust of Texas is responsible, but it’s a group that doesn’t seem to exist.

You can see video at that link. Too bad no one with a recording device was there to capture some images of the folks handing out these flyers. Relatedly, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has now joined the call for election monitors to be sent to Harris County by the Justice Department. Her press release and a copy of the letter she sent to AG Eric Holder are here. Amusingly, the King Street Patriots have made a similar request. To protect them from the voters they’re harassing, I guess. I don’t have their press release, so I don’t know what that’s about. Hair Balls has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 25

The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes you all have voted or will be voting as it brings you this week’s blog roundup.


Beware the stock photo

Here’s the best press release I received today, from the campaign of Rick Molina in HD144.

The front cover of a direct mail piece for endangered incumbent Ken Legler shows a photo of a doctor, standing with blue collar and white collar workers claiming that Ken Legler is fighting for jobs in Pasadena.

Only one problem — the presumably local workers from respective professions that have made repeated appearances on the pro-Legler mail don’t just look the part, they play the parts as well. The ‘group of professionals’ are not from Pasadena, or Texas, or the United States at all. Legler’s cronies at the front group Citizen Leadership PAC, who paid for the mail, outsourced the photo of “local workers.” It was bought from a stock photo site that offers the photo as a “portrait of people from different professions standing together on white.” The photo is by former Vaisnava monk Daniel Laflor, a photographer in Denmark. (

(The stock photo can be found at

The mailer comes in the aftermath of the disclosure that Ken Legler has not only outsourced jobs from his manufacturing company, but has also placed a series of website postings looking for yet another Chinese manufacturing partner.

“It’s bad enough Ken Legler is directly responsible for outsourcing jobs to China,” noted Rick Molina, Legler’s challenger for House District 144. “But to have actors posing as our families reinforces that it is Legler who is nothing but a front for the same corporate interests who outsource jobs and disregard worker safety.”

“But knowing his record as most Pasadenans now do, I can see why local families aren’t willing to stand by his side,” Molina added.

A picture of the mail piece is here, courtesy of Trail Blazers.

Early voting: The Democratic voters start to show up

After one full week of early voting, the proportion of votes coming from Republican State Rep districts was tilted about two percentage points more towards the GOP than it was in 2006. I’ve argued that this is nothing to be particularly excited about one way or another, as I believe it represents a shift in behavior (more people voting early) than a change in the electorate. That’s largely predicated on Democratic voters coming out in equivalent numbers, of course. How do things look now, after three more days of Early Voting?

2010 Week One Strong R = 47.7% Medium R = 9.4% Medium D = 17.9% Strong D = 22.9% Total R = 57.1% Total D = 40.8% 2010 Week Two Strong R = 46.3% Medium R = 9.3% Medium D = 17.0% Strong D = 25.3% Total R = 55.6% Total D = 42.3% 2010 Overall Strong R = 47.2% Medium R = 9.4% Medium D = 17.6% Strong D = 23.8% Total R = 56.6% Total D = 41.4% 2006 Overall Strong R = 43.7% Medium R = 11.2% Medium D = 19.2% Strong D = 23.2% Total R = 54.9% Total D = 42.4%

So far, Week Two is about three points more Democratic than Week One. I should note that in terms of Strong D percentage, Tuesday was more Democratic than Monday, and Wednesday was more Democratic than Tuesday. There’s still a ways to go to get the overall mix closer to 2006 – and note that Week Two is still slightly redder than 2006 was – but if this continues, that will happen. Better news for Democrats, but still not where they want to be.

And then there’s still the matter of guessing how many people will be left to come out on Election Day itself. As of yesterday, 288,568 in person votes had been cast, with 48,498 mail ballots having been returned. That’s 337,066 total votes. To put this in some perspective, total Harris County turnout in 2006 was a smidge over 601,000, and in 2002 it was a bit over 652,000. The early vote total so far is almost 57% of the total vote from 2006, and nearly 52% of the total vote from 2002. I think final turnout this year will easily exceed 2006 levels, and may be higher than 2002, though probably not by much. Election Day itself may be a fairly quiet affair. Let’s see where we stand after Friday, and we can place our guesses for the final number then.

UPDATE: Another 44,324 votes were cast Thursday, bringing the total early in person vote count to 332,892. Of this, 180,984 were cast in the first seven days, and 151,908 have been cast since Monday. Thursday was the most Democratic day yet:

Strong R = 43.8%
Medium R = 9.1%

Medium D = 17.0%
Strong D = 27.5%

That’s 52.9% R, 44.5% D for the day, which is two points more Democratic than 2006. We’ll see what today holds, and I’ll run the final numbers tomorrow or Sunday.

Dry Dallas update

Lots of money being spent to remove alcohol sales restrictions in Dallas.

The group behind next month’s ballot measures to expand the sale of alcohol in “dry” areas of Dallas has raised nearly $1 million – mainly from grocery stores, restaurants, real estate developers, hotels and other businesses that stand to benefit from passage.

Retailers have contributed the most money (about $700,000), followed by restaurants and hotels (about $140,000), commercial real estate companies ($106,000) and community members (nearly $3,000), said Gary Huddleston, co-chairman of the Keep the Dollars in Dallas campaign (formerly Progress Dallas) and a Kroger executive.

The money has been used for the petition drive to add the two initiatives to the Nov. 2 ballot, legal costs, advertising and other campaign expenses, Huddleston said.

In less than two weeks, Dallas residents will decide whether to eliminate dry areas citywide for retail beer and wine sales – largely in the southern sector. They’ll also vote on a second initiative to let restaurants in dry areas sell drinks to customers without requiring them to join a private club.

The Keep the Dollars in Dallas campaign says additional sales tax revenue from expanded alcohol sales could help the cash-needy city. Opponents contend expanded beer and wine sales would increase public intoxication, impaired driving and other violations.

“You’ll have a rash of folks – a flood of new beer and wine operators – on every corner of the city,” said Andy Siegel, a Dallas attorney who represents a coalition of churches and alcohol retailers opposing expanded beer and wine sales at retailers. “Like it or not, these stores with beer and wine permits often become a hotbed of criminal activity.”

New sales could generate $33.4 million in additional tax revenue annually and create 29,000 jobs in Dallas, according to an economic study by Waco economist Ray Perryman for Keep the Dollars in Dallas. A city of Dallas report estimated $11.3 million in annual sales tax benefits.

As I’ve said before, I’m a bit skeptical of the sales tax projections, but it doesn’t really matter to me. I’d vote for this because I see no reason for these silly restrictions to be on the books. The fearmongering by the opponents is far more ridiculous as far as I’m concerned.

TDP to get KSP’s financial records


Houston tea party spinoff King Street Patriots will grant the Texas Democratic Party access to its financial records, forestalling an injunction hearing that had been set for Monday afternoon in Austin, according to TDP.

According to a TDP news release, review of the records will occur Tuesday at noon, with a hearing scheduled for Thursday in case TDP General Counsel Chad Dunn still has questions about what KSP has or has not disclosed.

TDP’s original information request was sent last Wednesday and demanded that KSP — as a registered Texas nonprofit corporation — turn over required records last Friday or today. On Friday, TDP announced it had scheduled the injunction hearing due to a lack of response from KSP, as the Texas Independent previously reported.

The Lone Star Project has started digging in, and this is what they’ve found so far:

King Street hiding source of $80,000

Though acknowledging the receipt of over $80,000, the King Street extremists refuse to disclose who contributed the money. Incredibly, the group contends that the funds were raised by “passing the hat” at their meetings. To put this outrageous claim into perspective, it would take 1,600 people contributing $50 each to raise $80,000 while a group of 400 people would have to contribute an average of $200 each. According to activist participants, the King Street extremists’ meeting space could barely hold 200 people, yet they claim to have raised as much as $15,000 at a single meeting simply by “passing the hat.”

Given their reluctance to come clean on their contributors, depositions taken under oath will likely be necessary to expose the actual sources and amounts of funds raised and spent by the King Street extremists.

Multiple Ties to Republican Party Activists and Party Officers
As expected, the documents show that the King Street activists operate more like an arm of the Republican Party than any non-profit organization:

  • Office space provided by close supporters of Texas Republican Party Chair
  • Online and communication services provided by key Swift Boat player
  • Cash payments to a right-wing extremist website

There’s more, so check it out. I can’t wait to see what the depositions turn up. And kudos to the Independent, which has owned this story. I still haven’t seen any reporting on it in the Chron. On a related note, former City Council member Carroll Robinson has sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking for election monitors to be sent to Harris County to “ensure that the voting rights of all the residents of the county are protected”. We’ll see what happens with that.

DeLay trial gets underway

And the entertainment value is high already.

A last-minute dispute erupted after DeLay’s defense attorneys struck five potential black jurors, leaving the panel with no African-Americans. Prosecutors objected.

DeLay lawyer Dick DeGuerin cited reasons for striking the jurors. He said three were women who gave him “angry” looks after he raised objections to things said by lead prosecutor Gary Cobb, who is black. Cobb said DeGuerin was being “outrageous.”

Visting Judge Pat Priest settled the argument by striking another juror and seating a black woman who had laughed and joked with DeGuerin when he had questioned her.


One woman on her questionnaire said she would be biased against DeLay if he looked like “a Republican good old boy,” but under questioning she said he didn’t fit her “image of a Republican.”

Another potential juror on his questionnaire said he thought DeLay “dressed badly and looked cheap.” Under questioning, the man said he had mistaken DeLay for Houston criminal defense lawyer Rusty Hardin.

Three women said they only recognized DeLay from his recent appearance on the television show Dancing With the Stars. One said he should not have appeared on the program because “he is a bad dancer.”

It’s such a shame that CourtTV went and changed format. They’d have had a breakout hit on their hands if they were around to televise these proceedings. The Statesman has more.

Maybe Keller hasn’t gotten away with it just yet

Could there possibly be some accountability in this world?

[The state Commission on Judicial Conduct]’s executive director, Seana Willing, asked the panel to reconsider its decision to dismiss the case, which stemmed from Keller’s actions on the day Michael Wayne Richard was executed in 2007.

The three-judge panel had ruled that because the commission had instituted formal proceedings against Keller, it didn’t have the authority to issue a public warning against her.

Instead, the panel said the commission’s only choices were public censure, which is more serious than a warning; a recommendation for her removal from office or her retirement; or dismissal of the case against her.

Because of that, the panel dismissed the case. The panel, called a special court of review, had been appointed by Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson to consider Keller’s appeal.

Willing, in her motion for rehearing, disagreed with the decision about the commission’s authority to issue a warning.

But if that’s the case, she said, the appropriate thing would have been for the panel to send the case back to the commission so it could choose among its more limited options.

“The commission is capable of correcting its error, and on remand can apply the correct range of censure, removal, retirement, or dismissal this Court found is available in formal proceedings,” Willing wrote.

At this point, there’s nothing about this case that isn’t unprecedented, so who the hell knows what the panel may do. Speaking strictly as a non-expert non-lawyer, I don’t generally expect anybody to change their minds in this kind of situation. I do think Willing’s filing has merit, but then I think Keller should have been booted off the bench, so take that with a gigantic grain of salt. I figure this is just a setup to dash my hopes again, so I’ll save a step and not get them up in the first place. Go ahead and tell me if you think I’m being excessively cynical. Grits has more.

Endorsement watch: One more

I was wrong when I said the Chron was done with endorsements. I’d forgotten that they hadn’t endorsed in the one contested County Commissioner race. They have now rectified that.

In two terms on the five-member Harris County Commissioners Court, 60-year-old Sylvia Garcia has been an energetic and innovative representative for Precinct 2. The Chronicle strongly urges voters to return her to office.

Garcia is an experienced fiscal manager, having been elected Houston city controller twice before winning her current post in 2002. She was also city municipal courts director and presiding judge for a decade.


Garcia has worked hard to improve infrastructure and health care services in the precinct. During her tenure, six parks, two park-and-rides and eight school-based health clinics have been created, as well as the new John Phelps Courthouse Annex 4 in Pasadena. It will house offices for the tax assessor-collector, the juvenile probation department and the county’s environmental services division of public health.

The project came in under budget and ahead of schedule. According to the commissioner, “The residents of Precinct 2 deserve the best in customer service, and the Phelps Courthouse Annex addresses that need directly.”

The commissioner has stretched her budget by partnering with local, state and federal agencies to bring in approximately $111 million for projects to be completed over the next two to five years. She cites improvements to Fairmont Parkway in Pasadena and Space Center Boulevard, as well as repairs and renovations to the Washburn Tunnel and historic Lynchburg Ferry.

Garcia supports a new jail booking center to help alleviate overcrowding in the county jail and improved services to get mentally ill inmates the treatment they need. She has pressed for better air quality monitoring of industrial facilities and hired a full-time precinct director to focus on environmental issues and work on security concerns for the region’s petrochemical complex and Ship Channel.

In most Chron endorsements, the endorsee’s opponent is not mentioned. In this case, the Chron spends a paragraph noting that Commissioner Garcia’s opponent is a know-nothing lightweight. Of course, in this season, that’s considered a qualification for some. You can listen to my interview with Commissioner Garcia here.

Former Rep. Kino Flores convicted

Former State Rep. Kino Flores, who was indicted last year on multiple counts of tampering with a governmental record, was convicted today on eleven of those counts.

Flores, a 14-year state representative, was convicted of five counts of misdemeanor tampering with a governmental record, four counts of felony tampering with a governmental record and two counts of misdemeanor perjury.

He faces up to two years in a state jail and a $10,000 fine on each of the felony counts. Any state jail time assessed for each count must run concurrently with other counts under state law.

Flores, D-Palmview, elected to be sentenced by state District Judge Bob Perkins, who set sentencing for Nov. 22.

Flores and his lawyers left court without commenting.

“This verdict represents the public saying to public officials that they expect elected officials to maintain the highest ethical standards,” Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said. “That accurate and full public disclosure is an important part of public service and that the public will not accept excuses like ‘I was too busy’ or ‘I just didn’t know.’”

Two points: 1) Keep this in mind the next time someone claims that prosecutions by the Travis County DA’s Public Integrity Unit are partisan in nature. 2) I don’t know about you, but I sure am glad that Flores declined to run for re-election. He won a hard-fought primary in 2008 that was largely about his Craddick connections, and I would have been leery about betting against him this year had he run, even after the indictment. So much better this way.

The deficit debacle

Think things are bad now? Just you wait.

Texas faces a budget crisis of truly daunting proportions, with lawmakers likely to cut sacrosanct programs such as education for the first time in memory and to lay off hundreds if not thousands of state workers and public university employees.

Texas’ GOP leaders, their eyes on the Nov. 2 election, have played down the problem’s size, even as the hole in the next two-year cycle has grown in recent weeks to as much as $24 billion to $25 billion. That’s about 25 percent of current spending.

The gap is now proportionately larger than the deficit California recently closed with cuts and fee increases, its fourth dose of budget misery since September 2008.

Against the backdrop of the acrimonious campaign between Republican Gov. Rick Perry and Democratic challenger Bill White, Texas’ top elected and budget officials have guarded even more tightly than usual against leaks of information. But bad numbers continue to dribble out in legislative testimony and agency reports.

The bottom line: Public schools, college students and government employees, not just poor and needy Texans, might very well lose money, grants, benefits and even livelihoods during and after next year’s legislative session.

Emphasis mine. Keep that in mind the next time you hear Rick Perry trash California.

Dale Craymer, president of the business-backed Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, said next year very well could bring unprecedented retrenchments, including layoffs or furloughs.

“This budget’s not going to be solved with a single magic bullet,” said Craymer, a top budget adviser to former Govs. Ann Richard and George W. Bush. “It’s going to be solved by a number of very hard decisions that cause a lot of pain in a lot of different areas. So furloughs may indeed be part of the solution,” though even far-ranging layoffs of state employees wouldn’t close the budget gap by themselves, he said.

In 2003, the Legislature eliminated more than 5,300 full-time jobs with the state or its universities and two-year colleges. Already this fall, though, the state agencies alone – not counting potential layoffs at the campuses – have pointed to nearly 10,000 full-time jobs lawmakers might whack if they desire to cut most programs’ spending by 10 percent. Employee groups fear that health benefits, recently reduced, will take further hits.

“It’s going to be pretty gruesome,” Craymer said.

And just remember, all of this has happened with Republicans in complete control of the state. The 2009 budget was balanced entirely because of the stimulus that so many of our Republican leaders like to trash. We’ll get no such help this time around. Every bit of this mess is owned by Rick Perry, David Dewhurst, Joe Straus, and the Republican majorities in both legislative chambers. If you don’t like the situation we’re in, and especially if you don’t like the things they’re talking about doing to deal with it, don’t vote for them. Nothing will change until the leadership of the state changes, and even that is only the first step. The state is simply not ready today to deal with the fact that we have a wholly inadequate tax system that cannot meet the needs of our growing and changing population. I don’t have a whole lot of faith that we’ll get there before it’s too late.

Still not mentioning the Libertarian numbers

Here’s one Trib story about their most recent poll (summary here, crosstabs here), that barely mentions the most remarkable numbers from it.

The voters who identify with the Tea Party overwhelmingly favor Republicans in statewide races, with more than 80 percent of them in each race favoring the Republican over the Democrat. In the governor’s race, 84 percent of the Tea Partiers favor Perry, 5 percent are for Democrat Bill White, 8 percent go with Libertarian Kathie Glass and 2 percent back Deb Shafto of the Green Party.

And here’s another:

The Perry-White result includes the responses to a follow-up question posed to those who responded “don’t know” about their preference for governor. This was a different approach from the September UT/Tribune poll, conducted at a time when we thought many voters had yet to turn their attention to the election. About 15 percent of the October sample said they were undecided in their initial response. When pressed respondents to express a preference, equal numbers chose Perry and White, adding 5.4 percent to each candidate’s totals. Libertarian Kathie Glass gained an additional 2 percent from these “pushed” undecided respondents, and Deb Shafto, the Green candidate, gained another point. This left the undecided number at less than half a percentage point.

That second one was written by the pollsters themselves, but there’s still no discussion of the fact that the level of Libertarian Party support they are projecting in the Governor’s race and in all of the other races is both unprecedented and not seen in other concurrent polls. As I noted before, they are showing Libertarian support levels that would be double to triple the highest amount we’ve seen in contested races over the last eight elections, going back to 1994, and they have yet to offer a hypothesis as to why that might be. I find that puzzling and neglectful. If the PECOTA projections for the 2011 baseball season claimed that five guys would bat .400 and three pitchers would win 30 games, I’d expect to see some detailed explanations for why those predictions are justified. To do otherwise would make me question the fundamental structure of the system. I’m feeling the same way about this poll right now.

Blast from the past, RRC edition

TPJ tells me something I didn’t know about Republican candidate for Railroad Commissioner David “My party is my qualification” Porter.

Porter has been the treasurer of the Texas Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (TRLCC) since 2006. That’s when school-voucher activist James Leininger used Porter’s PAC as a $2 million vehicle to attack the GOP incumbents who had opposed Leininger’s agenda. Most incumbents survived the Leininger-funded primary challenges.

Created by GOP consultant Jeff Norwood, GOP activist Bill Crocker and Porter, the now-dormant TRLCC PAC may provide Texas’ best-documented case of a candidacy operating as an almost wholly owned subsidiary of a single PAC, consultant and donor.

James Leininger – now there’s a name I haven’t heard in awhile. Turns out he’s been laying low this cycle, for whatever the reason, not that Republicans have missed his funding. All I know is that I’ve seen several overviews of this race, and that’s the first time I’d heard about the Leininger connection. As if I needed another reason to vote for Jeff Weems. Go read it and see for yourself.

Transgender golfer sues LPGA

This lawsuit against the LPGA filed by a transgender woman will be worth watching.

Lana Lawless, a 57-year-old retired police officer who had gender-reassignment surgery in 2005, made her name as an athlete in 2008 after winning the women’s world championship in long-drive golf with a 254-yard drive into a headwind. But this year, Lawless was ruled ineligible in the same championship because Long Drivers of America, which oversees the competition, changed its rules to match the policy of the L.P.G.A. Lawless wrote a letter in May asking for permission to apply for L.P.G.A. qualifying tournaments and was told by a tour lawyer that she would be turned down.

“It’s an issue of access and opportunity,” Lawless said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I’ve been shut out because of prejudice.”


The L.P.G.A.’s policy has remained the same even as several sports bodies have changed their rules to accommodate people who are transgender. In 2004, the International Olympic Committee began allowing transgender people to compete if they have undergone reassignment surgery and at least two years of postoperative hormone-replacement therapy. Several other sports organizations then passed their own policies permitting transgender people to compete, including the United States Golf Association, the Ladies Golf Union in Britain and the Ladies European Golf Tour.

“I think the L.P.G.A. is really out of step with other professional sports organizations of its size, and it’s a wake-up call to other entities that we’re not going to tolerate discrimination based on gender identity,” said Kristina Wertz, the legal director of the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco. She said California was one of 13 states, and the District of Columbia, that had laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

Lawless said she had no competitive edge over other female golfers. The reassignment surgery removed her testes, and her hormones and muscle strength are in line with someone who was genetically female, she said. According to her birth certificate, she is a woman. “It doesn’t say ‘female-ish,’ ” Lawless said. “There is no such thing as born female. Either you’re female, or you’re not.”

The main point of confusion seems to come when rules or laws define someone’s gender as being what it was at birth. That was the case with the marriage question that Attorney General Greg Abbott declined to answer. As with many things, society’s understanding of gender needs to keep up with modern reality. Hopefully, the LPGA will see the writing on the wall and come to an agreement quickly.

“Houston Have Your Say: Energy, Economy & Environment”

Time again for another edition of Houston Have Your Say on KUHT:

Worried about air quality? Concerned about environmental regulation costing jobs in the Houston region? Join Patricia Gras for Houston Have Your Say: Energy, Economy & Environment: Making It Work on Tuesday, October 26 at 7pm. This live town hall forum will discuss finding the balance between Houston’s energy needs, environment concerns and sustaining a strong economy. Join us as we search for solutions together.

Do you have a question or comment you would like addressed during the town hall forum? You can send an e-mail to [email protected]

Be sure to visit our previous town hall meeting sites for more information:

Houston Have Your Say: Education
Houston Have Your Say: Immigration
Houston Have Your Say: Houston’s Future Growth
Houston Have Your Say: Economy
Houston Have Your Say: Health Care Reform

Ree-C Murphey, Michael Reed, and I will be there as usual to provide color commentary on their live chat. As was the case with the education episode, the conversation will continue online for about a half hour after the live TV broadcast ends. Come join in on the discussion tonight at 7.

UPDATE: Come join the conversation here.

For those who are just tuning in to the whole Tom DeLay saga

The Statesman has a useful overview of How We Got Here in the DeLay money laundering case, which goes to trial today. I love the fact that it all began with a little hubris.

It was November 2002, just days after Texas Republicans had won a historic election that gave them control of state government for the first time in more than a century.

Publicist Chuck McDonald called to pitch a story to this reporter about how his client, the Texas Association of Business, and its president, Bill Hammond, played a critical role in electing the Republican majority.

“Bill Hammond wanted credit,” McDonald recalled last week, “and wanted people to know how they did it.”

In that phone conversation, McDonald explained that the state’s largest business organization had spent almost $2 million on advertising, mostly in mail pieces to voters. Unlike other political groups, McDonald insisted that the association didn’t have to disclose the corporations that put up the money as long as it followed its lawyers’ advice to avoid direct campaign activities. The group avoided using buzzwords such as “elect,” “support,” “oppose” and “defeat.” It didn’t coordinate its efforts with candidates. It hadn’t worked with other political groups.

Association officials argued that their mail pieces were issue ads and not subject to campaign finance laws barring corporate money in Texas campaigns.

McDonald gave the American-Statesman a stack of the mail pieces to show how the group did it.

The story was published the next day and included comments from Austin lawyer Buck Wood questioning whether it was legal for corporate donors to underwrite such an effort. He cited a century-old state law that prohibits corporations and unions from spending money “in connection with a campaign.”

Ronnie Earle, the Travis County district attorney at the time, read the story and began investigating.

DeLay and his brainchild, a campaign committee named Texans for a Republican Majority, were not on anyone’s radar. It might have stayed that way except that McDonald inadvertently included one attack ad by Texans for a Republican Majority, which wasn’t his client, in that stack of business association mailers.

If the association was working alone, as it claimed, how to explain that maverick ad without the TAB brand?

The American-Statesman began investigating and publishing stories about Texans for a Republican Majority and how it worked with the business association.

Let this be a lesson, kids: When you break the law, don’t go bragging to reporters about it. Read the rest, and go pop some corn as the proceedings are about to begin. Juanita has more.

Once again, I’ll take the under

There’s a bizarre new UT/Texas Trib poll that’s so odd I can’t even come up with a good introduction for it, so I’m just going to jump straight to the weirdness:

Republican Gov. Rick Perry leads his Democratic challenger, Bill White by 10 points — 50 percent to 40 percent — in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, which was conducted in the days leading up to early voting. Libertarian Kathie Glass has the support of 8 percent of respondents; Deb Shafto of the Green Party gets 2 percent.


• In the race for lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst is leading Democrat Linda Chavez-Thompson 51 percent to 38 percent. Libertarian Scott Jameson has 9 percent, while the Green Party’s Herb Gonzales Jr. has 2 percent.

• Attorney General Greg Abbott leads Democrat Barbara Ann Radnofsky 55 percent to 35 percent. Libertarian Jon Roland has 11 percent (when the total here and elsewhere doesn’t add up to 100 percent, rounding is the culprit).

• Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs, the only major-party candidate in her race, has the support of 51 percent, while Libertarian Mary Ruwart pulls 11 percent and Ed Lindsay of the Green Party has 9 percent. This is the only contest in the poll in which undecided voters were not pushed to make a choice; as such, 29 percent of respondents identified themselves as undecided.

• Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson is leading Democrat Hector Uribe 50 percent to 37 percent in his bid for re-election, with Libertarian James Holdar garnering 12 percent.

• Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples leads Democrat Hank Gilbert by the same margin: 50 percent to 37 percent. Libertarian Rick Donaldson has 12 percent.

• In the race for a slot on the Railroad Commission that is the only open seat on the statewide ballot, Republican David Porter leads Democrat Jeff Weems 50 percent to 34 percent, with Libertarian Roger Gary at 10 percent and Art Browning of the Green Party at 5 percent.

I’m not sure what is more surprising, the numbers received by the Libertarian candidates in these polls, or (as one commenter said) the fact that Ross Ramsey could write this story without once making note of them. How out of the ordinary are the Libertarian numbers? I went through every statewide election result on the Secretary of State webpage going back to 1992. Here are the best performances by year of a Libertarian candidate in contested statewide races:

Year Race Candidate Pct ========================================= 2008 RRC David Lloyd 3.51 2006 Lt Gov Judy Baker 4.35 2004 RRC Anthony Garcia 3.59 2002 Land Comm Barbara Hernandez 4.12 2000 Senate Mary Ruwart 1.15 1998 Land Comm Monte Montez 2.72 1996 Sup Ct Eileen Flume 3.64 1994 RRC Buster Crabb 3.15 1992 RRC Richard Draheim 6.98

A couple of notes: The Senate race in 2000 was the only non-Presidential contest that had an R and a D in it at the state level. 1996 featured the only appearance of the Natural Law Party; they were in three state races, including the Presidential race, and topped out at 0.75%, though they did break 1% in some Congressional contests.

And then there’s 1992, which features the number that most likely jumps out at you, Richard Draheim’s 6.98%. That race featured Democratic incumbent Lena Guerrero, who had been appointed to the Railroad Commission by then-Governor Ann Richards. During the election campaign it was revealed that she had lied about getting a degree from UT, which turned into a huge scandal that sent her campaign into a ditch. I’ve no doubt that this was the main contributor to Draheim’s unparalleled performance. Yet even under those circumstances, it’s not in the 8 to 12 percent range that UT/TT is crediting this year’s crop of Ls with.

You can, I trust, see why I’m skeptical. If that’s not enough, note that in the past four Governor’s races, the best any Libertarian candidate has done is 1.46%, considerably less than what UT/TT claims Glass to be polling at. I’d set the over/under in all of these races at 4%, and I’d take the under on all of them. No other poll has shown anything like this, including the two previous results from UT/TT. How they could fail to remark on these highly remarkable numbers is a mystery to me. BOR has more.

Can we finally get some US Attorneys?

A “Republican and former federal prosecutor” named Bill Mateja wrote an op-ed over the weekend that simultaneously cheered and criticized the Republican obstruction of getting US Attorneys nominated for Texas.

Why should Republicans, who have played their hand so well, now help Democrats get these posts filled during a Democratic administration? The simple answer is that while their stand may be principled and worthy of kudos to the extent they’ve beaten back Democratic efforts to install mere politicos, it is no longer what is best for Texas.

Mike McCrum’s recent announcement that he was withdrawing his name from consideration for the San Antonio U.S. attorney’s post underscores the fact that whatever the cause of the political logjam, it simply has to end.

McCrum — a first-rate, prosecutor-first-Democrat-second lawyer – withdrew his name even though he seemed to be the pick of Democrats and Republicans. He had been on hold too long without the ability to take on new cases, which was anathema to his legal practice and bringing home the bacon.


The time is now to put empowered federal prosecutors in place, even if it means Republicans relinquish their upper hand and settle for someone who is politically not what they would prefer. Again, I call on our senators to end this stalemate, whether by making things happen or allowing or greatly easing the way for Democrats to move nominees to confirmation. I trust that the senators’ principled stand on this issue will result in Democratic nominees who aren’t merely political hacks and who, while not perfect from the senators’ political vantage, can get the job done.

It’s interesting that Mateja mentioned the specter of “political hacks” or “mere politicos” three times but never claimed that any such candidates had been seriously put forth, and the one nominee he did name he called “first rate”. Protest a bit too much, Bill?

I give Mateja credit for accurately citing Republican obstructionism as the primary reason for the delay, but of course this is much bigger than just Cornyn and KBH throwing their weight around. The entire strategy of the Republican Party from January 21, 2009 onward has been to obstruct and delay, which has been a huge success for them thanks in no small part to the dysfunction of the Senate. I have no doubt that it would be an acceptable outcome to our Senators and to any Republicans who might succeed either of them for these positions to remain unfilled for as long as President Obama is in office. The GOP is perfectly content to ensure that the economy remains broken in order to maximize their chances of retaking the White House in 2012. Why should they care about a few white collar criminals going unprosecuted in the interim? But hey, good luck trying to get them to listen to you, Bill. My advice would be to accompany your pleadings with a few bags of unaccountable corporate cash, but to keep your expectations low anyway.

On a side note, the next time someone tells me that we need to stop electing judges because doing so is just too political, I’ll show them this and ask why they think the appoint-and-confirm process would be any less political. At least with elections I get to have a say in it.

Census participation numbers

Good news.

Seventy percent of Houston households returned their 2010 census forms by mail, up 6 percent from 10 years ago.

That could translate into millions of dollars in additional federal funding, according to city officials.

Bragging rights, too.

Just 68 percent of the forms sent to Dallas addresses were returned.

The numbers that really count — population totals, which determine everything from congressional seats to transportation funding – won’t be released until December, with additional information released over the next few years.

Nicely done. A statement from Mayor Parker, along with a comparison to how Houston did versus other big cities, is here.

Another look ahead at redistricting

The short version of this Chron story is basically “Republicans would like to control every aspect of the redistricting process, while Democrats would at least like to win the Governor’s office and maintain some semblance of parity in the House”. A few points:

“The governor’s race is critical to redistricting,” declares U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, a former state legislator whose district is one of the fastest-growing in the nation. “A Republican governor increases the likelihood that the final map will be drawn by elected state representatives. A Democratic governor who vetoes the GOP Legislature’s plan ensures the federal courts will draw the final congressional map for Texas.”

That’s what happened in 2001, when the Democrats still had a majority in the House and Pete Laney was Speaker. The House and Senate could not agree on a redistricting bill, and the Congressional map was ultimately drawn by a three-judge federal panel in Dallas. That was the flimsy justification that Tom DeLay then used to force his re-redistricting scheme in 2003, that since the map wasn’t drawn by the Lege it wasn’t legitimate. A Republican triumvirate would ensure a Lege-drawn map; a Democratic Governor and/or House would likely mean another map job for the judges. This time, a do-over in 2013 would almost certainly not happen, as there isn’t really anyone in the Texas Congressional delegation who would have the juice to make it happen.

Without White in the governor’s chair, the Democrats’ only leverage would be the Justice Department, which has reviewed Texas districts for the past four decades as part of a “pre-clearance” process required in states with legacies of institutionalized racial discrimination.

For the first time since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, the Justice Department is controlled by Democrats – something that makes Texas Republicans a bit nervous.

The GOP’s suspicion of the Obama administration has given birth to a novel legal strategy: Republican leaders in Austin are privately discussing the possibility of bypassing the Justice Department and filing any redistricting plan directly with the U.S. District Court in Washington.

This has come up before, and I confess I’m fuzzy on the details. It would have been nice for the story to explain it a bit more. The bottom line is that the GOP would prefer to take its chances with some activist judges than with a Justice Department that actually takes civil rights enforcement seriously.

Back in Texas, both parties have been gearing up for political combat for a year. Party leaders have convened training sessions for their operatives, legislative redistricting committees have begun holding hearings and congressional Republicans have chosen Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, as their point person in the process. The Democratic delegation has not yet picked its redistricting leaders.

But the political calculations are complicated by demographic realities. West Texas, a region dominated by Democrats, is likely to lose power in the legislative and congressional redistricting processes because of the concentration of population growth in the Houston area and along the I-35 corridor from Denton to Laredo.

What’s more, redistricting is just one of the hot-button items on the legislative agenda for 2011, along with a state budget dripping with red ink, education policy and funding, border security, the future of the Texas Department of Transportation and much more.

Here I will note again that the Trib floated the possibility of a redistricting compromise, agreed to in advance, which I believe the Lege would take if it were offered to them. Whether that’s still a live possibility at this point or not, I have no idea. I do know that the Republicans have to be at least a little careful, lest they do to their Congressional delegation what they did to their State House membership, which is to say lose a bunch of ground after initially overreaching. How they try to save Mike Conaway, in a district that was barely justifiable in 2003 and which owes its existence entirely to Tom Craddick’s insistence on separating Midland/Odessa from Abilene and Lubbock will be worth watching in itself. I feel quite confident that the electorate in 2012 will be more Democratic than it was in 2002, which complicates things further for them. Especially if Chet Edwards loses, holding serve and protecting their incumbents may look pretty good to them. But who knows? As Molly Ivins once said, our state motto ought to be “Too much is never enough, and wretched excess is even more fun.” Why should this be any different?

One week of early voting

Let’s start with the breakdown of the early voting numbers after one full week:

2010 Overall Strong R = 47.7% Medium R = 9.4% Medium D = 17.9% Strong D = 22.9% Total R = 57.1% Total D = 40.8% 2006 Overall Strong R = 43.7% Medium R = 11.2% Medium D = 19.2% Strong D = 23.2% Total R = 54.9% Total D = 42.4%

Paul Burka, as is his wont, has proclaimed the early vote totals as gloom and doom for the Democrats. I think that’s a fallacious conclusion based on this limited evidence, for three reasons.

1. A surge in early voting does not mean a commensurate surge in final turnout. Didn’t we learn this lesson in 2008? Look what people, including me, were saying about Harris County turnout in 2008 based on the gigantic, unprecedented early vote numbers. County Clerk Beverly Kaufman predicted 73% turnout, on the assumption that as many people would show up on Election Day as had done during early voting. To put it mildly, that didn’t happen. Sure, final turnout was up a bit from 2004, but for the most part the huge early vote numbers represented a shift in behavior, not a surge in new participants. On Election Day itself, turnout was much lighter than expected because we’d basically run out of voters. In the absence of evidence that there’s a large number of non-habitual voters casting ballots this year, the most likely explanation of what we’re seeing is the same thing, a shift in behavior from Election Day voting to early voting. As was the case in 2008, there has been a concerted effort to get people to vote early this year, thanks to the fire that destroyed the county’s voting equipment. Why are we surprised that people are doing what they’ve been repeatedly told to do?

What we are seeing here is more people voting early than they did in 2006. Most likely, more of these people are Republicans, though we can’t really quantify that from these numbers; I’ll have more on that in a bit. That brings me to point 2:

2. There’s nothing unusual about the partisan pattern of early voting this year. Am I the only one who remembers that Republicans traditionally dominated early voting, with Democrats doing better on Election Day? No, Dr. Murray remembers that, too:

Murray said the numbers suggested to him that “Republicans look to be in better shape in Harris County, which, until 2008, has been the pattern. I don’t know what pattern we’re going to see in 2010.”

In 2008, the Democratic Party relentlessly flogged the early vote message, and Democratic voters responded. Prior to that, Republicans won the early vote. They also did pretty well in Harris County in those days, and I’m sure they’re feeling good about that possibility. But again, the question is about how much of the vote has shifted to the EV period, and how much they’ll have in reserve on Election Day. As giddy as Democrats were about the early vote numbers in 2008, that feeling turned to nervousness as it was clear that the Republicans were catching up on Election Day. With a normal level of Democratic turnout, things will largely even out.

The Republican districts aren’t as Republican as the Democratic districts are Democratic. Putting this another way, here’s Dr. Murray again, analyzing some 2008 numbers:

One way to look at this is to take precincts that the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates won decisively in 2004 and compare registration gains this year in these precincts since the March 4th party primaries. I selected the top 20 precincts that the Republican nominee George W. Bush won with a total vote of more than 2,340. I then pulled out the top 20 precincts for Democrat John Kerry where he received more than 1,380 votes four years ago. Since March 4, the voter rolls in the top Republican precincts from 2004 have added 7.52% new total registrants, and the top Democratic precincts have added 7.85%. So by this measure, the registrations over the last six months look like a push for the two parties.

But, there is a very big difference in these two sets of precincts. The top 20 Democratic precincts were, in 2004, and remain, heavily minority boxes with very few Republican voters. For example, in the March 4, 2008 party primaries these precincts cast 25,676 votes in Democratic primary and just 1,097 in the Republican primary. This means the registration gains this year will almost certainly add to the total vote for Harris County Democratic candidates. The top twenty 2004 Republican precincts were, of course, carried by George W. Bush, but there was a sizeable Democratic minority (16,990 of 75,583 voters) in these predominately GOP boxes four years ago. That Democratic minority has grown since November 2004, if the March primary is any indication. For example, in precinct 764, which has had the largest registration gain in the county since November 2004 (+4288 as of yesterday), the vote in the March 4 Democratic primary was 2,185 compared to just 999 Republican primary voters (Precinct 764 in 2004 was split for the 2008 election and now also includes precinct 388). Overall, the top 20 Republican precincts in 2004 had almost as many Democratic voters in the March primary (18,869) as Republican voters (19,551).

And here’s my way of looking at that, which is to compare the percentages that Bill Moody and JR Molina got in the strong and medium partisan districts from 2002 to 2006:

Dist 02 Moody 06 Moody 02 Molina 06 Molina ============================================= 126 27.8 35.2 26.3 32.9 127 27.0 33.4 25.0 30.6 128 36.2 40.7 34.1 37.9 129 30.2 39.2 28.1 36.6 130 20.8 28.8 19.0 26.3 132 26.2 36.1 24.4 33.3 135 32.1 40.2 30.5 37.5 136 22.2 32.5 20.4 29.1 150 25.4 32.9 23.3 30.7 Dist 02 Moody 06 Moody 02 Molina 06 Molina ============================================= 131 78.3 81.2 78.0 79.8 139 81.3 83.1 81.1 81.5 140 68.8 68.9 69.3 68.1 141 77.0 76.9 76.4 75.5 142 82.8 80.9 82.6 79.3 143 71.8 69.4 71.8 68.6 145 68.3 68.9 69.9 68.5 146 71.6 74.8 70.8 72.4 147 81.6 82.6 81.6 80.6 148 63.5 67.7 63.0 65.3 Dist 02 Moody 06 Moody 02 Molina 06 Molina ============================================= 133 36.7 43.8 34.7 41.1 134 38.2 51.7 35.5 47.2 137 51.1 55.8 49.8 53.8 138 37.5 45.1 35.2 41.8 144 39.5 44.9 37.8 42.8 149 42.4 48.7 40.7 46.6

That’s a lot of growth in Democratic strength in four years, at a time when there was less organization in the county, and no funded GOTV effort. It’s demographic change, and it’s something I’ve referenced before: The Republican base in Harris County is stagnant, while the Democratic base is growing. The result was that in 2006, a Democrat in a lower profile race might get 75% of the vote in the Democratic districts, and 35% in the Republican ones. That means that for every 1000 votes, the Dem would have a net of 400 in the D districts and -300 in the R ones. At those rates, you’d need 1333 votes in a Republican district to get the same +400 net for a Republican candidate. And as it happens, 1333 is 57.1% of 2333, which is the combined vote total. And that’s before we take into account four more years of this kind of change.

Now again, these are all very rough and approximate calculations, which rely on a number of assumptions. You’re much better off getting hold of the roster of people who’ve actually cast votes and figuring out their partisan history rather than relying on this kind of hocus pocus. My point is not to put a smiley face on what has happened so far – I do agree that Dems are lagging, and based on the conversations I’ve had with people over the weekend, I’m the optimist – it’s simply to knock down the assumption that because more votes have been cast in Republican districts that all hope is lost. Hell, in 2008, more early votes were cast in the Republican districts, and we know how that turned out. The Democrats’ job is no different now than it was before early voting started, and that’s to get their voters to the polls. Whether that happens this week or next Tuesday doesn’t really matter, as long as it happens. If it does, we’ll be okay. If not…I don’t want to go there. Just vote, and make sure everyone you know does so as well.

Endorsement watch: State House

I think this list of State House recommendations wraps up the endorsements for the Chron. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other races left for them to do. Anyway, in twelve contests they went with ten incumbents, which is both good news (Kristi Thibaut, Ellen Cohen, Scott Hochberg, Senfronia Thompson, Jessican Farrar, Hubert Vo) and bad news (Bill Callegari, Dwayne Bohac, Ken Legler); the incumbent party in the one open seat (HD127); and one challenger:

Texas House District 150: Brad Neal, the Democratic challenger, is our choice over Republican incumbent Debbie Riddle. Riddle’s sponsorship of an Arizona-style immigration bill threatens to throw sand in the gears of the upcoming Austin session. We prefer Neal, a Texas A&M graduate, engineer and military veteran who is more in tune with this demographically changing district in north-central Harris County. He pledges to “represent the whole district; not just my neighborhood.” That would be a welcome change for many District 150 constituents.

This marks the third consecutive election in which the Chron has endorsed Riddle’s opponent; to the best of my knowledge, every time she has had a Democratic opponent, that opponent has been Chron-endorsed, including Brad Neal in 2008. Hopefully, one of these days the voters in HD150 will pay heed.