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July, 2013:

July finance reports for non-candidates

Not everyone who files a finance report with the city is running for something this November. Term-limited incumbents, and former candidates who still have money in their campaign treasuries are required to file reports as well. Here’s a look a those who did this July:

Dist Candidate Raised Spent On Hand Loan ------------------------------------------------------- AL3 Noriega 25,245 5,224 23,602 11,000 D Adams I Rodriguez 0 3,274 10,293 0 2011 Jones 0 0 3,203 0 2005 Lee 0 0 1,287 0 2009 Locke 0 427 4,065 0 2003 Berry 0 5,000 0 71,622

Here are all the reports. I did not find one for CM Wanda Adams. Doesn’t mean she didn’t file one – as noted CM Cohen filed one but it’s not visible on the city’s finance reports page – but one was not to be found.

Noriega report
Rodriguez report

Jones report
Lee report
Locke report
Berry report

CM Melissa Noriega has some debt, which is why she raised funds this year. I have no idea if she plans to run for something else in the future, but if she does I’ll be in the front row, cheering her on. I’m pretty sure she lives in Commissioners Court Precinct 2, not that I’m hinting or anything. CM James Rodriguez has been reportedly interested in taking on Commissioner Morman in 2014, but if so he hasn’t started fundraising for it.

As for the former candidates, I listed the year of their last election instead of an office, since only two of them held one. I presume at this point that Jolanda Jones is not going to push boundaries and run for District D. It wouldn’t surprise me if she does run for something else someday, but it doesn’t look like this will be the year for that. Mark Lee ran for Controller in 2003 and District C in 2005, narrowly missing the runoff in the latter race. Neither he nor Gene Locke nor Michael Berry seem likely to run for anything again, but one never knows. Unlike Congress and the Legislature, there’s just not that much leftover city campaign money lying around.

Special Session 3: Beyond Thunderdome

Beyond ridiculous, if you ask me, not that they did.

Same hair and same amount of crazy as Rick Perry

Standing before mostly empty chairs in the 150-member Texas House on Tuesday, House Speaker Joe Straus adjourned the second special session and announced that Gov. Rick Perry would be calling them all back for a third special session later in the day.

After gaveling in the House at 2:36 p.m., Straus briefly thanked members for their time and hard work during the second special session before acknowledging Perry would probably call a third special session 30 minutes after both chambers had officially adjourned the second special session.

“See you in 30 minutes,” he quipped, telling the few dozen House members in the Capitol to stick around for the opening of the third session.

An aide to Perry confirmed that the governor plans to call a third special session shortly.

Some Republicans would like to blame the Democrats for this fine mess they’re all in.

“I think we need to remember why we are having this extra special session. One state senator, in an effort to capture national attention, forced this special session,” Capriglione told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I firmly believe that Sen. Wendy Davis should reimburse the taxpayers for the entire cost of the second special session. I am sure that she has raised enough money at her Washington, D.C., fundraiser to cover the cost.”

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prarie, who leads the House Democratic Caucus, said Capriglione calling on Davis to reimburse taxpayers is “absurd.”

“The special sessions have largely been political and just a continuation of decade-old culture wars that do very little to resolve policy and do a lot to continue to divide Texans and in the process wasting a lot money,” Turner said. “The decision to call a special session is the governor’s and governor’s alone, he has to decide if its worth the costs.”

State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, tweeted Monday evening that Dewhurst should have passed the transportation bill in the first special session on the night of Davis’ filibuster.

Lt. Gov. is blaming House for TXDOT $. History lesson: he had SJR ready to go in the 1st Special & killed it to score political pts #txlege

— Joe Moody (@moodyforelpaso) July 29, 2013

A resolution to fund transportation had cleared both Houses and members of either party had said publicly the measure had enough support to pass. Dewhurst declined an appeal from Democrat lawmakers to bring up and pass the measure before the abortion filibuster began and the measure – like the abortion restrictions – failed to pass the first special session.

“It seems to me the lieutenant governor’s priority was focusing on partisan issue of abortion and trying to score political points rather than taking care of the business of the state ready to be resolved,” Turner said.

Not to mention, as Texpatriate points out, that Capriglione can’t count votes.

Anyways, the House only voted 84-40 in favor of the bill, sixteen short of the supermajority required for passage. Among the 40 dissenting votes, only 13 were Democrats. This means that even if every Democrat in the room had supported the bill, it would have failed. Make no mistake, the Tea Party killed HJR2.

And as I noted that’s a lot of absentees and/or abstentions. The Republicans only needed six Democratic votes to get to 100 if they were uniformly in favor. They got 27 Yeas, so any shortfall is indeed their fault.

Rumor has it that once again there will be other items on the call. At least one additional item, if there are to be any, would be welcomed by members of both parties.

Despite broad bipartisan support, Texas lawmakers have been unsuccessful this year in their efforts to pass a bill issuing tuition revenue bonds — or TRBs — to fund campus construction around the state. Returning for yet another special session, which Gov. Rick Perry called on Tuesday, may provide them with an opportunity to try again.

“I don’t think any of us have ever given up hope,” state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said. “We would certainly like to see TRBs on the call.”

At the end of the regular session, the TRB bill was held up by political jockeying as the clock ran out. In the two subsequent special sessions, Perry did not add the issue to the official to-do list. Lawmakers could have tried to move a TRB bill, but when the legislation is not on the governor’s special session call, it’s easy to defeat on a technicality.

Before the second special ended, Perry indicated that he might consider adding TRBs to that call. “Once we get the transportation issue addressed and finalized, then we can have a conversation about whether or not there are any other issues that we have the time and inclination to put on the call,” he said.

But a plan to address the state’s transportation funding needs failed, and so TRBs were never added. Now, Perry has called lawmakers back for a third 30-day special session, and transportation funding remains the only item on the agenda — for now.

“If and when both chambers pass the transportation bill, I believe very strongly that the governor will add TRBs to the call,” state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said.

Zaffirini pushed for a TRB bill for the last three regular sessions and has already filed a bill in the just-called special session. State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, are among the 21 co-authors on Zaffirini’s legislation and have also filed TRB bills of their own.

No other items as yet, but it’s early days.

As for the main event, a little leadership might help it finally get passed.

Rep. Joe Pickett, a leading House transportation policy writer, says the Legislature’s infantry is exhausted and it’s time for a meeting of the generals.

“We’ve taken this pretty far a couple of times now,” Pickett said of lawmakers’ efforts this summer to provide a modest boost in state funding of roads and bridges.

But the push got snared by abortion politics in the first special session. In the second, it caught its pants leg in a complex bramble of disagreements that include philosophical clashes over how much money is needed in the state’s rainy day fund; many Democrats’ resentment that public schools play second fiddle to infrastructure in the state budget process; and increasingly petty resentments among Republicans who run the show. The whole thing is playing out as top Republicans figure out their futures, in a game of musical chairs for statewide offices, and lowly Republicans look over their shoulders to see if they’re getting a primary opponent this winter.

“Maybe the Big 3 should meet and see if they have any suggestions on how to get this over the line,” Pickett said, referring to Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“Give us some guidance or an outline” Pickett pleaded. He said several lawmakers belonging to both parties have suggested that the top leaders should huddle.

A better funding mechanism wouldn’t hurt, either. But don’t hold your breath waiting for that. BOR and Texpatriate have more.

SJL for DHS?

That sound you heard Monday was a bunch of heads exploding.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Conservative bloggers went wild Monday when they got wind of the Congressional Black Caucus’ suggestion that President Obama pick Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston for the post of Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Rich Cooper, avid blogger for Security Debrief, responded to the news of the Jackson Lee recommendation in a post by saying, “Apparently, it is not a joke. For reasons that baffle any sense of reality, it is a serious gesture on the part of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to encourage President Obama to nominate Rep. Jackson Lee as a replacement for outgoing-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.”

A letter dated July 25 and signed by CBC Chairwoman Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat, urges President Barack Obama to consider Jackson Lee for the position formerly held by Janet Napolitano, the first woman to hold the position. Napolitano resigned earlier this month to become president of the University of California.

“Representative Jackson Lee would serve as an effective DHS Secretary because she understands the importance of increasing border security and maintaining homeland security,” the nomination letter reads.

Since entering Congress in 1995, Jackson Lee has served on several committees, including Foreign Affairs, Judiciary and Homeland Security, in which she was the Chairwoman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection.

“As Chairwoman, Representative Jackson Lee supported increased airplane cargo inspections and increased security for railroads, issues of great importance to the security of this nation and its citizens,” the letter continues.

Jackson Lee currently holds the post of Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, a position that the CBC says she “stands as a strong and honest ‘voice of reason.’”

I couldn’t care less what a bunch of conservative bloggers think about this. Rep. Jackson Lee is clearly qualified based on her service and experience in the House. Whether she’s the right person for the job or not is another matter and a decision for President Obama. I kind of think she’s not the person he has in mind because he does generally tend to prefer people who keep a lower profile. The drama that a bunch of yahoos would cause if she were nominated should have no bearing on that, though in the real world I’m sure it would be a consideration. I don’t expect this to go anywhere, but you never know. And if Rep. Jackson Lee were to be elevated, then I agree with Texpatriate that the special election to replace her will be quite the spectacle. A reason to root for her to be tapped if you like that sort of thing.

DUI and blood testing

Not sure what I think about this.

A decision by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to demand blood tests for every drunken-driving suspect who refuses breath tests has drawn an unusual opponent: Houston police officers.

“We’re just very concerned it’s going to take officers off the street for an extended amount of time,” said Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union.

Hunt said that, unlike officers specially trained to find and arrest drunken drivers, most officers are not used to navigating the system, which includes swearing out a warrant, waiting for a judge to sign it, then finding someone at a hospital to draw the suspect’s blood. A single arrest could take an entire shift, he said.

“They’re not going to be as savvy on how to do these warrants, so it’s going to take them six to eight hours, and that means the officer is off the street for that entire time,” Hunt said. “It’s a major issue.”

Houston defense lawyers echoed that concern.

“Spending so much time, energy and money to prosecute a Class A or Class B misdemeanor is ridiculous,” said Todd Dupont, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyer’s Association.

Prosecutors say the change, which took effect in April, will save time and money in the long run because drunken-driving cases are more likely to be resolved via plea agreement than a trial.


In San Antonio, police have been mandating blood testing for all suspected drunken-driving cases for nearly two years. The key, Bexar County prosecutors said, was a gradual implementation and money earmarked for computers, facilities and a nursing staff.

On the one hand, doing blood tests as a matter of routine would lead to much more certainty of outcome, because blood testing is more accurate than the notoriously imprecise Breathalyzers, and not subjective or unproven like field sobriety tests or horizontal gaze nystagmus. The experience in Bexar County appears to be positive, though we didn’t get a defense bar perspective on that. On the other hand, it’s more expensive up front and far more invasive. It is a lot of resources to put into combating a misdemeanor crime, and it doesn’t really do anything about the fact that a relatively small number of repeat offenders are responsible for a disproportionate amount of drunk driving incidents and mayhem. If it means that we’d be getting rid of the less reliable methods of evidence gathering for DUI arrests then there’s value to this, but I’d like to know more before I make up my mind.

UPDATE: Byron Schirmbeck had some questions about this new development as well, and he put them in writing and sent them to the DA’s office. He got this response, which he graciously shared with me for publication here. Worth your time to read.

A closer look at Mayoral campaign finances

I said I’d get to a closer look at the Mayoral campaign finance reports later, after I had a chance to read all the way through them. That time is now, so let’s have our look.

Mayor Parker’s finance report.

The Mayor’s report clocks in at 701 pages, with more than 500 of those pages documenting contributions. That’s a lot of donors – over 2000 of them – and quite a few of them were recognizable names. Here are a few of the notable donors that I spotted.

Name Amount Notes ====================================================== Amber Mostyn $5,000 Major Dem donor Anna Eastman $ 100 HISD Trustee Ben Barnes $1,000 Former Lt Gov Billy Briscoe $ 250 2010 Treasurer candidate Brian Cweren $ 250 Former District C candidate Brock Wagner $ 100 St Arnold CEO Christina Bryan $ 250 2010 judicial candidate Drayton McLane $5,000 Former Astros owner CM Ed Gonzalez $ 500 District H CM Ellen Cohen $ 100 District C Franci Crane $5,000 Wife of current Astros owner Gracie Saenz $ 350 Former CM Jim Crane $5,000 Astros owner Janice McNair $5,000 wife of Texans owner Janiece Longoria $5,000 Port Commissioner Jenifer Pool $ 157 At Large #3 candidate Jim Adler $1,000 The Tough Smart Lawyer Juliet Stipeche $ 100 HISD Trustee Kent Friedman $1,000 Sports Authority Laura Spanjian $ 200 Sustainability Director Michael Skelly $1,057 Parks By You board member Nancy Kinder $5,000 Philanthropist Peggy Hamric $ 350 Former HD126 Rep Peter Brown $5,000 Former CM Phoebe Tudor $5,000 Philanthropist Reagan Flowers $ 250 Former HCDE candidate Rich Kinder $5,000 Energy executive Robert McNair $5,000 Texans owner Rusty Hardin $5,000 Defense attorney Steve Mostyn $5,000 Major Dem donor Steven Kirkland $3,000 Former District Court Judge

There are some other names I could have included on that list, but you get the idea. There were two other names I noticed that made me do a double-take. One was a former girlfriend of mine, the last woman I dated seriously before I met Tiffany. I haven’t seen or heard tell of her in years, and I had no idea she had any interest in politics, let alone this race. The other was a fellow named Edward Snowdon, who is not this Edward Snowden, since among other things they spell their surnames differently. It did send me scrambling to Google to verify that.

You may notice a couple of donations that end with $57. There were many more such examples in the Mayor’s report. That puzzled me at first, till I remembered that the Mayor turned 57 this year, and that there had been a birthday-themed fundraiser for her awhile back, at which amounts like $57 and $157 were suggested contributions.

Parker also took in a ton of PAC money, about $360K worth according to my added-in-my-head count. She drew a fair amount of state and national money, from the likes of the Victory Fund, Annie’s List, and EMILY’s List, in addition to the usual suspects.

Ben Hall, whose S-PAC report I finally found – I hadn’t realized that my search was only including personal reports – also had some notable donors:

Name Amount Notes ====================================================================== May Walker $1,300 Constable Paul Kubosh $2,500 Brother of AL3 candidate Michael Kubosh Carolyn Evans-Shabazz $ 100 At Large #2 candidate Howard Jefferson $2,850 HCDE Trustee Laurie Robinson $1,000 Former At Large #5 candidate Reagan Flowers $ 250 Former HCDE candidate Christina Bryan $ 250 2010 judicial candidate Olan Boudreaux $1,000 2010 judicial candidate Reggie McKamie $1,000 Former DA candidate Carol Galloway $ 100 Former CM and HISD Trustee Davetta Daniels $ 50 Former HISD Trustee candidate US Rep. Al Green $5,000 CD09 Dikembe Mutombo $1,000 Former Houston Rocket William Lawson $3,000 Pastor Levi Benton $1,000 Former District Court judge

Any friend of Dikembe Mutombo is someone to reckon with, if you ask me. Christina Bryan and Reagan Flowers are the only people I saw that appeared on both lists, though I can’t swear to that. After scrolling through however many hundreds of pages of this stuff, the mind tends to soften. Hall had only two PAC contributions that I saw, from CWA COPE for $7,500 and from the HPFFA for the max of $10,000. He also took in $31,700 from law firms and other businesses, including a $5,000 in kind donation for office space.

Now for expenses. I’m going to break this down into a few general categories and do comparisons where reasonable. Note that Hall has a second finance report for expenses made from personal funds, from which I will also draw for this post. First up is consulting expenses.

Annise Parker Amount Consultant Notes ====================================================================== $62,500 Storefront Political Media General consulting $48,000 Keith Wade General consulting $43,751 Lake Research Polling $38,500 James Cardona Fundraising consulting $33,000 KChace Fundraising consulting $27,000 Stuart Rosenberg Salary $26,650 Sue Davis Media Communications $23,000 Storefront Political Media Campaign research $10,800 Lone Star Strategies Compliance consulting Ben Hall Amount Consultant Notes ====================================================================== $68,000 Strong Strategies Fundraising consulting $34,000 The Yates Company Voter outreach consulting $25,142 Dee Ann Thigpen Communication services $17,500 Damon Williams Voter outreach consulting $12,500 The Yates Company Consulting services $10,000 Advantage Comm. Consultants Media & community outreach $ 6,000 The Imprint Agency Social media consulting $ 7,500 Najvar Law Firm Compliance consulting $ 4,500 Sharon Davis Voter outreach consulting $ 3,100 Darcy Mackey Volunteer coordinator

This doesn’t cover everything for each campaign. Parker had numerous other people on salary, and all of them, including Rosenberg, also received a monthly “cell and medical” stipend. Other than Rosenberg, all the names on her list are people and firms that have been with her since at least 2009. Among Hall’s consultants, Williams, Davis, and Mackey also were paid wages, as were some other folks. The thing that really stands out to me is that Hall spent about as much as Parker did on fundraising, but took in about one seventh as much as she did. I will also note that there are some Republican names among those listed above. Jerad Najvar, whom I’ve mentioned here a couple of times for his good work getting the Texas Ethics Commission to permit campaign contributions via text messaging, is a Republican. Jeff Yates of The Yates Company is a former Executive Director of the Harris County GOP; I actually couldn’t find anything on Google about The Yates Company but was informed about Jeff Yates’ Republican connections some time ago by other folks who knew him. Deeann Thigpen worked for Rep. Ted Poe for six years as his press secretary. Make of all that what you will. Also of interest is that Parker spent money on polling and “campaign research”, which I’m pretty sure is the polite term for “opposition research”, while Hall as far as I can tell did not.

Now let’s look at communications in its various forms.

Annise Parker Amount Payee Notes ====================================================================== $42,430 Storefront Political Media Newspaper ads $14,086 Storefront Political Media Online advertising $10,000 Teleroots Technologies Phone bank $ 8,787 Storefront Political Media Direct mail $ 7,387 Storefront Political Media Campaign letters $ 7,000 Que Onda Magazine Advertisement $ 6,543 Storefront Political Media Letterhead, envelopes, etc $ 5,898 Storefront Political Media Banners, stickers, misc lit $ 3,475 Rindy Miller & Associates Production $ 2,735 Storefront Political Media Photography $ 2,200 Storefront Political Media Website design $ 1,022 Storefront Political Media Postcards

No, I don’t know what the difference between “direct mail” and “campaign letters” is. And wow, that’s a lot of money on newspaper ads. It was three separate entries for $14,143 and change each. I did not see any money for signs, but I suspect those are covered in the January report. I haven’t gone looking for it, because one 700 page report is enough. Rindy Miller did all of Parker’s buying of TV ad time in 2009, and producing her TV ads. I presume from this she doesn’t have much of that in the works just yet.

Ben Hall Amount Consultant Notes ====================================================================== $99,450 New Stream Marketing Strategies Voter ID phone calls $50,000 KMJQ-FM Radio One Radio advertising $40,000 Talaferry Media Group dba D-Mars Online advertising $28,105 Sprint 2 Print Yard signs $20,000 1230 AM KCOH Radio advertising $13,000 1230 AM KCOH Studio sponsorship $11,735 Neumann and Company Push cards $10,600 Advantage Comm. Consultants Print Ads $ 5,417 ShakeFX LLC Website $ 5,000 Nebo Media Radio production $ 5,000 African American News & Issues Advertising $ 4,000 Talaferry Media Group dba D-Mars Campaign signs $ 3,342 Talaferry Media Group dba D-Mars Advertising $ 2,930 Talaferry Media Group dba D-Mars Push cards $ 2,819 Sprint 2 Print Signs and bumper stickers $ 2,250 Talaferry Media Group dba D-Mars T-shirts and advertising $ 2,000 Giant Video Productions Video productions $ 1,500 Stylist Profile Magazine Advertisement $ 1,315 Talaferry Media Group dba D-Mars T-shirts and push cards

Quite the kitchen sink approach here, and no I have no idea what “Voter ID phone calls” means, or why it’s so much more expensive than a phone bank. I do know that New Stream Marketing Strategies did marketing/advertising work for Rick Santorum in 2012. $70K on radio ads is a lot. It’s about what Gene Locke reported spending on radio ads in his 8 day report in 2009. Locke’s report didn’t specify stations, however, so he may have been making a broader buy. I will add that Hall also spent roughly $25K on “sign distribution”, so if you see a lot of his signs out there, know that someone got paid to deliver them. I consolidated four different payments to Neumann and Co for push cards, so I want to point out that Hall spent money on Spanish and Chinese language push cards, which strikes me as a good idea.

And finally, some other miscellaneous expenses. Mayor Parker’s campaign spent $760 in copy costs at FexEx Kinko’s. I wouldn’t normally bother with something as minor as that, except that I saw an entry on Hall’s report that said they paid $2,400 to Advanced Business Copiers for copier rental. Someone’s going to have to explain that one to me.

Hall spent $20,485 at Tony Mandola’s for his announcement event, and $20,000 at Ranchero King Buffet for another event. Good times.

Mayor Parker’s campaign remitted $11,390 to Merchant Bank for credit card donation fees, and $38,676 to the US Treasury for payroll taxes. Other campaigns that have salaried workers pay such taxes as well, but that’s more than average. The credit card fees seem rather high as well, but I’d have to go back and review other reports to get a handle on that.

One last thing to mention is that $40K that Hall spent on online advertising, which sure seems like a lot of money. Texpatriate takes a closer look at how that money was spent and what effect it had.

Ben Hall

I would like to tell this story, from the start, because it is quite entertaining. Imagine Annise Parker’s campaign team held a meeting to come up with the absolute worst-case scenario that could arise out of Hall advertising on Facebook. That might as well be what happened, considering how badly Dr Hall’s campaign messed up (again, to use polite words).

First, Dr Hall’s campaign had a pathetically lackluster showing in the Social Media races. While Parker had other 50k Facebook likes and 15k Twitter followers, Hall had about 2k likes and 200 followers. At one point, I was keeping track of the race between them, but I eventually quit because it was not anywhere near competitive.

Eventually, the Hall campaign decided (quite rightly so) that a Social Media presence would be invaluable in a 21st Century campaign. The campaign then invested thousands of dollars into online advertisements, specifically on Facebook and Twitter. Now, the way these sorts of advertisements work is that you come up with some buzz words and select a general geographical location. I have no knowledge of how the Hall campaign answered these questions, but based upon the results, I have an inkling as to what they answered.

Most likely, the buzz words “fed up” or “morass” or “angry” were used. This would have been done, ostensibly, in an attempt to attract all those healthy dissidents who respectfully oppose Mayor Parker’s administration. Instead, the buzz words tended to match up nicely with those who support armed insurrections and the like. Additionally, instead of focusing on Houstonians, the ads targeted individuals from throughout the State.

The result was a sorry collection of Rednecks, Klansmen, Neo-Nazis and McVeigh sympathizers who found their ways to the Ben Hall campaign’s Facebook page. This ended up causing, again, an unmitigated disaster. Ben Hall’s Facebook likes rose from about 2k to 5.7k, causing nearly 2/3 of the supporters to be astroturfed non-Houstonians.

Yikes. Here’s Hall’s Facebook page, and a brief scan of it will show examples of what Texpate is talking about. Texpate has some screenshots as well. One’s campaign Facebook page and Twitter feed is always going to attract some snarky commentary from your opposition if you’re doing it right, but this is something else altogether. Let it serve as a cautionary tale about buying a social media presence instead of building one organically.

Transportation deal dies

Technically, it’s not dead till sine die, but it sure is on life support.


A compromise plan to spend $848 million on Texas highways just landed in a ditch.

House members voted down a plan to split oil and gas production money between the state’s economic stabilization fund and highway spending. It needed 100 votes to pass and got 84.

The rebuke of a compromise plan worked out this weekend means a third special session might be on the horizon. Gov. Rick Perry said he would call lawmakers back if they failed to solve the state’s transportation spending shortfall.

The compromise plan, based on a proposal by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, split the oil production revenues between the so-called rainy day fund and transportation spending. To protect the rainy day fund, the Legislative Budget Board, an 18-member commission of lawmakers that oversees state finances, will annually set a minimum needed for the rainy day fund. If revenues are projected below that level, the board could recommend the money not be transferred to transportation funds.

The compromise plan drew opposition from both those who demanded a stronger minimum cap, often referred to as a floor, and those opposed to any limitation.

The Statesman has more.

Gov. Rick Perry’s office has not said if he will call members back for a special session, but promises a statement soon. In the meantime, House members have made it clear they don’t want to see the Capitol again anytime soon.

“Governor, if you’re listening, don’t call us back tomorrow,” bill sponsor state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, said from the podium shortly after the unsuccessful vote. Maybe next spring, when we’ve slept a bit.”

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, followed shortly with this in a prepared statement:

“Diverting a capped amount of money from the Rainy Day fund to repair roads is much like using a Band-Aid to cover a pothole; in the end, you still have a pothole and you’ve spent a lot of money without solving the fundamental problem. Legislators know that Texas needs a much more comprehensive approach to funding our growing state’s growing transportation needs, and another 30-day special session will not change that.”

The House will return at 2 p.m. Tuesday. And the Senate might even yet take a vote on HJR 2, despite its less-than-dim prospects in the House (a member of the prevailing side, the 40 no-voters, could bring it up for reconsideration Tuesday, but House members said nothing of the sort will happen).

Both chambers passed House Bill 16, the companion bill, which would create a House-Senate interim committee to study transportation funding. Perry’s office has not indicated if he will sign the bill.

The Trib notes that the vote was 84-40, so either there were a lot of abstentions or a lot of absentees. If the latter, there could possibly have been a successful vote if enough members had showed up. I suspect, however, that the absentees were missing for a reason. I suppose anything can happen today, but it sure ain’t looking good for this plan. I’m not too upset about because it was a jerryrigged compromise of a band-aid, and maybe this failure will convince legislators that they need to take a more fundamental approach. But no one’s ever gotten rich betting on the Lege to learn lessons and do the right thing, so I’m not holding my breath on that score. Nothing to do but wait and see what happens next. The Highwayman has more.

From the “She told you so” department

No one could have seen this coming. Well, no, pretty much anyone could have.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says she’s not surprised that Southern states have pushed ahead with tough voter identification laws and other measures since the Supreme Court freed them from strict federal oversight of their elections.

Ginsburg said in an interview with The Associated Press that Texas’ decision to implement its voter ID law hours after the court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act last month was powerful evidence of an ongoing need to keep states with a history of voting discrimination from making changes in the way they hold elections without getting advance approval from Washington.

The Justice Department said Thursday it would try to bring Texas and other places back under the advance approval requirement through a part of the law that was not challenged.

“The notion that because the Voting Rights Act had been so tremendously effective we had to stop it didn’t make any sense to me,” Ginsburg said in a wide-ranging interview late Wednesday in her office at the court. “And one really could have predicted what was going to happen.”

The 80-year-old justice dissented from the 5-4 decision on the voting law. Ginsburg said in her dissent that discarding the law was “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Just a month removed from the decision, she said, “I didn’t want to be right, but sadly I am.”

And that would be why the Justice Department is throwing down. Justice John Roberts likes to say that the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race. It’s a nice, pithy sentiment, but it leaves out the obvious fact that some folks need to be made to stop discriminating on the basis of race. If the federal courts determine that Texas has been doing this and it needs to be bailed back in to preclearance under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, will he acknowledge that when the next appeal comes his way? Texas Redistricting has more.

The DOMA ruling and the workplace

The SCOTUS ruling on DOMA will have an effect in Texas, if not now then eventually, we just don’t know exactly what that effect will be yet.


Companies may assume that the recent Supreme Court case rejecting a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act doesn’t affect them because Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages.

But they ignore the ruling at their peril, according to some employment lawyers who have been examining whether the ruling that struck down the federal ban on recognizing same-sex marriages will entitle same-sex spouses to pension benefits, health care insurance and family leave coverage.

“No one really knows,” said Joe Gagnon, an employment lawyer with Fisher & Phillips in Houston, who represents management clients. But Gagnon argues that employers eventually could be on the losing end of a court battle if they exclude same-sex spouses as beneficiaries and plan participants.

It’s always hard to figure out how a court ruling will play out. But the ruling looks thorny for employers, especially those that have multistate operations in states that recognize same-sex marriages and ones that don’t.

Or what if a company transfers an employee from California – which recognizes same-sex marriage – to its operations in Texas? Will the employee’s same-sex spouse have the same benefit privileges in Texas as in California?

“We don’t know the answer yet,” said Michael A. Abbott, an employee benefits lawyer with Gardere in Houston.

We don’t know the answer, but sooner or later these questions are going to be litigated. If you’re legally married in one of the states that allows it and then you lose some kind of work-related benefit because you and your spouse moved or were transferred to Texas, you’re not going to accept that. It’s just a matter of time before there’s a conflict. It may be that the inevitable lawsuit gets filed by someone who doesn’t want his company recognizing accommodating same sex spouses in their retirement benefits. Either way, sooner or later something’s got to give.

BGTX and Anglo women voters

The San Antonio Current has a great story on what Battleground Texas is up to, and why more than just increasing turnout is needed to turn Texas blue.

Best Wendy Davis iconography yet

The Democrats can take Texas in 2016 if they can tap into one a key segment: white Texans, and in particular white women, the new kingmakers–or queenmakers–of Lone Star politics.

Why? Women of color broadly support Democratic candidates, but that’s just the point: BGTX needs to mine new veins of voters. At least at this stage, minority population trends alone will not lock up the race, since heavily Republican non-Hispanic whites will still hold a slim majority through the next presidential cycle. Even if Battleground succeeds in ramping up meager Hispanic voter turnout to white levels, a Republican candidate would likely still prevail in 2016.

“I think [Texas Battleground] realizes that it’s not just a matter of finding and turning out minority voters,” says Ruy Teixeira, co-author of the book The Emerging Democratic Majority and a senior fellow at Center for American Progress. “It’s also a matter of finding and turning out relatively liberal white voters, given the structure of the Texas electorate and given how conservatively white voters have been voting. The treasure trove would presumably be more likely to be college educated, more likely to be younger, and more likely to be women living in the big metropolitan areas.”


Utilizing 2008 Texas exit polls (not available for the state in 2012) crossed with U.S. Census Bureau voter turnout figures from 2012, and applying those ratios to a projection of the number of 2016 eligible voters by ethnicity as calculated by the Center for American Progress yields a Republican victory in in the next contest.

Even under an assumption that Battleground Texas successfully mobilizes target voters, elevating Hispanic and other minority turnout to levels achieved by whites last year (which is actually a slight decrease for African-Americans, the group posting the highest 2012 turnout rate), the state retains its crimson hue by a five-point 52-47 margin. However, given those same parameters, tweaking up Democratic support by white women from 28 percent (from 2008 exit polls) to, say, a lowly 35 percent, blues the result.

That’s why, in order to accelerate the demographic slide into blue territory, the Democrats will have to both peel off white support from the Republicans and mobilize whites who currently do not vote—in part because of the perception of futility of voting Dem in Texas. Fortunately for BGTX, the hard swerve to the right by the current Republican Party has left the political center wide open for recruitment of moderate white voters, all the more so for females incensed by the recent Republican-led restrictions on their reproductive rights.

Using 2008 data for 2016 likely understates things a bit for Team Blue, because we know from actual results at the State Rep district level plus eve of Election Day polling that Latinos voted for President Obama more heavily in 2012 than in 2008. Be that as it may, I agree with the general premise. Increasing Latino turnout is a key piece of the puzzle but it’s not the only piece. I’ve talked several times about the need for candidates with at least some crossover appeal in 2014, and in a Presidential year where Republican turnout is less of a variable, a Democratic Presidential candidate will just have to do better with Anglo voters than Obama has done.

I think that’s likely to happen regardless, at least to some extent, but as we have seen, Hillary Clinton would likely maximize that effect. Via TPM, Clinton is polling ten points better than Obama nationally among Anglo women. Translate that to Texas, add in the fact that there’s more room to grow, that Republicans have been doing a good job making the case against themselves, and the efforts of BGTX, and you can easily see the 2016 margin shrink further, perhaps to the point of tossup status. It will certainly be worthwhile to keep an eye on the polls, and where possible the crosstabs, to see how the data trends. PDiddie has more on this.

The other aspect of that story was to give some hard data on BGTX’s efforts so far:

Out of Austin, a lean BGTX managerial team recruits “fellows” who pledge a certain number of hours per week and attend a boot camp. Each fellow coordinates a team of regular volunteers back in their neighborhood. In the organization’s first four months, it recruited and trained over 2,500 deputy voter registrars across the state and 200 summer fellows all across Texas, with over a dozen in San Antonio. Following the OFA “snowflake” model, these volunteers participate in voter registration drives at events, through phone banks and by door-to-door canvassing. Voter registration is dual purpose: It elevates the number of registered voters, and information on the voter-registration card is harvested for a master database.

It’s too early to know what kind of impact the fieldwork is having, but voter registration is climbing steeply. More than 800,000 new Texas voters registered in the eight-month period stretching from the last presidential elections through the end of June, a whopping 64-percent increase from the comparable period after the previous vote, according to data from the Texas Secretary of State.

On the cyber side, BGTX works the same digital formula developed for the Obama 2012 campaign: sophisticated data mining techniques, micro-targeting strategies and massive usage of social media and email. Facebook landing pages, Tweet barrages and a steady stream of finely tuned email messages sweep up new volunteers and, especially, sponge up donations. In the first four months of operation, the BGTX Web page had rung up more than $1 million via donations, or 96 percent of the total take of $1.1 million. Seventy-nine percent of donations came from inside Texas and the median donation size of more than 3,500 payments was $25.

The voter registration numbers are exciting. There isn’t any updated information on the SOS webpage – we should see new figures for this November’s election – but note that while registrations increased by almost 500,000 from November 2004 to November 2008, they barely increased at all from November 2008 to November 2012. I’m sure that had at least something to do with Obama’s slight performance decrease from one election to the other. Let’s definitely keep an eye on this, and let’s all do our part to help BGTX keep it up.

Texas loses another lawsuit against the EPA

Getting to be a habit.

Houston Ship Channel, 1973

Houston Ship Channel, 1973

A federal appeals court on Friday rejected a legal challenge by Texas and Wyoming to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in a 2-1 vote, said the states and various industry groups did not have standing to sue because they could not show that they had suffered an injury or that a ruling throwing out the EPA plan would benefit them.

The decision comes after the same court upheld the EPA’s first wave of greenhouse gas regulations in 2012, and is another win for the EPA, which has a strong track record in the courts in challenges to its rules, particularly those targeting greenhouse gas emissions.

“The states and industry groups trying to block EPA from curbing carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act are on a long losing streak,” said David Doniger, climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Friday’s decision concerned a challenge to the EPA’s efforts to make states include carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases when they issue permits to industrial facilities setting limits on various types of pollution they emit.


Frank O’Donnell, president of the not-for-profit group Clean Air Watch, said Friday’s ruling strengthens the hand of the EPA as it starts to implement President Barack Obama’s climate action plan. Obama in June directed the agency to write rules to curb carbon emissions from the country’s fleet of existing power plants.

But O’Donnell said Texas and other states opposed to federal environmental regulations are likely to drag their heels when forced to comply with EPA timelines.

“I predict they will be late filing their plans, due in 2016 under the scenario the president set forth, and will dare the federal government to intervene,” O’Donnell said.

You can see the ruling here, via the Environmental Defense Fund. There have been so many of these lawsuits that I have a hard time keeping track of which one is which, so I’ll just turn this over to the Sierra Club for the last word.

“The U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts have now ruled in favor of controlling climate disrupting-pollution nine times,” said Cyrus Reed, conservation director with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Attorney General Greg Abbott and Commissioner Bryan Shaw preferred to spend their time and resources on lawsuits doomed to fail, regardless of the consequences for Texas’s economy, rather than cooperating with the Environmental Protection Agency and upholding the law. Carbon pollution protections are the law, even in Texas. After three years of damaging droughts, it is time for the large polluters and state agencies alike to join the environmental community in working to reduce emissions.”

“While Texas officials were wasting taxpayer dollars with fights against the federal government, Texas legislators were quietly updating state laws in early 2013 to require TCEQ to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act,” continued Reed. “Abbott and Shaw have spent millions of taxpayer dollars on these frivolous lawsuits rather than letting regulators do their jobs.”

Be sure to tell Latino voters about this one, Greg.

Farmers Branch loses again

Same story, next chapter.

When will they learn?

The Farmers Branch ordinance barring people in the U.S. illegally from renting in the city is unconstitutional, an appeals court ruled for the second time Monday.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said the ordinance encroached on the federal government’s authority.

Monday’s decision ended the city’s second appeal to the court, which had upheld the lower court’s ruling last year.

The city asked for a rehearing after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of an Arizona law.

In its majority opinion Monday, the judges were critical of Farmers Branch’s ordinance, which would have required all renters to obtain licenses proving they were in the U.S. legally.

Judges also found fault with the city’s plan to fine or revoke the renters’ licenses of landlords who leased to immigrants without permits.

“The ordinance not only criminalizes occupancy of a rented apartment or single-family residence, but puts local officials in the impermissible position of arresting and detaining persons based on their immigration status without federal direction and supervision,” the court said.

Through May, the suburb of about 29,000 residents had spent roughly $6 million since 2006 on legal expenses related to its fight against illegal immigration.

The law firm that sued the city over the rental ordinance said it plans to submit additional bills to Farmers Branch that are likely to top $2 million.

See here for the previous update. I was a little nervous after the court ordered a review of the original ruling to take into account the SCOTUS decision on the Arizona “papers, please” law, but I’m glad to see that fear was unfounded. The question at this point is whether Farmers Branch will finally accept that it has learned a very expensive lesson and quit adding to the tab. It’s not yet clear what they will do, but at least now their City Council has a voice of reason on it.

Monday evening, [new Council member Ana] Reyes praised the appeals court’s decision on the rental ordinance and said she wanted the city to drop the issue.

“The anti-immigration ordinance was outside of our local jurisdiction,” she said. “It is unconstitutional. This issue has been extremely divisive and costly for the citizens of Farmers Branch. It’s now time to move forward and reinvest our residents’ hard-earned tax dollars back into our community.”

CM Reyes of course is the first Hispanic member of Farmers Branch’s City Council, elected after they lost a different lawsuit to enact single member districts. It will be completely fitting if that development finally leads to Farmers Branch being persuaded to quit illegally and expensively trying to persecute a segment of its population.

Ashby everywhere: The San Felipe highrise

Hard to keep track of them all.

THESE UNDERSTATED “Stop the San Felipe Skyscraper” signs started going up about knee-high this weekend in River Oaks and Vermont Commons to protest that shiny 17-story office tower that Hines is proposing to build nearby. Though these signs — spotted at the corner of Spann and Welch and San Felipe and Spann, catty-corner from the proposed site — might be lacking the services of an imaginative cartoonist like their yellow precursors across town in Boulevard Oaks, their message still comes through, directing the onlooker as well to a recently launched website for all things skyscraper-stopping:

Of course, Hines continues to say through PR man George Lancaster that the company plans to build something “upscale and handsome, befitting its River Oaks address.” The rendering shown here is the most recent version of that; it differs a bit from the one Swamplot published in May that seems to have sparked much of the ire — and which boiled over in what the new website describes as a “heated” and “tense” community meeting last night with reps from Public Works and city council member Oliver Pennington: “Many participants came away from the meeting with the idea that the only way to stop the project will be through immediate legal action.”

“Good luck with that”, said everyone who opposed the Ashby Highrise. You can see the antis’ webpage here. They address what I consider to be the main question here:

Aren’t there already other high-rises in this same area?
There are three other high-rises within four blocks of the site. Of these, two are office buildings that are shorter by several stories. A residential high-rise (the Huntingdon) is taller. Here are the differences:

– All three of the other high-rises are on major thoroughfares with six lanes (Kirby) or four lanes (Shepherd).
– The other high-rises are separated from nearby residences by high walls (Huntingdon), open space (Shepherd), or other intervening structures (Compass building).
– 2229 San Felipe has larger garage capacity but will be surrounded by two-lane streets
– 2229 San Felipe has only a 10-foot setback from the street.

Residential buildings have a much lower density than comparable office buildings. As an idea, the Wingate and St. Honore developments on San Felipe at Revere may add 20-30 cars to an entire block, as compared to the 400 cars being added at 2229 San Felipe.

I have no idea what they’re getting at in that last paragraph. “Density” is people per square mile, so by their own reckoning the 2229 San Felipe building contributes greatly to it. Be that as it may, I have some sympathy for these folks, since that stretch of San Felipe is just like the part of Bissonnet where the Ashby will be – one lane each direction. On the other hand, as they themselves admit, there are three other highrises in the area. It’s a little hard to claim that a new highrise would stand out.

My general rule on these things is whether or not the location makes sense. This one is more of a gray area than others. I don’t think the neighbors will have any luck blocking it, but I suppose they haven’t yet broken ground on the Ashby, so who knows. The one sure thing is that we’ll continue to see situations like this, until either the real estate market inside the Loop gets saturated, or city ordinances get a drastic makeover. I’m not sure which is more likely to happen first.

Weekend link dump for July 28

Sharknado was educational. Just think how much the sequel could teach you.

Granting corporations a right of “religious freedom” is bad enough. Granting them that based on phony science is even worse.

Christie Hefner tells what she learned working for her dad’s magazine.

The Do Not Call list used to be a good idea.

Voter ID laws are about suppressing the vote, and everyone knows it.

Bringing high speed Internet service to schools is a great and necessary idea.

Virginia is for lovers, just not that kind of lovers.

Hidlago County has nearly half again as many people as Wyoming, but with two fewer Senators.

You will have free access to broadcasts of the 2014 World Cup…if you live in Europe. In the US, you’ll still need to have cable.

Banning banks from commodities trading would be fine by me.

Forget 10,000 hours. Concentrate on 10 minutes.

Some folks at The Times did not appreciate Nate Silver. His old buddies from The Baseball Prospectus are all chuckling and shaking their heads right about now. TBogg, naturally, put it best.

RIP, Dennis Farina, cop turned actor.

Three words: Duct tape surfing.

What sabotaging the government looks like.

“One might imagine a lot of surveillance uses for these robots, so just think, the next time you crunch a roach under your shoe you might be destroying government property.”

“Poverty is a more powerful influence on the outcome of inner-city children than gestational exposure to cocaine”.

I think the main lesson I take from this is that some people just shouldn’t have cellphones. Or access to the Internet.

If Eliot Spitzer can have a second act, then Melissa Petro deserves one, too.

Really, we need to decide what sort of standard to use to decide when a politician brought down by a non-political scandal is “cleared” to return to political work and be judged by political criteria.

We’ve whipped inflation for the foreseeable future. Let’s obsess about something else, mmmkay?

Ladies do tend to feel colder than us dudes. Deal with it.

At long last, Alan Turing is finally getting a pardon. He should never have needed one, of course, but this is at least a little something.

Your smartphone will soon need anti-virus software, too.

How’s that Latino outreach going, Republicans?

What Norm Ornstein says.

RIP, Willie Louis, key witness in the trial of the murderers of Emmett Till, and a great role model for doing the right thing.

And now, a little girl dancing in the background of a local news report. You’re welcome.

“‘Conservative’ occupies the same space in the evangelical imagination as ‘sexual purity’ does. To say someone was ‘too conservative’ — theologically, politically, socially — would be like their saying a bride was too much of a virgin.”

RIP, Virginia Johnson, of Masters and Johnson.

RIP, George Mitchell.

Transportation funding deal completed

All over but for the voting.


House and Senate leaders reached final agreement Saturday afternoon on how to protect the state’s rainy day fund as they propose to shift half of future rainy day dollars into roads, according to an official close to the negotiations.

There would be no “floor” — or minimum balance for the state’s savings account — placed in the Texas Constitution, the source said.

Instead, the enabling bill for the road-funding constitutional amendment would say that 10 key lawmakers who monitor the budget from their seats on the Legislative Budget Board would adopt a minimum amount the rainy day fund should have. They would do that every two years, as they choose an estimate of personal income growth in Texas that defines what percentage cap is applied to certain state spending. That exercise, required under a constitutional spending limit approved by voters in the late 1970s, is usually performed by the board in November of even-numbered years, shortly before lawmakers return in January for their regular session.

Under the road-money deal, if budget board members can’t agree on a minimum balance number for the rainy day fund, then the Department of Transportation would get no new money from the proposal to split future rainy day revenues in half, with 50 percent going to roads and 50 percent going into savings. The enabling bill also would call for a joint House-Senate committee that would study transportation funding, the source said.

As leaders acknowledged Friday, the deal calls for the constitutional amendment on road funding to be set for the November 2014 ballot. That keeps it separate from this fall’s vote on a water-projects constitutional amendment. And the new money for highways couldn’t go to toll roads or to replace debt service payments from general-purpose revenue that are needed to repay some of the $5 billion of so-called Prop. 12 road bonds that have been approved by lawmakers and voters.

No guarantees that there’s enough support in the chambers to pass this – remember, it takes a 2/3 vote in each, and that means even a small number of nihilists or anyone else who just doesn’t like the deal can scuttle it. Then it goes to the voters, but not till next year. I presume the result of the water infrastructure referendum will be suggestive, if not predictive, of this amendment’s fate. We’ll know on Monday if it gets that far.

No pressure, Wendy

You can run for any office you want, as long as it’s Governor.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

[State Sen. Wendy] Davis is under intense pressure from national Democratic leaders to seek statewide office in 2014. At two fundraising events Thursday, Davis didn’t speculate about her future. But she was accompanied by a VIP fan club.

At a morning $500 breakfast event at Johnny’s Half Shell, guests included Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Patty Murray of Washington and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. In addition to [Rep. Mark] Veasey, Texas Reps. Pete Gallego of Alpine and Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston also turned out for the event.

Jackson Lee said while she would support Davis if she choose to run for governor, she didn’t want to “put Senator Davis on the spot.”

“She will make that decision, along with many others,” Jackson Lee said, adding that Davis’ actions this summer alone have energized grassroots Democrats.

This was at a big fundraiser for Davis in Washington, DC, where as you might imagine the attendees are more interested in supporting a candidate for Governor than a candidate for State Senate. On the matter of whether it might make more sense for Davis to run for Lieutenant Governor instead, the Trib quotes from the inaccessible Statesman story as follows:

Texas Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, swept through Washington on Thursday with a high-dollar breakfast fundraiser in the morning, and a lower-budget affair in the evening, amid indications that she isn’t considering a run for lieutenant governor as an alternative to a run for governor or re-election to the state Senate. Matt Angle, founder of the Democratic Lone Star Project, which conducted a Twitter town hall with Davis between fundraisers, said speculation that Davis might find the lieutenant governor’s office a more inviting target actually misses the point. If Davis were to be elected to preside over a mostly Republican Senate, that majority could use Senate rules to strip the lieutenant governor’s office of much of the power that would make it worth holding.

Those of us that have considered this question have in fact dealt with that possibility, and it is a factor. How much weight to assign it is anyone’s guess, as is the question of how much the influence of Rick Perry will linger beyond 2014. All I can say is that I hope Sen. Davis is getting as much objective, unbiased information as she can, and makes what she thinks will be the best decision for herself. I don’t envy her the task of sorting it all out. BOR has more.

More leftover campaign cash

The Chron writes about a subject I’ve covered before.


Former Rep. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs of Houston used leftover campaign funds to buy a life membership in the National Rifle Association. Former Rep. Martin Frost of Dallas paid a $6,000 Federal Election Commission fine. Former Rep. Tom DeLay of Sugar Land hired a media consultant. And former Rep. Henry Bonilla of San Antonio, a Republican lawmaker-turned-lobbyist, showered 35 candidates – including two prominent Democrats – with campaign donations.

Over the past two decades, retired members of the Texas congressional delegation have spent more than a million dollars they had raised for their House and Senate campaigns on expenses incurred after they left office, a Houston Chronicle review of Federal Election Commission records has found. For some of the ex-lawmakers, the expenses continued for years after they last held office in Washington.

The post-congressional spending ranged from small thank-you trinkets for supporters to large expenditures on mailing lists, computer equipment, political consultant fees and donations to other politicians that have allowed some ex-lawmakers to maintain perpetual political operations. Two former lawmakers made payments to family members.

All of the retirement spending was made possible by donors who contributed to the Texas lawmakers’ campaigns while they were holding office. A review of FEC reports indicates that none of the former legislators refunded any funds to their former donors after leaving office.

The existence of these accounts – used by 71 percent of Texas lawmakers who left office over the past two decades – may come as a surprise to many of their constituents. But it’s all perfectly legal – as long as the former officeholders use the money for political or charitable causes.

“You can use campaign funds for any lawful purpose – except they can’t be converted to personal use,” said Michael Toner, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission.


Campaign watchdogs say the current law allows former officeholders too much latitude in deciding how to use leftover money.

“There’s actually quite a lot of room for lawmakers to finagle their own campaign budgets,” said Craig Holman, a campaign finance expert at the liberal advocacy group Public Citizen.

Holman said the FEC definition of prohibited “personal use” is too narrow and allows former members to indirectly use their funds to benefit family members or themselves by funneling money into organizations they manage or control.

While the Chron story is about former federal officeholders, this is an issue at the state level, too. I thought there was a state law that required all funds to be disbursed within a set period off time, but if that is the case I’ve never seen it enforced. If it were up to me, I’d mandate that any funds left unspent four years after the person’s last day in office would be put into a fund that helps the relevant enforcement agency do its thing. Seems only fitting to me.

[Jim] Turner has the longest-lasting campaign account. The former state legislator and congressman had amassed more than $1 million in campaign funds when he retired rather than face off against veteran Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis in a heavily Republican district. Eight years later, Turner has $990,000 remaining.

Turner said he has kept his campaign account active because he might run for office if “Texas becomes Democratic again.”

“I have always wanted to keep the option open and may want to run for a statewide office,” he said. “I was sidelined by redistricting, but I’ve always enjoyed public service.”

Turner’s last election was in 2002. I don’t care for his strategy of waiting till Texas is sufficiently blue in 2018 or 2022 to maybe use all that money to take another shot at public office. I hope the Democratic primary voters in those years would look askance on someone who sat on a million bucks for 15 or 20 years just in case conditions became favorable for him again instead of using it to help other candidates and causes. My advice to Turner would be to either gut it up and run against Big John Cornyn in 2014 – a million bucks won’t get you that far in a Senate race, but it beats starting out with nothing – or just admit that your time has passed and donate the cash to Battleground Texas. But seriously, don’t keep sitting on it. It’s not doing anyone any good.

Parking Panda


Parking Panda, an online parking reservation system, launches Tuesday in Houston and Dallas. The site’s already up and running, taking reservations for lots around many area venues, including Minute Maid Park, Reliant Stadium and the Toyota Center.

The concept is pretty simple: Go online, find the parking lot you want, based on price and location, and reserve a spot. In some cases, Parking Panda co-founder Nick Miller said, people can even reserve a select spot.

In places where parking can be problem, like around a Texans game, having a guaranteed spot removes the hassle of hunting around or timing your arrival to find a close enough spot. Even if you’re ten minutes late, the spot is there waiting for you.

In Washington, D.C., where Miller said the company has seen one client use the service 125 times in the past year, the use is branching out beyond major venues to include parking around museums and entertainment districts.

That could be where things head in Houston, too, he said. Take the crowded Montrose corridor or Washington Avenue, where the city recently enacted strict parking rules. Before heading out for the night, someone potentially could find a spot ahead of time and leave the car there for the evening.


Major events and large parking garages aren’t the only places touched by the technology gains in parking. Though the bulk of the business is commercial lots, Miller said Parking Panda has some spot sellers who are, essentially monetizing their driveways.

“We have people who are making a couple hundred dollars a month,” he said.

Not everyone has a driveway worth renting, but for those in high-density areas, or near offices, the opportunity is out there.

The larger point, Miller and others say, is cities have finite space to store cars. If someone who lives a block or so off Westheimer is commuting downtown, someone in Sugar Land who works off Westheimer may be willing to rent the vacant driveway during the day to guarantee a spot.

I guess this is our week for vehicle-related innovations. It’s an interesting concept, and you can see what they have available for Houston here. I’m thinking the rent-your-driveway option might be quite appealing for events like the Art Car and Pride parades, if one lives in those areas. For that matter, I’m thinking some of my neighbors who live close to White Oak might check this out – if people are going to be parking in front of their houses anyway, they may as well make their driveway available and earn a few bucks for it. What do you think?

Saturday video break: Sweet Jane

Song #9 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “Sweet Jane”, originally by The Velvet Underground and covered by The Cowboy Junkies. Here’s the original:

Don’t think I’d heard that before. Of course, I’m not well versed on the Underground’s catalog – besides the obvious “Walk On The Wild Side”, I have “Rock And Roll” in my collection, and that’s about it. It’s good, and mighty mainstream-sounding for a band like the VU. Here’s the Cowboy Junkies’ cover:

I’m a fan of Margo Timmins’ voice, and I think it works beautifully here. As I’ve noted before, I generally like cover versions by women of songs originally done by men. What do you think about this one?

Lege may have found a way on transportation funding

As of Thursday, Special Session 3: Beyond Thunderdome was looming.


Both chambers of the Legislature were filled with activity Thursday afternoon but they ended up essentially where they had started: waiting on House and Senate negotiators to come up with a transportation funding plan most lawmakers could agree on.

There was little sign Thursday that the two chambers were any closer to finding common ground, even though Gov. Rick Perry has vowed to call them back for a third special session if they can’t get around the current impasse.

A majority of members in both chambers favor taking advantage of a spike in tax revenue from the ongoing oil drilling boom to boost funding for the Texas Department of Transportation. They remain divided on how exactly to use that tax revenue, currently earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund, and whether fears that that fund’s future balance may drop below a certain level need to be addressed.

“As you may have seen in the news, like any negotiation, this one has had its ups and downs,” House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, told the chamber Thursday afternoon.

The House adjourned until Monday, suggesting negotiations could stretch into the weekend. Earlier in the day, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he hoped Senators could be done by Friday.

But late in the day Friday, it appeared that the stalemate had been broken.

House and Senate members have reached agreement on transportation funding legislation, senators said Friday, hammering out details of a proposed constitutional amendment that, if voters approve, would mean an additional $850 million a year for highway spending.

However, the House sponsor of the legislation, state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, stopped just short of declaring the deal signed and delivered.

“We’re pretty close,” Pickett said as a conference committee on the legislation prepared to meet again late Friday. “We have a little heartburn that we haven’t gotten over. But I don’t think it will fall apart.”


The final proposal, senators said, mostly hews to the version approved by senators this week. It would direct to the state highway fund half of the oil and gas severance tax revenue that otherwise would have gone to the rainy day fund. The House version instead would have ended a constitutional dedication to public education of a quarter of gasoline tax revenue.

In addition, again mirroring the Senate version, it would include a rainy day fund “floor.” If the fund fell below that level, then TxDOT would get less or perhaps none of the oil and gas severance tax revenue in any given year.

But in a concession to the House, that floor would be set in statute, not the state Constitution. And that number could change over time as determined by the state Legislative Budget Board. That initial floor has not been determined, state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said.

There is still one possible roadblock.

A key sticking point between both chambers was whether the amendment needed language that would set a so-called floor on the Rainy Day Fund. The original Senate plan would have placed a provision in the state Constitution that would block the diversion whenever the fund’s balance falls below $6 billion. House Democrats had opposed including that provision in the Constitution.

The proposal made by leaders in the House on Friday would give the 10-person Legislative Budget Board the option of setting a floor for the Rainy Day Fund, with the authority placed in state law rather than in the Constitution. Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said details on that part of the deal were still being worked out.

The LBB is chaired by the lieutenant governor, with the House speaker serving as vice chair. Four senators and four House members fill out the rest of the board.

House Democrats have been wary of placing any kind of provisions that could be seen as placing limits on the Rainy Day Fund. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said House Democrats held a caucus meeting on Thursday and appeared largely united in opposition to a deal that includes the Republican-controlled LBB controlling the implementation of a Rainy Day Fund floor.

Two-thirds of both chambers must vote for HJR 2 for the measure to be sent to voters. House Democrats could block it from passing if most of them are united against it.

“I guess we’ll have to extend our leases for another month,” Martinez Fischer said, referring to the prospects of a third special session.

Hard to know how serious a threat that is, but for sure it ain’t over till it’s over. Still, I thought the difference was fundamental enough that there wasn’t a middle ground to be reached, and yet there was. One quirk of this compromise is that the vote on it would be deferred until November of 2014, so as not to cause confusion with the water infrastructure fund vote. I presume there’s a political calculation in that, but it’s mighty subtle if you ask me. Be that as it may, it’s nice to see some progress being made, but let’s not mistake this for a whole solution. While this is going on, TxDOT is making plans to convert some asphalt roads to gravel because we are unwilling and/or unable to come up with the means to properly maintain them. Boy, nothing says “world class infrastructure” like gravel roads, am I right? Why does Rick Perry even need to try to entice businesses to move here when we can promise them this level of service? Maybe the Lege can address that in 2015.

Google energy


Google may not seem like an energy company, but it sure is acting like one.

Through more than $1 billion in investments and through large contracts for renewable power, Google has become the most significant player in the energy business outside of actual energy companies and financial institutions.

The Internet search giant’s efforts to transform the world’s use of power and fossil fuels have included a $200 million investment in a Texas wind farm and the purchase of a company that makes innovative flying wind turbines. It has invested $168 million in a solar project in California and is funding the development of an offshore grid to support wind turbines off the Atlantic coast.

In total, it has an ownership stake in more than 2 gigawatts of power generation capacity, the equivalent of Hoover Dam, said Rick Needham, Google’s director of energy and sustainability.

Google even has a subsidiary, Google Energy, that’s authorized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to sell wholesale electricity that it generates from its power assets.

Analysts say it is the only company other than energy businesses and financial institutions that has taken large ownership stakes in major stand-alone power projects.

Read the whole thing – try this FuelFix link if the one is not available to you – it’s quite a story. It’s great to see an innovator and big investor like Google pushing renewable energy for business reasons as well as altruistic ones. I hope a lot of other companies follow their lead.

No more RFID for Northside ISD

Nortside ISD in San Antonio has quit using RFID trackers in student IDs to keep tabs on them, and has embraced an alternate technological solution to the problem of ensuring an accurate headcount instead.

Northside Independent School District spokesman Pascual Gonzalez told me that the microchip-ID program turned out not to be worth the trouble. Its main goal was to increase attendance by allowing staff to locate students who were on campus but didn’t show up for roll call. That was supposed to lead to increased revenue. But attendance at the two schools in question—a middle school and a high school—barely budged in the year that the policy was in place. And school staff found themselves wasting a lot of time trying to physically track down the missing students based on their RFID locators.

Andrea Hernandez, the student whose family unsuccessfully sued the district on religious grounds and referred to the IDs as “the mark of the beast,” is reportedly thrilled by the decision. She had ended up transferring to another school to avoid the IDs.

But the backlash and the lawsuit weren’t the deciding factors, Gonzalez told me. “While [privacy groups] are extolling the fact that they won, the fact is that that was a very minor part of our conversation, because the federal court and the court of appeals both upheld Northside’s position on that. We were on solid ground.”

Indeed, the district never acknowledged that the chips posed legitimate privacy concerns, adhering all along to the reasoning that Gonzalez expressed to me when I first talked to him about this last fall: “By virtue of the fact that you are a student at school, there is no privacy.” No doubt other schools will echo that line when they adopt RFID or similar technologies in the years to come, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a high court rule on a similar case at some point in the future. Gonzalez is right that students on a campus have less expectation of privacy than adults, but “no privacy” seems a little extreme. The question of how much offline tracking is too much is also likely to arise in workplaces as employers use RFID tags to bust workers for, say, spending too much time in the bathroom.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez told me Northside plans to capture the safety and security benefits of RFID chips through other technological means. “We’re very confident we can still maintain a safe and secure school because of the 200 cameras that are installed at John Jay High School and the 100 that are installed at Jones Middle School. Plus we are upgrading those surveillance systems to high-definition and more sophisticated cameras. So there will be a surveillance-camera umbrella around both schools.”

See here, here, and here for the background. The Lege took a look at restricting RFID use by school districts to track students in this manner, but the bill never made it to the House floor. The outcome here doesn’t mean they won’t try again, however. I thought Northside had a legitimate reason for doing what they did and wasn’t particularly bothered by it, so I have no strong feelings about this new solution one way or the other. Both the student plaintiff and her legal squad seem happy with this, so I’ll leave it to you to decide if this is “better” from a privacy perspective or not.

Friday random ten: A royal welcome

In honor of little Prince Hashtag (*), here are ten songs about male royalty – you know, the kind that Tina Brown approves of.

1. Prince Charles – Christine Lavin
2. Prince Nez – Squirrel Nut Zippers
3. Prince of Darkness – Indigo Girls
4. Some Day My Prince Will Come – Sinead O’Connor
5. Two Princes – Spin Doctors
6. It Was A’ For Our Rightfu’ King – SixMileBridge
7. King Henry – Flying Fish Sailors
8. The King Of My Mountain – Trout Fishing In America
9. King Of Spain – Lager Rhythms
10. King Of The Road – Roger Miller

Bonus track: Kings And Queens – Aerosmith

Because, I must confess, to the extent that I was paying attention, I was rooting for them to have a girl. Be that as it may, a healthy baby and a healthy mother are the only things that matter. Mazel tov, y’all.

(*) – Okay, fine Prince George Alexander Louis. Hashtag would have been way more fun.

Justice Department to push for Section 3 in Texas

Bring it.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced on Thursday that the Justice Department would ask a court to require Texas to get permission from the federal government before making voting changes in that state for the next decade. The move opens a new chapter in the political struggle over election rules after the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act last month.

In a speech before the National Urban League in Philadelphia, Mr. Holder also indicated that the court motion — expected to be filed later on Thursday — is most likely just an opening salvo in a new Obama administration strategy to try to reimpose “preclearance” requirements in parts of the country that have a history of discriminating against minority voters.

His statements come as states across the South, from Texas to North Carolina, have been rushing to enforce or enact new restrictions on voting eligibility after the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Shelby County v. Holder case, which removed that safeguard.

“This is the department’s first action to protect voting rights following the Shelby County decision, but it will not be our last,” Mr. Holder said. “Even as Congress considers updates to the Voting Rights Act in light of the court’s ruling, we plan, in the meantime, to fully utilize the law’s remaining sections to subject states to preclearance as necessary. My colleagues and I are determined to use every tool at our disposal to stand against such discrimination wherever it is found.”


In his speech, Mr. Holder said that evidence submitted to a court last year that the Texas Legislature had intentionally discriminated against Hispanics when redrawing district lines was sufficient to reimpose on that state the “preclearance” safeguard for a decade, noting that the court — in blocking the map — had said the parties “provided more evidence of discriminatory intent than we have space, or need, to address here.”

Mr. Holder said: “Based on the evidence of intentional racial discrimination that was presented last year in the redistricting case, Texas v. Holder — as well as the history of pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities that the Supreme Court itself has recognized — we believe that the State of Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices.”

The department may also soon bring similar legal action against Texas over its voter identification law, which was also blocked by a federal court last year. Hours after the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Shelby County case, the state said it would begin enforcing the law.

Richard L. Hasen, a University of California at Irvine professor who specializes in election law, said that the move was a “huge deal showing that the department is going to be aggressive in seeking to resurrect what it can of the old preclearance regime,” but he also said the so-called “bail-in” process of Section 3 alone could not restore the previous sweep of the preclearance regime because the Justice Department “can only go after those jurisdictions found to be recently discriminating intentionally in voting on the basis of race.”

Still, he said, “getting the State of Texas covered again would be important not just symbolically but practically, as it would put its tough new voter ID law back on hold.”

That would indeed be a big deal. I presume the filing in question has to do with the ongoing redistricting litigation in San Antonio, and indeed it is.

In the filing, the Justice Department argues that “Section 3(c) relief is warranted in this case because existing evidence establishes intentional voting discrimination and other proceedings provide overwhelming evidence of constitutional violations in and by the State.”

The pleading asks the San Antonio court to “impose Section 3(c) coverage on the State of Texas as to all voting changes for a ten-year period following entry of a coverage order” with the option to extend coverage beyond ten years “in the event of further discriminatory acts.” If granted as requested by DOJ, the order would cover “any voting qualification or voting-related standard, practice, or procedure that the State enacts or seeks to administer that differs ‘from that in force or effect’” on May 9, 2011 (including Texas’ voter ID law).

Read the whole thing. The plaintiffs there had already filed Section 3 motions, and it was not clear at the time if the Justice Department would be joining them. Now we know, and it’s good to see that they are backing them up. Texas Redistricting outlines the plaintiffs’ briefs and legal theories, and previews the state’s likely response. Note that the voter ID litigation would also be affected by the Justice motion; according to TPM, it appears they will file another motion for that case as well. Whatever the San Antonio court rules, I am certain that this will be back before SCOTUS before you know it. Texas Redistricting has statements from Sen. Rodney Ellis, Greg Abbott, Rick Perry, Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, and various others, as well as Holder’s full remarks. The Trib, SCOTUSBlog, and BOR have more.

Credit cards at the Tax Assessor’s office

If you’ve paid your vehicle registration fees in person at the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office, you’ve had to bring cash or check to do so, because they don’t accept credit cards for that. Thankfully, that’s about to change.

Mike Sullivan

Mike Sullivan

More than a decade after the office began accepting credit and debit cards for property tax payments, in person and online, the tax office is preparing to do the same for all things to do with motor vehicles, including registrations and renewals.

Within a month, all counters at the downtown tax office will accept plastic. All 17 locations should be plastic-friendly within three months, [Tax Assessor Mike] Sullivan said, describing the current situation as “horrible, horrible, horrible customer service.”

“It’s going to be a big roll-out when we are able to tell people we accept all forms of payment, bringing the office into the 21st century,” said Sullivan, who took office in January and promised that and other innovations during his campaign. “We’re several years behind where we should be.”

The move is part of a pilot program that will allow the county to input credit and debit card payments directly into the state system. Sullivan said it should reduce the office’s infamously long lines.

The tax assessor said he also plans to post an experienced employee at the front door of each of the five busiest locations to make sure people have all the necessary forms, notarizations and other items to complete their transactions.

While all Texas residents have been able to use credit and debit cards to renew their vehicle registrations online through the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles since 2001, those who visit the Harris County tax office in person have been able to use only cash or checks.

Some county tax offices already take plastic for motor vehicle fee payments in person, including in Dallas County, which first began allowing residents to use credit and debit cards for property and vehicle taxes more than two years ago, a spokesman said.

I pay my registration fees by mail so this hasn’t affected me personally, but as we know long lines at the Tax Assessor’s office is a problem that has needed solving, so kudos to Sullivan for taking this step. It’s a bit mind-boggling to think that in the year 2013 credit cards weren’t an option for something as basic as this – Harris County was one of the first counties to accept credit card payments for property taxes, after all. The state and the way it accepts payments from counties is partly responsible for this, but still. We’re two years behind Dallas. That’s embarrassing. Of course, given who our Tax Assessor was for those two years, it’s not terribly surprising. Consider it yet another reminder that elections do have consequences.

Anyway. Since as noted I do my payments by mail this doesn’t affect me, but it does make me wonder when those of us who pay this way will get the same service as well. It’s not a big deal from a time management perspective, but it would be nice to have the option to pay by credit card. Looking ahead, the next step would be online and mobile payments. Is someone working on an app to pay one’s vehicle registration fees? Surely we don’t want to hear that Dallas has beaten us again. Houston Politics has more.

Testing waiver sought

It’s a follow up for a bill passed during the regular legislative session.

In a letter sent [last] week to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Education Commissioner Michael Williams is seeking clarification on whether the federal agency has the authority to grant a waiver on the No Child Left Behind Act, formally called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The waiver request would allow the state to comply with House Bill 866, which would allow high-performing elementary and middle school students to skip reading and math tests if they had aced them in previous years.


Williams’ letter said the bill would allow students ahead of the curve to “focus their time and energy on learning new material and not focusing every year on a test where there is a high likelihood that they would demonstrate success.”

HB 866 won’t take effect this year and the letter is not an official request for a waiver, agency officials said.

See here, here, and here for the background. I figure this is likely to be a formality, but we’ll see how it plays out.

Just a reminder that women’s health isn’t the only thing they don’t care about

In case you needed one.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Texas officials have declined to establish a state-based health insurance marketplace, a major provision of the federal Affordable Care Act. So private organizations are working to educate Texans about coverage options through the federal health insurance exchange, which opens on Oct. 1.

Of the more than 6.3 million uninsured Texans — the state has the country’s highest rate of uninsured residents — almost half will be eligible to buy insurance through the federal exchange, an online tool for coverage shopping.

But Texans suffer from a “general lack of knowledge” about the law, said Allison Brim, a director at the Texas Organizing Project, one of several groups working to reach uninsured families before the federal exchange’s rollout.

“Folks just don’t have a lot of information about the exchanges and what their options will be,” she said.

The Texas Department of Insurance has made no extra effort to publicize the federal exchange, said John Greeley, an agency spokesman. In 2010, it conducted a federally financed campaign about health insurance options but has done nothing comparable since, he said, adding that those with questions could use the department’s website or telephone service.

Brim criticized the state for not promoting the exchange, saying its help would make it possible to reach all eligible Texans by October.

“The state has, as far as we know, done nothing to spread the word to uninsured Texans about the exchanges or the Affordable Care Act,” she said. “It leaves a mountain of work for us.”

In response to questions about publicizing the exchange, Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, wrote in an email that the state was “not interested in implementing Obamacare, including the exchange.”

That pretty much sums it up. You know the old joke about how God must love the poor because He made so many of them? Rick Perry must love uninsured people, because he’s doing everything he can to make sure there will always be plenty of them.

How I would campaign against Greg Abbott

If you’ve been following Greg Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign kickoff, you’ve probably noticed that in addition to being light on substance, the Attorney General has been hitting his personal story hard, in an attempt to portray him as some kind of empathetic figure.

How Greg Abbott views the process, without the wildebeest stampede

Who needs policies when you have destiny?

Over nearly two decades of public appearances as a political figure, Greg Abbott has not shied from noting the obvious: He uses a wheelchair.

During speeches, the Texas attorney general, who is now a gubernatorial candidate, is known to pre-emptively address any questions on the topic — often humorously — with an explanation of the 1984 accident that left him partially paralyzed. At campaign events dating back to 2002, he has shown brief video clips describing how a falling oak tree crushed his spinal cord while he was jogging with a friend through the Houston neighborhood of River Oaks.

He emerged on the statewide political scene in 1995, when, after Gov. George W. Bush appointed him to the Texas Supreme Court bench, the court building updated its facilities to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Court builds ramp to justice, for a justice,” reads one headline from the Austin-American Statesman.

Now, the adversity that Abbott has faced has become the symbolic centerpiece of his recently launched gubernatorial campaign, which he announced on Sunday — the 29th anniversary of his accident.

“My greatest fight began on this date,” he said to a crowd gathered in San Antonio. “It was a challenge that made my even being here, highly improbable.”

In a five-day, 10-city tour across the state since then, Abbott has been introducing himself as a fighter for strong Texas values, a candidate with a literal spine of steel. As someone who uses a wheelchair, he says, he knows what it means to struggle with physical and emotional challenges.

“I demonstrate what every Texan exemplifies every day — the ability to overcome adversity,” he said at a campaign stop in Houston.

See his heartwarming intro campaign video for a distilled version of this. Now we both know that the only thing Abbott fights for is the interests of the powerful. But a lot of people don’t know Greg Abbott well, and they don’t know that he’s never done a thing for regular Texans. To someone who doesn’t know Greg Abbott and is just tuning in now, he might look like an underdog himself, and as long as he manages to avoid talking about his actual record and his beliefs, he might sound downright appealing. The key is making sure that people know about the real Greg Abbott.

Whether Abbott can sway blue-collar voters is uncertain.

Joe Silva, 54, a worker at the boot factory and a lifelong El Pasoan, said he would probably vote for Abbott despite not knowing a lot about him.

“He’s a good man, I heard. He went through that tough accident,” he said.

But when asked if Abbott’s opposition to the federal health care reform legislation or support for the voter ID law mattered to him, Silva paused.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” he said. “ I guess we’ll see what he has to say. I don’t know much about him.”

Remember, Abbott isn’t used to talking to people who don’t habitually vote in Republican primaries. That’s why he thinks that wooing voters by bragging about the things he’s done that they don’t like is a good idea. He just has no experience talking to non-true believers. That’s all to the good, but we can’t count on that. More to the point, we can’t let Abbott get away with using his personal story as a way to smooth out his extremely rough and, well, extreme edges. To borrow a page from the Karl Rove playbook, we need to turn his strength into a liability.

How to do that? There’s no question that Abbott has overcome a great deal of adversity in his life, the kind of adversity that most of us are fortunate to never face. That speaks well of his character and inner strength, but there’s an aspect to his success at overcoming that adversity that I have not yet seen mentioned anywhere. I don’t know Abbott’s medical history, but I think it’s safe to say that it includes surgeries, medication, physical therapy, medical equipment, and other things that undoubtedly cost a lot of money to provide. I have to wonder where Greg Abbott might be today if he had been one of the millions of Texans that don’t have health insurance at the time of his awful accident. Medical bills force millions of people into bankruptcy every year. Many other people deal with the problem by simply not getting the help and treatment that they need. Last week, Dear Prudence ran a letter from a woman who lost several teeth during a prolonged stretch of unemployment for her and her husband because she just couldn’t afford to go to the dentist. I guarantee you, there are a lot more stories like that in Texas than there are stories like Greg Abbott’s, and it’s not because the people behind those stories lacked character.

Thankfully for Greg Abbott, he never had to deal with any of that. Yet he has spent the past three years doing everything he can to keep the millions of Texans who lack health insurance from getting it by his relentless litigation against the Affordable Care Act. If he has any alternate ideas how to alleviate this longstanding problem, he’s not talking about it now, and never once in his ten plus years as Attorney General has he used his platform – never mind his personal experience as someone who relies heavily on quality medical care – to advocate for those in that position. In short, he would deny the same type of care that he himself has benefited from to millions of people who could not now receive it. His personal story may be admirable, but it sure hasn’t helped him to learn empathy. If Democrats don’t start pointing that out now, he might just be able to get through this campaign without people realizing that. We cannot let that happen.

Note that I made it this far without mentioning the multi-million dollar award that the strongly pro-tort “reform” Abbott received after his injury. Lisa Falkenberg talked to him about that, and somewhat to my surprised threw him off his talking points a bit. I say “somewhat to my surprise” because Sen. Kirk Watson tried to make an issue of this in the 2002 AG race and it largely backfired on him. That was before the strict med-mal cap was adopted, though, so perhaps another go at it might be worthwhile. It’s clear from reading Falkenberg’s piece that Abbott has the same lack of insight about just how far removed his own experience has been from so many other people’s as he does with health insurance. The point remains that there are some very tough questions that Abbott can and should face, and the sooner the better.

Council to consider wage theft ordinance


The Houston City Council may step up its efforts to combat wage theft, sanctioning companies that deny workers pay to which they are entitled and monitoring firms accused of doing so, regardless of whether they do business with the city.

City Attorney David Feldman laid out a proposed ordinance to a City Council committee on Tuesday, receiving a generally positive reaction from council members and worker advocates, who flooded the chamber in yellow or teal T-shirts, representing the Fe y Justicia Worker Center and Texas Organizing Project.

Workers who believe they have been improperly denied pay can file civil complaints with the Texas Workforce Commission or in a justice of the peace court, or pursue criminal complaints with police or prosecutors. Feldman said most workers who file complaints choose the state agency.

The city’s best chance to help, Feldman said, is to create a database of companies found guilty of wage theft and to keep a watch list of firms accused of the practice, in the hopes of using its leverage as a source of contracts, permits and licenses as a deterrent.

“Obviously, we do have a large amount of buying power, purchasing power, a large number of contracts, and, obviously, we want to make sure the city of Houston says, ‘We’re not going to be doing business with somebody that’s found to be guilty of this type of activity,'” Councilman Ed Gonzalez said.

Existing city rules state that firms who commit wage theft can be barred from city work, but do not specify how the city would identify offending companies, Feldman said.

Stace was on this earlier and then again afterward. This is a very basic premise: People who do work deserve to get paid for it, and they deserve to get paid what they were promised, without delays or extra conditions or any other BS. Denying someone the pay they were promised is wrong and should carry consequences. This has been a huge national problem lately, and it’s a disgrace. What was especially encouraging about this proposal was the overwhelming agreement that this ordinance would do good. It’s a shame that it’s needed, but it will be good to have it. Contact your Council member and let him or her know that you support this, too.

CSCOPE still in scope

Every once in awhile, whether they intend to or not, the SBOE does something worthwhile.

Thomas Ratliff

The State Board of Education concluded its July meeting without providing further guidance as to whether Texas school districts continued to use lessons from CSCOPE, the controversial state-developed curriculum system.

“It’s not up to the state board,” chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said after the meeting. “I don’t know who it is up to, but it’s not up to us.”

Though she added that legislators are the ones who need to clarify whether districts can still use CSCOPE lesson plans, which are now in public domain, Cargill said the board will discuss CSCOPE at its Sept. 18 meeting.

Meanwhile, the Texas Attorney General’s office, along with Education Chairman Dan Patrick, has requested an official state audit of the program.

“After months of research, once again with the tireless help of the grassroots, it appears that CSCOPE may have spent millions of dollars outside of normal government rules and regulations,” said Patrick in a post on his Facebook page Friday.

Patrick also said in that post that he disagreed with the conclusion that, since CSCOPE material is now in the public domain, districts could continued to use it. He said he would check into it further.

After the Friday meeting, board member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, issued a release praising Cargill for placing CSCOPE on the September agenda.

“This artificial controversy has gone on too long without someone at the state level taking charge and performing a review of these lessons and separating myth from reality and education from politics,” he said.

Ratliff and Patrick have been slugging it out over CSCOPE for some time now. I think it’s safe to say there’s no love lost there. I didn’t follow this closely during the session, but from what I can see Ratliff is in the right. If the SBOE does review this in September, it will be a good thing. However, Dan Patrick will not give up.

An extended drama over a controversial curriculum tool used by Texas public schools took a new turn Wednesday as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst entered the fray with a letter to the State Board of Education and a key state senator pushed to add the issue to the special session agenda.

“We were all told that our CSCOPE problems were behind us,” Dewhurst said in the letter. “Over the past few weeks I have learned this could not be further from the truth.”

The statement could be interpreted as swipe at Patrick, one of Dewhurst’s 2014 Republican primary opponents. Near the end of the recently concluded regular session, Patrick declared the “end of an era” for the CSCOPE lessons, which grassroots activists have relentlessly pushed to eliminate because of a perceived liberal, anti-American agenda. At the time, Patrick, R-Houston, announced that the coalition of state-run education service centers that develops the lessons had agreed to stop producing them.


In his letter to the state board, Dewhurst joined those expressing their dismay, saying he was “deeply troubled” that the state’s public schools may continue to use the lessons. The board is already set to address confusion over CSCOPE at a Sept. 18 meeting, but in the letter, Dewhurst urged the board to hold a hearing sooner so that it could help districts find ways to avoid using the lessons or to “at least provide transparency for parents and local voters to know what their local districts are using to educate their children.”

Patrick responded late Wednesday afternoon with a press release asking Gov. Rick Perry to add legislation banning the use of CSCOPE lessons to the special session agenda. In the release, Patrick said he also thought the issue had been resolved.

Josh Havens, a spokesman for Perry, said in a statement that it was “premature to talk about adding to the call” until the Legislature finished its current business.

Did we mention that there might be a third special session because the conference committee remains at loggerheads over how to pay for transportation funding? So adding yet another wingnut issue to the endless legislative summer is not out of the question. Burka has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 22

The Texas Progressive Alliance supports the call for justice for Trayvon as it brings you this week’s roundup.


Uber writes to the city about its taxi demand study

You can see the letter here. They make two basic points: One, the $70 minimum fare for private car trips “serves neither the driver community nor the riding public, and should be eliminated as a matter of public interest regardless of any study”. I agree that this is an excessive level and that it doesn’t need to wait on the outcome of a study on demand for taxi services to be taken up by Council. Two, they charge that the firm conducting the study is a “paid advocate for the taxi industry”, and they call the impartiality of the lead consultant doing the study in question. Read the whole thing and see what you think.

As I’ve written before, I think Uber makes a strong case for changing the city’s taxi ordinances to allow it and its app entry into the market. Since that was published, I have been contacted by one of the people representing the local cab companies, and we are making arrangements to get together so I and perhaps some of my blogging colleagues can learn their perspective. My inclination in these matters is to lean in the direction of whatever makes things better for consumers – see, for example, the saga of Texas’ microbreweries and the effect of consumer choice it had – so I will be very interested to hear what they have to say.

UPDATE: I received the following from Christopher Newport, the Council Liaison and Public Information Officer for the Department of Administrative and Regulatory Affairs:

I appreciate the tone of Uber’s most recent missive, however Mr. Owen’s letter and his subsequent commentary on the City’s study rests on a pretty important assumption: the scope of the study currently underway is limited to taxicabs.

While it is true that the scope of the work being conducted by a contractor we have engaged is limited to taxicabs, that is not the scope of the study we (ARA/City) are conducting.

With respect to the taxicab study, the primary responsibility of the contractor is to collect and analyze data that we do not currently have. I think it is to the City’s benefit that the taxicab industry is being solicited by someone they might be comfortable with; that only increases the probability that we will get a sufficient quantity of high quality information. I have not heard Uber state, yet, that they don’t believe the City is capable of independent analysis of raw data.

The set of aspects of this industry being examined currently is comprehensive in nature. Any revisions to taxicab regulations can potentially have feedback effects on the other categories of vehicles for hire. Furthermore, the vehicle for hire app “universe” is larger than Uber (see Sidecar, Lyft, Taxi Magic, MyTaxi). We have to look at the entire picture. Well, we don’t have to I guess, but it would not be very bright to not take a comprehensive view.

Hope that helps clarify things. My thanks to Christopher Newport for the feedback.

Once again with Wendy and the odds

Ross Ramsey in The Trib has his turn with the “what office should Sen. Wendy Davis run for?” question.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Abbott, the Republican attorney general, is his party’s favored candidate at the moment, in spite of the presence of Tom Pauken, a former state party chairman, in the race. Abbott has scads of money in his political account and seems, for now, to be in the spot Arthur was in when he pulled Excalibur out of that legendary boulder: everything is in place but the crown.

That has some insiders talking about the next race down — the one for lieutenant governor. Instead of taking on Abbott, the best-financed Republican candidate in years, Davis, D-Fort Worth, would face one of a quartet of Republican candidates for lieutenant governor, a group that includes a politically vulnerable incumbent and a conservative state senator who might give moderate Republican voters pause.

That race does not have a pre-emptive favorite, and two of the candidates could be attractive foils for Davis. David Dewhurst, the incumbent, has been looking for his mojo since his loss a year ago to Ted Cruz in a Republican runoff for the U.S. Senate. One of his three challengers is that conservative senator, Dan Patrick, R-Houston.


However the Republicans decide, the contrast between general election candidates would be simple to make.

The contrast would be simple to make in almost every race on the ballot. But a statewide race at or near the top of the ticket — even a losing one — could build a foundation for future campaigns.

And if Abbott doesn’t have a tough challenge, voters looking for a debate will go to the next race.

It’s not like Davis has a cakewalk waiting at home. If she runs for re-election to her Tarrant County Senate seat in 2014, she’ll face a headwind.

Her district was drawn to favor a Republican candidate. But she defied that in 2008 and 2012, years when the ballot was headed by a Democratic presidential candidate who helped draw her voters to the polls. Her team is surprisingly confident she will do it again next year, if that’s the route she goes.

The headwind could be stronger now, however, and it is the candidate’s fault. Davis got the attention of the Republicans, too, and they will come after her whether she runs for re-election or for something higher on the ballot.

The lieutenant governor’s race might be the one to run. It will almost certainly go to the Republicans, but “almost” is a big word in politics. Losing a re-election bid could put her out of circulation.

Might as well go big.

Robert Miller explored this same possibility last week; I blogged about it here. That post got a lot of reaction on Facebook, with the main concern being that the Lite Guv race would not be as high profile as the Governor’s race, which negates the advantages Davis has made for herself. It’s a legitimate question, but I think Davis’ presence on the ballot, especially if paired against either Dewhurst or Patrick, automatically ensures a minimum level of attention. I’d feel better about this if I knew the Dems were also going to have a good candidate for Governor as well – Cecile Richards, Rodney Ellis, Henry Cisneros, Leticia Van de Putte, you know the drill – but there’s no guarantee of that. I guess what it comes down to for me is that a full ticket of decent candidates is better than relying on Wendy Davis to carry the whole thing, whatever office she chooses.

Couple other points: Ramsey suggests that either Todd Staples or Jerry Patterson could be tougher competition for Davis, if either can win the Republican nomination for Lite Guv. That’s primarily because neither was directly involved in the abortion debate and the famous filibuster. I can buy that – I particularly think Patterson, who has the best record of actual accomplishment among GOP candidates, and who has a straightforward style that is likely to be appealing, would be a strong competitor – but Davis starts out ahead of Patterson in cash on hand, and can likely catch up to Staples by March. Plus, at this point I’d say she has better name ID than either of them – heck, she might have higher name ID than Greg Abbott right now – and that helps offset any advantage they may have.

Ramsey also suggests that Davis might have a hard time being re-elected in SD10 next year, as it is not a Presidential year. I’ve already dealt with that question, and I stand by my assertion that it’s not clear that the Presidential year was an asset for Davis. More Republicans come out in Presidential years, too, after all.

Finally, some people are now suggesting that maybe David Dewhurst should switch races. Like many other GOPers blocked by Rick Perry, what he’s always really wanted to be is Governor, and he alone has the financial resources to challenge Abbott on that score. His run for Senate in 2012 showed that he’s ready to be something other than Lite Guv. If not 2014 for Governor, then when? Just a thought.

We’ll always have Kinky

Like cicadas on a four-year cycle, he keeps coming back.

Bi-polar and tri-partisan

Kinky Friedman doesn’t know if he’s ready to jump back into Texas politics.

But the cigar-chewing humorist and musician — known for the black attire and cowboy hats he normally dons — said he may soon create an exploratory committee to help him decide whether to run for office again.

And if so, for which one.

“Maybe I should do what Rick Perry does and pray for an answer on what to do,” Friedman, 68, said with a chuckle Tuesday during a telephone interview with the Star-Telegram.

Some political observers say they wouldn’t be surprised to see Friedman throw his hat into the ring for nearly any statewide office.

“A comedian needs an audience,” said Harvey Kronberg, editor and publisher of the Austin-based Quorum Report, an online political newsletter.

Friedman said he probably will run for office as a Democrat, as he did during his unsuccessful 2010 bid for Texas agriculture commissioner, rather than as an independent, as he did in his failed 2006 gubernatorial bid.

“I’m keeping my options open,” said Friedman, a self-proclaimed Jewish Cowboy who lives in the Hill Country.

Yes, well, what else is new? If you need a reminder why Friedman is rather less than beloved among Democrats, read this blast from the recent past. Of course, he went from that to being a Wendy Davis for Governor cheerleader, which I suppose at least shows he’s capable of learning. I’m tired of bashing Friedman all the time, so let me make him a deal. If he promises to run for Railroad Commissioner, or Land Commissioner if John Cook decides against it, I’ll shut up about him through next November, assuming he doesn’t say anything too stupid. Hell, he can run for Attorney General if he wants to, on the premise that even a non-lawyer jokester like him would do a better and less detrimental job than a blinkered partisan hack like Greg Abbott, and I’ll be okay with that. Just stay the hell out of the Governor’s race, and don’t go up against a better Dem in anything else, that’s all I ask.

On Tuesday, he outlined his top two political priorities if elected to office: Legalize marijuana use and casino gambling in this state.

“Texas is going to do all this in the next ten to 15 years,” he said. “But by then, he will be the caboose on the train.”

Making his top two priorities reality, Friedman said, will provide a key boost for Texas’ economy.

Legalizing casinos in Texas would “stop the bleeding from all the billions of dollars that are walking out of the state for gambling,” he said.

And making marijuana use legal in Texas, he said, “would put a real crimp in the Mexican drug cartels — and make Willie Nelson very happy.”

I admit, Railroad Commissioners don’t have much to do with either of these things. He’d have to learn some actual policy stuff to be RR Commish, not that that was a prerequisite for the likes of David Porter or Elizabeth Ames Jones. But he could possibly get elected to the Railroad Commission, and that would give him a real platform to advocate for these things. Best I can do, sorry.

On a side note, since I mentioned the office of Attorney General, I’ll note that State Rep. Dan Branch announced his intention to run, a move that was almost as widely expected as Greg Abbott running for Governor. In doing so, Rep. Branch did his best Abbott impersonation, promising to protect the right of unborn babies to carry assault weapons so they can defend themselves from a rapacious federal government, or something like that. I might be a bit fuzzy on the details. I’m not sure if it’s more a pity or just pathetic that a generally low-key legislator who’s built a fairly solid reputation as a policy wonk has to spout such pablum – I suspect he didn’t sound much more genuine in saying it than I would have – but these are the times we live in. And as a result, and because Branch’s main competition is people like the more ludicrous and less substantive Barry Smitherman, you can see why Kinky for AG isn’t such a crazy idea after all. It’s not that hard to sound sensible opposite the likes of that. Kinky is downright statesmanlike in comparison.

LIBOR lawsuit

This ought to be interesting.


The City of Houston filed suit today for financial damages suffered from the manipulation of the interest rates on its investments against the banks that set the benchmark interest rate known as the London Interbank Offered Rate, or LIBOR. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in the Southern District of Texas by Richard Mithoff, of Mithoff Law Firm, the California law firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP, and the Houston law firm The Chevalier Law Firm, PLLC, against more than 16 current and former financial institutions that set LIBOR, including Barclays, UBS, Bank of America, Royal Bank of Scotland, JP Morgan, and Citigroup.

“I have instructed the city legal department to aggressively pursue any monies owed the city,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “Any manipulation of rates paid by the taxpayers must be corrected.”

“The complaint filed in federal court specifically notes three examples of transactions in which the LIBOR manipulation was detrimental to the City of Houston,” said Mithoff. “Damages to the city resulting from this global interest rate manipulation could be substantial.”

Mayor Annise Parker and City council approved hiring Mithoff earlier this year. Mithoff currently represents the Texas Heart Institute in its contractual dispute with St. Luke’s Hospital System, and serves as well as lead co-counsel for shareholders in their class action suit against BP.

“Nobody questions the existence of the conspiracy, nobody questions that the rigging took place,” City Attorney David M. Feldman said. “The question is the amount of damages.” By bringing the case under federal antitrust laws, Feldman said, the city can seek three times the actual damages, plus attorney’s fees.


LIBOR is the world’s benchmark interest rate used for setting short-term interest rates on a wide range of financial instruments– from simple consumer car loans to complex municipal derivative investments by public entities. LIBOR-based investments are in the trillions of dollars annually.

LIBOR is set every day by the British Bankers’ Association (BBA), based on an average of the interest rates that each LIBOR member bank reports it could borrow money from other LIBOR member banks. Until the manipulation scandal broke, LIBOR was accepted by the global financial system as the true cost of borrowing between financial institutions because it was believed to represent the true interest rate at which banks are able to borrow money.

LIBOR member banks reported an interbank borrowing rate that each bank “self-certified” to be the interest rate that it might pay to borrow funds from a fellow member bank; it was not an actual borrowing rate. Until recently, a LIBOR member bank’s reported interbank borrowing rate was believed to reflect its credit worthiness because a bank that could borrow money at a lower interest rate was believed to be more credit worthy. This “self-certified” or self-regulated market proved too tempting to the LIBOR member banks and was ripe for manipulation.

In March 2011, government regulators in the United States, United Kingdom, Switzerland and Japan announced they had launched investigations of LIBOR rate manipulation affecting global financial markets. LIBOR member banks were under scrutiny for manipulating LIBOR upward to increase their own profits, and for manipulating LIBOR downward to report suppressed borrowing rates to create the illusion of financial strength.

More than $2.5 billion in penalties have been paid by only three LIBOR member banks: In June 2012, Barclays agreed to pay $450 Million after admitting it manipulated LIBOR with other member banks; in December 2012, UBS agreed to pay more than $1.5 billion; and in February 2013, Royal Bank of Scotland agreed to pay $610 Million. In June 2013, a former UBS and Citigroup trader was criminally charged by British prosecutors for LIBOR manipulation involving eight LIBOR member banks and interdealer brokers, following December 2012 criminal charges by U.S. prosecutors. Charges against numerous others are pending.

As a result of the LIBOR manipulation, many Texas public entities and other investors have received reduced interest payments on interest rate swaps, corporate bonds, and other investments that were tied to LIBOR as a benchmark interest rate.

As Houston Politics notes, City Council authorized the filing of this lawsuit in March. It was a unanimous vote, which is rather a rarity on Council these days. The Houston Business Journal has a chat with attorney Richard Mithoff, who will be among those representing the city, who says that the target figure the city hopes to recover is $9 million. We’ll see how it goes.