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September, 2013:

Interview with Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman

I still have some Houston elections to cover here, but for this week we turn our attention to the HISD Trustee races. I have five interviews to bring you for these races, beginning with my Trustee in District I, Anna Eastman. Eastman, the current Board President, is serving her first term after winning a runoff in 2009 to succeed Natasha Kamrani. A former social worker, Eastman headed up Travis Elementary School PTA Ad-Hoc Transition Committee while it was undergoing expansion, and served as its PTA President for two years. I don’t usually state my preferences in these interview posts, but since I have already said that I plan to vote for Eastman I’ll say it again here, so there’s no confusion. Here’s the interview:

Anna Eastman interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

First lawsuit filed over abortion restrictions


The next stage in abortion rights advocates’ efforts to block implementation of strict new regulations on the procedure in Texas began on Friday, as the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and a group of abortion providers across the state filed a lawsuit in federal court.

“Today’s lawsuit is a united strike back against the hostile politicians who have made clear their willingness to sacrifice the constitutional rights, health and even lives of Texas women in support of their extremist ideological agenda,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

The lawsuit asks the court to issue a preliminary injunction to stop the state from implementing the hospital privileges and medical abortion requirements in House Bill 2, the law state legislators approved in July. Absent the injunction, the state will begin requiring physicians who perform abortions to have active hospital-admitting privileges within 30 miles of where the procedure is performed and distribute abortion-inducing medications in person starting Oct. 29. The plaintiffs in the suit represent the majority of licensed abortion providers in Texas, including the four Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas that provide abortion services, Whole Woman’s Health and other independent abortion providers in the state.

The lawsuit does not seek to block the ban on abortions at 20 weeks of gestation, which is also slated to take effect on Oct. 29, or the requirement that abortion facilities meet the structural requirements of ambulatory surgical centers, which takes effect in September of 2014.

Advocates anticipate filing a separate lawsuit seeking an injunction on the ambulatory surgical center provision before it takes effect.

We’ve known that a lawsuit was coming since shortly after HB2 was passed during the second special session. There’s been a ton of similar lawsuits filed around the country in response to the current wave of repressive anti-abortion laws. Those lawsuits have mostly been successful, in part because the desire to restrict access to abortion on the part of so many state legislatures has led them to push the boundaries way past what is legal, usually using bogus or fraudulent “science” as their justification. But as the Observer warns us, success in court elsewhere is no guarantee of anything here.

Much depends on the tenor of the courts in which the case is filed, as well as the political leanings of the federal appellate court where the suits are inevitably referred. Progress in other state courts is no indication of how a case might proceed in Texas.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, for example, found in favor of women’s health providers in Arizona, who argued that Planned Parenthood’s eviction from the state Medicaid program violated enrollees’ right to choose their health provider. However, a similar case in Texas was heard in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the judge found that Planned Parenthood’s eviction from a federal Medicaid program was not unconstitutional.

Indeed, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where today’s lawsuit could go, is notoriously conservative. Caitlin Borgmann, law professor at CUNY School of Law, who is not involved with today’s filing, said: “The climate is bad for abortion challenges in the Fifth Circuit.” In January 2012, for example, Fifth Circuit Judge Edith Jones upheld a mandatory ultrasound law that had been overturned by a lower court.

Just yesterday, Governor Perry appointed Jeff Brown to the Supreme Court of Texas. He is an opponent of abortion rights and has been hailed by Texas Right to Life for his ‘pro-life’ views.

Yes, the Fifth Circuit is a problem, and their recent track record argues against getting one’s hopes up. This is all likely to wind up in the lap of the Supreme Court, which is a scary thought on a whole other level. That’s why I’ve been saying that the ultimate solution to this is to win more elections. We can’t count on the courts to protect us from malevolent legislators. We have to protect ourselves from them. Trail Blazers, the Chron, BOR, and Texpatriate have more.

Kim Ogg to run for DA

That didn’t take long.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg, a former prosecutor, anti-gang investigator and crime prevention leader, told supporters Saturday that she will run for Harris County district attorney.

In an email, Ogg said she would announce Monday that she would run in the Democratic primary in the spring. Voters will choose a district attorney in November 2014.

Ogg is a former felony prosecutor in the district attorney’s office. She also has led Crime Stoppers of Houston and the city’s anti-gang task force.

She is the first candidate to formally announce a run for the office since the recent death from cancer of District Attorney Mike Anderson, a Republican.


“My focus will be to fight crime with 21st century tactics, and this will be accomplished through re-prioritization of resources, including forfeiture funds,” Ogg stated in her email. “On my first day in office, I will end the practice of accepting ‘trace drug cases’ where there is no evidence to convict and instead will shift the focus to dismantling organized crime from the top down.”

Ogg will formally announce her candidacy today. I’m familiar with Ogg’s previous work with the city, but I’ve not met her and didn’t receive the email, so this is all I know right now. I’m glad to hear that she would go back to the Lykos policy on trace cases, and her timing on that is propitious given the recent news about the jail filling up again. Assuming the Democrats can avoid another Lloyd Oliver situation, this has the makings of a very interesting race. If nothing else, as things stand we could have a race between two women for District Attorney. How often has that happened in Texas? In any event, I look forward to meeting Kim Ogg in the future and hearing more about her campaign.

Endorsement watch: Saving the Dome

The Chronicle gives its blessing to the Astrodome renovation referendum.

There has been a lot of finger-pointing over the Astrodome’s mismanagement, but come Election Day it only matters that voters point their fingers to the ballot button and approve the $217 million bond initiative to save the Dome.


The eyes of the nation are already upon Houston. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has just opened a field office in our city. What Victorian homes are to San Francisco, or Art Deco is to the New York City skyline, Mid-Century Modern is to Houston – and our greatest example is the Astrodome.

But in the wake of failed leadership, the Dome has been listed as one of the top 11 most endangered places in the nation. St. Louis would not tear down its Gateway Arch. Sydney would not tear down its Opera House. Houston: We should not tear down our Astrodome. We have the power to save it, not merely as a museum piece or historic memorabilia, but as a refurbished and fully functioning part of Reliant Park. And for one-third of the cost of building such a structure from the ground up.


Preserving the Dome should be the first step of reshaping the entire Reliant Park. If this passes, we urge the county to think bigger about transforming one of world’s largest parking lots into a comprehensive expo, hotel and green space – a Discovery Green South.

Harris County’s finances are in good shape, and after years of economic doldrums, now is the time to save the Astrodome – Houston’s one famous landmark.

Until now, we’ve viewed the boondoggle of the Dome’s decline as a sort of Shakespearean drama. It looked like politicians were scheming behind the scenes, putting forward a bright face while plotting to stab the Dome in the back. It has been a tangled yarn of good and ill, but in the end, all’s well that ends well. Vote to save the Astrodome.

The Chron had previously expressed concerns that the process was rigged to set up a situation where demolition was inevitable but blame for the decision to demolish was avoided. I guess their concerns have been assuaged. There’s a PAC in place to advocate for the referendum, there’s still no visible opposition, and initial polling is favorable. If it doesn’t happen now, it was never meant to be.

Weekend link dump for September 29

“Next I see the gluten-free section filled with crackers and bread made from various wheat-substitutes such as cardboard and sawdust. I skip this aisle because I’m not rich enough to have dietary restrictions.”

If the mixtapes you made in college in the 80s could have talked.

I’m fully on board with the Rivera Avenue proposal.

A joke on “The Simpsons” had an effect on the design of the iPhone.

“So, it’s basically Harry Potter, but with more ladies and considerably more sexytime? YES. YES TO THIS.”

Really not looking forward to the onslaught of homework that middle and high school are likely to bring.

“Using an e-reader may help some dyslexic students understand what they read, researchers at Harvard University argue.”

“So basically: if you’re a rich conservative who isn’t very smart about how you give your money, this ad is designed to pick your pocket. If you’re a non-rich conservative, you might get duped into some foolish behavior, but that’s just acceptable collateral damage.”

Ready or not, Christmas time is here.

“As my correspondent notes, Ted [Cruz] managed to distinguish himself as a arrogant a#@hole at Harvard Law School, which is an amazing accomplishment since the competition there for that description is intense.”

And by the way, if Ted Cruz gets his way and shuts down the government, it will cost billions of dollars. Because he’s fiscally conservative like that.

Re-retire #9, Yankees.

“Writing a neutral story about something so heartless as the food stamp vote is not good journalism”.

Die, mosquitoes, die!

“Yes, enduring some public criticism for receiving multimillion-dollar bonuses after helping crash the global economy is a lot like being hanged from a tree by your neck until you die.”

Would you take a tour of Steve Jobs’ childhood home?

RIP, VW Bus. Yes, they’re still being made – in Brazil – but no longer after the end of this year.

Some comment sections aren’t worth the trouble.

Gary Bauer, grifter.

I have no idea why anyone would want a recycled email address. Every time I got a new phone number in the past, I used to get a bunch of calls for whoever used to be at that number. Didn’t matter how long it had been since that person had last used it.

“It’s a mark of the insane and reckless turn in our politics that shutting down the government so one of our to major political parties can get the brinksmanship out of its system is emerging as the sober, responsible thing to do. But here we are, greatest nation the world has ever known.”

“And with that, yet another governing norm is on life support. The problem is that in any complex culture, norms are every bit as important as formal rules—something that, in other contexts, conservatives harangue us about constantly. They should think a little harder about why they feel that way as they go about their business of blowing up Capitol Hill.”

From the It’s OK If You’re Newt Gingrich department.

Medina for Governor?

Well, this would shake things up.

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina could end up running again for the state’s highest office, this time as an independent, she said Friday afternoon.

Medina, who has been exploring a race for comptroller for several months, told the Tribune earlier this month that she is having trouble raising the amount of money she thinks is necessary to mount a competitive campaign for that office. She cited a particular lack of interest from wealthy campaign donors who are typically pivotal in financing successful statewide races in Texas.

At the same time, in a development first reported by the Quorum Report, she said she has been hearing from potential donors interested in seeing her run as an independent for governor. Collectively, she has received pledges totaling millions of dollars, she said, and that has her wondering whether she ought to switch from one race to the other.

“I’m looking at the best opportunity to move these policy ideas that I have been working on: private property, state sovereignty, reform tax policy in Texas,” Medina said.


Medina said she would rather run for comptroller as a Republican than for governor as an independent. She feels the comptroller post is better suited to promoting the economic issues she is passionate about, such as abolishing the property tax. But she said she has had difficulty convincing wealthy conservatives that that race is worth investing in.

“I’m doing everything I can to assemble the resources necessary for a viable, credible campaign for comptroller,” Medina said. Noting that candidates must file for next year’s primaries by December, she added, “If it comes to November and the money still hasn’t come in, I’ll have to pull my team in and say ‘ok, are these other offers real and if they are, is this the path I should move down?’”

I don’t know how seriously to take this. Let’s be brutally honest here: However hard it has been to raise money in the GOP primary for Comptroller, her odds of winning that race are about a billion times better than her odds of being elected Governor as an indy. Surely anyone who might be whispering in her ear about the millions of dollars they would help her raise must realize that the vast majority of votes Medina would collect would come out of Greg Abbott’s hide, and the end result would be a much clearer path to victory for Wendy Davis. Don’t get me wrong, I would be thrilled beyond measure if this were to happen, it’s just that I don’t think I’ve led a good enough life for it to be so.

To throw some numbers out there, Medina got 275,159 votes in that 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary. That’s roughly six percent of the vote in a normal off-year general election. Add in the two percent or so that a Libertarian candidate is likely to get, and the win number for Davis and Abbott becomes 46%. I don’t think all of Medina’s vote comes out of Abbott’s total – as we have seen in other races, Ted Cruz’s being a prominent example, Medina will likely pick up some votes in heavily Latino areas. How much of that can and will be affected by the nature and quality of all the campaigns, especially that of Wendy Davis, but in the end Medina will cost her a few votes. Not nearly as many as she’d cost Abbott – if I had to guess now, I’d say between 80 and 90 percent of the hypothetical Medina votes would have voted for Abbott otherwise – so it’s hardly a Strayhorn/Kinky situation, which is good. Again, though, this seems more like attention-seeking than thoughtful strategizing. I would dearly love for this to happen, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Texpatriate and the equally skeptical PDiddie have more.

Bye-bye, Bud

Can’t say I’m sorry to see the tenure of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig come to a close.

Bud Selig said Thursday that he plans to retire as baseball commissioner in January 2015 after a term of more than 22 years marked by robust growth in attendance and revenue along with a canceled World Series and a drug scandal.

Some owners — and even his wife — have been skeptical in the past that he really would do it, but this marked the first time that Selig, 79, issued a formal statement that he intends to step down from the sport’s top job.

“It remains my great privilege to serve the game I have loved throughout my life,” Selig said in a statement. “Baseball is the greatest game ever invented, and I look forward to continuing its extraordinary growth and addressing several significant issues during the remainder of my term.

“I am grateful to the owners throughout Major League Baseball for their unwavering support and for allowing me to lead this great institution. I thank our players, who give me unlimited enthusiasm about the future of our game. Together we have taken this sport to new heights and have positioned our national pastime to thrive for generations to come. Most of all, I would like to thank our fans, who are the heart and soul of our game.”

Selig said he will leave Jan. 24, 2015, which would mark the second-longest term for a baseball commissioner behind Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who served from 1920 to 1944.

He also said he will announce a transition plan shortly that will include a reorganization of central baseball management.

Selig’s tenure included splitting each league into three divisions from two, adding wild cards and additional rounds of playoffs, expansion to Arizona and Tampa Bay, instituting instant replay, starting the World Baseball Classic, launching the MLB Network and centralizing the sport’s digital rights under

“The game has grown under him tremendously. He’s made every effort to try to clean the game up,” New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s left his mark on the game. There’s no doubt about it.”

I agree that the game has grown under Selig, and that he deserves credit for many of the good things that have happened. He also deserves blame for the 1994 strike, the now-subsided “contraction” fervor that was largely fueled by laughably dishonest claims about the game’s finances and the false belief that so-called “small market” teams could not be competitive, the moronification of the All Star Game, and the witch hunt that is the obsession with PEDs. He’s always been an owner’s Commissioner, which is why he was tapped to be Commissioner in the first place. I’ll leave the judgments to history, but it’s definitely time for a change.

Jayson Stark lists some of the possible and not-at-all-possible candidates to replace Selig. While I have no doubt which category this would fall into, I endorse what The Slacktivist has to say.

Bud Selig is set to retire as commissioner of Major League Baseball after the 2014 season. Ari Kohen asks, “which old white guy is the odds-on favorite” to replace him? As much as I’d love to see a former player — such as Hank Aaron or Frank Robinson — replace Selig, the commissioner does tend to be a conservative, establishment figure. Mitt Romney is probably a likelier candidate than either of those hall-of-famers.

So here’s my proposal: John Roberts for commissioner of baseball. The chief justice of the Supreme Court would, of course, have to step down from that post in order to accept the promotion, but it shouldn’t be a problem for the president to quickly nominate a replacement.

I’d be willing to compromise and suggest Antonin Scalia as an alternative. Or hey, how about Clarence Thomas, if we’d prefer an old non-white guy? Surely any of these gentlemen would be good philosophical peers of the owners, and would be able to offer some real insight on how to stay just on the right side of that good old anti-trust exemption. Who’s with me on this?

Inmate processing center polls favorably

The other issue on the county ballot appears to be in good shape.


Results from a recent KUHF-KHOU 11 News poll suggest strong voter support for a $70 million November bond issue for a city-county inmate processing center.

The poll, conducted by Rice University political science professor Bob Stein, found 58 percent of respondents support the measure and 21 percent oppose it. About 64 percent of Anglos supported the item and 61 percent of Hispanics did, Stein told KUHF, but just 49 percent of black respondents did; a quarter were opposed, and a quarter were undecided. (This post corrects earlier poll numbers for black respondents.)

A similar trend was at work when voters, led by overwhelming opposition from African-Americans, narrowly rejected a $195 million bond measure to build a much larger jail facility six years ago. That version of the project was a $245 million jail with 2,500 beds and expansive mental health and medical facilities.

The $100 million facility proposed now is a significantly pared down version of a the 2007 project. It would replace the main county jail’s cramped processing center, which has been operating over capacity even as the jail population has fallen.

Advocates also emphasize this year’s proposal is not a jail. With 552 short-term beds, the project is designed primarily as a processing facility, aimed at getting inmates in and out more quickly and cheaply by eliminating redundant city-county law enforcement processes. Many inmates booked into the city’s jails today are facing state charges (basically, charges more significant than getting a ticket for violating a city ordinance), and simply wait until the county can take them, then get transferred to the county jail and booked in all over again.

Stein told KUHF it may be significant that his poll — and the Nov. 5 ballot language — refer to the effort as a processing center and not a jail.

“There are no organized groups against this, so, I think, the stars are aligned for this to pass and pass by a good margin,” he said.

I presume this is the same sample as in the Dome poll. More from KUHF.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia says the center would replace two aging city lockups, but it’ll do more than incarcerate.

“Not only will it allow for me as sheriff to improve my operations, it’ll take the City of Houston out of the jail business, quit the duplication of operations, save the taxpayers money and get cops back out on the street faster.”

And while numbers show voters in favor the measure, Garcia says they aren’t taking anything for granted.

“This is an important measure. I want to make sure that it doesn’t get caught up in the debate of the Astrodome. This is a measure that isn’t going to cost the taxpayers any money, and it’s really going to improve a lot of services and operations for both the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the Houston Police Department.”

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says voters need to be sure they are aware of the measure.

“The county and the city are working together, which people like. It’ll allow us to have a place where we can divert people who don’t need to be in the criminal justice system. So, it’s just across the board, a wonderful step forward for the entire community.”

See here and here for the background. I plan to support this, and I’m glad to see that it polls well. This isn’t adding jail capacity, and it is allowing the city to get out of the jail business. A win all around.

Callegari to retire

We will have at least one open State House seat in Harris County next year.

Rep. Bill Callegari

State Rep. Bill Callegari, a Katy Republican who chairs the House Committee on Pensions and the House Research Organization, said Monday that he wouldn’t seek another term in 2014.

Callegari, an engineer, took his seat in the House in 2001. He’s the 12th member of the Texas House to say he won’t be back. Several are running for other offices, while others are getting out of politics for now.

Republican Reps. Dan Branch of Dallas, Stefani Carter of Dallas, Brandon Creighton of Conroe, Harvey Hilderbran of Kerrville and Van Taylor of Plano are all seeking other offices.

Callegari is joining a group that won’t be on the ballot next year that also includes John Davis, R-Houston; Craig Eiland, D-Galveston; Tryon Lewis, R-Odessa; Rob Orr, R-Burleson; Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, and Mark Strama, D-Austin. Strama already resigned from the Legislature to take a private sector job. The special election to replace him is on this November’s ballot.

Rep. Callegari is finishing his seventh term in the House. I wish him well in his retirement. HD132 joins SD07 on the list of Harris County open seats for 2014, but with one major difference: HD132 is a seat that could be competitive in 2014, even more so in 2016 modulo any further redistricting. It was one of only two Republican-held districts that were slightly more Democratic in 2012 than in 2008, and that was in a year where Democratic turnout declined somewhat from 2008. I’m not saying this seat is going to make anyone’s short list of pickup opportunities, but consider: The partisan trend, and demography, are pointing in the right direction. Battleground Texas is in operation. Throw Wendy Davis in at the top of the ticket, and who knows what kind of a boost in performance is possible. The most opportune time to try to win a seat from the other guys is when it’s open, followed by when it’s being defended by a freshman. That’s 2014, and if necessary 2016. The road to a Democratic House majority runs through districts like HD132. It would be better to start contesting them sooner rather than later. Burka has more.

Saturday video break: Respect

At long last, we come to Song #1 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list. It’s “Respect”, originally by Otis Redding, and of course covered by Aretha Franklin. Here’s the original:

Admit it, you’ve never heard that version before. It’s smoking hot, and Otis Redding is a national treasure. But “Respect” begins and ends with Ms. Aretha:

What else is there to say? I will say that I did some karaoke back in the day, and I can’t tell you how many women would pick this song to do, then realize as they were singing that the “Just a little bit” part is done by the backup singers, while Aretha is singing other words. Hardly anyone ever got that right, not that I can blame them. But it was always funny to watch.

Well, okay, there is one more thing to say:

And that is truly the end. I’ll have more videos beginning next week, once I figure out what videos I’ll have.

We have to worry about jail overcrowding again

Not good.


After a nearly two-year hiatus, the Harris County jail population is nearing capacity, prompting officials to again consider whether to ship some inmates to out-of-state lockups.

The latest jail population report shows the total number of detainees dropped significantly from 2009 to the end of 2011, when the population finally dipped below the 9,434-inmate capacity. Since January, though, it has increased from 8,581 to 9,340, the highest it has been in nearly two years.

Local officials say there are a variety of factors at play, and that the county is not alone.

Among them: The recent closure of two prisons, which has resulted in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice taking longer to pick up inmates destined for prison. There also have been recent increases in the number of felony case filings, detainees awaiting trial and parole violations, the population report shows. Then there is the historic trend of jail populations swelling in the summer and declining in the fall.

“It’s not one, single thing,” said Caprice Cosper, who heads the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.


Harris County, though, also has seen felony filings increase by more than 18 percent in the last two months, as well as a 36-percent increase in the first half of the year in the number of people convicted of felonies but ordered to spend time in the county jail instead of going to prison.

That includes convictions for so-called “trace cases,” where people are arrested for possessing less than 1/100th of a gram of an illegal drug.

The late District Attorney Mike Anderson, who took office in January and died of cancer last month, sparked speculation that the jail population would increase when he decided to prosecute trace cases as felonies. His predecessor, Patricia Lykos, treated the cases as misdemeanors, saying it was difficult to accurately test drug residue and the arrests took officers off the streets for too long.

While the number of state jail felonies being filed, including for trace cases, has not changed dramatically, Cosper said “what has gone up is the way they are being punished.”

>During the first half of last year, 1,670 state jail felons were sent to the county jail. That increased to 2,273 during the first half of this year.

“That’s all trace case policy,” said lawyer Patrick McCann, a former president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association who recently was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to the Specialty Courts Advisory Council.

The end result of all this is that the county is talking about the need to outsource inmates to Louisiana again. That would be an embarrassment if it were to happen. Caprice Cosper thinks it won’t need to come to that, as TDCJ will start picking up inmates in a more timely manner and some new legislation aimed at diverting convicts from jail will kick in. I hope she’s right, but in the meantime it would be wise if someone were to press our new District Attorney about the trace case policy. As recently as March it was reported that there had been no increase in the jail population due to the resumption of filing trace cases as felonies. We need to take a long, hard look at that, and at the number of felonies being filed overall. We know that the criminal court dockets are overcrowded, and that has an effect on the jail population since it means longer wait times for cases to be resolved. We also know that lack of ability to make bail, plus a lack of personal recognizance bonds issued by the courts adds to the problem as well. The Chronicle reported on that less than two weeks ago, but that connection wasn’t made in this story. Caprice Cosper is right to say that this problem has many aspects. Some of them go back a long way, back to the bad old days of Harris County shipping inmates all over the place. The fact that we haven’t needed to do that lately doesn’t mean we’ve fully addressed the underlying causes that got us into this situation in the first place.

Keep runoffs on Saturday

Put me on record as opposing this.


A Houston City Council committee [Tuesday] recommended keeping the city’s run-off election day on a Saturday. But committee members remained open for the possibility of changing it to a Tuesday in the future.

City Attorney David Feldman says the city first started discussing the topic in March. The reason: Holding elections during the week is cheaper.

“That expense arises from the fact that we use facilities, such as school buildings, where we are charged when those facilities are used on Saturdays but not charged when they are used during the week.”

Besides the question of cost, another important issue would be how moving the day would affect voter turnout. To learn more about that, the committee invited political science Prof. Bob Stein of Rice University.


Council member C.O. Bradford, who chaired the committee meeting, noted that moving the runoff election to Tuesday would save money and accommodate the majority of voters.

However, several council members expressed concern about recommending the change for this November’s election, because it would cut the early voting period short by two days, at least in this election cycle.

This is District J council member Mike Laster.

“My particular concern in this election cycle for 2013 is that we would be actually losing the Saturday and Sunday of early vote period, which has historically been a very high turnout two days of early vote.”

In the end, the committee decided not to recommend a change, and a spokeswoman for Annise Parker says the mayor won’t move the runoff election day this year.

C.O. Bradford says the city still needs to hear from actual voters, not just potential ones.

Prof. Stein’s polling showed majority support for the idea, but they didn’t ask me. I agree with CM Laster that moving runoffs to Tuesdays, which would mean moving early voting from Thursday through Wednesday to Monday through Friday, is the wrong thing to do. I get the desire to save money, but this is not a good way to do it. The cost of running elections in the city is a drop in the bucket, budget-wise. This change is not worth the pennies we’d pick up. Stace and Campos have more.

Another poster child for tort “reform”

The Observer asks how well you know your doctor.

In late 2010, Dr. Christopher Duntsch came to Dallas to start a neurosurgery practice. By the time the Texas Medical Board revoked his license in June 2013, Duntsch had left two patients dead and four paralyzed in a series of botched surgeries.

Physicians who complained about Duntsch to the Texas Medical Board and to the hospitals he worked at described his practice in superlative terms. They used phrases like “the worst surgeon I’ve ever seen.” One doctor I spoke with, brought in to repair one of Duntsch’s spinal fusion cases, remarked that it seemed Duntsch had learned everything perfectly just so he could do the opposite. Another doctor compared Duntsch to Hannibal Lecter three times in eight minutes.

When the Medical Board suspended Duntsch’s license, the agency’s spokespeople too seemed shocked.

“It’s a completely egregious case,” Leigh Hopper, then head of communications for the Texas Medical Board, told The Dallas Morning News in June. “We’ve seen neurosurgeons get in trouble but not one such as this, in terms of the number of medical errors in such a short time.”

But the real tragedy of the Christopher Duntsch story is how preventable it was. Over the course of 2012 and 2013, even as the Texas Medical Board and the hospitals he worked with received repeated complaints from a half-dozen doctors and lawyers begging them to take action, Duntsch continued to practice medicine. Doctors brought in to clean up his surgeries decried his “surgical misadventures,” according to hospital records. His mistakes were obvious and well-documented. And still it took the Texas Medical Board more than a year to stop Duntsch—a year in which he kept bringing into the operating room patients who ended up seriously injured or dead.

In Duntsch’s case, we see the weakness of Texas’ unregulated system of health care, a system built to protect doctors and hospitals. And a system in which there’s no way to know for sure if your doctor is dangerous.

Reading this reminded me of another poster boy for tort “reform”, Doctor Eric Scheffey, who plowed a path of death and mayhem a few years ago before finally being stopped. These guys are obviously atypical, but as the Observer story points out, the system we have today has almost no power to do anything about them. The Texas Medical Board’s authority is very limited. Hospitals are not required to disclose the reasons why a particular doctor is no longer employed there, so bad doctors’ bad acts don’t follow them from one place to another. And of course, thanks to our draconian medical malpractice lawsuit limits, the courts no longer serve as a way to get the bad apples out of the barrel. The vast majority of doctors are competent and conscientious, so for most of us it’s not a problem. But for a non-trivial number of unfortunate people – the Observer story documents a few of them – it’s a matter of life and death. And our famously “pro-life” legislature could not care less.

Friday random ten: Bird on a wire

One last set of animal-related songs. Watch the birdie!

1. Bee Of The Bird Of The Month – They Might Be Giants
2. The Bird – Eddie From Ohio
3. Bird Feathers – Charlie Parker
4. Bird On The Wire – Leonard Cohen
5. Canary Bird – Muddy Waters
6. The Coo Coo Bird – The Be Good Tanyas
7. Fragile Bird – City and Colour
8. Little Bird – The Honeycutters
9. Red Bird – The Hot Club of Cowtown
10. This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds) – Peter Gabriel

Where dog songs were mostly about dogs, and cat songs were mostly about sex, bird songs are a little of each and a little of neither. Sometimes a bird is just a metaphor, I guess.

Other interviews

You may have noticed on my 2013 Elections page some new links in the Interview column for various candidates. That’s because three other local blogs have done interviews with candidates, both recorded and written, which is something we haven’t seen much of before. I decided to include them on my compilation page because all three of them talked to at least one candidate that I have not or will not be able to, and all of them asked different questions than I did. Since I consider the primary purpose of my interviews to be informative – to provide information about candidates for people who might not otherwise hear much if anything about them in an environment where there isn’t much mainstream media reporting being done on their races – I decided it was best to include these sources as well. A brief guide to the other interviewers:

New Media Texas, abbreviated as “NMT” on my page, was the first of these other blogs to do interviews. Durrel Douglas has video recordings of conversations with several candidates, mostly from District D but also with Mayor Parker and Ben Hall.

Texpatriate, abbreviated as “TexP” on my page, was the second to do interviews. The group blog sent out written questionnaires to multiple candidates and so far has gotten and printed over two dozen responses. As they note in the prologue to each interview, they “sent 10 questions based on seven different templates: (1) incumbent City Council, (2) challenger City Council, (3) open seat City Council, (4) challenger Controller, (5) incumbent Controller, (6) challenger Mayoral and (7) incumbent Mayoral.” They then print the answers verbatim, which led to some unintentional hilarity with the first version of mayoral candidate Eric Dick’s responses. You can see all of their interviews here.

Texas Leftist was the most recent entrant to the interview game. Wayne Ashley’s written interviews are abbreviated “TLCQ” on my page, which is his term for “Texas Leftist Candidate Questionnaire”.

On the matter of interview style, I have long preferred doing recorded interviews, as you have seen here. It gives me the opportunity to ask followups or to go in a direction I hadn’t originally anticipated, and I like hearing what the candidates have to say for themselves. I’ve done written Q&As for judicial candidates in years past, and will likely do some again next year for the masses of Democratic hopefuls, but I always worry that I’ll get cut-and-paste responses from a campaign staffer rather than real answers from the candidate himself or herself. That probably says more about me than anything else, but since I like doing the recorded interviews, it works for me.

Honestly, every year I may gripe about all the time and effort it takes to do these interviews, but I feel like I get a lot out of them. I enjoy meeting the candidates and hearing what they have to say, even if I have no inclination to vote for them. We may live in a deeply cynical age, but I find that the vast majority of the people I interview are running because they genuinely want to do something positive. That doesn’t mean I agree with their definition of “something positive”, but I respect the desire to serve and make a difference. I’ve gotten to know a lot of interesting people, and I’ve gotten to visit parts of the city I wouldn’t otherwise spend much time in. What’s not to like?

Democratic ballot update

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte:

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

State Sen. Leticia Van De Putte of San Antonio is exploring a run in 2014 as the Democratic challenger in the lieutenant governor’s race, but she said there is still a lot to consider.

“We’ve really had so many family losses, so first and foremost my concerns are with my family,” she said.

Van De Putte has seen her share of losses since the start of this summer — first the death of baby grandson, then her father died in a car accident and recently her mother-in-law passed away.


Van De Putte is re-grouping this week to discuss her role in the 2014 statewide elections and — like many other Democrats considering higher office — waiting for state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth to officially announce her decision about running for governor, which is set to happen Oct 3, the official date Democrats can file for a statewide election.

Sen. Carlos Uresti:

This time it’s state Sen. Carlos Uresti, who said he is mulling a run for the attorney general’s office in 2014 and considers himself a perfect fit for the job.

“With my experience as an attorney of 20 years, my experience as a legislator of 16 years — including my experience as officer in the Marine Corps — I think gives me some of the skills to fill that position,” he said.


Uresti said the attorney general’s office should not be a partisan office that only concerns itself with legal battles with the federal government.

Uresti said his decision doesn’t hinge on whether or not state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth decides to run for governor and he will make a decision and announce his plans in early November.

If he runs, Uresti said one top of his top priorities as attorney general would be to go after “dead-beat” parents who don’t pay their child support.

According to Robert Miller, Sen. Jose Rodriguez is also thinking about running for AG. Sen. Rodriguez is closer to my personal ideal for that job, but as long as one of them runs, I’ll be happy.

And as for the main event, we’ll find out next week.

Amid widespread reports that she plans to run for Texas governor, state Sen. Wendy Davis on Thursday released details about the announcement of her future plans next week.

Davis will make the announcement at 3 p.m. on Oct. 3 in the auditorium where she received her high school diploma in 1981 — the Wiley G. Thomas Coliseum in Haltom City. Davis had previously announced the date, but until Thursday she had not given details about the time or location.

Politico reported Thursday that Davis is telling top Democrats she is running for governor, though she and aides are declining to confirm anything with their names attached to it.

“Next week join your friends and neighbors for the moment when I announce what I plan to do next,” Davis said in an email blast to supporters.
 “We’ll be gathering at the same coliseum where I received my high school diploma — and I really want you to be there with me.”

It’s hard to imagine she’s announcing for anything but Governor. I guess nothing is impossible, but any other office would be a ginormous anticlimax. And once Davis has announced, we can hopefully get the rest of the ticket filled in. We need candidates for Ag Commissioner and Railroad Commissioner – I wouldn’t mind a more prominent name for Comptroller, but we do have someone – and of course the Court of Criminal Appeals and Supreme Court. If Wendy Davis is on top of the ticket, we have no excuse for leaving any slot blank.

Premiums for insurance exchange plans released

Guess what? They’re pretty darned affordable.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

“In just 99 days, millions of Americans will finally have the security and peace of mind that have eluded them for years,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on a press call, “as coverage starts to kick in on insurance purchased through the new health insurance marketplace.”

To help people comply with the individual health insurance mandate that takes effect on Jan. 1, the federal government will launch an Orbitz-style online marketplace on Oct. 1 for consumers to apply for tax credits and compare and purchase health plans.

According to the federal report released Tuesday night, Texas will have comparatively low premium rates for health plans offered in the federal marketplace compared with other states. The average monthly rate for a standard plan in the 48 states analyzed in the report was $328, while Texas’ was $305. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia will have lower rates on average than Texas for a standard health plan offered in the marketplace.

“Texas has historically had a reasonably competitive insurance market compared to some states,” said Gary Cohen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. He explained that in some states one insurance carrier may dominate 75 to 80 percent of the market. “Texas has not had that situation,” he said.

Texans will have on average 54 health plan options available in the federal marketplace. The number of available plans will vary depending on the region. For example, people in Austin will have 76 health plans to choose from on average, while people in the Rio Grande Valley will only have 30 options on average.

Four types of plans will be offered in the marketplace: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. In general, Bronze plans will have lower monthly premiums but higher out-of-pocket costs, while Platinum plans will have the highest monthly premiums but lower out-of-pocket costs. Premium rates and out-of-pocket costs will vary depending on age, the number of people in the household and the region in which the person lives, among other factors. Ultimately, the prices are based on the estimated cost of health care services over the course of a year.

People who have annual incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty line will qualify for sliding-scale tax credits to help them purchase a health plan in the federal marketplace. For an individual, that’s an annual income of $11,490 to $45,960; for a family of four, it’s $23,550 to $94,200.

Click over to see some detailed information about what will be available in Texas, or click here to see the full report. Some highlights from the latter:

Individuals will have an average of 53 qualified health plan choices in states where HHS will fully or partially run the Marketplace

  • Individuals and families will be able to choose from a variety of bronze, silver, gold, and platinum plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace, as well as catastrophic plans for young adults and those without affordable options. Health insurance issuers can offer multiple qualified health plans, including multiple qualified health plan choices within a single metal level. In the 36 states in this analysis, the number of qualified health plan choices available in a rating area ranges from a low of 6 to a high of 169 plans. On average, individuals and families will have 53 qualified health plans to choose from in their rating area. Young adults will have an average of 57 qualified health plans to choose from, including catastrophic plans. The average number of choices will likely increase after including final data from state-based Marketplaces, which tend to have greater issuer participation.
  • On average, there are 8 different health insurance issuers participating in each of the 36 Marketplaces included in this analysis. This ranges from a low of 1 issuer to a high of 13 issuers within a state. About 95 percent of the non-elderly population in these 36 states lives in rating areas with 2 or more issuers. Roughly one in four issuers is offering health plans in the individual market for the first time in 2014.

Premiums before tax credits will be more than 16 percent lower than projected

  • The weighted average second lowest cost silver plan for 48 states (including DC) is 16 percent below projections based on the ASPE-derived Congressional Budget Office premiums.11 In 15 states, the second lowest cost silver plan will be less than $300 per month – a savings of $1,100 a year per enrollee compared to expectations. Overall, 95% of the uninsured potentially eligible for the Marketplaces live in states with average premiums below ASPE-derived CBO projected premiums (see Figure 1).
  • Young adults will pay lower premiums and also have the option of a catastrophic plan that covers prevention, some primary care, and high costs in cases of major accident or illness. The weighted average lowest monthly premiums for a 27-year-old in 36 states14 will be (before tax credits): $129 for a catastrophic plan, $163 for a bronze plan, and $203 for a silver plan. More than half of the uninsured potentially eligible for the Marketplaces live in a state where a 27-year-old can purchase a bronze plan for less than $165 per month before tax credits. There are an estimated 6.4 million uninsured Americans between the ages of 25 and 30 who may be eligible for coverage through Medicaid or the Marketplaces in 2014.

Premiums after tax credits

  • Tax credits will make premiums even more affordable for individuals and families. For example, in Texas, an average 27-year-old with income of $25,000 could pay $145 per month for the second lowest cost silver plan, $133 for the lowest cost silver plan, and $83 for the lowest cost bronze plan after tax credits. For a family of four in Texas with income of $50,000, they could pay $282 per month for the second lowest cost silver plan, $239 for the lowest silver plan, and $57 per month for the lowest bronze plan after tax credits.
  • After taking tax credits into account, fifty-six percent of uninsured Americans (nearly 6 in 10) may qualify for health coverage in the Marketplace for less than $100 per person per month, including Medicaid and CHIP in states expanding Medicaid.

It should be noted that it’s not all butterflies and lollipops, as Wonkblog explains.

Health experts say it is a good sign for consumers that premiums have come in lower than expected. Under the law, the plans must offer a basic set of benefits, including mental health and maternity care, which previously were not included in many private plans. Insurers are also forbidden from rejecting or charging people more because of preexisting conditions.

Many experts worried that those factors would drive up the cost of insurance. They partially credit competition on the marketplaces, where people will be able to directly compare plans from different insurance companies, for restraining premiums.

But they warn that premiums don’t tell the whole story.

The low rates are possible in part because insurance companies created special plans that include fewer in-network doctors and hospitals than many current plans.

This may not be a problem for healthy people who currently lack insurance. But those with illnesses may discover that their specialists are not covered by an exchange insurance plan. Low-income people accustomed to a certain community clinic may find that going there is no longer an option. And everyone may encounter long waits to see a doctor.

In addition, many of the lowest-cost plans may carry high deductibles, despite a cap imposed by the law that limits out-of-pocket costs to $6,350 per person per year.

“Despite the fact that the premiums are lower than expected, enrollees on exchanges are likely to face very high out-of-pocket costs before they hit their cap, and they are at risk of being in very narrow network plans that may or may not include all the providers they need access to,” said Caroline Pearson, vice president of health reform at the consulting firm Avalere Health, which did its own report on rates this month.

It’s still going to be a lot better than having no insurance, and for people who are currently paying exorbitant prices for individual plans, or who can’t get insurance at all because of pre-existing conditions, it will be awesome. That will include millions of Texans, some of whom are friends of mine, and all of whom Ted Cruz cares nothing about. Kevin Drum and the Kaiser Family Foundation have more.

That pollution isn’t our fault!

You have to admire the creativity.

Houston Ship Channel, 1973

Houston Ship Channel, 1973

Harris County’s problem with tiny, lung-damaging particles in the air can be blamed partly on African dust and crop-clearing fires in Mexico, the state’s environmental agency has told federal regulators.

If the Environmental Protection Agency agrees with the state’s finding, then the county would avoid stringent pollution controls and sanctions for particulate matter, or soot.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is making the case after Harris County last December failed to meet new federal limits for soot. The EPA tightened the limits after a federal court concluded that previous standards were too weak to protect public health.

The state agency has flagged seven days from 2010 to 2012 when high soot levels were “not reasonably preventable” because of particles from faraway places. If not for pollution from Africa and Mexico, also known to regulators as “exceptional events,” the county would have met the new limits, the agency concluded.

Maybe this is what Ted Cruz is talking about when he demands tighter control over the border. Who knew he cared about the environment?

Environmentalists sharply criticized the state’s assertion, saying the agency is “looking for an easy way out” instead of cracking down on harmful pollution.

“It’s not the way to address a serious issue,” said Elena Craft, a Texas-based toxicologist for the Environmental Defense Fund. “Whether the pollution comes from an exceptional event or not, the public health risk is the same.”


Larry Soward, a former state commissioner who is now board president of Air Alliance Houston, said he expects the EPA to approve the state’s request.

But Soward said he is concerned that progress on air quality would stall if federal regulators allow the exceptions.

“The practical effect will be that no one does anything to ensure the new (particulate matter) standard is met other than what is being done now, which is very little,” he said. “In other words, Houston will come to parade rest.”

The EPA isn’t expected to make its decision till late next year. All snark aside, whether or not this is a real thing shouldn’t distract from the real need to deal with the problems and factors that we do control. A bit of dust that blows in from elsewhere doesn’t change the fundamentals.

Interview with Leticia Ablaza

Leticia Ablaza

Leticia Ablaza

For my last City Council interview for the 2013 cycle, I return to District I for a conversation with Leticia Ablaza. Ablaza turned her activism against the historic preservation ordinance into a filing-deadline candidacy for I in 2011, eventually getting 35.5% against CM James Rodriguez. She then spent four months as Chief of Staff to CM Helena Brown. A native of Mexico and a graduate of the University of St. Thomas, Ablaza has worked in the securities industry doing fraud investigations, and is currently the operations manager for a real estate firm. Here’s what we talked about:

Leticia Ablaza interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

Devon Anderson named interim DA

We’d been waiting for an announcement about this.

Devon Anderson

Devon Anderson, the widow of recently deceased Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson, was appointed Tuesday to serve out her late husband’s unexpired term.

Gov. Rick Perry announced Tuesday that Anderson, of Bellaire, would take the place of her husband, who died of cancer Aug. 31.

The announcement came after the head of the Harris County Republican Party said Devon Anderson would be the best choice to fill the vacancy at the top of the largest district attorney’s office in Texas.

Here’s that story.

Devon Anderson, the widow of recently deceased Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson, is the local GOP leadership’s choice to replace her late husband, the head of the party said Monday.

“The person who would be the best to fill Mike’s shoes, and they’re big shoes to fill, would be his wife,” said Jared Woodfill, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party. “I’m hopeful that the governor will appoint her to carry on Mike’s legacy. She’s very, very qualified for the position.”

Woodfill put his sentiments in a letter to Gov. Rick Perry who will appoint someone to fill the unexpired term of Mike Anderson, who lost his battle with cancer Aug. 31.

Woodfill said he is urging Devon Anderson to ask for the appointment, and said she is considering it.


The news surprised some courthouse insiders who thought Belinda Hill, Anderson’s first assistant, would succeed him. Hill left the bench she had held for 15 years in January to help Mike Anderson run the office.

“Everyone here believes Belinda Hill would be an excellent DA,” said one courthouse Republican who asked not to be identified. “That said, Devon Anderson is highly qualified and will make an excellent DA. It’s poetic to see her fulfill her husband’s legacy, if she decides to do it.”

The process to choose a new district attorney appears to be frozen until Devon Anderson decides, according to the source.

“Either way, the issue needs to be resolved soon,” the source said. “The office needs the certainty of knowing who’s leading them long term.”

I’m certain Devon Anderson is well qualified for the job, and I wish her all the best at it. I’m not surprised that Perry was soliciting input from the local party, and I’m not surprised that Devon Anderson was given deference, but I am a little surprised that Belinda Hill, for whom the Chron advocated shortly after Mike Anderson’s death, wasn’t named early on. I’m not plugged into GOP politics, so I don’t know the backstory. Murray Newman, citing a KTRK report on Woodfill’s letter that added some other names to the mix, provides some detail.

First Assistant Belinda Hill is also a phenomenal candidate. She’s highly respected by both the Defense Bar and the Prosecution. She’s already received the unsolicited endorsement of the Houston Police Officers’ Union. However, it has never been clear whether or not Belinda actually wants the job. Although she had been elected Judge of the 230th District Court for several terms, there is a big difference on the campaign trail when one is running for judge and when one is running for District Attorney. It is an unfortunate fact of life that politics plays a tremendous part in keeping your job as District Attorney. A person may love the job description of being District Attorney but (rightfully and sanely) have no desire to hit the campaign trail for it.

There were other hopefuls for the job, and it’s possible we’ve not heard the last of them. Anderson have to run twice, next year and in 2016, in order to keep the job. If you don’t relish the idea of campaigning, that’s a lot to contemplate, which may be why Belinda Hill was hesitant. While I believe Anderson would be likely to outperform the Republican baseline next year, as would Hill had she been selected, getting elected either year is not a sure thing. It won’t surprise me if someone, perhaps one of the rejected applicants and/or someone from the Pat Lykos office, mounts a primary campaign, and the general election won’t be a walk. Assuming the Democrats don’t Lloyd Oliver themselves again, you can be sure the 2014 race will be high profile. Texpatriate has more.

Dome poll

In addition to their poll of the Mayor’s race, KHOU and KUHF also polled about the Astrodome referendum. These results are a bit harder to read.

The fate of the Astrodome rests with voters who’ll decide whether Harris County should borrow $217-million to convert the dormant building into a multi-purpose event center for everything from conventions and trade shows to small concerts. The bond issue would raise property taxes on the owner of a $200,000 home an estimated $8 a year.

The KHOU 11 News – KUHF News Election Poll shows 45% of surveyed voters favor the bond issue, while 35% oppose it and 20% are undecided. That’s very good news for dome supporters, because the poll numbers indicate they need to win over only one out of four undecided voters.

“And there are, what, 20% that are still undecided?” says Dene Hofheinz, who’s helping spearhead the campaign to save the dome. “We still have a little bit of work to do. We still have a little bit of work to do. I feel very confident about it, though. I really do.”


The poll turned up some demographic curiosities. Anglos and Hispanics are more likely to support the referendum than African-Americans. And voters upbeat about the city’s future are more likely to support saving the dome.

But perhaps the most unexpected result popped out of data about the age of people who back the referendum. Earlier surveys showed voters old enough to have seen games at the Astrodome were more likely to support saving it, while younger voters leaned toward demolishing it.

“That age difference has disappeared,” says Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU analyst who conducted the poll. “I suspect it’s because the proposal that’s before the voters that we read them is not to just save the Astrodome, but to convert it into some type of economic development. The justification here is that fixing up the Astrodome won’t just cost us money, it will make us money.”

The Chronicle adds some more detail.

A KUHF/KHOU poll, conducted by Rice University political scientist Bob Stein, shows 45 percent of likely county voters would support the bond issue and 35 percent would oppose it, while 20 percent are undecided. The poll surveyed 650 likely county voters and has a 3.8 percentage point margin of error.

Another poll, conducted for the campaign working to drum up support for the dome project, shows a tie: 43 percent in favor and 43 percent opposed, with the rest undecided. The group’s poll surveyed 500 likely county voters and has a 4.5 percentage point margin of error.

While the results are “not spectacular” for proponents of the initiative, Stein said he gets the sense that the initiative will end up passing simply because there is no organized opposition, meaning the campaign will get to “control the message.”

“I thought these numbers were pretty good numbers for them to start with,” he said.


The two polls reached opposite conclusions about, among other things, support for the initiative among voters who live inside and outside the city of Houston.

The KUHF/KHOU poll found that support for the bond initiative is slightly greater outside city limits than inside, something Stein said he could not clearly explain.

Former County Judge Jon Lindsay, co-chair of the “New Dome” political action committee, said the campaign’s internal survey indicates that “we’re in pretty good shape in the inner city, we’re not in good shape in the unincorporated area.”

The sample is larger because this is all of Harris County; the Mayor’s poll was a subsample of that. Determining “likely” voters for this referendum is a bit dicey, as unlike with the Mayor’s race past voting history may not be an accurate predictor. Non-Houston people in Harris County, who would otherwise only have state constitutional amendments to push them to the polls in odd-numbered years, may well feel more motivation to vote on the fate of the Dome. It’s certainly gotten a fair amount of attention in the news, and I think a lot of people will have an opinion on it one way or another. The fact that the “I don’t know” response was much smaller than in the Mayor’s race suggests that at the very least more people feel like they know something about this referendum.

The detail about younger voters being more likely to support the referendum is fascinating and not at all what I’d have expected. The higher level of support outside Houston is a curiosity and may just be one of those weird things that sometimes happens with polls. If that’s the case, then the KHOU/KUHF poll may be slightly overstating support for the referendum. Hard to say, and we don’t have any detail on the referendum campaign’s poll, so a comparison is tricky. Ideally, everyone will do another poll in mid to late October, and we’ll see how those look. At the very least, it will give the pro-Dome campaign a chance to have an effect, and it will also allow for any organized opposition, if such exists, to do whatever it may do.

Speaking of the pro-Dome campaign, Swamplot has its first video:

Here’s the Youtube link. The NewDomePAC channel has one other video on it, a longer effort that gives some of the Dome’s storied history. I like the pitch in that 30-second ad. It’s probably the case that if you asked some random person elsewhere in the world what they thought of when they heard the word “Houston”, the answer you’d get most often would be “the Astrodome”. That’s something valuable, and it shouldn’t be discarded lightly. We’ll see if it has any effect on what the voters think. Texpatriate, Texas Leftist, and PDiddie have more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of September 23

The Texas Progressive Alliance is thoroughly enjoying some Republican slapstick comedy as it brings you this week’s roundup.


Interview with James Horwitz

James Horwitz

James Horwitz

My last planned interview for City Council At Large races is with James Horwitz, who filed a few days before the deadline in At Large #5 against CM Jack Christie. Horwitz is an attorney, the owner of his own firm, doing the legal equivalent of general practitioner work. He is also the father of Noah Horwitz, one of the Texpatriate bloggers. I will have one last Council interview tomorrow, having finally caught up with a candidate I had previously been unable to schedule time with. There will be more interviews to come beyond these, but for now here’s the interview with James Horwitz:

James Horwitz interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

KHOU polls the Mayor’s race

The first poll of the season is always exciting news.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Annise Parker seems headed for a runoff in her campaign to keep her job, but she commands more than twice as many supporters as her leading challenger in a newly released poll commissioned by KHOU 11 News and KUHF – Houston Public Radio.

Still, just six weeks before Election Day, roughly half of all surveyed voters either didn’t know or wouldn’t say how they’re going to vote.

Parker leads the pack of candidates at 34 percent, with former city attorney Ben Hall at 14 percent. About 48 percent of voters are classified as undecided, indicating the incumbent mayor will have to fight to keep the post to which she was narrowly re-elected two years ago.

“I don’t see the mayor losing this race,” said Bob Stein, the KHOU political analyst who conducted the survey. “I’m not certain she’ll win it in the general election, like she did in 2011. But the mayor, who tends to get high marks as a mayor, simply doesn’t get what I’d call great public support as a candidate.”

Seven other candidates who filed for the office garnered little support in the poll, but their presence on the ballot may attract just enough votes to toss the election into a runoff.

The Chron story on the poll puts the numbers at 34.1 for the Mayor and 13.6 for Hall. It also reports that Erick Dick was next in line with 2 percent, and that the sample was 424 “people” – I presume that means “registered voters”, not just anyone who answered the phone – with a margin of error of 4.76%.

Couple things here. First, as I have said before, polling in a Mayor’s race is a tricky affair because turnout is low. We had less than 20% turnout in 2009, and not much more than 10% in 2011. Polling “registered voters” and not “mostly people who have voted in at least two of the last three municipal elections” is going to get you a skewed result because you’re going to get a lot of responses from people who will not be voting in November. Just ask Mayor Peter Brown, who was the frontrunner in two separate polls in 2009. Brown’s numbers relative to his opponents were bolstered by his being on the airwaves for weeks at the time of the polls. Hall has not run nearly as many ads as Brown did four years ago, so his lower total is not surprising.

As for Parker’s 34%, there are a couple of ways to look at this. One is to note that it’s slightly less than the support she received in an October 2011 poll, which had her at 39% on a “re-elect or not” question and at 37% in a question where she and all her opponents were named. If Ben Hall, who put out a triumphant press release about this poll, wants to grab onto something, that’s what I’d reach for. Against that is the fact that in 2011, “fully half of likely Houston voters — 50 percent — rate Parker’s job performance ‘fair’ or ‘poor,’ while 47 percent rate her ‘good’ or ‘excellent’.” She did better in this year’s poll, as noted by the Chron:

Political observers said arguably more important than the poll’s horse-race numbers are the wider trends: 62 percent of respondents said Houston is on the right track, 56 percent said they expect the economy to improve in the next few years, and 57 percent said Parker has done an “excellent” or “good” job.

You can see the full numbers here. The “fair” or “poor” total is 41%. These are much better numbers for Parker, and no doubt reflect the better economy as well as her much more peaceful second term. It’s fair to say that overall, she’s in better shape than she was two years ago.

That doesn’t mean she’ll top fifty percent in November, however. Back to KHOU:

Hall has indicated he hopes to garner significant support from two key constituencies: African-American voters and Republicans disenchanted with Parker. But so far, the poll indicates that strategy isn’t working well enough to propel him into office.

“Ben Hall is an African-American former city attorney,” Stein said. “He expects to bring out a large number of African-American voters and win 80, 90 percent of that. Doesn’t seem to be working. Turnout may be a little bit higher among African-American voters, but he’s only winning 29 percent of the African-American vote, to the mayor’s 24 percent.”

Meanwhile, Parker garners 27 percent of Anglo Republican voters’ support compared to Hall’s 11 percent.

Don’t put any stock in Hall’s totals here – the “I don’t know, but then again I’m highly unlikely to vote in November” factor is too big. I refer back to my earlier observation about the African-American vote in the 2009 runoff. Gene Locke received 72% in the old districts B and D. If Ben Hall needs to top that by ten or twenty points, he’s in trouble. That said, Locke did get 83% in District B, and the old District D included some Parker-friendly turf like parts of Montrose, so there is some wiggle room in those numbers. But Hall does have to maximize his share of the vote in his best areas, and he has to boost turnout, and he needs more than just a good share of the vote in Districts B, D, and K. There’s not much here to suggest that he’s on track for that.

Of course, that’s all in the context of a two-candidate race, which is to say a runoff. We’re not in a runoff situation yet. How good a job Parker and Hall do getting their voters to the polls will have a large effect on whether Parker can make it past the 50% line or not. Along the same lines, if the minor candidates combine for about ten percent of the vote, fifty percent is in reach for Parker. If they combine for 20, a runoff is a near certainty. One theory, which Campos voiced last week, is that both Parker and Hall are keeping their powder dry for a runoff, which they both expect. I have no idea if that is the case, and if I’m Team Parker, I’d much rather take my best shot at winning in November. But with the relatively low visibility of the campaigns so far, it’s not completely far-fetched.

Finally, speaking of turnout, here’s the KUHF story:

Mark Jones says the mayor’s race and the Astrodome initiative may draw a few thousand extra voters, but that might work against some of the races.

“That benefits the incumbents some, but it also can lead to a greater probability of a run-off simply because people are casting votes with relatively little information about the candidates in play. The larger the turnout gets, probably the more likely most of these multi-candidate races are to go to a run-off.”

There are about one million registered voters in the City of Houston, but less than 200,000 are expected to turn out for the general election.

I agree that the Astrodome referendum, which is also pretty low key at this time, is unlikely to have much effect on the Mayor’s race. To say the least, however, “less than 200,000 are expected to turn out for the general election” is an understatement. Less than that turned out in the much noisier 2009 general election. My opening over/under line was at 150,000, about the level for the 2009 runoff, but that feels like it might be a bit high, too. It’s still early, and I know both campaigns are doing ground work, but still. I’m not expecting much, and for better or worse one has rarely been wrong taking the under in turnout predictions in recent years. Stace, PDiddie, Bay Area Houston, and Texpatriate have more.

Endorsement watch: SEIU and HAR

This came in on Thursday:

SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Texas, including janitors who clean office buildings, housekeeping workers at GRB and food service workers, have endorsed Mayor Annise Parker for re-election. Houston members have also launched an effort to outreach to Latino and African American voters in their neighborhoods. Mayor Parker’s commitment to creating quality family-sustaining jobs makes her the best candidate for Houston’s working families.

“We are one of the most diverse cities in the nation and that makes us stronger. Mayor Parker understands this, that’s why she’s fought to build a city economy that works for everyone. When my fellow janitors and I went on strike last summer, her leadership helped bring about a resolution that is helping to build a path out poverty for thousands of Houston’s families, including my own,” said Houston janitor and SEIU Texas member Yesenia Romero.

In her first two terms, Mayor Parker advanced her mission to make Houston a great place to raise a family by supporting janitors’ efforts to raise wages, creating fair standards for employees who provide city services and holding irresponsible businesses accountable.

“I am proud to stand with Houston’s janitors, housekeeping and food service workers as we join together to make our city a better place to live for all Houstonians,” said Mayor Parker. “Working families helped lift Houston out of the recession – and together, we’re continuing to build a future for Houston’s children with more good jobs, safer neighborhoods and stronger schools. Thank you, SEIU, for your endorsement and support.”

During a press conference attended by Mayor Parker, members committed to turn their support into action in their communities. In the coming weeks, volunteers will generate support from neighbors, family members and fellow members to join Mayor Parker’s mission to build an economy that works for all.

SEIU endorsed a full slate of candidates, and you can see that reflected on my 2013 Election page. I have a continuation of my rant about how hard it is to get this information from some endorsing organizations to make in a bit, but first here’s the slate from the Houston Association of Realtors that I’ve been waiting for. From the press release:

— The Houston Association of REALTORS announced its decision to support the following candidates in the Tuesday, November 5 City of Houston Elections:

Mayor – Annise Parker*

District A – Helena Brown*

District B – Jerry Davis*

District C – Ellen Cohen*

District D – Dwight Boykins

District E – Dave Martin*

District F – Al Hoang*

District G – Oliver Pennington*

District H – Ed Gonzalez*

District J – Mike Laster*

District K – Larry Green*

At-Large 1 – Stephen Costello*

At-Large 4 – C.O. “Brad” Bradford*

At-Large 5 – Jack Christie*

*indicates incumbent

“Houston’s economy is thriving, and the real estate market is at its strongest position in decades. REALTORS and homeowners owe much of this to sound fiscal policy, and a Mayoral administration that promotes responsible commercial and residential growth,” said HAR Political Affairs Advisory Group Chair Nancy Furst of The Furst Group. “HAR is proud to have a very positive working relationship with Houston City Council, and we look forward to working with our supported candidates for the next two years of their service on City Council.”

Of interest is their backing of CM Helena Brown in District A. It’s striking because they could have easily waited till the runoff to pick a side in that multi-candidate race, and of course because former CM Brenda Stardig is herself a realtor who had their support in each of the last two elections. HAR generally sticks with incumbents, so in that sense it’s not too surprising, but still. That’s got to sting a little for Stardig, and it’s a big get for Brown. Both sets of endorsements, along with a set from the Greater Houston Restaurant Association and an updated list from the Harris County Tejano Democrats are on the 2013 Elections page. Ben Hall also picked up endorsements from the Baptist Ministers Association and the Harris County Republicans, which describes itself as “a General Purpose Committee PAC that is dedicated to increasing Republican turnout in Harris County elections”. They will be mailing out their slate of endorsed candidates to Republican voters, but I don’t have that slate at this time, nor do I know if the Baptist Ministers Association has endorsed anyone else, so those are not on the page yet. When and if I get a release or a link with a full list of their endorsed candidates, I will add them.

As for the rant, I was all set to grouse about the HCTJs, as I had heard about their updated list from a couple of the candidates on it but had not gotten it from them before yesterday, then they went and took the wind out of my sails. And good for them for doing so! There are still plenty of others to find fault with. The C Club – I’m interested in Republican-friendly endorsements, too – has one Endorsed Candidates link on their webpage that takes you to a members login screen, and another Endorsed Candidates link that gives their slate for Lone Star College Trustees from May. The last endorsements I can find for the HPOU are from 2010; I even sent an email two weeks ago to [email protected] asking for their slate, but have not received a response. The HPFFA has endorsed multiple candidates, but the only ones you can find out about on their website are Ben Hall and Roland Chavez. A lot of other endorsing organization are PACs, and you can learn about their preferences via candidate finance reports, but they all have webpages and/or Facebook pages, none of which carry this information. I continue to have no idea why they all make this so difficult. Why bother to endorse candidates if it’s nigh impossible for actual voters to learn who you’ve endorsed? What am I missing here?

Anyway. This is all a reminder that the endorsements I list on my 2013 Elections page are as best I can determine. If you know of a set of endorsements I’ve missed, and can send me a press release or a link to them, please do so. If you can explain why so many endorsed slates are shrouded in secrecy, please do that, too. Thanks.

DeLay wants to sue

Whatever you say, dude.

Are YOU fit to judge me?

Are YOU fit to judge me?

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, reveling in victory Thursday against Texas prosecutors in a money-laundering case, said his political career is over but he’s eager to return to the courthouse.

If he can find a lawyer “with a backbone,” DeLay said, he’ll considering suing the Travis County district attorney for the eight-year legal clash that ended with an appeals court tossing his conviction.

“I cannot take this laying down. For the welfare of the people that serve in the future, I can’t just let this go,” he said.

The threat was vintage DeLay. As the GOP’s No. 3 leader in the House after the 1994 takeover, he earned the nickname “The Hammer” for an aggressive style that cowed fellow Republicans and tormented Democrats.

Yes, and like other best-forgotten relics of bygone decades, he’s back to enjoy a moment in the sun and to try to cash in while he still can. I wouldn’t go lawyer-shopping just yet, however, since there’s still the small matter of the state’s appeal to the CCA. Mark Bennett thinks that the top court’s all-GOP panel isn’t likely to grant discretionary review, but with all due respect to his infinitely greater knowledge of the criminal justice system, I disagree. The CCA may be a bastion of Republicans, but they’re pro-prosecutor first and foremost. Maybe there’s enough overlap between Republicans and prosecutors in this state to conflate the two, but I believe there’s a difference. I mean, just ask yourself: What would Sharon Keller do? Sure, maybe she’s rubbed elbows with Tom DeLay before, at a fundraiser or an execution-watching party, but do you think that’s enough to overcome her bedrock belief that anyone who’s been arrested for a crime must be guilty of something, and it’s her job as a judge to make sure they stay guilty for it? Anything is possible, I guess, but expecting Sharon Keller to buy the argument of a defendant seems like a losing bet to me.

Yes, I know she’s not the only judge on the CCA, but the rest of them are hardly flaming defense attorneys. And before you suggest that Keller might listen to the arguments before making up her mind, I have to ask – Have you ever read one of her opinions? The facts don’t exist to shape her opinion, the facts exist to be shaped to fit her opinion. Who are we kidding here? If Sharon Keller wants you to be guilty, that’s all the fact she needs.

Anyway. Point is, this still isn’t over. And to answer Lisa Falkenberg’s question about the two guys that pled guilty, Jim Ellis and John Colyandro both had provisions in their plea agreements that took into account the possibility that DeLay’s conviction could get tossed. As such, I think they’re both pretty happy right about now.

Interview with Issa Dadoush

Issa Dadoush

Issa Dadoush

Filing to run just before the deadline against CM Bradford in At Large #4 is Issa Dadoush. Dadoush spent a number of years in city government, serving as the Director of General Services Department for six years under Mayor Bill White, having previously been the Chief of Design and Construction/Lead Assistant Director. He left that job in 2010 to become the General Manager of Construction and Facility Services for HISD – he left that job with a bit of rancor – and from there he became a Commercial Vice President for the Parsons Corporation. Here’s what we talked about:

Issa Dadoush interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

A deeper look at the city’s pension funds

I appreciate this just-the-facts analysis of the city’s pension funds. It’s delightfully free of fearmongering and doomsaying, which tend to cloud most stories on the funds. I don’t have anything specific to say about the article, but I do want to make a few general points about the city’s pension situation.

1. I reject the idea that pensions “need” to be replaced by defined contribution plans. The only true winners in that scenario are the fund managers, and they don’t need the help. There’s no reason why the pension funds can’t be made solvent, and no reason to replace them given that.

2. That said, I don’t object to offering a “blended” defined contribution/defined benefit option, as long as it truly is optional. I don’t expect it to be much of a difference-maker if one is offered, however. Police officers and firefighters tend to be in it for their careers, and those that do leave early often do so either involuntarily or because of unforeseen circumstances, like a spouse taking a job elsewhere. Such people, unless they were unusually gifted with foresight, would have had no reason to eschew the traditional pension option. Perhaps this would be more popular with municipal employees, but again, my suspicion is it would be a fairly small piece of the puzzle.

3. For all the fuss over “meet and confer”, it should be noted that it’s a bit of a double-edged sword for the city. Meet and confer lets the city negotiate how much it pays into the funds each year. That gives it some cost control, but it doesn’t make the financial obligation go away. If the city had paid more into the police and municipal funds over the past decade, the problem we face today would be smaller. I don’t expect the city enters annual negotiations with an eye towards increasing the amount it has to pay that year.

4. The city would also like to negotiate things like the deferred retirement option and automatic cost of living adjustments with the firefighters. I don’t think these are unreasonable things to want to discuss. The firefighters maintain that Mayor Parker could negotiate with them any time if she really wanted to. Mayor Parker, I am sure, would say that it’s the firefighters that refuse to sit down with her. The only thing we know for sure is that there’s no love lost between the two sides. I don’t think it should be a requirement that the Mayor and the firefighters like each other for them to talk with each other. But if there’s no other way, then maybe we do need a law.

I don’t know how this story ends. So far all the talk is at the city level, but if anything fundamental is to change it will have to come from the Legislature, where much to the Chronicle’s dismay there’s no sign of any activity there. Maybe there will be in 2014, I have no idea. But this is where we stand now. If we’re still standing here when the 2015 elections roll around, I won’t be surprised. Texpatriate has more.

The tab for the redistricting fight

The bill is coming due.

Still not Greg Abbott

Civil rights groups are now contending that since the 2011 maps were never used and ultimately were altered by a court that they are entitled to be reimbursed for money spent fighting [Attorney General Greg] Abbott in the case. They’ve asked a federal judge to make the state pay $6.2 million for lawyers, outside experts and travel.

“The attorney general’s job was to defend maps passed by the Legislature. Those maps never became law and it would be intellectually dishonest for Abbott to say he won this case,” said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, and the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, one of a number of minority groups that sued the state over its 2011 redistricting maps.

“This is the road Abbott paved, and now we’re at this juncture where the court is looking at attorney fees,” added Martinez-Fischer, whose group is asking for about $2.5 million in reimbursement. “This is where he needs to own up and assume responsibility.”

The San Antonio judges gave the civil rights groups the OK to file applications detailing expenses and asking for reimbursement, a signal to some observers the court is likely to award some kind of fees.


The $6.2 million total request for fees stems from legal challenges to 2011 maps for the Texas House and U.S. Congress. Groups suing over those maps have not been declared prevailing parties in the 2011 case.

Sen. Wendy Davis – who sued to protect her Tarrant County district from being retooled under the 2011 plan – was given that declaration by the San Antonio court earlier this month – and the court instructed her lawyers to file their application for reimbursement. Davis’ lawyers have been trying to negotiate with the state and expect to file with the court as early as this week.

The state’s argument is that the lawsuit over the 2011 maps never really came to a conclusion because of the SCOTUS ruling on the Voting Rights Act and the substitution of the 2013 amended maps; Sen. Davis was declared the winner in her fight because she and the state came to a settlement agreement. The state is basically arguing for a technicality, but the law is full of such things. It would be nice if the court didn’t let them get away with it since it was clear they were heading for an ignominious defeat. Whatever happens, you can be sure there will be appeals. Which, among other things, will serve to jack the price up even higher if the state winds up losing in the end. For some related news on the redistricting lawsuit, see Texas Redistricting.

Going after the dumpers

Glad to see this.


City Council District B will be the site of a pilot program in which five surveillance video cameras have been placed in undisclosed locations, [Mayor Annise] Parker announced. The cameras will be monitored in real time by the Houston Police Department’s Environmental Investigations Unit, which will relay information about illegal dumping incidents to patrol officers for follow-up.

Should the three-month pilot project prove effective, the city will buy another 20 cameras under a budget amendment by District B Councilman Jerry Davis.

“The pile of trash behind me is disgusting,” Parker said on the 1500 block of Maxine. “But the really bad news, the worst news, is that we have problems like this all over Houston. It’s bad enough when we have a condition like this in an out-of-the-way area that no one can see and experience. But we have conditions like this in neighborhoods. On tucked-away corners behind houses that our citizens have to deal with every day.”

This year’s city budget included $250,000 to buy new cameras, as well as upgrade those currently in use. The city long has used surveillance cameras to fight illegal dumping, Parker said, but because of changes in technology, including better visuals and reliability, “it was a good time to do this again.”

Parker hopes the program will identify 50 to 80 illegal dumping cases a month. HPD’s environmental investigations unit has investigated 1,159 cases so far this year, said officer Stephen Dicker.

Here’s the city’s press release on the initiative. Note the use of surveillance cameras, which in this instance strikes me as an appropriate way to deploy them to help fight crime. If you’re wondering about HPD having to watch hours of video to catch these dumpers, technology will lend a hand to that effort. I hope that effort turns out to be very successful.

Interview with CM Bradford

CM C.O. "Brad" Bradford

CM C.O. “Brad” Bradford

This week we venture back to the At Large Council races, as there were a couple of late filers that brought opponents to previously unchallenged incumbents. One of those incumbents is Council Member C. O. “Brad” Bradford, now in his second term in At Large #4. Bradford is an attorney and served as Chief of Police under Mayor Lee Brown. He has been a strong proponent for an independent crime lab, as the full extent of the crime lab’s problems came to light during his time as Chief. The most prominent critic of Mayor Parker on Council, CM Bradford serves as the Chair of the Ethics, Elections, and Council Governance Committee, and as Vice Mayor Pro Tem. Here’s what we talked about:

CM Brad Bradford interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

Questions asked about Perry’s job-stealing trips


As Gov. Rick Perry visits Maryland in his latest effort to recruit businesses to relocate to Texas, a Washington, D.C.-based group is taking aim at what it calls the governor’s “piracy trips,” raising questions over how they are funded.

A report by Good Jobs First says that despite the governor’s office’s statements that state funds are not used for the trips, local sales tax funding is indeed used to cover travel expenses and advertising related to the trips.

“Texas taxpayers have a right to know about the public funds that partially support TexasOne,” said Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First.

The press release is here and the full report is here. Let me quote from the press release, as it gives a fuller picture of what the study is about:

The job-piracy trips represent an enormous surge in spending for television and radio advertisements that feature Gov. Perry himself. In eight months, TexasOne has spent about $1.8 million in advertising buys to publicize Gov. Perry’s job-piracy trips. That sum exceeds TexasOne’s entire FY2012 budget by more than half a million dollars, and is about nine times what TexasOne spent on advertising and promotion in FY2012.

The study finds that scores of local Economic Development Corporations (EDCs), funded by local sales tax dollars, as well as some city and town governments, and other local government agencies in Texas, form the most numerous group of dues-paying members to TexasOne and accounted for about one fourth of its revenue in FY2012. However, the federal tax returns of the non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation that sponsors TexasOne refer only to “private contributions.”

The study also points out that Gov. Perry’s press releases announcing his trips include a funding disclaimer that prompts more questions. They say state funds aren’t used to pay for the advertising air time or Gov. Perry’s travel or accommodations, but they are silent on local taxpayer dollars, and the trips involve many other expenses.

The study also finds 40 corporations funding TexasOne, including two dozen that are publicly traded companies or subsidiaries of such companies. Some serve national markets; some even have headquarters or large facilities in states that Perry is trying to lure jobs from.

These are all good points, and I’m glad to see them get an airing. One point that I’ve brought up before only gets mentioned in passing in a footnote, however:

This study does not explore the effectiveness of Texas’ job-piracy efforts. For that topic, we refer readers to a study we released in January 2013 entitled The Job-Creation Shell Game. There, we chronicle the history of interstate competition for capital, and detail several arguments why interstate job piracy is wasteful and ineffective. We refer readers to that study for those arguments. One key point we demonstrated is that Texas, like every other state, gains or loses microscopic shares of firms and jobs due to interstate in-migration (net of out-migration). All or very nearly all of the job-creation action is attributable to the expansion of existing firms (net of contractions) and to start-ups (net of firm deaths). Therefore, state resources are most effectively spent helping firms start up and grow (and helping them avoid layoffs and shutdowns). At (regarding Texas specifically, see pages 4-5 and 16-20)

So the bottom line remains that Perry’s gallivanting around is a failure on every level except for one – the promotion of Rick Perry.

Sen. Garcia joins the fight in Pasadena


Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia on Tuesday joined forces with four Pasadena council members and a community organizing group to mount a campaign against a new redistricting plan they say is designed to dilute the voting strength of Pasadena’s growing Hispanic population.

Garcia called Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell’s proposed plan, which would switch two council districts to at-large positions, a “huge step backwards.” She noted that when the city last year sought pre-clearance for a similar plan from the U.S. Department of Justice that it was soundly rejected as being discriminatory.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent elimination of the pre-clearance requirement should not be seen now as an “open invitation” to attack the minority vote, said Garcia.

Four of the city’s eight council members from the predominantly minority north end of Pasadena, which Garcia’s 6th Senate District covers, echoed that sentiment. They are being assisted in the “Just Vote No” campaign against the proposed charter amendment that will be on the Nov. 5 ballot by Texas Organizing Project, a community organizing group that plans to help get out the vote.


Garcia, who in 2002 defeated Isbell to become a Harris County commissioner, said citywide elections can result in council representatives living on the same street or area rather than being spread across the city.

“This new plan is just retaliation by the mayor who doesn’t like having new independent voices on council,” said Cody Wheeler, one of two Hispanics serving on Pasadena’s council.

See here, here, and here for the background. Good for Sen. Garcia. The best solution to this problem, certainly the cleanest and quickest solution, is for Mayor Isbell’s plan to be defeated by the voters. That’ll keep the lawyers out of it, and it will ensure no harm is done before the courts have a chance to intervene. The only other elections going on in Pasadena in November will be the constitutional referenda and the Astrodome proposal. Get out the vote and kill this thing dead while you still can.

Maybe the Ashby Highrise isn’t as evil as we thought

Home prices don’t lie, I guess.

Appreciate the appreciation, dude

So far, the controversial high-rise under development near Rice University hasn’t hurt the housing market in the neighborhoods around it.

The average home price in the nearby Boulevard Oaks area was $1.36 million in the first half of the year. That’s up 58 percent over the same period in 2012 and the highest increase among 18 high-end neighborhoods tracked by the Greenwood King real estate brokerage. The average sales price in the adjacent Southampton neighborhood was $1.2 million, up 29 percent from last year.

Homes in those neighborhoods have been selling at a faster clip than many others. The average time it took to sell a house from January through the end of June was 25 days for Boulevard Oaks and 23 days for Southampton, the Greenwood King report said.

Based on the numbers, residents can’t exactly complain their area has been negatively impacted. In an open letter to the developers, residents fighting against the project said the tower at 1717 Bissonnet at Ashby would “devastate” property values.

As you know, I’m no fan of the Ashby highrise. Soaring property values in this highly desirable neighborhood aside, I remain convinced it’s the wrong location for the project. We also have no way of knowing what would have happened to property values in a non-Ashby world. All that said, this is a pretty striking blow against one of the main arguments against this kind of development. Material harm isn’t the only way to measure the effect of having a multi-story building as a neighbor, but the absence of such harm will make it a lot more difficult to get relief from the courts.