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February, 2014:

Friday random ten: My gayest list ever

In honor of Wednesday’s epic ruling invalidating Texas’ Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage law, here’s a supersized list celebrating the LGBTQ artists in my collection:

1. We Are The Champions – Queen
2. The Consequences of Falling – k.d. lang
3. I Don’t Know What It Is – Rufus Wainwright
4. Take Me To The Pilot – Elton John
5. Bring Me Some Water – Melissa Etheridge
6. Tainted Love – Soft Cell
7. Closer To Fine – Indigo Girls
8. October – Kings
9. Tonight – George Michael
10. YMCA – The Village People
11. Driver Eight – R.E.M.
12. West End Girls – Pet Shop Boys
13. Cosmic Thing – The B-52’s
14. Born To Run – Frankie Goes To Hollywood
15. Gobbledigook – Sigur Ros

Some mighty fine tunes in there, if you ask me. This list was helpful to me in putting my own list together, and of course there’s always Wikipedia. Who’s on your list?

Next steps in the Texas same sex marriage lawsuit

In case you were wondering, Attorney General and candidate for Governor Greg Abbott will appeal Wednesday’s historic ruling striking down Texas’ constitutional amendment barring same sex marriage.

The state of Texas has officially given notice that it is appealing a San Antonio judge’s ruling that completely struck down its ban on same sex marriage.

“Defendants … Rick Perry, Greg Abbott, and David Lakey … hereby appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit from the Order Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction, signed and entered in this action on February 26, 2014 ,” said the state’s notice, filed in federal court in San Antonio on Thursday.

Abbott’s statement is here. Democratic candidate for AG Sam Houston thinks Abbott shouldn’t have bothered.

I agree with Judge Garcia when he says “state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution.” There is no question that marriage is a right that should be afforded to all consenting adults regardless of race. In my view, the same right should be afforded regardless of sexual orientation, and I am not convinced Texas should commit substantial time and money to appeal a ruling that is likely to remain unchanged when considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Needless to say, none of the Republican candidates agreed with that.

Texas Monthly, writing before Abbott’s promise to appeal, examines the timing of the process.

[Judge Orlando] Garcia’s ruling falls in line with similar district court decisions issued recently in Oklahoma, Virginia, and Utah—making it increasingly likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually have to settle the matter, possibly as soon as the 2014-15 session.

During a conference call [Wednesday] afternoon, Barry Chasnoff, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said that while he hoped Abbott would choose not to appeal the decision and allow it to stand—as attorney generals in states like New Jersey have done—he nonetheless expected that in “a political year” Abbott would issue an appeal.

Garcia’s injunction will place the case on a fast track to the appeals courts, which is also where the Utah and Oklahoma cases are headed. But while Oklahoma’s and Utah’s cases are being appealed to the traditionally moderate Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Texas appeal will be heard by the traditionally conservative Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans.

According to Kenneth Upton, a Dallas-based senior lawyer for the gay legal advocacy group Lambda Legal, the Texas appeal could be decided around the same time as the Oklahoma, Virginia, and Utah appeals. So although it’s still considered unlikely, there’s a chance that the Texas case could be the one the Supreme Court hears first—and could end up bringing same-sex marriage to all fifty states.

That would make it a bookend to the Lawrence v. Texas case from 2003. We sure have come a long way. I recommend you also read this TM feature story from the February issue, about plaintiffs Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes:

Phariss and Holmes, who filed suit with another same-sex couple in October and whose case will be heard this month by the U.S. District Court in San Antonio, are unlikely catalysts for social change: until recently, Phariss wasn’t entirely out of the closet, and both men were deeply hesitant about being part of the case. Holmes, who is a 43-year-old physician’s assistant in Fort Worth and former Air Force officer, feared that exposing themselves so publicly might make them targets of antigay violence. Phariss, who is 54 and an attorney, worried that the attendant publicity would alienate colleagues and clients, many of whom didn’t know about his sexuality. He even asked the legal team handling the suit if it could withhold a press release from the Dallas Morning News, since that’s the newspaper that everyone he works with reads.

“The day it was filed, I literally got physically sick,” recalled Phariss. “Leading up to that, we definitely had moments where we looked at each other and asked, ‘Have we lost our minds?’ It’s no accident that my name is the last of the plaintiffs listed.”

A decade after Lawrence v. Texas —the landmark 2003 Supreme Court decision that declared state laws forbidding homosexual activity to be unconstitutional—Texas seems to have found two more reluctant gay-equality activists. Like John Geddes Lawrence, who was closeted at the time of his 1998 arrest in Houston for consensual sex with another man in his own house, Phariss and Holmes found themselves drawn into the battle for marriage equality almost by happenstance. At every step of the way, they’ve had to keep convincing themselves this is the right thing to do. “The truth of the matter is I had some reticence about meeting with you,” Phariss told me.


The lawsuit originated with co-plaintiffs Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra De Leon, who live in Austin but married in Massachusetts in 2009. In the aftermath of last summer’s Windsor decision, the women decided to sue Texas to recognize their marriage. One of their main motivations, they said, was to cement parental rights regarding their son, whom De Leon gave birth to in 2012 and whom Dimetman has since adopted. “We want to be able to tell our kids that we are married,” De Leon told me.

In August, Dimetman, an attorney who previously worked for the San Antonio office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (which had filed an amicus brief in the Windsor case), asked her former employers if they would be willing to represent the couple. After Akin Gump agreed to take on the case, the firm’s attorneys began reaching out to other gay couples, asking them to join as co-plaintiffs. They believed that a diverse group of plaintiffs—male and female, unmarried and already married in another state—would give the lawsuit its best chance. One of the first people lawyer Frank Stenger-Castro talked to was Phariss, whom he knew through legal circles. Phariss and Holmes eventually agreed to join the suit and went to the Bexar County Clerk’s office, where they requested and were denied a marriage license.

Why would Phariss and Holmes take on such a public role, given Phariss’s semi-closetedness and their concerns for their safety? They say that, in good conscience, they couldn’t not do it.

“There’s this phenomenon where someone is in trouble and needs an ambulance, and everybody says, ‘Call 911,’ and everybody assumes someone else is going to do it, and nobody winds up doing it,” said Holmes. “I didn’t see anybody else doing this, so I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll be the one who makes the call.’ ”

They’re happy they did make that call, as expressed by their statement after the ruling.

“We are extremely happy — happy beyond words — with Judge Garcia’s decision,” Phariss and Holmes said Wednesday in a written statement. “Today, Judge Garcia affirmed that the Equal Protection Clause applies to all Texans. We are delighted by that decision, and we expect that, if appealed, it will be upheld.”

In the same joint statement, Dimetman and De Leon described the decision as “a great step towards justice for our family.”

“Ultimately, the repeal of Texas’ ban will mean that our son will never know how this denial of equal protections demeaned our family and belittled his parents’ relationship,” they said in a written statement. “We look forward to the day when, surrounded by friends and family, we can renew our vows in our home state of Texas.”

Not everyone is happy, of course – this Chron story has a couple of quotes from usual suspects expressing their unhappiness.

Gov. Rick Perry said the ruling was yet another attempt by the federal government to tell Texans how to live their lives.

“Texans spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly voting to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in our constitution, and it is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens,” he said. “We will continue to fight for the rights of Texans to self-determine the laws of our state.”


Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who authored the amendment to the state constitution that banned same-sex marriage when he was a state senator in 2005 issued a short, but to-the-point Tweet on the ruling:

“Having carried the constitutional amendment defining marriage between 1 man & 1 woman, I will change my definition of marriage when God does.”

Perry and Staples and Dan Patrick and all the rest of them deserve all the unhappiness they get over this. Couldn’t happen to a better bunch of people.

By the way, there’s a second lawsuit that has yet to be heard.

Another gay marriage lawsuit will be heard in Austin, possibly as early as June. Federal Judge Sam Sparks will hear an argument made by a gay couple that the state ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional because it discriminates against them based on their gender. The argument is slightly different from the one made before Garcia and could trigger another round of appeals.

You may recall that Abbott tried to get these two cases consolidated and moved to Judge Sparks’ court, but both Judges Garcia and Sparks rejected those motions. In preliminary hearings, Judge Sparks had expressed some skepticism about the plaintiffs’ claims in the lawsuit that he will hear, which as noted is based on different claims than the one Judge Garcia just ruled on. It will be interesting to see what happens in that case.

Another lawsuit likely to be affected by this is the one that was filed by Jared Woodfill against the city of Houston over Mayor Parker’s order to make spousal benefits available to legally married same sex couples as well. Lone Star Q discusses that.

Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal who’s representing the gay Houston employees, told Lone Star Q on Thursday that U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s ruling striking down the amendment will bolster the argument for same-sex benefits in Houston.

“It should be persuasive that the City and the employees have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits given that another federal judge in a sister district has found the law to violate both the liberty and equality guarantees of the 14th amendment,” Upton said.

You’d sure think so, wouldn’t you? That case is now in federal court, being heard by Judge Lee Rosenthal. There should be another hearing for it soon, unless the plaintiffs decide to drop it. Take the hint, Jared.

Last and least, Louie Gohmert is still an idiot. Just thought you’d want to know that.

Don’t worry, Abbott and The Nuge are still besties

Everyone who thinks what happened last week was bad for his campaign is just too stupid to see the big picture.

BFFs 4eva!

Right about the time Nugent was firing up the second crowd of North Texas voters last week in Wichita Falls, Abbott’s chief strategist, Dave Carney, wondered out loud on Twitter if the campaign’s Democratic opponent, Sen. Wendy Davis, wanted to go mano-a-mano with The Nuge on issues important to Texas voters.

“Wonder if @wendydavistexas would risk a straight up vote,” Carney wrote, using Davis’ Twitter account name. “Her and her views V. @TedNugent and his? I know who would win today!”

A week’s worth of Democratic outrage did nothing to shake Carney from that notion. The longtime consultant, who worked in the first Bush White House, is no stranger to Texas politics. He got his start here in 1993, helping Kay Bailey Hutchison defeat Sen. Bob Krueger, the last Texas Democrat to serve in the U.S. Senate, and he has played a major role in every Republican gubernatorial campaign since 2002.

The Nugent blowback theory, in his view, is yet another fiction spun by liberal elites and their friends in the mainstream media. Just like the fantasy that Sen. Kay “Bailout” Hutchison — who Carney quit working for long ago — was going to beat his more conservative client, Gov. Rick Perry, in the 2010 governor’s race. Just like the myth that a diverse “dream team” of Democratic candidates in 2002 had any chance of tossing out the dominant Republicans.

Never mind that Nugent has acknowledged having “beautiful” affairs with underage girls in his heavy touring days, or that he has called Hillary Clinton a “bitch” and worse. Yes, all that was a bit over the top. And no, the way Abbott handled the flap did not produce his finest hour on the campaign trail, particularly when CNN’s Ed Lavandera tried to ask the candidate about the controversy. After a standard brush-off failed to stop the reporter, an Abbott campaign aide physically blocked him from asking any more questions.

Now even Nugent, in the slightest nod to his critics, has issued a limited apology, not for any misogynistic slurs or engaging in sex with underage girls, but for referring to President Obama as a “subhuman mongrel,” a phrase Nazis once applied to Jews.

Regardless, inside the Abbott campaign, all of the handwringing over the gig with Nugent — and other perceived missteps — is confined to, as Carney puts it, a bunch of “Austin echo chamber” elites who are woefully out of touch with the voting public.

“They’re clueless about politics,” he said in an interview with The Texas Tribune. “This group-think stuff has zero impact on voters.”

So, to sum up:

1. Abbott’s association with Ted Nugent was awesome for him.

2. Anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot.

3. Nothing will change until someone loses an election over something like this.

Are we fired up yet? Now go do something about it.

The state of HISD

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier assesses the district in his State of the Schools address.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

While not mentioning the closure controversy Wednesday, Grier touted the district’s progress – being named the nation’s top urban school district in 2013, for example – while conceding he has more work to do in the two years left on his contract.

“We’re on a journey together, an ambitious journey, a journey that’s not easy, and that will not be complete in a year,” Grier told some 2,000 educators, community leaders and parents packed into a downtown hotel ballroom. “Change takes time.”

He announced new initiatives including expansion of foreign language studies and efforts to reduce student mobility during the school year.


Touting Houston’s diversity, he said an additional 14 elementary schools will offer dual-language Spanish programs next year, doubling the number in the district. The programs allow native English and Spanish speakers to take classes together, helping them gain proficiency in both languages.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Kennedy Garrett, an eighth-grader at Wharton Dual Language Academy who introduced Grier in Spanish before his speech. “If you have the opportunity to be in it, I’d say go for it. There are going to be challenges, but it’s worth it.”

Grier, in his North Carolina drawl, later attempted a few words in Arabic and said officials were considering an Arabic immersion school.

HISD’s Mandarin immersion school, opened in 2012, has proved popular, drawing a waiting list as early as pre-kindergarten.

Grier also announced an effort to cut down on students switching schools midyear, often multiple times because their parents are chasing cheap rent. Grier said the district would provide busing for the students to stay at their original schools. He did not provide a price tag for the plan he called “home field advantage.”

You can see videos of the speeches and more information on the dual-language programs, which I too think are a great idea, here. Of interest is that Grier barely mentioned the Apollo program, which continues to have questions raised about the permanence of the academic gains it has achieved. Grier suggested that HISD may just take what it has learned from Apollo – basically, tutoring works – and apply it more broadly, a development that if it happens would I daresay be received well. He also emphasized the need to improve reading scores in HISD, which if done would be a huge accomplishment. Hair Balls has more.

Texas stands with polluters against the EPA one more time

Here we go.

Houston Ship Channel, 1973

Houston Ship Channel, 1973

The Obama administration’s climate change agenda on Monday faced one of its first real tests in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, where Texas and a group of industry leaders challenged an Environmental Protection Agency regulation aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

The question before the court is whether permits needed by large polluting facilities like power plants, factories and refineries should also restrict emissions of greenhouse gases. Texas and several industry coalitions say the permits, which companies must obtain before building facilities, should not be required for such emissions.

Instead, argued Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell and Washington, D.C.-based attorney Peter Keisler, permits should only limit emissions of regular air pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

“Greenhouse gas emissions should not be treated the same as other air pollutants,” Mitchell told the court, pointing out that Congress has only passed legislation on traditional air pollutants, not greenhouse gases. “Congress does not establish round holes for square pegs.”

The scope of the question at hand is narrow because it only deals with permitting. In court cases in 2007 and 2011, the Supreme Court upheld the EPA’s ability to broadly regulate greenhouse gas emissions from “mobile sources,” like motor vehicles, and “stationary sources,” like power plants.

Still, if Supreme Court justices agree with Texas and the industry petitioners, the Obama administration’s attempts to combat climate change independently of Congress will suffer a major setback.

“Permitting is one of the most powerful tools in the toolbox,” said Pamela Giblin, an Austin-based lawyer with the firm Baker Botts LLP, which represents many energy and chemical companies that are affected by the regulations. “You’ve got these multibillion-dollar projects; you’ve got bulldozers there waiting until you get the permit. … The agency is never going to have as much leverage over a company as it does when they’re madly trying to get the permission to break ground.”

See here for some background. The Chron sums up what’s at stake.

The EPA made the move to regulate heat-trapping emissions from industrial sources after a 2007 Supreme Court decision that said the agency had the authority to limit greenhouse gases from cars and trucks under the federal law.

As a result, President Barack Obama has tried to bypass Congress by moving his ambitious agenda for addressing climate change through the EPA, angering many Republicans.

In briefs filed with the court, Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell argued that the Clear Air Act cannot be interpreted to allow EPA’s permitting requirements when the rules cause “preposterous consequences.” By the state’s estimation, more than 6 million industrial sources nationwide would be forced to meet the requirements at a cost of $1.5 billion.


Legal experts said Texas might not be able to sway the justices because previous court decisions give deference to federal agencies when statutes are ambiguous.

“The Supreme Court has said we defer to the agency if its position is reasonable,” said Thomas McGarity, professor of administrative law at the University of Texas at Austin.

David Doniger, the climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said fewer than 200 industrial facilities needed permits in the first two years of the new requirements for greenhouse gases. “So despite all the cries of alarm, the Clean Air Act’s permitting requirements are working just fine,” he said.


Tracy Hester, professor of environmental law at the University of Houston, described the state’s request as a “classic Hail Mary.”

“Given the court had this whole buffet of issues and still narrowed it to one” when it decided to hear the Texas case, “that makes going for the whole 99 yards unlikely,” Hester said.

Lyle Denniston thinks things went reasonably well for the Obama administration.

As is so often the case when the Court is closely divided, the vote of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy loomed as the critical one, and that vote seemed inclined toward the EPA, though with some doubt. Although he seemed troubled that Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., could call up no prior ruling to support the policy choice the EPA had made on greenhouse gases by industrial plants, Kennedy left the impression that it might not matter.

It was quickly evident that the EPA’s initiatives, seeking to put limits on ground sources of greenhouse gases, almost certainly had four votes in support: Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor. They could not seem to accept that, when the challengers themselves are divided on the best way to read the Clean Air Act’s impact on such emissions, the Court should go with one of those choices rather than with the EPA’s.

The most enthusiastic supporter of the industry challengers was Justice Antonin Scalia, although Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., asked strongly skeptical questions about EPA’s justification for its actions. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., revealed little of where he might wind up, acting mostly as a moderator of his more active colleagues, and Justice Clarence Thomas said nothing.

That, of course, left Justice Kennedy. He was quite protective of the Court’s own decision seven years ago, launching EPA into the field of greenhouse gas regulation, and of a reinforcing decision on that point by the Court three years ago. But neither was close enough to the specifics of what EPA has now done, so he seemed short of just one precedent that might be enough to tip his vote for sure.

“Reading the briefs,” he commented to Verrilli, acting as the EPA’s lawyer, “I cannot find a single precedent that supports your position.” It appears that there just isn’t one to be had.

That, then, raised the question: how much would Kennedy be willing to trust the EPA to have done its best to follow Congress’s lead without stretching the Clean Air Act out of shape, as the EPA’s challengers have insisted that it has done? He made no comments suggesting that he accepted industry’s complaint of an EPA power grab.

We’ll know in a few months. Daily Kos has more.

BGT fires back

Good for them.

Allegations that Battleground Texas broke the law during its voter registration activities are “entirely without foundation,” the Democratic group wrote in a letter to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Tuesday.

Dewhurst, citing a secretly recorded video of Battleground volunteers in Bexar County, had earlier called for a criminal investigation because of allegations that privacy laws had been broken.

But Graham Wilson, an attorney for the group, told Dewhurst in the letter that his call for a probe “reflects no familiarity with either the law” or rules promulgated by the office of the secretary of state, which handles voter registration regulations at the state level.

He said opinions from Attorney General Greg Abbott demonstrate that phone numbers gathered during the voter registration process were considered public information. Phone numbers allegedly copied down by Battleground volunteers sparked the accusations in the first place.

“In short, Battleground Texas is operating in full compliance with the law as set forth in the Attorney General’s legal opinions, and with attention paid as appropriate to the Secretary of State’s official guidance in this area,” Wilson wrote.


As for the phone numbers, Wilson cited three opinions from the office of the attorney general, including one from 2010 stemming from a case in Dallas County. In that opinion, Abbott’s office concluded that “the county may not withhold the telephone numbers” from a requestor who had asked for the information.

Battleground also cited a pamphlet from the office of the secretary of state that says in part that a volunteer deputy registrar “may also copy the relevant information from the application in writing just as you would be able to do if you went to the registrar’s office and pulled a copy of the original application.”

Wilson said the group does not photocopy voter registration applications and “has not used and is not retaining phone numbers taken off voter registration forms by volunteers.”

See here for the background. I’ve got a copy of the AG opinion here and the letter to Dewhurst, which shows him the level of respect he deserves, here. Not really a whole lot to add at this point – either a DA files a charge or convenes a grand jury (Abbott handed off to Bexar County DA Susan Reed, who last I checked was seeking a pinch hitter) or they don’t. Any lawyers want to take a crack at evaluating this one? BOR has more.

Cab companies push back on Uber/Lyft

The first Council action on updating the taxi and limo codes to accommodate Uber and Lyft went about as you’d expect.

Houston City Council members struggled Tuesday to strike a balance between ensuring paid rides in Houston are available to everyone and encouraging competition from new firms that say they can provide faster service.

Speakers at a joint meeting of two council committees considering changes in taxi regulations said the business models of the new companies, Uber and Lyft, could complicate a system important not just to established businesses, but to city residents dependent on cabs.

“This needs to be broader than who makes a dollar off of it,” said Tomaro Bell, president of the Super Neighborhood Alliance.

Lyft and Uber use non-professional drivers behind the wheels of their personal vehicles. Taxi industry leaders complained that the new companies would not face the same requirements as established ones, such as serving disabled passengers and providing service all over Houston.

“They don’t want the difficult part. They want the easy part,” said George Tompkins, who owns a company with five taxi medallions in Houston. “They want the fruit but they don’t want the vine.”


Council members also blasted the online companies for jumping into the market without approval after months of discussions. The companies’ hasty action complicated the council discussion, said Christopher Newport, chief of staff for the city’s regulatory affairs department.

“There is an implication you are having a conversation under duress,” he said.

Uber and Lyft faced similar concerns when they started service in Seattle, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

The online companies’ ultimate effect on Houston taxi service is difficult to predict, Newport said. Data from other cities doesn’t point to an obvious outcome in Houston.

Taxi companies complained about the potential loss of business before Houston revised its cab laws to cover jitney service that circulates in high-traffic areas. When the city eventually allowed jitneys in certain circumstances, though, their entrance didn’t significantly harm taxi companies.

The shorter story has a bit more information. I am not surprised that the claim-jumping entries by Lyft and UberX caused some fuss on Council, but in the end I don’t think it will matter. I refer you back to the demand study on taxi service in Houston, which points pretty clearly to Council taking action of some kind to open the market. The Chron sure wants it to happen. I think it will, and I think the market for paid rides is not zero sum; I think it will expand to accommodate the newcomers, though I’m sure there will be some pain for the legacy cab companies. In the end, I believe we will be better off.

Firefighters union sues city to block cutbacks

Not sure about this.

Houston firefighters went to court Tuesday in an effort to block the city from removing personnel, trucks and ambulances from service. But a judge rejected their argument that the “rolling brownouts” plan violates the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the city.

State District Judge Elaine Palmer turned down the request for a temporary restraining order and ordered a follow-up hearing for March 7 to weigh the merits of a permanent injunction.

Fire union president Bryan Sky-Eagle said he filed the order “as a pre-emptive strike” to protect people and firefighters from the consequences of idling even more units. He argued that the purpose of the collective bargaining agreement is safety and that removing units from service undermines that.

“Once you start unilaterally making those changes, whatever the motivation may be – budgetary or political or otherwise – you start losing the intent,” Sky-Eagle said before the hearing.

City Attorney David Feldman argued at the hearing that what units are placed in service at what times is a management decision that is the city’s right to make. “The fact is, the union can’t run the fire department. The city’s got to run the fire department,” Feldman said before the hearing. “I disagree with them, obviously, as to whether there is a contractual right to have a certain number of units in service. It’s a management right, because you’ve got to deal with the resources available.”

See here for the background. I’m no lawyer, but I don’t see how this belongs in a courtroom. It’s a pretty standard budget dispute, at least as I see it. Mayor Parker said in a press release that the same kind of cutbacks were made in 2010 during the budget crunch without any objections from the union. The lack of an TRO suggests to me that the city will prevail here, but we’ll see. Texpatriate has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of February 24

The Texas Progressive Alliance thinks Ted Nugent is an appropriate spokesman for the modern Republican Party of Texas as it brings you this week’s roundup.


Endorsement watch: Hey, there’s still a little bit of early voting left

From the “You just can’t rush these things” department, the Chron endorses James Cargas in the Democratic primary rematch in CD07.

James Cargas

James Cargas

Whomever wins in the Democratic primary for U.S. House 7th District will face an uphill battle in a Republican-friendly district to defeat Rep. John Culberson. But voters can also look at this race as something more than preparation for November. The choice in this primary reflects a decision that Texas Democrats will have to make if they ever find electoral success: the tempered insider or the strident activist. It is a choice that Republicans have had to grapple with for some time. Sometimes it is a division over policy, sometimes over strategy, but it rarely leaves everyone satisfied.

So, in this race we provide the same advice for Democrats that we give Republicans: Go for the candidate who talks about Houston issues and not just in cable news quotes. That candidate is James Cargas.

His career in oil and gas has sent Cargas, 47, from the Clinton White House to City Hall and the energy corridor. That’s experience tailor-made to represent the district, which stretches west from Bellaire and the Galleria area, following Interstate 10 as its northern barrier before turning north to follow Highway 6. It is a district filled with energy company high-rises, and they need a representative who understands the nuances of the industry.

Cargas peppers his speeches with quotes from George Mitchell about reasonable regulation and focuses his regulatory eye on irresponsible operators who give the industry a bad reputation. It is the sort of voice that Houston needs in D.C.

Not sure why it took them until ten days into early voting to get around to this one. I mean, the Chron endorsed Cargas in the 2012 primary runoff, and other than a few potshots at Lissa Squiers what they said then isn’t all that different from what they’re saying this time. The runoff in 2012 was nasty and personal even by Democratic primary standards, but the rematch has been fairly subdued, perhaps because of that. I don’t think the winner will have much better luck against Culberson this year than in 2012, but there you have it anyway.

Federal judge strikes down Texas’ anti-same sex marriage law



A federal judge in San Antonio ruled Wednesday that Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutionally deprives some citizens of due process and equal protection under the law by stigmatizing their relationships and treating them differently from opposite-sex couples.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia cited recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings as having trumped Texas’ moves to ban gay marriage.

“Today’s court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedent,” he said in his order. “Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our U.S. Constitution.”

But Garcia’s ruling, while a major victory for groups seeking to make marriage legal for gay and lesbian couples nationwide, will not win them Texas marriage licenses anytime soon.

Although Garcia issued a preliminary injunction against the state’s enforcing its 2003 law and 2005 constitutional amendment that limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, he stayed it from taking effect until his ruling can be reviewed on appeal.

It will unquestionably be appealed, and even with the so far unbroken string of victories for marriage equality these past three months I still can’t shake the feeling that the Fifth Circuit will come up with some reason to overturn this decision. That concern can wait for another day. For today, let’s celebrate this big step forward. Lone Star Q has a copy of the opinion. Here’s a statement from Freedom to Marry:

oday a federal judge in San Antonio joined judges in Utah, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Virginia in ruling that bans on same-sex couples marrying or recognizing out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples are unconstitutional.

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, released the following statement:

“Today the 6th federal judge in a row has ruled – in Texas – that there is simply no legitimate justification for denying marriage to loving gay and lesbian couples. The court’s holding is solid and serious, and follows the language and logic of the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling last year and the Constitution’s clear command. With 47 marriage cases in 25 states now moving forward, and the possibility that a freedom to marry case will again reach the Supreme Court as soon as 2015, we must continue the conversations and progress — Texan to Texan, American to American — that show that all of America is ready for the freedom to marry.”

The Public Research Religion Institute released data today that shows increased support for the freedom to marry in the South and in Texas. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Southern millennials support the freedom to marry, and support across the South is split, with 48% in support and 48% opposed. Support has grown the fastest in the South of any region in the country, more than doubling in the last ten years. In Texas, support is split, with 48% of Texans in support and 49% opposed.

We are living in exciting times, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. Here’s Chuck Smith from Equality Texas:

“Today’s ruling by Judge Garcia is a huge victory that moves Texas one step closer to the freedom to marry”, said Equality Texas executive director Chuck Smith. “The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Windsor made it clear that animus or moral disapproval is not an acceptable justification for denying any American their constitutional right to equal protection of the law. We are gratified to see Judge Garcia uphold the Constitution of the United States and declare that Texas’ restrictions on the freedom to marry are unconstitutional and unenforceable. We anxiously await the day when the United States Supreme Court will reach the same conclusion.”

This case will proceed on appeal. And Equality Texas will continue to work to increase public support in Texas for the freedom to marry. Follow this case and other pending legal cases in Texas at

Meanwhile, Texas is still a state where it is legal to fire or refuse to hire someone solely because they are or are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Texas is still a state where adopted children who have two moms or two dads cannot obtain an accurate birth certificate. Texas is still a state without standardized procedures to correct gender markers on identity documents. And Texas is still a state that keeps a statute declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court over a decade ago in Lawrence v. Texas on the books.

I’ll have more after the story gets reported in the papers and the inevitable howling and gnashing of teeth by the forces of inequality begin. Until then, I say “Hell, yeah!” Burka, Texpatriate, BOR, Texas Leftist, and Hair Balls have more.

The UT/TT poll’s track record in past Democratic primaries

The one result in that UT/TT poll from Monday that has people freaking out is the one that shows nutball LaRouchie Kesha Rogers leading the Senate race with 35%, followed by David Alameel with 27%. I expressed my skepticism of that result at the time, because among other things I have my doubts that their sample is truly representative of the Democratic primary electorate, but I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at the Trib’s previous efforts at polling Democratic primaries and see how they’ve done in the past. There are two elections to study. First, let’s go back to 2010 when all of the statewide offices were up for grabs. Democrats had three contested primaries that the Trib polled: Governor, Lt. Governor, and Ag Commissioner. Here are the results.

In the Democratic primary race, former Houston Mayor Bill White has a huge lead over his next closest challenger, businessman Farouk Shami, pulling 50 percent to Shami’s 11 percent. Five other candidates are in the running for the Democratic nomination; the survey found that only 9 percent of those polled prefer someone other than the two frontrunners.

Undecided voters are still significant in both gubernatorial primaries. On the Republican side, 16 percent said they hadn’t made up their minds. Pressed for a preference, 51 percent chose Perry, 34 percent chose Hutchison, and 15 percent chose Medina — an indication that Perry could win without a runoff if he can attract those voters into his camp. Among Democratic voters, 30 percent were undecided, and of those, 48 percent, when pressed, said they lean toward White. With White already at 50 percent, that means Shami would have to strip votes away from him in order to force a runoff or to claim a win.


Democratic primary voters have a couple of other statewide races to decide. In the contest for lieutenant governor — the winner will face Republican incumbent David Dewhurst in November — labor leader Linda Chavez-Thompson took 18 percent of those polled, former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle got 16 percent, and restaurateur Marc Katz had 3 percent. Five percent of voters said they wanted “somebody else,” and a whopping 58 percent remain undecided on the eve of early voting, which begins on Tuesday. Kinky Friedman and Hank Gilbert — two refugees from the governor’s race now running for agriculture commissioner — are locked in a tight race, 32 percent to 27 percent. While Friedman’s ahead, the difference is within the poll’s margin of error. And, as with the Lite Guv race, “undecided” is actually leading, at 41 percent. The winner will face incumbent Republican Todd Staples in November.

And here’s the reality:

Governor Alma Aguado 2.83% Felix Alvarado 4.95% Bill Dear 0.96% Clement Glenn 1.44% Star Locke 0.92% Farouk Shami 12.84% Bill White 76.03% Lieutenant Governor Linda C-T 53.13% Ronnie Earle 34.67% Marc Katz 12.18% Commissioner of Agriculture Kinky Friedman 47.69% Hank Gilbert 52.30%

So White did have a big lead on Shami, but it was much bigger than they indicated. Linda Chavez-Thompson was indeed leading Ronnie Earle, but by a significant amount, more than enough to avoid a runoff. And Hank Gilbert defeated Kinky Friedman, despite the UT/TT poll showing Friedman in the lead.

How about the 2012 Senate primary, which is a reasonably decent facsimile of this one, as it’s a large field of mostly unknown candidates? Here’s the poll:

The Democrats, too, could be building to a July finish, probably between former state Rep. Paul Sadler and Sean Hubbard, according to the poll.

Sadler led the Democrats with 29 percent, but was followed closely — and within the poll’s margin of error — by Hubbard. Two other candidates — Addie Dainell Allen and Grady Yarbrough — also registered double-digit support.

And the actual result:

U. S. Senator Addie Allen 22.90% Sean Hubbard 16.08% Paul Sadler 35.13% Grady Yarbrough 25.87%

Sadler did in fact lead the field, but Hubbard came in fourth, well behind eventual second-place finisher Grady Yarbrough, whom the Trib pegged for fourth.

So what conclusions can we draw from this? Mostly that we don’t have enough data to be able to evaluate the Trib’s ability to poll Democratic primaries. To be fair to them, they were quite accurate in the corresponding GOP races. They had Rick Perry winning in 2010, though not quite over 50%, with Debra Medina’s level nailed exactly, and they had David Dewhurst with a lead over Ted Cruz with Tom Leppert in third, but with the Dew falling short of a majority. As such, I’d put some faith in their GOP polling, at least until we see how they actually did. But I would not put much faith in their Dem results. They clearly pushed people to pick someone – anyone! – in the Senate race, they polled before David Alameel dropped a bunch of mail, which they themselves said (but didn’t acknowledge in their writeup) is exactly the sort of thing that could enable someone to win that race, and as I said I just don’t believe they’ve got a representative sample of the Dem primary electorate. I’ll be more than a little shocked if it turns out they got this one right.

One more thing: What if they are right about Rogers leading? Well, as long as she doesn’t crack 50%, I’d suggest we all remain calm. For all its constraints and limitations, the state Democratic Party has managed to get the nominees it has wanted in the last three Senate primaries. Rick Noriega cleared 50% in round one in 2008, and Sadler in 2012 and Barbara Radnofsky in 2006 both won their runoffs – Radnofsky has said that her overtime race against the now apparently dormant Gene Kelly was the best thing that happened to her, as it boosted her fundraising and made people actually pay attention to that race. I feel reasonably confident that if Rogers is in a runoff with anyone, everyone else in the party will fall as loudly and visibly as they can behind her opponent, whoever that winds up being. It’s already happening to a large degree – the TDP, the HCDP, and the Fort Bend Democratic Party have put out messages condemning Rogers and urging Democrats not to vote for her. I’d have preferred to see that happen earlier than this, and I’d much rather it not come to banding together to beat her in a runoff, but I’m not going to fall into a spiral of self-loathing over this one poll result. Do your part to help people make a good decision in this race, and be prepared to support someone other than Kesha in a runoff if it comes to that.

And the same old crap begins in Steven Kirkland’s race

Lone Star Q reports that Steven Kirkland received the endorsement of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, just as the same kind of attacks on his character that he dealt with in 2012 cranked up again.

Steven Kirkland

Kirkland, a close friend of Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s, served as a Harris County state district judge from 2009 until 2013. He was defeated in the 2012 Democratic Primary by Elaine Palmer, who ran an anti-gay campaign funded by a vindictive attorney against whom Kirkland had entered a judgment. Kirkland says that same attorney, George Fleming, is financing his current opponent in the March 4 primary, Lori Gray.

In recent days, Kirkland has been the target of misleading robo calls, radio ads and mailers calling attention to his arrests for drunken driving and public intoxication 30 years ago. The ads, paid for by a PAC tied to Fleming, reportedly suggest the arrests were far more recent. Kirkland, who has been sober for 29 years, details his recovery on his campaign website. He also details Fleming’s vendetta against him.

“How can Lori Gray be a fair judge if she allows her campaign manager to keep spreading lies? How can she be the defender of justice when she is part of Fleming’s effort to buy judges?” Kirkland writes. “Justice in Harris County should not be for sale. Judges should be selected on their qualifications, not lies and deceptions. I’m putting my faith in the people to join me and protect our courts.”

There’s no question that Fleming is financing Lori Gray’s campaign. You just have to look at Gray’s campaign finance reports – her only other donor of any significance is Paul Kubosh, who was also a contributor to Elaine Palmer in 2012 – the finance reports for the Texans For Good Leaders PAC, and the finance reports for the Moving Texas Forward PAC, which appears to be the financier of those calls, ads, and mailers.

Speaking of mailers, I got a copy of that nasty and misleading attack mailer that Texpatriate wrote about. You can see it here and here. Note the lack of any date on the arrest files, plus the 2012 date on the photo of Kirkland; very classy, that. Clearly, Lisa Falkenberg wrote that column too soon. Claiming she had no connection to Fleming was questionable at best to begin with, but now that Fleming has gotten up to his usual tricks means Lori Gray cannot avoid the association at all. As Mark Bennett likes to say, when you outsource your marketing, you outsource your ethics. If you don’t approve of what someone else is doing on your behalf, it’s your responsibility to get them to stop, and if they refuse it’s your responsibility to publicly distance yourself from what they’re doing. In the absence of any such action on her part, it’s fair to assume that Lori Gray approves of what George Fleming is doing. She deserves as much approbation as Fleming.

Some Republican candidates are still embracing Ted Nugent

Why not? He’s an excellent representative of and for them.

Sid Miller

Sid Miller, a Republican candidate for agriculture commissioner, won’t oust rocker Ted Nugent as his campaign treasurer over controversial remarks made about President Barack Obama and other officials, the Longview Republican said Monday.

Nugent, who’s been with the Miller campaign since October, came under fire last week while touring with Attorney General Greg Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign for called Obama a “subhuman mongrel” among other controversial statements and behaviors.

Nugent apologized Friday for his remarks about the president during an interview with Ben Ferguson, a conservative radio host and CNN commentator.

“He’s used words that I wouldn’t use,” Miller said. “He has a very colorful vocabulary. He recanted some remarks that he made about the president, so I think that everything’s good.”

Miller acknowledged that Nugent’s comments were controversial, but said he also does charitable work with Hunters for the Hungry and the Wounded Warrior Project that goes unnoticed.

“Nobody seems to talk about the good the man does,” Miller said.

Hey, if Greg Abbott has no regrets about embracing Ted Nugent, then why should Sid Miller have any? If Greg Abbott thinks it’s OK to be “blood brothers” with a sexual predator, why shouldn’t Sid Miller? If Greg Abbott thinks Ted Nugent’s half-assed “apology” late last week is a sign of genuine contrition and a promise to never do that sort of thing again, why shouldn’t Sid Miller? Why shouldn’t Sid Miller follow Greg Abbott‘s lead?

Ashby II: Highrise Boogaloo

The Ashby Highrise lawsuit may be over, but its legacy lives on.

A lawsuit seeking to stop a 17-story office tower under development in a River Oaks-area neighborhood blasts the project as “abnormal and out of place” in a grass-roots effort that observers suggest was emboldened by the recent success of the high-profile fight against the Ashby high-rise.

Cranes are already at work at 2229 San Felipe, despite the abundance of “Stop the San Felipe Skyscraper” yard signs in the neighborhood between Shepherd and Kirby. Opposition to the project, under development by Houston-based Hines, has included an online petition with more than 1,000 signatures, a website to fight the development and personal pleas to City Council.

The residents’ lawsuit filed last week in a Harris County civil court argues, among several factors, that the height of the building would interfere with privacy and that it would cause unreasonable traffic delays, devalue surrounding properties and erode the character of the neighborhood.


Hines spokesman George Lancaster on Friday called the 2229 San Felipe project “an important and appropriate development for an area mixed with residential, commercial and multifamily properties.”

He said it is fully permitted by the city, meets all building codes and legal requirements, and will add landscaping and sidewalks.

He also said it will meet demand for new office space in that part of town.


Matthew Festa, a South Texas College of Law professor who specializes in land-use regulations, said the new lawsuit suggests last year’s Ashby verdict set a precedent.

“It shows that in a city that is famous for having less restrictive land use, one of the dangers is that particular projects can be opposed on a case-by-case basis by neighborhood groups,” Festa said. “The other thing it shows is that when one group can be successful in fighting a development project, other people are going to follow that model.”

Festa testified for the developers in the trial over the Ashby high-rise, presenting a history of land-use regulations in Houston.

I’ve noted this fight before; as that was before the surprising-to-me victory by the Ashby plaintiffs, I was rather skeptical of their efforts. Given that verdict, however, it would seem the game has changed in more or less the manner described by Prof. Festa. Given how our famous lack of zoning is seen as making Houston a libertarian paradise for developers and a key component to our economic growth, the irony is pretty thick. The two sides are currently in mediation and there have not been any hearings on this yet, so things may change. I don’t have much to add to this other than to say I’ll be keeping an eye on it. The anti-highrise group’s webpage is here and their petition is here; that and their news page has links to a lot of previous coverage of this, if you want to catch up on it. Prime Property, which has a copy of the lawsuit, has more.

UT/TT poll: Abbott 47, Davis 36

The Trib publishes its second poll of the Texas gubernatorial race.

After what are shaping up to be easy primary wins in March for the leading gubernatorial candidates, Republican Greg Abbott starts the general election race for governor with an 11-point lead over Democrat Wendy Davis, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Meanwhile, several statewide races on the Republican primary ballot — for lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller — appear headed for May runoffs. None of the leaders in those races looks close to the 50 percent support they would need to win next month’s primary outright.

In the governor’s race, Abbott would beat Davis 47 percent to 36 percent in a general election held today, with 17 percent of registered voters saying they have not made up their minds about which candidate to support, according to the poll.

“We’ve been talking since the beginning of this race about whether anything would be different, and we’re not seeing anything that’s different,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “There was some talk about how Davis had done better in our last poll, and that was partially an artifact of her rise in the fall, and we’re seeing something of a reassertion of the normal pattern.”

In the October survey, Davis’ announcement and sudden political celebrity cut the Republican’s lead over her to 6 percentage points. Now, the distance between the two has widened a bit.

“The story of the last four months is, Davis loses a couple points, Abbott gains a couple of points,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor of government at UT-Austin. “He had a pretty good couple of months. She had a pretty bad couple of months, all without many people paying attention.”

Actually, Davis gained a point from the previous poll, but don’t let that get in the way of a good narrative. One could also note that this is a better result for Davis than the PPP poll that came out a few days after that first UT/TT poll and which showed her down 15. One other difference between this poll and the first one is that the first one was a three-way race between Abbott, Davis, and Libertarian Kathie Glass, who got 5%. This poll was a straight up two-way race, which is informative but not directly comparable. One presumes Abbott would have scored a bit higher on that first poll if Glass had not been included. Again, though, don’t let an annoying fact slay a good story.

Look, the challenge for any pollster this year in Texas is to guess what turnout will be. Democratic turnout has been flat over the past three non-Presidential elections, while Republican turnout has varied greatly. This year, Democrats have an unprecedented organizational effort to register voters and turn them out. Anecdotally, it feels like there’s a much greater awareness of and engagement in the election this year, but it’s not easy for an observer like me to distinguish between the same old reliables being more vocal and the emergence of genuinely new voices. I’m sure the pollsters are going to go by previous patterns, which is what I’d do if I were them, at least at this point in the race. But this is the key question to ask going forward and as more polls inevitably come out. What assumptions are being made about turnout, on both sides? It’s certainly possible that all of Battleground Texas’ efforts will crash and shatter into nothingness, but by their words and actions the Republicans aren’t betting on that. We just don’t know yet what the effect might be, and polling will reflect that.

Before they get to the general election, each faces a primary election. On the Republican side, the poll found Abbott well ahead of his rivals, with 90 percent support among likely Republican voters, followed by Miriam Martinez at 5 percent, Lisa Fritsch at 4 percent and Larry Secede Kilgore at 1 percent. Davis leads Ray Madrigal 87 percent to 13 percent among likely Democratic voters.


In the Democratic primary, the candidate who has been on the ballot the most times, Kesha Rogers, leads the best-financed candidate, David Alameel, 35 percent to 27 percent. Maxey Scherr had 15 percent, followed by Harry Kim at 14 percent and Michael Fjetland at 9 percent. Voters are largely unfamiliar with those candidates; 74 percent initially expressed no opinion before being asked how they would vote if they had to decide now.

“This is what it looks like when you have a bunch of candidates, no infrastructure and no money,” Henson said. “The first person to raise some money and run some ads could really move this.”

I’d take that Senate result, which by the way has a larger margin of error of 6 points, with a huge grain of salt. Primary polling is a lot trickier than general election polling, and there’s very little recent history to fall back on for guidance. As such, while I don’t have any particular quibble with the gubernatorial primary poll results, I wouldn’t put too much stock in them, either. And on a side note, that previous UT/TT poll had Abbott below fifty percent, with “Don’t Know” being almost as popular a response. You’d think that might have gotten a bigger note in the story.

Anyway. The poll summary is here and the methodology is here. One thing I missed originally but was reminded of on Facebook and later by Peggy Fikac is that this poll was conducted between February 7 and 17, which means it all happened before the Nugeaganza and Dan Patrick’s Good Samaritan gone bad saga (the various GOP primaries were also polled). Who knows what effect, however transient, those stories might have had on these results. It also might have been nice for the Trib’s pollsters to at least mention that in passing, given the prevalence and ubiquity of those stories. Be that as it may, I’ll be tracking Texas poll results for 2014 on the sidebar, as I did for the Presidential race in 2012. We’ll see how they stack up when all is said and done. PDiddie has more.

Davis outraises Abbott on the 8 day report


Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Democrat Wendy Davis reported that she outstripped Republican Greg Abbott in fundraising, bringing in $2.85 million over a 29-day period. His totals were reported here.

Davis has $11.3 million tucked away looking ahead to the general election. Her overall bank account still lags well behind Abbott’s $30 million.

The Republican attorney general has seen his campaign boosted in the past seven months by about two dozen benefactors capable of writing him large checks totaling more than $100,000.

For Davis, her totals arise from combining three political accounts controlled by her campaign. Those most recent totals include:

Wendy R. Davis for Governor, Inc.: $1.6 million
Wendy R. Davis Candidate/Officeholder: $2.035 million
Texas Victory Committee, Inc.: $1.2 million

Fundraising reports are not yet on the TEC website; check back later today or tomorrow here to search for them. This is a great bounceback from the 30 day report, and means as BOR has noted that Davis has outraised Abbott in two of the three reporting periods, as she topped him in January as well. Sure, he has more cash on hand, but the point is that she can more than keep pace, and she has a much broader network of donors to tap into, not just a handful of zillionaires. There’s a long way to go and a whole lot of work to do, so it’s great to be reassured again that Davis will have the resources she will need to fight this out.

On schools and neighborhoods

Efforts to revitalize neighborhoods in the Fifth Ward are running into HISD’s proposal to close five schools.

Nearly half the students who attend Nathaniel Q. Henderson Elementary School live steps away from campus in an aging, rundown apartment complex. The neighborhood, in Houston’s historic Fifth Ward, is at a crossroads.

The city is seeking a federal grant to help fund a multimillion-dollar makeover of Cleme Manor Apartments, even as school district officials consider closing N.Q. Henderson Elementary due to low enrollment.

Parents and elected officials in the area say they see a contradiction, with the high-poverty neighborhood northeast of downtown teetering between deterioration and revitalization.

“If there’s no school, how am I going to draw more people in this area?” City Councilman Jerry Davis asked the school board this month. “We need to work together. We can’t have one entity going out doing good works and not the other.”

Henderson Elementary is one of five campuses on HISD’s potential closure list. After hearing from the public at a series of meetings, the district plans to reveal any changes to the proposal next week. The school board is set to vote March 13.

One of HISD’s smallest elementary schools, Henderson enrolls roughly 360 students. About 170 live at Cleme Manor Apartments, a development for low-income tenants on Coke Street, a crosswalk away from Henderson.

In early February, the city’s housing department gave notice that it is seeking final approval for a $3 million federal grant to renovate Cleme Manor. The project, according to the notice, would promote affordable housing and “encourage economic revitalization for Houston’s near north-side.” The funds would come from a grant dedicated to recovery after Hurricane Ike.


The city also is considering pursuing a federal grant to help fund more than 160 single-family homes that would be scattered across the Fifth Ward, said Stedman Grigsby of the Housing and Community Development Department.

Justin Silhavy, the demographer for the Houston Independent School District, said he is in regular contact with city officials and knows about the planned projects. However, he said, he doesn’t expect the number of children in the general area to grow significantly.

Several schools around Henderson Elementary also are underpopulated. HISD’s rezoning plan could help fill Pugh and Bruce elementary schools – each less than two miles from Henderson – though students could end up choosing to attend other campuses under the district’s transfer policy.

See here and here for the background on HISD’s plan. For this part of the plan, HISD would send Henderson students to two other nearby schools, both of which are also underpopulated. The problem is that the area has been steadily losing people for years now. I believe the Fifth Ward is ripe for the kind of redevelopment we’ve seen in Midtown and EaDo, but I have no idea what the timeframe is for that, and there’s no guarantee that will lead to an increase in the kid population. So I get why HISD is proposing these closures – as the Chron editorialized, the objective case is good, but community engagement has been sorely lacking. Even then, it’s a tough thing to close schools. The effect on a neighborhood where a couple hundred kids already attend a given school is profound and disruptive, and in this case is in conflict with the larger goal of attracting people back to that neighborhood. I’d like to know what an alternate plan, one that involves investing in these schools to entice students, perhaps students that don’t currently attend an HISD school, to enroll there might look like before I’d be willing to sign off on closing them.

Another way to squeeze the payday lenders

I wholeheartedly approve of this.

The Postal Service (USPS) could spare the most economically vulnerable Americans from dealing with predatory financial companies under a proposal endorsed over the weekend by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

“USPS could partner with banks to make a critical difference for millions of Americans who don’t have basic banking services because there are almost no banks or bank branches in their neighborhoods,” Warren wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed on Saturday. The op-ed picked up on a report from the USPS’s Inspector General that proposed using the agency’s extensive physical infrastructure to extend basics like debit cards and small-dollar loans to the same communities that the banking industry has generally ignored. The report found that 68 million Americans don’t have bank accounts and spent $89 billion in 2012 on interest and fees for the kinds of basic financial services that USPS could begin offering. The average un-banked household spent more than $2,400, or about 10 percent of its income, just to access its own money through things like check cashing and payday lending stores. USPS would generate savings for those families and revenue for itself by stepping in to replace those non-bank financial services companies.


But while ending triple-digit interest rates and fine-print tricks is a good thing for consumers, it doesn’t reduce the demand for those financial services. The USPS could slide into that space and meet that need without preying upon those communities. “Instead of partnering with predatory lenders,” David Dayen writes in The New Republic, “banks could partner with the USPS on a public option, not beholden to shareholder demands, which would treat customers more fairly.” America’s post offices are an ideal physical infrastructure for furnishing these services to communities currently neglected by banks. Roughly six in 10 post offices nationwide are in what the USPS report calls “bank deserts” — zip codes with either one or zero bank branches.

I noted that David Dayen story in a previous linkdump. I like this idea for the same reason why I like the idea of letting Wal-Mart open banks: It would provide low-cost banking and financial services, including short-term, low-dollar loans, to a large class of people whose only current options are high-cost predatory lenders. Anything that puts downward pressure on the price of these services and makes savings and checking accounts available to people who don’t have them is a win in my book. This idea should especially appeal to people who don’t care for having cities step in to regulate payday lenders, since it would reduce barriers to competition and allow for real customer-friendly innovation in a highly non-customer-friendly market. What’s not to like?

Early voting, one (six day) week in

We have one week completed for early voting, though it was only a six day week thanks to the Presidents Day holiday. Here are the daily totals from the County Clerk. Republicans continue to be the majority of early voters in Harris County, by almost a 3-1 margin. I thought it might be interesting to compare early voting totals so far in the 15 biggest counties from 2010 and 2014. The Secretary of State tracks this information, though they generally don’t update on weekends. As such, the best I can do for now is a comparison of the first four days for each. Here’s 2010, here’s 2014, and here’s how it looks in a table:

County 2010 R 2014 R Diff 2010 D 2014 D Diff =========================================================== Harris 21,067 25,789 4,722 12,358 9,541 -2,817 Dallas 9,326 16,777 7,451 6,140 10,246 4,106 Tarrant 11,491 18,164 6,673 2,689 7,851 5,162 Bexar 10,353 14,575 4,222 8,370 10,476 2,106 Travis 6,140 5,083 -1,057 4,614 7,798 3,384 Collin 7,419 8,593 1,174 726 1,456 730 El Paso 2,938 2,023 - 715 6,844 7,102 258 Denton 4,635 7,768 3,133 508 1,227 719 Fort Bend 4,470 4,967 497 1,179 1,266 87 Hidalgo 984 1,520 536 11,232 13,619 2,387 Montgomery 5,235 9,022 4,787 523 532 9 Williamson 4,810 4,585 - 225 1,056 1,413 357 Nueces 2,344 2,414 70 1,948 1,826 - 118 Galveston 1,838 4,010 2,172 1,607 910 - 697 Cameron 747 839 92 3,300 4,426 1,126 Total 93,797 126,129 32,332 63,094 79,689 16,595


Both parties’ turnout are up from 2010, though unsurprisingly the R side is up more. All those contested statewide races, and all the money in them, do have an effect. While there is a contested race for Governor on the D side, it’s not nearly as high profile as it was in 2010. Dems are depending more on local races for their turnout. On that note, whoever had Tarrant as the county with the largest gain in Democratic primary voters so far, please come collect your winnings. Still, it’s good to see turnout up in the places that have hot primaries up and down the county ballot – Dallas, Travis, and Bexar, in particular. The dropoff in Harris County I would largely attribute to the turnout driven in 2010 by the Bill White campaign. We have several contested county races, but nothing of that stature, and only one legislative primary that’s likely to move a significant number of people, that being in SD15. The dropoff in Galveston is probably in part a spillover effect of the lac of Bill White’s campaign, and in part due to Galveston having Democratic countywide incumbents running for re-election in 2010 but not in 2014. The dip in Republican primary turnout so far in Williamson, and the modest growth in Collin, are interesting if the trends continue, but not necessarily suggestive of anything. Surely Dallas County has shown us that there isn’t necessarily a correlation between primary turnout and partisan performance in November. And of course this is only through Day Four. We’ll see how it looks after all the early votes are in.

One other thing that the SOS historic early voting pages can show you is the registered voter totals for each of the top 15 counties. Let me add in the 2006 Day 4 page to show you how these numbers have changed over time.

County 2006 2010 2014 06-14 Diff ======================================================= Dallas 1,168,476 1,129,814 1,170,598 2,122 Travis 544,483 586,882 627,040 82,557 El Paso 367,284 375,128 390,949 23,665 Hidalgo 271,132 290,097 307,426 36,294 Cameron 161,648 171,024 181,802 20,154 Tarrant 882,459 924,682 969,434 86,975 Collin 369,493 413,772 466,533 97,040 Denton 320,307 355,340 388,608 68,301 Montgomery 217,354 243,027 270,019 52,665 Williamson 200,285 230,122 259,878 59,593 Harris 1,880,042 1,889,378 2,006,270 126,228 Bexar 877,484 891,082 915,839 38,355 Fort Bend 257,140 300,777 349,550 92,410 Nueces 193,079 188,165 184,789 -8,290 Galveston 183,805 179,928 185,850 2,045

I separated the top 15 counties into three groups: Strong D, strong R, and in between. Quibble with my choices if you want, it works well enough for me. Note that these are all March numbers; we will see further changes in November. I’m delighted to see such a large jump in Harris County. That number was just barely over 2 million in November 2012, but it was back under 2 million in 2013. It’s also nice to see Dallas County regain all the voters they lost between 2006 and 2010. I don’t have anything to add beyond that. I just wanted to present this data to you as an FYI.

Leave Greg Abbott aloooooooooooooone!

He’s ready to move on from Nuge-a-palooza. What more do you want?

Still not Greg Abbott

Controversy over Attorney General Greg Abbott’s decision to campaign for governor with Ted Nugent continued to simmer Friday, even after the outspoken rocker apologized for calling President Barack Obama a “subhuman mongrel.”

Gov. Rick Perry, who has appeared on stage with Nugent, condemned Nugent’s comments during a Thursday appearance on cable TV.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, followed on a subsequent cable appearance by saying Nugent’s comments about the president would never fly out of his mouth. The cascade of criticism continued with U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., also chiming in to blast Nugent.

That set the stage Friday for a rare scene: a somewhat conciliatory Nugent.

“I did cross the line,” Nugent said when asked about his Obama comments by conservative radio host and CNN commentator Ben Ferguson. “I do apologize, not necessarily to the president, but on behalf of much better men than myself, like the best governor in America, Gov. Rick Perry, (and Abbott) the best attorney general in America.”

But Abbott, the likely GOP nominee for governor, continued to brush off pressure from Democrats, who have prodded him all week to not only denounce his appearance with Nugent but to publicly shun other inflammatory comments the rock star has made over the years.

“I believe Ted Nugent recognized his language was wrong and he rightly apologized,” Abbott said in a statement. “This is not the kind of language I would use or endorse in any way.”


Abbott’s campaign swing with Nugent was mired in controversy. And Abbott spent most of the week ducking questions about some of Nugent’s most divisive comments in the past (Abbott repeatedly said when asked about Nugent’s past comments that he was unaware of them).

On Friday, Abbott looked to pivot from the controversy.

“It’s time to move beyond this, and I will continue to focus on the issues that matter to Texans,” he said.

Look, I did my homework, I ate my vegetables, and I cleaned my room. Why am I still being punished for that silly little party I threw last weekend while you were out of town? I wasn’t the one that trashed the living room. My friends did that, and they’ve apologized for it. It’s time to move beyond this and focus on the issues that matter to me.

Luckily for Abbott, it’s a new week, eight day finance reports are about to be posted, and everyone else’s campaign will continue to clamor for attention. There will be other shiny objects to attract us. But as a reminder that Greg Abbott doesn’t get to decide when it’s time to move on, here’s what Wendy Davis was saying over the weekend.

“This isn’t about some aging rock star way past his prime that simply needs to go away,” Davis said during her remarks at the Texas Democratic Women Convention in Austin. “This is about Greg Abbott. It’s about his character, his judgment, his values when he stands on a stage next to someone like that and refers to him as his ‘blood brother.’”


On Saturday, Davis directed her attacks at what she called Abbott’s “cozy relationship” with Nugent, who has previously acknowledged having sex with underage girls.

“We won’t let politicians hide behind the venom and the ugly history of predatory acts targeting underage girls by their campaign surrogates,” Davis said, adding that the campaign appearances called into question Abbott’s leadership.

During her remarks, Davis also criticized Gov. Rick Perry for vetoing the Lilly Ledbetter Act, designed to prevent wage discrimination against women. Davis sponsored that bill in the Senate.

“I can tell you this: I will be sitting at my desk with pen in hand to sign that bill,” Davis said.

And via Kathleen Geier, here’s a roundup of The Nuge’s greatest misogynistic hits, none of which Greg Abbott knew about because no one on his staff knows how to use Google. Peggy Fikac piles on as well. Happy Monday, y’all.

More on the Lyft and Uber entrances

It’s a new day in Houston for people who need a ride.

Brian Walts was out until about 3 a.m. Friday hitting the clubs, but he didn’t have a single drink or set foot on a dance floor.

Rather, he was driving two gents home from the Washington Avenue area for free, hoping that by giving away an Uber trip, he might gain some customers for the service.

Uber and its competitor Lyft charged into the Houston ridesharing market in the past two days under the watchful eye of Houston officials who warned that the companies cannot accept payment until the city changes its rules governing taxis and limos.

For the companies, it’s a chance to earn some street cred with locals and gain some attention. Houston residents looking for a lift benefit from free trips within Loop 610.

For drivers like Walts, paid by the hour by the companies until they can make money based on their trips, it’s a chance to ease into their new role. For the customer, the experience is somewhere between calling a cab and bumming a ride from a friend.

Walts is hoping that collecting riders in his 2013 Hyundai can be a second job on top of his full-time gig as an account manager for a security technology company.

“It’s easy to do, especially if you’re a native,” he said on a spin through downtown.


Taxi companies have argued the companies are skirting established rules and do not live by the same strict standards governing taxi and limo companies.

Even giving away rides has been questioned. Yellow Cab spokeswoman Cindy Clifford argued that if a driver is paid to transport passengers, he or she is operating a “vehicle for hire” even if someone other than the customer is paying.

The city’s position, however, is that the trips are lawful as long as no money is exchanged, said Christopher Newport, chief of staff for the city’s regulatory affairs office.

The main thing that we learn – or at least, that I learned – from this story is that Uber, and I presume Lyft, will be paying drivers an hourly wage for the time that rides are free to users. That answers my question about why anyone would want to do the driving during that time, but still leaves open the matter of how long the companies will be willing to do this. Seven weeks is a long time, and delays are always possible. Be that as it may, here they are. We’ll see how well they’re received by the public.

Help HISD review its design plans

HISD would like your input in determining the designs for the schools to be built or rebuilt with the 2012 bond money.

The Houston Independent School District is hosting another series of community meetings for the first 17 schools slated for construction in the 2012 bond program to give participants a chance to review designs and site plans.

The meetings will be held in February, March and April for each bond school community. The goal is to present the work done so far in the design process and to share site plans and exterior drawings. For most of the schools, the meetings mark the second community gathering in a process designed to encourage collaboration and participation. The first round of community meetings was held in October and November to gather feedback on preliminary designs and concepts.

Input for those meetings has helped shape the work of the groups of teachers, staff, administrators, students and community members, known as Project Advisory Teams. The teams have been meeting at each of the 17 bond campuses to determine the specific educational needs and space requirements at their schools. In the upcoming community meetings, the architects will share site plans and exterior designs, as well as discuss proposed materials and colors.

“Our Project Advisory Teams continue to meet regularly with their architects and HISD planners to develop innovative 21st century learning environments at each of our bond campuses,” said Sue Robertson, general manager of Facilities Planning. “These next meetings will provide another opportunity for the larger school community to see the progress, as well as ask questions and offer suggestions, so we build the very best facilities for our students.”

The district has pledged to host at least three community meetings for each bond campus during the different phases of the building program, including planning, design and construction.

“We’re committed to building 21st century schools that meet the needs of our students and school communities,” said Leo Bobadilla, HISD’s chief operating officer. “These meetings are a great opportunity to learn more about the work that’s been done and to learn more about what’s ahead for each school as we get closer to construction.”

Click over for the full slate of meetings, which begin today. They will generally run from 6:30 to 7:30 PM. Be sure to consult beforehand, as things may come up at the last minute. And be sure to attend if your school or your neighborhood is involved.

Weekend link dump for February 23

Some Sharknade 2: The Second One news, for those of you (and you know who you are) that want it.

I love Paris in the modern era, because in the old days it really stank.

“Practically every big battle you see in the media arena is, one way or another, a battle between gigantic producers on the one hand and gigantic distributors on the other.” That said, the Comcast/TimeWarner merger may still have a direct effect on you and me.

The 20 best couples of comics, sci-fi, and fantasy.

On misfearing, and not believing in science when you don’t like what it says.

It’s not a crime to be drunk and annoying. Good to know.

“The truth behind Washington’s Birthday, President’s Day, Presidents’ Day, or whatever the hell you want to call it, as briefly explained by puppets.”

“Competition is what drives creative destruction, and it’s valuable for its own sake. We’ve lost sight of that, and it’s time to reverse course.”

Two words: Flying snakes. You’re welcome.

“But I also know that I am a useful representative sample of the abuse that happens to other women.” And now she’s a commandant in an insect army, which is all kinds of awesome.

“We cannot protect our children because racism in America is not merely a belief system but a heritage, and the inability of black parents to protect their children is an ancient tradition.”

Universal voting by mail would solve an awful lot of problems.

Go read Mark Evanier on ageism, Sid Caesar, and adapting to change.

Sweden’s tax code has a lot to answer for.

“A charge of failing to return Monster-In-Law in South Carolina, however, will haunt you for life.”

How would you like to protect your online accounts with Ultrasonic Password Security? Maybe someday you’ll be able to.

Five myths of American incarceration.

Let’s talk about snake handling, which is neither literal nor biblical.

“Circus folk fear a national clown shortage is on the horizon.”

“The limits of past job losses in that industry suggest increases in the minimum wage haven’t had a tremendous impact on employment, and that puts the onus on restaurants, and others opposing an increase, to explain why the next time would be different.”

The first full-time, female NFL referee could make her debut this year.

The food stamp cuts are hurting WalMart. No wonder they’re backing a federal minimum wage increase.

As someone once said, good ideas don’t need lots of lies told about them to win public support. Or putting it another way, bad ideas don’t need lots of lies told about them to garner public opposition.

See the new Pussy Riot video, with translated lyrics.

Production tax credits can really skew the way TV shows are made.

“Joe Newman recently announced his write-in campaign in Florida’s 16th District, a decision that probably would have gone unnoticed if not for the fact that he’s 101.”

Revisiting George Fleming

Lisa Falkenberg catches up with an old friend.

George Fleming

Trial lawyer George Fleming was calm and gracious when he took questions back in 2012, insisting that his bankrolling of a respected judge’s no-name opponent had nothing to do with his own displeasure with that particular jurist.

“No, no,” Fleming assured my colleague Patti Kilday Hart. “The way I show displeasure (with a judge) is I appeal his rulings.”

Fleming did appeal Judge Steven Kirkland’s unfavorable ruling that could have cost his firm as much as $13 million.

Then the wealthy lawyer of Fen-Phen-fighting fame became the only financial backer of the judge’s Democratic primary opponent, contributing individually and through his political action committee $35,000.

The opponent, now state district Judge Elaine H. Palmer, ran an ugly, bruising campaign with plenty of below-the-belt jabs at Kirkland. He was ousted and is now a Houston assistant city attorney and communications law lecturer at the University of Houston.

Kirkland is back campaigning again this year, trying for another bench: the 113th District Court. And Fleming is back as well, as the sole contributor to Kirkland’s new opponent, Lori C. Gray.

This time, when Fleming took my questions on his contributions, he was practically seething at the media criticism his involvement has drawn. And, this time, he acknowledged his motivations, saying the “personal experience” in Kirkland’s court, which led to years of unnecessary appeals, has driven him to keep the judge off the bench.

Elaine Palmer actually had multiple donors in 2012, though Fleming was one of the bigger ones, and was likely the driving force behind the others who donated to her. Kirkland’s 2014 opponent, Lori Gray, reported $35K on her January filing, all of which came from Fleming and his PAC. I’m sorry Fleming has his undies in a twist about the attention he’s getting, but what did he expect would happen?

To Gray’s credit, she hasn’t engaged in the nasty, misleading mudslinging that marked Palmer’s campaign. Gray, a lawyer for 25 years who won her 2010 primary for judge, says she respects Kirkland and wants to focus on the issues, such as cutting down litigation costs.

But she makes no apologies for accepting Fleming’s money, which she says could never sway or influence her. Fleming isn’t her only supporter, she says, noting she’s got plenty of volunteers giving time and energy, if not money.

“I am not for sale,” Gray said. “I am no slave. I am a private attorney who has a contributor, for whatever reason he chose to support my campaign, I didn’t ask him. And it is not my business.”

I don’t know Lori Gray. She does now have a campaign webpage, but any campaign activity she’s been engaged in has been invisible to me. She didn’t return my judicial Q&A, though she did submit one to Texpatriate. I don’t know why she chose to run for this court, but her explanation strikes me as just a wee bit naive. Gray ran for County Criminal Court #10 in 2010 in a contested primary, winning a close race (page 21) in which she overcame being listed second on the ballot, which was a kiss of death for most other candidates that year. Why she chose to run for this particular Civil District court, the only Civil District court that features a contested Democratic primary and the one in which you have to know George Fleming would get involved, when there were several County Criminal courts lacking a Democratic candidate – County Civil Court At Law #4 also has no Dem running – is a question only she can answer. Maybe she thought this court was the best fit for her talents, maybe she thought it was her best shot to win even with the contested primary, maybe she just thought Steve Kirkland is a lousy candidate. All of these would be valid reasons, but to profess ignorance of Fleming and his motives is not believable. Again, what did she think would happen? Whatever the result of this race, it will serve as another example of what people hate about our partisan judicial election system. I’ve yet to be convinced that any of the (mostly half-baked) alternatives to it are any better, but this adds fuel to the idea that anything else would be better.

DA investigating Judge Pratt again

Here we go again.

Judge Denise Pratt

Two months after a grand jury cleared embattled state District Judge Denise Pratt of accusations she had tampered with court records, the Harris County District Attorney’s office again is looking into the family court jurist.

Houston lawyer Anna Stool, a former federal prosecutor, said she was called in by the district attorney’s office two weeks agoto answer questions about a child custody case she has in Pratt’s 311th Court in which the judge made the unusual move of finalizing temporary orders by scratching out the word ‘temporary’ with a pen and writing ‘final’ above it. As a result, the case – first opened in 2007 – officially was closed.

There was “never a hearing,” Stool said. “I just found the thing by accident because I started checking (Harris County District Clerk) Chris Daniel’s website.”

County and courthouse sources say several lawyers have been called to the district attorney’s office recently to answer questions about cases in Pratt’s court, and that the questioning is part of another investigation into the freshman judge, who is seeking re-election this year.


Stool is asking for Pratt to be recused from the case altogether. She filed a motion last Friday, after weeks of waiting on Pratt to respond to another request she submitted in late January for a new trial, days before being questioned by the district attorney’s office.

Stool said she decided to file the recusal motion because problems in Pratt’s court have been “ongoing” and, so far, she has gotten “nothing” for her client.

“I cannot explain to her what the problem is, except to tell her that I don’t know why this is happening,” she said. “But I don’t think, based on what’s happened, that I can get a fair trial in this court.”

See here for the previous chapter in this saga, and here for the whole kit and kaboodle. I don’t know what Judge Pratt’s chances are in the GOP primary, but the fact that she’s competitive at all is kind of amazing. Texpatriate has more.

HFD’s budget problems

I’m sure you’ve heard of this by now.

The safety of Houston’s citizens and its firefighters will be compromised over the next four months as the fire department limits the number of personnel on duty and removes trucks from service in an attempt to cut spending, Fire Chief Terry Garrison said Thursday.

“People that are suffering from EMS calls are going to be suffering a little longer, houses and buildings are going to burn a little bit longer, because our response times are going to be increased,” Garrison told members of the City Council’s budget committee. “We’re going to have to change our decision-making model when we get on the scene, because fires will be doubling in size every minute.”

City Councilman Stephen Costello, chairman of the budget committee, rejected Garrison’s bleak prediction.

“I find it hard to believe we’re going to compromise public safety. I really don’t believe that’s the case,” Costello said. “It’s simply a matter of, once we respond to a call, we make sure that we have backup from another station. They do it all the time when they have two- or three-alarm calls.”

City Council members listening to Garrison’s presentation Thursday visibly struggled to balance the two basic priorities of local government: financial responsibility and public safety. Those present voted 7-3 to hold HFD to its original $447 million budget rather than give it additional funding to cover soaring overtime costs. Committee votes are nonbinding but do indicate the will of the larger council.

HFD is on pace to exceed its budget by $10.5 million in the fiscal year that ends June 30. Most of that, $8.5 million, is due to overtime paid to firefighters to cover a staffing shortage exacerbated by a union contract that leaves the chief unable to restrict when firefighters take time off.

The department averaged 90 overtime shifts per day during the second half of last year, and has averaged 47 overtime shifts per day for the last 45 days.

To stay within budget over the remaining four months of the fiscal year, Garrison said, HFD must not average more than 23 overtime shifts per day.

On days the department exceeds that number, fire trucks will be idled and supervisory shifts will not be filled, the chief said.

Under his plan, Garrison said that one in five department engine and ladder trucks could be pulled out of service during the peak vacation months of March and June, and staffing could drop by as much as 10 percent on an average day.

There was an earlier story on this that previewed the problem. The Chron has a dedicated page to the story with a graph showing the various fire stations and what the effect of this would be, with more details here. The committee vote suggests this will pass when it goes before the full Council. Mayor Parker has expressed her support for the plan, saying that the Fire Department managed themselves into this situation and they can manage themselves out of it. It’s hard to read about this issue and not think about the ongoing political and legal battles between Mayor Parker and the firefighters, particularly the pension fund where another lawsuit has been filed over access to their files but also the union, which is now in contract negotiations with the city. I’m sure politics will play a big part in the final Council vote, not to mention in the next election. I am not surprised that CM Bradford, the Mayor’s main critic on Council, is strongly against the proposal to reduce overtime.

I haven’t seen it mentioned in the coverage so far, but this isn’t the first time there has been a shortfall due to overtime. In 2010, both HPD and HFD had multi-million dollar gaps to fill. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember how that was resolved, but I presume it wasn’t like this or we’d have had some recent history to guide us as to what the effect might be.

Something I’d like to know more about is the possible solution CM Costello proposed in a letter to the editor last week.

Eighty-five percent of all calls for HFD services are for emergency medical services, not fires. We have top-notch firefighters, but are we deploying them correctly?

While we must be well prepared for fires too, doesn’t it make more sense to scale our equipment and personnel to fit the needs of our city?

The mayor has stated that we must look at the current workload of the department and reorganize. Her proposed budget last year had $2 million built in for a work demand analysis for HFD so we could start this process. This idea got scrapped during the budget process as council members put this money to other uses, including a summer jobs program.

Why are we organized so heavily around fire equipment and personnel when clearly, more emphasis is needed on emergency medical services? The numbers just don’t support our current operation.

I’ve been told the reason we have more fire engine and ladder companies than ambulances is so we can maintain our No. 1 Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating and keep homeowners’ insurance rates low. ISO is a private, for-profit company which has developed a huge database for providing statistical information to evaluate potential risk in certain areas.

Fire departments often use the structure of the ISO rating to justify resources during the budget process. In 1997, Texas became one of the last states to adopt ISO’s Public Protection Classification System. Texas, while adopting the system, does not require insurance providers to use the ISO rating, allowing some companies to use their own data. State Farm, the nation’s largest insurance company was the first to stop using the ISO rating system in 2001. Instead of using theoretical data loss, State Farm looks at actual loss within a zip code.

I’m not sure how dependent we need to be on the No. 1 ISO rating. Research indicates that now ISO ratings might have very little effect on homeowners’ insurance rates since some insurance companies do not even rely on them. I’m not suggesting we lower standards in any way when it comes to protecting our citizens. I just want to make sure we are smart about allocating all of our HFD resources, including overtime.

We need to make sure our fire and emergency service delivery model makes sense for Houston in 2014 and adjust accordingly. Until then, budget shortfalls will surely continue.

The point about EMS versus fire services is a strong one, and given that this kind of shortfall is not unprecedented, it makes sense to me that the city ought to do that study CM Costello suggests. Maybe with a more efficient allocation of resources, we can then get serious about hiring more firefighters and EMTs, since as with HPD there is a looming retirement crisis among the current ranks. I’d like to see that work demand analysis get funded in the next budget. Anyone with more expertise in these matters want to comment about that?

Chron overview of Ag Commissioner race

It’s mostly about Kinky and pot, because what else is there to talk about?

Democrat Kinky Friedman is attempting to add a little spice to the crowded agriculture commissioner race by being the lone candidate to advocate legalizing marijuana and tapping it as a new state cash crop.

Of the eight candidates jostling to replace Republican Todd Staples as agriculture commissioner, only Friedman of Kerrville supports legalizing marijuana and taxing it for state revenue. He wants Texas to move quickly before other states follow Washington and Colorado’s lead and legalize the drug for recreational use, which could deprive the Lone Star State of potential revenue, like the $578 million in tax revenue that Colorado expects from first-year sales.

“Texas will be the dinosaur dragged in by the tail,” Friedman said. “We will be the caboose on the train.”

Friedman’s comments on legalizing marijuana follow those voiced by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who called for legalizing the drug for medical use and possibly decriminalizing it.

And Republican Gov. Rick Perry who told the World Economics Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that he signed laws putting the state on the path to decriminalization, and suggested that all states, under the 10th Amendment, have the right to decide how to handle the herb.

But other agricultural commissioner candidates from both major political parties were reluctant to voice those types of sentiments, preferring to focus on top priorities like illegal immigration and improved water infrastructure.

“Pot doesn’t really matter,” said Hugh Asa Fitzsimons III, another Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner. “What matters is if you have any water.”

Cleburne farmer Jim Hogan, also seeking the Democratic primary nod, said he understands the arguments for legalization, and he said he could favor a shift in emphasis from punishment to rehabilitation for Texas drug users.

“If I was a judge and a woman (charged with possession of marijuana) had three kids, I couldn’t send her to prison,” Hogan said. “I could have her rehabilitated, maybe.”

None of the five Republicans in the race gave support to Perry’s comments or bucked their party’s hard line stance against drug possession or legalization.

I ran interviews last week with Friedman and Fitzsimons. Pot is a worthwhile issue to discuss, and I support Friedman’s position on it, but as Fitzsimons says it’s all secondary to water. Sure would have been nice to have seen what some of the Republican candidates have to say about that in a story like this. It also might have been worthwhile to mention the Republican candidates’ self-interested hypocrisy on receiving federal agriculture subsidies. But hey, no one’s really paying attention to a race like this anyway, am I right?

Saturday video break: After You’ve Gone

This song is almost 100 years old, and it qualifies as a standard. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, here’s the original version, by Marion Harris:

I’m impressed there’s still a recording around of that. The first place I encountered this song was in the movie “All That Jazz”, but unfortunately I can’t find a video of that version. So for something approximately as upbeat as that rendition but still old school, here’s Django Reinhardt:

The version I have, by my musical crush Elena James, is more or less a cover of Reinhardt and is unfortunately also not on Youtube. So let’s close with a more modern old school take on this classic, by Hugh Laurie. Yes, Dr. House:

One sure way to determine the value of a song is to see how many different ways it can be done well. I suspect I’ve just scratched the surface on this one.

Perry schools Abbott

This is how it’s done, son.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndog-eating lessons are next

Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday condemned inflammatory remarks by Ted Nugent that resurfaced when the outspoken rocker this week joined Republican Greg Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign.

Nugent was quoted in an interview with last month as calling President Barack Obama a “subhuman mongrel.” He appeared with Abbott during two campaign stops Tuesday, a decision that Democratic opponent Wendy Davis called “repulsive.”

Perry said on CNN’s “Situation Room” that Nugent making outrageous comments shouldn’t surprise anyone. But he condemned his language about Obama.

“I got a problem calling the president a mongrel. I do have a problem with that,” said Perry, who is not running for re-election. “That is an inappropriate thing to say.”

Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed told the Associated Press that his comments on the program speak for themselves. She said Perry was not available for an interview.

Rick Perry is good at one thing in this lie, and that’s politics. This is how a skilled politician handles an awkward question. He doesn’t turn tail and scurry away like a cockroach in the kitchen when the light gets turned on. And for the record, Brian D. Sweany, you might have expected Greg Abbott to “run an error-free campaign”, but I never did.

(OK, Rick Perry also has good luck and good timing, since no one remembers this any more. But still, he was smart enough not to do something like that until after he was safely elected.)

Of course, a good politician also has a staff that’s capable of using Google, too. And being caught so egregiously unaware calls into question one’s judgment, which the DMN editorial board goes after.

Abbott thought Nugent’s vociferous Second Amendment advocacy would help burnish the candidate’s gun-rights credentials. But Abbott and his campaign staff apparently didn’t look into the more controversial aspects of Nugent’s past, which should have given everyone reason to keep the candidate as far away from Nugent as possible.

This misstep calls Abbott’s leadership and judgment into question and unnecessarily places his campaign on the defensive.


This isn’t the first judgment lapse by Abbott. When a Twitter poster referred to Davis as an “idiot” and “retard Barbie” last summer, Abbott responded by thanking the man online.

When American Airlines announced merger plans with U.S. Airways last year, the attorney general joined a federal lawsuit to stop it on antitrust grounds. Then he announced a settlement with the airlines and pulled Texas out of the lawsuit.

Once again, Abbott is giving Texas voters reason to doubt him. Some might shrug off the Nugent debacle as bad advice by his campaign staff, but Abbott is the man in charge.

He badly miscalculated that Nugent’s appearance would help focus this election on distinctions between him and Davis on gun rights, as if Texas voters care about nothing else. Conservatives and liberals alike put lots of stock in civility and respect for the dignity of girls and women. Nugent makes a mockery of those core values.

Remember, none of these were the result of random misfortune. They were the result of deliberate actions by Greg Abbott; in the case of Ted Nugent, actions taken even after he’d been given public warnings that they weren’t wise. Again, Abbott isn’t used to communicating with regular voters. Now he’s finding out what that means. Abbott is likely to feel some more heat over this, as national figures like Rand Paul criticize Nugent, even if he did sort of mumble out some words late on Friday about how what The Nuge said wasn’t appropriate and can we please move on to something less embarrassing to him now. Who is it that isn’t ready for prime time again? PDiddie has more.

And here comes UberX

I mentioned this in passing yesterday, but UberX, which is Uber’s ride share service, similar in nature to that of Lyft, is now in Houston as well.

Free rides suddenly became available in Houston on Thursday night as two online companies clamored for attention before they officially break into the city’s cab market.

Uber, which has been working with the city on a high-end private car service called Uber Black, announced late Thursday it would immediately launch its Uber X ridesharing service. The announcement followed competitor Lyft’s confirmation Wednesday that it would start service Friday.

The pattern is common as the two companies break into metro markets across the country. When one leaps, the other soon follows.

Entry of these services into more than 20 U.S. cities has prompted lawsuits and cease-and-desist letters from taxi owners concerned about their livelihoods and regulators who accused the firms of skirting the law.

Neither company, however, can accept fares in Houston until the city adjusts its taxi and private car rules, said Christopher Newport, chief of staff for the city’s regulatory affairs department.


The sudden leaps into the market also complicate the city’s efforts to rework its regulations, Newport said Wednesday.

In a joint meeting Tuesday, members of two City Council committees are expected to discuss possible changes to the taxi codes. Newport estimated any new regulations would take seven weeks to take effect.

So there you have it. The question is whether this will complicate the process of reviewing and updating Chapter 46, which are the city ordinances governing taxis and the like. I don’t think it will, but I do expect the level of fussing to be elevated for the immediate future. I’m also not sure how many of these free-for-now rides will actually take place, since it’s not clear to me why a future UberX or Lyft driver would want to do that. The services provide whoever is closest to you, not a specific driver you can request. Anyway, next week’s committee meetings ought to be interesting. Anyone have plans to try out one or both of these services while they’re free? PDiddie, who is considerably less sanguine about this than I am, and Texpatriate have more.

Leaning towards the over

Metro is working on a solution to the Harrisburg Line over/underpass problem.

“We want the community involved and for this to be as open and honest as possible,” [Metro Board Chair Gilbert] Garcia said.

Before Metro makes a decision, Garcia said, he wanted residents to have a better sense of the problem. Leaking gasoline tanks left a large swath of contaminated soil about 10 feet down. As long as it is undisturbed, it does not present a threat, officials said.

Metro would need to dig more than 30 feet into the ground and displace hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of dirt, necessitating significant cleanup, to build an underpass. And an underpass would change groundwater patterns, possibly spreading the contamination to other adjacent properties, environmental analysts said.

To proceed with an underpass, officials might have to spend years cleaning and preparing the land for excavation. So far, they’ve spent $8.6 million on planning and design for the planned underpass.

Garcia said the best solution is to build an overpass, but redesign it.

See here for the background. The idea is to redesign the overpass in a way that still allows for vehicular traffic on Harrisburg at the freight rail tracks, which should mitigate the effect on businesses there, and to make it shorter so the intersection at 66th Street is unaffected. Metro’s task is convincing the area residents, who have good reasons to be skeptical, that what they’re proposing could work. The board could still go with the underpass, though it would cost a lot more money due to the need to clean up the underground toxins, when they vote on a recommendation. I hope this all works out in a way everyone can live with.

The D-word is back

It’s never really gone away since 2009.

Locked in a seemingly endless cycle of droughts and brief reprieves, the Houston region has quietly slipped back into yet another drought.

Since December Houston has received less than half its normal rainfall. That’s a pattern present since 2009, a period when the city racked up a deficit of 56 inches, nearly five feet less rain that it normally would have collected.

And there is little relief in sight, meteorologists say.

Cold temperatures this winter have masked drought conditions. Before last weekend’s warm-up, the city of Houston was experiencing its seventh-coldest winter on record, according to the National Weather Service. This has limited the evaporation rate of water that has reached the ground.

As a result, reservoir and aquifer supplies in the Houston region are generally fine, said John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist.

The imprint of a drought lies within the region’s soils all the same, say forecasters with the U.S. Drought Monitor. Nearly all of Harris County was classified as being in a state of “moderate” drought in the most recent report, and parts of Brazoria County have fallen into a “severe” drought.

“The main issue is a future one, the amount of moisture in the ground come May and June.” said Nielsen-Gammon, an atmospheric scientist at Texas A&M University. “If rainfall stays light through then, the ground will dry out fairly quickly and water use will go up. Ranchers would produce less hay than normal.”

Basically, we’ve had below average rainfall in the Houston area since Hurricane Ike. It was at its worst in 2011, of course, and there have been periods of high precipitation that have taken us out of drought classification temporarily, but for the past five years it’s been drier than usual. It’s even worse in other parts of the state. The next couple of months don’t look any better, though the good news is that long-range forecasts suggest an El Niño will develop in the fall, bringing wetter than usual conditions for next winter. Hopefully we haven’t all crumbled to dust by then. The Chron’s Weather Blog has more.

Friday random ten: Old man and me

Another birthday this week. God, I’m old.

1. The Old Black Rum – Great Big Sea
2. Old Blevins – Austin Lounge Lizards
3. Old Dan Tucker – Bruce Springsteen
4. The Old Dope Peddler – Tom Lehrer
5. Old Folks’ Boogie – Little Feat
6. Old Friends – Simon and Garfunkel
7. Old Joe Bone – New City Lost Ramblers
8. Old Man – Neil Young
9. Old Woman From Wexford – Flying Fish Sailors
10. Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet – Rice MOB

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to hitch up my pants and chase those damn kids off my lawn.