Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

February 23rd, 2020:

Weekend link dump for February 23

“On Feb. 14, 1990, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft captured one of the most iconic photographs of the space age; to commemorate the moment’s 30th anniversary, NASA has digitally dusted off the image.”

High Fidelity, which was released in 2000, doesn’t just reflect back on Cusack’s breakthrough movie. It functions as the close of an unofficial trilogy that begins in 1989 with Say Anything and continues through 1997’s Grosse Pointe Blank. In all three, Cusack plays a man who’s trying to figure out his life, not just who he is but what he stands for, and the later in life the story catches up with him, the more dire his situation becomes.”

“In one sense, femcels are similar to male incels in that they claim to have trouble finding someone to have sex with or date because of their looks or personality. But while everyone feels that way from time to time, femcels believe the physical, mental and cognitive inadequacies they have are unique and extreme.”

“The environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico a decade ago was much worse than previously believed, according to a new study.”

RIP, Tony Fernandez, former MLB player who won a World Series with the Toronto Blue Jays.

“Let me begin by explaining the Wyle-Schwartz Theory of Political Primaries, so named for the political scientists Sherwood Schwartz and George Wyle, who are possibly better known for writing the theme song to Gilligan’s Island.”

“When we think of bad New York Times coverage of the 2016 campaign, we normally think about their obsessive coverage of her emails, but more generally they were also incredible gullible and generous in their coverage of Trump.”

“So… yeah, what should be done to federal judges accused of misconduct is a hot button issue in the legal industry.”

I too would ask Brian Cox to tell me to eff off in the voice of Logan Roy if I ever met him.

“Mysterious radio signals from space have been known to repeat, but for the first time, researchers have noticed a pattern in a series of bursts coming from a single source half a billion light-years from Earth.”

RIP, Kellye Nakahara Wallett, actor best known as Nurse Kellye on M*A*S*H.

Being Susan Collins. Furrowed brow and deep concerns optional.

There’s a Staples near my house, and if they put a podcast recording studio inside it, I’d have to give some serious thought to using it.

“Remember when AG Loretta Lynch recused herself from the Clinton email investigation after a few minutes idle chitchat on the tarmac with Bill Clinton? Haha, suckers!”

RIP, Ja’Net DuBois, Emmy Award-winning actor and singer, who composed and performed the iconic theme song to The Jeffersons, “Movin’ On Up”.

“Trump does everything bigger and bolder than any predecessor dared — and all nakedly in the open, fearing no consequences from a Republican Party he fully commands.”

The sign-stealing scandal is a perpetual motion machine, a sordid, self-sustaining story that’s uniquely engineered to make more headlines, both now and for the foreseeable future.”

RIP, Sy Sperling, founder and president of the Hair Club for Men.

Trib overview of the CD10 primary

I have three things to say about this.

Mike Siegel

When Mike Siegel made a long-shot bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, two years ago, few were watching — until he surprised political observers and came within 5 points of flipping the longtime Republican seat. Now the seat is up for election again, and national Democrats are paying attention.

Siegel’s 2018 result means the 10th Congressional District, which stretches from metro Austin to the northwest outskirts of Houston, is finally considered in play after a 2003 redistricting left it deeply gerrymandered and solidly red. Many more eyes are now on the race, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s. But for Siegel, that has translated to tougher competition.

A former lawyer for the city of Austin, Siegel is vying for the Democratic nomination along with two newcomers: labor and employment lawyer Shannon Hutcheson and physician Pritesh Gandhi, both also from Austin.

A primary runoff is likely in TX-10, but with two weeks to go until Super Tuesday, it’s still uncertain who will make the cut. Siegel and his supporters put the district “on the map” last cycle after “the state and national party had left [it] for dead,” Siegel told The Intercept in June.

“People across this district remember me for showing up when for decades Democrats hadn’t really shown up, in some of these rural communities in particular,” Siegel told The Texas Tribune. “They appreciate that we brought this race so close without a lot of outside support.”

Siegel faced even more primary opponents in 2018 but won the nomination relatively easily. He garnered more than double the votes of each of his opponents in the first round of voting and went on to win the runoff by nearly 40 percentage points.

But Siegel holds views that might raise questions about whether he’s the right candidate to flip a traditionally red district. Because he is the most progressive candidate and the only one who supports “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal, his bid could be seen as a riskier choice to challenge McCaul in the historically Republican district.

Hutcheson and Gandhi have taken more moderate positions, and each is getting some national support. Hutcheson has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, the influential group that works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights. Gandhi, meanwhile, has the backing of 314 Action, which backs scientists running for office.

Fundraising in the primary has been competitive, especially between Gandhi and Hutcheson. In the fourth quarter, Gandhi and Hutcheson raised $257,000 and $216,000, respectively, while Siegel has trailed behind with $96,000. This was the first quarter Gandhi out-raised his opponents.

1. I feel like we all need to aim for a higher level of precision when we use the word “gerrymandering”. A district that heavily favors one party is not necessarily “gerrymandered”. The old, pre-2003 CD10, which was a nice, compact, entirely-within-Travis-County district, was a safe Democratic seat and not at all “gerrymandered”. CD13, which hews almost entirely to state and county borders and is ridiculously Republican, is almost the exact opposite of “gerrymandered”. A funny-looking district isn’t necessarily “gerrymandered”, either. CD18 is an African-American opportunity district, and has been drawn the way it is to encompass many African-American neighborhoods. For sure, Texas is a longtime and notorious hotbed of gerrymandering, and we should expect more of it in 2021. But context matters, and it would be helpful to have a clear idea of why a particular district’s boundaries are offensive or illogical or just plain nakedly partisan, if only to pick the right battles.

The current CD10 was certainly drawn with ill intent, partly to defenestrate Lloyd Doggett (oops) and partly to deprive the city of Austin of representation. The irony here is that, at least based on the 2018 election, the end result was to conjure up a fairly competitive district, which was not at all what the Republicans had in mind. A combination of booming growth in Travis County, and a one-two punch of demographic change and Trump-inspired suburban shifting in Harris County – compare CD10 2012 and CD10 2018 to see the effect – has worked to threaten what Tom DeLay once envisioned. None of that undoes the malice in the map, but it does show that the best-laid plans can (maybe) be undone by sufficiently rapid increases in population and diversity.

2. It’s important to remember, though, that as hard as CD10 swung towards Democrats in 2018, it was not at all clear it would be as competitive as it turned out to be following the 2016 election. Trump still carried CD10 by a 51.9 to 42.8 margin, and no other Democrat reached 40% in the district. As the 2018 cycle went on, and it became clear what the political environment was like, it made sense to put some resources into longer-shot districts like CD10. Mike Siegel did raise almost $500K in the 2018 cycle, which sounds like nothing now but was one of many record-breaking hauls at the time. He was also on the low end of the spectrum, raising less money than candidates like Julie Oliver and Jana Lynne Sanchez. The DCCC has to make choices about where it spends its money, and CD10 wasn’t at the top of the list in 2018. Maybe a million bucks or two dropped on that district might have helped, who knows. I don’t think it was outrageous the way priorities were made last cycle .

3. Siegel is doing better on fundraising this time around – as of the January 2020 report, he had almost matched his entire total from the 2018 cycle. It’s just that this time, he has opponents who are doing even better on that score. Several repeat candidates from 2018 are far outpacing their opponents in fundraising – Gina Ortiz Jones, Sri Kulkarni, Julie Oliver – but Mike Siegel is not in that class. He can very much win this primary, and whoever does get the nomination will justifiably have establishment support going forward. He happens to have drawn strong opponents this year. That’s the way it goes.

District B ruling appealed

Ugh.

Cynthia Bailey

The date of Houston’s stalled city council District B runoff is again in question after the third-place finisher in the race moved forward with an appeal of a court order earlier this month that the runoff go on without her.

The runoff, currently scheduled for May 2, could be delayed if a ruling is not final by March 9. The election was pulled from the Dec. 14 ballot, when a dozen other city runoffs were decided, because of the litigation.

Lawyers for Renee Jefferson-Smith previously indicated they had not decided whether to pursue an appeal of Visiting Judge Grant Dorfman’s ruling that the runoff between the top two vote-getters in the November election, Tarsha Jackson and Cynthia Bailey, should go forward.

On Thursday, however, Jefferson-Smith’s legal team filed what is called a docketing statement with the appeals court, indicating they were moving forward.

“We will request that the Court stay the City of Houston Election for City Council Member for District B pending appeal pursuant to” the Texas Election Code, the filing said. It listed a lawyer not previously involved in the case, Dorsey Carson, Jr., as lead attorney.

[…]

Jackson said she thinks Jefferson-Smith and her backers are just trying to delay the election at this point, and she called on leaders to do something to stop the delays.

“This appeal is not fair to the people of District B, it’s not fair to me and the other 12 candidates who ran to represent District B,” she said.

See here for the previous update. I suppose leaders could try to pressure Renee Jefferson-Smith into dropping the appeal, but you’d think if that might have worked she wouldn’t have filed it in the first place. At this point, a fast ruling from the court is the best bet. What a freaking mess this has been.

Please don’t freak out about coronavirus

If you are freaking out or think you may be on the verge of freaking out, or you know someone who is, Harris County is here to help.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Tuesday announced the creation of a web page to combat disinformation about the coronavirus that is sparking health fears around the world.

There are no reported cases of the flu-like virus in the Houston area or Texas, though Hidalgo said online rumors suggesting otherwise have caused unnecessary fear in the community.

“We’ll continue watching social media, and debunking myths, because we don’t want falsehoods to spread,” Hidalgo said. “It causes unnecessary concern and it’s just wrong.”

She said the page on the county’s readyharris.org website would help residents separate facts from fiction about the virus. Developed with the help of the county health department, she said the web page would be a trusted source of health information.

[…]

Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health, said local Asian businesses have experienced severe drops in customers, which he attributed to an unfounded panic around coronavirus.

“There have been some specific, very hate-drive, offensive comments driven toward the Asian community,” Shah said. “In Chinatown and southwest Harris County, they reported to us grocery stores and restaurants have seen 50, 60 70 percent decreases in traffic.”

Shah said he wants to combat fears of coronavirus so residents who worry they may have the disease will seek medical treatment and report their cases to the county.

The coronavirus info is touted on the Ready Harris webpage, with a link that takes you here. There have only been a few cases of coronavirus in the US so far, but fear and panic about it are having a measurable negative effect on the economy, including right here. You can help with that, by the way. Support Chinatown, don’t panic. Easy-peasy.

Endorsement watch: Senate and Tax Assessor

I’ve been very interested to see what the Chron would make of the Senate primary. Now we know: Royce West is their choice.

Sen. Royce West

We believe that candidate is state Sen. Royce West of Dallas, an African-American trailblazer whose record over 26 years in the Legislature is full of accomplishments as well as moments of courage and vision.

He’s been a state leader on issues as diverse as finance, criminal justice, public education and civil rights..

When then-Gov. Rick Perry drew fire in 2011 for a sign at his family hunting ranch that included a racial slur, it was West who spoke against labeling Perry, then running for president, a racist. But that same year, when the Texas division of the Sons of the Confederacy sought to have Texas issue license plates with the Confederate battle flag, West demanded the Department of Motor Vehicles reject the plates, which it did on a razor-thin vote. The decision triggered a challenge that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before West’s position was affirmed.

[…]

Our support for West meant bypassing some incredible contenders. Former Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards was an excellent public servant with a shining intellect whom we hope finds a way to continue in another role.

The front-runner in the race, Mary “M.J.” Hegar, showed why she has enjoyed early support. She was engaging, knowledgeable and told her remarkable story of bravery under fire as an Air Force pilot in Afghanistan. Michael Cooper, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2018, and Sema Hernandez, an activist in Houston making her second Senate run, , are also intriguing candidates. Among others in the race who have made a positive impression are former Houston council member and one-term Congressman Chris Bell, El Paso native Adrian Ocegueda and Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez.

But among the dozen candidates on the ballot, none has anything like West’s legislative experience. We strongly suggest Democrats back his bid to challenge Cornyn. He also has an inspiring story, and a record to match.

I think Royce West is a fine candidate with a long and distinguished record of accomplishment in the State Senate. In an earlier cycle, he’d have been hailed as a hero for taking on the challenge. Hell, that would have happened in 2018, even with Beto’s entry into the race. This year, he’s still a serious candidate with a known base of support, but he was the fourth serious candidate in the race, with Amanda Edwards stepping on his entrance. He’s been fine, and his Dallas base gives him a great shot at making the runoff, but I wouldn’t say he’s generated much excitement. Again, he’s fine and he’d be fine. This is who he is.

And back in Harris County, they endorse Ann Harris Bennett for Tax Assessor.

Ann Harris Bennett

In the summer of 2018, Harris County voters could have used a bulldog. That’s when the Harris County tax assessor-collector and voter registrar, Ann Harris Bennett, mistakenly placed more than 1,700 voters on a suspension list after a local Republican party operative challenged the registrations of 4,000 voters.

Bennett was criticized for confusing voters and not following the law, which allowed voters time to respond before they were placed on any suspension list. Bennett quickly corrected the problem and she told the Editorial Board during a candidate screening that the two employees who generated the erroneous notices are no longer with her office.

Her Democratic challenger, Jolanda Jones, says that’s not good enough. Being a criminal defense lawyer, Jones says she has the knowledge to make sure the office follows the law. Being a bulldog, the former Houston city councilwoman and “Survivor” contestant says she’d fight for voters, and for taxpayers, to protect their rights and their hard-earned dollars.

We have to admit, Jones made such an appealing case that we were almost willing to overlook her tumultuous political career, including her contributions to a fractious Houston ISD board known for petty squabbles and so much dysfunction that it’s in the process of being taken over by the state. Jones points out, correctly, that a Texas Education Agency investigation into wrongdoing on the board did not take issue with her.

“I’m going to use the same vigor, even when it’s not popular, like I did on the school board to fight for taxpayers,” Jones told us. “I’m going to be a taxpayer warrior.”

We love her spirit. We’re just not sure that the tax office, which oversees billions of dollars in property tax collections and processes millions of vehicle registrations and title transfers every year, needs a fighter as much as a diligent public servant.

I mean, that’s the choice in this race. Either option can be justified, and they each have their plusses and minuses. (A perennial crank is also in the race, and none of that last statement applies to him.) My interview with Ann Harris Bennett is here, and my interview with Jolanda Jones is here. You have the info you need, now make your choice.