Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Ana Hernandez

The Great Texas Clean Up Festival

Looking for something to do Saturday? The Sierra Club has a suggestion.

RAY JOHNSTON BAND
LOS PISTOLEROS DE TEXAS
ROBERT ELLIS & THE BOYS
MRS. GLASS

Join us on JULY 24TH, from 4-10pm for a day of music and art.

Featured artists: Amos Garcia, Kate Fu, Kyle Fu, JSQUARD, Lizbeth Ortiz, Andrew Chapa, Rockey Perez, Roger Hunter, Mickael Allen, Christian Navarrete,the Contemporary Art Museum Teen Council

At the Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney Street.
Houston, Texas 77010

For questions, email: [email protected]

It’s more than just music:

On July 24th, the Sierra Club and the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Service (TEJAS) with other environmental groups, community organizations, and businesses from Houston and around the state will come together to help clean up Texas. With a concert free to the public, this broad and diverse coalition will speak out with Texans standing up demanding clean air and clean energy for a healthier Texas future.

Speakers include State Sen. Rodney Ellis, State Rep. Ana Hernandez, Representative Ana Hernandez, Matthew Tejada of Air Alliance Houston, and Juan Parras of TEJAS. Come on out, hear some music, and see what they’ve got to say about a cleaner Texas.

From the “Reasons why KBH won’t resign” files

Gardner Selby notes that whenever Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison decides to resign from the Senate, Governor Perry controls the timing of the special election to replace her and can use it to help his preferred candidate.

Under the law, if the governor determines that an emergency warrants holding a special election before the uniform election date, then it can be on a nonuniform date as long as the governor identifies the nature of the emergency.

Translation: The election can happen any day the governor pleases.

And should Hutchison step down, Perry would consider setting an election shortly. Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle told me, “If a vacancy were to occur, the governor would be inclined to call an election soon to ensure Texans are fully represented” in Washington.

This possible twist carries huge political implications.

A speeded election would give a leg up to the interim senator that Perry appoints on Hutchison’s departure if only because the fledgling senator will get a burst of attention simply by getting sworn in and settled. And a quick election would probably hurt other aspirants, including Democrats John Sharp of Austin and Bill White, the Houston mayor, leaving them scrambling for attention in an abbreviated campaign period.

Meanwhile, voters — not primed for a customary November vote or given notice of a less-traditional May election — may be asked to act on an unusual date such as (I’ll float) Tuesday, Oct. 13.

An odd date stands to inflate the influence of die-hard voters such as Republican regulars who tend to turn out in heavier numbers in special elections.

The political reverb: Democrats would cry foul, though Perry would draw warm credit in GOP circles for efficiently protecting the seat for his party.

Three things:

1. Of course Rick Perry will take whatever advantage he can get from this situation. It’s what he does, and he does it well – he’s as good at politics as he is bad at governing. I’m not saying some other governor wouldn’t take political considerations into account. I’m just saying that for Perry, those are the only considerations.

2. Bear in mind, whatever “emergency” Perry might cook up to set an election date of his choosing, he did not call an emergency election to fill HD143 after the tragic death of Rep. Joe Moreno in May, even though he went on to call two special sessions on school finance reform after the regular session. HD143 remained empty during this time until now-Rep. Ana Hernandez won a runoff in December. Bear in mind, Texas’ Senate seat will be filled as soon as Perry names a replacement. It will not be left vacant for any stretch of time as HD143 was. This is as clear an illustration as you can want of Perry putting politics first and everything else second.

3. Of course, as I and some others have repeatedly noted, KBH has a simple counter to all this: Stay in office until she’s been sworn in as Governor, assuming she gets that far and then wins in November. Leave the replacement selection and special election date-setting to someone she trusts, namely herself. It’s either that or let Rick Perry send Dan Patrick to Washington. You’d think that wouldn’t be a hard choice from KBH’s perspective.

Ed Johnson’s conflict of interest

As you know, there was a lawsuit filed against Paul Bettencourt and the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office over allegations of illegal mishandling of provisional ballots in the past November election. That suit was later expanded to include allegations of voter disenfranchisement by Bettencourt’s office. According to KHOU, some mighty interesting facts have come out so far in the deposition phase.

“This is as blatant a case of election corruption that I have seen,” said Matt Angle of the Lone Star Project, a Democrat activist group.

The Lone Star Project’s complaint revolves around Ed Johnson.

Johnson is the associate voter registrar at the Harris County Tax Assessor Collectors office, but according to state documents, that’s just his day job. Johnson is also a paid director of a small company that provides voter data to Republican candidates for office. That company, Campaign Data Systems, billed at least $140,000 in 2008.

Campaign Data Systems happens to be owned by Republican State Rep. Dwayne Bohac, who also happens to be one of the big pushers of voter ID bills. Johnson testified before the Senate about supposed instances of vote fraud. He tells the Republicans what they want to hear in the guise of a nonpartisan election official, while being on their payroll. Nice little scam they’ve got going there, no? I think we all have a better idea now why State Reps. Garnet Coleman and Ana Hernandez called for appointed Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez’s resignation over Johnson’s (and George Hammerlein’s) testimony, and it makes Vasquez’s response look that much weaker.

I’m sure the Lone Star Project will have plenty more to say on this soon, and I’m looking forward to it. In the meantime, I’m thinking the campaign ads against Vasquez next year are going to write themselves. This is going to be fun.

Vasquez responds to Coleman and Hernandez

I received the following statement from the office of Harris County Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez, which was sent to KHOU and Fox 26 in response to the charges made by State Reps. Garnet Coleman and Ana Hernandez about the voter ID testimony given by staffers George Hammerlein and Ed Johnson.

Statement of Leo Vasquez,

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar

April 13, 2009

I am extremely disappointed in the lack of professionalism exhibited by State Representatives Coleman and Hernandez and demand from them a written apology to the dedicated public servants on my staff who they have maliciously accused of perjury. They executed this attack without first providing this office holder the professional courtesy of a face-to-face meeting.

At the specific invitation of St. Rep. Todd Smith, a colleague of Reps. Coleman and Hernandez, my office staff responded to the Chairman’s request to present data before the House Elections Committee. Our staff did so as a neutral resource witness only. I cannot imagine Reps. Coleman and Hernandez are advocating that the Harris County Tax Office should ignore the legislators of Texas. It is important to also note that our staff also took the opportunity while in Austin to work with other Democratic and Republican legislators and their staff on many other important pending legislative items.

As many of the Representatives’ miscellaneous and erroneous allegations relate to claims contained in a federal lawsuit pending against the Harris County Tax Office, it is inappropriate to make a comment on those. Any comment on pending litigation should be directed to the Harris County Attorney’s Office. I urge the Plaintiffs and their associates to try this case in a court of law, rather than in the media.

Finally, I must point out the Representatives’ poor grasp of simple facts. They boldly stated, “Leo Vasquez administers elections in Harris County.” We should be clear that I do not administer elections. I am the Voter Registrar and my office is committed to performing those duties in a non-partisan fashion, per the Texas Election Code, and on a fair and equal basis for all citizens of Harris County.

So there you have it. As I said before, there was a big lack of trust in this office by Democrats thanks to the widespread problems getting voter registrations processed last year as well as the longstanding partisan shilling of now-former Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt, and that mistrust still lingers after some early missteps by the TAC’s office after Vasquez took over. I also recommend you read Vince’s post about the disputed testimony. I think even if Ed Emmett draws a serious challenger next year, it’s clear what the top tier countywide race is going to be. Anyway, now you know what they had to say about this.

Dems versus Vasquez

Looks like we’re not ready to make nice with the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office over their handling of voter registration last year.

Any honeymoon between Democrats and the new Harris County voter registrar ended suddenly today.

Democratic state Reps. Garnet Coleman and Ana Hernandez of Houston said Leo Vasquez, who is tax assessor-collector and voter registration chief, is responsible for staffers who allegedly misled state legislators considering whether to require voters to offer more proof of identification before casting ballots.

“It is up to (Vasquez) to clean up his office,” Coleman and Hernandez said in a news media handout. “Otherwise, Leo needs to go.”

[…]

Vasquez, saying he is running the registration agency without regard to politics and will not join the GOP frontlines, since has expanded voter registration efforts and hired a Democrat to help with community outreach.

He said today that testimony in Austin last week on the “voter ID” bill by voter registration staffers George Hammerlein and Ed Johnson was no partisan move. The pair, called to testify by Republican lawmakers, took no position on the bill and provided facts as requested, Vasquez said.

Coleman and Hernandez never have taken their concerns to him, Vasquez said, and they owe his staffers an apology for making baseless allegations.

The Democrats today zeroed in on Hammerlein’s legislative testimony, several hours into hearing that ran past midnight, that thousands of Harris County residents who registered to vote on time were not eligible to participate in early voting two weeks later because they applied relatively late.

Hammerlein acknowledged today that his statement was wrong and said it was due to the strange hour rather than any attempt to mislead the Legislature.

I’ve reprinted the press release beneath the fold, and a copy of the doc that spelled out the allegations against Hammerlein and Johnson is here. I’ve been hearing some grumbling about the way things have been run at the Tax Assessor’s office, in particular complaints about being told that deputy registrars could not deliver new registration forms to annex offices. That turned out to be a case of miscommunication between the head office and the annexes. Perhaps that’s to be expected with a change in command, but it wasn’t a good first impression and it didn’t help alleviate any of the lingering mistrust left over from the Bettencourt days. It’s not surprising, given the stakes in the voter ID fight, that Vasquez isn’t being cut any slack. Stace has more.

Meanwhile, immigration attorney and former Houston City Council member Gordon Quan has an op-ed about voter ID and the Betty Brown incident.

While some will argue that this increases the integrity of the ballot, in reality, voter ID requirements have been overwhelmingly shown to disproportionately disenfranchise older Americans, individuals with disabilities, low income and homeless people, students, married women, minorities and most poignantly, those who, for cultural reasons, may have differing names on differing identification documents. According to the nation’s largest exit poll of Asian Americans, nearly 70 percent of Asian voters were asked for ID at the polls — in states where no ID was required!

Voter ID requirements put an inordinate amount of discretion in the hands of already overworked poll workers. Our state and county election offices already find themselves constantly struggling to find the resources to adequately train poll workers and to recruit diverse poll workers who are versed in every possible cultural circumstance that they may encounter. This legislation would take precious funds away from those programs as well as from real priorities such as transportation and education. As evidenced by this episode with Brown and the Elections Committee, even individuals as well versed in the law as they are were unable to understand the complexities associated with Asian names as they relate to voting. Just imagine the difficulty a poll worker would have and how they could easily not allow an eligible voter even with a valid voter registration card to vote.

If you want to discuss this issue in more detail, there will be a conference call Thursday night with Ramey Ko, US Rep. Mike Honda, State Rep. Hubert Vo, Mini Timmaraju of the Asian American Democrats of Texas, and others. The AAA Fund blog has the details. You can submit a question for Ramey Ko ahead of time, but you must RSVP to join the call, so click over for the info if you’re interested.

UPDATE: Vince has more on Hammerlein’s testimony.

Rodney Ellis

Nice profile of State Sen. Rodney Ellis, which talks about his propensity for introducing long-shot bills, and his persistence in getting some of them passed over the course of multiple sessions. This bit summarizes it well:

“Occasionally, Senator Ellis will pick an issue whose time has not yet come, but that’s the legislative process, in that sometimes it takes a little time so we can get a consensus and a majority,” said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican, who calls Ellis one of the state’s “brightest, most charismatic senators.”

The article mentions his bills to have Texas adopt California’s emissions standards for automobiles, something he first introduced in 1991. I’d cite his work on innocence matters as well, which are getting a higher profile this session thanks to the large and increasing number of people who can speak to it from their personal experience. It’s good to have some legislators focus on the big picture issues, and Sen. Rodney Ellis does a good job of that.

Blue laws

Ever wanted to buy some booze on a Sunday? Maybe soon you’ll be able to.

Most Texans are familiar with the Blue Laws.

Put into effect decades ago, they prevent the sale of hard liquor on Sundays, among other things.

“There is certainly an inconvenience there, no doubt about it,” Spec’s Liquor Warehouse customer Bud Hall said.

And it’s inconvenient even for customers wanting to buy beer or wine. The same laws make it illegal to sell those items before noon on Sundays.

“If we are having a barbecue on a Sunday or something like that, and it is before noon, we have to sit there and wait,” Spec’s customer Scott Moody said.

Now, a bill filed in the Texas Legislature is looking to repeal those restrictions for good.

There’s no information given about said bill or its author in the story, so I’m not sure what its number is, or whether there may be more than one such bill. The closest thing I could find is HB863 by Rep. Robert Roland Gutierrez (D, San Antonio), which would allow for liquor sales on Sundays between noon and 6 PM; it doesn’t mention anything about beer or wine. That doesn’t quite fit the description in this story, but it’s all I could find.

But that’s not good news for Spec’s owner John Rydman.

“In the 2,500 or 2,600 package stores that there are all over the state of Texas are family people. We don’t want to necessarily work another day. It’s not good for my employees. They need a day off,” Rydman said.

It would also add more overhead to the store’s bottom line, Rydman said.

With the economic downturn, state lawmakers are looking for different ways to generate revenue. Selling booze on Sundays is just one of their ideas.

“I think this is a good source of revenue without having to increase taxes or cut valuable state programs,” District 143 State Rep. Ana Hernandez said.

Hernandez said Sunday liquor purchases could generate upwards of $5-8 million for the state.

Rydman disagrees.

He said his sales wouldn’t go up. Instead, he believes they’d just be spread out over seven days instead of six.

“Those who filed the bills are still convinced there is extra money somewhere. They just think we are crazy—that we people in business don’t know what we’re talking about,” Rydman said.

I support repealing the blue laws because I think they’re a relic of a bygone past that doesn’t really serve any purpose today. I think there would be a modest increase in state revenue from such a change; in context, five to eight million bucks is pretty modest and is probably in the neighborhood. It also likely would spread existing sales around more, but that sounds like a convenience customers have wanted. I appreciate Rydman’s concern about his employees and his bottom line, but I feel confident he can make it work. Spec’s notes that its hours of 10 AM to 9 PM Monday through Saturday are “The maximum allowed by law”, which suggests to me they’d do more – certainly that their customers would want them to do more – if they could. So whether it’s HB863 or some other bill I was unable to locate that’s the vehicle for this, I support the effort to extend the allowable hours for the sale of alcoholic beverages.

UPDATE: Roland Gutierrez, not Robert. My apologies.