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Sheila Jackson Lee

Three for HD144, Lee for HCDE

Since Monday night, I have heard of three people who are interested in running for HD144, the State Rep district that was drawn to favor the election of a Democrat by the San Antonio court. For the record, the 2008 numbers in HD144 are as follows:

President: Obama 53.16%, McCain 45.92%

Senate: Noriega 59.25%, Cornyn 38.89%

Supreme Court, Place 7: Houston 59.01%, Wainwright 38.87%

Supreme Court, Place 8: Yanez 59.57%, Johnson 38.43%

CCA, Place 3: Strawn 58.06%, Price 39.79%

Two candidates have filed for this seat and a third announced that he was running, though his announcement came before the two filings were announced. The first to announce a filing was Kevin Risner, son of George Risner, the Democratic JP in Precinct 2. The second was Pasadena City Council Member Ornaldo Ybarra, whose statement is beneath the fold. Finally, there is Cody Wheeler, who made an announcement and put out this statement, but as of last night had not filed. I look forward to meeting and interviewing these gentlemen, and may the best person win, including any others who may yet be looking at this district.

In other Harris County news, Erica Lee, daughter of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, has filed to run for HCDE Trustee in Precinct 1. She is the first Democrat to file for this position, the single easiest pickup opportunity for Democrats in Harris County next year, and whoever wins the primary will be virtually guaranteed to win in November. That person will not face incumbent Roy Morales, however, as he has undoubtedly done the math and will head off to the sunset and future opportunities to run for something. He wasn’t on the ballot this year and he may not be on it next year – I have no idea what this world is coming to. I am aware of at least one other person who had expressed an interest in this seat, but so far Erica Lee, whom I met briefly at the petition signing event the week of Thanksgiving (though I did not make the connection to her mother), is it. Stace has more.

I should note that we have two candidates for the at large HCDE position currently held by the ridiculous Michael Wolfe – Diane Trautman and David Rosen have both filed. There is also a Precinct 3 position for HCDE that does not have a Democratic challenger. I have heard that incumbent Republican Louis Evans is not running again, so while this would not be a likely pickup opportunity it seems to me that it deserves a candidate, since who knows what kind of candidate will emerge on the R side. For that matter, it would be nice to have a serious challenger to County Commissioner Steve Radack. Yeah, I know, I’d like a pony, too. Hey, wishes are still free.

Meanwhile, over in Fort Bend County, attorney Vy Nguyen has announced her candidacy for HD26, the multi-cultural district that was drawn to be nearly 50/50 by the court. Her statement is here. It’s fair to say that the Democratic road towards a House majority will go right through that district.

Finally, a semi-comprehensive list of Democratic filings from around the state can be found here. I see that Sylvia Romo has made it official, so we will have that contested primary over there. If you’re aware of any filing news I’ve missed, please let us know in the comments.

UPDATE: According to Robert Miller, HCC Trustee Mary Ann Perez is also interested in HD144, while incumbent Rep. Ken Legler has not decided if he will file for re-election.

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Say “No” to Confederate license plates

I’ve been in Texas over 25 years now, but sometimes I just can’t escape my Yankee heritage.

A group of elected officials said Saturday that Texas cannot allow the Confederate flag – which they consider a symbol of oppression – to be put on Texas license plates.

“We cannot allow the state to issue a symbol of intimidation,” U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said to a crowd of community leaders outside the Civil Courthouse in downtown Saturday.

Lee and other officials plan to go to Austin on Nov. 10, when the Department of Motor Vehicles votes on the design, with petitions and a letter from 17 state legislators to persuade them to vote against the license plates.

“We will not go backward; we are going forward,” Lee said.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said that allowing these license plates would be allowing the people who lost a war to write history. “I’m glad they (the Confederates) lost,” he said. “They were on the wrong side of history.”

Here’s a story about the petitions, a copy of the letter signed by the 19 legislators, a separate letter sent by Rep. Garnet Coleman, and an op-ed in the Statesman, which also ran in the Sunday Chron, against the Confederate plates by Matt Glazer.

Like I said, I’ve been in Texas a long time now, but stuff like this proves to me that you can never truly take the Yankee out of the boy. You can talk all you want about “heritage”, but to me the Confederacy represents a group of people that took up arms against the United States, resulting in the death of over a million people. If they had been successful, the United States as we know it would not exist, and there would be an entirely different country in place as its southern neighbor. (One wonders if either or both countries would be talking about border fences in that scenario.) I cannot understand why anyone would want to commemorate that. Remember it, study it, learn from it, sure, but put it on a license plate? No thanks.

None of this takes into account the racial aspect of the stars and bars, or its sordid history as a symbol of intimidation against African-Americans. Here, my Northernness makes me unqualified to discuss it because I have no experience with it. I can’t say that I ever laid eyes on a Confederate flag until I was in my 20s. But I take seriously the objections and concerns that those who do have a personal history with this have raised, and as Glazer noted in his op-ed, those objections are bipartisan. The reason this is coming to a head now is because a ninth member has been added to the DMV commission that originally voted on this, meaning the next vote will not be a tie. I stand with those who say that this is a bad idea and it should be rejected.

Ryan issues opinions about poll watching

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has issued a couple of opinions relating to poll watching that may help clear things up a bit. The first opinion has to do with where poll watchers may and may not go:

Poll watchers are entitled to observe all election activity from the time the electionworkers arrive at the polling place to set up in the morning until the equipment is packed up andlocked up at night. See TEX. ELEC. CODE § 33.056 (Vernon 2010). However, poll watchers are not allowed to follow voters into the “voting station” to observe the voters unless the voter requests assistance from an election judge or election clerk. See TEX. ELEC. CODE § 33.057 (Vernon 2010).

Questions have arisen as to what area of the polling place constitutes the “voting station.” Generally, this area includes all of the area surrounding the location of the eSlate machines or the privacy booths where paper ballots may be marked.

Disputes may be minimized by marking lines on the floor indicating areas where the”voting station” is located. The Texas Secretary of State’s office has indicated that as long as the lines are placed in a reasonable location, that this procedure is acceptable and has been used successfully in the past.

The second opinion has to do with recording devices:

Poll watchers must provide an affidavit that they are not in possession of any mechanical or electronic means of recording images or sound while serving as a watcher. TEX. ELEC. CODE §33.006(b)(6). This section applies to cell phones if they have the ability to take pictures or record videos. A watcher may not be accepted for service if the watcher has in his possession such a device. The presiding judge may inquire whether a watcher is in possession of such a prohibited device before accepting the watcher for service. TEX. ELEC.CODE §33 .051 (c). This prohibition applies only to poll watchers.

No person may use a wireless communication device within 100 feet of a voting station. TEX. ELEC. CODE §61.014(a). This section applies to any cell phone or other device that sends or receives an electronic communication signal, such as a laptop computer equipped with WiFi. No person may use any mechanical or electronic means of recording images or sound within 100 feet of a voting station. TEX. ELEC. CODE §61.0 l4(b). This section applies to cell phones if they have the ability to take still pictures or videos. A presiding judge may require a person violating these provisions to turn off the prohibited device or to leave the polling place. TEX. ELEC. CODE §61.014(c). These provisions do not apply to an election officer in conducting the officer’s official duties or to the of election equipment necessary for the conduct of the election. TEX. ELEC. CODE §6l.0 14(d).

Both seem straightforward enough. We’ll see if they make a difference. Unfortunately, it’ll take a lot more than that to deal with stuff like this.

[R]esidents in local African-American neighborhoods are being told some misleading information about their vote.

The mysterious fliers were handed out in parts of Sunnyside and Third Ward Tuesday night, and it is adding confusion to an already tense early voting period.

The fliers start out by saying “Republicans are trying to trick us” and goes on to urge voters not to vote a straight Democratic ticket. It also says a single vote for Bill White is a vote for the entire Democratic ticket.

In the Sunnyside early voting location, several voters say they were handed such fliers.

“They just said, ‘Here take this,’ and I told them I didn’t need it,” said Gary Carter.

The flier says the Black Democratic Trust of Texas is responsible, but it’s a group that doesn’t seem to exist.

You can see video at that link. Too bad no one with a recording device was there to capture some images of the folks handing out these flyers. Relatedly, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has now joined the call for election monitors to be sent to Harris County by the Justice Department. Her press release and a copy of the letter she sent to AG Eric Holder are here. Amusingly, the King Street Patriots have made a similar request. To protect them from the voters they’re harassing, I guess. I don’t have their press release, so I don’t know what that’s about. Hair Balls has more.

Election results: Harris County

It was a bad day to be the establishment candidate for Harris County Clerk, let me tell you. Ann Harris Bennett crushed Sue Schechter for the Democratic nomination, winning with 63% of the vote. On the Republican side, wingnut Stan Stanart, who lost a 2008 race for the HCDE Board of Trustees after taking out a mainstream incumbent in that primary, won over 60% of the vote against Beverly Kaufmann’s hand-picked successor, Kevin Mauzy. Look for some scrambling to occur in both parties. I confess, I did not get to know Ms. Bennett, and did not see her victory coming. My bad on that one.

Meanwhile, Harris County Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez suffered the same fate as Victor Carrillo.

Don Sumners won the Republican nomination for county tax assessor-collector Tuesday, ousting incumbent Leo Vasquez on his promises to continue the anti-tax crusade that characterized his tenure as county treasurer in the 1990s.

Sumners campaigned on a slogan of “I was Tea Party before Tea Party was cool.”

As treasurer, he publicly criticized Commissioners Court for increasing the tax rate and was an outspoken opponent of a bond measure that approved hotel and car rental taxes to fund football, basketball and baseball stadiums.

Summers will face Diane Trautman. Let’s just say that these are two races I’d really like for the Democrats to win. Elsewhere, Gordon Quan won a convincing victory in the Democratic primary for County Judge, and Republican Chris Daniel won the nomination for District Clerk for the right to face extremely well-qualified Democratic incumbent Loren Jackson.

I’ll try to sort out the judicial races later. The other big result in Harris County was Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee winning easily in her primary.

As of late Tuesday, the veteran lawmaker had about 68 percent of the vote, fending off a challenge by [City Council Member Jarvis] Johnson that featured claims that Jackson Lee’s showboating style had impaired her ability to deliver for her hard-pressed inner city district.

Jackson Lee also defeated a political newcomer, Houston attorney Sean Roberts. Votes counted as of 10:30 p.m, showed she likely would face GOP challenger John Faulk, an accountant, in the predominantly Democratic district.

“The job is not finished. We promise you a fight in Washington to bring good health care to this district and to preserve NASA and the jobs that are ours,” Jackson Lee told supporters Tuesday night.

Faulk does appear to be the GOP winner. For purposes of comparison, there were 9,105 total votes cast in the GOP primary for CD18. Johnson collected 9,073 by himself in getting 28.33% against SJL.

In other Congressional news, we will have Roy Morales to kick around for a few more months, as the man who never met an election he didn’t like won the nomination in CD29 in a five-person field. He gets to be stomped by Rep. Gene Green in November before he decides what city race to pick for 2011.

Finally, Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill is in a runoff with Ed Hubbard. That’ll be fun to watch.

Endorsement watch: Obama for SJL

President Barack Obama has endorsed Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in her primary for CD18. From the press release:

“Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is a tireless champion for Houston’s working families,” said President Obama. “That’s why we need her back in Congress to help my efforts to bring real jobs back to Houston and the nation. I need you to cast your vote for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.”

“I am grateful and humbled to receive this endorsement from President Obama,” said Jackson Lee. “When he asked me to campaign for him, I found it so rewarding to see the outpouring of support for the change he represented and now he is the change agent that America and Houston needs today. I am proud to be working with President Barack Obama as we work to change lives for the better.

“Now that he is in office, it is exciting to work with President Obama on the many important issues facing our country,” the Congresswoman continued. “Now more than ever, I am grateful for the President’s trust and confidence in me.”

Two points of interest here. One is that this really ought to bury the 2008 Democratic Presidential primary, in which SJL’s support for Hillary Clinton eventually gave rise to rumors of a write-in opponent for her that November. I don’t really expect that, of course, but at least we know that Obama himself is over it.

The other point was raised by Martha: Is this a show of strength, or is it a last-ditch effort by a candidate who’s in danger of losing? As I said in a comment there, I’d lean towards the former. This is a Democratic seat, and there’s basically nothing at stake in terms of Obama’s agenda regardless of who wins. There’s no real reason for Obama to stick his neck out for someone in a race like this unless he’s pretty sure that person is going to win. We’ll know soon enough, I guess.

Houston Press interview with Jarvis Johnson

In case you missed it, David Ortez did an interview with CM Jarvis Johnson for the Democratic primary race in CD18. He had previously interviewed Sean Roberts, and will have one up with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee soon. You can of course also listen to my interviews with all three if you haven’t already – just go to the 2010 Elections page to find them.

Endorsement watch: Chron for SJL

The Chron recommends keeping Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee in office.

Over time, and with the Democratic takeover of the House, Jackson Lee has accumulated seniority and influence on a number of congressional committees and says she has used that added influence to help bring billions of federal dollars to the Houston area. She serves on the House Judiciary, Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs committees. She cites her role in winning federal funding for veterans’ services in the 18th, including a grant for a post-traumatic stress disorder center at Riverside Hospital.

According to Jackson Lee, she has been a member of Congress who has “both acted in the district on behalf of constituents and internationally.” The congresswoman recently accompanied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on a visit to quake-devastated Haiti.

Although Jackson Lee is a strong supporter of President Obama, she disagrees with his plan to eliminate NASA’s Constellation program that would favor developing new rockets and spacecraft to return to the moon.

“I support human spaceflight,” says the incumbent, who promises to work to get more congressional funding for NASA and to convince the administration that the Constellation program has merit.

The Chronicle urges primary voters to nominate Jackson Lee for a ninth term.

They also endorse the one Republican challenger to SJL for whom I’ve not seen any campaign signs in my neighborhood. Of course, the majority of the signs I have seen for the other two candidates are illegally placed on public rights of way, so this is actually a plus. Not that any of it matters, of course, since the Democratic nominee in CD18 will win easily.

I-10 frontage road update

Via email from the CTC:

More than 120 residents attended an informational meeting January 6th convened by State Representative Jessica Farrar concerning proposed IH-10 frontage roads inside the IH-610 loop. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and District H Council Member Ed Gonzalez were among the speakers and other Houston City Council offices were represented.

James Koch, director of design for TxDOT’s Houston district, led the presentation along with a hydrologist and two project engineers. Koch explained that TxDOT’s goal is to eliminate flooding in the depressed section of IH-10, while residents identified reducing flooding in their homes and neighborhoods as a higher priority.

Many attendees suggested design changes to improve the project, and were surprised and dismayed when Koch revealed midway through the meeting that TxDOT had let contracts for frontage road construction earlier that same day.

Congresswoman Lee and Rep. Farrar pressed TxDOT to acknowledge that design changes can still be accomplished with change orders, and assured the audience that they will continue to work with residents to improve the projects. Phased construction is expected to begin in March 2010 and will require approximately three years to complete.

Meanwhile, proposed flood detention ponds, which are necessary to mitigate the impacts of the roadway project, are not fully designed and contracts have not been let. TxDOT will conduct a formal public hearing regarding the ponds on February 18:

What: Public hearing regarding TxDOT IH-10 detention ponds at White Oak Bayou
When: Thursday, Feb 18, 2010 – 6:00 pm open house, 7:00 pm public hearing
Where: Reagan High School auditorium, 413 E 13th St, Houston, 77007 (map)

TxDOT will also accept written public comments through March 4, 2010. Comments can be emailed to [email protected]

You can also read more about the IH-10 reconstruction and frontage roads project and the IH-10 detention near White Oak Bayou project in CTC’s online forum.

Information about the previous meeting is here. Please attend this one if you can. Marty Hajovsky has more.

Interview with Council Member Jarvis Johnson

Jarvis Johnson

Jarvis Johnson

Running to unseat Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in CD18 is Houston City Council Member Jarvis Johnson, who was recently elected to a third and final term in District B. (My interview with him from that race is here.) As he observes, District B is almost entirely within CD18, so he is familiar to many of the voters there. CM Johnson is the first serious opponent Rep. Jackson Lee has faced since her victory over then-Rep. Craig Washington in 1994. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

A full list of the interviews I have done is on the 2010 Election page. As always, your feedback is appreciated.

Interview with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

We turn our attention now to CD18, where Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is running for re-election. I’ve lived in the 18th since 1989, and have had Congresswoman Lee as my Representative since she defeated Craig Washington in 1994. I don’t think she really needs an introduction, so let’s just go straight to the interview.

Download the MP3 file

A full list of the interviews I have done is on the 2010 Election page. As always, your feedback is appreciated.

Interview with Ahmad Hassan

Ahmad Hassan

Ahmad Hassan

Also running for the Democratic nomination for Harris County Judge is businessman Ahmad Hassan. Hassan is a real estate and mortgage broker and the owner & President of Alexandria Real Estate and Mortgage. He has been a US citizen since 1984 after emigrating from Egypt. He ran for the County Judge nomination in 2008, losing to David Mincberg, and ran for Congress in 2006 as a Republican against Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. Here is the interview:

Download the MP3 file

A full list of the interviews I have done is on the 2010 Election page. As always, your feedback is appreciated.

Endorsement watch: H-BAD and Tejano Dems

We’re getting close to the start of early voting for the primaries, and that means endorsements are coming out from various groups. Today I got press releases from the Houston-Black American Democrats (H-BAD) and the Harris County Tejano Democrats with their recommended slates. I’ve uploaded their releases here (H-BAD) and here (HCTD). Of note, both groups endorsed Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, and both groups endorsed former State Rep. Borris Miles in his rubber match against Rep. Al Edwards. I have updated the 2010 Election page to show which candidates received what endorsements. I expect to do the same for when the Houston GLBT Political Caucus makes its choices, and may or may not add any others – sending me a press release so I can see who all got endorsed is a good start.

Speaking of Rep. Jackson Lee, she also received endorsements from several Latino elected officials and the Latino Labor Leadership Council. It’s not terribly surprising to see folks like this back an incumbent, barring issues of scandal or heresy, but it’s still a good indicator that she’s in a strong position for her contested primary.

Strange parallels

This Chron story about the primary challenges to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee goes out of its way to try to find parallels to Jackson Lee’s own successful primary election of 1994. A little too far, I think.

The district looks different: Its 228 square miles, mostly in the center of Houston, were reshaped in 2003 at the behest of Texas Republicans.

Its voters are different: African-Americans account for 40 percent of the eight-term Democrat’s estimated 652,000 constituents now, compared with 51 percent 16 years ago. Hispanics have doubled their share of the population to 36 percent. And the political power centers have shifted from the inner city churches to the neighborhoods like Windsor Village that ring Houston’s central core.

What’s more, the way candidates reach voters is different: When Jackson Lee first ran for Congress, she appeared with African-American ministers. On the day Houston City Councilman Jarvis Johnson declared his intent to replace Jackson Lee, his first interview was a roundtable with liberal Houston bloggers.

Then there’s the volatile political climate of 2010, similar in many ways to the 1994 wave that swept away three dozen incumbents, including Jackson Lee’s predecessor, Craig Washington. Just last week, two senior Democrats, Sens. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, abandoned their re-election plans after finding themselves trailing in early polls.

Okay, as someone who has lived in CD18 since Mickey Leland was its representative, this is quite the stretch. It’s true that Rep. Jackson Lee has gotten some bad press recently. One can argue, as I’m sure Johnson and Roberts will, that she’s lost touch with the district. But Craig Washington spent the better part of 1993 dealing with stories about how he was paying his ex-wife’s rent with campaign funds, which were also allegedly being used to help him out of personal bankruptcy; and about how he missed a committee hearing that he himself had called for to attend a charity golf event; and how his attendance record was the fourth worst in all of Congress. To put it mildly, there’s nothing remotely like that in Jackson Lee’s record.

The Dodd and Dorgan comparison is equally flimsy. The reason for Dodd dropping out (lousy poll numbers that stem from his abortive 2008 Presidential run and a sweetheart deal from Countrywide Financial) and Dorgan dropping out (popular Governor John Hoeven decided to enter the race) are very different. Other than a general narrative of “2010 is likely going to be a rough year for Democrats” – which doesn’t have much relevance in a Democratic primary – it’s hard to see what that has to do with Jackson Lee’s situation. I at least am not aware of any polls that suggest Jackson Lee is in any danger. This doesn’t mean that she isn’t, but it would be nice to have some objective data before we start comparing her to incumbents that actually are on their way out.

Finally, while it’s true that CD18 looks different now than it did in 1994, Jackson Lee has won re-election three times since the 2003 re-redistricting. It’s not like she has to re-introduce herself to the voters, who showed her plenty of love in 2008. Again, I’m certainly not saying she can’t lose – Jarvis Johnson represents the strongest challenge she’s faced since 1994, and with two opponents, it’s that much harder to get a majority. What I am saying is that if she does lose, it won’t have anything to do with the reasons why Craig Washington lost to her all those years ago, and it won’t have anything to do with the politics of Connecticut or North Dakota. As is often the case in a primary, it’ll be a referendum on her, and she’ll win or lose on who she is and what she has or has not done while in office. That’s the story that we should be focusing on.

Jarvis Johnson files for CD18

I’d heard this was coming over the weekend, and here it is. Council Member Jarvis Johnson has filed for the Democratic primary in CD18, challenging Sheila Jackson Lee. From his press release:

Houston City Council Member Jarvis Johnson filed today in the Democratic Party Primary for the United States House of Representatives, Eighteenth Congressional District of Texas. Johnson currently represents District B on the Houston City Council.

“America is a great democracy and the people are given the opportunity to choose their leadership. Leadership should be chosen by their examples of delivering meaningful services to their communities,” said Johnson.

“Over the course of the next two months, I look forward to having a spirited debate on who can best represent the people of the Eighteenth Congressional District. We’re going to have a frank discussion on who’s capable of bringing and creating good paying jobs for the people of the district. Who can spark genuine economic development, and who can provide leadership to marshal resources to help eliminate the dropout rate,” added Johnson.

This ought to be fun. And there is another candidate out there, Sean Roberts, who has apparently also filed. Having a three-candidate race could only make this more interesting, and there may be a fourth as well. We’ll know soon enough. Texas on the Potomac has more.

UPDATE: Still more from PDiddie, Martha, and John.

A challenger for SJL

Boy, the 2010 election season is wide open already, isn’t it? Via email from Carl Whitmarsh comes the news of a potential primary challenger for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in CD18. From the email:

Houston attorney Sean Roberts today announced he filed the necessary paperwork to form an exploratory committee to study his potential candidacy as a lawmaker representing the 18th Congressional District of Texas.

“The 2008 election demonstrated that the voters in the 18th Congressional District were ready for progress even though some of their leaders were not,” said Roberts. A self-described “Obama-Generation” democrat, Roberts believes the constituents of the district are ready for fresh ideas and new-school leadership that prioritizes economic development and educational opportunities as opposed to seizing on controversies. “Right now, from an appropriations standpoint, District 18 is a forgotten district. I’d like to fix that,” added Roberts.

Roberts believes the District’s constituents are eager to maximize the opportunities being created for small businesses and educational equality under the Obama Administration. “Our President needs effective Congressional support to accomplish his agenda. In turn, the 18th Congressional District needs a representative that can show Congress why major investments are needed in the district and what the returns will be for those investments,” Roberts said. “Houston is a major economic hub for key sectors like health care and energy – our primary focus should be keeping these industries strong so that Houston can capitalize on the current shift in federal spending priorities.”

Roberts also strongly supports programs that focus on our children, the foundations of economic growth. “The children living in this district need access to information and resources – libraries and functioning school facilities – so they have opportunities to compete and contribute,” said Roberts.

His website is here if you want to know more. Miya was on this earlier, and I tend to agree with her take that while there was a lot of interest in this seat when rumors were swirling that SJL would step down to take a job in the State Department under Hillary Clinton, it’s going to be hard for anyone to unseat her head-to-head. I at least don’t have any compelling reason to want to change. That said, a primary challenge, even the threat of one, can be a good thing, in that it forces incumbents to work a little harder to remind the voters why they push the button for them. As far as that goes, I look forward to seeing what Mr. Roberts will do.

Metro’s costs and critics

I have two things to say about this story regarding different cost estimates for the construction of the four remaining light rail lines.

The price tag for the city’s four new light rail lines will be: A) $1.46 billion; B) $1.9 billion; C) impossible to say exactly until they’re built; D) all of the above.

The correct answer is D. Confused? So are some Metro critics, who claim the transit agency is hiding the true costs of the 20-mile expansion. The Metropolitan Transit Authority plans to build four new lines by 2012.

Metro learned Friday that $150 million in federal funds has been designated for the North and Southeast lines in President Barack Obama’s proposed 2010 budget.

“We’ve never had this much enthusiasm about rail in Houston as this, from the federal government,” said U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, who pushed for the funds.

Jackson Lee said the city has had trouble in the past getting federal support because of lack of local agreement and momentum on light rail. Now, she said, “We have a fair amount of consensus.”

Yet consensus remains elusive when it comes to the total bill facing taxpayers. Metro critic Paul Magaziner, for example, has accused the agency of “strategic misrepresentation” for not including land purchases and the possibility of cost overruns in its public pronouncements.

Metro officials told the Chronicle that they are being “open and transparent” during this planning period, but that the different price tags reflect various ways of calculating the cost of a massive construction project.

The story and its headline both refer to “critics”, but the only critic mentioned is Paul Magaziner, who as far as I can tell from a Google search is a fellow who attends Metro meetings and criticizes Metro. Which is fine, every governmental agency needs people who keep watch on them, but it would be nice to know who besides one persistent critic is raising the questions on which this story is based. If it really is the case that “some Metro critics” are saying Metro is playing games with cost estimates, then we really ought to hear from more than one critic.

As far as the criticism itself goes, I have to say that for an agency that’s not exactly renowned for its ability to communicate, I thought Metro gave a pretty reasonable accounting of the different numbers. It’s not like there’s ever been a construction project of this size for which the factors affecting the bottom line were set in stone at the beginning and never changed. And in comparison to the initial cost estimates for the Katy Freeway expansion, which as far as I can tell originated in someone’s nether regions, Metro’s figures look pretty darned detailed. I actually feel better about where they stand now. So, thanks for that.

White rakes it in for his Senate bid

Among other things, today is the deadline for federal candidates to report their campaign finance status. Of the many contenders for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat, whenever that becomes available, I think it’s safe to say that Bill White had the best start to the year. From his press release:

Mayor Bill White reported contributions totaling more than $2.6 million in just over 100 days since launching his U.S. Senate campaign, according to a report filed with the Federal Elections Commission today.

More than 1,400 Texans contributed through March 31st, the end of the filing period. The contributions for the filing period totaled more than $1.8 million.

Campaign Finance Chair Scott Atlas said, “The outpouring of support from donors and volunteers has been simply amazing. The energy around Mayor White’s campaign shows Texans believe in his ability to bring people together and get things done. People want their next senator to be a voice for our state’s future.”

So far, none of the Senate incumbents or hopefuls have their reports up on the FEC disclosure page, so I can’t give you the details yet. However, Gardner Selby has some information.

Democrat John Sharp topped five other candidates or prospective candidates for the U.S. Senate in cash on hand as of March 31, though his camp didn’t say this afternoon how much of the $2.4 million he piled up since Jan. 1 came from loans. His loan chunk—perhaps tapping Sharp’s personal wealth—may be left to show up when his report, filed with the Federal Election Commission, surfaces online.

Another Democrat, Houston Mayor Bill White, had $2.1 million cash on hand at the end of this year’s first quarter; he’d taken no loans.

Among Republicans, former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams had $388,628 cash on hand; a haul fueled by $200,000 in loans he gave his exploratory committee. State Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, had $310,407. She was trailed in her bank balance by two members of the Texas Railroad Commission, Elizabeth Ames Jones with $164,663 and Michael Williams with $113,957.

As Selby notes, we can’t fully judge Sharp’s total till we know how much of it was loaned by himself to the campaign. It’s possible he did better than any of the Republicans and yet still fell well short of White, and it’s possible he outraised White, though to be honest if he’d really taken in $2 million or so, I’d have expected him to be shouting that from the rooftops. We’ll know soon enough. In any case, as BOR notes, the two Dems are way out in from of the Rs – heck, all of them put together can’t match either Dem. That may change if a David Dewhurst or a Greg Abbott jumps in, but for now, it’s a nice position for the Dems to be in.

Other reports of interest, all Congressional:

Pete Sessions, who has been in the crosshairs of the DCCC lately and whose district is trending strongly Democratic, had a good quarter with over $200K raised and almost $900K on hand. Sessions has always been an able fundraiser, no doubt why he’s chairing the NRCC this go-round.

– Mike McCaul doesn’t have a report yet. He already has a well-heeled challenger and a DCCC bulls-eye on his back, but he’s also filthy rich and will not be outgunned financially.

John Culberson had a decent quarter, with $100K raised, though only a modest $70K on hand. He didn’t leave anything in reserve after his expensive re-election fight last year, and though I think he’s likely to skate this time around, I’ll bet he invests some time in restocking his coffers.

Sheila Jackson Lee didn’t raise much, and spent more than she raised, but she starts the year with over $400K on hand, which may give pause to anyone looking to primary her.

– The benefits of running for President, having a national following, and being stalked by Borat not having an opponent in the last cycle: Ron Paul has over two million dollars on hand, despite raising almost nothing and spending nearly $250K.

– Randy Neugebauer in CD19 doesn’t have a report up yet, either, but according to the CREW crew, he wants to use his campaign funds to pay for the use of his yacht to fundraise for his campaign. Just click over and see for yourself. The yacht is anchored in DC, in case you were wondering (as I was) what the heck one would do with a yacht in Lubbock.

– Former Congressman Jim Turner, who was drawn out of his seat in the 2004 Tom DeLay re-redistricting, still has over a million bucks on hand. Which in theory he eventually needs to dispose of in some fashion, either on another campaign of his own or by giving it to other candidates.

That’s all for now. I’ll add to this as I see more reports.

OK, you can use some stimulus money on rail

Whew!

Federal transit officials on Tuesday reversed course and agreed to allow Metro to use nearly $30 million in economic stimulus funds for utility relocation work on the proposed North and Southeast rail lines, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee announced.

Just last week, Metro was told such stimulus funds could not be used on the latest extensions of the rail lines because the projects were not deemed “shovel-ready.” Instead, the Federal Transit Administration recommended Metro use its stimulus funds for converting 83 miles of high occupancy vehicle lanes to high occupancy toll lanes.

[…]

Jackson Lee said the about-face — announced in “letters of no prejudice” from the FTA — followed U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s visit to Houston earlier this month.

LaHood, who was invited here by Jackson Lee to see the light rail line, spent all day March 13 meeting with Metro supporters, officials from various universities and other public institutions.

“He was able to ride on the (rail) system and meet with the head of Texas Children’s Hospital, who was able to explain how vital the system was,” Jackson Lee said.

Of the total $28.9 million in federal stimulus funds freed up for Metro’s rail plans, $19.2 million is earmarked for utility relocation work on the North Corridor Light Rail, while $9.7 million will be devoted to relocating utilities for the Southeast Corridor Light Rail.

The key to getting the economic stimulus funds was proving that Metro could start the work within 90 days — a requirement to secure the federal monies, Jackson Lee said. The utility relocation work can be contracted and people hired to do the work immediately, she said.

Of course, the definition of “shovel ready” is different for rail projects than it is for toll road projects. But we’ll take what we can get.

Time to throw out the first attack mailer of the season

So we got a weird little piece of mail Saturday. Addressed to both of us, in a plain envelope with no return address was a one-page letter that attacked Carl Whitmarsh, best know for his prodigious Democratic email list, and consultant Marc Campos. Using questionable grammar and a lot of underlining, it basically accused Carl and Marc of being in cahoots, specifically that Marc bankrolls Carl’s email operations, while Carl plugs Marc’s clients to his list. I don’t have a scanner, so I can’t show you the letter just yet, but I can tell you it contained the following closing, reprinted exactly as it appears:

Paid political news brought to you by Don Carpenter & M. Rodriguez – Owners Investigations Inc. Houston, Texas — Marc & Carl your gig is up, the truth is out now.

If this really was a paid piece, I have a feeling it didn’t exactly fulfill state disclosure requirements, but never mind that for now. It was also as plain as can be – nothing but black type, all one font, on ordinary white paper. Printing an email looks fancier than this. If someone was paid to produce this, he or she didn’t waste any effort on production values, that’s for sure. Whatever the case, the letter promises more to come, for which I can hardly wait. Crankery is usually entertaining, and that’s what this looks like. I seriously doubt they can back up their claims.

I don’t know who these guys are – Google searches on “Investigations Inc Houston” and on “Don Carpenter investigations Houston” yielded nothing useful – and I don’t know what their beef is or what interest they may have in the District H race. I assume this has something to do with that since the one clue as to their motivation comes from the following paragraph, again reprinted exactly as it appears:

Marc bashes good Democrats (via Carl’s list) like Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee & Senator Mario Gallegos just to name a couple of recent ones via Carl’s list. Why? Marc did this cause the Senator kicked Marc’s & Carl’s client Yolanda’s arse before. They want a client candidate to run at Sheila & Mario in order for them to make some $.

You know about the Jackson Lee kerfuffle. The other reference is to this Daily Commentary entry from March 12.

The proponents of bi-annual Lone Star State legislative sessions usually don’t have to go far for ammo. Check out what an astute legislative observer sent Commentary yesterday:

“Wanted you to know, because someone may ask, Mario (Gallegos) filed legislation (SB 1895) today that would require any member of HISD or HCC board to resign if they were to become a candidate for a municipal, state or federal office.

He did it last session, and it’s clearly a personal attack bill, but of course it’s not going anywhere. Just a heads up should someone get a hold of it.”

This bill is clearly aimed at HCC Trustee Yolanda Navarro Flores who is running in the H-Town City Council District H Special Election that is scheduled for May 9. I don’t know why anyone up in the legislature would want to weigh in on a local council race. This isn’t exactly a major public policy crisis that needs addressing. If Gallegos was to ever have a hearing on the bill, I sure would love to see the witness list and their talking points. There are quite a few of Gallegos’ constituents that are supporting Yolanda. I wonder what they think. All this bill does is energize Yolanda’s family, friends, and supporters. It sounds like Gallegos has a case of the insecurities if you ask me. Commentary would have a little respect for this if Gallegos had included H-Town city officials. Of course, that would have meant calling out the Mayor. This is clearly one of the silliest bills of this session.

He doesn’t mention it here (though I believe he has done so in previous Commentaries), but Campos is Yolanda Navarro Flores’ campaign consultant for the District H race. That entry drew a long response, which Carl duly forwarded to his list, from Lillian Villarreal, who is Sen. Gallegos’ sister and who said Campos took advantage of the fact that Carl forwards his commentaries to distribute a “political piece” that touted his paid client. Campos responded to that here.

Anyway. I can only presume this has something to do with that. Assuming there is a coherent motive behind all that, that is – as I said, this looks like the work of a crank who is just trying to stir up trouble. Whether there will be more than this, or whether the identity and motivations of the senders comes out, I don’t know either. Heck, I don’t even know how widespread this was – the last time there was this kind of mail related to a District H race, back in the 2003 election, other people who’d gotten the mail emailed me to inquire about it. So far, I’ve heard from one other recipient, so at least I know they didn’t just send it to me. I’ll try to find a scanner this week so I can post the whole thing for your perusal. In the meantime, if anyone else got this, please leave a comment and let me know. Thanks.

One last thing: The reason I’m blogging about this is that I dislike anonymous attack pieces, and I think it’s best to shine light on them. This one had names attached to it, but so far those names don’t tell me anything, so it may as well have been anonymous. I also don’t care for the way this piece went about making its charges but merely teasing about proof. If you’re going to accuse someone of something, show me the evidence. Don’t just claim you’ve got it then say you’ll get back to me. Put up or shut up, and give the people you’re accusing a chance to respond. In the meantime, I say it’s the senders who look bad. If and when I get more on this, I’ll let you know and we’ll go from there.

Planning the workaround

While one may feel reasonably optimistic about the chances of a legislative override to Governor Perry’s decision to reject stimulus funds for unemployment insurance, it never hurts to try to grease the skids a little.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said she would ask Vice President Joe Biden, who chairs a task force on the use of stimulus funds, to allow Texas to receive the money even if the state enacts provisions to automatically end these additional benefits after two years. Current federal rules forbid such a “hard-sunset” provision.

Making the changes temporary would be politically beneficial in getting them passed, said Democratic state Sen. Rodney Ellis, but he believes the Legislature should eventually make them permanent.

Perry said accepting the stimulus money would increase costs on small businesses and would come with too many federal strings. The state would have to provide unemployment payments to certain part-time workers and to a spouse who stayed home to care for children while the other spouse worked, for example.

Ellis said he would work with colleagues to pass a resolution accepting the federal funds, make necessary additions to the state’s unemployment insurance system and override a presumed Perry veto.

Jackson Lee and Ellis spoke harshly of Perry’s decision.

“We find ourselves in a difficult situation, because the governor of the state of Texas has decided that roads are more important than people,” Jackson Lee said, noting that Perry had accepted stimulus funds for infrastructure projects.

Yo, Kay Bailey! See how easy that was? And Jackson Lee didn’t even mention toll roads. You gonna voice an actual opinion on this, or are you just going to let Rick Perry continue to dictate the terms of the debate? The Lege is taking action. What are you doing?

It is true, as Clay Robison points out, that KBH voted against the stimulus package, as did nearly every other Republican in DC. But so what? Perry campaigned against it in his leadership role with the Republican Governors Association. That hasn’t stopped him from grabbing over 95% of the funds with both hands. It would be child’s play for KBH to say that she took her stand against the stimulus, but now that it’s law she wants to make sure Texas gets everything it has owed to it. Hell, Ron Paul does this, and if you listen to him explain his actions it almost makes sense. This is not rocket science.

Finally, how precious is it that the Chron editorial board says “We don’t know” if Perry’s actions here “[have] something to do with the politics of the 2010 governor’s election”? Yeah, and I don’t know if John Calipari’s complaints about Memphis not getting a #1 seed have anything to do with the politics of player motivation. Must be hard to type those editorials while clutching one’s pearls, that’s all I can say.

More SJL rumors

Marc Campos stirs the pot.

Commentary votes in the 18th Congressional District so I kind of think I know what I’m talking about when I say that I don’t know if Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee’s reelection in 2010 would be a slam dunk deal. Discussion of her reelection chances come up in conversations with African American, Latino, GLBT, and Anglo activists. Most would likely support a viable opponent in the 2010 Democratic Primary. There aren’t a whole lot of folks that are saying they would stand with Sheila next year. One that is willing is a long time state representative. The question is who is the viable opponent? This could well be the hottest local race of next year’s Dem Primary. Stay tuned!

Of course, there are already rumors that Rep. Jackson Lee will step down to take a post in the State Department with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, so who knows what next March will look like. I can’t always decipher Campos’ oblique references, but I think the “long time state representative” in question is Rep. Sylvester Turner, whose initial reaction was “Sheila-Jackson Lee is the Congresswoman of the 18th Congressional district, if she leaves, let’s talk again”, and who now says he’d definitely run to replace her if she stepped down. Never hurts to be prepared, I guess.

For what it’s worth, I’m perfectly happy to have Rep. Jackson Lee where she is, and that I’d vote for her over any of the potential challengers I’ve heard of, and almost certainly over the ones I haven’t heard of yet. In addition, Carl Whitmarsh passed along the following from HGLBT Caucus President Kris Banks:

As president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, let me say that our community is proud to call Congresswoman Jackson Lee a faithful friend. The Congresswoman has always stood up for our community, and we appreciate that and will not forget it.

Don’t go writing her political obituary just yet, that’s all I’m saying.

SJL rumors

Vince reports that “sources tell him” that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who happens to be my Congressperson, is going to leave that job to work for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I suppose that’s plausible – as Vince notes, SJL was one of Clinton’s most steadfast supporters around here, which has earned her some disgruntlement in the district. Jackson Lee herself denies these rumors. I’ll simply note that two of the people quoted in that story are restauranteur Marcus Davis, who briefly considered a write-in challenge to SJL last year, and Houston City Council Member Jarvis Johnson, whose name has been bandied about as a potential 2010 primary opponent to SJL. That suggests to me that this may be nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of a couple of interested parties. But hey, you never know – it’s not like an initial denial is always the end of a story. If there’s something to this, we’ll know soon enough.

Heights crime prevention townhall report

Here’s the Chron story on that crime prevention townhall meeting in the Heights that I mentioned the other day.

In response to several recent home invasions and a rash of burglaries in and around Houston Heights, city officials have given the Houston Police Department more money for additional patrols and overtime, Chief Harold Hurtt told a neighborhood meeting Monday night.

“We really do understand your concern, and we are doing everything within our resources to make Houston a safer community,” Hurtt told an overflow crowd in a small meeting room at the Houston Heights public library branch.

Crime in January was down 19 percent in the largely affluent area compared to the same period in 2008, just as crime last year was down compared to 2007, Hurtt said at a town hall meeting sponsored by U.S. Rep Sheila Jackson Lee, who ran the event.

But a significant increase in home burglaries and robberies in January and the publicized home invasions, rare for this part of the city, have increased public concern.

“We’ve had four home invasions since the first of the year ­­— that gets everybody’s attention,” said Capt. Mark Holloway of HPD’s central patrol division, which includes Houston Heights, Woodland Heights and adjacent neighborhoods.

“Robberies are crimes that instill fear in everyone,” he said. “I spoke with the robbery captain today, and he’s utilizing every resource at his disposal to apprehend those responsible.”

Good to hear. It is the home invasions – one in particular that involved an armed robber accosting a man and his child, and firing a couple of shots at them as they made an escape – that has stirred up the most anxiety, going by the neighborhood message boards. There’s been talk about funding constable patrols and other things like that. You can be sure that all the District H candidates will get a thorough vetting on these points as well.

Crime prevention townhall meeting

Another public service announcement: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee will be holding a townhall meeting on crime prevention in the Heights tomorrow evening, from 5 to 6:30 PM at the Heights library, 1302 Heights Boulevard. HPD Chief Harold Hurtt and Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, among others, have been invited to attend. For other details and to RSVP, please see this flyer (PDF). Thanks very much.