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The Texas Observer lives again

Now here’s some good news.

The board of the Texas Democracy Foundation, the nonprofit parent organization of the Texas Observer,  on Wednesday voted unanimously to rescind its earlier plan to lay off the 68-year-old magazine’s entire staff and cease publication.

“This is wonderful news,” said Editor-in-Chief Gabriel Arana. “The Observer is indispensable to Texas and to democracy.”

The board issued a statement saying they have secured short-term pledges to bridge an immediate budget shortfall, “thanks to the extraordinary success of the staff’s fundraising this week.” A GoFundMe effort begun on Monday had raised more than $275,000 on Wednesday from more than 3,000 supporters.

The board had formally announced the layoffs and shutdown to the staff on Monday, at a contentious meeting at which they sought to answer no questions. However, most staffers had found out about the decision the previous evening, via a story in another publication.

The statement, addressed to the “Texas Observer Community” included an apology to the staff “for the abruptness of the layoff vote” and said the board “deeply regret[s]” the way the staff found out. The board also apologized to major donors Lynne Dobson and Greg Wooldridge of the Tejemos Foundation and to “our community of contributors, readers and supporters.” The foundation had made a major donation to the Observer last year, but the board said the nature of that gift was misunderstood by the Observer organization.

The change of plan came in the wake of an outpouring of public support for the Observer. In addition to the GoFundMe effort, readers, former staffers and former board members, and prominent journalists from around the country reached out to Observer journalists and allies to express their solidarity with the campaign to keep the magazine afloat.

“I just got chills,” said Gayle Reaves, the Observer’s editor-at-large, when news reached staffers. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of our incredible supporters and my colleagues and the board members who helped us.”

See here for the background, and here for the statement. That statement includes a call that “we work collectively to get through the immediate future—and find a sustainable model to ensure the longevity of our beloved magazine”, so there’s clearly still work to be done. You can click the embedded image to visit the GoFundMe page if you want to contribute to that, I’m sure the more they get for the immediate issue the easier the longer-term one will be to figure out. Whatever the case, at least now they’re trying to figure it out, and for that we can be thankful. The Trib, which goes into detail about those challenges that still need to be dealt with, has more.

RIP, Texas Observer (maybe?)

A real shame, and a real loss.

The Texas Observer, the storied progressive publication known for its feisty, combative and often humorous investigative journalism, is shutting down and will lay off its 17-person staff, including 13 journalists, several members of its board said Sunday.

The decision marks an end to 68 years of publication, starting with its founding in 1954 by Ronnie Dugger and including a six-year period under the helm of the legendary Molly Ivins from 1970 to 1976. The magazine, in its first few decades, represented the liberal wing of the once-conservative Democratic Party. It was a thorn in the side of Lyndon B. Johnson when he was Senate majority leader (before he became president), Govs. Allen Shivers and John B. Connally, and other conservative Democrats. And it chronicled the era in which Texas was remade into a Republican stronghold that sent a governor, George W. Bush, to the White House.

The closing of the Observer raises questions about whether small progressive publications can survive the digital and demographic transformation of journalism and the information ecosystem during a time of rapid social and technological change.

While nonprofit newsrooms have been proliferating around the country, many are dependent on philanthropic grants and don’t have a clear pathway to economic sustainability. The Observer had been supported for years by a small number of major donors, and wasn’t able to build a broad base of subscribers and members.

The Observer’s budget was $2.1 million last year, and in recent weeks, the board considered moving to online-only publication, which would have taken the budget down to $1.8 million, and doing that plus laying off three staff members, which would have taken the budget to $1.5 million. The Observer has about 4,000 print subscribers (its content is free online) and 64,000 subscribers to its free email newsletter.

The board of the nonprofit Texas Democracy Foundation, which owns the Observer, voted on Wednesday to approve the layoffs, according to the board members, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss its internal deliberations.

Robert R. Frump, who stepped down from the board in June to run the magazine’s business operations as a special adviser, resigned in protest on Thursday after he was informed of the decision. Following a last-ditch effort to slow the process and give employees more severance, the Observer’s board confirmed its decision on Sunday and plans to tell the staff on Monday morning that their last day will be this Friday, March 31, the board members said.

Frump told The Texas Tribune that the board chair, Laura Hernandez Holmes, and other board members instructed him on Thursday morning to shut down operations immediately and shut off access to email. “I handed in my resignation after they told me what they were doing,” he said in a phone interview.

Hernandez Holmes, an El Paso native and Austin-based campaign consultant and political fundraiser who worked on Beto O’Rourke’s failed presidential bid in 2019, said in a text message Sunday night: “I feel strongly about talking with the staff before I talk with any reporters outside the organization. I owe them that.”

“The editorial quality of the Texas Observer is excellent, and it deserves to live on in some format,” Frump said. “It has a unique voice that’s progressive but hews to the truth. I‘m hoping some version of it can still survive.”

Frump said the Observer was ultimately unable to adapt to the demands of a 24/7 news cycle and the proliferation of other sources of information about Texas, including Texas Monthly, a features magazine that just celebrated its 50th anniversary, and The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization co-founded in 2009 by Evan Smith, a former editor of the Monthly.

“Our reader base and our donor base is aging out,” Frump said. “There’s a nostalgia for Molly Ivins and [former Democratic Gov.] Ann Richards and their era, and that’s a lot of what still drives the Observer. We weren’t able to build a bridge to the younger, progressive generation. I think the legacy is worth fighting for, but I do understand why the board feels the way it does.”

Reached Sunday night, Gabriel Arana, who was hired as the magazine’s editor in chief in April 2022 after two consecutive top editors left abruptly, said: “This is the first I’m hearing of it, the board hasn’t communicated with me or the staff about this.”

He added: “I’m really proud of the work the staff is doing. The level of talent and the quality of journalism are really impressive. I feel the board has abdicated its responsibility for fundraising and ensuring the financial health of the publication. I think it’s shameful that they haven’t involved the staff in this decision-making in any way.”

The story goes into the Observer’s celebrated history as well as its recent problems with funding and editorial leadership. The top story on the website right now is a deep dive into the effect of Texas’ abortion ban on doctors. The Observer Twitter feed is full of reactions to this news, including from current writers who were just learning about the news via the Trib story. I’m very sad to see this happen, but I can’t say I’m surprised. You don’t need me to tell you how tough the landscape is for publishing these days, and niche publications have it even harder. It’s a testament to the Observer that they made it this far, but that doesn’t make its end any less lamentable. I wish the entire staff all the best and hope they are able to land on their feet elsewhere.

UPDATE: Maybe it’s not quite the end of the story:

I wish them all the luck with this. Hit that GoFundMe link in the replies if you want to help out.

UPDATE: From Monday afternoon:

Journalists at the Texas Observer on Monday urged their nonprofit board to reconsider its decision to close the crusading liberal magazine, proposing an emergency $200,000 fundraising appeal to keep the 68-year-old publication open.

The 17-member staff also expressed shock and anger after learning via a Texas Tribune article on Sunday that most or all of them would be laid off on Friday and that the publication would be put on “hiatus.”

“We believe that your decision to proceed with layoffs on Friday can still be avoided and is premature,” the editors wrote in a letter to the board of the Texas Democracy Foundation. The signers were editor-in-chief Gabriel Arana, digital editor Kit O’Connell, senior editor Lise Olsen and editor-at-large Gayle Reaves.

The editors asked that board members who voted to close the magazine resign, that a staff member be added to the board and that the board bring on “nationally known journalists with experience in assisting other journalism nonprofits in times of crisis.” They said the emergency appeal to raise $200,000 could be led by former board members and supporters.

The Observer’s Twitter account posted a link to a GoFundMe fundraiser Monday morning. As of Monday afternoon, its website made no mention of the board’s decision.

It’s not clear how the board will respond to those demands. All but two members of the board voted on Sunday to proceed with the layoffs, confirming a previous vote taken Wednesday.

The two dissenters were Peter A. Ravella, the board treasurer, and Eileen Smith, a writer and editor. Ravella had already announced that he was stepping down from the board this week, as he is selling his Austin home and moving with his wife to Olympia, Washington. In a statement, Smith said that her only disagreement on the vote to shut down was with “a small portion of the language” and that she agreed that “barring a last-minute infusion of cash, laying off the newsroom staff was the only way forward, which, of course, none of us wanted.”

Like I said, I hope there’s a way forward. We’ll see.

Chron editorial board wins another Pulitzer


The Houston Chronicle Editorial Board on Monday won a 2022 Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing for a series on voter suppression in Texas.

The prize, which is the nation’s most prestigious for journalists, was awarded to writers Lisa Falkenberg, Michael Lindenberger, Joe Holley and Luis Carrasco. Mostly published in a series called, “The Big Lie,” their winning work examined and debunked GOP-driven falsehoods about voter fraud that have persisted for decades.

“Our editorial team is committed to journalism excellence each and every day,” Houston Chronicle Publisher Nancy Meyer said following the announcement. “The award-winning work surrounding voter fraud and reform continues to prove the positive impact our reporting has for improving the lives of Houstonians and the people of Texas.”

Jurors who decided the award wrote that the Chronicle won for a “campaign that, with original reporting, revealed voter suppression tactics, rejected the myth of widespread voter fraud and argued for sensible voting reforms.”

This is the Chronicle’s — and Falkenberg’s — second Pulitzer. She won the newspaper’s first prize in 2015 for commentary.

The series in question is indeed excellent, and you should read it if you haven’t. I wish we lived in a world where that kind of writing could have a positive effect on the public discourse, but then if we did live in that world there would have been no need for those editorials. I really hate this timeline.

Now, Chron editorial board, please, I implore you, use that prize-winning space to give us some endorsements in the primary runoffs for the judicial races you ignored in March. You can do it, I know you can. Thanks.

Beto’s “We can win” message

Beto O’Rourke offers a blueprint for how Democrats can win in Texas.

Beto O’Rourke

In 2020, Joe Biden lost by less than Hillary Clinton did in 2016; eleven of the twelve State House seats we won in 2018 were successfully defended, and overall Democratic voter turnout in Texas was the second-highest of any battleground state.

In other words, we made progress towards an eventual statewide Democratic victory.

As we learned from Georgia, success doesn’t happen in a single cycle. Democratic leaders there like Stacey Abrams took the long view, and over a ten-year period groups like Fair Fight and the New Georgia Project registered and persuaded enough non-voters to become active voters that Georgia was able to play a critical role in electing Biden and giving Democrats a majority in the Senate.

And yet, even with that inspiring example in mind, the progress we made in Texas in 2020 feels deeply unsatisfying.

We didn’t win a single statewide race. We didn’t improve our standing in the State House. And while Biden only lost by 6 points, that’s more than double the margin we lost by in 2018.

Not that Texas is an easy state to win. If it was, we’d be blue by now.

But that doesn’t make it any less disappointing. Because the work here didn’t just begin in the 2020 cycle. Though not as well-funded as the Georgia groups, there are longstanding efforts in Texas focused on the big goal of producing statewide Democratic majorities, efforts that go beyond short-term single-cycle thinking. The Texas Organizing Project, for example, has been working since 2009 to persuade non-voters to vote in the very communities that have been the targets of voter suppression and intimidation in our state.

And then there’s the fact that we got so close in 2018. While we didn’t win statewide that year, we won everywhere else on the ballot. We picked up twelve State House seats across Texas, won two tough Congressional races, and saw seventeen African American women elected to judicial positions in Harris County alone. We witnessed a dramatic increase in young voter participation (over 500% in early voting) and the largest turnout in a midterm since 1970.

Why didn’t that extraordinary Democratic performance in a midterm (when Republicans usually have a baked-in turnout advantage) lead to a victory in the 2020 presidential (when Democratic voter performance tends to spike)?

This is basically Beto’s version of the TDP autopsy. His prescription is three items: More money (spent on people, campaigns, and candidates), more face-to-face campaigning (which one hopes would be less of an obstacle post-COVID), and more courage of our convictions. It’s goals more than a how-to list, which is fine as long as there are enough people who do know what they’re doing out there with a plan to realize those goals. As I’ve said before, I fully expect campaigning to be more like it was in 2018 going forward, and that would be the case even if everyone wasn’t talking about it. The money part is a challenge – Beto is talking sums much larger than the impressively large stack of cash he raised in 2018, and while these past two cycles have clearly demonstrated there’s plenty of money to be had for Democratic campaigns in Texas, we’re not at that level. The “courage of our convictions” is in some ways a restatement of the “more campaigning in person” piece, as it’s more about campaigning everywhere and being proud of the message we’re delivering. Go read it and see what you think.

Houston Press ceases print operations

End of an era.

Voice Media Group announced today that the Houston Press ceased print publication with its November 2 edition, capping a 28-year run as one of the nation’s leading alternative weekly newspapers and concluding a wild ride as an irascible and irreverent part of Houston’s cultural fabric.

Although the Press successfully steered its way through turbulent times in the newspaper business over the past decade thanks to a strong online presence, in the end its print operations proved no match for Hurricane Harvey. The devastation wrought by that record-setting storm, the worst disaster in the city’s history, was the primary factor behind VMG’s decision to take the Press to a daily, web-only format, said VMG group publisher Stuart Folb.

“The loss in print revenue we suffered as a result of Harvey and the time it might conceivably take for that print business to come back was the final straw,” said Folb. “Thankfully we’ll be able to continue covering Houston with a streamlined approach online.”

Folb noted that the Press is the first VMG publication to move strictly online. He added that veteran Press editor-in-chief Margaret Downing will stay on to oversee the online operation, working with many of the same freelance writers readers have followed over the years and publishing fresh daily content consistent with the Press’s longtime mission of covering Houston news, food, music and culture.

I haven’t picked up a print copy of the Press in awhile – for what it’s worth, there just aren’t that many places I frequent in the course of my week that carried the Press, and like most people, I consume most of my news online now – but I’m sad to see this happen. The aforementioned Margaret Downing offers her obituary to the print edition.

[Hurricane Harvey] was the topper. The massive flooding destruction it caused appeared to directly target restaurants and the arts community – some of our biggest advertisers – who faced with declining revenues of their own found they had other, more pressing expenses to consider.

Despite all the millions of people who read us each month, or all the journalism awards we’ve won, or the successful public events our marketing department has presented, the fact is, we haven’t been making enough money to sustain ourselves in print and our parent company Voice Media Group decided it could no longer afford to be our enabler.

A new streamlined Houston Press will emerge starting next week, still presenting the cutting edge journalism that readers aren’t likely to get elsewhere, still questioning the status quo while highlighting what we think is great about Houston. The difference will be that a sole editor will be working with freelancers to produce editorial copy, rather than having a staff on hand.


When we eventually moved to an online component there was a huge adjustment as well. Suddenly we were back in the game – some of the staff for the first time in their careers – of responding quickly, of answering the bell, collecting thoughts rapidly while still writing clearly and cleverly.

As it turned out in most cases the online demands helped everyone become better, sharper writers. Readers engaged with us in ways they hadn’t in the past. Posts online led to tips that took us to larger stories. Photographs looked better online than they could ever look on newsprint. Cover stories found new homes in one of our four posting areas – food, news, arts and music – and Best of Houston was there to see for all time, not just a once-a-year special event.

Did I want to see the end of the print edition, the dreaded either-or instead of publishing in both forms? Well, of course not. Who wants to be the editor whose printing press was shuttered? Where was Warren Buffett when I could really have used him to swoop in?

But it is what it is. Our parent company could have killed this publication completely. Instead it listened to our Publisher Stuart Folb and kept it alive in digital form, with the company’s successful new digital advertising agency helping to buoy the new model.

A lot of good people here will no longer have jobs at the Houston Press and that for me is the saddest and most painful part.

Nearly all of our employees were handed their termination papers today. In several cases, whole departments are gone. These are people who in most cases worked above and beyond because they really liked working here, liked the camaraderie, the clients, the interesting people they got to meet.

In the newsroom that means that reporters who were more than competent, who could negotiate the most complicated business documents or talk with sensitivity to people who were going through the worst days of their lives – journalists with passion and discernment whose work has changed lives for the better — are suddenly without a platform, or a paycheck.

We rely upon a sizable number of freelance photographers, graphic artists and videographers whose work is also highly valued. This change will also affect them in the number of assignment opportunities available.

I feel terrible for the employees who are being laid off – that just sucks. I hope they are given some help to find other work. Harvey aside, the Village Voice ceased print operations a few weeks back, and if a venerable alt-weekly like that can’t make it work these days, it’s hard to see how anyone else can. Someone please keep an eye on the Austin Chronicle, San Antonio Current, and Dallas Observer. I have several friends who write for the Press but as freelancers, so they are probably not affected. For what I do, the Press does a lot of good work, though their publication schedule for regular news stories is kind of unpredictable. I wish them all the best, and look forward to seeing what comes next.

Weekend HERO reading

Just a few links of interest on matters pertaining to HERO. Read ’em as you see fit.

From Think Progress, a reminder that the past is never dead:

Four decades ago, the Equal Rights Amendment — which would have required courts to treat laws that engage in sex discrimination with the same high level of skepticism applied to race discrimination — seemed all but certain to become part of the Constitution. Thirty-four of the thirty-eight states needed to ratify the amendment had agreed to do so. Then conservative activists organized hard against this amendment. Many of them also gave it a new name, the “Common Toilet” law.

Like the anti-LGBT activists who united against HERO, the ERA’s anti-feminist opponents offered similarly outlandish claims about what would happen if the ERA became law. Many conservative activists rallied behind a claim that a ban on official sex discrimination would necessarily forbid segregating bathrooms by gender. As the feminist scholar Jane Mansbridge wrote in her postmortem of the amendment fight, Why We Lost the ERA, “the unisex toilet issue fed the fervor of the anti-ERA forces by giving them something absolutely outrageous to focus on.” Among other things, “it could conjure up visions of rape by predatory males,” while igniting smoldering passions in a South that had recently experienced “the historical trauma of racial integration.”

I’m old enough to remember the ERA, and the fuss over bathrooms that it catalyzed. Back then it was fear of “unisex” bathrooms, because “transgender” wasn’t a word yet and gays were all deep in the closet, so the only available perverts to warn about were the good old fashioned straight male kind. I can’t believe I had forgotten about this.

Governing is also about the bathrooms:

“There’s this fear that this person who is different is different in a way that’s predatory,” said Robin McHaelen, executive director of True Colors, a social service nonprofit that works with LGBT youth in Connecticut. “As far as I know, there’s never been an incident with a transgender person assaulting someone in a bathroom. People just want to pee in peace.”

That same assertion has been made by groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union. Officials in states with public accommodation provisions, such as Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa and Oregon, have stated they have seen no evidence of sexual assault or other such problems as a result.

By contrast, there have been documented examples of transgender people being harassed or assaulted for going in the “wrong” bathroom, including a videotaped attack in 2012 in Maryland that went viral on social media.

“You just want to use the bathroom and get back to what you’re doing,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “The safest way, the most appropriate way, the way to bother the people least is for people to use the restroom that’s appropriate for their gender identity.”

Best Facebook meme I’ve seen since Tuesday is this reminder that more US Senators have been arrested for indecency in public bathrooms than trans women.

Once more on bathrooms, from Lisa Gray:

On her phone, she has an app called “Refuge Restrooms” that lists locations of trans-friendly single-toilet bathrooms; often they’re labeled as handicapped restrooms or family restrooms. But so far, the app doesn’t list many in Houston. Mostly, Kaylee adds the listings herself. Cinemark Theaters are great, she says, and most HEBs. And recently, at the church where she sings in the chorus, she found a one-toilet handicapped restroom: A great thing.

But still, the bathroom question makes it hard for her to move freely. Kaylee does IT, and since coming out, she’s worked for what might be the most trans-friendly employer possible: Houston Unites, the group that campaigned for HERO.

One day, for that job, she needed to go to a high school in Alief, to train kids in the gay-straight student alliance to run a phone bank. She didn’t know what the bathroom situation would be. So, she says, “I stopped drinking water about six hours beforehand. I absolutely didn’t want to have to pee.”

I’m willing to bet Steve Hotze has never done that.

The Advocate presents a trans person’s macro view of where the fight needs to go from here.

For context, my lens on all of this is informed both my identity as a trans man and by a decade-plus of political experience. Before (finally) coming out as trans, I spent the first decade of my life working (with some success) in the world of elections from city council to presidential campaigns, to independent expenditures, to running multimillion-dollar political programming for labor, and on working at a senior level the C3 side of education campaigns. It is from this vantage point of identity and experience that I offer a few observations that I hope others will consider as we figure out how to move forward together.

First, the fight for same-sex marriage and the subsequent lessons learned are neither perfectly analogous nor completely irrelevant to these fights. But to win on trans issues in the public sphere, we need to make the commitment and investment to define a new set of rules.

It is without question that our most substantive trans victories have so far been through litigation and policy changes outside of the public sphere. The fundamental landscape of trans politics has changed and that change is defined by a broader, quicker and dramatically more public fight. There is no going back. The only question is how we will meet this fight.

The good news is there are many steps we can begin taking now to move forward.

It’s not too soon to start. I’m going to do what I can to be an ally.

And finally, one more election postmortem from The Observer:

If the LGBT movement wants comprehensive non-discrimination protections to be its next advocacy arena, HERO’s failure at the polls offers an important lesson. As Houston activists told the Observer, ultimately, the movement’s leaders must shift toward a broader social justice strategy, and take cues from movements that are led by diverse voices in positions of power, and work in coalitions with organizations fighting for racial, economic and environmental justice, for immigrants’ rights, the rights of transgender people, women’s rights, and the rights of people living with disabilities. That kind of coalition, in the most diverse city in the country, could be a force unto itself. That kind of coalition could win anything.

It would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Lisa Falkenberg wins Pulitzer for commentary

Major congratulations.

Lisa Falkenberg

Houston Chronicle Columnist Lisa Falkenberg has won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, the Pulitzer board announced Monday.

It was the first Pulitzer Prize awarded to the Chronicle in its 114-year history. The Chronicle has had finalists on several occasions, including Falkenberg in the same category last year. Editorial cartoonist Nick Anderson won a Pulitzer for his work at the Louisville Courier-Journal in 2005.

Falkenberg, 36, a sixth-generation Texan, joined the Chronicle in 2005 as a reporter in the Austin bureau. In 2007 she moved to Houston as a Metro columnist.

Falkenberg was awarded the prize for a series of columns she wrote about Alfred Dewayne Brown, who was condemned for the killing of a Houston police officer, a crime he very likely did not commit.

From documents leaked to her by sources, or obtained through court records and Freedom of Information Act requests, Falkenberg revealed how a witness, Brown’s former girlfriend, who could have provided him with an alibi, was threatened and intimidated by a grand jury into lying on the stand. She provided the key testimony that put Brown on death row.

She pulled back the curtain on the secretive Texas grand jury system, allowing a glimpse into the workings of the panel that indicted Brown. That panel, Falkenberg revealed, was headed by a Houston police officer.

And as the story notes, her Monday column was in the same series. Good timing, that. If you click on a link like this one on the sidebar under the header “Her other Pulitzer-winning columns”, there’s now an update in it to include the link Read more award-winning work from Lisa Falkenberg. Also, as part of her prize, Falkenberg is now legally entitled to say “That’s Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Lisa Falkenberg to you, wiseguy” any time she feels like it.

OK, I may be kidding about that last bit. In all seriousness, this is a great honor and it is well deserved. Congratulations, Lisa!

Saturday mini-link roundup

Three stories you should read that I didn’t have time to devote a full post to:

AusChron: Abbott’s abject CPRIT failures

Still not Greg Abbott

The scandal broke after letters between the agency’s chief science officer, Nobel laureate Dr. Alfred Gilman, and CPRIT’s Chief Commercialization Officer Jerry Cobbs were released, in which Gilman repeatedly questioned the ethics of multiple grants, while Cobbs shot down his criticisms. Gilman finally resigned in protest over $20 million to local research incubator groups, and he was quickly followed by a slew of top-ranked researchers from bodies including the Harvard and Stanford medical schools, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. By contrast, Cobbs is currently under indictment in Travis County for the first-degree felony of securing execution of a document by deception, regarding the granting of $11 million to Peloton Therapeutics Inc. In January 2013, CPRIT was subject to a damning report by Texas State Auditor John Keel, advising that it revamp every stage of the grant process, from evaluation to research progress, after which lawmakers effectively shut it down, and opened back up with increased controls and oversight.

Arguably, oversight was what was missing in the first place. It was supposed to be there, and Abbott was supposed to be providing it. From its inception, CPRIT had an oversight committee, which included both the attorney general and Comptroller Susan Combs. However, out of 23 committee meetings between June 23, 2008, and Feb 25, 2013, Abbott attended exactly zero. Abbott’s campaign spokesman Matt Hirsch has since said that he removed himself, rather than face conflicts of interest. However, rather than stepping down completely, he sent designees from his office: Then-Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel Andrew Weber attended the first meeting, then the task was handed over to Deputy Attorney General for Government and External Affairs Jay Dyer, who would himself miss several meetings in the following four years. Hopefully, they were giving Abbott extensive notes, because he did not seem to be that inquisitive. The Dallas Morning News found that in his five years on the committee, Abbott sent a grand total of nine emails to “key state officials” on CPRIT’s problems.

So what was keeping Abbott so distracted? Democratic pressure group the Lone Star Project went through Abbott’s diary and compared his calendar with the committee’s schedule, and found that on 10 of the 23 meeting days, he had no official events booked. And what kept him busy on the other 13? A lot of time with the press. He crammed 20 interviews and briefings into those days. He even skipped meetings at the height of the public scandal, after the release of the Cobbs-Gilman emails. On Oct. 24, 2012 (less than two weeks after some of the nation’s leading cancer researchers had severed all ties with the agency in protest over its mismanagement and their concerns of nepotism in the incubator grant), both Abbott and Dyer were absent, even though the top item on the agenda was the discussion of hiring a replacement for Gilman. Instead, the state’s top attorney was busy on Fox News ginning up a false controversy about international elections monitors visiting Texas to observe the Democratic process.

The story is related to Wendy Davis’ ongoing attacks against Abbott for his manifest failure to do his job on CPRIT. The facts of this sorry story are so unfavorable to Abbott that I have to think they’ll do some real damage to him. That’s my heart talking more than my brain, but we’ll see.

Texas Observer: Millennial Hispanics are way more secular than their ancestors

Pew’s survey of more than 5,000 Hispanics nationwide shows that an increasing number of Latinos are leaving Catholicism, their childhood faith. Just 55 percent of those surveyed identify themselves as Catholic, down from 67 percent in the previous comprehensive study in 2006. Now, nearly a quarter of all Hispanics say they are former Catholics. Overall, non-Catholics are nearly evenly divided between evangelical Protestants (16 percent) and those who profess no religious affiliation (18 percent). Mainline Protestants and other Christians round out the remaining 8 percent.

The conversion of some Catholics to evangelicals holds out hope for the GOP. Consider the study’s findings on abortion. Overall, Hispanics tend to be conservative on this issue. Fifty-three percent say that abortion should be completely or mostly illegal, with just 40 percent in favor of abortion rights—a flip of the 40/54 percent split among Americans generally. With Hispanic evangelicals, 70 percent are in favor of making abortion illegal. That’s even more than white (non-Hispanic) evangelicals. Even so, these evangelical Hispanics still mostly identify as Democrats (48 percent vs. 30 percent support for the GOP). That’s progress for Republicans since, overall, Hispanics identify as Democrats 56/21 percent.

But this is little more than a consolation prize when contrasted with how religiously unaffiliated Hispanics are changing the landscape. The unaffiliated, also known as “nones,” include those who think of themselves as “spiritual, but not religious” and those who are neither spiritual nor religious. They are far more pro-choice than Hispanics overall, even more so than the general public. They are also staunchly Democratic, overwhelming Republicans by 4-to-1.

According to the study, the bulk of the “nones” are young. What’s going on with the under-30 crowd? These are millennials, a generation significantly detached from institutions, making its presence felt. In 2010, unaffiliated Hispanics made up 14 percent of the 18-29 category. In 2013, as millennials rapidly came to dominate and define that age group, the unaffiliated more than doubled, rising to 31 percent of the cohort.

Hispanic millennials are a demographic tidal wave, the dominant ethnicity among millennials. Some 800,000 underage Hispanics turn voting age every year. They are the first generation that is mostly U.S.-born and identify closely with their non-Hispanic contemporaries. Their turn toward being “nones” closely matches the national trend, according to a separate Pew study. As the remaining millennial Hispanics come of age over the next decade, “nones” could wipe out whatever modest gains the GOP now enjoys with evangelical Hispanics.

Getting them to turn out, that’s the challenge for Democrats, especially this year. And if they do get engaged and involved in proportion to their numbers, expect the potential for change within the Democratic Party to be at least as big as the potential for change in Texas. Which, to be clear, I welcome.

Texas Election Law Blog: An under the radar assault on voting rights

So … let’s recap. By law, (see Section 11.001, Texas Election Code) you are citizen of Texas as soon as you permanently reside in Texas. As soon as you permanently reside in Texas, you qualify to vote and can apply for a voter registration certificate. But you can’t use a voter registration certificate by itself to vote. To vote, you need a picture I.D. issued by the Department of Public Safety. But to get a picture I.D., you need to prove that you’ve been domiciled in Texas for at least 30 days. (You’ll also need to prove your citizenship and identity, which, as I have described before, is another sort of fresh hell, but enough about that).

But to prove that you’ve been domiciled in Texas for at least 30 days, you’ll either have to present the documentary proof of your financial respectability (in the form of bank statements, utility bills, and paychecks), or you’ll have to fall back on the mercy of the modern poor house or work farm, getting someone else in a position of paternal responsibility to vouch for you as not being entirely transient and rootless.

The State of Texas (a state whose independence was precipitated by the actions of transient adventurers and freebooters) certainly seems to have put away the “welcome” mat once and for all.

This is the result of a change made to the Transportation Code in 2009, which two years later when voter ID passed combined to put an extra burden on would-be voters. It’s yet another reason why the voter ID law needs to be declared unconstitutional.

Go check them all out, they’re worth your time.

Melanie Scruggs: Ways Houston can increase its recycling rate

Note: From time to time, I solicit guest posts from various individuals on different topics. While I like to think I know a little something about a lot of things, I’m fortunate to be acquainted with a number of people who know a whole lot about certain topics, and who are willing to share some of that knowledge here.

Houston has significantly improved its recycling rate by expanding single-stream recycling, or the “big, green bins.” While the smaller, 18-gallon green boxes only had a participation rate of 22%, the larger recycling bins are up to 62% recycling participation since the larger bins are a better, more convenient design and they accept more materials.

Following successful models of cities like Denver, Los Angeles, Toronto, Dallas and Austin, Houston can improve its recycling rate beyond our current 6% or next year’s expected 12% by implementing education programs and incentives.


It all starts with consistent programs and education

First and foremost, all homes serviced by the City’s waste services need to have the same, consistent recycling program. Right now, some neighborhoods have dual stream while others have single-stream; some neighborhoods recycle glass separately and others do not. Inconsistent recycling services unnecessarily complicates City-wide public education and messaging, makes it more difficult to teach communities how to recycle and can cause people to give up on recycling properly. Consistent, single-stream recycling where all recyclables go in one container separate from trash really does simplify the process.

Next, we need consistent promotion and education to explain what items go in the recycling bins. Recycling messages may take a plethora of forms: bus signs, billboards, bill inserts, social media, speaking in neighborhood meetings and even in schools. Speaking to elementary school students is one of the most effective recycling education methods, since kids are great at teaching their parents how to recycle. This is especially true in multi-lingual homes or in homes where parents have not recycled previously. Teaching youngsters responsible, environmentally conscious behaviors such as recycling will hopefully also encourage them to be sensitive to the environment throughout their lives and future careers.


Broadly speaking, recycling media and messaging should be tailored to reach populations with different interests and values. Environmentalists are going to be compelled when you say it is good for the environment, but that’s not everybody—maybe not even most people in Houston. The City may explain how recycling creates jobs, saves tax dollars in the long run and teaches resource conservation to connect with one group; explaining how recycling means less dumping on environmental justice communities connects to another. We live in an era where mass communication can be tailored to very specific audiences. Goodness knows I saw Mayor Annise Parker’s campaign ads all over my internet; surely the City can promote recycling that effectively.

At the individual or neighborhood level, stickers on recycling bins and door-to-door communication have been proven highly effective in cities like San Francisco, where they divert 80% of waste from landfills. Some cities have also appointed neighborhood “block leaders” where neighbors encourage each other to recycle properly and help distribute recycling instructions and media. Council member Bradford once suggested that the City create some kind of recycling competition between neighborhoods and invent rewards for neighborhoods that recycle the most.

Door-to-door visits may also target areas with low recycling participation or high contamination. City employees may use stickers and notes on recycling bins to inform people what they are doing right or what needs improvement. Door-to-door visitors are very effective since they can take some time to explain what items are recyclable in the City’s recycling program, what isn’t, why it is important and make sure residents understand the incentives in place.

Incentives help to improve recycling rates

All waste services have a cost, but not all communities have waste fees or a designated monthly charge to fund trash, compost and recycling services. Some cities pay for waste disposal from general funds and are able to achieve high recycling rates through consistence services and promotion. Toronto, for example, has no waste fee and boasts 49% diversion from landfills—about 3 times that of Houston. Part of Toronto’s success is likely due to their curbside food waste collection and a commitment to strong education programs. Monthly charge-based incentives do create powerful economic incentives to increase recycling, however, and have proven successful in other cities.


Unit-based or “SMaRT (Save Money and Reduce Trash)” pricing allows customers to pay less if they recycle more. While some communities may determine the amount through metering, where each load of trash set out at the curb is weighed, this is unnecessary and often unpopular. An easier solution is to offer different sized trash cans—24 gallon, 36 gallon, 64 gallon and 96 gallon—and to charge customers more for bigger cans, incentivizing waste reduction as well as recycling. In general unit-based pricing can reduce waste disposal by up to 50% and increase recycling by up to 40%. EPA estimates that PAYT policies in 2006—which covered only 25% of the US population—diverted about 6.5 million tons of waste which would have otherwise been thrown away. They estimated then that the policies reduced disposal by an average of 17%.

Mandatory curbside recycling and composting programs are controversial, but they are also very effective at incentivizing participation. Essentially these are ordinances which say that the City will not collect any waste if either recycling or composting are not also present, or if there is recycling or composting present in the waste. Customers are still free to self-haul their discards to a landfill and pay gate fees there, but City collection crews will not throw valuable commodities into the landfill themselves. Such policies are best implemented after all other incentives, education and programs have gone into effect to capture the last chunks of material after recycling, composting and other programs have become widely accepted.

Creating a City Wide Recycling Culture

Promoting recycling not just at home for homeowners, but also at apartments, condos, businesses, events and public spaces contributes to an overall recycling culture. If people don’t have recycling available until they move into a house, they are less accustomed to recycling and participation tends to be low. Consistent recycling programs at businesses, public spaces, tax-exempt institutions and schools also maximize potential job creation, revenue and conservation for the City.

Plenty of businesses take on voluntary recycling services or are interested in reducing waste in order to increase efficiencies and lower costs. Boeing and Mitsubishi for example have committed to Zero Waste to landfills and this is a growing trend in the business community. Voluntary efforts are important to lead the recycling culture, and recycling ordinances are also key to long term improvements in recycling outside of the City’s residential service area.

Note that some homeowner associations that have opted out of City waste services and in exchange for a refund or sponsorship program for private waste contracts. Houston could pass an ordinance requiring recycling in these opt-out neighborhoods or make it a condition of the grant that these neighborhoods have to provide single-stream recycling similar to what the City provides its customers.

Other aspects of a recycling culture include recruiting recycling-reliant industries, re-use centers, swap shops and salvage from bulky trash collection. Austin just started a promotional program to support local businesses that sell recycled products. Recycling is good for the environment and creates tens of thousands of jobs in our region; we should support manufacturers that use recycled content or re-use materials. Publicly committing to supporting the recycling industry will increase overall buy-in to recycling programs at home, work and play.


In addition to recycling and compost, cities with a recycling culture are advocating for better product design. There is a nationally coordinated effort around container packaging, for instance, to eliminate non-recyclable packaging designs for certain products. Since our tax dollars pay for recycling and waste programs that dispose of millions of dollars’ worth of packaging every year, it makes sense that we should advocate for design that would lower the cost of recycling and disposal. This policy framework is called “extended producer responsibility” and aims to create economic incentives for producers to improve product design to achieve longer lifespans with greater durability and safety.

Long-term Zero Waste Goal

The big picture, long-term goal—90% diversion from landfills or higher—is often called Zero Waste. The Zero Waste International Alliance has developed the only peer-reviewed definition for the term:

Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.

Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.

Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.

Note that this definition specifically excludes phased incineration technologies such as gasification, which has been proposed for the City of Houston’s “One bin for All” proposal. In practice, local and commercial Zero Waste standards vary with 90% diversion or higher being a common goal. Both Dallas and Austin have Zero Waste goals, and San Antonio has a short-term goal to divert 60% of its waste by 2020.

Recycling, composting, and waste reduction are all higher and better uses for these materials than incineration according to the EPA. Unlike unproven technologies like gasification of solid waste, Zero Waste relies on proven technologies such as separate recycling and organics collection. We hope that as soon as the City abandons its inkling toward gasifying our trash, we will see real leadership in establishing education programs and incentives to increase participation in the “big, green bins” recycling program, which is already showing success and fostering a culture of responsibility, unlike “One bin for all,” which fosters a culture of waste. Houston’s low recycling rate is a sign of opportunities we have yet to explore and provide to all residents. We believe the right services and education programs will yield successful results just like they have in other Cities, and set a positive example for other communities to follow.

Melanie Scruggs is the Houston Program Director for Texas Campaign for the Environment, a statewide, grassroots advocacy organization for waste and recycling issues. Melanie graduated from the Plan II Honors program at the University of Texas at Austin in 2012.

Guest post: Gun control realities and fallacies; is there a way forward?

Note: The following is a guest post, written by regular reader Peter in Houston. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says, but he makes some good and provocative points, and I’m a believer in having thorough discussions of complex issues, so I present this here for your consideration.

I have been a gun owner for the past 25 years. I live in a large metro area, and I own guns in defensive calibers for personal protection. I have had a State Concealed Handgun License for the past 14 years, and I do carry a firearm in public. I also enjoy casual target “plinking” with a .22LR pistol. Over a decade ago, I had the privilege of participating in an advanced tactical classes for civilians, where I learned a great deal about personal protection, and experienced a small sampling of what our police officers experience. We practiced topics like drawing from concealment while moving to cover, engaging multiple targets, shooting from awkward positions, shooting in low-light and no-light, and other defensive skills, firing hundreds of rounds in the process. Do you know how much your hand can hurt after firing hundreds of rounds? Ammo sitting in the summer Texas sun also gets very hot, ow ow. We donned body armor and went through live-fire scenarios with extremely low power paintball-type ammunition fired out of real handguns; we role-played simulated home invasions, convenience store robberies, clearing a home which has an invader hiding somewhere, and hand-to-hand combat. My most amusing moment was being gob-smacked with a Nerf bat. I was also “shot” in the chest out of spite after I gave up the money. These are my qualifications as an intermediate-to-advanced civilian gun owner.

You might think I would be the type of person who believes in no gun control, but I do believe there are areas where Federal guns laws can be improved. For one, I don’t see a compelling reason why the average gun owner needs more then ten rounds in their weapon. I myself carry an old-school five-shot revolver, Sgt. Joe Friday / Dragnet style.

Supposedly, just drawing a gun ends the violent encounter in most cases. When shots are fired, it’s usually decided after two or three shots. So I think five is OK, and I do carry one or two reloading strips for a total of ten or fifteen rounds, though these are very slow to deploy. So why would I settle for only five at a time? Revolvers are quite reliable; I have seen many people at the range struggle with semi-automatic jams. I would rather have five rounds with near 100% certainty than have to clear a jam after the first round. Plus, I like being different, and I like the retro aesthetic of a revolver.

Most pistols purpose-built for concealed carry have about a ten round capacity by design, because they are meant to be small. Therefore, why the uproar about a limit of ten? Because semi-automatic weapons are fast to reload, you can carry on an effective defense with ten round magazines. You just do a “tactical reload” during a lull in the fighting, so that you’re always full. Of course, it helps if the juvenile John Connor is your child, because he will be highly skilled in recharging empty magazines. In the movie Terminator 2, Sarah Connor was firing an eight round .45 pistol. I never hear .45 owners complaining that their pistols don’t hold enough ammo.

However… if someone simply must have a 20, 30, or 100 round magazine, let them have them; but we could change the law so that to get these magazines you have to possess a Federal Class III license. I would like to see existing magazines grandfathered to current owners and their immediate family members only; beyond that, they could only be transferred to a Class III licensee, or turned in to a buyback program. Class III licensure is quite stringent. If you get one, you can own a real machine gun. Machine gun as in Al Capone. That’s a high level of trust.

There is a problem in that Federal law allows private party sales. I think these should be outlawed, and all gun buyers should go through the National Instant Check System (NICS), with a few exceptions, for example, transfers amongst immediate family members should be allowed. Interfamilial transfers didn’t help Nancy Lanza, but I have the suspicion the “transfer” in her case was involuntary.

I am not an expert in this area, so I don’t know the exact details about how to get someone adjudicated so that they get into the NICS database as a bad actor, but maybe we need to look at how to make that process easier and faster.

To summarize my concrete suggestions for gun control that could make a difference over a span of years (not overnight), which I am positive the NRA would oppose:

  1. 10+ round magazine ban, except for Class III licensees; existing magazines grandfathered to current owners and their immediate family members
  2. Reform NICS to get more nutcases and bad actors into the database
  3. No more private sales or transfers, except between immediate family members

Now it’s my turn to rip into some of the ideas that merge from the gun control crowd. Gun control activists are purposefully very imprecise in their language and definitions concerning firearms; they want to create large, all-inclusive categories of guns, then they want the public to want them all gone.

First of all, let’s get something clear. The AR-15 used at Newtown, as destructive as it was, and as horrifying the results of its use were, is not an assault weapon. Assault weapons are fully automatic machine guns. The AR-15 is a “pull the trigger once / fire one round” semi-automatic gun. It is not a machine gun. It is not an automatic gun. Machines guns have been illegal since 1934, unless you have the aforementioned Class III license. But advocates want you to think it’s an assault weapon, because “assault weapon” performs well in focus groups.

The gun control advocates want you to hate the AR-15 so much that you will tell your Member of Congress to ban it! What really threatens gun owners is that the AR-15 is functionally no different from most other rifles in existence today. They may have cozy wood stocks rather than scary black stocks and pistol grips; but they are functionally the same, firing the same .223 caliber round, or an even bigger one.

Even the President says, “We must ban military-style assault rifles”. Wow, what a pile of obfuscations there. But once we ban a demonized class of guns, then their non military-styled cousins are also toast, because they are functionally identical.

This is a hard reality to speak about; yes, the wounds inflicted by the .223 bullet on children were horrific. But the reality is, there are much more powerful rifle rounds available; the .308, the .30-06. The political reality is this – the voices that claim “no private citizen should own a gun with as much power one used in Sandy Hook”, are really saying this:


Basically, the only rifle left after a hypothetical ban of .223 caliber above would be the little .22LR youth camp rifle. Gun owners aren’t stupid. The non-shooting public, the mass media, and some politicians get led around by the rhetoric and emotion, but it’s all painfully transparent to gun owners. They realize that calls for “sensible gun control” might really translate, after the legislative sausage is made in the back rooms, to near-total gun elimination. That’s why the public resistance to gun control is so profound, and why the public polling on guns hasn’t changed much since Sandy Hook (as reported on NPR, Dec 20, 2012).

What guns owners have seen the gun control activists do, which also makes us very concerned, is that they pivot from gun type to gun type. They know they can’t get everything banned in one fell swoop, so they try legislative incrementalism. “Sensible gun control” at one time meant “Ban Saturday Night Specials”. Remember Saturday Night Specials? “We need to ban Saturday Night Specials and other highly concealable guns which have no utility for target shooting or hunting, their only purpose is to kill people”. That was the mantra many years ago, when I went to college in 1979.

Well now, people are calling for the ban of exactly those firearms which do have utility for target shooting or hunting, rifles in .223 caliber and above. So which is it? Obviously, they want both banned. They want everything banned. The gun control advocates try to sound reasonable, and they spin it well, they try to demonize one type of gun or another at different times, and it’s different guns in different decades, too. A few years ago, they trial-ballooned that “shotguns are a weapon of mass destruction because they shoot dozens of projectiles simultaneously”. Oh gosh, so much worse than a machine gun even! That particular trial balloon sank, but it goes to show – they want everything banned. Rifles, shotguns, and handguns comprise all guns.

In the gun control world, “some guns are too big, some guns are too small, and really no guns are just right”.

I think there is a real though completely ironic parallel between gun control activists and pro-lifers. The pro-lifers don’t want abortion restricted; they want abortion illegal. If they can’t make it illegal, they will practice legislative incrementalism, and pass laws to harass women out of their minds, for example, to force the State to make trans-vaginal sonograms part of “pre-abortion counseling”. So it is with the gun control lobby. They want to stick it into the privates of gun owners. But we know it’s coming, and we say no. We can read between the lines; we’re not stupid.

Neither should the 80 million gun owners and ammunition users be taxed for the misdeeds of a very few. There are roughly 11,000 gun murders in the USA each year, but that means 99.98625% of gun owners didn’t do it; so don’t punitively tax gun and ammunition purchases. They shouldn’t be covered by “sin taxes”, because it’s in the Bill of Rights! How can an explicitly enumerated civil right be treated as a sin? That’s just illogical.

My assessment is that there is some room to make progress in refining and strengthening gun laws to keep guns out of the wrong hands, while protecting the rights of legal users, but the gun activist lobby will get the big eyes and overreach, they will try to get too much instead of what is possible and acceptable to the majority, and the GOP controlled House will kill any bills. And we’ll be stuck where we’ve been for decades.

It’s a mistake for gun control activists to think that gun owners are a dying breed, all old white men. I’m not an old white man. My nearest neighbor who shoots is a woman – who attended a Quaker college, of all things. Eighty million Americans own guns. That’s a huge number of people, who if they get directly threatened, will react by becoming politically active. And gun owners aren’t all Republicans.

By all means, let’s have a conversation about legislative firearms changes that are feasible and Constitutional, yet protect the core values of all stakeholders.

Speaking of the Constitution, SCOTUS has reaffirmed that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right, not only a collective right (District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008). Look it up! It’s your Bill of Rights.

This is Charles again. My thanks to Peter for sending this. After receiving it, Harold Cook made a similar argument on his blog, which I recommend you read as well. Also, to address Peter’s point about terminology, I recommend MoJo’s A Non-Gun-Owner’s Guide To Guns. At the very least, we should all be clear on what it is we are and are not talking about.

The Trib and the Chron get together

A peek at what to expect in the Sunday Chron:

Coming Sunday: A Houston Chronicle and Texas Tribune investigation finds children living in residential treatment centers have been provoked to fight, been punched and choked, forced to strip down to their underwear, and have engaged in sexual acts with staffers. The state of Texas spends millions of dollars each year to care for these teens and children. At least 250 times in the last two years, those same children have been physically or emotionally abused, records show.

I’d say I’m looking forward to reading that, except for the fact that it sounds awful and I’m sure I’ll feel the need for a stiff drink afterward. But I’m glad for the collaboration. The Trib has done a fine job on stories like this, and it’s a good thing if they get more exposure. Evan Smith has more.

UPDATE: The story itself is here and here. It’s a difficult one to read. More on the Chron/Trib partnership is here.

The Whites say goodbye

Outgoing Mayor Bill White and First Lady Andrea White say goodbye and thank you to Houstonians as his term comes to an end. Needless to say, they won’t exactly be riding off into the sunset any time soon; with any luck, not for quite a few years. But things have changed for them, and this year will be full of new challenges. I have no doubt they will meet those challenges head on, and I wish them the very best with what comes next.

How green is your website?

Here are two thoughtful and interesting posts about data centers and carbon neutrality from my friend and Trinity classmate Robert Nagle; a postscript with some added thoughts is here. I’m glad to see that my webhost does pretty well in this regard, though it’s purely by accident from my perspective, as I’d never really thought about this before. But I have now, and I recommend you check out what Robert has written and give some thought to it as well. And maybe if we can’t get data centers to be much greener than they already are, we might be able to come up with some creative ways to blunt their impact.

A view from inside the sausage factory

Ever wonder what it is that lobbyists do? Jim Grace and Luke Ledbetter, respectively a partner and an associate with Baker Botts LLP who do lobbying work for the firm, give us the scoop about how they go about their business and how to be successful at it. Some of their points can be seen as basic life lessons. It’s a good read, so check it out.

The Texas Trib and its polls

I’ve been so immersed in the Houston elections that I forgot to give a warm welcome to the Texas Tribune, which made its debut on Tuesday. I really like the look of the site, I like their lineup of writers, and I like what they’re aiming to do. Once their RSS feeds become available, I’ll be really happy. So welcome aboard, y’all. I look forward to seeing what you can do.

One thing in particular I’m interested in is their polling center, which assimilated the Texas Politics Project. Their first effort has drawn some criticism, much of which boils down to what Paul Burka says:

I will tell you up front that I do not know enough about statistics to know whether [their methodology] is reliable or not. I do know enough to know that this methodology is not truly random, because everybody who signed up has manifested enough interest in politics to want to be surveyed.


Internet polling is probably the future of polling, and the UT/Tribune poll is our best hope for a regular flow of campaign information, so I’m going to have to get used to it. But my confidence level is not very high.

The good news is that the more of this they do, the more of a track record they’ll build by which we can judge them. Remember that SurveyUSA, whose absence in Texas Burka rightly laments, was once viewed skeptically because it used an automated interactive script to get people to push buttons on their phone in response to questions instead of talking to a live person. If the TxP polls prove to be as accurate as SUSA has been, we’ll look back at this some day and wonder what we were afraid of.

But that’s a few years, or at least a few dozen polls, away. What we have to go on now is their October 2008 polls of the Presidential and Senate races. The results they got – McCain 51, Obama 40, Barr 1; and Cornyn 45, Noriega 36, Schick 5 – aren’t bad; they did come pretty close to the actual margin of victory in each race. Here’s what I wrote at the time.

I’ll note that whatever else one may think, the results are in line with most other recent polls, the last Rasmussen Senate poll being an exception. The (too) high number of undecideds skews things a bit – in particular, for the one bit of sample breakdown that we do get, the poll claims 16% of black respondents and 17% of Hispanics are undecided in the Senate race. I can just about guarantee you that a large majority of each will ultimately cast their ballots for Rick Noriega. On the flip side, I think the five percent showing for Libertarian Yvonne Schick is too high – I believe she’ll ultimately get two to three percent, with the rest mostly going back to Cornyn.

In case you’re curious, Yvonne Schick ultimately got 2.34% of the vote. Sometimes these predictions are easy to make.The point is that after they’ve polled the gubernatorial primaries in February, the general election races in October, and the (special?) Senate election whenever, we’ll have a much better idea if we’re dealing with reliable data or for-entertainment-purposes-only stuff. My advice is to poll as many races as you can, close to the election whenever possible, and let the chips fall where they may.

Help Equality Texas

Equality Texas, which lobbies on behalf of equal rights for all Texans, had the misfortune of its office being vandalized over the weekend.

The offices of Equality Texas were vandalized over the weekend sometime  Saturday night or on Sunday.  The large front plate glass window was broken out.  Nothing was taken from the office and there was no entry to the building.  There was no graffiti and nothing to indicate specifically that we were targeted except that we were the only office hit in our immediate area (there being multiple offices with plate glass windows).

  • We have called the police and are waiting for a detective to contact us;
  • We have contacted our insurance company but this type of damage is specifically excluded from our tenant coverage (because we don’t own the building) and our business lease makes us responsible for replacement;
  • We have canvassed our neighbors with flyers and have interviewed the  businesses around us.  We found that one office four blocks away had a back door vandalized on Saturday morning.

So, we cannot determine if this is a specific action targeting Equality Texas.

“We appreciate the concern of our members and our neighbors,” said Paul Scott, Equality Texas Executive Director.  “This act of vandalism, whether random or targeted, is a surprise to us in this neighborhood.   The act was clearly intended to cause damage to an occupied office and has disrupted our activities as well as will have a financial impact.  We thank everyone for their help.”

Repairing the damage will cost around $1,200.  If you wish to help us with the cost, please contribute here.

I hope you’ll consider making a donation to help them cover the cost of this. They’re definitely worth supporting. BOR has more.

Saturday video break: National Punctuation Day

What, you didn’t know that it was National Punctuation Day this past Thursday? Here, let Victor Borge explain to you what it’s all about:

I remember him doing a version of this on “The Electric Company” when I was a kid – I still pronounce exclamation points like he does to this day – but alas, I couldn’t find a clip of it on YouTube. But this is pretty good, too.

The Texas Tribune

Very cool.

The longtime editor of Texas Monthly magazine will team with an Austin venture capitalist to form a nonprofit news Web site devoted to government and politics in the Lone Star state.

With a large bankroll, a staff at the outset of about eight journalists, and the cachet of Evan Smith, the Texas Monthly editor, the new venture, called the Texas Tribune, hopes to be an immediate force on the state’s political landscape, much as Politico became two years ago in national politics. Many local news organizations have cut back on statehouse coverage, and the creators of the Texas Tribune plan not only to post news on their own site, but also to supply it to newspapers around the state.

“This is not about horse race politics, primarily,” Mr. Smith, who will have the title of chief executive, said in an interview. “It’s going to be a lot of deep-dive policy stuff. We have the lowest voting turnout in the country. We have a number of major issues that get no attention or insufficient attention by the people we elect.”

My congratulations to Evan Smith and to former Houston Chronicle reporter Matt Stiles, who will be joining Smith on staff at the Texas Trib. I’m excited to see what kind of coverage they will produce. Just one question: does this mean that Eileen will finally be in charge at Texas Monthly?

The chairman of Texas Tribune is John Thornton, general partner of Austin Ventures, a venture capital firm, who said he has given $1 million to the project and has raised $2.2 million, and plans to raise $4 million from individuals and foundations by the time it begins, possibly in November. Other nonprofit local news sites in places like the Twin Cities, San Diego, St. Louis and Chicago started with significantly less money behind them.

“We want to have at least two years’ runway, even if there’s no additional revenue, and preferably three,” he said.

An active supporter of Texas Democrats, Mr. Thornton, 44, who is based in Austin, said he is giving up partisan politics for the sake of the Texas Tribune. He said the new venture has quietly approached reporters and editors about joining, and that with many journalists unemployed, and others worried that their employers will keep shrinking, “talent ain’t the issue.”

Thornton was a year ahead of me at Trinity. He’s been blogging about the changing face and realities of media and its finances for some time now, so the fact that he launched something like this is no surprise to me. I wish him and his crew good luck with this venture, and will be very interested to see if it can be as successful as they hope.

The IR Guide to Parenting

In honor of Father’s Day, I bring you this post by Stephen M. Walt on how parenting and international relations are basically the same thing.

First off, modern realist theory focuses on the structure of the system and especially number of major powers in it. Right off the bat, this perspective can tell you a lot about the dynamics parents face as the size of their family increases. When parents have one child, the balance of power is in their favor. They can double-team the lucky kid, and give each other a break by taking turns. Life is good.

But if you have a second child the dynamics shift. If one parent is alone at home and both kids are awake, the balance of power isn’t in the parent’s favor anymore. Instead of double-teaming them, they get to double-team you. And once the kids are mobile, you learn about another key IR concept: the window of opportunity. You’re feeding or changing Kid #1, and Kid #2 makes a bolt out the front door, just like North Korea tested a nuclear weapon while we were busy with Iraq. Or you’re in the middle of a crowded department store and they each decide to head down different aisles. The potential complications of a multipolar order were never clearer the first time this happened to me.

Read the whole thing – it’s hilarious in the way that makes you laugh and wince at the same time. Thanks to Hilzoy for the link.

And since I got a request for a current picture of the girls, here’s one from Olivia’s fifth birthday party:

Olivia and Audrey

Olivia and Audrey

Happy Father’s Day!


Welcome to the blogosphere, Lisa Falkenberg. I think you’ll find the medium gives you a lot of freedom as a writer – if nothing else, each entry needn’t be the same length. Experiment a little, engage some of us old guys of the neighborhood, and above all have fun. Now when is Rick Casey gonna get one, too?

Chronicle cuts

Brutal day at 801 Texas yesterday, with more today. I confess, I don’t understand how getting rid of the people who create the content helps make the product more viable going forward, but what do I know? I’m sure they have some Cunning Master Plan to make it all make sense.

Banjo and Hair Balls have the gory details. I’d like to express my sympathies and best wishes to everyone who got the axe. There’s a lot of talent on that list, and it won’t be easily replaced. May you all find something better.

I have to say also, as a fan of the Rice Owls, that I’m truly pissed off that the Chron has let MK Bower go. He did an outstanding job on the Rice beat, and Owl fans are showing him the love for it. With the departure of Mike Murphy and Terrance Harris, who covered UH and TSU, as well, the Chron has made it clear that if it ain’t the Big XII, they won’t be paying attention. Thanks a hell of a lot.

Red, white, blue, and hopefully back

I’m glad to see that the KUHT political program The Connection: Red, White, and Blue is on its way back to the airwaves after an unplanned hiatus followed by a bit of a kerfuffle. It fills a very useful niche in the local media landscape – as the story notes, it was the only place to see Adrian Garcia and Tommy Thomas go head-to-head last year – and is the sort of thing that public television should be doing. (And just so we’re clear, I think KUHT has been doing some excellent work, most notably with its “Houston Have Your Say” series.) It’s also the show where I made my local teevee debut, so there’s some sentimental value there as well. I look forward to its return, hopefully in time for some shows focusing on the big municipal elections we’ll be having this fall.

Public Service Announcements department

Just a couple of announcements that may be of interest to readers. The first is a press release from Women Professionals in Government:

Women Professionals in Government Offers Scholarship Opportunity

Women Professionals in Government proudly announces a $1,500 scholarship award to be given to an outstanding woman who is currently pursuing studies toward a career in public service. The award is open to those pursuing future careers or furthering their education to enhance her existing public administration position. The primary objective of the WPG Scholarship is to assist exceptional women who are dedicated to becoming public servants.

Full-time or part-time graduate and undergraduate students are eligible. In addition, the winner of the scholarship will receive a complimentary one-year membership to WPG, affording excellent networking opportunities with established professionals in government and professionals from government affiliated companies and organizations.

Candidates must be female residents of the Greater Houston area and students in good standing at an accredited university. Graduate applicants must have completed at least 12 graduate hours, and undergraduate applicants must have completed at least 30 undergraduate hours. Determination of the award will depend on the applicant’s professional and scholastic achievements, demonstrated community service, reasons for pursuing a public service career, challenges to future professional and scholastic achievement, and scholarship need.

A copy of the application form is here (Word doc). For more information, contact Jeraine Root at 713 755 3493.

If you’re a parent in Houston and are trying to figure out what to do with your kids this summer, you might want to check out The Summer Book, which is put out every year by Sarah Gish.

[The Summer Book] includes information on over 200 organizations offering camps and classes for children in the summertime. The camps are divided by “arts”, “educational”, “religious”, “special needs” and “sports”. It also includes information on which camps are free or offer scholarships, which are full day or for teens, as well as a week-by-week chart by date and a chart detailing amenities of each camp. To help parents “map out” each child’s summer, there is a camp calendar for organizing weekly schedules.

I was sent a copy of this a week or so ago, and it’s an impressive amount of info. Our girls are a little too young for it now, but with Olivia about to enter kindergarten, that won’t be the case for long. If you’re in that situation now, check it out.

RIP, Terry Hayes

Terry Hayes, an employee of the Houston Chronicle who wrote an award-winning blog that detailed her fight against terminal cancer, has died at the age of 42.

Hayes spent five years as one of the newspaper’s essential support staffers, handling unseen but critical behind-the-scenes tasks, deflecting and distributing calls and complaints, and encouraging — on occasion, demanding — that co-workers live up to her fierce sense of duty and hard work.

“Terry was the voice of the sports department, the first point of contact for readers who called to complain or compliment, and the liaison between the department and the teams we covered,” said Carlton Thompson, the Chronicle’s sports editor.

“Terry’s loss will be felt not only by those of us who had the pleasure to work with her, but also by the many who knew her only as the caring voice on the other end of the line.”

In April 2006, she was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer and was told she had about two years to live. Ten months later, she began “blogging the adventure” as CancerDiva, a name that she said reflected the “mix of darkness and light” that accompanied her battle for survival.

For the next several months, CancerDiva offered readers her thoughts on topics ranging from European travel to the painful tedium of chemotherapy to thoughts about death to the adventures of her beloved cat, Sasha. She was cited as the state’s best newspaper blogger in 2008 by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors Association.

“She was hesitant at first about blogging, but she wanted so much to share her experience with others,” said Scott Clark,’s editor. “She not only became a good writer but one who touched the lives of hundreds of people who followed her posts – and her struggle.”

You can read the CancerDiva blog here. She was truly a remarkable person. My sincere condolences to her family and friends. Rest in peace, Terry Hayes.

UPDATE: The Bloggess eulogizes her friend.

RIP, Terry Hayes

Terry Hayes, an employee of the Houston Chronicle who wrote an award-winning blog that detailed her fight against terminal cancer, has died at the age of 42.

Hayes spent five years as one of the newspaper’s essential support staffers, handling unseen but critical behind-the-scenes tasks, deflecting and distributing calls and complaints, and encouraging — on occasion, demanding — that co-workers live up to her fierce sense of duty and hard work.

“Terry was the voice of the sports department, the first point of contact for readers who called to complain or compliment, and the liaison between the department and the teams we covered,” said Carlton Thompson, the Chronicle’s sports editor.

“Terry’s loss will be felt not only by those of us who had the pleasure to work with her, but also by the many who knew her only as the caring voice on the other end of the line.”

In April 2006, she was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer and was told she had about two years to live. Ten months later, she began “blogging the adventure” as CancerDiva, a name that she said reflected the “mix of darkness and light” that accompanied her battle for survival.

For the next several months, CancerDiva offered readers her thoughts on topics ranging from European travel to the painful tedium of chemotherapy to thoughts about death to the adventures of her beloved cat, Sasha. She was cited as the state’s best newspaper blogger in 2008 by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors Association.

“She was hesitant at first about blogging, but she wanted so much to share her experience with others,” said Scott Clark,’s editor. “She not only became a good writer but one who touched the lives of hundreds of people who followed her posts – and her struggle.”

You can read the CancerDiva blog here. She was truly a remarkable person. My sincere condolences to her family and friends. Rest in peace, Terry Hayes.

UPDATE: The Bloggess eulogizes her friend.

The case for freight rail

I’ve seen this linked several places, and finally got around to reading Phillip Longman’s article on freight rail and the very strong case for investing in it as part of an economic stimulus package. It’s got something for everyone, including the promise of relieving highway congestion by getting big trucks off the interstates. Read it and see what you think.

Houston Tomorrow Distinguished Speaker Series Doubleheader

The following comes from Houston Tomorrow, which is the new name for the Gulf Coast Institute:

Houston Tomorrow Distinguished Speaker Series Doubleheader

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008
Neal Peirce, Syndicated columnist
Topic: What does the Obama election mean for federal policy in metropolitan regions?

Neal Peirce is a pulse-taker of change in how America governs itself. His column has repeatedly broken fresh ground in identifying vital new trends state and local governments and the dynamics of federal/state/local relations. Time magazine called Peirce “the only national chronicler of grass-roots America.” His weekly column, syndicated through The Washington Post Writers Group since 1978, appears in over 50 newspapers.

Thursday, December 4th, 2008
Mark Winne, Author and food activist
Topic: Closing the Gap – Food security and policy in a fast-changing world.

Mark Winne is the author of “Closing the Food Gap — Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty.” From 1979 to 2003, he was the Executive Director of the Hartford Food System, a private non-profit agency that works on food and hunger issues in the Hartford, Connecticut area. During his tenure with HFS, Mark organized community self-help food projects that assisted the city’s lower income and elderly residents. Mark’s work with the Food System included the development of commercial food businesses, Connecticut’s Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, farmers’ markets, a 25-acre community supported agriculture farm, a food bank, food and nutrition education programs, and a neighborhood supermarket.

Details for both events:
United Way Community Resource Center
50 Waugh Dr., Houston, TX
reception 6:30
lecture 7:00 – 8:30

Receptions and lectures are free.
Donations are appreciated.
RSVP to [email protected]


Don’t mess with Juanita

You go, girl. Read and enjoy.

The new Examiner

Check out the new look at the West U Examiner, which debuted this past week. It’s much slicker, with user comments in stories, and apparently will have more frequent updates – see, for example, this story about the ongoing Kirby trees saga. Their opinion page is now the home for the print stylings of KTRK reporter/blogger Miya Shay, who’ll be filling in for Chris Bell while he runs for State Senate. Here’s Miya’s take on CD07 challenger Michael Skelly. Nice to see that her voice for blogging carries over to the more traditional format.

(By the way, if you haven’t seen the video Miya got of President Bush’s speech at the Pete Olson fundraiser, I don’t know how you’ve managed to miss it. Go check it out, it’s for stuff like this that the word “flabbergasted” was coined.)

Netroots Nation

It occurs to me that I haven’t pimped my participation in Netroots Nation yet. I will be there, trying to attend as many concurrently-scheduled events as I can (where’s Hermione’s time-travel charm when you really need it?), and sitting on a panel along with some of my Texas blogging colleagues – that’s Friday, 3 PM, Ballroom F, be there or be square. Oh, and I’ll be at this party tomorrow night. I don’t really know what else to expect, other than the certainty of getting lost inside the labyrinthine Austin Convention Center, but I’m looking forward to it, and I’ll do my best to tell you about the stuff I see and hear. And for those of you who can’t be in Austin physically for this event, you can be there virtually. So, one way or the other, I hope to see you there.

And for those of you who can’t wait till tomorrow to get the festivities started, here’s an appetizer from the Texas Politics Today radio show and its hosts, Deece Eckstein and David Kobierowski:

This week on TEXAS POLITICS TODAY, Markos Moulitsas Zúniga is our guest for a lively discussion of Internet activism and the 2008 elections. TEXAS POLITICS TODAY airs from 2:30 to 3:00 p.m. CDT every Wednesday on KOOP, Austin’s community radio station. KOOP is located at 91.7 on the FM dial and also streams live over the Internet at

KOOP, “the little station that could,” is Austin’s only community-owned radio station. It shares the FM 91.7 radio frequency with KVRX, the University of Texas student radio. It also streams live over the Web at KOOP is on the air on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and on weekends from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

I figure you know who Markos is, so I skipped the brief bio. Tune in later today for this unofficial kickoff to Netroots Nation, and I’ll see you there tomorrow.

Holiday weekend link dump

Some links to get you through the weekend…

A look back at a time when the US knew how to make the US look good.

Don’t cut your kid’s hair. Pay for a real haircut, save yourself the angst.

Look out, Gay Talese! Screen shot here if needed.

“You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”, by the Ukelele Orchestra of Britain (via).

What does Obama believe in?

Conservapedia versus science. Science wins.

From the IOKIYAR files.

A good time was had by all at the Houston Votes event.

What do Congressional candidates think about science? I’m glad someone is asking.

Is voting behavior inherited? I don’t know, but I love studies done on twins.

Help Darcy Burner. And as long as you’re in that frame of mind, please consider helping Brian Beutler.

Weekend link dump

Just some interesting links from other folks to check out…

Deadspin has a new executive editor. To no one’s surprise, it’s not a woman.

The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell says that James Dobson does not speak for him.

The Top Ten Ways to get yourself discriminated against at the Department of Justice.

Will first-term City Council Member Jolanda Jones draw a serious challenger in 2009? Maybe, but you’d have to do a lot better than that to impress me.


It’s taken him a long time to work through the first of the “Left Behind” books, but Slacktivist’s take on them is still some of the best writing on the Internet.

If you insist on “teaching the controversy”, then by God, teach the controversy!

Hey, did you know that Norbizness was blogging again? Well, now you do.

No castration without representation!

Still more me on your TV

Tonight at 7:30 PM Central time, those of you who get KNCT, the PBS station in Central Texas, can see me on your TV – once again in a suit and tie – as a guest on Mary Beth Harrell’s talk show Insight Texas. The good news – or bad news, depending on your perspective – is that even those of you who don’t get KNCT can still watch me do my talking head act, as the show will be shown on the Insight website – look here for that; it may not be there immediately, but I presume it will be there eventually. In addition to that, there’s a behind the scenes webcast, which now has a brief discussion on how the lighting for the show is done but will later show us panelists eating donuts and answering more questions.

The other panelists on this episode were Lynn Woolley, who played the Evil Conservative to my Bearded Liberal, and the fabulous Karen Brooks of the Dallas Morning News. It was fun, and as it was filmed several weeks ago, before my local PBS appearance, technically would count as my first TV gig. So tune and say that you knew me when.

Ree-C has her say

Here’s what my co-blogger Ree-C Murphy had to say (corssposted here) about the Houston Have Your Say event that I blogged about last week. I’m very much in sync with her about what we experienced, and what we hope everyone got out of it. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be involved, and my thanks again to the folks at KUHT and Ree-C for making it so. Lisa Falkenberg also comments.