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June, 2003:

Reports from elsewhere

Byron has his writeup of the Dallas hearing, plus a letter from a woman who attended the ill-fated Brownsville hearing. Both are full of useful information. Thanks, Byron!

Open for business

As the Austin American Statesman reminds us, there’s more than just redistricting going on in Austin right about now:

An Austin lobbyist took a look at his calendar for the next 30 days and sent a friend a tongue-in-cheek summary: “There are now 32 invitations for opportunities to participate in fund-raising receptions. I think I’ll go to them all — may I borrow your checkbook?”

During a regular session of the Legislature, members are barred from raising campaign contributions, an attempt at restricting the rawest way to influence law-making that marked a bygone era in Texas politics. No such rule exists during a special session. It’s open season on lobbyists’ expense accounts.

The special session on redistricting opens today, and with it, the doors to various fund-raising receptions for legislators brought back to Austin.

Because the session will be dominated at least at first by congressional redistricting, it means that a relative handful of legislators will be busy. Most of them will have plenty of time to hit up the lobby for golf, dinners, lunches and other forms of diversion while committees work out the details.

Granted, the Legislature isn’t the back-slapping collection of hard-drinking partiers that it was once was, but that many people with that much time on their hands is an invitation to mischief.

Maybe the Lege is different nowadays (I doubt it’s that different), but it wasn’t that long ago that Bo Pilgrim was handing out $10,000 checks on the Senate floor just before a vote about worker’s compensation came up. There’s a reason why fundraising during regular sessions is verboten, and with the business lobbyists’ gallery being called the “owner’s box” I’d say there’s at least as strong a reason for there to be a ban on fundraising during this or any special session. Hell, it was fundraising that gave rise to the conditions that led to this session. Of course, our lapdog Governor will never take such a bold step. It would be bad for his own business.

Thanks to Matt for the tip on the Statesman editorial.

Does Jell-o have the salad nature?

Having read Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s paean to Jell-o salads, I am struck with the awe-inspiring realization that I am an actual ethnic person, because the only place I ever encountered Jell-o in my childhood was as a dessert. I see Jell-o salads from time to time here at work when there’s a potluck lunch of some kind, and they always look out of place to me. As far as I’m concerned, if there isn’t vinegar involved, it ain’t salad.

Growing up where the dominant cuisine was Italian*, our family recipes are a bit more spicy, though by no means any healthier (see the ingredient list for Easter Bread in this post I wrote after my grandmother died for a prime example). On the other side of the family, my cousin Maureen solicited a bunch of recipies from various relatives for a cookbook that she put together as a wedding favor. I need to hunt one of them down to see if there are any deep, dark Jell-o secrets lurking out there.

Thanks to Karin for pointing this out to me.

* – My Irish father, who loves garlic more than my delicate-stomached mother does, was quickly adopted as an honorary paisan by Mom’s aunts once they discovered how big his appetite was for their cooking. This is a fairly universal way to get in good with one’s in-laws, and a lesson I learned well (it helps that my own mother-in-law is an excellent cook).

Special session starts

Hang on to your life, liberty, and property again: the Lege has reconvened to take another shot at shoving a redistricting bill through. Before anyone asks, the reason that the Dems (almost surely) won’t walk out again is simple. In the regular session, the walkout occurred on the Monday before the Friday deadline for new bills to be brought to the floor. The DeLay/King redistricting bill had just come out of committee, but hadn’t been brought to the floor for a full House vote yet. The Dems broke quorum to prevent that from happening, and with the Friday deadline, they only needed to stay away for five days. The rules are different in a special session, meaning that the Dems would have to stay away a lot longer in order to accomplish the same feat. Given that the Governor could always call another special session, that tactic would likely be ineffective.

Even if you grant that they could stick together – and out of the reach of whatever law enforcement groups the Republicans could sic on them – for however long it took, they’d be unlikely to get the same favorable reaction from the press. Doing something like that once is a bold stroke in defense of one’s principles. Doing it twice is tiresome and petty. Fair or not, that’s how it would be portrayed.

The House Dems took their best shot. If this is to be defeated, it’s up to the Senate. With Eddie Lucio’s announcement that he’s running for reelection, that removes creating a district that he could win as an incentive the GOP can dangle in front of him. Frank Madla, Ken Armbrister, and maybe Bill Ratliff are all swing votes. If Lucio decides to stand with the rest of the Democrats – never a sure bet given his Sybil-like nature, but let’s say so for the sake of argument – the GOP will need two of the other three to go along. You can bet there’ll be plenty of arm-twisting a-happening.

There’s still a question of which map will wind up being presented to the Senate by the House. At the hearing on Saturday, the weaselly Ron Wilson kept saying that the lines were still being negotiated. For sure, the DeLay/King map will be challenged in court – the expert hired by Governor Perry for the 2001 redistricting attempt says so:

“The overall nature of the proposed plan is troubling,” said John Alford, a Rice University political science professor. “It is a pro-Republican partisan gerrymander on top of an already pro-Republican existing plan.

“It attempts to achieve for the Republican Party in Washington, through artificial pairings and partisan packing and cracking, what Republican voters in the existing districts could already do easily on their own — elect a disproportionately Republican delegation,” Alford said in a written report.

Alford’s comments were in a memo to Texas Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, who has been spearheading an effort by Democrats in the state Senate to block the redrawn congressional map. Barrientos and others requested the analysis. Barrientos could not be reached for comment.


To increase Republican seats, crafters of the House plan pack Democratic voters in fewer districts, reducing districts with Democratic majorities from 12 to 10 and making all Democratic districts into minority districts, Alford said.

Also, the plan shifts more minorities into districts where minorities already are the majority. The plan stretches boundaries many miles and in odd configurations to draw in minorities from separate areas of the state, he said.

“The focus, in other words, is on the ethnicity of the representative, not the ethnicity of the voters and their ability to elect their candidates of choice — the test under the Voting Rights Act,” Alford said in his report.

The Supreme Court has previously rejected districts that were irregularly drawn and overly race conscious, including some in Texas, Alford said.

Until another map is displayed and approved, this is all theoretical. The Republicans are still arguing amongst themselves about this.

Don’t look for anything to happen too quickly. According to Byron, the House has already adjourned until 10 AM Thursday. With Friday being a holiday, expect the real action to begin next week.

More Westar

Now that they’ve discovered Westar, the Chron has finally gotten around to editorializing on it:

DeLay denied any quid pro quo, and probably none was stated. But business interests focused on enriching themselves do not hand out lavish campaign donations without expecting something in return. Sometimes it is only to avoid the kind of retribution that DeLay has threatened from time to time.

In e-mails, Westar executives hoped their contributions would bring a seat at the table. DeLay has been known to turn over entire offices to lobbyists intent on writing legislation to benefit their clients.

The editorial meanders though a laundry list of DeLay’s offenses, and as such doesn’t have much of an edge to it. I almost can’t blame them – DeLay is such a target-rich environment.

Meanwhile, the Dallas Morning News has a good overview of how Westar and other corporate cash ties into last year’s statewide election and now the redistricting battle.

The Texans PAC raised about $1.5 million in 2002, including $50,000 from El Paso Energy, $25,000 from Phillip Morris, $20,000 from AT&T and $25,000 from Kansas-based Westar Energy, a company embroiled in a fund-raising controversy.

In all, more than $500,000 of the PAC’s money came from out-of-state corporations, many with interests in federal legislation, records indicate.

In the 2002 Texas elections, the PAC gave $747,000 in contributions to the 22 key Republican candidates, 18 of whom won their races and provided the margin for the GOP takeover in the House.

“Our objective was to win the statehouse, maintain a majority in the Senate and help the statewide candidates,” [John Colyandro, former executive director of the Texans for a Republican Majority] said.

As PAC officers became confident about the Senate and statewide efforts, “we ended up focused on the state House in the last cycle,” he said.

I’ll say again: That’s an awful lot of money from businesses that aren’t based in Texas in order to affect Texas state elections and thus curry favor with one Texas federal politician. Doesn’t that seem, you know, wrong, somehow?

As for the Westar connection:

As congressional negotiators fashioned an energy bill last year, Westar executives wanted to free the company from certain regulations and devised a plan to get a “a strong position at the table” by dedicating $55,000 for political donations, according to internal company e-mails that have become public in recent weeks.

Mr. DeLay and Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, received donations. They said they did nothing wrong and made no promises to Westar, regardless of the company’s expectations about access or favorable treatment.

Mr. Barton introduced a provision that could have saved the company billions of dollars but dropped his support when a grand jury began investigating former Westar CEO David Wittig, who was indicted on charges unrelated to campaign fund-raising.

Texans PAC records on file with the IRS indicate that Westar gave the donation a few weeks before several Westar executives attended a two-day retreat and “energy roundtable” with Mr. DeLay at a mountain resort in Virginia.

DeLay aides say the majority leader did not solicit the donation. He met with Westar representatives last September to discuss the company’s problem, which involved tax treatment for utility holding companies.

Be honest with me, now. Do you really believe that the Westar folks contributed to a Tom DeLay PAC that was aimed at electing representatives in a state where they don’t do business on their own volition? Do you really believe this idea sprung, fully formed, into their own heads as the fully grown goddess Athena emerged from the head of Zeus?

By the way, in case anyone’s paying attention, another politician is returning his Westar money rather than deal with the whiff of taint. Attorney General Ashcroft, who still hasn’t addressed his own Westar ties, has announced no plans to look into any of this yet.

More redistricting coverage

A few more articles on the redistricting hearings: from the Dallas Morning News (here and here), from the Laredo Morning Times, and from the Lufkin Daily News. Via The View v.2.

Cell phone spam

I’ve never been tempted to get text messaging on my cell phone, and after reading this story, I’m even less inclined to do so.

Although few customers are receiving cell phone spam now, experts predict the onslaught will multiply to e-mail-sized proportions. Efforts to regulate spam thus far have been weak at best, and there is very little consumers can do to protect themselves.

Last week, cell phones were added to the Texas No Call list, with telemarketing companies held to the list’s rules beginning March 2004. But many consumer advocates already criticize the current list because it has too many loopholes, enforcement is weak and the drawn-out process for handling complaints tilts too far in favor of telemarketers.

Regulators say the number of complaints has been hard to track because the problem is relatively new. But complaints have been increasing, as “texting” has become more popular.

“We’re hearing more about it,” said Rosemary Kimball, spokeswoman for the Federal Communications Commission.


Experts are drawing similarities between the growing popularity of texting and e-mail, and the similarities may soon include huge amounts of spam. Experts say consumers should be on the lookout for cell phone spam.

“It’s a far better target for spammers than randomly generated e-mail addresses,” Chamberlain said.

Cell phone numbers are assigned in blocks of about 10,000 units, Chamberlain said, making it easier to predict existing numbers. For example, if someone’s last four digits were 1111, it is likely the same numbers would exist with the last four digits 1112, 1113 and so on, he said.

There are three ways to text message a cell phone: from another mobile phone, from a cell phone provider’s Web site, or by e-mail. It is possible spammers will incur no cost for sending the message, but consumers may be charged a few cents for receiving it.

“Unlike Internet spam, wireless phone spam comes with an annoying beep on your phone and a direct price tag,” said Janee Briesemeister, senior policy analyst with the Consumers Union in Austin. “Consumers aren’t just getting an annoying message they didn’t want, they are paying 10 cents for it.”

I need to sign up for the national no-call list, which I see allows you to include cell phone numbers as well. If there’s ever a national Do-Not-Send-Text-Messages list, I’ll sign up for that even if I don’t ever get text messaging on my cell phone.

I must confess, I don’t get Radley Balko’s objection to the national Do Not Call list. I’m sorry, but I consider my right to exclude whoever I want from my own home to be more valuable than MegaCorp’s right to interrupt my dinner. Yes, Caller ID helps, but not nearly as much as you might think. For one thing, most junk calls come in as “Caller Unknown”. I could ignore all of those calls, but unfortunately calls from my out-of-state parents also come in as “Caller Unknown”. I don’t want to have to make my folks start every call by talking to my machine in order to filter out sales calls. I agree with the commenter who says that this is the equivalent of putting up a “No Trespassing” sign. If that ain’t libertarian, then being libertarian ain’t worth squat.

UPDATE: Patrick points to this post which explains why the national do-not-call list ain’t all that. Rats!

A trio of redistricting editorials

Another unsigned editorial in the Chron denouncing the special session on redistricting, which begins tomorrow. They’ve been pretty consistent on this, and for a change they note that they editorialized against Democratic gerrymandering back in 1991. (No, I’m not going to search through their archives to verify or contradict this.)

This op-ed piece talks about the effect of redistricting here and elsewere on democracy:

Does redistricting make a difference? You bet it does. Virginia Democrats in 2001 won their first gubernatorial race since 1989. But Republicans went from barely controlling the statehouse to a two-thirds majority. How? That’s right – Republicans drew the district lines before the election.

In many states, one party stuck it to the other in redistricting. Take Florida, where Democrats are strong enough to hold both U.S. Senate seats and gain a virtual tie in the presidential race. But with full control of drawing the district lines, Republicans hold an overwhelming 18 of 25 U.S. House seats. In 2002 Maryland Democrats picked up two of the state’s Republicans’ four U.S. House seats as a direct result of redistricting.

However dangerous to democracy such partisan power grabs are, however, the problem is more fundamental and sweeping. The real story of the last redistricting cycle was that both parties generally colluded in a crass way to take on their real enemy: the voters. “Incumbent protection” was raised to a whole new level.

The result was that in 2002, just four incumbents – the fewest in history – lost to nonincumbent challengers. In California, every single incumbent won by landslide margins. It was no coincidence that Democratic incumbents forked over $20,000 apiece to the redistricting consultant to draw them a safe seat, and that the consultant was the brother of one of the incumbents. To buy their cooperation, Republican incumbents were given safe seats too. California voters were the real losers.

The authors make a plea for “nonpartisan redistricting commissions”, one of those things that sounds nice but is rather hard to imagine existing in the real world. (Yes, I know, Iowa and Washington state have something like that. Unfortunately, in Texas I’d expect that the only nonpartisans you could find to participate would also be completely ignorant and apathetic about it.)

Finally, there’s this puzzling op-ed, which tries to make a case that both sides were wrong in the walkout but never cites any facts to support his argument:

The founders of Texas gathered together during a hot Texas summer in 1845 to craft the first constitution of the state of Texas. They crafted a very thoughtful system, which included the requirement of a quorum of two-thirds. A quorum is the number of legislators required to be present before the House can begin. While only a majority is needed to pass a bill, there must be at least two-thirds of the House present to open business. This ensures the majority may not gather in secret without the opportunity for the minority to join the debate. It also ensures that a catastrophe, such as losing a large number of legislators in an accident or war, does not afford a political opportunity to the majority who could meet quickly before replacement representatives were appointed.

Yet these writers of the Texas Constitution also realized that legislators making up the minority could easily subvert this process and misuse the quorum requirement by simply refusing to show up (for example, fleeing to Oklahoma). This would allow the requirement of a quorum to be used as a bargaining chip rather than its real purpose of ensuring open participation and debate.

So these wise men added a provision to the quorum requirement (then Article III, Section 12) which is still in place today. Article III, Section 10 of the current Texas Constitution states that a smaller number of legislators than the quorum may “compel the attendance of absent members, in such manner and under such penalties as each house may provide.”

Very simply, the Texas founders highly disapproved of intentionally being absent to avoid a quorum. They disapproved so much that they gave those legislators in attendance, though less than a quorum, great and expansive powers. The House members who are there may act “in such manner” and assess “such penalties” as they decide. Such expansive powers are rarely given — to anyone.

The Texas founders clearly thought this was important. To do nothing to compel attendance of absent legislators is tantamount to allowing our constitutional legislative process to be intentionally hijacked for the political gain of a small group. The remaining House members have a constitutional duty to have criminal arrest warrants issued to compel the return of the missing legislators and fine them severely if they don’t.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans are heroes in the May debacle. It is not courage but dereliction of duty to refuse to show up for your constitutional obligations in the Legislature. Quorum is intended to ensure the full participation of all voices, not the tyranny of the minority.

It is also wrong, as the Republicans did, to stand idly by and do nothing to enforce our constitution or the democratic-republican forum of government it sets in place. All that is necessary for the destruction of our state constitution system is for good men and women to do nothing.

I suppose it’s possible that the men who wrote Texas’ Constitution might have this view of an intentional walkout, but I’m not going to take this author’s word for it if he can’t be bothered to scare up a quote or two in support of it. It seems to me that it’s equally valid to conclude that the authors of a system that deliberately weakened the powers of the executive and explicitly spelled out a means to prevent government business from proceeding might not have disapproved of the renegades’ actions.

As for the claims that the Republicans “stood idly by”, well, I guess this guy hasn’t been reading about all of the things that the DPS was ordered to do, from visiting prenatal wards to calling the Department of Homeland Security. Perhaps he’d have been mollified by an armed assault on the Ardmore Holiday Inn, but it seems to me that the GOP did everything it reasonably could – not to mention a few things it unreasonably could – to get the Democrats back. I suppose I could do a Google search on author Kelly Shackleford or his “Free Market Foundation” to see if he’s always this dense, but I have better things to do with my time.

Report from Houston’s House redistricting hearing

This morning my friend Andrea and I spent two hours at the House redistricting committee’s public meeting. We knew it was going to be wild before we got there, and we were not disappointed. When we arrived at 8:45, the parking lot outside the Rod Paige Auditorium at Texas Southern University was already full. We were directed to a satellite lot a block away. As we milled about the foyer before we were seated, it was obvious that despite efforts from both parties to rally the troops, Democrats far outnumbered Republicans. A reporter from News24 Houston asked us if we were Republicans. When we told her no, she said that she hadn’t found any yet. There were a few there, but I’d estimate the crowd was more than 95% Democrat. (There were also a couple of LaRouchies there, passing out literature and making a nuisance of themselves.)

The hearing itself started an hour late. There was a form that you had to fill out if you wanted to testify. For some odd reason, photocopied or faxed versions of this form were unacceptable. I’m not talking about forms on which the signature was not original, I mean any blank form that had been copied or faxed had to be redone even if it bore a genuine autograph. A lot of time was wasted while people redid their forms.

The panel was chaired by Rep. Geanie Morrison (R, Victoria). Members included Phil King (R, Weatherford), who was the author of the House redistricting bill that was killed by the Ardmore walkout, Ron Wilson, Sylvester Turner, Rick Noriega (all D, Houston), Robert Talton (R, Pasadena), Vilma Luna (D, Corpus Christi), Martha Wong (R, Houston), and a couple more whose names I did not catch. Morrison solicited and received a motion to limit testimony to five minutes per person due to the number of people present (all seats were taken, and folding chairs were brought in to handle the overflow), which was passed without comment. She also asked the audience to please refrain from making noise, as the proceedings were being recorded and transcribed. She may as well have asked everyone to suck their thumbs throughout, as events transpired. Two translators, one Spanish and one Vietnamese, were introduced and announced their availability for anyone who might need them.

First to speak were the members of Congress who were present. Gene Green and Chris Bell declined to testify. They requested instead that written reports they’d prepared be entered into the record, and they said that they opposed redistricting. Sheila Jackson Lee was the first to actually speak on the record, though she took only about a minute. Her statement welcoming the committee members to “the current 18th district” drew loud applause. When she finished her brief remarks, Ron Wilson started asking her questions, and that’s when things started to get interesting.

Wilson, who did not walk out and who has been supportive of redistricting and critical of his fellow Democrats, noted that the current plan would make it easier for black candidates to win certain districts, such as the 9th CD, currently held by Nick Lampson. Under the DeLay/Weatherford plan, the 9th would include large swaths of east Houston and would be a “minority opportunity” district. In particular, it would be a district Ron Wilson could win. This was never explicitly said, but it was crystal clear from Wilson’s questions that this was on his mind. he asked Jackson Lee if she favored or opposed increasing the number of minority Congress members from Texas.

Jackson Lee responded by saying that it was more important to her that the interests of minorities be represented. She noted that most Texas Congressional Democrats score 85-95% on the NAACP’s report card. Even Ralph Hall, the most conservative member of the delegation, scored 47%. By contrast, the highest scoring Republican got a 33%. It makes no sense, she said, to trade a bunch of high scoring Democrats of any color for a bunch of Republicans who’d score 20% or less. She also referred to Nelson Wolff’s statement that Rep. Henry Bonilla, the one minority GOP Congress member, would be in danger of losing his seat under the new map.

Wilson followed up by pressing his argument that it’s better to have minority Congress members representing minority constituents rather than having white Congress members in districts that may or may not eventually elect a minority candidate. At one point, as Jackson Lee kept rebuffing his logic, he asked if she’d be willing to have her district split into two smaller ones that white Democrats would win. She refused to take the bait and stayed more or less on message.

Next up were the state representatives. Most of them declined to testify. The two who did were Joe Deshotel (D, Beaumont) and Garnet Coleman (D, Houston). Deshotel echoed a theme also heard in places like Austin and Abilene, which is that the proposed map effectively eliminates representation from his home town. He noted that the 9th CD, which elected a Republican in 1994 and which voted 53% for Perry and Cornyn in 2002, would have 150,000 voters in Beaumont and 500,000 in Houston if the plan went through, meaning that the representative would almost assuredly not be from Beaumont. He also stated that the 9th as it now stands is a minority opportunity district but that no such candidates have chosen to run because they’re satisfied with Lampson.

Wilson took a crack at Deshotel as well, basically asking him the same questions as he did Jackson Lee. Deshotel said that he’d happily support a map that created a new black district, as long as that was all it did. He refused to accept trading seven Democrats for one new black district, likening it to trading seven All Star players for one Shaquille O’Neil.

It was when Garnet Coleman got up to speak that the real fireworks started. Coleman played to the crowd, calling the plan “Republican affirmative action”, blaming Tom DeLay by name, and referring to the Ardmore walkout, all of which drew cheers and pleas from Morrison to the crowd to not make the court reporter’s job any harder. He pounded on the fact that a mid-decade attempt to redistrict that wasn’t ordered by a federal court was unprecedented. After a few minutes of this, Coleman pointed his rhetoric squarely at Wilson, saying “We’re disappointed in you, Ron”.

Well. At that point, I lost the ability to hear what was going on, between the roar of the crowd and Wilson’s angry response. The two bickered loudly for several minutes before Geanie Morrison finally intervened by recognizing Sylvester Turner, who tried to play peacemaker. Coleman was pretty much finished at that point anyway, and he yielded the podium.

That was it for the elected officials, and that was when we left. The hearing was scheduled to run until 8 PM, with a two hour break for lunch at 1. The Chronicle story captures a little bit of what happened, but not much. According to a flyer I saw, there will be a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday at 1 PM at Cesar Chavez High School. I’ll have to depend on the Chron report for that one, as I’ll be at work. As Byron notes, there were hearings elsewhere today, and there was some pre-hearing drama in Dallas. I look forward to reading his report as well.

UPDATE: This updated story has some of the exchange between Coleman and Wilson:

The heat flared up between Coleman and Wilson when Coleman said, “I’m disappointed in you, Ron,” and Wilson replied similarly.

Wilson accused Coleman of putting the interests of the Democratic Party ahead of blacks, noting that he has taken money from the party as a Houston political consultant. Last fall, Coleman helped coordinate a get-out-the-vote effort in Harris County.

That prompted Coleman to point out that Wilson, a Houston lawyer, drove a 2000 Lamborghini to the hearing.

“That’s why you’re shilling for the Republicans,” Coleman screamed at Wilson, causing many in the crowd to start chanting “sell out.”

“Well,” Wilson yelled back, “I don’t make my money running campaigns.”

Nasty stuff. For what it’s worth, I heard Coleman say “We’re disappointed”, not “I’m disappointed”, but I could be wrong. I’ll see if I can find the official transcript.

Lawsuit says Chief knew about K-Mart raid

Just when you thought it was safe…A federal lawsuit filed by 62 plaintiffs alleges that Chief C.O. “BAMF” Bradford knew and approved of the K-Mart raid last August. Among others, it names former Captain Mark Aguirre and Council member Michael “Boy Wonder” Berry as defendants.

The suit alleges Bradford was aware of a plan for making indiscriminate sweeps as long as four months before the Kmart mass arrests.

Aguirre, whom the suit calls the mastermind of the sweeps plan, outlined his idea in a memo as early as May 13, 2002, the suit states.

It says Bradford again was informed of the plan in an Aug. 13 memo titled, “Anticipated Mass Arrests from Operation ERACER.” The chief “ultimately approved of, or at the very least, acquiesced to the plan,” the suit alleges.

It says the 1 a.m. raid at the Kmart in the 8400 block of Westheimer was part of an effort to curry political favor with area residents and businesses.

Aguirre first devised the mass arrest technique in response to complaints about crime near the Greyhound Bus Terminal in the 2600 block of Main and street people camps under the Pierce Elevated, the suit says.

Police carried out several sweeps in the areas, the suit says, and “numerous innocent, law-abiding citizens were unlawfully detained, seized and / or arrested in the roundups.”

“Despite its blatant illegality, the plan was popular with residents and businesses, and Capt. Mark Aguirre won praise from them and civic leaders,” the suit says.

It says police and city officials knew that the raids meant that innocent people were being arrested and their constitutional rights violated, but continued to support the raids.

Berry accompanied officers on a “dry run” raid in which 25 people were arrested at James Coney Island the night before the Kmart raid, the suit says.

It describes Berry as a strong supporter of Aguirre’s tactics.

The suit also names John Jennings as representative of Sage Interests, manager of the Kmart and Sonic property, accusing him of falsely telling police that those arrested were trespassing.

I wonder if the commenter on this post is involved in some way with this lawsuit.

Texas political bloggers update

I’ve added several more blogs to the Texas Political Bloggers page. Counting the expats and myself, there’s a total of 66. A special shoutout to newcomer Appalachia Alumni Association, who has the best intro and name explanation I’ve seen in awhile (scroll down to the bottom of the page, the permalink is a bit screwy, something I’ve never before seen in a Movable Type blog). Check ’em out.

Happy Blogiversary, Coffee Corner!

Missed this earlier…Happy third blogiversary to Mike Tremoulet, my blogfather and the guiding voice of Coffee Corner. Yep, Mikey was blogging back in 2000, when the rest of us were still mostly depending on mainstream media sources and using the Web primarily for downloading smut (or so I’ve heard). Raise your cup of java in salute. Way to go, Mikey!

Rice gets its parade

The 2003 National Champion Rice Owls baseball team – and no, I’m not going to get tired of typing that any time soon – got a victory parade in downtown Houston yesterday along with the Calder Cup-winning Houston Aeros. What a great week this has been for Rice.

Hey, Eric, get a load of this letter to the editor:

Proud of mannerly fans

What’s this? No burning buildings, no mobs, no overturned police cars? We must applaud the discipline/restraint of Rice [University] students and Houstonians as we honor the first national athletic title in the [Rice] Owls’ history. This behavior is quite a contrast to other U.S. cities.

Ed Rich, Friendswood


Sodomy ruling reaction

Ginger has some words about the local angle to the Lawrence v. Texas decision, about which Chron coverage is here, a local reaction story is here, an unsigned editorial praising the ruling here, and analysis of DA Chuck Rosenthal’s inept performance arguing the state’s case is here. I agree with Ginger that the net result of Rosenthal’s handling of this case is likely to be at best a wash. He fired up his conservative base as well as his opponents.

Rosenthal is seen by Dems as one of the weaker Harris County incumbents. A glance at the 2000 election returns shows why:

REP - CHUCK ROSENTHAL .  .  .  .  .  .     485,385   54.12
DEM - JAMES S. "JIM" DOUGHERTY .  .  .     411,436   45.88

REP - MICHAEL P. FLEMING .  .  .  .  .     529,029  100.00

REP - TOMMY THOMAS .  .  .  .  .  .  .     534,137  100.00

REP - PAUL BETTENCOURT   .  .  .  .  .     521,165   57.08
DEM - JOHN T. WEBB .  .  .  .  .  .  .     372,671   40.82
LIB - PETER C. ELLOWAY   .  .  .  .  .      19,194    2.10

Rosenthal drew quite a few less votes than similar Republican officeholders. It’s not hard to believe that a strong challenger could knock him off in 2004, though if it happens I’d think it’d be because of his involvement in the HPD Crime Lab scandal and not because of the Lawrence case.

Meanwhile, Ted points to The Antic Muse, who has a sharp and witty analysis of the decision.

Check out the hissy-fit he throws in his dissent, basically predicting that overturning Bowers will lead to utter chaos, real wrath of God type stuff! Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness, earthquakes, and volcanos! The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifices, dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!:

State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers’ validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today’s decision; the Court makes no effort to cabin the scope of its decision to exclude them from its holding.

That’s right, folks, he just argued that the getting the police out of gay people’s bedrooms will lead to pig-fucking. (Or, worse: touching yourself.)

Hilarious. Go read the whole thing.

Finally, as propitious as the ruling’s timing was to coincide with Appropriate Michael Savage’s Name For Your Own Purposes Day, it’s even more fitting that it came two days before Houston’s annual Pride Day Parade. Go read this article – it’s full of what things used to be like for gay folks in Houston, and it ain’t pretty. Here’s a sample:

[Jack] Valinski, host of KPFT-FM’s weekly “Queer Voices” talk show, recalled a day in the 1980s when robed and hooded Ku Klux Klansmen paraded through the heart of Montrose.

Bill Bridges, 65, a longtime member of the fiscally conservative Log Cabin Republicans, remembered when police raids on gay bars in the early 1960s invariably would be reported in a daily newspaper, complete with the names of those arrested and the places they worked.

[Clarence] Bagby, president of the Houston Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Community Center, recalled his days at Sharpstown High School in the late 1970s when openly gay students would be beaten or smashed into lockers. “I didn’t feel safe to be open and out,” he said. “I was afraid someone would take me out back and beat the hell out of me or worse.”

In the 1980s, Bagby recalled, undercover Houston police were assigned to Montrose in an effort to sensitize them to the plight of gays.

“They went out in stereotypical gay outfits — 501 jeans and real tight T-shirts with rolled-up sleeves,” Bagby said. “They kind of looked like muscle boys. Here are these police, heterosexual, middle-aged men. They were horrified by how they were treated. Eggs were thrown at them. One was attacked with a baseball bat.”

In 1985, Houston voters trounced a proposal protecting the jobs of gay city workers. And the momentum of that vote led to creation of of a “Straight Slate” of anti-gay rights candidates, led by former Mayor Louie Welch. Welch failed in his challenge to then-Mayor Kathy Whitmire, but not before suggesting one answer to curbing the growing AIDS epidemic was to “shoot the queers.”

Verbal and physical gay bashing reached its nadir on July 4, 1991, when 27-year-old banker John Broussard and two friends left a Montrose night spot to be confronted by 10 teens from The Woodlands.

In the ensuing altercation, Broussard suffered crushed testicles, a broken rib and two stab wounds in the chest. He died hours later at a Houston hospital.

With Hill, a gay gadfly and ex-jewel thief, in the forefront, Houston’s gay community successfully agitated for full investigation and prosecution of the crime. Broussard’s killer, Jon Buice, was sentenced to 45 years in prison.

These are all things that happened within my lifetime, some of them within my memory. Don’t ever forget what it was like.

[Ken Jones, president of the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus] estimated that as many as 20 percent of Houstonians may be “truly scared of gays.” “That may be down from 60 percent,” he said. “I’m just pulling these numbers out of my hat, but there’s no doubt there’s a group frightened of the ‘gay agenda.’ I’d like to know what that is.

Ask and ye shall receive.

Redistricting hearings

Byron’s on the job covering the redistricting hearings going on around the state. Be sure to read the various accounts of the brouhaha in Brownsville. I will be at the Houston hearing tomorrow morning and will report what goes on wen I return.

Easily the most ludicrous thing that has been said or will be said by anyone in this whole ridiculous saga was said by Rob Beckham, a former Abiliene City Council member and an obviously sore loser who failed to knock off Charlie Stenholm in 2002:

Beckham assigns Stenholm a generous share of the blame for the threat to the 17th District.

“We are a Republican district that has continued to vote for Congressman Stenholm,” he said. “Charlie’s ego has kept him running for office.”

Stenholm should have retired, switched parties “or done something to protect Abilene,” Beckham said.

Amazing. I think I lost five points of IQ just reading what he said. Hey, you Republicans, you wanna know why you can’t win those five Congressional districts that voted over 50% for Cornyn, Perry, and Dewhurst in 2002 but keep sending guys like Stenholm back to DC, there’s your answer: You’ve run stupid candidates, and the voters have seen right through them.

That in a nutshell is the thing that frosts me the most about this whole thing. It’s very much like the phony push for term limits back in the early 90s – the party that can’t win certain elections that it thinks it should decides the best way to achieve its aims is to change the rules. Jesus H. Christ, Cornyn and Perry got 67% and 72% of the votes in Stenholm’s district. How much friendlier a demographic do you guys need?

[deep breath, deep breath]

OK, that’s better. Meanwhile, I hope people have noticed that Hispanics appear to be none too pleased with redistricting. Despite claims that the DeLay plan would lead to more black and Hispanic Congress members, one plausible scenario that could result from the DeLay map is for the one Hispanic Republican to lose his seat:

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, a Democrat who claims bipartisan support, said U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, was in danger of being unseated in his own party’s primary if lawmakers adopt a redistricting map approved by the House panel during the regular session.

That map, with some changes, is expected to be filed as a starting point for debate during the special session called by Gov. Rick Perry.

Bonilla, a former television producer who has been in Congress for 10 years, has been showcased by President Bush and other Republican leaders in an effort to attract more Hispanics to the GOP.

The GOP proposal would almost completely transform Bonilla’s district, which now stretches from San Antonio across a vast stretch of West Texas to El Paso. He would keep part of Bexar County but exchange the West Texas counties for suburban counties north and east of San Antonio.

Wolff, a former mayor of San Antonio and a former state legislator, said Bonilla would trade a district with a Hispanic majority for one with an Anglo majority. There is a “good chance” that he could lose a challenge in the Republican primary under the proposed map, Wolff added.

Finally, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has accused the county GOP of playing the race card in an email to its supporters:

The target of Jackson Lee’s accusation is an e-mail the local party sent its members, urging them to attend the Texas House Redistricting Committee hearing scheduled Saturday at Texas Southern University.

The e-mail includes a photo of Jackson Lee at a lectern and the caption: “She will be there to express her views … will you be there to express yours?” The caption does not identify the congresswoman.

“I do not believe for a minute that everyone to whom this e-mail was directed knows that is a picture of a congresswoman from the 18th District,” Jackson Lee said. “Many of them will simply see an African-American behind the podium, along with the Republicans’ foreboding language.

“Unfortunately, the Republicans chose to play the race card,” she said. “It is deceitful and it is shameful. The Harris County Republican Party should not simply apologize to me.

“They should apologize to the African-Americans in the Houston area and across the nation.”

County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill claims that emails were sent yesterday and will be sent today that have photos of Chris Bell and Gene Green in them. As for the veracity of Jackson Lee’s charge, I couldn’t say. She’s my Congress member, but I may or may not be able to indentify her from a contextless photo, though one could certainly argue that the photo in Woodfill’s email wasn’t exactly without context. Truthfully, I’d probably assume it was Jackson Lee.

That doesn’t mean I think there’s nothing to what she’s saying here. Remember, one of the things the DeLay map does is move the heavily black Fort Bend Precinct 2 out of his own district and into Jackson Lee’s. With Fort Bend growing progressively less Anglo – one of the things Bob Stein said at the recent Grassroots conference is that the Fort Bend Independent School District is majority nonwhite – it’s very much in his best interests to move as many nonwhite voters out of the 22nd CD as he can.

Don’t believe me? Here are the precinct by precinct results from 2002. According to the Fort Bend County Clerk’s office (whom I called to check on this), in the four-digit precinct number, the first number corresponds to the County Commissioner precinct. Add up the votes for Precinct 2 as I did, and you’ll get that DeLay lost by a margin of 7503 to 5461. It’s just a fraction of the total he won by, but DeLay knows where his bread is buttered, and so does the Harris County GOP.

I’ll report from the hearing tomorrow. This is looking like it’ll be more fun than I first thought it would.

UPDATE: Fixed some errors in the paragraph about GOP voting in Stenholm’s district.

Dan Morales in the pokey

“Beyond stupid” is a pretty good description of this:

Declaring Dan Morales a financial risk to the community, a federal judge on Thursday ordered the former state attorney general to remain behind bars.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks refused to set a new bail for Morales, who is accused of lying about his income and occupation on loan applications for two luxury cars while out on a personal recognizance bond on federal fraud charges.

Morales bought a 2000 Mercedes-Benz convertible and a 2000 Lexus after stating he was working as a lawyer and had an income of $20,000 a month. The cars were bought shortly after Morales told Sparks he needed a court-appointed lawyer because he was not working and had no income.

“This is beyond stupidity,” said Sparks.


After a years-long investigation, Morales was indicted in March in connection with the tobacco legal fees and charges of misusing political funds to make a down payment on his home, lying on a loan application for a $600,000 mortgage and filing a false income tax return for 1998, his last year in office.

During the investigation, Morales had been represented by a high-profile team of lawyers, including former U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins of Dallas and Gerry Goldstein of San Antonio. But after his indictment, he began representing himself in court and in late April told Sparks he needed a court-appointed lawyer.

At the same time, Morales told reporters that it was just a matter of time before he raised $1 million to hire his top legal team. Sparks referred to those news reports, saying that’s not what Morales told him.

“I don’t find Mr. Morales credible,” said Sparks.


Robert Hightower, an FBI agent, testified that credit reports show Morales also has $163,715 in credit card debts and owes more than $500,000 on his West Austin home and $245,000 on a home equity loan.

Hightower said Morales needs $10,615 each month to pay his mortgage, car payments and make minimum payments on his credit cards.

Morales apparently has been able to make his payments even though his last source of income was in October 2001.

Unlike Byron, I did vote for Dan Morales in the Democratic primary last year. I had my doubts about Tony Sanchez, doubts which sadly proved to be true, and still had a lot of good feelings for Morales from his days in the AG’s office. I wish I knew what went wrong for him.

(Side note: My aunt worked for Morales as part of the child support enforcement unit. Hanging on the wall of her garage is a big piece of posterboard that her coworkers all signed when she retired a few years back. One of the signatures belongs to Dan Morales. Nowadays, every time I see it, I think of what he’s become.)

Just a strange turn in an already sad story. I don’t see it getting any better, either.

If you only read one

If you only read one blog entry from yesterday’s Appropriate Michael Savage’s Name For Your Own Purposes Day extravaganza, make sure it’s this one. The standard beverage warning applies.

We now return you to your regular Savage Weiner-free blog.

The next target

Fox News is suing an Austin-based novelty shop that sells Faux News T-shirts and other similar things. So far, this has been a boon for the retailer, boosting their daily page views tenfold, but as is often the case, they have no money to defend themselves against Fox’s legal assault. As Neal Pollack suggests, this may have to be the next target for mass mockery. Stay tuned.

On a side note, I got an email from the Agitproperties guy a couple of months ago asking for a link. I didn’t reply at the time because I wasn’t comfortable linking to a commercial site, even a small one. I’m happy to help with this, though.

Supremes strike down sodomy law

About damn time:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court struck down Texas’ ban on gay sex today, ruling that the arrest of two Houston-area men having sex in their bedroom was an unconstitutional violation of privacy.

The 6-3 ruling reverses course from a ruling 17 years ago that states could punish homosexuals for what such laws historically called deviant sex.

Laws forbidding homosexual sex, once universal, now are rare. Those on the books are rarely enforced but underpin other kinds of discrimination, lawyers for the two men had argued to the court.

The men “are entitled to respect for their private lives,” Kennedy wrote.

“The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime,” he said.

Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer agreed with Kennedy in full. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor agreed with the outcome of the case but not all of Kennedy’s rationale.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.

“The court has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda,” Scalia wrote for the three. He took the unusual step of reading his dissent from the bench.

“The court has taken sides in the culture war,” Scalia said, adding that he has “nothing against homosexuals.”

How perfect that this occurred on Appropriate Michael Savage’s Name For Your Own Purposes Day. Some days the karma is just right.

Speaking of the Savage Weiner, I just received the following email from him:

Justice Scalia is just feeling cranky because he had to miss my annual Crisco ‘n’ Fudge Party this year. Don’t worry, Tony, my Reenact The Bath Scene From Spartacus Party is still on! Senator Santorum says he’s got a loofah with your name written all over it.

Next year we need to lobby to have banks and government buildings closed on days like this. I’m thinking maybe a parade, too.

The Savage Weiner

Today is Appropriate Michael Savage’s Name For Your Own Purposes Day, and after reading Neal Pollack’s opening salvo, I just know that I can’t compete. Hell, looking at Pollack and Atrios and Blah3, I didn’t even realize that the serious playas would be, like, redesigning their sites for this. Still, I promised that I would do something, so I’d better do something.

But then I figured the poor boy would be under such an unrelenting assault from America-hating liberals all day today that maybe I’d exercise a little compassion. So I took a little trip down to the public library and checked out a copy of his book Savage Nation and spent last night reading it. As a public service to you, I hereby present the Top Ten Nice Things About Michael Savage That You America-Hating Liberals Didn’t Know But That I Now Do From Having Read His Wonderful Book:

10. He has the complete works of Judy Garland on VHS and where possible on DVD.
9. He’s an accomplished dancer, especially when going backwards and in high heels.
8. He once saved John Derbyshire‘s life after Derb was bitten on the ass by a rattlesnake.
7. His favorite pet is a declawed gerbil he got from Richard Gere.
6. He enjoys going to the park with George Michael and going to the theater with Pee Wee Herman.

Well, OK, I lied, there were only five nice things about Mr. Savage Weiner that I could find in his book. Maybe his next book will have more.

Have a happy Appropriate Michael Savage’s Name For Your Own Purposes Day, and if you hear from Savage Weiner’s lawyers, be sure to refer them to this guy.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that this post is in support of Take Back the Media, Michael Savage Sucks, and Savage Stupidity, all of whom have been sued by the Savage Weiner.

Graduation speaker blues

Stuyvesant High School, my alma mater, will be celebrating its centennial in 2004. Apparently, there’s a minor kerfuffle brewing over who the commencement speaker for the Class of 2004 should be.

Class leaders have panned the idea of asking the leader of the free world to speak at their commencement ceremony next June. Although former President Bill Clinton addressed the 2002 graduating class, many students at Stuyvesant said the current President is all wrong for the storied school’s centennial graduation.

“He’s not an eloquent speaker. Students want an inspirational speaker,” said Sophia Mokotoff, 17, vice president of the senior class for 2004. “Students feel he wouldn’t provide the inspiration.”

Michael Cho, senior class president, said he thinks a Bush speech would detract from the pomp and circumstance. “We understand the President brings a lot of prestige and media coverage,” Cho said. “He would overshadow our graduation. It wouldn’t be about the students.”

Please, please, please, don’t let some NRO writer get into a snit about this and write 5000 words on the subject. That’s all I ask.

For what it’s worth, the commencement speaker for the Class of 1984 was then-Mayor Ed Koch. I don’t remember at all what he spoke about. I was in the band, which meant I was onstage, behind the dais (our commencement was at Avery Fisher Hall), which also meant there was a lot of temptation to goof around during the speech. We played the “Grand March” from Aida as the processional. This has nothing to do with the topic at hand, but you know how I get when I start reminiscing.

Anyways, no one has been formally invited to speak yet, so this may be the usual hubbub about nada. I was just amused to see a reference to Stuy in Salon.

The ghost of Gus Mutscher

Man, I’m getting burned out (and more than a little bit bitter) about the whole special session/redistricting thing. I’ve still got one or two more substantive things to say, mostly in response to Kevin’s thoughtful post (note: “thoughtful” doesn’t mean I agree with it), but I don’t have it in me right now. Byron (here and here) and Morat (here and here, being sure to follow the link in the first post to this story and its cautionary words from Bill Ratliff) have been on top of things for me. Go read them when you’re done here.

What I’ve got for now is this op-ed piece by Tony Sanchez’ campaign manager, in which he tries to draw a parallel between Tom DeLay’s Westar problems and the old Sharpstown scandal of thirtysome years ago:

In that scandal, House Speaker Gus Mutscher, an aide to Mutscher and a state representative were convicted of conspiracy to accept a bribe from banker Frank Sharp. Sharp wanted a bill boosting his banking business passed during a special session in 1969. The financial favors he did for lawmakers got the job done. In the aftermath of Sharpstown, voters threw out 50 percent of the Texas House.

It doesn’t take much to convince Texans that something is rotten in Austin. But some — importantly, not all — Republican officials are still somewhat intoxicated by their takeover of all branches of Texas government. Some of these are certainly innocents who are thinking, “Hey, I didn’t do anything wrong. The voters won’t be mad at me.”

But when some of their colleagues accepted so much money from corporate interests that they should probably receive W-2 forms, they had better look carefully at what they are about to do.

They may just want to be able to tell their constituents that they didn’t even vote for the DeLay redistricting bill. They may want as much distance as possible between themselves and the expanding scandals that have helped make this one of the most bizarre political years since, well, Sharpstown.

Scandal is likely to play a part in the political discussion in Texas during the 2004 election year. Texans won’t have seen any real property tax relief. Schools continue to suffer. Hundreds of thousands of children will still be without health care. Local taxpayers will be forced to pick up the costs of health care because Medicaid and Medicare also suffered.

Under more normal circumstances, a process as obscure as redistricting may not capture the attention of Texas voters. But then, few Texans knew the details about Sharpstown. They still sent culprits — and innocents — packing.

I’d like to endorse this view. I really would. Unfortunately, it’s a lot of wishful thinking trying to stretch into a cogent point.

What’s the difference between Texas politics of 1969 and today? In 1969, eveyone was a Democrat. What that says to me is that all of the scoundrels who were ejected from their seats in the ensuing election weren’t knocked off by Republicans – if they were, this wouldn’t be the first year since Reconstruction that the GOP was in control of the House – but by fellow Democrats in the primaries. (No, I haven’t taken the time to look this up, but really, how can this not be?) In order for Glenn Smith’s scenario to take place, you have to assume that not only will something come out of Westar, but that voters will care enough about it to vote out the current scoundrels.

That’s where this falls down. See, congressional redistricting wasn’t the only thing on the plate in 2001. So was Texas Lege redistricting, and that was done by a GOP-dominated state board. Republicans didn’t go from 72 seats in the House to 88 in last year’s election on their good looks and economic stewardship alone, you know. They had many newly favorable districts to work with, which caused some longtime Dems to retire and others to get defeated. I can believe that Westar will turn into something juicy, but I have a real hard time believing that voters in GOP-drawn legislative districts will boot out a bunch of GOP legislators as a result of it.

I suppose it’s possible that a combination of genuine criminality in the Westar case plus a steep decline in Bush’s popularity could lead to a depressed GOP turnout in 2004, which could mean some pickups for the Dems. I ain’t betting on it, though.

More rail proposed

I’m pleased to report that Metro’s rail plans are not only perking along, they’re talking about doing even more, based on feedback they’ve gotten from business and citizen groups at public meetings. Today’s news is the addition of an express line to Intercontinental Airport:

Metro is also reviewing the possibility of adding express rail service to Intercontinental Airport, which would cost more money to build parallel tracks where the express train would pass the local train. An express train would run at a faster speed, stopping only at a couple stations between downtown and the airport terminal. Continental Airlines has said it will only support rail to Intercontinental if it runs as express service. Its customers would be reluctant to use a slower local train because of the great distance between downtown and the airport, the airline has said.

Continental would apparently chip in $165 million towards this effort. As a frequent flyer on Continental, I like that idea a lot.

Earlier today, the news was that Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack was set to propose a commuter rail line that goes along the US 290 corridor. It would use existing tracks, which ought to make construction a lot faster and cheaper.

Radack, in a luncheon speech to the West Houston Association, plans to pitch the concept as a way to improve commuting on the northwest side. The commissioner, a skeptic of rail, said conversations with Union Pacific Railroad have convinced him a county-operated commuter train is feasible and could be built quickly and inexpensively.

Union Pacific owns an old Southern Pacific freight track that runs from near Memorial Park along U.S. 290 and Hempstead Highway to Waller County and on toward College Station. The track is used by only three local freight trains per day and could easily accommodate a commuter rail operation with a few upgrades, Union Pacific says.


Radack said his constituents can’t wait 20-plus years for Metro to consider the corridor. The county could start running commuter trains in just a few years, he said, before the Texas Transportation Department is scheduled to start widening U.S. 290.

“Compared to light rail, this is something that is much cheaper and certainly something that could be done posthaste,” Radack said Tuesday. “It’s something that we don’t necessarily need to depend on Metro.”

A county rail authority would operate similar to the Harris County Toll Road Authority, which issues revenue bonds to build tollways without tax money, Radack said. He plans to submit the issue today for discussion at next week’s Commissioners Court meeting.

Other court members reached Tuesday said they’re willing to support Radack’s request to study the issue.

“I would be fully supportive of looking at the county’s involvement in a commuter-rail program,” said County Judge Robert Eckels. “The highway 290 corridor is a prime candidate because of the existing capacity along that rail corridor.”

A few notes of interest here. First, 290 is getting to be as crowded as I-10 is. I worked out that was from 1990-1993, and at the time there was not much along the way. Since then, there’s been an explosion in growth – strip centers, restaurants, you name it – with an accompanying surge in traffic. I met some friends for lunch at 290 and Hollister a couple of weeks ago, and at 2 PM when I was heading back into town, the outbound lanes were already full. In addition, expanding 290 is going to be a lot harder than expanding I-10 is. I-10 at least has some extra unused space where there used to be train tracks. There’s no buffer zone next to 290. And finally, with I-10 construction just set to start, it will be years before 290 will see expansion. Heck, it’s just been a couple of years since 290 was made into a real highway all the way out into Waller County.

For me personally, the exciting thing about this proposal is right here in the map. This proposed line would pass within reasonable walking distance of my house – probably about a mile and a quarter – and would connect up with the existing light rail line. The upshot of all that is that if this thing existed today, I could take it into work.

And before anyone leaves a comment saying that I wouldn’t want to do this because it would take longer than driving, let me say this: My commute is already 20-30 minutes each way. If this were to take 40-50 minutes each way, I’d take it. I’d get more exercise, save wear and tear on my car, have time to do some reading, and be able to live a bit more in tune with my principles. That’s an easy win.

Though there’s no updated map in the most recent article, I’m guessing that the other proposed addition, to the Hillcroft Transit Center, would be basically a longer version of the “inner southwest” line that was being pushed:

If Metro comes up with money for an additional line, the inner southwest connector is considered a leading contender because of its short length (about five miles), backing by some of the city’s biggest business interests, and potential to attract high ridership in the urban areas along the Southwest Freeway. It could also link onto the Main Street line — scheduled to start operation Jan. 1 — allowing a train to run directly from the Galleria through Greenway Plaza to downtown or the Texas Medical Center. It would also complete a rail loop in the dense area west of downtown.

This also makes a lot of sense to me, as it passes through an area that’s fairly densely populated and which has a lot of natural destinations along the way. Unlike most of the other proposed expansions, it would primarily alleviate traffic on surface roads rather than on freeways. US 59 has plenty of capacity, but the nearby parallel streets (Richmond, Alabama, Westheimer, Bissonet, and Westpark) are a crowded, traffic-light-blightened mess. Here are maps showing Metro’s original plan and the various proposed extensions.

Finally, for those who would complain about the high cost of rail and how it must be heavily subsidized by all taxpayers regardless of whether or not they’ll use it, I’ll tell you what: When all of the highways in this town are toll roads, then we can talk.

More on Gregg Phillips

The Gunther Concept is still digging into Gregg Phillips’ background (see this post for more). He’s also still got Blogspotted links, so if this has scrolled off the top, look for the June 24 entry entitled “The Revolving Door of Gregg Phillips”. Apparently, Phillips’ official bio leaves out some of his recent employment history. Here’s Gunther’s summary of the situation:

So to sum up, Gregg Phillips was at one time the Director of Mississippi’s Department of Human Services. He resigned as Director to accept a position with a firm that he had previously approved as recipient of a $875,000 contract with MDHS. At some time or another, he founds and becomes CEO of Enterject, Inc. Enterject gets a large portion of it’s business by helping private companies get tax credits from federal Welfare to Work (WTW) programs, and various similar schemes that allow governments to cut welfare rolls. Phillips worked in this capacity at least until the fall of 2002. Now he is in a position where one of his primary responsibilities will be to reorganize Texas’ social service sector, to make it more “efficient”.

How much of this reorganization will involve granting of tax credits to companies that hire long-term welfare recipients?

How much business will Enterject, Inc. receive as a result of these changes?

Does Gregg Phillips still have any role with Enterject, Inc.?

Will he immediately start working for Enterject when he eventually leaves his current position?

Is there anyone out there who thinks this is a conflict of interest?

Why does’t anyone know about this?

I think those are fair questions to ask, and it would be nice if we knew the answers to them. It is possible that this is much ado about nothing, but I’d still like to know that someone with the time and training to know what to look for has checked it out first.

Westar and Ashcroft

Getting back to an old favorite for a moment here, the ongoing Westar scandal is knocking on John Ashcroft’s door:

Ashcroft, meanwhile, is being asked by some liberal and Democratic groups to launch an investigation — either by the Justice Department or a special counsel — into possible connections between the Westar campaign contributions and legislative action on the energy bill. The groups say Ashcroft should recuse himself from the investigation, however, because his 2000 Senate campaign received $2,000 from former Westar executive Carl Koupal. Koupal also gave $1,000 to Ashcroft’s Spirit of America PAC. Koupal managed two of Ashcroft’s statewide campaigns in Missouri and was Ashcroft’s director of economic development in the late 1980s, when Ashcroft was Missouri governor.

In addition, [Westar’s Washington lobbyist Richard] Bornemann gave $2,000 to Ashcroft’s 2000 Senate campaign.

Ashcroft has declined to respond to news media inquiries about Westar and possible investigations into its activities.

Meanwhile, two congressional recipients of $1,000 contributions from Wittig — Sen. John E. Sununu (R-N.H.) and Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) — have announced plans to give the money to charity.

Ashcroft has now been formally requested to appoint an “outside Special Counsel to assume responsibility” for investigating the Westar matter. Rep. Conyers’ letter to the AG notes that “one month after Westar donated $56,000 to the DeLay PAC, company officials spent two days at the Homestead, a Virginia resort” with DeLay, Ashcroft, and other donors. Conyers cites a report as his source for this. Greenwire is a pay service, so I can’t check his link.

Another pay service that I don’t have a subscription to is Roll Call, which has an editorial about Westar. The one-paragraph excerpt says quite a bit, though:

Senate rules permit outside groups to file complaints with the Ethics Committee, but House rules do not. Hence, there’s a chance of a Senate ethics probe of allegations that Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) assisted Westar Energy Co. in return for campaign contributions. But a companion House investigation won’t take place — unless Democrats develop the gumption to file complaints against a high-powered group of Republicans including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas) and Energy and Commerce Chairman Billy Tauzin (La.).

Anyone want to join me in sending email to the endangered Texas Congressional Democrats about this? It’s not like they have anything to lose, after all.

Getting back to the issue of what to do with Westar money, while some wimpy Republicans like Sen. Sununu and Rep. Burr might be giving their donations to charity, DeLay is unencumbered by doubt:

“That money was spent to do what the group said it was going to do: help elect Republicans to the Texas Legislature,” [James Ellis, who runs DeLay’s federal PAC, Americans for a Republican Majority] said. “To my knowledge, there are no plans to refund any money.”

Doesn’t it give you a warm, fuzzy feeling to know that Kansas played such a critical role in shaping Texas’ Legislature? Maybe someone ought to suggest to Tom Craddick that he offer an official apology for that wimpy state insult from a few years back. Wouldn’t want to offend their sponsors, after all.

For what it’s worth, some Kansas politicians are having second thoughts about Westar money. Maybe they should ask some of Enron’s recipients for advice.

UPDATE: Joe Conanson is on the Westar case, and he’s right: someone needs to get Nancy Pelosi’s butt in gear on this.

Rice celebrates their victory

A big and loud crowd packed into Reckling Park last night to welcome back the National Champion Rice Owls baseball team. The Chron did not give an estimate of attendance, but the consensus on the Rice Sports Forum is about 4000. Some of those folks were not very happy with the long list of speakers, a sentiment only touched on by the Chron:

As the celebration dragged into its second hour, the crowd became increasingly restless to hear from Graham, even interrupting one speaker to chants of, “We want Wayne!”

I wonder which politician that was. Regardless, if you missed the Reckling celebration, there will be a parade on Smith Street at 11:30 AM on Thursday to honor the Owls and the AHL champion Aeros.

Amazingly, Rice will be in a good position to repeat as champions, since all four starting pitchers will return. Some of the players who were drafted, especially Enrique Cruz (a 14th-round pick), may choose to return.

Finally, there’s this John Lopez column, which has some nice things to say about Wayne Graham, and this unsigned editorial which lauds Rice’s commitment to having genuine student-athletes.

Springer interview

There’s a great interview with potential Senate candidate Jerry Springer up on the Political State Report. I especially urge partisan Democrats to read what he has to say. I daresay you’ll like it. I know I did.

Have you voted yet?

I voted earlier today in the “primary” (registration is now closed, so if you aren’t already registered, it’s too late). Some folks have reported problems accessing the MoveOn site, but once I got the email with my voting link, I got right in with no problems.

Nathan Newman notes an effort by some mouthbreathers to try to slant the results, but I’m not particularly worried about it. For one thing, they can easily record the originating IP address of the voter, and eliminate anything that looks fishy. For another, they require a phone number to vote, as they are planning a followup telephone survey to check the results. If all else still fails, they can try again (it’s not like this was a vastly expensive undertaking) and require an up-front donation, as some of Nathan’s commenters suggested.

Who did I vote for? I’ll tell you on Friday when the results are released.

The ACC and the WAC

If you’ve been following the ACC/Big East brouhaha (ably covered by Eric McErlain), the one thing that you can hang your hat on is that if and when the ACC raids the Big East for one or more teams, the Big East will look to invite schools from other conferences, most notably Conference USA. C-USA will then do the same, and in the end a whole lot of conferences will look very different, with one or more possibly in mortal danger.

As a Rice fan, I know what it’s like to be abandoned by a conference. I know the WAC has been about as stable as Texas’ congressional district boundaries lately. What I don’t know is what to do about it.

Fortunately, someone else has been thinking about this. Check out The Yoda Plan, put together by WAC fan Bill “Yoda” Tanner, who is a regular poster on the WAC Fan Forum. It covers pretty well the issues that the old WAC-16 faced, how to work around them, and how to ensure stability for the future. He’s gotten some mainstream media coverage of his plan (there are at least two other competing plans out there), and from where I sit he’s pinned the sentiments of the Eastern WAC schools. Good job, Yoda.

A request for help

Apparently, this humble blog has been selected as a participant in Project Lafayette, about which I know little more than what’s behind that link. According to a nice note I received from one of their coordinators, they want to “[preserve] the association of your brand with your content in the directory, by using small image thumbnails of your logo or photo on your profile page and elsewhere.”

Which is cool, but if you look around you’ll see that this site is long on text and short on images. I’m not particularly artistic, and the thought of designing a logo pretty much terrifies me.

I’ve been assured that logoless losers such as myself can still participate, with our names in the place of an icon, but that seems kinda lame to me. I mean, if I’m gonna be in this (and I would like to be), I may as well be like the kool kids and have my own picture. But then we get back to the whole lack-of-artistic-talent thing.

So, I’m asking for help. The Lafayette folks need something from me by Monday. If anyone out there feels like taking a crack at whipping up an icon for this site, they will get my undying gratitude and a free lunch at a date and place of their choosing. (If you’re not in Houston, we’ll work something out.) I’ll also incorporate the image into my site design. The requirement is that the image be small, roughly “32×32 pixels in dimension, and need to look good at that size”, according to what they told me. If you’re interested, please put a link in the comments to your idea, or shoot me a note. I’ll pick a winner from the millions of entries that I’ll surely receive and make my announcement Monday morning.

Thanks in advance for saving me from my artless self.

Who’s next?

Great. Just great.

President Bush last week said the rest of the world should join the United States in declaring that it “will not tolerate” nuclear weapons in Iran — a vow that most Americans appear willing to back with force. By 56 percent to 38 percent, the public endorsed the use of the military to block Iran from developing nuclear arms.

If you’ll pardon me for a moment, that wall over there is calling for a little head-banging…

OK, that’s better. There’s actually a fair bit of encouraging news for us objectively pro-Saddam hippie peacenik types in there, not that the article delves into it:

As the war ended and weeks passed without the discovery of such weapons, some Democrats questioned whether Bush or members of his inner circle deliberately exaggerated the threat to justify going to war — an argument that the latest Post-ABC poll suggests has had negligible effect on the president’s public standing.

Concerns over mounting U.S. military casualties have soared largely among Democrats and independents, the survey found. In April, 56 percent of all Democrats believed U.S. troop losses had been acceptable; now 35 percent share that view. The proportion of those who viewed current casualty levels as acceptable dropped by 23 percentage points among political independents, to 43 percent. There was no change among Republicans.

Concern among women also has increased, with the proportion calling the casualties unacceptable increasing from 33 percent to 50 percent in the past seven weeks.

If “public standing” means “overall approval level”, then I suppose that’s an accurate statement. I’ll note that Bush’s approval rating is headed back to where it was before we headed off to kick a little Baathist ass. In addition, given that Bush won’t win in 2004 with Republican support alone, the fact that independents and women are starting to question casualty levels sounds like a leading indicator to me.

So then. Am I a cynic or a realist if I believe that the odds of an invasion of Iran are tightly correlated to Bush’s overall approval numbers?

What they didn’t tell you

The Gunther Concept, which now has permalinks even if they are blogspotted, found a curious omission in this Sunday Chron story about Gregg Phillips, the $144K-per-year “leader of the most sweeping social services overhaul in modern Texas history”. Here’s what the story says:

After three tumultuous years as former Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice’s young political choice to lead a major overhaul of that state’s Department of Human Services, the embattled executive director could no longer stand the heat. Facing a tidal wave of opposition, he resigned in 1995.

State employees protested privatization of child support collections. Legislators, upset by the issue and at odds with Fordice, threatened to close the agency. Advocates for the poor called Phillips a liar, and a Jackson Clarion-Ledger editorial cartoon portrayed him as Pinocchio.

“I had a son in second grade at the time. The final straw was when he came home really upset one day because some of his friends had seen someone being ugly to me on TV,” he said recently from his new office at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

As HHSC deputy commissioner for program services, Phillips will make key decisions on downsizing and consolidating 12 agencies serving the blind, deaf, nursing home residents, abused children, mentally impaired, physically disabled and other needy Texans into only five agencies.

Phillips also will oversee the privatization of eligibility screening for services to sick and needy Texans as part of a new state law designed to shrink government and save $1.1 billion. Instead of the 800 Mississippi state jobs jeopardized by privatization, Texas aims to eliminate 3,600 health and human services workers during the next two years.


The ambitious social services overhaul in Texas might take up to six years to complete, Phillips said, predicting the most complex and challenging tasks will be privatizing eligibility screening and splitting mental retardation and mental health services into separate agencies.

He said he no longer believes the argument should be whether privatization saves more money than government-run services. The focus should be to create competition by preventing either public or private monopolies, perhaps splitting tasks among several bidders.

Republican leaders who pushed through the changes in Texas human services predict it will lead to greater efficiencies and better outcomes for the needy and taxpayers. But advocates for the poor who remember Phillips’ work in Mississippi, predict his leading role could end in chaos, disaster and perhaps squandering of tax dollars.

“He really knows his stuff,” said Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, R-Burleson, author of House Bill 2292, the health and human services overhaul, noting Phillips played a critical role in drafting the new law.

She said he possessed a wealth of knowledge needed for such an ambitious reinvention of government and if he didn’t have an answer, he quickly got one.

“There are not very many conservatives who are all that involved in health and human services issues. I knew he was,” she added. “He had an excellent reputation.”

Larry Temple, who worked for Phillips in Mississippi before landing at the Texas Workforce Commission as the director of welfare reform, predicted a successful future for his friend in Texas.

“He’s no-nonsense, very direct, very focused, extremely loyal,” Temple said. “He’s a good soldier, the kind of guy you can depend on to carry out any mandates you’re given.”

Temple said Phillips is the “perfect person” to pull off changes in the landmark legislation, but several civil rights advocates and others in Mississippi disagree.

“Mr. Phillips has been identified as one of those people that can come in and make all those drastic cuts and not feel any compunction about what he’s doing to the poor people of Texas,” said Wendell Paris of Mississippi Action for Community Education in the poverty-stricken Mississippi Delta. “If he does in Texas what he did in Mississippi, I feel sorry for the poor people of Texas.”

Many recall controversial welfare-to-work policies, which reduced welfare rolls by more than 80 percent, sometimes by putting welfare recipients to work in poultry processing plants or casinos. Their benefit checks went to employers to subsidize their low-wage jobs. Phillips described the approach as “tough love,” but Paris saw the impact they had in less flattering terms.

“Those Texas legislators ought to research what his history is, and they ought to be ashamed of themselves,” he said, noting the state’s recruitment of both Temple and Phillips. “They’re bringing in that whole crew of these ruthless wolves hiding in sheep’s clothing.”

Carol Burnett of Mississippi’s Low Income Child Initiative said Phillips was a “very controversial choice” to head Mississippi’s human services department because he was so inexperienced with the issues faced by poor families.

“I think his work in government is more political than it is really trying to promote any kind of improvement over time for human services for low-income families,” she said. “I regret that type of person is the choice to head agencies that have such incredible influence over how programs are shaped that so influence the lives of children and families.”

Warren Yoder, director of the Public Policy Center of Mississippi, said Phillips’ controversial privatization of child support collections under a contract to Maximus Inc. was limited by the Legislature in scope.

Even so, he said the experiment was a failure, and the Legislature later turned both child support collections and welfare-to-work training programs back to the state.

While this seems like a reasonable get-quotes-from-supporters-and-detractors-alike approach, there’s a factual matter that wasn’t addressed. According to this report by the Mississippi Legislature’s Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER), Phillips departure from his position there caused ethical questions to be raised:

After terminating his employment as MDHS Executive Director, Gregg Phillips immediately contracted with Synesis, a subcontractor of the LEAP program, which creates the appearance of impropriety and could constitute a violation of state ethics laws. (See page 26.)

Gregg Phillips, former Executive Director for the Department of Human Services, signed a contract modification in 1993 which added two mobile learning labs to the LEAP program. Centec Learning entered into a contract with University of Mississippi to convert two vehicles into these mobile learning labs, while also maintaining and operating them for the term of the contract.

On April 26, 1995, Gregg Phillips resigned his position as Executive Director of MDHS and on the same day entered into a contract with Synesis Corporation, of which Centec is a division. Contract terms called for Mr. Phillips to be paid $84,000 per year to make industry contacts and market Synesis products and services.

Mr. Phillips’s actions create the appearance of impropriety, facilitating an erosion of the public trust.

LEAP stands for Project Learn, Earn, and Prosper, and it was developed by Mississippi’s Department of Human Services (MDHS) as part of program called JOBS (Job Opportunity and Basic Skills), which in turn was created to comply with the federal Family Support Act of 1988. All of that is in the introduction in the beginning of the report – the bit about Phillips is towards the end.

The PEER committee made the following recommendation:

The Executive Director of the PEER Committee shall immediately refer copies of this report to the Executive Director of the Ethics Commission and the Attorney General for an investigation of Mr. Gregg Phillips’s contractual relationship with a LEAP subcontractor for determination of violation of state ethics laws. If the Ethics Commission and the Attorney General do not determine this to be a violation based on strict adherence to the law, the Legislature should consider making terms of the ethics law more specific to address contracts executed by an executive officer who does not report to a board or commission.

As noted in this followup story, the contract with Centec was for $875,000 and was one-third of Centec’s entire net worth at the time.

Phillips was not ultimately prosecuted for this; as the PEER report anticipated, his behavior violated the spirit rather than the letter of the state’s ethics laws. I have no idea if the Mississippi legislature followed the recommendation to amend the law to ensure that no one else can get away with what Gregg Phillips did. I do know that I would have found this information to be a more substantial criticism of Phillips’ tenure than some crabbing by bleeding heart types. Gunther suggests writing a letter to the editor and point this out to them, along with the links he dug up. I’ve called and left a message for reporter Polly Ross Hughes to ask her about it. Though my past history in getting clarifications from the Chron is spotted at best, I’ll try to be optimistic.

Rice wins!

The Rice Owls are your 2003 National Champions of college baseball.

Damn, that sounds good. Let me say it again.

The Rice Owls are your 2003 National Champions of college baseball. That link has a photo gallery with it, by the way.

Any fans that want to leave a congratulatory message for the Owls can do so here or here, though the latter appears to be overloaded as I type this.

Congratulations, Rice! Woo hoo!

UPDATE: Full Chron coverage here: the front page story, the sports section story (actually an AP wire story), Fran Blinebury’s column, in which we will forgive him for dragging a Harry Potter reference into it, and the fan reaction story. ESPN’s Wayne Drehs has a feature on winning pitcher Phillip Humber and another on Chris Kolkhorst. Finally, here’s John Manual’s writeup.

UPDATE: There’s a victory celebration tonight at Reckling Park at 8 PM. I can’t be there, but if you’re in Houston, you should go. It’s free and should be a blast.

UPDATE: Here’s a fine NYT article on the champion Owls. And Wayne Graham has been named Coach of the Year by Collegiate Baseball. And here’s another good NYT article, this one about Coach Graham.

Subvert the dominant paradigm

I’ll second what Amy Sullivan says here, namely “Subvert the Dominant Paradigm!”

Because the current dominant paradigm is that the feckless Democrats are a bunch of bumbling idiots who suffer from too many presidential candidates, none of whom have a chance of winning anyway and they should probably just pack it in now to save themselves the embarrassment of a good whomping in November, 2004. (This paradigm brought to you by the Republican National Committee, with the help of the national press corps.) Howard Kurtz’s latest column is a particularly snarky assessment of the Democratic field, arguing among other things that there are too many contenders, that no one is paying attention to them, and, furthermore, that they’re not worth paying attention to anyway. It’s hard for a Democrat to read the piece and not despair.

But let’s step back and examine the situation ourselves for a moment. Is the Democratic field too crowded? There are currently nine candidates in different stages of running for the nomination, with Wes Clark and Joe Biden possible contenders. (I’ll address the Clark question in a moment; Joe — read What It Takes, don’t run again. And when you’re done with the book, pass it along to Dick Gephardt, please.) In 2000, the Republican field consisted of Bush, McCain, Forbes, Hatch, Keyes and Bauer, with perennial candidates Alexander and Buchanan flitting around the edges. And I could be wrong, but I don’t remember any commentary proclaiming the Republicans doomed and the Democrats impressively disciplined for keeping their race narrowed to Gore and Bradley. Funny, that.

So when you hear someone talk about feckless Democrats and garbled messages, say “Of course the Dems don’t have a unified message yet. That’s why we’re having a primary! Talk to me in March after we’ve shopped around and picked out the best messenger.”

Sullivan goes on to make a case for Wes Clark, based on the theory that “successful presidential candidates tend to come from executive ranks”. Not to out myself as favoring one candidate over another just yet, but that description does also fit another candidate, one who’s actually committed to running. I’m just saying.