Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

September, 2003:

Freeway blogging

Like a number of other lefty bloggers, I’ve been receiving mail from a fellow who calls himself the Scarlet Pimpernel lately. SP has been sending links to photos of snarky anti-Bush messages that have been showing up on the highways of Southern California. There’s been so much material from this that SP has announced the creation of a site called Freewayblogger to chronicle this real-world “blog”. It’s pretty amusing if you’re one of those America-hating liberals that I keep hearing about. Check it out.

Best sports blogs

Check out Forbes Magazine’s list of the Best Sports Blogs, in which the estimable Off Wing Opinion came in at #2 overall. Congrats to Eric for some well-deserved recognition! If you like sports, you should be reading Off Wing.

(Note to my parents: One of the top five is a blog about the Yankees.)

Berry backs Sanchez

Former mayoral candidate Michael Berry has given his endorsement to Orlando Sanchez.

The endorsement is expected to solidify Sanchez’s standing among conservative voters who supported him in a 2001 runoff loss to Mayor Lee Brown but had shifted toward Berry in the 2003 campaign’s early months.

Berry made the endorsement during a meeting of the Harris County Republican Party, which has been spending money on advertising labeling candidate Bill White as a liberal.

“I welcome it, absolutely,” Sanchez said. “I thought Michael ran a good race on some issues that I also campaigned on, and he has good fiscal conservative values.”

I guess this is no surprise, as Kevin says, yet somehow I do feel surprised. This is part of it:

Earlier this year, Berry told the Houston Police Officers Union that he would not make an endorsement if he were not in the race.

And he had pounded Sanchez for using campaign operatives who once worked for Brown.

But he said he decided to endorse Sanchez after getting assurances that Sanchez would take up two causes the mayor opposes.

First, Berry said, Sanchez would have to oppose Metro’s Nov. 4 transit referendum that includes light rail. Sanchez struck that position last Wednesday, two days after Berry decided to run for another council seat.

Second, Berry said, Sanchez would have to support his proposal for a 1-cent cut in the city’s property tax rate of 64.5 cents per $100 valuation.

I know it happens all the time in primaries, but it always feels a bit awkward and dishonest to me when a candidate who’s pounded on someone else’s honesty and integrity endorses that person later on. I know, Candidate B may be scum, but he’s higher quality scum than the other guy. I’m just saying that the endorsement would carry more weight with me after a positive campaign and not a negative one.

Anyway, Berry gets reassured that his heart will go on, Sanchez finally remembers that he doesn’t like rail, and all is well with the universe.

All swirly and bad

Andrew Northrup sums up some conservative reaction to the Plame Affair. Standard beverage warning applies.

We’re number one!

Just not in a good way.

One out of every four Texans lacks health insurance, the highest percentage of uninsured residents in any state in the nation, according to new Census Bureau figures.

The findings are part of a report that shows the ranks of the uninsured nationwide swelled by 2.4 million last year as insurance costs kept rising and more Americans lost their jobs and health care coverage.

The number of people without health insurance the entire year rose to 43.6 million, a jump of almost 6 percent from 2001 and the second consecutive annual increase, the Census Bureau said. The percentage of Americans without health coverage rose from 14.6 to 15.2.

In Texas, the percentage of uninsured increased from 23.2 to 24.7 based on two-year averages. The 1.5 percent increase was among the highest in the nation.

New Mexico was the only other state to crack 20 percent at 20.9.

Somewhere, the state of Mississippi is laughing at us.

If you look up “quid pro quo” in the dictionary…

This is pretty much all you need to know about how government works around here.

Less than one month after receiving $100,000 from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, Gov. Rick Perry (no relation to Bob – ed) named a top executive from Perry Homes to a commission implementing a new law designed to reduce lawsuits against builders.

John Krugh was appointed Sept. 8 to the Residential Construction Commission, a nine-member body charged with developing building performance standards and setting up a dispute resolution process. A homeowner would have to go through the review process before bringing a lawsuit against a builder.

Bob Perry, chief executive officer of Perry Homes, is the longtime top donor to Rick Perry. Since June 1997, when Rick Perry was agriculture commissioner planning a race for lieutenant governor, Bob Perry has contributed $580,000.

His most recent donations came on Aug. 14, when he wrote two $50,000 checks to Texans for Rick Perry, according to a campaign finance report filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.


This year, Perry Homes was a driving force behind House Bill 730. Krugh, senior vice president and corporate counsel for Perry Homes, led a task force that crafted the legislation for the Texas Association of Builders.

Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Krugh was appointed because of his experience in the building industry.

And for all I know he is well qualified and he will do a good job without unduly benefitting himself or his business. These coincidences do pile up, though.

Houston homeowner John Cobarruvias, who applied for the commission, said he had hoped that Perry would appoint a consumer advocate like himself. Cobarruvias, president of the Texas chapter of Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings, said he’s disappointed but not surprised at the appointments.

“We expected them to stack this commission somehow, some way,” said Cobarruvias. “I look at the makeup and just don’t see us having a chance of doing anything in support of the consumers.”

Krugh said he asked to be appointed to the commission. He said the law’s benefits are the same for consumers as they are for builders.

“It’s an opportunity for disputes to be resolved in a more amicable fashion and without people having to go to court. At the same time, we’re not taking away the rights of consumers to have legal action against builders,” said Krugh.

Yeah, sure, like Prop 12 will benefit consumers. It’s not like business and consumers ever have competing interests, so it doesn’t matter if the consumers’ interests are represented by business people, right? Nothing to see here, folks.

GOP wheels and deals in West Texas

The Republicans involved in redistricting spent much of yesterday trying to come to an agreement on how to divvy up West Texas, and while it appears they have a plan for Midland and Lubbock, I can’t tell if they’re really close to an actual deal or are just projecting confidence, as the various press reports are a bit muddled.

The Chron’s headline says GOP strikes Midland deal in remap war, but the story sounds a lot less firm than the header does.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Monday senators have agreed to break a redistricting stalemate by giving House Speaker Tom Craddick a new congressional district in his hometown of Midland.

How to draw West Texas congressional districts had been a major impasse to Republican redistricting plans. Dewhurst said the agreement in principle was struck during high-level negotiations in Gov. Rick Perry’s Capitol office.


“It’s very, very clear that we’re overdue in coming to an agreement on a fair redistricting map,” Dewhurst said.

But the devil is in the details. And optimism seemed held together by gossamer threads in the Sam Houston conference room where negotiations were taking place privately around folding tables and a redistricting computer.

While the House and Senate congressional maps differ in almost all parts of Texas, the sticking point among Republicans is West Texas.

Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, lead House negotiator, said he thought progress is being made toward meeting the legislative leadership’s goal of having an agreement by Wednesday.

But Sen. Robert Duncan,R-Lubbock, said problems remained in creating a Midland district that did not pit freshman U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer,R-Lubbock, against veteran U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm,D-Abilene, in the same congressional district.

“They’re not moving in the right direction until we have some consensus between the House and Senate,” Duncan said, “and right now we don’t.”

Duncan said he wants to be “reasonable” in negotiating West Texas, but he said the map “has to be something, in my view, that protects agriculture and doesn’t directly pair those two in a race.”

But King indicated such a pairing is still under consideration.

“We want to help Randy Neugebauer stay in Congress,” King said.

“Now, whether he’s in an open seat or a seat paired with Charlie Stenholm, I don’t know,” King said. “West Texas is still under discussion.”

Midland currently is in a district with Lubbock. Craddick contends it should have its own district because Lubbock is farming while Midland is oil production and ranching. The House passed a map with a Midland district; the Senate did not.

Dewhurst said the Senate agreed to have a new district in Midland after the meeting in Perry’s office with Craddick, King, state Rep. Joe Crabb,R-Atascocita and lead Senate negotiator Sen. Todd Staples,R-Palestine.

“I believe a different approach on West Texas can be reached and we can have a mutually acceptable agreement on that,” Dewhurst said.

“It’s important that we focus on having a map that is fair to all Texas,” he said. “It’s bigger than any one person or two people.”

Dewhurst also said he is not a “party” to any mapping plan “aimed at creating new districts for any specific would-be legislators.” He did not explain what he meant.

Got that? Now compare to the DMN, which says there is no deal as yet.

Republican leaders haggled over West Texas congressional boundaries in closed-door meetings Monday but were unable to agree on a redistricting compromise.

The state’s top leaders sat down with the Legislature’s mapmakers for the first time since the two chambers passed conflicting remap plans this month. As rumors of a deal bounced around the Capitol, including a compromise supposedly brokered by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, his spokesman said late Monday such reports were premature.

“There is absolutely no deal,” and none expected overnight, spokesman Dave Beckwith said.

As negotiations broke up Monday night, one participant said the only agreement is that House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, should have a seat based in his hometown. But, nettlesome details remained unresolved.
Republicans expressed confidence they’ll meet their self-imposed Wednesday deadline for a plan to boost GOP influence in Congress by five or six seats. Both the House and the Senate have recessed until Thursday, awaiting a deal by the conferees.

“I think we’re going to have an agreement on West Texas either today or tomorrow,” Mr. David Dewhurst told reporters at a Fort Worth speaking engagement. He added that he expects final passage of the bill by Monday, described by Gov. Rick Perry as a “drop dead” date.

See what I mean? It does sound like they’ve agreed to give Queen Craddick what he wants, but there’s still the question of where they go from there.

One participant said the 90-minute morning meeting marked a change from the prior practice of “playing tennis,” lobbing competing maps and demands back and forth without any face-to-face discussion or hint of compromise.

About five or six alternative West Texas configurations were presented and discussed at the meeting, the participant said.

Some of those maps would achieve both Mr. Craddick’s main demand – a congressional district dominated by Midland-Odessa – and Mr. Duncan’s, which is protection for newcomer U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock.

Earlier, Mr. Craddick pushed through the House a map that threatens Mr. Neugebauer’s job security by pitting him against U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Abilene. Mr. Duncan said he could not accept a map that forces his Lubbock constituents to choose between a hometown congressman, Mr. Neugebauer, and Mr. Stenholm, a strong supporter of agricultural interests important to Mr. Duncan’s district.

Mr. Duncan persuaded the Senate to pass a plan that avoids that choice, by keeping the congressmen in separate districts, but denying the Midland-Odessa-based seat sought by the speaker.

At least some of the proposals to cure both men’s objections share a common strategy, the participant said: pitting Mr. Stenholm against a GOP congressman other than Mr. Neugebauer. Proposed opponents include Amarillo-area U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, or U.S. Rep Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth.

Another person who attended the meeting agreed with that description but said the proposed pairing of Mr. Stenholm with Ms. Granger is unlikely, given the opposition of state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, author of the House map.

Another plan, proposed by Mr. Perry last week, would appease the speaker and Mr. Duncan by pairing Mr. Stenholm with U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco. But that plan drew opposition from the Panhandle for splitting the region into two districts, and from Central Texas for separating Waco from Fort Hood.

The Lege is officially adjourned until Thursday, but negotiations will continue behind the scenes. If something happens, it’ll happen suddenly, possibly late at night.

One consequence of all this is a likely week’s postponement of the deadline to file for primaries, and possibly a change in the primary date.

Lawmakers are already considering extending the filing period for congressional candidates by up to 12 days. Currently, the filing period is Dec. 3 to Jan. 2.

The unusual middecade redistricting push has also put a strain on local elections officials, said Robert Parten, Tarrant County elections administrator. And the prospect of moving the primary date would be daunting, he said.

“We expect there is going to be a lot of interest in this primary because of the presidential race,” said Parten. His office must wait for the redistricting issue to be settled before it can mail registration cards to inform the county’s 900,000 voters which congressional district they will vote in.

Historically, Texas has had little say in the presidential nominating process because the winning candidates had managed to lock support in the states with the earliest primaries. In 2004, Texas will conduct its primary on the same day as most of the nation’s largest states, including California and New York.

Because President Bush is not expected to face serious opposition for the Republican nomination, any delay in the Texas presidential primary would only affect Democrats.

“Delaying the primaries would be an abuse of the voters and would deny Texans a say in who will be the next president,” Texas Democratic Party Chairwoman Molly Beth Malcolm said. “Just as importantly, moving back the primary will reduce turnouts in both parties’ primaries and create confusion and frustration.”

Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Rick Perry, rejected any assertion that moving the primary is motivated by partisan concerns.

“The governor hopes and believes that lawmakers can come to an agreement on redistricting this week so the primary can take place as scheduled,” Walt said.

Let’s see, the primary is to help pick a Democratic Presidential nominee, and the delay is to allow the GOP’s redistricting plan to go forward – Nah, no possible partisan motives there.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Wentworth’s bill to create a nonpartisan redistricting committee is dead again.

In a related matter, Sen. Jeff Wentworth’s legislation to transfer the responsibility of drawing congressional boundaries in 2011 to a panel of citizens appears dead. Dewhurst had referred the bill to the Senate Jurisprudence Committee, where it appeared unlikely to resurface. Wentworth, R-San Antonio, wanted the legislation to go to the Senate Administration Committee, of which he is a member.

Todd Staples of Palestine, chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus, huddled with Dewhurst and Wentworth, then polled Senate Republicans on the floor Monday. The bill was not referred to a more favorable committee.

Finally, some yahoo is agitating for Hispanics to demand a refund from the Texas 11.

In a news release, the fledgling Center for Hispanic Advocacy described the holdout as tax-funded rest and relaxation in a plush hotel.

“You — the minority population they claimed to be protecting — paid for their $2.5 million, 44-day vacation and they gave you nothing,” the release said.

The release lists e-mail links to the senators and urges recipients to contact the senators and “bill them” for the costs of their travel.

Jorge Uresti of Tyler, the 31-year-old founder of the organization, said the message had already gone to more than 1,000 contacts around the state.

It was unclear if any of those contacts had followed through with requests for refunds, but Uresti said response was enthusiastic.

He accused the senators of mischaracterizing redistricting proposals that might have meant more overall representation for Hispanics because they wanted to preserve Demo cratic power.

Brownsville Sen. Eddie Lucio, one of the “Texas 11,” said that he’d never heard of the group.

He insisted that the senators used their own money or “office holder accounts,” which come from campaign contributions, to pay for food and lodging in New Mexico.

“I’d like to know who funds this organization,” he said. “He certainly, I don’t believe, speaks for the people I represent … I can show (Uresti) a few thousand e-mails that came from people around Texas supporting what we do.”


Uresti said his months-old organization is nonprofit and nonpartisan, and is preparing the first issue of The Hispanic Advocate, a magazine.

Two staff biographies show strong Republican party ties.

Both of the organization’s press contacts worked on the U.S. Senate campaign of Republican John Cornyn; one leads Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Texas Women’s Alliance, the other interned this year for the White House Office of Presidential Correspondence.

The group also has been invited to speak before the Republican National Committee.

Quelle surprise, as they say in Lubbock.

Wellstone World Music Day

My buddy Ron sent me a note last week telling me about Wellstone World Music Day, which will be October 25, the first anniversary of the plane crash that killed Paul, Sheila, and Marcia Markuson Wellstone along with campaign aides Mary McEvoy, Tom Lapic and Will McLaughlin. It’s the brainchild of Minneapolis music critic Jim Walsh, and it is intended to celebrate the life and fighting spirit of the late Senator. Take a moment and check it out.

I note that the Wellstone site contains a link to the Daniel Pearl Foundation, and that October 10 is the second Daniel Pearl Music Day, on what would have been the slain journalist’s 40th birthday. Two dates to mark on your calendar.

SEC targeting Kenny Boy?

What could be sweeter than the prospect of Karl Rove doing the frog march? How about Ken Lay doing the perp walk?

Federal regulators have asked a federal court to force former Enron Corp. Chairman Ken Lay to hand over documents they believe will shed light on the company’s collapse.

Lay has refused to turn over the records, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, trying to determine whether Lay engaged in any fraudulent activities at Enron, has subpoenaed documents from Lay’s tenure at the one-time Houston energy giant.

In a filing today with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, SEC officials argued the documents they want to review are corporate records that Lay has no right to withhold.

“It is well settled that a corporation has no Fifth Amendment rights and an individual cannot resist the production of corporate records based on the Fifth Amendment, even where the records might tend to incriminate the individual personally,” the SEC argued.

We’re still a long way from Kenny Boy getting his butt dragged into a courtroom. But this is a start.

If you’re going to delude yourself, you may as well dream big

Super Bowl Fever means different things to different people, especially people who hope to earn a few grand by renting out their houses during Super Bowl Week.

With the $6,900 a day she hopes to get renting out her southwest Houston ranch-style home during Super Bowl week, Tobi Shvartzapel wants to buy a car and take her family to Disney World.

Nicholas Howard III, a barber, could pay off his mortgage with the $25,000 he is asking for a week in his three-bedroom home.

The $8,500 that student Andrew Abrameit wants for a week in his two-bedroom condo would nearly pay a semester’s tuition at South Texas College of Law.

Scores of locals have shown interest in renting out their places at breathtaking prices, and many are advertising on Web sites that charge, in some cases, hundreds of dollars.

These poor people not only paid upwards of $250 apiece to have their homes listed on a web page that apparently solicits potential renters, but now their friends and neighbors all know what suckers they are. Seemed almost cruel to read the reaction from the Host Committee and folks in Tampa and San Diego who fell for this pitch about the likelihood these people will cash in, but there you have it. Somewhere, PT Barnum is having a good chuckle.

Sanchez overview

The Chron did the first of three promised candidate overviews yesterday with this entry on Orlando Sanchez. It’s a decent enough effort, and struck me as being reasonably fair to its subject. I thought this was pretty damning, though:

“If it was controversial and/or not his idea, he was reticent to get involved in any sort of leadership role,” said Rob Todd, who served on City Council with Sanchez for six years. “He’s one who likes the tea-party aspect of politics, but he’s not one to clean up the dishes afterwards.”

Todd, a Republican, is supporting White, a Democrat, in the mayor’s race, which is officially nonpartisan.

Sanchez sometimes missed meetings in Houston while on international trade missions for the city.

“He was sort of the secretary of state for City Council,” Todd joked.

The city does not track attendance at regular City Council meetings, but Sanchez’s scanty attendance at budget workshops — where council members have an opportunity to give their input on the city’s $1.4 billion budget — is on record. In 2001, after declaring his candidacy for mayor, Sanchez attended eight of 18 budget workshops. He attended one meeting out of 20 in 2000 and one of 23 in 1999.

For someone who’s made as much hay as Sanchez has about the Brown Administration’s incompetence, a record of missing meetings does not inspire confidence. I wonder if and when White or Turner will emphasize this.

In any profile of Orlando Sanchez, there are two items that one is legally required to mention. One is his ethnicity and his ability to attract Hispanic voters.

In 2001, Sanchez received overwhelming support in the Hispanic community, in spite of active opposition from many of the city’s other Hispanic elected officials, mostly Mexican-American Democrats.

“These races have become partisan,” said Democratic political consultant Marc Campos, who is working for Turner this year. “I just cannot be supporting a Republican. He’s a nice guy and everything, but he’s a card-carrying Republican.”

As Democrats and Republicans vie for Hispanic votes, though, Sanchez has won national Republican support. President Bush and former President Bush both endorsed him in the last election.

“It’s not just because he’s Hispanic,” said City Councilman Gabriel Vasquez, who recently switched to the Republican party and is running for city controller. “It’s also because he’s qualified, he’s educated and he’s someone we can be proud of.”


Whether Sanchez shares the political leanings of Houston’s Hispanic voters or not, many believe he will get their support.

“Anybody with an S, a Z or a vowel on the end of their name is likely to pick up a majority of the Hispanic vote,” said former Port Commissioner Vidal Martinez, who is supporting Sanchez.

As I’ve said before, Sanchez probably needs to do at least as well with Hispanics as he did in 2001 when he got 62% of their vote in order to contend. I’ve been skeptical all along that he will do that well, but it’s based on gut feel and nothing else.

The other item is, of course, Sanchez’s looks.

Additionally, Sanchez is well-spoken and good-looking, with dark hair, a chiseled chin and piercing blue eyes.

“God, he’s gorgeous!” exclaimed one woman after watching him walk out of a downtown office building.

Sheesh. John Williams said Sanchez has steel blue eyes, now Rachel Graves says they’re piercing blue eyes. I think the Chronicle needs to issue a style guide on this topic so there’s less confusion in the future.

Please don’t feed the alligators

There are certain things in this life that you wouldn’t think should require an external disincentive to keep people from doing them. Feeding wild alligators, for example.

Feed an alligator, face a fine.

That wasn’t the case until this month.

At its public meeting the final week of August, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopted regulations making it a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of as much as $500, to “intentionally feed a free-ranging alligator.”

(There’s some interesting stuff in this article about the recent history of gators in Texas, so take a moment and read through it.)

You know, I may be a lifelong city boy, but I don’t think I’ve ever needed the TPWC or any other similar body to explain to me why leaving food out for gators was Not A Smart Thing To Do. While I, as a good liberal, generally applaud the government for taking action to protect unwary citizens from lurking dangers, I’m not sure that preventing future Darwin Award recipients from self-selecting themselves out of the gene pool in this fashion is necessarily a laudable objective. It’s a quandary, I must admit.

UPDATE: As a couple of people note in the comments, the real problem is not protecting people from gators, it’s protecting gators from people. There’s only one way to deal with a gator that has no fear of people, and that’s to kill it. Hunting gators is highly restricted in Texas, but killing one to protect oneself, one’s livestock, or one’s pet is permissible and happens regularly. So whether it takes common sense or the threat of a fine, don’t feed the gators, OK?

Houston’s urbanity

This great op-ed piece in today’s Chron makes a good economic argument for rail, and also puts its finger on something that I’d peripherally thought about but hadn’t quite formed into a real idea yet. Let’s start with his case for rail:

Many people who oppose the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s November referendum argue that the major priority of public transit should be to make life easier for people who don’t use transit — drivers. If a transit plan doesn’t appear to do this, opponents say, then more roads should be built instead of transit. The goal, they say, should be to reduce traffic congestion. But that should not be a high-priority goal of transit operation, and it is probably impossible to achieve with any transportation strategy.

Anthony Downs, one of the nation’s top authorities on growth and transportation, flatly told Congress a couple of years ago that rush-hour congestion can’t be reduced, and certainly not by expanding roads. Market doctrine says that people will use something that is free until it is gone, and likewise, free travel space will be used until it is full.

The most common approach in attempting to reduce congestion is to add more lanes. But evidence is overwhelming that adding more highway lanes produces a dynamic generally known as induced demand. That is, if you make it possible to travel faster on a roadway, more people will use it and many will decide to live farther away from jobs as a result. Soon the road is full again.

Houston is a terrific example of this. Even though for a period in the 1990s our region was spending more on roads than any state except California, travel delay increased by 97 percent, according to the Texas Transportation Institute.

Transit’s highest purpose is to provide citizens with more mobility choices. People who choose to live in a situation where transit makes a car generally unnecessary simply don’t participate in congestion; they avoid it. Each of those people, of course, is also not contributing to congestion.

That’s exactly right. Houston is a sprawled-out car culture not because of divine intervention but because no competition for cars has been admitted. We pour money into roads, and the development has followed. Hell, as often as not, the development leads the way, with master planned communities of cul-de-sacs and strip centers, knowing that the roads will follow. It’s why I reject arguments that Houston is inherently inhospitable to rail. Why can’t (or won’t) development follow rail? There’s no guarantee it will, but to say that it can’t happen is baloney.

More importantly, author David Crossley notes that what this is really all about is supporting an urban, rather than suburban, lifestyle.

Urbanity is about a world in which things are close together, with the sidewalk as the principal means of transportation within the urban place, and with the urban places connected to each other by transit.

Urbanity can be in many places all over the region, but its primary concentration has to be in the central city, radiating from downtown. We already are seeing in Houston’s downtown a massive reconstruction of our central business district. With the opening in January of the Main Street light-rail line we will quickly see urbanity spread down through Midtown, jump Hermann Park, and pick up again in the Texas Medical Center, which is a small city in its own right (more jobs than downtown San Diego).

Urban commercial and residential places are stunted by the need to move and store cars. Parking areas push productive uses apart. Streets inconvenience and even endanger the primary denizens of the city, pedestrians.

In not-quite-urban places like Uptown/Galleria, the stores and services could easily accommodate more people, and thus more transactions, but more people cannot come because the only way to get there is by car. The desire, or demand, of many people to get to these places is inhibited by the difficulty of access. And, of course, the space given over to parking cars is space not being utilized for economic development.

The people who want a more urban lifestyle are at least 30 percent of us, maybe more. That percentage is definitely growing as our demographics change radically in the next 20 years or so. People who live and work in the urban zone are the most efficient users of tax money, infrastructure and land in the region. Twenty-five percent of residents inside the Loop live on only 17 percent of the land. Only a small fraction of that urban market is being served today.

Encouraging as much as possible of this efficient urban dynamic should be a high priority in the Houston region, because it can remove from the suburban system a huge group of people who are perfectly willing, even eager, to live a far more compact urban lifestyle.

But in order to provide this demographic group with the ability to make the urban choice, the most urban portions of the region need safe, convenient, high-quality transit.

What Crossley is arguing is that this fight is about improving the lives of folks who live in and around Houston’s urban centers. With Metro’s plans scaled back to a modest 22 miles of rail, that’s even more true, since most of what will be paid for now won’t go anywhere near Houston’s outer suburbs. In doing so, the debate is framed as making a choice about those who live primarily inside the Loop and who would stand to benefit from having enhanced transportation options.

When considered in that light, the recent actions of Rep. John Culberson are neither evil nor wrong, at least not in an absolute sense. Culberson’s choice is clear – he doesn’t want to spend any money on urban Houston if he doesn’t have to. From his perspective, it doesn’t benefit his constituency, while road construction does. It’s logical and defensible as far as that goes, no matter how much steam it makes come out of my ears.

(Of course, one could also mention that the Republican Party in general, which gets much of its strength from the suburbs, has little reason to lift a finger to help urban areas, which are mostly Democratic. The same is true in reverse – I for one would happily vote to kill Metro’s payouts for road maintenance to its non-Houston member cities. And I still think that Culberson’s methods for giving his side the upper hand in this fight are often reprehensible.)

I doubt that either the pro-rail or anti-rail forces will make their case in such stark city-versus-suburbs terms in their advertising. I’m not even sure who’d have the advantage if either one tried. And for sure, one can live in the suburbs and see value in Metro’s plan, and one can live inside the Loop and see it as a boondoggle. I do see it as being a net plus for the city, but I also see it as being good for me, and I see no reason to feel any shame in admitting that.

If you want some background, a Google search on Crossley shows he’s the president of the Gulf Coast Institute, on the executive board of Blueprint Houston, and has a number of published articles on this theme, including one that more directly addresses the urban-suburban dichotomy.

RIP, Althea Gibson

Althea Gibson, the pioneering women’s tennis player who won two Wimbledon titles in the 1950s, died today at the age of 76.

Gibson was the first black to compete in the U.S. championships, in 1950, and at Wimbledon, in 1951. However, it wasn’t until several years later that she began to win major tournaments, including the Wimbledon and U.S. championships in 1957 and 1958, the French Open, and three doubles titles at Wimbledon (1956-58).

“Who could have imagined? Who could have thought?” Gibson said in 1988 as she presented her Wimbledon trophies to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.

“Here stands before you a Negro woman, raised in Harlem, who went on to become a tennis player … and finally wind up being a world champion, in fact, the first black woman champion of this world,” she said. “And believe it or not, I still am.”

Rest in peace, Althea Gibson.

Greg’s opinion of city races

Greg Wythe gives a fascinating (to Houston political junkies, anyway) overview of the Republican/Democrat breakdown in the upcoming city election. Basically, if things break right, Houston could go from an 8-8 balance of city offices to a 12-4 advantage for one party or the other. He thinks the Republicans have the advantage right now, but there are a lot of races that are too close to predict.

One race of interest is City Council District H, currently held by Gabriel Vasquez. Here’s Greg’s take:

A heavily Hispanic district, this was Gabe Vasquez’s district – he of party switching infamy. The race is full of neophytes … and one well heeled Republican: Hector Longoria. When [Michael] Berry dropped the Mayor’s race in favor of another At Large race, it was Longoria’s race he entered. So with Vasquez’s last second entry for the Comptroller’s race, this left an opening. This one’s another runoff. But the question is which unknown will survive to December and reclaim this one for the Dems? … and can they overcome Longoria’s money advantage? I’d think the odds favor Longoria here. I hope I’m wrong.

District H is my turf, so here’s what I think. I’ve not heard of any of the candidates besides Longoria (and the first I’d heard of him was at a mayoral candidate forum that our neighborhood association sponsored a few weeks ago; he and his wife were handing out flyers for his candidacy). I must reluctantly agree that Longoria has the edge.

Both Vasquez and Longoria are based in the affluent and more Anglo Woodland Heights, rather than the much larger and more Hispanic areas north of the Loop and east of I-45 (here’s the map). This is a Democratic area, including the Woodland Heights – Precincts 0003 and 0004, both located in the WH, voted for Al Gore (note the size of the Nader vote, too) and Ron Kirk – yet Vasquez, who as noted before was strongly disliked by the Democratic hierarchy before he jumped ship, won easily in 1999. (Feel free to do one of those great color-coded maps of yours for District H, Greg. And if you know where returns for city-only elections are, please tell me ’cause I couldn’t find them.)

I think the Woodland Heights and the neighboring areas, all of which are liberal-leaning and which tend to turn out in elections, are the key to Vasquez’s success. On an up-or-down partisan basis, he’d lose, but in a traditionally nonpartisan city race, he’s used his connections to the area to demonstrate his concern for these areas, he’s been effective in representing them, and he’s been rewarded by the voters here. I don’t know if Longoria has the same credibility that Vasquez has, but I do know that his campaign mailers tout his membership in the Woodland Heights Civic Association. If nothing else, it’s a step in the right direction for him.

Bottom line: Like Vasquez, Longoria needs to carry this area. He clearly knows this. Vasquez overcame strong resistance in 1999. Longoria has no obvious opponent just yet. In my opinion, this race is his to lose.

UPDATE: I’m very glad to have been wrong about Longoria’s prospects in this race. And just because I’d not heard of the other candidates at this time doesn’t mean they didn’t have bases of support.


I second everything Calpundit says about the amazing revelation that the Valerie Plame story is true.

At CIA Director George J. Tenet’s request, the Justice Department is looking into an allegation that administration officials leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer to a journalist, government sources said yesterday.

The operative’s identity was published in July after her husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, publicly challenged President Bush’s claim that Iraq had tried to buy “yellowcake” uranium ore from Africa for possible use in nuclear weapons. Bush later backed away from the claim.

The intentional disclosure of a covert operative’s identity is a violation of federal law.

The officer’s name was disclosed on July 14 in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak, who said his sources were two senior administration officials.

Yesterday, a senior administration official said that before Novak’s column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson’s wife. Wilson had just revealed that the CIA had sent him to Niger last year to look into the uranium claim and that he had found no evidence to back up the charge. Wilson’s account touched off a political fracas over Bush’s use of intelligence as he made the case for attacking Iraq.

“Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge,” the senior official said of the alleged leak.

Wow. What more can I say?

Two items of related interest. First, as Josh Marshall has said, the phrase “senior administration official” refers to a fairly small number of people. The list of people who that could mean, and thus who could have ratted out Valerie Plame, includes Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. It doesn’t have to be any of them, but the point is, they’re on a short list.

Secondly, as was noted somewhere (dammit, I can’t remember now), it was George HW Bush who successfully pushed for the law that makes it a felony to out an undercover operative. One can only marvel at the irony involved, and one can only note what Poppy himself thinks of such shenanigans.

Even though I’m a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious, of traitors.

Indeed. Via Atrios.

UPDATE: BZ in the comments reminds me that I saw the bit about “Poppy’s Law” (actually, the Intelligence Identity Protection Act of 1982) at the Daily Kos.

The origin of the law is 1976 when Richard Welch, CIA officer in Athens Greece was murdered. At the time the belief was that “Counterspy” published his identity obtained from a rogue CIA officer.

At the time George Herbert Walker Bush was DCI, and he became the chief advocate for this bill. Welch had been killed under his CIA watch, and the legislation was his response.

However, after November 76, GHWBush was no longer at the CIA — Carter had his own chief. So the legislation went no where for four years. However, in 1981 GHWBush became VP, and passing this law became his passion. The chief lobbiests in addition to Bush were his buddies, Scowcroft and Baker. The three of them had been pall bearers when Welch’s remains were returned from Greece for burial at Arlington.

In 1982, Bush finally got the bill passed and Ronald Reagan signed it with ceremony. So — in no uncertain terms, this law is Poppy’s law.

Thanks, BZ!

Do the conference shuffle

Doug proposes a let’s-do-it-and-get-it-over-with mega-conference realignment for college football that would get every Division 1A school into one of ten reasonably suitable groups, and throws in a possible playoff structure as a bonus. It’ll never happen, of course, since college football is not about feasibility or practicality, but it’s a cool idea anyway.

Two quibbles: I don’t think Tulane would be happy in the suggested “Deep South” conference, as all of the other schools are public. I’d swap them for ULa-Monroe in the revived SWC. Also, this setup effectively means no other school could make the jump to Div 1A, since there’d be no room for them anywhere. But those are minor points. I’d take this lineup over what we’ve got now in a heartbeat. Check it out.

The home stretch

Thus sayeth Gov. Perry: The magic date for the redistricters is October 6.

“We start running into some time restraints. The 6th (of October) is somewhat of a drop dead date from the standpoint of getting some work done,” said Perry.

“We’re not going to go past the 6th. We’re going to get our work done. We’re not going to have a fourth called session.”

Oct. 6 is an important date because a state constitutional provision requires bills to become law 90 days after the governor’s signature.

If Perry signs a redistricting bill on Oct. 6 or later, it would not take effect until after the close of candidate filing for the 2004 elections. Democrats could then argue in federal court that the election already is under way with the current districts and that the new map should not be used.

A law can take effect immediately only on a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate. House Democrats have enough votes to block immediate effect.

Perry is, of course, predicting that all will be sunshine and happiness by the middle of this week. That’s about as newsworthy as President Bush proclaiming that the economy will rebound, but what else do you expect him to say? Note his words about not having a fourth session, which he really means as “I damn sure don’t want to have to call a fourth session, because I can’t blame this one on anyone else.” If there really is no map, I expect him to grit his teeth and call another session, which is what he originally said he’d do.

The spin is a little different in the Express News, which indicates that Perry is putting the screws on the joint committee but is running into some things he can’t control right now.

Perry said he was optimistic a solution would be reached by Wednesday, but would not elaborate. He said if the conferees can’t agree by Wednesday, “we start running into some time restraints.”


Even as Perry said conferees would work this weekend, the author of the Senate map and that body’s lead negotiator flew home and was not expected to return to Austin until Sunday night.

Aides to Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, said a funeral and a long-standing family commitment Saturday would keep him in his Piney Woods hometown for most of the weekend.

The other four senators on the conference committee also were spending the weekend in their districts but would be available if needed, their staffers said.

House staffers involved in redistricting, who had been told Thursday by Craddick to ditch their weekend plans, said negotiators were not scheduled to meet today.

Often, conference committee members meet informally to try to work out differences in bills passed by the two bodies.

Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, who leads House conferees, said he expected to meet Staples one-on-one to “determine what it is that I got to have and what it is that he’s got to have.”

“Then we can figure parameters and how to go about reaching a compromise,” King said.

The two lawmakers met at least twice Thursday, with their latest meeting going into the early morning hours Friday, their staffers said. They couldn’t reach an accord.

While Perry said he still hopes for a speedy solution, King said he expects slow going over a vexing West Texas problem that pits Republican heavyweights against each other.

The October 6 date is certainly doable, now that the Republicans are actually trying to work out their problems, but Wednesday? I’ll be shocked if that happens.

Dept. of Analogies with Unintended Implications:

[House Speaker Tom] Craddick wants a congressional district centered in his hometown of Midland. The oil and gas region around Midland now is part of a congressional district anchored by the larger Lubbock, an agricultural city.

Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, head of the committee that drew up the map the Senate approved, wants Lubbock to keep its district.

Neither appears willing to compromise, and several House members, including two appointed by Craddick to the conference panel, said the speaker was unlikely to back down.

“It’s like the king facing the rook on the chess board,” said a House member who asked that he not be named. “It is preordained who is going to eat whom. (Craddick) in this case is the king, and we all know the king gets what he wants.”

Um, if you’ve ever played chess, you might have noticed that the king is a wimpy little piece that needs protection from everyone else, including the pawns. It’s the queen that can get you from anywhere on the board. Somehow, though, I don’t think Tom Craddick wants to be known as the Queen of the Texas Legislature.

The Star Telegram also thinks Queen Craddick (apparently, I’m going to have a hard time not calling him that) will win.

Some Capitol observers said Duncan might have a hard time defending his preference for West Texas, especially if Craddick can persuade the other three senators to come around to his way of thinking.

“The speaker has been able to get what he wants all year,” said Harvey Kronberg, publisher of the Austin political newsletter, Quorum Report. “So Duncan is the one who’s under pressure.”

For what it’s worth, Duncan’s constituents are still behind him.

Our local legislators — led by State Sen. Robert Duncan, who is chairman of the Senate Jurisprudence Committee — have stayed strong and held fast to try to protect our representation in West Texas. We appreciate their efforts and urge Sen. Duncan to hang in there as the Senate continues its battle over redistricting.

It’s going to take something heavy to move Sen. Duncan, which is why I don’t think the dispute will be easily resolved. Really, as I’ve said before, I think the smart move is to get Craddick to give in, since he’d be losing something he never had in the first place. Doesn’t look like that will happen, so Duncan has the choice of placating the state party or listening to his voters. I don’t envy him the choice.

Meanwhile, a new critic of redistricting has sprung up: Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who in an interview to be televised tomorrow chided Perry and his minions for pursuing redistricting over school finance reform.

“The Legislature is spending their time climbing up hills when we have a mountain looming out there…And the mountain looming out there is school finance reform,” said Mrs. Strayhorn


“The most important issue that this state needs to address right now is school finance,” she said.

“The state has got to pick up more of the share. Homeowners have to have property tax relief, and we’ve got to have equity” of funding among school districts, she said. “That’s a huge challenge. That’s what in a real bipartisan way we’ve got to address and address now.”

That little tiff between those two gets nastier and more entertaining every day. Keep it up!

Finally, the MoveOn campaign appears to have struck a nerve.

Dave Beckwith, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, said MoveOn was delivering a “very harsh message.”

He said Texas senators were “being used as part of a national, anti-Bush effort to lure more minority voters away from the Republican Party, where Bush has had some (recruitment) success in the past.”

Beckwith and some conservative business groups also have tried to make an issue of the fact that the official Web site of the Communist Party of the United States recently included a link to MoveOn.

The link, which Smith said MoveOn was unaware of, has since been removed.

Oh, please, pretty please, try to make an issue out of that link. Bring it on. If that’s the best you’ve got, it’s pathetic, and as noted earlier, it’s very easy to turn that argument against whoever is making it.

Fill ‘er up!

When all-you-can-eat promotions go bad:

DES MOINES, Iowa — Darden Restaurants said this week it had replaced the head of Red Lobster, its biggest chain, after an all-you-can-eat crab promotion went awry.

Darden President and Chief Operating Officer Dick Rivera will succeed Edna Morris as president of Red Lobster.

Morris, who had been in that job just 18 months, left to pursue other interests, the company said.

Darden executives said Red Lobster management had badly miscalculated how many times customers would refill their plates after paying $20 for an “endless” crab entree. Meanwhile, crab prices were going up, sending the profit margin crashing.

“It wasn’t the second helping on all-you-can-eat but the third,” company Chairman Joe R. Lee said during a conference call.

“And maybe the fourth,” Rivera added.

No one ever got rich underestimating the appetite of the American public.

What’s next for women’s soccer?

Via Eric McErlain comes this article by Allen Barra about WUSA’a demise. Barra makes a pretty good point in that in terms of league building, the WUSA was putting the cart before the horse.

Lamenting the closure of the WUSA last week, Julie Foudy, captain of the current U.S. team and a member of the 1999 World Cup Championship team and WUSA’s board, commented, “The impact of the WUSA on women’s sports and millions of fans has been extraordinary.”

If that’s the case, where are the fans? If given a second chance, the WUSA would do well to learn from the history of other American pro leagues and focus not on TV contracts and corporate sponsors but on selling its product the old-fashioned way. Right now, minor league baseball, with virtually no TV exposure, is flourishing in more than 100 American cities and towns, even though many teams lose their biggest stars to major league teams as the season progresses. It seems hard to believe that American women’s professional soccer couldn’t sustain itself with the same level of grass-roots support as minor league baseball and cultivate its fan base from there.

Ms. Foudy is right. The impact of the WUSA has been extraordinary, but the league has promoted its product the wrong way. To paraphrase the ghostly voice in “Field of Dreams,” if you build a sport, TV and sponsors will come.

I’m fairly certain that the words “minor league” would be anathema to women’s soccer boosters, and to an extent they’ve got an incontrovertible point: There’s nothing “minor league” about what women like Mia Hamm and Sun Wen do. They’re the pinnacle of their sport. Wherever they’re playing is the major leagues.

The problem is that major leagues are grown, not created by fiat. Barra compares WUSA’a initial attendance to two existing major leagues:

[N]either the NFL nor NBA began with TV or corporate support. In 2001, riding the continued enthusiasm generated by the U.S. Women’s World Cup victory, the average WUSA attendance was more than 8,100 per game. Surely this level of support could have been built on, particularly considering that women’s pro soccer had no direct competition.

After 12 seasons of competing against the popularity of college football, the NFL, in 1934, began keeping attendance figures. The average figure of 8,200 attendees per game for that year was only slightly above that recorded by the WUSA in its first season.

A comparison with the NBA is even more revealing. From 1952 through the 1963 season, average NBA per-game attendance increased to 4,600 from just 3,200. In fact, it wasn’t until 30 years ago, during the 1972-73 season, that the NBA’s average attendance (8,396) surpassed that of the WUSA in 2001.

Barra could have added that Major League Baseball teams did not average 8100 fans per game until 1946, 70 years after the founding of the National League and nearly a half-century after the AL was born. By comparison, WUSA came blessed with a silver spoon in its mouth. So what went wrong?

Well, as I’ve noted before, WUSA’s cost structure was outrageous. They didn’t build on their success, and attendance declined. They bet the farm on corporate sponsors and TV contracts, and without to audience to justify them they went belly up.

What should they do this time around? I think the minor league model has some merit, but it should be noted that there are different kinds of minor leagues. Most minor league baseball, minor league basketball (I’m thinking the pre-Isaiah CBA), and minor league hockey is geared towards small towns where they’re the only game in town. That’s not an appropriate model for the WUSA, which can be reasonably compared to AA and AAA baseball, with teams in mid-to-large cities like Louisville, Portland, and San Antonio; the AHL, which has teams in Houston and Chicago; and (don’t laugh) Arena Football.

The AFL, which started out as a small-to-medium town league and now has teams in New York, Chicago, and LA, is actually a great role model for WUSA. There’s nothing quite like it, they controlled costs and built their brand from the ground up, and now, having grown an audience, are getting airplay on TV.

How would I follow the AFL paradigm if I were to be named the next commissioner of WUSA? Well, I’ll tell you:

– First off, think regionally. I’d start with a six-to-eight team league that’s all in one area of the country, both to promote rivalries and to minimize travel costs. The ideal region, in my mind, would be the Southwest – Southern California, southern Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and west Texas – which is a region that’s not only fast-growing, but which also features a large, growing, soccer-loving Hispanic population.

– My other reason for picking the Southwest would be that it would allow me to schedule all of my games between February and April or May, which is a relative barren spot for sports, especially in an area that doesn’t have too much hockey. It’s no accident that the AFL plays its games at this time.

– A relatively short schedule, mostly in winter and early spring, would allow my star players some flexibility to play elsewhere during the offseason, much as many WNBA players play in Europe, South America, or the NWBL outside of their season. This means I can keep salaries modest.

– Before aiming for a national TV deal, I’d work to get each team its own local TV and radio broadcast deals, including on Spanish-language stations (after all, before the advent of MLS, where else could you find soccer on TV?)

– Once I had a few seasons and some fan loyalty under my belt, I’d look to expand, most likely by creating another geographic division. That might force me to move the schedule back a bit into warmer weather, but if I can keep the bulk of it in the April-June time frame, I still won’t have that much other competition (college hoops will be finished, at least).

I admit, this has nowhere near the glamour of WUSA when it first burst upon the scene. I’m willing to bet it’d last longer, though.

Brazoria County Democrats

If you had asked me which local Democratic organization would be the first to get themselves a blog, I would not have guessed it would be the Brazoria County Democrats. And I would have been wrong, for there it is. I hope they find the experience to be as useful as I think it will be.

Via Half the Sins of Mankind. Don’t worry, PG, I plan on sending them a pointer to the blogburst, along with the suggestion that they add their blog URL to the links page on their official site.

Court hangs up do-not-call again

Argh! Just when Congress was moving to fix the problems in the original legislation that created the national Do Not Call list, another federal judge has put the kibosh on it by ruling it in violation of the First Amendment rights of telemarketers.

[U.S. District Judge Edward] Nottingham found the do-not-call plan unconstitutional on freedom of speech grounds because it allows charitable organizations to continue to call numbers on the list, while commercial firms were barred.

“There is no doubt that unwanted calls seeking charitable contributions are as invasive to the privacy of someone sitting down to dinner at home as unwanted calls from commercial telemarketers,” Nottingham wrote. By exempting charitable solicitations, the FTC “has imposed a content-based limitation on what the consumer may ban from his home … thereby entangling the government in deciding what speech consumers should hear.”

“The First Amendment prohibits the government from enacting laws creating a preference for certain types of speech based on content, without asserting a valid interest, premised on content, to justify its discrimination,” the judge said.

Personally, I think that’s a crock. Commercial speech, which is what a telemarketing call is, is subject to greater restrictions than non-commercial speech. The multiple state-level do-not-call lists are all still in place. My right as a homeowner to put up a “No Solicitors” sign trumps your right as a solicitor to give me your sales pitch.

I grant that the exception carved out for charities, while well-intentioned, does throw a spanner in the works, a distinction that also gives Writerrific pause. I’d rather see a second do-not-call list for charities than see the telemarketers’ list die.

It occurs to me that we could largely avoid this problem if Caller ID were more robust and if telemarketers were forbidden from blocking their outbound number. I don’t like ignoring calls that say “unknown caller” because calls from my parents come in that way for some odd reason. Until calls from my folks display properly and/or until telemarketers are forced to display theirs, I’m left to guess when to answer and when to let it roll to voice mail.

(Wasn’t forcing telemarketers to display Caller ID info part of the recent FTC rule changes? Did that go through?)

A friend recently asked via email to a mailing list I’m on if anyone knew of an answering machine that could be programmed to respond to calls based on the incoming number. I can’t help but think that such a device, which sadly would depend on better Caller ID service, would be a big seller. I know I’d buy one.

(Yes, I know that some of the regional Bells offer a Privacy Manager service that forces unknown callers to announce their names before a call goes through. It’s not available to me, I’d rather pay once for a machine than every month for a service, and it suffers from the same annoyances as challenge-response spam filtering.)

I’ve seen some comments that one response people will have to unfettered phone spam is to give up their landline and go cellular. It’s true that telemarketers currently avoid calling cellphones as a rule, partly because there’s no good directory for them and partly because many calling plans include charges for incoming calls. Between predictive dialers and an avalanche of new flat-rate calling plans, I don’t see either of these as being long-term disincentives to telemarketers. Either we can control who calls us or we can’t.

Finally, I agree with Calpundit that the DMA’s oft-repeated line about “two million jobs lost” if a national Do Not Call list were implemented is baloney. Whatever may happen with the legal wrangling, does anyone honestly believe that these jobs are not slated for offshoring in the near future anyway? The Direct Marketing Association is shedding crocodile tears.

Off to committee

As expected, the job of drawing a new Congressional map has landed in the lap of a joint House-Senate committee, and they’re pretty much starting from scratch.

“When I’m walking in, I think everything is on the table,” said Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, chairman of the House negotiating team. His counterpart, Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, agrees: “The House and Senate versions are distinctly different.”


When the House and Senate work out differences in legislation, the rules usually confine the negotiators to the parameters of each bill.

For redistricting, it’s different. The map that eventually emerges for a final vote by the Legislature can resemble what’s already been passed or be totally different.

The only sure shape of the things to come?

“It will be shaped like Texas,” King said.


Although Perry reportedly wants a quick resolution, King and [Sen. Todd] Staples were predicting difficult negotiations.

“I don’t think we’ll argue over the shape of the table,” King joked. “But it will take a while.”

Staples and King have the same challenge. They must find common ground that a GOP majority — few Democrats even support redrawing congressional boundaries this year — can support in both chambers.

For example, the House map splits Waco, which Sen. Kip Averitt, R-McGregor, cannot accept. The Senate map divides Webb County, which Craddick said illegally dilutes the influence of Hispanic voters in Laredo. The House map gives state Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Carrollton, a suburban-rural East Texas district from which to run for Congress. The Senate map doesn’t.

And the biggest dispute is whether Craddick’s hometown of Midland can be given a district without upsetting West Texas senators.

I think we can all now agree, after one entire special session that produced wildly different House and Senate maps, and two weeks into the second fully-attended special session with no resolution in sight, that the notion expressed recently by Rick Perry’s spokesman Gene Acuna that “congressional redistricting could’ve been taken care of during the regular session had Democrats not bolted in May” is hogwash. If redistricting is such a high priority for Republicans, I think it’s fair to ask why they haven’t gotten their act together yet, nearly six months after Tom DeLay first foisted a new map on us. If the third session ends with no agreement on a map from the GOP, can any supporter of redistricting honestly say that a fourth session is justified? Is there no point at which failure is admitted?

It’s not just West Texas, Central Texas, and East Texas that are points of contention any more. You can now add South Texas to the dispute.

A day after the Senate passed a bill redrawing congressional districts, House Speaker Tom Craddick declared that a last-minute amendment that would affect Bexar and Webb counties could cause the Justice Department to reject the entire state plan.

The amendment by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, would split Webb County into two districts and remove about 130,000 residents in South Bexar County from U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez’s 28th Congressional District.

“It’s simple. That amendment causes retrogression, and it will not pass Justice Department (scrutiny),” Craddick said.

Texas is one of 16 states required to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department before it can change political boundaries. The clearance is intended to verify that changes to political districts do not disenfranchise any of the state’s minority voters.

Responding to Craddick’s comments, Wentworth said the Republican House speaker was poorly advised.

“I’ve gotten very different legal advice from lawyers we pay a lot of money to,” Wentworth said. “I’d like to know who is advising (Craddick), but it’s not very good (advice).”

Meanwhile, there’s now a disagreement over the reason to split Webb County in the first place.

During a debate earlier this week, Wentworth pushed through the amendment, which he said was intended to bolster the re-election of his fellow Republican, U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla of San Antonio.

Bonilla, one of a handful of Mexican American Republicans serving in Congress, has a district that stretches from Bexar County to the Texas-Mexico border and includes all of Webb County.

During debate, Wentworth said he had spoken to Bonilla and that Bonilla was agreeable to splitting Webb County in two. Webb County, with a population that is 95 percent Hispanic, is one of the fastest-growing counties in the state.

But Thursday, [Sen. Judith] Zaffirini said she had spoken twice with Bonilla, who told her he was unaware of Wentworth’s amendment and that he did not favor splitting Webb County.

“I find it ironic that the Republican Party is trying to help Bonilla with his re-election, and he hasn’t even been contacted” about the effort, Zaffirini said.

Bonilla could not be reached for comment.

Nothing surprises me at this point.

Best Local Blog

Congratulations to Kevin Whited for winning the first Best Local Blog award from the Houston Press! Way to go, dude.

The best laid plans

Your football team is 0-3, and you’re on the road for a tough game. The good news is that you’ve won the last two times you’ve played there, you’ve got some injured players coming back, and you’re staying at the same hotel you’ve stayed at before. What could go wrong?

In an attempt to prepare without distractions for Saturday’s football game against host Hawai’i, Rice booked reservations at the Turtle Bay Resort. The thing is, that also is the venue for this weekend’s 2003 Miss Hawaiian Tropic International United States Pageant.

“I think this is a plan from Hawai’i,” said Rice coach Ken Hatfield, whose team arrived in town yesterday afternoon.

In a what-the-heck request, Hatfield asked hotel officials if the pageant would consider relocating. “I didn’t want to change hotels,” Hatfield said. “We’ve had good success there.”

Rice is 2-0 in Hawai’i since it began staying at the Turtle Bay.

“It’s a major distraction if (the contestants are) running around the hotel,” quarterback Greg Henderson said. “We have to stay focused in what we have to do. If we can get through this, we can get through anything.”

But linebacker Jeff Vanover said he is confident the Owls will not be distracted.

“We’ll see how it plays out,” he said. “For the most part, with the coaching staff and the players, we’ll have our mind on the game. I don’t think it’ll be too much of a trouble.”

Vanover then introduced a reporter to his fiancée.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty of game film to study to keep them busy. Thanks to Linkmeister for the tip.

Stupid Young Conservative Tricks

There’s not really much you can say about the affirmative action bake sale put on at SMU by a chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas once you get past the basic responses of “dumber than a box of hair” and “these guys think they’re the best example of meritocracy in action?” I’d be willing to simply nominate them for one of Jack Cluth’s Dumass Awards while thanking all that is holy that the tactic of protesting naked is limited to the left wing were it not for the fact that a certain name leaped out at me from this story:

David C. Rushing, 23, a law student and chairman of Young Conservatives of Texas at SMU and for the state, said the event didn’t get out of hand. At most, a dozen students gathered around the table of cookies and Rice Krispies treats, he said.

“We copied what’s been done at multiple campuses around the country to illustrate our opinion of affirmative action and how we think it’s unfair,” he said.

Yes! It’s my old buddy David Rushing, the guy who had a stoopid op-ed piece printed in the Chronicle under a dishonest byline last year. At least here, he’s being up front about who he is and what he stands for, which in his case represents progress. Have fun, Dave! Don’t spend the buck-fifty y’all raised all in one place!

Metro update

Some good news on the rail front: Metro has jumped through the latest hoop by voting to change the ballot language in a way that satisfies Rep. John Culberson, and the Federal Transit Administration has accepted the change. Assuming that there’s no grief from the Secretary of State regarding deadlines, everything should be a go for November.

Culberson said the change was good news.

“A complete and accurate ballot is critical because the ballot is the contract between Metro and the voters,” he said.


After Monday’s vote, Culberson said he is satisfied with the new ballot but not with the rail plan itself. He said he will help Metro win federal matching funds for rail if voters approve the plan, but until Election Day, he is urging them to reject it.

Culberson also accused Metro of trying, before the change, to mislead voters into thinking a “yes” vote would authorize only 22 new miles of rail.

“Until today,” he said, ” we did not know that by voting yes we were giving legal approval to the full 73-mile system.”

Metro officials have frequently stated that the $640 million bond issue on the referendum ballot would pay for 22 miles of new rail lines, but they have also said repeatedly that they hope to eventually build out the entire system. A second bond referendum would be needed to approve further expansion.

I must say, I’m pleasantly surprised that Culberson did not try to move the goalposts when Metro complied with his last-minute wishes. I did not then and do not now have any trust in his motives, and you’d better believe I’ll be bookmarking this post in the event he attempts a flipflop on that federal matching funds promise after a (hopefully) successful referendum.

That said, Rob has a valid point about the rhetoric getting overheated on a debate that isn’t exactly life-and-death. Whatever my opinion of John Culberson as a legislator, I know fully well that I’m not going to convince anyone to heed my words by engaging in name-calling. My bad.

There are still potential problems for Metro:

[Sen. Kay Bailey] Hutchisonsaid she will not attempt to remove the Culberson amendment from the [2004 transportation appropriations] bill, which is pending in the Senate, because the issue has been resolved.

“If the people of Houston and the surrounding communities vote in support of light rail, it will be my highest priority to get the full federal share for the system,” Hutchison said in a statement released by her office.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said the Culberson amendment remains problematic because it subjects Metro to extra federal rules that no other transit agency must follow. She sent a letter Monday to Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta asking for a reconsideration of the FTA’s original decision because [FTA chief counsel William] Sears hadn’t seen the 22-page proposition Metro adopted, which includes a list of rail segments.

Metro needs federal matching funds to build the next 22 miles of light rail lines through 2012. It is asking voters to approve $640 million in bonds to accelerate construction.

So, if the referendum passes, then Metro needs KBH to be true to her word to remove the Culberson amendment push for federal funds and for Culberson to be true to his word and not have another go at torpedoing the federal funds again. You’ll forgive me if I don’t ice down the champagne just yet.

[Note: I misread the KBH quote. Thanks to Rob for the catch.]

On the local front, all of the major Mayoral candidates have finalized their positions on the Metro vote. Sylvester Turner, who criticized Metro for backing off its more aggressive plan, has said he will support the referendum, while Orlando Sanchez, realizing that with Michael Berry out of the race there are anti-rail votes to be had, has finally decided that he’s against it after all.

“I want more, but I don’t want to cut off my head and get nothing,” Turner said of his decision to support the referendum.

[second article]

“We need a 100 percent plan, not a 1 percent solution plan,” Sanchez said in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon.

The reference was to a road-oriented plan being developed by the Houston-Galveston Area Council, which it calls a 100 percent solution and which Sanchez supports.

Sanchez’s two main opponents, businessman Bill White and state Rep. Sylvester Turner, support the Metro referendum and criticized Sanchez.

White labeled Sanchez’s position as short-sighted, saying Houston needs to expand light rail as soon as possible.

Turner called Sanchez’s plan “an unrealistic proposal to pave our way out of problems.”

Well, at least Sanchez finally made up his mind. I’m sure his decision to do the same thing he did last time was a difficult one.

UPDATE: I suppose this was going to happen sooner or later – the opposition has gotten off the ground. They have their work cut out for them, but they have room to get traction:

There is a partisan difference in how voters view Metro’s transit plan, a recent Houston Chronicle/KHOU-Channel 11 poll found, with Republicans the most skeptical, but still slightly in favor. The survey found 56 percent of Democrats questioned support Metro’s referendum while 12 percent oppose it. Republicans, on the other hand, had only 37 percent support for transit expansion with 33 percent opposed. Among independents, 48 percent said they supported Metro’s proposition while 16 percent were opposed. Roughly one-third of voters in each category were undecided.

Rail opponents point out this poll was conducted before today’s launch of their campaign against the referendum and they expect the numbers will shift when anti-Metro advertisements start airing and voters better understand the facts.

Whatever “facts” these guys may have to present, I agree that their campaign will cause the numbers to shift. It’s just a question of how much.

What a tangled web

You may recall how a wacky group called Texas Citizens’ Action Network (TexCAN) recently accused MoveOn supporters of being Commies because the Communist Party of America ( web page links to Well, the Austin Chronicle had the same reaction as any other individual with two brain cells to rub together would, and after ascertaining that a hyperlink from to was enough to justify the accusation, proceeded to demonstrate a few unsavory connections in TexCAN’s closet. Case closed.

Maryland shrugs off Diebold problems

You’ve probably already read this scary Salon article about the easily-compromised Diebold voting machines. According to that article, the state of Maryland ordered a review of its purchase of the Diebold machines. Well, guess what? Turns out the state of Maryland will approve tha machines anyway. Security concerns are for weenies, I guess.

Via The Agonist, who will serve as a mirror site for the currently-disabled Black Box Voting.

UPDATE: Kriston reminds me to mention why Black Box Voting is down: Diebold bullied their ISP into shutting them off. Links via Calpundit and Body and Soul.

Perry promotes Texas economy

Our only Governor is up in New York talking up the Texas business climate.

Perry, addressing the Governor’s Summit on Economic Development and Tourism, said the trip is part of an “aggressive” new $5 million marketing campaign called Texas One that will be funded by private donations.

“We’re showing the nation that Texas truly is wide open for business,” Perry said. “When the private sector prospers, this entire state prospers.”


Perry said the trip should include some new contacts as well as business people with whom he has relationships.

“I’m real excited about the opportunity to go into other parts of the country and tell a great story about what’s happening in Texas,” he said.

Perry said Texas’ advantages to business include new restrictions on civil lawsuits, a diverse work force and a stand against new taxes despite a year that began with a $10 billion budget gap. He also cited “outstanding” public schools and “our own power grid” — valuable in light of last month’s massive electrical outage in the Northeast and Midwest.

Whatever. While he’s off gallivanting around and fundraising for 2006, Perry might want to check in on the Senate, where a provision in House Bill 7, inserted by Sen. Steve Ogden as part of an effort to weaken the power of the Comptroller’s office, is generating stiff opposition from the Texas business community. Here’s a bit from the Quorum Report.

[T]here is a buzz saw of business groups fighting a little noticed provision in Senator Steve Ogden’s (R-College Station) committee substitute to HB 7. The provision was apparently inserted to punish Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn for being a thorn in the side of the legislative leadership.

But in the process of punishing the Comptroller, business groups say that the leadership is also punishing Texas business and the struggling Texas economy. Business groups have shifted into high gear to fight the provision.

Few things unify the business lobby, but this is one of them. They claim that Article 22 in CSHB7 (reprinted below) will cost Texas business at least tens of millions of dollars, render the state tax settlement system into a dysfunctional, chaotic process and create a huge disincentive for any future investment in Texas.

Other than that, the bill is fine.

No one would go on the record because the provision is described as coming from “upper management”.

The provision presumes that the tax settlement process is the core of the Comptroller’s fundraising ability. By messing with it, they believe that they can neuter her political fundraising and terminate her independence.

The provision gives the Legislative Audit Committee chaired by Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and Speaker Tom Craddick the right to audit any tax settlement from the Comptroller’s office in which more than $10,000 is at stake. It also gives them the right to disclose the names of any taxpayers that are in a dispute with the Comptroller’s office.

With such intrusivion, the presumption of the business lobby is that the Comptroller will have no incentive to concede even legitimate tax adjustments.

QR has posted a letter (Word doc) signed by the heads of 27 business groups that oppose this provision and were hand-delivered to every Senator’s office. One of the signees is Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business, the group that’s so in bed with Tom DeLay that two of their officers were confined to a courtroom on contempt charges (Hammond was also cited) rather than turn over information about its membership to a grand jury. How embarrassing it must be to be out of state promoting your business climate while a member of your own party is pushing a bill that the business lobby thinks is a disaster.

Ah, well, it could be worse. At least these guys aren’t independent contractors.

Republican infighting

Remember Thomas Whaley, the State Republican Executive Board member who came under fire for allegations that he had secretly taped SREC meetings which contained embarrassing statements by the GOP leadership and gave the tapes to the Houston Chronicle? Well, we was indeed forced out by the SREC, and now he’s calling on Susan Weddington, the state GOP chair, to resign.

Thomas Whaley, a businessman from Marshall who stepped down from the State Republican Executive Committee under pressure from Weddington, said the chairwoman’s leadership was “hurting” the state party.

“I believe it is time for her to resign or be replaced,” he said.


In a letter several weeks ago from Rene Diaz, the Texas Republican Party’s chief lawyer, Whaley was accused of “disturbing the well-being of the SREC and hampering its work.”

He was ordered to submit to a closed-door grilling by party officials or resign.

Whaley said he resigned with the understanding that his successor would have the support of most Republican county chairs in District 1. He said he was assured that Sam Moseley of Marshall, the Harrison County Republican chairman and a longtime GOP player, would get the nod.

But the executive committee, meeting in Laredo on Sept. 13, selected Ray Rocha of Mount Pleasant, the more conservative Republican chairman of Titus County, for the post.

Royer said there wasn’t any agreement between Whaley and Weddington. He said Rocha, elected 43-16, mounted a more aggressive campaign, and Moseley didn’t even attend the meeting.

Moseley said he agreed to be nominated as a way of resolving any conflicts over the post. “The next thing I know they had picked someone else,” he added.

Awfully nice of you guys to provide us Democrats with a little distraction during these tough times. Please do feel free to keep it up.

Do Not Call on hold

This is annoying – a federal judge has ruled that the FTC lacks the authority to enforce the national do-not-call registry.

FTC chairman Timothy Muris said the agency disputed the court decision, arguing that the do-not-call registry was created as a result of legislation signed in March.

“This decision is clearly incorrect,” Muris said in a statement. “We will seek every recourse to give American consumers a choice to stop unwanted telemarketing calls.”

The Direct Marketing Association and others sued to block the program, saying it violated the constitutional rights of businesses involved in telemarketing.

The court did not specifically address the free-speech concerns raised in the suit but said there was no valid authority to enforce the registry.

“Admittedly, the elimination of telemarketing fraud and the prohibition against deceptive and abusive telemarketing acts are significant public concerns,” US District Judge Lee West wrote.

“However, an administrative agency’s power to regulate in the public interest must always be grounded in a valid grant of authority from Congress. Absent such a grant of authority in this case, the court finds the do-not-call provision to be invalid.”

Grr. I hope this gets overturned, and quickly. It sure sounds like hairsplitting to me.

CDs vs. DVDs

I’ve written before about why I think the music industry is in such disarray, and yesterday I came across this Denver Post article (link via Brad deLong) which sums it up as well as anything I’ve seen, starting with the opening:

The best-selling “Chicago” movie soundtrack is available on CD starting at $13.86.

The actual movie, with the soundtrack songs included, of course, plus additional goodies ranging from deleted musical numbers to the director’s interview and a “making-of” feature, can be had for precisely $2.12 more.

Therein lies the problem for a critically wounded music recording industry: The “Chicago” CD looks like a rip-off, and the DVD looks like a steal.

Bingo. I could not agree more. Go read it and see for yourself.

On an interesting side note, Bruce Sterling has declared the DVD to be one of ten technologies that deserve to die (it’s number 10, so go on to page two of the article to see why). A free registration is required, but that’s an improvement over the Technology Review‘s recent policies of only allowing subscribers to view online articles.

Senate approves Staples map

I’ve been under the weather the past two days, so I don’t quite have the energy to do my usual thing on this, but late last night the Senate approved a slightly modified version of the Staples map by an 18-13 vote. Democrats used a variety of parliamentary tactics, many of which were questions aimed at gathering evidence for a future court challenge, to stall things, but the vote was eventually taken at about 9 PM last night.

I should note that the vote for the map went along party lines, with one exception: Sen. Teel Bivins of Amarillo voted No, because he prefers a version of the House map. I was curious why Sen. Bill Ratliff, who had previously announced his opposition to redistricting, changed his mind, so I called his office and spoke to a nice lady named Virginia. She said he issued a press release (which as far as I could tell none of the major papers picked up) saying that he thought this map treated his district fairly and that it would not prevent someone from that area winning an election. I did not ask, but I would presume that he does not feel the same way about the King or Perry maps.

Anyway, full coverage is here, here, here, here, and here. Of interest in the Express-News is a note that Perry will call a fourth session if necessary, and some details about how this map affects Rep. Henry Bonilla, currently the most endangered Republican member of Congress from Texas.

UPDATE: The Senate has given final approval to the Staples map, 18-12. Bivins voted No, Ken Armbrister voted Yes, Florence Shapiro was absent. Off to the House it goes.