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September 30th, 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.