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October 4th, 2003:

Busy weekend

So I met a number of Houston’s finest lefty bloggers at Two Rows brewpub last night, during which time we talked about music, hoisted a few beers, and finalized our plans to take over the world. In attendance were Michael Hatley and a nonblogging friend of his whose name sadly escapes me, Bob Dunn, and Stephen Bates, all of whom I was meeting for the first time and all of whom now need to be added to my list of Bloggers I know personally, and also Michael Croft, who’s an old friend. A good time was had by all, and a sequel will be planned for next month.

This morning Tiffany and I dragged our bodies out of bed bright and early so we could drive up to Conroe to work on a house. Tiffany’s employer is partnering with Habitat for Humanity of Montgemoery County, and today was our day to be part of the work crew. I spent the morning measuring, sawing, drilling, hammering, and caulking, mostly hammering and mostly up on a ladder. It was an interesting experience, and given my usual level of cluelessness with tools, I did all right. Not that hammering is all that challenging, but hey, you have to start somewhere.

Tonight is Rice versus San Jose State, tomorrow is gardening and some prep for our trip to France. I’m gonna need the rest at this pace.

This is the strangest story I’ve seen all year

As if redistricting weren’t enough to fry my brain, there’s this strange story of an attempt to run a fake mayoral candidate with the same name as a real one in order to confuse voters.

It is a bizarre tale that includes a Democratic U.S. congressman, a secret tape recording, a $5,000 campaign check and a floppy straw hat sold for $1,200.

And it is a tale that raises as many questions as it answers.

At the heart of the story is a $5,000 campaign check that mayoral candidate Bill White cut to political gadfly Brenda Flores after thwarting plans she said she devised to put another Bill White on the Nov. 4 ballot.

During the week before the Sept. 22 filing deadline, Flores claims, she gave an Acres Homes man named William White $1,200 in cash after he signed candidacy papers to run for mayor.

Flores backed out of her plans to file the papers the day before the filing deadline, after meeting at her Spring Branch home with candidate Bill White and Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, a friend of Flores’ since his days on City Council.

Flores told White and Bell that she had originally received cash to carry out the ballot chicanery from a consultant associated with the mayoral campaign of state Rep. Sylvester Turner.

Turner vehemently denied that his campaign had any involvement in the scheme, calling the claim “outlandish.”

“There is no basis in fact to that,” Turner said.

Flores said she has no knowledge that Turner was personally aware of the plan.

Flores claims she used $2,600 of the money White gave her to repay the Turner consultant after Flores backed out of the plan. A friend of Flores’, Dennis Keim, said he delivered the cash to Turner campaign headquarters and secretly tape-recorded the encounter.

Turner said he is worried that his campaign may have been set up. He questioned why White would give Flores money.

“I think I am entitled, and so is the public, entitled to know — did he (White) write this check because he was extorted? Did he write this check in order to concoct this story?” Turner said. “I think I am entitled to know this.”

White said he was not extorted. He said he did not concoct the story to hurt the Turner campaign.

Instead, White said, he gave the money to Flores two days after the filing deadline because she said she had spent most of the money she received from the Turner consultant and feared retaliation if she did not repay it.

White said there was no discussion about paying Flores during the meeting at her home and that the idea was presented to him after the filing deadline.

“She called Chris Bell several times to say that she had been threatened, and I relied on his judgment that she felt threatened,” White said. “So, I relied on the judgment of an experienced and credible person.”

There’s more, and it just gets weirder. Whatever else may or may not have happened, I’ll bet they’re exchanging high-fives at the Sanchez campaign headquarters today.

Kevin has some good coverage of this as well. I’d never heard of Brenda Flores before now, but I wholeheartedly agree with Kevin on this point – the design of her (no link – it’s not worth it to me) web page sucks rocks and takes forever to load to boot (and I’ve got a cable modem and a fast machine). I’ve now written the name Brenda Flores down on the same piece of paper that contains the likes of Sam Texas and Whitney Broach so I’ll know to pay attention to the alarm bells that will ring the next time I hear her name mentioned.

UPDATE: Stephen Bates has a take on this as well.

UPDATE: Beldar asks some good questions and points to this account from White and Rep. Chris Bell on George Strong’s site. Having read that, it reminded me that I’d seen this earlier mention of the “two Bill Whites” but never gave it a second thought. Jack wonders if being Mayor is worth all this. No update in today’s Chron.

I’m all confused

Well, after reading the usual five sources for redistricting news, I officially have no idea if a deal is imminent, on the horizon, or nowhere in sight. There’s compromises, cut-n-paste jobs, still no agreement on West Texas, and a renewed attempt by the GOP to move minority voters around in order to kill off Martin Frost and Chris Bell without violating Voting Rights Act laws. Both chambers are now adjourned until Monday instead of Sunday, and now Governor “What, me worry?” Perry is saying that the drop-dead deadline of Monday isn’t so drop-deady any more. My brain hurts.

Judge for yourself here, here, here, here, and here. I just want to quote one bit, from the Express News, in which our Governor shows once again why he is the leader that he is.

Gov. Rick Perry, who has pushed for redistricting, has said he’d prefer not to change the filing deadline or primary date, but he’ll support such a move if redistricting hinges on it.

“The world doesn’t stop turning on its axis if we don’t get something done by Monday,” he said Friday. “Obviously my druthers would be that we have a bill by Sunday close of business and we don’t have to move filing deadlines or primaries. But again, if that does not occur, it doesn’t long-term substantially do damage.”

He said he remains optimistic that negotiations would end successfully, and he continued to blame Democrats.

“When you leave and go to New Mexico, you’re not just protecting some political cronies, you’re also costing people in the state of Texas a heck of a lot of money,” Perry said, referring to a 45-day walkout by 11 Senate Democrats who fled to Albuquerque to stall the redistricting issue.

Right. And here we are, after one entire special session and half of another, and the GOP still doesn’t have its act together. What the hell were you doing during those 45 days, Rick? You surely weren’t working with Dewhurst, Craddick, et al on a final version of the map that meets all of your stated objectives. Why, exactly, is that? Why are you in crisis now, when there was nothing to stop you from putting all of your ducks in a row in August if not sooner? You knew fully well that the Democrats couldn’t keep you from ultimately passing a map. So why are you now on the verge of failure? Whose fault is that?

Anyway, something to look forward to when this mess winds up in court: According to the Quorum Report, four Texas Democratic members of Congress have joined the Texas House Democratic Caucus in filing amicus briefs in the case of Vieth v. Jubelirer, concerning whether a state legislature, in this case Pennsylvania, can redraw congressional districts so as to minimize the likelihood that a particular political party’s candidates will win in the election. From QR:

Reps. Martin Frost (D-Dallas), Chris Bell (D-Houston), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston) and Nick Lampson (D-Beaumont) hope the court will set a new standard for partisan gerrymandering that would impact any new congressional plan passed by the Texas Legislature.

“The Pennsylvania case could become a very important issue,” said Frost, leader of the Texas congressional delegation and a target for many Republicans in the current redistricting shake-up.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on December 10. Here’s a summary of the Reform Institute’s arguments, another group that has filed an amicus brief. This could be very interesting.