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October 6th, 2003:

What he said

This NRO piece by Jennifer Graham is stupid, condescending, and racist. Jesse has a great and appropriate response. Check it out.

Rail, rail, rail, rail…

Some positive news and an head-slap moment for rail this week. First, a Page One story about commuter rail from Fort Bend County.

While the battle over the referendum for Metro’s 22-mile Houston rail expansion heats up, leaders in Fort Bend County are putting together a commuter rail project that could deliver thousands of suburbanites to downtown and the Texas Medical Center.

Fort Bend leaders say a commuter line connecting the fast-growing county with Metro’s light rail system could be one way to ease traffic problems and provide greater mobility to a wider area.

Missouri City Mayor Allen Owen said people eventually will want to take rail from Fort Bend County to such destinations as Hobby Airport, the Galleria and Bush Intercontinental Airport.

“Every day when I am out in public, someone walks up to me and asks, ‘How is the train line coming?’ ” Owen said.

The Fort Bend line would use the U.S. 90A rail corridor to shuttle riders from Rosenberg to Metro’s light rail station in the area of Fannin and Loop 610.

Sounds good so far, but there’s still a million hurdles to overcome, including such trivialities as funding and getting permission from Union Pacific to use their tracks. There’s already a feasibility study being done by the Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC), and it’s a bit of a head-scratcher:

The final report has not been released, but some preliminary findings have been made public.

The 25-mile project would start in Rosenberg and run through Richmond, Sugar Land, Missouri City and Stafford to Houston. The line would connect to Metro’s Fannin South Park & Ride lot near Reliant Stadium, where commuters could change trains and head on to the Texas Medical Center and downtown.

Stations are planned in each Fort Bend County city and one in southwest Houston.

Earl Washington, special transportation planner for the council, said the final report should be finished in December.

In March, Washington said the preliminary report found that building the project would cost between $75 million and $126 million. He said ridership was estimated at 3,000 to 5,000 each weekday. Owen said new ridership figures are higher than originally thought, between 6,000 and 11,000 people on weekdays.

Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace said new construction estimates put the price at between $350 million and $700 million.

I can understand ridership estimates varying, but we’re talking close to an order of magnitude difference in the cost projections. What’s up with that?

Anyway, the general tone from the folks who live out that way is that they want this to happen, and though he leaves himself plenty of wiggle room later to change his mind, even Tom DeLay sounds like he’d allow such a thing. (I know, it’s one of the seven signs.) So far, so good.

If only Metro weren’t its own worst enemy, we might someday have a rail system that includes commuter lines to the far-flung suburbs.

As conservative opponents gear up to derail Metro’s transit referendum, there’s also dissatisfaction with the agency from an unlikely quarter: Hispanic rail allies. They are unhappy over the decision by the pro-rail Citizens for Public Transit political action committee to hire a San Antonio-based ramrod for the campaign.

The campaign manager, Eddie Aldrete, also worked for former Democratic congressman Ken Bentsen in his unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid last year. Critics claim he was hired at the behest of former Bentsen congressional staffer Pat Strong. She signed a personal services contract early this year with Metro to coordinate communications activities with a maximum payout of $120,500 through next month.

Aldrete’s last Texas rail experience was hardly encouraging. He managed the San Antonio transit agency’s unsuccessful light rail referendum three years ago.

“It’s totally insulting to our community and our politics,” says consultant Marc Campos. He works for mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner and did not apply for the campaign manager position himself. Campos argues Houston has plenty of experienced candidates for the job who are familiar with the community, but Metro PAC officials made it clear they were not interested in the locals.

He says he told Metro chair Arthur Schechter that “we don’t deserve to be treated that way. You guys do all this stuff and come to us and expect us to be there for you. Those days are over.”

It takes a special talent to piss off a core group of supporters in this fashion. If you’ll pardon me, there’s a wall I need to bang my head on.

Voting trends in Texas

Bruce Davidson cites a report by former political director of the Texas Republican Party and current analyst for the Quorum Report Royal Masset on current demographic trends and its likely effect on Texas’ voting patterns.

“Republicans will start losing judicial races in Dallas County in 2004. After the 2008 general election, Democrats will hold many state level district judicial offices in Dallas County,” Masset wrote in a January study conducted for advocates of a merit/retention selection system for Texas judges.

He added, “By 2017, most district judicial offices in Harris County and all in Dallas County will be held by Democrats. These projections are based on ineluctable current trends.”

The statewide growth of the GOP has masked the changing voting patterns in Dallas and Harris counties, he said.

“The election of judges is largely determined by the partisan tides of any given election and by longer-term demographic factors,” Masset noted.

In Dallas and Harris counties, Republican candidates have continued to win, but by margins smaller than the statewide results. The growing weakness of the GOP is more pronounced in Dallas than Harris. For example, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Paul Womack, a Republican, snared 57.39 percent of the statewide vote in 2002. But Womack got 51.21 percent of the vote in Dallas and 54.85 percent in Harris. Other statewide races show the same trend.

In 1990, Dallas County’s Anglo population was 60 percent, but it dropped to 44 percent in 2000. Harris County’s Anglo population dropped from 54 percent to 42 percent in the same period.

In Dallas, Hispanic population increased from 17 percent to almost 30 percent from 1990 to 2000, while Harris’ Hispanic population jumped from 22 percent to almost 34 percent.

Republicans have made inroads among Hispanic voters, but Hispanics still tend to vote Democratic. “The most favorable Republican interpretation of Hispanic voting patterns in Texas would lead to the conclusion that Hispanics voted about 35 percent for Republican candidates in 2002 compared to 25 percent for Republican candidates in 1982,” Masset concluded.

This is a theme I’ve explored here a few times, and it’s worth coming back to from time to time, especially when a Republican analyst arrives at the same conclusions. There’s good reason to be skeptical of the belief that Hispanics will automatically vote Democratic (see here, here, and here for a primer), but let’s put this number in context: Right now, the Democratic Party in Texas aims to get 35% of the Anglo vote (a projection they still failed to achieve last year) and they get their butts kicked. As Hispanics become a bigger slice (and eventually, a majority) of the electorate, Republicans are in deep trouble if they don’t improve on their own 35% number.

Ripple effects

Mark Evanier mentions an aspect of the Roy Horn tiger-mauling story that I hadn’t considered.

Beyond the obvious tragedy here, it’s sad to think about how many lives this accident has impacted. Most of the 150-180 people who worked on the show are suddenly unemployed at a time when no other show is hiring.


Years ago, I heard someone talking about what it meant to do a good job running a business…any business. He said, “One measure of being a good executive is to make sure that if you get hit by a car tonight, someone could walk in tomorrow morning and begin doing your job and keeping the company functioning.” It probably doesn’t work that way all the time in most industries but it almost never works that way in show business.

I had no idea that many people were employed by the Siegfried and Roy act, but in retrospect it makes sense. Damn.

I cried hot tubs of tears over you

Life sure is tough at the University of Houston these days.

In the abstract, Kathy Anzivino believes there must be some pinnacle of amenities that universities simply cannot surpass, some outer limit so far beyond the hot tubs, waterfalls and pool slides she offers at the University of Houston that even the most pampered students will never demand it and the most recruitment-crazed colleges will never consent to put it on their grounds.

She just has a hard time picturing what that might be.

“There’s got to be one, but what it is, I don’t know,” said Ms. Anzivino, director of campus recreation at the university, which opened a $53 million wellness center this year.

Beyond its immense rotunda stands a five-story climbing wall that looks as if it was transported straight from Arches National Park, while boulders and palm trees frame the leisure pools outside.

“Everyone says it looks like a resort,” she said.

Man, was I ever born too early. No wonder my UH friends are so fond of the place.

Guess what? Still no map!

And so the Sunday drop-dead deadline has whooshed past with map in sight and the Lege adjourned until Wednesday. What a glorious mess this is.

Hardly any ink was expended on the reason for the Republicans’ failure, since the reason hasn’t changed since the get-go: Tom Craddick wants a Midland district, Robert Duncan doesn’t, and never the twain shall meet. The big issue now is what to do with the primary date.

Secretary of State Geoff Connor has said that if a plan is not adopted by midnight today he will not be able to conduct a primary as scheduled on March 2. Connor, the state’s chief elections officer, said the primary would have to be moved to March 9.

“I know the Senate was very determined to get this done before we had to change any primary dates,” said Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, one of the Senate negotiators. “We have, in essence, missed that deadline.”

Duncan said that if a redistricting bill is passed, the primary date will have to be pushed back for the new congressional district lines to be used in the 2004 elections.

“Right now, we don’t have any choice if we want to move a redistricting bill forward,” said Duncan.

But Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, leader of the House negotiators, said he does not believe that deadline is firm. He said once a redistricting agreement is reached, negotiators will ask Connor to reassess whether the primary date must be moved.

“I think there’s a little bit of flexibility. I’m going to rely on the secretary of state,” King said.

If a redistricting bill is passed, it would not take effect until 90 days after Gov. Rick Perry signs it. Connor’s office then would need enough time to allow candidates to file for the races, print ballots and hold early voting.

The primary date was shifted from March 9 to March 2 under a bill approved during the regular legislative session. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, said the primary was moved so it will not be held in the midst of the public school spring break.

Branch last week said he did not believe there were enough votes in the House to move the primary back to March 9.

King and House Speaker Tom Craddick said they have the votes to move the date. Duncan said he did not know whether the Senate could support the date change.

By moving to March 2, Texas joined some of the nation’s largest states in holding a presidential primary on the same day. The other states include California, New York and Ohio.

“If the primary is moved from March 2, Texas Democrats will have no voice in who will be the nominee of the Democratic Party,” said state House Democratic Chairman Jim Dunnam of Waco.

Dunnam said most candidates will have been winnowed out of the race either before or on March 2.

“I’d like to have a voice in who is going to oppose George Bush,” Dunnam said.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, described moving the primary as un-American.

“That’s something that happens in other places,” Coleman said. “We don’t move elections in the United States of America to make room for power grabs.”

Interestingly, as the Express News reports, the chambers are adjourned until Wednesday in observance of Yom Kippur. You may recall that previously, the House voted down a motion to not meet during Yom Kippur on the grounds that Governor Perry’s deadline was more important. As has been the case since this redistricting fight began, the Republicans forced an action without being able to follow up on it.

Once it became known that the committee negotiations had broken down again and that the Lege would adjourn, the real action from yesterday was set in motion.

With redistricting at an impasse, both legislative chambers had been out of action since Thursday. But they had to reconvene Sunday to avoid breaking a state constitutional requirement that prohibits either chamber from taking more than three consecutive days off during a legislative session.

So [Speaker Tom] Craddick called the House to order to hear a motion to adjourn until Wednesday. But just as he was slamming down his gavel to make the adjournment official, about a dozen Democrats shouted their objections.

If Craddick had not ignored them, the Democrats would have offered an amended motion to call off the session and send House members home. And it might have worked because almost none of the Republican members had shown up to vote it down.

“Our intention was to move to adjourn sine die and put an end to all of this,” said Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, using the Latin phrase that translates roughly to “without a set date” and is legislative slang for calling it quits.

Democrats later accused Craddick of ignoring House rules and operating in a “dictatorial” fashion. Through a spokesman, Craddick, R-Midland, said that the Democrats were late in announcing their objection and that the gavel fell before their voices were raised.

“He didn’t know what they were up to,” said Bob Richter, the speaker’s press secretary. “He knew there were certain troublemakers out on the House floor, and [House leaders] were expecting something, but they didn’t know what it was.”

More on this from the Statesman.

Outnumbering the Republicans 12-2, the Democrats tried to turn a routine adjournment into a coup. They attempted to amend the motion to adjourn for the day and end the third special session over congressional redistricting.

But one of the two Republicans, Speaker Tom Craddick, would have none of it.

He gaveled the House to adjournment until Wednesday as the Democrats yelled their objections. The speaker then stormed off the House floor.

“He called us Chicken D’s,” said Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, recalling Craddick’s nickname for the 51 Democrats who fled to Oklahoma in May to stop a vote on congressional redistricting. “But I never saw anyone run as fast as he did. It was a complete act of cowardice.”

The rare Sunday meeting had been called in case Senate and House Republican negotiators had resolved their differences over their versions of a new congressional map. They hadn’t, so Craddick expected a routine adjournment in which only one member shows up to make the motion to adjourn.

Instead, Rep. Jim Dunnam, the leader of the House Democrats, had organized a dozen Democrats to be on hand to fight any attempt to make the House meet today, Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. Austin Reps. Elliott Naishtat and Eddie Rodriguez were among the dozen.

But when the Democrats realized they outnumbered the Republicans, they thought they’d try to end the special session altogether.

Dunnam said the speaker’s quick gavel was another example of an autocratic leader with a Republican majority overrunning the Democrats — even when the Republicans didn’t show up. He said Sunday’s brouhaha is likely to end up in litigation over a final map.

Craddick, through press secretary Bob Richter, said a speaker has two choices when there is no quorum to conduct business: put out a call for missing members or adjourn

Pretty funny, if you ask me. The Express News says that according to the House parliamentarian (an employee of the Speaker), a motion to adjourn sine die cannot occur without a quorum. There’s a can of worms I’d rather not open.

So anyway, there probably won’t be any further news until Wednesday. The special session has one week left to go – it expires on October 13.

Finally, Carl Leubsdorf of the Dallas Morning News takes a ride on the Hutchison for Governor bandwagon. Expect to see more of this if Perry is forced to call a fourth session.

UPDATE: Austin TV station KVUE filmed the Dems’ attempt to adjourn sine die. Judge for yourself if they objected before the gavel hit the podium. Registration required. Via the Quorum Report.

Diebold timeline

The crew at The Agonist have put together a timeline of events in the ongoing Diebold electronic voting machine scandal. Check it out, and check out their initial report on why there’s such a fuss to begin with. It’s a good intro if you’re not familiar with what’s been going on, and a good recap if you are.