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October 8th, 2003:

City Council quandary

I suppose you could file this under Good Problems To Have, but I’m trying to figure out which of the myriad of candidates for the District H City Council seat to vote for. I’m hoping that one of Hector Longoria’s many opponents can get into a runoff with him, but the question for now is which one to support in the meantime. The establishment candidate seems to be Adrian Garcia, who has the backing of Sylvia Garcia and Carol Alvarado, according to this Press article. Rob Humenik likes Diana Davila Martinez, while Tiffany says she’s voting for Gonzalo Camacho, whom she cited as a competent voice of reason on the Woodland Heights email list. There’s a candidate forum on October 14 at Zion Lutheran Church, but I’ll be inconveniently out of the country at that time.

Hmm. Maybe, in my copious spare time, I’ll call some of these people and ask them why I should vote for them. That might be cool.

A tale of two Bills, continued

Tim Fleck has his take on the Dueling Bill Whites story, though there’s not much new ground covered. This is interesting, though:

Media coverage of the Bogus Bill scheme was almost as convoluted as the plan itself. Political consultant George Strong was the first to post stories on the subject on his Texas Political Resource Web page. He found out about it at a Planned Parenthood fund-raiser the Friday before the filing deadline. Strong was chatting with White’s wife, Andrea, and asked how the campaign was going. She replied, “Bill’s real worried because he heard today that somebody’s going to get somebody else named Bill White to file for mayor.”

Strong then made a beeline for White to inquire about the details. When he asked about Bogus Bill, the surprised candidate exclaimed, “Where’d you hear that from?”

Strong posted his first item on his Web site the next day, alerting Houston media. Even with the heads-up, the Houston Chronicle held its potential scoop by John Williams for a week, printing it only after both the Forward Times and KHOU/ Channel 11 had produced stories. It seems that epic libel case filed by Turner against KTRK/Channel 13 after his 1991 race has left a lasting impression on Chronicle editors.

Man, talk about wheels within wheels. Anyway, it looks like there’s no more dirt to be uncovered (yeah, I know, you never know), in which case we may never hear a full explanation of this from White or Turner. Too bad, since I feel pretty strongly that this was a tempest in a teapot, but I can certainly understand that from a strategic point of view. We’ll see if Orlando Sanchez tries to make hay out of it. He could strike gold if he does, or he could turn people off by going negative. Again, that’s why they pay the consultants the big bucks.

Kevin has some further thoughts on this, including a link to this Chron story which says that the DA’s office will take a peek at this.

Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said Tuesday that he has started an investigation into an aborted scam to confuse voters by getting a second man named Bill White to run for mayor.

Rosenthal said he is uncertain any laws were violated.

“You have to know what the facts are before you know which laws come into play,” Rosenthal said.

Can’t argue with that.

Dewhurst gives Van de Putte a way out

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst says he hopes Sen. Leticia Van de Putte simply misheard another Senator make a racial slur.

Dewhurst also backed off the previous stance of his office calling for an investigation into whether an unnamed senator told Van de Putte that if Democratic senators acted “like Mexicans, you will be treated like Mexicans.”

“It’s unbelievable,” Dewhurst said, speaking to reporters shortly before a luncheon speech in San Antonio. “I really can’t believe any person in the Texas Senate would say such a thing.

“Sen. Van de Putte is a dear friend of mine, but maybe she didn’t hear correctly,” he said.

We’ll see if she amends her remarks. Meanwhile, her fellow Senator from San Antonio was less charitable.

“The thing that is offensive to me personally is that she hasn’t identified the senator,” said Sen. Jeff Wentworth, who said Van de Putte owes it to the public and the Texas Senate to name the senator who allegedly made the comments.

“I am a Republican senator along with 18 other Republican senators. So (she’s) put a cloud over all 19 of us,” he said.

Wentworth stopped short of saying Van de Putte lied about the incident, which she said occurred after 11 Senate Democrats returned to the capital last month from New Mexico, where they went to stall consideration of redistricting legislation.

“I just believe there’s got to be some way she misunderstood or exaggerated,” Wentworth said. He added that the “Capitol rumor mill is very healthy and I just can’t believe if that actually occurred, nobody has heard about it in three weeks.”

In Van de Putte’s corner is the American GI Forum.

“The senator who said this should identify himself or herself,” Ram Chavez said.

Asked how Dewhurst should draw an apology for a comment Dewhurst did not hear and from an unidentified senator, Chavez said, “He is the leader of the Texas Senate. He should call in his state senators and talk to them.”

Chavez was accompanied by Jesus Castillo of San Antonio, a GI forum member, who said he believes Van de Putte’s recollections.

“I believe her 100 percent. I know her. I grew up with her,” he said.

We’ll see. So far, this story hasn’t gotten much play outside of the Express News, so at least if Van de Putte backpedals her exposure is limited. For now, anyway.

Did you study for that urine test?

Oh. My. God.

LUBBOCK — Some West Texas men on probation are in trouble again, this time for allegedly using the Whizzinator to help them pass court-ordered urinalysis tests.

In the past six months, five men on probation were caught using a realistic-looking prosthesis that dispenses synthetic, drug-free urine, Lubbock County sheriff’s officials said. One was caught by an alert officer who heard something unusual in the restroom.

“A body part when it’s up against a plastic cup isn’t going to go ‘clink,’ ” said Tom Madigan, interim assistant director of the Lubbock County adult probation office.

Truer words have never been spoken.

The device, reusable and available in five flesh colors, is sold by California-based Puck Technology for $150. A prosthetic penis is attached to an undergarment resembling a jock strap and connects to a pouch containing dehydrated urine. Water is added to the pouch, and a heat pack can be attached to keep the urine close to body temperature.

Company owner Dennis Catalano has sold the device and one designed for women for about four years, mainly through an Internet site. He said what he does is legal.

“How people choose to use it is beyond our control,” he said. “But we manufacture this and sell it for people who believe we still have a semblance of privacy in this country.”

If you want to know more about The Whizzinator, you can read this AlterNet story. The paragraph on how their prostheses are made is a hoot. Isn’t it nice to know that the libertarian spirit is alive and well somewhere?

Deal reportedly reached

At 12:13 PM, the Quorum Report says:

HOUSE AND SENATE REDISTRICTING NEGOTIATORS REACH DEAL

Official announcement to be made early this afternoon

Time to get the lawyers warmed up.

UPDATE: Oopsie! QR has a later entry that says:

WE JUMPED THE GUN ON THE REDISTRICTING MAP

No map yet. Confirmation is that House and Senate adjourned until Friday.

If there was a map, it would be laid out today or brought to the floor of both chambers tomorrow. While there has been some modest movement, as far as we can tell, it is marginal at best.

So the lawyers can stand down for now. (And BTW, ElGato, my mental image is a bullpen, while a stocky guy with a chaw is saying “The lefty needs a few more tosses” on the phone.)

UPDATE: The papers are now reporting that a deal has been struck in principle. Here’s the Dallas Morning News, the Statesman, the Chronicle, and the Star-Telegram. The map is currently being vetted for compliance with the Voting Rights Act and if it passes muster will probably be unveiled tomorrow and brought to the House and Senate floors on Friday. According to Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, if the lawyers give the plan a thumbs down, the Senate will not take up the matter again this year.

“(T)his is the last bite at the apple,” Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told the Statesman on Wednesday. “If our lawyers tell us our plan is legally defensible, we’re going on to address school finance, Medicaid reform and other issues. And the governor’s office and the (Republican) congressional delegation understand and agree that the Senate’s not going to take up this issue again.”

Dewhurst said the Senate would not consider redistricting again if the Justice Department failed to clear the plan and Gov. Rick Perry called yet another special session on congressional redistricting.

“We’re not going to take it up,” Dewhurst declared, without going into specifics about how that would occur.

It should be noted that at 5:03 PM, four minutes before the DMN story was published, Rep. Phil King is being quoted in the Quorum Report saying that the report of a deal was still premature. I cannot tell if this is still true, but with all the other papers chiming in I’ve got to assume the deal is in.

UPDATE: Dewhurst has confirmed the deal, according to the Quorum Report, although the “final details of the map still needed to be ironed out”. It should be available tomorrow.

When you have The Hammer, every problem looks like a nail

On Day Two of Hammer Time, the newspapers are all reporting that this time, the Republicans really truly are thisclose to finalizing a map.

No compromise maps were released, but both sides agreed that Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, the speaker of the Texas House, had beaten back Senate opposition and prevailed in his dogged pursuit of a district centered in his hometown — where a former business partner of President Bush is waiting in the wings to run.

A House negotiator said some tweaking of districts in the Panhandle and Central Texas remains – and any haggling at this late hour could kill a fragile compromise.

Late Tuesday night, a deal appeared to be close but elusive. “The progress has slowed somewhat, but I am hopeful,” said state Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine.

Staples said he hoped he would be able to announce a deal today.

Among other things, in the end Queen Craddick got what he wanted.

“The primary haggling is not over District 11, the Midland district, but over 13 and 19, the Amarillo and Lubbock districts,” said state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, the chief House negotiator.

Another way to put it, as Craddick spokesman Bob Richter did, is that the House speaker “pretty much got what he wanted.”

Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, had fought to keep the current lines intact, which made possible the election of Stenholm, a popular conservative Democrat who keeps getting re-elected in Republican territory.

In an interview with the Star-Telegram Tuesday in Washington, Stenholm called Duncan “solid as a rock” and expressed optimism that he would be able to run in whatever district is drawn for him.

But Dave Beckwith, a spokesman for Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the president of the Senate, said it had never been Duncan’s goal to keep a winnable seat for Stenholm.

“Whoever put that out, that he was trying to protect Stenholm, was either wrong or maliciously wrong,” Beckwith said. “In order to get these [new Republican] seats, we need Stenholm’s.”

Beckwith also agreed that Craddick had prevailed in his insistence on a Midland-centered district. K. Michael Conaway, a longtime friend and business partner of President Bush, is Craddick’s favored candidate for the seat.

“Craddick won a brand new district for Midland. He won that. That’s for sure,” Beckwith said.

Stenholm, meanwhile, would face freshman U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, in a GOP-dominated district.

We’ll see. The clock is still ticking, and one of the things the mapmakers are worried about now is the annual UT-OU football game.

The Republican leaders raced against the clock to get a deal Tuesday, fearing they would lose a GOP quorum in the House this weekend to the Texas-Oklahoma football game.

“They feel like to get into the Texas-OU weekend, you might lose members on Friday,” said Richter. “If you have to go to next week, there’s a good chance that a filibuster would throw it off in the Senate.”

The University of Texas usually gives free football tickets to legislators, but it is unclear whether lawmakers are being given tickets to this weekend’s game, Richter said.

If House and Senate negotiators can hammer out an agreement by early today, the chambers could vote on the final GOP redistricting plan by Thursday. Any further delay would push a floor vote off until at least Friday.

State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, the lead House negotiator, said he did not think the Texas-OU game would interfere with a Friday House vote if needed.

“I think whenever we’re going to have a vote, I think everybody will be here. We’re pretty close. If we get a map worked out tonight or tomorrow, and it gets signed off on by everybody … we could be on the floor Friday, easy.”

It’s my opinion at this point that the Republicans have overreached, and in carving up Tarrant and Hidalgo counties, among others, whatever final plan they’re headed towards will not survive a court challenge. I had my doubts about the Staples map that the Senate actually passed, as it seemed like the GOP had worked to avoid those issues, but I suppose three weeks of fruitless negotiations set their inhibitions to the wind. I have to wonder – if the courts flush their plan down the legal toilet, will they wait until 2005 for the do-over, or will Perry start with the special sessions again?

Anyway, the rest of the coverage is here, here, and here. Not much else there.

While Democrats here (myself included) are spitting mad about the possibility that the primary date may be changed, the various Presidential campaigns weren’t sure it would affect them.

“This will sacrifice Texas’ voice in the presidential selection process,” said Geronimo Rodriguez, an Austin lawyer and state adviser for the presidential campaign of Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, on the moving of the primary back to March 9. “We will know the nominee by the time Texas votes in the primary.”

But Texas leaders in the presidential campaigns of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt were not as certain of the potential influence.

“If they don’t go much further than that, we are probably OK,” said former Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, Gephardt’s point man in Texas. “But March 2 makes Texas more of a player.”

Former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, the Texas coordinator for Kerry, has projected for months that the nomination would be decided even before March 2.

“It’s still hard for me to see a scenario that the presidential race is not over before the first week of March,” Barnes said. “I still think the primary will be over before Texas votes, but that one week could make a big difference.”

Former state Rep. Glen Maxey of Austin, director of the Howard Dean presidential campaign in Texas, said it’s too early to tell what the key date will be.

“Just because we get moved back does not mean we are out of the game in this multicandidate field,” he said.

Just a reminder why the primary date was moved to March 2 in the first place:

State Rep. Dan Branch, a Dallas Republican and sponsor of the measure that moved the primaries to March 2, said Tuesday that there would be a cost to counties, but not the state, to moving it back to March 9.

Branch wanted to move the primaries to avoid the costs involved in opening the schools and other polling places that are closed for spring break on March 9.

“We were saving money because to hold a primary election in a darkened schoolhouse on spring break is 20 to 50 percent more expensive than when schools are opened,” he said.

Would Tom DeLay like to compensate the counties for unnecessarily adding to their costs? I rather doubt it.

On a lighter note, Alec Baldwin has a gift for Governor Perry.

Actor Alec Baldwin came packing a box of Milk Bones at a Tuesday fund-raiser for Texas House Democrats embroiled in a nationally noticed fight with the GOP over congressional redistricting.

“I wanted to give this to Tom DeLay’s lap dog, Rick Perry,” Baldwin told reporters at the private fund-raiser downtown, noting that Gov. Perry has called three special legislative sessions to try to achieve GOP-friendlier congressional districts as sought by DeLay, U.S. House majority leader.

Perry’s spokeswoman Kathy Walt, with the governor on a New York trip, returned the shot.

“Alec Baldwin is to acting what Democrats are to Texas — irrelevant,” she said.

The fund-raiser was for the “Killer Ds,” as supporters call the House Democrats who stalled redistricting in the regular session by fleeing to Oklahoma. More than $50,000 was raised, said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.

The money will be used to help re-elect Democratic House members, said Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, head of the House Democratic caucus.

Two words, Kathy: Governor Schwarzeneggar.

On to the editorials. The Star-Telegram has a three part piece decrying various aspects of the whole redistricting process. The Morning News says keeping the primary date is more important that the GOP feud. The Statesman bemoans the whole thing. The Express News takes a similar tack while fretting about uncompetitive districts and plugging the Wentworth plan. The McAllen Monitor feels Craddick and Duncan’s pain.

Republicans such as Craddick and Duncan have had a taste of what redistricting does — it separates us into haves and have-nots when it comes to congressional representation. While those politicians’ districts get a fair shake under the compromise map, Hidalgo County is once again gerrymandered into two congressional districts, one of which stretches all the way into Central Texas, far from the border with Mexico.

This unfairness in drawing the congressional districts won’t go away until the state Legislature has the courage — has the guts — to bring about a fair, impartial redistricting system. There are at least two ways this could come about. The Legislature could create a nonpartisan redistricting committee made up of demographers, geographers and other experts; or it could use a computer program that automatically draws district boundaries according to preset specifications. Either of these methods, or even some combination of the two, would be better than the political mess Texas must endure.

We don’t feel too sorry for Duncan and Craddick. But we’re very familiar with what they’re going through.

Indeed.

Van de Putte followup

Yesterday I pointed to a column by Jan Jarboe Russell in the Express News in which Sen. Leticia Van de Putte said that a Republican Senator, in response to a query about punitiveness, told her that “If you act like Mexicans, then you will be treated like Mexicans.” Van de Putte did not name the Senator in question, since the comment was made in the members’ lounge, for which there is a tradition of confidentiality, but she said that the exchange was witnessed by Sens. Frank Madla and Judith Zaffirini.

Today, neither Senator verified Van de Putte’s claim.

“What senator said that?” Madla said. “I don’t recall that comment being made, to be honest with you. Unless we can verify that statement being made, I would rather not make any comment.”

Zaffirini, saying she was taking painkillers for a broken shoulder at the time, said: “I don’t recall the exchange. I recall her (Van de Putte) telling me about the exchange. That was when I was on pain medication. … I’m sure I was there, but I don’t recall it.”

As I said yesterday, if this story is true, it’s despicable. It’s also despicable if it’s not true. This is a very serious charge to make, and no good purpose is served if it can’t be verified. The fact that the two witnesses Van de Putte named don’t remember the incident doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but their lack of recollection surely does not advance her case. At the very least, it’s rather reckless for Van de Putte to go public without first checking with her colleagues to see if they’ll back her up.

Sen. Van de Putte is in a very precarious position right now. She may be telling the truth, but without corroborating evidence it will be very difficult to get anyone to believe her. If she’s exaggerating, misrepresenting, or just plain making this up, then she’s done herself and her colleagues a grave disservice and she needs to start making it right double quick. I hope she knows what she’s doing.

The Top Ten Silver Linings from the California Recall Election

10. At least there won’t be a recount.

9. After last week, Arnold now has a much better idea of which women won’t mind being groped.

8. Maybe this idea of tossing out people who turn surpluses into deficits will catch on, say, next November.

7. I’ll take any distraction from Cubs fans moaning about last night’s game at this point.

6. With any luck, Terminator 4 will be shelved indefinitely.

5. You know how everybody loves the backup quarterback until he actually has to play in a game? That’s what Arnold will feel like when he finally has to come up with a specific proposal on the budget.

4. California once again takes the lead over Texas in the Most Embarrassing State Politics race.

3. As such, when I’m in France next week, I can tell people “Well, at least I’m not from California.”

2. Whoever reserved RecallArnoldNow.com got their money’s worth.

And the #1 Silver Lining from the California Recall Election:

1. The next time I hear someone gripe about know-nothing celebrities spouting off on politics, I will say “Two words: Governor Schwarzeneggar.”