Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

January, 2004:

DA clears TTM

Nearly three months after the election, Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal has finally issued a report which clears Texans for True Mobility of lawbreaking during the runup to the rail referendum.

Texans for True Mobility violated no state campaign laws when it concealed the identity of contributors who underwrote advertisements bashing Metro’s transit expansion plan before the Nov. 4 referendum, Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said Friday.

However, with a civil court lawsuit and a complaint to the Texas Ethics Commission pending against the group, it was unclear whether Rosenthal’s finding clears the way for other groups to enter the political arena with unidentified sources of money.

Voters narrowly approved the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s $7.5 billion regional transportation plan. Its centerpiece calls for constructing 73 more miles of rail by 2025 and issuing $640 million in bonds to help fund the next 22 miles.

Texans for True Mobility’s nonprofit corporation ran advertisements saying the plan “costs too much, does too little.” The group is believed to have spent about $1.5 million.

Rosenthal said his Government Affairs Bureau’s investigation, prompted by a Houston Chronicle complaint, found that the campaign involved educating the public rather than calling specifically for a “no” vote on the referendum.

Only if the corporation had specifically taken a position on the referendum would Texans for True Mobility be subject to the Texas election code requiring political groups to disclose their contributors, Rosenthal said.

The district attorney, a Republican, said the investigation was not affected by the fact that he got political contributions from Texans for True Mobility members for his election campaign in 2000 and his re-election campaign this year.

You all know my position on this. I completely fail to understand how TTM was not advocating defeat of the referendum. Maybe there is no way to “educate” without “advocating”, I don’t know. If so, it seems to me that what we need is consistency in the law, and to me that means full disclosure of donors. I’d be willing to compromise and allow anonymity up to a certain level of donation, say $200 or $500. Anyone who gives five figures to something like this, though, should not be allowed to hide about it. Not that I’ll be holding my breath in anticipation of new laws, mind you.

I want my MTV

Ah, show business. So glamorous. Here’s what my MTV Rock and Jock Super Bowl experience was like.

The MOB arrived at the site at 9 AM. The flag football field, which was 50 yards in length though it was striped as though it was a regulation gridiron (every 10-yard line actually represented five yards), is on Kirby between the front entrance to Reliant Stadium and the Texans’ practice dome. We were split into two groups, one each to serve as pep band for each respective team (the “Rock Stars” and the “Beat Downs”). After playing a few tunes as warmups, we were herded onto the field to rehearse the halftime and pregame activities.

Pregame stuff first. We were told by the MTV people that the watchwords of the day were “enthusiasm” and “charisma”. Basically, they wanted us to cheer wildly, act like we were having fun, and generally not look like a deer in the headlights when the cameras panned us. We lined up on two corners of the field for the introductions of the teams’ coaches (The Rock and Warren Sapp) and ran through that a couple of times, with stunt celebrities taking the place of the real deal. They then ran through the opening “run-off”, a standin for an opening kickoff in which the two team captains (Nelly and Nick Lachey) would line up on the 20 and run the 50, where the first one to touch a football there would get the first possession for his team. They did several variations on this – both on the same side of the field, each on opposite sides, one or two footballs, first to “touch” versus first to “possess” – with the stunt celebs, then finally settled on one for the game.

The MOB is well-known as a halftime performer, but we were not there to play our instruments on the field. We were there, in full uniforms and carrying our instruments, to serve as backdrop dancers for Chingy and his rendition of his rap hit, Holidae In. They also had the Houston Texans cheerleaders for that purpose, which makes one wonder why they bothered with us, since we weren’t really adding a whole lot from an aesthetic perspective. Whatever. For this rehearsal, we had the actual Chingy sing his song while we worked out a little basic choreography for ourselves so we wouldn’t look completely random.

After that, at around 11:30, it was time to break for lunch. For the crew, anyway. The MOB’s pizza lunch hadn’t arrived yet. On Thursday, when the MOB (not including me) was there for more pre-celebrity rehearsals, the pizza arrived promptly and everyone ate at about the same time. After an hour had passed and several increasingly annoyed conversations with the MTV people had been made, we got an apology and a promise that the pizza was unavoidably delayed but would be there Real Soon Now. It finally arrived at about 12:50, by which time most of the people who had lined up to see the Chingy performance and flag football game had arrived and filled into the stands. Some of them weren’t too happy about not getting any of that pizza, but we were too hungry to pay any attention to them.

The crowd that filed in to watch was interesting. Many of them chose style over warmth for their clothing. This was a bad choice in my unfashionable opinion, as Friday was cold, overcast, and windy. After four hours outside in that in our band uniforms, we MOB folks were amazed at how many spectators showed up barelegged and/or without outerwear, though not quite as amazed at the half dozen or so men who had been paid or volunteered to play the part of the shirtless fans with various things painted on their chests.

Filling the seats and passing out souvenir foam fingers in the respective teams’ colors (silver and yellow) took over an hour. The “stadium” announcer kept reassuring people that we were almost ready. Crowd wranglers did their thing to get everyone pumped up (handing out freebies like T shirts and coozies almost always works) , while mascots from various NFL teams pitched in. I don’t know how many Segways have been sold to the general public, but the sports team mascot market is fairly well saturated – there were three Segways among the ten or so mascots.

Since this was going to be a taped event, when we finally got started we did the halftime performance first. By this time, the Texans cheerleaders had changed into their costumes for the day, which included midriff shirts, Daisy Duke shorts, cowboy boots, and belt buckles that said either “Rock” or “Jock”. We all felt a little guilty complaining about the cold when we saw what they were wearing, but hey, such is show biz. They lined us all up around the stage, then brought a big chunk of the crowd out as well. Why they spent so much time getting them into the stands only to move that many of them back out still mystifies me. We ran through Chingy’s song twice to ensure we got good video. In case you happen to be watching, I’m stage right next to a guy holding a plastic Nimbus 2000 – I didn’t ask, but if it was the naughty vibrating version, it didn’t appear to have any batteries in it; the guy next to me used it like an air guitar.

They cleared out the spectators and removed the stage, then did the coaches’ entrances. The Rock came in via a Hummer, while Warren Sapp rode a motorcycle. They did some faux posturing midfield, then did the “run-off” for first possession. All of the rehearsing done that morning didn’t make it go smoothly. First, the “refs” awarded the runoff to Nick Lachey even though it looked clear to everyone else that Nelly had won. Then they changed their minds and gave it to Nelly, then they finally decided it was a tie and did it over. After the second try, they decided the rules were that the first person to “possess” the ball, not just touch it, was the winner, so they had to do it again. Lachey finally won fair and square.

Each team featured three NFL players and five celebrities. Dan Marino and Warren Moon were the quarterbacks. Marino had Tony Gonzalez and Deion Sanders on his team, while Moon had Dante Hall and Shannon Sharpe. Besides Lachey and Nelly, the only recognizable celebrities to me were Tara Reid, Nicole Ritchie, and Matthew Lillard, the guy who played Shaggy in the “Scooby Doo” movie. Chingy showed his versatility by also playing in the game.

The game itself was no great shakes. Each team got four possessions per half. They started on their own 20 and had four downs to score. The play itself was reasonably fun to watch – imagine if there’d been a flag football event in the Battle of the Network Stars and you’ve got the right idea. Unfortunately, they took forever between each pair of possessions, and midway through the first half, the audience started slowly trickling out. By the time they started the second half, after a break for a rib-eating contest and a mechanical bull-riding contest to add points to each teams’ totals, they had to condense the crowd in the stands so it wouldn’t look like a December matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and the pre-2003 Cincinnati Bengals. In the end, there was a one-on-one between the team captains for an additional 50 points, which essentially allowed the whole game to be mooted. I won’t reveal who won in case you care to watch, not that you’re likely to get caught up in the tension.

We finally got out of there at 5, and had to wait about 20 minutes for our buses to arrive. After eight hours of mostly standing in the cold – if your only sitting option was a metal bench, you’d have mostly stood, too – we were pretty bedraggled. I’m glad I didn’t bother to take Thursday off to be there for the earlier rehearsal, but I’m glad I attended. If there is a shot of me shaking my booty (such as it is) that makes it in the final cut, I’ll save it from TiVo to videotape so I’ll have future blackmail material for when my daughter starts dating. There’s always a silver lining, you know.

UPDATE: I still haven’t watched the show on my TiVo yet, but will soon. At the Rice-San Jose State basketball game this afternoon, our director said that the MTV crew was very complimentary towards us, as we maintained that good level of “enthusiasm” and “charisma” throughout the day. This was especially appreciated because the crowd, whether because of the cold or the slow pace of the action, was rather lame.

During the game, our drum minor (who was conducting the half-band I was in) got excited over Chingy’s uniform number, which was 314. “His uniform number is pi!”, our DM exclaimed. I almost didn’t have the heart to point out to him that 314 is the area code for Saint Louis, which I’m told is Chingy’s hometown.

UPDATE: OK, I’ve watched my recording now. First, that wasn’t Chingy wearing uniform #314, it was someone named Murphy Lee, also known as the “Skoolboy”. He’s also apparently from St. Louis – in any event, he was wearing a Cardinals hat.

There were two clear shots of MOBsters dancing during the Chingy performance, and amazingly enough, I’m visible in one of them. If I can figure out a way of downloading an image of that off the TiVo, I’ll post it. I believe this counts against my Fifteen Minutes Of Fame Clock.

It was just a matter of time

You have to hand it to the Chron, they take their job as Houston boosters seriously. What else can you think about their overview of Houston strip clubs for visitors, complete with capsulized reviews of seven specific clubs? I suppose one could quibble a bit, since after all this feature would have been more useful to visitors earlier in the week than on the day before the Super Bowl itself, but what the heck. And of course, it’s really strange to see everything you need to know about these clubs displayed on Page One of the Lifestyle section when their paid ads are restricted by Chron policy to the bowels of the Classified section (they used to appear in the sports section, but were banished from there some 10 years ago). But who cares? The Super Bowl is in town! It’s party time! Expense-account lap dances for everyone!

Anyway. If I thought the State of the Union Drinking Game was going to draw angry letters to the editor, I ain’t seen nothing yet. I’ll keep an eye open for you.

Two down, 47 to go

Last year, it was Texas v. New Mexico in a border dispute smackdown. Now it’s a trademark tussle with Wyoming.

The silhouette of a bucking horse with lowered head, kicking rear legs and a hat-waving cowboy aboard is everywhere in Wyoming: the license plate, University of Wyoming gear, the carpet in the governor’s office.

But if you’re not authorized to display the bucking horse, beware.

Secretary of State Joe Meyer and Gov. Dave Freudenthal have asked the Legislature to front $1 million to wage a legal battle with the Texas Stampede, a Dallas organization that holds an annual rodeo for children’s medical charities, if it does not stop using the logo. Lawmakers will consider the proposal when they meet next month.

“It represents Wyoming,” summed up Meyer, a former attorney general and University of Wyoming roommate with Vice President Dick Cheney.

“There is such a pride of ownership in all the citizens of this state. UW has used it forever. Certainly our troops over in Iraq have it on their uniforms. It’s simply us.”

The Texas Stampede filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office a few months ago for ownership of the logo. Wyoming opposed the filing and the Texas Stampede, which was established in 2001, responded by saying Wyoming had abandoned the mark.

The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board is not expected to rule on the matter for another six months. Wyoming could take the matter to federal court if it disagrees with the ruling or before then, in which case the board would likely defer to the judge in the case.

The Texas Stampede and Wyoming logos are virtually identical. The only difference is the Texas Stampede logo faces left and the Wyoming logo right, and the Texas Stampede cowboy wears chaps.

A Texas Stampede spokeswoman declined to comment.

Someone get Jerry Patterson on the line and see if he wants to make the same settlement offer to Gov. Freudenthal as he did last year with New Mexico. That seems to be the best way to utilize his talents.

Secret assignment

I’m about to take off to perform with the Rice MOB in some kind of Super Bowl-related thing that involves MTV and a rapper named “Chingy”. No, I have no idea who that is – I mean, c’mon, I’m a 38-year-old guy who listens to Classic Rock. Anyway, I presume that what we’ll be doing will find its way onto television this weekend. I’ll report on that later tonight after we’re done. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain like it did yesterday.

UPDATE: The event is called the “Rock and Jock Super Bowl” and will be televised on MTV tomorrow (Saturday) at 2 PM Eastern time. We were there all freaking day and I’m really tired. More on this tomorrow.

The suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth

Another one for the I-never-would-have-guessed files: Kids in the suburbs drink and screw as much as kids in the evil cities.

Two-thirds of suburban and urban 12th-graders have had sex; 43 percent of suburban 12th-graders and 39 percent of urban 12th-graders have had sex outside of a “romantic relationship.”

74 percent of suburban 12th-graders and 71 percent of urban 12th-graders have tried alcohol more than two or three times.

22 percent of suburban 12th-graders and 16 percent of urban 12th-graders say they have driven while drunk.

More than 40 percent of 12th-graders in urban and suburban schools have used illegal drugs.

20 percent of urban 12th-grade girls have been pregnant; 14 percent of suburban 12th-grade girls have.

Hey, it must be bad if I had to reach for Rush lyrics for the title of this post. Jim D. calls this the “Plano-ization of America”.

The study itself is here. Honestly, I don’t think it’s exactly groundbreaking stuff, but a little quantification never hurts.

Wayne Graham

Very nice article on Wayne Graham, coach of your 2003 National Champion Rice Owls baseball team. The season kicks off on February 10, and it’s going to be different this year as The Defending Champions instead of some Cinderella story. I can’t wait.

Half a trillion

Hey, guess what? That godawful Medicare bill is gonna cost more than the President promised it would, and in doing so will push the deficit to over half a trillion dollars.

The White House will estimate the cost of creating prescription drug benefits and revamping the mammoth health-care program for the elderly and disabled at $534 billion for the decade that ends in 2013, the officials said. The number will be in the 2005 budget Bush proposes Monday.

While muscling the Medicare package through Congress in November, Bush and Republican leaders won pivotal votes by reassuring conservatives that the cost over that period would track the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of $395 billion. The measure passed both chambers narrowly, giving the president one of his top legislative triumphs since taking office.

The new figures represent the first time the White House has released its projections of the bill’s costs.

Looks like there’s some conservative buyers’ remorse, too.

“No one vote has caused me more angst in my short political career,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. “I hope this will embolden conservatives and others” to control spending.

Hensarling was among several conservatives who voted for the measure after being told by Bush, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and others that the costs should fall within the Congressional Budget Office estimate.

Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., a conservative who voted against the bill, said he never believed the $395 billion cost estimate because such long-term forecasts are “meaningless.”

Poor Jeb Hensarling. I’ll bet the bruises on his neck from the hammerlock that Tom DeLay had on him still haven’t healed. For those keeping score at home, this is what they mean when they talk about “lying down with dogs and getting up with fleas”.

[C]ongressional officials said Bush’s budget will project a federal deficit this year of about $520 billion. That would easily exceed the $375 billion total for 2003, a record in dollar terms.

Anyone remember when Republicans could claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility? Boy, those were the days.

Kinky Friedman still talking about running for Governor

When I first read that Kinky Friedman was thinking about running for Governor as an independent in 2006, I thought he was kidding, even though he insisted otherwise. Well, he’s still talking about it, and I have to say, he sounds more and more like a plausible candidate to me.

However ambiguous his public monologue is, a recent conversation at his modest home in Bandera revealed that Kinky had been mulling over the idea of a political career for some time.

“The answer to that question is [political commentator] Molly Ivins’ answer, ‘Why the hell not?’ I ran into her at the Texas Book Festival in November and told her I was running. She said, ‘Why are you running?’ And I said, ‘Why the hell not?’ She said, ‘That’s beautiful, that’s your campaign slogan.'”

A near-death experience several years ago also prompted him to rethink his life. “I was caught on this cliffside in Cabo San Lucas one night. I spent the whole night there and I didn’t know if I’d survive or not,” he says in a serious tone. “I was thinking about what I’d do if I lived. So, this race is not really against Rick Perry. It’s against the system and the stagnant status quo and all the politicians who’ve been there so long they forgot why they’re there. It was during that time I decided – I didn’t decide specifically to run for governor – but I decided that there might be something more to my life than what I was doing. And later I realized that we have a very colorful state, we should have a very colorful governor.”

Friedman has one run for public office in his past. If he gets back in the saddle, partial credit – or blame, depending on your perspective – goes to Howard Dean for the inspiration.

In 1986, he ran for elected office for the first time, when he campaigned for Justice of the Peace in Kerrville. He lost. “I don’t know why I lost that election, but my fellow Kerrverts returned me to the private sector. I’m not bitter about that.”

Although he had long thought about challenging career politicians, the 2003 political climate confirmed what Friedman had recognized for a long time: Voters are ready for change. Inspired by Howard Dean’s rise from unknown doctor/governor to initial frontrunner and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dethroning of California Governor Gray Davis, Friedman feels the political arena is ready for a candidate like him.

The next gubernatorial election is in 2006, and by March of that year Friedman will need to have collected 45,000 signatures to run as an independent candidate. With the support of friends ranging from George W. Bush to Molly Ivins to Willie Nelson, he is confident he can pull it off. “Now I’m not saying that a big Pat Green concert or a Willie Nelson concert is gonna translate to votes any more than Dennis Kucinich is gonna benefit from Willie. But, I do think there’s more of that happening now. I think there’s a Howard Dean effect that’s already taken place. It energizes the base, which is something you certainly can’t say about the current situation. There’s nobody out there energized, just a bunch of sheep pulling a lever on a voting machine.”

Obviously, it’s not unprecedented any more for an unconventional candidate like Friedman to win a statewide office. Looking at some of the things he’s saying, I can see he’s picked up some hints from the recent Schwarzeneggar campaign, even if he doesn’t say so himself. He’s got his idealistic vision, which always sounds more genuine from a non-politician, and he’s very coy – a more charitable word would be “reserved” – about his views on controversial topics.

Friedman has ideas that could materialize into programs, without the consent of the Texas legislature, and he has the celebrity friends who could make his ideas possible. “I have a program, which Pat Green’s mother, Nancy, has come up with, called the Texas Peace Corps, and that is not an oxymoron.” Friedman’s Texas Peace Corps would mobilize the Texas music community, Kinky says, making role models of popular musicians like Pat Green and Jerry Jeff Walker.

Aside from building his Texas Peace Corps, Kinky says he would use his connections with friends Johnny Depp, Robert Duvall, and Billy Bob Thornton to further define Texas’ role in the filmmaking industry to aid the state’s economy. But outside of the arts, Kinky is reluctant to talk about the issues. “There are some subjects – like abortion, like gun control, like the death penalty – which I could give you a really articulate discussion on. I could take either side and all I’d do is lose 50 percent of the people. And furthermore, the governor has very little impact on any of these issues. What I think of Iraq is irrelevant. What Rick Perry thinks of Iraq is meaningless; he can do nothing.”

Given the governor’s lack of power, Friedman would focus on softer programs like the Texas Peace Corps. “There will be more ideas like that,” he says, “The lieutenant governor does the heavy lifting, everybody knows that. The governor should do the spiritual lifting.”


In addition to being compared to other political dilettantes, Friedman will have to prove that he can compete with Perry and other candidates. What he lacks in political experience, he compensates for in his colorful and varied life. “The human experience I’ve had is much broader than the other candidates, if Kay Bailey [Hutchison] runs. Her experience is very narrow, very political, and it’s loaded with Washington crap. Rick Perry has Gray Davis potential, enormous Gray Davis potential.”

I want a Democrat elected Governor in 2006. That said, a Friedman for Governor campaign is in no way a bad thing. I think if he really gets serious about it, he’d be a force to reckon with. And let’s face it, he’d be really fun to watch. Can you imagine him in a televised debate with Rick Perry?

SD1 update

The special runoff election for the two vacant State Senate seats has been set for February 17. Republican candidate Kevin Eltife, who trailed Democrat Paul Sadler by about three percentage points in the open election to replace the retiring Bill Ratliff, has gotten a couple of boosts to his campaign, the biggest of which was Ratliff’s endorsement, albeit a qualified one:

In District 1, Ratliff endorsed former Tyler Mayor [Kevin] Eltife this week, after praising both candidates as “intelligent, principled, and honorable.” Ratliff said he was endorsing his fellow Republican as closer in “basic political ideology,” although he conditioned his support on Eltife’s rejection of “personal attacks” by “third party organizations.” In the first round, both [Paul] Sadler, a former state representative from Henderson, and current state Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, were targeted in attack ads funded by the Texans for Lawsuit Reform and Americans for Job Security. The latter is an insurance-industry front group with ties to Austin GOP operatives and, through them, Gov. Perry. Sadler was portrayed as an unscrupulous “trial lawyer,” and Merritt – who, like Ratliff, opposed the GOP leadership on congressional redistricting – was attacked for supposedly supporting tax hikes. Eltife said he had no connection to the ads and that he’d asked that the governor use his influence to have them pulled down.

Ratliff said that he was as offended by the attack ads “as I was when I took on FreePAC and its unscrupulous campaign tactics a few years ago.” In the 2000 legislative campaign, the hard-right FreePAC political action committee attacked moderate Republicans – including both Ratliff and Merritt – as soft on gays and abortion rights. Ratliff said he had received assurances from Eltife that he would join Ratliff in defending Sadler against any new attacks. “The choice is between two good and honorable men,” said Ratliff, “both of whom would devote themselves to the citizens of Northeast Texas.” The winner will serve out the remaining two years of Ratliff’s term.

Interestingly, this story would seem to contradict Eltife’s claim that he took action to stop the attack ads:

In the earlier race, Eltife’s staff said they knew nothing about attack ads against Sadler and state Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, until they saw them on television. They claimed no responsibility for the ads.

Eltife spokesperson Chuck Anderson said that Eltife did not care for the ads but had made no attempt to get the organizations to pull them.

The groups responsbile for those ads say they have no plans to disappear.

“The Texas Senate is about this close right now, and the balance of power is at stake,” Texans for Lawsuit Reform consultant Chuck McDonald said Wednesday. “And the trial lawyers think they have a good candidate.”

The two candidates in a Feb. 17 runoff to replace retired Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, are Republican Kevin Eltife and Sadler, the sole Democrat in the race and overall winner with 27,300 votes to Eltife’s 24,900. During the regular campaign that ended with the Jan. 20 election, Sadler came under heavy fire — there were TV and radio commercials and direct mail — from McDonald’s group.

That third-party incursion, and an attack on Republican candidate Tommy Merritt by a Washington-based group that sparked a criminal complaint, led Ratliff to make one condition to his endorsement of Eltife as his successor. That condition was that Eltife denounce any third-party organizations that launch personal or unfounded attacks.

McDonald and Texans for Lawsuit Reform communications vice president Ken Hoagland said their ads were neither personal nor unfounded. The ads criticized Sadler’s voting record while in the House from 1991 to 2003, the two told the Longview News-Journal editorial board.

“We respect Bill Ratliff, and we’re going to really try to honor what he said,” Hoagland said. “We’re going to have more stuff in this campaign.”

McDonald added, “I guess the only answer is it’s our intention to remain active in this campaign in the interest of our local and statewide supporters who care about some of the issues at stake. We’re a statewide organization, and we have support in every county that’s in the district. And we do have a responsibility to our membership.”

Getting back to the Ratliff endorsement, Sadler says he was surprised that Ratliff endorsed anyone.

Sadler worked with Ratliff on major education reform when the two lawmakers chaired education committees — Ratliff in the Texas Senate and Sadler in the Texas House of Representatives.

“I was surprised because Sen. Ratliff had told people he would not endorse a candidate,” Sadler said, “and I was surprised a week or so ago when Sen. Ratliff told me he was going to be a lobbyist.”

“Those are the two biggest surprises I have ever had,” the Democrat said.

Sadler said he appreciated Ratliff’s comments about his qualifications as well as those about third party negative campaigning.

“But I wonder where he (Ratliff) was three weeks ago when the attack ads about me came out,” Sadler said. “I had asked Kevin Eltife then to disclaim them, but he would not, and I think it is a little opportunistic to do so now.”

Eltife also picked up the endorsement of third-place finisher Tommy Merritt.

Merritt’s endorsement was far more succinct than Ratliff’s and did not mention Sadler.

“I think that’s not really relevant,” Merritt said of the attack ads. His campaign had earlier suggested Eltife and Gov. Rick Perry, who endorsed Eltife, “knew where the ads were coming from” – a reference to Americans for Job Security, a group that attacked Merritt in radio ads.

“I’m working and will continue to work to elect Kevin Eltife to the Senate,” Merritt said Wednesday. “I have no comment about any other person, what they may say or think.”

In a letter to Eltife, Merritt wrote that he was “proud” to endorse his former opponent and praised him for “great leadership” as Tyler mayor. Merritt is running in the March primary to retain his seat in House District 7, which includes Gregg County and part of Smith County.

As these stories also indicate, there’s a lot of money pouring into this race, so it will be very visible.

I’ll close by noting that Texas Democratic Party chair Charles Soechting has charged Governor Perry with favoring Eltife in the first election. Soechting wrote the following in an open letter to Perry:

There is compelling evidence that your favored candidate in the first round of voting was aware well in advance of other candidates and the general public that you had decided on January 20 as the date. Direct mail on behalf of your candidate began arriving in voters’ mailboxes fewer than 48 hours after your public announcement. This was an impossibly short time to have designed, printed, and mailed the pieces under the schedule that pertained to all other candidates — including those from your own party such as Tommy Merritt and Jerry Yost.

Stay tuned for more.

Self service lottery machines

The Texas Lottery Commission is planning to roll out self service lottery machines. Let me say that again, because I’m still not quite sure I believe what I’ve just written. The Texas Lottery Commission is planning to roll out SELF SERVICE LOTTERY MACHINES.

AUSTIN – Texas lottery officials plan to install about 1,000 self-serve units at retail outlets across the state to dispense tickets for games like Lotto Texas, Mega Millions and Cash Five.

The ATM-like machines will also be able to scan tickets from previous drawings and tell players whether they have won money.

“We think the players will like them,” lottery spokesman Bobby Heith told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “You can purchase your tickets and check to see if you have a winner without taking up the retailer’s time.”

In an open letter to players on the lottery’s Web site, Reagan Greer, the Texas Lottery Commission’s executive director, said the self-service terminals should be up and running by August.

The terminals will be similar to the instant ticket, or scratch-off game vending machines in use at some lottery retail locations.

“Players will have the option of using a play slip or a touch screen to quickly and easily choose specific games, pick the numbers they want or play Quick Picks,” Greer said in his letter. “Customers will be able to use cash bills to purchase tickets for the exact amount.”

The machines will sell tickets for all the lottery’s online games — those where players can choose their own numbers.

Well, hell. Why stop with retail outlets? Put them in every airport terminal in the state, so that we can shake down tourists and business travellers one last time. There’s a reason they have slot machines at the Las Vegas airport, you know.

Name that telemarketer

Good news – telemarketers can no longer obscure their identities via blocking Caller ID.

Telemarketing firms must begin complying with new federal rules that require them to display their name and a phone number where they can be reached.

The Federal Trade Commission regulations were set up as part of the national do-not-call registry, which prohibits unwanted pitches from some telemarketers.

More than 56 million numbers are now on that list, which took effect in October amid protests from the industry.

Calls from telemarketers frequently show up on Caller ID as “unavailable” or “blocked call” and do not include a call-back number.

Now, every solicitation must transmit the name of the seller or company making the call, plus a number that will be answered during normal business hours so the consumer can contact the business and request not to be called again.

Telemarketers continue to fight the constitutionality of the federal no-call list in court, saying it violates free-speech rights.

But the industry backs the Caller ID rule.

“We felt it would go a long way toward helping improve trust and use of telemarketing among consumers,” Louis Mastria, a spokesman for the Direct Marketing Association, told the Associated Press. “It gives consumers the trump card: If you don’t want to do business with this guy, you don’t have to.”

Similar rules already exist in Texas, according to a spokesman for the Public Utility Commission, and subject violators to penalties of up to $1,000 per day when not compliant.

Huh. I was all set to pounce on a stupid quote by a DMA lackey about this rule stifling their free expression or something, and the guy goes and crosses me up by agreeing with it. I swear, you just can’t trust these guys. Anyway, cheers all around for this small step forward.

For my next trick

Pete suggests a few targets for the Bush Administration whose eradication would make us all better off. I for one can’t find anything to argue with. Check it out.

Nice work if you can get it

You can add this to the total cost of reredistricting in 2003: Lawyer Andy Taylor will bill the state for over $700,000 of legal work.

Andy Taylor, a Houston-based attorney, has charged $400 per hour of his time, $200 per hour for work by another lawyer and assorted expenses for travel and payment to expert witnesses, according to state documents examined Wednesday by The Associated Press.

A total of $444,437 in bills from Taylor’s law firm have been paid by the state, according to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office.

Some $290,960 of the bill is expected to be paid in early February. It was charged for work in December, when Taylor defended the state at trial in a lawsuit alleging the redistricting plan violates minority voting rights.


Abbott, through his spokeswoman, said it was the right decision to hire a private lawyer to represent the state.

“Redistricting is one of the most complex areas of the law. The Attorney General’s Office felt it was prudent to have the most experienced Texas lawyer on redistricting to lead a team of state legal experts, in order to defend the state of Texas,” said spokeswoman Angela Hale.


Among the details outlined in Taylor’s bills is time spent in court, on legal research, in telephone conferences and attending depositions for witnesses such as U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Arlington and state Rep. Ron Wilson, D-Houston.

Some bills are for expert witnesses or court reporters, although the vast majority are for attorneys’ fees. Billing records show 18 or 19 hours worked by Taylor per day during the December trial.

Taylor said he expects state-employed attorneys to work on the appeal. “I don’t envision any more costs at this point for my firm,” he said.

Frankly, I think he ought to get paid out of one of Tom DeLay’s slush funds – it shouldn’t take more than one of his corporate shakedowns to raise that kind of cash. For those keeping score at home, by the way, Taylor’s bill would pay for 294 Teacher Excellence Incentive awards, with a few bucks left over for certificates.

Rudy T update

Nice to see that former Rockets head coach Rudy Tomjanovich is doing well after retiring from coaching due to health problems. Among other things, he’s attending basketball games as a fan and a scout.

“Everybody likes to have some kind of purpose. When I was a coach, I loved this kind of stuff. I never got a chance. Even when I was scouting for (former Rockets coach) Bill Fitch, once in a while during the Tournament, I would go and watch games, but I never got a chance to do it like this. Now I have a history on players. I never had that luxury to have the time to see how guys have developed. This is fun.

“I’ve been doing 90 percent college. I did my first NBA game since I’ve been out. The people in the NBA arenas recognize coaches. The people around the arena were completely different. I loved going in (to college arenas) and nobody knew me, maybe one or two fans say, `Aren’t you a coach?’

“In the NBA arena, it was different. The officials checked in and saw me, Bennett Salvatore, Blane Reichelt and Marc Davis. And they were really good. (Mike) Dunleavy threw a balled up piece of paper at me. Glen Rice gave me a thumbs up. It was good.

“I just love basketball. There’s so many jobs around sports, around basketball. There’s so many people working in the arena, the stat people, the announcer. It’s a good job being around sports. The worst job of all is being head coach. Everybody else can go home after a game. There’s disappointment, yeah. But the head coach is spending the hours in agony, feeling the responsibility of turning the thing around.

Speaking as a partisan Rice Owls fan, I’d love to see Rudy T make an appearance or two at Autry Court. He wouldn’t get to be anonymous, but I think that’d be OK with him.

Kerry On

The Mandatory Punditry Act of 2003 states that I must offer my opinion on the New Hampshire Primary within 48 hours of its conclusion, so I may as well get it over with. First, congratulation to John Kerry for another win that I never expected him to get. Whether it was buyer’s remorse or some kind of electability karma, he shot past Dean and won convincingly.

I have no idea how the horse race will play out from here. Atrios, Kos, and The Poor Man, to name three, have some thoughts that are worth checking out. What I want to do is try to figure out if Kerry-the-favorite is a development that I like or not.

I’ve never quite been able to get enthusiastic about Kerry as a candidate. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll do my share to help him if he carries the flag for the Democrats, but I’ve had reservations about him since day one. As I said after Iowa, Kerry has all of Dean’s cultural negatives (save for his veteran-ness, which I’ll return to shortly) without being the kind of candidate that gets people (me, anyway) excited. Further, up until his shocker in Iowa, he didn’t exactly run the kind of campaign that gave me confidence in his ability to withstand the usual Wurlitzer attacks. Already, I can hear the nattering nabobs salivating at the prospect of beating us all senseless with ruminations on Kerry’s hair and Jewish roots, and it’s making me want to make an illegal left turn in front of a light rail car.

On the other hand, Kerry seems to have mostly recovered and gotten stronger from his early stumbles, and has hit a groove. Being a veteran may well get him more support from independents and red staters than his “rich New England elite” status would suggest, though it’s surely not a Get Out Of Attacks On One’s Patriotism Free card. And there is that poll which shows Kerry slightly ahead of Bush nationally. All in all, not too shabby.

Though I doubt it will make any difference, I’m still not sure if I want to push the button for Kerry on March 9. If all things were equal, he’d be my fourth-favorite candidate (with a three-way tie for first among Dean, Clark, and Edwards). But all things don’t appear equal right now, and I need to figure out how much weight that gives him. I like that the spirited primary race is giving the Dems some much-needed media exposure, but I don’t like it so much that I want to see the nomination be decided at the convention. I’ll vote for my own Miss Congeniality if it helps to avoid that.

Meet the hosts

I can’t help myself. I’m caught up in Local Family Hosts Jimmy Kimmel Mania!

The satellite feed was fuzzy in Los Angeles when Jimmy Kimmel announced the Houston-area family he would be staying with during Super Bowl week, so the talk show host couldn’t make out the winners.

“Don’t be alarmed,” Loretta Moutra quipped during Monday night’s telecast. “We’re Negroes.”

It is that kind of spontaneous humor that endeared the Moutras of Missouri City to producers for Jimmy Kimmel Live. They selected the family over 4,000 Houston-area applicants to house Kimmel as a overnight guest and serve as the Friday venue for his edgy late-night talk show.

I gotta admit, it’s hard not to like someone who’d introduce her family on national television in that fashion. I’m not quite at the point of contemplating the possibility of programming my TiVo to pick up a couple of those Kimmel-in-Houston shows, mostly because I shudder to think what sort of programs the TiVo would start to record on its own as a result (“My TiVo thinks I’m a light-beer-swilling lout!”), but I’m thinking about contemplating it.

Laughter, bribery, and mangled aphorisms

Boy, if this is any indication, the special session on Robin Hood reform that Governor Perry has promised to call is going to be a big frigging catastrophe. There’s almost too much here to chew on.

Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday proposed establishing a $200 million fund to reward teaching excellence, but a requirement that local districts match the bonuses was greeted with laughter by school superintendents.

The Texas Excellence Incentive would provide up to $2,500 in matching funds per qualifying teacher in conjunction with a school district-initiated teaching excellence program. Effective teachers could receive an additional $5,000 state stipend if they teach in a struggling school.

“We should not be afraid to single out our top educational professionals for additional financial stipends out of fear of bucking the status quo,” said Perry.

The laughter was an unexpected moment during Perry’s speech to the Texas Association of School Administrators Mid-Winter Conference. Perry knew he faced a tough audience in TASA, which long has called for the state to spend more on per-pupil funding.

Brock Gregg, director of governmental relations for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said “the laughter in the audience was based on the fact that school districts don’t have any more money to contribute to any incentive plans.”

Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley said districts can find money for matching funds if they prioritize their budgets.

“We’re going to stop the unfunded mandates and focus on funded incentives. Those are very sweet words for Texas public schools,” said Neeley.

Where’s that $200 million going to come from? Perry’s “economic development” slush fund? A Special Session bake sale? We had a $10 billion shortfall, remember? How is it that all of a sudden we’ve got an extra $200 million lying around to be used for a reward fund? The fact that this was greeted with laughter says all you need to know.

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn also tossed some cold water on Perry’s plan, saying she feared some of his proposed incentives would create more inequity in funding among school districts. She also repeated earlier assertions that the state needs to increase overall funding for public education.

“I am afraid that this governor’s plan leaves too many children and too many teachers behind,” she told reporters. “I obviously have not met with the governor about his plan, but it appears — and I’ll certainly want to look at it in detail — but it appears that it widens the gap, the equity gap.”

Strayhorn, who has been feuding with the governor for months over budgetary issues, wouldn’t say how Perry’s proposal would increase inequities in the public schools. But a staffer explained later that the comptroller was concerned about the financial incentives Perry is proposing for improved student performance. She fears wealthier schools will find it easier to improve test scores and performance and thus get more state money than poorer districts will receive.

Scott McCown, a former trial judge who presided over the Edgewood school finance case which required equalized funding for all districts, agreed that the incentive plan could lead to inequities. Perry and other state leaders want to cap local property taxes and replace the “Robin Hood” school finance plan in which money from wealthy districts is shared with poorer districts.

“When you offer an incentive system in lieu of an equitable and adequate system, it’s a disaster,” said McCown, now executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

I think their fears are well-founded. But hey, I’m willing to be openminded. Propose a system of school funding that the less-wealthy districts are happy with, and this issue becomes a nonstarter. Easy, right?

Perry said he rejects the argument that lower wealth districts won’t be able to qualify for the incentives. He pointed to Neeley’s record in leading the blue-collar Galena Park district to exemplary ratings.

Robert Black, a spokesman for Perry, said critics of the incentive proposals need to explain why they believe some Texas students cannot achieve a high level of excellence.

“To say that one particular group of students can’t compete is truly the hard bigotry of low expectations,” said Black.

Er, that’s the soft bigotry of low expectations. Get your sound bites straight.

The governor also proposed paying school campuses $100 for each student who passes the Algebra I end-of-course exam, and $200 if the student is classified as at-risk.

Another program would give schools $100 for each student with limited English proficiency who passes the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, and an additional $100 for each student who scores 90 percent or higher.

On Monday he proposed rewarding school districts based on improved graduation rates, high performance on the TAKS and completion of an advanced course of study. The entire package of incentives is expected to cost $500 million.

I presume that $500 million includes the $200 million teacher-reward stuff, which brings me back to my original question: What money will be used to pay for all that? And what happens if teachers and students have a really good year? Is that $500 million the theoretical maximum payout, or is it a projected amount based on current performance?

Actually, we do have some numbers here. According to each of the downloadable PDFs, the amounts that schools would have gotten under these proposals in 2003 are:

High School Advancement Incentive = $154 million
Commended Performance Incentive = $12 million
Distinguished Achievement Program Incentive = $14 million
Algebra Incentive = $20 million
LEP Student Success Initiative = $10 million
Teacher Excellence Incentive = $200 million fund established, no 2003 projected amount specified.

The total is $410 million, so there’s nearly $100 million in slack. I suppose that may mean there’s room to handle a better-than-expected year. I note that nowhere is the concept of funding sources discussed. I guess Perry intends for that to be the Lege’s problem.

Also Monday, a leading business group rejected a suggestion that higher taxes are needed to fund education. Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, called for relief from class-size mandates and easing restrictions that make it difficult for districts to fire bad teachers.

Perry said he doubted the Legislature would repeal the law mandating no more than 22 students per teacher in kindergarten through grade four.

Well, at least you can always count on the TAB to inject a little dose of hilarity into things. It’d be even cheaper if we relaxed standards to the point where homework written in coal on the back of a shovel was acceptable, but we may not get enough bang for our buck that way.

UPDATE: Via the YDB, I see that my concerns about funding sources are merited.

[Perry] gave no timetable for passing the reforms and declined to say how he would come up with the money for them.

At least someone asked him.

UPDATE: Greg takes his swipes, and notes that the GOP’s corporate overlords will make proposing revenue enhancements, such as the “business activity tax” that former Gov. Bush left undone, dicey.

Come join my committee

Got the following in an email tip. Looks to me like his Democratic colleagues in Washington are doing what they can to help out Rep. Chris Bell in the primary:

Texas redistricting has proven a major distraction for most incumbent Democrats, but House Democratic leaders in the past week have only added to freshman Democratic Rep. Chris Bell’s legislative responsibilities.

House Minority Leader Pelosi announced Monday she is recommending Bell’s appointment to the Financial Services Committee. The recommendation follows an announcement last week from Minority Whip Hoyer that he had named Bell as a senior whip to his vote-counting team.

“Chris will be a strong voice on the Financial Services Committee for Texas and the nation on affordable housing and consumer issues,” Pelosi said in a statement.

If approved by the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, and the full Democratic Caucus, Bell would replace Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-Texas, who left the committee to assume a seat on the exclusive Energy and Commerce Committee, which belonged to party-switching Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas.

A Bell spokesman said the appointments are recognition for Bell’s party loyalty and work on issues such as the child tax credit and Medicare prescription drug law.

Thanks to JD for sending this to me.

Some actually interesting Super Bowl stories

This story about women in executive positions with NFL teams is quite interesting. I knew about the Raiders’ Amy Trask – there was a Sports Illustrated profile of her awhile back in which she was described as “Al Davis in a skirt” – but I had no idea that so many franchises may someday soon be owned by women:

Charlotte Anderson, daughter of Dallas owner Jerry Jones, is a vice president/director of charities and special events for the Cowboys. She and her brothers — executive vice president and chief operating officer Stephen Jones and vice president/general counsel Jerry Jones Jr. — are active in the day-to-day operation of the team.

Two of the other most influential women in the NFL are San Diego’s Jeanne Bonk, vice president and chief financial and administrative officer, and the New York Jets’ Dawn Aponte, who as manager of football administration oversees the salary cap. Both are examples of women who worked their way up the corporate ladder within one organization.

Lisa Bogdan, daughter of Bills owner Ralph Wilson and a corporate vice president involved in long-term planning for the team, has spent many of her 17 years in the organization as a scout. Personnel is her passion, and she is the only woman in the league actively involved in scouting games. She scouts college games in the East as well as bowl and all-star games and the combine at Indianapolis.

Marsha McCombs, daugher of Minnesota owner Red McCombs, doesn’t have a title with the Vikings but is a familiar figure at the team’s training camp and at NFL meetings. She is being groomed by her father to eventually take over the team.

Rita LeBlanc, a finance and business executive, is in her third full season with the Saints. The granddaughter of New Orleans owner Tom Benson, she also is being groomed to take over the franchise.

[Katie] Blackburn, [daughter of owner Mike Brown,] who eventually will take over the Bengals, is involved in contract negotiations, the salary cap and radio and television negotiations. She played a key role in the negotiating, planning and building of Paul Brown Stadium, which opened in 2002. She also watches film and attends the Indianapolis scouting combine.

“The fun part of the business is football, like knowing the personnel and who all the draft picks are and how they’re playing,” Blackburn says. “My feeling is that they tie together, especially if you’re doing contracts, and you really have to know a little bit about the personnel side and be involved in order to be negotiating and understanding where they’re coming from.”

That’s three future female owners, not counting Georgia Frontiere, Denise DeBartolo York, and the mostly-retired Virginia McCaskey. There’s a separate profile of native Texan and A&M graduate Rita LeBlanc as well.

There’s a lot of Super Bowl excitement south of the border as well. This bit confuses me, though:

Houston’s team might not yet be an attraction in Mexico, but Sunday’s game will be. Hundreds of Mexicans have purchased package deals costing as much as $8,500 for hotel rooms and tickets. Plans offering Houston hotels and nose-bleed seats in the end zone for more than $3,500 have sold out, travel agents say.

Where’d all those available tickets come from? I thought the teams and the corporate sugar daddies sucked up the vast majority of them.

Finally, the next time someone tells me that football is way cooler than baseball, I will note that the opening ceremonies to SB XXXVIII were headlined by Yanni.

“I hope (the audience) gets goose bumps,” Yanni said before taking the stage. “This is emotional. This is not about logic. I’m hoping people leave inspired, feeling great about their city.”

The stage was set for a night at the symphony, but the banners of the Patriots and Panthers that hung between two large overhead screens definitely screamed, “Are you ready for some football?”

Yanni’s backing bows and strings on Enchantment introduced video footage of Texans players working in the community and signing autographs. The melodies burbled like songbirds harmonizing before getting scared by the metallic clang of cymbals. Standing In Motion was a more progressive pop number, allowing Yanni to take center stage at his multi-keyboard control center with an assist from a salsa-inspired trumpeter.

As Yanni led his ensemble through regal arias with Houston’s greatest sports legends looking on, the meshing of fluegelhorns and football suddenly wasn’t as odd as one might expect.

“A Houston Salute” was a celebration of pro football and a tribute to the city’s sports history. A pep rally with an all-star audience that gave locals a chance to say, “Put your smiles on. Company’s coming … but Yanni is already here.”

‘Nuff said.

Let’s do lunch

I know this is really short notice, but Aziz and I are going to get together for lunch tomorrow at the Chipotle’s on Dryden and Fannin (conveniently located at a light rail stop) in celebration of my impending fatherhood. Houston-area folks are welcome to join us – please leave a comment or drop me a note if you’ll be there so we’ll know to look for you. Hope to see you there!

UPDATE: Sheesh, I haven’t stayed up all night with a crying baby yet and I’m already losing it. Lunch is at 11:30. Sorry about that.

TAB loses again

From the Quorum Report:


On to the Texas Supreme Court

The 3rd Court of Appeals has just rejected an effort by the Texas Association of Business to avoid turning over documents in their civil suit filed by Buck Wood on behalf of former Democratic candidate James Sylvester.

Wood is seeking amounts and numbers of contributors to TABs campaign a year and a half ago. He is not seeking names of contributors.

Taylor said “The 3rd Court of Appeals yesterday afternoon denied TAB’s writ of mandamus without opinion. This afternoon, TAB is filing a writ of mandamus with the Texas Supreme Court and requesting a stay of a lower court decision that TAB produce certain information about its public information activities prior to the November 2002 general election. This is the first time the Texas Supreme Court has been asked to rule in this matter.”

A new site called Clean Up Texas Politics has an article that explains why the TAB is a perfect oh-fer in its quest so far to keep its dealings a secret.

Building a better web page

With the installation of a fulltime blogger on the Yellow Dog Blog, the Texas Democratic Party is now focusing on its main web page. They’re going to do a site redesign and are asking for contributions to help get there. I got the following email from Nathan Wilcox, who’s been brought on board to build an effective online communications program, in which he specifies what they plan on doing:

* Build an attractive, professional looking and easy to use site modelled on the best state party Web Sites in the country.

* Make a concerted effort to grow the TDP’s email list and build an online community by adding forums, conducting surveys, and generally giving Texas Democrats a platform to talk to their party leaders and each other. We’ll also require registration to use these features so more folks will sign up for the email list and we’ll minimize trolls and trouble makers.

* Create a comprehensive downloadable resource kit for local activists — everything someone needs to get involved in the poltical fray will be at their fingertips — voter registration, primary and caucus information, contact info for local party officials, posters, talking points, etc etc.

* Set the site up with a bare bones content management system so their staff can make updates quickly and easily and won’t be dependent on consultants or outside technical help.

* Initiate a much improved email program — new enewsletter template, better email server and list management, and most importantly training on how to use email to increase site traffic, raise money and build the online community.

* Assistant Communications Director — they’ve already brought on the very talented Andrew Dobbs of the Burnt Orange Report blog to help develop content, run the newly launched (which we’ll also revamp as part of this project), help with site updates and generally keep things buzzing. He’s still in college but will be a great asset to the staff at 20hrs a week.

I look forward to seeing how it turns out. Please consider dropping them a few nickels to make it happen.

I came by my dirty mind honestly

The headline in the print edition of the Chron for this story is “Golden Globes glow”.

Directly underneath it is this picture:

So you tell me: What am I supposed to think?

Ted Poe

I think the race in CD 02 will be the hottest one locally, at least after the primaries. Rep. Nick Lampson surely won’t go quietly, and he did represent a fair amount of the newly-drawn district. If former judge/huckster Ted Poe survives the GOP primary, there will also likely be a certain level of lowbrow entertainment.

The Press has a piece which notes that Poe, who was nototious for injecting shame into his sentences, may have some shame in his past.

In 22 years as a Harris County district judge, Lloyd “Ted” Poe garnered gallons of ink and miles of videotape from a fawning local media with his zany so-called shame sentences for defendants in his court. They all had a common theme: In addition to jail time and fines, the convict must own up in public to his or her misdeeds. That could be by marching outside the scene of a robbery wearing placards with hand-scrawled apologies or shoveling horse manure in an HPD stable to atone for stealing the Lone Ranger’s guns.

“That’s Ted Poe’s claim to fame,” sneered GOP political consultant Allen Blakemore back when Poe was considering running for district attorney in 2000 against Blakemore’s candidate, eventual winner Chuck Rosenthal. “He makes folks wear sandwich boards and walk around the street.”

Now it seems Poe may have been inspired to create his judicial trademark at least partially from his own personal experience.

The 55-year-old former prosecutor resigned his judgeship in October to run for the freshly drawn Second Congressional District, after years of toying with campaigns for higher office and then backing off at the last minute. Rumors have long circulated among GOP politicos and courthouse veterans that something in Poe’s personal background was making him gun-shy of the intense media scrutiny that inevitably accompanies a high-profile campaign.

According to sources — two of whom say they are eyewitnesses — the skeleton in the candidate’s closet may be a dramatic apology they say he delivered in the late ’80s at an evening meeting at the Kingwood Church of Christ. According to some of the congregation, Poe had been threatened with expulsion by elders after they caught him having an extramarital affair with an unmarried female church member. They demanded their own version of shame sentencing: public self-flagellation in front of congregants.

Even after the alleged apology, the situation remained a volatile issue within the church, and Poe soon departed for another Church of Christ in the Humble area, where he and his wife, Carol, reside.

Candidate Poe refused to confirm or deny the account, saying as far as he’s concerned his private life is not a campaign issue.

“I’ve never made it a policy to talk about my personal life…I’ll talk about anything about the campaign, being a judge, issues — but I don’t want to get into any personal issues.”

Well, if another candidate brings it up, and frankly I’ll be surprised if no one does in the primary, then you’ll have to talk about it. I’d rather see personal issues kept out of campaigns, too, but it’s not outrageous to say that Poe’s history has made his character an issue.

If Poe makes it to the general election, I don’t know if Lampson should use this issue or not. As fun as the prospect of a Democrat bashing a Republican for being immoral may be, my gut says it would backfire on him.

What I’d like to see, or at least what I’d like to see someone do some polling on, is for the utter fiscal irresponsibility of Bush and the Republicans to be stressed. I’m quite certain that the nominee in CD 02, as with all of the other Democrat-incumbent-killer districts, will run at least in part on a message of “send me to Washington so I can work really really closely with President Bush”. Seems to me that a Democrat might do well to say “We’ve got Republicans in all three branches of government and all we have to show for it is a half-trillion dollar deficit and a plan to maybe cut that in half in five years. Maybe what we need is someone who won’t just be a rubber stamp for the President – maybe what we need is someone who’ll challenge him when his policies cost too much.” The Stenholm message, in other words. This probably won’t be enough to overcome hardcore party identity, but I think it would have an effect on people who generally vote Republican in November but not in March. In any event, I think it would be worth it to try to find out.

Anyway, Rob thinks Poe will have a fight in the primary and that whoever wins will have a tough matchup with Lampson. Greg is pessimistic about Lampson’s chances, certainly more so than I am.

One more thing from the Press story:

The pulpit minister of Kingwood Church of Christ at the time was Carl Power.

He disputed the accounts of Poe’s making a public apology.

“I don’t have any recollection of it,” Power told The Insider. “I know of no such meeting with the elders, and I’m sure I would have known.”

Rob also highlighted this passage, and concludes that if the “unnamed sources” are telling the truth, the minister is not. I guess it’s possible the minister could have been out of the loop, but that seems unlikely. If so, then Poe has a defense if he needs it: Who are you gonna believe, the pastor or a couple of “unnamed sources”?

Kimmel to broadcast from Missouri City

Jimmy Kimmel has made his choice, and he’ll be broadcasting from the ‘burbs.

A Missouri City family has been chosen to house television talk show host Jimmy Kimmel when he comes to Houston for a live broadcast Friday night.

Johnnie and Billye Moutra and their children, Loretta, 24, and Johnnie Jr., 20, were selected from 4,000 Houston-area applicants who offered to let Kimmel stay in their home during Super Bowl week. The family got the news during a telecast of Jimmy Kimmel Live on Monday night. The program airs weeknights at 11:05 p.m. on Channel 13.

“We thought we might get 100 or 200 offers,” executive director Duncan Gray said. “This is great. The people in Houston have responded to the show.”

Gray said the Moutras were chosen “because their family dynamics are fun. They have a TV presence. I think you’d like to spend an hour in their company.”

Kimmel will spend two nights with the Moutra family. He will leave Los Angeles late Thursday and return on Saturday.

Well, they did say that proximity to Reliant Stadium was a secondary consideration. Hope the traffic on US-90A isn’t too bad for you, Jimbo.

Blog and Tackle

Oh, good lord. The Chronicle has started a Super Bowl blog, just exactly the thing I was looking for to combat my ennui about the whole thing. As with their previous foray into blogging, they still haven’t quite grokked the whole permalink thing. On the plus side, I do enjoy reading Dwight Silverman, and though you’d think they’d want a sportswriter and not a tech writer on this beat, given how mediocre most of their sportswriters are, I’d say they’ve made the right choice. On the other hand, this sort of thing just screams for Ken Hoffman, but no. sigh Maybe next time.

Thanks to Erica, who was also the first person to spot the Crawford weblog, for the catch.

Both sides

Having listened to Atrios and Andrew Sullivan on the Blogging of the President radio show (you can hear it here), I agree with Atrios about Sully’s “challenge” to him. Kudos to Atrios for keeping his cool on the air – I can’t say I’d have done as well – and for recognizing this for the fool’s errand it is.

As for the anonymity charge, Sadly, No makes quick work of it.

Finally, just for the record Atrios criticized me once. Take that, Sullivan!

Take your baby to work

I swear, this isn’t going to turn into a DaddyBlog, but given that I announced my impending fatherhood today, I figured I could note this story.

Mark Tatara is his company’s “First Dad,” a title he earned in October when he became the first father to use the firm’s benefit that allows parents to bring their infants to work.

Tatara is senior graphic designer and Web design manager of Health Newsletters Direct, an Evanston, Ill.-based company that produces magazines and newsletters for hospitals and managed-care organizations nationwide.

His wife, Katherine Hood-Tatara, is an educator.

She took a three-month leave after Jonathan’s birth in August.

Tatara, who took off three weeks for his son’s birth, took him to work from October to the end of December.

Thirteen other parents — all mothers — of 24 “office” babies had taken their infants to work before him.

“Being the first dad felt natural,” said Tatara, who has been with the firm for 11 years and saw firsthand how well the arrangement can work.

“My wife and I wanted as much time as possible to bond with Jonathan, and she wasn’t able to bring him to work when her maternity leave was up. It’s wonderful to be able to do your job and not have to worry about your child — because he’s right there.”

Jonathan often slept in a bassinet secured on his father’s desk.

Each day, Tatara brought to his private office diapers, hand wipes, a car seat for Jonathan to sit in, toys, activity centers and bottles of expressed breast milk so his wife, who went back to her full-time job, could continue nursing.

As it happens, this sort of arrangement could work for me if it were an option. I spend the vast majority of my time at my desk and am more likely to be in a telecon than a real meeting. Plus, I have a feeling that one way or another I’m going to become an expert at computing with one hand while holding/feeding/rocking a baby with the other. But it’s not going to happen, and that’s probably just as well. Still, it’s nice to know someone can do it.

Real Men of Genius

OK, I admit it: I have a soft spot for those Budweiser “Real Men of Genius” ads which have migrated recently from radio to TV. Apparently, there were a lot more of these spots on the radio than I knew (this is the first negative side effect I can think of for my policy of changing stations whenever the music stops) – this page has downloadable MP3s of all of them.

One thing I didn’t know, which is noted in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article reprinted at the bottom of that page, is that the singer in those ads is a somebody:

The 30-second spots feature an over-the-top, 1980s-style rock ballad sung by David Bickler, the former lead singer of “Survivor.” Bickler’s rendition of “Eye of the Tiger” was the anthem of the popular movie “Rocky III.”


As for the music, [ad agency] DDB Chicago approached Sandy Torano, a musician and producer, to write a “cheesy ’80s song.” Torano immediately thought of Bickler.

“David Bickler is a friend of mine,” said Torano, who owns Scandal Music in
Chicago. “I told them, ‘If you are going do an ’80s parody, why don’t you get
the real thing?'”

Bickler, he said, was a good sport.

Um, not to be a big meanie or anything, but of course Bickler was a good sport. I mean, what else is the former lead singer of “Survivor” doing to generate income these days?

Link via Off Wing Opinion.

A new day at YDB

The Yellow Dog Blog, one of only two official state party blogs in the US, now has a fulltime blogger. Congrats to Burnt Orange member and brand-new Assistant Communications Director of the Texas Democratic Party Andrew Dobbs, for whom part of his responsibilities include regular YDB posting. He promises daily updates, so make checking YDB part of your daily routine.

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate

From the Left Hand Does Not Know What The Right Hand Is Doing Dept.:

When the Downtown Entertainment District Alliance invited Jeff Towns and other art car owners to park their art on wheels on Main Street Friday, no one expected any hassles.

Instead, Towns was wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and detained by police officers who were unaware he had permission to park on Main Street.

Main Street, from Prairie to Texas, was closed to regular traffic Friday for the Main Event, but arrangements were made to let the art cars to park in front of bars and clubs.

Word apparently didn’t make its way to officers on the street.

Metro Sgt. Curtis Holloway said he knew about the art car event, but had not briefed officers.

“I probably should have informed (the officer),” Holloway said. “(Towns) could have avoided it by simply providing his ID and permits to be there. That would have been the end of the situation. I’m certain of that.”

Gosh, Sergeant Holloway, whatever gave you the idea that you screwed up by failing to give the officers proper information? Was it perhaps this?

Towns said he was approached by a Metro officer when he parked his “Accessorod” on Main Street.

The Metro officer, unaware of the art car event, asked Towns why he was parked illegally and demanded to see the Conroe resident’s driver’s license.

“The officer has a flashlight in my face and says, `What are you doing on this street?’ … to which I respond, `I’m part of the event here, sir,’ ” Towns said.

Towns, surprised and annoyed by the officer’s demands, told the officer he should speak with Libby Weathers, entertainment alliance director.

When Towns did not immediately produce his license, the officer told him to get out of the car.

Donna Dommel, another art car owner, had just parked directly behind Towns’ car as the confrontation took place.

“We had just pulled up, and I see the officer come at the car and throw (Towns) to the ground,” she said.

Dommel co-owns the art car “R U Game?” with friend Kevin Munson, who was also detained when he began to argue with police during the incident.

Towns said the Metro officer threw him against the car and began to handcuff him.

When Towns noticed a Houston police officer approach, he thought the situation would be quickly resolved.

“But then, the (Houston) officer grabbed me by my hair and threw me to the ground,” said Towns. He said his head hit one of the large white road bumps along the Metro rail line during the scuffle.

You know all that stuff about smiling to impress the out-of-town folks? Well, nothing will make them think we’re a savage backwater faster than a little excessively zealous police work, especially when the root cause was trivially avoidable. At least no one got hurt this time, and the streets aren’t full of Super Bowl visitors yet. Let’s not mess up the easy stuff, OK?

Is it over yet?

Write down the date and time: I’m officially tired of Super Bowl XVIII and all the hype surrounding it. If I never read one more story about fabulous celebrities and exclusive parties it’ll be too soon. And the next visiting “journalist” on an expense account whose agenda for the week is to attend those parties, visit strip clubs, and eat till they explode before going to see the game in person who bitches about having nothing to do in this town is gonna get hunted down and given a wedgie.

So you’re officially on watch, Bill Simmons. And for Pete’s sake, if you’re going to call it a blog, get yourself some permalinks. (Via War Liberal).

UPDATE: I see that Pete, freshly back from Sundance, is feeling the hate as well. His post reminds me of the large uptick in Excessive Inanity on our local HappyTalkNews broadcasts. If there’s a goofier sight than Shern-Min Chow in a Texans uniform jersey and wearing a headset that looks like Bob McKenzie’s earmuffs with a microphone the size of a basketball sticking out of it broadcasting live from the NFL Experience, please don’t tell me what it is.

Important personal announcement

It’s somewhat past time for me to make an important personal announcement. I’m not sure what is the proper way to do it in a forum such as this (Miss Manners would probably frown on it, but I’ll take my chances), so I’ll just come out and say it:

My wife and I are very pleased to announce that we are expecting our first child in May.

Last week, when I wrote about my first ride on the light rail system, it was to get to St. Joseph’s Hospital near downtown, where Tiffany was scheduled for the Big Sonogram. Best as we can tell after ten minutes of poking, prodding, and peering is that we’re getting a girl. Given that we had settled on a boy’s name but not yet a girl’s, this was to be expected.

Obviously, we are very excited and are getting everything ready for the baby’s arrival. We’re still working on the nursery, which began life as the extra bedroom in which we stored all of the stuff that had no other good place to be. This includes all of our power tools, which I’ve pointed out to Tiffany technically don’t have to be moved until the kid is self-propelling. Hopefully, by then we’ll have figured out a good alternative.

As with most new and exciting experiences, I’ve already learned quite a few things. One of the more useful items I’ve learned was courtesy of my old college roomie David, who discovered during his wife’s first pregnancy that he could justify almost any purchase by saying it’s “for the baby”. I parlayed that into the TiVo – that “pause live TV” thing sure will come in handy when the baby cries, after all.

In the meantime, I plan on storing up all the sleep I can between now and the end of May. Thanks to my disreputable past as a graduate student, I have plenty of practice looking sleepy and disheveled, so on that score at least I’m ready for fatherhood. After that, I’ll be making it up as I go along. Wish me luck.