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August 31st, 2004:

Real ladies vote Republican

I was trying to come up with a clever way to describe this USA Today poll which shows that single women are more likely to vote Democratic while married women trend Republican, and the reaction to it by Focus on the Family, but I don’t think I can do any better than Jonathan did. In case you’ve ever wondered why the Phyllis Schlaflys of the world are called Ladies Against Women, this ought to help you understand.

Rack up another Enron plea

The count is now 14.

Former Enron Broadband Services executive Kevin Hannon pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit securities and wire fraud, becoming the 14th former executive to strike a plea bargain with prosecutors.

Originally indicted on charges of conspiracy, money laundering and insider trading, the former chief operating officer of Enron’s Internet business avoided an Oct. 4 trial by entering the plea this afternoon before Judge Vanessa Gilmore. He faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 penalty, but he remains free on a $1 million bond, and his sentencing will come later.

As part of the plea bargain with prosecutors, Hannon agreed to forfeit $2.2 million in assets, pay a $1 million civil penalty to the Securities and Exchange Commison, and drop a claim for $8 million in back pay from Enron.

His plea could further complicate the standing of the five remaining defendants in the broadband case. In July, former EBS Chief Executive Officer Ken Rice pleaded guilty to making misleading statements during a Jan. 20, 2000, meeting with analysts where he and others at the company touted the capabilities of Enron’s broadband network.

The remaining defendants are Joe Hirko, EBS’ former chief executive officer; F. Scott Yeager, former senior vice president of business development; Rex Shelby, former senior vice president of engineering and operations; Kevin Howard, former vice president of finance; and Michael Krautz, former senior accounting director.

The five still headed to trial are scheduled for a hearing before Judge Gilmore on Wednesday. They are expected to discuss motions to move the trial out of Houston and to argue that the government allowed key evidence to be destroyed when Enron auctioned off much of the computer hardware and software that was part of the broadband business.

The prosecutors are certainly earning their money.

There’s multitasking and then there’s multitasking

There must be a mighty big hat rack in State Rep. Ray Allen’s office, because his staffers sure do wear a lot of hats.

When state Rep. Ray Allen was passing bills in the Legislature last year, he relied on government employees for help. For political work, it was campaign staff. And for his prison-lobbying business, he taps private-sector workers.

Nothing remarkable there, except that they’re all the same people — Allen’s Austin-based state employees — records and interviews show.

Allen’s top aide, Scott Gilmore, has even continued to draw a state salary while traveling outside Texas to consult and lobby — for pay — for the prison factory industry, Allen said.

The arrangement has drawn criticism from two government-watchdog groups, but the Grand Prairie Republican sees no problem with it. Allen said his employees are putting in more than enough time with the House of Representatives to justify their full-time salaries from taxpayers.

And he said they have almost always used private computers and phones — even when working out of his taxpayer-provided office in the Capitol. Any use of state equipment has been incidental and unintended, he said. Records also show that Allen has periodically reimbursed the costs of private long-distance calls.

Allen acknowledged that it might be unusual to have employees assigned to three different jobs, but he said it is ethical and legal.

“It’s probably more unusual for somebody to use state staff in a private industry business, but campaign work would be very common,” Allen said. “The question is not, Is it wrong to do it? The question is, How do you keep it separate?”

But two watchdog groups question the multitasking use of state employees, particularly when they work at the Capitol.

“They need to get everything that is not directly related to the business of being a state representative out of the state Capitol,” said Suzy Woodford, director of Common Cause of Texas. “I do not believe that you can keep everything that segmented.”

Fred Lewis, director of Campaigns for People, said Allen should require a full written account of the precise hours his employees put in for the state, for the campaign and for Allen’s lobby practice, known as Service House.

I’m sorry, but I have a real hard time believing that every one of the time-splicers in Rep. Allen’s office is always able to separate one of their jobs from the others. I have a hard time believing that none of them has ever done work for one of their private sector or campaign gigs while on the state’s dime. And I have a real hard time believing that Rep. Allen really thinks the arrangement is hunky dory.

There’s an easy answer. Pay campaign staff to do campaign work only, and tell regular staff they can’t moonlight. I have sympathy for any legislative aide who says he or she can’t get by on the salary they get paid, but this isn’t the way to fix that problem.

Rep. Allen, by the way, is facing Katy Hubener, another one of our fine Democratic State House candidates, in November. Hubener was on our list of People To Profile For Texas Tuesdays, but we never quite connected with her, though I hear we may get a late entry for her eventually. She was recently named a Dean Dozen candidate, and I expect her to give Rep. Allen a good race this fall. Check her out, and give some thought to giving her a hand.

(Thanks to KF for the reminder on this story.)

Mister Sinus lawsuit

Like Seth, I can’t say I’m surprised by this.

Mr. Sinus, an Austin sketch-comedy group that skewers movies at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, is under attack.

Best Brains Inc., the company that owns the TV show “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” has sued the Mr. Sinus group, alleging that it is infringing on the “Mystery Science” trademark by using its format. Mr. Sinus comedians Jeremy Pollet, Owen Egerton and John Erler, and Alamo South Lamar LP have been named in the lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court.


The problem, according to Best Brains, is that Mr. Sinus takes its format from “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” also known as MST3K or MST 3000 — abbreviations the lawsuit says can also apply to Mr. Sinus Theater.

The TV show, which ran from 1988 through 1999 but was shown in reruns until January, features the silhouettes of three figures who sit at the front of a theater and interject satirical comments during movies.

The TV show is appropriate for viewers of all ages, the lawsuit states, unlike Mr. Sinus, which the lawsuit describes as vulgar. One Mr. Sinus performance skewered “Nude on the Moon,” which featured nudity. The comedians have also targeted commercially successful movies such as “Dirty Dancing” and “Top Gun.”

Best Brains says the trouble began when it asked Alamo representatives to show episodes “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

“Alamo then approached Pollet with the idea to create a comedic group in the style of Mystery Science Theater 3000,” according to the lawsuit. “Pollet, Egerton and Erler then formed Mr. Sinus and premiered in September 2000.”

The lawsuit notes that the Alamo group continues to stage Mr. Sinus shows even after Best Brains refused to provide them with a license. The company also says that it asked the comedians to stop using Mr. Sinus Theater 3000 or any similar name.

Unlike Star Bock Beer, this is a case where I can pretty easily see people being legitimately confused. I hope both sides can come to a resolution before the depositions start flying, but I think the plaintiff has a pretty decent argument, and I say that as a Mr. Sinus fan.

UPDATE: Liz thinks that Best Brains is wrong to sue the Mr. Sinus folks.

You can take the girl out of Texas…

Listen to Ginger. Hot dogs and chianti? These things simply are not done.

Oaks at Rio Bend redux

Remember Oaks at Rio Bend and Celebrations for Children? The Chron gives us an update now that the GOP convention is here.

Would-be donors to a charity benefiting the subdivision, Oaks at Rio Bend, originally were invited to a New York golf tournament, late-night party, convention VIP room and yacht cruise with DeLay, who has been a foster parent of at least three children.

With donation packages from $10,000 to $500,000, potential contributors were offered a special suite at the convention for President Bush’s nomination acceptance speech. At the most expensive level, donor perks would include dinner with DeLay before and after the convention, according to event promotions. A 13-page brochure had exactly one sentence mentioning abused and neglected children.

The brochure was more expansive on such things as Broadway tickets and a golf tournament at the Bethpage Black Course in Farmingdale, N.Y.

But the events were dropped in May after criticism from groups that monitor political fund-raising. The organizations, such as Common Cause, said the events wrongly were being used to sell access to DeLay, and the GOP convention, to various interest groups.

“This so-called ‘charity’ is set up to divide its contributions between helping poor children and electing the very politicians whose policies help keep these children improverished,” the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy said last year when the convention fund-raising plan was unveiled.


In Fort Bend County, Oaks at Rio Bend administrator Margaret Gow said the project could have used the donations.

“Certainly it would have made our lives easier,” Gow said.

The project sits on 50 acres donated by the George Foundation and has received at least $6 million with the help of the DeLay Foundation for Kids. Last year, organizers said at least $4 million more was needed for completion of the first phase of the community.

The vision of DeLay and his wife, Christine, who has served on the project’s board of directors, Oaks at Rio Bend intends to provide stability and support services that may be lacking in the normal foster care system.

When the project broke ground last September, officials predicted the first families would move in 12 months later. Instead, only site preparation is visible now. There are no residents.

Gow said the problem is not funding, but drainage.

Oaks at Rio Bend did not submit its plans to the Fort Bend County Drainage District, part of the construction approval process, until Jan. 20, officials said. Approval did not come until June because the plans originally lacked information on a required pond for flood control.

Gow hopes house construction will start in October.

From the GOP’s perspective, given all of the negative news about DeLay over the past few months, it’s just as well that a big fat-cat fundraiser with a tangential charitable purpose got cancelled. I’d bet this would have been quite the distraction.

Texas Tuesdays: Stephen Frost

We wind up our tour through the State House today with a look at Stephen Frost, running to replace the retiring Killer D Barry Telford in HD1. This is a seat that the Democrats should hold, but just as we get excited about possibly picking up open Republican seats, they get excited about maybe picking up some of our open seats, and we all know they have the resources to give it their best shot. HD1 is also one of the areas that Max Sandlin will need to do well in to win, so helping Frost is a twofer. Check out the intro and the interview, and as always, if you like what you see, you know what to do.

Next week, we start again on Congress. You can find links to our earlier coverage of Congress, as well as a convenient way to make donations, here on our ActBlue page.