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September, 2004:

More winners

Major congrats to the Burnt Orange Report for being named the Best Local Political Blog by AusChron readers. A well-deserved award, guys. Way to go!

And while I’m in congratulatory mode, kudos as well to ArchPundit for being named Best Web Site by the Riverfront Times (the Houston Press of Saint Louis). Another well-deserved award.

It’s been a pretty good year for lefty bloggers in the all-important Alt-Weekly Awards competition, hasn’t it?

Blinking…why did it have to be blinking?

So as a 2004 Houston Press Best Of winner, I get to include a little icon on my blog that proclaims my victory for all to see. There’s a problem, though – the GIF they’ve provided (this is the one I’ll use; the others are just larger versions of it) blinks. I hate blinking icons. Really really hate them. So I’m asking a favor. Is there anyone out there with some mad grafix skillz who can convert this thing into something that doesn’t blink? Please drop me a note or leave me a comment if you can do that. I’d be much obliged. Thanks!

UPDATE: Wow! I’ve gotten five responses on this already. Thanks to Chris, Steve, Alan, Aziz, and Charles M for the help. I’ll have the logo added shortly.

Looking ahead

Greg notes two entries by George Strong in which he indicates that Ken Bentsen will throw his hat in the ring for the Senate race in 2006, and in which the DSCC comes to town on behalf of already-all-but-declared candidate Barbara Radnofsky. Greg adds his two cents regarding the 2006 landscape.

I’m going to jump on in to the Who I Want To See Run In 2006 capades, but my target isn’t the statewide races. I’m going to talk about who I want to see run for various Congressional seats. In doing this exercise, I’m going to make the optimistic assumption that all of the endangered incumbents win this year. Those who do wind up losing can run again if they want, or have their own crack at this or that statewide office – Charlie Stenholm, for example, would make a helluva candidate for Ag Commish if he finds himself looking for work next year. I’m also not mentioning CD06 and CD22 – as far as I’m concerned, Morris Meyer and Richard Morrison should run in 2006 whether they win this year or not.

The reason why I want to see people like the following run for Congress in these currently not strongly contested districts is twofold: One, with redistricting spreading the GOP voters out, some of them would be reasonably competitive with a good candidate and some money. And two, getting more Democrats to the polls around the state will only help the statewide candidates (and vice versa). What’s not to like?

With that in mind, here’s my lineup:

CD04: Barry Telford, who’s retiring from the State House this year after nine terms, would be a fine choice to go after the fossil Ralph Hall (if Hall finally retires and leaves the seat open, so much the better). My first thought was Paul Sadler, the former State House member who lost a close special election race earlier this year to replace the retiring State Sen. Bill Ratliff, but his hometown is in CD01. Maybe we could persuade him to move from the city of Henderson to the county of Henderson and challenge Jeb Hensarling in CD05, but without a record in that area he’d not have any realistic prospects. Anyway, the moderate Telford would be a good counterbalance to Hall, whose increasingly quaint views cost him the Dallas Morning News’ endorsement in this year’s Republican primary. With all due respect to Jim Nickerson and his efforts this year.

CD07: Chris Bell. Or, failing that, Ken Bentsen. The redistricted CD07 is a very different beast than it once was, covering large swaths of Bell and Bentsen’s old CD25 plus a sizeable chunk of Montrose (my previous house, near Montrose and Dallas, is in the new CD07). John Martinez, running on a shoestring, is getting a lot more signage in this part of the district than I’d have thought given his anonymity, and this is surely due to the area’s deep Democratic roots. It’d be tough, but someone with money and name recognition could make John Culberson sweat.

CD10: Sherry Boyles. This idea is not original to me – it was suggested by Hope‘s husband Mike while Tiffany and Olivia and I were briefly in Austin last weekend. With all due respect to Lorenzo Sadun, who’s run a fabulous race as the write-in, anyone who runs in CD10 in 2006 will curse the State Democratic Party and all the associated county parties as I have for essentially ceding this district to the Republicans this year. Sure, it’s as GOP-tilted as other districts, and sure, it’s hella expensive for media buys, but you know what? The GOP didn’t get to where it is now by being afraid to run their candidates in what they knew were losing causes 30 years ago. Boyles has statewide campaign experience, a good resume, ties to Austin where she’d need to run strong to have a chance, and would make any Democrat in the district proud to vote for her.

CD14: John Sharp. After two straight close losses in statewide races (with the more recent one being less close), it’s time for Sharp to do his part and let someone else carry the statewide flag. The best thing he could do for that person is to challenge Ron Paul and give all the Democrats in CD14 a reason to vote again. If there’s anyone in this group that can raise money, it’s John Sharp, and if there’s anyone who can articulate a case for fiscal responsibility in government spending without going completely off a Paulesque cliff, it’s Sharp.

CD21: Ed Garza. Garza is currently the mayor of San Antonio, though he’ll be term-limited out in 2005 (I believe). I could see him running for a statewide office in 2006, but I’m not sure for which office he’d be best suited. If he wants to try something closer to home, taking on DeLay lapdog Lamar Smith would be doing us all a favor and would position him for bigger things in the future.

CD23: Richard Raymond. Raymond’s a scrappy fighter with statewide campaign experience under his belt (he lost to David Dewhurst for Land Commish in 1998). His State House district is in Webb County. It probably makes more sense for a San Antonian to challenge Henry Bonilla, but I figure if the good people of Laredo were excited to finally get their own Congressman by supporting Henry Cuellar, they’ll be ecstatic to do it again for Raymond.

That’s a start. I wish there were more that I could make suggestions for, but some districts just don’t have much of a Democratic bench that I can look to. Maybe I’m missing someone – feel free to name any names I’ve overlooked. What do you think?

Aguirre’s arbitration ends

Fired HPD Captain Mark Aguirre’s arbitration hearing has ended with a little media bashing.

Fired Houston police Capt. Mark Aguirre’s civil service hearing ended Wednesday with testimony from Executive Assistant Police Chief Chuck McClelland, who called media footage of the infamous Kmart arrests an unfair and inaccurate portrayal of the Houston Police Department.

Referencing video footage of numerous youths handcuffed and sitting in a Kmart parking lot in the 8400 block of Westheimer, McClelland said, “I don’t think that was an accurate portrayal of the Houston Police Department, of the hardworking men and women that were involved in that operation, and it’s unfair.”


McClelland, who approved an initial plan for the raid, also was disciplined and given a seven-day suspension. He is appealing that disciplinary action, which is pending.

You can draw your own conclusions about that, but first let’s go to the Wayback Machine and see what some other police officers said at the time:

“I couldn’t believe we were being told to arrest all those kids. It was just utterly, utterly senseless,” said one officer involved, who violated department policy by discussing the arrests and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Captain [Mark] Aguirre was put in charge, and it went to hell in a handbasket,” said a police supervisor who was at the scene, also violating department policy and requesting anonymity.


The two supervisors said police had “scout cars” and undercover officers working surveillance at the gathering spot for weeks in preparation for Sunday’s raid.

“But we got out there, and no one was racing,” said one of the supervisors. “So Aguirre just said, `Arrest them all for trespass.’

“It was like, `Kill them all and let God sort them out,’ ” said the other supervisor. “I guess we’re just lucky he didn’t order us to fire warning shots into the crowd or anything.”

Both supervisors said many of the people arrested were not in cars. Many were eating food from the Sonic, which was open until 2 a.m., or had been shopping at Kmart.

Like I said, draw your own conclusions.

Aguirre’s attorney, Terry W. Yates, said he thinks Aguirre will be vindicated.

“This is the only appeal that’s really going to be heard and fully bring these facts out. We’ve shown this arbitrator, we believe, that what those men and women did that night, they were justified in doing,” Yates said.

If that’s all he’s got, I wouldn’t put money down on that proposition. We’ll know what the arbitrator thinks soon enough.

It now costs more to be a bad driver in Texas

I’ve snarked about the many new fees and surcharges imposed by the Lege last year while they crowed about “no new taxes”, but this is one new surcharge I fully support.

The hefty surcharges — totaling $67 million since they went into effect a year ago — are aimed at Texans who drive without a license or insurance or while drunk.

The law is expected to raise about $1 billion for trauma care over the first five years and another $1 billion for highways and general revenue funds.

A person fined for driving without a license will have to pay an extra $100 a year for three years. Driving without insurance or with a license that’s been revoked will add a surcharge of $250 a year for three years.

A first driving-while-intoxicated conviction will include a surcharge of $1,000 a year for three years — double that for drivers whose blood alcohol was 0.16 or more.

Notices of these new fines are just being mailed out now, due to the late installation of a new computer system to handle it all. Fines for speeding and other moving violations are already higher as a result of this new law.

I’m cool with all of this, and I like where the new revenue is going. There’s one small thing that concerns me.

The author, Rep. Dianne Delisi, R-Temple, said she has little sympathy for Texans who will soon receive notices of the expensive surcharges.

“If you look at the folks that are in the system now, I have no sympathy for DWIs. They can howl all they want to.”

The get-tough surcharges are patterned after a New Jersey program, in effect for more than 15 years, that has dramatically changed driver behavior, according to Delisi’s office.

“They went back and measured since they first had it in place. There was a 24 percent reduction in fatalities. Phenomenal, isn’t it?” Delisi said.

She added that Texas has the highest number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the United States, but it will take until 2007 or 2008 to see if the financial penalties bring the desired results.

If I’m reading this correctly, then one of the intended and expected results of these new surcharges is a reduction in bad driving behaviors. This is, obviously, a good and desireable thing. One way we ought to be able to tell if it’s having the effect we’re hoping for is if there is an eventual decline in revenues stemming from these fines. And that’s where my concern comes in. I worry that since this new law will at least initially bring in a lot of extra money for hospitals and trauma centers that funding for these services will become dependent on that revenue source. If so, then they’ll be in a bind when this law begins to have the effect it’s intended to have, namely that reduction in bad driving behavior and the reduction in fines that will accompany it.

It’s therefore my hope that we’ll keep in mind the primary goal of better road safety, and treat any extra revenues along the way as a temporary condition. As with gambling and sin taxes, we shouldn’t count on bad habits to fund government services.

AusChron all over TRMPAC

Timing is everything when you’re a weekly publication and a big story breaks. The TRMPAC indictments came down last week too close to the Austin Chronicle’s publication date for them to have anything about it, but they made up for that this time around. Check out this article on affected State Rep races, this one about where the grand jury goes next, this enumeration of the indictments, and this piece about the campaign finance reform ads being run by Clean Up Texas Politics.

On a related note, former Austin mayor and Democratic candidate for Attorney General in 2002 Kirk Watson has filed suit against the Law Enforcement Alliance of America for its role in his electoral defeat.

Watson and East Texas legislative candidate Mike Head, both Democrats, filed the lawsuit in state District Court in Travis County against the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, based in Falls Church, Va.; its undisclosed corporate donors; “John Doe conspirators” who assisted in the ad campaigns; and John Colyandro, the former executive director of Texans for a Republican Majority, who also advised Watson’s opponent, Greg Abbott, during the 2002 elections.

The lawsuit, opening another front in the escalating campaign finance controversy, says corporate-financed advertising tainted the 2002 elections and says that the alliance violated Texas law by not disclosing its donors. State law generally prohibits corporate or labor money from being spent on political expenditures.


The alliance spent an estimated $1.5 million on a TV commercial aired around the state in the final days of the 2002 campaign. The commercial attacked Watson as a personal injury trial lawyer who “made millions suing doctors, hospitals and small businesses.”


Created 13 years ago, the alliance was largely financed by the National Rifle Association to counter law enforcement groups that supported gun control laws. Since 2002, the alliance has raised eyebrows by becoming involved in campaigns in Texas, Mississippi, Kansas and Pennsylvania.

An unidentified benefactor or benefactors funneled $4.5 million through the alliance in 2002, according to tax records, paying for attack ads in several states. The TV blitzes rarely reflected the alliance’s priorities, such as arming airline pilots and allowing off-duty and retired police officers to carry concealed guns. Travis County prosecutors hypothesize that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with ties to the Texas Association of Business, is the alliance’s mystery benefactor.

I was very skeptical when four losing State House candidates filed a lawsuit on similar grounds against the Texas Association of Business shortly after the 2002 election, but evidence from that still-pending lawsuit helped lead to the TRMPAC indictments, and TAB is next in line for the grand jury. Given that, I’m very interested to see where this lawsuit goes. It’s all too late to undo the effect of the alleged wrongdoing, of course, but it’s still better than nothing.

Read my lips: No new tax cuts!

No new symbolic Harris County property tax cuts, anyway.

Harris Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to keep the county tax rate the same this year after rejecting County Judge Robert Eckels’ proposal to lower it a quarter-cent.

Eckels and county Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt, who spoke in favor of the cut at the meeting, said the decrease was needed because rising home values have translated into higher tax bills for many residents.

But some commissioners said the quarter-cent cut was a meaningless decrease solely intended to curry favor with voters.

“What we need is advocacy, not playing games with our public,” Commissioner El Franco Lee said.

The owner of a $100,000 home — about $36,000 below the value of the average home in the county — would have paid $2 less in taxes this year if the cut had passed, said Dick Raycraft, head of county management services.

That taxpayer, assuming he or she takes the typical 20 percent homeowner exemption, will pay $511.98, Raycraft said.

The county’s rate — 63.99 cents per $100 of assessed value — has not increased since 2000, he said.


Eckels said, “I respect my colleagues and what they are looking at (tax situation), but we could have accommodated a tax cut.”

Eckels couldn’t find a second for his motion to make the cut.

Lee said Eckels and Bettencourt engaged in political grandstanding, and he characterized the cut as “cosmetic.”

The county, he said, should not be cutting taxes when it has been forced to pick up the costs of health care, mental health and other programs funded by the state until this year.

Commissioner Sylvia Garcia said the county should keep the tax rate the same in case state lawmakers cut funding for programs even further next year.

“I think (the state lawmakers) will just send the problems back to the county,” she said.

Commissioner Steve Radack said there were places in the budget that might be cut.

Eckels’ predecessor, Jon Lindsay, had a core staff of 16, but Eckels has 28 full-timers, Radack said.

“It’s almost insulting for them to say they were saving taxpayers all this money,” Radack said of Eckels and Bettencourt. “Why else go there for something so minor except to grab headlines?”

Lee and Radack said they believe Eckels and Bettencourt were looking to score political points because each is eyeing a run for a state office.

For what it’s worth, the county is doing fine financially as of last report, though I think Sylvia Garcia is right on about the state passing the buck on an ever-increasing number of items down to the counties. And c’mon – a lousy two dollars? What’s the point? If you can’t get Steve Radack or Jerry Eversole to even second a motion to consider a tax cut, it must be a bad idea.

Mister Youppi Goes to Washington

So it finally happened – Les Expos have a new home.

Baseball returned to the nation’s capital for the first time in 33 years Wednesday, with an announcement from Major League Baseball that the Montreal Expos will move to Washington next season.

The announcement came one day before the anniversary of the Senators’ final game. The team moved to Texas after the 1971 season, the last time a major league team moved.

“It’s a day when the sun is setting in Montreal, but it’s rising in Washington,” Expos president Tony Tavares told a news conference in Montreal.

You know, I’m just glad that this embarrassing road show finally came to an end. Beyond that, I’m indifferent. MLB screwed Montreal over many times, but once that was done, what resulted couldn’t continue, and at least they picked a place that ought to support the new team. If you want more, Eric McErlain has been following this all along.

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it:

Hearings will begin soon on the city’s $440 million package that would include the new ballpark and $13 million for refurbishment of RFK. The money will come from a new tax on the city’s largest businesses, a tax on baseball-related income and lease payments by the team’s new owners.

Suckers. What else can I say?

Congratulations are in order to Expos GM Omar Minaya, who’s been hired by the Mets as their head of baseball operations. The Mets can use all the help they can get, and with Minaya they’ve gotten a good GM who performed near miracles with little raw material in Montreal. Via David Pinto.

UPDATE: The Baseball Prospectus has lots of good stuff: Jonah Keri’s fond remembrances of his favorite team and the reader responses to him, plus two articles that sill surely raise Sue‘s blood pressure: this one on how DC is paying for the new stadium, and this one on how Peter Angelos will make out like a bandit as a result of the deal MLB gave him to drop his territorial opposition to the DC relocation.

Registrations up in San Antonio

We know (via Byron) that voter registrations are up sharply in Travis County. Now, via Lasso, we see that it’s way up in Bexar County, too.

More than 62,000 Bexar County residents have registered to vote since January, boosting the number of local eligible voters to a record level of almost 900,000 and causing officials to brace for the upcoming presidential election.

If only half of all those who are registered to vote actually show up at the polls Nov. 2, it would be the largest voter turnout in Bexar history, officials said Tuesday.


According to election records, there were 896,913 registered voters in Bexar County as of Tuesday afternoon — about 25,000 more than the 2000 presidential election.

The number of new voters began trickling in during January and rose sharply in time for the primary elections in March. Since Sept. 1 alone, there have been 21,985 new registered voters, marking the largest influx so far.

The north and northeast parts of the county set the pace for new registered voters this year with 22,819.

The western part was the lowest with 11,551.

While the number of registered voters usually peaks during presidential election years, voter turnout out traditionally is only about 50 percent, experts say.

In Bexar County, 47 percent of the 871,000 eligible voters participated in the 2000 election.

Idealistic concerns for democracy aside, there’s a big reason to be happy about this. I’ve been going through election return data, and in just about every election I’ve checked, going back to 1996 so far, the Democrats do better in the four major urban counties (Bexar, Dallas, Harris, and Travis) than they do statewide. Here’s an example, from 2000:

Statewide George W. Bush /Dick Cheney REP 3,799,639 59.29% Al Gore /Joe Lieberman DEM 2,433,746 37.98% Bexar County George W. Bush /Dick Cheney REP 215,613 52.24% Al Gore /Joe Lieberman DEM 185,158 44.86% Dallas County George W. Bush /Dick Cheney REP 322,345 52.58% Al Gore /Joe Lieberman DEM 275,308 44.90% Harris County George W. Bush /Dick Cheney REP 529,159 54.28% Al Gore /Joe Lieberman DEM 418,267 42.90% Travis County George W. Bush /Dick Cheney REP 141,235 46.88% Al Gore /Joe Lieberman DEM 125,526 41.66% Ralph Nader /Winona LaDuke GRN 31,243 10.37%

Nader result included to explain the oddness of the Travis County result. If Ralphie gets even half that percentage this year, I’ll be equal parts stunned and pissed off.

The pattern has held true through close elections and blowouts, in nearly every statewide contest in every year I’ve checked. Given the number of hotly contested Congressional and State House races in these counties, that bodes well for the Democrats. I don’t know how things are going in Dallas, and I don’t have any current data for Harris County (though at the Deputy Voter Registrar seminar I attended three weeks ago, Paul Bettencourt said he expected about 1.9 million registered voters by the deadline, which is a new high but apparently not a record increase for a single year).

On a side note, in case you’re curious, the pattern does not hold for Tarrant County, which is a GOP bastion. It holds very strongly for El Paso County, which is about as Democratic as you get.

I’m working on a spreadsheet with all the data, and will post it along with my interpretations hopefully later this week. In the meantime, keep those registrations coming in. Good things happen when they do.

UPDATE: Byron is less certain that the spike in Bexar voter reg is good for Democrats.

DeLay fundraises – for himself

Getting worried, Tom? You should be.

U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay plans to raise money for his re-election race Monday, just a few blocks from the courthouse where three associates were indicted last week on charges of illegally using corporate money to help Republican candidates for the Texas House in 2002.

There will be one key difference, however, between this fund-raiser and the activities that are still being investigated by Travis County prosecutors. The invitation to this $1,000-per-person event at the private Austin Club states clearly: “No corporate checks accepted.”

State and federal laws both prohibit corporate or labor-union donations from being used to help individual political candidates.

At the Monday fund-raiser, DeLay, R-Sugar Land, will be soliciting money for his race against Democratic challenger Richard Morrison. A spokesman for DeLay’s campaign didn’t return a telephone call Tuesday from the Houston Chronicle.

Had the Chronicle bothered to contact the Morrison campaign, they might have learned that he hopes to raise $250,000 this quarter, which is a pretty non-trivial amount even if he still lags behind DeLay’s cash on hand. (You can of course help him meet that goal.) Perhaps they were too stunned by the idea of a DeLay fundraiser that wasn’t open to corporations, I don’t know.

UPDATE: More from The Stakeholder.

If wishes were horses

Do you ever wonder if the reporters who cover the state Capitol keep stories like these written and ready to go at all times so that they can file them easily whenever the Governor makes his next “we can have a special session as soon as those lazy bums in the Lege do all the work for me” proclamation?

Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst reiterated today that they’re willing to call a special legislative session on education funding before next year’s regular session, if someone puts forth a plan that has a chance of winning the backing of majorities in both houses.

“If the lieutenant governor comes to me tomorrow and says we have a solution that the House has agreed to, and I looked at that and said I can sign that, I wouldn’t be afraid to bring them in next week,” Perry told reporters. “We are not there yet.”

“Sometimes the leadership just radiates from my body.” — the Pointy-Haired Boss from Dilbert.

Aguirre in arbitration

Former HPD Captain Mark Aguirre, fired for his role in the K-Mart Kiddie Roundup fiasco of 2002, is in arbitration and seeking to be reinstated.

During emotional and sometimes angry testimony Tuesday, former Houston Police Department Capt. Mark Aguirre claimed he was wrongfully fired and was betrayed by his co-workers.

During a hearing before an independent arbitrator, Aguirre said he wants his job back and the pay he has lost since he was fired almost two years ago for his handling of Operation ERACER, a controversial raid at a west Houston Kmart parking lot that became a legal fiasco for the city.

“Sir, you can’t put me back together — I know that,” he told the hearing examiner. “You have no idea what’s happened to me, how I was betrayed by my co-workers and my Police Department. … They destroyed me financially. They destroyed me reputationwise. You can’t give me my reputation back. But I want that back pay, at the very least. … I want my job back, and I want to be given some measure of dignity.”

An attorney for the city, calling Aguirre the “mastermind” of the raid, claimed the fired police captain has no recourse.

Aguirre, 47, said he did nothing wrong and violated no rules or department policies when he embarked on the sweep, designed to crack down on racing enthusiasts and spectators clogging west Houston parking lots. Aguirre also said HPD’s administration had approved plans for the operation, but scapegoated officers when the controversy became a political firestorm.


Aguirre speculated Tuesday that former Mayor Lee Brown directed all charges be dropped to protect former Police Chief C.O. Bradford, who publicly disavowed knowledge of the raid. When pressed, Aguirre could not provide proof, saying only, “That’s my gut feeling.”

What I know is this: That raid was a FUBAR of the first order. Someone, probably several someones, needed to be accountable for it. It’s possible that Aguirre is being railroaded, though if there’s any injustice here it’s much more likely to be the case that Aguirre didn’t have enough company on the unemployment line. For sure, a “gut feeling” on his part isn’t enough to convince me that the fix was in.

I will be surprised if Aguirre wins his case. If he does, then it’s highly likely that former Mayor Lee Brown and former HPD Chief C.O. “BAMF” Bradford got off way too lightly. That may be the case anyway, of course, but until someone like an arbiter agrees with Aguirre that he got shafted, the official story will remain in effect.

Behind the snark: The Julia Interview

Julia, one of my daily faves, gets interviewed by The Goddess on the What She Said blog. What She Said is a huge compendium of female political bloggers and a good place to look the next time you find yourself asking the question “where are all the women who blog about politics?” It’s not perfect – their big blogroll of “progressive women who blog politics” includes a nontrivial number that would surely dispute that “progressive” designation, a group blog that’s mostly men, a blog that was started by a woman but has since been turned over to a man, a blog that’s no longer active, and more than a few omissions, which can be corrected by anyone who wants to let them know about it. Given the high pain-in-the-butt factor of putting together a list like this, they did a pretty good job. Check it out, you might find some new voices that you like. And for goodness’ sake, read Julia every day.

Abramoff gets sleazier

Jack Abramoff, the disgraced DeLay crony currently under investigation for swindling a tribal casino in Texas, just keeps getting more disgraceful.

The Capital Athletic Foundation’s Web site portrays youths at play: shaking hands over a tennis net, learning how to hold a bat, straining for a jump ball. Its text solicits donations for what it describes as “needy and deserving” sportsmanship programs.

In its first four years of operation, the charity has collected nearly $6 million. A gala fundraiser last year at the International Spy Museum at one point attracted the Washington Redskins’ owner as its chairman and was to honor the co-founder of America Online.

But tax and spending records of the Capital Athletic Foundation obtained by The Washington Post show that less than 1 percent of its revenue has been spent on sports-related programs for youths.

Instead, the documents show that Jack Abramoff, one of Washington’s high-powered Republican lobbyists, has repeatedly channeled money from corporate clients into the foundation and spent the overwhelming portion of its money on pet projects having little to do with the advertised sportsmanship programs, including political causes, a short-lived religious school and an overseas golf trip.

The foundation’s brief history — now the subject of a federal investigation — charts how Abramoff attached himself to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and, in so doing, became a magnet for large sums of money from business interests. It also demonstrates how easily large amounts of such cash flowed through a nonprofit advocacy group to support the interests of a director.

What a swell guy. Via The Stakeholder, which has more on the subject.

Procrastination pays

Surely by now you’ve heard that the Lone Star Iconoclast, Crawford, TX’s hometown newspaper, has endorsed John Kerry. I was going to do a longish post on this, tying together some of the other iconoclastic things this paper has done, but thanks to the keen foresight of having too many other things to do first, the Burnt Orange guys beat me to it, thus sparing me the work. And to think that in real life I have to justify my tendency to procrastinate. Thanks, guys! Check it out.

Poor Tom

I see via Taking on Tom DeLay that our poor misunderstood Majority Leader is not such a hot draw on the campaign trail.

When Billy Tauzin III announced this month that top Republicans would “campaign on his behalf” for Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District seat, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas was touted as the first in line to make an appearance.

But on Monday, with several of DeLay’s associates now under indictment for possible breaches of campaign finance laws, the appearance was scaled back to a 1 1/2-hour private fund-raiser at the Airport Hilton in Kenner.

Poor Tom. Well, at least Juanita understands him.

If you scroll farther down on the ToTD page, you’ll also find this story about the Tiguas’ reaction to being swindled by Jack Abramoff, Mike Scanlon, and Ralph Reed.

“There’s outrage right now,” Tigua Gov. Art Senclair said Monday. “You can sense it among tribal members who are asking, ‘How could this happen?’ ”

“Shouldn’t a victim of a crime be outraged?” he asked.


The Washington pair paid Reed and his consulting company as much as $4 million to organize a coalition to block several tribal casinos in the South, the Post reported. Abramoff and Scanlon at the time were representing tribes in Louisiana and Mississippi that were attempting to block competing tribal casinos in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama, the newspaper said.

After the Tigua casino closed in February 2002, Abramoff and Scanlon pitched themselves as Washington influentials to Tigua leaders, while the tribe desperately tried to reopen the casino.

Abramoff wrote a tribal representative that he would get Republicans in Congress to fix the “gross indignity perpetuated by Texas state authorities” and assured the representative that he had lined up “a couple of Senators willing to ram this through,” the Post reported.

A month later, in March 2002, the Tiguas sent three checks to Scanlon’s firm totaling $4.2 million, according to the story. A check for half that amount was sent a month later from another Scanlon company to a company formed by Abramoff, the Post reported.

Abramoff sent Reed an e-mail Feb. 11, 2002, according to the Post story, which said: “I wish those moronic Tiguas were smarter in their political contributions. I’d love us to get our mitts on that moolah!! Oh well, stupid folks get wiped out.”


The Senate Indian Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing Wednesday to review “lobbying practices involving Indian tribes.”

The committee plans to scrutinize the activities of four tribes — the Mississippi Choctaw, the Louisiana Coushatta, the Agua Caliente in California and the Saginaw Chippewa in Michigan. All four were clients of Scanlon and Abramoff.

In addition to the committee, the Justice Department and several other federal agencies are jointly investigating large payments by the four tribes to Abramoff. Some of that money was spent by tribes that sought to block other nearby tribes from opening casinos.


State Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, sponsored legislation three years ago to, in essence, legalize Indian gaming for the Tiguas. Anti-gambling groups countered with an aggressive radio advertising blitz, and his bill died in the Senate after passing in the House.

“It was clear to me that some of the opposition to treating the Indians fairly was coming from anti-gambling people who weren’t really the money people in the equation,” Keel said. “The anti- gambling interests in Texas were being funded by gambling interests in other states.”

Keel, a former prosecutor and the first Republican sheriff elected in Travis County, said that what has happened to the Tiguas is “people’s worst nightmare about potential corruption and special interests.”

“It’s very sad. I hope that the federal government gets to the bottom of it, and I hope that some people are held accountable,” Keel said.

Kudos to Terry Keel for being a grownup. When will we hear from John Cornyn regarding how he feels about being used by Abramoff, Scanlon, and Reed?

UPDATE: Another hometown newspaper of another Republican House Ethics Committee member calls for him to do the right thing and either recuse himself because of the campaign cash he’s gotten from DeLay, or vote to turn the whole thing over to an independent counsel. Via Archpundit.

On campaign cash

Campaigns for People is running an ad decrying the influence of money on political campaigns.

A grass-roots low-budget effort aimed at reforming how Texas campaigns are financed has begun circulating this week on the Internet and television in four Texas cities, including San Antonio.

Corporations need not send their contributions, said Fred Lewis, the organizer of Campaigns for People.

Lewis pitched in his own money to produce and air a 30-second TV commercial on cable’s Comedy Central and “Hardball with Chris Matthews” on MSNBC.

The ad decries “special interests (that) have too great an influence at the Capitol” and urges people to become part of an “electronic action team.”

They want residents to notify their legislators that they want campaign laws limiting the amount an individual can contribute to a state race.

Lewis said it’s “shameful that between 115 and 120 individuals contributed more than $100,000, three people gave more than $1 million each, and one guy gave $4 million to state campaigns in 2002.”

He said those contributions, which are legal, “breed cynicism among the electorate about who is hogging the microphone.”

The nonpartisan Campaigns for People combines the TV ad, an e-mail campaign and yard signs to educate and mobilize people to fight for campaign reform, as well as to contribute to the online effort to keep the ad running, Lewis said.

The $20,000 collected to run the ad in Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio “is about enough to air for this week, beyond that, we’ll have to rely on contributions” to get further airplay, Lewis said.

He said the Texas Election Commission, which issues non-binding advisories on the state’s campaign finance law, “is toothless, gumless and completely ineffective” in regulating how races are financed.

Ethics Commission assistant general counsel Tim Sorrells said the Legislature empowered the agency to impose civil fines when a violation of the election code is found to have occurred.

“We don’t enforce the criminal side of it” because lawmakers chose not to mandate that the agency investigate and file criminal charges, he said.

The ad, which began running this past weekend, will end Monday — when U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, hosts a $1,000-a-person fund-raiser in Austin.

While I certainly agree with Lewis about the Texas Ethics Commission, and while I share his distaste about big spenders hogging the microphones, I’m a bit queasy about his proposed solution. I’ve mostly come around to the position that the First Amendment implications of contribution limits like these are too big to handwave away. What I’d prefer is much stricter disclosure laws, along with real power to enforce them, and I’d at least like to hear some reasonable suggestions for a public financing scheme for campaigns, as a way of leveling the playing field. I’m still a little conflicted about the whole thing, so don’t be too surprised if my position on this continues to evolve.

Meanwhile, Carlos Guerra talks to Fred Lewis and Craig McDonald about the TRMPAC indictments, and Greg says what needs to be said about the latest outsourced editorial infesting the Chron. To paraphrase Ronnie Earle, being called “partisan” by the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page is like being called ugly by a frog.

Kopper speaks

The prosecution put on its star witness in the Enron Nigerian Barge case yesterday as Michael Kopper testified.

Kopper, 39, calmly and thoughtfully explained that in 1997 he and ex-Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow started to divert funds to themselves, family and friends by breaking laws, breaking internal rules, lying, manipulating and standing in the middle of deals.

Though 14 people have pleaded guilty to crimes in connection with Enron’s demise, this is the first time any one of them has publicly discussed the rampant greed and multimillion-dollar plundering in their own words.

Kopper was called to the stand by Enron Task Force prosecutors in the second week of the trial of six former Enron and Merrill Lynch executives charged with conspiracy and fraud in an alleged sham sale of three electricity-generating barges off the coast of Nigeria.

Larry Zweifach, attorney for Merrill Lynch defendant James Brown, asked Kopper if he and Fastow shared the value that they “would always put (their) interests above the interests of Enron and its shareholders?”

Kopper replied, “I’m not sure that that would be my value, but those were my actions, yes.”

Lots of interesting stuff in this article, which I must say seemed a tad bit tilted towards the prosecution. Tom Kirkendall had the opportunity to sit in on the case while Kopper was testifying, and he saw it as the defense carrying the day. Read and compare.

One thing to note about Kopper:

The former executive has clearly done well financially even while a cooperating witness. He forfeited $8 million to the government as well as his disputed rights to another $4 million. His domestic partner William Dodson did not have to forfeit any of the $9 million pre-tax that he benefited from the frauds.

Kopper said he now has a job at a health clinic, is living in a house worth up to $2 million owned by his partner Dodson, just bought a new home worth $380,000, has a 401(k) worth about $300,000, $100,000 in other assets and could possibly get back some of the $500,000 he has on account with his lawyers.

Hmph. As Tom noted, Dodson going scot free was part of Kopper’s plea agreement. Kopper still faces sentencing, with punishment ranging from probation to 15 years in the joint. Given what he’ll have to come home to, I’m rooting for him to get the max.

“The Hammer”

New to my bookshelf – The Hammer, by Lou Dubose (that would be longtime Texas Observer editor Lou Dubose) and Jan Reid. Sean-Paul of The Agonist was kind enough to not only get me a copy of this book, but get it autographed by the authors as well. Thanks, Sean-Paul! It’s next on my to-be-read list after Fifty Years of the Texas Observer, which (sigh) I’m still working on. (If you just can’t wait for me to get my butt in gear and finish writing a review of it, you can give yourself solace by reading these two reviews instead.)

Anyway, “The Hammer” looks like a fun book and a good read, and one of these days (I swear!) I’ll write something about it.

Care to CHIP in?

Various Texas campaigns are focusing on the cuts in CHIP.

U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards of Waco, a Democrat trying to win re-election in a Republican-majority district, charged his challenger the other day with depriving children of health insurance and shorting nursing home residents $15 a month for personal needs such as denture cream.

“When she says she wants to do for the country what she’s done for Texas, I’m not sure that’s a promise or a threat,” Edwards said after a Hill College debate with state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth of Burleson.


Republicans say such sallies won’t stick, in part because President Bush’s run for a second term will overshadow down-ballot races, to the benefit of other GOP candidates.

Budget-related barbs appeal to the news media, said GOP consultant Ray Sullivan, but “whether Texans believe we are taxing too little and spending too little remains to be seen.”


In Houston, Hubert Vo, challenging Rep. Talmadge Heflin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, emphasized the loss of millions of dollars in matching federal funds given up by Texas in CHIP reductions.

The state cuts led to a loss of at least $400 million in matching funds in 2004-05, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for programs serving low-income residents.

“It is ridiculous to lose these federal funds when we have children without health care coverage,” Vo said, referring to Texas’s last-place standing among the states, with more than 22 percent of children uninsured.

Heflin said the criticism lacks “traction” with voters who understand “there are many places that if we plowed more money into certain programs, there are federal matches.”

In East Texas, Bob Glaze of Gilmer has highlighted CHIP cuts in trying to beat Rep. Bryan Hughes of Mineola, who unseated Glaze two years ago.

Hughes said legislators should ensure that help “goes to the folks who need it most,” adding, “I’m not saying every change to (CHIP) eligibility was done exactly right.”

Waco’s Edwards, a seven-term congressman, has aired two TV commercials blaming Wohlgemuth for CHIP changes, including one in which a mother says her daughter was denied renewal about six months ago.

The mother, a bank teller, lost the coverage because child care costs are no longer exempted from family income, according to Edwards’ campaign. She cannot afford to insure her child through her employer, a spokeswoman said.

A consultant for Edwards said the budget cuts “matter to people. Regardless of party, people have a difficult time getting their minds around why these are good ideas.”

Consultant Craig Murphy of Arlington, whose clients include Wohlgemuth and Heflin, said the CHIP attack “is not working. Whether that’s because they’re overstating their case or people have other priorities, I have no idea.”

Do charges like this work? Without any poll data, I’m not going to take the word of some GOP consultant whose clients are on the receiving end of those charges. We’ll have some evidence on Election Day, of course, but it seems to me that this is as much an issue of framing as it is an issue of the claims about children and the elderly themselves. Greg gets to the nub of the issue in talking about schools:

Is there any potential scenario in which critics who view education as a tax issue whereby property tax rates go down? Let’s crunch some numbers … X number of students will go to school come hell or high water. If anything is done to move them from public schools to either private or charter schools, we still have X number of students in school. If you support vouchers, that money still has to come from somewhere. If you support charter schools, that money still has to come from somewhere. If you support dumping more money into the public schools, that money still has to come from somewhere. In short, there’s no solution that ends up with a net tax cut. Period. Republicans take pity on homeowners who have, in fairness, gotten stuck with the increasing bill on matters of education. But the reason this tab has fallen on them is due to the fact that the state has paid for a smaller and smaller portion of the education budget out of its coffers (again .. the money has to come from somewhere). If you cut taxes on home owners, you still have to find the money somewhere. There’s not a free lunch in the system, even if you’ve run through all of the qualitative fixes you can possibly imagine for schools of any variety.

“The money has to come from somewhere” – that’s exactly right. We’re told in this article that a cut in Medicaid money given to nursing home residents for personal needs from $60 to $45 a month, which Arlene Wohlgemuth voted for and still supports, is being made up by nursing home staff at some places, who are giving residents money out of their own pocket so those residents can buy the denture creme they prefer. Residents who aren’t so lucky are giving up cable and phones. The needs don’t change because the funds have been cut, and the money for those needs has to come from somewhere. The choice of where that money comes from is yours: if you think that it’s appropriate for nursing home residents to choose between phone service and denture creme if they’re not lucky enough to live in a home with generous staffers, then vote for Arlene Wohlgemuth because that’s what she stands for. If not, if you believe that the state has a responsibility to provide a basic level of care which doesn’t require nursing home residents to choose between denture creme and phone service, then vote for Chet Edwards. Or Hubert Vo, or Bob Glaze, or any of the other candidates like him. It’s as simple as that.

Texas Tuesdays: Martin Frost

Yes, it’s time for another edition of Texas Tuesdays, this time featuring special guest star Martin Frost. Byron has a state of the race overview and a chat with the Frost campaign that you should check out.

We’re about to enter our last month of Texas Tuesdays, so before you know it, I’ll be done nagging you about them. But since we’re not done yet, you can donate to Martin Frost, you can donate to all Texas Tuesdays candidates, and you can donate to the DCCC. This offer expires November 2, so don’t get caught out in the cold.

UPDATE: How could I fail to note BlogPAC and its pro-Frost ad?

Busy weekend

If you’re in the Houston area and are looking for some good political activities this weekend, there’s a veritable cornucopia from which to choose. There are five Kos Dozen parties on Friday and Saturday nights, with all of the Saturday ones being coordinated by various area Richard Morrison groups. The Sharpstown Democrats will be busy registering voters all weekend starting on Friday at the HCDP Sharpstown Mall location and elsewhere. The Greater Heights Democratic Club will have a booth and be registering voters at the Houston Heights Fall Festival on Sunday. And as noted before, the Fort Bend County Democratic Party will be having its own Democratic Salute to Democracy on Saturday. We’re 36 days out, so get involved and help make a difference. Drop me a note if you have any questions about any of these activities.

New voters

You’ve probably seen this NYT artlce about new voter registrations in swing states like Ohio and Florida, but in case you haven’t, you should read it. MyDD has a good discussion of it as well.

Of course, as noted on Kos, MyDD, and Atrios, those new voters in Ohio may be ruled ineligible because they used the wrong card stock. Lord knows, paper with the proper thickness is vital to the functioning of a democracy. Have I mentioned lately how glad I am that Paul Bettencourt runs a tight ship?

And as long as we’ve mentioned the local angle, give Greg his props for 1347 newly registered Democrats through the HCDP Sharpstown office. Now get some sleep, Greg!

The sweet smell of desperation (again)

Remember that strong stench of desperation that emanated from the Orlando Sanchez campaign last year when he tried to link Bill White to Hezbollah? I’m getting a whiff of the same stuff from Louie Gohmert in CD01 now.

Republican Louie Gohmert takes a potshot at beleaguered CBS anchorman Dan Rather in a new campaign spot challenging Democratic Congressman Max Sandlin.

The spot makes references to Sandlin’s “negative” ads.

“They’ve got more holes than a CBS News story by Dan Rather,” the narrator says in the spot.

The ad then shows a newspaper clipping with Rather’s photo and
the headline “CBS apologizes for Bush Guard story.”

Way to talk about the issues, big guy. Everyone else, you know the drill from here: Donate to Sandlin, donate to all Texas Tuesdays candidates, and donate to the DCCC.

Via Southpaw.

On Kenny Boy’s public relations strategy

The Chron discusses Kenny Boy’s PR offensive.

Prosecutors have started using Ken Lay’s public statements against him in legal filings, leading some experts to suggest the former Enron chairman keep quiet while others insist he should just keep on talking.

Since his July indictment, Lay has mounted an aggressive public relations campaign, starting with a news conference just hours after he was cuffed and appeared in court. He followed that with print and TV interviews, an Opinion piece in the Washington Post and Houston Chronicle and his own Web site.


Dan Hedges, a defense attorney and the former U.S. Attorney for the Houston area, said two likely intended audiences for Lay’s comments — the Justice Department and the judge — would be unswayed and annoyed by the PR campaign.

“I think Lay’s strategy is backfiring,” Hedges said. “He stuck his finger in (the prosecutors’) eye and now they will stick him back.”

Hedges said if Lay has misstated or overstated anything at all in his press pronouncements, it could come back to haunt him if he takes the stand.

Not surprisingly, Lay’s lawyer disagrees. “I guess what Ken has said is beginning to sting. I view what the government put in their (legal memo) as whining,” said Mike Ramsey, Lay’s Houston-based lead trial lawyer.


Criminal defense experts who say Lay should quiet down say there are two areas the government could use at trial.

One is that Lay argues he didn’t know about what was going wrong at Enron, but in his post-indictment persona he appears to be not out of the loop but totally in control of his case.

A second possibility is that the government will try to show Lay exaggerated or made a false statement about anything. In that case, the lawyers say, prosecutors might argue that Lay is accused of making false public statements to help himself at Enron and he did it again after his indictment.

“Ken Lay has a shot at acquittal in this community,” said Houston-based attorney David Berg.

“But if he keeps talking, he’s going to wind up eating some of his words. All he needs is a misstatement and he’s handing the prosecutors a huge weapon.” Berg said prosecutors now probably “go to sleep dreaming of cross-examining Ken Lay.”

For what it’s worth, I think he should keep his mouth shut. I don’t think he’s going to sway the media narrative in his favor, and I don’t think many people who hear about his efforts to explain himself will see it as anything but self-serving. I admit, I don’t like the guy, so maybe I’m the one who’s wrong here. All I’m saying is that Harris County is not particularly defense-friendly to begin with, and we don’t much care for whining. I think he’s best off waiting until they’re in court to convince jurors that what they think they know about him is wrong, but hey, I’m not the one getting paid $400/hour (or whatever) to make these decisions.

How bad is it?

How bad are things for the Illinois Republican Party these days? According to this Chicago Tribune poll, they’re really really really bad.

Together, the surveys paint a portrait of a Republican Party so divided that it may have trouble fielding statewide candidates with sufficiently broad appeal to prevail in general elections for years to come. Republicans make up only 28 percent of Illinois voters, compared with 43 percent who identify themselves as Democrats and 27 percent as independents, according to the broader survey.

The Republican poll is based on a survey of 386 registered Illinois voters who consider themselves members of the GOP and likely to vote on Election Day. The poll was conducted Sept. 14-20 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

The other poll, which surveyed 700 likely voters, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. That poll was conducted Sept. 17-20.


After Republican primary winner Jack Ryan dropped out of the U.S. Senate race, the party struggled to find a replacement and finally settled on [Alan] Keyes. One hope was that the selection of an African-American to take on [Barack] Obama, who is black, would make a statement about the GOP’s commitment to diversity.

But the survey showed that 94 percent of voters who identified themselves as Republicans are white, and only 2 percent are Hispanic and another 2 percent are black. The rest declined to identify their race.

The separate poll of likely voters regardless of party affiliation showed that 68 percent favored Obama for senator and just 17 percent backed Keyes. Last month, the gap was 65-24.

The broader survey shows that Keyes has failed to draw much support from independents. But the Republican-only poll demonstrates that he also has not locked up strong backing from fellow Republicans.

Only 44 percent of self-identified GOP voters said they intended to support Keyes, and 35 percent said they planned to vote for Obama. That contrasts with the 89 percent of Republicans who vowed to support the re-election of President Bush.

Keyes contends that Obama is too extreme on the issues for Illinois, but the Republican survey shows only 21 percent of GOP voters agreed. At the same time, 38 percent of Republicans thought Keyes was too extreme.

Meanwhile, 39 percent of Republicans have a favorable opinion of Obama while just 31 percent think favorably of Keyes.

Wow. You know how statheads have been running out of adjectives to describe Barry Bonds (scroll down from here to see King Kaufman try to put it all into perspective)? Well, political writers may well run dry on ways to report the magnitude of this debacle in the making. You can certainly see how Democrats are hoping Keyes will provide some anti-coattails in the Congressional races, which may help some challengers knock off GOP incumbents.

Archpundit and Chillinois provide some extra insight on the poll. Via Political Wire.

More on the Regional Transportation Plan

This op-ed on the Regional Transportation Project (RTP – see here for more) is a month old but worth reading.

Guaranteed is that not one, but several roadways near your home and business are on the construction timetable. All the Westheimers, Bellaires, Dairy-Ashfords and beyond are set for major expansion. But the 11,733 new lane miles in there are not going to expand over Joe Farmer’s cotton crop anymore. We’re talking about shopping malls, dentist offices and back yards these days.

Some of the projects are not on the block until several years from now. But do not let this long-term time frame mask projects’ urgency. This is the transportation world, where politicians use “that project’s been in the plan for years” and “we’ve already spent millions on planning” rationalizations. Indeed, a Pearland City Council member told this paper that the Pearland project had been on the books for 20 years.

Someone is going to have to pay for the plan’s very dramatic increase in expenditures. The published road costs add up to $2 billion per year, a more than doubling of annual road costs over the last long-term transportation plan approved by the council (Metropolitan Transportation Plan 2022). And that does not include full right-of-way costs, which planners have not and cannot fully calculate until they’re actually purchasing properties.


I have been able to identify that this plan includes over $9 billion in new, added-capacity road projects, which is twice as much as the Metro Solutions $4.2 billion voter-approved rail and bus projects (both numbers are nominal and do not include recurring costs such as operations and maintenance).

To help pay for such an increase in spending, the Regional Transportation Plan cites revolutionary toll-road law changes as new funding sources. Those laws free up the government to charge fees on existing roads (and toll roads) and subsequently use that revenue to build new road capacity within the region.

The government also estimates additional revenue will come from population growth generating new property, sales and gas tax dollars that help pay for our roads. But bet on shelling out on toll roads: They are the Viagra necessary for road-powered politicians.

Lucas Wall brings a similar prediction of a toll-enabled future. Enjoy the free ride while you still can, folks.

Thankfully, it looks like some people have finally gotten a sense of perspective about the RTP and its ever-skyrocketing price tag.

Art Storey, Harris County’s public infrastructure director, said at Friday’s Transportation Policy Council meeting that to him a plan means “one that is a reasonable, doable, sensible thing that really might be accomplished in someone’s lifetime, or at least that of our grandchildren. This is a plan that is numbered over $100 billion.

“To call it a plan, I just take issue with that.”

Glad to hear it. Now maybe we can talk about what’s realistic and what’s desireable. The RTP was somebody’s idea of an all-encompassing wish list. It’s time we treated it as such.

Murphy benched

Hall of Fame basketball player Calvin Murphy, currently under indictment on several charges of sexual assault against five of his children, will not be part of the Houston Rockets broadcast team in 2004-05.

Calvin Murphy’s leave of absence from his broadcast duties with the Rockets will continue throughout the 2004-05 season, the team announced Friday.

The decision clears the way for the Rockets to replace Murphy as the team’s television analyst with Comets coach Van Chancellor, possibly as soon as next week.

Murphy, the Hall of Fame guard who has been a Rockets broadcaster for 14 seasons, has been on leave since he was charged in March with sexually abusing five of his daughters more than a decade ago. He was indicted July 1 and is expected to go to trial in November.

“We’re waiting to see what the legal process proves,” said Tad Brown, the club’s senior vice president of sales, marketing and broadcasting. “Everybody is focused on moving ahead with the season, and Calvin is focused on getting ready to go to court. … We will wait to see what happens at the trial, and that is all we can do.”

Murphy, 55, is in the final year of his contract with the Rockets. He played 13 years with the team before serving as an assistant coach and working as the team’s community services adviser in addition to his broadcasting duties.

Brown said the Rockets have not reached a formal agreement with Chancellor to team with Bill Worrell but added: “We think he could do a good job and work well with Bill. But we’re not ready to make an announcement.”

The contrast between Murph’s bombast and Chancellor’s deep-fried folksiness may be jarring to Rockets fans. I suspect that even if he’s fully exonerated, he won’t get signed to a new contract by the team. Whatever you may think of his abilities in the booth, that’s a sad way to go.

Schlitterbahn Galveston fire

I kept forgetting all last week to blog about the fact that there was a huge fire at an old WWII airplane hangar down in Galveston, destroying what was to be an integral part of the new Schlitterbahn park. That fire has now been ruled accidental.

Galveston fire officials asked for federal help in examining the remains of the building, and agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives combed through debris Friday.

“The main reason we’re here is the size of this fire,” said ATF Agent Franceska Perot. “It’s an awfully huge building to try to do an investigation on with limited resources.”

The ATF has many investigative resources and the legal ability to step in when fires occur in commercial buildings, Perot said.

The 1943 hangar was constructed mainly of wood on a concrete and metal frame.

The 50,000-square-foot hangar was to be incorporated into a planned Schlitterbahn water park..

Schlitterbahn officials have said they still plan to build a water park at the hangar site, which is part of the city’s property at Scholes International Airport. But the design may be affected by the fire.

I certainly hope the Schlitterbahn folks are able to recover from this and build the park they want to build. Coverage of the fire from last week is here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Weekend scandal roundup

The WaPo updates us on the Scanlon/Abramoff/Ralph Reed casino-swindling scandal.

Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and public relations consultant Michael Scanlon quietly worked with conservative religious activist Ralph Reed to help the state of Texas shut down an Indian tribe’s casino in 2002, then the two quickly persuaded the tribe to pay $4.2 million to try to get Congress to reopen it.

Dozens of e-mails written by the three men and obtained by The Washington Post show how they built public support for then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn’s effort get the courts to close the Tigua tribe’s Speaking Rock Casino in El Paso in late 2001 and early 2002. The e-mails also reveal what appears to be an effort on the part of Abramoff and Scanlon to then exploit the financial crisis they were helping to create for the tribe by securing both the multimillion-dollar fee and $300,000 in federal political contributions, which the tribe paid.

Ten days after the Tigua Indians’ $60 million-a-year casino was shuttered in February 2002, Abramoff wrote a tribal representative that he would get Republicans in Congress to rectify the “gross indignity perpetuated by the Texas state authorities,” assuring him that he had already lined up “a couple of Senators willing to ram this through,” according to the e-mails.

What he did not reveal was that he and Scanlon had been paying Reed, an avowed foe of gambling, to encourage public support for Cornyn’s effort to close two Indian casinos in Texas. Abramoff, one of Washington’s powerhouse Republican lobbyists until his work came under scrutiny by law enforcement agencies this year, has long been close to Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition and now southern regional chairman of President Bush’s reelection campaign. Both have political ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), as does Scanlon, who had served as his spokesman.

In the end, Abramoff and Scanlon failed to get the casino reopened.

Isn’t that sweet? And isn’t it funny how so many of Tom DeLays’ buddies are under indictment or investigation lately? It’s almost as if the guy were the center of a vast web of corruption or something.

In an e-mail to Reed on Feb. 11, 2002, Abramoff did not mention he had been in contact with the Tiguas. He wrote: “I wish those moronic Tiguas were smarter in their political contributions. I’d love us to get our mitts on that moolah!! Oh well, stupid folks get wiped out.”

The e-mails show the three men hustled to provide a show of public support for Cornyn’s efforts to shut down the casino, which he contended had operated illegally under Texas law for eight years. The coalition made phone calls, rallied pastors and religious activists, and conducted a media campaign in support of closing the casino.

A spokesman for Cornyn, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002, said that Cornyn does not recall any contact with Reed, Abramoff or Scanlon on the Tigua issue.

In November 2001, the Tiguas took out full-page newspaper ads in Washington and across Texas, saying Cornyn was using a “legal technicality” to kill jobs and decent housing for tribe members and return them to poverty.

“Wow. These guys are really playing hard ball,” Reed e-mailed Abramoff on Nov. 12. “Do you know who their consultant(s) are?”

Abramoff responded: “Some stupid lobbyists up here who do Indian issues. We’ll find out and make sure all our friends crush them like bugs.”

At Reed’s suggestion, Abramoff urged Scanlon to mobilize calls from the public to Cornyn’s office supporting his efforts. A couple of months later, Reed reported to Abramoff that “we did get our pastors riled up last week, calling his office. Maybe that helped but who knows.”

Abramoff replied: “Great. thanks Ralph. we should continue to pile on until the place is shuttered.” He suggested getting “one of our guys in the legislature” to introduce a bill that would bar vendors who do business with casinos from state contracts so that “Cornyn can sit back and not be scared. Let one of our tigers go get em. Do we have someone like this and can we get it introduced as soon as possible?”

“We have tigers,” Reed assured him.

I wonder how John Cornyn feels about being played like this. Seems to me he owes us a little outrage at the con game, and a vow to see any wrongdoing punished. You know, being a former Attorney General and all.

Meanwhile, back on the DeLay front, the current PAC to elect Republicans to the State House has decided to return donations given to them by corporations indicted or implicated in the TRMPAC case.

State Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, who serves as treasurer of the Stars Over Texas PAC, decided to return the money Wednesday, the day after eight out-of-state corporations and three people were indicted on charges of illegally using corporate money to help Republican Texas House candidates in 2002.

The donations returned by Stars Over Texas include $100,000 to AT&T Corp., $2,200 to ACE Cash Express Inc. and $1,200 to Cash America. Several other check-cashing businesses that made contributions of $1,000 or less also were sent back.

In a letter to contributors dated Sept. 22, Keel said he “made a policy decision to return all corporate contributions and accept none at all until state courts have ruled so as to identify with precision and authority what activities are protected from criminal allegation.”

Keel said in the letter that the contributions were legal and that Stars Over Texas PAC segregated the corporate money for administrative costs as allowed under Texas law. But he said that the indictments returned by the Travis County grand jury did not specify what acts constituted the alleged illegal contributions.

Good for you, Terry Keel. Now let’s see if any of the TRMPAC beneficiaries of 2002 will follow suit.

Elsewhere, the Statesman gives the history behind the 1905 law that bans corporate and union campaign contributions in Texas state elections, Clay Robison sums things up for the Chron’s op-ed page, and Morris Meyer writes a guest post for Atrios which connects the dots between Westar and Smokey Joe Barton.

UPDATE: Julia found this article on Rep. Joel Hefley, chairman of the House Ethics Committee, which gives one the impression that a deadlock-induced punt of the issue is not yet a sure thing. I’ll take back every nasty thing I’ve said about the Ethics Committee if Hefley or any other Republican votes to allow an investigation to go forward.

UPDATE: The broken link to Atrios is now fixed. Thanks for the catch, Kevin.

New DA in Waller County

Governor Perry has appointed a replacement for the leaving-in-shame Oliver Kitzman.

Gov. Rick Perry on Friday appointed William Parham of Hempstead as the new criminal district attorney for Waller County.

Parham, an assistant district attorney, will succeed Oliver Kitzman, who resigned in midterm last month after a controversy over voting rights for Prairie View A&M University students.

Parham will serve the remaining two years of Kitzman’s term if he wins the Nov. 2 election. He will face Democratic nominee Sylvia Cedillo, a civil rights attorney who directs the Domestic Violence Project at Prairie View A&M. Parham and Cedillo were chosen for the general election ballot by their respective parties’ county executive committees.

I would have preferred a non-candidate to be picked to fill in before the election, but I suppose this race will be high-profile enough that the temporary incumbency that Perry has conferred on Parham won’t matter all that much. This will be an interesting race to watch in November.

ActBlue feature

Nice article on the founders of ActBlue, the online clearinghouse for donating to Democratic candidates, even if they do somehow manage not to mention the Texas Tuesdays ActBlue page. I want to touch on something in this paragraph:

After originally targeting volunteer coordination — and calling themselves StepUp 2004 — they realized that fundraising for campaigns was a better starting point. Despite all the recent attention to Internet-based fundraising, few candidates are taking much advantage of it. Campaigns prefer check donations, since credit-card-processing services like PayPal take a piece of each transaction. Besides, non-national campaigns traditionally work local donors, such as PACs, party committees, and supporters at fundraisers. But how many people in faraway places would contribute to, say, Patsy Keever, in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, if they didn’t have to bother with writing a check?

I’d like to see an ActBlue for volunteer coordination some day. I suppose Meetup sort of works in that way now, but there’s no unifying force behind it. The logistics of doing such a thing would be a bear, but the rewards could be immense. Still, I have a feeling we’ll see something like this by 2008, if not 2006. It’s the next logical step, there’s a lot more infrastructure already in place to build on, and there’s sure to be demand for it.

Via Political Wire.

Instant replay

Ever since I spent a summer umpiring Babe Ruth League games back in college, I’ve thought the idea of using technology to help officiate sporting events was a good one. As far as I’m concerned, the so-called “human factor” is nothing but a randomizer, like a bad bounce or a sudden gust of wind. It’s no more charming than that, and speaking as one who became a “human factor” by blowing an easy strike-three call once, it’s not something that’s worth saving.

Whether baseball ever adopts some form of camera-aided ball-and-strike calling is unclear, but we do have football and its implementation of instant replay for the technology fans. I think they got it right this time, and I really don’t understand at this point what the fuss from the traditionalists is about. And I really don’t understand this line of reasoning from King Kaufman. He’s referring to a riff on instant replay that Al Michaels and John Madden made during the first Monday Night Football game.

Edgerrin James lost a fumble in the third quarter of that game. It looked to me like James’ elbow hit the turf a split second — even in slow motion it was a split second — before the ball was ripped from his arm, but it was ruled a fumble on the field and that ruling was upheld on review. In other words, the ball came out before James’ elbow hit the grass.

“I kind of like that, get back to where a fumble is a fumble,” Madden said. “I mean, someone has the ball, and if they get hit and they fumble it’s a doggone fumble. Now, every time there’s a fumble, we have to look. Is the elbow down? Is the knee down? Is the foot? You know, all those types of things, instead of it just being a fumble. That was good defense, and it was a turnover by the Colts.

“If they have any other emphasis on rules, that’s one I’d like to see them emphasize, that a fumble is a fumble, and don’t every time a guy fumbles, don’t start trying to make excuses for it and find out why it’s not a fumble.”

Michaels agreed. “I mean, let’s face it, John, the impetus for replay in the first place was to correct egregious calls,” he said. “And now it’s reached a point where you parse the real close calls.”

“Right, too fine,” Madden said. “And then you get away from what football is and has been.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Instant replay has altered reality, has changed what, in Madden’s words, a doggone fumble looks like. Officials call “down by contact” — the NFL’s current technocratic term for “tackled” — on fumbles far more than they did in the pre-replay days. I can’t prove this statistically, but if anyone were to study it, I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that I’m right. It’s obvious. Twenty years ago, you almost never saw the ball-carrier ruled down on an apparent fumble. Now, most plays that are apparently fumbled are ruled, on the field, “down by contact.”

Instant replay was introduced to correct mistakes, not to change the definition of what a fumble is. It’s been a change for the worse.

I dispute the notion that instant replay has changed the definition of a fumble. What it has done is allow a more exact understanding of when a fumble has occurred by allowing for a more exact understanding of when a tackle has occurred. A fumble can only happen prior to a tackle, and a tackle happens when a ball-carrier’s knee or elbow touches the ground as the result of contact. When the knee is down, the player is tackled; when the player is tackled, the ball is dead; and when the ball is dead, possession cannot change. You’re familiar with the phrase “the ground can’t cause a fumble”, right? Well, the reason the ground can’t cause a fumble is because when the ballcarrier hits the gound, the play is over. This is the same principle. What’s so hard about that?

What Madden is arguing, and Kaufman is endorsing, is that football was better when no one was really sure if a player was down or not. That’s a value judgment, and it’s one I’d bet Madden the coach might not have agreed with. I can’t see how that actually improves the game, but maybe I’m the stick in the mud here.

Besides, it seems to me that there’s still a human factor, albeit a lesser one, with instant replay. Some things are just plain hard to judge, even in super-slo-mo. Just ask any Raiders fan about the 2002 AFC Championship Game, for example. We’re not going to run out of questionable calls to argue about anytime soon, no matter how good the technology to assist us with them gets.

August traffic report

September’s almost over, isn’t it? That means I really ought to do the August traffic report, so I don’t fall any farther behind. We had about 45,000 hits in August, a nice rebound from the doldrums of July but still behind the heights of May and June. A link from Kevin Drum is always a big traffic driver, and I got one of those last month.

As for my overall totals, as I’m on my second blog location and third Sitemeter counter, it’s not really possible to say for sure. I’m over 600,000, but that’s about as exact as it gets. Needless to say, whatever the number is I’m very happy with it, and I thank you all for coming by.

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