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October 5th, 2004:

What’s the rush?

I probably should have already blogged about the Governor’s refusal to halt executions while the godawful Houston Crime Lab mess gets cleaned up, but if you’ve been waiting for me to do so I hope you’ve already seen what Ginger and Norbizness and Steve Bates have had to say. I’m a reluctant supporter of the death penalty, but I can’t say it’d be any great loss if we executed about 90% fewer criminals than we do now. I’m glad to see that today’s scheduled killing is temporarily on hold. All I want to ask Governor Perry is “What’s the rush?” These guys aren’t going anywhere. Given how badly the crime lab here screwed the pooch, I think we owe it to everyone involved to make sure that the evidence still says what we once thought it said for all of the potentially tainted cases before we start up the lethal injection carousel again. Like I said, these guys aren’t going anywhere.

UPDATE: Turns out last night’s execution went ahead as planned anyway.

From the Department of Anecdotal Evidence

Inspired by this Kevin Drum post, I took a little informal yard-sign survey of my neighborhood this past weekend. Now, I expected Kerry/Edwards supporters to greatly outnumber Bush/Cheney fans. I live in a Democratic enclave, I had only seen K/E signs so far walking around, and to the best of my recollection there were more Gore/Lieberman signs than Bush/Cheney by about a 3-1 ratio in 2000. (There were also a handful of Nader/LaDukes, and one lonely personal billboard for Harry Browne, the Libertarian candidate.) So I drove around and I counted how many houses had K/E signs, and how many had B/Cs.

The tally: 74 for Kerry/Edwards, six for Bush/Cheney. Oh, and one for Michael Badnarik; it was in front of the same house that had supported Harry Browne, as best I could tell.

Seventy-four to six. I expected a big difference, but a 12-1 ratio was more than I thought. Maybe, just maybe, Kerry’s supporters are more enthusiastic than you might think. As for Bush/Cheney, I feel pretty certain there were more than six signs in their favor last time, but at the time I didn’t realize I’d someday have an audience for that kind of rumination, so I can’t say for sure what their level of support was. I can say for sure that K/E is kicking G/L’s behind.

I’ll check again the weekend before the election and see what the final tally is. How does it look where you are?

Updated registration tallies

Not quite at the thirteen million mark yet for Texas, though the data in this story is about two weeks old.

Texas — one of 16 states with the deadline — expects the final figures will reveal a record number of voter registrations.

The latest figures available show 12,916,390 Texans registered to vote by late September, according to the Texas secretary of state’s office.

That’s 80.4 percent of the voting age population of 16,071,153.

For the 2000 election, when then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush was making his first run for president, registration was 85.3 percent of the voting age population of 12,365,235.

Actually, the Voting Age Population in 2000 was 14,479,609 – the 12,365,235 number cited was registered voters for that election. There were 12,264,663 registered voters as of the March 2004 primary, which is less than the 2000 and 2002 General elections. (All data from the Turnout and Voter Registration Data page on the Secretary of State website.) To get to 85.3% of the 2004 VAP, we’d need over 13.7 million voters. We won’t get there, but 13,162,275 million would represent 81.90%, equalling the second-best ratio of registered voters ever.

The final tally from the HCDP Sharpstown headquarters was over 2500. And Sarah reports an amazing 12,464 registrations in Travis County on deadline day. Wow!

“Free speech zone” knocked down at Texas Tech

Another victory for free speech in Lubbock.

In a major decision affecting the way public universities allow public speech, U.S. District Judge Sam Cummings knocked down a Texas Tech policy that establishes free-speech zones.

Cummings ruled Thursday partially in favor of Tech School of Law graduate Jason W. Roberts, who contended that the university violated his First Amendment rights by requiring him to move a speech he planned into a free-speech zone.

The ruling declared that a public institution designating free speech exclusively to such zones is unconstitutional.

The University of Houston was similarly smacked down two years ago.

The impact of the judgment remains in question. Cummings’ direct dialogue as outlined in the decision will definitely affect campuses with designated free-speech zones, although he stopped short of ruling that Tech violated Roberts’ rights.

“The bottom line remains that the university never ultimately denied him permission to engage in constitutionally protected speech on campus,” Cummings said in a lengthy decision.

Indeed, although victory solidified in the hands of free-speech advocates, Tech remained absolved.

The plaintiffs expected it that way.

In May 2003, Roberts applied for a permit to make a speech on Tech’s grounds through the Center for Campus Life. He planned to express his views against homosexuality, according to his lawsuit. When that application was rejected, Tech officials actually told Roberts he could carry his speech just 20 feet away in the free-speech zone.

“The use of university grounds, as stated in the university policy, is encouraged for activities, which are intended to serve or benefit the entire university community,” said Mary Donahue, assistant director of the Center for Campus Life, in a May 29, 2003, e-mail to Roberts rejecting his specific request. “It is the view of the committee that your request is the expression of a personal belief and thus, is something more appropriate for the free-speech area.”

That did not sit well with Roberts. He filed a complaint against Donald R. Haragan, then Tech’s president, and the school’s board of regents. Although both sides worked to come to a consensus — which resulted in Tech developing an interim policy on the free-speech zone — the new decision places an injunction against practicing the policy. Tech officials did not return calls or were unavailable for comment all day Friday.

First and foremost, as long as one isn’t disturbing the peace or harassing passersby, the whole country is a free speech zone as far as I’m concerned. I hope that these two rulings will help banish the concept of “free speech zone” from the public consciousness.

Secondly, it looks like this ruling is stronger than the UH one. In that case, the complainants had been restricted to a less-heavily trafficked area of the campus. Here, the “zone” was 20 feet away from where the plaintiff wanted to be. Without knowing the exact layout of the area, I don’t think it would be too hard to make a case that 20 feet doesn’t impose an unreasonable barrier. Given that the judge saw otherwise, that seems to me a pretty clear message that universities (and hopefully other public institutions) need to rethink their policies.

Lastly, I obviously don’t agree at all with what Mr. Roberts had to say. But you can’t win a battle of ideas by suppression. Let him have his say so we can all see it for what it is. Ultimately, I think that’s for the best.

Caffeinated beer

I believe I have identified another sign of the impending apocalypse: Caffeinated beer.

Budweiser’s new brew, Be, pronounced “B-to-the-e,” is a cross between an energy drink and a beer.

“You’ll be able to wake up and dull the senses at the same time,” said Eric Shepard, executive editor of Beer Marketer’s Insights, a trade publication.

And to think that before now, most of us had to rely on coffee and staff meetings for that. Truly we live in enlightened times.

In addition to its caffeine content, about as much as in a can of Mountain Dew, the beer will include ginseng and guarana, a Brazilian berry.

It will be the first time a major brewer has infused beer with these unusual ingredients, said Pat McGauley, senior director of new products and high-end brands for Anheuser-Busch.

“In the ongoing evolution of the alcohol industry, we’re delivering what the consumer is asking for,” McGauley said Monday during a conference call with reporters.

All I’ve ever asked for is water, malt, hops, and yeast. Of course, I never was particularly “edgy” or “with it” (this works better if you picture me doing the Chris Farley air-quotes thing), or whatever it is that the marketing guys are saying now. So there you have it.

Texas Tuesdays: Chet Edwards

And here we are again for another exciting Texas Tuesday, with our special guest star Chet Edwards. Get the latest scoop and a Q&A here and here. We’re officially in the home stretch now, with four weeks to go, and every dollar is donated is huge. You kow what comes next – Give to Chet Edwards, give to all the deserving Democrats, and/or give to the DCCC. I thank you, they thank you, and your country thanks you.