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October 7th, 2004:

Compromise on smoking ban

Looks like a compromise has been reached in the effort to ban smoking in restaurants.

Mayor Bill White announced Wednesday that he is drafting an ordinance that would ban smoking in restaurants, but not in bars.

“I have been listening to people who want a ban everywhere and the people who don’t want to lose their market,” White said. “I’m trying to find the middle ground.”

White said his proposal would be phased in over two years to try to minimize any negative impact on restaurants.

Under Houston’s current ordinance, restaurants and other public buildings are allowed to have smoking areas if they are properly ventilated. Smoking is banned within 25 feet of entrances to public buildings.

White said that under his proposal, any restaurants with bars in their establishments would be allowed to maintain smoking areas in the bars, as long as there is “real separation” from the dining areas.

The mayor said he didn’t have details of his proposal because his legal department is looking into the matter. He said he hopes to have a proposed ordinance prepared in time for City Council to vote on it before the end of the year.

Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, a physician who has been working with anti-smoking groups to push for a total ban on smoking in public buildings, said she appreciates White’s proposal.

“I feel like it’s a step in the right direction,” Sekula-Gibbs said.

[…]

Juli Salvagio, executive director of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association, said the organization supports White’s proposal because it would not prevent smoking in bars or bar areas within restaurants. She said the organization expressed its concerns about a total ban to Sekula-Gibbs and a representative from the mayor’s office during a Sept. 8 meeting convened by the councilwoman.

“It sounds like we were heard,” Salvagio said.

Salvagio said the association would support a total ban in restaurants only if it is enacted statewide. She said the total ban in Dallas has hurt restaurants there because customers are flocking to surrounding communities that do not have bans.

Lance Fegen, owner of Trevisio restaurant in the Texas Medical Center and Zula restaurant downtown, said he supports White’s proposal.

“I think that as we’ve gotten a little bit older we’ve gotten a bit wiser,” Fegen said. “The perception that a smoking section in a restaurant doesn’t offend anybody is really ridiculous.”

Fegen said many upscale restaurants in Houston such as his already ban smoking from dining areas because “a majority of the people don’t want smoking to be part of the experience, especially with expensive foods and wines.”

Sounds eminently reasonable to me. Kudos to the Mayor for satisfying the relevant parties. As I said before, I thought a total ban was misguided. A ban in restaurants only is more like it. And since I still think this isn’t all that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, let’s get it done and move on.

Roundup on DeLay

Just a sample of what some other folks have said. I’m certain I’ll miss a few, so let me apologize in advance.

The Stakeholder is all over this. See here, here, here, and here.

Julia brings the snark (I know, what are the odds of that?), NTodd recalls one of DeLay’s greatest hits, and Sean overviews things.

Taking on Tom DeLay rounds up some other news coverage and also notes the Chron’s first-time-for-everything quote of Richard Morrison.

Kos has some stuff from Roll Call.

And finally, a few words from The Poor Man, who likens the Ethics Committee to Cheez Whiz. It makes sense, I swear.

UPDATE: One of the benefits of an early work schedule is that I can make it home in time to catch Lou Dobbs, which featured a nice segment on the “Ethically Challenged” (their words) Tom DeLay, plus a brief interview with Rep. Chris Bell. I’ll check for a transcript later, but for now, just one thing: The grand jury investigating DeLay is in Austin, not Houston. Lou got it wrong three times.

TAPPED asks Bell to elaborate on his statement that the Ethics Committee’s action is the “strongest indication yet that Mr. DeLay himself is the target” of that grand jury. Here’s what he said:

The committee states in its memorandum that it has been following the investigation in Austin quite closely. Mr. DeLay has claimed that he’s not a target of the investigation, but if he’s not a target then there would be no reason for the Ethics Committee to defer action. They apparently seem to believe after following the case that there’s a strong possibility that he is a target and that an indictment will be forthcoming, and that’s a thought that I share. I think that Mr. Earle has made it quite clear that this is an ongoing investigation and that he has in no way, shape or form tried to lead anyone to believe that Mr. DeLay is off the hook. So I think by deferring action on that particular account, the ethics committee seems to believe that Mr. DeLay could very well be a target.

Seems logical to me.

And of course, there’s more and more from The Stakeholder.

UPDATE: Check out Jesse’s domino theory.

Does Ted Poe share our values?

The title of this post is a play on the NRCC ads that have been hammering Nick Lampson lately. They’re your standard-issue attack ads: grainy images of the target, vague and voluminous accusation of one moral failing or another, an iconic image to remember (in this case, “failing” grades for Lampson from such non-partisan third parties as the Texas Association of Business and the National Taxpayers Union), and of course, the only-one-way-t0-answer-that question “Does Nick Lampson Share Our Values?”

Anyway, today’s Chron reports on a crime victim who is quite unhappy about how then-Judge Ted Poe handled the sentencing in her case.

Texans for True Sentencing members Barbara Davis and Carolyn Hardin said they think Poe let convicted killers off the hook without fulfilling the terms of their probation.

“Judge Poe is not the guy he says he is, he doesn’t follow through on what he says,” Davis said. “He used me for his own personal gain. He destroyed my life all over again. If someone would lie to a victim, what would he tell his constituents?”

In 1996, Davis’ car was hit by a teenage drunken driver, killing her husband and housekeeper and critically injuring her. Poe’s sentencing included conditions such as a six-month jail sentence, shock probation and a requirement that the defendant carry pictures of the victims in his wallet. He also prohibited him from having a driver’s license for 10 years.

Three years later, Davis found out the defendant got his driver’s license back. When she tried to reach Poe, her calls went unreturned, she said.

In 1998, Hardin’s son, Steven, a wrecker driver for a towing company, was sent to tow an illegally parked car. The car’s owner shot and killed him.

Poe imposed creative sentencing, including requiring the man to place a cross at the site of the shooting. After serving only six months in jail, the man was set free. Poe refused to explain why he wouldn’t demand compliance with the remaining sentencing conditions, Hardin said.

Davis recommended some creative sentencing of her own, suggesting that Poe should be required to walk with a sign that reads “Shame on Me, I Lied to Victims.”

This Houston Press story has more on the Davis case, noting that Poe went on the “Oprah” show in 1997 with Barbara Davis to discuss his sentencing of Michael Hubacek, the drunk driver in question. At the time, she supported Poe’s efforts with Hubacek. Not any more.

In January 2000, Hubacek asked Poe to amend his probation. He wanted permission to drive to work. (According to court records, he was working at his dad’s business, just two miles from his home.) He also wanted to drive to community college and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Poe never even contacted Davis.

He just said yes.

Three years after that, Hubacek asked Poe to let him remove the interlock device that prevented him from driving after drinking. He also asked to be allowed to travel outside Texas. If that was too much freedom, Hubacek suggested an alternative: permission to visit in-laws in Mississippi for one week.

Again, Poe never contacted Davis. And he didn’t go for the more restrictive alternative. So long as Hubacek checked with his probation officer, Poe ruled, he could leave the state whenever he wanted. Davis learned of that new freedom only when contacted by the Houston Press last week. The Department of Public Safety says Hubacek now has no restrictions on his license, though Poe says he’s kept the locking device.

Last January, Hubacek made his boldest request. He asked to be taken off probation entirely.

Finally, the judge said no. But it wasn’t Poe who turned him down. By then, Poe had left the bench to run for Congress; the denial came from his successor, Judge Marc Carter.

That’s sure some git-tuff-on-crime justice from Poe, isn’t it? Read all the way through the article and compare Hubacek’s treatment to that of Jose Martinez.

By the way, Lampson has some new ads of his own out, which I saw last night. They feature John Walsh, host of “America’s Most Wanted” and a self-proclaimed Republican, who lauds Lampson for his leadership on missing and exploited children. It’s a positive and I think pretty effective spot, and contrasts nicely with the NRCC attack ad.

Nader rejected again

Ralph Nader’s bid to get on the Texas ballot has been rejected by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The state ballot without Nader has already been certified and sent to all 254 Texas counties.

Nader tried to get on the ballot by collecting voter signatures, but his campaign submitted them two weeks after the May deadline. His attorneys argued the state had no legitimate reason to have different requirements for independent and third-party candidates.

Nader was required to collect at least 64,076 signatures by May 10 from registered voters who did not vote in the Democratic or Republican primaries. That equals 1 percent of all votes cast for president in the most recent election in Texas.

Third-party candidates needed to collect 45,540 signatures by May 24, the day Nader’s campaign turned in its signatures. State officials argue the signature and time requirements were not unreasonable and could have been met with a better effort by Nader’s group.

Of the 80,000 signatures Nader’s campaign filed in May, a random sample by the state showed that between 56,215 and 63,374 were valid. Those numbers would have qualified Nader under the third-party access rules but not as an independent candidate.

I guess I can officially stop worrying about how Nader will affect Democratic vote totals in Texas this year. Whew!

The latest admonitions

So now we know that Tom DeLay has been officially admonished again by the House Ethics Committee.

The lawmaker from Sugar Land was cited for apparently linking political donations to legislation and for recruiting federal aviation officials to help search for Texas House members who fled Austin last year.

Action on a third allegation involving DeLay’s political fund-raising practices was deferred until a criminal investigation under way in Austin runs its course.

The ethics committee’s findings — prompted by complaints from Rep. Chris Bell, D-Houston — were outlined in a 44-page report recommending no further action against DeLay. The panel’s top Republican and Democrat had examined the charges for three months.

The admonishment spares DeLay a more lengthy investigation by the committee less than four weeks before he faces re-election in his Fort Bend County district.

[…]

“Admonishment doesn’t even exist in the House rules,” DeLay said shortly after a late-night, closed-door meeting with a dozen GOP House leaders, including Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., outside the House chamber.

Bell said that while he was “pleased” by the committee’s action, the panel should have named an independent investigator to examine the charges against DeLay. “I think people find it somewhat extraordinary that the ethics committee has had to admonish the majority leader twice in one week,” he said.

[…]

Democrat Richard Morrison, a Sugar Land lawyer who is challenging DeLay’s re-election in District 22, said, “Every American knows it’s three strikes and you’re out of the game. That’s the way it works in baseball, and that’s the way it should work for Tom DeLay.”

[…]

In its report Wednesday, the ethics panel found that DeLay “created an appearance” of favoritism when he attended a Virginia golf outing in 2003 with executives from Westar Energy just days after they gave $25,000 to one of his political committees.

The committee also expressed “serious concerns” about DeLay’s effort to get the Federal Aviation Administration to help locate Texas Democratic lawmakers who had fled the state in an effort to thwart Republican legislators from passing a DeLay-engineered redistricting plan.

I inlcuded the Morrison quote just because it’s the first time the Chron has bothered to quote him in any of these articles.

The whole memo is here. Several points to highlight. First, regarding the concept of “letter of admonishment”:

Resolution of a complaint by means of a letter to the respondent is appropriate where, according to the information before the Committee, the respondent’s conduct either violates or raises concerns under House Rules or standards of conduct, but the circumstances – including the completeness of the information before the Committee, and the nature of the violation – indicate that a formal investigation is not warranted.[2] While the Committee does not hesitate to launch a formal investigation where there is any unresolved issue of material fact, or the conduct involved indicates that a formal sanction may be in order, the Committee has resolved a number of complaints by such a letter.[3] In the past such letters have not been formally termed as “letters of admonition,”[4] but this term accurately describes the substance of these letters.

As for the charges themselves, it breaks down as follows:

1. The charge that DeLay solicited contributions from Westar and acted on them was dismissed. DeLay was admonished for his appearance at an energy industry fundraiser in 2002:

As a general matter, fundraisers directed to a particular industry or to others sharing a particular federal interest are permissible, and at such events Members are free to talk about their record and positions on issues of interest to the attendees. In addition, of course, a Member has no control over what the donors at a fundraising event spontaneously say to or ask of the Member with regard to their legislative interests. Nevertheless, there are a number of considerations regarding this particular fundraiser that raise serious concerns under the standards of conduct discussed above.

In particular, there was the timing of the fundraiser, i.e., it took place just as the House-Senate conference on major energy legislation, H.R. 4, was about to get underway. Indeed, one of the communications between organizers of the fundraiser – an e-mail of May 30, 2002 from Mr. Maloney to Mr. Perkins that notes the legislative interests of each of the attendees – includes a specific reference to the conference. (That e-mail is included in Attachment M.) In addition, there was the fact that Representative DeLay was in a position to significantly influence the conference, both as a member of the House leadership and, by action taken about a week and a half after the fundraiser, his appointment as one of the conferees.

In view of these considerations, other aspects of the fundraiser that would have been unobjectionable otherwise had the effect, in these specific circumstances, of furthering the appearance that the contributors were receiving impermissible special treatment or access. One of these aspects was the presence at the fundraiser of two key staff members from Representative DeLay’s leadership office: Jack Victory, who handled energy issues, and the office counsel, Carl Thorsen.[37] In addition, there were the limited number of attendees, and the fact that the fundraiser included several events at a resort over a two-day period, both of which facilitated direct contact with Representative DeLay and his congressional staff members.

[…]

In view of the circumstances of the June 2002 energy company fundraiser, as detailed in this memorandum, Representative DeLay’s facilitation of and participation in that event were contrary to those standards. Those circumstances included not only the nature of the event, but also its timing, in that it took place just as the House-Senate conference on the energy legislation – legislation of vital importance to the contributors at the fundraiser – was about to commence. Moreover, Representative DeLay was in a strong position to influence the conference, both because of his leadership position and the fact that about a week and a half after the fundraiser, he was named a conferee. At a minimum, his actions created the appearance that donors were being provided with special access to him with regard to the pending energy legislation.

I should note that this section talks as much about “Smoky Joe” Barton as it does about DeLay. Maybe Barton needs to be admonished as well.

2. The complaint about TRPMAC was deferred pending the still-ongoing Travis County grand jury investigation.

3. Count 3 had to do with DeLay’s contacts with the Department of Justice and the FAA in the immediate aftermath of the State House Democrats’ walkout in May of 2003 over redistricting. The contact DeLay had with the DOJ was ruled proper, but the contact he had with the FAA was not:

In contrast, our conclusion regarding the contacts with the FAA seeking flight information is that, at a minimum, they raise serious concerns under the House standards of conduct summarized above. Briefly stated, according to the information we have obtained, those contacts were made solely at the request the Texas House Speaker; the request was made in connection with a partisan conflict in which he was engaged at the time with Democratic members of the Texas House; and the information that Representative DeLay’s office obtained from the FAA was relayed solely to the Texas House Speaker.

The memo goes on to discuss and refute DeLay’s defenses to this charge. In my mind, this was the strongest language used about his conduct.

The memo also discusses three countercharges that DeLay made against Chris Bell. Two of them – that the complaint was not properly filed, and that Bell solicited outside help in drafting it – were dismissed. The third, that Bell’s complaint included “innuendo, speculative assertions and conclusory statements in violation of Committee Rule 15(a)(4)” was deferred with the intent “to bring it before the Committee in the near future.” Nothing further was said about it. Bell might be vulnerable here based on the language used in dismissing much of Complaint 1. I have no clue when or if the committee will pursue this further.

Finally, the memo discusses and dismisses the suggestion that an outside counsel should have been appointed. I thought this was the weakest part of the whole thing. On the other hand, perhaps the clamor to outsource the job spurred the Committee into actually taking action on it themselves.

So there you have it. And just in case you think you’re about to go into DeLay Sleaze Withdrawal, the Chron reports on evidence which “indicates DeLay was more than a passive participant in TRMPAC fund-raising events.” There’ll always be more where that came from when DeLay is involved.