Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

November, 2004:

Meanwhile, over in the Senate

Sen. Jeff Wentworth will serve as the master of discovery for the challenge to Sen. Mario Gallegos’ election.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst appointed the San Antonio Republican to supervise discovery proceedings and to take depositions and gather evidence on whether Houston Sen. Mario Gallegos should be allowed to begin another term in January.

Write-in candidate Susan Delgado charges that Gallegos, victorious at the polls, doesn’t live in the 6th Senate District and shouldn’t be allowed to serve.

Wentworth, who can recommend to a Senate panel whether the challenge should be dismissed as frivolous, said he will act in “an even-handed fair way.”

Doug Ray, Gallegos’ Austin lawyer, noted that state law does not list residency among reasons that a candidate can contest an election with the Senate.

He also said Gallegos has lived with his mother in the district since 1989 or so, though he owns a house outside the district that is home to his daughter and grandson.

I’ll be surprised if this challenge is taken seriously.

Heflin replaced as Appropriations chair

What Greg heard yesterday is now being reported: Talmadge Heflin is no longer the chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

House Speaker Tom Craddick on Friday appointed state Rep. Jim Pitts to replace Talmadge Heflin as chairman of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee.

Pitts, R-Waxahachie, has served in the Texas House since 1992.

Heflin, R-Houston, was defeated for re-election by Democrat Hubert Vo. Heflin is considering whether to seek a recount or to file for an election contest in the House.

Craddick said Pitts would begin immediately.

“There is a lot of work to do on the budget,” Craddick said. “We have to be ready to hit the ground running when the session starts.”

“I am honored to have the confidence of Speaker Craddick, and to be given this enormous responsibility,” Pitts said. “We have several challenges facing us next session, but I look forward to working with my colleagues to address them.”

Sounds like Tom Craddick has accepted the election result and moved on. When will Talmadge Heflin?

Go placidly

Remember “Desiderata”? If you grew up in the 70s, you surely knew someone who had that poem hanging on their wall. Those of you who know what I’m talking about will especially enjoy this Flash animation of the National Lampoon parody “Deteriorata”, narrated by the late, great Norman Rose, whose obituary is brought to us by Mark Evanier. Even if you have no idea what I’m talking about, click the link for a good laugh.

Observing the Morning News

The Dallas Observer has an interesting article on the recent woes of the Morning News. Much of the problem is blamed on recommendations by consultants from McKinsey, who have pushed to process DMN stories for all Belo news outlets, causing much of the content to be dumbed down as they pursue “light” readers. It’s easy to see how this would be bad for the Morning News, and indeed for any respectable newspaper, but I found the overall tone of the article, which basically assumed that producing consistently high quality journalism would solve everything, to be frustrating. It’s not clear to me that doing what they’ve always done would be a formula for continued success, and no evidence is offered to support that thesis by the author. Still, it’s an interesting look inside a newspaper that’s had a rough year. Check it out.

Upgrade

Had a little time to myself this afternoon, and upgraded to MT 3.121, apparently without any problems. I was a bit macho about it, in that I didn’t make a backup of my existing installation first, but I figured if something screwed up I could always blow it all away and install the full version. There may not be time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it over, after all. In this case, the karmic arrogance did not bite me on the ass, and everything installed correctly.

Now I need to read the documentation to see what if any fancy-schmancy new features I want to install, and I need to figure out the new MT Blacklist. The link to MTB documentation is broken – anyone know (before I post a question in the support forum) if it exists somewhere else? Oh, and are any other of the plugins that came with the Plugin Pack worth my time? Thanks.

Paging Charles Soechting

Good damn question, from Mark Kleiman.

Is anyone rallying the law enforcement folks behind Ronnie Earle?

I’ve only met him at a few conferences, but I know his reputation, and he rates about as high on professionalism as any D.A. in the country. But that doesn’t mean that Earle won’t get spattered by the current slime-and-defend if people don’t speak out for him.

Anyone want to address that?

Steffy and Lomax on KLOL

Loren Steffy is in the same boat I am, radio-wise.

I’m not a good demographic. That’s not an easy thing to admit. No one likes to be unloved, even if it’s only by marketers.

Clear Channel Communications’ decision to pull the plug on KLOL-FM, though, drives home the point that I am an outcast, both musically and commercially.

My biggest hint came several years ago when a station in Dallas changed its format to music that I swore was pulled from my own CD collection. It was an eclectic mix with unique programming such as a weekly show featuring Texas artists. It lasted exactly a year. “Not commercially viable” was the official cause of death.

I’d like to think that KLOL died because it replaced music in the mornings with moronic prattle, but the truth is more harsh: all of us who grew up listening to KLOL and stations like it simply aren’t the marketing draw we once were. We’ve lost the sweet spot.

What’s a middle-aged white guy who doesn’t want to hear Fleetwood Mac 13 times a day to do?

Fewer media owners mean fewer media choices. If you own eight stations, as Clear Channel does, in a broadcast area the size of Houston, you can create vertical markets, nice little demographic compartments tailor made for advertisers.

No matter what your business, Clear Channel has a cookie-cutter market segment for your target customer base: Latino hip-hop, “new mix” pop, Fleetwood Mac-inundated “classic rock,” news/talk and gooey “easy listening” to name a few.

There’s lots of real estate on the dial, with little format overlap. What’s the point in dominating a market if you have to compete with yourself?

Not competing with itself has been Clear Channel’s mantra for some time now.

The betrayal of the public trust didn’t happen in San Antonio; it happened in Washington.

Clear Channel has an obligation to grow. That is, after all, what businesses do, and Clear Channel has simply done that better than any of its rivals, gobbling up stations like Pac Man since the broadcast industry was deregulated in 1996. It now owns 1,200 nationwide.

Deregulation has meant an end to incremental revenue. Broadcasting now is about growth, and big money is in the buying of stations, not the owning of them.

Clear Channel reported a 10 percent rise in third-quarter profit, but that increase was driven by its billboard advertising business. Radio sales actually fell in the quarter, and the company has struggled to reverse the trend. Next year, it will cut advertising spots, hoping that fewer ads will allow it to raise rates.

Clear Channel’s financial performance, lackluster as it is, remains the industry’s gold standard. Its next-largest competitor, Viacom’s Infinity Broadcasting, which has a mere 180 stations, reported a 4 percent decline in third-quarter sales.

Here’s a radical thought: maybe radio ad sales have fallen because commercial radio sucks in so many places. Maybe also a whole lot of people have figured out that when a radio station goes to commercials, it stays there for five minutes or more, and as a result they (like me) immediately switch when the music stops. Of course, you’d be amazed (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how often every single preset station in my car is playing commercials at once. Some conspiracy theories are easier to swallow than others, you know?

Meanwhile, John Nova Lomax offers his eulogy to KLOL, in which he returns to the lousy-programming theme he’s been hitting on lately.

Could the likes of KIKK and KLOL have done anything to ensure their survival in light of all these factors? “Yes,” and “probably not,” respectively. As for KIKK, their stab at a Texas country format was half-assed and ill conceived. Alongside their Waylon & Willie and Pat & Cory, they played way too much Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Tim McGraw and Shania. They should have spun more Steve Earle, Hank, Guy Clark and Johnny Bush instead. There are quite a few stations in the Hill Country that have thrived after doing just that.

Which leaves us with KLOL. These days, ailing hard rock stations are an admittedly much tougher species to save than even struggling country stations. Once young women of easy virtue abandoned hard rock — which was along about 1991 or so, for those of you keeping track — KLOL’s days were numbered. Hell, by the time of its demise, even strippers had stopped listening to KLOL. These days, what young chickenhead wants to pole-dance to Velvet Revolver when she can get nasty to “Get Low”?

The first thing they could have done is not fire Stevens and Pruett. The second thing they could have done is widen their playlist a little. I know it’s a desperate measure, but they could have thrown in some vintage hair metal to woo some of the nostalgic women, like the one featured in Bowling for Soup’s “1985.” They could have jumped all over Los Lonely Boys when their record came out instead of championing the stale likes of Tesla. They could have been more of a local presence — not just played more Houston bands, but also hosted more events and been a heavy presence on the scene, the way they were back in the ’70s and ’80s.

True confessions time: I largely stopped tuning into KLOL after they got rid of Stevens and Pruett – actually, I still think replacing Stevens with Greggo was the beginning of the end. Even beyond that, I thought their playlist had gotten boring – too much metal, not enough everything else. The times when I still checked in, there were very few new songs that I wanted to hear more of.

Addressing the “youth” market that Clear Channel is pursuing with its format switch on KLOL:

One of the radio conglomerates could get these kids back, but only if it were bold enough to spin rock and hip-hop side-by-side. Okay, this is the third time I’ve said this in the last nine months, but recent events have made me nothing if not more certain that this format will work. Why is their no station here — or anywhere else, for that matter — that spins the likes of the Killers, the Faint, Franz Ferdinand, the Strokes, Radiohead, U2 and Bright Eyes alongside Eminem, 50 Cent, OutKast, the Roots and Kanye West? One that also played classics like Public Enemy, the Violent Femmes, Eric B. and Rakim, and the Cars? What’s so difficult about that? Almost nobody born since the mid-’70s would mind a little straight-up hip-hop (other than the three tracks off Licensed to Ill the Buzz spins) mixed in with their rock, because that’s the way they’ve been jamming their whole lives. It’s a demographic now. It’s reality. It’s who the youth of America is today.

But no, when it comes to Anglos at least, Clear Channel can see only in black and white. When the company shut down a KLOL-like station in San Jose, California, and flipped it to a Latin format earlier this year, Clear Channel Communications regional vice president Ed Krampf had this to say in the San Jose Mercury News: “The fastest part of the market is Latin. And rock is having trouble. Young white kids are listening to hip-hop, and the other young segment is Hispanic…Sometimes you just have to move on.”

Yes, young whites are listening to hip-hop, but that’s not all they listen to. Some of those same whites also listen to lots of indie rock, or country, or hard rock. At least in terms of what they listen to, they are neither white nor black but brown.

Which brings us back to the target audience of Mega 101. I’ve listened to the station for a few hours, and even though my Spanish is barely conversational and by no means up to the task of deciphering the slangy and rapid-fire lyrics of the music, I’ve enjoyed the station. You’ll hear a Ricky Martin remix alongside one with Latin rappers rhyming in Spanish over a Lil Jon track alongside another edgier group rapping over the tracks to “This Is Radio Clash” and “Bust a Move.” Molotov mingles with the Kumbia Kings; Paulina Rubio segues into Juanes.

Hell, it’s as if you were hearing a Spanish version of the unborn Anglo station I’ve been harping on about all year. It’s a sad comment on either us or them that they don’t think the Anglos can take a station like that. To them I say, try us.

Amen. Some of us older guys wouldn’t mind that at all, either.

The DeLay Rule

I’d noticed Tom DeLay’s use of the phrase “politics of personal destruction” in his defense of the newly adopted Tom DeLay Scoundrel Protection Act (which has been simply designated the Tom DeLay Rule in the blogs), but I hadn’t twigged to its significance. EJ Dionne explains.

Recall how Republicans dismissed any and all who charged that the investigations of President Bill Clinton by special prosecutor Ken Starr were politically motivated. Ah, but those were investigations of a shady Democrat by a distinguished Republican. When a Democrat is investigating a Republican, it can only be about politics. Is that clear?

Rep. Henry Bonilla, the Texas Republican who sponsored the resolution to protect DeLay, said it was designed to protect against “crackpot” prosecutors whose indictments might get in the way of the ability of House Republicans to choose their own leaders. Can’t let a little thing like an indictment get in the way of the sovereignty of House Republicans, can we?

“Attorneys tell me you can be indicted for just about anything in this country,” said Bonilla. Remember the old days during the Clinton impeachment when Republicans went on and on about the importance of “the rule of law?” Oh, well.

DeLay’s response to the whole thing came, almost word for word, from Clinton’s old talking points. “We must stop the politics of personal destruction,” Clinton said in December 1998 after the House impeachment vote that DeLay had rammed through. On Wednesday, DeLay said that Democrats “announced years ago that they were going to engage in the politics of personal destruction and had me as a target.” Maybe it’s time for Bill and Tom to sit down at that big new library in Little Rock for a friendly drink.

It always comes back to the Big Dog, doesn’t it? In one form or another, everything the modern GOP has done in the last twelve years has been influenced by him.

Josh Marshall has been all over this. The Daily DeLay is keeping track of the public statements and responses to constituent inquiries by individual Republican representatives on how they voted on this rule. Marshall has some red state paper editorials which give the thumbs-down to the DeLay rule (here and here), while Daily DeLay urges writing letters to the editor. Three anti-DeLay letters appear in the Chron today.

Kos diarist Kagro X suggests stealing a few pages from Newt Gingrich’s 1993 playbook to keep this story in the news. I like the way he thinks.

One more Texas editorial: The Star Telegram says “That anyone would consider it appropriate for an indicted House member to remain in a leadership post is a slap at the people, who are entitled to have their elected representatives act legally, ethically and in the best interests of the country, not their own ambitions.”

Tangentially, The Stakeholder has a few questions about some unexplained matters in the Abramoff/Scanlon affair.

Finally, the House Ethics Committee, in a display of timing which I’m sure had nothing whatsoever to do with the current news cycle, sent a letter to Chris Bell regarding what they called “innuendo, speculative assertions or conclusory statements” in his complaint against DeLay.

The committee’s Republican chairman and senior Democrat used the letter to Bell to warn lawmakers that making exaggerated allegations of wrongdoing could result in disciplinary action against the accuser.

Bell was not disciplined. He lost in a primary earlier this year because of a DeLay-engineered redistricting plan.

In the future, exaggerations and misstatements also could lead to dismissal of a complaint, said the letter from Chairman Joel Hefley, R-Colo., and senior Democrat Alan Mollohan of West Virginia. The panel they lead is formally called the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

Bell’s complaint was not dismissed, the letter said, because it contained allegations against DeLay, R-Sugar Land, that warranted consideration.

The committee concluded in October that DeLay appeared to link political donations to a legislative favor and improperly persuaded U.S. aviation authorities to intervene in a Texas political dispute.

The ethics panel is expected to outline new guidelines on fund raising and proper uses of political power in the wake of the DeLay admonishment.

Make of that what you will.

Vo certified

The Texas Secretary of State has officially certified Hubert Vo as the winner in the HD149 race over Talmadge Heflin.

Democrat Hubert Vo officially defeated veteran Republican state Rep. Talmadge Heflin by 32 votes in the closely watched House District 149 race, the secretary of state’s office announced Thursday.

The official certification of the Nov. 2 election gave Vo one more vote than the 31-vote margin he had after the final ballot tally last week in Harris County.

The secretary of state’s office said the canvassed vote was 20,694 for Vo and 20,662 for Heflin.

“The voters have spoken and we’re excited,” said Mustafa Tameez, a consultant to Vo’s campaign. “We’re grateful that this process has come to a conclusion.”

But Heflin’s lawyer, Andy Taylor, said the extra vote “came out of thin air with no explanation why it wasn’t counted earlier.”

“Why does the number keeping changing?” Taylor asked. “It raises serious doubts about the accuracy of the count and underscores the importance of knowing what really happened.”

Taylor said that Monday is the deadline for Heflin to request a recount from the secretary of state, and Nov. 29 is the deadline to file for an election contest.

“We’re still considering our options right now,” he said.

I know I speak for all of us here when I say please, pretty please, quit considering and take one of those damn options already so we can stop boring Kevin with all these non-stories about what you may or may not eventually do. Sheesh.

Republican consultant Bill Miller, who seems to be speaking on behalf of House Speaker Tom Craddick, is advising Heflin to take the retire gracefully option.

State Rep. Talmadge Heflin, a senior member of the House Republican leadership team, should not ask his fellow lawmakers to overturn this month’s election results, which showed him losing by 31 votes to a political novice, a key adviser to Speaker Tom Craddick said Thursday.

“A lot of people may feel sorry for Talmadge and say he got the short end of the stick. But when the votes are counted and you lose, it’s time to move on,” Austin political consultant Bill Miller said. “This is only my opinion, but there’s no way that I see this [a challenge to the election results] coming to the floor of the House.”

[…]

Craddick, who in January will begin his second term as the House’s first Republican speaker since Reconstruction, has not said whether Heflin should challenge the election results.

But insiders from both parties said Miller’s comment appeared to be a direct message to the veteran lawmaker that a potentially bloody post-election fight would be an unwelcome way to begin the 140-day legislative session.

“It’s just not credible to suggest that this is anything but a very strong signal to Mr. Heflin to give up this fight,” Democratic strategist Kelly Fero said.

State Rep. Toby Goodman, R-Arlington, said that challenging the vote count in the House would be unwise.

“I would hope he doesn’t go that route,” said Goodman, a 14-year House veteran who twice in the 1990s served on special panels convened when election results were challenged. “We don’t need the divisiveness.”

[…]

Miller said all sides should respect the outcome of the vote counting, which in the Vo-Heflin race took several days to complete.

“There’s an old saying in politics that says if you’re going to lose, lose big,” Miller said. “It saves a lot of heartache and second-guessing and just lets you move on. And that’s what should happen here.”

Miller’s been pounding that line about respecting the vote count all along. Maybe he is just speaking for himself, but I haven’t seen anyone contradict him. If he’s a straw in the wind, then perhaps Heflin really will avoid making a messy House challenge.

Meanwhile, here’s an addition to the message versus mobilization files:

Mike Lavigne, chief of staff for the Texas Democratic Party, said Vo’s campaign used a very advanced block-walking method that became available because of a new “voter file” the Democrats rolled out before this election season.

“This was more detailed and more organized than anything we have ever produced,” Lavigne said. “It gave our candidates the ability to know where voters stood, and ended up being the key to a successful ground attack.”

Lavigne said the system works by providing the candidates with demographic information on constituents in their districts. It rates people on a scale of 1 to 5 and tells the candidate where potential swing voters live.

While Vo went door-to-door meeting voters and encouraging them to get to the polls, Heflin took a less aggressive approach and was seen as lackadaisical by his friends, said Harvey Kronberg, editor of the Quorum Report, an online site that covers Texas politics.

“Ten days before the election, Heflin was out of his district campaigning for another candidate,” Kronberg said.

Karen Loper, Vo’s campaign manager, said that Speaker of the House Tom Craddick became increasingly concerned about the race toward the end of the campaign and held a fund-raiser on Heflin’s behalf, which generated $200,000 that was used to air radio spots in the Harris County area. The effort was too little too late, as Vo took the election with a razor-thin margin of 31 votes.

Matt Wilson, political analyst for NBC, said the aggressive Democratic ground game also worked in Dallas, pointing to a wide array of judgeships and the newly elected Democratic Sheriff Lupe Valdez.

“The Democrats had very good ground mobilization, especially with the Hispanics. This proved to be a big key to all of the Democratic victories in Texas,” Wilson said.

[…]

“This year Democrats defiantly got the better of the ground game,” Wilson said.

Locally Mark Strama upset Republican incumbent Jack Stick in a slightly Republican leaning district. Again, a strong grass-roots attack came into play that succeeded in capturing enough swing voters to give the election to Strama by a margin of 556 votes.

“Strama broke new ground on voter identification,” Kronberg said. “His campaign touched thousands of hands.”

Kronberg said that Stick’s ground game was “modest,” and Strama’s campaign will be “textbook” for future Democrats trying to win Republican districts.

Finally, whatever happens with Heflin, there are already two recount requests in the works: for Kelly White and for Eric Opiela. For White:

Kelly White, Texas House Democratic challenger, filed for a recount Thursday after provisional and overseas ballots left her with a 147 vote margin of defeat.

“Statistically this is a dead heat,” said Melissa Abel, White campaign spokeswoman.

[…]

Mike Lavigne, chief of staff for the Texas Democratic Party, said there is no reason to think any inconsistency occurred during the election, but with the margin being so close, they want to be sure.

The White campaign will be responsible for meeting the cost of the electronic recount, which they anticipate will bear a price tag of a few thousand dollars.

“[White] owes it to her supporters to do this,” Abel said. “We will use the electronic method because a manual count would be prohibitively expensive.”

Alan Sager, Travis County Republican chairman, said the recount will not affect the results of the race, and White needs to understand the election is over.

“Of course she’s entitled to ask for a recount, but we watched the process very carefully; we had poll watchers in place, and this is a waste of the taxpayers’ time,” Sager said. “Unless she sneaks some ballots in at the last minute, nothing is going to change.”

One wonders what the Travis County Clerk did right that Bev Kaufman didn’t, no? Anyway, for Eric Opiela:

Eric Opiela, a Karnes City lawyer and rancher, said the recount could prompt him to concede the District 35 House race or take the unusual step of asking the Texas House to mandate a new election after the 2005 Legislature convenes in January.

Opiela trailed Democratic candidate Yvonne Gonzalez-Toureilles, an Alice lawyer, by 854 votes on Nov. 2, according to results posted by the state. They each sought the seat representing seven counties held by Gabi Canales, who fell to Gonzalez-Toureilles last spring.

Gonzalez-Toureilles said today: “The fact that he’s making these allegations is highly insulting to the voters. I won fair and square.”

Opiela, a former aide to Gov. George W. Bush whose candidacy welcomed Gov. Rick Perry as a fund-raiser, said he will ask the Texas Secretary of State’s Office to order recounts in Jim Wells, Bee and Karnes counties. His request will be accompanied by $1,852.25 to cover the costs.

[…]

Opiela said his campaign has identified hundreds of possible irregularities in Jim Wells and Bee counties. He said records suggest some people voted more than once and others voted despite not being registered.

He provided copies of voter sign-in sheets for a precinct in Jim Wells County showing more than 100 signatures but not the voters’ names, addresses or other information.

“I’m not throwing any punches right now,” Opiela said. “We just want to know the facts.”

We’ll see what happens.

How long has it been since you loved the 80s?

Well, that’s just too long.

It wasn’t so long ago that rock music of the ’80s was punchline nostalgia along with the Rubik’s Cube and Miami Vice. In 1998, Adam Sandler spent a whole movie, The Wedding Singer, poking fun at bands like Culture Club and A Flock of Seagulls, along with the kids with frosted, spiked hair who loved them.

But apparently everything that was once cool will become cool again some day, as 2004 has seen Top 20 debuts for both the Cure and Duran Duran and acclaimed new albums by their 21st century progeny like Interpol, the Rapture and Franz Ferdinand.

The triple bill of TV on the Radio, the Faint and Beep Beep this Sunday at Numbers is another signal that the bleeping keyboards and dark guitar jangle that fueled radio just before grunge and rap took over might be on the rise again.

“I grew up with commercial alternative radio WXXP 107 in Pittsburgh listening to bands like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and the Stone Roses,” said TV on the Radio guitarist Kyp Malone. “I can’t really listen to commercial radio anymore. What they call modern rock radio now is just recycling Pearl Jam and Green Day. It’s homogenous.”

True, though I wouldn’t just crime rock radio for that. The rare times when I’m forced to listen to top-40 station KRBE – usually when I’m getting a haircut, as it seems to be the station of choice at my neighborhood Supercuts – I can never tell one bootylicious wannabe from another. I freely admit that the shortcoming may be mine, but I calls ’em as I hears ’em.

Malone and the rest of his band apparently did have cable when MTV burst onto the scene in the mid-’80s. Not surprisingly, it was artists like Eno, Peter Gabriel and younger groups with eccentric thinking like the Pixies and Jane’s Addiction that appealed most to the band’s own sense of song.

The Wrong Way, the opening track on Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, is Adebimpe’s thoughts on being a black man in American society that plays somewhere between the hard-edge of “Me Decade” rock stars Living Colour and the original conscious rap of A Tribe Called Quest. Others like Staring at the Sun and Dreams are quirky looks at love and relationships that speak the same ethereal language as Echo and the Bunnymen and Houston’s King X.

I just want to say that our so-called “80s” station, which has greatly (and to its great detriment) expanded its definition of the 80s to include the likes of Steve Miller and Boston, seldom if ever plays any of the artists mentioned above. I couldn’t even tell you the last time I heard an uber-hit like “Sledgehammer” or “In Your Eyes”. And as I’ve said before, while they may mention new albums by playlist staples such as Duran Duran and even pimp their concert tours, they would never ever ever play anything off of them. Have I mentioned lately that Houston radio sucks? Yes, I believe I have, and it predates KLOL’s demise by a longshot.

Anyway. There are audio samples on the Chron page if you want to check these folks out.

Another look at Hispanic voting for Bush

Oddly buried in the This Week community section of today’s Chron is this article on Hispanic voting patterns from the 2004 election. This bit in particular piqued my interest:

Nationally, Latinos cast 8 percent — a little more than 9 million votes — of the total vote in the Nov. 2 election, and there’s still some controversy as to whether 44 percent of the Hispanic vote went for Bush, as exit polling indicated, said Tatcho Mindiola Jr., director of the Center for Mexican American Studies and associate professor of sociology at the University of Houston.

“It’s a considerable improvement over what he received last time,” Mindiola said. “The question is why.”

In Texas, Hispanics accounted for 23 percent — or 1.6 million votes — of the number cast statewide, he said.

In other states, “there is no question,” he said, that Hispanics came out to the polls in large numbers, accounting for 21 percent of the vote in California, 32 percent in New Mexico, 10 percent of voters in Nevada and in Hawaii, 9 percent in New York and 3 percent in Ohio.

“South Texas still went for the Democratic Party, whereas the border went for President Bush,” Mindiola said.

Twenty-three percent of the total vote coming from Hispanics (which by my calculations would be 1.7 million voters, since 7,389,864 people cast ballots in the Presidential race) is the figure that Big Media Matt cited in demonstrating that 59% Hispanic support for President Bush in Texas was plausible. I disputed his calculation based on my belief that 23% was too high a figure. Now here it is again, which means that maybe I’m full of it. So let’s take another look at the numbers and see what they tell us.

In the most heavily Hispanic counties in Texas (see spreadsheet), Bush got 44.5% of the vote. 471,000 votes were cast there; 85% of the population is Hispanic, so if they voted proportionally that’s 400,000 voters, of which about 178,000 voted for Bush.

That leaves 1.3 million Hispanic voters in the rest of the state. If Bush got 59% of the Hispanic vote in Texas, that means a smidgeon over 1 million Hispanics total voted for him, or 822,000 of the Hispanics in these other counties. That comes to 63.2% of the Hispanic vote in all the other counties in Texas, including Bexar, Dallas, and Harris, in which Bush got 53.5% of over 2.2 million voters overall. These three counties would account for a huge proportion of those 1.3 million remaining Hispanic voters, and if they were going for Bush to the tune of 63.2% there’s no way in hell he gets only 53.5% of the vote overall there. White voters are still the bulk of the electorate in the big urban counties, even as they drop to non-plurality of the total population (as an example, George Strong assumed 68% of the voters in the 2003 Houston mayoral runoff vote would be Anglos), so the only way to make these numbers add up is to assume that white voter support for Bush dropped like a rock in the big cities. Once again I say, no way in hell.

I continue to believe that the 23% figure for the Hispanic portion of the Texas electorate is too high, but there is another factor to consider when evaluating both that claim and the claim that Bush got 59% of their vote, and that factor is the percentage of the Anglo vote that Bush got. Yglesias thought that 72% white support for Bush was pretty darned high. Maybe so, but in Texas, maybe not. Consider the following:

County Pct Anglo Bush vote Pct Bush vote Total vote ========================================================== Collin 76.1 173,014 71.23 242,889 Denton 76.0 140,541 69.99 200,791 Ellis 71.3 34,577 74.59 46,352 Johnson 83.2 34,739 73.54 47,232 Lubbock 62.5 69,675 75.28 92,548 Montgomery 81.4 104,361 78.10 133,624 Wichita 73.3 32,472 71.29 45,545 Williamson 73.5 83,079 64.97 127,857 Total 672,458 71.77 936,838

The “Pct Anglo” figures are 2000 Census numbers for non-Hispanic whites. Presumably, their share of the electorate in those counties is higher than those Census figures. As you can see, other than those slackers in Williamson County, these heavily Anglo areas came out pretty strongly for Bush. I don’t think 72% of the Texas Anglo vote going to Bush is too much – heck, I’m not sure it’s not 75%. Put it all together, and I think there’s a pretty strong downward pressure on both the Hispanic share of the electorate, and on the percentage of those voters who went for Bush. I continue to feel confident about my original calculations.

UPDATE: Ruy Teixeira performs similar calculations and comes to the same conclusions.

SafePlace endangered

Sarah brings us some bad news about SafePlace:

Seven months after being named one of the nation’s best programs for victims of violence, SafePlace is slashing jobs, cutting services and closing one of its emergency shelters because of money problems.

The Austin nonprofit organization expects to lose $1.3 million by the end of 2005 because of shrinking public and private revenue, said Rebecca Lightsey, SafePlace’s executive director. That reduction, combined with the group’s annual need to raise $1.5 million for operating expenses, means the nonprofit would have to generate $2.8 million to maintain current services through 2005. So SafePlace is cutting back.

In February, the group plans to fold its single women’s shelter into its family shelter, reducing capacity from 122 to 100. Officials are laying off 19 people and reducing services, including counseling. The waiting list for sexual assault victims seeking counseling already is three months long. Children wait four to six months.

This is a (sadly) much-needed service, so please consider helping them out if you can.

Blurker Amnesty Week

Given the vast everflowing river of comments that my recent KLOL-related posts have become, I should perhaps be hesitant to mention this, but I will anyway. Christine says this is Blurker Amnesty Week. Says she:

Yo! You! There in the corner? Long time listener, it’s time to be a first time caller. I want to know that you are out there, so give it up and leave a comment. It’s ok. We love you.

[…]

Blurker (BLUR-kur): n. 1. One who reads many blogs but leaves no evidence of themselves such as comments behind; a silent observer of blogs. 2. One who reads many blogs but has no blog of their own; a blog-watcher or blog voyeur.

It’s ok to be a blurker, but it’s a good idea to come out into the light every once in awhile. Here is your chance – with amnesty even!

We like comments here, so consider this an opportunity to speak up if you want. Only two days left in the week, after all.

Two billion dollars

Two years after the ferocious budget-cutting of the 78th Lege, we still have a budget deficit.

“It looks to me like we’re going to be short about $2 billion,” said [Lt. Gov. David] Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate.

“That’s a lot of money, and during all of the 1990s the Legislature was never faced with a shortfall like that,” he said. But after the deficit of two years ago, he added, “Two billion dollars doesn’t sound quite as bad.”

Even with a shortfall, he said, “We’re going to balance this budget. We’re going to put more money into public education. We’re putting more money into the Medicaid and CHIP programs. We’re putting more money into adult protective services and child protective services.

“These are all critical needs.”

Left unaddressed, of course, is how all of that is going to be paid for. Restoring CHIP funds seems to be a priority this time around (so sorry, Arlene!), and the Governor is running out of time to Do Something about school finance before he faces voters again, so the pressure to spend more is there. Broadening and perhaps increasing the sales tax, plus reforming the useless corporate franchise tax, two things which were verboten in 2003, may have to get a serious look in 2005. It’s hard to imagine what else could be targeted for cuts, but I’m sure something will be held up as “wasteful”. More and higher fees are a sure thing, and that $1/pack cigarette tax is pretty close. Finally, there’s still the specter of more gambling – casinos, video slots at horse tracks and the like, and so on.

One thing to note: State Rep. Rob Eissler (R, The Woodlands), who has introduced a bill to increase the sales tax, gave as a justification for the increase the new federal law which allows sales taxes to be deducted from one’s federal income taxes. Apparently, the Bush Administration is considering doing away with deductions for state and local taxes as a deficit-reduction measure. I rather doubt that will ever pass, for a variety of reasons, but its very specter might spook some legislators. Watch the rhetoric on this one.

There are, of course, other obstacles to school finance reform.

Gov. Rick Perry is serving notice that he wants to make more than funding changes in the public schools.

And he is armed with a new report from business advisers who want, among other things, to spend tax dollars on school vouchers, boost funding for charter schools and restructure the way teachers are paid.

Those proposals, strongly opposed by many educator groups and many Democrats, already are producing fireworks, two months before lawmakers convene Jan. 11.

Perry told a business audience in Dallas earlier this week that Texas has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide “meaningful reform” to public education.

He is expected to deliver a similar message today in an address to the Greater Houston Partnership.

Obviously, it’s early days here, so until actual proposals are made one can assume most of this is trial ballooning. I’m just pointing this out as a reminder that an agreement to reform school finance is a long way from an agreement on how to reform it.

Rules are for other people

The Tom DeLay Scoundrel Protection Act is now official Republican policy.

House Republicans moved to protect House Majority Leader Tom DeLay from a Texas political corruption case, deciding Wednesday that he will not be automatically forced to give up his leadership post should he be indicted.

[…]

Asked if he could be an effective leader if he is indicted, DeLay responded swiftly.

“I am not going to answer that question because I am not (going to be indicted),” said DeLay, the second-highest ranking House Republican. “This has nothing to do with whether I was going to be or was not going to be.”

Translation: I’m not the only one who’s above the law around here.

Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, who initiated the rules change before consulting with DeLay or his staff, said GOP leaders needed protection from “any crackpot district attorney” with a political agenda.

Translation: Only we are capable of judging ourselves and our actions.

You know, if I ran an advertising agency, and the Democratic Party hired me to devise a campaign around this latest move by the GOP, the first slogan I’d release would be something like “Democrats Believe Crooks Should Not Be Leaders…Unlike Some Other Political Parties We Could Name”. I know that an indictment is not a conviction, but so what? I’m just a hypothetical advertising agency here. And hey, we don’t even know for sure that the GOP has a rule in place which says that a member who has been convicted of a crime would have to relinquish a leadership role. Besides, I’m sure the Republicans can explain the difference to voters. They’re good at that sort of fine nuance.

Let’s check some editorial reviews:

The Houston Chronicle says “In a show that combined bravura with insecurity, House Republicans changed their rules so that Majority Leader Tom DeLay would not automatically have to step aside from his No. 2 spot if he is indicted as part of a state investigation into campaign finance operations.”

The Express News says “[Rep. Henry] Bonilla’s eagerness to disregard reasonable ethical standards to curry favor with DeLay is an embarrassment.”

The Statesman says “In changing their rules to protect U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Republicans in Congress have made it clear they prefer raw power over ethical leadership.”

The Morning News says “Having power doesn’t mean you can abuse it. Regrettably, that’s what congressional Republicans did yesterday when they changed an important party rule – apparently for the benefit of one man.”

(Todd Gillman notes, by the way, that this is just one more GOP reform from the 90s which has since been tossed aside.)

The Lufkin Daily News says “It seems our Republican leaders really don’t care what actions they have to take, or how those actions appear, as long as they get what they want.”

The Waco Tribune says “[I]n an outrageous power play typical of DeLay’s reign as Congress’ most powerful man, House Republicans changed rules under which he’d have had to relinquish his majority leader post under a state felony indictment.”

More to come, I’m sure.

UPDATE: The Stakeholder has a nice roundup of the case against Tom DeLay so far, and a petition you can sign to let the GOP House leadership know how you feel about their actions. And do read William and TP’s comments below. Senator Bedfellow indeed.

Is there a political consultant in the house?

Morat is contemplating a run for his local school board here in the Houston area, and he’s seeking advice from anyone who’s been there and done that. Drop by and help him out if you can.

And good on you for contemplating this, Morat. Every good person who runs for office makes the world a better place.

Abramoff and Scanlon sued

DeLay cronies Jack Abramoff and Mike Scanlon have been sued by the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana over the $32 million the two men bilked from them.

The lawsuit, filed in state court in Louisiana by the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, alleges that between 2001 and 2004 the tribe was overcharged and billed for work that was never performed, and that Abramoff and Scanlon converted tribal funds to personal use. The tribe said it is seeking to recover the $32 million it paid the pair and plans to seek punitive damages.

The Coushattas were one of six newly wealthy gambling tribes that paid the two men $82 million in public relations and lobbying fees for work that some tribe members contend was worth a small fraction of that sum. Abramoff also directed the tribes to give millions of dollars in campaign contributions to members of Congress.

The fees are the subject of a grand jury investigation in Washington. The FBI and a task force of five federal agencies are investigating the campaign contributions and whether tribal funds were misused, among other issues, according to government sources.

In also naming Abramoff’s former law firm, Greenberg Traurig, which is headquartered in Florida, the Coushatta tribe alleged that it failed “to adequately supervise, control and monitor” Abramoff.

The tribe said the firm “was unjustly enriched by the fraudulent overbilling and overcharging practices.”

“It’s one thing to pay a premium for people who can make your case in Washington,” said Joe Kendall, an attorney for the tribe. “It’s something quite different to play on the fears of a group of people who may not know the system all that well and bilk them out of millions.”

Greenberg Traurig ousted Abramoff when questions were raised in the spring about the lobbying and public relations fees he and Scanlon obtained from the tribes. The firm has said it is cooperating with the criminal investigations and a separate one by Congress, but Coushatta attorney Joe Kendall said yesterday the firm has not made any effort to reimburse the tribe for the more than $5 million Greenberg Traurig was paid.

Abramoff is a busy man these days. He may have a hard time defending himself in this lawsuit since his assets have been frozen, along with those of his wife, as part of a separate lawsuit.

Circuit Judge Eric Johnson issued an order this week barring the Abramoffs from transferring or depleting their assets other than for normal living expenses or to pay attorneys’ fees. He did so at the request of 13 former employees of the now-defunct Eshkol Academy, who have sued the school and the Abramoffs. They contend that they were wrongly deprived of one-quarter of their annual salaries when the school closed in May.

The Eshkol Academy, an Orthodox Jewish school in Columbia that received most of its funds through Abramoff’s efforts, was a casualty of the controversy resulting from Abramoff’s lobbying practices. Abramoff was ousted by the Greenberg Traurig law firm this spring after disclosures that he and an associate charged tens of millions of dollars in fees to Indian tribes seeking to protect their gambling wealth. A federal grand jury is investigating their contracts with the tribes.

The Eshkol employees, who include nine teachers and the principal, contend they are owed $149,000. Johnson granted a temporary restraining order securing the Abramoffs’ assets late Wednesday, pending a full hearing.

When it rains, it pours, I suppose. Thanks to AJ Garcia for the tip.

On a tangential matter, The Stakeholder has a petition going around to put pressure on the values-free House GOP caucus for its disregard of the legal process vis a vis the Travis County grand jury investigations into DeLay Incorporated. You’ve got to love the Republicans’ reasoning.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told The Hill that the rule change, first reported by The Hill yesterday, “reflects a reality that [Earle’s investigation is] nothing but a political witch hunt bent on taking him to court. It’s the final phase that Democrats are coming to grips that Republicans are a permanent majority. There’s not any question it’ll pass.”

[…]

Republicans have used Democrats’ ethical lapses, including a check-kiting scandal at the House bank, to their political advantage. In 1987, then-Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) told The Washington Post: “[You] now have a House where it is more dangerous to be aggressive about honesty than it is to be mildly corrupt. … We have in Wright, [Majority Leader Tom Foley (D-Wash.)] and Coelho a third generation of Democratic leaders, the first that has never served in a minority. … You now have a situation where I think people feel almost invulnerable.”

Cantor said, however, that by inoculating DeLay in the present case the Republicans will not lose the moral high ground gained by instituting the rule in the first place.

“That line of reasoning [accepts] that exercise of the prosecutor in Texas is legitimate,” he said.

One is almost tempted to admire them for their sheer contempt of what anyone who isn’t them thinks. Talk about resoluteness!

By the way, for anyone in the state or national Democratic inner circles: Running a strong challenger against Henry Bonilla, who made the formal proposal of this rule change, might be a good idea. I’m just saying.

UPDATE: Scanlon gets spanked, and Abramoff is exposed as a liar in testimony before the Senate subcommittee. Click the More link for the story. Thanks to AJ Garcia for the tip.

(more…)

Still waiting

Still no new news in the Heflin-Vo saga. While we’re waiting, the Star-Telegram weighs in with another don’t-challenge editorial.

Heflin could justifiably request a recount and hope that Vo’s scant margin of victory will disappear. If it doesn’t, he then could walk away and be justly proud of his long service to the state.

But Heflin is not just a powerful Republican player in Austin. With long experience on the Appropriations Committee, he carries facts and figures in his head to an extent that is unmatched in the House. Going into a session that could include a thorough overhaul of state taxes and of the way that Texas pays for public schools, that knowledge is extremely valuable to the House leadership.

Heflin will feel some pressure to consider a tougher fight to overturn the tenuous election results. That’s where things could get ugly.

Heflin could contest the election. Most likely, his argument would be that illegal votes were counted and that, thus, the election should be thrown out.

But Texas political insiders say that Heflin’s district is increasingly one populated by ethnic-minority Democrats. To protest the election probably would mean pointing to some of these minority voters, saying that they were not properly registered or that for some other reason their votes should not have been counted.

Tossing out minority votes is troubling business. And where would the arguments on this election contest be heard? State law gives exclusive jurisdiction to the House itself.

Heflin and other House leaders have to decide whether they want to crawl through that mud. Surely not.

We won’t know if they do until later. And don’t call me Shirley. The AusChron also has a recap to help tide you over. Thanks to KF for the FWST link.

What if it’s all a hoax?

Kevin notes that the powers that be at Clear Channel in Houston have pulled a few stunts in the past, and wonders if maybe the furor over KLOL’s format change could be another trick on their part. Who knows? I will say this – format changes, especially when they involve a new and big player into an established market, often provoke chain reactions. Remember how old-school classic rock station KZFX changed its tune after The Arrow entered the scene? As I said before, it would not shock me if one of the lower-rated existing Latino/Tejano stations moves to fill the niche KLOL has abandoned. Maybe they’ll even be better than what KLOL was just before the change. It could happen.

By the way, go to Clear Channel’s radio homepage, click on Station Search, and enter Houston as the criteria. Someone’s still a little conflicted over there regarding the KLOL change.

Look out, Linda!

Oh, the humanity!

Federal authorities are investigating whether former Enron Chairman Ken Lay’s wife acted improperly when she had their family foundation sell large quantities of Enron stock just days before the company’s bankruptcy.

Mike Ramsey, lawyer for Ken Lay, confirmed Tuesday night that the Enron Task Force is investigating Linda Lay’s requests that the charitable foundation sell shares in order to use the money to pay charitable obligations.

“It is a low and dirty blow,” Ramsey said of the investigation. “The government has a vivid imagination. They believe they were anointed by the Lord to do what they please.”

Ramsey said the Lays have learned of the investigation “in circumstantial ways” and have not been confronted by federal authorities.

Tom has a good summary of the case against Linda Lay.

Ramsey said Ken Lay has repeatedly asked for a speedy trial and complained that prosecutors have not complied.

“It appears the reason they were not willing to go to trial early is they have no proof. Now they will try extortion,” Ramsey said.

He said the government has not directly threatened the family with charges against Linda Lay.

In its case against Enron’s former chief financial officer, Andrew Fastow, the government threatened to file charges against his wife, Lea, sometime before she was actually indicted.

The husband and wife wound up pleading guilty in a joint deal. Lea Fastow is serving a year in prison on a tax charge, and her husband faces a possible 10-year sentence on two charges but is cooperating with the government.

David Berg, a longtime Houston lawyer, said if Linda Lay did act on information she got from her husband and did so before the public knew it, prosecutors are right to look at it, no matter who benefited.

“But they should have been looking at this years ago. The timing of this makes me suspicious. Doing this now conveys a weakness in the government’s case,” Berg said. “You have to think about what happened to Lea Fastow.”

He said he suspects prosecutors knew about this possibility some time ago and are using it now “when they are facing one of the strongest trial lawyers in the country,” he said, referring to Ramsey.

He noted the prosecutors got what they wanted in the Fastow case, and that was Andrew Fastow’s guilty plea and cooperation.

“Now they are looking to hammer Ken Lay. And the hammer is his wife,” Berg said.

Even I have to admit that the timing is a bit convenient for the prosection. Getting Kenny Boy to cop a plea and roll on Skilling and Causey would be a coup for them, since the case against Lay is almost surely the weakest.

Elsewhere in Enronarama, Tom and Dwight take a look at the rather large bills being prepared in the Enron bankruptcy case. All I can say is “Yowza!”

Turnout followup

Greg makes a pretty good case (here and here) that turnout was as good as you could reasonably expect in the uncontested Democratic districts, thus rebutting HCDP Chair Gerry Birnbirg’s assertion that this was our primary failure in 2004. That’s what I get for doing a cursory analysis. The best GOTV effort we can make starts with strong candidates delivering a strong message – the rest will follow.

One number that should have jumped out at everyone regardless of their position on the turnout/message axis is that of Moldy Joe Nixon. Running against an unfunded, unknown independent candidate, Nixon was named on only 53.76% of the ballots, meaning he barely outperformed Martha Wong in the contested HD134 race. Going through the precinct data, District 133 voted for George Bush at a 54.6% rate, which is to say dead on even with Harris County as a whole. You think maybe a serious Democratic challenger could have moved the numbers in HD133 a bit? Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to find out in 2006. Put this one on your radar now as a top-tier pickup opportunity, and ask yourself again why we didn’t have anyone running this time around. Precinct comparison data is beneath the More link.

And just because I can’t help myself, some of those precincts where Nixon and Bush got less than 40% of the vote had crappy turnout. If wishes were horses, let me tell you…

(more…)

There is something to the “we didn’t turn out our voters” stuff

Continuing the 2004 postmortem, looking at the turnout-versus-message argument (see here, here, and here)…

I had a chance to hear Gerry Birnbirg’s analysis of the 2004 election, and how Democrats did in Harris County. He downplayed the importance of message while stressing turnout, which Greg and I have discussed in the posts linked above. There was one thing he said which stood out to me, though, and I wanted to check it out. He spoke about how in the various uncontested State Rep races, the Republicans did a much better job getting people to the polls than the Democrats did.

Well, there were sixteen uncontested races (I’m counting any race without a Democrat and a Republican as uncontested – sorry, Libertarians and Independents). Those races split as eight uncontested Dems and eight uncontested Republicans. In those eight races, the Republican incumbents drew a total of 298,571 votes, for an average of 37,321 each. On the Democratic side, the numbers were 201,337 and 25,167.

The difference between the two parties is over 97,000 ballots. If the uncontested Democrats had drawn an equal number of voters, and if those voters had pushed the button for other Democratic candidates, that 97,000 boost to the totals would have been enough to win every contested judicial race. Every single one, from Kathy Stone (47.92%, lost by 42,000) down to Zone Nguyen (45.79%, lost by 85,000). Think about that.

Democrats would have still lost the top-of-ticket countywide races, but Reggie McKamie would have been within 8000 votes of Chuck Rosenthal, and Guy Robert Cark would have lost to Tommy Thomas by less than 15,000. And we’d be talking about how Harris County was just like Dallas County, on the verge of being blue again.

I’m making some assumptions here, of course, but in looking at these numbers, which I have under the More link, I can see where Birnbirg is coming from. I’ll pick this up again in a later post.

(All data from the Cumulative Results page on the Harris County Clerk site.)

UPDATE: Greg responds.

(more…)

And get me some skirts for those piano legs!

I admit, I was almost fooled by this. I mean, it’s not like The Onion hasn’t been a bit too realistic some days, right? Read and laugh. Via Pandagon.

It’s OK if you’re Tom DeLay

No one should be the least bit surprised if this comes to pass:

House Republicans have until noon today to propose any rules changes to inoculate Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) from losing his leadership position should he be indicted in a campaign-finance criminal probe back in Texas.

Republicans dismiss the investigation by Travis Country District Attorney Ronnie Earle as a politically motivated witch hunt, but GOP internal conference rules are clear that any elected member of the leadership must temporarily relinquish his position if indicted on a felony count that could lead to more than two years in prison.

[…]

“We’re in the process of receiving proposed rules changes. The deadline is noon tomorrow, and we have yet to receive any proposals dealing with leadership or their tenure,” said Greg Crist, spokesman for the House Republican Conference.

In a reorganization meeting tomorrow, the conference will consider any potential changes to its internal rules.

One senior GOP aide said that a handful of lawmakers are discussing whether or not to make the proposed modification. But he added that they were under no pressure from DeLay’s office, or other House leaders, to do so.

“Any effort to modify that rule would be outside DeLay’s office,” another GOP leadership aide said.

The Republican rule requiring any elected leader to take leave of his leadership position pending the outcome of an indictment dates back to 1993, when Republicans sought to draw attention to the ethical problems of then-Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.).

If Republicans did attempt to change the rule, Democrats would accuse them of rank hypocrisy. Republicans must weigh that likely media maelstrom against the potentially more damaging prospect of having their majority leader forced to step down as a result of a campaign-finance indictment.

In the early ’90s, when House Republicans were in the political wilderness, they latched onto a series of ethical scandals in making their claim that the majority power had been corrupted by its years in power.

“We need new leadership which will act because it is right, not because they have been caught in cover-ups and scandals,” DeLay said on the House floor in 1992.

“Once again, what we are pointing out here is that we are outraged at the mismanagement of this House, and it is not just this last year. It has been going on for years. It is the arrogance of power, the lack of follow-through, the ‘Oh, yes, we can push that over in the corner and not address it.’”

Among the many things that Tom DeLay lacks is any sense of shame. What he said in the past will have no bearing on what happens in the future because that was then and this is now and that’s all there is to it. Move along, nothing to see here. I suppose the House GOP Conference may be a bit abashed by this, but I don’t see any reason why that would stop them. If I’m wrong, I’ll give them credit for being better people than I thought they were.

DeLay has already been admonished on two separate occasions this year by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, actions stemming in part from an ethics complaint filed by outgoing Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas).

Bell compiled his ethics complaint with the help of outside groups. Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) would like to change that practice.

In an Oct. 8 letter to colleagues, Dreier asked for their input on changing the rules on filing complaints. In response to Dreier’s letter and to bolster their charge of hypocrisy, Democrats unearthed a 1997 quote from Dreier where he said, “In our view, there is an inherent conflict of interest when only members are involved in evaluating ethics complaints against their peers.”

Somehow, I’m not too worried about having to make nice. Thanks to AJ Garcia for the tip.

For those of you who need a refresher on the various DeLay scandals, Thomas Nephew points to this Mother Jones article by Lou DuBose, coauthor with Jan Reid of “The Hammer”, which sums up the current state of affairs. I share Thomas’ fondness for this quote:

Ronnie Earle doesn’t buy it. The 62-year-old district attorney is approaching the end of 27 years in office and has said he would have retired were it not for this case. Earle has the somber countenance of a hanging judge and a sense of humor as arid as his West Texas origins. Investigating the TRMPAC case has been slow, he says, because it’s like “watching clowns climb out of a Volkswagen. There are a lot more in there than I imagined.”

Yeah, that’s about right. Check it out.

Who’s in Heflin’s office now?

Talmadge Heflin may yet challenge his electoral loss to Hubert Vo, but in the meantime, he’s been evicted from his office in the Capitol.

Some people in Austin already are waiting to move in, with a senior legislator claiming Heflin’s Capitol office in a ritual that follows legislative elections. Based on seniority, returning House members get the chance to pick new offices being vacated by retiring or defeated members.

State Rep. Edmund Kuempel, R-Seguin, the only remaining member of the legislative group first seated in 1983 along with Heflin, claimed Heflin’s third-floor office, one of the bigger ones in the Capitol.

Rep. Peggy Hamric, R-Houston, who chairs the House Administration Committee that on Monday began reassigning office space, said she doesn’t know if Heflin will contest the election.

“I’m sure he will make whatever decision is best for him,” she said.

But she said it is necessary to proceed with the office assignments so moves can be complete before the 2005 regular session convenes Jan. 11.

Hamric, who has been in the Legislature since 1991 and is the senior Republican member of the Harris County delegation after Heflin, said letters about office assignments were mailed to all House members the day after the election.

The most senior members started the office assignment process Monday. It will be completed the first week of December. Legislators who aren’t returning have until Dec. 1 to empty their offices, she said.

Is it just me, or does anyone else hear Don Meredith singing “When The Party’s Over”?

I should note that just because some folks in Austin are looking at reality doesn’t mean that will be the predominant view. If Talmadge Heflin does go forward with a formal House challenge, it will be an expensive proposition for Hubert Vo. For that reason, Richard Morrison is urging people to consider helping out Hubert Vo. Byron has the details.

As long as we’re on the subject of bad Houston radio ideas

Found this blast from the past while searching for old KLOL stories.

There will soon be something new on the radio: Houston’s first all-talk station on the FM dial — and the first talk station to bill itself as ideologically middle-of-the-road — debuts next week.

KRTK 97.1 Talk, which was Tejano station KOND in its previous incarnation, is backed by local investors drawn heavily from the ranks of plaintiffs’ lawyers. Self-described “raging heterosexual moderate” Roger Gray leads off a roll of familiar names who’ll be manning the mikes, including former KLOL jock Dayna Steele and Don Imus, the onetime Friend of Bill syndicated out of New York.

But who’s going to be listening? Gray, who was ousted from KPRC’s lineup of conservative talkers last fall, claims there’s a wider audience in Houston waiting for a station that doesn’t pitch exclusively to the right.

“One of the mistakes is letting your callers drive what your programming is,” observes Gray, who is busy setting up the station is the CRSS building on the West Loop. “Callers will take you in directions you don’t want to go. You want to be responsive, but by the same token, less than 10 percent of your listeners will ever call.”

Gray discounts traditional radio wisdom that talk shows won’t work on the FM band, long the home for music formats. He points out that KUHF, which features NPR in its morning and afternoon slots, actually has better Arbitron ratings than KPRC in the same time periods. KUHF also has a better mix of men and women listeners, a statistic that should appeal to advertisers.

David Jones, a Democratic activist and lawyer who has had several talk shows on cable and radio, came up with the idea for a new talk station and began pulling together the components, including Gray and the station’s key financial backer, lawyer Gerald Birnberg.

Mike Stude, the previous owner, was also brought in as an investor, along with county Republican chairman and criminal defense lawyer Gary Polland, Vinson & Elkins attorney Gary Robin and plaintiffs’ attorney Jim Moriarty. Jones says the investors put up $10 million to buy the station, not counting construction costs at the new site.

Just how well the city accepts a diet of Imus’s edgy East Coast humor or how well a former rock DJ Steele adapts to the talk format remains to be seen. After all, observes a former co-worker of Steele’s, “handling a talk show is a little different from introducing the latest Metallica hit.”

That was from 1997. I believe 97.1 Talk lasted about five minutes on the air. Not that it couldn’t have succeeded – Gray, Steele, and Imus are all talented talkers – but what was the point? The KSEV crowd isn’t going anywhere, and there was nothing there to compel anyone else to tune in. I just hope Gerry Birnbirg didn’t totally lose his shirt on the deal.

School funding poll

Are you a smoker who opposes a state income tax or an increased sales tax? One way or another, you’re gonna get screwed.

More than three out of four Texans say the state should put more money into public schools and social services, according to a new poll.

Seventy-six percent said the state should provide more money for education, and 69 percent said they are very or somewhat confident that putting more money into schools will lead to improved student performance.

More money for social services such as children’s health insurance and Child Protective Services was favored by 78 percent of respondents to The Scripps Howard Texas Poll.

Only 16 percent disagreed that schools need more state funding, and 15 percent didn’t support additional money for social services. The rest said they didn’t know.

[…]

Seventy-four percent of poll respondents favored raising the cigarette tax $1 per pack, compared with 25 percent who opposed. Seventy-two percent supported a $1 surcharge on tickets for concerts, professional sporting events and amusement parks.

On gambling issues, 72 percent favored legalizing state-taxed video lottery terminals at horse and dog tracks, an idea proposed by Gov. Rick Perry to raise money for schools. Perry also proposed the cigarette tax increase and ticket surcharge, but his plan was voted down.

Fifty-eight percent said they favor casino gambling.

There is less support for increasing and expanding the state sales tax. Only 44 percent said they favor increasing sales taxes to fund the state’s schools, while 46 percent opposed, 7 percent said it depends and 3 percent didn’t know.

Similar results were found for an income tax, even if it reduced property taxes and was used for schools. Forty-four percent wanted an income tax, 49 percent didn’t and 7 percent didn’t know.

I think the will is there to get serious about school finance reform, and about appropriate funding levels for programs like CHIP. A state rep from The Woodlands – The Woodlands! – has introduced a bill to increase school funding via an increased sales tax and a broadened franchise tax. State Sen. Kip Averitt has a bill to restore those 150,000 kids who were cut off from CHIP. These bills may get defeated, but I don’t think they’llbe summarily brushed aside as they would have been in 2003, and if they are, any Democratic Party worth a pitcher of warm spit will trumpet the message that they and only they care about funding the programs that Texans care about. I do not believe that Rick Perry will be able to control the 79th Lege as he did the 78th, and I believe he will pay a price for it.

Want more evidence? Look at what the people say are the top issues for this session:

The poll also found a split on whether people found their local property taxes to be fair or unfair. Fifty-four percent said the taxes are fair and 43 percent said they are unfair, with 3 percent saying they don’t know.

Texans were asked to name the main issue they want the Legislature to address in the upcoming session. Twenty-four percent said education, 13 percent said school finance and 13 percent cited health care. Eight percent said the focus should be on the economy and jobs, 6 percent said lowering property taxes, 4 percent said immigration, 2 percent said homeowners insurance, 1 percent said the state budget, 1 percent said teacher pay and 1 percent didn’t know.

Fifty percent cited education or health care. Six percent mentioned taxes. A majority say their property taxes are fair. What will Rick Perry’s priorities be this spring?

How’s Perry doing, by the way?

Respondents gave mixed ratings to the governor’s job performance. Forty-six percent rated Perry as excellent or good, up from 37 percent who gave him those ratings in the spring. But 49 percent said his performance is fair or poor, and 5 percent didn’t know.

That negative number is also up from the last poll, though not as much. Perry can still be a hero if he finds a way to give the people what they want without pissing off his right-wing base. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he’s up to the task.

Harris County grand juries

As long as we’re talking about a judicial system that’s bending way over to be nice and accomodating to prosecutors, check out this article from Sunday’s Chron regarding the grand jury system in Harris County. Here’s the crux of the issue, all tied up in a bow:

A 1940 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court requires that grand juries— the panels of citizens that decide whether criminal suspects will be indicted — represent “a broad cross-section” of the community.

But 64 years later, law enforcement officers and others with courthouse jobs that make them less likely to sympathize with a defendant are a strong presence on Harris County grand juries. And even though Hispanics make up a third of the county’s population, only 9 percent of grand jurors are Hispanic, and most of those jurors are nonvoting alternates.

[…]

The narrow variety of grand jurors came to light in a University of Houston-Downtown study conducted by criminal justice instructor Larry Karson, who reviewed 32 Harris County grand juries impaneled in 2002 and 2003, with further reporting by the Houston Chronicle.

Part of the problem is due to the selection process. Of Texas’ five largest counties, only Harris, Travis and Tarrant still choose grand jurors exclusively through commissioners selected by the presiding judge, who often end up being his colleagues or employees, who then turn to their colleagues.

Of the 129 Harris County grand jury commissioners selected in 2002 and 2003, 65 — just more than 50 percent — were in some way linked to the area’s legal establishment. The study identified those individuals as judges, attorneys, court employees, bail-bond agents, probation officers and law enforcement officers. One judge even selected three of his court employees as grand jury commissioners.

[…]

“My grand juries, as a rule, have been very diverse, and I work very hard to find people who will serve from different neighborhoods and different socioeconomic backgrounds,” said state District Judge Kent Ellis. “I think focusing on the commissioners is the wrong place to look.”

A look at Ellis’ grand jury commissioner selections, however, reveals that he didn’t search very far to find them. In August 2002, Ellis chose two court reporters and an employee of the Harris County District Clerk’s Office. One year later, Ellis used two of the same three people as commissioners.

State District Judge Bill Harmon didn’t look that far. In November 2002, Harmon chose three employees of his court to serve as grand jury commissioners. He declined to discuss those selections with the Chronicle.

Remember all those comments about how prosecutors could indict a ham sandwich if they wanted to? This is a big part of the reason for that.

Hotshot Casey gives his perspective on being a grand juror as well. Casey notes that some people do escape without being indicted:

Unlike the grand juries reporter Steve McVicker describes in Harris County, ours included nobody from law enforcement. Two, including the foreman selected by the judge, were lawyers whose practices included criminal defense.

Several owned small businesses. A couple were retired civil service workers. Several were spouses of attorneys. The panel was well-balanced ethnically and geographically.

But for nearly all the cases we considered, it wouldn’t have mattered if we were all hooded hangmen. We became human rubber stamps.

[…]

On the typical three-hour morning, we dealt with 30 to 40 cases. A suspect was stopped for driving erratically. The officer asked if he had any drugs. He said yes, they’re under the seat.

The ex-boyfriend broke down the door and knifed the victim.

The woman was seen stuffing clothing under her jacket and was arrested after she walked to the parking lot.

That’s all we would hear: a prosecutor’s summary of police reports. Any unopposed lawyer who couldn’t tell the story in such a way that you would indict wasn’t trying.

On some cases, we would ask questions. Then, toward the end of the morning, the prosecutors and bailiffs would leave the room. One by one the foreman would recap a case, and we would vote to indict.

Toward the end of the first day’s list, there was one that seemed questionable. I jokingly suggested that as a matter of human pride we should try to “no bill” (vote not to indict) one case a week.

After that, a fellow panel member would occasionally describe a case as a candidate for the “Rick Casey Award.”

We no-billed 12 cases in 11 weeks, 4 percent of those presented. But prosecutors wanted us to no-bill more than half of these. They were cases with some political sensitivity where the district attorney felt the need to be able to blame the decision on the grand jury.

So we were, I confess, one almost mindless step in the conveyer belt of criminal law.

Speculation about why some high-profile defendants get indicted and others don’t is nothing new. This is just more wood for the fire.

What to do about the CCA

Scott points to this Texas Monthly article about the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals and its head hack, Sharon Keller. They lead off with a discussion of the infamous Roy Criner case, which thrust Judge Keller into the national spotlight.

IT WAS, BY ALL ACCOUNTS, the high court’s low point. A teenage girl named Deanna Ogg had been raped, bludgeoned, and stabbed to death on a late September afternoon in 1986 near the tiny town of New Caney, north of Houston. Roy Criner, a 21-year-old logger, was arrested after three friends said that, within hours of the time of Ogg’s death, Criner had bragged about picking up a hitchhiker, threatening her with a screwdriver, and forcing her to have sex. No other evidence tied him to the crime, but Criner was convicted and given 99 years for aggravated sexual assault. In 1997 newly available DNA tests showed that the sperm found in Ogg was not Criner’s. To be certain, the Montgomery County district attorney did a second test in the state’s lab and got the same results. Criner’s attorneys moved for a new trial, and in January 1998 the trial court agreed he deserved it.

Four months later, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal court in the state, went against law, science, and, it seemed, all common sense when it wrote, “The new evidence does not establish innocence,” and overruled the trial court. Sharon Keller, who had been on the CCA only a little more than three years but was rapidly becoming the court’s philosophical leader, cited the incriminating statements to the three friends as “overwhelming, direct evidence” of Criner’s guilt. New evidence ofinnocence, she argued, had to be so clear and convincing that no reasonable jury would have convicted Criner had it known about it. DNA, she said, was not enough. Keller noted that perhaps Criner had worn a condom or failed to ejaculate. There was also testimony, she wrote, that the victim had said that she “loved sex,” so perhaps she had had sex with someone and then met her demise at the hands of the logger. These theories had not been alleged at trial, nor was there evidence that Ogg had had sex with anyone else within 48 hours of her death, and court watchers wondered why an appellate judge was posing alternate theories that the prosecutor could have offered years before at trial. It seemed that Keller and the court really wanted to keep Criner in prison.

In 2000 the PBS show Frontline aired an episode called “The Case for Innocence,” featuring Criner’s story. Keller was interviewed, and she defended the CCA’s opinion and characterized the victim as “a promiscuous girl.” When asked about the possibility that Criner was innocent, Keller said, “I suppose that that is a possibility. But he certainly hasn’t established it.” When asked how a person could establish it, Keller replied, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” She appeared to be lost in her own circular reasoning. All Criner was asking for was a new trial, but that, said Keller, was out of the question. It was the last in-depth interview she would give to the media.

Later that year more DNA tests were done, this time on saliva from a cigarette butt found at the crime scene. The DNA matched that of the sperm, and a month later the DA and the county sheriff joined the trial judge in calling for a pardon for Criner. The state Board of Pardons and Paroles, which almost always denies such requests, voted 18–0 to grant one, and in August Governor George W. Bush, in the heat of a presidential campaign, relented. Roy Criner was freed.

[…]

AN OLD FRIEND OF SHARON KELLER’S remembers hearing about Keller’s comments on Frontline and being dumbfounded: “I didn’t know where that absolute moral conviction came from. She didn’t question herself at all.” The friend reminisced about their youth in the early seventies and said, “She didn’t do anything wilder than anyone else. But I don’t know how she sleeps at night.”

Keep all that in mind the next time you hear someone talk about “moral values”.

Scott suggests that the three CCA judges who are up for reelection in 2006, including Keller, are “the weakest statewide Republican targets available to Democats”. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, and unfortunately the CCA races are about as low profile as any statewide election can be, but there’s no question in my mind that the Democrats owe it to us to find some strong candidates for them. Read the article, and you’ll see there’s no shortage of material with which to attack the integrity and, well, the values of the incumbent judges. I can’t say that any of these offices will be easier targets than, say, the Governor’s mansion, but they sure as heck are worthy ones.

RIP, ODB

Russell Jones, also known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, died yesterday at the age of 36.

A founding member of the groundbreaking Staten Island rap group the Wu-Tang Clan, ODB – whose real name was Russell Jones – collapsed on the floor of 36 Records LLC just two days short of his 36th birthday.

He was pronounced dead at 5:04 p.m., officials said.

“This ain’t no joke. This is real life, just like you lose your mother, or your brother,” said fellow Wu-Tang rapper GhostFace Killah, when ODB’s body was brought out of the W. 34th St. studio three hours later.

“This is a big loss,” said Killah, who said ODB had complained to others of chest pain. “But I guess he’s with the Father now. He’s in good hands.”

[…]

After Wu-Tang exploded on the music scene in 1993 with the album “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers),” ODB became as notorious for his erratic behavior as his hit singles “Brooklyn Zoo” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.”

He was shot at least twice, and fathered at least 13 children with several women. He drew national attention when he rushed onstage during the 1998 Grammy Awards to complain when he didn’t win.

He was charged with attempted murder, shoplifting and drugs, and spent time as a fugitive before getting collared in a McDonald’s parking lot in 1999.

He attempted suicide before entering prison, but upon his release in 2003, he vowed to clean up his act.

Now, normally, this isn’t the sort of thing I take note of. I make an exception here because my father, while he was still a judge, once revoked ODB’s probation and sent him to prison. For his efforts, he became a lyric on “Cash Still Rules/Scary Hours” from the double CD “Wu-Tang Forever”.

This souped up, individual stuck, the new stuff
Same kid cryin on the stand with Judge Cuffner (sic)

That’s been the stuff of family legend ever since. I got a phone call yesterday morning from a reporter for the Staten Island Advance, who had apparently mistaken me for Dad. She was looking for a quote to be run in the paper’s obituary. I put him in touch with her. According to Dad, ODB had a great lawyer (now a New York State Senator) who kept his client out of jail for quite some time by coming up with new and innovative rehab programs to replace the one ODB had just failed to meet, but Dad’s patience finally ran out, and the rest is history. The Advance is an afternoon paper, and it appears they haven’t run their story yet. I’ll be checking back later.

UPDATE: And here’s the Advance story (thanks to William in the comments for the heads-up).

After going in front of the West Brighton judge on drug charges, O.D.B. made Supreme Court Justice Charles Kuffner famous with the lyrics: “Sad kid crying on the stand with Kuffner.”

When contacted, Kuffner said his first reaction to news of O.D.B.’s death was, “There goes my 15 minutes of fame … I’m history just like him.”

Rest in peace, ODB.

More mourning for KLOL

When was the last time a radio station format change generated this many articles in the newspaper?

Clear Channel Radio’s format switch Friday at KLOL-FM (101.1) from rock ‘n’ roll to Spanish hip-hop and other pop styles aimed at a young Latino audience leaves Houston with just two rock stations, both also owned by Clear Channel.

KKRW at 93.7 FM, known as the Arrow, carries classic rock. KTBZ at 94.5 FM, the Buzz, plays moderate rock and bills itself as “Houston’s new music alternative.”

So what would you call the “oldies” on KLDE if not rock? And the recent broadening of the 80s at KHPT to include the Eagles and Steve Miller means we oughtn’t overlook that station, either. My problem is not that there’s a lack of rock music on Houston’s airwaves. My problem is that there’s a lack of non-rigidly formulaic rock. That was the role KLOL filled, and it’s probably as much as anything why it was ultimately killed – radio’s corporate masters do not want format overlap.

Longtime KLOL listener Steve Evans said he was online this weekend seeking the comfort of other classic rock fans when he learned of an Internet petition at www.rock101.info, which implores Clear Channel to “Bring Back Houston’s Rock 101.”

“KLOL is a radio legend — this is crazy,” he said of the new Spanish music format.

Fewer than 100 KLOL fans had signed the petition Sunday evening.

It’s at 645 right now, and if they’re getting Google hits like I’ve been, that number will grow pretty quickly. Not that it will mean a thing to Clear Channel, of course.

Former disc jockey Dayna Steele Justiz, who was on the air for about 13 years, beginning in the 1980s, said many former listeners had called her to find out what happened.

“The station has incredible loyalty,” she said. “I haven’t been on the air in 8 1/2 years, yet my phone’s been ringing for 24 hours.”

Although Justiz said she didn’t know exactly why the change occurred, she noted that change is common in the radio business.

“There are not many stations anywhere that can say they were the same format for 34 years,” she said. “Radio years are similar to dog years, but even shorter.”

Unlike with many stations, Justiz said, KLOL personalities were well-known around town and stayed a long time. Among them were the morning duo Stevens and Pruett (Mark Stevens and Jim Pruett, 1991-2000) and “Outlaw” Dave Andrews, from 1993 to the close.

“With radio today, you can pick up any station and plop it down in any city and no one would notice,” said Justiz, a 45-year-old mother of three and president of an online business she started. “They’re all playing the same thing, giving away the same thing.”

You know, I never knew Outlaw Dave’s last name. Hell, I never knew he had a last name.

Dayna’s right about the personalities on KLOL. There were good people on the air there, and that’s why we remember them. Of course, even in the pre-CC days, there were upheavals and sudden changes, like when one-time drive time DJ Donna McKenzie got unceremoniously dumped. The breakup of Stevens and Pruett was the beginning of the end, as far as I’m concerned (Rich Connelly be damned).

What happened at KLOL was probably an inevitable result of music trends, said Joseph A. Kotarba, professor of sociology at the University of Houston.

Kotarba, who has taught about rock music for 20 years, said the traditional audience for hard rock and heavy metal has decreased since the 1980s. That audience is not as lucrative for radio stations and their advertisers as the quickly growing, young Latino audience, he said.

“Traditional hard rock is falling into the category of oldies,” he said.

That means the music will be heard from time to time but with less and less talk about who the performer is, where the band is touring and so forth, Kotarba said.

“Hip-hop dance music, techno and various other styles of pop music are taking over in popularity,” he said. “So that is what radio stations like the ones owned by Clear Channel go for. Everyone wants a more lucrative segment of the population.”

Being part of the change can be painful, Kotarba said.

“There’s a real sadness when one sees the style of music one grew up with fall into that neverland of the oldies bin,” he said. “It’s no longer fashionable. That hurts and contributes to a sense of aging.”

Boy, there’s a harsh dose of reality for you. Couldn’t they at least have waited until I turned 40 before laying this on me? Sheesh.

I was listening to Dean and Rog on KKRW this morning as they talked about KLOL’s demise and took some calls from people who wanted to vent about it. (Since KKRW is also a Clear Channel station, they had to tread a bit lightly.) They suggested that the playlists at both KKRW and KTBZ will expand to appeal to former KLOL listeners. If that happens, I’d count it as a good thing. I still don’t understand why there aren’t more stations like 100.3 The Q in Vancouver, which plays a real variety of music, though.

October traffic report

October was my busiest month ever, with about 58,000 visits. Obviously, the election drove a lot of that. Things have slacked off a bit in November, but not all that much so far. We’ll see what happens. I expect to be a little less political in the coming months, but not too much. Not with the 79th Lege about to convene, and with local elections next November (though they rate to be a lot less exciting than last year’s), and with what should be rampant speculation and jockeying for the 2006 statewides. But I’m in as much need of a little change of pace as the next person, so expect to see some more variety around here for awhile.

As always, thanks very much for visiting. Top referrers and search terms are beneath the More link.

(more…)

Will Heflin challenge or not?

This week is the deadline for Talmadge Heflin to take some kind of action in his electoral loss to Hubert Vo. I’ve seen different dates cited – the 17th and the 20th, to name two – but one way or another, we should know by Friday if Heflin will ask for a recount, mount a House challenge, or simply concede.

Clay Robison cites two other election challenges from recent history.

Republican Bill Clements was governor, but the Texas House still had a greater than 2-1 Democratic majority in 1980, when veteran state Rep. Al Brown, a Democrat from San Antonio, was upset by a young Republican challenger, Alan Schoolcraft.

Brown lost by 1,038 votes out of more than 37,400 cast. In filing an election contest with the House, Brown challenged hundreds of mail-in ballots, many from absentee military personnel who had once been stationed at a nearby Air Force base. He argued that many of those ballots, enough to affect the outcome of the election, had been cast illegally by people who didn’t meet Texas’ residency requirements.

After hearing four days of testimony in January 1981, a House committee recommended 5-4 that Schoolcraft be seated. But the full House overruled the panel and voted 78-52 for the governor to call a new election.

The vote was largely along party lines. All 78 legislators voting for a new election were Democrats, while 20 Democrats joined 32 Republicans — every Republican voting that day — in support of Schoolcraft.

Brown got his second chance, but he also got a lesson in democracy when a special election was held in San Antonio a few weeks later. Schoolcraft trounced him in the rerun by a 3-1 margin, a much wider gap than in the previous election, and went on to serve several years in the House.

A similar result occurred in Houston in 1992, when then-state Sen. Gene Green and then-City Councilman Ben Reyes were fighting over a new, Hispanic-majority congressional district.

Green won a runoff for the Democratic nomination by 180 votes, which Reyes challenged in court. A judge ordered a new election after finding that some voters had illegally cast “crossover” ballots in the Democratic runoff after voting in the earlier Republican primary.

Green won the rerun by more than 1,000 votes, defeated a Republican nominee in the general election and is still in Congress.

Several election contests have been filed in the Texas House in recent years, but Brown’s was the only one to produce a new election. Some others were withdrawn by the unseated legislators who had filed them, after they either lost their zeal for further combat or realized they were fighting a lost cause.

I’d put very good odds on Vo winning a rerun election by a wider margin. I really do not see that as a smart strategy by Team Heflin.

Gary Scharrer suggests that Heflin’s odds won’t be much better this time around.

El Paso legislator Paul Moreno visited with colleagues in Austin and San Antonio this week to warn them that he will take extreme measures if Republicans try to muscle Heflin back to power. Moreno says he will revert to disruptive, radical 1960s tactics: “I am not going to hold back anything on anybody.”

Some legislators doubt that Heflin will make his colleagues decide the outcome, but Moreno believes otherwise: “Knowing what happened last session, these guys are going to go through it. They cannot lose their big gun to a poor, Vietnamese immigrant.”

Rep. Chente Quintanilla, D-El Paso, doesn’t think Republicans want to start a new session with an ugly and nasty fight that the public might see as an attempt to derail democracy: “I believe that they’re smarter than that,” he says.

But Quintanilla says some of his colleagues insist: “If they can do it, they will do it.”

Republicans control the House, 87-62, not counting Heflin’s seat.

El Paso’s lone Republican, Rep. Pat Haggerty, says Heflin would have to bring “some compelling evidence” for his colleagues to change the outcome.

Citing their own “irregularities,” Vo supporters wonder how a 110-vote margin, with all precincts counted, suddenly slipped to 38 without explanation before the absentee and provisional ballots dropped the final figure to 31.

Heflin’s defeat would create opportunities for other Republicans to move up a notch on the leadership ladder. That may be another reason why some Republicans will not encourage Heflin to contest the outcome.

“Too many of the inside players are already picking after the bones,” Haggerty says.

Contrary to rumors, House Speaker Tom Craddick “is staying out of it,” Craddick spokesman Bob Richter says.

Rep. Joe Pickett, a Democrat, is probably Heflin’s closest El Paso ally. Heflin elevated Pickett to chair an Appropriations subcommittee.

Pickett says he would objectively assess any election dispute that comes to the House floor: “He is a friend, but I would not treat it any differently. People would have to understand that — the same with Talmadge.”

I agree with Rep. Haggerty. Why should any ambitious Republican help out Talmadge Heflin when he or she could replace him as Appropriations chair? Whoever moves up will leave behind a presumably desirable committe spot as well.

The Express News tells Heflin to not make a fool of himself.

Nothing could begin a legislative session with more partisan acrimony and nothing could end a long political career with less dignity than Heflin’s seeking an electoral do-over from his colleagues.

Seek your recount, Rep. Heflin, but spare yourself, your district, your party and your state the dishonor of a contested result.

Of course, if Heflin does go this route, the collateral damage may well extend beyond the House.

Minutes after all votes were counted, giving Democratic businessman Hubert Vo a 31-vote edge over longtime state Rep. Talmadge Heflin, the Republican incumbent’s operatives said they had no confidence in the results.

Andy Taylor, a Republican legal troubleshooter, said the outcome couldn’t be trusted because the process was flawed. Poll watchers, he said, noted a discrepancy in the way votes were being counted and excluded.

It’s the right thing to say if Heflin plans to challenge the outcome. But Taylor did not raise the concern during the two-day canvass of votes earlier this week.

And it could put his team at odds with Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, a fellow Republican whose office has escaped any hint of scandal during her decadelong tenure.

“I don’t know what he is referring to,” said Kaufman, the county’s top election official. “He did not express any of that to me throughout the day.”

I can see the campaign signs in the Harris County Clerk election of 2006: “Even fellow Republicans think Beverly Kaufman is incompetent!” Your move, Talmadge.

“Lost” and found

Here’s a great article on how the hit show “Lost” came to be in almost no time. There are times when I feel like the writers are going by the seat of their pants, and the heavy meet-the-characters plots of late have distracted a bit from the mystery of the island (though we appear to be heading back to that next week), but overall it’s been pretty damn enjoyable seeing them grope their way through it all. I’m still torn on the idea of whether this should be a one-season story arc that resolves itself one way or another in the end or not. I have no clue if you could continue this concept indefinitely, but I’ve been happy with things so far, so we’ll see.

And it’s majorly cool that Yunjin Kim is from Staten Island. My hometown hasn’t had a decent celebrity since Rick “Don’t call me Ricky!” Schroder. About time we got another one.