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January 4th, 2005:

Running against the Trans Texas Corridor

Near the end of this article on the Trans Texas Corridor comes an observation about the 2006 elections.

I’ve whined a lot that the biggest cost of sprawl is the opportunity cost – the value of the things we didn’t, or now can’t, do with the land and the money trampled under the path of least resistance. The Trans Texas Corridor is just not a very good investment of resources we can better use doing something else.

This highlights a need for a real progressive strategy for dealing with roads – beyond saying they all suck. This does little to help the multitudes who are not fiscally or physically fortunate enough to afford central-city housing or get to work by human-powered transport. It also prompts the Other Side into taking the binary position, wrapping itself around the most ridiculous ideas like the Trans Texas Corridor, because after all, the only people who don’t like roads are those crazy hippies.

Obviously that’s not true in this case, but progressives are ill-served having to rely on, say, the Texas Farm Bureau to bail them out. A better, more sustainable alliance would be – duh! – with the other urbanites along I-35, such as Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, who have little use for either the corridor or Perry and Ric Williamson, and (in Miller’s case) have little political impetus not to say so. Miller’s been tapped as a potential statewide candidate in 2006, which hints at a salient point: Whoever carries the Dem banner against the winner of the Rick-and-Kay-and-Carole cage match needs to be running against the Trans Texas Corridor and the highway ho-ho-hos. Who’s got the last laugh now?

Laura Miller has some baggage to overcome as a statewide candidate, but the overall point is valid: the TTC does nothing to help cities, and the big urban counties are trending Democratic, so it makes sense for a politician with an urban base to get out in front of this.

The rural aspect of this shouldn’t be overlooked, however. The Corridor Watch page is loaded with quotes from rural citizens and officials that run the gamut from concern over the impact of the TTC on rural communities to outright panic. Convincing these folks that the TTC is a clear indication of Governor Perry’s lack of concern for their way of life would be a pretty good way to possibly peel some votes out of a Republican stronghold. We’re not going to win in 2006 on cities and South Texas alone. We need some people to switch sides, and I think this is an issue that could be persuasive.

The TTC encapsulates just about everything that’s wrong with the Perry administration: Whacked-out fiscal priorities, so-called solutions that don’t actually solve real problems, Tammany Hall tendencies, and power as an end unto itself. The more noise we make about it now, the better.

Boggs, Ryno in the Hall

Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, thus resolving one puzzling omission but not others.

Boggs, a five-time American League batting champion for the Boston Red Sox, was selected by 474 of the record 516 voters who are 10-year members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

The 91.86 percent of ballots he received was the 19th-highest percentage in Hall history, and he became the 41st player elected on his first chance.

In total votes, Boggs trailed only Nolan Ryan (491) and George Brett (488).

“It’s mind-boggling to be put in the same category,” said Boggs, who credited his success to his 79-year-old father, Winfield.

“He coached me in Little League and sort of nurtured me along — was there every phone call in the minor leagues,” Boggs said.

Sandberg, the 1984 National League MVP for the Chicago Cubs, was picked by 393 voters. He appeared on 76.2 percent of ballots, just above the 75 percent cutoff (387). Sandberg received 49.2 percent of votes in 2003 and got 61.1 percent last year, falling 71 votes short.

“Watching Ryno play in the other league was a treat,” Boggs said. “He could work Wrigley magic more than anybody knew.”

No arguments here – they were both on my imaginary ballot. As for the also-rans:

Reliever Bruce Sutter, appearing on the ballot for the 12th time, received 344 votes (66.7 percent), up from 301 last year but 43 shy of what was needed this time. He was followed by Jim Rice (307), Rich “Goose” Gossage (285) and Andre Dawson (270).

With a weak class next year, Sutter looks like a lock, and I’d say Rice and Gossage are in decent shape. I don’t quite understand voting for Sutter and not Gossage, but it’s a minor sin. Bert Blyleven gained five percentage points from last year, but at that rate he’s in a footrace with the 15-year time limit. And don’t get me started on people who’d vote for Jack Morris but not Blyleven, especially on the strength of one freaking World Series game. That’s the kind of mentality that kept Don Larsen and his 81-91 career record on the Hall ballot year after year. I’m not saying Morris is no more worthy than Larsen – I wouldn’t vote for him, but he wouldn’t be a ridiculous choice – just that anyone who’d rank them that way have a lot to learn about performance metrics. And before anyone says Morris “knew how to win” or “pitched to the score”, please read this.

Ron Kirk: What are the odds?

Based on the odds he’s assigned to a somewhat abridged list of contenders for the DNC Chair, this dude seems to think Ron Kirk is the favorite. Not sure what to make of that, but take a look for yourself. Kirk has been rumored to be looking at another statewide run in 2006, so who knows. Via Lauri, who has an amusing story from the Kirk/Cornyn Senate race of 2002.

Mayor White: Year One

Kristen Mack takes a look at Year One of Bill White’s term as Mayor.

White can count several successes after a year in office, even as he faces a continuing tight budget, complaints from some City Council members that they’re left out of decision making and the possibility of obstacles in Austin.

“Houston has had a great year,” White said. “I’m proud of the role my administration played in that. We’ve started to change the culture at City Hall. There’s a sense of confidence that it works.”

City Controller Annise Parker also is completing her first year on the job, but she served three terms on the council and says she likes the new atmosphere.

“I think people inside and outside of City Hall feel like things are happening,” she said. “There is a sense of optimism in the city, and there is an air of activity. It certainly has a different feel.”


White succeeded Lee Brown, who could not seek re-election because of city term limits. Brown had successes — three new sports facilities and a light rail system were completed on his watch — but he struggled with partisan splits on City Council, failed to pass a drainage funding plan and was criticized for inattention to detail during his lame-duck third term.

I feel like one of White’s biggest successes from last year has been a lack of major screwups. Whether by luck or design, road construction has gone pretty well. The next phase of the US 59 redesign, including the shutdown of the downtown spur started a month into White’s term, and all the bad things people thought might happen have for the most part not happened. There wasn’t anything he could do about this, but had it been the disaster that it might have been, it would have been a major distraction. Same thing with the completion of the light rail in time for the Super Bowl. Lucky? Sure, but you better believe it helped.

This is not in any way to sell short what White accomplished last year. As Bob Stein put it, he pushed the envelope and did very well at it. He tackled some very big problems and made headway on them, all without much dissension in the City Council. Agree with what he’s done or not, you’ve got to respect the achievement.

I think this year will be more difficult for all the reasons Mack states, but I think White will remain popular overall and will continue to get most of what he wants to do done.

House committee to investigate Gregg Phillips

This is a good start.

The head of a state House investigating committee said Monday he will look into allegations of cronyism involving contracting at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Workforce Commission.

“This is something we need to look into,” said Rep. Kevin Bailey, D-Houston, chairman of the House General Investigating Committee.


Bailey said he has asked his staff to review the Chronicle stories to see if a full investigation is warranted. Bailey said he also will ask for cooperation from the state auditor’s office as well as Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle in looking into contracting at HHSC and TWC.

Bailey said the Chronicle’s stories looked similar to a state auditor’s finding last year that HHSC overpaid a vendor for a rural Children’s Health Insurance Program by $20 million.

More than a fourth of that money went to a subcontractor with no employees and two consultants.

“It appears to be business as usual over there (at HHSC),” Bailey said.

State Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, a member of the budget-writing appropriations committee, said he asked Bailey to initiate the review.

“The general investigating committee should look at this and report to the Legislature to open our eyes, especially if there is going to be more privatization of state business,” Eiland said.

Eiland said he was surprised at how many people involved in state contracts with Phillips and Temple had Mississippi ties.

“All their friends seem to be from Mississippi. At least they could get some friends here in Texas,” Eiland said.

I hope this goes somewhere. I strongly suspect there’s still more to it than what we’ve seen so far.