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January 9th, 2005:

Is there any entity which does not have eminent domain powers?

I was reading this column by real estate writer Nancy Sarnoff about a group of folks from a neighborhood near where I work trying to fight against the construction of a big Med Center parking garage when I came across this tidbit:

Just like the city of Houston, the Medical Center has the ability to acquire property through eminent domain, which allows it to sidestep deed restrictions.

Umm. Last I checked, the Texas Medical Center was not a govenrment agency. Why does it have the power of eminent domain? Am I the only person in Houston who didn’t know about this? Who else has this capability?

Is the honeymoon over?

Seems like just last week we were looking back on how successful a year Mayor Bill White had in 2004. (See also his interview in the Texas Observer.) Since then, White has been pummelled for problems with the Safe Clear mandatory towing program and for lack of action cleaning up the HPD crime lab. Oops.

I haven’t followed the Safe Clear story very closely – for all of their rhetorical excesses, the folks at blogHOUSTON have been all over that one. If Bill White is as smart as we’ve all thought he is, he’ll recover from this since there’s certainly merit to the concept of clearing stalls and fender benders from the highways, and a better plan, or a better implementation of this plan, could achieve that objective without pissing lots of people off. State Sen. John Whitmire, a recent critic of the program, has apprently suggested that an expanded MAP program would be a better idea, and so it would. Fixing this program is doable, and the sooner it happens, the more of a salvaged win this would still be for White.

(By the way, note how that Chron story on Whitmire’s criticism has no indication that he supports even the idea of Safe Clear, but this KHOU story does? So much for the Chron being a cheerleader for White.)

A potentially bigger problem, floating under the surface, is White’s relationship with those who should be his allies. At the Greater Heights Democratic Club meeting yesterday, Councilman Adrian Garcia discussed the Safe Clear issue, and he said that he had been assured prior to passage of the city ordinance which created Safe Clear, that items like fee coverage for the poor and transporting families would be taken care of. He stated that having seen what has happened with the program, he felt that he had been lied to by David Saperstein, Mayor White’s “Mobility Czar”. That’s pretty damning, and it needs to be addressed at least as quickly as the other Safe Clear prblems are.

I still think White is in a strong position, but he’s been bloodied, and it’s his own fault. He can get back on the right track, but the clock is ticking. Don’t screw it up, Mister Mayor.

(For more on the HPD Crime Lab, see Grits.)

The fun begins on Tuesday

Tuesday is the day that state legislators are sworn in, marking the start of the 79th biennial 180-day session. Many of the problems of 2003 will be back in 2005 – budget shortfall, a tax structure in dire need of overhaul and the broken school finance system that depends on it, social services in desperate need – though this time there’s a little more consensus that spending cuts alone are not a viable solution (see “CHIP funding, restoration of”).

The 78th Lege, the first one with Republicans in charge of everything, finished as one of the most divisive and partisan sessions ever, but it didn’t start that way, as the DeLay-driven reredistricting push didn’t gain steam until April. With the Opiela and Heflin challenges looming large on the January agenda, and the specter of DeLay-necessitated alterations to campaign finance laws and the means of investigating their violations waiting for later, this session starts out with a divisive air, but it doesn’t have to end that way. It’s entirely up to the Republicans, since they control everything, whether partisan interests like these take precedence over actual governing or not. The Democrats can carp and wail from the back microphones, but it’s Craddick, Dewhurst, and Perry that will steer the course. There’s plenty of grist for the ideological mills in the issues that actually require everyone’s attention. Any distractions from those issues along the way will be the result of choices made by those three.

In the Chron, Clay Robison outlines the agenda, while R.G. Ratcliffe looks at the personalities. The starting gun gets fired on Tuesday.

UPDATE: Here’s a good column outlining the issues and the problems with school finance. Via Kimberly. And Kevin makes a good point about managing teachers and merit pay.

Perry’s endorsements so far

Having previously announced the support of conservative groups, Governor Perry has released a list of fellow Republican officeholders who really really like him.

The endorsements for Perry were from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Attorney General Greg Abbott, Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Railroad Commissioners Victor Carrillo, Michael Williams and Charles Matthews.

Matthews was named on Friday as the sole finalist for chancellor of the Texas State University System.

[…]

The endorsement from Combs was a surprise because she is longtime friends with Hutchison and has said she will run for comptroller if Strayhorn vacates the office. Combs could not be reached for comment, but she released a statement that she has $1.74 million available for a comptroller’s race.

Perry’s greatest strength among Republicans is from the party’s right wing — social conservatives who oppose abortion and support issues such as private school vouchers.

That last sentence would seem to imply that there’s a discrenable faction of the Texas GOP which isn’t “social conservatives who oppose abortion and support issues such as private school vouchers”. They’re awfully quiet if they do exist, that’s for sure. You’d really have to make Perry a strong favorite in the primary if the above is true.

Meanwhile, Kinky Friedman, the only candidate so far who would be assured of running in the November general election, has picked up a crucial endorsement from New Jersey, something which I’m sure he’d appreciate.

Another reason why It’s Worth It

This morning, Tiffany and Olivia and I walked to the new Berryhill near our house for breakfast tacos. It’s about 70 degrees outside, with clear and sunny skies. In a month or so, I expect many of you who are “blessed” with four seasons to be bitching and moaning about how much you hate February, while I’m making plans to attend a Rice baseball game on my birthday. Yes, this is another reason why It’s Worth It.