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January 14th, 2005:

Blogging the state house

I heartily endorse this idea.

Newspapers clearly are embracing the idea of staff blogs, and one area of news coverage that’s ripe for blogging is the politics and government beat. At the Times Argus and Rutland Herald in Vermont, a new statehouse blog by Vermont press bureau chief Darren Allen has debuted.

New media director Ernesto Burden says the blog, called Hall Monitor, features “an inside perspective on statehouse happenings, including scuttlebutt that may never see the pages of the newspaper but will be a great resource and a heck of a lot of fun for political junkies, news lovers, and probably the legislators themselves.”

Says Allen: “There are countless things that members of the press talk about informally with lawmakers, lobbyists, and state officials, and it never gets communicated to our readers. With the blog, I am excited by the opportunity to let them in on the conversation.” (There’s not yet a reader forum attached to Hall Monitor, but that’s planned soon, says Burden.)

This is Exhibit A for how how newspapers can use the concept of blogging to make their product better at little to no cost to themselves. The Express News was on the right track by having local delegates blog the DNC and RNC, but there’s much more bang for the buck here. I’ll send a box of chocolates to the first news editor to implement such a thing. Thanks to Kimberly for the tip.

While we’re on the subject here, how about some blogging from state reps themselves? Aaron Pena (D, Edinburg) is the pioneer here, though I do wish one of his “younger staff members” had also explained the advantages of Movable Type or WordPress to him. Still, the fact that he’s actually putting out content of interest on a reasonably regular basis is something to be happy about. Way to go, Rep. Pena! Via Byron and Greg, who notes a more traditional blog from New Hampshire State Rep. Peter Sullivan.

The calendar girls of Port Aransas

Nothing like a naked calendar to raise money for the arts.

“The flesh may sag,” said calendar cover girl Judith Greer, “but skin still sells.”

Greer’s wisdom draws laughter loud enough to drown out the sea gulls floating over the marina of this coastal resort town. Her audience, mainly senior Port Aransas women, know exactly what she’s talking about.

Skin does sell, and sometimes a little sagging here and there even helps, not that Greer, statuesque and sleek at 65, shows much sign of it. To prove it, 14 Port Aransas women — including the newly elected mayor, Georgia Neblett — posed for a pinup calendar that has rocked the local boat and made these Port A beauties delightedly notorious.

“I’m not used to people saying ‘I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on,’ ” said Fran Hail, 53, a retired nanny and teacher who moved to Port Aransas from the Houston area. “I’ll be standing in line at the grocery story in town and get people looking at me. I just want to say, ‘Yeah, I’m Miss April.’ ”

All but three of the calendar girls are past 50. All 14 can be seen, not quite bare but barely covered, in the Treasures of South Texas 2005 calendar.

Yes, they were inspired by the movie Calendar Girls. You can buy their calendar here. Hey, it’s for a good cause.

Who needs 527s when you have reality TV?

Meet Jolanda Jones: attorney, civic activist, City Council candidate, contestant on Survivor. I think Keir is right when he says “No amount of money could buy her potential campaign the kind of notoriety she would gain from an extended run on the hit show.” Once again, this November is starting to look more interesting that I would have thought it would be.

Coleman convicted of perjury

Good.

The lone undercover agent in a sting that sent dozens of black people to prison on bogus drug charges in Tulia was convicted today of one of two perjury counts.

Tom Coleman was acquitted of testifying falsely in a 2003 hearing that as a sheriff’s deputy he never stole gas from county pumps, but he was found guilty of saying that he didn’t learn about the theft charge against him until August 1998.

Jurors were to begin hearing evidence in the penalty phase of the trial later today. Aggravated perjury is a third-degree felony and carries a maximum 10-year sentence and $10,000 fine.

Coleman had no noticeable reaction as the verdict was read, but some Tulia defendants in the courtroom bowed their heads as the verdict was read.

This report is hot off the presses, so I don’t have any idea yet why Coleman was acquitted on one of the two counts. Apparently, the case took a strange turn yesterday when one of the prosecutors was called as a witness for the defense.

Dallas attorney John Nation turned out to be the biggest surprise of the day. Defense attorneys for Coleman called Nation as a witness. Attorneys questioned him about a potential conflict of interest since Nation formerly represented the state and Coleman in the 2003 writ of habeas corpus hearing for several Tulia drug defendants. That`s the hearing that Coleman is accused of perjuring himself.

In cross-examination, Nation said he removed himself from the case, “because I was convinced he was committing aggravated perjury and I had an ethical duty to stop there.”

The state is expected to pick up with more testimony Friday morning and then the case will go into closing arguments.

The judge granted Nation`s motion to be removed from the case Thursday evening.

The defense called Tom Coleman`s mother to the stand early Thursday morning. She supported defense claims that her son did not steal gas because witnesses say they saw a man in a white hat. Ms. Coleman says her son only wears black cowboy hats.

I include that last bit because for all I know, it was what got Coleman off on the gas-stealing charge. Alan Bean’s most recent entry goes into more detail about the defense’s case. I hope he can give us one more post to explain the verdicts. The Texas Tech newspaper has some decent coverage from yesterday as well.

Finally, as Grits notes, the last chapter of the Tulia case might be the abolishment of Tulia-style narcotics task forces in Texas. If so, then something good will have come out of all this.

UPDATE: Initial coverage from Grits here and here.

Baseball’s new steroid policy

So Major League Baseball has implemented a new steroid policy which includes random testing and suspensions for violations. What reaction I’ve seen so far has been mixed – King Kaufman approves, while AP’s Steve Wilstein disapproves (latter link via Eric McErlain). David Pinto has some more info.

Personally, I’m ambivalent. This is being done primarily for public relations purposes, and as far as that goes I think the policy will achieve its desired result. Until someone shows me a study which shows a link between steroid usage and improved performance on the diamond, though, I’ll think it’s nothing more than that.

Questions to ponder: Does a player who says the positive result he generated is false get an appeal? How will they differentiate between “cream” and “clear” and legitimate palliatives which contain steroids (as an example, I used to use an inhaler for asthma which was steroid-based)? If BALCO’s products had been shown to have use as pain relievers, would we still demonize them? I’m just asking.

Strayhorn’s money

Looks like Comptroller Strayhorn will be in decent financial shape for any GOP primary she chooses to participate in.

Republican Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn said Thursday that she has $5.7 million in cash on hand for her next campaign.

[…]

“In 30 years of public service, I have never enjoyed this level of support this far out from an election,” Strayhorn said. “I am honored and humbled by the support of hard-working Texans across this state.”

Between July 1 and Dec. 11, Strayhorn raised $2.25 million.

Perry, who also filed his report on Thursday, said he has $8 million in cash on hand for his re-election bid.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, also thought to be a contender for governor, has $6.7 million to spend on a state or U.S. Senate campaign.

Let’s hope all three of them spend much of that money in the primary. More info at the PerryVsWorld blog.

UT spammer sued by AG

UPDATE: This post about Ryan Pitylak is no longer accurate, and as it is apparently causing Ryan some harm, I have removed it.