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January 24th, 2005:

Pardon me?

Via Atrios, this rather stunning bit of testimony from the Gonzales confirmation hearings.

Asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy to describe “in detail” the only court appearance he ever made on behalf of Bush, Gonzales—who was then chief counsel to the Texas governor—wrote that he had accompanied Bush the day he went to court “prepared to serve on a jury.” While there, Gonzales wrote, he “observed” the defense lawyer make a motion to strike Bush from the jury panel “to which the prosecutor did not object.” Asked by the judge whether he had “any views on this,” Gonzales recalled, he said he did not.

While Gonzales’s account tracks with the official court transcript, it leaves out a key part of what happened that day, according to Travis County Judge David Crain. In separate interviews, Crain—along with Wahlberg and prosecutor John Lastovica—told NEWSWEEK that, before the case began, Gonzales asked to have an off-the-record conference in the judge’s chambers. Gonzales then asked Crain to “consider” striking Bush from the jury, making the novel “conflict of interest” argument that the Texas governor might one day be asked to pardon the defendant (who worked at an Austin nightclub called Sugar’s), the judge said.

Um. Where I come from, we call Sugar’s a gentlemen’s club (not safe for work). Didn’t anyone think it was, you know, a bit odd that then-Governor Bush knew someone well enough at such a place to maybe pardon him some day? Whatever will we tell the Rev. Dobson? I’m just asking.

UPDATE: I should have been clearer about this. The idea that then-Governor Bush could have been concerned enough about the prospect of some day pardoning a strip club employee (and anyone who’s spent more than a day in Austin knows that Sugar’s is a strip club) for a drunk-driving offense to see it as a possible “conflict of interest” is so ridiculous on its face that I just can’t believe a judge would buy it. Liberty in the comments is correct – if this is the case, then he couldn’t have been “prepared to serve” because the same argument would work for any defendant ever.

Anyway. I posted this because I was amused by the reference to Sugar’s as a “nightclub”, and because seeing that took what I thought was an already-silly argument to new heights of ludicrousness.

Will Andy Taylor put out for us?

Andy Taylor, chief mouthpiece for Talmadge Heflin, was supposed to have a press conference this afternoon at 2:30 in which he would present irrefutable evidence that those nasty Democrats stole the HD149 election from poor ol’ Talmadge. He’s been saying that all along now (modulo the occasional backtrack), but as there’s no news stories about this momentous event just yet, I can’t say if he’s finally come forth with something resembling evidence or not or if this is just more of the same. Consider this post a placeholder for now.

In the meantime, both Gary Scharrer and Harvey Kronberg note that the state GOP is putting a lot of pressure on its foot soldiers to fall in line and support overthrowing Hubert Vo for Heflin. Kronberg:

While Heflin was popular among his peers, virtually every Republican I have interviewed – including the most senior leadership – has stressed that only overwhelming evidence of serious and systemic voter fraud would persuade them throw to out an election.

Proving substantial voter fraud is a high standard and the burden rests exclusively with Heflin. Last week’s filings by Heflin point to some election irregularities, but I am not sure there is much evidence of fraud.

Meanwhile, Republican Party chairman Tina Benkiser has been ratcheting up the rhetoric, calling for a GOP grassroots uprising. Alleging a history of Democrats stealing elections, she has called upon the Republican faithful to lean on their legislators. She claims outside pressure is being exerted to keep the challenge from reaching the floor of the House. But with a Republican super majority and a fearless Republican speaker who is firmly in charge, Benkiser’s claims of outside pressure ring hollow.

Of course, the so-called “stolen” elections to which Benkiser refers were in South Texas where Democrats administered the elections.

This election was held in Houston where Republicans administered the election and counted the votes.

Scharrer:

Democrats warn of dire consequences if Republicans call a new election for Heflin.

“I’m going to let loose unless they do what’s right,” says Rep. Paul Moreno, D-El Paso.

Individual Republicans have told Moreno they are under pressure to push a conservative agenda “no matter what” and might have to support Heflin, Moreno says.

File all that away for later. We should know more soon.

UPDATE: Rob reminds me that many contest-related documents can be found here. I do know that each side’s full briefs are not there, however. Initial and rather unexcited coverage is here.

Taking back Congress, one step at a time

Last week, Chris Bowers of MyDD looked at a number of Congressional races that ought to be priority targets for the Democrats in 2006. He has a goal of targeting 80 races, with every seat being challenged.

As a proponent of a 254-county strategy in Texas, I’d like nothing more than to see strong Democrats running in all 32 races here. It’s hard to say right now what the Congressional race landscape will look like next year. There will be two high profile races for sure – whoever goes against Chet Edwards for the last of the redistricting-targeted seats, and a DeLay/Morrison rematch in CD22. Beyond that, other than a likely rematch between Henry Cuellar and Ciro Rodriguez in the Democratic primary for CD28, it’s hard to say what races of interest, if any, will develop.

As I noted in the comments, races I’d like to see on the map next year include CD23 which, depending on what KBH does, may involve an open seat, CD21, and CD14. I still have fond hopes that someone with a recognizable name and an ability to raise cash will take a shot at CD07, but I expect to be sadly disappointed there.

Something that I keep coming back to as I look at different districts is that Democrats need to be more aggressive in challenging for State House seats, almost as a prerequisite for mounting more serious challenges in Congressional races. As an example, Andrew D recently intruduced us to a potential rising star on the Democratic side:

Another pleasant experience was meeting the man who I have bestowed the sobriquet “Gov” on- Lt. Cmdr. Juan M. Garica (USN-Ret.) of Corpus Christi. Sounds great, right? A Military guy. But his resume only begins there. LCDR Garcia is also a graduate of UCLA, Harvard Law and the Kennedy School of Government. In terms of charisma he is second only to John Edwards in people I have met. He had ladies (and some of the guys) turning their heads and the rest of the guys (and all the ladies) ready to open their wallets. His family is great too- his beautiful wife Danielle came with him, though they left their 4 kids (straight out of a commercial cute) in Corpus. He is also bilingual. Garcia was approached by the Republican Party to run for office, but made it clear that he was not on their side and is now planning to take on Republican State Rep. Gene Seaman in 2006. Keep your eye on this guy- he is going places. The Latino John Kennedy I called him.

In 2002, Gene Seamon won reelection by beating Democrat Josephine Miller 53.35%-46.65%. In 2004, he ran unopposed. His district in 2002 split 58-42 Republican, dead on the state average, meaning he underperformed by more than four percentage points. So why in the world did he not draw a challenger in 2004? He should have been a top target, but instead he got a free ride. I’m just boggled.

And what does that have to do with Congressional races? Well, HD32 contains Calhoun and Aransas counties, both of which are represented by the unchallenged-in-2004 Ron Paul. I don’t know about you, but I think it’d be an easier task to knock off Paul with a Democratic state rep in those districts, especially if Paul’s 2006 challenger comes from the opposite end of that nearly-bifurcated district (i.e., someone like Galveston’s Craig Eiland). But no challenger to Seaman in 2004 means no chance to have that help there for Paul’s putative challenger in 2006. So sorry.

Another example: Williamson County, home base of CD31’s John Carter, appears to be on a modest Democratic trend – George Bush did three points worse there this past year than he did in 2000 despite running two points better overall in Texas. CD31 is as few cycles away from being competitive, but wouldn’t it be nice to have already unseated one or both of Williamson’s Republican State Reps for when that does happen? Hey, Jon Porter, what do you think about that?

Basically, having a stronger and broader slate of State House candidates (and, one hopes) a larger share of the State House membership means having a deeper bench from which to recruit candidates for the next level. Democrats didn’t do a good job of building its bench in 2004 despite its (so far) one-seat gain. If there’s one concrete thing the Democratic Party can do better in 2006, that’s it.

There are ancillary benefits to running aggressively in the State House races – Greg and I are (very slowly) working on a thesis that having candidates in these races, even sacrificial lambs running in abandon-all-hope districts, help to boost other candidates on your ticket. That’s something Democrats should really want to have wherever they can find it if they want to have any hope of winning statewide (or, more modestly, Harris County-wide) elections. (The same is true at other levels – one reason I keep harping on CD07 is the belief that a strong Democratic challenger to John Culberson would help to swamp Martha Wong and maybe Joe Nixon’s boats.) And even though State Rep races are more expensive than they used to be, they’re still dirt cheap compared to Congressional races; in addition, as Hubert Vo demonstrated, good strategy and lots of shoe leather can make up for a big funding gap. It’s just good value for the investment, and the eventual payoff can be big indeed.

One last thing: We’ll be redistricting again in 2011, and assuming that Jeff Wentworth’s perennial proposal to have that chore done by a nonpartisan commission remains a beautiful theory, it would be awfully nice to have a Democratic House by then. Wishing for a favorable ruling from the courts only gets you so far, you know?

Cell phone directory still a no-go

For the foreseeable future, there still won’t be a comprehensive directory of cell phone numbers.

Nearly half of the 175 million cell phone users in the United States will not have a chance to sign up for the directory when it is unveiled later this year because they use one of three major carriers that have chosen not to participate.

Among them are Sprint and Alltel, which backed away from the project for at least this year because of bad publicity over the directory and possible regulations that could make the service less profitable. Verizon from the onset said it would not participate because it felt consumer privacy needs could not be guaranteed.

“With Sprint, Alltel and Verizon out, the power of the tool is greatly diminished,” said Julie Ask, an industry analyst with Jupiter Research.

[…]

Analysts believe the wireless industry itself should be faulted for coming up short. They say it should have anticipated consumer concerns and been aggressive about countering them through advertising or public relations.

The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, which spearheaded the directory, is taking the brunt of such criticism.

“The CTIA did a bad job of PR, quite frankly,” said Michele Pierz of the Pierz Group, a consulting firm that analyzes directory assistance and has done consumer studies on the wireless directory.

As an example, Pierz points to a mad rush by cell phone users to register their numbers on a federal no-call list aimed at preventing calls from telemarketers.

Bogus e-mails circulating around the country last month incorrectly told wireless consumers that inclusion in the directory would mean telemarketers would have access to their numbers.

Millions of wireless consumers responded by registering their cell phones on the national do-not-call registry.

Telemarketers, by law, are not allowed to call cell phones.

[…]

A Pierz Group study published in August illustrates the confusion, Pierz said.

Only 10 percent of the wireless consumers polled in Pierz’s survey said they would want their phone listed in the directory when no privacy measures were clearly explained to them.

But once consumers understood the service, they overwhelmingly favored it.

She said consumers were especially attracted to any directory service offering technologies that carriers have successfully tested but are not yet including.

“If you gave people a choice of different privacy protections, 74 percent said they would list their cell phone numbers,” Pierz said.

I’m not so worried about the privacy issues here. As long as telemarketers are forbidden to call my cellphone, I’m happy. I’m not sure how much I personally would use this service, but it sure seems like this kind of directory will be really needed real soon now. Guess I’ll keep programming the numbers I need into my own cell for the time being.

I-45, westward ho?

The latest crazy-ass proposal for I-45 north of downtown: Move it west, where Houston Avenue is. Just say no.

First Ward leaders reacted with alarm when a Downtown Management District board member proposed rerouting a section of Interstate 45 to run along Houston Avenue, which would require eliminating some homes and businesses. It was the latest in a series of recent proposals for development or transportation projects that would affect neighborhoods north of downtown.

“We’re very concerned, and it’s part of that whole sweep across the north side that we’re trying to track that’s threatening these older neighborhoods,” said David Bush, the director of programs and information for the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance.

[…]

The latest flare-up is response to a proposal by Mark Cover, an executive of the Hines real estate firm who serves on the board of the Houston Downtown Management District. His idea calls for shifting a segment of Interstate 45 westward to align with Houston Avenue, opening up space for a new urban park and related development projects.

In October, the district proposed a more modest realignment of the freeway to public land near the site of the old Houston Police Station on Riesner Street. This proposal, part of a broad 20-year vision for downtown, would not affect the First Ward or other nearby neighborhoods, said Guy Hagstette, the district’s planning and capital projects director.

Cover could not be reached for comment. Hagstette said Cover thought the district’s proposal “wasn’t bold enough,” but he emphasized the district had not endorsed Cover’s idea.

“This is still just in the discovery stage. This is extremely preliminary,” Hagstette said.

[…]

The alarm caused by the I-45 ideas might seem premature, since the Texas Department of Transportation says its study of the freeway’s northern segment does not envision any change from its current alignment. Agency spokeswoman Janelle Gbur said she could not recall a section of any Houston freeway having been moved.

Gbur said, however, said the I-45 planning process is in an early enough stage that new ideas can be considered.

“Now is the time to be engaging TxDOT in this dialogue,” Gbur said. “We can entertain some different options for Interstate 45’s future, but we can only build what the public will endure.”

Here’s my dialogue, Janelle: Hell, no!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Until someone can explain to me why the already-existing and heavily-underutilized Hardy Toll Road isn’t the better solution to I-45’s congestion than tearing up neighborhoods to widen that accursed freeway, I will oppose any alteration to what we’ve got now.

RIP, Johnny Carson

Good night, Johnny.

As always with all things showbiz, Mark Evanier‘s blog is the place to go for the best information. Start here and work your way forward.