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May, 2005:

The Phantom Professor

Another catchup…The Chron reports on the Phantom Professor, a formerly-anonymous blogger who wrote in rather unflattering tones about her experiences teaching at SMU.

For most of the past two semesters, nobody knew the identity of “The Phantom Professor.”

The educator’s anonymous Web log, set at an unnamed university “in the South,” spun tales of spoiled-rich “Ashleys” with their $500 sandals and $1,500 handbags, eating disorders, plagiarism and drug use, legal and illegal.

“At this school it seems like every kid is on multiple medications,” the professor wrote, describing her charges as “barely literate,” prone to emotional problems and “terrified of displeasing Mommy and Daddy.”

Surrounded by students sporting French manicures and plans for spring break in Cabo, the blog’s author told stories like the one about “a certain member of a Middle Eastern royal family who got a new Mercedes by convincing a frat buddy to crash his one-year-old model into a wall” or how one stall in a certain ladies room was known as “the purge-atory.”

No names were used, but this spring at Southern Methodist University, students and faculty began recognizing themselves in the phantom’s prose. A student in SMU’s corporate communications and public affairs department discovered the blog had quoted the content of e-mail she had sent to one of her teachers. It called her “clueless.”

An assistant professor had no trouble identifying herself in another short posting about a faculty member who was “fresh from a mediocre Midwestern University with a Ph.D. in something no one cares about.”

Earlier this month, Elaine Liner, an adjunct professor who taught writing and ethics classes in SMU’s public relations department since 2001, revealed in an online publication that the blog was hers. Liner, who writes freelance theater reviews for a Dallas weekly, also let it be known that in late March she was told her contract to teach at the school would not be renewed.

“One of the ironies of this is that I worked in a building that had the First Amendment carved in stone across its front,” Liner said in an interview last week. She said she is certain she was let go because of her blog.

“I can’t arrive at any other conclusion,” said Liner, who was paid $18,000 a year, no benefits, to teach two classes for three semesters.

I sympathize, but it’s been known for a long time that blogging about work can get you fired. However good the stories are, the precedent is pretty firmly set. It may be unfair, and it may be ironic in this case, but it shouldn’t be a surprise.

Do I think she violated some kind of confidentiality rule with her blog? I can’t speak from any experience – I wasn’t the confide-to-a-professor kind of student. I think one is always on shaky ground when gossiping – and let’s face it, this was gossip. Good gossip, perhaps, even book-worthy gossip, but gossip nonetheless. Far as I know, the only real defense when caught out as the town’s unofficial news source is to smile wanly, shrug your shoulders, and (depending on who’s doing the catching-out) either remain quiet or offer an exlcusive for the next time.

Anyway. This DMN story from two weeks ago confirmed her identity and her contract non-renewal. AS noted, Professor Liner has done pretty well for herself since then, so no tears need be shed. One piece of advice for you in case you read this, Professor: Blog about the book tour. Publishers love sequels. No need to use a pseudonym, we already know who the author will be.

UPDATE: Jack doesn’t think much of Professor Liner.

Announcement from KBH?

Is the worst kept secret in America about to become un-secret? The Red State says yes.

According to a highly placed source in U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison’s camp, the Senator is likely to announce her intention to run for Governor of Texas on or about June 6th.

As Byron notes, Aaron Pena reported this in the waning days of the legislative session.

If she announces (and though I do think she will, it’s best not to be unequivocal until you hear the words from her own mouth), no one will be surprised. As PerryVsWorld notes, the Morning News blog has been running a “Hutch-o-meter”, which as of 3:31 PM today was pegging at 100%. There’s no suspense here any more, though there’s still a tiny chance of surprise. The real action will take place after her announcement.

And here I thought things would be boring now that the Lege is closed for the summer.

Announcement in HD48

State Rep. Todd Baxter, a Republican who won in 2004 with the slimmest margin of any incumbent, now has an official challenger for 2006. The Quorum Report has a press release (Word doc) from Austin attorney Andy Brown.

Andy Brown, an attorney at DLA Piper, announced his candidacy today in the Democratic Primary for State Representative in District 48. Mr. Brown brings effective public service, legislative experience and community volunteer leadership to the race.

“I intend to provide the kind of leadership on health care, public education and ethics that Travis County residents expect. We owe a debt of gratitude to Kelly White and Ann Kitchen for their enormous efforts to provide balanced and effective representation in the Texas House. District 48 deserves a new voice.”

Prior to working with technology companies at DLA Piper, Mr. Brown, a graduate of UT Law School, worked as an attorney at Baker Botts in Austin and clerked for U.S. District Judge Randy Crane in McAllen. He worked in the Texas Legislature as a Legislative Aide for Texas Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (TAHSA), a nonprofit nursing home association, and as an Aide to former Speaker Pete Laney working on Ways & Means legislation.

Believing that all Texans should participate fully in the electoral process, Mr. Brown worked for 21st Century Democrats first as a field organizer in West Texas and then as Executive Director. The organization’s mission was to increase voter turnout throughout the State and he had the honor to work with statwide leaders to achieve that goal. In the fall of 2004, Mr. Brown served as the Campaign Manager for Congressman Lloyd Doggett, helping ensure that the people of Central Texas continued to have a voice in Congress despite Tom DeLay’s redistricting tactics.

Baxter has been targeted by the LGRL in 2006. This will be a relatively high-profile race, so I’m sure we’ll be hearing plenty more about it.

Thinking about Kinky

Now that the holiday weekend is over, it’s time to start catching up on some stuff that I drafted for “later”. We’ll start with this PerryVsWorld analysis of how Kinky Friedman might affect the Governor’s race in 2006. Short answer: It’s hard to say, as Friedman has potential appeal to both disaffected Republicans and pessimistic Democrats.

One thing he mentions, which I think can’t be emphasized enough:

Judging from the coverage so far, Friedman is likely to receive plenty of free media. Heck, he announced at the Alamo on cable TV. Press coverage will likely treat Friedman as a novelty — soft but “he has no chance” coverage — until a poll comes out showing Friedman with reasonable support, say above 10%. However, if Kinky can show himself to be gaining traction in the polls, it seems to me that he’s a candidate that the fourth estate is likely to love: independent, claiming fiscal conservatism but socially leaning left.

Do not underestimate the amount of free media that Kinky Friedman can and will generate for himself. He’s a celebrity, an “outsider”, and a quote machine, and that’s an irresistable combination to the press. He’ll also have access to venues that are normally off-limits to regular politicians – think Larry King, the Tonight Show, and Wacky Morning DJ shows across the state (he’s already appeared at least twice on the Dean & Rog show here in Houston, and they’ve played the sycophant role for him perfectly). This is the sort of coverage he’ll get for stuff that normally bores even the most hardcore political junkies:

Trailed by a crew from Country Music Television and a scribe from The New Yorker, iconic 2006 Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman sauntered into town May 23 to unveil his Guy Juke-designed campaign logo and his new media consultant, Bill Hillsman.

Unveiling a logo and introducing a media consultant – man, that’s heavy duty. Those of us who don’t need the presence of a Kinky Friedman to care about the 2006 elections are going to be utterly sick of this sort of thing by the time it’s all over.

I admit I’ve been worried about Kinky’s campaign for a long time now. The scenario that PerryVsWorld speculates about – basically, that Friedman splits the anti-Perry vote – is a nightmare for the Democrats, who will need all of those votes to win. But I think that overall, it’s Rick Perry who has more to worry about. Unpredictability is almost always a negative factor for favorites; for sure, Perry would prefer a straight-up two-candidate race. More importantly, Kinky’s MO so far has been to bash Perry. I believe he’ll continue to do that throughout the race, since Perry is both a convenient target and the most visible symbol of why Kinky feels he needs to run in the first place. This puts him under attack from two fronts, and also gives Chris Bell the opportunity to step back and talk more about what he wants to do, since he’ll know the Case Against Rick Perry will get made regardless.

(Yes, I’m assuming that Perry is the GOP nominee here. I’m making that assumption because I believe it’s the key to Kinky’s campaign. Yeah, he can make the same arguments if KBH runs instead, but it’ll be a lot harder to claim that she’s responsible for the mess in Austin, especially since she’d have won the nomination on a message of change. If he can’t run against the incumbent, it won’t shock me if Kinky decides not to run at all.)

I don’t know any more than PerryVsWorld does what effect Kinky Friedman’s campaign will ultimately have. I think, or at least I’d like to think, that he’ll draw more from Perry than from Bell – there’s not much hope from my perspective otherwise. The first three-way poll numbers will be very interesting, that’s for sure.

Let the analyses begin

The major papers all have analyses of the finally-ended 79th Lege and how its performance will affect Governor Perry in his reelection battle. The consensus is more or less that Perry won a few and lost a few, and that nobody knows just yet how the failure to reform school finance will play out. For me, the best take comes from the Morning News:

Gov. Rick Perry cemented his relationship with social conservatives this legislative session, but he didn’t make many new friends.


In his session’s 140-day to-do list, Mr. Perry scored some major victories: revamping the workers’ compensation system, requiring parental consent on abortions, securing new help for abused and neglected children.

But the issue at the top of the list – billions more dollars for education and a restructuring of the tax system that pays for schools – circled around the drain at midnight Saturday.

“I just think there’s no way you can say, ‘I got asbestos reform, but I didn’t get school reforms, so it’s a wash,’ ” said SMU political science professor Cal Jillson.

“I really think he was on the griddle this session to do something significant to improve the quality of education.”


Dr. Jillson predicted Mr. Perry’s victories would please the conservatives who have been his core supporters. But with approval ratings that have hovered in the mid-40s for more almost two years, Mr. Perry needed to score a victory to attract moderates.

“He’s held his own, but he hasn’t broadened his base,” Dr. Jillson said. “He needed to deal definitively with education if he was going to hold off Hutchison. I think that door is still ajar.”

I think that’s about right, and I think that sooner or later the small-government types who were happy with the penurious 2003 budget will take a look at the vastly bigger 2005 version and ask themselves what the point was. We’ve certainly seen in recent months that a Republican can be successful by playing to his base without worrying too much about reaching out, but I don’t think you can draw any strong parallels from the Presidential race to Texas 2006, if for no other reason than the likely presence of the Kinky Friedman wild card. I think the school finance failure hurts Rick Perry, and I think that the things he’d call successes – asbestos-lawsuit “reform”, Double Secret Illegalizing gay marriage, and parental consent for abortion – are things that won’t have much appeal to anyone who isn’t already a strong Perry backer.

I find the attempts to defend Perry’s performance this session to be rather ludicrous:

Michael Quinn Sullivan, a spokesman for the low-tax, small-government Texas Public Policy Foundation think tank, agreed.

“Rick Perry has done what a governor is supposed to do: outline priorities, the broad objectives, and leave it to the Legislature to craft the policy,” he said.

While school reforms didn’t happen, Mr. Sullivan said Mr. Perry shouldn’t be blamed.

Why shouldn’t he be blamed? This was his priority. If he can’t get the Legislature – a Legislature dominated by his own party, mind you – to do what he asks them to do, then what good is he? Surely the bar needs to be higher than that.

Another try at it:

Perry pollster Michael Baselice said the legislative failure on property tax cuts is not a negative for the governor.

“There’s been two bites at the apple, but we’re getting closer to getting this thing done,” Baselice said.

Baselice said Perry has been the one to keep pushing the Legislature to solve school finance reform and cut property taxes. Neither of those is easily done, he said.

“The fact is, Perry is the one that kept both chambers together, and kept bringing them back to the table,” Baselice said. “If that’s not leadership, I don’t know what is.”

In my world, leadership involves providing a vision and then persuading people to buy into that vision. What was Rick Perry’s vision for school finance reform? We know more or less what Tom Craddick and David Dewhurst wanted. What did Rick Perry want? Why didn’t he throw his weight behind one or the other of them?

Let’s be clear about something here: If a school finance reform bill had passed, Sullivan and Baselice would have been among the first in line to praise Rick Perry for making it happen. Well, if you get the credit for something when it succeeds, then you get the blame when that same thing fails. It’s as simple as that.

Rick Perry by the numbers:

98 – Media events

96 – Personal or group photo opportunities

85 – Ceremonies and/or speeches

55 – Meetings with visitors from outside Capitol

29 – Trips out of Austin

24 – Meetings with lieutenant governor and House speaker

15 – Formal meetings with legislators

10 – Briefings on executions

2 – Funerals

1 – Overnight stays in White House

Emphasis mine. Why did Governor Perry take more out-of-town trips than meetings with Craddick and Dewhurst? Even if he didn’t realize until the end of the session that school finance reform was in trouble, he surely must have known from the beginning that it would be a rocky road – we all remember what happened in 2003 and 2004, right? Yet here we see where his true priorities were.

Juan Garcia update

There’s been a Juan Garcia sighting, in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times:

Politics seems to love Juan Garcia, the retired Navy pilot whose name had been thrown around earlier this year as a possible mayoral candidate. Questions remain, however, about whether Garcia loves politics.

Rumors began circulating last week that Garcia is planning a run for the U.S. Senate, rumors that Garcia isn’t denying.

A new Web site ( asked for donations and calls Garcia a “new face” with “tested leadership, Texas values.” On Friday afternoon, the political messages had been removed and replaced with a one-line statement: “The site is temporarily down for routine maintenance and will be back up shortly.” Garcia is a graduate of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and is a retired flight instructor at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. He did not run for mayor. An item in the political newsletter The Quorum Report mentioned the most recent Web site and quoted Austin-based consultant Jeff Hewitt as saying the site looked like a “draft Juan campaign.” “I’m not even sure Juan knows who’s behind it,” Hewitt told The Quorum Report. “I don’t think Juan has made a decision.”

Well, I don’t know if this adds to the mystery or subtracts from it, but it’s easy enough to do a whois lookup:

Domain Name……….
Creation Date…….. 2005-04-22
Registration Date…. 2005-04-22
Expiry Date………. 2007-04-22
Organisation Name…. Richard Salazar
Organisation Address. p.o. box 480311
Organisation Address.
Organisation Address. Los Angeles
Organisation Address. 90048
Organisation Address. CA
Organisation Address. UNITED STATES
Admin Name……….. Richard Salazar
Admin Address…….. p.o. box 480311
Admin Address……..
Admin Address…….. Los Angeles
Admin Address…….. 90048
Admin Address…….. CA
Admin Address…….. UNITED STATES
Admin Email………. [email protected]
Admin Phone………. 323-350-1802
Admin Fax…………
Tech Name………… Tim Uzzanti
Tech Address……… 6135 N. 7th St.
Tech Address………
Tech Address……… Phoenix
Tech Address……… 85014-1812
Tech Address……… Arizona
Tech Address……… UNITED STATES
Tech Email……….. [email protected]
Tech Phone……….. 1.6022630300
Tech Fax…………. 1.6022630600
Name Server……….
Name Server……….

Like I say, I have no idea if that clears things up or raises more questions, but it’s there to be looked at.

Back to the story:

In an e-mail to the CallerTimes, Garcia did not distance himself from the Web site.

“We met with folks from Austin, Dallas, and D.C. who made a compelling case for running for the U.S. Senate,” he wrote “Some friends hung a very rudimentary Web site up earlier this week, really just to gauge interest, and from there things have taken off.

“Of course I’m interested in continuing to serve our country, and am obligated to think through an opportunity like this. But we also recognize it’s a momentous undertaking, particularly in a state the size of ours. I’m discussing it with family and friends.”

Yes, it’s a big darned undertaking. I look forward to hearing what your decision is, hopefully soon. Thanks to Ausquant on the Texas_KOS mailing list for finding this.

Texas Political Bloggers page updated

The Texas Political Bloggers page has been updated with all the new and new-to-me blogs that I could find. As always, if I’ve missed something, please let me know about it. I’ll be adding some of these blogs to my blogroll shortly, so please bear with me.

Maintaining that page is a bit of a PITA. I’d kind of like to throw everything into its own blogroll, since I think that’d be marginally easier to keep evergreen, but I’m not keen on adding 200 or so URLs into a blogroll. says it supports OPML, but what I want is some kind of CSV import, since I can create a CSV file fairly easily. Any suggestions? I appreciate it.

A full list of newly-added blogs is beneath the More link. Again, if I’m overlooking something, please tell me about it. Thanks!


Is it over?

By the time you read this, sine die should have been proclaimed at the Capitol, so barring any more “special” sessions, we’re done until 2007. Lots of bills died at the end there, most justifiably so. HB2702 managed to squeak through, but who knows if it’ll get signed. The CPS overhaul bill passed on Friday, but thankfully Robert Talton’s hateful anti-gay foster parent provision was stripped out.

I’m sure we’ll figure out what did and didn’t go through shortly, and I’m sure we’ll find out that something hideous which was hiding in an obscure provision somewhere is now law. Hopefully, that’ll be nothing as bad as HB2292 or HB3588 from last session.

So what did our heroes in Austin accomplish? In some sense, the exact opposite of what Congress has done lately. In DC, it’s been all tax cuts all the time, but no actual progress on the so-called “moral values” agenda. No anti-gay marriage amendment, not much in the way of new abortion restrictions, that sort of thing. In Austin, they Double Secret Illegalized gay marriage and passed a parental consent law, but failed to deliver on their promises of property tax reductions. For my readers who vote Republican, I’m just curious: If you had to choose between the two, which would you have preferred to get done this session? If you didn’t get the one you wanted (and I’m guessing that’s the case), what if anything will you do about it?

Finally, a little humor to end things. Check out the Loco and Dissent Calendar that Kimberly passed along. A couple of my favorites:

HB 76 Woolley
Relating to asking Speaker Tommy Craddick if she could wear his letterjacket AND his class ring.

HR 82 Goolsby
Relating to the rules for the Garnett Coleman drinking game: take a shot every time he says something is “for the children”.

HR 83 Goolsby
Relating to the rules for the Debbie Riddle drinking game: take a shot every time she says some societal problem is linked to “illegal immigrants”.

HB 2112 Kid ‘n’ Play
Relating to wanting their haircut back from Eddie Rodriguez…

HB 2789 Governor Perry
Relating to the acquisition of Katie Holmes as a girlfriend to improve my public image.

You get the idea. Enjoy what’s left of the weekend!

Express-News discovers blogs

The San Antonio Express-News has added a few blogs to its online publication. I can’t say there’s anything there that grabs my interest, but they do have a decent variety of topics, and I like the idea of temporary blogs for short-term events, like their Electronic Entertainment Expo blog. The Chron has done this in the past and did it again last week with the Dead Zone Diaries, which was a report from a research vessel on a swath of oxygen-depleted water that forms each summer in the Gulf of Mexico. The E-N also has the good taste to link to several San Antonio and Texas political bloggers, including yours truly. Thanks to The Jeffersonian for the catch.

And of course, school finance reform is dead

For the third time since 2003, an attempt to overhaul the tax structure in order to get rid of the so-called “Robin Hood” method of public school funding is dead. We’ve known it was dying for some time now, and the reasons for it haven’t changed since we first knew it was in serious trouble, and here it is. It was a top priority of Governor Perry’s, and it failed.

Remember now, this was the third attempt. The Senate took a shot at it in 2003 by unanimously passing a tax reform bill. The House and Governor Perry immediately pissed on it, and it was never spoken of again. (Anyone else think the bad blood this session between David Dewhurst and Tom Craddick can be traced back to that?) Perry called a special session in 2004, which petered out before the 30-day deadline having accomplished nothing other than the House voting 126-0 against a plan he himself put forward. And now this, thanks in part to Perry’s special brand of leadership. I know this sort of thing is hard, but how much time and how many chances do you get before you’re branded an abject failure?

And so let the finger-pointing and buzzard-circling begin!

No sooner had House Republicans fired their last volley across the Senate’s bow Saturday than people began speculating on the political fallout from failing to cut homeowners’ property taxes and resolve school finance.

“My guess is there will be some folks at fairly high levels that will pay a price next March,” said Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, referring to the political primaries.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s decision whether to challenge Perry in the Republican primary will be the first telltale sign of the deadlock’s impact, said Austin consultant Bill Miller, a close ally of Craddick’s.

Lawmakers who made tough votes on school finance and taxes when the proposals first came through their chambers this spring will have to wait longer to see if they will draw opponents.

“All in all, it’s not the kind of news I would want to take home to my constituents,” said Bruce Buchanan, a University of Texas government professor. “The media will keep it alive and hang it around their necks.”

Democratic consultant Jeff Crosby of Austin said the legislative session should help his party gain seats in the Legislature, particularly in the House.

“Not only did they vote for higher taxes,” Crosby said, “they brought you nothing for your schools. That’s a lot of fodder for direct mail and TV commercials.”

Speculation immediately emerged about whether Perry would call lawmakers into a special session, if not to fix school finance, then to brandish his conservative credentials by making lawmakers shrink the double-digit increase in state spending they are set to approve today.

Miller said a special session would represent “short-term gain, long-term loss” for the governor.

Crosby agreed. “I don’t think there is any political will among Republicans to agree on a plan without a gun to their head,” he said. “It would be a tremendous political risk for the governor to call a special session. It could melt down, and he would be the focus.”

Crosby expects Perry to use the line-item veto to reduce the $139 billion budget by about $1 billion.

Perry is considering line-item vetoes and a special session on the budget, according to a source close to the governor.

That source, who requested anonymity because his position, predicted that any special session would begin as soon as Tuesday and continue through the 20-day period when the governor can veto legislation.

Why should anyone think that thirty more days will help? At some point, you have to declare a hung jury and a mistrial and move on. What’s Rick Perry going to do to help in a special session? Will he tell us what he stands for and what he opposes? Will he put his own ideas out there? Will he call out those who refuse to consider good-faith compromises? He’s done precious little of that so far. Why should we believe him now? Go review this entry at the Postcards from the Lege blog and ask, What will have changed in a special session? I can’t think of anything.

The Denny Amendment appears to be dead

I can’t say for certain, but it appears that the attempt by Rep. Mary Denny to restrict access to the ballot box by enforcing stricter ID requirements to vote are dead. The most recent news stories that I see give this impression, though they don’t seem to have anything newer than the Ellis/Van de Putte filibuster maneuvering. In theory, this sucker is in conference committee, where also in theory there won’t be enough time to do anything with it before midnight. Which is good.

Karen Brooks notes how inflamed things got over this proposal.

Some House Democrats, led by minority lawmakers, loudly protested an 11th-hour move by Rep. Mary Denny, R-Aubrey, to tack her bill requiring an ID to vote onto another bill just hours before it would have been dead for the session. So they filibustered for two hours, only to have 25 members get together and push for an immediate vote, with no more debate. The measure passed. The next day, the list of those lawmakers was circulating in the House, and Democrats were busy picking off their local bills (or making their sponsors think they would) by postponing or talking them to death.

I think we’re winding things up at the right time, don’t you?

The telecom bill is dead

The Quorum Report quotes Rep. Phil King offering a eulogy for HB789.

Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) confirms negotiations on House Bill 789 and Senate Bill 743 have broken down irretrievably, with no hope of negotiating either bill.

HB 789 was the telecommunications deregulation bill. King said the House and Senate could not come to a compromise on the statewide franchise for telecommunications services, which the House favored and the Senate did not.

SB 743 was the electric bill. King said the two sides could not agree on several fronts, including the goals for renewable energy. The two sides had a different framework for emerging technologies.

King said the two sides gave up when it was apparent the conference committee report could not be printed and distributed by midnight.

The Statesman has more.

“It’s over; it’s over,” Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, the champion of the proposal, said Saturday night as it became clear that there was no chance the legislation would get to a House vote by the midnight deadline.

“The problem is, we are out of time,” said Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, who led Senate opposition to the plan.

Cable companies and a coalition of Texas cities also fought the proposal, which would have allowed SBC Communications Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. to get a single statewide franchise for their planned Internet television service instead of negotiating scores of agreements with individual cities, as cable companies do.

The failure of the measure is a rare defeat for SBC, one of the most powerful lobby forces in the Legislature. The company’s chief executive, Ed Whitacre, personally visited the Capitol this week to push for the measure, King and Fraser said.

In another defeat for SBC, the clock ran out on legislation that would have allowed it and other major phone companies to set their own local phone rates. The House and Senate could not reconcile sharply different approaches on how to end state rate controls.


Friday night, Fraser, King, SBC and cable industry executives and representatives from the Texas Municipal League started intense talks in an effort to reach a compromise.

Fraser’s idea was to allow the statewide franchise but require SBC and Verizon to provide public access channels and other services, as cable companies do. King balked, in part because Fraser proposed that the franchise last only two years, allowing legislators to adjust the plan in the next session.

“What company is going to invest billions of dollars for two years?” King said.

The talks ended early Saturday morning. SBC lobbyists then met off and on all day with staffers for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

The stalemate on the television proposal also derailed measures to encourage wind power generation in Texas and allow electric companies to offer high-speed Internet connections over power lines. So-called safety net legislation assures the continuance of the utility commission.

Encouraging wind-power generation is a good thing, so I’m sorry to see that die. Maybe that didn’t belong in a bill to deregulate local phone service and ban cities from creating their own wireless networks, however. No question in my mind that we’re better off with things as they are than we would have been had this mess passed in its entirity.

Links via Save Muni Wireless, which has been an invaluable resource – sometimes the only resource – for following this issue. Major kudos to Adina and Chip for their tireless efforts. Rep. King says he’ll be back in two years to try again, so y’all may want to maintain the domain registration for next time.

UPDATE: As Adina notes in the comments, both telecom bills (HB789 and HB3179) are dead. It was a little hard to tell which bills the stories were referring to towards the end there.

Down to the wire for the telecom bill

It’s down to the wire for everything, of course, as Lege business wraps up at midnight Monday morning, but the telecom bill, HB789 is going through the conference committee process to see if differences between the House and Senate versions can be worked out. The biggest difference of course is the ban on municipal WiFi networks, but that’s far from the only sticking point.

I haven’t seen anything on the wires as I write this, so I presume negotiations are ongoing with no news to report (though the long slow school finance reform may be sucking all the oxygen out of the newsgathering process). Save Muni Wireless has highlights from the Senate debate and some contact info if you want to pester any conference committee members on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Dwight points to this article, which explains that setting up a wireless network in a big metro area ain’t as easy as it sounds. I get the impression that it’s mostly the smaller, rural cities in Texas, the ones that are currently underserved by the big telcos, who are really hot for this, so it may not be such a big concern here. Perhaps by the time the Houstons and Dallases get around to thinking about this, the pioneers like Philly and San Francisco will have worked out the bugs for us.

Finally, here’s a view of the telecom bill battle from the telecom insiders’ perspective.

I’ve been memed

Julia tagged me with one of those floating memes about music, so here goes:

What is the total volume of musical files on your computer?

Unless Tiffany has been downloading stuff on her own, basically zilch. I work in an open cubical, so spinning tunes at work is not an option. I’ve just never acquired the habit of grabbing MP3s at home. I tend to spend my computer time at home surfing, not downloading. Maybe later.

What song are you listening to right now?

I just tossed A Midsummer Knot’s Dream by Gordian Knot into the CD player. The second song, “The Cruel Sister”, started as I write this.

Last CD I bought?

Nowadays, I pretty much only buy CDs at the live shows I attend. The last show I caught was Eddie from Ohio in February, so I picked up their latest, This Is Me, plus the solo CD Sophisticated Lady by EFO’s Julie Murphy Wells.

Five songs you listen to a lot and which mean something to you

I don’t usually go looking for meaning in music. I think music speaks for itself, and what may be deep and meaningful to you may be just a nice little tune to me. For what it’s worth, the most meaningful music I know is two songs that I performed in college, one in choir and the other in wind symphony. The choral piece is “Exultate Deo” by Francois Poulenc, easily the most mournful glorification of God I’ve ever heard that still managed to retain some hope – it was written in 1941 when things weren’t so happy in France, so you can imagine where all that comes from. The wind symphony piece was Karel Husa‘s Music for Prague 1968, conducted by the composer himself. I can’t adequately describe the feelings these songs evoked in me. All I can say is that at the time of the performance, there was nothing else in the world but the music in front of me. I’ve performed music in one form or another for 30 years now, and I can’t think of any other songs for which that’s true.

That’s not really the answer you’re looking for, though, so let’s go with…

1. Fly Me To The Moon, by Bart Howard, preferred version sung by Frank Sinatra. It was our first-dance song at our wedding, as it was at my parents’ wedding.

2. Cakewalk, by the Asylum Street Spankers.

Life ain’t a cakewalk, it’s a waltz
And they’re playing my music out of time

I’ve just always liked those lyrics.

3. If I Had A Boat, written by Lyle Lovett, preferred version by EFO.

The Mystery Masked Man was smart
He got himself a Tonto
‘Cause Tonto did the dirty work for free
But Tonto, he was smarter
One day he said “Kemo Sabe,
Kiss my ass, I’ve bought a boat
I’m sailing out to sea”

As EFO’s Robbie says, it’s one of those songs you’d wish you’d written yourself.

4. Green Fields of France, written by Eric Bogle, preferred version by Ceili’s Muse. One of the very few songs I can’t listen to without choking up a little, especially now having seen a green field like that myself.

5. Born At the Right Time, Paul Simon. It’s the song that was going through my head when Olivia was born.

Okay then. Sue, Kimberly, and Ginger, I hereby pass the baton to you.

Tom DeLay jumps the shark

This is what I get for being too drained from watching the Lost season finale to tune into Law and Order: Criminal Intent on its special night.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay accused NBC Thursday of slurring his name by including an unflattering reference to him on the NBC police drama Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

DeLay’s name surfaced Wednesday night on the show’s season finale, which centered on the fictional slayings of two judges by suspected right-wing extremists.

In the episode, police are frustrated by a lack of clues, leading one officer to quip, “Maybe we should put out an APB (all-points-bulletin) for somebody in a Tom DeLay T-shirt.”

In a letter to NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker, DeLay wrote: “This manipulation of my name and trivialization of the sensitive issue of judicial security represents a reckless disregard for the suffering initiated by recent tragedies and a great disservice to public discourse.”

The Texas Republican went on to suggest the “slur” against him was intended as a jab at comments he had made about “the need for Congress to closely monitor the federal judiciary.”

NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly responded in a statement that the dialogue in question “was neither a political comment nor an accusation.”

“The script line involved an exasperated detective bedeviled by a lack of clues, making a sarcastic comment about the futility of looking for a suspect when no specific description existed,” Reilly said.

He added: “It’s not unusual for Law & Order to mention real names in its fictional stories. We’re confident in our viewers’ ability to distinguish between the two.”

Park Dietz excepted, perhaps.

Producer Dick Wolf, creator of the Law & Order franchise, took a swipe at DeLay in his own statement Thursday, saying, “I … congratulate Congressman DeLay for switching the spotlight from his own problems to an episode of a TV show.”

That’s a standard trick in DeLay’s bag. Had it not been for that show on Wednesday, he’d have found something else to distract people from the TRMPAC ruling.

I was all set to write something substantial about this, but then I read Julia’s sympathy card to DeLay and realized I couldn’t do any better than that. If you want to print that out and mail it to his office, why, who am I to stop you?

Budget yes, school finance no

The House and Senate have agreed to a budget. I have to say, with all the other stuff going on, I hadn’t even realized that there was a danger of no budget agreement. There may be thousands of bills filed every session, but the budget is the only thing these guys are required to do.

The vacationing In the Pink puts it this way:

They’ve been dealing with MUCH MORE important issues, such as gay gyrating cheerleaders who want to get married but can’t vote because they don’t have ID. Also, who could forget the foster care children who were being raised in homosexual communes and learning how to dance like gay gyrating cheerleaders?

Thankfully, the Lege managed to put all that aside long enough to do their Constitutional duty. Now Governor Perry gets to choose whether or not to call a special session to deal with the failure to do school finance reform. Hmm, maybe that’s not such a good thing from his perspective. Oh, well.

Filibuster averted for now

Sen. Rodney Ellis’ threatened filibuster against the Denny Amendment to SB89 was averted late last night thanks to a little deft maneuvering by Sen. Letitia Van de Putte.

Senate Democrats were poised late Friday to start a filibuster on the bill at midnight. But before it started, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, exercised a Senate rule that prevents a bill from carrying unrelated subjects.

The original Senate bill dealt with the transportation code and information stored on the magnetic strip on driver’s licenses. The voter ID language, tacked on by the House, affected the state election code.

The Republican sponsor of the measure, Kip Averitt of Waco, was forced to pull the bill down and the Senate instead appointed a conference committee to negotiate differences with the House over the weekend.

With the session ending Monday, the move leaves Republicans little time to push the voter ID restrictions through.


Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who had napped earlier during the day, came to the chamber in tennis shoes and wearing a catheter as Senate filibuster rules would not have allowed him to interrupt his speech for bathroom breaks.

To guarantee the bill would die, opponents would have had to talk on the bill until Monday. The more realistic goal was to frustrate Republicans until they gave up on the bill since several big issues, including a new school finance plan, are still unresolved with just three days left in the session.

Averitt, who will chair the Senate conference committee, said he wasn’t ready to completely give up on the voter ID language.

“I’d like to see if we could come up with a plan to further install confidence in our electoral process,” he said.

Ellis said he “reserves the right” to still filibuster if the language doesn’t come out. Ellis won a significant battle over the bill simply by forcing the delay.

“The clock is ticking,” Ellis said. “It clearly goes to the place a lot of bills go to die.”

Postcards from the Lege has more. With there still being no agreement on school finance and tax reform, there’s a good chance this is once again dead. My thanks to Sens. Ellis and Van de Putte for their good work.

Further reading: Othniel suggests that the Denny proposal would fail a legal challenge on 26th Amendment grounds.

Rodney Ellis to the rescue?

Despite widespread opposition to Mary Denny’s voter-suppression amendment to SB89, bill sponsor Sen. Kip Averitt appears to be set to let it come to the floor for a vote.

The bill’s supporters, including state Sen. Kip Averitt, R-McGregor, disagreed that the amendment would discourage turnout. Averitt sponsored the original bill giving election officials the right to access electronic information from a driver’s license. State Rep. Mary Denny, R-Flower Mound, later tacked on the photo ID amendment.

“I’ve read the bill,” Averitt said. “I don’t think it’s going to cause people to not go vote. Matter of fact, I believe just the opposite is going to happen.”

Denny called the opposition’s fear that the plan could discourage people from voting “an erroneous argument.”

“Almost everybody has some form of ID,” Denny said. “I find this to be not a burden in any way.”

Putting aside the fact that EVERY citizen is born with the right to vote regardless of what ID they carry, Averitt’s assertion is pure baloney. The level of dishonesty and anti-Constitutionalism on this proposal is really appalling, and what’s worse is that this amendment may make it through without any real attention being paid to it in the major media.

There is some good news, however. State Sen. Rodney Ellis is preparing to filibuster this atrocity.

Late word from the Texas Senate: Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has informed colleagues he plans to filibuster the final approval of SB 89, the voter-ID bill.

The bill becomes eligible for consideration at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow.

Ellis’ plan, according to several senators, is to filibuster the measure into Sunday, when other Democrats will pick up the talkathon.


Any filibuster this late in the session could kill off any bills that have not already been passed. And since that list includes much of the Big Stuff — school finance reform, transportation, the budget — Ellis’ threat is being taken seriously by the leadership.

I sure hope they are, since this can’t possibly be worth it to them, not when there’s so many other bills still up in the air. Ellis may have to go it alone all day on Saturday, and I truly hope he’s up to it. I’ll be calling his office to offer my thanks and encouragement. Feel free to join me.

Start your weekend off with a little Blogger Radio

I’ll be on BizRadio 1320 at the usual time tomorrow (circa 10:15). This time, the plan is for us to pull into the Costco parking lot (Costco is on the way home from Olivia’s swim lesson) and let Tiffany and Olivia do a little shopping while I sit in the (hopefully more quiet now that it’s not driving on the freeway) car and do my talk about the week in blogging thing. As you can tell from last week’s show, a little less background noise on my part would be a big improvement. I figure Houston’s Super Bowl disappointment and perhaps the continuing “Freebird!” saga may be on tap this week.

Also on tap is Anne’s radio debut, since Kevin is off sleeping in the wilderness (some people call that “camping” – I’m one of those people who thinks that having broadcast channels only counts as “roughing it”) where there’s no cellphone reception. Tune in tomorrow and hear what we have to say.

Election set for HD143

Governor Perry has set November 8 as the special election date to replace the late Joe Moreno in HD143.

The governor set an Oct. 24 deadline for candidates to file their applications with the secretary of state.

The race likely will be crowded. Lawyer Ana Hernandez, who worked for Moreno and for Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, and Laura Salinas, the niece of former Reps. Diana Davila Martinez and Roman Martinez, already have announced their candidacies.

Roy Zermeno, an SBC lobbyist, also is a potential candidate, as are Dorothy Olmos, Al Flores and Reggie Gonzales, all of whom previously ran against Moreno.

To be honest, I’d have preferred an earlier date, since it seems wrong to leave these folks without a representative for six months, even if the legislative session is about to end. On the plus side, at least the Houston city elections on that date will help with turnout, and it is cheaper this way.

Stace and Marc Campos have more on the status of the race.

Report from the Grand Parkway meeting in Spring

The Chron covered Tuesday’s public meeting on the proposal to expand the Grand Parkway as a toll road through Spring, and Anne adds a lot of detail to it. One thing I want to highlight:

A question and answer session followed. I won’t go into all of them, but I will highlight a couple. One question asked if this is considered a regional mobility solution or if it’s geared toward local traffic. [Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) Executive Director Art] Storey admitted it’s basic purpose is for regional mobility, although he’s sure locals will use it once it’s built. He said that currently it takes Tomball residents one hour to get to I-45 and that needs to be remedied.

Which makes me wonder why Spring residents have to be bulldozed in order to give Tomball residents a faster route to I-45. That’s just bizarre. If a Tomball resident needs to get to I-45 more quickly on a regular basis, then maybe that person should move closer to I-45. Duh.

This “regional mobility” crap is the same stuff that’s been fed to residents and businesses currently displaced by the Katy Freeway boondoggle, and to residents and businesses threatened by the proposed I-45 widening. The subtext is that the need of some people to get from where they live to where they work faster than they are currently able to do is more important than the inconvenience that accomodating them would cause to the people in between. I’m sorry, but my neighborhood is not an impediment to your mobility. I refuse to have my quality of life suffer so you can shave ten minutes off your commute. You made your choice about where to live, you can live with the consequences of that choice. Maybe it’s time we looked at alternatives, such as figuring out ways to reduce traffic on overburdened roads, instead of automatically drawing lines on maps and thus rewarding one kind of lifestyle over another.

Bottom line: If it were properly calculated, the cost of destroying an established neighborhood so that people from someplace else can drive a little faster would be much higher than the dollar-and-cent total for condemning the property. If we took the real costs into effect, we’d see the need to find alternatives. It’s going to require that the people who are demanding the faster routes to realize that their subdivision could be next before this will ever happen, unfortunately.

Once more with “Freebird!”

I blogged about the origins of shouting “Freebird!” at inappropriate concerts here. Ray in Austin begged to differ. Now Ray tells his story to the Houston Press. Will the Chicagoans respond to the challenge? This has been fun, so I kind of hope that they do.

What about Bob?

So the rumors out of the NFL owners’ meeting is that Houston didn’t actually have a real shot at getting Super Bowl 43, and the reason for that is McNair envy.

Texans owner Bob McNair’s role with the NFL’s special committee on league economics might have worked against Houston’s bid to get the 2009 Super Bowl that was awarded Wednesday to Tampa, Fla.

Appointed by commissioner Paul Tagliabue to chair the committee that reviews economics and reports back to the membership, McNair might not have been sympathetic enough to owners of low-revenue teams, according to two owners who asked not to be identified.

“I don’t know what other explanation there could be for them being the first city to be eliminated, not with that stadium and that bid,” one longtime owner said after the vote was announced. “A lot of us are shocked at what’s happened, not so much by Tampa winning but by Houston being the first one out. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Even though McNair lobbied hard to get Houston a third Super Bowl, he’s the owner of a high-revenue team during a tumultuous period in which owners are divided over how to share local revenue that comes from suites, sponsorships, signage, concessions and parking.

Some owners of low-revenue teams may be resentful of owners of high-revenue teams. Until the owners agree on how to share local revenue, they won’t be able to extend their collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association beyond 2008.

“Well, that could be, but no one’s told me that, and I don’t suspect they will,” McNair said. “But personal view enters into decisions like this, and all it takes is for one or two votes to be switched.”

Those billionaires. There’s just no reasoning with some of them, is there? I guess even the really rich never truly leave high school.

One true head-scratcher in the article:

Atlanta couldn’t overcome its reputation for bad weather during Super Bowl week.

Um, the Super Bowl is in the middle of winter. Anyplace, even Miami, can have bad weather in winter. And in case you’ve forgotten, this year’s Supe is in Detroit. I know they’re in a dome and all, but what do you think it’s going to be like for the rest of the time?

Mary Denny does not give up

Dammit. There’s a lot of BS that goes on at the end of these legislative sessions, and a bad bill is never truly dead if it’s being pushed by a member of the majority party. Case in point: Mary Denny’s evil voter ID bill is still breathing.

As the clock approached 9 p.m., the House cut off debate on the measure. Senate Bill 89, carrying the ID amendment by Rep. Mary Denny, R-Aubrey, passed 83-59.

The amendment would require voters under age 85 to show picture identification or two forms of nonpicture identification at their polling place on Election Day. A voter without proper identification could cast a provisional ballot that could be counted later.

The House attached the requirement to SB 89, which adds election officials to the list of people who can access electronically readable information on a driver’s license.

Legislative rules allow the legislation’s author, Sen. Kip Averitt, R-McGregor, to accept changes made by the House and send the measure to the governor if there is support from a majority of senators. Averitt said late Tuesday that he is unsure whether he wants to do that or he has the votes to do so.

“I’m backing up,” he said. “Apparently there was more debate on it than I realized.”

According to a staffer I spoke to in Sen. Mario Gallegos’ office today, Sen. Averitt has until Saturday to decide what to do, and that may include naming a conference committee, which would have to finishe its work by Sunday. I know I’ve got at least a couple of readers in the Waco area, so this would be a fine time for y’all to give Sen. Averitt a ring and ask him to leave Denny’s amendment out.

There’s a little bit more detail in the Kilgore News Herald, and not much else that I can find. Bluebonnet from PinkDome also has some more. I just hope those eleven Senators who stopped this earlier can do it again.

Schubert endorses Hardberger

Via The Jeffersonian, third-place finisher in the San Antonio Mayoral race Carroll Schubert has endorsed Phil Hardberger.

“Although he and I differ in party affiliation, I think what he brings to this is the mature leadership and fiscal responsibility that is important to the city of San Antonio,” Schubert said.


“Hardberger has fourth-quarter momentum,” said Richard Gambitta, a political scientist at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Hard to argue with that, though Matt thinks Julian Castro will eke it out anyway. Cicero thinks that Schubert might have blown an opportunity for his own future self-advancement; he also gives the edge in the race to Hardberger.

So what happens to the “rising star” Julian Castro if he loses? Matt left a comment in The Jeffersonian’s post stating that he loses that title if he loses this race. That’s probably true, but don’t equate a little dimming of his luster with being finished. He’s still, what, thirty years old? His youth was one of the concerns about his candidacy, after all. If he loses, he can go away for a couple of years and gain some age, wisdom, experience, whatever it is that he’s supposed to have lacked by being 30, and run to replace Hardberger in 2009 as a more seasoned candidate. Or maybe Charlie Gonzales will retire and Castro will be the early favorite to succeed him. Who knows? Maybe losing will have an upside for Castro, as it did for Bill Clinton when he got ousted as Arkansas’ Governor – for sure, it’d provide a strong incentive to work on his weaknesses. One way or the other, I expect him to be on the scene for a long time.

No muni Wi-Fi ban in Senate version of HB789

The post title more or less says it all, though I should add that as it now reads, HB789 passed the Senate unanimously. Save Muni Wireless has the details from the debate. Here’s a summary of the bill:

The Senate version
* freezes basic local service prices til 2007
* conduct an PUC interim study of the universal service fund
* assumes a competitive market in large cities, and deregulates on 1/1/06
* provides a market test for suburban areas — if there 3 competitors to the incumbent, then there is a competitive market, and the market is deregulated in unless the PUC disagrees
* in rural areas (under 30,000 lines), the PUC has discretion to determine if a market is competitive
* reduces intrastate line access charges to parity to interstate calls, reducing the cost of intrastate long distance
* has protection against discriminatory or predatory pricing, even if the market in the area is deregulated

This still has to be reconciled with the House version.

The House passed a similar telecom deregulation bill in March, but that measure wouldn’t implement market tests for small and suburban markets. It also would ban cities, in most cases, from offering wireless Internet access unless it’s done for free.

Lawmakers must hash out the differences between the two proposals in a conference committee before the changes can be signed into law.


[C]onsumer groups argue both versions of the bill would give big phone companies the ability to raise rates without assurance that they really face competition all over the state. Although some consumers have access to mobile phones and Internet-based calling, such services aren’t available everywhere.

“We just don’t have the detailed information at this point about whether competition does or doesn’t exist in Texas,” said Tim Morstad, a Consumers Union policy analyst.

A separate — and more controversial — telecom measure that would give the state, not cities, oversight of pay-television franchising also is headed for a conference committee.

That provision, lobbied for by SBC, passed a vote in the Texas House on Sunday as part of a bill that would continue the existence of the PUC.

However, at least one key senator — Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville — has expressed concerns with the franchising changes being tacked onto the PUC bill and likely will work to strike the language.

So the big bad no-muni-wireless provision is (still at least for now) gone, but there are other reasons to worry about this sucker. If today’s the last day for school finance to get done, it’s also the last day for this. We’ll see how it goes. Via Dwight.

UPDATE: Chip comments:

The cited reading of HB 789 is not quite accurate. The House version provides an immediate ban on charging for wireless services, and an eventual ban on all muni wireless services (paid and free).

This means if the House version passes, the free wireless access in a library built this year is safe. If, however, when a future library is built, if they haven’t submitted a plan to the state PUC before the ban goes into effect, then no Internets for you!

We (Save Muni Wireless) are very concerned that this version may be the one that comes out of conference. We’ll be taking further action as soon as the conference committee members are assigned. Thanks for the support.

Stay tuned.

Statement from Chris Bell on TRMPAC ruling

Chris Bell has released the following statement regarding the TRMPAC ruling:

“Judge Hart’s ruling provides a good faith basis for the House Ethics Committee to now investigate Tom DeLay’s involvement with TRMPAC. The committee originally chose to hold off taking any action on that count of my complaint pending a decision by the Travis County grand jury. Now that a district judge has found TRMPAC’s conduct to be illegal, a decision by the grand jury should not be necessary. The American people deserve to know what Tom DeLay’s role was in this illegal fundraising scheme.”

Here’s the letter that the House Ethics Committee sent to DeLay last October. Note the following passage:

In addition, a state criminal investigation of the 2002 election activities of the Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, with which you were involved during the period in question, is underway. While Committee action on Count II of the complaint regarding those activities has been deferred pending further action in the state cases and investigation, the Committee will act on the underlying allegations at an appropriate time.

I rather doubt, given its made-in-his-image roster, that the Ethics Committee will take any action on DeLay until after the criminal cases have been disposed of, but it’s good to be reminded of this.

The Raw Story is quick on the uptake and has some further reaction from Bell:

“Obviously he was hoping the judge would rule in favor of the defendants and he would have declared it a great victory,” former Texas Rep. Chris Bell told RAW STORY Thursday. “And now I think that he has to realize that his arguments aren’t going anywhere, and the web is getting bigger and bigger.

“I think it also has to be somewhat of a wakeup call for his colleagues that have already been indicted that their arguments could very well fail,” he added. “And if they do, I think that might motivate some of them to start spilling the beans about exactly what transpired.”

A Roll Call story (no link, I got it in email) today notes that this is still not over:

Terry Scarborough of Hance Scarborough Wright Woodward & Weisbart, Ceverha’s lawyer, immediately said his client would appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court once Hart issues a final decision (today’s decision was only a finding by the judge). “We feel strongly this decision is wrong,” Scarborough said in a statement released by his office. “We will vigorously appeal this ruling immediately if Judge Hart allows us to do so.”

Any time a ruling like this goes to the Texas Supremes you have to be worried. Still, I’d rather be in the plaintiffs’ position right now than that of Bill Ceverha and his buddies.

If you’re in Austin, there will be a press conference by the victorious attorney in this case at 2 PM:

WHAT: Press conference
WHO: Cris Feldman, plaintiff¹s attorney
WHERE: 1005 Congress, basement conference room
DAY: Today, Thursday, May 25
TIME: 2 p.m. Texas time

Contact: Jason Stanford
(512) 457-1909

I’m sure there’s more to come soon. Such a nice thing to have happen just before a holiday weekend, isn’t it?

TRMPAC loses civil suit

The first domino has fallen.

The treasurer of a political committee formed by U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay violated Texas election code by not reporting hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and expenditures, a civil judge ruled today.

State District Judge Joe Hart, in a letter to attorneys outlining his ruling, said the money should have been reported to the Texas Ethics Commission.

The ruling means Bill Ceverha, treasurer of the Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee, will have to pay just under $200,000 to be divided among five losing Democratic candidates in 2002 legislative races. Those candidates brought the lawsuit against Ceverha.

Ceverha’s lawyers argued in court earlier this year that the group operated legally despite the confusion of state campaign funding laws.


Three of DeLay’s top fund-raisers and eight corporations were indicted in the criminal investigation in September. Ceverha has not been charged in the criminal case.

The lawsuit was not also brought against the criminal defendants because of the pending criminal trial. They may well get sued later.

The Democrats who sued TRMPAC claimed Ceverha violated the state election law designed to keep elections free from “the taint of corporate cash.”

The Democrats alleged that some $600,000 in corporate money was illegally used to influence Texas House races in 2002, the year Republicans won control of the House for the first time in 130 years. Those victories propelled Craddick, the longest-serving House member, to the speaker’s post.

Later, Craddick and DeLay pushed a redistricting bill through the Legislature that ultimately gave the GOP a commanding advantage in the state’s congressional delegation.

Corporate money was spent on such expenses as political research, polling, mailing, fund-raising and conferences, the plaintiffs alleged.

The defendants contended all corporate money was legally spent on administrative purposes.

Hart, in his letter, said the expenditures were made “in connection with a campaign for an elective office” and fit within the statutory definition of “campaign expenditure.”

That’s huge, because the defense in the criminal case is that the money was spent on “administrative” expenses, not “campaign” expenses. A ruling for Ceverha would likely have led to a dismissal of at least some of the charges against the criminal defendants. The actual ruling strengthens the prosecution’s case against them. Maybe this will increase the pressure on them to try to cut a deal.

I’ve included statements from the Texans for Public Justice and from Charles Soechting beneath the fold. Thanks to Jesse Lee for being first out of the box on this one.

UPDATE: Marc Olivier has more.


Is this the end for our heroes?

Another day, another story about how they’re still not quite there on school finance reform and how to pay for it.

The prospects of a public school property tax cut passing the Legislature dimmed Wednesday as House and Senate negotiators argued over whether businesses or consumers should carry the burden of paying for the cuts.

“I give it 50-50,” House Ways and Means Chairman Jim Keffer said about House Bill 3, which must pass in order to provide the one-third cut in property taxes the House wants.

The legislative session ends Monday. The problem is the natural reluctance of lawmakers to vote for new taxes as well as deep divisions between the Senate and House over how high to increase the sales tax and how to structure a new broad-based business tax.

“The fact that we haven’t yet come to a consensus is evidence of just how deeply passionate both sides are about getting it right for the kids of this state,” said House Speaker Tom Craddick.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said “there’s no reason we can’t reach an agreement tonight or tomorrow,” but expressed frustration with House insistence on tax formulas that give businesses a property tax cut that would be paid for by consumers.

You know the drill by now. I’ll spare you the same-old same-old on the sticking points and the blame-assigning, entertaining though the latter may be. According to what I heard on NPR this morning, today is the last day for getting bills out of conference committees (at least, that’s what I think I heard), so no agreement today means this is dead for the 79th Lege. Will Governor Perry then call a special session? He doesn’t seem to want to, but he may come under too much heat to leave things be until the courts step in again. Poor baby, such a tough spot to be in.

How dire is the Lege’s plight? It’s so bad that In the Pink has run out of Meg Ryan movies to compare the Craddick/Dewhurst bickering to, and has started on Rutger Hauer flicks instead. If that isn’t a cry for help, I don’t know what is.

So is it time for us to finally get some of that vaunted leadership that Governor Perry likes to brag about?

With reporters clomping behind him, Gov. Rick Perry barreled out the east doors of the Capitol until he reached the drive outdoors, where he said: “Things are not going well.”

Disaster forecaster?

Nope. The Republican governor was speaking only of the loss-prone Houston Astros.

Well, even I have to admit that the Stros are a more intractable problem right now than the tax code. Keep up the good work, Governor!

One piece of good news: Expanded gambling is officially dead for this session. Senator Nelson didn’t even have to put on her pink tennies to see it die.

Written consent for traffic stop searches clears the House

Scott brings the good news that a requirement of written consent for a search at a traffic is one step closer to reality. As Rep. Pena reports, there was an effort to kill it at the third reading, but it had a big enough cushion to survive a few defections. It’s still possible that Gov. Perry could veto it, but for now things look good.

WiFi at Intercontinental Airport

The good news is that Houston’s Intercontinental Airport has joined its rival Hobby in providing WiFi access.

“This service will provide travelers a convenient way to update their laptop communications without having to seek out a special Internet connection,” said Bob White, Bush Intercontinental manager. “There is now an expectation, especially by those with Wi-Fi laptop capabilities, to have Internet access in airports.”

Customers will need a Wi-Fi card or mobile device embedded with Wi-Fi technology in order to take advantage of the service. Users are greeted by the Bush Intercontinental portal page that provides a host of free information, including real-time flight information.

With the Wi-Fi service already available at William P. Hobby Airport, travelers at both of Houston’s major airports can use the new high-speed wireless service in most airport public areas, including gates, restaurants, ticketing and baggage claim, at speeds up to 100 times faster than standard dialup.

Cool! So what’s the bad news?

Sprint PCS Wi-Fi Access has two available billing options: Pay-As-You-Go access is $9.95 per connection per location for 24 hours of unlimited access; and a new Month-to-Month plan which offers unlimited access for $49.95 per month.

Oof. I’d have to be stuck at the airport for a long time to be willing to fork over ten bucks to surf the web, and I’m a ‘net junkie. (I’m also a cheapskate, in case you couldn’t tell.) Fifty bucks a month will probably be worth it to the serious road warriors, though. But wake me up when the prices come down. Via blogHOUSTON.

Announcement in HD52

I hope we’ll see more announcements like this in the coming months.

Karen Felthauser filed a campaign treasurer appointment on Thursday May 12, with the Texas Ethics Commission to run for State Representative for the 52nd District. Karen ran as a write-in candidate during the 2004 election cycle but has decided to start early for 2006, running this time as a Democratic candidate. In September of 2004 she filed with the Secretary of State’s office with 615 validated signatures from Williamson County’s District 52 residents. Karen and the 27 other people who helped circulate the petition, spoke with and registered many county residents. Karen is counting on the help of these past supporters for her second run for the Texas House.

Karen is a certified teacher, who substitutes in Round Rock ISD. She is the mother of 5 and the wife of Jim, a software engineer. Karen is a member of Education Round Rock, the Texas Federation of Teachers, the Texas State Teachers Association and two PTA’s. Karen has a B.S. in Geology and a B.S. in Environmental Psychology from New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. After graduating Karen worked for Ford, Bacon and Davis, an engineering firm.

“I choose to run again because I think we must address the very real needs of Williamson County’s District 52 residents. These needs include education, healthcare and transportation development. I am concerned that once again the 79th Texas legislative session in 2005 has not properly prioritized the issues facing Texas.”

Click the link to read about her legislative priorities. Felthouser ran as a write-in in 2004 and got 2801 votes for 6.37%, not too shabby a performance all things considered. Hopefully, that experience plus her early announcement means she’s committed to running hard. Incumbent Mike Krusee won against a Democrat and a Libertarian in 2002 with 64.55%, so this is not exactly a top-tier race, but with Williamson trending slowly Democratic from 2000 and with talk of a challenge to US Rep. John Carter, having all the down-ballot slots filled is a good thing. Felthouser joins Jim Stauber, running in a rematch against Dan Gaddis in HD20, in representing Williamson’s Dems.

More changes coming on KIOL

Banjo brings us the news that 97.5 KIOL is fixing to change again, this time to an all-talk format.

The Texas radio rumor mill is all abuzz about Cumulus Media’s soon-to-sign-on FM in Houston. The word on the street is that the 97.5 MHz signal will become the home of KFNC, which stands for “FM News Channel 97.5.” KFNC’s news-heavy lineup will reportedly include extended morning, midday and afternoon drive local news blocks, and mostly local talk personalities rounding out the day. News anchors and talk hosts said to be a part of the new station’s staff are Jim Pruett, Brian Shannon, Laurie Kendrick, Chuck Savage, Mike Shiloh, Robyn Geske, Craig Roberts and Martha Martinez. Additionally, Jones Radio Networks’ syndicated consumer crusader Clark Howard is also reportedly part of the new station’s weekday schedule. Earlier this week the Chicago Sun-Times reported that WDEK, WKIE & WRZA/Chicago personality A.W. Pantoja had exited the trimulcast’s morning slot to join “a new FM talk station in Houston.” Cumulus/Houston Market Manager Pat Fant GM had no comment on the rumors.

By my count, there’s four KLOL alumni in that list. What, was Lanny Griffith not returning calls? I should note that FM talk radio in Houston has a checkered history, but maybe this time it’ll be different. We’ll see. The music on 97.5 has already migrated to 103.7, which has a stronger signal.

OK, I’d call that a bad day

I’ve had my share of bad days, but nothing like what happened to Lair this afternoon. Geez. Glad everything got worked out in the end, dude. I’d say the karma scales should be tipped in your favor for awhile now.