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June, 2005:

Really really last minute giving

There’s about an hour and a half in the Q2 campaign contributions period, so if you’re reading this before midnight (wherever you may be), you can still help some fine folks’ quarterly numbers. The Jeffersonian has a pretty good starter’s list for you. And if you don’t see this post until July 1 or later, fear not – it’s never too early to help out with the Q3 totals. Give now, give later, give what you can.

If you’re not ready to commit yourself to any particular candidate, an excellent alternate choice is the Texas Democratic Party’s Turn the Capitol Blue campaign, which is going on now through the end of this special legislative session. Andrew D has more on that one.

MLS in the Dome

I confess, I don’t pay all that much attention to soccer, so I haven’t been keeping up with this story.

The Astrodome might recover some of its faded glory if a Mexican club interested in bringing a professional soccer franchise to Houston has its way.

Club América, the Mexican First Division franchise that hopes to bring a Major League Soccer team to the Bayou City, has told city and county officials it would like its prospective Houston club to play at the former home of the Astros and Oilers. Officials with the Mexico City-based team, which is looking to buy MLS’ San Jose Earthquakes from the Anschutz Entertainment Group and relocate it to Houston, met this week with Mayor Bill White and officials with the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority and the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp.

MLS officials have expressed a preference for soccer-specific venues, such as a $45 million, 20,000-seat stadium and sports complex proposed in conjunction with the Houston Independent School District at the site of the current district-owned Delmar Stadium. But the 40-year-old county-owned Dome seems to be feasible for Club América.

“It certainly makes sense before you invest a penny in a new stadium to look at what’s already built, what’s available,” said Harris County-Houston Sports Authority head Oliver Luck, one of several city and county officials working to bring MLS to Houston. “I think it’s a smart idea to at least look at whether the Astrodome is a good short-term venue.”

Well, yes, the Dome is sitting there empty, waiting to be turned into a casino or a convention center/hotel or a space-themed theme park or whatever. That’s certainly cheaper than building a new stadium from scratch. Having attended the last rodeo at the Dome a couple of years back, though, I’m not so sure that you wouldn’t have to spend a few pennies to make it amenable to soccer fans. The old place had clearly seen better days since it got jilted by its former tenants. How much you’d have to spend, that I couldn’t say.

Anne, who was up in arms at the idea of HISD paying money for a stadium that a professional team would use, also wonders about the potential cost of sprucing up the Dome. It clearly doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to put much money into what is clearly a stopgap solution, but let’s not forget, the Dome is currently costing Harris County one point five million bucks a year as it is. Given that, it’s not outrageous to me that spending a little money in order to generate some regular revenue and offset those costs a bit might make financial sense. Thus, I’ll wait to see what actually gets proposed before I worry about it.

It is curious to me that MLS turned to Houston after San Antonio shot them down.

Major League Soccer has pulled out of talks with San Antonio to locate a team in the city, saying local officials were not bargaining in good faith.
The Wednesday move came shortly after incoming mayor Phil Hardberger said at a news conference that the proposed deal with MLS didn’t make financial sense for the city.

“Goodbye. That’s what I would tell MLS,” Hardberger said.

But MLS officials said goodbye first in a terse letter to outgoing Mayor Ed Garza, a strong proponent of bringing pro soccer to the Alamodome.


Hardberger and several city council members criticized terms of the proposed deal, among them that the MLS team would get rent-free use of the dome.

Garza and MLS said an anchor tenant for the dome would help cut its operating costs and its annual deficit.

Garza questioned the abruptness of Hardberger’s decision to end negotiations. Garza said the 10-member city council also should have some say in the matter.

“What are the alternatives?” Garza asked. “To continue to lose money (on the dome) or to try to find a major league sports tenant that creates opportunities to make money.”

The Alamodome is an even bigger white elephant than our Dome, and it’s much younger to boot. You’d think there’d have been room for a deal there. Any San Antonians want to comment on that?

Last but not least, kudos to Lair for his prognostication skills. You called it, dude.

How’s it playing in Houston?

Everybody’s linked to the SurveyUSA 50-state approval ratings poll for President Bush, for which Garance has the best take, but what interests me is the results for Texas, where Dubya is pulling anemic (but not Perryesque) 50/47 numbers. Inside that is the total for Harris County, where Bush is in negative territory – 43% approve, 54% disapprove. I wish I could see earlier results, to get a feel for any trends there may be, but they’re not available. I wouldn’t draw any conclusions from this, especially not for the small Harris County sample, but I think it bears watching. File it away for later when we have more monthly data points to look at.

Ethics committee may be back in business

If you’ve been feeling lost and adrift since the House Ethics Committee went silent, fear not for their return may be imminent.

A partisan dispute that stalled a House investigation of Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, moved closer to resolution Wednesday as Republicans dropped their insistence on a new staffing setup for the ethics committee, top Democrats said.

House Ethics Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., bowed to Democrats’ demands that the committee hire a chief of staff who has bipartisan support and does not have partisan connections.

Hastings had sought to install his top aide as staff director, a plan that drew opposition from Democrats who alleged the move would violate rules adopted in 1997 that the committee be overseen by a “professional nonpartisan staff” approved by a majority of the panel.


After meeting Wednesday with Hastings, the ranking Democrat on the ethics committee, Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., issued a statement saying the two leaders had “reached an agreement in principle” regarding the hiring of a chief counsel-staff director.

The statement said that both Hastings and Mollohan also could appoint their personal staff to the committee but that those employees “would have no managerial or supervisory role over that professional nonpartisan staff.”

Mollohan added that “although we have made significant progress, our agreement is not final, as some issues require further discussion.”

There’s still a push in some quarters to install an outside counsel to investigate Tom DeLay’s global gallivanting, since committee chair Doc Hastings has his own issues to deal with in those matters, but that’s not one of the sticking points that Mollohan is referring to. The Hill has more on the agreement in principle, which sounds like it’s more or less in practice as well from their account.

Sam Rosenfeld makes a good point about this latest retreat by the Republicans.

It’s worth mentioning that over the course of the entire struggle over ethics procedures in the House, Democrats have managed to win, completely, every fight they’ve picked, forcing the Republicans to back off of every single endeavor they’ve attempted to water the rules down. Republicans retreated on the party rule change shielding indicted leaders; then they retreated on the proposed ethics committee change revoking the 30-year-old rule requiring that House members behave in a manner that “reflects creditably” on the institution; they passed and then reversed the rule changes allowing for legal counsel to represent multiple targets of an ethics investigation and requiring a committee majority, or both the chairman and ranking member, to greenlight an investigation. Now they’re backing off their attempt to politicize the committee’s staff. This kind of victory is one Democrats will want to savor.

Nicely done, ladies and gentlemen. Now keep at it.

(End note: I’m quite certain that The Stakeholder has a wealth of links on this subject today, but for some reason bringing up their blog has crashed by Internet Explorer the last two times I’ve tried it. I’ll check later when I’m at home and can use Firefox.)

Grilling Greer

Texas Lottery Commission chairman Reagan Greer was in the hot seat today as the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee looked into the expanding scandal over inflated jackpots. Among the latest revelations is an admission that they believe in killing the messenger at the TLC.

A former lottery official who was fired this month shortly after warning superiors about a projected jackpot shortfall said Wednesday that his termination came with no explanation and only about seven months after he received a positive evaluation and a 4 percent raise.

Lottery officials testified before a Texas House committee Wednesday that Lee Deviney was fired over a lack of confidence in his performance as the financial administration director, not the recent flap over inflated jackpots for the Texas Lotto game.

“The timing of this is very bad, and it’s unfortunate,” said Mike Fernandez, who supervised Deviney. “His release from the agency had absolutely nothing to do with this issue.”

Fernandez, the commission’s administration director, said he verbally warned Deviney about his job performance but never documented his concerns.

But Deviney said his June 14 termination came with no warning and soon after a June 3 e-mail message he sent alerting superiors that projected sales would not meet the planned jackpot estimate.

“I can’t say it was as a result of this, but I can’t say it wasn’t,” Deviney said in a telephone interview while vacationing in Colorado. “They didn’t say anything. I was handed a piece of paper by Mike Fernandez, and then he ran out the door.”

When he asked a human resources official why he was fired, Deviney said the official told him she couldn’t discuss it.

Deviney said he wasn’t shocked by his termination because firings aren’t uncommon in what he called a “generally hostile atmosphere” at the commission. He said he expected some repercussions after top officials learned of the shortfalls.

“I felt my job was just to alert them that we had a problem,” said Deviney, who was with the lottery for more than two years. “I was very concerned that someone’s head would roll and, in fact, somebody’s did.”

It was the wrong person’s head, unfortunately, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

OK, minute’s up: Reagan Greer has clearly demonstrated why he was unqualified for this job.

Executive Director Reagan Greer, who signed off on the overstated jackpots based on staff recommendations, reiterated his apology during testimony Wednesday before the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee.

Greer said he’d become comfortable in his position and stopped asking hard questions, but he maintained he never intended to deceive players.

Sure must be nice to have a job like that, where you can just settle in and coast after you’ve made yourself nice and comfy. This is all a nice way of saying Greer was lazy.

Deviney said he called lottery Executive Reagan Greer late in the afternoon of June 3 — a Friday — to express his concern that the $8 million jackpot estimate for the June 8 drawing would be off by $1.5 million. Because Greer had already left for the weekend, Deviney said, he put his concerns in an e-mail to Greer and other top lottery executives.

Officials could have pared down the estimate because advertisements for the June 8 Lotto drawings would not hit the billboards until after 10 p.m. on June 4.

At a contentious hearing before the House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures, lottery executives acknowledged that Deviney had aired those concerns.

Greer also said that he did not read Deviney’s e-mail or hear about it from any other lottery executives until Monday, June 6.

Can we please make sure that the TLC has enough in its budget to buy its next director one of these?

Once Reagan Greer did get around to reading his email, he went ahead and approved the deception.

[TLC] Chairman C. Tom Clowe was asked by members of the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee who specifically had deceived lottery players by advertising phony estimated jackpots four times since last fall.

Mr. Clowe answered: “The person who made the decision [to sign off on the estimates] … Reagan Greer.”

“The commissioners think this was deception and that it was wrong,” Mr. Clowe testified. “If those were my employees in the private sector … I would take the appropriate action and consider it a wrong act.”

Mr. Clowe stopped short of saying that Mr. Greer should lose his job over the issue.

Mr. Clowe knows what the right thing to do here is, but for some reason he can’t quite bring himself to say it. Alas, he’s not the only one to fall short.

State Rep. Ismael Flores, D-Mission, chairman of the committee that oversees the Lottery Commission, said he is not calling for Greer’s resignation, but reminded him sternly that other state employees have been fired for lesser mistakes.

“I know of a lot of employees that are doing something else because they made one, two, three mistakes,” Flores said. “I mean, I’m not asking for your resignation – but think about people doing something else.”

How many more mistakes does Reagan Greer have to make before he’s held accountable for them?

“If there is one agency that needs oversight, that’s the one,” said Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, R-Tomball, who is not a committee member but sat in on the hearing and questioned officials. “I think the mismanagement in there is far more substantive, far more pervasive than any of the news stories have led me to believe.”

If so, maybe that’ll finally be enough to get Governor Perry to take responsibility for hiring Reagan Greer and do what needs to be done.

Notes from the consensus

Have we achieved consensus yet?

The House Ways and Means Committee passed a tax plan Wednesday with a steep hike in the sales tax that many senators oppose.

The plan closes loopholes in the corporate franchise tax without imposing additional business taxes that the House passed earlier in the year and that Senate leaders insist are essential to any new school finance plan.

Disputes between the House and Senate about how to pay for property tax cuts led to the failure of a school finance bill during the regular legislative session that ended Memorial Day.


Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said the Senate likely will substitute its own tax plan.

“The Senate is going to want to have a broad-based business tax in lieu of a 1-cent sales tax (hike),” said Ogden.

Lawmakers then would try to work out differences in a conference committee before the session ends July 20.

“It’s better to have a bill over here to discuss than have it blocked in committee,” said Ogden.

I admire your optimism there, Steve, but all I’m saying is this: Other than the passage of time, what has changed that would make these ongoing philosophical disputes easier to resolve?

All hail the King of Plunk

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Craig Biggio, the undisputed modern day king of the hit by pitch.

Craig Biggio’s arm guard is headed to the Hall of Fame.

The way Houston Astros manager Phil Garner sees it, the player won’t be far behind.

Biggio set the modern record for being hit by pitches and added a solo homer, helping Roy Oswalt win his fourth straight start in Houston’s 7-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday.

“When you look at where he stands [with] offensive numbers, he’s pretty impressive,” Garner said. “The guys that are ahead of him are baseball icons that live forever. The guys that he’s passed and he continues to pass are baseball icons too. So he’s in high cotton he deserves to be there.”

Biggio was hit on the left elbow in the fourth inning by Byung-Hyun Kim, breaking Don Baylor’s post-1900 record of 267 times hit by pitches. Biggio calmly turned and trotted to first as he had so many other times, but this time he pointed to the ball and asked the ball boy to send it back to the Astros’ dugout as a keepsake for his years of pain.

“Anybody that’s been hit that many times, you have no understanding about how many times that is and how painful it is over the years,” said Biggio, who had two hits to move into 52nd place with 2,718.

Many of the fans at Coors Field gave Biggio a standing ovation, and Cooperstown asked for his arm guard. As for the ball, it’s headed home to his kids.

“My kids collect a bunch of stuff, it’s amazing,” Biggio said. “We have a rotation going on, I don’t know if it’s my daughter’s or my oldest boy’s — somebody is going to get it. They treat everything with respect, they respect the game.”

Baylor, now a Seattle Mariners coach, complimented Biggio.

“It was an honor to watch him play,” Baylor said before the Mariners played Oakland. “I’ve always liked his style. When he became a free agent, I tried to lure him to Colorado.”

He didn’t mind Biggio breaking the record wearing protective gear.

“It’s all right. I had a lot of close calls,” Baylor said. “Body parts are not going to Cooperstown. I got hit in the elbow, the back, the head, the shins. You play and prepare for the next at-bat. I never missed a game or an at-bat because of it, but I charged the mound a few times.”

Naturally, Plunk Biggio is there to celebrate. He also commemorates Biggio’s record-tying plunk from Tuesday, which represented the first time Bidge got dinged in Colorado.

Congratulations to Craig Biggio for your most endearing record-setting feat. Now go apply some Absorbine and get a good night’s sleep.

KBH’s veterans goofup

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is scrambling to cover a hole in the Veterans’ Affairs budget.

The Veterans Affairs Department will ask for an emergency infusion of cash to meet its health care expenses this year after pressure built in Congress to fill a $1 billion funding shortfall, a senator and other officials said Wednesday.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said the VA and White House agreed to seek emergency money after Senate Republicans moved quickly to add $1.5 billion to this year’s veterans budget.


The maneuver cut off Democrats preparing to pounce on the shortfall with their own spending amendment, demanding a $1.4 billion injection into veterans programs.

“I warned my colleagues that what was an emergency would become a crisis if we didn’t work together to address the problem,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “That emergency has indeed become a crisis.”


Democrats called the shortfall a symptom of President Bush’s mismanagement of the war in Iraq, as the president appealed for the nation’s patience for “difficult and dangerous” work ahead in Iraq.

“It’s distressing because our veterans deserve better than an administration focused on cutting corners and hiding costs while engaged in a war abroad,” said Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif.


About one-quarter of this year’s shortfall can be traced to an unexpectedly large number of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, but overall enrollment by veterans of all combat eras has exceeded the department’s estimates.

The department said it used figures from 2002, before the United States went to war in Iraq, to project is 2005 budget needs, citing the federal government’s long budgeting process.

[VA Secretary] Nicholson told lawmakers the VA also needs $1.5 billion to fill expected health care needs next year.

That includes $375 million to refill the cushion that would be depleted this year; $700 million for the department’s increased workload; and a $446 million error in estimating long-term care costs.

Hold some of those thoughts for a moment.

VA Secretary Nicholson and Sen. Hutchison will be visiting Waco to see its VA hostpital, which is currently threatened by closure due to budget issues.

Waco VA Hospital advocates say the tour could be key to winning Nicholson’s support for the 73-year-old complex which has previously been marked for closure. Many say former VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi’s visit almost 18 months ago played a role in Principi’s decision to order additional review rather than closing or downsizing the hospital and hope the same will hold true for Nicholson’s tour.

“When Secretary Principi visited the VA at the request of Senator Hutchison and myself, it made a significant difference in his thinking,” said U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, who will join Hutchison in hosting Nicholson’s visit. “You have to see the Waco VA facilities and meet the employees to fully understand what a world-class facility we have.”

The VA and private contractors are considering downsizing several expensive hospitals including the Waco site and expanding others in growing veterans populations as part of a nationwide effort to improve veterans health care services.


Hutchison and Nicholson will arrive in Texas for a naming ceremony at a VA clinic in Lufkin for former congressman Charles Wilson, then fly to Waco for an afternoon stop, agency spokesman Ozzie Garza said.

The visit comes during a tough period for veterans healthcare, as Nicholson recently announced the agency is facing a $1 billion shortfall in the current fiscal year and could need an additional $1.6 billion in 2006.

Edwards, the Waco congressman, is concerned the shortfall could lead the agency to advocate downsizing the Waco hospital to save money.

“It would be the wrong reason, but if the VA is too underfunded, it would provide a rationale for shutting down or dramatically cutting back the Waco VA Hospital,” Edwards said.

Now, if we had some real coverage of the campaign for KBH’s Senate seat in 2006, we might have seen something like this in the newspapers.

US Senate Candidate Barbara Ann Radnofsky called on Kay Bailey Hutchison to do her homework. The Houston, Texas mediator and lawyer challenging Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) for her Senate seat, analyzed Sen. Hutchison’s June 23 claims concerning funding shortfalls for veterans, “after learning that the VA is approximately $1 billion short in 2006.”

“We’ve researched the issue on what the American Legion and others were explaining in terms of an even larger shortfall earlier this Spring”, said Radnofsky, 48, who is a practicing mediator and lawyer in Houston, Texas. “I call on Sen. Hutchison to explain why she ignored vital information explaining the crisis much earlier. Texans deserve a senator who will do her homework.”

“Sen. Hutchison is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. In a floor speech on April 12, 2005 opposing Sen. Murray’s Amendment for Emergency Supplemental Appropriations this year, she confessed to relying on the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (Congr Record S3457, 3465 et seq), while major organizations had already uncovered the truth in terms of needs.” Radnofsky continued, “Had the issue of funding for veterans been presented to me as a sitting Senator, I would have vigorously done my homework. We expect our Senator to be an independent voice for Texans, not a rubber stamp for the administration.”

“The National Commander of the American Legion (which does not take sides in political races, nor endorse candidates, but rather is a voice for veterans and drafted the original GI Bill), Thomas Cadmus, issued a detailed statement on March 18, 2005 from his office in DC as follows: ‘The Senate’s budget resolution also ignored my funding recommendations for FY 2006. Every major veterans’ service organization that deals with the VA health care system every day recommended more than $2 billion in additional funding than offered by either chamber – without any budgetary gimmicks. Those young men and women at Walter Reed and Bethesda that I have visited did not shirk their duties and responsibilities, nor did the veterans of our earlier wars.’ ”

Here’s some more info on the Murray Amendment. One of the ways in which we’ve been shortchanged by KBH’s unchallenged reelection bid in 2006 is that we haven’t had any kind of critical look at her performance as a Senator. As with the moderate thing, she’s pretty much gotten a free ride since 1994. Well, I know that Barbara Radnofsky will do her part in holding up KBH’s record for scrutiny. The question is whether of not the media will take her effort seriously. If they keep up with this “everybody loves KBH” story line, we’ll all be the losers for it.

RIP, Edloe the cat

My sincere condolences to Lair on the death of his cat, Edloe. May he find many treats in kitty heaven. I’ll give Harry an extra Milk-Bone tonight in Edloe’s memory.

Oh, yeah, that Enron Broadband trial

I confess, I’ve sort of lost touch with the ongoing Enron Broadband trial. Like Tom, who provides us with a nice update on the case, I thought it would be closer to finished by now. Those poor jurors – I just hope they can get a few minutes of fame out of this when it’s all said and done. Anyway, Tom says things aren’t going as well as you might have thought for the prosecution. If they can’t bring this one home, what does that say about the upcoming Skilling/Causey/Lay trial?

More fame

KTRK’s Michael McGuff interviewed yours truly plus Kevin and Anne for a pretty spiffy article on the local blog scene. Reading through it, I’m reminded that I apparently haven’t lost my touch for giving colorful quotes:

“If there’s one way that I’d like to see blogging change the media landscape, it’s to provide some real competition for the professional pundits, many of whom in my opinion are partisan hacks and out of touch drones of conventional wisdom,” Kuffner said.

Guess I won’t be getting invited to any Professional Pundits Association dinners in the near future.

Regarding the sidebar links, I really do hate to give a list of favorite bloggers. Even restricting myself to only Texas blogs, there were easily another ten or twenty I could’ve included had I been permitted to do so. There’s a reason my blogroll and Bloglines subscriptions list are so long. The tips for new bloggers and message about copyright are also worth reading. Check it out.

Truth in Lotto advertising

Oh, I hope someone liveblogs this.

Texas lottery officials could face tough questions and some nasty wrist-slapping today when they testify before lawmakers about inflating several Texas Lotto jackpot estimates.

But they would face more scrutiny under a bill filed Tuesday that forces the lottery to comply with laws against deceptive trade practices.

Sen. Jane Nelson said recent revelations that lottery officials advertised bigger jackpots than they could afford to pay out jeopardize the integrity of the game and the government that sanctioned it.

“It was deceptive. How can you put up a billboard that says you’ve got $8 million in the jackpot when they only have 6.5 in the kitty?” said Nelson, R-Lewisville. “If the public is not confident that what we’re advertising is accurate, you will see, I think, sales will drop to a much greater extent. People have to have confidence, and if their government isn’t being honest, then we’re in bad shape.”


The lottery’s executive director, Reagan Greer, and several other lottery officials and staff members were expected to testify about the jackpots and other issues in today’s meeting of the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee.

Speaking of the unqualified Reagan Greer, I just now realized that I’d overlooked the fact that the jackpot overstatement was not a one-time incident.

Nelson’s measure, Senate Bill 52, was filed just days after the three-member Texas Lottery Commission took Executive Director Reagan Greer to task for advertising the June 8 Lotto jackpot at $8 million even after it had become apparent that ticket sales would not support a grand prize of more than $6.5 million.

Under sharp questioning from the commissioners, Greer and other lottery executives acknowledged that they had inflated jackpots on at least three other times. The acknowledgement drew a stern rebuke from the commissioners, who said that lottery players have the right to demand truth in advertising from the agency.

And of course, it’s even worse than that:

Texas lottery officials were explicitly warned last year that ticket sales might not be enough to fund advertised jackpots, but they took no action to prevent it.

Months later, the warnings proved true, and the lottery’s executive director, Reagan Greer, nonetheless approved advertisements for inflated jackpots.

A March 23, 2004, memo shows that Mr. Greer and other top officials were given specific notice of the looming problem.

“This puts the agency in a position where we are advertising a jackpot amount (e.g. $8 million) that we may not be able to support,” wrote Robert Tirloni, the lottery’s online product manager.


In his memo, Mr. Tirloni proposed a number of measures to firm up finances. One suggestion – allowing for up to eight jackpot increases to be guaranteed by the agency’s budget, rather than ticket sales – could pose a “precarious public relations situation,” he wrote.

Currently, four straight increases can be funded by agency money. After that, a winner is guaranteed a percentage of ticket sales.

Mr. Tirloni also suggested cutting the size of jackpot increases between drawings with no winner, but he noted that might push lotto sales down even further.

Between Nov. 3, 2004, and June 11, 2005, the underfunding scenario Mr. Tirloni warned of occurred in four jackpots, though none featured a winner.


At a Jan. 7 Lottery Commission meeting, concerns about underfunded jackpots in other states were raised, according to a meeting transcript.

Mr. Greer has discretion to set jackpots. At that meeting, he and other top agency officials rejected a “hard-line” formula by which jackpots would rise or even fall depending on ticket proceeds.

“The advice that I have gotten up to this point has been very good, and, again, this has not been an issue,” Mr. Greer said, even though by then, a November jackpot had been inflated. “I do have a comfort level with what the rule is now and appreciate the fact that in my position as executive director, I have that discretion.”

I think it’s long past time for Mister Greer to be shown the door.

If executive director Reagan Greer doesn’t resign, the Texas Lottery Commission should fire him. Only a change in top leadership can properly send the message that the state of Texas stands for honest and fair games.


Hat in hand, Mr. Greer admitted to surprised lottery commissioners – his bosses – last week that he approved four inflated jackpots since the fall. He conceded that he should have “more closely” examined staff recommendations to routinely boost jackpots after nonwinning drawings to generate interest in the game. Yet the same Mr. Greer also said top officials knew more than a year ago that lagging sales eventually would fall behind jackpot needs.


The attorney general’s office is juggling a hot potato in this case – an allegation of fraudulent advertising by the state itself. If fair is fair, state officials need to be held as accountable as a grocer with the habit of deceiving customers by putting his thumb on the scale.

The lottery also faces tough questions today at a House committee meeting called to look into these shenanigans. Here’s a suggestion for panel members: Ask Mr. Greer if he would patronize a business that made false claims in its advertising.

Amen to all of that. I’d just add one thing: When is Rick Perry going to demand an acceptable level of accountability from his hand-picked Lottery chief?

School finance heresy narrowly defeated

If you’re wondering how the whole consensus on school finance reform thing is going, here’s a clue: The House just passed the same plan it had put forward during the regular session.

House Bill 2 would cut school property taxes by 40 cents per $100 of valuation and spend $2.5 billion for teacher pay raises, new programs and technology.

It would delay the start of school until after Labor Day and replace the 11th-grade standardized test with subject exams.

The legislation also would institute state and local incentive-pay programs for teachers and allow struggling schools to be turned over to private companies. Teacher and education groups are opposed to the measure, which is substantially the same as one passed by the House during the regular legislative session earlier this year.

“This will do more to improve education in the state of Texas than literally anything we’ve done in the last half century,” said bill sponsor Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington.

The bill would lower the maximum school operations tax from $1.50 per $100 property valuation to $1.10 in 2006. With voter approval, districts could impose local enrichment taxes up to 15 cents per $100 of valuation.

It also would limit, but not eliminate, the amount of money that property-wealthy districts have to send to less wealthy districts under the so-called “Robin Hood” provisions of current law.

School districts would be guaranteed an increase of at least 3 percent, an amount critics said would barely cover inflation and doesn’t meet the education needs of the state’s 4.3 million schoolchildren.

“It is arguable whether the money has kept pace with the students, the tests, the mandates,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston.

Next up is a tax reform plan, which is where the real bones of contention between the House and Senate exist. The Senate was originally inclined to spend more on education, but eventually gave up and bowed to Craddick’s will on the subject.

What the House very nearly did was pass the Democratic alternative, which to say the least would have livened things up a bit.

Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, said the Democrats’ plan would provide more money to three out of four school districts than offered by HB 2. It would provide greater funding for urban districts that have large populations of low-income students.

The Democrats proposed cutting the school operations tax rate by only 20 cents but increasing the homestead exemption from $15,000 to $45,000.

The Democrats said their plan would provide greater tax relief to owners of average-priced homes while the Republican plan would benefit owners of higher-priced homes.

Craddick said last week that he was opposed to the Democrats’ plan because it would not provide a significant tax break to business property owners.

Hochberg’s amendment would have given teachers a $3,200 raise phased in over two years, compared with an average raise of $1,500 in Grusendorf’s bill.

I’m glad that the differences in priority are so clearly defined. While the national Democrats are still figuring out what it means to be an opposition party, the folks here seem to have a pretty decent grip on it. What’s more, they’ve got some traction – twelve Republicans voted for their plan, which forced Speaker Craddick to cast a tiebreaker against it.

Unfortunately, you have to go to the Statesman story to learn a key feature of the Democratic plan.

Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, said the Democrats’ plan would give larger tax cuts to the average homeowner in 144 of the state’s 150 House districts. He also said three-fourths of Texas school districts would see more money under his plan than under the GOP plan.

I’m thinking that may have been a part of the reason that a dozen Republicans crossed over.

More commentary from Greg, Houtopia, Nate, PinkDome, Dos Centavos, and Aaron Pena. Latinos for Texas discusses a different Democratic alternative.

UPDATE: There is a story on the accompanying House tax plan as well. Like its sibling, this is another warmed-over rerun.

A revised tax proposal, similar to Gov. Rick Perry’s plan for property tax relief, surfaced in the House on Tuesday, as Ways and Means Chairman Jim Keffer tried to break an impasse on the tax-writing committee.

The plan includes an increase of 1 cent per dollar in the sales tax, a slightly bigger increase than advocated by Perry, but it incorporates the governor’s more limited approach to business tax changes. It would close loopholes in the corporate franchise tax rather than impose a broader business tax, which the House approved in March.

It also would reduce local school taxes by about 30 cents or 35 cents per $100 valuation over the next two years, the goal sought by Perry.

Keffer, R-Eastland, said the revised plan was a potential “avenue” to a tax agreement during the special session, which the governor called after the House and Senate were unable to agree on a tax overhaul before the regular session ended May 30. The proposal may be discussed by the Ways and Means Committee today.

Keffer said he was trying to “mix and match” ideas to win enough votes to advance a tax bill to the full House for debate. Tax bills must originate in the House, and the special session must end by July 20.

The plan is still in committee. That 1 point increase in the sales tax was a nonstarter in the Senate, and I doubt it will be any more well-received this time around.

George’s successor

I’m relieved, yet a little bit disappointed, to hear that George Steinbrenner has named his successor.

With his 75th birthday approaching next week, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner made it official Tuesday: Son-in-law Steve Swindal will follow him as head of baseball’s most storied team.

Steinbrenner did not say when Swindal would take over. At a news conference on June 15, Steinbrenner mentioned in passing that Swindal was “going to carry on.”

“Yes, Steve will be my successor,” Steinbrenner said through spokesman Howard Rubenstein in an e-mail response to questions from The Associated Press. “I also have other sons, daughters, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law coming along and they will remain involved. As I have said many times, ‘You must let the young elephants into the tent.”‘

Swindal, 50, is married to Steinbrenner’s daughter, Jennifer. He said there was no way he would be as hands-on as his father-in-law.

“I think that’s impossible. My inherent style is more delegation,” Swindal said Tuesday during a telephone interview from Tampa, Fla. “I don’t think there could ever be another George Steinbrenner. He is Mr. Yankee and has represented them for 32 years. I could only could only hope to surround myself with the best, brightest baseball minds and do a lot of listening.”

Swindal said Steinbrenner had told him he would be the successor.

“We’ve discussed that all the kids would be involved at some point in running the team and everybody would contribute,” Swindal said. “It just happens at this point in time my kids are further along, and I can spend more time in New York. The other boys have younger children, and they have to stay closer to home.”

On the one hand, as a lifelong Yankees fan, I’m glad to see that there’s an orderly plan for succession when George is no longer around. There’s more than enough chaos surrounding my favorite team – we really didn’t need an ownership fight on top of it all, whenever that might have happened.

On the other hand, I must admit, this could have been the mother of all reality TV shows. “Who Wants To Be A Megalomaniac?”, “George’s Apprentice” (that Trump guy has nothin’ on King George when it comes to firing people), “Survivor: The Bronx” – the possibilities are endless. Oh, well. Maybe next time.

WiFi happenings

Dwight reports on the city’s downtown WiFi-enabled parking meters. That may sound silly, but there’s a purpose for it – the wireless networking will allow the meters to accept and verify credit cards for payment. My main reason for parking downtown these days is Comets games at the Toyota Center. The options I currently have are paying cash for an overpriced lot, or carrying a pile of coins for the long-term meters. Thankfully, at the last game I attended, my friend Andrea had $1.50 in quarters on her. I’d just as soon whip out the plastic, since I’m much too likely to be without the needed currency.

There’s a potential beneficial side effect to this, too:

If the city decides to open up the parking-meter network, by fall, downtown could be a big WiFi hot spot.

There are still plenty of details to be worked out, including how and whether WiFi users would pay for access.

[Richard Lewis, Houston’s chief technology officer] said using this system to spread public WiFi throughout the city would be tricky, as there aren’t parking meters all over town.

Lewis said the city’s been “going to school on this technology for a year and a half,” and there’s been a benefit to the delay. The costs to create a downtown hot spot have dropped dramatically — from an initial estimate of $1 million to $250,000.

And there’s good news on the municipal WiFi front, as a bipartisan bill to protect the rights of municipalities to offer the service to its citizens has been introduced in the Senate. Save Muni Wireless has the scoop.

Finally, though Governor Perry has said he will not add anything to the special session agenda until such time as a school finance deal is worked out, both chambers are holding hearings on various things telecom.

On Monday, witnesses packed a Senate committee hearing on legislation that would affect residential phone rates and the ability of phone companies to get into the television business.

Senate Bill 21 would lift state controls on residential phone rates in Texas cities larger than 30,000 people, starting in January.

SBC Communications Inc. would have to cut the rates it charges rivals for access to its network, a significant source of revenue. SBC and other dominant phone companies also would have to offer the same prices to everyone in those cities, except for six-month promotional deals.

That prompted the San Antonio-based phone giant to testify against the proposal, an unusual move for the company, which normally criticizes legislation in private.

“If you are deregulated, you have more flexibility than you do today,” SBC lawyer Tim Leahy testified before the Senate Business and Commerce Committee. However, “this (proposal) goes in the opposite direction.”

The measure also would authorize the Public Utility Commission of Texas to study the $640 million Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes phone service in rural areas, and to propose changes for the next regular legislative session. SBC and Verizon Communications Inc. get more than half of their subsidies from the fund.

The proposal also would deputize the PUC as the agency in charge of issuing a new statewide franchise for video services. It would require SBC and Verizon to match the level of in-kind services, such as public access channels, which are standard in cable franchise contracts with Texas cities.

For now, the testimony is academic; Gov. Rick Perry called the special session to deal only with school finance. The governor has said he would add other items only if a deal is reached on how the state pays for schools.

In anticipation of that happening, Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, introduced SB 21 and is going ahead with hearings.

On Monday, Fraser rejected SBC’s suggestion to diminish the PUC’s role in revamping the Universal Service Fund.

“May I remind you SBC hired 200 lobbyists to try to impact the process,” Fraser said. “If there is not a hammer in place of the USF, they will hire another 200 next session and kill any legislation there will be.”

That USF is quite the cash cow for the telcos.

Fraser’s counterpart, Rep. Phil King, will be doing similar things in the House to try to resurrect his godawful telecom bill from the regular session. Apparently, he hasn’t read the letter he received from his hometown mayor on the subject.

Eminent domain battle in Freeport

One of the things I missed last week while gadding about in Colorado was how the Kelo decision affects plans in Freeport to build a marina on the Old Brazos River.

“This is the last little piece of the puzzle to put the project together,” Freeport Mayor Jim Phillips said of the project designed to inject new life in the Brazoria County city’s depressed downtown area.

Over the years, Freeport’s lack of commercial and retail businesses has meant many of its 13,500 residents travel to neighboring Lake Jackson, which started as a planned community in 1943, to spend money. But the city is hopeful the marina will spawn new economic growth.

“This will be the engine that will drive redevelopment in the city,” City Manager Ron Bottoms said.

Lee Cameron, director of the city’s Economic Development Corp., said the marina is expected to attract $60 million worth of hotels, restaurants and retail establishments to the city’s downtown area and create 150 to 250 jobs. He said three hotels, two of which have “high interest,” have contacted the city about building near the marina.

“It’s all dependent on the marina,” Cameron said. “Without the marina, (the hotels) aren’t interested. With the marina, (the hotels) think it’s a home run.”

Well, maybe. I confess, I’m not really familiar with Freeport. I’ve no idea if building all this stuff will revitalize the area or not. I can’t offhand think of anything touristy in Freeport – well, okay, maybe there’s one thing. I do know that what Loren Steffy says on the subject makes a lot of sense to me.

Therein lies the flawed logic that too often creeps into economic development programs: Success is assumed. Build the marina and the hotels will be a “home run.”

It ignores questions developers don’t ask, but cities should. What if they strike out? What if, even with a marina, no one stays at the hotels? How long will the hotels stay in business if occupancy rates trail their forecasts?

Is a shuttered hotel development preferable to a waterfront of small, if aesthetically unappealing, businesses?

I’m not predicting failure for the Freeport development. But developers by their nature are optimistic. Every project will succeed until it doesn’t.

Local opponents of the Freeport land grab have a couple of websites up which document their grievances. Banjo has a more nuanced take on the subject. My sympathies lie with the opposition, but I admit it’s possible that I might get swept up in the “build it and they will come” optimism if I lived in Freeport.

I also admit that I’m a bit leery of calls to amend the state constitution to limit eminent domain powers.

Rep. Frank Corte Jr., R-San Antonio, said he would seek “to defend the rights of property owners in Texas” by proposing a state constitutional amendment limiting local powers of eminent domain, or condemnation.


The [Kelo] opinion said states concerned about excessive use of condemnation were free to pass laws restricting it, and Corte said he intended to do just that.

Corte said he would ask Gov. Rick Perry to add the condemnation issue to the agenda of the special legislative session now under way so that the proposed constitutional amendment could appear on the November ballot.

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said the governor would consider requests to add items to the agenda, but probably not until legislators resolve the school finance issue. She said Perry supports property rights and was concerned about the Supreme Court ruling.

Corte said in a news release that his proposed amendment would “limit a local governmental entity’s power of eminent domain, preventing them from bulldozing residences in favor of private developers.”

If Corte’s amendment is limited to restricting eminent domain for private development, then I’d favor it, but he’s not a legislator whose motives I trust, so I’ll wait and see what he produces before I make any judgment. I do support the concept of eminent domain, so I don’t want to see it pushed back beyond the Kelo boundary.

(Chron story links via blogHOUSTON, Freeport links and impetus for this post via ttyler5.)

Mediation in Midlothian

I’ve posted a couple of updates recently on the situation in Midlothian, where residents are trying to prevent cement maker TXI from circumventing environmental regulations. Yesterday I got an email from Julie, my regular Midlothian correspondent, who sent me a link to this DMN story from June 7, which says that the residents of Midlothian are now in mediation with TXI over this issue. There’s supposed to be a ruling soon, so maybe, just maybe, the folks up there can get some relief. I’ll try to keep an eye out for it.

In the meantime, a subsequent DMN editorial asks why this is a debatable point at all.

Under EPA rules, the company’s only justification – that the controls are too costly – is no justification at all. Because the entire Dallas-Fort Worth area fails to meet federal standards for the deadly pollutant ozone, cost is not a factor the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality can consider when determining how much pollution each industry is allowed to emit.

Things would have been different for TXI if the EPA had opted last year to exclude Ellis County from the D-FW ozone “nonattainment” area. (It didn’t.) Or if TCEQ had granted the company’s request before last June 15, when the area’s new boundaries took effect. But on that day, TXI’s request became invalid.

“If this permit is not issued prior to June 15, 2004, the facility must withdraw its [pending] application and submit an application … subject to … more stringent permit requirements,” an EPA official wrote in May 2004. Nevertheless, TCEQ has allowed TXI to proceed as though the deadline had not passed.

Never underestimate the power of Smokey Joe.

At least elsewhere in Texas, there’s some moderately good news for those of us who prefer to breath real air.

Texas will stop evaluating the public health risk of toxic air pollution using 30-year-old guidelines long criticized for being more lenient than other states’ and based on questionable science, according to a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality proposal.

Instead, the state plans to use more scientifically valid, and in some cases more stringent, federal risk levels to analyze the health and environmental hazards of the air pollution data collected at monitors across Texas.

The TCEQ also will no longer base its guidelines on standards used to protect industrial workers, a practice that has been criticized by some toxicologists and environmental groups as outdated and scientifically inappropriate.

The changes will be the most significant made to Texas Effects Screening Levels — guidelines to assess air pollution’s effects on people, plants and odors — since the levels were first drafted in the 1970s.

“It’s a total departure” from what we’ve been doing, said Michael Honeycutt, manager of the TCEQ’s Toxicology Section, which began the review in October 2003.

This update isn’t perfect – there’s still controversy over risk levels – but it’s way better than what we had before. Kudos to the TCEQ for taking a step in the right direction.

Your liberal media at work

From the story on Kay Bailey Hutchison’s official announcement that she’s running for reelection to the Senate:

No prominent candidates have announced plans to challenge Hutchison.

How nice of the reporter to decide for us who is a “real” candidate and who isn’t. And how nice of the Chronicle, who outsourced this task to the Associated Press, to leave that bit of editorializing in place despite the fact that Hutchison’s announced opponent, who’s been on the campaign trail for a year now, lives right here in Houston. Hey, everyone’s gonna vote for that polite moderate KBH anyway, so what does it matter, right?

We’ll tell you what you can do with your money

It’s bad enough that Congress has held hearings into the vitally important issue of steroids in baseball. Now they want to have a say in who does or does not get to own a piece of a baseball team. Does this really need to be politicized? If nobody cares about owners who make big contributions to Republicans, can we please not care about a potential owner who makes big contributions to the Democrats? Sheesh.

On punishing the guilty

Last week, the NCAA socked it to Baylor for multiple infractions committed under former coach Dave Bliss.

The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions on Thursday placed Baylor on probation for five years and barred the men’s basketball team from competing outside the Big 12 Conference for one year.

The NCAA started its investigation into the program following the murder of basketball player Patrick Dennehy by his teammate Carlton Dotson in the summer of 2003.

The committee discovered widespread violations that included tens of thousands of dollars paid to student-athletes and prospects, more than $100,000 in impermissible donations funneled to amateur teams comprising prospects and the failure to follow procedures for reporting banned drug use.

Though some writers think the punishment Baylor received was appropriate, Richard Justice does not.

The problem with the punishment is that the people guilty of wrongdoing already have departed.

Instead of punishing the people who are guilty, the NCAA is punishing the people brought in to clean up the mess. The NCAA is punishing players who’ve never met Dave Bliss.

If you’re arguing that Bliss is being punished, forget it. Any school hiring Bliss for the next 10 years is subject to sanctions.

That’s punishment? Any school that even considers hiring Bliss should close its doors.

Why punish Drew? Why punish the players who came to Baylor hoping to clean up the program? Why punish people who’ve been dedicated to doing things right?

The NCAA should reward schools that step up and acknowledge mistakes and that don’t try to hide what they’ve done wrong.

Maybe the NCAA was trying to send a message. Maybe the NCAA wanted to remind the world what it will and won’t tolerate.

Yet when the NCAA sends a message, it always sends it to schools like Baylor. The NCAA considers Baylor a nuisance. The NCAA loves to make examples of schools like Baylor.

Would Michigan have been treated as harshly? Of course not.

Yes, Baylor came clean only after Dennehy’s murder, only after the program’s failings already were being exposed. And Baylor had been in trouble before. NCAA officials could have given Baylor the death penalty.

Why not use some logic?

Baylor is guilty of one thing: trusting Dave Bliss.

This is a common argument that I hear when the NCAA cracks down on a program. It has some merit, for all the reasons Justice gives. What I never see, though, is their idea of an appropriate remedy. I mean, surely no one would claim that the resignation of Dave Bliss is sufficient to wipe the slate clean, right? The point here isn’t just to punish Baylor, after all, but also to serve as a deterrent to other schools and other coaches. Given that, what would Richard Justice or any other advocate of this line of thinking suggest?

Since it’s usually a now-departed coach that was the real cause of the mess, it seems to me that the NCAA might consider making some changes that would enable them to punish those coaches more severely, thus reducing the need for them to take it out on the programs they leave behind. How about a rule stipulating that any coach whose program is found guilty of major infractions can be made to forfeit some or all of their salary for the seasons in which those infractions took place? I’m thinking Dave Bliss might have paid a bit more attention to the finer points of the rulebook if he’d known that his $500K annual paycheck was on the line. Make that a part of the standard contract, and as needed get a court order garnishing past wages as necessary. I think this would help put the responsibility for compliance where it belongs.

Now, this isn’t perfect, of course. You can just imagine the lawsuits that would result over interpretations of “major” infractions. It’s not clear to me that such a rule could be enforced against a coach whose contract didn’t already stipulate the possibility of this kind of sanction. There’d be a huge amount of pushback at the very mention of this concept. All that said, I think this is an idea worth exploring.

As for Dave Bliss himself, it’s hard to look at all the sleazy things he did and not agree with Justice that he’s getting away essentially unpunished. Here I think there’s a simpler and more direct way to extract a bit more redress: Baylor should file a civil suit against him for the amount of ticket and other revenues they stand to lose this year for the nonconference games they are barred from playing. I think they could make a pretty solid case that he was the primary cause of those lost revenues, and could probably get a settlement in reasonably short order. It doesn’t change the fact that Scott Drew and his players are suffering for Dave Bliss’ sins, but it’s something.

There is no cushion

Other states may have an unofficial speed limit that’s 5-10 MPH above what’s posted, but not Texas. Well, sort of.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, the Harris County Sheriff’s Department and the Houston Police Department said they will write a ticket even if the driver is barely over the speed limit.


The DPS, HPD and the Sheriff’s Department say they have no policy that give drivers a speeding cushion.

“Our officers write tickets for just about anything,” HPD Capt. Dwayne Ready said.

Lt. John Martin, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman, acknowledged that writing a citation for driving just barely over the speed limit is unreasonable.

As a matter of practice, individual officers don’t pull people over for going 2 or 3 miles over the speed limit, Martin said.

It’s that matter of practice that’s key. As I said before, traffic cops pretty much have to pick their spots, and we the public like it that way. Being just a little too fast isn’t a defense, nor is it a guarantee, but the odds are in your favor.

Where the wild landscapes are

I read with great interest this front page story about a homeowner in my neighborhood who’s drawn both praise and flak for her wild yard.

For a stranger, approaching Kelly Walker’s house on Arlington Street is a lesson in navigation. One almost needs a map to find the front door.

On a recent Friday afternoon, the plants were so tall by her blue Saturn station wagon that they appeared to have grown up around it. A funnel full of sunflower seeds hung from a wooden fence.

An orange Gulf fritillary butterfly hovered around her mailbox. And on the porch sat three glass jars with spiky caterpillars inside, a basket with gardening gloves, seed packets and clippers, and numerous pots with the seedlings of milkweed — the plant that monarch butterfly caterpillars like to munch on.

“Welcome to the jungle,” she said as she opened the door.

You need to see the photo to get a real appreciation of what we’re talking about here. For my part, this house is between where I live and where I take Olivia to day care, so I’ll be doing a drive-by later today.

I have a fair amount of sympathy for Kelly Walker. I don’t believe one must have a manicured lawn to be a good neighbor. If you’ve ever visited the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, you’d probably agree with me that there are better uses of one’s soil than another plot of Saint Augustine grass. And with all due respect to the Houston Police Department’s Neighborhood Protection Division, I’m not greatly impressed by their case:

“You just can’t let everything go wild,” said [Jodi Filva, a spokeswoman with the Neighborhood Protection Division]. “It is a safety issue. Neighbors get very concerned when they live next door to a property with high weeds, because they are scared and they have children.”

I’m sorry, but unless she’s harboring Audrey II in there somewhere, I’m not sure why weeds are a safety issue.

That said, Filva did bring up the issue of vermin earlier in this article. My previous house in the Heights was across the street from a woman whose yard was also an overgrown tangle of mostly weedy foliage. In this case, it was due to neglect rather than a conscious choice. Though it was ugly, it didn’t really bother me until the woman who used to live next door there told me that the place was a haven for rats. If the same is true with Walker’s yard – and the article never says anything like that – then it’s a serious concern.

This, however, isn’t:

“We’ve tried everything,” said Margaret Warner, 84, who lives two houses down. “I think it’s terrible. In the back, they have snakes. I’d like to see it mowed down and cleaned up like a decent person’s yard.”

Unless we’re talking about one of these, the presence of snakes is a good thing, if for no other reason than they’ll likely be eating any rats that may also be there. Ophidiophobia isn’t enough to move me.

Walker has a court case pending to resolve the fines she’s been levied for her noncompliant yard. I’ll be very interested to see what happens.

Happy birthday, Juanita

I’m sure you remember the travails of Nooky’s, Sugar Land’s premier erotic baking establishment. Well, you’ll be glad to know that all of the huffing and puffing by some of Fort Bend County’s bluenoses (as chronicled by Juanita as only she can) has been for naught. Rich Connelly brings us an update.

[W]e asked the gals at Nooky’s if they’d been raided lately. Safe so far, [co-owner Charlotte] Daingerfield says.

“All these poor little ladies are all a-twitter,” she said. “One came in three or four times. She comes in, frowns, looks at stuff and shakes her head but doesn’t buy anything. I think she’s trying to get a petition.”

Three or four times? She knows pornography when she sees it, but you have to be certain.

Not all the locals are upset, though. Daingerfield noted that 80 percent of her customers are from Sugar Land.

“A lot of people see the sign as they drive by, slam on the brakes and come on in,” she said.

None, so far, with petitions.

Thank God for that. As for Juanita, she was treated to her very own, very special Nooky’s cake for her birthday last week. You can read about it here (scroll down to June 24), or you can just marvel at the picture, which I’d call not safe for work if I weren’t laughing so hard. Happy belated birthday, Juanita!

Perry’s vetoes: Worse than you thought

Governor Perry’s veto of HB2193 was bad enough, but he didn’t stop there.

As of last week, Texas prisons are officially full and must contract to rent space for all new prisoners from county jails. Unbelievably, though, it turns out Governor Perry line-item vetoed funding in the budget for those beds. Since he also vetoed HB 2193 by House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden strengthening Texas’ probation system (which would have partially stemmed the overincarceration crisis), as of right now Texas officially has more prisoners than the state can afford to incarcerate, with the problem getting worse every day into the foreseeable future.

Way to be tough on crime, Governor! Best of all, as Grits notes elsewhere, this shortsighted decision will hit Harris County harder than most.

More on Midlothian

I find it a bit sad that a story like this gets reported on by a Chicago newspaper and not a Texas one, but at least it’s been picked up by the Chron.

MIDLOTHIAN – The neighbors introduced themselves hesitantly at first, not by name or street address but by their various ailments.

“I’ve got breast cancer,” said one woman.

“Oh, my husband has a brain tumor,” replied the woman sitting next to her.

“My son has Down syndrome,” offered a man standing nearby.

“My daughter died last month from an abdominal tumor,” a woman said softly. “She was only 19.”

Similar introductions rippled through an auditorium in this southwest Dallas suburb one evening earlier this month as more than 500 residents, some in wheelchairs and others with portable oxygen tanks hanging from their shoulders, gathered to ask a question most had only dared whisper: Is something in Midlothian’s air or water making them sick?

The evidence is largely anecdotal, and few epidemiological studies have been done. But many residents say they know too many neighbors with cancer, birth defects and lung ailments for it to be a coincidence.

It’s a depressing and underreported story, which I’ve blogged on in the past. Maybe some day we’ll get some real answers. However good advice this may be in Midlothian, though, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for them.


Rick Casey laments Kay Bailey Hutchison’s decision to sit out the Governor’s race next year.

Kay Bailey Hutchison had an opportunity to destroy a myth that is crippling Texas.

It is the myth that the only way to win the Republican primary — and therefore to win any statewide office and many regional ones — is to appeal to social conservatives and starve-the-government ideologues.

Hutchison had a chance to show something only a candidate with her profile and credibility, and not least of all her budget, could show: that given a credible choice, a Republican could win a Texas primary by appealing to moderates.

Let’s talk about myths for a minute, shall we? There’s a much bigger myth here, and it’s staring Rick Casey right in the face, but he doesn’t see it. The myth I’m referring to is the myth of Kay Bailey Hutchison’s moderation.

There are a number of definitions of “moderate” these days that the media likes to use. Bipartisanship, dealmaking (witness the slobbering lovefest that was visited on the Senators who brokered the anti-nuclear option deal), publicly rebuking one’s own party on this issue or that, voting against one’s party on this or that controversial and high-profile bill – doing any or all of those things will usually get you the sometimes-coveted label of “moderate”. Can anyone think of a single example, especially in the last four years, of KBH doing any of these things? She’s never said a cross word about Gitmo or Abu Ghraib, she was perfectly willing to go nuclear on filibustering, I can’t think of any nontrivial legislation she’s cosponsored with a Democrat, and as far as I know she’s never once voted against George W. Bush’s wishes. Correct me if I’m wrong here – maybe she’s just so demure and well-mannered that I’ve never noticed when she’s misbehaved. All I’m saying is that all the evidence I can see indicates she’s a good, disciplined, down-the-line Republican, and by any reasonable measure these days that makes her what we now call a “conservative”.

I say there’s two reasons why KBH has been given the “moderate” label: She’s not a rhetorical bomb-thrower, and she didn’t have to campaign for her re-election in 2000. On the first point, her generally quiet style stands in contrast to the gloryhound Phil Gramm, the obnoxious John Cornyn, and the ever-pandering to the base Rick Perry. If that’s all it takes to be a “moderate” these days, then the term truly has no meaning. And even when KBH shows her true colors, such as when her office said she agrees with Karl Rove’s recent statement about liberals and 9/11, nobody in the Texas media picks up on it. (Hey, Rick! There’s a column for you!) And since she had no real opposition in 2000, she never had to run any attack ads. What little presence she had on TV back then was mostly gauzy soft-focus stuff with messages like “Kay Bailey’s your buddy. You like her, don’t you? Sure you do.”

My point is that nobody’s really seen her act like a partisan politician. That doesn’t mean that she isn’t one. It’s instructive to compare how the media treats her with how they treat Comptroller Strayhorn, who’s as big a gloryhound as Phil Gramm ever was but who has been advocating some actual moderate ideas. The difference is mostly Strayhorn’s fault, what with all that “tough grandma” nonsense, but it shows again that it’s all about style and perception. What you actually do, and what you say you stand for, doesn’t much matter.

Now I admit I’m being a little unfair to Casey. He doesn’t say that KBH is a moderate, he simply says that she has appeal to moderates. Which is certainly true, and it’s true for the reasons I’ve given. You have to give KBH credit for being able to say one thing and do another without getting called on it – that’s certainly been the secret of George W. Bush’s success. I have many hopes for 2006, and among them is the wish that Barbara Radnofsky‘s campaign will at least help alter the public’s perception of KBH. It’s well past time that reality caught up with her.

May traffic report

May was my busiest month of the year so far, with about 57,000 hits. Links from Atrios and Crooked Timber helped boost the numbers a bit, but things were pretty steady overall.

Every once in awhile, I look at the referral log numbers that my webhost generates and I see something that I hadn’t noticed in the Sitemeter referrals. Sometime in May I got over 200 referrals from this discussion thread on Poe News. The thread is called “ACLU Wants Cross Removed From Cemetery”, which seemed odd to me at first when I clicked on it to check it out, since I had no idea what they were talking about. Then it hit me – the original poster had linked to this picture I took in France, which he presumably found via a Google image search. It doesn’t have anything to do with whatever he would have been writing about, but it is a nice photo if I do say so myself. Here’s the post that goes with the photo, in case you’re curious.

Anyway. Thank you as always for visiting. Top referrers and search terms are beneath the fold.


TAB gives it up

Here’s our first look at the contribution records that the Texas Association of Business didn’t want us to see.

Documents released in a civil lawsuit Friday show that Texas Association of Business officials were trying to influence the outcome of state House races when they ran a $1.7 million “voter education project” paid for with corporate money.

“Of the nine incumbents … we went after, seven were defeated. This is huge news,” a TAB executive said in a 2002 e-mail the day after the group helped Republicans win control of the Texas House for the first time since Reconstruction.

TAB officials have claimed that their corporate spending was meant to educate voters, not affect elections.


The records were released in a lawsuit brought by losing Austin Democrat James Sylvester. TAB had fought release of the records, and the Texas Supreme Court sat on the appeal for 17 months before ruling against TAB on June 10.

TAB lawyer Andy Taylor said the organization did not violate the state law banning the use of corporate money to influence elections because none of its direct mail or television advertising ever advocated the election or defeat of a candidate.

He said the fact that TAB executives wanted to influence the elections is irrelevant to the case.

“On no occasion did we ever use words of ‘vote for’ or ‘vote against’ in these ads,” Taylor said. “It’s the content of the speech, not the intention of the speaker, that counts for First Amendment purposes.”

Taylor said TAB was trying to “shed light on candidates’ positions on the issues.”

But plaintiff attorney Randall “Buck” Wood said the documents show TAB was, under the law, acting like a political action committee.

“The real test is whether a citizen of ordinary intelligence can determine whether they (the ads) were meant to elect or defeat a candidate,” Wood said.


The names of the donors were kept secret. Wood said he will go back to court to seek the names. The corporations can be subject to fines of double the amount of their contribution if it is found to have been made illegally.

The largest contribution was $250,000 from a corporation that was not a member of TAB; $480,000 in corporate cash came from companies that were not members of TAB.

That is significant because organizations such as TAB have additional First Amendment free speech protections if they are taking political action just among their members.

This certainly does nothing to dissuade me from my long-held opinion that TAB basically ignored existing election law. It’s the only explanation I can think of for their up-is-down insistence that they never advocated for or against any candidate, as well as their statements that paying for polling and electioneering counts as administrative overhead.

What do they say doesn’t count as advocacy? Here’s an example.

One mailer targeted voters in Bexar County, where Rep. Ken Mercer, a Republican, was running against Democrat Raul Prado and would ultimately defeat him.

“The Texas Association of Business is committed to fighting for free enterprise,” the mailer said. Then beside a picture of Mercer, the ad reads: “Ken Mercer stands with us in promoting the principles that will ensure that Texas remains a leader in jobs, economic development, quality education and improving transportation.”

It also mentioned Mercer’s positions on jobs and the economy, health care and corporate responsibility.

If you can read something like that and not conclude that the Texas Association of Business wants you to vote for Ken Mercer, then all I can say is that it’s a good thing you finished school before there were TAKS tests.

There were some 20,000 pages of documents released by the TAB, and it’s been just two weeks since the original court ruling which compelled them to do so, so I imagine there’ll be more of this soon. With a resurgence of the rumors that more indictments are coming soon, we may be in for a fun month of July.

Janette Sexton Campaign Kickoff Reception

In a previous entry on Janette Sexton, I promised to pass along information on her first fundraiser. I got the scoop last night, so here it is – click the More link for the details of the event, to be held on July 14 at Gilley’s in Pasadena. If you want to help unelect Robert Talton (and you know you do), here’s your first chance to do something.


Would KBH have beaten Perry in the primary?

Among the stories that I wasn’t able to read last week was this one which contained some poll numbers for the KBH-Perry primary matchup that we won’t get to see.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison would have been a strong front-runner among likely Republican voters if she’d challenged Gov. Rick Perry one-on-one next year, according to a survey conducted by a firm hired by her campaign.

A memo summarizing the April survey and obtained by the Austin American-Statesman says that, at the time, about 59 percent leaned toward Hutchison, with 33 percent favoring Perry.

The numbers might dampen speculation that Hutchison avoided running against Perry out of concern that he’d steeled support among GOP activists. It likewise leaves in question why she didn’t try and suggests that Perry has ground to cover with voters.

I’m one of those people who has believed that Perry has mostly locked up the GOP primary vote, since just about everything he’s done lately has been aimed towards those voters. There’s not a lot of data about this survey here (sample size? margin of error? question wording? etc), so I can’t say definitively that this has debunked those beliefs, but surely a poll conducted by her campaign for the primary would have at least tried to identify likely primary voters. You do have to wonder how big the horsehead was that someone put in her bed to dissuade her from this race. The idea that her change of mind was simply good manners on her part is ridiculous to me (link via PerryVsWorld).

Lance Tarrance, who conducted the survey, said Wednesday that a smaller sampling conducted last week showed 24 percent definitely favoring Perry and another 21 percent probably favoring Perry over a new Republican.


Tarrance said: “Not knowing more than we know today, she would have beaten the living fire out of Perry. I don’t think there’s anything else to conclude. Perry ought to be very lucky that she stayed out.”

It’s only one poll, it’s a long way to next March, and Rick Perry had not yet begun to crank up the slime machine, but yeah. He should feel lucky that she chose a different path.

Now the question becomes “Can Carole Keeton Strayhorn win by being the not-Rick-Perry candidate?” This poll suggests that maybe she can. PinkDome and BOR add their thoughts. I still make Perry the favorite here, but let’s just say that I’ll be awaiting the next poll very eagerly.

Lottery officials speak

And they say “We screwed up”.

“We’re just looking for answers and see what they have to say,” assistant committee clerk Cynthia Venecia said Friday.

At the lottery commission’s meeting Friday, officials acknowledged that they knew estimated ticket sales would fall about $1.3 million short of the advertised $8 million jackpot earlier this month, but that they inflated the jackpot to encourage ticket sales.

The lottery intentionally advertised a jackpot that staffers knew it couldn’t pay for on at least two other occasions, spokesman Bobby Heith said.

“At the time that we did these estimations, I felt that it was critical for the long-term health of the game for the jackpot to increase if there was no jackpot ticket sold,” Product Manager Robert Triloni told commissioners.

“In hindsight, I would have left the jackpot amount at the same amount.”

The June 8 shortfall prompted lottery officials to freeze the advertised June 11 jackpot for the first time in the game’s history.

[Reagan] Greer, the executive director, said he approved the inflated jackpots that staffers recommended because he trusted them and didn’t carefully review their reports.

Greer said his staff will base future jackpots on their most conservative sales estimates and will consider holding jackpots at the same amount more often if sales don’t support an increase.

“I’m going to take a much clearer, more micro approach to this process in the future and try to ensure to you that it’s not going to happen again,” he told the commission.

Yes, well, that’s what can happen when an unqualified person is named to head a commission.

Rep. Burt Solomons, who has tried to pass legislation to reform the lottery commission, said he was amazed lottery officials would intentionally try to deceive Texans.

“Somebody needs to be fired, and quite frankly, we need to investigate it,” said the Carrollton Republican. “It’s bad government, it’s poor public policy and it deflates the trust that we in the Legislature have for the lottery commission, for God sakes,” Solomons said.

You said it. Let the firings begin!

Back home blogger radio

We made it all back home in good shape today (have I mentioned what a boon it is to have a baby who sleeps on airplanes?), and amid the laundry and unopened snail mail I’ll be doing my usual stint on BizRadio 1320 AM tomorrow morning. I’d like to apologize in advance to the FCC and any listeners with delicate sensibilities in the event that the word MoFo escapes my lips during the segment. No one ever said punditry would be pretty, you know.

I’ve been a bit remiss lately in posting links to MP3s of previous segments. I’ll get on that this weekend, but for now, blogHOUSTON has them all up – look for the “On the Radio” box in their right sidebar.

The last word on MoFo, yo

Sometimes it takes a middle-aged white guy to put things into perspective.

This week, the Texas governor got caught saying “Adios, Mofo.”

This line will follow Perry around like a dog after a ham sandwich. Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Rick Perry? Best he could do was, “Adios, Mofo.”


I expect to see Rick in a pair of those big baggy shorts, break-dancing in an alley off Sixth Street.


This was such a startling remark that the day after the story broke, there was a line of clothing for sale online honoring Perry’s gaff. On you can get your Rick Perry “Adios, MoFo” T-shirts.

Although I’m not sure where you’d wear one. Wait. You could wear one to a Carole Keeton Strayhorn gubernatorial rally. One tough grandma might take Perry over her knee and give him a spanking, if she knew what “Mofo” meant.

I can hear it now. “Mo who?” She probably thinks it has something to do with the Three Stooges.


The good news is that Perry says he wasn’t directing his remark at Ted Oberg, the TV reporter who interviewed him. The bad news is that he said he was speaking to Robert Black, his deputy press secretary.

Too bad for Black. For the rest of his life, he’ll be known around these parts as Robert “Mofo” Black. But I suppose it beats being known as Robert “Jive Turkey” Black or Robert “Gettin’ Jiggy Wid It” Black.

I give Kelso a 9.5 – it would have been a 10 if he’d managed to work in a reference to KBH or Tom Craddick. Check it out. Via Carl Whitmarsh’s mailing list.

Lottery chief to explain shortfalls

I can’t wait to hear this.

A Texas lottery chief is expected to detail today why the state advertised an $8 million jackpot this month when available prize money fell short by more than $1 million.

The error, also slated for legislative scrutiny, was followed last week by the firing of Lee Daviney, the commission’s director of financial administration. Commission spokesman Bobby Heith declined to discuss Daviney’s departure, calling it a personnel matter.

Heith said Daviney on June 3 signed off on declaring an $8 million jackpot for the June 8 Lotto Texas drawing, but later the same day expressed concern to colleagues that ticket sales would fall short of yielding that much prize money.


Reagan Greer, executive director of the Texas Lottery Commission, has remained silent since the commission conceded after the drawing that the jackpot ran $1.3 million to $1.5 million short of the advertised amount.

But Greer might be asked to explain a recent breakdown in the Pick 3 game at the Lottery Commission’s meeting, scheduled for 8 a.m. today at its Sixth Street headquarters. The commission suspended ticket sales for the game June 16, citing “computer code” problems. Sales resumed the next morning, Heith said. An investigation of contractor Gtech Corp. continues.


State Rep. Kino Flores, D-Palmview, has called a hearing Wednesday to explore the jackpot and Pick 3 concerns.

An agenda drafted for the House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures, which Flores heads, covers more than a dozen topics, including previous instances when jackpots ran below advertised amounts and whether rising gas prices have affected ticket sales.

Flores said the committee also might inquire into price-fixing charges leveled in 2002 by an Austin businessman against a Nevada company that manufactures electronic bingo machines used by Texas charities to raise money.

Go for it, Kino. Make something good come out of this session. Stay tuned.