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June, 2005:

The role of political blogging

Scott went to a panel on bloggers and blogging at a seminar put on by Campaigns and Elections magazine in D.C., and he came away with some very interesting informaiton. I’m going to try to blog this in some more depth after I return home, but for now, go read. Thanks to Nate for the catch.

Same old same old

Perry’s plan helps rich at others’ expense

Gov. Rick Perry’s plan for property tax relief would provide a windfall for the wealthiest families in Texas, but for lower-income renters the governor’s plan would be a financial drain on the family budget, a Houston Chronicle analysis showed.

And after more than a year of legislative wrangling over property tax relief, the tax savings for the median family in Texas would amount to about $150 a year under Perry’s plan — a savings of about $12.75 a month.

The real winner of the school property tax cuts would be business, which pays about 54 percent of all the school property taxes in Texas.

Same stuff, different day. Quelle surprise. Got any new ideas, fellas?

One thing to keep in mind here, and it’s a fallacy that I’ve fallen prey to before, is that it really is (or at least should be) a question of when, not if, a new school finance plan passes. This is because Governor Perry can call as many special sessions as he sees fit, and given the smell of toast already wafting about him, he’s sure to be bullheaded on this point. Unless the Lege basically tells him to drop dead, or unless the Texas Supreme Court comes riding to his aid in the immediate future, don’t expect this session to be the end of it (barring an actual agreement, of course).

Which is why Rep. Scott Hochberg is dead on right when he says Make sure the fix isn’t worse than the problem. We don’t need a plan, we need a better plan. Rick Perry doesn’t have one. Let’s not lower our standards even further to accomodate him on that. Link via Greg.

We need a mall where your house is

It’s pretty rare that I side with Rehquist/Scalia/Thomas on any Supreme Court decision over Ginsburg/Stevens/Breyer, but this is one of those times.

The Supreme Court ruled today that local governments may seize people’s homes and businesses – even against their will – for private economic development.

[…]

The 5-4 ruling represented a defeat for some Connecticut residents whose homes are slated for destruction to make room for an office complex. They argued that cities have no right to take their land except for projects with a clear public use, such as roads or schools, or to revitalize blighted areas.

As a result, cities now have wide power to bulldoze residences for projects such as shopping malls and hotel complexes in order to generate tax revenue.

Local officials, not federal judges, know best in deciding whether a development project will benefit the community, justices said.

“The city has carefully formulated an economic development that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including – but by no means limited to – new jobs and increased tax revenue,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority.

He was joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

[…]

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has been a key swing vote on many cases before the court, issued a stinging dissent. She argued that cities should not have unlimited authority to uproot families, even if they are provided compensation, simply to accommodate wealthy developers.

The lower courts had been divided on the issue, with many allowing a taking only if it eliminates blight.

“Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random,” O’Connor wrote. “The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms.”

She was joined in her opinion by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, as well as Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

I can appreciate Stevens’ logic, but I think O’Connor nails it. This is a bad, bad decision, and it’s going to affect a lot of people.

More Mofo

Rick Perry, hipster? Hey, it could happen.

Perry’s open-mic gaffe caused a lot of people to take notice. Some were outraged, some pretended to be outraged, and some said, “Dang, who knew our governor knew such a raunchy term?”

“I think it’s hilarious,” said Robert Lanham, author of The Hipster Handbook (Anchor, $10.95), who wants a T-shirt.

Lanham recalls the term from 1980s hip-hop slang. Today most people use it for camp value, Lanham said, but he hasn’t heard any Republican governors saying it.

“It doesn’t strike me that (Perry) has the self-awareness to know that maybe that term is a little bit silly. But who knows, maybe he’s cooler than I think,” Lanham said.

“I’d be worried if he started answering reporters’ questions with ‘word up.’ ”

I believe that would count as an official sign of the apocalypse. Speaking of which, Jim D has given us the Rick Perry Remix. Consider yourself warned.

The NBA will go on

The NBA managed to come to a six-year labor agreement on Tuesday, thus avoiding a lockout and possibly having to cancel games next season. I don’t much care one way or the other as to the fine points of the deal. All I know is that it shouldn’t have taken this long to forge one. If I could have done so, I’d have locked David Stern and Billy Hunter into a room and played a recording of the words “National Hockey League” over and over until they both cracked. I’m just glad it wasn’t necessary to do so.

Oh, and the Game Seven tonight is the first in the Finals since 1994, when the Rockets won their first of two consecutive titles. Those were good times.

At least he didn’t call it a “hellhole”

Apparently, Tom DeLay has been taking the same stupid pills as Rick Perry:

“You know, if Houston, Texas, was held to the same standard as Iraq is held to, nobody’d go to Houston, because all this reporting coming out of the local press in Houston is violence, murders, robberies, deaths on the highways,” DeLay said.

I’m still on vacation, so I’m going to outsource this one to Pete. There’s a fruity rum drink with my name on it out there waiting for me.

Memed again

Ginger has tagged me with a book meme, so let’s dive in.

1. How many books do you own?

I’ve never counted, but we have one bookcase’s worth upstairs (plus an overflow box) and three more cases downstairs, not to mention 20 or so books in Olivia’s room and some cookbooks in the dining room. So, maybe a couple hundred all together. I’m under strict orders to throttle back book purchases because we don’t have the space for them, and both of us regularly dump used books at Half Price or whatnot.

2. Last book read.

“Turncoat”, a thriller by Aaron Elkins. I do a lot of my pleasure reading now while travelling, as there’s often too much to do at home, but this one was read while not on the road. I’m most of the way through Peter Robinson’s “Close to Home” now – it’s a British police story – which I started on the plane to Colorado. Mysteries of all stripes are my main reading passion.

3. Last book purchased.

My in-laws give me a $100 gift certificate to Murder by the Book every year as a birthday present, and that’s most of my bookbuying these days. I used about $65 worth of it in March; the haul included the two books mentioned above.

4. Name five books that mean a lot to you.

I’ve never been much for Literature, so this list may seem a little weird.

– The “Enclyclopedia Brown” mysteries. My love of the genre didn’t spring from a vacuum, you know. My parents saved all my old EB books, so they’ll be Olivia’s some day.

– The Baseball Encyclopedia. Hey, back in 1979 when the Internet didn’t exist, this book was the Holy Bible for statistics-obsessed baseball fans, which was a pretty good description of my 13-year-old self.

– “Illusions”, by Richard Bach. Didn’t everybody go through a Richard Bach phase in college? I admit it was a bit of a comedown to reread “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” a few years afterwards and realize that it’s the same book, but disappointment can be a good learning experience.

– “The Mystery of the Aleph”, by Amir Aczel. As a math major, the concept of infinity, and different types on infinity, is one of the most challenging and bedevilling things to grasp. This is the best book I’ve read on the subject – it’s mostly a biography of Georg Cantor, who revolutionized how we think about it. He also went mad, which lends some poignance to it all.

– “Planet Ocean”, by Brad Matsen and Ray Troll. The book we all should have read as kids during the dinosaur-fascination phase most of us go through. It’s a beautifully illustrated guide to the wonderful and strange creatures that walked and mostly swam the earth hundreds of millions of years ago. It’s a book I plan on reading with Olivia in a few years, though we’ll start with their more kid-oriented “Raptors, Fossils, Fins, and Fangs” first.

5. Five people to tag.

Like Ginger, I say anyone who wants to do this should give it a shot. I’d go ahead and tag Hope, Julia, Perry, Sarah, and Christina. Have fun, y’all.

Toll road followup

The Harris County Commissioners’ Court did hear complaints about its stealth hearings on toll road plans, then went ahead and approved those plans anyway.

Art Storey, head of the county’s Public Infrastructure Department, said the county has not given a green light to any new toll road projects, noting that all of them have been discussed publicly for years.

The Harris County Toll Road Authority’s critics, he said, mistook the county’s commitment to study the feasibility of building five toll roads or segments of toll roads for actual approval of the projects.

The court approved spending $192,000 to study five potential toll road projects on Beltway 8 East, Texas 288, the Grand Parkway, the Hardy Toll Road and Hempstead Road.

Robin Holzer, a member of the Citizens Transportation Coalition, told the court that residents didn’t know the county was going ahead with the projects until it released its five-year capital improvements plan Friday. She couldn’t get a copy of the plan until Monday, she said.

“A Harris County resident might get the impression you don’t want them to participate in the toll road planning process,” she said.

She and other speakers said the court should delay voting on the plan for 30 days.

Yeah, well, it’s good to be the king. Or “czarina”. Your choice.

Anyway. Anne has some more coverage. You can find some in-depth discussion at the CTC discussion forum. Finally, Rorschach has an open letter to AG Greg Abbott in which he asks for the following:

I would like a state website set up to act as a clearinghouse for public notifications such as hearing announcements and such searchable via zip code so that you don’t have to worry about the notification being on a bulletin board in some county courthouse on the other side of town that nobody ever sees. Even better would be a voluntary sign-up system so that notices concerning specific zip codes would be automatically e-mailed to you. I would also like to see this clearinghouse show open record requests that are pending and whether they have been approved or denied and reason for denial.

I would like the notifications to be prompt and with enough forewarning that interested parties can attend or respond instead of being caught flat footed or worse, never even knowing the hearing has happened until too late to do anything about it. Ideally, hearing notices should be posted to the above proposed website at least 30 days in advance.

Seems reasonable to me. If anyone takes up his call to write AG Abbott and ask for something like this, please let me know if you get a response.

Watch that mike, Governor

This is more funny than anything else – Rick Perry said a naughty word to a local reporter.

We were trying to get the governor to give us details about his education plan. He’s releasing it today, and he didn’t want to give out details a day early.

“You’ll have to wait until tomorrow. I hate to let you guys in on it and no one else,” Gov. Perry insisted.

So we said goodbye, thank you and thought the interview was over.

“You’re welcome,” Gov. Perry signed off. “So long.”

Our questions were not recorded on tape, but in saying goodbye I told the governor, “Try as I may, Governor, I guess I can’t win this one.”

Eleven seconds after he said goodbye, the camera crew was getting ready for the next interview with another station. That’s when Gov. Perry repeated what he thought I’d said, and added a few words of his own with his microphone on and tape still rolling.

“Try as I may, Governor, I’m not going to wait that long,” Gov. Perry said. “Adios, Mofo.”

Those last words aren’t exactly part of the seven dirty words, but it isn’t something you want to say to your mother or use in good company. Tuesday morning, Governor Perry called me personally. He apologized and said his comment wasn’t directed at us.

He agreed it was just one of those times a politician is caught by an open mike saying something embarrassing. He tells us he was just trying to get a reaction from the camera crew and it wasn’t said with any malice or intent.

You’d think a guy who’s been in politics for as long as Perry has would’ve taken some training in media relations by now. Clearly, it’s time for a refresher.

Best reaction goes to PinkDome:

The question the reporter asked was, “Governor, what do you think the voters will say to you come next election once you fail to fix school finance yet again?”

Heh. And if you like the quote, you can buy yourself the t-shirt.

Special session begins

So the special session has started. Call me crazy, but the tone of this article shouldn’t give anyone much hope.

The initial focus of the new session will be on Republican Speaker Tom Craddick and the GOP majority in the House, which, under the state constitution, must act first on a tax bill.

And one Republican House member, Rep. Carter Casteel of New Braunfels, warned the new session was shaping up as “a mess.”

She said many GOP House members, who got elected campaigning against higher taxes, are worried they will lose their re-election bids next year if they vote again for higher state taxes, as they did in March, and then fail to reach a compromise with the Senate on property tax relief.

“It (the special session) is going to put the icing on the cake. The icing may taste good or a little sour,” Casteel added.

Some lawmakers, it was reported, were angry at being called back to Austin on short notice and having summer plans disrupted.

The tax bill passed the House in regular session by a margin of five votes, with more than a dozen Republicans voting against it. Craddick on Monday said he does not yet know whether he has the votes to pass a tax bill again.

“That concern is always there,” Craddick said. “We’re just going to have to get the bills put together and poll, as we’ve always done.”

Sounds compelling to me, no? I’m short on time for analysis here, so I’ll point you to BOR, In the Pink, and PinkDome, for starters. Also, the Dems got out in front of this by re-releasing their plan. See beneath the fold for more.

(more…)

No muni Wi-Fi in Houston

Dwight reports that Houston has shelved for now a plan to install a bunch of Wi-Fi hotspots around town. No details as yet, so I can’t say why, but it is a shame. Hopefully this will get revived soon. I’ll post an update when there’s a story to link to.

New toll road plan

I’m not seeing anything in the news on this, but apparently the Harris County Commissioner’s Court has announced plans for five new toll road corriders. There’s a public hearing this morning (oops, sorry about that, well, these things always go more smoothly when they’re not well-attended anyway, right?). At the time I post this, Commissioner’s Court is supposed to be voting on the plan.

The Citizens’ Transportation Coalition and blogHOUSTON have more on this. I’ve reproduced a CTC press release beneath the fold. I really hope there will be more to be said on this.

(more…)

Quan not running in CD22

Houston City Councilman Gordon Quan has announced that he will not run for the Democratic nomination in CD22. He also formally endorsed Nick Lampson for the race.

Quan, who had formed an exploratory committee for the 22nd Congressional District in April, said he wanted to avoid a “costly, divisive and lengthy” Democratic primary.

He said he conducted polling that showed DeLay has lost support among constituents and that he and Lampson had nearly equal support.

[…]

Quan must leave the council in six months because of city term limits.

Quan, who is of Chinese ancestry, made the announcement at Kim Son restaurant in Stafford, and said he plans to help bring out the Asian vote for Lampson. Asians make up about 10 percent of the district.

Lampson, who served four terms in the U.S. House from Beaumont before losing his seat following redistricting orchestrated by DeLay, attended the news conference and said he was pleased to have Quan’s endorsement.

I don’t think this is the last we’ll hear from Gordon Quan. He may yet run in CD07, and there’ll be countywide offices to consider (in 2008 if not next year) as well. But whatever he chooses, I wish him well and hope to be able to support him in a future campaign.

Juan Garcia speaks

Juan Garcia, onetime announced candidate for Senate, disappeared off the radar a few weeks ago with a note saying his site was down for maintenance. Bogey McDuff wondered what he was planning now that we know KBH’s Senate seat will not be open. Here’s the response he got from Garcia. All I can say is that if you’re looking for “another chance to serve”, sir, I’ve got a suggestion for you. Check it out.

Perry vetoes crime bills

Among the bills that Governor Perry has chosen to veto this time around is HB2193, a bipartisan effort to do some much-needed reform of the probation system. Grits has the details and a little venting about Perry’s shortsightedness and (yes!) flipflop on the issue. Campaigns for alternatives to Mr. Perry in 2006, please take note.

BRTs

All right, I’ve got a few minutes of computer time, so let’s look at three stories from yesterday’s Chron about the Metro plan changes. Here’s a better look at what these Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) things are all about.

Las Vegas is one of a growing number of American communities embracing what transportation wonks call “bus rapid transit.” It’s a hybrid system that combines the flexibility and lower cost of bus travel with speed similar to train service. Another appealing aspect: The Federal Transportation Administration will provide start-up funds for bus rapid transit in an era when it questions the high cost of building rail.

[…]

On a recent weekday afternoon, MAX rider Mike Tamblyn, 38, was headed to work. He used to ride the old local bus along the same route to the downtown transit center, but says the service on MAX is much better.

“It’s real quick. I can be home from work within an hour,” Tamblyn said, adding that’s half the time it took him on a traditional bus.

“Watch how quick this stop is,” Tamblyn said as the MAX bus eased into the station. “There could be 15 people on the platform and they’d be on in no time.”

A woman in a motorized cart was waiting at the station. The handicap ramp lowered in about 10 seconds, she rolled aboard, the driver helped her buckle in and the bus cleared the station in about a minute.

Bus driver Sigifredo Villa said he usually stops for about 30 seconds at each station. Because people buy their tickets from a vending machine, and are not required to show them when they board, they don’t have to queue up at a fare box.

“We don’t have to wait for people to dig for change,” Villa said.

MAX is powered by a hybrid engine that automatically switches between electric and diesel. The buses include an automatic system that reads lines painted on the roadway to guide the vehicles as close as possible to the curb at stations built almost a foot off the ground. This allows passengers to enter the bus at the platform level, without stepping up.

Having the BRTs in dedicated corridors where they don’t directly impact traffic flow themselves is the main thing for me. I’m happy to give this idea a chance.

Here’s Metro explaining itself to the communities that are upset with the changes.

[Metro Vice Chairman Gerald] Smith told the audience of about 100, including several City Council members and legislators, that after Metro’s board meeting Thursday several prominent residents — whom he described as “fully engaged” and “rather upset” — met with him and Metro staff.

“It’s kind of awkward to be in this position. There were some things that probably could have been communicated better,” Smith said.

He said the plan was changed to improve Metro’s chances of getting federal dollars for future lines and that the guided buses would run on light rail roadbed, separately from cars, so that a changeover to rail could happen when ridership increases.

“The same type of infrastructure that was done for the Main Street line will be done in every single segment,” he said. “This is not a regular bus. This is a million-dollar vehicle that looks like rail, operates like rail, and actually has more flexibility.”

[Community of Faith Church Bishop James] Dixon apologized on behalf of Metro “that this community was not informed early on.”

“This was a mistake,” he said.

Yeah, it was. Metro really is its own worst enemy sometimes.

And finally, here’s Rick Casey on the underlying politics.

One of the first things White did when he became mayor last year was to replace bad blood between Metro and the congressmen with new blood.

Metro President Shirley A. DeLibero, who had already announced her resignation when White assumed office, had never fully repaired her credibility after having been found to have falsely claimed two college degrees on her résumé.

White also replaced Metro Board Chairman Arthur Schechter, whose relations with Culberson were particularly strained.

Then White and the new Metro leadership, President Frank Wilson and Chairman David Wolff, set out to learn what it would take to get Culberson and DeLay on board.

The new plan dealt with DeLay’s call for Metro to “think outside the box,” and addressed cost concerns. The majority leader last August praised Metro after it scheduled a technology conference to explore alternatives to light rail.

And it is presumably no accident that the new plan includes commuter rail to Missouri City in DeLay’s district, and out Highway 290 to Culberson’s, and light rail to the Galleria, in Culberson’s as well.

No wonder John Culberson thinks so highly of Mayor White.

Light blogging ahead

We’re off for a few days in Colorado, where it’s warmer than you might think. It’s a business trip for Tiffany; Olivia and I are along for moral support and a little sightseeing. I’ll have limited access to the Net during this time, so expect less than my usual level of output. Hopefully, this week will be less newsful than last week was. Back Friday, see you then.

Happy Juneteenth

Today is also Juneteenth, the 140th anniversary of the day that the slaves in Galveston received word of their emancipation. Julia has a family connection to that event, and tells us a little about it.

Happy Fathers Day!

Life is sweet, ain’t it?

My take on the Perry-Strayhorn matchup

Now that Carole Keeton Strayhorn has confirmed what we thought we knew when we first heard about today’s hotdog social, it’s time to think about the dynamics of a GOP primary matchup between Strayhorn and Rick Perry, instead of a KBH-Perry or three-way battle.

My first thought is that this development is good for the Democrats, at least in this race. I say that because I believe a Strayhorn-Perry primary will be different than a KBH-Perry primary. If the race were between Hutchison and Perry, it would be about who’s the bigger, badder Republican, since there’s so little to distinguish them from a policy perspective. We’ve already seen a preview of what it would have been like with the who loves Hillary more? silliness. Democrats certainly had hopes that Hutchison would land some blows on Perry in this fashion, and that the nine-month panderfest to the far right wing of the Republican Party would turn people off. Some of that would surely have happened, but I think a lot of people would have tuned it out. By the time the general rolled around, I think for many it would have been just another distant memory of another forgettable negative campaign.

Strayhorn won’t run that kind of campaign. She has specific points of disagreement with Perry, on items ranging from cigarette taxes to the Trans Texas Corridor to slot machines to CHIP funding. Where I believe KBH would have tried to draw distinctions in personality and style between herself and Perry, Strayhorn is going to argue for doing things differently. She’s doing it already.

“You know that Texans cannot afford another four years of a governor who promises tax relief and delivers nothing,” she said.

“Now is time to replace this do-nothing drugstore cowboy with one tough grandma,” Strayhorn told a cheering crowd.

Strayhorn specifically criticized Perry for his decision today to veto the state’s $35 billion education budget and call a new special session without having a plan on how to overhaul public school finance.

“A leader does not call a fifth special session — costing taxpayers another $1.5 million dollars — when he does not have a plan,” she said. “A leader does not hold our children’s education hostage and certainly would never even allow a discussion about schools not opening on time.”

Strayhorn offered two specific suggestions on what she would do as governor. One is to pass her proposed program to pay for two years of college for every high school graduate. And the other is to legalize video lottery terminals with the revenue going to pay for a teacher pay raise.

Now, I don’t think much of what she’s proposing actually resonates with GOP primary voters. Gambling in particular is a no-no in the GOP platform, which is why Perry eventually flipflopped on the issue after championing it in 2004. Just about everything else mentioned here and elsewhere involves higher taxes (okay, on cigarettes) and more spending. How do you think that’s going to go over with the masses?

What this just might be, however, is a decent strategy for winning a general election for Governor. More to the point, there’s a lot of overlap (CHIP funding and TTC issues especially) between what CKS will be advocating and what Chris Bell already is talking about. Strayhorn’s criticisms will amplify what Bell (or perhaps John Sharp) is saying. Since this race will get a lot more attention over the next nine months than anything else, that will be a boon to the Democrats when the focus shifts to include them, because what they’ll be saying is stuff people have already heard. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll sound as good coming from a Democratic mouth to those who voted for Strayhorn as it does now coming from hers.

It certainly doesn’t have to play out this way. Perry will want to run the same kind of Republican-credentials campaign against CKS as he would have against KBH, and he may very well set the tone of the race, forcing her to respond more than attack. Similarly, there may be a divisive Democratic primary in which attention is not focused on the shortcomings of Rick Perry. There are probably other scenarios which don’t go according to plan as well. But this could happen, and if it does, I at least will feel good about Democrats’ chances from there.

Two opponents for Edwards

Save Texas Reps says that Al Edwards may get a double-barreled primary challenge, from businessman Borris Miles (whom I’ve mentioned here before) and from attorney Marlen Whitley. Greg thinks a multi-candidate field serves the Edwards opposition well, and I tend to think he’s right. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Borris Miles and hope to have the same opportunity with Marlen Whitley soon. Best of luck to you both in your shared quest, gentlemen.

Checking in on DemFest

I’m not there, but you can pretend you are by reading about what other folks are up to at DemocracyFest in Austin. Here are some accounts by Karl-T, Hope, and PDiddie. The Radnofsky for Senate blog has several posts full of pictures from various caucuses at the event. And of course there’s the official Kos at DemFest blog, which features some BlackBerry blogging (near and dear to my professional heart). So check ’em out and console yourself with the thought that at least you’re inside where it’s air conditioned.

The best and worst

It’s been linked around elsewhere, but here for a limited time is the Texas Monthly Best and Worst Legislators of 2005 list. One thing to keep in mind as you read this: in general, they’re measuring effectiveness, not ideology. Look at the Republican failures – Bohac, Grusendorf, Keel, King, and to a lesser extent Harris and Denny, all got dinged due to inability to do what they were supposed to do. The same is true for Gallegos and Barrientos on the Dem side. The one exception for each party, Talton and Edwards, are there to prove that stone craziness is always a qualification. Maybe it’s a good thing that there was more incompetence than insanity this time around, though to be honest for some of these guys there were days where it was hard to tell the difference.

Anyway. The blurbs are served with the usual wit and occasional nastiness that we’ve all come to expect from this feature. Read and enjoy.

School funding vetoed, special session called

It’s official.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry today vetoed the state’s $35.3 billion public education budget and called lawmakers back to the Capitol to finally find a solution to the school finance dilemma.

“I recognize this is a bold step, and frankly one I wrestled with,” Perry said.

“Ultimately, I determined this action was necessary to ensure we fully fund our schools, provide needed reforms in the classroom, and pass real and substantial property tax relief,” he said.

Without state funds, K-12 schools will struggle to educate Texas’ 4.3 million students when the new school year starts in August.

Such a scenario could give lawmakers who have been uninspired to find a school finance solution the impetus they need to get the job done.

The special session, set to begin Tuesday, will mark the Legislature’s fourth attempt to take up school finance in the last three years, including the last two regular sessions. Perry called a special session last spring, but it ended in failure.

Perry had said he would only call lawmakers back if House and Senate leaders were ready to agree on a plan.

House Speaker Tom Craddick said in an interview Friday with a Midland television station that leaders “have no agreement or no plan that we’ve agreed upon at all at this point.”

This feels more like brinksmanship than boldness to me. We’ve talked about the concept of “as Craddick goes, so goes school finance reform” before, and we see here that Craddick hasn’t changed his tune. Maybe Perry is determined to outmuscle him, or maybe he thinks he can get some of the same “for the good of the Party” help he must have gotten to get KBH to change her mind. Maybe Craddick is saying different things to Perry than he is to the newspapers. I don’t know. I do know that Chris is right when he says “Perry better have consensus, or he’s toast.” I just don’t see how he survives another failure. And just to make things more interesting, merely solving school finance reform probably isn’t enough to satisfy some folks.

It’s gonna be a fun 30 days, that’s all I know. Oh, and just out of curiosity, what’s the record for most special sessions called by a Texas governor? This one’s #5 by my count.

Hutchison will run for re-election

That sound you heare is an awful lot of Republican dominoes not falling down.

Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison announced Friday that she will seek a third term in the U.S. Senate, declining to wage a difficult battle against Gov. Rick Perry in next year’s GOP primary.

Ms. Hutchison decided only Friday to stay put, ending months of speculation that she would challenge the incumbent in a fractious campaign for governor. She scheduled a news conference for June 27 to explain her decision.

“She’s doing it because she thinks it’s best for Texas,” said spokesman Chris Paulitz.

Ms. Hutchison, who would be expected to cruise to re-election with little opposition, could rise to the No. 3 position in the GOP leadership in the Senate, said one person familiar with her thinking said was a factor.

[…]

Ms. Hutchison’s decision has implications for a number of other Texas Republican politicians, whose plans depended on the domino effect a run for governor would have set in motion.

For instance, Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, has been raising money and rounding up support for months to run for Senate if she left the seat open. Mr. Bonilla instead will seek re-election.

So then. It’s late and I’ll have more to say tomorrow. For now, two thoughts:

1. Carole Keeton Strayhorn won’t beat Rick Perry in the gubernatorial primary, but she will beat him up, and she’ll do better than you might think.

2. Barbara Radnofsky is highly unlikely to get any more competition for the Democratic Senate nomination (at this point I’m not sure what Juan Garcia is up to). KBH hasn’t really ever been challenged for reelection before, but I think she too is in for more of a battle than you might think.

Look out, here it comes

I confess, I didn’t think it was going to happen, but apparently it will:

Lawmakers will return to Austin Tuesday for a special session on school finance, state Sen. Florence Shapiro said today.

Shapiro, a leader on the school funding issue, said Republican Gov. Rick Perry will announce the special session Saturday. Perry’s office wouldn’t confirm the announcement.

First things first: Why make the announcement on a Saturday?

The announcement would come on the same day Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn is expected to announce whether she will challenge Perry in the 2006 governor’s race.

Rick Perry may be a lousy Governor, but as a politician he’s not too shabby. If he’s feeling any lower back pain right about now, it’s probably because Strayhorn is sticking pins into a voodoo doll that looks like him.

Anyway. Here’s Perry’s gambit:

Gov. Rick Perry has told state leaders that he is prepared to veto all funding for public schools, forcing them to tackle the thorny issue in a special legislative session he intends to call, starting next Tuesday.

Four people informed of the governor’s plans said that he is reacting to the inclination of the Legislature to act only under deadline pressure. They said he believes that wiping out education funding will spark real action.

By vetoing the section of the state budget dealing with public education – $33 billion over two years – Mr. Perry will force lawmakers to retool school financing, a goal that has eluded him for two years.

Mr. Perry will announce his decision Saturday, when he also will reveal his line-item vetoes in the state budget. The governor has pledged to whittle the spending plan from the nearly $140 billion that legislators approved.

Well, that’s decisive, I guess. It strikes me as being roughly on par with the infamous zero-based budget Perry submitted before the 78th Lege began, in that it contains no clue as to what Perry wants, but it is taking action of a sort. I’ll give him that.

It may well be, however, that the action he’s taking is reckless.

Dewhurst and Craddick reacted coolly to the veto threat. A House source said House leaders are more willing to await a state Supreme Court decision on school finance, but two sources said Dewhurst believes legislative leaders are close to a deal on school finance.

However, a Senate source said, “for three months, we’ve been telling you we’re close. It’s embarrassing.”

A lobbyist familiar with the negotiations said Craddick is willing to wait.

“It’s like two people living in a house. One wants to build a new house and the other is happy to continue living there until the place is condemned and they have to move,” the lobbyist said.

We know what happened the last time a special session was called on school finance without there being a consensus of how to proceed in place. This sounds an awful lot to me like Tom Craddick hasn’t seen anything to change his mind about compromising. Sure, if Perry gets an agreement out of this he looks great, but how big a loser will he be if it fails again?

Maybe Craddick’s just playing coy. PinkDome passes on the rumor that “There is a ‘fragile’ deal on school finance in place, but the Gov. wants more time to negotiate with Craddick.” Maybe there really is a deal almost in place and no one wants to say anything to jinx it, like a baseball team not telling a pitcher he’s got a no-hitter going. I guess we’ll find out next week.

More on the Sugar Land Kiddie Roundup

The Chron picks up on the Sugar Land Kiddie Roundup story that we read about last week, and the main piece of news is that Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace is on board with the “it’s not okay for a minor to be at a party when alcohol is present, even if they’re not drinking” school of thought.

A parent, Rene Woodring, said she is fighting the charges because her daughter was not drinking.

“The police came in. They didn’t check to see which kids were drinking. They just said everybody is getting a minor in possession” citation, she said.

Woodring went to the house in the 800 block of Sugar Creek shortly after the 10:47 p.m. raid and asked police to give sobriety tests to determine who had been drinking.

“They said, ‘No, everybody is getting a ticket and you just have to go to court and we will sort it out there,’ ” Woodring said Thursday.

Woodring and other parents are also angry because those who received citations were not allowed to take part in extracurricular activities at school.

Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace said despite the view of defense attorneys and some parents, city officials think the officers had legal cause to enter the house and issue citations.

“We take a very strong stance on minors in possession and we take a strong stance on illegal and underage drinking,” he said.

Wallace said some of the teens and their parents have filed complaints against police for what they call unprofessional or abusive behavior.

“We are working those and continuing to investigate those” complaints, he said.

Just one question, David: If your son or daughter had been at this party, and swore to you afterwards that he or she had not had anything to drink, would you agree that he or she deserved to be ticketed and to lose extracurricular privileges as a result? Being proximate to a crime is not the same as committing that crime. I don’t understand why that point isn’t uncontroversial.

The cases come to court on June 30. I’ll be very interested to see what the judge thinks.

UPDATE: Here’s what Jim Thompson thinks.

This parent sees two different issues there. First, the police behaved irresponsibly by simply issuing citations to all without trying to determine who had been drinking. In this situation I would fight the ticket on the grounds that there was no evidence of guilt.

The other issue, though, would mean loss of privileges. My daughters know they are not to even hang around where alcohol is being consumed and no responsible adults are present to supervise. They know they are not to hang around where drugs are being used, period. (And if there was any doubt, Summer and Bryn, let there be no doubt now.) Breaking these rules would indeed result in loss of privileges. Period. End of story.

I agree completely. What punishment, if any, is to be handed out to the kids who were there but sober should be up to the parents, and that’s because what they did might have been dumb, but it was not a crime. The police should not have gotten involved with those kids.

Software glitch sidelines Pick 3

More bad news for the Texas Lottery.

The Texas Lottery Commission suspended sales of tickets for its Pick 3 game Thursday night after the lottery operator said there was a computer code problem associated with the game.

Drawings for the game will continue and any tickets already purchased for Pick 3 drawings are valid, said lottery spokesman Robert Elrod. Drawings are held twice a day Monday through Saturday.

Elrod said officials don’t know when GTECH Corp. will have the problem corrected. “We’re hoping it is soon,” he said.

He said he didn’t know when sales will resume.

What problem did that “glitch” cause? How many tickets may have been affected? Are we sure that “glitch” won’t affect other games? Sorry, this was all I could find in Google News at this time.

It sure has been a bad week for the Lottery, hasn’t it? The Express News gave the Lottery Commission an editorial spanking on Wednesday, asking “Should the commission take some of the bucks it spends on high-priced television ads to prop up the prizes?” And Save Texas Reps says the problems are just beginning.

Now, with a special legislative session set to begin on June 21, House Investigations Committee chairman Kevin Bailey (D-Houston) is demanding more information about [Lottery Commissioner Reagan] Greer’s decision to tout make-believe jackpots in last week’s Lotto drawing. Kino Flores (D-Mission), chairman of the House committee that oversees the Lottery, is talking about public hearings into the latest Lottery scandals as well as the continuing controversy over a possibly illegal contract with a Las Vegas law firm.

(Special session? So far only the Express News is reporting this, though the Quorum Report mentioned it yesterday as well. Given that it’s Friday and the 21st is Tuesday, I’m thinking there’ll have to be a formal announcement today in order to ensure everyone can make it back to Austin on time. We’ll see.)

Background on the Vegas contract is here. There’s nothing that I’ve found in the news yet about any discord with Reagan Greer or calls for investigations, so who knows what may come of this. No matter what, though, it’s been a lousy week for the Lottery.

Metro supporters feel betrayed

The people who originally supported Metro’s light rail plan the most strongly are not very happy with the new plan.

Two days after Metro’s revised transit plan was announced, criticism was bubbling up in the minority communities whose votes for light rail tipped the scales in a close election.

“It’s clearly a slap in the face,” the Rev. William Lawson said of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s decision to begin with a guided busway system in his southeast Houston neighborhood and three others. Metro says these will be upgraded to light rail when ridership increases.

Four routes were designated for light rail in the November 2003 referendum that authorized the original plan.

The new plan, announced Monday, calls for only one immediate light rail route, from the University of Houston to near the Galleria.

“The largest percentage of Metro riders are people from the southeast quadrant,” Lawson said, “and they needed the votes of those people to get the issue passed.”

[…]

Minister Robert Muhammad, head of Nation of Islam’s southwest region, who endorsed the 2003 Metro plan, said the change of plans “may be the straw that broke the camel’s back politically. We can’t trust anything that they say.”

The referendum passed with 52 percent of the vote.

About 74 percent of low-income blacks and 80 percent of middle-income blacks voted for the Metro light rail plan.

So did 57 percent of Hispanics, compared with 45 percent of middle-income whites and 42 percent of upper-income whites.

It would not be at all difficult to spin a plausible conspiracy theory out of this, especially given (as Kevin noted in the comments here) that John Culberson has flipflopped on his support and now wants a re-vote. Culberson and DeLay tell Metro it can have their blessings to go forward if it’ll agree to changes to its original plan which its biggest supporters won’t like, then once that agreement is in hand they tell Metro it has to win another referendum because the original one didn’t cover what’s in the new plan. Brilliant, really, when you think about it. Of course, that would imply that such stalwart servants of the people’s wishes as those two were being duplicitous, which as we know just simply cannot be.

Anyway. Politicians representing the now-overlooked areas are waiting to hear more.

“This is not helping Metro’s credibility problem,” said U.S. Rep. Gene Green, whose district includes the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s North, Southeast and Harrisburg corridors.

All three were to have light rail but are now scheduled for Bus Rapid Transit, with train-like buses riding on a future rail right-of-way until ridership increases enough to justify switching to rail. A new corridor, from the University of Houston to Greenway Plaza and the Galleria area, will get light rail from the start.

“None of us had an idea that there was a preference for one route over another,” Green said. “We were told the North route was furthest along in planning and everything else.”

A second Democratic congressman from Houston, Al Green, said he will reserve comment on the plan until he understands it more fully, but he added, “People are concerned that there may be some plan that is going to develop that would not be consistent with what they perceived it to be when they were casting their votes.”

Frank Michel, spokesman for Mayor Bill White, said Metro President and CEO Frank Wilson will travel to Washington next week to brief the area’s congressional delegation about the changes.

[…]

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said it appears that “the west side of town won out over the right side of town.

“It’s disappointing, but it’s clear this is not the end of the discussion,” he said.

Coleman is scheduled to talk to White, Wilson and Councilwoman Ada Edwards this afternoon, but said he wished that discussion had taken place before the plan was made public.

“I’m disappointed that people don’t understand that you have to work a deal with everybody, regardless of the sticks people carry,” Coleman said. “I hope that we can get some clarity on what the plan is.”

Several area legislators, including U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, state Sen. Rodney Ellis, both Houston Democrats, and Commissioner El Franco Lee are all on the same page, according to Coleman.

We’ll see what happens after these folks get briefed. If they’re still unhappy, things could get ugly for Metro. This could be a test of how good a salesman Mayor White is.

Pete Gallego

There’s a bit of a groundswell going on in the blogs for State Rep. Pete Gallego of Alpine to run for the State Senate seat currently held by Frank Madla of San Antonio – see Andrew D, In the Pink and PinkDome for more. I don’t know what Sen. Madla’s plans are, but I will certainly be happy to thank him for his many years of public service if he decides that those many years are finished. And if Sen. Madla decides to take a well-deserved retirement after those many years of public service, I will be more than happy to see Rep. Gallego, a dedicated and well-regarded member of the House Democratic Leadership team and the first freshman rep ever to be elected chair of the House Democratic Caucus, step up to replace him.

Gallego has apparently given at least some thought to this, as he recently attended a forum in San Antonio (Gallego is from Alpine in West Texas; Madla’s district has most of its population in San Antonio but covers a vast swath of West Texas, including Gallego’s district) attended by various business, education, and political leaders (including Sen. Madla) and according to an email I got from an attendee, “he was charming, he was charismatic and he left the crowd wanting more. The crowd laughed, they clapped, and they constantly nodded in agreement.”

Gallego would have some competition for Madla’s seat from San Antonio reps Carlos Uresti and Robert Puente (both of whom were also in attendance at that forum), but with all due respect to those gentlemen, Gallego is the best option. When I look down the road to 2010 or 2014, it’s Pete Gallego whom I can see mounting a successful campaign for Governor or US Senator. But of course it all depends on whether or not Sen. Madla chooses to put a distinguished end to his many, many years of honorable public service. So I guess we’ll just have to see what he does.

Call for independent counsel

Nick Lampson is calling on supporters to send a message to the GOP Congressional leadership urging them to appoint an independent counsel to investigate current allegations against Tom DeLay. Ethics Committee Chair “Doc” Hastings has come under fire lately because of financial support he’s gotten from DeLay minion Jack Abramoff. Basically, this is like asking a person to excuse himself or herself from a jury if he or she knows anyone involved in the trial. Seems straightforward enough, though I doubt it’ll happen, since it’s one of the reasons why the Ethics Committee is paralyzed, and that’s a state of being which suits Tom DeLay just fine.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t complain about it, however, so click away and let your voice be heard. The Lampson press release on the subject is beneath the More link.

(more…)

What will Carole do?

I’ve noticed a common theme in the coverage of Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s hot dog party this weekend. See if you can see what it is.

Chron:

Strayhorn’s chief political spokesman didn’t return telephone calls Wednesday, but two sources close to the comptroller, who didn’t want to be identified, said she plans to run for governor. There has been speculation she also is interested in the lieutenant governor’s race should Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst seek another office, but the sources said she has decided to run for governor.

Morning News:

[O]ne veteran Republican operative said he expected her to announce a bid for governor. But others with close ties to the GOP said she could use the festive event Saturday to declare her candidacy for lieutenant governor.

Statesman:

A Strayhorn confidante and two political consultants in contact with advisers to Strayhorn said she intends to chase Perry in the March 7 Republican primary. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they didn’t want retribution from Perry or Strayhorn for talking out of turn.

And the confidante said Strayhorn could still shift her sights.

“It’s no secret what she wants to say,” he said. “She could change her mind 15 minutes before she stands up there.”

Express News:

A consultant close to state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn’s campaign said she intends to announce Saturday that she’s running for governor, making official her long-rumored challenge to incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

The consultant, who is not in the campaign business and spoke on condition of being unnamed, said that based on what’s been conveyed by Strayhorn’s campaign, “I can say she’s going to announce for governor on Saturday.”

Asked if there’s any doubt, the consultant said, “This might be a trial balloon. There is a remote possibility that this is a bait and switch, but that is not her style. There’s no coyness to what they do.”

Yes, there sure are a lot of anonymous sources running around Austin these days. All I’m saying is would it kill them to compare notes before they go skulking off to leak to the press?

Well, I can speculate baselessly in print, too. And I say that regardless of her odds in the actual contest, there’s no way Strayhorn announces for anything but Governor on Saturday. To do anything else, especially to announce for Lieutenant Governor, would be a major anti-climax, as in “We gave up an hour of our lives on a summer Saturday for that?” CKS hasn’t been bashing Rick Perry for two years so she can run against David Dewhurst, or whatever second-tier Republicans jump in when Dewhurst announces he’s running for KBH’s open Senate seat. She thinks she’s gonna win, and I think there’s a small part of her that doesn’t care if she doesn’t. This is the race she wants, and it’s the race she’s gonna run. Period.

Of course, I could be totally wrong. That’s the problem with baseless speculation. If everything I’ve just written turns out to be wrong, please pretend that it actually all came from an unnamed political consultant, OK?

(Idly amusing thought: Wouldn’t it be funny if CKS announces that she’s running for Senate?)

More on the I-45 tunnel

The Houston Press has a nice article on the proposal by local engineer Gonzalo Camacho to redo I-45 from Greenspoint to downtown as a tunnel. What impressed me in this article is how successful Camacho has been at getting skeptics to consider his plan on its merits:

Some of those challenges have been lived out in other U.S. cities, such as Boston, with its infamous Big Dig, the $14.6 billion undertaking completed in 2003 that was plagued by numerous delays and thousands of change orders.

“Big Dig” were the first words out of the mouth of Bob Eury, executive director of the Downtown Management District, when he heard of the plan, Camacho says.

“A lot of folks compare this to the Big Dig, which is preposterous,” Camacho says. But, then again, “If someone wants to drop $14 billion in your backyard, you take it.”

Eury met with Camacho and [tunnel expert Gerhard] Sauer and was impressed with the concept. He guardedly suggested such a concept could play a role in the future of Houston transportation. “What we might have thought was totally out of the question might not be as out of the question, maybe,” Eury said. “That does not necessarily mean it’s feasible, but turning it the other way around, it means it’s something that could be explored.”

With an outside-the-box proposal like this, simply not getting thrown out of the office and labelled a crank is a big deal. It’ll take a lot more than that to convince TxDOT, of course, but just getting people to think that maybe this sort of thing really could be done is important.

What would it take to make it happen?

In the last few months, Camacho has shopped the tunneling idea to folks at the Hines Corporation, Metro, the Houston-Galveston Area Council and HVJ Construction. But his support has grown most noticeably where it is most needed: in the political sphere. Councilman [Adrian] Garcia has met with Camacho several times and even arranged the meeting with [TxDOT engineer Gary] Trietsch. State Representative Jessica Farrar provided the forum in April for Camacho to make his first public presentation. And the most recent neighborhood meeting had an aide to U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee down front taking notes.

Though most agree the tunnel concept’s chances are slim to none, no one is writing off an upset, either. “Things like this tend to get adopted when a visionary elected official takes an interest in it,” [executive director of Harris County’s Public Infrastructure Department Art] Story says. “It needs a champion.”

So who knows?

One thing I want to add to this story:

There’s a little something for everyone in Camacho’s solution. Sinking a portion of I-45 into a tunnel eliminates the need for more right-of-way, the primary fear of frontline homeowners. A tunnel could be constructed faster than a typical highway and more cheaply than a depressed or stacked system — though a traditional flatland expressway is still the cheapest. Eliminating on- and off-ramps would make driving safer. And air treatment would help clean the skies by removing up to 90 percent of the solids in tunnel exhaust.

When I first read that paragraph, I stumbled on the bit about “eliminating on- and off-ramps”. Surely this wasn’t envisioned as an express route to downtown, right? I emailed Camacho about this, and also about what would happen above ground to the existing businesses that line the service road to I-45. Here’s his response (taken from two separate emails):

Eliminating on/off ramps means that the tunnels will be “limited access” meaning that the tunnels will not have as many on/off ramps. Therefore traffic will have a clear path for longer distances without having the interference of vehicles getting off and on the tunnel.

[…]

There are three segments along I-45 that have different environments: Downtown area, I-10 to 610 historic residential, and north of 610 which is commercial.

The basic idea is to turn the existing at-grade highway into a boulevard, two or three lanes in each direction which will provide as much access as there is now and probably at higher speeds. The design is fairly simple but complex to explain.

In any case, there could be three different design alternatives for the at-grade boulevard, depending on each area.

Cost is still a concern, and the pragmatist in me is kind of hoping for another, not quite as visionary, plan for TxDOT to consider in addition to this as an alternative its just-widen-the-heck-out-of-it approach, but I have to say, the more I hear about this concept the more I find to like. If you haven’t already, check out the PowerPoint slide show on the tunnel (remember, it’s 8.2 MB in size) and see what you think.

UPDATE: Sorry to post this so late, but the Art Official Intelligence show on 90.1 KPFT right now is talking about the tunnel, among other things. I’ll try to see if I can find an archive to the show later on.

A stir in SD3

Well, well. A Republican candidate for the to-be-vacated SD3 seat has accused outgoing Sen. Todd Staples of asking him to drop out in favor of another candidate.

Saying that “back room politics are alive and well in East Texas,” state Senate District 3 candidate David Kleimann, of Willis, claimed Tuesday that Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, has asked him to drop out of the race because the seat has been promised to another candidate.

Officials with the Staples campaign called the allegation “ridiculous.”

During a press conference in the Montgomery County Commissioners Courtroom, Kleimann, standing with his wife Kim and daughter Meredith, read a prepared statement in front of approximately two dozen supporters and spectators, saying that he had been asked by many people in East Texas to run for Staples’ Senate seat.

“However, last week, on Tuesday, June 7, at around 11:30 in the morning,” Kleimann said, “I received a phone call from Senator Todd Staples. He asked me to drop out of this race. He said this Senate seat, and I quote, ‘has been promised to another man.’

“According to Staples, who is not going to run for the Senate again, he and many in Austin have already hand-picked his replacement.”

[…]

Kleimann stated that the man promised Staples’ seat is Robert Nichols, of Jacksonville, who recently said he is considering throwing his hat in the ring if Staples runs for Agriculture Commissioner.

Speaking forcefully, Kleimann said, “We’re going to let the people’s voice be heard. Why are we a Republican-controlled House and Senate and still having tax increases?”

[…]

Kleimann was obviously angry by the alleged phone call from Staples.

“I’ve worked with him on many issues; we think alike on many issues,” he said. “This is a stab in the back. I told him, ‘How could I possibly back out?’

“I was shocked.”

[…]

Nichols, appointed to the Texas Transportation Commission by then-Gov. George W. Bush and reappointed by Perry, is the owner of Robert Nichols Industries and has served as a Jacksonville City Council member and its mayor. He denied any knowledge of Staples promising him the SD3 seat.

“That’s not a conversation I was privy to,” he said. “I’ve never heard of elected seats being promised to anyone. That would definitely be an improper thing to say. It would be hard for one to believe Senator Staples would say that.”

In a previous Courier story about Kleimann and SD3 candidate Frank Denton, a Conroe businessman, Staples’ chief of staff, Shannon Rusing, said it would be “inappropriate” for Staples to comment on any SD3 candidate since he had not yet formally announced his candidacy for Agriculture Commissioner.

But in a recent story about Nichols published in the Jacksonville Progress, Staples was quoted as saying, “Robert Nichols has a distinguished record of accomplishment for Texas. … His leadership on local and state issues would make him an extremely productive voice in the Texas Senate.”

PinkDome picked this up from the Quorum Report, and they have a followup here. And you thought the GOP gubernatorial primary was going to be where all the action will be.