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June 7th, 2005:

In The Woodlands

I’m about to head up to The Woodlands, which is where I’ll be until Thursday morning. The good news is that I’ll get to meet and have lunch with Tom Kirkendall tomorrow. The bad news is that since I’m laptop-challenged, I may be incommunicado until I return. (Yes, I know. Some kind of 21st century technocrat I am.) If I can get to a computer I will, but no guarantees. In the meantime, check out some of the fine blogs on the right side of the screen. See you later.

Hey look! Voter fraud!

I’m sure Mary Denny is all aquiver over this announcement by State Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today announced his office’s first indictments for alleged voter fraud in Texas, returned in separate cases by grand juries in Hardeman and Bee counties.

“My office takes seriously the one-person, one-vote philosophy that has been the backbone of this country throughout its history,” said Attorney General Abbott. “When the activities of even one person would undermine the electoral process, we will hold that person accountable.”

One of Denny’s fans left a comment in this post saying how it’s a shame Denny’s anti-voter HB1706 (slipped in as an amendment to SB89 at the last minute) didn’t become law. So what actually happened here?

Hardeman County Precinct 1 Commissioner Johnny Akers, 58, was indicted late Thursday on six counts of election fraud in Quanah. The Texas Election Code violations involve alleged unlawful methods for returning completed ballots during early voting by mail. During the April 2004 primary runoff and November 2004 general elections, the indictment alleges, Akers personally handled or mailed ballots for six persons unrelated to him over several days, a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a jail term of up to six months and a fine of up to $2,000 on each count.

On May 27, Beeville resident Melva Kay Ponce, 53, was indicted in Bee County on a charge of illegal voting. She allegedly posed as her deceased mother during early mail-in voting in the November 2004 election. Illegal voting is a third-degree felony punishable by two to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Ponce mailed an application for a mail ballot to the Bee County Clerk’s office for her mother, Dominga Ponce, on Oct. 15, 2004, when her mother was still alive. Her mother died of natural causes on Oct. 20, and two days later the clerk’s office mailed a ballot addressed to Dominga Ponce. Despite her mother’s death, Melva Kay Ponce filled out the absentee ballot in her mother’s name. She then mailed the completed ballot back to the clerk.

The Bee County Voter Registrar, Andrea Gibbud, contacted the Bee County Sheriff’s Office about the suspicious ballot, knowing Ponce’s mother had died before the ballot could have been completed and returned.

Emphasis mine. If anyone would care to explain to me how more stringent ID requirements at polling locations would have helped to avert either of these incidents, I’m all ears. Who knows, maybe next time Melva Ponce will include a photocopy of her dead mother’s driver’s license with any extra mail-in ballots she cares to submit.

Hat tip to Greg Moses, whose post on this served as a catalyst for me to mention it.

NYC Olympic bid appears dead

Well, a proposed stadium deal in New York has been killed by the State Assembly, meaning the City’s bid for the 2012 Olympics are very likely dead.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno instructed their representatives on the three-member Public Authorities Control Board to abstain on a vote to contribute $300 million in state funds for the stadium. Since the proposal required unanimous approval, it was defeated.

[…]

Silver, who represents lower Manhattan, said he could not support the $2 billion stadium, to be built as an extension of the Javits Convention Center in midtown Manhattan, when the city and state have not completed plans to renovate the World Trade Center site in his district.

“Am I supposed to sell out the community I have fought for … ?” Silver said. “Am I supposed to turn my back on lower Manhattan as it struggles for recovery? For what? The stadium? For the hope of bringing the Olympics to New York City?”

[…]

Brian Hatch, the former deputy mayor of Salt Lake City who tracks the New York bid at www.newyorkgames.org, said the stadium vote “was the right result for the right reason.”

“When I started (the Web site) two years ago, I said the bid was going to create a new central business district and cripple the one that hadn’t recovered (from 9/11),” Hatch said. “This is a clear victory for the city’s interests.”

Hatch supports New York hosting the Olympics but said the West Side stadium plan “was driving down our chances. Now maybe we’ll recover and hope for 2016.”

I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but I find the logic expressed by Hatch and Assemblyman Silver to be persuasive. Even more so is this Forbes article, which Ginger kindly sent to me, which makes the case that public money should not be used to develop one of the last sizeable patches of unused land in Manhattan, home of the highest real estate prices anywhere in the US of A.

The covered stadium was to have been built on a 30-acre site atop a rail yard owned by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. But if the land could be freed for other purposes, the question was why the stadium was the best use. Cablevision Systems, owner of Madison Square Garden, which stood to lose some business to the new building, had proposed late in the process, a plan to build housing and offices on the site. But for most of the time when the use of the rail yards was being discussed, the assumption was there would be a stadium or nothing. Many argued the stadium, which would have been the most costly to build in the U.S. by far, was worse than nothing as it would tie up one of the last two large tracts of land in southern Manhattan.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had sold the stadium proposal as an economic development plan because it would double as a convention center and supposedly draw new construction in its wake. Yesterday, he lashed out against the stadium’s critics: “Those that were on the other side will have to explain why they were against jobs, why they were against economic opportunity and growth,” he said at a press conference.

What’s never explained is why New York needs the city to build on the site. In recent years, developers have grabbed every available site to build. If the rail yards were made available for other uses, developers would build there, too. Not a stadium, but someone would build something. Time Warner has built a huge mixed-use building near Central Park. Mayor Bloomberg’s own company has completed a new headquarters, also a mixed-use building on the east side of Manhattan, which is intended to accommodate a Home Depot store. Every conceivable inch of Times Square is being built, with The Walt Disney Company, Conde Nast, Morgan Stanley and a host of law and accounting firms all taking space.

I can’t argue with that. Any New Yorkers want to comment on this?

As is usually the case, the Chron article notes a possible Houston angle in this development:

NFL owners awarded the 2010 Super Bowl to New York, contingent on the stadium’s construction. League officials did not return calls for comment on whether the game could be offered to other bidders, including Houston, which fell short in its bid for the 2009 game.

I can see two possibilities here. One is to throw open the bidding process for Super Bowl 44, as they just went through for SB43. Houston would presumably be a contender for that as they were before. Alternately, they could award SB44 to Arlington, in honor of the soon-to-be-built Eminent Domain Stadium. That assumes it’s ready by then – they were originally in line for 2011, not 2010. Either way, one thing is for certain: regardless of the Olympics, no new stadium in NYC means no Super Bowl there.

The time is now, Democrats

I’ve written before that now would be an excellent time for Democrats to start talking about their proposed alternative for school finance reform. This Waco Trib article gives further evidence in favor of that thesis.

On the hottest partisan issue of the legislative session, House Democrats this session offered more traditional minority party opposition than in 2003. Democrats criticized the Republican-led “Roadmap to Results” school finance plan for not doing enough for education or average taxpayers and crafted a plan that emphasized their goals.

Democrats said their plan offered more money, some of the same reforms and a smaller overall property tax cut that gave the largest tax cuts to owners of less expensive property, by tripling the homeowner’s exemption on taxes to $45,000.

State Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, author of the Roadmap plan, quickly responded that his proposal was a better idea.

“Our plan puts $3 billion more into education and cuts spiraling property taxes by one third, and we get more education for each dollar by asking districts to spend money more efficiently. Their proposal calls for increased spending.”

“They call their plan ‘Live and Learn,’ which must mean ‘living beyond our means and learning to swallow a tax hike,'” Grusendorf said in a statement.

Grusendorf was an author of the Republican plan, so I don’t take much from his criticism. This is more instructive:

[T]he Democratic opposition wasn’t as effective on school finance as it had been on some proposals in the 2003 session, including tort reform, said state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas. The Democratic school finance plan arrived without enough momentum or information for lawmakers to support it, he said, and many lawmakers did not know how it would affect their own school districts.

“Their plan came too late and . . . didn’t get any traction in the House, really, so it just sort of got rolled over,” Branch said.

The timeline pressure would cause the same problems as he and other Republican negotiators were ultimately unable to come up with a compromise on school finance between the House and Senate.

State Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, criticized the Democratic plan for coming too late in the process, without undergoing the same public scrutiny the Roadmap plan withstood for weeks as education groups and business groups offered comment and suggestions about the proposal.

Anderson said the House Republicans had already developed “a solid plan.”

All of this can be addressed now, whether or not Governor Perry succumbs to pressure and calls a special session or not (link via PerryVsWorld). Get some analysis done on the plan, with an emphasis on how individual school districts (especially rural ones) would fare. Write op-eds to your local papers and/or ask for a meeting with their editorial boards and tout the plan. Talk to business and education groups and get their buy-in. You don’t know when you’ll be called back to Do Something, so get on it now. Don’t let “they came in too late” and “we don’t know what their plan does” be hindrances for next time.

Star Bock Beer case heard in court

I’ve been following the saga of Star Bock Beer since it first made the news after Starbucks hit it with a cease-and-desist letter for allegedly violating its trademark. See here, here, here, and here for prior bloggage on the case. Yesterday, a district court judge heard testimony in the dispute.

U.S. District Judge Sam Kent heard testimony Monday in the trademark infringement case between Rex “Wrecks” Bell, owner of the Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe here, and Seattle-based Starbucks.

Bell maintains he got the idea for Star Bock beer in 2002 after a customer asked for one Texas beer, Lone Star, and changed his order to another Texas beer, Shiner Bock.

“I thought it was just a great name for a beer, especially for a Texas beer,” Bell told Kent during a non-jury trial that lasted five hours Monday.

Bell served the beer in his bar, a side-street haunt for local folks and fans of alternative country musicians, from May 2003 until he ran out of the brew about a month ago.

Brenham Brewery, which produced the 100 kegs Bell sold, is out of business now, but Bell testified Monday that he’s been talking to brewers large and small about reviving Star Bock and making it a national brand.

Colleen P. Chapman, Starbucks brand strategy director, told Kent on Monday that the company goes to great lengths to differentiate itself from competitors and protect its reputation for consistent high quality.

“We’ve learned that any injury to that reputation has a negative impact on our brand,” Chapman said.

Bell testified he paid $355 to register the trademark Starbock after searching federal trademark records and finding that no one else had registered the name. He sold his beer under the two-word name Star Bock.

[…]

Bell said it’s clear in his trademark application and in advertising he’s done that his product is beer.

“It’s not coffee,” Bell said. “No one can own every word that comes after ‘Star.’ ”

On cross-examination, however, Starbucks lawyers suggested Bell is well aware of how similar Starbock and Star Bock are to Starbucks and wants to cash in on the publicity the case has generated around the world.

[…]

Kent said he expects to issue a ruling in the case by Aug. 19.

I’ve been rooting for Rex Bell from the beginning, though I admit I’ve had my doubts that he could ever win. Hopefully, Judge Kent will rule that there is a difference between beer and coffee (even if some other companies are trying to blur the line), and Rex Bell can find another brewer and go back to doing what he wants to do. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Jack criticizes Starbucks for pushing the issue.

Runoff today in San Antonio

Today’s the day in San Antonio when the mayoral race gets settled once and for all. Phil Hardberger continues to hold a slight edge in the polls.

On the eve of the election, the race was too close to call, according to a final News 4 WOAI/Survey USA tracking poll among likely voters. The poll results released Monday had Hardberger with 52 percent and Castro with 47 percent — a virtual dead heat, considering the poll’s margin of error of 4 percentage points.

“Either side could win it at this point, even though Hardberger’s got the edge,” said Richard Gambitta, a political scientist at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “The challenge to Castro now is to get out his voters.”

As with the May 7 election, The Red State will be liveblogging today, so check with him for updates. The Jeffersonian feels pretty confident of a Hardberger win. On the other hand, Matt points to this Ken Rodriguez column which suggests some keys for the day, which points to a Castro win:

It would help if there were a City Council runoff on Schubert’s turf. There isn’t.

It would help if there were no runoffs in Castro’s backyard. There are two.

It would help if Castro had a weak grassroots organization. He doesn’t.

It would help if Hardberger and Schubert were not political opposites. They are.

It would help if Hardberger could count on a heavy turnout of Schubert supporters. He can’t.

The candidate who probably can count on a heavy turnout is Castro.

The last time there were runoffs in Districts 6 and 7, more people voted in Round 2 than in Round 1.

That’s one reason I give Castro a slight edge in the runoff. There are others.

Everyone agrees this should be a close race. We’ll see how it goes. Good luck to both candidates.