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June 16th, 2005:

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.


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.


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.


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.

Yankee Stadium 2.0

I have to admit, though all the recent talk about the Yankees moving to a new stadium has always given me hives, this plan strikes me as being not so bad.

The New York Yankees unveiled plans to build a $800 million ballpark next to their current home in the Bronx that would give baseball’s most successful franchise the most expensive stadium.

The proposed ballpark would have fewer seats than the 82- year-old Yankee Stadium and triple the number of luxury suites. The Yankees would pay for it with tax-exempt financing, and New York City would contribute about $135 million toward park land in the area and improvements to the building site.


The current Yankee Stadium, home to a team that won a record 26 World Series, will be used by youth league and softball teams after most of the stands are torn down. Built in 1923, it is the third oldest park in Major League Baseball. Only Boston’s Fenway Park (1912) and Chicago’s Wrigley Field (1914) are older.

The new stadium will look like the original Yankee Stadium, which was built in 1923 and renovated in 1976. It will have a limestone facade, no roof and would seat 51,800 to 54,000 and have 50 to 60 luxury boxes. The Yankees’ current home seats 56,937 and has about 18 luxury boxes.

The state will pay $70 million to add 4,000 parking spots, and will keep the parking revenue, Bloomberg and Pataki said.

Plans also call for the development of a “Yankee Village” with a hotel, retail stores and restaurants in the area.

“Clearly their value is going to go up and their ability to drive new revenue streams from having 50 to 60 luxury suites from the 18 they have now,” Gordon Saint-Denis, head of the Sports Advisory and Finance Group at CIT Group Inc. in New York., said in an interview.

There’s a lot to like, or at least not a lot to hate, about this proposal. The team stays in the Brox where it belongs. The original field lives on in a way that gives back to the community. Most of the tab is paid for by the team. The new design is faithful to the old stadium. Maybe I’d feel differently if I still lived in New York and expected to attend games with some regularity, but at a distance, this plan doesn’t seem to suck. Am I crazy to think this?

By the way, just an idle thought: George Steinbrenner turns 75 this July 4. The post-Steinbrenner era is coming, and whatever you may think of him, things will not be the same without him.