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August, 2005:

Many ways to help

If you’ve watched TV or listened to the radio at all these past couple of days, you’re probably aware of several ways in which you can do something to help (bearing in mind that donating to the Red Cross is still tops on the list). You can also volunteer with the Harris County Citizen Corps, as noted here. Kevin has some other suggestions as well.

I’ve gotten about a half dozen email solicitations for giving to relief efforts, from Richard Morrison, Nick Lampson, Chris Bell (who’s also been touting the Houston Food Bank), the Texas Democratic Party, Jay Aiyer, and Constable May Walker, in whose Precinct 7 the Astrodome lies. There are certainly many other such pleas out there as well.

Finally, frequent commenter ttyler5 has set up this blog as an “effort to integrate the blogosphere into our local emergency and relief operations”. Galveston County Tax Assessor-Collector Cheryl E. Johnson has contributed this post with information about donation dropoff points down there.

UPDATE: Add Mike Fjetland to the list – he was actually one of the first to send out an email promising to give al his donations for a period to Katrina relief.

UPDATE: And Brian Cweren, and Carol Alvarado, and David Harris, and undoubtedly many more.

Volunteer opportunity: Harris County Citizen Corps

My friend Andrea forwarded me the following email from County Judge Robert Eckels on behalf of the Harris County Citizen Corps:

Harris County Citizen Corps Members,

Today we are going to help those who have been impacted by Hurricane Katrina who are currently located in the Super Dome in New Orleans. Up to 25,000 citizens are going to be relocated to the Astro Dome. We need your help.

We are requesting volunteers to assist in setting up the dome with cots and other basic necessities. This needs to be completed by 1700 or 5pm CST. We need for you to forward to anyone who can help through your businesses, churches, and organizations.

We will also need volunteers to assist in the documentation and check in of all who arrive. CERT Teams will be needed to assist citizens from the buses to the check in locations.

Logistical information with locations and staging areas will be sent out shortly. Please respond to this e-mail and let us know how many people you have that can assist, include time frames, as this will be a 24/7 operation.

This task is unprecedented and can be completed with the support of our citizens.

Thank you for your continued support,
Harris County Judge Robert Eckels
Chairman Harris County Citizen Corps

May be a little late for today, but I’d bet there’ll be a continuing need for help while the Astrodome is being used as a refugee shelter. Here’s the form to volunteer for the HCCC.

TDCAA on the new anti-abortion law

I noted earlier this week that the Texas District and County Attorneys Association (TDCAA) had outlined a scenario in which “Texas doctors who perform abortions without parental approval or after the third trimester could face capital murder charges” under the new laws. As it happens, Ellen is friends with Diane Beckham, the staff counsel and head of publications for the TDCAA, and thanks to her, I have the following response from Ms. Beckham for clarification:

After each legislative session, TDCAA attorneys read through all the bills that passed and put together various books as well as a three-hour legislative update presentation that we present in about 20 cities in Texas. While reading over bills from the 2005 session, our lawyer who’s in charge of coordinator our legislative efforts noticed the change to “lawful medical procedures” as part of a very large sunset bill for the medical licensing profession.

We all remembered that last session, the legislature passed a law called the “Fetal Protection Act.” Among other things, that bill changed the definition of “individual” in the Texas Penal Code to include fetuses. What that meant is that the existing definition of capital murder for killing someone under the age of 6 now applied to fetuses (assuming all the other elements of capital murder were met). The same bill, however, set up a two-part defense: (1) for the mother for any reason; and (2) for doctors performing a “lawful medical procedure.” (The wording of that defense does not mention abortions specifically — just refers to “lawful medical procedure.”)

Now fast-forward to 2005, when the legislature — in a bill unrelated to criminal prosecution — changed the list for what constitutes “lawful medical procedures” (under the Occupations Code, not the Penal Code). Because the legislature changed the definition to make partial-birth abortions and abortions on minors without parental consent (or court order) no longer “lawful medical procedures,” this has an effect on that defense for doctors.

Did the legislature intend to make this change? Who knows?? I guess us speculating about whether they meant to or not would be pretty pointless — we’d have to ask each of the members and the bill sponsor what they intended. Or didn’t.

This is not a bill that TDCAA or any of its members were consulted about, and we’ve never gotten involved with legislative policy decisions about abortion. Nor can I imagine that we ever would.

Our mention of this legislative change in the series of legislative update presentations that we’re making around the state is merely to advise the audience (usually a mixture of prosecutors, defense lawyers, officers, and judges) that the change happened. Definitely not to advocate that prosecutors go out and start looking for doctors to prosecute for capital murder. In fact, at each of the four legislative updates where I’ve co-presented, we make note of the potential constitutional problems with prosecuting doctors for this version of capital murder.

Whether the legislature intended to do it or not, we believe that the 2003 and 2005 changes have changed the law in the way that I described it. But believe me, our books and presentations are meant only to tell audiences about the change — not to advocate action in response. If the legislature really didn’t mean to make that change, it should be simple enough for them to fix it in 2007.

Let’s hope that they do, and that they manage to avoid confusing things further when they do.

Katrina fundraiser

Before I get into today’s Katrina links, I want to pass this along to my fellow Houstonians.

The Rod Ryan Show and The Buzz present the Hurricane Katrina Request-athon!

Starting at 6 a.m. Wednesday, we’ll be taking song requests for cash to help residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. We’re dusting off ALL our records, ’cause anything goes!

Here’s the price list:
$30 – Buzz Songs
$60 – Non-Buzz Songs
$80 – Way off The Buzz Path (example: Barry Manilow)
$200 – Local Bands

You say it … and pay it … we’ll play it!! Call 713-212-KTBZ to place your request.

That’s 94.5 on the FM dial here. Ted emailed me a heads-up about this earlier today (they have since changed the request line phone number to what I’ve displayed here). I tuned in on my way to work and heard them say that the money is going to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, so consider that your plea for the day to help out. And as an extra added inducement, anyone who gives $100 or more can get a free custom-burned CD from Ted.

The top story in the Chronicle is that the refugees currently being housed in the Superdome will be coming to Houston.

As Army engineers struggled without success to plug New Orleans’ breached levees with sandbags and water continued to rise, Texas officials have worked out a plan to bring more than 23,000 refugees from the Superdome to Houston’s Astrodome.

The Houston Chronicle has learned refugees trapped in the Superdome will be bused to the Astrodome in Houston under plans being put together by state and local officials, a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry said today.

Kathy Walt said Texas still hasn’t received a formal request from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who also could be seeking alternatives to the Astrodome. But, Walt added, the Louisiana secretary of state requested Texas’s help in a phone call late last night or early this morning.

Walt said arrangements were being made for more than 400 buses to transport the refugees, who have been without power or adequate sanitary facilities since the hurricane struck New Orleans on Monday.

Officials from both states and Harris County were discussing logistics in a conference call early this morning, Walt said. She said that the governor’s office has been told the Astrodome’s events schedule has been cleared through December.

Texas officials also have been talking with Jefferson County officials about using the Ford Center in Beaumont for longterm shelter for refugees, Walt said.

I’ve cracked my share of jokes about what should become of the Astrodome, but whatever its future may bring, I can’t think of a better purpose for it right now. Kudos to Governor Perry, Mayor White, and the Harris County Commissioners Court for making this happen. More details at blogHouston, which notes that Banjo had suggested this before the news was made public.

Complete Katrina coverage from the Chron is here, along with an RSS feed. The Chron’s SciGuy blog has also been a great resource.

Two items in closing: One, I agree wholeheartedly with this NYT editorial (via Atrios):

Those of us in New York watch the dire pictures from Louisiana with keen memories of the time after Sept. 11, when the rest of the nation made it clear that our city was their city, and that everyone was part of the battle to restore it. New Orleans, too, is one of the places that belongs to every American’s heart – even for people who have never been there.

Right now it looks as if rescuing New Orleans will be a task much more daunting than any city has faced since the San Francisco fire of 1906. It must be a mission for all of us.

And two, sooner or later we’re going to need to confront the questions about whether or not what has happened this week could have been ameliorated (links via MyDD).

Sherrie Matula in HD129

Carl Whitmarsh is reporting to his email list that Rep. John Davis, who has gone unchallenged in each election since the 2001 State House redistricting, will not be unopposed next year.

Glad to report the impending announcement of the candidacy of Sherrie Matula for the Democratic nomination for State Representative, District 129, in and around the Clear Lake/NASA area. The district is currently represented by Republican John Davis.

Sherrie and her family are long time resident of the area (since 1974), long time active Democrats and she is a retiring educator who has her degree from UH while her husband and two daughters all have mechanical engineering degrees from Texas A&M. Sherrie is a third generation educator and as a topper, she served an elected four year term on the Clear Creek Independent School District Board of Trustees. She’s been involved in all sorts of community affairs from local sports leagues to the community symphony.

I’ve heard good things about her from BAND‘s John Cobarruvias. Like many State House districts, this one will be a formidable challenge, as the average Republican candidate got about 66% of the vote last year. With one big exception: Tom DeLay only got 60% there. That’s why I’m excited that someone is stepping up – HD129 is entirely contained within CD22, so anything which can help add a point or two to the overall Democratic performance there is huge. I look forward to hearing more about Sherrie Matula.

No Nonsense blog

No Nonsense In November has itself a blog, so you can easily keep up-to-date on what’s going on with this important campaign. Bloglines didn’t automatically pick up their RSS feed for me, so I’m giving it here in case you want it. If these guys can get a good response in Hays County, there’s more hope than I first thought. Check it out.

Abramoff pleads not guilty

Tom DeLay’s buddy Jack Abramoff has begun one of his tours through the criminal justice system.

Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a key figure in ethics investigations involving U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, pleaded not guilty Monday to charges he defrauded lenders in a casino cruise line deal.

Abramoff, charged along with a New York business partner in an alleged scheme to defraud lenders in the $147 million purchase of SunCruz Casinos, did not appear at his arraignment.

Neal Sonnett, Abramoff’s attorney, obtained a waiver so the Baltimore-area resident did not have to make the trip. Abramoff is out on bond.

“Our defense is that he committed no fraud,” Sonnett said outside of court.

That’s a pretty good defense if it happens to be true. I’m not holding my breath.

Note this:

According to court records, [Abramoff and business partner Adam Kidan] siphoned off some of SunCruz’s income to collect $500,000 salaries and pay for private boxes at FedEx Field, MCI Center and Orioles Park at Camden Yards to entertain Republican donors and politicians. Among them: DeLay, R-Sugar Land.

I highlighted that because DeLay has lately been claiming that he cut Abramoff loose as a friend and business associate in 2001, after the murder of former SunCruz owner Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis. As Josh Marshall has shown (repeatedly), that’s a bald-faced lie on DeLay’s part.

And finally, as I said above, this indictment isn’t the only thing Abramoff has to fear from the law right now.

Indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff claimed in e-mails sent in 2002 that the deputy secretary of the interior had pledged to block an Indian casino that would compete with one of the lobbyist’s tribal clients. Abramoff later told two associates that he was trying to hire the official.

A federal task force investigating Abramoff’s activities has conducted interviews and obtained documents from Interior Department officials and Abramoff associates to determine whether conflict-of-interest laws were violated, according to people with knowledge of the probe. It can be a federal crime for government officials to negotiate for a job while being involved in decisions affecting the potential employer.

Such a busy boy, wasn’t he?

Real reform

If you haven’t yet, I commend you to read this post on the Chris Bell blog on what it means to run as a “reform” candidate. Greg and The Jeffersonian have commented on it already, and my reaction is more or less the same as The Jeff’s. In fact, I don’t think I can improve on what he says:

Our vocabulary should begin, and very nearly end, with one word- Reform.

We live in a state that can’t pass school finance reform, but can find a way to kick off 150,000 children off of CHIPs. A state where fifty lobbyists can get into a room and decide how we’re going to fund our schools. Not teachers or parents or legislators – Lobbyists. A state where one man single-handedly gives nearly $3 million to various candidates and then has the gall to have his press secretary tell us he expects nothing in return. A state that can remove any and all caps off of tuition increases, and give tuition-setting power to unelected, unaccountable Boards of Regents whose only main qualification is giving Rick Perry, Inc a whole hell of a lot of money. A state where one US House Majority Leader’s PAC can, for example, accept X numbers of $250 checks from corporations and then three days later send out X numbers of $250 checks to State House candidates; knowing full well that corporate donations to state government candidates are prohibited by state law. And we can go on and on and on.

I’ve said before and I’ll say again that one advantage Bell will have in this race is that Carole Keeton Strayhorn will be sounding some of these themes as well between now and March. She has to because she can’t win by out-Republicaning Rick Perry. She’s cast her die with the new-primary-voters strategy, and that means she has to look different. When she loses, it will be natural for Bell to reach out to the people she managed to bring in, and what he’ll have to say to them – what he’ll have been saying all along – will feel right to them. Good sense doesn’t always make good politics, but here I think it will.


Christof Spieler of the CTC has a new blog called Intermodality that will be of interest to anyone who cares about how Houstonians move around. I found it via Tory, and I second his recommendation. Check it out.

More new laws

If you’ve ever wondered why there are so-called “activist” judges who “legislate from the bench”, here’s one reason.

Texas doctors who perform abortions without parental approval or after the third trimester could face capital murder charges because of a new law that takes effect this week, a prosecutors group says.

The Texas District and County Attorneys Association has outlined that scenario in its new book updating the Texas penal code and in public presentations around the state. The group says such charges could occur under the new law because of the 2003 fetal protection law.

Key legislators said Monday that wasn’t their intent.

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, who pushed the parental consent measure, said in a prepared statement that her legislation was strictly limited to giving parents the right to consent when a minor is considering an abortion and to preventing late-term abortions.

“There were no discussions about the death penalty during our legislative discussions of this issue,” Nelson said.

A capital murder conviction can result in the death penalty.

Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie, who sponsored the 2003 bill defining an embryo or fetus as an “individual,” said the law may need clearing up in a future legislative session.

“I don’t see the Legislature wanting to charge doctors with capital murder based on a technical legal issue over whether parental consent was properly documented,” Allen said.

In other words, do what we mean and not what we say. Brilliant.

Sometimes even when a law gets clarified, it’s still not clear what it means.

Motorists arrested for carrying pistols in their cars without a concealed handgun license will continue to be prosecuted in Houston, despite a new law that purports to give them a legal defense, Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said Monday.

Although the sponsor said the law should reduce the number of arrests for unlawful handgun possession, Rosenthal said it won’t change enforcement practices in Houston after it goes into effect on Thursday.

“It is still going to be against the law for (unlicensed) persons to carry handguns in autos,” the district attorney said, adding that the new legal defense can still be challenged by prosecutors.


“The intent of the law is to keep innocent people from going to jail,” said the sponsor, Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, a former prosecutor and former Travis County sheriff who now is a candidate for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.


Keel said he hoped the law will prompt police officers to think twice about arresting motorists who meet the new legal presumption and spare them the expense and “indignity” of arrest and prosecution.

Otherwise, he said, “They basically are going to arrest innocent people and make them prove their innocence.”

Rosenthal and Rob Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, disagreed.

Rosenthal said the new presumption about “traveling” doesn’t define what constitutes traveling and can be challenged in court by prosecutors, leaving it to juries to decide verdicts “based upon the facts of the case.”

A prosecutor could summon witnesses to successfully argue that a defendant wasn’t traveling because he was simply “driving around the corner for a carton of milk,” Kepple said.

“I really don’t think (the law) should affect how police officers respond in arresting somebody,” he added.

Houston Police Department spokeswoman Johanna Abad indicated Houston police were going to take their advice from Rosenthal’s office.

“A law means what I say it means, nothing more, nothing less.” Are we all ready for a dose of Maalox yet? Can’t help you with that, but at least Scott has a little good news to help this all go down.

Eyes on Katrina

The destruction that Hurricane Katrina brought is incredible, and we’ve yet to get any real idea of how bad it is. What’s more amazing is that no matter how bad it turns out to have been, it still could have been a lot worse.

For all the justified worry about New Orleans being wiped out, it appears that Mississippi got the worst of it. A couple of reporters from that state’s Sun Herald newspaper have a blog going called Eyes on Katrina, which has a lot of information about what’s happening there. Go read, then go give some money to the Red Cross. Thanks to Nate for the link.

UPDATE: This is just awful.

Jefferson Parish, which sits just to the west of Orleans Parish and the city familiar tourist landmarks, has declared martial law today.

If you live there you can go home next Monday, but only with photo identification, and only for a short time to collect clothes and other essentials. After that, you’ve got to leave again.

For a month.

There’s no way to spin this. That’s just horrible, horrible news. It’s so bad there, Parish officials have asked the public to donate boats to help with the rescue and clean-up efforts.

I’m speechless.

More like this, please

Well, what do you know? Someone in the media has discovered that Kay Bailey Hutchison is not running unopposed next year. See how it’s done in this piece on base closings in Texas.

The state’s losses provided Barbara Ann Radnofsky, expected to be Hutchison’s Democratic opponent next year, with an opportunity to hammer the senator on her record.

“Texas as a whole didn’t benefit from her seniority,” Radnofsky said. “I think this is going to be one of the major issues in this race.”

Radnofsky, a Houston attorney and partner with the law firm of Vinson & Elkins, is making her first bid for office.

She noted that Hutchison, who was elected in 1993, was in office when the last BRAC round, 10 years ago, pummeled San Antonio and surrounding communities with the closure of Kelly Air Force Base.

“I believe it was on her watch that many thousands of jobs were lost at Kelly” in 1995, she said.

Very nice, and high time Senator Hutchison got her free pass revoked. Now let’s see someone press her about the Waco VA Hospital report. She’s a grownup, she can handle a few questions.

For more news on Radnofsky, here’s the report of her recent visit to Kerrville.

The superintendents strike back

School superintendents from around Texas continue to fight back against some of the things said about and done to them in the wake of Special SessionPalooza. From Lufkin:

Lufkin ISD’s deputy superintendent says he suspects that Gov. Rick Perry’s recent executive decision requiring that at least 65 percent of education dollars be spent on direct classroom instruction is another example of political grand-standing.

At best, while the order’s intent may be well-intended, its wording is vague, Roy Knight said.

If the TEA decides to go with the definition of “direct classroom instruction” that briefly surfaced during the 79th Legislature, some school districts may be forced to cut things like building maintenance, security, custodial services, transportation, librarians and counselors out of their budgets, he said.

“How do you define direct classroom instruction?” Knight asked Friday. “What has people like me so anxious is that the first 65 percent proposal that was discussed in the Legislature was so narrow that school districts, especially those that are property poor, would be forced to cut essential services like building maintenance, security, basic custodial services and transportation. ”


Giving an example of a way Lufkin ISD may be forced to cut transportation costs, he pointed to the school board’s recent decision to allow Lufkin Middle School students who live on the west side of Timberland Drive to ride the bus to school, even if they live within the two-mile limit. He said school officials chose to go that route because of concerns about the safety of students having to cross a busy street.

Who cares about that when you’ve got the wisdom of a dot-com CEO to rely on? Surely we know who knows better. Link via Eye on Williamson.

And an op-ed from Jacksonville:

Regarding the failure of the Legislature to pass anything – the last time I looked, educators didn’t have a vote on the floor of the capitol. If we did, we would have voted for the Hochberg amendment, or the Eltife/Ellis plan. While neither was perfect, they would have been beneficial to ALL students and educators in our great State, instead of providing unfair benefits to a few districts and adding millions of dollars of unfunded mandates as HB2 would have done.

While some misguided and misled legislators were calling for more accountability, our staff was going through the mounds of paperwork and test results from the 48 tests we are required to administer to our students. These data are broken down by grade level, subject area, learning objective, ethnicity, economic level, etc., and we must “hit the mark” in ALL areas or else we are deemed failures by people like [Rep. Leo] Berman.

Two weeks later, we got another report letting us know whether or not we made “Adequate Yearly Progress” as part of the No Child Left Behind project…again, more mounds of data to digest and more plans to produce to address areas of concern. We have TAKS tests, SDAA I and II tests, Performance Based Monitoring, Transportation and Food Service audits, TPRI results, LPAC’s, ARD’s, LEP’s, IEP’s, AEP’s, PEIMS reporting and many more state and federal programs that we must account for on a daily basis. In addition, we receive the Financial Integrity ratings and our yearly financial audit. And some in the legislature say all we want is more money with NO ACCOUNTABILITY? That is a ludicrous statement made by people who obviously do not know or care what we do on a daily basis.

Via BOR, which has more editorial examples here.

Okay, I won’t fear the reaper

I see that Dwight has called me a wuss for my embrace of old technology. OK, I confess – guilty as charged, Your Honor. I appreciate all the tips about iPods and downloading, but I have a question for all you digital music fans, one whose answer I’d need to weigh before I ask Santa for that particular new toy. What kind of time investment am I looking at to migrate my CD collection to MP3s? I have something like 200 discs, not all of which I’d feel compelled to rip. As you might imagine, I already spend a ton of time at my computer. How long does it take to get an iPod up to speed?

July traffic report

July had a slight downtick to 49,000 visitors (August has already exceeded this). I continue to think that’s just randomness, mostly due to fluctuations in search engine referrals. The holiday week is also a slow time.

July featured the appearance of some guest bloggers for the first time in this space. I think they did a great job – they certainly let me relax during my time away, knowing that the place was in good hands. Having decided that a little time off now and again is beneficial, I figure I’ll do something like that once a year or so.

July also featured the unfortunate reappearance of referral log spam, which is still the stupidest use of spammer resources that I can imagine. I guess it’s marginally less annoying than comment or trackback spam, but still.

Top referrers and search engine terms are beneath the fold. As always, thanks very much for coming by.


New laws, get yer new laws

It’s almost September, and that means it’s time for all those newly enacted laws to take effect.

Most of the 700-plus new state laws going into effect Thursday, products of last spring’s legislative session, will create hardly a ripple in most Texans’ lives, but others will be noticed.

Teenagers proud of their new driver’s licenses and new cell phones better not use both at the same time, because it will now be against the law for teens to talk on the phone while they are driving, at least during the first six months after they get their licenses.

People, meanwhile, who like to drive around with pistols in their cars but never got around to getting a concealed handgun license may appreciate new clarifications to an old law that allows law-abiding Texans to carry pistols while “traveling.”

On a larger scale, some of the major laws that got extensive media attention during legislative debate early in the year also will go into effect Thursday.

They include an overhaul of the system for compensating workers injured on the job, a law designed to strengthen the state’s system for protecting abused children, a law addressing shoddy work in crime labs and a law that will give Texas juries the option of sentencing capital murderers to life without parole.

Previously, capital murderers who were sentenced to life in prison instead of the death penalty were eligible for parole after serving 40 years.

Also beginning Thursday, minors will have to get parental permission before they can get an abortion — unless a young woman can convince a judge that she is sufficiently mature to make the decision or that her parents’ involvement would put her at risk of physical or emotional abuse.

Let that be a reminder not to let the school finance reform failures obscure the fact that this was a crappy legislative session even wihout Special SessionPalooza.

Oh, and one more thing:

Although its citizens espouse a variety of political viewpoints, after Thursday, Texas officially will be “proud to be the home of President George W. Bush.”

That is what still another new law directs the Department of Transportation to say on those “Welcome to Texas” signs on highways near the state’s borders.

Isn’t it reassuring to know that the money can always be found for the truly important priorities, no matter how tight the budget may otherwise get? And to think I once considered the Sexy Cheerleader Bill to be the biggest waste of legislative time this session. Silly me.

On a side note, another new law taking effect this Thursday is Austin’s controversial anti-smoking statute.

Across Austin this week — and just outside it — restaurants and bars, bowling alleys and pool halls are bracing for the impact of the smoking ban that voters narrowly approved in May. Ashtrays will go the way of spittoons. Nonprofits are bolstering their quit-smoking resources. And a handful of area joints that are exempt from the ban are opening their doors a little wider to draw in smokers.

The cigarette machine at the Continental Club will still function, but if you’re catching Toni Price, you’d better stand at least 15 feet outside the door or on public right of way. Don’t bother trying to stub out your cigarette in an ashtray.

And if you’re allergic to smoke, you might want to avoid City Hall. Some opponents of the ban — especially some bar owners who fret that the onus is on them, not smokers, to keep up a smoke-free atmosphere — are planning to light up on the steps and leave Mayor Will Wynn or City Manager Toby Futrell — “the proprietors” — facing a smoking complaint.

I pity the judge who’ll have to sort that one out.

Is the CD dead?

As I read this article about the decline and eventual fall of the CD as a format for delivering recorded music, I take a moment to ponder all of the ways in which I’m becoming demographically obsolete. I like baseball. I drink beer. I read newspapers. And all my music is on CDs.

Gads. I didn’t need to have a kid to realize the extent of my dinosaur-like nature. The evidence is all around me.

Sigh. Thanks (I think) to John for the pointer.

Let the new fall seasons begin

How happy I am to see a story about Lost – especially one which does not involve lawsuits – in the news. How very happy I am to see that the season premier is a bit more than three weeks away. I’m so ready.

The debut of 24 is farther away, but (via Mac), here’s some news about its upcoming season.

Katrina and Camille

Katrina has made landfall just east of New Orleans. There’s hope that it won’t be the apocalyptic catastrophe it had (and still has) the potential to be – indeed, damage estimates are dropping – but it’s still very early.

The last storm of this magnitude to hit the Gulf Coast was Camille in 1969. Here’s a report about Camille on the 30-year anniversary of that storm. Found via Chris Mooney and Making Light, which has a number of other useful links as well.

This is as good a time as any to say that the best thing you can do to help is to give to the Red Cross, and the best thing you can give to the Red Cross is money.

A few words with Nick Lampson

I had the opportunity over the weekend to sit down and have a conversation with Nick Lampson at his campaign office in Clear Lake. I didn’t do this in formal interview fashion, we just shot the breeze for an hour or so.

When I asked if there had been any negative reaction to his moving into the district to run in the race, Lampson said no, quite the contrary. His roots run deep in Fort Bend County, and people there have responded to the story of his background in Stafford, which is where he’s now living and where his 90-year-old aunt lives. His history in the area goes back farther than DeLay’s – “There are things about the history of Fort Bend County that I know that he couldn’t possibly know.”

Much of the Harris and Galveston County parts of the district are already familiar with him. Lampson represented the Clear Lake area before and was the ranking member on the subcommittee that oversees NASA (the exact name of which escapes me). Patty Gray, a former State Rep from Galveston, once said of him “I see Lampson more often than I see my City Council member”.

What he’s been doing so far since becoming the de facto nominee is concentrating on fundraising and meeting people. The first part we know about – as has been widely reported, he’d raised about $500K by the end of the second quarter this year. This is a dead time of year for raising campaign cash, but Lampson tells me he continues to meet and exceed every goal they’ve set.

He’s also had a busy schedule of attending neighborhood meetings and introducing or re-introducing himself to the district. This was something he thought he could improve on from 2004, when much of his constituency changed via redistricting. His responsibilities as a sitting member of Congress at that time meant that he couldn’t spend as much time in the area as he wanted to, which was an advantage for his opponent. He notes that this advantage is his now, and he’s using it.

You can’t talk about Tom DeLay without talking about scandals. Lampson has told me before that he doesn’t intend to spend a whole lot of time emphasizing that on the campaign trail, and he reiterated that in this conversation. You can’t avoid the subject – people bring it up to him all the time – but he is focusing on the needs of the district and his past record of service. The Chronicle did a survey on constituent services for the area Congressional offices a few years back, and his came in first. “I have been, and I will be, an effective member of Congress,” is how he puts it.

We talked about DeLay’s recent “suggestion” that Houston police round up suspected illegal aliens and hold them in tents for the National Guard. Lampson pointed out that DeLay has voted against increased funding for Border Patrol agents and equipment, and now he’s trying to pass the buck to cities to make up for that failure. (Along the same lines, DeLay voted against adequate funding for the Coast Guard after 9/11, which led to coastal counties having to pick up the slack.) Lampson opposes revoking the citizenship of US-born children of illegal immigrants, and he opposes the bill to allow arming the self-appointed Minutemen, which he said would put lives (their own and others’) at risk. Lampson called for the federal government to do its job by properly funding its responsibilities.

Lampson says he would have opposed the CAFTA bill because it was not fair to American workers’ interests. “We need a fair playing field, with comparable conditions – environmental and labor – for all sides,” he said. He spoke at length about shrimp fishing in the Gulf versus imported farmed shrimp from Asia as an example. Imported shrimp are supposed to be tested for certain chemicals, but often aren’t because of a familiar problem – inadequate funding for the agency responsible, in this case the FDA. Make the importers play by the same rules that the Americans are subjected to and the Americans will be able to compete.

We talked about other races and candidates, and demographics in various areas of CD22, but I’ve gone on long enough. His campaign website is about to undergo a relaunch with a new design – I had a preview, and it looks pretty slick – so stay tuned for more on that. In the meantime, andybody who wants to help can contact his campaign at [email protected] Volunteers are always needed, whether you live in the district or just know someone who does.

Oh, those lobbyists

I love this opening paragraph to today’s entry in the Why Special SessionPalooza Was A Miserable Failure sweepstakes.

The Legislature’s failure to pass property tax cuts this summer was largely the result of a breakdown in behind-the-scenes negotiations among powerful business lobbyists that had been going on for nearly two years.

Every once in awhile, it’s a good idea to be reminded who really runs things in Texas.

A series of meetings was held of 40 to 50 lobbyists and trade association directors representing a variety of business interests, including electric utilities, the petrochemical industry, hospitals, lawyers, electronics and retail sales.

Utilities and the petrochemical plants, with sprawling facilities that rack up huge property tax bills, wanted some relief, just like homeowners.

Companies with high-dollar investments such as utilities, the petrochemical industry and the insurance industry wanted the state’s business franchise tax expanded to cover all businesses at a lower rate.

Businesses such as Dell, SBC and several Texas newspapers that avoided the franchise tax through loopholes and partnerships that had never been taxed were either reluctant partners in expanding the franchise tax or outright opposed it. The partnerships started fighting to stay out of the tax bill in the regular session after the House and Senate offered proposals to broaden the franchise tax.

By the end, most groups had lobbied their way out of the tax legislation this summer. And the petrochemical industry, which had pushed the hardest early on for property tax relief, was left holding the bag to pay it for everyone.

So it lobbied to kill the bill.

“There were a lot of people who wanted property tax relief, but at the end of the debate it was not the same party they sent invitations to,” said the state’s highest-paid lobbyist, Rusty Kelley, whose clients include partnerships and chemical companies.

This is a pretty good behind-the-scenes look at stuff that went on without much reportage at the time. Here’s another thing that I’d say was underpublicized these past eight months:

The impetus for Perry’s special sessions in 2003 and 2004 came from GOP primary politics: Republican voters in Houston and San Antonio wanted property tax cuts, and those in the Dallas area wanted to eliminate the share-the-wealth “Robin Hood” school finance system. Those voters typically make up about a third of the Republican primary turnout.

Bill Allaway, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, said talk radio drove a “homeowner property-tax frenzy” in Houston and San Antonio.

“There never was a statewide drive for lower property taxes,” he said.

Just something to keep in mind.

As long as we’re talking about lobbyists, I found this story about how totally unfair it is that the schools got to have a few of their own to be hilarious.

Peggy Venable, director of the 27,000-member Americans for Prosperity-Texas, said it is “outrageous” that school taxes are being used to oppose legislation that she said could ensure better use of those tax dollars.

“Taxpayer-funded lobbyists killed any opportunity for property tax relief, taxpayer protections, education reforms and property rights legislation,” Venable said.

Poor baby. Maybe if the schools thought they weren’t about to get shafted, they wouldn’t feel the need to ensure their interests were being fairly represented.

And just as another reminder:

After testifying about the bills, Sarah Winkler, a board member for the Alief Independent School District, tried to get people in her community to contact their representatives.

“I don’t think it’s fair to blame the education community for taking these bills down. Legislators followed what their constituents wanted,” she said.

Sometimes there’s more of them than there are of you. Funny how that works.

By the way, as I sat down to write this, our doorbell was rung by a neighbor girl out selling catalog merchandise as a fundraiser for her school. I so look forward to the day when Olivia has to do that.


I don’t really have much to say about Hurricane Katrina that hasn’t been said elsewhere, so let me join in with everyone else and say if you’re in that area please get out and stay safe. This is going to be awful.

Blog notes

My webhost now has a blog, which strikes me as the sort of thing that webhosts in general ought to have. This post about how they deal with fraud made them worth the effort to add to my Bloglines subscriptions.

Here’s a new-to-me blog on “Southern politics, media and public life” – SouthNow. They’ve got an entry on an interesting development in the Virginia Governor’s race that I don’t think I’d heard about before.

A useful service that I should have posted about before is, which includes feed aggregators for progressive blogs from all 50 states. Here’s the one for Texas blogs. There’s also a good news aggregator blog called Texas Politics that’s worth your time to check out.

Finally, the proprietor of the Galveston-based Liberty’s Blog writes to tell me that he’s back in business and at a new location, so update your blogrolls and subscriptions accordingly.

Why sixty-five?

I should have guessed that the sixty-five percent solution didn’t come out of nowhere. Just like the outsourced school finance plan, the genesis of Governor Perry’s recent executive order is just more ideological nonsense which has nothing to do with current reality. Eye on Williamson has more.

Griggs retiring

As previously rumored, State Rep. Bob Griggs is retiring at the end of his current term.

Griggs’ decision was not a surprise. His open displeasure over the lack of influence he wielded in Austin on school finance sparked speculation about his plans.

In a written statement, Griggs said he never intended to serve more than two terms in the District 91 House seat and wanted to spend more time with his family. He did not mention his disagreements with fellow Republicans over school finance.


Three Republicans — Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, a member of the Birdville school board; Pat Carlson of Grapevine, chairwoman of the Tarrant County Republican Party; and Charles Scoma, the former mayor of North Richland Hills — said Friday that they plan to seek the GOP nomination.

The district includes North Richland Hills, Haltom City, Richland Hills, Watauga and a northern section of Fort Worth.

Griggs was elected in 2002, after nine years as superintendent of the 22,000-student Birdville school district. He expected to play a major role in the Legislature’s school finance overhaul.

Instead, he openly broke with Republicans who wanted to link school funds to state mandates and repeatedly criticized Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, chairman of the House Public Education Committee. Legislative leaders did not reappoint Griggs to the education panel in the last session, further distancing him.

“We were disappointed that we had a person with the experience of Bob Griggs, and the leadership was making a decision that we have an all-American and we’re putting him on the bench,” said Jay Thompson, associate superintendent for staff and student services with the Birdville school district.


North Richland Hills Mayor Oscar Trevino said he and the mayors of several other cities in District 91 tried recently to persuade Griggs to remain in the Legislature.

Even though Griggs was at odds with legislative leaders, he did a good job of voicing the district’s concerns about education and other issues, Trevino said.


Jillianne Johnson, executive director of the Tarrant County Democratic Party, said two Democrats who live in the district have also expressed interest in running but declined to give their names. The primary election is March 7.

Aaron Pena has the full text of Griggs’ statement. Greg has an existential question about Griggs’ departure:

Griggs’ exit ups the ante on Craddick’s future as the dominant question of said future becomes: do truculant GOP members lose out in 2006 or have a change of heart and go back to supporting Craddick for Speaker in January 2007 … or does the current dissatisfaction with Craddick hold – and more importantly, will the Craddick Dems that survive 2006 come back home and support a moderate GOP Speaker if enough GOP support is out there?

Greg turns this into a question for Houston’s Al Edwards, and suggests that speakership preferences ought to be a primary issue for Edwards’ announced opponent, Borris Miles. I think that’s right.

One last thing Greg notes is the 2002 partisan makeup of HD91 – it’s pretty heavily Republican. I did a quick check on the 2004 results and it’s no different – the high scorer for Democrats was JR Molina with 34.1%. Beyond the usual Run Everywhere cheering, the best reason I can think of to urge a Democrat to run there is to remind all the voters that Bob Griggs (who was the top votegetter in HD91 last year) wasn’t satisfied with the Republican “solutions” for education. Especially if the GOP nominee is a likely rubber stamp such as Pat Carlson, the contrast might make some people think twice.

And as long as we’ve brought up the speakership, The Jeffersonian asks a good question: Is there any effort to recruit a Democratic opponent for Tom Craddick in his district? I think that would be a good little project for the caucus leadership – Dunnam, Gallego, and Coleman. What say you guys?

Ellis announces in SD7

City Council member Mark Ellis, who is term-limited as of this year, has announced his intention to run for the open SD7 seat.

“I’m extremely irritated at what’s going on in Austin. There are two issues that are important, school reform and property tax relief. We (Republicans) have a majority, and we still can’t get things done,” Ellis said. “Two distinguishing factors of my candidacy are my success at City Hall and the fact that I have not been a part of the last regular session.”

Yes, but will he run on a platform of pushing the serially-failed Perry/Craddick plans harder, or on a platform of considering better alternatives? And will Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill make good on his earlier threats by taking sides in the primary? Stay tuned.

Dance, Tom, dance!

You know that any article that features a photo of Tom DeLay standing next to an Elvis impersonator is going to be good reading, right? And so it is.

I’ve opined before that DeLay’s actions so far indicate to me a desire on his part to not just win but win big. I’m gratified to see that I’m not the only person who thinks that.

“He needs to play it safe and come home and do the things you need to do,” said Gloria Roemer, spokeswoman for Harris County Judge Robert Eckels. “He wants to win by a substantial margin.”

Unlike me, Robert Eckels is in a pretty good position to know what Tom DeLay is thinking, so if he’s saying this sort of thing, you can accept it as true. Just remember that you read it here first.

I find this quote, from Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, to be even more interesting:

“He may have observed the experiences of others who took their districts for granted and lived to rue the day,” said Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman. “It’s always smart to dance with the girl that brung ya.”


DeLay’s Democratic opponent is former Rep. Nick Lampson, who lost his seat after the redistricting. Lampson had raised more than $500,000 by June 30; in 2004, Morrison raised only about $643,000 for the entire campaign.

DeLay and Lampson each plan to raise at least $4 million.

“Tom Delay is anything but naive,” Kaufman said. “It is not going to be a tortoise-and-hare situation for him.”

Is Kaufman implying that DeLay was caught napping last year? We know that he didn’t really do much campaigning until fairly late in the cycle. He’s certainly being serious about his own fundraising, what with bringing in Big Time Dick for a little secure-undisclosed-location schmoozing. Make of this what you will.

One last item of interest:

[T]he parade of local appearances is a departure from past August breaks. In 2002, for instance, DeLay campaigned for eight House members from California to North Carolina. In 2003, he and other lawmakers addressed Israel’s Knesset.

On this break, he spent just two days away from the district — one in Nashville, Tenn., to attend a Christian conservative rally and another at a Hilton Head golf fundraiser for Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.

There’s another reason, beyond DeLay’s need to tend to his own backyard, why he isn’t travelling around raising money for other people so much: Coverage like this tends to follow along with him.

I’ll be returning to some of these ideas later on over the weekend. For now, just enjoy that Elvis picture.

We’re Number Ten!

The number ten national television market, that is.

Houston is now officially a Top 10 television market, Nielsen Media Research said Thursday.

Houston replaces Detroit, which dropped to No. 11.

Nielsen lists Houston as increasing from 2,059,450 TV households to 2,097,220 for the 2005-2006 season.

“Theoretically we’ve become an A tier for most national advertisers,” said D’Artagnan Bebel, general manager of Fox-owned KRIV here. “When movies, for example, are looking to advertise in the Top 10 markets — which happens a lot — now Houston will be one of those markets.”

The Top 10 markets are now New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Dallas-Fort Worth, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Houston.

We promise we won’t let it go to our heads.

Downtown parking

This makes so much sense it’s hard to believe no one had thought of it before.

[T]he Downtown Entertainment District Alliance, which includes downtown merchants, has come up with a parking alternative aimed at eliminating parking woes: Those going to restaurants and clubs can now park free, with validation, at the JPMorgan Chase Center garage and Market Square Garage. “It’s a win-win situation all around,” said Bob Eury, president of Central Houston.

“It’s a way to promote more convenient parking and promote downtown establishments that need more business.”

The program takes advantage of an underutilized evening resource: parking garages.

“Now you know where to go and what to expect. It’s like having two beacons,” said Joe Martin, owner of El Centro and M Bar and a member of the alliance’s board.

Parking lots in prime locations have been charging from $10 to $30 on weekend nights, he said, and there is gridlock caused by drivers waiting to get into lots.

Using the validated parking program, on Friday and Saturday nights from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m., drivers can park at the Chase or Market Square garages for $5. Eighteen bars, clubs and restaurants will credit a person’s bill with the $5 fee.

I didn’t realize that surface lots were that expensive. We paid $10 to park for the Astros game last week, but that’s a game-day thing, and parking for the game gets cheaper the farther west you go, which is to say the closer you get to the Downtown Entertainment District. And I know I’ve parked near Market Square for less than that. But whatever. Using parking garages is a fine idea, so kudos all around.

Those new speaker rumors

PinkDome and BOR report that rumors of a possible overthrow of State House Speaker Tom Craddick are intensifying. I don’t doubt that, though as Paul Burka says, there’s a ways to go between talk and action. There’s another possibility to keep in mind here, and it’s a lot less sunny to contemplate. The Jim Leininger/Bob Perry axis and its bottomless funding capabilities may make a concerted effort to pick off the Republicans who strayed from the preferred party line on school finance and other assorted moderate heretics in the primaries. If they succeeded in this, they could get a more orthodox Republican majority, one that is to Craddick as the GOP Congressional caucus is to Tom DeLay. That was the goal in 2002, and it worked pretty well with the 78th Lege. Things may have floundered a bit this time around, but that doesn’t mean they can’t aim to fix that. See what happens in the primaries and we’ll have a better idea of what Craddick’s fortunes may be in 2007.

Ten years of Windows 95

Dwight gets a little nostalgic as he remembers the Windows 95 rollout a decade ago. The thing I remember is the Rice MOB doing a technology-themed show that was inspired by this. We actually set things up to be broadcast over the Internet (presumably, for all five people who at that time had a browser capable of watching video), though sadly various glitches killed it. My favorite gag from the script involved our Show Assistants using a huge slingshot to fling “packets” from one end of the stadium to the other. (Yeah, I know. What can I say? I love geek humor.)

There’s apparently still a lot of people using WIndows 95 today. I admit, the only reason we finally upgraded our old computer (bought in 1997) to Windows 98 was so we could make it work with the cable modem when we got that in 2002. If we’d kept using a dialup Internet connection, we may never have changed it. So, however much I prefer XP these days, I can understand the reluctance to tinker with something that works.

More campaign announcements

As Greg has noted, State Rep. Joe Nixon is now officially a candidate for the open SD7 seat, joining fellow Republican Rep. Peggy Hamric in the race. I’ve got a press release from the announcement which touts Nixon’s “11-year record” of “fighting for tax relief, defending traditional family values, and passing historic tort reform” – you get the idea. Suffice it to say that I wish the Democrats had run a candidate against him last year.

Greg also notes that CD10 GOP primary losers Ben Streusand and John Devine are mulling this race over. Be sure the Mute button on your TV remote is in good working order if they do.

In HD48, Donna Howard is officially in the Democratic primary to challenge incumbent GOP Rep. Todd Baxter, who won a squeaker against Kelly White last year. Karl-T reported a few days ago that White would be backing Howard, who will be up against Andy Brown and possibly others in the Dem primary. I have a press release on this one as well, and I’ll quote a bit from it:

A former Eanes ISD board member, Howard was born and raised in Austin, graduated from Reagan High, and has spent her adult life working to help strengthen the community. She was a co-founder of Advocates for Eanes Schools, a parent organization that monitors the activities of the school board, and helped start the Texas Education Crisis Coalition, a grassroots group of parents and community leaders.

Certified as a Master School Trustee by the Texas Association of School Boards, Howard has previously run as a Democratic candidate for the State Board of Education.


Howard earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s in health education, both from the University of Texas. She has worked as a critical care nurse at Brackenridge and Seton hospitals, served as the first hospital-based Patient Education Coordinator in Austin history, and helped get the Seton Good Health School off the ground. She has also been president of the Texas Nurses’ Association (District 5) and a Health Education instructor at UT.

Two good candidates there, hopefully whoever emerges in March can take out Baxter.

And speaking of close Travis County State House races, HD50’s Mark Strama now has an opponent, Republican Don Zimmerman. Obviously, I’m a Strama fan, and I believe he’ll win this race by a much more comfortable margin than he did in 2004 against then-incumbent (and TAB poster boy) Jack Stick, but I’ll give Zimmerman credit for his role in defeating a bad anti-privacy bill from 2003 (thanks to Rob for the pointer).

For what it’s worth, Zimmerman’s announcement just about stands alone among Republican challenges to incumbent Democrats – other than this, State Sen. Frank Madla, and of course US Rep. Chet Edwards, I can’t think of any others with opponents at this point. I’m sure that’ll change, but for now at least the Dems are way ahead in the recruitment game.

Another endorsement for Bell

Desis for Texas, a political organization of South Asian citizens, has given a very enthusiastic endorsement to Chris Bell for Governor. It’s now mirrored on the Bell blog. Check it out.

Comment spam – Future dirty campaign trick?

PerryVsWorld recently got a bunch of Kinky Friedman-flavored comment spam. I’m sure it’s just a fluke, but the thought has occurred to me that this sort of thing could be a tempting dirty trick for some upcoming Karl Rove wannabe. Spam a bunch of blogs with an opponent’s campaign URL so that the blog owners ban the URL and bitch about it to their audiences, thus not only generating a lot of badwill for your enemy among some opinion leaders, but maybe even getting some regular press coverage out of it just for the sheer novelty factor. It shouldn’t be too hard to cover your tracks – I’m pretty sure the originating IP address for comments can be spoofed. And so what if you eventually get caught? Who reads Correction notices in the papers anyway?

The more I think about this, the more I think it’ll happen sooner or later. Then we’ll know that blogs really have arrived as a campaign tool.

(Just so we’re 100% clear, I’m not claiming in any way, shape, or form that what happened to the PvsW blog was anything like this. I just got to thinking as I read his post and this is what I came up with. It’s no fun if you can’t speculate, right? This is pure unadulterated speculation about something that may happen in the future, not something that has already happened here and now. So please, don’t say that I’m making any accusations. I’m not.)

UPDATE: BOR has a different Kinky problem.