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October, 2005:

Judge to judge judge selected

Judge B.B. Schraub has named retired Judge C.W. Duncan to determine if Judge Bob Perkins is fit to judge Tom DeLay. Got all that?

Duncan, a senior district judge from Bell County who sometimes continues to serve as a visiting judge, will hear DeLay’s complaint that Perkins, a Democrat, should step aside because he donated $400 to the Democratic National Committee and $310 to the Texas Democratic Party after DeLay’s co-defendants were first indicted last fall. He has also given money to other Democratic groups in recent years.

A hearing on the matter will be at 10 a.m. Nov. 1 in the 331st District Court in Austin.

[…]

Last week DeLay’s lawyers urged Perkins to step aside as well. Perkins asked B.B. Schraub, the presiding judge of the 3rd Administrative Judicial District, to settle the issue. Schraub, a Seguin Republican, also had given money to Republican candidates. On Monday, he tapped Duncan, a member of a longtime Bell County family, who apparently has a reputation for being nonpolitical.

“I don’t remember him ever being very political,” said Nancy Boston of the Bell County Republican Party.

Write that down for when Team DeLay begins its next slime campaign.

On the Karmic Balance scale, DeLay’s desire to challenge every little thing in court is apparently conflicting with his desire to hold onto his power in the House.

DeLay and his attorneys are faced with a dilemma. The former majority leader needs to win the case quickly to get his job back, while his lawyers need to do everything they can – which includes filing motions that could potentially slow the case – to acquit their client.

[…]

The number of pretrial motions filed in the case is consistent with the number of pretrial motions filed in other big cases, according to legal experts in Texas. Whether they slow the eventual case is up to the individual judge who rules on them, though.

“If these [motions] are going to be seriously pursued there is a lot to be resolved,” said George Dix, a law professor at the University of Texas who has written a six-volume series on criminal procedure in that state.

Of the motions already filed in this case, DeGuerin’s challenge of the grand jury process – in particular, his charge that Earle coerced a ruling from jurors during one of the closed-door hearings – could take the most time to resolve, Dix said, because it is a significant procedural question that could require its own separate trial.

[…]

“I’d be very surprised to see this case go to trial before December,” said Joe Turner, Colyandro’s Austin-based attorney, who attended the hearing on Friday.

Colyandro and Ellis, of course, are pursuing a different time-consuming scheme, which is a challenge to the constitutionality of the law under which they were arrested. They’ve already lost one round, but appeals are underway and the final destination, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, is likely months in the future.

And finally, here’s the best photoshopped DeLay mug shot I’ve seen yet. It’s not quite a 10 – add a pack of smokes rolled up in his shirtsleeve and it might get there – but it’s at least a 9.5. Well done.

Texas Monthly preview: Why tort “reform” stinks

It’s preview time at Texas Monthly again, and for your reading pleasure for the usual limited time only is this fine piece by Patricia Kilday Hart on the history and effects of the tort “reform” movement in Texas. If you think the passage of Prop 12 from 2003 meant they had no more courtrooms to blockade, you’re sadly mistaken, as were some of the poor saps who voted for Prop 12 and now find themselves screwed by it. Read it and weep.

RIP, Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks, American hero, died today at the age of 92.

Parks inspired the civil rights movement when she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, in December 1955.

Her arrest triggered a 381-day boycott of the bus system by blacks that was organized by a young Baptist preacher, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and led to a court ruling desegregating public transportation in Montgomery. (Full story)

Parks, a seamstress, facing regular threats and having lost her job, moved from Alabama to Michigan in 1957.

She joined the staff of U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, in 1965, championing civil liberties. Parks later earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal.

Conyers, who first met Parks during the early days of the civil rights struggle, said Parks died in Detroit Monday evening.

“I think that she, as the mother of the new civil rights movement, has left an impact not just on the nation, but on the world,” he told CNN in a telephone interview. “She was a real apostle of the non-violence movement.”

Conyers said Parks worked on his original congressional staff when he first was elected to the House of Representatives in 1964.

He remembered her as someone who never raised her voice — an eloquent voice of the civil rights movement.

“You treated her with deference because she was so quiet, so serene — just a very special person,” he said, adding that “there was only one” Rosa Parks.

Rest in peace, Rosa Parks.

On saving marriage in Texas

There’s a new website up called Save Texas Marriage, which makes the claim that Proposition 2 is so poorly worded that it would actually outlaw all marriages in the state of Texas. I can’t say I think much of this argument – among other things, if this were the case, someone might have thought to mention in before now. You can visit the site and see for yourself what they have to say, but for my money, this is the kind of case I’d like to see made against Prop 2.

Some Dallas-area business owners believe the marriage amendment, should it pass, will hamper the state’s business growth.

“If you are sitting at Stanford in the midst of a progressive culture that accepts you whether you are Indian, Asian or gay and see Texas — what kind of message are you sending to (prospective) employees? That you only accept … straight (employees)? That you don’t accept people for who they are,” said Frank McGovern, founder and president of Dallas-based Quality Telephone Inc., a telephone service provider.

Austin attorney Anne Wynne of Ikard Wynne Ratliff L.L.P. said marriage amendments passed in other states have affected domestic-partner benefits, even causing attorneys to argue that domestic violence laws no longer apply to heterosexual, unmarried couples.

[…]

Mary Mason, chairwoman of the board of directors for Missing Lynx, a San Ramon, Calif.-based software company, says the company aborted its plans to move to Ohio after that state passed an amendment banning gay marriage.

It was the last straw for about half of the company’s 20 employees who were already wavering on moving for other reasons, including cold weather.

“Some of our employees are gay or have gay members in their family,” she said.

Mason said that Missing Lynx still plans to expand in a new city, and Austin is one of the contenders. But Mason adds that a marriage amendment would discourage the company from looking more closely at Texas.

Tech businesses “are all being courted by Galveston and Austin, who are looking to bring in high-tech development,” Mason said. “They are talking nice, but I can’t get the people I need to move there.

“Part of what I’ve found is that people who can think creatively and can do this kind of work need a tolerant environment,” Mason said. “Texas will wind up looking un-American, intolerant and very foolish.”

There are many very real and tangible harms that Prop 2 will cause if it passes. I’d rather talk about that, because that’s what matters. I’m not sure where the idea for Save Texas Marriage came from, but I don’t buy it and I don’t think the voters will, either. Story link via By the Bayou.

Endorsement watch: Prop 5

Well, we may or may not ever get back to the contested races in City Council districts A, H, and I, but it does at least appear that we’ll get a recommendation on all the constitutional amendments on the ballot. Today’s featured proposition is Prop 5, which gets a nod of approval from the Chron.

The proposed amendment, with wide support from business leaders, would eliminate interest rate caps on commercial loans above $7 million. In doing so, Texas would join 46 other states that do not put caps on what banks can charge commercial customers.

Currently, Texas business owners needing high-dollar loans for commercial enterprises often must bank outside Texas because the constitutionally mandated interest cap makes a Texas loan infeasible or unavailable. Doing business across state lines means companies must employ attorneys versed in the banking laws of other states. It can require travel outside Texas to negotiate terms. If a deal initiated in another state goes to court, legal fees and interstate litigation costs can spiral.

Even when companies find a Texas-chartered lender to arrange their big-ticket loan, the constitutional interest cap drives up costs. Such deals, often entailing complex elements such as equity participation in which the lender takes a stake in the enterprise. In Texas, this requires additional legal scrutiny to avoid busting limits on interest rates. Such deals have been challenged in court when profits to the lender have been construed as interest payments above the mandated cap.

One of nine amendment proposals on the ballot, Proposition 5 would relieve businesses of these burdens and uncertainties. The proposition is narrowly tailored so that small business owners needing financing under $7 million will retain protections that exist under present law.

Consumers need not worry: the amendment will not affect loans for cars, home improvement or college.

“Wide support from business leaders” is not necessarily a good thing in my book (two words: tort “reform”), but off the top of my head I don’t see anything terribly objectionable about this. If you can give me a good reason to vote against it, leave a comment and let me know.

According to the Texas Civil Rights Review, Maria Alvarado, currently the sole Democratic candidate for Lite Gov, is advocating a vote against all nine propositions as a means of expressing discontent with the unresponsiveness of the Legislature. I don’t fully agree with this approach and will do my best to evaluate each proposition on its own merits, but I can understand it.

Today’s news coverage is on the five-way race in At Large #2. I confess, I hadn’t realized there was a fifth person in this race – I knew about Acosta, Aiyer, Elford, and Lovell, but had never heard of James Neal before now. He’s also the one candidate for whom I’ve not seen any campaign signs around. Greg has a concise summary of the article.

Later today, or maybe tomorrow morning, I hope to give my endorsements for all the races, for what they’re worth. Early voting starts today – more info is here, a map of early voting locations is here, and the early voting schedule is here.

Finally, there will be an anti-Prop 2 rally at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center (an early voting location) on West Gray today at 3:30, along with an announcement of breaking news regarding the amendment. That’s all I know about it, so follow the link and I’ll report back when I hear more.

Only lies told by my opponents are bad

Via Political Wire, here’s the brilliant legal mind of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in action:

“I certainly hope that if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn’t indict on the crime and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.”

— Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), on Meet the Press, minimizing lying under oath as a “technicality.”

You know what the beautiful thing is about the Internet? It makes it so much easier to expose a bald-faced hypocrite for what she is.

Lying is a moral wrong. Perjury is a lie told under oath that is legally wrong. To be illegal, the lie must be willfully told, must be believed to be untrue, and must relate to a material matter. Title 18, Section 1621 and 1623, U.S. Code.

If President Washington, as a child, had cut down a cherry tree and lied about it, he would be guilty of `lying,’ but would not be guilty of `perjury.’

If, on the other hand, President Washington, as an adult, had been warned not to cut down a cherry tree, but he cut it down anyway, with the tree falling on a man and severely injuring or killing him, with President Washington stating later under oath that it was not he who cut down the tree, that would be `perjury.’ Because it was a material fact in determining the circumstances of the man’s injury or death.

Some would argue that the President in the second example should not be impeached because the whole thing is about a cherry tree, and lies about cherry trees, even under oath, though despicable, do not rise to the level of impeachable offenses under the Constitution. I disagree.

The perjury committed in the second example was an attempt to impede, frustrate, and obstruct the judicial system in determining how the man was injured or killed, when, and by whose hand, in order to escape personal responsibility under the law, either civil or criminal. Such would be an impeachable offense. To say otherwise would be to severely lower the moral and legal standards of accountability that are imposed on ordinary citizens every day. The same standard should be imposed on our leaders.

Nearly every child in America believes that President Washington, as a child himself, did in fact cut down the cherry tree and admitted to his father that he did it, saying simply: `I cannot tell a lie.’

I will not compromise this simple but high moral principle in order to avoid serious consequences to a successor President who may choose to ignore it.

— Excerpted from the statement by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) during the Senate’s closed deliberations on the articles of impeachment against President Clinton, published in the Congressional Record for Friday, February 12, 1999.

She will, however, compromise this simple but high moral principle in order to avoid serious consequences for Republicans. Just so you know. Many thanks to Julia for finding this quote.

Barbara Radnofsky has a suggestion for KBH, from a press release I received this morning:

No elected official should tolerate or excuse perjury. I call on Kay Bailey Hutchison to renounce perjury. She should resign if she tolerates it.

Will anyone in the media call her on it?

UPDATE: Just out of curiosity, would KBH consider forgery to be a matter worth pursuing, or is that another one of those “technicalities”?

UPDATE: Turns out quite a few other Republican Senators thought perjury was important in 1999. What do they all think now?

The eleven-year streak

The most remarkable streak in sports came to an end this weekend: Mount Union College lost a football game.

Its end came exactly 11 years after it began. The Purple Raiders survived a couple of close calls along the way, but they could not outlast a very good Ohio Northern football team Saturday.

A 21-14 loss to the Polar Bears was the Raiders’ first regular-season defeat since a 23-10 loss to Baldwin-Wallace on Oct. 15, 1994. Starting seven days later, Mount Union started a streak that reached 110 regular-season wins in a row.

Kind of puts USC’s puny 28-gamer in perspective, doesn’t it? I don’t know if the Purple Raiders will start a brand-new streak next week, or if this loss is the beginning of a reunion with mere mortality for them, but I salute their achievement, all of which was done in an environment of no athletic scholarships. Congratulations to Ohio Northern for busting the streak, and major kudos to Mount Union for its consistent and longlasting excellence.

Game Two notes

Ah, screw it. When Scott Podsednik goes yard against you, there’s not much to say.

Well, okay, one thing: According to Joe Buck, Podsednik is the second player in history to have a postseason home run in a year where he had 500 regular season at-bats without one. Who was the first? Buck never told us. Thanks for keeping us informed, big guy.

All right, all right, someone is going to ask about that pitch that “hit” Jermaine Dye. The zoomed-in replay would, I think, meet the NFL instant replay standard of “incontrovertible visual evidence”, assuming that the review ump had access to that perspective. Without it, I wouldn’t care to place a bet on how the review would be adjudicated. It’s one of those things and that’s just how it is. Let’s hope that a little home cooking can get the Astros up off the mat.

Endorsement watch: Mayor

On the day before the start of early voting, the Chron gives a ringing endorsement to Mayor Bill White, which he fully deserves. I agree with Greg that it would have been nice to get this much ink in some of the other, more contested races, but not much I can do about that now. What do you think is the over/under on White’s vote percentage this year? All of his opponents would be hard-pressed to get as much as 1% if the election featured a real contender against White – indeed, none of the no-names who were on the ballot in 2003, a list that includes two people from this year, got as many as five hundred votes in that election. I’m thinking the line is at 75%, with no single opponent getting as much as 10%.

Today’s featured race is HD143, which gets some decent coverage and a good picture of all the contenders on page one of the Metro section. I don’t envy anyone the choice in this one.

Finally, BOR has the latest roundup of anti-Prop 2 editorials from around the state. Kudos in particular go to the Lufkin Daily News, which lives in the district of HJR sponsor Sen. Todd Staples, for getting it:

Proponents say the law banning same-sex marriage isn’t sufficient, because a judge could overturn it. First off, as another editorialist pointed out, no Texas judge is going to overturn a ban on same-sex marriage, because that likely will be the last term of office he or she serves. Second, a state amendment can still be overturned by a federal judge as being a violation of the U.S. Constitution. The ultimate arbiter is the U.S. Supreme Court, which is where this issue will likely be decided once and for all.

We urge voters to oppose Proposition 2.

They did finally find one newspaper that endorsed Prop 2, though by the brevity of the piece it’s clear they didn’t give much thought to it.

A matter of degree

City Council member Carol Alvarado is now an official college graduate some 13 years after finishing her coursework at the University of Houston.

The councilwoman said she believed she had a degree until her November election opponent released University of Houston documents showing she did not graduate.

Late Friday afternoon, however, in response to a Houston Chronicle request under the Texas Open Records Act, the university released “directory information” showing that Carol Ann Alvarado was awarded a bachelor of arts degree in political science.

It did not give a date for the degree, and a university spokesman and one of its lawyers said the school was prohibited from providing additional information under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

[…]

In voter’s guide information submitted to the Chronicle when she first ran for City Council in 2001, 2003 and this year, Alvarado says she attended UH from 1987 to 1992 and received her degree. Her City Council Web site and campaign literature also list the degree.

Alvarado’s District I opponent, lawyer John Parras, said Friday he began looking into Alvarado’s educational credentials after an anonymous tipster left a message on his campaign office phone that she had not graduated.

“As a lawyer, I decided to investigate and share the information with my campaign supporters. I personally went to UH to get written verification,” said Parras. “I was shocked when I learned that it was true.”

The UH verification documents, dated Thursday, say that Alvarado attended the college of social sciences from 1987 through 1992. “The student intends to pursue a degree, however has not yet formally declared a major and degree objective,” the document states, adding it reflected Alvarado’s academic record as of Thursday.

Any individual, for example, a prospective employer, can obtain verification of a student’s previous enrollment by making a written request in person, unless the student has asked that the information be withheld.

After Parras obtained and publicized the verification documents, Alvarado said, she called the university and learned that she had completed her course work, but hadn’t fulfilled a “written proficiency exam.”

“I was never notified by university officials that I needed this,” she said.

The requirement has since been dropped, Alvarado said.

She moved to Washington, D.C., soon after completing her course work, and did not request a diploma, she said. “I’d like to clear this up,” she said. “This has no bearing on the job I’ve done over the years.”

Parras called for Alvarado to resign the seat she has held since 2002.

“She’s betrayed the public trust, and I believe she should do the only honorable thing, which is withdraw from the race and resign her seat,” he said.

There are a few details that are still unclear, but this doesn’t currently feel to me like a big deal. Completing the course work is what matters, and Greg‘s description of the “written proficiency exam” makes it sound like a minor thing. Based on this, it’s at least possible to me that she could have genuinely believed she’d officially graduated. Without some evidence that she knew (or should have known) she was stating a falsehood. Until and unless that happens, I’m inclined to give it a pass.

Stace, who is a supporter of Alvarado’s opponent John Parras, takes a broader view of the issue.

Senate votes to finally end Cisneros probe

The eleven-year odyssey of Independent Counsel David Barrett and his dogged pursuit of Henry Cisneros (see here for more) may finally be wrapping up.

The Senate decided today that it was time to close to a decade-old, $20 million investigation of former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros — years after Cisneros received a presidential pardon.

The amendment to a spending bill, approved by voice vote, would require that the report of Independent Counsel David Barrett be made public within 60 days, and that the independent counsel close his office within 90 days after the report is published.

“The American taxpayers have spent a lot of money on this report and they deserve the right to see it,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, author of the measure.

The circumstances surrounding the Cisneros investigation are “all gone but the independent counsel is still working 11 years later,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who earlier this year was unsuccessful in trying to cut off spending for the probe.

[…]

The Cisneros provision would become law only if the House, which passed a different version of the spending bill, agrees.

So will Tom DeLay let the House pass this version of the spending bill and thus demonstrate that he’s above pursuing the kind of petty, vindictive, partisan with hunt of which he claims to be a victim, or will he come up with some excuse to let this modern day Javert stay attached to the gravy train? Stay tuned and find out. Link via Houtopia.

Endorsement watch: Prop 9

And back to propositions, as the Chron endorsed Prop 9 on Saturday. I’m leaning towards a No on this one, though I don’t feel as strongly about it as I do Prop 1.

Still to be reviewed: City Council Districts A, H, and I, props three through six plus 8, and the HISD/HCC trustee races. I’m guessing they’ll skip the uncontested Controller’s race as they did with At Large #4 and Districts D, E, and G. The Mayor’s race gets discussed in today’s paper – I’ll put that in a separate post.

For you Travis County folks, Karl-T has some info on the bonds that are on your ballot.

Game One notes

Well, they can still get a split on the road, right?

I can’t be the only person who was amused at the sight of a very wholesome-looking Liz Phair singing God Bless America during the seventh-inning stretch, can I? Whoever it was that invited her to sing, whether you’re ignorant of some of her more colorful compositions or fully aware of them, I salute you.

I know Phil Garner has done an excellent job juggling players in various roles throughout the postseason, but I have to question a couple of his moves tonight:

– I’m surprised he let Mike Lamb bat against the lefty Neal Cotts. I’d have sent Chris Burke up there and been ready to swap in Orlando Palmeiro if Ozzie Guillen had then countered by bringing Bobby Jenks in then. Maybe Lamb hit lefties better than I think – neither Joe Buck nor Tim McCarver explored the question at all – but otherwise, I was scratching my head.

– More curiously, why bring in Russ Springer when Dan Wheeler is available? Springer is not an eighth-inning pitcher, especially not on the road down by a run. Of all the things Garner did tonight, this is the one I question the most.

– Lastly, why is Palmeiro still on the bench when Adam Everett’s turn came up in the ninth? Does anyone here think Everett has a prayer against Jenks? What’s Garner saving him for?

I’m not saying that these thing necessarily affected the outcome. I do, however, think that Garner did not use the assets he has in an optimal fashion. We’ll see if he gets asked about it.

UPDATE: John Lopez hits some of the same notes as I do.

UPDATE: Joe Sheehan has the numbers:

Lamb hit .179/.217/.339 against southpaws this year, striking out in nearly 30% of his 56 at-bats against them. His performance prior to ’05 wasn’t much better, .248/.300/.436 in 101 ABs from 2002-04. Cotts didn’t have a significant platoon split–I’ve taken to comparing him to Arthur Rhodes at his peak, myself–so that may have played into Garner’s thinking, but I can’t imagine there’s any reason to have Lamb hitting in that situation. He’s horrible against lefties.

Even if you assume that sending up Chris Burke will mean Guillen will counter with Jenks, you have the option of going back to Orlando Palmeiro or Jose Vizcaino. The publicity Jenks is getting notwithstanding, you’d rather face him with a platoon advantage than Cotts without it, and Jenks’ big curve provides some chance of a wild pitch that would score the tying run from third.

Allowing Lamb to bat was the least viable of all the available options, even if it meant burning through multiple players. As with the decision to use Rodriguez, it seems to me that Garner may not have made the right adjustments to playing under AL rules. That at-bat is so high-leverage that you have to maximize your chance to score. Using Burke as a pinch-runner for Berkman, rather than as a pinch-hitter for Lamb, was perhaps Garner’s biggest mistake of the night.

I’d forgotten that Burke had already been used as a pinch-runner for Berkman, a move that also seems questionable. Oh, well.

On the recusal motion

The way I look at it, Team DeLay’s motion to force Judge Bob Perkins to recuse himself is just another attempt by them to control what’s happening. The motion itself is a longshot at best, and given the way DeLay has insisted this is all about politics, why should anyone believe that a judge who’s a fellow Republican would be any less impartial? If DeLay is so confident that there is no case for the prosecution, wouldn’t his vindication be even more complete in a trial overseen by a judge who once wrote a check to MoveOn? What would any of his detractors have to complain about under those conditions?

I say that Tom DeLay is entitled to the same things that any other indicted felon is entitled to. In particular, that means a judge who will interpret the law fairly and objectively. Any ruling that judge makes that he doesn’t like will eventually wind up on the docket of the all-Republican Court of Criminal Appeals anyway. DeLay does not get to choose his judge, any more than he got to choose his terms of surrender. I don’t care who he thinks he is, everyone is supposed to be treated equally by the law. Too bad for him if he believes he deserves otherwise.

RIP, Kaplan’s-Ben Hur

Sigh. Another piece of Houston’s history is going away.

After 92 years of selling Tiffany lamps, men’s suits, coffee beans and other merchandise, Kaplan’s-Ben Hur is closing its doors in December.

Martin Kaplan, the owner of the historical Heights department store at Yale and 22nd, launched a going-out-of-business sale this week that will continue until the store closes. Kaplan’s grandparents Dave and Bessie opened the store in 1913.

The store’s website has a letter to its customers announcing the impending demise and accompanying sale. This Houston Business Journal article has a little bit about the store’s history. And take a look at the linked document (Word doc) on the Kaplan’s page, which gives a perspective on the state of retailing from someone who knows a little bit about it.

The fever builds

One of the things that I remember well from the Rockets’ 1994 march to the NBA title was how for about a six-week period, everyone was wearing Rockets garb, and every other car you passed on the street had some kind of “Go Rockets!” slogan chalked on its windows. I was working downtown then, in a not particularly business casual atmosphere, and I still saw a lot of Rockets T-shirts, especially during and right after the Finals. A group of my coworkers and I even made a trek to the downtown Foley’s (may it rest in peace) to buy shirts for ourselves during lunch one day.

It’s still a little early, but I’m already starting to see the same sort of thing now for the Astros. Certainly, people are out there shopping for the goodies.

Fans continued today to dissect the World Series matchup with the White Sox over coffee and spent their breaks in long lines to buy something — anything — commemorating the championship.

Nicky Buford, 32, of Richmond, spent $294 on seven championship T-shirts, two hats, two foam fingers and a baseball at the team’s Minute Maid Park store.

“We’ve been in Italy for the past five years,” said Buford, whose husband is an Army officer. “To be back in the States and have this feeling is awesome.”

The search for souvenirs began before the last pitch Wednesday for Pat Clark, who wanted 40 T-shirts for the employees of Vaughan Nelson Investment Management’s downtown office. During the ninth inning, the human resources manager sped to an Academy Sports & Outdoors store in Pasadena.

Clark waited four hours for four shirts, the store’s limit. After a two-hour nap, she stopped by Wal-Mart, Target and other Academy stores, finding nothing but lines.

At 8:50 a.m., she stumbled upon enough shirts for everyone at the Minute Maid Park store, which opened early.

“I walked in saying, ‘Oh please, let there be shirts for me,’ ” Clark said. “We are so excited. This doesn’t happen often.”

I’m sure all that commerce will give the local economy a boost. Speaking of which:

Having the Houston Astros in the World Series may be a home run with fans, but hosting games probably won’t score the same economic return as the 2004 Super Bowl, economists and local officials say.

That’s because the two sports championships are vastly different events when it comes to generating tourist dollars.

Most Super Bowl attendees come from out of town, spending their money at hotels, restaurants and parties. As many as 100,000 people came last year. But it’s mostly locals in their respective cities who attend World Series games, experts say.

Though some economists say impact estimates for major sporting events are inflated or difficult to prove, NFL executives and local organizers predicted that the Super Bowl would bring $300 million into the economy.

Is it just me, or is anyone else marvelling at the fact that nearly two full years after the actual Super Bowl occurred, we’re still using the same damn estimates of its “potential” economic impact made months in advance of the event? Has nobody bothered to calculate what actually happened, or is it just that the real numbers are too embarrassing to publicize?

Though some economists say impact estimates for major sporting events are inflated or difficult to prove, NFL executives and local organizers predicted that the Super Bowl would bring $300 million into the economy.

That’s much more than even the rosiest of estimates for the Astros’ three scheduled games next week against the Chicago White Sox: anywhere from $20 million to $50 million, depending on who’s doing the predicting.

“The World Series is not really much of a national event in the way that the Super Bowl is,” said Victor Matheson, a College of the Holy Cross economist who studies sports events.

Still, even some economists say the NFL’s estimates of the Super Bowl’s economic impact are off the mark. Some say the local economic benefit of hosting a Super Bowl is zero. Others say there is some benefit, but maybe only $20 million to $50 million.

Matheson says the economic impact of a post-season baseball game, which is almost like guessing in a city as large as Houston, is about $7 million.

Well, at least somebody’s willing to admit that this isn’t an exact science.

Mayor Bill White’s staff cited studies showing a range of $3 million to $10 million per game. Jordy Tollett, who heads the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the impact could be as high as $50 million.

White said excitement would be noticed more than any economic windfall.

“This is an opportunity for Houstonians to enjoy themselves and get together for a common cause,” White said.

And some things never change. Leave it to Jordy Tollett to go overboard. I’m glad that Mayor White has a more realistic view of the real impact.

Let’s just forget the numbers, since they mean less than batting average with runners in scoring position does. Play ball, have fun, and go Astros!

Arraignment postponed

Tom DeLay’s day in court has been pushed back while the presiding judge waits on a ruling to determine if he should be recused.

State District Judge Bob Perkins put all other motions in DeLay’s case aside, saying he will ask Judge B.B. Schraub, the administrative judge for the 3rd Judicial District, to set a hearing on the motion to remove Perkins from the case.

“It seems to me that this is going to be continuing to be an issue any time there’s a Democratic judge and a Republican defendant or vice versa. So we probably need to get some hearing on that by the presiding judge of the region,” Perkins said.

DeLay, R-Sugar Land, has asked Perkins to be removed from the case because of his political donations.

[…]

[Travis County DA Ronnie] Earle after the hearing said he sees no reason for Perkins to remove himself.

“I think what this means is that if this judge had contributed to Crime Stoppers, that the judge then couldn’t hear a burglary case,” Earle said. “I think carried to its extreme, that’s what this motion means, and I think that’s absurd.”

In the motion for recusal, DeGuerin listed 34 political donations totalling $5,185 made by Perkins over the past five years.

Schraub, the judge to hear the recusal motion, is based in Seguin, and has been the administrative judge for the region since 1990. He is a Republican. Three Republican and one Democratic governor have appointed or reappointed him to his job, his assistant said.

It was not clear how much the motion would lengthen proceedings in the case. The Texas congressman has said he wants a speedy trial.

Whatever. Far as I’m concerned, the longer the circus is in town the better.

Team DeLay attorney Dick DeGuerin took the opportunity to spread a little more fertilizer about the parties involved.

Attorney Dick DeGuerin of Houston said District Attorney Ronnie Earle wants to dismiss his motion as just partisan. DeGuerin noted in particular that Perkins has contributed to MoveOn.org, a group that is using political attacks on DeLay to raise money.

“Mr. Earle seems to think it’s just a Democrat-Republican thing,” DeGuerin said. “But I noticed yesterday that MoveOn.org, to which you have contributed, was selling T-shirts with Mr. DeLay’s mug shot on it to raise money.”

Perkins replied: “Let me just say, I have never seen that T-shirt, number one. Number two, I haven’t bought it. Number three, the last time I contributed to MoveOn that I know of was prior to the November election last year when they were primarily helping Senator Kerry.”

Perkins was referring to the help MoveOn.org offered to Sen. John Kerry in his 2004 campaign to unseat President Bush.

MoveOn.org denied it was selling any such shirts, and issued a statement that said, “DeGuerin has either bad information or lied in court.”

I confess, I never really got into the Durst trial, and I don’t know any real specifics about the rest of his body of work, so I have to ask: Is DeGuerin always this profligate with the BS, or is this case somehow exceptional? I know that the PR was is at least as important as the courtroom battle, but outright falsehoods are usually a bad idea. Kudos to the Chron for linking directly to the response; usually, all one gets is a summary or a one-sentence quote. Think Progress has more, noting that the AP took DeGuerin’s bait uncritically.

Lindsay Beyerstein is in Austin to witness the proceedings, and she was able to get some pictures, including a couple of snaps of DeLay making his entrance. Please note this one, which I think pretty conclusively demonstrates that however toothy DeLay’s grin may have been in his mug shot, it won’t actually matter to those who want to incorporate his image into a message. Link via Amanda, who is also chronicling the events in Austin.

Finally, I do think the funniest thing that has been or will be said about this whole spectacle is the following bit of unintentional hilarity penned by the Statesman.

Seven county sheriff’s deputies were assigned to maintain order in the 70-seat courtroom. The crowd, made up largely of reporters, was calm.

Well, that’s a relief! We all know how raucous those newsies can get at an arraignment. I hope the deputies will carry pepper spray when the pretrial motion hearings begin, just in case things really get out of hand.

Endorsement watch: HD143

And another jump, this time from ballot propositions to the special election in HD143, where the Chron endorses Ana Hernandez. I don’t have a dog in that fight; Hernandez is the only one of the HD143 candidates I’ve met (very briefly at a Heights Democrats meeting in August) and she certainly seems capable enough, but without a basis for comparison I can’t give a full assessment. Marc Campos is the main proponent of Laura Salinas, who seems to be the next most prominent contender. Read through his writings if you want to know more about her.

Meanwhile, the Morning News hops on the anti-Prop 2 bandwagon with an editorial that’s so spot-on I’m going to quote it in full:

Proposition 2 on the statewide ballot next month would prevent state judges from overturning current law banning gay marriage. Given that state judges in Texas are elected, and therefore answerable to the people, the chances of a judge doing so are about as good as the Texas Supreme Court outlawing barbecue, so this proposed amendment essentially uses a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito.

Still, if that were all Proposition 2 did, it might be easier to support.

But Proposition 2 goes beyond protecting the definition of marriage. The real impact of Proposition 2 will be to throw into question the legality of other sorts of contracts affecting gay Texans, many of them widely supported by society as a whole.

It is for this reason that we recommend a “no” vote on Proposition 2.

The first part of the proposed constitutional amendment says that marriage “consists only of the union of one man and one woman.” Fair enough. That’s already state law and has been since the state Legislature adopted the Defense of Marriage Act in 2003.

The second part of the proposed amendment prohibits “any legal status identical or similar to marriage.” This would seem to undermine the ability of gay couples to enter into any partnership whose benefits stem from a recognized relationship. This is a problem.

A big problem.

Dallas and Travis counties provide certain health benefits to the partners and families of gay workers. So do hundreds of jurisdictions elsewhere in Texas and across the country. An amendment outlawing “any legal status … similar to marriage” seems to subject these benefit plans to legal challenge. For what gain?

Proponents of this amendment argue that it won’t affect private contracts between gays, and they cite language that was part of the resolution referring this issue to the ballot as proof that the intent behind the amendment isn’t to undermine private contracts. But that language doesn’t appear on the ballot. (The sorts of contracts we’re referring to include arrangements to assure gays visitation rights when a partner is hospitalized, the ability to make the same sort of health care decisions for incapacitated partners as married partners, etc.)

In fact, the state House expressly rejected an effort to clarify the amendment’s effect on private contracts when it voted 96-44 earlier this year against including on the ballot a provision stating that the amendment “may not be construed to prohibit the recognition of any contractual relationship currently available.”

We doubt most Texans want to make it more difficult for gays to visit loved ones in the hospital or the like. These and other private contracts are already largely accepted by society – and even considered good for business. Thirty-eight of the Fortune 50 companies offer benefits to same-sex couples. Four of North Texas’ largest private employers added domestic partner benefits last year.

Proponents say Proposition 2 is about protecting marriage and promoting family values. That may be, at least in their minds, but the unavoidable fact is that this amendment would make it significantly more difficult for gays to protect the health and well-being of their loved ones.

Why on earth deny to these men and women, not special privileges, but ordinary human decencies?

We recommend a “no” vote.

Amen and hallelujah. The reason why the likes of charlatans such as Kelly Shackleford keep harping on “protecting marriage” is because they have no answer to these points. Misdirection and disinformation is all they’ve got. If after all this time you’re still thinking about voting Yes on Prop 2, I hope you fully understand just what it is that you’re standing for. Thanks to Elizabeth H-T for the pointer.

UPDATE: Forgot to note that today is also District C day, so read and learn (a little) about the candidates in that race. I work and spend a lot of time in District C, and I had the chance to meet several of these folks, so even though I’m not voting there I’m interested in how this one turns out.

HD48: Baxter to resign

The race for HD48, which was decided by 147 votes in 2004, just got more interesting as incumbent Todd Baxter has announced his resignation as of this November.

“I am stepping aside because my family and my professional career come first,” said Baxter, 37. “My wife and I are expecting our second child this spring, and I am looking forward to spending more time with my family. As I prepared for yet another winning campaign, I realized the full cost of elective victory was the lost time with my family and professional endeavors.”

Baxter’s move sets up a special election in the coming months that could give the winner the benefit of incumbency, however brief, heading into a November 2006 contest for a full two-year term. The winner of the special election would serve until Baxter’s term is up at the end of 2006.

Baxter’s full statement is here (link via BOR). As the Statesman piece notes, Baxter was a TRMPAC poster child, and both of his Democratic opponents (Andy Brown and Donna Howard) have been pounding on him to return the dirty DeLay money. I suppose either Baxter decided he was unlikely to prevail in 2006, or maybe he just figured it wasn’t worth the aggravation, which is certainly understandable.

The BOR thread speculates on whether Baxter’s exit will help Democrats take the seat. Maybe, maybe not. If you look at the other race totals in HD48, you see that while it went mostly Republican, two Dems (Jan Patterson and Margaret Cooper) carried the day there. This is a fairly evenly-matched district overall – in contested races excluding Baxter/White, the vote totals are 346,189 R to 310,347 D, or 52.7% to 47.3%. From where I sit, that makes this a tossup, with the outcome to be determined by the candidate and his or her GOTV efforts.

You can argue that Baxter was damaged goods and thus an easier target for Brown/Howard/whoever. That’s true, but he’s also a known quantity with some district-friendly votes on his resume, in particular his opposition to toll roads. The two Democrats who got majority support in HD48 were both running for open seats. He may have been the lowest performing incumbent in that district, but he still won in the end. In general, I’d rather not have to compete with incumbent’s advantage.

We’ll see when Governor Perry schedules the special election, since the time frame he picks may give a clue as to whether or not he calls another special session on school finance, and if so when that would be.

Gov. Rick Perry can set a special election sometime between the end of November and May. Perry spokesman Robert Black would not speculate Thursday on the election date, because Perry had not received official notice of Baxter’s resignation.

Relevant election laws are here and here, for those of you with more aptitude for legal interpretation than I. For what it’s worth, if Perry calls the election for May, I’d say that’s a clear sign that he intends to put off school finance until 2007. The earlier the date, the more likely he’ll call a session in 2006. Just my opinion.

Procedures are for the little people

I assume you’ve all seen the Tom DeLay mug shot by now. If not, it’s in this story, and will forever be in The Smoking Gun‘s collection. I just want to note that once again, Team DeLay is demonstrating that they believe their guy deserves Special Treatment:

The Sugar Land Republican was fingerprinted, photographed, taken before a judge, posted $10,000 bail and left shortly before 1 p.m. His lawyer told reporters DeLay was put through the process because of a political vendetta by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, the Democrat who brought the case.

“Now Ronnie Earle has the mugshot he wanted,” DeGuerin said.

“I wanted to avoid the circus,” DeGuerin added. “He wanted a perp walk, and we did not want to do it.”

With all due respect, who cares what you think about this? If your guy were named Tom Smith, he’d be routinely subjected to arrest, fingerprint, and mug shot like everyone else, and he wouldn’t have a national forum to bitch about it. If DeLay doesn’t like the way indicted felons get treated during their processing, he has way more power to do something about it than most other people who’ve gone through it have. It really is amazing how sensitive some of these law-and-order types become to the rights of the accused when they’re the ones being told to hold up the numbers and face the camera.

Anyway. You may notice that DeLay is smiling in his mug shot. The Statesman asks why that is.

Answer: A photo of DeLay grinning from ear to ear doesn’t pack quite the punch in a Democratic attack ad as one that looks more like the mugshot of, say, actor Hugh Grant.

Note the House of Representatives security pin on DeLay’s lapel.

He looks in the photo like a proud member of Congress who might just have won the lottery, not one indicted on charges of money laundering. The photo looks like it could have been taken anywhere.

And that was just the point.

Please. Have we never heard of PhotoShop? I grant you that DeLay would have been foolish to show up looking like this, but his Dapper Dan expression won’t prevent any attack mailers. Any picture, or any alteration to this picture can be used – it’s not like most people will remember what his actual mug shot looked like, if they ever saw it in the first place. Or this image could be taken unaltered, with a headline of “WHY IS THIS MAN SMILING?” and a footer that lists all the sins he and whoever he’s being tied to are accused of. The actual picture is incidental – it’s the reason for the picture that matters.

A threesome of TV-related complaints

Have the critics turned on Desperate Housewives?

ABC’s hit is second only to CSI: Crime Scene Investigation as television’s most popular show this fall, although several critics have taken issue with how its second season has begun. Joanne Ostrow of the Denver Post said the hour is “edging toward vapidity.”

“The tone is off,” Ostrow wrote. “Not campy enough to make the comedy clever, not real enough to make it engaging as mystery-drama. The story is too rooted in convention to be truly outrageous, too melodramatic to make it plausible as anything but goofy comedy.”

David Bianculli of the New York Daily News said the series doesn’t have any traction. This season’s new story line, with Alfre Woodard’s new character, Betty, imprisoning someone in her basement “has not only wasted Woodard’s talent, but also our time, as well,” he wrote.

This season finds the series “clinging to old plots while fumbling with new ones,” wrote Robert Bianco of USA Today.

Whatever. I think it’s basically the same piece of fluff that I enjoyed last year. I don’t think they’re “clinging to old plots” so much as they’re taking the natural continuations of them. We got answers last season, but very little really came to a conclusion. Which current thread would you have them drop, and why?

For what it’s worth, I find Bree’s situation to be very engaging. I want to know when and how she’ll figure out she’s dating her stalker. Given how every action has consequences on this show, I feel confident that Susan is in for some future unpleasantness based on what she did this last episode (I’ll put it in the comments as a spoiler buffer). Lynette continues to impress me with her endless ability to be devious. Only Gabrielle hasn’t had much to do, and I think that will change with that new lawyer on the scene.
Overall, then, no real gripes from me.

Meanwhile, Sue is unhappy with the current season of The Amazing Race.

1. The “racearoundtheworld” aspect is gone. Now, it’s a race around North America. La dee fricking da. […]

2. Fewer Roadblocks. I’ve seen all the legs of this Race and I only remember seeing two Roadblocks so far. Lame.

3. The tasks suck. Go here and get a clue which will tell you to go someplace else and get another clue. Yawn. […]

4. There’s too damn many people. […]

5. Too little cultural interaction. […]

6. The tasks haven’t been physically demanding or intimidating. […]

7. There’s no really wonderful team and no villain. Mama Paolo is annoying and I’m sick of her berating her family, but she’s no Frank, Karen, or Ian. Let’s face it: TAR is reality TV and it’s not reality TV without somebody to love (Kris and Jon, Uchenna and Joyce, Don and MJ) and somebody to hate (Jonathan, the Guidos, Flo).

Well, they fly out of the US in the next episode, so that’s one. I agree there should be more roadblocks and detours, though I do think the ones they have had have been good (and demanding, especially in this last episode). They’ve been a bit sneaky with some of the travel tasks, which I like even if that helped trip up a family that I liked (again, in the comments). And I agree that more cultural interaction would be nice.

I disagree about the contestants, though. There may not be an easy villain like Jonathan or Boston Rob, but as long as the Weavers (whom everyone else clearly dislikes) are in the race, there will be some tension. No one respects the Gaghans, which has some potential for conflict as well. And while I don’t have a clear favorite rooting interest at this point, there are several families I like, especially the goofball Branson, Linz, and Godliewski crews.

So overall, maybe not the best Race ever, but good enough for me.

And we can’t have a post about TV-bashing without noting that those sex-obsessed watchers at The Parents Television Council have once again done us all the favor of pointing out which shows are worth TiVoing. That Brent Bozell really loves his job, doesn’t he? As well he should – all he does is watch naughty TV shows and complain about them, and get paid for it. Pretty sweet gig if you can get it. That’s pretty much all there is to see here, so on to the spoilers in the comments.

The Pink Satin Suit

The Aurora Picture Show, located here in the Heights, has an event next week for Katrina and Rita relief that sounds interesting:

October 26: The Pink Satin Suit, A KAT Fund Benefit

Wednesday, October 26, 7pm
The Pink Satin Suit
A Documentary about New Orleans photographer Johnny Donnels
By Anastasia and Will Lyman
Benefiting KATFund

Nearly sixty years ago in New Guinea, a homesick New Orleans kid swore the Army would be the last employer he ever had. Today, Johnny Donnels’ photography is known all over the world. The last of the great Bohemians, Johnny himself is an icon of the French Quarter, where he runs a gallery filled with his own art.

Proceeds from this screening benefit KATFund, a grant-making fund established by the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, to provide financial support for visual artists in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama who were affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Red beans and rice donated by Treebeards.

Admission $5.

Aurora Picture Show
800 Aurora Street
Houston, Texas 77009
Tel. (713) 868-2101

You can also find this information on their calendar for next Wednesday. Don’t know if I can make it – though the prospect of free red beans and rice will certainly tempt me – but if this sounds interesting to you then I hope you can. Thanks to Mark Yzaguirre for the tip.

Endorsement watch: Prop 7

On we go with our randomly-winding path through races, initiatives and the editorial writers who endorse them. Today we skip to Proposition 7, to which the Chron gives its stamp of approval. I’m leaning towards a Yes on this one, but don’t currently feel all that strongly about it.

Elsewhere, Eye on Williamson comments on State Rep. Mike Krusee’s endorsements of Props 1, 3, and 9, and the San Antonio Current gives some coverage to Prop 2. Kelly Shackleford of the so-called “Free Enterprise” Foundation gives the amazingly dishonest pro-Prop 2 party line without ever coming close to addressing the three points that I and others keep bringing up. I don’t feel like ranting about this today, so I’ll just list some opportunities to do something positive about Prop 2 in the extended entry. Read on as you see fit.

(more…)

Fans In The Stands

Another citizen journalism opportunity from the Chron:

If you’re going to the World Series, we want to hear from you.

Chron.com is looking for “citizen journalists” to report on the scene in the stands at Minute Maid Park and U.S. Cellular Field.

  • Use your cell phone to send us pictures of you and your friends at the game.
  • Text us with updates on how you’re enjoying the game.
  • Drop us e-mails with your latest reports.

How do you get involved? Send us an e-mail at [email protected], and give us a pitch on how you would be one of our “Fans In The Stands.” Earn your piece of Internet fame!

Isn’t this missing something? Hey, Dwight, where’s the call for World Series liveblogging? I say bring your laptops to Minute Maid and eliminate the middle man. It’s what the Astros want you to do:

[Astros vice president of marketing Andrew] Huang expects that the way fans use the network will evolve over time. “It’s great to come to a game and check your e-mail, but we want to create interactive opportunities for people to participate in the game,” he says.

The Astros will work with Major League Baseball to develop exclusive real-time features, such as electronic scorecards, statistics on players, and perhaps even instant replays. The club is also considering letting fans order refreshments from their seats, promoting tickets for upcoming home stands during the game (the team already sells 77% of its single seats online), and letting fans vote for the best play of the game. The most engaging uses, Huang admits, probably haven’t even been conceived yet.

I just conceived of one. The rest is up to you, Houston Chronicle.

World Series matchups

I’ll save the analysis of who is the favorite to win this World Series for later. For now, I’ve got a little inspiration from this Baseball Prospectus article on World Series matchups. There were eight original franchises in each league, meaning there were 64 possible World Series combinations from 1903 to 1960. There are many more now, of course (224, to be exact), but since 1903 only 32 of those possible matchups have occurred. One of those that has never happened is Cardinals-White Sox. Maybe next year.

As far as I can tell, this Astros-White Sox World Series is the new record holder for pairing two teams with the longest combined Series drought – 46 years for the Sox and 43 for the Stros. The next closest that I can think of is from 1980, when the Phillies (30 years at the time) and Royals (first Series in their 12th season) met up. Had the 1994 Classic not been cancelled, a Cleveland (40 years) versus Montreal (never in 25 years of existence) meetup would have been the standard. Well, technically the 1995 Series between Cleveland (now 41 years) and the Braves (three years) slightly outpaces Philly-KC, but that’s too one-sided for me.

It’s just a footnote now, but had the Cards completed a comeback to win the pennant, we’d be talking for a long time about their improbable comeback on Monday night after being one out (and one strike) away from elimination. How improbable was it? Nate Silver calculated the odds based on the game situation, the pitcher on the mound, and the count, and came up with 298-1 against. Putting it in simpler terms:

No visiting team came back from a two-run deficit when down to their last out in the entire 2003 season. Same thing was true in 2004. The overall win probability in this situation between 1996-2005 was 0.76%.

The adjustment for Lidge’s effectiveness, especially with two strikes on the hitter, is what gets us to the final number.

To answer Kimberly‘s comment here, I’m very happy for the Astros, and I’ll be rooting for them to bring home the bacon, but I’m not someone who’s lived and died with them for decades, so it’s not quite right for me to do a lot of gushing about this. Let me point you instead to the folks who’ve really paid their dues: Tom, Lair (who may never take his prized Chad Qualls jersey off again), PDiddie, ‘stina (who I assume is feeling better now), Christine (whose plan to prevent a repeat of Monday seems to have worked), Norbizness, Greg, Houtopia, Plunk Biggio, and no doubt many others who are still sleeping it off. Y’all celebrate, you’ve earned it.

Officer, arrest that man!

Long as we’re celebrating, here’s four more words to make you smile: Tom DeLay’s arrest warrant.

Naturally, Team DeLay is whining like a scared puppy about being treated like a regular person.

The capias warrant by state District Judge Bob Perkins normally would have been a routine procedure in Texas after a person has been indicted on a felony. It requires that the defendant be arrested and have fingerprints and a mug shot taken.

But DeLay’s lawyers had wanted to avoid an arrest and booking for DeLay. When DeLay was first indicted Sept. 28, they persuaded Earle to have District Judge Mike Lynch issue a summons, which would have legally allowed DeLay to avoid booking.

DeLay was expected to appear at the sheriff’s office in Fort Bend County today for booking on state conspiracy and money laundering charges.

Fort Bend County Chief Deputy Craig Brady said arrangements were being made to bring DeLay to the sheriff’s office in his home county sometime Thursday for booking and fingerprinting.

The process was expected to take between 45 minutes and an hour. Brady said a specific time had not been set, but Sheriff Milton Wright was contacted Wednesday by DeLay’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin.

Earle said Wednesday that he decided against asking for a summons for DeLay, R-Sugar Land, on a second set of indictments returned Oct. 3.

“We believe Congressman DeLay should be treated like everyone else,” Earle said.

DeGuerin said the arrest warrant was issued because the defense team for DeLay and co-defendants Jim Ellis and John Colyandro has spent the last two weeks filing briefs claiming prosecutor misconduct by Earle.

“It’s retaliation, plain and simple,” DeGuerin said. “He’s retaliating because we haven’t given him any quarter.”

Oh, you poor baby. That mean ol’ Ronnie Earle, not showing you any milk of human kindness after all you’ve done for him. What is this world coming to?

Speaking of Earle, there’s still some grumbling about his participation in the documentary film The Big Buy (see here for my review). Filmmakers Mark Birnbaum and Jim Schermbeck respond to their critics:

We’ve recorded the same Travis County district attorney whom every news organization covering this case has recorded. We just paid more attention for a longer time than most. That’s what documentary filmmakers do. Those that consider Earle a villain and DeLay his victim will find things in our film to support their belief. Those who think DeLay is up to no good and Earle is the hero will likewise be supported in their views. We are equal-opportunity storytellers.

In short, we’re basically doing the same job as the Statesman’s own excellent reporter, Laylan Copelin. We’re just doing it with a camera.

This is what puzzles us about our critics’ reaction — access to Earle is OK when it’s on behalf of readers or TV news viewers, but it’s not OK when it’s on behalf of viewers of a documentary?

Finally, if you can’t wait for a bootleg copy of DeLay’s mug shot to get posted somewhere, In the Pink has a proxy to tide you over. Enjoy.

UPDATE: Forgot to include this article about the judge in the case, Bob Perkins.

Perkins, who ordered DeLay’s arrest Wednesday, in the past has been involved in the prosecutions of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Texas House Speaker Gib Lewis. Perkins said he approaches cases involving politicians like any other in his criminal courtroom.

“My approach to this would not be any different than any other,” Perkins said. “You’ve just got to play by the book and do what the law says. That’s the only way you can assure that you are doing the right thing.”

In 1993, Perkins administered the grand jury that indicted Hutchison, a Republican, on ethics charges.

Perkins removed himself from trying the case because he had given $300 to her Democratic opponent. He may face a similar appearance of conflict in the prosecution of DeLay, R-Sugar Land.

But Perkins also has presided over the prosecution of a major Democratic politician. When then-House Speaker Lewis failed to show up in court in 1991 on a misdemeanor ethics charge, Perkins had him jailed.

“Gib Lewis was a leading Democrat of the state at the time,” said Austin criminal defense lawyer David Sheppard. “I don’t know how more apolitical you can get. I’ll just tell you, he’s a really good judge.”

Other than poor, misunderstood Gib Lewis, everyone else quoted in the piece has nice things to say about Perkins and his stewardship in the courtroom.

Also forgot to mention that the Statesman link to the Birnbaum/Schermbeck piece came from The Daily DeLay.

Astros win the pennant

How about that?

I have a feeling there’ll be a higher than usual occurrance of absenteeism and tardiness in the workplace tomorrow. Somehow, I think it’ll be overlooked.

Congratulations to the Astros and to all their long-suffering fans. And just so you know, those 1914 Braves – the only other team to make the postseason after being 15 games below .500 – they swept the Athletics in the World Series. On to Chicago!

Endorsement watch: Prop 1

Skipping over two more contested City Council races (in Districts H and I), the Chron jumps into the statewide ballot propositions with a call in favor of Prop 1.

Proposition 1 seeks to amend the Constitution to authorize a Texas rail relocation and improvement fund to be administered by the Texas Transportation Commission.

The TTC could issue bonds backed by monies in the fund, and the bonds would be repaid from fund balances. Bond revenues could be applied to construction projects that would move traffic around passenger and freight rail lines. The goals would be to advance public safety, improve air quality and spur economic development.

A constitutional amendment is required for these purposes because the state is constitutionally prohibited from taking on bonded indebtedness without voter approval beyond an amount requiring a specified level of debt repayment out of general revenue. The amendment, if approved, creates an exception to that prohibition.

Normally, a strong argument could be made that taxpayers should not spend money to reroute rail infrastructure belonging to private rail companies. But the need for public attention to the problem of trains blocking major thoroughfares has become increasingly clear as Texas cities grow.

They cite safety concerns, a theme echoed in this Express News endorsement (via Latinos for Texas) of Prop 1. What is hanging me up, however, is this:

If voters approve the amendment, lawmakers plan to find revenue for the fund in the next legislative session.

“We’ll get input from the public and then figure out a way to pay for it,” said Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, who sponsored a resolution to put the amendment on the ballot.

The fund would be used in a public/private effort to move freight rail traffic out of densely populated areas.

To put it bluntly, I don’t have a lot of faith right now in the Lege’s ability to “figure out a way to pay for it”. The current leadership is not interested in honest accounting, as any even casual observation of the school finance shenanigans should make clear. And the thought of opening a public-money spigot to an industry that donates heavily to Rick Perry is not a comforting one. I appreciate the need to do this, but there’s way too much leeway here for unintended consequences. Like Greg, I will be voting No on Prop 1.

One-note Bettencourt sings again

Does Harris County Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt ever say anything else?

The average Houston-area homeowner’s taxes rose 7.5 percent this year, a rate that could cause tax bills to double in nine years, Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt said Tuesday.

The owner of an average home, worth $141,668, pays $3,376 in local taxes — up $238 from last year, Bettencourt told Commissioners Court.

When the court votes on this year’s tax rate Tuesday, it is expected to keep the rate unchanged, as it has since 2001.

Bettencourt pressed the court, as he has in the past, to lower the tax rate because rising property values cause owners to pay more taxes even when the tax rate remains the same.

“We should try to reduce the rate wherever we can. There is little or no advocacy for the homeowners in the process,” Bettencourt said.

That’s misleading, to say the least. I can’t speak for anyone else, but every year we get a handful of solicitations from outfits that offer to protest your tax assessment for you in return for a piece of any reduction they manage to win. We used one of them this year and sure enough, we got a break. All it took was the time to fill out and mail in a form. Surely we’re not the only homeowners in Harris County to get this kind of thing. Does Bettencourt not consider that to be advocacy?

Bettencourt said that in 1997, the average home was appraised at $79,535 and paid $1,546 in taxes. Taxes have more than doubled on that home since then, he said.

“Right now, homeowners are the cash cow for government,” Bettencourt said.

And how much could that homeowner sell that house for now? I’m willing to bet it’s a lot more than $79,535. Let’s be honest here – most houses are worth more on the open market than their appraised values. If property values, as expressed by the potential price one could get for selling one’s house, increase at a given rate, then it makes perfect sense to me that as a general rule the tax assessment for that house should increase at a commesurate rate. What exactly is so evil about that? Why is the free-market value of your house not an appropriate yardstick for your local appraisal district to use?

If we were stuck in a housing market that was stagnant, then I’d agree with Bettencourt. Here, though, he’s focusing on a single item without giving any consideration to the causes behind it. I say that’s at best disingenuous. Greg and Tory have related thoughts.

Wilma

I for one am getting tired of reading words like “most intense Atlantic storm ever recorded”.

Wilma’s confirmed pressure readings this morning dropped to 882 millibars — the lowest minimum pressure ever measured in a hurricane in the Atlantic basin, according to the hurricane center. Lower pressure translates into higher wind speed.

Forecasters said Wilma was stronger than the devastating Labor Day hurricane that hit the Florida Keys in 1935, the strongest Atlantic hurricane to make landfall on record.

But Wilma was not expected to keep its record strength for long, as disruptive atmospheric winds in the Gulf of Mexico should weaken it before landfall, Hurricane Center meteorologist Hugh Cobb. Gulf water is about 1 to 2 degrees cooler than that in the Caribbean, which should inhibit its strength more, he added.

The strongest storm on record, based on the lowest pressure reading, had been Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, which registered an 888 millibar reading.

SciGuy has more on what a badass Wilma is already, and also on this recordbreaking season of hurricane activity. Which still has six weeks to go, by the way. At least we’re all pretty sure that Wilma is not coming our way.

That’s a good thing for many reasons, not the least of which being that the areas devastated by Hurricane Rita are still in desperate need of help.

After more than three weeks of disappointing responses from the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and spotty media coverage, several Southeast Texas officials and business leaders are starting their own relief efforts and openly appealing to fellow Texans for assistance.

“We’re not self-reliant. We’re not too prideful. We’re crying out now and saying we need help,” said Mark Viator, a Beaumont pastor and manager of public and government affairs for chemical giant BASF Corp.

East Texas leaders say they have little choice but to plead for individual and corporate donations to help dig their citizens and already depressed economies out of what some have deemed the “forgotten hurricane.”

“We needed an alternative to just complaining,” said Walter Diggles, executive director of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments, known as DETCOG, which represents 12 counties. “We needed to give people who wanted to do something an opportunity to make sure their contributions went directly to the Rita victims.”

The organization he leads began accepting contributions this week to the East Texas Rita Fund, established at the First National Bank in Jasper.

“Now we’re looking to our sister communities across Texas to assist like they did with the tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and other major disasters,” he said.

[…]

East Texas leaders have complained about slow, disorganized and inconsistent relief efforts from FEMA and the Red Cross.

They say FEMA offered more benefits to Hurricane Katrina victims, and the Red Cross excluded most East Texas counties from automatic relief for damaged homes, even though President Bush declared many of the counties disaster areas.

The agencies have insisted they are doing the best they can.

The Red Cross procedure allows Rita victims to appeal for damage assistance later, but Red Cross officials have acknowledged that the new procedure has caused confusion and frustration.

[…]

In Beaumont, Regina Rogers, an attorney who runs three nonprofits, is helping oversee fundraising efforts for the Southeast Texas Emergency Relief Fund for Hurricane Rita Recovery.

The fund, which originally helped Katrina victims, was designated for East Texans after Rita, Rogers said. About $1.3 million has been raised so far, including $1 million from Exxon Mobil and $250,000 from BASF, Rogers said.

She said her goal is not only to raise $10 million to $15 million but to educate potential donors about the devastation Rita caused when it hit a region already weakened and depleted financially after weeks of feeding, housing and donating money to Katrina victims.

“What’s unfortunate is so many people, even folks in Houston, are just totally unaware of the damages in this area,” she said.

I’m as guilty as anyone on that score. Here’s the information on the two aformentioned relief funds:

• East Texas Rita Fund, benefiting 12 counties represented by the Deep East Texas Council of Governments. Contributions to: First National Bank, P.O. Box 700, Jasper, TX 75951

• Southeast Texas Emergency Relief Fund for Hurricane Rita Recovery, established by business and philanthropic leaders in Beaumont. Contributions to: P.O. Box 201943, Houston, TX 77216-1943

Please give what you can.

Evidence, schmevidence

It’s amazing sometimes how what’s said to reporters and what’s said to a judge are often two very different things.

U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay’s chief lawyer says he has no evidence that Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle participated in grand jury deliberations, despite having made that allegation in motions to dismiss DeLay’s indictments.

But Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin said there have been enough public comments by grand jurors in news media reports to raise suspicions that Earle may have violated laws in his efforts to indict one of the most powerful Republican politicians in the nation.

DeGuerin is seeking access to grand jury records to develop possible evidence of misconduct on Earle’s part. He has subpoenaed records from two of his assistant district attorneys related to their dealings with three grand juries that investigated DeLay.

Members of a grand jury that no-billed DeLay have told reporters that Earle was angry with them. DeGuerin also has focused on media reports that Earle’s office telephoned former members of the first grand jury to indict DeLay, asking them if they might have returned other charges, and then presented the results of the poll to a third grand jury, which issued new indictments.

DeGuerin is asking a judge to allow him to question members of the grand juries. A prosecutor being present when a grand jury was deliberating or voting on an indictment is specific grounds under Texas law for an indictment to be dismissed.

On Law and Order, this is what they call a fishing expedition. Nice try, Dick, but no cigar.

“It seems an uphill battle to get access to grand jury material based upon things reporters have written in a newspaper,” said Samuel Buell, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches criminal law at the University of Texas School of Law.

Buell, who served as lead prosecutor in the case against Enron’s former top executives, said the defense would have to show a “real serious claim of misconduct” to persuade a judge to allow questioning of Earle and grand jurors.

[…]

Susan Brenner, a professor at the University of Dayton School of Law who has researched grand juries, said polling discharged grand jurors about what they might have done on another charge is not a violation of secrecy.

“I don’t see any impropriety of polling people who used to be grand jurors,” said Brenner, who formerly defended white-collar-crime cases.

But Brenner added that such a poll would be “a strange thing to do.” She said the results should not be presented to another grand jury as evidence.

If such a scenario did occur, Brenner said Earle might have violated an ethical rule and could be sanctioned or held in contempt of court. “But there’s a difference between saying something is not wise or not appropriate and saying that it requires the dismissal of the indictment,” she said.

That’s a key point, I think. Even if an impropriety occurred – and remember, all we have so far is a defense claim of impropriety – it doesn’t necessarily follow that the remedy is for indictments to be thrown out. Ultimately, I don’t expect this to have any bearing on the case.

We’re two days out from DeLay’s first court appearance. It looks like he’ll be treated more or less like any other arrestee.

At a hearing Friday before state district Judge Bob Perkins in Austin, the former House majority leader will be asked to designate for the record the names of his attorneys.

The judge said Tuesday he doesn’t know whether he’ll take up any of the legal motions filed so far by DeLay’s attorneys and that he may schedule those matters for a later date. DeLay is one of numerous defendants scheduled to appear before Perkins that day.

[…]

DeLay is expected to be fingerprinted, photographed and booked this week, despite attempts by his attorneys to bypass that process.

“Perkins believes that if God was charged with a felony, he would have to go through the booking process, too,” said D’Ann Underwood, court coordinator for the judge.

DeLay, a Republican from Sugar Land, Texas, probably will spend about an hour being fingerprinted and photographed, she said.

It sure would be a shame if there were a screwup with his paperwork and it took all day to process him, wouldn’t it? Thanks to Stace for the link.

Down doobie doo down down

I know we’ve all enjoyed watching President Bush’s numbers head further and further south (even if there are potentially dire pony-related consequences), but to get the full flavor of it you really have to see the SurveyUSA 50-state poll. He’s above 50% in only four states, and below 40% in 25. At long last, it would seem, Dubya has finally managed to unite us.

More amazing are his numbers in Texas – 42% approval, 54% disapproval. Honestly, I never thought I’d see a day where he was in net negative territory here. Presumably, given the steep dive he took since last month, what we’re seeing is a Katrina anti-bounce. As such, this may well be a trough from which he’ll climb back up, but for now, I’m just going to savor it.

And as long as I’m savoring, consider this: If Bush is still in the 42% approval zone next year, that ought to have an effect on all of the statewide and Congressional races, because for the first time in a long time, Democratic candidates for office won’t have to defer to Bush’s popularity here. For once, they’ll be able to really run against him and make the kind of case for change that a challenger needs to make against an incumbent and a majority party. For once, their Republican opponents won’t be able to simply portray themselves as Bush’s bestest buddy. I’m not going to say that this will be a rising tide that will lift anyone to victory, but not having to explain why you’ll be able to work just fine with a partisan President from across the aisle at least makes the turf you’re running on a lot less inhospitable. You can already see this with the candidates we’ve got so far. Again, I’m not going to say that this is enough to win races they’re not expected to, but it sure won’t hurt.

Pretty much every newspaper against Prop 2

The LGRL has a roundup of anti-Prop 2 editorials, while BOR has some more they missed – see here and here for the editorials, and here for an impressive array of Travis County officeholders who spoke out against it. I’ll echo what Karl-T said in the first link – as far as I know, no paper has advised a vote for Prop 2. I’m not deluded enough to think that these endorsements will make a big difference in the final vote, but it’s always good to see people do the right thing.

Which brings me to this Statesman article (via DC9) about a potential for backlash against the Democratic State Reps who helped put Prop 2 on the ballot.

As gay-rights activists launch an all-out attack on a constitutional measure banning same-sex marriage in Texas, they face an uncomfortable fact: A few lawmakers who received their support in the past helped push the proposed amendment through the Legislature.

Some amendment foes view the vote as a betrayal, but with few good alternatives, they appear uncertain about whether to dish out punishment in next year’s election.

Legislators such as Reps. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, and Richard Raymond, D-Laredo, who had received support from gays or endorsements from gay-rights organizations, were among 18 Democrats who cast votes in April that moved the amendment out of the House with barely the two-thirds margin it required.

[…]

“Richard Raymond and Patrick, in my mind, sent it over to the Senate,” said Mary Ross Taylor, who is gay and is an active volunteer for the Democrats in Hays County, which Rose represents. “The word we heard a lot of was ‘disappointment.’ ”

Rose and Raymond had also joined nine other Democratic representatives a week earlier in voting to ban gays or bisexuals from serving as foster parents. The proposal eventually died in a conference committee.

[…]

But the prospect for Democrats of withdrawing votes or money from someone like Rose is tricky; his opponents in the past two elections in his tightly contested district south and west of Austin have been Republicans who oppose gay rights.

“Who else will those disillusioned Dems vote for?” Taylor asked. “That is the problem for progressive voters in Patrick’s district. The alternative is likely to be worse.”

Glen Maxey, a former Democratic House member from Travis County who runs No Nonsense in November, a campaign to defeat the marriage amendment, agreed.

“There’s not a single Republican on this planet who’s preferable to Patrick Rose,” said Maxey, who is gay. “I think Patrick cast a political vote, and we hope to show in the November election that Patrick’s vote was incorrect.”

[…]

Raymond, who hails from a bluer district, said he simply “voted his district” as he prepares to run for a U.S. congressional seat. The district stretches north from the border to Hays County.

“Laredo is not New York,” Raymond said.

“I believe marriage should be between one man and one woman,” he said. “I think the constituents I represent support the position I took on those two votes.

“Anybody that looks at my record through my career can see that I’m a true Democrat who has stood and fought for everybody and stands by the ideals that define our party.”

[…]

“This is a dilemma that always crops up with interest groups that too narrowly define themselves on one issue or another,” Kelly Fero, a Democratic strategist, said. “Do they hold politicians to a standard of purity that ends up hurting them, the interest group? Do you let perfect be the enemy of the good? That is the dilemma they face.”

I’m sympathetic to the activists, because it sure as hell hurts when someone you see as a strong ally refuses to support you on a core issue like this. But I’m also a firm believer in the half-a-loaf, and for sure a minority party has to be awfully careful about purging people.

That said, there are opportunities to extract a little payback without necessarily giving a seat away. Richard Raymond is running in a contested primary against Henry Cuellar in CD28. Ciro Rodriguez, who had a pretty darned progressive record while he was in the House, is also in that race. I’m sensitive to arguments that Raymond is in the stronger position to take out Cuellar, based on financial and geographic considerations. I may well wind up burying the hatchet and supporting Raymond myself. But I’ll certainly understand anyone who chooses to support Ciro Rodriguez instead, even if that reduces the chances of removing Cuellar. If you can’t stand on principle in a primary, there’s pretty much no other place to do it.

Endorsement watch: Districts B, C, and F

It must be endorsement week at the Chron, as they check in today with three more recommendations, for City Council Districts B, C, and F. No surprise in F, where incumbent MJ Khan is running against token opposition. Can’t really comment on B, where they tout Robin German-Curtis, since as I said before I don’t know very much about the octet in that race. I’m pleased and a little surprised to see Mark Lee get the nod in C – I’d have probably wagered on them picking George Hittner if I’d been forced to guess. Mark’s a good guy, and having had the chance to meet several of his opponents awhile back, I’ve got to agree with the Chron when they say Lee is “a distinguished candidate in a pool of impressive competitors”. Getting the endorsement in that race is quite an accomplishment. Kudos to you, Mark.

One question: why did the Chron skip the District A race? At first, I thought they were going alphabetically (District D’s Ada Edwards and District E’s Addie Wiseman are unopposed), but incumebent Toni Lawrence has a challenger. Maybe it’s just random. I guess we’ll see tomorrow.