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October 27th, 2005:

I got it all right here

Elmo in one hand, a cellphone in the other. What more could a girl want?

(Picture taken in Dallas while we were on the run from Rita.)

Complaint filed against Save Texas Marriage

I’ll say this for Save Texas Marriage: They’ve stirred up the pot something fierce.

An organization of heterosexuals opposed to amending the Texas constitution to ban gay marriage is accused of using automated phone messages to mislead voters.

In tape recorded messages sent to a million homes in Texas a group called Save Texas Marriage says that amendment is so badly worded it would nullify common-law marriages.

Wednesday the conservative Liberty Legal Institute filed complaints with the Federal Communications Commission. Acting for the group supporting the amendment the institute claims the phone ads were designed to “confuse voters that favor the amendment using deceptive practices.” and argues the calls illegally went out to people who had registered for the National Do Not Call list.

Late Wednesday the FCC dismissed the complaint saying it does not regulate the content of political advertisements and the Do Not Call list does not apply to political campaigns.

Liberty Legal has also filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission, and The Federal Trade Commission.

Don’t forget the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, and FEMA, just in case. You know how sneaky those gays are.

I remain skeptical of the strategy that Save Texas Marriage is employing, but I cannot deny that it’s generated a lot of coverage. If local Happy Talk TV News around the state does teasers for it with one of the breathless blowdried anchorpeople saying something like “Could your marriage be outlawed in the next election?”, then I’d have to admit that they’ve hit the center of their target.

And two can play at the complaint-filing game. In response to a report that Rep. Warren Chisum sent out a pro-Prop 2 press release from his office in Austin, which could violate the statutory ban on the use of public funds for political advertising, BOR’s Karl-T filed a complaint and “request to investigate” these actions with a special prosecutor in the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office. I’ll be very interested to see how that turns out.

In my opinion, No Nonsense In November founder Glen Maxey epitomized class when he gave the following statement in a story about a pro-Porp 2 rally thrown by the KKK:

Glen Maxey, who heads anti-proposition group No Nonsense in November, said it would be unfair to assume those who support the proposition also support the Klan.

“It just ticks me off that people like this purport to speak for anyone, including people on the other side of the debate,” said Maxey, an Austin Democrat who served several years in the Legislature as its only openly gay member.

“It’s certainly not helpful,” he added. “As a political consultant, I’d be drinking a stiff one right now if I had to deal with these people articulating my message.”

The next time one of our friends on the Right uses the actions of some isolated knucklehead to make a claim about “the Left”, show him this quote.

Finally, a little setting of expectations about the outcome:

State constitutional elections typically are low-key affairs, drawing fewer than 10 percent of voters to the polls. And because it is widely assumed the amendment will pass easily, apathy also could supress turnout, said state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, the author of the ban.

For Chisum, winning with less than 70 percent of the vote would be a disappointment.

[…]

Most states that have approved gay marriage bans have done so by overwhelming margins, including 86 percent in Mississippi. The closest outcome was in Oregon, where gay rights advocates outspent their opponents but still lost 57 percent to 43 percent.

Because turnout will be low, their superior grassroots organization favors amendment opponents, said Glen Maxey, director of the Austin-based No Nonsense In November.

“Whoever has the best ground game in this election wins,” Maxey said.

Even matching Oregon’s result would be a political triumph, Maxey added, creating what he called a “Paul Hacket moment.”

Hacket was an anti-war Democratic candidate in Ohio who stunned the political establishment earlier this year by nearly winning a staunchly Republican congressional district.

“If we even come close, that changes people’s perceptions about Texas,” Maxey said.

Seventy percent versus fifty-seven percent. Who’s going to come closer? Leave your guesses in the comments.

DeLay’s defense fund mistake

Oopsie.

Rep. Tom DeLay has notified House officials that he failed to disclose all contributions to his legal defense fund as required by congressional rules.

The fund is currently paying DeLay’s legal bills in a campaign finance investigation in Texas, where DeLay has been indicted, and in a federal investigation of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The lobbyist arranged foreign travel for DeLay and had his clients pay some of the cost.

DeLay, R-Sugar Land, has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

DeLay wrote House officials that he started an audit and it found that $20,850 contributed in 2000 and 2001 to the defense fund was not reported anywhere. An additional $17,300 was included in the defense fund’s quarterly report but not in DeLay’s 2000 annual financial disclosure report — a separate requirement. Other donations were understated as totaling $2,800 when the figure should have been $4,450.

House rules require quarterly reports of donations and expenditures by a lawmaker’s legal defense fund. Donations exceeding $250 also must be disclosed on annual financial disclosure reports.

[…]

On Oct. 13 DeLay wrote the clerk of the House, Jeff Trandahl, that the first inkling of inconsistencies in his disclosures came last February.

“I brought this matter — which I discovered on my own — to the attention of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to alert the chairman and ranking member,” DeLay said in his letter. “Upon learning of these accounting irregularities, I immediately requested that the trust undergo a full and complete audit.

Remember, kids, Tom DeLay has a crack legal staff which has assured him that all those corporate contributions to TRMPAC were just peachy. That’s the same crack legal staff which failed to catch donations to his defense fund from lobbyists as well as reporting violations by ARMPAC. Just so you know.

Endorsement watch: Council Districts H and I

After a two-day hiatus, the Chron gets back in the endorsement business, as they recommend incumbents Adrian Garcia and Carol Alvarado for City Council Districts H and I, respectively. Garcia’s a slamdunk, as Alvarado would have been prior to the diploma controversy. Here’s how the Chron dealt with that:

Her opponent recently pointed out that Alvarado had not received the degree she claimed to have from the University of Houston, but this should not be disqualifying. University officials determined that Alvarado had earned the degree and promptly awarded it.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that this whole thing was no big deal. The fact that all it took for Alvarado to become official was to fill out some paperwork means to me that she was a graduate all along. Had she been short of credit hours, then I’d agree that she lied. If you could prove that she knew about this deficiency beforehand, it would still be a lie, but a relatively small one. As it actually is, I think the most she can be accused of is carelessness or maybe indifference to detail, and neither of those qualifies as a mortal sin in this context. Barring any subsequent revelations, I call this one a closed matter.

Back to the Chron, there’s still the curious omission of City Council District A from their endorsement list, plus of course the remaining ballot propositions and the HISD/HCC trustee races. On that last score, the HISD1 race generated some news today with the following story of another candidate’s carelessness.

Houston school board candidate Anne Flores Santiago told state ethics investigators last year that she helped falsify financial records to make it look as if her mother’s campaign for the Texas Senate had more supporters than it really did, records show.

Santiago’s mother, Yolanda Navarro Flores, agreed to pay a $1,000 civil fine to the Texas Ethics Commission in July 2004 to settle the case, according to the commission’s records.

Flores, a Houston Community College System board member, took out a $35,000 loan to finance her losing 2004 Democratic primary election against Mario Gallegos, the commission report says. Santiago and a campaign volunteer, however, reported that the money came from several campaign donors, including $9,000 from young members of Flores’ extended family.

The report made it seem Flores had collected nearly $57,000 from donors. A corrected version later filed by Flores put the figure closer to $17,000.

“The daughter states that she filed the report electronically with the commission without telling her mother of what she and the volunteer had done,” the report said.

Santiago, 38, and making her first run at elected office, said she had a limited role in the incident.

“I was simply the typist,” she said, explaining that the other volunteer “gave me instructions.”

“I entered data, and that was the extent,” she said.

Santiago said she was unaware at the time that the information on the campaign finance report was wrong.

“I did not know,” she said.

Santiago declined to answer further questions about her role in the ethics violation. She and her mother did not respond to e-mails or phone calls seeking the identity of the other campaign worker.

I have to say, I never find the Ken Lay defense strategy to be appealing. It’s also mighty convenient to be able to blame the screwup on an unnamed and unavailable-for-comment campaign volunteer. Maybe Santiago was “just the typist” as she claims, which would make her sin more venal than mortal, but it’s still embarrassing.

Santiago accused her political opponents — Natasha Kamrani and Richard Cantú — of leaking the Ethics Commission report to the media.

“I can sum it up in two words: dirty politics,” Santiago said. “I’m the front-runner in this race and my opponents are getting desperate.”

I find the TEC website to be almost unusably bad, so I’ll just ask: Is this sort of report public information? If it is, then one could claim that any enterprising reporter could have found it and written about it unbidden by another. Can one truly “leak” data that’s in the public domain?

If it’s supposed to be sealed (and to be honest, I can’t think of a good reason why it should be, not that this matters in Texas), then Santiago has a legitimate beef. But if it is out there where anyone with an Internet connection and/or some spare time can find it, then I say that had there been a greater interest by the press in this year’s elections we might have already known about this by now.

She then leveled some accusations of her own. Of Kamrani, she said: “I didn’t just register to vote 30 days ago like one of my opponents.” Of Cantú, she added: “Nor did I just pay my taxes right before I signed up to run either.

[…]

Kamrani said she has voted in previous Houston Independent School District board elections and in the 2004 general election last November. Her voter registration lapsed during changes in residency between 2001 and 2004, she said.

“I just moved into a new house,” Kamrani said.

Cantú acknowledged that he and his wife missed the deadline for paying their property taxes, but he said they paid before any lawyers got involved.

“Occasionally we’ll pay during the penalty period,” he said. “Like most middle-income folks living paycheck-to-paycheck … (But) I always make sure that our taxes are paid up.”

Harris County property tax records show Cantú paid the taxes on his home by the January deadline but waited until June to pay taxes on two other pieces of property. That cost him more than $200 in penalties and interest, but he was never considered delinquent. Cantú began collecting political donations a month later, records show.

Not being registered to vote is an unflattering thing for any aspiring candidate. When or if Kamrani voted between 2001 and 2004 should be verifiable – the Vo and Heflin attorneys certainly knew who to interview earlier this year for that race’s election contest – as should the date that her registration lapsed and how long it took to get fixed. Without that information, this strikes me as a pretty weak charge.

Likewise, if Cantu was late but not delinquent, then this too is a relatively minor thing. Color me unimpressed at Santiago’s counteraccusations. I can be convinced that she was an unwitting wrongdoer for the TEC thing, but this doesn’t enhance my opinion of her.

Harriet, we hardly knew ye

Harriet Miers has withdrawn her nomination for the Supreme Court.

In her letter dated today, Miers said she was concerned that the confirmation process “would create a burden for the White House and our staff that is not in the best interest of the country.”

She noted that members of the Senate had indicated their intention to seek documents about her service in the White House in order to judge whether to support her nomination to the Supreme Court. “I have been informed repeatedly that in lieu of records, I would be expected to testify about my service in the White House to demonstrate my experience and judicial philosophy,” she wrote.

“While I believe that my lengthy career provides sufficient evidence for consideration of my nomination, I am convinced the efforts to obtain Executive Branch materials and information will continue.”

All I want to know is, will the Senate be as adamant about asking the next nominee questions as they were Miers? Because if they aren’t, this whole thing was a complete waste of time.

A few stories from Father John

Father John has a number of links to stories about the current state of Health and Human Services privatization in Texas and how the influx of Katrina victims has affected their delivery of services. Two items to highlight, the first from Carlos Guerra:

Texas “point-of-time” enrollment figures for children receiving Medicaid indicate that almost 17,000 fewer children were covered in September than in August.

How is this possible, I asked José Camacho, head of the Texas Association of Community Health Centers, whose 52 member groups serve 560,000 people.

“Yes, we started getting reports of folks that had been on Medicaid, and they reapplied and got a rejection letter,” he said, before explaining that for children to be “recertified” for Medicaid, their parents must go through a face-to-face interview conducted by a certified state worker.

When the throngs of temporary Texans arrived, each of them also had to undergo a face-to-face interview, as required by law, to receive food stamps, so the remaining state eligibility workers were dispatched to help them.

The result was that when many parents seeking to renew their kids’ Medicaid applied, they were, of necessity, put off. “Even if they filled out the form, if it wasn’t entered (by a state worker), they didn’t reapply,” Camacho said.

This result of having fewer workers is, of course, a feature and not a bug. Fewer workers means less throughput on Medicaid renewals, which means the state has to spend less on this costly benefit. Say what you want about HB2292, there was a certain logic to it.

Item two is from the Austin Chronicle:

Based on a job-recruitment advertisement placed by one of the companies sub-contracted to provide a telephone eligibility “call center” in Midland, the prospective operators would be paid a starting wage of $8 an hour. At that rate (about $1,280 a month, gross), a single parent with one child, or a single-income family of three, would be eligible for food stamps. And should the company not provide affordable health insurance (as is likely), their new employees would also be eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

[…]

Under this new system, the new state workers hired at these sub-living wages will themselves be able to administer their own applications for food stamps, Medicaid, and CHIP. They can interview themselves, review their own meagre pay stubs, determine their own levels of eligibility, and sign and hand-deliver their own approval letters – saving an envelope and a stamp in the bargain.

Now that’s what I call eliminating the middleman!

Like I said, a certain logic.

On a semi-related side note, a task force of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, including Joseph Fiorenza, Archbishop of the Houston/Galveston archdiocese, has called upon federal leaders to not give aid to Katrina victims at the expense of existing services for the poor.

“It would be wrong to cut essential food, housing and health care for the poor while the rest of us make no real sacrifice and, in fact, benefit from recent tax cuts,” the letter states.

The letter noted the role of Catholic organizations and other non-government agencies to house, feed and provide medical care to victims.

But it also emphasized that these groups can’t fix the problems alone.

“The efforts of those motivated by compassion and charity in responding to the hurricanes’ devastation, while essential, cannot take the place of a strong federal commitment to just public policies and wise public investment,” the letter states.

Their letter was sent to every member of the US House of Representatives, but I think there’s a pretty clear relationship to what’s going on with THHSC as well.

Swept

What a bummer. I’ll have more later, but for now, there’s no definition of the word “unsuccessful” that accurately describes this season for the Astros. They have nothing to be ashamed of, and they have every right to be proud of themselves no matter how badly they may feel now. Until the day that they do win a World Series, 2005 is and will be the best year in their history. Congratulations to the White Sox for their historic win, and congratulations to the Astros for their historic season.