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February 10th, 2006:

Subpoenas in the Reed/Channel One lobbying case

More subpoenas from the Travis County DA.

New subpoenas issued by Travis County prosecutors on Thursday cast light on a campaign contribution made by Primedia Inc. in 2002 just two days before the State Board of Education cast a vote that could have affected the company’s profits in Texas.

Documents requested by the subpoenas show the New York publishing company gave $2,500 to Texans for a Republican Majority, the political action committee founded by U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, on Nov. 13, 2002. The money was solicited for TRMPAC by the husband of a board member, Dallas businessman Vance Miller, according to a document obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

[…]

The subpoenas seem to target relationships that DeLay, R-Sugar Land, had with convicted influence peddler Jack Abramoff and his Washington lobby clients’ donations to TRMPAC.

Abramoff was the registered lobbyist for Primedia at the time of the 2002 donations.

The subpoenas do not mention him, but former Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed also was lobbying for Channel One at the time.

Several Texas public interest groups have complained to Travis County Attorney David Escamilla that Reed violated state law by failing to register as a lobbyist in 2002. Among the claims is that he called board of education members urging them to vote against Strickland’s resolution.

“Clearly, Ralph Reed was contacting members of the State Board of Education on behalf of Channel One and its owner, Primedia,” said Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice.

I’m just noting this for future reference. It’s clearly related to this “Thin Reed” article that I linked to earlier. I like to keep track of this sort of thing.

No FTA funds for Metro

This is unfortunate.

The future of the Metro Solution’s Plan has always depended on federal money.

It’s a planned 50/50 match to move the bells and whistles beyond downtown and the Med Center to the north and southeast sides.

But Houston’s two planned lines approved for preliminary engineering didn’t make the cut this year.

In all, the Federal Transit Administration recommended $1.5 billion worth of projects in 2007.

There were five new ones added to the list: Denver, Salt Lake City, two in Portland, OR and in Dallas.

There are 15 projects at the same point of the process that are Houston’s two requests, five of them received funding this year.

This does not mean Houston’s plan is out of the running forever.

The FTA says ratings for the projects not yet recommended should not be construed as a statement about the ultimate merits of the project, but rather as an assessment of the project’s current strengths and weaknesses.”

Metro officials say now they did not necessarily think they would receive funding this year. But last year at this same time when the Houston projects did not receive funding, officials said they hoped it would come this year.

Like I said, it’s unfortunate, but it’s not fatal. The story doesn’t say which of Metro’s expansion projects was left unfunded by the FTA – in his comments, Tory thinks it was the north and southeast BRT lines.

Of more immediate concern appears to be the east-west Blue light rail line, which goes from UH/TSU to the Galleria area. Tory in that same post above prints a letter from the CTC which shows that Rep. John Culberson and State Rep. Martha Wong are siding with a group called “Richmond Area Residents and Businesses for Rail” that’s pressuring Metro to put that line on Westpark instead of Richmond. These folks have been pushing for that for awhile now, and with those two legislators on their side they’re going to get heard. As Christof argues, though, there’s a very good case to be made for keeping the line on Richmond as currently envisioned. If you feel you have a stake in this, you need to start making your opinion known now, before any decisions get made.

Finally, on a tangential topic, Christof continues his look at the proposed Intermodal Transit Center. Check it out.

UPDATE Changed “originally envisioned” to “currently envisioned” after reading feedback in the comments from Kevin and Laurence.

UPDATE: Robin makes an important point about the fuss over where this line will go:

Many Houstonians support a Richmond alignment. Many support a Westpark alignment. Some support a combination thereof, and many have not yet made up their minds. Now is not the time to decide. Instead, we must agree that a thorough technical analysis is a prerequisite to making the right decision. We must evaluate our transit future with facts and rigorous analysis, and not close off options in reaction to fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Rep. Wong is scheduled to appear at the Thu Feb 16 METRO board meeting at 1:00 pm with many of her supporters. I expect her to present the above letter of opposition from Rep. Culberson, demand that METRO take Richmond off the table now, and call for a new referendum.

I hope that theirs will not be the only voices heard. It is time for everyone who supports more and better transit for Houston to speak up. We must keep all options on the table and we cannot allow a political process to take one off prematurely. METRO must be allowed to complete the federally-required planning process and fairly evaluate all of the alternatives.

Amen.

Bell v Gammage on the air

WFAA in Dallas hosted a debate between Chris Bell and Bob Gammage yesterday – Jason Stanford described it as “No rules, no opening & closing statements, no time limits, just a conversation moderated by Wayne Slater of the Morning News and Brad Watson of WFAA that is live to tape.” It was viewable live on the site at the time – I missed it, but Ryan Goodland didn’t. I presume it will air in Dallas if it hasn’t already. And even if you still miss it, you can catch Part II of the BOR interviews with Bell and Gammage. This AusChron story on the Dem primary is also a good read. Eye on Williamson picks up on an intriguing tidbit at the end of the piece.

The Star Telegram is the first major paper to give an endorsement in the Democratic gubernatorail primary, and they go with Bell. I’ve seen a few scattered endorsements in other races around, but only the Morning News, which has mostly done the Republican races so far, seems to be really into it as yet. Early voting will be on us before you know it, so I hope these folks get on the stick pronto.

Elsewhere, there’s two more reports from Matt in DC with the John Courage campaign. Looks like it was a good day for them:

Today we met with another half dozen groups including an specialist on immigration issues Rick Schwartz, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the League of Conservation Voters, a specialist in media and communications strategies Jon-Christopher Bua, NARAL, and the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA).

In exciting news, IBEW endorsed on the spot and pledged to make a substantial campaign contribution.

The Express News also has some coverage on Courage’s trip. The attention is good, but he’s going to need some cash to make any headway. I hope this helps.

Three members of the San Antonio Area Progressive Action Coalition trekked out to Bandera to hear CD23 Democratic candidate Rick Bolanos speak, and they came away impressed.

On the other side of the aisle, CD22 challenger Tom Campbell has an ad running on local TV, which you can see here (page loads slowly). Like DeLayVsWorld, I’ve not seen them on the air. I too think DeLay will skip running ads on his own, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Club for Growth runs something on his behalf as they did in 2004. As Juanita points out, they wouldn’t be the only “outside group” shilling for DeLay in this campaign.

A tale of two counties

I see that the Ciro Rodriguez-Henry Cuellar primary has been written up on MSNBC. It’s a nice enough piece, with one point that I want to discuss:

This time, analysts don’t expect the Cuellar-Rodriguez race to be as close [as it was in 2004], due to Cuellar’s fundraising advantage, the federal money he’s brought back to the district, and the expectation that — as the incumbent — he’ll dominate in his hometown of Laredo and improve his standing in San Antonio, Rodriguez’s hometown. “It is funny that people are commenting that this is a competitive race,” said [Dan] Wright, Cuellar’s campaign manager. “It is nowhere near competitive.”

Here’s the thing: The 2004 primary was a tale of two counties, Bexar and Webb. 2006 is unlikely to be any different in that regard. To understand how this race will be decided, let’s take a look at what happened last time.

In the 2004 primary, Rodriguez won Bexar County by a 10,824 – 2,737 margin, for 13,561 total Democratic votes cast. Cuellar won Webb 12,894 to 2,431, for 15,324 votes all together. Shift over to the general election, and what you see is that Cuellar took 45,126 votes in Bexar and 15,637 in Webb. In other words, the primary turnout represented 30.1% of the Democratic vote total in Bexar, and 98.0% of the Webb total.

Ninety-eight percent!

What this says is very simple: Rodriguez has way more room for growth in Bexar County than Henry Cuellar does in Webb. Rodriguez carried the other counties by a 13,624 to 11,757 count. He can’t do much worse in Webb than he did last time. If he turns out Bexar at even a little better clip, he ought to win even if Cuellar improves his standing there. Heck, if the same number of people in Bexar had voted in 2004 as they did in Webb, Rodriguez would have won by over a thousand votes, assuming the same percentage split among the extras.

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Do better with turnout in his home county, and Rodriguez wins. In his favor are the contested primaries in HD118 (Rodriguez’s former State House district) and SD19 where former HD118 rep Carlos Uresti is running, which should help drive participation even if Rodriguez doesn’t have the campaign cash to do it on his own. Watch the early voting numbers and see how it goes. We ought to know pretty quickly if Ciro has a shot or not.

And since I know you want to know, Ciro’s just passed $80K on ActBlue. Every little bit helps, so you know what to do.

With friends like Tom…

Tom DeLay now, as quoted in Roll Call:

In his letter to Republican constituents, mailed out by his re-election campaign this week, DeLay acknowledges that he faces political problems due to his ethical problems, although he dismisses the allegations as “baseless” charges ginned up by a “liberal press.”

[…]

“A final word on Jack Abramoff: the notion that he was a close friend who wielded influence over me is absolutely untrue,” DeLay wrote. “As Whip and Majority Leader, I met with many people who brought issues before Congress and sought support of both Republicans and Democrats.”

DeLay added: “The reality is, Jack Abramoff and I were not close personal friends. I met with him only occasionally, in fact less frequently than numerous others who brought issues before Congress – never did he receive preferential treatment. To be certain, I knew nothing about the crimes for which he has pled guilty.” Abramoff pleaded guilty last month to tax evasion, fraud, and conspiracy to bribe public officials, among other things.

Tom DeLay then, from a story in the Dallas Observer (and other places, including the book “The Hammer”):

“When one of my closest and dearest friends, Jack Abramoff, your most able representative in Washington, D.C., invited me to the islands, I wanted to see firsthand the free-market success and the progress and reform you have made,” DeLay said, after thanking Tan for ‘that great introduction.”

What a pal, huh?

UPDATE: It’s in the Chron today.