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March, 2006:

Candidate forum on Trans Texas Corridor

There was a candidates’ forum to discuss the Trans Texas Corridor yesterday in Central Texas. Three gubernatorial wannabees were there. You’ll never guess which one wasn’t.

At 6:05 p.m. Friday, almost an hour before the start of the Blackland Coalition’s gubernatorial candidate forum on the Trans-Texas Corridor, the asphalt outside of the Seaton Star Hall east of Temple was already half full of pickups and cars. Outside, representatives of writer and musician Kinky Friedman and Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn were gathering petition signatures in their efforts to make the November ballot as independents and unseat Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

Inside, many of the 750 chairs were filled already. Folks in gimme caps, black Stetson hats and jeans were munching on sausage wraps and, when she happened by, listening to Strayhorn make her pitch one-on-one. Friedman and Democratic candidate Chris Bell showed up later in time to speak to the crowd, making it the three challengers’ first joint appearance of the campaign.

By 7 p.m., the room was full, and the response to the challengers during the next two hours was full-throated, giving at least some indications that Perry has genuine political work ahead.

His plan for a network of cross-state toll roads and rail lines has many rural Texans in an independent frame of mind.

“This area went Republican” in the mid-1990s, said Inez Cobb, a board member of the year-old coalition formed in opposition to the corridor plan. “But they better watch their step or it might not be for long.”

[…]

[Perry spokesman Robert] Black said the corridor plan, despite demonstrations of widespread rural discontent such as Friday night’s, won’t hurt Perry in November.

“The governor believes that the vast majority of Texans, including rural Texans, understand that with a population expected to double in the next 40 years, the current Texas infrastructure can’t handle that increase,” Black said. “Something has to happen.”

We’ll see about that. As I noted before, I think that Strayhorn’s anti-toll road supporters are more Republican than not – for sure, I got a ton of email from this crowd before the primaries exhorting votes for a number of candidates in various GOP primaries. I think this is a sizable chunk of her base.

But maybe Rick Perry isn’t worried about that. He’ll still be happy to point out that as with many other issues, Strayhorn used to be on the same team as he on the subject of toll roads.

Strayhorn, whose intention to supplant Perry in the Governor’s Mansion has been well known for a couple of years, has periodically hammered Perry over his preference for toll roads as a solution to the Texas highway crunch.

She was quoted in January saying, “This voice is dead set against toll roads.”

But the Perry campaign says that wasn’t always the case, noting news releases and reports out of her office in 2000 and 2001 touting toll roads as the way to get roads built quickly and boost the state’s economy.

That was, of course, before the Legislature overhauled transportation law and transformed toll roads from a concept into a reality.

Chris Bell is also hitting her on this; he has excerpts from some of the aforementioned press releases. I’ve checked around some of the anti-toll road blogs but haven’t seen any response to this yet. Sal? Any comment?

Thanks to South Texas Chisme for the link.

Strayhorn sues over petition checking

Carole Keeton Strayhorn has filed suit over how Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams (a Perry appointee) plans to verify signatures on her petition for ballot access.

Texas Comptroller Strayhorn and satirist Kinky Friedman each need to gather 45,540 valid Texas voter signatures by May 11 to get on the ballot in November as independent candidates for governor.

Williams has said he will not begin verifying the petitions until after the May 11 deadline passes.

Williams also has said he will have his staff manually verify each signature instead of using a statistical analysis as has been done in the past. That verification process could take two months and might not be done until just before he must certify the November ballot on Sept. 13.

McClellan invited Friedman’s campaign to join the lawsuit.

Friedman spokeswoman Laura Stromberg said the campaign is reviewing the Strayhorn lawsuit and will decide whether to join it next week. She said Friedman is mostly concerned that state law discriminates against independents to favor major party candidates.

“Williams isn’t being unfair. State law is unfair,” Stromberg said.

Third party and independent petition drive lawsuits in the past have been unsuccessful in Texas. Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader lost a lawsuit challenging the Texas system in 2004.

Once again, I will point out that if Friedman thought the Texas law was wrong, he had an opportunity to formally express that view when Nader sued to overturn it in 2004. He failed to do so. You know the rest.

But independent campaign consultant Linda Curtis of Austin said a Texas Supreme Court ruling in January favoring two Republican Texas Court of Criminal Appeals candidates “could open the door” for a successful lawsuit by Strayhorn.

The court ruled the candidates should have an opportunity to “cure” problems in their ballot petitions even though the deadline for submitting them had passed.

Strayhorn’s lawsuit seeks a federal injunction against Williams ordering him to use statistical analysis as a method of petition verification. It also wants him to begin verifying signatures as Strayhorn turns petitions in so she has an opportunity to “cure” any defects before the May 11 deadline.

[…]

To be valid, signatures on the petitions must be from registered voters who did not cast ballots in Democratic or Republican primaries or runoffs this year. Also, if someone signs both petitions, only the signature that is dated first counts toward ballot access.

[SOS spokesman Scott] Haywood said that is why a manual count is required.

“Given the fact there are multiple individuals vying for a spot on the ballot as an independent, verifying every signature is the surest way to protect the integrity of our elections and confirm the validity of a candidate’s name on the ballot,” Haywood said.

I think the SOS argument that the presence of multiple candidates and the need to ensure all the signatures they collected are unique is a reasonable one. As such, I agree with their plan to do a full accounting of each petition.

On the other hand, I presume that the method for doing this will involve entering each name, address, and so on from each petition into a computer so they can be checked against various databases for validity and against the voter rolls from March to ensure they handn’t participated in a primary. I further expect that’s how they plan to determine if a signer is a repeat customer.

Assuming that I’m not being naive here, and that the SOS plan is not to have some poor sap start at the top of one petition and then scan the entirity of the other to look for a match, then I see no reason why this needs to take so long. Even if I’m wrong about that – indeed, especially if I’m wrong about that – I see no reason why the SOS should feel compelled to wait until May 11 to get cracking. You don’t need to know if a signature is unique to check to see if its address is valid or if its owner had already voted. If it were up to me, I’d order him to start processing each petition page as soon as he gets it. I really can’t think of a reason why you wouldn’t do that.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

The headline pretty much says it all: Lobbyists organize Patrick fundraiser.

State Senate nominee Dan Patrick, who blasted an opponent in the recent Republican primary for taking contributions from lobbyists, is having a fundraising reception in Austin next week, hosted by lobbyists for a range of special interests, including casinos.

Lobbyist Steve Bresnen, whose clients include the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, the Texas State Association of Fire Fighters and the Bingo Interest Group, said he organized the Thursday event at the private Austin Club.

[…]

It is not unusual for newly elected legislators or legislative candidates to have Austin fundraisers, but Patrick, campaigning before the primary as a political outsider, all but condemned the lobby.

In a campaign television spot, he urged voters to help him “take our state back from the special interests and the lobbyists.”

“It’s time for change,” he said.

In an interview Thursday, Patrick said his principles haven’t changed. He said he still isn’t soliciting special interest money but would take some donations if they were offered with the understanding that no strings were attached.

“I have a lot of debt (more than $300,000) to retire,” he said.

If a donor later suggests that he has bought his influence, Patrick added, “I will escort him to the door.”

The nominee said he will refuse money from abortion rights groups, trial lawyers and people trying to expand gambling. He said that ban didn’t apply to lobbyists, such as Bresnen, who represents trial lawyers and bingo interests but has other clients as well.

“You know how the system works. One person (lobbyist) represents a lot of interests,” he said. “They (lobbyists) want to meet me. People in Austin don’t know me.”

What can one possibly say? Congratulations, Dan Patrick, you are now officially a cog in the machine. Be sure you rotate your lobbyists every 5000 miles to avoid premature wear.

Normally, this is the part of the post where I’d tell you about the Democratic alternative. Unfortunately, based on things I’ve heard from more than one person lately, I can’t recommend Michael Kubosh. From what I’ve been told, Kubosh has said he’s really a Republican but filed as a Democrat so he could be in the general election. He’s also apparently got views on immigration that are at least as out there as Patrick. No wonder he didn’t mind letting ol’ Danno back on the air. Far as I’m concerned, feel free to vote for the Libertarian or sit this race out.

You don’t need to know

Well, the Texas Ethics Commission met to discuss the case of Bill Ceverha, as expected. What was not expected was for them to give one of the stupidest rulings I’ve ever heard of.

The Texas Ethics Commission decided Friday that public officials who receive cash or other gifts don’t have to disclose the value, stunning open-government advocates.

“This is absurd, dangerous and completely undermines the reform legislation,” said Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth.

The seven commission members, appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker, wrestled with disclosure laws that compel public officials to report gifts over $250. The law calls for a description of the gift, and some commissioners said indicating simply “cash” – without an amount – satisfies the statute.

But government watchdogs told the commissioners that they are failing to enforce the clear meaning of the law, rendering it useless.

“This ruling leaves a big enough loophole to drive an armored truck full of money through,” said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, which advocates for public disclosure. “All you would have to say is ‘a truck.’ ”

Or maybe “bag”, if you’re more old school.

The case stems from a June 2005 disclosure filed by Dallas businessman Bill Ceverha, a close friend of House Speaker Tom Craddick, who appointed him to the State Employees Retirement System board. The system oversees a nearly $20 billion fund that provides benefits for 250,000 retired state workers.

Mr. Ceverha disclosed that he received a gift, described only as a “check,” from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, the largest Republican donor in the state. Mr. Ceverha has declined to say how much the check was for. Mr. Perry’s spokesman has described it as charitable – not political – giving.

A commission staff ruling held that Mr. Ceverha’s description of the gift as a “check” was sufficient. And in its decision Friday, the Ethics Commission refused to revisit the rule or its interpretation.

All the commissioners who spoke agreed this constitutes an egregious loophole. But three commissioners blocked the possibility of a different interpretation, saying it is up to the Legislature to clarify the law. Six of seven commissioners must agree before a rule can be reconsidered.

The problem here is not unclear Legislative intent. It’s utter wussiness on the part of the TEC. I’m just flabbergasted. The comment Benton left in my previous post on this topic is apt – Ceverha may as well have said he received a piece of paper with Bob Perry’s autograph on it. That would not have told us any less.

Here’s the statement by Rep. Lon Bunham, who testified before the TEC on this matter:

Today, the Texas Ethics Commission did a disservice to the people of Texas. Their misinterpretation of current disclosure law, followed by their inaction today, will continue to allow any public official to accept a cash gift without disclosing the amount.

Under this misguided opinion, any appointee, commission or board member could literally accept a $1,000,000 check and simply write ‘check’ on their disclosure form.

The Ethics Commission is charged with ensuring disclosure laws are upheld. Today, they failed.

I do, however, want to thank Chairman Looney and Commissioners Taylor, Harrison, and Montagne for their votes in favor of transparent and open government. Had the other commissioners voted with these four members, the public interest would have been better served.

I am very pleased that some of the Commissioners insisted that this item be on the agenda again next month.

So it’s up to the Lege to fix this mess, which almost certainly means this “egregious loophole” will remain on the books for at least another year. Thanks for nothing, fellas. Even Governor Perry supported the disclosure of the amount of a gift, and he’s nobody’s idea of an open government advocate.

Vince quotes Harvey Kronberg calling this “straight out of Kafka”. Burnham has an op-ed in the Star Telegram that gives fuller voice to his outrage on this. I just don’t know what else to say.

No gun for you!

This is too funny.

It seems the Republican controlled Texas Legislature passed a law that if you’re indicted for a felony, you can’t be carrying a concealed handgun, even if you have a license.

Oops.

At the request of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Republican Justice of the Peace Jim Richards signed an order suspending Thomas Dale DeLay’s license to carry a handgun in the State of Texas.

Sure does suck when tuff-on-crime measures come back to bite you, doesn’t it? Juanita has all the official documents, including DeLay’s notice of appeal on the ruling, so go check it out.

Craddick speaks on school funding

I have to say, this does not sound like the Tom Craddick I’m used to hearing.

Speaking to an audience of business and school leaders, Craddick said he thinks the state will end up paying for 60 percent to 65 percent of the $33 billion public school system, compared with the 35 percent that the state now picks up.

“There is a mode to shift back from the local property taxes, back to the state paying the larger share,” he said.

“I think you’ll see that done.”

Craddick, who has been meeting with House members in small groups this week, said he is waiting to see the final details of a business tax plan being devised by a commission appointed by Gov. Rick Perry.

“The proof’s in the pudding, at least it generally is in the Legislature,” said Craddick, adding that the state comptroller must sign off that the tax plan will raise sufficient revenue to pay for a cut in property taxes.

[…]

On the subject of teacher pay, Craddick said he would like to see money targeted at teachers who work in at-risk schools or take hard-to-fill jobs. But he said an across-the-board raise might be considered.

I don’t have the time right now to do the research, but this talk about the state picking up 60% of school funding sounds like a shift in rhetoric to me. Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know. I’ll have to look at it more closely. Just color me surprised for now.

As for the subject of teacher pay, all I’ll say for now is that as long as Kent Grusendorf continues to be Craddick’s point man on school finance, I’ll have my doubts about the Speaker’s willingness to consider an across-the-board pay raise.

Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, chairman of the House Public Education Committee, sniffed politics in the pay proposals.

Grusendorf, who lost his re-election bid last month to Diane Patrick, a GOP challenger backed by teacher groups, said of the proposers: “They’re in a bidding war for the teacher vote.” He said: “Aw, let’s give them $10,000. It’s not my money anyway, what do I care?”

‘Nuff said.

Meanwhile, Rick Casey talks to Glen Rosenbaum, the point man for law firms’ opposition to the new business tax proposal by the Texas Tax Reform Commission (TTRC), and distills the reasons for their resistance.

Here are the main points he made.

  • The big firms are not against paying business taxes. They have been on record in committee testimony since 1997 as supporting some forms of taxation that would include them.

    “We are not trying to kill or scuttle the Sharp Commission proposal,” he said. “We are simply trying to get a compromise when the bill is filed in the Legislature.”

  • Rosenbaum’s coalition has offered three compromises. The simplest one is to apply the tax to compensation over $500,000 or $550,000 rather than $300,000.

    That would amount to an annual savings of $2,000 or $2,500 per partner.

  • The primary objection is that the plan amounts to an income tax on partners in law firms, accounting firms, architectural firms and other professional partnerships. The partners are the ones who have to pay, unlike corporations, where the CEO may make well over $300,000 but the tax is levied on stockholders.

    The difference is that the partners are not only workers, but owners as well.

    Others argue that it is not an income tax. I would not bet a paycheck on how the courts would decide that question.

  • Rosenbaum argues that the way the plan is structured, it would tax lawyers and other professional partnership at a higher rate than the current franchise tax. I don’t know if that’s true. He admits lawyers have escaped the franchise tax, but says it is not good policy to try to overcharge a group because it has been undercharged in the past.
  • While 1 percent seems like a pittance, the firms are concerned that the Legislature would soon be under pressure to raise the rate.

    “With the business tax, a 1 percent raise would bring in $6 billion,” he said. “A 1 percent raise in the sales tax is $2.5 or $2.6 billion. So if you need to raise a billion dollars, you raise the business tax 0.2 percent.”

This, I suspect, is the real issue.

I would not want to bet on the outcome of the lawsuit that alleges the new business tax is in part at least inherently a personal income tax, either. Steph brought that up in the comments to that earlier post, too. I hope they at least run this past AG Greg Abbott to make sure they’ve dotted their I’s and crossed their T’s.

Of course, I could point out that if Rosenbaum et al drop their opposition if the tax threshhold is raised to $550K as they suggest, then the issue of this being an income tax isn’t really a matter of principle for them but of leverage. But that would be cynical of me.

What’s it all about?

In the comments to this post about the status of the charges against Tom DeLay, Right of Texas asks:

Don’t you agree that all of this is semi-politically motivated?

My honest answer, at least right now, is no, I don’t. Travis County DA Ronnie Earle has said that this case is about “cops and robbers”. I do believe that’s how he sees it, and I believe that’s what’s driving him.

That doesn’t mean that he hasn’t overstepped his bounds. One of the points raised by Earle’s critics in the movie The Big Buy is that Earle is prosecuting based on what he believes the law should be, not on what it actually is. While I think that if that were truly the case, all of the indictments would have been flushed by now, I do think there’s some merit to that assessment. I believe Earle is an idealist, and I think he sees himself as a protector of democracy and the integrity of elections. That doesn’t alter the facts of the case, but it does suggest that perhaps he’s a bit more motivated than another DA might have been.

I think Earle is taking a big risk by indicting Tom DeLay. From all that I’ve seen so far, I think he has a pretty solid case against the TRMPAC Three of Ellis, Colyandro, and RoBold. I think the reason why they’re pursuing this to my mind bizarre theory that checks are not the same as cash is because they know they’re in trouble on the facts, so their best bet is to get the law invalidated before a jury can be empaneled. It would have been much safer for Earle to simply go after these three guys. Convicting them would have been damaging to DeLay, enough so to have an effect on the 2006 election. Admittedly, DeLay would still be Majority Leader if he were not under indictment, and having a criminal trial hanging over his head is more damaging to him than just having three more felonious friends. But still, convicting the TRMPAC Three would be a blow to him and to his work.

Convicting DeLay is a taller order. I don’t doubt that everything these guys did was completely in accord with DeLay’s philosophy. I believe that to whatever extent he was involved in the daily business of TRMPAC, he authorized whatever was presented to him. I’m just not so sure he was all that hands-on, and unless someone (like RoBold, who’s been mysteriously quiet and apparently uninvolved in all the appeal activity) testifies that he did give the go-ahead on a specific item or two, I think it could be very hard to prove that he had a direct hand in the actual criminal acts. That’s why the conspiracy charge, whose dismissal Earle is appealing, matters – it’s the easiest of the three to prove.

I believe the risk for Earle is that in the end he’s going to be judged solely on whether or not he convicts DeLay. If he does, then that speaks for itself. If not, even if the TRMPAC Three go down on all the charges against them, I think the story line will be that Earle failed to get DeLay. He’s putting a reasonably achievable result on the line for one that’s more of a reach. I’m not sure I’d do the same if I were in his shoes.

So why bother? I don’t believe he’s doing it because indicting Tom DeLay benefitted (at least temporarily) the Democratic Party, nationally or in Texas. I just don’t see that as part of the equation for him. As such, if that’s your definition of “political motivation”, I disagree. I think Earle saw what happened in the 2002 elections – by that I mean the influx of corporate money and the way it was used – as a grave wrong, and I think he saw Tom DeLay as being ultimately responsible for it. I think it’s the fact that it happened, not who it happened to, that motivates him, and I think he believes the way to prevent it from happening again to anyone is to make an example of the person who made it happen this time.

That’s my opinion. There’s a lot of dime-store psychologizing in there, much or all of which could be utter BS, but after following this case for a long time, that’s how I see it.

One last thing: If the trial timeline does drag out past November 7, and if as DeLay believes Earle does drop the charges against him once Election Day is over, then (assuming there have been no adverse court rulings against him that would change his prospects) I will be forced to conclude that everything I’m saying here is wrong, and that Earle really did only care about submarining DeLay’s re-election chances. Obviously, I don’t believe that will happen. But if it does, I’ll take all of this back and admit that I was wrong.

You sure about that endorsement?

Via Greg, I see that State Rep. Al Edwards is claiming to have the endorsement of Texas Democratic Party Chair Charles Soechting for the April 11 runoff. While it’s not unheard of for a state party chair to get involved in a primary – for excellent reasons, Soechting has endorsed Barbara Radnofsky, while on the other side of the aisle, RPT Chair Tina Benkiser endorsed Kent Grusendorf in his losing primary battle – I at least would be a little surprised to see Soechting put down a marker here, given Edwards’ fealty to House Speaker Tom Craddick. I understand that inquiries have been made about this and a response is supposed to be forthcoming; when it is, I’ll pass it along. Stay tuned.

(Just so we’re all clear, Greg is doing work for Borris Miles. Don’t think that makes any difference here, but just so you know.)

UPDATE: Turns out the endorsement is legit. I stand corrected, and as noted, a little surprised.

Ethics Commission to review gifts to Ceverha

You may recall State Rep. Lon Burnham’s pursuit of bankrupt TRMPAC treasurer Bill Ceverha and his conflicts of interest as a member of the board of the Employees Retirement System of Texas – see here for the previous entry in the story. Today, the Texas Ethics Commission has a board meeting, at which Burnham will address them regarding his concerns. Here’s the press release:

State Rep. Lon Burnam will address the Texas Ethics Commission at their board meeting scheduled for [today], March 24, 2006, at 9:00.

One of the agenda items that the Ethics Commission is set to discuss tomorrow involves the check Bob Perry gave to Employees Retirement System board member Bill Ceverha after he was appointed by Speaker Craddick. Ceverha disclosed the gift from Perry only as a “check.” Ceverha never disclosed the amount of the check, basically making a mockery of the intent of disclosure laws.

Last week was Sunshine Week, but one week is not enough to shine a light on those who attempt to degrade disclosure laws in Texas. Exempting Bill Ceverha from disclosing the amount of a check given to him by the largest Republican donor in the state sets a very dangerous precedent. Any public official would be able to receive a cash “gift” and the public would never know if it was for $1,000 or $1,000,000. Democracy relies on disclosure and open government, not secret gifts to public servants.

According to the Texas Ethics Commission web site, the Perry-Ceverha check controversy will be addressed tomorrow during “Agenda item 16; Public discussion and possible action regarding a petition for rulemaking regarding the description of a gift that is reportable under section 572.023(b)(7) of the Government Code.”

WHO: Rep. Burnam/Ethics Commission

WHAT: Ethics Commission to address Perry check to Ceverha

WHEN: Friday, March 24, 2006 — 9:00 A.M. (Rep. Burnam will likely appear before the Board between 9:30 and 10:00.)

WHERE: Room E1.010, Capitol Extension

I’ll be looking for any media coverage after his testimony.

Woodland Heights home tour this weekend

Spring is here, and that means is home tour time.

The Woodland Heights Civic Association is first out of the box with this weekend’s tour, the group’s major fundraiser. The event also will mark the neighborhood’s 99th birthday.

“We live in a wonderful, historic area that pre-dates most of the defining moments in Houston’s history,” said Brigette Larson, who is co-chairing this weekend’s event with Emily Guyre and Felicia Zbranek. “People were living in the Woodland Heights before there was a Ship Channel, before there was a Rice University, before many parts of Houston were even envisioned.”

[…]

The homes will be open for viewing from 1-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Tickets are $15 (children 12 and under will be admitted free) and are being sold throughout the neighborhood at 14 sites.

Tickets will also be sold the days of the event at the homes and at the esplanade in the 3000 block of Norhill.

Tiffany and I are signed up to sell tickets from 1 to 3:30 on Saturday, so come by and see us. The article doesn’t say, but in years past there have been Metro trolleys to take you from house to house. If it’s a nice day and you want to get a little exercise, though, I’d suggest walking. Four of the six houses are within six blocks of the Esplanade, so most of the tour is easy enough to do on foot.

You can get a preview of the houses here. If that’s not enough to satisfy your hunger for historic homes, come back next weekend for the Houston Heights home tour. Have fun!

Requesting a mail ballot for the runoff

From Glen Maxey, via Patrick Franklin:

Exciting New Tool: Requests for Mail Ballots Made Simple

Help Barbara Radnofsky or your favorite local run-off candidate in the Democratic Primary Run-Off !

Here’s a great tool that has been developed to assist in getting vote by mail applications created for seniors, the disabled or people out of their county on election day and during early voting.

If you need an application, click on this link:
http://www.goodmail.org/Ballot/

(if the link doesn’t work, cut and paste the address in your browser)

When you finish, and print out the application, it’ll have the address and/or fax number of the correct Mail Ballot Clerk for your county. SIGN THE APPLICATION and mail or fax it.

Deadline for the application to reach the clerk is April 4th. Don’t delay!

Know someone off at college? In the hospital? Out of town this month? Have a friend living in a senior care facility? Have neighbors who need an application?

Send them this link so they can get an application. http://www.goodmail.org/Ballot/

Or do them a service by printing it out for them. They just need to sign it and mail it.

If this sounds like it could be useful to you, check it out.

More meetings for the Universities line

In my earlier post on the big Metro meeting to discuss the location of the Universities rail line, I noted that there would be a number of smaller meetings held by district City Council members Ann Clutterbuck, Ada Edwards, and Pam Holm, all of whom represent areas that the line will pass through. This Chron article lists the time and place for most of these meetings:

In Clutterbuck’s District C:

  • April 6: West University Church of Christ, 3407 Bissonnet
  • April 10: Girl Scout headquarters, 3110 Southwest Freeway
  • April 12: Location to be announced
  • April 18: Central Presbyterian Church, 3788 Richmond

In Edward’s District D:

  • April 11: Location to be announced
  • April 23: South Main Baptist Church, 4100 Main St

In Holm’s District G:

  • April 17: Location to be announced

All meetings are set to start at 6:30 PM. For more information about the ones whose location have not been set, I’d advise contacting the respective Council member’s office.

Colorado Luis calls it quits

Colorado Luis, one of my favorite state-focused blogs, is calling it a career.

This blog has been around since August 2003 and now it is time to close. Back when I started, there were few state level blogs and people were more willing to put up with sporadic posting and just plain missing big events. People’s expectations are justifiably a lot higher now with the rise of group blogs like Soapblox Colorado and professional sites like ProgressNow Action and PLAN Blog, which I didn’t get to plug enough since it launched. I don’t have enough time to maintain a worthy Colorado political blog, and actually I am undertaking some off-line projects that (hopefully) will leave me with even less time.

We state-focused bloggers have come a long way since 2003 – I’ve lost count of how many such Texas-based blogs there are now. The amount of coverage of the 2005 Legislative sessions alone was mind-boggling and very, very useful. Obviously, that’s all a good thing, at least as far as I’m concerned. Heck, there’s been enough growth in this industry to warrant its own Koufax Award. (No, I didn’t make it to the finals. But there’s no shame in losing to this fine bunch of competitors.)

Be that as it may, I’m sad to see Luis go. I was a fan of his site from its debut, and I’ll miss his writing. Guess I’ll have to give Soapblox Colorado a look. Thanks for all the good blogging, Luis, and best of luck in the future.

Delays, delays, nothing but delays

So the hearing by the 3rd Court of Appeals on whether or not to reinstate one of the indictments against Tom DeLay was yesterday. The ruling will take some time, and the trial is still too far off on the horizon to make it out.

The court heard an appeal that Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle brought contesting Priest’s December decision to throw out two criminal charges against DeLay. Priest let stand money laundering charges against DeLay.

Earle’s appeal of Priest’s ruling brought DeLay’s trial to a halt, and before Wednesday’s hearing, 107 days had passed without action.

The appeals court typically rules six to eight weeks after holding a hearing. If DeLay wins this decision, Earle is expected to appeal the case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

[…]

DeGuerin said he was not asking the court for preferential treatment. He said DeLay, who was not at Wednesday’s hearing, just needs to get the case resolved before the general election in November.

“It’s a plea for prompt disposition, which has been our cry all along,” DeGuerin said. “We want to get this case tried, and when we get it tried, we’re going to win.”

One might point out that some portion of the delay is Team DeLay’s responsibility. They didn’t have to move to recuse Judge Perkins, for example. We’d at least be a few weeks further down the road by now if that hadn’t happened, possibly quite a bit more if the indictment that Priest ultimately tossed was not up for review under Perkins. DeLay was within his rights to do what he did, and Ronnie Earle is within his rights to pursue these appeals. Like it or not, that’s the way it goes.

Be that as it may, if we split the difference and assume seven weeks for the 3rd Court’s ruling, that puts us in mid-May. Assuming they uphold Judge Priest and the timeline is the same for the next round, it’s another three months for the CCA to hear that appeal and another seven weeks for that ruling, which puts us in mid-October. That would pretty much guarantee that the trial wouldn’t happen until after Election Day.

DeLay has said that if the matter is still unresolved by then, he expects Earle will drop the charges. Since the only defense Earle will ultimately have against the argument that this pursuit was politically motivated from the start is to secure convictions, I seriously doubt that will happen. Unless Ellis and Colyandro get a favorable ruling on their appeal that they didn’t actually break the law, which would torpedo the basis of the charges against DeLay as well, I expect this to go to trial some day. I don’t know when that day may be, but I believe it will happen.

Coastal criticism of Perry hurricane plan

Not everyone thinks that the hurricane task force plan that Governor Perry recently mandated is a good idea; in particular, the recommendation to make the governor the sole decision-maker on when evacuations should occur was criticized.

Giving the governor the authority to order evacuations would require a change in state law.

That is a change that Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas does not want to see.

Thomas said that as mayor of Galveston, she and the county judge would have firsthand knowledge of the happenings on the island and in Galveston County.

“The authority given to mayors and county judges should not be diminished and turned over to the governor,” she said. “As a Category 4 storm approaches the city of Galveston, a governor sitting in Austin and a president sitting in Washington will not know what is actually going on in that particular community.”

Just remember those three little words: “Heckuva job, Brownie”.

Brazoria County Judge John Willy concurs with Thomas, saying local officials are better qualified to determine the needs of residents.

“Brazoria County has been having storms for as long as people have been here. We know how to handle ourselves during the storm. We know when to get the people out of the area that is going to be affected by floods. If they know better than us in Austin, and he (Perry) puts it into law then, of course, we’ll abide by it.”

He added: “Bottom line is, we want to work with the governor and our neighboring counties. We want to have a traffic management in place so when it crosses the jurisdictional lines that the people north or west of us understand what the needs are and how we can help people move.”

I can understand the reason for this recommendation, but I’m not sold on it, either. If a bill to make it happen gets filed this year or next, I expect it will come under vigorous debate, which is how it should be. Stay tuned.

Strayhorn stops state payments to lobby group

You may recall that Comptroller Strayhorn had announced an audit of payments to the lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates by the state’s Office of Federal and State Relations (OFSR) after the Chron broke a story about C&A’s funneling money back to the Republican Party via campaign contributions. Yesterday, Strayhorn took the next step and suspended the state’s payments to C&A.

“During the early stages of my expenditure audit of the contract with Cassidy & Associates, enough questions have been raised and I have found sufficient reason to indefinitely stop all payments to the firm,” Strayhorn said.

She said Texas law prohibits the use of taxpayer money to lobby the Legislature, influence elections or support candidates at the state or federal level.

Strayhorn said Texas should not be paying outside contract lobbyists to promote state issues with Congress.

“By any measure, using tax dollars to pay a private firm to lobby the federal government or members of Congress is a wholly inappropriate and unwise use of public money,” Strayhorn said.

Cassidy, based in Washington, D.C., is not the state’s only contract lobbyist. The state-federal relations office also pays $15,000 a month to the Federalist Group, also Washington-based. That firm’s lead lobbyist is Drew Maloney, a former top aide to [Rep. Tom] DeLay, R-Sugar Land.

Philip wonders why Strayhorn, whom he criticizes for being silent on this issue until it was politically expedient for her to speak out, didn’t also suspend payments to Maloney. I’d say it’s probably because there isn’t any evidence at this time that Maloney kicked back to his benefactors like C&A did, even though Maloney was allegedly hired at DeLay’s insistence.

The rest of the article is much huffing and puffing about the politics of the situation. Of course this is a political move on Strayhorn’s part. She knows the value of a headline like this. I think if she really wanted to maximize the effect, she might’ve timed the release to be either closer to the announcement of the April 17 special session, or closer to the actual start of the session. Be that as it may, and keeping Philip’s comments in mind, I think she was right to take this action. I just wish more attention had been paid to this cozy little arrangement from the beginning.

UPDATE: I’d say this helps explain why Strayhorn picked on one state-funded lobbyist group and not the other:

At least one of Maloney’s Federalist Group partners, Wayne Berman, contributed $5,000 to the Strayhorn campaign on October 19, 2002. (Source: Texas Ethics Commission)

Well, there you go. Thanks to Philip for the catch.

Another item for the electronic voting critics

This is not encouraging.

Tom Green County Republican Party Chairman Dennis McKerley suspended the recount of the County Court-at-Law No. 2 race about 1:30 p.m. after seeking advice from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, which suggested shutting down the recount until what appear to be problems with electronic voting machines could be fixed.

“When a couple numbers didn’t come out right, we tried the double-checks and kept checking,” said McKerley, who as GOP chairman is running the recount. ‘’We’re having trouble with the electronic equipment.’’

About 3,000 early votes and 9,500 total votes were cast in the Republican primary race, which featured incumbent Judge Penny Roberts and two challengers – Assistant County Attorney Julie Hughes and former prosecutor Dan Edwards.

Initial election results, certified by the county Saturday, showed Edwards finishing 12 votes behind Roberts for second place and the right to face Hughes in the April 11 runoff election.

The problem in the recount appears to be with new, federally mandated electronic voting machines, provided by vendor Hart InterCivic. During a hand recount, the machines are designed to print out paper ballots for each voter’s choices, but Mc-Kerley said the machines that were used to register early votes printed out only 75 percent to 80 percent of the votes believed to have been cast.

A Hart InterCivic representative is expected to arrive this morning, McKerley said, to determine whether or how to retrieve the remaining printouts.

Well, at least it’s nice to know that the danged things have the capability of printing a ballot. I still say the right answer is to print one out immediately after the voter has hit the “cast ballot” button. If nothing else, at least you’ll know right away when you’ve got a problem.

If the Hart InterCivic representative cannot print out the ballots elections workers believe should be there – or if they simply aren’t there at all – the Republican Party will have no choice but to certify the ballots in hand, McKerley said.

That likely would give any of the three candidates cause to contest the result in state district court, where he or she can ask a judge to throw out the results and call for a new election.

”If all we can count are 8,100 ballots, that becomes the official count for the election,” Edwards said. ”That bothers me if 1,500 people have been disenfranchised.”

Good luck to the judge who gets this sucker in his or her docket. I wonder if Steven Smith will add this to his list of complaints from that primary as well.

Thanks again to Capitol Annex for the catch.

UPDATE: Sonia rounds up news reports of other e-voting problems in Texas.

Annexing the Woodlands

Tory has a long piece on the eventual fate of the Woodlands, whose non-annexation treaty with Houston expires in 2011. There’s pros and cons to its absorption by Houston; assuming that Conroe doesn’t beat us to the punch, it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out. Whoever is looking to succeed Bill White as Mayor, you better start thinking about this now. Check it out.

Wrath of the Soccer Moms

Nice article in the Observer about the Texas Parent PAC and its rather impressive debut in the March primaries. One thing to highlight:

In addition to sponsoring the five pro-voucher challengers, Leininger funded a second entity, the Future of Texas Alliance PAC, to aid Republican incumbents such as Grusendorf and Rep. Elvira Reyna (R-Mesquite), whom the Parent PAC had targeted.

[…]

Parent PAC is now a significant player in Texas politics. Carolyn Boyle still has her work cut out for her. She’s busy with a few runoff elections. Then she will focus on the November elections and supporting a slate of Democrats and Republicans to ensure that whenever the Legislature reopens its debate on financing and improving schools, it will pay more attention to PTA moms.

This suggests to me that the Dems’ failure to field a candidate against Reyna was an even bigger missed opportunity than I first thought. A decent Dem candidate might have been able to peel away some of those Parent PACers who voted to oust Reyna in the GOP primary. Such a candidate might have been able to convince the PAC not to bother with a primary challenge, or to be in a position to woo them had it failed. The district is not as Republican as you might think, so who knows? Maybe with enough crossover votes, it would have been attainable. Now, of course, those potential crossovers are gone for good, since the Parent PAC achieved its goal there. It’s good that there’s one less pro-voucher vote now, but still, it’s a missed opportunity. Link via Capitol Annex.

Where the box turtles come from

When I read that the Washington Post’s new Republican activist blogger was once a speechwriter for Sen. John Cornyn, I wondered if he had a hand in some of the more, er, colorful things that our junior senator has said lately. Via Atrios, it turns out that young Ben was, at least indirectly, responsible for the infamous box turtle statement that was in a prepared speech Cornyn gave to the Heritage Foundation. (Cornyn, in a rare moment of restraint, skipped that remark when actually delivering the speech. But someone wrote it for him, and it would seem that someone was Ben Domenech. I’m sure his new colleagues at the Post are so proud.)

Next question: Did Domenech have a hand in this embarrassing chapter of Cornyn’s career?

Perry speaks about TTRC

And believe it or not, he’s saying the right things, at least for now.

Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday solicited business support for an overhaul of state taxes and said it would be a mistake for legislators to simply use a $4.3 billion surplus to provide limited cuts in school taxes when they convene April 17.

“I say let’s not substitute speed for substance,” Perry told the Texas Association of Manufacturers, a new business group that offered support for the concept of a broad-based business tax that the governor is expected to offer to lawmakers.

[…]

Perry noted that a number of legislators would rather use a $4.3 billion surplus, forecast by Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, as a “ticket on a fast train” out of town.

But, he said, that approach would provide for a lower, one-time-only cut in school taxes that could soon disappear.

“It may be more of a challenge to reach an agreement on comprehensive tax changes, but it is a challenge we should take head-on because it is the right thing to do,” Perry said.

I’ve expressed plenty of skepticism about Rick Perry’s willingness to actually push the concept of a broad-based business tax in the past, so I’ll give credit where it’s due. This is what he needs to be saying going into the special session. Good on him for that.

It’s just a start, of course. There will be plenty more pressure from the “don’t tax me, I’m special!” forces, and it remains to be seen how Perry reacts to that. There are still forces that favor shifting more of the burden to sales taxes, despite the utter inequity of such a shift and its abject (and well deserved) failure last time around. And just because Perry may have finally gotten religion on the need for a saner tax system doesn’t mean he’s serious about properly funding schools. His fixation despite all reason on the idiotic 65% rule, plus other ideological agenda items like vouchers, leave him plenty of room to continue being the bad guy that we’ve known since 2001. This may be a good start, but there’s a long way to go.

UPDATE: In the Pink adds just the right touch to the discussion.

UPDATE: A twofer from Eye on Williamson.

Radnofsky headquarters opening Friday

Barbara Radnofsky will hold an event at her new campaign headquarters on Friday, at which several candidates and officeholders, including gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell, will formally endorse her for the runoff. I got a robocall from the Radnofsky campaign last night, and I understand there are three statewide mailers in the works, so they’re clearly focused on winning that race. That’s good to see.

Anyway, the details of the event Friday:

Place: Radnofsky U.S. Senate Campaign Headquarters
Address: 1770 St. James Place, Suite 660A, Houston
Date: Friday, March 24
Time: 1:30 p.m.

Full press release beneath the fold.

(more…)

Richie responds

Boyd Richie has now responded to South Texas Chisme’s questionnaire, meaning that all three announced candidates for Chair of the Texas Democratic Party have given answers – you can see Glen Maxey’s here and Charlie Urbina-Jones’ here. Kudos to the candidates for their responsiveness, and to STxC for taking the initiative to ask the questions.

Meanwhile, Richie picked up some nice endorsements, and Maxey continued his online campaign for support. I’m going to need to read all these answers again and see if I have a strong preference. Right now, I can’t say I’d be unhappy with any of these gentlemen, and that’s a very good thing.

Texas Criminal Justice Coalition to Testify Before House Committee

I got the same email as Matt, but he posted first so I’ll quote him:

The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition today announced it would testify on Wednesday, March 22, before the House Corrections Committee in the Texas Capitol. The Coalition is expected to tell committee members that the current prison overcrowding problem cannot be sustained and that practical, cost-effective, and pro-family solutions to Texas’ probation system should be pursued.

Coalition Executive Director Ana Yanez-Correa and Ann del Llano, also of the Coalition, will address the cost of Texas’ probation system and offer recommendations to reduce revocations and recidivism. Coalition representatives Molly Totman and Dominic Gonzales will also testify and make recommendations related to the Governor’s Criminal Justice Advisory Council’s recent report. Coalition partners are also expected to testify on other aspects of the committee’s interim work.

For more information on the Coalition’s work, click on www.criminaljusticecoalition.org

What: Texas Criminal Justice Coalition Testimony, House Corrections Committee
When: Hearing Begins 9:00 a.m., Wednesday, March 22
Where: E2.016, Capitol Extension, Texas State Capitol, Austin, Texas

Scott, of course, has way more on this. Be sure also to read Aaron Pena’s piece on abuses in the juvenile justice system.

UPDATE: Notes from the morning’s testimony from Scott here and here.

Luke Skywalker: The early years

You’ve seen the movies. Now, ready or not, here comes Star Wars – the TV show.

The series will be set between episodes three and four of the film saga.

It would cover the 20 years in the life of Luke Skywalker growing up that remains a mystery to most film-goers.

[Producer Rick] McCallum said there would be “a whole bunch of new characters” and the series would be “much more dramatic and darker”.

So, basically, we’re talking Smallville set on Tatooine, except that Clark Kent doesn’t know that he’s anything special yet. Sounds like a ratings bonanza to me!

Link via Atrios, who notes that Luke didn’t exactly lead an exciting life on the home planet. Ah, but what’s a little continuity among fanboys?

Fundraiser for Shane Sklar in Houston

If you live in the Houston area and have not had the opportunity to meet Shane Sklar yet, there’s going to be a fundraiser for him next week. Here are the details:

You Are Cordially Invited To A Fundraiser For Shane Sklar

Democrat for U.S. Congress, 14th District of Texas

Thursday, March 30

4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Texas Mediation and Arbitration Center Courtroom
One Riverway, 11th Floor
777 South Post Oak Lane
Houston, Texas

Hosted by

The attorneys of Kacal, Adams and Law P.C.

Endorsed By

National Education Association
Texas State Teachers Association
Texas Farm Bureau AGFUND
AFL-CIO/COPE

For More Information, Call 361-575-2006

If money is what it takes to put a Congressional race on the media radar, then I think this one may make it. I could see Sklar raising a half million dollars or so and forcing Ron Paul to start hitting up his national network for support. If you want to help make that happen and meet a dynamic young candidate in the process, give a call and make plans to be there next Thursday.

Dan Patrick back on the air

Dan Patrick, Republican nominee for SD7, is back on the air thanks to the generosity of his general election opponents.

Federal Communications Commission rules require Patrick to give equal airtime to his opponents if he continues his show after filing for office. But the agency doesn’t get involved if opponents sign a waiver.

“They don’t need our approval,” said Rebecca Fisher, an FCC spokeswoman. “It’s a private agreement, the terms of which are handled between those two parties.”

[…]

Patrick was prepared to be off the air until November if need be, he said, although he planned to contact his challengers — Democrat F. Michael Kubosh and Libertarian candidate Mary Ann Bryan — to seek permission to get back on air. Bryan signed the agreement, although she did not win the nomination of the Libertarian Party at last weekend’s county convention.

“They realize it’s a 73 percent Republican district,” Patrick said. “What you are dealing with is two good people who realize there is no sense in keeping me from making a living. I’m the only one during the (primary) campaign who had to give up his job.”

Umm, isn’t Dan Patrick the owner of KSEV?

In 2000, Patrick and former Texas Senator, Mike Richards (also a Houston talk show host), worked out a management / partnership arrangement with Lieberman Broadcasting, whereby Dan and Mike would manage KSEV as ownership partners. Patrick would serve as VP and GM and together they would build their talk and news audience […]

I’m sure his show gets better ratings with him in the host’s chair and all, but isn’t it a wee bit disingenuous to suggest that he’s got no income stream while he’s off the air? I’m just asking.

Kubosh, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary, approached Patrick about how he could help the radio personality get back on air.

“I never ran for Senate to keep Dan Patrick off the air,” Kubosh said, noting that he decided to run last summer, long before Patrick announced his intentions.

I’ve got no quarrel with the arrangement Patrick made with Kubosh and Bryan. If they’re fine with it, then I’m fine with it. I just don’t understand the poor-out-of-work-me schtick that Patrick is giving here.

“The campaigning is over,” [Patrick] said. “I’m just going to go back to being a talk-show host, and that includes talking about issues from Iraq to Austin.”

May I suggest that you show some gratitude to Kubosh and Bryan for letting go back to being a talk show host by inviting them to join you on the air for some of that discussion? I’d call it a public service to foster that kind of open debate.

Perry to sign executive order for hurricane evacuation plan

You may recall the task force that Governor Perry appointed to study the lessons learned from the Hurricane Rita evacuations, which issued its report exactly one month ago. Today, Governor Perry is expected to sign an executive order to make some of its recommendations happen.

The executive order will require the governor’s Division of Emergency Management to develop a detailed plan for implementing contraflow highways during evacuations.

The division also will be charged with developing a plan for distributing fuel to service stations and making fuel available to motorists along evacuation routes.

[…]

The governor’s order also will:

  • Create a new unified command and control structure within each of the state’s 24 councils of government. Each region will have an “incident commander” to oversee evacuation issues in that area.
  • Instruct the emergency management division to develop a more detailed statewide evacuation and shelter plan.
  • Call for the division to work with local school districts, colleges and universities to identify buses that may be used in some evacuations and develop a system for coordinating their use.
  • Call for the division to develop a statewide evacuation and shelter plan for persons with special needs.
  • Instruct the division to create a computer database of people with special needs so the state will know who and where they are when evacuations are ordered. It also must develop criteria for evacuating people from special needs facilities.
  • Direct the Texas Department of Transportation to prioritize construction that needs to be done along evacuation routes.

I don’t have any particular quibbles with this plan, which drew praise from both Harris County Judge Robert Eckels and Mayor Bill White’s office via Frank Michel. I am curious as to how much some of this is going to cost, and how hard it will be to get the funding in place for each aspect of it. I’ll say again that this is the sort of thing that the current budget surplus is best suited for, since many of these items are likely to be one-time expenditures or have most of their costs up front. I don’t intend my mention of cost as a criticism, I’m just pointing out that securing the needed funds is a multi-step process, and we’re only at the beginning here. I don’t want to be reading stories a year from now about how some of these solutions have not been implemented because the bill to authorize funding for them is tied up in committee because of a dispute over an unrelated side item.

Perry’s executive order will not address the task force’s biggest recommendation — to make the governor the sole decision-maker on when evacuations should occur. That would require a change in state law.

[…]

[Perry spokeswoman Kathy] Walt said Perry might add hurricane preparedness to the special session set to begin April 17, but only if lawmakers first pass a public school finance plan that addresses a Texas Supreme Court order.

“Once there is a bill on his desk addressing that, he’s willing to open it to other issues,” she said.

If the Lege can beat the June 1 deadline for school finance reform, which also happens to be the start of hurricane season, I’ll be impressed. Let’s just leave it at that.

The judges in the court go round and round

Another appeal in the DeLay money laundering case, another opportunity to complain about judicial bias.

On Wednesday, one 3rd Court of Appeals panel will hear Earle’s appeal of a district judge’s ruling throwing out charges against DeLay, R-Sugar Land, of conspiring to violate the state’s election code.

There are still charges pending against DeLay on money laundering that accuse him of participating in a scheme to convert illegal corporate cash into money Republican candidates could use in 2002 Texas House races. DeLay denies any wrongdoing in the case.

The other 3rd Court panel is reviewing an appeal brought by DeLay’s co-defendants, Jim Ellis and John Colyandro. It challenges the legal theory of Earle’s original money laundering indictment brought against the men.

The issues are so similar to the charges against DeLay, that if Colyandro and Ellis win, the case against DeLay could evaporate.

One 3rd Court judge who serves on both panels, Justice Alan Waldrop, was a paid lobbyist for Texans for Lawsuit Reform, or TLR, in 2002, according to Texas Ethics Commission records.

That political committee worked closely with the DeLay-founded Texans for a Republican Majority, TRMPAC, in affecting the outcome of the elections for the Texas House that year.

And during the 2003 legislative session, Waldrop worked with TLR consultant Chuck McDonald in coaching Republican House members on how to pass major tort reform legislation. McDonald has been a grand jury witness in the case involving DeLay, Ellis and Colyandro.

Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, temporarily blocked the tort reform bill under House rules because of Waldrop’s coaching. Gallego said Waldrop is “brilliant and a good jurist” but said Waldrop’s ties to TLR make it inappropriate for him to be hearing anything related to TRMPAC.

“There should be the same sort of discussion about Judge Waldrop as there was about Judge Perkins,” Gallego said.

Another judge who is serving on the Wednesday panel hearing Earle’s appeal, Justice David Puryear, gave $250 in 1996 to a Republican candidate who was seeking to oust Earle. At that time, Puryear was an elected Republican county court-at-law judge in Austin.

The candidate, Shane Phelps, had been recruited by the GOP to run against Earle after the prosecutor failed in his effort to convict U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of misuse of office.

[…]

[DeLay defense attorney Dick] DeGuerin on Monday said Perkins’ situation was unique because he was making political donations while sitting on the court. DeGuerin said the actions of the 3rd Court justices all occurred before they took the oath of office as a judge.

“Everybody who becomes a judge has done something in their past. They’ve represented one side or another,” DeGuerin said. “If they took the oath of office and believe in the oath and impartially administer justice, that’s all you can ask for.”

Well, now, that’s in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? You opened this can of worms, Dick, and you were the one pushing a ridiculously broad definition of “bias” when it suited your purposes. If this comes back to bite you in the ass, you have no one to blame but yourself.

The good news, at least for those of us who believe that there comes a time in any litigation to shoot all the lawyers and let the process move forward, is that Travis County DA Ronnie Earle doesn’t appear (yet) to be interested in pursuing a recusal motion. So maybe we’ll have a ruling in a matter of days instead of weeks. I agree with the contention that the ruling on the Ellis/Colyandro motion is more important, since if they win there won’t be any crime to prosecute for all intents and purposes. Since their claim is that money laundering is only illegal if cash is involved and not checks, I have a hard time imagining how any rational judge could side with them, but you never know. Stay tuned.

Report from the METRO meeting on the Universities rail line

Robin Holzer attended the Metro meeting on the Universities light rail line and gives a report on what happened. Read the whole thing, as it’s more detailed than the Chron story (note to Rad Sallee: Robin is a girl, not a boy) or the ridiculously lightweight KTRK piece (give them credit, though – at least they had something), but in particular note this:

[D]istrict City Council members are convening nine smaller meetings in April in neighborhoods all along the corridor. And METRO will start the federally-required public meeting process soon after.

If you’re wondering whether you should participate in this process, you should, and Mayor White explained it best: “You are participating in an important process of building Houston for the next generation.”

Indeed. Attend and be heard.

Roger Owen open letter followup

Meant to blog about this sooner, but you know how it goes: You may recall our open letter to Roger Owen, the nutball anti-gay candidate in CD01. If it wasn’t clear in that post, Vince Leibowitz did email him a copy of it, and he got a response shortly thereafter, which you can see here. Not too surprisingly, he did not deal directly with the substantive issues. Later in the week, the Longview News-Journal did a piece on the letter and the response; Vince has a full copy of it here. It’s not the most incisive political writing you’ll ever encounter, but at least it was something. Finally, Vince notes that there may be an independent candidate running in CD01, if he can muster the signatures. He may be a nut, too, but until we know that for sure, he’s worth checking into.

Patrick Franklin, the State House candidate Owen insulted during the primary, posts his thoughts on the matter. He’s more forgiving than I might have been in his shoes.

Repeat after me: One size does not fit all

I agree completely with Eye on Williamson: This Statesman article on how school districts spend their money, doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. Different districts have different needs, and they’re in a better position to know what those needs are than the Governor. Which is why, once again, that the 65 Percent Rule that Rick Perry imposed by magisterial fiat last year, is so utterly misguided.

Note well:

The study also found greater spending variations when it compared higher- and lower-performing districts among their peers in the same class than when comparing higher- and lower-performing districts to each other.

For example, Palo Pinto, a small district outside of Fort Worth that was rated exemplary by the state, spent less than 50 percent on instruction in the 2003-04 school year because it has higher transportation and utility costs, Clark said.

By comparison, the Hamilton school district near Waco, also rated exemplary that year, spent about 64 percent.

Lower-performing districts tended to spend more on instruction than higher-performing districts.

Different districts have different needs. One size does not fit all. Why is this so hard?

Aiyer on CHIP difficulties

I linked to this Chron article last week on the difficulties many eligible Texans have enrolling and staying enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Yesterday, I got an email from Jay Aiyer, who had a sensible suggestion for how to resolve this, which I present below:

One of the biggest tragedies facing our state is the growing number of uninsured children. The Children’s Health Insurance Program, administered by the state, was supposed to bridge the gap and provide insurance for millions of uninsured Texans. Instead, they have managed to make a bad situation worse. Allowing a private vendor to take hundreds of thousands of kids off the list is not simply incompetence of the highest order, but immoral. The answer is simple, but it requires a different approach.

If you want to enroll low-income children into CHIP, go where the children are.

When I enrolled my daughter at school, I had to provide a myriad of information–name, contact numbers, immunization records, proof of residency, etc. But I was never asked about health insurance. By asking that basic question, a school would then have access to the insurance status of millions of children. Then based on residency and school lunch information, the District would have a ready pool of students who can be determined if they are CHIP eligible. The information would be computerized, and would allow millions of children to be enrolled automatically at their school.

The process is a basic one. But it requires the State using a little common sense and, most importantly, communicating with local entities.

In case you are wondering if this problem could ever really work, it already does, in states like California, North Carolina, Illinois and Washington. Texas needs to join in and save the lives of children accross this state.

Sounds like a good approach to me. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks, Jay!

Tagliabue to retire

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is going to retire in July.

The 65-year-old commissioner has led the league since 1989, when he succeeded Pete Rozelle, and had recently signed a two-year contract extension to complete the television and labor deals.

He finally got that done 12 days ago, finishing the most arduous labor negotiations since the league and union agreed on a free agency-salary cap deal in 1992.

“I believe that now is a positive time to make the transition to a new commissioner,” Tagliabue said in a statement.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported on March 9 that Tagliabue was expected to exercise a clause in his contract with league owners in which he becomes a “senior executive” consultant with a significant compensation package. Tagliabue and the NFL did not comment at the time.

Tagliabue will be available to serve in a senior executive/advisory role through May 31, 2008 once a new commissioner is selected.

Roger Goodell, the NFL’s chief operating officer, and Atlanta general manager Rich McKay are the two leading candidates to succeed Tagliabue. Baltimore Ravens president Dick Cass is considered a dark horse.

The NFL has done very well under Tags’ watch, and that includes their recovery from the 1982 work stoppage, which (thanks in part to a weaker players’ union than that of MLB) has generally avoided labor strife since then. Whoever gets to follow him will have big shoes to fill.

Stina suggests a possible replacement: Condoleeza Rice. That would be…interesting. I can only wonder what her response would be if she came to feel that the NFL may someday be threatened by another league.