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March 9th, 2006:

Koufax voting ends on Sunday

Voting for the Koufax Awards ends Sunday night, March 12th, at 11:59 pm. I presume that’s Eastern time, since fine folks at Wampum are all citizens of Atlantic states, so adjust to your location as needed. I and several other Texas blogs are up for the Best Local and State Blogs trophy, and we’re still getting smoked by those upstart whippersnappers from Kentucky. Only you can rectify that situation. Thank you.

Radnofsky’s runoff

I think the result that surprised and disappointed me the most from Tuesday was the Senate race, where Barbara Radnofsky failed to win a majority of the vote and was forced into a runoff with perennial non-campaigning candidate Gene Kelly. I said at the time that I suspected Kelly’s simpler name helped boost his total. I still believe that’s true, but I also think Stace is onto something when he says that BAR was running to win in November, not in March. She’s been very thrifty with her limited campaign funds, as befitting someone who’ll be grossly outspent in the fall, she’s done a lot of travel and met people face to face, and she’s clearly impressed a lot of newspaper editorial boards. These are all good things, but they’re of limited effectiveness when it comes to name recognition. You can only meet so many people in a year’s time. Put out a few mailers, make some robocalls – surely a few of our esteemed officeholders would be willing to lend their voices towards that effort, since surely none of them want to see ol’ Gene at the top of the ticket, right? Spend a few of those hard-earned bucks now – it’s not like the name recognition you’ll get from it will expire before November.

This nifty map shows where BAR did well and where she needs to improve. Again, I agree with Stace: Get down to South Texas, where you did relatively poorly, and campaign. You speak Spanish, so that’s a plus. As annoying as it must be to be forced into this position, it may end up benefitting you by keeping your name in the news for another month. There’ll be a lot less interest in reporting anything on this race until at least Labor Day after that, so make the most of it while you can.

At least the campaign has recognized that it needs to run against Kelly for the next 30 days. He’s as easy a target as you could want. The contrast between the two of you and the reason why you’re the only choice couldn’t be plainer. Be just negative enough to remind people why they can’t afford to go with him, and play up your qualities for all they’re worth. The rest will follow.

I’ll be reminding everyone here to vote for BAR in this runoff as it approaches. Even if you saved yourself for Kinky or OTG, you can sign their petition and still vote in April, since this isn’t the gubernatorial race. As long as you didn’t go Republican on Tuesday, you’re eligible.

Finally, the Bride of Acheron has a little song about Gene Kelly that I found amusing. Check it out.

Colorado blogging assistance sought

Ellen Forman, one of my guest bloggers, has let me know about a conference happening next week at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. The topic is state accountability in domestic violence; the topic is focused around a 2005 Supreme Court decision in the case of Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales. The Washington Post’s synopsis:

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that federal law provides no guarantee of a specific police response to domestic violence complaints, even when a restraining order has been issued against a potential perpetrator.

The case, a victory for cities and states that feared costly lawsuits, stemmed from allegations by a woman in Colorado that police failed to make a serious effort to enforce a restraining order against her estranged husband, who then killed her three daughters before being fatally shot by police.

The woman, Jessica Gonzales, sued the town of Castle Rock, Colo., saying that police there violated the due-process clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment by putting her off when she repeatedly phoned for help before the killings in June 1999.

Kris Miccio is the DU law professor who has organized this event, and she’s looking for a Colorado blogger who might be interested in liveblogging the conference. The admission fee would be comped. If you’re interested, please write to Ellen at eforman AT gmail dot com.

Primary notes

Just a few random observations from the Tuesday primaries…

The thing that really strikes me about Tom DeLay’s win is that his poorest showing was in his home county of Fort Bend:

County DeLay vote Total vote DeLay Pct =============================================== Harris 6,532 8,892 73.46 Galveston 798 1,161 68.73 Brazoria 2,341 3,508 66.73 Fort Bend 10,887 19,599 55.55

The turnout disparity between Harris and Fort Bend is presumably due to the numerous contested countywide primaries in FBC, including one for the county GOP chair. You can look at DeLay’s win as vindication for him, but I look at that 62% figure and I see weakness. He’ll certainly need more than 62% of the Republican vote to win in November, and as long as Steve Stockman is on the ballot, the anti-DeLay Republicans who can’t bring themselves to vote for Nick Lampson have a place to go.

I also view DeLay’s even weaker performance in FBC as a good sign. As I see it, there’s no path to victory for Lampson that doesn’t include carrying Fort Bend. DeLay got only 53% of the FBC vote in 2004, so that’s very much an attainable goal, especially after nearly half of the GOP primary voters there picked someone else. I thought DeLay needed a big win on Tuesday to help dispel doubts about his electoral viability. This was not a big win.

Moving over to CD28, there’s a myth that needs debunking.

There is no way to prove this, but I still bet that if this was a closed primary and Republicans and Independents had been unable to vote, we would have at least forced a run-off, if not won outright. The margin was so close, I can easily imagine a few thousand registered Republicans and Republican-leaning indepdents wanting to vote for Cuellar because of his connections to Bush. The Texas primary system would have allowed them to do so.

As a commenter noted there, you are a Democrat by definition if you vote in the Democratic primary. Bowers is talking about registering with a party as a prerequisite for voting in that party’s primary, which is not how it works in Texas.

So yes, it is theoretically possible that people who might normally vote Republican chose to take part in this primary race since it would be their only chance to express a preference. If such people exist, they probably went with Cuellar. Let’s stipulate that for the sake of argument and go from there.

The first question is how do you distinguish such voters from the “real” Democrats? Perhaps if they only voted in the CD28 race, since (in theory) that’s the only one that interests them. I’d need to see precinct-level data before I could judge if turnout in CD28 was significantly higher than in the other contested primaries. Even if I found such a pattern, it’s suggestive but hardly conclusive – I mean, this was the highest-profile race on the ballot. Who’s to say that some number of “real” Democrats didn’t just care about that race? The best comparison here would be to the HD42 race, featuring incumbent State Rep (and erstwhile CD28 challenger) Richard Raymond, his former staffer former Webb County Judge Mercurio Martinez whom Raymond tried to force off the ballot, and two others. If CD28 drew a lot more votes than HD42 in the same precincts, you might be able to convince me that it was stuffed with ringers. I don’t see precinct data on the Webb County Clerk site, and it won’t be available through the Secretary of State for some time, so I’ll leave that task to someone more motivated than I.

It’s my guess that you won’t find any evidence of such, at least in Webb County where one expects the crossover motivation would have been highest. For one thing, turnout in 2006 was about what it was in 2002, prior to the redistricting. Indeed, it was a little higher in 2002, when hometown boy Tony Sanchez was on the ballot for Governor. That race drew over 31,000 votes in Webb; the 2006 topper, for Lt Gov, got just over 26,000, while Proposition 1, on raising the minimum wage, got 28,000 votes. The election day results (very slow loading PDF) on the Webb County Clerk site also includes the uncontested CD23, where Rick Bolanos pulled in 11,583 votes; add that to the 14,543 cast in CD28 and you’re right at 26,000. Had CD23 also been contested, these two races might have combined for something like 28,000 or even 29,000 votes, so that’s a little high, but again – CD28 was a high profile race. So was HD42, which largely overlaps CD28. In my opinion, there’s nothing remarkable here.

What about turnout in the Republican primaries? Well, in Webb County, a grand total of 847 votes were cast in the GOP gubernatorial primary. In 2004, there were 846 votes cast in the Presidential primary, and in 2002 there were 604 ballots in the Lite Guv primary, all of which being the high scorers for their cycles. In other words, there is no Republican primary to speak of in Webb, so there’s no basis for comparison here. If there are Republicans voting in the Webb County Democratic primary, they’ve always been there. Having Henry Cuellar on the ballot was only a factor as far as his Laredo roots were concerned. That’s why Cuellar won – his home county supported him more than Bexar supported Ciro Rodriguez. I said before that Ciro needed a boost in Bexar turnout to win, and he didn’t get it. That was and is the story of this race.

Rep. Carter Casteel is weighing a recount request in her 45-vote loss to Leininger puppet Nathan Macias.

“We’ll probably take a look at that very seriously,” Casteel said. “I probably owe it to the people who voted for me and contributed to me. I have until March 29 to decide.”

The final, unofficial tally put Macias ahead with 10,176 votes to Casteel’s 10,131 in the four-county district.

Macias said he’s “telling everyone I’m victorious and will represent the district with strong, conservative values.”

But he later added that with the number of ballots that still could show up and be counted, “I’m not sure anybody can claim victory.”

The 45-vote margin could narrow when mail-in absentee ballots sent to out-of-country military personnel are counted. They must be postmarked by election day but can be received until March 20.

Officials are awaiting 93 ballots that were mailed out, but not yet returned, including 79 from Comal County, Casteel’s base of support. However, election officials expect relatively few of those ballots to come in.

Four were delivered to the Comal County courthouse Wednesday, said Comal County Elections Administrator Linell Hinojosa.

There also were nine provisional ballots cast, seven from Comal County. Those will be checked by voter registration officials and counted if the voters registered properly.

“When I found out she lost by 44, I thought, ‘Hey, this isn’t over yet,'” Hinojosa said.

“It’s workable, I guess, but my gut tells me not to bank on it,” Casteel said of the final results.

Recounts seldom make a difference, but in any race that close I think you have to request one. You never know.

The primary fallout stories are coming: from the Chron, the Morning News, and an editorial from the Statesman, all of which focus on the effect on the upcoming special session on school finance. Oh yeah, this is gonna be fun.

Finally, if you want to read some tea leaves in certain vote totals for a barometer on November, there’s good news and bad news for each party. The good news for Democrats is that in the open HD118, formerly held by soon-to-be-State Senator Carlos Uresti, there were only 1924 votes cast in the GOP primary, while the Democrats totalled 5703. The bad news for the Dems is that they had only 3639 votes cast in the HD47 primary, compared to 6090 for the GOP. I wouldn’t read too much into this, especially given that HD118 is also within both SD19 and CD28, but consider it noted for future reference anyway.

UPDATE: As noted, Mercurio Martinez is not a former Raymond staffer – that was Sergio Mora. Thanks to Chito in the comments for the correction.

Pro Tem staffers fired

One more item on my catchup list: Mayor Pro Tem Carol Alvarado has stepped down from that post (for now, anyway, or so she says), and the four staffers who got paid the illegal bonuses have been fired.

Mayor Bill White’s chief administrative officer, Anthony Hall, said the employees who received more than $143,000 in bonuses had been fired and would be notified by letter of the decision.

“The letters were signed this morning advising them that they had been indefinitely suspended from employment with the city of Houston,” Hall said. That suspension is the equivalent of a termination.

Hall, a former city attorney and councilman, presided over termination hearing Tuesday in which the four employees tried to save their jobs.

The employees – Rosita Hernandez, Florence Watkins, Christopher Mays and Theresa Orta – have the right to a public appeal hearing before the civil service commission for municipal employees.

They can appeal, but I doubt that will have any effect unless they can somehow prove their innocence. How they could do that is a mystery to me.

The attorney for Hernandez, Walter Boyd III, said Tuesday evening his client denies any wrongdoing and planned to appeal if terminated.

“The other side of the story is going to come out,” said Boyd. “What you’ve been hearing up to this point has been merely an elected official posturing to make sure that their underlings, if you will, are the ones who ultimately are held responsible.”

I’d put the odds of this being pure bluster in the 90%+ range, but I suppose one never knows. I mean, what are they waiting for, if they’ve got the goods? Why not wheel it out at this hearing before the firings happened? One way to prove they weren’t responsible for what happened would be to prove that someone else was, after all.

The Houston Police Office of Inspector General investigation into the four employees is over and the results were forwarded to the Harris County District Attorney’s office for possible criminal charges. But officials continue to investigate other city employees who received bonuses from late 2004 to this year to ensure they were properly approved, Hall said.

If the fired four start talking to Chuck Rosenthal and the word “deal” starts floating around, then I’ll believe they’ve got something. As Kevin notes, the DA’s office is involved because the city’s Office of Inspector General had limited powers to investigate fully.

So as things stand now, I continue to believe that Carol Alvarado will not face any criminal liability for what happened. That doesn’t mean she bears no responsibility for this – far from it. As Vernon commented here, about the best Alvarado can do is play the Ken Lay Idiot Defense card and hope that some day all will be forgiven, or at least forgotten. The question now is whether this will leave a mark on Mayor White. I don’t think he’ll take much of a hit, but until all the investigations are closed and the inevitable reforms are adopted, he’s still in the picture.

What really strikes me as crazy in all this is how anyone thought they could get away with it. Sure, they went undetected for a few months, but this was not a sophisticated plot – hell, the Pro Tem’s budget was going to run out well before the fiscal year ended, and then what? Ask for more and hope no one questions it? Pawn office supplies on eBay to cover the shortage? During our companywide ethics training last year, we were regaled by one of our attorneys about some of the things various now-former emplyees did to enrich themselves at the firm’s expense. Some of the schemes were pretty darned clever, but from my perspective at least every single one of them was sure to be spotted sooner or later, as they all were. It’s one thing to take the money and run, it’s another altogether to keep taking it while staying in place. I just wish I knew what the decisionmaking process was for these folks.

UPDATE: The OIG may be finished with the Fired Four, but it still has work to do.

The police probe that led to the firings Wednesday of four mayor pro tem staffers will continue as investigators ensure that other city employees’ bonuses were legitimate, officials said.

The ongoing Houston Police Office of Inspector General probe was revealed during a news conference in which Anthony Hall, the city’s chief administrative officer, announced the termination of four employees who received a total of $143,000 in unauthorized bonuses.

Mayor Bill White and others in his administration said there’s no evidence that other employees got large bonuses like those paid to the pro tem employees.

“The mayor said that there would be no cover-up, nobody would be exempt, so any situation where somebody got a bonus, they will be looking at them to make sure that none of these same issues were involved,” Hall said.

“There’s no indication that there was.”

Hall, a former city attorney and councilman, presided over the hearings Tuesday in which the four employees appeared in response to termination notices.

The Inspector General, Assistant Police Chief Michael Dirden, has declined to comment. But the mayor and his staff have said the investigation into the pro tem employees was expedited because they were still drawing pay while under suspension.

Officials have said the investigation also would focus on any complicity by payroll or other employees in the pro tem scheme, which White called a “pattern of misconduct.” White said the investigation so far has not uncovered complicity by others.

Stay tuned.

Chron blog on Texas politics

I’ve been whining about it for awhile now, and it seems I’ve finally gotten my wish – the Chron now has a Texas politics blog. It’s all R.G. Ratcliffe so far, and I’m not sure how interactive he’s going to be (responding to comments, linking to stuff outside the Chron, etc), but he’s blogging, and I’m happy to cut him some slack until he gets his sea legs, so to speak. Check it out.


More stuff that happened while I was out…Houston 1836 is no more, Houston Dynamo takes its place.

The team officially gave its 1836 name the boot and announced it will build its brand around Dynamo during an unveiling ceremony at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

“Dynamo is a word to describe someone who never fatigues, never gives up,” team president Oliver Luck said. “The new name is symbolic of Houston as an energetic, hard-working, risk-taking kind of town.”

The name is not Dynamos, as in the short-lived professional team that roamed the pitch at Butler Stadium briefly in the mid-80s as part of the now-defunct United Soccer League. It’s Dynamo as a reference to an energy source and in tribute to the city’s outgoing spirit and ties to energy, Luck said.

The nixing of 1836 was expected after the name was deemed offensive by some in the Hispanic community shortly after its unveiling Jan. 25.

Well, okay. I’ve said before that I liked Houston 1836 just fine, but I respect the reasons why people objected and certainly understand why the team felt the need to act. Frankly, as long as we didn’t get Houston Lone Star or some similarly insipid offering, I was going to accept it. Enough of the name game, it’s time to play ball.

Reaction on soccer Web blogs, including the Chronicle’s, has been mixed. The new name has been called everything; from “lame”, “horrible” and “unoriginal” to a “PC debacle” to “catchy” and “unique.”

Many bloggers were angry the name was changed to begin with, calling it an “insult to Texas history.” Most, though, suggested that the team move on and focus on the game.

John, Lair, and Pete reach for the pop culture references, while Houstonist notes that there’s already a Moscow Dynamo and a Kiev Dynamo, and Rob brings the Russian to expand on that. Make of it what you will.