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March 16th, 2006:

Bennett endorses Miles in HD146 runoff

I was pretty sure this was going to happen, but it’s nice to see anyway, especially this far out from the start of early voting: Al Bennett, former challenger in the Democratic primary in HD146, has endorsed Borris Miles in the runoff against incumbent Rep. Al Edwards. Here’s the press release:

Houston, TX – In a statement released today by his campaign, former District 146 candidate Al Bennett has endorsed Borris L. Miles, and urged his voters and all the voters of District 146 to support Miles in the upcoming runoff election, Tuesday, April 11. Bennett, a local attorney, ran a strong third in the March 7th Democratic primary, earning 19% of the vote, while Miles ran second with 33%.

Citing the need for a new voice and new priorities, Al Bennett said, “Borris Miles is the only candidate who can provide needed change. While the Democratic voters of District 146 did not nominate me for the House of Representative, a majority said they wanted a change, and I echo that call.”

In endorsing Borris Miles, Bennett continued, “Al Edwards had been a missing voice with misguided priorities…this is our opportunity to make a change.”

Borris L. Miles, a successful small business owner, former law enforcement officer and longtime community activist will face incumbent District 146 State Representative Al Edwards in the April 11 runoff election following a very heated primary election.

“I am honored to earn the support of Al Bennett.”, Miles said. “Al ran a strong race on the issues, and has a bright future in public service. I am pleased to have his endorsement.”

Running on a campaign of change, Miles, a Sunnyside native and lifelong District 146 resident, is running to fully fund public education, restore and expand access to children’s health insurance, combat flooding and crime, and expand economic opportunity. “For too long, the residents of District 146 have gone without a real voice in Austin”, Miles said. “It’s time they had the representation they deserve – someone who will fight for their interests at the Capitol. I will be that representative.”

Borris Miles enjoys the endorsement and support of a variety of community leaders including Mrs. Audrey Lawson, Houston City Councilmembers Ada Edwards, Ronald Green and Peter Brown, Harris County Constable May Walker, HISD Trustees Larry Marshall, Dianne Johnson and Kevin Hoffman, Bishop Gene Moore, Ministers Manson Johnson, Terrence Johnson, Ed Lockett, Fort Bend Constable Ruben Davis, Houston Urban League CEO Sylvia Brooks, Candidate for Texas Governor Chris Bell, Former State Representative Debra Danburg, Ambassador Arthur Schechter, Mark Lee, Herman Litt, The Jewish Herald Voice, Former Houston Police Chief C.O. Bradford and many others.

Early voting for the runoff election begins April 3rd and continues through April 7th. Election Day is scheduled for Tuesday, April 11, 2006.

Thank you, Al Bennett. This race will be another factor in determining how stable or not Tom Craddick’s speakership is. A win for Miles is a loss for Craddick, and that’s good for all of us.

“Sour grapes” in CD22

Nice to see everyone getting along so well in CD22.

The three Republicans who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) in a recent primary either are saying they will not endorse him in the general election or are waiting to make up their minds.

Some political observers believe the lack of unity among Texas Republicans could hamper DeLay’s effort to retain his seat and question DeLay’s decision to lambaste his primary opponents soon after beating them earlier this month.

[…]

Michael Fjetland, one of the Republicans to challenge DeLay in the March 7 primary, said flatly: “I cannot endorse any felon.” DeLay is not a felon, but he has been indicted by Democratic Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle and had extensive ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Fjetland, an attorney, added that he was “bothered” by DeLay’s remarks after his primary win. “None of us attacked him individually, only on the issues affecting people in the district,” he said.

Shortly after winning, DeLay issued a statement in which he accused his Republican challengers of taking their cue from Democrats.

“So what did the Republican primary last night show?” the statement said. “The candidates running against Tom DeLay all mimicked Democrat attacks and Democrat talking points. The voters of this district soundly rejected their campaigns, and sent a message that Tom DeLay’s dedication and faithful service to the issues and values of this district are what matters most.”

Tom Campbell, the environmental attorney who came in second in the primary, said that DeLay has a “problem with his base” and that he has yet to decide whether he will endorse DeLay.

“I think Mr. DeLay is engaging in a counterproductive but characteristic pattern of conduct. He’s attacking the messenger. … Ten thousand Republicans, many of which were conservative Republicans, voted against the incumbent, and they voted for another conservative as an alternative. Mr. DeLay should think about that, rather than simply attacking me as being a liberal Democrat, which simply the facts don’t support.”

Campbell added: “I am not part of any vast left-wing conspiracy.”

Pat Baig, who finished fourth in the GOP primary, stated, “I believe Tom DeLay embodies the malignancy that is destroying the integrity, credibility and historical cornerstones of the Republican Party. That is why I ran against him. I cannot vote for corruption; therefore, as in ’04, he will not have my vote in ’06.”

So how big a deal is this? In the previous GOP primary for CD22, Fjetland got about 5600 votes out of 28,000, or 20%. Some 12,502 people voted against DeLay this time around, out of 33,160 total votes cast. What Baig and Fjetland do won’t make any difference – anyone who voted for them has likely never supported DeLay in the past – but not having Campbell’s support could hurt. Campbell got almost 10,000 votes, which is more than Fjetland got in 2000 when the turnout was 50% higher. I think he’s right to say that this represents an erosion of DeLay’s base, which I will point out is a continuation of a trend from 2002 and 2004.

Chris LaCivita, a former head of the Virginia Republican Party who is now a political consultant, dismissed talk of DeLay’s base being fractured, calling the primary a case of “sour grapes.”

“These guys just ran in a very contested primary and had their heads handed to them,” LaCivita said, noting that DeLay captured 62 percent of the vote in a four-way race. “Where I’m from, that-s called a good, old-fashioned ass whoopin’.”

LaCivita added that Republican voters ultimately would vote for the candidate who represents their values. He added that DeLay shouldn’t have too much trouble sewing up an additional 18 percent of the GOP vote, giving him an 80 percent advantage among Republicans and a strong core of support heading into November.

I have news for you, Mister Where-You’re-From-Is-Not-Here LaCivita: In 2004, an average of 165,739 votes were cast for Republicans in the four statewide races in CD22. DeLay got slightly over 90% of that average Republican vote in CD22. He got almost 85% of the Presidential vote, which is where he lagged the most behind. Had he gotten only 80% Republican support, he’d have finished with 132,591votes instead of the 150,386 he actually got. Put another way, he’d have gotten 48.6% of the overall vote had he gotten a mere 80% support from Republicans. If he gets only 80% Republican support this time around, we’ll have a new name for him: Private Citizen Tom DeLay. Now does that 62% he got in the primary get your attention?

Link via The Stakeholder.

Let the anti-TTRC backlash begin!

You knew this was going to happen, right?

A number of the state’s major law firms are trying to scuttle a tax overhaul because they want property tax relief without paying their share of public school costs, former Comptroller John Sharp said Wednesday.

“They want everybody else to pay for it. That’s where the lines are going to be drawn,” Sharp said.

Glen A. Rosenbaum, a Vinson & Elkins partner and spokesman for a coalition of 18 major law firms, said lawyers support the tax reform effort but believe a new business tax proposed by Sharp would prove “excessive and inequitable” for professional service firms.

[…]

Rosenbaum said the only option available to law firms and other professional service providers is the compensation deduction, and he called the $300,000 cap a major sticking point. He said law firms in his coalition are ready to pay their share of taxes and for several years have supported “any number of tax alternatives” that included professional firms, including some options rejected by the Legislature last year.

Rosenbaum said Sharp’s proposal would be more acceptable if the compensation cap were raised to $500,000 or $550,000 per employee. He said lawyers wanted to continue to work with the commission to find an alternative.

“What these guys really want is to distribute all their money to their partners and come back with nothing to pay taxes on,” Sharp said.

“There is no way we or the Legislature can justify letting lawyers pay themselves $500,000 before paying any taxes, while they get the same property tax relief everyone else gets,” he added.

As I said before, the only way this works is if everyone agrees that the system really does need to spread the burden around, and that that includes spreading some of it to themselves. Rick Perry has been saying the right things lately about the need for a broader business tax, but his record is not one that inspires trust in his willingness to fight back against the business lobby and its inevitable demand for execptions to be carved out for this group or that. I’ll believe he’s capable of doing that when I see it.

By the way, the article mentions April 17 as the target start date for the next special session. That’s one month from tomorrow, six days after the primary runoffs, and 44 days before the court-imposed June 1 deadline. Such fun it will be.

Open letter to Roger Owen

You may recall the adventures of Roger Owen, now the Democratic nominee for CD01 in East Texas, during the primaries – see here and here for a refresher. Now that he is the nominee, a few of us bloggers thought we should express our concerns about his actions during the primary to him. Vince Leibowitz has written an open letter to Roger Owen (PDF), for which I’m a cosigner. Check it out.

(It turns out there are other reasons to have concerns about Roger Owen as well. Too bad that didn’t come out during the primary, that’s all I can say.)

David Van Os event at Drexler’s

You needed an excuse to visit Drexler’s BBQ, right? Well, here you go:

Meet and hear David Van Os at his Houston “Whistlestop”.

Enjoy Texas BBQ and listen to music by David Rovics (“The Musical Version of Democracy Now” according to Amy Goodman) and “Brother Can You Spare A Dime” (a musical political comedy).

Richard Morrison is the Master of Ceremonies.

Drexler’s BBQ, 2300 Pierce St., Houston

March 25, 2006 :: 5 PM – 8 PM

For more info, contact Tom Gederberg at 281-451-4669 or e-mail gederberg at sbcglobal dot net

PRE-SALE TIX AVAILABLE through our “contribution” page.

Be sure to get the brisket while you’re there, too.

Free WiFi to come to Austin

And the march to municipal WiFi takes another step forward in Austin.

The city is partnering with Cisco Systems Inc., the largest maker of computer networking equipment, and the World Congress of Information Technology on the project. Cisco will donate nearly $700,000 worth of wireless-networking equipment for the new network to the group hosting WCIT, an international gathering of technology leaders in Austin in early May.

But the network will live on. With Cisco’s equipment and engineering assistance, the city’s communications and technology management department and Austin Energy will build and maintain the network, which will deliver high-speed Internet access to attendees at the technology convention and, ultimately, to various city workers, the general public and to academic and private researchers.

Mayor Will Wynn said the network helps Austin in several ways, expanding broadband Internet access to more residents, helping city services do their jobs better and serving as a potential test laboratory for new wireless applications, services and companies.

Glyn Meek, CEO of the WCIT Austin organization, said discussions about building the network have been under way for nearly a year.

“We always have wanted to leave behind a legacy to the city,” Meek said of WCIT, which is held in a different city every two years. “This was in the back of our mind as an appropriate thing to do. This will be of lasting benefit to the city.”

The wireless network will be built in three stages. The first stage, covering lower downtown will be completed by mid- to late April in time for the technology meeting. It’s designed to provide almost continuous broadband Internet access to attendees at the convention whether they are in seminars at the Austin Convention Center, at their downtown hotels or in the Warehouse and Sixth Street entertainment districts downtown. The East Austin and Zilker Park stages will be completed during the summer.

“Our delegates live and die and breathe by (Internet) connectivity, and this provides them with continuous connectivity for all their stay,” Meek said. “Cisco has absolutely stepped up to the plate for this and so has the city. This has been a great team effort.”

[…]

[Austin Chief Information Officer Peter] Collins said his existing staff can maintain the network without additional spending. Cisco, he said, has agreed to help maintain the network for its first few years of operation.

Alex Cavalli, director of Austin’s Digital Convergence Initiative, says he expects the network to become a valuable resource for the public, for the city and for researchers and entrepreneurs.

“There is a whole array of uses from practical city services to research and new business development,” Cavalli said.

Let’s see…you’ve got your public/private partnership, your investment in municipal infrastructure, your upgrade of your city’s appeal for visitors and potential new residents, including other businesses…yep, I think we’ve hit all the high points here. This project differs from the one in Houston in that it’s a temporary setup for a convention that will be made permanent, and will be actually free to use for those in its area instead of low-cost. I think the very nature of this kind of thing means that you’ll see a variety of ways in which it’s brought about. By working with the WCIT, Austin was able to capitalize on a unique situation and take full advantage of it. Kudos to them for it.

I hope that by the time either the Lege or the Congress gets around to contemplating another anti-municipal WiFi bill like we did here last year, that enough cities will have at least a solid implementation plan already in place, so that the outcry will be as loud and broad-based as possible. I figure the more this is a fait accompli, the less there is that can reasonably be done to stop it.

Sherron Watkins takes the stand

Sherron Watkins, best known for her whistleblowing memo just before Enron imploded, testified today in the trial of Kenny Boy Lay and Jeff Skilling.

A very talkative Watkins took the jurors step by step through her discovery of what she considered to be fraud at Enron, her meeting with Lay and her subsequent feeling she became a pariah at the company where she felt her job was in peril.

Watkins told jurors how she trusted Lay before she went to him with her memo in August 2001. But she said he later lied to analysts in a conference call in October 2001 about the Raptors hedging structures established through Fastow’s LJM side company.

“It was a blatant lie . . . to say these could have been done with anyone else,” Watkins said of the many overvalued Enron assets hedged in Fastow’s financial vehicles. “You don’t make statements like that, they’re misleading.”

She said Lay also misled employees that same day.

[…]

In June 2001, Watkins went to work for then-Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow and was assigned to examine assets the company might sell. What she found, she said, was that Fastow’s LJM had already gotten its money back with profit, leaving the failing Raptors owing Enron $500 million it didn’t have to pay out.

“Accounting just doesn’t get that creative,” she said.

Her concern was mounting, she said, when in mid-August Jeff Skilling resigned as the company’s CEO.

“It told me he was a smart man … this stuff I stumbled across, he knows it. He knows it’s bad and he’s getting out,” Watkins said.

Testifying in the conspiracy and fraud trial of Skilling and Lay, Watkins’ testimony reflected most directly on Lay.

On questioning by prosecutor John Hueston, she said she trusted Lay and thought he didn’t know about the Raptors, so she decided to warn him. She wrote her famous memo Aug. 15, 2001, leaving it anonymous at first, then met with Lay Aug. 22.

Her memo stated: “It sure looks to the layman on the street that we are hiding losses in a related company.”

[…]

She had about 30 minutes with Lay in which the vice president asked the then-CEO and chairman of the company to “come clean” about Fastow’s side deals for the company’s sake.

“I did most of the talking, He seemed kind of surprised these things could be problems,” she said.

Watkins said Lay winced when he read that an employee said: “‘I wish we would get caught, we are such a crooked company.'”

She said she thought Lay took her seriously. He asked if she’d told anyone outside the company about her concerns and she said no.

Watkins said she asked Lay to investigate without using Houston law firm Vinson & Elkins and Enron auditors Arthur Andersen, because those professionals had already signed off on questionable deals. But Lay did use Vinson & Elkins for the investigation.

Here’s an earlier AP wire report. That story gave me the impression that while Watkins’ testimony established that Lay knew, at least at some point in time, that things were not right at Enron, it also allowed for the possibility that it was the first Lay had heard of any of it, and that it was well after the real lawbreaking (done by Andy Fastow) had already occurred.

Lay’s lawyer Chip Lewis focused on Watkins’ sales of Enron stock during this tumultuous period. She sold around $47,000 worth of stock and acknowledged she had insider information that public did not know.

Watkins said she wishes she had not sold the stock but did not admit she had committed insider trading.

“You didn’t commit any crimes at Enron, did you?” Lewis asked.

“I’m not an expert at that,” she replied.

Lewis asked her why prosecutors never charged her with insider trading.

“Maybe because I wasn’t the leader of the company,” Watkins said. “I wasn’t making statements to the public … contrary to my knowledge.”

Lewis also asked whether she knew that when Lay sold millions of dollars worth of stock back to the company in the fall of 2001, whether she knew it wasn’t “voluntary” and he had to to make margin calls.

“(If) you’ve got Aspen homes to sell, you’ve got other ways to raise cash,” she said in response to the idea Lay was forced to sell his stock back to Enron.

Loren Steffy thinks the defense scored a “haymaker” on that part of the cross. I don’t recall that bit of information from previous accounts; if it came as a surprise to the jury, it may well have had a big effect. At least she’s not testifying under some kind of duress from the federal Task Force, which ought to make Tom happy. On a side note, Tom asks a good question: Will the Feds call Rick Causey to bolster Andy Fastow’s testimony, or will they hope it stands on its own? I have to agree that the latter seems like a risky choice. The Legal Commentary blog thinks some corroboration of Fastow is needed, but not a “mountain” of it.

The TrialWatch blog has quite a bit on Watkins’ testimony – start here and work your way back. There will now be a four day break, thanks to a combination of some scheduling problems for witnesses and the desire by the judge to give the jurors a little R&R.

UPDATE: Tom was not impressed with Sherron Watkins.