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March 23rd, 2006:

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.