Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

June 8th, 2006:

Interview with Ellen Cohen

I had the chance to sit down and talk with HD134 candidate Ellen Cohen earlier this week. I’ve usually done email interviews in the past (this being the sole exception till now), but I’ve got a digital voice recorder now, and I thought I’d give a try at doing more traditional in-person interviews and posting the result as MP3 files. This is my first go at it. I hope to do a number of interviews up in Fort Worth and afterwards with various other candidates, so I’d appreciate any feedback you might have.

The conversation is broken into six files, each between two and five minutes in length. My thanks to Greg Wythe for technical advice and assistance.

If you’d rather read something about Ellen, check out this profile in the blog of the League of Conservation Voters. And finally, if all you want is a little fun at Martha Wong’s expense, there’s always this. Enjoy!

Dems get temporary restraining order against replacing DeLay on November ballot

Breaking news.

In a surprise twist to the Tom DeLay saga, the Texas Democratic Party filed suit Thursday in an attempt to keep the resigning Republican Congressman’s name on the November ballot.

The suit, filed in Travis County 126th District Court, seeks to undo an hours-old declaration by Republican Party Chair Tina Benkiser that DeLay is ineligible to run in the general election.

If DeLay doesn’t serve as the party’s candidate for Congressional District 22, then according to the Texas Election Code, no other candidate is allowed to replace him, the suit says.

Lawyers for Houston’s Riddle & Brazil law firm, which filed the action, obtained a temporary restraining order at about 5:10 p.m. from Judge Darlene Byrne. Sources familiar with the case said the order prevents Benkiser from calling a meeting of the so-called District Executive Committee or taking other measures to replace DeLay as the Republican Party nominee for CD-22.

Benkiser, the only defendant named in the suit, could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

DeLay announced in early April that he would resign from Congress, move from Sugar Land to Virginia and thus be ineligible to run for re-election on the November general election ballot. Benkiser formally declared him ineligible Wednesday night.

But the suit says DeLay never intended to complete his run for re-election, and instead schemed to collect campaign contributions and convert them to his own use.

“DeLay deceived voters into giving him ‘campaign contributions’ – money he intends to use to pay his attorneys to defend him from criminal charges…” the suit states.

“DeLay has finally let voters in on his true intent: he wants to have his name removed from the ballot in November and replaced with another candidate while keeping the money contributed to his primary campaign, in clear violation of the Texas Election Code,” the lawsuit says.

[…]

The lawsuit filed Thursday called that a ruse. It cited a May article in Texas Monthly magazine in which former Fort Bend County GOP chair Eric Thode is reported to have known since early January that DeLay was planning to withdraw as a congressional candidate after the primary.

DeLay, the suit states, “knew before the primary that he intended to withdraw after the vote. He also knew that if he ran and won the primary and then withdrew, the party could not replace him on the ballot… DeLay’s ruse, with the cooperation of the Republican Party, is to be administratively declared ineligible to hold office by reason of inhabitancy.”

The lawsuit says that DeLay’s attempt to be declared ineligible goes against state Election Code and the U.S. Constitution.

Much to consider here, but I’m in a bit of a rush. Read the whole thing, and we’ll see what happens. I imagine this will be quite the conversation topic in Fort Worth. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here’s the Dems’ papers (big PDF) for the suit. Thanks, Juanita!

Where I’ll be tomorrow night

Tomorrow night in Fort Worth, various progressive bloggers of Texas will get together and have a party.

ATTENTION BLOGGERS, BLOG READERS, LURKERS, CANDIDATES, DELEGATES, OBSERVERS, AND OFFICEHOLDERS:

You’re all cordially invited to THE PARTY OF THE YEAR: the 1st Annual Bloggers Caucus!!

Friday, June 9

Flying Saucer (upstairs party room)
9:30pm – midnight
111 E 4th St
Ft Worth, TX
76102
(map)

If you’re in Fort Worth and want to join in on the fun, by all means please do. We’ve got commitments from a bunch of candidates and officeholders as well, so the schmooze-and-network factor is high, too. See you there!

One unknown grandma

Since we’re in a musical frame of mind today, I think we’ll all agree that the song that accompanies this article is the classic Who Are You?.

Independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn won political office under her two previous married names, but in this year’s race for governor, voters apparently are saying: Strayhorn who?

Strayhorn told supporters in an e-mail this week that is why she wants to solve her name identification problem by appearing on the November ballot as “Grandma” Strayhorn. She has campaigned as “One Tough Grandma” since 1998.

Born Carole Keeton, she won the Austin mayor’s office as Carole McClellan. She won statewide elections for railroad commissioner and state comptroller as Carole Keeton Rylander.

But she has remarried since her last election in 1992, exchanging vows with Eddie Strayhorn and picking up a new last name in the process.

“The name change from Rylander to Strayhorn has not completely sunk in with voters (She has never run as Strayhorn),” said the fundraising e-mail.

Strayhorn has six granddaughters. “Once voters are told that Strayhorn is ‘One Tough Grandma,’ she jumps 10 points in every poll we have taken, and (Gov. Rick) Perry drops,” the e-mail said. “No public poll has tested her nickname ‘Grandma,’ only Strayhorn.”

The e-mail says that is why she will appear on the November ballot as Carole Keeton “Grandma” Strayhorn.

And that is how she filled out her application for a spot on the ballot, said Scott Haywood, spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.

Actually, now that I think about it, perhaps Lynryd Skynyrd’s What’s Your Name? is a better fit. Decisions, decisions.

Haywood said Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams will not rule on nicknames on the ballot until the petition-counting process is complete in about two weeks.

State law allows the use of a nickname on the ballot if it is a name by which the candidate has been “commonly known for at least three years preceding the election.”

“The law doesn’t allow you to use a political slogan. So we weren’t going to try that,” said Strayhorn’s campaign manager and son, Brad McClellan. “More people know her as ‘grandma’ than Strayhorn.”

A small correction before I begin: Strayhorn’s last election as Carole Keeton Rylander was in 2002, not 1992. She’s been known as Carole Keeton Strayhorn since January of 2003.

Let me be blunt here: The proper name for all this is “baloney”. If Strayhorn has name recognition issues, that’s not my problem. She’s got a multi-million dollar campaign budget and five months to work it out herself. If she wants to call herself Carole Keeton Rylander Strayhorn on the ballot – or hell, Carole Keeton McClellan Rylander Strayhorn – I can live with that. But you can’t separate the nickname from the campaign slogan, and as such I believe it’s inappropriate for the ballot. To my way of thinking, if you’re not associated with a given name outside of and/or prior to your candidacy, as Richard “Kinky” Friedman can claim to be, then it’s not a real nickname. Sorry.

UPDATE: Now this I could support.

Where the cameras will be

For those of you who want to avoid getting a ticket from the about-to-be-installed red light cameras but don’t want to change your driving habits, here are the intersections to avoid.

Camera enforcement, pushed by Mayor Bill White and approved by City Council in 2004, will begin in mid-August at the intersections, all but two of which are outside Loop 610.

“Our goal is to reduce the number of accidents that occur and reduce the property damage that occurs from those accidents,” said HPD spokesman Alvin Wright.

[…]

The red-light camera sites are being determined by a committee of representatives from the Houston-Galveston Area Council, Rice University and the Houston Police Traffic Division. The committee is conducting statistical analyses of crash data at area intersections.

The first cameras will be installed at the corners of Bay Area Boulevard and El Camino Real; Bellaire at Fondren; Bellaire at Wilcrest; Bingle at Pinemont; Elgin at Milam; Hillcroft at Harwin; Hillcroft at Westpark; John F. Kennedy at Greens Road; Richmond at Dunvale, and Travis at Webster.

Critics of the program say it’s simply a move by the city to raise money. White and police say the purpose of the enforcement is safety.

“Our intentions here are to get folks to comply with the traffic signals and what they indicate, not to generate revenue through tickets,” said Wright, the police spokesman.

For what it’s worth, none of these intersections are on regular routes for me. We’ll see how that is for the next set of targets.

I’m glad to hear that a bunch of traffic experts have helped pick these intersections by studying historical crash data. That just makes me want to see a study of the cameras’ impact on accidents and injuries at these locations even more. There’s no need to have a he said/she said debate about the “real” purpose of these things, not when there’s empirical evidence available. Either these cameras will reduce the number of accidents and/or injury accidents at these intersections or they won’t. Once the data have spoken, we can go from there. When we know what the real pros and cons are, we can have a real debate.

DeLay says bye-bye

Give me a minute here. I’m getting all verklempt.

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay urged colleagues today to “stand on principle” and ignore the media in a farewell speech to fellow House Republicans at their weekly private meeting.

DeLay, facing trial in Texas on campaign money laundering charges, is leaving Congress Friday. He plans one more speech before ending a 21-year career in the House.

Several rounds of applause and cheers could be heard from behind the closed doors. When they were opened to let a congresswoman in, members could be seen on their feet, cheering and applauding.

After the nearly one-hour meeting, DeLay related some of his comments to reporters. He said he advised GOP House members: “Don’t listen to you guys in this town” and to “stand on principle.”

“We have been able to make history for 12 years and we’ll do it again,” DeLay said he also told colleagues. He called the response heartwarming.

“I couldn’t get ’em to sit down. The love is great,” DeLay said.

[…]

“I don’t bear any regret at all. I’m very excited about what the future may hold,” he said. “I’m very proud of these members’ records.”

I’m trying to decide what song should have been playing in the background as DeLay gave his farewell address. You’ll Never Walk Alone? Billy Joel’s I’ve Loved These Days? The old reliable standby My Way? Leave your suggestion in the comments.

What’s important is now the process to determine the Chosen One can now officially begin.

Texas Republicans took a key official step Wednesday toward replacing U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay on the November ballot, as the state GOP declared him ineligible to run because he has moved his official residence to Virginia.

Friday is the former House majority leader’s last day in Congress.

Republican Party of Texas Chairwoman Tina Benkiser notified Republican county chairs in the 22nd Congressional District that they can begin the process for selecting a new nominee. DeLay’s successor as GOP nominee will be selected by a four-member committee of precinct chairs representing each of the counties in the district – Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston and Harris.

County chairs plan to call meetings before the end of the month. Once each of the counties has selected its representative, they will meet to choose the new Republican nominee.

The excitement is in the air already, I’m sure. Musings says the Chosen One could be in place by June 30.

And please, don’t worry about poor Tom and what he may do next. He’s made sure that his family is well cared for.

A registered lobbyist opened a retirement account in the late 1990s for the wife of then-House Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and contributed thousands of dollars to it while also paying her a salary to work for him from her home in Texas, according to sources, documents and DeLay’s attorney, Richard Cullen.

The account represents a small portion of the income that DeLay’s family received from entities at least partly controlled by lobbyist Edwin A. Buckham. But the disclosure of its origin adds to what was previously known about the benefits DeLay’s family received from its association with Buckham, and it brings the total over the past seven years to about half a million dollars.

[…]

Buckham, who co-owned his lobbying firm with his wife, initially opened the retirement account for Christine DeLay at First Union bank. In 2001, he transferred it to the Charles Schwab & Co. office near his home in Frederick, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter. From 1999 to 2000, DeLay listed the account as a spousal asset on his financial disclosure forms without specifying its value.

In his 2001 disclosure, DeLay said for the first time that the account was valued at between $15,000 and $50,000. Beginning in 2003, he listed it as a joint asset, though Cullen said in an interview that it remained in Christine DeLay’s name and that such a listing was not required. “I believe the IRA has remained in Christine’s name since the inception and that [the joint] designation must have been an error,” Cullen said.

[…]

Besides financing the retirement account, Buckham played a role in two other streams of income that indirectly benefited DeLay.

One involved payments to DeLay’s family by his principal political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC), which drew its largest donations from corporations. Three former DeLay staffers with firsthand knowledge of Buckham’s activities have described him as a decision maker for the group, even though it was formally run by its executive director.

An arm of the group paid Buckham a monthly consulting fee, and Buckham in turn employed its executive director as a consultant to his lobbying firm. The two of them shared a single office on the top floor of a townhouse owned by a nonprofit organization that Buckham created and directed. Buckham’s role is relevant because from 2001 to Jan. 31, 2006, ARMPAC paid Christine DeLay; DeLay’s daughter, Dani DeLay Ferro; and Ferro’s Texas firm a total of $350,304 in political consulting fees and expenses, according to public records.

The Washington Post previously disclosed that from 1998 to 2002, Buckham’s lobbying firm, Alexander Strategy Group, paid Christine DeLay a monthly salary averaging between $3,200 and $3,400. Cullen initially said the payments were for telephone calls she made periodically to the offices of certain members of Congress seeking the names of their favorite charities. Christine DeLay then forwarded that information to Buckham, along with some information about those charities.

Last week, Cullen said the payments were also for general political consulting Christine DeLay provided to her husband. Cullen said he does not have complete records of the salary payments or the dates when Christine DeLay performed the work from the couple’s home in Sugar Land, Tex. But a source familiar with the pay records said the total she received from the Alexander Strategy Group was about $115,000.

Together with the retirement account worth about $25,000, this means the family’s total financial benefits from entities at least partly controlled by Buckham exceeded $490,300.

As they say, nice work if you can get it.

UPDATE: This would be a very fitting going-away present for DeLay.

Billing it as a fitting “going-away present” for Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, three Democratic House members on Wednesday filed a bill to raise the minimum wage in the Northern Marianas and tighten immigration standards for the U.S. territory, which critics say has become a haven for apparel industry sweat shops.

If you haven’t read the book The Hammer yet, it has a thorough introduction to the whole Marianas exploitation episode. I recommend it.

Two public meetings on transportation tonight

From the I-45 Coalition mailing list:

METRO Meeting, Thursday, June 8th, Ketelsen Elementary School, 600 Quitman Street (at N. Main) from 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm – INTERMODAL TERMINAL PUBLIC MEETING

What’s an Intermodal Terminal ?? – It’s basically a Hub / building(s) where several transit lines end or begin. Several of Metro’s bus lines would end/start there; the rail line; the planned Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that will be going North to the Intercontinental Airport area and a future commuter rail line that might be built from 290. If you want to see Metro’s official announcement you can go to this link – http://www.piersystem.com/go/doc/1068/119275/. If you are not on Metro’s e-mail list, you can sign up with Metro and they will notify you directly. Contact them at: http://metrosolutions.org/go/mailinglist/1068/. On May 31st, Metro’s board voted to negotiate the purchase of 9 acres of land for this purpose – there is a good article by the Houston Chronicle’s Rad Sallee about the Terminal at this link: http://www.piersystem.com/go/doc/1068/119442/.

TxDOT Meeting, Thursday, June 8th, Sinclair Elementary School, 6410 Grovewood Lane (North of W. 11th and between Ella and W. TC Jester) from 6 pm – 8 pm – PROPOSED CONSTUCTION OF FLOOD MITIGATION / RETENTION PONDS ALONG WHITE OAK BAYOU (near I-10)

The meeting’s purpose is to present TxDOT’s proposed action and project status and to get public comments and answer questions. TxDOT will need additional right-of-way to make this happen. TxDOT says that they will accept written comments at this meeting or you can submit them to Director of Project Development, Texas Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 1386, Houston, TX 77251-1386 any time before June 18, 2006.

If anyone attends either of these, please let me know how it goes.

More on the faxes to nowhere

The Chron editorializes about the faxes to nowhere, and in doing so they say what should be done next.

  • Stop further CHIP disenrollments until Accenture meets basic performance levels.
  • Request that the 2007 Legislature reinstate 12-month eligibility for CHIP/Medicaid enrollment. The current six-month rule churns out more paperwork for the state and dissuades some eligible families from re-upping.
  • Suspend roll-out of the “integrated eligibility system” – which would expand the same privatized screening already in place for CHIP to other programs, including Medicaid and food stamps.

In short, no one else should be exposed to this privatization scheme until it works. Too many young Texans, and too many individuals’ tax dollars, have already been dispatched into the void.

I think this last point needs to be emphasized more. The bottom line here is that we had in place a system that was working just fine, and we threw it out. When you replace a critical system that wasn’t doing the job right, you can tolerate some transition pain, because you know that what you had before was no good, and once you get through that transition you know you’ll be better off. That was not the case here, so to swap it out for something that isn’t functioning properly right out of the gate simply isn’t tolerable. Had we done a real pilot program, maybe all the screwups now could have been fixed before they really started affecting people. But we didn’t, and so here we are.

Meanwhile, Rep. Charlie Gonzalez writes an op-ed in the Express News to respond to an earlier piece by THHSC chief Albert Hawkins extolling the virtues of the privatized system.

Given the complexities of these programs, we need trained, experienced staff helping people in need. Therefore, it makes little sense to bring in an outside company that has employees unfamiliar with these programs.

Face-to-face interaction is still more efficient than talking to a call center. Many people may have language or communication barriers and will have difficulty trying to find their way through the maze of the automated menu. Moreover, for our seniors, a staffed office will undoubtedly be more effective than waiting on hold for a call center employee.

[…]

I am not opposed to instituting new methods of delivering better service to constituents and investigating ways to save money. But “upgrading” should not come at the expense of children losing their health care coverage or a family having food taken off their table.

Persistent reports indicate the call center staff was poorly trained and employees’ performance during calls and processing applications was substandard, which resulted in numerous people in real need being purged from the rolls.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities published a report on Accenture’s efficiency, and a weekly status report showed that as of March 26, 39 percent of calls were abandoned and callers were on hold for an average of 22 minutes. This is never acceptable.

At a time when federal dollars for these programs are becoming scarcer, we need to make sure that efficacy is the paramount consideration.

Any restructuring should put the interests of the neediest in our community before other considerations.

Putting my customer service hat on for a minute, our internal help desk aims for average wait times of less than a minute, and an abandon rate of under 10%. I don’t expect quite that high a standard for THHSC, but I certainly agree that what Accenture is doing is not close to being viable, and needs to be addressed ASAP. The question is how much the state will be willing to do on its own accord, and how much the feds will have to prod them to do. We’ll see.