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January 18th, 2007:

The Guv and The Nuge

I just have two questions regarding this story:

1. Weren’t there any less controversial washed up headbangers to perform at the inaugural? I mean, c’mon, how busy to you think Don Dokken and Greg Giuffria are these days?

2. Did he perform Cat Scratch Fever, and if so, did any of the partygoers require an explanation of the lyrics?

That’s all I got. For more, I refer you to Stace, PinkDome, HouStoned, Eye on Williamson, and TPRS.

UPDATE: And In the Pink.

Special election called for May 12

It’s not on the Chronicle’s website yet (I daresay the weather news might have overshadowed it), but I am told that the May 12 special election to replace Shelley Sekula Gibbs on City Council has been officially declared by Council. It was on yesterday’s Council agenda and was addressed late in the session – there had been speculation that it’d get tagged and thus delayed for a week, but apparently that didn’t happen. What this means is that now all prospective candidates can file a Treasurer’s report, and thus can begin raising and spending money on their campaigns. I don’t know exactly when the filing period the declare one’s candidacy will run, but I’d expect it to go into March. We should know more soon, and we should start to see some real activity as well. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here it is on the City Council agenda from yesterday:

24. ORDINANCE ordering and giving notice of a Special Election to be held on May 12, 2007, for the purpose of filling a vacancy in the Office of Council Member, At-Large Position 3 on the Houston City Council – PASS

So there you have it.

(Cross posted from Kuff’s World.)

UPDATE: From candidate David Goldberg, via email:

I actually managed to attend the City Council Meeting yesturday and witness the vote. I also went ahead and filed my Campaign Treasurer Appointment and Ethics Commitment with the City Secretary. So I am now able to accept donations. While there, I was able to go through the other candidate’s filings. I only found filings for Melissa Noriega, Noel Freeman, and Tom Reiser.

I also talked with the Legal Department. Apparently the City Attorney will release a revised Filing schedule and other election information changes in the coming days. I was also warned that since the State Legislaturer is in session right now, all election laws are subject to change. That really makes things interesting.

Filing the Campaign Treasurer Appointment and Ethics Commitment doesn’t commit one to running for office, but I’d say this makes Tom Reiser much more likely to actually do it. Interesting. Also, while it’s true that election laws are subject to change, without a declared emergency from Governor Perry, I’d bet large sums of money that today’s relevant laws will be in effect on May 12.

Oh, and May 12 is also the day of the Art Car Parade. That sound you just heard was turnout for this election dropping by another ten percent. Make sure you vote early for this one, y’all. Thanks to ‘stina for the tip.

Finally, here’s a statement about her entry into the race from Melissa Noriega:

Former State Representative Melissa Noriega announced today that she is a candidate for the at-large council seat vacated by Shelley Sekula-Gibbs. In yesterday’s meeting, City Council officially called for a special election to be held on May 12, 2007.

“I am encouraged and honored by the support I am receiving from all around the city. I look forward to the campaign, and to serving my neighbors in a whole new way,” said Noriega. “I have always believed that this city can do anything, and together we can turn our ideas for a better Houston into reality.”

With a long history of service in public education and a stint in the Texas Legislature while her husband Rick, served our country in Afghanistan, Noriega brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the race and the council table.

“We face a lot of challenges, but working together, we can have that “city on a hill” that provides the best public protection and the most opportunity for our families, while holding the line on taxes and spending those dollars wisely.

I couldn’t be more excited about our future.”

More to come as I get it.

UPDATE: Another challenger, Andy Neill, emails me to say that he has also filed today.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

No, not here. In Portland, where this was the view outside my parents’ condo Tuesday morning:

If we hadn’t had a plane to catch that morning, I might have enjoyed it a bit more. Between snow in Portland and threats of ice in Houston, I’m a little amazed we got out of there at all.

We didn’t have time to let Olivia play in the snow, so getting a picture of her with snow in the background was the best I could do. Here she is at PDX waiting for the plane and watching the snowplow clear a path for it, which she thought was cool.

It’s too bad she didn’t get a chance to play in the snow, because she was prepared for it. Well, mostly – she didn’t have boots. Next time for sure.

Sklar on Paul’s presidential run

I received the following statement from Shane Sklar on the recent news that Ron Paul is exploring a run for the Presidency:

“Since Rep. Paul announced his plans to run for president last week, I have received numerous calls from around District 14, Texas and Washington, D.C. inquiring about my plans for the 2008 election. The outpouring of support has been overwhelming. My wife and I plan to make the important decision about running again for Congress in the coming months,” said Sklar.

Sklar, the former executive director of the Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas, was the Democratic nominee for Congress in the 14th District in 2006. Sklar now co-owns and operates Sklar & Son Cattle in Jackson County.

“It’s unfortunate that Paul has chosen to pursue the presidency instead of representing his district – especially during this time of dramatic change in Washington. It reinforces what I’ve said all along: the 14th District deserves someone who wants to make a difference,” Sklar continued.

Usually it’s clearcut when you want to run against an incumbent and when you would rather compete for an open seat. This is one of those times where there’s pros and cons to either situation. One advantage of seeing Ron Paul’s name on the ballot for CD14 next November would be the ability to start printing campaign literature now, with a message like “Ron Paul was ineffective in a Republican majority. He’s completely useless in a Democratic majority. That’s why he fooled around with a Presidential run – he knew he’d have nothing better to do with his time. If you want a Congressman who can actually get things done, vote Shane Sklar.” I for one hope Sklar gets to use something like that.

Get yer committee assignments here

Catching up a bit from my trip: Republican blog Wilco Wise prints a list of House committee chairs that it says it got from a tipster. Maybe it’s accurate, maybe it’s not – Vince is skeptical – but it’s some interesting reading. For what it’s worth, I’d heard a rumor about Aaron Pena getting the Criminal Jurisprudence chair during the Speaker’s race, so either that one has some credibility, or we all ultimately have the same sources (a distinct possibility). Either way, it’s worth your time to look. On a related note, Eye on Williamson has an observation about allegedly soon-to-be-former chair Buddy West.

Meanwhile, the Senate announced its committee memberships (PDF) late last week. As noted by the Chron, Senator Danno got the kind of assignments he’d been hoping for:

Houston’s new state senator, talk show host Dan Patrick, will serve as vice chair of the Senate International Relations and Trade Committee, giving him a key voice in the state’s role on immigration and border issues.

Border security and illegal immigration were central themes in Patrick’s campaign to succeed former Sen. Jon Lindsay, who retired.

Besides that position, Patrick will serve on the Intergovernmental Relations and Health and Human Services committees, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has announced. He also will serve on the Higher Education and the newly formed Flooding & Evacuations subcommittees.


There was talk before the legislative session that Patrick, R-Houston, would get sidelined when it came to choice committee assignments because of his on-air criticism of lawmakers from both parties, who he says fall short of his conservative standards.

“The joke was, let’s see what committee assignments the lieutenant governor gives him,” Patrick said. “Some people were expecting me to be on all small committees. They were surprised with the quality committee assignments I received.”

Patrick said he is pleased with his appointments.

“I will have a front-row seat and voice on two issues that make up almost 90 percent of the state’s budget,” Patrick said, referring to heavy state expenditures on education and health and human services.

He also noted that the property tax cap bill — a touchstone for him and other conservatives — was sent to the Intergovernmental Relations Committee during the last session, and he hopes it is sent there again.

“The truth is, after 10 years of talk radio, I am well-versed in these issues,” Patrick said. “If you look at the committees I was assigned to, they all have a strong link between issues I’m interested in or issues important to Harris County.”

Well congratulations, you got what you wanted. Talk about Lt. Gov. Dewhurst being cowed aside, I’ll remind you that the Lite Guv was everybody’s pleasant surprise from the 78th Lege back in 2003. He did a lot to try and be fair to each Senator, so it’s not exactly out of character for him to take Danno seriously. All I’ll say is that Danno is now the dog that finally caught a car. What are you going to do with it, now that you really have the opportunity? The soft bigotry of low expectations is not always a curse, after all.

On red lights and yellow lights

I received the following email from Helwig Van Der Grinten, who left a comment on this post. I thought it was worth sharing and commenting on.

In the discussions about red light cameras I’ve read in your blog and elsewhere, it seems that everyone is ignoring the fact that all drivers must make a snap decision when a light changes from green to amber. Cameras do nothing to help a driver make a correct one. They merely penalize an incorrect guess.

According to a report of the Virginia Transportation Research Council published in January 2005 (, of 33,547 citations (I added them up from Table 8) issued for red light violations a very large majority (85%) were issued for vehicles that entered the intersection within the first two seconds after the light turned red. This indicates that a vast majority of red light violations were not deliberate. Most violators are just poor at judging the how much time they have before the light turns red. The report also indicates that the number of citations decreases after the cameras have been in place for a few months obviously because the risk associated with a driver’s bad guess has increased by the threat of a ticket. Unfortunately, the incidence of rear-end collisions also increased because inexperienced drivers are more likely to jam on the brakes in a panicked effort to avoid getting a ticket. What is lacking is a clear way for drivers to make a correct decision to either stop or go when seeing a green light turn amber.

Here is a simple solution to this problem. This will enable a driver to accurately judge both time and distance so that there will be no doubt about whether he or she should continue at the speed limit or come to a stop when seeing a green light turn amber.

It’s in two parts. First, the amber time must set be in accordance with the formula agreed upon by traffic engineers that pegs amber time to the speed limit and the slope of the road at the intersection. The higher the speed limit and the greater the down hill slope is, the longer the amber time should be. The formula even allows one second reaction time for a driver to realize he or she should stop. Secondly, taking this standard amber time into account, it is simple arithmetic to calculate where a yellow stopping distance line should be painted across the road. This line would indicate to a driver who sees both an amber light and the yellow stopping distance line ahead that he or she should use a normal braking rate to stop at the intersection. If the driver sees that he or she is beyond the yellow stopping distance line when the light changes form green to amber, it is safe to proceed through the intersection at the speed limit and not run the risk of violating the red light.

I propose to found “The Houston Coalition Against Red Light Cameras” to promote this solution and to oppose the unfair entrapment of innocent drivers that is now being perpetrated by all of the proponents of red light cameras.

Lets put an end to the time and distance game that all drivers are forced to play with all the odds stacked against them. STOP THE PHOTO-RED SCAM! What do you think?

I think Helwig is far more lenient on red light runners than I would be. I very seldom find myself in a position where I’m not sure whether I should brake or accelerate when a light turns yellow; the times when I do, it’s usually because I’m going faster than I should. I don’t think this is a “guess” that people are making, I think it’s plain old impatience. Believe me when I say I have a lot of sympathy for that particular emotion, especially when driving. But if we all did what they taught us in Drivers Ed (and which they reinforce ad nauseum in Defensive Driving classes, a curriculum with which I’m familiar thanks to that impatience I mentioned previously) and made it a habit to slow down and be prepared to brake when the yellow light appears, we wouldn’t be guessing and we wouldn’t be running red lights.

I don’t think it’s a surprise that most red light runners do so within the first two seconds of the light turning red. I mean, when else would it happen? This is like saying that most speeders are caught doing less than 15 MPH above the limit. I don’t buy the argument that these are not deliberate. Have you never hit the gas to make it through the light before you lose the yellow? I’d bet that’s what a lot of these folks are doing.

That said, I’ve no quarrel with the suggestions Helwig makes. By all means, optimize the yellow light times, and paint yellow stopping distance lines (I’m more skeptical of these, as stopping distance is a function of speed, which is not going to be a constant at these intersections). I’d go farther and say let’s make sure every camera-enabled intersection has Walk/Don’t Walk indicators as well, since they provide an extra measure of how much time you have till the light turns on you. Heck, I’ve even seen them with timers, counting down the seconds in the cycle. You can even add signs warning people about the presence of the cameras, which some people are oddly enamored with, if you think they’ll do any good. If all that will help, I say go for it. Use the revenue from the tickets generated to pay for any extra hardware needed.

If we do all that – if we make it as easy as possible for people to determine when they need to stop for the light and what will happen to them if they don’t – can we then agree that the argument about red light cameras being nothing but revenue generators are no longer valid? I mean, at some point, we have to agree that it’s illegal to run a red light, and that there may be consequences for doing illegal things like that. Right? Look at it this way: if all these enhancements really do cut down on red light running, then the cameras won’t be such a gold mine after all. It’s a win-win.

Believe it or not, I still haven’t made up my mind about these things. I’m still not impressed by the revenue arguments about the cameras, and that seems to be the main point being brought up by their opponents. My concern is still about how the image data is stored and used, and what benefit (i.e., reduction in fatalities and serious injuries) we’re getting out of all this. I’m still waiting to see some data from Houston’s implementation. I’m perfectly willing to tinker with that implementation to address other concerns, but I see all that as a sideshow. This is what I want to know, and I hope we’ll know it soon.

You can still smoke ’em in Bellaire

The city of Bellaire has decided to not follow Houston’s lead in expanding its no-smoking ordinance for restaurants.

Mayor Cindy Siegel, who voted in favor of the ordinance along with council member Pat McLaughlan, read several statistics about the harmful impacts of second-hand smoke and said that the ordinance would help protect the health and safety of residents.

“A person’s decision to smoke impacts my heath and my family’s health,” Siegel said. “It is the same concept as regulating refrigerator temperatures in restaurants so that food is at a safe temperature.”

Houston passed a similar no smoking ordinance in 2005 and Siegel said the National Restaurant Association requested the council consider the measure to unify the stance on smoking in bars and restaurants in the Houston area.

Council’s vote against the smoking ban was 5-2.

I presume the article refers to the ordinance of March 2005, which affected restaurants only, and not the expanded version of last October, which brought bars into the picture. While I don’t think Bellaire’s restaurant scene is going to be much of a threat to Houston, it’s still this sort of thing that has led to a push to standardize smoking regulations at a statewide level. We’ll see if this gets cited as evidence in favor of such a need. Thanks to Houstonist for the link.