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June, 2007:

On not seeing the congestion for the cars

So we heard about the upcoming increase in toll road fees, and now we find out that for one road at least, it’s really gonna cost you to drive it.

Harris County Commissioners Court’s decision Tuesday to fight congestion on the three-year-old Westpark Tollway by forcing some drivers off the road with higher rush-hour fees drew the ire of cash-strapped commuters.

And a dismissive response from Commissioner Steve Radack — “Let them go down Richmond Road” — made the new $2.50 tolls even less palatable for some.

Commuter Vic Stewart, in an e-mail, said of the Commissioners Court, “And ‘Let them eat cake!’ They’ll certainly have time.”

Commissioners Court voted unanimously to hike fees to $2.50 from 6-9 a.m. and 4-7 p.m., hoping fewer drivers will use the tollway.

[…]

Radack said those who cannot afford the rush-hour fees should use alternate roads. “Let them go down Richmond Road,” he said. “Or they can use Westpark,” the surface road running alongside the tollway.

Six months after the four-lane Westpark Tollway opened in 2004, traffic backups began occurring in certain areas, said Peter Key, toll road authority deputy director. Congestion has worsened since then.

I must be missing something here. I thought the purpose of the Westpark Toll Road was to help alleviate congestion on various east-west thoroughfares – I-10 to some extent, but especially overloaded arterial roads like Richmond and Westpark. If so, then isn’t jacking up the tolls to discourage people from taking it essentially defeating that purpose? How exactly does turning the Westpark Toll Road (which, for people coming in from Katy and the like, was already a pricey proposition) into a luxury item serve the goal of mobility?

On the other hand, if the real goal is extracting money from people’s pockets, then hey. Mission accomplished!

Well, maybe this will encourage more people to explore park-and-ride options. If so, that will be a good thing. Hey, Metro: Maybe now would be a good time to advertise your services in that part of town.

Not so clever Hans

Unlike Steve Murdock, here’s a Bush appointee who shouldn’t get the job he’s being picked for.

The 2003 Texas redistricting plan, engineered by Tom DeLay and blessed by the U.S. Justice Department, was a boost for Republicans. The new district boundaries helped bolster their majority in Congress in the 2004 elections.

But here’s the thing about Washington: Payback is hell.

Ask Hans von Spakovsky, President Bush’s appointee to the Federal Election Commission. After serving a year and a half on the FEC — apparently with little complaint from Republican or Democratic commissioners — von Spakovsky’s Senate confirmation to a six-year term is in jeopardy.

His critics allege that, while serving as a Bush administration voting rights lawyer at the Justice Department, von Spakovsky overruled a unanimous recommendation by eight career staff lawyers that the Texas redistricting map be considered a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act because it diluted minorities’ voting power.

The rejection of the staff recommendation — one of several seemingly partisan actions attributed to von Spakovsky and other Bush administration appointees by their former Justice Department colleagues — paved the way for courts in Texas to approve the redistricting map, handing then-House Majority Leader DeLay, R-Sugar Land, a major victory and costing five Texas Democrats their jobs in the U.S. House.

[…]

Von Spakovsky, 48, who volunteered for the Bush campaign in Florida as votes were being recounted during the 2000 contested presidential election, also has come under fire for helping to craft, and then pushing through the Justice Department, his home state of Georgia’s voter identification law. The law eventually was thrown out by a federal court that compared it to Jim Crow-era poll taxes discriminating against minority and poor voters who are less likely to have state-issued photo IDs.

Von Spakovsky insists that such calls were made by Justice Department employees above him. He says his former colleagues blame him simply because he was the messenger.

“I was not the decision-maker,” he said during his Senate confirmation hearing last week. “My job as a career counselor was to provide legal advice and recommendations.”

Then he provided bad advice and recommendations, which speaks poorly about his judgment. And when the article says he “volunteered for the Bush campaign in Florida as votes were being recounted during the 2000 contested presidential election”, what it means is he took part in the so-called “bourgeois riot” to shut down the legally-proceeding recounts by intimidating the vote-counters. He’s a hack of the first order.

Perhaps most damaging to the nomination, though, is a letter by six voting rights lawyers who worked with the nominee at the Justice Department. They claim von Spakovsky was “the point person for undermining the Civil Rights Division’s mandate to protect voting rights” and note that during von Spakovsky’s tenure, more than half of the career lawyers in the voting section left in protest.

The attorneys accused von Spakovsky of approving Texas’ faulty redistricting plan and Georgia’s restrictive voter ID law along with blocking an investigation of a Minnesota Republican official who allegedly discriminated against Native American voters leading up to the 2004 election — a case von Spakovsky told lawmakers he couldn’t recall.

TPM has much more about von Spakovsky. I sincerely hope his bid for a full six-year term with the FEC is rejected.

UPDATE: I swear, when I wrote this post, I had intended to link to these two Observer blog posts as part of it. Better late than never.

Steve Murdock gets a new gig

State demographer Steve Murdock is getting a new gig.

President Bush has nominated the state demographer of Texas, Steven Murdock, to be director of the Census, the White House said Monday.

Murdock would replace current Census Bureau Director Louis Kincannon, who said late last year he would leave the agency when a new director was confirmed. Kincannon said at the time he felt he had lost the confidence of the Commerce Department, which oversees the bureau. He did not offer specifics.

[…]

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., a member of the House Government Reform Committee’s Census panel, said Monday, “It appears that the president, after a lengthy delay, has finally nominated a career professional to be the Census director.”

She said Murdock “has a reputation for professionalism and independence,” which will be an important factor for the Senate as it considers the nomination of a new director as the agency prepares for the 2010 Census.

Murdock’s reputation is well deserved, as BOR and the Observer blog report. I’ll second the Observer’s recommendation of their interview with Murdock from 2005. He’s a good guy, and he’s a great choice to head up the Census. Their gain is our loss. Best of luck to Steve Murdock in the new gig.

Dyslexia and crime

Grits notes my post about the failure to treat dyslexia in the schools, and observes that I didn’t comment on the connection between dyslexia and crime. That would be because it wasn’t in the article, and I didn’t know any better. Fortunately, Grits is there to fill in the gap. That post of his points to this Comptroller’s report on the subject, which contains this eye-opening statistic:

The [Dyslexia Research Foundation of Texas’] first challenge is to determine exactly what the disorder costs the Texas economy. The numbers could be staggering, since a disproportionate number of people with dyslexia wind up incarcerated or on welfare, according to an April 2004 report by JFA Institute of Washington D.C. and Austin.

[Foundation chair Bill] Hilgers said the incidence level is 10 percent or higher in Texas schools and about 30 percent or higher in prisons. The students either fall behind or get put in special education classes, Hilgers said.

“They drop out or get into other problems,” he said. “Some end up in the criminal justice system. It creates a psychological problem. They feel stupid because they can’t read. It’s psychologically deadening–children and parents are very affected by that.”

So an inmate in Texas is three times as likely to be dyslexic as someone who is not in prison. You think some of those folks never got a proper diagnosis and treatment regimen when they were kids? I remember a TV ad slogan by a car maintenance outfit that went “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later”. That’s pretty much what this comes down do. We can spend a modest amount of money now to identify and help kids who are struggling with dyslexia, or we can spend a buttload of money later to lock ’em up. Seems a pretty easy choice to me.

An interchange? What a concept!

Back in the 80s when I was a student at Trinity, I remember thinking how quaint (and more than occasionally frustrating) it was that there was no direct interchange between US 281 and Loop 410. I’m pleased and slightly amazed to read that after all these years, that’s finally being corrected.

Nearly half a century ago, a feverish battle began to decide the route of the North Expressway, the part of U.S. 281 north of downtown that’s now called McAllister Freeway.

The feud lasted from 1960 to 1974, and mostly pitted businessmen against environmentalists over whether the road could slice through parklands. The skirmishes spawned two referendums, several lawsuits, a three-year halt in construction and a new federal law.

Buildings sprouted on land needed for the highway and pushed the cost for a Loop 410 interchange beyond reach for the next three decades.

“That’s amazing,” said Roger Conrad, 50. “I’ve driven all over the country and I’ve never seen anything like that.”

In 2005, the Texas Department of Transportation used bond funds to squeeze what would have been a 10-year project to 31/2 years to build a four-level interchange. Work is now 67 percent complete, and TxDOT opened the first ramp at 3 p.m. Monday.

The ramp, from southbound 281 to westbound 410, stretches almost a mile, rising to rooftops of the surrounding skyline. The lane’s chalk-white concrete glares in the sun before dumping drivers just under the McCullough Avenue bridge.

The next ramp, eastbound 410 to southbound 281, is expected to open by August, officials said. The north to east and west to north ramps should open by January, and the rest in late 2008.

That interchange, which was really an intersection of two service roads at a traffic light, could get pretty backed up 20 years ago. I can only imagine how bad it must be today. This flyover ramp doesn’t sound like the prettiest thing on the planet, but I’ll bet everyone who uses it thinks it’s beautiful.

Framed!

Okay, so yesterday we learned that HPD officers are still ticketing cars that have license plate frames, even though the existing somewhat-unclear law on the subject was changed to exempt most such frames this past session. The law doesn’t take effect until September 1, but the issue has been known – and complained about – for awhile now. Turns out that even Mayor White was in violation of the old law, but had so far escaped an encounter with one of the more dedicated ticket-writers. All that may have led to today’s announcement by the Mayor that enough is enough.

Calling the practice a “gotcha system,” Mayor Bill White on Monday said Houston police shouldn’t ticket motorists for having common brackets around their license plates that will no longer be illegal when a revised state law takes effect in September.

The department had been issuing the $98 tickets under a broadly worded state statute intended to prevent motorists from trying to evade authorities by obscuring their plates.

The state’s top appellate court ruled recently that the law’s wording meant that any covering of the plate — even the stars, moon or state nickname — was a violation.

The Houston Chronicle reported Sunday that officers had issued at least 9,500 such tickets since January, including 2,200 since Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill that would allow drivers to have brackets advertising car dealers or touting alumni affiliations.

White said he planned to tell both Police Chief Harold Hurtt and the city’s top prosecutor, Randy Zamora, that motorists shouldn’t be punished if an officer can reasonably determine the state and plate numbers.

“Our law enforcement officers should have better things to do,” White said. “We’re not there to just have some gotcha system. The purpose of these moving-violation citations is to discourage unlawful behavior, not to generate the maximum amount of revenue possible.”

[…]

The mayor’s position is consistent with a bill, authored by state Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Katy, that removes the broad language from the state’s transportation code that prohibited obscuring any design feature of a plate. A motorist also would have to cover more than half the state’s name, generally not an issue with license brackets, to be in violation.

Perry signed a companion version of Callegari’s legislation, offered by state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, May 4.

[…]

Callegari said Monday he was pleased the mayor intervened.

“Somebody might get a ticket today, and three months from now they wouldn’t. That’s certainly not fair,” he said.

Indeed. This is far from the first poorly-written law whose literal interpretation by an enforcement body has led to a bad outcome (four words: “wheelbarrow filled with cash”) and an eventual legislative do-over. In just about every case, a little common sense would have gone a long way, but that’s not how things work around here, as the court ruling that upheld the broad definition of what constitutes obscuring a license plate demonstrates. Better late than never, but far from best.

City prosecutors say they will consider dismissing past citations if motorists come to court and bring a picture showing they’ve removed the bracket, or that it complies with the spirit of the law.

I wonder how much trouble it would be for the prosecutors to set up a web page with a form that would allow you to submit a photo electronically, along with all of the relevant information about your case. Seems to me that it’s the least they could do.

County bonds coming

Get ready for a bond proposition on the November ballot, courtesy of Commissioner’s Court.

Commissioners Court originally thought the bond package would total $500 million to $600 million when it goes before voters in November.

But pressing needs have come to light in several departments, and as much as $962 million in bonds may be required to carry out the projects, according to documents from the county budget office.

Among the massive projects are a $100 million Family Law Center, a $100 million Medical Examiner’s Office, a $245 million jail and booking area and a $110 million juvenile detention center.

[…]

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards cited the county adult jails last year for inadequate staffing and overcrowding. Meanwhile, the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission has found overcrowding at the county’s juvenile detention facilities.

The county could ask voters to spend $213 million on the central processing center, a booking area that also would include a 2,500-bed adult jail and expanded medical and mental-health treatment areas. Voters this year approved allowing the city to contribute $32 million to the project.

The question I have here is the same question I’ve had all along, which is whether or not the county will do something about the underlying causes of our jail overcrowding problem, and if they plan on spending the dough to hire enough guards so that they don’t have to leave cells empty to compensate for the shortage. Because if not, then I hope these bond proposals are broken into separate pieces so I can vote against the one to build more jail space.

Voters may also be asked to spend $76 million to renovate the former adult jail at 1301 Franklin and turn much of it into a juvenile detention facility. Another option could be to raze the building and construct a $110 million detention facility.

Family law judges have been clamoring for a new Family Law Center for several years — a project that would cost $85 million.

Commissioners Court will decide whether to carry out an $84 million expansion and renovation of the current courthouse at Congress and San Jacinto; build a $97 million courthouse on the site of the current courthouse or next to it; or build a $94 million courthouse at Franklin and San Jacinto, across from the current building.

The Medical Examiner’s Office needs more spacious facilities to carry out a growing amount of sophisticated forensic work done in crime labs, Raycraft said.

His office has recommended that the county construct a $114 million, 205,000-square-foot building on Harvin, across from the current office.

At first glance, most of the rest of this sounds okay, but given the build-jails-first, ask-questions-later approach that the Court was adopting earlier, I’ll reserve judgment until I hear more.

“Where’s Orlando?” update

Professors R-Squared remind me that it’s time to check up on our County Treasurer, Orlando Sanchez, and his campaign promise to actually do something with that generally useless office he ran for. I did this last on March 21, at which time I discovered, to my complete non-surprise, that there hadn’t been a single mention of him in the Chron that wasn’t related to efforts to abolish the Treasurer’s office. What have we had since then? A search of the Chron archives reveals exactly one story, and well, it’s not exactly about how he was going to use the Treasurer’s office as a platform to advocate for something.

ALICE Rekeweg, a Kingwood resident, is a member of the Patriot Guard Riders.

Patriot Guard Riders was established in 2005 and is a group of riders from across the nation.

It’s mission is to attend funeral services of fallen soldiers, provide welcome home rides, or send-off escorts but only if the soldier’s family invites them.

“I cry every time I ride,” said Rekeweg, a mother of two sons, one stepson and a grandmother of one.

“Even if I’m just going down the street from the church to the cemetery.”

Rekeweg also is Senate District 4 Chairman for the Harris County Republican Party and president of the Kingwood area Republican Women.

Rekeweg has been on six missions with the group, riding behind Orlando Sanchez, Harris County treasurer.

“Alice asked if she could ride with me,” Sanchez, owner of a 2002 Harley Davidson Road King motorcycle, said.

“Everybody has a different reason for wanting to ride.

“I came from a communist country, (Cuba) so I value my freedom.

“Whether you agree or disagree with this war, these kids signed up to protect us.”

Sanchez and Rekeweg’s most recent mission was March 11.

Nice story, but not exactly demonstrative of the awesome power of the Treasurer-cy. There was nothing else since March 21.

Now you may say, as Kevin did in the comments to my previous post, that just because the Chron hasn’t covered whatever it is Orlando Sanchez has been doing, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been doing anything. And hey, that’s true. I mean, we live in a post-MSM, new-media, citizen-journalism blog utopia, right? Orlando could be generating all kinds of news, and those heartless bastards at the Chron could be simply ignoring him.

Well okay then. Here’s the County Treasurer page, and here’s Orlando’s campaign web page. Note the complete lack of “news” or “press” links. Whatever it is Orlando is doing, it’s nothing he feels the need to publicize. Here’s a Google blog search – if you see anything news-like there, let me know. I kinda liked this post – it’s not about Orlando, but it does have this excellent line, which is why it got picked up in my Google search:

How about a “Straight Talk Express”-like county bus tour with Orlando Sanchez? He lost two mayoral races and a county race. He’s only in office because someone died.

Schweet.

Six months down, six more to go. Will we ever find out what it is that Orlando Sanchez does during the day? Stay tuned!

UPDATE: David Benzion has an amusing take on this.

Chet Edwards?

Right of Texas is reporting that Rep. Chet Edwards of Waco is contemplating a run for Senate. I’ll be honest, this is the first time I’ve heard Edwards’ name in connection with any statewide run – former Rep. Jim Turner is frequently mentioned as a “What about him?” kind of candidate for Senate, but till now Edwards’ name has been absent. Edwards has money, two impressive wins in turf that went 70% Bush in 2004, and a voting record that’s fairly reflective of Texas (read: more conservative than I like), all of which would make him a formidable contender if he chose to get in. All I can say is what I said up front: this is the first I’ve heard of any of this. I’m hearing the same reaction from other folks like me. It seems unlikely to me, but you never know.

While I admire Edwards in many ways, despite some votes he’s made that have left me scratching my head, I don’t want to see him jump into the Senate race. We’d lose his Congressional seat for sure, and we’ve already got a perfectly fine and dandy contender to go up against John Cornyn. I can’t imagine why Edwards would give up a seat on the Appropriations Committee as a member of the majority for something like this, but again, you never know. What I do know is that I’m going to have to hear this from at least one more source before I worry about it.

Abbott’s opinion sought on Craddick’s power

Well, this ought to be interesting.

Two lawmakers asked the Texas attorney general Monday for an advisory opinion on the legality of House Speaker Tom Craddick’s handling of an attempt to unseat him last month.

During the final days of the legislative session, several lawmakers tried to make a parliamentary motion that would have allowed the 150-member chamber to vote to oust Craddick. But Craddick, the presiding officer of the chamber, cited “absolute authority” and kept his seat by refusing to acknowledge any lawmaker to make such a motion. The session ended with Craddick still in power.

“Clearly, the integrity of the Texas House of Representatives is at a critical crossroads as to whether the use of ‘absolute authority’ by the post of Texas House speaker contradicts the state constitution,” wrote Rep. Jim Keffer, who has filed his candidacy to replace Craddick as speaker.

Keffer, a Republican from Eastland, argued that the specific rule Craddick and his parliamentary advisers used to assert their authority allows “the speaker to govern the order in which members are to be recognized, but not whether they will be recognized which seems to be in direct violation of the state constitution.”

Craddick’s critics say his assertion of absolute power is an example of their gripe — an unyielding leader.

A spokeswoman for Craddick said he welcomes the review.

The specific questions being asked are here, and Craddick’s response is here.

I have no idea what AG Abbott will do with this hot potato. Frankly, given how long he sat on the Strayhorn question about the business tax, I’ll be happy if he gives any answer at all before the 81st Lege gets sworn in. We’ll see.

Money will be raised, primaries will be fought. Film at 11.

There’s not really a whole lot of actual news in this Chron story about the beginning of Legislative Fundraising Season for 2008 – Tom Craddick has a lot of money! And a lot on the line! People will be primaried! The next Speaker will be decided! – but there are a couple of bits that merit comment.

All House seats are on the ballot next year, and the uncertainty concerning the speaker could mean a record number of contested primaries. Incumbents who don’t draw challengers or have more money than they need may give some to a fellow candidate.

That right there is the justification for Run Everywhere in a nutshell. You don’t want (say) Phil King to help out the likes of Dwayne Bohac? Then make sure King has something at home to occupy his time and attention (and money). Sure, such a person is unlikely to come within shouting distance of King on election day, but nobody likes to get hit without hitting back. The key, and the reason this has to be seen as a long-term project, is to make sure that the folks you recruit for these kamikaze missions have access to enough funds and talent to have the kind of impact that will make the intended target feel the need to stay home and defend his turf. That will require some serious resources and infrastructure, which is why it’s not just something you can wish for. Still, it’d be nice if someone in a position to do something about this were giving the matter some thought.

Two of the state’s biggest megadonors, Houston homebuilder Bob Perry and San Antonio businessman Jim Leininger, are likely to play key roles in the GOP primaries.

Craddick has supported the issues of Leininger, a school voucher proponent, and Perry, who favors limits on lawsuits against businesses. Perry will continue to support Craddick because of his record on tort reform, said his spokesman.

“Without Craddick, their agenda doesn’t look as good,” [Rep. Warren] Chisum said. “I don’t think they’ll abandon Craddick by any means. In fact, they may just double their effort.”

Didn’t do them a whole lot of good in 2006, but with a new year comes new opportunities. Unlike most recent years, there are groups that push back against the Leininger/Perry axis, and have had success in doing so – ParentPAC, for instance. Perhaps the time is right to run against Tom Craddick in the way that Democrats ran against Newt Gingrich in 1998. He’d make a pretty good symbol for “what’s wrong with the legislature” ads. Something to think about, anyway.

Dyslexia

This is a very good article on the needs of dyslexic students in Houston and how they are not being met by HISD, but I have the nagging feeling that something is missing. Can you tell what it is?

Hundreds of thousands of Texas children who struggle to read aren’t getting the help they’re entitled to because public schools are not following state law.

Twenty-two years ago, Texas passed legislation requiring districts to identify and tutor students with dyslexia, a learning disability that affects 5 percent to 20 percent of all children.

Today, however, schools still are failing to aggressively diagnose and remediate these children, leaving them to fall further behind academically, suffer emotionally and be at greater risk of dropping out of high school.

“This is effectively a national health crisis,” said Eldo Bergman, director of the Texas Reading Institute, a Houston company that tutors hundreds of children who are not getting the help they need in public schools. “There’s an awful lot of wasted human potential.”

The Houston Independent School District is one of the most egregious offenders, with only 256 of its 200,000 students in dyslexia programs this year.

Can you tell what’s not there yet? Maybe this will help.

Despite the billions spent on reading in recent decades, test scores have remained stagnant. Some experts blame teachers’ colleges, which rarely offer instruction on the science of reading.

And while Texas’ dyslexia law was designed to improve the situation, educators say it lacks teeth. The state currently doesn’t even track its number of dyslexic students.

Parents who suspect their child has dyslexia should ask for a special education evaluation, which districts must provide. They should focus on reading rate, accuracy and comprehension results, Bergman said.

They then should push for phonics instruction that will pinpoint their child’s weaknesses, he said.

[Geraldine] Miller, the state education board chairwoman who managed this year’s revision of the Texas Dyslexia Handbook, says a class-action type lawsuit may be the best way to get districts to comply.

The words “class action lawsuit” make me think of West Orange-Cove, which naturally leads to the question of “how is the state gonna pay for this?” We’re pretty much guaranteed to be revisiting this case soon – Burka thinks the 81st Lege will be all about school finance, which is why he referred to Scott Hochberg as Mr. Indispensible. I’m not making excuses for the school districts – they’ve obviously done a piss-poor job of following the law, and should have been called on it long before now – but if the state is going to mandate this sort of thing, it’s going to have to provide for it as well, and that sounds like a big deal to me.

Philly’s WiFi experience so far

There’s good news and not-so-good news in this story on Philadelphia’s experience with municipal WiFi as provided by EarthLink.

Testing by the Houston Chronicle and a private consulting company show that the first phase of Philadelphia’s project works — most of the time. But while the technology only needs tweaking, the company likely has a bigger obstacle to overcome: residents’ skepticism.

Some residents say they won’t subscribe because they found the service to be unreliable months ago, when EarthLink was still making significant adjustments. Both EarthLink and a private consulting company say the service has since improved, but those potential customers say they don’t plan to give it another shot.

“It’s pretty useless,” said Joanna Bacelli, a 21-year-old Temple University student who lives off campus and tried unsuccessfully to get an EarthLink signal in the past. She doubts the service is any better now.

But in much of the area where the network is up and running, it does work, at least for outdoor users.

Signal strength varies significantly depending on the user’s proximity to an access node, but online speed tests show the connection speed averages about 1 Mbps, sometimes a bit slower. That’s fast enough for the average user to surf the Internet, check e-mail and watch videos on YouTube.

In some areas, however, the signal is weak, particularly when an access node isn’t within sight. At several locations, including two free hotspots, this reporter’s computer couldn’t connect to the network even though the signal appeared to be strong and an access node was clearly visible.

[…]

A review of the EarthLink network by a consulting group called Novarum Inc. showed the service has improved in the last six months and now ranks as “one of the better performing metro WiFi networks deployed so far.”

Using a laptop equipped with a standard WiFi card, the same equipment available to most residential customers, Novarum found the service in early June to be reliable at 74 percent of the outdoor locations tested. Back in December, just before EarthLink began its monthlong trial phase when it offered free service, the group found the network’s first 6-square-mile coverage area reliable at only half the locations tested. Cell phone networks, by comparison, are usually reliable in about 85 percent of the coverage area, the group reported.

“Our experience the second time through was that it was much better,” said Phil Belanger, Novarum’s managing director. “So we think they’re making the appropriate investment to improve the network.”

Basically, it sounds like the technology has lagged the marketing a bit. There’s nothing terribly unusual about that – there’s a reason the word “vaporware” exists – but it is potentially worrisome for EarthLink’s business plan. As with the technology itself, I hope they use this experience to figure out how to do it better here in Houston. We shouldn’t suffer the same early-adopter problems as Philly (thanks for beta testing for us, by the way).

Dwight has more. I too will be interested to see how EarthLink rolls it out here in Houston, both in terms of what their progression will be and how they structure the promotional phase. We ought to know pretty quickly how well they’ve learned the lessons Philadelphia has given them.

Draft Rick Noriega

Well, now that we’ve got one Noriega safely elected, it’s time to start thinking about another. I’ve talked about Rick Noriega and his consideration of a run against Sen. John Cornyn next year. The prospect of such a candidacy is very exciting to me for a number of reasons, and I’d like to discuss a couple of them here. First and foremost is simply that I hold Rick Noriega in high regard, both personally and as a legislator. Noriega has a record of accomplishment in the Lege – he’s been a leader on matters of education, immigration, and border security – and he has a voting record that I feel good about. You all know I’m a half-a-loaf guy, and I’ll support someone with whom I have significant disagreements if the overall package is acceptable. I’ll support Mikal Watts in the general election if he emerges as the Democratic candidate, despite his anti-abortion stance, because he’s good enough otherwise, and because the alternative is too gruesome to contemplate. But I’d so much prefer to throw down behind someone who doesn’t need any glossing over. I don’t expect to ever have to say “Yeah, but” to a fellow Democrat about Rick Noriega.

I think we will finally have a confluence of establishment and grassroots support at a statewide level with a Noriega candidacy. I believe people will get fired up about getting Rick Noriega elected. If nothing else, it’s refreshing to see someone who isn’t a same-old, same-old name as a standard-bearer. It feels like a changing of the guard, one that’s long overdue. I think he can be a game-changer, someone who can alter politics in this state in a fundamental way, and in doing so alter Texas’ image nationally. I’m told Harvey Kronberg expressed similar sentiments at the town hall meeting Ellen Cohen hosted last week; he apparently said this has been the talk of Austin as well. Who was the last statewide Democrat to generate that kind of buzz? Maybe Henry Cisneros, if you overlook the fact that he never ran a statewide race. It’s about damn time.

Finally, I think Rick Noriega is exactly the right candidate to run against John Cornyn. Noriega spent a year in Afghanistan on the front lines of the “war on terror”. He’s also been deployed to the Texas border to train National Guardsmen on matters of border security. What are the two biggest issues these days? John Cornyn can talk about these things. Rick Noriega has actually been there and done them.

To get to that point, Noriega must first win a primary against Watts, and that will be no small task. Watts starts out with a lot of money, and he’s been busy raising even more. He’s been involved with a lot of campaigns, and that will bring him a lot of institutional support. And let’s not forget, he’s a pretty good candidate in his own right. I just believe Rick Noriega is a better one. I hope you’ll agree with me and many of my blogging colleagues, who are banding together to get Rick Noriega into, and then out from, the primary for Senate. To put it another way: Draft Rick Noriega.

UPDATE: Others weighing in:

StopCornyn
South Texas Chisme
Feet to the Fire
Capitol Annex
Half Empty
Dos Centavos
Burnt Orange Report
Eye on Williamson
McBlogger

Girl Scouts

So I confess I didn’t know much about the Girl Scouts, but after being sent this WaPo story by my friend Hope, and being assured that they don’t have the same abhorrent politics as the Boy Scouts, I could see encouraging Olivia and Audrey to give them a try.

They’re cute, they’re smart, they’re fun. Why would they be labeled geeks?

Part of it is the earnestness intrinsic to scouting, so at odds with the practiced boredom and casual cynicism that defines teen culture today. Being a Girl Scout requires a lack of self-consciousness. An ability to sing songs with lines like “When you make a promiiiiiiise, consider its importaaaaaance” in a round, without smirking. Being a Girl Scout requires a pure mind, even when singing “The Brownie Smile Song” (“I’ve got something in my pocket. . . . I keep it very close at hand in a most convenient place”) .

So in their public, non-Girl Scout lives, senior Scouts are teased for being goody-goodies.

“It’s such a relief to come to the singalong and not have to worry about what people are going to say,” says Joanna Pollard, 13, a secret Girl Scout from Troop 1184 in Greensboro, N.C. She doesn’t like the teasing–that exquisitely delivered eye-roll–she gets when people learn she’s still a Scout, but she’d never dream of quitting.

“A lot of people our age just sit around and watch TV,” says Joanna. “They don’t care about their communities or the environment.” Her troop is actively involved in several service projects, most recently cleaning up a community garden.

“People can’t believe I’m still a Girl Scout,” adds her troop mate Kristen Cossaart, 14. “Because they don’t realize it’s about so much more than cookies.”

Well, I can certainly imagine worse things, and the “geek” label is not one I shy away from, so I come away from this feeling pretty good about such a future for my daughters. What do you think?

Move that brewery

Nancy Sarnoff reports that big changes may be in the works for the Saint Arnold Brewery.

The Saint Arnold brewery has become something of a tourist attraction in Houston. But its outer-loop location has the owner thinking a closer-in spot would better serve its customers.

Founder Brock Wagner said he’s scouting inner-city real estate to relocate his brewery, which also happens to be outgrowing its 32,000 square feet of space at 2522 Fairway Park, near the intersection of U.S. 290 and West 34th.

“We’re looking all over town, but my first goal would be to get something as close in to the center of town as possible,” Wagner said.

Not too close, though.

“Manufacturing can’t afford prime downtown real estate or even just off prime downtown real estate,” he said. “I’d like to be within five minutes to downtown.”

The 13-year-old brew house, which hosts public tours and an average of 15 special events each month, needs a building of at least 50,000 square feet or 3 to 5 acres of land.

Where do you think they should look? Leave a comment and say so.

A few questions for the Cockroach Lady

Remember the story about the Houston Museum for Natural Sciences offering a twenty-five cent per-bug bounty on live cockroaches for an upcoming exhibit? Been wondering how it turned out? Well, wonder no more, as SciGuy Eric Berger asks entomologist Nancy Grieg about it.

Q: First question: How many cockroaches did you collect when you were offering a quarter per bug?

A: We collected, I believe, 724.

Q: And you were originally shooting for 1,000?

A: Yes, it was a big disappointment for some. So many people were afraid we’d get too many, but I didn’t think we’d get too many. They’re not that easy to catch.

Q: So were you happy with the haul you got?

A: Oh, yes, we got plenty. It was pretty crowded in the exhibit.

Q: And tell me again, why in the world would someone ask the public to bring in cockroaches?

A: The purpose is that we really want to raise awareness that cockroaches do have a role as scavengers, and even the ones in your house are not particularly dirty. The ones we collected, American cockroaches, would just as soon be outdoors. We wanted to tell people, ‘Hey, cockroaches are people, too.’ They’re neat. Only 12 out of 4,000 are pests. They’re sanitary engineers.

Only twelve, huh? With all due respect, that isn’t quite as comforting as Dr. Grieg tries to make it sound.

Q: What type of person likes working with these critters?

A: I’ve always liked bugs since I was a kid. What I think is really sad is, if a kid has parents who say, ‘No, no. don’t touch that,’ or a mother screams or whatever. That’s just bound to turn a kid off. But when the parents are at least tolerant, then it works.

Olivia likes bugs – ladybugs, caterpillars, and spiders in particular. Looks like it’s time for a trip to the Cockrell Butterfly Center to see what she might think of this.

Ed versus Charles

I’m kind of looking forward to seeing a GOP primary battle for County Judge next year, especially if it’s going to take the tone that’s evident in Kristin Mack’s column from Friday. That would make it about the exact opposite of what I’m hoping for on the Democratic side for Senate. (Not that I expect to get exactly what I’m hoping for, politics being what it is and all that , but hey, a boy can hope.) And I will say that if Ed Emmett keeps coming forth with stuff like this, the entertainment factor will be reasonably high:

Emmett said he doesn’t understand why “Republican activists” would want a spirited primary when there is going to be a tough general election next year.

The only reason to throw out an incumbent is if you want to do something different or better, Emmett said.

You do know that “Republican activists” wanted to select somebody else for the County Judge seat, right? And that some of them wanted a “spirited primary” so that they could have an actual voice in the selection process, right? You’d think a guy who got his job through a backroom deal would be a bit more sensitive to those concerns, if for no better reason than they lead to an obvious riposte:

It’s a stretch to call Emmett an incumbent said Jim McGrath, a spokesman for Friends of Charles Bacarisse.

“He is the sitting judge. I accord him the respect the office is entitled to. But no one deserves a coronation. There should be a contest of ideas. He needs to be tested in a primary,” McGrath said.

“Voters get to decide who has the right experience for the job. No one should be arrogant enough to substitute their own personal will against that of the majority.”

If this is the tack Ed Emmett plans to take, I’m thinking the campaign ads against him – in both the primary and in the general election, if he makes it that far – will write themselves.

A way forward for the HPD Crime Lab

Op-ed writer Ellen Marrus has a straightforward solution for the HPD Crime Lab.

If officials behind the HPD lab are feeling the heat, they can take comfort in knowing they are not alone. Crime labs throughout the United States are under assault for employing people and practices that have cast palls of suspicion over lab results. Rather than confidently presenting “ironclad evidence” to their juries, prosecutors have been pushed back on their heels by questionable lab results that can ruin an otherwise solid case.

Across the country, two primary factors loom as the culprits behind this epidemic of ersatz evidence. The first is severe underfunding that makes it difficult to hire or retain competent technicians. The second is the way many jurisdictions place crime labs within law enforcement agencies — an arrangement that prompts lab technicians to view themselves as “advocates for the prosecution” rather than the impartial scientists they need to be.

Added together, these two factors help foster police crime labs that are run by technicians with relatively weak scientific backgrounds who believe their job has a single objective: to generate testimony that will produce convictions. These factors are at the root of police lab fiascos not only in Houston, but also in cities throughout the country.

[…]

There’s an easy, albeit expensive, way to fix the national crisis in forensic crime labs. Lawmakers should find a way to allocate more funding for these labs, and they should remove these facilities from the control of law enforcement agencies.

I agree with this completely, and so does Grits, who has advocated similar reforms for some time, and who has a third suggestion to take these ideas a step further. The key thing that everyone has to accept before we can really fix this problem, and it’s something I’ve harped on again and again, is that every time we put an innocent person in jail we’re not just grievously wronging that person, we’re also leaving a guilty person on the streets to keep committing the crimes we’ve locked the innocent guy up for doing. It’s bad twice over. If we’re genuinely serious about fighting crime, we have to take every reasonable step we can to minimize this kind of injustice. The whole system is a failure if we let it be easy for innocents to be ensnared.

But there has to be the political will for this. I think we’re getting to the point where that will happen, but we’re not there yet. It’s easy to criticize Mayor White, Chief Hurtt, and DA Rosenthal for not wanting to spend the money on a special master to oversee the reviews of questionable convictions, but will we also criticize President Bush, the Congress, Governor Perry, and the Legislature for not providing an adequate funding mechanism for crime labs so that the root cause of these problems can be addressed? Because if we don’t, sooner or later we’ll be right back here again.

More discussion of Kotkin and “Opportunity Urbanism”

Tory Gattis responds to some of the criticism of his Opportunity Urbanism op-ed that was in last Sunday’s Chron, including one of the charges leveled by Lisa Falkenburg. He’ll get another chance to do some responding after seeing David Crossley’s piece today, which also critiques his piece, plus gives some insight into the H-GAC 2035 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). Check it out.

Happy Father’s Day, you old coot

Olivia was born when I was 38, and Audrey arrived just before I turned 41. That makes me a little young for this crowd, but I can still relate.

Paul McCartney had a baby when he was well past 50. So did Rupert Murdoch, Larry King, Cary Grant, Tony Randall, David Letterman and Dr. Michael DeBakey. Writer Cormac McCarthy has said he wouldn’t have written The Road, the novel that won the Pulitzer Prize, if he hadn’t been inspired by the son he had late in life. Older parenthood “wrenches you up and out of your nap,” he told Oprah Winfrey.

Overwhelmingly, making babies is the work of younger men. The National Center for Health Statistics reports just 2.7 live births per 1,000 men 50 and older, compared with 104.9 for men 25-29. The norm is that young people grow up, marry partners close to their own age, have children and then grandchildren.

I became a father at the right time for me to become a father. I’m pretty good at it, if I do say so myself, in a way that I don’t think I’d have been when I was younger and more of a knucklehead. Sure, I worry that my daughters won’t know their ancestry as well as I do mine, but that’s just how it is. No such thing as a do-over in this life, so you make what you can out of what you’ve got. I’d say we’re ahead on balance.

Dr. Steven Mintz, a history professor and director of the American cultures program at the University of Houston, says older fathers make some adults uneasy. They don’t like men more interested in personal growth than growing up.

“We tend to be a judgmental society, and we want people to act pretty much according to our proper calendar,” Mintz says.

“We’re living through kind of a revolution in adulthood, and no one is quite sure how it will play out. … It seems the rules have broken down.”

I call that a feature, not a bug. We could stand to have a few more of those rules break down, if you ask me.

Happy Father’s Day, from my family to yours.

Victory

I can’t tell you how good this feels.

Melissa Noriega, a Houston educator whose campaign had strong funding and key support, easily defeated retired Air Force officer Roy Morales in Saturday’s runoff for the Houston City Council At-Large Position 3 seat.

Noriega took 55 percent to Morales’ 45 percent with nearly all but one precinct reporting.

[…]

“After you win is where the real work begins. Doing the job is the real work,” Noriega said. “The people of Houston have honored me with their trust and their votes; there’s nothing more powerful than that.”

Noriega will have less time than usual to begin the job. She will be sworn in at City Hall on June 27, after the City Council canvasses the votes from the election.

She has long served as a Houston Independent School District special projects manager, but said she will retire from that position to devote her time to City Council.

“I’m going to wrap up my old life and start a new one,” she said. “I will treat this as a full-time job.”

Melissa Noriega won a well-deserved victory, and the people of Houston get a top-notch new Council member. It’s all good. Congratulations to Council Member Melissa Noriega, and to everyone who helped her get there.

On a side note, from the “Have I Mentioned That Every Vote Counts?” Department:

In Clute, at first the vote was tied and Saturday the runoff election to determine the Ward D representative on the Clute City Council was decided by one vote.

Incumbent Travis Quinn edged out challenger Michael Binnion 29 votes to 28.

Election officials said Saturday that a recount will be held if a candidate requests it.

Saturday’s election was held after the city’s May 12 general election ended with both candidates receiving 12 votes.

I always say that if you didn’t vote and you don’t like the outcome, you’ve got no grounds for complaint. That’s doubly so in this case.

The long march for Dome redevelopment financing continues onward

Another story about another step forward in obtaining financing for the Astrodome redevelopment project.

A company that aims to reinvent the Astrodome as an upscale luxury hotel has gotten preliminary approval to obtain financing for the $450 million project, county officials said Friday.

Astrodome Redevelopment Co. missed a deadline three months ago to show it had the approval, but now can move forward with other stages of the project, said Mike Surface, chairman of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp., which oversees Reliant Park.

“This is certainly a significant occurrence in the determination of the future of the Astrodome,” he said.

During the next three months, Astrodome Redevelopment will try to clear another hurdle: convincing the Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo that they can coexist with a 1,200-room, four-star convention hotel.

It feels like there’s been a lot of these stories lately, but I don’t feel like there’s been a lot of new stuff in many of them. It’s not really clear to me what’s changed since the previous installment, for example.

Leroy Shafer, the rodeo’s chief operating officer, said the rodeo and Astrodome Redevelopment have issues to negotiate, including the hotel’s access to Reliant Park during the rodeo, the rodeo’s take, if any, of concession and merchandise sales at the Dome hotel during the rodeo, naming rights and marketing rights.

Astrodome Redevelopment has considered building an overhead ramp from the South Loop to the hotel.

“They either have to go over us or under us. Ingress-egress is a major issue, of course,” Shafer said. “We run our show from fenceline to fenceline.”

This subject first came up about a year ago. I’m still not sure what the logistics of this proposed exit ramp would be. Maybe this is where the whole thing founders, and not financing. We’ll see.

From the “Timing Is Everything” Department

From Thursday’s Chron, in an article on the new red light camera legislation:

Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack said cameras might deter some people from running red lights and improve safety.

“But you want to have compliance without trying to gouge people,” Radack said. “It’s as if the city of Houston has figured out a way to extract money from people’s pockets.”

And from Friday’s Chronicle:

By the end of the summer, drivers likely will pay 25 cents more each time they pass through a county toll road booth, and fees likely will continue to rise by more than 2 percent annually during the next two decades.

Proposed rate changes would double EZ Tag rates, now $1 per transaction, and cash rates, now $1.25 per transaction, over the next 20 years.

Commissioners Court will vote Tuesday on the proposed increases, which would increase revenues an estimated $65 million over 12 months. Rates will likely go up between late August and mid-September.

Way to extract money from people’s pockets, Commissioner Radack!

Off to Melissa’s election night party

Polls are about to close, so if you haven’t voted by now, it’s too late. Turnout was miserable, with the weather not helping. I’m off to Melissa Noriega’s election night party. I’ll try to post updates as I can. Here’s hoping for the best.

UPDATE: With half of all precincts in, Melissa is leading with over 56% of the vote. She is winning today’s vote with over 60%. It’s looking very good right now.

UPDATE: It’s official – Melissa is the winner. Thanks to everyone who voted, and good night.

Today’s the day – Vote!

This is it. If you haven’t voted yet, you have until 7 PM to correct that oversight. You can find your polling location here. Please vote for Melissa Noriega, and please bring a friend or ten along with you. Thank you very much.

Here are the vetoes

Governor Perry officially broke out his veto pen yesterday.

Gov. Rick Perry made his final rulings Friday on legislation approved by Texas lawmakers, vetoing 49 bills that came out of the five-month session.

The Republican governor had until Sunday to decide whether to sign or veto bills, but he planned to get it all done before the weekend.

On Friday, Perry announced he’d signed the 2008-09 state budget into law, allocating $151.9 billion for state programs. He used his line-item veto power to get rid of $570 million from the budget that lawmakers passed.

Vetoing bills from Democrats and Republicans alike, Perry used his veto pen on some legislation before the 140-day session ended May 28 and announced Friday he was striking down dozens of other bills.

[…]

Perry set the known record for vetoes by a Texas governor in 2001 with 83, according to the Texas Legislative Reference Library. That was shortly after he ascended to the governorship in December 2000, once fellow Republican George W. Bush resigned to become president.

Bush had far fewer vetoes during his tenure as governor. His highest total for a legislative session was 38 in 1997.

Here’s the complete list of vetoed bills. I don’t see any new ones on that list that stand out to me, but there’s a lot of bills that get passed, and I can only follow so many. Anything there that outrages you? Let me know.

The very good news, as Pete happily notes, is that HB1919 got signed into law. Take that, TAB! This is very good news for many families across Texas today. My thanks to everyone who contacted their state rep to help push this through or the Governor to urge him to sign it. Y’all done good.

Coaches, schmoaches

First, congrats to the Spurs for winning yet another NBA title, and making it look easy. I don’t care what anyone says, four titles in nine years is a dynasty. Well done, guys.

Second, for those of you who thought these Finals had less zest than perhaps they might, Mac Thomason has a modest proposal.

Ban the coaches. Seriously. No coaching should be allowed during the game; the point guard can call the plays and the captain can call timeouts and make substitutions. Only active players and trainers can sit on the bench. The coach sits in the stands, and if he does anything to coach the team, it’s a technical foul and he’s asked to leave. He can meet the team in the locker room at halftime; that’s it. (I’m borrowing this rule from tennis, which allows only limited contact between player and coach during the match.)

Nobody goes to a sporting event to watch someone coach; they go to watch the players. Let the players play.

It’ll never happen, for any number of reasons, but it’s intriguing nonetheless. What do you think?

Will the dissing ever end for Pluto?

Jeez, what’s a vowel planet got to do to get a little respect around here?

Is this really the end for Pluto?

The former ninth planet was demoted yet again Thursday when scientists determined it no longer even reigns as king of the dwarf planets, a sub-class astronomers relegated Pluto to last summer after deeming it unworthy of standing alongside Earth, Jupiter and other larger bodies.

The bigger dwarf planet, Eris, is 27 percent more massive than Pluto, California Institute of Technology scientists reported in the journal Science. One of them, Michael Brown, led the discovery of Eris in 2003 that precipitated a reconsideration of the solar system’s familiar nine planets.

“I think this result definitely cements Pluto’s demotion into the dwarf planet category,” said Patricia Reiff, a Rice University astronomer and director of the Rice Space Institute. “There was an outcry in the beginning, but I think it’s died down.”

Well, I’m still outraged at the injustice of it all. Who will think of the mnemonics?

The International Astronomical Union will reconvene in two years.

Harvard University professor emeritus of astronomy and history of science Owen Gingerich said he’s still hopeful Pluto can get some recognition if it cannot be restored to its former status.

“I think these icy bodies beyond Neptune will eventually be known as Plutonians, thereby giving some nod to the historical status of Pluto,” he said.

A small gesture, if you ask me, but perhaps the best Pluto can do in these cold and uncaring days. How sad it is.

It’s not about Roy

Thus says Miya:

I am a little surprised that the Morales campaign has decided against being interviewed on TV for a pre-election profile. A little refresher, a profile piece is where we spend about 90 seconds of news time to run down why the two candidates are running for council. It’s basic, there are no “hidden” agendas, and it’s just a chance for candidates to tell viewers who they should vote for. Oh, and it’s basically free TV — which, last time I checked, is something politicians LOVE. However, after repeated attempts to set up an interview before Saturday’s runoff election, campaign manager Justin Jordan finally told me that they don’t have time. Morales is too busy. WHAT? Has anyone been to candidate school lately? When are local politicians ever too busy for local TV? I may not be the most experienced reporter around, but I’ve never had a council candidate who wants to be elected turn down free air time.

The reason for this is simple. This campaign, at least at this point in time, isn’t about Roy. It’s about all those scary people that Jared Woodfill and company are afraid of (and want you to be afraid of, too). There’s a reason the entire runoff strategy has been about fear and loathing. You can’t beat something with nothing. You can only hope to tear it down.

It’s not about Roy. That’s pretty much all there is to it. When you view it that way, it makes perfect sense.

Okay, so this is the antepenultimate time I’ll run that picture. As soon as I figure out what comes before “antepenultimate”, I’ll apologize for the goof.

Right message, wrong messenger

I said yesterday that I believe a special master is needed to oversee the review of the many questionable convictions brought about by the problems with the HPD crime lab. I think it would be a good idea for someone with some gravitas on this issue to speak out about the need for a special master, and why it would be good for everyone, the police and District Attorney’s office included. I don’t, however, think this is the best person for that job.

“It looks like to me that they’re trying to sweep some of their final problems under the rug,” state Rep. Kevin Bailey, chairman of the House Committee on Urban Affairs said Thursday.

[…]

Bailey, D-Houston, said a special master is needed to examine the cases because the local criminal justice system should not investigate itself.

“That’s why so many people don’t have a lot of confidence in the judicial system in Harris County,” Bailey said. “Not just because of the problems of the past, but (criminal justice officials) continue to not get it, and they continue to appear to ignore the facts and the proper way to resolve these cases.”

While serving as chairman of General Investigating and Ethics during the 2003 and 2005 sessions of the Legislature, Bailey held hearings into the crime lab scandal, which was uncovered in 2002. He remains a member of that committee in addition to chairing Urban Affairs. Bailey was also instrumental in the passage of legislation requiring accreditation for all crime labs in the state that perform DNA testing.

Although he has not discussed the the final report with other state leaders, Bailey said he envisions some form of joint pressure by his Urban Affairs committee and the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics.

“Urban Affairs has authority over the cities, so we could do it alone,” Bailey said, “but the General Investigating committee has much greater subpoena power.”

If Rep. Bailey had made a peep when anti-clean air bill SB1317, which its own author said was “about city sovreignity”, was moved out of Urban Affairs and into Environmental Regs so that it would be ensured easy passage, then I might take his insistence of the might of Urban Affairs more seriously. I agree with what Rep. Bailey is saying here. I’m just not impressed by the fact that he said it. If and when someone else gets on this train, then we can talk.

Mikal Watts talks

RG Ratcliffe had a conversation with Senate hopeful Mikal Watts, and it makes for some good and thoughtful reading. I am, obviously, not as impressed as some at Watts’ self-proclaimed “pro-life” stance, though I’ll give him credit for being consistent about it in a way that’s rarely seen or heard from Republicans. This is a core-belief issue for me, and I doubt I would ever vote for a “pro-life” candidate in a contested primary when there’s a viable alternative available. But Watts’ statement on the issue does make me feel better about the possibility of him being the candidate in November. That’s no small thing.

Another good sign: Watts seems to do pretty well by the Hackett test. I wish Ratcliffe had asked him more specifically about lessons learned from the Tony Sanchez debacle of 2002, because I think it’s pretty clear that running a “I’m like the Republican, but better” campaign isn’t going to cut it. It looks like Watts will avoid this trap, but I’d still have liked to hear it more explictly.

I really am excited about the prospect of a high-profile, well-fought primary for the right to take on John Cornyn. I want Watts to be a good candidate who’ll get his supporters as fired up about supporting him as I know my preferred candidate will be with his supporters. I want this to be about the excitement that comes from choosing between two good options. I want the folks whose candidate winds up falling short to see their person embrace and wholeheartedly endorse the winner, so that we all feel passionate about moving the battle to the general election. That’s what a contested primary should be about, and that’s what I want this one to be about. As of today, at least, I feel pretty good about the possibility of getting it.

First Houston, now Conroe

As we know, the city of Houston struck a deal with The Woodlands a few months ago to take any future annexations off the table. That deal was later codified into legislation, which has since been signed into law. One piece of that legislation also gave The Woodlands the ability to come to a similar arrangement with Conroe, which has had its own plans for a piece of The Woodlands east of I-45. As of yesterday, that too is now off the table thanks to an agreement between The Woodlands and Conroe.

In December 2005, Conroe officials announced the city would annex Municipal Utility District No. 39, an 858-acre area that includes the Harper’s Landing neighborhood of about 1,400 homes. The announcement spurred protests from residents who said they did not want to be a part of the city.

As part of the agreement, Conroe will end its proceedings to annex District 39 and release it from the city’s boundaries in 2014.

In return, The Woodlands will put $320,000 into a regional fund to be used for mutually beneficial projects agreed to by leaders of both communities. The fund will be handled by The Woodlands’ Town Center Improvement District, a special management district.

The district will then make continuing payments to the fund using 1/16 of sales tax and tax income from the utility district.

The regional participation agreement will not have a term limit.

The deal brokered over the past several months is similar to the regional participation agreement recently reached between The Woodlands and Houston, enabling the community to become a city in the future without the possibility of annexation.

”I think this is a groundbreaking step toward cooperation between The Woodlands and Conroe, and the agreement sets the foundation for that,” said Joel Deretchin, president of The Woodlands Association.

I guess the only issue left is when does The Woodlands become the city of The Woodlands. It’ll be interesting to see how that affects the way The Woodlands does its business when that happens.

Still more red light cameras coming

With Governor Perry expected to sign the bill to authorize red light cameras (SB1119), expect to see them pop up in places outside of Houston soon, if they’re not already there.

Montgomery County Commissioners Court approved red-light cameras in The Woodlands in April, and the devices were installed at two intersections in May. In the first two weeks of operation the cameras caught more than 600 violators, Precinct 3 Commissioner Ed Chance said. In June, the cameras have recorded 336 more, he said.

Chance, whose precinct includes most of The Woodlands, said cameras were installed at the intersections to gather information about traffic movement in the master-planned community and ”to show state legislators the severe problem with people violating traffic lights.”

[…]

Elsewhere, officials in Sugar Land and Humble are studying possible sites for cameras. Humble’s cameras could be working by August, and Sugar Land’s police chief said the city’s system should be ready by September.

Both cities, Sugar Land in Fort Bend County and Humble on the northern fringe of Harris County, are crossed by major highways carrying heavy traffic.

Humble City Manager Darrell Boeske said cameras probably will be installed at five intersections there. He said a likely spot for a camera is at FM 1960 and the U.S. 59 service road.

“About 90 percent of our accidents happen on those two streets,” Boeske said.

Sugar Land officials are still determining where the cameras will be installed.

Three highways, U.S. 90A, U.S. 59 and Texas 6, cross the city.

Police Chief Steve Griffith said a probable spot for one camera would be at U.S. 59 and Texas 6, in the heart of the city’s business district.

Like ’em or not, they appear to be here to stay, even with a sunset clause of sorts in the final bill. Look for the signs, and be ready when the light turns yellow.