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June 2nd, 2007:

RIP, Steve Gilliard

Sad news.

Steve Gilliard, 1966-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog (www.thenewsblog.net), passed away early this morning. He was 41.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

We will post more information as it becomes available to us.

Please keep Steve’s friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us. We will miss him terribly.

– the news blog team

I did not know Steve Gilliard, but I knew and respected his work. His was a strong and original voice, and it will be missed. He was also well liked by his blogging colleagues, as the many tributes to him on the news of his passing attests. My sincere condolences to his family and friends. Rest in peace, Steve.

UPDATE: Jane Hamsher has a personal remembrance.

Why SB482 died

SB482, whose death in the waning hours of the session has led to some calls for a special session to resurrect it, gets a postmortem in the Chron.

The lobbying that weakened and ultimately killed electric utility reform, clean-air legislation and regulation of the $45 billion buyout of TXU Corp. during the recent legislative session was a friend and family affair.

The public focus of the legislation has been on high electric rates and the multibillion-dollar buyout of TXU Corp. in Dallas. Lawmakers wanted to rein in high electric bills while the state’s utilities fought anything that resembled renewed government control of a market that was deregulated in 1999.

The utility lobby groups, with 90 registered lobbyists, included a former business adviser to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the brother of Dewhurst’s chief of staff, the son of Speaker Tom Craddick’s next-door neighbor and a pair of political consultants who have helped at least a third of the Legislature win office.

And that does not mention the fact the teams also included eight former legislators, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, a former Texas secretary of state and former Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Williamson.

The board of directors for the proposed new TXU also has influence in Austin:

  • Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Don Evans is from Midland and is a longtime Craddick friend.
  • Plains National Bank Chairman James Huffines was finance chairman of Gov. Rick Perry’s 2006 re-election campaign.
  • And former Ambassador to Sweden Lyndon Olson is a prominent Waco Democrat who has helped finance a political committee run by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Jim Dunnam.

“Where things fell apart is where they often do: in the dark rooms and back halls of the Capitol,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen, one of the groups pushing for reform. “We don’t know whose fingerprints are on the razor.”

We can do a better job of recording votes (and you’ll get a chance to vote on a constitutional amendment to do just that this November), but conference committees will remain the classic back room. I’d heard some talk after the first call for a special session was made that this was an owner’s box deal. Which, whatever the merits of this bill and the means of its death may be, at least gives me hope that we won’t have a special to try and pass it again. Sometimes even vice has its virtues.

The Harry Potter Experience

Really sweet article by Rebecca Traister about a Harry Potter convention in New Orleans. Couple of comments:

1. I hadn’t realized that one of the biggest stars of the Potter fandom world, Melissa Anelli of The Leaky Cauldron, is a Staten Island girl. Always nice to see a fellow Islander making good.

2. I’ve touched on this before, but since Anelli brings it up, I’ll discuss it again.

Anelli is heading into what she calls “a summer-long pre-game” of conventions, fan gatherings, wizard rock concerts and movie premieres leading to July 21. But, she said, she is hoping to read the “Deathly Hallows” like a civilian.” “Once I get that book in my hands, the world doesn’t exist,” she said. “This is the last time we can savor these books this way, so I want to make sure I do that.”

And once she’s finished? Well, Anelli has her own book to write. And, she promised, “the site will continue to exist, at least through the movies.” But at some point, she said carefully, “You’ve got to move on. J.K. Rowling is moving on.”

“Being alive as the story is being delivered to us is magic,” Anelli concluded. “I like that I will always look back on this and be able to say, ‘I was there. And you know what? It rocked.'”

I totally agree that being able to say “I was there when” is cool. But I continue to believe that despite Rowling’s statements, the last chapter of the Harry Potter saga has not been written. Or, at the least, it doesn’t have to be written. Whatever else Rowling may want to do with her life (and if she wants to pull a Gary Larson and dsiappear from the public stage completely to enjoy the many fruits of her labors, I sure won’t begrudge her), there’s plenty more to be said and done. It’s really just a question of whether she’ll give other creators the license to explore new avenues with her characters.

3. Traister’s observation that “There’s not a lot in popular cultural life that’s built for smart people anymore. Harry Potter really is.” is mostly true, but maybe not as much as she makes it out to be. “Smart” pop culture has always been a niche. It’s just that Harry Potter has broken out of nichedom to be its own pop culture behemoth. But there’s still plenty of smart stuff out there in the niches, and with all the goodness of the Internet it’s a lot easier for people to find the niches that they fit into, which in turn makes it easier for them to thrive and propagate. Just as there’s never been a better time to be a sports fan, I think there’s never been a better time to have offbeat, small-market tastes, or to be an unabashed geek about something. Whatever it is, you never have to be isolated from others who share your geeky interests.

4. I can totally see the Rowling universe and its adherents turning into a Society for Creative Anachronisms clone. You could make the case they already have, after reading the Traister piece. Hey, if Jedi can be a religion, who knows where this can end up?

Seven weeks till July 21, baby. Seven weeks.

Guess the list

Think you know who will make the Texas Monthly Ten Best and Ten Worst list for the 80th Lege? Take a guess and win a prize.

Patricia Kilday Hart and I are now working on the Ten Best and Ten Worst story for the 80th Legislature. We are offering a one-year subscription to TEXAS MONTHLY for the correspondent who can come closest to predicting our choices. Anyone caught hacking into the magazine’s web site, as a certain press secretary did in 2003 (NOT a joke), will be disqualified. Anyone who says that our list is stupid because there can’t be Ten Best from this session will be disqualified. The deadline for submissions is Wednesday, June 13, at 11 p.m. The list will be made public on the morning of Thursday, June 14. Submit your entries by e-mail to [email protected] and include a telephone number so that we can notify you if you win.

Remember that Burka and Hart value effectiveness most of all. Legislators who get things done get rated highly; legislators who fumble the ball get pinged. It’s entirely possible to go from one list to the other – in fact, I would not be surpised if Robert Talton is a Ten Best recipient this year for his incredibly efficient point-of-order sniping. Ideology is only a factor if it gets in the way of accomplishment, especially if it presents a roadblock to a legislator’s own goals.

I’m going to think about this and try to post my own guesses next week. Feel free to leave your own list in the comments.

Three transit stories

The Chron’s This Week section was a trove of transit stories this week:

Meetings net ideas for neighborhoods

Transit-oriented development could take place in Houston if the urban corridor planning process moves forward as anticipated.

The Planning Partnership, a consulting firm that has been working with the Houston Planning and Development Department and hosting corridor workshop meetings around town since mid-April, presented its preliminary findings to residents at a wrap-up meeting May 23 at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

“There will be more opportunities for shopping in your neighborhood, but there will also be opportunities for you to go anywhere in the city and shop,” said Rick Merrill, a partner with The Planning Partnership, describing the benefits transit-oriented development can bring.

As the North, East End, Southeast, Uptown and University light rail lines are constructed and begin to connect with the already built Main Street light rail line, the city’s planning department aims to create corridors along each of the lines with different standards for development.

The goal is to bring in new businesses and make buildings and the streetscape more pedestrian-friendly.

Join debate on University rail line, speaker urges

East End residents and business leaders focused on Metro’s plans for light rail along Harrisburg should keep an equally sharp eye on competing proposals for the University rail line.

That’s what Neartown resident Robin Holzer, chair of the Citizens’ Transportation Coalition, told members of the Houston East End Chamber of Commerce at its infrastructure meeting on Friday.

“I suspect (the University line) hasn’t gotten a whole lot of attention in the East End, because mostly it (wouldn’t) run in the East End,” she said. “But I would argue that it affects you anyway.”

H-GAC seeks reactions to transportation plan

The Houston-Galveston Area Council will host public meetings in June regarding the $92 billion in sponsored transportation and related clean air planning and projects identified in its draft 2035 Regional Transportation Plan.

The 2035 RTP is the long-range transportation plan for the Houston-Galveston region and serves as the blueprint that will guide the development of transportation systems through the next 30 years, according to an H-GAC press release.

Developed in cooperation with area cities and counties, Metro and the Texas Department of Transportation, the plan identifies long-range transportation needs, prioritizes programs and projects, and provides a forum for dialogue and regional problem solving.

“Every transportation plan serves as a stepping stone for the next plan,” said Alan Clark, director of Transportation Planning for H-GAC, in a press release..

[…]

A 30-day public comment period will begin on June 1, during which residents are encouraged to express their views and opinions on the plan.

Written comments can be made online at [email protected], faxed to 713-993-4508, or mailed to H-GAC Public Information, 3555 Timmons Lane, Suite 120, Houston, TX 77027.

Community associations, religious and civic groups, and business organizations can contact H-GAC at 713-993-2438 to request a special 2035 RTP presentation.

H-GAC will host five open houses in Harris and surrounding counties.

For meeting dates, locations and times, or for more information, visit www.2035plan.org.

I figure Tory and Christof will follow that last one, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us should ignore it. Keep an eye out for those open house meetings, so you won’t be surprised by anything they dream up a few years from now.