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June 12th, 2007:

Susan Criss for Supreme Court

Via Texas Lawyer and BOR comes the formal announcement of Galveston Judge Susan Criss‘ candidacy for the State Supreme Court. I knew this was coming – I signed her petition a couple of weeks ago, at the Fort Bend Demcrats’ barbecue – but it’s still nice to see.

A few things to point out. One is that this is an eminently winnable race. Take a close look at how the downballot statewide races went last year compared to the top of the ticket. Where the choice for most voters was basically “generic Republican” versus “generic Democrat”, due to a lack of name recognition and TV exposure, the Democrats did better. The gap isn’t as wide as you think it is. Note also that a candidate who can win a bunch of newspaper endorsements can do even better, something which ought to be within range for Criss.

Two, based on 2004 results at least, Republicans seem to be more likely to vote for President but not downballot races than Democrats. Victor Carillo, Scott Brister, and Mike Keasler all lost at least 400,000 votes from George Bush’s total that year, while Democrats Bob Scarborough, David Van Os, and JR Molina all had about the same vote total as John Kerry. In other words, the boost in Presidential year turnout may not help Criss’ opponent, Phil Johnson, as much as it will Criss.

Third, to the best of my knowledge, the Dems will have a full slate of Supreme Court candidates next year, which is the first time they will be able to say that since 2002. The more candidates out there actually campaigning, the better. I’m not sure who the others are (and I wouldn’t say if I could recall, since as far as I know they haven’t declared), but they are judges themselves, so they’ll be experienced jurists. Now if we could get an equal slate for the Court of Criminal Appeals, that would truly rock.

Finally, as we know we’ll have an exciting Senate race to watch, too. As with the item above, having more candidates campaign is a Good Thing. A full slate also has the possibility to create a “Democrats are back” story line that may add a little momentum. I realize I’m deep into “intangibles” territory here, but after more elections than I can count with the wind in our faces, it’s nice to contemplate such things.

Bottom line: I look forward to supporting Judge Criss as she makes her run for the Supreme Court. We need as many like her as we can get.

Still spoiling

Well, at least it wasn’t a front page headline, but the headline to this story one page one of the Chron’s lifestyle section was yet another Sopranos spoiler. Maybe there’s no one left who hasn’t seen either the episode or a spoiler for it, and maybe there might be such people if there weren’t all these damn revealing headlines. Hell, I just today opened an email sent to the Mucky Duck mailing list, sent out Sunday night at 11 PM, that completely spoiled the finale. Is nothing sacred any more?

Meanwhile, for those who can no longer be spoiled on this, I give you an interview with series creator David Chase, an analysis of the final episode by Victorino Matus, and a succinct reaction to the whole thing by John Whiteside. Enjoy.

How many more signs of the Apocalypse do we need?

Who said this?

“When Paris Hilton was going to jail last week, more people knew about that than knew that we were sending people into space that day. It has replaced what is real news. There was always a place for it, but it was [gossip writer] Rona Barrett. Now it is the equivalent of Edward R. Murrow reporting it today.”

If you guessed “O.J. Simpson”, and your head didn’t explode, congratulations. You’re right. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to speak to a large white Sylvilagus cunicularis, and he’s in a bit of a hurry. Link via Tapped.

Early voting: Last chance

Today is the last day you’ll see this picture:

Well, okay, that’s not fully true. I’ll run it again on Saturday to remind those of you who haven’t voted early to vote on Runoff Day. And assuming no catastrophes strike, I’ll run it on Sunday. So, with any luck at all this is merely the antepenultimate time I’ll run that picture. (And how often does one get to work “antepenultimate” into a sentence without forcing it?)

But hey, look, it’s very simple. Either we get a high quality, highly qualified person to represent us all on City Council, or we get a one-dimensional clown. The choice is obvious, but you have to actually make it. Do it today, or do it on Saturday, but please please please do it. And tell a friend or twenty to do it, too. Thanks very much.

Happy Loving Day

It was forty years ago today that the laws against interracial marriage were thrown out by the US Supreme Court in its landmark Loving v. Virginia decision.

While the rest of the Jim Crow South struggled to divide the races in the ’50s, blacks and whites in tiny Central Point, Va. had long been intertwined.

And often, they were intimate, said Edward Clarke, who grew up in the town.

It was in this setting that a skinny 11-year-old girl nicknamed “Bean” met a 17-year-old boy who was a family friend, according to Phyl Newbeck, a Vermont author who detailed the case in the 2004 book, Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers.

The friendship led to courtship — but their relationship took an abrupt turn when Mildred, 18, became pregnant.

“We’re talking the early ’50s, when an illegitimate child was … a stigma,” Newbeck said. “I don’t think Richard wanted her to have to bear that.”

They drove some 80 miles to Washington, D.C., in 1958, married, and returned to Central Point to start a new life.

Within a month, they were in jail.

It was 1964, and the Lovings had spent the past few years living in exile in Washington after being convicted on charges of “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.” Laws banning racially mixed marriages existed in at least 17 states.

The couple had avoided a year in jail by agreeing to a sentence mandating, “both accused leave Caroline County and the state of Virginia at once, and do not return together or at the same time to said county and state for a period of 25 years.”

Mildred had written to then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union for help returning to their Virginia home.

The Civil Rights Act had passed, and Southern blacks were defying Jim Crow’s hold.

Phil Hirschkop, 28, just out of law school, argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that laws must treat each citizen equally.

On June 12, 1967, the high court agreed.

Kind of hard to imagine these days, isn’t it? More people support interracial marriage these days than believe in heliocentrism, which is a comment on something, though I’m not exactly sure what. The question today, of course, is if someday we’ll feel the same way about gay marriage. Will our grandchildren look back and wonder what all the fuss was about? I for one hope so. Be that as it may, I say Happy Loving Day, everyone.

The Hermann Park Train

This is cool.

Under a proposal from the Hermann Park Conservancy and the Houston City Council’s quality-of-life committee, the little train could be getting a $4 million upgrade, with new tracks and trains, a new train station and three new train stops.

Two new stops will be located near the MetroRail depots at Hermann Park/Rice and at the Houston Zoo. The third new train stop will be near the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Houston Garden Center and Miller Outdoor Theatre.

The proposal, part of an $11 million improvement plan for Hermann Park’s Lake Plaza, will be considered on Wednesday by the Houston City Council, Councilwoman Pam Holm said.


Holm, who remembers riding the little train as a child, conceded there is some sadness in replacing it.

“It is so special,” Holm said. “It is a little bittersweet when some of the things that have been part of our life get a new life. But it is also great to see the development and the partnership (with the Hermann Park Conservancy) for a better quality of life and better environment for our citizens,” Holm said.

The new train “will still be a ride,” Holm said. “But it will serve a dual purpose. It would still circle through the park, and the track would be similar to where it is now. But it will be upgraded and there will be stops added.”

I haven’t taken Olivia on this yet. We visit the zoo regularly, but haven’t ridden the train as part of those visits. She has ridden on it many times, however, with my father-in-law, who also takes her to the zoo frequently. Clearly, I’ve got to catch up.

And for those who are wondering about spending money on something like a park ride when there’s a battle over pension funding going on, please note the following:

The nonprofit Hermann Park Conservancy would pay all capital costs to replace the train. The conservancy would operate the train and provide 22 percent of the gross revenues to the city. Net revenues would be used to maintain Hermann Park.

What that means is that it won’t be city money going to this project. The city will benefit from it, however. So feel free to support this without feeling like you’ve made a choice between the pension fund and the Hermann Park train.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department is planning to recognize the Slusky family’s contributions to Houston.

Louis Slusky built Playland Park, with its giant Cyclone rollercoaster, as well as Meyer Park Speedway, where hot rods raced on a dirt racetrack. His son, Elliott, has been overseeing Buffalo Rides’ management of the train concession, Holm said.

“I think they started the train, Playland Park and the Speedway all about the same time,” Holm said. “The family really made a contribution to Houston’s history.”

Amen to that.

Roger Williams steps down as SOS

Secretary of State Roger Williams is resigning his position as of July 1.

The car dealer from North Texas who gained notice as a Republican fundraiser was appointed to the mostly ceremonial office by Gov. Rick Perry in 2004.

Although the post has been a launching pad for future political runs, Williams gave no immediate clue as to whether he’ll seek future political office.

“It’s really more of a springboard. I think there’s a tendency for all people to be appointed for that reason,” said Royal Masset, a Republican political consultant in Austin.

Indeed, when George W. Bush was Texas governor, his secretaries of state included Alberto Gonzales, Tony Garza and Henry R. Cuellar.


As secretary of state, Williams chaired Perry’s Partnership Council on Economic Development with a mission to bring more jobs to Texas. He also led missions to market Texas to companies and site selectors, and he promoted Texas exports on trips to Mexico, Canada and Japan.

“He has been a tremendous asset to the state on elections, economic development, border affairs and a host of other issues,” Perry said in a prepared statement. “I am proud of the work he has done during his term as secretary of state and, more importantly, proud to call him a friend.”

Brandi Grissom has the full press release.

Masset said he believes Williams would have made a “great candidate,” but also said there’s little opening up statewide for him to grab.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that he really wanted to go for higher office,” Masset said of Williams. “He really was a great speaker. He really has charisma.”

Did you know that the Secretary of State – which, remember, is an appointed, not elected, office – can raise funds that can be subsequently used in a campaign? Here’s Williams’ TEC filing for January. He had almost $200K in the bank as of January, and I’ll bet the July report shows a lot more. Williams is on the not-so-short list of GOP gubernatorial hopefuls for 2010, with Lite Gov also being in the picture. I don’t know what he brings to the table that any of the others don’t – less baggage, maybe (or maybe not), and better hair, I guess – but hey, as they don’t quite say about the Lottery, all you need is a few million dollars and a dream. We’ll see what he does. I’m fairly sure we’ve not heard the last of him.

Sklar will not run again in 2008

Shane Sklar, who ran a strong race against Presidential wannabe Ron Paul in CD14 last year, has announced he will not run again next year, but will in the future. Here’s his press release:

Hoping that another Democrat will step up to run against Ron Paul, Shane Sklar announced Thursday that he will not run for the District 14 seat in 2008.

“My wife, Jill, and I thought it was wise for me to step aside and open the door to another Democrat,” Sklar said. “And we thought it was best to do it now, so that he or she has the time to build a strong campaign organization like the one we had last year.”

In 2006, Sklar’s fundraising was competitive with Paul’s. However, one Florida multi-millionaire took the unusual and controversial step of personally buying television ads for Paul at the end of the campaign.

“We did not have the money to counter it, and that sealed our fate,” Sklar said. “I’m sure that Paul can count on that kind of money again this year, but there are still no guarantees that I will be able to raise the funds needed to compete.”

Still, Sklar said it was not an easy call. “Many have encouraged me to run again, especially since Paul is once again ignoring the district while he runs a pointless campaign for President,” he said. “Apparently, all Paul cares about is seeing his name in the newspaper.”

Sklar said he will run again. “I am eager to serve the people and make a difference, and I will run for another office in the not too distant future,” he said.

Sklar said he and Jill are thankful for the support they received during and after last year’s race. “As time has passed, we are even more amazed and humbled by the groundswell of support we received from people from all over the district and from all walks of life,” he said. “I’ll never forget it.”

Sklar got just short of 40% of the vote in CD14, which may not sound very good, but he was the top performer among Democrats in that district. I’ve got a spreadsheet here with the numbers, which I’ll summarize thusly: Sklar got more votes – 62,429 – than any other Democrat in CD14. Bill Moody was next in line with 61,653, and nobody else cracked 59,000. Moody and Dale Henry did better percentagewise, but they were both boosted by the presence of a Libertarian candidate. Sklar was the top Democratic votegetter in seven of the ten counties that CD14 covers – he did poorly in Paul’s home turf of Brazoria County, trailed Moody in Fort Bend, and trailed both Moody and Henry in Aransas. He was the only Democrat to carry Jackson County, carried Calhoun County along with Moody, Henry, and Hank Gilbert, and came within four points of carrying Wharton County. In short, Sklar’s performance showed both how tough CD14 is, and how soft Ron Paul’s support is in many parts of it. Had he received more funding early on, who knows how big a dent he could have made.

Like Sklar, whose return to politics someday I will eagerly await, I hope someone steps up to challenge Paul again. Paul already has two potential primary opponents; if he survives to make it to November, he may find his boutique Presidential candidacy may have cost him more in votes than it gained him in dollars. It won’t be easy, and it’ll take a fair bit of money, but thanks to the ground Shane Sklar plowed last year it’ll be worth trying.