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June 28th, 2007:

Biggio 3000

Congratulations, Craig Biggio. For today, any questions about your pursuit of 3000 are irrelevant. You made it, and you deserve the glory that goes with it. See you in five in Cooperstown.

One of these officials is not like the others

I got this a couple of days ago, but didn’t have a chance to post on it till now. This (PDF) is a letter sent from the interim President and Chair of the Board of Regents of Galveston College to Governor Perry to express their concerns over one of his vetoes, which had to do with money allocated to community college faculty and staff for health insurance. At the bottom of the letter, as is custom in situations like this, they cc’ed the college’s legislative delegation, so the folks who represent them know what their issues are.

Well, sort of anyway. See, Galveston County has a total of four representatives in Austin, but the letter was only copied to three of them. They managed to overlook Galveston’s senior state Senator, which when you think about it probably wasn’t that hard to do. Joe Jaworski, noting that Galveston’s forgotten Senator is also furniture, is currently having some fun with this in a fundraising email.

Anyway. I’m sure this really was just an oversight, but much like casting Rick Perry as the fourth Stooge once was, it’s just fitting somehow.

Texas: Still growing like gangbusters

Nothing unexpected here.

Booming cities in the Lone Star state dominated the latest population estimates for cities as of July, 1, 2006, released by the census today. Six Texas cities were in the top 25 in the U.S, and three, including Houston, were in the top 10, with San Antonio the seventh-largest and Dallas the ninth.

[…]

Nineteen Texas cities, or nearly 20 percent, were among the top 100 fastest-growing cities with populations of at least 100,000 between 2000 and July 1, 2006. McKinney, north of Dallas, ranked No. 1 on that list, nearly doubling its population.

“What you’re seeing is verification that, numerically, Texas continues to be the fastest-growing state in the nation,” said state demographer Steve Murdock, whom President Bush has nominated to be Census Bureau director.

As of July 1, 2006, Texas edged out California as the state with the largest population growth, gaining 2.7 million people since 2000 while California gained 2.6 million. In that time period, Texas grew at a 12.7 percent rate, compared with California’s 8 percent.

It’s looking a lot more like we’ll be gaining four seats in Congress in 2011. I wonder what effect on the politics of redistricting that will have, since for sure some of those seats are going to be preordained as minority opportunity districts.

And speaking of redistricting:

Houston grew from 1.98 million to 2.14 million in the same period.

We’re going to be ready to add new district City Council seats by 2011 as well, right?

The reasoning behind the CCA’s decision on DeLay

Here’s the basic reasoning behind the Court of Criminal Appeals’ refusal to reinstate the conspiracy charge against Tom DeLay and two of his co-defendants.

In Wednesday’s decision, the Court of Criminal Appeals had to decide whether a conspiracy charge could be applied to all felonies or only those specified by the Legislature. To side with prosecutors, the court would have had to either reverse or limit its decisions from the 1970s that the Legislature must specify that the conspiracy statute applies to felonies outside the penal code.

The court’s majority noted that the Legislature had not reacted to the rulings. Instead, lawmakers applied the conspiracy law piecemeal to various felonies.

The dissent said not applying conspiracy to all felonies defies common sense.

What the court said in effect is that while breaking certain election laws is a crime, plotting to break them with other people isn’t a crime unless the Legislature has specifically defined a crime called “conspiracy to violate election laws”. Which it did indeed do in 2003, but DeLay and his pals did their thing in 2002, so they get to skate. I can’t say I find the Court’s logic to be terribly flawed, but it does mean that some conspiracies will be crimes while others will not. You can see the basics of the state’s arguments here, from when they were made.

Fort Bend Now has Travis County DA Ronnie Earle’s response to the CCA’s ruling:

“Criminal conspiracy means three things. It means a person intends to commit a felony. It means that the person agrees that he or his co-conspirators will engage in conduct that would constitute the crime. And it means one of them performs some act in pursuit of the crime,” he said in a prepared statement.

“Under the rationale of today’s majority opinion, the Legislature has blessed these criminal conspiracies as long as the felony they agree to commit is not in the Penal Code. There are many felony crimes that are contained in parts of the law other than the Penal Code.

“Of course, it is illegal for them to actually commit the crime, but they can legally conspire to do it all they want,” Earle said. “This is a tortured result.”

The public policy considerations surrounding this decision are larger than this one case. Criminal conspiracy prosecutions “allow for the prevention of crime before it occurs,” Earle said. “Under the court’s opinion today, law enforcement is powerless to intercept certain felonies before they are actually committed.”

In the short term, Earle is going to ask for a re-hearing on this ruling. I’m not sure what that means, or what practical effect it may have. DeLay and his codefendants are themselves still pursuing an appeal with the Third Court of Appeals on the conspiracy to launder money charge; that apparently may take another year to resolve. I believe that’s separate from the checks aren’t cash claim that Colyandro and Ellis once made – frankly, I have no idea if that’s still an ongoing appeals issue.

Something to watch out for longer term is an attempt by the Lege to clean up this loophole in some fashion. That could make for some interesting legislation, if it were to happen. I’m just speculating here, as so far there’s no obvious crusader for this cause. But the prosecutors in this state carry a fair amount of weight, and if they think this may let some bad guys get off the hook, I’ll bet they’ll ask for the matter to be addressed in 2009.

Finally, a matter I’ve noted before but just can’t let go without noting it one last time:

One of the judges in the majority said he might have ruled differently “were we writing on the proverbial pristine slate.” Another in the majority concluded that the court would be denying DeLay due process if it retroactively changed course now.

Because as we know, the Court of Criminal Appeals is all about protecting the due process rights of every defendant in Texas.

CQ on CD10

Congressional Quarterly takes a look at what I hope will become a high-profile race in CD10.

Texas Republican Mike McCaul was a beneficiary of a mid-decade redistricting plan — spearheaded by Tom DeLay, the Texan who then was House majority leader — that left the GOP with six more House seats after the 2004 election than they had after 2002.

The 10th Congressional District, where McCaul ran, seemed so Republican (its voters would give President Bush 61 percent in 2004), that McCaul won that year without Democratic opposition, pulling down 79 percent to defeat a Libertarian and a write-in candidate.

But McCaul did draw a Democratic foe in 2006, and it made a difference. His challenger, former NASA employee Ted Ankrum, was not well-known in the 10th — which spans 150 miles from eastern Austin to western suburbs of Houston — and spent less than $65,000 to the incumbent’s $1.1 million. Yet the outcome was a fairly modest 55 percent to 40 percent victory for McCaul.

While this doesn’t suggest a major Democratic tide in the district, the 2006 result has opened the eyes of some of that party’s strategists, who are mulling whether they could put the seat into more serious play in 2008.

Hallelujah. As you know, I’ve been banging this drum for awhile. Hell, I thought CD10 was ripe enough for 2006, had there been the resources to fight for it properly. Better late than never, as long as nobody weasels out now.

There’s a lot more there on the two announced Democratic hopefuls, Dan Grant and Larry Joe Doherty, which is worth reading. Nate is also on this. What really matters to me in all this is making sure that CD10 – and frankly, some other seats – are seen as viable and worth pursuing even if they’re not sure things. Going on the offensive and expanding the field of play has its own value whether it results in a pickup or not. Here, I think the pickup chances are sufficient to warrant interest on their own. I just don’t think the accounting should end there.

UPDATE: James L notes that Dan Grant is doing pretty well on ActBlue.

“I don’t feel tardy”

I have five things to say about this article on how City Council meetings have always started late since 2004:

1. I’m trying to resist the urge to say “So what?” here. Yes, when you expect something to start at 9 AM and it doesn’t actually start until 9:30, it’s annoying. But it’s not at all clear to me from this article that the actual impact of the Council’s inability to start on time rises to the level of “news”, as opposed to “trivia”. Only one member of the public was quoted in the piece, so it’s hard to judge whether this is merely a frustration or if it has caused someone who had business before Council, or who just wanted to hear about a particular issue, any genuine inconvenience. Surely if this were a real problem, there’d be some anecdotes out there, about missing work or not getting to testify or something, I don’t know. But if there are such complaints, they’re not in the article. So how are the 99.9% of us who’ve never attended a Council meeting in our lives supposed to tell if this is something that should bother us?

(Along similar lines, if this has been such a problem for so long, maybe it should have been reported on before now? Like maybe after six months or so? Just saying.)

2. There are other ways to judge how well a meeting has been run than just starting on time. Things like staying on agenda, keeping a decent tempo, fostering open dialog – if you’ve ever worked for a large company, you know the things I’m talking about. Now that we know Mayor White would flunk a promptness test, how does he do in other matters? (And how does he compare to his predecessors in them?) Speaking from my own personal experience, I’ll take a meeting that starts late but ends on time over a meeting that starts on time but ends late any day of the week. What other dimensions are there?

3. While Council’s tardiness may look bad, they’re nothing compared to the State Lege, where committee meetings almost never have a set start time, almost never start on time when they do have a set start time, and public testimony is the lowest item on the priority list. Stories abound every session about people who drove all day to attend and speak at a meeting, then finally giving up at 4 AM because they still weren’t near their turn to testify. This gets back to what I asked in item 1: How (if at all) has the Council’s habit of fashionable start times actually affected people?

4. There was a lot of filler in this story. Honestly, who cares what some “San Francisco time management consultant” thinks? Or, with all due respect, what a local poli sci professor (and Republican blogger) thinks?

5. Finally, not to put too fine a point on it, results matter, too. Last I checked, a pretty high percentage of the voters thought the Mayor was getting good results. Is there a case to be made that we could get even better results if he called the meetings to order in a timely manner? Maybe, but if so I haven’t seen it yet.

I see that reporter Matt Stiles has taken a little ribbing for this story. I have no quibble with his point, articulated in the comments, that not every story needs to be big and weighty and that “it’s also fun (and enlightening for readers) to write a talker once in a while about fizzy water or attendance”. I guess maybe what I’m saying is that while it was clear to me that the Dr Pepper story was intended to be taken lightly, this one felt more like it was supposed to be Real News. As such, it missed the mark.

The giant blue porn-hating elephant

Boy, when one has used such a title for a post, it’s a little intimidating to actually write said post. So, let me just point you to Houstonist, where the title at least will make sense. All I can add is that the whole thing reminds me of a Budweiser “Real Men of Genius” ad. Really, what else is there to say?

Harry Potter hacked?

Spoiler alert level: Elevated.

The mystery surrounding the end to fictional British boy wizard Harry Potter’s saga deepened on Wednesday with a computer hacker posting what he said were key plot details and a publisher warned the details could be fake.

The hacker, who goes by the name “Gabriel,” claims to have taken a digital copy of author J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” by breaking into a computer at London-based Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

For months now, leading up to the book’s July 21 release, legions of “Harry Potter” fans have debated whether Rowling killed Harry or one of his best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, in the final book.

Gabriel has posted information at Web site InSecure.org that, if true, would answer that question.

“We make this spoiler to make reading of the upcoming book useless and boring,” Gabriel said in the posting.

Well isn’t that special? Maybe ol’ Gabriel was beaten up by one too many wizards as a kid.

Kyle Good, a spokesman for U.S. distributor Scholastic Corp., would not say whether the posting was accurate, but did warn readers to be skeptical about anything on the Web that claims to have inside information on the book’s plot.

“There is a whole lot of junk flying around,” she said. “Consider this one more theory.”

One that I hope to avoid finding out any more about in the next few weeks. Consider yourselves warned.

(And if it turns out that “Gabriel” did successfully hack into Bloomsbury, I trust that heads will roll and all legal recourse will be pursued.)