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July 14th, 2007:

Fundraising: Lampson and Cornyn

We know Rep. Nick Lampson is one of the top targets for the GOP in 2008. The good news is that Lampson is off to a good start in fundraising.

U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson has raised twice as much as his only official competitor for the congressional District 22 seat, according to campaign finance reports due Friday.

Lampson raised $288,000 during the second quarter of the year. He has $441,000 cash on hand.

Lampson, D-Stafford, will be up for re-election in 2008. His campaign said his contributions exceeded expectations, especially because Lampson spent half of the last quarter recovering from quadruple-bypass heart surgery.

“Nick has been a strong and independent voice for the people of TX-22,” his campaign spokesman Steven Snodgrass said. “Given the campaign’s solid progress and his bipartisan voting record, Congressman Lampson is in great shape for 2008.”

[…]

Former Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs is the only one who has declared her candidacy and raised a significant amount of money.

Sekula-Gibbs won last fall’s special election to fill the remaining two months of DeLay’s term. She fell short, however, in her write-in candidacy against Lampson for the full term.

She raised $137,000 during the last quarter and has more than $180,000 in her campaign account.

“Our fundraising is just starting and will continue to grow,” Sekula-Gibbs said in a written statement, noting contributions from Houston home builder Bob Perry, among others.

“Supporters are starting to line up behind our race to take back TX-22 because they realize it will take a team effort to beat Nick Lampson in 2008.”

Well, some supporters may be lining up behind Shelley, but there’s another group lining up as well: primary challengers.

Family Court Judge James Squier said Friday he planned to run. Squier, who turns 61 next week and has been a judge for more than 20 years, said he was looking for a new opportunity to serve. He does not live in the district, but did for nearly 30 years.

Former Sugar Land Mayor Dean Hrbacek formed an exploratory committee last month and said Friday he will make an announcement about his intentions in August.

State Rep. Robert Talton of Pasadena also is looking at the seat, as is Pete Olson, the former chief of staff for U.S. Sen John Cornyn.

Juanita reported on Judge Squier yesterday. I don’t know a thing about him, but I’m pretty sure this didn’t come out of a vacuum. If the Republicans were happy with Shelley, she’d have the field more or less to herself.

Meanwhile, over on the Senate side of things, John Cornyn has been busy raising money, too.

Cornyn, a Republican, reported that he raised $2 million in the second quarter of this year and had $5.3 million cash on hand.

One of his potential Democratic opponents — attorney Mikal Watts of San Antonio — launched his campaign by putting $3.8 million of his own money into his campaign account to match Cornyn’s cash on hand at the end of the first quarter.

Cornyn’s aides declined to comment, saying the report spoke for itself.

During June, Watts raised another $1.1 million. Watts ended the quarter with $4.8 million in cash on hand.

If he wins the Democratic nomination, Watts has pledged to spend another $6.8 million of his own money against Cornyn.

[…]

While on the surface it might look like Cornyn raised more money than Watts, Cornyn’s fundraising occurred between April 1 and June 30. Watts’ fundraising for his Senate race exploratory committee was just in the month of June.

State Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, is expected on Monday to formally create an exploratory committee for the race. He had been going to do it on Thursday but delayed because of the death of former first lady Lady Bird Johnson. Noriega will not have to report any financial activity until September.

I have no doubt that Cornyn will raise whatever he wants. I also believe that the money will be there for Watts or Noriega to run a competitive race against him. It’s not 2006 any more. Cornyn’s going to need every penny he can get his hands on.

What about that smoking ban?

Remember the expanded smoking ban that the city passed in October of 2006, which forbade smoking in bars? The ordinance contained a few exceptions, including one for “bars that promote cigar smoking and derive significant revenue from tobacco sales”. Unfortunately, with enforcement of the new ordinance scheduled to begin in September, it seems that no one really knows what that means.

At his family-run bar in downtown Houston, Mike Shapiro relies on a strong base of cigar smoking customers. So ever since the city passed the no-smoking ordinance, he’s been trying to apply for the cigar bar exemption.

“I tried going down there to find out when I can apply, and all you get is a run-around,” he said “They’re not ready. Well, we’re in the middle of July and they’re still not ready.”

Even though the ordinance passed last fall, the health department still hasn’t come up with a permitting process.

“Is this a little late?” we asked Kathy Barton with the Houston Health Department.

“I’m a little disappointed this didn’t happen quicker, but it is a small staff over there that works on such an operation,” she said.

Barton says staffers are working on a preliminary list of eight possible cigar bars they found from an article on the Internet, including Bossa, Downing Street and Crofts. But we found the list not very reliable. One of these so called cigar bars even isn’t in operation. Paesanos shut down more than a year ago. It’s now called Shadow Bar.

“They need to get busy on that,” said Houston Councilmember Carol Alvarado. “I had hoped they would have had that worked out.”

Alvarado says she thought only five bars were going to be exempted. But since no standard has actually been set, Shapiro hopes it’s not too late for his bar.

“There shouldn’t be a list,” he said “Anyone who wants it should be allowed to apply for it.”

This is ridiculous. I don’t know what the exact wording of the ordinance is, but even that rather vague description given above should be definable in a way that bars who think they meet the standard can apply for the exemption. (I agree with Shapiro – there shouldn’t be a list.) What exactly is the Health Department doing? I don’t know what staffing issues they may have, but how hard can this be? Come up with a formula, post a form on the Health Department website, and be done with it. I’m mystified why it’s taken so long. Hopefully, the story will spur some action, but it really shouldn’t have come to this. Link via Houstonist and Miya, who did the reporting.

Wind power for the city

I like the sound of this.

Hoping to stabilize a $150 million annual electricity bill, Houston officials have negotiated a contract to ensure that a third of the city’s power is generated by wind.

If approved, the contract would make Houston a leader among local governments across the country using renewable energy.

The mandate for wind as part of the annual 1.3 billion kilowatt hours needed to power city buildings, street lights and water plants comes from Mayor Bill White, who has made energy conservation a theme of his tenure.

“It puts us in a definite leadership position,” said White, a former chief operating officer at the U.S. Department of Energy during the Clinton administration. “We are ahead of the curve.”

City Council could consider the contract as soon as next week.

The mayor sought the changes after hurricanes Katrina and Rita disrupted the production and delivery of natural gas — a common fuel at Texas power plants — prompting electricity prices to soar.

The city spent roughly $150 million during the last fiscal year on electricity, paying a rate of roughly $91 per 1,000 kilowatt hours. Wind rates generally are cheaper, experts say.

City officials, who have seen Houston’s electricity bills nearly double since 2004, hope the new source will help control those costs over the five-year deal, starting next summer.

“Since Katrina and Rita, we have been on a mission — a mission to have diversity in our electricity portfolio,” said Issa Dadoush, the city’s building services director who helped develop the plan. “We can no longer do business the way we’ve been doing business.”

[…]

The council is expected to consider an amendment to the current contract with the Texas General Land Office, which supplies the city’s electricity under the State Power Program. Reliant Energy and the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs also were involved in the deal.

Once the contract is approved, the city can lock in a five-year fixed price for its wind power, depending on when market conditions are most favorable, officials said.

Goldman Sachs would offer the city electricity — about a third of the average demand — generated by a Shackelford County wind farm operated by Horizon Wind Energy.

Makes a lot of sense fiscally, and it’s environmentally responsible, too. I like this a lot.

On a related note, here’s a story about offshore wind farms, coming to Galveston Bay.

Right now there is a single modified oil platform supporting a new wind test station. Over the next year it’ll tell engineers where, how high, and in what direction to place turbines much as you would see on land in west Texas or off-shore as it is in Denmark — a country that gets a third of its energy from wind.

Eventually, over an stretch of 18,000 acres of water nine miles off the coast of Galveston, there could be 100 of those platforms out here. Each of them will be helping to generate wind energy. And the group believes there’s enough here to power Galveston twice over.

Patrick Warren with Wind Energy Systems Technology said, “I think this is an integral part of energy production — electrical production in the United States and the world.”

It could fund Texas schools with millions of dollars. Right now the Texas permanent school fund gets a lot of money from off-shore oil and gas leases.

“Oil and gas are depletable resources,” said Jim Suydam with the Texas General Land Office. “Whether it runs out in 10 years or 100 years, the state has to find a way to put money into that fund.”

This lease is for 25 years and a percentage of any energy profits goes directly to the state. Texas could be uniquely positioned to benefit from a lot of leases, given that the state owns the land 10.3 miles off-shore. That’s more than three times as far as any other state.

Suydam said, “We see a real future in this.”

I do, too. I’m rooting for this to succeed.