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July 30th, 2007:

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 30

You know the drill. As with the last time, Vince is the roundup master. Click on for the highlights.

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Astros punt on Ensberg

I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me, but it still kinda does.

While the rest of his former teammates were on the field with their wives and children as part of the Astros’ annual family day, third baseman Morgan Ensberg was seeking them out for goodbye handshakes and hugs.

Ensberg’s mercurial tenure with the Astros came to an end Sunday morning when the club designated him for assignment, giving it 10 days to trade or release him. The Astros don’t plan to send him to the minor leagues.

Ensberg, who was hitting .232 with eight homers and 31 RBIs and never could recapture his All-Star form from 2005, became expendable when the Astros acquired third baseman Ty Wigginton in a trade with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Saturday.

“I was kind of expecting something,” Ensberg said. “My mind is little bit more at ease because I know what’s going on. It’s a function of opportunity here. Other guys played really well that happened to play third base, and that means my opportunity shrank.”

Tom, who’s unimpressed with the deal and the related deal that acquired Wiggington for Dan Wheeler, disputes Ensberg’s assertion about others playing well at third for the Stros this year. I’ve got to say, while it’s certainly possible that Ensberg is washed up at 32, it’s also possible that his injury last year just hasn’t fully healed, and that he’s got a bounce-back in him. While it’s certainly justifiable to dump a guy like Ensberg if the club is headed in a youth/rebuilding direction, it’s hard to see how replacing him with the 30-year-old Wiggington, whose lifetime stats are nothing to write home about, moves them in that direction. Plus, DFAing Ensberg undercuts whatever trade value he might have had, since in a bit more than a week he’ll be available for the waiver wire price. (On the other hand, he may not have all that much trade value to begin with – as Will Carroll writes, “I could only find one team that’s made any inquiry”.)

Whatever. Maybe Tim Purpura has something else up his sleeve. All I know is, this doesn’t look like it’ll get the Stros anywhere they want to be.

Back to the future with Talmadge Heflin

Excellent.

Former House Appropriations Chairman Talmadge Heflin of Houston is the new executive director of the Texas Republican Party, state GOP Chairman Tina Benkiser announced today.

Heflin served in the Legislature from 1983-2004, when he was narrowly unseated by Democrat Hubert Vo.

In his new post, Heflin succeeds Jeff Fisher, who will continue as an advisor to the Texas Republican Party. Heflin will continue to serve as a visiting research fellow on fiscal policy for the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.

I’ve got their press release beneath the fold. May he have the same success with the state party as he did in HD149. And if the GOP doesn’t snap up his webpage designer too, they’re really missing out. And while they’re at it, BOR has a few more suggestions.

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RIP, Marvin Zindler

Marvin Zindler, Channel 13’s iconic crusading news reporter, has died from cancer at the age of 85.

Marvin Zindler, a Houston institution for more than three decades and a pioneer of consumer reporting, died Sunday at M.D. Anderson Hospital after a fight with cancer.

The irascible, flamboyant 85-year-old television personality had been diagnosed in July with inoperable pancreatic cancer that spread to his liver.

Even in his last days, Zindler continued to work, filing reports from his hospital bed. In his last report, broadcast Saturday, in which he helped a 45-year-old U.S. citizen secure a Social Security card necessary for employment, Zindler appeared thin and his voice was weak. Still, he signed off with a hearty “MAARVIN ZINDLER, eyewitness news” — his trademark for 34 years with KTRK Channel 13.

“Marvin Zindler was unique,” said Dave Ward, the station’s longtime anchor and one of the people responsible for Zindler being on the air. “There’s never been anyone who lived life more than this man or who wanted to do more than this man. This is a personal loss to me and to everyone at this station — and to every man, woman and child, really, who lives in Southeast Texas.”

Channel 13 interrupted its regular lineup Sunday at 8 p.m. to announce Zindler’s death, with Ward calling him “a legend in Houston television who will never be forgotten.”

The station had extended tributes during its 10 p.m. newscast.

Serbino Sandier-Walker, a journalism professor at Texas Southern University, called Zindler “irreplaceable.”

“Marvin Zindler was a man for the people,” Sandier-Walker said. “He fought for the little person. He made consumer reporting what it is today.”

To youthful viewers, Zindler is perhaps best known as the kind-hearted, grandfatherly figure in white wig and blue shades who delivered the weekly “rat and roach reports” based on health department restaurant inspections. After his idiosyncratic sign-off, his most famous catch phrase comes from the frequent health inspector findings of, “all together now, SLIIIME in the ice machine.”

But to generations of low-income Houstonians, Zindler was the champion of last resort, the man to whom you turned when bureaucracies seemed indifferent and businesses tried to take advantage. The station said that for many years Zindler received 100,000 appeals for help.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Marvin Zindler on TV. It was the spring of 1987, and I was still a student at Trinity. I was in Houston for a school function, and stayed the night at my uncle Ken’s house. I was doing a little channel surfing and came across a KTRK newscast while Marvin was in mid-rant. I stopped to watch, mesmerized. After a few seconds, I’d decided I must have stumbled across an oddly-timed episode of “Saturday Night Live”, even though it wasn’t Saturday, it was the 6 PM news, and “SNL” was broadcast on NBC, not ABC, because there was just no way this was for real. But then Marvin handed things back to Dave Ward or whoever was in the anchor’s chair that night, and I realized, no, that really was for real. Later on, after I came to live in Houston, I understood.

People have often asked me if I experienced any culture shock in moving from New York to Texas. The truth of the matter is that for the most part, I really haven’t. Three things stand out to me as “I’m not in New York any more” moments, two of which I experienced as a freshman in college: Learning the hard way that there are streets with no sidewalks; discovering the joy of being able to wear T-shirts and shorts year-round; and seeing Marvin Zindler on TV for the first time.

As corny and bombastic and over-the-top and whatever else you want to say Marvin Zindler was, he truly was one of a kind, and as you can read in that Chron article, he did a lot more good for more people than most of us will ever be able to claim. The city of Houston is a little quieter, a little duller, and a little less colorful without him. Ken Hoffman, Mike McGuff, and Laurence Simon have more. KTRK has a tribute page to Marvin here.

MAAAAAARVIN ZINDLER, may you rest in peace.

JudgeCriss dot com

Judge Susan Criss, the “blogging judge” who’s also a candidate for the State Supreme Court, has revamped her website in preparation for her planned statewide run. Sure seems like there’s a lot of Democrats out there who are already pretty far along in their candidacies for some office next year. For which, as you might imagine, I’m pretty darned happy to see. Anyway, take a look and get to know Judge Criss, who’s a cool person as well as a fine candidate.

One more thing about the community college veto

I’m reading this AusChron article (link via PinkDome) about more reaction to the community college funding veto (see here and here for more, and I’m reading Burka’s post on why we shouldn’t count out Rick Perry after all this time, and I’m thinking that the veto both counts as an admittedly rare error in political judgment by Perry, as well as another source of opposition to him that (in Burka’s words) he’s conjured out of thin air. It makes me wonder if Perry’s desire to prove that he’s no lame duck may lead him to be more likely to make errors in political judgment, since he’s basically in a position where he’s got to swing for the fences. Hard to say, and barring a dreaded special session, there may not be another opportunity for him to strike out till 2009. It’s just a thought, so take it for what it’s worth, and file it away for future reference.

Oh, and if the GOP base is so desperate for someone with “real” conservative credentials that they’d seriously consider adding Rick Perry to the ticket as Vice President, all I can say is that I hope the Democrats realize this would make Texas more winnable for them, not less. Not that they would, of course, but someone needs to say it.

Thanks for the timely warning

I just have one question regarding this article about the cancer research bill that passed the Lege and will appear as a referendum on the November ballot.

The rhetoric was befitting a $3 billion assault on the nation’s No. 1 killer of people under 85.

State Rep. Ellen Cohen, D-Houston, called it “an answer to our prayers.” Colleague Senfronia Thompson, also D-Houston, said she’d “like to sit back and tell my grandchildren I had something to do with the cure.”

And seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong told Texas legislators that “if we get this done, I can honestly say that it’ll be the greatest thing I’ve ever done with my work within cancer, which makes it one of the greatest things I’ve done in my life.”

Thanks to such support, the bill to establish a cancer research center in Texas sailed through the Legislature in May and was signed by Gov. Rick Perry in June. All that remains is for Texas voters in November to approve the center’s funding, a constitutional amendment allowing the state to issue up to $300 million a year in bonds over the next decade.

There’s just one problem: A lot of health care experts think the initiative is a bad idea.

“The issue is whether it makes sense for a state to front the money for research whose benefits presumably will be spread around the nation,” said Seth Chandler, a law professor with the University of Houston’s Health Law and Policy Institute. “It’s nice and altruistic, but is it sound fiscal policy? I’m skeptical.”

Wouldn’t it have made more sense to write this article while the Lege was in session and debating the bill in question? I mean, this is good to know and all, and perhaps it should be brought up again later, when people are thinking about voting in November, but what good is it to discuss now? I’m just asking.

Homeless in suburbia

Good article in yesterday’s Chron about the issue of homelessness in Houston’s suburbs, where the problem is often invisible.

Although homelessness in the suburbs has not yet reached a critical level, service providers say they are nearly stretched to the limits, because the suburbs have fewer resources compared to urban areas. More affordable housing, public transportation and other support services are needed to help the homeless become self-sufficient again, but local and federal funding for programs is tight and competitive, they said.

In Montgomery and Fort Bend counties, providers are seeing an increase in homeless families. Some people can’t pay their rent or mortgages because they lost their jobs and have had a difficult time finding one with decent wages. Others have lost their homes because of divorce or domestic violence.

[…]

People often assume that homelessness does not exist in the suburbs and rural areas because they do not see it, said Ken Martin, executive director of the Texas Homeless Network, which provides information services to service providers. The reality is hundreds of homeless people like Hernandez survive in the woods, in their cars or on the couches of family and friends, Martin said. Some suburban homeless drift into urban areas, where more services and jobs are available, but the vast majority stay in their community, he said.

It’s difficult to get an accurate homeless count because of migration and the hidden homeless. Whatever number service providers come up with during annual sight counts can easily be doubled to include those they do not see, Martin said.

[…]

Efforts are under way to raise community awareness and to attract funding for additional services. The Montgomery County Homeless Coalition, an organization made up of social service agencies, is leading the charge for the county.

”In a lot of ways, Montgomery County is still a rural community,” said Kristin Lue King, a coalition board member and director of community impact for the Montgomery County United Way. “Services haven’t caught up with the growth and the community doesn’t recognize the need.”

The group is launching a computer database to keep track of homeless people and the services they receive from local agencies. The information will give the group a better snapshot of the population and help identify service gaps.

The Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County has had such a system in place for four years, said Anthony Love, the coalition’s president and chief executive officer. Fort Bend and Brazoria counties also are struggling to help the homeless. Fort Bend has between 460 to 1,300 homeless people at any one time but no emergency shelter to serve them. Fort Bend Family Promise, a nonprofit group, provides the only shelter in the community for families.
“We refer single people to Houston,” said executive director Lyn Storm. ”There’s nothing for them here.”

Several of these points were raised in a Houston Press cover story from February, which profiled some homeless teenagers in Fort Bend. The attitude of elected officials there still ticks me off:

Three-term Katy mayor Doyle Callender compares his city to the sleepy TV town of Mayberry, a place where residents know their neighbors and look out for them. “We take care of our own,” Callender says. “There is no homelessness in Katy — none whatsoever.”

Two-term Sugar Land mayor David Wallace says his city, the county’s largest, does not need a homeless shelter. The same goes for public transit, he says. “Why create something that nobody would use?” he asks.

Social workers in Fort Bend tell a different story, of extended families crammed into trailers with no running water. And school social workers say they are overwhelmed by rising numbers of teenagers from even the most upscale communities camping out on sidewalks, park benches and school campuses.

So often the kids get sent on to Houston, where there’s generally a waiting list and no room.

You can deny it all you want, fellas. But wishing it away won’t make it so.