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December, 2007:

Looking Forward to 2008: Martha Griffin

What am I looking forward to in 2008? Taking back the Texas State House!

I’m ready to have a legislature that cares about kitchen table issues – those things that make me wonder if it’s possible for families to have any forward progress in their financial situation – the cost of electricity, insurance, higher education and health care, to name some of the biggies.

The Republican leadership’s focus on TAX CUTS! TAX CUTS! TAX CUTS! are just starving the baby. Texans are being starved slowly of all of our infrastructure and ability to get ahead sort of like a frog in a boiling pot of water doesn’t realize he’s cooked until it is too late. Not to mention we are being literally choked by the quality of air in the state. The purposeful neglect of our environment and park system is appalling.

All this can change when we elect talented, reasonable, fiscally responsible law makers who care about Texas – our beautiful state and diverse families.

It wouldn’t be an end of year post without an End of Quarter mention. Yeah, today is the last day to contribute to campaigns and have it show up on the end of year financial report. I took a look around ActBlue today to see who is leading the online fundraising there. Here are the top ActBlue Texas House candidates by total fundraising:

1. HD-46 Challenger Brian Thompson: 88 donations, $10,095
2. HD-129 Challenger Sherrie Matula: 24 donations, $3010
3. HD-36 Challenger Sandra Rodriguez: 11 donations, $2200
4. HD-138 Challenger Virginia McDavid: 21 donations, $1885
5. HD-97 INCUMBENT Dan Barrett: 44 donations, $1684

Thompson and Rodriguez are challenging Craddick Ds (wave goodbye to Dukes and Flores). Barrett recently won a special election against an opponent who made a campaign issue of his pledge to vote for Craddick. Matula and McDavid are both challenging incumbent Republicans. Matula’s opponent, 5-term Republican incumbernt John Davis, has drawn a primary challenger, mostly due to Republican disgust over his ethics problems.

It’s not too late to help one of these worthy House candidates – or others equally worthy – by tossing some New Year’s Eve change their way. ActBlue link for the whole list: here.

This our time. Time to Turn Texas Blue.

Filing news: Adrian Garcia for Sheriff

The last of the countywide pieces falls into place as Adrian Garcia announces his candidacy for Harris County Sheriff. Here’s the email:

Dear Friends,

Today I announce my candidacy for Harris County Sheriff. Our County deserves the best public safety in Texas, and I am asking you to join me in making our communities safer and our families more secure.

As a Houston police officer, I busted drug dealers and fought against gangs because I wanted to protect and serve our City’s neighborhoods. I joined the Houston City Council because I wanted to continue to make a difference.

Now, I want to serve as your Sheriff because we need new leadership.

As I look at the landscape of public safety, the lack of leadership in the Harris County Sheriff’s Department stands out as a weak link. With the third largest Sheriff’s office in the country, we should be leading the way on fighting crime.

Harris County’s hardworking deputies deserve a Sheriff who can lead them into a new era of preparedness and public safety. You shouldn’t have to wait for an election year before for you hear from your sheriff. I’ve been on the front lines of public safety since I became a cop and that’s where I’ll always be.

Thank you,

Adrian Garcia
Candidate for Harris County Sheriff

www.AdrianGarcia.com

We most certainly do need new leadership, in Harris County and elsewhere. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do to help bring it about. There’s an introductory video on his main page, for those of you who aren’t familiar with him yet. It’s not sharable just yet or I’d embed it here – I figure that’ll change as the campaign formally gears up. In any event, today is a good day.

UPDATE: Here’s the video:

Thanks, Greg!

Other news:

– Many more judicial candidates have filed. I’m counting 31 contenders, with four contested primaries so far, and more still to come on both counts.

Kristi Thibaut is back for another run at HD133. A gentleman named Kevin Murphy has announced his candidacy for the open HD29 in Pearland and surrounding areas. Rep. Harold Dutton, the last incumbent to file, has done so. Rep. Ellen Cohen appears to have an opponent, someone named Carlos Obando. And like a bad burrito, former State Rep. Al “Sexy Cheerleading” Edwards is back to give us all heartburn in HD146. Fire up those Daily Show clips, kids.

– On a not-quite-yet-still-somehow related note, Susan Delgado will face Gilbert Pena in the primary for SD06 to lose to State Sen. Mario Gallegos. Nobody will notice.

– The Democrats have three contenders for Sheriff – Garcia, Guy Robert Clark, and a fellow named Charles Massey El, about whom I know nothing. Diane Trautman will face 2004 candidate John T. Webb for the nomination for Tax Assessor.

– Constable Jack Abercia has a second opponent in Precinct 1, an Art Aguilar.

– The awesomely-named Sam Houston has made his filing for the Texas Supreme Court official.

– Finally, as reported by Vince, Judge Susan Criss has asked the TDP for a review of primary opponent Judge Linda Yanez’s petition signatures for the Supreme Court race. Vince has the details, but it boils down to a claim that Yanez did not get 50 valid signatures in each of the 14 judicial districts, as required by law. We’ll see what the party does.

The defiant Chuck R

Chuck Rosenthal tells the local GOP where they can stick it.

Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal bluntly rejected the local Republican Party leadership’s request Sunday night that he abandon his 2008 re-election campaign because of the scandal over personal e-mails he sent to his executive secretary on government computers.

“What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?” Rosenthal asked party chairman Jared Woodfill, according to County Judge Ed Emmett, who attended the emergency meeting.

After the four-hour, closed-door meeting that included questioning of Rosenthal, 15 members of the party’s Advisory Committee voted unanimously to urge him to withdraw from the March 4 Republican primary for district attorney.

“The consensus was this is a position of high trust, and when this position is questioned, when this position is breached, we feel like it’s important that we make a change,” Woodfill said.

But Rosenthal, exiting the Greenway Plaza meeting about a half-hour before the it ended, said, “I’m going to run for district attorney and I am going to win.”

He said he did not know if he will have an opponent in the Republican primary.

“I certainly hope not. I don’t think they’ve got anybody with the qualifications to run against me,” Rosenthal added.

But Woodfill said he is certain that one or more challengers will register before Wednesday’s deadline. He said the party has been in touch with about 10 potential candidates, none of whom he’d name.

[…]

Emmett, the chief county government official, could be seen discussing the situation with Rosenthal in a side room while the party leaders continued their meeting. Rosenthal frequently raised his arms and gestured during his discussions with the county judge and the party chairman.

Emmett said the GOP activists made the right decision in calling for Rosenthal to step down.

“At this point he is damaged goods, and the party is reflecting that,” Emmett said.

Woodfill, the party chairman, called the e-mails horrible and said Rosenthal had made a serious error in judgment.

Whatever else happens, I just hope the Bradford campaign is taking notes, because there’s quite a wealth of quotes here that ought to show up in campaign mailers at some point. “We feel like it’s important that we make a change”; “At this point he is damaged goods”; “[A] serious error in judgment”; if they do succeed in replacing Rosenthal, there’s always “I don’t think they’ve got anybody with the qualifications to run”. I’m pretty sure there will be plenty more where these came from.

While I certainly understand the allure of finding another candidate, I wonder what Jared Woodfill’s Gang of 15 is hoping to accomplish by this approach. There isn’t any time to do a draft (somewhere I heard that former County GOP Chair Garry Polland had said something about being approached, but he turned it down; take that for what it’s worth), so the best you can do is find someone who you think would be acceptable to the masses and put the squeeze on, with promises of money and volunteer support. If the best they can do after last night is come up with a few names to bat around, I have to wonder if this is little more than a bluff.

For argument’s sake, let’s say it’s not, and they’ve got a live possibility. They’ll have to run a negative campaign, one that flogs all these embarrassing revelations over and over again, in order to win, which is far from guaranteed. And they’re sure to have a damaged nominee with some burnt bridges behind him or her when all is said and done. At least they’ll be running against a Democrat that has his own negatives, so maybe the attrition won’t be so bad for them. But no matter how you slice it, the picture is pretty bleak.

Which means it’s quite lovely from my perspective, since I think it’s critical to bring about a change in direction at the DA’s office. We’ll see if an actual primary challenger emerges for Chuck R. More from Greg, PDiddie, and ReeC Murphey.

Chron wants something done about billboards

The Chron editorialized about the Mayor’s billboard reduction proposal that has been put off until some kinks an be ironed out. I’m still not quite sure what they said, however.

The mayor said he shares the same goal as opponents of his proposal: reducing the number of billboards in Houston. He said he wants to use this common ground to craft a consensus.

During the ensuing negotiations, White should answer the charge that most of the 881 billboards would come down anyway by 2013, without having to allow hundreds of new billboards in locations now free of the large signs, or along federal highways where they would be protected in perpetuity.

Beautification groups should explain why, if the small billboards are no longer profitable, they still blight low-income neighborhoods.

Unsightly billboards detract from Houston’s quality of life and contributed to the failure of its bid to host the 2012 Olympics. The city should pursue the strategy that will reduce the most billboards in the next few years without presenting hundreds of billboards a new lease on life and their owners’ permission to blight locations now billboard-free.

Identifying that strategy will be the task of White’s administration and billboard opponents.

I think they’re saying “We want fewer billboards faster, and we want you guys to figure out how to do it.” Well, I guess you can’t argue with that.

Looking Forward to 2008: Paula Harris

(Note: I have asked a variety of people to submit an essay to me to be posted during the month of December, to be called “Looking Forward to 2008”. This entry was written by Paula Harris.)

New Year, New Adventure, New Learning opportunities – they all are cause for excitement and energy and the expectation of opportunity. This is the time of year I spend time canvassing my brain for the appropriate theme for the new year. One idea I have as I move forward into 2008 is the theme “BACK to the BASICS”. In these times of complicated problems and complex solutions, I just want to make sure that I examine and deduce everything in its most simplified manner. This will be a year of discovery and my learning curve is probably equivalent to that of an entering college freshmen. With that said, I will focus on uncovering the root cause and underlying issues as we look to identify and solve issues. This method will work in my personal, public service, spiritual and professional life. To further explore this theme, I engaged experts in simplification, a group of 7 year olds. I asked them as Charles Kuffner asked me “What are you looking forward to next year?”. The answers were simple, concise and all similar. They are looking forward to

1. Their birthdays.
2. Holidays (Christmas and Halloween ranking highest)
3. Doing well in school.
4. Summertime.

It’s that simple. I am going to take a page from their book because what I see and hear from them, in the simplest form, is

Another year of life
Valuable time with family, friends and God
Setting and achieving goals
Rest and time for self

With that said, I know that there will always be complex issues that need to be addressed, but as I approach the freshness and innocence of a new year that will be a completely new experience for me and my village I am headed “Back to the Basics” for 2008.

As the newest HISD Trustee that represents District 4 there is so much to look forward to. There are new relationships, new adventures, new goals and new achievements. We have a higher community focus on education that has not been experienced as of late. What makes this so exciting is the potential to have input, recommendations, solutions and volunteerism from a population that has not been engaged in our schools for this latest generation of inner city children. Our community leaders have indicated that they are ready and more than willing to take the challenge, roll up their sleeves and do the hard work that it is going to take to turn our schools and achievement levels around. The thrilling part of this equation is knowing that the extra commitment to our children will equate to higher student achievement. Gaining commitment from pastors, civic leaders, business leaders, parents and other stakeholders to engage on each campus through the campus “Shared Decision Making Committee” (SDMC) will be a monumental start. The SDMC is an educator and community group that sets school budget, policy, procedure and strategies for success. A strong SDMC can provide the support that our school leadership needs to begin the systematic positive change needed in our schools.

When I say “Back to the Basics”, I am also defining the pilgrimage back to our strong community driven solutions, championed by the people and organizations that can put an enormous amount of sweat equity into our children. Historically, the reason we as a community have invested in our children was not because they were birth children or relatives. We have traditionally invested using the village mentality, that all of them are ours and their success is our success and their failure is our community failure. Our schools need help and I am turning to the very people who made sure that I was successful in school. My success in 1970’s HISD classroom was not guaranteed by the governmental establishments, it was the community that made sure that the establishment provided the basics and the community made sure the tools were in place to take us to the next level. With that said, as the new school board member I will be depending on our community to be involved in our schools and to keep this high level of excitement, interest and alignment with our schools. My commitment is to work diligently to ensure that the programs, policies, strategies, resources and decisions made at the board level, positively affect student achievement in our community.

Let’s look forward to 2008 as a year to declare “if it’s to be, it’s up to me”. We have to heat things up, demand accountability from everyone who has access and decision making powers over our children and in turn our future. I not only welcome community involvement, our children need it and will depend on it.

Looking forward to 2008, the potential for positive change is great. If we take a page from the playbooks of our 7 year old advisors and remember to be excited about another year of life and the potential it brings, spend time with friends and family while you work for your community, set your goals and expectations high then work hard for success, and lastly never forget that in order to help others, you must take good care of yourself.

I have to say a special thank you to my esteemed panelist of advisors who are wise beyond their 7 years and I wish each and every one of you the best that the new fresh year has to offer.

Paula Harris is the newly-elected Trustee for HISD District 4.

Two for terminating term limits

Outgoing City Council member Carol Alvarado joins Chris Bell in advocating an end to term limits in Houston.

Think about it. The city is responsible for providing protection for the millions that work, live in and visit our city every day. We make sure that they can get around our city with relative ease on our roads and streets. We pick up their garbage. We make their parks attractive destinations for families and visitors. We provide Houstonians with an infrastructure that allows them to take full advantage of our entertainment venues like the finest restaurants, theaters, cinemas and sports venues. We have constructed great airports that make it easy for folks to get in and out of our city with minimal hassles.

Yet, something is a bit out of kilter when the leadership of the most important government entity in the region is being hamstrung by term limits — six years for members of city council and six years for mayor.

For me, the term limits debate is personal. Not because I’ll be leaving my city council position in a few days or because term limits prohibited me from seeking re-election; rather, it’s about a public works project in my neighborhood that took me a decade and a half to complete.

There are several ways one can quibble with the logic Alvarado uses in her example. The project did get done anyway, so term limits were not insurmountable. The time span of the project (16 years) might well have exceeded any one Member’s time in office anyway, thus leading to the same learning curve issues Alvarado described. The real problem may be with city processes that make such a project take so long to do. I don’t doubt that having longer tenures on Council would have helped, but clearly it wasn’t impossible.

Be that as it may, it’s good to see more voices being raised against term limits. However, until an active Council member or candidate speaks up, I don’t expect anything more to happen.

Filing news: Rhettmania!

The silly season gets a little sillier.

Rhett Smith, a security guard who last year ran as a Republican for governor, filed Friday to seek the 2008 Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Assuming his paperwork holds up, he’ll join a Democratic field including state Rep. Rick Noriega of Houston, educator Ray McMurrey of Corpus Christi and perennial aspirant Gene Kelly of Universal City.

Yet Smith has another longshot prospect in sight; he’s suing the state of New Hampshire in hopes of landing on that state’s presidential primary ballot. Voting there takes place Jan. 8.

“I’d rather be president,” Smith said.

[…]

Smith, 57, was the 2004 Democratic U.S. House nominee challenging Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio. He subsequently ran in the non-partisan race for mayor of San Antonio.

While running for governor last year, Smith told an American-Statesman reporter: “I am comfortable with the Republican Party.” Asked Friday about his switch back to the Democratic side of the ballot, Smith said party officials “might not like it, but I can run in whichever party I want.”

Hard to imagine someone outdoing Gene Kelly for Least Serious Candidate on the Senate ballot, but Rhett’s the man for the job. They don’t come much more marginal than him.

Harris County GOP ponders its Rosenthal options

Good luck, fellas.

The leadership of the Harris County Republican Party is meeting in a private, emergency session tonight to discuss the political fallout over personal e-mails sent by Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal to his executive secretary.

“We will discuss how to proceed as a party,” county GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill said.

The meeting included Republican Party parliamentarian Mike Riddle and his wife, state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball.

Wednesday is the deadline for candidates to sign up to run in the March 4 Republican primary, and Woodfill acknowledged that one path for the party could be to encourage others to challenge Rosenthal in that contest.

Former Houston Police Chief Clarence Bradford is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for district attorney in November 2008.

Some members of the county GOP advisory committee hoped to discuss tonight whether to encourage Rosenthal to resign or declare that he will not seek re-election after his current term expires at the end of 2008.

Rosenthal’s political consultant, Allen Blakemore, said he has talked frequently in the past few days with party leaders about his opinion that no other highly qualified candidate is positioned to run.

The county GOP chairman talked about the e-mails before the meeting.

“It’s not good. They are horrible,” Woodfill said. “The district attorney has made a mistake.”

I note here that we are now getting some input on this from the local Republican blogs, which I am glad to see. I agree with Los Dos Professors that the GOP is stuck with Rosenthal, but I disagree with Kevin in seeing it as a matter of Jared Woodfill’s (lack of) leadership skills. I see it as simply the that serious candidates to challenge any incumbent, especially in a primary, don’t arise from closed-door meetings. They arise from an existing well of support for a particular person, since that person has the daunting task of taking out someone who already has a lot of support and financial resources at hand. That candidate generally spends a lot of time talking to as many people as possible to see if they can secure the things they’ll need (money, volunteers, votes, etc) to win before he or she formally announces a run for the office. What are the odds Woodfill and Friends can identify such a person by isolating themselves in a room and talking to each other? Not so good, in my opinion. It could happen, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

There’s an aspect of this saga that I haven’t seen discussed anywhere, and that’s the allegations in the lawsuit that led to the inadvertent release of the emails that Rosenthal looked the other way at potential malfeasance by Sheriff Tommy Thomas. The matter of Rosenthal’s sexual peccadilloes is headline-grabbing, and certainly fair game for attacks on Rosenthal given his sanctimonious nature, but at the end of the day it’s not much more than tittilation, which can be fairly easily shrugged off as Kevin did in his post. More serious is the usage of the county-owned vehicle by his admin assistant/paramour, which by any reasonable reading is unwarranted and shows poor judgment and managerial skills on Rosenthal’s part, two fairly key attributes for the person in charge of the DA’s office. But the allegation of letting a political ally off the hook for bad behavior, if proven, blows them both away. This is still being litigated, so it’s nothing more than accusations by people with a strong motive to make Rosenthal look bad at this point. But it’s worth keeping an eye on, because if those charges have merit then they’re what I’d consider to be a real resignation-worthy offense. The other stuff may make Rosenthal less re-electable (and deservedly so), but this would be a huge scandal.

For now, we’ll see what Woodfill and the Woodfillettes come up with. In the meantime, click on for a statement from Council Member Peter Brown, who wins the prize for “first elected official to call for Rosenthal to resign”.

UPDATE: Now it really gets interesting:

Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal is refusing the Republican Party leadership’s request Sunday night to remove his name from the 2008 ballot.

After a four-hour emergency meeting, the 15-member GOP advisory committee voted unanimously to ask Rosenthal to step aside in the wake of the controversy that’s followed the mistaken release of his personal e-mails, including dozens sent to his executive secretary.

Despite their request, Rosenthal was adamant about pursuing re-election.

“I’m going to run for district attorney and I’m going to win,” he said, leaving the headquarters as party leaders continued to talk behind closed doors.

Rosenthal said he attended the meeting to answer questions from party leaders. He spent part of evening in a room adjacent to the meeting, talking privately with GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill and then with Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

Did they have an alternative in mind, or were they winging that part of it? I can’t wait to see what comes next.

(more…)

RIP, Ric Williamson

Ric Williamson, the chair of the Texas Department of Transportation and a huge booster of toll roads, has passed away.

Ric Williamson, the Texas Transportation Commission chairman and a take-no-prisoners advocate for his long-time friend Rick Perry’s toll road policy, has died.

Williamson, 55, who had been on the commission since 2001 and its chairman since January 2004, died of a heart attack, said state Rep. Mike Krusee, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. It was not clear today if Williamson died late Saturday night or early Sunday.

Williamson, a Weatherford resident, had served in the Texas House for 14 years, leaving in 1999. He and Perry, who served in the House during a good deal of Williamson’s time there, roomed together in an Austin apartment during several sessions.

“Anita and I are heartbroken at this sudden loss of a confidant, trusted advisor and close personal friend of ours for more than 20 years,” Perry said in a statement released by his office. “Ric’s passion to serve his beloved State of Texas was unmatched and his determination to help our state meets its future challenges was unparalleled. He will be missed beyond words. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Williamson family during this very difficult time.”

Williamson dominated discussion of Texas transportation policy for most of this decade, holding forth at commission meetings in a curiously ornate but still straight-forward style that sometimes infuriated opponents of the toll road policy. Williamson, in particular, was four-square behind granting private companies long-term leases to finance, build and operate publicly owned toll roads, an approach that he said would raise billions for other roads but that others feared gave away too much control of public assets.

Texas Monthly in a June article had called him “the most hated person in Texas, public enemy number one to a million or more people.” In that same article, Williamson told writer Paul Burka, “I’ve had two heart attacks, and I’m trying to avoid the third one, which the doctors tell me will be fatal.”

My sincere condolences to the Williamson family. Burka has more.

Looking Forward to 2008: Maria Gonzalez

(Note: I have asked a variety of people to submit an essay to me to be posted during the month of December, to be called “Looking Forward to 2008”. This entry was written by Maria Gonzalez.)

As the vice president and chair of the PAC of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, I am looking forward to 2008 with great anticipation. We will have a great opportunity to further establish our support for progressive and GLBT friendly candidates. Building upon our extraordinary success in 2007, which included being victorious in 16 of our 17 endorsed races, including the first group to endorse the HISD bond issue, the Caucus will continue to be one of the most active political groups in the city.

The Caucus will have a slate of endorsed candidates ready for the March primary. With a record number of individuals seeking our endorsements in their races, including the judicial primary races, the Caucus will be very busy in January interviewing candidates. Our general meeting in February should be very lively as we will discuss and vote upon our endorsements for the Primary. Once we endorse, we will make sure that our endorsed candidates names become available to our vast support base represented in our database of over 30,000 registered voters in Harris County.

Once the primaries are done, we will focus on our next efforts, to endorse in the November elections. We will begin screening in late June and most of July. The interviews with candidates provide some of the most direct means of assessing individual support for our GLBT community. We ask very direct questions about our issues like support for non-discrimination, but as a broad political group we will also being asking about quality of life and support for education. At our August meeting, the Caucus will vote on its endorsements. This will be followed by efforts to inform our supporters who we recommend for office this November.

We once again hope to reproduce our extraordinary success of 2007 when we nearly had 100% of our endorsed candidates and issues win. You don’t have to be GLBT to join the Caucus, just supportive of our community. The Caucus meets the first Wednesday of every month at the Havens Center, 1827 W. Alabama. We hope to see everyone there soon

Maria Gonzalez teaches American Literature at the University of Houston. She is the Vice President and chair of the PAC of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.

Sports Authority chair ousted

Interesting.

Under pressure from County Judge Ed Emmett, Mike Surface has resigned as chairman of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp.

Surface cited “personal and professional interests” as the reason why he was stepping down after serving nine years as chairman.

He has been a supporter of the Astrodome Redevelopment Corp.’s proposal to turn the Dome into a convention hotel — a plan Emmett has questioned.

Emmett said he felt that it would be best to get new leadership on the sports corporation’s board before Commissioners Court’s next discussion of the Dome proposal in January.

So is this is sign that the Astrodome Redevelopment plan is toast? Emmett has been a skeptic of that, but he has also made frequent note of public support for saving the Dome in some form. If the Dome hotel/convention center isn’t the way to do that, then what is?

Halftime blogging

GO GIANTS!!!!!!!

UPDATE: Dammit.

All I want out of this NFL season is for there not to be a Pats-Cowboys Super Bowl. Is that so much to ask?

Rosenthal’s apology in the news

Here’s the Chron story about Chuck Rosenthal’s apology statement. I’ll focus on what’s new here, some of which I had seen previously in the NYT and on Miya’s blog.

Jared Woodfill, Harris County Republican Party Chairman, said he is meeting with party leaders to discuss Rosenthal’s political future. But he declined to say whether the party would draft a primary election opponent for Rosenthal, who is running for re-election, call on him to resign, or support him despite the concern about his conduct.

“He’s done a good job as district attorney, but this is a serious mistake that we are dealing with right now,” he said. “We’re taking it very seriously.”

Rosenthal didn’t return calls and e-mails Friday.

The political problem, if any, posed by the e-mails was still unclear.

That’s a curious sentence. The political problem is that the emails, and the information about the county car being used by Rosenthal’s ex-girlfriend administrative assistant, make Rosenthal look like a fool who gives preferential treatment to certain people, and that’s on top of the allegations made in the lawsuit that he turned a blind eye to malfeasance by Sheriff Tommy Thomas. This may or may not translate into an electoral problem – as we all know, November is a long way off – but the nature of it as a political problem is, I think, pretty clear. It’s the scope of that problem that no one can be sure about.

The personal e-mails, along with attorney-client privilege e-mails, were originally sealed from public view in a motion by Rosenthal to withhold them as privileged communication. Last week, they were unsealed by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt.

In an emergency hearing Thursday, Hoyt said he intended only to unseal the motion, not the e-mails, which were attached as exhibits. He then resealed the exhibits, withdrawing them from public view on the U.S District Clerk’s Web site — but not before several media outlets downloaded the information.

Earlier in the week, Rosenthal said the release of the e-mails is political and pointed out that Kelley was a law partner of former HPD Chief C.O. Bradford. Bradford is Rosenthal’s Democratic opponent in his bid next year for re-election. Kelley, who ran unsuccessfully against Rosenthal in 2000, has said he and Bradford are still friends.

Bradford denied that he had anything to do with the disclosure.

That at least answers the question about why bother resealing them. It also firmly rebuts the charge that this was politically motivated, unless you think Judge Hoyt had something to do with it. This was basically an accident, one that obviously causes some real hardship for Rosenthal. Because of the unintentional nature of the emails’ release, I can feel a small bit of sympathy towards him. But not much – it’s still the case that he himself wrote those emails, using his county-owned email account. It’s still his actions that are the cause of his embarrassment.

In my last entry, I noted that I had not found any commentary on this, even a link to a story, by any of the Republican blogs in town. That got Kevin Whited all upset in my comments:

Are you REALLY wanting to establish the standard that someone who votes a certain way is obligated to blog about about everyone who affiliated with a party they have voted for at some point?

That’s an interesting conclusion to draw from my simple statement of fact (one that I note is still true today), but no, I’m not looking to establish any Department of Blogging Obligations. This is a huge story (front page, above the fold, two days out of the last three) that may have a big impact on one of the main local elections next year. If you really can’t think of any reasons why I might be interested in the opinions of my political counterparts on this, let me suggest a few possibilities:

– I’m genuinely curious as to what Republican voters think of this. Do you feel indifferent? Betrayed? Angry? If so, at whom? Do others feel the same as you? Personal reactions to current events is one of the big reasons why people read blogs, after all. It’s obvious (and well-blogged) how we Democrats feel about this. I’d like to know what the Republicans are thinking.

– Do you want to see someone challenge Rosenthal in the GOP primary, or do you stand with him? If you want to see him replaced, whom do you support? Do you have a candidate in mind, or do you trust Jared Woodfill and the local GOP leadership to come up with someone?

– Do you think this was a political hit job? If so, whom do you blame?

– Do you have anything to add to this story? My blogging compatriots and I frequently hear insider information from, well, insiders. Some of what we hear we can even write about. I presume the local Republican blogs are on the receiving end of this sort of thing as well, though I could certainly be wrong about that. Have you heard anything that hasn’t made it into a mainstream news account yet?

I would have thought this would be self-evident to anyone interested in Houston politics, but whatever. If none of Kevin or his colleagues care to talk about this, then I’ll have to guess as to what they might think. Given a choice, I’d rather hear it from them. But that’s the way it goes, I guess. On a lighter note, John Coby has more.

Looking Forward to 2008: Stephanie Stradley

(Note: I have asked a variety of people to submit an essay to me to be posted during the month of December, to be called “Looking Forward to 2008”. This entry was written by Stephanie Stradley.)

The year 2007 will mark the first year that the Houston Texans were more entertaining to watch than not. The previous years, for me, were more about being fascinated in the do’s and don’ts of putting together a professional football team from scratch. It’s not something I’ve witnessed up close with any other team. A lot of people found that to be a hard brand of football to watch, but I see it a bit like watching your kids grow. You see them fail and succeed, though it is hard to watch the failures.

Houstonians tend to fall into two categories in the post-Oilers era: 1. Those who are waiting for the Texans to be worth watching; and 2. Those who despised being teamless in Houston, and appreciate the Texans in the never-take-NFL-football-for-granted way. I clearly ended up in the second category. Like in politics, it’s much more fun when you have someone or something you can support, instead of just rooting against someone or something awful.

So, what do I see for the Texans in 2008? Well, fortunately, this year I haven’t had to already study in depth the top 10 draft prospects in the upcoming draft. The Texans clearly still have many needs, but it’s encouraging to see how hard they are playing despite leading the league in players on injured reserve. (Getting killed by Indy in Indy is something that happens to a lot of teams, including some much better and healthier than the Texans). I think their hard play is due to the type of player the Texans have been drafting, and how much they respect and want to play for Gary Kubiak.

I’ve always been optimistic about the Texans as they have a top notch facility in a football loving town where professional athletes like to live. If you talk to any of the coaching staff, the one thing they will always mention is that owner Bob McNair is a great owner who gives them all the financial resources they need. I think with that combo, eventually the Texans will be seeing more success on the field.

In the meantime, the smartest thing the Texans have done is not just allowed tailgating (it was prohibited during the Oiler years), but they have encouraged it. This has created a fan community where little existed, and helped you endure some pretty ugly football at times. I think the New Orleans Saints fans’ motto is “Win or lose, we still booze.” I’m not sure that alcohol as a therapy for losing is a good idea, but I will say that some of the best barbeque I’ve eaten in my life has been at Texans tailgate parties.

If you would like to tailgate in the upcoming year but don’t know who to tailgate with, I suggest visiting the TexansTalk website and posting something in the tailgate section of their message board. Lots of personable, helpful people over there who love to welcome other Texans fans to tailgate culture.

Hope your holiday season has been terrific and your upcoming new year better. If you want a delicious extra present, please click this link.

Stephanie Stradley writes about the Texans and other sports topics for AOL Sports’ FanHouse and is a frequent sports talk radio guest. Last year, she was named the 2006 Ultimate Texan Fan.

Never tell a geek it can’t be done more efficiently

Elise Hu has part eight of her series on Governor Perry’s email retention policies, which has come down to a contest between Perry and his minions against open-records advocate and all-around pit bull John Washburn – see here for my previous entry. In this episode, AG Greg Abbott has issued an opinion dismissing Washburn’s claim (PDF) that Perry’s office was attempting to nickel-and-dime him to death. Washburn has now fired back that this is simply an effort to use ignorance and claims of technical incompetence to stifle him. He then adds his own offer to compensate for the latter, complete with full source code. It’s a glorious example of righteous geeky indignation. Check it out.

Filing news: Richard Morrison for Fort Bend County Commissioner

I’ve mentioned this before, so it gives me great pleasure to note the official filing by Richard Morrison for Fort Bend Commissioner’s Court in Precinct 1. Here’s his press release:

Residents of Precinct 1 have lost confidence in Tom Stavinoha. His choice to approve a toll way as an extension of the Grand Parkway, his support of I-69 through the middle of Fort Bend County, his conscious decision to ignore flooding and drainage problems in the precinct, and his approval of the location of a 20 story pile of Houston’s garbage in Precinct 1 demonstrates how little he cares about the current families of Precinct 1. Residents of Precinct 1 are tired of leaders who will not stand up to the big moneyed interests and who engage in “pay to play politics” which leaves current residents without effective representation. Stavinoha has lost his focus on the families that live in Precinct 1 and their critical issues of quality of life and an honest ethical government. That is why today I filed to run for Fort Bend County Commissioner of Precinct 1.

The families of Precinct 1 are demanding a leader; someone with a backbone, willing to fight outside interests that want to pillage our county resources to the detriment of our current residents. I am a seventh generation Texan, whose parents and grandparents taught me to stand up for what you believe in, work hard and play by the rules. I will apply those lessons to the office of Commissioner. I will S.T.O.P the Grand Parkway Toll Road. I will keep I-69 and the Trans Texas Corridor as far away from Fort Bend County as possible. I will fix the flooding and drainage problems that exist in the precinct. I will fight against the location or expansion of any landfills in the county. And I will make sure that Fort Bend County acquires no more debt goes back to operating on a pay-as-you-go basis. I want to reform the Commissioner’s office, making it a place where leadership, responsibility and ethics prevail. I will mount a strong, issues based campaign to win this most important post in the 2008 General Election.

I will campaign as a voice to the families of Precinct 1. I am pro-business and pro-growth, but these issues should not diminish the quality of life of the families that already live in the precinct. I have chosen to raise my family in Precinct 1. My family and I have lived in Fort Bend County for 12 years. We are residents of Greatwood. My law office is in Precinct 1. My church is in Precinct 1. My children attend school in Precinct 1. My wife shops for groceries in Precinct 1. The County Commissioner needs to know how to prioritize the growth of Precinct 1 with the needs of its current residents.

Fort Bend County has a budget of more than $214 million per year, much of it is spent without explanation. No-bid contracts for expensive professional services are awarded primarily to big donors. Hundred million dollar bond issues are passed for roads to nowhere. When elected I will fight to pass ethics reform, so that Commissioner’s Court will not be able to accept donations from entities that have or will have no-bid contracts with the county.

I will restore the words “fair, honest and hardworking” to the office of the Commissioner. The Commissioner’s office will not operate in secrecy. I will make decisions based on facts, not campaign contributions. When elected I will do everything in my power to open up government to the voters. Budgets, appointments, contracts, and campaign contributions will be made available on the web for anyone who wants to see them. Every decision I make will benefit the current families of Precinct 1.

In filing for my candidacy for County Commissioner, I am sending a strong message that it is time to run Precinct 1 on behalf of the current families that live there. I will fight for higher ethical standards, provide stronger oversight to manage future growth, and make quality of life for the current residents a top priority.

I hope to have the support of all the families in Precinct 1. I need your time talent and treasure to get to take back seat on Commissioner’s Court.

David Mincberg has echoed some similar themes about ethics and no-bid contracts here in Harris County. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays in the election. Morrison supposedly has several primary opponents, so if you’re in his precinct, be sure to vote for him in March. Hal has more, including the equally welcome news that Albert Hollan will be running for the newly-created 434th District Court.

Elsewhere, BOR reports that a veteran family advocate and community lawyer named Sandra Phuong VuLe has filed to run for HD112 up in Dallas, which was left open by Rep. Fred Hill’s retirement. Hill was an anti-Craddick voice last session, so that’s a vital race to watch. It’s fairly red (Moody = 41.8% in 2006) but not completely unreasonable. And as we know from HD97, nothing should be considered truly out of reach as long as Tom Craddick is a factor.

We’re starting to see a lot more action in the local judicial races. As of this morning, twenty-four candidates, representing 21 judicial seats, have filed. Eleven of them have done so since Christmas. There are still nine seats (by my count) for which no one has yet filed, but I have no doubt that all slots will be filled by then. It’s just a question of how many contested primaries we’ll have – I’m expecting at least five.

One place we’re seeing a bunch of contested primaries is in the Constable and Justice of the Peace races, with several of the challengers being repeat customers. JP Jo Ann Delgado in Precinct 2 Place 1 faces Sandra Delgado again, while JP Hilary Green in Precinct 7 Place 1 will be opposed by 2004 hopeful Giovanna Carroll-LaFleur (formerly Phillips). Precinct 1 Constable Jack Abercia will square off against Jack Boatner again. Precinct 3’s Ken Jones now has two challengers, while Precinct 7’s May Walker now has three.

All incumbent State Reps have filed except for HD142’s Harold Dutton. No challengers yet in HDs 128, 130, 132, 136, and 150; all but 150 were unopposed in 2006. Still no contender for Congress in CD02.

Finally, South Texas Chisme brings us a great headline: GOP struggling to find candidates in Webb County. If nothing else, that’s good news for State Reps. Richard Raymond and Ryan Guillen.

“Why Houston?”

I think the better question is why this?

After trotting out and discarding a series of slogans over the years, Houston’s official marketing agency is taking a new approach as it prepares to launch a $3 million campaign to enhance the city’s national image.

Instead of a snappy catchphrase, advertisements soon to appear in national publications will feature earnest testimonials from well-known current or former Houstonians such as singer Beyonce Knowles, soccer star Brian Ching, heart surgeon Denton Cooley and former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara.

Starting in February, the campaign will feature ads in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Continental Airlines’ inflight magazine, Texas Monthly magazine and other publications, said Lindsey Brown, marketing director for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. Broadcast ads also are in the works, she said.

The celebrities featured in the “My Houston” ad campaign, however, aren’t being asked to recite slogans. The bureau has stopped using its most recent slogan, “Space City: A Space of Infinite Possibilities,” Brown said.

“We feel that Houston is the word that’s important right now — Houston is the word that needs to be at the top of the mind rather than a slogan,” Brown said.

Whatever. I don’t see why anyone thinks this will do better than any of Elyse Lanier’s infamous efforts, or why anyone thinks it will be more effective than “Houston: It’s Worth It”. But I suppose the GHCVB has to do something to justify itself. As for me, you can put me down as being with Cory on this one.

Chuck’s curious statement

The following is a press release from Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal, which landed in my inbox a little while ago:

Statement by Chuck Rosenthal

Recently some Harris County District Attorney inner office emails have been released in the media.

I understand that I have said some things that have caused pain and difficulty for my family, my coworkers and friends. I deeply regret having said those things. Moreover, I am sorry for the problems I have caused anyone.

I also understand that sometimes things happen for a purpose. This event has served as a wake-up call to me to get my house in order both literally and figuratively.

Charles A. “Chuck” Rosenthal

Harris County District Attorney

Well okay then. Not sure what this accomplishes for him, but there it is. By the way and for what it’s worth, a quick sample of the Republican blogs in town reveals that not a one has mentioned this story as yet. Some of them are of course taking a break for the holidays, but not all of them. Make of that what you will.

UPDATE: WilcoWise has two posts about our amorous DA. I had only looked at local blogs, so I didn’t spot them.

Billboard battle delayed again

The new billboard ordinance, which was put off till next year after pushback from beautification groups, has been delayed again so that the disagreements can be worked out.

It had been scheduled to come up for council vote Jan. 9.

“We can tweak the tools that are used,” White said. “We both share the same goal of billboard removal.”

White met Thursday with representatives of Scenic Houston and a legal expert on billboard regulation, Bill Brinton. Scenic Houston had paid for Brinton to fly from Florida to meet with White.

Despite the holiday slowdown, Scenic Houston representatives have also met with 10 of 14 council members.

The billboard proposal grew out of an attempt by the city to settle legal disputes with Clear Channel Outdoor, one of the main billboard owners in Houston. The agreement would speed up the dismantling of smaller billboards, while allowing the company to move some medium-sized boards to new spots. The city’s 23 scenic districts, and local residential streets, would be off limits.

Mayor Bill White and Councilwoman Pam Holm had touted the immediate gains: 881 billboards taken down in 2008, versus 687 scheduled to come down by 2013.

But critics said the administration had offered the industry a major loophole: a “relocation provision” that would allow Clear Channel to move 466 medium-sized billboards to new locations.

“On the surface, it’s pretty good public relations,” said Councilman Peter Brown. “Put up 466, but take down 800-odd billboards. But most of those 800 some are coming down anyway, by attrition, or they’re blocked by trees or new construction. They’re just not marketable anymore.”

Brinton, the Florida expert, said the relocation provision “violates a core principle of billboard reduction … freeze everything in place. Don’t let it move, don’t let it be rebuilt.”

Brinton said Houston’s original policy was working over time. Through attrition, billboards were coming down because of lease expirations, new development, weather damage and market downturns.

I’ve said before that in theory at least, the tradeoff of faster reductions for fewer ones was an acceptable price to pay. Obviously, not everyone sees it that way. I’m certainly not claiming any expertise in this matter. If the folks who do know better say that price can be reduced, I say more power to them. We’ll see what happens.

Looking Forward to 2008: Matt Stiles

(Note: I have asked a variety of people to submit an essay to me to be posted during the month of December, to be called “Looking Forward to 2008”. This entry was written by Matt Stiles.)

Next year will bring us a tale about a big port city, a place with aging infrastructure, schools facing challenges and a police department crunching crime statistics.

I should probably mention that there’s a politically ambitious mayor in this story, too.

You think I’m speaking of Houston, right?

Well, not exactly.

In 2008, with all its promise of historic political contests in Texas and across the nation, the thing I’m most looking forward to is a great American television show.

I’m talking about The Wire, HBO’s gritty urban drama set in Baltimore. Most people think the show is about organized crime, specifically the drug trade. It is, and isn’t.

Entering its fifth and final season next month, The Wire really is about public institutions, the places critical to our society — police departments, local political entities, public schools.

In The Wire, an impressively realistic and honest series that has never received the attention it deserves, these institutions get a critical look. And what we see isn’t pretty: police officers paralyzed by bureaucratic brass, politicians making short-sighted decisions — and schools (and the families that send their kids to them) often failing. It seems every institution also lacks the ambition to solve its problems.

This season, the show is tackling what some see as another troubled institution: the newspaper business. The show’s creator, David Simon, is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who has complained that “the media, which is supposed to be the assertive watchdog of the political and social culture, the last hope of reform — they’re not here anymore.”

As heartbreaking as it is entertaining, The Wire would be depressing without the characters, especially wily Officer James “Jimmy” McNulty (Dominic West). He, like others in the show, is flawed. He drinks, carouses and disregards the chain of command. But sometimes Jimmy and the others break through the roadblocks placed by the system. Those moments are magic.

Their triumphs, like ours, are often subtle, fleeting or incomplete. The show isn’t tidy. The Wire is as real as television gets, and it masterfully explores the complexities of the cities we live in (and write about).

That’s why I’m looking forward to 2008.

Matt Stiles is a reporter and blogger for the Houston Chronicle.

Help me spend some money at the iTunes store

So one of the Christmas presents I got this year was a $15 gift card for the iTunes store. Now in the old days, back when I was walking uphill in the snow to school every day, fifteen smackers bought me a CD. Needless to say, that’s so 20th century. I want to be a modern music consumer and just buy me a few individual songs, like the cool kids do. Problem is, I don’t have a very good feel for what tunes are out there that I simply need to have. And so I turn to you, my readers and your collective intelligence. If you had $15 to spend on iTunes, what song or songs would be on your must-have list? Please leave your suggestions, along with any relevant info about why I should have these songs and why I’m a cretin for not already having them, in the comments. Thanks very much.

Filing news: Lots of action

The holiday lull in candidate filings is officially over – things were very busy today. Here’s a roundup of who’s running for what:

– I was very pleasantly surprised to see that Jim Henley (who’s gonna need a new domain name) has filed to run for the Harris County Department of Education in Place 7. Not only does that clear the path for Mike Skelly to get the nomination for CD07, it also gives us an opportunity to elect an actual educator to the HCDE, which is currently populated by the likes of Roy Morales and Michael “Ronald Reagan Roolz!” Wolfe (sadly, neither is on the ballot this time around). Henley is joined on the ballot by the also-well-qualified Debbie Kerner, who’s running for Place 5. Interestingly, both Republican incumbents have primary opponents, each of whom is a member of the Republican Leadership Council, and one of whom is Michael Riddle, husband of Debbie “Pit of Hell” Riddle. I wonder what’s up with that.

– In my previous filing update, I mentioned that Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas had a primary opponent, and I mused about the motivation behind that. A little research tells me that Thomas’ opponent has run against him at least twice before, in 2004 and 2000, so I daresay it’s just a perennial candidate thing.

David Mincberg has a primary opponent for County Judge, a fellow named Ahmad Hassan, who appears to have been Sheila Jackson Lee’s Republican opponent for CD18 last year. Hal had the opportunity to hear him speak, and came away duly unimpressed. As I said about the Senate primary, if it gets Mincberg to start identifying and targeting voters earlier on, then it’s all to the good. He’s certainly in no danger of losing.

– Numerous Congressional filings: The Democrats now have two candidates for CD03 (Tom Daley and Ron Minkow), a candidate for CD12 (Tracey Smith), a candidate for CD19 (Dwight Fullingin), and a candidate for CD13 (Roger Waun, who ran last year). On the Republican side, Ron Paul and one of his primary opponents (Chris Peden) are in, while Mike McCaul picked up a challenger in CD10 (Charles James). I’m hoping that some Democrat files in CD14 on the odd chance that Paul survives his primary, then drops out to pursue an indy/LP Presidential campaign. I’m not sure if the Tom DeLay situation would apply here, but wouldn’t it be freaky if the GOP had to run two write-in campaigns for Congress in a row? Also, as yet no one has filed to run against Chet Edwards in CD17. Wouldn’t it be a hoot for Edwards to get a free pass?

– Victor Morales has made official his candidacy in Texas House District 4. John McClelland is set to file for HD64 in Denton County. Chad Khan is back for a second run here in HD126. Still no GOP opponents for Ellen Cohen or Scott Hochberg, or any other Harris County Dem besides Hubert Vo. Meanwhile, Republican John Davis has a primary opponent in HD129, a Jon Keeney. I’ve heard some rumblings that the party is unhappy with Davis, but I don’t know any more about it than that. No Republicans have yet filed (according to this, anyway) for any of the HDs between 31 and 43, all of which are in South Texas and which include the likes of first-termers Juan Garcia, Solomon Ortiz Jr, and Eddie Lucio III. I can’t believe that will still be true on January 3, but hey, one can hope.

– State Sen. Mario Gallegos will have a familiar Republican opponent, Susan Delgado. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, read here, here, and here (scroll down). She’s no threat to his re-election, but her presence will up the titillation factor next year, as if Chuck “Sexy Ears” Rosenthal needed the competition.

– We have a Democrat running for State Board of Education, District 7, one Laura Ewing, who appears to be a member of the Friendswood City Council. Anybody know anything about her? Now we need someone to step up for Districts 6 and 8, and if we get them I think the ballot will be full (modulo whatever’s left for the Supreme and Criminal Appeals courts). That would be excellent.

– Speaking of judges, there are still a lot of candidates who have not yet filed (I’d guess they’re still getting their petition signatures in order), and as there has been some recent shuffling on the Democratic side, I’m not sure who’s still to file. I’m going to see what I can find out about that today.

Less than a week to go. Hang on!

Which races are they playing in?

This is one of the more disturbing political stories I’ve seen lately, both for its lack of concrete information and its far-reaching implications.

Texas’ ailing racing industry is planning an expensive gamble for survival — a $3 million campaign and lobbying effort to bring slot machines to the state’s horse and dog tracks.

Texans for Economic Development, the umbrella group for track owners, breeders and other segments of the racing industry, has budgeted $1 million to contribute to campaigns in the 2008 legislative elections and $2 million for a lobbying effort to convince lawmakers that the tracks need slot machines to survive, the Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday.

It’s a tough sell. State lawmakers have brought up the possibility of slots at tracks in the past, but all efforts have failed under opposition to expanding gambling in Texas. Proponents want Texas voters to decide.

Group President Tommy Azopardi said the $1 million will be targeted on about a dozen races in the state House of Representatives.

“It’s not about Democrats and Republicans, it’s not about the speaker’s race,” Azopardi said. “It’s not about anything other than, ‘Are you for VLTs (slot machines) or not?'”

That’s a hell of a lot of money to put into State Rep races, and it raises the very big question of what races are they intending to put it in? And are we talking primaries, general elections, or both? Are they targeting people for defeat, or aiming at open seats? Or are they just going to hand out cash to those they perceive as softly opposed to their position, in hopes of getting them on their side?

I agree it’s not about Democrats or Republicans, as there are supporters and opponents of slot machines on both sides of the aisle. As for the Speaker’s race, certain key Craddick lieutenants, such as Kino Flores, are both supporters of expanded gambling and involved in hot races. I don’t care what Azopardi says, if they are supporting Flores (I’m just hypothesizing here), they are supporting Craddick. Perhaps they will balance their support fairly evenly among the Craddickites and the anti-Craddickites, but the bottom line is that almost any contested race this year is to some extent is about the Speaker’s race. It can’t be avoided.

It’s a shame that there’s no indication of what the pro-gambling forces intend to do with their million bucks. We ought to know more when the next round of campaign finance reports come out, but still. This is a big deal, and it deserves a lot more scrutiny.

Why, Chuck, you sly devil

For those of you who enjoy a good politics-and-sex story (and you know who you are), it would seem that Santa was very good to you, if a tad bit late.

A federal judge this morning resealed dozens of e-mails from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office that reveal personal communications, including a close personal relationship between District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal and his secretary.

In an emergency hearing, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt said he had meant only to make public Rosenthal’s request that the e-mails to be kept confidential — not disclose the actual e-mails, which were attachments to the document.

David Tang, an attorney for the plaintiffs on the underlying lawsuit, disagreed with the judge’s ruling.

“The public should have access to see what’s being done by their public officials,” Tang said.

Rosenthal’s attorney, Ronald Lewis, declined to comment after the hearing.

The e-mails, sent from Rosenthal’s county e-mail address, highlight some of the inner workings of the DA’s office, exposing details about past lawsuits and criminal cases.

And they include personal, affectionate notes to Kerry Stevens, Rosenthal’s executive secretary with whom he said he had an affair in the 1980s.

“The very next time I see you, I want to kiss you behind your right ear,” Rosenthal writes to Stevens in a note dated Aug. 10, 2007.

The e-mails are exhibits in a civil rights lawsuit against the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, alleging misconduct by sheriff’s deputies in 2001. Rosenthal was deposed in the case, which alleges sheriff’s deputies violated the civil rights of two brothers who filmed police executing a search warrant on a neighbor’s house.

[…]

During discovery for the case, [plaintiff’s attorney Lloyd] Kelley asked for all of the e-mails sent or received by Rosenthal, his first assistant Bert Graham and his general counsel, Scott Durfee from July to Oct. 15.

In court documents protesting the release of the e-mails, attorneys for Rosenthal argue they “relate to private expressions of affection between Rosenthal and Stevens.”

While the 51 e-mails between the two contain the phrase “I love you” more than a dozen times, and Rosenthal asks Stevens to let him hold her, the messages are not explicit.

Rosenthal said Wednesday he is not having an affair with Stevens, but that he had an affair with her in the 1980s when he was married to his first wife. He said the affair did not end that marriage, but he did later divorce.

Rosenthal later remarried and said he told his current wife about the affair before hiring Stevens as his executive assistant when he took office in 2000.

[…]

Kelley took issue with Stevens’ salary and the fact that she drives a county pool car, which is an extra car that belongs to the department pool. County records show that she makes $75,000 a year.

Rosenthal justified the expense by saying Stevens occupies a high position of trust in his administration.

He also said Stevens took responsibility for the car — a suggestion from one of his administrators — so it would receive regular maintenance.

Kelley also took Rosenthal to task for preferential treatment for Stevens.

Included in the e-mails is an exchange in which Stevens asks for a day off.

Rosenthal responds, “You do not have to ask. Just tell me what you plan to do. You have to know by now that I’m not going to tell you ‘no’ about anything you want.”

“It is still proper for me to ask,” she wrote back. “There may be a day that something could be going on that you would want me here.”

Rosenthal writes, “I always want to see you. You own my heart whether you want or not.”

Answering Kelley’s charge of preferential treatment, Rosenthal said he didn’t think he has ever denied an employee’s earned time off.

Three things:

1. There’s no way that Rosenthal’s actions can be made to look good. His justifications for his actions towards Stevens may be plausible, but there’s no getting past the impression of special treatment for his girlfriend. This is precisely why the whole bosses-dating-underlings thing is so dicey, and why so many workplaces have strictly-enforced rules about such matters.

2. This may well be a “political hit”, as Rosenthal claims (Kelley finished last in a field of five for the GOP nomination for DA along with Rosenthal in 2000), but so what if it is? Rosenthal’s judgment is still at issue here, and that’s certainly a valid thing for voters to consider. The bottom line is that he could have chosen not to hire his girlfriend, or to not do things that would make people think hiring his girlfriend was a bad idea. Or, you know, to use personal email accounts for this kind of mushy stuff. It ain’t Lloyd Kelley’s fault Chuck Rosenthal is in this particular pickle.

3. It’s not clear to me what the point of resealing the emails is. They’re out there now, and nobody’s going to forget what they said – we’re sure to be reminded of them many times this year. As such, this seems to me this is a clear case of locking the barn after the horse has been stolen. Maybe – and this is just fact-free speculation on my part, so take with an appropriate amount of salt – there’s stuff in there that the newsies and other nosey types haven’t gotten to yet that he really wants to keep quiet. Or maybe he’s just hoping this will play itself out as a story way before November, when other things will be on voters’ minds. Who knows? I still don’t see the point, but whatever.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but you can bet that kissable spot behind your right ear that this isn’t the last you’ll hear of this. Grits and Cory have more.

UPDATE: Mark Bennett asks an important question.

Looking Forward to 2008: Rep. Ellen Cohen

(Note: I have asked a variety of people to submit an essay to me to be posted during the month of December, to be called “Looking Forward to 2008”. This entry was written by Rep. Ellen Cohen.)

As I write this article, 2007 is coming to an end, and it would appear that the biggest event of 2008 will be the presidential election. That said, much can happen in 10 months, thrusting unknowns to the forefront and dramatically changing the landscape of predictions. Still, with whatever is in store for us, electing a President who will restore our country’s position of respect, compassion and integrity throughout the world is paramount. Someone who will bring us as a nation together while continuing to respect diversity in all aspects of our lives.

Clearly, the next President needs, on a national level, to focus on many of the same concerns we in the state legislature are facing: health care, including the children’s health insurance program, stem cell research, and mental health services. While recent research shows some very promising new forms of stem cell research, we can not and must not abandon the promise of what is being learned through adult and embryonic stem cell research. Regenerative medicine is vital to saving lives. Republicans and Democrats have voted in a very bipartisan manner to lift the bans set down by the present Administration that limits or stops research done on embryonic or early stem cells. All of this was brought home to me from both a very personal side regarding my late husband’s spinal cord cancer and a visit I received from twin 6 year old girls living in West University who shared with me how this research could help with their juvenile diabetes.

The next President needs to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and, we in Texas need to do the same. Of the 9 million uninsured children in the United States, over 1.5 million live in Texas. CHIP is the program designed to help the children of working families. As President Clinton often said, these families are the ones who “are working hard and playing by the rules”. They are doing everything, but simply don’t make enough money to pay for health insurance coverage for their children without some assistance.

The next President, and we in Texas, need to focus on education. As a nation we are falling woefully behind in the areas of math and science. As a state, if we expect to have employees who can reason, who can analyze figures, who can articulate intelligently varying points of view, then we have an obligation to educate our children. We simply must invest in our young people if we expect them to succeed in Texas, across the Nation and throughout the world.

Finally, the next President must continue to preserve the value of “separation of church and state”. I spent a decade of my life working for the American Jewish Committee and have great admiration for people of faith. I also accept and affirm the right of people to question the existence of a deity. We must look at issues in accordance with our Constitution, not a specific religious ideology. From textbook rejections and staff dismissals from NASA to the Texas Education Agency, we must realize and respect our religious believes as separate and apart from the lessons learned by scientific experiments and calculations. Our science and faith are NOT in conflict, only the agenda of our leaders.

This coming year presents us with a chance to compare where we are as a nation and a state and where new and innovative leadership can take us. We have a chance to restore our prestige as a nation and our leadership as a state. We must take advantage of this time in history to elect a President whose visionary leadership will secure the future, starting with the next generation.

Ellen Cohen is the State Representative for the 134th District in Harris County.

“A truckload of flaming death”

Boy, the things I miss by not going out at night more often. At least there are people I know to document them for me so I can ooh and aah over them later.

Filing news: The other side of the aisle

Thought I’d take a minute and see how filings were going for the Republicans in Texas. I’m using this document as my main guide to who’s filed for what. Vince has done some of the heavy lifting here, and I’ll quote from his analysis of a couple of contested primaries for Congress:

U.S. Congress, District 3, GOP Primary

The dissatisfaction with Rep. Johnson in Plano has evidently been significant enough to draw him not one but two opponents. The first, Wayne Avellanet, we told you about earlier. Now, another candidate has entered the race, Harry Pierce, a retired airline pilot. No information has emerged about Pierce yet, but we’ll keep you posted. So far, Avellanet is the biggest threat to Johnson.

U.S. Congress, District 4, GOP Primary

For the third election cycle in a row (if I recall correctly-2004, 2006, and now 2008), the people who are tired of waiting for Congressman Ralph Hall (R-Rockwall) to retire continues to grow. Kathy Seei, the former mayor of Frisco and most recent filing, is probably Hall’s biggest threat at this point. Kevin George (R-Celina) is campaigning as a “Constitutional Republican” and spouts tons of ultra-right-wing rhetoric on his website. Gene Christinsen (R-Celina) is the owner of a racing team (among other things) and has the dubious distinction of being endorsed by Chuck Norris (who has also endorsed the Total Gym). This will no doubt be an interesting primary. Can’t wait to see if Ralph Hall pulls out his decade-old endorsement from Charlton Heston in this race.

U.S. Congress, District 22, GOP Primary

To date, four Republicans have filed in the hopes of having an opportunity to spend half a million bucks in the primary and two million bucks plus in the general election for the right to come in a point or two behind Democrat Nick Lampson of Stafford next November. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit in this race is that State Rep. Robert Talton (R-Pasadena), the establishment front-runner, has yet to file. Of course, Shelley Sekula Gibbs, last year’s famous Temporary Congresswoman, has filed as has ad exec John Manlove. Pete Olson, a former staffer for U.S. Senator Phil Gramm is also in the race as is former state district judge Jim Squier.

Gary has more on the status of CD22; Muse tells you how you can meet some of those people. Couple things to add here – Reps. Johnson, at 77, and Hall, at 84, are two of the oldest members of Congress, which may account in part for their opposition. So far nobody has filed for CD14, though in the end I expect Ron Paul to have opposition there – two people have declared their intent to run against him. I’ve already said what I think will happen if Paul loses in the primary. I don’t know how likely that is, however.

One other place where I expect a contested Congressional race for the GOP is CD23. Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson is reportedly in the running against self-aggrandizer Quico Canseco. The winner gets a shot at Rep. Ciro Rodriguez. And as yet, neither of the two wannabes for CD18 has filed. I’ll be looking for that one. And I see on the local party site that Eric Storey is back for another spanking against Rep. Gene Green in CD29.

Nothing too exciting at the State House level that Vince or I haven’t mentioned already. Two local races of interest: Former HPD Chief, now Justice on the First Court of Appeals, Place 3, Sam Nuchia, has a primary opponent in attorney Ed Hubbard. No idea what that’s about. Also, Sheriff Tommy Thomas has drawn a foe in Paul Day; again, no idea what that’s about. Thomas will have a stiffer test in November, that’s all I can say right now.

Swinging back to the Democrats, the contested primary for Justice of the Peace in Precinct 1, Place 1, is now official as incumbent Dale Gorczynski joins his former Chief Clerk, Harold Landreneau, on the ballot. I’m not sure if Landreneau lives in my neighborhood or just has a lot of friends here, but I’ve seen several signs for him around the place. That one will be interesting.

Last but not least, some good news in Fort Worth where Eight for 08 target Bill Zedler has drawn an opponent in Chris Turner, a long-time aide and District Director to Democratic Congressman Chet Edwards. That one has just climbed up the Races To Watch charts for me.

Let’s debate that

Interesting op-ed from the weekend by Barbara Radnofsky.

Now, in many urban high schools and particularly in Houston, policy debate is gone. Private and suburban public high schools are still actively involved in debate, but predominantly low-income minority students lack the opportunity.

Houston needs an Urban Debate League to bring competitive debate back to the inner city, and to involve minority and low income students. By public-private participation, we can also aid both sides in the HISD bond controversy and litigation.

Urban Debate League (UDL) structures partnerships between the urban public school district and a private partner, a local not-for-profit organization (the UDL Advisory Board) composed of civic-minded leaders in business, law, academia, government and the nonprofit community.

Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Kansas City and Baltimore all have successful Urban Debate Leagues. Now, Dallas has stepped forward.

The programs succeed. Here’s the evidence from the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues: UDLs increase literacy scores by 25 percent, improve grade-point averages by 8 percent to 10 percent, achieve high school graduation rates of nearly 100 percent and produce college matriculation rates of 71 percent to 91 percent.

We are University of Houston debater alumni seeking resurrection of urban policy debate programs in Houston.

We’ve pledged our service in Houston’s UDL Advisory Board if the NAUDL will sanction a League. We call on Houstonians to contact NAUDL (312-427-0175, i[email protected] and www.naudl.org) to join us.

Also noted here; the idea got some good feedback in today’s letters to the editor. This is more call-to-arms than ten-point-plan, so it’s not clear how this would be done, but that’s not important right now. For right now, this strikes me as a fine idea, one on which I hope there will be some follow through. I hope something will come of it.

Looking Forward to 2008: Noel Freeman

(Note: I have asked a variety of people to submit an essay to me to be posted during the month of December, to be called “Looking Forward to 2008”. This entry was written by Noel Freeman.)

I always look forward to a new year, and 2008 is much the same … lose some weight, set new goals for my work with the City and community and build up my own business. What’s different is that I’m presenting a challenge to Mayor White and several new members of City Council who have the opportunity to learn about some issues that are very important to me and have taken up a large portion of my time and effort over the past year.

Probably the biggest issue I have concentrated on has been flooding and drainage. We all know how important this issue is to Houstonians, and it is vitally important that we resolve to do more to make a difference in the coming year. After Allison, we learned a huge lesson – that we were $2.5-3 billion (yes, that’s billion) behind on drainage infrastructure improvements. Mayor White has done a good job of increasing the budget for improvements, but sadly we are still budgeting less than $50 million per year (FY2008 was right around $45 million).

If you combine that with the $32-34 million we spend on maintenance and repairs, Houston still falls behind cities like Philadelphia, where the annual budget for similar programs and improvements is nearly $100 million. Nevermind that Philadelphia is physically about ¼ the size of Houston or that it has a half million fewer residents. At this rate, it will take 50 to 60 years just to bring our infrastructure up to today’s standards.

With this in mind, it is my hope that Mayor White and our new Council members will take the lead and accept a challenge – to set the budget for drainage infrastructure maintenance and improvements at no less than $100 million for FY2009 and to set a five year plan to increase that number to $150 million by FY2013. I think this number is realistic and attainable.

Further, the City needs to look at real solutions to address developments that place a large added burden on our drainage infrastructure, such as big-box stores with multi-acre parking lots and residential developments that provide very little pervious surface to absorb water. Development can still continue, but there are better ways that can make a real difference.

2007 also saw a related issue hit mainstream and highlight the real rock-and-a-hard-place situations we in the City often find ourselves in. That issue was development in the floodway. You may have seen some stories on the news or in the Chronicle about some floodplain maps that changed. It may not have hit close to home for most of you, but it sure did for several thousand people who now find their properties in the floodway. I was glad to see the City remove some provisions from the floodplain ordinance that offered variances because it showed that we were finally getting serious about the floodway and moving to limit future flood losses.

Unfortunately, there were some unforeseen side effects of that change that have had potentially adverse effects on residents. I would like to see Mayor White and Council move to establish a buyout program specifically for properties in the floodway and dedicate at least 5-10% of the drainage infrastructure budget mentioned above to do it.

The way I see it, 2008 is a great opportunity to make a real difference. I’ve got six months to educate Council members about these issues, and if they accept the challenge and do to the FY2009 budget what I’ve proposed, six more months to see how much better and safer it makes our communities. Here’s to 2008.

Noel Freeman works for the City of Houston’s Department of Public Works and Engineering and is a member of the Texas Floodplain Management Association. He was a previous candidate for City Council and is pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Norwich University.

RIP, Greenway Theatre

Well, here’s an unlovely Christmas present.

The Greenway Theatre, which has screened films in the basement of Greenway Plaza for 35 years, will close at the end of this year.

Employees say Landmark Theatres lost its lease at 5 East Greenway Plaza. Landmark, a chain that specializes in independent and foreign films, has operated the Greenway since 1994.

A board designated for patrons’ reviews of offered films has turned into a makeshift memorial as people protested the closing.

Written lamentations of “We will miss you” and “NO” in bold, penciled script were posted, along with a message from a self-described 30-year patron who simply offered: “We are sorry.”

[…]

Landmark informed theater employees Saturday, two days before Christmas, that they’d be laid off. A sign taped to the ticket booth announces the closing and refers all questions to Landmark’s corporate office.

It also reads: “Hope you remember us fondly.”

I suppose the surprising thing is that they kept the lease for this long in that part of town. Still a damn shame, though.

For those of you keeping score at home, this leaves one Landmark Theater property in Houston – the endangered/doomed River Oaks Theater. When/if that shuffles off this mortal coil, your options for seeing nonstandard fare will be (mostly) reduced to the Angelika downtown and the Alamo Drafthouse out in East San Antonio. Not the most pleasant prospect I’ve ever considered.

When the Greenway opened in 1972, it was hailed as an important part of developer Kenneth Schnitzer’s Greenway Plaza. The development’s mix of uses –office space and retail with entertainment such as the theater and a basketball arena — was considered visionary.

Those were the days, huh? Rest in peace, Greenway Theatre.

Filing news: Gene, Gene, the Do-Nothing Machine

The biggest “news”, if you can call it that, since my last update on who’s filed for what, is that perennial do-nothing Gene Kelly has made his biennial donation to the Texas Democratic Party primary fund, and will once again clutter up the ballot for US Senate. If you thought you’d heard the sound of several thousand eyes rolling over the weekend, that would be why. He was greeted by a bizarre press release from Ray McMurrey, welcoming him to the race, which in retrospect seems fitting enough as neither candidacy is about anything other than being on the ballot. The practical upshot of all this is that it will ensure that the Rick Noriega campaign stays active and fully engaged throughout the primary season, since the specter of a runoff against either opponent, especially the inert-but-recognizable Kelly, would be ill advised.

I will say this: While I have nothing but contempt for Kelly and his pathetic obsession with “running” for office, I do disagree with those who have been complaining that his presence has made various Democratic candidates “waste” campaign resources that could have been used against their eventual Republican opponents. The one thing Rick Noriega needs now more than anything is name ID, and there’s really no better way to get that than to have a contested primary. Money spent identifying and targeting Democratic voters is to me an investment, not a waste. The only waste here would be of the opportunity if Noriega supporters fail to recognize this for what it is. The good news is that I’m confident his campaign will not make that mistake.

Elsewhere, BOR diarist Benawu rounds up the current status of Democratic Congressional filings. I’ve said it before, but for whatever the reason there’s just not as broad an interest in running for Congress this time around, though I’m fairly sure several of those empty slots will be filled by someone when all is said and done. While that’s disappointing and a bit puzzling, the good news is that we ought to have a couple of very interesting races here in Houston, what with CD10 making the national radar already, CD07 drawing an exciting contender, and of course Rep. Nick Lampson’s defense of CD22. The field may not be broad, but it has some depth, and will provide some real opportunities.

Finally, it’s not really a filing per se, but this news from last week is fascinating.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, the Texas Republican running for president who’s had surprising fundraising success, got a stick (or maybe a dust speck) in the eye Thursday as the Libertarian Party of Texas said Eugene J. Flynn, an immigration attorney, wants to challenge Paul for re-election to the U.S. House next year.

Paul intends to run simultaneously for re-election and for the GOP presidential nomination, as permitted by Texas law. Paul was the 1988 Libertarian Party nominee for president and generally hews to a libertarian platform.

According to the Libertarian Party of Texas, Flynn tried to run against Paul as a Libertarian in 2006, but party members chose not to nominate a candidate against the Lake Jackson Republican at their spring convention.

Wes Benedict, executive director of the Texas party, said in an e-mail that he expects to be blasted “over this,” meaning Flynn’s challenge.

Yes, I imagine he would, given Paul’s hero status among the Libs. What interests me is not the hissyfit potential as much as the issue on which Flynn intends to challenge Paul:

Benedict quoted Flynn as saying: “I agree with Ron Paul about 80 percent of the time. The problem is the other 20 percent is the most important to me, that is, immigration. … Ron Paul offers no way to allow those illegally in the U.S. to get right with the law. Instead he wants to spend more and more money to create bigger bureaucracies to secure our borders to protect us from needed workers.”

Contacted by e-mail Thursday, Flynn said; “We need a guest worker program NOW! One way to help get it is to defeat the (immigration) restrictionists such as Ron Paul.” He noted that as the party’s nominee for chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court in 2002, he drew 80,185 votes, just under 2 percent, statewide.

More power to you, sir. It’s not clear that the Democrats will field a candidate for CD14 this time around, so someone needs to be a voice of reason on this issue. May this be one of those vanishingly rare times when an LP candidate gains some traction.

As for Paul, here’s my fifty-cent prediction for the week: Regardless of what he may or may not be saying now that he’s made the national talking-heads circuit, I say if he fails to survive his own primary challenge for CD14, Ron Paul will be on the ballot for President this fall. He’ll never have this kind of platform again, and I can’t see the logic in folding up the tent eight months before the election if he gets ousted from his Congressional district. If he’s still the nominee for Congress, then he won’t pursue his Presidential ambitions past the point of the GOP nomination, but if not, what has he to lose by keeping his circus in business? Whether under the banner of the Libertarian Party or as an independent (surely his national network can help him meet whatever ballot access obligations he’ll face), if Paul isn’t running for Congress after March (or May, if there’s a runoff), he’s running for President in November. You heard it here first – or not, if I’m wrong.

UPDATE: Eye on Williamson mentions a challenger to State Rep. Dan Gattis in HD20, meaning that each State House seat in Williamson County will have a Democrat on the ballot. HD20 is considerably more Republican than HD52 (Bill Moody got 39.1% in HD20, 47.8% in HD52), but it ought to help provide for a better metric of how far along the bluing of WillCo has come.

Have a holly, jolly Christmas

Have a holly, jolly Christmas;
It’s the best time of the year
I don’t know if there’ll be snow
but have a cup of cheer
Have a holly, jolly Christmas;
And when you walk down the street
Say Hello to friends you know
and everyone you meet

Oh, ho, the mistletoe
hung where you can see;
Somebody waits for you;
Kiss her once for me
Have a holly jolly Christmas
and in case you didn’t hear
Oh by golly
have a holly, jolly Christmas this year

From my family to yours, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I’ll see you tomorrow.

Mitt Romney Got A Lump Of Coal In His Stocking

Oops. Romney not only did not get the Concord Monitor of New Hampshire endorsement, they told their readers NOT to vote for him and why. Smack those flip-flops together, he’s not “trustworthy”.

Several newspapers made endorsements Sunday.

Democrat Barack Obama:

• The Nashua Telegraph in New Hampshire endorsed Obama as the best choice for Democratic voters, citing his “inspired leadership.”

• The Dallas Morning News noted Obama’s “consistently solid judgment” and “poise under pressure.”

Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton:
• Iowa’s Burlington Hawk Eye endorsed Clinton as the most impressive of the Democratic candidates.
• The Quad City Times in Davenport, Iowa, also chose Clinton on the basis of her experience.

Republican John McCain:

• The Quad City Times chose McCain, calling him “a leader whose life experiences” have tested his mettle for the nation’s top job.”

Republican Mike Huckabee:

• The Dallas Morning News called Huckabeee “the change agent the nation most needs.”

Republican Mitt Romney:

• The Sioux City Journal of Iowa endorsed Romney as combining “an outsider’s new face with a proven track record of success.”

• The Concord Monitor of New Hampshire broke with political tradition, telling readers why they should not vote for Romney. It said he looks and acts like a presidential contender but “surely must be stopped” because he lacks the core philosophical beliefs to be a trustworthy president.

As always, Merry Christmas, Mel Torme

Every year at about this time, I link to Mark Evanier’s wonderful story about Mel Torme and a group of charmingly clueless Christmas carolers. And every year when I reread it, it gives me goosebumps. This year was no exception. Go, read, and enjoy. And please join me in wishing Mel Torme a Merry Christmas, wherever he may be.