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December, 2007:

Looking forward to 2008: Stace Medellin

(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 Stace Medellin.)

For Democrats, 2008 will be the longest year ever. We expect to win in November; however, many of us cannot wait to watch Bush hop on Air Force One for his final trip to Maine, Texas or wherever he decides to call home. There will be a Democrat in the White House, and I look forward to that change. More than anything, 2009 will determine if our Democratic victories in 2008 will amount to everything we want them to be.

As we get ready for our Harris County Democratic primaries, I look forward to an increase in Democratic activism and excitement. Much like Party stalwarts boast about the best list of presidential hopefuls ever, local Dems are very proud of the judicial line-up, as well as the countywide candidates, that we will be supporting. With new and almost-new folks in the running for Texas House seats in various corners of the County, there is no doubt that there is this sense of Democratic energy wafting about. How we take advantage of this great opportunity to turn Harris County blue will depend on how effective we are at turning out our various constituencies in November. Although I expect victory, I also expect our “safe” Texas House members to pull out all the stops, get their troops on the ground in their respective areas, and effect increased turnouts in those areas where turnout is nothing to boast about. Although I expect victory, I look forward to winning big and not barely.

At the personal level, it seems my life will be shaken up early in 2008. Although I’m sometimes known for DosCentavos, my dearest of Democratic friends and activists also know me because of my tight-knit family. Well, during first quarter of 2008, my middle sister and local attorney/professor Toni Medellin, her husband Ben Briseño, and my mom, Flora Medellin, will be moving to the Metroplex–location still to be decided. So, a big chunk of “The Cartel” is going to be gone, and I’m dreading it! During the last decade of living in the same area, we’ve grown quite close and we’ve enjoyed working together on most things progressive and political. Still, our friends will get to enjoy the fact that my other sis, Sylvia, and I will still be around and active (as if that’s any consolation for losing Toni, right?). In fact, both of us will end up somewhere inside the loop (or at least inside the Belt) early in 2008.

What is to come for myself in 2008? Well, continued blogging, of course. I also expect to expand my business once I get settled inside Houston. I hope to write another page of my great Mexican-American novel. And more than anything I look forward to expanding the DosCentavos family–guest writers, more readers, and more DC-based projects.

Happy Holidays from DosCentavos and the Medellin Family!

Stace Medellin is a political consultant, activist, and the founder of Dos Centavos.

Not silent enough night

It wouldn’t be Christmas without an accounting of Christmas songs you hate, would it? I’ll open the bidding with any version of “The Little Drummer Boy”, whose ad nauseum refrain drives me crazy every time. I’m also ready to plug my ears with whatever’s handy whenever “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” comes up on the radio, which appears to be every five minutes. What Christmas song or songs could you go another year (or lifetime) without ever hearing again? Leave a comment and let me know.

Looking forward to 2008: Matt Glazer

(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 Glazer.)

Carl Sandburg once said, “I’m an idealist. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.” Looking into 2008, we know where we’re going. We know the way there. The path to making Texas a better place for our parents’ generation and our children’s generations both intersect on November 4, 2008, and I am idealistic.

The road to change started before me. It started when bold leaders like Martin Frost and our Representatives in Congress took on Tom DeLay and the Republican Party in Washington. Representatives Garnet Coleman, Pete Gallego, Jim Dunnam and many others led the House against Tom Craddick in both Texas and Oklahoma. Senators from across the state took their fight to David Dewhurst. The battle cries of “Remember Ardmore” inspired me to fight the good fight.

Here we are in 2007 on the edge of taking back the Texas House. State Senate candidates in Dallas and Galveston are looking to pick up victories in districts drawn to be Republican strongholds. Not since Ann Richards have Democrats been so optimistic about their statewide candidate, and now we have the chance to vote for Lt. Col. Rick Noriega.

While 2007 ushered in an era of hope, this year will bring change… real and meaningful change.

As we look over the horizon, I am excited by the things we have accomplished and the things we will accomplish. The online community is more organized than in any other election cycle. With more readers today than ever before and new tools like TexBlog PAC, the online community is going offline. If possible, we are ready to inspire others. El Paso, Dallas and Austin are blue and operative and activists are hungry to do the same in Houston and San Antonio. 2008 is a change election, and I look forward being a part of the Democratic revolution. I look forward to 2008.

Matt Glazer is the editor-in-chief of the and the chair of the board for the TexBlog PAC.

“Toxic Mike Jackson”

From the Texas League of Conservation Voters:

The Texas League of Conservation Voters (TLCV) announced today the release of www.toxicmike.com, a website designed to highlight State Senator Mike Jackson’s disgraceful record on clean air and other environmental issues, his ignoble distinction of filing the worst environmental bill of the 20007 legislative session, and his overwhelming financial support from big polluters and other special interest lobby groups in Austin.

“Sen. Jackson repeatedly puts the special interests of big polluters over the health and safety of his constituents,” said TLCV’s Executive Director, Colin Leyden. “This website will give voters in his district the information they need to make an informed decision at the polls in November of 2008.”

Backed by the polluter lobby, Jackson filed SB 1317 earlier this year to stop Houston’s efforts to clean up toxic air pollution. Jackson’s lobby-backed bill prohibited a municipality from regulating air pollution through ordinance.

“Voters are sick – literally – and tired of politicians accepting big checks from industry lobbyists and then turning around and doing their bidding,” said Leyden. “Voters in Senate Dist. 11 are ready to send career politicians like Jackson a message at the polls: You’ve failed to fight for our interests, and now it’s time to leave.”

During floor and committee debate, it often appeared as if Sen. Jackson either did not understand his own bill or was being purposely misleading, Leyden said. Despite being told otherwise, he repeatedly argued to fellow Senators that Texas should let the EPA do its job of regulating toxic pollution. He also seemed to think that the issue was part of ongoing efforts to reduce area smog. Unlike NOx and other major ozone contributors, the EPA does not regulate toxic air pollution.

“It’s difficult to know which is worse – willful ignorance or deceit,” said Leyden.

Sen. Jackson was named one of TLCV’s “Worst” senators in their 2007 Legislative Scorecard.

The Texas League of Conservation Voters and the affiliated TLCVPAC is dedicated to electing legislators who conserve Texas air, water, parks, public lands and public waters, and defeating those who don’t.

Two words: Joe Jaworski. ‘Nuff said.

The RPT versus Texas Monthly

Hilarious. Texas Monthly’s Evan Smith reports that House Speaker Tom Craddick will get a Democratic challenger next year. The Midland newspaper erroneously reports that Smith had “encouraged” said challenger, former Midland city council member Bill Dingus, to make that run. This causes the Republican Party of Texas to go ballistic. The paper has now issued a retraction, saying their reporter made an honest mistake in how he interpreted what was said to him (see here for more).

So. What do you think are the odds that Tina Benkiser and her cohorts will accept this explanation and drop the matter? What do you think are the odds that one or more conservative bloggers will reference the initial story as proof that “the media” is out to get Republicans in general and Tom Craddick in particular, without acknowledging the retraction? It’s certainly possible that this is a one-day story, but let’s keep an eye on it anyway. The unintentional comedy factor is high.

Filing news: Jaworski, Jordan, and Tison

Joe Jaworski made his filing for SD11 today. From the press release:

“Voters want positive change, not more of the same,” Jaworski said. “They know we can do better if we have more leadership and less partisanship. I’m ready to meet that challenge.”

Jaworski filed his campaign paperwork in Austin as a candidate in the SD-11 Democratic primary scheduled for March 4, 2008.

“The stakes are too high in Texas to allow our public policies to continue to be hijacked by narrow special interests,” Jaworski said. “Let’s not settle for the thought that things could be worse. Let’s demand that things be better.”

Polling shows that Jaworski’s opponent, a 20-year Austin political veteran, is in a vulnerable position with a year to go before the general election. The survey of 400 likely voters, conducted by Hamilton Campaigns on October 27-29, found that fewer than one-third of voters in SD 11 approve of the incumbent’s job performance and that the race is statistically tied — 48 percent to 44 percent — with Jaworski polling a full 20 percent higher among independent voters.

A former three-term member of the Galveston City Council, Jaworski earned a reputation for insisting on strict financial accountability to hold the line on new taxes while safeguarding vital services. First elected in 2000, he was re-elected in 2002 and then again in 2004 as Mayor Pro-Tem. He stepped down in May 2006 under the city’s term limits law.

In 2005, Jaworski helped lead the team that faced Hurricane Rita and won praise for his role in that region’s emergency preparation and response to the devastating storm.

Jaworski has a primary opponent (about whom I know nothing), so a strong win in March would be a nice start towards finishing the job in November. There’s an amazing number of contested Democratic primaries for Republican-held seats this year. We’ll see what effect that has on turnout. If you’re in SD11, make sure you get out and vote for Jaworski, beginning in March.

Previously, I had mentioned that there was a candidate looking at the remaining Supreme Court seat. Now BOR reports that Dallas District Judge Jim Jordan is in.

Jordan, a veteran civil defense attorney and past member of the Texas Association of Defense Counsel, noted a serious backlog in cases at the state’s highest court. “They are failing to do their work as the backlog in cases has reached record levels.”

Jordan, who currently presides over the 160th District Court in Dallas, is Board Certified in Civil Trial Law – a certification earned by less than 2% of Texas Lawyers.

“When the system is broken, the responsibility must fall on the leader,” Jordan noted, explaining his decision to seek the Chief Justice position. “I am running for Chief Justice because this Court has lost its way. Instead of upholding the law, it is advancing an ideology,” Jordan added, referring to a recent study released by a University of Texas law professor that criticized the court for routinely exceeding its Constitutional authority, ignoring the role of juries, and using the bench to make policy instead of deciding questions of law.

Jordan, who first presided over the 44th District Court in Dallas, was a partner with the firm Shannon, Gracey, Ratliff & Miller before returning to the bench. In 2006, he won election to the 160th District Court. In amending his filings with the Texas Ethics Commission, Jordan also reaffirmed his intention to voluntarily comply with the Judicial Campaign Fairness Act.

We are now potentially one candidate away from having a full statewide slate. That’s excellent news. We’ll see how it turns out.

Last but not least, Weatherford Mayor Joe Tison has resigned that position and made his filing to challenge State Rep. Phil “Tax Swap” King in HD61. I wish him the best of luck in that pursuit.

Looking forward to 2008: Ed Davis

(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 Ed Davis.)

In the interest of full disclosure, I want to say right off the bat that writing for OfftheKuff puts me in a somewhat awkward position. The company I work for, FrogDog Communications, provides strategic communication consulting to a variety of companies and organizations. My most high-profile project this year was helping The Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation during its lease dispute with the City. My job is to convince reporters and editors to do positive stories about our clients. Therein lies my conundrum. I get paid for working behind the scenes to help clients communicate their messages, so I’m a bit self-conscious about publicly expressing my own opinions.

What am I looking forward to in 2008? That’s definitely not an easy question to answer. Do I write about how excited I am to help our clients achieve their goals? Do I reveal some of the cool things FrogDog Communications will be doing next year to increase its brand awareness? Do I wax poetic about what I hope to achieve personally? Or, do I offer some political observations–which obviously would fit right in with this blog?

As FrogDog Communications is not a political organization, I will tackle the first three options. I hope you find at least part of it useful and insightful.

Going into 2008, the dollar is weak, a mortgage crisis is pulling down markets, and the economic outlook is–at best–uncertain. So what level of resources should businesses and nonprofits put behind their marketing efforts next year? At FrogDog Communications, we are advising clients that now is great time to strategically invest in their brands through well thought out, targeted marketing campaigns.

Most organizations look to cut costs and batten down the hatches during times like this. Marketing budgets are often the first things to go. In fact, we have clients right now struggling with whether to maintain, reduce, or increase their marketing activities. However, history shows that organizations with the foresight and courage to ramp up their marketing communications during slow economic times come out way ahead of their competition when the economy once again gathers steam.

As noted by the brand valuation and research firm, Interbrand, during the 1988-1992 economic slowdown (recession is a dirty word even if you aren’t an economist or politician), Nike increased its marketing by more than 300 percent. Remember the Just Do It! campaign? As a result, Nike multiplied its profits times nine during this period. But the bigger point is that Nike stole market share by the handful from other shoe and sports apparel companies, and it set itself up for global brand dominance.

This increase-marketing-investment-in-a-down-economy mindset is supported by the Profit Impact of Market Strategy (PIMS) study of 1998, which found that companies that increased their marketing budgets during the recession of 1988-92 realized ROI of 4.3 percent. While that may not sound like much, it is tremendous when you compare it with the returns companies achieved when they maintained their budgets or even decreased them (0.6 percent and -0.8 percent respectively).

So, at FrogDog Communications we are advising clients to focus on strategic marketing. We are optimistic that organizations heeding this advice will be better positioned next year and in the future, and we look forward to our clients’ success in 2008 and beyond.

In fact, we are taking our own counsel and will ramp up our own marketing efforts. While I can’t reveal too much because my boss reads this blog as much as I do, I look forward to seeing our brand everywhere people find themselves in 2008.

And on a personal note, I am looking forward to several things in 2008: getting healthier, trying to find wisdom, and celebrating my two-year anniversary with FrogDog Communications. But most of all, I look forward to commemorating the 16th anniversary of meeting the person who changed my life–my wife.

From everyone at FrogDog Communications, we hope that your 2008 is bigger, better, and more prosperous than 2007.

Ed Davis is an account manager with FrogDog Communications. One of his accounts is The Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation.

Filing news: A small flurry of activity

Some quick hits on the candidate filing front:

– In State House news, the Democrats now have candidates for HDs 127 and 135. Joe Montemayor will run against Joe Crabb in the Kingwood-area district, while Trey Fleming, whom we’d first heard about last month, will take on Gary Elkins. Montemayor has met with Diane Trautman’s supporters from that district and has gotten good marks from them. Having a strong candidate there will help the countywide effort as well as giving the widely disliked and perennially underperforming Crabb a run for his money. Stace has more on that. Meanwhile, on the GOP side, in a rare battle that doesn’t involve Tom Craddick, Dan Patrick‘s boy Allen Fletcher has made his challenge against Corbin Van Arsdale official. That ought to be fun to watch.

Dale Henry, the 2006 candidate for Railroad Commissioner, is back in the saddle for that office. I have some mixed feelings about this – Henry’s invisible campaign last year (dude didn’t even have a website) doesn’t exactly inspire confidence – but a lot of people I respect think highly of him, and at the very least it appears he’ll be running something more like a modern operation this time around. I’m willing to be persuaded. More on that is here.

– We may have a candidate for the remaining Supreme Court seat, and at least one non-JR Molina option for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Jim Jordan is the name for the former, and Susan Strawn is the latter. Both are trying to gather the signatures they need to qualify for the ballot. Anyone who wants to help with this, drop me a note and I’ll pass along the info you’ll need to assist.

– Lastly, John Truitt, the independent candidate in CD07, sent out an email saying his Declaration of Intent to run as an Independent Candidate for US Representative 7th District was approved by the Texas Secretary of State’s office earlier this week. He’ll still have to get his petition signatures turned in and validated before he’s official, which takes place after the primaries. He needs 500 valid sigs, which shouldn’t be too hard for anyone not named Steve Stockman.

We’ll see how active things are today, the last weekday before the holiday. Stay tuned.

Noriega makes ActBlue’s Blue Majority page

I spent all day volunteering at the Noriega campaign, and I heard this talked about, so I was excited to read it when I got home. Rick Noriega is the latest candidate added to ActBlue’s Blue Majority page. From Daily Kos:

But aside from that, Noriega is the face of a our modern Democratic Party — pluralistic and multicultural, committed to national service, and competent. There’s a reason that Republican Texas chose Noriega (a Democrat) to run the Katrina relief effort at the Houston Convention Center.

These are the races that define us as a movement. We can shy away from tough challenges, or we can meet them head on and build for a future in which the Democratic Party doesn’t just govern, but that it reflects the values all Americans hold dear — values forgotten by not just Republicans in DC, but the Democrats currently in charge of Congress. In 2006, we took out the frontrunner to the GOP presidential nomination (George Allen) as well as delivered a Democratic Senator from blood Red Montana. We kicked out the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee out of the Democratic Party.

There’s no doubt that Texas is our biggest challenge yet, but we don’t gain anything by sitting back and looking for the easy calls. We didn’t get this far by being timid, and we won’t advance by retreating into caution and tenuousness. And the Texas progressive community is working their ass for Noriega. Let’s give them moral and material support, no matter where we might live.

Awesome, awesome, awesome. I’m even more excited about this race than I was before. Bye, Cornyn.

One Man In Clear Lake Is Overseeing The Texas Ethics Commission

No, it’s not the head of the Texas Ethics Commission, it’s Clear Lake activist John Cobarruvias who has been the TEC watchdog for about a year and a half. Out of curiosity, he looked in the campaign spending habits of one officeholder. What he found was so astonishing, it caused him to look into the spending side of campaign finance reports of many other Texas legislators and state-wide officials.

Here’s the deal. The Legislature passed laws, which the TEC is supposed to enforce, that are very clear – all expenditures made by the candidate or office holder are to be transparent. Credit card expenses have to be detailed as to vendor, description and date of purchase. Reimbursements to self or staff have to be spelled out. It’s not enough to put on the report, “Dan Patrick, $5000, reimbursement.” He would have to detail what he spent that $5000 on. Not to mention, you are not supposed to use your campaign cash for personal use.

KHOU did a story at 10 pm last night on Cobarruvias’ efforts and the complete ineffectiveness and worthlessness of the Texas Ethics Commission. The story and video and up on their website.

The gist of the story is that if Cobarruvias had not taken it upon himself to look into the Ethics Commission – uncovering the several million dollars in violations over a two year period – and getting a team of activists to file complaints on the violators – all of the illegal activity would still be going on – the credit card expenditure problems, reimbursements to self and staff, and personal use of campaign cash.

You are wondering, isn’t it the Ethics Commission job to audit campaign finance reports, assess fines on violators and enforce the laws? Well, they act like they can’t audit reports. They’ll tell you it is up to someone to file a complaint before they can look into an alleged violation. But, that is just not true. This from the Government Code dealing with the TEC:

§ 571.069. Review of Statements and Reports; Audits

(a) The commission shall review for facial compliance randomly selected statements and reports filed with the commission and may review any available documents. The commission shall return for resubmission with corrections or additional documentation a statement or report that does not, in the opinion of the commission, comply with the law requiring the statement or report.

One moment of hilarity from the KHOU story. Lee McGuire, the KHOU reporter, learned from the Ethics Commission that they had levied $700,000 in fines last year. Digging deeper, he discovered that all but $22,000 of that were fines assessed for candidates filing their reports late. Good on them, but the expectation is that officeholders and candidates are accountable for following ALL the ethics laws, not just filing on time.

The good news is that a lot of this mess has been cleared up. A review of the January 07 and July 07 campaign finance reports show that the word has gotten out that unless the laws are followed, you will have a complaint filed against you.

Someone explain to me why a state commission with a $2 million annual budget, has to count on a guy from Clear Lake to do their auditing work for them – for free?

Looking Forward to 2008: David Baldwin

(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 David Baldwin.)

What a difference a year makes!

This time last year, The Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation was keeping a low-profile, and its clients, staff, and supporters were worried about the future. Then our biggest challenge became our biggest opportunity.

The agreement we negotiated this year with the City of Houston to buy the land underlying The Center’s main campus completely changed our perspective on the future–and Houston’s perspective on The Center. We can now make plans to enhance our facilities and programs, and the tremendous exposure and support we received during our land negotiations laid the foundation for future growth.

We are already seeing results. Donations are up, and enrollment in The Center’s vocational and day activity programs has grown substantially. And some of our long-time partners have shown renewed interest in The Center. Eva Aguirre, The Center’s executive director, is working with social service organizations on ways to collaborate on staff training and to improve transportation services for Houston’s mentally and developmentally disabled citizens.

The events of 2007 set the stage for some fundamental changes we will initiate in 2008. As our new Foundation executive director Debra Collins recently observed, The Center has always adapted. Its founders had a vision for the services our clients would need, and The Center remains at the forefront of emerging trends.

With our land issue resolved, the Center’s board formed the 21st Century Committee to plot the best course for improving the lives of the people we serve. Of course, our top financial priority will be paying off the note on our land. But the committee also identified two areas of growing community need and demand: day programs and services for an aging client population.

When The Center was founded in the 1950s, life expectancy for our clients was about 35 to 40 years. Thanks to factors like improved health care, that life expectancy has almost doubled, while innovative programs like those offered at the Center have greatly improved quality of life and productivity for those we serve. Stop and think about that for a minute: The Center is now serving a population that essentially didn’t exist when it was founded. Many of the people who live in our Cullen Residence Hall moved in when it opened in 1974 and they were in their 20s and 30s. Their home now needs to be enhanced to serve their changing needs.

As life expectancy grows, some of our clients spend more years at home with family and others seek independent living options in the community. To serve the latter, the group home program we launched late this summer will expand in 2008 and beyond.

No matter where our clients choose to live, they need opportunities to grow, work, and become involved in the community. This is one reason we are seeing increased demand for our day programs, such as our Momentum Industries vocational program.

With these priorities in mind, Eva and her staff took the 21st Century Committee’s preliminary findings and are developing budgets and action plans. Our final development plan should be finished early in 2008 and will serve as a blueprint for years to come.

Those of us who manage and direct The Center’s programs are excited about the possibilities. So are our clients, especially the ones who live on our main campus. They know their home is safe, and they know it’s because Houstonians from all walks of life showed their support in 2007. In fact, 12,500 of you signed our on-line petition back in April, and many of you have reached out in other ways to show support.

From everyone at The Center, I offer sincerest thanks for that support. This organization might not have had a future without it.

David Baldwin is the President of the board of directors for the Foundation for the Retarded, which is the fundraising arm of The Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation.

V.O.T.E.R. meeting next week

The following was sent to me by Andy Neill:

The civic group “Volunteers Organized to Exercise Responsibility” (V.O.T.E.R.) will be holding their annual Holiday Party and Fundraiser on Friday December 28th from 8:00 – 10:30 pm at Cadillac Bar – located at 1802 Shepherd just South of I-10. Donations of $20.00 are encouraged, or Sponsorship Levels of Gold- $100; Silver – $75; or Bronze – $50 are offered for the year.

V.O.T.E.R is a non-partisan discussion group that meets to converse about political issues and policies on a regular basis. They host candidate forums as well as voter education and empowerment sessions. V.O.T.E.R. was formed in 1989 by Jeff Marshall, and they are celebrating their 18th year under his leadership. Although their meeting place is in the Heights area, the membership is comprised of numerous politically active citizens from around the Houston Metropolitan area. If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Jeff Marshall at (713) 862-3323, or email him at [email protected] RSVPs are required by close of business Thursday Dec. 27th.

Thanks, Andy!

Burka and Kennedy on Barrett’s win

Paul Burka admits that his earlier call about the HD97 runoff was wrong, and gives his reasons for why State Rep. Dan Barrett pulled off the win.

Shelton ran a bad race. He waffled about the robo-calls. He had bad campaign materials. One Republican voter told me about getting a flyer from Shelton that talked about his being an Eagle Scout and all three of his sons being Eagle Scouts — and then viciously attacked Barrett, a trial lawyer, undermining the character issue Shelton was trying to promote. Then there was his open endorsement of Tom Craddick. Why do it? Which voters were going to think to themselves, “I have to go vote for Shelton so that Tom Craddick can be speaker”? I wonder whether Craddick wanted Shelton to go public so that, expecting Shelton to win, he could make the race a referendum on himself. Be careful what you wish for.

Since Tom Craddick became speaker, the Republicans have lost a net nine seats. The Republican majority has shrunk from 26 to 8. Craddick has argued in appearances before Republican groups that if he loses the speakership, the Democrats win, but the evidence suggests that the opposite is true: Because of him, Republicans are losing their majority. You have to think that at some point Republican candidates in contested races against Democrats, or even in Republican primaries, are going to ask themselves whether Craddick is a benefit or a burden. And, for that matter, you would think that at some point Republican honchos, from Rick Perry down to the money guys and the consultants and the lobbyists, would start to worry that he could cost them their majority. If this isn’t part of the Republican conversation, it had better be.

You do have to wonder at what point the Republican money people throw Craddick under the bus. I think it’s too late and they have too much invested in him to turn their ship around. They win or die with Craddick next November. What happens after that, especially if the GOP House majority becomes a thing of the past, I have no idea. But I’m sure I’ll enjoy watching.

A better question from my perspective is at what point will the Democratic money people realize that, as a Burka commenter put it, a 60% Republican district doesn’t mean much of anything any more? How many seats could we win if we really tried to expand the map? We’ve got the issues, we’ve got the energy, we’ve got proof that we can win places we’re not supposed to win – what else do we need? It seems to me that the right lesson to draw from this race is that we have no excuse for not pouring as many resources as we can into any State Rep race that’s remotely viable. In particular, the past electoral history of any given district should not be seen as an insurmountable barrier. Any place we have a good candidate running against a Craddick stooge, we should think of it as winnable. Anything less is leaving money on the table.

By the way, be sure to read through the comments for some awesome excusemaking by Republicans for why they lost this one. My favorite is the one who claimed that the runoff’s proximity to Christmas was a barrier for them, as if it hadn’t been Governor Perry’s decision when to set the date.

Meanwhile, the Star-Telegram’s Bud Kennedy also weighs in:

Barrett won because Texas Democrats sent help.

But he also won because his opponent became the Amazing Vanishing Republican, and because suburban Republican voters pulled their own vanishing act on election day.

Fort Worth pediatrician Mark Shelton had leveraged volunteer help and Texas doctors’ money into a first-round victory over five other Republicans, making him the favorite in the runoff.

But then, the friendly Shelton began avoiding reporters’ questions, refusing interviews and responding only by e-mail.

By the final week, he seemed trapped in a campaign that was not his own.

His Austin campaign consultants, Craddick allies, sent reams of hostile mailers about illegal immigration, as if that were the sole issue.

On election day, suburban Republicans stayed home, voting by the handfuls instead of by the hundreds in Benbrook and at huge boxes such as the one at North Crowley High School.

North Crowley parents were among the big winners. Their growing district would be among those hurt most by a private-school voucher plan that Shelton supported.

The biggest loser was Craddick.

Two Republican candidates had already opposed him, and he wound up losing yet another vote in his campaign to keep his 18-year rule as the party’s House leader.

“It seemed to me that Shelton was never speaking for himself,” Barrett said. “Everything had to go through e-mail or through his handlers. It was as if everything came from Craddick.”

Not exactly. But if Shelton had been elected, he would have been pressured to vote Craddick’s way in Austin, no matter what was best for Fort Worth or Benbrook.

I’ll say it again: Any place we have a good candidate up against a Craddick toady, we should view it as a pickup opportunity. It’s as simple as that.

Filing news: Alvarado, Criss, Thompson

More campaign filings…First, soon-to-be-former Council Member Carol Alvarado will maker her filing for HD145 official tomorrow morning at 10:15 at HCDP headquarters. I’d excerpt the release, but that’s pretty much all it says.

Next up is Judge Susan Criss, who made her filing for the State Supreme Court official Monday.

Criss, a veteran district court judge and a former prosecutor, issued the following remarks following her filing:

“Republican control of our state’s highest civil court has put the average Texan’s constitional right to a trial by jury at risk. When an injured Texan is awarded damages by a trial at his/her local courthouse – and that decision is appealed – this Republican-dominated court reverses the jury’s decision about 90% of the time. This Republican-dominated court has consistently favored wealthy corporations and insurance companies, and has made life for everyday working Texans more dangerous.

“Texans deserve better. The primary purpose of my campaign is to fight to protect the constitutional rights of all of our citizens. The most important work the Texas Supreme Court does is review cases and determine whether trials were conducted fairly and according to the law. I bring a new perspective based on actual courtroom experience earned from presiding over hundreds of cases as a trial court judge and from handling thousands of cases as a trial court attorney. I have worked in the courtroom trying cases with juries for over twenty years. I have been there in the trenches and know firsthand how the jury system works.”

“Since announcing for this position in April, 2007, I have traveled across Texas, visiting over 90 Texas counties and gathering over 1600 signatures for my candidacy. The response has been overwhelming. The people want change. 2008 can be a banner year for Democrats. Our party deserves its strongest electable candidates. We need Democrats with the courage and determination to do what is right for Texas and Texans.”

Criss is running for Place 8, held by Perry appointee Phil Johnson. She will face Judge Linda Yanez in the primary.

And finally, up in Austin, Brian Thompson filed against Craddick D Dawnna Dukes. The < ahref="http://www.statesman.com/search/content/region/legislature/stories/12/19/1219txhouse46.html">Statesman reports:

In front of a boisterous crowd at an East Austin restaurant, Austin lawyer Brian Thompson kicked off his challenge Tuesday night to longtime state Rep. Dawnna Dukes.

Thompson targeted his fellow Democrat as out of step with the heavily Democratic district and too clubby with the state’s Republican leadership, particularly Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, a Midland Republican whom Dukes helped elect as that chamber’s leader.

Thompson, 27, moved from Alabama to Austin in 2002 to attend law school and last year bought his first house, in East Austin. Yet he claimed that he has more in common with East Austin than Dukes, who grew up in the neighborhood but now lives in Pflugerville.

“This is my home, and the values of East Austin are my values,” he said.

Craddick has become a lightning rod as he has fought off two challenges to his leadership post from both Republicans and Democrats who complained of his strong-arm leadership style. Dukes was one of 15 Democrats who helped Craddick win re-election in January, and she stuck by him in May, when many of Craddick’s own lieutenants tried to oust him.

In an interview Tuesday, Dukes declined to criticize or defend Craddick.

“Craddick is not running for office here,” Dukes said. “I have a strong Democratic record, and I’ve delivered for the district.”

She also declined to say whom she would support for House speaker in 2009, when Craddick is expected to face both Democratic and Republican challengers. She said she would support the leader who would be best for her constituents.

Thompson’s announcement email referenced Dan Barrett’s win in Fort Worth as evidence that being with Tom Craddick is a political loser. One wonders if Dukes and her campaign consultant are a bit more concerned about that now. Not that there’s anything she can do about it, since renouncing Craddick is apparently not in the cards and might not be believed anyway. We’ll see.

UPDATE: How’d I miss this? Craddick himself will have an opponent in November.

I have it on authority that Bill Dingus, a seven-year member of the Midland City Council who happens to be the brother of longtime TEXAS MONTHLY writer Anne Dingus (not my source), will file tomorrow to run against Tom Craddick.

Council members in Midland don’t declare a party when they run, and my source tells me that Dingus has always been an independent, in public and private, but after considering running against Craddick as a Republican — not a bad move in a heavily Republican district — he’s decided to file as a Democrat. Dingus has said before something to the effect that “the two-party system has lots of flaws, but it sure beats the one-party system.” And, indeed, part of his motivation, I’m told, is to bring the Democratic party in Midland back into existence.

I’ll make a donation to Mr. Dingus as soon as he’s got an ActBlue page up. Meanwhile, BOR has more on Brian Thompson, and a video from Michael Skelly. Check ’em out.

I’m excited about Charlie Wilson’s War

It’s a story about a Texan Democrat and a Houston socialite (if that doesn’t reel you in, I don’t know what will) from 20 or so years ago, so I’m definitely jonesing to see this movie. I just finished up a class on post-1865 Texas history, and I’m even more aware now of how powerful Texans have been and still are in the federal government. Here’s the trailer, for those who haven’t seen it:

The line “What does this rank relative to other covert wars? There’s never been anything like it,” just thrills me. I wonder what more contemporary Texas politician we could compare to Charlie Wilson? The hot tub scene in the trailer makes me think Tom Delay, but I don’t know how the rest of the story would apply.

Looking forward to 2008: Rebecca White and Meggin Baxter

(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 Rebecca White and Meggin Baxter.)

What are we looking forward to in 2008? That’s an easy one — the election of a lifetime, of course! We’ve had seven years under an administration that’s openly hostile to women and families and, quite frankly, we believe that’s more than a lifetime’s worth. It seems like voters are starting to wake up and see what can happen when you don’t value women and families. But just in case you’ve missed them – here are just some of the highlights (or lowlights depending on your perspective) from our nation’s capital over the past year: birth control prices for college students sky rocketing nationwide; veto of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program that would have insured 4-6 million currently uninsured children; nomination of Susan Orr, an anti-birth control activist, to lead family-planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services; and the administration continuing to waste taxpayers’ money funding for “abstinence-only-unless-married” sex education programs (so far over $1 billion nationwide and over $17 million in the Lone Star State). These highly expensive, but totally ineffective, programs are costing us more than taxpayer money – they’re costing us the health and safety of the nation’s youth, denying them accurate information on how to protect themselves against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. These programs are so bad even the President’s daughter, Jenna, is on record publicly opposing them.

But, we’re not discouraged. We’ve just seen some exciting polling results that confirm what we’ve been saying for a long time – a strong majority of voters are sick and tired of cynical politicians posturing on and arguing about divisive social issues. They’re sick of these ideologues who pontificate, but do nothing to address real problems. For example, polling shows that voters don’t see the problem as abortion – they see the problem as too many unintended pregnancies that result in too many unwanted, uncared for children. Voters understand that the best way to deal with unintended pregnancies is to prevent them in the first place by providing common-sense, preventive measures like comprehensive sex education and increased access to family planning services, not by placing additional restrictions on abortion. Basically, polls show that voters are more interested in putting prevention first and political rhetoric last.

In 2008, we’ll have the chance to take that message to our clients, to our supporters, and to the voting booth and that’s just what we plan to do. We’re looking forward to registering 5,000 new voters in our health centers and on college campuses across southeast Texas. We’re looking forward to making sure our voters turn out like never before to elect pragmatic politicians who understand the value of prevention and coming together to solve real problems that affect real people. Election 2008 is truly the election of a lifetime and we plan to show up and make a difference! Happy New Year! Happy Better Year! Happy 2008!

Rebecca White is the Political Director for Planned Parenthood of Houston & Southeast Texas Action Fund. Meggin Baxter is the Public Affairs Field Manager for Planned Parenthood of Houston & Southeast Texas.)

Billboard ordinance gets put off till next year

Looks like that proposed new billboard ordinance is a bit more controversial than it first appeared.

The battle of the billboards, slated to erupt Wednesday at City Council, probably will be pushed off until early next year.

A growing outcry from beautification groups led to a parley on Friday between billboard opponents and Mayor Bill White. The administration will ask for the delay until Jan. 9, according to agenda director Marty Stein.

The city wanted a quick legal settlement with Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. that would speed up the dismantling of smaller billboards, while allowing the company to move some larger ones to new spots. The city’s 23 scenic districts would be off limits.

Critics pounced on the deal, saying the “relocation provision” for qualifying larger billboards is an unfair giveaway to the billboard industry, and a step backward. As part of the agreement, Clear Channel could “relocate” the permit for a billboard, but build a new billboard from scratch on the new site. New billboard construction has been forbidden in Houston since 1980.

[…]

Under the deal, the company would voluntarily remove 881 billboards, a two-thirds reduction in the category of small- and medium-size billboards. Some of those billboards were not slated to come down until 2013, and others might never have come down, since they are located on federal highways and are beyond the city’s legal reach.

“We want more signs down, and quicker,” City Attorney Arturo Michel said.

Critics don’t see it that way.

“A relocation of an existing billboard is a new billboard for the residents that have to look at it. That’s a serious concern for me,” Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck said.

“A relocation means they can take an old billboard down in a marginal location or a strange location, and relocate it anywhere, at will, except scenic districts,” said shopping center developer Ed Wulfe, a member of beautification group Scenic Houston.

Wulfe said he was concerned about wooden billboards being rebuilt in new spots as steel structures with longer life expectancies.

And according to an email that I got yesterday, you can add City Controller Annise Parker to the ordinance’s opponents:

City Controller Annise Parker urges City Council to prohibit relocated billboards in any new billboard agreement.

“While the agreement was drafted with the best of intentions, Houston citizens overwhelmingly desire and deserve far fewer billboards,” she said. “We can’t allow more than 400 small and medium-sized billboards to be relocated — possibly twice — and remain up for the next 20 years. ”

City Council is considering an agreement hammered out between Clear Channel Outdoor, one of the largest outdoor advertising firms, and city representatives which reduces the total number of billboards but allows 466 small and medium-sized billboards to be relocated.

The new agreement would amend the current billboard ordinance passed in 1980 that requires all billboards not protected by federal law to come down by 2013.

That ordinance has reduced the city’s 11,000+ billboard faces to about 4,500. Various ordinance provisions have been in litigation since it passed nearly 30 years ago. The city’s recent legal victory prompted a new look at the ordinance. Whatever City Council passes, billboards along federal highways and other federal corridors, such as Main and Westheimer, are protected by federal law. The state has also said it would not challenge billboards along state roads.

As I wrote before, it comes down to whether or not you think the faster deadline for removals outweighs the fact that fewer billboards will ultimately come down. I lean towards a Yes on that, pending whatever the details are in the deal, but it’s a close call. It’s fine by me that this has gotten some pushback from high profile folks, as I think the issue could stand a little high-profile debate. We’ll see what happens.

Barrett Wins! Republican Leadership Rejected

In an indictment of Craddick’s leadership, House District 97 was won today by Democrat Dan Barrett, in the special election to fill an unexpired term that opened up when Republican Anna Mowery resigned in August.

Final:

Barrett 52.2%, 5365 votes
Shelton 47.8%, 4913 votes

Barrett won the early vote 55-45%.

Barrett was clear all along that he was running against the corrupt Republican leadership in the House – Craddick and his lieutenants.

Fort Worth voters clearly think it’s time for a change. Where will the next five come from?

If Fort Worth voters have this much good sense, John Cornyn might want to look over his shoulder.

Congrats to Dan Barrett and everyone on the ground who made this happen!

UPDATE: Here’s the Star-Telegram story. One other portent from this race:

Shelton rarely spoke about health care as he campaigned, but relentlessly focused on illegal immigration. Shelton repeatedly said that was the issue Republican voters in the district were most interested in.

Sweet. Y’all keep running on that, Republicans. We’ll keep winning.

UPDATE: For the ultimate schdenfreudistic experience, read this DMN overview of the race from Sunday.

The west Tarrant County district has become a proving ground for House Speaker Tom Craddick. It hosts the first election since the divisive legislative session ended in May and, therefore, has become a bellwether for what’s to come next year.

The race pitting Democrat Dan Barrett against Republican Mark Shelton has been replete with subversive political tricks, lots of cash and surprising outcomes.

The fact that Mr. Craddick was a specter in the race – appearing at fundraisers, asking candidates to sign pledge cards and keeping a close eye on the election through operatives in Fort Worth – speaks volumes about what the Midland Republican has at stake in the runoff.

[…]

The special election was rife with intrigue early on, culminating with an Election Day attack on GOP candidate Bob Leonard in the Nov. 6 balloting to whittle seven candidates down to two.

Local operatives were advising the speaker and other observers that Mr. Leonard, who refused to commit to Mr. Craddick, was the presumed front-runner and that the perceived “Craddick guy,” Craig Goldman, was falling behind.

That morning, mysterious “robo-calls” went out to voters telling them to vote against Mr. Leonard. Suddenly, the guy who was on no one’s radar – Mr. Shelton – stunned pundits and operatives and grabbed a runoff spot.

Now the heir apparent in the longtime GOP district, Mr. Shelton formalized his support of Mr. Craddick by signing a pledge card and became the new darling of the Republican leadership – after battling virtually alone to get to the runoff, with no organized fundraisers and no major endorsements outside the medical community.

The party is hosting phone banks, and money-raising has picked up, his coffers landing big contributions from the likes of homebuilder Bob Perry in Houston and AT&T, longtime allies of the speaker.

Mr. Craddick himself recently appeared at a Shelton fundraiser in Austin.

“Now it’s no longer just me,” Mr. Shelton said. “The Republicans in the Texas House and Senate, they’re all behind me. We have help and support behind me that I never had before.”

Observers say the speaker’s involvement in the race proves that he’s not taking any chances- and that a mere win won’t be good enough. He needs a commanding victory by his candidate to reinforce confidence in his power.

If this were any sweeter, I’d need to take an insulin shot.

Filing news: Michael Skelly in CD07

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been waiting on an announcement in CD07. Today is the day for that announcement.

Wind-energy executive Michael Skelly today unveiled his Democratic candidacy against U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, and indicated he will pour a significant chunk of his money into the race for the conservative 7th District.

Skelly, of West University Place, is chief development officer for Horizon Wind, which investor Michael Zilkha of Houston and his father, Selim, bought about seven years ago for $6 million. This year a Portuguese utility company bought the firm for about $2.2 billion.

Skelly, brought to the United States as a child after being born to Irish parents in England, would not discuss how much money he will put into his campaign. Candidates can spend an unlimited amount on their own behalf, and in past Houston-area campaigns some of have laid out more than $3 million to get elected.

Funding aside, Skelly, 46, said the district deserves to be represented by a newcomer with business experience in the crucial realm of energy instead of what he called a career politician interested in fighting partisan battles.

Culberson, he said, has “never met a problem he couldn’t make worse.” Skelly said the congressman has failed to work with local government officials to help solve mass transit problems, for example.

Skelly will make for an interesting candidate in this district. He’s a businessman with a background in energy, and should be able to run as a technocrat, which I think will be appealing to the mostly well-educated constituency in CD07. Being well-funded won’t hurt, either, though of course one could have said the same thing about Peter Wareing in 2000. I don’t think it’ll be too hard to be a better candidate than Wareing was, however.

At this time, I don’t know what Jim Henley’s status is. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Henley and what he accomplished in 2006. He ran an efficient, issues-oriented grassroots campaign last year, and was a top Democratic performer in CD07. What I’m looking for this year is for someone to build on what Henley accomplished. That could be Henley, that could be Skelly, and that could be someone else, but that’s what I’m looking for. We’ll see how it plays out.

I’ve got Skelly’s press release beneath the fold. Expect to hear a lot more about him in the coming weeks.

(more…)

Looking forward to 2008: Christof Spieler

(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 Christof Spieler.)

In the world of transportation, 2008 will be familiar to anyone who experienced 2007. There will be light rail controversies, real or imagined. The Katy Freeway will still be under construction. The Heights and the Near North Side will continue to fight TxDOT on I-45. METRO will roll out the Q Card – again. And lots of people will think that they know a better way to operate Downtown traffic lights.

But the most important moment in Houston transportation in 2008 will likely be at the ballot box. And of all the races that matter – the President, the Senate and the House, the state legislature – perhaps the most important for our location transportation picture will be the county judge.

The county doesn’t get a lot of attention around here. But it’s a huge player. For every $3 a Houston resident sends to the city, they send $2 to the county (2006 tax rates: 0.645 city, 0.40239 county). That money buys a lot. The county’s yearly transportation budget – the Toll Road Authority, public infrastructure, and commissioners’ road spending – is somewhere around $800 million. The city’s budget is only $70 million; METRO’s current round of light rail expansion averages out to $150 million a year; even TxDOT, at around $800 million a year in the Houston region, doesn’t spend more than the county.

Yet the county doesn’t get nearly the public attention that the city, METRO, or the state do. Why?

The first reason is that the county’s elected officials essentially hold their jobs for life. Each of the four county commissioners (who, along with the County Judge, form the county’s governing body) represents over 950,000 people. That’s more people than live in Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, Delaware, or Montana, so 12 U.S. senators – along with every member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Texas Legislature – represent fewer people than a Harris County commissioner. That means it’s very hard to vote a commissioner out of office: unlike a Houston district council member, a commissioner can afford to alienate a civic club or two.

The second reason is that the county commissioners run their own personal fiefdoms. 20% of the county’s budget goes directly to the commissioners, for them to spend more or less as they please. Each commissioner has their own road department and their own parks department. Even beyond that part of the budget, the commissioners tend to determine what happens in their districts. Thus, there are no public debates for the media to cover.

The third – and perhaps the most important – reason is that the people who lose most under the county’s regime are those who pay the least attention. Over half the county’s population is within the city of Houston, and since the county is funded by property taxes, the share of the county’s tax revenues that come from city residents is greater than that. Yet the city doesn’t get half the county’s spending. Some county functions – like the courts and the jail – do in fact benefit everyone in the county. But others don’t. The Harris County sheriff’s department conducts neighborhood patrols, funded by those taxes. But they patrol only outside city limits. Harris County spends $26 million a year on libraries – but none of those are in the city. City residents pay city taxes to fund police, libraries, and parks while their county taxes are going to fund police, library, and parks for others who do not pay city taxes. But when Houston residents complain about high taxes and inadequate services, they tend to complain to the city, not the county.

Back to transportation: the county’s transportation funding, like its parks and its libraries, is spent mostly outside of city limits. It also goes in support of specific agendas. Commissioner Steve Radack, for example, believes that the main purpose of road funding is to promote suburban development:

Without an infusion of bond money, Radack said he may delay building or widening major thoroughfares that would provide access to pasture land where subdivisions could be built, creating more taxpayers to pay for county services, Radack said.

“The more people you have in Harris County paying taxes lessens the burden on those already here,” he said.

To put it another way, in Precinct Three, road money is going not to help the taxpayers who live there already get around, but rather to benefit those who haven’t moved here yet. The county could be spending significant money on transit, sidewalks, livable centers, or dealing with congestion on urban arterials like Westheimer, but it’s not, and those priorities are helping determine how Houston grows. Anytime we spend transportation money, we are engaging in urban planning. The county, as one of the biggest transportation agencies in the area, does a lot of planning. And thus who we elect to county government does a lot to shape our city and our region.

In 2008, two county commissioners – Radack and El Franco Lee – will be up for re-election. It’s not clear whether either will be seriously challenged: there is a perennial candidate who has filed in Precinct 3, but that’s it so far, and the filing deadline is two weeks away. We will also see the most contested county judge race in a long time. Ed Emmett, who was appointed as the county’s chief executive when Robert Eckels quit almost immediately after being re-elected, will face Charles Bacarisse in the Republican primary. The two represent the two wings of the party: Emmett is low key, pro-growth, and pro-business. Bacarisse, by contrast, is ideological and confrontational: he’s campaigning on ending illegal immigration, fighting METRO, and cutting government. Whoever comes out of that primary will face David Mincberg, who hopes to take advantage of changing demographics to retake the county for the Democrats, which might (or might not) mean better cooperation between the city and the county.

Whoever wins these county races will have an extraordinary budget – and thus an extraordinary amount of power – to shape how Houston grows. The fact that the county does not get the attention that the city, METRO, or even TxDOT do simply means that power can be exercised quietly, and that the policies that guide its spending go undebated. That will change only when the taxpayers and voters start asking more questions and demanding better. Will 2008 be the year that happens?

Christof Spieler is an engineer with Matrix Structural, and is on the board of the Citizens Transportation Coalition. He blogs about (mostly) transportation issues at Intermodality.)

A House Pick-Up On Tuesday?

December 18th is election day in Tarrant County in the runoff election to select a new member to the Texas Legislature. Democrat Dan Barrett got 31.5% of the vote in the recent special election against five Republicans. He faces Republican Mark Shelton in the runoff.

This special election became necessary when Anna Mowery, a Republican, retired in August from the Legislature after serving 19 years.

The Fort Worth Star -Telegram endorsed Barrett, saying:

Democrat Dan Barrett has a ready answer for people who contend that the controversies involving Speaker Tom Craddick’s heavy hand in the Texas House don’t matter to the voters in District 97.

“Maybe only the most inside of political wonks know his name,” said Barrett, who is facing Republican Mark Shelton in the Dec. 18 runoff, “but they are upset by a style of leadership that allows Craddick and the people he works with to exercise absolute control by fair means or foul.”

Craddick’s “politics of fear and intimidation” came to a startling climax in the last session, Barrett said, when the speaker declared himself the ultimate authority in the House, but this has been an issue ever since the Midland representative took the speaker’s chair.

“That is so contrary to the very principle of democracy,” Barrett said. Even if people aren’t well-informed about the particulars of government, they still care what happens in Austin. “They want to make sure that things are going OK so they don’t have to watch every single move. That’s why they elect representatives.”

Barrett is counting that the concerns for fair government will propel him to victory Dec. 18, given that his opponent, a pediatrician at Cook Children’s Medical Center, is a Craddick backer.

Barrett pulled in 31.5 percent, or 5,575 votes, in the Nov. 6 special election. Shelton — one of five Republicans in the race — came in second with 22.8 percent, or 4,047 votes.

Early voting for the Dec. 18 runoff election begins Monday.

Barrett is “absolutely against” school vouchers, supports a local-option sales tax for rail transit projects, believes that state lawmakers’ votes should be on the record “from start to finish,” and will work for comprehensive measures to bring North Texas into compliance with Environmental Protection Agency clean-air standards.

To paraphrase Barrett from a League of Women Voters forum, District 97 voters who think things are hunky-dory in Austin should vote for Shelton.

Unfortunately, the last legislative session was far from hunky or dory. Although Barrett is a realist in admitting that he alone, as a freshman legislator, can’t change the status quo, he just might make a difference as part of a growing body of lawmakers who represent a growing number of Texans who are dissatisfied with House leadership.

The Star-Telegram recommends Dan Barrett in the Dec. 18 runoff for Texas House District 97.

3352 votes were cast during early voting for the runoff election.

Follow Tuesday’s election night results at the Tarrant County Elections site.

Gulf “Dead Zone” grows with corn prices

The best thing about this problem is that there’s a pretty clear solution, so dealing with it is hopefully just a matter of implementation:

Because of rising demand for ethanol, American farmers are growing more corn than at any time since the Depression. And sea life in the Gulf of Mexico is paying the price.

The nation’s corn crop is fertilized with millions of pounds of nitrogen-based fertilizer. And when that nitrogen runs off fields in Corn Belt states, it makes its way to the Mississippi River and eventually pours into the Gulf, where it contributes to a growing “dead zone” — a 7,900-square-mile patch so depleted of oxygen that fish, crabs and shrimp suffocate.

The dead zone was discovered in 1985 and has grown fairly steadily since then, forcing fishermen to venture farther and farther out to sea to find their catch. For decades, fertilizer has been considered the prime cause of the lifeless spot.

With demand for corn booming, some researchers fear the dead zone will expand rapidly, with devastating consequences.

“We might be coming close to a tipping point,” said Matt Rota, director of the water resources program for the New Orleans-based Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental group. “The ecosystem might change or collapse as opposed to being just impacted.”

Environmentalists had hoped to cut nitrogen runoff by encouraging farmers to apply less fertilizer and establish buffers along waterways. But the demand for the corn-based fuel additive ethanol has driven up the price for the crop, which is selling for about $4 per bushel, up from a little more than $2 in 2002.

I learned more about the Dead Zone (with fun graphics!) here, and like I said, the best thing about it is how easy it would be to stop this process. Unfortunately, we’re hearing things like this:

“I think you have to try to be a good steward of the land,” said Jerry Peckumn, who farms corn and soybeans on about 2,000 acres he owns or leases near the Iowa community of Jefferson. “But on the other hand, you can’t ignore the price of corn.”

I’d love to see lawmakers take the initiative and work to regulate when and how fertilizers are used and to create buffer zones to keep the dangerous runoff out of the Gulf, like the article suggests. It would be ridiculous to let this problem get out of hand. I think I might have a letter or two to write to my representatives.

Filing news: Mincberg for County Judge

I know I’m on sabbatical, but I got this press release about David Mincberg‘s official filing for Harris County Judge in the mail today.

The public has lost confidence in Harris County’s leadership, which is out of touch, indebted to big donors who “pay to play” for County contracts, and raises taxes via appraisals while pretending to cut tax rates. There is a no focus on the critical issues of growth, jobs, and quality of life. That is why today I filed to run for Harris County Judge, the chief executive officer of the County.

I will campaign on competence, not conservatism or liberalism. I am pro-business, pro-growth and pro-quality of life. I founded and ran one of the largest real estate companies in Texas. As a businessman, I understand budgeting, payrolls and business risks. The County Judge needs to know how to make a budget, prioritize, work with people on complex transactions, and improve the world around him.

Harris County is an enterprise with a budget of more than $1.3 billion a year, much of it spent mysteriously. No-bid contracts for expensive professional services are awarded primarily to big donors. That approach is not a business environment that will bring new companies and new jobs to Harris County. Instead of pandering to the worst in people, I will help Harris County be the best place in the world to do business, because that is what will make our people prosper.

I want to reform the Harris County Judge’s office, making it a place where leadership, responsibility and ethics prevail. I will mount a strong, issues based, year-long campaign to win this most important post in the 2008 General Election.

The voters of Harris County are demanding a leader; someone with a vision, willing to roll up his sleeves and make a difference. I am a first generation American. I grew up in an immigrant household, with parents who could not speak English when they arrived here shortly before my birth and who labored long and hard, teaching me that looking ahead, working hard, and playing by the rules is the way to success. They were right, and I will work hard to apply those lessons to lead Harris County.

I want to restore the words “fair, honest, and hardworking” to the office of County Judge. The Judge’s office will not operate in secrecy, and if elected, I will do everything in the Judge’s power to open up government to the voters. Budgets, appointments, contracts – they will be available online to any individual who wants to participate in a government for and by the people. I will make decisions based on facts, in consultation with my fellow Commissioners, and decide solely on the basis that every vote I cast will benefit the residents of Harris County.

In filing for my candidacy for Harris County Judge, I am sending a strong message that it is time to run the County more like the major business it is. I will push for higher ethical standards, provide stronger oversight of managing future growth, and make environmental quality commonplace at the courthouse.

There is much work to do at the Courthouse and given Harris County’s mounting problems–from mobility to emergency management, from juvenile justice to health care–there is no time to waste! We can learn from the past, and I am excited about moving Harris County forward. I invite every resident of Harris County to join me in this exciting endeavor.

There’s so many campaigns to look forward to next year that it’s hard to keep track of them all, but here in Harris County, this one is at the top of the list. I’ve heard David Mincberg speak, and he’s an impressive person, with a lot of ideas about how the County’s business should be conducted. Whoever his opponent will be, he’s in for a fight against Mincberg.

A Little Time With the Family

I’m going to be taking a bit of a break over the next week or so to spend some quality time with the family. I will still be publishing a Looking Forward To 2008 piece each day, and you can expect to see stuff from my excellent guest bloggers Martha, Alex, and Greg. I may yet post stuff as time allows and the spirit moves. But I need a little break, and this is a good time to take one. Have a great week, and I’ll see you after Christmas.

Looking Forward to 2008: Jay Aiyer

(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 Jay Aiyer.)

2008 will mark the beginning of a historic building boom for schools in our community. A few weeks ago, four of the largest school districts in our area passed massive bond projects to improve the physical infrastructure of local schools.

As we look forward to 2008, it’s a good time to discuss where we are in terms of education reform in general and here in Houston. What do we need to do and how do we truly improve public education if we are going to move forward? Here are a few thoughts I think we should consider. Some of them you may have heard me or others talk about before. Some may be new. I hope it helps start a conversation.

I am an unabashed advocate of smaller schools. I believe it is the best way to deliver education. The modern school needs to be smaller and more intimate to provide the kind of attention students, particularly younger ones need. That needs to be done two ways, small communities within existing schools, and the establishment of a maximum size for schools at each level: 500 elementary, 1000 middle school, 2000 High school, and align feeder patterns accordingly. Currently, there is a disproportionate distribution of children across schools within districts (particularly HISD). There are several theories as to exactly why this has occurred. Some argue depopulation of some historic communities is the real cause while others think its resource allocation that has driven people away from some neighborhood schools. Still others think negative reputations of schools build over time, and those can drive parents away from neighborhood schools. While no one knows for certain why this happens, I don’t think that really matters. The fact is it is a problem that threatens the stability of the school system. Uneven distribution of resources and more difficult management of mega-schools create a logistical nightmare and makes education delivery more difficult. Three high schools have over 3,000 students, while a few others have less than a thousand. Let’s establish a standard and end the fights. The answer isn’t to do away with district choice or magnet programs, but simply build more schools that are closer to an ideal size and enforce the size limitations. If people want to transfer out of the school–reconstitute the school and change it. Numerous studies have shown that performance improves for students in smaller environments. Smaller classes and smaller schools are simply better learning environments for students, particularly younger ones.

Speaking of reconstituting, let’s allow open public competition to reconstitute underperforming feeder patterns. One of the biggest frustrations is the tolerance of many to allow children in underperforming schools to suffer in a failing school. Let’s change that by being much more aggressive with underperforming schools and reconstitute it. Allow the 2 or 3 worst feeder patterns–to be laboratories for reform and let public and non-profit entities a chance to improve it. Focus more dollars on underperforming areas not less.

We also need to “incentivize” graduation at High School. School funding formulas are designed with a measurement system that allocates funds based on student attendance and standardized testing. Graduation and college preparedness or advancement is not enough of a factor. Make it one. By using that as a measure, schools will push for that. To avoid social promotion, continue end of course exams and national accepted tests for college preparedness like SAT and ACT to be a factor.

A few more thoughts….

Create Master teachers programs. Spend money to retain and attract high quality teachers by providing administrator level compensation for teachers. The highest paid employees at school districts should be teachers, not administrators.

Change the school day to correspond to work day. 7:45-3:10 for a school day is impractical. Parents work till at least 5 everyday and we have to change the antiquated school day to meet that reality. That time can be used to offer enrichment classes like art, music, etc and avoid latch-key issues.

Demand greater Parental involvement. The success of KIPP and YES can be directly attributed to 2 factors…longer school days, and a requirement for parental involvement. Adopt this same approach for all ISD students. Particularly at the Junior High and High School level where involvement is at its lowest.

Change ISD budget priorities to fully fund teacher salaries first and operational administrative functions second. The success of the Charter School (YES and KIPP) movement has shown that more efficient administrative functions can be achieved. Secondly, this approach provides greater transparency in what and where money is going.

Jay Aiyer served as a trustee for the Houston Community College System and is an attorney with Tindall and Foster. He has two children in HISD schools, and serves on the Regional Advocacy Council for Raise Your Hand Texas.

The streak

I can’t exactly say that I hope the New England Patriots will run the table and go on to win the Super Bowl. I mean, I’ll root for them against the greater evil of the Cowboys in the unfortunate event the two teams meet up in Arizona next February, and I admire their accomplishments so far, as how can one not? But even putting the Boston factor aside, I can’t claim to be anywhere near their bandwagon. If by some happenstance they lose focus in one of their remaining games, or somehow get upset by Jacksonville or someone in the playoffs, I’ll shed no tears for them.

Having said that, I do endorse what Jim Henley says.

Idiot sports radio personalities – and I apologize for the redundancy – constantly ring variations on The Patriots realize that the real prize isn’t going undefeated, it’s winning the Super Bowl. Nonsense. Somebody wins the Super Bowl every year. The NFL has had 41 of the things and they don’t look like they’re going to stop staging them any time soon. There are plenty of Super Bowl champions. There’s only one post-merger, undefeated champion. Why pass up a chance to make history?

What I suspect and hope is that the Patriot organization thinks the same way. The core members – Kraft; Belichick; Brady; Vrabel et al – have already won a bunch of Super Bowls. They haven’t matched the most annoying achievement in modern NFL history. (In fact, by going 19-0 they’d exceed it.) Don Shula ran his mouth worse than Steeler safety Anthony Smith – you have to figure a vindictive bastard like Belichick will want to rub his nose in it.

Someone pointed out to me the huge risk: If the Patriots go 16-0 and don’t win the championship, people will consider it a great flop. Pundits will second-guess the decision to go for the streak instead of “doing the sensible thing” (like kicking on fourth down?) and resting key players for the playoffs.

I think they’ll like that part best. Get the adrenaline flowing. Introduce some risk into the equation. If the Pats go 14-2 or 15-1 and lose to a 13-3 or 14-2 Colts team in the playoffs, or get beaten in the Super Bowl by Dallas or Green Bay, well, they had a good year but lost. If they go 16-0 and one of those same things happen, observers will paint it as one of the monumental collapses in sports. Tell me these guys aren’t up for that. Tell me these guys don’t need that.

So I have faith that New England won’t pull weenie moves down the stretch like the Colts did a couple times. Unlike the Colts before last year, the Pats don’t have anything else to prove anyway. And if they do bag the last game or two, I hope they get run out in their first playoff game. Spanked like babies. Who dares wins, dudes.

Yep. About the only counterargument I can come up with is that the Pats need another Super Bowl to ensure that they’re included in the Greatest Teams Of All Time debate – you know, the 60s Packers, the 70s Steelers, the 80s Niners, all those teams that won multiple times, and so forth. Of course, by going 19-0 they’d not only be sure of their inclusion in that discussion, they’d be sure of winning it, too. How can you argue against them if they pull it off?

The other thing to mention is the vapidity of the “monumental collapse” meme in the event a 16-0 Patriots team fails to win the Super Bowl. Sportswriters love “character”, and rightly or wrongly, the Patriots’ “character” is open to question by the nattering classes due to the signal-stealing kerfuffle and the team’s penchant for running up the score and generally not doing the things teams are “supposed” to do. They’ll have a field day with a Pats’ loss – it’ll make the gossip rags’ coverage of Britney Spears look like a church bulletin. The simple but uncomfortable (for them) fact is that playoffs and tournaments are always little more than a crapshoot. Being the best team is never a guarantee. Falling short may be a huge disappointment, and may make an otherwise magical season feel like a failure, but it’s not indicative of anything other than one day’s result. Which isn’t to say I won’t enjoy some of the hyenafest that will surely follow a Patriot flameout – I think Bill Belichick is a jerk, too – but I will feel vaguely dirty about it. Such is life.

The urge to conserve

The urge to conserve goes mainstream. Headlines like that are weird to me, because it’s always seemed mainstream to me.

A growing acceptance of human-induced climate change and the link between energy and national security has pushed conservation into the mainstream, industry consultant Joseph Stanislaw says, giving consumers more power than ever before.

In a paper to be released during the Deloitte Oil & Gas Conference in Houston today, Stanislaw says energy consumption has become a political issue because of greater awareness of its effect “on our wallets, on foreign policy, the environment and climate change.”

In turn, that is changing how governments and companies are answering the world’s growing demand for energy. It’s no longer a matter of just finding more supplies but also finding ways to use less.

“Conservation isn’t sacrifice, it’s opportunity,” said Stanislaw, a well-known economist and co-founder of Cambridge Energy Research Associates. “The amount of investment that will be made in the coming decades in these areas will be enormous.”

There will still be a need for huge supplies of oil and natural gas for decades to come, he said, but the breakthrough in perception means long-term changes.

Consumers “are, in effect, on the frontier of discovering new energy reserves — since energy not used is arguably the best, cheapest and least environmentally damaging source of supply,” he said.

I remember, as a kid in New York in the 70s, seeing a barrage of TV ads (usually featuring a member of the Yankees broadcasting team, like Phil Rizzuto) by Con Edison – the utility company, mind you – urging people to conserve energy. New York was forever suffering blackouts back then, especially in the summer, and the only preventative measure was using less. Then there was the OPEC price shocks of 1973-74 and the resulting shortages, for which I remember waiting on gas lines, something which we got to experience again in 1979. Again, the most viable option was to use less. As such, the idea of conservation has been, for me, a lifelong concept. Maybe I’m the odd one in that regard, I don’t know. But if it really is just becoming “mainstream” now, all I can say is no wonder we are where we are.

The Stupid Filter

From the Ideas Whose Time Have Come department:

A team of American scientists are developing the “StupidFilter” – an open-source filter software that will be able to detect “rampant stupidity” of web-content in written English. Similarly to the way spam recognizing software detects suspicious e-mails, the “StupidFilter” will look for pre-fed words or sign combinations that characterize stupidity, assigning particular tokens with different weights based on how often they occur in hand-picked examples of idiotic comments. The developers are using weighted Bayesian analysis along with some rules-based processing, similar to spam detection engines, in order to efficiently distinguish unacceptable messages among the submitted texts.

Their website is here, and no, this is not a joke. It is, however, just about the form of the content, and not the meaning of it. As the FAQ says, it’s entirely blind to irony. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

Aren’t you just trying to eliminate comments and discourse that you consider to be stupid?

As much as that might be nice, no. The StupidFilter does not understand, in a meaningful sense, the text that it parses, and our graders select comments that are formally stupid — that is, their diction, not their content, marks them as stupid. It is not our intent to eliminate debate or disagreement, but rather to programmatically enforce a certain quality of expression. Put another way: The StupidFilter will cheerfully approve an eloquent, properly-capitalized defense of mandatory, state-subsidized rocket-launcher ownership for all schoolchildren.

So you’ll still have to deal with that kind of stupidity on your own, though I daresay there’s a decent correlation between the type of content this thing will catch and actual pain-inducing stupidity. In other words, it still represents progress, and I intend to hunt down a Movable Type plugin for this when it’s ready. Thanks to John for the link.

Abbott rules for Craddick

You may recall that Attorney General Greg Abbott had been asked for an opinion on the matter of procedures for removing the Speaker of the House. Well, late last night, Abbott delivered it.

The Texas Constitution protects House Speaker Tom Craddick from moves by foes to “vacate the chair” and kick him out of his leadership position before his term is up, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said Friday.

They can still move to expel him from his legislative office as Midland’s state representative with a two-thirds vote, or the House and Senate could impeach him, according to the opinion issued late Friday.

But only the Senate has the power to decide whether impeachment of the speaker would mean his removal – either from his leadership position or from office. The impeachment trial would be by the Senate.

Mr. Abbott declined to address questions over whether the speaker has “absolute authority,” as Mr. Craddick claimed, to recognize or decline to recognize any member for any reason – on a vote to remove him from his leadership position, or on any other issue. The attorney general said it was not in his authority to address House rules matters.

[…]

In a strongly worded statement, Reps. Jim Keffer and Byron Cook, both Republicans who requested the opinion in June, slammed the opinion and said it “only reaffirms the adage: ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ ”

“We strongly disagree with the unprecedented contention that the office of Speaker is a statewide officer. Furthermore, it is unprecedented to contend that the House Speaker is subject to removal by a vote of the Texas Senate,” the statement said. “It now appears that the integrity of Texas Government is still at a critical crossroads. Enough is enough. The people of Texas need to let their local representatives know that they’ve had enough of Tom Craddick’s one-man dictatorship.”

Yes, according to our Attorney General, it takes the participation of the Senate to remove a Speaker of the House. Utterly ridiculous, yet completely typical of the Rick Perry/Tom Craddick school of governance. BOR has more, and I’m sure many others will follow.

Comets to move to Reliant Arena

I don’t quite understand this.

The Comets will leave Toyota Center and play their 2008 home games at the smaller but cozy Reliant Arena.

Comets owner Hilton Koch signed a contract with Reliant earlier this week.

“We are very excited that Reliant Arena will be the new home for the (Comets),” Koch said. “As an organization, our goal is to provide Comets fans with a phenomenal in-arena experience while at the same time maximizing the team’s long-term growth potential.

“Reliant Arena’s smaller venue (capacity 5,800) will be a great setting for our boisterous fans and will help create a powerful home-court advantage.”

I should first note that the Toyota Center is more convenient for me. Not that big a deal, but still. If they’d asked me, I’d have told them to stay put.

What puzzles me about this is the rather small capacity of Reliant Arena. Googling around a bit, I found these average attendance figures (PDF) for WNBA teams. It listed the Comets as drawing 8166 per game in 2007, and 7682 per game in 2006. It’s a bit hard for me to imagine why they’d want to move to a 5800-seat venue given those figures.

On the other hand, as the Houston Roundball Review wrote back in 2006, when it pegged the Comets’ attendance at 6,743 per game midway through that season, those numbers probably aren’t that accurate:

It’s widely believed a WNBA team needs to average at least 7,500 fans in order to “break even”. If that belief is correct, nine (not counting the 7495 of the LA Sparks) WNBA teams will lose money this season. That means more than half the league’s teams could be in financial trouble. If more than half the teams are having financial difficulties, then the WNBA may be experiencing similar money troubles…

I’m not going to discuss the actual “butts in the seats numbers” because I believe those attendance numbers would make the situation more dire. However, I will state this:

I don’t believe nearly 7,000 people per home game have seen the Comets play this season.

I have a hard time believing any of these cited numbers, too. There were oceans of empty seats at Toyota in the past few years, for nearly every game. So if this is true, then I can understand the move, in that it’s got to be cheaper to play in the smaller site. But it feels like a retreat, and doesn’t look like an especially positive thing for the franchise to do, since they won’t even be able to pretend they drew the kind of crowds they had done before. If I were Hilton Koch, I’d be a little worried about my investment.

Tunnel envisioning

Looks like Gonzalo Camacho and his I-45 tunnel concept have gained themselves a convert in Tory Gattis.

A few weeks back, Gonzalo Camacho sent me an intimidating 30-page white paper (PDF) on the tunnel option for expanding the I-45N corridor using some of the newest tunnel-boring technologies from Europe and elsewhere. It took me a while to get around to reading it, but in one fell swoop it converted me from skeptic to a true believer.

The essence of what makes it so compelling is that all of the money spent is for completely new capacity, since the existing surface 45 stays right where it is. Compare that to the current alternative being proposed, which, at the end of the day after $2+ billion is spent, only adds a net of 3 new lanes of capacity between downtown and Beltway 8 (from 8 + HOV to 8 + 4 managed lanes) – and that’s after 5+ years of nightmare construction (vs. disruption-free underground tunneling).

On top of that, the tunnel can also solve several problems not addressed in the current plans, by continuing through downtown to 45S, 288, and 59 – bypassing the downtown bottlenecks at the Pierce Elevated and the 59-288 junction. Talk about killing several birds with one stone.

What we’re talking about here is a congestion-priced, tolled set of express through-lanes that only have a few exits at major junctions. Local traffic stays on the surface freeway, which may evolve into a more sedate parkway over time, like Memorial or Allen Parkway (although I’m more skeptical of that ever happening – given the high demand and powerful commercial interests along that freeway).

That point about all new capacity is something I hadn’t considered, and I agree that it changes the lane-mile cost comparison when you think about it in those terms. You’d still have to deal with things like the 59/288 junction in this scenario, but since you don’t have the constraint of an un-widenable elevated freeway at that point, you can design that interchange in a way that won’t be a 24/7 bottleneck. It really does solve a lot of problems all at once.

Tory adds some suggestions and enhancements in a followup post. I’ve been skeptical of the idea that this thing is sellable to the folks who make the decisions about stuff like this, but pretty much everyone that talks to Camacho comes away liking his plan, so who knows? Maybe for once the big dream will come true.

From the “Why would you want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” department

I just have one thing to say about this article: Any time a reporter can work in a Wile E. Coyote reference to what you’re doing, that can’t be a good thing.

Jeb Corliss wants to fly — not the way the Wright brothers wanted to fly, but the way we do in our dreams. He wants to jump from a helicopter and land without using a parachute.

And his dream, strange as it sounds, is not unique. Around the globe, at least a half-dozen groups — in France, South Africa, New Zealand, Russia and the United States — are chasing this same flight of fancy. Although nobody is waving a flag, it is a quest that has evoked the spirit of nations’ pursuits of Everest and the North and South poles.

“All of this is technically possible,” said Jean Potvin, a physics professor at St. Louis University and skydiver who performs parachute research for the Army. But he acknowledged a problem: “The thing I’m not sure of is your margins in terms of safety, or likelihood to crash.”

Loic Jean-Albert of France, better known as Flying Dude in a popular YouTube video, put it more bluntly: “You might do it well one time and try another time and crash and die.”

The landing, as one might expect, poses the biggest hurdle, and each group has a different approach. Most will speak in only the vaguest terms out of fear that someone will steal their plans.

Corliss will wear nothing more than a wing suit, an invention that, aeronautically speaking, is more flying squirrel than bird or plane.

[…]

Wing suits are not new; they have captured the imagination of storytellers since man dreamed of flying. From Icarus to Wile E. Coyote, who crashed into a mesa on his attempt, the results have usually been disastrous.

But the suits’ practical use began to take hold in the early 1990s, when a modern version created by Patrick de Gayardon proved safer and led to rapid innovation.

Modern suit design features tightly woven nylon sewn between the legs and between the arms and torso, creating wings that fill with air and create lift, allowing for forward motion and aerial maneuvers while slowing descent.

As the suits have become more sophisticated, so have the pilots. The best fliers, and there are not many, can trace the horizontal contours of cliffs, ridges and mountainsides.

I’m thinking the beta testing of these things was a challenge. At least you won’t have to worry that you’ve accidentally grabbed someone’s backpack instead of your parachute, I suppose.

Filing news: Ronnie Earle retires

I was going to say it was a slow week in candidate filings until this happened.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who has led that office since 1977, told his staff today that he will not seek re-election.

He was expected to issue a statement later.

Earle, 65, will serve the one year remaining on his term, but his retirement will end an era.

“Is the district attorney’s job an elective office?” Ken Oden, a former county attorney, once quipped about his friend’s long tenure.

Earle, a Democrat, might not be done with politics.

By retiring, he would be available for a gubernatorial bid in 2010.

It would be his first statewide campaign — and a longshot at that — but it would give Earle, who has a populist streak, the opportunity to speak out on issues other than criminal justice. In court he once accused corporations of trying to buy state elections, likening them to robber barrons and facists.

I don’t see him making a statewide race – that’s the first I’d heard of that idea – but you never know.

Today’s announcement kicks off what could be a crowded race to replace Earle.

For the past two months, would-be successors have been weighing a campaign as speculation grew that the longtime prosecutor would not seek re-election.

As many as half-a-dozen Democrats are mentioned as possible candidates. Three prosecutors from within Earle’s office might make the race: Rick Reed, 52, who joined Earle’s staff after losing a 1998 race for Dallas County district attorney; Gary Cobb, 46, who’s been a prosecutor since 1990; and Mindy Montford, 37, who worked in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office before joining Earle’s staff in 1999. She is the daughter of former state Sen. John Montford.

Outside Earle’s staff are two possible candidates: Jeanne Meurer, 54, retiring this year as state district judge; and Randy Leavitt, 53, a longtime defense attorney who became the first assistant county attorney in 2004.

If no Republican candidate surfaces, the race to be the county’s next elected felony prosecutor will be a sprint. Early voting for the March 4 primaries begins Feb. 19.

Best of luck to you, Ronnie Earle, whatever you decide to do. Link via BOR.

Meanwhile, we finally had a little bit of action on the Congressional challenger front, as Brian Ruiz made formal his candidacy in CD31, and a fellow named Steve Bush jumped into CD06. That was a district for which race-tracker Benawu had heard nothing previously; with its location of a challenger, Texas Dems now appear to be on track to at least compete in half of the Republican-held seats this year. That is a big dropoff from 2006, and I’m still not sure why, but it is how it is.

I’m still waiting on an update to the status of CD07. There have been a few straws in the wind, but no clear direction yet from any of the potential Democratic contenders. This may wind up being one of those last minute filings (or, heaven forfend, non-filings).

A couple more State House primary challenges have been confirmed. The opponent to State Rep. Jessica Farrar filed yesterday. I’ve said my piece about that one, though I’m sure I’ll be saying it again. Over in Austin, the challenger to State Rep. Dawnna “Viva Las Vegas!” Dukes sent out an email this morning giving a fairly unsubtle hint about his plans:

After an outpouring of encouragement from friends, activists, and East Austin community leaders, I filed paperwork to begin exploring a potential run for State Representative in HD 46 (East Austin). In one short week our grassroots campaign has already raised more than $6500 online. Obviously, our community is appalled by the incumbent’s endorsement of Republican Speaker Tom Craddick’s failed ideology of starving public schools and denying children health care.

On Tuesday, December 18, I will make an announcement regarding my intentions for House District 46. We sincerely hope you can join us for this big event. We will be in East Austin at Vivo’s Restaurant on Manor Road at 6:30.

That’s Brian Thompson doing the announcing, and if his intentions are anything other than to file as seems apparent he will, I’ll be surprised.

Not much else to report. David Mincberg is supposedly filing today, at least according to what I’d heard last week. I haven’t heard anything further on that, however, so maybe it’s not happening today after all. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: And a second challenger for Constable May Walker in Precinct 7 has filed, one Reuben Anderson.

Texan of the Year for 2007

[Today, the Texas Progressive Alliance honors its 2007 Texan of the Year. This year, the Alliance elected to recognize a number of other Texans who have contributed to Texas politics and the Progressive cause during 2007. This week, leading up to the TOY announcement, we brought you our Texas Progressive Alliance Gold Stars. Thursday, we recognized State Sen. Mario Gallegos. Wednesday, we recognized Molly Ivins. Tuesday, we recognized Denise Davis. Monday, it was Rick & Melissa Noriega. Our Silver Stars, announced last week, may be found here.]

07TOY

The Texas Progressive Alliance is proud to announce the House Leadership team of State Rep. Jim Dunnam, State Rep. Garnet Coleman, and State Rep. Pete Gallego as our 2007 recipients of the Texan of the Year award.

There may not be another three individuals who have done more for Democrats in the state of Texas over the past four years than Rep. Jim Dunnam, Rep. Pete Gallego. Together, they have led the fight for the resurgence of the Texas Democratic Party. Every day is another story. They fought through the 2006 elections, and then they fought for the months leading up to the first day of session. They led the fight against Speaker Craddick in the final days of the session, and are now poised to add to the Democratic gains in the House as they continue their roles as Co-Chairs of the House Democratic Campaign Committee.

Their work together is imperative to the continued progress of Democrats in Texas, but it’s their individual efforts that really demonstrate how this leadership team makes the best of one another for the good of all Texans. Here is a brief highlight of what each of these leaders did over the past year:

State Rep. Jim Dunnam

We had a mere 62 members in the House in 2003. Today, there are 70, including State Rep. Kirk England, who announced his intentions to switch parties and run as a Democrat next cycle. In only 5 years, there was full frontal attack on Speaker Craddick’s ability to lead, launched by one question by the Waco Democrat: “Mr. Speaker, what is the process of removing the Speaker of the Texas House?” His mastery of the House rules is incredible to watch.

During the 80th Regular Session, Rep. Jim Dunnam led efforts to clean up the mess Governor Perry and the Republican leadership made at the Texas Youth Commission. He worked with Rep. Coleman and Rep. Gallego to lead the fight against expanding new tax cuts for the richest 10% of Texans at the expense of health care and education opportunities for Texas families. He passed numerous bills for his district, but he will forever be remembered for the efforts he made on the House floor, challenging the absolute power of Speaker Craddick.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman

Rep. Garnet Coleman is one of the most progressive members of the Texas House. Rep. Coleman filed over sixty piece of legislation, including (1) legislation end tuition deregulation, (2) legislation to overturn the ban on gay marriage, (3) legislation to prevent the construction of any new toll roads anywhere in the state of Texas. But beyond these strong policy positions, he successfully passed legislation to expand health care opportunities for former foster children and double the funding for cancer research. He continued his fight to fully restore CHIP — an effort he’s worked for ever since Speaker Craddick and his allies cut hundreds of thousands of kids off of health care since 2003.

Beyond his legislative work, Rep. Coleman is the top fundraiser for Texas Democrats, and is well-known for his non-stop efforts in supporting House Democrats across the state. He chairs the Legislative Study Group, which received a Silver Star award from the TPA for its incredible policy work.

State Rep. Pete Gallego

Rep. Pete Gallego is the chair of of the largest bipartisan legislative caucus in the Texas House– the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. He also sits on the national board of NALEO. He was a top lieutenant for Speaker Pete Laney, and his trust from that better time in the Texas House allows him to remain as one of the most trusted members in the Texas House.

His policy issues are far-reaching, and can range from helping protect our state’s natural resources to preventing those horrid voter ID bills behind the scenes. Rep. Gallego also helped temper some of the more controversial issues of the session, including immigration and security.

Rep. Gallego often makes waves quietly inside the Capitol, but his efforts help thousands of Texans from all walks of life. Together, Rep. Gallego, Rep. Dunnam, and Rep. Coleman are extremely deserving for our 2007 Texan of the Year award.