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December 5th, 2007:

Trautman for Tax Assessor

Here is the news regarding the candidacy for Tax Assessor that I alluded to earlier. That candidate is Diane Trautman.

[A]fter much soul searching over the Thanksgiving holidays and encouragement from my family, friends, and past supporters, I have made the decision to run for Harris County Tax Assessor/Collector in 2008 instead of making another run for the state capitol. By running for this countywide position, I believe that I can make an even bigger difference for our children, our schools, and our communities. I want to thank each of you for all the support you gave me in my last race and for standing by me in this new decision.

As you may know, I am passionate about providing a quality education in all of our public schools, and I believe that it is everyone’s responsibility to play a role in educating our children-especially our political leaders. That is why, when our current Tax Assessor/Collector publicly campaigns against our schools in the recent school bond elections, I think he needs to be challenged. Instead of an incumbent who has spent the last decade using his county office as a partisan pulpit, we need someone who will focus on getting the job done for all the citizens of Harris County.

Additionally, I think that the public has had enough of recent ethics scandals in county offices, and that they are ready for some accountability and ethical leadership in county government, which will be a primary focus of my campaign. What is more, it is outrageous that Harris County, the third most populous county in the country, has one of the lowest voter registration rates. We must do better if we are to have a truly effective government and democracy. My campaign will be about modeling ethical and appropriate officeholder behavior, building a voter registration system that is fair, inclusive and works for all Harris County citizens, and running an efficient, transparent office for county taxpayers.

Be sure to stay tuned to my Web site — www.dianetrautman.com — for updates and upcoming campaign events, and please spread the word about my campaign to make a positive difference in our Harris County leadership. In the months to come, I will need your support more than ever, and please let me know your ideas, thoughts, and suggestions about this new direction at [email protected]

Diane ran a great campaign for HD127 last year, performing well above the Democratic average in that tough district. I think she’ll make a formidable opponent for Paul Bettencourt, and I’m enthusiastic about supporting her. There will be much more on this to come soon. Now if we can get the Sheriff situation straightened out, we’ll be all set…

Filing news: Contested primaries coming

Lots more filing activity going on. Here’s a quick summary.

– Numerous District Court candidates in Harris County have made their candidacies official, including Al Bennett (61st District Court (Civil)) and Josefina Muniz Rendon (165th District Court (Civil)), who do not have primary opponents as of today; Andres C. Pereira (190th Civil District Court) and Fred Cook (215th District Court (Civil)), who do. I expect there will be a steady stream of these all the way through.

– In Travis County, we have another DA wannabe in the event Ronnie Earle calls it a career.

State District Judge Jeanne Meurer, who’s retiring from the bench after 20 years, confirmed Wednesday that she’s weighing a race if Earle retires after more than three decades in office.

“It’s a high probability,” said Meurer about her possible candidacy.

But she added that she hasn’t made a final decision because Earle hasn’t announced his intentions.

“It’s real easy to say you’ve made a decision when there isn’t a decision to make,” Meurer said. “I’m very serious about it, but I would never run against Ronnie.”

The possibility of Earle’s retirement has been speculated about for awhile, and other candidates are mentioned there. Grits has more on Judge Meurer.

Elias de la Garza is the first to jump into the open HD145 race. I don’t really know anything about him, so I’m hesitant to make any sweeping statements, but at this point I see no reason why I would not be supporting Carol Alvarado in the expected event of her entry. Nothing against Mr. de la Garza, but barring anything unusual it’s Alvarado for me.

– Checking the handy big TDP spreadsheet of filings (XLS file), I see a couple more contested primaries out there, in HD43, where a dentist named Tara Rios Ybarra would face off against Rep. Juan Escobar, and for Railroad Commissioner, where an Orientation & Mobility Specialist (as listed) named Mark Thompson would make it a three-way race with Dale Henry and Art Hall. I know nothing about either of these folks, though in the former case one always has to wonder about the possibility of Craddickian involvement.

– On the GOP side, BOR notes a challenge to 2006 Leininger acolyte Rep. Nathan Macias:

Edwards Aquifer Authority Chairman Doug Miller filed papers Monday to run in the Republican primary for District 73 in the Texas House against first-term incumbent Nathan Macias.

“Texas can accomplish great things if we work hard and work together,” Miller said. “I am willing to do that hard work. Conservatives have been let down. There is too much spending and there are too many loopholes being left open for criminals to walk through. Those are the problems I intend to focus my attention upon.”

Miller represents Comal and Guadalupe counties on the EAA board, which he has served on since it was created in 1993. He has also served as a police officer and as mayor of New Braunfels. He owns an insurance agency.

That one ought to be interesting to watch.

That’s all I’ve got for now. What are you hearing?

Houston WiFi, the next stage

So we know that EarthLink is basically abandoning the municipal WiFi market, and we know that the original deal the city had with EarthLink is more or less kaput, in spirit if not yet in legal terms. Where do we stand now? Unclear.

[The City will] use part of the $5 million penalty fee that EarthLink paid in September to finance a “digital inclusion” program intended to help students and the elderly in low-income neighborhoods access the Internet.

“One of the goals of the WiFi plan was to bridge the digital divide, and because of the city’s good contract, we have substantial money to invest in that,” Mayor Bill White said Tuesday.

EarthLink paid the $5 million penalty for missing a deadline to begin building the project earlier this year.

Under plans being drawn up by the city, $3.5 million of that penalty fee would go toward creating free, WiFi hotspots in 10 neighborhoods and helping residents there acquire equipment and training to use the Internet, said Richard Lewis, the city’s director of information technology.

Those neighborhoods have not been chosen, he said, but the first should see access nodes by March. He said he hoped corporations will come forward with money or equipment to supplement city funds.

The remaining $1.5 million will go toward other city wireless projects, including public safety, Lewis said.

EarthLink officials admitted in September they were not ready to start building the network in Houston, which was supposed to span the city’s 640 square miles.

The $5 million penalty bought the company another nine months to decide whether to continue the project.

Because the company does not face any further penalties, there is wide speculation that it will drop or alter the $50 million Houston project. White said he had doubts about whether EarthLink will follow through on the contract.

[…]

Unlike some other cities where EarthLink has wireless plans, the city of Houston has agreed to serve as the company’s anchor tenant, paying $2.5 million over five years to use the network.

But since the subscriber model has yet to prove it is financially viable, even Houston’s anchor tenancy may not be enough for EarthLink to make money here.

Let’s assume that EarthLink ultimately decides to bail on Houston. What are the city’s options at that point?

1. Find another provider, perhaps a local consortium like the one that lost the original bid to EarthLink. As I noted before, there’s still a lot of political support for the citywide WiFi idea. The main question here is whether there is another vendor to be found. It’s not clear yet whether the entire concept of citywide WiFi is being abandoned by the industry, or if it’s just not at a point of viability yet, but if EarthLink won’t do this, I’m not sure who will.

2. Scale it back to something smaller, cheaper, and less ambitious. Maybe just make downtown a WiFi zone, as Austin did, with some “digital inclusion” hot spots in low income neighborhoods as described here. Or just do the neighborhood hot spots. This would accomplish something, and would put some infrastructure in place in the event that a citywide extension becomes feasible again, and would likely be cheap enough to be provided by the city for free, thus making up a bit of the sting for scaling the big vision down.

3. Give up completely and reallocate all dedicated resources elsewhere, as Cory suggests. This is obviously the cheapest solution, and as with #2 still allows for the possibility of trying again if conditions become more favorable.

I’d guess #1 is the preferred option for the city. If it’s not possible, look for some form of option 2. I can’t see a complete abandonment happening, given that the amount of public money involved is fairly small and the lack of any organized opposition to the citywide WiFi initiative. What do you think?

More on the FTA’s demands to Metro

Here’s the fuller version of the story about the FTA telling Metro to resubmit paperwork for federal funding. It was front page above the fold in today’s Chron, and it sounds more alarming than it did yesterday.

An unexpected demand for additional justification for two planned Houston light rail lines raises doubts about Metro’s relationship with a federal agency it is counting on for funding, Metro President Frank Wilson said Tuesday.

A letter from Sherry Little, deputy administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, withdraws that agency’s approval of preliminary engineering studies and other elements of rail lines planned for the North and Southeast corridors.

The letter, which Wilson said arrived Friday, said Metro must do additional environmental studies, including public hearings, before it can acquire land and start construction. It said Metro’s October decision to build light rail in all five of its transit corridors, rather than bus rapid transit that could be converted to rail in four of them, requires the extra information and review.

Wilson said Metro already had provided almost all of the requested information and can quickly generate the rest. He said, however, that the letter’s content and tone suggest that the healthy working relationship the two agencies have enjoyed may be deteriorating.

“There is a very hard edge to this letter,” Wilson said. “They’re acting as if light rail transit is a whole different planet” from bus rapid transit, when “the only real difference is the vehicle.”

[…]

Metro is seeking federal funds to cover half the costs of the Southeast, North and University lines, but plans to pay for the Uptown and East End lines with local funds.

Wilson said the transit administration previously “gave us every indication that what we were talking about was great.” He suggested that something other than procedural or technical considerations may be in play.

“I don’t know what’s behind the letter,” Wilson said. “I don’t know the motivation.”

An FTA spokesman said the agency would have no comment.

Wilson said he was particularly perplexed by a sentence in Little’s letter stating that Metro must demonstrate its technical capacity to build and operate a light rail line.

“Just look out my window,” he said, nodding toward the Main Street rail line that his office overlooks. Wilson said the Main Street line, which opened in 2004, carries 45,000 riders daily, a volume it was not projected to reach until 2030.

The letter itself is here (PDF). Christof is quoted in the story saying that this is not a big deal, and has a comment on my earlier post saying the same thing, with the additional point that some of METRO’s engineering staff were expecting this. So perhaps it’s not all that alarming.

But still. One can’t help but wonder where this is coming from. And one need not look far for a possible suspect.

U.S. Reps. Gene Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, Houston Democrats who have supported Metro’s plans, said they would try to help resolve the issues cited in Little’s letter.

Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, who has been a persistent critic of Metro’s plans, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Culberson, of course, has a long history of obstruction with METRO and its attempts to get FTA funding for the 2012 plan. I don’t know if he had anything to do with this, but it’s not exactly wandering into conspiracy-theory territory to imagine the possibility that he might have. The good news is that the two lines mentioned in this letter, the North and Southeast lines, are not in Culberson’s district, so his influence (if he is attempting to wield it) would be limited. Let’s hope this turns out to be much ado about nothing.

The filings I’m waiting for

Now that filing season has begun, here are the races where I’m most anxious to see who (or if) the opposition candidate will be. In some cases, there may be a candidate out there and I’ve just not heard about him or her. I think in most of these cases, I’m not even aware of a rumored candidate. Let’s take a look:

Supreme Court, Place 1 – Someone has to run against Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, right?

Court of Criminal Appeals – If the Dems fail to field anyone here, or (sigh) get nothing but another dose of JR Molina, Grits and I are gonna be pissed.

Harris County Sheriff – Is Adrian Garcia in, or isn’t he? Far as I know, nobody knows for sure right now. I’m aware of other possibilities, some better than others, if Garcia decides not to jump in. I’d rather have Garcia, but right now I just want to know where we stand.

By the way, if you’re wondering why I didn’t list Tax Assessor here, the answer is that I am now aware of a very good candidate for this office. I am not yet at liberty to discuss this candidate, however. But we have one, so even though this person has not yet filed, I know it’s coming. Stay tuned.

Congressional District 7 – As above, I am aware of two possibilities, neither of which I can disclose yet, but I don’t know whether one will yield to the other, or if we’ll have another contested primary. I expect to hear something on this very soon.

My Eight for 08 State House seats – Ginny McDavid is running in HD138, I figure one way or another Dan Barrett will be on the ballot in HD97, and I’ve heard the faintest whisper of a rumor about HD26. Beyond that, I’m waiting. I figure most of these seats will draw contenders, it’s just a matter of whom.

Congressional District 32, State Senate District 4 – Two from Dallas County, each reasonably competitive. I have to figure that after the success of 2006, the Dallas folks will want to put up a real fight for these, but as yet I’ve heard nada.

State House Districts 134, 137, and 143 – Only three State House Dems from Harris County faced an opponent in 2006. Hubert Vo has one again, but as yet Scott Hochberg and Ana Hernandez have none. For that matter, freshman Ellen Cohen has no known opponent. Will the local GOP give them all a pass, so it can concentrate on playing defense?

State House District 145 – Both for the primary – is Carol Alvarado really in? – and for the general – will the GOP leave this open seat uncontested?

On a related note, yesterday I heard of a primary opponent against my State Rep., Jessica Farrar. I’m going to keep this one pretty simple, because as far as I’m concerned, Farrar = good, anyone running against her = bad. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this one soon, but for now, that’s all there is to it for me.

What filings are you waiting on?

Rene versus Ridgway for Justice of the Peace

We don’t get a whole lot of D-versus-R elections for Justice of the Peace around here – by my count, only three of the fourteen JP races in the past two cycles had both a Dem and a Republican in them (a fourth was GOP versus Libertarian). We’ve got at least one interesting primary election shaping up for a JP seat, and now I know there will be at least one contested general election. Peter Rene will run against Justice of the Peace Russ Ridgway in Precinct 5, Place 1. Ridgway was the JP with the Lib challenger back in 2004, winning that race easily. Precinct 5 is huge, and generally pretty Republican – of 285,955 ballots cast, Ridgway was named on 174,202, or just over 60% of them. I’d have to do some digging to figure out what State Rep and Congressional districts it intersects with – much of CD07, I’d venture to guess – but with the coordinated countywide campaign for the Democratic judicial slate, I expect there will be some effort to raise the overall Democratic performance in the area. Rene has told me that he plans to run a ground campaign, and knock on a lot of doors. So, if you live in the area, check out Peter Rene, as he’ll be on your ballot this spring and fall.

More on the TEA and Chris Comer

Following up on the earlier bloggage about the Texas Education Agency and its curious position on scientific neutrality, Bluedaze and PDiddie round up more reactions and commentary, to which I’ll add Wonkette (never a good sign for a government agency to be blogged about by Wonkette), Wired News, and the Waco Trib’s John Young:

When it comes to explaining human origins and early man, don’t forget:

The club came before fire.

Long before man figured out that lumber could be burned to illuminate and heat the cave, he knew that he could wield lumber to clobber his fellow man.

That was the case in Austin the other day in a 21st-century way.

A person whose job was illumination got clubbed.

Finally, the most interesting thing I’ve read on this topic comes from Hope, who knew TEA hatchetwoman Lizzette Reynolds from several years ago, and was surprised to hear of her role in this fiasco. Check it out.

UPDATE: The Chron jumps in as well.

Catastrophic, in a good way

The theater troupe known as Infernal Bridegroom Productions, which shut its doors several months ago due to financial strife, has been reborn under a new name.

You wouldn’t think anything “catastrophic” would prompt an eager welcome.

But when theater fans learn that Jason Nodler and Tamarie Cooper, two of Houston’s most intrepid pioneers of venturesome theater, will be back in the spring with a new company called the Catastrophic Theatre, many may be breaking out the champagne.

For more than a decade, Nodler and Cooper have been among our foremost makers of provocative theater — chiefly at Infernal Bridegroom Productions, the company they co-founded in 1993 and helped develop into Houston’s leading avant-garde theater.

When IBP ceased operations in July because of financial difficulties, it was one of the Houston cultural scene’s more disheartening turns of recent years.

Nodler said Tuesday that his new company’s programming “will be comprised exclusively of works that concern themselves with the strange condition of being a human animal living on the planet Earth — no other rules apply.”

Catastrophic Theatre will launch with a four-play festival to be produced in April-July at the University of Houston School of Theatre and Dance, Discovery Green, DiverseWorks and Stages Repertory Theatre.

Dates and titles for that series will be announced in January. The company will announce a fall 2008 season later in the year.

Good to hear. IBP was a uniquely Houston asset. I’m very happy to hear that it will live on in this form.

Marketing atheism

Looking for a special gift for that devout atheist in your life? It might be harder than you think to find something appropriate. According to Greg Beato, atheists are way behind the entrepreneurial curve.

Look for atheist perfume, and you’ll be looking for eternity. Try to find the works of Bertrand Russell packaged like the latest issue of Self or Cosmo, as the publishing company Thomas Nelson does with the Bible. (“Becoming is the complete New Testament in magazine format, but it wouldn’t be a culture ‘zine if it didn’t address men, beauty, fitness and food!”) Search for the atheist equivalent to Christian yo-yos and Christian neckties, and you will come up as empty-handed as Mother Teresa passing the plate at Christopher Hitchens’ dinner table.

To many freethinkers, the idea of atheist lip balm or atheist jelly beans may be even less appealing than Christian lip balm and Christian jelly beans. One virtue of non-belief is that not every aspect of your life has to be yoked to some clingy deity who feels totally left out if you don’t include Him in everything you do. And then there’s the logical disconnect: What does candy have to do with atheism? Why not stick with books, arguments, reason?

If today’s Christian entrepreneurs thought like that, atheists might not have to be concerned about their own current marginalization. Instead of fretting about “obscene spending bonanzas” or admitting that jelly beans are mentioned in the Bible exactly as often as Homo habilis is, Christian entrepreneurs embrace pop culture. They recognize what the consumer puritans behind efforts like Buy Nothing Day never quite grasp: that the stuff we buy, from lipstick to Star Wars figurines, helps to fashion identities, to build communities, to infuse our lives with purpose and meaning.

Amusing stuff. Check it out.