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December 7th, 2007:

Filing news: Sherrie Matula

Sherrie Matula, who gave Rep. John Davis a run for his money in HD129 last year, is back for an encore. Here’s her press release:

Sherrie Matula, long-time educator and community activist, announces today her candidacy for State Representative District 129. Matula is committed to improving the community’s economic health and vitality and will focus her efforts on: fighting for better public education; addressing environmental concerns impacting quality of life; and providing relief from the skyrocketing cost of living in Texas.

Matula’s passion for public education stems from her years as a science teacher and advocate. Having lobbied on the state and federal level for public schools, she brings an in-depth understanding of the problems facing school districts and can provide smart solutions to public school financing. “Our educational system is part of the infrastructure of the community,” states Matula. “The quality of our schools directly impacts our quality of life and economic viability. We need effective legislation to ensure adequate funding and strategic improvements. An investment in education is an investment in our future.”

From years of active community involvement, Matula knows the people of the district. She shares their concerns and she understands the complexities of the issues impacting the community. Both a leader and a doer, she has the critical thinking and analytic skills to develop and enact smart solutions.

“I am encouraged by the support I already am receiving throughout the district” says Matula. “It’s time for change. The people want a representative who will listen to them and fight for their interests. Texas voters want action, and they are interested in seeing the results that I can deliver.” Matula captured over 42% of the vote when she ran for the office in 2006, demonstrating her appeal to voters interested in seeing a change in leadership.

“Sherrie has the education and experience to bring about positive change and smart representation in government,” states Matula’s campaign manager, Martha Griffin, who was instrumental in Melissa Noreiga’s successful bid for a seat on Houston’s City Council. “Sherrie’s amazing support throughout the district demonstrates a community tired of the current government and seeking a change. Her knowledge of the issues combined with her dedication to the community makes her the smart choice for State Representative.”

A graduate of the University of Houston with a Bachelor of Science in Education and a dedicated teacher for 25 years in the Clear Creek and Pasadena school districts, Matula is a highly respected education consultant. She earned a reputation for her leadership skills and collaborative efforts while serving two terms on the Clear Creek ISD School Board. She was a Board member on the Texas State Teachers Association Board and she has worked as a citizen lobbyist for children and schools at the Texas Legislature since 1978. Active in her community for over 30 years, Matula is involved in many community and civic organizations and serves as president of the Clear Lake Symphony Society and of the Middlebrook Community Association.

Matula and her husband have lived in District 129 since 1974. The district includes a significant portion of southeast Harris County from Friendswood and Pearland to Pasadena, Seabrook and the Clear Lake area.

Matula’s been busy raising money and garnering institutional support. She’s put this district on the map for the Democrats. You’ll be hearing a lot more about her as we go.

Meanwhile, the Dems have a serious contender for HD144 with the filing of mortgage broker Joel Redmond. We know that Amber Moon, the communications director for the Texas Democratic Party and a Pasadena native, had been looking at this race, but in the end she decided to stay in Austin. I look forward to meeting Redmond and talking to him.

Finally, it looks like we’ll have a contested primary for Harris County Sheriff, as 2004 candidate Guy Robert Clark has paid his filing fee. I’m fairly confident he won’t be the candidate in November, but he’ll be on the ballot in March.

Phil King wants to raise your taxes

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to say stupid things on the campaign trail.

State Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) wants a constitutional ban on the use of property taxes to fund public schools in Texas.

“I am absolutely convinced that my constituents, and frankly, the voters across Texas would rather pay a sales tax when they purchase something than a property tax for the rest of their life,” King said speaking by phone Wednesday.

It was only two years ago that the Lege spent a regular session and two special sessions trying to do a sales tax/property tax swap. Perhaps Rep. King doesn’t remember to Legislative Budget Board analysis of that proposal, or the headlines it generated around the state. Or, perhaps he doesn’t care. All I know is that if the Republicans want to campaign on raising taxes on 90% of the state in order to reduce those of the richest 10%, I say go for it. The rest of us will be ready to campaign against that. Burka runs the numbers and demonstrates clearly why King’s proposal is completely unworkable as well as unpalatable, and Vince has more.

HPD says hotel was empty when it was imploded

Remember the Crowne Plaza implosion, and how some people thought that a video recording of it showed a person entering the building just before the big boom? Well, HPD says that didn’t happen.

The Houston Police Department opened an investigation into the possibility someone might have been inside The Crowne Plaza Hotel at 6701 South Main after receiving an amateur video apparently showing the figure of a person running across the hotel’s eighth floor just prior to its implosion on Nov. 11.

The Cherry Demolition Company immediately stopped work on the site to cooperate with HPD’s investigation, police said. Employees painstakingly removed debris while investigators and cadaver dogs searched for any signs of human remains, they said.

In the course of the investigation, HPD homicide investigators examined more than 100 photographs taken before and and during the implosion that clearly showed no one was in the building at the time, police said..

The entire site of the demolition has now been cleared and no human remains were found, police said.

At one point, cadaver dogs responded to material believed to be blood, but investigators determined the blood came from an employee injured before the demolition, they said.

Good to hear. Now we’ll see if that settles the question or if the story turns into a full-fledged urban legend.

Feds set to sue landowners over access for border fence

I’m sure this will be well received in South Texas.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is giving Texas landowners opposed to a border fence one last chance to allow access to their land before he takes court action against them, a Texas senator said today.

Sen. John Cornyn said letters from the Department of Homeland Security are expected to go out Friday. But for those who refuse access, the department would likely seek a court order to enter the property, he said.

“He assured me that negotiations would continue and his hope is the vast majority of these cases could be resolved without litigation, maybe in handful of cases litigation would be required,” he said.

Our junior Senator, showing the kind of leadership for which he is known.

Some landowners along the border have opposed government plans to build fencing to curb illegal immigration on the Texas-Mexico border.

“All that will do is fire people up more down here,” John McClung, president of the Texas Produce Association, said of the impending letters.

“Nothing makes a landowner more unhappy than the idea of condemnation of land, the idea of being forced to turn land over to government,” McClung said.

Several members of the group could lose access to the Rio Grande, which they rely on for irrigating crops, or to rich farm land that abuts the river.

Opponents have criticized the government for failing to keep them fully informed on fence plans and refusing to listen to residents’ proposals for alternatives to the fence. Others say the fence is a waste of taxpayers’ money and will hurt border economies.

[…]

Cornyn said Chertoff told him about 40 landowners have refused to provide access to their land. Of the total, 110 have not responded or can’t be located and 258 have given the government the access, a congressional official familiar with the statistics said on condition of anonymity because the Homeland Security Department had not released them.

What about the border mayors who are refusing access to city-owned land? Are they a part of those statistics?

About 127 miles of land are being considered for the fencing and about 15 miles of that is on property where the government cannot get access, the aide said.

Given how little of the total border will actually be fenced, what’s a few more holes? It won’t be any more ineffective than it already is. South Texas Chisme has more.

Strip clubs sue over surcharge

Remember the strip club fee that passed the Lege this last spring? Well, a coalition of strip clubs in the state have now filed a lawsuit to block the law from being implemented.

The suit, filed Wednesday in Travis County, alleges that lawmakers violated club operators’ constitutional right to free speech when they approved the surcharge last spring. Owners of topless bars have argued that the fee, designed to help victims of sexual assault, imposes a discriminatory tax on their businesses and unfairly links their patrons to rape.

And though officials from the Texas attorney general’s office vowed to do whatever it takes to uphold the adult entertainment fee, government insiders acknowledged quietly that they may face an uphill battle.

A similar strip club fee endorsed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2004 – one that would’ve raised money for education – never made it into law after legislators voiced concerns that it was an inappropriate and unseemly stretch.

The bill’s authors say they’re not suggesting that people who go to strip clubs or adult-video stores walk out and commit sex crimes; they’re simply seeking revenue for underfunded programs.

“Clearly we’re disappointed by the lawsuit; we were really hoping this industry would see this as an opportunity to do something positive for the communities they’re in,” said Annette Burrhus-Clay, executive director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. “We’re going to fight it because we believe in the merits of our position.”

The fee lawmakers passed this spring is expected to raise about $40 million each year, more than half of which would go toward sexual assault services. The rest would be used to provide health assistance to Texas’ poorest residents.

But in the suit, filed against Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Susan Combs, advocates for the adult entertainment industry argue the fee would amount to an unconstitutional tax on nude dancing, a form of expression protected by the First Amendment.

And they say the measure singles out strip clubs by not applying to all sexually oriented businesses. Nude modeling studios and adult video arcades aren’t affected, they say.

“Exotic nude dancing is protected speech under the First Amendment,” the lawsuit states. “It [the fee] singles out income derived from protected speech for a burden the state places on no other income.”

I am not a lawyer, so as always, take the following with a grain of salt. The free-expression argument is interesting. I’m not sure if that would come down to whether the fee represents an undue burden – my layman’s opinion is that it probably wouldn’t – or if you just can’t single out one particular form of expression for this kind of tax. The income argument seems specious to me – we’re not taxing the dancers themselves, we’re imposing a per-customer fee on the venues, which they can pay themselves, pass along to the customers, or some combination thereof. Now, a tax on lap dances, that I could see as singling out the dancers’ incomes. This feels like a stretch to me. Finally, the issue with the fee not applying to other types of SOBs, well, I suppose if you can ban smoking in bars but leave an exception for cigar bars, then I’m not sure why you couldn’t impose a fee on Treasures but not on the Adult Video Megaplex.

So, I’m a bit skeptical about the clubs’ chances in this suit. I’m also a bit perplexed by the assertion that “government insiders” are worried.

But neither did state officials appear overly optimistic about their chances of fighting the legal challenge.

“Any time you get in a courtroom, there’s a 50 percent chance you’ll win, a 50 percent chance you’ll lose,” said Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, an attorney. “If we didn’t do it right this time, that will tell us what we’ve got to do to get it right next time.”

That’s not exactly an assessment of the merits of the suit, is it? And Sen. West isn’t a defendant, so he’s not really going to be fighting this challenge anyway. Sure, anything can happen in a courtroom, but saying so doesn’t help evaluate the state’s odds of winning. Vince thinks the state will have it tough, however, so maybe I need to rethink this.

On a side note, as I mentioned in that previous link, does anyone know if the recent victories by the city of Houston over its strip clubs will affect the revenue estimate for this fee? It’s not relevant to the issue at hand, I’m just curious.

One last thing:

A lawyer for the plaintiffs – the Texas Entertainment Association, which represents more than half of the topless clubs in the state, and Karpod, Inc., which operates a club in Amarillo – declined to comment on the suit.

Amarillo has a strip club in it? I never would have guessed.