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December 11th, 2007:

TPA Gold Stars: Denise Davis

[This year, in addition to recognizing its Texan of the Year (which will come this Friday), the Texas Progressive 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 bring you our Texas Progressive Alliance Gold Stars (one each day through Thursday). Yesterday, we recognized Rick & Melissa Noriega. Our Silver Stars, announced last week, may be found here.]

Denise DavisDenise Davis. Few stories this year enthralled the politically inclined among us this year like the ongoing turmoil in the Texas House of Representatives. From the Speaker’s race at the onset of the 80th Legislative Session to Rep. Pat Haggerty’s call for members who wanted to remove House Speaker Tom Craddick to take the keys to their voting machines and follow him out of the chamber at the end of the session, this year was a watershed moment in Texas political history. While there were many, many, elected officials who deserve (and, indeed, will receive) recognition and historical remembrance for the parts they played in the pageant of chaos that was the 80th Texas Legislature, one other individual–who happens not to be an elected official–also deserves to be recognized for the role she played in the unprecedented drama. Denise Davis, the former Parliamentarian of the Texas House of Representatives was never an uncontroversial figure. Throughout her tenure–which lasted for nearly three sessions–some Democrats privately criticized Davis for some of her rulings and believed her to be an unrepentant loyalist to House Speaker Tom Craddick. That changed near midnight on May 25, 2007 when Denise Davis walked out of the Parliamentarian’s Office and into the pages of history. Around 9 p.m. that night, after House Democratic Leader Jim Dunnam attempted to get Craddick to recognize a motion to vacate the chair, Craddick walked off the dais and left the House in utter chaos, ‘adjourned’ until 11 p.m. What happened in the interim to some degree remains a blur, although one thing is clear: Parliamentarian Denise Davis (and her deputy, Chris Griesel) resigned, and House Speaker Tom Craddick appointed two enforcer-thugs to take their place. Denise Davis departed House Speaker Tom Craddick’s service that night rather than legitimize his dictator-like hold over the Texas House. It is a move that took courage, because the full weight of Craddick’s office–in attempts to keep her quiet about what happened in those last days–came down upon her and demanded she say nothing about her tenure publicly. While Davis, for her own reasons, has not spoken about what happened in those last days and hours of her tenure, one thing is sure: when the history of the 80th Legislature is written, amidst the legislators who will occupy the pages of the texts that tell this story, there will be one other person whose part will be recognized, and that person will be Denise Davis–for her courage.

When billionaires fight

You know, the current unpleasantness between the NFL and cable providers Comcast and Time Warner (which King Kaufman has aptly described as a protracted whizzing match), which has now found its way to the Texas state legislature, basically reminds me of the 2005 legislative fight between Time Warner and AT&T/Comcast over telecom deregulation, in that I can’t quite decide which loathsome group of overprivileged fat cats I despise and want to see lose the least.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on Monday urged the House Committee on Regulated Industries to force binding arbitration on Time Warner and Comcast if the two major cable companies won’t negotiate to keep certain games on expanded basic cable.

Comcast, which serves the Houston market, has placed the NFL network on a sports and entertainment tier that costs $7.95 a month. The two companies want to put the NFL on a premier sports tier in other markets as well and charge customers more each month for the package.

Because the NFL attracts more viewers than any other TV programming, Goodell told lawmakers that cable companies would be better off if they put the NFL network on expanded basic cable. The NFL wants cable companies to pay about 70 cents per viewer per month and have it on basic cable, which has a larger audience.

But the big cable companies want to charge up to $8 a month for a premium package, he said.

“We think that’s obscene. We don’t think that’s right,” Goodell told the committee, emphasizing that NFL officials prefer a negotiated outcome instead of a legislative solution.


The free market should dictate the outcome, argued Todd Baxter, vice president of the Texas Cable Association and a former GOP state representative from Austin.

“Government intervention would be inappropriate,” Baxter told lawmakers. “We can tell you that what the NFL wants is government intervention.”

But Goodell complained that the league isn’t dealing in a free market system. “We are dealing in a system where cable operators are thinking not in the best interest of the consumer, so it’s difficult to be able to do that,” the NFL commissioner said.

And Jones complained that “America’s Team,” as the Cowboys are known, has “millions of fans outside of the home market who are being kept in the dark by Big Cable.”

Yes, that’s Jerry Jones, inveighing against those evil monopolists on behalf of the common man. I’ll pause for a moment while you regain your composure.

Like I said, the whole spectacle gives me a rash. All I can say is that I’m glad to see I’m not alone in feeling this way:

Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, seemed to summarize the mood among his colleagues: “I really don’t care about the billionaires on both sides.”

Amen, brother. Let ’em fight it out mixed martial arts style. Just let me know when it’s all over.

Fewer billboards!

There will soon be fewer billboards in Houston. This is a good thing.

Clear Channel Outdoor Inc., one of the largest outdoor advertising companies in Houston soon will begin removing more than 800 of its small and mid-size billboards across the city, officials said Monday.

The agreement to remove about two-thirds of Clear Channel’s 1,347 small and medium-sized billboards from private property is expected to end two decades of litigation with the city and speed the elimination of signs that were slated to come down in 2013 anyway, company and city officials said.

City officials estimate there are about 4,000 billboards in Houston and just outside its boundaries. Removing them has been a hotly contested battled since the city adopted an ordinance to regulate them in 1980.


The agreement with Clear Channel settles a 1987 lawsuit challenging the city’s sign ordinance.

The agreement, which is effective for 20 years, is not intended to stop outdoor advertising, but to make less clutter, said Andy Icken, deputy director of the city’s Department of Public Works and Engineering.

Icken, who helped develop the agreement, said many of the signs to be removed are in residential areas.

“The city hopes to see better-placed signs,” he said, “and to avoid the visual blight that particularly litters several neighborhoods.”

The agreement calls for all of the firm’s 6-by-12-foot signs and 39 percent of its 12-by-20-foot billboards to be removed within 180 days of the date the agreement becomes effective.


The city’s 1980 ordinance requires that all but about 180 of the smaller billboards covered in the agreement be removed in 2013 anyway, said Jonathan Day, a board member of Scenic Houston, a beautification group.

The settlement, Day said, will allow Clear Channel to remove them early in exchange for the right to relocate others.

“It causes us to oppose the agreement,” he said.

Day said neighborhoods which now may have no signs, could suddenly be faced with billboards.

Icken said the agreement eliminates the small billboards quicker than the city’s sign ordinance does. It allows relocation of the remaining signs to better manage visual space without curtailing business.

“The agreement, we believe, addresses the needs of the entire community,” Icken said.

Back when I lived near Montrose and West Dallas in the mid-90s, there was a billboard just south of that corner – I forget if it was on the property of the Chevron station or right next to it, but whatever the case, it was visible to southbound traffic. One time it advertised the appearance of a pr0n star at a nearby adult bookstore – the ad, along with a picture of the performer, remained for months after the date of the scheduled appearance. I couldn’t tell you when that billboard ceased to operate, but I’ll bet the nice people living in all those shiny new Perry townhomes nearby are glad it’s not there any more. I know I would be.

As for Jonathan Day’s complaint, it would be nice to know where exactly Clear Channel is allowed to relocate those boards to. Andy Icken says “they cannot be placed in the city’s scenic districts, such as along Allen Parkway or downtown”, but it’s not clear to me what that does and does not cover. I think on balance it’s better to get 800 billboards removed now even if 180 that would have been taken down in 2013 can move elsewhere and thus live on, but I’d like to know what that means in practice before I say for sure.

Looking Forward to 2008: Barbara Radnofsky

(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 Barbara Radnofsky.)

I look forward to the day that the executive branch of the US Government is presided over by an individual who believes in the rule of law, respecting the Constitution. The November election will end an administration so filled with corruption, hypocrisy and incompetence that even short term historians recognize the Bush Administration as a low water mark.

I look forward to November 2008, when the incoming executive branch no longer justifies as “free market” a regulatory scheme providing a massive tax break for the country’s 25 richest hedge fund operators, instead of funding for education, health care and security. Then, we’ll look expectantly towards Congress to have the courage to do the right thing with our increasingly skewed tax policies and to have the courage to understand the need for a system of health care analagous to the single risk pool planned for the Veterans Administration, but strangled by the current Administration.

When we have a Chief Executive who respects military service, we’ll have a GI Bill of Rights for the 21st century.

When we have a Commander in Chief who will set a deadline and withdraw from our destabilizing occupation of Iraq, we’ll have the resources for the needs of this country.

When we have a President of the US nominating judges of judicial temperment and common sense and not slaves to disproven theories of strangulation of government and privatization, we’ll see a decline in boondoggling, incompetent privatized projects which increase costs to taxpayers and line only the pockets of greedy mercenaries and sweetheart deal holders.

When we have a leader of the free world who can handle herself in the rough and tumble world of diplomacy, abides by treaties we sign and observes the Geneva Accords, our service personnel, this nation and the world will be safer.

With the peaceful transition of power, we can work to regain the respect and leadership role once accorded the USA, its diplomats and armed forces. We’ve never lost the respect the rest of the world gives to our greatest ambassadors abroad: private US citizens. We can look forward to a healthy, educated citizenry to continue to be such ambassadors.

Barbara Radnofsky was the 2006 Democratic nominee for US Senate. She has since written two optimistic books on democratic prospects, “The Dancer’s Dead” and “Stepping Forward”. She is planning another run for statewide office in the future.

Vick gets 23 months

Michael Vick has received his sentence for the federal dogfighting charges for which he pled guilty in August.

Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison today for his role in a dogfighting conspiracy that involved gambling and killing pit bulls.

The suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback could have been sentenced up to five years by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson. Vick, who turned himself in Nov. 19 in anticipation of his sentence, was wearing a black-and-white striped prison suit.

After Vick apologized to the court and his family, Hudson told him: “You need to apologize to the millions of young people who looked up to you.”

“Yes, sir,” Vick answered.

Vick acknowledged he used “poor judgment” and added, “I’m willing to deal with the consequences and accept responsibility for my actions.”

Federal rules governing time off for good behavior could reduce Vick’s prison stay by about three months, resulting in a summer 2009 release.

We’ll defer on the question of whether or not he’ll ever set foot on an NFL playing field again – it seems highly unlikely, but stranger things have happened. Vick still has state charges to worry about, so he hasn’t even come to the end of this part of his journey. But if there is a third act for him some day, today is the day he starts working towards it. I still think he can rehabilitate his image and make something good come out of the mess he created, but let’s see where we are in 2009 first.

Wanna buy a tower?

Got a couple hundred million bucks burning a hole in your asset portfolio? If so, you can purchase a Houston architectural icon.

The owner of Williams Tower, the 65-story skyscraper that dominates the Galleria-area skyline, has put the architectural icon on the market.

In a deal that industry experts said could fetch $500 million, the offer includes the 1.5 million-square-foot office building, its 10-level parking garage, an interest in the adjacent Waterwall Park and a 2.3-acre undeveloped parcel at 3009 Post Oak Blvd.

The tower is 91 percent leased and home to such companies as Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Corp., an affiliate of the Williams Cos., Wachovia, Citicorp North America, Hines and Rowan Cos.


The glass-clad building, which many still refer to by its former name — Transco Tower — was designed by the renowned architectural team of Philip Johnson and John Burgee.

The architects modeled it on the setback Art Deco towers of the late 1920s, according to the Houston Architectural Guide.

The building is topped with a searchlight that rotates at night.

It’ll always be the Transco Tower to me, in the same way that the megachurch in the Greenway Plaza area will always be the Summit, and the airport north of the city will always be Intercontinental. If nothing else, I suppose we can all feel assured that whoever buys the Tower is unlikely to tear it down and replace it with a Barnes & Noble. Well, mostly assured, anyway.

Texas blog roundup for the week of December 10

Only 14 more blogging days till Christmas! While you ponder that, here’s this week’s Texas Progressive Alliance blog roundup for your perusal. Click on for more.