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December 14th, 2007:

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.

Car crash into the Hot Bagel Shop

Geez. I was there this morning for breakfast, maybe two hours before this happened.

A popular Montrose-area bagel shop was damaged after a car drove through the front of the business this morning, authorities said.

The incident occurred around 9:20 a.m. at the Hot Bagel Shop, 2009 South Shepherd, where a maroon Ford Taurus drove through the front window, authorities said.

No injuries were reported at this time and the cause of the crash is still under investigation.

I love the Hot Bagel Shop, and I hope this doesn’t hurt their business at all.

Clemens and Bonds

Richard Justice makes a point that, on its surface at least, is eminently sensible.

Here’s the thing. If you had one view of [Barry] Bonds, you ought to have the same view of [Roger] Clemens because they’re accused of doing the same thing.

Though Justice talks about how Clemens will remain stained by these accusations no matter what happens, it’s important to remember that all they are so far is accusations. And as Grits reminds us, accusations are often little more than that.

Texas baseball great and seven-time Cy Young award winner Roger Clemens was the biggest star and most often mentioned player named besides home-run king Barry Bonds in the “Mitchell Report.” Clemens’ lawyer said the pitcher’s name was included based on uncorroborated testimony from a “troubled” informant, who himself faced federal charges and was seeking leniency from federal prosecutors. The informant apparently is “Brian McNamee, a former undercover police officer who worked with Clemens while he was the Toronto Blue Jays strength and conditioning coach and later with the Yankees. McNamee allegedly injected “the Rocket” with steroids he said Clemens obtained from some unknown source in 1998.

Having just looked through the massive 400+ page Mitchell Report (pdf) looking to ascertain McNamee’s role, it really does seem as though his testimony is the only accusing voice against Roger Clemens. Unlike several other players named, the report provided no canceled checks or other documents linking Clemens. McNamee previously denied to the press and, at first, to investigators, that Clemens used steroids, then changed his story after he was repeatedly threatened with prison.

I saw no corroboration for McNamee’s claims accusing Clemens in the report, just his testimony. Is that enough to destroy the pitcher’s reputation, to taint a lifetime of athletic achievement? Can he now be dismissed as “just another cheat“? The allegations could be true, but repeatedly threatening a witness if he doesn’t give investigators names makes me think his uncorroborated testimony shouldn’t be enough to draw a firm conclusion. Certainly the witness has never faced cross-examination related to these claims.

Was McNamee telling the truth before prosecutors threatened him with prison, or after? One just can’t tell from the report.

I’ve written before that under Mosaic Law, no one could be accused without testimony from two or three witnesses. By that standard, the allegations against Clemens would not withstand scrutiny, and I’ll be quite surprised if it’s enough to convince an MLB arbitrator that Clemens is definitively guilty.

It is, of course, entirely possible that Clemens is guilty of the things for which he has been accused, and that corroborating evidence is on its way. All I’m saying is that what we’ve got here is the equivalent of an indictment, not a conviction. Let’s let there at least be a defense presented before we decide who to keep out of the Hall of Fame. And as Will Carroll reminds us, now would be a good time to do some real reading on this subject, since what you’re likely to see and hear in the media is going to be a lot of hot air. I know I need to.

Looking forward to 2008: Jeff Balke

(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 Jeff Balke.)

I’m not greedy. Really, I’m not. Like anyone, I’d love to have enough money to never have to worry about bills again, be adored by millions and have all the good things in life fall gently at my feet. Is that so much to ask? Seriously.

But, since those wishes will end up on the “what I didn’t get for Christmas” list I’ve been keeping since I was 10 along with the entire Star Wars action figure collection and a real arcade version of Galaga (I’m still waiting on that one, St. Nick!), I’ll try to keep it simple.

No requests for an end to the war in Iraq or peace on earth from me. I know that those things are harder to come by than naked photos of Jessica Alba and, perhaps, less desirable. Instead, I’d like to list the things that would not necessarily give me fulfillment or bring meaning to life or open the doors to enlightenment, but rather just bring a little joy and a touch of convenience to my life in 2008.

Houston Rockets Win a Playoff Series
I’m a big Rockets fan and 10 years of playoff futility is, quite frankly, enough. I don’t care if they have to bring Tom Nissalke back to coach or pull Moses Malone out of the Fonde Rec Center (I bet he’d grab more rebounds than Yao). Maybe they can blind the opponents with one of Calvin Murphy’s suits. If nothing else, make a trade and get Robert Horry back. That guy doesn’t play for a team unless they win a title.

Fewer Social Networking Sites
Ever since I earned Nerd First Class when I bought a Commodore 64 back in my youth and dialed up bulletin boards with a modem straight out of War Games, I wanted to be connected. At this point, I’m ready to disconnect. With MySpace and Facebook and Twitter and 43 Things and Flickr and all the blogs I read, never mind write (here and here), I spend more time goofing around than I ever have, yet I rarely leave my desk. That can’t be good. If the powers that be (I’m looking at you Al Gore, creator of the interweb) won’t stop pushing sites through the series of tubes we know as the internet, maybe they’ll make a neural interface like that ship that hooked into Tom Paris on that episode of Star Trek Voyager. What? Stop looking at me like that. You know Seven of Nine was hot.

More Music, Less Business
As a musician, I love playing and writing music. Few things in life give me greater pleasure. And, as much as I love the new found independence we have as the record industry slowly falls apart, I’m exhausted from all the extra crap I have to do. Personal social networking is hard enough. Try doing the same stuff plus even more for your band. I don’t want to be an accountant, promoter, booking agent, manager, designer, etc. Can’t I just be a bass player?

People Not Thinking I’m A Pervert Just Because I Have a Camera
A very close second to music when it comes to joy in my life is taking photos. I’m very fortunate to have a father who shares the affliction and it gives us a chance to compare notes and talk shop regularly. But, hey, Houstonians, I’m not some weirdo who wants to take upskirt pictures of you and your children. When I’m at the park or downtown or in the women’s dressing rooms at the Galleria (ok, bad example), I’m just trying to get innocent, family-friendly images. I can promise you that I have no interest in stealing your identity or your children. Now, if you fear that having your picture taken will steal your soul, I can’t help you with that one.

A Little Houston Snow
Not a lot. Not the kind that freezes the streets and makes everyone in town go looney bin crazy because they think the best way to avoid skidding on ice is to slam on the brakes and whip the wheel violently from side to side. Just enough to remind us of how lovely winter can be and how glad we are we don’t have to shovel it every day in the winter.

Better Historic Preservation and More Parks for My City
Who are we kidding? Houston is bought and paid for by developers. If I have to deal with a stucco monstrosity on Heights Boulevard, the least the city can do is keep the River Oaks Theater from being torn down in favor of condos and build a few more parks so we can enjoy all the clean air. Oh, did I mention stiffer air pollution restrictions?

Flying Cars
Before you start with the, “Wait, didn’t you just say…” nonsense, hear me out. How long have we been talking about “the car of the future?” They were making cartoons about flying cars back in the 1940’s. You’d think by now Ford or Toyota or freaking Yugo could come up with a practical bubble car that flies through they air like they had on the Jetsons. Am I wrong?

But, mostly what I’d like this year is health, happiness and peace for all my friends on and off the internet and inside and outside of the blogosphere. As silly as I may get, I’m a big sap who cries at every Christmas special and still believes miracles can happen (hey, if Bill Murray’s Francis Cross character in Scrooged gets it…). Happy Holidays, everyone! All the best in 2008.

Jeff Balke is a musician, photographer, and two-fisted blogger.

The successful Caucus

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus had a pretty good election season this year. Here’s the press release they sent out about it:

The Houston GLBT Caucus was victorious in 16 of the 17 races in which they endorsed in the November general election and December runoff election including the city council race for District D which encompasses the Montrose Area. Unofficial canvass reports from Harris County had Adams winning Montrose by about 800 total votes, receiving 88% of the vote in those precincts. The GLBT Caucus also endorsed Jolanda Jones, At-Large 5 and James Rodriguez, District I for Houston City Council.

GLBT President Jennifer Pool said, “The Caucus worked very hard to elect those candidates it endorsed, and it worked. Jolanda Jones and Wanda Adams each won decisively in their respective runoff races because of the extraordinary work of our volunteers coordinated by Nick Hellyar.”

Pool also emphasized, “We are not a special interest group; we are a general interest group. That is why we endorsed in the HISD, county, and state bond elections as well. Our focus is on cleaner air, better public schools, increasing public safety, and electing quality progressive candidates. We want a better Houston for our families, and that starts by electing the best candidates.”

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus (HGLBTPC), founded in 1975, is the South’s oldest GLBT civil rights organization. The HGLBTPC is member based and serves as the political arm of the Houston GLBT community. The Caucus meets the first Wednesday of every month at 7:00 p.m. The monthly meeting is held at the Havens Center, 1827 W. Alabama. For more information go to www.thecaucus.org.

The one race they did not win was in the HCC Trustee election where they endorsed Kevin Hoffman over Yolanda Navarro Flores. Other than that, they ran the table. It’s a pretty impressive achievement, especially when you consider how wide open a couple of those races were.

This Chron story took a look at one big way in which the Caucus affected the outcome of a race, the District D runoff election.

Montrose, on the map an awkward appendage to a district that covers the south side of the city, provided almost all of the margin of victory for candidate Wanda Adams in Saturday’s runoff election contest against Lawrence Allen Jr.

Adams, who lives in the Hiram Clarke neighborhood several miles to the south, had worked in the Montrose area and was backed by the Houston Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Political Caucus.

Allen never sought the endorsement of the caucus, which ran an aggressive voter turnout program in support of Adams.

The group exploited its database with contact information for more than 30,000 friendly voters throughout Harris County.

In some Montrose precincts, Adams garnered more than 85 percent of the vote. Allen’s showing was not as strong in any single precinct in the district.

Adams won with 57.2 percent of the 8,183 votes cast.

“I thank the citizens and voters of Montrose,” Adams said. “They really wanted their voice to be heard.”

[…]

Caucus president Jenifer Rene Pool said the group backed Adams and Jolanda Jones, who won a citywide council race Saturday, because they are “people who believe in equality for all and not just equality for a selected few.”

The results showed that the caucus can influence local contests “especially in a low-turnout election,” she said.

The data isn’t available online yet, but the Montrose precincts accounted for nearly all of Adams’ margin of victory. That’s what I call getting out the vote.

One interesting sidebar from that story:

The council voted in 1993 to move Montrose to D from C to balance population and because of court pressure to create more districts in which clusters of minority voters have influence.

Some gay activists, however, accused then-Councilman Vince Ryan of District C of letting Montrose go because [Annise] Parker had run against him in 1991 in hopes of galvanizing gay support in the southwest side.

Ryan denied the allegation, but added, “Maybe if they had been friendly and not run someone against me, I could have helped them prepare to run a good candidate” in future contests.

Given that Ryan will be back on the ballot in 2008 as the Democratic nominee for County Attorney, all I can say is that I hope he and the Caucus have mended their fences by now.

The CPPP explains (again!) why Phil King’s sales tax swap is a bad idea

Since State Rep. Phil King has once again raised the awful idea of massively hiking sales taxes in order to reduce property taxes, the CPPP has once again swung into action to explain why it’s so dumb (PDF) to do this.

Public education is the foundation of our democracy and the engine of our economy. Texans have a collective responsibility to ensure that public education is adequately supported. This responsibility needs to be fairly distributed among Texas families in a way that supports economic growth. Recently, some have proposed that Texas replace local school property taxes by increasing the rate of the state sales tax or expanding the sales tax to more goods and services. Such a tax swap would be a bad deal for businesses, families, and public education. 1) The swap would make Texas businesses less competitive because the higher sales tax would raise the cost of Texas goods and services. 2) Taxes on most Texas families–including middle-class families–would actually go up. Only the wealthiest families would see a tax reduction. 3) At the same time, public education would be hurt. Schools would have one source of revenue, sales, which is less stable than property. With the state paying all the bills, more decisions would be made in Austin, and the link between local taxpayers and public schools would be broken. In addition, local communities could no longer supplement the basic education provided by the state.

Texans need to ask what problem we are trying to fix? Are property taxes too high? Even if Texas eliminated school property taxes, Texas would still have to raise the same amount of tax dollars. Are we worried that some residents aren’t paying their fair share? In fact, everybody pays the property tax either as owners or as renters (with the tax reflected in the rent). Are we worried that property taxes discourage homeownership? Texas already has laws on the books to ensure that property taxes do not undermine homeownership. Are we worried that property taxes don’t corresond to our ability to pay? Generally this is not true, but for those families for which it is true, most states address the problem through a tailored tax break called a circuitbreaker. Texas could provide a circuitbreaker too. As we discuss in this paper, trading property taxes for sales taxes does not solve any real problems, but it does create some.

Read the whole thing and remember that in the end, the overall tax level won’t be reduced under this scheme, it will be redistributed. And unless you’ve got an expensive house, you will be one of the 90% or so of Texans who will be on the losing end of that redistribution. On top of all that, as Burka points out, this would be devastating to the public schools. Which, as he also notes, is the whole point of King’s plan. Link via Eye on Williamson.

Duncanville sex club lawsuit

You may recall that the city of Duncanville recently decided to git tuff on swingers. Well, the swingers are now fighting back in court.

A Duncanville swinger sued the city Wednesday, contending that a new ordinance banning sex clubs violates his privacy and due process rights.

Jim Trulock, 59, and his partner, 29-year-old Julie M. Norris, call themselves advocates for the swinging lifestyle. On weekends, they turn their home near Cedar Ridge Drive and Interstate 20 into the Cherry Pit, where guests can mingle, dance and have sex.

Last month, the Duncanville City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance deeming sex clubs in private homes a public nuisance. City officials say they were acting in response to complaints about the Cherry Pit.

“Where it crossed the line was they took a private act and made it public,” city spokeswoman Tonya Lewis has said.

[…]

The new ordinance classifies sex clubs as a public nuisance. Officials also contend that the Cherry Pit is an unlicensed business operating in a residential area, Ms. Lewis said.

The Cherry Pit’s attorney, Ed Klein, said the city is trying to regulate private acts in a private home. The ordinance is unconstitutionally vague and overly broad, according to the lawsuit, filed in Dallas County Court-at-Law No. 2.

“The ordinance as written criminalizes the behavior of a substantial portion of the population of Duncanville who seek to engage in sexual activity,” the suit says, “as well as each and every person who may be present on the premises at the time in question.”

The suit alleges that a man interested in sex with his wife could be prosecuted. And if the encounter occurred in a hotel, every guest could face criminal action, the suit says.

Mr. Klein asked for a temporary restraining order to prevent the city from enforcing the ordinance while the lawsuit proceeds. Judge King Fifer denied the request.

We’ll see if they have any better luck than Houston’s SOBs did. This blurb from the AP story makes me think they may not.

Duncanville, which proclaims itself “the perfect blend of family, community and business,” is an unlikely venue for a neighborhood swinger club. The city of 36,000, just southwest of Dallas, has about 50 places of worship and not a single registered sexually oriented business.

Other cities have wrestled with the same issue.

Phoenix, for example, prohibited live sexual performances in 1998, effectively outlawing swinger parties. An appeals court upheld the law in 2003, and Duncanville used it as a blueprint when passing a ban last month.

I’m not a lawyer, but I might start contemplating Plan B if I were the Cherry Pit folks. I’m just saying.

HHSC Employee back in the blogging saddle

I got word of this last week but didn’t get a chance to mention it – Ramblings of an HHSC Employee is being updated again by our intrepid and anonymous employee of the “food stamp” office in Texas. Just in time, too, given stories like this. Take a look and remind yourself why privatization is not now and has never been all that.