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December 19th, 2007:

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.