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December 20th, 2007:

Noriega makes ActBlue’s Blue Majority page

I spent all day volunteering at the Noriega campaign, and I heard this talked about, so I was excited to read it when I got home. Rick Noriega is the latest candidate added to ActBlue’s Blue Majority page. From Daily Kos:

But aside from that, Noriega is the face of a our modern Democratic Party — pluralistic and multicultural, committed to national service, and competent. There’s a reason that Republican Texas chose Noriega (a Democrat) to run the Katrina relief effort at the Houston Convention Center.

These are the races that define us as a movement. We can shy away from tough challenges, or we can meet them head on and build for a future in which the Democratic Party doesn’t just govern, but that it reflects the values all Americans hold dear — values forgotten by not just Republicans in DC, but the Democrats currently in charge of Congress. In 2006, we took out the frontrunner to the GOP presidential nomination (George Allen) as well as delivered a Democratic Senator from blood Red Montana. We kicked out the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee out of the Democratic Party.

There’s no doubt that Texas is our biggest challenge yet, but we don’t gain anything by sitting back and looking for the easy calls. We didn’t get this far by being timid, and we won’t advance by retreating into caution and tenuousness. And the Texas progressive community is working their ass for Noriega. Let’s give them moral and material support, no matter where we might live.

Awesome, awesome, awesome. I’m even more excited about this race than I was before. Bye, Cornyn.

One Man In Clear Lake Is Overseeing The Texas Ethics Commission

No, it’s not the head of the Texas Ethics Commission, it’s Clear Lake activist John Cobarruvias who has been the TEC watchdog for about a year and a half. Out of curiosity, he looked in the campaign spending habits of one officeholder. What he found was so astonishing, it caused him to look into the spending side of campaign finance reports of many other Texas legislators and state-wide officials.

Here’s the deal. The Legislature passed laws, which the TEC is supposed to enforce, that are very clear – all expenditures made by the candidate or office holder are to be transparent. Credit card expenses have to be detailed as to vendor, description and date of purchase. Reimbursements to self or staff have to be spelled out. It’s not enough to put on the report, “Dan Patrick, $5000, reimbursement.” He would have to detail what he spent that $5000 on. Not to mention, you are not supposed to use your campaign cash for personal use.

KHOU did a story at 10 pm last night on Cobarruvias’ efforts and the complete ineffectiveness and worthlessness of the Texas Ethics Commission. The story and video and up on their website.

The gist of the story is that if Cobarruvias had not taken it upon himself to look into the Ethics Commission – uncovering the several million dollars in violations over a two year period – and getting a team of activists to file complaints on the violators – all of the illegal activity would still be going on – the credit card expenditure problems, reimbursements to self and staff, and personal use of campaign cash.

You are wondering, isn’t it the Ethics Commission job to audit campaign finance reports, assess fines on violators and enforce the laws? Well, they act like they can’t audit reports. They’ll tell you it is up to someone to file a complaint before they can look into an alleged violation. But, that is just not true. This from the Government Code dealing with the TEC:

ยง 571.069. Review of Statements and Reports; Audits

(a) The commission shall review for facial compliance randomly selected statements and reports filed with the commission and may review any available documents. The commission shall return for resubmission with corrections or additional documentation a statement or report that does not, in the opinion of the commission, comply with the law requiring the statement or report.

One moment of hilarity from the KHOU story. Lee McGuire, the KHOU reporter, learned from the Ethics Commission that they had levied $700,000 in fines last year. Digging deeper, he discovered that all but $22,000 of that were fines assessed for candidates filing their reports late. Good on them, but the expectation is that officeholders and candidates are accountable for following ALL the ethics laws, not just filing on time.

The good news is that a lot of this mess has been cleared up. A review of the January 07 and July 07 campaign finance reports show that the word has gotten out that unless the laws are followed, you will have a complaint filed against you.

Someone explain to me why a state commission with a $2 million annual budget, has to count on a guy from Clear Lake to do their auditing work for them – for free?

Looking Forward to 2008: David Baldwin

(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 David Baldwin.)

What a difference a year makes!

This time last year, The Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation was keeping a low-profile, and its clients, staff, and supporters were worried about the future. Then our biggest challenge became our biggest opportunity.

The agreement we negotiated this year with the City of Houston to buy the land underlying The Center’s main campus completely changed our perspective on the future–and Houston’s perspective on The Center. We can now make plans to enhance our facilities and programs, and the tremendous exposure and support we received during our land negotiations laid the foundation for future growth.

We are already seeing results. Donations are up, and enrollment in The Center’s vocational and day activity programs has grown substantially. And some of our long-time partners have shown renewed interest in The Center. Eva Aguirre, The Center’s executive director, is working with social service organizations on ways to collaborate on staff training and to improve transportation services for Houston’s mentally and developmentally disabled citizens.

The events of 2007 set the stage for some fundamental changes we will initiate in 2008. As our new Foundation executive director Debra Collins recently observed, The Center has always adapted. Its founders had a vision for the services our clients would need, and The Center remains at the forefront of emerging trends.

With our land issue resolved, the Center’s board formed the 21st Century Committee to plot the best course for improving the lives of the people we serve. Of course, our top financial priority will be paying off the note on our land. But the committee also identified two areas of growing community need and demand: day programs and services for an aging client population.

When The Center was founded in the 1950s, life expectancy for our clients was about 35 to 40 years. Thanks to factors like improved health care, that life expectancy has almost doubled, while innovative programs like those offered at the Center have greatly improved quality of life and productivity for those we serve. Stop and think about that for a minute: The Center is now serving a population that essentially didn’t exist when it was founded. Many of the people who live in our Cullen Residence Hall moved in when it opened in 1974 and they were in their 20s and 30s. Their home now needs to be enhanced to serve their changing needs.

As life expectancy grows, some of our clients spend more years at home with family and others seek independent living options in the community. To serve the latter, the group home program we launched late this summer will expand in 2008 and beyond.

No matter where our clients choose to live, they need opportunities to grow, work, and become involved in the community. This is one reason we are seeing increased demand for our day programs, such as our Momentum Industries vocational program.

With these priorities in mind, Eva and her staff took the 21st Century Committee’s preliminary findings and are developing budgets and action plans. Our final development plan should be finished early in 2008 and will serve as a blueprint for years to come.

Those of us who manage and direct The Center’s programs are excited about the possibilities. So are our clients, especially the ones who live on our main campus. They know their home is safe, and they know it’s because Houstonians from all walks of life showed their support in 2007. In fact, 12,500 of you signed our on-line petition back in April, and many of you have reached out in other ways to show support.

From everyone at The Center, I offer sincerest thanks for that support. This organization might not have had a future without it.

David Baldwin is the President of the board of directors for the Foundation for the Retarded, which is the fundraising arm of The Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation.

V.O.T.E.R. meeting next week

The following was sent to me by Andy Neill:

The civic group “Volunteers Organized to Exercise Responsibility” (V.O.T.E.R.) will be holding their annual Holiday Party and Fundraiser on Friday December 28th from 8:00 – 10:30 pm at Cadillac Bar – located at 1802 Shepherd just South of I-10. Donations of $20.00 are encouraged, or Sponsorship Levels of Gold- $100; Silver – $75; or Bronze – $50 are offered for the year.

V.O.T.E.R is a non-partisan discussion group that meets to converse about political issues and policies on a regular basis. They host candidate forums as well as voter education and empowerment sessions. V.O.T.E.R. was formed in 1989 by Jeff Marshall, and they are celebrating their 18th year under his leadership. Although their meeting place is in the Heights area, the membership is comprised of numerous politically active citizens from around the Houston Metropolitan area. If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Jeff Marshall at (713) 862-3323, or email him at [email protected] RSVPs are required by close of business Thursday Dec. 27th.

Thanks, Andy!

Burka and Kennedy on Barrett’s win

Paul Burka admits that his earlier call about the HD97 runoff was wrong, and gives his reasons for why State Rep. Dan Barrett pulled off the win.

Shelton ran a bad race. He waffled about the robo-calls. He had bad campaign materials. One Republican voter told me about getting a flyer from Shelton that talked about his being an Eagle Scout and all three of his sons being Eagle Scouts — and then viciously attacked Barrett, a trial lawyer, undermining the character issue Shelton was trying to promote. Then there was his open endorsement of Tom Craddick. Why do it? Which voters were going to think to themselves, “I have to go vote for Shelton so that Tom Craddick can be speaker”? I wonder whether Craddick wanted Shelton to go public so that, expecting Shelton to win, he could make the race a referendum on himself. Be careful what you wish for.

Since Tom Craddick became speaker, the Republicans have lost a net nine seats. The Republican majority has shrunk from 26 to 8. Craddick has argued in appearances before Republican groups that if he loses the speakership, the Democrats win, but the evidence suggests that the opposite is true: Because of him, Republicans are losing their majority. You have to think that at some point Republican candidates in contested races against Democrats, or even in Republican primaries, are going to ask themselves whether Craddick is a benefit or a burden. And, for that matter, you would think that at some point Republican honchos, from Rick Perry down to the money guys and the consultants and the lobbyists, would start to worry that he could cost them their majority. If this isn’t part of the Republican conversation, it had better be.

You do have to wonder at what point the Republican money people throw Craddick under the bus. I think it’s too late and they have too much invested in him to turn their ship around. They win or die with Craddick next November. What happens after that, especially if the GOP House majority becomes a thing of the past, I have no idea. But I’m sure I’ll enjoy watching.

A better question from my perspective is at what point will the Democratic money people realize that, as a Burka commenter put it, a 60% Republican district doesn’t mean much of anything any more? How many seats could we win if we really tried to expand the map? We’ve got the issues, we’ve got the energy, we’ve got proof that we can win places we’re not supposed to win – what else do we need? It seems to me that the right lesson to draw from this race is that we have no excuse for not pouring as many resources as we can into any State Rep race that’s remotely viable. In particular, the past electoral history of any given district should not be seen as an insurmountable barrier. Any place we have a good candidate running against a Craddick stooge, we should think of it as winnable. Anything less is leaving money on the table.

By the way, be sure to read through the comments for some awesome excusemaking by Republicans for why they lost this one. My favorite is the one who claimed that the runoff’s proximity to Christmas was a barrier for them, as if it hadn’t been Governor Perry’s decision when to set the date.

Meanwhile, the Star-Telegram’s Bud Kennedy also weighs in:

Barrett won because Texas Democrats sent help.

But he also won because his opponent became the Amazing Vanishing Republican, and because suburban Republican voters pulled their own vanishing act on election day.

Fort Worth pediatrician Mark Shelton had leveraged volunteer help and Texas doctors’ money into a first-round victory over five other Republicans, making him the favorite in the runoff.

But then, the friendly Shelton began avoiding reporters’ questions, refusing interviews and responding only by e-mail.

By the final week, he seemed trapped in a campaign that was not his own.

His Austin campaign consultants, Craddick allies, sent reams of hostile mailers about illegal immigration, as if that were the sole issue.

On election day, suburban Republicans stayed home, voting by the handfuls instead of by the hundreds in Benbrook and at huge boxes such as the one at North Crowley High School.

North Crowley parents were among the big winners. Their growing district would be among those hurt most by a private-school voucher plan that Shelton supported.

The biggest loser was Craddick.

Two Republican candidates had already opposed him, and he wound up losing yet another vote in his campaign to keep his 18-year rule as the party’s House leader.

“It seemed to me that Shelton was never speaking for himself,” Barrett said. “Everything had to go through e-mail or through his handlers. It was as if everything came from Craddick.”

Not exactly. But if Shelton had been elected, he would have been pressured to vote Craddick’s way in Austin, no matter what was best for Fort Worth or Benbrook.

I’ll say it again: Any place we have a good candidate up against a Craddick toady, we should view it as a pickup opportunity. It’s as simple as that.