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December 27th, 2007:

Which races are they playing in?

This is one of the more disturbing political stories I’ve seen lately, both for its lack of concrete information and its far-reaching implications.

Texas’ ailing racing industry is planning an expensive gamble for survival — a $3 million campaign and lobbying effort to bring slot machines to the state’s horse and dog tracks.

Texans for Economic Development, the umbrella group for track owners, breeders and other segments of the racing industry, has budgeted $1 million to contribute to campaigns in the 2008 legislative elections and $2 million for a lobbying effort to convince lawmakers that the tracks need slot machines to survive, the Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday.

It’s a tough sell. State lawmakers have brought up the possibility of slots at tracks in the past, but all efforts have failed under opposition to expanding gambling in Texas. Proponents want Texas voters to decide.

Group President Tommy Azopardi said the $1 million will be targeted on about a dozen races in the state House of Representatives.

“It’s not about Democrats and Republicans, it’s not about the speaker’s race,” Azopardi said. “It’s not about anything other than, ‘Are you for VLTs (slot machines) or not?'”

That’s a hell of a lot of money to put into State Rep races, and it raises the very big question of what races are they intending to put it in? And are we talking primaries, general elections, or both? Are they targeting people for defeat, or aiming at open seats? Or are they just going to hand out cash to those they perceive as softly opposed to their position, in hopes of getting them on their side?

I agree it’s not about Democrats or Republicans, as there are supporters and opponents of slot machines on both sides of the aisle. As for the Speaker’s race, certain key Craddick lieutenants, such as Kino Flores, are both supporters of expanded gambling and involved in hot races. I don’t care what Azopardi says, if they are supporting Flores (I’m just hypothesizing here), they are supporting Craddick. Perhaps they will balance their support fairly evenly among the Craddickites and the anti-Craddickites, but the bottom line is that almost any contested race this year is to some extent is about the Speaker’s race. It can’t be avoided.

It’s a shame that there’s no indication of what the pro-gambling forces intend to do with their million bucks. We ought to know more when the next round of campaign finance reports come out, but still. This is a big deal, and it deserves a lot more scrutiny.

Why, Chuck, you sly devil

For those of you who enjoy a good politics-and-sex story (and you know who you are), it would seem that Santa was very good to you, if a tad bit late.

A federal judge this morning resealed dozens of e-mails from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office that reveal personal communications, including a close personal relationship between District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal and his secretary.

In an emergency hearing, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt said he had meant only to make public Rosenthal’s request that the e-mails to be kept confidential — not disclose the actual e-mails, which were attachments to the document.

David Tang, an attorney for the plaintiffs on the underlying lawsuit, disagreed with the judge’s ruling.

“The public should have access to see what’s being done by their public officials,” Tang said.

Rosenthal’s attorney, Ronald Lewis, declined to comment after the hearing.

The e-mails, sent from Rosenthal’s county e-mail address, highlight some of the inner workings of the DA’s office, exposing details about past lawsuits and criminal cases.

And they include personal, affectionate notes to Kerry Stevens, Rosenthal’s executive secretary with whom he said he had an affair in the 1980s.

“The very next time I see you, I want to kiss you behind your right ear,” Rosenthal writes to Stevens in a note dated Aug. 10, 2007.

The e-mails are exhibits in a civil rights lawsuit against the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, alleging misconduct by sheriff’s deputies in 2001. Rosenthal was deposed in the case, which alleges sheriff’s deputies violated the civil rights of two brothers who filmed police executing a search warrant on a neighbor’s house.

[…]

During discovery for the case, [plaintiff’s attorney Lloyd] Kelley asked for all of the e-mails sent or received by Rosenthal, his first assistant Bert Graham and his general counsel, Scott Durfee from July to Oct. 15.

In court documents protesting the release of the e-mails, attorneys for Rosenthal argue they “relate to private expressions of affection between Rosenthal and Stevens.”

While the 51 e-mails between the two contain the phrase “I love you” more than a dozen times, and Rosenthal asks Stevens to let him hold her, the messages are not explicit.

Rosenthal said Wednesday he is not having an affair with Stevens, but that he had an affair with her in the 1980s when he was married to his first wife. He said the affair did not end that marriage, but he did later divorce.

Rosenthal later remarried and said he told his current wife about the affair before hiring Stevens as his executive assistant when he took office in 2000.

[…]

Kelley took issue with Stevens’ salary and the fact that she drives a county pool car, which is an extra car that belongs to the department pool. County records show that she makes $75,000 a year.

Rosenthal justified the expense by saying Stevens occupies a high position of trust in his administration.

He also said Stevens took responsibility for the car — a suggestion from one of his administrators — so it would receive regular maintenance.

Kelley also took Rosenthal to task for preferential treatment for Stevens.

Included in the e-mails is an exchange in which Stevens asks for a day off.

Rosenthal responds, “You do not have to ask. Just tell me what you plan to do. You have to know by now that I’m not going to tell you ‘no’ about anything you want.”

“It is still proper for me to ask,” she wrote back. “There may be a day that something could be going on that you would want me here.”

Rosenthal writes, “I always want to see you. You own my heart whether you want or not.”

Answering Kelley’s charge of preferential treatment, Rosenthal said he didn’t think he has ever denied an employee’s earned time off.

Three things:

1. There’s no way that Rosenthal’s actions can be made to look good. His justifications for his actions towards Stevens may be plausible, but there’s no getting past the impression of special treatment for his girlfriend. This is precisely why the whole bosses-dating-underlings thing is so dicey, and why so many workplaces have strictly-enforced rules about such matters.

2. This may well be a “political hit”, as Rosenthal claims (Kelley finished last in a field of five for the GOP nomination for DA along with Rosenthal in 2000), but so what if it is? Rosenthal’s judgment is still at issue here, and that’s certainly a valid thing for voters to consider. The bottom line is that he could have chosen not to hire his girlfriend, or to not do things that would make people think hiring his girlfriend was a bad idea. Or, you know, to use personal email accounts for this kind of mushy stuff. It ain’t Lloyd Kelley’s fault Chuck Rosenthal is in this particular pickle.

3. It’s not clear to me what the point of resealing the emails is. They’re out there now, and nobody’s going to forget what they said – we’re sure to be reminded of them many times this year. As such, this seems to me this is a clear case of locking the barn after the horse has been stolen. Maybe – and this is just fact-free speculation on my part, so take with an appropriate amount of salt – there’s stuff in there that the newsies and other nosey types haven’t gotten to yet that he really wants to keep quiet. Or maybe he’s just hoping this will play itself out as a story way before November, when other things will be on voters’ minds. Who knows? I still don’t see the point, but whatever.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but you can bet that kissable spot behind your right ear that this isn’t the last you’ll hear of this. Grits and Cory have more.

UPDATE: Mark Bennett asks an important question.

Looking Forward to 2008: Rep. Ellen Cohen

(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 Rep. Ellen Cohen.)

As I write this article, 2007 is coming to an end, and it would appear that the biggest event of 2008 will be the presidential election. That said, much can happen in 10 months, thrusting unknowns to the forefront and dramatically changing the landscape of predictions. Still, with whatever is in store for us, electing a President who will restore our country’s position of respect, compassion and integrity throughout the world is paramount. Someone who will bring us as a nation together while continuing to respect diversity in all aspects of our lives.

Clearly, the next President needs, on a national level, to focus on many of the same concerns we in the state legislature are facing: health care, including the children’s health insurance program, stem cell research, and mental health services. While recent research shows some very promising new forms of stem cell research, we can not and must not abandon the promise of what is being learned through adult and embryonic stem cell research. Regenerative medicine is vital to saving lives. Republicans and Democrats have voted in a very bipartisan manner to lift the bans set down by the present Administration that limits or stops research done on embryonic or early stem cells. All of this was brought home to me from both a very personal side regarding my late husband’s spinal cord cancer and a visit I received from twin 6 year old girls living in West University who shared with me how this research could help with their juvenile diabetes.

The next President needs to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and, we in Texas need to do the same. Of the 9 million uninsured children in the United States, over 1.5 million live in Texas. CHIP is the program designed to help the children of working families. As President Clinton often said, these families are the ones who “are working hard and playing by the rules”. They are doing everything, but simply don’t make enough money to pay for health insurance coverage for their children without some assistance.

The next President, and we in Texas, need to focus on education. As a nation we are falling woefully behind in the areas of math and science. As a state, if we expect to have employees who can reason, who can analyze figures, who can articulate intelligently varying points of view, then we have an obligation to educate our children. We simply must invest in our young people if we expect them to succeed in Texas, across the Nation and throughout the world.

Finally, the next President must continue to preserve the value of “separation of church and state”. I spent a decade of my life working for the American Jewish Committee and have great admiration for people of faith. I also accept and affirm the right of people to question the existence of a deity. We must look at issues in accordance with our Constitution, not a specific religious ideology. From textbook rejections and staff dismissals from NASA to the Texas Education Agency, we must realize and respect our religious believes as separate and apart from the lessons learned by scientific experiments and calculations. Our science and faith are NOT in conflict, only the agenda of our leaders.

This coming year presents us with a chance to compare where we are as a nation and a state and where new and innovative leadership can take us. We have a chance to restore our prestige as a nation and our leadership as a state. We must take advantage of this time in history to elect a President whose visionary leadership will secure the future, starting with the next generation.

Ellen Cohen is the State Representative for the 134th District in Harris County.

“A truckload of flaming death”

Boy, the things I miss by not going out at night more often. At least there are people I know to document them for me so I can ooh and aah over them later.

Filing news: The other side of the aisle

Thought I’d take a minute and see how filings were going for the Republicans in Texas. I’m using this document as my main guide to who’s filed for what. Vince has done some of the heavy lifting here, and I’ll quote from his analysis of a couple of contested primaries for Congress:

U.S. Congress, District 3, GOP Primary

The dissatisfaction with Rep. Johnson in Plano has evidently been significant enough to draw him not one but two opponents. The first, Wayne Avellanet, we told you about earlier. Now, another candidate has entered the race, Harry Pierce, a retired airline pilot. No information has emerged about Pierce yet, but we’ll keep you posted. So far, Avellanet is the biggest threat to Johnson.

U.S. Congress, District 4, GOP Primary

For the third election cycle in a row (if I recall correctly-2004, 2006, and now 2008), the people who are tired of waiting for Congressman Ralph Hall (R-Rockwall) to retire continues to grow. Kathy Seei, the former mayor of Frisco and most recent filing, is probably Hall’s biggest threat at this point. Kevin George (R-Celina) is campaigning as a “Constitutional Republican” and spouts tons of ultra-right-wing rhetoric on his website. Gene Christinsen (R-Celina) is the owner of a racing team (among other things) and has the dubious distinction of being endorsed by Chuck Norris (who has also endorsed the Total Gym). This will no doubt be an interesting primary. Can’t wait to see if Ralph Hall pulls out his decade-old endorsement from Charlton Heston in this race.

U.S. Congress, District 22, GOP Primary

To date, four Republicans have filed in the hopes of having an opportunity to spend half a million bucks in the primary and two million bucks plus in the general election for the right to come in a point or two behind Democrat Nick Lampson of Stafford next November. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit in this race is that State Rep. Robert Talton (R-Pasadena), the establishment front-runner, has yet to file. Of course, Shelley Sekula Gibbs, last year’s famous Temporary Congresswoman, has filed as has ad exec John Manlove. Pete Olson, a former staffer for U.S. Senator Phil Gramm is also in the race as is former state district judge Jim Squier.

Gary has more on the status of CD22; Muse tells you how you can meet some of those people. Couple things to add here – Reps. Johnson, at 77, and Hall, at 84, are two of the oldest members of Congress, which may account in part for their opposition. So far nobody has filed for CD14, though in the end I expect Ron Paul to have opposition there – two people have declared their intent to run against him. I’ve already said what I think will happen if Paul loses in the primary. I don’t know how likely that is, however.

One other place where I expect a contested Congressional race for the GOP is CD23. Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson is reportedly in the running against self-aggrandizer Quico Canseco. The winner gets a shot at Rep. Ciro Rodriguez. And as yet, neither of the two wannabes for CD18 has filed. I’ll be looking for that one. And I see on the local party site that Eric Storey is back for another spanking against Rep. Gene Green in CD29.

Nothing too exciting at the State House level that Vince or I haven’t mentioned already. Two local races of interest: Former HPD Chief, now Justice on the First Court of Appeals, Place 3, Sam Nuchia, has a primary opponent in attorney Ed Hubbard. No idea what that’s about. Also, Sheriff Tommy Thomas has drawn a foe in Paul Day; again, no idea what that’s about. Thomas will have a stiffer test in November, that’s all I can say right now.

Swinging back to the Democrats, the contested primary for Justice of the Peace in Precinct 1, Place 1, is now official as incumbent Dale Gorczynski joins his former Chief Clerk, Harold Landreneau, on the ballot. I’m not sure if Landreneau lives in my neighborhood or just has a lot of friends here, but I’ve seen several signs for him around the place. That one will be interesting.

Last but not least, some good news in Fort Worth where Eight for 08 target Bill Zedler has drawn an opponent in Chris Turner, a long-time aide and District Director to Democratic Congressman Chet Edwards. That one has just climbed up the Races To Watch charts for me.