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December 30th, 2007:

Harris County GOP ponders its Rosenthal options

Good luck, fellas.

The leadership of the Harris County Republican Party is meeting in a private, emergency session tonight to discuss the political fallout over personal e-mails sent by Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal to his executive secretary.

“We will discuss how to proceed as a party,” county GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill said.

The meeting included Republican Party parliamentarian Mike Riddle and his wife, state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball.

Wednesday is the deadline for candidates to sign up to run in the March 4 Republican primary, and Woodfill acknowledged that one path for the party could be to encourage others to challenge Rosenthal in that contest.

Former Houston Police Chief Clarence Bradford is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for district attorney in November 2008.

Some members of the county GOP advisory committee hoped to discuss tonight whether to encourage Rosenthal to resign or declare that he will not seek re-election after his current term expires at the end of 2008.

Rosenthal’s political consultant, Allen Blakemore, said he has talked frequently in the past few days with party leaders about his opinion that no other highly qualified candidate is positioned to run.

The county GOP chairman talked about the e-mails before the meeting.

“It’s not good. They are horrible,” Woodfill said. “The district attorney has made a mistake.”

I note here that we are now getting some input on this from the local Republican blogs, which I am glad to see. I agree with Los Dos Professors that the GOP is stuck with Rosenthal, but I disagree with Kevin in seeing it as a matter of Jared Woodfill’s (lack of) leadership skills. I see it as simply the that serious candidates to challenge any incumbent, especially in a primary, don’t arise from closed-door meetings. They arise from an existing well of support for a particular person, since that person has the daunting task of taking out someone who already has a lot of support and financial resources at hand. That candidate generally spends a lot of time talking to as many people as possible to see if they can secure the things they’ll need (money, volunteers, votes, etc) to win before he or she formally announces a run for the office. What are the odds Woodfill and Friends can identify such a person by isolating themselves in a room and talking to each other? Not so good, in my opinion. It could happen, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

There’s an aspect of this saga that I haven’t seen discussed anywhere, and that’s the allegations in the lawsuit that led to the inadvertent release of the emails that Rosenthal looked the other way at potential malfeasance by Sheriff Tommy Thomas. The matter of Rosenthal’s sexual peccadilloes is headline-grabbing, and certainly fair game for attacks on Rosenthal given his sanctimonious nature, but at the end of the day it’s not much more than tittilation, which can be fairly easily shrugged off as Kevin did in his post. More serious is the usage of the county-owned vehicle by his admin assistant/paramour, which by any reasonable reading is unwarranted and shows poor judgment and managerial skills on Rosenthal’s part, two fairly key attributes for the person in charge of the DA’s office. But the allegation of letting a political ally off the hook for bad behavior, if proven, blows them both away. This is still being litigated, so it’s nothing more than accusations by people with a strong motive to make Rosenthal look bad at this point. But it’s worth keeping an eye on, because if those charges have merit then they’re what I’d consider to be a real resignation-worthy offense. The other stuff may make Rosenthal less re-electable (and deservedly so), but this would be a huge scandal.

For now, we’ll see what Woodfill and the Woodfillettes come up with. In the meantime, click on for a statement from Council Member Peter Brown, who wins the prize for “first elected official to call for Rosenthal to resign”.

UPDATE: Now it really gets interesting:

Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal is refusing the Republican Party leadership’s request Sunday night to remove his name from the 2008 ballot.

After a four-hour emergency meeting, the 15-member GOP advisory committee voted unanimously to ask Rosenthal to step aside in the wake of the controversy that’s followed the mistaken release of his personal e-mails, including dozens sent to his executive secretary.

Despite their request, Rosenthal was adamant about pursuing re-election.

“I’m going to run for district attorney and I’m going to win,” he said, leaving the headquarters as party leaders continued to talk behind closed doors.

Rosenthal said he attended the meeting to answer questions from party leaders. He spent part of evening in a room adjacent to the meeting, talking privately with GOP Chairman Jared Woodfill and then with Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

Did they have an alternative in mind, or were they winging that part of it? I can’t wait to see what comes next.

(more…)

RIP, Ric Williamson

Ric Williamson, the chair of the Texas Department of Transportation and a huge booster of toll roads, has passed away.

Ric Williamson, the Texas Transportation Commission chairman and a take-no-prisoners advocate for his long-time friend Rick Perry’s toll road policy, has died.

Williamson, 55, who had been on the commission since 2001 and its chairman since January 2004, died of a heart attack, said state Rep. Mike Krusee, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. It was not clear today if Williamson died late Saturday night or early Sunday.

Williamson, a Weatherford resident, had served in the Texas House for 14 years, leaving in 1999. He and Perry, who served in the House during a good deal of Williamson’s time there, roomed together in an Austin apartment during several sessions.

“Anita and I are heartbroken at this sudden loss of a confidant, trusted advisor and close personal friend of ours for more than 20 years,” Perry said in a statement released by his office. “Ric’s passion to serve his beloved State of Texas was unmatched and his determination to help our state meets its future challenges was unparalleled. He will be missed beyond words. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Williamson family during this very difficult time.”

Williamson dominated discussion of Texas transportation policy for most of this decade, holding forth at commission meetings in a curiously ornate but still straight-forward style that sometimes infuriated opponents of the toll road policy. Williamson, in particular, was four-square behind granting private companies long-term leases to finance, build and operate publicly owned toll roads, an approach that he said would raise billions for other roads but that others feared gave away too much control of public assets.

Texas Monthly in a June article had called him “the most hated person in Texas, public enemy number one to a million or more people.” In that same article, Williamson told writer Paul Burka, “I’ve had two heart attacks, and I’m trying to avoid the third one, which the doctors tell me will be fatal.”

My sincere condolences to the Williamson family. Burka has more.

Looking Forward to 2008: Maria Gonzalez

(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 Maria Gonzalez.)

As the vice president and chair of the PAC of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, I am looking forward to 2008 with great anticipation. We will have a great opportunity to further establish our support for progressive and GLBT friendly candidates. Building upon our extraordinary success in 2007, which included being victorious in 16 of our 17 endorsed races, including the first group to endorse the HISD bond issue, the Caucus will continue to be one of the most active political groups in the city.

The Caucus will have a slate of endorsed candidates ready for the March primary. With a record number of individuals seeking our endorsements in their races, including the judicial primary races, the Caucus will be very busy in January interviewing candidates. Our general meeting in February should be very lively as we will discuss and vote upon our endorsements for the Primary. Once we endorse, we will make sure that our endorsed candidates names become available to our vast support base represented in our database of over 30,000 registered voters in Harris County.

Once the primaries are done, we will focus on our next efforts, to endorse in the November elections. We will begin screening in late June and most of July. The interviews with candidates provide some of the most direct means of assessing individual support for our GLBT community. We ask very direct questions about our issues like support for non-discrimination, but as a broad political group we will also being asking about quality of life and support for education. At our August meeting, the Caucus will vote on its endorsements. This will be followed by efforts to inform our supporters who we recommend for office this November.

We once again hope to reproduce our extraordinary success of 2007 when we nearly had 100% of our endorsed candidates and issues win. You don’t have to be GLBT to join the Caucus, just supportive of our community. The Caucus meets the first Wednesday of every month at the Havens Center, 1827 W. Alabama. We hope to see everyone there soon

Maria Gonzalez teaches American Literature at the University of Houston. She is the Vice President and chair of the PAC of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.

Sports Authority chair ousted

Interesting.

Under pressure from County Judge Ed Emmett, Mike Surface has resigned as chairman of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp.

Surface cited “personal and professional interests” as the reason why he was stepping down after serving nine years as chairman.

He has been a supporter of the Astrodome Redevelopment Corp.’s proposal to turn the Dome into a convention hotel — a plan Emmett has questioned.

Emmett said he felt that it would be best to get new leadership on the sports corporation’s board before Commissioners Court’s next discussion of the Dome proposal in January.

So is this is sign that the Astrodome Redevelopment plan is toast? Emmett has been a skeptic of that, but he has also made frequent note of public support for saving the Dome in some form. If the Dome hotel/convention center isn’t the way to do that, then what is?