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March 3rd, 2008:

So long, Sheryl

This is a sad day.

Comets forward Sheryl Swoopes will sign with the Seattle Storm tonight, according to a spokesperson from the Comets.

The team will release this statement tonight:

“Sheryl Swoopes will not return to play with the Houston Comets for the 2008 season. She is a trailblazer and an incomparable contributor to the legacies of the Houston Comets, the WNBA and the game of women’s basketball. There is no question that her absence will be felt by the Comets franchise and all the Houston fans who continue to support her career. We’re excited for her and wish her well as she embarks on this new opportunity.”

I’ve been a Comets fan for years now, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching Sheryl Swoopes play ball. She’s a great athlete, a tremendous competitor, and a class act. As sorry as I am to see her depart, I join the Comets organization in wishing her continued success. Thanks for everything, Sheryl!

Watch parties everywhere

Among the many reasons why I’m hoping that the precinct convention business wraps up early tomorrow night is that I want to attend some parties. For some reason, there are several right in my neighborhood, and I know I’ll be craving some beer and fellowship as soon as the first EV numbers hit the streets.

Here’s a sample of the action out there.

Borris Miles
Herman Park Golf Course
2155 North MacGregor
Houston, TX

Armando Walle
American Legion Post 578
3415 Aldine Mail Rt.
Houston, TX 77039

Garnet Coleman and Jessica Farrar
2617 Yale St
Houston, TX 77008

Carol Alvarado
Doneraki at Gulfgate
300 Gulfgate
Houston, TX 77082

Adrian Garcia
Cadillac Bar
1802 Shepherd Drive, near the Katy Freeway
Houston, TX 77007

Rick Noriega
6th Street Bar and Grill
2701 White Oak Drive at Studewood Street
Houston, TX 77009

The Noriega, Garcia, and Coleman/Farrar parties are close to me; in fact, I could walk home from the Noriega event. Which means I may go there last, so as not to worry too much about having that one more beer. If you know of others, leave them in the comments.

Settlement in lawsuit against Sheriff’s office

This is an unexpected but not terribly unsurprising development.

Harris County commissioners voted unanimously this morning to pay $1.7 million to settle a lawsuit that led to the resignation of District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal.

After an emergency, closed-door meeting, commissioners agreed to settle with Sean Carlos Ibarra, 37, and Erik Adam Ibarra, 28, two brothers who claim that they were wrongfully arrested by sheriff’s deputies, whom they photographed and videotaped during a 2002 drug raid at their neighbor’s home. Because of a subpoena filed in that lawsuit, Rosenthal’s personal, romantic e-mails to his secretary surfaced.

The settlement comes as the sheriff’s deputies were scheduled to testify this week in the Ibarra’s civil trial in U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt’s court. The Ibarras were seeking $5 million in damages for the alleged civil rights violation.

[…]

The Ibarras’ lawyers made the offer over the weekend — before today’s scheduled testimony from deputies involved in the case, said County Judge Ed Emmett.

Commissioner Steve Radack said he voted for the settlement because sheriff’s deputies made mistakes on the day of the incident.

“There were some policies that were violated,” he said. “You had somebody on the street who went beyond what was reasonable.”

Emmett said, “The rational thing to do was to accept this settlement offer. Sometimes you make the best deal you can and move on. It allows the sheriff’s office to get back to being the sheriff’s office.”

Hoyt will determine whether the county will pay more for the Ibarra brothers’ legal fees. Emmett speculated the county may pay as much as $1 million to cover those fees.

Okay, I’m not an attorney, I haven’t been in the courtroom to hear the evidence and see the jurors’ reactions, I don’t know what kind of witnesses these two deputies were going to make, and I surely don’t know what else Lloyd Kelley had in his bag of tricks. That said, settling for $1.7 million, plus possibly another million in legal fees, when the amount demanded by the plaintiffs was a sure-to-be-reduced-on-appeal $5 million says to me that the county wasn’t all that confident in its defense. I could be misreading this, and I welcome any feedback from actual attorneys on this, but that’s my read on the situation.

Another point: Stopping things here also has the extra bonus of keeping the deputies’ testimony and whatever other evidence there may be out of the public record. I’m still just speculating – it may well be that all the bad stuff is already out, or will get out anyway. But if the goal is to let the Sheriff’s office get back to Sheriffing, ending the trial certainly accomplishes that.

The settlement would end all legal actions against the sheriff’s department, the four deputies, Thomas and the county. But it would not end contempt actions brought by Hoyt against Rosenthal, Radack said.

I presume that’s still on track for March 14.

The county has spent more than $125,000 on Rosenthal’s contempt proceedings and his attempts to keep some e-mails private.

Thanks, Chuck. You’re a gift that just keeps on giving, aren’t you?

Time for predictions

With Super Texas Tuesday finally almost upon us, it’s time to have a little fun. This is an open predictions thread. I’m going to list some races, you tell me what you think is going to happen. Be as general or specific as you wish, but please keep it civil – I won’t approve direct attacks on candidates. Doesn’t mean you can’t be snarky (heaven forfend!), just don’t be a jerk. I’ll set a good example and go first – note that what I’m giving here is what I think will happen, not necessarily what I want to happen. Please don’t equate a prediction for an endorsement.

Assume I’m asking about the Democratic primary unless specified otherwise. Fabulous prizes will be available to those who do the best, as soon as someone provides them to me to provide to you. Otherwise, it’s all for personal glory. Deadline is 7 PM Tuesday. Ready, set…

1. President, both parties My guess: Obama by ten points, McCain with about 60%. Turnout of over 2.5 million on the Dem side, less than 1.5 million on the GOP side.

2. US Senate My guess: Despite some public mutterings about a runoff, I think Rick Noriega ekes out a majority. Gene Kelly ends up in the 20s, with the other two sharing the rest.

3. CD10 My guess: Dan Grant, in a win for endorsements over fundraising.

5. CD22, GOP My guess: Toughest one in the bunch. I think Shelley makes it to the runoff, thus kicking off a wild celebration at Wonkette world headquarters, but who else makes it is a complete tossup. I’m going to go with Pete Olson, and I’ll be completely unsurprised to be wrong.

6. Harris County District Attorney, GOP, and Travis County DA, Dem My guess: For Harris, Siegler and Lykos in the runoff. And that sound you’ll hear afterwards is the membership of the HCCLA gnashing their teeth and rending their garments. For Travis, I’ll be rooting for a Lehmberg-Reed matchup, but I suspect Mindy Montford’s money will get her a spot in the playoffs against one of those two.

7. Harris County Judge, both parties; Sheriff and Tax Assessor, Dems My guess: For the GOP, Charles Bacarisse. I see him as running a more partisan campaign, which strikes me not surprisingly as a better strategy for a primary. And though it won’t matter, whoever designed the font on Ed Emmett’s yard signs should be flogged. On the Dem side, I see David Mincberg winning easily, and I believe both Adrian Garcia and Diane Trautman will prevail as well, Garcia hopefully avoiding a runoff.

8. HDs 130 (GOP), 140 and 146 (Dem) My guess: I think Danno’s boy Alan Fletcher wins in 130, though I’m not confident about it. I think Armando Walle knocks off Kevin Bailey, and I think Borris Miles survives by the skin of his teeth.

9. Supreme Court and Railroad Commissioner My guess: For Surpeme Court, Linda Yanez and Sam Houston. I feel more confident about the latter than the former. For RRC, I think Art Hall and Dale Henry end up in a runoff.

10. Harris County judicials (your choice) My guess: Hell if I know. I see them all as tossups. Whatever the final turnout is on the Dem side, barring something like a 75% dropoff from the Presidential race you’re looking at 100,000 or more voters who weren’t touched by either campaign ultimately picking the nominees. That’s got to be giving a lot of people ulcers.

Extra credit: The races I should have included but didn’t. I mostly went with contests where I thought the likely outcome was not obvious, but that’s my judgment. I also mostly stuck with Harris County, just to keep this at a respectable length. Feel free to tell me which races I’m overlooking, and how you think they’ll wind up.

There you have it. Here’s Greg’s call on some of these races. Have fun, and predict away!

Dem turnout from a GOP perspective

Longtime GOP strategist Royal Masset looks at the Democratic turnout numbers in the Quorum Report and sees dire things for his party.

Masset now sees the makings of a political tsunami greater than the annus horribilis of 2006. The nearly minute-by-minute coverage of the Democratic presidential primary in Texas has undoubtedly captured the attention of the state’s voters. Some argue that such attention is good too for the Republicans, sort of a rising tide lifting all boats argument.

Masset, though, is focused on what he said was the telling stat, party primary turnout as percentage of the total number of registered voters. On that score, the GOP is lagging terribly behind the Democratic Party.

The Secretary of State’s Office tracks early voting by day in each of the state’s 15 most populous counties. Taken together, the 7.8 million registered voters in those counties account for a little more than 60 percent of the state’s registered voters.

While most eyes have been focused on staggering Democratic turnout, they have missed the fact that Republican turnout has also surged, generally doubling in the fifteen largest counties.

As of Wednesday, the percentage of registered voters taking part in the Democratic primary has nearly tripled the percentage voting in the Republican primary – 7.7 percent to 2.6 percent.

What gets Masset’s attention is the fact that Republican turnout has exceeded 5 percent of registered voters in just one of the 15 most populous counties, Montgomery County. Conversely, Montgomery County is the only place where Democratic turnout has been less then 5 percent.

In the predominately Latino Rio Grande Valley, the disparity is even greater. In Cameron County (Brownsville), 9.75 percent of the registered voters have participated in the Democratic primary. The Republican primary hadn’t cracked a single percentage point – 0.97 percent – as of Wednesday. In Hidalgo County (Edinburg), the spread is even larger, 13.10 percent to 0.82 percent.

What worries Masset the most is that he figures upward of 80 percent of those new Democratic voters will return to cast ballots in the fall. “If they’re excited now, they’ll probably stay excited,” he said. In addition, the Democratic Party will have those voters in their database for outreach efforts later this year.

Masset looks at places like Collin County and Williamson County where Republicans hold every local office but Democrats are coming out this primary season in greater numbers than Republicans. The trends are adding up to an even better year for Democrats than in 2006, he said. And with a charismatic Obama at the top of the Democratic ticket and McCain seemingly unable to unite his party, Masset suggested any GOP incumbent who won last time with less than 60 percent of the vote should be concerned. Anyone who won with less than 55 percent of the vote is in trouble, he said.

Pretty provocative. I should note that Masset foresaw the rise of the GOP in the state by tracking GOP versus Democratic primary participation from the 70s through to 2000. That article on QR is here, and I’ll quote a little bit of it:

The real problem for the Democratic party is the erosion of their historical base in rural counties. Most county officeholders have a couple of hundred relatives and friends who will vote Democrat to keep them in office. But as support for the Democrat party declines in their counties, the probability greatly increases that they will switch parties or be defeated by a Republican. The largest percent declines in Democratic Party primary turnout from 1996 and 2000 were in these rural counties.

Here are several examples. In Speaker Laney’s home of Hale County, the Democrat turnout was more than triple the Republican turnout in 1996. In 2000 the Republican turnout was almost triple the Democrat turnout. This sounds like an SAT question. The correct answer is that the Hale County Democrat turnout declined from 3505 to 530.

Nacogdoches County saw a similar flip. Their Republican primary turnout more than tripled to 8,222 from 2672 in 1996. Steve Lilly still lives! The Denton County Republican Primary went from 21,884 to 57,659. In 30 counties the Republican turnout was more than twice that of previous all time high 1996 turnout, including strategically important counties such as Wharton, Henderson, Anderson, and Chambers. Gonzales, Hood and Kaufman counties had 95% increases in Republican turnout.

The Democrat primary turnout declined by more than half in strategically important counties such as Wharton, Walker, Gonzales, Aransas, Cooke, El Paso, Grayson, Hamilton, Howard, Hunt, Jefferson, Kaufman, Madison, Mitchell, McCulloch, Nacogdoches, Scurry, Wichita and Young. It declined by 48% in Gregg, Waller and Mason counties.

These two situations aren’t exactly analogous. Masset was documenting a decline in Democratic primary turnout participation (all in Presidential years, I might add) while showing a corresponding increase in same on the GOP side. This year, while GOP turnout declined dramatically from 2000 to 2004, it is up somewhat from 2000. It’s just that Democratic participation is through the roof, possibly beyond 1972 levels in absolute terms, and that has to mean something. More on all this later. I included it mostly for reference.

Masset’s guess that 80% of the new Democratic voters will come back in the fall to vote Democratic is encouraging. Obviously, some of these people are “November Democrats” who were always going to vote Democratic in the fall, but for whatever the reason never bothered to vote in previous Marches. Some of these are Democratic “swing voters” as defined by Chris Bowers, which is to say people who’ll vote Dem if they vote, but need to be persuaded to do so; if they’re not inspired to get out and cast a ballot this November, they shouldn’t be considered voters in any meaningful sense. And the rest – a third? a half? more? less? who knows? – are people who aren’t in the habit, even the unreliable habit, of voting Democratic. I certainly think these people are going to change the basic calculus of a whole host of elections this year, and so does Masset.

But not everybody does:

GOP pollster Mike Baselice has a different take on the early voting numbers. Looking at the raw numbers, GOP participation is running much higher than in the two previous presidential primaries that had Texan George W. Bush at the top of the ticket.

More than 35,000 people have cast votes in the GOP primary in Harris County, for instance. That’s two-and-a-half times as large a turnout as in 2004 more than twice the number from 2000. The jump in participation is even higher in Dallas and Tarrant Counties. In both places, GOP participation in raw numbers is more than six times the level in 2004.

These numbers are from the first eight days of early voting. Unfortunately, this gives a misleading figure, because while there were only two more days of early voting after that this year, there were six more days after Day Eight in 2000, so the final totals still show increases, but much more modest than what Baselice is suggesting. Here’s how everything looked after all of early voting was completed:

County Year Reg Voters Early Vote Pct RVs Change ========================================================= Harris 2000 1,754,645 41,880 2.38 Harris 2008 1,804,641 51,199 2.84 +19.3% Dallas 2000 1,161,587 23,859 2.05 Dallas 2008 1,114,002 31,874 2.86 +39.5% Tarrant 2000 801,260 19,200 2.40 Tarrant 2008 890,412 35,621 4.00 +66.7% Bexar 2000 824,948 30,203 3.66 Bexas 2008 867,084 33,487 3.86 +5.5%

2008 numbers via Burka; 2000 totals can be found here. I threw in Bexar as well because Burka had it and because it was the third-largest county in terms of registered voters back then. As you can see, there were definitely increases in GOP participation in those counties, but nowhere near twice as much in three of them, and near-flat performance in Bexar. And bear in mind, as a general rule more people vote early now than did in 2000, so the final totals for these counties may well show an even more modest increase in turnout. I’ll be sure to check that once the numbers are in.

Including 2004 totals is even more misleading, because there essentially was no GOP primary in most parts of the state that year. President Bush was unopposed on the ballot. There were primaries among statewide officeholders, almost all Supreme Court and CCA jurists, but none of them generated any excitement – on average, the dropoff rate from Bush voters (who were 92% of all GOP primary voters) was between 10 and 20%. There were numerous Congressional primaries that year, thanks to the DeLay re-redistricting, but only six drew more than 30,000 votes, and as a whole they drew less than Bush’s total of 635,000. What’s driving GOP turnout this year is the same as what’s driving Democratic, which is the chance to weigh in on a real race. It’s just that the GOP side isn’t nearly as strong a draw as the Dem side.

Baselice said that those early voting numbers suggest to him that the GOP could have as many as 1.5 million votes cast in its primary and that 4 million votes could be cast between both parties. He called those numbers unprecedented.

Sure, but not by that much. The total turnout in 2000 on the GOP side was just over 1.126 million, or 15.7% of the 7,179,549 registered voters that year. One point five million votes (if they get that much) out of 7,815,906 registered voters now would be 19.2% participation, a 22.3% increase from then. Nice and all, but compared to the Democrats and their likely tripling or more of the vote from either 2000 or 2004, it’s not impressive.

And while that number is sure to be dwarfed by the number of Democratic primary votes, Baselice is not necessarily worried about Republican candidates’ chances in the fall. He noted that the state tilts toward Republicans by about nine points. So all things being equal, the GOP candidate starts most races with a 55-45 advantage, he said.

Baselice claimed a partisan ratio in 2006 of 50-35-15. Does he really think the GOP still have that big an advantage to start out, or has he done actual polling? Bear in mind, according to Zogby (for what it’s worth; at least this was a phone poll), Harris County is now 46-38-16 in Dems’ favor. How much do you think Harris has changed over the past eight years, and what effect do you think that has on the statewide mix?

High turnout on both sides is a good thing for the Republican Party because it helps them rework their voters’ lists and better target likely Republican voters, he said.

Yes, I figure they’ll be saying “dammit, another Democrat” a lot. Have fun with that, y’all. Thanks to BOR for the tip.

More on Archstone Memorial Heights

Missed this last week: Swamplot has some more news about the upcoming demo-and-rebuild of the Archstone Memorial Apartments on Washington and Studemont. Basically, Super Neighborhood 22, which encompasses that area, is not happy about the design that’s being proposed.

While members of SuperNeighborhood 22 support the redevelopment, they are concerned that the project’s suburban design — which calls for the back of the residential components to face Washington Avenue — is hurting efforts to transform the avenue into a walkable, pedestrian-friendly destination.

Monica Savino, a member of SuperNeighborhood 22, points out that Archstone was one of the first developers to come into the area 12 years ago when the Archstone Memorial Heights complex was built, and she’s disappointed that the developer isn’t cooperating with the new vision for the Inner-Loop area.

“This is an irresponsible way to develop in an urban area where land prices are so high,” Savino says. “It’s unfortunate that the project turns its back on a highly trafficked street that is currently undergoing a major revitalization.”

Savino says neighborhood groups have encouraged Archstone to include retail on the ground floor facing Washington Avenue. But, she says, Archstone hasn’t been receptive to the requests even though the company made a pledge in a public meeting to cooperate with SuperNeighborhood 22 and Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone 5 on the project.

The real shame here is that all the dense development going on along Studemont from Washington south to Dallas, and along Washington pretty much everywhere you look makes this project a prime candidate, in a perfect location, for pedestrian-friendly retail. I took some photos a couple of weeks ago along that stretch of Montrose/Studemont to document this trend, which I’ll get around to uploading to Flickr and blogging about some day after the primary, to show the massive changes there already, with so much more to come. Especially with the heavily-used park area down by the bayou along Allen Parkway (which as I understand it was originally going to be turned into private property; what a tragedy that would have been), this area is already attracting walkers and joggers, some of whom already live right there. What it lacks is places for these people to go to shop, eat, and otherwise recreate. Archstone would be doing everyone, including themselves, a favor if they provided more of that.

The bottom line is simply that this is an urban area in every way – it’s historic, it’s dense, it’s close to downtown, and it’s attracting residents who want to live in that kind of environment – and it deserves urban-centric development that fits it. Archstone, which was a forward-thinking pioneer in the 90s for building this apartment complex in the first place, is perfectly capable, and indeed has a track record elsewhere, of delivering something equally visionary now. I just hope they listen.

There’s another looming issue that we touched on before as well:

Meanwhile, Archstone has requested that the city abandon nearby Court Street so the company can incorporate the land into its project. Archstone claims the street is dangerous, confusing and lacks control signage.

But some residents are concerned that the abandonment of Court Street will cause increased traffic congestion.

Savino points out that any time a public right-of-way is abandoned and taken private, it limits options for mobility improvements.

Adding to the area’s density is a recently approved residential tower, an apartment complex and a parking structure just down the street from the Archstone site.

“It’s a shame that such a historic corridor could be turned into a high-speed area,” Savino says. “We don’t want to be the next Richmond Avenue. Their plans are creating a squandering affect on the neighborhood.”

Savino emailed me to say that the TIRZ is supporting the abandonment; see here (PDF) for the details. As I said in my previous post, the neighborhood is still looking for feedback from people who use this Court Street byway, especially folks who are passing through from elsewhere. Please email your comments, along with your ZIP code, to [email protected] Thanks very much.

Endorsement watch: The DMN repeats itself

As we know, the Dallas Morning News broke with the pack and endorsed Mike Huckabee for the GOP nomination for President. Yesterday, they repeated that endorsement.

Win or lose in November, the GOP is destined to spend the next few years redefining itself. For many reasons, Reaganism, which made the GOP the dominant political party of the last generation, no longer resonates as it once did with the American public. The world has changed since Ronald Reagan’s election nearly 30 years ago, and the great man’s political heirs will have to adjust the GOP’s strategy and tactics to new realities.

To that end, Mr. Huckabee, 52, should be a top leader in tomorrow’s Republican Party. His good-natured approach to politics – “I’m a conservative; I’m just not mad about it,” as he likes to say – is quite appealing after years of scorched-earth tactics from both parties. He’s a pragmatist more concerned with effective government than with bowing to ideological litmus tests. For example, he has proven himself willing to violate anti-tax dogma to undertake investment in infrastructure for the sake of long-term prosperity.

Mr. Huckabee also is good on the environment, contending that the future of the conservative movement depends on embracing conservation and stewardship of the natural world. And he’s a compassionate conservative especially in tune with middle-class anxieties in a globalizing economy.

Though his social and religious conservatism puts him on the wrong side of abortion, gay rights and other key issues, that same deep-faith commitment inspires his dedication to helping the poor and to racial healing. He truly is representative of the next wave of evangelical chieftains and, if nothing else, will emerge from this primary season the leader of one of the most influential factions in the GOP coalition.

We look forward to having him around to help shape and lead the Republican Party beyond November. That’s why we encourage Texas Republicans to mark their ballots for Mr. Huckabee in the GOP primary: to demonstrate to the party’s elite that Mr. Huckabee and his vision have a solid constituency.

I doubt it will have any practical effect, but their logic is interesting. We’ll see if anyone in Dallas pays attention. Thanks to The Texas Blue for the link.

On a side note, I missed last week that Grits endorsed Rick Reed for Travis County DA. Click over and see what he has to say about that race.

The “doomsday seed vault”

Is it just me, or does anyone else get a wee bit edgy when sci-fi plotlines become news?

A doomsday seed vault on a remote Norwegian island in the Arctic Ocean opened Tuesday, creating a bank of more than 100 million seeds representing every major food crop on Earth.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is meant to be a Noah’s Ark for plant genetics. At 4 degrees below 0 F, it will preserve the thousands of regional and local crop varieties farmers worldwide have bred for thousands of years.

Were war, disease, plague or global warming to wipe out any one species, it could be replenished from the seeds stored deep in the permafrost of the mountain vault.

“Norway is proud to be playing a central role in creating a facility capable of protecting what are not just seeds but the fundamental building blocks of human civilization,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said in comments relayed by a spokesman.

Numerous seed repositories exist worldwide, but the Svalbard vault is the most comprehensive.

I guess that’s a good thing to have, as long as someone remembers it’s there in the event it’s needed. But I’d prefer to live in a world where this sort of contingency is not seen as needed. Oh, well.