Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

June, 2008:

Sheriff apologizes for racist emails

It’s a start.

Reacting to the latest controversy about his office in recent months, Sheriff Tommy Thomas today apologized in person to a local Muslim group for religiously insensitive e-mails sent by members of his staff.

Monday’s appearance before the Islamic Society of Greater Houston was Thomas’ second apology in recent days over staff e-mail, including one message from a top commander that mocks some of the Islamic faith’s core tenets.

“If anyone was offended, I sincerely apologize,” Thomas said. “I hope it’s not systemic of the department.”

Thomas said he planned to discipline the commander, Chief Deputy Mike Smith, who heads the office’s detention command. Thomas said he did not know when that suspension would begin or how many others may also receive similar punishment.


Smith said today that he regretted forwarding an e-mail he received with religiously insensitive cartoons. He said the sheriff docked a week’s pay.

“It was stupid for me to forward that. It was just cartoons, regarding Muslim terrorists,” he said. “I certainly have a great deal of respect for the Muslim community. They are a very law-abiding community. I regret that that’s being viewed as anti-Muslim because it’s anti-terrorist.

You can see the emails in question here and here. It’s not at all clear to me that Deputy Smith understands why his actions were offensive. Perhaps a little diversity training would be in order here, lest the lesson that gets learned is “only forward nasty stuff from the personal email address”.

The e-mails were revealed after KTRK-TV (Channel 13) sued to stop their deletion. The station reported last week on several e-mails that could be considered racist, insensitive or off-color.

The Sheriff spoke to KTRK as well, and though he whined about being “treated unfairly” by them, I give him credit for doing so. He’s got way more to answer for than this, and finally agreeing to talk to a reporter doesn’t come close to doing it. But it’s a step forward, and we’re the better off for it.

Beckwith’s follies

Remember David Beckwith, the campaign consultant for “Big John” Cornyn? Apparently, he’s been a busy boy at the Burnt Orange Report.

When a staffer for Lt. Col. Noriega made a dumb mistake and falsely represented himself as a blogger to the Cornyn campaign, he was rightfully excoriated. When a Democratic consultant created an anonymous website, he was rightfully questioned. In 2007, user Buck Smith began posting on this and other sites, mainly on threads involving Lt. Col. Rick Noriega or Sen. John Cornyn. He attacked diarists and commenters and provided pro-Cornyn spin on many items. In the interest of full disclosure, and in order to keep everything fair, and since Buck Smith has not disclosed who he is, we thought we would clue you in that he is David Beckwith, John Cornyn’s senior staffer.

We found out his identity because Mr. Beckwith’s email on file with the site is the same email listed on the webpage for his high school reunion class. (We also have a screenshot in case the site is removed soon.)

You know who we are and who we work for. You know who the Democratic consultants and staffers that comment on the site are, and who they work for. Now you know who is the Republican operative, and who he works for. Keep that in mind every time he leaves comments attacking you for supporting Lt. Col. Rick Noriega. Keep that in mind every time he takes to the site to spin for Senator John Cornyn. Keep that in mind when you realize that all of the staffers for Lt. Col. Rick Noriega have disclosed their day jobs, while Senator Cornyn’s staffer lurk in the shadows, using age old dirty whisper campaigns in an online forum.

In fact, Cornyn’s own staffers commented directly on this issue:

“If you’re going to misrepresent yourself, be aware of caller i.d.” Walsh said. “I don’t think misrepresenting yourself is in line with Texas values. I just find it somewhat ham-handed.”

Interestingly, it was Buck Smith who kicked the story off online on an unrelated BOR post. Beckwith linked to no outside material but did get the ball rolling using his deceptive user name with this comment.

After the Cornyn campaign gave an amazingly juvenile response to BOR’s request for a comment about this, Beckwith admitted thr truth to the Chron’s Peggy Fikac. As noted in the comments on the BOR post, Beckwith/Buck Smith even commented on the earlier post about his rumored firing. That would be the definition of sock puppetry right there. Way to go, dude.

On a much nicer note, Rick Noriega is the latest addition to MyDD’s Road to 60 group. Since I posted yesterday, Noriega has gone well past 10,000 contributors and $900,000 on ActBlue – by my rough calculation, he’s raised over $40K on ActBlue since yesterday. Not too bad. And you can move him farther along for the quarter if you hit the link before midnight tonight. Go ahead, do it for Buck Smith.

Upper Kirby versus Trees for Houston

The chairman of the Upper Kirby TIRZ writes a letter in defense of the Kirby storm drain/street widening project that was recently criticized by Trees for Houston.

On the Kirby Drive Storm Drainage and Mobility Improvements Project, however, Trees for Houston is making a mistake using the issue about the trees along Kirby to obscure two more critical issues: street flooding and mobility and safety along one of our busiest and most vibrant residential and commercial streets.

Just last week, a 30-minute summer rain storm caused street flooding in the neighborhoods along Kirby Drive. If we had a sustained storm, let alone a catastrophic storm, like Tropical Storm Alison, most people would quickly trade the present trees along Kirby for the cars they would have to abandon or the homes they would have to pump out. We didn’t create this drainage problem, but we are here to improve it.

The number of cars traveling on Kirby in both directions has increased beyond anyone’s expectations, and the new developments currently under construction will only add more cars to the road. It is unsafe for both cars and pedestrians. The new design for Kirby will increase the mobility and safety of this important street. Period.

We are undertaking this project so that we can create a model thoroughfare for the next 50 years. Indeed, the existing trees will be replaced in greater number. We are un-dertaking this project because when we balance all of the goals that this project must address, we realize that we need to replace trees in order to accomplish all objectives. The remaining right of way will be much more pedestrian-friendly, the power lines will be buried underground and there will be more trees along and in this important boulevard. Approximately nine out of 10 landowners along Kirby Drive agree.

We applaud Trees for Houston and the worthy contributions it has made to our city over the years. We hope that we can continue to work with it in Houston’s best interest. In the meantime, we are moving forward with a plan that takes a larger view and is the right thing to do.

chairman, Upper Kirby TIRZ (Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone) No. 19

I don’t know that I agree with all his assertions, and I’d love to see a citation for that “nine out of ten landowners along Kirby Drive agree” statistic he pulled out, but as he and his group appear to have won the fight, I’m not sure that it matters much. I will say, however, that while is statement about the number of cars travelling on Kirby increasing beyond expectations (and, I’d argue, sustainability) is true, it really points out the need for alternatives to driving in that area. Traffic flow may be improved by the Upper Kirby project, but no capacity is being added. I’ve harped on this subject before and I’ll say it again: Traffic conditions on streets like Kirby can only get worse, and the only real option we have to mitigate against this is transit. That’s not on any blueprint or long-range plan right now (at least, none that I know of), but I say it needs to be, before Kirby becomes undrivable.

On a related note, the subsequent letter raises an interesting point:

Think outside the curbs and shift some of the traffic load from Kirby to South Shepherd. If South Shepherd Drive from Richmond north to where it comes together with Kirby at Allen Parkway were slightly widened and improved, improvements to Kirby can be done without losing trees. It is a rare instance where two parallel streets come together, so the through traffic is indifferent to the actual street taken. At the southern end, both streets connect directly to the freeway access roads, giving motorists essentially identical outcomes.

If it is done my way, the storm sewers get built, the trees stay put, Shepherd moves up in quality and the redundancy means that a problem on one route does not totally shut down the north-south flow.


As someone who regularly drives on Shepherd, I can tell you that the biggest problem is the lack of any kind of turn lane. Every left turn on Shepherd causes a backup and lots of lane-changing. Given that a big part of the reason for the imminent demise of Kirby’s trees is the conversion of its Darwinian turn lane into a wider median-with-pocket-turn-lanes, I don’t see how you can accomplish what this guy suggests on Shepherd without needing to widen it a lot, and I don’t see how you can do that. It was bad form, obviously, to have built Shepherd in such a narrow way, but we’re stuck with it now. Nice try, but not gonna happen.

Meeting to discuss commuter rail study

If you’ve been itching to make a public comment about the new commuter rail study, your opportunity is here.

The first public meeting on a new Regional Commuter Rail Connectivity Study will begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Houston-Galveston Area Council offices, 3555 Timmons.

Recommendations in the study, by H-GAC staff and consultants Kimley-Horn and Associates, differ from those in Metro’s 2003 transit referendum in several ways.

  • The referendum called for commuter rail out U.S. 90A (S. Main) and U.S. 290, but only the latter is in the study. To keep costs down, the study recommends sharing existing low-traffic tracks with freight railroads, but Union Pacific says those on U.S. 90A are too busy to be shared.
  • The referendum map also showed potential routes along the Katy Freeway, Westpark, Hardy Toll Road, Texas 3 and Texas 249 (Tomball Parkway), but only the last two are in the study. The other three are shown as possible extensions of Metro’s light rail service.
  • The study recommends starting with a “baseline” system of five routes: U.S. 290, Texas 3, Texas 249, Texas 35 to Pearland, and — as an alternative to U.S. 90A — a route running south along Almeda (FM 521) and turning west through the middle of Fort Bend County.
  • Although the study shows four lines continuing to downtown, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said they ought not duplicate Metro’s light rail service. There also is resistance on City Council, and from neighborhoods such as the Heights, to more inner-city trains.
  • Both the study and Metro’s plans include an Intermodal Terminal on the north side of downtown, but the study recommends putting the main commuter rail terminal outside the West Loop, between Northwest Mall near U.S. 290 and Metro’s Northwest Transit Center on the Katy Freeway. The Eureka rail yard just across the Loop to the east would be used for maintenance and to store trains between rush hours.

I’m not sure how much it matters that the study differs from the 2003 referendum. Some of what the referendum called for, like a line going west on the Katy Freeway, is no longer an option; some of what the study calls for are things that we probably would have gotten around to anyway regardless of the referendum. I suppose there’s always the potential for someone to sue.

We can dance around issues like that all we want, but the bottom line is going to be this:

Kimley-Horn consultant Sam Lott estimated the cost of the five lines and the hub terminal at $2.9 billion.

That’s a lot of money, though perhaps if we just think of it as being the equivalent of the Katy Freeway expansion, it doesn’t seem that bad – I mean, for the price of one freeway expansion, you get five new commuter rail lines. Not a bad swap, really. And with Park and Ride buses full to capacity, increasingly needed. The point is that this isn’t going to happen without federal funds, and that isn’t going to happen without broad consensus, especially since as that Rad Sallee column notes, it’s going to take more than Metro to make this happen. So if you have questions about this plan, like Christof does, now would be a good time to start asking them.


Now here is a more tangible manifestation of the Obama strategy for Texas: Raising a bunch of money for State House races.

Alexa Wesner caught Obamania before it became fashionable.

The West Lake Hills woman, who’s known Barack Obama since he ran for the U.S. Senate four years ago, has slogged through the snows of Iowa, exceeded her goal of raising $250,000 for his presidential campaign (she’s got a similar target for the fall election), hosted a couple of local Obama fundraisers and dined with the candidate’s wife last fall on a trip to London.

Now Wesner, 36, has turned her sights on what Texas Democrats hope will become the next big thing: winning back the Texas House of Representatives.

[Saturday] Wesner is hosting a high-dollar fundraiser in Wimberley for her new political action committee, Blue Texas, dedicated to spending money on state legislative campaigns. (Tickets are $5,000 a couple to $50,000 for a host committee for an event headlined by Jerry Jeff Walker and Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison.)

As of Friday, Wesner said, she had raised $1 million in tickets for the event. To put that in perspective, Texas Republicans, with Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. John Cornyn headlining an event in Weatherford this weekend, expect to raise $600,000 for statewide get-out-the-vote efforts this fall, according to Roger Williams, who leads the GOP’s Texas Victory ’08 effort.

Texas Democrats spent $21.5 million, from all sources, on Texas House races in 2006, when Republicans outspent them with $38 million.

State Rep. Jim Dunnam, a Waco Democrat who heads the House Democratic Campaign Committee, says he has no illusions that Democrats will outspend Republicans in Texas this year. But he welcomes Wesner’s help: “We never had a million-dollar event before.”

Wow. That’s mighty impressive. And if you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of Ms. Wesner before, consider this:

Ask Wesner why she’s set her sights on the Texas House as well as the White House, and her answer shows how new to politics she is.

“It was amazing to me how close we are. We just need five seats,” Wesner said of the Democrats’ chances of winning a legislative majority in the Texas House, where Republicans hold a 79-71 majority. “I’m talking to a lot of people who don’t realize how close it is.”

Wesner’s enthusiasm and a younger network of high-dollar donors has the Texas Democratic establishment excited.

“She’s so refreshing,” said Jack Martin, founder of Public Strategies, an international business consulting firm. “Not only does she not know who’s been mad at one another (in the Democratic Party), she doesn’t care.”

Martin said Wesner called him last fall to attend an Obama fundraiser.

“She didn’t know big shots like me are supposed to be wooed to attend,” Martin quipped. At the event, Wesner was “taking Obama around the crowd like he’s running for the school board,” Martin said.

Martin, a political wunderkind when he worked for U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen a quarter-century ago, said he didn’t recognize anyone at the fundraiser except biker and cancer-fighter Lance Armstrong.

“Everyone was 20 years younger,” said Martin, who is 54.

That’s a lot of new blood getting involved in a meaningful way for Democratic politics in Texas. I keep saying this year is like no other election year. I’d count this as one more reason why.

The Blue Texas website is here – you have to sign up to see most of the content. Turns out one of the founders was my freshman week orientation mentor in college – he sent me that Statesman story, as well as a copy of Alexa Wesner’s remarks at the Saturday event. I look forward to hearing more from these folks in the near future.

Sarnoff on the Heights Highrise

The Chron’s Nancy Sarnoff writes about the Heights highrise, and makes it sound pretty reasonable.

[C]alling it another Ashby high-rise may be a stretch.

For one, the proposal is for an office building.

And the rendering is old. A newer plan is being considered with only nine stories — six levels for office and three for parking, according to Tim Cisneros, the building’s architect.

The developer hasn’t even gone to the city for a construction permit.

“We’re just looking at who’s interested in doing the deal with us,” said Ed Rizk, a real estate broker and developer who’s pre-leasing the building.

Those involved in the project said there’s a need for office space in the Heights, where area businesses operate out of rundown strip centers, outdated office structures and historic homes.

“The options for Class A office space in the Heights are virtually nil,” said Cisneros, who sees the market as small law firms, accountants, architects and other small businesses whose owners live in the Heights.

Residential units were, however, considered for the site.

But condos would generate a lot more traffic than an office building operating just during business hours.

And a shopping center would require loads of parking.

“We’re trying to envision if it’s an appropriate building type,” Cisneros said.

It’s still not clear to me that there’s that much demand for office space in the Heights, but whatever. I still think nine stories is a bit on the tall side for the area, but as I said before, beyond that there’s not much to object to.

The proposed office building would be built on a 25,000-square-foot parcel at 3110 White Oak, just west of the popular Onion Creek restaurant and bar.

It would replace a house and small shopping center and could contain 50,000 square feet of office space and just enough ground-level retail space to support a bank or restaurant.

Land owner and developer Geoffrey Vaughan couldn’t be reached, but his architect thinks the project could serve as an example for acceptable urban development.

“Is it ambitious? Yes. Potentially controversial? Yes,” Cisneros said.

“But I think maybe it could sensitively set the model for some development patterns in Houston.”

I took a couple of photos of the lot where the highrise would be. Here they are:

You can see the entire space from this view. Onion Creek is just on the other side of that telephone pole on the far right.

A view from Oxford, the crossroad immediately to the west of the lot. It’s not very deep, which is why a lot of people were puzzled by this at first. Between this new development and the presence of Onion Creek, I can foresee a traffic light at this intersection sometime in the future. Note the lack of sidewalks on Oxford, which will be an impediment to anyone who wants to walk to this new building.

The misnamed Montrose Skate Shop, on the other side of Oxford, will be the highrise’s other neighbor on White Oak.

Barring any new information, I don’t think there’s much more to say about this until such time as permits start getting pulled, and the neighborhood reacts. In the end, I think it won’t be too contentious, but let’s see what the specifics are before we get too confident.

Turn that thing up!

This is one of those “why didn’t we think of this sooner” kind of things.

City Hall has gotten a little hotter, and not because of a sudden gust of political rhetoric.

Officials adjusted the air conditioning in 100 municipal buildings, hoping that a 2-degree increase in air temperature — to 74 — will help save money. And relieve a most peculiar Houston phenomenon: having to wear a sweater indoors in summer.

“Now that I think about it, I can get away without that thick sweater I used to wear,” said Linda Layton, agenda director for Councilwoman Jolanda Jones. “It’s tolerable now, comfortable.”

Jon Newport, another council staffer, said he feels warmer than he’d like but he can live with the change.

“Whatever we have to do to save the taxpayers money, that’s what we’ll do,” he said. “It’s noticeable, but I wouldn’t say it’s uncomfortable. I haven’t been forced to go out and buy a fan.”

The city budgeted $159 million for its electrical bill in the coming year. Since 2004, it has reduced its energy consumption, in kilowatt-hours, by 5.8 percent, said Issa Dadoush, the director of General Services.

The city doesn’t know how much it’ll save by raising the temperature, but it hasn’t ruffled any feathers, he said.

“We have not received any complaints, and we’ve had some really hot days over the past three weeks,” Dadoush said.

Talk about a simple thing you can do to save the planet. I’ve worked for the past two years in a cubicle that has a west-facing window. When I first got there, all the windows on that floor had these old, ratty, and completely ineffective coverings that did nothing to block the afternoon sunlight. It got mighty warm around there, and I say that as someone with robot-like heat tolerance. As a result, there were many complaints to facilities folks to crank the A/C, something that would not be appreciated very much these days. They eventually replaced all that with miniblinds, which do a much better job of keeping things temperate, presumably including the utility bills. It’s a win-win all around.

So what’s the temperature at your office? Based on this MeMo video, I suspect that article got mailed around quite about at the Chronicle.

Good news: We’re not doomed!

Well, this is a relief.

The most powerful atom-smasher ever built could make some bizarre discoveries, such as invisible matter or extra dimensions in space, after it is switched on in August.

But some critics fear the Large Hadron Collider could exceed physicists’ wildest conjectures: Will it spawn a black hole that could swallow Earth? Or spit out particles that could turn the planet into a hot dead clump?

Ridiculous, say scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French initials CERN — some of whom have been working for a generation on the $5.8 billion collider, or LHC.

“Obviously, the world will not end when the LHC switches on,” said project leader Lyn Evans.

David Francis, a physicist on the collider’s huge ATLAS particle detector, smiled when asked whether he worried about black holes and hypothetical killer particles known as strangelets.

“If I thought that this was going to happen, I would be well away from here,” he said.

Of course, that’s exactly what they’d want you to think, isn’t it? It’s all fun and games until someone activates the doomsday machine.

Critics of the LHC filed a lawsuit in a Hawaiian court in March seeking to block its startup, alleging that there was “a significant risk that … operation of the Collider may have unintended consequences which could ultimately result in the destruction of our planet.”

One of the plaintiffs, Walter L. Wagner, a physicist and lawyer, said Wednesday CERN’s safety report, released June 20, “has several major flaws,” and his views on the risks of using the particle accelerator had not changed.

On Tuesday, U.S. Justice Department lawyers representing the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation filed a motion to dismiss the case.

The two agencies have contributed $531 million to building the collider, and the NSF has agreed to pay $87 million of its annual operating costs. Hundreds of American scientists will participate in the research.

The lawyers called the plaintiffs’ allegations “extraordinarily speculative,” and said “there is no basis for any conceivable threat” from black holes or other objects the LHC might produce. A hearing on the motion is expected in late July or August.

In rebutting doomsday scenarios, CERN scientists point out that cosmic rays have been bombarding the earth, and triggering collisions similar to those planned for the collider, since the solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago.

And so far, Earth has survived.

“The LHC is only going to reproduce what nature does every second, what it has been doing for billions of years,” said John Ellis, a British theoretical physicist at CERN.

The guys who filed that suit strike me as being nuts, but I’d still kind of like to see the matter go forward, if only to see how a non-scientist judge deals with it. There’s a lot of entertainment potential in that.

The end of the quarter is upon us

Monday is the quarterly reporting deadline for campaign finances, and if you haven’t been buried under an avalanche of emails soliciting donations, you probably don’t follow politics that closely. If you are at all inclined to donate to a campaign, sometime before midnight tomorrow would be best. If you’ve got a few bucks burning a hole in your pocket and need someplace to send them, here are a few recommendations. This is nowhere close to a comprehensive list, just a couple of suggestions.

Rick NoriegaActBlue page. He’s approaching 10,000 online donors, and $900,000 raised via ActBlue, both mighty impressive numbers for a first-time statewide candidate in Texas. You can help move him past those milestones.

– Congressional candidates Michael Skelly (CD07), Larry Joe Doherty (CD10), or Eric Roberson (CD32).

– State Senate, a usually quiet arena for competitive campaigns, has a bounty this year with Wendy Davis in SD10, Joe Jaworski in SD11, and Rain Minns in SD16 (ActBlue page here). And that’s before we consider the possibility of the SD17 special election.

– There’s way too many good candidates to list in the State House. You can give to the TexBlog PAC (ActBlue page here) as a proxy, or browse ActBlue for a candidate near you, physically or issues-wise. If you believe in rewarding moxie, consider helping out the guy who’s running against Tom Craddick, Bill Dingus, whose brand new ActBlue page is here. I can’t say that’s on any list of truly competitive races, but you’ve got to admire the courage.

– And of course, your candidates for county offices, all of whom you can find here for Harris County.

Every little bit helps. Thanks very much.

Big Bad John

I’m really rather amazed at how long this has been in the news.

Is U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s Big Bad John campaign video a big black eye for him?

His staff says absolutely not, painting the attention-getting video as a “winner.” But Democrats are reacting with glee to the video, which includes Cornyn in a cowboy hat and fringed jacket, plus a rewrite of the song to include lines: “He rose to the top in just one term, kept Texas in power, made lesser states squirm. Big John. Big John. Big John. Yeah, Big Bad John.”

Rep. Rick Noriega, the Houston Democrat challenging Cornyn, posted his own version of the video on his campaign Web site as a fundraising tool.


Political scientists don’t think it’s a turning point.

“My guess is this is all going to turn out to be much ado about nothing,” said political scientist Bruce Buchanan of the University of Texas at Austin.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, said it’s likely “a blip” and thinks Cornyn is heavily favored to win but added, “I don’t think it was especially good for his reputation, either. … It will stay with him.”

While I agree that the original Cornyn video, as ridiculous as it is in a Dukakis-in-a-tank kind of way, is unlikely to sway many voters, it has had the effect of raising the profile of this race nationally, and I daresay has helped Noriega’s fundraising, which is a critical matter for him. The bad news about this being such a great year to run for office as a Democrat is that there’s a lot more competition for buzz and funding. On that score, given how widely these videos have been linked, often by bloggers who’d had no previous interest in the race, it’s definitely been a boon for Noriega.

Texas Republicans reacted with outrage after Matthew Miller of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee distributed a link to The Daily Show segment and said that Cornyn, in donning the fancy jacket, “appears to have raided the wardrobe closet for the Kilgore Rangerettes.”

State GOP spokesman Hans Klingler described the moves as “ethnic and racial assaults,” and Texas Republican Hispanic Association President Reggie Gonzalez called the remarks insensitive because, the party explained, Cornyn was wearing a “Tamaulipeca jacket … designed in the Hispanic tradition” at a Charro Days celebration in Brownsville.

Miller said he’d let The Daily Show defend its own humor and added, “No one is making fun of the clothes. They’re laughing at how silly Rhinestone Cowboy John Cornyn looks in them.”

(Stewart did question how Cornyn found the jacket in an adult size.)

Of Beckwith’s suggestion that those who don’t like the video are anti-Texan, Miller said, “I grew up in Amarillo and went to school in Austin. I don’t know a whole lot of Texans who would look at that … and think that it helps John Cornyn.”

I’ve no idea if the claim about a “Tamaulipeca jacket” is true or not. What I do know is that this is exactly the sort of imagery most of my high school classmates in New York City had in mind when they heard I was going to college in Texas. As a lifelong urbanite, as well as a naturalized Texan, the whole cowboy-mystique thing has never moved me. Texas is an increasingly urban state, populated more and more by people who weren’t born here or who were born to people who weren’t born here, so I have to think there’s a lot of folks here for whom the same is true. Maybe I’m wrong about that – Lord knows, the automotive industry still drowns us in rural/cowboy motifs as it tries to sell pickup trucks and Suburbans – but I’d bet this is more true now than ever before. All I know is that the “Big John” video strikes me as an anachronism, like it was made by people from one coast or the other based on their limited perception of the state of Texas and its people. Oh, and that the fringey attire looks silly and completely out of place on Cornyn, authentic or not.

Anyway, here are the videos, in case you haven’t seen them. Here’s the original:

And the Noriega response:

Rumor now has it that David Beckwith, the consultant who made the “Big John” video, has been fired by the campaign. That would not be the first time he’s gotten himself in trouble with Big John. Some people never learn, I guess. Anyway, seeing as how the quarterly reporting deadline for campaign fundraising is tomorrow, now would be a good time to contribute to Rick Noriega. There’s more than one way to measure the impact of a campaign event, after all.

Weekend link dump

Just some interesting links from other folks to check out…

Deadspin has a new executive editor. To no one’s surprise, it’s not a woman.

The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell says that James Dobson does not speak for him.

The Top Ten Ways to get yourself discriminated against at the Department of Justice.

Will first-term City Council Member Jolanda Jones draw a serious challenger in 2009? Maybe, but you’d have to do a lot better than that to impress me.


It’s taken him a long time to work through the first of the “Left Behind” books, but Slacktivist’s take on them is still some of the best writing on the Internet.

If you insist on “teaching the controversy”, then by God, teach the controversy!

Hey, did you know that Norbizness was blogging again? Well, now you do.

No castration without representation!

East End rail opening ceremony

The East End (Harrisburg) rail line had its official kickoff on Thursday.

As streamers and fireworks shot into the sweltering air and opponents picketed outside, elected officials and East End community leaders today celebrated the impending start of construction of a light rail line in their historic neighborhood.

“It may have been said in the past, but it can’t be said now that the city of Houston is overlooking the East End,” Mayor Bill White said to applause from about 200 supporters.


State Sen. Mario Gallegos said his grandfather had ridden a trolley on Harrisburg and he looks forward to having rail there again.

Councilmen Adrian Garcia and James Rodriguez thanked Metro and fellow council members who grilled the agency about its plans before voting June 18 to allow it to build on city streets.

“Thanks for making sure we pay attention to detail,” Garcia said. “Let’s make sure we keep construction moving fast and effectively.”

You can insert your favorite cliche here about there still being a long way to go, but it’s still nice to acknowledge how far we’ve come. May we have many more reasons to celebrate soon.

It means “Suave and Debonair”

Michael brings me some good news.

[I]t was with great surprise and pleasure that I heard from [Tom Beard, lead singer for Houston’s strangest blues bar band, Feo Y Loco]. Feo is in the studio working on re-recording old classics and new songs. Politically Incorrect is on iTMS (and amusingly not marked Explicit Lyrics), it’s on CDbaby, and the web site makes current and impressive promises:

We are re-mastering the original Feo cassette album, released in 1992. Along with the original songs on the cassette will be 3 new “surprise” tunes Feoheads everywhere will enjoy. This will also be available as a CD on, or at gigs. This should happen in June, and probably sometime in July, this CD will be available for download on iTunes and the other music download services.

We will also be releasing a live CD, as well as at least 2 more CD’s of material never before recorded, before the end of 2008. There will also be videos available as well. And you thought Feo Y Loco was lazy! Shame on you. Check back often for updates.

I actually already own a digitized version of the original cassette, thanks to Michael and Ginger, but I’ll be downloading the new one, because whatever that new music is, I need to have it. I wasted many years of my life had a heck of a lot of fun attending Feo shows back in the day, and am pleased as punch to hear they’re still active, in some form. If you’ve never had the pleasure, check ’em out. It won’t be the same as one of their live shows, but they’re a hoot however you hear them.

Another Lyceum poll

Those Texas Lyceum folks have been busy lately, first with their Senate poll, and now with an early peek at the 2010 Governor’s race.

Robert Black, spokesman for [Governor Rick Perry], dismissed the Texas Lyceum Poll results, saying, “Any poll that tries to forecast any kind of results two years from an election isn’t worth a whole lot.”


Perry has said he wants to continue his streak by winning another term in 2010, but the poll for the non-profit Texas Lyceum group gave a strong advantage to Hutchison, who’s expected to run for governor.

Among all respondents, 35 percent said they were likely to support Hutchison in a GOP contest, and 22 percent backed Perry, with other possible candidates dividing the rest. Among a subgroup of GOP voters, Hutchison drew 50 percent to 23 percent for Perry.

The poll shows “how difficult it is to be a governor,” said Daron Shaw, poll director and associate professor in the government department at the University of Texas at Austin. “Perry has to take lots of positions and get out in front on public policy issues. Senators can be a little more selective.”

The poll of 1,000 Texans has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

You can see the poll memo here (PDF); they also did a poll on transportation issues, which you can see here (PDF). For once I have to agree with Robert Black (and also with Greg, though that’s not unusual). It’s just not possible that this poll can tell us anything very specific at this early date. Now a straight-up “Do you want to see Governor Perry run for re-election in 2010” question, that would have been something. This, not so much. All I’ll say about the Bill White numbers is that much closer to the 2003 election than we are now to 2010, lots of people – myself included – were comparing him to George Greanias. Never underestimate someone who can raise funds and hire good people.

More on the Lyceum poll

In my earlier post about that Texas Lyceum poll, I wondered about the partisan ratio that the pollster used. I see now that Harvey Kronberg is on the case.

In response to our query, Lyceum pollster Daron R. Shaw sent us the following explanation:

“We use a likely voter screen consisting of the following:

1. self-reported registration
2. interest in the election (somewhat or extremely)
3. voting behavior over past two years (almost all or every election).

“This gets the 1,000 person sample down to 478. The party breakdown for the LV population is 42%R-42%D. Democrats are more prominent in this estimated electorate than they have been in recent years due to their relatively high levels of interest and self-reported recent voting. We could have weighted this to a 6-8 point Republican advantage, but judged it best to simply report the numbers and be clear about the underlying party breakdown. Do we believe Democrats will maintain their “enthusiasm” edge over the Republicans and make these elections close in the fall? History is against them. But given recent trends nationally and the engagement attitudes expressed in the poll, it seems imprudent to weight the data back to expected party turnout.

“Let me be clear; the internals show little to no cross-over voting. Obama (and Noriega) are not getting Republicans. They have locked down almost all Democrats, though. This is a snap-shot whose predictive value is highly contingent. Democratic candidates need to have a huge Democratic turnout, along with lukewarm Republican turnout, to get the numbers we show here on Election Day.”

Very interesting, once again showing the potential for the Obama strategy in Texas. We know he’s capable of turning out non-traditional voters; if that pattern is maintained for the general election, we will wake up in a very different world on November 5. It also makes me wonder what the raw numbers are that Baselice is getting. Is he weighing things to get the partisan gap he expects, or is he still seeing that gap without any tinkering? Maybe he’ll address that in a future poll.

Senate shenanigans

The Lone Star Project highlights another bit of funny bookkeeping from State Sen. Kim Brimer:

Campaign finance records show that Republican State Senator Kim Brimer (SD10 – Fort Worth) has again used campaign contributor funds for personal gain. A complete review of Kim Brimer’s campaign finance forms from 1987 to the present shows that Brimer skimmed at least $37,953 from his campaign account for his personal use. The Lone Star Project discovery of Brimer’s improper, and possibly illegal, repayments resulted from an earlier investigation (PDF) into the Republican Senator’s improper use of campaign cash to purchase a luxury condominium in Austin.

Facts: Phony Loan Scam

Documents filed with the Texas Ethics Commission show that during Brimer’s campaign for the Texas State House in 1987 and 1988, he bilked his campaign for more than $37,000.

  • Brimer loaned his campaign $46,000 during 1987 and 1988
  • Brimer family members loaned the Kim Brimer Campaign an additional $10,000
  • Brimer made a series of payments to himself totaling at least $83,953, reported as “loan repayments,” from 1988 to 1992
  • As a result, Kim Brimer received at least $37,953 more than the amount he loaned himself.
    (Source: Texas Ethics Commission) See Documents Here

Brimer Scandal File Growing

This Brimer campaign loan scam comes on the heels of a Lone Star Project report and Fort Worth Star-Telegram article detailing how Kim Brimer used donations to his campaign to make bogus “rent” payments to his wife. The “rent” payments and the profits from the sale of the luxury condo netted Brimer more than $357,000.

You almost have to admire the entrepreneurship needed to come up with a scheme like this. If only such creative thinking were used to solve the school finance problem. Or rising insurance rates, which have gotten Brimer’s attention somewhat belatedly. See the extended entry for a press release from the Wendy Davis campaign for more on that.

Meanwhile, the Texas Conservative Review has a long article on the “real reasons behind State Sen. Kyle Janek’s resignation” in SD17. This is not an unbiased source, as TCR publisher Gary Polland lost to Janek in a GOP primary for the SD17 seat in 2002, but it’s an interesting read, and offers a further clue that the seat is ripe for a Democratic pickup this year with the right candidate in the race. Check it out.


Gray on Kirby

The Chron’s Lisa Gray makes a pitch for saving at least some of the doomed trees along Kirby Drive.

The street is a major thoroughfare, a big deal in and of itself. And even more important, it presents the kind of challenge that Houston has to learn to deal with. It’s obvious, driving past Kirby’s current spate of high-rise construction, that we’re becoming a different kind of city: tighter packed, more urban than suburban, a city with light rail and pedestrians.

A different kind of city needs a different kind of street — a street that we’re not used to designing.

She wrote this column after Trees for Houston made a public appeal last Friday to change the plan for Kirby Drive.

Founder of Trees for Houston William Coats told the media Friday morning his organization probably made a mistake in endorsing a compromise to make Kirby Drive 73 feet wide before seeing engineering plans.

As a result, he said, only speedy action on the part of the city of Houston can save about 135 trees standing between Westheimer Road and Richmond Avenue from being removed when construction on the Kirby Storm Drainage project begins, probably in July.

“Good people correct mistakes,” Coats said, gesturing from the patio of Beck’s Prime in the 2900 block to several trees the group had marked with red X’s to symbolize each would be removed.

Coats comments came almost three weeks after he told a group attending the Upper Kirby District TIRZ 28 that Trees of Houston wanted the width of the proposed street surface reduced by a foot on either side.


Coats said Friday half the trees along the disputed stretch of street could have been saved in a 73-foot configuration, if the engineering plans had been drawn “in any way that is sympathetic” to the trees.

“Most of the time, we don’t say a word,” he said of trees lost during city projects. “In this case, the citizens will pay for taking the trees down unnecessarily.”

Coats said trees the size of the larger ones in the area would cost at least $25,000 to replace but that would be impossible, because there would be no room for the root balls to be planted.

“We want to have shade as we are enjoying here today,” he said.

It may be too late, but if you feel strongly about this, it’s never a bad idea to contact your City Council member and let him or her know that you’d like to see more of an effort made to save these trees. Contact info is here.

TMA unendorses Cornyn


The political action committee of the Texas Medical Association, furious about a Thursday night vote on a Medicare-funding bill, is going to rescind its endorsement of Sen. John Cornyn’s reelection bid, association spokesman Brent Annear said.

Cornyn and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison voted to stall a bill that would have prevented a 10 percent cut in Medicare funding for physicians, prompting an unusually harsh reaction from the medical association, which has 43,000 members and is one of the most powerful trade groups in Texas politics.

The two Republican senators say they wanted a 30-day extension that would have prevented the cuts, which are scheduled to take effect July 1.

Background here. The TMA’s unendorsement of Cornyn does not equate to an endorsement of Rick Noriega, though of course you can’t have the latter without first getting the former. BOR has more.

UPDATE: Meant to include Noriega’s statement on Cornyn’s vote – it’s beneath the fold.


Deputies for Garcia

This is a pretty remarkable letter to the editor in today’s Chron.

The type of sheriff we need

Regarding Tuesday’s Page One article “Sheriff aims to polish his star / Thomas takes the heat for mistakes but blames ‘politics’ for some criticism”: In response to Sgt. Richard Newby’s comment, he is either quite misinformed or totally out of touch with his membership. While it is true that the Harris County Deputies Organization has mailed letters to the membership requesting their choice in the upcoming sheriff’s election, Newby incorrectly stated that our deputies are siding slightly with Adrian Garcia. The truth is, the members of the union are picking Garcia 3 to 1 over Thomas.

There are many reasons the deputies want a change at the top. However, the main one is they have lost faith in Tommy Thomas to lead the third-largest sheriff’s department in the nation. They, along with a large number of the public, realize that Thomas cannot lead from the rear. We need a sheriff who will stand up for not only us but the public and lead from the front!

former president, Harris County Deputies Organization, Houston

Emphasis added. I confess, when I started reading this letter and got to the preceeding sentences, I thought it was going to say that the deputies were standing behind their Sheriff. Needless to say, this was a very pleasant surprise.

Meanwhile, Wayne Dolcefino has been poking through the Sheriff’s department’s emails, and finds a bunch of racist crap. And he makes a point that I am sure will come up again:

They are harmless jokes to some and racism to others. The sheriff’s department prohibits inappropriate emails. Something that even top commanders seem to ignore. Of course we wouldn’t have known that if the sheriff’s office had gotten away with destroying them.


And the sheriff remains silent.

“It is very much a concern in the community that he is silent on this,” said Houston councilmember MJ Khan.

Friday, top commanders, racist and anti-Muslim slurs may be just the beginning. And why the email trail will lead to major new investigations of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

I’m thinking the Sheriff won’t be coming out of his bunker for more press appearances any time soon.

“I got a leather from my Fred”

Ever wonder just what the heck Joe Cocker is singing when he covers the Beatles’ A Little Help From My Friends? Well, wonder no more:

Just as you always suspected, right? Me too. And a better anti-drug PSA you’re unlikely to find. Thanks to Julia and Avedon for the link.

TexBlog PAC event a big success

The TexBlog PAC fundraiser last night was a big success, drawing in a crowd of over 50 people and raising more than $7000 to help take back the Texas House. You can see photos from the event, taken by Patty Pinkley, here. A couple of highlights from the event: One was the speech by State Rep. Garnet Coleman, in which he thanked the TexBlog PAC for its efforts and pledged his own support to them. Paraphrasing from memory, Rep. Coleman spoke about how the Democratic caucus showed up in 2003 as the minority party for the first time ever, and there was a lot of pressure on them to go along and get along. He noted that since committee assignments are made by the Speaker and the members themselves via seniority privileges, unlike the US House where there’s a Majority Leader and Minority Leader and each side makes its own assignments, there isn’t any leverage for imposing party discipline. Getting support from visible sources like us bloggers, who were very much in line with an agenda of opposing the Perry/Craddick regime, made it easier for them to do so because it demonstrated that this is what Democratic voters wanted. He also noted that by supporting challengers, the TexBlog PAC made it easier for other groups like the HDCC to protect the gains the Democrats have made in narrowing the gap in the House from 88-62 to 79-71, especially since many of those gains – think State Reps. Juan Garcia and Dan Barrett for two prime examples – came in fairly strong Republican areas.

The other big highlight of the event was the announcement of our third endorsed candidate, Sherrie Matula, right here in Harris County’s HD129. We’ll have a more formal announcement of this on Monday, but since everyone there knows about it I figured I’d go ahead and share it now. Sherrie ran a great race in 2006 on a shoestring budget, and she’s been running hard for this November ever since. She’s got a large and active volunteer base, the Apple Corps, and her campaign has been gaining a lot of traction. HD129 is in a very strategic location, being completely within CD22, SD11, and SBOE district 7, as well as Harris County, so having a great candidate running a strong race there serves many good purposes. It was my pleasure to introduce Sherrie as the third TexBlog PAC candidate, and she received a very warm reception from the attendees.

With the success of this event, the PAC is in a position to announce more endorsees shortly. We’ve got an event coming up in San Antonio next month, and we’ll be doing some stuff at Netroots Nation, so look for more announcements soon. We can’t do what we do without the support of many people, and on behalf of the Board I want to give our profuse thanks to all of the sponsors of last night’s event, all of the attendees, and everyone who has given us support of any kind throughout our campaign. With your help, we’re going to elect a Democratic majority to the State House, and send Tom Craddick to the sidelines where he belongs. Thank you all very much.

Reminder: Houston Votes Zydeco event

Just a reminder about this:

See you there!

The z-word and the airports

Looks like Houston is going to get some form of zoning after all.

Zoning around Houston’s three airports came a step closer to reality on Wednesday, as City Council approved the creation of an Airport Commission to finalize the affected areas and impose building restrictions on them.

The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered the city to control development around its airports or risk losing future federal funding.

“These are provisional conditions for development, but compatible development,” said Councilman Mike Sullivan, whose District E includes Kingwood and Clear Lake. “In short, land use that makes sense near an airport.”

Airport officials have been careful not to use the word “zoning,” preferring the phrase “land use regulations.”

To-may-to, to-mah-to.

The Airport Commission will convene this summer and hold public hearings. But city planners already have sketched out preliminary boundaries for the three concentric “tiers” of land around each airport: George Bush Intercontinental, Hobby and Ellington Field.

The innermost Tier 1 would be closed to new construction of homes, hospitals, schools, movie theaters and other noise-sensitive uses. Warehouses and other commercial uses would be OK.

Existing homes in Tier 1 could be renovated or enlarged if owners install soundproofing, at their own expense.


Tier 2, somewhat farther from airport runways, would allow new construction of many different sorts, if it includes soundproofing.

Tier 3 would encompass a large swath of land — a total of 141 square miles around all three airports — but officials say they are planning no restrictions on that land now. They will inform property owners or potential buyers, however, that the Tier 3 land is subject to the city’s regulatory reach.

Well, okay. I’m not really sure what the purpose is, but whatever. I just hope someone is already planning to do some kind of study on the long-term effects of these “land use regulations”, to see how the affected areas compare to the rest of Houston. Maybe it won’t be as bad as it’s always been claimed to be, and maybe it will be. At least now we’ll have a way to try to settle that argument.

National Night Out, the local option

You have to admit, this makes a lot of sense.

For 24 long years, Houstonians swatted mosquitoes for law and order. They sweated for community solidarity. They turned out by the tens of thousands in the hottest part of the summer to join their fellow Americans in the crime-fighting National Night Out.

This year they’re putting it all on ice. Sort of.

City police officials have announced that this year Houston and all of Texas will observe National Night Out on Oct. 7 — two months after the rest of the nation.

“You’ve been out at night in August, and you know what that’s like,” said police spokesman Jesse Martinez. “And you’ve been out at night in October, and you know what that’s like, too.”


Matt Peskin, executive director of the National Association of Town Watch, the Night Out sponsor, said his group agreed to experimentally reschedule Texas events after it received complaints about the heat from law enforcement agencies in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“There are two trains of thought on this,” he said. “It could be great, or it could be a total flop.”

Well, yeah, those are your two main options. As I recall, NNO originated in the North, so it made sense for it to be a summer evening. I personally was never bothered by it being in August down here, but I’m a bit of a mutant when it comes to heat tolerance, so I can certainly understand the objection. Let’s hope it turns out to be great.

Good news for Noriega

Good news – Rick Noriega was the winner of the PAC For A Change contest, which will bring him some much-appreciated fundraising help.

In just one week, over 25,000 PAC for a Change community members voted in our “Choose a Challenger” contest. We’re pleased to announce that Rick Noriega, the Democratic nominee for Senate in Texas, won the contest with 30% of the vote — narrowly edging out Al Franken, who finished second with 24%.

My thanks to everyone who participated – he certainly couldn’t have won without you.

Elsewhere, there’s another positive poll result, this one from the Texas Lyceum (PDF).

Republican John McCain would beat Democrat Barack Obama in Texas if the race were held now. But a significant number of Texans said they haven’t picked a favorite yet. Among likely voters, McCain had the support of 43% of those polled to 38% for Obama. Libertarian Bob Barr and independent Ralph Nader had about 1% each. One of every six voters — 17% — said they haven’t decided who will get their vote in November.

Freshman U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, leads Democratic challenger Rick Noriega in the poll, but the margin is slim and a large number of voters haven’t made up their minds. Cornyn had the support of 38% of the likely voters in the survey, to Noriega’s 36%, with 24% saying they’re not committed to either candidate.

Those are pretty good numbers, with a lot of growth potential. It’s shocking to imagine Republican statewide candidates polling so poorly, and it’s a little strange to see so many undecideds – I’d figure on “party ID” alone, the values would be higher.

Speaking of those party ID numbers, the reported totals are not what I’d expect:

We interviewed Texas adults during the June 12-20 period, talking to 1,000 adults, half of them male, half of them female. Eight out of ten said they are registered to vote.

The highly contested presidential contest apparently has Texans more tuned into politics than they were a year ago. Half identify themselves as voters in “every” or “almost every” election, and 85% consider themselves “extremely interested” or “somewhat interested” in politics and public affairs.

The respondents come from a variety of places, 42% suburban, 28% urban, and 27% rural. Most — 59% — are married, and 43% have one or more college degrees. Most — 54% — identify themselves as White; 32% as Hispanic; and 11% as African-American. The party splits are 32% Republican and 44% Democrat — but the ideological splits go the other way, with 42% calling themselves conservative, 34% saying they are moderate, and 19% identifying themselves as liberals.

I don’t know what to make of that. I’ve been arguing that the Baselice poll results have been overstating the Republican advantage, but I would not have claimed that said advantage had disappeared, let alone reversed itself. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around that, yet the conservative/moderate/liberal splits seem right on. Maybe there’s just a whole lot of people who don’t call themselves Republicans any more, but still mostly vote like Republicans. Much as I’d like to believe this, I’ll need to see at least one confirming result before I put too much stock in it.

Interestingly, Burka mostly nods his head at this poll.

The presidential poll seems credible to me. In fact, McCain by six points is exactly the number that a prominent McCain booster told me recently he thought that the actual outcome would be. Noriega [trailing] by two is more problematic, but overall, these numbers, with the people who have made up their mind in both parties representing about three-fourths of the respondents and the rest being undecided, seem a lot more credible to me than the earlier polls that showed over 90% of the electorate committed (48%-44%).

He didn’t comment on the party or racial/ethnic splits, which is too bad. I’ll just say that a final result of McCain by six – that is, something like 53-47 – would put Obama comfortably above the bonanza line, and might well mean Democratic wins in places we’re not currently expecting. That makes his strategy for Texas, which we talked about at the TexBlog PAC event, loom even larger. BOR, Trail Blazers, and Texas Kaos have more.

Business tax revenues falling short of projections

Unless something changes in the next few months, this is going to present an unpleasant surprise for the next Legislature.

Texas’ new business tax has brought in $4.2 billion so far, raising questions about whether it will hit the $5.9 billion in collections projected for this fiscal year.

State Comptroller Susan Combs’ office, which Wednesday announced the total collected since the June 16 deadline, cautioned final figures won’t be available until November since businesses could file for an extension.

“I guess for a brand-new tax … that’s pretty good,” said Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. “It’s pretty well on target.”

But Dale Craymer, chief economist for the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association who has worked for a comptroller, two governors and the Texas House, said, “I think it’s unlikely we’re going to hit the first-year target of $5.9 billion. It’s too early to say how big a miss it is.”

Still, Craymer said, Texas has billions unspent so even if the new tax is a bit short, “the state still has plenty of money to cover its needs.” He predicted problems would be smoothed over as the tax is in place longer.


An estimated 500,000 returns have been filed so far, Combs spokesman R.J. DeSilva said. Some returns cover groups of businesses, so it’s unclear how many entities are represented by the returns, he said.

Of those that filed, 133,000 made payments, including 46,000 that made a required payment in asking for an extension to pay whatever else they may owe.

Am I reading this right? Nearly three-quarters of the returns are for businesses that didn’t have to pay anything? Help me out here, because that just sounds wrong.

Some lawmakers noted that state leaders, including GOP Gov. Rick Perry, said they expected the expanded business tax to bring in more money than projected, an idea they said appears unlikely given the numbers released Wednesday.

“They were telling us what they wanted people to believe so they wouldn’t get upset about a massive cut in the amount of money available to fund the schools and other state priorities,” said Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston.

He and others expressed particular concern since the money needed to subsidize the cut in local school property tax rates is far more than the amount that will be brought in by the expanded business tax and a higher cigarette tax, both meant to help offset property tax relief.

Lawmakers last year approved a $14.2 billion property-tax relief package. About $8.3 billion of that was to be covered by new state taxes, leaving about $6 billion to be covered by other funds in the budget. Of the $5.9 billion that’s been projected to be brought in by the expanded business tax in fiscal year 2008, which ends Aug. 31, $2.8 billion is projected to go this year for general revenue and $3.1 billion to offset local school property tax relief.

The bottom line is that at this point, up to another $1.7 billion will have to be found to cover the gap between what the business tax was supposed to pay for, and what it actually is paying for. And before you say the word “surplus”, bear in mind that most of what constitutes said surplus is already accounted for. So we can either pray for more revenue from those business tax extension filers, or we can start thinking about what to do to make up for this shortfall. Have fun with that.

Interview with Eric Roberson

I had the chance to meet Eric Roberson, who is running for CD32 up in Dallas, while I was in Austin for the Democratic convention, but due to my short stay our schedules didn’t allow for an interview. Fortunately, he was going to be coming to Houston shortly afterwards, and I took advantage of that to rectify the omission. Roberson is an attorney and Navy flight officer, and a veteran of Operation Desert Shield. A recent poll in the district, using the actual turnout data from 2006 as its model, showed him trailing incumbent Rep. Pete Sessions by only nine points; basically, this district is less Republican than it used to be, and could be within reach given the nature of this year’s election. My conversation with Eric Roberson is here, as always in MP3 format. I’m working on gettting a few more interviews with candidates from other parts of the state, and will begin doing Harris County hopefuls shortly.


State Rep. Dan Barrett, HD97.
Wendy Davis, SD10.
Robert Miklos, HD101.
Chris Turner, HD96.
Joe Moody, HD78.
Ernie Casbeer, HD59.
State Rep. Juan Garcia, HD32.

Final reminder: TexBlog PAC fundraiser tonight

Today is the big day!

Please join host Mustafa Tameez

and sponsors:
State Representatives Ellen Cohen, Jessica Farrar, and Ana Hernandez
Houston City Controller Annise Parker
Democratic Candidate for U.S. Congress Michael Skelly
Democratic Candidate for State Senate Joe Jaworski
Democratic Candidates for State Representative Carol Alvarado, Sherrie Matula, Joel Redmond and John McClelland, Kristi Thibaut, and Armano Walle
Houston area bloggers Martha Griffin, Stace Medellin, and Charles Kuffner
and and James Hernandez, Casey Jones, Jay Aiyer

as we come together to take back the Texas House
and announce another TexBlog PAC endorsement

Join the

TexBlog PAC

with special guest

State Representative Garnet Coleman

Thursday, June 26, 2008

5:30 to 7:30 pm

Rice Lofts, Room 203

909 Texas Avenue

$25 Contribution Suggested

Sponsorships available at the following levels:

$500 $250 $125 $50

Please make all checks payable to:

TexBlog PAC

501 E. Stassney Lane, Ste 1010, Austin TX, 78745

or contribute online by visiting:

We endorsed candidate Chris Turner on Tuesday – he thanked us in this BOR diary – we’ll endorse another candidate at this event, and if all goes as hoped, we’ll be in a position to endorse candidate #4 shortly thereafter. The original goal was six candidates; I’m very hopeful we’ll be able to surpass that. We greatly appreciate all the help we’ve received in achieving those goals, and I hope to be able to thank many of you for that support at this event. See you then!

More on the Heights highrise

Farther down in that HAIF thread about the Heights highrise is this entry from someone who appears to have inside knowledge:

A few notes of clarification on the building being discussed:

a. The structure, as currently envisioned, will include first floor retail and parking, probably two floors of parking and six to seven floors of office/studio lease space. The top floor of the garage will be designed for an art gallery, or similar space, with the roof of the garage as outdoor terrace areas.

b. The project is in a very, very early design stage and will be a Class-A “green” structure with early 20th-century details. Equivalent-scaled structures might be the Lancaster downtown or The Plaza in Montrose.

c. Target tenants will be neighborhood small businesses and individuals currently doing business in homes, garages, guest rooms, etc…within walking or biking distance and not wanting a heavy commute routine.

d. Project is in commercial district and would only “border” the residential district of the Heights.

e. Since it is primarily an office building there are considerations for the parking to be utilized after-hours by the nighttime oriented businesses nearby for off-street parking which would limit the intrusion of parking into residential areas.

f. This is the only information available at this time. Further postings will come in the near future.

This sounds a lot better than what was being speculated based on the sign’s picture. It’s still a bit taller than I think is best for the area, but it’s not ridiculous. Ground floor retail is good. I’m a little surprised there’s that much projected demand for office/studio space in that area, but I’ve no complaint about it. Sharing their parking facilities with neighboring businesses during off-hour times would definitely be welcome.

Basically, if what’s described here is what we get, I’ll probably be okay with it, though I expect the folks closer by will have concerns. As this poster suggests, a public information meeting by the developer about the project would be appreciated. It’d be nice to get some sidewalk improvements along White Oak to complement this development, but I suppose that’s a separate battle to fight. It would also be nice, if we’re going to get dense development, to get some more transit options for the area, as right now there isn’t much. That’s the key to making density work, right? Those are matters for the city, of course, but I’d like to see a discussion on that get started, so that as more of this sort of thing comes along, those of us who already live here can take full advantage of it as well.

Sexism and sports writing

My friend Stephanie Stradley discusses matters relating to sexism and sports writing in a piece about Will Leitch’s to-be-named successor at Deadspin.

Are Female Sports Bloggers Held to a Different Standard?

On this I can offer an emphatic Yes. Whoever replaces Leitch will face a lot of scrutiny. A female offered that position would face additional pressures. To take an example from TV: if people don’t like Skip Bayless, they call him annoying. If people don’t like Kelly Tilghman, they may call her an annoying unqualified woman, disqualified either by her gender or an imagined affirmative action policy that supposedly placed her above more qualified men.

From my own experience: if I screw up, I know there are people who will attribute that screw up to the fact that I’m a chick. Even if I don’t screw up, some cretins still leave repulsive sexist comments when they disagree with me.

When I do well, readers give me that feedback too but it usually has nothing to do my being a woman. (Rare exceptions include marriage proposals and female readers who appreciate how I represent female sports fans.)

I believe that anyone who wants to excel at a job that is typically not performed by people of their background often feels the need to do additional things. Deadspin has an enlightened readership, but I don’t see any reason the usual dynamics wouldn’t play out.

Good stuff, so check it out.

Obama to do something in Texas

I like the sound of this. Mostly, anyway.

Barack Obama will focus his resources largely in 14 states George W. Bush won in 2004, his chief field operative said Tuesday, hoping to score upsets in places such as Virginia, Indiana and Georgia.

But winning the White House won’t be his only goal, deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand told Politico: In an unusual move, Obama’s campaign will also devote some resources to states it’s unlikely to win, with the goal of influencing specific local contests in places such as Texas and Wyoming.

“Texas is a great example where we might not be able to win the state, but we want to pay a lot of attention to it,” Hildebrand said. “It’s one of the most important redistricting opportunities in the country.”

Texas Democrats are five seats away in each chamber from control of the state Legislature, which will redraw congressional districts after the 2010 census.

In Wyoming, Democrat Gary Trauner, running for the state’s sole congressional seat, lost narrowly against an incumbent in 2006 and is now seeking an open seat.

“If we can register more Democrats, if we can increase the Democratic performance and turnout, maybe we can pick up a congressional seat,” Hildebrand said.

“Texas is a great example where we might not be able to win the state, but we want to pay a lot of attention to it,” Hildebrand said. “It’s one of the most important redistricting opportunities in the country.”

Texas Democrats are five seats away in each chamber from control of the state Legislature, which will redraw congressional districts after the 2010 census.

In Wyoming, Democrat Gary Trauner, running for the state’s sole congressional seat, lost narrowly against an incumbent in 2006 and is now seeking an open seat.

“If we can register more Democrats, if we can increase the Democratic performance and turnout, maybe we can pick up a congressional seat,” Hildebrand said.

Hildebrand’s plans underscore the unusual scope and ambition of Obama’s campaign, which can relatively cheaply extend its massive volunteer and technological resources into states which won’t necessarily produce electoral votes.

In Texas, for instance, Obama’s three dozen offices were overrun with volunteers during the primary; the campaign’s challenge is, in part, to find something useful to do with all that free labor. But, while Hildebrand said Obama is unlikely to pay for television advertising outside a core of about 15 states the candidate thinks he can win, he will spend some money on staff. Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, reportedly told donors in Houston that he would send 15 staffers to Texas, and the campaign has committed to having some staff on the ground in all 50 states.

Julie Pippert was at an event in Houston that featured Axelrod, and I don’t see any mention of a promise of staffers, so either that’s new (and encouraging) or he just wasn’t saying it publicly then. Either way, it’s not as good as spending money here on advertising, but it’s more than what we’re used to getting. Now maybe if Obama uses some of the fundraising trips he’ll be taking to Texas to help out a few of our fine downballot candidates – such as, oh I don’t know, maybe Rick Noriega – then I think I’d be as happy as I can be with this arrangement. Of course, my wish list item here is unlikely to happen unless some of the people who’ll be getting hit up for Obama donations at those future events make a little wealth-spreading a condition of their donations. For what it’s worth, let me use this opportunity to recommend that course of action to these folks. Let’s please invest some of that dough in Texas, okay? Thanks. Greg has more.

UPDATE: Naturally, as soon as I draft this, I see a Chron story on the same topic.

Obama’s aides told the Houston Chronicle that the Texas expenditures could increase party turnout in targeted races such as Harris County district attorney, sheriff and county judge.

The national campaign’s presence in the state also could help Democrats in closely watched Houston-area congressional races for the seats of incumbent Democrat Nick Lampson and Republican Michael McCaul.

“It’ll help us create a government majority,” said [campaign manager David] Plouffe. “In a state like Texas, there’s House races, there’s state Senate races, and we’re going to encourage people to get involved in their local elections.”

The campaign, Plouffe said, intends to tap into the grassroots organization it built during the primary season, eventually using some of its volunteers to help in more competitive states such as Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia and Ohio.

“We have got a lot of volunteers from these states and want to make sure we have a way to use them,” he said.

At a June 12 meeting of contributors in Houston, Obama’s top strategist, David Axelrod of Chicago, said the campaign first would deploy 15 staffers to help with voter registration, according to Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Gerald Birnberg.

Among the many reasons for the deployment, Axelrod explained, is that the campaign wants to demonstrate its national appeal and presence.


Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said a staff director had not yet been selected for Texas.

A spokesman for the state Democratic party, Hector Nieto, said the decision by the Obama campaign is “obviously good news for us.”

Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, said that by sending professional staffers to Texas, the Obama campaign can supplement what he said was an improving Democratic party organization in the state.

“I think that the reason the National Democratic Party would be putting money into Texas is to continue the Democratic resurgence” in the state, he said.

The Democrats, he said, are not likely to win statewide contests but could prevail in areas where the party is on the upsurge, such as Harris County.

Again, good to hear. It could be better, but I know well it could be much worse.

SCOTUS strikes down “Jessica’s Law”

Breaking news.

The Supreme Court declared Wednesday that executions are too severe a punishment for child rape, despite the “years of long anguish” for victims, in a ruling that restricts the death penalty to murder and crimes against the state.

The court’s 5-4 decision struck down a Louisiana law that allows capital punishment for people convicted of raping children under 12. It spares the only people in the U.S. under sentence of death for that crime — two Louisiana men convicted of raping girls 5 and 8.

The ruling also invalidates laws on the books in five other that allowed executions for child rape.

One of those states, of course, is Texas.

However devastating the crime to children, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion, “the death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child.” His four liberal colleagues joined him, while the four more conservative justices dissented.

There has not been an execution in the United States for a crime that did not also involve the death of the victim in 44 years, a factor that weighed in Kennedy’s decision.

Rape and other crimes “may be as devastating in their harm, as here, but ‘in terms of moral depravity and of the injury to the person and to the public,’ they cannot be compared to murder in their ‘severity and irrevocability,'” Kennedy said, quoting from earlier decisions.

The decision can be found here (PDF, via BOR). Adam B has some longer quotes from the decision. Grits has some linkage, plus a bit of background info from Texas District and County Attorneys Association spokesperson Shannon Edmonds. Here’s a statement on the ruling from the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. Both TAASA and the TDCAA opposed Jessica’s Law during the last legislative session. None of this will stop the usual suspects from cranking up the outrage (see that Salon AP story for a few choice quotes) or from trying again, though the consensus so far seems to be that this is a definitive ruling. I just don’t think this law’s proponents will give up that easily.

More from the Sheriff

Matt Stiles, who did that interview with Sheriff Thomas, adds a little extra to the mix.

Thomas said his department will now launch internal affairs investigations of deputies’ conduct if defense attorneys raise questions. In the past, the office had required sworn statements to start inquiries, he said.

The sheriff also said his office is working on a new e-mail policy that will be manageable for his technology staff, but also comply with retention requirements of the Texas Public Information Act. He previously decided to delete e-mails after 14 days, prompting Wayne Dolcefino at KTRK (Channel 13) to fight him in court.

Can’t wait to see what that looks like, and how they explain how it will solve all the problems they once thought could only be alleviated by the 14-day purge. Stiles may ultimately post the interview as a podcast, which would be cool. Who knows what other pearls of wisdom we may get from our Sheriff?

Meanwhile, Rick Casey piles on:

The most important news in the interview (other than the fact that he granted it) came when he took “responsibility” for some of the mishaps. But politicians all over the country have been “taking responsibility” for problems, as though the term was a magical mantra that would calm the troubled waters and deflect any public anger.

Unfortunately, the public has become somewhat inured to that response. They especially reject it when the surrounding rhetoric suggests that the officeholder doesn’t really “take responsibility.”

For example, Thomas said, “Unfortunately, some things happened that I’m not happy about.”

That sounds like they were outside his control. But when those brothers complained about having their cameras confiscated, being roughed up, arrested, jailed and put on trial for taking pictures from their yard, he could have aggressively investigated the behavior of his deputies in the matter.

As far as I know, he still hasn’t admitted his boys messed up, much less taken action to try to change the culture of his department by disciplining them.

Well, yeah, there is that. Maybe that’s a subject for the next interview.

I’m told by a couple of different sources that Wayne Dolcefino has a story about the Sheriff prepped for tonight’s newscast. You know that wherever WayneDo goes, hijinks is sure to follow, so tune in and see what he has to say. Finally, the Harris County Democratic Party put out a statement in response to Thomas’ interview, which is here. I know it’s “pure politics” and all, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Harrisburg line groundbreaking Thursday

At long last, construction for the Metro 2012 plan is about to begin.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority will host a ceremonial groundbreaking Thursday for the East End light rail line, the first of five scheduled to be completed by late 2012, and the first to start construction since the Red Line opened in 2004.

Metro spokeswoman Sandra Salazar said the event will be on property owned by developer Frank Liu on Harrisburg Boulevard near Eastwood and will involve mostly public officials and community leaders.

Salazar said the actual site preparation and construction likely will begin between Milby and Lockwood next month, but the exact date was not available Tuesday.

Metro says it will build the future lines in 4,000-foot segments, completing each before work starts on the next to avoid the lengthy disruptions of traffic and business that marred construction of the Red Line.


Salazar said Metro also expects to break ground for the North and Southeast lines this summer, but only after it receives assurance that the Federal Transit Administration will pay half their cost.

Metro is planning to build the East End and Uptown lines out of its own revenues, but needs federal funding for the controversial University Line.

Salazar said construction of the Uptown line, which would run from the Northwest Transit Center to Post Oak Boulevard and end south of Westpark, probably will not begin until federal funds for the University line are assured.

So if all else fails, we’ll at least get this line built, though we still need to get the freight rail overpass funded to make sure this line is truly complete. The North and Southeast lines shouldn’t have any trouble getting federal funding, but you never know what might happen. And we all know about the Universities line. Speaking of which:

Metro said Tuesday that state District Judge Levi Benton has scheduled a hearing for Aug. 6 on Metro’s request to have [Daphne] Scarbrough’s lawsuit thrown out.

Scarbrough’s attorney Andy Taylor has said if Benton rules in Metro’s favor, he will appeal.

I’ll be amazed if ground gets broken for this line before 2009. The East End line may be near completion before this one gets started. But as long as it does get going, that’s what matters.