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June 4th, 2008:

SD17 special election date set

As expected.

Gov. Rick Perry today set the Nov. 4 general election day as the date for the special election to replace retiring state Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, in Senate District 17.

The winner will serve until Janek’s current term expires in January 2011.

The filing deadline for the special election is 5 p.m. Aug. 29 with the Texas secretary of state. Early voting will run from Oct. 20 to Oct. 31.

Perry’s choice appears to knock out state Reps. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, and Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, because they would have to give up their legislative seats to run for the Senate on the same day they are seeking re-election.

Republican activist Austen Furst (sic) has said he will run for the seat.

Former Harris County Republican Party chairman Gary Polland also has indicated an interest in running.

Other possible candidates include former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, D-Houston, and former state Rep. Brad Wright, R-Houston.

That’s the first I’ve heard of Brad Wright. A fellow named Grant Harpold had tossed his hat in the ring a couple of weeks ago. It’s almost surely the case that some folks will drop in and out of this; the Republicans would prefer to have one candidate, so as to avoid a runoff for a seat they believe they will win. As such, expect there to be some arm-twisting, at least if Furse gains enough traction among the powers-that-be, or conversely if they decide they can do better. And regarding Bell, I hope the recent polling numbers are enough to get him in the game. I believe he’d have plenty of support if he chooses to make the run.

Lawsuit against Kenedy wind farm on hold for now

This is well-timed.

A federal court judge said Tuesday he needs time to sort through a complicated legal challenge brought by the King Ranch and several environmental groups that want to stop a massive wind farm near the South Texas Gulf Coast.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel will have to decide if a mid-1990s federal Coastal Zone Management Act requires the state to conduct public hearings before a wind farm can be approved — if it affects private property and if the environmental groups have a right to sue.

“We are a private company building a private project on private property without federal funds,” said lawyer Tom Watkins, representing Babcock & Brown, an Australian company building one of the projects.

Watkins suggested to Yeakel that operators of the King Ranch simply “don’t want a wind farm put in next to them.”


The Coastal Zone Management Plan created a partnership between the state and federal governments, and Texas can’t shirk its duty to regulate such projects as the proposed wind farm, said Houston lawyer Jim Blackburn, who represents the Coastal Habitat Alliance.

Without public participation in hearings on the wind farm projects, “we believe our property rights were taken away,” Blackburn said.

Lawyers for the wind farm developers said wind farms are not like electric utilities, which are subject to regulation.

I don’t think the argument that wind farms should be subject to some kind of public hearings – yes, even privately-funded ones on private land, if they’re big enough in scope – is unreasonable. I do think that such a process should be less onerous than they would be for traditional, environmentally-unfriendly utilities. That’s not legally relevant for this suit, but I think it could provide a framework for a settlement. Perhaps that will happen if the suit is allowed to go forward, given how expensive and time-consuming it would be.

On a side note, here’s the latest newsletter from WindPower 08. I’m going to have the opportunity to talk to a couple of AWEA staffers, and I’m looking forward to asking them about stuff like this.

Reminder: Blogger bash Thursday night in Austin

This is what the bloggers caucus at the 2004 Democratic convention in Houston looked like:

Lots of quality, to be sure, but not much quantity. This year, building on our success in 2006, will be a whole lot bigger. If you’re in Austin for the convention this week, you need to be there at The Cedar Door, 2nd and Brazos, from 8:30 to midnight tomorrow. See you there!


I’m ready for November. How about you?

PS: “Did we say Hillary will save us? We meant Obama will save us!”

Another defendant in lawsuit against Sheriff’s office

Here’s an update to the latest lawsuit filed by the Ibarra brothers and some other people against the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

Sgt. C.A. Sandoval has been named as a defendant along with Sheriff Tommy Thomas and other deputies in the federal case, which claims the sheriff’s department retaliates against people who file civil rights complaints. Municipal court judge and law professor April Walker, husband and wife Lloyd and Loretta Henderson and brothers Sean and Erik Ibarra filed the lawsuit.

Sandoval was originally not part of the lawsuit, but was added Monday after a friend of the Hendersons alleged the officer tried to put words in his mouth while questioning him last week about Lloyd Henderson.

The friend, Joe Burroughs, said he believed Sandoval was trying to make him say negative things about Henderson, who had complained of civil rights violations after a deputy threw him to the ground and handcuffed him last fall.

In another matter, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office withdrew a subpoena ordering Walker to appear before a grand jury June 19 to testify about her actions leading up to her arrest on a charge of impersonating a public servant, her attorney said.

That charge was dismissed two days later after it was proved Walker is a judge. But after filing a civil rights complaint with the sheriff about her arrest, Walker received a subpoena last month ordering her to appear before a grand jury.

A district attorney’s investigator notified Walker on Monday the subpoena has been canceled and said the investigation into her actions have been suspended, said Walker’s attorney, Lloyd Kelley.

So here’s a thought to ponder: Do you think it’s possible that Tommy Thomas might resign sometime before November? He’s battling multiple lawsuits, and having Wayne Dolcefino on your tail is never a comforting thing. Bear in mind that a resignation more than 74 days out – August 25, by my count – means that no Republican would appear on the ballot; after that, it’d still be Thomas in the R slot. See the relevant Election Code statutes for details, or just recall what happened with Tom DeLay in 2006. I doubt there’d be that much enthusiasm for a write-in candidacy, though I must admit that Shelley Sekula Gibbs is available as a candidate and is no doubt ready to serve her Party as needed.

Anyway, just something to contemplate. We now return to your regularly scheduled drumbeat of bad news for Tommy Thomas.

Baseball and instant replay

Marc Campos brings up a touchy subject.

There has been a debate brewing to bring instant replay into Major League Baseball. That’s a very bad and dumb idea. I really don’t think it is something that baseball fans want. We accept the fact that there will be blown calls by umpires. Was it fair or foul? Did it hit the yellow line? Did he make the tag? Did he trap the ball? I can’t recall an instance in which an umpire’s blown call help decide a playoff contender or World Serious champ.

Um, Don Denkinger? In Game 6 of the 1985 World Series? It’s only one of the worst calls of all time, and it most definitely had an effect on the outcome; just ask any Cardinals fan, and wait till they stop sputtering and swearing.

Now while I agree that instant replay in general is a bad idea for baseball, I do think there are two specific situations where it could be reasonably used. One is for fair/foul calls on home runs, or in cases where a possible home run is ruled to have been in play. These are really tough calls for umpires, especially since they’re often a hundred feet or more from where the ball is at the critical moment. An ump will ask a colleague for help when he didn’t get a good view of a play; the only difference here is that since there isn’t – and can’t be – anyone else in better position to see what happened, we should consider letting technology help out. The same case can be made for some fair/foul calls; the reason why it’s only for reviewing calls of fair is because once a ball is called foul, the play ends, so you can’t really restore equity in the event of a reversal.

In all honesty, I’m not opposed to the concept of replay being used more widely than that, but I can’t see such a proposal having any chance of being accepted, and I think Campos’ point about the time factor is a valid one. The argument about “it’s always been this way, fans expect some bad calls”, however, doesn’t really move me. If we can do better, why shouldn’t we try? Baseball used to have fewer than four umps in a game; two or three was the norm for a long time, and one was once the rule. We changed the way that was, and got better officiating as a result. Tradition isn’t always a positive thing.

Frankly, once the technology has improved to a certain level, I hope there’s a move to make ball-and-strike calls done by a video pitch tracking system, whose still-primitive ancestors are available now. Speaking as someone who’s done it at a Babe Ruth League level, calling pitches is hard, almost impossibly so for Major League hurlers. Have you ever seen a game that didn’t feature multiple questions about the strike zone? Again I say, if we can do it better, why wouldn’t we want to? I have no illusion about the resistance to such a change, but I don’t see how this doesn’t happen some day. I just hope I live long enough to see it.