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June 10th, 2008:

Annie’s List matching contributions to Diane Trautman

June is always a busy time for political fundraising, since there’s a June 30 quarterly reporting deadline looming, and everyone wants to max out their totals for the quarter. Sometimes there’s a little extra incentive to donate to a particular candidate. For example, this is from a recent email from Diane Trautman:

There is no better time to contribute to my campaign! Until June 15, 2008, Annie’s List is matching, dollar for dollar, every contribution I receive. So if your write a check today for $20, $50, or $100, my campaign will receive double that amount! Please help ensure that I have the tools necessary to bring ethical leadership back to Harris County Government by sending in your contribution today.

To contribute by check, simply mail a check payable to Diane Trautman Campaign along with your name and address to the following address:

Diane Trautman Campaign
P. O. Box 6067
Kingwood, TX 77325-6067

Or you may contribute online here.

So, if you were inclined to donate to Diane Trautman’s campaign – and as you know I think ensuring her campaign is sufficiently funded is a great idea – now is the time to do it. Thanks very much.

Update on Metro v. Scarborough

Rad Sallee has an update on the lawsuit filed last year against Metro by anti-rail activist Daphne Scarborough.

[Scarborough’s attorney Andy] Taylor wants a jury to decide whether Metro is violating what rail opponents view as a promise, made in a 2003 transit referendum, to build the line solely on Westpark.

Metro rejects that interpretation of the ballot language and says the routes described in the referendum were actually corridors in which specific alignments would be determined based on ridership, cost and other factors.

Metro has asked state District Judge Levi Benton to dismiss Scarbrough’s lawsuit on grounds that she lacks legal standing to file it.

Metro lawyers said the agency is protected by sovereign immunity, which basically says government can’t be sued for legally carrying out its duties.

They also contended that because construction of the line has not begun, Scarbrough has not been harmed.

Taylor asked Benton to deny Metro’s request for dismissal.

If his client cannot bring suit until she is actually harmed, it will be too late to stop a possibly illegal rail line from being built, Taylor said.

Benton held off on a ruling, telling both sides to come back later.

But he said he intended to deny Taylor’s request. That would open the door to considering whether Scarbrough had standing to sue.

Taylor said it would also enable Scarbrough to get a quick appellate ruling against Metro, and that, he said, could lead to a jury trial by September to determine whether Richmond rail is legal.

Locke said Benton had simply indicated he will rule as Metro asked.

As I understand it from speaking to Robin Holzer, who was at the hearing, what Judge Benton was going to rule on was Taylor’s motion – a motion to abate, I believe is the term – to deny Metro’s request to have a hearing on the issue of Scarborough’s standing. The reason for the delay was that Taylor announced he had additional material for his motion, namely an amicus brief from Rep. John Culberson, a copy of which you can find here (1.2 MB PDF). Judge Benton handed out a draft copy of his ruling, which was to deny Taylor’s request, but that will wait until after he reviews the amicus brief. I believe his ruling will come some time this week, at which point Taylor will presumably pursue an appeal, which be expedited. These are all small steps, to be sure, but they need to be taken to get anywhere.

Assuming Taylor gets no joy on his motion to abate, then the next step will be Metro’s motion to dismiss on grounds of lack of standing. If Metro wins that – they also have a motion for summary judgment on the merits of the case in the queue – that would the end of this lawsuit. That doesn’t mean Scarborough or someone else couldn’t sue again once construction begins, or at some other point when they can claim they are being actively harmed by Metro’s actions, but it would close this chapter. At least, that’s my read of it – if any lawyer out there wants to set me straight, by all means please do so. If this thing does go to trial, based on what Taylor was saying in court it sounds like that might happen in September. One way or the other, we should have a clearer idea of what obstacles Metro still has to face pretty soon.

Rasmussen shows Cornyn with a big lead

Along with their Presidential poll, Rasmussen has a result for June that shows Sen. John Cornyn with a 17-point lead over Rick Noriega. As they note, this is a huge swing from last month, where they had Cornyn up by four. It’s highly unlikely that so many people changed their minds over this short period of time, so most likely at least one of these polls is an outlier. Burka thinks it was the May result; I want to see what they get in July. I’m also hoping we see more than just Rasmussen and Baselice doing polls – SurveyUSA was on the scene in February but hasn’t given a result since then, and IVR Polls has been doing a variety of other Texas races. More data, so we can get some kind of aggregate picture, would be nice.

Interview with Wendy Davis

Next up on the interview list is Wendy Davis, who is running for State Senate in Tarrant County, in SD10. Hers is one of two – hopefully three – high profile Senate races this year, which is something we don’t see much of. She has a pretty compelling personal story, she was a Fort Worth City Council member for eight years, and she’s running against an incumbent with some ethical issues (second link is a PDF) in a purple district, all of which make her a serious threat to help reduce the GOP’s numerical superiority in the Senate.

The interview is here. It’s got more background noise than some others, as we were in a restaurant at the time, but you can hear what we’re saying. As always, let me know what you think.


State Rep. Dan Barrett, HD97.

What will Obama do in Texas?

Burka drops some early thinking on what Democratic performance in Texas might look like if the Obama campaign does some real work here.

Democrat (sic) numbers-crunchers believe that if Obama gets 42-43% in the state, Democrats will fare well in downballot races. If he gets 45-46%, Democrats will reap a bonanza.

Lots to consider in those two sentences. Let’s start by noting that 42-43% represents a four or five point improvement over John Kerry in 2004, which I think is eminently plausible, for three reasons: It’s not 2004, Barack Obama isn’t John Kerry, and John McCain will never be as beloved here as the 2004 version of George W. Bush was. This is not a high bar to clear, and bear in mind that even in 2004, the downballot statewide Democrats were getting 41-42%.

A 42-43% performance would also produce a margin for McCain that is right in line with the Baselice poll. If that’s where he thought the race was back before Hillary Clinton suspended her campaign and endorsed Obama, then I’ve got to feel pretty good about that, since there was definitely room to improve by consolidating the Democratic vote. There were also a lot of undecideds, about twice as many as that 2004 Rasmussen poll, in which nearly all of them eventually broke for Bush. To maintain the Baselice margin here, the undecideds would have to break roughly 50-50 for Obama and McCain, and that’s without assuming a higher Democratic baseline. Again, I think that’s eminently plausible.

(By the way, this should serve as one final nail in the “Hillary will save us!” coffin. She polled a point ahead of Obama in the Baselice sample, and by similar reasoning would likely have been headed for no worse than a 42-43% result in November. If Democratic strategists are telling Paul Burka now that this would mean good things for downballot Dems, then it cannot have been the case that Hillary would have meant doom to them. Yes, she could have wound up underperforming that number in the end, but the same factors I cited up front would be as true for Clinton/McCain as they are for Obama/McCain. In short, the whole thing was Republican FUD from the word go, aided and abetted by some fraidy-cat Dems who should know better than to buy into that crap, or at least to say for the record that they buy into it.)

There’s now a Rasmussen result for Texas that has McCain up 52-39, which is his best showing in that poll. It too is a pre-Clinton dropout poll, and again it has room for Obama to improve among Democrats and independents. But still, if you assume it’s an accurate reflection, you’re looking at roughly a 43% showing for Obama. And if that’s good enough for downballot success, we’re already in good shape.

For what it’s worth, Poblano, from whom I got the Rasmussn result, projects McCain as a ten-point winner in Texas at this time. That would put Obama in the 45% range, and I have to agree that would be very good for the slate as a whole. The question at this point is whether the Baselice/Rasmussen results are a trend, or if Obama’s got a bounce in him. I suspect the latter, but I’ve no clue how much, or whether it will be permanent or temporary.

Finally, this is all of course very early, and we don’t know yet what resources Obama will expend here. He may simply leave things to his existing infrastructure, or he may be serious about his fifty-state strategy and make a more serious investment. We may see him on TV in Texas, if only briefly. Frankly, even if all we get is what we’ve got now, it’s still better than what we had in 2004.

I guess the way I see it is that in 2004, I never saw a realistic scenario under which John Kerry would be competitive, let alone in a position where he might win. This year, I can at least imagine some kind of favorable outcome. I don’t know what the ceiling is, but I’m certain the floor is higher than it was. That’s good enough for now.

Lottery sales down

This is just what school districts need to hear right about now.

Texas lottery officials are monitoring a decline in ticket sales that they say could reduce the amount of money the lottery sends to public schools if the trend continues.

“There’s a lot of speculation that it’s tied to higher gasoline prices,” said Robert Heith, lottery communications director. “But we don’t have any studies to confirm that.”

Overall, lottery ticket sales statewide for this fiscal year are running 1.8 percent behind last year, according to a May 17 report.

In addition to the economy, Heith said the lottery could have been hurt this year because it hasn’t had as many big jackpots, which increase ticket sales.

The state lottery has been transferring about $1 billion yearly to the Foundation School Program, a fund that goes to local school districts, since 2004, but the amount could slip below that number this year.

Through April 30, the Texas Lottery Commission estimated that it will transfer $621 million to the fund, but it had an additional four months in its fiscal year, which ends Aug. 31. If the trend holds, the money going to the Foundation School Program would be about $930 million.

The lottery’s assistance is significant to public schools. The state has appropriated $19.8 billion to the Foundation School Program for next year.


The Lottery Commission is hoping to turn the sales numbers around.

“We’re doing our best to improve sales,” Heith said.

The lottery regularly introduces new games, and later this summer, it will unveil another $50 scratch-off ticket. Last year, a similar high-dollar ticket boosted revenue in the final quarter, and lottery officials are hoping for a similar effect.

I’ll never understand the allure of high-priced lottery tickets, but if I have to hope they succeed so that the schools don’t get short-changed, I will.

Texas blog roundup for the week of June 9

Still woozy from the Bloggers Caucus? Well, there’s nothing like a little hair of the blog to cure what ails you. Click on to read the Texas Progressive Alliance roundup for the week.