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June 21st, 2008:

A tale of two headlines: Veepstakes

Clinton plans to hit trail with Obama

Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton will campaign together next Friday, the first joint public event for the former rivals, as the senator from New York returns to the political scene following her defeat in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Clinton has shunned most public appearances since her departure from the race on June 7. She resurfaced Wednesday to attend services for Meet The Press host Tim Russert, and she is expected to appear at a pair of events with Obama late next week.

On Thursday night, Clinton will introduce Obama to a group of her top donors at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, a bid to smooth relations between her supporters and the presumptive Democratic nominee. She is also scheduled to speak to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials earlier in the day.

Hagel would consider Obama VP offer

“If it would occur, I would have to think about it,” [Sen. Chuck] Hagel [R, Nebraska] said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I think anybody, anybody would have to consider it. Doesn’t mean you’d do it, doesn’t mean you’d accept it, could be too many gaps there, but you’d have to consider it.”

Hagel said Friday that he and Obama also have differences.

“But what this country is going to have to do is come together next year, and the next president is going to have to bring this country together to govern with some consensus,” Hagel said.

He hasn’t endorsed Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumed Republican nominee, whom he calls a friend. Hagel said he hadn’t thought about who to vote for in November.

Okay, look, I’m not really all that interested in the whole veepstakes thing, for Obama or McCain. In the end, I don’t think it makes all that much difference one way or the other. But it seems to me that a certainty that one will vote for the nominee is the Mendoza Line of qualification criteria for being considered. Really, I think anyone who hasn’t pledged by now to work his or her keester off to get the nominee elected should be dropped from whatever unofficial short list is being bandied about. I’m neutral on the question of whether or not an Obama-Clinton ticket is a good idea – having Hillary Clinton as the VP choice would have its pluses and minuses, just as any other choice would – but if that’s what she wants, she’s at least going about it the right way. Hagel, not so much. So please, national media, the next time Sen. Hagel talks about this, just say “That’s nice, Chuck”, and go about your business. Whatever his merits, he is not, and should not be, a genuine contender.

“Grumpy Republicans” watch

The bad poll news for Republicans keeps on coming.

Houston Republican insiders are buzzing — with worry — about an election poll conducted privately for their local party.

Funded and designed by GOPers, the poll by Baselice and Associates essentially confirms findings by the Chronicle during the last six months that Republican candidates for judgeships and other Harris County offices have lost their built-in, 14-year-old advantage with voters. The survey showed a statistical tie between Republican and Democratic judicial candidates when voters were asked who they are likely to favor on Nov. 4. That’s a slide from 1994 and 1996 when Republican candidates won with 56-58 percent of the county vote.

Mike Baselice recently acknowledged as much to the Chronicle’s R.G. Ratcliffe, citing a current 1.5 percent edge for Republican candidates in Harris County, which is within the poll’s margin of error.

If we assume that the 1.5 point advantage Baselice found is accurate – with no disrespect intended, that’s almost surely not the case, since as noted in this post and acknowledged by Baselice himself in that Texas Monthly article on the Noriega campaign, nobody really knows what the turnout model looks like this year – then based on what we saw in 2004, some number of Democratic judicial candidates are virtually certain to win. The GOP would come away mostly victorious, but the shutout would be over.

That of course only considers the judicial races, where there’s likely to be much less variance in the vote totals from one race to another.

According to three Republican activists who have seen the poll numbers — they did not want to be identified because the results are supposed to be confidential — their picture may be worse for non-judicial contests such as the one between Republican Ed Emmett and challenger David Mincberg for county chief executive. In these races, the poll indicates Democrats may have a slight lead, they said.

It’s very nice to see them cite the County Judge race as a concern. I figure this means they’ve already written off the Sheriff’s race, since if anyone is in trouble this year, it’s got to be Tommy Thomas. For them to mention a different race suggests to me they’ve got bigger worries than that.

The forecast may be darker for Republicans if the poll did not take into account the anticipated huge turnout by minority voters with Barack Obama on the ballot. (The poll did show a statistically significant lead for John McCain in Harris County).

Let’s just say I have a hard time believing that. I can imagine Obama trailing the average countywide Democrat, but not by enough to go from 1.5 to 5 or more, which is about what a statistically significant lead would need to be. Frankly, it wouldn’t shock me if this year the donwballot candidates trail the top of the ticket on the Democratic side. I think a reverse Bush effect, in which there’s more Dems who just come out to vote for the President this year. How much of that, I don’t know, and if the coordinated campaign is successful it will be minimal, but it’s a real possibility.

But hey, it’s a long way off, and we haven’t seen and Democratic polling yet. So let’s just enjoy the “grumpy Republican” thing for now. May they stay that way for a long time.

Oh, and I’ve got to agree with Alan Bernstein: What in the world happened to Steven Hotze? Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Just wondering.

Saint Arnold’s location update

Last November, the Saint Arnold brewery voted to move its operations to a new, larger building just north of downtown. Now Kristin2Go has some more details on that.

The brewery expects to produce more than 20,000 barrels of beer this year — a barrel is 31 gallons — but could potentially produce up to 100,000 barrels at its new location.

”It would have been easier and cheaper for us to get places that are outside the Beltway, but that’s not really what I felt like we’re about,” Wagner said.

Last Friday, Saint Arnold’s became the owner of a large, red brick building at 2000 Lyons Ave., just north of downtown and visible from Interstate 10, that was formerly a frozen food distribution center for the Houston Independent School District.

”It was perfect,” he said. ”The parking lot across the street comes with it, and it’s right by downtown. You can’t get any closer.”

By June 2009, Wagner is hoping to have transferred all operations to the new brewery. Although some major changes are in store — such as air-conditioning, nicer bathrooms, tours on weekdays and a newer, bigger brewhouse — he wants the overall feel to stay the same.

”I never in my wildest dreams thought we would have 500 people showing up here on a Saturday,” he said. ”I thought that 50 would be a huge success. I want the Saturday tour to continue on and be this special thing, just like it has been here.”

Wagner said that while he plans for this to be the brewery’s one and only move, he anticipates a strong future for Saint Arnold’s.

”When people drive by (I hope) they’re compelled to say, ‘That’s where Saint Arnold is made.’ That to me is really the goal, and something that will live on for a long time.”

Here’s a Google map satellite view of the location. I’ve got to drive by and take a picture of it. And I can’t wait for the first tour at the new digs.

HISD versus HCAD

One way or the other, this will lead to a bad outcome.

The Houston school board voted Thursday to sue the state comptroller’s office if the school district loses its appeal over rising property values.

The Houston Independent School District argues that Comptroller Susan Combs’ office overvalues property and that the discrepancy is costing the district state funding — an estimated $3 million last year, according to HISD.

Combs’ office counters that the property in HISD, particularly commercial buildings and apartment complexes, is being undervalued by the Harris County Appraisal District.

The school district’s appeal is pending before a state hearing examiner.

[…]

The discrepancy is wide. The Harris County Appraisal District put the value of property in HISD at $97.6 billion in 2007. According to the comptroller, the value is $110.7 billion.

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt said the problem stems from the local appraisal district using a different method than the comptroller’s office. And, he added, school districts are penalized under the comptroller’s system when property owners protest their bills and are granted relief.

[…]

The comptroller’s office is charged with studying property values across Texas to keep local appraisal districts in check and to ensure school districts get the appropriate amount of state aid. To equalize school funding statewide, those districts with higher property wealth are supposed to get less state funding.

HISD already has appealed the comptroller’s 2007 property assessment to the comptroller’s hearing examiner. The preliminary ruling by the examiner, Michael Esparza, was generally favorable to HISD, said Houston attorney Robert Mott, who is representing the school district.

The comptroller’s office and HISD have until today to raise exceptions to the ruling before the hearing examiner issues a final opinion.

As we’ve discussed before, I believe HCAD underappraises commercial properties, as do most appraisal districts, which means that homeowners are paying a disproportionate share of the property tax burden. Unfortunately, if HCAD were closer to the mark, the screwy school finance system would deem HISD a “rich” district and subject it to recapture. It’s a nasty little problem, and one that doesn’t really have a solution under the current configuration of our state government. Maybe with a better Legislature, we can make a genuine effort to fix school finance, and eliminate conundrums like this. You can help with that.