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July 11th, 2008:

Hopefully the last thing to say about the Twitter battle

Speaker Pelosi speaks about the great Congressional Twitter battle. I’m going to quote her entire letter to House Minority Leader John Boehner, because it’s worth reading.

Dear Leader Boehner:

Thank you for your letter on the recommendations by Franking Chair Capuano to the Committee on House Administration regarding posting web video external to the House.gov domain. We share the goal of modernizing the antiquated franking regulations to address the rapidly changing realities of communications in the internet age. Like many other Members, I have a blog, use YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Digg, and other new media to communicate with constituents, and I believe they are vital tools toward increasing transparency and accountability.

Mr. Capuano’s initial recommendations are an effort to establish standards that permit Members to publish web videos on external web sites, a broadening of the rules that currently prohibit posting videos on external sites. I can assure you that it is not the intention, nor will it be the result, of the final regulations to stifle, censor, or deprive Members of communicating effectively and in real-time with their constituents. I am confident that the Committee on House Administration will develop these final rules on a bipartisan basis, recognizing that we have a responsibility to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used for political or commercial purposes.

While I am delighted to see the attention of internet users and citizens toward our much needed movement to update the franking regulations, there has been a large amount of misinformation regarding these efforts. We all have a responsibility to ensure that Members and the public understand the need to prevent the misuse of public funds, while at the same time ensuring access to emerging online means of communication.

Unfortunately, inaccurate rumors have been circulated asserting that the suggested standards allowing for web video outside of the House.gov domain would affect Member blogging or use of sites such as Twitter. Dissemination of this false information does a disservice to the vital dialogue on using technology to increase citizen involvement, education, and transparency in the House.

Thank you again for your letter and your commitment to work on a bipartisan basis to develop standards that are agreeable to both Parties and most importantly, serve the public interest.

best regards,

NANCY PELOSI
Speaker of the House

You should also read that Shelbinator post, which contains yet another “no really! they’re out to censor me!” comment from Culberson. One would hope that this would be the end of it, but as this fight was never about the facts, I wouldn’t count on it. Link via techPresident.

And finally, on a lighter note, Scott Floyd imagines what a future Senate Tweet debate might look like:

Senator 1: @Senator2 We’ve got to consider the fact that schools are only able to handle so many unfunded mandates. At some point funding is required.

Senator 2: @Senator1 They’ve enough money already. Why give more when they just waste it? They buy all the best software, computers, etc. To what rslt?

Senator 1: @Senator2 You mean like the equipment in your office EACH of your staff members use EVERY day? Like the iPhone you are Twittering from?…

Senator 1: @Senator2 All of which is paid for by PUBLIC tax dollars with staff taught in PUBLIC schools to do the work for the PUBLIC?

Senator 3: @Senator2 Burn!

Senator 2: @Senator3 Shut-up! You’re in my party. I’m blocking you!

It’s funny ’cause it’s true.

What about Pete?

So one of the things I wondered about regarding the “nation of whiners” thing was whether or not Pete Olson, the CD22 challenger who once worked for Phil Gramm, would be asked to comment on Gramm’s remarks now that John McCain has decisively defenestrated him. (Of course, McCain said that Gramm “didn’t speak for him” on the same day that Gramm was visiting the Wall Street Journal to do exactly that. But that’s another post.) Apparently, Rep. Nick Lampson wondered the same thing. From a press release:

Pete Olson, candidate for Texas’s 22nd congressional district, continues to remain silent as the furor continues over his mentor and campaign advisor Phil Gramm’s comments that America is “a nation of whiners” in a “mental recession.” Even John McCain has now stepped forward to strongly denounce Gramm’s comments. Yet, Olson’s silence signals approval of these comments.

“The fact is, Pete Olson is a Washington insider who carried Phil Gramm’s water as the former Senator did more than any other lobbyist to slow our economy,” said Anthony Gutierrez, campaign manager for Congressman Nick Lampson. “Maybe the fact that Pete Olson has been working with Gramm to create economic catastrophes such as the recent mortgage meltdown explains why he is hesitant to distance himself from Gramm’s comments. I imagine he does not want to draw attention to this fact or disclose what happened at his meetings with his former boss and current lobbyist Phil Gramm surrounding economic policy decisions that put millions of Americans in risk of foreclosure.”

Yeah, I’m thinking Olson won’t be in any rush to talk about it. I wouldn’t if I were him. ‘Course, I wouldn’t have had anything to do with Phil Gramm, either, but that’s the way it goes.

In other Congressional news, we have fundraising numbers for CD07.

Congressman John Culberson, R-Houston, was first out of the gate today with the statement that he had raised “a stellar $390,000” for his Nov. 4 election contest against Democratic newcomer Michael Skelly.

But Skelly, a wind power exec, may have eclipsed the star. His campaign reported $412,000 raised for the same period, plus a $200,000 donation from Skelly himself.

Culberson reported $550,000 in the bank at the end of June. Skelly reported more than $1 million, continuing his unusual and nationally noted advantage over an incumbent.

Another nice showing by Michael Skelly, outraising Culberson for a second straight quarter. The DCCC isn’t targeting CD07 yet, but at the rate Skelly is going, he won’t need them to be able to blanket the TV airwaves.

Get to know the HDCC

The following is a guest post from State Rep. Pete Gallego, who is one of the leaders of the House Democratic Caucus.

On March 4, 2008, over 2.8 million Texans voted in the Democratic primary. As one of the 2.8 million, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride knowing that I was able to play a part in making history. Together, we showed the nation that Texas Democrats are energized and ready for change.

It is hard to believe that we have less than four months remaining until the general election. Our nominees have been selected, we have a united Democratic Party, and we are poised to make history yet again on November 4th. Never in my lifetime have Democrats been so motivated and energized. Much of the momentum we enjoy today is a direct result of the Netroots activism that has helped fuel the progressive movement. That is certainly evident right here in Texas.

A few weeks ago, the Republican presidential nominee admitted to not knowing how to use a computer, let alone the Internet. One of his advisors tried to justify his apparent Internet ignorance by suggesting that he doesn’t need to know how to use a computer because he has people who do that for him. Reading this, I was completely awestruck. In this day and age, the Internet is neither a passing fad nor a toy to be ignored and dismissed. The Internet is arguably the most important resource voters and elected officials have to stay informed and connected with the world they live in and the people they serve.

In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. The fact is many politicians on the far right have simply lost touch with voters and hard-working Texas families. Just look at the wayward legislative priorities the far right has pursued since taking over the Texas House six years ago.

In 2003, the Republican controlled Texas Legislature took away health care from hundreds of thousands of children by slashing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). They passed a disastrous “tuition deregulation” bill which has caused college costs to skyrocket, making a higher education degree too expensive for thousands of Texas kids. The far right continues their assault on our public education system by trying to force a risky private voucher scheme into our public schools. As Texans are getting squeezed by soaring energy bills and $4 a gallon gas, the far right ignores these pocketbook issues that affect the daily lives of Texans choosing instead to prioritize and pursue the politically-motivated and partisan agenda of non-existent voter fraud. The legislative priorities of the far right are no longer consistent with mainstream Texas values, which is one of the reasons Republicans are so nervous about November.

Since 2003, Democrats have regained nine seats in the Texas House of Representatives, and today we are only 5 seats away from taking back the majority. This dramatic swing of the pendulum is the result of countless hours of dedication, education, and hard work by both Netroots activists and organizations like the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee (HDCC).

The HDCC is organized and lead by Democratic leaders in the Texas House. The HDCC is the only organization in the state dedicated solely to electing a Democratic majority in the Texas House. The HDCC raises money, trains staff and works hand-in-hand with House candidates from across the State to ensure they have every advantage possible during the general election season. Best of all, these services do not cost House Democratic candidates a penny. While the HDCC has been very successful in working toward our goal of taking back the House, we cannot elect a Democratic majority without your help. Click here to invest in the HDCC today.

Texans need Democratic leaders who will take on real issues and develop real solutions for Texas families. United, Democrats will take back the Texas House in November, and return real democracy and leadership to our state.

State Representative Pete Gallego (D-Alpine)

Co-Chair, Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee

The leaders of the HDCC have all written guest posts for various Texas Progressive Alliance blogs this week to introduce themselves and their mission. You can read State Rep. Jim Dunnam‘s article at BOR, and State Rep. Garnet Coleman‘s piece at Texas Kaos. My thanks to all three gentlemen for their efforts.

Another step forward for Metro

Good.

The Federal Transit Administration has approved the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s revised environmental studies for its planned North light rail line, opening the door for possible federal funding.

The FTA “record of decision,” granted last week, enables the project to compete with others around the nation for 50 percent federal funding, but makes no guarantees.

It notes that the proposed line is rated “medium” under FTA criteria for transit “new starts,” based on cost and ridership projections.

Pretty much every time you read a caveat in a story about the Metro 2012 Solutions plan that the agency still has “a long way to go” or “a lot of hurdles to be cleared”, what that really means is that nothing is certain until federal funding has been secured. Every step closer to that is that much less uncertainty.

Metro President and CEO Frank Wilson said the agency is awaiting an FTA decision on its planned Southeast line, for which Metro also wants federal funding and has filed a supplementary environmental study.

In November, the FTA halted its evaluation of both projects and ordered Metro to revise its environmental studies and conduct new public outreach. FTA officials said that was necessary because Metro had changed its proposed mode of transit from Bus Rapid Transit, which uses special buses running on a guideway, to the more costly light rail.

Metro contended at the time that it had already evaluated light rail and should not have to duplicate that work. Metro also noted that BRT and light rail would follow identical routes and that Metro even planned to lay rails in the BRT guideway, to be converted for light rail as ridership increased.

The current record of decision acknowledges those points.

It says that “no new or changed significant impacts that were not previously evaluated … were found.”

So far, so good. Keep your fingers crossed.

In related news, Miya reports that the eastern end of the Universities line might get the change that some residents have been asking for.

Right now, if you go East bound along Richmond, the proposed line would take you from Richmond to Wheeler until it hits TSU. The alternative (told to me by people who were at the meeting) would go from Richmond to Wheeler, jog north along Cleburne/Hutchins/Dowling, until it his W. Alabama, which will then continue on to TSU.

That’s a little different than what we’ve seen before, so presumably there will be more environmental impact statements and other paperwork to go through before anything happens. This isn’t official yet, so who knows what we’ll end up with.

Docs abandoning the GOP

Straws in the wind.

For years doctors and many other health professionals showered contributions Republicans, who favored less government regulation of health care and helped scuttle Hillarycare, But no more, as doctors court Democrats now in control of Congress and had lately been fighting with Republicans, including Texas’ two GOP senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, over Medicare payments to physicians.

In the current election cycle the American Medical Association political action committee has contributed $274,000 to Democrats and $245,450 to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

A decade ago, when the GOP controlled both houses of Congress, the AMA PAC gave $1.6 million to Republicans and $654,000 to Democrats.

The Texas Medical Association’s political action committee has split its contributions this election cycle giving $13,000 each to Democrats and Republicans, including $2,500 to Cornyn. However, the PAC abruptly yanked its endorsement of Cornyn recently because of his vote before the July 4 break against a measure that would have halted a cut in Medicare payments to doctors. The Senate passed the Medicare measure Wednesday with both Cornyn and Hutchison changing their mind and voting for it.

Cornyn is apparently smarting a bit from that TMA unendorsement, because in the end, he flipflopped, along with his senior colleague.

Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison joined 67 of their Senate colleagues in approving the measure that would halt a 10.6 percent cut in Medicare payments.

Rick Noriega characterized it thusly:

For the second time in a month, John Cornyn has switched his vote on an issue crucial to Texas families after criticism from U.S. Senate candidate Rick Noriega. Yesterday, after outcry from the Noriega campaign and medical groups such as the American Medical Association, Cornyn switched his vote on a key Medicare bill for politically expedient reasons. Cornyn’s vote to support the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 came just weeks after originally voting to block the bill and on the heels of a similar vote switch on the GI Bill. Though Cornyn’s eventual vote is a welcome development, the political expediency for his final votes are all-too-typical of his time in Washington.

Unlike Cornyn, US Senate candidate Rick Noriega (D-TX) has pledged to serve as a Senator whose votes always place Texas families first. Noriega has remained consistent in his support for both the Medicare and the GI Bill and does not determine how he votes by scanning the political tea leaves. Cornyn, whose original opposition to the Medicare legislation led to the Texas Medical Association stripping their support for his candidacy, had recently told the Washington DC newspaper Roll Call that he did not plan to change his vote.

“Though we’re flattered that John Cornyn adopted our position on the Medicare bill, Texas families deserve a U.S. Senator who will vote the right way because it’s the right thing to do — not because of shifting political winds,” said Holly Shulman, spokeswoman for Rick Noriega for Senate. “I guess it’s an election year, because after six long years in Washington, John Cornyn is finally realizing the political dangers of ignoring Texas families at the expense of his special interest friends and is trying to make amends.”

Nothing like a serious challenge to one’s re-election to focus the mind, is there? Hal and EoW have more.

Cisneros and Obama

This is a good start: Former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros is out campaigning for Barack Obama.

“I’ll be traveling to a dozen to 15 states to carry the Obama message to the Latino community,” Cisneros said after his TV appearance. “I, along with others, want to dispel the sense that Latinos, out of a sense of disappointment by Hillary’s failure to secure the nomination, will sit out the election.”

Cisneros’ appearance Tuesday was the first time he has publicly spoken on Obama’s behalf, “and we welcome and are thrilled with his support,” said Obama spokeswoman Shannon Gilson.

Cisneros represents a critical part of the Illinois senator’s effort to court and convert Hispanic voters, many of whom were diehard Clinton supporters who turned out with a fervor not seen since the Viva Kennedy rallies of the early 1960s.

“Cisneros, like (Los Angeles Mayor Antonio) Villaraigosa and California Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, the first Mexican-American woman elected to Congress, are both known nationally and are heroes in the Latino community,” said Juan Sepulveda, a local Obama adviser.

“Having them act as Sen. Obama’s top-level surrogates and carry his message into the Latino community will be an enormous boost for the campaign.”

As we know, Latino voters are already strongly in Obama’s camp, but as with so many other constituencies this year, pumping up turnout is a big part of the strategy. It’s great to see folks like Cisneros taking on this task.

Of course, there is one thing he could do that would make this even better:

Sepulveda, an Obama backer from the time he announced his candidacy, said the campaign is focusing unprecedented efforts on Latinos.

“There are four key states — Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Florida — where Latinos will play a major role,” he said. “But apart from the ‘usual suspect states,’ we will focus on Missouri, Iowa and Illinois that we believe will be a critical part of the equation for an Obama victory.”

[…]

Cisneros said he warned Obama about taking Hispanics for granted.

“That would be a mistake,” Cisneros said. “And Obama committed to a significant allocation of resources, staffers and field offices in areas of the country with high Latino populations, even Texas,” a GOP stronghold.

“He gets it.”

If he really gets it, he’ll make sure Cisneros spends some time in his home state, ensuring maximal turnout here where it will also do Rick Noriega some good. John Cornyn is worried about his re-election chances, and I guarantee that the Obama factor is one of the reasons why. Obama says he understands the importance of a Democratic resurgence in Texas. This is one way he can demonstrate that.

College tuition, the continuing story

Consider this to be another warmup for the next Legislative session.

Tuition at Texas universities rose 58 percent between 2003, when schools were first allowed to set their own rates, and 2007. Student fees have gone up, too.

“With tuition and gas, it’s hard to make ends meet,”said Charlotte Atkinson, 26, a senior at the University of Houston, where tuition rose 67 percent.

If legislators can’t offer tuition relief, Atkinson suggests students be given more leeway on fees — all UH students pay the recreation fee, for example, whether they use the recreation center or not.

Average course fees at UH went up 107 percent between 2003 and 2007, from $298 per semester to $616, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Legislators are tired of taking the blame for the escalating price of a college education, and some — mainly Democrats — say they want to resume setting tuition themselves. University leaders argue that the additional money is crucial for attracting and retaining top faculty.

Gov. Rick Perry, for the record, continues to support deregulation and thinks Texas universities “are still a bargain,” spokeswoman Allison Castle said. “The market is setting (tuition), instead of an artificial cap from the state Legislature.”

Funny, but the old way worked pretty well for a long time, like back when Rick Perry was attending Texas A&M. The question is how many Republican legislators running for re-election will climb out on that limb with Perry as he promotes this unpopular scheme. Not a lot would be my guess.

Mighty big cross you’ve got there

Um, okay.

Grace Community Church is raising money to build two enormous crosses that its pastor says will mark the entrances to Houston on Interstate 45. The crosses will likely rank among the largest in the world.

Counting their bases, the crosses would reach up to 200 feet. Each would dwarf I-45’s current symbol of Texas largeness. “Big Sam” Houston, the colossal statue in Huntsville, stands 77 feet tall with its base.

The symbols of Christianity would tower over Grace’s freeway-hugging campuses: the south campus at Dixie Farm Road, and the new north campus just south of The Woodlands. Combined, they serve 12,000 members.

Part building, part sculpture, each cross would include a “prayer center” about 40 feet off the ground — a “Space Needle-type place,” Pastor Steve Riggle said — where Christians from all over Houston could come to pray for the city’s well-being.

An openwork globe 60 feet in diameter, with latitude and longitude lines crisscrossing the continents, would top the prayer center. The bottom of the cross would be visible through the globe.

Riggle sees the crosses as a symbolic stand against moral decay. “The freeways are littered with sexually oriented businesses,” he said. “I’d rather see something that stands for hope, life and faith.”

To each his own, I guess. It’s their money, and if they think this is a good use of it – we don’t know how much money, since Riggle won’t say what his fundraising goal is – then go for it. At least it’s not in any part of town I drive through much, so it’ll be easy for me to ignore. John has more.

UPDATE: The artist’s rendering is here. You do have to see it to believe it.