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July 16th, 2008:

Policing the jailers

Okay.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office has named a department employee to head the newly created post of inspector general to investigate abuses at the county jail.

The appointment comes as federal authorities review the downtown lockups and a local congressional leader plans an inquiry into county judicial matters, including jail conditions, later this week.

[…]

Traditionally, jail supervisors investigated complaints against staff, officials said. However, the sheriff’s new investigative arm will relieve supervisors of the time-consuming investigations and allow them to focus on supervisory duties.

Investigators with the oversight office, which was created about six weeks ago, will regularly tour county jails to ensure that proper operations and procedures are followed.

The sheriff’s internal affairs unit as well the homicide division will continue to investigate in-custody deaths, officials said.

[…]

Sheriff’s officials said the new investigative office had been planned for months and is unrelated to recent public criticism of Sheriff Tommy Thomas and federal inquiries at the jail.

Yeah, just like the new email retention policy was unrelated to the Ibarra litigation. Sure it is. I don’t know if this setup will be any better than the previous one. I do know that there will be a distinct lack of faith in any internal process for as long as the current leadership is in place.

In related news:

[Rep. Sheila] Jackson Lee, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, is scheduled to host an informal hearing at City Hall from 10 a.m. to noon Friday to examine county judicial issues, including jail conditions.

This will likely be sound and fury, but a little more scrutiny of the issue is a good thing.

Netroots Nation

It occurs to me that I haven’t pimped my participation in Netroots Nation yet. I will be there, trying to attend as many concurrently-scheduled events as I can (where’s Hermione’s time-travel charm when you really need it?), and sitting on a panel along with some of my Texas blogging colleagues – that’s Friday, 3 PM, Ballroom F, be there or be square. Oh, and I’ll be at this party tomorrow night. I don’t really know what else to expect, other than the certainty of getting lost inside the labyrinthine Austin Convention Center, but I’m looking forward to it, and I’ll do my best to tell you about the stuff I see and hear. And for those of you who can’t be in Austin physically for this event, you can be there virtually. So, one way or the other, I hope to see you there.

And for those of you who can’t wait till tomorrow to get the festivities started, here’s an appetizer from the Texas Politics Today radio show and its hosts, Deece Eckstein and David Kobierowski:

This week on TEXAS POLITICS TODAY, Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga is our guest for a lively discussion of Internet activism and the 2008 elections. TEXAS POLITICS TODAY airs from 2:30 to 3:00 p.m. CDT every Wednesday on KOOP, Austin’s community radio station. KOOP is located at 91.7 on the FM dial and also streams live over the Internet at www.koop.org.

KOOP, “the little station that could,” is Austin’s only community-owned radio station. It shares the FM 91.7 radio frequency with KVRX, the University of Texas student radio. It also streams live over the Web at www.koop.org. KOOP is on the air on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and on weekends from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

I figure you know who Markos is, so I skipped the brief bio. Tune in later today for this unofficial kickoff to Netroots Nation, and I’ll see you there tomorrow.

The county money report

The Chron’s Alan Bernstein rounds up the finance reports for the countywide candidates, and there’s some good news and some not-so-good news for both sides.

Democrat Adrian Garcia, the Houston councilman, easily outraised incumbent Tommy Thomas in the race for sheriff in the last few months. But thanks to leftovers from previous campaigns, Thomas ended June with $609,000 in the bank, compared to $112,000 for Garcia.

(Of Thomas’ $28,000 raised since February, $20,000 came from lawyer Mark Lanier, homebuilder Bob Perry and wife Doylene Perry. Thomas spent $29,000 on legal fees since late February and made a $5,000 contribution to the University of Houston).

District Clerk Theresa Chang reported $51,000 in her campaign treasury, compared to $9,000 for Democratic challenger Loren Jackson, according to county records.

I’m not too concerned about the District Clerk race. It’s always nice to have more money, but as I said before, I don’t really expect the candidates in this race to have much effect on the outcome beyond the pull of Presidential turnout. A little something at the margins never hurts, of course.

As for the Sheriff’s race, I’d seen an earlier version of this post last night that showed a much smaller total for Adrian Garcia. The updated amount is way better, but we’re talking about a two-term City Council incumbent who’s running against a guy with a bigger bulls-eye on his back than the Grace Church mega-cross. The ceiling is a lot higher than this, and I hope Garcia picks up the pace. It’s hard to imagine him losing, and it’s hard (but certainly not impossible) to imagine Thomas running an effective campaign given all his baggage, but let’s please not take anything for granted, OK? Thanks.

On the flip side:

Pat Lykos, after her smackdown with Kelly Siegler in the April GOP runoff, has $32,000 in the bank, well behind Democrat C.O. Bradford, with $115,000. (Although, much his take this year was actually the worth of donated services, from campaign accounting to sign placement on private property to office carpet cleaning). Contributions to Bradford included $5,000 from Lee Brown, who was mayor part of the time Bradford was police chief and whose consulting company employs Bradford now.

[…]

County Judge Ed Emmett, after a bruising Republican primary against Charles Bacarisse, continues to trail Democratic challenger David Mincberg in the money column. Emmett reported $569,000 on hand, to $713,000 for Mincberg.

Good to see Mincberg continue to do well. Thanks to his expensive primary race, Ed Emmett has less cash on hand now than he did in January. Of course, he spent that money on voter contact and TV ads, so it’s not like it was frittered away. I figure we’ll start seeing these two on TV soon after Labor Day.

I need to look at the actual report before I can judge Bradford’s efforts. He didn’t get to run against the bogeyman Chuck Rosenthal, which probably had a dampening effect, but he did announce awhile ago, well before Rosenthal’s flameout, so he did have some time to use that to his advantage. I want to know how much actual cash he has, and how much of his total is based on in-kind donations. I’ll check it when I can and do an update later.

No word yet on the County Attorney candidates, or for HCDE Trustees. I know Vince Ryan has had at least one fundraiser, but that’s about all I know. If he’s been working the phones, he could crack $100K. I’ll be very pleasantly surprised if that’s the case – I expect him to have less than that, probably less than $50K. But he has run for office before, including countywide, so who knows? As for Mike Stafford, I assume he’s got some money stashed away from 2004, when he ran unopposed. It could be a big number – $250K or more – if he’s been busy and frugal. Or maybe he’s been coasting, I don’t know. And I’ve no clue about the HCDE Trustee race. I’ll be looking for all this data later today.

UPDATE: To clarify, Bradford raised $250K, including in-kind donations, and has $110K on hand. The report is here (PDF). All things considered, not too bad. For the County Attorney race, Stafford has $50K, Ryan $10K, much less than I thought in each case.

Skelly on TV

Get ready to see Michael Skelly and his family on TV.

Democratic congressional challenger Michael Skelly brought an unusually early and extensive start Tuesday night to the next season of political TV advertising in the Houston area.

Skelly, who has raised significantly more campaign money than his Republican opponent, Rep. John Culberson, said he will run campaign ads on TV until the Nov. 4 election.

Few candidates for the U.S. House have had the luxury of running TV ads non-stop for 3.5 months. Skelly, an executive of a wind power company, called it a necessity.

“I’m new to the political world. I come from the business world. So I need to work extra hard,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Here’s the ad:

Nice, positive spot, and the kids come across well, which is a tricky thing to do. What do you think?

This is the best part of the story:

Culberson noted that he was heavily outspent by an opponent in his first Republican primary for Congress “and I have run against millionaires before, but never against one who raised so much money from outside of Texas.”

Skelly has raised less than 25 percent of his money from outside the state, however, while 31 percent of Culberson’s donations came from Washington-based political action committees.

Culberson also wrote that he is “completely focused on doing my job representing District 7, and I am confident that as long as I continue to do the right things for the right reasons, the politics will follow.”

In an electronic text message to a network of people, however, Culberson said on Sunday, “Big day tomorrow; must keep raising $$ since my multimillionaire opponent has infinite $$$.”

Oops. Hold still, Congressman, I think you’ve got something in your eye. Nice to see the Chron following Culberson on Twitter, by the way. It really is a useful resource, isn’t it?

Still more elected offices

And here we have another push to make a currently-appointed statewide office an elected office instead. It’s almost as if legislators want to send a message to Governor Rick “39%” Perry or something.

Lawmakers should look at allowing voters rather than the governor choose the overseer of the Texas Department of Transportation, a member of a legislative body studying the controversy-stirring agency said today.

“I think that we ought to have everything on the table,” said Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, a member of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, at a hearing on possible changes at TxDOT. “We ought to look at leaving it like it is. We also ought to seriously look at an elected commissioner.”

McClendon asked Sunset staff — who earlier issued a report urging other major changes at the agency, citing an atmosphere of frustration and distrust — to study the pros and cons of an elected commissioner.

Critics of TxDOT and the commission that oversees it applauded the idea, and one man said, “Amen!”

The idea was seconded by Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, who said the proposal would make a “bold statement” that the agency must rebuild trust and address the state’s transportation needs. She said 76 percent of people who have commented during the review process want an elected commissioner.

“I think that if we did not look at that, we would be as guilty as TxDOT is of not listening to the public,” Harper-Brown said.

The idea met with resistance from Gov. Rick Perry’s office. His spokeswoman, Allison Castle, said that TxDOT “is part of the executive branch of government, and the governor believes that’s where it should stay.”

We’re familiar with the argument. I think the fact that a GOP foot soldier such as Linda Harper-Brown is on board with this idea is something that should have the Governor worried. It’d be one thing if this were only being pushed by Democrats. Having it be bipartisan, as with the Insurance Commissioner, means it’s something that could get real traction. I’m assuming this would require a Constitutional amendment, which may limit Perry’s veto options, especially if it gets passed early enough before sine die. I’m still not sure what I think in the abstract of this plan – obviously, I like seeing Perry’s wings clipped, but we will someday have a different Governor – but I’d welcome the debate next spring. Hey, Burka, what do you think about this?

Why can’t they advertise?

So I’m reading this article about the National Park Service and its attempts to reach out to minority communities, who represent a disproportionately small fraction of their attendees, and I came across this curious paragraph:

The Park Service is prohibited from buying advertising, forcing it to rely on word of mouth, media coverage, outreach through schools and advertising done by concessionaires within or near the parks.

And I asked myself: Why would the Park Service be prohibited from buying advertising? Is it a money thing, or is there some sort of reasoning behind it? Because if it’s the latter, I must confess I’m stumped for what it might be. What harm could there be in allowing NPS to run TV or radio spots? Can anyone shed some light on this? Thanks.