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July 22nd, 2008:

Judge rules for Davis in ballot access case

Good.

Democrat Wendy Davis is eligible to run against state Sen. KimBrimer, R-Fort Worth, in November, according to a civil court ruling.

When asked if Brimer planned to appeal the ruling, his lawyer, Nick Acuff, said “I think so.”

Outside the courtroom, Davis said she was confident the ruling will stand through appeals.

“I’m very very confident in the law and I’m very confident, that regardless of the appellate level that hears this case, we are legally on the ballot,” she said.

[…]

Judge Tom Lowe ruled in favor of Davis’ eligibility based on two different criteria. He said that Davis’ second filing for the Texas Senate (done on Jan. 2) was completely free of conflict because Joel Burns had been sworn in as city councilman the day before. This ruling is the first concrete declaration of whether Burns’ unscheduled swearing-in at home was official. Fort Worth city attorneys have declined to say.

Lowe then said that even if Burns’ first swearing-in wasn’t official, meaning that Davis held her city council seat for a week following her filing to run for a higher office, it didn’t matter.

“Davis’s holding office for those additional seven days was de minimus and does not render her ineligible to seek election,” Lowe wrote.

Brimer had filed suit earlier this month, in what I thought was a fairly risky move. I think he’s got to appeal, but to my non-lawyerly eyes, this doesn’t look good for him. Here’s more on the hearing itself. I hope we can put this behind us now and get on with the business oif the election.

A billion short

We first heard about this last month, and now it seems certain: The new business tax will fall well short or revenue projections.

“It’s almost certain we’re going to come in about a billion dollars below what we estimated,” Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, told the Houston Chronicle after a meeting of the Business Tax Advisory Committee, which he serves. “Because other taxes are running ahead of projections, we’re still OK. … We’re not flush, but we’ll be OK, I think.”

The new business tax was pushed by Gov. Rick Perry and approved by lawmakers in 2006 as part of a package that also lowered local school property tax rates when the state faced a court order to change the public education tax system. The expanded business tax, due this year for the first time based on last year’s business activity, will help subsidize the cost of lower school property tax rates.

Ogden’s assessment came after the comptroller’s office reported that through June, the new tax brought in $4.29 billion. It has been projected to yield $5.9 billion this fiscal year, which ends Aug. 31. Figures won’t be final until November because of businesses that filed for extensions.

Dale Craymer, chief economist for the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association and a tax advisory committee member, also has said he thinks it’s unlikely the tax will hit its first-year target.

Craymer said better-than-expected yields from other taxes, including oil and natural gas production, could more than make up the difference.

He emphasized Monday that the business tax performance so far “is probably not indicative of how much revenue the tax is ultimately going to generate, just because of first-year transitional issues.”

I’m not as sanguine about the future prospects of this tax as Craymer is. For one thing, I fully expect it to be tinkered with to some extent in 2009, possibly quite a bit, as there is a lot of pressure from unhappy small business owners and from legislators on both sides of the aisle. For another, to be off by more than 15% just doesn’t inspire confidence. I’ll grant that there was probably a learning curve here, but come on. If it was reasonable to expect the possibility of a billion dollars being lost to “first year transitional issues”, that should have been made a lot more clear when the thing was being written and debated. I mean hell, would John Sharp agree with that assessment? This was his baby, after all.

State of Play

Here’s a Texas Monthly article by Paul Burka that takes a look at how the Presidential race might affect various key downballot races in Texas. It’s pretty comprehensive, and very Burka-esque, with all the good and bang-your-head-against-a-wall-ness that implies. One point that I want to highlight, which illuminates some of my frustration with this kind of analysis:

The East Texas WD-40’s

“WD-40” is Capitol-speak for white Democrats of middle age who generally represent Republican-leaning districts. In a normal year, Mark Homer, Jim McReynolds, and Chuck Hopson would be favored, but Obama may be a load to carry in East Texas.

Is there anyone reading this who can’t visualize this exact same paragraph being written with “Hillary” being substituted for “Obama”? I mean, for a good six months or more, we were subjected to one Republican operative after another gleefully rubbing his hands at the prospect of Hillary Clinton at the top of the Democratic ticket, where her supposedly divisive presence would save them all by giving the legions of grumpy, apathetic Republican voters a reason to drag themselves to the polls. But wait! They were head-faking us all along! It’s really Obama they wanted to run against! He’ll inspire them in a way that John McCain only dreams he could!

Yeah, I think you see my problem. It’s one part lazy thinking, with an equal measure of Republican talking points. And to this day, after all this time, no one has ever satisfactorily explained to me why guys like Homer, Hopson, and McReynolds have anything more to fear now than they did in 2004 when an at-his-zenith George W. Bush was leading the way for the state GOP. For crying out loud, Burka acknowledges this up front:

Finally, the R’s have run out of Bushes. The 2008 election will not be a replay of 2000, or even 2004. The Democrats have a candidate who energizes the party’s electorate, while the GOP nominee would not have been the first choice of most Texas Republicans.

And yet we get the same tired conventional wisdom about the WD-40s. Why is that?

Well, there is one more thing, which Burka doesn’t mention but which must be at the root of his thinking here, and that of course is race. Maybe the fact that Obama is black will help generate Republican turnout in East Texas. Only problem with that is, there’s no evidence that Obama will do any worse in such areas than some other Democrat would have done.

So does Barack Obama have a problem with white voters? The answer is a resounding “yes.” And so has every other Democratic presidential candidate in the past forty years. The last Democratic candidate for president to win a majority of the white vote was Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Al Gore lost the white vote by 12 points in 2000. John Kerry lost the white vote by 17 points in 2004.

Based on five national polls that have been conducted this month–Gallup, Newsweek, Quinnipiac, CBS/New York Times, and ABC/Washington Post–Barack Obama is currently trailing John McCain by an average of nine points among white voters. So Obama is doing much better than John Kerry and a little better than Al Gore. In fact, the only Democratic presidential candidates in the past four decades who have done better among white voters were Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. Not coincidentally, they were also the only successful Democratic presidential candidates in the past four decades. Based on his current showing in the polls, Barack Obama may well be the next one. With whites expected to comprise less than 80 percent of the 2008 electorate, and with a 20-1 margin among black voters and a 2-1 margin among Hispanic voters, Obama’s current nine point deficit among white voters would translate into a decisive victory in November.

So the democratic nominee may change, but the question remains the same: Why would any of these guys be in more danger in 2008 than they were in 2004? Note that I’m not saying any of them can’t lose, just that as far as I can see, they’ve faced worse conditions than this. So why the hand-wringing? Anybody? I’m still willing to change my mind about this, if someone can show me tangible evidence to contradict my hypothesis. I’m still waiting to see such evidence. [email protected] has more.

Density and transit go hand in hand

This recent article about a new high-end 236-unit apartment at Richmond and Dunlavy in Montrose contains a point that I wish would get mentioned more often.

David Robinson, president of the Neartown Association, said his group realizes change, specifically higher density, is coming to central Houston, and members are fine with it as long as it is done right.

“Density is something we need and are encouraging inside the city limits, especially in the urban core,” Robinson said. “Neartown’s official opinion is that increased density is OK as long as it is marked by wise investment and prudent decision making. I think we could overbuild the area easily if we weren’t smart about it.

“Our city is so diverse and the character of the neighborhoods is so important to maintain and preserve,” he added. “As a leader of Neartown, we love our neighborhood and we’re not looking for wholesale change. We’re looking at building on the existing infrastructure.”

Robinson said he believes the location of the Fairmont Museum District is appropriate, and is ideally located to make use of the University Corridor line.

“Along the Richmond Avenue corridor is the perfect place for higher density to occur,” Robinson said.

It will help, “get cars off the street and allow people living there to take mass transit,” he added. “When you talk about our carbon footprint these days, getting out of the car and onto the rail is a good idea.”

Claude Wynn, president of the Museum District Business Alliance, said he is aware of increased density and how it can favor businesses.

“I think this is what we’re looking at along the thoroughfares,” Wynn said. “Rail is going to bring this kind of density, which is not incorrect. It’s about how it’s done. There are some concerns by some in the neighborhood, but I personally don’t know of any business complaints.

“We know we are facing increasing density and that’s part of what gives a spark to the businesses. Density is what feeds the walkable Montrose idea, that’s what rail is about – the ability to walk for several blocks. Businesses are not as sensitive to things like that as the neighborhoods.”

Basically, density without transit is just worse traffic. Density with transit is something desirable for residents and businesses, and will attract people to it from elsewhere. Many of the concerns about some of the new highrise projects would largely go away if people didn’t see them as just adding hundreds more cars to their neighborhoods. It’s pretty simple, really. And since the density is coming to all over central Houston, we need to start thinking aggressively about bringing more transit there as well. I have some thoughts on this that I will develop more fully in the coming weeks.

Steffy runs against the wind

I would have had respect for Loren Steffy’s dissenting opinion on wind energy had he acknowledged any of the following: The externalities imposed by coal- and gas-powered plants cost us a boatload of money, too; factoring in those externalities makes wind power a heck of a lot more competitive; the intermittance of wind is a technical problem that can be solved or at least mitigated by various storage solutions. But he did none of that, nor did he offer any solutions of his own, so I’m not particularly impressed. At least T. Boone Pickens put forth a concrete proposal for people to study and pick apart.

On the plus side, reading Steffy’s column alerted me to the fact that the Public Utility Commission cast a vote in favor of expanding the infrastructure for delivering wind energy in Texas.

A divided commission selected a plan that will eventually transmit 18,456 megawatts of wind power from West Texas and the Panhandle. That would be enough to power 3.7 million homes on a hot summer day, and more than 11 million in milder weather.

“It’s a big bite,” said Public Utility Commissioner Paul Hudson. “The transmission plan is nothing short of extraordinary in terms of scope and magnitude.”

The commission expects the new lines will be in service within four to five years. As the lines begin transmitting power, residential consumers will pay higher rates that are expected to total about $4 per month when the $4.93 billion in construction is complete.

[…]

The plan, which is expected to be finalized later this month, represents a middle ground among five scenarios ranging from $3 billion to $6.4 billion.

The Legislature in 2005 directed the PUC to select the most productive wind zones and devise a plan to move power from those zones to populated areas.

[…]

The wind industry is supported by rural lawmakers for the jobs and growth it will bring, and by urban legislators who say that wind will reduce pollution and global warming.

“This puts us on the path toward diversification of our energy sources so that by 2015 we should be reliant on wind for 25 percent,” said Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio.

Critics said that because the wind blows less in the summer when demand is highest, additional natural gas and coal-fired plants will need to be built to meet peak demand.

Wind generators had supported even higher levels of transmission, but were pleased by Thursday’s vote.

“With the eyes of the nation watching Texas, we have developed a process that will serve as a model for the country as we look to diversify our energy fuel mix,” said Paul Sadler, executive director of The Wind Coalition, in a statement.

So they picked ERCOT scenario 2, not scenario 3. It’s still a step forward, despite what Loren Steffy thinks.

Finally, on a related note, Glenn Smith adds his critique of the Pickens Plan.

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 21

We’re back from Netroots Nation, and we’ve got a lot to talk about. There’ll be a special roundup of NN coverage at another time, but for now, here are the Texas Progressive Alliance blog highlights from last week. Read on…

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