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July 23rd, 2008:

Brimer will appeal

I guess State Sen. Kim Brimer hasn’t lost in court often enough yet, because he wants to try again with the appeals court.

“We are in the process of both: campaigning for the fall election and appealing the district court’s decision on our opponent’s eligibility,” according to a statement from Brimer’s campaign.

Davis’ office said Brimer’s attitude and response are why she chose to challenge him for the office.

“Mr. Brimer still doesn’t get it,” said Matt Latham, Davis’ campaign manager, in a statement. “After his second failed attempt to deny the voters of Senate District 10 a voice in their choice for state senator, he continues to hide behind his lawyers or even to face his opponent in a public debate of the issues important to the good people of District 10.”

Brimer’s office said in the statement that he would debate Davis if an appeals court rules she is eligible — and if she repays the salary she earned as a city councilwoman from May 2007 to January 2008.

Any other conditions you want to impose there, big guy? Soft lighting, pre-arranged questions, no brown M&Ms? I know how hard this sort of thing can be, so I’m sure we can accommodate you. Sheesh.

Culberson: Let me revise and extend those remarks

Last week, when Rep. John Culberson criticized NASA by saying it had “failed us miserably” and “wastes a vast amount of money”, I wrote that I expected Culberson would wind up walking back his remarks. Looks like I was right.

“Every agency wastes money but NASA itself is not a waste,” the Republican lawmaker said during a video conference with constituents. “These fine people, the scientists and engineers there at NASA, I certainly owe these folks an apology because that is not what I meant to say.”

Culberson, whose statements last week were met with criticism from NASA supporters and political opponents, blamed his temper for his statements but also said his remarks had been taken out of context by people trying to embarass him as he seeks re-election.

In last week’s electronic town hall meeting, Culberson explained Tuesday night, “somebody was asking me about waste in government and a guy was aggravating me and I let my temper get a little bit away with me and I said something I shouldn’t have, which was … that NASA is a waste of money.”

But the congressman, who is seeking re-election against Democrat Michael Skelly and Libertarian Drew Parks in the 7th Congressional District, also said his statements from last week were “taken out of context by somebody out there looking to try to embarrass me in a political campaign, which is unfortunate in this business.”

When a Chronicle reporter contacted Culberson last week about his initial statements, however, the congressman affirmed them and went further, saying he was considering introducing legislation to overhaul the space agency as well as expose it to more competition from the private sector.

He made no remarks Tuesday night about the fate of any such legislation.

Color me unsurprised about any of this. Culberson has never been into subtlety, and that sort of thing always gets you into trouble sooner or later. He can claim he was taken out of context, but this is completely consistent with his style. And please spare me the whining about people trying to “embarrass” him in a political campaign. If you can’t stand having a light shine on what you’re saying, you don’t belong on the campaign trail. Culberson isn’t used to this kind of scrutiny, being a longtime denizen of uncompetitive districts. Welcome to 2008, John. Things are a little different this year. Houston Politics has more.

The Harris County money race

I’ve referred to the 2008 elections here as being very different from what we’re used to seeing. One simple reason for that is that there will be ample funding available for local Democratic campaign efforts.

Disclosures on a complicated web of Republican and Democratic fundraising by federal and state committees indicate that Democrats have an edge, so far, in the total amount of money they can spend in Harris County. How much either party has decided to spend in Harris County remains secret.

The biggest donors to the Texas Democratic Trust are Dallas personal injury lawyer Fred Baron ($1.54 million), Houston personal injury lawyer John Eddie Williams ($450,000) and Dallas-area Container Store retail chain founder Garrett Boone and family ($400,000).

The trust put staffer Mike Malaise to work in Houston after he managed U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson’s 2006 campaign. The group also has paid for consulting, polling and related campaign tools.

The Lone Star Fund, which relies heavily on $5,000 and $10,000 gifts from national labor unions, paid for such things as a Web site featuring “dossiers” on the scandals that have enveloped county Republican officials.

Both groups specialize in tuning and coordinating Democrats’ campaign themes and giving candidates resources, such as voter lists.

The main message is that GOP incumbents are ethically corrupt while letting quality-of-life issues slip.

Republicans say they have cleaned their own house of scandals, such as the ones that led to District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal’s resignation, and have provided efficient government services.

Working to harmonize Democratic candidates “is a coordinated (local) effort we haven’t seen in quite some time,” said Amber Moon, who was dispatched this year by Texas Democratic Party headquarters in Austin to the Houston area to coordinate news media contacts for Democratic contenders for county judge, district attorney, sheriff and other jobs.

County campaigns here have been a total hand-to-mouth experience in recent years. This year, there’s paid staff, there’s a coordinated media effort, and there will be TV and radio advertising. When was the last time you saw that for countywide races? I can’t remember.

At least, it hasn’t been that way on the Democratic side in recent years. The Republicans have a more extensive history of being flush for campaigns. I’m sure they’ll have money this year as well, it’s just that they’ll also have company. From where I sit, it’s about time for that.

One more race on the ballot

Due to the untimely death of Harris County Probate Judge Russell Austin last month, there will be one more race on the ballot this fall. As of yesterday, the Harris County GOP has chosen its nominee for that bench.

About 300 Republican precinct chairs anointed Georgia Akers, an associate judge in another probate court, to be on the Nov. 4 ballot for the job rather than Ruth Ann Stiles, Austin’s associate judge.

County commissioners are scheduled to vote today on who will serve in Austin’s place until voters make their selection. The commissioners can pick someone other than Akers. Stiles, however, said that without the nomination, “it would not be best” for her to take the interim job.

Democrats are scheduled to pick their nominee Aug. 14.

The word that everyone has heard is that former Harris County District Court Judge Kathy Stone, who served two terms on the 55th Court before losing in 1998, will be the Democratic nominee. Stone ran for the 334th District Civil Court in 2004 and was the top Democratic vote-getter in Harris County, drawing almost 48% of the total. She’ll make a strong candidate for this race. Far as I’ve heard, no one else is making a serious effort to challenge her for this.

UPDATE: Commissioners Court has chosen Akers to fill out the remainder of Austin’s term.

Where’s your report, Chuck?

Oops.

Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman says she will ask District Attorney Ken Magidson to look into the fact that former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal apparently hasn’t filed his semi-annual campaign finance report. The deadline was July 15.

Rosenthal resigned as district attorney and is not on this year’s ballot. But, with $198,204 in contributions in his campaign account as of Dec. 31, he is required to make a public accounting of his finances at least every half-year, officials said.

Late filers may be subject to a $500 fine under state law, Kaufman said. She said she does not police the filing of reports but does make prosecutors aware of violations when they are brought to her attention. Our phone call to ask about the missing report is what made her aware of this instance.

I’m sure Rosenthal has been busy lately, and this must have slipped his mind. If he’s lucky, interim DA Ken Magidson will take this sort of complaint as lightly as Rosenthal himself did, back when it was his job to conduct such investigations. I rather suspect he won’t be so lucky. Not that he’s at any real risk – it’s a $500 fine, for goodness’ sake – but there’s a nontrivial amount of irony here. It’s just fitting, somehow.

Homes for the homeless

Given the previous story about the problem of dealing with mentally ill homeless folks that the jails have, this article about a proposed shelter for them is quite timely.

The list of those who support Magnolia Glen, a project that would provide permanent rooms for 220 homeless, is daunting: Houston Mayor Bill White, all five members of Harris County Commissioners Court, area mental health advocates, top city housing officials.

Commissioners Court in March awarded $1.67 million in federal grant money for the project, expecting the city to approve its share, $4 million, a short time later. But the project is teetering and may not happen because one official has said the project’s bevy of influential supporters are wrong.

“I understand the facility, and I understand what it does. If it were going in another district, I could support it. But I will not support it in District I,” Councilman James Rodriguez. “My district already has enough (such housing for the homeless) and soup kitchens. I feel we need to spread new facilities around.”

White has taken the position that he will not force the district councilman to accept a facility that he opposes.

But White said he hasn’t given up on the project. He urged Rodriguez and the Eastwood Civic Association to meet with Magnolia Glen’s developer, the nonprofit Housing Corporation of Greater Houston, and supporters of the project to try to reach common ground.

[…]

The 220 units of housing would be the biggest project undertaken since the commission in 2006 launched a 10-year effort to find homes for the estimated 10,000 homeless in Harris County. The group concluded that 7,000 rooms and apartments are needed. About 200 such units have been created since 2006.

“The city was looking for a dramatic way to move towards meeting its 10-year homeless plan,” said Tom Lord, president of the nonprofit that has proposed buying Magnolia Glen for $5.85 million and then turning it into permanent housing for the homeless.

Case managers, including supervisors of the mentally ill and those with substance abuse problems, would be on duty at all times. Residents would pay about $425 a month in rent for a single room that includes a small refrigerator and a microwave.

The federal government awards grants for such housing because it has proven to help get the homeless off the street and help prevent them from cycling through jails and emergency psychiatric wards, where they often land when they stop taking prescribed psychotropic medications.

[…]

White said he supports Magnolia Glen in part because it would be a bargain. Building similar new rooms for the homeless would cost about $75,000 a unit. The cost will be $26,000 a unit at Magnolia Glen, White said.

White said he understands that most facilities for the homeless should not be located in the same areas.

Former Councilman Gordon Quan, a member of the blue-ribbon commission, said he keeps that policy in mind, but money helps determine where sites can be found.

“People say, ‘Why don’t you put this in River Oaks or Memorial?’ We couldn’t afford the land in River Oaks. But we are cognizant that these need to be spread around,” he said.

I have a lot of sympathy for CM Rodriguez’s position. As a commenter on that story notes, Eastwood is already the home of several such facilities. They do need to be distributed around the city more. On the other hand, given the low cost of the Magnolia and the fact that the neighborhood is not uniformly opposed to it, perhaps there’s some kind of accommodation that can be reached. It would be a shame to lose out on this kind of opportunity, given the great need for more of these homes.

Kos comes to Houston

I mentioned before that I had the chance to meet Markos Moulitsas Zuniga from Daily Kos. He mentioned to me as we chatted that he’d be back in Texas soon, Houston in particular, as part of his book tour. Turns out he’ll be giving a lecture as part of The Progressive Forum‘s speaker series. The event will be Monday, September 22 at 7:30 at the Wortham Center, Cullen Theater. More details will be forthcoming in August, but for now you can find everything there is to know at that Progressive Forum link.