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July 29th, 2008:

More on McCaul, and more

Harold Cook gets into an argument with one of Rep. Mike McCaul’s flacks over McCaul’s phony madrassa story, in the enviable position of having the facts on his side. Mean Rachel joins in.

Michael Skelly has a second ad out, which you can see here; that and his prior ad can also be found here. I actually saw the first ad last night while watching “The Closer”, but since it was TiVoed, and since I’d already seen it, I zipped past it. Nonetheless, that counts as the first general election ad I’ve seen for this year.

Harris County judicial candidate Mike Engelhart has his first campaign video up, which you can see here. It’s a warm fuzzy family spot, which is always a nice way to kick things off. Figure there’ll be a ton more local videos between now and November.

And finally, Joe Jaworski received the endorsement of the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club, which you can read about here. Given that his opponent is known as “Toxic Mike” Jackson, you’ve got to figure that was an easy call for them.

Judge rules Texas’ bilingual education is inadequate

I don’t know what the practical effects of this are going to be, but it sure sounds like a big deal.

A federal judge’s ruling that Texas is not living up to its obligation to properly educate students who struggle with the English language gives hope to many of those children with dismal academic achievement, a civil rights lawyer said Monday.

The state of Texas is not complying with the federal Equal Education Opportunity Act, in that public schools are failing their obligation to overcome language barriers, Senior U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice said in a 95-page ruling on Friday.

“The failure of secondary (limited English proficient) students under every metric clearly and convincingly demonstrates student failure, and accordingly, the failure of the (English as a Second Language) secondary program in Texas,” Justice wrote in the opinion, which reversed his 2007 ruling in the case.

Justice’s ruling disappointed Texas Education Agency officials. “We’re continuing to study this latest ruling, but it is likely that we will ask the attorney general to appeal it,” agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said.

Attorneys for Attorney General Greg Abbott also are studying the ruling, “and we are weighing the prospects of an appeal,” said Abbott spokesman Tom Kelley.

I don’t see any mention in the story as to a remedy, legislative or otherwise, that is being mandated, and I also don’t see the name of the lawsuit, so I’m not sure how to find a copy of the ruling. Be that as it may, it seems likely to me that this is something the Lege will have to address in some fashion, along with so many other school-related issues. Whether it’s in 2009 or later, I couldn’t say. Can anyone help me fill in the gaps here? Thanks.

Metro East End meeting

Just passing this along.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority will host a neighborhood meeting Wednesday to update residents on construction of the East End light rail line.

The route runs mostly on Harrisburg, and plans call for two items that have brought opposition from some residents: a bridge over freight tracks near 65th and a service and inspection facility nearby for light rail trains.

The meeting will be 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Ripley House Community Center gym, 4100 Navigation.

School board campaign finance reports

I guess it hadn’t occurred to me that there were any class of public offices left for which campaign finance reports were not available online, but apparently there are.

Taxpayers can find out with the click of a mouse who has donated to the campaigns of Houston City Council members, the mayor, Harris County officials and state officers.

Getting the same data on school trustees and candidates is not so easy.

Unlike the city, county and state, the Houston area’s 10 largest school districts and many smaller ones do not post campaign finance reports on their Web sites.

Instead, taxpayers generally must trek to district headquarters during business hours to view paper copies of the reports, which detail the money that school board candidates raised and spent.

[…]

In interviews this week, several trustees said they had not thought about posting their campaign reports online.

Sonal Bhuchar, president of the Fort Bend school board, said she does not see the need for online reports because anyone can request paper copies.

“I think it’s best that if someone’s interested, an open-records request can be made,” she said. “I don’t think it necessarily has to be on the district Web site.”

Katy board president Eric Duhon said the issue of going digital boils down to cost.

“Someone must prepare the data, catalog the data, present it in an Internet form, and we must maintain that data,” he said. “With that said, I’m still not opposed to the concept of making public data easier accessed. The decision is, ‘What is the best use of public money at this time?’ ”

For copies of paper documents, districts can charge 10 cents a page.

Board presidents for Houston, Cypress-Fairbanks and Aldine school districts said they would not have a problem posting the campaign reports online but said the decision rests with the full board.

“It’s already an open record,” said Cy-Fair board president Don Ryan.

HISD board president Harvin Moore said he would raise the idea at the next board meeting.

“I think it’s something that the board can consider and we can act on right away,” he said. “It seems like a good idea to me.”

HISD trustee Carol Mims Galloway, who previously served on City Council, said she is not opposed to online reports but noted that trustees are unique politicians because they do not get salaries.

“If the body wants to do this, I don’t have any problems with it,” she said. “But we are different than other elected officials. We’re in another category because we are volunteers.”

Sorry, but every one of these excuses – and that’s what they are – for not making campaign finance reports available online is lame. Requiring an open-records request for a paper copy is a significant burden to anyone who might be interested in this information. It won’t cost that much, and if it came down to it there could be some funding allocated by the Lege for this purpose. And the fact that trustees are unpaid is irrelevant. It’s the donor, not the recipient, that really matters here. Voters have a right to know if people and firms that do business with the school districts are funding the trustees’ campaigns. This should not be contentious. I don’t know if it will take legislative action to make this happen, but if so I’ll say up front that I will support such a bill. This is the 21st century. Let’s act like we’re living in it.

Registering voters

We should have over two million registered voters for the election this fall, which would be a record high for Harris County. The question is whether that figure should be even higher.

For starters, 2 million citizens older than 17, in a county of roughly 4 million people, would represent only meager growth from the last presidential election here. The 2004 roll fell only 60,000 shy of 2 million.

On the other hand, the roll dropped to 1.8 million a year ago, due in part to Bettencourt’s groundbreaking efforts under state and federal law to remove outmoded or improper registrations.

Now, consider what the voter roll shows about the record-shattering voter turnout for the county’s March 4 presidential primaries. Those elections were preceded by several voter registration drives as Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton fought for the Democratic nomination and John McCain emerged as the GOP favorite.

But of the 407,102 voters in the Democratic contest, only 9,850 had never registered to vote in Harris County before this year, according to statistics developed for the Houston Chronicle by Bettencourt’s staff. And of the 169,448 people who voted in the Republican primary, a mere 2,454 had never registered here.

The figures indicate that the stimulated local electorate was overwhelmingly people who had been registered without regularly having voted in primaries, according to Bettencourt and other election observers. Or it means that many people re-registered this year after letting their voter status lapse. Or both.

One of the challenges facing the county registrar’s office is the Houston area population’s apparent wanderlust. Half of the residents here rent their dwellings, according to the U.S. Census. Many switch locations every few months or years.

If those voters fail to update their registrations with new addresses, under federal law they are purged from the voter roll after two federal elections. In the meantime, they may be told at the voting place in their new neighborhood that they must return to their old neighborhood to vote.

Bettencourt voluntarily pursues voters to update their registrations after they move from one Harris County location to another. Using driver’s license address changes and other government records in a pioneering project, his staff sends letters to such voters — about 100,000 every summer — encouraging them to update their voter registrations.

[…]

Clearly, Harris County takes a lead role in the state for cross-checking government records to remove from the rolls voters who leave the county, are convicted of felonies, are discovered to be noncitizens (80 of those since January 2006) or die. Bettencourt said that, following state law and interpretations by the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, his staff also is ahead of most of the state in using government records to challenge whether voters or registration applicants have claimed a real residential address.

Inevitably, a few challenges are misguided. Running six months behind on property records, the county mistakenly has rejected applications from voters who live in new dwellings. They are allowed to register eventually.

Bettencourt’s employees also have been sticklers about following state law on other portions of the voter application. They have rejected applications on which residents without Texas driver’s licenses provided Social Security numbers in lieu of license numbers — but failed to check the box that says they lack a license.

There’s no question that Bettencourt is aggressive about purging voters he believes to be ineligible from the rolls. He’s one of the more vocal claimants of the “voter fraud” myth, so that’s entirely in keeping with his philosophy. Bettencourt denies that he emphasizes purging over enrolling, and that may be, but I don’t think he can deny that his office doesn’t prioritize enrolling new voters. It’s just not what they do. And I hope we’re all clear on the reasons why Democrats are highly suspicious of aggressive voter-roll-purging by Republicans like Bettencourt.

What I’d like to know is what percentage of people in Harris County who are eligible to vote are actually registered to vote. I couldn’t find that information on the voter registration page. For comparison, in Travis County 94.4% of eligible voters were actually registered for the 2004 election. How many people could be enrolled in Harris County but aren’t?

Waiting for KBH, the continuing story

Paul Burka goes to Washington and confirms – as much as one can, anyway – that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison really really really will resign the Senate and run for Governor in 2010.

No, I didn’t hear it directly from her. I got it indirectly from a Texas Republican congressman who is a strong suppporter of hers. He got it from her. She has been having regular meetings with Republican members of the Texas delegation (19 R’s, 13 D’s), telling them that she will run and seeking their support. She has received affirmative answers from all but two. One of the holdouts is Sam Johnson. I did not learn the identity of the other, but my guess is Ron Paul. It certainly isn’t Kay Granger, who wants to run for the seat herself. Hutchison will resign from the Senate about a year from now, my source told me, after the legislative session.

Two things: One, as always with this neverending story, I’ll believe it when I see it. Until KBH takes a tangible step towards running for Governor – like, say, announcing her resignation from the Senate – it’s all speculation and rumor and can be proven false at any time. It’s not that I think she doesn’t want to be Governor, it’s that we’ve seen this movie before, and I’m not convinced she wants to fight for it. And as long as Rick Perry is around, that’s what she’ll have to do. How willing is she to get dirty?

And two, I hope that if she does run, the Democrats don’t decide that no one can beat her, so they may as well focus on other things. The KBH that emerges from a nasty primary fight with Rick Perry is going to look very different that the warm, fuzzy, moderate-of-reputation KBH of today. If Burka’s report that Phil Gramm is involved in her putative campaign is accurate, then there will be plenty of material to use in a race against her. Let’s not give up without trying, okay? If the Democrats are ever going to be a statewide party, we can’t afford to be shy.

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 28

The All-Star Break is over, the Olympics are on the horizon, NFL training camp has begun, and through it all the Texas Progressive Alliance blog roundups keep on going. Click on for this week’s highlights.

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