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September, 2008:

Voter registration deadline is Monday

I figure everyone reading this blog is sufficiently engaged with the political process to be already registered to vote. But you never know, and I’m sure most if not all of us know people who should be registered but aren’t yet. So please be aware that Monday, October 6, is the deadline to register, and if you miss that date you’re out of luck for this election. If for some reason you are unsure of your status, you can go to one of these locations to check:

The latter assumes you live in Harris County; if not, click the List of County Registrars link on the SOS page. If you are not registered and want to be, go here:

If you need to request a ballot by mail, perhaps because you are currently living outside your home county due to Hurricane Ike, you can do so here:

Finally, if you’d like to help other people register to vote, Houston Votes is looking for assistance. Here’s a message from them:

It is now or never to register people to vote. The deadline for this November’s election is Monday, October 6. People easily can volunteer to register people at large stores across the area from October 1-6 by going online to and clicking the volunteer button. It takes volunteers to new software (VolunteerSpot) that allows volunteers to chose their day, time, and site. Houston Votes has hundreds of shifts. People can also volunteer by contacting Dee Young at [email protected] and 281-702-7864.

Thanks for your assistance. Now go get ready to vote!

Mayor White: Not so fast on that plant permit

Mayor Bill White takes his fight against nearby chemical plants over the pollution they send our way to the next level.

In an unusual request by the city, White asked the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which is responsible for the state’s air quality, to grant a hearing before a judge on the latest permit application for Lyondell Chemical Co.’s refinery along the Houston Ship Channel.

The refinery is in the city’s cross hairs because it’s one of the nation’s largest emitters of benzene, according to the most recent industry-provided estimates. What’s more, it yields more emissions of the toxic chemical per barrel of product than other refineries across the nation and thus poses an unreasonable risk to Houstonians, city officials said.

“If the company believes that it’s just fine to put tons and tons of benzene in the air,” White said in an interview, “then we would like to hear what scientific evidence they have that benzene is good for you.”


The hearing, if granted, would allow the city and the refinery’s operators to submit evidence and question officials and experts before a state-appointed judge. Afterward the judge would propose a decision to the TCEQ, which has the final word over permits.

White said he is hopeful that the hearing would lead state regulators to establish an acceptable limit for benzene. Texas doesn’t have one, but other states have set such standards.

Fine by me. Let’s either establish that there is a standard worthy of being enforced by a state agency, or admit that the whole thing is a sham and nothing we do matters. Either way, it’s an outcome we can work with. What say you, TCEQ?

A more direct way to help

Julie talks about what life is like after Ike in her hometown of Seabrook, and tells of a little way in which we can help:

Kids are helping kids with Operation CRAYON. This is assistance for kids from pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

Operation CRAYON
McWhirter Elementary
300 Pennsylvania Avenue
Webster, TX 77598

They will accept items and will hand them out to schools who are working directly with families, or to teachers to help specific children or to replace lost classroom items.

Wish need list is:

New (preferable) or gently, gently used clothing and shoes
New undergarments
Standardized dress attire
School supplies

They’ve set up portable units where the items are arranged “store style” and they let the children come in and “shop.”

If you prefer to deal with me I will email you a mail location and I will personally take the items to either specific families, the donation centers, or to the schools. Multiple schools are accepting items for children enrolled who are in need or were displaced.

If you prefer to send gift cards such as to Target, a grocery store, or a prepaid card, I assure you I will get these to appropriate people. In our area we have: Target, Wal*Mart, Kroger and HEB.

You can contact her for more information – send email to j pippert at g mail dot com. Thank you very much.

And if you’re in the helping mood, the Chronicle has another way to assist:

The Houston Arts Alliance has created an “artist recovery blog” to facilitate communication between the city’s estimated 500 arts organizations and 14,000 working artists in the wake of Hurricane Ike.

Jonathon Glus, the alliance’s CEO, announced the launch of Friday at a town hall meeting held to assess the storm’s impact on the arts community.

Glus and Jerome Vielman, assistant director of grants and services, presented early findings of a survey that requested information about facility and studio damage, program cancellations and postponements, suspension of fundraising activities and interruption of artists’ work.

Of the 92 arts organizations that had responded by Friday, nearly 60 percent reported wind, water or tree damage and “continued loss of power,” while 80 percent said they postponed or canceled events, and 42 percent reported lost ticket sales.

It may not seem like much, but Houston has a diverse and vibrant arts community, one that helps make Houston be what it is. Any help there is greatly appreciated.

Down in Galveston, they’re dealing with mold.

Residents and business owners who were finally allowed last week to inspect their properties may have been relieved to find that the structures survived floodwaters and high winds. But many discovered the damage done by various species of mold left to breed wildly in the nurturing environs of damp, hot buildings whose doors and windows were sealed for nearly two weeks.

At Maya’s Grocery and Food Products on Avenue L, the grown children of 80-year-old Enrique Ochoa and his wife, 78-year-old Alicia, donned respirator masks, rubber boots and gloves and plastic jumpsuits several days last week to combat the mold, mildew, flies and fumes that have overtaken the flooded Mexican food store their parents had operated for half a century.

“None of us have training what to do with mold,” said daughter Elizabeth Ochoa, a 52-year-old San Antonio nurse. “We just know it’s nasty and you need masks.”

I helped tear out moldy drywall in a couple of houses after Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as what’s described in that story. I can’t even conceive what a horrible task this must be.

Power to the people update: As of Monday night, 114,000 CenterPoint customers were still in the dark. That’s 5 percent of their total. Unfortunately, some places that have had power restored have lost it again, as temporary fixes fail and more tree branches fall. Also, no further progress that I can see on traffic light outages – every light that was non-functioning last week is still non-functioning this week. The ones I’m used to are at some pretty busy intersections, like Greenbriar and Holcombe. They’ll get fixed eventually, I guess.

HISD versus Saavedra

There has been some tension in the relationship between HISD and its superintendent, Abe Saavedra. Yesterday, that nearly came to a head.

Supporters of Houston ISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra rallied Monday amid fears that the school board planned to sever ties with the chief.

The board, however, took no action on Saavedra’s job contract Monday after meeting behind closed doors for more than two hours.

A decision to oust Saavedra could come at today’s board meeting, but board President Harvin Moore and Vice President Paula Harris both said such a move is unlikely.

The board must notify Saavedra by Wednesday if it does not want to extend his contract another year. If the board takes no action, the pact automatically extends.

On Monday afternoon, members of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and several Hispanic politicians, including state Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, gathered to show support for Saavedra. They said they were worried about his job security.

“The timing of the board could not be worse,” Laura Murillo, president of the Hispanic Chamber, said at a news conference. “Dr. Saavedra is leading the school district’s recovery for Hurricane Ike.”


Saavedra is on a one-year job contract, although his attorney and the board’s have clashed over what exactly that means.

The board’s counsel, David Thompson, has said Saavedra would be out of a job in December if the board gave him notice in October. Saavedra’s attorney, Vidal Martinez, has countered that the board would be on the hook for more than a year of pay.

Messy. I was sent a long string of emails from Saavedra supporters in advance of yesterday’s rally. Their concerns are summarized as follows, in an email from Martinez:

Here are the top five questions anyone should have for HISD:

1) How can the board be focused on the continued employment of a superintendent with 20 months left on his contract during this time of crisis after a hurricane has devastated our region, the financial markets are in crisis (which affects the interest rate HISD pays on its bonds), and we are trying to reopen schools for 202,000 children?

2) Why did the HISD board hide their intent to deliberate on Dr. Saavedra’s contract with a veiled posting containing boiler-plate language that did not inform the public what was going on and give a chance to be heard under the Texas Open Meetings Act?

3) Why is the HISD board scared to have a public hearing on Dr. Saavedra’s performance under the accountability standards set by the board itself?

4) Why did the HISD board vote down Dr. Saavedra’s reorganization plan in June? Are they micro-managing the district?

5) If there is to be a termination or buy-out of Dr. Saavedra’s contract, how much will it cost the taxpayers after they just voted in a $672 Million dollar bond issue in a very contested bond election last year? How will this affect HISD’s legislative agenda when they go to Austin next spring where public school financing is already one of the biggest unresolved problems this state faces going forward?

I confess that I haven’t paid close enough attention to the machinations at HISD lately to have a good feel for the ins and outs of this power struggle. I will say that I think the questions raised are good ones, and that I think this would be a lousy time to go down the road of trying to oust a superintendent. Let’s stay focused on getting the schools running normally again after Ike. We can always convene a circular firing squad later. Stace has more.

UPDATE: And he stays. School Zone has more.

Candidate Q&A: Leslie Taylor

Note: This entry is part of a series of written Q&As with judicial candidates who will be on the ballot in Harris County. I am also doing recorded interviews with non-judicial candidates.

1. Who are you, and what are you running for?

Leslie C. Taylor for Justice, First Court of Appeals, Place 5.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Criminal and civil appeals from a 10-county area. Basically, anybody unhappy with what happens in a district court or county court has one shot at having three appellate justices “grade the papers” of the trial court judge. If the panel finds reversible error, the case may be sent back for a new trial or the judgment altered in some way. The counties are: Harris, Galveston, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Chambers, Waller, Washington, Austin, Grimes and Colorado.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The incumbent ran unopposed in the Republican Primary and unopposed in the general election with no apparent experience in appellate law. I thought the voters would appreciate a choice this year.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have written many appellate briefs in many types of civil cases. I have researched and studied Texas law extensively to write the first edition of a very popular book for Texas litigators, O’Connor’s Texas Causes of Action. I have been certified in civil appellate law since 1990 by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I have worked for a court of appeals as a briefing attorney and research attorney. I have represented many types of people, both rich and poor, and businesses, large and small.

5. Why is this race important?

For most litigants and criminal defendants, the only appeal they will get is to the court of appeals. At the next level, the highest courts get to pick and choose which cases they take (except that the Court of Criminal Appeals hears all death penalty cases).

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

When I worked with W. James Kronzer, a legend in Texas appellate law, he had one complaint about my lawyering: “Leslie, you’re too objective. You should be on the bench.” That objectivity is important to me — so important that I have decided not to solicit or accept large campaign contributions from attorneys, law firms or PACs. I do not and will not use judicial campaign contributions to sponsor advocacy groups.


Dion Ramos, 55th Civil Judicial District Court.
Shawna Reagin, 176th District Criminal Court.
Al Bennett, 61st Civil Judicial District Court.
Judge Jim Jordan, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.
Mike Miller, 11th Civil Judicial District Court.
Andres Pereira, 190th Civil Judicial District Court.
Steven Kirkland, 215th Civil Judicial District Court.
Martin Siegel, Court of Appeals, 14th District, Place 7.
Randy Roll, 179th District Criminal Court.

Is the light beginning to dawn on Farmers Branch?

Could be.

Farmers Branch officials are backing away from vows to go as far as the U.S. Supreme Court to defend a voter-approved ban on apartment rentals to illegal immigrants.

The city instead is relying on a replacement ordinance designed to prevent rentals of houses, as well as apartments, to anyone who is in the country unlawfully.

“Basically,” City Manager Gary Greer said, “I looked at as much information as I possibly could — at the way the ordinance has been seen by the court, the fact that it was voted on by the people and passed, the things I’ve heard from our policymakers.

“And I looked at where we were financially in regards to all these court battles.”

Amazing what a little cold economic reality can accomplish, isn’t it? Apparently some things aren’t such a matter of principle after all.

“I’ve been saying since the very first day that it was unconstitutional, that it would be expensive, divisive and would never go into effect,” resident Christopher McGuire said. “I haven’t changed my tune for more than two years.”

Mayor Tim O’Hare, who as a council member instigated the efforts to rid the city of illegal immigrants, said he hasn’t changed his tune, either.

“We still think it’s a constitutional ordinance,” said Mr. O’Hare, who had said both before and after the measure’s overwhelming approval in a May 2007 election that officials would defend it to the high court if necessary. “But economic times have changed with the economy the way it is. We still feel like we’re carrying out the will of the people of our city, pursuing 2952.”

In some sense that’s true, given the election result from last year. It’s just that now there’s a limit on how far they’ll go to carry out that will, which presumably weakened as the legal bills mounted. Speaking of which:

On Friday, attorneys for Bickel & Brewer Storefront, which represented one group of plaintiffs in the case, submitted a bill for $480,000. Later the same day, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which represented other plaintiffs, submitted a request for $444,406 in attorney fees and court costs.

That brings the total in legal costs being billed to the city from the groups that filed the lawsuit to $924,406, though Mr. Greer said the city would challenge the amounts.

“I can tell you their requests are ridiculous,” he said. “Absolutely, we will challenge every dollar they have presented. And we won’t quit until we get a fair determination of the costs.”

The amounts requested by the plaintiffs’ attorneys are in addition to more than $924,000 the city has spent to defend its series of three rental ban ordinances — a version approved by the council in 2006 but repealed in early 2007, Ordinance 2903 and, now, Ordinance 2952.

My heart bleeds for you, fellas. While you’re pursuing your claim against the plaintiffs’ attorneys, the ones who have kicked your butts in court so far, I’ll be thinking up better ways for you to have spent the money. Not that this is a hard task, given that putting it all into WaMu stock would have been a superior idea.

At least the next round of lawsuits should take less time and therefore be less expensive, according to a story from last week.

U.S. District Court Judge Jane Boyle on Monday agreed to a proposal from the city and the attorneys for one group of plaintiffs that will see the case come to trial, if necessary, by December.

With the judge’s approval of that schedule, a temporary restraining order issued 10 days ago has been converted to a preliminary injunction – meaning the city will not enforce its ordinance until the trial is completed.

Another group of plaintiffs opposed the agreement. Nina Perales, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said her organization is involved in similar court actions across the country and needs more time to prepare.

But Judge Boyle, who consolidated the two suits, said that if the city is willing to delay enforcing the ordinance to move things along, she is agreeable to the expedited schedule. She encouraged the attorneys to work together to speed up the trial process.

The deadline for motions is October 29, with both sides agreeing to get it on in court no later than December 8. And hopefully not too long after that, we’ll finally have an end to this travesty.

Clement to Dillard for the score

Congratulations to Rice’s Chase Clement and Jarett Dillard, the most prolific scoring combination in NCAA history.

Rice senior receiver Jarett Dillard nearly remained stoic until the moment of truth. From the day he began fielding questions regarding the record he and classmate Chase Clement seemed destined to break, Dillard maintained a cavalier attitude toward the accomplishment that seemed unfathomable on the surface.

He flinched last week. As Rice began preparations for its penultimate non-conference game against North Texas, Dillard allowed himself a moment to discus the place in history he and Clement would share.

“For the first time Chase and I talked about the record in practice, maybe on Monday or Tuesday,” Dillard said. “And we said we want this record to be over with because we want down the line (where people) can’t ask any more questions about this record. It can be over with and we can get on with the football game.”

No matter how hard they tried, Clement and Dillard could not make the game primary. On Saturday at Rice Stadium, they set a new NCAA standard for touchdowns by a quarterback-receiver tandem, punctuating the Owls’ 77-20 demolition of North Texas with yet another remarkable display of collective brilliance.

Clement and Dillard combined for three touchdowns against the Mean Green (0-4), playing the central role in an offensive onslaught that produced a Conference USA single-game record for points. Their scoring exploits snapped the NCAA mark for combined touchdowns of 39 set by Tim Rattay and Troy Edwards (Louisiana Tech) in 1998 and matched by Colt Brennan and Davone Best (Hawaii) last season.

“I really didn’t recognize it until our equipment manager Kelly (Riccardi) came to me and said, ‘I’m going to send the ball to the College (Football) Hall of Fame,'” Dillard said. “I was just like, ‘Wow!’ Chase and I are from San Antonio, two guys under recruited who had one (scholarship) offer and we chose to come to Rice, and we have a football in the College (Football) Hall of Fame. That brought my jaw down. I was really in a state of shock.”

They have at least seven more games to build on their record-breaking 41 touchdown passes, eight if Rice makes it to a bowl. Their accomplishment is even more impressive when you realize that they spent their freshman year in Ken Hatfield’s pass-phobic triple option offense, and Clement missed a bunch of games to injury in 2006 when Dillard caught a total of 21 TD passes. I figure barring anything catastrophic, they’ll easily surpass 50. However long they remain the standard, it’s a heck of an accomplishment. Well done, guys.

Texas blog roundup for the week of September 29

Still mulling over the Presidential debate? Let the Texas Progressive Alliance tell you about what you missed while you were wondering whether or not it was going to happen. Click on for this week’s highlights.


Those chickens haven’t hatched yet. You sure you want to count them?

The perils of premature credit-taking.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and his top aides took credit for building a winning bailout coalition – hours before the vote failed and stocks tanked.

The rush to claim he had engineered a victory now looks like a strategic blunder that will prolong the McCain’s campaign’s difficulty in finding a winning message on the economy.

Shortly before the vote, McCain had bragged about his involvement and mocked Sen. Barack Obama for staying on the sidelines.

“I’ve never been afraid of stepping in to solve problems for the American people, and I’m not going to stop now,” McCain told a rally in Columbus, Ohio. “Senator Obama took a very different approach to the crisis our country faced. At first he didn’t want to get involved. Then he was monitoring the situation.”

McCain, grinning, flashed a sarcastic thumbs-up.

“That’s not leadership. That’s watching from the sidelines,” he added to cheers and applause.


After the vote, commentators were harsh. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said: “He’s like a cavalry commander who said ‘Charge!’ and the Republicans went into retreat.”

Oops. Guess there’s only one thing for him to do now: Suspend the campaign again, and refuse to let Sarah Palin debate until a bill gets passed. It’s the only hope!

For those keeping score at home, this is how the vote went. Here’s the Texas delegation:


Brady – R
Edwards – D
Gonzalez – D
Granger – R
Hinojosa – D
Johnson, E. B. – D
Reyes – D
Sessions – R
Smith – R


Barton – R
Burgess – R
Carter – R
Conaway – R
Cuellar – D
Culberson – R
Doggett – D
Gohmert – R
Green, Al – D
Green, Gene – D
Hall – R
Hensarling – R
Jackson Lee – D
Johnson, Sam – R
Lampson – D
Marchant – R
McCaul – R
Neugebauer – R
Ortiz – D
Paul – R
Poe – R
Rodriguez – D
Thornberry – R

Take a good look, because a stranger set of bedfellows you’re unlikely to see anytime soon. Just a guess, but when this comes up again, I expect the split to be more traditionally partisan. For now, look and marvel at the unconventionality of it all.

UPDATE: Rick Noriega, who did win the Blue America Senate contest last week, is talking about the bailout and other matters at C&L.

Interview with Trey Fleming

One of the many things I enjoy about the process of interviewing candidates is getting to meet and learn a little about some interesting people. The election season draws a lot of newcomers into the system, and it’s cool to have a ground-floor view of the ones who take on leadership roles. Running for office, especially a basically unpaid office like State Representative, is a thankless task, and meeting a bunch of bright and energetic people who are doing it because they think they have something to give that will help make the state a better place is refreshing and energizing for me. So with all that said, let me introduce one of these new guys on the scene, Trey Fleming, who is running for House District 135 out in northwest Harris County, currently held by Gary Elkins. You can listen to my conversation with Fleming here. Let me know what you think.


Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney
Chris Bell, SD17
Loren Jackson, Harris County District Clerk
Brad Bradford, Harris County District Attorney
Diane Trautman, Harris County Tax Assessor
Michael Skelly, CD07
David Mincberg, Harris County Judge
Debra Kerner, HCDE Trustee
Joel Redmond, HD144
Laura Ewing, SBOE district 7
Virginia McDavid, HD138
State Rep. Ellen Cohen, HD134
Adrian Garcia, Sheriff
Diana Maldonado, HD52
Eric Roberson, CD32
State Rep. Juan Garcia, HD32
Ernie Casbeer, HD59
Joe Moody, HD78
Chris Turner, HD96
Robert Miklos, HD101
State Rep. Dan Barrett, HD97
Wendy Davis, SD10

Chron overview of the Sheriff race

The Chron takes a look at the Sheriff’s race, and I think we all agree on the matter of what it’s all about.

Both candidates for Harris County sheriff focus on the current sheriff’s record.

A challenge for Republican incumbent Tommy Thomas may be that this has been the most troublesome year for the sheriff’s department under his watch. While the presidential campaign centers on change and reform, Thomas is asking to add four more years to his tenure of 14 years.

Democrat Adrian Garcia, a Houston councilman and former police officer, said sheriff’s department controversies — including a spate of jail inmate deaths that triggered a pending U.S. Department of Justice investigation — show Thomas has performed poorly. Garcia also touts his record as mayor pro tem and chairman of the council’s public safety committee as well as being a former lawman.

But even when Democrats did well on the Harris County ballot more than a decade ago, Democratic Houston council members had a tough time in countywide elections as they sought support from hundreds of thousands of voters who live outside the city limits, where neighborhoods trend politically conservative.

Regardless, Thomas said, the Nov. 4 contest is about which candidate has the best experience for running a sprawling law enforcement agency that employs 4,000 people and spends an average of $1 million a day. Garcia, he said, can’t come close to the qualification.

“My tenure speaks for itself,” the sheriff said. “It’s not something you can just walk into.”

I must say, I agree here with Sheriff Thomas. His tenure really does speak for itself. It’s just a matter of what you think is being said. Or at least what you think is being emphasized. So I found this bit at the end to be fascinating.

Thomas has raised much more campaign money than Garcia and plans to plow much of it into TV ads and billboards in the next few weeks. But, he said, the fate of his campaign may lie in the turnout for the Obama and McCain tickets.

“I think we will be a victim to the top of the ticket,” he said.

Garcia, who would be the county’s first Hispanic sheriff, said otherwise. “The sheriff’s race is in the forefront of the public’s mind by virtue of the sheriff’s performance,” he said. “I think they are completely disappointed.”

I’ve assumed all along that Thomas’ sizable amount of campaign cash meant he would take to the airwaves. I’ve just never been sure what those ads would say. My guess is that he’ll tout whatever accomplishments he thinks he can claim, and as I suggested before, will focus on his department’s work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. If nothing else, that ought to rally the base for him. He may run attack ads, but I’d bet that gets done via direct mail, more likely by third parties. I believe Garcia will have the resources to run some TV ads as well, though clearly not as much. As long as he’s not completely drowned out, he should be able to counter most of what Thomas does. Get ready to start seeing it all soon.

CenterPoint and the trees

Among the many questions being asked post-Ike are those about whether CenterPoint met its requirements for maintaining trees near power lines.

Hugh Rice Kelly, a former chairman of Trees for Houston and former general counsel for CenterPoint’s predecessor, Houston Light & Power, has long criticized the company as overzealous in trimming along transmission and distribution lines. He said workers sometimes damage trees or remove ones that don’t threaten pole-top power lines.

But whether the utility cuts too much or too little doesn’t have much to do with the lingering outages, Kelly said.

“The trees that really damaged the lines were big trees that, for the most part, were well beyond the reach of CenterPoint tree trimmers,” said Kelly. “Unless you gave them the authority to cut things beyond that, there’s not much more they could have done.”

CenterPoint budgets about $21 million per year for tree trimming along power lines, with about $18 million set aside for distribution lines like those that run behind businesses or in backyards, said Terry Finley, CenterPoint’s vice president of distribution engineering and services.

The company sets a goal of trimming trees back from lines every four years for 12 kilovolt lines and every three years for 35 kilovolt lines, both of which can run through residential neighborhoods.

That means the company’s contract tree trimmers cover about 9,000 miles of distribution lines per year.

But those three- and four-year cycles are only goals and are not mandated by federal, state or local laws, according to industry officials.

There’s evidence that CenterPoint hasn’t done as much as it should have in this department. Having said that, I tend to agree with Kelly in saying that that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t think that more trimming would have lessened the impact of Ike that much, but I do think it would have been less than optimal for the trees themselves. Having a lot of trees in Houston is generally a good thing. I don’t want them to be thought of as a nuisance.

CenterPoint tries to warn customers about trees on their property that appear to be potential threats to power lines, but Kelly said it’s difficult to identify which trees will go down in a storm.

“Many of those that came down in this storm were very healthy,” Kelly said.

And in a hurricane, a branch may fly at 100 mph into a power line hundreds of feet away.

“People just have to be realistic,” Kelly said. “We can’t have the kind of shade trees we want in Houston and still protect the power lines 100 percent. We’d become the Lubbock of the Gulf Coast if we took that approach.”

There is another option, and that’s to take steps like burying power lines to make them less vulnerable to trees in a hurricane. That would cost a bunch of money, so it’s not a general solution. But it probably does make sense in some areas outside downtown, and there may be some other places where residents would be willing to pay more to make this happen. As I’ve said before, we should at least have the conversation and see what’s feasible. If not now, then when?

And on the power restoration front, CenterPoint is down to 167,000 customers without power, or 7% of their total, down from 247,000 as of 7 AM Sunday and 449,000 on Friday. Big steps forward, though not much consolation if you’re in that seven percent.

Spokesman Floyd LeBlanc said CenterPoint missed its goal of completing all repairs to major lines, but expects to finish that work early this week and begin repairs to transformers and lines serving individual customers.

More here. No new target dates at this point.

Olivia meets Leonardo

Olivia and I had the opportunity to attend an opening night event for the Dinosaur Mummy exhibit at the Houston Musuem of Natural Science, which was rescheduled after Hurricane Ike. That’s her in the kids’ “Dig for Dinosaur Bones” area, with a life-size model of Leonardo behind her. This was her favorite part of the evening, though she also loved looking at the various dino skeletons, and of course Leonardo himself. I’m going to have to go back on my own so I can read all the displays and watch the videos – four-year-olds are not much for standing still. Even with that, it was a lot of fun for both of us.

I did not get the chance to go back on Saturday for a special event they set up for bloggers. Had I been able to, I’d have gotten to see The Bloggess with a chicken on her shoulder. How often does one get to say that? Anyway, more about the exhibit is here. Check it out.

Weekend link dump for September 28

These links were not brought to you by FEMA…

Lamentations of the Father. A classic from The Atlantic. I know this is a linkpost, but I’m going to quote a little anyway:

For we judge between the plate that is unclean and the plate that is clean, saying first, if the plate is clean, then you shall have dessert. But of the unclean plate, the laws are these: If you have eaten most of your meat, and two bites of your peas with each bite consisting of not less than three peas each, or in total six peas, eaten where I can see, and you have also eaten enough of your potatoes to fill two forks, both forkfuls eaten where I can see, then you shall have dessert. But if you eat a lesser number of peas, and yet you eat the potatoes, still you shall not have dessert; and if you eat the peas, yet leave the potatoes uneaten, you shall not have dessert, no, not even a small portion thereof. And if you try to deceive by moving the potatoes or peas around with a fork, that it may appear you have eaten what you have not, you will fall into iniquity. And I will know, and you shall have no dessert.

Now click the link and read it all.

Just For The Record, by Dwight Meredith. In late 2002, Dwight Meredith wrote a series of post on his weblog, P.L.A., comparing Democrats and Republicans in those areas in which Republicans claim to excel over Democrats – budgets, size of government, and so on. Because his weblog is on Blogspot and therefore not always reliable for finding archived material, Avedon Carol did us all the favor of collecting them and publishing it all on her site.

How The Bloggess deals with spammers.

An important Abe Vigoda update (thanks, Patrick!).

McCain: Only Failed CEOs Who Work For Me Should Get Golden Parachutes

Tina talks back to Carly.

How Alaska’s AG defied the public’s interest to cover for Palin in Troopergate.

The Twelve Lies of Sarah Palin.

Whither Jessica Simpson? Yeah, I can’t believe I just wrote that, either.

OMG. Houston’s messiest apartment. That may be the grossest thing I’ve ever seen – do NOT click that link if you’ve just eaten or are about to eat. I think even Kim and Aggie would run away screaming. Via Swamplot.

The real Mavericks in Texas.

The still missing

We’ve heard of the possibility that thousands of people may be missing after Hurricane Ike, with some unknown number of them perhaps having been swept out to sea, never to be found. The good news is that far fewer people than that appear to be actually missing as of today. The bad news is that it doesn’t look like there’s much hope for those whose whereabouts are not now known.

Two weeks after Hurricane Ike swept through the Texas coast, 400 people remain missing, mostly from Galveston County, according to an analysis of calls logged to a hot line set up by the nonprofit Laura Recovery Center to assist local authorities.


About 60 of the missing lived on the Bolivar Peninsula, stripped bare by the storm surge that felled beach houses like a bomb. More than 200 were listed as missing on Galveston Island itself, according to a city-by-city analysis of the data conducted for the Houston Chronicle by Bob Walcutt, executive director of the recovery center in Friendswood.

Hot line and rescue workers hope that many people, especially on Galveston Island, will be reunited with family and friends as hurricane recovery efforts continue. More than 145 already have been located through blogs, media Web sites, Red Cross shelter lists, endless phone calls, welfare checks and sometimes dramatic rescues led by the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies.

Yet disturbing tales told by survivors from Bolivar communities like Gilchrist, Crystal Beach and Port Bolivar suggest some may never return.

“There’s still lots of people who are not accounted for,” said Capt. Rod Ousley, of the State Parks & Wildlife Service, which is helping to search for survivors or bodies in remote corners of several coastal counties. “We don’t know if they got washed out to sea, or buried in the sand or in debris piles. We just keep looking until they come up … we’re just going to keep trying.”

I don’t even know what to say. I’m not sure how we went from speculating about thousands to 200, but the latter is certainly less horrible. It’s still an enormous tragedy, and reading some of the individual stories as told by the people who are looking for them doesn’t make it feel any less horrible. All you can do is hope, and celebrate any miracles that do occur.

Extend the voter registration deadline

I think one of the least things we can do for folks who were displaced by Hurricane Ike is ensure that they are able to vote in this election if they are eligible to to do so. That should include extending the deadline to register to vote.

Fred Lewis of Houston Votes, which has been registering people in Harris County, said hurricane victims dealing with the loss of their homes, lack of power and other problems are not thinking about registering to vote.

“It would be a horrible thing if people ended up not being able to vote for president, for senator, for their county officials because of the hurricane,” he said.

Lewis said he believes Perry has the authority to extend the deadline although he could not find any language in Texas laws or Constitution addressing the issue.

“I think the governor has inherent constitutional authority to protect the franchise, and I also think he has statutory authority under the emergency powers to suspend laws if necessary to protect the public,” Lewis said.

Houston Votes and several other groups, including the League of Women Voters of Texas and Common Cause, are joining in the effort to extend the deadline. They also want the governor to appropriate emergency funds to assist county registrars in processing applications.

Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for Perry, said the governor would not consider a request to extend the deadline unless it came from a county official or the secretary of state.

“We’ve not been asked by any county officials to extend the deadline,” she said. “We’re working with the secretary of state, and they’ve not given any indication there’s a problem.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Secretary of State is appointed by the Governor, so if the Governor doesn’t think there’s a problem, why should the SOS? Consider that a reason for wanting to make the SOS an elected office instead.

Be that as it may, there’s nothing sacred about the existing voter registration deadline. We picked a date, we can pick another one if we want. Whether the Governor has the power to do it unilaterally in the event of an “emergency” is a different question, one that I’m sure would lead to litigation if it were to happen. My guess is that whoever filed a suit to stop it would succeed in getting a temporary restraining order forbidding the change until the suit could be adjudicated, so in that sense it’s all a moot point anyway. But it might be nice to get the matter settled, in case the question arises again some day. Given the record-setting pace of voter registrations this year, it would have been nice to already have this answer. That’s the way it goes.

And for those in the comments to the Chron story who grump that people should have already registered by now, I’ll just note that for some people, that wasn’t an option. And wherever you are, if you haven’t registered to vote yet, or aren’t sure if you’re registered, or just need more information, go to Vote for Change this week and get it done. Don’t be left out of this election.

Brimer and the banks

While we wait for a resolution to the Kim Brimer/Wendy Davis ballot access lawsuit, take a look at Texas Watchdog’s report on Brimer’s interesting financial history.

A struggling bank makes loans to a prominent businessman who offers flimsy excuses on why he can’t pay back his debt. The gentleman than begs a federal agency for a helping hand, claiming he can’t come up with the money.

No, it’s not a scene ripped from today’s headlines — this was in 1993, and the prominent, wealthy man asking for a government bailout was Republican state legislator Kim Brimer, now proclaimed by business groups as a “champion for free enterprise.”

At least some of this has been reported elsewhere, but this is the best and most comprehensive overview of the whole thing I’ve seen. Check it out.

Rep. Green’s mess

This just sounds ugly.

U.S. Rep. Al Green asked a federal judge Friday to find that he never discriminated against an ex-employee he claims is trying to shake him down for $1.8 million.

The employee’s lawyer countered that Green forced the woman to have sex and filed the lawsuit because he doesn’t want to pay for his misdeeds.

Although Green and the former employee had a “romantic encounter” at her home in May 2007, Bill Miller, a spokesman for the congressman, said the claim of sexual assault, coming 18 months after the fact, is desperate and totally false.

Green’s lawsuit alleges that Lucinda Daniels, the former director of Green’s Houston office, has threatened to sue him for workplace discrimination if he doesn’t pay up. Green says the woman voluntarily resigned three months ago. Green also alleges the woman is a drug user who accidentally taped a conversation onto his voicemail while buying cocaine.

“He was being extorted. A deadline was given of today,” said Ben Hall, attorney for Green, a Democrat elected to Congress in 2004. “It’s a pure shakedown. If she has a case, the place to do it is at the courthouse.”

Lawyer Chip Lewis, who represents Daniels, said she had been hoping to spare herself the embarrassment of going public and going to the police about the May 2007 incident. But Lewis said she will now make a sexual assault complaint and file a civil lawsuit against Green.

Lewis said it was Green’s lawyer, Hall, who asked to negotiate a settlement. But Hall denies that and, through political consultant Miller, says he can prove it was Daniels who approached Green for money.

Obviously, I have no idea who’s telling the truth, or more of the truth, here. I don’t envy the judge or judges who’ll be tasked with sorting it all out. Either Rep. Green is vigorously defending himself against a scurrilous accusation, or he’s about to make an already bad situation for himself a lot worse, in the fashion of Roger Clemens against Brian McNamee. If there’s sufficient merit to the sexual assault charge to bring an indictment against him, he should give serious thought to resigning. I hope that’s not the case.

Power to the people – Working for the weekend

Sunday is the new magic target date for those who still don’t have power. As long as you understand that it’s just a day, and setting it as a magic target date doesn’t actually mean anything.

CenterPoint finished work Friday in neighborhoods where most power is restored, and prepared to swarm harder-hit areas this weekend with the goal of bringing light to hundreds of thousands of customers by Sunday night.

Company officials have said they expect most customers will get power back when crews complete repairs to major lines — removing trees from wires, restringing wires on poles when necessary and energizing the lines.

“We expect to see a huge improvement in outage count by the end of the weekend,” CenterPoint spokesman Floyd LeBlanc said Friday when about 377,000 customers of 2.3 million still were without power because of Hurricane Ike.

Even if CenterPoint accomplishes this, it doesn’t mean every customer will have power. The company expects that transformer issues and problems with individual line drops to homes and businesses will linger for at least another week.

Call me crazy, but I’m thinking the folks who are in that 377,000 number are getting a little tired of hearing this refrain. I know CenterPoint can’t say when an individual customer will get power back, and they can’t say for sure when they’ll be done. But it just feels to me like they’ve done a poor job of managing expectations, in part precisely because they have pushed back the date of when they say they’ll be well and truly finished. I don’t think that ZIP code map helped all that much, either. It’s a nasty problem for them, and honestly I don’t know how they could have done much better, but I still think they needed to. The upcoming legislative review is going to be a minefield for them.

On a side note, business has been good for the restaurants that were able to overcome various Ike-related problems, like power outages of their own, staffers who couldn’t make it in, and a broken supply chain.

Hurricane-weary Houstonians — already known for frequently dining out — increasingly turned to area restaurants for hot meals in the days and weeks post-Ike. To feed the long lines of hungry and often powerless Houstonians, restaurateurs overcame obstacles of their own, such as displaced staff, inconsistent supplies, damage or loss of utilities.

Two weeks after Ike, restaurants are starting to return to normal, although some still can’t find ingredients and service still can be spotty.

But not as spotty as they were in the first days after Ike.

“As we would run out of things, I would come up with other things to serve,” said [Jack] Gregory, [whose restaurant The Daily Grind] operates out of a renovated 90-year-old general store. “It was chaotic. People had to wait a long time, but they were appreciative.”

After operating the restaurant in the wake of Hurricane Rita, Gregory knew what to expect. He stocked up on eggs, produce and disposable plates in the hours before the storm.

Although restaurateurs had to pay more for paper products or invest in a generator, those that could open reported an increase in business in the aftermath.

The atmosphere at Berryhill’s that first time we visited after returning to town was as festive as it was crowded. I think people were just happy to get out of the house and forget about everything else for awhile. Given how hard a storm like Ike can be on small businesses, I’m glad to hear so many of these places managed to do well despite it all.

RIP, Paul Newman

Hollywood’s star is a little dimmer today.

Paul Newman, the Academy-Award winning superstar who personified cool as the anti-hero of such films as Hud, Cool Hand Luke and The Color of Money — and as an activist, race car driver and popcorn impresario — has died. He was 83.

Newman died Friday after a long battle with cancer at his farmhouse near Westport, publicist Jeff Sanderson said. He was surrounded by his family and close friends.

In May, Newman had dropped plans to direct a fall production of Of Mice and Men, citing unspecified health issues.

He got his start in theater and on television during the 1950s, and went on to become one of the world’s most enduring and popular film stars, a legend held in awe by his peers. He was nominated for Oscars 10 times, winning one regular award and two honorary ones, and had major roles in more than 50 motion pictures, including Exodus, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Verdict, The Sting and Absence of Malice.

Newman worked with some of the greatest directors of the past half century, from Alfred Hitchcock and John Huston to Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese and the Coen brothers. His co-stars included Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks and, most famously, Robert Redford, his sidekick in Butch Cassidy and The Sting.

He sometimes teamed with his wife and fellow Oscar winner, Joanne Woodward, with whom he had one of Hollywood’s rare long-term marriages. “I have steak at home, why go out for hamburger?” Newman told Playboy magazine when asked if he was tempted to stray. They wed in 1958, around the same time they both appeared in The Long Hot Summer, and Newman directed her in several films, including Rachel, Rachel and The Glass Menagerie.

With his strong, classically handsome face and piercing blue eyes, Newman was a heartthrob just as likely to play against his looks, becoming a favorite with critics for his convincing portrayals of rebels, tough guys and losers. “I was always a character actor,” he once said. “I just looked like Little Red Riding Hood.”

It’s been years since I’ve last seen it, but The Sting was one of my favorite movies as a kid. I also loved Newman in The Hudsucker Proxy; he wasn’t a regular in Coen Brothers films, but from his performance in that one, he could have been. Rest in peace, Paul Newman.

UPDATE: Good grief, I can’t believe I forgot to mention Slap Shot. Shame on me.

The DA candidates – and those other guys – debate

With much less drama than the Presidentials, the two candidates for Harris County District Attorney got together for a debate on Thursday.

The two candidates for Harris County district attorney disagreed Thursday about recruiting grand jurors, establishing a public defender’s office, handling drug possession cases and other issues.

Democrat C.O. “Brad” Bradford, the former Houston police chief, said the county should think about adopting the federal court policy of selecting grand jurors at random to ensure that the panels represent a cross-section of the community. Republican Pat Lykos, a former felony court judge, said judges should continue to screen grand jury members to make sure the panels, which have “the authority to destroy lives,” are made up of people with integrity.

From the article, it sounds like it was pretty substantive, which I think is great. Was anyone here in attendance at this? Please leave a comment with your impressions if you were. Thanks.

As for that other debate, we’ll have a better idea of the outcome in a day or two when the tracking polls give results that have been affected by those who watched. Early returns seem to favor Obama. I don’t watch Presidential debates – they just don’t interest me, and I think too much emphasis is placed on “gotcha” moments – but clearly a lot of other people were watching. What was your opinion of it?

UPDATE: Here’s Greg with a good roundup of reactions to the Presidential debate.


Greg Sargent:

The lengths the McCain campaign is going to in order to shield Sarah Palin from questioning are reaching truly comic dimensions.

Check out this nugget from the pool report, via Jonathan Martin, on John McCain and Palin’s meeting with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko:

McCain then looked around the room and gestured as if to welcome questions. The AP reporter shouted a question at Gov. Palin (“Governor, what have you learned from your meetings?”) but McCain aide Brooke Buchanan intervened and shepherded everybody out of the room.

Palin looked surprised, leaned over to McCain and asked him a question, to which your pooler thinks he shook his head as if to say “No.”

Palin can’t even be allowed to answer a question as basic as this?

As you know, over the past couple of years I’ve interviewed dozens of candidates for office. I’m not a pit bull (with or without the lipstick) about it, but I think I generally ask substantive questions about relevant issues. Nobody I’ve ever asked to speak to has refused to sit down with me and go on the record. Many of them are running for downballot offices and are happy to get the opportunity to let voters know who they are and what they have to say. I think the contrast between them and the Republican nominee for Vice President is pretty stark, don’t you? I’m just saying.

On the other hand, well, maybe the less said really is the better.

Benefit for Brennan’s

You recall that Brennan’s Restaurant burned down during Hurricane Ike. The fire severely injured Brennan’s of Houston Manager James Koonce and his young daughter Katherine, who had sheltered in the restaurant during the storm. I’m pleased to note that there will be a benefit for them to help them cover their medical expenses:

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House to Host Wine Tasting and Fundraiser Benefiting:

Brennan’s of Houston Manager James Koonce, daughter Katherine Koonce

WHAT: On Sunday, September 28th from 6 – 9 p.m., the award-winning Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, known for its prime steak, luxurious decor, and Southern hospitality, will host a post Hurricane Ike fundraiser and wine tasting event, from which 100 percent of the proceeds will benefit Brennan’s of Houston Manager James Koonce and his four-year-old daughter Katherine Koonce.

Del Frisco’s, located in the Galleria, welcomes the community to join them in support of this special occasion to raise funds for the Koonces’ medical expenses after injuries were incurred from the fire that destroyed Brennan’s as Hurricane Ike struck the Gulf Coast early on Saturday, September 14, 2008. Brennan’s was the Houston culinary landmark known for its Turtle Soup and Bananas Foster for the past 40 years near Downtown Houston.

The fundraiser will be held in the wine cellar and feature a variety of donated libations from renowned wineries such as Silver Oak, Cakebread, Duckhorn as well as Pommery Champagne. The selection of wine will be complimented by savory light bites, including andouille stuffed goat cheese mushrooms, BBQ shrimp skewers, sliced tenderloin, and mini crab cakes, all provided by Del Frisco’s.

Brennan’s of Houston Executive Chef Randy Evans will be in attendance for the fundraising event.

The cost for the event is $50 per person but additional cash/check contributions can be made at the available donation table.

WHO: Host: Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House

Benefiting: Brennan’s of Houston Manager James Koonce and daughter, Katherine Koonce

WHEN: Sunday, September 28, 2008
6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

WHERE: Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House
5061 Westheimer Road, located in the former Lord and Taylor building
Houston, TX 77056

Cost: $50 per person
Additional cash/check contributions can be made at donation table.

Thanks to Andrea for sending this to me.

Friday random ten: Genius!

So like much of the free world, I’ve now got the version of iTunes that has the new “Genius” feature that suggests a playlist based on a song you choose. Results may vary, but the concept seems simple and intriguing enough. So I went ahead and picked a song – “The Three Fine Daughters of Farmer Brown”, by Eddie from Ohio – and let it rip me a 100-tune list. First question: Is this supposed to be like a 21st-century mix tape where the order is crucial, or is it supposed to be just a bunch of great tastes that taste great together regardless? In other words, shuffle or no shuffle? I tried it both ways, to see if it mattered. Here are the results:

In the order listed:

1. “The Three Fine Daughters of Farmer Brown” – Eddie from Ohio
2. “Suzanne” – Leonard Cohen
3. “Puff the Magic Dragon” – Peter, Paul, and Mary
4. “April Come She Will” – Simon and Garfunkel
5. “Girl in the War” – Josh Ritter
6. “Regretting What I Said” – Christine Lavin
7. “Useless Desires” – Patty Griffin
8. “Reasonland” – Solas
9. “Another Saturday Night” – Cat Stevens
10. “Whole Heap of Little Horses” – The Chieftains


1. “The Three Fine Daughters of Farmer Brown” – Eddie from Ohio
2. “Digga Digga Doo – Asylum Street Spankers
3. “What Was I Thinking?” – Christine Lavin
4. “Wake Up and Dream” – Four Bitchin’ Babes
5. “Going To The Zoo” – Peter, Paul, and Mary
6. “Useless Desires” – Patty Griffin
7. “April Come She Will” – Simon and Garfunkel
8. “Whole Heap of Little Horses” – The Chieftains
9. “Another Saturday Night” – Cat Stevens
10. “The Old Black Rum” – Great Big Sea

Some overlap there, but what do you want from a 100 song playlist? I think the original-order list has a bit more variety, but the random list ends with a bang, so either one will do. Obviously, this was all heavy on the folk/acoustic stuff, with a slightly odd preference for all things Christine Lavin and Peter, Paul, and Mary’s children’s album “Peter, Paul, and Mommy”. No clue what that says about me and/or the Genius. Maybe Genius 2.0 can figure out what types of music from other genres go well with a particular song. That would be awesome. In any event, this was an interesting exercise, and I think I’ll try it again with some other “seed” songs. Anyone else out there give this a shot yet?

Power to the people: The people are still waiting

CenterPoint is feeling the heat from the 449,000 customers who are still without power, nearly two weeks after Ike.

Tom Standish, CenterPoint Energy’s group president of regional operations, said in a conference call with Chronicle reporters that crews will be concentrated more tightly as the utility works to meet its goal of completing major repairs by the end of Sunday.

Even that will leave plenty of transformers and lines to individual customers for crews to fix next week.

Thursday evening, almost two weeks after Hurricane Ike knocked out power to millions of electric customers, 449,000 still were in the dark — 20 percent of CenterPoint’s customers.

Standish said that in recent days, workers have been dispersed from 200 neighborhood substations to sortie out for repairs. That system is being collapsed to 70 substations in the hardest-hit areas.

Most neighborhoods with persisting electric outages can expect a tripling of personnel in the coming days, Standish said.

Does that mean the areas in the worst shape were put at the back of the line? Not exactly.

Areas with huge problems also require more lengthy assessments, Standish said. Crews that could make repairs were deployed to fix easy problems that restore large groups of customers, while other personnel assessed damage in harder-hit areas.

“That’s the trade-off you make,” he said.

I don’t really know how to judge CenterPoint’s performance. I’m sure they’ll do an after-action review to see how they could have done better. And they won’t be the only ones.

Houston state Sen. John Whitmire said he has asked state leaders to let him lead a special legislative review of the recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Ike.

Whitmire said he has talked to Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst about looking at how the state and private industry handled the restoration of Houston and surrounding areas when it came to electricity, food, water and fuel.

Whitmire, whose daughter Whitney, 26, works as a City Hall lobbyist for CenterPoint Energy, said he believes the discussion should include questions of whether to require CenterPoint to harden its electrical system against future storms.

Areas of the city with underground electrical lines weathered the storm the best, Whitmire said. But he said any such requirements would be at a cost to electrical customers.

“It’s about money. We do anything we want if we’re willing to pay for it. We can require it of CenterPoint if we as consumers are willing to pay for it,” Whitmire said.

And so far, a lot of people have expressed an opinion as to whether or not customers would be willing to pay for such measures, but as far as I can tell no one has really asked the customers for their opinion. Maybe some public hearings are in order. Let’s have the conversation and find out once and for all what people would prefer.

And finally, speaking of paying for things:

Hurricane Ike’s punishing winds and driving rains damaged numerous Houston and Harris County buildings, officials said Thursday, estimating it will cost $21 million just to repair facilities at Reliant Park.

Reliant Stadium and its five damaged roof panels account for a little more than half of that $21 million estimate, said Willie Loston, director of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation.

Roof damage allowed rain to soak carpets and walls at Reliant Center and Reliant Arena, he added, causing an estimated $6.2 million and $3.8 million in damage respectively.

The figures are preliminary and the actual cost could be significantly higher or lower, Loston said.

But since the county is eligible for a 70 percent reimbursement from FEMA for its $10.3 million deductible, the county likely only will be responsible for $3 million in repairs, he said.

It’s not clear to me who’s paying for that. The Texans? The Sports and Convention Corporation? Harris County general revenues? Some of each? Help me out here.

Congressman No

The man is consistent, I’ll say that much for him.

Some Galveston officials aren’t too pleased with their Congressional representative, Ron Paul, R-Lake Jackson, for voting against the $22.8 billion disaster recovery aid package on Wednesday.

“That’s sad. That’s bad,” said City manager Steve LeBlanc.

“I find it very distressing,” said Councilwoman Karen Mahoney, who represents the West End of the island, where damage was extreme. “He’s voting against aid for the region that he represents? I don’t find that very representative.”

Depends on who you think he’s representing. Or, more accurately, what he’s representing. I don’t think there’s any question about that.

Thought experiment: Would Paul have voted No if he had a general election opponent who had the wherewithal to bash him for the next month in TV ads over it? I think he probably would have regardless. But it would have been fun to watch him defend himself for it. Maybe next cycle.

By the way, to go off on a tangent for a minute, I got a press release in my Inbox saying that the Log Cabin Republicans are endorsing Ron Paul for re-election in CD14. He’s the only Texan to get an endorsement from them; they recommended a total of only 33 candidates for Congress and Senate nationwide. The release is reproduced beneath the fold.

UPDATE: The story in the paper reminds me of this:

“In several disasters that have befallen my Gulf Coast district, my constituents have told me many times that they prefer to rebuild and recover without the help of federal agencies like FEMA, which so often impose their own bureaucratic solutions on the owners of private property,” Paul wrote in a 2005 column.

Paul voted against government assistance for victims of Hurricane Katrina and later told the Washington Post he had no regrets.

“Is bailing out people that chose to live on the coastline a proper function of the federal government?” Paul said. “Why do people in Arizona have to be robbed in order to support the people on the coast?”

Like I said, consistent. Wrong, in my opinion, but consistent.


The undocumented reconstruction workers

Time to make sure your Irony-o-Meter is fully calibrated.

Hurricane Ike’s destruction is sparking one of the largest rebuilding efforts the state has seen in decades, but at the same time is highlighting a thorny facet of the region’s labor force: A lot of the recovery work will be done by illegal immigrants.

Homeowners have already turned to day laborers — many of whom are undocumented — to help clear brush, tent roofs and repair other storm damage. Contractors have hired them to rebuild or restore businesses and the city’s infrastructure.

And the major work of rebuilding small towns along the Gulf Coast or big homes in Galveston will likely be aided by undocumented workers.

But this tug and pull of the labor force highlights an uneasy dilemma: The region needs the muscle of undocumented immigrants, but simultaneously is a cog in a broader crackdown of illegal immigrants at worksites.

“There’s just no mechanism in place right now to provide those important laborers work authorization,” said Leigh Ganchan, a Houston immigration attorney with Haynes and Boone. “It’s a shame that employers can’t tap into a whole segment of society that’s willing and capable to provide those services. Our nation is more vulnerable than it would like to admit, I think. Vulnerable, meaning we need people to help us rebuild our infrastructure after major disasters like this.”

Carlos Gonzalez, Mexico’s consul general in Houston, expects the area’s existing immigrant population will do the rebuilding work, a key difference with what happened post-Katrina. New Orleans experienced an influx of Hispanic immigrants because it did not have as large of an immigrant population as Houston.

“You will find the immigrant community — as they always have — will play a very big role,” said Laura Murillo, president of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

And the anti-immigrant community will bitch and moan about it. The comment that follows from the anti-immigration activist about giving citizens first crack at rebuilding jobs sounds nice in theory, until you realize that the process of checking everyone’s status before hiring them to clear debris or whatever would mean huge delays to the task at hand, and in the end there wouldn’t be nearly enough workers to do everything that needs doing. I mean, that was the way of the world before Ike, so why should it be any different now?

Brazoria Dems HQ reopening

As things slowly get back to normal after Hurricane Ike, here’s a message from the Brazoria Democrats.


North Brazoria Democrats announce the opening of Pearland Democratic campaign headquarters for the fall 2008 campaign. The headquarters is located at 5040 West Broadway, Suite 5074, Pearland, TX 77581 next to the Pearland Cinema 6. The phone number is 281-412-9475.

The Grand Opening will be held on Saturday, September 27, 2008 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Pearland mayor Tom Reid will attend the opening along with State House of Representatives candidate Kevin Murphy and Brazoria County Sheriff candidate Robert Pruett. Candidates and representatives from other campaigns will also be in attendance.

Refreshments will be served and campaign material and information will be available. There will be plenty of opportunity to volunteer for several campaigns, including the effort to turn out Brazoria County’s vote for Senator Obama this November.

Also, the county party is asking people to use this occasion as an opportunity to help the Pearland Neighborhood Center which was devastated by Hurricane Ike. Bring canned goods or other non-perishable items or a cash donation so we can help this valuable community resource continue serving Pearland residents.

If you’re in the area, please stop by and help them out. Thanks very much.

And so we come to the end…

It all started nearly five years ago, and now it has finally come to an end: Slacktivist has reached the end of the first “Left Behind” book. How do you wrap up something like this? Here’s a taste:

Left Behind, ultimately, is just nonsense. It makes up its own rules and then breaks them. And then it makes up more rules that require its other rules to be broken. Left Behind refutes itself.

The premise of the book is clear and clearly stated. The Rapture and all the other events foretold by premillennial dispensationalist “bible prophecy scholars” are all real and are all really going to happen. Soon. The book wants to show us the events of this cosmic drama acted out before our very eyes in a story that takes its plot from the authors’ End Times check list.

Yet the more we watch, the more we read, the less convinced we become that such a series of events could ever occur. Not because they’re too outlandish, but because they contradict and preclude one another. We cannot accept the authors’ assertion that A will be followed by B and then by C, because A renders B impossible and C could never take place in a world in which B had already happened.

This is the great and insurmountable failure of Left Behind. It set out to be a work of propaganda, a teaching tool meant to demonstrate — the authors would say to prove — that the events it describes could and indeed will really happen. Yet their attempt to present a narrative of such events instead demonstrates — I would say proves — that these events could not and indeed will not ever happen. It proves that the weird and contradictory events of their check list could never happen in a world anything like the world we live in, or in any other imaginable world. It proves that their supposed prophecies will never, and can never, be fulfilled.

Left Behind fails as a novel for many, many reasons, but all of its other faults — the odious lack of empathy it holds up as a moral example, its blasphemous celebration of self-centeredness masquerading as Christianity, its perverse misogyny, its plodding pace, its wooden dialogue, it fetishistic obsession with telephones, its nonexistent characterization, its use and misuse of cliches, its irrelevant tangents, deplorable politics, confused theology, unintentional hilarities, hideous sentences, contempt for craft, factual mistakes, continuity errors … its squandering of every interesting premise and its overwhelming, relentless and mind-numbing dullness — all of these seem to be failures of the sort that one might encounter in any other Very, Very Bad book hastily foisted off onto the public without a second glance.**

Any one of those faults, on its own, would have been enough to earn Left Behind a place on the Worst Books of 1995 list. The presence of all of those faults — in a single book and in such concentrated form — is more than enough to secure its place on a list of the Worst Books of All Time.

If you’ve not been reading this outstanding series, which I’ll say again is some of the best contemporary writing anywhere, all I can say is you’ve been missing out. Read The Visitation Preacher, with a box of Kleenex handy, for a singular example. You can plow through those archives, or you can hope someone takes up Chad‘s suggestion and gets the whole series published as a book, but either way, go read. And wait as I am with bated breath for the (hopefully less than five years length) series on the “Left Behind” movie, and the first of the book sequels.

Harris County sample ballot

For your perusal. Note, as Alan Bernstein did, that the special election for SD17 is the first thing people in that district will see, before the straight-ticket and Presidential races. If the other counties do the same thing, there should be very little dropoff in that race.

Also of interest: the locations and schedule (PDF) for early voting in Harris County. Note that there are now 36 locations, three more than in 2004 and one more than in March, and that four of those locations are at new addresses. Carl Whitmarsh sent out an email earlier, forwarded from HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg, that thanks to the efforts of Council Member Sue Lovell, the super busy West Gray Multi Service Center location will have additional space allocated for early voting, so it may not have such crazy long lines as before. I’d still advise getting there, or to any EV location, as early in the day as you can. I also think there needs to be another non-downtown, west of I-45, inside the Loop EV location to help alleviate the traffic there and at the Astrodome site. That will be a battle for another day.

Finally, for more information about the EV locations and voting rights, check out the nifty Google map on the HCDP08 page.

State House race roundup

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), which is the state legislative version of the DCCC/DSCC, has been promoting 40 essential candidates to support this year. So far, two of them are TexBlog PAC endorsees – Diana Maldonado and Chris Turner. That’s great news, but it can be even better. Take a minute and go to their essential races page and nominate Sherrie Matula for inclusion. Or pick your own favorite candidate if you prefer. Let’s get the national folks paying attention to us for a change.

Philip Martin documents the “No Good, Very Bad Week” that HD32 GOP challenger Todd Hunter had in his effort to unseat State Rep. Juan Garcia.

And speaking of Hunter, an ad that was being run for him against Rep. Garcia by the Nueces County GOP has been pulled by local TV stations because it was false.

I’m not going to say that Bill Dingus has a shot at knocking off Speaker Tom Craddick in HD82. As Greg suggests, topping 30% would be a pretty strong result in that district. But that doesn’t mean Dingus isn’t giving it the old college try. Check out the ads he’s running and see for yourself.

Tony Goolsby ducks a debate in HD102. This was after shopping a phony story about a push poll. He does have a history of running nasty campaigns, after all.

Waiting for KBH: A step in the Senate

There are some new tea leaves to read in the continuing saga of whether or not Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison will run for Governor in 2010.

Hutchison, R-Texas, said earlier this year that she did not plan to seek re-election to her Senate seat in 2012. Since then, she has hinted about a race for governor, regardless of whether Republican Gov. Rick Perry seeks re-election.

In a further indication of her intentions, Hutchison said Thursday, “In order explore new opportunities that many Texans have asked me to consider, I informed my colleagues in the Senate today that I would not seek re-election as chair of the Republican Policy Committee.”

While Hutchison has not formally announced her intention to run for governor or create an exploratory committee, a Senate source said she is forming such a committee, and her decision not to seek the leadership post again next year was a major step toward that end.

Texas law doesn’t include a provision for establishing an exploratory committee, as federal law does. But Texas requires individuals who announce for state elective office to designate a campaign treasurer. Hutchison has not yet done so, said Tim Sorrells, deputy general counsel for the Texas Ethics Commission.

Skeptical as I’ve been of KBH’s gubernatorial plans, I must admit this seems like a real step forward. It’s still not a commitment – when she resigns from the Senate, that will be a commitment – but it is clearing the path a bit towards a commitment. I’m still not convinced that she won’t just decide to call it a career as an elected official so she can take a lucrative lobbyist job and finally start making some real dough spend more time with her family. But maybe she will eventually prove me wrong about that.

TexBlog PAC endorses Robert Miklos

The TexBlog PAC is pleased to announce its fifth endorsed candidate, Robert Miklos, running for HD101 in Dallas County. Here’s our press release:

TexBlog PAC today announced its endorsement of Robert Miklos in Texas House District 101, a Dallas County district that includes Mesquite, Sunnyvale, and Balch Springs.

“We are especially excited about Robert’s campaign,” said Matt Glazer, Director of TexBlog PAC. “This is a district that is primed to turn blue. The district is realigning politically, as evidenced by the bloody GOP primary and the exasperation of Republican’s long-standing ties to special interests. Meanwhile, Robert is going to knock on 10,000 doors before election day. The people of the district know who is on their side, and they will vote for Miklos on Election Day,” Glazer said.

Robert Miklos, an attorney, was raised in Dallas, graduated from Skyline High School, and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a law degree from the University of Houston Law School. After four years working as a prosecutor in Houston where he took violent criminals and sex offenders off the streets, Miklos and his wife Kathy moved back home to Dallas County. In his ten years as an attorney for the City of Dallas, he rose through the ranks and served as Chief Prosecutor for the city for six years, during which time he earned a reputation as a tough prosecutor and an effective leader.

With the PAC’s endorsement comes a check for $5,000 to Miklos’ campaign.

“It is our hope that, by showing that the Texas Netroots sees the value in Robert’s campaign, others across Texas will open their wallets and support a fine candidate in a very winnable district,” Glazer said.

I did an interview with Miklos during the state Dem convention (MP3 file is here). You can support Miklos and the rest of our candidate slate if you are so inclined on ActBlue.

The TRCC sunset hearings

As we know, the Texas Residential Construction Commission (TRCC) is up for review by the Sunset Committee in the House, which has made an initial recommendation that it be scrapped. The agency got to defend itself at a public hearing yesterday.

The [report] said the construction commission is harming consumers by making them go through a lengthy inspection and negotiation process before they can file a lawsuit against a builder.

“You’re better off just letting (the construction commission) go because it’s unfixable,” said Joey Longley, executive director of the sunset commission.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, a member of the Sunset Commission, said she thinks the agency can be revamped to protect consumers.

The San Antonio Democrat proposed making the inspection and remediation process optional and not a prerequisite for civil litigation.

“It is much too early in this agency’s history to suggest that no matter what the Legislature does, the TRCC cannot be granted the legislative powers it needs to help homeowners with building disputes,” said McClendon.

If I had any reason to believe that the TRCC served a purpose other than to prevent homeowners from taking negligent builders to court, I might be inclined to sympathize with Rep. Jones McClendon’s perspective. But there isn’t any reason to believe that, so I see no reason to waste energy trying to fix something that is already working as intended. Admit it was a bad idea and move on. The Observer and John Coby, who extensively liveblogged the proceedings, have more.