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September 30th, 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.