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October, 2008:

A cornucopia of late night electoral tidbits

Just some bits and pieces for your late Halloween/early Dia de los Muertos perusal…

KHOU shines a spotlight on Sherrie Matula and her two opponents in HD129.

Former Clear Creek schoolteacher Sherrie Matula is running for the Texas House. She said her team has knocked on over 20,000 doors during the campaign.

But just this month, her opponent overtook her in fundraising. This is because Houston homebuilder Bob Perry decided to pump big bucks into the campaign of the incumbent Republican John Davis.

Davis is one of several Republican legislators the lobby is worried about. There’s a reason so much late money came pouring in to save some folks’ butts.

KHOU also had a nice feature on SD11 and the effects of Hurricane Ike there.

But while many residents in Seabrook are still rebuilding their lives, the candidates running for State Senate in the upcoming election promise the next storm will be different.

Democrat Joe Jaworski wants insurance forms to clearly state what is and what is not covered. This way people can choose policies, knowing what will happen if a storm takes their home.

“I also want to put in some laws that make the claims process easier. Right now, we’re waiting for checks, and waiting for adjustments. And sometimes, when the electricity is off and you’re spending the money in your savings account, you can’t wait,” said Jaworski.

Jaworski is also on the air as he pushes to get the vote out in his district.

Also on the air: this sharp spot by the TDP to advocate for the Democratic slate of Supreme Court candidates.

Allow me to quote Paul Burka here:

The all-Republican Texas Supreme Court is an intellectually corrupt court. By this I mean that it is infused with the appearance of impropriety and inequity. Who you are matters more than the law and the facts. It has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Texans for Lawsuit Reform. It is also rife with judges who have committed ethical lapses, albeit mostly technical violations of campaign finance and reporting laws. The default choice for the average Court race ought to be the Democrat opposing the Republican, just to bring some balance and fairness back to the Court.

He goes on to violate that rule a couple of times, but the point still stands. I hope the electorate sees it that way.

The HCDP is also on the offensive in the closing days, going after Paul Bettencourt and Ed Emmett. It sure is nice to have a county party with resources and a strategy, isn’t it?

Up in HD126, the Republican constable, who also happens to be the campaign treasurer for Rep. Patricia Harless, broke up a campaign event at an area park held by Democrat Chad Khan. Stace has the details.

Finally, the soap opera that is SD17 takes an even more delicious turn as it devolves into cybersquatting lawsuits and Hotze on Hotze violence. There just isn’t enough popcorn in the world for this one.

RIP, Fred Baron

Fred Baron, one of the prime backstage movers behind the recent resurgence of the Texas Democratic Party, has passed away at the age of 61.

Mr. Baron became known as the King of Torts for his more than 30 years of successfully representing clients injured by toxic substances, beginning with a 1977 asbestos case.

“Fred is a guy who changed the world, cared about helping people and wasn’t in it for himself,” said Marc Stanley, a longtime friend and chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Mr. Baron “loved anything where he felt he was helping people,” said his wife, Lisa Blue-Baron of Dallas. “His whole thing was trying to make things better for other people.”

Mr. Baron’s desire to help people fired his passion for the law and politics, Ms. Blue-Baron said.

Mr. Baron was especially well respected in Texas political circles.

Texas Democratic Chairman Boyd Richie said Mr. Baron was a true champion of the people.

“A fierce advocate for those who believed they had no voice, Fred made it his life mission to protect and defend those who needed the most help,” he said.

Former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost called Mr. Baron a great man.

“He was generous and believed in the Democratic Party,” Mr. Frost said. “He believed that people should have an opportunity in life. He single-handedly started to change the political face of Texas.”

I never had the chance to meet Mr. Baron, so I unfortunately don’t have anything personal to say about him. But Phillip Martin and Harold Cook did know him, and they have some lovely thoughts about him, which you should read. Rest in peace, Fred Baron.

Friday random ten: And now a short break from politics

Just because if I have to sit through one more political ad on TV, I’m gonna go postal. It’s times like these that I’m glad Texas has not achieved swing state status. All songs are from the same group of Genius-generated playlists as before. I’m thinking one more week of this, then it’s time to put Genius back to work.

1. “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” – Paul Simon
2. “I Wonder” – Robert Cray
3. “Walking On The Moon” – The Police
4. “What’s a Girl To Do” – Marcia Ball
5. “Blister In The Sun” – Violent Femmes
6. “Tell Her About It ” – Billy Joel
7. “Sultans of Swing” – Dire Straits
8. “It’s Raining” – Peter, Paul, and Mary
9. “Recruiting Sergeant” – Great Big Sea
10. “Let Your Light Shine” – Keb Mo

Another win for the concept of combining Genius playlists. I think we’re on to something good here.

UPDATE: And a Halloween-themed Five at Five from Jack FM:

Warren Zevon – Werewolves Of London
The Edgar Winter Group – Frankenstein
Michael Jackson – Thriller
Ray Parker, Jr. – Ghostbusters
Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett & The Crypt-Kickers – Monster Mash

Happy Halloween!

Early voting: Did I mention today is the last day?

Yes, today is the last day of early voting. Vote today, or wait till Tuesday. Today is likely to be very busy, possibly busier than Tuesday at your usual polling place, but I’d still try to cast my ballot today if I were in that position. But regardless, you have today and you have Tuesday. Please make sure you vote, and please make sure everyone you know votes.

If you do participate in early voting, you’ll be part of a record breaking crowd to do so.

Ten days into this year’s 12-day early voting period, 2.7 million people in the state’s 15 largest counties had cast their ballots, compared to 1.7 million who had voted at the same point four years ago.

There’s still a little time left — today is the final day of early voting before Tuesday’s election.

The Secretary of State’s Office has kept day-by-day voter turnout statistics for 15 counties since 1996. This year’s early balloting has surpassed the 2.4 million total in those counties in 2004.

Statewide, 3.7 million people voted early in 2004. The total number of Texans voting in that year’s presidential race was nearly 7.5 million.

Secretary of State Hope Andrade will release her estimate of 2008 voter turnout in the next few days.

Here’s the Texas Weekly chart. Note first that both of these are only through Wednesday. We had another 77,139 voters in Harris County yesterday, bringing the in-person total to 591,027 and the overall total to 643,529. I do think we’ll fall short of 700,000 in-person early votes, though there’s still an outside possibility. My guess would be 675,000 early votes, which should yield about 730,000 total votes. That’s still mighty impressive. (BOR projects 305,000 early votes for Travis County.)

If the ratios from 2004 hold up, 2.7 million early voters from the Top Fifteen means we’ve surpassed 4 million early voters statewide. Going by the Texas Weekly chart and adjusting a bit to account for the extra volume of the last two days, I’d guess we’ll wind up with about 3.4 million early votes from those counties, which is to say almost as much as the entire statewide early vote total from 2004. That would mean a bit more than 5 million early votes statewide. I think it’s safe to say that if that’s the case, the early vote total will be more than half of the final amount. Let’s guess that 60% of all voters will have cast their ballots by the close of business today. That puts statewide turnout at about 8.3 million, or 61.5%. If the same ratio holds for Harris County, we’ll have about 1.18 million votes. I think that’s the low end for Harris – I won’t go as far as PDiddie, but I think we’ll easily surpass 1.2 million, and might reach 1.3 million.

And again, we come to the question of who it is that’s doing all this voting.

Leland Beatty, a Democratic consultant, said 42 percent of early voters had voted in Democratic primaries and 20.6 percent in Republican primaries.

Republican pollster Mike Baselice said he thinks Democratic early voting numbers are high because so many participated in the primary between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. He said some of those voters will vote Republican in the general election.

“Nobody should be that excited about the turnout this far,” he said.

Well, I agree that Mike Baselice probably shouldn’t be all that excited, but he’s cordially invited to speak for himself on this one. You may recall that according to Paul Bettencourt, eight percent of voters in the Democratic primary in Harris County this year had “some” history of voting in the Republican primary previously, while two percent were “hard Rs”. So yes, “some” of these early voters that are identified as Democrats – and note that Beatty says they had “voted in Democratic primaries”, not that they had “voted in this year’s Democratic primary” – will be voting R. How much is “some”, that’s the question.

Finally, for what it’s worth, I got the following in an email from the Ginny McDavid campaign:

Per early voting totals as of Tuesday evening, I ranked second among the Democrats challenging Republicans in the 4 competitive seats in Harris County in the ratio of Democratic Primary Voters over Republican Primary voters in the Early Vote totals:

1) Thibaut (District 133): 1.7 Dems to 1 Republican
2) McDavid (District 138): 1.5 Dems to 1 Republican
3) Redmond (District 144): 1.3 Dems to 1 Republican
4) Matula (District 129): 1.2 Dems to 1 Republican

I make no warranty as to the pedigree of those numbers – among other things, I don’t know if this makes the “any Dem history” versus “voted Dem this year only” distinction – but they are in line with the overall trends, and also with what I’ve heard from other sources. As has been the case all along, I’ve heard some bright optimism concerning Democratic prospects based on the EV numbers so far, and some dismal pessimism. You can see whatever you want to see if you look hard enough.

Endorsement watch: The “We just realized there’s only one day of early voting left” edition

I don’t know if the Chronicle was motivated by the end of early voting today or if they just finally broke through a logjam, but we have a veritable cornucopia of endorsements in this edition. First, they go for Loren Jackson for District Clerk.

In the current contest to fill the unexpired term of Charles Bacarisse, who resigned to run for county judge, the Chronicle believes 30-year-old Democratic challenger Loren Jackson has the background and talent to direct the office in the coming years.

The Texas A&M and South Texas College of Law graduate has been a litigation attorney for five years, practicing in federal and district courts while specializing primarily in environmental and products liability law. Jackson contends that the District Clerk’s Office is not moving fast enough to implement paperless records and e-filing systems, and should be tapping the expertise of groups like the Conference of Urban Counties for advanced filing technology.

He criticizes incumbent Theresa Chang for returning $700,000 to the county’s general fund when salaries of office clerks are as low as $22,000 and the management structure remains top-heavy with supervisors. Jackson says he has met with some clerks in the office who rely on government assistance, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and “that isn’t right.” He promises to upgrade pay and training in order to provide employees a living income and a career route to reward their hard work.

The Chronicle urges voters to support Jackson and his ideas for improving the District Clerk’s Office.

The Chron mentioned all these things in an article they wrote about the editorial board interview they had with Jackson and Chang. Clearly, they were impressed with what Jackson had to say.

Next, they dispose of the one remaining legislative race by endorsing Kristi Thibaut in HD133.

Thibaut brings passion and well-thought out positions to her candidacy on two important issues — electricity deregulation and public education.

We like her empathy for hard-pressed homeowners facing escalating electric bills. This is a painful symptom of a larger problem. Electricity deregulation is not working. In hindsight, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that plans created in the heyday of Enron and other corporate scalawags have problems. The topic needs revisiting in Austin.

Thibaut favors re-regulating tuition at Texas colleges and universities to keep higher education affordable and accessible for more Texas families. She would freeze tuition costs for four years for entering freshmen to help families better plan and budget.

She also recognizes the importance of continued strong support for K-12 education, especially on matters such as dealing with the alarming dropout rate and the number of teachers leaving the profession.

If she is elected, we would encourage Thibaut to take a page from Murphy’s playbook and work across party lines in the Texas House.

The atmosphere of intense partisanship under the troubling leadership of House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, needs changing. We believe Kristi Thibaut would be an effective change agent in Austin.

The Chron had endorsed Thibaut in 2006 based on a dislike of Murphy’s stance on stem cells and abortion. The rationale is different this time, and I think it’s the first time the Speaker’s race has come up. Murphy is a loyal Craddickite, so a Thibaut victory would certainly be a big step in the direction of a different (and hopefully Democratic, whoever that may be, Speaker). I thought the Chron might stick with the incumbent this time around, so I was wrong about that. I also thought the Chron would not endorse both Thibaut and Sherrie Matula, so by virtue of being wrong about Matula as well, I was right about that.

Finally, the Chron makes the obvious choices in the HCDE Trustee races.

Debra Kerner for County School Trustee, Position 5, At Large: Kerner, a career speech/language pathologist, has devoted her professional life to special needs students both in private practice and at a private nonprofit school. She has been an instructor of speech pathology at the University of Houston, a former president of the Houston Association for Communication Disorders and a former vice president of the Texas Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

She has always been devoted to public education, having sent her daughter to local public schools, and advocates proven innovations such as extended days and intensified teacher/parent engagement.

Jim Henley for County School Trustee, Position 7, At Large: Recently retired from two decades at Lanier Middle School, Henley was a revered teacher of history and debate. His power and originality as a debate coach led the Lanier debate team to win national championships five times between 2003 and 2007.

Henley shows the same dedication in his proposals for at-large Position 7. He pledges to expand programs and reduce waiting lists for early childhood education, scour the budget to ensure all county education tax dollars are well-used and insists on accountability from administrators, educators and families to stanch the county’s devastating 40 percent dropout rate.

Professionals over ideologues. Sometimes it really is that simple.

Prognosticating with the stars

So you think you know what’s going to happen on Election Day? Put your money where your mouth is and take The Roundtable challenge to see if you can do better than the local punditocracy and media moguls. All in good fun, of course. Leave your guesses here in the comments if you like, or send the answers in yourself. Enjoy!

The argument for campaign finance reform in Texas, in a nutshell

Item: Texans for Lawsuit Reform rents a candidate.

Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a business group instrumental in winning significant restrictions on civil lawsuits, has endorsed two candidates — Republican Joan Huffman of Southside Place and Democrat Stephanie Simmons of Missouri City — for the District 17 state Senate seat.

Although TLR normally gives more money to Republicans than Democrats, its political action committee so far has given no money to Huffman, a former state district judge, but is largely underwriting Simmons’ campaign, her first for public office.

Some 74 percent of the $273,586 Simmons reported raising through Sunday came from TLR. The business group has given the political novice $17,500 in cash and donated another $184,000 in-kind for direct mail and survey research.

Item: House Speaker Tom Craddick spends a lot of cash, maintains even more.

Craddick, R-Midland, has done a lot to help other Republicans, Craddick spokeswoman Alexis DeLee said. Craddick has transferred more than $1.1 million from his campaign account to his Stars Over Texas political action committee to help GOP candidates.

Let’s dispense with the obvious first: Without TLR, there is no Stephanie Simmons campaign for SD17. In her detailed report, she has a total of eight donors who are not TLR or not named Simmons. Of the $27K or so raised this period from those remaining donors (this story combines the 8-day-out total with the 30-day out total), $25K of it comes from two people – $15K from the previously-noted Jeff Sandefur, and $10K from Hank DeShazer, who appears to be Simmons’ employer.

I don’t know about you, but I have a problem with candidates whose funding comes from a small set of sources. Who do you think they’re going to answer to when they get elected? Of course, Simmons’ purpose here isn’t to get elected. TLR, which is a Republican PAC, has Joan Huffman in mind for that. No, like a panelist on “Hollywood Squares”, her purpose is to block Chris Bell. I don’t know if she’s been on board with that plan from the beginning or if she’s being scammed by TLR and Ron Wilson, but that’s the role she’s playing here.

As for Craddick, the story I cited expresses surprise that he’s sitting on so much money when his tenure as Speaker may be at stake, but make no mistake. He’s spending plenty of money in a variety of races, along with his cronies. A bunch of candidates who had lousy 30-day reports, like Ken Legler and Bryan Daniel, are suddenly awash in cash thanks to the largesse of Craddick and crew. One wonders how much effect a few late-dropping mail pieces and TV/radio ads will have at the tail end of this ponderously long election cycle, but better to have them than not.

There was a time when I thought the problem was too much money in campaigns. I don’t believe that any more, but I do still think there’s a problem with too much money from a small number of sources having a disproportionate effect on too many campaigns. I’d like to see the rules geared towards encouraging candidates to broaden their donor base and not to rely too much on the fat cats and lobbyists and their PACs. I would not advocate for a McCain/Feingold solution for Texas, as I think that is not the best approach, but I don’t see any problem with putting some kind of limit on how much any individual person or PAC can give in a single year to any candidate or other PAC. I never bought the campaign-contributions-as-free-speech argument against McCain/Feingold, but even if you do accept it I don’t see how limiting an individual to (say) a maximum of $500,000 in total contributions to state candidates in the course of a calendar year seriously infringes anyone’s rights. I’d put a similar limit on donating to PACs, and limit PACs to doling out a max of a million bucks in any given year as well. The numbers aren’t carved in stone, and whatever figures you prefer should have some kind of annual inflation adjustment, but I think the concept is valid. There needs to be some limit to the amount of influence the big players can wield.

On the other end of the scale, I’d also support some kind of system that provided matching funds for small-dollar donations. Again, the specific numbers aren’t as important as the idea of incentivizing that kind of fundraising as opposed to the sugar daddy system we have now. If we know one thing from this year, it’s that small donors can provide plenty of fuel for the right campaign. I’d like to see more of that.

Of course, I don’t expect to see any of this ever happen, and if someone were foolish enough to attempt a serious run at in the Lege, they’d have a huge target hung on their back by the very forces who’d lose out under this. But it’s what I think should happen, and if I can’t have hope for that kind of change now, when can I have it?

One way to deal with sign stealers

I repeat, sign stealing is lame. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to deal with it. And if you must, it pays to think outside the box. Bravo, sir. And while we’re on the subject, Harold Cook has a sign-stealing story to tell, too. Check it out.

One last UT poll

One more poll to consider as we approach the end of early voting. This one is from the University of Texas.

The UT poll shows McCain running ahead of Obama statewide, with a 51 percent to 40 percent margin. Cornyn, a first-term Republican from San Antonio, leads Noriega, a state representative from Houston, 45 percent to 36 percent. Another 14 percent of voters remain undecided in the Senate contest.

The poll found that 89 percent of Lone Star State voters say the country’s economic situation is worse than a year ago. And President Bush and Congress both get record low marks.

Just 34 percent of Texans approve of Bush’s job performance — a big change for a former governor who won re-election 10 years ago with 70 percent of the vote. And Congress is even more unpopular: Just 8 percent of Texas voters approve of the work being done on Capitol Hill.

The telephone poll was conducted by the Texas Politics Project and Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin. The poll was conducted from October 15 to 22, and had a margin of error of +/- 4.2 percentage points.

The first point to make is that this data is up to two weeks old. As Nate says, that’s pretty unusual these days. I have no idea why a poll conducted between the 15th and the 22nd is just being released on the 30th.

Some limited data about the survey is here. I’ll note that whatever else one may think, the results are in line with most other recent polls, the last Rasmussen Senate poll being an exception. The (too) high number of undecideds skews things a bit – in particular, for the one bit of sample breakdown that we do get, the poll claims 16% of black respondents and 17% of Hispanics are undecided in the Senate race. I can just about guarantee you that a large majority of each will ultimately cast their ballots for Rick Noriega. On the flip side, I think the five percent showing for Libertarian Yvonne Schick is too high – I believe she’ll ultimately get two to three percent, with the rest mostly going back to Cornyn.

I note, by the way, that Evan Smith thinks Cornyn will do better in Texas than McCain will. I’ve been arguing for the opposite, in part because I think Noriega will do better among Hispanic voters than Obama will. On the other hand, there may be a greater dropoff in Democratic participation after Obama than there is Republican participation after McCain, and that could make up the gap that I foresee. Which do you think will be the case?

Finally, the bit about an abnormally large number of people in Texas still believing Obama is a Muslim is weird, but probably not worth fretting about. You have to wonder, if the Obama campaign had done any field work here for November like they’ve been doing in so many other states, would that number be closer to the national average? Guess we’ll never know.

Early voting: Over a half-million served

Here’s your daily EV update. A total of 70,621 in-person votes were cast yesterday, which is a 42.8% gain over 2004’s figure of 49,449. Not quite the Birnberg number, but close enough. The grand total with two days to go is 513,888, which is more than the entire early plus mail total from 2004. We are truly in uncharted territory.

Having said that, the growth curve is perhaps not quite as robust as it could be. We may still get to 700,000 early in-person votes, but we may wind up closer to 650,000 instead. Dr. Murray’s estimated amount of 750,000 early plus mail ballots (49,558 have been returned so far) is within reach, but is probably on the high end. On the other hand, the last two days are historically the busiest, and the last Friday of 2004 was over 35% busier than the last Wednesday. We certainly may see a big surge at the end. Nobody really knows.

On a lark yesterday, I asked the folks who follow me on Twitter if they had voted yet, and if not when they were planning to. Of the 16 people who responded, ten had already voted, three were intending to vote early but hadn’t gotten to it, two were planning to vote on Election Day, and one was still waiting for an absentee ballot to arrive. So there’s your unscientific election factoid for the day.

Endorsement watch: Have you always been concerned about that?

Before I get to today’s endorsements, let’s briefly discuss this item from yesterday, in which the Chron gravely intoned of a looming catastrophe.

We would respectfully request those considering a straight ticket vote in either party to reconsider their decision.

Such an approach dismisses worthy candidates in both parties, especially in local races for judicial benches and other such posts. It also increases the likelihood that unqualified candidates will slip into positions of responsibility.

If voters choose to cast ballots for a straight ticket after examination of the ballot on a race-by-race basis, that is their perfect right. But they do themselves, their fellow citizens and the system no favor by opting for the straight-party ticket without careful thought.

I wonder if there was a similar thing written back in 1994, when it was clear to everyone that Democratic judges were about to go extinct. I don’t necessarily disagree with the notion, but as I can’t say I’ve ever heard any member of the Republican establishment express regret that some highly-qualified jurists were ejected that year. As an extra added bonus, that was the election that first installed John Devine on the bench. So, I have no current plans to feel guilty about any future Democratic sweeps, if they should happen. The Chron made their feelings known when they gave their endorsements. I don’t see why they saw fit to underline them in this way. And by the way, as I said before, if their poll is an accurate guide, we’ll see an abnormally low rate of straight-ticket votes this year anyway. So why worry?

Now then. The Chron finally tackles the SD17 special election by giving their endorsement to Chris Bell.

A Dallas native and a University of Texas graduate, Bell brings to the race a solid track record in public office. He served five years on Houston City Council where he chaired the council’s ethics committee. It produced recommendations that tightened up the city’s campaign finance rules and mandated financial disclosure measures for elected officials.

After unsuccessfully running for mayor, Bell was elected to Congress, where he earned favorable notice as a freshman and founded the Port Security Caucus while serving as a whip for the Democratic leadership. Bell filed ethics complaints against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the first shots in a fight that led to DeLay’s resignation.

Bell found himself a target of the 2003 redistricting effort masterminded by DeLay, which sought to defeat some incumbent Anglo Democrats across the state by making their districts majority minority. He was defeated in the Democratic primary by Al Green. Two years ago, he won the Democratic nomination for governor and came in second behind Republican Rick Perry in a four-way race.

A lawyer with the firm Patton Boggs, Bell is registered as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., but dropped that status in Texas before seeking office. He pledges not to lobby in the state if elected.

In the current race, Bell is calling for utility rate reform, tripling the homestead exemption and reversing tuition deregulation at public universities. The candidate has demonstrated in previous elective office that he can be an effective advocate for his constituents.

Not sure what took them so long on this one, but they got it right, and that’s what matters. They also endorsed Michael Williams for re-election to the Railroad Commission. Both recommendations were as predicted.

Meanwhile, it wasn’t specifically an endorsement, but Mayor Bill White took the time to defend Adrian Garcia against some attack ads that Sheriff Tommy Thomas had been running.

By the time we got to the weekly Mayor’s press conference, White spoke more directly. He was unhappy with the ad by Sheriff Tommy Thomas recently began airing. In the attack ad, Thomas’ campaign says that Garcia admitted to using marijuana “more than 100 times”. Apparently, the campaign got it from an HPD application form, and whatever Garcia wrote, he was referring to things he did when he was 16-17 years old.

The Mayor was not happy, and took the unusual step of defending Garcia at his weekly news conference. “I’m not doing endorsements I’m just telling people that I know he’s a person of outstanding character, he’s been hard working and a great public servant,” said White.

“I think people need to stand up for people when people attack their character if they know him.”

Garcia tried to stay above the fray, saying he only attacks his opponent’s record, and not his personal issues. He also said he was simply being honest about his teenage years, but he doesn’t know where the “100 times” reference is coming from.

Good for Mayor White. That ad is apparently no longer running, so perhaps the point has been made.

Remember Sally Ride, the first American woman in outer space? She’s endorsing Barack Obama. Not that there’s anything unusual about that these days, but I thought it was cool.

Finally, I present this without comment, because frankly, what can one add to that? I don’t know how I wound up as a recipient on the mailing list that distributed it, but I ain’t complaining.

eSlate hate

Just a few thoughts regarding this article about the sSlate machines that Harris County uses.

County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, a Republican who administers elections, pointed out that eSlates have had many fewer reported problems than “touch-screen” technology, which has led to isolated cases in Texas of machines recording votes that were the opposite of voters’ intentions.

“In light of what has transpired since with other equipment, the county made the right choice,” Kaufman said Tuesday. “The equipment is resilient.”

If my only choices were eSlate and touch screen, I’d definitely choose eSlate. Touch screens are very problematic. Of course, these aren’t the only possible choices, and even if they were, there’s plenty of room to improve the eSlate experience. Just being better than touch screens, which is akin to being more ethical than Ted Stevens, isn’t enough.

About 40,000 eSlate machines are in use in the world, according to manufacturer Hart InterCivic. “Not one has ever lost a vote,” operations director Peter Lichtenheld said Tuesday.

But such assurances were insufficient to prevent Ohio election officials from finding earlier this year that eSlates are unreliable and too vulnerable to interference by rogue computer experts.

When it comes to government standards and testing of electronic voting machines, even the Hart InterCivic official acknowledges a problem.

“The current regulatory environment is simply moving too slowly and seems ill-defined,” Lichtenheld said.

The day is coming, if you don’t think it’s already happened or is already happening now (which, for what it’s worth, I don’t), that someone will successfully launch an attack on eSlate machines in a way that materially affects the outcome of at least one election. I think before that day comes, we’re likely to see an eSlate machine fail in some way as to prevent some votes from being counted. It’s for that reason that I’ve advocated a backup system such as a printed receipt of each person’s votes, which get collected at the polling place.

Contrary to rampant rumors, pressing the eSlate button for a particular party’s slate of candidates applies to the selection for president. Voters who press a straight ticket button and mark a vote for their presidential candidate effectively erase their vote for president and preserve their votes for candidates of that party in all other races.

However, if a voter picks a straight-ticket option and then votes for the presidential candidate in another party, it will register.

ESlate defenders point out that voters can review their selections on a “summary screen,” and change any unintentional mistakes, before recording their by pressing the “cast ballot” button.

But some experts shake their heads at the fact that voting for a presidential candidate for emphasis after voting “straight ticket” negates the selection for the White House.

“The eSlate has a number of odd and unpredictable behaviors with respect to straight-ticket voting,” said Mike Byrne, Rice University associate professor of psychology and computer science.

I gave the straight ticket vote experience a test myself this year. While it did what I’d have expected it to do, I definitely think the warning screen, as well as the final summary screen, could be clearer and easier for non-sophisticated users to understand.

With 40 judicial races on the list along with federal and local races, the Harris County general election ballot is one of the longest in the nation. Dan Wallach, who founded Rice’s Computer Security Lab, pointed out that, because of the length, voters must examine three summary screens to check the accuracy of their votes.

Worse, he wrote in an article last week, “our research shows that as many as 63 percent of voters fail to notice errors on the summary screen.”

This for sure should be addressed. At the very least, it should be more obvious that you have more than one page to verify. Again, I think a printed receipt would go a long way to help with that.

One last point: I can just about guarantee that the eSlates will be an issue in the 2010 election for County Clerk. I’m not as negative on them as some folks, but I definitely think there’s a lot of room for improvement, and I don’t think that has been anywhere near sufficiently addressed. I look forward to having this discussion at that time.

Chron overview of the RRC race

The anachronistically named Texas Railroad Commission is pretty high up there in the power-to-prominence ratio. This year’s race for Railroad Commissioner is pretty typical, modulo the unusual three-way Democratic primary that left the little-known contender Mark Thompson standing. The Chron has a brief overview of the RR Commish race, in which Thompson takes on incumbent Michael Williams.

Thompson said Williams is too dependent on contributions from the companies he regulates to effectively regulate them.

“He’s not looking after the people,” said Thompson, 49, a therapist for the blind and a safety advocate who lives in Garland.

Williams raised $1.3 million from January 2007 through June 2008, of which 44 percent came from the energy companies he is sworn to regulate, according to an analysis by Texans for Public Justice, a group that tracks the influence of money in political campaigns.

Williams said he was not ashamed to accept money from energy interests and asserted it did not taint his decisions.

“I am proud that the people who know energy have enough confidence in my record and my vision to give freely to my campaign,” he said.

I don’t really have anything to add to the article. I’ll note that as obscure as the RRC is, it’s usually slightly higher profile than the State Board of Education. But thanks to an extra-large helping of ignorance and dishonesty by incumbent SBOE member David Bradley, that’s not the case this year. That’s a mighty impressive feat. PDiddie has more.

Me on your teevee on Tuesday

My usual modus operandi for election nights is to hit a party or two and mooch all the free food and beer I can celebrate or commiserate with my fellow Democrats in a social environment. This year will be a little different, as the folks at KHOU have asked me and my blogging colleague David Benzion of the Lone Star Times to join them in the studio on Tuesday night and do some free work for them provide our unique and witty insights to their viewing audience. Naturally that will include some blogging, which you’ll be able to see here (with crossposting or at least link-pointing here as I can do it). So instead of watching “NCIS” and the rest of the CBS Tuesday night lineup, you can tune in and be reminded once again why I have a face and voice for blogging. Though I’m sure their professional makeup staff will do the best they can with what they’ll have to work with. Anyway, look for me on the tube next Tuesday night, and if you’re at an election night party, please have a beer for me.

Early voting: Still following the pattern

The early vote in Harris County was 66,506 yesterday, the busiest day yet. That matches the pattern from 2004, except at a higher level – the corresponding 2004 number was 46,393, and the nine-day total was 240,846 then and 443,267 now. That’s “only” an 84% increase from 2004, not quite the doublings we’d seen last week, but still pretty healthy. It’s also more than the total for all of 2004, which makes it a record-breaker, and we should blow past the initial projection of 500,000 early votes sometime today.

Here’s an update of that graph I posted on Monday:

If the trend continues to match that of 2004, I expect we’ll get about another quarter million early voters, for a grand total of about 700,000 in-person votes, and a bit more than 750,000 total votes. Election Day itself could be a relatively sleepy affair and still surpass 2004’s total turnout; if that represents 60% of all voters, we’ll have 1.25 million when all is said and done.

Rick Casey gets HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg’s reaction to this. Yesterday’s total was a key component to it.

On Monday, the turnout was 150 percent of what it was on the corresponding day four years ago. Birnberg’s theory was that the Tuesday turnout would indicate whether today through Friday, the last three days of early voting – traditionally the heaviest stretch – would slip back to 2004 levels, return to the stratospheric numbers of the first seven days, or settle some place in between.

If they slip back to 2004 levels, it’s bad news for Birnberg.

If they stay at 150 percent, “that will probably mean the Democrats will swamp Harris County,” he said.

“If they go back up, which I do not predict, to numbers approaching 200 percent, then the figures are so far off the chart I don’t know how to interpret them.”

His logic seems sound. He figures about half a million will vote on Election Day.

He also believes John McCain will not get more votes in the county than Bush won in 2004 – 585,000 or 55 percent of the 1,068,000 votes cast.

Sarah Palin may have energized the base, but so did Bush.

If the early vote stays at 150 percent of 2004 levels, Birnberg calculates, Harris County will see a record turnout of about 1.2 million, more than enough to beat Bush’s mark.

Birnberg’s argument is bolstered by what he knows about the early vote. Every night he gets a tape of data showing who voted.

It’s the same data obtained by Leland Beatty, a veteran Democratic numbers cruncher based in Austin. Beatty screens the early voting list both statewide and by major counties against a data base of voters who participated in past elections.

In the first week of Harris County early voting, Beatty says, nearly half the voters had voted in only Democratic primaries.

Only about 22 percent had voted only in Republican primaries. And about 23 percent were either new voters or had voted only in general elections.

These numbers appear to overwhelmingly favor Obama and other Democrats. But Beatty, as cautious as any other Democrat, cautions that those who have never voted in primaries make up about 60 percent of Harris County registered voters.

“They’re holding off,” he said. “So while it looks like a Democratic surge, those other voters wouldn’t be holding back if they had made up their minds. So Election Day is a decision day.”

Tuesday’s total wasn’t quite 150% of 2004 – as Casey notes, it was 143% – but it was enough of an increase to feel good about. The magic numbers for today are 49,449, which is the 2004 total, and 74,173, which is 150% of that. I’d say that seventy thousand would be plenty good enough.

Here’s the Texas Weekly chart for the Top 15 again. Fort Bend is the only county still going at a pace that’s more than double that of 2004, but growth across the board is brisk. By the way, the final voter registration total for Texas is 13.5 million. If turnout statewide is right at 60%, we will get eight million total voters. I believe we are very likely to get to this level.

So, how many of you reading this have not yet voted? Are you still planning to vote early, or are you an Election Day purist? Leave a comment and let me know.

Interview with Larry Joe Doherty

For what will probably be my last interview of this cycle (there’s still a chance I’ll have one more), I bring you a conversation with Larry Joe Doherty, who is running a spirited and closely contested campaign in CD10. Larry Joe has attracted the support of the DCCC and progressive groups like Blue America, pretty darned impressive when you remember that no Democrat wanted to touch this district originally. Doherty has also attracted his opponent’s attention, though not without consequences. My interview with Larry Joe Doherty is here, as always in MP3 format. Enjoy!


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, Harris County Sheriff
Trey Fleming, HD135
Dexter Handy, Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Sherrie Matula, HD129
Joe Jaworski, SD11
Jim Henley, HCDE Trustee
Rick Noriega, US Senate
Kristi Thibaut, HD133
Joe Montemayor, HD127
Rep. Nick Lampson, CD22
Richard Morrison, Fort Bend County Commissioner, Precinct 1
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

Endorsement watch: Skelly and Hinojosa

As expected, the Chron gives thumbs up to Michael Skelly in CD07.

Michael Skelly for U.S. Representative, District 7: For a diverse range of communities stretching from the Texas Medical Center and West University Place to the far northwest suburbs of Houston, the representative for District 7 must balance many interests and service priorities. The Chronicle urges voters to support a political newcomer, Michael Skelly, an entrepreneur and family man who built Horizon Wind Energy, one of the largest such companies in the nation.

His life offers an appealing American story — an Irish immigrant who came to the U.S. at the age of 2 with parents who had little money but plenty of determination. Skelly graduated from Notre Dame and Harvard Business School with the assistance of loans and grants.

Skelly supports Metro’s plans to build light rail on portions of Richmond and Westpark. He opposes federal restrictions on stem cell research and pledges to push for expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Skelly believes the best way to achieve independence from foreign oil is to push development of alternative energy sources but opposes windfall profits taxes on industry and supports expanded domestic drilling.

Though they didn’t bother to mention incumbent Rep. John Culberson by name here, I’d say you can take the penultimate paragraph above as the main reasons for the endorsement. Well, that and the fact that the Chron has a fairly long history of disagreeing with Culberson, who will no doubt ignore every other endorsement the Chron has made to tout this as further evidence of the paper’s eeeeevil liberal bias. Because in the end that’s all that ever really matters.

The Chron also endorsed Republican incumbents Kevin Brady and Mike McCaul for CDs 08 and 10, respectively, in order to provide exceptions that prove the rule. I’m not sure why they endorse in CD08, which covers Montgomery County, and not CD14, which includes parts of Fort Bend, Brazoria, and Galveston Counties; it’s the only office that doesn’t touch Harris County in which they offer a recommendation. Ron Paul is unopposed this year so it’s not that big a deal, but they did the same thing in 2006.

As for McCaul, this may be the weakest recommendation I’ve ever seen:

In a district designed to elect a Republican, former Texas deputy attorney general Michael McCaul has been a good fit during two terms in office. He has focused on homeland security issues.

Although McCaul has criticized his Democratic opponent, attorney Larry Joe Doherty, for negative campaigning, a McCaul Web site pushes its own line of questionable attacks against Doherty. We hope if elected to another term McCaul better practices what he preaches.

Yes, the old “endorse him and hope he follows our advice for the next term” strategy has such a good track record. Whatever.

The Chron also finishes up in the county courts by recommending the appointed Republican incumbent judge in Probate Court #1 and the Democratic challenger in the other:

Robert Hinojosa for Family District Judge, 312th District, unexpired term: A family lawyer with 36 years’ experience, the Democratic Hinojosa spent a year as judge of the 308th Family District Court before losing the post in a 1994 Republican sweep. He has served as associate judge in City of Houston Municipal Courts and as judge advocate in the Air Force. He is able to preside over cases in Spanish as well as English.

With five more days for making endorsements left, the remainders are now the following:

1. Railroad Commissioner

2. State Senate, District 17

3. State House, District 133

4. District Clerk

5. HCDE Trustees

6. Justice of the Peace, all precincts

7. Constable, all precincts

Quite the exciting race to the finish, isn’t it?

Chron overview of the Commissioners Court race

We have a rarity in Harris County politics this year – an actual Democrat-versus-Republican race for a County Commissioners Court seat. That race is for Precinct 3, where long-term incumbent Steve Radack faces Democrat Dexter Handy. Radack last had a Democratic challenger in 1996, when he defeated a gentleman named Fred Stockton by a 68.8-31.2 margin. El Franco Lee, running for re-election in Precinct 1 against a Libertarian candidate, has not faced a Republican since at least 1996 (the County Clerk’s online archives only go back that far). Jerry Eversole, the man who expects to be nailed by the FBI any day now, last faced an opponent when frequent commenter and Commissioners Court regular Charles Hixon ran against him for Precinct 4 in 2002, garnering 27% of the vote. That was also the last time we had a competitive race for the Court, as Sylvia Garcia won the open seat formerly held by Jim Fonteno in a close finish against former Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell, 52.0-46.5; both she and Eversole ran unopposed in 2006.

Will we have a competitive race this year? Probably not, but you never know.

Handy, a 28-year military veteran, had just $1,200 in the bank as of early October, after taking in $5,400 in contributions and spending $6,100 between July and late September. Radack, by comparison, had $922,000 in the bank after accepting $39,000 in contributions and spending about the same amount in that time period.

University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said it would be a “real shock” if an underfunded, relatively unknown Democrat knocked off an entrenched Republican commissioner in a traditionally conservative precinct. However, the results could be unusually close as a growing number of minority families, who often vote Democratic, settle in Houston’s western suburbs, Murray said.

“The county is changing,” Murray said. “Is there enough change to put a 20-year commissioner in some peril? Probably not, but that’s why we have elections.”

I don’t have precinct data at hand to make any objective guesses about how the vote might shake out. I can say that Radack received the vote of 65.2% of everyone who cast a ballot in 2004, which is a pretty decent figure for an unopposed candidate. I think if Handy can hold Radack under 60%, we’ll see a spirited and high-dollar race for what will be this open seat in 2012.

I’ll say this for Radack – When he goes, the Court will not be the same.

Known for his colorful, brash commentary during Commissioners Court meetings, Radack did not change his tune as he sought an endorsement Monday from the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board.

When asked about ethics issues that have dominated the county judge race, Radack said he saw no point in Commissioners Court voluntarily agreeing to follow standards that are not required by law since it would be easy for loopholes to be exploited. He freely admitted that county contracts are awarded to friends if everything else about the proposals is equal.

He also reiterated his opposition to building a downtown jail rejected by voters last fall without putting it on the ballot again. And he expressed unwavering support for the contract deputy program, saying it puts more officers on the street to protect everyone, not just neighborhoods that can afford to pay for deluxe protection.

I agree with him on the county jail issue, though I’d take it farther and just say “no”, full stop. I think he’s all wet on the ethics issue, and I think the contract deputy situation needs a thorough review. But as the saying goes, at least you know where he stands. And may I say that I agree with the Chron in that Radack ought to give some consideration to various things Handy has touted. Nice to have a contested election now and again so issues can be discussed, even in passing, isn’t it?

So anyway, this election will be interesting as a partisan temperature check for the precinct, with what I suspect will be the real fireworks to come in 2012. Having said that, I have a question: Does Harris County have a requirement to review, if not redistrict, Commissioners Court precincts in 2011? I know that redistricting in Constable/Justice of the Peace precincts is optional and radioactive, but if the law requires it, then that’s a different story. A question I’d like to see addressed is at what point should we split the existing precincts, each of which has about a million people in it, which is greater than the population of seven US states, into smaller ones? Surely smaller precincts would bring greater breadth to the Court, and might make it less expensive for challengers to wage campaigns. What do you think?

You won’t need to register that bike

Do you own a bicycle? If you do, you’re probably in violation of a city ordinance.

Mayor Bill White breaks this law. Thousands of innocent children could be implicated. You, dear reader, may be in violation and not even know it.

The city finally is cracking down on bicyclists’ rampant disregard of the registration law — by getting rid of the law.

City officials and bike enthusiasts all seem to agree that it’s a silly, outdated ordinance that is all but impossible to enforce.

The City Council could vote to strike the law from the books on Wednesday.

The law requires owners to register their two-wheelers at a local fire station for $1 and place a little license sticker on the bike.

“This is something that I think is sporadically done,” said Randy Zamora, the city’s chief prosecutor. “And I think the firemen have better things to do.”

Hard to argue with that. I have to say, it never would have occurred to me that this was a requirement. If we had such a thing in New York when I was growing up, I was a scofflaw. Whatever the reason was for passing this law back in 1968 – the article says no one really knows, and I guess there’s no one left around to ask – it clearly serves no useful purpose now

Discarding the bike registration law is part of an ongoing overhaul of the city’s permit process, said Alfred Moran, the director of Administration & Regulatory Affairs.

Houston issues 260 permits out of nine separate departments, but officials are working to streamline the application process. The city might build a one-stop permit center and is working to get all permit forms and applications online.

While they’re at it, I hope they review other permits and such to see if more of them should be dumped like this one. If it doesn’t make sense, if you can’t think of a compelling reason to keep it, get rid of it.

Eight days out

Some highlights from the eight days out reports, where the real money often gets spent, for Harris County races.

HD149: Greg Meyers gets a huge cash injection from a couple of Republican PACs as they try to knock off Rep. Hubert Vo. Meyers collected $276,844.67, including $13,946.21 from Empower Texans, $32,570.36 from the Republican Party of Texas (all in-kind for each), and a whopping $175,000 in cash and $6,063.10 in in-kind contributions from Texans for Lawsuit Reform. He reported spending $225,380.00, with $38,218.55 on hand.

Vo also got some big contributions. He collected $213,748.89, including $23,477.40 in cash and in-kind donations from his colleague Rep. Garnet Coleman, $60,000 from the HDCC, and had a loan of $95,459.46. All together, he spent $31,396.48 and reported $159,635.60 on hand.

HD133: Kristi Thibaut had another strong period, raising $171,643.78. She collected $30,000 from the Third Thursday PAC, $21,000 from Texans Together PAC, and $22,073.57 from Annie’s List. She spent $156,599.20 and had $33,807.82 on hand.

Thibout outraised her opponent, Rep. Jim Murphy, whose PAC reported $105,636.19 taken in, $141,623.88 spent, and $125,657.43 left in the bank. His benefactors included $25,000 from the Texas Association of Realtors PAC (TREPAC), and $5,000 from Bob Perry.

HD129: Sherrie Matula raised another $103,323.24, spent $217,564.02, and had $47,748.08 on hand. She received $35,000 from the Blue Texas PAC, and $9,276.16 from the Texas Parent PAC.

Rep. John Davis took in $169,794.29, spent $116,156.06, and maintained $106,850.09. His big donors were $40,000 from Bob Perry, $32,823 from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and $31,000 from Tom Craddick’s Stars Over Texas PAC. Davis also has a TEC complaint out against him for using a nonexistent PAC in a mailer. You can see a copy of the TEC’s response letter here (PDF).

HD144: Lots of money in this open seat race. Joel Redmond raised $278,652.15, spent $31,387.64, and had $171,120.92 left to spend. He collected $30,000 from Blue Texas, $20,000 from the HDCC, $31,250 for cable TV ads from John Steven Mostyn PC, $65,865.89 in direct mail and consulting services from Texans for Insurance Reform, $26,896.44 from the Parent PAC, and $23,405.25 from the Texas State Teachers Association PAC.

Ken Legler finally put some points on the board, raking in $338,839.40, laying out $165,348.93, and keeping $98,191.41. He attracted $80,893.21 from Empower Texans for mail and TV, $25,000 and $18,000 from uber-sugar daddies James Leininger and Bob Perry, respectively, $45,000 from Stars Over Texas, and $90,060 from Texans for Lawsuit Reform. Better late than never, obviously.

HD134: I can’t resist dipping into this well one last time: Joe Agris collected $1600, spent $1300, and has $812.74 plus a $15,000 loan still outstanding. He did, however, get a donation from Shelley Sekula Gibbs, whose name shows up on quite a few of these reports. Tell me again why this guy was supposed to be a contender against Rep. Ellen Cohen?

“Love Boat”, Harris County GOP style

Some days, it’s all about the videos.

My apologies for the earworm, and props to whoever found that awesome font.

Early voting: A little slower, but still strong

I didn’t think the double-the-rate-of-2004 pace for early voting could be maintained all the way through to the end, and the Monday results bear that out, as “only” 62,509 voters showed up at the polls yesterday. That’s a slight drop from Saturday’s high, and a 48.8% gain over 2004 instead of a 100%+ gain. That’s still very much my idea of “not too shabby”, however, and if things stay flat it’s still another 300,000+ voters, for well over 600,000 early in-person ballots. If there’s a growth curve like 2004’s, with the bulk of the votes coming on the last two days, we’re right back at 800,000 early votes. I’ll feel more comfortable making a prediction after I see Tuesday’s totals, but that seems like a decent bet right now.

I’m still hearing a lot of confidence from some Democratic number crunchers, some of whom are whispering to Burka, and concern from some others. I can’t break that deadlock, but I will make the following comparison of votes cast at EV locations in Democratic State Rep districts to those cast in GOP district locations between 2004 and 2008:

2004 Dem 84,873 43.65% Rep 104,796 53.89% Dtn 4,784 2.46% 2008 Dem 178,762 47.45% Rep 186,976 49.62% Dtn 11,023 2.93%

Bottom line, a greater share of the vote is coming from Democratic locations. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s Democratic voters, and it certainly doesn’t mean that will continue, but it is what we’ve got right now.

As for the Top Fifteen counties statewide, Texas Weekly has a nifty chart showing a comparison between 2004 and 2008. In what should be good news for Democrats, the big urban counties all have strong growth in their turnout. It’d be nice to see more robust increases in places like El Paso, but that’s what we’ve got.

The Katy’s grand re-opening

There will be a ceremony today to mark the official end of the Katy Freeway construction project.

Gov. Rick Perry, officials with the Texas Department of Transportation and Harris County Toll Road Authority, as well as local leaders, will celebrate the freeway’s completion with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. today on the Beltway 8 northbound flyover.

Starting Wednesday, the four managed lanes will be available to motorists as High Occupancy Vehicle lanes and to those riding Metro or school buses. By the end of next year, they also will be used as toll lanes for vehicles with a single occupant.

“That’s going to be a great benefit to drivers, particularly those who do ride-share, because now they will have two lanes in each direction,” said Tanya McWashington, a Katy Freeway Project spokeswoman.


Construction on the Katy Freeway, expanding it from an 11-lane to 18-lane roadway, began in June 2003 and was expected to take at least 10 years. The Harris County Toll Road Authority’s infusion of $250 million to the project helped cut the construction time in half.

The cost of the project stands at $2.8 billion, although some final details such as landscaping and painting aren’t finished. More than half of that was covered by federal funds.

There’s no truth to the rumor that the celebration will include a bonfire made entirely of $100 bills to commemorate the cost overruns from the original $1 billion estimate. As far as I know, anyway.

During an initial phase through spring, Metro, school buses, motorcyclists and cars with two or more occupants will be allowed to use managed lanes for free. Commuters will be able to use the lanes from 5 to 11 a.m. and 2 to 8 p.m. on weekdays.

After the initial phase, the lanes will be turned into toll lanes during nonpeak hours using an all-electronic tollway system, requiring users who do not have another passenger to have toll tags.

I presume this means that the managed lanes will only be open during what was the normal HOV lane times through the end of next year, and after that they will be open 24/7. I also presume in the meantime, they’ll be enforcing the HOV part of these lanes as they did before.

Toll fees have not yet been set.

Harris County Commissioners Court will set toll rates for nonpeak hours and for possible use by solo drivers during peak hours. Congestion pricing, in which toll rates would change based on traffic volumes in the managed lanes to maintain a minimum speed of 45 mph, is expected to be a part of the fee system, said Lawanda Howse, a Toll Road Authority spokeswoman.

Earlier this year, the Harris County Toll Road Authority recommended that passenger vehicles pay $1.25 to travel between Texas 6 and the West Loop during nonpeak hours and that the price double during peak hours and other times when the traffic is moving slower than 45 mph.

“For us, this is about carpoolers and putting more people in vehicles and having less traffic on the freeways,” Howse said.”It’s more about that than a revenue generator for us.”

I still don’t know how they plan to differentiate between multi-passenger vehicles, which will be allowed free passage, and single-occupancy ones, which will need to cough up a toll. I know there were some public meetings about this, but if their results were reported, I missed it. I also think that given the much higher cost of the Westpark toll road, people will see a buck and a quarter as a bargain, and may quickly overwhelm the two HOV lanes. Expect that price to go up quickly.

The question is whether any of that will ultimately make a difference.

“When the (managed) lanes open, we’ll see even more improvement in travel time, but the question is, how long will it last?” said Pat Waskowiak, transportation program manager for the Houston-Galveston Area Council.

The council, a regional planning group comprising local governments, predicts that commute times will increase as the populations in Katy, Sugar Land and other areas of Fort Bend County continue to grow.

The managed lanes will “end up being just as fast as the other lanes, or either end up being underused because all the traffic gets pushed to the other lanes,” said Aaron Quinn, spokesman for the National Motorists Association, a Wisconsin-based advocacy group opposed to HOV lanes, contending that all motorists who contribute taxes should get full use of freeways.

A California State University study of HOV lanes in the San Francisco Bay Area used data from 2001 to 2005 to conclude that those lanes exacerbated the congestion problem there and did not encourage carpooling.

I don’t have a problem with the concept of HOV lanes, and I don’t really have an issue with adding in the HOT option. But I also think that it won’t take long for the new Katy to start being as congested as the old Katy. And when that happens, maybe we’ll finally give some thought as to what a real, scalable solution to this problem might be.

Candidate Q&A: Robert Schaffer

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?

I am Robert Schaffer and I am running for Judge of the 152nd Civil District Court. I am a native Houstonian who graduated from Bellaire High School in 1970 and then went on to the University of Arizona where I graduated in 1974. After graduating from college I moved to Austin where I got my first taste of public service by working in local and state government in a jobs creation program. In 1982 I returned to Houston to attend the South Texas College of Law where I received my law degree in 1984. I began my legal career as an associate with a small Houston law firm before opening my own law office in 1990 as a sole practitioner and continue in that practice today.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears cases involving businesses and individuals, landlord and tenants, employers and employees, consumers, insurance companies, motor vehicle collisions, claims involving premises liability, product liability, medical and other professional malpractice, construction claims and real estate transactions. This court hears all types of cases except criminal, family, probate and juvenile law cases and other cases where a statute places jurisdiction in a specific court such as bankruptcy cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I believe my experience and background make me the better candidate in this race. I have been a trial lawyer for 24 years whereas my opponent had only been practicing law for 8 years before he became a judge in this court. During the past 24 years I have had the opportunity to try cases for my clients when necessary and settle cases for my clients when that was appropriate as well. I have also gone through basic and advanced mediation training to become a mediator. As a mediator for the past 16 years I have helped others resolve and settle their disputes and lawsuits in such a way that most if not all of the time everyone left the mediation satisfied with the result. Many of the mediations I presided over were done at no cost to either party for the Dispute Resolution Center. As a lawyer I work hard to not only represent the interests of my clients but also to ensure that cases only go to trial after every effort is made to ensure that the case can only be resolved by a jury made up of citizens from our community and that the resources of the Harris County taxpayers are only used when absolutely necessary.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a lawyer for the past 24 years and during that time I have represented individuals in many areas of civil disputes. I have been a mediator for the past 16 years and that allows me to bring mediation skills to the forefront in resolving civil disputes. I have maintained several important leadership positions focusing on legal and societal issues. I have served on committees of the State Bar of Texas, including chairing a local grievance committee, and the Houston Bar Association. I was honored by my peers when I was elected to serve as president of the Houston Trial Lawyers Association, Houston Trial Lawyers Foundation and the South Texas College of Law Alumni Association. I presently serves on the Southwest Regional Board of the Anti-Defamation League.

I have also been honored to receive an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell which represents the highest possible rating in legal ability and general ethical standards. These ratings are developed for individual lawyers by soliciting confidential opinions from other lawyers and judges in the legal community. I am the only candidate in this race who has received this honor.

I have strong commitment to community service that is reflected, among other ways, by my volunteering at local schools and coaching little league baseball teams. I have lectured on medical-legal issues as well as hosted a radio talk show from 1997 to 1998 here in Houston.

5. Why is this race important?

It is important that judges reflect to a certain extent what the community looks like. Voters in Harris County vote for 118 county-wide, district-wide and state-wide judicial positions and everyone one of them are held by Republicans. That is just not right considering Democrats make up close to 50% of the voters in this county. Why should it matter that a judge is a Democrat or a Republican? It shouldn’t but the fact is that this is how the Constitution of the State of Texas states we have to select our judges. Having only Republicans inhabit our judicial positions is a situation that leaves the impression with many in our community that because one political party completely dominates the courthouse that this may give an advantage to one side or the other in a lawsuit. This has an impact on the perception that we are equal in the eyes of the law. This election gives voters the opportunity to elect Democrats to these judicial positions so that the benches reflect the great diversity, political and otherwise, of this community.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

People should vote for me because I am committed to public service. I am also committed to presiding over this court in such a way as to promise that everyone who has business before this court will be treated with courtesy, dignity and respect. Litigants can come to this court without fear that they will be treated differently because of who they are or what they are. Litigants can come to this court and have confidence that there is a level playing field for all parties and without fear or concern that one side or the other might have some advantage because of their status or resources.

As a lawyer and a mediator I believe I am uniquely qualified to be a judge because I have a good knowledge of trial law, I can mediate disputes and I can be an objective referee of the disputes when they have to go to trial.

My commitment to the Houston community is that when I am the judge in this court I will do my best to make the court run fairly and efficiently so that each case can move along to conclusion in the most expeditious and efficient way possible. Each party will be treated the same with an equal playing field for all parties.


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.
Leslie Taylor, Court of Appeals, First District, Place 5.
Kyle Carter, 125th Civil Judicial District Court.
Hazel Jones, 338th District Criminal Court.
Bert Moser, Court of Appeals, 14th District, Place 4.
Peter Rene, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 1.
Larry Weiman, 80th Civil Judicial District Court.
Mike Engelhart, 151st Civil Judicial District Court.

Endorsement watch: Opie Cunningham

Best endorsement video ever:

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

Just too bad he didn’t include Mr. and Mrs. C. Anyone know who Tom Bosley and Marian Ross are voting for?

For what it’s worth, McCain recently picked up a fairly high-level endorsement, though perhaps not one he actually wanted. And just for a little salt in the wound, the Anchorage Daily News endorses Obama for President. Apparently, even they think Sarah Palin was a poor choice of VP for John McCain.

Finally, the Chron takes it easy today and endorses County Commissioner Steve Radack for re-election in Precinct 3. They do have some nice things to say about his Democratic opponent, Dexter Handy, while recommending that Radack take up some of the things Handy is advocating. I don’t really see Radack as the kind of guy who does that sort of thing, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Chron overview of the CCA races

I have three things to say about this story, which gives an overview of the races for the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Problems in the criminal justice system, highlighted by a series of exonerations, are the top issue in this year’s races for the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Both incumbent judges and their challengers are talking about the need to improve the reliability of eyewitness identification and preserve DNA evidence.

Three Republican judges are seeking re-election. Two of them face a Democrat and a Libertarian, and one faces a Libertarian only.

While the candidates in these low-funded, down-ballot races still struggle for voters’ attention, the debate this year concerns issues that go to the heart of whether the state’s criminal justice system is broken.

“Whether”? There is no debate about whether the criminal justice system is broken in Texas. The debate is over how badly it’s broken, and how radically it needs to be changed in order to be repaired.

Susan Strawn, a Houston lawyer and former federal prosecutor, said she wants to help restore credibility to the court. She is challenging Tom Price, a member of the high court since 1997.

“(The court) has been reversed too many times by the U.S. Supreme Court. It doesn’t have modern procedures as shown by what happened in the Richard case,” said Strawn, a Democrat.

Strawn said that Price hasn’t taken a leadership role in court initiatives on criminal justice integrity or indigent defense.

Strawn, who is this year’s Bill Moody in terms of newspaper endorsements, may well be the Democratic vote leader this year. If she does win, or even if she comes close, say with 47% or better, I think the Democrats will field a full slate of CCA candidates in 2010, hopefully as part of a strong top-to-bottom statewide effort. Given how badly Texas’ Worst Court needs the shakeup, that’s a very good thing to hope for.

Judge Paul Womack is seeking his third, six-year term. He said he supports the court’s efforts to prevent wrongful convictions, including reviewing how confessions are taken from suspects.

“It seems to me that the problem of wrongful convictions is a judicial branch problem and we should take the lead in making improvements,” he said.

Womack’s opponent, Democrat J.R. Molina is making his fourth — and last, he said — run for the high court.

He blamed partisan politics for his lack of success in previous races.

Naturally, Molina’s lack of anything resembling a campaign, not to mention his notorious indifference to editorial board reviews, has nothing to do with this. If this is indeed his swan song, may I just say “Hallelujah”. We don’t need any more Gene Kellys, thanks very much.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 27

Early voting has started, and it’s off the charts. Need I say more? Read all about it in the weekly highlights of the Texas Progressive Alliance. Click on for more.


He’s guilty

In honor of Alaska’s soon-to-be-former Sen. Ted “Tubes” Stevens and the jury of his peers that found him guilty today, I present to you the following musical tribute:

Gotta love Steven Bochco – even when he failed, he still succeeded.

Campaigns respond to Chron polling

I hope you’ve now had a chance to digest the latest poll news from the Chron, because the campaigns for Rep. Nick Lampson and Michael Skelly would like you to hear their side of the story. I have in my hot little hands two campaign memos, each with their own polling numbers, to go along with what we’ve seen from the Chron. First, from Team Skelly:

With less than two weeks until Election Day, wind energy businessman Michael Skelly is in a heated race with incumbent Congressman John Culberson. Currently, Skelly trails 44% – 49%, with 3% for the libertarian candidate and 4% undecided. The fact that Culberson is under 50% as an incumbent, with Skelly within striking distance, in what has been a traditionally Republican district is remarkable and demonstrates just how competitive Skelly is in this district. Furthermore, with recent public polling showing Barack Obama and Democrats leading Republicans countywide, Skelly has the momentum as the campaign heads into the final week.

Points to note:

1. They include Libertarian Drew Parks by name in their question, unlike the Chron/Zogby poll.

2. This poll shows Skelly leading Culberson among independents, while as before taking more R support from Culberson than he loses in Ds.

3. No crosstabs, so I cannot say what the partisan mix of the sample is. My back-of-the-envelope guess says it’s similar to Zogby, as Culberson does better among Rs as well.

4. The Skelly campaign emphasizes in the memo that the trendlines are good for Skelly. You can see a chart in the memo that clearly shows this, as Skelly has gone from down 52-33 to down 49-44.

5. Not addressed in the memo is the question of how the early vote is looking for either candidate. An awful lot of early voting activity is in CD07, as the daily EV by location stats indicate.

6. Sample size is 400, margin of error is plus or minus five points, same as Zogby.

Next up is the Lampson memo. I may not have been aware of polling in CD22, but there certainly was some:

Internal polling has tracked positive trends for Lampson – ongoing improvements in his favorability and job performance, and sustained success on key attributes of Hurricane Ike recovery and caring about people like you – while Olson remains vulnerable because of his support for a 23 percent national sales tax and lingering questions about the criminal investigation he faces for felony voter fraud in Virginia.

Our most recent poll of likely general election voters in Texas’ 22nd Congressional District shows the race for Congress remains tight, tied at 42 percent. The American Association of Political Consultants named the person who conducted this survey “Pollster of the Year” in 2007. His firm, the Beneson Strategy Group is credited with the handling the polling for Sen. Barack Obama’s winning primary strategy and general election to date.

They too have a polling history, which shows Lampson closing an eight point gap since July. As Ed Emmett has apparently benefitted from his work during Hurricane Ike, so too has Lampson, as his favorability numbers have improved considerably in recent weeks. The campaign also emphasizes the early voting figures so far, claiming a sizeable lead among voters whose partisan ID can be determined. The subject of the memo is “Lampson Will Win”, so you can tell what their mood is.

It should be noted, as Burka reports, that the Olson folks are confident of their victory as well. I’m sure they have polls, and Culberson has polls, to back them up, though I’m not privy to that data. As I said before, I thought the Skelly/Culberson result was reasonable, and the Lampson/Olson one was unexpected. I believe both of these races will be close. Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.

Early voting: Weekend edition

One full week of early voting is in the can, and as you can see, the pace compared to 2004 continues. So far, 314,252 in person votes have been cast, which rises to 359,613 when mail ballots are added in. In 2004, those totals were 152,436 and 171,286, respectively.

If you like pictures instead of numbers, I’ve charted the daily totals for you:

The big question of course is whether or not this will continue at this rate. I’ve heard very confident expressions from some Democrats about the numbers so far, and I’ve heard some converns from others that it’s the usual suspects doing the voting and not the new folks who came out during the primary. My guess would be that we will see a greater number of voters this week, as the extended hours will be a big help, and the closer that trendline stays to a doubling of the 2004 totals, the less the folks in the latter group will have to worry about. Thursday and Friday in particular will be days to watch, as nearly half the second-week early voting total from 2004 came on those two days. Anybody vote today, or have a report from an EV location? Leave a comment and let me know.

Chron polling in Congressional races

After two days of mostly discouraging news for the local GOP, today’s Chron poll of two area Congressional races should make them feel better.

Two Houston-area congressmen under political siege likely face opposite fates in the Nov. 4 election, according to a poll conducted for the Houston Chronicle.

U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Stafford, trailed Republican challenger Pete Olson by 17 percentage points early last week, according to the survey by Zogby International. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, led Democratic challenger Michael Skelly more modestly, by 7 percentage points, with virtually the same margin of error.

In both Republican-friendly districts, a key factor appeared to be the Democratic candidates’ inability to run strong among independent voters and cut deeply into the ranks of Republican voters.

In the 22nd Congressional District, represented by Lampson after the 2006 resignation of Republican powerhouse Tom DeLay, only 5 percent of Republican voters in the survey had defected to Lampson.

Lampson led Olson among independents, 45 percent to 39 percent. But only 16 percent in the poll identified themselves as independent; while 52 percent said Republican and 32 percent said Democrat.

Links to all the results and crosstabs are here. As noted, Lampson wins 83.5% of Dems while Olson gets 87.9% of Rs. Skelly is doing better on this score, getting 85.2% of Dems to Culberson’s 80.2% of Rs; he’s also collected 11.9% of Republicans, to Culberson’s 8.5% of Dems. If Skelly were doing as well among independents (he trails, 38.7 to 32.4) as Lampson, this race would be close to a dead heat.

The surveys in both districts are based on assumptions about the ethnic and geographic makeup of the electorates.

For instance, the survey in Lampson’s district drew more than 40 percent of its sample from the Harris County portion. A significantly lower turnout there, or higher turnout in the other counties, could alter the results, probably cutting into Olson’s advantage.

Curiously, unless I just missed it, I didn’t see a county-by-county breakdown of the CD22 sample. In 2004, the totals were 64,590 votes out of 150,386 from Harris County (42.9%); 58,444 from Fort Bend (38.8%); 18,159 from Brazoria (12.1%); and 9,193 from Galveston (6.1%).

The CD07 poll is easy to comprehend, and it’s well within range of other polls of that race. A Research 2000 poll from two weeks earlier had Culberson leading 48-40. Interestingly, that R2K sample was less Republican than this Zogby one – it had a 39/33 R/D split, whereas Zogby has 45R/33D. These are small subsamples, with larger margins of error, so don’t read too much into that. I’m just noting it for comparison.

As for CD22, I can believe Olson is ahead, but I would not have expected it to be by that much. I can’t think of any other polls of this race that I’ve seen – which is odd when you get right down to it – so I just don’t have a basis to evaluate it. If you were skeptical of the other polls because of Zogby’s general reputation for flakiness, you shouldn’t put that feeling aside just yet.

One last item to note about these two polls is that there is a Libertarian candidate in each race – multi-timer Drew Parks in CD07, and John Weider in CD22. I would expect each of them to get about two or three percent of the vote. Neither was mentioned by name in the poll – they’re lumped in as “Other” with the “Not sure” responses.

For whatever the reason, the Chron did not choose to poll the other hot Congressional race in the area, which is CD10 and which may end up being the closest race of the three. Research 2000 released a poll for CD10 over the weekend, and it showed incumbent Mike McCaul leading challenger Larry Joe Doherty by a slim 46-42 mark. A poll from earlier in October had it at 43-38 for McCaul. Given that the McCaul camp is worried about how early voting has gone, it might have been nice to get a result from here as well.

A list of interviews to date

I am almost completely done with my series of candidate interviews for this cycle – I expect to do one more, which should be published by Wednesday, then it’s all over till the 2009 municipal elections. I hope you’ve found this to be useful, because it’s a lot of work, and I admit I take a fair amount of pride in it. Next year should be a banner year in the city of Houston, so I’m looking forward to tackling those interviews. But I’m looking forward to taking a break from it all first.

Here, for your convenience, is a sorted list of the interviews I’ve done for the general election. Happy listening!

Rick Noriega, US Senate

Rep. Nick Lampson, CD22
Michael Skelly, CD07
Eric Roberson, CD32

Laura Ewing, SBOE district 7

David Mincberg, Harris County Judge
Adrian Garcia, Harris County Sheriff
Brad Bradford, Harris County District Attorney
Diane Trautman, Harris County Tax Assessor
Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney
Loren Jackson, Harris County District Clerk
Debra Kerner, HCDE Trustee
Jim Henley, HCDE Trustee

Dexter Handy, Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 3
Richard Morrison, Fort Bend County Commissioner, Precinct 1

Chris Bell, SD17
Joe Jaworski, SD11
Wendy Davis, SD10

State Rep. Ellen Cohen, HD134
State Rep. Dan Barrett, HD97
State Rep. Juan Garcia, HD32
Joel Redmond, HD144
Virginia McDavid, HD138
Trey Fleming, HD135
Sherrie Matula, HD129
Kristi Thibaut, HD133
Joe Montemayor, HD127
Diana Maldonado, HD52
Ernie Casbeer, HD59
Joe Moody, HD78
Chris Turner, HD96
Robert Miklos, HD101

Endorsement watch: Still to go

As we enter the last week of early voting, here are the races in which the Chron has not yet made a recommendation:

1. Railroad Commissioner

2. US House, Districts 07 and 10

3. State Senate, District 17

4. State House, District 133

5. District Clerk

6. HCDE Trustees

7. County Commissioner, Precinct 3

8. Family Court and Probate Court

9. Justice of the Peace, all precincts

10. Constable, all precincts

The Chron took a big step towards getting the total number of races to go down by making endorsements in the district civil courts. They picked five Democrats out of the sixteen benches:

Alfred “Al” Bennett for 61st Judicial District: A University of Texas law school graduate, Democrat Bennett will bring a record of community service as well as diversity to the civil courts. He is an adjunct professor at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law.

Kyle Carter for 125th Judicial District: A native Houstonian with seven years’ legal experience, Democrat Carter served as general counsel to the Texas Legislative Committee on General Investigation and Ethics.

R.K. Sandill for 127th Judicial District: A young lawyer who focuses on labor and employment law, Democrat Sandill offers varied civil litigation experience to serve on a judiciary dominated by former defense firm attorneys.

Jaclanel McFarland for 133rd Judicial District: McFarland has practiced law in Houston for more than three decades. A Democrat, she promises to keep politics out of her rulings.

Robert Schaffer for 152nd Judicial District: Democrat Schaffer has practiced law for nearly a quarter-century in Houston and has served as the president of the Houston Trial Lawyers Association.

All five appear to be in races with judges who have been elected before, so the Chron has gotten over whatever reluctance it may have had there. As for the rest of the races, there are eight days remaining, and as you can see ten categories of races. I suppose they could combine Constables and JPs, or maybe SD17 and HD133, but unless they plan to skip something, they’ll need to throw a couple of these together to get them all done by next Tuesday. Which do you think will be the last races to be endorsed?

The Republican case against Tom Craddick

State Republican Executive Committee Mark McCaig says something that won’t get him invited to many cocktail parties.

What was once a 26-seat Republican majority in 2003 has dwindled down to an eight-seat majority today, and this number will almost certainly shrink again this year. The Republican Party simply cannot afford any more losses in the Legislature, let alone a return to Democratic control.

The only way to prevent further erosion of the Republican majority in the Texas House is for Tom Craddick to immediately announce that he will not seek another term as speaker.

Republican leaders must acknowledge that they are to blame for squandering their legislative majority instead of blaming others or pretending nothing is wrong. New Republican leadership would go a long way to help repair the tarnished image of the party in the minds of traditionally Republican voters who have become disenchanted with politics in Austin.

Under Craddick’s failed leadership, he has abandoned the conservative principles he was elected on and promoted a lobby-driven agenda at the expense of issues important to ordinary Texans.

Fiscal conservatives have had little to celebrate under Craddick’s tenure. State spending has increased by more than 40 percent since 2003, and the most recent state budget included millions of dollars in so-called “special items” for Craddick’s Midland-area district. Additionally, bills filed by conservative legislators to reduce property appraisal caps and limit state spending were sent by Craddick to committees where they faced certain death. Craddick also supported the oppressive business margins tax, which will likely come under scrutiny during the next legislative session because of the adverse impact it has had on small businesses.

Craddick’s legislative failures are not limited to fiscal issues. He was instrumental in passing special interest bills protecting influential industries such as homebuilders, pharmaceutical manufacturers and insurance companies at the expense of consumers and injured individuals. At the same time, bills important to conservatives on issues such as illegal immigration and gun rights died due to opposition from the business lobby. He has also remained steadfastly opposed to any changes in the tuition deregulation law he helped pass that has resulted in skyrocketing tuition rates across the state.

An ethical cloud also surrounds Craddick due to his close ties with lobbyists. Last year, Craddick and a prominent lobbyist were sued by a tour company following a dispute over a fishing trip to Brazil that Craddick and the lobbyist had canceled. Financial disclosure forms filed by Craddick also show a business relationship with a lobbyist he refuses to identify.

I obviously don’t agree with McCaig’s overall perspective, and I think there’s room to disagree on the matter of some of the bills he complains about. The main point seems pretty inarguable to me, however, and I confess that I don’t quite get why more Republicans don’t see it this way. The GOP has gone from a huge lead in the House to possibly reverting back to minority status after three election cycles with a map they drew to elect as many of their guys as they could. Some of this is demographics, some is the general decline in the Republican brand, and some is overreaching on their part. But just as head coaches get fired and starting quarterbacks get benched for failing to perform, you’d think the Republicans would want to hold Craddick accountable for this clearcut failure. That more of them haven’t seen it McCaig’s way is very fortunate for the Democrats, and represents either a lot of denial, or them really being in hock to the guy. Either way, no complaints on my part. Y’all keep doing what you’re doing, we’ll keep clawing our way back.