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December, 2008:

End of the year Speaker race update

We’ve already had an exciting and eventful 2009 legislative session, and it’s still 2008. The release of the Democratic list of 64 has moved things forward, starting with an admission by Team Craddick that they really aren’t in such good shape after all.

House Appropriations Chairman Warren Chisum said his side became angry over the fact he told me House Speaker Tom Craddick is “five or six” votes short of winning re-election. Chisum is a key Craddick lieutenant in the House.

Chisum said he made his comment based on his own beliefs of where House members stand in the election. Chisum said he hasn’t seen Craddick’s list of supporters.

“They (Craddick’s close advisers) said they weren’t any shorter” after state Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, announced as a speaker candidate, Chisum said.

Chisum said without seeing the list he will have to take Craddick’s nose counters at their word.

But Chisum said with three other Craddick Republicans announcing support for Gattis it was hard from his point of view to see how Craddick could not have lost some votes. He said that is why state Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, is calling members to find out whether Craddick can win re-election.

“If Tom’s got the numbers, he’s got them. If he doesn’t, we need to know,” Chisum said.

That’s actually a much softer version of Chisum’s earlier comments, in which he estimated Craddick’s committed supporters in the 50 to 53 range. Democrats are openly pressing Craddick on this point, as witnessed by a “Dear Colleague” letter from Austin Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, who calls on Craddick to step down and let a successor emerge peacefully. I don’t think that’s going to happen, at least not without a larger number of current Craddick supporters publicly breaking ranks, but it’s out there. And for the first time, we get an indicator that Craddick himself is genuinely worried.

Over the weekend, there were some telephone calls made by Tom Craddick in which (according to the report from one of the people on the receiving end of a call) the Speaker sounded ‘worn out, tired, and despondent’ and that for the first time in several months, the Speaker was calling on others to ask them to report what that members were hearing, rather than the Speaker himself being the provider of news as to the current state of battle between the Speaker and the ABCs. It sounded like Tom Craddick for the first time in a long time, actually found himself to be somewhat out-of-the-loop and truly unaware as to who the ABCs plus the Dunnam D’s would unite their support behind on January 2nd and what it would mean to Craddick’s future it they are able to actually pull it off.

The report I received was that the Speaker felt unsure as to how best to move forward between now and January 2nd because he has no credible intelligence to suggest who the consensus candidate might be. The Speaker did discuss additional filers for Speakers coming in the next few days. Further, both Chisum and Swinford had spoken to Smithee to see if the reports they were hearing were true and Smithee responded by saying that he was indeed seriously thinking about entering the Speaker’s race. Dan Gattis’s entry on Saturday means one fewer R vote for Craddick, while Smithee getting into the race would mean the dam is getting ready to bust the flood gates wide open and that Craddick is in serious jeopardy of losing dozens of current supporters. Craddick seemed unsure how to react–a unique position for a Speaker who is always operating from a well orchestrated script.

In theory, we will all find out who that consensus candidate is early next week, at which point we can either start singing “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” or lamenting what might have been. I’m hopeful that this time the insurgency will hang together, but I’m going to maintain low expectations until it actually happens. In the meantime, enjoy what remains of 2008, and get ready to hit the ground running in the new year.

UPDATE: Chisum tells the Quorum Report that he was misquoted.

Chisum said, “Last night, I was misquoted on the Fort Worth Star-Telegram website as saying that Speaker Craddick had 53 votes. That number is a misinterpretation of what I said, and certainly not what I intended to say. The speaker carries all the Republicans except for the ABCs, and his position remains very strong.”

Make of that what you will.

Texan of the Year 2008

Press release from my colleague Vince Leibowitz, the chair of the Texas Progressive Alliance:

The Texas Progressive Alliance Tuesday announced that the Harris County Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign had been named its “Texan of the Year” for 2008.

Also earning honors from the Alliance were Texans for Obama, TexBlog PAC, and the late Jim Mattox, who were each named “Gold Star Texans” for 2008.

Winning 27 of 34 countywide races in Texas’ most populous county didn’t happen overnight, and the Harris County Democratic Party’s Coordinated Campaign managed not only to win seats with quality candidates, but to increase Democratic voter turnout and revive the Democratic Party in Harris County.

“The Harris County Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign is a shining example of what is possible with the help and support of thousands of grassroots Democrats and a well-run party infrastructure,” said Texas Progressive Alliance Chair Vince Leibowitz. “Every person who knocked on doors, made phone calls, and volunteered in Harris County should be very proud of what they accomplished in 2008,” he continued.

The Harris County Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign is the Alliance’s fourth recipient of its “Texan of the Year Award.” The campaign joins former State Rep. Carter Casteel of New Braunfels, who won the award in 2005; Carolyn Boyle of Texas Parent PAC, who took home the honor in 2006; and the trio of State Reps. Garnet Coleman, Jim Dunnam, and Pete Gallego who shared the honor in 2007.

Also honored this year were the organizations Texans for Obama and TexBlog PAC along with the late Jim Mattox, the former Texas Attorney General who passed away on November 20.

The Texan of the Year Award is voted on annually by the members of the Texas Progressive Alliance, the largest state-level organization of bloggers, blogs, and Netroots activists in the United States.

You can read more about the honorees here. Congratulations to all, and especially to the HCDP08 coordinated campaign for their hard work and dedication to turning Harris County blue.

Will the Lege go green?

Short answer, probably not. But they may at least not take any backward steps, and they may take some grudging action to head off future federal requirements. That counts as progress around here.

McLane: Please regulate me!

Oh, Drayton. You must think we’re all a bunch of idiots.

Astros owner Drayton McLane is one of the wealthiest men in the country and is accustomed to hearing about multimillion-dollar deals being made in any of his numerous business ventures.

But even McLane finds himself astonished at the kinds of cash the New York Yankees have been throwing around this winter. So much so that McLane said he would be in favor of Major League Baseball adopting a salary cap.

“We would love to have a salary cap, but the (players’) union has been very resistant to that,” McLane said this past week.

I just love how sports team owners, who are otherwise some of the most vocal advocates of an unregulated free market economy you’ll ever encounter, quail and cower at the idea of a free market for their employees’ salaries. It’s as if they don’t trust themselves to spend their money wisely without the firm hand of regulatory restraint. Or maybe it’s just that they think the fans are gullible enough to believe that if the owners can finally get that cap on player salaries they’ve always wanted, it will somehow translate to lower costs for themselves, and not millions more in profit for the owners. Either way, it’s all pathetic. I mean, even Richard Justice can see this for what it is. Do us all a favor and give it a rest, dude.

UPDATE: The reason for the wide spectrum of MLB payrolls isn’t that the Yankees spend too much. It’s that too many teams spend too little. Odd how seldom that comes up in the conversation, though again, even Richard Justice realized it. Thanks to Dan Drezner, who notes that if American corporations were acting like the Yankees we’d be well on our way out of the current economic downturn, and LGM for the pointer.

Texas Voices gets an ally

Remember Texas Voices, the fledgling advocacy group that seeks to ease some of the registration requirements for sex offenders? They now have a champion in the Legislature.

“Some offenses don’t rise to the level” of needing registration, Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, said recently.

He’s filed a bill, HB190, that would give certain first-time sex offenders the ability to petition the courts to shorter their registration periods, or to have their registration completely waived . The vast majority of sex offenders in Texas must register on the state’s Department of Public Safety website for life.

The bill is being hailed by Mary Sue Molnar, the mother of a convicted sex offender who is one of Texas Voices key organizers. “I have to tip my hat to him,” Molnar said of Alonzo. “It’s a very good start.”

Molnar and her group have spent months meeting with lawmakers in an effort to find someone willing to carry a bill that would roll back some of the state’s toughest sex offender laws.

The group never met with Alonzo. Alonzo said he filed his bill at the request of a Dallas judge who was fed up with low-risk offenders brought in on technical violations tying up the court’s docket.

Good on Rep. Alonzo for taking this up. I still don’t see any such legislation having a chance of making it out of the Lege, but at least now the issue will be debated. If there is to be any hope, I’d say this is the right approach, pointing out how much money and effort is spent on people who aren’t dangerous. It’s still going to be a tough sell, but it’s got to be done. Good luck, Rep. Alonzo.

School finance: Sorta kinda important to the Lege

Just not so important that it will get anything more than another Band-Aid, but you take what you can get, I guess.

“Are we going to start school finance from the ground up? I don’t think so,” said Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, who chairs the House Public Education Committee. “But we’ll certainly look for a way to be more effective.”

In 2006, the Legislature revamped the school funding system when it ordered districts to lower their property tax rates. While the move granted relief to some homeowners, school officials complain they are strapped for cash since the state essentially capped their funding.

Rep. Dan Branch, a primary author of the 2006 legislation, said he has several bills in the works that would bring more money to school districts. One proposal, which he has yet to file, would raise the minimum level of per-student funding that districts receive. Under the current system, some districts end up with around $12,000 per student while others get closer to $3,000.

Branch, who chairs a special committee that has spent the last year studying school finance, said his per-student funding change would affect between 200 and 250 of the state’s 1,000-plus school districts.

The Dallas Republican also is working on a plan that would give all districts more money for middle school reform.

Two years ago, the Legislature targeted the upper grades, giving districts an allotment of $275 for each high school student.

“We’re doing well in the elementary grades. There’s evidence of that all over the state,” Branch said. “Where are we slowing down? Middle school.”

The state’s two largest districts, Houston and Dallas, also would get relief under Branch’s bill to slightly revise the so-called Robin Hood formula, which redistributes money from property-wealthy districts to poorer ones. His plan would remove the two districts, which serve large numbers of poor, at-risk students, from the wealthy category.

State Sen. Florence Shapiro, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said she expects that any financial fixes adopted this session will be “a bridge to get to that major overhaul that’s necessary.”

“It does need to be restructured,” she said of the state’s school funding system, “but that is a very large undertaking. You prepare for that change a year-and-a-half before you go into a Legislative session.”

Always put off till next session that which you’re not under a court order to fix today, that’s their motto.

Houston’s red light camera numbers

The city of Houston has now released its own red light camera study, and to say the least the numbers are interesting.

The number of crashes at Houston intersections with red-light cameras doubled in the first year after their installation, according to a city-financed study released Monday.

But Mayor Bill White argued that the cameras’ presence prevented even more collisions and that the study proves the monitoring program is keeping drivers safe.


The analysis examined crash data at intersections that had a camera monitoring at least one of the four or more traffic signals in an intersection. Most intersections had a camera installed in only one direction, meaning that there were three other signals at that intersection without cameras.

Interestingly, it was those unmonitored points in the intersection that saw the greatest increase in accidents. Where there is a camera, the accidents remained relatively flat or showed only a slight increase.

“Collisions are going up all over the city,” said Bob Stein, a Rice University political science professor and one of the report’s authors. “But red-light cameras have held back that increase at approaches where they have been installed.”

But they supplied no data other than the examination of the non-monitored directions of the 50 intersections to support the conclusion that accidents are up citywide. Stein acknowledged that data from the Houston Police Department shows accidents have declined in the city since 2004, although he said the data is problematic because police officers no longer file reports on every wreck.

If that’s the case, then I’m not sure how any study based on accident reports can paint an accurate picture. Right off the bat, it seems you’re working with incomplete data. Maybe that means there were more crashes at the monitored approaches than what was studied, but it seems unlikely there would have been that many more to make the spike at unmonitored approaches look less aberrational. About the only thing I get from this is that we’ll need to see at least another year’s worth of data before we can try to draw any real conclusions about the cameras’ effects, if any exist.

The report itself is here (PDF). Cory says it has “some of the most convoluted prose I’ve ever seen”. I actually thought it was the tables that were indecipherable, and as a numbers guy, that’s saying something. I have no confidence in my ability to interpret the figures and charts this thing contains, so you’re on your own.

Study authors — who include Robert Dahnke, Benjamin Stevenson and Stein from Rice University’s Center for Civic Engagement, and Timothy Lomax from Texas A&M University’s Texas Transportation Institute — plan to analyze insurance industry data in the coming months. They believe that will more definitively prove their supposition that accidents have increased so dramatically. The results of that further research are expected to be completed sometime around August.

I think that’s a good idea, and assuming I’ll be able to make head or tail of it, I look forward to reading it.

I’ve been wanting to see a study like this for awhile. I thought it would show some decrease in accidents, as well as a decrease in the severity of the accidents that do get caused (that issue is not explored in any detail in this survey), as that appears to be the usual experience elsewhere. Unless the police reports are greatly understating the situation, I don’t see how this result can be taken as evidence for that here. It may well be that the spike in accidents at unmonitored approaches is a one-time fluke, though even if that is the case, it doesn’t really enhance a claim that the unmonitored approaches saw any improvements. Maybe we’ll see something different next year, and maybe the study of insurance data will clarify the picture, I don’t know. All I can say is that this study raises a lot more questions than it answers, and it’s far from a triumph for the cameras.

One more thing:

Last week, several attorneys who have opposed the program previously in court filed a lawsuit to force disclosure of a draft copy of the study, attempting to gauge whether the conclusions were somehow changed to suit White’s support of the program.

Stein has repeatedly denied this was the case, noting that although some language has been revised, the substance of the study has remained consistent for months and did not change.

As I said before, I see no compelling reason to withhold the earlier versions of the study. Just make it all public and be done with it.

More on the Dems’ anti-Craddick list

Here’s the Chron story about the list of 64 Democratic House members who say they won’t vote for Tom Craddick for Speaker under any conditions.

“We need a new direction in the Texas House because the status quo means gridlock, and we cannot afford gridlock with the issues staring us down in the upcoming session,” said Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, who declared his candidacy Monday.

Gattis, a former committee vice-chairman under Craddick, said a bipartisan leadership style is needed now that the Republicans hold a thin advantage in the House. The Democrats’ election gains last month left House Republicans with just a 76-74 edge. By contrast, Craddick was elected speaker in 2003 when the Republicans controlled 88 seats.

“He doesn’t have the members behind him well enough for him to be able to lead a 76-74 House,” Gattis said.

Several Craddick supporters — including Rep. Mike Hamilton, R-Mauriceville; Rep Patricia Harless, R-Spring; and Rep Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham — have switched sides and are now backing Gattis.

“It’s pretty evident that Tom doesn’t have the votes,” Hamilton said.

That’s three more Republicans who have at least expressed a willingness to vote for somebody other than Craddick for Speaker. The Statesman, which notes that current Craddick supporter John Smithee of Amarillo is also contemplating a run for Speaker, adds it up and says there’s 79 (or 80, if you count Smithee), anti-Craddick votes. Burka notes that it’s a bit more complicated than that.

[E]vents may have overtaken the Democrat-ABC coalition that has 75 votes against Craddick. Gattis’s candidacy for speaker provides members with a chance to realign in coalitions FOR someone instead of merely against. Suddenly the timing is off for the ABCs. Their announcement of a candidate won’t come until the end of the week, and in the meantime Gattis can be adding to his list of supporters.

In the meantime, both the Morning News and the El Paso Times note that at least one Democrat on the list of 64, El Paso’s Rep. Chente Quintanilla, had only just recently said that he hadn’t ruled out a vote for Craddick, so that list may not be rock solid. On the other hand, while Team Craddick is busy denying the claim of majority support against him and making their own claims about having 70+ supporters (not a majority, you’ll note), they haven’t made any lists public. I’ll say again, if this were a retention vote, Craddick would lose. But until there’s one consensus candidate to oppose him, he hasn’t lost anything yet. I feel we’re getting closer to that point, but that’s not good enough. One opponent plus 75 more votes for that person, that’s what I want to see.

UPDATE: From Rep. Aaron Pena on Twitter:

The Speaker’s race appears to have narrowed to a few candidates. The end is in sight. Look for the smoke from the Sistine Chapel in days.

Pena was a Craddick supporter in 2007, and was not on the list of 64. Make of that what you will.

UPDATE: And Burka says the next Speaker will be Smithee, Gattis, or Burt Solomons. Does that count as white smoke?

End of the year Texas blog roundup

2008 was a heck of a year for Texas Progressives. The Presidential Primary came to Texas (for real), we caucused, conventioned, challenged, credentialed, voted, elected, counted, re-counted, brought Netroots Nation to Texas, watched Tom Craddick fight for his life, said farewell to legends, got a head start to on the race to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison and more. A lot more.

It is in that spirit that we bring you the final round-up of 2008. Enjoy.


The sixty-four member question

The House Democratic Caucus has promised a list of 64 members who will not vote for Tom Craddick for Speaker. Via PoliTex and BOR, who lists the ten Dems not among them, here it is (PDF). As there are 12 known Republicans who oppose Craddick – hell, there’s at least that many Republicans running for Speaker – that ought to give the advantage to the forces of good. A few thoughts:

– It’s great to see the names Marisa Marquez and Tara Rios Ybarra among the signees. Many people, myself included, thought they were Craddick candidates. I’m thrilled to have been wrong about that.

– Perhaps this will satisfy Burka‘s condition that the Anybody But Craddick Republicans produce a list of solid supporters. Maybe it will get some of his more obnoxious commenters to tone it down a notch. Or maybe not. I don’t think anyone can say the ball hasn’t been advanced, and that’s a fine thing.

– If the handwriting really is on the wall, then we should see some more Rs jumping ship, once they have some assurance they won’t be exiled under new management. The same is true for the ten remaining Craddick Ds. We could easily go from 76 anti-Craddicks to 85 or more in a hurry.

– Finally, if the GOP grassroots wants to try to vent its wrath on the ABCs for teaming with so many Democrats on this, I say have at it. As I’ve said before, guys like Geren and Merritt have already withstood big punches from Team Craddick. Being an effective member is a strong defense against this kind of attack. There’s a reason some Dems got knocked off over their Craddick support while others never even got challenged.

So there we have it, for now. Tune in tomorrow and see if any long-lost twins resurface, if someone loses or regains their memory, or if a secret affair gets revealed. That and some cheesy organ music is about all that’s been missing from this.

UPDATE: Team Craddick says “Nuh uh!” to the Democrats’ list. They do not, however, release a list of their own, which is both a reversal from prior years as well as something that Burka described as a no-no for the ABCs. Who’s bluffing whom?

Seeking iTunes help again

Last year, I asked for help buying music from the iTunes store, as I’d been given a gift card for Christmas. I scored some more gift cards this year, so I’m back asking for more help. You’ve got a decent idea of my taste in music from the various Friday Random Ten postings I’ve done, but please don’t feel constrained by that. Tell me what you like, what you think any idiot with some semblance of taste ought to have, whatever. If you can find a link to a video of the song in question so I can give it a test drive, that’d be awesome. Any and all suggestions are greatly appreciated.

And as long as I’m asking for help…Some months ago, I heard a song called If You Steal My Sunshine, by a group called LEN, on the local Jack station, and I liked it. I went looking for it on iTunes, but all they had (and still have) was the video. Since I can see that for free on YouTube, I declined. I’ve tried Amazon and LEN’s MySpace page, but cannot find that version of the song available anywhere. I don’t want to buy a full CD, and I don’t want to take a chance on a cover version without a solid recommendation – I’ve been contemplating making a request at Coverville, just to see what I might get – so I’ll throw the question out here: Anyone know where I can buy a copy of this song, the one performed in that YouTube link? Thanks.

Voter registration separation

The idea of separating the function of voter registrar from the office of Harris County Tax Assessor has come up before in the wake of Paul Bettencourt’s departure, and it is still being discussed.

State law allows Commissioners Court to assign that responsibility to the county clerk, who already conducts elections and counts the votes, as long as the county clerk and the tax assessor-collector sign off on the plan. The court also can create an independent elections administration office to handle all election-related duties.

Seventy-three of Texas’ 254 counties have established separate elections offices, including every large, urban county but Harris and Travis. Nineteen other counties have assigned the voter registration role to the county clerk.

Earlier this month, Republican precinct chairman Jim Harding proposed moving the rolls to the County Clerk’s Office, saying that would “streamline all of the voter activity from initial registration to final certification of an election under county clerk leadership.”

Republican County Judge Ed Emmett and Democratic Commissioners Sylvia Garcia and El Franco Lee have said the idea of moving the rolls is worth discussing, though little consensus has emerged over how that should be done.

Emmett said he would be open to shifting those duties to the county clerk but opposed the creation of a new elections administration office. Garcia said she prefers the idea of an elections administrator because that person would be prohibited by law from making political contributions or endorsing candidates or ballot measures. Lee said he is not sure either change would do enough to make the voter registration process more transparent and user-friendly.

For her part, Republican County Clerk Beverly Kaufman said she is not interested in adding voter registration to her many responsibilities. And newly appointed Tax Assessor-Collector Leo Vasquez said he believes the current system is very efficient.

That Vasquez doesn’t want the job he just inherited to be reduced in responsibility isn’t a surprise. Having said that, I remain agnostic on the issue. Until demonstrated otherwise, I believe the problems we saw this year had more to do with Bettencourt than with the office itself. As such, I’m reluctant to call for a change to something new at this time. Had Beverly Kaufman been willing to take on the task, I might feel more positive about it. For now, let’s see if the change at the top is the answer. At least we know there’s more attention being focused on the problem.

One for a million

By this time next week, City Council Member James Rodriguez in District I will be the only Latino member on Council.

“For many people, I will be the only Latino voice on the City Council, and that’s something I take very seriously,” he said in a recent interview. “I want to do a very good job to represent District I and also Latinos as a whole.”

A host of candidates already have lined up to replace [Adrian] Garcia in a special election for District H expected to be held in May, and most political observers expect that a Hispanic ultimately will win the seat.

But for many, six months with only one Latino council member is far too long in a city in which at least 42 percent of the population — more than 850,000 people, according to census figures — is Hispanic.

Underrepresentation, they say, has become something of a rallying cry.

“There’s kind of a discussion beginning to percolate within the Latino community,” said Marc Campos, a political strategist, who long has worked to broaden the reach of Hispanic candidates in Houston and Harris County. “We need to step it up in terms of political empowerment. James will be the only Latino on the Houston City Council. … It’s kind of challenging. Something’s not right with that picture.”

Rodriguez said he hopes to work with other Hispanic elected officials in the area to host a Latino summit next year, where they can discuss the potential impact of the 2010 Census on redrawing district lines and how to field more candidates for school board, community college and citywide office.

I think those last two words are the key, as we’ve discussed before. Even with another Latino in District H, that’s still under-representation in a city with such a large Latino population. But you can’t have candidates only competing for those two seats. More Latinos need to run citywide, and as Joe Trevino could tell you, they need more support when they do run. For that matter, I don’t see why more Latinos don’t run in some other Council districts – surely, District F would be winnable for a good candidate. The eventual expansion of City Council will likely help, but only in a limited way. There’s no good reason things have to be this way.

Dude, where’s my train?

Christof notes that according to its original schedules, Metro should be a lot farther along its 2003 rail expansion plan than it currently is.

The North and Southeast Lines, for which a public design process had already been completed by the time of the 2003 referendum, were to start construction in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Today, the North Line would be open, the Southeast Line would be halfway through construction, the East End line would be underway, and the University Line would be beginning construction shortly.

Instead, the only construction we’ve seen is utility relocation on the East End Line, and there’s no final construction contract in place. The Southeast and North lines do not yet have federal funding in place (though all the prerequisites are done.) The University Line still does not have a Final Environmental Impact Statement, which means it’s still several steps short of funding. Five years after the Main Street Line opened, and five years after the voters approved light rail expansion, we still don’t have much to show for it.

As he notes, it took a lot of things going wrong to get us to this point. The good news is that the overall design is now better, and economic conditions plus a change in the federal political structure should make getting all this work started a lot easier. It may even wind up being less expensive than we once thought. So let’s get cracking already.

Weekend link dump for December 28

Hope Santa was good to you this year.

Like Yglesias, I’m happy that the mainstream position in the Democratic Party has moved away from gun control. That said, the NRA is still full of douchebags.

My sis-in-law suffers through a Santa scare.

Three branches of government are enough, thank you very much.

Lockerbie, 20 years later.

And the winner for Most Inane Punditry of the 2008 presidential campaign is…

Some day, people like Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe will be universally reviled as liars and fools. That day cannot come soon enough.

Read to your kids! It’s one of the many unsung pleasures of being a parent. As much as I know I’m going to miss Olivia and Audrey being little, I can’t wait for them to be old enough for me to start reading chapter books to them. If nothing else, it’ll be a great opportunity to finally actually read a lot of classic children’s literature that I managed to avoid reading when I was a kid. And may I just say, reliving one’s childhood in a myriad of ways, such as that, is an even bigger unsung joy of parenthood.

Yes We Can (Hold Babies). Looks like it has serious time-wasting potential. And it must be noted, not all of us are so capable.

Yeah, yeah, Pottersville may well have been a more happening, and ultimately more long-term-financially-sustainable place than Bedford Falls. I still love “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

The inner workings of the North Pole, via Unqualified Offerings.

They can have him.

The Star Wars Holiday Special. Need I say more?

The war on Christmas, the early years.

Hair Balls talks to Greg about politics, high school football, and goofy videos. They should have asked him more questions about cheesy 80s hair bands, but you can’t have everything.

Another day, another Speaker candidate

Today’s entrant: Dan Gattis.

The Georgetown Republican is the twelfth candidate challenging Speaker Tom Craddick, a Midland Republican seeking a fourth term as House leader.

Gattis was one of Craddick’s lieutenants during the 2007 session but has been uncommitted since the November election.

Via BOR. Hard to see how this changes the existing dynamic of many anti-Craddicks but no emerging consensus on an alternative. Really, at this point you’d prefer to see the number of Speaker candidates shrink, not expand. Who knows what’s going on? Burka has more.

Is high-speed rail in Texas’ future?

Could be.

A number of signs point to possible success for rail advocates, who for years have been talking up the merits of so-called multimodal transportation planning, but to a mostly unreceptive audience among Texas transportation policymakers.

This month, the U.S. Department of Transportation called for proposals from states and businesses to develop any of 11 federally designated high-speed rail corridors. Proposals are expected across the country, and two of the specified routes run through Texas. One, the Gulf Coast Corridor, enters the state from the southeast and finds its terminus in Houston.

The other route comes in from the north, and runs through Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and more.

No proposals have been made to develop those corridors yet, but U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters was in New York City in recent weeks to urge investors to consider doing just that. The government’s vision is to have private firms partner with state and federal governments to jointly develop the rail lines. Proposals are due by September 2009.

Texas ought to start moving if it wants to take advantage of the federal funds, said Peter LeCody of Texas Rail Advocates, a passenger-rail lobbying group. The federal government is promising an 80-20 match with local or state funds – a nearly unprecedented move for rail, which usually requires a 50 percent contribution from local sources.

Hard to say what if anything may come of this. Certainly, the Obama administration is going to be more interested in exploring and incentivizing transportation initiatives that aren’t just road building and widening. Texas may not be anywhere near the forefront of such thinking, but the allure of federal dollars can make pragmatists, if not converts, of most rail skeptics. And even the Lege seems to be on board with this.

One first step may be as near as January. When lawmakers gather for the 2009 Legislature, one of the many questions they’ll be asked to decide is whether to create a new rail division within the transportation department that could oversee the development of passenger rail lines between Texas’ biggest cities.

Meanwhile, Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, has introduced a bill that would call a vote next fall on amending the state constitution so that high-speed passenger rail facilities could be exempted from property taxes, another sign that the momentum is rolling in passenger rail’s favor.

So the environment is about as favorable as it’s ever been. If we do wind up with a real Governor’s race, maybe we’ll even have a debate on the issue. In the meantime, I’m glad to hear of the possibilities.

Pancho Claus

I love the story of Pancho Claus.

Santa has a cousin named Pancho.

He loves kids. He passes out gifts.

And he’s a barrio folk hero with as many faces as there are guys across Texas willing to pull on a red suit and get into the act.

In Houston, Richard Reyes’ version of Pancho Claus wears a red zoot suit, fronts a swing band, and keeps an entourage of “elves” and lowrider cars. His Pancho, designed to appeal to at-risk kids, grew out of his Chicano version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, which he wrote and turned into a play in 1981: “When what to my wondering eye should appear, but eight lowrider cars all jacked down in the rear!”

In San Antonio, Rudy Martinez dons a red sombrero, a Christmas poncho and a jet-black beard to play Pancho Claus. When children ask, he explains that Pancho drives a team of burros led by a special burro named Chuy. If pressed, Martinez might tell them the legend of Pancho Claus: Two children were standing in a field in Mexico. A fairy godmother appeared and granted them one wish for Christmas. The children said they wished to make all the children in the world happy. Impressed, the fairy godmother created Pancho Claus, Santa’s cousin from the South Pole.


Despite the inconsistencies of origin, Pancho Claus is every bit as dear to some kids as Santa.

Rudy Martinez says most of the children he visits want electronic games for Christmas. More poignant is when one sits on his lap and asks if he can get his dad out of jail or another asks him to heal an ailing abuelita, or grandmother.

All the Panchos agree that whatever the costume, dressing up like the barrio hero is utterly transformative.

“You’re a totally different person,” Reyes says. “You’re like Batman.”

I’ll bet. This to me is a big part of why I love Texas, what gives our state such vibrancy and color and reasons to be proud of it. So if you’re like me and you feel that way too, do yourself a favor and avoid the mistake I made, which was to go past the end of this story and see some of the hateful, racist, yet sadly predictable reader comments attached to it. Because apparently, to some small-minded mouth-breathing morons, the only acceptable Santa Claus is the one that Coca Cola helped popularize. No other variations are allowed, as far as those people are concerned. What a sad world they must live in.

Make your check payable to

A letter to the editor yesterday from Terry Beiswanger makes an interesting point.

In response to Wednesday’s City and State cover article “Vasquez takes charge of county tax office / Commissioners vote 4-1 to fill recent vacancy”: With a new individual in the tax assessor’s office, is it truly necessary to list his name on everything his office generates?

We pay our taxes to the county, not to an individual. Will we need to spend more on letterhead, names on doors, etc.? Is it really necessary or is it an ego trip?

Good question. I’ve written my share of checks to Paul Bettencourt, and Carl Smith before him, and off the top of my head I can’t think of another example of making a check for some government fee or tax payable to a person rather than an entity. When I’ve had to deal with a traffic ticket, I didn’t pay the judge, I paid the city or county in question. I make my income tax payment to the IRS, not to Douglas Shulma. (Though I do recall Dave Barry joking about his close personal friend Roscoe Egger back in the day.) Point being, why should we make our checks out to whoever the Tax Assessor is, and not simply to “Harris County Tax Assessor”? And if that’s always been a valid option, why aren’t we told to use it on the auto registration and property tax forms? And finally, if a change is needed, who needs to make it happen? Can Commissioners Court order it, or would it take an act of the Legislature, assuming Leo Vasquez doesn’t decide to do it on his own? I have no idea.

Lawsuit filed over red light camera study

The red light camera study is less than a month old, and already it’s the subject of a lawsuit by a couple of longtime camera critics.

Houston lawyers Paul Kubosh and Randall Kallinen, who have fought the program in courts before, are asking a state district judge to compel the city to release what they say was an August 2008 draft of the report by Rice University professor Bob Stein.

They say the public should see the previous version of the report, as well as the final version to be released next week, so the conclusions can be trusted. The city has said that earlier copies were in draft form, and, therefore, not subject to disclosure.

“A city cannot label a document ‘draft,’ and thereby make it not available to the public,” said Joe Larsen, a media law attorney and open-records advocate who represents Kubosh and Kallinen. “Otherwise, any governmental body would be in a position of taking out a rubber stamp, putting a stamp on any document, and excluding the public from taking a look and forming their own conclusions.”

Kubosh and Kallinen announced the suit, which uses a Texas Supreme Court decision against the city of Garland, in a Friday news conference.

Mayor Bill White’s office attacked the lawsuit as a publicity stunt.

“He’s obviously doing some self-promoting,” mayoral spokesman Frank Michel said of Kubosh, who defends motorists in Municipal Courts. “We can only assume this is a P.R. exercise by someone who makes a living defending in traffic court.”

Michel said the report originally was due in late summer, but city officials found flaws in its data based on recordkeeping anomalies. Some wrecks on freeways, for example, were coded as though they happened at the monitored intersections below the freeways.

I don’t know what the case law looks like here – I don’t know what the lawsuit against Garland was about, but I recall one from a time before SB1119, which expressly condoned cities’ usage of red light cameras; maybe that’s what this refers to – so I don’t know who may or may not have a leg to stand on. In general, I’m very sympathetic to the idea that “draft” reports should be public as well. For sure, if Rick Perry were making the claim that earlier versions of the report needn’t be disclosed, I’d be highly skeptical of it. I suspect this is a lot of fuss over nothing, and that releasing the earlier version would demonstrate that as well as being the better course of action.

On the other hand, when you’re being accused from the beginning of making stuff up, it’s not hard to understand why there might be some resistance to giving these guys what they want.

Both Kallinen and Kubosh said they would drop their objection to the camera if both versions of the study showed a safety increase, provided that the researchers factored in both broadside collisions and rear-end collisions. The pair suggested in their news conference that city officials could have massaged the data.

Kubosh reacted strongly when challenged on whether there was evidence of such manipulation.

“If they give us the report, then we’ll shut up,” he said. “We’re here because the city wouldn’t give up the information. They hold on to it like it’s their information and not the public’s.”

“Massaging the data” is a pretty strong charge to make, and it seems clear from Kubosh’s response that they have no evidence to back that up at all. That’s irresponsible, and it damages their otherwise meritorious claim that the draft report ought to be public information as well. I already thought the Kuboshes were cranks, so I can’t say I’m surprised by that, but this has done nothing to improve my opinion of Randall Kallinen. There’s plenty of legitimate grounds on which to criticize the TTI study. Making claims like this without any apparent evidence to support it just makes you look desperate.

E-waste recycling

I’ve been aware of the issue for some time now, but it seems to me that this Chron story about electronic waste recycling fails to explore a pretty basic question.

It’s Christmas morning, and there beneath the tree was your new television, sleek and digital. Or maybe it was a new computer. Or the newest electronic gee-whiz gadget. All well and good, but what are you going to do with the old equipment it replaces?

Most people — about 88 percent according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — simply toss so-called e-waste into the trash.

Given the heavy metals and other toxic substances such equipment contains, that’s obviously a bad idea, says the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, a national consortium of environmental and consumer groups. But, in some cases, doing the seemingly responsible thing — hauling outmoded equipment to a recycler — is as bad as junking it, warned Barbara Kyle, the group’s national coordinator.

Often, she said, “recycled” electronics are shipped to processors in developing countries, who use primitive techniques to extract valuable metals.

“All of these plastic casings of TVs and computers contain brominated flame retardants,” Kyle said. “When they are exported to these Third World countries, plastics typically get burned. And when burned, they emit dioxins, one of the most potent toxins. This often is done right next to where people are working and living.”


Kyle said her organization advocates television and computer makers taking the lead in providing recycling services for e-waste.

You know, there’s another entity involved in the recycling process that’s a pretty big player, and which could exercise some real influence on practices like these. I’m talking about cities, which run large-sized recycling programs that often include electronic waste. The city of Houston, for example, collects e-waste at the Westpark Consumer Recycling Center as well as the South and North Environmental Service Centers. You would think that in an article like this, one would want to mention what happens to the old TVs, computers, stereos, and whatnot that people bring in for recycling, but you would apparently be wrong. I don’t know the reason for the oversight, but I do know that I’d like an answer to the question. Are we contributing to the problem by taking our old electronics to the city service centers or not? I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

City and county lobbying

As the start of the legislative session draws near, various entities gird for battle.

Much like corporations, Texas cities and counties plan to spend millions on lobbyists to push their agendas and protect their interests during the next legislative session.

When the lawmakers convene in Austin next month, the city of Houston and Harris County, for example, will have more than a dozen hired guns to help track bills that might affect their operations.

They are among a group of the state’s largest cities and counties that have hired at least 42 individual lobbyists or firms, costing about $3 million, records show. Officials say it is money well-spent, given that lawmakers could file more than 1,000 bills affecting local governments’ revenue, rules and residents.

“Cities are essentially regulated industries, just like companies,” said John Hrncir, governmental relations director in Austin, which hired 10 lobbyists for more than $800,000. “Virtually everything a city does … can be impacted by the state Legislature.”

Though officials in Dallas and Tarrant counties do not plan to hire outside lobbyists, Travis, Bexar and Harris counties have contracts worth more than $600,000 with at least six firms.

“Counties are administrative units of the state. There is nothing that a county can do without the approval of the Legislature,” said Deece Eckstein, intergovernmental relations coordinator for Travis County.

The list of issues local governments must monitor during the session is long, including bills that affect unions, land use, public safety, liability, utilities, transportation funding and control, taxes and criminal justice issues.

The city of Houston plans to spend roughly $500,000 this fiscal year on the state level, hiring Johnson & Johnson, of Austin, to manage nine lobbyists.

I’ve discussed this question before. I don’t see anything wrong with this practice, since there’s nobody in either chamber of the Legislature who is there specifically to represent a given city, or for the most part a given county. That differentiates it from the Congress, where each state has two Senators to represent its particular needs. Like it or not, lobbying is the most effective way for cities and counties to protect their interests. I wouldn’t call that optimal or even necessarily desirable, but it’s what we’ve got.

Friday random ten: Sleigh bells ring

I don’t have a whole lot of Christmas music in my collection, but I do have enough for a Friday Random Ten, and if this isn’t the time for a Christmas random ten list, then when would it ever be?

1. “The Conventry Carol” – Alison Moyet
2. “Joy To The World/For Unto Us A Child Is Born” – Amy Grant
3. “Gift of the Magi” – Squirrel Nut Zippers
4. “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – Brian McKnight
5. “Red Nosed Reindeer Blues” – Asylum Street Spankers
6. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” – Tony Bennett
7. “Jingle Bell Boogie” – Asleep At The Wheel
8. “Snow Day” – Trout Fishing In America
9. “Winter Wonderland” – Ella Fitzgerald
10. “Go Tell It On The Mountain” – from “Christmas On The Border”

Happy Boxing Day!

Statewide smoking ban proposed

I’ve been saying that a statewide smoking ban would be on the legislative agenda next spring. Well, here it comes.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis , D-Houston , and state Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, said they plan to file a bill in the legislative session beginning Jan. 13 that would ban smoking in indoor workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Though opponents say a ban would violate personal liberties and hurt their livelihoods, 24 states have passed a similar measure.

“You shouldn’t have to choose between your job and your health,” Crownover said.

Crownover and Ellis filed the same proposal in 2007; a watered-down version passed the House, and the Senate proposal stalled in committee. Since then, Dallas and Corpus Christi have strengthened smoke-free laws, and the Lance Armstrong Foundation has made a statewide ban its top priority in Texas.

Dallas joined cities including Austin, El Paso and Houston in passing bans that advocates for smoke-free workplaces consider comprehensive. Dallas’ expanded policy — which bans smoking in bars and other indoor workplaces but exempts outdoor patios and some existing tobacco shops — will go into effect April 10; Corpus Christi has a ban starting April 15.

With some major Texas cities becoming smoke-free, the time is right for a statewide measure, Ellis said. “All of those doomsday prophets have been proven wrong. There has not been a mass exodus of clubs and bars to the suburbs,” he said.


Though Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, has supported a statewide smoking ban — in an unusual move, he testified in favor of the proposal during the 2007 Senate committee hearing — Ellis said trying to pass his proposal will be an uphill battle.

One thing that could help him is that since the 2007 legislative session, a powerful ally — the Lance Armstrong Foundation — joined Smoke-Free Texas, a coalition that includes the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association.

Armstrong and his Austin-based foundation were instrumental in getting support for a $3 billion cancer research measure that Texas voters approved in 2007. And in 2008, the cyclist and cancer survivor supported the ban in Dallas by sending letters to City Council members and writing a newspaper column, said foundation President Doug Ulman.

Having Lance Armstrong on board certainly couldn’t hurt. I think the experience of the big cities that have passed their own bans will be more persuasive, but you can’t have too many things working in your favor with the Lege. I won’t predict success, because it’s always easier to stop a bill than to pass one, but I’d say Ellis and Crownover’s odds are better than they were in 2007.

The Madoff scandal and the Innocence Project

This hurts, but it could have been worse.

Panic ensued at the Innocence Project of Texas when a powerful Wall Street investor was arrested this month and accused of swindling investors out of $50 billion.

One of the organizations that had invested with Bernard Madoff was the JEHT Foundation, which funds post-conviction DNA tests for Dallas County inmates who claim they are innocent. Without the funding, the Innocence Project would be faced with trying to raise capital in a bad economy and those seeking tests could face indefinite delays, if the testing could be done at all.

But after a few days of concern, Innocence Project officials realized the money received so far – about $400,000 – was theirs to keep, said the organization’s executive director Natalie Roetzel. And while additional money promised for computers, staff and investigations won’t make its way to the Innocence Project, Ms. Roetzel said, “I think it’s going to turn out OK.”

Both Ms. Roetzel and Dallas County First Assistant District Attorney Terri Moore said there probably are enough funds to complete all the DNA testing. If not, Ms. Roetzel said, they will seek other grants and hold private fundraisers.

“The money should get us through what needs to be tested,” said Ms. Moore.

The demise of the JEHT Foundation was reported last week. I’m glad this part of their work will be able to run to completion. I hope something new will arise to continue with that work going forward.

Another Mayor for Senate?

Bill White, meet Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, who is issuing non-denial denials about his potential interest, along with everybody else in the state, in Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat. Leppert’s a Republican, so the field would be even more crowded from his perspective, and perhaps his entry into the race would be a step in the direction of the Rick Casey scenario, where too many Republicans split the vote too fine, thus allowing White and John Sharp to finish in the money for the runoff. Still seems unlikely to me, but hey, nothing about this so far has followed any script. Found via Greg‘s sidebar.

By the way, it seems fitting to mention here that Al Franken’s apparent victory in Minnesota, which puts the Democrats at 59 total members (counting the two independents), might be a factor in this race as well. As Evan Smith noted a few days ago, this will put extra pressure on KBH to stay put, at least through the November, 2010 election. If that’s the case, then as I’ve said before, it’s got to make sense for at least one of Bill White and John Sharp to reconsider which race they want to run. Why not take a shot at Governor, with a 2011 or 2012 Senate race in reserve? All I’m saying is that I hope someone – in particular, someone with Bill White’s ear – is thinking about the various scenarios.

UTSA football

The University of Texas-San Antonio will be getting itself a football team.

The University of Texas System Board of Regents today approved UTSA’s plan to add a football program.

The plan calls for UTSA to develop an $84 million athletic complex, to add a Football Championship Subdivision football program and to advance all sports teams to a Football Bowl Subdivision conference.

Under the plan, UTSA could hire a football coach or a program administrator by February.

UTSA would sign its first class of recruits in 2010, would sign another class in 2011 and then would kick off as an FCS team at the Alamodome in the fall of that year.

The school will need to raise $15 million in a capital campaign for the football program.

Another $62 million is needed to complete the athletic complex.


UTSA will fund the initiative through student fees, corporate and private support and other revenue streams that do not draw from the institutional academic budget.

In September 2007, UTSA students overwhelmingly supported a referendum to expand the athletics program and double the athletic fee over the next five to seven years.

I realize that college football is a hugely expensive undertaking, and that most schools spend millions more per year than they take in, but I think UTSA might be in a position to do a lot better than that, for one simple reason: They’ll have almost no competition in the area for bigtime sports. The only major league team is the NBA’s Spurs, and all of the other colleges in San Antonio are NAIA or Division III. Other than Austin and UT, the same is largely true in a fairly wide area around San Antonio, especially to the south and west. UTSA has a decent-sized alumni base, which is mostly local – the story says that “80 percent of the university’s 76,000 alumni continue to live in the immediate area” – and the marketing opportunities for a Roadrunners football team ought to be pretty lucrative, if they approach it aggressively and creatively enough. Keep an eye on this, they could come out of nowhere and be a consistent bowl attendee in a decade’s time or so, like the University of South Florida.

Currently, UTSA sports teams play in the Southland Conference. The Southland is affiliated with the FCS, formerly Division I-AA.

Eventually, after several years, UTSA hopes to join a conference in the FBS, formerly Division I-A.

The Big 12, with Texas and Texas A&M, plays in the FBS. But UTSA isn’t in talking about taking its teams to that level. Instead, Conference USA, the Sun Belt and the Western Athletic Conference are being mentioned as potential destinations.

C-USA is probably the best geographic fit, but let’s not put the cart before the horse. Ask me again about this in 2015 or so. Thanks to Stace for the tip.

And may all your Christmases be white

Not gonna happen here in Houston, but no matter. Merry Christmas to all anyway. Thanks to Mark Evanier for the link.

A little Christmas spirit in Grapevine

If this story, which is the best example of Jesus’ commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself I’ve seen in a long time, doesn’t make you tear up a bit, especially today, I don’t know what would. God bless you, Kris Hogan. Thanks to Grits for the link.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night

How “Twas The Night Before Christmas” should be read:

Like the title says, happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

As always, Merry Christmas, Mel Torme

It’s time again for a link to my favorite Christmas story, involving Mel Torme and his classic tune “The Christmas Song”. Whether you’ve read it before or not, go read it now. It’s always worth the time. Merry Christmas, Mel Torme, wherever you are.

Commissioners agree to Dynamo Stadium funding

Merry Christmas, Dynamo fans.

Harris County Commissioners El Franco Lee and Sylvia Garcia have tentatively agreed to contribute $10 million in public money to the Dynamo stadium project, provided the team and the city agree to certain conditions, city and county officials said Tuesday.

The proposal the commissioners sent the city late Monday states the money would have to be used to build the public amenities and infrastructure serving the stadium, rather than the physical structure itself, Garcia said. That might include the water and sewer lines for the stadium, or the parking lots and tree-lined plazas surrounding it.

Other conditions include guaranteeing that Texas Southern University will be allowed to play home games at the stadium and agreeing that 15 percent of the seats will never be sold for more than than the average price of a movie ticket.

“We want to make sure that that’s included in the agreement so we won’t see a situation where the stadium is built and they focus on suites or club suites and their prices double or triple in the first few years,” Garcia said.

If the city and the Dynamo agree to the terms of the deal, Lee or Garcia would submit it for approval by the entire Commissioners Court as early as Jan. 13, Garcia said.

White spokesman Frank Michel said the offer is a “good, positive step.”

“But it’s just one of a number of steps that will have to happen before any final deal is done,” he added.

It’s a pretty big step. Approval from Commissioners Court should be a formality, since the stadium is in Lee and Garcia’s precincts. Assuming there’s no gotchas in the conditions they’ve stipulated – and they don’t look particularly onerous to me – this hurdle ought to be officially cleared. I hope the Dynamo still have financing lined up. The good news is that the price tag for construction has apparently come down a bit. Sometimes, a weak economy works in your favor.

Moving to Texas

Lots of people keep migrating to Texas, from all over.

Between July 2007 and July 1, 2008, nearly 141,000 people moved to Texas from other states, compared with about 92,000 international migrants, the bureau said.

The data provide a fresh indicator of how longstanding immigration patterns into Texas are changing.

In the early years of this decade, international migration into Texas was two to three times as great as domestic, but the trend reversed starting in 2006.

Much of Texas’ international migration historically hails from Mexico and Central America, where immigrants fled poor conditions. But the surging domestic migration into the Lone Star State is now likely to come from economically depressed states such as Michigan, which lost about 46,000 residents between July 2007 and July 1, 2008.

Texas gained 484,000 residents last year, more than any other state. In percentage growth, Texas’ 2 percent tied for third with North Carolina and Colorado behind Utah, 2.5 percent, and Arizona, 2.3 percent.

Domestic migration in Texas last year was almost three times what it was in 2005. It peaked in 2006, when an influx of Louisiana residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina contributed to about 220,000 Texas domestic migrants.

Karl Eschbach, the state demographer, said Texas has continued to produce jobs while employment declined in many other states. He said this was the key factor driving the increased domestic migration.

“For the past several years, job growth in the United States means Texas,” Eschbach said. “The Texas economy has so much outperformed the rest of the country.”

One of the effects of this population surge is that Texas will get as many as four new Congressional seats in the 2011 reapportionment (see here for more). I’ve blogged about this before, so let’s just say that this is, or at least ought to be, a powerful incentive for Democrats to be competitive at the statewide level in 2010 (as I’d always thought they planned to do), since four of the five seats on the Legislative Redistricting Board – lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, and land commissioner – are statewide offices. We may be thisclose to electing a Democratic Speaker, but let’s not put all our eggs in one basket. A little wiggle room would sure be nice.

If you want to go deeper into the weeds on this (and who doesn’t?), Greg games out a few scenarious. If I could add one wish list item to what he’s conjured up, it would be the reconstruction of a Congressional district that basically captures most of the central Houston area, much like the old CD25 but without the bit that jogged over into Deer Park. Not gonna happen, for the reasons Greg cites about desirable fundraising areas, but it’s what I’d push for if I had a say in it.

Anyway, back to the story:

Eschbach cautioned that Texas’ role as a magnet for job seekers could diminish as the state’s economic troubles begin catching up to the nation’s.

University of Houston economist Barton Smith said last month that Houston, Texas’ most populous city, was losing its “energy cushion” and moving toward an economy that resembled the rest of the country. He predicted that Houston would lose between 11,000 and 37,500 jobs in 2009.

Without the draw of new jobs, Eschbach said, people tend to move for different reasons, such as a desire to be closer to their families.

“You’re going to see slowing rates of movement” into Texas, Eschbach said. “I would predict less domestic migration.”

So let’s not get too smug about this. And as many people, including Eschbach’s predecessor Steve Murdock have warned, unless we start doing things to really improve schools and health care in Texas, the long-term trends for this state are not good at all. It’d be nice to think we’ll take some steps in that direction next spring, but I’m not going to hold my breath on that.

Walker withdraws election contest

That didn’t last long. Losing HD11 candidate Brian Walker has withdrawn his election challenge to State Rep. Chuck Hopson.

State Rep. Chuck Hopson says he’s home free. Hopson, D-Jacksonville, says he was notified by Speaker Tom Craddick’s office [Monday] afternoon that his November opponent, Republican Brian Walker, has withdrawn his election contest.

“We are pleased that this election has come to a conclusion,” said Hopson, first elected to the Texas House in 2000.

One less source of drama for the upcoming session, which didn’t need any more of that. Thanks to BOR for the heads up.