Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

June 3rd, 2009:

A challenger for SJL

Boy, the 2010 election season is wide open already, isn’t it? Via email from Carl Whitmarsh comes the news of a potential primary challenger for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in CD18. From the email:

Houston attorney Sean Roberts today announced he filed the necessary paperwork to form an exploratory committee to study his potential candidacy as a lawmaker representing the 18th Congressional District of Texas.

“The 2008 election demonstrated that the voters in the 18th Congressional District were ready for progress even though some of their leaders were not,” said Roberts. A self-described “Obama-Generation” democrat, Roberts believes the constituents of the district are ready for fresh ideas and new-school leadership that prioritizes economic development and educational opportunities as opposed to seizing on controversies. “Right now, from an appropriations standpoint, District 18 is a forgotten district. I’d like to fix that,” added Roberts.

Roberts believes the District’s constituents are eager to maximize the opportunities being created for small businesses and educational equality under the Obama Administration. “Our President needs effective Congressional support to accomplish his agenda. In turn, the 18th Congressional District needs a representative that can show Congress why major investments are needed in the district and what the returns will be for those investments,” Roberts said. “Houston is a major economic hub for key sectors like health care and energy – our primary focus should be keeping these industries strong so that Houston can capitalize on the current shift in federal spending priorities.”

Roberts also strongly supports programs that focus on our children, the foundations of economic growth. “The children living in this district need access to information and resources – libraries and functioning school facilities – so they have opportunities to compete and contribute,” said Roberts.

His website is here if you want to know more. Miya was on this earlier, and I tend to agree with her take that while there was a lot of interest in this seat when rumors were swirling that SJL would step down to take a job in the State Department under Hillary Clinton, it’s going to be hard for anyone to unseat her head-to-head. I at least don’t have any compelling reason to want to change. That said, a primary challenge, even the threat of one, can be a good thing, in that it forces incumbents to work a little harder to remind the voters why they push the button for them. As far as that goes, I look forward to seeing what Mr. Roberts will do.

McLeroy gets a challenger

Paul Burka breaks the news that Thomas Ratliff, son of former State Sen. and Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, will challenge Don McLeroy, the now-former chair of the State Board of Education, for his seat on the board next year. From the press release, which Burka quotes in full:

On the heels of a legislative session that saw 15 bills filed by Republican and Democrat legislators to curtail some or all of the responsibilities of the State Board of Education, Thomas Ratliff has filed the necessary paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission to run for the District 9 seat. The incumbent is Dr. Don McLeroy, whose nomination for chairman of the SBOE was recently rejected by the Texas Senate.

Mr. Ratliff said, “First, I want to thank Dr. McLeroy for his 10 years of service on the SBOE. I just simply have a different approach to working for the parents and schoolchildren of Texas. I am running because I want to work with educators and the other SBOE members to provide leadership for Texas’ neighborhood schools, help mend the fractured relationship with the Texas legislature and restore the public’s confidence in the State Board of Education.”

“The SBOE has become a distraction to our neighborhood schools and a liability to the Republican Party under the leadership of Dr. McLeroy. I strongly believe we need to take politics out of our kids’ education and the state board should refocus its efforts on the truly important issues facing parents, students and educators.”

I’ve noted before that McLeroy’s district is not fertile ground for a Democratic challenger, so I’m thrilled to see a sane Republican mount a primary campaign against McLeroy. That won’t be easy either, as McLeroy is a hero to the wingnut fringe, and they specialize in winning races like this one, which Burka notes in his post. Still, this probably represents the best hope to unseat McLeroy, and if the son is anything like the father, it would be a huge step forward for Texas. Keep an eye on this one. Greg has some general-election numbers, plus a nifty map, here.

Early voting underway in District H runoff

I know it’s been a lot of Lege stuff around here lately, but the end of the session means the start of early voting for the District H runoff. I figure I’ll probably do my civic duty this weekend, maybe Friday. As you know, I’m guessing 2000 to 2500 votes for the runoff, so I don’t expect there will be any lines. Having said that, 731 votes, of which 453 have come by mail, have been cast so far, which suggests that estimate is too low, perhaps by a lot. I certainly won’t mind being wrong about that. Regardless, be sure you get out there and vote for the best candidate to represent the district. The Chron’s Houston Politics blog has more.

A Closer Look at Bill White’s So-Called “Republican Ties”

Here’s a link to David Mauro’s post on BOR that investigates and rebuts some allegations made about Bill White in the who-knows-when-it-will-be Senate race. Just go read it if you haven’t already, it’s worth your time. The main thing I’ll add to it is that at the same time as we bask in the glow of the national Democratic Party paying some long-overdue and much-needed attention to our state, it’s nice to have a candidate for Senate who’s spending his time paying attention to voters in some parts of the state that don’t always get as much of it from Democrats as they should. My preference in this race has always been clear, but I’d think that this is the kind of campaign behavior that would appeal to those who didn’t start out with a known choice. Your mileage may vary.

Legislative wrapups

With sine die in the rearview mirror, tis the season for legislative wrapups. Here are a couple I’ve come across.

– First, from Bike Texas, which had the fairly easy task of just following one bill:

The final version of the Safe Passing Bill, SB 488, was passed yesterday [Saturday] by the Texas House. Today, the Senate voted on it, and overwhelmingly voted to pass it.

That was the final step for the bill to complete in the Legislature. Now, it will be sent to Governor Perry, and we are cautiously optimistic that he will sign it into law. We will know the outcome by June 21, the last day the Governor can sign or veto bills.

The 21st is a date that’s circled on a lot of people’s calendars. Next up is ACT Texas, which unfortunately had a lot less to be happy about.

How did the 81st Session go? After all the planning, meetings, hearings, email, office visits, phone calls, amendments, amendments to the amendment, how did things go for the ACT agenda this session?

The bottom line: we didn’t make the kind of progress on clean energy and clean air issues we had hoped to make. ACT bills faced two hurdles that could not be overcome this session. The first was strong industry opposition that both slowed the process (especially getting bills voted out of committee) and undermined the bipartisan support these measures had going into the session. The second was a legislative session that was behind from the beginning and ultimately derailed by a partisan stalemate in the House.

It’s important to note that bills did indeed pass that will continue to move Texas toward a cleaner, healthier future. Over the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at each of the 2009 issue areas in-depth and publish an assessment of how we fared on each. By the end of the month, ACT plans to publish a 2009 Legislative wrap-up.

Follow the link to see the specifics. The death of SB545, the solar bill, is in my mind the biggest disappointment.

Scott Henson had even less reason to be happy.

After all the fawning over Timothy Cole’s family and public declarations throughout the 81st Texas Legislature that the state would act to prevent false convictions, all the major innocence-related policy reforms proposed this year died in the session’s waning hours with the exception of one bill requiring corroboration for jailhouse informants.

Two other pieces of legislation for a brief moment had passed both chambers on Friday as amendments to HB 498, but after a 110-28 record vote approved the measure, Rep. Carl Isett moved to reconsider the bill and it was sent to a conference committee, where the amendments were stripped off for germaneness.

Sen. Rodney Ellis earlier in the day had requested the House appoint a conference committee and approve a resolution to “go outside the bounds” to consider eyewitness ID, but that resolution never came and instead the bill was denuded of all policy substance to become a bill to study whether to study the causes of false convictions.

We didn’t need more study by the Legislature on this issue, we needed action. Eyewitness ID errors make up 80% of DNA exoneration cases and the Court of Criminal Appeals’ Criminal Justice Integrity Unit said it should be the Legislature’s highest priority for preventing false convictions. But unless the issue is added to a call in a special session, at least two more years will pass before the Lege can begin to rectify the problem.

That’s inexcusable. It’s not okay for the Legislature to know that innocent people are being convicted under the statutes they’ve written and simply decline to prevent it.

The irony, as he notes later, is that by adopting HB1736, which increases the restitution made to exonerees, the state has ensured by its inaction that there will be more of them. So much for fiscal responsibility.

– On another single-issue matter, the saga of Gulf Energy, which got screwed over by the Texas Railroad Commission, won the right to sue the RRC to force it to clean up its mistake as SCR72 made it through on the last day. Good luck in court, y’all.

– And finally, a mixed bag from the Legislative Study Group, which I’m copying from email and reproducing beneath the fold.

All in all, the good news of this session is that there wasn’t much bad news – very few truly atrocious bills, the kind we were used to fighting off (usually unsuccessfully) in the Craddick days, made it to the floor, much less through the process. That’s part of what a lot of us hoped for with Joe Straus as Speaker, and up till the voter ID fiasco we got it. The bad news is that there wasn’t nearly enough good news, especially when you consider the number of good bills that were needlessly snuffed at the end thanks to voter ID. I’m not sure which is worse after sine die, feeling like you’ve spent 140 days fighting off zombies, or feeling like a whole lot of potential slipped through your fingers. What I do know is that we need to do better next time, and the fight for that starts now.

(more…)

The DNC comes to Texas

This is a pleasant surprise.

Calling Texas “a tremendous growth opportunity for the Democratic Party,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine announced this afternoon that Austin will host the Democrats’ annual fall meeting.

The Sept. 10-12 session will highlight positive political trends for Lone Star State Democrats, party officials said.

“Now, some might find that notion odd given Texas’s traditionally conservative bent and its recent history of supporting Republican candidates for elective office,” the Virginia governor said in an email to Democratic National Committee members. “But I don’t find it odd at all — and in fact, I am more convinced than ever that Texas is trending our way and will continue to do so.”

Kaine compared recent Democratic legislative gains in Texas — and major breakthroughs in areas such as Harris and Dallas Counties — to the newfound Democratic dominance in his own home state.

“In so many ways, I believe Texas is poised to move towards our column, just as Virginia has,” he reasoned. “Texas is an increasingly diverse state with a burgeoning and politically active Hispanic population that went strongly for Barack Obama in 2008.”

It’s greatly encouraging to hear things like that being said outside our borders. Maybe if the DNC – and by extension, Team Obama – is serious about making a play for Texas in 2012, it’ll encourage a stronger Democratic push, both in terms of fundraising and candidates, for next year. Sure would be nice to have a strong slate of statewide candidates here to greet these visitors in September, wouldn’t it?

Charging for Twitter

I’m sure something like this will eventually happen.

Twitter Inc.’s co-founders say the rapidly growing online communications company will eventually charge fees for its services, but it’s unclear which ones and what will drive revenue.

“There will be a moment when you can fill out a form or something and give us money,” said Evan Williams, co-founder and chief executive officer.

“We’re working on it right now,” Williams said at The Wall Street Journal’s D: All Things Digital conference.

Williams and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone mentioned possible revenue-generators, including a service that would authenticate the source of information. For example, Dunkin’ Donuts could pay to make sure that impostors don’t send messages under its name.

Still, after nearly one hour of questions from journalists Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher and from the audience, the co-founders gave no clear picture of Twitter’s business model. Stone demurred when asked what would be the company’s key revenue driver in two years.

More venture capital? I like Twitter, I find it useful, I’ve enjoyed using it to keep up with what various friends are doing, but I don’t know about paying for it. Some things are just meant to be free, I guess. Good luck figuring this out, that’s all I can say.