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June 9th, 2009:

More on Ed Johnson

As expected, the Lone Star Project adds quite a bit to the Ed Johnson story from yesterday. Boy, do they ever.

[Johnson] is a paid Republican campaign consultant. His company, Campaign Data Systems (CDS), has numerous Harris County Republican candidate as clients, including the Conservative Republicans of Harris County PAC, Senator Dan Patrick, and Congressman Michael McCaul. Republican State Representative Dwayne Bohac (HD 138) is also a principal owner of CDS. Johnson and Bohac are both listed on the Articles of Organization and on the CDS website as a person to contact. It is unacceptable that a county employee with unimpeded access to Voter Registration records, who can grant or deny the ability to vote to an individual, also works as a partisan political consultant.

Johnson Reviews Ballots for Harris County Races

Ed Johnson is a high-level employee in the Harris County voter registration department. In sworn testimony he has been described as, “pretty much the one that does everything.” (Deposition of Elizabeth Hernandez. Clerk/Processor)

It was also revealed that Johnson reviews provisional ballots in Harris County. Michelle Dixon, a 12 year veteran of the voter registration department said under oath that Johnson “opens the sealed envelopes of provisional ballot affidavits.” 17 year employee Kim Shoemaker said that “Ed Johnson will stand over us” during provisional ballot review. (Depositions of Michelle Dixon and Kim Shoemaker). The Houston Chronicle reported that white out was used on many provisional ballots before delivery to the Ballot Board. (Houston Chronicle, 11/12/08) Dixon also said that Johnson was in charge of purging voters from the system. (Depositions of Michelle Dixon)

You can see more excerpts from the depositions here; all such links are PDFs. This ought to be a dumb question, but does anyone really think that it’s okay for a person who works for candidates and interest groups of one political party to have that kind of influence over provisional ballots and the voter rolls? How is this not a massive conflict of interest? I know, another dumb question.

I don’t expect Johnson or anyone else in the Tax Assessor’s office, or the County Clerk’s office for that matter, to be apolitical. These are elected offices, and while the tasks they perform are clerical and should be done in a professional and nonpartisan manner, it’s fine and dandy for those tasks to be done by people who supported those elected officials. But being on the payroll of candidates and other political interests that depend on that job is going way too far. What Johnson is doing is wrong. What Dwayne Bohac did in not disclosing his business relationship with Johnson before he testified in Austin is wrong. What Leo Vasquez, and Paul Bettencourt before him, did in turning a blind eye to this (or worse, approving of it) is wrong. Johnson can work in the Tax Assessor’s office, or he can work for CDS. He can’t do both. EoW has more.

Oh, and by the way, you might notice that the links to the CDS company profile, and indeed to its home page are now 404’ing. I don’t know if this is a crude attempt to cover tracks or not, but there’s always Google cache when you need it. Nice try, Dwayne.

Special session coming

Ugh.

Speaking to reporters this afternoon at a roundtable on national energy legislation, Gov. Rick Perry said there will definitely be a special legislative session. But he declined to say when, or how many issues it will include.

“We’re in the process now of making the decision,” he said.
Perry said immediately after this most recent session, he got some “bad advice” from senators that he could extend the lifeline of state agencies by executive order. At least two agencies ended the session clinging to life.

“That was blatantly bad information,” he said.

Asked about speculation that the session must take place this summer to protect Texas’ bond rating, Perry did not comment.

“Anytime there’s something that could affect the cost of doing business it’s of concern,” he said.

Obviously, if these things require the Lege to fix them, then there’s no choice. The concern, of course, is that Perry can add things like voter ID to the call. It’s possible he won’t – Burka thinks he won’t bother, but then Burka thought the Dems should have rolled over and played dead on voter ID precisely because of the Governor’s ability to force the issue in a special, so I can’t say that his opinion here reassures me. To me, the best scenario is a call that’s limited to just these issues and nothing else. Needless to say, I don’t expect the Governor to care what I think.

UPDATE: Legeland has some useful speculation on the timing of and the reason for the special session.

UPDATE: Here’s some reaction from Tarrant County. Put me down as agreeing fully with Rep. Lon Burnam.

UPDATE: Ouch!

Gov. Rick Perry broke his right collarbone Tuesday evening in a mountain biking accident near his home.

Perry also suffered a minor abrasion on his right elbow, his office said. He was taken to the emergency room at Seton Medical Center and was expected to be released Tuesday night.

This reminds me of the series premier of “The West Wing”, where President Bartlett ran his bike into a tree. Leo McGarry’s description was priceless: “The President, while bicycling, came to a sudden, arboreal stop.” All kidding aside, my best wishes to the Governor for a full and fast recovery.

Last day of early voting in District H runoff

Today is the last day to vote early in the District H runoff. The early voting locations will be open from 7 AM to 7 PM, so take advantage of the chance while you still can. Runoff Day itself will be Saturday the 13th. A total of 1636 ballots had been cast through the weekend; Monday’s totals are not posted yet. Barring something weird, that means there will have been over 2000 votes during early voting, which would exceed the total for the first round and suggests we may wind up with a higher turnout in the runoff than in the initial election. I know I didn’t see that coming, but I’m glad to have underestimated it. Today’s Chron has little sidebar bios of Ed Gonzalez and Maverick Welsh if for some odd reason you don’t feel you know enough about either of them to make your decision. Vote today or vote Saturday and we’ll finally have a new Council member for District H.

Counting on the Census

I wasn’t really paying attention to this sort of thing ten years ago, so I don’t know how much effort was made at the time to get an accurate count of Texas’ residents for the 2000 Census. I can say that there seems to be a lot of focus this time around, and that’s a very good thing, because there’s a lot riding on getting it right.

Census undercounts have historically plagued Texas, and with billions of federal dollars at stake for health care, schools and immunizations, officials say the state could lose millions if the count is not accurate in 2010.

With the census just a year away, communities have organized “Complete Count Committees” to urge residents to participate.

An audit of the past census, conducted almost a decade ago, found that 373,567 Texans were not counted, or 1.76 percent of the state’s population, for an estimated loss of $2,913 per person — or $1 billion — in federal funds from 2002 to 2012.

That census was recalculated, and it was determined that there was a half a percent nationwide overcount, which shows the difficulties in getting an exact figure.

If the undercount had been allowed to stand, losses for Medicaid, child care, block grants, vocational services and other services would have been dire. And the nation’s eight largest counties, including Harris and Dallas in Texas, would have lost more than $100 million each in federal funds, according to the audit for the U.S. Census Monitoring Board.

A lot of the undercount in Texas was along the border, but it happened in the big cities as well. Here in Houston, I know that Council Members Melissa Noriega and James Rodriguez are working with the Census folks to get as accurate a count here as possible. The local effort is called Houston Counts, and they could use your help if you’re so inclined. Click over and fill out the Volunteer/Committee sign-up form (PDF) to pitch in. They’re not exactly overflowing with volunteers right now, so every little bit matters. The Houston metropolitan area should be in line for one of the extra Congressional seats that will come Texas’ way in 2011, but it won’t happen if we don’t count everyone.

If the dominoes fall

This DMN story about the potential downballot effect of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison resigning her seat in the Senate to run for Governor is mostly familiar territory, with names we’ve heard before. The reason I flagged it is this bit:

The rip-roaring scenarios have created excitement, and anxiety, for both parties.

Republican consultant Royal Masset, who predicted the 2006 Democratic takeover of Dallas County, said his party is vulnerable, partly because of a “loss of idealism” and a lackluster legislative session.

“If the Democrats can come up with good candidates, they will whip us,” he said.

Well. That’s a tad more optimistic than even I feel at this point. All I can say is I hope we don’t blow the opportunity. I know the candidates are out there, but until there are commitments from them to run, it’s all the political equivalent of vaporware.

The party corridor

I’d meant to get to this NYT article about the Washington Avenue corridor last week, but never quite got there. I suppose the main thing I’d add is that while the new stuff has replaced unmemorable things, a whole lot of history has vanished as well, including a variety of live music outlets like Rockefellers and the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, plus the venerable Pig Stand, whose old location across the street from Beaver’s is now being converted into something modern and high-end. On balance, today’s Washington Avenue is an improved place for the city and its residents, and will some day make an excellent light rail corridor; it’s already dense enough and features enough attractions to be worthwhile. But anyone who remembers these places will wonder about what might have been if they had survived.

Texas blog roundup for the week of June 8

It’s a week out frm sine die and the sky is a little bluer, the birds sing more sweetly, and the beer is always cold. Which is to say, it’s how it always is with the Texas Progressive Alliance. Click on for this week’s blog highlights.

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