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June 11th, 2009:

Chron reports on Ed Johnson

Here’s their story about Ed Johnson and his questionable side venture as a Republican consultant. It doesn’t add much to what we already know, but it does get some local reaction, including from Johnson’s boss, Harris County Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez.

Leo Vasquez, Harris County tax assessor-collector and voter registrar, issued a statement that dismissed complaints that Johnson’s job, which can include approving or rejecting voter applications, conflicts with his side business.

“Ed Johnson is an honorable man,” Vasquez said. “It is slanderous and absolutely reprehensible to suggest without evidence that he is involved in inappropriate activity with regard to voter registration in Harris County.”

Vasquez’s spokesman, Fred King, said Johnson has been in this type of business since the mid-1990s, so his involvement in voter registration data was no secret.

“His knowledge of compiling lists and his programming expertise are the reasons Paul Bettencourt (Vasquez’s predecessor) hired him,” King said. “Vasquez may have heard of Ed’s outside business before taking office since many candidates and campaign workers knew of it.”

If it weren’t for the fact that Bettencourt did so much, especially in recent years, to politicize the Tax Assessor’s office, Johnson’s moonlighting might not be a big deal. If it weren’t for the fact that there had been so many complaints, especially last year, about the way voter registration forms and provisional ballots were being handled, Johnson’s moonlighting might not be a big deal. If it weren’t for the fact that Johnson had spent so much time parroting Republican fairy tales about the need for voter ID legislation in testimony before the Lege, Johnson’s moonlighting might not be a big deal. Put it all together, though, and you come to the inescapable conclusion that Johnson’s moonlighting is in fact a big deal. Vasquez needs to get his head out of the sand about it.

Though it should be noted that he’s not the only Republican elected official doing the ostrich thing:

Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos’ campaign paid more than $7,000 last year to CDS. She said late Wednesday her campaign hired CDS for targeted campaign mailers but she did not know about Johnson’s job with the county.

She insisted she saw no compromise of the elections office’s mission.

“I saw no conflict,” Lykos said.

So if it turns out that one of your ADAs has a side gig with a jury consultant who does a lot of work for criminal defense attorneys, that’ll be all right with you, Pat? I’m just checking.

Early voting ends for District H runoff

Tuesday was the last day of early voting for the District H runoff, and as is often the case it was the busiest, with 278 in-person ballots being cast. That brings the final total up to 2188 early votes, or a bit more than 300 more than for the May election. If the early vote is the same proportion of the final tally as it was in May, when 45% voted early, then final turnout will be 4862. Who knows, maybe it’ll top 5000. I admit it, I didn’t see that coming, but Stace did, and kudos to him for calling it.

Meanwhile, Miya and Rick Casey weigh in on the race and its recent turn to the negative, with Miya saying she thinks Maverick Welsh’s mail pieces have been fairly tame, and Casey smacking him around for being critical of the kind of experience he himself has. As you know, I voted for Welsh, and I too think the mail pieces have been non-outrageous and well within the bounds of normal campaigning. That said, having received more than a dozen mail pieces from Welsh in the past week, including all of the negative ones, I’m a bit unclear on what the strategy was. The point of negative mail, at least as I understand it for a runoff, is to persuade the other person’s voters to switch or stay home. I gather all this mail has gone out to the full universe of voters, which I’d think carries a nontrivial risk of alienating some folks who’d otherwise be supporters, especially at this volume. Maybe I’m wrong about this – hell, I’ve never run a campaign, what do I know? But that’s the feeling I get.

I guess I’m a little surprised that some fairly run of the mill attack mailers in a low-turnout election have generated as much attention as they have. I mean, it’s not like negative mail in a runoff is something novel. There was a bit of a lull in the news cycle with the Lege adjourning, and maybe people were surprised that a candidate as positive and optimistic as Welsh would go negative, especially on someone like Ed Gonzalez who by all accounts is a good person and well-qualified for the job. Even Welsh’s own mail doesn’t really attack Ed directly but rather associates him with “the system” that needs change, which Welsh represents. I’ve already said that I’m not sure how viable that line of attack is when the most recent incumbent and most prominent supporter of one’s opponent is super popular among the voters, but again, it’s not like this is something that’s never been tried before. We’ll know on Saturday how effective it was.

Please join me in supporting Mayor Castro in San Antonio

What RBearSAT says.

Mayor Julian Castro agreed to serve as Grand Marshal of San Antonio’s Pride Parade this July 4th, becoming the first San Antonio mayor to ever serve in this role. Prior Grand Marshals have included SAPD Chief William McManus, Bexar County Sheriff Ralph Lopez, US Congressman Charlie Gonzalez and former Marine Eric Alva. In doing so, Castro has drawn attacks from conservative talk show host Adam McManus who has encouraged his listeners to oppose Castro’s action. McManus has leveraged his radio program to promote conservative and right-wing positions regularly, including opposition to a proposed change to the city’s non-discrimination employment ordinance to include sexual orientation in 1998.

Please take the time to express support for Mayor Castro’s decision and outrage to Adam McManus for opposition to such action. At such an early time in his career Mayor Castro has taken a bold action to show that San Antonio is an inclusive city and rejects divisive and repressive acts by people like McManus.

Gay Pride SA is planning to attend city council on June 11th at 5pm in a show of support for Mayor Castro. More info at the Facebook event page.

I can accept the idea that there’s a principled argument made by people of good faith against gay marriage. I think it’s a ludicrous argument that falls apart at the barest scrutiny, but I don’t believe that buying into that argument necessarily makes you a bigot. Needless to say, that ain’t the case here. Please show your support for Mayor Castro. I know it’s weird, maybe a even a little annoying, to have to rally behind a politician for doing something as ordinary and mainstream as leading a Pride parade – I mean, what century are we in again? – but precisely because this is such a normal thing for Mayor Castro to do is it important to speak out against idiots like this. It’s the Adam McManuses that are out of step with the world, and he needs to know it. Stace has more.

Another veto battle

We know about the ruckus caused by HB770. Another once-obscure bill that has generated post-session controversy is SB1410, which has firefighters up in arms.

Texas firefighters and others who value “local control’ want Gov. Rick Perry to veto legislation prohibiting cities from passing ordinances requiring fire sprinklers in new residential homes.

Homebuilders want Perry to sign the law because, they say, it would make new homes too expensive if cities were to require fire sprinklers.

“Fire sprinklers make up for human error. Residential fire sprinklers are the only system that can be put into a home today that will stop a fire before it reaches a deadly proportion,” Dallas Fire Chief Eddie Burns said Monday.

More than 40 Texas fire chiefs gathered near the Governor’s Mansion, which an arsonist torched one year ago.

Houston Assistant Fire Chief Karen Dupont was particularly blunt about SB 1410 – the legislation firefighters want Perry to veto.

“By prohibiting the enactment of any local laws that would require fire sprinklers in your homes, the Texas Legislature has mandated substandard housing in the state of Texas,” Dupont said. “This bill would not allow Texas cities require homes to be built in compliance with nationally recognized codes and standards.”

But the Texas Association of Builders has sent a letter to Perry urging him to sign the bill. Texas homebuilder Bob Perry (no relation) is one of the governor’s largest campaign contributors. And other homebuilders also have been generous to the governor.

What’s he going to do? Go against “local control” and the firefighters? Or, go against his campaign supporters?

Here’s some more coverage from around the state on the firefighters’ plea for a veto. Rick Casey jumped on it over the weekend, as SB1410 would have a direct local effect.

The law would not take effect until Sept. 1, but it retroactively voids all local ordinances passed since Jan. 1, including one that West U. passed last month mandating sprinkler systems in all new homes.

The amendment was attached to a Senate bill by Rep. John Otto of Dayton, a small town northeast of Houston, who had failed to get his own bill on the subject to the House floor.

West U. Mayor Bob Kelly this week sent Gov. Rick Perry a letter asking him to veto the bill.

Mayor Kelly told the governor the issue wasn’t so much the ordinance itself, but the “assault on local control.”

Dayton is in a rural area “with entirely different dynamics than our urban community,” Kelly wrote. He said West U. building codes should not be made in Otto’s Liberty County.

“Local control has always been a fundamental tenet of your philosophy of government,” the mayor wrote the governor. “The amended Senate Bill 1410 attacks that philosophy. We strongly urge your veto.”

You can see the text of Rep. Otto’s amendment here. Mayor Kelly’s argument is convincing to me. If a particular city wants to impose this regulation, knowing full well the effect it would have on home prices (which, as Casey points out, would be chump change for your typical West U swankienda), I think they should have the right to do so. The voters of West U or Plano (which has an ordinance requiring sprinklers for houses of 6000 square feet or more) or wherever are perfectly capable of voting the bums out if they don’t like it. I’d side with the builders if this were a fight about a state requirement to include sprinklers in new construction, but I see no reason to forbid a city that wants to do it. I agree with the firefighters – SB1410 should be rejected.

UPDATE: And here’s SB1410 House sponsor Rep. John Otto with the case for the residential sprinkler ban.

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack

I think the key bit in this story about the Astros’ policy forbidding fans from bringing their own food into the stadium is this:

Most MLB teams list their policies on outside food and drink on their Web sites. Details generally can be found by clicking on the “A to Z Guide” under the stadium tab.

As for the Astros, Pam Gardner, the team’s president for business operations, said the team has opted to provide less expensive tickets rather than following suit with other teams regarding food and beverage rules.

“Our financial model, dating back to the Astrodome, was dependent on a number of revenue areas, including food and beverage,” Gardner said in an e-mail. “We elected to make our appeal to fans in the form of a $7 (for adults) and $1 ticket (for children) every day. I don’t think you will find many teams offering a $1 ticket.”

Indeed, only the Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers advertise seats for a buck each. (The Brewers call them “Uecker Seats” in honor of broadcaster Bob Uecker, who made several bucks bragging for assorted commercials about his seat locations.)

The Colorado Rockies advertise their cheapest tickets at $4 each, and the bottom price for Nationals, Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals games is $5.

That’s a perfectly sound business model, and if you care more about the game than the grub you can do quite well. You’re not really saving any money by supplying your own snacks if those seats cost you an arm and a leg. I’ve always considered the concession stand to be a key part of the stadium experience, and so it seems to be for the fans quoted in the story. Ken Hoffman, a man who knows his stadium food, agrees. What do you think?