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June 25th, 2009:

RIP, Farrah Fawcett

Not unexpected, but still sad.

Fawcett was voted “most beautiful” her sophomore, junior and senior years at Ray High School [in Corpus Christi]. Her freshman year at the University of Texas, where she was majoring in microbiology and minoring in art, Fawcett was voted one of the university’s 10 most beautiful coeds.

Back then, to local attorney and former state Rep. Bill Harrison and his group of friends, Farrah was just another girl hanging out with Harrison’s younger sister Kathy.

“We called her ‘Drippy (Fawcett),’” Harrison recalled. “She was just another little punk coming over to my sister’s house.”

When Fawcett was a sophomore and Harrison and his friends were seniors the boys took real notice.

Harrison introduced Fawcett to his best friend Gary Roberts, the guy she dated all the way through high school and into college.

Fawcett’s father thought that Roberts and his daughter were getting too serious so it was up to Bill Harrison to pick Fawcett up for dates, he said.

“He liked me because I was the son of a minister,” Bill Harrison recalled. “Gary would be sitting next to my date and I’d go pick up Farrah. And we’d go around the corner and Farrah would jump in the back with Gary and my date would get in the front.”

Roberts, now a Kerrville banker watched Fawcett evolve from a Catholic school girl into one of the world’s most renowned beauties.

She was more than that, of course. Her performance in The Burning Bed and Extremities proved she had acting chops. I’m not sure what happened to her career-wise after that, but whatever it was, she deserved better. Texas Monthly has more from their archives. Rest in peace, Farrah Fawcett.

Special session for July 1

We knew it was coming, and here it is.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RICK PERRY, GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF TEXAS, by the authority vested in me by Article IV, Section 8, of the Texas Constitution, do hereby call an extraordinary session of the 81st Legislature, to be convened in the City of Austin, commencing at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, the 1st day of July 2009, for the following purposes:

To consider legislation that provides for extending the existence of several state agencies that were subject to sunset review by the 81st Legislature and will be abolished without legislative action under the state’s Sunset Act, that changes the review schedule for certain state agencies to balance the workload of the Sunset Advisory Commission.

To consider legislation relating to the issuance by the Texas Transportation Commission, pursuant to Article III, Section 49-p, of the Texas Constitution, of general obligation bonds for highway improvement projects, and to the creation, administration, financing and use of a Texas Transportation Revolving Fund to provide financial assistance for transportation projects.

To consider legislation relating to the date on which the authority of the Texas Department of Transportation and a regional mobility authority to enter into a comprehensive development agreement expires.

The Secretary of State will take notice of this action and will notify the members of the legislature of my action.

I skipped all the “whereas”es – you can click the link if you care. As promised, a very short agenda, which theoretically and and quite likely will be completed before the July 4 holiday. Which would be fine by me, and I daresay most if not all of the legislators themselves. I know there was a lot of support for having CHIP legislation on the call, but given Perry’s continuing opposition to it, I never thought that had a chance. The question at this point is whether or not Perry will add to the call once these items are done, or if they’ll adjourn sine die once again. We’ll know soon enough.

The latest Lyceum poll

The Texas Lyceum just released a poll on various campaigns and politicians, and well, I’m not sure that it says much of anything. I’ve got the PDF here, and the problems begin right away:

We interviewed Texas adults during the June 5-12 period, talking to 860 adults, 51% female, and 49% male. Three out of four said they are registered voters.

One third are “extremely interested” in politics and public affairs and another 46% are “somewhat interested.” Almost half — 49% — said they vote in “every” or “almost every” election. Another 24 percent said they haven’t voted in any election “over the last two or three years.”

OK, so this is a survey of adults, not likely voters (that’s a subsample of about 430) or even registered voters (approximately 650). Nothing wrong with that, but as it will include opinions from a lot of people who may not bother to cast a ballot next year, I’d be careful about what conclusions I drew from this if I were on a campaign.

About the same number of those polled said they are “certain” or “likely” to vote in each party’s primary (Republicans, 31%; Democrats, 30%), and another 17 percent said they intend to vote in a primary but haven’t yet decided which one.

So 49% of the sample actually exhibits habitual voting behavior, yet 78% claim they’ll be voting in one primary or the other in March. The most generous percentage of “likely” voters one can claim for this survey is 76%, if one simply assumes anyone outside that group that hasn’t voted at all in the past two or three years is likely to vote next year. That math doesn’t add up.

Which means you can pretty much take this with a grain of salt:

Texans who plan to vote in next year’s Republican primary for governor favor incumbent Rick Perry over his main challenger, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, by a 33-21 margin, but the most common answer to that question was undecided, with 41 percent saying they haven’t made up their minds. A small group — 1 percent — expressed support for state Rep. Leo Berman. Perry leads Hutchison among self-identified Republicans 40% to 18%, but that’s also the group with the largest number of undecided voters, at 48%. Hutchison carries 49% of self-identified Democrats and Independents who say they plan to vote in the GOP primary, compared to 23% for Perry and 29% undecided.

One wonders how small the “non-Republicans who plan to vote in the GOP primary” subsample is. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Polling for primaries is tricky business under any circumstance, and in a poll that isn’t specifically screening for likely primary participants, it’s even less useful. The same can be said of the Democratic primary poll result, in which Kinky Friedman “led” the field with ten percent. So much for any claim of name recognition by the Kinkster. Speaking of which:

They’re largely undecided on their favorite candidates for U.S. Senate, should Hutchison resign late this year and prompt a special election in May 2010. Given the choice of six Republicans and two Democrats who’ve expressed interest in that race, 71 percent said they either haven’t decided or didn’t want to say. Houston Mayor Bill White led the pack with 9%, followed by Attorney General Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, with 4%; Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones and former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, 3%; and state Sen. Florence Shapiro, former Comptroller John Sharp, and Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, at 2%. Sharp and White are Democrats; the others are Republicans.

Two percent for John Sharp? Are you kidding me? I realize this is a sample that’s full of less-than-engaged people, but that’s where being on the scene and on the ballot forever as Sharp has been is supposed to be an asset; the junkies already know who everybody is. Not exactly a confidence-builder, you know?

The survey also has approval ratings for Perry, Hutchison, and President Obama, who clocks in with 68% of the respondents saying he’s done a “very” or “somewhat” good job as President, and for the Legislature, of whom 58% of respondents approve. That number for Obama is higher than his national ratings, and as for the Lege, I agree with Phillip: “I’m not even sure if 58% of the Texas legislature would approve of the Texas legislature.” Happy bunch of people they surveyed, that’s all I can say.

And after all that, they don’t give us a general election matchup for Governor next year, which is the one result that could have been truly interesting. It could have been done as Perry and KBH each versus a generic Democrat, or either versus Kinky, Schieffer, and the now-not-running Van de Putte. Alas, they didn’t do that.

Anyway. All polls are snapshots in time. This one is perhaps a bit fuzzier than others. Make of it what you will.

The Chamber of Commerce tax cut

I mentioned before that a secondary reason for Governor Perry to veto HB770 and its Wayne Christian Beach House provision was an amendment slipped in by State Sen. Mike Jackson to give a property tax exemption to local chambers of commerce. Ed Sills of the Texas AFL-CIO went off on a righteous rant about this in his email newsletter the other day, and I wanted to reproduce it here. With his permission, it’s beneath the fold, so click on to read it.

(more…)

Commissioners Court approves ethics measures

It’s something.

The Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday approved a slate of ethics reforms, placing new controls on money and influence in government for the first time in years.

After months of infighting and setbacks, the court unanimously and without discussion passed several measures including online posting of officials’ personal and financial disclosure forms, ethics training for all county employees and the voluntary registration of lobbyists.

County Judge Ed Emmett hailed the approval as a major stride toward increased accountability in county government. Emmett made ethics reform a centerpiece of his election campaign last year after controversies arose surrounding people with county connections.

“It’s a great first step,” Emmett said. “This sets out a good statement of principals, and I was glad to see a unanimous court move forward.”

Still, the measures passed are weaker than those recommended by a task force Emmett himself assembled last year. Emmett appointed the panel to assess the county’s ethics rules after the indictment of a former county department head, Mike Surface, and his business partner, Andrew Schatte. Their indictment followed concerns about Commissioner Jerry Eversole’s questionable campaign spending and a history of vague disclosures.

Emmett’s panel recommended the county create a board to investigate ethics complaints, require lobbyists to register. But enacting such reforms would have required approval from the state Legislature. Emmett instead decided to focus on what could be accomplished locally.

It’s a decent first step, but it can’t be all there is. Next time, there needs to be successful action in the Lege. I’m still dubious of Governor Perry’s claim about the constitutionality of ethics legislation that’s specific to Harris County, but if that is a concern, then let’s make sure a joint resolution gets passed so this can be voted on as a Constitutional amendment. Same thing for the other items that didn’t make it. Now that what could be accomplished locally has been accomplished, get the rest of it done in Austin. No excuses.

The best thing I’ve heard about my hometown in a long time

A Staten Island restaurant employs genuine Italian grandmothers to do the cooking.

The 35-seat Enoteca Maria takes home cooking to a whole new level by bringing in genuine Italian grandmothers to cook for customers.

Each night, one of eight nonnas ties on an apron, checks out the ingredients in the refrigerator and rustles up a down-to-earth meal.

The women are from different regions of the pasta-loving nation who have no problem cooking restaurant-style after years of feeding big families.

Tired of their husbands nitpicking over their specialties, they jumped at the chance to slave over a hot stove for grateful diners at the St. George eatery.

“When I come here, I can do whatever I want. I can bake whatever I want,” said Teresa Scalici, 62, who has three kids and four grandchildren.

“My family have this everyday so they don’t appreciate it anymore. I prefer it here, because the people love me,” she added. “On Saturday nights the customers clap.”

Damn, that’s the best reason I’ve heard to visit SI in a long time. And if it’s in Saint George, it’s walkable from the ferry, so the rest of you New Yorkers can get there easily enough, too. Reading that story reminded me of my own Staten Island Italian grandmother, who I’ll bet could have shown them a thing or two. Rest in peace, Red. We love you still.