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October 14th, 2009:

RIP, William Wayne Justice

One of the great protectors of civil rights has passed away.

U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice — beloved by some, loathed by others — changed Texas civil and inmate rights in ways few political figures have over the past half-century. Justice, who spent 30 years on the bench and once was dubbed “the real governor of Texas” for his rulings, died Tuesday at age 89.

Black children across Texas attend public schools because Justice enforced federal desegregation laws in 1970.

Hispanic children gained the same rights as blacks because of Justice’s rulings. His orders prompted bilingual education in Texas.

Texas must educate all children regardless of their immigration status because of a Justice decision.

Juveniles convicted of crimes were moved from incarceration in work camps to modern rehabilitation facilities at his command.

The most sweeping change of all was the Ruiz prison reform case that ended brutal conditions for inmates and prompted a massive building boom that gave Texas one of the largest and most modern incarceration systems in the nation.

Civil rights activists praised Justice during his lifetime, but in his hometown of Tyler he often was scorned.

“I’m basically a very shy, retiring person, but fate has put me in a situation where I’ve been in the midst of controversy,” Justice told biographer Frank Kemerer for a 1991 book. “Controversy is now kind of a way of life with me. But I have never particularly liked it.”

The Tyler Morning Telegraph, from his onetime hometown, has a nice writeup as well. They don’t make ’em like that any more. Rest in peace, Judge Justice. Stace and Harold Cook have more.

Perry goes on the attack as evidence of a coverup mounts

The evidence keeps coming in.

Lawyers representing Gov. Rick Perry on two occasions grilled Austin lawyer Sam Bassett on the activities of his Texas Forensic Science Commission, telling him its probe into a controversial Corsicana arson case was inappropriate and opining that the hiring of a nationally known fire expert was a “waste of state money,” the ousted commission chairman said Tuesday.

Bassett, who served two two-year terms as commission chairman before Perry replaced him on Sept. 30, said he was so concerned about what he considered “pressure” from the lawyers that he conferred with an aide to state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who reassured him “the commission was doing what it’s supposed to do.”

[…]

As Bassett outlined the commission’s investigations of the Willingham case and that of Brandon Lee Moon, an El Paso man wrongly convicted of sexual assault, Cabrales told the chairman “he didn’t think those kinds of investigations were the kind contemplated by the statute,” Bassett said.

“I think he said something along the lines that we should be more forward-looking, more current rather than examining older cases,” Basset said. Later in the discussion, Bassett said, he was told the Moon investigation was appropriate, but the Willingham case was not.

Bassett later reviewed the statute, and, feeling vindicated, sent a copy to the governor’s lawyers along with a copy of the complaint that prompted the Willingham investigation.

At one point, the lawyers asked Bassett how the panel chose Beyler to review the Willingham case. Bassett said he explained state regulations, requiring the soliciting of bids, were followed. When Wiley asked how much Beyler had been paid, Bassett said he responded, “$30,000, maybe a little more.”

Wiley then remarked, “That sounds like a waste of state money,” according to Bassett.

Bassett said he was a novice in the role of commission chairman and was uncertain how to interpret the lawyers’ remarks.

“I was surprised at the level of involvement that they wanted to have in commission decision-making,” he said.

It may have been a surprise at the time, but it should be clear to all by now what was going on. Given that meddling in the affairs of others seems to be the Rick Perry modus operandi these days, I’d say that his initial explanation of this all being “business as usual” is quite apt, though I daresay not in the way he intended it to be. By the way, that’s the same Mary Ann Wiley who had nice things to say about the Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions. Clearly, she’s capable of playing the bad cop as well.

And with the evidence comes the attack.

The governor, speaking with reporters after a speech at the Texas Association of Realtors today, made some shocking comments.

Quorum Report was there and has a dispatch.

I’ll take Perry’s assertions one at a time.

“Willingham was a monster. This was a guy who murdered his three children, who tried to beat his wife into an abortion so that he wouldn’t have those kids. Person after person has stood up and testified to facts of this case that quite frankly you all aren’t covering. And I would suggest to you that you go back and look at the record here because this is a bad man.”

This parrots the prosecution’s arguments in the case. There was no motive for Willingham to kill his kids. So at trial they tried to paint him as a “monster.” Some of their evidence for this was Willingham’s rock posters that contained violent images, according to the must-read New Yorker story.

So Perry’s argument is basically “He was a bad man! He must have been guilty of something! We’re allowed to kill him for that!” I don’t think there’s really anything I can say to that.

Perry also asserts that:

[T]hat study that Mr. (Craig) Beyler came forward with is nothing more than propaganda by the anti-death penalty people across this country.”

This statement would be funny if we weren’t talking about a life and death issue here.

Craig Beyler is one of the preeminent fire experts in the nation, which is why the Perry-appointed Forensic Science Commission contracted Beyler to study the case. He’s a scientist, not an activist. He works with Hughes and Associates, an engineering and fire protection firm in Baltimore.

This case has become shrouded in death-penalty politics, but it’s still about the science of detecting arson.

Clearly, he fails to take into account that well-known liberal bias that reality has.

I remain skeptical that this is really going to damage Rick Perry with the GOP base, but the more it drags out and becomes apparent that it’s basically a banana republic-level attempt to cover up wrongdoing that is rooted much more in indifference than actual malice – in other words, all in the service of refusing to own up to a mistake, albeit a lethal one – the more one thinks that he will ultimately be damaged. I sure as hell hope so, anyway. TPM, BOR, and PDiddie have more, while Grits discusses a related topic.

White reports another strong fundraising quarter

Fresh from the inbox:

To date, more than 5,000 supporters have contributed more than $6 million to Houston Mayor Bill White’s campaign since he announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate in December.

The contributions for the filing period ending Sept. 30 totaled more than $1.5 million. In the last week of the quarter alone, supporters contributed $400,000, about half through the internet. The candidate pledged to match contributions during that week.

As of the second quarter filing period, the Bill White for Texas team had raised more dollars from more people than all other Senate candidates combined. With nearly 2000 first-time contributors, the third quarter filing period attracted significantly more new contributors to the campaign than any other quarter.

That $400K is nearly as much as John Sharp raised in the entire first quarter. The new reports aren’t up on the FEC site yet, but I’ll go out on a limb and predict that White did pretty well in comparison to the others. That said, some amount of that total will be self-contributions, given the matching offer he made. Still, $400K in a week is mighty impressive, especially given current conditions.

Interview with City Controller Annise Parker

Annise Parker

Annise Parker

We wrap up our 2009 interview season with a conversation with Annise Parker. Parker is serving her third term as Houston City Controller, having served three terms as an At Large Council Member before that. She is a native Houstonian and graduate of Rice University who worked for 20 years in the oil and gas industry and co-owned a small bookstore before winning election to Council in 1997 on her second attempt. Parker’s partner is Kathy Hubbard.

Download the MP3 file.

PREVIOUSLY:

Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4
Brenda Stardig, District A
Oliver Pennington, District G
Amy Peck, District A
Herman Litt, At Large #1
Natasha Kamrani, HISD Trustee in District I, not running for re-election
Alex Wathen, District A
Robert Kane, District F
Council Member Melissa Noriega, At Large #3
Jeff Downing, District A
Mike Laster, District F
Council Member Jolanda Jones, At Large #5
Mills Worsham, District G
Rick Rodriguez, At Large #1
Council Member Sue Lovell, At Large #2
Carlos Obando, At Large #5
Richard Sedita, District G
Jack Christie, At Large #5
Dexter Handy, District G
George Foulard, District G
Alma Lara, HISD Trustee District I
Anna Eastman, HISD Trustee District I
Linda Toyota, HISD Trustee District I
Council Member Ed Gonzalez, District H
Council Member Wanda Adams, District D
Council Member Anne Clutterbuck, District C
Progressive Coalition candidates
Council Member Mike Sullivan, District E
Council Member James Rodriguez, District I
Council Member Jarvis Johnson, District B
Mike Lunceford, HISD Trustee District V
Ray Reiner, HISD Trustee District V
Council Member Ronald Green, candidate for Controller
Council Member MJ Khan, candidate for Controller
Council Member Pam Holm, candidate for Controller
Gene Locke, candidate for Mayor
Council Member Peter Brown, candidate for Mayor

Endorsement watch: A late roundup

Some recent endorsements in City elections over the past few days. Going back to last week, here are the endorsements from the Houston Black American Democrats (HBAD):

Mayor – Gene Locke
Controller – Ronald Green
At Large #1 – Karen Derr
At Large #2 – Andrew Burks
At Large #3 – Melissa Noriega
At Large #4 – C.O. Bradford
At Large #5 – Jolanda Jones
District A – Lane Lewis
District B – Roger Bowden
District D – Wanda Adams
District F – Mike Laster
District G – Dexter Handy
District H – Ed Gonzalez
HISD District IX – Adrian Collins
Proposition 4 – Yes

HBAD also endorsed John Sharp in the whenever-it-will-be Senate race. More on that in a bit. Next up is the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce PAC, which thankfully put its endorsements online where I could easily find them:

Gene Locke, Mayor

Ronald Green, Controller

Sue Lovell, At Large Pos. 2

Melissa Noriega, At Large Pos. 3

Noel Freeman, At Large Pos. 4

Jarvis Johnson, Dist. B

Anne Clutterbuck, Dist. C

Wanda Adams, Dist. D

Mills Worsham, Dist. G

Ed Gonzalez, Dist. H

James Rodriguez, Dist. I

Alma Lara, HISD Dist. 1

Mary Ann Perez, HCCS Dist. III

And finally, and also nicely online, the Noah’s Ark PAC:

Noah’s Ark PAC endorses Gene Locke for Mayor of Houston. Following a personal visit to Houston’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care (BARC), Gene Locke met with a group of Houston’s most vocal advocates for BARC to ask for their input and suggestions for making lasting changes at BARC. Locke incorporated their input into his policy for BARC which can be found on his web site at:
http://www.genelocke.com/release_details.asp?id=68#

Gene Locke was selected due to his obvious commitment to working with advocates and for providing tangible, realistic solutions to addressing the problems at BARC.

Noah’s Ark PAC also endorses the following candidates for controller and city council:

City Controller- Pam Holm

City Council
At-Large 1- Karen Derr
At-Large 2- Sue Lovell
At-Large 3- Melissa Noriega
At-Large 4- C.O. “Brad” Bradford
At-Large 5- Jolanda Jones
District A- Lane Lewis
District B- Jarvis Johnson
District C- Anne Clutterbuck
District D- Wanda Adams
District E- no endorsement
District F- Peter Acquaro
District G- Oliver Pennington
District H- Ed Gonzalez
District I- James Rodriguez

Noah’s Ark PAC congratulates these candidates and thanks the many candidates that completed the PAC’s candidate survey. Noah’s Ark PAC would like to specifically recognize Karen Derr for being the first major candidate for Houston city council to make the issues at BARC a campaign platform issue. The PAC also recognizes candidate for mayor, Annise Parker, for routinely discussing the problems at BARC in her newsletter and campaign literature, helping to elevate the public discussion. Noah’s Ark PAC also recognizes Councilwoman Jolanda Jones for her commitment to thoroughly researching the problems at BARC and for asking tough questions when they needed to be asked.

That’s a pretty good week for Gene Locke. (It may be a little less so if this story about the Sports Authority needing to refinance a bunch of debt gets any legs.) You can read the responses they got to their questionnaires here and here. And here’s the Chron profile of Locke, the second in their series.

Not endorsement-related, but Annie’s List sent out another mailer in support of Annise Parker, this one attacking Peter Brown for being a “serial exaggerator”. I’ve put a copy of it beneath the fold for your perusal. So far, I have not seen or heard of any pushback on the mailer, which distinguishes it from the hit piece they did on Gene Locke last month.

Elsewhere, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Schieffer announced the support of several South Texas legislators.

Announcing their support for Schieffer were Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen and Representatives Veronica Gonzales of McAllen, Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles of Alice, Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City, Eddie Lucio III of Brownsville, Armando “Mando” Martinez of Weslaco, Rene Oliveira of Brownsville, Aaron Pena of Edinburg and Tara Rios Ybarra of South Padre Island.

The full release is beneath the fold. Schieffer’s release prompted a response from Hank Gilbert that said the announcement of all this support so early in the game is an acknowledgement that Gilbert is a serious threat to him. Maybe so, but one could also ask at what point Gilbert will start to get official support like that. In particular, I’m wondering which candidate for Governor guys like Reps. Jim McReynolds, Chuck Hopson, Stephen Frost, and Mark Homer – all Dems from Gilbert’s neck of the woods – will endorse.

Finally, circling back to the Senate race, John Sharp announced the endorsement of State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, while Bill White received the nod from the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.

Endorsing members include Rep Alma Allen (Houston), Rep Garnet Coleman (Houston), Rep Dawnna Dukes (Austin), Rep Harold Dutton (Houston), Rep Helen Giddings (Dallas), Rep Barbara Mallory Caraway (Dallas), Rep Ruth McClendon (San Antonio), Rep Sylvester Turner (Houston) and Rep Marc Veasey (Fort Worth).

Coleman, Allen, Dukes, Caraway, and McClendon were on the first list of endorsees that White released. He’s now received the nod of 37 of the 74 Dems in the House (full list here), including 11 of 14 from Harris County; in addition to Dutton and Turner, Hubert Vo and Armando Walle have signed on since that initial list came out. The three holdouts are Senfronia Thompson, Al Edwards, and Kristi Thibaut. This release is beneath the fold as well.

(more…)

Perry meddles again

All of his shenanigans with the Texas Forensic Science Commission have kept Governor Perry busy lately, but not so busy that he can’t mess with other things, too.

Gov. Rick Perry plans to reshuffle the board leadership of the state’s $88 billion teacher retirement system, an unexpected move that has reignited concerns among the members that Perry is meddling with their pension fund.

Linus Wright, a retired school superintendent who was appointed in January to lead the Board of Trustees of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, said he has been notified by the governor’s office that he will soon be replaced as chairman. Wright said he was given no reason for the change.

He will be succeeded by Dallas real estate investor R. David Kelly, a board trustee since 2007, Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said.

Kelly is also a member of the finance team for Perry’s re-election campaign, according to a June news release.

In the past, Perry has looked to the teachers’ fund as a potential source of investment dollars for state transportation infrastructure and the Emerging Technology Fund, which invests in startup companies in fields such as biotechnology. The board, which sets the investment strategy for one of the country’s largest public pension funds, has not yet backed an investment policy to do so.

[…]

[T]he change comes on the heels of Perry’s veto in June of a bill that would have added another retiree voice to the nine-member board. The governor appoints all of the members of the board, which is made up of five financial professionals and four retired or active Teacher Retirement System members who are nominated by the membership.

Together, these moves have retirees worried that politics is the real motivation, said Tim Lee of the Texas Retired Teachers Association.

“It’s a concern to us that the governor is developing a pattern that really is minimizing the voice of retirees in their own pension fund,” Lee said.

There may well be nothing to be concerned about here. The story does note that nobody has any particular issue with David Kelly. It’s the timing of the move, and the removal of the first former teacher to lead the Board in 15 years, that has people anxious. But if people see politics every time Rick Perry does something, it’s because politics plays a role in just about everything he does, especially lately. Who can blame the retirees for having a bad feeling about this? Burka sounds the alarm as well.

The DMN on the food stamp situation

It’s depressing reading these articles, but it’s important to do so, to really understand why we’re so screwed up. First and foremost, it’s an attitude problem. As in, the people who have the most power over it have the least concern about it.

Advocates for the poor and several Democratic state representatives say they welcome recent signs that President Barack Obama’s administration won’t tolerate the delays. Firmness will be needed to force Texas to finally fix the mess, they say.

Some state GOP leaders admit they were slow to see the onset of the eligibility-screening system’s latest crisis.

“It should not have been a surprise to me, but it was,” said Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, the Senate’s chief budget writer. “So I take responsibility for that.”

Last spring, lawmakers rejected the commission’s request for 822 additional workers to ease the backlog. Instead, they inserted a fall-back provision that would allow for that many new workers to be hired over two years, but only if Gov. Rick Perry and 10 key lawmakers who sit on the Legislative Budget Board grant permission.

In August, the commission asked to add 649 new workers. State leaders took seven weeks to act, approving only 250 new hires and stressing the commission should fill 400 vacancies first.

Eight House Democrats, including Dallas Rep. Rafael Anchía, called state leaders’ response “a disgrace.”

“It’s indicative of the governor’s unwillingness to address the serious performance issues” in the program, they wrote to federal food-stamp official William Ludwig.

Perry spokesman Chris Cutrone responded: “Our office is closely monitoring this issue, and we expect [the commission] to handle it in an efficient and timely manner.”

“Not that we’ll lift a finger to help them, of course. We’re too busy meddling in more profitable affairs to care about that,” he did not add.

Though federal program rules are complex, more than half of today’s 7,700 frontline workers have less than two years’ experience, compared with 8 percent five years ago. [William] Ludwig, Dallas-based regional administrator at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, said recent departures of the state system’s three top executives haven’t helped.

To speed things up, he asked Texas to suspend fingerprint imaging of new applicants. He also urged that the state stop checking the value of applicants’ vehicles and their bank-account balances. And Ludwig urged that more interviews be conducted over the phone, not in person.

[Stephanie] Goodman, the state spokeswoman, said phone interviews are common, but “you still have to collect so much information it hasn’t been a big time-saver.”

I’ll bet it is for the interviewees, especially those who don’t have cars. That inability to empathize with those who need the help is the problem in a nutshell.

School construction update

As I read this story about the progress of school construction authorized by the 2007 bond referendum, it strikes me that we picked a heck of a good time to do this.

Piney Point is one of about 160 campuses in the Houston Independent School District that will be replaced, renovated or repaired as part of the $805 million bond initiative that voters narrowly approved in November 2007.

Nearly two years later, the district has broken ground on only two of the two dozen new schools it promised, but construction work should begin on at least seven other campuses by December, said Willie Burroughs, HISD’s general manger for construction services.

“We’re on schedule,” he said, explaining that the district is on track to finish all the bond projects by 2012.

This year’s hurricane-free season has been a blessing, and the weak economy hasn’t entirely been a curse. For example, Burroughs said, HISD was able to attract a slew of contractors, including some big names, eager to bid on projects.

And earlier this month, the school board heard good news from its bond adviser: Lower-than-expected interest rates could save the district $50 million.

The district sold half its bonds in March 2008 at a 4.79 percent interest rate. It plans to sell the rest this month at an even lower rate — likely 3.8 percent — said Terrell Palmer, senior vice president of First Southwest Company.

$805 million is a pretty nice little stimulus package for the local economy, wouldn’t you say? One wonders what the effect on the unemployment rate, among other things, might be. Seems to me it would be a smart move for HISD to hire an economist to figure that sort of thing out so they can toot their own horn a little and remind people of what they did the next time they need to float a bond package like this. Just a thought.