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November 7th, 2009:

Sessions gets primary challenger

The irony here is pretty rich.

Corporate accountant David Smith will announce next week that he’s challenging incumbent Pete Sessions in the March Republican primary.

Smith, active in the conservative tea party movement, says Sessions has not followed the conservative staples of the GOP.

Smith has also criticized Sessions for backing moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava in the zany 23 Congressional District race in New York. Sessions is chairman of the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.

Sometimes, as the philosopher Dogbert once said, no sarcastic remark seems adequate. I’ll just point out that CD32 is a genuine swing district, which has trended strongly Democratic over the past three cycles, and as sure as I sit here blogging this, it’ll be easier for Democrat Grier Raggio to win against Smith than it would against the well-heeled Sessions, especially after the kind of nasty, race to the bottom primary it would have to be. Bring it on, Eric.

Saturday video break: Lateral!

I’ve shown this before, but in honor of the college alumni weekend I’m not attending, here’s the greatest highlight ever from our athletic department:

I’ve watched that video a bunch of times from a couple of different angles, and I still can’t believe it.

Lawsuit filed over dog scent evidence

Three men have filed a federal lawsuit against Fort Bend Deputy Keith Pikett and his use of “evidence” gathered by scent dogs, which they say led to them being falsely accused of and imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit.

The men — Cedric Johnson, Curvis Bickham and Ronald Curtis — ask for compensatory and punitive damages for months spent in jail awaiting trial for crimes they did not commit. Charges against them eventually were dropped. Also named in the lawsuit are Fort Bend County Sheriff Milton Wright and the Houston Police Department.

Jeff Blackburn, attorney for the three, is leading a campaign against the use of dog scent evidence to charge people with crimes. Pikett and his dogs have been employed by prosecutors and police in thousands of Texas cases, in some instances providing the primary link between a suspect and a crime.

Blackburn is general counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas, which in September issued a scathing report on the use of dog scent evidence, calling it tantamount to junk science. The project works on behalf of wrongly accused people.

You can read that report here (PDF). I’ve blogged about this before here and here, and of course Grits is a comprehensive resource. It occurs to me that this is the sort of thing that the Texas Forensic Science Commission ought to be looking into, to help establish a statewide standard, or at least a set of recommendations and best practices, for local law enforcement agencies to go by. Too bad Governor Perry’s meddling in the affairs of the Commission over the Cameron Todd Willingham case has screwed the pooch on this, so to speak. Maybe some day, when we have a Governor that puts the best interests of Texas ahead of his own, that can happen.

UH to raise admissions standards

That was the idea, or at least one of them, behind the push for more Tier 1 schools – to take some pressure off of UT and A&M by providing more places for kids in the top ten percent of their graduating classes to go.

The new standards would limit automatic admission to students graduating in the top 10 percent of their high school class — that’s required by Texas law, but UH now automatically admits those in the top 20 percent — and set higher minimum scores on the SAT and ACT admissions tests for everyone else. They must be approved by regents next week and would take effect in the fall of 2011.

Students who don’t meet the standards will be referred to UH-Downtown, an option [Provost John] Antel said would fulfill the university’s traditional mission of educating the city’s working class. UH-Downtown is open admission, meaning anyone with a high school diploma or GED can enroll.


Students were concerned that higher standards will hurt diversity, said Kenneth Fomunung, president of the student government association.

Antel said ethnicity and race will be considered during individual admission reviews of students who don’t otherwise qualify, which helped sway Fomunung.

“Without that, I would have been very, very reserved,” he said.

That is a big concern, as it has been at UT and A&M. I think as long as UH can continue to maintain its diversity, everyone will be happy with the transition it’s about to embark on. Stace has more.

Commuter rail and transit-oriented development

Here’s a peek of things that may be to come, courtesy of Dallas.

The A-train commuter railway is more than a year away from rolling into Lewisville, but plans are already in the works for the city’s first transit-oriented development.

Hebron 121 Station will be part of a 427-acre city reinvestment zone on the northeast corner of Interstate 35E and the State Highway 121 bypass. The developer is describing it as the largest transit-oriented development in Texas. Huffines Communities Inc. is the primary developer of the project.

“Most [transit-oriented developments] are in more urbanized areas and are on smaller properties,” said Elizabeth Trosper, economic development specialist for Lewisville. The city will pay for infrastructure improvements on the vacant land through a 30-year tax-increment financing plan.

“We don’t know of any other projects of this size and scope,” said Phillip Huffines, co-owner of the Dallas company that is also developing a mixed-use community in Arlington.

Now imagine the possibilities for Houston and the places that its proposed commuter rail may eventually go. Pretty exciting, isn’t it? Greg has more, including a picture of the area to be developed.