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December, 2009:

As always, Merry Christmas, Mel Torme

It wouldn’t be Christmas if I didn’t link to my favorite Christmas story, about Mel Torme, now would it? Of course not. But since I have, now it is. Merry Christmas, Mel Torme, wherever you are.

Night Before Christmas video break

I’ve embedded this before, but it’s worth running again because it just rocks:

Now go get your kerchief and cap ready for that long winter’s nap.

Chron raises questions about Al Hoang’s residency and campaign finance reports

The main question I have is why is this story just being published now, on Christmas Eve, and not before either of the elections?

Houston City Councilman-elect Al Hoang and his wife claimed homestead exemptions on two separate homes, according to public records that also raise questions about whether Hoang meets the city’s residency requirements.

[…]

In addition, Hoang’s campaign finance reports filed prior to the Nov. 3 election and Dec. 12 runoff fail to include certain required elements, including the dates of donations and the occupations of donors who gave more than $500 in a reporting period. The omissions are so numerous that it is impossible to determine whether donations were reported multiple times or exceeded legal limits.

I’ll point out that I noted various incongruities on Hoang’s finance reports, such as the lack of dates and the double-reporting of expenses as in kind donations, on November 2 and again on December 9. I didn’t go into a great deal of detail because I didn’t have the time or the resources to dig deeper. But surely these issues were known beforehand. And Greg brought up the matter of Hoang’s residency in a post dated December 11, though it was actually published on the 13th. So again I ask, why are we just now reading about this in the Chron? Isn’t this something that ought to have been aired before the election?

A city ordinance requires candidates for district council positions to live in the district for a year prior to the election. When he filed for office Aug. 18, Hoang listed his address as 4403 Bugle, in District F, and signed a notarized statement saying he had lived in the district for 13 months.

Harris County Appraisal District records show that Hoang purchased the home on March 3. Voter registration records show he was registered at an address in District G until September, and his registration at the Bugle address took effect Oct. 16 — less than three weeks before the election.

Hoang claims a homestead exemption for the house on Bugle, records show. Hoang’s wife, Hang Nguyen, also claims a homestead exemption on a house listed in her name in Pearland, according to Brazoria County Appraisal District records. Hoang and his wife owned the home jointly until March 5, 2008, when he transferred the deed to her, the records show.

This is the same basic situation that sunk Jack Christie’s candidacy in 2007. Like Christie, I presume Hoang will eventually have to fork over some dough to make up for the extra homestead exemption. I presume the DA will not bring charges, since that sort of prosecution never seems to happen. What I want to know is, if all this is true, how can he be sworn in as the District F Council Member? What’s the point of a residency statute if it can be so easily flouted? I’ve said before and I’ll say again, residency isn’t that big an issue for me. If people want to elect someone who doesn’t live where they do to represent them, that’s their choice. But that’s assuming they know that about the candidate in question, which may or may not be the case here, and given that we have a law about this, then surely we ought to draw a line somewhere. Is there a remedy in the ordinance for this, or is it simply a matter of Hoang paying up on his taxes? If the latter is all that there is, then what’s the point of the residency requirement?

UPDATE: Martha has more.

HCDE moves to eject Wolfe

The strange saga of Harris County Department of Education Trustee Michael Wolfe takes another weird turn.

The Harris County Board of Education has voted to begin legal proceedings to kick Trustee Michael Wolfe off the board.

Fellow trustee Jim Henley said the movement to oust Wolfe is based on his numerous absences and Wolfe’s “lack of acting in the best interests of the department.”

The board considered removing Wolfe for incompetence last year, but Wolfe appealed for a second chance and pledged to adhere to a list of ethical practices.

Henley said Wolfe has violated that pledge and continues to miss meetings without informing the board ahead of time of his absences — or explaining them afterward.

Board members voted 6-0 Monday night to seek Wolfe’s ouster from the $72-a-year position.

Again, I can’t summarize this bizarre situation with just a link or two, so browse here to bring yourself up to speed. And if this wasn’t weird enough, consider this:

Despite having three years left on his term as the Position 3 at-large trustee, Wolfe has filed to run in the March primary election against Board President Angie Chesnut for the Precinct 2 seat.

Fun fact: Wolfe defeated Andrew Burks for that seat in 2006. Yes, he’d be moving from a countywide position to a district position if he wins that race against Chesnut. There’s a reason for that, which I’ll get to in a minute. I sent an email to Jim Henley to clarify a couple of points that were not clear to me from the story. According to Henley, the way the removal process will work is that the HCDE’s attorney will drawn up a petition for removal and submit it for board approval at the regular board meeting in January. If the board then approves the petition it will go to a civil trial with six jurors, and their verdict will determine Wolfe’s fate. However, even if they wind up removing him, if he then wins the Position 3 election, he would be eligible to serve again. Clever of him, no? Of course, given that Wolfe recruited a couple of fellow travelers to (successfully) primary two of his Republican colleagues last year, it’s likely also the case that he’s doing this in part out of spite. So all in all, just another day at the office for Michael Wolfe.

Federal court rules for TDP in voting machine case

I’m a little surprised by this.

A three-judge panel has ruled that Dallas County election officials violated federal law when they did not inform the Department of Justice about changes in the way straight-party votes are counted on electronic voting machines.

The judges determined that the county did not get proper approval from the Department of Justice to use the county’s current machines. They granted an injunction requested by the Texas Democratic Party to halt use of the machines in Dallas until they get Justice Department clearance.

The ruling stems from a federal lawsuit filed by the party last year after a close recount favored the Republican candidate in a crucial statehouse race. Democrat Bob Romano lost the District 105 race in Dallas to incumbent Linda Harper-Brown by 19 votes.

The Texas Democratic Party sued Dallas County, claiming that election officials here failed to notify Justice Department officials about “emphasis” votes that don’t get counted when people vote straight-party on electronic machines.

I’m surprised because I’d forgotten that there was still a suit pending. The last word I had recall on this was of a TDP-filed lawsuit that had been tossed, with no further appeals pending. But that suit dealt only with the HD105 recount; there was a second suit filed that was about the larger issue of the machines in general. I still say that the matter isn’t that confusing, at least based on my own eSlate experience last year, but it’s certainly plausible to me that a change in the interface could have been made in Dallas without all the proper legal hoops being jumped through. And there is room to make it more clear to a voter what is happening when they act this way, to really avoid any confusion. I’m not sure how this might affect Harris County next year, but it’s something to watch out for. A statement from the TDP regarding the ruling is beneath the fold.

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Earle explains why he picked Lite Guv

Ronnie Earle talks to the Trib about why he decided to run for Lieutenant Governor when all the previous speculation had been centered on Governor or Attorney General.

Earle, who retired at the end of 2008 after over three decades as a DA, says he spent most of the last year enjoying his retirement, but ultimately felt compelled to run. “I see policies being enacted at the Capitol that endanger our children and grandchildren,” he says.

He places a lot of emphasis the importance of cooperation, which will likely be a major campaign theme. “Effective law enforcement and effective government means teaming up, “ Earle says. “You have to have a high level of cooperation among various federal, state, and local agencies and go after the problem together.”

He credits inter-agency cooperation for lowering Austin’s murder rate from 41 murders in 1991 to 23 in 2008. Earle intends to bring this cooperative spirit to state government, which he believes is currently somewhat lacking. “Right now, I’m not sure if the right hand and the left hand even know each other,” he says.

They’ve got an audio clip here if you want to hear more. What he says is reasonable enough, and I look forward to hearing more from him even as I wait to see if any other candidates get into the race. Looking through my archives, I find one time Earle specifically addressed what office he might like to run for since he first expressed his interest in running. He talked about running for Governor, and his vision seems to have been fairly similar to what it is now. That ought to make it easier for him to explain why he chose a different path in the end.

Another food stamp lawsuit

Back in August, a federal lawsuit was filed over the interminable delays that food stamp applicants face in Texas getting their forms processed. That suit was dismissed in October by Judge Sam Sparks on the grounds that the federal law didn’t allow for suits, so now the same lawyers as before have refiled in state court.

The suit, filed in state district court in Travis County, asked that the Health and Human Services Commission be ordered to comply with the rules, which require decisions on non-emergency food stamp applications to be made within 30 days.

Last month, the commission processed about 58 percent of applications statewide on time – in North Texas, it was 41 percent.

“Some of these people have been waiting for six months. It’s ridiculous,” said Robert Doggett, an attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Austin. “We’re asking for a judge to order the department to make these decisions timely.”

We’ll see if they have any better luck there. You can read more about the food stamps saga here.

Quan will be in for County Judge

We knew former City Council member Gordon Quan was strongly considering a race for Harris County Judge. It would appear that he has made up his mind, because today I received an invitation via Facebook to attend an event called “Gordon Quan Announces for Harris County County Judge!” It will be on Tuesday the 29th at noon at the Post Oak Grill on Milam, and since this was listed as an open event, you can be there as well. Far as I know, all of the countywide offices in Harris for next year are now covered. May we have as much luck with the statewide ticket.

UPDATE: Miya was on this earlier today.

Judicial Q&A: Trent Gaither

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. There are a lot of judicial races on the ballot in Harris County this election, and so this is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. I will also be conducting some in-person interviews of candidates who will be involved in contested primaries for non-judicial offices. Please see my 2010 Election page for a full list of Q&As and interviews.)

1. Who are you, and what are you running for?

I am Trent Gaither and I am running for the 248th Judicial (Criminal) District Court of Harris County

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Felony cases of all levels, including but not limited to (1) violent crimes resulting in serious bodily injury or death; (2) most crimes against children; (3) major drug cases; and (4) theft/fraud and other property crimes where value is over $1500.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

In my opinion, the incumbent on this bench is and has been a major contributor in developing and applying the failed policies and bad decisions of the past decade which in turn have contributed to Harris County being viewed by legal communities around the country as a joke. I’m not saying she is a bad person, we just have diverse views on significant and fundamental issues relating to the law and the legal process. Nothing personal, just business – the people’s business.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

* 23 years as a trial lawyer in state and federal courts – primarily criminal defense, but have also handled civil cases including personal injury, wrongful death, and commercial litigation

* extensive trial experience defending all types of criminal cases – from DWI to major fraud and other complex white collar cases (criminal and civil) to murder;

* trained by the best trial lawyers in Houston;

5. Why is this race important?

It can have a major impact on the overall administration of criminal justice in Harris County for years to come. We are potentially on the verge of major breakthroughs in several areas that effect that administration. With the right people, we can make that happen.

Examples:

(1) Indigent defense: For the first time, serious consideration is being given to creation of a public defender office. Right now, all that has been approved is a pilot program of limited application. We need leadership from the bench to make sure that program is properly implemented and administered while working toward expansion for all indigent persons.

(2) Credibility: The prospect of an independent forensic crime lab remains viable, although the City elections have stalled discussions. Input from the judiciary will be crucial to get the project back on track and in assessing and implementing the project and expediting the transition.

(3) Jail Overcrowding: our jails are overloaded to the point where the politicians (only two or so years after abject defeat) are once more crying for more jails. At the same time, the judges continue to follow bonding practices based on presumptions of guilt or the ability to pay rather than proper legal principles. Pre-trial services has been turned into what can only be described as a pre-trial probation department rather than it’s intended purpose. Judges continue to blindly follow a bond schedule that is arbitrary at best and is likely partly unconstitutional. Finally, according to the County Attorney, 60 % of the current jail population is made up of inmates awaiting trial. These folks are presumed to be innocent, their cases given priority for trial. Yet they remain jailed for at the expense of Harris County taxpayers for months and often years without being heard. There is something wrong with that picture.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

1. Experience – both in terms of quantity and quality;

2. Credibility and respect from the legal community as reflected in:
– an “AV” rating from Martindale-Hubbell, the only recognized national peer review rating system
– selected as a Best Lawyer for Criminal Defense by H-Texas Magazine (a local peer review rating group)
– selected as a Best Lawyer for the People by H-Texas Magazine

3. Courage to explore and implement new and novel ideas in relation to docket control, case management, and rehabilitative programs to enhance productivity in the court and maximize the potential of probationers to become assets to the community rather than burdens to the taxpayers

4. Judicial Integrity – My rulings and decisions will be based on the law, not on a preconceived notion of what the outcome should be and not on the hope or expectation that some appellate judge will claim my screw-up to be “harmless error”

5. Confidence – I believe that the most important function of a trial judge is presiding over hearings and trials in a fair and impartial manner, not the ability to spew out plea admonishments. My trial experience both as lead counsel and as support for other top flight lawyers in often long and complex cases allows me a unique perspective in fulfilling that prime directive.

Runoff precinct analysis, HISD I

To wrap up my series of precinct analyses from the 2009 Houston runoffs, we turn now to the HISD Trustee race in District I. I’ve added a sheet to the Google spreadsheet I put together for the District Council analysis with the precincts from this race, again minus the trivial ones. The first thing you notice when you compare the precincts that Alma Lara won to the precincts that Anna Eastman won is that they were dealing with two different electorates.

Precincts won by Alma Lara Ballots Voters Turnout Lara Eastman Lara% East% HISD% ============================================================= 4,298 33,442 12.85% 2,669 1,284 67.5 32.5 92.0 Precincts won by Anna Eastman Ballots Voters Turnout Lara Eastman Lara% East% HISD% ============================================================= 6,527 26,159 24.95% 2,048 3,627 36.1 63.9 86.7

I skipped two relatively small precincts in which Lara and Eastman tied. It rather goes without saying that it’s hard to win when your voters aren’t showing up at the polls. This comparison reminds me strongly of the analysis I did a year ago in the HD133 race won by State Rep. Kristi Thibaut. In 2006, when turnout in Democratic precincts was lousy, Thibaut lost and it wasn’t particularly close. In 2008 when those precincts were closer to parity with the Republican boxes, she won. Lara didn’t need to be even near parity to defeat Eastman – holding all other percentages equal, a turnout level of 15% would have been enough for her to eke out a win – but she couldn’t afford to be doubled up like this.

Note that in the table above, “ballots” refers to the total number of ballots cast in those precincts, not the total number of votes the candidates got. “HISD%” represents the number of ballots cast that included a vote in this race. As you can see, fewer people in Lara’s precincts skipped this race, which along with her higher margin in those precincts is why she could have won with a lower lever of overall turnout. I bring that up because it had occurred to me that Eastman might have benefited from a wave of Parker supporters coming to the polls. Indeed, while Parker did well in Lara’s precincts, winning 2773 of 4198 votes there, or 66.0%, she really killed in Eastman’s precincts, going 5078 for 6456, or 78.7%. That may have helped drive some of the higher turnout in those precincts, but more of those folks didn’t stick around to register an opinion in the HISD race, so whatever the effect there, it was tempered somewhat.

The other thing that struck me about these numbers is how the two citywide Republican-versus-Democrat runoffs went. (I’ve not been considering Costello versus Derr for these purposes, as Costello did not run on a Republican persona.)

Candidate Votes Pct ======================== Khan 5,206 53.0 Green 4,613 47.0 Christie 4,861 52.3 Jones 4,439 47.7

I’m amazed by this. There’s nothing about this district that says “Republican-favoring” to me. Indeed, it’s almost entirely contained within City Council District H, which both Green and Jones won, with three precincts in A and two more in B. Obviously, it was the rest of H that was friendly to them. I looked at these boxes to see if Eastman, who received the endorsement of Linda Toyota, the Republican candidate who finished third in November, plus incumbent Republican Trustees Harvin Moore and Greg Meyers, performed more strongly in areas won by the Republican Council candidates. The answer is Yes:

Precincts won by Christie Christie Jones Chris% Jones% Lara Eastman Lara% East% =========================================================== 3,162 2,280 58.1 41.9 2,586 3,243 44.4 55.6 Precincts won by Jones Christie Jones Chris% Jones% Lara Eastman Lara% East% =========================================================== 1,684 2,108 44.4 55.6 2,087 1,673 55.5 44.5 Precincts won by Khan Khan Green Khan% Green% Lara Eastman Lara% East% ======================================================== 3,956 3,017 56.7 43.3 2,966 4,091 42.0 58.0 Precincts won by Green Khan Green Khan% Green% Lara Eastman Lara% East% ======================================================== 1,250 1,596 43.9 56.1 1,788 857 67.6 32.4

Yes, the disparity between the Christie precincts and the Khan precincts is really that sharp. For what it’s worth, the correlation only goes one way, as both Christie and Khan won the precincts that Lara carried, though by a small margin in each case. I consider this to be further evidence of the strength of Christie and Khan’s advertising efforts, even as they fell short.

So that about wraps it up for me. I don’t think I have anything more to say about the 2009 elections. I’ll be going full steam ahead on the 2010 contests – I already am, really – and I hope you enjoyed these analyses. There will be plenty more to do in the coming months.

Post-election Dynamo Stadium update

So where do we stand with Dynamo Stadium now that the Mayoral election is over? Pretty much where we were before it, actually.

Of the MLS teams pushing for a stadium, the Dynamo appear closest to the goal. Team ownership hopes to strike a deal with the city of Houston and Harris County for a 22,000-seat, $80 million venue just east of U.S. 59 downtown.

Under a proposal backed by Houston mayor Bill White, the Dynamo would contribute nearly $60 million to the project, with the city and county each contributing $10 million in redevelopment money. The money would come from a tax increment reinvestment zone.

Mayor-elect Annise Parker has said she supports the proposal.

“She’s OK with the amount of money the city is willing to invest” provided the county puts in its share, Janice Evans-Davis, Parker’s spokeswoman, said Monday. “She is not OK with putting any additional city dollars (into the project).”

County Judge Ed Emmett is optimistic a deal will be reached. But the proposal has yet to see the light of day at Commissioners Court despite more than a year of negotiations among the county, city and team.

Efforts to reach County Commissioner El Franco Lee, whose Precinct 1 would house the majority of the stadium, were unsuccessful.

Commissioner Sylvia Garcia is also involved, as the parts of the stadium that aren’t in Lee’s precinct are in hers. The ball is in their court. If they want this to happen, it will, and if they don’t, it won’t. The question then becomes what if anything will the Dynamo do after that. Will they try to come up with a different scheme, or will they look to pull up stakes and relocate again? If they threaten the latter – and note that they may reconsider suburban options, as Sugar Land is still thinking about sports stadia, even if it’s for a different sport. Would a threat to leave change things one way or another? It wouldn’t shock me to find out. Campos has more.

Budget cuts coming for Rice

It’s going to be a tough budget year for Rice University.

Rice President David Leebron set the stage for the coming year in an address to faculty this fall, warning that coping with endowment losses is one of the most critical issues facing the school.

University officials say no decisions have been made about next year’s budget, or even how deeply to cut.

“There are way too many variables in the planning process,” said B.J. Almond, the school’s chief spokesman. The final budget must be approved by trustees.

[…]

Rice draws about 46 percent of its operating budget from its endowment, which lost $838 million during the year that ended June 30.

When money drawn from the endowment to bolster school operations is added in, the total drop was close to $1 billion. The endowment was reported at $3.6 billion in June.

Pretty scary. No wonder folks are worried about the potential merger with Baylor College of Medicine, which is a huge financial question mark. I just hope they know what they’re doing.

Seeing a story like this makes me wonder how my alma mater is doing on this front, as it too is a small private school with a sizable endowment, but I haven’t seen anything about it. Let’s hope no news is good news.

Another view of city voting

I’ve been showing data about how the city elections broke down by Council district, but there are other ways to look at it as well. This presentation, which was sent to me by Joaquin Estevan DeLeon, is an analysis of the way Anglo, African American, and Hispanic voters made their choices in the citywide races. It’s interesting stuff, so take a look.

McDonald decides against running in CD10

This is a big surprise.

Democrat Jack McDonald, who was going to challenge Republican incumbent Mike McCaul for District 10, will no longer be running for the seat. He never filed.

McDonald’s press release is beneath the fold. I’m stunned by this because McDonald had been very successful at fundraising, and had over $800K in the bank as of the third quarter reporting deadline. I confess I’m too cynical to take an announcement like this at face value, but I’m not sufficiently plugged into the Travis County scene to know any more about what may have been going on. If anyone knows some details, please leave a comment. BOR has more.

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Judicial Q&A: Cheryl Harris Diggs

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. There are a lot of judicial races on the ballot in Harris County this election, and so this is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. I will also be conducting some in-person interviews of candidates who will be involved in contested primaries for non-judicial offices. Please see the 2010 Election page listed at the top of the blog for a full list of Q&As and interviews.)

1. Who are you, and what are you running for?

I am Cheryl Harris Diggs and I am a Democrat running for the County Criminal Court at Law #12 bench.

I am a native Houstonian who grew up on the Southeast side of town and graduated from Jesse H. Jones High School. I am married and I have a son.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The judge in this court presides over Class A misdemeanors such as DWI 2nd, assault, resisting arrest, and burglary of a motor vehicle. Class A misdemeanor punishment is up to 1 year in jail and up to a $4000 fine.

The court also hears Class B misdemeanors such as first time DWI offenses, theft, possession of marihuana, and criminal mischief cases. Class B misdemeanor punishment is up to 180 days in jail and up to a $2000 fine.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I was not interested in running for a district court bench. I feel my personality is better suited to deal with the people and situations presented daily in misdemeanor court. After I was screened by the Democratic party, they placed me in the race for this bench.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a licensed attorney for 11 1/2 years. I practice criminal law in both state and federal court. I am a graduate of the University of Houston Law Center and Georgetown University. I also speak Spanish.

5. Why is this race important?

People don’t care about judges until they have to appear in front of one as an accused person, parent, friend, potential juror or witness in a case. The decisons made in misdemeanor court can impact a person’s ability to get and/or keep a job, get financial aid for college, or to legally remain in this country. This is why this race is important.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

People should vote for me because I am the best person for this job. I am capable, committed, and qualified to serve. I am patient and caring and will do my best to make sure that people who appear in my court are treated fairly.

Precinct analysis, District Council races

In addition to the five citywide runoffs, there were two runoffs in district Council races, in A and F. In each case, they were run in territory that, judging by the citywide results, were modestly (F) or very (A) friendly to Republicans, and in each case the Republican candidate won. But that’s about where the similarities end.

Since there are a small number of precincts for each district, I’ve created this Google spreadsheet that has a mostly complete list of each precincts from them both. I say “mostly” because I filtered out the smallest precincts, in which generally fewer than 10 votes were cast. My comments on each:

Candidate Votes Pct ======================== Stardig 9,258 56.6 Lewis 7,103 43.4 Parker 11,199 63.5 Locke 6,439 36.5 Khan 10,171 61.8 Green 6,297 38.2 Christie 10,541 66.6 Jones 5,300 33.4

– In District A, the first thing you notice is that Brenda Stardig trailed the higher profile Republican candidates Jack Christie and MJ Khan, each of whom drew more votes and had a higher percentage than she did. By the same token, Lane Lewis outperformed Jolanda Jones and Ronald Green. Jones and Green each won six out of the 46 precincts in total, while Lewis won twelve. Lewis did at least as well as Jones in all but six precincts, and at least as well as Green in all but twelve. There were about as many votes cast in the District A runoff as there were in the Controller’s race, and Khan outscored Stardig by about as much as Lewis improved on Green, but in the At Large #5 runoff there were about 500 fewer votes cast, and as Jones trailed Lewis by a wider margin than Christie led Stardig, I’d guess that a sizable number of those who skipped this race might have otherwise been inclined to vote for a Democratic candidate. Consider that a success for Christie’s mail campaign, and keep it in mind as we move on. Anyway, the bottom line is that Lewis’ good precincts generally overlapped with Jones’ and Green’s, with the latter two winning only one that Lewis did not carry.

Candidate Votes Pct ======================== Hoang 4,662 52.9 Laster 4,161 47.1 Parker 4,612 51.3 Locke 4,383 48.7 Khan 4,870 59.8 Green 3,298 40.2 Christie 4,404 60.0 Jones 2,964 40.0

– Moving on to District F, it’s a very different story. The undervote rate was 5.96%, smaller than any race besides the Mayoral race. The dropoff in the Controller’s race – even though this was MJ Khan’s home district – and At Large #5 was considerable:

Mayor’s race, total votes = 8995
District F, total votes = 8823
Controller’s race, total votes = 8166
At Large #5, total votes = 7368

Unlike in A, there was almost no correlation between the precincts won by the Democratic candidate in the district, Mike Laster, and the Democratic citywide candidates who had Republican opponents. Laster won 13 of the 27 precincts I looked at. Of those 13 precincts, Jones won three, while Green won one. In the other 14 precincts, Jones won four and Green two. The margins of victory varied greatly as well. In the 14 precincts that Al Hoang won, he received at least 50 more votes than Jack Christie in eight of them, including five in which he topped Christie by at least 100 votes. But on the flip side, in the precincts Laster won, Hoang trailed Christie by at least 50 votes in five of them, trailing by at least 100 in two. I presume the differences were geographical, but I’ll leave the mapmaking the Greg. The point here is that I believe both Laster and Hoang had a base that supported them regardless of what they did – or even if they voted – in the other races. Lewis had this to a lesser extent, while Stardig basically rode the partisan tide, as far as I can tell. Hoang in the end had more support, perhaps due to the historic nature of the race – as Parker is our first gay Mayor, and Green is our first African American Controller, Hoang is our first Vietnamese American to serve on Council.

– One final observation is that the usual dynamic of early versus Election Day voting was flipped on its head in F. In A, Stardig won 70% of the absentee ballots, 56% of the votes cast on December 12, and 52% of the in person early votes. In other words, this race followed the partisan rhythm we’ve seen in every other race. In F, Laster actually won the absentee balloting, by a 428-337 margin, and won Election Day handily, with nearly 58%. But Hoang crushed him in early in person voting, scoring over 62% and running up an 1100 vote margin that was more than enough to compensate for Laster’s game day showing. This was a repeat of their pattern from November, except that Laster had a plurality then. Whatever Hoang did to get out his voters, it worked.

Last up, a look at HISD I tomorrow.

Here come the gay tourists

The election of Annise Parker as Mayor has put Houston on the map as a travel destination for gay groups.

Houston historically has not been a popular destination for gay and lesbian travelers, according to U.S. Travel Association data. Last month, independent of mayoral politics, the visitors bureau launched an online effort to reach out to them.

Regardless of whether Parker’s election boosts that effort directly, at the least it could help change the perception of Houston, according to a longtime tourism consultant. Houston drew international attention earlier this month when it became the largest U.S. city to elect an openly gay mayor.

It “makes Houston seem more tolerant and gay-friendly,” said David Paisley, senior program director of Community Marketing, a San Francisco-based marketing and consulting firm that works primarily with the gay and lesbian tourism industry.

Cities have been marketing themselves to gay and lesbian tourists for years now, since as the story notes they tend to travel more and spend more money at their destinations. Houston got a ton of free, positive publicity from Parker’s win, so now is as good a time as any to try to capitalize on that.

It’s too early to say how Parker as mayor will affect gay and lesbian travel to Houston, [Holly Clapham, vice president of marketing at the Convention and Visitors Bureau] said, but “her brand is now associated with our product.”

The reaction among many outsiders when they heard Parker was elected was, “‘Wow, this happened in Houston!’” Clapham said. “Certainly there is buzz and awareness out there.”

People won’t come here just because of her election, she said, “but this could open windows to them considering Houston.”

For those of us who think that most people will like Houston if they give it a try, that’s all you can ask for.

Bellaire bans texting while driving

First West U, now Bellaire.

Following the lead of the city of Austin, the City Councils in Bellaire and West U Monday adopted ordinances to prohibit texting or web browsing while driving. Laws are in effect immediately, though not enforceable by respective police entities until proper legal notice is published and appropriate street signs are posted.

Officials in West University expect signs to be in place by about Jan. 1, while Bellaire’s enforcement will begin at a time to be determined in January.

“This one passes the common sense test,” said Bellaire Councilman Phil Nauert. “I don’t believe there’s any safe way to text while driving.”

Bellaire’s enactment of the ordinance was done with little fanfare, following West University’s process that was the focal point of significant attention in the greater Houston area.

‘We’ve brought an awareness to everyone that texting is not responsible,” said West U Councilmember George Boehme.

Note that both cities’ restrictions include bans on texting while stopped for a red light. If you’re in a driving lane, even if you’re not moving, it’s forbidden. Link via Hair Balls.

Texas blog roundup for the week of December 21

It’s Christmas week, so we’ve added a sprig of holly to this week’s Texas Progressive Alliance blog roundup. The wassailing begins after the jump.

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RIP, Laff Stop

Rats.

The Laff Stop is closed … forever. On Saturday, the legendary club — that gave rise to national names such as Sean Rouse, Brett Butler and Ralphie May — ended it’s nearly-three-decade run of comedy in Houston. In other words, it’s now The Laff Stopped. (What? Too soon?) But seriously folks …

“It’s sad to see it go, because it’s 28 years that club has been around,” says Rob Mungle, a comedian who started his career around the same time the Stop opened. Mungle says the Laff Stop, known for having one of the best open-mike nights in the country, was a starting point for many comedians. “There are people who weren’t even born when it [opened], who were doing open mike [there], you know?”

I saw Sam Kinison there in 1990 or so, and Kinky Friedman back when he was still just a singer/comedian. One of the jokes Friedman told is still one of the funniest I’ve ever heard. (No, I won’t repeat it here.) It’s been awhile since I’ve been, but I’m still sorry to see the place go.

Judicial Q&A: Bruce Kessler

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. There are a lot of judicial races on the ballot in Harris County this election, and so this is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. I will also be conducting some in-person interviews of candidates who will be involved in contested primaries for non-judicial offices. Please see the 2010 Election page listed at the top of the blog for a full list of Q&As and interviews.)

1. Who are you, and what are you running for?

I am Bruce Kessler and I am running for Judge of the 308th Family District Court of Harris County, Texas, in the March 2010 Democratic primary.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 308th is a family law court and hears matters such as divorce, custody, child support, suits affecting the parent-child relationship, terminations and adoptions, name changes and other cases involving interpersonal and family relationships

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I would like the opportunity to improve the 308th by making it a more efficient and user-friendly court. I plan to implement specific policies and procedures to make the court more accessible and efficient for the working families of Harris County and to expedite hearings and trials so that cases can be heard timely. I intend for courtesy, consistency, common sense and compassion to be the hallmarks of the 308th Family District Court.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am an attorney with 23 years experience in the active practice of family law; I am Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, indicating special competence in the practice of Family Law; I am a former Family Court Associate Judge; I am a skilled family law mediator; I am a former Committee Chair of a State Bar Grievance Committee; and I belong to many professional organizations through which I keep current with family law issues.

5. Why is this race important?

This is an important race because it is for an open bench as the current judge is not seeking re-election. The 308th needs a judge with the experience, perspective and proven ability to administer the court efficiently and productively as well as the interest in making it more user-friendly and accessible.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

I am the only candidate for the 308th who is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and have been certified as such since 1994. I am also the only candidate for the 308th who has served as an Associate Judge in a Family Court. Not only am I familiar with the law but I have a proven ability to manage a court’s docket.

I value honesty, integrity, hard work and common sense in my practice. I enjoy a good reputation within the Bar both personally and professionally. I am always receptive to new ideas and will strive to make the 308th a more efficient and user-friendly court. I plan to implement specific policies and procedures to make the court more accessible and efficient for the working families of Harris County.

My years as a mediator have provided additional insight and ability to hear and understand issues and have further enabled me to structure solutions that are customized for each case as opposed to “cookie cutter” justice.

Further, from a Democratic perspective, I ran for a family bench in 1998 and I have a solid history of voting Democratic.

I believe that I am the best qualified Democratic candidate in the primary election and the candidate best suited to compete against any candidate from another party in the general election.

Runoff precinct analysis, At Large Council races

Continuing on with the precinct analyses from the runoff, here’s a look at the City Council At Large races. First up, At Large #1:

Dist Derr Costello Derr% Cost% ==================================== A 7,200 8,160 46.9 53.1 B 5,737 4,859 54.1 45.9 C 9,001 9,870 47.7 52.3 D 11,804 7,487 61.2 38.8 E 5,754 9,154 38.6 61.4 F 3,345 3,753 47.1 52.9 G 8,373 14,662 36.4 63.6 H 6,960 4,891 58.7 41.3 I 3,144 3,598 46.6 53.4

Derr did very well in her backyard of District H, and had a fairly strong showing in A and D, while Costello ran strongly just about everywhere else. I have to believe that his financial advantage, which included being on TV quite a bit in the closing days, helped push him over the top. Derr did have a slight lead after early voting – counting absentee and in-person ballots, she took a 28,373 to 27,898 lead in Harris County into Runoff Day – but her surprisingly weak showing in African American areas like District B and Fort Bend County, which Costello carried by over 500 votes, helped do her in. There was a push in the runoff to identify Derr as the Democratic candidate and Costello as not, and I can only presume that it either wasn’t received in sufficient number, or wasn’t perceived to be important enough, perhaps due to Costello’s ad blitz. You have to wonder what might have happened if Derr had spent more money on voter outreach.

At Large #2:

Dist Lovell Burks Lovell% Burks% ==================================== A 8,953 5,571 61.6 38.4 B 3,128 7,773 28.7 72.3 C 12,427 5,962 67.6 32.4 D 8,015 11,974 40.1 59.9 E 7,659 6,834 52.9 47.1 F 3,967 2,966 57.2 42.8 G 12,963 8,770 59.7 40.3 H 7,235 3,721 66.0 34.0 I 3,625 3,036 54.4 45.6

As before, not much to see here. The only places Burks did well were the African American districts, and even there he didn’t really do all that much. If he hoped to get a boost from the Hotze endorsement, I’d say Lovell’s showing in Districts A, E, and G stuck a pin in those hopes. There’s a reason why perennial candidates keep losing.

Last but certainly not least, At Large #5:

Dist Christie Jones Chris% Jones% =================================== A 10,541 5,300 66.5 33.5 B 1,658 10,673 13.4 86.6 C 10,675 9,215 53.7 46.3 D 3,681 17,653 17.2 82.8 E 10,894 4,771 69.5 30.5 F 4,404 2,964 59.8 40.2 G 18,001 6,039 74.9 25.1 H 5,011 6,531 43.4 56.6 I 3,025 4,119 42.3 57.7

You want sharp contrasts, look no further. I’m still boggling over the numbers Jones put up in B and D, which along with Fort Bend were what she needed to hang on. Christie, meanwhile, clearly got a huge bang for all those bucks he and others put into mailers that attacked Jones. All of that activity had an effect on turnout – while the other two At Large races had about the same number of votes as they did in Round One, this race had about 3000 more, with a relatively miniscule 12.64% undervote rate. This race was also a good illustration of the partisan vote patterns – Jones had by far the biggest lead in Harris County in early voting, racking up nearly an 8000 vote advantage from in-person votes, for a net lead of about 5000 overall once absentee ballots are factored in. She then lost that lead in Harris on Election Day. Again, the 2009 pattern seems to be more of what we saw in 2008, with Democrats voting heavily early, and Republicans showing up on Election Day. That may have been the nature of those particular races – the Democratic message in 2008 was long, strong, and consistent about voting early, while the lack of any Republican interest for the most part until late in the game shaped this year’s contests – but it bears keeping in mind as we head into 2010.

I will have some commentary on the two district Council runoffs and the HISD I runoff before closing the books on 2009. As always, let me know what you think.

It’s almost as if the answer were staring us right in the face

Same song, I forget which verse.

As compared with a year earlier, sales tax collections were down 14.4 percent in November, and those kinds of returns have hastened budget-cutting talk. But what’s really driving the conversation is a decision that lawmakers made in wealthier times to put property tax cuts at the top of the state’s permanent priority list.

In 2006, facing an order from the Texas Supreme Court, lawmakers passed a one-third reduction in school property taxes for operations, committing the state to spend $7.1 billion every year to hold those taxes down. But the tax increases that lawmakers passed at the same time to replace that money — most notably a revamped business tax — produce less than $3 billion per year.

So every two years, the state has to pull more than $8 billion away from other priorities, such as public schools, universities or prisons, to pay the rest of the cost of property tax cuts. Doing so wasn’t too difficult when the state had surpluses, but now that they’re gone, the property tax cuts threaten to eat up any revenue growth the state sees, even though many homeowners never saw much of a decrease in their tax bills.

To meet the state’s commitment to hold down property taxes, to pay for an increasing number of people enrolling in public schools and colleges and joining Medicaid rolls and to replace the stimulus dollars used to pay for the current budget, lawmakers in 2011 might have to come up with $15 billion or more to balance the budget, which now totals $182 billion over two years.

If only there were some giant, irresponsible, unaffordable, multibillion dollar budget item that we could eliminate to make the deficit smaller. I just know that would go a long way towards solving our problems in the short term and the longer term. If only.

The race for HCRP Chair

I don’t have a dog in this fight, so I don’t really have an opinion to offer as to each candidate’s merits. From a purely selfish point of view, of course, I’d prefer that the best candidate, whoever that is, not win. The main point of interest about this race to me is that it’s a lot easier to be a county party chair when your party is winning. Things sure are more harmonious in the HCDP these days, and I’ve noticed a sharp drop in the level of public criticism of Gerry Birnberg since last November. If the Harris County GOP does well next year, then whoever is its Chair will be hailed as a hero. If they have a repeat of 2008, that person will wish he’d lost his election as well. It’s as simple as that. Martha has more.

Loren Jackson files for re-election

Most of the focus for the Harris County Democratic Party in 2010 will be finishing the job from 2008, which is to say winning more judicial races and the executive offices that will be up for election. There are a couple of seats to defend at the countywide level, however – Judges Dion Ramos, Robert Hinojosa, and Kathy Stone, all of whom won unexpired terms, and District Clerk Loren Jackson, who won the office vacated by Charles Bacarisse. Here’s Jackson’s announcement about his filing for re-election:

Loren Jackson officially filed today seeking re-election for another term as Harris County District Clerk.

“I remain steadfast in my commitment to serve the people of Harris County through continued fiscal responsibility, proven leadership and practical innovation that reduce costs to our taxpayers,” said Jackson.

In his short time in office, Jackson has utilized technology innovation to boost operational efficiency, improve services and cut costs within the Office of the District Clerk resulting in significant taxpayer savings. To date his administration has:

· Quadrupled monthly e-filings from 3,000 to 12,000/month

· Made court records accessible online to the public and the Harris County Bar through a redesigned website

· Created new jobs by relocating its call center from San Antonio to an in-house location at a savings of more than $400,000/yr. to Harris County Taxpayers and

· Progressively increased awareness of and attendance to Jury Service each month, reducing the cost of printing and mailing of reminder Jury Summons.

“The accomplishments of our office over this past year have reduced: operating costs, document processing time, and the number of people making trips to the courthouse for services,” said Jackson. “I would be honored to continue serving the citizens of Harris County by ensuring sound, fiscal oversight of the District Clerk’s Office and by finding more ways to cut costs to our taxpayers.”

As District Clerk, Jackson has jurisdiction over the summoning of prospective jurors for 74 courts and is responsible for custodial care and safekeeping of all court records for 59 District Courts and 15 County Criminal Courts located in Harris County. In addition, the Harris County District Clerk has the important responsibility of providing customer service to all child support cases (causes) heard in Harris County.

And in addition to all that, Jackson is the man who brought us WiFi in the Harris County Jury Assembly Room. Jackson has been very busy this past year, and his accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. Keep an eye on Loren Jackson, and make sure you vote for him next year.

Weekend link dump for December 20

Nothing like a few days off around the holidays.

The Ten Least Successful Holiday Specials Of All Time.

Not sure you’re all that fond of the 21st century? Here are some possible reasons why.

Is hand crafted content doomed? Spekaing for myself, no.

Even the Connecticut for Lieberman Party hates Joe Lieberman.

Rice University at a crossroads.

Defending Gary Kubiak. I basically agree with this.

He’s a lady.

I have to have one of these.

Multiple choice does not necessarily mean mutually exclusive.

Memories from the summer of crazy.

There’s a reason why cultural literacy is important.

It’s not clear to me why the national GOP thought that a GOP-branded URL shortener was something that we needed, but clearly I lack imagination. The results were predictable, and damn funny to boot.

I’m with Nate.

The 12 Days of HMNS. Day One: Snow science.

This was the subject of a Car Talk puzzler a year or so ago.

The Bloggess versus Canada. Canada loses.

The Photoshop Diet.

Congrats to Judge Al Bennett, the newly elected Administrative Judge for Harris County.

The Saint Arnold brewery is finally open for tours.

Three views of the Treasurer

Since posting this entry about the Democratic primary race for Harris County Treasurer and my views of that office, I’ve gotten some interesting feedback that I thought was worth sharing. First, if you go back to that post, you’ll see a comment from Chad Khan, one of the candidates, who says:

In 2006, Mr. Richard Garcia campaigned about abolishing the County Treasurer’s office and I supported his campaign. I still believe that the County Treasurer’s office has little use and is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Once elected, I will attend every meeting of the County Commissioner’s court with the intent of serving as a watchdog for the taxpayer, which would include working to prove the ineffectiveness of the office. I believe the abolishment of the office must begin from within the office and I vow to work toward that end.

Speaking of Richard Garcia, he sent me the following email:

Charles,

Thank you once again for the kind words.

You & I have pretty much agreed on most issues. I believe that you would concurred that we need an up and down review of operations and offices to look at how to get the most bang for the taxpayer’s bucks. Business as usual needs to be uprooted. As a fellow father, we have priorities, however taxes (both obvious and hidden) take away from the available options to help our families. Doing away with an office that is no longer needed was my call to arms in the last two elections. Doing away with the office would send it to the dusty shelves of steno pools, typewriters and bag phones. I was proud of my campaign donation from Jack Cato’s wife–he was a good man and I was honoured to have attended his services. Jack really served Harris County and Houston well and history will rightfully look favourably at his life and service.

As it looks more apparent that Harris County will be a democratic favouring county–I would not feel comfortable in running for an office without the intentions of eliminating the unnecessary office. The # 2 in command has served the taxpayers well and she would continue running the office–and honestly, I believe she can institute efficiencies just as [Loren] Jackson had put in place at the [District] Clerk’s office.

I am so proud of everyone that helped my cause. A Republican blogger took heat for supporting the idea. My fellow county precinct chairs supported my position. Elected officials. I had spoken with representatives from the statewide county treasurers and informed them that my intention was only to focus on Harris County–not their county. Their plea to our County Commissioners office not to abolish the office resulted in all four County Commissioners supporting abolishing the office (see they can work together). The voters who almost made it possible and most importantly, my Mom–who has since passed away to join my Dad.

I wish Billy and Chad well; and anyone else who would care to put their toe in the political waters. Perhaps others will run, they will give voters choices and and as Marta Stewart says, “…and that’s a good thing”.

Have a joyous holiday season.

Your Friend,

Rich Garcia

And finally, a voice in support of a Treasurer’s office, from Wally Kronzer, who is a candidate for the 14th Court of Appeals, Place 5:

I will not try to put my thoughts down in any great detail as it involves Texas history, county government, the Texas Legislature (the Texas Local Government Code), and ultimately, county power sharing. A thorough justification would take too long. I was once involved in a lawsuit involving a county treasurer, county auditor, and the commissioners court (not Harris County). There are good reasons for having an elected county treasurer that primarily boil down to checks and balances issues as to county finances. It is similar to why does company have a banker (the county treasurer) and an outside auditor (county auditor)?

Check the website for Texas Association of Counties description of the office of county treasurer: http://www.county.org/counties/desc_office/treasur.asp and county auditor: http://www.county.org/counties/desc_office/auditor.asp. At the county level the county treasurer has more involvement in the integrity of county investments, bonds, and retirement plans than most people imagine.

While this is not a fits-all-points comparison, but what if the City of Houston Controller was appointed instead of elected? Where would the checks and balances be in that situation (much less some of the great Houston political stories)? Texas may have eliminated the position of state treasurer and passed the duties on to the Texas comptroller. But an elected comptroller still oversees the finances. You could devise an elected county position to do the role of the county treasurer, but that role does not exist – nor is there any real interest in changing the status quo to do so. But, to put it bluntly, someone in the county checks and balances needs to be elected other than just the county commissioners.

The theoretical case certainly makes sense. In practice, can anyone claim that Orlando Sanchez is actually doing that job? Not as far as I can tell. That’s the reason why Richard Garcia’s argument has been compelling to me. I do plan to interview Chad Khan and Billy Briscoe, so we’ll see what their vision for the office and/or its elimination are. My thanks to all for the feedback.

Parker’s police plan in practice

I think we’re all reasonably familiar with the basics of Mayor-Elect Parker’s plan for the police force, which includes more and better coordination between the various local law enforcement agencies. This story, which perhaps ought to have been run before the election, analyzes some of the practicalities of the plan. There’s some good discussion in there, and I recommend you read the whole story, but for here I just want to note this one bit:

“It’s easy to say, but extraordinarily complicated if you try to do it. There are layers of issues,” said Professor Larry Hoover, director of the Police Resource Center at Sam Houston State University. “There are some very practical reasons why it isn’t done.”

Hoover said in addition to taking focus away from other police agencies’ core missions, the coordination of evidence when different agencies are involved in the same case could complicate prosecutions.

“Those special police agencies exist for a reason,“ he said. “They’re focused on those things for a reason, and they’re paid by another political entity to perform a special law enforcement function, and are not paid by the city of Houston.”

It may be that these other agencies’ funds do not come from the city of Houston budget, but they sure as heck do come in part from city of Houston tax dollars. And as noted before, as is the case with things like roads and parks, the city doesn’t get back nearly as much as it contributes. The good news is that it seems that once the issue of radio interoperability is resolved in 2012, there will be a lot more inter-agency coordination. As long as all the agencies in question are amenable to working with each other, which was something I discussed during the campaign, we all ought to get something out of this.

Strayhorn still talking about running

I almost don’t know what to say.

Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who was twice elected comptroller as a Republican and then ran a losing gubernatorial campaign as an independent, called Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie on Tuesday to discuss seeking the party’s nomination for comptroller.

Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirsten Gray confirmed the conversation, which Strayhorn initiated. We don’t know much about what was said.

When I asked Gray whether the party would welcome Strayhorn as a candidate, she replied, “We will rely on our voters to consider each candidate’s record and decide if they have the Democratic credentials they want in a nominee. Our role is to run a fair primary.”

I can’t say I’m thrilled about this, but it’s starting to look like beggars and choosers time. We know we’re not getting Mike Villarreal. We know that the longer we go without hearing anything from a prospective candidate, the less likely it is we’ll hear from that person again (Ronnie Earle excepted), and I haven’t heard anything from Nick Lampson lately. So it may be Carole or nothing, and as long as we get Carole the sharp and effective critic of Rick Perry – you know, the 2003 model – and not Carole the inept and messageless candidate – you know, the 2006 model – she’s better than nothing. Hell, if she can put together a decent statement about how she’s returning to her roots after the Republican Party abandoned her, she could even be an asset. Yeah, I know, I know, but work with me here. At least she seems genuinely interested in running – all that self-promotional instinct has to go somewhere – and that does count for something.

Car inspections

Good question: What exactly are car inspections useful for?

Texas is one of 19 states left that require a periodic [vehicle] safety review – down from a peak of 31 states in the 1970s. The District of Columbia recently disbanded its inspection program because of high costs and a lack of evidence that the inspections saved lives.

There is no serious discussion about eliminating Texas’ program, which includes an emissions test in Dallas and some other locations.

But state officials and insurers acknowledge that more could be done to determine what the inspections are accomplishing.

“The state needs to start collecting data and establish a baseline,” said Jerry Johns, president of Southwest Insurance Information Service, an Austin-based industry trade group. “If it is not working, then abolish it. But we don’t think that would be the case.”

It’s a good story about something I doubt I’d ever thought about. One thing the inspections are good for is raising a bit of cash for the state. On balance, I have no problem with the inspection program, whatever it may actually accomplish, but I’d be happier if we got more serious about emissions testing. Maybe some day.

Saturday video break: More Muppets

Now this is how the “Carol of the Bells” should be done:

I don’t know what has spurred the recent outbreak of Muppets videos on YouTube, but I certainly do approve of it. Thanks to Oliver Willis for the find.

Earle files for Lite Guv

Well, this was unexpected.

Former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle is running for lieutenant governor of Texas.

Earle, who retired last year after more than three decades as district attorney, filed paperwork with the Texas Democratic Party late Friday to seek the party’s nomination for the statewide office. The winner of the Democratic primary in March will probably face the Republican incumbent David Dewhurst next fall.

At this point, Earle is the sole filer for the party’s nomination, but Austin deli owner Marc Katz is also planning to run, a campaign spokeswoman said Friday.

Labor leader Linda Chavez-Thompson is also considering a bid. She was out of the country on Friday and not available for comment.

I’m more puzzled than anything else, partly because I’d already started thinking about Linda Chavez-Thompson for Lite Guv, and partly because after however much time of being in radio silence, I’d figured Earle had decided to enjoy his retirement. Guess you never know. Anyway, whatever his reasoning is, I’m happy to have as many contested primaries between quality candidates as we can get. It sure beats the alternative. Welcome to the race, Ronnie, now make your case to be the nominee.

Miles files

For the third straight cycle, former Rep. Borris Miles will face Rep. Al Edwards in the Democratic primary for HD146. Mary Benton has the details plus Miles’ press release. I like Miles, I thought he had a lot of potential to do good in the one term he had after winning in 2006, but I do hope he’s gotten his personal demons under control. I look forward to seeing how the rubber match plays out.

From the “Will they never learn?” files

Back when I was having my Trib-based conversation with David Benzion, he mentioned a web ad that was released by the Texas GOP to attack Bill White in anticipation of his jump to the Governor’s race. That ad featured a song by The Platters. Apparently, the state GOP hasn’t gotten the message that using an artist’s copyrighted song for unauthorized political purposes isn’t such a good idea. But they’re about to find out.

Now, attorneys for the Platters founding member Herb Reed are considering their options. “Herb would never agree to let his music be used in a political way,” said Reed’s manager, Fred Balboni.

The Internet ad, titled “Bill White: Too Liberal for Texas,” went live on the Republican Party of Texas’ YouTube account on Dec. 2. When asked whether his party had received the required permission from the copyright holders of the performance and the original composition, RPT Communications Director Bryan Preston said no licenses were required because the ad was “covered under fair use and political parody.” Legal precedent, however, suggests he’s wrong, especially in light of a recent high-profile defeat for Republicans.

In 2008, Jackson Browne sued Sen. John McCain, the Republican National Committee, and the Ohio Republican Party for copyright violation and falsely implied endorsement after they used his 1977 track “Running on Empty” without his permission in an anti-Obama attack ad. The U.S. District Court in California threw out McCain’s motion to dismiss using a public interest defense, forcing the Republicans to settle out of court in July 2009. As part of the agreement, they pledged “in future election campaigns to respect and uphold the rights of artists and to obtain permissions and/or licenses for copyrighted works where appropriate.” Browne’s attorney Larry Iser said, “The law is very clear that the parody must be a parody of the song itself.” Since the latest ad is attacking White and not the Platters, he called the Texas GOP’s claim that the ad is protected free speech “nonsense.”

This really isn’t a difficult concept to grasp. There are plenty of examples of campaigns, mostly Republican ones, getting in trouble for doing this. I guess some people need to learn the hard way.