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December 9th, 2009:

Dunbar not running for re-election


Richmond Republican Cynthia Dunbar will not seek re-election next year to a second term on the State Board of Education, fellow board member David Bradley confirmed Wednesday

Dunbar, whose expansive district includes northern Travis County, wrote in an e-mail that she would provide a written statement on her plans later.

Dunbar has recently been teaching at the the Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va. That job and the commute has put great demands on her time, Bradley said.

“She will be missed,” Bradley said.

Yeah, like an abscessed tooth. Thankfully, she’ll be going, but as the Trib notes, she’s got a minion waiting in the wings.

[Brian] Russell, who previously endorsed Dunbar and seeks to be her replacement, has nothing but kind words for Dunbar: “I think she’s had a terrific record of achievement on the board. She’s been a problem solver and someone who’s exhibitied a lot of leadership.”

“My advantage is that I haven’t been a lightning rod,” he said.

BOR has more about Russell. Needless to say, the best outcome here is for the seat to be won by Democrat Judy Jennings, who is running unopposed in the primary after Lorenzo Sadun stepped aside. This is a winnable seat, and to take it would help shift the balance of power in the rational/non-crazy direction. TFN Insider has more.

H-GAC Livable Centers Study of the Ensemble/HCC Station Area in Midtown

Tomorrow night at 7 PM at the Trinity Episcopal Church located at 1015 Holman Street at Main (map) is a public meeting for the H-GAC Livable Centers Study of the Ensemble/HCC Station area in Midtown. You can click on the flyer for the details, but the basic idea is to figure out how to enable pedestrian-friendly development around there – more comfortable sidewalks, building regulations that actually allow good urban buildings, holistic parking solutions, that sort of thing. If urbanism is your bag, this is the sort of thing you’ll like, so check it out.

Villarreal considering run for Comptroller

Very interesting.

Democratic statehouse Rep. Mike Villarreal of San Antonio is considering running for comptroller and is expected to make a decision next week. The five-term House member is an investor who holds a masters in public policy from Harvard.


Villarreal’s spokesman said he will be launching a new website that will include a video about his future vision for Texas.

Rep. Villarreal is a talented legislator with a bright future, and with no disrespect at all intended to Nick Lampson, I would be delighted to see him on the ticket. I look forward to seeing what decision he makes.

Eight days out finance reports, District Council candidates

To wrap up our tour of the finance reports for the city runoffs, here’s a look at the two District Council races. First, District A, in which Lane Lewis is up against Brenda Stardig:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash PAC $$ PAC % =============================================================== Lewis 42,439 33,765 0 19,401 8,250 19.4 Stardig 41,495 41,638 0 40,264 18,800 45.3 Candidate TV Radio Mail Phone Field Other =========================================================== Lewis 0 0 19,600 0 0 852 Stardig 0 2,040 32,041* 0* 0 1,930

Pretty even in terms of how much was raised, though Lewis got a higher proportion from individuals than Stardig did. Stardig ran some ads on KSEV and spent more on mail. The asterisks are because one expense line item, for $19,069.08, has the explanation “Robo call to seniors, Senior mailer to 65 and older, Republican mailer, Early vote mailer to all of District A plus R women”. That means that she spent less than I indicated for mail, and something greater than zero for phones, but I can’t tell how much of one should be shifted to the other. And speaking of “Other”, this category refers to print ads. Lewis spent his money on an ad in the Leader News. Stardig had two such ads, worth $1238, and the rest was spent on an ad in Houston Community Newspapers, presumably one of the Examiner papers. Stardig also spent another $4466 on signs.

Here’s the who’s who among their donors:

Lewis – State Rep. Garnet Coleman (250), former Council Member Rob Todd (150), Galveston County Democratic Party Chair Lloyd Criss (25), Council Member Sue Lovell (500), State Sen. John Whitmire (1000)

Stardig – UH Board of Trustees Chair Welcome Wilson (250)

Rob Todd was the Council member in District E before Addie Wiseman. He now lives in District A. Whitmire is the Senator for that district. I did not see any donations from elected officials to Stardig, just from Welcome Wilson, whose name appeared on several reports.

And finally, District F:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash PAC $$ PAC % =============================================================== Laster 40,553 39,648 500 46,901 23,308 57.5 Hoang Candidate TV Radio Mail Phone Field Other =========================================================== Laster 0 500 30,131 0 0 0 Hoang

Al Hoang’s campaign finance report was posted last night on the city’s webpage. As was the case with his previous reports, it is cumulative from the beginning, and there are no dates listed on any individual item, so you cannot tell by looking at it what has been done since the last reporting deadline. As it was not up when I began researching the reports, I emailed Hoang’s campaign advisor Eric Weinmann on Monday to inquire about this and was told they needed to file their report. He sent me a document that listed some donations, which I presume are those that came in since October 26. I’ve made it available as a Google doc for your perusal. He also forwarded an email that listed a few expenditures, from which I can determine $9950 was spent on three separate mailers, plus $1250 on an ad with KSEV. A couple other entries aren’t really clear to me as to their nature, but I can at least say that much.

As for Laster, he raised, spent, and retains a decent amount, with nothing that stood out as being unusual. Here’s who gave to his campaign:

Laster – Former At Large candidate Zaf Tahir (250), HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg (500), Coleman (250), State Rep. Scott Hochberg (1500)

Rep. Hochberg is the State Rep. for Sharpstown, where Laster lives. I’ve now gone through Hoang’s entire report, and there were no names that I recognized among them. I saw one small donation that appeared to be a PAC, and several mostly small donations that appeared to be from businesses. Again, it’s a bit hard to say for sure.

I hope you found this exercise useful. Let me know what you think.

Bernstein responds to “Jail Misery”

I guess I missed this one, but on November 19, the Houston Press published a story called Jail Misery by Randall Patterson that was about Monte Killian, an HIV-positive person who had recently spent time in the Harris County jail. Much like an earlier article by Patterson called Jail Hell, it painted an extremely unflattering picture of the conditions, procedures, employees, and in this case treatment of medically needy inmates at the jail. And also like that earlier article, Alan Bernstein, the Director of Public Affairs for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and a former Houston Chronicle reporter, disputed numerous points in the story. In this case, he has written a lengthy rebuttal, which you can see here to offer his critique. According to an email he sent me with the doc, the Press is going through his memo to “separate any factual errors from what it terms writing style complaints.” Anyway, you can see what he has to say, and we’ll see what the Press may have to say in response.

Unemployment taxes triple

Here comes the Rick Perry unemployment tax increase that we’ve been waiting for.

Nearly two-thirds of Texas businesses will see the unemployment taxes they pay per employee per year nearly triple – from $23.40 to $64.80 – under rates announced today by the Texas Workforce Commission.

The minimum tax is paid by nearly 255,000 employers, or 67 percent of those who have been in business for at least a year, according to the commission.


The tax rate is being increased to repay federal loans and ensure the fund has enough money to pay claims in the coming year.

The rate is based on $9,000 in taxable wages. The minimum rate is going from 0.26 percent to 0.72 percent.

The maximum rate — generally paid by companies if they have had more employees who were laid off and got benefits — is going from 6.26 percent to 8.6 percent, or from $563.40 per employee to $774.

Schweet. Just remember, while the bulk of the fuss over this will be concerning the $555 million in unemployment insurance that Perry refused, he also contributed to this problem by suspending the collection of this tax back when it was more affordable for businesses to pay it. Because of that, they get the increased burden now when times are hard. Of course, that’s the way Bill Hammond of the TAB says they say they like it, which should stand as evidence why business lobbyists make lousy economists. Be that as it may, if you’re an employer, when you sit down to write that bigger check to the state, remember to thank Governor Perry for the privilege of paying it.

Irving’s sign ordinance

Here’s an interesting story about the experience the city of Irving has had with its new ordinance that restricted signage by businesses.

Strict new rules regarding business signs in Irving were enacted to literally remake the city’s image. The goal is to eliminate what many officials and residents say are cluttered thoroughfares and muddled shopping centers.

Instead, business owners say, the rules are either discouraging people from opening up shop or encouraging them to skirt the rules and undermine the city’s efforts.

And city officials, sometimes accused of letting aging commercial areas turn into eyesores, now face criticism from business owners who say the city is going too far in attempts to bring older areas up to newer standards.

I don’t know how their ordinance differs from ours, but given that Irving was cited by the Quality of Life Coalition as a competitor city to be emulated in this regard, I thought it was worth mentioning. Any thoughts on this?

Texas blog roundup for the week of December 7

Once again it’s time for the Texas Progressive Alliance to bring you the highlights from the blogs.