Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

December 11th, 2009:

Friday random ten: Lights out

Tomorrow is Lights in the Heights, so today here are ten light-related songs.

1. Blinded By The Light – Bruce Springsteen
2. Trick of the Light – The Who
3. Whenever God Shines His Light – Van Morrison
4. Paradise By the Dashboard Light – Meatloaf
5. Let Your Light Shine – Keb’ Mo’
6. Turn On Your Love Light – Grateful Dead
7. The Eddiestone Light – Flying Fish Sailors
8. Light of the World – from “Godspell”
9. Blue Light – David Gilmour
10. I’m Beginning To See the Light – Bobby Darin

I should note I have three other versions of “I’m Beginning To See the Light” as well, from Duke Ellington, Count Basie & Joe Williams, and the Tufts Beelzebubs. I know you wanted to know that. And I swear, I haven’t forgotten about the “ten songs that begin with the same word” theme. I’ll pick that up again in the new year. In the meantime, what’s lighting up your iPod this week?

Mayoral miscellania

A few links of interest about the Mayor’s race. Because I know you haven’t read enough about it already.

Nancy is ready for all the third-party attacks in the race to stop.

Here’s an interview with Annise Parker at Open Left. Thanks to BOR for the tip.

Signs, signs, everywhere there’s Gene Locke signs illegally placed on public rights of way.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is always worth reading.

Steven Hotze in his own bigoted, hateful, ignorant words. Compare what he says to what Rick Scarborough, who is also trying to foment the anti-gay hate, says about The Gay Agenda. Small minds think alike. And then recall that Hotze’s hatchet man Allen Blakemore was also responsible for this piece of racist crap from last year’s election. State Rep. Garnet Coleman has called on Locke to reject Hotze’s endorsement. Doesn’t look like it’s gonna happen.

Finally, if that’s not enough links for you, Martha has some more.

Chron on the Jones pileup

Here’s the Chron story about the mailers being sent out opposing Jolanda Jones.

The effort by five council members to oust Jones, arguably the most controversial and well-known figure on council, was virtually unprecedented in the past several decades, according to several City Hall veterans. The only comparable moment came in 1989, when supporters and colleagues of Councilman Jim Westmoreland fled after he made a racial slur during a council discussion on a memorial for the late U.S. Rep. Mickey Leland.

“I’m running my campaign based on issues voters care about and have no comment on the actions of some of my fellow council members,” Jones said Wednesday. “I think voters care about issues. … If the people need for me to speak up for them, then I’m happy to serve them in that way.”

I remember that incident. Westmoreland lost that year to Beverly Clark, who turned out to be a bit of a nut herself. She drew multiple challengers in 1991, and lost in a runoff to Gracie Saenz after leading Round One by a 42-19 margin.

Democratic political consultant Keir Murray said the public repudiation of Jones “is, at best, highly unusual and may prove problematic” for Lovell, an elected statewide member of the Democratic National Committee.

“Council member Lovell is in her own runoff race in which the outcome is not assured for anyone, so it defies logic that she would expend campaign resources on a race other than her own,” said Murray, who is unaffiliated with any council races this year but worked for Lovell’s opponent in 2005. “The rule is, you take care of your own business before you worry about anybody else’s.”

Lovell said the mailer has nothing to do with party politics but is one council member calling out another for making “inappropriate” comments. She also said the piece should not be seen as an endorsement of Christie, only an effort to support Houston firefighters.

All due respect, but that’s disingenuous at best. Jones is in a runoff. Any support she does not get as a result of Lovell’s mailer, which I will note did not mention Jack Christie at all, helps Christie. If enough people follow Lovell’s recommendation, Christie will win. Had this been sent prior to the general election, when there were four candidates running for At Large #5, you could reasonably claim to be not endorsing any specific opponent. In the context of a two-person race, when people are actually voting, saying “Don’t vote for Candidate A” is an implicit endorsement for Candidate B. There’s no two ways around that.

Of course, Lovell couldn’t send her mailer out any earlier than she did, because she knew there would be a backlash against her for doing so. Indeed, I have heard a number of people express regret for having voted for her. You can view her action as a courageous stand against an unworthy incumbent, or you can view it as a crass act of vindictiveness fueled by the feud between the two that Lovell denies but everyone knows about. It’s mostly a matter of how you feel about the two principals. You know how I feel about it, and at this time that’s about all I want to say. More from the Houston Politics blog and from KHOU. You’ll note that they mention my blog in that story. I got a call from Courtney Zubowski yesterday afternoon asking if they could use the images from the mailers, which they had found here, and I said yes. That’s all there is to that.

Getting smarter about crime

The news that Harris County DA Pat Lykos has changed the office’s policy to no longer will file state jail felony charges against suspects found with only a trace of drugs is good news indeed.

Lykos said the move “gives us more of an ability to focus on the violent offenses and the complex offenses. When you have finite resources, you have to make decisions, and this decision is a plus all around.”

She said she did not have figures for how many cases may be affected, because cases are filed as possession of less than a gram.

Of more than 46,000 felony cases filed last year, almost 30 percent, 13,713, were for possession of less than a gram of drugs.

She said that while having a crack pipe will be only a ticketable offense, police still will be able to search suspects and cars if they find one. She noted that other counties, including Travis and Bexar, have similar policies. In Fort Worth, she said, the minimum is twice as large — .02 of a gram.

Lykos said the policy may help reduce jail overcrowding, an an idea “cautiously” embraced by Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

“The sheriff is cautiously in support of the policy,” said Alan Bernstein, director of public affairs for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

The new policy will be reviewed after six months in response to concerns expressed by police that crack pipe busts help catch burglars. I think we could probably learn from other counties’ experiences to tell us about that, but I suppose that’s the politics of this. Be that as it may, this will enable to DA’s office to devote more of its resources to more serious crimes, and as with the proposal by County Commissioner El Franco Lee to let more inmates do cleanup work for quicker releases, it will have the effect of easing the jail overcrowding problem. Given how pressing that matter is, it’s very encouraging to see concrete steps like these being taken to deal with it. Kudos to DA Lykos for making the call. Grits and Murray Newman have more.

A few words with David Wolff

The Chron talks to David Wolff, the soon-to-be-former Chair of Metro, about the state of the agency.

Q: Why has it taken six years to build new light rail lines when the Main Street line was built so quickly?

A: Metro pretty much depleted its treasury because it paid $325 million out of its own funds to build the Main Street line — which, incidentally, took three years. If you get federal dollars it’s a completely different ballgame. You have to go through all sorts of procedures, hearings, preliminary engineering. That’s why it takes so much longer.

Q: Does Metro have enough money to build the new light rail lines?

A: We are planning and believe we have the financing and capability to build all five. And we intend to do other things besides light rail. We intend to expand our bus system. We intend to continue building Park & Rides. We’re going to be converting our High Occupancy Vehicle lanes to High Occupancy Toll lanes (for solo drivers willing to pay).

Q: If Metro needed more money, where could it get more?

A: For Metro to have restored to it the funding that the taxpayers originally voted in 1978, which is the full one-cent sales tax. No other transit authority in the country has its sales tax diverted (by one quarter) to build roads, and this is something I believe should never have happened.

Q: How much more a year would Metro get if it had the full one-cent sales tax, and didn’t have to divert 25 percent of that back to its member municipalities for roadwork?

A: Over $100 million a year.

This conversation happened before the Culberson intervention. Wolff has been talking about the sales tax diversion for a little while now. I personally think the idea has merit, but it certainly won’t happen any time soon, not while the city is strapped for cash. I’m wondering if the next Metro chair will feel the same way. If not, it may be another six years before the point comes up again.

The Willingham jury

You know, I don’t blame any of the jurors in the Cameron Todd Willingham trial for the verdict they rendered. Based on the evidence that was presented to them, a guilty verdict was to be expected. They had no way of knowing that the “science” used to “prove” arson was bogus. If they want to keep believing now that they did the right thing then, I completely understand. They’re not the problem.

We know about the problems with the “science” that was used to convict Willingham and who knows how many others. (Among them, Ernest Willis, who was eventually freed. Find a copy of this month’s Texas Monthly and read about him.) And we know about the problems with the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which is supposed to be examining these procedures and coming up with standards and recommendations to ensure we do a better job going forward. That can be summed up as John Bradley and his coverup crusade. But I don’t think I fully appreciated the problem of Willingham’s attorney, David Martin, and his inability to respect his client’s privilege until I read this story. I have to ask: The next time someone writes this story again – it’s been written before, it will surely be written again – will he or she take the time to wonder whether it is appropriate for Martin to be running his mouth like this? Seems to me that might be the even bigger story here.