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December 15th, 2009:

Chief Hurtt to step down

We all knew this was coming.

Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt is planning to resign at the end of the year, two days before Mayor-elect Annise Parker takes office.

Hurtt, who has been Houston police chief for almost six years, confirmed this evening that he told his command staff today that he intends to resign Dec. 30 because a new mayor is taking office.

This is no surprise, as Parker has been saying for months now that she intended to replace Hurtt. KHOU suggests a couple of possible replacements.

Parker is expected to promote from within the ranks. Sources tell 11 News the frontrunners include assistant chiefs Tim Ottmeyer and Vicki King.

“That’s an honor that I haven’t been visited about but to serve with the men and women of the Houston Police Department in any capacity is truly an honor,” King said.

We’ll know soon enough.

Judicial Q&A: Marc Isenberg

(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 Election 2010 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?

My name is Marc Isenberg. I was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital here in Houston, lived in Galena Park and moved to Galveston when I was 12. I graduated from Ball High School in 1967. My family owned a jewelry store in Galveston and I made deliveries to customers through out my high school years. I attended the University of Texas at Austin, graduating in 1971 with a degree in Psychology and minor in Sociology. While a college student, I participated in a statewide nutrition survey with the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. I worked with a team of medical students and physicians and got to see first hand the needs of the population and the effects of lack of adequate medical services throughout the State of Texas.

While I was in law school, I worked at the Listening Ear in Galveston as a counselor on a telephone 24 hours counseling hot line. That experience made me more aware of the tremendous problems and needs faced by some members of our society. I graduated from the University of Houston Law School and worked for 5 years at the Houston Legal/Gulf Coast Legal Foundation representing indigent clients in consumer matters. Since that time I practiced in a real estate firm, have handled personal injury defense, consumer, civil and juvenile and abuse and neglect cases. I have practiced in Harris County since 1974 and have been in practice with my wife Miriam Riskind since 1993. I am running for the 313th District Court which is a juvenile court.

2. What kind of cases does the court hear?

It handles juvenile delinquency cases for children, beginning at age 10 up to their 17th birthday. These cases range in seriousness from simple shoplifting to gang activity and capital murder. It also handles abuse and neglect cases involving children in which CPS intervenes. In those case, the fundamental rights of parents must be addressed in cases where the parents are indigent.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this particular bench because the 313th will be an open bench due to the retirement of the current judge. There are no Democrats sitting as a juvenile judge in Harris County, and there have been none since 1994. It is time this changed and the time is now. I am also running for this particular bench because it is time that the tone of this court changes. I have been a vigorous supporter of assuring quality representation for everyone, especially indigent respondents entering the legal system, since I interned and worked for the Houston Legal Foundation.

4. Why is the race important?

Juvenile courts contain a cross-section of all problems impacting our society today: lack of supervision for children, lack of resources for parents, inadequate resources for education, immigration issues, violence, drugs, alcohol and access to weapons. All of these issues put children at risk and brring them into the juvenile system. Decisions made in the juvenile system affect children for the rest of their lives.

Furthermore, the demographics of the children coming into the system are skewed toward Black and Latino children. The judge has the power to appoint attorneys for all of these children. Under the current system, many capable attorneys have been removed fro the pool of lawyers appointed to represent indigent juveniles because they are not friends of the Judges.

The children of Harris County are our most important asset and they deserve quality representation. In many instances since the families do not speak English, it is essential that the attorney speak the appropriate language of the family in order to communicate with them and witnesses in order to effectively represent the juvenile. The pool of qualified attorneys should be expanded to provide more of such representation for juveniles. Although there is discussion about a Public Defender system which I favor, it is up to the Judge to set the tenor of the court and assure adequate representation for juveniles coming into the system. We must find a way to keep the children from returning on subsequent matters and we must protect our youngest from abuse and neglect.

We must re-evaluate what is happening to juveniles and re-assess our community resources to develop alternative measure to help juveniles.

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

I have been a lawyer for 35 years. I have worked for legal aid, representing indigent clients in consumer matters, and have represented juveniles since 1993. I also have a wide range of experience including personal injury, probate, bankruptcy and consumer law. I have mediation training. I am double board certified including juvenile law. I am the only candidate who is board certified in juvenile law. I am the only candidate in this race who has tried a felony jury trial. I am the only candidate in this race who has handled appellate cases both in the delinquency and CPS areas, including oral argument. I am the only candidate in this race who has been asked by the State Bar if Texas to speak at statewide CLE conferences in both juvenile delinquency and CPS matters. I volunteer to speak to juveniles at their schools and I am on the Houston Bar Association Juvenile Consequences Committee.

I have spent years gaining legal expertise, working to represent juveniles, advise them of their rights, believe in them, try their cases, counsel and advise them. I care. I believe I can make a difference in the lives of the juveniles who come into the 313th District Court and I am asking the voters of Harris county to give me the opportunity.

Kinky drops out of Governor’s race, will run for Ag Commish

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Musician and author Kinky Friedman will drop his Democratic bid for Texas governor and seek the agriculture commissioner post, instead.

“This has never been about me; this has always been about what is best for the people of Texas and the Democratic Party,” Friedman said, in a statement released Monday to The Texas Tribune.

Friedman finalized his decision after meeting with Democratic gubernatorial candidates Bill White and Farouk Shami separately over the weekend.


[Friedman campaign consultant Colin] Strother says while Friedman did consider the land commissioner post, he felt the agriculture commissioner job was “the best fit”. Friedman spent the past week getting advice from his friend, former Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower.

No, it doesn’t make any sense to me, either. I certainly understand why Kinky didn’t see any way he could win the nod for Governor, but why he thinks he can beat Hank Gilbert eludes me. Putting aside the silly notion that Kinky has any idea what’s best for the Democratic Party, and despite the rationale he offers for this switch, I still don’t get why he isn’t throwing in for Land Commissioner, which is an office for which he seems more suited and for which even I might consider voting for him. Yes, there’s already a Dem in that race, but so what? Kinky’s star power, such as it is, might actually help him win that primary and would serve him well in November, whereas he doesn’t stack up well against Gilbert, who has far stronger Democratic credentials and more than enough of his own personality to make Kinky seem more quaint than colorful.

Whatever. I wanted Hank to run for Ag Commish from the beginning, and this does nothing to change my mind about supporting him for that office. Mostly what this means is that I’ll need to try to add Friedman and Gilbert interviews to my to-do list for the primary, as this is now a contested race. Election season never truly ends. BOR, Martha, PDiddie, McBlogger, John, and Stace have more.

Tax cuts have consequences

We’re all familiar with the financial constraints that the city of Houston is operating under. Harris County is experiencing similar problems.

“As best we can tell appraisals are going to be flat, if not down a little, so that means we’re going to have to make some difficult decisions,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

Every Harris County department and agency is preparing for budget cuts heading into the 2010-2011 fiscal year, which begins in March.

11 News obtained a copy of the targeted cuts — and the worst-case scenarios are steep.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office may have to trim as much as 16 percent of its budget. The eight Constable precincts may have cut as much as 13 percent of theirs.

The worst-case scenarios — and every option is on the table — range from reassigning personnel, to cutting hours of operation, to rolling back salaries or to laying off county workers.

“Even if we stay flat we’ve all gotten, frankly, really comfortable with everything growing, growing, growing over the years,” said Emmett. “And we can’t do that anymore.”

We don’t know yet how bad the situation is, but we do know this: Back in 2007, at the urging of Judge Emmett, Commissioners Court cut the property tax rate by a penny. This tax cut, which saved a homeowner with a house valued at $161,000 a whopping $12 annually but saved corporations many thousands of dollars, was opposed by County Budget Director Dick Raycraft because of the loss in revenue the County would experience, which he believed we would some day need. How much revenue are we talking? Twenty-five million dollars a year, which I’d guess would cover the cost of however many Sheriffs and Constable deputies we may wind up laying off. On the bright side, it could have been worse. Emmett’s opponent in the 2008 Republican primary, Charles Bacarisse, wanted to cut the rate by five cents. That would have saved our average homeowner $58 a year, while depriving the county of $125 million a year in revenue. Imagine how many layoffs we’d have to make to cover that. Former Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt was pushing for a cut of about three and a half cents, or about $90 million a year. Does that look affordable now?

Judge Emmett is right, we’ve been comfortable with the idea that our revenues always grow. One of the inevitable consequences of that is the clamoring for tax cuts by irresponsible financial stewards like Bacarisse and Bettencourt, who don’t take seriously the idea that it wouldn’t take much of a decline in rate of that growth – never mind an actual leveling off, or some negative growth – to have a devastating effect on the budget. Maybe they didn’t think it could happen, I don’t know. What I do know is that nobody is going to call for that one cent reduction to be rolled back, because we just don’t do that sort of thing. I can only hope the next time someone calls for an equally irresponsible reduction in the tax rate on the grounds that whatever rate of growth we’re experiencing will be how it is forever, we remember what happened the last time we did that.

More polls coming

Bring it on, I say.

Blum and Weprin Associates in New York, a veteran survey firm specializing in political polling, will conduct the polls on candidate matchups, public policy and other political issues. Blum and Weprin Associates have polled Texas political races for several state newspapers in the past and have extensive experience working in Texas and across the country.

The surveys will canvass likely voters, using standard methodology, telephone interviews and a sample size that will result in the most accurate results available before the March primary elections.

The partnership agreement allows the newspapers to leverage their extensive reach and political expertise. In addition to covering the survey results, each of the papers will use staffers in their home offices and in the state Capitol to tailor special stories for their regional readership and online users.

The newspapers in question are the five major dailies, who have joined together to fund this effort. Good for them, I say, as does Evan. More polling data is better than less, and 2010 is a year we’ll definitely want more of it. I look forward to seeing what they have to say.

Texas blog roundup for the week of December 14

It’s time for the antepenultimate TPA blog roundup for 2009. Click on for the highlights.