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February, 2010:

Weekend link dump for February 28

Two more days and we’ll know who most of our nominees for November will be.

What is it with the conservative obsession with brie, anyway?

You know what this means: More blimps!

Credit where it’s due.

Liz Cheney is, among many other things, a coward.

From the Too Much Time On Their Hands files.

GOP = Putting the “Old” in “Grand Old Party”.

It’s a mighty short ride from hero to bum, isn’t it?

I get why Apple wants to keep the App Store sorta family-friendly, though the exceptions they’ve made are pretty puzzling. I’m just wondering how long it will take for there to be a standard adult version of the Apple App Store. Surely someone’s gonna make a million bucks on that.

Actually, it’s been kind of a bad week overall for those who like the naughty stuff.

Note to self: Don’t buy this product.

Thank goodness, they didn’t kill Rickrolling.

Shame on you, Bob Marshall! Shame on you.

What Nonsequiteuse says. And be sure to read the coda, too.

Three cheers for Bob’s Red Mill.

Actually, Dikembe Mutombo would make an excellent Senator. But he wouldn’t be a Republican.

They just don’t make family values like they used to, do they?

Don’t get pregnant in Utah. It’s too risky.

Endorsement watch: Obama for SJL

President Barack Obama has endorsed Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in her primary for CD18. From the press release:

“Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is a tireless champion for Houston’s working families,” said President Obama. “That’s why we need her back in Congress to help my efforts to bring real jobs back to Houston and the nation. I need you to cast your vote for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.”

“I am grateful and humbled to receive this endorsement from President Obama,” said Jackson Lee. “When he asked me to campaign for him, I found it so rewarding to see the outpouring of support for the change he represented and now he is the change agent that America and Houston needs today. I am proud to be working with President Barack Obama as we work to change lives for the better.

“Now that he is in office, it is exciting to work with President Obama on the many important issues facing our country,” the Congresswoman continued. “Now more than ever, I am grateful for the President’s trust and confidence in me.”

Two points of interest here. One is that this really ought to bury the 2008 Democratic Presidential primary, in which SJL’s support for Hillary Clinton eventually gave rise to rumors of a write-in opponent for her that November. I don’t really expect that, of course, but at least we know that Obama himself is over it.

The other point was raised by Martha: Is this a show of strength, or is it a last-ditch effort by a candidate who’s in danger of losing? As I said in a comment there, I’d lean towards the former. This is a Democratic seat, and there’s basically nothing at stake in terms of Obama’s agenda regardless of who wins. There’s no real reason for Obama to stick his neck out for someone in a race like this unless he’s pretty sure that person is going to win. We’ll know soon enough, I guess.

How do incumbents do in runoffs?

So with all of the polls showing Rick Perry ahead in the GOP primary but below 50%, the odds appear good that he’s headed for a runoff. What are his odds of winning that runoff? The Come and Take It blog (an admitted KBH partisan) has repeatedly suggested that Perry is unlikely to win back anyone who voted against him in the first round, though at least one poll disagrees with that assessment. Still, you do have to wonder: How do incumbents who fail to get a majority in a contested primary do in their runoffs?

Well, wonder no more. I looked back at all runoffs for state or federal office from 2002 through 2008, and this is what I found:

Year Party Office Incumbent Pct Runoff ============================================= 2002 GOP CCA Price 46.94 57.74 2002 GOP CCA Womack 44.55 56.48 2002 GOP CCA Cochrane 42.93 63.00 2002 Dem HD80 King 39.89* 48.09 2002 Dem HD143 Moreno 46.81 60.64 2004 GOP RRC Carillo 49.60 62.77 2004 Dem HD35 Canales 31.36* 27.10 2004 Dem HD41 Gutierrez 33.94* 29.01 2006 GOP CCA Holcomb 45.00 53.62 2006 GOP SBOE5 Montgomery 34.96* 38.61 2006 GOP HD72 Campbell 33.48* 39.77 2006 Dem HD42 Raymond 49.83 57.75 2006 Dem HD146 Edwards 48.16 46.45 2006 Spec CD23 Bonilla 48.60 45.71 2008 GOP CD22 S-Gibbs 29.72 31.47

Asterisks indicate that the candidate in question came in second in the initial election. As you can see, that’s pretty much the kiss of death, though coming in first is not a guarantee of runoff success. Perry isn’t in any danger of failing to get at least a plurality, so let’s not worry about that.

The CD23 election of 2006 was a special election that resulted from the Supreme Court ruling on the 2003 re-redistricting lawsuit. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs wasn’t really an incumbent when she ran in 2008, but she had won the special election to finish out Tom DeLay’s term in 2006, so even though she was basically Congresswoman For A Day, she still got to campaign as a sort-of incumbent.

Several of the incumbents who lost in runoffs had scandals or other issues to deal with. Scott Campbell nearly lost his 2004 re-election bid when reports of a drunk driving arrest and what Texas Weekly delicately called “allegedly seeking an illegitimate massage in a legitimate massage parlor” came out that fall. He survived that but was widely considered a dead man walking going into the 2006 primary. Gabi Canales had also been arrested for drunk driving. Roberto Gutierrez was targeted by Texans for Insurance Reform for his support of the tort “reform” bill; I don’t know why Tracy King lost to Timo Garza in 2002 – it may have been a function of the 2001 redistricting – but he won his seat back in 2004 in part on the same issue. The late Buddy West was dealing with issues of his declining health; he was also being attacked by pro-Craddick forces. We know all about Al Edwards. I don’t know what the deal was with Dan Montgomery in SBOE5, but he lost to Ken Mercer, who will hopefully suffer the same fate this year.

Anyway. The bottom line here is that history suggests Perry will win in a runoff if he is forced into one. No guarantees, of course, but if I were a betting man that’s where my wager would go.

Sports Authority to the rescue?

After many months in limbo, there may finally be a way forward for Dynamo Stadium, though it’s a somewhat convoluted path.

The Harris County-Houston Sports Authority board is scheduled on Monday to discuss becoming the landlord for a professional soccer stadium in Houston’s East End.

[…]

[Harris County Commissioner El Franco] Lee repeatedly has said that putting the soccer stadium on the Commissioner Court agenda is not his responsibility. Most of the proposed stadium site is in Lee’s Precinct 1, and the five-member Court consistently adheres to a protocol that puts each commissioner in charge of public works projects on his or her turf.

On Friday, just more than a week after [Mayor Annise] Parker and Lee met, a joint Houston-Harris County statement announced, “Both the City and County have asked the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority to take a limited administrative role in construction of a stadium.”

Harris County Community Services Department Director David Turkel, who has been the county’s lead negotiator on a stadium deal with the city, acknowledged it was Lee who asked that the Sports Authority get involved.

Should the Sports Authority’s board decide Monday to become a player in the deal, it would bring to the table an agency whose board is chaired by Lee’s campaign treasurer, J. Kent Friedman.

Sheesh. Swamplot quotes from a Houston Business Journal article that adds more:

Lee has steadfastly refused to comment on the issue, and did not respond to interview requests. Speaking in Lee’s place during several recent interviews, Turkel has become more guarded, citing the delicate situation and his desire to avoid hampering a possible agreement. In a nutshell, though, Lee wants concessions from the city and the team that he has not yet received.

“Lee is not comfortable putting it on the agenda as is, because it will get voted down,” Turkel says.

For one, the county is looking at who will own the stadium after the lease runs out in about 30 years, and how that would affect a deal in which the city would buy out the county’s share. Precinct 2 Commissioner Sylvia Garcia wants Dynamo family ticket packs priced comparably to movie tickets, which has been more or less agreed upon.

That quote from Turkel just doesn’t square with the way Commissioners Court runs its business. Wanting to get the Sports Authority involved, that makes more sense. It may be a logical move and a good fit to do this, but I think Judge Emmett is right to be concerned that it won’t make the politics of this deal any more popular. It’s also not clear what exactly the Sports Authority would be doing if it gets involved or why their involvement is needed. If they were an obvious piece of the puzzle, you’d think they’d have been mentioned before now. But if the bottleneck is El Franco Lee, and El Franco Lee says he wants the Sports Authority involved to get this moving, well, you do the math. We’ll see what comes out of Monday’s meeting.

Kelley claims Metro is holding out

So now the Metro document shredding case gets more interesting.

Documents supplied by the Metropolitan Transit Authority in response to Houston attorney and former City Controller Lloyd Kelley’s open records request were incomplete and “sanitized,” Kelley said Friday.

“I know for a fact that I didn’t get all the e-mails,” said Kelley, adding that people within Metro, whom he didn’t identify, have told him of documents responsive to his request that weren’t included in what he received from the agency. “They’ve definitely sanitized this stuff.”

Metro board Chairman David Wolff, who provided the same documents to reporters Thursday, said they were a complete response to the open records request.

Kelley’s comments came amid growing indications that two legal challenges to Metro — Kelley’s records case and an expected lawsuit by the agency’s fired chief counsel — will feature accusations that the transit authority hasn’t met legal requirements for retaining documents.

Kelley obtained a temporary restraining order Wednesday forbidding Metro from destroying any of the e-mails, travel records and other documents he requested in January. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday.

Kelley said his open records request was made in connection with his representation of a client. He wouldn’t name the client or explain specifically what he hoped to learn from examining the documents.

It’s a little hard to judge Kelley’s accusations here without knowing those details. How can you know if he got what he asked for if you don’t know what he asked for? That said, this is Metro’s screwup. The onus is on them to prove they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and as noted by Mayor Parker later in the story, they do not err on the side of too much information with open records requests. I hope for their sake that the hearing on Friday will show that they have complied with Kelley’s request, but I won’t be surprised to find that they did not include some things.

Oh, and Metro does have a documents retention policy. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they’re any more transparent than Governor Rick Perry is.

Council meeting on flooding and drainage

From the Inbox:

City of Houston
Council Committee on Flooding and Drainage
Council Member Stephen C. Costello, Chair

________________________________________________________________________

Ed Gonzalez, District H, Vice-Chair

Brenda Stardig, District A James G. Rodriguez, District I
Anne Clutterbuck, District C Melissa Noriega, Position 3
Wanda Adams, District D Jolanda “Jo” Jones, Position 5
Oliver Pennington, District G

AGENDA
March 2, 2010 – 10:00 a.m.

City Hall Council Chambers – 901 Bagby, 2nd Floor

Call to order – Council Member Stephen C. Costello, Chair

General Comments on 2009 Citizen’s Survey, Flooding and Drainage Committee’s informal survey, and the committee’s direction, purpose, and goals.

Mike Talbott, Director of Harris County Flood Control District, will present an overview of the District’s history and responsibilities, its interface with the City, and the types of flooding in the region.

Carl Matejka, Acting Executive Chief of Emergency Operations for the Houston Fire Department, will present the current risks flooding poses to emergency services in the city.

Stephen Williams, Director of Houston Department of Health and Human Services, will present the health risks caused by overflowing stormdrains and standing water in the streets.

Public Comment

Adjournment

Please attend and give your input if you can be there.

Saturday video break: Three cheers for the red, white, and blue

I’ve heard it said that “The Stars And Stripes Forever” is the greatest piece of American music ever written. It’s certainly the most recognizable, and as you can see below, it’s pretty versatile as well:

I think ol’ John Phillip would have approved, don’t you?

Early voting final report

Early voting was up considerably from the 2006 primaries.

According to figures released Friday by Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, 84,018 total early votes were cast in person for the Harris County primaries — compared with 33,362 in 2006.

A total of 50,250 Republicans went to the polls during the early voting period while 33,771 voted for the Democratic candidates.

More Harris County residents from both parties voted on Friday than during any other day this week.

The figures do not reflect the mail-in ballots.

Here’s the release from Kaufmann’s office, which has more information; here’s the final daily totals by EV location; and here’s the corresponding information from 2006. The Democrats fell just short of equaling the 35,447 total votes from the 2006 primary, while the Republicans did break the 50,000 margin, making my wild guesses from Sunday look pretty good. Adding in mail ballots, the Dems just topped 40,000 while the GOP was over 62,000. As such, I’m revising my final turnout guess up a bit, to 70-80,000 for the Democrats and 100-110,000 for the Republicans. I figure about half of the in-person voters still prefer the traditional Election Day, which is where those numbers come from.

The heavy GOP early-voting turnout may reflect the bruising battle between the incumbent, Gov. Rick Perry, and his lead challenger, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. However, the previously little-known candidate Debra Medina also has waged a spirited campaign to win the hearts of Republican voters.

The comparison to 2002 is an interesting one. As I noted on Sunday, 95,696 Democrats voted in Harris in the 2002 primary, while 92,575 Republicans participated. Republicans will exceed that total this year, while Democrats will fall short of it. But in 2002, there were basically no Republican primaries of interest even though there were four open seats at the state level, while there were two high-profile, competitive Democratic statewide primaries. In 2002, John Cornyn got 77% of the vote for Phil Gramm’s open Senate seat against four people you’ve never heard of. David Dewhurst won over 78% against one no-name for Lite Guv. Greg Abbott inherited the nomination for Cornyn’s former office without any opposition. Only Jerry Patterson, who ran to replace Dewhurst as Land Commish, had anything resembling competition; he ultimately won with 56.5% of the vote against a former State Rep from the Dallas area. The Dems, meanwhile, had zillionaire first-timer Tony Sanchez running against former AG Dan Morales, and unlike this year, the zillionaire first-timer, who also had a ton of establishment support, ran a good enough campaign to win. They also had a multi-candidate race for the Senate that included former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, Houston Congressman Ken Bentsen, and 1996 Senate candidate Victor Morales. The Democratic gubernatorial race this year has largely been a one-candidate affair for reasons we’re all familiar with by now, and none of the other primaries have had much visibility in Harris County. So I can’t say I’m surprised at how it’s played out so far.

Two Trib primary stories

The Trib has done a series of good, informative stories on primary battles across the state, which I recommend you read. Two of their most recent are especially worthwhile:

First is HD43, in which freshman Dem Rep. Tara Rios Ybarra is being challenged by JM Lozano.

Lozano’s strategy is to label Rios Ybarra a “red Texan.” Her campaign contributions from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry ($10,000 from Jan. 22 through Feb. 20) and the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC (about $145,000 in-kind during the same time frame), both well-known backers of Republicans, are all the evidence he needs. His vision is of a blue Texas, he says, and that means weeding out what she represents. “The first thing we have to do is get rid of all the closet Republicans from the Democratic Party. My opponent is one of them,” he says. “You cannot have a strong Democratic Party if you have people that are beholden to the other party because you take 90 percent of your funding from them.”

Rios Ybarra defends her “moderate” approach and her bipartisan tendencies, and the support she says comes with them, because of the economic hardship in District 43, which is one of the poorest in the state. It covers six counties — Jim Hogg, Brooks, Willacy, Kenedy, Kleberg and northern Cameron — and about a third of the families with children live in poverty. Nearly 40 percent of residents have less than a high school education. “I believe, in this country, that it isn’t about handouts,” she says. “I believe ultimately it’s about creating opportunity, and that is done when we have a strong small-business sector. If that resonates across the aisle, that resonates across the aisle.”

But Lozano’s accusations carry weight with at least one party mainstay. In a rare endorsement before a contested primary, the Jim Hogg County Democratic Party is backing Lozano. “A Democrat primarily financed by Republicans is no Democrat at all,” its chair, Juan Carlos Guerra, said in a Feb. 19 statement. Guerra claimed Rios Ybarra “hijacked” the term “Democrat” to claim victory in 2008 in this Democratic-majority district. “We will not sit back as a Democratic Party any longer and allow Republicans to infiltrate our party,” the statement continued. “She misled the voters once, but that will not happen again.”

An unfazed Rios Ybarra contends that her first term in the House, when she passed seven bills, shows her mettle. One that she’s most proud of, she says, allows access to Texas beaches by disabled people in motorized vehicles — and yet Lozano has criticized her for it. “He made fun of a bill that was given to me by the mother whose son was a quadriplegic and he couldn’t have access to the beach,” she complains.

A stone-faced Lozano says, “Ask her who gave her that bill. It was a lobbyist.”

I don’t care so much about who donates to whom as I do how you vote and what you support, and I don’t really know enough about Rios Ybarra’s record to judge. Having said that, anyone who is that strongly supported by TLR is a concern. And Rios Ybarra was widely considered to be a Craddick supporter in 2008 when she knocked off Juan Escobar. That turned out not to matter then, and it’s unlikely to be an issue this time around, but it’s not impossible. On balance, if I were voting in that race, I’d be voting for Lozano.

And in a race where I already know who I’m voting for, the Ag Commish race.

Gilbert and Friedman, who were both running for governor in those now-forgotten days before Bill White threw his hat in, may find themselves coveting the same job, but their notions of what that job is could hardly be more different. Gilbert emphasizes wonky expertise and hands-on experience, while Friedman is all showmanship — few campaign stops go by without him uttering his one-liner “No cow left behind!” or mentioning his desire for his ashes to be scattered in Gov. Rick Perry’s hair.

Before Friedman’s run for governor as an independent in 2006, he says Clinton told him, “Find a few issues that are close to your heart and hammer them relentlessly.” He took the former president’s advice then and chose a couple things this time too, focusing on his passion for animal rescue and shelters. The rest, he says, he’ll leave to the experts.

“Clearly Kinky has no direction other than he wants animals to run free, and for those that nobody wants anymore he wants to build shelters in every county,” says Gilbert. “Those are noble ideas and a fairy-tale way to live life, but it’s just not practical.”

Well, this race is a clear choice, that’s for sure. Either you like what Kinky is selling, or you grew tired of it four years ago and you prefer the clearly better qualified Hank Gilbert. I really don’t know how this one will turn out, but as I said, I know who I’m supporting.

CCA reverses itself, overturns death penalty in Hood case

Good.

A bitterly divided Court of Criminal Appeals granted a new sentencing trial for [Charles Dean] Hood based on frequently shifting U.S. Supreme Court rulings on flawed jury instructions used prior to 1991.

The 5-4 decision did not affect Hood’s 1990 conviction in the shooting death of two people in Plano. But in granting a new punishment phase trial, the court reversed its 2007 decision on a similar Hood appeal, prompting a sharply worded dissent that included a rare direct attack on one of the majority’s judges.

[…]

Hood’s case became national news because he is fighting for a new trial based on the revelation — confirmed in 2008 after several years of digging by defense lawyers — that then-District Judge Verla Sue Holland had been having a secret affair with Thomas O’Connell Jr., the former Collin County district attorney who prosecuted Hood.

In a separate appeal now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, Hood argues that it is unfair to be tried for any crime, let alone capital murder, in a court where the judge and chief prosecutor are romantically linked. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected that argument last year, ruling 6-3 that Hood’s lawyers waited too long to raise the issue on appeal.

The CCA did not address the matter of whether or not a sitting judge and a prosecutor may bone one another without legal consequence. Given the difficulty with which they’ve had even describing the situation, that may be for the best. Anyway, as noted there’s still a Supreme Court appeal over the original trial. I can’t wait to see what they make of it. More from Grits here and here.

More on the Sugar Land minor league baseball push

Here’s an update from the Chron to last week’s news about Sugar Land’s pursuit of a minor league baseball team.

The preliminary discussions about the ballpark put it in the Class AAA compatibility range, typically requiring a seating capacity at least in the high four-digits, but the exact capacity is among the features that will be sorted out during the 90-day period, which ends in mid-May.

Which league will make the expansion or relocation to Sugar Land is the biggest question.

For now, it seems clear it will not be a team affiliated with a major league club. Sugar Land is part of the territory controlled by the Astros, so they can block any move of a competitor’s minor league club, and they are not inclined to bring one of their own affiliates to the area, according to Thompson and Opening Day Partners chairman Peter Kirk.

What will most likely happen, assuming this does go forward, is for a team from one of the independent leagues – the Atlantic League and the American Association, which seems to be the better geographic fit, are mentioned – to move or create a team there. These are AAA teams, so you’ll get an overall better quality of baseball than you’d get from a lower-level farm team, but what you won’t get is a peek at the Astros of the future. Odds are you’ll get a number of recognizable names, guys who used to be on a major league team and are trying to catch on with one again. It ought to make for an interesting mix. The city and the developer are in a 90-day negotiating window with the intent of having a facility ready by Opening Day 2012, so we’ll know soon enough what will happen.

Friday random ten: Oh, please

The letter P foiled me, in the sense that I don’t have ten songs that all start with the same word, or a close enough facsimile to fake it. The best I could do was the word “please”, but I needed to cheat a bit to get it up to ten:

1. Baby, Please Don’t Go – Van Morrison
2. Baby Won’t You Please Come Home – Asylum Street Spankers
3. Please Baby – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
4. Please Don’t Ask – Genesis
5. Please Don’t Touch – Polly Scattergood
6. Please Let Me Be Your Third World Country – The Bobs
7. Please Mr. Postman – The Marvelettes
8. Please Old Car – Tombstone Trailerpark
9. Please Please Me – The Beatles
10. Please Stay – Warren Zevon

What’s pleasing to you this week?

Entire song list report: Started with “A Christmas Wish”, by Asleep At The Wheel. Finished with “Computer Love” by Heads We Dance, a Kraftwerk cover taken from the Buffetlibre Rewind project; there’s more here (warning: sound). That’s song #855, so only 81 tunes this week. Some weeks are just like that.

KBH: Did I say I was going to leave the Senate after the primary, win or lose?

Surely you didn’t believe her, did you?

With four days to go before the gubernatorial primary, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison this morning bought herself as many as eight more months in the Senate. Speaking on WBAP’s Mark Davis Show, she said she plans to resign from the Senate
“sometime this year before the November elections.”

That’s a rather significant amendment to her most recent public posture. In December, at a Republican gathering in Galveston, she said she would resign after the primary, win or lose. And she has repeated that privately to GOP donors and supporters.

Technically, the term “after” can encompass two minutes, two months or two years. And it was always safe to assume the Galveston declaration left wiggle room in case of a runoff six weeks after the March 2 primary.

But there’s no denying that the impression Hutchison left – and meant to leave – was that she would resign soon after the primary. Soon as in days or weeks, not seven or eight months.

[…]

This marks at least the fifth iteration of Hutchison’s resignation plans. Last summer she said she would resign by the end of November. That turned into, by November she would announce her plans for when she would resign. Then came, she would stay in the Senate long enough to fight Democratic health care reform and cap-and-trade legislation and then resign. And then the December declaration in Galveston.

There’s really only one way to react to this. Well, once you’re finished laughing hysterically because it’s what you’ve been saying all along about how nobody knows what KBH will do. That would be this:

As someone once said, how can we miss you if you won’t go away?

Endorsement watch: Chron goes for Miles

I’m glad to see this.

Based on their comparative records over the past two legislative sessions, we believe [Borris] Miles would better deal with the enormous social service and infrastructure needs of [HD146].

Miles, who was born in the district, built one of the largest African-American-owned insurance agencies in the nation. As a businessman he has already played a key role in revitalizing two city blocks of retail property in his community and wants to bring similar upgrades to other areas as well.

[…]

Miles’ proven business acumen and leadership abilities make him the better-qualified candidate of the two. We urge Democratic primary voters to return him to the Legislature.

In terms of accomplishments, it’s not close. Miles did more in his one term than Edwards has done in his last half dozen or more. For all Edwards’ talk about seniority, I can’t think of a single bill he was a player on last year. If you want to get stuff done, Miles is the clear choice.

In other endorsement news, the Chron endorsed Sue Schechter for County Clerk, and went with the appointed incumbent and the hand-picked successor on the GOP side in the tax Assessor and County Clerk races.

Please don’t shred the documents

This isn’t good.

At a crucial moment in the development of its light rail system, Metro confronted accusations Wednesday that it shredded documents sought in an open-records request, then fired two attorneys who objected to its handling of the request.

State District Judge Robert Shaffer signed a temporary restraining order forbidding the Metropolitan Transit Authority from destroying records requested by former City Controller Lloyd Kelley.

In January, the Houston lawyer had requested travel records, e-mail and other documents involving several top Metro officials, Board Chairman David Wolff and an executive of an agency rail contractor.

In a hastily called news conference, Metro President Frank Wilson said one of the agency’s lawyers shredded some documents on Monday. When he discovered this, Wilson said, he ordered an investigation of what was shredded and the circumstances.

Wilson said he didn’t know whether the shredded documents included any sought by Kelley, but said he was confident Metro will produce the records Kelley wants.

“I’m not sure there was anything sinister about it,” Wilson said. “It may be very innocent and very coincidental.”

That’s usually not the way it is, and even if it does turn out to be the case, the timing is still lousy. Does Metro have a document retention policy in place, and if so was it followed? If it doesn’t have such a policy, now would be a good time to put together a team to create one. Just please make sure the process to create it is done openly, and allows for plenty of input from the public.

To its credit, Metro’s response is appropriate.

Faced with a lawsuit, an increasingly critical mayor and lingering questions about document shredding and high-level firings, Metro board chairman David Wolff took steps Thursday to prop up public confidence in his embattled agency.

Wolff released documents that he said was fully responsive to a January open records request by former City Controller Lloyd Kelley.

He joined Mayor Annise Parker in asking Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos to investigate the shredding of as-yet unidentified documents Monday by a Metro employee.

“It is very important to maintain public confidence in Metro, and that’s why I’ve urged the mayor to involve the DA’s office beginning today, if possible,” Wolff said.

Lykos, through a spokeswoman, declined to say whether she would comply with the request.

The best outcome is for the DA to investigate and determine that nothing sinister happened. Let’s hope that is the case. Martha and Hair Balls have more.

Do we want Google Fiber For Communities in Houston?

Perhaps you’ve heard about Google’s latest project.

We’re planning to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States. We’ll deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections. We plan to offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Dwight Silverman wondered what Houston might do about this.

I e-mailed Richard Lewis, the city’s chief technical officer, and asked him if Houston was indeed an “interested in community”. I heard back from Janis Evans, director of communications for Mayor Annise Parker. She said:

This looks interesting. However, the city would need some time to take a harder look at it, which we are doing.

Houston was aggressive when it came to plans in the mid-2000s to set up a citywide Wi-Fi network – a project that imploded when the chosen vendor, EarthLink, decided to get out of the business. All that’s left of the endeavor now are some downtown Wi-Fi hotspots.

If the city wants to work with Google, they can click the button on this page to apply. And, if you’re a resident or group interested in nominating your community, there’s a button for that on the page, too.

How about it, Houston? Are you an “interested community”?

If we are, we’re going to need to step it up. The city of Austin has already taken official action – they’ve submitted an application, asked for public support, and have their City Council involved. In addition, there’s a grassroots campaign going on as well.

If Austin is going to convince Google to build here, it’s going to take a strong community response. In fact, there is a whole section of questions for the City to document the community response to the initiative.

The “Big Gig Austin” initiative has been created by a number of supporters, who want to work in support of the Google RFI. We’ve got about one month to document how incredibly badly Austin wants this network to be built here.

The official rollout of the project will be happening in the next few days. In the meantime, we’ve created a couple of resources.

24-Hour Twitter Campaign

If, in the next 24 hours, if we can get 200 people to follow @BigGigAustin, I’ll ask the City to put us in a press release. I know there have been discussions about sending out a press release about the Google fiber project. If we can get that kind of following so quickly, I’ll ask the City to cite us in their press release as an example of how Austin is rallying behind this project.

That was posted Wednesday at noon. As of now, there are 199 followers of @BigGigAustin, so they didn’t quite make their goal by the stated deadline, but that’s still a pretty good showing.

So that’s what Austin is doing, and if we want Houston to be a part of this, that’s an example of what we’re up against. What do you say, folks?

Why TCEQ is broken

Back in 2008, Mayor White and the city of Houston made a request of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to hold a hearing before a judge on the latest permit application for Lyondell Chemical Co.’s refinery along the Houston Ship Channel. The TCEQ got around to ruling on that request this week, and they said No.

The Texas Clean Air Act says the three-member commission cannot grant a hearing on a renewal unless the firm is seeking an increase in permitted emissions, and LyondellBasell isn’t, TCEQ’s executive director, Mark Vickery, wrote in response to the city’s request.

But other provisions in state law allow the commissioners to order a hearing on their own authority if they determine that it’s in the public interest.

Vickery concluded that the city’s arguments for a hearing “are not based on any unique facts nor compelling issues that would support a decision to grant a hearing in the public interest.”

The commission’s Office of Public Interest Counsel, which represents the general public in permit disputes, supports Houston’s request, citing the refinery’s potential to adversely affect public health.

That’s an interesting view of what the public’s interest is, isn’t it? Imagine the squawking we’d hear if this had been a federal agency disregarding the wishes of state officials. As it turns out, that still might happen.

The refinery has what’s called a flexible permit, which caps overall emissions at a plant without regulating each emission source. The EPA has said that type of permit, which has been given to about 100 Texas industrial sites, violates the federal Clean Air Act in part because it denies the public an opportunity to review a plant’s operations.

[…]

If the EPA begins rejecting flexible permits, as it has threatened, then the refinery might be forced to seek a new permit, said Kelly Haragan, who heads the environmental law clinic at the University of Texas at Austin.

“It’s crazy that the TCEQ is still approving these flex permits,” she said. “They’re vulnerable.”

Just keep that in mind for when the EPA (hopefully) smacks down the TCEQ. The TCEQ can’t say they never saw it coming.

Those evil, dirty, federal dollars

Rick Perry loves ’em.

Which of the following revenue sources has grown the most since Rick Perry became governor?

A. Sales tax, driven by a strong economy.
B. Natural gas production tax revenue, driven by a strong economy and the Barnett Shale discovery.
C. Federal income.

The answer is C, though you’d never know it from listening to the rhetoric from the governor. Rick Perry is trying hard to capture the anti-Washington mood of voters, and he likes to argue that he is turning away federal dollars because, by golly, we Texans are independent and can solve our own problems. Problem is, the numbers just don’t support that assertion.

Compare the 2009 revenue for the state of Texas with the 2000 revenue, and you’ll see something you might not expect from a state that is led by someone who is sypathetic to secessionists. Federal income has grown 108.53 percent since 2000, more than double the revenue growth of taxes (50 percent). That means the Texas miracle is producing half as much revenue growth as reliance on federal dollars. As a portion of the state’s total revenue, taxes actually decreased by 6 percentage points while federal dollars increased by 7 percentage points.

There are a lot of causes for this, some of which are beyond a Governor’s control, but not all of it; the figures aren’t broken down, but I’d bet a lot of that growth in federal revenue comes from things like food stamps, Medicaid, and CHIP, for which there might be less need if there were less poverty in Texas. The point here is simply that what Rick Perry says – and what some people believe about him – often has little to do with reality. I know, big surprise, but one can never have too many reminders of it.

Endorsement watch: Probate courts

We finally come to the end of judicial endorsements as the Chron makes recommendations for the probate courts.

In the Democratic primary for Probate Court No. 2, the Chronicle endorses veteran probate and estate planning attorney Joellen Snow, a University of Texas Law School graduate certified in probate law who has also served as an associate Houston municipal judge. “I think we need to stop the cronyism,” says Snow, who says it creates at least the appearance of impropriety and bias. She believes appointments should be spread among more lawyers “instead of a select few in each court who have given the maximum contributions to that judge.” She would advocate a uniform system similar to that used in the criminal district courts that would randomly draw from a list of qualified attorneys for appointments.

In the Democratic primary for Probate Court No. 3, the Chronicle recommends Mary Galligan, a 22-year certified probate law practitioner and adjunct professor at South Texas College of Law who has represented the broad range of cases heard in probate court. She says she decided to run for the judgeship because many of her clients had been expressing a fear of going to probate court because of the negative stories about favoritism and exorbitant costs. Galligan pledges not to accept campaign contributions from attorneys who practice in probate court and has returned several thousand dollars to donors for that reason.

The 2010 Elections page has been updated to reflect these recommendations. With that, and with the accompanying endorsements in the Republican primary for Supreme Court and 14th Court of Appeals, they’re done with judicial races. And now, with one whole day of early voting left, they can tackle all of the following:

– County Judge (Dem), County Clerk (Dem and GOP), Tax Assessor (GOP), and District Clerk (GOP)

– CD22 (Dem) and CD29 (GOP)

– HD146 (Dem), HD127 (GOP), HD134 (GOP), and HD148 (GOP)

Good luck with that. Maybe next time start a little sooner?

A county budget threefer

Three items of interest in the news that relate to the Harris County budget.

Contemplating cremation

Commissioners Court this morning discussed possibly changing to a cremate-first policy at Harris County’s public cemetery.

A report from the cemetery director projects that the county’s 18.7-acre cemetery will be full some time next year, necessitating the purchase of a 25-acre plot for $7 million.

Switching to cremation instead of burial would save the county about $60,000 a year in operations. It would also give the county five to seven years before it would have to purchase more land for another cemetery, county budget officer Dick Raycraft told the Court.

Makes sense to me. I might argue that this should be the default going forward, not just till more land can be acquired. What do you think?

The business of bail bonds. Beyond the likely uncollectable money that the county is owed, and the pathetic resources the county has to try anyway, the meat of the story is this:

Under tough policies adopted more than a decade ago, Harris County’s judges created a huge boom in the local bonding business by denying nearly all accused criminals’ requests for so-called personal bonds — even for many people accused of low-level crimes like drug possessions or misdemeanors, records show. Meanwhile, district judges also raised bond rates for low-level repeat drug offenders and for anyone suspected of living illegally in the United States.

Those judicial decisions forced more people to pay bail bondsmen nonrefundable fees of at least 10 percent to win release or simply stay in jail, where the number of pretrial prisoners has mushroomed, argues Gerald Wheeler, a Ph.D. researcher and retired Harris County pretrial services director who has studied the system.

Wheeler describes the county’s oversight of bonding as “inefficient and convoluted” and advocates a broad-based review and reform of the entire system.

The policy of denying personal bonds was advocated by Republican judicial candidates in the 1994 and 1996 elections, and implemented by them after they won. As Grits says, it’s time to go back to how it was before. Which brings us to the last story:

Harris County may look to reserves for Sheriff’s Office. As we know, the county hopes to save some money by spending less on the Sheriff’s department. This doesn’t represent a change in that thinking, it’s more a desire to be realistic about what the costs actually are and be up front about it. But it does connect very clearly to the previous story:

A growing jail population has fueled a 66 percent increase in sheriff’s spending during the past four years.

The sheriff has spent about $34 million this year alone on overtime, much of it to cover shifts at its understaffed jail. A consultant’s study in December concluded that the county has 342 fewer jailers than it needs.

“It begs the question as to whether or not the number of employees he has is enough,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Sylvia Garcia. “If it’s not, then let’s hire the people with the same money we’re spending on overtime.”

[County Judge Ed] Emmett, too, suggested that hiring more deputies could actually save the Sheriff’s Office money.

It probably would. So would going back to personal bonds so that fewer people who don’t need to be in jail wind up there anyway. Has anyone heard anything from our jail czar lately?

Fixing flooding

I’m glad to see that the city is taking the issue of flooding and drainage seriously, as this is an increasingly urgent problem. It’s really one of infrastructure, which like everything else in this world eventually wears out and needs to be replaced. But as we know these things cost money, and some people don’t want to spend any.

The Department of Public Works and Engineering has estimated that the price tag on infrastructure improvements needed to control flooding in the next 20 years is in the neighborhood of $4 billion. Others say it is closer to $10 billion. Even spread over decades, that kind of money is not available amid sprawling budget problems that include unfunded pension liabilities, and a financially strapped Combined Utility System.

Beyond the high cost and policy ramifications, political pitfalls abound. Chief among them is a campaign that could be led by some of the very engineers who could benefit the most from the infrastructure boom a referendum would initiate.Other question marks include whether the proposal could be crowded out by another ballot proposition, or how voters would respond to what would almost certainly be a major tax increase.

“What a shock that an engineer or contractor would support a referendum for a bunch of infrastructure projects,” joked former City Councilman Bruce Tatro, a leading voice against a scuttled drainage fee plan during the Lee Brown administration.

Tatro said the central issue is not whether a bond referendum would be used to pay for infrastructure projects, but whether that referendum would lead to a tax increase.

“I think in this atmosphere, people would be very apprehensive to approve any amount of bond-letting that would require a tax increase,” he said.

Tatro’s non-responsive joke about engineers annoys me more than it should. He’s not claiming they’re wrong in their assessment, just that (heaven forfend!) some of them may stand to benefit from that assessment. Either this is in the public interest or it isn’t. If it is, then any self-interest on the part of the engineering community is a secondary concern. It’s still up to us to decide if this is something we want the city to do.

As for the concern that folks might not want to authorize bonds to deal with these problems because they might mean higher taxes, well, maybe, but what purpose does that kind of speculation serve? This won’t happen without a referendum, where people can express any reluctance they may have in the most direct manner possible, and before that there will plenty of opportunities for discussion and debate. Does Tatro, or anyone else, have a substantive criticism on the merits of the idea, or is this how it’s going to be? There are many things we need to be clear about. What, if anything, do we really need to be doing right now? What are the risks of doing nothing? What is the best way to pay for what we want to do? How do we prioritize our to-do list? The story does talk about some of the costs and hazards of the current situation, but we’re just scratching the surface right now. How people may feel about these things will depend to a large extent on how well they understand what needs to be done and why. Let’s please get on with that.

HD146 overview

Here’s the Chron on the one local Democratic legislative primary, Round Three of Al Edwards versus Borris Miles.

Edwards has represented District 146 since 1979 — except for 2006-08, when Miles won the heavily black district. It has some of Harris County’s poorest neighborhoods, including much of Third Ward.

The 71-year-old Edwards, a lay minister and real estate broker, is third in seniority in the Legislature. “There’s no comparison in terms of abilities and skills and experience,” he said of Miles.

“Seniority is only as good as the person whose hands it’s in,” Miles scoffed. “If my representative is so powerful on the House floor, we should be a land of milk and honey. We’re not.”

Not really much to say here. With Tom Craddick on the sidelines, this race has not had the high profile it had in 2006 or 2008. Edwards doesn’t have that much money, certainly not compared to those previous years, and what he has is mostly PAC money, plus $15,000 from Bob and Doylene Perry. Of course, Miles is a self-funder, it’s just that he just won’t have to go toe-to-toe with the big moneybags that kept Team Craddick in power. As you know, Miles is my preferred choice. I don’t have a good feel for how this is going to play out, but for what it’s worth, more Democratic early votes have been cast in HD146 – 3,001 between the Fiesta Mart and the Sunnyside MSC through Wednesday – than any other early vote location. We’ll see how it goes.

Seeing gold in green

Denying climate change and the adverse effects of carbon dioxide may be official policy of our Republican leaders, but word has apparently not filtered down to the business entrepreneurs whose capitalistic opportunism those Republicans usually lionize.

“Energy is the biggest opportunity Silicon Valley has ever seen,” declared T.J. Rodgers, the founder of Cypress Semiconductor and chairman of SunPower, a leading maker of photovoltaic panels to produce solar energy.

How big? Consider that the sum of America’s yearly utility bills, one component of the nation’s overall energy costs, exceeds $1 trillion — or nearly triple the annual global revenues of the semiconductor industry. The solar and wind energy markets, which totaled about $80 billion in 2008, are projected to nearly triple in size in 10 years, employing 2.6 million people worldwide, according to Clean Edge, a cleantech research group.

Leading venture capitalist John Doerr of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers muses that Silicon Valley may someday be called Solar Valley, given that dozens of solar companies that have sprung up here in recent years.

But solar represents just one aspect of the cleantech revolution. Around the valley, some former e-commerce and software mavens are now busy trying to electrify the automobile industry while other techies are developing energy-efficient glass, drywall and cement. Still others are introducing cutting-edge information technology to the 20th-century electricity grid, working on biofuels and fuel cells, and pioneering new methods to recycle waste, protect air and water quality and enhance agriculture and aquaculture.

The payoff: progress toward a “low-carbon economy,” thousands of new jobs in the valley — and perhaps a new set of corporate titans.

I sure hope their optimism is well placed, because at this point they may be the only hope we’ve got for any real action on climate change.

More on streetcars in Fort Worth

The TCU Daily Skiff writes about Fort Worth’s plans for streetcars.

The city of Fort Worth plans to move forward with bringing in a nationally recognized consultant to finalize aspects of a modern streetcar system that would consist of an initial loop through downtown Fort Worth as early as 2014 and possibly connecting to campus in the future, a city official said.

David Gaspers, a senior planner in the city’s planning and development department, said plans for the modern streetcars began in 2008 when Mayor Mike Moncrief and the city council appointed an initial study committee to look at the feasibility of a streetcar system for central Fort Worth. The committee found the streetcar system to be a feasible option and recommended an initial route spanning from downtown, Gaspers said.

Even though the initial route would connect nearest to campus at the Cultural District, Gaspers said he did not see why the streetcar line would not connect to the campus in the future. Historically, streetcars connected downtown Fort Worth to campus during the 1920s, he said.

“It would make sense that many of the new lines that would go in place would follow lines that were there, the historic streetcar lines,” Gaspers said. “It is hard to tell at this point when that would happen.”

That’s the same basic idea as what they’re doing in San Antonio. I don’t know the geography of Fort Worth, but if their plan is anything like SA’s, then the area in question is likely still pretty walkable, and thus at least reasonably well-suited for this kind of transit. I wish them luck in getting it done. Via Houston Tomorrow.

Last minute poll numbers

Public Policy Polling takes a last look at the gubernatorial primaries.

Debra Medina is fading in the Texas Republican race for Governor, and it continues to look like the contest is headed for a runoff where Rick Perry will be a strong favorite over Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Perry leads with 40% to 31% for Hutchison and 20% for Medina. Compared to PPP’s look at the race two weeks ago Perry has gained a point, Hutchison has gone up three, and Medina’s standing has declined by four.

Unless Perry wins the remaining undecideds by an overwhelming margin and/or peels off more of Medina’s support it looks like he won’t get to the 50% needed for an outright victory next week. But he leads Hutchison 52-35 in a potential runoff thanks in large part to Medina’s supporters, who say Perry is their second choice by a 52-24 margin.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks for Medina’s standing. Her favorability spread in the previous poll was 40/9 for a +31 net positive. Now she’s at 36/30 for a net positive of just +6. A 25 point drop on your numbers in the span of just two weeks is pretty unusual.

Full crosstabs are here. Phillip thinks Medina has weathered the Glenn Beck/”9/11 truther” flap pretty well, and she is clearly still a factor. I confess, I underestimated her in the race. Bob Moser has a pretty good take on why she’s doing as well as she is.

PPP did not poll the general election. Rasmussen has a new set of numbers on that.

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely voters in the state shows incumbent GOP Governor Rick Perry leading White 47% to 41%. Five percent (5%) of voters prefer some other candidate, and seven percent (7%) are undecided. At the beginning of this month, Perry led White 48% to 39%.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is challenging Perry for the Republican nomination, now posts a 47% to 38% lead over White. Three weeks ago, she had a 49% to 36% lead. Given this match-up, eight percent (8%) like another candidate, and seven percent (7%) are undecided.

These findings mark little change from January just after White announced his candidacy for the race.

Another GOP hopeful, Tea Party activist Debra Medina, has stumbled following a gaffe on the Glenn Beck show. In the previous survey, she had a three-point advantage over White. Now Medina trails the Democrat by 10 points, 47% to 37%.

It’s still the case that neither Perry nor KBH can break 50% in the polls, even in Rasmussen, which has consistently shown their highest level of support in their results. One normally says that incumbents who don’t poll over 50% – and KBH counts as one for this race – are potentially in electoral danger. Perry still hasn’t received as much as 50% in any poll of the primary, either, but another Rasmussen poll has him pretty close to it.

A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely Republican Primary voters finds Perry leading Senate Kay Bailey Hutchison 48% to 27%, with Tea Party activist Debra Medina earning 16% of the vote. Nine percent (9%) of Texas GOP voters remain undecided.

At the beginning of the month, Perry lead 44% to Hutchison’s 29% and Medina’s 16%. In September, just after Hutchison traveled statewide to announce her candidacy for governor, she posted a 40% to 38% lead over Perry, but that was the high point of her support which has been declining ever since.

Early voting has already begun in the primary which wraps up on Tuesday. Turnout is often difficult to project for primaries, but among those who say they have already voted, Perry has earned 49% support, while Hutchison and Medina have picked up 24% and 20% respectively.

If the winning candidate fails to get 50% of the vote a run-off between the top two vote-getters will be held on April 13.

Burka thinks KBH may concede rather than keep fighting in a runoff if Perry is that close to 50%. For what it’s worth, I’ll note that Al Edwards (48.16% in the 2006 Democratic primary for HD146) and Henry Bonilla (48.60% in the November, 2006 CD23 special election) both lost runoffs after coming that close to winning outright. An incumbent who can’t get 50% is beatable, it’s as simple as that. Perry may well prevail anyway, but there’s no guarantee of it. And let’s not go overboard here – Rasmussen is one poll, making its own set of assumptions. As Come and Take It (an admitted KBH partisan) notes, Ras’ sample was done on one day, while PPP’s was done over the more traditional three days. Let’s see what the voters have to say, then we’ll see what KBH does. Remember, nobody ever knows what KBH will do.

Another term limits commission meeting

From the inbox:

The City of Houston Term Limits Review Commission invites you to an open session for public input concerning term limits for Houston’s Mayor, City Controller and City Council   

Saturday, February 27, 2010
10:30 a.m.
Judson Robinson, Jr. Community Center
2020 Hermann Drive
Houston, Texas 77004  

The City of Houston Term Limits Review Commission, chaired by Ambassador Arthur Schechter, requests input from the public on term limits for the City of Houston’s Mayor, City Controller and City Council.  The Commission will consider the merits of various possible revisions to length of terms, number of terms and whether terms are to be staggered.  However, by City Ordinance, the Commission may not recommend the abolition of term limits. The Commission is to make a recommendation to the Mayor and Houston City Council by July 1, 2010.  

For more information and/or to submit written comments, email termli[email protected]

Here’s a map to the location. Be there and make your voice heard if you can. Houston Politics has more.

How are you going to balance the budget?

If you’re thinking that the candidates for Governor are being a bit vague about how they’re going to deal with the looming budget shortfall, you’re not alone.

Texas expects a shortfall of at least $12 billion when lawmakers meet to write the next budget, but major candidates for governor have few specifics on how they would exert their leadership to close the gap.

“The silence is deafening,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville. “None of the candidates are really coming out with a plan or even an awareness of how bad the situation is.”

Asked how they would close the budget gap, the five major candidates suggest largely unspecified spending reductions.

[…]

The five’s suggestions leave more blanks than specifics as lawmakers prepare for a projected minimum budget gap of $12 billion to $13 billion, before accounting for expected population growth.

“You can’t just get there with a simple brush stroke. It’s going to require a fair amount of spending cuts, and probably they’re going to have to look at other things they can do to raise revenue as well,” said Dale Craymer, of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association.

Yes, raising revenue has to be part of the solution, despite what the know-nothing types would like to make you believe. I’ll defend the lack of specificness to some degree, in that I’m sure everyone is hoping that the picture will improve a bit in the next few months, and no one wants to come across as too alarmist. In addition, it’s really the Legislature’s problem more than it is the Governor’s, since it’s the Lege that writes the budget. The Governor can effect some cost savings via the line-item veto, but he or she would be doing so to a budget that’s already been certified as being balanced. Mainly, the Governor can provide big picture guidance, plus the threat of vetoing a solution he or she deems unacceptable. As far as that goes, we really don’t know what’s truly off the table – Rick Perry, for example, has waffled quite a bit on the subject of the gas tax – which leaves us with this largely theoretical conversation.

Let’s also talk about casinos for a minute, since they were mentioned in the story. I’m at best ambivalent about an expansion of gambling in Texas, whether that means casinos or slot machines at racetracks or whatever. I probably would vote against any constitutional amendment authorizing an expansion of gambling, but I probably wouldn’t crusade against it, though I do reserve the right to change my mind about either of these. My point here is simply that whatever the merits of casinos – and as you know, I am skeptical that they will do much to benefit Texas’ bottom line – they will not be a part of the solution for the 2011-12 biennium. If the Lege manages to pass the joint resolutions to put an amendment on the November, 2011 ballot, and if that manages to get ratified by the voters, then casinos – if that’s what gets authorized – still have to be built. Slot machines at racetracks can happen more quickly, but it still won’t be instantaneous. I could imagine there being some revenue from expanded gambling for the 2013-14 budget, but that won’t help any next year. Again, gambling is not a fix for the next budget. Beyond that, maybe, but we still have to make it through the next two years.

One more thing:

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, a Bryan Republican facing a primary challenge, said he was not too worried about whether the candidates have budget ideas. Although he said governors have significant powers, including the line-item veto, and their suggestions are welcome, he noted that lawmakers craft the budget.

“At the end of the day, governors don’t write the budget,” Ogden said. “If they can’t think of anything, it’s not essential.”

I note that mostly as a reason to link to this Trib story about Ogden’s primary race, in which he faces a challenge from the right from someone who doesn’t really have a firm grasp on what’s in the budget. This pretty much said it all to me:

In an apparent attempt to solidify his more-conservative-than-Ogden bona fides, Bius has made the elimination of “generational welfare” a centerpiece of his campaign. “If we begin requiring drug testing for those trying to get cash payments for welfare and require them to be citizens of the United States and Texas, it’ll go along way toward solving our social problems,” Bius says. “My momma told me, you get what you pay for. If you want drug addicts, give them money. If you want illegal immigrants, give them money.”

Ogden brushes off the idea as cynical stereotyping of the poor — and wholly unnecessary in a conservative state that already has among the nation’s stingiest public doles. “It bothers me, because it’s kind of a code word,” he says. “I’m not sure exactly what he means by it, but Texas is the least-generous state when it comes to welfare. The majority of people on it are children. Another large category is people in nursing homes. Neither of these groups fit into the category of ‘generational welfare.’ … We have not incentivized anti-social behavior, but when you’re dealing with unemployed mothers with children, you have to do something. You can’t just say, ‘It’s not our problem – good luck.’”

Yes, it is a code word, and not a particularly subtle one. It’s weird being put in the position of defending Steve Ogden, who’s far too conservative to be the guy I want writing the budget, but that’s the state of the GOP these days. The alternative to Steve Ogden is someone who lives in a fantasy world. The sad thing is that Ogden’s experience and understanding of reality won’t be an asset for him in his race.

Eight days out reports

The 8 days out reports aren’t available on the TEC website yet for the Governor’s races, so I can’t show you the details. The Trib did it the old-fashioned way, by viewing the actual paper forms, so go look at their numbers. Bill White raised another ton of money, and we can see that Rick Perry and KBH have spent down their kitties considerably. No surprise – you cannot escape their ads, no matter how you try, if you turn your TV on. The end result is that all of a sudden, the playing field is a lot more level than it’s ever been. And that’s a mighty good thing.

Beneath the fold are the reports from the other Democratic statewide races, with my comments. Click on to read them.

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Chavez-Thompson on the air

Nice to see someone who isn’t a candidate for Governor on the air:

That’s a bit on the dry side for someone as fiery as Linda Chavez-Thompson, but it is her introduction to a lot of voters, so that’s not surprising. According to the Trib, the ad will be appearing in “selected Texas TV markets”, starting this past Friday. I’m just excited to see this kind of activity. According to her 8 days out report, LCT raised $175K over the three week period, which is not too shabby given how late she got into the game. Her full report shows $100K in “media buys”. I don’t know how much airtime that actually translates to – obviously, that depends to a large extent on the market she bought in – but it at least means this ad will get some viewing. What do you think about it?

Houston Press interview with Jarvis Johnson

In case you missed it, David Ortez did an interview with CM Jarvis Johnson for the Democratic primary race in CD18. He had previously interviewed Sean Roberts, and will have one up with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee soon. You can of course also listen to my interviews with all three if you haven’t already – just go to the 2010 Elections page to find them.

Texas blog roundup for the week of February 22

The Texas Progressive Alliance reminds you that early voting runs through this Friday at 7 PM for the primaries as it brings you this week’s blog highlights. Click on for more.

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Endorsement watch: Criminal courts at law

Another round of endorsements from the Chron, in the Criminal Courts at Law primaries. Here are the recommendations on the Democratic side:

Harris County Criminal Court at Law 1: Beverly D. Melontree
Harris County Criminal Court at Law 2: Mary Connealy Acosta
Harris County Criminal Court at Law 3: Judith Snively
Harris County Criminal Court at Law 9: Juanita Jackson Barner
Harris County Criminal Court at Law 10: Grant U. Hardeway Sr
Harris County Criminal Court at Law 12: Cheryl Harris Diggs
Harris County Criminal Court at Law 13: Dennis Slate

There are also endorsements in the four contested Republican primaries. I have updated the 2010 Elections page and the Google spreadsheet accordingly. For whatever the reason, I never got any responses from candidates in the 1, 2, 9, and 10 races, so perhaps this will help you make up your mind. And believe it or not, but there are still judicial endorsements to be made, in the Probate Courts. Given that, not to mention all of the other races that have not yet been done, it’s hard to understand why the Chron used its space this morning to critique Radack’s Hill, but whatever. They did manage to use the word “ginormous” twice, so I think you have to give them props for that. Anyway, we’re at least near the end of the judicial races. Get ready for a sprint to the end.

UPDATE: Forgot to add in the recommendations from A Harris County Lawyer for these races.

McGuff interviews the Mayor

Mayor Annise Parker discusses her social media strategy with Mike McGuff:

Interesting stuff. Among other things, the Mayor mentions that a new and improved City of Houston website is on its way. I can’t wait to see it.

Judicial Q&A: Bob Thomas

(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?

My name is Bob Thomas and I am a candidate for Judge of the 270th Civil District Court in Harris County. I am a third-generation native Houstonian. I earned my undergraduate and law degrees while working for the City of Houston as a Patrolman and Sergeant of Police for the Houston Police Department. I retired from HPD with twenty years of service. My wife, Pam, and I have been married for forty years. We have three daughters and have been blessed with five grandchildren. We are eagerly awaiting the birth of our sixth grandchild this summer!

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

As a Civil District Court, the 270th hears civil lawsuits, including, but not limited to, personal injury, contract disputes, business disputes, consumer cases, medical malpractice, oil and gas cases, real estate matters, labor/employment disputes and many other kinds of cases other than criminal, probate, juvenile and family law.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for a civil district court bench because I have been a practicing civil trial attorney for twenty years, representing clients in civil courts in Harris and other Texas counties. I believe the role of a District Court Judge is to apply – not make – the law, by listening, understanding and acting as a neutral referee.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

As a civil trial attorney, I have filed and resolved approximately one hundred lawsuits, and represented more than one thousand individual clients, for both plaintiffs and defendants. I also have more than thirteen years experience as a mediator and as an arbitrator (third party hearing examiner). I have presided over approximately forty arbitrations for the Texas Education Agency, in which I publish Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. In serving in this judicial capacity, I have gained valuable experience which will equip me to successfully preside over the 270th Civil District Court with respect, fairness and efficiency.

5. Why is this race important?

Of course, every judicial race is important. Citizens come before our civil district courts seeking justice. They deserve to have an experienced, qualified judge that will make sound rulings, based on the rule of law.

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

I have worked my entire life to earn a reputation for integrity, dedication and a strong work ethic. I have been active in the city’s legal and law enforcement communities throughout my forty year career. My experience as a Sergeant of Police, an attorney and counselor of law, corporate counsel and hearing examiner equips me to judge fairly, accurately, impartially and with respect for the law.

My reputation has earned me support and endorsements from a broad range of important, respected organizations, including:

Coalition of Harris County Democratic Elected Officials

Houston Black American Democrats (HBAD)

Harris County Tejano Democrats

Area 5 Democrats

Harris County AFL-CIO Council

Baptist Ministers Association of Houston and Vicinity

Northeast Harris County Ministers Alliance

Afro-American Police Officers League (AAPOL)

Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT)

Harris County Deputies’ Organization

Houston Police Officers Union (HPOU)

Houston Police Patrolmen’s Union (HPPU)

Metro Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 98

Police Officers Looking Into Courtroom Excellence (POLICE)

My commitment to the citizens of Harris County is to serve the 270th Court wisely and with impartiality, to treat every litigant with respect, and to operate my courtroom with professionalism and efficiency as a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars.