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May, 2010:

The $800 foreclosure

Welcome home, soldier.

Michael Clauer is a captain in the Army Reserve who commanded over 100 soldiers in Iraq. But while he was fighting for his country, a different kind of battle was brewing on the home front. Last September, Michael returned to Frisco, Texas, to find that his homeowners’ association had foreclosed on his $300,000 house—and sold it for $3,500. This story illustrates the type of legal quagmire that can get out of hand while soldiers are serving abroad and their families are dealing with the stress of their deployment. And fixing the mess isn’t easy.

Michael went on active duty in February 2008 and was sent to Iraq. After he shipped out, his wife May slipped into a deep depression, according to court documents. “A lot of people say that the deployment is more stressful on the spouse than the actual person who’s being deployed,” Michael, 37, says in an interview with Mother Jones. May Clauer had two kids to take care of—a ten-year-old and a one-year-old with a serious seizure-related disorder. In addition, she was worried sick about her husband. Michael’s company was doing convoy security in Iraq—an extremely dangerous job. “It was a pretty tough year for the whole company,” he says. “We had IEDs, rocket attacks and mortar attacks, and a few soldiers that were hurt pretty bad and had to be airlifted back to the States.”

Seeking to avoid hearing about the situation in Iraq, May stopped watching the news. She rarely answered the door, and Michael says he couldn’t tell her when he went “outside the wire”—off-base. May also stopped opening the mail. “I guess she was scared that she would hear bad news,” says Michael. That was why she missed multiple notices from the Heritage Lakes Homeowners Association informing her that the family owed $800 in dues—and then subsequent notices stating that the HOA was preparing to foreclose on the debt and seize the home.

The story was originally reported a couple of weeks earlier by WFAA. There are plenty of other examples of this sort of thing happening as well. As the story notes, there was legislation filed last year to prevent this sort of thing, but it didn’t make it through. (I’m pretty sure this is the bill in question; expect something like it to be filed next year as well.) In the meantime, the Clausers are attempting to get their home back via the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), but it’s costing them a bunch of money; there’s a legal defense fund for them, with info at the bottom of the article if anyone is interested. Maybe this little bit of publicity will help shame their HOA into doing the right thing as well. Hopefully, the next Lege will be able to carry that bill across the finish line so this won’t happen again.

It’s good to be the king

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the genius of Harold Cook:

No coyotes were harmed in the making of that little film, as far as I can tell.

The untouchable tax breaks

You know how some Republicans like to say that there’s no such thing as temporary spending, because once something is in the budget it tends to stay there forever? Clearly, the same is true for tax expenditures, more commonly known as tax breaks. This is from a hearing by Ways and Means committee Chair Rep. Rene Oliveira, one of several he has held to examine the sacred cows of the state’s tax code.

Oliveira, a 26-year House veteran, opened the proceedings with updates on the state’s finances. He said they support a recent prediction by the House’s top budget writer, Waxahachie Republican Rep. Jim Pitts, that the deficit for the next two-year cycle will be $18 billion.

To Democrats, scrounging for more revenue is critical to protect education and safety-net programs. They are quick to note that Texas, as it enters the next round of cuts, already trails all 49 other states in state government spending per capita.

Republicans, either gratified or alarmed by the rise of the tea party movement nationally, are thinking a lot about their no-new-taxes pledges, Oliveira said.

Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, said it’s the wrong time to propose revoking tax exemptions. “Just trying to camouflage it” as a fairness question, as the Democrats prefer, is a non-starter, he said.

“When people are struggling to keep their jobs and make ends meet, I’m not about to raise taxes on them,” Paxton said.

But is closing a loophole the same as raising taxes?

To some people it is. So if there’s some tax expenditure in the code that was intended to be temporary and to be revoked after a set number of years, Rep. Paxton – and you know he’s not alone in this – wants to keep it. If there’s a tax expenditure whose justification is no longer viable or relevant, Rep. Paxton wants to keep it. If there’s a tax expenditure that unfairly favors one business or industry over another, Rep. Paxton wants to keep it. Tax expenditures are forever, no matter what the budget situation is. If your funding has to be cut to pay for someone else’s tax break, that’s just too bad. We cannot look for new answers, only the same answers as before, whether they work or not.

Weekend link dump for May 30

Happy Memorial Day!

Rest in peace, Navy Lt. John Finn.

Now that it’s over sniff, here’s what we all can learn from “Lost”.

Sometimes, the reason a rule is unwritten is because it doesn’t exist.

The Liberty High School (Seattle) Class of 2003 was quite talented.

“The empathetic corporate person”.

Joan’s grandma. What a great story.

I think the most awesome part about this may-or-may-not-be-a-sex-scandal story is that the candidate in question was jointly endorsed by Sarah Palin and Jenny Sanford. I mean, talk about full circle.

Apparently, freedom is positively correlated with the prison population. Live free or die, y’all.

Happy birthday, Brooklyn Bridge. My parents were there for its 100th birthday back in 1983. As I recall, in attendance was at least one person who had been there for its grand opening in 1883. How cool is that?

Dear Facebook: What Dwight says. Love, me.


Boy, if only Florence Foster Jenkins had had one of these.

Always remember, the battle over reproductive choice is about so much more than abortion.

It’s not just Rand Paul.

Behold the magic of the free market.

The advantage of playing in a domed stadium is that stuff like this never happens.

The business case for regulation and oversight.

What if the oil spill just can’t be fixed?

I don’t know what will happen with the FinReg bill, but if an end result of all this is that people come to recognize that Wall Street CEOs are lunatics whose opinions are worthless, that would be fine by me.

Jupiter has lost a belt. Check under the bed, that’s my advice.

Wait, so now Republicans accept that how the Bush administration handled Hurricane Katrina was a monumental screwup? Good to know.

Did you hate the “Lost” finale? If so, here’s some more things you’ll probably hate.

I’m getting the impression that “Sex and the City 2” isn’t such a good movie.

The homosexual agenda is finally revealed.

The sad lives of the “Diff’rent Strokes” kids. At least Gary Coleman will live on in “Avenue Q”.

Mitch McConnell, doing his best to make America weaker. It’s time for a buttload of recess appointments, Mr. President.

Why should anyone trust the TCEQ?

Rick Perry wants the EPA to back off. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

Gov. Rick Perry, citing improvements in Texas air quality, asked President Barack Obama on Friday to get regional Environmental Protection Agency administrators to back off efforts to take over the state’s air quality permitting process for refineries and power plants.

Perry told Obama the state process has improved air quality while ensuring economic growth.

“EPA’s unwarranted actions will kill good American jobs, reduce our economic output and undermine critical domestic energy and petrochemical supplies for all 50 states,” Perry said in a letter to the president. “Worse still, EPA’s actions are unwarranted given the tremendous air quality improvements that have been made in Texas.”

Neil Carman, Clean Air Program director for the Sierra Club said improvements in Texas’ air quality stand out only because of how polluted the state was.

“The problem with the comparison of Texas to the rest of the nation is Texas has so much pollution,” Carman said. “You can have a significant reduction and still be the most polluted.”

Perry’s letter said Texas has achieved a 22 percent reduction in ozone and a 46 percent decrease in nitrogen oxide emissions in the past decade.

“Houston is second only to Atlanta in the total percent decrease in ozone for metropolitan areas since 2000, even with a 20 percent increase in population,” Perry said.

However, records from the EPA website show Houston still far exceeds Atlanta for ozone pollution.

That’s the thing about being the worst at something: You can improve a lot, and still be the worst at it. The state is getting exactly what it deserves from the EPA, which by the way first picked this fight over the Clean Air Act back in 2006. The fault lies entirely with the TCEQ and its industry-friendly “flex permits”. Any protests by TCEQ or the Perry administration that things are getting better are belied by the fact that we’re still lagging behind the rest of the country in compliance, and by the fact that the TCEQ’s own record of performance is so bad that even some Republicans are calling them out.

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess had some strong words for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality today following news that it presented inaccurate results to the Fort Worth City Council and failed to notify the city or the public for weeks after it realized the error.

The Lewisville Republican wants an investigation into why the agency didn’t make immediately clear that its testing of air quality in Fort Worth related to gas drilling had some problems as soon as they became aware of it.

“Those responsible should be held fully accountable, and I believe that a robust investigation by the Texas Attorney General’s office would be appropriate,” Burgess said in a statement.

Burgess said he was recently briefed by TCEQ on air quality issues related to gas drilling and he’s not happy to find out now that he wasn’t presented with all of the data.

“I relied on the information I was given, as did many others in North Texas,” Burgess said. “I find it personally offensive to find out that what I have been told may not be the full story on the air quality issues in the area that affect millions of North Texans. There are a lot of questions that TCEQ needs to answer, and the public is right to demand accountability.”

As BOR notes, Rep. Burgess is anything but an environmentalist. If he doesn’t trust TCEQ, why should anyone else? This matter isn’t directly related to the EPA issue, but it’s all of a piece. TCEQ is broken. It’s not working in the public’s interest, and there are direct costs that all of us in the state of Texas are paying as a result. And the problems with the TCEQ are the same as the problems with TxDOT and with the Division of Workers Compensation and with HHSC and with the TYC and with every other failing, dysfunctional agency in the state: They’re all Rick Perry’s responsibility. The people at these agencies are Rick Perry’s people, carrying out Rick Perry’s policies. Every last problem at every state agency is ultimately owned by Rick Perry. The only way to fix this is to put someone else in charge.

Here’s a press release from State Sen. Wendy Davis on the Fort Worth issue. Press releases from State Sen. Rodney Ellis and State Rep. Ellen Cohen about the EPA issue are beneath the fold. Finally, while we have to wait till November to do something about the Governor, there’s a Sunset review going on for the TCEQ. The Alliance for a Clean Texas will be hosting a call on Thursday, June 10, to kick off their TCEQ sunset campaign. Details if you want to dial in are at that link.


Federal funds for transit shortfalls proposed

This is a good idea.

Transit agencies forced to raise fares or cut service to close budget gaps would be eligible for $2 billion in emergency operating funds under legislation unveiled today by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) and seven other Democratic senators, including two members of the party’s leadership.

The transit operating bill would authorize $2 billion in federal grants aimed at helping local transit agencies reverse already-imposed service cuts, fare increases, or worker layoffs — provided that those changes were forced by a shortfall in state or local transport budgets that took effect after January 1, 2009. Any agency planning future service cuts or fare hikes could use their grant money to stave off those moves until September 2011.

“While families continue to struggle to make ends meet, the last thing we should do is make it harder and more expensive for people to get to work,” Dodd said in a statement. “This bill will prevent disruptive service cuts and help put money back in the pockets of families when they need it most.”

Those transit agencies not pursuing service cuts, fare hikes, or layoffs would be allowed to use the extra federal money for maintenance or repair of existing infrastructure. The transit operating funds would be distributed according to existing formulas, but the authorizing nature of the bill means that the money will also need to be appropriated in a separate piece of legislation.

Metro’s fare increase predates this, so if this bill passes it will not affect what you pay now. But we could see future service cuts or fare increases due to sales tax revenue shortfalls, and even if we do manage to escape all that, if I’m reading this correctly Metro would be able to get a few bucks for maintenance and repair anyway. As such, I look forward to seeing Bill King’s op-ed in the Chronicle exhorting Senators Cornyn and Hutchison to get behind this, since he’s made such a big issue of how much bus and train fares cost commuters. Even if Houston doesn’t directly reap that benefit, it would still be money in the pockets of many working families.

Anyway. I support this, though what I really want to see is more federal funds overall for transit. This is a stopgap measure that is needed and will do a lot of good if it passes, but a stopgap is all that it is. We need to be thinking bigger than that.

Meet the statewides: Uribe and Gilbert

Continuing with the TDP’s “Meet the Statewides” production, here we have intro videos for two more candidates. First up is my favorite candidate for this cycle, Land Commissioner hopeful Hector Uribe.

Next up is the Democratic candidate for Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Hank Gilbert.

You can see all the Meet the Statewides pages, in English and Spanish, here.

Saturday video break: In the mood

In memory of the late, great Glenn Miller, US Army Captian and bandleader extraordinaire, whose plane went down over the English Channel in 1944 while he was on his way to Paris.

Speaking as a saxophone player, that’s always one of the more technically challenging pieces to play. But a heap of fun when you’ve got it working. Rest in peace, Captain Miller.

Casey and the Chron on an elections administrator

Rick Casey sums up the recent proposal by County Judge Ed Emmett to consider adopting a non-partisan elections administrator for Harris County:

While Dallas and Tarrant counties have found it a source of electoral confidence and stability, Bexar County went through a dark period when one administrator was convicted of stealing about $50,000 in state funds, and another one, though clearly incompetent and lazy, couldn’t be fired because state law requires a 4⁄5 vote of the board, and unrelated politics kept the Republican county clerk from following the lead of the Republican county judge.

The commissioners court responded by abolishing the office and returning, for a time, to the old arrangement before it re-established the election administration office.

They agreed with Commissioner Lee: The leadership is more important than the structure.

Which is more or less how I feel about it, though I have a preference for it to be an elected office, because at least then the method of removing a poor administrator is well understood and doesn’t depend on any political oddities. As I said before, you can never truly eliminate the politics from something like this, which is why having these positions be elected is as good as anything.

I didn’t discuss the specific politics of Judge Emmett’s proposal when I wrote about this before because I just wanted to explore the idea itself. Yesterday’s Chron editorial did a good job of highlighting that aspect of it.

All too often it seems that Commissioners Court is making decisions that should be made by Harris County voters.

That’s why we are suspicious of the motives of Emmett and [County Clerk Beverly] Kaufman in pushing for the creation of an election czar who would be appointed by Commissioners Court and be overseen by a board that includes the judge, the county clerk, the tax assessor and representatives of both political parties.

In GOP party primaries this spring incumbent Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez, who Emmett helped appoint, was defeated by former County Treasurer Don Sumners, a tea party advocate who has criticized GOP commissioners in the past and would probably be a bigger nuisance for them than a Democrat. In the county clerk contest Kaufman supported her longtime chief deputy, Kevin Mauzy, but he lost to computer technician Stan Stanart. We wonder whether Emmett and Kaufman would be pushing for re-aligning election duties if their favorites were still in line to exercise those responsibilities.

It’s pretty hard to avoid the conclusion that no, we would not be talking about this at all if Vasquez and Mauzy were on the ballot. Which ought to be a good reason for you to vote for Ann Harris Bennett and Diane Trautman for County Clerk and Tax Assessor, respectively. I mean, if even Emmett and Kaufman think the Republican nominees aren’t up to the job, why should you? I’ll still be willing to discuss various ideas for changing how we do elections in Harris County, from combining voter registration and elections administration in one office to making all of those duties part of a non-partisan appointed office, after the election. But let’s see how the election goes first, if only to see if there’s still a sense of urgency about it.

Changes coming to the preservation ordinance?

Swamplot has a scoop.

Some major changes to the implementation of Houston’s long-ridiculed historic preservation ordinance may be coming very soon, if a proposal supported by Mayor Annise Parker passes a city council vote that could occur as early as next Wednesday, Swamplot has learned. Under the current ordinance (for all designated historic districts except for the Old Sixth Ward, now a designated “protected” historic district), owners of historic-district properties whose plans for demolition, new construction, or remodeling have been rejected by the city’s Archaeological and Historical Commission have been able to proceed with their plans anyway — simply by waiting 90 days.

But in an email to Swamplot, a spokesperson indicates the Mayor wants the commission to “temporarily discontinue” the issuing of such 90-day waivers for the remainder of this calendar year — or until amendments to the preservation ordinance are hashed out and approved by city council (whichever comes first). Under some revisions to the ordinance likely to be considered in that 7-month period, 90-day waivers could be eliminated entirely.

Changing the historic preservation ordinance so that it actually preserves historic buildings instead of merely putting off their demolition for a few weeks would be a huge change in how Houston does things. I can’t wait to see what they come up with, and I expect the pushback to be fierce. Click over and read the whole thing.

The chiefs talk about Arizona

HPD Chief Charles McClelland was one of several police chiefs to go to Washington and talk with Attorney General Eric Holder about why Arizona’s immigration law would be harmful to them, and why the federal government needs to finish the job of comprehensive immigration reform.

“The federal government should bring clarity to this issue,” McClelland said outside the Justice Department following a one-hour meeting with Holder.

McClelland said the government needs to define the varying roles of federal, state and local police agencies in enforcing federal statutes.

Several of the police chiefs were critical of the Arizona law, which allows police officers to demand from people proof of being in the country legally.

Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor said officers are bound to enforce the law, but warned that it would have consequences.

Those consequences, the chiefs said, include the possibility that victims and witnesses with questionable immigration status might not come forward to report crimes or cooperate with investigators.

That loss of trust with segments of the community would give criminals more protection from law enforcement, they said.

As I’ve noted before, we’ve already seen what happens when local law enforcement steps in on the immigration question. In Maricopa County, Arizona, home of nativist Sheriff Joe Arpaio, crime is up and response times are down, because the Sheriff’s deputies are too busy rounding up people who may be undocumented immigrants to focus on the rest of their job. We already know what will happen, because it’s already happened. Why would we want to emulate that?

The NCAA licensing lawsuit

Keep an eye on this.

If you’re a sports fan with a legal bent, add this to your Memorial Day weekend reading list: The March 10 complaint in Case No. C 09-01967 CW, United States District Court, Northern District of California, Oakland Division.

It’s 157 pages of straight-forward material that references some of college basketball’s greatest moments and personalities over the last 50 years: Texas Western’s 1966 upset of Kentucky, the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird championship game of 1979, Michigan’s “Fab Five” teams of the early ’90s, and UCLA’s stirring title run in 1995, led by forward Ed O’Bannon.


The key issue of the lawsuit is this: Should the NCAA compensate former players for the right to sell products — like video games, highlight videos and jerseys — that use their likeness, image, names and other intellectual property? The NCAA, naturally, believes it should not, arguing that it does not actually profit from players’ likenesses, and furthermore that all college athletes sign a form that forfeits their right to receive payment from the NCAA or its business partners.

On the other side, of course, are athletes such as O’Bannon, Keller and a growing list of others, including former Michigan and NBA center Eric Riley and Alex Gilbert, who played alongside Bird at Indiana State, who have never seen a penny as the NCAA has morphed into a behemoth that generates huge sums — reportedly $4 billion annually — from licensing and media deals. O’Bannon was the lead plaintiff in a case that focused on the NCAA’s use of former players’ images and likenesses to sell DVDs, “classic” photos and jerseys, while Keller’s suit was focused primarily on the video game industry, and in particular how Electronic Arts, the video game titan, utilizes players’ likenesses in their games.

The players’ cause got a huge boost in February when a federal judge in Northern California denied the NCAA’s request to dismiss the case. Soon after, the O’Bannon and Keller cases were combined, and the next big issue will be whether the court will certify the case as a class-action lawsuit. It’s a massive decision: Because of the potential for a gargantuan payout in a class-action suit, the NCAA is not expected to fight if the case is certified, and would instead pursue a settlement, which would still likely be a considerable amount. On the flip-side, if the suit is not certified, it’s unlikely that each of the athletes would pursue their cases individually.

I noted this lawsuit last year, after it was first filed. Needless to say, a whole lot of money is at stake. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t evaluate the legal claims, but the players’ case looks very strong to me. The NCAA requires all players to sign an omnibus “I relinquish all rights to my image forever” document every year, which in this day and age just doesn’t pass the sniff test. Again, the legalities may mean that the players will lose this fight, but from the standpoint of justice, I say they have a slam dunk. Read it and see what you think.

Friday random ten: In memoriam

In honor of Memorial Day on Monday, here are ten songs that I thought were fitting:

1. The Green Fields of France – Ceili’s Muse
2. Another Man’s Cause – SixMileBridge
3. War – Bruce Springsteen
4. Goodnight, Saigon – Billy Joel
5. 7 O’Clock News/Silent Night – Simon and Garfunkel
6. Fighting For Strangers – Flying Fish Sailors
7. The Minstrel Boy – Enter The Haggis
8. The Band Played Waltzing Matilda – Eric Bogle
9. Patriot’s Duty – Gordon Lightfoot
10. Battle Hymn of the Republic – The Sun Harbor’s Chorus

What songs do you have that are appropriate for the occasion?

Entire song list report: Started with “How Long Do I Have To Wait For You?”, by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. Finished somewhat serendipitously with “I Have Come To Take My Boy Home”, by Jiggernaut, which is song #2196 and which would fit in with the list above just fine. That’s 108 songs this week. The last H song was “Hypnotized”, by Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater. The first I song depended on whether you were looking in iTunes or on the iPod. On the former, it was “I’d Love To Change The World”, by Ten Years After. On the latter, which is what I actually heard, it was “I Ain’t Even Satisfied”, by John Mellencamp. You wouldn’t think there’d be a disagreement between these two things on how to do alphabetical order, but there you have it.

Ripping vinyl report: Added “Winwood and Friends”, an album that features a young Steve Winwood and, um, some friends of his, mostly bluesmen. I’m pretty sure this is a Greg Wythe album that got mixed in with mine back when he was going to do some of this for me. It’s pretty good, too. Thanks, Greg!

The TxDOT audit

I’m sure you will be surprised to learn that TxDOT has a lot of issues.

The Texas Department of Transportation should significantly alter its leadership structure, reshuffle its executive ranks and reduce the role engineers play in leading the sprawling agency.

That’s according to a new — and at 628 pages, exhaustive — audit of its management and structure by the accounting firm Grant Thornton. The audit, available in full here, was released Wednesday by the department after the accounting firm revealed its findings.

I am still working through the details, and there are a lot of them. But key recommendations from the audit focus strongly on the nature of the leadership of the department, which has been under fire in Austin and elsewhere for years, often because of resentment by lawmakers and others that see it as a tool of Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign to add toll roads throughout Texas.

The audit notes that one of the most fundamental challenges faced by the department is an unsteady funding stream, and soaring costs associated with its monumental responsibilities. Texas cities are among the fastest-growing in America, and the state maintains more miles of highways than any other — an expensive combination.

But the report also states that a lack of trust by lawmakers and members of the public has played a critical role in preventing the agency from getting higher appropriations. Some simply don’t believe the agency needs what it says it needs. Others, the audit stated, say that until TxDOT wins that trust back, many stakeholders feel it shouldn’t be given more money to spend — even if it clearly needs it.

There’s more there, and from Burka, who’s a longtime critic of TxDOT; State Sen. Kirk Watson and Bill White also weigh in from a more pointedly political perspective. From my perspective, how many more examples do you need of Rick Perry’s failure as Governor? The single biggest power the Governor has, one Perry has used to put an indelible stamp on the state, is the power of appointment. His people have been running TxDOT for nearly a decade now. Whatever problems it has, they’re his responsibility. Whatever needs to be done to fix it that hasn’t been done, that’s his responsibility, too. And as long as TxDOT is his responsibility, nothing is going to change no matter what a bunch of consultants put in a report. The problems start at the top.

Only some kinds of mistakes were made

I probably shouldn’t be, but I was amused by this Chron story about the current state of the HPD fingerprint lab and the consultants who audited it.

[HPD Assistant Chief Timothy] Oettmeier said consultants also had performed more in-depth technical audits of a random selection of 548 completed criminal cases. No misidentifications were found, he said, but consultants did detect technical errors in 53 percent of those cases. He defined those errors as cases in which HPD examiners had failed to find fingerprints on a piece of evidence or found a print but mistakenly said it was not sufficient for an identification.

“The good thing about that audit is there were no erroneous identifications,” Oettmeier said. “That means we did not find any instance where a person was put in jail or prison because of a mistake made in a fingerprint.”

Troy McKinney, past president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyer’s Association, said it was “almost statistically impossible” for the lab to have such a high rate of technical errors and not have made any false identifications.

“Having 62 percent of cases having problem with methodology of the analysis is an indication there are fundamental flaws in that lab,” McKinney said. “I always worry that somebody may have been mistakenly identified. It’s not just about the results, it’s about the process. And merely because somebody thinks now the results are reliable, is not an indication it was reliable when it was done and a jury should have relied on it at the time.”

Apparently, the fingerprint lab’s problem is that they’re just too cautious. You don’t see that every day. Let’s just say I can understand McKinney’s skepticism.

What happens to exonerees?

We know that quite a few people who had been in prison have been exonerated and freed in recent years, and we know that a fund was created by the Lege last year to give them some compensation for their years of unjust imprisonment. But there’s still work to be done to try to make things right for these folks.

“Exonerees aren’t given a dime when they leave prison. Many don’t have a place to lay their heads at night,” says University of Texas at Arlington Exoneree Project director Jaimie Page, who helped get Scott and Simmons identification and other staples after their release. “If they have no family — and many do not — they are essentially homeless.”

The $10,000 reintegration payment was meant to combat this issue, says Kelvin Bass, a spokesman for state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, the lawmaker who added the reintegration language into the bill. Bass says West’s office has noticed some weaknesses with the Tim Cole law — namely, how that reintegration money gets paid.

The law calls for the creation of a new division within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide help and benefits to exonerees, including the initial $10,000 payment. But that division is not yet operational, Bass says. Meanwhile, while the measure says the comptroller’s office is in charge of dispensing the monthly compensation, it leaves the TDCJ responsible for paying the initial reintegration money.

The TDCJ acknowledges it is responsible. But agency spokesman Jason Clark says the $10,000 is deducted from the total sum awarded to the exoneree as restitution — which is overseen by the comptroller. He said the money doesn’t start to flow until the inmate is formally exonerated, not just directly upon his or her release. And even when the initial money does flow, Clark said, it can only be used for living expenses, though the department also offers case management services to link the wrongfully imprisoned with needed services.

“It’s a great idea, but there is nothing in place,” Bass says. “And even with being awarded the compensation, there is no structure. Just handing somebody money isn’t enough.”

What we’ve got here is a good start. Texas is actually pretty progressive on this front compared to other states. One might churlishly argue that it’s because we’ve had so many more opportunities to free wrongly convicted inmates than those other states, but let’s not quibble. The Lege has done good work here. There’s just more of it to do, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that. Grits has more.

So much for Abbott’s big “voter fraud” case

Back in 2005, Attorney General Greg Abbott announced with a flourish a rash of arrests in South Texas on various counts of voter fraud. These arrests, some of which were announced while the Lege was debating a voter ID bill, were cited as evidence by Abbott of an “epidemic”, for which voter ID was naturally the solution. Many of these cases ultimately wound up being dismissed, with the last batch in Hidalgo County getting dropped last week.

In 2005, Belasquez and seven other politiqueras — operatives paid by campaigns to collect votes — were indicted on charges they mishandled ballots of elderly and disabled voters during their work on the McAllen mayoral race earlier that year.

At the time, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, described the case as yet another reminder that “voter fraud is occurring on a large scale when viewed statewide, and consequently, our state elections are significantly impacted.”

Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra, a Democrat, cautioned local politicians that the indictments should serve as a warning to all those who thought they could get away with tampering with local elections.

But despite the fanfare, nearly all the charges have been dismissed five years later.


The problem with all the McAllen voter fraud cases, said Guerra during a recent interview, was that the investigations were weak, pushed on his office by the Texas Rangers and the attorney general and nearly impossible to prove at trial.

Many of the allegations involved politiqueras purportedly pressuring disabled and elderly voters to select certain candidates on their mail-in ballots. But without actually proving the election workers filled out or changed the ballots themselves, it was nearly impossible to convince a jury that criminal activity occurred, the DA said.

“I don’t care what party you’re from, you’re going to have people out hustling votes,” he said. “In some places, they’ll call them politiqueras. In others, they’ll call it paid campaign staff.”

See here, here, and here for some background. One thing that’s been true in all of the cases Abbott has pushed is that they involved mail in ballots, which as I’ve observed would be unaffected by any legislation that required photo ID to vote in person. Abbott and his allies, of course, never drew that distinction, since the purpose of the voter ID legislation that keeps getting pushed in the Lege isn’t about stopping the kind of voter fraud that actually happens, it’s about making it harder for certain people to vote. In the end, even the fraud cases that Abbott claimed to have found turned out to be a whole lot of nothing. It’s no surprise to me.

Kaiser study on health care costs

As we know, state officials from HHSC Commissioner Tom Suehs up through Governor Perry have been claiming that the Affordable Care Act will cost the state of Texas a lot more than the CBO estimates. There’s quite a bit of evidence to suggest that the state is wrong on this point, and more more of it has come from the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, which released a study that you can see here suggesting that Texas will be a big winner under the ACA. The Trib summarizes:

Health care reform expands Medicaid access to nearly all individuals with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line (about $29,000 for a family of four). The Kaiser study estimates that Texas’ population of uninsured adults will drop between 49 and 74 percent by 2019, depending on how aggressive the state is with its outreach. That means state Medicaid rolls will grow by between 1.4 million and 2 million people.

The financial burden will largely be borne by the federal government, the Kaiser study reports, covering more than 95 percent of Texas’ costs. If Texas sees a 46 percent increase in Medicaid enrollment by 2019, the study notes, it will still only see state Medicaid spending grow by 3 percent. If it sees a more aggressive 64 percent increase in Medicaid enrollment, state spending will rise by 5 percent. That’s a state cost, between 2014 and 2019, of anywhere between $2.6 billion and $4.5 billion, the report says — far below Texas’ $25 billion estimate.

“There will be large increases in coverage and federal funding in exchange for a small increase in state spending,” the report notes. “States with low coverage levels and high uninsured rates will see the largest increases in coverage and federal funding.”

In other words, Texas’ historic parsimony will result in a huge influx of federal dollars for Medicaid coverage. Somewhere, the god of karma is laughing his ass off.

Naturally, state officials, whose political livelihood depends on a depiction of the ACA as a tax-raising monster, refuse to see the upside.

A spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission says the state has examined the Kaiser study on adult Medicaid expansion under the federal health law “and found that our basic assumptions are very close.”

State spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman complained, though, that the study — sponsored by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured — left out higher state administrative costs and the state’s costs of maintaining rate hikes for the primary care docs that are federally paid just for two years, 2013 and 2014.

“We just think they erred in leaving those very real costs out,” Goodman said.

Kaiser Commission president Diane Rowland, though, responded that Texas has omitted from its cost estimates the lowered state and local costs of paying for uncompensated care.

“If that uncompensated care burden goes away and is replaced with individuals who carry insurance coverage, it really has a large offset to the cost of implementing the Medicaid expansion,” Rowland said.

Goodman replied, “We recognize that there will be local savings, but it’s unclear how that will factor into the state budget. … Those costs are primarily paid by local governments right now.”

Hey, you know what? Taxpayers fund local governments, too, so if state costs go up but local costs go down, that has a very real positive effect. As for Goodman’s protest that people won’t be able to find doctors who will accept Medicaid, there are plenty of things that the state can do about that, such as fast-tracking more internationally-trained physicians and giving more empowerment to nurse practitioners, both of which will incidentally lower the cost of primary care overall. There’s an awful lot of win here if the state would only be willing to grab it. The Washington Post has more.

Grand jury hears Metro document shredding evidence

Obviously, the District Attorney’s office is farther along in their investigation than I thought.

A courthouse appearance today by Frank J. Wilson, the former Metropolitan Transit Authority president accused of destroying public documents, provided the first indication that prosecutors are presenting evidence to a grand jury in the case.

Wilson, 61, walked into a room where a Harris County grand jury was meeting today. He left the grand jury room about 1:30 p.m. Both he and his lawyer declined to comment.

So maybe we’ll hear something pretty soon after all. Hair Balls has more.

Worker’s Comp goes before the Sunset Commission

The worker’s comp battle has moved to the Sunset Advisory Committee, with testimony being given about how the Division of Workers’ Compensation does its business. Elise Hu continues her reporting on the war of words between several former employees of that division and their boss – see a letter one of them wrote in response to Commissioner Rod Bordelon’s counter-accusations. The Texas Association of Business is weighing in as well. The first day of hearings set the stage for what is to come.

Dr. Ken Ford, who served for six years as Assistant Medical Advisor at the Division, is one of six employees who have exited their positions since January, alleging fraud probes have been buried by their boss, Commissioner Rod Bordelon. Public scrutiny of the Division — following a May 12 Texas Tribune story — began in earnest Tuesday night, as members of the Sunset Advisory Commission questioned Bordelon and former workers’ comp investigators about cases against doctors accused of overtreating or overbilling patients during the last half decade. The commission’s recommendations, which won’t be voted on for several months, are typically used to guide changes during the legislative session.

More hearings are planned for this summer as lawmakers scrutinize the roiling controversy, which includes allegations that Bordelon may have bent to political pressure in spiking at least one case in January and closed the books on eight others that had already moved into the enforcement stage.

“The [Division’s] Office of Medical Advisor has discovered tens of millions of dollars in unnecessary medical care, and it’s all been swept under the rug,” Ford told the commission.

Under questioning from lawmakers, Bordelon defended his decision to dismiss the nine cases, blaming his former employees — including Ford — for tainting the selection of the doctors for review. He said those employees “targeted” the physicians selectively, creating a potential roadblock to prosecuting them. “The defendants bring up as a defense that they have been targeted,” Bordelon told the panel.

Ford, in his testimony, called Bordelon’s assertions “a lie,” saying that the doctors were selected based on complaints from their patients. The doctors enjoy ample safeguards, he said. “Where it seems to bog down is, once they go to enforcement, they just seem to disappear,” said Ford.

I daresay this will all be a lot more exciting than what you’d normally expect given the subject matter. Hearings will continue in June.

BRT for San Antonio?

As we know, San Antonio is seeking federal funds to build a streetcar line emanating from downtown. That’s not their only big transit plan in the works. As the On the Move blog reports, VIA has proposed changing one of their busiest bus routes into a bus rapid transit line. They have some public meetings this week to solicit feedback on it. Click over for more details, including links to the relevant draft environmental impact statements.

Here comes the EPA

No one can say they weren’t warned.

Objecting to how Texas regulates air pollution, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday it is taking over the issuance of an operating permit for a Corpus Christi refinery and could step in at some 39 other major facilities across the state.

“I think the writing will be on the wall — unless we start seeing better permits that address our objections, we are very likely to begin federalizing others,” EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz said in a telephone interview. “The state is not following federal Clean Air Act requirements.”

Tuesday’s unprecedented action affected a Flint Hills Resources refinery in Corpus Christi. The EPA’s action means the facility must submit an application with detailed information to the federal agency, which could approve or deny a permit.

The EPA and the state of Texas have been on a collision course for months now, so this was just a matter of time. As Forrest Wilder notes, the crux of the issue is “flexible permits”:

A “flex” permit essentially gives major polluters a pass on ratcheting emissions down at individual emissions sources, instead placing a cap on the facility as a whole. The cap is way too high and virtually unenforceable, critics charge.

Former TCEQ commissioner Larry Soward, now a consultant for Air Alliance Houston, said industry is only reaping what it’s sown.

“Industry got [the flex permit program] in place, proceeded to rely on it and now when the EPA is coming in and saying flexible permits aren’t compliant with federal law, industry is going to yell and scream,” Soward said.

This well-timed Observer cover story about the TCEQ has more. I think Bill White’s response is right on:

“Because of Rick Perry’s mismanagement of the state’s environmental agency, our state is now losing our ability to make our own decisions about air quality and the economy.

While Perry will likely try to make this into a partisan issue, the truth is that the state was repeatedly warned, beginning in 2007 under President Bush, that its permitting program violated the law that granted Texas the authority to issue air pollution permits.

Historically, under federal and gubernatorial administrations with leaders in both parties, Texas had earned the ability to administer the Clean Air Act. This delegation of authority has been important to Texas, letting our state implement the Clean Air Act in a way designed to fit our own air quality and economic needs.

Over the course of two federal administrations, Perry’s agency lost the confidence of regulatory authorities to the detriment of all Texans.”

More from White here, and from Texas Politics here, here, and here.

More on the Metro lawsuit settlement

As we know, the Metro document shredding lawsuit has been pulled from the court docket in anticipation of a settlement agreement. The Chron has more on what that settlement agreement might entail.

The proposed settlement of an open-records lawsuit against the Metropolitan Transit Authority would require Metro to pay the legal fees of the plaintiff, Lloyd Kelley, and to improve its policies for preserving public documents, Kelley said Monday.

The agreement, however, wouldn’t address the lawsuit’s allegations that Metro officials have improperly destroyed public documents, said Kelley, a lawyer and former city controller.

That issue would be left to criminal investigators, Kelley said. The Harris County District Attorney’s office launched an investigation in March.

My advice for Metro is to be prepared for sticker shock. You’ll want to know what those legal fees will amount to before you sign on the dotted line. We’ll see if that actually causes a problem in the negotiations.

As for the criminal probe, that’s the more appropriate vehicle for settling the question about what Metro may or may not have done. I have no idea when that may conclude. Houston Politics has more.

Beyond DNA exonerations

We’re all familiar with the way the Dallas DA’s office has handled using DNA to review cases in which a defendant’s guilt may have been in question. Now that most of the cases in which DNA evidence still exists have been reviewed, they are moving on to other kinds.

The emphasis of the conviction integrity unit established by District Attorney Craig Watkins in 2007 is shifting toward challenging cases where there is no DNA to test, but where questions remain about an inmate’s guilt or innocence.

Without DNA evidence, these cases require more time and can mean investigating a crime that occurred years ago as though it just happened: tracking down witnesses, comparing fingerprints to see if there is a match when one didn’t exist before, seeking new evidence.

Watkins says he hopes his office can use lessons learned during years of DNA testing to improve police work. Bad witness identification, for example, has been a factor in most of Dallas’ DNA exonerations. There are also several cases where prosecutors or police withheld evidence that could have prevented a conviction.

Watkins said his perspective has changed since the unit began. He’s realized that it can do much more than free the innocent.

“At the time, I started out looking at legitimate claims of innocence, and obviously we still do,” said Watkins. “But now, it’s how can we improve prosecutor and police techniques. It’s about the ability to argue for changes in the law.”

This is the future of overturning wrongful convictions in Dallas County.

Grits has more about this. The key point is that DNA evidence only exists in a small number of cases, and it’s relevant in an even smaller number, but the same kind of evidence and procedures that made the DNA-available cases worthy of review – eyewitness identifications, bad arson science, “scent lineups”, etc – exist universally, and should be looked at as earnestly. It may be harder to show anything definitive, but if they do nothing but codify their best practices to avoid arresting and convicting people in the future based on this stuff, it’s well worth it. Now if only other DAs would follow Dallas’ lead on this.

RV voters

Really interesting story about a group of RV owners who “live” in a park in Polk County and vote there, but are seldom actually physically present.

On the one hand, Escapees Inc. is a business catering to recreational vehicle enthusiasts. Rainbow’s End, its headquarters, features a 140-acre RV park complete with a swimming pool, more than 150 RV lots, a clubhouse, a library and an adult day-care center whose services are available to all Polk County residents.

On the other, the Escapees organization is the largest and most influential voting bloc in Polk County, a group of older, mostly Republican voters that has the potential to influence elections local and statewide.

Supporters of the Escapees — and the Escapees are known throughout the county as good citizens — say the group uses its political clout wisely and responsibly. Detractors, most of them members of a diminished Democratic Party, argue the organization represents an ongoing abuse of Texas’ lax residency requirements.

The confluence of clout and community resides in a 10,000-square-foot building on Rainbow Drive in the RV park. The building houses a mail-forwarding service for more than 32,000 member-families of the RV club. The service, which handles some 2 million pieces of mail a year, allows RV enthusiasts, most of them vagabonding about the country for much of the year, to receive mail at Rainbow’s End — and to cast mail-in ballots in Polk County elections wherever they happen to be.

Only a few hundred RVers live in the park at least semi-permanently, but about 14,000 Escapees members are registered to vote in Polk County, even if they rarely, if ever, visit. All they have to do is come into Texas once — to get a driver’s license — and the state recognizes them as Polk County residents.

The Escapees, all with addresses on Rainbow Drive, make up two voting precincts and account for 40 percent of the 35,000 registered voters in the county. Those numbers give them enormous influence — if they choose to use it — over who gets elected to county and state legislative offices. Escapees Inc. mails out a voter registration certificate as part of its membership packet.

No question, Texas voter registration law is permissive. As long as you don’t vote in more than one place, you can pretty much claim residency and register to vote wherever you want. I guess the way I’d look at this is where should someone who basically lives on the road be allowed to register? It has to be somewhere, and I don’t see how any one place is going to be more or less acceptable than any other. I sympathize with the Polk County complainants, but I don’t think they’re going to win anything in court. They might try for a legislative remedy for their issue, but I doubt they’ll get anywhere there, either. I’m not really sure there is a good answer for them.

And then there were three microbreweries

Meet Mike Brian Royo, the owner of what will soon be the third microbrewery in the Houston area, No Label Brewing Co.

Royo, 32, and his wife, Jennifer, and his parents, Gilberto and Melanie, have leased space in an old warehouse in Katy and are expecting their federal license to arrive within a couple of months. In the meantime, he said, he’s shopping for a 15-barrel brewhouse and some fermenting tanks to replace the “glorified homebrew system” he’s relying on as he fine-tunes No Label’s initial lineup.

No Label plans to start with a hefeweizen, El Hefe!, and either Pale Horse pale ale or Ridgeback Ale, an American amber with a distinct chocolate finish.

“I lean toward the maltier beers,” Royo said.

He said he’ll also put out a lighter blonde ale, Silo, before moving into the higher-alcohol stuff, IPAs and stouts, for example.

Royo’s dad is a native of Panama, where he met his wife, whose family was stationed there. He’s also a geologist who’s always had a taste for good beer, Brian said. The family eventually settled in Katy, where Brian went to junior high and high school before heading to Texas A&M to study construction science.

After transferring to the University of Houston, he discovered the Flying Saucer, visited the Saint Arnold brewery and started making beer as a hobby.

“Next thing you know, I’m spending all my extra money on homebrewing supplies,” he said.

Brock Wagner, the owner of Saint Arnold’s, always used to joke when he gave the brewery tours that “this is what happens when your home-brewing hobby gets out of hand”. Now you know what he means. No Label joins them and Conroe’s Southern Star in the craft beer-making business. I wish them the best, and look forward to sampling their wares some day.

UPDATE: Correction made per comments.

Texas blog roundup for the week of May 24

The Texas Progressive Alliance is enjoying the last week of school before summer vacation as it brings you this week’s blog roundup.


Emmett calls for “elections czar”

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett thinks we could use a dedicated elections supervisor.

Proponents of an elections czar say an appointee would be insulated from accusations and lawsuits alleging partisanship in carrying out the duties of the office.

In late 2008, the state Democratic Party said in a lawsuit that then-Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt, a Republican, had illegally blocked thousands of people from registering to vote. The lawsuit was settled last fall.

Bettencourt resigned in December 2008 to work in the private sector, just weeks after being elected to a third four-year term.

“The Democrats’ lawsuit against the tax office and Paul Bettencourt’s abrupt departure were game changers,” Emmett said. “It brought to everybody’s attention that any time you have partisan offices running elections, you’re just sort of leaving yourself open to lawsuits.”

First things first: Can we please drop the tiresome “Czar” appellation for anything that requires a person in charge of it? Thanks.

Now then. I’m willing to hear what Judge Emmett has to say. Certainly, there’s a case to be made for combining the election-related businesses of the Tax Assessor and County Clerk’s offices, either in one of them – County Clerk would be the logical choice – or in its own separate office. No elected official ever wants to cede power, so I give Emmett credit for bringing it up at a time when both the County Clerk and the Tax Assessor are on their way out. If there ever was a time to discuss this, now is that time.

I want to caution against the idea that you can somehow divorce the function of running elections, including voter registration, from the partisan political process. It’s the same thing with electing judges: We may take this away from the voters, but in doing so we’d be handing it to people who were elected by the voters in partisan elections and who are subject to partisan pressures as part of their jobs. I believe it would be harder to hold those who made the appointment responsible for a bad choice, because this is only one aspect of their job, than it would be to hold the person doing the job responsible. The best you can hope for under any scenario is for the person or persons responsible to be dedicated, impartial professionals, and the best way to have that is for an informed and engaged electorate to demand it and enforce it at the ballot box, regardless of who they enforce it on. Your guess is as good as mine for how to achieve that.

Finally, I’ve seen a lot of discussion about this idea on Carl Whitmarsh’s mailing list, with several people chiming in to say that various other counties have non-partisan, appointed elections administrators, and their experience has generally been very good. I’m glad to hear that, and I would certainly hope that if Harris County follows this path that we have a similar experience. Having the county chairs of both the Democratic and Republican parties involved in the selection process seems to help. The question is what happens if the experience isn’t good. Does this person have to be periodically re-appointed, or re-confirmed? Under what conditions can he or she be fired? How can you isolate this person from political pressure, yet ensure they are accountable? These are some of the things I’ll be looking for when the commission Judge Emmett wants the Court to study this idea presents its plan.

More “Buy America” complications

From the “It’s always something with Metro” department:

The Federal Transit Administration plans to deny the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s request for a waiver from Buy America rules in connection with [a $15.8 million radio equipment] radio purchase from Motorola, FTA spokesman Paul Griffo said.

“During hard economic times, the Obama administration’s goal for taxpayer funds is to invest in the creation of needed jobs here at home,” Griffo said.


In a March 18 letter to the FTA, Metro’s general counsel, Paula Alexander, said the agency was seeking a Buy America waiver for a “sole source” procurement: “There is simply no other product that provides the required interoperability with Harris County’s network.”

With certain exceptions, Motorola is the only vendor approved by Harris County, which is overseeing the system, according to a Jan. 8 letter to Metro from Craig S. Bernard, the county’s director of regional radio services.

Motorola was unable to certify its equipment as compliant with Buy America rules, Metro Police Chief Tom Lambert said. But since no other vendor was available, he said, “we fully expected that we would get approval to do this.”

Guess not. This isn’t a showstopper like the grant for light rail construction would have been – yes, I’m assuming at this point that the voice mail from the past will save their bacon on that score – but it is annoying. One hopes they can find a way around this, but I’m not going to spend too much time worrying about it.

White wants to “undo some of the damage” the SBOE has done to social studies

Lord knows, there’s a lot of it to undo. Bill White wants to start with changing the Chair.

Some Texans have called for a limited review to address some of the more controversial standards that will influence new history, government, geography and economics textbooks for 4.8 million public school children. Only the board chairman sets the agenda, and the governor chooses that leader — currently Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas.

The board appointed academic experts, historians and teachers to recommend new social studies textbooks but then did a massive rewriting by considering some 400 amendments.

“Obviously, I would pick a chair who would try to undo some of the damage that is being done as quickly as we can,” White said. “We should have standards which reflect the views of professional educators and historians and respect the integrity of that process rather than injecting political ideology in the classroom — regardless where that ideology came in the political spectrum.”

Burka thinks White needs to go farther than that – he think White needs to call on the Lege to throw out what the SBOE has done and start the process over. Some legislators, like State Rep. Mike Villarreal, are talking about that possibility, while groups like the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the House Black Caucus have threatened to withhold funding for the new textbooks. I’ll say this much, the more you can tie Perry to the clown show, and the more you can put him in the position of having to defend or back away from what they’ve done, the better.

And as long as we’re pushing back on the crazy things the SBOE has done, let’s push back on this bit of sophistry:

David Bradley, R-Beaumont, a leader among the board’s socially conservative members, recalls that his side lost by a lopsided margin when the social studies standards were last rewritten in 1999.

“It’s over. Ten years ago we were not on the prevailing side. The liberals won and the conservatives lost. We didn’t hold press conferences and call for a reconsideration or appeal to the Legislature,” he said.

But those standards hardly caused a ripple 11 years ago. More than 40,000 people offered comments on this year’s proposal, and more than 1,200 historians from across the country expressed their objections. Many minority organizations also spoke out. Minority children now make up more than 66 percent of the public school enrollment, and the new curriculum standards were approved by the board’s 10 Republicans — all of whom are white. The board’s five Democrats, all minorities, voted against the document.

The difference between ten years ago and now is that nobody, not even Bradley, is claiming that the Board at that time replaced widely accepted facts with politically slanted nonsense. In fact, Bradley’s complaint is that his preferred set of politically slanted nonsense didn’t get any traction in 1999, and so now that there are enough Board members who want to see that particular worldview pushed on Texas’ students, they’re doing it. The truth isn’t what matters, because the majority on the Board gets to decide what the truth is.

Finally, note that while the SBOE is usually described as being evenly divided between the wingnuts and the moderates, all three supposed Republican moderates voted with the wingnuts in the end. Sounding like a moderate means nothing if you don’t vote like one. When there’s a choice between someone who tries to sound like a moderate and someone who genuinely is one, don’t be fooled by soothing words. Actions count for much more.

LSG forum on gambling

Earlier this month, State Rep. Jim Dunnam, the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, sent out a letter to the Chairs of the House Republican Caucus, the Texas Conservative Coalition, and the Legislative Study Group proposing that they establish “a bi-partisan ad hoc committee to fully explore all aspects of any and all gaming proposals that might be before the Texas House” in the next legislative session. Rep. Garnet Coleman of the LSG sent out the following in response:

Representative Garnet F. Coleman, Chair of the Legislative Study Group (LSG) House Caucus, announced [Monday] that the caucus would host a forum on the issue of gambling to help prepare members on the public policy implications of expanded gaming in Texas.

“This will be a Gaming 101 forum. Members need to receive information about the public policy of gaming,” said Representative Coleman. “We have the opportunity to look at what has happened in other states that have passed gaming, and review the long range impact for Texas.”

The LSG will host a forum on the issue, where members can learn about the intricacies of the issue. All members of the Legislature are invited to attend.

Representative Coleman said, “In the year since session ended, there has been a legislative vacuum when it comes to this specific issue. Members deserve to have as much information as possible as they prepare for the next legislative session, where various proposals for expanded gambling will certainly be proposed.”

Previously, House Democratic Caucus Leader Jim Dunnam had proposed creating a bipartisan ad hoc committee with LSG and the House Democratic Caucus, the House Republican Caucus and the Conservative Coalition Caucus. Both the Republican Caucus and the Conservative Coalition declined the invitation.

“Representative Dunnam was correct, this is an important issue that needs to be discussed and studied publicly,” said Representative Coleman. “With a revenue shortfall upwards of $18 billion in the next biennium there is a legitimate policy discussion that needs to happen. Members need to know the pros and cons of expanded gambling and the potential impact on our state.”

As I said before, I think this is a good idea. I’m not sure why the RC and the CC declined, but at least someone will be looking into it. The more work that gets done before the opening gavel in 2011, the better.

Meet Joe Jaworski

The Chron had a profile of newly-elected Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski over the weekend.

Jaworski said he will focus on improving the life of existing residents rather than encouraging construction on the west end.


Jaworski said he wants to lure businesses to the city by making it a better place to live. Part of that solution, he says, is changing Galveston’s image. “Now the hit is that it’s dirty and the schools are poor,” he said.

He doesn’t believe that Galveston schools deserve their poor reputation, and he wants to talk with the school board about how to change it.

Jaworski wants a report from city staff at every council meeting on what is being done to spruce up the city. He wants zoning regulations enforced to rid Galveston of shoddy buildings. And he wants to entice development on the thousands of empty lots that dot the city’s east end.

He also embraces a report by the Urban Land Institute that says Seawall Boulevard could be converted into one the nation’s great boulevards.

Galveston works on a city manager system, so Jaworski can’t do these things on his own, but I have faith in his ability to get stuff done. You can listen to the interview I did with him before the election here.

More on the UT/Trib poll

In response to my comments about the UT/Texas Trib poll, pollster James Henson was kind enough to send me the following:

The number of independents is a function of how we present the results, not the methodology per se. We ask our respondents to provide party id, then follow up with independents to ask how they lean. As I’m sure you know, most self-identified leaners exhibit behavior that in many cases is actually more similar to strong party identifiers — a tendency that is fairly evident in the cross tabs of this and other polls. As a result, we isolate what people tend to think of as “true independents” and group the leaners with their more likely tendencies in these breakdowns. There is of course bound to be some error in this, but we think that it’s a lot less than if one just keeps the leaners in the category. If you want to test this yourself, we will of course be posting the original and complete dataset later in the week, so you can conduct your own analysis. (For now, you can extrapolate the breakdown of the 7-point scale in the partial crosstabs posted at the Trib site.)

I appreciate the clarification, and I look forward to seeing the complete dataset. Henson also sent me this detailed explanation of the methodology random matched sampling method, which was written by Doug Rivers. I need to spend a little time with it, but there it is for you. You can also listen to Henson’s colleague Daron Shaw explain the methodology.

Henson also noted that he has only done this style of poll since July of 2008 – you can see all of those results here. I was thinking of Lyceum polls from earlier than that, which Henson did with Shaw, but which were phone polls. The results of interest to me from 2008 are the July (McCain 43, Obama 33) and October (McCain 49, Obama 38) polls, which were a pretty accurate reflection of the final spread.

I think that addresses all of my questions. My thanks to James Henson for the information.

UPDATE: On a tangential note, Phillip Martin has put together a handy dandy chart showing all public polling data on the Perry/White race since February. If you take the average, Perry has a 47-40 lead.

UPDATE: Here’s Dr. Murray’s take on the poll.

Trib poll: Perry 44, White 35

We finally have a non-Rasmussen result to discuss.

Republican Rick Perry leads Democrat Bill White by nine percentage points — 44 percent to 35 percent — in the 2010 race for governor, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.

Those numbers are identical to the results of a “fantasy race” between White and Perry in the February UT/TT poll, which was taken before Democratic and Republican primary voters selected the two men as their nominees. This time, 15 percent said they don’t know yet who they’ll vote for, and 7 percent said they’d prefer “someone else.” That last finding could be consequential: Libertarians will choose their candidate for governor at a state convention next month, and that candidate or a write-in or some combination of the two could give those “someone else” voters a place to go.

Perry’s stronger with Anglo voters, leading White 55 percent to 25 percent. White is stronger with African American voters (69 to 5) and with Hispanics (43 to 32). Perry is ahead among both men (48 to 34) and women (40 to 35).

You can see the toplines here, the crosstabs here, and the methodology here. There are two main points to make here. One is that this result, and to a somewhat lesser extent all of the downballot results, were a reflection of party ID as the poll showed it. Republicans went strongly for Perry, Democrats went strongly for White, though there were a few more undecideds on the Democratic side, giving him a little bit more room to grow. Independents went for White by a small margin, with “Someone else” finishing ahead of Perry and “Undecided” finishing ahead of both of them. That was a fairly small subsample, however, so don’t read too much into it. The bad news for White here is that Perry’s basic strategy is based on there being more Republicans, and doing well enough with them to not have to worry about anyone else. This poll will not give Perry any reason to doubt that strategy. White doesn’t need to chip into that support too much to make the race competitive, but he’ll need more than what he’s getting here.

The other point is that this was not a phone poll. From the methodology description:

The PollingPoint panel, a proprietary opt-in survey panel, is comprised of 1.6 million U.S. residents who have agreed to participate in YouGov Polimetrix’s Web surveys. At any given time, YouGov Polimetrix maintains a minimum of five recruitment campaigns based on salient current events.

Panel members are recruited by a number of methods and on a variety of topics to help ensure diversity in the panel population. Recruiting methods include Web advertising campaigns (public surveys), permission-based email campaigns, partner sponsored solicitations, telephone-to-Web recruitment (RDD based sampling), and mail-to-Web recruitment (Voter Registration Based Sampling).

The UT Politics Project did some of these polls in 2008 and I believe in 2006. I’ll need to go back and try to find some of their prior results, which I recall being more or less reasonable, though I don’t recall if they did any polls after about June of 2008. I suspect their methodology is the reason for the very low number of self-identified Independents in the sample, about 10% of the whole. Because it’s not a phone poll, it sort of stands apart, and isn’t quite a direct comparison to Rasmussen. Burka has been skeptical of this kind of methodology, though he didn’t seem to notice it this time around. It’s a data point, and I’ve been waiting for more data points, so there you have it.

UPDATE: I should clarify that the main objection to polls like this one is that their sample is not really random. It’s necessarily a sample of people who are more engaged, and possibly more partisan. The methodology here is worlds better than the crazy and ultimately useless Zogby Interactive polls from 2006, but it’s still not widely accepted. Of course, a non-Presidential year will have a much higher proportion of such voters than a Presidential year does, and robocall polls were not widely accepted once upon a time, too. Ultimately, their track record will determine whether or not polls like this are taken seriously. Evan Smith emails to remind me that the UT/TT polls from the Republican gubernatorial primary were pretty accurate – they had Perry over KBH by a 45-21 margin in February, for example; their predicted spread was closer to the final 21-point difference than what Rasmussen had at that time. I’m still going to try to find older UT poll results, but they did do a good job with the primary.