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June 23rd, 2010:

Averitt will step down

After flirting with the idea of remaining on the ballot in SD22, former State Sen. Kip Averitt has announced he will stay retired, thus creating a new race for SD22 this November.

Averitt retired and dropped his reelection bid earlier this year, but still managed to win his primary race without lifting a finger. The Democrats didn’t run a candidate, so Averitt was essentially a shoe-in to win an undesired reelection. Before yesterday’s special runoff election to determine his replacement for the remainder of the current term, Averitt floated the possibility of staying on the ballot if Brian Birdwell won.

Birdwell won, defeating Averitt-backed former state senator David Sibley with a decisive 58 percent of the vote. Averitt fears that Birdwell may be ineligible to run because some doubt that he has been a Texas resident for five years — the constitutional requirement for a state senator. Still, he says he will withdraw his name in “the next day or two.”

“The people have spoken,” he said, “and I respect the people.”

The issue, as noted by the linked story in the quote, is that Birdwell voted in Virginia in 2006, and would thus seem to not meet the five-year state residency requirement to serve in the Senate. That will be a matter for the courts, assuming someone files suit against Birdwell. Here’s how it may go from there.

Randall “Buck” Wood said if Birdwell was a resident of Texas in 2006, as he claims, then he possibly committed voter fraud in Virginia. But if Birdwell was a resident of Virginia in 2006, then Democrats could challenge his eligibility to run for the Texas Senate for the 2011-2012 term.

Birdwell won a special election last night to fill the unexpired term of retiring state Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco. Birdwell’s opponent, former state Sen. David Sibley, said during the campaign that Birdwell voted in Virginia in 2006 — a fact Birdwell does not dispute.

Wood, the election attorney, said Birdwell’s Virginia voting doesn’t necessarily disqualify him, “but darn close to it.”

The law on residency requirements is clear. According to the Texas Constitution, Senate eligibility is restricted to persons who are registered to vote in Texas, have lived in the district for a year, and have established residency in Texas five years prior to the election. Virginia law is equally clear. In order to be a registered voter in that state, he would’ve had to fill out a form swearing “under felony penalty” that he was a Virginia resident.

[…]

Wood said Birdwell’s eligibility is dependent on the establishment of “intent” to reside and “presence” in the area before the five-year limit. Wood said owning property in an area is typically not enough for the courts and physically being in an area is the usual grounds for establishing presence.

My expectation is that the courts are more likely to be lenient than harsh about this, but there’s only one way to find out. Figure a suit will be filed shortly after a Democratic nominee is picked.

Eversole and Radack get jail overcrowding religion

Actually, what County Commissioners Jerry Eversole and Steve Radack have is a case of criticize-the-Sheriff-itis.

Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole implied at meeting earlier today that the county’s sheriff, Adrian Garcia, acted improperly and wasted tax payer money when he moved inmates from a jail in Lousiana to a jail in Texas.

“If I were doing what Sheriff Garcia is allowed to do, I would be indicted,” Eversole said. “Not just looked at. Indicted! For being able to take a $28 prisoner and put him in a $45 jail. You tell me I wouldn’t be.”

If anyone would know about that, it’s Jerry Eversole. See beneath the fold for a response from the HCDP about this. But I digress.

Eversole, along with Commissioner Steve Radack, was particularly peeved that Garcia recently moved inmates between jails.

“Isn’t it true that we took people out of Louisiana, where we were paying less money to house them, and moved them into Texas where we pay more?” Radack said. “Why did this happen? How did it happen? How many millions did this cost us?”

Eversole added, “I don’t understand how [Garcia] can write a contract, or have it written, without anybody at this table having any say about it,” Eversole said. “Why does the sheriff get to choose?”

Garcia, after the meeting, answered the question quite simply: “I’m the jail administrator,” he said.

But, Garcia said, “Everyday we’re working to make sure we are getting the best market value for that process, and trying to find ways to get these inmates off of the tax rolls all together.”

Radack was all hot and bothered, too.

Maj. Mike Smith, who runs the jails for Garcia, said the death of a Harris County inmate in a Louisiana jail in February prompted a freeze while the death was investigated. The number of Harris County inmates in Louisiana dropped from about 1,000 to 165.

The county resumed sending inmates to Louisiana earlier this month after the investigation cleared officials there of wrongdoing in the prisoner’s death, and the count has climbed by more than 200 just this month.

The sheriff and the county budget director said they expect the county will send a much greater proportion of inmates to Louisiana in coming months.

“It’s too damned late,” Commissioner Steve Radack said at the meeting. “How many millions of dollars did it cost us?”

Sure is nice to see so much concern about how much Harris County is spending on incarceration costs, isn’t it? Well, here’s a fun exercise. Take a look through the Chronicle’s archives for any stories that contain the name Eversole, along with “jail” and “overcrowding”. I did such a search from January 1, 2001 through January 1, 2009 – that is, through former Sheriff Tommy Thomas’ last two terms – and got five articles. I did the same substituting “Radack” for “Eversole” and got 14. Here’s a sample:

From September 27, 2006:

The county may spend at least $260 million to build jails and juvenile-detention facilities as it tries to address state agencies’ criticisms that its jails are overcrowded.

Commissioners Court gave an initial green light Tuesday to building a $245 million adult-inmate-processing center downtown, a $22.5 million adult jail for low-level offenders in Atascocita and possibly an adjacent juvenile-detention facility at that location in far northeast Harris County.

[…]

The sheriff’s office is projecting its jail population will average nearly 9,800 inmates this year, more than 1,330 above jail capacity, says a report by the county’s budget office.

[…]

Commissioner Jerry Eversole, whose district includes Atascocita, praised the proposed location because it is not near residential areas. “It should not cause a tremendous amount of furor from the community,” he said. “It should be a good use of this property.”

The jail could be built in modular units, with the first 400-bed facility open by summer of 2008 and the facility completed by 2010, said Dick Raycraft, county budget and management-services director.

Lots of concern about how much we’re spending to house inmates, no? Here’s another, from December 11, 2006:

County Judge Robert Eckels and other members of Commissioners Court said the jails are needed to reduce overcrowding now and in the coming decades.

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards has cited the jail for overcrowding the past two years. Dormitory-like cells designed for 24 inmates have housed more than twice that number.

Eckels said the county cannot put off building the facilities, since its population is projected to double to 7 million in the next 20 years, and that will increase the need for jail capacity.

Even if some officials oppose the county’s bond proposals, the referendums still are likely to pass, said Commissioner Steve Radack. The last time a county bond referendum failed was in the late 1960s, said Dick Raycraft, director of county budget and management services.

Oopsie. Too bad they didn’t have a Plan B. From December 12, 2006:

Harris County currently spends nearly 16 percent – about $174 million – of its annual operating expenses on the current jail system. Adding the two proposed jails, where construction cost is at least $267 million, would increase maintenance costs to as much as 25 percent, say opponents of the plan. They say the county can maintain public safety without building the facilities.

The county has yet to determine exact costs to operate the proposed facilities. Two county leaders said they were not in a position to discuss what percentage of the county’s budget would be needed to maintain the buildings, but they would not dispute that most likely the percentage would rise.

[…]

Commissioner Steve Radack acknowledged that the county will spend more on jail expenses if the two jails are built. “The public will have to make a decision when it comes to the inmate population,” he said. “And that decision will be does the public want to keep people incarcerated or do they want to pay with damages and break-ins to their property and possibly their lives if we don’t keep people incarcerated.”

Translation: You need to spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars on new jails or WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!!! How much more fiscally responsible than that can you be?

You get the idea. Feel free to do the same search for yourself. The points I’m making are 1) Except for Radack griping about the state not removing convicted felons from the county jails soon enough, neither Radack nor Eversole expressed any concern about jail overcrowding or the costs associated with housing all those needlessly incarcerated inmates while Thomas was Sheriff, even though that’s when all the overcrowding problems happened; and 2) Both were perfectly willing to spend a crapload of money on new facilities, even as Radack now disingenuously criticizes Sheriff Garcia for floating a proposal similar to the one Radack himself backed strongly in 2007. The only difference between then and now – the only reason why they care so much about how much the county is spending on keeping people locked up – is the identity, and the party affiliation, of the Sheriff. The issue just did not exist for them while Tommy Thomas was in office. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

By the way, Commissioners Court did not take up the matter of the proposed booking center, rendering it effectively dead for this year. County Judge Ed Emmett says he does not expect a bond issue to be on the ballot this November.

UPDATE: I guess I didn’t make myself fully clear here. I’m being sarcastic about Radack and Eversole “getting religion” on jail overcrowding, because the only concern they are expressing is with how much it costs to rent prison space elsewhere. At no point are they saying we need to be incarcerating fewer inmates, they just want to pay less per inmate that we outsource.

(more…)

Radnofsky urges Abbott to sue Wall Street

Interesting.

Texas should file a sweeping lawsuit against Wall Street firms similar to the ones that led to the multibillion-dollar tobacco settlements of the 1990s, Democratic attorney general candidate Barbara Ann Radnofsky argued Monday.

Shortly after she launched her appeal, incumbent Republican Greg Abbott’s office divulged that the state, the U.S. Department of Justice and other states have launched a broad inquiry into the Wall Street firms that were central to the financial collapse.

Radnofsky, a Houston lawyer challenging Abbott, published a legal briefing Monday that accuses Wall Street companies of deception, negligence, fraud and “causing [the] financial crisis.”

Modeled after the mass settlements generated from lawsuits against the tobacco industry, the complaint seeks about $18 billion in damages, as well as other reparations for Texas.

[…]

Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for Abbott’s office, said Texas and other investigators are focusing on “the relationships between Wall Street banks, rating agencies and the impact their conduct had on the financial crisis.”

He declined to comment on Radnofsky’s briefing. He also could not provide more details about Abbott’s investigation or which companies are being targeted. He could not say whether the investigation is civil or criminal in nature.

He said the inquiry involved nearly 30 states, as well as the federal government, and has continued for more than four months.

When told that Abbott’s office has already launched an inquiry into the financial industry, Radnofsky said that the attorney general is “dragging his feet.”

“He’s got everything he needs to file a lawsuit right now,” she said.

The press release Radnofsky sent out is here. You can also read the complaint and the brief, as well as a Daily Kos diary by Radnofsky that outlines her reasoning. I also had the chance to ask Radnofsky a few questions about this. Here’s what she had to say:

Download the MP3 file

If only Abbott had the same sense of urgency about this as he did about filing suit to overturn the Affordable Care Act. You can sign Radnofsky’s petition at SueWallStreet.com if you’d like to help persuade him to get cracking on it.

Keep yapping, Leo

Blah blah blah.

State Rep. Leo Berman said House Speaker Joe Straus’ ascent to the position was a “sham” based on promises to House Democrats and vowed he would offer the opposing party no leeway if elected Speaker next session.

“There were 11 Republican moderates to liberals. They got in the House one day trying to figure out how they could unseat Tom Craddick. They voted among themselves to see who would get the most votes out of the 11,” Berman told the Tribune just hours after making his candidacy for the position official.

If we learned one thing from the 2009 Speaker’s race, it’s that Speakers don’t get ousted quietly. Secretly, maybe, but not quietly. When someone other than Leo Berman – check that, when a group of someones other than Leo Berman start talking about a Speaker other than Joe Straus, it might be time to start paying attention. Berman himself only claims a dozen supportser, none on the record so far. Let’s just say he has a ways to go.

One more thing, from the Quorum Report:

The speaker’s office also could not resist disputing the Berman claim that Straus and his original Republican supporters had made a deal with the Democrats to block certain bills.

“That’s why we put voter ID as the first bill on the Major State Calendar a couple of weeks before the deadline,” a source in the speaker’s office chuckled.

You won’t get any argument from Democrats about that. I can’t see any sane Democrat getting within a mile of Leo Berman, but if he does start picking up support from some Republicans, Straus may want to mend a fence or two with the folks who helped put him over the top last year.

UH’s academic argument for the Big XII

Interesting strategy.

The head of the Big 12 insists there are no plans to add Texas teams to the conference, but Renu Khator, chancellor and president of the University of Houston, apparently didn’t get the message.

She’s still pushing for membership in the Big 12 or another high-powered athletic league, saying the school deserves a spot because of its rising academic ambitions.

“Sometimes you get defined by the company you keep,” Khator said. “You compare your progress against the schools in your league. Being associated with the highest group is always a good thing.”

[…]

“For years, the University of Houston has improved its research and academic functions in its drive to rank among the premier universities in Texas,” the letter states. “We believe that its inclusion in the prestigious Big 12 conference would assist in this endeavor.”

[…]

Five Big 12 members, including UT and A&M, belong to the elite Association of American Universities, which represents the nation’s top research institutions. UH, Tech and Baylor all hope to join the group someday.

UH and Rice, meanwhile, compete in Conference USA, a collection of 12 schools in Texas and the South. Among C-USA members, only Rice and Tulane are in the AAU.

I think until such time as UH achieves either Tier 1 status or AAU membership, its best argument for inclusion in a BCS conference like the Big XII is going to be its athletics. That’s assuming that the Big XII has any desire to add members, which in turn assumes that the Big XII is in a position to be thinking about its long term stability. Let’s see what things look like next year, when Nebraska and Colorado are officially bidding adieu. Mean Green Cougar Red has more in a long and thorough post that is largely pessimistic about UH joining the Big XII.

Some good job news

It’s a start. At least, I hope it’s a start.

A surge in temporary federal Census Bureau jobs coupled with new leisure and hospitality positions helped local employers create 20,200 new jobs during May.

The data, released Friday by the Texas Workforce Commission, marks the biggest one-month April to May increase of the past decade, said Joel Wagher, labor market analyst for Workforce Solutions, which manages job services and training for the 13-county Houston-Galveston Gulf Coast region.

Nearly half of the increase — 47 percent – stems from the temporary census workers, he said. While those government jobs eventually will disappear, Wagher noted that 22 percent of the new positions were in restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues – a sector that typically doesn’t grow this early in the year or so robustly during slow economic times.

[…]

In another positive sign Friday, the state reported that fewer Houston-area residents filed initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits.

In May, 20,893 local residents filed initial claims, according to data compiled by the Texas Workforce Commission. That represents an 8.5 percent drop from the previous month.

And last month’s claims were down almost 20 percent from May 2009, when 26,095 area residents filed unemployment claims.

With fewer people on the unemployment rolls, the Houston area unemployment rate dipped to 8.3 percent in May, the Texas Workforce Commission reported.

Given all the Census-related jobs in this report, we’ll have to see if this is an aberration or the beginning of a trend. One hopes this will also lead to an uptick in sales tax revenues. That won’t make the state or local budget deficits noticeably better, but it can prevent them from getting any worse.