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September, 2010:

Interview with Council Member Stephen Costello

In addition to all of the partisan and special elections on the ballot, there are three referenda for City of Houston residents. One is a fairly non-controversial one to change residency requirements for Houston Council districts for the 2011 election, which will be the first one post-redistricting. The second is the red light camera question, and I think by now we’re all a little sick of that discussion. The third is the Renew Houston proposition, now known as Proposition 1. As there are still numerous questions about how exactly this would work if approved, I sat down with CM Stephen Costello, the main driver behind the initiative, to ask them of him. Prop 1 has picked up numerous endorsements lately, including the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Scenic Houston, and the Houston Police Officers Union. It will likely get a stronger push, and a more organized push back, after Mayor Parker and Council finalize the fee structure, which is expected very shortly. Please pardon the background noise, we did this one in a coffee house.

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

Judicial Q&A: Jim Sullivan

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. These Q&As are primarily intended for candidates who were not in contested primaries. You can see those earlier Q&As, as well as all the ones in this series and all my recorded interviews for this cycle, on my 2010 Elections page.)

1. Who are you, and what are you running for?

I am Jim Sullivan and I am running for Judge, 248th Criminal District Court. I was named after my late grandfather Rev. James Gary, a Baptist minister. I graduated with honors from Baylor University with a degree in journalism and a minor in Latin American studies. I also speak Spanish. I have practiced criminal and juvenile law for over 16 years. I met my wife Araceli while living in Mexico in 1990, and we have been married almost 20 years. Araceli serves the Latin community by interpreting in juvenile court for Spanish-speaking juveniles, their parents and/or witnesses. We worship at Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 248th is one of 22 felony district courts that hears all types of felony level cases filed in state court against defendants (age 17 and older) and against juveniles who were first certified in juvenile court to be charged as an adult and whose case was then transferred to adult court. These felony cases range from state jail felony level cases (such as drug possession) to capital murder.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I want to work to establish a justice system in Harris county that improves safety, saves taxpayer dollars, treats everyone fairly, and upholds our constitution. Our current justice system is ineffective, inefficient and unfair in that: (1) Millions of taxpayer dollars are wasted on inefficient crime reduction practices. Our court dockets and jails are overcrowded primarily with those accused of misdemeanor and small drug possession cases as well as those with mental illness. Our limited resources ought to focus on protecting the community from violent criminals. First-time, non-violent accused should be offered personal recognizance bonds to free up jail space for violent criminals and to reduce jail operating costs, much of which is for overtime pay for jailers. Those on PR bonds are also more likely to retain their own attorney, thereby saving taxpayer dollars on court-appointed attorneys. (2) The current system of court-appointed attorneys to represent the indigent has not resulted in equal and fair treatment under the law between the wealthy and the poor. When court-appointed attorneys contribute large sums of money to judges’ political campaigns, there is also the appearance of a conflict of interest. I support a public defenders office which will operate independently from the judiciary. (3) There has been a loss of faith in evidence presented in court due to tainted and unreliable scientific evidence from the HPD crime lab as well as the use of faulty eyewitness identifications. I support a regional crime lab as well as reforming the eyewitness identification process. Misidentification is the number one reason for false convictions. Texas leads the nation with 41 exonerations proven through DNA evidence. Texas ought to lead the nation in reform.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a trial lawyer for 16 years in criminal and juvenile court. I speak Spanish. I am board certified in Juvenile Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I have extensive trial experience, having defended a broad range of criminal cases from misdemeanors such as DWI and shoplifting to serious felony cases such as aggravated robbery, sexual assault and murder.

5. Why is this race important?

This race, along with the races for all the criminal and juvenile courts, can have a cumulative positive impact for criminal and juvenile justice in Harris county for many years to come. Overall, these races can positively impact jail overcrowding and representation of the poor. As judge, I will reduce jail overcrowding by granting personal bonds on most first-time non-violent offenders and set lower bonds on appropriate cases. Not only will this save taxpayers’ money by eliminating the need for a new jail, it will also allow the accused to work to support his family and perhaps to hire his own attorney. I support the creation of a public defenders office for the representation of all the poor and indigent. Until that happens, I will appoint attorneys who demonstrate that they will work hard to represent their indigent clients well. I will also strive to get non-violent addicts into treatment. Drug treatment and later supervised probation costs a fraction of what it costs to warehouse drug addicts in prison. In addition, by working to support their families, communities are strengthened and families are more likely to succeed.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am running for judge because I can positively impact more people as a judge than as a defense attorney. Indeed, I will work to make positive changes to the local justice system as outlined above and will encourage other judges to make similar changes in their courts. I will follow the law, and I will be fair and impartial as I preside over hearings and trials. I am the only candidate who is board certified, speaks Spanish and has meaningful experience representing the accused. Houston is a city rich in diversity and a large percentage of its population is Latino. I have lived in Mexico, traveled throughout Latin America and speak Spanish. I have many close relatives throughout Mexico and regularly visit them. I have represented clients from around the world, from many different ethnic and religious backgrounds. I greatly admire and respect people from all backgrounds. I believe my familiarity with the Latin culture and my 16 years of experience representing the accused and the poor brings a greatly needed perspective and sensitivity to the bench.

The county’s budget woes

Don’t look now, but Harris County is running really low on cash.

The $154 million reserve fund Harris County started its fiscal year with is expected to be nearly gone by March as it gets spent to cover shortfalls in property tax collections.

Budget projections released Tuesday show the county entering the fiscal year that begins March 1 with a $5.7 million cash balance on a $1.36 billion budget — a cushion of less than 1 percent. Historically, the county has ended its fiscal year with a cash balance of 15 percent or more.

The situation is dire enough that Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole warned that a day of reckoning is on the horizon that may make a tax increase necessary. As Eversole explained it, voters approved tax increases to pay for the construction of civil, criminal and juvenile courthouses. But Commissioners Court, flush with property tax money a decade ago, decided instead to cover the debt payments with its existing property tax collections. In fact, commissioners cut the tax rate four years ago.

Eversole called voting for that tax cut “the worst thing I ever did.”

“You’re absolutely wasting time if you think we can maintain this budget without a tax increase,” he said. “If we can get through 2011, we damn sure aren’t going to get through 2012. So somewhere along the line either this (budget) has to be cut or we’ve got to talk about a tax increase.”

Is the county not required to maintain a minimum cash reserve? If I’ve understood previous coverage, the city and Metro have some kind of requirement imposed on them. Regardless, surely it’s prudent for them to keep a few more bucks on hand than that. Commissioner Eversole is right, this is not sustainable, and as the state will find out next year, you cannot make this work on cuts alone.

I’ve been saying all along that the 2007 property tax rate cut, which was worth $12 a year to someone with a house valued at $161,000 but which has cost the county $25 million in revenue annually, was irresponsible. County Budget Director Dick Raycraft opposed it, too. It’s the main point of disagreement I have with County Judge Ed Emmett. I’m sure the county can find cuts to make up for that lost revenue, but what will the real cost of those cuts be? Among other things, the hiring freeze that the county is under means that the Sheriff’s office is forced to spend millions on overtime. Judge Emmett recognizes that this is more expensive than actually hiring enough employees to do the job, and that’s before you consider the cost of dealing with the lawsuit that was filed by the deputies’ union. Yet Garcia’s request to hire more employees, as well as requests by DA Pat Lykos and County Attorney Vince Ryan, were turned down. Steve Radack can posture and bloviate all he wants about conducting studies and privatizing the jails, but in the end the numbers are what they are.

Finally, there’s been an endless supply of critics of the city’s finances and Metro’s finances in recent years, but they never seem to have anything to say about the county. I’m looking at you, Bill King, and your perch on the Chron’s op-ed pages, but I’ll be happy to hear from anyone who’s wrung his or her hands about entities other than the county.

Cutting the budget means cutting education

No two ways around it.

As the single biggest consumer of state money, the Texas public education system stands to lose millions of dollars as the state grapples with a looming budget shortfall.

Education Commissioner Robert Scott has suggested more than $260 million in cuts from the state’s almost $40 billion education budget for the next two years. Some of those would reach into the classroom, eliminating money for new science labs, textbooks and teacher development. Those recommendations have infuriated teachers.

Gov. Rick Perry’s “budgetary policies are wrecking the public schools and jeopardizing our children’s future,” said Rita Haecker, president of the Texas State Teachers Association. “The governor can talk all he wants about school savings … but most districts and educators are already stretched so thin, there is little, if anything, left to save.”

The budget proposal for the Texas Education Agency would ax millions of dollars for a teacher mentoring program and other continuing education opportunities for teachers. It also would cut $35 million that was set aside in the previous budget to help schools build new science labs to go along with a new requirement that high school students take four years of science classes.

The reality is very simple. Texas has a young and growing population. A large and increasing number of public school students come from poor and/or immigrant families. School districts are completely strapped, thanks to the economy and the property tax cuts from the 2006 special session. How much more cutbacks can schools take? And why won’t Commissioner Scott show up at legislative hearings to answer these questions?

I’ll say it again, for the umpty-umpth time, that what we have here is first and foremost a revenue problem. At least some members of the Republican leadership are willing to admit that, even if they won’t admit that they caused this problem in the first place by supporting that ginormous unaffordable property tax cut from 2006. The system they want to scrap now is the one they created before as the solution to the previous system that they said needed to be scrapped. How many times are we going to repeat the same mistakes before we try a different approach?

It’s true, as Rep. Scott Hochberg discussed in his interview with me that there are savings to be found in the public school budget. They involve reallocating resources, not resorting to the lazy tactic of across-the-board cuts, as if no item in the budget is more important than any other. It does have the advantage of being easier than thinking, though.

Speaking of thinking, it would be a good idea if we all did some about the new end of course exams, their potential effect on graduation rates, and how we can best equip our teachers to get students ready for them. I expect exactly nothing on this from Governor Perry or Robert Scott, so it’ll be up to the rest of us to figure it out.

Congratulations to Swamplot

For winning the Houston Press “Best Local Blog” award for 2010. Very well deserved.

Interview with Peter Schwethelm

Peter Schwethelm

I have one more HISD Trustee interview to bring you, with Peter Schwethelm. Schwethelm is a former teacher at Milby High School who now owns a small business and operates a non-profit that locates surplus computers for donation. He has some history with HISD that clearly animates his candidacy. You can hear about that, and learn how to pronounce his name, in the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

Judicial Q&A: Olan Boudreaux

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. These Q&As are primarily intended for candidates who were not in contested primaries. You can see those earlier Q&As, as well as all the ones in this series and all my recorded interviews for this cycle, on my 2010 Elections page.)

1. Who are you, and what are you running for?

I am Olan Boudreaux, and I am a candidate for Judge of the 190th Civil District Court in Harris County. I was born in New Orleans, and came to Houston in 1971 to attend court reporting school. I completed college and law school at night, while working full time as a court reporter to support my family. My wife, Mary Anne, and I have four daughters and six grandchildren (five girls and one boy).

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Civil District Courts hear all civil lawsuits, with the exception of family law cases and probate cases. Examples of the kinds of cases filed in these courts include personal injury cases arising out of car wrecks, medical malpractice, defective products, or premises injuries, as well as many others. In addition, the court hears business disputes, including disputes over contracts, partnerships, real estate matters, employment, construction, oil and gas, and many other forms of civil litigation, ranging from the relatively simple to the very complex.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for a civil district court because my entire career as a lawyer has focused on representing clients in courts such as this one, including those in Harris County and numerous other counties in Texas, as well as several other states. I have seen good judges and bad judges, and I have learned that a good judge is one who treats all of the parties with dignity and respect, who listens to the evidence and the arguments in the case, and who manages the court’s docket so that the parties can get their cases resolved on the merits, without having to spend their life savings just getting the case tried.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been practicing law in civil trial courts for over 26 years. I am board certified in both civil trial law and personal injury trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I was appointed by two different presidents of the State Bar of Texas to serve as chair of the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

In addition, I have been elected to membership in the American Board of Trial Advocates, recognized in “Best Lawyers in America,” Texas Monthly’s “Super Lawyers,” and H Magazine’s “Top Lawyers in Houston” and “Top Lawyers for the People.” All of these honors are based on professional recognition by other lawyers.

I graduated first in my law school class, received the highest score on the Texas bar exam in February 1984, and had a 4.0 GPA throughout my undergraduate career. I have lectured and published materials for CLE programs throughout Texas on issues related to civil trial practice.

Please visit my campaign website,, for more details about my qualifications and experience.

5. Why is this race important?

All of the judicial races are important. People come before the civil district courts to protect their rights, and they have a right to expect that the judges in these courts are qualified both in terms of legal experience as well as life experiences, and that they will make sound rulings based on the rule of law and not some political agenda. Often the decisions judges make will have a dramatic impact on the lives of the parties before the bench, and the citizens of Harris County need to elect judges who can appreciate the importance of every case, and who have the work ethic to insure that all parties leave the courthouse knowing that they were treated fairly, regardless of whether they won or lost.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

All my life I have worked to develop and maintain a reputation for integrity and hard work. My experiences over the past 26 years of practicing before courts just like the 190th Civil District Court have prepared me to be the kind of judge the citizens of Harris County have a right to expect of their elected officials. I believe that a judge needs to appreciate the honor of being elected to public service, to understand that the courts are there to serve the people, not the other way around, and to know that everyone who comes before the court deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

My campaign has received support from a broad range of diverse groups, including Christians for Better Government, the Mexican-American Bar Association, the Pasadena Bar Association, the Afro-American Sheriff’s Deputies League, the Harris County AFL-CIO Council, the Latino Labor Leadership Council of Southeast Texas, the Coalition of Elected Democratic Officials (which is made up of 18 elected officials in Harris County on the federal, state and local level), and the Area V Democrats, among others.

My campaign has also been endorsed by numerous community and political leaders, including former Governor Mark White, Representative Sylvester Turner, former Chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, John Odam, former Dean of South Texas College of Law, James Alfini, Director of NAACP, Howard Jefferson, former City Attorney for the City of Houston, Benjamin Hall, III, along with many others listed on my campaign website:

In summary, people should vote for me because I will bring to the bench the qualifications, experience, dedication and integrity that equip me to serve the citizens of Harris County in this important office. If elected, I am committed to working hard to insure that the people of Harris County are proud of their decision to choose me to be the Judge of the 190th Civil District Court.

Will there be a Libertarian effect in the Governor’s race?

Hard to say, but the odds that there would be at least one article about the possibility of a Libertarian effect in the Governor’s race were pretty close to 100%.

[Kathie] Glass, 56, is a Houston civil lawyer and Libertarian candidate for governor who is trying to pick up the frustrated right’s mantel where Debra Medina dropped it off.

While winning would be a long shot for Glass, her appeal to frustrated conservatives could draw enough votes to put a real kink into Perry’s lead over Democrat Bill White.

While Green Party candidate Deb Shafto has put her campaign into a website and a few public appearances, Glass and her husband, Tom, are criss-crossing the state in a motor home to espouse her views via a variety of talk radio programs. She also is buying radio ads to promote her appearances at Tea Party and activist group gatherings.

“I have an uphill battle, but in a three-way race, 34 percent can take this thing,” Glass told a San Antonio-based Texans United for Reform and Freedom meeting recently.

The odds against winning are huge, but Medina jumped from almost nonexistent in the polls to about 20 percent in the March GOP primary after she won a spot in a statewide debate. Medina’s campaign ultimately stumbled with a gaffe.

The real potential for Glass is that her message of stark government downsizing will steal votes from Perry.

In the 1990 governor’s race, where many voters were disgusted with the Republican candidates, Libertarian Jeff Daiell won almost 4 percent of the ballots. Daiell received enough votes to have given Republican Clayton Williams a victory over Democrat Ann Richards.

Let’s be clear about one thing: The difference between Debra Medina’s performance in the primary and Kathie Glass’ potential performance in November comes down to one thing, and that’s straight party voting. I surveyed straight ticket voting patterns back in 2006 when some polls showed Chris Bell barely breaking 10%. At that time, I concluded that a bit less than half of all votes cast in non-Presidential year races were straight party votes, meaning that the worst any Democratic candidate could possibly do was about 20%. I’ve checked some numbers for the 2006 election, and they clearly show just how hard it would be for anyone outside of the two-party system to make headway. Here are the straight ticket voting totals for some of Texas’ more populous counties:

County Straight Governor Pct ==================================== Harris 283,528 589,348 48.1 Dallas 232,136 406,325 57.1 Tarrant 160,352 326,337 49.1 Bexar 110,606 273,780 40.4 Travis 83,788 226,346 37.0 Collin 65,329 138,159 47.3 Denton 51,377 108,513 47.3 Fort Bend 48,816 98,667 49.5 El Paso 37,762 90,764 41.6 Williamson 31,681 84,085 37.7 Hidalgo 25,079 47,827 52.4 Nueces 23,892 67,623 35.3 Lubbock 22,113 53,564 41.3 Jefferson 21,858 46,775 46.7 Brazoria 20,584 58,441 35.2 Montgomery 16,051 31,510 50.9 Midland 11,538 24,769 46.6 Webb 8,002 18,391 43.5 Rockwall 7,070 15,625 45.2 Total 1,261,562 2,706,849 46.6

“Straight” is the sum of the Republican and Democratic straight ticket votes for each county. “Governor” is the total number of votes cast for all candidates, including write-ins, for the Governor’s race. As was the case in 2002, nearly half of all votes cast were straight party R or D votes. To get to 34% of the total in these counties, a Libertarian candidate would have needed to get more than 900,000 of the 1.44 million remaining votes, or about 64% of the non-straight vote total. What do you suppose are the chances of that happening? Even to match Medina’s 20%, she’d need 38% of the remainders. And remember, that would have been in a year with that bizarre four-way Governor’s race, which must have had a negative effect on normal straight-voting patterns. I fully expect straight ticket trends to be up this year compared to 2006. If you want to suggest that Kathie Glass could somehow repeat Debra Medina’s performance, you need to tell me how the math works for her.

This Politico story produces a different misleading statistic to bolster its claims about Glass’ potential effect on the race:

Perry received only 39 percent of the vote in his reelection in 2006, and Libertarians consistently draw between 3 and 5 percent of the vote. In an anti-establishment year, a compelling candidate like Glass “could easily get up to 7 [percent],” [Phil] Martin [who works for the Texas Democratic Trust] said.

I hate to disagree with my good friend Phil, but it’s not in the Governor’s race where Libertarian candidates have drawn that 3 to 5 percent, it’s in the other statewide races, usually the ones that are the most lightly contested. While the 1990 Governor’s race is interesting, and does demonstrate what can happen when you’ve got a candidate that is disliked by a non-trivial number of members of that candidate’s party, since then no Libertarian gubernatorial candidate has done anywhere near that well:

Year Lib % ============ 1994 0.64 1998 0.55 2002 1.46 2006 0.60

You’d have to have a mighty tight race for those numbers to make a difference. The last time a statewide candidate won with less than 50% was in 1998, when Carole Keeton Rylander captured the Comptroller’s office with 49.54% to Paul Hobby’s 48.99%; Libertarian Alex Monchak collected 1.45%. My observation is that Libertarian candidates fare especially poorly in the highest-profile races, when the Republican and Democratic candidates have sufficient resources to run real campaigns and are well known to the voters. If I had a lot more time and the statistical chops, I’d build a mathematical model to try to predict Libertarian performance in a given race. My guess for this race is that the over/under for Glass is 2%, and I feel that’s being generous. But we’ll see.

Now, even 2% could be a game changer, especially if Glass succeeds at taking more votes from Rick Perry than from Bill White. And hey, I could be wrong, and Glass could get the four percent that Daiell got in 1990. But as I’ve said before in the context of articles about how Libertarian candidates might have an effect on this race or that, let’s try to maintain some perspective. The hype is almost always bigger than the actual numbers turn out to be.

Another poll in HD134

Back in April, the Ellen Cohen campaign released a poll showing her to be in strong position to win re-election. Nearly six months later, they have released another poll showing the same thing.

The initial (uninformed) trial heat in the HD 134 race currently shows Cohen leading by a 57% – 30% margin and holding a substantial lead among every demographic group. Various tests demonstrate that Cohen is unscathed by the traditional Republican wedge issue attacks at the same time that she is clearly in tune with the voters of her district on important issues like insurance reform, taxes and education.

Ellen Cohen is remarkably well-known for an urban State Representative. Her very positive image and job ratings are virtually unchanged from those recorded in March and her “re-elect” margin stands at 52% to 21% – very strong numbers in a down-ballot race. Republican Sarah Davis’ image ratings have barely crept up in the past six months, with only 10% offering a Favorable rating while 72% have never heard of her.

As before, I don’t have any further data on this poll, so I cannot offer a critique of its methodology, sample, or assumptions. Nobody releases poll results when they look bad, so polls of this kind are always positive in nature. For what it’s worth, this is consistent with my own anecdotal observations from driving through the district nearly every day. I see plenty of Cohen signs, and only a handful of Davis signs. There’s no issue on which Cohen is obviously vulnerable. Cohen continues to do well in fundraising – the accompanying press release says she’ll report $235K on hand for the 30-days-out deadline, which is about what she had in July. I suppose anything could happen, but this race isn’t high up on my list of Things I’m Worried About.

Glass and Shafto get debate invites

Back in August, when I wrote about the upcoming media sponsored gubernatorial debate to be held will be held on October 19 that Rick Perry will duck, I said that if there was ever a time to ditch polling-related qualifications for third party candidates, this was it. Apparently, the sponsors now agree with that position.

In an effort to produce some form of a debate, the media organizations today will issue renewed invitations to Perry and [Bill] White and also invite Libertarian Kathie Glass and Green Party candidate Deb Shafto. Glass and Shafto will be allowed to participate regardless of whether Perry and White accept.

Glass and Shafto have accepted the invitation and will square off with White, while Rick Perry works on his dance moves. As I said, as a partisan I’d rather White have the stage to himself for an hour. But it was right to invite Glass and Shafto, just as it was cowardly of Perry to duck out. I’m sure the three candidates with the guts to face unscripted scrutiny will make the most of it.

Interview with Juliet Stipeche

Juliet Stipeche

My next interview for the open HISD seat is with Juliet Stipeche. Stipeche is an attorney who hails from the East End and is a graduate of the High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice and of Rice University. She was a candidate in the Democratic primary this year for the 281st District Civil Court. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

Judicial Q&A: Judith Snively

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. These Q&As are primarily intended for candidates who were not in contested primaries. You can see those earlier Q&As, as well as all the ones in this series and all my recorded interviews for this cycle, on my 2010 Elections page.)

1. Who are you, and what are you running for?

My name is Judith Snively and I am running for Harris County Criminal Court at Law Number 3.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court hears Class A and B Criminal Misdemeanor cases with a maximum punishment range of up to one year in the Harris County Jail and/or up to a $4,000 fine.

A majority of the cases heard in these courts are DWI’s, Assaults, Possession of Marijuana and Thefts.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have over twenty years experience handling the cases that come before this type of bench. I have worked in all of the 15 misdemeanor courts and believe that I have been able to evaluate practices in each court that can be adapted or modified to create a more fair and efficient court system in Harris County.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been active as a Criminal Defense Attorney in the criminal court system in Harris County continuously for over twenty years. I have courtroom experience in the Criminal Courts having handled thousands of individual clients. I believe that my experience in the courtroom has given me full exposure to the workings of this type of court. My experience with legal issues in Immigration, Family, Juvenile and Probate Law also lend to a better understanding of many issues that may overlap in the Criminal Courts. Aside from my legal experience I have lived in other countries and speak Spanish. I believe my life experience gives me the perspective to prepare me for the diverse makeup of the individuals which appear before the Harris County Misdemeanor Courts

5. Why is this race important?

As Harris County continues to grow and attract individuals from all parts of the world we need judges that will listen and treat everyone with respect and dignity. I understand from my representation of various clients that a Judge needs to look at every aspect of the case from probable cause to bonding issues to punishment. Each case and Defendant is unique.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I believe I can help to implement policies which will not only save tax payer money by granting more pre-trial bonds for qualified individuals, and freeing up the overcrowded jails, but also look at the full range of punishment and not just follow the District Attorney’s guidelines. I would work closely with the Harris County Probation Department to get an understanding of why so many probationers are not able to comply with present conditions of probation and strive to work with them before they are revoked. I vow to follow the Constitution for everyone that enters the courtroom.

What if they built it someplace else?

For better or worse, the argument against the Washington Heights Wal-Mart mostly boils down to the fact that it’s an inappropriate location for a suburban-style big-box store. There are also concerns about traffic, and about the nature of Wal-Mart, both in terms of its business practices and its 24/7 operations, all of which have helped generate the pushback from residents in the area. The argument for Wal-Mart, beyond the basic belief that developers should be mostly free to develop what they want where they want, is that the city and the immediate area would benefit economically from its presence, as a provider of jobs and of affordable merchandise. The vacant lot sitting there now isn’t doing anyone any good, and there are people nearby who would like to shop and work there. There are nuances and variations and whatnot to each argument, but that’s more or less what they come down to.

If you agree that these are the main points, then you might observe that the Yale/Koehler property isn’t the only vacant lot in this part of town. What if Ainbinder or some other developer had picked a different location for a Wal-Mart? I got to wondering about that. Here’s the result of that little thought experiment:

Empty lot #1: Sonoma/Bolsover

Of the places I have in mind, this is the hardest to imagine being proposed as a Wal-Mart site, never mind one actually being built there. None of the streets that surround it are capable of handling the kind of traffic a Wal-Mart generates. There are many large retailers nearby – high-end grocers Rice Epicurean at Holcombe and Buffalo Speedway, Kroger Signature and HEB on Buffalo Speedway between Bissonnet and Westpark; CVS stores on Kirby in the Rice Village and at 59, and on Greenbriar at Holcombe. The immediate area is relatively wealthy, so both the customer base and the pool of potential employees is smaller. They would likely be at least as hostile to the idea of a Wal-Mart as they were to the Sonoma project and to the Ashby highrise. Other than it being a vacant lot, I can’t think of a good reason why a Wal-Mart would ever be proposed there.

Empty lot #2: The Stables

Conversely, this seems like the best fit. With access from Main and Greenbriar, traffic would be much less of an issue. Lots of apartments nearby, in the mid- and lower-income ranges, so there should be a solid customer and employee base. Extra points for being close to the light rail line, making it easier for employees to get there via transit. It’s mostly surrounded by Medical Center structures (more potential customers), with the only adjoining neighborhood being north of Main Street, so there would likely be little political pushback. There are similar retailers nearby – the Fiesta at Old Spanish Trail and Kirby, the CVS at Main and Kirby, and the Target at Main just west of Kirby are all within walking distance – but Wal-Mart didn’t get where it is by shrinking from a little competition. Whatever traffic issues there are would annoy me – I’m mostly thinking of people turning left on Greenbriar as they pass Main heading south – but beyond that I can’t think of a strong reason against it. This location just makes sense.

Empty lot #3: Allen House/Regent Square

Possibly the largest lot on my list, though it’s split by West Dallas, so that would present some challenges. Mostly good access from Dallas and Dunlavy, plus eastbound on Allen Parkway; entering from or exiting to the west on Allen Parkway would almost certainly require adding a traffic light, which is of course an abomination. There’s some nearby retail – a Kroger Signature at Gray and Woodhead, the future Whole Foods at Dallas and Waugh, just across the street from a CVS – but not that much. There’s a fair amount of low-income housing in the immediate area, and I’d bet The Center would be interested in possible employment opportunities for the people they serve. On the other hand, this location is also right next door to River Oaks, and they might not be too hot to have a Wal-Mart right there.

Empty lot #4: Robinson Warehouse

The only lot among the four that wasn’t originally intended to be some kind of high rise/mixed use development. About a half mile away from Empty Lot #3, so all of the same things apply to it, though it’s farther from River Oaks and closer to many apartments and lower income housing east of Montrose/Studemont. Easier access, from Dallas, Montrose, and the existing intersection/traffic light at Montrose and Allen Parkway, but possibly the largest impact on traffic, as both Montrose and Dallas get mighty busy at rush hour.

So there you have it. Obviously, none of these sites were bought (and none of the then-existing structures demolished) with the idea of putting up a big-box store. But with all of them being fallow for three years or more, possibly much more as things stand, who knows what might happen. The question is, whatever your opinion may be of the Washington Heights Wal-Mart proposal or the now-approved 380 agreement, what would your reaction be if that same project were to be suddenly relocated to one of these places? Discuss in the comments.

Endorsement watch: High courts

Four more endorsements from the Chron, one of which goes to a Democrat:

Justice, Supreme Court, Place 5:The best choice to bring differing judicial philosophies and a wealth of trial experience to the all-Republican court is El Paso jurist and Democrat Bill Moody. Moody has occupied the 34th District Court bench for 25 years, and during that time has tried more than 500 felony and civil cases. Appreciating the essential role of the jury system, he successfully championed increasing juror pay to $40 first in El Paso and later statewide. Judge Moody says he would bring his experience as a trial judge to a court that too often has sided with big business defendants against plaintiffs. “This court is out of balance,” says the candidate. “We have got to go back and move more to the center and balance things.”

Moody was the high scorer among Democratic statewide candidates in 2006. Sweeping the newspaper endorsements that year probably helped him a little. He won’t get that this year, as the DMN went with the Republican incumbent, but I would still expect him to do well overall. For the one contested Court of Criminal Appeals race, the Chron stuck with incumbent Mike Keasler even if he is part of the problem with that court. I don’t think I can add anything to that.

Endorsement watch: No go for Double Dip Joe

The editorial board of the Dallas Morning News has its standards.

State Rep. Joe Driver’s double-dipping on travel reimbursements is such a lapse in ethics and judgment that it’s impossible to recommend him for re-election from Garland-based House District 113.


His leadership on some issues can’t overcome his ethics deficiencies. He doesn’t recognize that North Texas has an air-quality problem, and he has no viable solutions to highway funding.

By default, our recommendation goes to Democrat Jamie Dorris, 32, a human-resources professional from Sachse. Making her first run, Dorris lacks the preparation we ordinarily expect. Her instincts seem right on environmental and transit issues and the need for bi-partisan solutions. She would have to make good her pledge to work hard and overcome a huge learning curve.

Not the most ringing endorsement for someone you’ll ever see, but quite a clear case against Driver. This is one of the races that Democrats will need to win to have a chance at retaking the State House. See here for more on Driver, and here for more about Jamie Dorris.

Interview with Judith Cruz

Judith Cruz

Next week I will begin publishing interviews with statewide candidates. There’s one other race and a couple other items of interest to take care of before then. The race in question is for the open HISD Trustee seat in District VIII, which was vacated by Diana Davila in August. There are now five candidates in this race. The first one with whom I did an interview is Judith Cruz, a former classroom teacher who is now a stay at home mother. She has the support of former HISD Trustee Natasha Kamrani. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

Judicial Q&A: Shawn Thierry

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. These Q&As are primarily intended for candidates who were not in contested primaries. You can see those earlier Q&As, as well as all the ones in this series and all my recorded interviews for this cycle, on my 2010 Elections page.)

1. Who are you, and what are you running for?

My name is Shawn Nicole Thierry. I was born in Houston and have lived in the Westbury and Northfield areas of town for most of my life. I am a graduate of Westbury High School, and Howard University in Washington, D.C. I obtained my law degree from the Thurgood Marshall School Of Law in Houston, Texas in 1996. I have been a licensed, practicing attorney for nearly fourteen years, while remaining active in the community through volunteering and charitable works. I am a member of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. I am seeking the position of Judge of the 157th Civil District Court and am running to bring “balanced justice” back to the bench and all those seeking legal relief.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The types of cases which come before this court are wide-ranging, and include, but are not limited to, matters such as: contractual disputes, pharmaceutical and general products liability, toxic tort, premises liability, medical malpractice, employment and labor issues, real estate and property matters, insurance coverage cases, first amendment cases involving defamation and libel actions, wrongful death, and a high volume of other personal injury cases. District Courts are trial courts of general jurisdiction in law and equity. The district courts generally have exclusive jurisdiction in civil cases where the amount in controversy is $100,000 or greater and also have concurrent jurisdiction with the statutory county courts in cases where the amount in controversy is greater than $500.00 but is less than $100,000. This court may also handle multi-district litigation (MDL) for cases such as those involving mass tort claims and/or securities litigation. The MDL court is assigned by a judiciary panel, which is comprised of appellant court justices. As evidenced by this abbreviated list, the civil district court hears matters that could potentially affect most any individual and/or business.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

This particular judicial bench has not been subject to a contested election for many years. Specifically, in 2003, the incumbent judge obtained his position through the appointment of Governor Rick Perry to complete the term of yet another departing judge, who was also appointed to this same bench in 2001. Now, in 2010, the citizens will finally have an opportunity to participate in the democratic process by electing the next Judge of the 157th Civil District Court. I am running for this bench for this reason, and more importantly, because I believe that it is time for a change in leadership and a fresh perspective. I intend to preside with intelligence, an even judicial temperament, and efficiently.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

My qualifications include diverse legal and life experience. For over thirteen years, I have protected and championed the legal rights of individual citizens, as well as represented and defended small businesses and large corporations. I have successfully handled cases varying from commercial disputes, personal injury, product defects, deceptive trade practices and other civil litigation matters. My legal career has also afforded me the honor of clerking for the Houston Court of Appeals First District. I also worked as a civil litigator for two renowned Texas commercial litigation firms. I gained invaluable experience at these respected firms. I later opened my own successful law practice where I represented individual clients and consumers in precisely the types of cases that will come before the 157th Civil District Court. I have an extensive background in civil procedure, rules of evidence, drafting and arguing trial motions, oral hearings, settlement of complex claims and cases, and other trial related matters. As a result, I have the broad experience necessary to view all cases and litigants objectively.

In believe our life experiences also shape our character in many ways. Growing up, I was typically one of a few African-American children in my class, and/or or social activities such as girl scouts, camp, etc. While some would think this was difficult, it actually afforded me the opportunity to form deep friendships with a variety of people from different backgrounds. Throughout my life, both personally and professionally, I have always been the type of person that helped my peers to keep an open mind on issues and express differences of opinions by listening, with patience and respectful dialogue. I believe this ability will also serve me well on the bench as many times the judge must use her or his influence to help opposing attorneys resolve certain matters. My judicial philosophy mirrors my life philosophy, which is, all people should be treated equally and without bias to religion, gender, race, financial status, sexual orientation, and/or age. Therefore, I believe I am uniquely qualified to not only understand the complexities and intricacies of the law, but also to balance and apply it to the parties coming before me.

5. Why is this race important?

All of the races are significant because judges have broad powers and discretion. As stated above, this is a unique opportunity for the people of Harris County to actually choose the next Judge of the 157th Civil District Court, versus the choice being made for them, as in the past. Additionally, it has been shown that most people will either seek legal redress in a civil court, or know someone who will, at some point. Thus, it is very important that the voters have confidence in the judicial system and the electoral process. I want all voices to be heard. This means that irrespective of political affiliation, age, sex, race or gender, everyone will have their “day in Court”, should I have the honor of being the next Judge of the 157th Civil District Court.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I will work very hard once elected to ensure that cases are heard timely, ruled upon fairly, so that justice is delivered in each case. I have the qualifications and character needed for this important and honorable job. I will absolutely follow the rule of law and apply it with intelligence, insight and integrity. I have been endorsed from a myriad of diverse organizations, such as The Houston Chronicle, The Pasadena Bar Association, The Jewish Herald Voice, and many others. My commitment to the voters is to bring balance back to the bench so that both sides are heard and equal access to the Court will be available to all those seeking resolution. For all of the reasons previously stated herein, I hope to earn the confidence of all those voting in this important general election. I would be honored and proud to serve as your next Judge of the 157th Civil District Court. Please feel free to visit my website: to learn more about me and the campaign. Thank you for your time and attention to this specific race, and remember; elections matter!

The Blum poll

I don’t know what to make of this.

Ill will toward President Barack Obama and a voter belief that Republican Gov. Rick Perry has helped save the Texas economy are giving Perry a re-election lead over Democrat and former Houston Mayor Bill White, according to a new poll done for the Houston Chronicle and four other state newspapers.

Perry leads with 46 percent support to 39 percent for White, with Libertarian candidate Kathie Glass trailing at 4 percent among likely voters; 11 percent were undecided.


The enthusiasm of Republican voters is dramatic. Among registered voters who answered the survey, Republicans held an advantage of 9 percentage points — roughly typical of the vote in recent elections.

Among those who said they are likely to vote, the Republican advantage jumped to 18 percentage points over Democrats.

The telephone survey was of a random sample of 1,443 Texas adults, including 1,072 registered voters and 629 likely voters, conducted Sept. 15-22.

The margin of error for the likely voters is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points. The survey was conducted by Blum & Weprin for the Houston Chronicle, the San Antonio Express-News, the Austin American-Statesman and The Dallas Morning News.

Perry and White are in almost a dead heat in Houston and San Antonio. Perry is drubbing White in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with a lead of more than 30 percentage points in those cities. White holds a 7-point lead in Austin.

The two are even in urban areas, but Perry has an almost 11-percentage-point lead in non-urban areas.

I could believe White and Perry are running even in Harris and Bexar counties, which is what I presume they mean by “Houston” and “San Antonio”. I expect White will do better than that, but it’s at least a plausible result to me.

White is leading in Travis County (again, my interpretation of “Austin”) by seven points? Chris Bell, in his four-way race, won Travis by 19 points. David Van Os, who lost by 22 overall in 2006, carried Travis by almost nine points. White leading by seven? I’ll take the over on that.

Perry leading in “the Dallas-Fort Worth area” by 30 points? I’ve already shown that these are Tony Sanchez numbers. Once again, color me skeptical.

On the flip side, how is Perry only leading by 11 in non-urban areas, which are the Republican strongholds, especially in a year where the electorate is supposedly nine points more Republican than expected? (Note that this is not a universal finding.) If Perry is doing better in the places that White would be expected to be strong, how is he doing worse in the places where he’s supposed to clean up? Putting it another way, if White is underperforming in the urban counties, and the electorate is extra Republican this year, how is it that Perry isn’t leading by double digits? Something doesn’t add up.

Privately funded high speed rail?

From Houston Tomorrow:

A possible Houston to Dallas high-speed rail line was the topic of a Monday morning breakfast meeting featuring Yoshiyuki Kasai, the chairman of Central Japan Railway, Japan’s largest rail company and maker of the famed Japanese “bullet trains.” Kasai was hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership (GHP).

The company is developing plans to build a Houston/Dallas high speed rail (largely privately financed) as the first phase of a Texas system, according to the GHP invitation. Kasai used the meeting to brief the region’s business leaders on the details and opportunities that Houston-Dallas high-speed rail service would bring to the Houston region.

This sounds exciting, but it’s hard to know what a timeline for this might be, assuming it really is on track (no pun intended). The potential cost is pretty high, and while there may be federal funds available to offset some of those costs, there are many obstacles that could delay construction. I’m delighted to hear this is happening, but it’s way too early to get too worked up. Dallas Transportation has more.

Weekend link dump for September 26

Early voting begins in three weeks. I can hardly believe it, either.

An updated version of the Powers of Ten video. Very cool. Via SciGuy.

Who needs unity, anyway?

Divorce insurance. I’m guessing you won’t see it on wedding registries.

How to act locally on school lunches.

Bill him! And hire the sleaziest, most aggressive collection agency to hound him till he pays up.

How small are these so-called small businesses?

Who’s really rich? Those who are should be taxed more.

I’m not interested in exploring the final frontier, but I can think of some other people who I hope are interested.

Are you concerned about the deficit? Do you want a balanced budget? Well, good news – there’s a very simple way to make it happen.

No class.

What do you suppose Joe Lieberman’s gang sign would be? I’ll say this much – it would surely involve the middle finger.

Who are you gonna trust, me or the guy who was actually there at the time?

Great moments in byline/story synergy.

You know, sometimes the original isn’t the best.

What’s wrong with a little inflation?

What Mike Tomasky says.

One of the hidden advantages of procrastination is that some formats become obsolete before you convert to them. But maybe I shouldn’t speak too soon about that.

“No-show Governor out of step with Texas values”. Ain’t that the truth.

Where’s the free market solution for stink bugs?

Is this the swan song for the clown show?

After all this time, my heart isn’t into snarking on the SBOE and its latest travashamockery. I just want to point one thing out from how the vote went on that ludicrous and hateful anti-Islam resolution:

State Board of Education 
vote breakdown

For: David Bradley, R-Beaumont; Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands; Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond; Don McLeroy, R-Bryan; Terri Leo, R-Spring; Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas; and Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio.

Against: Geraldine Miller, R-Dallas; Pat Hardy, R-Weatherford; Lawrence Allen, D-Fresno; Mavis Knight, D-Dallas; Bob Craig, R-Lubbock; and Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio.

Did not vote: El Paso Democrat Rene Nuñez was at the meeting earlier but absent for the vote. Corpus Christi Democrat Mary Helen Berlanga was not at the meeting.

Putting aside the fact that it’s a damn shame Nuñez and Berlanga weren’t there, note that the Fors included two people who won’t be around next year. With Don McLeroy being replaced by an inhabitant of this planet, that will make future shenanigans of this type much more difficult. If we can manage to vote in one of Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau, it’ll be damn near impossible. Get them both in, and we may actually be able to seriously undo some of the damage. This was Don McLeroy’s last gasp. Go ahead and get angry about all that he and his henchpeople have done, and then get fired up about fixing it. More coverage here, here, here, here, and here.

Endorsement watch: Appeals courts

I’ve regularly ragged on the Chron for their, um, casual attitude of late for getting endorsements done in a timely manner, so I must commend them for getting such an early start this year. They’ve covered the Governor and Railroad Commissioner races so far, and have now weighed in on the District Appeals Court races. Of the six, they went with two Democrats:

Place 8, 1st Court of Appeals: Robert Ray, a Democrat, is our choice to complete an unexpired term on this bench. Ray’s academic background as a psychologist and an undergraduate journalism major hold the promise of bringing a new and different perspective to the court. His work as a jury consultant gives Ray an appreciation for the work of juries that some contend is missing from the appeals courts.


Place 5, 14th Court of Appeals: Wally Kronzer, a Democrat, is board certified in appellate law and brings 22 years of experience practicing in that specialty to his candidacy for an unexpired term in this place on the court. Kronzer, a graduate of the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law, contends that his work in the less populous counties surrounding Houston gives him a perspective that is needed on this court. We agree.

Kronzer, a cancer survivor and longtime Little League coach, would bring strong legal background and life perspective to the bench.

Given the length of the ballot in Harris County this year – I’ve heard people say it’s the longest ballot ever, anywhere in America, thanks to all the judicial races – an early start is clearly called for. Let’s hope they maintain the pace.

Don’t forget Kay!

Salon looks at recent GOP history to preview the 2012 Senate primaries:

As it is, though, the Tea Party is out of Republican targets for 2010. But 2012 is just around the corner, and the Tea Party may pick up right where it left off when the next round of Senate primaries convenes..

This, at least, is what history suggests. The last time there was this much upheaval within the GOP was in the late 1970s, in the wake of Ronald Reagan’s challenge to President Gerald Ford in the 1976 primaries. While Reagan fell just inches short in that race, the writing was on the wall: The GOP’s demographics were changing and the conservative wing that Reagan represented would soon dominate; Ford’s win would be the Rockefeller crowd’s last stand.

After ’76, New Right activists set out to purge the remaining liberal Republicans from the party — a task that only took on more urgency when liberal Republican senators provided critical votes for Jimmy Carter’s Panama Canal treaty in 1977. To the right, this represented a blatant sellout of American sovereignty. In the 1978 midterms, the right organized several high-profile primary challenges. In New Jersey, they united behind a Reagan aide named Jeffrey Bell and took out an icon of liberal Republicanism, four-term Sen. Clifford Case. In Massachusetts, they rallied around a radio talk-show host and anti-busing crusader named Avi Nelson and nearly knocked off Sen. Ed Brooke, the only black Republican ever elected to the Senate. There was no collective name for the movement that did this, but in spirit and style, it was very much the Tea Party’s precursor.

And the movement didn’t stop in ’78 — not with Reagan running again in 1980, and not with liberal Republicans still roaming the halls of Congress. Down went Sen. Jacob Javits, Herbert Lehman’s literal and ideological Senate heir, in New York’s ’80 GOP primary, felled by a then-obscure Al D’Amato. Only after Reagan’s election did the purge mentality cease.

If that model holds, the Tea Party will be just as thirsty for GOP blood in ’12 as it is today — still enraged by TARP votes the way the New Right was still infuriated by the Panama Canal treaty in ’80.

Because only 10 GOP-held Senate seats will be up in ’12 — a consequence of the party’s drubbing in 2006 and weak showing in 2000 — only three incumbents seem at obvious risk of becoming the next Bennett or Murkowski: Olympia Snowe, Orrin Hatch and Richard Lugar.

You know who else is up in 2012? Our own Kay Bailey Hutchison, that’s who. And there’s already trouble on the horizon for her.

It’s not that Texas Republicans don’t like her. Despite her primary loss earlier this year she still has a positive 56/28 approval spread with them. It’s not even necessarily that they think she’s too liberal- 38% of them do, but 44% think that ideologically she’s ‘about right.’

But if you give them the choice of a more conservative alternative to Hutchison Texas Republicans are ready to ditch her in a minute. Only 25% of them generally say they’d vote for Hutchison if she faced a challenger from the right, while 62% say they’d pick the insurgent option.

PPP tested a hypothetical matchup between KBH and Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, and while she led him by 21 points, she only garnered 34%. That doesn’t sound too secure to me. And that’s just one possible opponent for her. Anyone want to bet against Dan Patrick deciding he wants to trade up? You can write her obituary now if that happens.

Now maybe they overlooked KBH because they think she’s not running again in 2012. Clearly, they need to ask around a bit if that’s what they thought. She has time to try to mode to the right, though I doubt it would help. It’ll be interesting to see what she does. Who knows, maybe this time she really will step down. Stranger things have happened.

And since we can’t reasonably claim we didn’t see this coming, it’s not too early for Democrats to start thinking about who we’d like to have on the ballot that year. There are the candidates who are running statewide this year, all of whom I hope are unavailable due to incumbency, and there are the mandatory possibilities, but if I had to name my first round draft choice for this race, it’d be San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. You got a better choice? Go ahead and leave it in the comments.

Saturday video break: They live inside of my head

The MOB performed an arrangement of Cheap Trick’s “Dream Police” during last week’s show. Not too surprisingly, none of the current students in the sax section had ever heard of the song before, though they did like it. So I went off to YouTube to find a decent video of it. This is what I dug up, the original 1979 promo video for “Dream Police”:

The 70s really were something, weren’t they?

By the way, the MOB arrangement of “Dream Police” was used as a partial soundtrack for the following video, which was the focal point of last week’s halftime show.

“Dream Police” accompanied the silent segment that begins after the line “Come with me if you want to live”. This was one of the more fun shows to perform, and it got a nice reaction.

Endorsement watch: Chron for Weems

Score two for Jeff Weems.

There is one race for a Railroad commissioner’s seat on this fall’s statewide ballot to fill the seat currently held by Victor Carrillo, who lost to a challenger in the Republican Party primary.

We commend Houstonian Jeff Weems, the Democratic candidate, to fill this seat.

Weems, the son of a petroleum engineer, would bring both legal and petroleum engineering experience to the position. He would also bring dynamism and enthusiasm that does not appear to be matched by his Republican opponent.

As before, it’s clear there’s no comparison between Weems and his no-name opponent. If you want someone who’s well qualified for the job, he’s your candidate.

The Chron on the District Clerk race

You really should read the Chron story on the District Clerk race, since it sums up pretty nicely why Loren Jackson has done such a great job. It starts with an anecdote you’d have read on Mark Bennett’s blog and goes from there.

In the 22 months since [November 2008], Jackson has vastly increased the numbers and kinds of court documents available online. He has made public an online criminal background check tool that previously only government employees could use. He is testing an electronic filing system aimed at giving local lawyers an alternative to the state’s more expensive system. His team set up a docketing notification system that informs attorneys when their cases are scheduled.

Jackson, a Democrat, has been a darling of local lawyers because he has saved them trips to the courthouse as well as saved taxpayers’ money in staff time at windows and scanning machines. Texas Lawyer called him a “technology geek” and mentioned his claim that no county in the country provides as much online access to court records.

In fact, Jackson has received little criticism in his 22 months on the job, even from Republicans.

Do a good enough job and the people you do it for will want you to keep doing it. Jackson’s opponent then makes a ridiculous claim about – I kid you not – terrorists that isn’t worth quoting because life is too short for stuff like that. So go read the Chron story, and when you’re done with that go read Murray Newman and Bennett again for more. And then tell your friends to vote for Loren Jackson.

Pity poor John Bradley

It’s a truly beautiful thing to see the guy who was brought in to the Texas Forensic Science Commission for the express purpose of protecting Governor Perry’s political interests wail and moan about the Commission becoming a “political football” now that it’s clear he cannot control the other commissioners. The strategy, hatched back when Perry was in a competitive primary, was to delay the potentially explosive stuff until after the elections were over, when no one would be paying attention any more. You have to wonder at this point if Perry had just let nature run its course if the worst of this would be all behind him by now. Instead, things are still coming to a head, and his designated fixer has lost the handle. Somewhere, Machiavelli is shaking his head and muttering about “amateurs” under his breath. The DMN editorial board has more.

Rick Perry loves the stimulus

He just hates to admit it.

When 47 state and territorial governors sent a letter on Feb. 22 asking for more federal matching dollars for Medicaid, Perry refused to sign. He likes to talk about how he thinks the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is a waste of money.

Yet on Aug. 25 Perry wrote an unpublicized letter to Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary formally requesting that Texas receive the increased federal match for Medicaid. The extension is part of the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act, and gives states a 3.2 percent increase in the matching funds from January to March 2011, and a 1.2 percentage point increase from April to June 2011. Additional increases are available for each quarter during this period for states with high unemployment rates. This higher matching rate was originally slated to expire at the end of 2010.

Perry’s office released the letter only after the Observer inquired about Perry’s position on the matching funds. It appears the Obama administration has also grown weary of governors like Perry rejecting the stimulus program publicly, and then accepting the funds privately.

Sebelius wrote a you-better-check-yo-self letter on Aug. 16 letting governors know that although President Obama had signed off on the additional funds that 47 of them had requested, those funds would only be made available to states whose governors formally requested them. Apparently Perry blinked in this game of chicken and wrote his letter like a good governor should.

I believe the proper expression here is “Thank you, sir, may I please have another”. While Perry prefers money he can spend unaccountably, he’ll still take whatever he can get. Those $21 billion shortfalls aren’t going to fix themselves, you know. As long as he can still bite the hand that’s feeding him, it’s all good with Perry.

Friday random ten: One hit wonders

We recently added the Phineas and Ferb soundtrack to our collection of kid-friendly music. It included the extended version of “Gitchi Gitchi Goo”, the boys’ One Hit Wonder song. With that in mind, this week’s list is a sample of one-hit wonder songs from my collection:

1. Do It (Till You’re Satisfied)BT Express
2. In A Big CountryBig Country
3. Jim DandyBlack Oak Arkansas
4. I Don’t Like MondaysBoomtown Rats
5. Video Killed The Radio StarThe Buggles
6. TubthumpingChumbawamba
7. Come On EileenDexy’s Midnight Runners
8. VehicleIdes of March
9. Safety DanceMen Without Hats
10. Are You Ready?Pacific Gas & Electric

Just to be clear, my criteria for this were 1) The songs had to be reasonably well-known, and 2) they had to be the only song you’re likely to know of by that group. Your mileage may vary on that, but there you have it. What one-hit wonders do you have? And may I just say, there’s some solid gold in those videos. If you’ve ever wondered what the Safety Dance looks like, wonder no more.

Entire song list report: Started with “Money, Money, Money”, from the “Mamma Mia!” soundtrack. Finished with “My Cat Fell In The Well”, by The Manhattan Transfer, song #3495, a total of 88 for the week.

Ripping vinyl report: “The Yes Album”, by Yes. Why don’t people write songs that have movements in them any more? That’s what I want to know.

Interview with County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia

Commissioner Sylvia Garcia

Finishing off the county interviews, we have County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, who has served Precinct 2 since she was first elected in 2002. Prior to that, she served three terms as Houston City Controller, and was Director and Presiding Judge of the Houston Municipal System. Precinct 2 covers territory east and south in Harris County, including the east end of downtown, NASA, the Ship Channel, Baytown, and Pasadena. We discussed issues concerning Precinct 2 and the county at large:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

State sues over education stimulus funds

So much for a peaceful resolution.

Texas went to federal court [Thursday] to pry loose $830 million in federal aid intended to help avert teacher layoffs.

The funds — Texas’ share of a $10 billion jobs package Congress approved last month — have been caught in a crossfire between Gov. Rick Perry and his Democratic critics in Congress, who inserted a provision requiring Texas to promise that its share of education spending won’t be cut before 2013.

Perry says the state constitution precludes him from making such a promise. Two weeks ago, the Education Department rejected his application for the funds – enough to protect 14,500 jobs in schools statewide – saying it had to abide by the congressional mandate, which applies only to Texas.


[Rep. Lloyd] Doggett called the lawsuit an “act of political theater” and noted, tauntingly, that the state’s legal filing was far shorter than Perry’s news release about it.

He blamed the funding delay on Perry’s refusal — legally baseless, in his view — to certify that he won’t cut state funding for schools.

“The bottom line is this: Federal aid to education should actually aid education in our local Texas schools. It is almost as if the governor felt he was entitled to his own blank check federal bailout and now he has the lawsuit to prove it,” Doggett said.

Amazing the lengths Rick Perry will go to in order to get his hands on evil, filthy federal dollars when he really needs them, isn’t it? And just when Education Secretary Arne Duncan was predicting that everything would turn out all right. Can’t we all just get along? A statement from Bill White is beneath the fold.


Keller’s final appeal

You have to admire the tenacity, I’ll give her that much.

A special court of review plans to decide by Oct. 8 whether to dismiss a judicial ethics panel’s rebuke of Judge Sharon Keller or move forward with her appeal.

Keller appeared before the special court’s three-judge panel Monday to push for dismissal now, avoiding a three-day trial at the end of November over the rebuke from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.


Chip Babcock, Keller’s lawyer, argued that the commission exceeded its authority in issuing the rebuke in the form of a “public warning.” Under Texas law and the state constitution, the commission could issue the harsher punishment of censure, but not a warning, he said.

“Your only choice is what we’re asking — dismiss this. Do not force Judge Keller to go through a new trial,” Babcock said during the hearing at the Texas Supreme Court near the Capitol.

But the three judges, chosen at random to sit on the review panel, steered Babcock into a discussion about ways to reclassify the rebuke to conform to state law or the constitution.

“Is it just a (correctable) error?” asked Justice Elsa Alcala of the 1st Court of Appeals in Houston.

The judges will render their decision by October 8. If they deny her motion to dismiss the original charges, the next hearing, which would basically be a re-litigation of the first one, would begin at the end of November. Grits was there for this, and he has more. I’ve previously suggested that Keller getting off on a technicality at the end of all this would be the bitterest irony I can imagine, but I must say that I can also imagine her ending up with the censure she should have gotten in the first place, all as a result of her refusal to leave well enough alone. That would be poetic, to say the least.

Adickes studio sold

From Swamplot:

THE LAUNCHING pad for I-45’s Mount Rush Hour, that presidential muck circle in Pearland, and more outsize sculptureprojects has a buyer. David Adickes — creator of the giant Sam Houston of Huntsville and the disembodied cellist in front of the Lyric Center Downtown, and yes, the original owner and projectionist for sixties psychedelic Commerce St. hangout Love Street Light Circus — is selling his SculpturWorx compound off Sawyer St. to Phil Arnett and L.E. “Chap” Chapman. Arnett and Chapman are best known for turning an old staple manufacturing building down the street from the original Goode Co. Bar-B-Q on Kirby into the Bartlett Lofts. Their plan for Adickes’s 78,175 sq. ft. of warehouse space at 2500 Summer St.: keeping the “artist flavor” (and most of the tenants) of the old buildings, while renovating the property and using up to 22,000 sq. ft. of it (Adickes’s first-floor studio, for example) as commercial space — maybe including a restaurant or two.

As long as the giant Presidential heads remain and continue to be visible from Sawyer Street as you drive past, it’s all good.

Texas blog roundup for the week of September 20

The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes everyone had a pleasant fall equinox as it brings you this week’s roundup.