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October 11th, 2010:

CM Johnson gets no-billed on evading arrest charge

Some good news for Council Member Jarvis Johnson.

A Harris County grand jury has declined this morning to indict Houston City Councilman Jarvis Johnson on charges stemming from his arrest in June for evading arrest, according to his attorney.

Johnson was accused of fleeing an officer who tried to pull him over for driving 62 mph in a 45 mph zone in the 2300 block of the Eastex Freeway service road at 9:45 p.m. June 30. It was not a high-speed pursuit.

“I have maintained my innocence through this entire ordeal,” Johnson said. “We’re excited and certainly very appreciative of the grand jury coming back with a no-bill charge.”

See here, here, and here for some background. Though he still has some other business with the DA’s office, I’m sure CM Johnson is glad to have this behind him. Hair Balls has more.

Interview with Barbara Radnofsky

Barbara Radnofsky

Coming into the home stretch, we move towards the top of the ballot with Barbara Radnofsky, who is running for Attorney General. Radnofsky, the 2006 Democratic nominee for Senate, is an attorney and mediator who has remained very active in state politics since her previous run. Radnofsky has been strongly critical of two-term incumbent AG Greg Abbott for his headline-seeking (and frequently hypocritical) legal filings, as well as for the one he has chosen not to do, about which I interviewed her before. All that and more in this interview:

Download the MP3 file

The Trib did an interview with Radnofsky a few weeks ago – audio and a transcript can be found here. Typically, Abbott has chickened out on debating her.

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

UPDATE: I’m pleased to see that BAR got the DMN endorsement.

Endorsement watch: Mistakes are made

The Chron has decided for some unknowable reason to endorse County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez for re-election.

Sanchez contends the treasurer’s office provides a vital checks-and-balances function on county spending, and that it would be a mistake to phase it out, even though he concedes it has been “emasculated” by Commissioners Court in recent years and is understaffed because of a hiring freeze.

Sanchez hopes to reclaim the office’s past role in overseeing county investments, an idea with added momentum due to the legal problems of the current chief financial officer. To that end Sanchez completed a required investment education course to be certified as a county investment officer under the Texas Public Funds Investment Act.

I have no idea what it is that the Chron sees in Sanchez – other than the color of his eyes, of course – but they must see something, since they endorsed him in 2006, too. It would be nice to know just exactly how Sanchez provides that vital check and balance function. Does he even show up at Commissioners Court meetings? Just one concrete example of something he’s done that would be reasonably considered a check or balance on the Court, that’s all I ask. As for the overseeing county investments, at least that answers my question about what steps he’s taken to do that, but it still doesn’t explain what took him so long. Surely that wasn’t a four-year course. If that’s such a fine idea, why didn’t he do it right after he took office?

A goofy endorsement for County Treasurer is no big deal in the grand scheme of things. A misguided endorsement for the SBOE is much more serious.

Republican Marsha Farney of Georgetown and Judy Jennings, an Austin Democrat, are competing to succeed Dunbar in representing the SBOE’s District 10, which includes Austin, Bastrop, Burleson, Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Gonzales, Lavaca, Lee, Milam, Waller, Washington and Williamson counties, as well as parts of Brazoria, Fort Bend and Travis counties.

Both are calm, measured, reasonable and actually interested in advancing Texas public education and not hobbling it to suit a political agenda.

[…]

If Farney wins — given that the district was drawn to maximize Republican strength, that’s a strong possibility — her diplomatic and political skills will be tested almost from the first day. She can help move the board past the ideological fog in which it is now hopelessly lost.

We think Farney is up to that job, and that’s why we recommend her.

That’s a lovely thought if Farney really were a moderate, but there’s considerable evidence that she’s not. Why take the chance when there’s a known quantity who will do what they say they want? It makes no sense. At least the Statesman got the other race right, endorsing Rebecca Bell-Metereau, but there’s no reason for them not to have nailed them both.

The preservation ordinance fight

The revised preservation ordinance came before Council last week. It got a lot of feedback in addition to being tagged.

Mayor Pro Tem Anne Clutterbuck also opposed the changes to the ordinance, which include a provision that would prevent property owners from demolishing historic buildings in historic districts if a city commission has denied their request. Previously, owners could proceed with demolition after 90 days even if the commission denied their request.

Clutterbuck was one of seven council members who offered amendments to key points of the revised ordinance. Council members Wanda Adams, Jolanda Jones, Al Hoang, Oliver Pennington, Ed Gonzalez and Sue Lovell also offered amendments that would make technical changes in various aspects of the ordinance.

Clutterbuck’s most significant revision would be to upend the “transition” ordinance, which as currently written would apply the newer, stricter rules to existing historic districts unless property owners there petition for “reconsideration.” Parker’s revised ordinance allows them to do so in 15 days, although several council members and some industry groups are pushing to extend that time to as long as 60 days.

Clutterbuck proposed that existing districts be allowed to continue under the old rules. If they wish for the tighter restrictions to apply, they can petition under the new process, which requires 60 percent of property owners in the proposed area to return ballots mailed to them by the city showing they want the designation.

This earlier story from before the Council meeting has more. I’ve already said that I prefer the approach Clutterbuck is proposing in her amendment. Beyond that, my line in the sand on this is the 90-day waiver, which has always meant that we don’t actually have a preservation ordinance on the books, merely a preservation suggestion. As long as there’s a way to actually preserve historic buildings that need protection, the rest is mostly details to me. We’ll see what happens when it comes up this week.

Casinos look to the Internet

Interesting.

Many of the country’s largest casinos, long opposed to gambling games like poker on the Internet, are now having second thoughts.

Although online gambling is popular with millions of Americans, it is illegal in the United States, and the casino industry has considered it a threat.

But a trade group that represents major casinos like Harrah’s Entertainment, MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts is working on a proposal that would ask Congress to legalize at least some form of online gambling, the group’s chief executive said.

The group, the American Gaming Association, issued a statement in the spring suggesting that online gambling could be properly regulated — the first public indication that its hard-line stance was softening.

[…]

The move by casinos to open the door to online gambling could bring a powerful new lobbying force into Congressional debate. It would also most likely intensify fights in state legislatures as various gambling interests — groups that include lotteries, racetracks and Indian tribes — push lawmakers to grab more gambling dollars for states by moving to the Web.

California, Florida and New Jersey recently made unsuccessful efforts to legalize Internet betting on casino-style games, said Mark Balestra, the director of the BolaVerde Media Group, a consulting firm in St. Louis that tracks Internet gambling. Current law does not prevent in-state gambling over the Internet but to do so across state lines would require a change in federal law.

Just something to keep an eye on in the event that the push for expanded gambling in Texas finally succeeds next year. It’s possible that language to allow for such betting might be proposed, but I doubt it could get enough support to actually be included. But if and when casino gambling is legalized here, expect the campaign to expand it to online action to follow.