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October 29th, 2010:

Friday random ten: Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos is what we celebrate after Halloween around here. In honor of that, here are ten songs about death.

1. And When I Die – Blood, Sweat & Tears
2. The Car Hank Died In – Austin Lounge Lizards
3. Dying Is Fine – Ra Ra Riot
4. Live and Let Die – Guns N’ Roses
5. The Night Pat Murphy Died – Great Big Sea
6. O Death – Ralph Stanley
7. Only The Good Die Young – Billy Joel
8. Dead Egyptian Blues – Trout Fishing In America
9. Tom Burleigh’s Dead – Eddie From Ohio
10. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead – Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon

Honorable mention:

Heaven Can Wait – Meat Loaf
Hell – Squirrel Nut Zippers
Heaven, Hell, or Houston – ZZ Top
Very Fine Funeral – Eddie from Ohio

What are you dying to hear this week?

Entire song report: Started with “Overnight Sensation”, by The Raspberries. Finished with “Poisoning Pigeons In The Park”, by Tom Lehrer, which is just totally fitting in a twisted way. It’s also song #4022, so that was 136 tunes this week. The last O song was “Oye Mamacita”, by Los Lonely Boys. The first P song was “P. S. I Love You”, from the “For The Boys” soundtrack, or “Paddy On The Swing Pipe”, by The Mollys, your choice. Have a great weekend, and remember that Dia de los Muertos is also Election Day, which again is totally fitting in a twisted sort of way.

Here comes the late money

The 8 days out finance reports are in, and it’s about what you’d expect.

Millions of dollars poured into Texas legislative campaigns during the past month as interest groups tried to maximize their influence and partisans readied for the upcoming fight over the redrawing of House and Senate districts.

Those millions, predominantly from business owners and trial lawyers, have allowed candidates in the Austin area and across the state to clog the television airwaves with their closing pitches before Tuesday’s election.

“Money flows late because late money follows the races that are being run effectively,” said Republican consultant Ted Delisi. “Because we have two weeks of early voting and we have a lot of polling, you can understand which campaigns are gaining traction and which ones aren’t, so you’re not betting blindly.”

Big-dollar donors and interest groups also give late so that the donors themselves don’t become lightning rods in the campaigns. Candidates did not have to publicly disclose contributions they received after Sept. 23 until Monday, when early voting was more than halfway over.

“The general consensus among operatives is, it’s too late to do anything with it,” Delisi said. “The election is 30 to 35 percent over right now.”

Yeah, this is the time to do the stuff you’re least proud of, because the potential for blowback decreases greatly with each passing day. There’s stuff about particular races in that story, and the DMN and EoW have more. As I didn’t see anything specific to Harris County, I figured I’d spot check a few races here to see who’s getting what. Here are the amounts raised since the 30 day reports:

Kristi Thibaut, $119,649
Jim Murphy, $172,222

Ellen Cohen, $100,279
Sarah Davis, $69,116

Dwayne Bohac, $113,955
Kendra Yarbrough Camarena, $36,815

Ken Legler, $178,299
Rick Molina, $85,969

Legler also collected $184,885 as of the 30 days out report after only taking in $82,135 for the first six months of the year. I’ve heard a rumble or two that he’s in a tighter race than originally thought. Make of this what you will.

Hubert Vo, $109,135
Jack O’Connor, $183,938

O’Connor is a great example of how the late money train works. Almost $170,000 of that total comes from five sources:

– Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund, $40,000 cash
– Conservative Republicans of Texas, approximately $35,000 in kind
– Republican Party of Texas, $23,000 cash plus another $2,066 in kind
– Robert Rowling of Irving, TN (that’s Tennessee, not Texas), $25,000 cash
– Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, $40,000 cash plus $2,300 in kind

All for a guy who had raised about $65,000 on his own all year. He’s not the only one, of course – Legler got $125,000 from Speaker Straus. Murphy got a lot of assorted PAC money plus $25,000 from the Republican Party of Texas Texas Victory State Account plus a $9200 mailer from the RPT, $20,000 from Bob Perry, $10,500 from three members of the Trammel Crow family in Dallas, and $10,000 from TLR. Bohac also got help from the Speaker, $25,000 worth. I didn’t notice any other donations larger than $5K for him, nor did I see anything of the magnitude noted here for Davis. Again, draw your own conclusions about who sees what opportunities and threats.

Finally, on a tangential note, one unfamiliar name I saw in four of the five Republican reports (all but O’Connor) was a Curtis Mewbourne, of Mewbourne Oil, who handed out 16 donations of $5K each to various legislative candidates (plus a $75K gift to David Dewhurst) since September 24, all but two (incumbents Joe Heflin and Mark Homer) to Republicans. I note his name for future reference, since you know that sooner or later there’ll be some pro quo for all that quid.

The fate of the city propositions

This Chron story could easily have been headlined “A bunch of people take wild guesses about what will happen to the city ballot propositions”.

Political analysts say the fate of the three propositions may be tied together for some Houstonians who could paint any or all of them with a broad brush of anti-government sentiment.

“You could see people just voting no, no, no,” said Mark Jones, chair of the Rice University Political Science Department. “Some could see Proposition 1 as a tax increase, Proposition 2 as a means to help out incumbent politicians and Proposition 3 a way to keep these devices that give more money to the government. ”

Officials with the various campaigns representing the propositions acknowledged that the political headwinds may lead some voters to cast their ballots in lockstep on the three questions. But they expressed confidence that their campaign work has been enough to break through any tendency voters may have to say no to everything.

“Like it or not, voters go to the polls and if they’re happy with the direction the city is going in, they vote for all of them,” said Chris Begala, a spokesman for Keep Houston Safe, a political action committee advocating for Proposition 3. “But if they reach the bottom of the ballot and they’re upset, they vote no. I always defer to the individual voter. They always make good choices, and they will make up their mind individually on all three propositions.”

The consensus among the wild guessers analysts is that Prop 1 has a tough row to hoe because it has attracted opposition from a number of different groups; Prop 2 may have a hard time because nobody knows anything about it; and Prop 3 is in the strongest position because it’s being pushed by emergency responders and hospitals, and because its opposition isn’t well-funded. My wild guesses are that I tend to agree with the view of Props 1 and 3, but I think Prop 2’s chances are better than that on the grounds that people vote for scads of constitutional amendments they know nothing about every other year. When was the last time one of those was voted down? But like I said, it’s just a guess. We’ll know soon enough.

Texas tells Amazon to pay up

Well, that’s one way to attack the budget deficit.

Texas has sent Amazon.com Inc. a $269 million bill for uncollected sales taxes on purchases made by state residents from the Seattle-based Internet superstore over a four-year period.

[…]

R.J. DeSilva, spokesman for the Texas comptroller of public accounts, said the bill was sent to Amazon.com in August. It wasn’t publicly disclosed until Friday, when Amazon.com revealed it in a regulatory filing.

“The company has requested a re-determination, which means this is an ongoing audit and could be decided as part of the administrative hearings process,” DeSilva said in a statement. “The company would send documents, and this process will continue.”

DeSilva said he couldn’t answer any questions because sales tax and audit information is largely confidential under Texas law.

[…]

The Texas comptroller’s office began an investigation of Amazon’s taxing status in May 2008 after The Dallas Morning News questioned why Amazon didn’t charge sales taxes while maintaining a distribution center in Irving near Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

At the time, Amazon.com had sued New York over whether it needed to collect sales taxes there, arguing it had no “physical presence” in that state. That defense dates to a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision covering catalogs and direct mail-order companies but later applied to Internet retailers.

The News report said Amazon had been operating the Irving distribution center since at least 2006. Amazon contended the distribution center was owned by one of its subsidiaries called Amazon.com KYDC LLC, which is located at the same address as its corporate headquarters in Seattle.

In July, Amazon.com purchased the rest of Carrollton-based Woot.com that it didn’t already own. Amazon.com had held a minority stake in the quirky deal-of-the-day website since 2006.

“I don’t know if this will encourage other states, but I hope it will,” said Michael Mazerov, senior fellow in the State Fiscal Project of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C. “Amazon is very legally vulnerable.”

The company’s defense that “the mere separation of a corporate subsidiary isolates a retail arm from having to charge sales taxes creates no limit to what any corporation could do,” Mazerov said.

He estimated in a 2009 study that state and local governments lose more than $7 billion a year in uncollected sales taxes.

I’ve already said that I don’t see any reason at this point why online sales are exempt from sales taxes. It made some sense in the 90s, but not any more. I’m rooting for the state on this one.

Ryan issues opinions about poll watching

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has issued a couple of opinions relating to poll watching that may help clear things up a bit. The first opinion has to do with where poll watchers may and may not go:

Poll watchers are entitled to observe all election activity from the time the electionworkers arrive at the polling place to set up in the morning until the equipment is packed up andlocked up at night. See TEX. ELEC. CODE § 33.056 (Vernon 2010). However, poll watchers are not allowed to follow voters into the “voting station” to observe the voters unless the voter requests assistance from an election judge or election clerk. See TEX. ELEC. CODE § 33.057 (Vernon 2010).

Questions have arisen as to what area of the polling place constitutes the “voting station.” Generally, this area includes all of the area surrounding the location of the eSlate machines or the privacy booths where paper ballots may be marked.

Disputes may be minimized by marking lines on the floor indicating areas where the”voting station” is located. The Texas Secretary of State’s office has indicated that as long as the lines are placed in a reasonable location, that this procedure is acceptable and has been used successfully in the past.

The second opinion has to do with recording devices:

Poll watchers must provide an affidavit that they are not in possession of any mechanical or electronic means of recording images or sound while serving as a watcher. TEX. ELEC. CODE §33.006(b)(6). This section applies to cell phones if they have the ability to take pictures or record videos. A watcher may not be accepted for service if the watcher has in his possession such a device. The presiding judge may inquire whether a watcher is in possession of such a prohibited device before accepting the watcher for service. TEX. ELEC.CODE §33 .051 (c). This prohibition applies only to poll watchers.

No person may use a wireless communication device within 100 feet of a voting station. TEX. ELEC. CODE §61.014(a). This section applies to any cell phone or other device that sends or receives an electronic communication signal, such as a laptop computer equipped with WiFi. No person may use any mechanical or electronic means of recording images or sound within 100 feet of a voting station. TEX. ELEC. CODE §61.0 l4(b). This section applies to cell phones if they have the ability to take still pictures or videos. A presiding judge may require a person violating these provisions to turn off the prohibited device or to leave the polling place. TEX. ELEC. CODE §61.014(c). These provisions do not apply to an election officer in conducting the officer’s official duties or to the of election equipment necessary for the conduct of the election. TEX. ELEC. CODE §6l.0 14(d).

Both seem straightforward enough. We’ll see if they make a difference. Unfortunately, it’ll take a lot more than that to deal with stuff like this.

[R]esidents in local African-American neighborhoods are being told some misleading information about their vote.

The mysterious fliers were handed out in parts of Sunnyside and Third Ward Tuesday night, and it is adding confusion to an already tense early voting period.

The fliers start out by saying “Republicans are trying to trick us” and goes on to urge voters not to vote a straight Democratic ticket. It also says a single vote for Bill White is a vote for the entire Democratic ticket.

In the Sunnyside early voting location, several voters say they were handed such fliers.

“They just said, ‘Here take this,’ and I told them I didn’t need it,” said Gary Carter.

The flier says the Black Democratic Trust of Texas is responsible, but it’s a group that doesn’t seem to exist.

You can see video at that link. Too bad no one with a recording device was there to capture some images of the folks handing out these flyers. Relatedly, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has now joined the call for election monitors to be sent to Harris County by the Justice Department. Her press release and a copy of the letter she sent to AG Eric Holder are here. Amusingly, the King Street Patriots have made a similar request. To protect them from the voters they’re harassing, I guess. I don’t have their press release, so I don’t know what that’s about. Hair Balls has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 25

The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes you all have voted or will be voting as it brings you this week’s blog roundup.

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