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January 5th, 2011:

Alomar, Blyleven enter HOF

Congratulations to Roberto Alomar and (at long last) Bert Blyleven for their election to the Hall of Fame.

Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven were chosen to the baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday, in an election in which voters again rejected candidates closely identified with baseball’s steroid era.

Alomar got 523 votes and Blyleven 463, with 436 of 581 votes (75%) required for election.

Rafael Palmeiro got 11%, in his first year on the ballot.

Palmeiro is one of four players in major-league history with 500 home runs and 3,000 hits, along with Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray. His 568 home runs rank 12th on the all-time list, one spot ahead of Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson and one spot behind Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew.

Palmeiro also was the first star suspended after owners and players agreed to test for performance-enhancing drugs and penalize first-time offenders with mandatory suspensions.

Mark McGwire got 19.8%, in the first election after he admitted to using steroids. In his previous four years on the ballot, he received between 21% and 24%.

I felt that Palmeiro fell short despite his traditionally qualifying 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, so that doesn’t bother me. McGwire will be the player that the BBWAA loves to crap on the most until Barry Bonds becomes eligible. Other results of interest, via SBNation:

Barry Larkin, 62.1%
Jack Morris, 53.50%
Lee Smith, 45.30%
Jeff Bagwell, 41.70%
Tim Raines, 37.50%
Edgar Martinez, 32.90%
Alan Trammell, 24.30%
Larry Walker, 20.30%

Larkin ought to have an excellent shot at election next year when there are no likely inductees on the ballot. I’m not a fan of Morris, and I think Lee Smith is overrated, but I can live with their candidacies, and at least they wouldn’t make it before Blyleven. Bagwell had a decent first showing – to address Bubba’s comment, quite a few players have made it in despite less than 50% support on their first ballot – and now that he’s not a first-timer, perhaps some of the bizarre animosity towards him for not ratting out teammates (a standard that would exclude the likes of Greg Maddux and Derek Jeter, by the way) will fade. Still not enough love for Raines and Trammell, Edgard Martinez does about as well as you’d expect – I wouldn’t have voted for him this year, but Jay Jaffe has me reconsidering – and Larry Walker will likely hang on over the years but not get any momentum, which is okay by me.

So there you have it. Congrats again to Alomar and Blyleven, and better luck next time to the deserving hopefuls that fell short this year.

One person’s experience with deferred adjudication for DWI

After I posted about the bill to allow deferred adjudication for DWI, I received the following email from a reader, who gave me permission to publish it.

Deferred adjudication (D.A) ….My brother had it because of a DWI in the early 1990s and failed miserably through it. The conditions of D.A. are so onerous that it’s easy to trip up. One time he had a substance abuse relapse, and missed going to the parole officer because he knew his drug test would not be clean (and didn’t pay his fine for the month either). As a result, the Harris County parole officer issued a warrant for his arrest which eventually sent him to prison for 2 years. I tried to intervene and suggest a way that he might turn himself in voluntarily and pay a fine in exchange for the 1 missed visit. But the parole officer said, once the warrant was issued, there was no rescinding it. In other words, there was no incentive for my brother to turn himself in, so he found a retail management job and worked there for a year. For a year, he supported his family without any further drug relapses until the police finally caught up with him (they always do because they can find a work address through your IRS/W2 information). Ironically, despite the fact that my brother was working legitimately and raising a family without drug or alchohol relapses, after he was re-arrested for missing the parole visit, the state sued him for child support even though he was still married. Apparently when he was locked up, his wife applied for food stamps and CHIP for the children. The State of Texas wanted that money back. Of course, he eventually had to explain to the court that the only reason he couldn’t support the children was because the state had locked him up in the first place.

During those two years when he was in prison for breaking the terms of his deferred adjudication, the mother and her children also went basically homeless, having to double up with various family members.

This year my brother had another DWI (after one he had 14 years ago). Due to some fluke in the law, he ended up being classified as a repeat offender and rather than take 5 or 10 years of hard time, he plea bargained for 1 month jail time + 6 months rehab + probation. That was considered “lenient” in Texas.

The result: he lost his well-paying management job, and his wife and 3 young kids lost their house as a result. For the last 2 months, they are basically homeless (now living temporarily with a friend and for a month with my mom). The oldest girl is in school but can’t get HISD to give her a ride to school (that may be resolved by January, I don’t know). (That’s why your other post about homeless children rang true to me). My mother and my brother’s siblings are now having to support his family while the wife looks for a job and tries to find more permanent housing. We are very gloomy about his chances of getting a job that pays as well as the one he had before the release.

My brother is borderline pathological, he lies sometimes and occasionally drinks too much (though no drugs anymore). But he’s been a law abiding citizen for the past 3 years and a good dad. His track record of following all the procedures of parole/probation/D.A. has been poor; it almost seems as though he is being imprisoned not for DWI or drugs but simply failure to pay his monthly fines or meet his parole officer. In theory it sounds reasonable to require that a person see his parole officer regularly, but he has always been busy driving kids to doctor’s appointments and school events (not to mention going to work). That doesn’t include the AA meetings he is usually required to attend (which eventually he stops doing ). Also, we all have strong feelings about the earlier decision to take deferred adjudication. Maybe it would be helpful for some people, but there are so many conditions attached that it entangles you permanently in the system. My brother just kept making minor infractions (not paying the monthly fine, skipping a meeting with the parole officer, not going to AA, etc). It was probably my brother’s worst decision to accept that; in retrospect, he should have just done the jail time and get it over with.

Off-topic: why can’t breathalizer ignition systems be mandatory on all cars? After the 2nd DWI they put a breathalizer on his car, and I thought that would be it. But Texas wanted to lock him up as well. I understand the need to prevent drunk people from getting in front of the wheel, but isn’t it enough to cripple the individual’s car until he takes a breathalizer test?

As my brother says, he knows what incarceration is about. He has been there before. He feels genuine remorse for the trouble he has caused. He is used to having to start over again after prison. But each career interruption lowers his income potential and disrupts the life of his wife and children. It ends up costing the state of Texas more money, and it has cost his family lots of money and heartache.

This is a nonviolent case which never needed to require prison. Even deferred adjudication can be a disaster if the terms are so onerous as to make messups inevitable. The problem with parole and probation is that usually you don’t have the right to contest the charge, and the panels can act arbitrarily and has full discretion. Once my brother signed up for D.A./parole/probation, he was completely at the mercy of the penal system whose solution for everything seems to be imprisonment.

Obviously, no one person’s case is representative of everyone, but the issues cited about how onerous probation can be are well known. Seeing it personalized like that was very compelling, and I thought it was a story that was worth sharing. I am very thankful to the reader who sent it to me and allowed me to publish it.

Will the Lege change the rules about corporate campaign contributions?

I think the answer to that question is probably “No”, but given the Citizens United ruling and the effect it had in the 2010 election, one cannot rule it out.

Immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, the Texas Ethics Commission, acting within state law, issued rules for individual corporations or unions to disclose their spending to elect or defeat candidates. But the commission was silent on whether groups or associations have to disclose their donors and left that issue to the Texas Legislature, which will return Jan. 11.

Rep. Todd Smith , a Euless Republican and chairman of the House Elections Committee, favors more transparency if the Legislature can agree on how to do it.

He questioned whether the new reporting requirement at the Ethics Commission gives the public a true picture of what happens during elections.

“My best sense is, it may be impossible to ensure people actually know who’s paying for a campaign,” Smith said. “We may have given citizens a false impression that they know who is spending money.”


Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, an organization that monitors campaign spending in Texas, opposes legalizing corporate donations to campaigns.

He argued that corporate donations would skew a campaign finance system already dominated by wealthy individuals.

State lawmakers may be tempted to avoid the issue altogether.

To begin with, the surge in outside spending in federal elections was driven in large part because federal election law limits donations to candidates. Those limits on individuals and political action committees motivated much of the outside spending. Other than some judicial campaigns, Texas has no limits on campaign donations.

“When you can give the governor $500,000 out of your pocket, why create a front group?” McDonald asked.

Second, changing the campaign finance law is controversial.

Smith, who has written legislation for more disclosure of political spending in the past, said there is always a backlash against more transparency.

“There are many special interests that don’t want to disclose,” he said.

Austin political consultant Bill Miller said there’s little momentum for major changes in the Texas campaign finance system.

“Outside of some isolated do-gooder groups, I don’t see anyone advocating for change,” he said. “The system works quite well for people who are incumbents.”

Those last three quotes, from McDonald, Smith, and Miller, sum it up nicely. And despite the example cited in the story of the Texas Association of Business and the scars it now bears from trying to act like a PAC while maintaining nonprofit status, the fact is that you can do an awful lot as a nonprofit. We remember TAB’s experience because it’s so unusual, but the truth is that if Bill Hammond had kept his pie hole shut after the 2002 election, instead of bragging to the nearest reporter about “blowing the doors off”, it’s likely nothing would have happened to them. Finally, there’s not really all that much holding back corporations from donating to PACs as they see fit. How often does doing so cause either the donor or its recipients all that much grief? There’s just not enough attention that gets paid to it, so the risks are pretty small.

On a related note, Citizens United did not affect Tom DeLay and his felony conviction, as the ruling did not address the Texas under which DeLay got zapped. However, it may come up in a future appeal, which Team DeLay is clearly counting on. It’d be nice if Congress pre-empted that by passing legislation to address the shortfalls that SCOTUS identified in the CU ruling, but I don’t see that happening with the current crop in DC.

Petition for new HCDP Chair

I don’t know how I feel about this, but it’s out there so I feel I should say something.

The time has come for new leadership in the Harris County Democratic Party.

After November’s defeat, we should look to new leadership, new ideas and a new strategy to win in November 2012 – because the status quo is no longer good enough.

If you believe that it is time for the resignation of the current Chair, and the election of a new Chair, then sign this petition and let your voice be heard!

On the one hand, I don’t really have any problems with the job Gerry Birnberg has done. This past election wasn’t about anything he did or didn’t do, or could have done, and as far as I can tell Democratic turnout locally wasn’t bad. As such, I’m a little reluctant to call for change without knowing what we’d be getting as a replacement. I can certainly imagine things getting worse post-Birnberg – see Bexar County for an example. There’s basically nothing at this site to indicate who’s behind it or what they have in mind. If that’s my only other option, I’ll stand pat, thanks.

On the other hand, while I like and respect Birnberg, I can certainly understand the sentiment behind wanting to do something different after suffering the losses we took two months ago. Ultimately, the scoreboard is what matters, and if you don’t win you shouldn’t expect to be rewarded, Gary Kubiak notwithstanding. Maybe there’s someone out there who has a surefire plan to finally boost Latino turnout to levels we’d all like to see. I guess I’d just like to know who that person is and what he or she has in mind to do before I get on the bus.

(Side note: Is anyone doing this at the state level? All due respect, but where’s the pressure on Boyd Richie? Just wondering.)

Anyway, since word of this site first came out via Carl Whitmarsh’s email list, a subsequent correspondent noted that he couldn’t find any information about the owner of the domain registration:

In my researching for the contact info I was lead to of Scottsdale AZ as the official contacts for this “group”. Upon going to their website you quickly learn that it is their business to shield and hide such information from the public. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think we should be endorsing or associating with any entity that is purposefully wanting to be secret.

I agree with this. Frankly, the lack of an “About Us” page, or some other introductory information about who these people are and what they have in mind was suspicious enough to raise flags, but by now you should be hearing klaxons going off. My advice is to stay away, and if you want to see a change in HCDP’s leadership then organize your own effort and work to get others on board with you. Campos has more.

Garcia writes about the New Metro

Metro Board Chair Gilbert Garcia wrote an op-ed for the Sunday Chron that outlined what Metro did in 2010 and plans to do in 2011. If you’ve already listened to my interview with Garcia and Board member Christof Spieler, what he has to say will be familiar. And if you haven’t listened to it, you might want to do so after reading his op-ed, since we didn’t have to worry about space limitations and thus covered a lot more ground in it. As things stand right now, the main story for 2011 will be action by the FTA on the original $900 million New Starts grants, and on the University line; that latter is also dependent on Congressional authorization of the funds in the next budget. Metro has done a lot to put its house in order, at a time when a lot of the things it depends on are out of its control. We’ll see what happens.