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January 8th, 2011:

Arizona Congresswoman shot

Horrible.

Six people were killed and 12 others wounded — including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — in a shooting outside a Tucson, Arizona, grocery store where the congresswoman was holding a constituent meeting, police said.

The suspect in the shooting was in custody, according to U.S. Capitol Police, who did not identify the alleged gunman.

Darci Slaten, a spokeswoman for University Medical Center in Tucson, said Giffords, 40, was undergoing surgery Saturday afternoon for a gunshot wound to the head.

Local law enforcement officials have not provided a public accounting of the injuries, but President Obama called the shooting an “unspeakable tragedy,” and said “some have passed away,” according to a statement from the White House. He said Giffords was “gravely wounded.”

A federal judge was also killed in this attack. He had received numerous death threats in 2009 as the result of a ruling he made in a civil suit.

In February, when U.S. District Judge John Roll presided over a $32 million civil-rights lawsuit filed by illegal immigrants against an Arizona rancher, the Marshals Service was anticipating the fallout.

When Roll ruled the case could go forward, [US Marshall David] Gonzales said talk-radio shows cranked up the controversy and spurred audiences into making threats.

In one afternoon, Roll logged more than 200 phone calls. Callers threatened the judge and his family. They posted personal information about Roll online.

“They said, ‘We should kill him. He should be dead,’ ” Gonzales said.

Roll, who is the chief federal judge in Arizona, said both he and his wife were given a protection detail for about a month.

“It was unnerving and invasive. . . . By its nature it has to be,” Roll said, adding that they were encouraged to live their lives as normally as possible. “It was handled very professionally by the Marshals Service.”

While Rep. Giffords is thankfully expected to survive, one of the fatalities is reported to be a nine year old girl. I’m just sick to my stomach. We don’t know yet what the motivation was of the shooter, but given all of the violent rhetoric and imagery that has infected our politics lately, it’s not hard to speculate about possible causes. In the meantime, I pray for the full recovery of all of the injured, and for peace for the families of the dead.

Saturday video break: Disco makes everything better

How can I possibly mention an album side-length disco version of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” without providing a video?

That’s the first rendition of that song I ever heard. Made for a few weird moments the first time I heard the Elvis Costello cover, which I heard before the Animals original. Here’s a shorter version, with dancing, if you’d like to see something other than just an album cover:

My God, the 70s were awesome. Seriously, it just doesn’t get any better than this.

Historic preservation has been preserved

Swamplot:

THE RESULTS ARE in, and it looks like the great campaign todissolve Houston’s historic districts has been a bit of a bust. Houston planning director Marlene Gafrick reports that the “survey period” for Heights East, Heights West, Heights South, Boulevard Oaks, and Avondale West historic districts has closed and that the planning department has determined that “none of the districts achieved the 51% threshold that requires the Planning Director to recommend repeal of the designation or, in the case of Heights South, recommend denying the designation.” Neighborhood meetings and subsequent “surveys” for 2 more districts — Norhill and First Montrose Commons — haven’t taken place yet (the meetings are scheduled for January 8th and 18th, respectively). That’s it for the 7 districts where petitions from owners triggered the “reconsideration” provisions of thepreservation ordinance changes city council approved last fall. According to the new ordinance, if owners of 51 percent of the lots in any of the districts had returned notices sent to them by the city, the districts might have been dissolved — or, more likely, had their boundaries adjusted.

However, as noted in a subsequent post, these districts could still be altered.

Gafrick will be required to send a report to city council recommending one of 3 options for each of them. For Heights East, Heights West, Heights South, Boulevard Oaks, and Avondale West, the first option — dissolving the district entirely — is out. But Gafrick can still recommend adjusting the boundaries of a district — even if the returned surveys didn’t reach the 51 percent threshold. (Her third option: recommend city council do nothing — and keep the district as it is.)

In an email to Swamplot [Wednesday], planning department public affairs director Suzy Hartgrove says Gafrick plans to look carefully at where the surveys came from: “What we are in the middle of now is really evaluating the data received, mapping it and coming up with that recommendation,” she writes. Since those surveys will likely become available to anyone making an open-records request, locating concentrations of owners who want out of their districts sounds like a good idea. Though the ordinance allows Gafrick to come to her own conclusions, she won’t be making the final decision, Hartgrove notes:

Ultimately, it is [up to] the Mayor and Council to make the decision. They don’t have to take our recommendation. I don’t have the date of when these items will go to Council.

So there you have it. More background is here, here, and here. Now maybe all of those pro and anti signs will finally get put away. Until the next tweak to the ordinance, anyway.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story.

Sheriffs not sold on Arizona immigration bill

Texas’ sheriffs are not very enthusiastic about being charged with enforcing federal immigration laws.

Texas has 254 sheriffs, and while opinions vary about whether illegal immigration should be their problem, some Republicans are pushing measures that won’t give them a choice. More than a dozen bills targeting illegal immigration await the Legislature when it convenes Tuesday, when the GOP will enter with a historic conservative supermajority in the House.

One bill would require police to ask drivers without identification if they’re in the country legally. Another would cut off state funds to departments that don’t enforce immigrations laws.

“It’s split among my colleagues on whether we should be out here just stopping individuals without probable cause, and questioning them on their immigration status,” said Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton, who believes the proposals invite profiling.

[…]

Many Texas sheriffs along the border, long vocal about being understaffed and underfunded on the edge of Mexico’s violent drug war, oppose the measures as another drain on their deputies. They and sheriffs in Houston and San Antonio also worry about profiling.

Others don’t see it as an imposition, and maybe a necessity. In Fort Bend County, which includes Houston’s conservative suburbs, Sheriff Milton Wright said he would support laws requiring his deputies to enforce immigration laws if the federal government won’t.

“If they’re not going to do it, then we need to,” he said.

Arizona’s new law left Texas facing unavoidable questions. Texas has an estimated 1.6 million illegal immigrants, second only to California, and Republicans control every statewide office. Gov. Rick Perry has said he doesn’t support Texas adopting a law identical to Arizona’s, while at the same time praising that state’s initiative for taking the illegal immigration problem into its own hands.

I fully expect that Gov. Perry will sign whatever immigration-related legislation makes it to his desk, despite what some people think. I do not believe he will cross the base on this, and I think there’s plenty of room to make enough cosmetic changes to Arizona’s bill to allow him to claim that Texas’ version of it is different.

It would have been good to hear from more Sheriffs on this. With the exception of Fort Bend’s Wright – who, if he truly believes there are no constitutional issues with making people show their papers as a matter of routine, can certainly instruct his deputies to do so – everyone in the story was opposed to such legislation. How many Sheriffs agree with Wright, and how much of the state’s population do they represent? Based on this story, the opponents can claim Harris, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, and all the border counties; I will presume Dallas is in this group as well. That’s an awful lot of the state right there.

It’s not at all clear that the legislators who want to force the sheriffs to do their bidding care about what they think, however.

So important is the issue to state Rep. Debbie Riddle that she camped outside the clerk’s window to ensure her get-tough immigration bills would be first in line. State Sen. Dan Patrick filed a bill that would require police to ask anyone without an ID whether they’re in the country illegally, but the Houston-area talk radio host says his measure affords officer discretion. For instance, he said an officer could choose not to arrest a harmless minivan-driving mom who is revealed to be an illegal immigrant.

Patrick, who visited Arizona to see its new law in action, said the possibility of legal challenges is no barrier.

“Too many people want to duck and cover and bury their heads in the sand,” Patrick said. “This is an issue we have to stand tall on. Republicans have to stand together.”

[…]

During the previous two legislative sessions, Patrick said “too much chaos” in the House doomed immigration proposals. This time, Patrick said, Republicans have the numbers – and a willingness to work with law enforcement.

“You have to have their buy-in,” Patrick said. “I want them to be enthusiastic about it.”

Won’t stop him from proceeding if they’re not, though. I continue to be fascinated by Republicans like Patrick who scream bloody murder when the federal government imposes a requirement on the state of Texas but have no problems imposing their own requirements on local governments that don’t want them. I guess counties don’t have rights.

If Patrick et al don’t care what the sheriffs think, do you suppose they’ll care what businesses think?

The Texas ACLU and an El Paso county sheriff who supports the controversial Secure Communities program stood side by side at the State Capitol in Austin Thursday to denounce pre-filed, immigration-related legislation similar to Arizona’s SB 1070. A conservative businessman was added to the mix, indicating lawmakers intent on rounding up Texas’ undocumented population might have a harder time than initially presumed.

“Who would imagine that after 28 years of law enforcement the ACLU would be talking so nicely about me,” Sheriff Richard Wiles joked after being introduced as a common-sense sheriff by ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke for his opposition to proposed legislation patterned off Arizona’s.

[…]

Bill Hammond, the executive director of the Texas Association of Business, said Texas should realize the business “pipeline” in Arizona has run dry after it passed its law, and Texas could share the same fate if bills aimed at businesses who hire undocumented immigrant pass.

“Some of this legislation would require then to become forensic experts and we think that’s unfair. It’s an unfair burden on them when what they are trying to do is provide employment for Texans who want a job,” he said. “Mexican nationals invest literally millions and millions of dollars in Texas and we believe that one of the detrimental effects that people haven’t considered is the drying up of that investment. In my view, if this legislation were to become law, perhaps someone should file a bill to change the state’s motto [“Friendship”] as well,” he said.

Texas Politics and the Statesman also covered that rally. While I appreciate Hammond’s willingness to speak out on this issue, I will once again say that until they actually target someone for defeat over this, they should continue to expect it from the Republicans they otherwise support. When TAB-backed candidates take on Riddle and Berman in the 2012 GOP primaries, that would be putting their money where their mouth is. Until then, I don’t expect any current Republicans to take their words on this too seriously.

We’ll take it if you don’t want it

Dallas would like the FTA to know that they will gladly take any federal streetcar funds that Fort Worth doesn’t want.

That’s the message the Regional Transportation Council, with the support of Dallas leaders, is sending to the Federal Transit Administration this month in the wake of Fort Worth’s decision to shelve its streetcar plan.

“We’re going to write a letter, and we hope the FTA sees it our way,” said Dallas City Council member Linda Koop, who is also a member of the RTC.

[…]

Dallas won its own $23 million grant back in February, when [Transportation Secretary Ray] LaHood announced that the government would help build a loop beginning at Union Station and traveling across the Trinity to Oak Cliff, near Methodist Dallas Health Center and back.

Dallas leaders, working with the RTC and DART, soon must send the FTA a clear plan for how it would spend the money and where the additional $15.8 million in required local funds will come from.

Koop said those funds have been identified and that the $38.8 million project will proceed alongside a more ambitious effort to develop a full network of downtown streetcars. That system will likely connect to the soon-to-be-upgraded M-Line trolleys that run between Uptown and the Arts District, as well as tie into downtown light-rail service.

Some of the money earmarked for the starter line to Oak Cliff will pay for planning that can also lay the groundwork for that larger effort, Koop and others said. In all, the larger project could easily cost more than $100 million.

The RTC is also soliciting private funds to get this going, which is something that will be worth watching. All I know is that I felt this same way about high-speed rail funds after watching Republican governors in Ohio and Wisconsin turn their noses up at them, but sadly Texas didn’t get a piece of it. I wish Dallas better luck.

Metro restarts some light rail construction

As if to punctuate Gilbert Garcia’s op-ed, the news for Metro at the start of 2011 is good.

Last month, the Federal Transit Administration sent the first $50 million of the grant money for use on the North and Southeast lines. Last week, the FTA issued pre-clearance letters Metro needed before it could proceed with more than $12 million worth of projects for which it is relying on federal reimbursements. Ultimately, the FTA will pay about half the cost of the North and Southeast lines.

“This is just further evidence that we’re on track and the relationship with the FTA is progressing,” said Metro board Chairman Gilbert Garcia, one of five board members appointed by Houston Mayor Annise Parker last year to try to rescue the jeopardized federal grant money.

The pre-clearance letters are a bureaucratic step, but they also put construction crews to work almost immediately to get the orange cones off streets Metro left scarred when it put the brakes on rail construction last year.

A subsequent press release from Metro spells out where these construction crews will be:

Construction activity for the North Line includes the start of communications duct banks, concrete pavement, sidewalks and asphalt paving on Fulton Street from Cavalcade to IH – 610, and from Boundary to Collingsworth. In addition, construction can begin on the new bridge over the Union Pacific Railroad and the retrofit of the Main Street Bridge at the University of Houston-Downtown.

Work on the Southeast Line includes the start of communications duct banks, concrete pavement, sidewalks and asphalt paving on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd from Winnetka to just north of Griggs Road and on Scott Street from Polk to Coyle.

Also as part of the North Line project, new construction activity will occur at METRO’s Rail Operations Center at Fannin South, including installation of tracks for rail vehicles in the maintenance yard, construction of an expanded parking lot for maintenance vehicles and expansion of the building.

Next up, hopefully, is the FTA’s blessing on the new plan for buying rail cars, which would begin this month if allowed. The current timeline, which has these routes opening in late 2014, will be much more secure if that happens.