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January, 2012:

January finance reports: City of Houston

Yes, I know, there are no city of Houston elections this year. (Not yet, anyway.) But the candidates and officeholders have to file reports anyway, covering the period from their last report through the end of the year. That period may be from eight days before the December runoff, eight days before the November election, or even the July reporting period if they were lucky enough to be unopposed in November. It’s how you see what the candidates in contested races did in the last days before the election, and it’s how you see who hopped on the late train for a candidate who wasn’t necessarily expected to win. I’ve updated the 2011 Election page to include links to the January finance reports for current and now-former Council members. I didn’t bother with non-incumbents who lost in November or December because life is too short. Here’s a brief summary:

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ================================================ Parker 64,329 260,317 1,272,794 RGreen 30,794 23,785 46,691 Costello 12,250 47,311 655 Burks 25,175 33,426 2,403 Noriega 4,326 14,600 14,108 Bradford 4,453 35,340 20,282 Christie 16,700 51,138 3,156 Brown 6,900 9,664 1,467 Davis 32,630 39,974 20,703 Cohen 24,008 67,375 6,413 Adams 13,100 27,687 59,572 Sullivan 8,200 14,629 53,641 Hoang 3,450 25,472 5,366 Pennington 89,025 167,555 123,326 Gonzalez 5,254 15,908 56,108 Rodriguez 4,729 26,456 21,328 Laster 20,563 23,314 20,473 LGreen 22,470 27,955 576 Lovell Jones 39,810 62,555 6,397 Stardig 13,450 45,176 36,956 Johnson Clutterbuck 0 22,199 38,223

The first thing to note here is the $1.2 million cash on hand Mayor Parker has. This is significant for two reasons. One, obviously, is that it’s the opening bid for how much a Mayoral wannabee will have to raise to be competitive with her next year. She will be able to add to that total this year, while anyone who has not filed a designation of treasurer will not; I will not be surprised if her COH figure tops $2 million in a year’s time. While this certainly isn’t insurmountable, the first question anyone who might want to challenge her is going to get from a potential donor is going to be “How do you plan to raise enough money to compete with Mayor Parker?” Some of them will likely say “Show me that you can raise some money first, then get back to me”, which needless to say makes fundraising that much harder. It’s a barrier to entry, and the higher it is the better off she’ll be next year.

The flip side to that is that she’s really lucky she managed to avoid a runoff. Not only because that meant she could sit on her cash rather than have to spend it in December, but also because by leaving that much cash in the bank she would have left herself wide open to criticism that she didn’t run as hard as she needed to going into November. Look at poor Brenda Stardig, who had a relative ton of cash on hand in her November 8 day report, mostly because she hadn’t run any kind of campaign up till that point. By the time she was forced to kick it into gear, it was already too late, and the money she had wasn’t of much good to her. This is the cautionary tale that the Mayor was fortunate to avoid.

As such, don’t be surprised by the small cash on hand totals that moneybags like Costello and Cohen posted. They emptied their weapons, left it all on the field, and otherwise engaged in all the suitable cliches when it counted. You don’t doubt their ability to replenish their coffers, right? I’ll check back again in July and again next January and we’ll see where they stand.

Of course, for Council members who have their eye on the next office, as CMs Adams and Sullivan do, the calculus is a bit more complex. Well, not for Sullivan, who was unopposed and was thus able to turn his current stash into a decent opening advantage. Adams also has an early financial lead in her race for State Rep, though as she had an opponent last year it wasn’t entirely without risk.

Since I mentioned the late train earlier, I will note that there wasn’t one I could see for Helena Brown. Her late donors list was short and familiar. As for Andrew Burks, his donors were African-Americans – at least, all of the names I recognized belonged to African-Americans – and the usual PAC and law firm suspects that generally give to all incumbents. Not quite the Republican rainbow coalition that may have helped him win the runoff, but a likely indicator that he’ll enter 2013 with a decent sum in his kitty. I will be very interested to see if the usual suspects latch on to Brown or not. They didn’t rush to do so after the election results were in.

Finally, we have the outgoing Council members. With the exception of Jarvis Johnson, who is running for HCDE Trustee, I don’t think any of them are currently angling for another office. Lovell has been interested in County Clerk, but didn’t run in 2010 and I have not heard anything to say she may in 2014. I don’t get a future candidacy vibe from Clutterbuck, Jones, or Stardig, but who knows. They could take a cycle or two off, do some backstage work or some such, and come back later. Johnson has not filed a report with either the city or the county, nor has he responded to my requests for an interview, so other than his candidacy for HCDE I have no idea what he’s up to.

Texas files suit to preclear voter ID

They’re a mighty busy bunch at the OAG these days.

The only voter ID anyone should need

The only voter ID anyone should need

The Texas attorney general’s office today filed suit against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice to have the state’s controversial voter ID law implemented without further delay.

The law, Senate Bill 14 by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, was scheduled to take effect Jan. 1. It requires that voters show a picture ID before casting a ballot. It has been tied up at the Justice Department since July. Under Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, the department reserves the right to review laws that affect voter participation before they are enacted.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that voter identification laws are constitutional,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a prepared statement. “Texas should be allowed the same authority other states have to protect the integrity of elections. To fast-track that authority, Texas is taking legal action in a D.C. court seeking approval of its voter identification law.”

Abbott’s office said that if the department grants the state’s request for preclearance, it would dismiss the suit.

You can see a copy of the complaint here. As Michael Li notes, the suit “does not challenge the constitutionality of section 5 on a facial basis but does extensively argue that failing to preclear Texas’ voter ID law would raise constitutional concerns, including possible violations of the 10th amendment and the state’s right to equal sovereignty”. The right of any individual to cast a vote is apparently not the State of Texas’ concern.

Rick Hasen delves more deeply into what the state is seeking.

In a recent Slate piece, I explained how South Carolina might file suit—and expedite it to the Supreme Court—arguing that section 5 of the VRA is no longer constitutional because it intrudes on state sovereignty.  (In 2009 the Court strongly hinted that a majority of the Court would take that position unless Congress changed the act, or demonstrated that covered jurisdictions present a greater danger of intentional race discrimination than other states to justify the strong preclearance requirement.  Congress did not act, but needs to.)  As some evidence South Carolina is considering going down that road, they’ve hired Supreme Court ace lawyer Paul Clement.

Today’s filing by Texas takes a slightly different tack.  It offers two ways for courts to preclear the voter identification law without striking down section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  First, as TPM explains, Texas argues that the VRA’s established “nonretrogression standard” (i.e., are minorities worse off) should not apply outside the context of redistricting.  Second, Texas argues, in multiple ways and across numerous pages, that the Court can avoid the “grave constitutional doubts” raised if section 5 is read to bar Texas’s voter id law by reading section 5 in some narrow way so as to avoid the constitutional problem.   The 2009 case, NAMUDNO, was a very questionable application of the “constitutional avoidance” doctrine, and this looks like an attempt for a repeat performance.

The question is whether the conservative majority on the Court wants to kill the Voting Rights Act outright, or let it die the death of 1,000 cuts.  South Carolina may offer the Court the former, and Texas the latter.

You have to wonder how history will judge some of the things we do this year, and the people who do them.

Anyway. As we know, the Justice Department has been asking the state for data about how this law will affect minority voters, and it’s only in the last couple of weeks that the state has sort of fulfilled those requests. The DOJ refused to preclear a new voter ID law in South Carolina on the grounds that it was discriminatory, with AG Abbott expressing at that time the opinion that Texas’ law was headed for a similar fate. We’ll see what the DC court makes of this. For what it’s worth, they so far have not shown any inclination in the redistricting preclearance lawsuit to be more lenient on the state than Justice would have been. Postcards has more, Texas Redistricting has a response to Abbott from MALC Chair Trey Martinez-Fischer, and a statement from Sen. Rodney Ellis is here.

Castro gets some homework

Joaquin Castro isn’t even a member of Congress yet and already his future colleagues are leaning on him.

Joaquin Castro

Democrats are so confident that U.S. House candidate Joaquin Castro will capture a traditionally Democratic seat in San Antonio next November that they’re relying on the Texas state representative and Harvard Law School graduate to help raise campaign donations for Democratic candidates who are facing more competitive races elsewhere.

Rep. Steve Israel, D-New York, described Castro’s unusually high-profile role on Wednesday as the chairman of House Democrats’ 2012 campaign effort designated 36 competitive House races nationwide that will receive extra campaign support by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as the vanguard of Democrats’ effort to retake political control of the House.

[…]

Castro, who is seeking to succeed retiring seven-term Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, joins former Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, and Steven Horsford, D-Nevada, as so-called “majority makers” whose all-but-guaranteed election prospects frees them to campaign on behalf of other Democrats. Their early efforts are expected to help forge loyalties and political IOUs even before they take office on Capitol Hill.

“We are so confident that they’re going to win and that they are coming to Congress that we have a program (so) they are actually helping their colleagues,” said Israel. “These will be new members of Congress who will have already helped their colleagues obtain the majority.”

And one of the first beneficiaries of this effort will be Nick Lampson. This is of course assuming that the SCOTUS-ordered redraw doesn’t shuffle the deck in a manner that puts Castro into the same district as either Lloyd Doggett or Ciro Rodriguez again. Which, if you’re a believer in the weauxf gods, ought to make you sweat a little. These things work in mysterious ways.

I will also note that this is the sort of thing I had in mind when I first wrote about Castro versus Doggett and the need to enable the next generation. One of the things a role like that does for Castro is give him access to a much broader fundraising base, and a whole lot of people who would have reason to be grateful to him if he’s successful. Both of those are nice things to have in your pocket if you have a statewide campaign in mind for your future.

Trying to save the April 3 primary date

The race is on to get new maps in hand in time to keep the April 3 primary date, since all the options for after that date are distinctly unpalatable in one way or another. On Friday, the State of Texas asked the San Antonio court to get its work done by January 30. The court asked for responses to that request; the plaintiffs said it wasn’t realistic while the state said they’d work late and by phone to make it happen. They also suggested moving the second filing deadline to February 6 and shortening the period for mailing military ballots to 25 days. The court responded with some requests of its own.

Lines, lines, everywhere are lines...

Federal redistricting judges in San Antonio want to see if they can get agreement from the parties on political maps in time for an April 3 primary and said they are “giving serious consideration” to split primaries if no agreement can be reached by the first week of February.

The three federal judges said in an order issued this afternoon that they will meet with the parties on Friday instead of waiting until Feb. 1.

The five-page order is full of dates and deadlines:

  • The judges say they will almost certainly move a candidate filing deadline now set for Feb. 1.
  • They said the parties should confer and submit agreed-upon interim maps for legislative and congressional elections by Feb. 6 if they “wish to maintain the current election schedule.” If they can’t agree, the judges want a list of districts in the Legislature’s maps that each party no longer objects to.
  • The parties are involved in hearings in Washington, D.C., where a separate panel of three federal judges is deciding whether the Legislature’s maps violate preclearance provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act. Ideally, the San Antonio judges would have that court’s ruling in hand before it approves redistricting maps. It’s asking the lawyers to give the Washington court a nudge: “With high respect for the importance of that proceeding and the prerogatives of that court, this Court hereby requests both sides in the San Antonio proceedings to request, on behalf of this Court, that the D.C. Court attempt to rule on the Section 5 issues in time for this court to incorporate those decisions into its ultimate decision on the redistricting plans for the 2012 elections for the Texas House of Representatives, the Texas Senate, and the U.S. Congress.”
  • The Texas judges say they are giving “serious consideration to whether a so-called ‘split primary’ will be required” for this year’s elections, and asked the lawyers to be ready to talk about it at the end of the week. They also want lawyers for the state to be ready to say whether the state would be prepared to reimburse counties and the political parties for the “substantial additional expense of a split primary.”
  • The judges asked for comments on the idea of a presidential primary on April 3 with most or all other elections held later. The earlier presidential primary would relieve the Republican and Democratic political parties, which hope to have the primary elections well before their state conventions in June. The Republican Party of Texas has suggested the split primary on several occasions; the Democratic Party, in filings this week, said it would prefer a unified primary if possible.

You can see the court’s order here. We’ll know more this Friday, but a split primary is definitely a possibility. If that happens, I dearly hope the court orders the state to pay for it, as that seems to me to be the only fair solution. It’s clear that the San Antonio court wants the DC court to rule on the preclearance lawsuit first rather than have to guess what it will find in violation of Section 5. If the San Antonio court is left to its own devices, the “not insubstantial” standard for deciding what to remediate may give them a fair amount of leeway, though again I’m sure they’d prefer to have a clear roadmap. It’s going to be an exciting week. PDiddie has more.

National single payer health care conference in Houston this weekend

From the inbox:

Healthcare-NOW! National Single Payer Strategy Conference in Houston 

WHAT: Over 120 Representatives from 25 states and 52 organizations meet in Houston to plan strategies to advance a single payer national health insurance plan in the USA. The best health care system plan for accessible, cost-effective, equitable and high quality health care is expanded and improved “Medicare for All”.  Workshops and topics include:

*economic impact of the PPACA legislation, funding and affordability,  the individual mandate, challenging electoral candidates to press forward for single payer during the election year

* defending attacks on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security

* health care inequities; exposing pharmaceutical and insurance industry corruption of government

* state plans for universal health care coverage

* building coalitions with faith-communities, professionals, peace, justice, consumer rights and labor groups

* shareholder “divestment” campaign from profit-making insurance companies

* connecting to the OccupyWallStreet movement and occupying the health care debate

* lessons from the southern states and the civil rights movement to achieve health care as a civil right

WHEN: Saturday, January 28, 2012 2pm-9pm and Sunday, January 29, 9:00am-5:00pm

WHERE: Hilton Hobby Hotel, 8181 Airport Blvd, Houston

Conference info: http://www.healthcare-now.org/campaigns/strat-conf/ Co-sponsor host: Health Care for All Texas www.healthcareforalltexas.org

WHO: Senior leaders from national and regional coalitions, academic, medical care, health policy analysts, movie producers, videographers, writers and activists. Speakers AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW include:

 _ Dr. Claudia Fegan, Chief Medical Officer, Ambulatory & Community Health Network, Cook County

 _ Dr. Walter Tsou, past president American Public Health Association; Physicians for a National Health Program

 _ Michael Lighty, Director of Public Policy, National Nurses United

_  Mark Dudzic, Labor Campaign for Single Payer Health

 _ Dr. Margaret Flowers, Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care

_ Dr. Jerry Frankel, Physicians for a National Health Program (Texas)  www.pnhp.org

_ Donna Smith, (Sicko movie) American Patients United; California Nurses Association

_ Tim Carpenter, Nat’l Director, Progressive Democrats of America

_ Catherine Tactaquin, Executive Director, Nat’l Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights

_ Dr. Margaret Nosek, Executive Director, Center for Research on Women with Disabilities

_ John Lozier, Nat’l Health Care for the Homeless Council

_ Katie Robbins, Healthcare for the 99% -OccupyWallStreet-NY

_ Laurie Simons & Terry Sterrenberg, producers, The Healthcare Moviehttp://healthcaremovie.net/ 

 

Contact: Colleen O’brien, Media Representative, Health Care for All TX -Houston, www.hcfat.org

281-660-9765, [email protected], or Cathy Courtney, HealthcareNOW Conference Planning Committee -Houston 832-677-6766, [email protected]

I am unable to attend but I wanted to pass this along in case anyone reading is interested and able to be there.

Interview with Erica Lee

Erica Lee

Erica Lee is one of three candidates running for Harris County Department of Education, Position 6, Precinct 1 – yes, that would be the Roy Morales seat. She’s got a pretty impressive resume for the position, having been a classroom teacher and a budget analyst, as well as having a master’s in public policy. And yes, she is the daughter of US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

City reaches settlement with ATS

I’m still trying to figure out what it means.

Going, going...

It will cost the city of Houston at least $4.8 million to get out of its contract for red-light cameras, according to a lawsuit settlement headed to the City Council on Wednesday.

American Traffic Solutions has agreed to take down the cameras within 60 days in exchange for $2.3 million upfront and a cut of future collections of delinquent fines from red-light runners.

“This settlement is going to be funded by the people who ran the red lights,” said City Attorney David Feldman, who negotiated the deal. “We would not agree to any settlement that would result in the taxpayers generally having to bear the burden. It had to come from the violations themselves.”

The complex deal does not guarantee that Houston taxpayers are off the hook.

If collections don’t cover the obligation, the city will pay $2.4 million in installments over the next three years. Feldman said he considered any dip into the general fund, which pays police officers and firefighters and finances other operations, unlikely.

Under the agreement, the city will also pay ATS $240,000 for technical assistance, such as access to video footage, as the city pursues scofflaws.

Beyond that, a future ATS payday depends on the city’s success in collecting from the 240,000 delinquent red-light runners. If the city were to collect all $25 million in outstanding fines — highly unlikely since some of them are already 5 years old — ATS’s payout could reach $12.3 million.

According to the press release, the funds to pay this will come from “previously collected fines that are in escrow”. I have sent an inquiry to ask how much is currently in that escrow account – sure would be nice if it’s at least $2.3 million – and how much of that $25 million the city has tried to collect before. I will let you know what responses I get. If this actually can be resolved without touching general revenue, that’s great. We’ll see how it goes.

The last Presidential poll involving Rick Perry you’re ever likely to need

Yes, I know, there’s some talk that he might try again in 2016. Bring it, I say. In the meantime, PPP shows what might have been in Texas.

PPP polls Texas

Our poll of the state last weekend found Perry leading Obama just 48-47, including a 51-44 deficit with independents. Perry had led Obama by 7 points on a September poll there.

Perry will come home to only a 42% approval rating, with 51% of voters disapproving of him. He’s fallen from 78% to 67% favor with Republicans over the last four months, and independents split against him 35/59. By comparison Obama’s approval rating in Texas is 44%, although his disapproval is also higher than Perry’s at 54%.

Our Texas Presidential poll is another reminder that a Gingrich surge would be very good news for President Obama. Obama actually holds a slight edge over him, 47-45. Only 33% of Texans have a favorable opinion of Gingrich to 53% with a negative one.

The GOP would start out ahead with any of its other potential nominees: Romney and Santorum lead Obama by identical 7 point margins at 49-42, and Paul has a 6 point advantage at 46-40. Democrats’ dream of turning Texas to the blue column doesn’t seem likely to come true this year unless they get the gift of running against Gingrich.

We also tested a three way contest involving Obama and Romney with Paul running as an independent candidate. In that scenario Romney leads Obama just 40-38, with Paul getting 17%. Although a Paul third party bid seems highly unlikely it’s interesting to note that he actually wins the independent vote with 32% to 30% for Obama and 27% for Romney. That really shows the extent to which voters unhappy with both parties this year are at least open to considering an independent candidate.

The poll was done between the 12th and the 15h of January. More here, and full crosstabs are here. Note that the sample voted for John McCain by a 51-40 margin (he won by 55-44 in 2008), and in every other respect I could see sounded perfectly valid for the state. Consider this another data point in my “2012 will be like 2008” hypothesis. This poll came on the heels of one that had Perry running third in the GOP primary in Texas, which probably didn’t have anything to do with his dropping out shortly thereafter but also probably didn’t help to persuade him otherwise. There’s also a Senate race poll, which is mostly a reflection of name and party ID. Note that frontrunner David Dewhurst doesn’t get a higher level of support than Mitt Romney does. My guess is that if we actually held the election now, Dewhurst would defeat his opponent by a point or two more than Romney defeated Obama, but that’s about it. There’s less room for swing in Presidential years.

Anyway, all the usual caveats apply. For an interesting comparison, see the October, 2011 UT/Texas Trib poll, in which Perry fared the best against Obama, winning 45-37. Romney was the weakest of the Republicans they tested then, barely scraping by on a 36-34 count. Boy, those were the days. If you go back to their May survey, you will see the all-powerful “generic Republican” winning by a convincing yet ultimately illusory margin. Nothing like having to cope with actual candidates to give you a reality check.

More thinking about growth

Jobs and job growth for the region (Source: Greater Houston Parnership)

Since I’ve been carping about not enough talk about growth as a long-term financial management strategy for the city, I am compelled to note this op-ed in the Chron by newly elected HCC Trustee Carroll Robinson and Todd Clark, who are singing from my hymnal.

We have to support and grow more local small businesses and entrepreneurs while also working to attract more corporations (of all sizes), international visitors and skilled immigrants to our city.

Not only do we have to rebuild and maintain our physical infrastructure, we must also build and grow intellectual infrastructure and capital of our community. We must use our universities, the Texas Medical Center, Houston Technology Center, our venture capitalists and the intellectual talent and resources moving out of the Johnson Space Center as the foundation upon which to build.

We need to more actively promote Houston as a technology hub city. The city needs a high profile, High Tech Advisory Council to help recruit more technology start-ups and established enterprises to Houston. The city should help coordinate and host an annual High Tech Start Up Summit at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

[…]

We can fix the city’s long-range finances if we stay calm, work together and take full advantage of all of our competitive advantages. Houston is a city of colleges, the energy capital of the world, the home of the world’s largest medical center, a major international port and the best gateway to South and Central America as well as the Caribbean. Houston is an international city and we should take maximum advantage of that fact and the connections our residents have to the rest of the world.

These positive efforts should be our focus for fixing Houston’s long-range finances, not taking away pension benefits that were earned.

We already have too many people living in poverty in our city. Let’s not make cuts that will increase poverty in Houston. Let’s focus on creating the conditions – great schools, safe neighborhoods, art and cultural amenities, a strong private sector and organized workers – that will grow and sustain a broad middle class in Houston.

Clark is a member of the Long Term Financial Management Task Force, so seeing his name in the byline is encouraging. You may or may not agree with what they say here – I confess, any mention of buzzwords like “six sigma” makes my eyes glaze over – but the point is they’re talking about growth and not cuts, and that’s the way I want this conversation to go.

Weekend link dump for January 22

Enjoy that penultimate weekend of football while you still can.

I have long thought that what the world needs is more pee-powered electronics.

I don’t recall there being anything about this in the Bible.

That naughty e-book you just downloaded may well have been plagiarized.

Maybe selling off your state Capitol isn’t such a hot idea.

No Labels = no substance. Which is no surprise.

Better check the alarm settings on your phone now while you still can.

MLK Day is a fine day to talk about voting rights and the sustained assault they are under. Really, any day is a good day for that.

Hey, look! Vote fraud! Right here in Texas! Someone call Greg Abbott!

Bill Gates may be the greatest philanthropist that ever lived.

Real fame is having new species named for you. Here are some alternate suggestions as well.

“Everyone always regrets angry revenge puppies.” Boy, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that…

Can we all get along, please?

Clearly, some people just don’t know how to multitask.

I didn’t get around to going black for the SOPA protest on Wednesday, but boy were SOPA supporters amazingly whiny about it.

If obesity rates go the smoking rates did, it’ll be a good thing.

Boy, remember when Rick Perry was the great white hope for Republicans in 2012? Those were the days.

“Dear Mittens: In re: making tax returns public, I suggest you call me. Sooner rather than later. Yours sincerely, Bill White”

Oh, by the way, Rick Santorum won Iowa.

Yes, Facebook may get even more annoying. Sometimes, a deft unfriending is your best option.

Why Mitt Romney should pay higher taxes.

Making the right decision about birth control.

RIP, Etta James.

Meet your minor parties

Will not be on the ballot

PoliTex lists some of the non-standard political parties that hope to put a Presidential candidate (and some others in a couple of cases) on the ballot this year. They range from the good old fashioned Socialists to the (possibly illegally-named) Donald Trump vehicle to the “centrist” flavor of the quadrennia Americans Elect. Get to know them all now while you still can, because our ballot access laws are such that most of them will vanish into obscurity faster than you can say “Harold Stassen”.

Comcast SportsNet Houston

This would be cool.

Coming to Houston?

The NBC Sports Group is seeking about $2 million in state and local support to bring a major production studio and 135 jobs to downtown Houston.

The operation would be for Comcast SportsNet Houston, a new regional television network that will broadcast Astros and Rockets games beginning in the fall.

The media company has identified 40,000 square feet of space in the Houston Pavilions for the operation, which would include two production studios, two control rooms and other broadcast-related facilities, according to a document obtained by the Chronicle. Some $16 million would be spent on equipment, furniture and other interior improvements.

[…]

If Houston isn’t chosen, a smaller facility with 25 employees will operate the network here.

The smaller studio, however, would limit it to Rockets and Astros games, while the larger alternative would allow the network to cover local college and high school sports, as well as local and state charity events, sports-related fundraisers and originally developed and produced programming and talk shows, according to the application.

The additional 110 technical production and digital media jobs would amount to more than $7 million in annual payroll.

A hundred and ten good paying jobs in downtown Houston? Expanded coverage of local sports? A shot in the arm for the Pavilions? What’s not to like?

Last month, NBCUniversal Media LLC submitted an application to the Texas Enterprise Fund requesting $1.2 million for the operation.

Yeah, the Texas Enterprise Fund. That sound you hear is me grinding my teeth. The Enterprise Fund is a wasteful, crony-tastic slush fund for Governor Perry. And now I get to root for it to succeed in this endeavor. Ain’t karma a bitch? If the stupid thing is going to exist, the city of Houston may as well derive some benefit from it. On the plus side, if it fails at least I can go back to hating on it with a clear conscience. Got to find the bright side where you can.

Casinos expanding nationally

I have no idea what the political or budgetary climate will be like for the gambling industry here in Texas when the Lege next convenes in 2013, but they have been gaining a lot of ground elsewhere in the country.

You got to know when to hold em...

States have embraced casinos, after years of trepidation about their societal costs, for two simple reasons: a promise of a rich new revenue source, plus the possibility of stimulating tourism.

“They are faced with tough decisions. They are in recession … And we pay taxes far over and above normal taxes,” said Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association.

Last week alone, Genting’s new gambling parlor at Aqueduct, now limited to 4,500 video slot machines and another 500 electronic table games, made nearly $13 million — putting the “racino” on pace to make $676 million per year, with 44 percent of that take going to a state education fund.

And that total is nothing compared to the $1.4 to $2 billion per year Genting predicts it would bring in at the huge complex it is planning in Miami.

Some experts, however, have questioned whether revenue bonanzas that large are realistic, and say states should be cautious about giving up too much to lure these projects. Competition for a limited pool of gambling and tourism dollars is already fierce, and recent years haven’t been kind to casinos.

Nevada’s larger casinos lost $4 billion in 2011, according to a report released this month by the state’s Gaming Control Board, as the state continued to feel the effects of the global economic slump.

As gambling options have increased in the East, revenue has slid substantially at the pair of Indian tribe-owned casinos in Connecticut and declined by a dramatic 30 percent in Atlantic City, which has lost customers in droves to the new casinos in nearby Philadelphia, according to David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

Other than that one mention of Nevada, the story is entirely East Coast-focused, so I can’t say what kind of action there may be in these parts. No question, Texas is a big prize, and I’m sure there will be yet another large push for casinos, slot machines at racetracks, or both. There’s also been a push for online gambling of late, which may add a new wrinkle to the usual legislative battle. As always, worth keeping an eye on.

The Tour de Houston 2012

If you’re not into long distance running, perhaps you might like to go on a long bike ride around town? If so, you will be glad to hear that the Tour de Houston is coming back after a year’s absence. From the press release:

Mayor Annise Parker and Senator Rodney Ellis will ride along with participants in the 2012 Tour de Houston Presented by Apache Corporation. Cyclists will line up at City Hall on Sunday, March 18, as the bike ride kicks off to benefit the city’s reforestation efforts managed by the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. The route will take riders on a journey through Houston’s historic East End, the Ship Channel and Brady’s Landing, Ellington Airport, Johnson Space Center to Clear Lake and back to City Hall.

“Through a public and private partnership with Apache Corporation we are able to restore this annual Houston tradition to our civic celebration program,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “Thanks to Apache Corporation, participants will continue to enjoy the city’s premier recreational biking event while replenishing the trees lost to the tragic drought of 2011.”

“Apache is excited to be the title sponsor of Tour de Houston, a great outdoor event for the city, and we hope to see a record turnout,” said Roger Plank, Apache’s president and chief corporate officer. “We are particularly pleased that the proceeds of this event will be used to help restore Houston’s parks with new trees, replacing some of those lost during the terrible 2011 drought.

“Over the past six years, Apache has donated more than 100,000 trees to Houston’s parks as part of our broader commitment to plant 3 million trees across the United States,” Plank said.

“This is not only a fun and exciting event, but also encourages Houstonians to embrace environmentally-friendly transportation and a healthy lifestyle while showing riders the unique attributes of our city,” said Senator Rodney Ellis.

With three distance options, the Tour de Houston Presented by Apache Corporation is the perfect outdoor event for all cyclist levels, from the leisure rider to cycling competitors, and is a recommended BP MS150 training ride. The distance options include a 60-mile route starting at 7 a.m., a 40-mile route at 7:30 a.m. and a 20-mile route at 8 a.m. Beginning and ending at City Hall, the 2012 event is expected to draw 5,000 participants. Along the route, riders will find fully stocked rest stops, mechanical support provided by Sun & Ski Sports, police and medical support. The ride will culminate with a post-ride party for participants and volunteers with music and lunch for all registrants at City Hall provided by Michelob Ultra and My Fit Foods. All riders who register by March 10 will receive a personalized bib; all registrants will receive a Tour de Houston Presented by Apache Corporation t-shirt.

Advance registration begins Jan. 12 and ends Feb. 17 at midnight and is $30 per adult rider. Registration from Feb. 18 to March 10 (ending at midnight) is $35 per adult. Registration after March 10 including the day of the ride is $40 per adult. Children 12 and under are $20 each. More details including packet pick-up locations and schedules for pre-registered riders can be found at www.houstonspecialevents.org.

Sounds like fun. Sign up while you can, and enjoy the ride.

Saturday video break: A New England

Song #85 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “A New England”, originally by Billy Bragg and covered by Kirsty MacColl. Here’s the original:

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of one-dude-with-a-guitar music, but Bragg has a sound that stands out from that crowd. Here’s MacColl:

Speaking of things that are distinctive, there’s no mistaking what decade that was made in, right? I like it, and I like the way the perspective changes with the gender of the singer, as the Popdose commentary notes. And since such a thing exists, here’s Bragg singing it with MacColl:

According to MacColl’s Wikipedia page, Bragg now includes the verses MacColl added to the song since her tragic death in 2000. Which is your favorite?

Lampson on the DCCC’s list

It’s just like old times again.

Nick Lampson

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, launching its bid to win back the House majority, has unveiled its list of top 2012 recruits.

DCCC Chairman Steve Israel announced 18 candidates on Wednesday who are being inducted into the House Democratic campaign arm’s “Red to Blue” program, which aims to provide support to top candidates across the country.

[…]

The program includes three former members: former Ohio Rep. Charlie Wilson and former New York Rep. Dan Maffei, both of whom lost their seats in 2010, and former Texas Rep. Nick Lampson, who lost his seat in 2008. There are also three Democrats who waged bids in 2010 but fell short: California physician Ami Bera, former Washington state House Majority Leader Denny Heck and New Hampshire attorney Ann McLane Kuster.

It’s almost not an election without the DCCC teaming up with Lampson in a hot race – it’s happened in 2004, 2006, 2008, and now 2012. Lampson has the virtues of being a known commodity and a proven fundraiser in a district that is unlikely to change much if at all by the SCOTUS-ordered do-over – the CD14 drawn by the Lege and the CD14 drawn by the San Antonio court are very similar geographically and in partisan makeup. I expect the DCCC to get involved in CD23 eventually, once there’s a nominee and a final (for now) district, and in a happy world they’ll have the resources and the inclination to help out in CD10, but we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. For now, we have the DCCC and Nick Lampson, together again.

We’re #9!

Number Nine on The Street’s list of “10 Cities Poised For Greatness In 2012”. Which places us one behind Austin, and one ahead of…Rochester, NY? Whatever. Here’s what they say about our fair city.

We move too fast for the naked eye to see

Houston

Throughout the economic crisis, Houston has been the buttoned-down older brother to Austin’s hippie slacker.

While college-boy Austin coasts by on education and arts, Houston shrugs off the cool kids, goes to work every day with its buddies in the energy industry and does what it can to keep unemployment below 8%. Unlike Austin, though, Houston doesn’t have to drop its home prices to draw new blood.

Home prices in Houston have remained level since 2010 and are among the few in America that have risen since 2008. ConocoPhilips(COP_), Marathon Oil(MRO_) and Halliburton(HAL_) all help provide a solid employment base and, though the Houston Texans’ run to the NFL playoffs may be Houston’s major one-off event of the year, there’s economic life to the city that’s only improving as the year goes on.

Boy, if that doesn’t get your blood pumping, I don’t know what would. Better jump on this while you can, GHCVB.

Single member Council district dispute in Boerne

It's pronounced "Bernie"

I’ve noted several stories about single member Council districts in various Texas cities over the years. They often involve litigation, so these battles can have implications beyond the borders of the locality in question, but I just find the questions about why a given city should or should not change from an at large system to a district system to be fascinating. Anyway, for all those reasons when I came across this story about such a court fight going on in Boerne, which if you’re not familiar with it is a town of just over 10,000 people about 40 miles northwest of San Antonio, I had to click on it. In doing so, I found that it involved a couple of familiar names.

Although a recent court mandate has undone Boerne’s shift in 2010 to electing city council members by districts, city officials are resisting a return to cumulative voting — with the candidate filing period for the May election just weeks away.

“We’re pushing for single-member districts,” City Attorney Kirsten Cohoon said Wednesday after a hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio.

Boerne resident Mike Morton, who filed the suit over the change, argues that any deviation from the at-large election system mandated by the city charter must be approved by voters.

The City Council voted in late 2009 to enact voting from five districts by modifying a lawsuit settlement it struck in 1996 with the League of United Latin American Citizens.

LULAC had sued the city, claiming the at-large voting system disadvantaged minority voters.

The original lawsuit settlement in 1997 called for adoption of cumulative voting, which allows residents to cast as many votes as there are seats to be filled.

[…]

Garcia asked whether a charter amendment to enact single-member district voting could be put on the May ballot in Boerne.

Although Morton said he would drop his suit if such a vote occurred, LULAC attorney Jose Garza indicated his clients would sue if voters defeated such a measure and cumulative voting continued in use.

Yes, that’s Judge Orlando Garcia of the three-judge panel that drew the now-disallowed maps for Congress, State Senate, and State House, and Jose Garza, who just argued the plaintiffs’ case before the Supreme Court. I daresay it’s been a busy few months for both of these gentlemen. Boerne is the first city I’ve heard of to use cumulative voting. I’m wondering how you might run a campaign differently under those conditions. Anyway, the reason for the agreed change that’s now being litigated is that in the 14 years they had cumulative voting, only one Latino candidate was ever elected to anything. For what it’s worth, according to the Wikipedia entry, persons of Hispanic or Latino origin of any race were 19.44% of the population. You can see the proposed single member district map here – it’s one of the least gerrymandered maps you’ll ever see. Whether it would further LULAC’s goals or not I couldn’t say, but as I generally favor single member districts I’m rooting for them.

Friday random ten: What was that lyric again?

Another actual random ten, with a theme that occurred to me as I was compiling it.

1. Óró Sé do Bheath Abhaile – SixMileBridge
2. Broadway – Stew
3. (Making The Run To) Gladewater – Michelle Shocked
4. Snakedance – The Rainmakers
5. Harbour Lecou – Great Big Sea
6. Peace Like A River – Paul Simon
7. Crying In My Sleep – Squeeze
8. Long Time – Boston
9. Our House – Madness
10. Void In My Heart – John Mellencamp

I was listening to the song “Our House”, and it occurred to me that after all these years, I still have no idea what the fourth line of the first verse is. It goes like this:

Father wears his Sunday best
Mother says she needs a rest, kids are playing up downstairs
Sister [something] in her sleep
Brother’s got a date to keep, he can’t hang around

Sister “saying” in her sleep? Sister “slaying” in her sleep – maybe the song is from the perspective of Dawn Summers? I have no clue. I have found that one of the virtues of cover songs is that sometimes hearing a familiar yet undecipherable lyric sung by a different voice allows you to finally have that forehead-slapping “So THAT’S what he’s singing!” moments, but I haven’t heard a cover version of this one yet.

Yes, I know, I could look the lyrics up, but what’s the fun in that? Coming up with a Mondegreen is far more satisfying.

Anyway. Óró Sé do Bheath Abhaile, which the Internets say is more correctly rendered as Óró, Sé do Bheatha ‘Bhaile would make a nice tune for your next Labor Day rally; spend a little time on YouTube and watch Sinéad O’Connor or The Dubliners have a go at it. Harbour Lecou is a cautionary tale about running into an old buddy while stepping out on your wife. Peace Like A River is from Paul Simon’s first solo album. What are you listening to this week?

SCOTUS issues ruling on redistricting

Who knows what will come next

As you’ve undoubtedly heard by now, the Supreme Court has officially thrown out the interim maps that were drawn by the San Antonio court, in a unanimous decision handed down this morning. What does this mean? I’m going to start with Adam B at Daily Kos:

Let’s take a step back: Texas’ legislature drew a new map to account for the decennial census, population growth, etc. Because Texas is a covered jurisdiction under Section 5 the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it had to submit its map to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia or the Department of Justice for “preclearance”—i.e., to ensure that minorities weren’t screwed over. They chose the Court. That’s still ongoing.

In the meantime, plaintiffs sued Texas in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas alleging that the map, in fact, discriminated against Latinos and African-Americans and diluted their voting strength, notwithstanding the fact that Latinos and African-Americans accounted for three-quarters of Texas’ population growth since 2000. Sensing some merit in the plaintiffs’ claims and fearing that the DC court wouldn’t complete its process in time, the Texas court drew its own map—since Texas has an early primary and wants to have something firmly in place by February 1. And that, writes the Court today in a per curiam (i.e., unsigned) opinion), is where it screwed up:

[H]ere the scale of Texas’ population growth appears to require sweeping changes to the State’s current districts. In areas where population shifts are so large that no semblance of the existing plan’s district lines can be used, that plan offers little guidance to a court drawing an interim map. The problem is perhaps most obvious in adding new congressional districts: The old plan gives no suggestion as to where those new districts should be placed. In addition, experience has shown the difficulty of defining neutral legal principles in this area, for redistricting ordinarily involves criteria and standards that have been weighed and evaluated by the elected branches in the exercise of their political judgment. Thus, if the old state districts were the only source to which a district court could look, it would be forced to make the sort of policy judgments for which courts are, at best, ill suited.

To avoid being compelled to make such otherwise standardless decisions, a district court should take guidance from the State’s recently enacted plan in drafting an interim plan. That plan reflects the State’s policy judgments on where to place new districts and how to shift existing ones in response to massive population growth. This Court has observed before that “faced with the necessity of drawing district lines by judicial order, a court, as a general rule, should be guided by the legislative policies underlying” a state plan—even one that was itself unenforceable—“to the extent those policies do not lead to violations of the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act.”

So fix it if you must, but don’t start from scratch:

[T]he state plan serves as a starting point for the district court. It provides important guidance that helps ensure that the district court appropriately confines itself to drawing interim maps that comply with the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, without displacing legitimate state policy judgments with the court’s own preferences.

The Supremes thus sent the judges to the drawing board—literally!—to try again, a compromise advanced by Justice Kagan during oral argument.

Rick Hasen agrees that this is basically the Kagan compromise and sees this as a win for the state:

Speaking non-technically, the Supreme Court held that the three-judge court erred in starting its redistricting plan from scratch. It should have started with the state’s plan, and then adjusted to the extent the plan violated the Voting Rights Act or the Constitution.

More technically, the Court held that as to the Voting Rights Act section 2 standards, the three-judge court is not to defer on those districts where it appears more likely than not that Texas is in violation of the section 2 standards. (Burden appears to be on the VRA section 2 plaintiffs.)

As to section 5, however, because only the Washington DC court can decide on preclearance, the Court is not to take the section 5 preclearance question into account unless those plans have a reasonable probability of failing section 5 review (a tough standard for challengers to the law to meet).

So this is a big win for Texas, and will require the drawing of districts much more likely to favor Texas’s interim plan (and therefore favor Republicans over Democrats favored by the three-judge court’s original map).

One caveat: at most these lines will last for one election, as the preclearance issue being decided by the Washington court will dictate the preclearance going forward, and as the section 2 issue finally gets resolved by the three judge court in Texas.

Michael Li sees it a little differently:

1. The opinion has hallmarks of a tough fought compromise. It is not entirely clear, for example, what ‘reasonable probability’ means or how it differs from the traditional injunction standard of ‘substantial likelihood of success,’ except that the court went on to say that it meant ‘not insubstantial.’ Some commentators and observers have suggested that is a high standard; other observers think the standard could be somewhat less demanding. Others have no idea what the opinion means. As one prominent civil practitioner said in an email, ”The definition of ‘reasonable probability’ being ‘not insubstantial’ is not really clearing things up for me.”

1a. Because redistricting cases come up only every ten years or so, unfortunately it may be another decade or more before we get Supreme Court clarification on what it meant by ‘reasonable probability.’ That’s one of the challenges of practicing in this area.

1b. As far as ‘reasonable probability,’ some are already pointing to this email.

1c. Lloyd Doggett and ‘reasonable probability.’ My initial reaction is that Lloyd Doggett still comes out pretty good from all this. The D.C. court has already rejected the state’s contention that crossover districts are not protected under section 5. That’s a critical legal hurdle. The Travis County intervenors still need to show that the existing CD-25 is a crossover district on the facts, but given that is an argument based largely on the performance of Austin, they would seem to have a good shot at doing so.

2. Overall, the opinion favors the state’s maps, but so would any permanent remedial map drawn after a decision in the section 5 case being tried in Washington this week and next. In other words, the opinion in that sense just requires that the result look something like the ultimate outcome. It’s hard to complain too much about that. It’s a defeat for the interim maps, but not necessarily for redistricting plaintiffs.

There’s already a ton more analysis and interpretation out there for your perusal. SCOTUSBlog has an in depth look at the opinion. Hasen revisits his original take and considers Li’s suggestion of a “political compromise” in the opinion; he also provides a nice roundup of other coverage. The Texas Democratic Party notes that “what is clear is that the state’s original maps have been found to be discriminatory in some way by every court which has examined them”, while plaintiff Sen. Wendy Davis is “encouraged” by the ruling. The Lion Star insists this is “not a loss for the redistricting plaintiffs”. PoliTex has some other Democratic reactions.

On the other side, PoliTex also notes some glee from Republicans, including man without a district Michael Williams and the maybe-not-retired Aaron Pena. I will simply point out that just before New Year’s Day the DC Court issued an opinion on preclearance standards that took Texas to task for its methodology and strongly suggested that preclearance was not in the cards. As Pena’s district was one that the plaintiffs and the Justice Department had focused on, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if his district remains substantially changed from what the Lege drew. My own non-lawyerly take on this is that if the San Antonio court waits for the DC court, or if it just relies on that opinion while completing the do-over, there’s still a lot of potential for significant alterations to the Lege’s maps. Clearly, bad things can happen from a Democratic perspective – the Lege combined HDs 137 and 149, for example, while the court restored those and instead combined HDs 133 and 136, while turning HD144 into a Latino-majority Democrat-favoring district – but overreach is still overreach, and there’s nothing to suggest it can’t or won’t be dialed back. It’s a question of where and how much.

As for the primaries, who knows when they’ll be? It’s not out of the question that either the San Antonio court does its rework in the next week or so, or that the DC court issues a quick ruling followed by some quick mapmaking, and we can keep the April date with some compression of the absentee ballot mailing period. More likely, I think, is a later primary, but whether May or June is anyone’s guess. At least we’re not waiting for SCOTUS any more. What I know for sure is that I have some more map-studying and number-crunching in my future. I’m sure you’re as eager for me to get to that as I am.

UPDATE: Greg weighs in.

January finance reports: Harris County

January is a very busy month for campaign finance reports, since they are due for all levels of government. I’ve been busy updating the 2012 Primary Election pages for Harris County and elsewhere in Texas with reports as I can find them. Here’s an overview of some races of interest in Harris County. I’ll have similar reports for State Rep and Congressional races next week.

Let me preface this post by saying that I loathe the County Clerks’ Campaign Finance Reports page. You can’t search for an individual by name, you can only search for all candidates whose last name starts with a given letter. All of the reports are scanned PDFs, which means that most of them are handwritten, though even the ones that are electronically generated are then apparently printed and scanned. This has the effect of creating much larger files, which are then harder to navigate, and Adobe being what it is they managed to crash Chrome on my PC and IE9 on my laptop. They do open in the browser with a direct link, unlike the city’s reporting system which opens each report as an Acrobat file for download, which I then have to upload and share to make available on my page, so as long as your browser continues to function that’s nice. All I know is that when I am named Supreme Commander of the world, my first official action will be to outlaw paper filing of campaign finance reports. It’s 2012, for Pete’s sake.

OK, rant off. Here are the highlights:

District Attorney

Incumbent Pat Lykos starts the year in good shape, having raised $194K with $320K on hand; she spent $40K during the cycle. Primary opponent Mike Anderson reported no money raised or spent. He was a late entrant and likely hasn’t had any fundraisers yet. I’m sure he’ll have sufficient resources to wage a campaign. On the Democratic side, Zack Fertitta had an impressive haul, taking in $170K, with $141K on hand. I don’t know exactly when he named a treasurer, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t start raising money until a couple of months into the cycle. His primary opponent Lloyd Oliver, who is listed for some bizarre reason in the county financial reporting system as “Oliver Lloyd” – I only found his report by accident, looking for other L-named candidates – reported no money raised or spent.

Sheriff

Sheriff Adrian Garcia will have a tough race in November, and he starts the year well armed for it, having collected $187K and maintaining $302K. He has two primary opponents – Delores Jones has $1,038 on hand, while perennial contender Charles Massey El had no report visible; yes, I checked under M and under E. There are eight Republican hopefuls, but only four filed reports. Ruben Monzon raised $33K; Carl Pittman raised $13K and reported $24K in loans; Brian Steinacher claimed the princely total of $750 raised. The most interesting report belonged to Louis Guthrie, who claimed to raise $96K with $30K in loans. That caught my eye at first, but he only listed $21K on hand, which made me suspicious enough to read the whole report. The individual contributions he detailed added up to only $6450 in cash plus about $18K in kind for things like printing and food, which are usually considered expenses. Something is definitely off there, but even if you took him at his word, the four of them together raised less than Garcia did.

County Attorney

Not really on anyone’s radar since it’s a lower profile office and there are no contested primaries, but Democratic incumbent Vince Ryan raised $29K and has $126K on hand. Republican challenger and former State Rep. Robert Talton raised $14,650 and had $10,500 in loans, but spent $14,978 and was left with $10,367 on hand.

Tax Assessor

In the battle of Guys Whose Surnames Both Start With The Letter S And Are Thus Convenient To Find In The Otherwise Wack Harris County Finance Reporting System, incumbent Don Sumners reported no cash raised and $3,911 on hand, while current Council Member Mike Sullivan made good use of his remaining Council campaign fund, which allowed him to report $53K on hand. He actually raised $8200 for this cycle, and had $15K in loans outstanding. Democratic challenger Ann Harris Bennett, who was listed under the Bs, raised no money and had $1,856 on hand, presumably left over from her 2010 race for County Clerk. Remind me to ask Clerk candidates in 2014 about how they propose to overhaul the finance reporting system.

Constable

I didn’t bother looking at a lot of these reports, as there are just so many Constable candidates. Among those I did look at were ones for the open Precinct 1 seat. Alan Rosen did the most, raising $43K with $37K on hand. Cindy Vara-Leija raised $22K and had $15K on hand; Grady Castleberry, who also had a July report, raised $2K but had $19K in loans and $23K on hand. Quincy Whitaker’s January report was not visible as of this publication; his July report claimed $5K raised and $18K spent but did not list any loans or cash on hand.

That’s your Harris County finance report. I’ll have state and federal candidates next week. The one other county race I’m watching is the Democratic primary for Travis County DA, featuring incumbent Rosemary Lehmberg and former judge Charlie Baird. The Statesman noted their totals, and I have their reports linked on the non-Harris page – here’s Lehmberg, and here’s Baird. Check that page and the Harris page for more reports as they come in. Greg has more.

UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that there is a “Friends of Mike Anderson” finance report, which I would have found if I could have searched by name and not by letter, and that this report shows contributions of $152K and cash on hand of $135K. That report lists his office sought as the 127th District Civil Court bench, but that’s neither here nor there.

Our drought is no longer “exceptional”

The good news is that for the first time since last March, no part of Harris County is in an “exceptional” drought. The bad news is that now we’re either in an “extreme” drought or a “severe” drought, depending on where you are in the county. Here’s a picture of what the state looks like as of January 10, and what it looked like January 3, when we learned that 2011 was the driest year ever in Texas:

Drought conditions for the first two weeks of January

Click for the full-size picture, courtesy of the U.S. Drought Monitor archive. You can clearly see the effect of that big storm we had last week, not just in Harris County but in the Austin/San Antonio area. It’s still really bad, it’s just not “worst ever” bad.

What’s the prognosis for the near future?

Forecasters say the remainder of this winter’s weather is still likely to be moderated by La Niña, a cooling of equatorial sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.

Last year a stronger La Niña set the stage for a dry February, leading through the spring months.

Although La Niña is back this winter, there’s reason to feel a little more confident about drought conditions later this year, said Fred Schmude, a forecaster with Houston-based ImpactWeather.

“What makes this season different from last year is we are dealing with a considerably weaker La Niña,” he said.

We’re likely to be a little dry through February, then a little wetter than normal after that. And though he didn’t say, hopefully a lot wetter after that.

Military spending is government spending

President Obama recently announced a change in direction for US military strategy in the wake of exiting Iraq, one that will involve some reductions in spending. Much pearl clutching and chin stroking followed.

But ongoing tinkering with the nation’s defense blueprint means many Texans could feel the pinch from a planned reduction of at least 100,000 ground combat troops. And projected Pentagon spending cuts of at least $489 billion over the next decade could force layoffs at major defense contractors in Texas, such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, BAE Systems and Boeing Co.

With the nation’s $15 trillion debt rivaling annual U.S. economic output, “this country is facing a crisis that it has to address,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told roughly 500 soldiers in a visit to Fort Bliss on Thursday. “We have got to put everything on the table.”

[…]

Stephen Fuller, an economic modeling expert at George Mason University, estimated that Obama’s planned defense reductions of $1 trillion could claim as many as 1 million jobs nationwide – with 91,600 of those losses coming in Texas.

“Our analysis reveals bleak outcomes for both the defense industry and the economy as a whole if $1 trillion is cut from defense,” Fuller said.

Yes, it’s true: When government spends less money on government programs like the military, it’s a drag on the economy. I marvel at how some people only make this connection when the government spending is on government programs that they happen to approve of. For what it’s worth, this new direction isn’t really a cut military spending, but a reduction in the rate of increase in military spending. The second derivative is now negative, in other words. The curve still points upward, however. Be that as it may, I’d be happy to see the economic impact of these reductions mitigated by spending that money on other priorities, like infrastructure. I mean, if we agree that there’s a correlation between government spending and job creation, we should proceed on to the next logical step. Right?

Thinking outside the box on the city’s finances

We’ve seen the ideas generated by the Long Term Financial Management Task Force, which I thought lacked a certain amount of breadth to its perspective. Here’s a taste of what else might be out there to think about.

Good Jobs Great Houston, of which the Houston Organization of Public Employees is a member, held a news conference outside Wednesday’s City Council meeting to get their own ideas out. They claim that some of the ideas they had submitted to the Task Force did not make it onto the draft list. Among the union’s ideas distributed Wednesday:

  • Raise the city’s tax rate;
  • Establish a higher property tax bracket on homes with a value exceeding $500,000;
  • Establish a 1 percent income tax on city residents who make more than $30,000 a year;
  • A “blight tax” on foreclosed homes that banks would pay on vacant properties they let deteriorate;
  • End the practice of double dipping — remaining on the city payroll while collecting a pension;
  • Put a cap of $100,000 a year on annual pensions for new hires;
  • Review all outsourced services to see if they can be done more efficiently in house.

There are a lot more, but the Good Job Great Houston and HOPE officials said they want the conversation to include more than what’s already on the Task Force’s 229-item draft list.

As with the LTFMTF, some of these ideas are more practical than others, and some cannot be done without legislative input, possibly even a Constitutional amendment. I’ve been an advocate of rolling back the miniscule property tax rate cuts that were implemented during the Bill White years – the savings for an individual household is minor, but the cumulative revenue for the city adds up. You do have to be aware of the limitations imposed by the revenue cap, however – even if you wanted to, you can only raise the tax rate so much before that would kick in.

I really like the idea of the “blight tax”, as I want to see more thought given to generating growth here inside city limits. The city has been admirably aggressive under Mayor Parker to condemn and demolish derelict properties – Patricia Kilday Hart wrote about a new tool in their chest for that – but it’s only half of the equation. You still have to get someone to build or rehab or otherwise do something useful with the property afterward, and as far as I can tell we’re still short on ideas there.

And if we’re going to go after blight, let’s aim for the biggest target out there – abandoned buildings downtown. There are properties downtown that have been derelict for decades, and that’s some of the most valuable real estate in the city. Some of these buildings are within a couple of blocks of the Main Street light rail line, and would make excellent mixed use/transit oriented projects, if only they could or would be used for something. Do we not have the tools to make something happen, or have we just not put enough effort into it? I don’t know, but I wish we’d put more thought into it. The same is true for other empty or blighted lots along the existing rail line, and the ones that are now being built. There’s been quite a bit of development in the Main Street corridor, but there’s room for much more. If the secret to making Inner Loop housing less expensive is to generate more of it, then these are the places to start. What are the obstacles, and what can we do to overcome them? This needs to be part of the long term financial conversation.

Don’t say “We won’t have Rick Perry to kick around any more” just yet

So long and thanks for all the corndogs

By now everybody knows that Rick Perry has suspended his Presidential campaign and endorsed Newt Gingrich as his preferred not-Romney. The news of this was on the TV screen in the lobby of my office building as I entered this morning, which amused me greatly because the front page headline in the Chronicle was about him vowing to stay in the race after South Carolina no matter what. Events really do move fast, don’t they? But while the news has led to an outpouring of mocking and scornful press releases from just about every Democratic official in Texas “welcoming” Perry back to the state, I just want to say how sad I am to see this end now, because let’s face it, any day Rick Perry isn’t in Texas is a good day. For Texas, anyway. Not so much for wherever else he is.

What’s more, Perry may be looking to put down roots again.

On his future, Perry is heading back to Texas today and will stay there during the weekend to jump back into the governor’s job he largely has left in check for over five months.

[Perry spokesman Ray] Sullivan said that the governor is still “leaving the option open” to run for re-election as governor in three years — Texas has no term limits — and for another presidential run.

Go ahead and laugh – or cry – at the thought of a Perry 2014 campaign. A lot of respected establishment commentators – Burka for one, and as PDiddie notes Harvey Kronberg for another – think Perry is “damaged goods” whose “aura of invincibility” is gone. They may be right. Lord knows, I hope they are. Perry absolutely made a fool of himself for all to see. But all levels of government are still stuffed full of people who owe him something, and I don’t have any faith that a Republican-controlled Legislature would have the guts to stand up to him on something, and if they did it’s not clear to me that it would be for anything good. And unless the Democrats get their act together over the next two years – go ahead and laugh or cry again – even if Perry steps down or gets tossed aside, whoever comes next may be at least as malevolent but more intelligent, like Greg Abbott. So enjoy this moment of schadenfreude for someone who totally deserves it, but recognize it for the passing moment that it is. EoW has more.

Lykos appears before the grand jury

DA Pat Lykos

And that’s all we know about it.

Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos testified Tuesday in a grand jury investigation of the Houston Police Department’s controversial mobile DWI testing vehicles.

Because grand jury subpoenas and testimony are secret, it is unclear how long the elected district attorney testified or what she said, but a source close to the investigation confirmed that she appeared and answered questions about HPD’s breath alcohol testing vans.

The rest of the story is basically a rehash of what we know so far, which also isn’t very much where the grand jury is concerned. Here’s some of what I’ve blogged about it so far. If and when the grand jury returns indictments, then we’ll know more.

How gassy are we?

I’m talking about greenhouse gases, of course. And the answer is, now you can find out for yourself.

Martin Lake coal plant

The greenhouse gas wars are about to heat up again in Texas. Next month, a federal court hears oral arguments in lawsuits that Texas has filed to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency, which began regulating heat-trapping emissions a year ago.

The EPA is hardly backing down. On Wednesday, the agency released an easily searchable database of big greenhouse gas polluters across the nation, prompting Texas environmentalists to immediately list the largest polluters in the state. Topping the list is the 1970s-era Martin Lake coal plant (pictured) in the East Texas city of Tatum. In 2010 it emitted nearly 19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, about 13 percent more than the runner-up, the W.A. Parish coal plant in Thompsons, southwest of Houston. In third place is the Monticello coal plant in Northeast Texas, which narrowly avoided a shutdown when a federal appeals court issued a last-minute stay to an EPA pollution rule last month.

“This will be the first time that this data is publicly available and will inform Americans about the heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted in their communities,” wrote Elena Craft, a health scientist with the Austin office of the Environmental Defense Fund, in a blog post. Power plant data has always been available, she said, but now industries like pulp and paper and landfills must also report it.

The photo above, courtesy of Think Progress, is of the Martin Lake plant in Tatum, TX, which has the distinction of being the nation’s top mercury emitter in 2009 (click the TP link for the chart) as well as Texas’ top greenhouse gas emitter last year (the Trib has that chart). No wonder the Sierra Club has targeted it for closure. Note that the other two plants named in that report appears on each of those lists I mentioned – Texas had four of the top five mercury polluters in the country in 2009, with Martin Lake #1, Big Brown #2, and Monticello #5. And as Patricia Kilday Hart reminds us, we have Rick Perry to thank for a lot of this.

Remember in 2006, when Perry issued an executive order fast-tracking permit requests for the construction of new coal-fired power plants? (This occurred, not surprisingly, while he was accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from power and coal interests.)

Back then, Perry predicted the new plants would be an economic boon. Well, yes, says one of his toughest critics, Environmental Defense Fund attorney James Marston.

Wyoming, Marston says, sends rail cars full of coal south to Texas power plants, and we refill them with cash and send them home. To the tune of $1.9 billion a year. This, at a time when Texas is awash in cheap natural gas, a cleaner alternative for the production of electricity.

[…]

Meanwhile, Marston said, Perry’s policies in Texas mean “we have dirtier air and we’re sending money to Wyoming. Both were avoidable if we had better leadership and better vision.”

And about the promise that coal plants would create new jobs? We were hoodwinked. According to a national study by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies, proponents claimed the $2.3 billion Oak Grove project in Texas’ Robertson County would produce 2,400 construction jobs. But total construction employment for the entire county increased by only 329 during the peak construction year, the researchers found.

Similarly, in Milam County, the construction of the Sandow project was supposed to produce 1,370 jobs, but only 463 positions materialized.

The researchers concluded: “These findings strongly suggest that the economic development argument for coal plants is relatively weak, especially when compared to the job creation potential of alternative means of addressing demand for power.”

And yet Perry and his henchman Greg Abbott keep up their crusade to let these polluters have free rein. It’s clear whose interests they have in mind.

Even in the absence of enforcement, publishing these data may have a positive effect, as Brad Plumer notes.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Gina McCarthy, the EPA’s assistant administrator for air and radiation, compared the new greenhouse-gas reporting law to the agency’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a database that was passed by Congress back in 1986 to measure and publicize the release of more than 320 toxic chemicals from industrial facilities around the country. “[The TRI] had a tremendous impact in terms of providing opportunities for reduction, and we’re really hoping this information will do the same,” McCarthy said. And, in fact, a variety of analyses suggest she might be onto something.

One recent book, “Coming Clean: Information Disclosure and Environmental Performance” charts the impacts that the Toxics Release Inventory had on polluters. As Mark Stephan, a professor at Washington State University, Vancouver, explained to me, he and his co-authors conducted interviews with a variety of companies about their responses to the new public database. Many companies didn’t even realize they were spewing out so much pollution until forced to start keeping records. And that proved to be a big deal.

For instance, when the inventory was first disclosed in 1987, Monsanto executives realized that the company was one of the largest emitters in the country and pledged to reduce its toxic air releases 90 percent by 1992. This wasn’t in response to any new laws — Monsanto wasn’t legally required to do anything. The company was simply reacting to public information. Stephan adds that many other companies soon followed suit, in response to a fusillade of newspaper stories about toxic waste and pressure from community groups and local environmentalists.

That’s good news, but I have a feeling we’re going to need more than just bad publicity to get some real action around here. Still, forewarned is forearmed. At least we know what we’re up against.

Area job growth in 2012

We’ve seen a prediction for job growth in Texas for this year, now here’s some soothsaying about job growth in the Houston area for the year.

Jobs and job growth for the region (Source: Greater Houston Parnership)

The Greater Houston Partnership predicts the Houston area will add 84,600 jobs this year. Some economic observers are speculating the estimate may be conservative – especially since the most recent data from the Texas Workforce Commission shows that Houston-area employers created 87,900 from November 2010 to November 2011.

We asked experts in finance, real estate, recruiting and economic development to assess the area economic picture. Here is what they said:

Q: Where is Houston’s economy headed in 2012?

A: “I think it’s headed up,” said James Weston, associate professor of finance at Rice University. “Everything I see points to a return to moderate economic growth.”

He ticked off the factors: Energy prices are stable; housing prices were essentially flat in Houston last year even as they fell nationwide; and Houston is adding jobs at a faster clip than the nation as a whole.

The likelihood of a double-dip recession – which was a worry not that long ago – has faded, he added.

Regina Morales, director of economic development for the city of Sugar Land, characterized 2011 as the year of recovery, when the region regained the jobs it lost during the recession.

“Now we’re poised for expansion in 2012,” said Morales, who predicted that energy, technology, health care, education and food service will drive the growth.

The real estate community looks at job growth, and those 87,900 new jobs last year are a good sign, said Bruce McClenny, president of Apartment Data Services, which gathers information on pricing, occupancy and rents on apartments.

Job growth is tied directly to the demand for multifamily housing, especially from people who are moving to Houston from other states and new college graduates.

That sets the stage for the same kind of growth in 2012, McClenny said.

Here the distinction between the city of Houston and the greater Houston area is made more clearly than in the earlier story about real estate projections. Note that the region has about a quarter of the state’s population but nearly half of its projected job growth for the year. Either one of those projections is out of whack or the state isn’t in such great shape overall. The story also notes the likelihood of flat property tax revenues and a continued shrinking of the government sector. Some different policy decisions, mostly but not entirely at the state level, could have led to a better outcome, but it’s way too late for any of that now. Maybe we’ll get lucky with sales tax revenues and not have as big a problem this year. We can hope, anyway.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 16

The Texas Progressive Alliance honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff takes a look at Democratic primary races as they now stand in Harris County and elsewhere in Texas.

Refinish69 thinks sometimes you just have to say “What the Hell???

Bay Area Houston says it is Time for a Joe Driver law.

CouldBeTrue wants you to know that Vermin Supreme almost beat Rick Perry in Vermont.

The Texas Tea Party had a rally and a straw poll in Houston, a few rich white bigots showed up, and Rick Perry got his ass whipped again. In other words, as PDiddie at Brains and Eggs observes, nothing has really changed for the TeaBaggers.

At TexasKaos, Libby Shaw gets us up to date on who is calling who a vulture capitialist, or Pot, meet Kettle. See her piece: Vulture Capitalist Supporters Perry, Gingrich Demonize Vulture Capitalism.

It’s been a little quiet on the issue of transportation funding lately, but that’s changed. WCNews at Eye On Williamson posts on the latest polling nonsense about how to pay for new roads, Here we go again.

Neil at Texas Liberal offered the 5th annual posting of his Martin Luther King Reading & Reference List. There are 3 new additions for 2012. This list is the best starting point to learn about M.L.K. to be found on the web.

Interview with Diane Trautman

Diane Trautman

Also running for Harris County Department of Education, Position 3 At Large is Diane Trautman, who was the Democratic candidate for Tax Assessor in the last two cycles. Trautman has had a long career in education, as a teacher, principal, and professor at Sam Houston State, as well as a background in finance. Here’s what we talked about:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

Sullivan says he’ll step down if he wins primary

He’s hoping to defuse a campaign issue.

CM Mike Sullivan

Houston City Councilman Mike Sullivan will submit his resignation in July if he wins the Republican nomination for Harris County tax assessor-collector in April’s primary, he said.

The resignation would not be effective until January, when he would be sworn in as tax assessor if he wins the Republican primary and the November general election. He will face incumbent Don Sumners in the primary.

[…]

Submitting the resignation letter in July would allow the city to hold a special election on the November ballot to finish the remaining year on his term.

In planning for his departure, Sullivan said, he looked for “the most democratic process we can engage in at no cost to taxpayers for there to be an elected representative for District E.”

This issue has come up before, in 2006 when Shelley Sekula-Gibbs was running for Congress, and in 2008 when Adrian Garcia was running for Sheriff. Both remained in office during their races, both faced that as a campaign issue to varying degrees, and both were replaced in a special election the following May after they won their elections and subsequently resigned, leaving their seats empty for the interim. Sullivan seems to have found a loophole, which I must admit is clever. It’s clever enough that I’m sure he’ll still be criticized for it, but I give him credit for coming up with a creative way to avoid the mid-year special election, which would save the city a few bucks.

“I understand his logic,” Sumners said of Sullivan’s plans. “Somebody is just going to have to explain to me an election for a position that still has an occupant.”

Um, we just had one of those last year. Jarvis Johnson, Ann Clutterbuck, Sue Lovell – they were all still Council members in November and December, even though everyone knew they were not going to be Council members as of January. They even voted on stuff, along with defeated CMs Jolanda Jones and Brenda Stardig. It’s called being a lame duck, a position with which I hope Sumners becomes familiar later this year. If that’s the best you can do, maybe Sullivan won’t face any flak for this. Campos, who notes that this is also an issue for CM Wanda Adams, has more.

Job growth in 2012

Depending on how you look at it, there’s good news, or fair-to-middling news for the Texas job market next year.

Source: Paul Krugman (click for originating post)

Texas job growth in 2012 will reach about 2 percent for the third consecutive year, Federal Reserve Senior Economist Keith Phillips said Tuesday.

Two percent equates to a net increase of 200,000 jobs statewide, Phillips said during a luncheon held at the San Antonio branch office of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and attended by about 60 invited South Texas business leaders.

Texas annual job growth was 2.1 percent in both 2010 and 2011, Phillips said, fueled by expansions in the energy, high-tech and export sectors.

The growth rates for those industries will slow in 2012, Phillips said, but construction in apartments, offices and houses will offset that to keep job growth steady in Texas.

The good news is that there is job growth predicted, and it’s above the growth rate predicted for the nation as a whole. The not so good news is that it’s not any better than it’s been the last two years, which weren’t exactly boffo, and in fact may be a tad below those years. The unknown is how the job growth will compare to the growth in the population of employment-age people. It’s that comparison that will determine Texas’ unemployment rate.

This doesn’t fill me with confidence:

A year ago, Phillips had forecast a 2.7 percent Texas job growth rate. Jobs in the private sector increased at close to that rate. The surprise in 2011 was the loss of local and state government jobs, especially teacher positions, he said.

Fifteen percent of Texas jobs are tied to local and state governments. Budget cuts last year dropped the number of those jobs by 4.4 percent, Phillips said.

“I don’t expect more local and state job cuts in 2012,” he said.

Public sector job losses last year were a surprise? Really? Maybe at this time last year, before the Lege got to work, you could convince yourself that they wouldn’t really take a chainsaw to public education like they did, but the handwriting was certainly on the wall. Not expecting more cuts in 2012 seems like a bad bet to me, because funding reductions to school districts were backloaded a bit. I will not be at all surprised if there are more teacher layoffs this year. I agree that the bulk of the job losses in public education have already occurred, but I do expect there to be more this year. I’ll be glad to be wrong about that.

DC preclearance trial, Day One

E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse, DC

While we wait for the Supreme Court to give us some indication of what happens next with our elections – they did not issue an opinion this week – the preclearance trial at the DC federal court got underway.

State Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, testified that hearings were held statewide to allow input from all groups and citizens to form a bipartisan basis to redraw political lines.

Under cross-examination, though, Hunter said he was unaware that new political lines in Corpus Christi that eliminated a Latino state House seat also lumped all of his possible competitors into a neighboring district.

His claim that no one had complained about the minority makeup of the new state House districts was refuted with a videotape of Luis Figueroa of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund telling a legislative hearing that eliminating the Corpus Christi seat would be tantamount to a Voting Rights Act violation.

Jose Garza, a lawyer with the Mexican American Legislative Caucus who was questioning Hunter, also told the court that he testified to the same problem before a state House committee.

There were hearings around the state, but it was also the case that there were almost no public hearings in the Legislature. The Congressional map passed through in record time, once the Republicans bothered to produce it. Seemed like the plaintiffs scored some points in the opening round, but it’s early days and there’s a lot of testimony to come, along with some pre-filed written testimony. The state’s case was simply summarized during pre-trial hearings.

In a hearing before the D.C. court, David Schenk, the Texas deputy attorney general, said the state did not intend to discriminate when it drew new political lines.

Without the intent of discrimination, the maps, which do protect Republican minority officeholders, should be approved.

“Texas did the best that it could,” Schenk argued.

I didn’t mean to smash into your car. I totally did the best I could driving, even if I was going 90 on a wet road at night. Without the intent to have an accident, I should be let go without a citation. Yeah, that sounds about right to me. We’ll see what the plaintiffs make of that. As always, Texas Redistricting has more.

Another day in the sun for Wentworth

The longer that the redistricting litigation drags on, the more opportunities there will be for stories to be written about State Sen. Jeff Wentworth and his bipartisan redistricting commission proposal.

Sen. Jeff Wentworth

State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, has been a longtime proponent of creating a redistricting commission to draw new boundaries every 10 years to reflect population changes after the U.S. census.

Wentworth said his idea would cost the state less money and be more efficient.

“And the state legislators are not distracted and have the attention diverted from the more important issues,” he said, adding that redistricting “becomes the single most important issue after only the budget” in redistricting years because re-election trumps almost everything else for most members.

[…]

A realist, Wentworth said he would attempt to create a redistricting commission only for Congress. It requires a simple majority vote of both chambers and the governor’s signature.

Getting a commission to be in charge of legislative redistricting would be more difficult, requiring a state constitutional amendment, which needs a two-thirds vote in each chamber as well as voter approval. Wentworth said it would be “an insurmountable mountain” for the Legislature to climb.

Wentworth’s plan for a congressional redistricting committee would have eight people, who could not be lobbyists or lawmakers and who would be chosen by the Legislature.

Thirteen other states have redistricting committees with varying structures. In some states, legislators appoint the members of the commission, while other states try to keep lawmakers out of the process.

The National Conference of State Legislators notes that the track record of commissions’ success is inconsistent and that courts often end up getting involved anyway.

“Reformers often mistakenly assume that commissions will be less partisan than legislatures when conducting redistricting, but that depends largely on the design of the board or commission,” the conference says on its website.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund was critical of commissions in a 2010 report, noting that they are not accountable to the citizens as elected politicians are.

The report notes that commissions “do not guarantee a process or final redistricting plan that will protect minority voting rights.”

I’m sure that will sound familiar to anyone who’s been following this saga. To me, the main weakness of the Wentworth proposal is that it is necessarily limited to Congressional redistricting. I understand the reasons for that, but it should be clear that simply adopting a commission for Congress won’t make the redistricting process any less contentious or litigious. Congressional maps grab the headlines, but the State House and State Senate maps are large components of the ongoing lawsuits, and the State House map was singled out by both the Justice Department and the San Antonio court as being retrogressive. Even with the Wentworth proposal as law last year, we’d still have had lawsuits, and may well still be in the position we are now, not knowing when our primaries can take place.

And that assumes that the Congressional map drawn by the Wentworth Commission would be free of controversy. The state of California now uses a Wentworth-like commission for its redistricting, and the results have been contentious as ever.

“Redistricting and lawsuits go hand in hand,” [Douglas Johnson, a commission expert and a fellow with the nonpartisan Rose Institute of State and Local Governments at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California] said.

After the first round, many Republicans feel as though they were short-changed, Johnson said. The map drawn for the state Assembly has gone unchallenged. But the Republicans have some serious problems with the state Senate map.

A referendum to overturn the commission’s map will go before the voters as Republicans scramble to rein in the power of California Democrats.

“Simply forming a commission doesn’t get rid of the controversy,” Johnson said. “It remains a difficult and controversial process.”

Another challenge came from a former California Republican congressman.

George Radanovich filed a lawsuit to challenge the map on grounds that it violates the Voting Rights Act by intentionally diluting the African American vote in the Los Angeles area.

Johnson says that the new way was still better than the old way, and he may well be right. All I’m saying is that there is no way to remove the politics of this, and there are no solutions that everyone will agree on. As long as there are winners and losers in redistricting, there will be fights about it.