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January 31st, 2012:

Komen outrage

I’m speechless.

In a shocking move Tuesday afternoon, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the country’s most famous breast cancer charity, pulled its grants for breast-cancer screenings from Planned Parenthood. Komen claims that their reason is that Planned Parenthood is under investigation from Congress, but as it’s well-understood on both the left and the right that the investigation, headed by Rep. Cliff Stearns, is a nuisance investigation that will almost surely turn up nothing, this excuse sounds lame indeed. The likelier explanation is the one offered by Planned Parenthood, that Komen caved under relentless pressure from anti-choice activists who oppose Planned Parenthood for offering abortions as well as low-cost contraception and STD prevention and treatment. In addition, Komen has a history of not playing nice with other women’s health organizations. Planned Parenthood has created an emergency fund to replace the Komen grants, to keep the breast-cancer screening service from being interrupted.

State Rep. Carol Alvarado is a lot nicer to them about this than I would have been. Far as I’m concerned, it’ll be a long time before I even think about giving another dime to them. Jezebel, TBogg, and Kos, among many others, have more.

Grand jury no-bills DA’s office

Thus endeth one of the most fascinating local stories in recent memory.

A Harris County grand jury ended its session Tuesday, ending a months-long investigation into the district attorney’s office and the Houston Police Department’s DWI testing vehicles with a blistering report, but no indictments.

“There was no evidence of a crime,” said grand jury foreman Trisha Pollard.

Pollard signed off on a one-page report blasting the DA’s office for “unexpected resistance” and accusing the office of launching an investigation into the grand jurors, the special prosecutors and judges.

The grand jury also harshly criticized Rachel Palmer, a prosecutor who invoked her fifth amendment right to refuse to testify.

“The stain upon the HCDAO will remain regardless of any media statements issued or press conferences issued by anyone,” according to the statement.

That may be all they wrote, but something tells me we have not heard the last of this. Like Grits, I look forward to reading the jury’s report. Hair Balls has more.

UPDATE: Here’s the statement from DA Lykos about the grand jury’s decision. I am greatly intrigued by this bit at the end:

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office has long been eager to share what we know with the public. Now that the grand jury’s proceedings have ended, we will be responding—vigorously.

In the days to come, our website—HarrisCountyDA.com—will feature a new section devoted to setting the record straight.

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office is confident that anyone willing to review the full set of facts, in an unbiased and fair-minded manner, will conclude we have acted responsibly and with integrity in every respect.

I’m sure I’ll be taking a close look at that. In the meantime, the grand jury’s statement is here.

January finance reports: Harris County state races

In addition to county candidates, my 2012 Democratic primary election page has information about state and federal candidates who will be on the ballot in Harris County. There are numerous contested primaries, and while I’m not tracking information about Republican races on that page, I thought it would be useful to check on the finance reports for all races of interest. Here’s the relevant data for candidates that have submitted reports, with my comments at the end. Candidates without a party affiliation listed are Democrats, and incumbents are noted as such.

Candidate Office Raised Spent Cash on hand ===================================================== Nilsson SBOE6 1,600 431 1,552 Jensen SBOE6 0 1,088 0 Scott SBOE6 1,010 362 647 Bahorich (R) SBOE6 325 669 50,320 Cargill (R, I) SBOE8 38,586 18,710 25,626 Ellis (R) SBOE8 2,195 7,019 1,163 McCool (R) SD11 10,047 8,515 31 Taylor (R) SD11 329,124 154,172 169,778 Norman (R) SD11 9,981 6,512 11,534 Huberty (R, I) HD127 58,075 37,575 36,811 Jordan (R) HD127 1,763 967 0 Davis (R,I) HD129 20,475 45,286 62,852 Huls (R) HD129 1,684 1,501 182 Allen (I) HD131 5,565 14,542 18,764 Adams HD131 0 4,697 59,572 Callegari (R,I) HD132 8,250 28,593 222,340 Brown (R) HD132 975 779 195 Murphy (R,I) HD133 72,015 38,365 182,682 Johnston (R) HD133 6,244 6,015 6,244 Johnson HD134 7,347 0 7,347 Davis (R, I) HD134 83,035 61,807 102,570 Witt (R) HD136 4,821 85,139 25,218 Schofield (R) HD136 67,203 34,899 29,245 Holm (R) HD136 142,997 98,594 44,402 DeAyala (R) HD136 144,860 39,105 106,253 Smith HD137 2,500 750 2,500 Madden HD137 11,002 750 10,252 Wu HD137 71,700 831 70,869 Winkler HD137 850 750 1,378 Khan (R) HD137 Risner HD144 0 0 0 Perez HD144 1,300 2,569 14,547 Ybarra HD144 Legner (R,I) HD144 27,475 57,949 34,040 Miles (I) HD146 15,900 2,750 6,800 Edwards HD146 0 0 1,199 Coleman (I) HD147 158,474 106,581 106,823 Hill HD147 Riddle (R,I) HD150 89,401 54,384 108,874 Wilson (R) HD150 4,160 4,366 893

My notes:

– Donna Bahorich loaned herself $50,000, which is where her cash on hand figure comes from.

– Despite having the opportunity to support a “Senator McCool”, it seems clear that Republicans prefer State Rep. Larry Taylor in SD11.

– As noted before, Wanda Adams’ money comes from her Council campaign coffers. I will be interested to see who gives to her between now and the primary. Rep. Allen unsurprisingly has the support of her legislative colleagues, at least if a recent notice about a fundraiser for her is any indication.

– Given that HD134 is likely to be the highest profile legislative race in November regardless of what the next map looks like, I was curious how Rep. Sarah Davis’ efforts stacked up against her predecessors as they headed into their first re-election campaign. In 2008, Ellen Cohen reported $188K raised, $45K spent, and $203K on hand. None of Martha Wong’s 2004 included cash on hand information, so I can’t get an exact comparison with her. Her January 2004 report showed only $7K raised and $18K spent, but I doubt that indicates that she was cash-poor, as she was a generally strong fundraiser. Her July 2005 report is the first to include cash on hand, and she had $250K at that time. For January 2006 her numbers were $127K raised, $24K spent, and $349K on hand. All this is to say that Davis is not starting out in any better shape than either Cohen or Wong, at least financially.

– I have to say, that’s an impressive amount of fundraising in HD136, which currently does not exist in Harris County. As Greg noted, the one guy with no electoral experience had quite a strong showing, and Ann Witt’s burn rate is almost as impressive. Witt also has $100K in loans to herself outstanding.

– Not much action in HD137 so far. It’s the opposite of HD136 in the sense that it was originally obliterated by the Lege but restored by the court. My guess is that if it gets folded back into HD149, none of the Dems will remain in the race. Gene Wu’s money came primarily from himself ($50K) and a relative ($20K). MJ Khan had not filed a report at the time of this publication.

– Also not much action in HD144, which is currently a Dem-favorable district, but was originally made a stronger Republican district. Legler may be feeling the effect of the uncertainty, though he surely had plenty of time before the court got involved to raise a few bucks. Ybarra had not filed a report at publication time, and Risner reported no money raised or spent.

– Don’t be fooled by Rep. Borris Miles’ numbers. He’s perfectly capable of self-funding; he has $655K in loans to himself outstanding. This is Al Edwards’ first run as a non-incumbent in the post-Craddick era. Will his old buddies still support him?

– Ray Hill had not filed a report as of publication time. I don’t really expect him to get much financial support, but you never know.

That’s about all I’ve got. As the Trib had reported earlier, uncertainty over the map for 2012 has made fundraising more of a challenge for many candidates. We can see some of that here, but I daresay things will be clearer in the next reports, which would now be due in early March but presumably will get pushed back along with the primary date, if need be. On a related note, for a look at cash on hand among Senators, see Robert Miller.

More on disciplining deputies

Here’s another long Chron story about disciplinary statistics for Harris County Sheriff’s deputies. Reading through it, I felt like there was some context missing.

A Houston Chronicle review of disciplinary records indicates that from 2008 through 2010, more than 200 jail employees were disciplined for various offenses, some serious and others minor. Last year, the Sheriff’s Office disciplined 88 employees working in detention, including jailers, deputies and civilians.

Their offenses included excessive use of force, having sex with inmates, mistakenly releasing dangerous prisoners including suspected drug dealers, sleeping on the job, and even leaving their post to have a 90-minute-long domino game. One jailer destroyed mail sent to prisoners, and another ruined a picture of an inmate’s son by spraying it with cleaning solvent.

[…]

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, in a prepared statement, said his office “employs many dedicated and professional women and men. They are the rule rather than the exception.”

The U.S. Justice Department cited a “flawed” use of force policy in a June 2009 report, adding that “systemic deficiencies” in policies and training for jailers exposed inmates to harm. Investigators found a significant number of instances where jailers used force inappropriately – including hog-tying prisoners or using choke holds – and claimed jail commanders did not interview prisoners or take corrective action.

Garcia said training and the internal complaint process has been improved and that unjustified use of force incidents against prisoners are isolated, adding they have declined during his three years in office.

A review of disciplinary actions in 2011 indicate seven jailers were punished for using excessive force against inmates and another for not reporting using force on a prisoner, the same as seven cases that brought disciplinary action in 2010.

The Sheriff’s Office provided statistics indicating a decrease in the number of jailers assaulted by inmates, as well as a decline in use of force by jailers on prisoners and fewer fights between inmates. There were 130 assaults on jailers by inmates and 3,084 prisoners involved in fights with each other in the jail last year, Garcia said.

“Our policies and practices on staff use of force against inmates take into account that, as the figures indicate, the usually calm and orderly jail environment nevertheless can sometimes be a dangerous place for employees and inmates,” Garcia stated.

If this story seems familiar to you, it’s because the Chron wrote a very similar story on October 30, which I blogged about here. A sample from that story:

A Houston Chronicle review of Sheriff’s Office discipline reports from 2007 to August provides a sobering look into a department plagued by deputies, jailers and civilians accused of violating laws they are charged to enforce and breaking department policies more than 1,200 times in the past four-and-a-half years.

In all, Sheriff Adrian Garcia has fired 81 deputies and jailers from January 2009 through August, considerably more than the 36 employees let go by his predecessor, Tommy Thomas, during 2007 and 2008. Garcia, who took over the department in January 2009, has also suspended 273 employees without pay and given 414 written reprimands.

[…]

[Garcia] said he decided not to examine past disciplinary actions to identify and remove any “bad apples” he inherited when he took office in early 2009. Instead, he felt it was more important to triple his internal affairs unit to reduce a backlog of more than 160 internal affairs complaints pending against deputies when he took office.

The embedded chart was from that earlier story. Note that the data in that story goes back to 2007, and to 2008 in the newer story. What that means is that it’s hard to do an accurate comparison from one Sheriff to another. I don’t know if the data exists for earlier in the Tommy Thomas regime – if you go to the HCSO Internal Affairs page, you can see previous IAD reports, but again they only go as far back as 2007. What was it like before then? We have no idea as far as the numbers go, but I think we have a pretty good hunch nonetheless. Note that Garcia has stepped up IAD investigations to deal with a huge backlog of complaints, a decision for which he was attacked by Stave Radack, so in a sense the increase in disciplinary actions isn’t really on his watch. Note also that that 2009 Justice Department report was based on a visit from 2008, when Thomas was still in charge, and that at Garcia’s direction the use of force policies were changed to be more rigorous. Those facts were curiously unmentioned in the Sunday story. As Grits says, it’s great that this data is available and there are certainly stories to be written about it, but it’s important to remember what the data can’t tell us, because otherwise we’re getting an incomplete picture.

Meet the voter ID three judge panel

The only voter ID anyone should need

The only voter ID anyone should need

As you know, the state of Texas has filed a lawsuit in the DC District Federal Court – the same court that is hearing the preclearance lawsuit – to get the odious voter ID law precleared. Michael Li introduces us to the judges that will be hearing this case.

Texas’ suit over its voter ID law has been assigned to a familiar face, Judge Rosemary Collyer, who is one of three judges hearing Texas’ suit over preclearance of its redistricting maps.

In addition to Judge Collyer, Chief Judge David Sentelle of the D.C. Circuit, on Friday, appointed Circuit Judge David Tatel and District Judge Robert Wilkins to sit on the panel. (Order here)

Judge Tatel is a Clinton appointee, and Judge Wilkins is an Obama appointee. As Juanita notes, that’s about as favorable a draw as Dems could want. Yes, I know, this is all a warmup act for SCOTUS, but it’s still critically important to get a good ruling. I’m hopeful this trial will go as well as the other one seems to have gone.

Matagorda smog

I feel like there are some pieces missing in this discussion.

Matagorda County, 1920s map from the General Land Office

The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to add Matagorda County to the list of Texas’ smog violators because Gulf breezes that blow through the area send air pollution toward the sprawling metropolis.

Local leaders are pushing back, saying the dubious distinction would lead to stricter regulation of industry at a time when unemployment is at 11 percent in the county.

“We have two plants, and they are minute by Houston’s standards,” Matagorda County Judge Nate McDonald said. “We are not the problem, so do not throw us under the bus because we are in a two-county proximity.”

McDonald is asking other public officials in the region for support in his fight against the EPA. Houston Mayor Annise Parker, for one, said through a spokeswoman that the federal agency has not made a scientific case to add Matagorda County to the smog list.

The move signifies the first change in geography in the federal efforts to clean Houston’s air. The list long has included Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller counties.

[…]

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says EPA data overstates Matagorda’s emissions. Also, federal regulators cannot directly link the pollution to bad air in Houston using models of wind paths, the state agency contends.

“There is nothing we have seen that shows these emissions are contributing to ozone in Houston,” said David Brymer, the TCEQ’s air quality director. “It is just a possibility.”

Carl Young, a scientist for the EPA’s Region 6, which includes Texas, said there is “no bright line” that ties Matagorda’s emissions to Houston’s dirty air, but the “weight of evidence” suggests a connection.

The TCEQ is sufficiently Perry-ized that I don’t trust it in these matters. However, it doesn’t sound like the EPA has (if you’ll pardon the expression) a smoking gun to point to. I doubt Mayor Parker would question the evidence if it were conclusive. So, I don’t know what to make of all this right now. There is an elephant in the room that the story doesn’t being up, though, and that’s the proposed White Stallion Coal Plant in Bay City, which was approved by the TCEQ but is still on hold and recently was unable to get a contract for water. There’s no question that it would have a negative effect on Houston’s air quality. I don’t know what if anything one may have to do with the other, but I’m a little surprised it wasn’t brought up in the story. Whatever the merits of including Matagorda County on the EPA smog list now, they’re surely greater if White Stallion gets built.