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April, 2012:

Interview with Joaquin Castro

Joaquin Castro

Texas will elect at least six new members of Congress this year, as there are four new seats and two members have retired. Contested primaries may produce other new members, but for sure there will be six new faces. We don’t know who most of them will be yet, but one name we can pencil in now is that of State Rep. Joaquin Castro, who is running to succeed Rep. Charlie Gonzalez in CD20. Castro, who has no primary opponent and is a heavy favorite in the general election, is a five-term State Rep from San Antonio (HD125) who was the Vice Chair of the Higher Education committee this past term; he also served on the Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence and Oversight of Higher Ed Governance, Excellence & Transparency committees. Thanks to his favorable campaign conditions and his early fundraising success borne of a pre-interim map challenge to Rep. Lloyd Doggett in CD35, Castro has been tapped by the DCCC to help win back the House for the Dems this fall. We had a lot to talk about:

Download the MP3 file

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

Metro comes to a fork in the road

Which way will they go? It’s up to them, and it’s up to us.

I sure hope we get to have all this some day

The Metropolitan Transit Authority is preparing for a referendum, likely to be on the November ballot, asking voters to decide whether to put millions more of their sales tax dollars toward transit or continue diverting part of it for road projects in their cities and Harris County.

Metro, per the 1978 referendum that created it, receives most of its funding from a 1 percent sales tax levied within its service area, which includes much of unincorporated Harris County, the city of Houston and 14 smaller cities. Since a 1988 referendum, however, a quarter of that 1 percent tax has gone to these partner governments for “general mobility” projects, such as building or fixing streets, roads, bridges, sidewalks, hike and bike trails, traffic signals, street lights and landscaping or drainage associated with road projects.

When these general mobility payments last were extended in 2003, the ballot language required another referendum within 10 years to decide whether to renew the arrangement.

The upcoming vote puts Metro, whose board must craft the ballot item, in an unusual position.

The agency has many plans for which it could use the full 1 percent sales tax, from new bus shelters to the long-planned but unfunded University and Uptown light rail lines.

The partner governments that appoint Metro’s nine board members, however, have come to rely on their quarter share of the sales tax. By September 2014, when current contracts expire, an estimated $2.7 billion will have been diverted from transit for general mobility work.

As board member Christof Spieler notes, the road work Metro provides for is valuable and needed and there is a balance to be struck, but for sure transit has come out on the short end of that deal for a long time. David Crossley is advocating that all of the sales tax allocation go to Metro so it can all be spent on transit. The results of the latest Houston Area Survey suggest there would be popular support for this, Paul Bettencourt’s amateur mind-reading notwithstanding. I rather doubt the Metro board will be willing to go whole hog like that, but for sure they need to push for a greater share for transit. I’d greatly prefer the Crossley plan to the status quo, and I think at a minimum half of the current allocation to cities needs to go back to Metro. We’ll see what they decide.

Another way Obamacare is helping Texas right now

Insurance rebates.

Texas consumers and businesses are poised to receive an estimated $186 million in rebates from health insurers under a requirement of the Affordable Care Act, according a study released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The health care act’s medical loss ratio provision requires insurers to issue rebates if their total administrative expenses and profits are relatively higher than those permitted under the act. The Kaiser study estimates that 92 percent of Texas consumers in the individual insurance market will receive rebates, the highest figure for any state in the country.

The provision, which went into effect in January 2011, requires that insurance companies covering individuals and small businesses spend at least 80 percent to 85 percent of insurance premium dollars on health care and improving care quality. The provision is designed to curb spending on administration costs and profit. When insurers don’t meet the 80/20 ratio, they are required to distribute rebates, as they will be doing come August. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates those rebates based on 2011 data will total $1.3 billion nationally.

Sarah Kliff has more on this. I propose that if SCOTUS does strike down Obamacare that Greg Abbott and all of the other Attorneys General who litigated against it be required to cover the cost of the lost refund to consumers. Who’s with me?

The battle for Williamson County DA

Outside of the Congressional races, the hottest primaries this year are District Attorney races. We’ve got them in Harris County, in Travis County, and of course in Williamson County.

An 11-year Republican incumbent who hasn’t faced an opponent since 2002, District Attorney John Bradley now finds himself in a pitched battle against the current Williamson County attorney just to keep his party’s nomination.

“It’s the most intense race I’ve seen in Wilco — period — and I was born and raised here,” said 48-year-old Bill Gravell, a political consultant and a pastor in the area. “It makes the Texas football game against Texas A&M look like a peewee game.”

Jana Duty scrapped her plans to seek re-election as county attorney, a position she’s held since 2005, to challenge Bradley.

The battle to keep his seat is a unique challenge for Bradley, who has been district attorney since he was appointed in 2001. He won the 2002 Republican primary with 68 percent of the vote.

The candidates are challenging each other’s record in office in campaign rhetoric. Duty said she’s running against Bradley because he has “propelled Williamson County into the national spotlight in a very negative light.”

You know what I think of John Bradley. I doubt I’d care much for Jana Duty, but she would have the virtue of not being John Bradley. There is a Democrat running – Ken Crain – and as always one wonders who would be the better opponent for an underdog candidate. Williamson County is trending the right way, and while it’s unlikely to be there yet the right candidate at the right time can break through. Eye on Williamson and Wilco Watchdog are good resources if you want to follow this race more closely, and of course Grits is on it as well.

Weekend link dump for April 29

No, you’re not imagining it. That Sunday talk show you watched this morning always has more Republicans on it.

The “choices” women make around childrearing and career are often not really choices at all.

Why did the Pioneer spacecraft slow down as it exited the solar system?

Food fraud to watch out for.

Rent a cow, get a tax break.

“You can talk all you want about equal parenting; nobody is raising his son from earliest childhood to see as the most important job in the world being a stay-home father dependent on a high-earning wife.”

Apparently, some perfect games are more perfect than others.

Charles Krauthammer‘s column pollutes the Chron’s op-ed pages at least once a week; it’s there every Sunday. Why any paper would want to run the words of an unrepentant liar is a mystery to me.

“The price of appendectomy [in California] ranged from as little as $1,529 to as much as $182,955 depending on where it was performed”.

“Nuns have always had a different set of priorities from that of bishops. The bishops are interested in power. The nuns are interested in the powerless. Nuns have preserved Gospel values while bishops have been perverting them. The priests drive their own new cars, while nuns ride the bus (always in pairs). The priests specialize in arrogance, the nuns in humility.”

Nothing says that you value women like vetoing funding for rape crisis centers during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to talk about sex.

I sometimes think I’m overprotective as a parent, but at least I always let my kids ride the slides by themselves.

The unbearable whiteness of mainstream TV.

I hadn’t even thought about tonsillectomies until I read that. I guess I’m doing my part to minimize unnecessary medical care in America.

President Obama had no honeymoon as far as Republicans were concerned. And yes, Team Obama should have figured that out a lot sooner than they did.

I’d be worried about typecasting if I were them.

Good for you, Brandon McCarthy.

I’ve already linked once to The Slacktivist once in this roundup, but sometimes once just isn’t enough.

And just to prove that the Catholic Church’s problems with women extend beyond uppity nuns, in vitro fertilization is now apparently a firing offense if your work for the Church in some capacity.

The other PPP April polls

In addition to their Presidential poll, Public Policy Polling asked about the Senate race and the future of Rick Perry. In their poll of the GOP Senate primary, they see things tightening up.

Every time PPP polls Texas the Republican Senate primary gets closer and closer. What was a 29 point lead for David Dewhurst in September has now been cut all the way down to 12 points. Dewhurst is at 38% to 26% for Ted Cruz, 8% for Tom Leppert, and 7% for Craig James.

Cruz’s support has increased from 12% to 18% to 26% over our last three polls. Meanwhile Dewhurst has remained stagnant in the 36-41% range. Cruz’s name recognition has increased from 29% to 48% with Republican primary voters since January and the change has almost all been positive. His favorability’s gone from 15/14 to 31/17. The other candidates have seen just modest gains in name recognition or none at all. Dewhurst’s favorability is 47/22, Leppert’s is 20/15, and James remains more disliked than popular with GOP voters at 14/21.

Dewhurst’s superior name recognition is the main reason he continues to hold a lead of any size over Cruz. Among voters who are familiar with Cruz- whether they have a positive opinion of him or not- Cruz leads Dewhurst 39-34. That suggests that as Cruz’s profile continues to increase this race may continue to get closer.

Burka thinks they’ve got this one wrong. I have no opinion. About the only outcome that would really surprise me is Craig James winning. Of interest to me were the general election matchups:

Dewhurst leads by 14-15 points against the main Democratic candidates, 50-35 over Sean Hubbard and 49-35 over Paul Sadler. The Democrats are a little bit closer to Cruz but still each trail him by 10 points- Hubbard is down 43-33 and Sadler is at a 44-34 disadvantage.

Leppert leads both the Democrats by double digits as well- he’s up 44-34 on Hubbard and 44-33 on Sadler. The only real chance Democrats have at winning this race is if the unpopular James somehow won the nomination. He leads the Democrats by considerably more narrow margins than the rest of the GOP field- it’s just 4 points at 40-36 over Sadler and 6 points at 41-35 over Hubbard.

What’s interesting about this is that David Dewhurst, who has held statewide office since 1998 and who has been Lt. Governor since 2002, does no better against a couple of little-known Democrats than Mitt Romney does against President Obama. Sadler and Hubbard’s numbers suffer from a high percentage of “don’t know/no answer” answers from African-American respondents, the vast majority of whom I daresay will eventually vote for them. I think in the end if he is the nominee Dewhurst’s margin of victory will be somewhat greater than Romney’s, but maybe not that much. Outside of the 2010 Governor’s race, there’s not been that wide a spread from one statewide race to another in the past two elections. The main factor driving differences in downballot races has been the undervote, which at least in Presidential years has been greater on the R side than the D side. However, that was not the case in the 2008 Senate race – John Cornyn (4,337,469) got nearly as many votes as John McCain (4,479,328); no other R with a D opponent topped 4.1 million, with a couple dipping below 4 million. I would expect a similar result this year, with the Dem Senate candidate suffering more from undervotes and/or third party votes, thus giving the Dew and possibly Cruz their wider margin. We’ll see if I’m right about that.

As for the Perry polling, I think they missed a chance to tell a better story.

Rick Perry’s future prospects for elected office in Texas are looking tenuous. Only 29% of voters think he should run for Governor again in 2014, while 64% think he should not. There’s actually some possibility he could win another term anyway though. 49% of Republicans think he should run again to 38% who think he should not and obviously if you win the Republican nomination in Texas you’re always going to start out in a pretty good position for the general.

The question isn’t how many Republicans would like for Perry to saddle up again in 2014, the question is how many would prefer him to Greg Abbott. Why not ask that question and give us an objective data point in the debate about whether Abbott will or should try to take Perry out? Yes, I know, it’s ridiculously early, but if you’re going to ask about whether or not Perry should run for President in 2016, that’s hardly an excuse. And if only to satisfy my curiosity about how a Governor’s race would play out in a Presidential year, why not ask about a Rick Perry-Bill White rematch? Or tease us with a Perry-Julian Castro race? Again, if we’re going to get all hypothetical, why not go all out and really grab the headlines? Maybe next time.

The state shows its intent in Planned Parenthood lawsuit

As we know, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas in order to block the “Affiliate Rule” that Rick Perry is using to deny Medicaid funds to their clinics for the Women’s Health Program. In the opening arguments of the lawsuit, the state clearly shows what its priorities are.

Right there with them

State officials will have to end a key women’s health program if Planned Parenthood wins a legal battle to continue participating, Texas’ solicitor general told a federal judge Thursday.

“In the end, Planned Parenthood would rather shut down the Women’s Health Program in its entirety” than be excluded, said Solicitor General Jonathan F. Mitchell with the state attorney general’s office.

Planned Parenthood said there’s no need for the state to end the program if the group prevails.


Planned Parenthood is suing over the state’s decision to exclude clinics associated with abortion providers from the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, even though the clinics themselves don’t provide abortions.

Planned Parenthood, which has been a large part of the program, said the provision violates its constitutional rights. The state disagrees.

The group’s lawyer, Helene T. Krasnoff, said its ouster from the program will damage Planned Parenthood financially and cause disruption for Women’s Health Program participants who rely on services through its clinics.

The program provides health screenings and birth control services to low-income women.

“There is no evidence they will be able to find another provider,” Krasnoff said. “All the evidence is to the contrary.”

Here again is the complaint filed by Planned Parenthood. If you skip down to the section where they ask for relief from the court, among other things they ask the court to “Issue preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, without bond, maintaining thestatus quo and restraining the enforcement, operation, and execution of the Affiliate Rule, andTex. Hum.Res. Code §32.024(c-1)if that statute requires that Rule”. That is, they ask that things be restored to how they were before the Affiliate Rule was put into place and barred them from participating in the WHP. It would be the choice of the state of Texas and Rick Perry at that point to either go back to how things were, which presumably would mean collecting those 9-to-1 federal matching funds again and saving millions of dollars, or to decide to end the Women’s Health Program entirely. The comments of Solicitor General Mitchell tell you what you need to know about that. This has always been about putting politics above all else, and if Judge Lee Yeakel grants the plaintiffs’ motion – he has said he’ll rule by April 30, which is to say tomorrow – we’ll know just how far Perry and his cronies are willing to take it. Burka has more, and a statement from Melaney A. Linton, President & CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast is beneath the fold.


Residency is more state of mind than anything else

From the “Home is where you say it is” department.

Delicia Herrera

Her dogs live there, her mail arrives there, and her “stuff” is still there.

But Delicia Herrera insists she no longer lives at the home she owns on SW 39th Street.

The house sits in Texas House District 124, and the former city councilwoman is running in the Democratic primary for District 125. State law requires elected officials to live in the district they represent.

Herrera said she now lives on Glen Heather, in the northwest corner of the district, which runs in a strip from Loop 1604 on either side of Bandera Road to the city’s near West Side.

“I haven’t been sleeping there the past week, but I will be from now on,” she said Thursday afternoon on a break from block walking.

Candidates had until April 9 to establish residency in the district in which they’re seeking office, according to the Texas Secretary of State. That deadline came from the federal court order establishing interim congressional, House and Senate boundaries in the state’s ongoing redistricting battle.

Herrera said she was told the deadline was April 18. “I remember because it was near tax day,” she said.

She changed her address to Glen Heather on her voter registration card on April 3, according to the Bexar County Elections Office.

That home belongs to Sylvia Velasquez Cortez, who was listed as Herrera’s campaign treasurer on her January campaign finance report.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I know very little about Herrera or her primary opponent, Justin Rodriguez. I’m just citing this as another example of Texas’ notoriously forgiving residency laws, which generally make it easy to register or represent wherever you say you live, whether or not you really live there. The Lege is full of people who don’t live where they represent. Voters generally give them a pass, and even opponents don’t usually kick up a fuss – Rodriguez is quoted in the story saying he’s focused on other things – and when they do it often fails to get traction. It’s probably not the best way to do things, but it’s not particularly high on anyone’s priority list (mine included), so it is how it is.

Saturday video break: Jealous Guy

Song #71 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “Jealous Guy”, by John Lennon and covered by Roxy Music. Here’s the original:

That’s apparently one of Lennon’s more widely covered songs, but I can’t say I’d heard it before. Here’s the Roxy Music cover:

Nice. Structurally the same, but unquestionably in the Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry style, and of the 80s. What do you think?

Amazon settles up with Texas

Good. will start collecting sales taxes from Texas customers this summer and agreed to make capital investments of $200 million and create 2,500 jobs in the state over the next four years, Comptroller Susan Combs announced this morning. In return, the state will drop its efforts to collect back sales taxes from the company.

The online retailing giant hasn’t been collecting sales taxes from customers in Texas (and in many other states), citing a provision in the law that exempts companies without a physical presence in the state from taking part. The comptroller filed a $269 million tax lien against the company, pointing to a warehouse operation in Irving and saying it should have been collecting and remitting taxes from December 2005 to December 2009.

That’s been in dispute for more than a year.

And just like that it no longer is. Seems like a fair settlement, as long as Amazon holds true to its hiring promise. I agree with Comptroller Combs and Amazon that this issue needs to be dealt with by Congress, and have been saying so all along. We’ll need a better Congress first, of course, but be that as it may, this is theirs to fix. For now, kudos to both parties for getting this done. A statement from Combs’ office can be found here.

Shrinking the Astrodome

You know what we need? Another crazy scheme to save the Astrodome, that’s what.

Not actual size

Houston architect Imad Abdullah presented the most recent plan to save the Astrodome to Harris County Commissioners recently. But the same question remains: How to pay for it.

Abdullah’s plan includes redesigning the dome into a smaller building, lowering the dome 75 feet using the same techniques when it was built 47 years ago.

Abdullah told commissioners, according to KUHF, that the new look structure could host multiple activities at the same time.

“This option has tremendous cost saving opportunities for the city,” he said. “Because they don’t have to fill the 25 foot hole, they don’t have air condition the huge volume of the Dome, and it can be sub divided a whole lot easier to various tenants, and can generate a lot of income.”

Now, how to pay for it?

“For the longest time, Sports and Convention Corporation, Commissioner’s Court, everybody involved has sought individuals, companies, anybody that wants to do something with the Dome,” Harris County judge Ed Emmett said. “But nobody’s been able to come up with the money to convert it into anything.”

If there had been a way to pay for it, we’d have transformed the Dome into something else by now. The crazy ideas are the easy part. Coming up with something affordable, or at least with something that someone is willing to pay to do, that’s hard. Commissioners Court will present the options from its latest study in a couple of months.

By the way, that picture above is of a souvenir they gave out at the last Astros regular season game at the Dome back in 1999. No matter what else happens, we’ll always have our memories.

Fighting identity theft

The U of Texas is studying it.

Identity theft is a cradle-to-grave problem that costs U.S. businesses $50 billion and affects at least 10 million consumers each year.

At least 1 million children’s identities are stolen over the course of a year — often misused by their parents, said Stephen Coggeshall, chief technology officer at ID Analytics. Adults are victimized, online and offline. Companies are compromised when unwitting employees use their company log-ins and passwords surfing the Internet.

Even death offers no respite: One study by Coggeshall showed that the identities of 800,000 dead Americans are being used for illegal purposes.

The Center for Identity at the University of Texas on Monday convened a two-day conference to discuss the scope of the problem and what can be done.

Peter Tippett, who helped create the first anti-virus software, is now with Verizon, which compiles the annual Data Breach Investigative Report.

“We do more computer crime cases than all other companies combined,” Tippett said.

Criminal organizations in the United States, Russia and Brazil are targeting consumers and businesses, Tippett said. He cited a Federal Trade Commission study for the $50 billion a year cost to businesses and the 10 million affected consumers.

Tippett said that 82 percent “of all data stolen by anybody on the planet was stolen because of your password.”

In a world where 123456 remains the most popular password, Tippett said making passwords longer and changing them more often isn’t the answer, with so much hacking and malware.

“If bad guys see what you type, it doesn’t matter how strong your password is,” Tippett said.

He likened the problem with passwords to seat belts in cars. He said seat belts were only 50 percent effective in saving lives, but making them stronger was not the answer. Adding air bags made cars safer.

A second identifying factor needs to be added to the passwords, Tippett said.

Two-factor authentication has a lot going for it, but it’s also another point of failure. One common way of delivering this without having to provide some kind of gadget that contains a personal certificate is to arrange to send an authorization code via text or voice to your phone, which is a great idea as long as you’re never without your phone. I suppose it or something like it is inevitable, though, so there’s no point complaining about it.

One thing this story doesn’t touch on is that a significant factor in identity theft isn’t just careless people with easily-cracked passwords, it’s also the many corporate and government entities that have all your data and which have become lucrative targets for evildoers, or in some cases have screwed up and let supposedly secure data out into the public, as Texas Comptroller Susan Combs did last year. Seems to me there needs to be greater incentive for the keepers of these databases to prevent their theft. One model I often hear discussed is to put the financial onus for this data loss on the entity that loses it and not the individuals who are affected by it. It’s the model we use for credit cards and ATMs, where your liability is limited and the financial institution bears the risk. Those transactions are pretty darned safe nowadays because of that. That takes legislation, which is clearly a tougher row to hoe than convincing millions of people to use better passwords. As the man said, there’s only so much benefit to be gained by strengthening passwords. The back end needs to be shored up as well.

Friday random ten: Here there be randomness

Feels like the kind of week for some old school random ten-ness.

1. Dancing Barefoot – U2
2. San Lorenzo – Pat Metheny Group
3. Race Car Ya-Yas – CAKE
4. I’m In The Mood – John Lee Hooker
5. Racing In The Street – Bruce Springsteen
6. If You Love Me (You’ll Sleep On The Wet Spot) – Asylum Street Spankers
7. Urban Life – The Buddhacrush
8. Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who
9. Ripple – Bob Weir and Ratdog
10. Lotus Blossum – Joe Henderson

Yeah, nobody does a love song quite like the Spankers. They split up a year or so ago and I’m still bummed out by it. What are you listening to this week?

Here come the lobbyists

It’s getting real in the United versus Southwest fight.

This was one of the less impolite images I found on Google

Both sides have enlisted A-list lobbying teams. United’s includes Marty Stein, who until little more than a year ago was Mayor Annise Parker’s agenda director; former City Attorney Anthony Hall and Greater Houston Partnership Airports Task Force Chair Michelle Baden. Southwest has former City Councilwoman Graci Saenz, and Jeri Brooks, communications director for Parker’s 2009 campaign, lobbying at City Hall. State Rep. Garnet Coleman also is advising Southwest.

Darrin Hall, Parker’s deputy chief of staff, called it the largest and most intense lobbying effort he has ever seen in eight years at City Hall.

Then, there is the money. A Chronicle review of campaign contribution records dating back to 2007 turned up nearly $90,000 in donations to current council members, the mayor and the 2010 inaugural celebration by Continental’s employees political action committee, and past and present Continental/United executives. Parker alone has received $52,298 since the beginning of her last term as controller.

It’s not just money, explained Chris Bell, a former city councilman and former congressman.

“Politics is a relationship business and those relationships are built up over time,” he said. Continental built those relationships, not with just campaign cash, but by sponsoring and buying tables at local events, supporting arts organizations, lobbying and being out in the community.

Southwest, by contrast, doesn’t do campaign contributions. United built up all that good will as Continental, and going by public reaction at least it’s not clear how much of it has carried over. Of course, if you go by Council’s reaction you get a different picture; Mayor Parker, on the other hand, is more in line with public sentiment. It’s too early to say how this will play out, but I will say this: The best counterweight to lobbyists and campaign contributions is your own voice. If you have an opinion about this, whoever it favors or opposes, call your Council member, the five At Large members, and the Mayor and tell them what you think. Be brief, be clear, and be polite to whoever answers the phone. They do pay attention, and they keep track of how many of each type of call they get on an issue like this. Sending an actual piece of snail mail is as good as a call, sending an email is not as good but better than nothing. Unless you have your own lobbyist to do this work for you, it’s your best bet.

Rep. Reynolds busted for barratry

Oh, for crying out loud.

Rep. Ron Reynolds

State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, was arrested Tuesday evening [for barratry, the unlawful solicitation of clients by lawyers] and posted $5,000 bail shortly after midnight. A former associate municipal judge for the City of Houston, Reynolds, 38, is a managing partner in the Bellaire law firm of Brown, Brown & Reynolds, as well as an adjunct professor at Texas Southern University.

“While the facts of the case have yet to be disclosed to me, it is my intent to fully cooperate with the prosecutors who are pursuing the charges,” he said in a statement.

Harris County prosecutors say that Marcela Halmagean filed the complaint against Reynolds, alleging that he used a representative to solicit her as a prospective client after she was involved in a motor vehicle accident in Harris County. Halmagean is a Houston lawyer whose firm practices business, commercial and family law.

Texas law prohibits soliciting a client for legal services. Barratry is a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Here’s his full statement via his Facebook page, in which he says “it appears that the charges filed against me are politicized” and that he maintains his innocence and will “vigorously” defend himself. All I can say is I hope he’s right. Until then, I expect he’ll have some explaining to do to constituents.

Bike sharing is officially almost here

From Citizens Net:

Beginning Wednesday, May 2, 2012, Houston will be one of only 15 U.S. cities to launch a bike share program to make getting around downtown a whole lot easier. The bike share program, known as Houston B-cycle, is perfect for trips that are too far to walk but too short to drive.

Houston’s initial phase will include three stations and 18 bikes and will demonstrate the potential of bike share in Houston. Houston B-cycle will initially be available at City Hall, the George R. Brown Convention Center and Market Square Park. The self-service bike B-Cycle Station will be available from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day. Bikes can be checked out during these hours and dropped back off at the same location or any other B-cycle station. The bikes can be ridden anywhere and locked up even if no kiosk is available.

Houston B-cycle is a membership-driven bike share system requiring a minimum age of 18 to join. Memberships are available by day, week or year. All members have unlimited access to the bikes. With a paid membership, the first 90 minutes are free. All memberships start at the time of your first bike use, not the day and time you purchased the membership. Riders are encouraged to wear their own helmets.

Houston’s program will be managed and operated by the nonprofit Houston Bike Share, which has the mission to implement, expand and operate a Houston-based bike share program that will be environmentally friendly, financially sustainable and affordable. For the first year of the pilot program, Bike Barn will donate maintenance for the B-Cycle Stations and Bikes. The program is sponsored by the City of Houston, Bike Barn, BikeHouston, Downtown District and Houston First Corporation.

For more information, memberships and maps visit, email Lisa Lin at [email protected] or call 832.393.0850.

The Houston B-Cycle page now has some stuff on it. This whole thing has taken longer than I thought it would, but better late than never. Let’s hope it’s as successful as San Antonio has been.

Your voter registration card is in the mail

Someone was just asking me about this, so I’m glad to see that they’re on their way.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The only voter ID anyone should need

Harris County officials prepared to ship out 1.7 million voter registration cards Tuesday – after an unprecedented nearly five-month delay resulting from a grilling court battle over redistricting.

Across Texas, election officials are required to send out new voter registration cards to all 11.6 million active voters no later than Wednesday, under deadlines set by a federal judge who oversaw the redistricting case. Some counties already sent out their cards, but Secretary of State Spokesman Rich Parsons said he could not confirm how many would meet the judge-imposed time limit.

Renee Fleming, a business service network representative with the U.S. Postal Service, oversaw the delivery of 6,255 pounds of cards at the Houston downtown post office on Tuesday.


Statewide, however, about 1.3 million registered voters, nearly 1 in 10, won’t get a new card this week because they are listed as being “in suspense” – which typically means officials lack a valid address for them. In Harris County, one in five voters under 30 is “in suspense,” mainly because younger voters tend to move a lot.

“The bulk is people who have moved and not updated their addresses,” said Harris County voter registration manager Tom Moon. “They can still vote – they’re not ‘unregistered.’ ”

Any Texas voter who doesn’t receive a new yellow registration card soon – and hasn’t moved out of county – can vote with a valid ID. However, voters should check their registration status and update addresses or re-register by midnight on April 30 to avoid problems or paperwork at the polls, if they plan to vote in the May 29 primaries, Parsons said.

Voters can update addresses online if they remained in the same county and have a Texas driver’s license.

So there you have it. As the sidebar of the story somewhat messily notes, you can learn more at, you can confirm your registration status here, and you can update your address if you moved within the same county and have ID here. New voters will get their cards a little later. I would say that unless you’re one of those new voters if you don’t have your voter registration card by the end of next week, you should probably call the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office at 713 274 8683 to inquire. And if you aren’t currently registered to vote, the deadline to do so for the May 29 primary is Monday, April 30. Time’s running out, so don’t wait any longer.

“Bum Phillips: The Opera”

Would you like to see an opera based on the life of legendary former Houston Oilers head coach Bum Phillips? Of course you would. And you can make it happen.

BUM PHILLIPS is a world premiere operatic work inspired by the life of retired National Football League coach, O.A. “Bum” Phillips, and produced by Monk Parrots, a New York-based nonprofit performing arts organization.

In 2011, I presented the idea for this opera to nationally renowned playwright Kirk Lynn. My company, Monk Parrots, wishes to commission Kirk Lynn and acclaimed composer Peter Stopschinski to provide the libretto and score. This dynamic trio was introduced in Austin, Texas by the success of two contemporary musical-plays, Stopschinski and Lynn’s I’VE NEVER BEEN SO HAPPY, and my direction of David Lang and Mac Wellman’s THE DIFFICULTY OF CROSSING A FIELD. Our new, unconventional opera inspired by Coach Phillips seeks to challenge the form and advance the careers of burgeoning artists.

In 1975, O.A. “Bum” Phillips became head coach of the Houston Oilers, one of the worst teams in the NFL at that time. Phillips quickly converted the Oilers into a winning franchise resulting in a “Shangri-La” era in the city of Houston and a citywide phenomenon of devoted fans dubbed “Luv Ya Blue”. This humble hero’s triumphs came with sacrifices, as his obsessions affected his relationship with his family. A devastating termination from the Oilers in 1980 propelled him toward a spiritual quest that he later said he had avoided his entire life. Sunday mornings, previously a time for football and the military (Phillips had enlisted after the events of Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941) became a time for church. As such, Bum Phillips uses the question, “What to do on a Sunday?” as a unifying principle in which to examine themes relevant to contemporary audiences, such as ethics, family, faith, and happiness.

The first fundraising priority is to raise enough money to commission the score and libretto . We must raise $10,000 by Sunday, April 29, 2012 in order to cover the commission fees. Should we raise more than $10,000, any additional monies will be applied to the overall production budget, currently $85,000. The first draft is due by January 2013, in preparation for a concert reading and workshop production, followed by a second workshop and the premiere in fall 2013. Please join the making of this bold new work by contributing to our fundraising campaign today. Your generosity will be proudly acknowledged in the production playbill. Thank you for your support.

For more information about Bum Phillips and Bum Phillips Charities, please visit

I heard about this through my friend Stephanie Stradley. It sounds like an awesome idea to me, so I went ahead and made a pledge. If you agree, please consider doing so as well. Thanks very much.

PPP’s April poll of Texas

Here’s Public Policy Polling’s latest snapshot of Texas heading into May and the primaries.

If Newt Gingrich was going to win a big victory anywhere between now and the Republican convention Texas would be a logical candidate…but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Mitt Romney leads the state with 45% to 35% for Newt Gingrich and 14% for Ron Paul.

Texas really shows the extent to which GOP voters have unified around Romney over the last few weeks. When we polled the state in January Republicans were evenly divided in their feelings about him with 44% rating him favorably and 44% giving him poor marks. Now his favorability is a +43 spread at 66/23. That’s very much indicative of people jumping on board the train.


Texas looks like it will remain Republican in the general election, although it might be closer than it was in 2008. Romney leads Obama by 7 points at 50-43. John McCain took the state by 13 points in 2008. Obama leads Romney 56-34 with Hispanics and 57-35 with young voters. This is not likely to be the year Texas goes Democratic, but the trends with those groups make it seem possible it will happen some day.

One thing that would make Obama more competitive in Texas is the- very, very off chance- that Rick Perry was on the ticket. In that case Romney’s advantage over Obama would be reduced from 50-43 to 50-45. Perry’s Presidential bid clearly did a lot of damage to his reputation. His approval rating has sunk into the 30s at 39%, with 53% of voters disapproving of him. With independents he’s even worse off at 30/62. We’ll have more on how Texans feel about Perry’s political future later in the week but it’s clear the hurt to his image from his failed campaign hasn’t dissipated yet.

I’m sure I’ll have something to say about those results as well. You can see PPP’s full data here. If you scroll down to page 9, which is where the general election matchup stuff starts, you will see that Perry’s approval rating in Texas is slightly worse than Obama’s; the President’s numbers are 42% approve and 52% disapprove. Oh, the humanity!

PPP’s April numbers are nearly identical to their January numbers, in which Romney and flavor-of-the-month Rick Santorum both led Obama by a 49-42 margin. It’s consistent with all other polling we’ve seen so far, with the exception of that UT/Trib poll from the time of Santorum’s surge, and that’s only if you apply their strange “likely voter” filter. I figure we’ll get another set of their numbers soon, perhaps before the May 29 election date, so we’ll see how they compare. While I’m sure PPP did not include Santorum as an option for poll responders since he’s suspended his campaign, he will be on the ballot. I think the effect of not mentioning him likely overstates Gingrich’s support, but it would not surprise me if Romney’s numbers dipped a bit as well. Interesting that even with the consolidation of support Romney still can’t get to 50, isn’t it? As they say, the only poll that matters is May 29.

Our long Amazonian nightmare may finally be over

Negotiations are in progress to get Amazon to pay something like its fair share. is negotiating with the state to start paying Texas sales taxes on online sales and to create some jobs in the state, reviving talks that fell apart at the end of last year’s legislative session, sources involved in the conversations said today.

A deal would apparently end the state’s attempts to force the company to collect sales taxes. Comptroller Susan Combs accused the company of ducking $269 million in sales taxes it should have paid from December 2005 to December 2009. The company threatened to close a warehouse operation in Irving that it said employed about 120 people.

The comptroller’s office had no immediate comment about the talks.

“There are meetings going on, but I can’t tell you much else about it,” said state Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton. He’s been involved in the online sales tax issue at the legislative level, but said he isn’t directly involved in current negotiations.

This week, the company reached agreement in a similar dispute in Nevada and is reportedly negotiating sales tax agreements with other states. No hard estimates are available on what such an agreement would bring into the Texas treasury. In its lawsuit, the state put the annual number at about $70 million. In Nevada, where the sales tax ranges up to 8.1 percent, officials expect the Amazon deal to bring $16 million annually into state coffers.


“As long as they’ll start collecting sales taxes this fiscal year or within the next four or five months, that’s really what’s important,” Otto said. “We’ve got to level this playing field.”

I presume this would also settle the ongoing litigation between Amazon and the state. This has been a long time coming, and I don’t really have anything to add other than I agree with what Rep. Otto says. See here for prior blogging on the subject.

Delay in voter ID trial requested

From Michael Li:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The only voter ID anyone should need

Intervenors in the Texas voter ID case asked the court today to delay the scheduled July 9 start of trial in the case, citing discovery delays by the State of Texas.  The intervenors said the delays had already put the parties at least five weeks behind schedule.

According to the motion:

From the outset, Texas has asked for speed from others, but conducted itself as if time were not of the essence … Despite months of lead time, Texas has not been prepared to meet the very accelerated scheduled for which it petitioned this Court.

The intervenors cited to what they said was the insistence of the state on formal discovery before producing even basic documents such as transcripts of the legislative process.

More critically, they said the state had yet to produce “essential commuter data” from its voter registration, driver’s license, and concealed weapon permit databases that the intervenors said they needed to prepare detailed expert reports on the effect of the law on minority voters.  They said those problems were compounded by misrepresentations by the state about the information maintained in its databases and the fact that, even when the state had produced information, it delayed in providing the intervenors with the passwords necessary to access the data.

The intervenors also said that the state’s repeated assertions of broad evidentiary privileges had “resulted in weeks, if not months, of delay in discovery.”

The Justice Department has made the same request, echoing the intervenors’ arguments:

Texas has failed to produce critical discovery in a timely manner or at all, and has asserted wide-ranging, shifting, and sequential privilege claims that will continue to require significant resources from the parties and the Court to resolve. These discovery delays have been caused by the State’s own conduct and strategic decisions, and have occurred despite the Attorney General’s best efforts to facilitate the expedited litigation of this matter. While the Attorney General shares the parties’ and the Court’s interest in resolving this matter as quickly as is reasonable, the State’s litigation decisions and discovery delays have rendered a July 9, 2012 trial date both impractical and severely prejudicial to the Attorney General … The State of Texas, which professes that ‘implementing SB 14 for the November 2012 elections is the paramount goal of this litigation,’ (ECF 83) has taken precisely the opposite approach at every step.

Ouch. There are stories about this now in the Express News and Statesman; you can see the intervenors’ filing here and the DOJ’s filing here. A response from the state is due today. One of the reasons for delay has been the state’s insistence that legislators be shielded from depositions; last week the court ruled that in general legislators would not be exempted from being deposed but could ask to be excluded on a case by case basis. No doubt that will drag things out further. Note here that the state’s modus operandi has been similar to that for redistricting. They took their time producing maps, then took the long road for preclearance, and finally threw the entire election schedule into chaos by pursuing and getting a stay from SCOTUS on the original interim maps, all the while complaining about how long this was taking. Note also that the state took its sweet time responding to the Justice Department’s requests for data during the preclearance process for voter ID. It’s entirely their responsibility that it’s this late in the calendar. I see no reason why the court should give them any special dispensation here. This trial will take as long as it takes, and if you don’t like it that’s just tough.

On a side note, because I don’t have any better place to fit this in, AG Greg Abbott’s office accidentally exposed the Social Security numbers of 13 million registered voters in Texas. Thankfully, the goofup was caught before anything that shouldn’t have been was made publicly available. Oops.

Texas blog roundup for the week of April 23

The Texas Progressive Alliance honors the life of Dick Clark by bringing you a weekly roundup with a good beat that you can dance to.


Interview with Anthony Troiani

Anthony Troiani

I have one more interview in CD34 today, and will be back next week with three more interviews. I’m still working on getting more lined up. Today’s subject is Anthony Troiani, who is currently serving as City Commissioner At Large A in Brownsville. Troiani is a Marine Corps veteran and attorney who has also worked in the Cameron County District Attorney’s office. 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 Texas Primary Elections page. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

Brown’s staff departures

Normally there’s nothing terribly newsworthy about a couple of Council staffers moving on, but there’s never been anything normal about CM Helena Brown’s office.

CM Helena Brown

Councilwoman Helena Brown’s two highest-ranking staff members have resigned less than four months into her two-year term.

Chief of Staff Leticia Ablaza and Rasuali Bray, Brown’s chief deputy director, resigned Monday.

Brown did not respond to requests for comment.

A third member of her staff resigned in March.

Ablaza confirmed her resignation, but declined to comment further.

Brown staffed her office in January with five employees who worked 39 hours a week and, yet, were classified as part-timers, disqualifying them from city-provided health insurance, pensions, vacations or other benefits.

A statement from her office at the time asserted that all of them were offered health benefits but declined. She also started with two other staffers who worked fewer hours. Brown is the only member of council to employ an entirely part-time staff.

Surely I’m not the only one who suspects there’s a lot more to this than what anyone was willing to say on the record. Staff turnover is unremarkable, but losing three people in your first four months in office is not. Much has been made about Brown’s “part time” staff, which meant they were paid for a maximum of 39 hours a week and got no city-subsidized health insurance. But let’s get real here: Ablaza and Bray, like their counterparts in any other Council members’ offices, were surely working many more hours a week than that. It’s the nature of the job. But not only did they not get insurance, they didn’t get paid time off. Seems to me that no matter what you think about government, most people at some point are going to want a better deal than that, and who can blame them? To me, that’s what this is about. We’ll see how it goes with their replacements, or with whatever volunteers there are to step in.

Houston area transit preferences in 2012

The 2012 Houston Area Survey is in the can, and though the data has not been published to their website yet, there have been a few preview tidbits tossed out to whet everyone’s appetite. One of them has to do with attitudes about transit and neighborhoods.

But perhaps the most dramatic change, [Rice professor Stephen] Klineberg said, was the desire of Harris County residents for a less car-centered, more urban lifestyle.

Just more than half of people – 51 percent – said they would choose a smaller home within walking distance of workplaces and shops, rather than a single-family home with a big yard, which required driving almost everywhere they wanted to go.

That was up from 39 percent in 2010, the last time the question was asked.

Klineberg attributed the increase to exasperation with traffic, new and refurbished residential buildings downtown, in Midtown and east of downtown and the action in and around Discovery Green. But it also could reflect revamped suburban developments in Sugar Land, The Woodlands and elsewhere that combine homes, shops and entertainment, he said.

People in Harris County and in the surrounding counties offered support for mass transit, including a majority who said they would prefer the current diversion of transit taxes for street, drainage and landscaping projects be spent instead on transit.

“That is completely consistent with what we are seeing,” said Gilbert Garcia, chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority board. “Everyone wants more service. We know people want to see their tax dollars spent on mobility and transit.”

That would be a big deal, considering that Metro will almost certainly have a referendum on the ballot this year to continue the work from the 2003 referendum, and a question about the diversion of sales tax revenue to the cities in Metro’s service area for road work may well be part of it. There’s no guarantee that what was expressed in this survey will translate to victory at the ballot box, but I for one would rather start out ahead than start out behind.

You can see previous HAS questions and responses for city versus suburban living, traffic and congestion, and for planning and land use, which has the question about smaller homes nearer work versus larger homes. I’m either not seeing the question about diverting sales taxes to transit or they’re interpolating from a question with different wording. In any event, as I said the 2012 data is not up yet. Keep that in mind as you read one of the more amazing accomplishment in idiotic quotes I’ve seen in years:

Paul Bettencourt, former Harris County tax assessor-collector and a frequent critic of government spending, said he suspects the survey reflects support for solutions like natural-gas buses and even high-speed rail, rather than more light rail.

“I hear a lot of discussion about, ‘Hey, why don’t we use natural gas buses. Let them go everywhere, as opposed to just tracks on streets.’ ”

How stupid is this? Let me count the ways.

1. Bettencourt is neither an elected official nor an expert on transit. He’s Just Some Guy who happens to dislike Metro and is always willing to provide an “I’m agin’ it” quote whenever a Chron reporter needs one. I sometimes think he pre-emptively calls them himself to see if they’ve got something in the works that might need a few droppings of his wisdom.

2. Bettencourt hasn’t seen any of the survey data, but it doesn’t matter because he knows what the people really think, and what they really think is exactly what he thinks. I presume he also has the phone number for Tom Friedman’s mystical cab driver along with that of every Chron reporter in his contacts.

3. Not to get all technical or anything, but high speed rail has pretty much nothing to do with commuting, unless you’re one of those people who lives in one city and works in another. It certainly has nothing to do with getting around a city.

Other than that, what he had to say was insightful and added value to the story. I can hardly wait for his next quote opportunity.

Urban chickens update

From TM Daily Post:

A survey of Texas chicken husbandry regulations showed an overall tolerance for backyard fowl as long as the noise and smell don’t offend your neighbors (although some cities, like Plano, forbid chickens). The regs require considerable patience to wade through, as chickens are not addressed in one tidy section. Most cities did agree that roosters are poultry non grata because of their love of pre-dawn crowing. And poop must be scooped on a regular basis.

 Urban Chicken Regulations in Major Texas Cities is a ueful website on all things chicken and includes summaries of Texas laws.

See here for more about the local movement called Hens for Houston. The Chron had a Sunday feature story about their founder.

[A] Houston ordinance says chicken coops must be 100 feet away from any neighboring buildings. Because most lots are not that big, many chickens in the city are illegal, although it’s an ordinance the city enforces on a complaint basis.

Hens for Houston, led by Claire Krebs, would like to see the city code changed. Her group still is in the research phase.

“I’ve always liked the idea of having chickens,” says the Houston native and Rice University graduate. “I went to Peace Corps right after graduating. I was in Honduras and there are chickens everywhere.”

Ready to settle in Houston, Krebs was not keen to break the law and risk having her chickens taken away. But she thought the time was right for the city to take another look at its fowl restrictions.

Many cities, including Dallas, allow backyard chickens, although roosters are banned, she says. That makes sense because roosters crow loudly at all hours of the day and night. Hens produce eggs without roosters.

Krebs notes that Houston’s poorly written ordinance allows 30 roosters if you have a big enough lot.

“You have to think about your neighbors,” Krebs says. “We are living in a city together. You wouldn’t want your neighbor’s dog barking all night. But hens hardly make noise at all.”

They’re working on their draft proposal, so we may see some action soon. Their petition now has over 300 signatures. I wish them good luck

Interview with Ramiro Garza

Ramiro Garza

Next I have two interviews from a seat that’s new in number but not really in composition. CD34 is the updated version of what was CD27, now with no incumbent, and as an open seat it has attracted a large field of candidates. My first interview from that field is with Ramiro Garza. Garza was appointed Edinburg City Manager in 2009 and served in that post through 2011. Garza has worked in community economic development, beginning with a position with President Bill Clinton’s federal empowerment zone program and culminating with being the executive director of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, where he served for nearly a decade. He has served on a number of boards and councils, and is a member of the Texas Border Coalition. 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 Texas Primary Elections page. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

We really don’t know anything about the “Ministers for Keryl” email

Here’s something I recently learned: You can create a free account on MailChimp, the bulk mailer used by the Keryl Douglas campaign and also by whoever sent that awful “Ministers for Keryl” email. You can do this pretty much anonymously, and can send a lot of email that way. See for yourself.

With MailChimp’s Forever Free plan, you can send 12,000 emails a month to a list of up to 2,000 subscribers, but there are a few features that are only available to users with paid accounts.

Is it really free forever?

Yep, there’s no catch. As long as you’ve got less than 2,000 subscribers, you can send up to 12,000 emails per month without paying us a dime. We won’t even ask for a credit card.

Here’s a screenshot from their Signup page:

So what that means is that we really don’t know who sent that “Ministers for Keryl” email. All that fancy analysis of the headers tells us is that the email was sent via MailChimp. We can’t determine anything further from it. It means that Keryl Douglas’ denial is entirely plausible. Anyone, for any reason, could have done this. Two thousand emails are more than enough to make it seem like a normal email blast. The only way we can get closer to the truth is for MailChimp to provide whatever details it can about the email from its logs. Maybe the IP address will tell us something, or maybe the sender accidentally exposed some other information about himself or herself. Everything else is just speculation.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the Keryl Douglas campaign didn’t send that email. Sometimes the simplest explanation is the best one. However, knowing about this free service means that in the absence of any further information from MailChimp, there is sufficient reasonable doubt to acquit. Douglas has said she filed a criminal complaint about this, and I hope that means HPD is investigating and that they have requested and received log files from MailChimp. If not, the longer we go without an answer the more likely we’ll never get one, because sooner or later those log files are going to be deleted or overwritten. If someone with a stake in this hasn’t made that request by now, time is running out.

As I’ve thought about this, I’ve debated whether the sender of this email was really smart, or really stupid. I’m now leaning towards “smart, but maybe not as smart as they think”. The thing that’s been nagging at me is the difference in the List-Unsubscribe information between the legitimate Douglas email and the Ministers email. If you’re smart enough to know that the Douglas campaign uses MailChimp and you want to frame them for something like this, why not use the same list name her campaign had used before? Of course, changing it from the generic “democrats” to the more provocative “keryldouglascampaign” did accomplish the goal of getting someone to point a finger, and maybe that’s all any potential troublemaker might have cared about. It stands out as odd under scrutiny, but it sure did take me long enough to notice, and any intended damage is already done. And who knows, maybe I’m just overthinking this. The less you know for sure, the more you want to try to fill in the blanks.

One thing I do know for sure is that if I’m affiliated with a campaign, I would not use MailChimp on a bet. This episode demonstrates clearly that it’s far too insecure to use for that purpose. Use a mailer that doesn’t allow freebies, or take your chances that someone will spoof you. Consider yourselves warned.

How Perry punked the GHP

Last week, I wrote about Rick Perry’s budget suicide pact and how it was endorsed by the Greater Houston Partnership in a credibility-killing move. Turns out, according to Patti Hart, Perry didn’t exactly tell them what it was they were endorsing.

Is this not an honest face?

Through statements vetted by committee, the GHP has supported increasing the cigarette tax, saying the state needs to “create new revenue streams to address the state budget shortfall.” It has opposed budget cuts to Texas colleges and universities. Citing research showing the importance of early childhood education, the pro-business group has supported funding for pre-kindergarten programs.

The resolutions go on and on: Spend more money to educate more Texas doctors and nurses to expand our inadequate healthcare workforce. Make sure Texas Medicaid healthcare providers are adequately reimbursed for their services. Tweak the margins tax to make it fairer, and resist the urge to exempt all small businesses.

So it was shocking to see the GHP’s CEO, Jeff Moseley, standing next to Gov. Rick Perry on Monday when Perry unveiled his “compact” promising no new taxes next legislative session. Perry’s plan not only flies in the face of all of the GHP resolutions, but would make it impossible for the Legislature to provide any funding for highway construction or water resources outlined in our drought-stricken state’s water plan.

How could Moseley support a “compact” in light of these resolutions?

“You are exactly right,” Moseley confessed, when I caught him a few days after his appearance with Perry. “The specifics (of the Perry plan) have not been approved by our board. We’ve got positions that go in another direction.”


Moseley’s explanation can be boiled down to what I’ll call the Cool Hand Luke defense: What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.

It seems that the governor’s people informed Moseley’s people that Perry was coming to town to talk about the state budget. Would Moseley provide an endorsement of the pro-business principles that Perry advances?

Sounded reasonable at the time, but before Moseley knew it, his generic words were being offered as approval of a specific plan that he had not seen.

“We support his pro-business agenda, his principles,” Moseley said. “I didn’t know the detail of his plan – the five points. I didn’t know it was a compact.”

Let this be a lesson to you, Jeff Moseley. You can’t trust Rick Perry. He only has his own interests at heart. He’s happy to use you when you can be helpful to him, but you won’t get anything out of it that you weren’t always going to get. The fact that Rick Perry occasionally does things that you support should not distract you from the fact that he opposes things you support far more often, and by going along to get along you harm yourself and your members’ interests.

Which is the larger point Hart wanted to make:

In a bygone era, governors sought the counsel of the Texas business community. Its leaders not only identified problems, but sought solutions, and held our elected officials accountable. Remember Ross Perot’s commission on public education?

Now it seems our business leaders are only interested in lining their own pockets. They don’t stand up to Perry, because they want his environmental board to clear the path for a radioactive waste facility (billionaire Harold Simmons) or they have their hand out for a grant from the governor’s Enterprise Fund.

Passing resolutions is better than doing nothing but what’s really needed is a Texas business leader willing to speak up – loudly – and challenge the governor. It’s hard to think of a recent example of a Texas business leader accomplishing a public-spirited goal.

This is a theme I’ve hit on over and over again with the Texas Association of Business, which has claimed for some time now to want to stop the demonization of immigrants but who keep on supporting the demonizers like Leo Berman and Debbie Riddle. Long as they get their tax breaks and crony appointments, it’s all good. It would be a lot easier to achieve some of the goals they say they support if they weren’t actively opposing them at the same time. Burka and EoW have more.

Chron profiles of Lykos and Anderson

We’ve already had an overview of the GOP DA primary, but that race is apparently too big for just one story, so now we have profiles of the two candidates, Pat Lykos and Mike Anderson. I figure if you’re following this race closely there’s not much stories like these are likely to tell you that you don’t already know, but they do sometimes remind you of things you may have forgotten about. That was the case for me in the Lykos story:

In this corner...

Going in to this political season, she has had to contend with two grand jury investigations of her office, both of which ended without returning any indictments.

One was an inquiry in to a former prosecutor’s allegation that she was made to under-report her overtime.

The other investigation, about HPD’s troubled breath alcohol testing vehicles, lasted six months and regularly was in the public eye because several court documents were released about the machinations of the process.

After the grand jury disbanded without any action, the members released a letter blasting Lykos for “unexpected resistance.” They also said she investigated them, which she denied.

The district attorney railed against the grand jurors and said the letter showed that the investigation was politically motivated.

The back and forth led to yet another investigation, this one by the Texas Rangers about whether county resources were used to investigate grand jurors. That investigation continues.

I’d forgotten about the first grand jury, and while I hadn’t forgotten about the Rangers investigation it hadn’t occurred to me recently to wonder what its status was. Now I know. As for the Anderson story, I did learn something new:

...And in this corner

“As a judge, Mike Anderson was very formal,” said defense attorney Norman Silverman. “I never had a problem with him, although as a judge he was state’s-minded. I had to have all my i’s dotted and t’s crossed.”

His detractors also say that his candidacy is an exercise in revanchism – revenge by members of an old guard resentful that an outsider, Lykos, wrested the office from their grasp in 2008.

Silverman, who is backing Lykos, holds to that theory. “When [Johnny] Holmes and (Chuck) Rosenthal ran that office, it was very much of a good-ol’-boy network,” he said. “We had to copy offense notes by hand and could only take notes. Lykos has just brought a much more refreshing let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may attitude. She’s been much more forthcoming with sharing information.”

Anderson rejects the idea of revenge but agrees that he represents a return to an earlier way of running the office. “There are some things from the good, old days that are very, very important – honor, integrity, ethics,” he said. “I mean all of those things should just flow like a heart beat at that office.”

Holmes, who retired in 2000 after 21 years as district attorney, supports his former colleague. “I have no personal animosity toward Pat Lykos,” he said, “but what’s been happening in her office tells me she doesn’t know what she’s doing. This isn’t on-the-job training.”

Holmes added that if Anderson lost to Lykos in the primary, he would vote in the fall for the likely Democratic nominee, former assistant district attorney Zack Fertitta.

I figure after most hard-fought primaries, especially ones where there’s some bad blood to begin with, there are loyalists of the losing candidate who refuse to back the winner. I also figure that in most cases, the effect is fairly minimal, and that party affiliation usually wins out. This one may be an exception. I admit I was a bit stunned to see Johnny Holmes say for the record that he would not vote for Lykos if she gets re-nominated. Will that make a difference in the fall? Would there be the same effect if Anderson wins? I really can’t say, but it’ll sure be worth keeping an eye on. As a reminder once again, you can listen to my interview with Lykos here and with Anderson here.

Interview with Marc Veasey

Marc Veasey

In Week 2 of my contested Congressional tour of Texas, I have one interview from the most heavily populated primary, and two from the second most heavily populated. First up is State Rep. Marc Veasey, who is running in the hotly contested race for the new CD33 in the Metroplex. Veasey was elected to HD95 in Tarrant County in 2004, knocking off a Craddick Dem in the process. Veasey has been one of the stronger progressive voices in the Lege, and has served as the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus. He was on the Elections and Redistricting committees this past session, and was one of the key intervenors in the lawsuit over the House, Senate, and Congressional maps; more recently, he joined the court case against the voter ID law. Prior to being elected to the Lege, he was a staffer for former Rep. Martin Frost. 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 Texas Primary Elections page. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

Ending the Lottery?

Seems unlikely, but that won’t stop some folks from trying.

As lawmakers look at whether the Texas Lottery Commission is operating effectively, influential Baptists are suggesting that the lottery shouldn’t merely be tweaked. They want it abolished.

“Ask the pertinent questions. Has the lottery fulfilled its promise? My answer would be ‘no,’” said Suzii Paynter, director of the Baptist Christian Life Commission.

The group contends that the lottery was sold to Texans 20 years ago as a “voluntary, nonregressive” way to raise money but instead preys on the poor and caters to impulse purchases of scratch-off tickets. Attempts to attract higher-income players with $50 scratch-off tickets haven’t worked, they say.

They question whether the lottery has provided a revenue increase for public education or simply replaced other revenue sources.


While there may be bills next session proposing to do away with the lottery, Rep. Dennis Bonnen, the Angleton Republican who leads the sunset commission, warned in a recent public hearing that eliminating the lottery isn’t an option for the panel.

“It’s our job to make sure agencies are doing their jobs effectively with what they’ve been tasked to do,” he said. “Don’t expect that we’re going to put a poison pill in the sunset bill to end the lottery.”

After prize money, retail commissions and other expenses, about $1 billion a year from the lottery goes into a public education fund. Ticket sales in fiscal year 2011 totaled $3.8 billion, most of it coming from scratch-off tickets.

This year, lottery sales are 10 percent ahead of last year and are on track to surpass $4 billion for the year, executive director Gary Grief told legislators this month. Among top-grossing lotteries in the nation, Texas ranks fourth behind New York, Massachusetts and Florida.

I found this story via Believe it Or Not, which adds some more information.

Amid the recent Mega Millions lotto hype, Texas Baptists’ theologian-in-chief Jim Denison discussed the potential for lottery winnings to destroy lives. He warned Christians that playing the lotto can push them to seek happiness through money instead of through Christ.

Texas Baptists also opposes the expansion of legalized gambling through casinos and other gaming venues.

Paynter pointed out that two of the states highest-selling lottery ticket locations are Fiesta stores in Houston, and Rep. Garnet Coleman’s district spends $44 million on the lottery a year, more than others in the state despite being a lower-income area.

Coleman has supported the examination of the lottery system, with his own district spending more on the lotto than middle and high-income areas of Houston.

“I don’t know why I didn’t see it before,” Coleman told the Austin-American Statesmen in 2010. “It’s true and it’s real. I see who plays, and it’s not who folks think. It’s not entertainment.”

I largely agree with the Baptist Christian Life Commission that the Lottery has not fulfilled its promise, and I think there’s merit to their pursuit. The Lottery does generate some money for education, but it does so in just about the least efficient and most regressive way possible. We absolutely should do a better job providing for public education and we should do it in a way that doesn’t hurt lower income folks. But let’s be honest, that ain’t gonna happen. I’d bet on gambling being expanded before I’d bet on the Lottery being even scaled back, which is not to say that the former is a good bet.

One more piece to the puzzle: I recently came across this article in Wired about how it’s possible to get an edge in playing scratch-off games, which are the Texas Lottery’s bestsellers. Note that as of the story’s publication in January of 2011, the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries was unaware of this potential security hole, and that there’s a woman in Texas who’s managed to win over $1 million on four separate occasions, three of them coming from scratch-off games. The implication of all this is that there’s a possibility that scratch-off games are an even worse proposition for the average player than they’re supposed to be. Read the story and see why.

Collecting unpaid red light camera fines update

You may recall that when the city settled its lawsuit with red light camera vendor ATS, they agreed to pay a certain amount of money that would be generated by collecting still-unpaid red light camera fines. Ted Oberg has an update on how that effort is going.

The cameras are gone but the effects linger still

After Houston voters told Mayor Annise Parker to take the cameras down in 2010, the city settled with the camera company for $4.8 million.

The mayor told Houstonians the money to fill that pot would come from unpaid fines. The city had $3 million in the bank from those who’ve already paid, which was a start. That money brought the settlement down to $1.8 million. But now, the city needs to collect nearly $53,000 every month until the end of 2014 to make up the difference.

The first month the city was just $111 short. The second month, they were short by $18,000 from what they needed to collect.

This month is off to a better start with half the money already in, so they may finally meet the goal for the first time.


The city’s sent thousands of letters to people who haven’t paid bills all across the country and seems confident that after years of ignoring the bills, the citizens will now start paying.

“We’re not ready to say we’re not going to meet that goal because of the steps that we’re taking. We’re going to start with Phase One, which is mailing a reminder that you have this debt that is owed to the city; after that, we’ll take the next step and we’ll turn it over to the credit bureau. And then in the most extreme cases, we’ll consider the possibility of filing a lawsuit,” Parker’s spokeswoman Janice Evans said.

The city can send the debt to credit bureaus and will file some lawsuits for big debtors, but the law won’t allow them to send it to a collection agency or put holds on registrations.

Actually, the law does allow for holds to be put on registrations, but it’s the county that handles those, and they have not agreed to play along. Which has not stopped the city from acting as if they do. I don’t expect it will get any easier from here, so I figure it’s just a matter of time before some lawsuits get filed.

Homeless feeding ordinance town hall tonight

It’s at 6:30 PM at the Christ Evangelical Presbyterian Church, 8300 Katy Freeway. You can see a map here and the flyer for the town hall here. Judging by the organizers and the fact that the email I was forwarded about it was sent by CM Brown’s office, I’d say it’s likely to predominantly favor the opposition to the ordinance. Of course, nothing is stopping the proponents of this ordinance from holding their own town hall meeting, if they’re interested in people hearing their perspective, or from attending this meeting if they choose. It’s there if you want to go, so go if you want.