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May, 2012:

Council approves Hobby expansion plan

In the end, it wasn’t close.

City Council approved a plan Wednesday that will give Houston two international commercial airports, settling a public policy debate that raged for months over whether flights from Hobby Airport to Latin America would boost the local economy with new passengers or divide the city against itself and trigger layoffs, canceled routes and stagnation at Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Within hours, United Airlines told employees in a bulletin that, as a result of the Council vote, it would be cutting planned operations at Bush Intercontinental by 10 percent and eliminating 1,300 Houston jobs, with the first buy-outs, transfers or pink slips going out in the fall. It immediately canceled planned service to Auckland, New Zealand.

Council’s 16-1 vote, according to the bulletin, also puts in “significant doubt” whether United will complete a planned $700 million expansion of Terminal B at Bush Intercontinental on which it broke ground in January.

“We believe that splitting Houston’s international air service is the wrong decision for the city’s future, but we respect the fact that City Council did not agree,” United spokeswoman Mary Clark said in a released statement.

Houston Airport Director Mario Diaz declined to comment on United’s jobs announcement.

Mayor Annise Parker was dubious of United’s post-vote stance.

“I’ll wait to see that they do that,” she said. “I think United is committed to this city and that they’re going to do their best to continue to grow jobs here in Houston. We already know that we provide a much more competitive environment in terms of cost of living and work force than any of their other hub areas. They committed early on that we would be the largest hub in the largest airline in the world and that’s the commitment I expect them to keep.”

She added later, “They’ve stated continuously that they welcome competition. That competition is at least three years away. So, for United to say there are going to be 1,300 people laid off next week or so, that’s just not reasonable. Because nothing is going to happen until that terminal is built. There’s no competition today. So any decisions they make in terms of personnel are based on other things not the vote we cast today.”

See here for more on United’s reaction, here for more on Council’s vote, and here for the Mayor’s press release. I’ll note that United has already cut some 1300 jobs in Houston, which they did after the merger with Continental. Maybe they knew all along that this was going to happen, and were planning for it even back then. You’d think with that kind of foresight they’d have no trouble handling a little competition. It’s truly impressive how badly they’ve lost the PR battle over this – just read the comments on that first Houston Politics link for a sample. Honestly, in the end I believe this will prove to be way overblown. We’re talking five gates, and a small range of destinations. For United to claim that they had to cut planned service to Auckland, New Zealand, a destination Southwest and its 737s couldn’t reach if we built them a wormhole at Hobby, as a result of this just show how ludicrous their reaction has been. Hair Balls has more.

More reactions to the election results

Enough about me. What are some other people saying about Tuesday’s results? Here’s a sample:

Mark Bennett
Lion Star
Texas Trib
TM Daily Post
TFN Insider

There’s a certain amount of bitterness and disgust expressed in some of those posts about the more ridiculous results from Tuesday. I understand the sentiments, but I don’t think we really understand why these things happen. Frankly, as hard as some of those Harris County results are to swallow, I’m still reeling from the lopsided loss by first term SBOE member Michael Soto, who was clubbed by a novice candidate who basically ran no campaign and had no online presence. Maybe it was being connected to my alma mater that was the reason; in addition to Professor Soto, Trinity alums Brianna Hinojosa-Flores and Leif Olson also got thumped. Makes as much sense as anything else, right?

Obviously, that’s a silly reason. What can we learn from this? I don’t believe turnout level is a factor – remember, Mark Thompson waltzed to an easy win for the Railroad Commissioner nomination in 2008 despite running against a former elected official and a two-time nominee for the office, both of whom collected all the endorsements and had actual, organized campaigns and simple names to boot. Arguably, the way to avoid these bizarre results is to have even less turnout, as long as it was the right turnout. Surely we agree that the subset of well-informed voters, however big or small that group may be, would not have nominated Lloyd Oliver and Kesha Rogers. Clearly, there were enough voters who didn’t know enough about the candidates they were presented with. What are we going to do about that?

What we should not do is reflexively dismiss these voters as stupid. As is often the case during a non-partisan election, I was asked by numerous friends for voting advice. These are intelligent, connected people, with busy lives and limited information before them. Most of them had likely not had the chance to meet a candidate in most of these races. I think the last time I was visited by a candidate was for the 2009 special election in District H. They might have gotten some mail and maybe a couple of calls – mostly of the robo variety – but there was nothing on TV or the radio or in the Chronicle. Sure, you can find some information online – if you know who the candidates are to begin with – but let’s be honest, many campaign websites and Facebook pages are crappy, and again there’s not much news coverage out there for these lower profile races. How is someone who wants to make an intelligent choice but doesn’t have the time or the opportunity to attend a bunch of campaign events to know?

For starters, I suggest we all need to come to grips with the fact that campaigns and candidates really do need money to effectively communicate their message. More basically than that, candidates need money to introduce themselves to the voters in the first place. A familiar name means a lot. More than endorsements, clearly, which brings up a tangential matter, namely that far too many endorsing organizations do a piss poor job of communicating their preferences to their presumably intended audience. Take a look at the endorsements linked on my 2012 Primary page. See how many of them are Google docs and not links? Many of them were created or uploaded by me from the email sent out announcing the endorsements. I’d often hear of an endorsement from a candidate’s email or Facebook page, and I’d have to go hunting high and low to find it online, or I’d have to send an email requesting a doc be sent to me. And usually, that would be the end of it. How exactly does that help the organization’s preferred candidates? I continue to be boggled by how capriciously these things are treated. Not all organizations are this way, of course – the AFL-CIO and the GLBT Political Caucus are two shining examples of how to do it right – but far too many are. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Every endorsing organization should at the very least have a regularly updated webpage on which it posts its list of endorsed candidates for all to see. This is an incredibly low bar to clear.

I digress. An online presence, for candidates and for endorsing organizations, should be a minimum for being taken seriously. It’s a cheap and efficient way of communicating. But you’re kidding yourself if you think that having a Facebook page with a couple hundred Likes is a sufficient communications plan. Speaking as someone who has a regularly updated webpage, getting people to actually look at your online content is not so easy. It’s a component of a good communications strategy, not the be all and end all of it. Which gets us back to money, because a candidate who tries to do communication and outreach cheaply is a candidate who isn’t doing much, if any, communication and outreach. We can gripe all we want about Texas being a big ol’ ATM for national Democrats, but what are we doing about it? We need to put our own candidates first and help them help themselves.

This is what I’ve come up with after 24 hours of thought. I’d like to hear your thoughts. Complaining may make you feel good – Lord knows, I understand that feeling – but ultimately it’s not helpful. This is where we are, and it’s not where we want to be. It’s up to all of us to figure out how to get there.

Skeeter season

Not the minor league baseball team, the kind we all hate.

Despite dire predictions of an even worse-than-usual mosquito invasion this spring, the swarm of activity actually thinned out in May, after two out-of-control months buoyed by rain and unseasonably high temperatures.

“There has been a dramatic decline,” said Mike McMahan, who oversees mosquito control in Harris County Precinct 3.

Jim Ryan, mosquito control director in Brazoria County, said the bugs were “almost nonexistent” there last week. And in Fort Bend County, until recent rains brought a resurgence, there were “hardly any,” according to Weldon Sheard, vector control supervisor.

It turns out mosquito prediction is a tenuous sport. Said Jim Dennett, a Harris County mosquito control research manager, “People have spent their entire careers trying to model and predict pest mosquito populations, but they have yet to make me a believer … things can change so quickly.”

As we have learned, cold weather and drought don’t really do much to affect the mosquito menace. We’re pretty much on our own, so assume the worst and stock up on the DEET.

Texas blog roundup for the week of May 28

The Texas Progressive Alliance says “on to the runoffs!” as it brings you this holiday week roundup.


Democratic results, Harris County

The good:

– Lane Lewis won a full term as HCDP Chair by a 55-45 margin. If you heard a whizzing noise this evening, it was the bullet we all dodged in this race.

– Sheriff Adrian Garcia easily won renomination with over 70% of the vote.

– State Reps. Garnet Coleman and Borris Miles won their races. We may finally have seen the last of Al Edwards.

– Sean Hammerle held off Dave Wilson in Commissioners Court Precinct 4. It was a close race, but the forces of good prevailed.

The bad:

– Jarvis Johnson, who finally held a campaign event during the first week of early voting, nearly won HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1 outright. A late surge by Erica Lee pushed him into a runoff. It’s not that I have anything against Johnson, but he didn’t lift a finger during this race and he was up against two much more qualified opponents. There’s nothing like being a familiar name in a race like this.

– Elaine Palmer drubbed Judge Steve Kirkland, winning over 60% of the vote. I’ll be honest, I had thought that Palmer and Keryl Douglas would win or lose together, but Douglas didn’t have much money, and really didn’t do that much campaigning. Palmer had plenty of money and it worked for her. I wonder if her financial backers will be there for her in November.

The ugly:

– Perennial candidate Lloyd Oliver became the heir apparent to Gene Kelly by defeating the vastly better qualified Zack Fertitta for the DA nomination. I just about threw up when I saw the early numbers, and they never got any better. Let this serve as a very painful example of what can happen when a good candidate doesn’t have enough money to raise his name ID up to the level of the barnacle that is running against him. You can assess the blame however you like for this debacle, all I know is that I will be skipping this race in November.

– If that isn’t bad enough, Kesha Rogers will once again be the “Democratic” nominee in CD22. KP George had an early lead based on a strong showing in Fort Bend County, but he lost in Harris and Brazoria, and that was enough. I don’t even know what to say.

The rest:

– Diane Trautman won the HCDE Position 3 At Large race against David Rosen. Traci Jensen scored a clean win in the three-way SBOE 6 primary. Dexter Smith won in SBOE 8.

– Rep. Alma Allen also successfully defended her seat, winning with 59% against Wanda Adams. Mary Ann Perez had a late burst to win the nomination in HD144 outright, while Gene Wu rode a strong early showing to the top spot in HD137. He garnered 44%, and will face Jamaal Smith, who had 23%, in the runoff.

– Lissa Squiers led the three-way race in CD07 with 40%. She will face James Cargas, who was second with 33%. Tawana Cadien will be the nominee in CD10.

– Incumbent JP Mike Parrott won re-election, as did incumbent Constables Ken Jones, Victor Trevino, and May Walker. In Constable Precinct 1, Alan Rosen and Cindy Vara-Leija will face off in overtime; Grady Castleberry had been running second but Vara-Leija overtook him late. In the Constable Precinct 2 cattle call, Zerick Guinn and Chris Diaz made the cut.

– Turnout was about 73,000, with almost exactly half of it coming on Election Day. Some people just don’t like voting early.

Democratic results, statewide

Let me get this off my chest first:

In tonight’s Texas primary, President Obama faces another set of red-state voters — and with it the possibility that some little known challenger could wrack up some significant portion of the Democratic vote.

Challenging Obama for the Democratic primary nod will be John Wolfe, the Tennessee attorney who took over 40 percent of the primary vote in Arkansas, Florida author Darcy G. Richardson and Chicago investor Bob Ely.

“I think the President might have some protest votes against him in the Texas Democratic primary today,” said Harold Cook, a veteran Democratic strategist in the state. “Many conservatives here vote in the Democratic primary, driven mostly by local contested races.” But he added, the vote has “absolutely no significance for November.”

Matt Angle, another expert on Texas Democratic politics, concurred. ”In Texas, the people who don’t like Obama vote in the Republican primary,” he said.

A look at the numbers suggests that Obama will perform better in Texas than in Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia — all states where he lost upwards of 40 percent of the Democratic primary vote. Even so, the Lone Star state could still cause the Obama campaign a bit of heartburn.

Politico had a similar thumbsucker on its site as well:

President Barack Obama’s humbling Appalachian primary tour is over. But there’s still one more chance for him to be embarrassed by white, rural working class voters.

While he’ll win the state easily, Texas borders three of the president’s worst performing primary states this year – Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. And the resistance to Obama in those states is concentrated by the Texas border and is likely to bleed across state lines into the counties in the Texas Panhandle, the Red River Valley and East Texas.

The good news for Obama is that the bulk of the Democratic vote will come from elsewhere in Texas. And the Democratic ballot will feature three little-known candidates, which will disperse the protest vote. But one of those candidates will be John Wolfe, who won 42 percent in Arkansas and 12 percent in Louisiana. While that’s enough to capture some Democratic delegates, state party officials in both states refused to award them to him.

For the record, President Obama was at over 88% with 91% of precincts reporting. Has no one noticed that you could fit all of the rural, white, working class, Democratic primary voters in this state in a Yugo? Sheesh. The vote in Texas, at least on the D side, comes from the cities and South Texas. This was not a state that was going to embarrass him.

Anyway. On to the other races. Statewide results are here, and the live chat transcript is here.

– Paul Sadler will face Grady Yarbrough in a runoff for the Senate nomination. No, I knew nothing about him before last night, either. I quote from the Trib’s liveblog:

Educator Grady Yarbrough of San Antonio is currently running second in the four-way Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, with 21 percent of precincts reporting.

Reached by phone, Yarbrough said he had not been following the results but is not surprised he is running ahead of Addie Allen and Sean Hubbard and only behind former state Rep. Paul Sadler.

“I felt that it would be a runoff and yes, I have a plan for the runoff,” Yarbrough said. “It’s turning out the way I thought it would.”

Unlike his three competitors in the primary, Yarbrough has not reported raising or spending any money with the Federal Elections Commission. Yarbrough said he just hasn’t filed any reports yet but did spend money around the state promoting his campaign. Yarbrough said he advertised in African-American newspapers and had yard signs up in several parts of the state.

“I spent money, you bet I have,” Yarbrough said.

Better file that report before someone files a complaint, dude. Sean Hubbard finished fourth. There will come a day when a good social media strategy will mean more than a familiar-sounding name in a race like this, but that day is not today. Sean, please run for something in Dallas in 2014. We do need more people like you on the ballot.

– The Campaign for Primary Accountability may have its scalp here. As of last report, Beto O’Rourke was leading Rep. Silvestre Reyes with 51.34% of the vote to Reyes’ 43.31%. (I’m going by Trib results here.) Rep. Eddie Berniece Johnson cruised in CD30 with over 70% of the vote, Rep. Ruben Hinojosa finished with 71% in CD15, and Rep. Lloyd Doggett won easily in CD35, with 73%. Reyes was the only Congressional casualty, but not necessarily the only interesting result. Former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez led the field in CD23 and will face former State Rep. Pete Gallego in the runoff. Rodriguez was above 50% for much of the night but Gallego caught up late to force overtime. Also going into overtime:

CD33 – Former State Rep. Marc Veasey (38%) versus former State Rep. Domingo Garcia (24%). I’m grimly pleased to note that the guy who spent over a million bucks of his own money, David Alameel, came in fourth.

CD34 – Filemon Vela, with 41%, most likely against Denise Saenz Blanchard, who led Ramiro Garza by about 140 votes with several precincts still out. Former Cameron County DA Armando Villalobos, who looked like the frontrunner at one point, came in fifth. I’m guessing those federal charges didn’t help his cause much.

CD27 – Jerry Trevino (40%) versus Rose Meza Harrison (32%). Ronnie McDonald was third with 26%. I hope he runs for something else in 2014, too.

Former Rep. Nick Lampson took over 80% of the vote in CD14. I’m pretty sure he’s happy that both of his potential opponents are from Pearland.

– Another “what the hell just happened?” SBOE result as Michael Soto, the incumbent in SBOE 3, got crushed by Marisa Perez, 66-34. I have no idea where that came from. The open SBOE2 race will have Celeste Zepeda Sanchez versus Ruben Cortez, Jr. in the runoff, while Martha Dominguez won the right to face Charlie Garza in the best pickup opportunity in SBOE1.

– No Democratic incumbents in the Lege lost – Rene Oliveira, Mando Martinez, Marisa Marquez, Tracy King (who trailed early), and Lon Burnam all survived.

– Oscar Longoria is the new State Rep. in HD35; former Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles will face the GOP runoff winner in HD43; Poncho Nevarez took the three-way race in HD74; Chris Turner will return to the House in HD101; Toni Rose won HD110, and Justin Rodriguez in HD125. I’m very pleased to note that Mary Gonzalez made history in HD75 as the first female candidate to win in that part of El Paso, and also as the first openly gay candidate to make it to Austin. (I am hoping for one other in the fall.) There will be runoffs in these HDs:

HD40 – Terry Canales versus Auggie Hernandez
HD95 – Nicole Collier versus Jesse Gaines
HD117 – Phillip Cortez versus Tina Torres

– Rosemary Lehmburg easily won re-election as Travis County DA, as did Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton.

– Turnout was around 600,000, which is down from 2004. The only things driving turnout were local races, and that’s not a recipe for big numbers.

On to Harris County Democratic results from here.

GOP results, statewide

Full, though not necessarily the most up to date, results, are here. The Trib and the Observer have good roundups as well.

– Mitt. Yawn. He was at just under 70% statewide, with Ron Paul getting 11% and Rick Santorum 8%. You have to wonder what might have been if Santorum had held on through May.

– Dewhurst and Cruz in a runoff, with the Dew getting 45% to Cruz’s 33%. I will not be taking bets on the outcome of that one. Tom Leppert had 13% and Craig James – cue the sad trombone – was below 4%. Why did he get in this race again? And did he really think he had crossover appeal? Geez.

(UPDATE: Mike Baselice, Dewhurst’s pollster, says every Republican candidate with over 43 percent going into a statewide runoff during the last 20 years has gone on to win. So Cruz may as well go ahead and concede now, right?)

– Christi Craddick and Warren Chisum will go into overtime for Railroad Commissioner, as will Barry Smitherman against Greg Parker. Supreme Court Justice David Medina got less than 40% in a three-way race and will face the will-he-never-go-away? candidate John Devine.

– All incumbent Congressfolk easily won re-nomination, with Campaign for Primary Accountability targets Ralph Hall (59%) and Joe Barton (63%) not particularly bothered. Kenny Marchant in CD24 was on some people’s watch lists as well, but he got 68% in his race. The two open seats for which the GOP is heavily favored in November were interesting. Roger Williams will duke it out with somebody, most likely Wes Riddle as I write this. Michael Williams was a total dud, finishing with just over 10% and in fifth place. Over in CD36, what in the world happened to Mike Jackson? Steve Stockman (!) and somebody named Steve Takach were neck and neck for the runoff slot. The other open seat, CD14, saw Pearlanders Randy Weber and Felicia Harris make it to the second round.

– The first signs of carnage are in the SBOE races. David Bradley, Barbara Cargill, and thankfully Thomas Ratliff all won, but George Clayton was headed to a third place finish in his four way race – Geraldine Miller, whom Clayton knocked off in a 2010 shocker, was leading the pack – and in a race that sure wasn’t on my radar, SBOE Chair Gail Lowe lost to Sue Melton. Where did that come from? The open SBOE 15 seat to replace Bob Craig was the closest race, with Marty Rowley leading Parent PAC-backed Anette Carlisle by 2000 votes.

– State Sen. Jeff Wentworth will have to keep running in SD25, as he had about 36% of the vote with 75% of precincts in. His opponent in July, in a blow to Texans for Lawsuit Reform, will not be Elizabeth Ames Jones, however, as Donna Campbell took for second place. I hope Wentworth can do better in overtime, because Campbell would make the Senate even dumber than Ames Jones would have. Former State Reps. Kelly Hancock (SD09), Mark Shelton (SD10, opposing Wendy Davis), Larry Taylor (SD11), and Charles Schwertner (SD05) all won the right to get a promotion in November.

– It’s in the State House that the body count begins to pile up. The following incumbents lost their races:

Leo Berman (HD06)
Wayne Christian (HD09)
Rob Eissler (HD15)
Mike Hamilton (HD19)
Marva Beck (HD57)
Barbara Nash (HD93)
Vicki Truitt (HD98)

Hamilton was paired with James White. Eissler was the chair of the Public Education committee. With Scott Hochberg retiring, that’s going to put a lot of pressure on two new people next year. And no, Eissler wasn’t beaten by someone who wanted to make public education better. Eissler didn’t distinguish himself last session in my opinion, but this is not an upgrade.

Incumbents in runoffs:

Turncoat Chuck Hopson (HD11, 47.15% to Travis Clardy’s 46.30%)
Turncoat JM Lozano (HD43, 41.55% to Bill Wilson’s 44.38% but with only 42 of 69 precincts reporting)
Sid Miller (HD59, 42.48% to JD Sheffield’s 41.50%)
Jim Landtroop (HD88, 34.63% in a four way race to Ken King’s 30.08% with two precincts out)

Speaker Joe Straus easily survived his re-election bid and picked up an opponent for Speaker before the first vote was counted.

– The Parent PAC slate had mixed results:

Texas Senate

S.D. 9: Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless – Lost
S.D. 11: Dave Norman, R-Seabrook – Lost
S.D. 25: Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio – Runoff

Texas House of Representatives

H.D. 2: George Alexander, R-Greenville – Lost
H.D. 3: Cecil Bell, Jr., R-Magnolia – Won
H.D. 5: Mary Lookadoo, R-Mineola – Lost
H.D. 7: Tommy Merritt, R-Longview – Lost
H.D. 9: Chris Paddie, R-Marshall – Won
H.D. 24: Dr. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood – Leading, in runoff
H.D. 29: Ed Thompson, R-Pearland – Won
H.D. 57: Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin – Won
H.D. 59: Dr. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville – In runoff
H.D. 68: Trent McKnight, R-Throckmorton – Leading, in runoff
H.D. 74: Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass – Winning as of last report
H.D. 92: Roger Fisher, R-Bedford – Lost
H.D. 94: Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington – Won
H.D. 96: Mike Leyman, R-Mansfield – Lost
H.D. 97: Susan Todd, R-Fort Worth – Lost
H.D. 106: Amber Fulton, R-The Colony – Lost
H.D. 114: Jason Villalba, R-Dallas – In runoff
H.D. 115: Bennett Ratliff, R-Coppell – In runoff
H.D. 125: Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio – Won
H.D. 138: Whet Smith, R-Houston – Lost
H.D. 150: James Wilson, R-Spring – Lost

State Board of Education

SBOE 7: Rita Ashley, R-Beaumont – Lost
SBOE 9: Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant – Won
SBOE 15: Anette Carlisle, R-Amarillo – Lost

Unclear to me at this time if this is a net gain, a net loss, or a wash.

– David Bradley won his race, but Williamson County DA John Bradley was trailing as votes slowly trickled in. If that holds, it’s one of the best results of the day.

– Turnout was likely to be around 1.5 million, which will be a bit better for them than 2008 was (1,362,322 votes in the Presidential primary). Clearly, the Senate race drove their turnout. In 2004, they had less than 700,000 votes total.

(UPDATE: Total votes cast in the Presidential race were 1,438,553.)

On to the Democrats…

GOP results, Harris County

Bullet points for all these result posts, I was up way too late last night. See the numbers here and the chat transcript from last night here.

– You could have sold me on any result in the GOP DA primary going into yesterday, but I definitely did not expect such a wide margin. Mike Anderson ran away with it, garnering 63% of the vote. I’m stunned by that. Similarly, I would have had no trouble believing that Mike Sullivan could knock off Don Sumners, but I didn’t expect a 64-36 thrashing. Finally, given the establishment support she had received, I’d have expected Leslie Johnson to do well in the County Attorney race, but it was a rout just like the others, with former State Rep. Robert Talton collecting 66% of the vote. Wow.

– By the way, with Sumners’ defeat, as a chat participant noted we will have our fourth Tax Assessor in four years when either Sullivan or Ann Harris Bennett is sworn in next January.

– All incumbent legislators – State and US House, plus Tommy Williams in the State Senate – won easily, with no one breaking a sweat. HD133 might have been seen as competitive, with the district being significantly reconfigured and Ann Witt throwing a ton of money into it, but Jim Murphy cruised with over 62%.

– Jack Cagle easily won the right to run in November for his Commissioners Court seat. Incumbent Constables all won. A couple of judicial races are headed for overtime. With Dewhurst versus Cruz also being on the ballot for July, there will be some votes to fight over.

– I hadn’t even realized there was a contested race for GOP Chair, but Jared Woodfill won another term.

– Turnout was 152,000. Election Day ballots slightly exceeded early voting plus absentee ballots.

On to the non-Harris GOP races next.

Races I’ll be watching for tonight

As noted this morning, I will be participating in a live chat tonight beginning at 7 PM at the Chron election blog. I hope you’ll come by and ask some questions about what happened today. There are many races to keep track of. Here’s a brief guide to some of the one’s I’ll be watching closely.

US Senate

The big one that everyone is watching. Will David Dewhurst pull it off without a runoff? Who finishes second if he doesn’t? Among other things, this race pits Rick Perry, who endorsed Dewhurst, against Sarah Palin and others of her ilk who are backing Ted Cruz. If you think things got nasty in the last days of early voting, wait till a runoff if there is one.

US House

There are the four new seats plus the two open seats (CDs 14 and 25); with the likely exception of Doggett versus Romo in CD35, the favored party is merely narrowing its choices down for the runoff. There’s CD23, in which we learn who will take on Rep. Quico Canseco for one of the two races that will certainly draw national attention in November (CD14, with Nick Lampson on the Democratic side, is the other). And then there are the three incumbent challenges where Campaign for Primary Accountability has jumped in: Rep. Silvestre Reyes versus Beto O’Rourke in CD16; Rep. Eddie Berniece Johnson versus Taj Clayton in CD30; Rep. Joe Barton versus the field in CD06. (The CPA also said it was playing in CD04 against Rep. Ralph Hall, but I haven’t heard as much about that one as the others.) There’s some chatter that Rep. Reyes is in trouble, but I don’t get the sense that the others are. In Harris County, there are the Democratic races in CDs 07, 10, and 22, in which we hope to avoid nominating the nutball Kesha Rogers again now that everybody (hopefully) knows who she is.

I should note that the Trib had a whole lot of primary election stories over the past couple of months. See here for a roundup of all their coverage. Daily Kos also has a nice overview of the Congressional races.


The Parent PAC slate is the place to start. Mostly, it’s two races to watch out for, the Thomas Ratliff/Don McLeroy rematch and David Bradley versus Rita Ashley – see the Trib story to familiarize yourself. Locally, there’s the three-way Democratic race for a nominee in SBOE 6, and races on both sides in SBOE 8.

State Senate

All Republican action here, with several open seats plus the craze-a-thon in SD25. As I said before, I’m not worried about the State Senate becoming more conservative, I’m worried about it becoming more stupid.

State House

Again, the Parent PAC slate is the place to begin; it’s mostly but not exclusively Republican. One of their candidates is Whet Smith, running here in HD138 against Rep. Dwayne Bohac. Smith has an ad that’s running on cable TV that I’ve caught a couple of times:

Now, Dwayne Bohac is absolutely no friend of public education, and if Parent PAC says Whet Smith would be better for public ed then I’ll take their word for it. But to make the claims Smith does in that ad about the budget, you have to be either dumb or dishonest, and I can’t say that gives me a good feeling about him as a State Representative. Maybe he’s just pandering to the voters, but if so that doesn’t speak highly of him, either.

Anyway. I’ll also be looking for the Annie’s List slate; their candidate Mary Gonzalez has a chance to make history tonight. I’ll be watching for Rep. Lon Burnam versus Carlos Vasquez in HD90, and for the results in HDs 137 and 144 here in Harris County.

Outside Texas

Today is also the day of the recall elections in Wisconsin, which may or may not have implications for November. Note that it’s not just Governor Scott Walker facing recall – his Lieutenant Governor and three Republican State Senators are also on the ballot; even one loss among the Senators will change the partisan balance in that chamber.

Other races

There are three high profile District Attorney races this year: Lehmberg versus Baird on the Democratic side in Travis County; Bradley versus Duty in Williamson and Lykos versus Anderson here in Harris, both on the Republican side. The race for Sheriff in Travis County, in which incumbent Greg Hamilton is being challenged over immigration issues, has been below the radar outside of Travis but could have an effect around the state afterward. And of course here in Harris, the two ugliest races on the Democratic side, for the 215th Civil District Court and for HCDP Chair. No matter the outcomes, I think everyone’s first reaction will be relief that they are over.

What races will you be watching tonight?

Hobby jobs claims

There’s been a lot of discussion about how many jobs the proposal to expand Hobby Airport and allow Southwest Airlines to begin flying internationally from there may or may not create. This story gets to the heart of what really matters.

Expanding Hobby Airport so Southwest Airlines can begin flying to Latin America will create more than 10,000 local jobs, perhaps as many as 18,000.

Or it will eliminate 3,700 jobs in the Houston area.

To City Council members preparing for a historic vote on whether Houston should have two international airports, competing studies, with their statistical formulas that extrapolate jobs from airplane passengers, are dueling crystal balls that offer radically different visions of Houston’s economic future. Will Southwest’s new flights to Latin America lower fares by all carriers, increase the number of passengers at both Hobby and Bush Intercontinental airports and create jobs to serve that growth? Or will it divert so many passengers from Bush that United and other airlines cancel flights and dry up employment opportunities that rely on those lost passengers?


Such a discussion, [Houston Airport System Director Mario] Diaz said, misses the point.

“We’re trying to be precise about a forecast, and that’s where people are getting wrapped around the axle,” Diaz said. The larger question is, does Hobby expansion help Houston more than it hurts it, he said. Tapping into the growing Mexican middle class market by offering lower air fares to Houston will bring in more visitors with money to spend at restaurants and hotels, he said.

“When you ask the (Greater) Houston Partnership, when you ask the Convention & Visitors Bureau, when you ask all of these chambers, they’ve all come to the same conclusion, that whatever the numbers are, it’ll be a net benefit to the city,” Diaz said.

That’s been my sense all along as well. The job creation projections strike me the same way that the obligatory economic projections of a sporting event like the Super Bowl or the Final Four do, more voodoo than anything else. I think Diaz frames the issue correctly, and I believe there’s another group of people who will use this service and benefit from it. There are loads of bus companies in this town that provide round trip service into places like Monterrey and Mexico City. A check on Greyhound’s website told me that a trip to Mexico City takes literally all day – 22 to 26 hours, with transfers – and cost $118; a trip to Monterrey ranged from 10 to 15 hours and cost $53. I doubt Southwest or any air carrier can match the prices, but don’t you think there will be plenty of people willing to pay a bit more to turn a 24-hour trip into a 2-hour trip? That may not be something that will benefit most of the people making most of the noise about this proposal, but it will benefit a lot of Houstonians. That is what this really comes down to. More choices, more options. I have a hard time seeing how that won’t be better for us.

Vote centers in Travis County

This will be interesting to observe.

Come Nov. 6, Travis County residents can vote at any polling place in the presidential election, county commissioners decided Tuesday.

County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir recommended the switch to the “vote center” system, which allows people to vote at any pollng place in the county on Election Day rather than only at the designated location for a precinct.

“Voters don’t have to be so aware of being within a strict boundary line,” DeBeauvoir said.


Travis County Republican Party Chairwoman Rosemary Edwards said she doubted the legality of the action, saying that the state law is meant to consolidate polling places.

“In this way, there is no savings since there is no consolidation,” Edwards said.

DeBeauvoir maintained that the county’s use of vote centers is legal and that keeping neighborhood polling places open is in line with citizen requests.

There’s no technical reason why people can’t vote anywhere on Election Day as they do during early voting. In the election contests we have seen over the past decade – I’m specifically thinking of Vo/Heflin in 2004 and Howard/Neil in 2010 – a number of the votes that were challenged by the contestants were cast by people who were in the correct district but the wrong precinct. Those votes were allowed to be counted. I personally think this model makes a lot of sense, especially for lower turnout elections where it could save some money. The main objection would be that voters who are used to their precinct locations might not know where to go or might have greater difficulty getting to a different location. The former can be dealt with by sufficient outreach and education – it is often the case that precinct locations are consolidated on Election Day; at least with voting centers there would be no such surprises – and the latter can be handled by placing some vote centers in traditional precinct locations where it makes sense to do so. There is no technical reason why we cannot allow you to vote wherever it happens to be most convenient for you. We should work towards making that happen.

More replay for MLB, please

They’re thinking about it, but don’t rush them.

Major League Baseball currently is exploring the expansion of instant replay with the World Umpires Association, and no timetable has been specified for any adjustments to the current policy.

The owners and the MLB Players Association agreed in collective bargaining last year for a new Basic Agreement that replay could be expanded to be used on fair-foul calls down the lines and balls deemed trapped by fielders. Any formal expansion of replay requires collaboration between owners, players and umpires. Replay is currently used only to determine the legitimacy of home runs — whether the ball was fair or foul and whether the ball was over the fence.

“I’ve had very, very little pressure from people who want to do more,” Commissioner Bud Selig told a small group at a sport and society conference at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., on Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.

The umpires union has told MLB officials in recent meetings that a significant assessment of options needs to take place if replay is to be changed. Right now, any possible expansion would not occur until next season at the earliest.

Want to know why this is needed? Here’s one reason:

This particularly egregious example of a blown call, which happened in April, has been widely discussed around the Internet. Arguably, instant replay isn’t really needed for stuff like this. I mean, at least one other umpire must have seen what everybody else in the stadium saw on that play. If there were some way for another umpire to step in and say “that call was wrong”, either on his own or via an appeal from one of the teams, replay would be superfluous in a case like this. But there is no way to challenge a call in baseball as you can in football, so this sort of thing is breezily dismissed by the so-called purists as “the human element” instead of decried as the wholly avoidable travesty that it is. But hey, as various people have pointed out, at least this terrible call didn’t ruin a perfect game or change the outcome of a World Series.

The bottom line is this: Baseball games should be decided by the players. Sure, there will always be external factors that cannot be controlled – wind, weather, bad hops, etc. But bad umpiring needn’t be one of those factors. Whether or not technology is part of that solution, the culture has to change. I don’t see any reason why that can’t start now.

The Chron’s final endorsement list

Here it is, in all its pathetically incomplete glory. Compare to what they had done by the start of Early Voting and you can see that they never developed anything resembling a sense of urgency about this. It’s a pity and a puzzle, but there you have it. I’d love to know if they started off with a list of which races they wanted to comment on that they then (mostly) followed, or if this is just how things worked out. In particular, I’m trying to figure out how it is that they could completely ignore competitive primaries in an open, swing legislative district like HD144. Maybe they’ll weigh in on the Democratic side if there’s a runoff, but the GOP race is a two-man affair, so there’s no second chance. Was it by accident or by design that they overlooked this one? That’s what I want to know.

If you have not voted yet but plan to do so today, you can find a list of polling places here. Note that your usual precinct location may or may not be in operation, and even if it is it may not be for both parties. Check before you head out, that’s all I’m saying.

Tonight I will be participating in a live chat on the Chron’s website – go to the Chron election blog and look for the Cover It Live chat. I don’t know who else is participating – I presume some Chron staffers and a couple of us bloggers – but come on in between 7 and 11 and ask a question or comment on whatever results interest you. I really have no idea what to expect, but I do know it’ll be more fun if it’s not just the panelists talking to each other. See you there tonight.

Four Congressional stories


It’s a relatively unknown field of hopefuls trying to unseat incumbent Republican Blake Farenthold in the newly configured U.S. House District 27, an area that stretches from Bastrop County south to Nueces County.

The field includes former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald — well-known in Central Texas but not in the most populous part of the district. His three opponents in the Democratic primary — Rose Meza Harrison, Murphy Junaid and Jerry Trevino — are from Corpus Christi, where Farenthold also resides.

The primary election is May 29. Early voting began Monday.

“I’m known in Bastrop, Caldwell and Gonzales counties, so I’m campaigning 24/7,” said McDonald, 41, who served 14 years as Bastrop County’s top administrator and led the county through its worst natural disaster, the wildfires last September.

McDonald is not fazed by his underdog status. No one gave him a chance when he became a county judge at age 27. He did it by going from door to door, which is his strategy again.

“This is not about connecting with people for their vote but about connecting to get to the heart of the people and find out what is important to them,” he said. He points to his experience in balancing a county budget and working across party lines to do that.

Other than one quote from the dimwitted incumbent Farenthold, that’s all you get from the candidates themselves. Several paragraphs are dedicated to stuff from outside experts who discuss how the district isn’t particularly competitive. Maybe so, but it still would have been nice to hear from the people who are running for the seat. I’ve said that before, haven’t I? You can hear from Ronnie McDonald in the interview I did with him here, and from Rose Meza Harrison here. I didn’t get to interview Jerry Trevino, but he picked up the endorsement of the Corpus Christi Caller.


The winner of a three-way primary between Ciro Rodriguez, Pete Gallego and John Bustamante will become the Democrat’s best hope to unseat Republican Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco with strong GOP backing this fall.

“This is a must-win race for Democrats. The stakes are very high,” said David Wasserman, a political analyst with The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter.


Rodriguez is mired in a close race with Gallego, a popular state representative from Alpine and the favorite of the Democratic establishment that financially supports his campaign.

Bustamante, a patent lawyer and son of former U.S. Rep. Albert Bustamante, D-San Antonio, who represented the district in the 1980s and 90s, also is seeking the Democratic nomination.

The race tightened in the closing weeks, said Larry Hufford, a professor at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.

“It certainly could go either way. It depends on turnout and where the turnout is,” Hufford said.

Rodriguez’s strength is San Antonio and Eagle Pass; Gallego’s is in the western reaches of the district that he has represented in the state House for more than 20 years.

Hufford would not rule out a runoff. “The wild card is Bustamante,” he said.

I’ve heard that Bustamante has been pretty impressive out on the trail. In a world where I had more time and more certainty about who would respond to my emails and when, I’d have tried to contact him for an interview. My interview with Pete Gallego is here and with Ciro Rodriguez is here. The story notes that Rodriguez has been under attack from environmental groups for a vote he cast in 2009; that may have an effect on the outcome as well.


“I am giving it my all to turn out more votes, but much more help is needed. We face a perfect storm of less than 2 percent voter participation resulting from Rick Perry’s redistricting scheme, recent local elections and the Memorial Day weekend,” [Rep. Lloyd] Doggett said in a statement. “I run every race like I’m 10 points behind, and I will be unless more folks vote and volunteer to help.”

In the challenging race for the Austin-to-San Antonio district, Doggett is running in a new, majority Hispanic district against Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector Sylvia Romo, a Latina politician who has been in public life in Bexar County for 20 years. Furthermore, Doggett is seeking votes from hundreds of thousands of citizens he has never represented.

Walter Clark Wilson, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Texas-San Antonio, said Doggett’s efforts show he’s taking seriously the primary race for District 35, one of four congressional districts that were created in Texas to reflect population growth and to allow Hispanics to elect the candidate of their choice.

“It would make sense that Lloyd would dip into his significant war chest for this particular race,” Wilson said.

It also makes sense that he’d spend the majority of his time courting the party establishment in South Texas. Doggett, 65, has won the support of South Texas insiders and union members, who are expected to help turn out voters for him, Wilson said.

According to Federal Elections Commission reports, Doggett has pulled in more than $1.1 million since the race began.

Romo, who got into the contest later, has raised $60,800. Maria Luisa Alvarado, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor as a Democrat in 2006, has raised only about $5,000.

Romo, 69, has spent about $47,000; Doggett has spent $1.1 million.

Harold Cook, for one, thinks that turnout so far is not favorable to Doggett. I guess that depends on how well he’s been doing in Bexar County and other points south of Austin. My interview with Sylvia Romo is here; as you know, I was never able to get an appointment to talk with Doggett. I’ll try again for the general election if he survives the primary.


Former Congressman Steve Stockman has a question for Republican voters in the new 36th Congressional District: “Would you eat at a restaurant that had to pay people to say nice things about it?”

Probably not, assumes Stockman, a GOP candidate for the congressional district that runs from the Louisiana state line into southeast Harris County. In a similar vein, he encourages voters who receive a voter guide or sample ballot in the mail to toss it in the trash, saying on his website that it is from “a liberal group using a Republican name that charged liberal candidates money for their endorsement.”

Stockman is alluding to the front-runner and best-known name in the race, state Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, who is among the more conservative lawmakers in Austin.

Ah, Steve Stockman. He was crazy before crazy was cool. For those of you who don’t remember the 90s or weren’t here to experience his particular brand of nuttiness, let me take you through a stroll of the Houston Press archives for a taste of how things were. It’s just a shame that Stockman isn’t running in CD14, because a rematch with Nick Lampson, who mercifully ended Stockman’s Congressional career back in 1996, would be too awesome for words. An interview with Democratic candidate Max Martin is on my to do list for November.

Don’t talk about 2014!

Greg Abbott continues to not talk about his burning desire to be Governor.

Still not Greg Abbott

When it comes to his political ambitions, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is playing coy.

During a campaign stop Tuesday in Helotes, where he endorsed Republican state Rep. John Garza, Abbott again refused to offer any details about his next step — a question that has followed him for months.

“I am working to sue the federal government and protect Texans, and I’m not running for anything right now,” Abbott said. “I’ve got a full-time job, and I don’t have time to be focusing on running.”

Mm hmm. I will admit, he does have a lot on his plate, what with getting bench-slapped all over the place. But we all know the reason why he’s not talking about running for Governor, and that’s because he fears that any sudden move will spook Rick Perry into running for re-election again. Abbott’s hoping that Perry will finally abdicate the throne so he can have it. Ask Kay Bailey Hutchison how well that strategy works.

Speaking of KBH, as you know I chose a theme song for her to celebrate her endless public dithering about when and if she should step down from the Senate:

Good times, good times. I’m thinking that the way this is going Abbott’s going to need one as well, but I can’t think of anything that’s as obviously fitting as the Clash’s classic. I have picked a mascot, as you can see above, but I feel like this deserves musical accompaniment. So let me throw this out for suggestions: What do you think is Greg Abbott’s “I want to run for Governor if Rick Perry will let me” theme song? Bonus points for pointing to a video as well.

Weekend link dump for May 27

Summertime, and the living is easy…

Why newspapers insist on printing what liars say is a mystery to me.

This is the best argument I’ve seen against restaurants automatically adding a tip to the check.

You can find life just about everywhere on this planet.

How will driverless cars affect parking?

Giant prehistoric turtles. Do I really need to say more?

The robot that irons your clothes while you wear them.

As a Yankee fan I’m predisposed to dislike Curt Schilling anyway, but it’s nice to be objectively vindicated for it.

Go solar for the dolphin babies. Or whatever.

The Compleat Weird Al Music Video Library. I foresee many wasted hours ahead of me.

Hey, remember when African-Americans were considered a major obstacle to marriage equality?

From the Where Are They Now? Political Sex Scandals department.

Pity the poor Chamber of Commerce for its inability to herd teabaggers.

Some real facts about plastic in the Pacific Ocean.

Did the domestication of dogs by humans help doom the Neanderthals?

In case you missed the solar eclipse last week.

¿Como se dice “Jersey Shore” en Español? On second thought, never mind. I don’t want to know.

Marriage, gay or straight, is extra challenging for superheroes.

You can deep fry a Samoa, but not a Thin Mint.

Yes, it certainly is a shame that Colin Powell decided to set his credibility on fire a decade ago, because he could sure put it to good effect now.

On balance, it’s probably for the best that this is not something most of our Congressional candidates do.

Scalzi’s Lowest Difficulty Setting post and two followups. You should read them.

Just because something is called a “mobile home” doesn’t mean it’s actually mobile.

El Lay has joined the plastic bag banning bandwagon.

A genuinely interesting idea from Sen. Rand Paul, of all people.

The Slacktivist has begun his review of the third “Left Behind” book. All is right with the universe.

Three primary stories

TX Trib: 4 Democrats Vying to Replace Hochberg in HD-137

Observers say the winner of the contest for HD-137 is likely to be decided in the Democratic primary, whose four candidates are former Capitol staffers Joseph Carlos Madden and Jamaal Smith, Harris County prosecutor Gene Wu and Alief Independent School District board member Sarah Winkler.

“It’s a [minority-opportunity] district,” [HCDP Chair Lane] Lewis said. “People from all around the world are attracted to the district when they move to Houston. I’ve heard some people refer to it as the United Nations of Harris County.”

Only one Republican candidate, former Houston City Councilman M.J. Khan, is running for the seat. Several Democratic candidates said Khan’s name recognition could make him an opponent to be reckoned with in the general election. Khan has not filed any campaign finance reports with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Khan and the Harris County Republican Party did not return interview requests.

The Trib has done a number of stories about races like this, and they’ve done a good job of it. As they have done in other such articles, they manage to talk to all of the candidates and actually tell you something about them. It’s the mention of Republican candidate Khan that piqued my interest. As the story notes, he could be a formidable candidate in this Democratic-leaning but not rock solid district; in addition to the other factors cited, Khan could write his own check for the race and easily outspend whichever Dem wins the nomination. Yet so far at least he’s been completely disengaged. Maybe he’s just biding his time on the not-unreasonable theory that no one is really paying any attention right now, but I can’t escape the feeling that being a state legislator is not something MJ Khan has a burning desire to do. I understood his candidacy for City Controller – for sure, if he has it in his head to be Mayor some day, that’s a good way to go about it – but I never got the impression that state issues were a driving force for him. I could be wrong, and if someone out there knows better I’d love to hear from you, but I get kind of a Joe Agris 2008 vibe from him.

TX Trib: Two SBOE Rivals Each Facing Tough Primaries

Two influential incumbents on the State Board of Education — who are often at odds with each other — are both facing primary challenges that could result in a power shift on the fractious board.

Thomas Ratliff won a spot on the board after a 402-vote victory in the 2010 GOP primary over Don McLeroy, who brought international attention to the state with his spirited defense of creationism. Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant native who campaigned on a platform of taking politics out of education, has become one of the Republican-controlled board’s reliably moderate voices.

He has also been a thorn in the side of David Bradley, widely considered the ringleader of the strictly allied social conservatives who led the board to adopt science standards that required educators to teach “all sides” of evolution in 2009 and pushed for ideologically driven revisions to social studies standards in 2010.

During their time on the board, the two have been on opposing sides of issues like withdrawing money from the $25 billion Permanent School Fund to bridge the state-funding gap for public schools, requiring amendments to curriculum to be laid out at least 24 hours before a vote, and handing more authority to school districts for textbook purchases.

Now they both find themselves entangled in what are likely the board’s two most closely watched primary races.

Another Trib story, which I see as being what that lame Chron story should have been. It’s also a reminder that while the potential is there for the SBOE to become less crazy if the likes of Bradley and Cargill get defenestrated, the potential is also there for the pendulum to swing back hard towards Wackytown if Ratliff loses. TFN Insider has a handy list of the candidates to watch out for. It’s a bit unnerving to have to rely on the sanity of GOP primary voters, but for the SBOE there’s not much choice.

TX Observer: House District 26 – As Fort Bend Goes

HD26 under current interim map

Fort Bend has been called a bellwether county so often that it’s easy to become skeptical about the use of the term—even if the description is accurate.

Fort Bend, which sits just southwest of Houston, is among the most diverse and fast-growing counties in Texas, part of the “Big Five” fast-growing suburban counties along with Collin, Montgomery, Denton and Williamson. It has pleasant subdivisions with genteel names like First Colony and Sugar Creek and an abundance of retail outlets along Highway 6, which barrels through Sugar Land, the heart of state House District 26.

After 16 years, Republican incumbent Charlie Howard is leaving the legislative seat once held by Tom DeLay, long before he became U.S. House majority leader. Four Republicans, including two women of color, are running for the open seat.


HD26 under original interim map

Democrats hope to claim the county through building coalitions among its United Nations assembly of residents. Republicans are also courting the melting pot. Of the four competitors for the District 26 seat, the people of color are—Sonal Bhuchar, a trustee and former board president of the Fort Bend Independent School District, and Jacquie Chaumette, mayor pro tem of Sugar Land. Bhuchar is originally from India. Chaumette is from St. Croix, the U.S. Virgin Islands. The other candidates are Rick Miller, former chairman of the Republican Party of Fort Bend County, and Diana Miller (no relation to Rick Miller), a real estate agent.

Bhuchar and Chaumette have big fundraising hauls and are considered strong contenders in the four-way race. [County GOP Chair Mike] Gibson, not surprisingly, downplays the candidates’ race. “We don’t look at Sonal as South East Asian or Jacquie as Caribbean, but as Americans with strong skill sets that we feel good about running as Republicans,’’ he says.

One thing this article doesn’t talk about is the fact that HD26 is one of the disputed districts in the ongoing redistricting litigation. Plaintiffs claim that districts such as HD26 are protected under the Voting Rights Act as minority coalition districts. In that fashion, a district that is more than 50% minority cannot be retrogressed even if no single racial group has more than a plurality of the population. The state argues that only districts in which a single protected minority is 50% or more does the VRA apply and as such there is no such thing as a protected coalition district; mapmakers are free to slice and dice as they see fit. That was how the Lege treated HD26, which is why it has that bizarre mutant Tetris piece shape, which it retained in the current interim map and which allows it to be a solid red 65% GOP district. In the original interim map, the judges drew a much more compact district that was also near partisan parity – both President Obama and Supreme Court candidate Sam Houston scored a bit over 48% in it. This is one of the questions that the DC court will address in the preclearance lawsuit, whether districts like HD26, SD10, CD25, and CD33 are covered by Section 5. If they rule for the plaintiffs, and if SCOTUS doesn’t come along behind them and gut the VRA, we could see a very different HD26 in two years’ time.

Abbott gives on legislative privilege

About time.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In an effort to move to trial more quickly, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has quietly dropped his opposition to the Department of Justice’s request to take depositions from state lawmakers in the voter identification case.

In March, Abbott asked a federal court in Washington to shield 12 state lawmakers from giving depositions in the state’s voter identification case against the Justice Department. Citing legislative privilege, Abbott’s office said that the department’s requests to depose lawmakers and subpoena records amounted to “an unwarranted federal intrusion into the operations of the Texas Legislature.”

But now, Abbott has decided to stop trying to prevent the depositions, said Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for Abbott.

“In order to move the case forward without delay, the State agreed to allow depositions to proceed,” Strickland said in a statement.

The Justice Department has asked for depositions from the author of the voter ID measure, Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay; its House sponsor, Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring; various legislative staffers; and other lawmakers.


Luis Figueroa, a staff attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is intervening in the case, confirmed that depositions have begun and that lawyers for the civil rights group were on hand for some of them.

Figueroa said the state began to cooperate and stop fighting the depositions after the D.C. court admonished it for slowing the voter ID case and jeopardizing the July 9 trial date.

Abbott has been braying loudly about how it’s everybody else’s fault that this process has dragged on for so long despite the bench-slapping his office got and the fact that his expansive view of what constitutes privileged information was what had been bogging things down this time. The fact that he has finally conceded that these legislators will have to answer some questions doesn’t mean they’ll answer them all – they are still claiming legislative privilege, and those disputes will be settled by the court on a case by case basis. That will likely take even more time, which again is fine by me. The longer this takes, the better. Texas Redistricting has more.

Skilling asks for new trial

Good luck with that.

Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling’s appellate battle apparently will continue with what his attorney says is “newly discovered evidence.”

In a motion for a time extension filed last week, Daniel Petrocelli asked to have until August 17 to submit Skilling’s latest brief. The two-page motion refers to Skilling’s intent to ask for a new trial based on the new evidence but includes no description of what the evidence is.

A hearing on the request for more time will be held June 7 before U.S. District Judge Sim Lake.


Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down Skilling’s request for a new trial that had been based on its previous ruling tossing out one of the legal theories used to convict him.

Skilling had appealed to the Supreme Court after the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the theory in question — an “honest services” statute that the high court had said was inappropriate for this type of case — amounted to a “harmless” error and there was plenty of evidence to support his conviction on other grounds.

More here.

The attorney for convicted Enron CEO Jeff Skilling said Friday his motion for a new trial will hinge on documents produced by the government after the 2006 trial – familiar territory that he has long insisted show prosecutors repeatedly withheld evidence favorable to the defense.

While not citing the specific documents that he claims are “exculpatory,” attorney Daniel Petrocelli told U.S. District Judge Sim Lake during an open-court telephone conference that his argument will center on notes of government interviews with former Enron executives as well documents related to the so-called Global Galactic memo that former Enron executive Andrew Fastow purportedly put together outlining the company’s dealings with off-the-books partnerships designed to conceal the extent of Enron’s debt.

“It all comes from the (earlier) material provided for the appeal,” Petrocelli said. “There were two or three productions of evidence, and all the material comes from those productions.”

On the one hand, I can’t claim to have any sympathy for Jeff Skilling. On the other hand, I believe the post-conviction appeals process has become far too burdensome, with too many obstacles placed in the path of convicts with meritorious claims. We’ve also seen far too many cases lately of prosecutors being caught not disclosing potentially exculpatory evidence. As such, if he really does have new evidence I hope Skilling gets the opportunity to present it. Even better, I hope he sets a precedent that helps clear the way for other appellants. We’ll see how it goes.

Final early vote totals

The pattern remained consistent till the end.

Nearly 116,000 Harris County residents have made their selections in next week’s primaries through early voting and returns from a record batch of mail-in ballots.

In all, 90,489 people voted in person at select polling stations open May 14 through Friday and 25,469 mail ballots were returned.

Possibly spurred by a hotly contested U.S. Senate race and a presumed-but-not-final presidential candidate, twice as many Republicans showed up to vote in person – 60,347 – compared with 30,142 Democrats.

Republicans also greatly outpaced Democrats in the number of mail-in ballots requested and returned.

More than half of the ballots mailed to voters in both primaries were returned. GOP voters returned 17,734 of 23,584 sent while Democrats tendered 7,735 of 13,087 ballots requested.

You can see the daily totals here. I’d argue that the GOP primary for District Attorney also drove turnout. To a smaller extent, their contested judicial primaries helped, too; if nothing else, it’s that many more countywide candidates working to get people to the polls. Most of the Democratic action, with a couple of exceptions, is in individual districts, and the two open seat legislative races are in districts with lower CVAP shares. Frankly, all things considered, I don’t think turnout is particularly bad here. If a bit more people vote on Tuesday than did during the early period, turnout will be right at 2004 levels, which is about where I thought it would be. We’ll see how it goes.

Saturday video break: You Really Got A Hold On Me

Song #66 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “You Really Got A Hold On Me”, by The Miracles and covered by The Beatles. Here’s the original:

You pretty much can’t go wrong with Smokey Robinson. And here’s the Fab Four version:

The Beatles did quite a few of these Motown songs – the ones I have are on the “Anthology” double CD – and I think they generally did a decent job of it. I mean, “Twist And Shout”, right? If they helped bring some awesome music to a wider audience, so much the better. What do you think?

For shame, Keryl Douglas

Take a look at what was being handed out at an early voting location yesterday:

Keryl Douglas push card

So much for all those denials about that “Ministers for Keryl” email. You’d think that President Obama’s recent embrace of marriage equality might have made her reconsider this course of action. I mean, it’s likely that the national platform will contain a plank endorsing marriage equality. Even putting that aside, non-discrimination in all forms is a basic and bedrock Democratic value. How in the world does Keryl Douglas think she can lead the Harris County Democratic Party if she doesn’t share those values?

Primary campaigns are always the worst, because we’re all supposed to be on the same team. The fights we do have tend to be that much nastier because we otherwise generally agree with each other, on the goals if not always on how we reach them. If you’re going to launch a personal attack against a fellow Democrat, it really ought to be for conduct unbecoming of a person who would represent us in that particular office. Producing and distributing this push card is definitely conduct unbecoming, especially for a would-be party chair. For shame, Keryl Douglas.

More reactions to the new Astrodome report

Texans owner Bob McNair says “Sure, that’s nice and all, but don’t you forget about me.”

This would be cheaper to renovate

“Our first concern is Reliant Stadium,” McNair said Thursday. “We want to make sure we’ve got adequate funds there for repairs, replacement and improvements, and right now we don’t have ade-quate funds. I’d like to see that taken care of first.”

McNair claimed only $2.5 million is going into the stadium’s upkeep fund when $8 million is needed, explaining that the economic downturn since 2008 has significantly cut into tax revenues that would have been earmarked for stadium repairs, replacement parts and upgrades.

“(Commissioners) court has been very supportive,” said McNair, who watched the Texans’ OTA practice with Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee, on whose turf the Reliant complex sits. “It’s just now being brought to their attention. They’re contractually obligated to (maintain the stadium), but with the recession and the difference in tax receipts that were anticipated, there hasn’t been as much money available. (The Texans) and the rodeo have helped, and we’ll continue to do that. But it’s something that needs to be addressed long term.

“Compared to the other issues that we’re looking at, it’s a drop in the bucket. I think it needs to be addressed first.”

He is of course comparing costs with that of the proposed Astrodome/Reliant Arena renovation, which would almost certainly require a tax increase to pay for.

Bill Jackson, the county’s chief budget officer, said such a large bond issue likely would require a tax hike or deep budget cuts, particularly given other projects for which the county will need to sell bonds, such as a forensic sciences facility.

Financing $500 million over 30 years at 5 percent interest would require $28 million annually, Jackson said. For comparison, $28 million covers the annual costs for all but seven of the county’s dozens of departments, not counting the commissioners.

“It would be very difficult with everything we that have on our plate right now” to issue $500 million in bonds without a tax hike, Jackson said. “It’s a matter of setting priorities and figuring that out.”

A one-cent tax increase would generate about $26 million a year, Jackson said. That increase would raise the taxes on a $200,000 home by $16 annually, assuming the owner had a homestead exemption.

Yes, let’s talk priorities. I’m certainly not opposed to the idea of a tax increase. I’ve argued for some time now that Harris County should have considered at least rolling back the property tax cut they made a few years back to avoid or at least reduce the need for layoffs during the downturn. This project, in whatever form, would not be where I would want to see extra revenues go. It’s not even close. If it came up for a vote, I would vote against it. I agree with Judge Emmett here:

“The way it was trotted out, we’re going to re-purpose the Dome and we’re going to replace the arena with a new building,” Emmett said. “If we’re doing that, why don’t we use the Dome for the purposes the arena was being used for? Because that would obviously cost less.”

Yes. What exactly would a renovated Dome and/or Reliant Arena actually be used for? More to the point, what use could one or the other have that isn’t currently being addressed by some other facility? And even if there is some identifiable unfulfilled need, why would we need both of them for it? I touched on that yesterday, and John Royal asks as well.

Essentially they want to raise the floor and turn the Dome into a small venue for football, soccer, hockey, basketball, and concerts. But that’s also what they want to do with Reliant Arena. And what the consultants want to do with the Dome is what is supposed to be done with that new taxpayer-funded paradise the Dynamo is playing in. You know, that new small stadium meant for hosting soccer, football, and concerts. And one of the purposes for renovating Hofheinz Pavilion, besides giving the Cougars a modern basketball facility, is using it, once again, for concerts. And I’m sure Les Alexander would love Harris County trying to steal business from his Harris County-funded arena.

Royal concludes, with a heavy heart, that it would be better to demolish the Dome and put it out of its misery. The more this all drags out, the most I think that’s where we’re headed whether we want to admit it now or not. That said, I must admit I’ve not seen many good ideas for what to do with the empty space post-demolition. Turning it into some sort of park, as Royal and others suggest, sounds nice but who would actually use it? What attractions would be there to draw people in, and who would pay to build and maintain them? The upside is that this is by far the cheaper option, even if the cost of demolition is still on the way high end compared to other stadia.

Endorsement watch: Three for SBOE

The Chron finally crosses one redistricting-affected category off its list by issuing three endorsements in State Board of Education primaries.

Patty Quintana-Nilsson

State Board of Education, Position 6, Democratic primary: This race has drawn a particularly strong slate of Democrats. (We are impressed by Traci Jensen’s knowledge of the arcane workings of the SBOE.) But Patty Quintana-Nilsson, a Spring Branch ISD technical-education teacher, receives our endorsement because of her practical, real-world commitment to improving education for all Texas students, not just those bound for four-year colleges. “There’s a big disconnect between what we have to do in class and what our students need,” she notes.

Linda Ellis

State Board of Education, Position 8, Republican primary: Our choice – Linda Ellis, a fiscal conservative – is challenging incumbent Barbara Cargill, a member of the SBOE’s religious-conservative voting bloc and currently chair of the SBOE. Ellis, a reading consultant who helps turn around low-performing schools, decries Texas’ overreliance on testing and the board’s lack of respect for teachers. “The education of our children,” she says, “is more important than politics.”

Dexter Smith

State Board of Education, Position 8, Democratic primary: Dexter Smith, an energetic, thoughtful Friendswood elementary-school teacher, knows first-hand how curriculum plays in the classroom. Science education, he says, should be based on the scientific method. As a father, he believes that parents should be the primary guides of their children’s sex education; but he also believes that too many parents fail to do so, so it’s important for schools to fill that gap.

My interview with Patty Quintana-Nilsson is here, with Traci Jensen is here, and with David Scott is here. I didn’t interview anyone in SBOE 8 because I didn’t realize until only recently that there was a contested Democratic primary. I’ll be sure to schedule one for the general election. If you’re wondering why they didn’t endorse in the contentious GOP primary in SBOE 7, the reason is presumably that SBOE 7 no longer contains part of Harris County in it – you can see the map here. It does contain Liberty, Chambers, Galveston, Brazoria, and most of Fort Bend counties, and you’d think there would be a few Chron readers in those places, but that’s how they roll. Given how many Harris races have not been and may not be done, it’s hard to argue.

Friday random ten: What I am is what I am

I know what I am.

1. I’m A Bear In A Ladies Boudoir – Asylum Street Spankers
2. I’m A Believer – The Monkees
3. I’m A Rocker – Bruce Springsteen
4. I’m An Old Cowhand – Mutual Admiration Society
5. I’m Eighteen – Alice Cooper
6. I’m Free – The Soup Dragons
7. I’m Old Enough – Lou Ann Barton
8. I’m One – Pete Townshend
9. I’m The Man – Joe Jackson
10. I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man – Muddy Waters

What are you?

Meet the new “What To Do With The Astrodome” report

Not that much different than the old “What To Do With The Astrodome” report.

Not actual size

The Astrodome, a now-empty showplace that has hosted everyone from Elvis Presley to Hurricane Katrina evacuees, should be turned into a multipurpose facility that could spark fresh interest in the city of Houston, a group of consultants recommended Wednesday.

The $270 million option was one of four considered by consultants led by Dallas-based CSL. The other options included leaving the dome alone, demolishing it and building an outdoor plaza, or building a massive and expensive “renaissance” complex anchored by a luxury hotel.

In a presentation to Harris County’s sports and convention agency, the consultants said the multipurpose option could turn Houston into a popular destination for special events and national trade shows. The plan would preserve the iconic structure’s outer shell.

Bill Rhoda, CSL’s president, said the multipurpose facility proposal “recognizes the magnitude of potential opportunities offered by this one-of-a-kind structure.”

The reconfigured dome would have more than 300,000 square feet available for trade shows, exhibitions and various sporting events, including basketball and football games.

Rhoda said the multipurpose facility could be finished by 2016, when nearby Reliant Stadium hosts the Final Four in men’s basketball, and help make Houston more attractive for any bid to host the 2017 Super Bowl at the stadium. Rhoda also said the multipurpose facility leaves open the possibility of revisiting the renaissance option in the future.

“It provides additional flexibility for being able to attract a variety of events,” Rhoda said. “It adds the ability to move toward the Super Bowls and the Final Fours of the world, and get those events to Houston.”

The recommendation now goes to the Harris County commissioners, who can review the details at their next capital projects meeting on June 26. There is no known timeline for a decision, and the dome’s future could in theory be put before voters someday.

This is the completion of the study that was commissioned last year. You can compare it to the three options proposal from the last study. I confess, I’m a little confused by this.

While the Astrodome’s outer shell isn’t going anywhere, the inside floor would be raised to street level to create a 300,000 square foot performance area.

That means capacity will be severely decreased — 5,500 for a hockey game, 5,000 for high-school basketball tournaments and 15,500 for football, which, for the circa 1996 Oilers, would have been a badass turnout.

If the $270.3 million project gets the thumbs-up by Harris County Commissioners Court, the HCSCC board hopes to get the proposed plan on the ballot for a public vote. If passed, officials may try to lure the 2016 Final Four and the 2017 Super Bowl to the improved digs.

I’m not exactly sure how having a small-capacity sports-capable facility next door to Reliant makes it more attractive for those events. Be that as it may, there are some sporting events that would be suitable for the MiniDome.

“We would like to aggressively pursue bringing back to Houston the state high school football championships,” [HCSCC Chair Edgardo] Colon said. “This would be ideal for an event like that. (Reliant Stadium) is probably too big.”

Actually, the division title games last year at Cowboys Stadium topped out at 43,369 for the Aledo-Manvel game, so the slimmed-down Dome likely could not host the 3A, 4A or 5A division games. About 15,500 seats, however, could be sufficient to host the 2A, A or six-man games, which were attended by 5,000 to 10,000 at Cowboys Stadium last year.

There is more to this plan than just the Dome.

Colon said the consultants believe replacing Reliant Arena is a higher priority, and would allow the county to better compete for events, shows and conventions it cannot host now.

The proposed $385 million fix would demolish the arena and replace it with a performance space with up to 10,000 seats, along with 250,000 square feet of exhibit space, more ballrooms and meeting space and a 3,000-space parking garage.

The consultants’ master plan also includes room for a hotel to be financed by private investors and connected to the renovated Dome by a skybridge.

It’s too soon for me to wrap my mind around this. I mean, what could a 5,000 to 15,000 seat Astrodome do as a sports and concert venue that, say, the new Dynamo Stadium couldn’t? It’s not clear to me where this thing fits in to the scene. Steve Radack is already pooh-poohing the report, so it may just wind up in a filing cabinet next to the last one, and two years later we’ll commission another study to see if anything has changed.

One more thing:

According to the consultants, demolishing the dome would cost $64 million.

That’s slightly less than what we have heard before, but still more expensive than other recently demolished stadia. And it may yet be what finally happens. Campos has more.

Petition drive to overturn the homeless feeding ordinance

It’s underway.

The petitioners have until July 1 to gather their signatures because that’s when the ordinance goes into effect. City Attorney David Feldman just informed me that petitioners have the longer of either 30 days following an ordinance’s passage or until the ordinance’s effective date to gather signatures. In this case, it’s the latter. So if the signatures get turned in by July 1, City Council will not be able to point to the ruling — moot though it is – even as a basis for declining to put it on the ballot.

So a coalition of civil libertarians and charities against the feeding ordinance plan to proceed in hopes of gathering 28,000 signatures to give voters the opportunity on the November ballot to overturn the feeding ordinance passed in April. It requires anyone who wants to feed more than five people free meals to get permission of the property owner before doing so.

Randall Kallinen, a civil rights attorney who is leading the repeal drive, said he believes that since the red-light camera election’s validity remains intact because of the ruling by U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes has been set aside, people are free to challenge ordinances even more than a month after the fact.


The petition asks for signatures in support of a city charter amendment that states the following:

The City of Houston shall not criminalize or penalize any person or organization for, nor shall any group or individual be required to receive permission from or register with the City of Houston before, feeding or sharing free food with any other persons on any and all public property, rights of way or easements for which the City of Houston maintains jurisdiction.

Such language does not overturn the ordinance’s requirement that feeders receive permission from the owners of private property on which charitable meals are served. By limiting the language to the City of Houston property it also leaves in place the requirement that feeders get pre-clearance from other government agencies before using those agencies’ property for charitable meals. For example, permission from the Texas Department of Transportation would be necessary to hand out meals to more than five people at a freeway underpass.

They started Tuesday, so they have a bit more than five weeks to collect 28,000 valid signatures. Given the need to have a buffer to allow for some duplicates and invalid sigs and whatnot, they’ll need to average about 1,000 signatures a day for that time period. I think if they succeed in getting this on the ballot they will win easily, but I have no idea if they can collect those signatures in time.

I’m no lawyer, but Kallinen’s assertion that the time limit isn’t in effect because the red light camera ruling was set aside seems specious to me. Even if there isn’t a legal precedent now, the basic facts are the same. If it comes down to it – for instance, if Council declines to put it on the ballot because the July 1 deadline was missed and Kallinen et al sue – I don’t see why some other judge wouldn’t reach the same conclusion as Judge Hughes. Am I missing something here?

It’s interesting to me that the scope of the petition is so narrow. In part, that’s because the ordinance itself is pretty limited. But for all the hue and cry at the time of its passage, the activists involved here have conceded the point that permission is needed for private property – I daresay that few people would disagree with that – and have also drawn a distinction between city property and property owned by other government entities. I suspect that’s more a practical matter than a theoretical one, since their beef has mostly been about access to city parks, but it still strikes me as a bit odd. Be that as it may, one reason why I think this will be an easy win if it makes it to the ballot is that I doubt it will be presented in such narrow, specific terms in a campaign. It’ll be about freedom and principle and compassion and so forth. Which is fine – I don’t have any problems with this ordinance, but I’m not going to expend any effort defending it if it comes to that. I mean, given what a lousy job the ordinance’s proponents did presenting and explaining it to the public in the first place, I seriously doubt anyone will expend much effort to defend it. I don’t feel nearly as strongly about this as the ones who are spearheading the petition drive, and as such I believe they will prevail if they can beat the clock. We’ll see if they can.

Hubbard profile


Sean Hubbard

Of the six top-tier candidates running for the U.S. Senate, only Sean Hubbard may have to worry about being challenged by eagle-eyed poll watchers, suspicious that he is too young to vote. Fresh-faced and slight, the Dallas resident is 31, but looks half that.

The young Democrat likes to remind audiences that Joe Biden was 29 when he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Delaware, and like the current vice president, Hubbard is articulate, engaging and well-versed on the issues. During a Houston debate a couple of weeks ago, he did not hesitate to engage the presumptive GOP front-runner, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is more than three decades older and who has nearly 15 years more experience in office. Hubbard won the KUHF News live blog poll immediately following the debate.


He quit his job last December, assured his wife he would share the child-rearing chores equally and declared his candidacy – not for city council or the U.S. House, but for the U.S. Senate. Given the gerrymandered nature of congressional districts, his chance of winning a Senate seat, he calculated, was about as good as winning a House seat. He also had notions of changing the makeup of the Senate.

“It’s the oldest and richest it’s ever been in this country,” Hubbard said one afternoon last week as he sipped iced tea at Sissy’s Cafe in Brownsboro. “Which is great that people can be successful and then run for office, but that’s not very representative of our country. … I thought, ‘What about having a guy that had to work for his paycheck every week run for the U.S. Senate?’ ”

He also hoped to jolt his fellow Democrats into action. “I just got tired of watching the Democratic Party being afraid all the time,” he said. “It’s just a theory at this point, but I think part of the reason Republicans do so well here is that they take a stand on an issue. I thought, ‘Hey, let’s try that.’ ”

My interview with Hubbard is here. The story references Harold Cook’s endorsement of Hubbard, which resulted from Hubbard’s performance in that debate. I think the enthusiasm argument that Cook and other bloggers cite is a strong argument for Hubbard. We’ll see if that translates to something in the primary. Whatever does happen this year, Hubbard definitely has a future, and I look forward to hearing a lot more from him.

Endorsement watch: For Rep. Alma Allen

There are three contested Democratic primaries involving an incumbent State Representative in Harris County, and six such primaries involving Republicans. The Chron has now made an endorsement in one of those races.

Rep. Alma Allen

In the Democratic primary race for Texas House District 131, Houston City Councilmember Wanda Adams is challenging longtime incumbent Dr. Alma Allen. It is a contest of freshman passion versus experienced seniority, and in a time of budget cuts and legislative battles, Texas Democrats need all the seniority they can muster.

Rep. Allen spent nearly 40 years in the Houston Independent School District, working as a teacher, vice principal, principal and administrator, and served on the State Board of Education for ten years. With that experience, it should be no surprise that House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has appointed her to the joint interim committee to study the public school finance system. Looking toward an expected state-wide analysis of school funding, if not a complete overhaul, this is no time to kick education experts out of office.

At this rate, they may be done in time for the start of early voting for the runoffs. My interview with Rep. Allen is here. Did I mention that there are also two contested primaries for the open HD144 seat? Clearly, we are not getting there from here.

More details on the Southwest deal

Here’s the memo of understanding between Southwest and the city, via Houston Politics. Some highlights:

Construction is scheduled to begin in mid-to-late 2013 with an opening of the five international gates and customs facility in late 2015.

Other aspects of the deal:

  • Southwest will design and build the project.
  • Southwest will comply with city goals to hire minority and women contractors and preference for local firms.
  • Southwest controls four of the five gates as long as they conduct at least four departures and four arrivals daily on each gate.
  • The deal can be changed by whatever lease agreement the city and Southwest negotiate by the time the current lease expires in June 2015.
  • If the two sides can’t agree on what’s known as Project Definition Manual — which covers specifications and other details — or a new lease, Southwest doesn’t have to build.

The city has also released a new report bolstering its support of the deal.

Transportation and aviation experts, Drs. Carol Abel Lewis and Charles R. Glass of Texas Southern University (TSU) reviewed the independent economic impact studies commissioned by the Houston Airport System (HAS) as well as the opposing report prepared by United Airlines. It is their conclusion that the preponderance of the available evidence of impact on jobs, airfares and passenger volumes supports the recommendation to allow SWA to proceed with its proposal.

“While we believe the independent study the City commissioned was solidly based and built on other studies done around the United States and worldwide, I concluded that it would be helpful to this process to have a peer review of our own independent study and the ones presented by United and Southwest,” said Mayor Parker. “This peer review was done totally independent of the airlines involved and used the material provided by our own studies and the material provided by the Airlines.”

I have asked for a copy of or link to this report and will post it when I get it.

UPDATE: Here’s the TSU report. I promise, I’ll try to get Tiffany to analyze all of this.

The deal with Southwest

It’s official.

You are now free to fly internationally

In a news conference at Hobby Airport, Mayor Annise Parker announced Wednesday that Southwest Airlines will pay the estimated $100 million cost for a five-gate expansion at Hobby that would provide international flights.

“This is one of those deals where I don’t have to spend the next 20 minutes explaining what’s in the deal,” Parker said. “Southwest has agreed to pay for all the expenses associated with building the expansion. That’s it.”

Parker said she would present a memorandum of understanding about the deal later Wednesday to City Council.

“And I look forward to an affirmative vote from City Council next Wednesday when it’s formally on the council agenda,” she said.

There are apparently already enough votes on Council to pass this. Barring anything unexpected, it’s a done deal.

The mayor said the deal would not be financed by any city debt or facilities charges tacked onto the price of passenger tickets.

The airline will build five new gates according to city specifications and will get exclusive use of four of the new gates, Parker said.

“The fifth gate will be available to other carriers that choose to fly out of Hobby,” she said.

Once the improvements are made, the city will own them debt-free, Parker said.

The Chron story goes into more detail.

First, Southwest will not have to pay rent on the four gates or for the customs facility.

Southwest officials acknowledged Wednesday that exempting it from rent but assuming the debt payments is, essentially, a wash, though they said an apples-to-apples comparison was nearly impossible because there are so many ways to structure a deal.

Southwest also qualifies for an annual rebate of as much as $3.9 million based on the growth in passengers once the international addition opens. Southwest would get roughly $1.43 back for each additional passenger over the previous year’s total.

Andy Icken, the city’s chief development officer and one of the negotiators on the deal, estimated that Southwest would have to increase its passenger total by roughly 50 percent in a single year for it to earn the maximum rebate.

A city study projects that the number of Hobby passengers would grow far less than that.

Southwest gets a key concession of near total control of the international section of the terminal at Hobby. While Southwest has touted the benefits of competition its entry into the Latin American market would bring, Southwest’s competition within Hobby will be limited to the flights that can squeeze out of one gate.

Southwest has plans for up to 25 daily international departures to destinations like Mexico and the Caribbean, which are places that can be reached in their fleet of 737s. They would start service in 2015.

The Mayor’s press release on this is here. One of the things it emphasizes is that Southwest will abide by all of the city’s minority and small business contracting requirements as well as the Hire Houston First policy. That drew a laudatory release from the Texas Organizing Project for the commitment to local hiring. I’m sure United will kick up a fuss about this, but everything I’ve seen indicates that public sentiment is very much on the side of Southwest and the Hobby expansion. All in all, I think it’s a pretty nice accomplishment for Mayor Parker, who as I said before will have some more positive things to talk about in her next election campaign than she did in the last one. What do you think about this deal?

Fifth Circuit sends open beaches lawsuit back to district court

Unfortunately, the headline makes it sound like better news than it is.

A federal appeals court Monday ruled that the Texas Open Beaches Act is unconstitutional in the case of a Galveston Island property, a ruling that puts the fate of Texas public beaches in doubt.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to Houston federal district court for retrial, but said that few issues were left to be decided.

“What issues must now be determined, aside from attorneys’ fees accruing to the appellant, is unclear,” the three-judge panel said in a three-paragraph opinion.

Chief Circuit Judge Edith Jones and Circuit Judge Edith Clement relied on an April advisory opinion by the Texas Supreme Court that essentially said the Open Beaches Act does not apply on West Galveston Island if the beach is rapidly eroded by storms, known as avulsion, rather than slowly eroded.

I was a little confused when I first read this, but after exchanging emails with the General Land Office, I got straightened out. A succinct explanation is in this 2010 Chron story about the original Supreme Court ruling.

[Plaintiff Carol] Severance initially filed suit in federal district court, which dismissed the case. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s dismissal but sent some questions to the Texas Supreme Court for answers, prompting Friday’s ruling.

And then the Supreme Court ruling prompted the Fifth Court to finish its task, which came back to them after the Supremes affirmed their ruling in April. As the Tuesday story says, there’s not much left for the district court to sort out, but there are sure to be more lawsuits filed by other beachfront property owners. One possible outcome of that, as former Land Commissioner Garry Mauro wrote in the Trib is that this could lead the Supreme Court to limit the scope of its ruling to lots on Galveston’s West Beach. Before that happens, voters will have a chance to take Commissioner Patterson’s advice and give a verdict of their own on the judges who voted against open beaches. Assuming he doesn’t get booted off the ballot, Justice Nathan Hecht faces Democrat Michele Petty in November. Remember that race when it’s time to vote.

Endorsement watch: One more down, still many more to do

After a three-day hiatus, the Chron gets back on the endorsement track by recommending Cindy Vara-Leija for Constable in Precinct 1.

Cindy Vara-Leija

We believe Cindy Vara-Leija, who retired last October from a 32-year career in law enforcement, is the strongest candidate to clean up the mess in Precinct 1.


Vara-Leija’s lengthy experience in the mental health division also recommends her candidacy. She observes, perceptively: “As a sergeant [supervising the serving of] mental warrants, you have to really care. You have to understand that we’re not arresting them, we’re transporting them to a safe place where they can get care.”

Among other changes, Vara-Leija would pursue opportunities to cross-train with the Harris County Sheriff’s Department and the Houston Police Department in the mental health area.

We believe Vara-Leija has the experience and leadership ability to begin removing the stain from the Constable Precinct 1 office and move it into a more transparent and service-oriented future.

My interview with Vara-Leija is here; I interviewed her and the three other candidates who filed during the initial period: Grady Castleberry, Alan Rosen, and Quincy Whitaker. This race has been quite visible – I see many signs for Vara-Leija and Rosen around, with scattered signs for other candidates, and I have received mail from Vara-Leija, Rosen, and Castleberry. I expect the runoff to be a bruising fight.

As we know, Precinct 1 was the only Constable race in which the Chron planned to endorse, so they can now cross that off their list. Still to go: Every Congressional primary except CD36; all three SBOE races; SDs 04 and 11; every State House race except HD137; all of the HCDE races. Election Day is Tuesday. Good luck with that.

Texas blog roundup for the week of May 21

The Texas Progressive Alliance reminds you that early voting for the 2012 primaries continues through Friday as it brings you this week’s roundup.