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August 10th, 2012:

Friday random ten: Closing ceremonies

Inspired by this, here’s one last Olympics-themed Random Ten:

1. Bicycle Race – Queen
2. Holy Diver – Dio
3. The Boxer – Simon and Garfunkel
4. Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen
5. Jump – Big Daddy
6. Nightswimming – You Say Party! We Say Die!
7. If I Had A Hammer – Pete Seeger
8. A Horse Named Bill – Flying Fish Sailors
9. Balance Beam – Laurie Berkner
10. Star Spangled Banner – Eddie From Ohio

Yeah, I have the first three songs on the Coverville list, which is why this inspired me. Good thing this isn’t the Winter Olympics, because I don’t have a lot of snow and ice-themed music, at least outside of the Christmas carol genre.

No Dome vote this year?

There may not be an Astrodome-related bond referendum on the ballot this year.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

The last day Commissioners Court can place a referendum on the November ballot is Aug. 20, according to county attorneys. The court’s Tuesday meeting was its last scheduled before that date, and no mention of the Dome was on the agenda.

“The economic situation is just not favorable at this time to be able to step in and get people to invest big money,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said. “I don’t think there’s a quick fix for our economy, and I don’t think there’s a quick fix for the Dome.”


Putting a big bond vote before voters could put the county in an even bigger debt hole than it is now, said Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee. Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle agreed, noting that $3 million to $4 million in annual maintenance is far easier to pay than the $30 million in annual debt service that would be required under the May proposal.

“If you jump into what any one of these things (the report) suggests, you’re talking about some extreme costs,” Lee said. “We should go on the ballot when we’re ready and have something to tell the public that we’re going to do.”

County Judge Ed Emmett, who said in early 2011 and earlier this year the court should decide on the Dome “this year,” agreed.

“There’s not the perfect thing to put on the ballot,” he said. “We do have to come up with an answer. I know I’ve been saying that, but the Dome just cannot sit there like a rusting ship forever in that parking lot. I’d like to get something on (the ballot) in May, but I’m one of five.”

See here and here for recent updates, and here for even more. I’m fine with putting off a vote till 2013. We have plenty of other things on the ballot this year. I have no strong preference for May or November of 2013 as the target date. Let’s just agree that we want to get this done and works towards that.

The first rule of women’s health

Is don’t talk about things that make certain Republicans queasy.

A proposed state rule that would prohibit doctors in Texas’ Women’s Health Program from discussing the option of abortion with their patients — even if the patient asks about it — has drawn the opposition of Texas medical groups.

The groups take issue specifically with a clause that states the provider must not “promote elective abortions.” The word “promote” as defined by the proposed rule includes counseling and referrals to abortion providers, as well as the display of any materials from abortion providers.

In a letter to the Department of State Health Services on Friday, the Texas Medical Association, along with four other groups representing a combined 47,000 physicians and medical students, wrote that the rule would jeopardize medical ethics and doctors’ relationships with their patients. They argued that doctors might leave the program as a result of the rule, putting the already embattled program at risk.

You can see the TMA’s letter here. Note that they mention First Amendment concerns, which was the basis of the lawsuit against the horrible sonogram bill, for which an injunction was granted by the federal district court, then tossed by the activist appeals court. If the state of Texas yields on this point, I guess that means some people’s First Amendment rights are greater than some other people’s First Amendment rights. Remember also that this is for the replacement Women’s Health Program that the state is paying for with its own money after its fit of pique against Planned Parenthood. They pretty much have to come to some arrangement with the doctors or else there won’t be anyone to actually provide the services that the state insists it can provide. I don’t know if that will have any practical effect on the sonogram litigation, but it will highlight once again how ludicrous that Fifth Circuit ruling was.

Two suggestions for better elections

Ed Kilgore writes that Tennessee Democrats shot themselves in the foot with the winner of their low-information, low-profile Senate primary.

[F]acing incumbent Sen. Bob Corker will be some obscure dude named Mark Clayton, who won a plurality of the vote in a large field of unknowns via the inestimable advantage of appearing at the top of the ballot thanks to his alphabetically superior surname. Turns out Clayton is an enthusiast for homophobia along with various classic conservative extremist memes, including the “NAFTA Super-Highway” and “FEMA Concentration Camps For Patriots.” The Tennessee Democratic Party quickly disowned Clayton, but the damage to the state ticket is already done.

I’d say the situation provides some empirical evidence relevant to two issues of how states conduct elections. Tennessee is one of the relatively few southern states without a threshold requirement of the percentage of votes needed to secure a party nomination. Requiring runoffs can have pernicious effects, but on the other hand, it’s a good way to avoid deeply embarrassing accidental nominations, as Texas Democrats showed earlier this week by nominating former state senator Paul Sadler for the Senate instead of perennial candidate (sometimes as a Republican) Grady Yarbrough, whose first place finish in the primary seems to have been primarily a matter of voters confusing him with the late liberal Sen. Ralph Yarborough.

As for the alphabetical ballot listing issue, it’s long past time for every state to list non-incumbent candidates randomly. Otherwise Tennessee primary ballots may regularly feature crazy-person candidates with names like Aaron Aardvark, and Democrats may fondly remember the days when they worried Bob Corker’s last opponent, Harold Ford, Jr., was not sufficiently progressive.

We do have runoffs here, and as was the case in 2006 with Barbara Radnofsky versus Gene Kelly, I think that helped the voters figure out who the candidates were and why one was such an obviously better choice than the other. In our case at least, Paul Sadler would have been the nominee anyway under Tennessee’s system, as he finished first among the four candidates in May. One possible reason why Sadler did so much better in the runoff may be the email sent by the TDP highlighting the differences between his record and that of his runoff opponent’s. Some people disliked that action as you can see from the comments on that post, but I’m not one of them. I do think it’s appropriate and increasingly necessary for the party to play at least an informational role in primary elections. I don’t want to see smoke-filled-room shenanigans of the old days, but I do want to see the party – state or county as appropriate – put together and disseminate basic factual data about candidates in its primaries for the benefit of the voters. Stuff like primary voting history, political contributions, previous candidacies, that sort of thing. Sure, that would normally be the province of a candidate’s campaign, but I see this as being as much in the interest of the party whose banner is going to be carried by the winners of these races. This isn’t foolproof, as there are people who change their minds about which party best represents them and we want to be welcoming to them, but on the whole I think it will do a lot of good. If nothing else, if it forces parties to do a better job of maintaining contact information for its members, it will be a win.

As for randomizing ballot order, that’s a longtime hobbyhorse of mine. I do not understand why in this age of electronic voting machines that isn’t standard practice by now. As far as I’m concerned, every election in Texas that requires a majority of the vote to win – primaries, special elections, local and city elections, pretty much everything except the even-year November generals – should always have randomized ballot ordering. No one should be at an advantage or a disadvantage because of the luck of a ballot draw. I can’t even begin to think of an argument against this.

Here comes I-69

Best have your tinfoil hat at the ready.

The first Houston-area piece of a trade corridor — debated for more than a decade and envisioned as one day linking Mexico to Canada — has been officially designated.

Motorists will soon notice new road signs naming a 35-mile stretch of existing U.S. 59, from the 610 Loop to FM 787 in Cleveland, as part of the new Interstate 69.

With little fanfare, the Texas Transportation Commission recently voted to put up the new signage while keeping the U.S. 59 designation.

The I-69 corridor, the so-called NAFTA Superhighway that is supposed to connect the Texas-Mexico border to America’s heartland, has been on the drawing board since at least 2002. Plans to make the corridor wide enough to include tollways, rail and utility lines were phased out in 2009 in favor of a more traditional corridor that will be built in small increments.

The project has met with opposition from farmers and ranchers championing private property rights and others who opposed a large toll-road component of the plan.

That’s one way of putting it. There’s already a seven-mile stretch of highway down by Corpus Christi that has the I-69 designation, and according to Wikipedia there are little bits of I-69 in other states as well. If you’re unsure what I mean by the “tinfoil hat” remark, I suggest you spend a few minutes Googling “NAFTA superhighway”; all will be abundantly clear. Or just spend a few minutes giggling like a schoolboy about the new name. Either way it’s not likely to make too much difference in your daily life, but at least now you know.

You should also plan to drive on I-69 sooner rather than later, because it’s gonna get crowded pretty quick.

As the transformation of U.S. 59 in Houston to Interstate 69 continues, projections show an increase in traffic of up to 150 percent by 2035. Experts say traffic will increase regardless of whether the so-called NAFTA Superhighway, envisioned two decades ago as a trade route from Mexico through Houston to Canada, is fully built.


Houston’s segment, which already experiences traffic pileups and is not scheduled for any expansion under the plan, would be hit with the largest increase in traffic volume on Texas’ interstate route.

“But that traffic is coming to us no matter what we do. We are going to see a huge increase in freight — more than 300 percent in a little over a decade,” said a committee member, Ashby Johnson, the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s deputy transportation director. “Some of it is coming from NAFTA and some of it’s from the widening of the Panama Canal.”

Imagine how nasty the northbound approach to I-45 will be by then. Naturally, there’s no plan to deal with it. If I’m still in the same office, I’ll definitely be taking the train to work by then. Thomas has more.