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June 21st, 2013:

Friday random ten: The city never sleeps, part 10

One last tour of musical cities.

1. UMMG (Upper Manhattan Medical Group) – Joe Henderson
2. Vienna – Billy Joel
3. Walkin’ In Jerusalem – Eddie From Ohio
4. Walking In Memphis – Marc Cohn
5. Weekend In Austin – Ezra Charles
6. Weekend In Cincinnati – The Bobs
7. Werewolfs Of London – Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon
8. The Wharton UFO – Flying Fish Sailors
9. Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell
10. Youngstown – Bruce Springsteen

And one last visit to Memphis, the most popular city in my collection. “The Wharton UFO” is the story of what really happens when space aliens land in rural areas. “Vienna” is one of Billy Joel’s most underrated songs. And that’s all I’ve got. I’ll be back with some new gimmick next week.

Targeting Farenthold

Yes, please.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

Democrats are trying to exact a political price for Texas Republicans’ votes to restart deportations of so-called “DREAMers” — the children illegally brought into the U.S. by their parents.

The target of the latest ad buy is Corpus Christi Rep. Blake Farenthold, who was one of 23 Texas Republicans to favor the measure by Iowa Rep. Steve King enacted by the House last week. (Republican Rep. Pete Sessions of Dallas did not vote on the proposal. All 12 Texas Democrats voted no.)

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said today it had bought air time on Spanish language radio stations “across” the district, which stretches from Corpus Christi to the Austin and San Antonio media markets, to demand that Farenthold “stand with our young people and not with most extreme members of his party.”

The district’s population is majority Latino, but voters who go to the polls tend to favor Republicans.

“Instead of giving these young people a chance at the American Dream, Congressman Farenthold showed his true colors: an extreme ideology that would deport young people who have been contributing to this country since they were brought here as children,” said Emily Bittner, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “The people of Texas want a comprehensive solution to our broken immigration system, but Congressman Farenthold just did the opposite — and voted to restart deportations for 800,00 DREAMers.”

The ad includes the words of a young Latino person eligible for the DREAM Act who could be among 800,000 youths facing deportation under the King Amendment because of their parents’ decisions.

“I have lived in the United States since I was a child, and it’s my only home,” the unnamed immigrant says in the ad. “I’m a student, I work, and I’m proud to give back to my community. I’ve always done what was asked of me. The only thing I ask is for the opportunity to do it.”

Farenthold easily won re-election in the redrawn 27th District last year after upsetting veteran Democrat Solomon Ortiz two years earlier in the old 27th, which was much more heavily Latino. But Democrats are hoping to soften him up with negative ads, particularly if the federal courts redraw Texas congressional maps to increase the district’s Mexican-American population.

I’m very glad to see this. Besides just being morally correct and good politics, Farenthold does have a soft underbelly despite being in a nominally safe district. As I noted before, he lost a significant amount of support from the top of the ticket despite running against an opponent with few resources. A district like his, with its heavy concentration of low-turnout Latinos could be prime proving ground for Battleground Texas. I don’t know how much the DCCC is spending here, or how focused that money is, but it’s a good start. This is the kind of issue that can motivate voters. If we can get a good candidate in place, we have a chance to make something interesting happen.

House passes redistricting bills

They accepted a couple of amendments but otherwise the process wasn’t much different from the Senate or the House committee.

A daylong debate on redistricting maps in the Texas House drew frustration from Democrats and growing concern from Republicans on Thursday as House leaders agreed to some amendments to one of the maps.

Gov. Rick Perry called the 83rd Legislature into special session in hopes it would ratify — without changes — the interim redistricting maps that a panel of federal judges drew for use in the 2012 elections. The Texas Senate did that earlier this month. But the House deviated, adopting three amendments on the state House district map moments after gaveling in.

The chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting, Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, told members from the start that he would be accepting “small, necessary tweaks” to the maps providing they meet specific criteria — unite communities of interest, are agreeable to members of neighboring districts and are in accordance with the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.

In a matter of minutes, Darby approved, and the House adopted three such amendments. Two would swap out precincts between members of neighboring House districts. A third, by state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, brings all of Texas A&M International into his district.

Beyond that, state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, was among a handful of members who began questioning Darby, puzzled as to why amendments were being accepted when, he said, members had been told “any change made would open the door for other problems.” He also cited the fact that the amendments hadn’t come through committee.

Darby restated his criteria, adding that the amendments he’s accepting don’t impact geography or the demographic makeup of districts. With that, more members began filing amendments. Two more, which also swap out precincts between neighboring districts, were adopted.

Those were the only three that were accepted. I commend you to read Greg and Texas Redistricting for the full blow-by-blow; see also this post for the map that was planned.

Three points of interest. One, not all redistricting fights fall along party lines.

“You’re a liar,” state Rep. Pat Fallon of Frisco yelled at his colleague, state Rep. Bennett Ratliff of Coppell.

Other House Republicans tried to hush Fallon, but his fury wouldn’t ebb.

“Touch your buddy Gene because you’re in the same party as him,” a red-faced Fallon loudly continued, as Ratliff walked away and placed a hand on state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, as he passed by.

Asked a few moments later what the dust-up was all about, Fallon said simply, “Forgot.”

The hollering could have stemmed from a quiet dispute brewing during the redistricting debate. On Thursday afternoon, some tea party-affiliated members of the House had been upset about an amendment that removed one of Ratliff’s primary opponents from his district. The amendment, which passed earlier in the day without much trouble, put tea party favorite Matt Rinaldi into the safely Democratic district of state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

Temper, temper. And I must say, I too would buy a Touch Me, I’m Gene Wu’s Buddy t-shirt, too. Someone get on Cafepress.com and make this happen, OK? Oh, and as Greg says, I’d take Bennett Ratliff for my team if the Rs don’t want him, too.

Two, the ball is now in the Senate’s court.

The Senate, which is scheduled to meet Friday, still has to sign off on changes made Thursday by the House to its maps before sending the bills to Perry for his signature. Sen. Kel Seliger, the upper chamber’s redistricting chief during the special session, has said he plans to accept changes the House makes to their political boundaries.

I guess it wouldn’t have killed them to accept some cleanup amendments after all.

And three, the missing man makes an appearance:

MALC chair State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer and African-American and Hispanic members asked the AG to have someone testify at redistricting hearings. But the AG’s office ignored those requests and redistricting committee chair, State Rep. Drew Darby, said that he would not use subpoena power to require attendance.

In fact, Darby said today in response to questioning that he never even asked the AG’s office to come testify voluntarily.

All that might be logical if the AG’s office took that position that it was the office’s job to defend whatever maps emerged, not to give advice on them.

But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Instead, Abbott’s office appears to have met with the House Republican caucus on at least two occasions, including today during an early afternoon break in floor action.

And after emerging from today’s meeting – reportedly with Abbott’s chief deputy – House Republicans seem to have experienced a major sea change in their willingness to accept even minor agreed amendments, such as one offered by State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) to adjust for the fact that a mountain runs oddly through HD 77 in El Paso. Whereas before the break, redistricting chair Darby had agree to five relatively minor amendments (one of which was proposed to unite a parking lot at Texas A&M International with the school itself), afterwards he would take none.

Now, since what was said in the meeting isn’t known, it’s not clear that advice from the AG’s office caused the change. But it’s at least a little awkward – both legally and optically – that the AG’s office seems to be acting as counsel for the Republican caucus rather than the Legislature or the state as a whole.

It also seems to have left the Legislature in a precarious position legally.

Too chicken to talk to non-Republicans, I guess. Or maybe he’s just forgotten how. But at least he’s consistent. Go read the rest of that post, it’s all good.

And again, now that redistricting is done for the day, the House can be like the Senate and get to what really animates them, which is making life miserable for women.

House Bill 60 would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles, require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical clinics, and regulate how doctors administer pills for medical abortions.

HB 60 would originally have required women receiving medical abortions to take the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended dosage, which physicians have said is dangerously high. The committee substitute introduced in the hearing reduced the dosage to that recommended in obstetrician-gynecologist guidelines.

The bill’s Senate version, Senate Bill 5, passed Tuesday night after an amendment removed the 20-week ban. State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, who sponsored the House legislation, has said she hopes to revive the ban in the Senate by passing HB 60.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, questioned Laubenberg about the justifications for the 20-week ban, which is premised upon research that suggests fetuses at 20 weeks of gestation can feel pain. Though research indicates fetuses respond to stimuli at that point of pregnancy, there is no consensus on whether they feel pain.

Farrar also asked whether HB 60 would deprive women of choice, to which Laubenberg responded, “The Legislature should err on the side of life, not death.”

[…]

Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, asked why the legislation included no exception for cases of rape or incest.

Rape is “a horrible violation to a woman,” Laubenberg said, adding that the state should focus on punishing the perpetrator but still not allow abortion if the fetus is past 20 weeks.

[…]

Matthew Braunberg, an ob-gyn from Dallas, said the legislation would needlessly limit women’s access to abortions despite what he said were decreased medical risks, compared to carrying a pregnancy to term.

“The last thing we want is for them to go to Doctor Google to figure out how to do this,” he said.

Carol Everett, an anti-abortion advocate, said the bill would help women by raising standards for abortions.

“This is a health protection for her,” she said.

I think David Dewhurst let the cat out of the bag on that, Carol. Kudos for sticking to the script regardless. Maybe someone should tell Rep. Laubenberg that if this bill passes and a bunch of clinics close because they can’t meet the needlessly onerous requirements that HB60 would impose, then an awful lot more women are going be be horribly violated, since there wouldn’t be any place for them to get an abortion before 20 weeks anyway. But hey, it’s all about protecting women, since they obviously don’t know what’s best for themselves. Besides, rape victims don’t get pregnant anyway, am I right? Pro-choice advocates are hoping to run out the clock, which has as much hope as any other strategy. Good luck gumming up the works, y’all.

Seniors get a tax cut from Council

Good for them.

BagOfMoney

Houston City Council voted to provide property tax relief to seniors Wednesday, one of many votes at a marathon meeting at which council unanimously approved a $4.5 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The city’s exemption for homeowners 65 and older will rise from $70,862 to $80,000 thanks to the 14-2 vote, a move that should be codified with a second approval next week, City Attorney David Feldman said.

The roller-coaster 10-hour meeting – all but 45 minutes of which focused on Mayor Annise Parker’s budget and council members’ 60 proposed amendments to it – will require Parker to shuffle about $3.9 million in the $2.2 billion general fund budget. The rest of the city’s spending occurs in enterprise funds fed by fees and not taxes.

[…]

Among the successful amendments: A $2 million push to redeploy four ambulances shelved during the cutbacks; a $1.5 million summer jobs program for youth; $250,000 for cameras to monitor illegal dumping; and money to increase the Houston Center for Literacy’s budget from $400,000 to $500,000. Other big-ticket items, including a $3 million summer-jobs program and $1.5 million for after-school programs, were voted down.

Parker said she will cover the ambulance spending with funds that had been set aside to analyze the fire department’s operations and will fund the jobs program with money that had been slated for efficiency reviews of departments. Parker said she will shuffle $250,000 around in the police budget to cover the cameras and must find an offset for the literacy item.

The $3.8 million cost of raising property tax exemptions, which will save the average homeowner $39 to $58, depending on the estimate, won’t require a change to the budget, Parker said. City officials expect revenues to exceed the projected figures, with or without exemption changes.

“We can always say that we have to prepare for tomorrow, but there are senior citizens out there now who, $40, $50 dollars a year would help them pay the drainage fee, help them pay their water bill, maybe medication,” said the amendment’s author, Councilman C.O. Bradford. “Do all of them need it? Perhaps not, but, by God, I can take you to enough neighborhoods in Houston where they are on fixed incomes and to provide relief for them is the proper thing to do.”

I’m sure this will help some people who need it, and raising the exemption is more progressive than cutting the rate, but this is a fairly significant amount of money. It’s a lot less than it could have been, since some Council members proposed raising the exemption to $160,000 to match Harris County. That would have cost a boatload, on the order of $20 million a year. I note that one person who proposed that massive reduction in revenue was CM Helena Brown, who is convinced that the city is on the brink of bankruptcy. You tell me how that makes sense.

If you want to wonk out on the budget, go look at the Fiscal Year 2014 Proposed Budget webpage and the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee webpage, which together have enough PDFs to keep you busy for weeks. The Houston Politics blog had multiple posts over the past couple of weeks covering the individual departments’ budget presentations. Very useful stuff, too bad it wasn’t ever in the print edition or the houstonchronicle.com site.

One more thing:

With an $81 million deficit projected for the next budget cycle, Parker said the most important amendment of the day likely was the first, in which council voted 13-3 to accept Councilman Oliver Pennington’s plan to save any revenue collected over expected levels. That meant no such money could be spent during the fiscal year, including on projects such as those mentioned in the scores of subsequent budget amendments.

That’s not a lot to go on. An email from CM Costello at the start of the budget committee process gives a little bit of information on this:

Finance Director Kelly Dowe followed the Controller with the Administration’s FY 2014 budget overview and General Fund five-year forecast. The FY 2014 budget shows increases in property tax revenue of 4.33 percent and sales tax revenue of 5.8 percent. Total General Fund revenues are projected to grow $70.3 million and General Fund expenditures budgeted to increase $105 million. This will be the tenth year the city has spent more money than it has collected. The majority of expenditure increases ($53.7 million) are tied to personnel: contractual pay increases ($21.5 million); higher health benefit costs ($7.3 million); and increased pension costs ($23 million). Other specifics include $7.5 million for ongoing maintenance of the city’s facilities and fleet, $3.1 million to restore library hours and personnel, $2 million for an analysis aimed at optimizing the city’s fire and emergency services model and $2.7 million in debt service increases. The proposed budget also expands single stream recycling to another 100,000 households.

That’s based on the five year forecast that Finance Director Kelly Dowe makes. You can see the rest of Dowe’s materials here. I’ll simply note that while any projection of a deficit is concerning, the revenue projections for each of the past three years undershot the actual totals. Things could be better than we think, or if the economy goes to hell again they could be worse. We just don’t know. Predicting the future is hard, y’all. Stace has more.

What do you have against yarn?

This is such a shame.

The artwork pre-destruction. Image via Mary Goldsby’s Facebook page.

An International Yarn Bombing Day installation on a park trellis in the Heights was partially torn down Saturday after it was only up for a week, since June 8.

The project was headed by Heights resident Mary Goldsby, who was helped by 24 volunteers, including the Heights Knit Chicks.
It was to be up for a month, and Goldsby had obtained a permit for the yarn to be up at the 1600 block of Heights Blvd., between 16th and 17th Street.

Houston Crime Stoppers is offering up to $5,000 in cash rewards for any information that leads to an arrest in the vandalization of the yarn bombing exhibit. If the information leads to felony charges, or a felony arrest, callers will be eligible for the Crime Stoppers reward.

According to officials, approximately $10,000 in damage was caused by the vandal.

KTRK and The Leader have more on this. From the former:

Where the yarn bomb installation was is now a reward poster for information on a woman seen ripping and cutting the installation apart early Saturday evening, just as David Milner was walking by.

“I said to the woman, ‘What happened?’ I thought she was part of the group. I thought it was going to be up for another month,” Milner said. “And she wouldn’t comment. She wouldn’t talk to me.”

It might not seem high crime, but what happened here matters. The destruction of what was intended to be a touch of whimsy in a world that needs it means a lot to the people and the community that helped create it, not to mention the person who organized it all — Mary Goldsby.

“It’s been overwhelmingly positive. And that’s what makes this all the more puzzling,” she said. “Absolutely, it’s a mystery.”

According to The Leader, the vandal is described as “a woman between 40-50 years old who seemed ‘angry'”. I have no idea what would motivate someone to destroy something that you’d think would make most people smile, but there it is. The Heights Life adds on:

  • Something is afoot regarding the Yarn Bomb that was installed on Heights Blvd in honor of International Yarn Bomb day. I’m not exactly sure what it is but I know it will have yarn and pictures and your help is needed to pull it off! Due to the overwhelmingly positive response to the project, the knitters just can’t let it end on a gloomy note because of one crazy person. Help them resurrect the Yarnbomb on the Boulevard in a “new format.”
  • “Did you see the Yarnbomb before it was vandalized? Did you take a picture?? Please email your photos, ESPECIALLY if they include people, pets, or anything in front of the yarnbomb. Quirky and fun is dandy. With everyone’s help, we’ll be creating a new project at the site that will bring smiles back, instead of scowls and head shaking.”
  • Email your photos to: [email protected] by Sunday, June 23, 4 p.m.
  • There is still a reward for finding out who went so nuts they had to rip this art apart!

If you know anything about this, please call Crime Stoppers at (713) 222-TIPS (8477). Marty Hajovsky has more.