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November, 2013:

Saturday video break: City of New Orleans

Because Arlo Guthrie did in fact do more than one song:

I’ve even heard that one played on the radio a time or two. Like the Thursday video, this was recorded at Farm Aid, though in a different year. Hope you’re having a good weekend, Arlo Guthrie, wherever you are.

Thanksgiving weekend voter ID update

Some statistics to throw some cold water on the claims that there were “no problems” with the voter ID law.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Delays at the polls this month due to glitches with voters’ identifications could signal a bigger problem to come next year, when many more turn out for state and county elections.

Thousands of voters had to sign affidavits or cast provisional ballots on Nov. 5 — the first statewide election held under the state’s new voter identification law — because their name on the voter rolls did not exactly match the name on their photo ID.

It took most only a short time, but election officials are concerned that a few minutes per voter to carefully check names and photos against voter registration cards, and then to have voters sign affidavits or fill out provisional paperwork, could snowball into longer waits and more frustration.

A review by The Dallas Morning News found that 1,365 provisional ballots were filed in the state’s 10 largest counties. In most of them, the number of provisional ballots cast more than doubled from 2011, the last similar election, to 2013.

Officials had no exact count for how many voters had to sign affidavits, but estimates are high. Among those who had to sign affidavits were the leading candidates for governor next year, Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis.

“If it made any kind of a line in an election with 6 percent [voter] turnout, you can definitely imagine with a 58 percent,” said Dallas County elections administrator Toni Pippins-Poole.

In Dallas County, 13,903 people signed affidavits affirming their identity.


Harris County, the state’s largest, had 704 voters fill out provisional ballots. Of those, 105 were cast because the voter failed to show an acceptable photo ID.

That’s not a huge number of provisional ballots, but it’s still an increase, which is what we would expect if voter ID were having a negative effect on people’s ability to vote. Just imagine what the effect would have been if the amendment that Wendy Davis proposed to allow affidavits for “substantially similar” names had not been accepted. Information about provisional votes have never been public on the County Clerk website, so it’s good to have this here. I’d love to know what the cause of the 599 other provisional votes was.

Meanwhile, Sondra Haltom of Empower the Vote Texas writes on BOR about some real-life people who were directly affected by the law.

Meet Peggy: she’s 90 years old and a registered voter. She can’t get an ID because she doesn’t have her citizenship documentation. She came to the U.S. with her parents thru Ellis Island. She is a naturalized citizen. She doesn’t have the money to get the required documents. She missed the deadline to apply for a mail ballot, so she didn’t get to vote in the November election.

Or what about Alberta? She was born in Wyoming. She has a copy of her Wyoming birth certificate. She was married in Washington State. She has lost her marriage license and has not been able to get one so far from Washington State. She lived in Colorado for a while and is still using her Colorado driver’s license, which will not expire until 2015. She has been living in Texas recently and is registered to vote in Texas. She voted here in the 2012 election. She wants to continue to vote but has been told she cannot vote in Texas unless she gets a copy of her marriage certificate which will link her current name to the name on her birth certificate so she can get an allowable Texas photo ID.

Or Evelyn – She has been trying to get a Texas personal id so she can vote and fly. She has a birth certificate, Social Security card, proof of residency and unexpired Driver’s license from another state, but DPS won’t issue an id without her marriage license. The county where she was married can’t find her marriage license.

There will be a lot more stories like that if this law is still in effect for the 2014 general election. The trial is set for September, but first the court has to deal with a motion to dismiss from the state, to which the plaintiffs and DOJ responded last week. The briefs and a detailed overview of the arguments are all there, so go check them out.

Sriracha update

For the rooster sauce lovers in my audience, which I figure is most of you.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Tuesday ordered a Sriracha hot sauce plant in Irwindale be partially shut down in response to odor complaints from nearby residents.

Judge Robert H. O’Brien ruled in favor of the city and ordered sauce maker Huy Fong Foods to cease any kind of operations that could be causing the odors and make immediate changes that would help mitigate them.

The injunction does not stop the company operating or using the property entirely, or specify the types of actions that are required.


It is unclear what the ruling means for next year’s supply of Sriracha hot sauce. The factory harvests and grinds chilis for three months out of the year, and the grinding of this year’s chilis has been completed.

But the mixing and the bottling of the sauce occurs on an ongoing basis. [Irwindale City Attorney Fred] Galante said he did not know if the injunction applies to those aspects of production.

The city’s goal is not to stop the production of the sauce, Galante said.

“We’re going to try to keep having a conversation with Huy Fong and working out some collaborative way to test and make sure the odor problems are addressed,” he said.

The case could still go to trial, but Galante said that the city hopes the matter can be resolved out of court.

See here for the background. It’s not the Srirachapocalypse that some had feared, but you still might want to stock up a bit, just in case.

Friday random ten: Leftovers

In the spirit of the weekend, ten songs about food.

1. Hotdogs and Hamburgers – John Mellencamp
2. Watermelon Time – Marcia Ball
3. Col. Josh’s Homestyle Barbecue – Asylum Street Spankers
4. Ode To The Lima Bean – Flying Fish Sailors
5. Corn Dogs – The Bobs
6. Tastes Like Chicken – Austin Lounge Lizards
7. Too Much Barbecue – Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows
8. Junk Food – Patty Larkin
9. Hot Soup – Lager Rhythms
10. Belle Banana Pancakes – Jack Johnson

May your fridge and your belly be full.

City settles longstanding litigation with strip clubs

From the Mayor’s press release:


Recognizing Houston is a hub for human trafficking, the City and 16 area topless clubs have entered into a novel settlement agreement aimed at addressing this heinous crime, ending litigation dating back to 1997 when City Council imposed new regulations on sexually-oriented businesses.

“In the 16 years since City Council acted, no original clubs have closed and new clubs choosing to ignore our regulations have grown in number,” said Mayor Parker.  “Establishing a working relationship with these 16 clubs will assist law enforcement in reducing criminal activity, help us combat human trafficking and, hopefully, allow us to focus police resources on the rogue clubs.  This settlement allows us to address the problem head on in a meaningful way with funding and staff.”

The 16 clubs will annually contribute more than one million dollars to a Human Trafficking Abatement Fund.  The funds will be used to create and staff a human trafficking unit within the Vice Division of the Houston Police Department.  In addition to contributing monies, these clubs must institute and adhere to certain restrictions and policies to aid in combatting human trafficking.  For example:

  • all private rooms and areas must be eliminated;
  • a club may not knowingly employ, hire or contract for the services of an entertainer or dancer who is accompanied by another person who speaks for her, holds her identification, collects her pay for “safekeeping” or appears to exercise control, force, or coercion over the person;
  • a club may not knowingly employ, hire or contract for the services of a person for whom a background check reveals a conviction within 60 months for a prostitution or drug offense;
  • any individual convicted of a drug or prostitution offense, public lewdness or indecent exposure at a participating club is prohibited from working at any club that is a party to the agreement;
  • any act of prostitution, public lewdness, indecent exposure or offense involving narcotics observed by or reported to a manager of a club will be reported to the City along with all remedial measures taken to ensure the activity is not repeated; and
  • all clubs will provide annual human trafficking awareness training and disseminate materials regarding human trafficking awareness.

In return, the City has agreed to allow these 16 clubs to continue operating at their same locations in much the same manner as they did prior to the 1997 ordinance.  While topless entertainment and table dances will be allowed again, laws against public lewdness, prostitution, indecent exposure and narcotics offenses will continue to be strictly enforced.  Arrests for these offenses are grounds for terminating a club from participating in this agreement.

This agreement applies only to these 16 grandfathered clubs.  Any other club offering sexually-oriented entertainment must still comply with the 1997 ordinance and all other regulatory provisions.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize there was still litigation pending. My most recent update on this is from 2008, but I see that as of then the city was still “involved in a lawsuit in state district courts with the 11 clubs that appealed to the Supreme Court”, which had to do with “amortization,” or the amount of time the owners should get to recoup their investments before having to close or relocate. So there you have it. The Chron story fills in some more details.

Because they still do not concede to being sexually oriented businesses, the clubs do not have to adhere to the ordinance’s regulation that they must operate at least 1,500 feet from schools, day cares, parks and churches.

“They are not saying it,” Feldman said. “But they are agreeing to do all these things that actually are a greater obligation than they would have under the ordinance if they were a (sexually oriented business).”

Any club that breaks the terms of the agreement will be dropped from the settlement, and the other establishments will have to pick up the contribution to the abatement fund.

Feldman, who began crafting the settlement in the spring, said the concept originated from a lawsuit settlement between the city and prominent strip club Treasures. In 2012, the city and Harris County Attorney’s office sued Treasures’ owner, accusing the establishment of harboring prostitution, drugs, illegal weapons and sexual assaults.

A settlement was reached last December in which the club’s owner agreed to put $100,000 in a nuisance abatement fund to combat human trafficking as well as similar provisions with the current agreement.

“That in turn gave me the idea if we can create such a fund for the purpose of addressing enforcement activities within these clubs, why couldn’t we do something similar to address the broader issue of human trafficking?” said Feldman.

Feldman said the city would be open to speaking with any other clubs that would like to come under a similar agreement.

If the agreement works well for both entities, Feldman said the next step would be grafting similar terms as a permanent provision in the city’s sexually oriented business ordinance.

See here and here for the background on the Treasures lawsuits. I presume all this means that the strip clubs will not be playing in the county elections this year.

According to Melissa Darragh, the Mayor’s social media director, the agreement is supported by HPD, the strip clubs themselves, the Houston Area Women’s Center, YMCA International, and the Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition. You’re on your own to figure out which of the clubs are among the 16 that are now approved for you to attend, however. Hair Balls has more.

Recycle that cooking oil

A public service announcement from the city.

The holidays are upon us and that means cooking turkeys, hams and other foods that either require cooking oils to prepare or that generate a surplus of grease when cooked.

Used cooking oils and greases, when disposed down the kitchen drain, cool, harden and clog the pipes. Diluting it in hot soapy water is NOT a solution. You can avoid possible clogged drains for the holidays by putting excess grease in a disposable container and put it in the trash or drop-off at a place that recycles and turns it into a usable product, such as biodiesel.

In conjunction with the City of Houston Solid Waste Department, the following locations are designated drop-off points residents can take used cooking oils/greases for recycling:

City of Houston Environmental Service Centers:
North: Environmental Service Center
5614 Neches Street
Houston 77026
Phone: 713.699.1114
Second Thursday of each month – 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
South: Environmental Service Center
11500 South Post Oak Road
Houston 77035
Phone: 713. 551.7355
Tuesdays and Wednesdays – 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Second Saturday of each month – 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
West: Westpark Consumer Recycling Center
5900 Westpark Drive
Houston 77057
Phone: 713.837.0311
Monday through Saturday – 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Private Service Center in the Heights Area:
Central: Houston Biodiesel
1138 West 20th Street
Houston 77008
Phone: 713.222.0832
Monday through Friday – 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

For information about Corral the Grease or ways to properly dispose of used cooking grease visit

Good to know. Even if you can’t recycle, please don’t try to wash your used cooking oil down the drain. Your pipes will thank you.

Thanksgiving video break: Alice’s Restaurant

Needs no introduction, does it?

That was at Farm Aid 2005. Still sounds great, too. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

Same sex couples win the right to register for benefits in the Texas National Guard

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.


The Texas National Guard said late Tuesday it will immediately let same-sex couples register for benefits, ending a highly publicized standoff with the Pentagon.

Five Texas Guard facilities, including one in Houston, that had been off limits for same-sex couples seeking benefits will begin to enroll same-sex dependent spouses in benefits programs.

“We’re going to go back to business as usual,” said Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, a Texas Guard spokeswoman. “It will be full service.”

The decision means same-sex couples in the Guard can now obtain services ranging from access to base commissaries to medical care and housing allowances – all benefits granted to married heterosexual couples.


The Defense Department said it would issue benefits to same-sex spouses of the military as well as civilian workers after the Supreme Court ruled that part of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.

Gov. Rick Perry defied the Pentagon, saying Texas defines marriage as between a man and a woman. But [Defense Secretary Chuck] Hagel made it clear Oct. 31 that the Defense Department expected all 54 guard organizations to comply.

Texas cited its state constitution and Family Code in refusing Hagel’s demands. It told same-sex couples to file their paperwork at more than 20 active-duty installations and refused to let them to apply for benefits at guard facilities in Abilene, Austin, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and the Rio Grande Valley.

Those facilities will handle the paperwork, including marriages certificates, starting Wednesday, said MacGregor.

The governor, who has led challenges to Washington over redistricting, abortion and its new voter ID law, insisted the state wouldn’t give in, and the phrasing of a news release Tuesday on the guard’s website didn’t suggest that Texas backed down.

“The Department of Defense has approved a new procedure for enrolling National Guard members and their dependents in benefits programs,” it stated. “The new procedure essentially recognizes the conflict between the Texas Constitution and DOD policy mandating the enrollment of same-gender dependent spouses in benefits programs.”

About damn time. It’s beyond shameful that this was even in question. It’s still somewhat unclear to me what led to this change – I’ve searched the Texas Military Forces and Texas Army National Guard webpages but can’t find the news release cited in the story. Either Rick Perry backed down, in which case I am not too proud to say that I would like to gloat about that, or Texas Military Forces decided on their own that they answered to the federal government ahead of the state government, in which case it seems to me that the potential for conflict has not been resolved.

No attorney general’s opinion has been issued on the matter, but the [Washington, D.C.-based American Military Partner Association] told [AG Greg] Abbott in a letter that Texas and other noncompliant states were undermining force readiness, and even precluding same-sex couples from involvement with Family Readiness Groups that are a link to troops in the war zone.

“This is undoubtedly damaging to morale, good order and discipline,” the group said.

Here’s the American Military Partner Association’s website. Abbott asked them for their view on this. It may be the case that he concluded the state’s position was a loser and that this helped tilt the scales. If that’s the case then kudos to him, but it doesn’t change my opinion that Wendy Davis needs to make an issue out of this. She can quite reasonably point out that she would not pick this kind of stupid and harmful fight as Governor but will instead do the right thing from the beginning. She ought to be running against Rick Perry as much as she is against Greg Abbott anyway. The fact that the state appears to have backed down is a point in her favor, if she would just claim it. Texas Leftist and Texpatriate have more.

He’s baaaack

The Lloyd Oliver Tree

I was at HCDP headquarters on Monday night, participating in a panel discussion hosted by the Texas Democratic Women of Harris County along with my friends Perry and Neil. On the back wall of the main room is a big listing of all offices that will be on the ballot this year and the signatures of candidates that have filed for these offices. I took a look at it that night and heaved a sigh as I came across a familiar and unwanted name – Lloyd Oliver has filed to run for District Attorney again, thus pitting him against Kim Ogg in the March primary.

That was one of the subjects we discussed on the panel Monday night. I suppose the good news about Lloyd Oliver’s surprise victory in the 2012 primary is that now he’s at least slightly less obscure than he was before. Two years ago he was just a familiar name on the ballot. Now one would hope that more people realize that he’s a toxic black hole on the ballot. No good Democrat wants him on the November ballot. The HCDP’s well-intentioned but wrong effort to boot him from the ballot after his upset win means the party has no official reason to maintain its policy of neutrality in that race. They can, and should, openly support Kim Ogg for the nomination. Everyone else who cares about putting our best ticket forward also needs to get off the sidelines and spread the word. Everyone endorsed Zack Fertitta in 2012, but that’s not enough. Publicize those endorsements beyond your own membership – if you have a webpage or Facebook page, post them there – and highlight this race, the candidates, and the right choice of Kim Ogg. We cannot take anything for granted, because we know what can happen if we do. Texpatriate has more.

Other filing news of interest: Rita Lucido officially filed to challenge Sen. Joan Huffman in SD17. If you like the idea of more strong, pro-choice women in Texas government, you will very much want to check her out. I met Alison Ruff, who has filed for HD134, at the Monday event, and I look forward to hearing more from her. A fellow named Moiz Abbas has filed in HD135, and a fellow named Luis Lopez is set to file in HD132. As you know, those are the two Republican-held districts in which Dems gained ground in 2012 over 2008, and HD132 is now an open seat, so I’m particularly encouraged by that news. I don’t know much about either of these gentlemen right now, but I’m sure I will learn more as we go on. If you’re aware of other filings or soon-to-be-filings, leave a comment and let us know.

More on the Mayor’s payday lending ordinance

From the Chron story on Mayor Parker’s proposed payday lending ordinance, which is described as having been toughened up from an earlier proposal:

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Consumer groups had called [City Attorney David] Feldman’s compromise proposal too weak; he said he preferred tougher restrictions but said those were unlikely to pass the Legislature, would invite a lawsuit, and could force lenders outside city limits, hurting borrowers’ access to credit.

That was the concern for members of the Freedmen’s Town Association who attended Friday’s news conference, one of whom grumbled, “Yes you are,” when Parker said, “We’re not trying to put payday lenders out of business.”

LoneStar Title Loans has given the Freedmen’s Town group almost $300,000 over the last six years, board member John Fenley said.

No one would use payday lenders if banks, nonprofits or churches would offer them low-interest loans, association volunteer Ayanna Mitchell said.

“When they run these industries out of the communities, where are they going to get the money from?” she said. “People are going to get the money they need whether they go to a title lender or they go around the corner and get it from somebody who’s not regulated at all, who, instead of taking your car, will do other things to you.”

I understand the concern about access to credit, but the solution isn’t payday lenders and their usury. The solution is making affordable financing more widely available in places and communities where it currently isn’t. That’s not something the city of Houston can do, but putting a tighter leash on payday lenders is. It’s a matter of consumer protection, and it’s about time we had it in Houston. Payday lenders have a deserved reputation for being predatory, and state laws regulating them, even after a bill was passed in the 2011 session, are notoriously lax. Frankly, if the industry doesn’t like what the cities are doing to curb their excesses and protect their residents, they should have worked with Sen. Wendy Davis, Rep. Tom Craddick, and other members of the Legislature that were trying to pass reasonable reforms instead of impeding and obstructing them every step of the way. I have no sympathy for them at all. The Observer and BOR have more.

Bradford calls for review of HPD oversight

He’s right that something needs to be done to ensure that people feel confident in the system.

CM C.O. "Brad" Bradford

CM C.O. “Brad” Bradford

Houston City Councilman and former Police Chief C.O. “Brad” Bradford said citizens have lost faith in the city’s oversight of the use of force by police officers, and it’s time for a discussion on how to restore confidence in the system.

Bradford was responding to a series of Houston Chronicle stories about the shooting of more than 100 civilians by the Houston Police Department from 2008 to 2012. More than a quarter of those shot were unarmed. All of those cases were reviewed by Harris County grand juries, and none have resulted in charges against officers.

“If citizens don’t trust (the oversight) or have faith in it, you’ve got to go to Plan B – whatever Plan B should be,” said Bradford, who was HPD chief from 1997 to 2004. “I think some process has to be established which improves the trust that citizens have in our process which reviews use of force.

“It’s not the review process that I think citizens have a concern with, it’s the understanding and the transparency of that review process,” he said.


Mayor Annise Parker supported the process used by HPD to investigate shootings but said she wanted to see the number of shootings decline.

“We do an excellent job of investigating, and I think we do an excellent job of learning from those shootings every time one happens to try and prevent them in the future,” Parker said. “I wish we could bring the number down, and we’re constantly working to bring that number down.”

McClelland, in a news conference Thursday, stressed that state law allows officers to use deadly force on a suspect, even if it turns out the person was unarmed.

“That’s unfortunate and it’s a tragedy, but it doesn’t mean it falls outside of the law or outside policy and training,” said McClelland.

The three articles in question are these:

Civilians caught in the line of fire

Christmas Day turns deadly

Grand jury’s role in police shootings draws scrutiny

Grits has an excerpt from the first story. The genesis of all this is Emily dePrang’s two-part story in the Texas Observer from the summer about the disciplinary process at HPD, Crimes Unpunished and The Horror Every Day. Start with those two, then read the Chron stories.

The latter Chron story, about the use of a shooting simulator by grand juries that investigate HPD shootings, a practice that was not widely known even among Criminal District Court judges, is provocative and yet another issue that needs to be aired during the District Attorney race. That story also notes that state law grants a lot of latitude to anyone, not just cops, who use deadly force in situations where they feel their lives or safety are at risk – “stand your ground” laws, in other words. Putting aside those concerns, the disciplinary process at HPD is in serious need of reform, and the Chron stories also raise questions about the level of firearm training HPD officers receive. I don’t know what “Plan B” looks like, either, but I agree with CM Bradford that we need to find a better way.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 25

The Texas Progressive Alliance is thankful for many things, this week and every week, as we bring you this week’s roundup.


More on LVdP for Lite Guv

Mostly from Monday’s Lone Star Project news roundup email.

AP: Texas Democrats offering stark contrast.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Texas voters won’t have a hard time telling the difference between the Republican and Democratic candidates next year.

With the addition of San Antonio Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, attorney Sam Houston and party activist Steve Brown last week, the Democratic slate offers a vivid contrast to the Republican ticket, both in demographics and politics. And there are more announcements to come.

So far, Democrats are offering a diverse roster with most running unopposed on a strong progressive record, not unlike the so-called Dream Team in 2002. Republicans are more conservative than ever, with a ticket that is predominantly white and male.

The Democrats lost dramatically in 2002 and haven’t won a statewide elected office since 1994. But this year they are banking on delivering more supporters to the polls, while Republicans are relying on a dependable conservative base that has kept them in power for 20 years.


Democrats have a long way to go to win in 2014, but no one can say they’re not offering Texas voters a distinct choice.

Not sure what “more announcements to come” is referring to. The story also mentions AG candidate Same Houston.

NBCLatino Opinion: A Texas Latina throws her hat in the ring

We usually think of down ballot races benefiting from the top of the ticket, not the other way around. But in the case of Wendy Davis’ gubernatorial run, the only shot she has of winning is in getting Latino support, and if anyone can get that support it’s LVP as her lieutenant governor.

Senator Van de Putte is a Latina political leader with deep state ties and a national presence. Here in South Texas she has a finely tuned political infrastructure that will be crucial for the Davis ticket. As a co-chair of the 2008 Democratic National Convention and past president of both the National Conference of State Legislators and the National Hispanic Council of State Legislators LVP has a healthy rolodex to aid her fundraising efforts.

“LVdP will help boost Latino turnout in 2014” is one of two themes you see running through these stories, and it’s likely one you’ll see over and over again for the foreseeable future. I believe LVdP will have a positive effect on Latino turnout for the Dem ticket, and I agree that that is a necessary condition for victory, but no one with a realistic view of the situation believes it is sufficient. Wendy Davis et al will also need to do at least a little better among Anglo voters, which is why there is also a focus on suburban Anglo women.

Making that first theme more explicit, The Monitor: Van de Putte likely to boost Hispanic turnout for Dem. ticket

“I think she’s going to be a plus to the party, to the ticket,” said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo. Cuellar’s district includes Starr and western Hidalgo counties as well as parts of Van de Putte’s state Senate district, which she has held since 1999.

Javier Villalobos, the Hidalgo County Republican party chair who’s said he would not seek another term, offered a verbal shrug when asked prior to the announcement what Van de Putte’s candidacy would mean for voters in the Valley.

“Actually what I think is going to drive the people to the polls is going to be the election for district attorney,” referencing the Democratic primary in March between incumbent Rene Guerra and former judge Ricardo Rodriguez. “Right here in the Valley, I really don’t think she’ll make it stronger or weaker.”

But another partisan opponent believed Van de Putte could change the race.

“Texas Sen. Leticia Van De Putte is a formidable candidate that presents long term challenges to the Texas GOP,” tweeted Aaron Peña, shortly after Saturday’s announcement. “Take note.” Peña is a former state representative from Edinburg who now chairs the Texas Hispanic Engagement Team for the Republican National Committee.

As a Latina — albeit without the benefit of a common Hispanic surname — Van de Putte could appeal more to Latino voters than whichever of the four leading Anglo males emerges from the Republican primary.

“She will be able to draw out the Hispanic vote,” state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said.

But again, Republicans said that claim might be exaggerated.

“Friends of mine who are Democrats don’t even know that Van de Putte is a Hispanic last name,” said Roman Perez, the vice president of the Republican Club of Brownsville. He added that even in the last election cycle, when Democrats nominated Linda Chavez-Thompson for the same spot, it didn’t significantly impact the race.

“Actually, I don’t think the name will make much of a difference,” Villalobos said. “She might have to spend more money down here, when otherwise she might not have to.”

Regardless of her name, Van de Putte represents the type of an experienced, centrist candidate Peña would like to see more of in his own party.

“Sen. Van de Putte is going to present challenges to a Republican Party that, in my opinion, is not moving fast enough to confront a changing Texas,” he said.

It’s adorable seeing Aaron Pena discover that his new Republican buddies aren’t exactly with him on the things he claims to value, isn’t it? I assure you, Aaron, no one could have predicted that. As far as the turnout predictions go, excitement and engaging voters are a big part of it, but so are getting the message out and good old GOTV efforts, both of which require a certain level of funding. The bit in the previous story about LVdP’s national connections and her potential to be able to raise the kind of funds she’ll need to operate a full-scale campaign is encouraging. I don’t know how much she might be able to raise between now and the January finance report, but I sure hope she’s burning up the phone lines.

For the other theme, we have Rangel: Van de Putte, Davis give Democrats best hope in years

[T]here is no question the Davis-Van de Putte ticket is the best hope Texas Democrats have had in 12 years. My Dallas Morning News colleague Wayne Slater hit the nail on the head with his assessment that Democrats seem to be assembling “Dream Ticket II.”

However, as Slater and other Austin watchers well know, Dream Ticket I was crushed in the 2002 election.

The three top Democrats running that year — Laredo businessman Tony Sanchez for governor, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk for U.S. senator and former state Comptroller John Sharp for lieutenant governor, a Hispanic, an African-American and an Anglo — and all Democrats running for statewide office, lost.

Gov. Rick Perry, running for his first four-year term, buried Sanchez with 58 percent of the vote while Texas Attorney General John Cornyn and Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, running for the first time for their current posts, beat Kirk and Sharp with 55 and 52 percent respectively.

What gives today’s Democrats hope Dream Ticket II will fare much better — and possibly win in 2014 — is Davis and Van de Putte have the charisma and passion their three 2002 predecessors, particularly Sanchez and Sharp, lacked.

Yep, the Dream Team, an irresistible analogy and comparison for this year that we likely won’t escape any time soon. Thankfully, Enrique Rangel provides the short answer why this year’s lineup is not like 2002’s.

We close with Burka: Leticia Van de Putte Enters the Race

I have a high regard for Van de Putte as a politician, who earned a spot on this year’s Ten Best legislators list. She is no ideologue. She’ll work with the other side — and did so during the regular session, when she joined forces with Rick Perry to push for more rigor in House Bill 5. She’ll be an asset to Wendy Davis on the Democratic ticket, and she’ll be a worthy opponent for whoever wins the Republican primary.

One of the problems for Democrats is that in counties with large Hispanic populations, particularly in South Texas, the primary is where the action is, not the general election. In the Rio Grande Valley, the races that motivate are those for local positions — city councils, school boards, and courthouse jobs. The elections frequently come down to a battle of one prominent family against another.

The turnout issue again, in a slightly different form. The ingredients are there, or at least can and should be there, to make it happen. We’ll likely have a pretty good idea of how it’s all coming together well before anyone casts a vote.

Fjetland files for Senate

Texas Democrats will have a contested primary for the right to run against Sen. John Cornyn next year.

Mike Fjetland

Michael Fjetland, a previous GOP House candidate, has filed as a Democrat to run for the Senate seat held by Texas Sen. John Cornyn.

Fjetland, 63, of Houston, said he is not satisfied with the work the state’s two senators have been doing and criticizes both Cornyn and Ted Cruz for “reckless actions.”

“Mr. Cornyn has been a career politician,” Fjetland said. “He voted for (President George W.) Bush tax cuts and two unpaid wars that helped generate the worst recession since the Great Depression.”

On his home page, Fjetland calls himself the “Anti-Cruz” and criticizes the young senator for leading the government into shutdown in a snit over people getting federal health care.

“Mr. Cruz and Cornyn have government-paid insurance,” Fjetland said. “They are basically opposed to ordinary Americans having the same thing.”

Between 2000 and 2006, Fjetland ran in GOP primaries against then-Texas Rep. Tom DeLay, but he later decided to change parties.

“I switched from the Republican Party to the Democrats because the GOP has become too extreme, especially since 2010 and the rise of the tea party,” Fjetland said. “It is even more extreme than it was a decade ago when I ran against Tom DeLay.”

Fjetland said the tea party and Republicans like DeLay drove him away from the Republican Party and led him to vote for President Barack Obama in 2008.

“I cannot be in the same party with people like Steve Stockman and Michelle Bachmann,” Fjetland declared. “The Democratic Party looks like America – very diverse, just like the good people I have met around the world.”

Fjetland’s webpage is here and his Facebook page is here. I noted his candidacy in passing on Monday. He joins Maxey Scherr in the race, though Scherr has not officially filed yet. I know Mike Fjetland, I interviewed him in 2004 when he ran as an independent against Tom DeLay. He’s a good guy and his heart is in the right place, but I don’t know how much traction he’ll get in the primary. This is a longshot race for either candidate, we’ll see if one of them can stand out as the better alternative.

More on the jail’s new non-discrimination policy

Here’s the Chron story on the new non-discrimination policy that was implemented at the Harris County Jail.

Crafted in the last 16 months with input from local and national LGBT community leaders and groups, it strictly prohibits “discrimination or harassment of any kind based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” and provides for the special handling of LGBT inmates to mitigate safety concerns. Included is a provision – required by the new federal standards – that transgender inmates be housed based, in part, on which gender they identify with rather than their physical anatomy, the sex they were assigned at birth or the one they used the last time they were incarcerated. Therefore, an inmate who is physically a man could be housed in the women’s unit or vice versa.

Geared particularly toward transgender inmates, the policy also requires all jail staff to address inmates by their “chosen name” and “proper pronoun” and says employees who violate the rules can be fired or face criminal charges or other penalties.

It also calls for all employees to go through training on the policy, including “refresher” training every two years. About 80 staffers will be certified as so-called “Gender Identification Specialists,” charged with interviewing inmates and helping decide where to house those who are LGBTI.

A “Gender Classification Committee,” according to the policy has the “final authority” in deciding how LGBTI inmates are housed.


The LGBT community and detention experts generally applaud the policy, but some say it could pose some problems in practice or that it does not go far enough to protect an inmate population the U.S. Justice Department described last year as “among those with the highest rates of sexual victimization.”

Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy at the Washington-based National Center for Transgender Equality, who worked on the policy with Garcia and his staff, said Harris County “is certainly to be commended for being out ahead in this regard.”

National PREA Resource Center Co-Director Michela Bowman, however, said there are benefits and dangers in creating a separate set of rules for LGBTI inmates based on the new standards, which also apply to other vulnerable populations.

Bowman said it could encourage rather than curb discrimination if not done carefully.

“We want to encourage efforts like this, certainly, but it’s very sensitive and you want to make sure that it’s done right,” Bowman said. “It seems to come from a well-intentioned place and it seems to be a clear effort to protect people, but there are just certain elements of it that make me scratch my head a little bit.”

See here for the background. Everyone quoted is positive about the policy overall, but some have concerns that this aspect or that might not work as planned. I suspect that has more to do with Harris County being out front with a policy that goes beyond the basic recommendations than anything else. Some parts of this will likely need to be refined once we see how they work in practice, and that’s okay. No one is screaming and pointing at a particular aspect of the policy saying “this will fail!”, we just don’t have any hard data to go by so we’re taking our best guesses as to how things play out. Down the line, as the bumps get smoothed out, Harris County can serve as a model for others to emulate. That’s a pretty darned good position to be in.

Son Of Ortiz/Farenthold?


Solomon Ortiz, Jr

A grudge match could be brewing in South Texas.

On Tuesday, the Democrats’ top congressional strategist hinted that he’s been trying to recruit someone to challenge two-term Rep. Blake Farenthold, a tea party Republican from Corpus Christi.

Turns out, that person is Solomon Ortiz Jr., a former state representative and son of the longtime congressman, Solomon Ortiz Sr. — ousted by Farenthold in one of the closest and most surprising contests of 2010.

“I don’t know. I haven’t made a decision one way or another,” Ortiz Jr., said Wednesday evening, reached by cell phone.

Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, went out of his way Tuesday to fuel speculation that his party will make a run at Farenthold. But he was coy about who he’s been encouraging, and aides declined to name names.

Turns out, Ortiz Jr. put the secret in plain sight:

I’ve been clamoring for a challenger to Farenthold, so this is music to my ears. There’s certainly an argument to be made for a fresh face against Farenthold, but there’s a lot to be said for having a familiar name go against him, too. It is a tough challenge, tougher than what the DCCC normally takes on – there just ain’t that many swing seats these days – but the good news is that Farenthold was an underperformer in 2012. A sufficiently financed challenger, with some name ID and a boost from Battleground Texas, could make a race of it. First, we need someone to file. We’ll see if the DCCC was able to sway Ortiz, Jr into the race.

Where the early vote was

As you know, I thought that the high turnout we were seeing in Early Voting for this past election was not so much an indicator of high turnout but of a shift in voting behavior similar to what we had seen in even-year elections. That prediction was incorrect – final turnout was higher than I thought it would be, and the reason for that was it was still the case that a majority of the vote was to come on Election Day itself. However, it is the case that behavior is shifting, and a bigger share of the vote was cast early than in prior odd-year elections. Let’s take a closer look at the early vote numbers, beginning with how much of the vote was cast early in each of the City Council districts:

Dist Total Mail Early E Day Mail% Early% EDay% ========================================================== Hou 174,632 20,280 60,135 94,217 11.6% 34.4% 54.0% A 13,532 2,347 4,513 6,672 17.3% 33.4% 49.3% B 13,753 1,868 5,563 6,322 13.6% 40.4% 46.0% C 32,466 3,107 9,791 19,568 9.6% 30.2% 60.3% D 19,663 2,295 7,462 10,652 11.7% 37.9% 54.2% E 18,702 1,788 6,920 9,994 9.6% 37.0% 53.4% F 7,790 564 3,516 3,710 7.2% 45.1% 47.6% G 27,286 3,879 8,215 15,192 14.2% 30.1% 55.7% H 10,249 1,041 3,109 6,099 10.2% 30.3% 59.5% I 9,538 1,133 3,110 5,295 11.9% 32.6% 55.5% J 5,942 679 2,193 3,070 11.4% 36.9% 51.7% K 15,461 1,479 5,563 8,419 9.6% 35.6% 54.5% All 259,962 24,000 87,925 148,037 9.2% 33.8% 56.9% Non 85,330 3,720 27,790 53,820 4.4% 32.6% 63.1%

“All” is all of Harris County. “Non” is Harris County minus Houston. As you can see, districts B, F, and A are the trendsetters in early voting, while Districts C, H, G, and J are behind the times. The city of Houston overall was more likely to vote early than Harris County, and much more likely to vote absentee than the non-Houston parts of the County. This makes sense because it’s usually candidates that drive absentee voting. Note that the four districts with multi-candidate races – A, B, D, and I – were all above average in absentee participation; District G was the other big performer there, and it was a contested race.

I don’t have any grand conclusions to draw from this, I was just curious about what the numbers looked like. I continue to believe that we will see a shift towards early voting in these elections – the level we saw this year was easily the high water mark for odd-year elections. Note that the higher early totals for the city, admittedly driven more by absentee ballots than by in person early voting, suggests that the Astrodome wasn’t a major component of early vote turnout. It was a modest driver of non-Houston turnout, as the city of Houston comprised 67.2% of all Harris County votes. That compares to 73.6% in 2011, 69.5% in 2009, and 63.6% in 2007. For those of you that had been playing the “guess the final level of turnout based on early voting” game, the right scenario among the ones I presented was 45% early plus high Houston turnout, which pegged it at about 170,000. More data to file away for 2015.

Sam Houston files for AG

It’s official.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston

Democrat Sam Houston filed for attorney general Thursday, promising to return the office to it’s basic functions of “serving all Texans” rather than “partisan lawsuits and constant disputes with the federal government.”

The Houston Democrat said specifically he wants to increase efficiency of the office’s current responsibilities such as child support enforcement, representing state interests in lawsuits and applying “hesitation” in litigation which use state resources.

“I do not think the office needs to be used to brag about suing the federal government,” he said.

He also said utilizing resources to improve the Consumer Protection division and solve open records request disputes fairly and quickly, particularly with technology-related requests, is a priority.


“All of their campaign slogans are the same thing: the 10th amendment, gun control, and commitment to defeating the Affordable Care Act,” Houston said. “I don’t hear a lot from them on how to improve everyday claims or improve the Consumer Protection division… these types of responsibilities have been forgotten.”

Houston announced his intent to run a couple of weeks ago. He’s got his website and Facebook page up, so check them out. Everything he’s saying here is correct and sensible and likely to win the approval of newspaper editorial boards, but next to the fire-breathing (and mouth-breathing) rhetoric coming from the Republican side of the race, it’s not very exciting. I don’t want him to change what he’s saying, but I do think he will need to throw some punches, and be very direct about the failures of the incumbent Attorney General – which will of course have the added benefit of helping Wendy Davis – and the need for a complete change of direction. With the possible exception of David Dewhurst, every Republican running for statewide office will be new to that office. One way or another, this is a change election. That can work well for the Democrats, but it will be best if they’re reinforcing each other’s messages. Sam Houston is in a key place to help do that. BOR has more.

Also officially filing is Steve Brown, our candidate for Railroad Commissioner. Brown made his candidacy known recently as well, and also has his webpage and Facebook page up. Did you know that the Railroad Commission deals with abortion and textbooks, by the way? It’s totally true. Maybe instead of proposing to change the name to the Texas Energy Commission or some such, we should call it the Texas Abortion and Textbooks Commission. Anyway, if you want to elect a member of the Railroad Commission that plans to focus on the things that the Railroad Commission actually does, then check out Steve Brown.


Ha ha ha ha ha!

Louie Gohmert

Louie Gohmert

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn preached the gospel of a big-tent GOP at a Friday rally for his re-election, saying Republicans must prove to voters they can govern like “responsible adults.”

Cornyn has been bedeviled by some tea party activists who say he suffers in comparison to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who played a key role in the government shutdown as he urged an end to funding for the federal health care law known as Obamacare. The tactics championed by Cruz have divided Republicans, with some GOP leaders fearing a voter backlash.

Cornyn, joined by Gov. Rick Perry at a rally at Scholz Garten before filing his re-election paperwork, said the GOP must be the party of the late former president Ronald Reagan, who considered people allies if they agreed with him 80 percent of the time.

“When we’re divided, we capitulate. We basically hand the victory to our political opponents,” Cornyn told reporters after the rally, adding “that leads us in disastrous directions like we’re seeing now.”

“We need to demonstrate that if the American people are willing to give us the opportunity in this next election to win that election, then we will be the responsible adults in the room. We will actually govern,” he said.

Asked about Cruz, Cornyn said, “I think he’s been a great new addition to the United States Senate.

Dude. Forget about Ted Cruz, who was not elected to govern, for a minute. You’re the party of Louie Gohmert and Steve Stockman. There’s a long list of B level talent in the Texas GOP Congressional delegation, but these are the headline grabbers and the public face of the party. All snark aside – and Lord knows, there’s plenty of it – you want to be seen as grownups, you need to do something about these guys. Just some free advice from someone who admittedly wants to see you lose, but who also wants to have a functioning federal government again.

Of course, Cornyn is a big part of the problem, too, but at least in terms of optics he’s Estes Kefauver next to those guys. Needless to say, we can do better. I’ve already mentioned Maxey Scherr, and I look forward to hearing more from her camapaign. Scherr now has some company in the primary, as former Republican and two-time challenger to Tom DeLay in CD22 Michael Fjetland has jumped in. Either one would serve as an excellent role model for actual adult behavior for Cornyn and his buddies.

How about those gators?

They’re doing well, with a little help.

The largest reptile in America was nearly extinct by the 1970s.

But, efforts to protect the American alligator resulted in a conservation success story that led to its removal from the endangered species list in 1987.

The Texas State Aquarium uses that story of conservation and action resulting in big impacts to educate people visiting baby alligators.


“Alligators are the flagship of conservation in North America,” said Jesse Gilbert, vice president and chief operating officer of the aquarium. “They were on the endangered species list. When we can take an alligator out and tell that story it helps us get the message across.”

Alligator populations in Louisiana are doing well and are stable or rising based on annual nesting surveys, which shows about 1.5 million wild alligators, said Ruth Elsey, biologist manager for the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge.

During peak years, alligators have an economic impact of $60 million in Louisiana based on harvesting for hides and meat, which is part of the sustained use harvest program.

Annually, the commercial harvest is 300,000-500,000 eggs and 33,000-35,000 wild alligators.

Alligators are ideal for aquarium education purposes because their ability to function in the wild isn’t affected by time in captivity.

“Reptiles are one of those animals that always go back to their animal instinct,” Gilbert said. “Reptiles are machines. Whatever they are programmed to do, that is what they will do for life.”

More recently, alligators have persevered through Hurricane Ike and the drought. These guys have been around for millions of years, so I root for them to stay around a little longer. Not in my backyard, of course – this is why I live in the urban core – but in the marshes and rivers where they belong. Long may they live there.

Weekend link dump for November 24

Better take your turkey out of the freezer soon.

Organized youth football is seeing a sharp drop in participation. Concern about head injuries are a big part of that.

This story about children being adopted from overseas and then abused and in some cases killed by parents that had no business adopting them just breaks my heart.

When the husband is in charge of the wedding invitations.

The auto mechanic that could save the lives of many babies and mothers.

From the Better Late Than Never department, a newspaper in Pennsylvania retracts its editorial from 1863 that called the Gettsyburg Address “silly”. As SciGuy notes, that was still over 200 years less than it took the Catholic Church to apologize to Galileo.

From the Fear The Beard Just A Little Too Much department.

One credit card to charge them all.

If you’re astroturfing, you’re losing.

Virus shedding probably doesn’t mean what you think it means, especially if you are anti-vaccine.

Death of Facebook predicted. Film at 11.

The Marfa Playboy bunny sculpture has been moved to Dallas.

“Americans spend 17.7 percent of GDP on health care. No one else spends even 12 percent. Let’s make that more concrete: If Americans only spent 12 percent of GDP on health care we would have saved $893 billion in 2012.”

“There is only one problem with elevating young people’s tastes this way: Kids are often wrong. There is little evidence to support the idea that the youth have any closer insight on the future than the rest of us do.”

I thought Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was already the subject of a reality TV show. You mean to say this hasn’t been a put on? Wait, never mind. The universe was just kidding after all.

#AskJPM what it feels like to fail that hard.

Privatizing parking meters is a bad deal for cities.

States that have their own health insurance exchanges are seeing a surge of enrollments in November. By the way, is now able to handle about 20,000 simultaneous users. Just so you know.

“Virtually no prominent pastor wanted to talk about the uninsured poor in their midst.”

Lizz Winstead, Sarah Silverman, and a giant stuffed vulva walk into a bar. Well, not exactly, but hilarity ensued anyway.

Celebrating the golden anniversary of a failed rapture prediction is kind of a tricky thing to do.

Clearly, some marriages were destined to fail.

The surviving members of Monty Python will reunite for a stage show.

“The AFA is ostensibly a Christian organization, but the way it determines what counts as naughty or nice rewards effectively companies for how intensely they commercialize the birth of Christ.”

RIP, WinAmp, for those of you that may have been using it.

If we’re going to bust the filibuster, we’re going to go ahead and fill all those judicial vacancies ASAP, right?

A-Rod makes sportswriters lose their minds, which brings into question the objectivity and accuracy of his coverage.

Voting to let drug addicts die of starvation isn’t a very nice thing to do, but it is particularly galling coming from someone who admittedly cannot control his alcohol consumption and who likes to use cocaine.”

Obamacare turns out to be a pretty good deal for House Speaker John Boehner.

You know who needs the health insurance exchanges to work? Republicans, that’s who.

Three words: Pecan Pie Pringles. I got nothing.

LVdP is in for Lite Gov


Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Long rumored to be a contender, state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte has now made it official: She is running for lieutenant governor.

“I want to be your lieutenant governor because Mama ain’t happy — because Texas, we can do better,” Van de Putte said Saturday in a fiery announcement speech in front of about 200 supporters at the San Antonio college gymnasium.

She said the state’s Republican leadership had forgotten about mainstream Texas families, mentioning social issues like equal pay and access to health care for women, and the right to work without facing discrimination just because of “who you love.”

“For years the governor’s been too busy trying to president, and for years the lieutenant governor’s been trying to be in the U.S. Senate — nobody’s been minding the store,” Van de Putte said. “We cannot afford to keep kicking the can down the road because some Republicans are afraid of their primary voters.”


In an interview ahead of Saturday’s announcement, Van de Putte said her decision to run followed a summer in which she was consumed by tragedy — first her infant grandson’s sudden death, then her father’s fatal car accident, then her mother-in-law’s passing. She left her father’s burial on the day of the now-famous filibuster to get back to Austin to help Davis.

“I had nothing,” Van de Putte said of that day. “I was at the bottom of an emotional well.”

As Davis was deciding whether to enter the governor’s race, her own father’s health declined, and Van de Putte said the two women, both suffering, consoled each other.

“The last thing in our minds was what we were both going to do politically,” she said. “It was, how do you fill the hole in your heart?”

As the weeks passed, Van de Putte’s friends and colleagues kept suggesting that she run for lieutenant governor. She considered the other options, she said, wondering, “Who else is there?”

But inspired by her family’s resilience — and bolstered by polling that she said showed her name recognition was far better statewide than she’d known — she decided to make a run.

“My question to a lot of people was … is it doable, is it winnable? I’m just a really competitive person,” she said. “Yes, I want to help out the Democratic Party, but I’m not that good of a soldier. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it to win.”

It’ll be a tough race, but Sen. Van de Putte is a tough lady, and I’m delighted to see her take the plunge. She and Wendy Davis combine to be the most dynamic Governor/Lt Governor pairing in many years. She’ll need to raise some money, but I see no reason why she wouldn’t be able to do that. Lord knows, she’ll have no trouble looking like the most sensible, most reasonable, and just overall the best candidate against whoever survives the howling monsoon of insanity on the Republican side. Her webpage and Facebook page are up, the hashtag #TeamLVP is at the ready, and you can see a photo gallery from the announcement event here. Texpatriate, Concerned Citizens, and the Observer have more.

Who’s supporting whom in District D

The Chron checks with the ten candidates that did not make the runoff in District D to see who is endorsing frontrunner Dwight Boykins and who is going with runnerup Georgia Provost.


[Keith] Caldwell and [Demetria] Smith are supporting Boykins.

“I will be endorsing Mr. Boykins at this time,” Smith said, adding that she will aid in his runoff campaign.

Caldwell said Boykins “has a pretty good plan and that’s something I can live with: Somebody with a plan. … As voters, we can make him what we need him to be. He has a vision I can live with, right now, until I decide to run again.”

Four others – [Ivis] Johnson, [Travis] McGee, [Larry] McKinzie and [Christina] Sanders – have declared support for Provost.

Georgia Provost

Georgia Provost

“I have to decided to, without a doubt, support Georgia Provost for this election. If she is not elected, there will not be a black woman on Houston City Council,” Sanders said, adding that she is working to get her supporters back to the polls next month to vote for Provost. “We’ve got a lot of critical things happening in the district, particularly when it comes to development, and we need to make sure that we have somebody who is going to really have the community in mind and at heart if people are interested in buying and taking property.”

McGee called her “the best option” and had strong opposition to Boykins prevailing in next month’s runoff.

“He has too many special interests out there, too many favors to pay back and those are the people he’s going to pay attention to,” McGee said. “If Mrs. Provost can do this, it will also show that everybody can’t be bought. When has there ever been a time that a special interest group has ever put that much money behind a candidate for a predominantly black district like District D?”

McKinzie said he considers Provost “the more truthful candidate.”

Neither Assata Richards, who came in third, nor Lana Edwards are endorsing anyone in the runoff. Richards had been endorsed by former District D CM Ada Edwards, who sent out an email on Tuesday announcing that she was endorsing Boykins. As for the other candidates, Kirk White hadn’t made a decision yet, and Anthony Robinson said he was going to wait to see which candidate addressed the issues that were most important to him. As a reminder, my interview with Dwight Boykins is here – he also spoke with New Media Texas and did a Q&A with Texpatriate – and my interview with Georgia Provost is here. The Chron endorsed Anthony Robinson in November, so they have to name their second choice as well.

As for the other races and other candidates, if there have been any announcements in the At Large races on in District A, I have not seen them. In District I, Ben Mendez announced his endorsement of Robert Gallegos. His opponent, Graci Garces, released an open letter to him accusing him of letting people believe he is related to the late Sen. Mario Gallegos. If you are aware of any endorsements for a runoff by a candidate from November, please leave a comment or drop me a note.

We need a Conviction Integrity Unit in Harris County

From the DMN:

Craig Watkins

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins has gained a national reputation for spearheading prisoner exonerations.

As he prepares to seek a third term, Watkins said Thursday he wants to expand on that role and add a few others. …

Watkins, a Democrat who was first elected in 2006, gained attention for using DNA tests to overturn convictions, and he said his office has a few more such cases pending.

When prosecutors finish with those next year, Watkins said, he wants his team to take another look at people convicted of arson and those accused of shaking their babies to death. Watkins said he has concerns about the science used in the prosecution of both types of cases.

“The science has changed. We need to revisit it,” Watkins said without elaborating.

That was via Grits for Breakfast, who adds the following:

With the passage of SB 344 by Whitmire/Turner, people convicted based on junk science now have a clear path to pursue habeas corpus writs to challenge their convictions, with old arson and shaken-baby cases high on the list of bad science likely to be challenged. It will be welcome news if Watkins takes leadership and gets out in front of those issues the way he did on DNA testing. The main difference will be that, until the Legislature changed the law in 2011 (SB 122 by Ellis), DAs could prevent DNA testing in old cases if they chose, just as Williamson County DA John Bradley thwarted testing in the Michael Morton case for many years simply by objecting. By contrast, the passage of SB 344 means junk science cases can now get back into court via habeas writs on their own, so Watkins and other District Attorneys will be forced to revisit them whether they want to or not.

Craig Watkins has done groundbreaking work in Dallas reviewing old convictions for which DNA evidence was available to allow for it. This was possible in part because Dallas County obsessively kept all their old case evidence, but it was Watkins who had the vision to look at old cases where the potential existed for a conviction that had been based on potentially shaky evidence and for which a more definitive answer could be established. Dozens of wrongly convicted men were freed as a result. DNA evidence only exists in a small percentage of cases, but there are other kinds of cases that can and should be reviewed, beginning with the “junk science” cases highlighted in SB344. It’s way past time for Harris County to conduct a systematic review of its own of old cases to see which of them deserve a closer look. We will be under the mandate of SB344 for some of these cases, but there’s no reason to limit ourselves, or to wait till the last minute. It’s beyond question that there are people currently in jail after being convicted in Harris County that are provably innocent of the crimes they were convicted for. In some cases, as with the just-released “San Antonio Four”, the crime in question never actually occurred. We already have to take action for some of these. Let’s commit to doing a thorough and exhaustive job of it. I look forward to hearing what Devon Anderson and Kim Ogg have to say about this.

Runoff endorsement watch: For Kubosh

The Chron makes the last of its runoff endorsements by choosing Michael Kubosh in At Large #3.

Michael Kubosh

Michael Kubosh

Looking at the candidates for the runoff, it feels a bit like the whole City Council At-large 3 race was a competition of name recognition. For the Saturday, Dec. 14, election, former mayoral candidate Roy Morales will be facing off against Michael Kubosh, who led the 2010 city-wide referendum campaign against red light cameras. Voters should back Kubosh. We don’t always agree with the bail bondsman’s agenda, but he has an undeniable passion for city issues and a striking compassion for the poor.

Kubosh’s history of referenda-driven politics and hyperbolic comments hinted that he was not yet ready for prime time – or Wednesday mornings around the City Hall horseshoe. But over the campaign, he has smoothed over rough patches, reached out to opponents and strived to educate himself on the issues.

“I’m not going to be someone who is going to showboat,” Kubosh told the Houston Chronicle editorial board, saying that he intended to find common ground with Mayor Annise Parker to get things done. “I’m not just a ‘no’ vote.”

It was a shift in attitude from the beginning of his campaign, one that we hope sticks. Kubosh has some admirable goals, such as improving the municipal courts, working to fix problems with water bills and all-around sticking up for the little guy. In our strong-mayor city government, council members have the option to lead, follow or get out of the way, and we hope he’ll choose wisely.

I’m one of the people Kubosh has reached out to. I’m not fully convinced, but I appreciate that he made the effort, and I appreciate the shift in rhetoric. As with any candidate there’s a trust factor, and a concern about how much tacit approval one would be giving to the issues on which we disagree. This is the only race on my ballot, and I hate the idea of not voting at all, so one way or another I need to make a choice. I’m still thinking about it.

Saturday video break: Seven score and ten years ago

In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, here is Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, performed in 1991 by the Philadephia Orchestra, and narrated by Dr. J, Julius Erving:

One of my favorite pieces of music. I had the good fortune to take part in a performance of this myself, with the Trinity University Wind Symphony. One of our speech professors, Dr. Frances Swinney, did the narration. The ending, with the conclusion of the Address, gets me every time.

The Mayor’s payday lending proposal

Mayor Parker sure isn’t wasting any time on her last-term agenda. Next up on the list: the payday lending ordinance we’ve been waiting for.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

With support from other major Texas cities and numerous advocacy groups, Mayor Annise Parker today unveiled proposed regulations for payday lending in Houston. The mayor’s plan establishes minimum business practices for payday lending institutions and mirrors ordinances previously adopted in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, San Antonio and several smaller Texas cities.

“I had initially favored a Houston-specific measure, but decided that joining with other Texas cities in a united front on this issue is the best way to send a strong message to the Texas legislature,” said Mayor Parker.  “Lenders deserve to make a profit on their investments, but not by charging astronomical interest rates to desperate consumers who have nowhere else to turn for emergency financial assistance.  The statewide model I am recommending for approval by Houston City Council achieves this balance.”

Payday and auto title loans are high cost, small-dollar loans offered to individuals without credit checks and little consideration for their ability to repay. The initial term is typically two weeks to one month, with the term usually determined based on the borrower’s pay cycle. A borrower who fails to make a payment on an auto title loan could wind up losing his means to get to work and take his children to school.

Under existing Texas law, there is no limit to the fees that payday lenders and auto title businesses can charge and no limit on the number of times they can charge high-fees for essentially the same loan – often trapping borrowers in a cycle of debt where they are never able to pay down the loan.  For example, a fast cash payday advance of $500 that is rolled over five or more times could wind up costing $1200 or more.

Houston’s proposed ordinance would help alleviate this problem by:

  • Requiring payday loan and auto title loan businesses to register with the city annually
  • Limiting payday loans to 20 percent of the borrower’s gross monthly income
  • Limiting auto title loans to three percent of the borrower’s gross annual income or 70 percent of the vehicle value, whichever is less
  • Limiting single payment loans to no more than three refinances or rollovers and installment loans to no more than four installments
  • Requiring each installment, refinance, or rollover payment to reduce the total principal owed by at least 25 percent
  • Defining a rollover or renewal as a loan within seven days of the previous loan
  • Requiring loan agreements to be written in easy-to-understand language
  • Requiring contact information for nonprofits offering financial literacy and cash assistance

Mayor Parker’s recommendation is endorsed by the following members of the Houston Fair Lending Alliance:

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston
Covenant Community Capital
Christian Life Commission
Family Services of Greater Houston
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Houston City Council will be briefed on the mayor’s proposal December 4, 2013.  The first opportunity for a vote by council will be on December 11, 2013.

See here, here, and here for the background. Following the approach taken by other cities is a good idea, as it gives the city some cover from litigation. The Mayor has an impressive list of community supporters behind her – a press release from Sen. Sylvia Garcia praising the ordinance hit my inbox less than an hour after the Mayor’s press release – but it remains to be seen how the ordinance will be received by Council. I expect some pushback, but in the end I expect it to pass. After that, it will be a matter of hoping that neither the courts nor the Legislature do anything to screw it up, and hopefully someday moving the ball forward at the state level. Let’s get this passed by Council first and we’ll go from there. Stace and Texpatriate have more.

SBOE backs down on Algebra 2

So much for that.

Only high school students who pursue an honors plan or a diploma specializing in math and science will have to take algebra II under recommendations that the Texas State Board of Education preliminarily approved Thursday.

Despite an initial proposal that had included the advanced math course in all five new diploma plans, the 15-member board was nearly unanimous in its decision Thursday. The single no vote came from Martha Dominguez, D-El Paso.

“I think what we’ve done so far tonight accomplishes what we’ve been charged to do,” said member Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo.

The board, which has the responsibility of determining which courses school districts should offer in five separate endorsements as a part of an overhaul passed by the Legislature in May, has had two days of testimony and discussion on the topic. That included an unexpected visit from House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, and Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston. Both lawmakers urged the board to reserve as much flexibility for local school districts as possible — and not to require algebra II to fulfill all of the graduation plans.

See here for the background. While this is over for now, I have always believed that the issue will continue to be debated and refined in the Legislature. There just isn’t sufficient consensus on the matter, and some of the proponents of Algebra 2 have a strong voice. Keep an eye on any candidates that make noise about it, too. I don’t know what form this debate will take in 2015, I just feel confident that it will happen. Texpatriate has more.

Crane sues McLane

This ought to be fun.

Jim Crane’s Astros ownership group filed a state court lawsuit Thursday against former Astros owner Drayton McLane, Comcast and NBC Universal, accusing them of fraud and civil conspiracy and accusing McLane’s corporation that owned the Astros of breach of contract in conjunction with Crane’s 2011 purchase of a 46 percent interest in the parent company of Comcast SportsNet Houston.

The suit accuses McLane, who sold the Astros and his CSN Houston share to Crane in 2011 for $615 million, of selling “an asset (the network) they knew at the time to be overpriced and broken.” It also says Crane was “duped” when he bought McLane’s network interest based on what have been proved to be “knowing misrepresentations” and “falsely inflated subscription rates.”

“Ultimately, fans of the Houston Astros have been injured because defendants’ misrepresentations leave (Crane) with an impossible choice: accept the broken network as is and deprive thousands of fans the ability to watch Houston Astros games on their televisions, or distribute the game at market rates and take massive losses out of the Houston Astros player payroll – thereby dooming the franchise for years to come,” the suit adds.


Crane’s suit alleges McLane and Rockets owner Leslie Alexander demanded in 2010 that Comcast charge a base subscriber rate for CSN Houston in Zone 1 – the area around Houston where Astros and Rockets games can be seen – that Comcast said was too high. In fact, the suit said, the rate was so high Comcast feared it could not convince other distributors to carry the network.

Comcast eventually agreed to the inflated base rate, the suit said, in return for a most favored nation clause, which ensured Comcast it would always pay the lowest base rate of any distributor.

Faulty business plan

Crane, according to the suit, was not aware of these facts when he was negotiating to buy the team in 2011 and that Comcast, NBC Universal and McLane agreed to “conceal material information” about the network’s business plan.

The suit also accuses Jon Litner, group president of the NBC Sports Group, of making false and misleading claims the CSN Houston business plan was achievable, even though they were based on what the company knew were inflated subscriber rates.

Crane became aware of the 2010 demands by Alexander and McLane, according to the suit, during a December 2012 meeting in New York City, about a year after he bought the team and three months after the network launched.

The suit asks that McLane’s McLane Champions corporation be ordered to repay Crane’s group for losses that have resulted from alleged breaches of the group’s purchase agreement – including, presumably, more than $30 million in rights fees the Astros failed to receive in 2013 and what Crane says is the “artificially inflated price” he paid for McLane’s network share. Court testimony indicated CSN Houston was valued in 2010 at $700 million, with McLane’s share valued at $326 million.

I haven’t followed it here on the blog, but CSN Houston has been plagued with problems, mostly stemming from the fact that nobody other than Comcast carries it. That limits its reach to about 40% of Houston-area viewers, which also limits ratings and ad revenues. Mayor Parker has tried to facilitate talks between Comcast and other carriers to resolve this, but has had no luck. The infamous game nobody watched probably didn’t improve Crane’s mood about the station. The Astros have been trying to get out of this deal but aren’t on the same page as the Rockets, who are also stakeholders in CSN Houston. Four Comcast affiliates have filed for bankruptcy stemming from that action. It’s all a big mess, is what I’m saying. I have no idea what happens from here, but I’ll be watching. Sports Update and Hair Balls have more.

Friday random ten: For John

I was born after the assassination of JFK, so I have nothing to add to the nostalgia and remembrances of this week. But the least I can do is contribute a list of songs performed by various Johns in commemoration of today’s anniversary.

1. Again Tonight – John Mellencamp
2. Angel From Montgomery – John Prine
3. Boogie Chillen – John Lee Hooker
4. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Johnny Cash
5. Child of the Wild Blue Yonder – John Hiatt
6. Chinese Envoy – John Cale
7. Cold Shot – Dr. John
8. Come Together – John Lennon
9. Got To Be A Better Way Home – Southside Johnny and The Jukes
10. I Can See Clearly Now – Johnny Nash

Feel free as always to add your own.

Precinct analysis: Two quick takes

I had wondered if partisan affiliation might be a factor in the HISD 7 race between Republican incumbent Harvin Moore and Democratic challenger Anne Sung. Like Houston races, HISD Trustee races are officially non-partisan, but also like Houston races, people tend to know what team everyone plays for. What did the precinct data tell us?

Dist Moore Sung ==================== C 1,278 2,046 F 148 223 G 4,921 3,126 J 240 358

That’s pretty strong evidence right there. Sung got 61.6% in Democratic district C, Moore got 61.2% in Republican G. District G was the bigger part of HISD 7, so Moore won. For a Democratic challenger like Sung to win a race like this in the future, she’d either need to at least double the turnout in the District C part of the district, or she’d need to win a decent number of crossovers, or both. So now we know.

Since I’ve been advocating that people who didn’t like Dave Wilson’s election to the HCC Board of Trustees need to take their frustration over it out in the runoff for HCC 1, it’s fair to ask what Zeph Capo‘s path to victory is, since Yolanda Navarro Flores got about 48% of the vote in November. Precinct data suggests what that path is:

Dist Flores Capo Hoffman ============================== B 103 18 34 C 3,516 2,561 1,956 G 245 175 197 H 1,851 431 610 J 201 50 105

Basically, Zeph Capo needs to win the District C part of the district. That’s the biggest part of the district in terms of turnout, but it needs to be maximized, and Capo needs to get Kevin Hoffman’s voters to come to the polls for him. Kevin Hoffman confirmed for me via email that he has endorsed Capo in the runoff – he also shared this open letter he sent to the Board with his hopes for their direction going forward – so if you supported Kevin Hoffman in Round One, you have no reason not to support Zeph Capo in Round 2. Capo has a lot of ground to make up, but he also has a lot of potential supporters available if he can reach them.

Council passes wage theft ordinance

Well done.

Houston City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to adopt an ordinance aimed at deterring companies from stealing workers’ wages and ensuring the city does not hire firms that do, though supporters acknowledged the measure’s limited reach.

The seemingly easy vote masked months of lobbying and negotiations among Mayor Annise Parker’s administration, council members, workers rights groups and business organizations. The item was pulled from last week’s agenda for some final tweaks in talks with lobbyists for builders, contractors, restaurateurs, building owners and hotel operators.


Laura Perez-Boston, director of the nonprofit Faith and Justice Worker Center, flooded the chamber with supporters each time the item came up, citing statistics: 100 daily wage theft complaints in the Houston area; $750 million in local wages lost annually to the practice.

“It’s certainly not everything we would want, but I do think it is a substantial step in the right direction,” she said. “And although you may see there aren’t a lot of main contractors that are found guilty of wage theft, there are a lot of subcontractors.”

Joshua Sanders, a spokesman for the trade groups, said the law strikes a balance in that it has teeth but avoids duplicating existing processes. He rejected the idea that the draft had been hollowed out via negotiations.

“What they did with this ordinance was to say, ‘We’re one of the largest employers in Houston, we’ve got a policy now that allows us to scrutinize and penalize and refuse to do business with individuals who’ve been convicted of wage theft,’ ” Sanders said. “They’re taking this position as an employer and they’re setting a standard and an example.”

See here, here, and here for the background. As Texpatriate noted, CM Helena Brown was absent, so don’t read too much into the fact that it passed unanimously. There’s certainly room for improvement in this ordinance, since it only affects a firm that has been convicted of wage theft and has exhausted all its appeals, but just having this ordinance is a big step forward. I would like to see the matter revisited before the end of Mayor Parker’s next term to ensure that the law has had the intended effect and to strengthen it if needed. But the first step is always the hardest, and getting this on the books is a big deal. Kudos all around. PDiddie has more.

Federal lawsuit against HISD and Trustee Larry Marshall dismissed

Good, I guess.

A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a three-year-old bribery lawsuit against the Houston school district and trustee Larry Marshall, ending the prospect of a high-profile jury trial.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison ruled in part that the construction contractor that sued lacked standing because the company did not prove it suffered financially. The Gil Ramirez Group alleged in its lawsuit that it lost its contract with the state’s largest school district because it didn’t pay bribes to Marshall.

Ellison, in his order, did not determine whether Marshall received improper payments but found that the Ramirez Group fell short of several legal standards needed to prove its case.

“Indeed,” Ellison wrote, “from what evidence plaintiffs do provide… the most that can be said is that Marshall, if he did participate in a bribery scheme, did so to enrich himself, not as a way to discriminate against non-paying contractors.”

According to court records and deposition testimony, some school district vendors paid thousands of dollars to a business associate of Marshall, who gave him a cut of her earnings. Marshall did not deny a business relationship with Joyce Moss-Clay but said it did not influence which firms won district contracts.

See here, here, and here for some background. I’m glad that HISD, which spent $1.5 million defending itself against this suit (they may seek reimbursement from the plaintiffs), is not in any further financial danger from it. I’m also glad that Larry Marshall will become Former Trustee Larry Marshall as of January 2. And finally, I’m glad the HISD Board of Trustees voted to beef up its ethics policies. I hope this sort of thing never happens again. Hair Balls has more.

Runoff endorsement watch: Boykins in D

As noted before, there are two runoffs in which neither of the candidates were endorsed by the Chron in Round One. One of those races is in District D, and the Chron’s choice for Round Two is Dwight Boykins.


“I’m ready to hit the ground running,” says Dwight Boykins, a run-off candidate for Houston City Council District D. For his district, which has great needs, we believe that readiness is especially important.

District D, formerly represented by Wanda Adams, is an increasingly diverse district in south Houston. It includes Sunnyside, South Park and the Third Ward – neighborhoods that often haven’t received their fair share of city attention.


He proposes to attack both crime and unemployment in District D by helping people formerly incarcerated for low-level offenses to find work doing ReBuild Houston’s road repairs. He’s also taken steps to start a home-repair fund, funded by private contributions, so that minor repairs won’t spiral into major problems that force the district’s senior citizens out of their houses.

His opponent, Georgia Provost, is a longtime force for good in the district. She’d make a fine council member. But we believe that Boykins, with his firm understanding of the levers of power, would serve District D even better.

Seems reasonable to me. The Chron endorsed Anthony Robinson for November. They still have to make a choice in the At Large #3 runoff.