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January 3rd, 2014:

Friday random ten: All is quiet on New Year’s Day

I’m pretty sure I’ve done a list of “New” songs for the new year, but it’s another new year and I’ve got no better ideas, so.

1. New Blood – Robert Cray
2. New Blues – Joe Satriani
3. New Constellation – Toad the Wet Spocket
4. New Dreams – Stanley Smith
5. New Jazz Fiddle – Asylum Street Spankers
6. New Kid In Town – Trisha Yearwood
7. New Math – Tom Lehrer
8. New Romeo – Southside Johnny and the Jukes
9. New Sensation – INXS
10. New Year’s Day – U2

At least one of these songs is new to my collection, so at most I’m only partially repeating myself. Hope the end of your holiday season is going well.

Parker 2018

It seems pretty certain that a statewide candidacy is in Mayor Parker’s future.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

LSQ: What’s next for you after your term expires at the end of 2015? There’s been a lot of talk that you will run for statewide office as a Democrat in 2016 or 2018.

AP: I don’t intend to run for anything until I’m done as mayor. Unfortunately, in 2016, there’s not a lot out there, so I probably will need to go back into the private sector for a while, but I hope that while mayor of Houston is the best political job I would ever have, I hope it’s not my last political job. … I would certainly be interested in looking statewide. [I’m] not trying to be coy. People talked to me about running in 2014 as a Democrat for one of the statewide positions. I’ve had a lot of conversations with folks about that, but I made the commitment to serve as mayor of Houston and to do my best for the city for as long as I could. I just wasn’t in that place. I’ve also been fairly public that what I’m most interested in in terms of a future political position is something where I’m in an administrative or an executive position. [With] due respect to my members of Congress down here, I’ve been the CEO of a $5 billion corporation. I like to get things done, and the idea of, say, running for Congress, doesn’t excite me. … [It will be] a statewide executive position.

I know the inauguration was just yesterday, but hey, it’s never too early to speculate, right? So let’s consider the possibilities for Mayor Parker’s future as a statewide candidate.

US Senate: I’m sure there will be no shortage of people willing to take a shot at Ted Cruz in his first run for re-election, assuming he isn’t elected President in 2016 or named Beloved Leader For Life following a coup. However, if we are to take the Mayor at her word when she talks about preferring a “statewide executive position”, then it seems safe to say that she will not be among those queuing up for the opportunity.

Governor: The obvious choice, for all the obvious reasons. However, there are two obstacles here. One is the possibility that in 2018 Governor Wendy Davis will be running for re-election. One presumes that the Mayor would not be anxious to primary her. Two is the possibility that her mayoral colleague from San Antonio, Mayor Julian Castro, will be ready to throw his own hat in the ring for this race. That’s not the same as primarying an incumbent Governor, but while we are miles away from anyone having a claim to that nomination, it would not be ridiculous to decide that one’s odds are better in another race. Putting it another way, I can imagine one of Mayors Parker and Castro running for Governor in 2018, but I cannot imagine both of them doing so. If I were Mayor Parker and I had my hopes pinned to a Governor’s race in 2018 (assuming Wendy Davis doesn’t win or chooses to serve only one term, of course), I’d probably make a point of whispering about the prestige of the US Senate and the joy of serving in the upper chamber while his brother makes his mark in the House in Mayor Castro’s ear at any opportunity that presented itself.

Lt. Governor: At first glance, this doesn’t feel like a fit, since unlike the Governor, the Lite Guv is heavily involved in legislative activities as the presiding officer of the Senate. However, Mayor Parker presides over Council meetings and is directly involved in crafting legislation for the city, so it’s really not that much different. I doubt she has this in mind, but it’s not out of the question.

Comptroller: Probably the first office that comes to mind for some people, given the Mayor’s background in finance and her tenure as City Controller. My guess is that this is the office she was encouraged to file for in 2014. A good fit, and a good landing place if Mayor Castro doesn’t take her advice about running for the Senate.

Attorney General, Ag Commissioner, Land Commissioner: Mayor Parker is not an attorney, and is thoroughly urban, so neither of the first two are plausible. Land Commish is at least a remote possibility – former El Paso Mayor John Cook is running this year, so it’s unremarkable for an urban Mayor to compete for this post – but highly unlikely. If she’s not running for Governor, I can’t see her choosing anything other then Comptroller.

Railroad Commissioner: The one office she could run for in 2016, if she hadn’t already ruled out running in 2016. Again, this would be a good fit given the Mayor’s background in energy back in her private sector days plus the fact that if any city is associated with energy in Texas, it’s Houston, but again, at best a remote possibility. It’s Governor, Comptroller, or bust.

One last office to consider, if Mayor Parker decides that running statewide is too much trouble and she’d just rather serve in an office that allowed her to live in her own house, and that’s County Judge. This assumes that Judge Emmett decides to call it quits – assuming he is re-elected, of course – and if that happens, then given the historically good relations the city has had with Harris County during her tenure, Mayor Parker would be a logical and sensible successor. I’m just throwing this out there because crazy speculation is one of the perks of being a blogger, but you have to admit there’s something to it. If she changes her mind about running statewide, which I am not encouraging her to do. (PDiddie thinks this CultureMap story suggests ambivalence on her part, but I think she’s just saying she has no plans for 2016, as she has said all along.) What do you think Mayor Parker might do down the line? Leave your own crazy speculation in the comments.

Time to talk term limits again

The subject keeps coming up, though it never seems to get anywhere.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

As the inauguration of Houston’s elected leaders begins Thursday morning, supporters and spectators gathered at the Wortham Center downtown will see six new City Council members walk across the stage.

Observers at the ceremony two years ago saw seven new members sworn in, and those present two years before that saw five new faces cross the stage. That’s 18 position turnovers in four years around a horseshoe that seats 17, including the mayor, as Councilman C.O. Bradford pointed out at the council’s final meeting of the year two weeks ago.

With this churn in mind, Mayor Annise Parker, Bradford and others are calling for changes to the city’s term limits structure, which allows three two-year terms for the mayor, city controller and council members.

“That’s simply too frequent. When I came to council, there were council members in the process of leaving … and they were just well-seasoned, they were just at the point where they were really ready to dig in and serve the city,” said Bradford, who is starting his third and final term. “As we go forward in efforts to move our city forward, look at 18 turnovers in a four-year period and look at the challenge that presents.”

Parker, herself term-limited out of office at the end of 2016, said she will ask council to present voters with a shift to two four-year terms, adding that any proposal will not apply to her.

We all know how I feel about term limits, right? OK, with that out of the way, let me say that I don’t care for four-year terms on Council. For those of you who think Council will be a better place minus Helena Brown and/or Andrew Burks, they would both be beginning the second half of their first term if we had four-year terms in place now. I think having two year terms helps keep Council members accountable, and better enables us to correct mistakes in a timely fashion as needed. I understand that many Council members dislike having to transition into campaign mode so soon after being elected, and I get that the grind of fundraising sucks. That’s why I believe a better solution to address these issues is changing the nature of our system of financing campaigns. To my mind, if we can level the playing field between incumbents and challengers, we can better address the problem that term limits was supposed to solve. I’m very open to the idea of publicly financing campaigns, at least at the municipal level to begin with. There are big problems to solve in such a system, how to finance it and how to regulate private contributions in a constitutional way being the two main ones, but I see it as a worthwhile goal that actually has a chance of solving the underlying problem. You could take the approach that no one should be allowed to run for re-election, but that still doesn’t address the question of how campaigns are financed, and I personally see value in giving good public servants a chance to keep doing what they’re good at doing. All I ask about the forthcoming debate over our current and highly sub-optimal term limits system is that we start by pledging to review the whole thing and to consider options that have been left out of previous discussions. We’ll see if this effort makes it any farther than the last one did.

Raising the minimum wage in Texas

It’s all the rage elsewhere, but so far I’ve not heard anything about a movement to raise the minimum wage in Texas.

While most of the increases amount to less than 15 cents per hour, workers in places like New Jersey, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island will see a bigger bump.

Earlier this year, New Jersey residents voted to raise the state’s minimum wage by $1 to $8.25 per hour. And lawmakers voted to hike the wage by between 25 cents and 75 cents per hour, to $8.70 in Connecticut and $8 in Rhode Island and New York.

Residents in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington will see a higher wage floor due to annual cost of living adjustments.

The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, used Census data to estimate that the increases will boost the incomes of 2.5 million low-wage American workers next year.

Currently, 19 states have minimum wages set higher than the federal level of $7.25 per hour. Once the changes take effect on Jan. 1, the number rises to 21.

[…]

President Obama has been throwing his weight behind the issue. Earlier this month, the President said in a speech that it’s “well past the time to raise the minimum wage that in real terms right now is below where it was when Harry Truman was in office.”

But such legislation has a bleaker outlook if it reaches the Republican-led House of Representatives. House Speaker John Boehner has said that raising the minimum wage leads to a pullback in hiring.

Several recent polls, however, show that the vast majority of Americans are in favor of a federal minimum wage hike. A new ABC/Washington Post poll out last week shows that two-thirds of Americans support raising the minimum wage. More than one-third of respondents said they supported an increase to $9 per hour, while a quarter more were in favor of a boost to $10.

CBS poll conducted last month found nearly identical results.

For obvious reasons, I don’t expect anything to happen in Texas, even as it is an issue nationally. What I would like to see is for it to at least be in the conversation. I got that link from Sen. Rodney Ellis’ Facebook page, so that’s a start. I’m sure that when the issue does arise, we will hear a cacaphony of caterwauling about how increasing the minimum wage will destroy jobs and only go to the benefit of teenagers. Putting aside the fact that all of that is a load of bull, I welcome the debate. Let’s talk about how many of the jobs that have been created during Rick Perry’s reign have been crappy, minimum wage jobs. Let’s talk about what we need to do to ensure that Texas is creating quality jobs that pay living wages. Let’s talk about the millions of Texans who work fulltime yet live in poverty because their jobs pay so little. One ironic benefit of raising the minimum wage in Texas is that it might make a whole bunch of people that now fall into what Ed Kilgore calls the “wingnut hole” – not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid in a state like Texas that refused to expand it but below the minimum income level to qualify for insurance exchange subsidies, precisely because they were supposed to get enrolled in Medicaid – might suddenly qualify for insurance subsidies and get coverage, possibly for the first time in their adult lives. I’ll be delighted to talk about that. Raising the minimum wage polls well nationally, including among Republicans, though I haven’t seen (and couldn’t find) any Texas-specific polling on the subject. Regardless, this is an issue that Democrats need to engage on, and it’s one I think they can gain on. But we’ve got to start talking about it first. Texas Leftist has more.

The fox has always guarded the henhouse

News item: Rick Perry appointee says something obnoxious and privileged about the people his company fleeces for his fortune.

The official who oversees Texas’ consumer watchdog says payday-loan customers — not the lenders — are responsible when the loans trap them in a cycle of debt.

William J. White says it’s out of line to even question an industry that has had its practices called exploitative by many critics, including the Catholic Church.

White was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to chair the state agency that oversees the Office of the Consumer Credit Commissioner, which is responsible for protecting consumers from predatory lending practices.

White also is vice president of Cash America, a major payday lender that the new U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last month socked with its first sanctions for abusive practices.

White didn’t return calls earlier this month for a story about his dual roles as payday lender and consumer defender. But, on Dec. 12, as the Finance Commission wrapped up its monthly meeting in Austin, he agreed to answer a few questions.

“What you’re doing is totally out of line,” White said, as the interview wound down. “This fox-in-the-henhouse stuff is totally political.”

His company and others in the industry have been accused of making payday loans to desperate people in amounts they can’t afford to repay. Customers become trapped in a cycle in which all of their disposable income — and some non-disposable income — goes to payday lenders, critics say.

Former El Paso city Rep. Susie Byrd spearheaded a payday-lending ordinance early this year that is on hold until the city council debates it on Jan. 7.

White was asked to respond to Byrd’s claim that payday lenders in Texas profit by making people poor.

“That’s really is not worth responding to,” White said. “People make decisions. There’s nobody out there that forces anybody to take any kind of loan. People are responsible for their decisions, just like in my life and in your life. When I make a wrong decision, I pay the consequences.”

Ha ha ha ha ha. Dude, you’re rich and politically connected. You don’t pay consequences for anything. You have people for that.

Anyway. Sen. Wendy Davis took exception to White’s offensive remarks.

Democratic governor contender Wendy Davis is calling on William J. White to step down as chairman of the Finance Commission of Texas for saying people who take out payday loans are responsible for their own situations.

White, vice president of Cash America, should be an advocate for consumers on the state board but instead makes excuses for his own predatory industry, Davis said.

“William White can’t protect Texas consumers while he represents a predatory lending company on the side,” she said.

That’s a feature, not a bug. I’ll get back to that point in a minute. In the meantime, Lisa Falkenberg presses the point.

In April 2012, [White] signed the commission’s resolution complaining of the “complexity” and “confusion” of local payday regulations. He asked the Legislature “to more clearly articulate its intent for uniform laws and rules to govern credit access businesses in Texas.”

In other words, he asked lawmakers to bigfoot (or, pre-empt) local protections, forcing cities to conform to the state’s do-nothing regulation.

[…]

“There’s nobody out there that forces anybody to take any kind of loan. People are responsible for their decisions … ,” White told the Times reporter. “When I make a wrong decision, I pay the consequences.”

There’s nobody out there who makes you buy gas after a hurricane, either, or book a hotel room because your flood-prone house flooded. Yet the state, through Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, still protects people against price gouging and profiteering on misery after such an event. I guess the misery of the working poor is another matter.

[…]

Earlier this week, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Wendy Davis, of Fort Worth, declared White’s comments a “blatant conflict of interest,” and called on Perry to remove White from the state post.

Perry – no surprises here – isn’t budging. And what from Abbott, the Republican candidate hoping to succeed Perry? As of deadline Tuesday, silence.

The attorney general’s spokesman didn’t respond to a phone message or to a list of questions asking, among other things, whether he would have appointed a payday loan executive to watch over the payday loan industry. Abbott himself has taken more than $21,000 from Cash America’s PAC, according to campaign finance records. He also has promised a fresh perspective and transparency in government.

Here’s a chance to prove it. Abbott should follow Davis’ lead and call for White’s ouster, condemn the commissioner’s comments and show he’s prepared to lead differently, to cast aside old ways, and to replace cronies with competent, fair appointees.

Oh, Lisa. You’re such a kidder. Of course Greg Abbott will never do this. In fact, he’s already defending White. (Sen. Sylvia Garcia, on the other hand, is with Wendy.) Hell, the only reason he goes after gasoline price gougers is because they directly affect everyone, including suburban Republican voters, who scream bloody murder when it happens. The people whose lives are being wrecked by payday lenders don’t have voices that Greg Abbott hears. To him, that’s just the free market. And if it has to be regulated at all, best to have someone at the helm that really, truly understands the needs of the businesses that are being regulated. Anyone besides me remember the Texas Residential Construction Commission, or TRCC? Remember who Rick Perry appointed to be the first head of that commission? Here, let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

Consider how the Residential Construction Commission came to be created and how it was appointed.

According to a report released earlier this year by public advocacy groups, Texas homebuilders donated $5 million to executive and legislative candidates, political parties and political action committees during the 2002 election cycle, which completed the Republican takeover of the statehouse.

Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, a major contributor to Gov. Rick Perry and Republican causes, gave $3.7 million of the total.

Bob Perry (who isn’t related to the governor but obviously shares his political philosophy) and other homebuilders were a driving force behind creation of the new commission. The new law established some construction and warranty standards for the new agency to regulate, but its primary purpose was to offer homebuilders protection against lawsuits brought by unhappy customers.

Homeowners now have to go through an expensive, commission-run dispute resolution process before pursuing any legal action over construction complaints. This is more bureaucratic and potentially more intimidating than the mandatory arbitration process that most builders already required in new home contracts.

The law also limits the damages that homeowners can recover, and the makeup of the commission has consumers justifiably concerned.

The law requires four of the nine commissioners to represent builders. State regulatory boards typically include some members of the industries being regulated.

The argument is that technical, industry input is necessary for effective regulation, but the fox-and-henhouse practice also is a testament to the lobby’s influence.

Two of the “public” members appointed to the Residential Construction Commission by the governor also have strong ties to the homebuilding industry. And, even more troubling for consumers, one of the industry representatives, John Krugh, an executive of Bob Perry’s homebuilding company, was appointed to the commission by Rick Perry less than a month after the governor had received a $100,000 political donation from Bob Perry.

The governor’s office denied any connection between the contribution and the appointment, but skeptical consumers should be forgiven.

The TRCC was such a crony-tastic debacle that it finally got sunsetted in 2009. But the philosophy is ever with us. William White is just John Krugh in another context. Same story, different chapter. And it’s always been fine by Greg Abbott. If Greg Abbott had ever had an inkling to put the interest of consumers over the interest of business, he’d have shown it before now. If you want that to happen, you don’t want Greg Abbott as Governor, because he’ll keep doing what he and Rick Perry have always done. It’s nothing new, and it’s not a secret.