Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

January 31st, 2014:

Friday random fourteen: Let’s talk about sex, baby

Paste had a list awhile back of the “Fifty Sexiest Songs Of All Time”. Here’s how they described it:

“Our picks span a variety of eras, genres and styles—and while some are more overtly sexual than others, they all make us weak in the knees. To keep this from being a list of Prince and Al Green songs, we’ve limited ourselves to a maximum two tracks per artist.”

I figured it was time to go through my collection to see how many of those songs I had. Here, in honor of Mike “Uncle Sugar” Huckabee and all those ladies that just can’t control their libidos, here’s my list.

1. Be My Baby – The Ronettes
2. Fever – Julie Murphy (orig. Peggy Lee)
3. You Really Got Me – Van Halen (orig. The Kinks)
4. Crimson and Clover – Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
5. Criminal – Fiona Apple
6. Sugar In My Bowl – Asylum Street Spankers (Nina Simone, orig. Bessie Smith)
7. Night Moves – Bob Seger
8. I Just Want To Make Love To You – Muddy Waters (orig. Etta James)
9. Voodoo Chile – Stevie Ray Vaughan (orig. Jimi Hendrix)
10. Wicked Game – The Model (orig. Chris Isaak)
11. Tell Me Something Good – Rufus and Chaka Khan
12. Darling Nikki – Christina Marrs (orig. Prince)
13. I’m On Fire – Bruce Springsteen
14. Let’s Get It On – Marvin Gaye

I also have “Tom Cat”, by Muddy Waters, but as usual I prefer to limit these to one song per artist. Obviously, we all have our own list of what floats our boat, but I think we can all agree that this would make a pretty good playlist for the next Huckabee speaking engagement. What’s on your list?

January campaign finance reports for Harris County legislative candidates

BagOfMoney

This could take awhile, and that’s with me limiting myself to contested races. First, the Senate.

SD04
Brandon Creighton
Steven Toth

SD07
Paul Bettencourt
James Wilson
Jim Davis

SD15
John Whitmire
Damian LaCroix
Ron Hale

SD17
Joan Huffman
Derek Anthony
Rita Lucido

Here’s a summary chart. For the record, Davis, Whitmire, LaCroix, and Lucido are all Dems, the rest are Rs.

Candidate Office Raised Spent Cash on hand =================================================== Creighton SD04 296,267 205,591 1,002,464 Toth SD04 107,752 48,048 123,116 Bettencourt SD07 140,100 55,873 103,041 Wilson SD07 7,675 5,129 3,224 Davis SD07 1,250 1,250 0 Whitmire SD15 298,874 148,973 6,978,885 LaCroix SD15 16,329 33,866 0 Hale SD15 123 1,441 123 Huffman SD17 136,600 91,142 701,583 Anthony SD17 0 0 0 Lucido SD17 41,625 10,489 29,829

Technically, SD04 is not on the ballot. It’s now a vacant seat due to the resignation in October of Tommy Williams, and the special election to fill it has not been set yet; I presume it will be in May. Reps. Creighton and Toth aren’t the only announced candidates, but they both have the right amount of crazy, and at least in Creighton’s case plenty of money as well. It’s a statement on how far our politics have gone that I find myself sorry to see Tommy Williams depart. He was awful in many ways, but as the last session demonstrated, when push came to shove he was fairly well grounded in reality, and he did a more than creditable job as Senate Finance Chair. I have no real hope for either Creighton or Toth to meet that standard, and the Senate will get that much stupider in 2015.

Paul Bettencourt can go ahead and start measuring the drapes in Dan Patrick’s office. I honestly hadn’t even realized he had a primary opponent till I started doing this post. The only questions is in what ways will he be different than Patrick as Senator. Every once in awhile, Patrick landed on the right side of an issue, and as his tenure as Public Ed chair demonstrated, he was capable of playing well with others and doing collaborative work when he put his mind to it. Doesn’t come remotely close to balancing the scales on him, but one takes what one can. Bettencourt is a smart guy, and based on my own encounters with him he’s personable enough to fit in well in the Senate, likely better than Patrick ever did. If he has it in mind to serve the public and not just a seething little slice of it, he could do some good. The bar I’m setting is basically lying on the ground, and there’s a good chance he’ll fail to clear it. But there is some potential there. It’s all up to him.

I don’t have anything new to add to the SD15 Democratic primary race. I just don’t see anything to suggest that the dynamic of the race has changed.

I hadn’t realized Joan Huffman had a primary challenger until I started this post. Doesn’t look like she has much to worry about. I’m very interested to see how Rita Lucido does with fundraising. Senators don’t usually draw serious November challengers. The district is drawn to be solidly Republican, but Lucido is the first opponent Huffman has had since the 2008 special election runoff. I’m very curious to see if Lucido can at least begin to close the gap.

On to the House:

HD129
Sheryl Berg
Briscoe Cain
Mary Huls
Jeffrey Larson
Chuck Maricle
Dennis Paul
Brent Perry
John Gay

HD131
Alma Allen
Azuwuike Okorafor

HD132
Michael Franks
Ann Hodge
Justin Perryman
Mike Schofield
Luis Lopez

HD133
Jim Murphy
Laura Nicol

HD134
Sarah Davis
Bonnie Parker
Alison Ruff

HD135
Gary Elkins
Moiz Abbas

HD137
Gene Wu
Morad Fiki

HD138
Dwayne Bohac
Fred Vernon

HD144
Mary Ann Perez
Gilbert Pena

HD145
Carol Alvarado
Susan Delgado

HD148
Jessica Farrar
Chris Carmona

HD149
Hubert Vo
Al Hoang
Nghi Ho

HD150
Debbie Riddle
Tony Noun
Amy Perez

HDs 129 and 132 are open. Each has multiple Republicans, all listed first in alphabetical order; the Dem in each race is listed at the end. In all other districts the incumbent is first, followed by any primary opponents, then any November opponents. I will note at this point that the last time I mentioned HD129, I wrote that Democratic candidate John Gay appeared to me to be the same person that had run in CD14 in 2012 as a Republican, based on what I could and could not find on the Internet. Two Democrats in HD129 contacted me after that was published to assure me that I had gotten it wrong, that there were two completely different individuals named John Gay, and that the one running as a Dem in HD129 was truly a Democrat. While I was never able to speak to this John Gay myself to ascertain that with him – I left him two phone messages and never got a call back – other information I found based on what these folks told me convinced me they were right and I was mistaken. That post was corrected, but I’m pointing this out here for those of you who might not have seen that correction.

With that out of the way, here’s the summary:

Candidate Office Raised Spent Cash on hand =================================================== Berg - R HD129 28,101 13,597 29,530 Cain - R HD129 17,246 9,614 4,131 Huls - R HD129 1,254 3,784 1,969 Larson - R HD129 325 1,130 4,226 Maricle - R HD129 3,520 30,207 879 Paul - R HD129 14,495 19,436 95,058 Perry - R HD129 51,297 19,100 52,687 Gay - D HD129 0 1,221 778 Allen - D HD131 8,877 13,662 21,573 Okorafor - D HD131 0 1,689 0 Franks - R HD132 0 4,604 43,396 Hodge - R HD132 51,330 19,741 41,925 Perryman - R HD132 26,550 7,178 30,788 Schofield - R HD132 43,665 15,449 45.454 Lopez - D HD132 Murphy - R HD133 102,828 44,004 184,174 Nicol - D HD133 2,380 750 1,640 Davis - R HD134 171,990 70,369 145,561 Parker - R HD134 0 10,213 10,161 Ruff - D HD134 0 750 0 Elkins - R HD135 28,150 17,136 331,672 Abbas - D HD135 0 0 0 Wu - D HD137 15,390 20,439 11,641 Fiki - R HD137 2,320 167 2,320 Bohac - R HD138 35,975 45,797 14,168 Vernon - D HD138 500 0 500 Perez - D HD144 18,400 23,705 34,386 Pena - R HD144 0 750 0 Alvarado - D HD145 51,915 6,585 54,035 Delgado - D HD145 0 750 0 Farrar - D HD148 37,771 6,739 75,861 Carmona - R HD148 325 883 2,442 Vo - D HD149 7,739 9,129 20,935 Hoang - R HD149 4,550 17,550 4,222 Ho - R HD149 4,198 1,211 3,736 Riddle - R HD150 23,200 15,327 61,809 Noun - R HD150 16,879 83,388 43,490 Perez - D HD150 3,139 452 116

I’m not going to go into much detail here. Several candidates, especially in the GOP primary in HD129, have loaned themselves money or are spending personal funds on campaign expenses. If you see a big disparity between cash on hand and the other totals, that’s usually why. I’m impressed by the amount Debbie Riddle’s primary challenger is spending, though I have no idea whether it will have an effect or not. I’m as impressed in the opposite direction by Bonnie Parker in HD134. Maybe she’s just getting warmed up, I don’t know. I figure her 8 day report will tell a more interesting story. What catches your eye among these names and numbers?

Audit letters

There’s a thing called audit letters that I hadn’t known existed. We’ve got them for Houston, but we had not been making them public even though other cities do as a matter of course.

City Controller Ronald Green

City Controller Ronald Green

Houston officials have blocked the release of letters detailing weaknesses in the city’s financial accounting even though other large Texas cities routinely share such letters as a matter of transparency.

“What are they trying to hide, if anything?” asked Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “The financial business of a government entity is everybody’s business. It’s our money, and it’s our government.”

State law requires public agencies to hire an external auditor to review finances each year, ensuring that governments accurately portray their fiscal health in reports to leaders and the public. When that audit is complete, the full report is accompanied by a management letter that notes any apparent problems with accounting procedures uncovered while testing the accuracy of financial statements.

[…]

Though [City Controller Ronald] Green previously had said he supported the release of the letters, he has deferred to the city attorney’s office, which sought an opinion from the Texas Attorney General’s Office on whether the city was required to release them.

Green last week did not respond to questions emailed to his office seeking further explanation of his stance, instead releasing a two-sentence statement. “Heretofore, Management Letters have not been disclosed based on direction from the City Attorney and Texas Attorney General. The City of Houston will continue, until advised otherwise.”

The attorney general’s office earlier this month issued an opinion saying the city did not have to release the audit letters.

“This is a discretionary section that city may elect to raise. It is not required,” wrote attorney general spokesman Jerry Strickland. “If other cities choose not to raise this exception and would rather release similar information, they have that option.”

[…]

Last October, City Controller Green refused to release the letters from the last 10 years when frequent city critic Bob Lemer and, later the Chronicle, requested them under the Texas Public Information Act.

At the time, Green said he believed the records should be public but deferred to the decision of the city attorney’s office and Texas attorney general. “I do not practice law here,” he said. “When it comes to Bob Lemer, he’s still looking for ways to gain legal standing over the city on Proposition 2.”

Lemer, a retired partner at Ernst & Young, said the refusal to release the letters bolsters his arguments that the city is hiding the extent of its financial troubles.

“They will not let the public know what a horrible mess the entire accounting system is,” he said.

In its letter seeking an opinion from the attorney general, the city attorney’s office cited an exception to the Texas Public Information Act allowing cities to decide whether to release “audit working papers,” generally seen as communications with city employees that auditors use to prepare their reports or incomplete drafts of their reports.

Lemer may well be a crank, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Whether he is or he isn’t, withholding this information does give him an air of authenticity, and a lot more grist for his grievance mill. A followup story in the Chron quoted several Council members who were also mystified by this and who called for the letters to be released. I don’t know what purpose was being served here, but in the end Mayor Parker stepped in and made the right call.

Amid questions from City Council members about the propriety of keeping them secret, the mayor’s office on Wednesday released audit letters detailing weaknesses in the city’s financial accounting.

[…]

The mayor’s office released 10 years of the audit letters, totaling 96 pages but did not include the appendices, which may include more detailed explanations of deficiencies identified by auditors. A spokeswoman said the mayor’s office released what the controller had sent to the city attorney last October and directed the Houston Chronicle to seek the appendices from Green.

[…]

“It sounds like exactly the right decision,” said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said of the letters’ release. “The more the public can review what’s being done with their money, the better.”

The most recent letters sent by outside auditors Deloitte & Touche on Dec. 18, 2012, noted three areas in which projected revenues appeared to be understated. Those three – $2.5 million in Municipal Courts, $2.9 million in “other revenues” and $4 million in construction activities – were deemed by city officials to be immaterial to the overall financial statements, and were corrected in the city’s annual financial report.

An appendix provided by Councilman Jack Christie’s office noted “significant deficiencies,” a term used by auditors to highlight policies or actions that could let inaccurate record-keeping or fraud go undetected.

“While there was significant improvement in the City’s financial reporting process in the current year, the City should enhance this process by requiring responsible financial reporting personnel, at the department level, to perform analytical reviews of financial results on a periodic basis,” the auditors wrote.

The 2003 audit letter listed 35 recommendations; the 2012 letter made only 10.

City finance department officials said in a written statement that they have addressed the findings, noting 2012 was the first time in 10 years that external auditors deemed the city a low risk for accounting errors in federally funded programs.

“There are less complaints than in 2003, and they are not that serious,” said Steven Craig, a University of Houston economics professor. “I’m not sure why they wouldn’t want to release that letter.”

You and me both. Houston Politics has a copy of the audit letters themselves, in case you’re curious. The original story says that the AG’s office issued the opinion in question “earlier this month”, but neither of the two opinions I see for 2014 on the index page have anything to do with Houston. In any event, this appears to be the end of this episode of mountains-from-molehills manufacturing.

Alameel wants a refund

Good luck with that.

David Alameel

David Alameel

Just like his first run for office in 2012, David Alameel’s second bid for public office is drawing questions about his past campaign donations.

Alameel, the owner of a multimillion-dollar chain of dental clinics that caters to Hispanics, is one of five Democrats vying for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican John Cornyn. In recent years, Alameel has emerged as one of the top donors to Democratic groups and candidates in the country. However, before 2010, his donations were more bipartisan. Over several years, he donated more than $750,000 to Republican candidates and groups, including $8,000 to Cornyn in 2004.

In a phone interview Monday, Alameel said he would not make the same donations to Republicans again.

“I want a refund right now because I believe John Cornyn and his Republican friends in Washington work for Wall Street and not Texans,” Alameel said. When asked if he regretted those earlier donations to Republicans, he reiterated that he wanted “a refund.”

Alameel said that his view of the Republican Party has changed in recent years.

“I used to think that Democrats and Republicans work together, but you know, it’s becoming more and more crystal clear that today’s Republican Party is far too extreme,” Alameel said. “John Cornyn is part of that extreme problem.”

Not clear from this story if he’s just asking for his $8K back from Cornyn or if he’s seeking to recover the whole enchilada. I kind of doubt it’s the latter, but if it is I don’t see how it happens. For that matter, Cornyn isn’t playing ball, either, and he does a nice bit of knife-twisting for good measure. Let this be a lesson about being careful to whom one makes political donations, kids.

There’s been a lot written about Alameel’s past history of political giving, with the Lone Star Project – a recipient of his largesse as well – highlighting his Dem-only track record since 2008, and the Maxer Scherr campaign understandably pushing his GOP donor history. Here’s a Google spreadhseet I’ve put together, based on a query of Alameel as a contributor, from January 1, 2000 forward, sorted chronologically. I’ve helpfully highlighted the Republican recipients, as best as I recognize them, for your convenience. As you can see, there are none after February of 2008, which is consistent with what the Lone Star Project has highlighted, but doesn’t explain the reasons behind the change.

I still haven’t gotten a date from Alameel’s campaign for an interview and at this point I’m not holding out much hope for one, so we’ll all have to decide for ourselves how sincere his apparent conversion is. At least by going from R to D no one can claim he’s doing it for the easier path to victory. Alameel has some other questions to answer as well, and I’m sorry I won’t get the chance to ask them, or to hear his answers for myself. I have no problem believing that Wendy Davis sees something worthwhile in Alameel, but I’m reserving my own judgment on that.

UPDATE: Sen. Leticia Van de Putte has endorsed Alameel, so she sees something in him as well.

New Braunfels can ban gets canned

Pack your coolers, y’all. The beer can flow again on the Comal River.

Opponents of New Braunfels’ prohibition of large coolers and disposable containers — loosely described as a “can ban” on rivers that can host tens of thousands of tourists on any busy summer weekend — say a judge has confirmed their lawsuit claims that the codes are unconstitutional and unenforceable.

“The effect of this ruling is the court should grant a permanent injunction barring the enforcement of these two ordinances,” Jim Ewbank, the lawyer for water recreation businesses that sued the city, said Monday.

State District Judge Don Burgess for weeks had weighed competing summary judgment motions. On Sunday, he granted the one filed by the plaintiffs, which argued that the city rules were unconstitutionally vague, arbitrary, unreasonable and an overreach of municipal authority.

“We hope that, now that the court has spoken, declaring these ordinances unconstitutional, that we can sit down with the city and try to work out a solution that addresses everybody’s goals and purposes,” Ewbank said.

The city’s attorney, Mick McKamie, said that once Burgess enters a judgment and the City Council is briefed on it, a decision will be made on whether to appeal. City staff declined comment.

The last update I had on this was from June, 2012, when the suit was moved back to Comal County. Voters had ratified the ban in 2011, but that’s out the window now. I get what New Braunfuls was trying to do, and having discussed the issue with a cousin of mine who has lived in New Braunfels for the last fifteen or twenty years, I can see why residents liked the ordinance. It’s possible that a scaled-down and more specific version of this ordinance can pass muster, and maybe won’t be too repellent to the tubing industry. I look forward to seeing what the judgment has to say.