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November, 2014:

Weekend link dump for November 30

So how many screens do you have going right now?

Some alternatives to Uber that are hopefully available in your town. Please come to Houston, Sidecar.

A review of the ways Major League Baseball is experimenting with to speed up the pace of the game.

Beware, Sherlock fans: “Tragedy” is coming to the show.

Learn to set your thermostat – or install a better one, if that’s an option – and save some money.

Did you see the special on mammoth cloning that premiered yesterday?

Greater availability of birth control, at affordable prices, would do an awful lot of good.

A fever may not be what you think it is.

RIP, Marion Barry, former Mayor of Washington, DC.

Clearly, Benghazi is old news now.

Happy 85th birthday to Hal Lindsey, who must be quite surprised to still be alive.

Americans love the Postal Service.

“Patients who suffer injuries, infections or mistakes during medical care rarely get an acknowledgment or apology, researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine report.”

A Ferguson reader for your weekend.

From the “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt” department.

How cities and states can push back against predatory municipal finance deals.

Connecticut Gov. Wilbur L. Cross’ Thanksgiving proclamation from 1936.

“But living in a country that purports to value privacy and self-determination, yet wages a seemingly never-ending battle over contraceptive access, comprehensive sexual education, and the ability of women to access a legal health service should concern anyone who values making their own decisions—and who considers that part of their identity, too.”

“Rusty Eulberg, a database administrator from Lubbock, Texas, tells us he brought forth what he called the Cthurkey about two years ago.”

Ten strange facts about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

RIP, Phil Hughes, Australian cricket player, killed in a freak accident during a match.

RIP, PD James, acclaimed British crime novelist.

Where Was Republicans’ Concern for “Political Norms” When They Took the Debt Ceiling Hostage?

“You’re not the deadbeat. The Waltons are the deadbeats.”

“So, good news, Houston’s bad girls! If you want to live in a fancy house with a bunch of other ladies with hair-trigger tempers and low self-regard, here’s your chance!”

Deb Costello’s final thoughts are well worth your time to read.

Obamacare 2.0

The open enrollment period for the Obamacare insurance exchanges is going on right now. This year, the feds are taking a more direct approach to getting people to enroll.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Secretary for Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell, whose appearance at Monday’s news conference [in San Antonio] is part of a national tour to talk up marketplace successes, reported that of those who signed up during the first enrollment period this year, 7 out of 10 had premiums under $100. Nationwide, 65% of applicants qualified for subsidies, she said. In Texas, 84% of Texans got financial help, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin.

“We as a people have a moral obligation to see that everybody has access to quality and affordable health insurance,” said Mayor Ivy Taylor who joined Burwell at the news conference. “A community prospers when its citizens are healthy.”

Burwell urged people without insurance to visit, choose the best plan among many options, and sign up by Dec. 15 to have coverage starting Jan. 1. Enrollment for 2015 will remain open until Feb. 15.

To those who signed up last time, Burwell emphasized that even if they are happy with the plan they already have, they need to re-enroll. About 90% of the information entered last time will appear on the form so people don’t have to re-enter it. Burwell said it’s important to make sure the information remains accurate and that the plan individuals previously chose is still the best one to meet their needs; 25% more plans were added this time.

The Health Insurance Marketplace enrolled 734,000 Texans in 2014. Bexar County accounted for 77,000 of those newly insured, a number that far exceeded the goal of 46,000, which remains the goal for the current enrollment period. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, in attendance on Monday, has helped lead this effort, but in Bexar County, 27% of the population remains uninsured. Of those, 75% identify themselves as Hispanic, according to Andrea Guajardo, speaking for Enroll SA, a coalition of 40 organizations and 176 trained volunteers in Bexar County trained to help people sign up for insurance.

Asked about HHS’s outreach to Hispanic uninsured residents, Burwell pointed to several initiatives.

  • Spanish language call service. “In the early days of enrollment, out of 200,000 calls to our call center, 20,000 were using our Spanish-speaking call service.”Burwell said.
  • Spanish language equivalent of
  • Increased the number of Spanish speakers providing in-person assistance to help with online sign-up.
  • Improved interface for mobile users. “The Latino population has a deeper penetration of mobile use than the population as a whole.”

“One of the things we learned from the initial enrollment was the importance of trusted voices,” Burwell said. “I’ve had a chance today to talk with the leadership of the community and the stakeholders about their work and to hear their feedback, so we can make things better.”

Secretary Burwell was in Houston the week before that.

With some 6 million Texans still uninsured, Burwell’s early appearance this go-round shows a renewed fight to increase the health care law’s impact in Texas, where the governor’s office has refused to create a state-run marketplace or accept billions of dollars in federal funding to expand Medicaid to extend coverage to millions more people.

State and local organizers say the first insurance sign-up period helped them become more organized and strategic as they prepared for the 2015 open enrollment period.

They intend to hold multiple enrollment events, provide additional one-on-one application assistance opportunities and include more grass roots organizations and community leaders in educating the uninsured about marketplace coverage. They have data showing where the uninsured live. The key is deploying the appropriate organizations and people to reach target areas and groups, including Hispanics and young people.

“We learned about the importance of follow-up and the need for a lot of outreach,” said Mimi Garcia, the Texas state director for Enroll America, a national insurance advocacy organization. “There’s a lot of work to do in Houston. That’s going to be a big focus area.”

Organizers learned from last year’s open enrollment that the more conversations they have with uninsured residents, the more likely they are to convince someone to buy health coverage, Garcia said by telephone from a conference in New Orleans. She said the goal is for people to view purchasing health insurance as routine a practice as paying taxes or auto insurance.


The state’s uninsured rate dropped about 2 percent this year, but Elena Marks, president and CEO of Houston’s Episcopal Health Foundation, a philanthropy that will fund health care providers, said many Texans gained employer-based insurance as the economy created more jobs.

In comparison, California’s uninsured rate dropped nearly in half, from 22 percent to a little less than 12 percent, in large part to the state’s decision to expand Medicaid coverage to cover more of its low-income, working residents.

Marks said it makes sense for Burwell and other officials to bypass Texas’ political leadership and instead work with local governments, agencies and organizations, including those in the Houston area, to find the uninsured and enroll them in health coverage.

“Having her show up brings attention to the issue,” said Marks, who also is a non-resident health care fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute.

Marks, who did not attend Burwell’s news conference, said new carriers are making the Texas marketplace more competitive this year.

Risha Jones, deputy director of Houston’s Department of Health and Human Services, said her agency’s goal is to directly contact 100,000 uninsured residents and reach another 400,000 through community and educational outreach. She said federal officials recognize the Houston area needs assistance in reaching its uninsured residents and has pledged to help. They haven’t yet set an enrollment goal.

“They are making us a priority,” Jones said, who introduced Burwell at the news conference. “We’re on the radar.”

It was a nice surprise seeing my friend David Ortez in the story, as an example of someone who was able to get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act and the exchanges. Ortez is a recent law school graduate and one of many people under the age of 30 who stands to benefit from the ACA. There’s a separate effort to get those folks, known as the Young Invincibles, to enroll. Unlike last year with the meltdown, the first week of the enrollment period saw half a million people sign up, with about that many fill out applications. About half of those enrollees are first-timers. It would be awesome if this year Texas could top the one million mark for coverage. Imagine what it could be if anyone in state leadership had any interest in helping make this happen. Daily Kos has more.

RIP, Father TJ Martinez

Some sad local news.

Father TJ Martinez

Father TJ Martinez seemed comfortable anywhere and with anyone. Raised in Brownsville and educated at some of America’s finest universities, he could charm princes of industry and encourage children born to paupers to study hard to make something of themselves and their community.

To greet first lady Laura Bush, he donned his familiar black jacket and Jesuit collar – but also a Texas-sized belt buckle.

Martinez, the charismatic founding president of Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory High School in Houston, died Friday following an eight-month struggle with stomach cancer. He was 44.


Cristo Rey, the only school of its kind in Texas, opened its doors in August 2009 to children whose families lived at or below the poverty level.

In 2013, every member of the school’s first graduating class was accepted to college, a feat the 2014 class also achieved. Supporters tied the success to Martinez’s exuberance and effectiveness.

“In everything he touched, he was dedicated, passionate and, above all, inspirational,” said Richard Kinder, a friend of Martinez who with his wife, Nancy, has supported the school.

Kinder’s company, Kinder Morgan, is one of many corporations around Houston that has hired students to give them real-world skills as they prepare for college.

Students pay no tuition to attend Cristo Rey, but they work one or two days a week for one of 150 companies around Houston, with their salary going to the school to offset expenses.

Four students fill one entry-level job at the company, each working one day a week and rotating the fifth work day every four weeks.

According to the school, the work finances 70 percent of each student’s education.

Martinez, who preferred that the periods be omitted from his initials, championed these partnerships and struck up friendships with Houston’s elite.

I did not have the opportunity to meet Father Martinez, though I was familiar with Cristo Ray – I frequently see their students in the downtown tunnels during the lunch hour, and they have my email address on their press list; here’s the press release they sent out on Friday to announce the news of Fr. Martinez’s death. I respect the work he did and I admire the success his school has achieved. I wish our society as a whole would show that level of commitment to our schools, our children, and our families that are living in poverty. The world would be a much better place if Father Martinez and Cristo Rey were less the exception and more the rule. Rest in peace, Father Martinez.

The frontlogged Hall of Fame ballot

Here are all of the eligible candidates for the MLB Hall of Fame class of 2015:

Here are the first-time eligible players, in alphabetical order:

Rich Aurillia
Aaron Boone
Tony Clark
Carlos Delgado
Jermaine Dye
Darin Erstad
Cliff Floyd
Nomar Garciaparra
Brian Giles
Tom Gordon
Eddie Guardado
Randy Johnson
Pedro Martinez
Troy Percival
Jason Schmidt
Gary Sheffield
John Smoltz

Now, here are the holdovers, listed in order of the percentage of the vote they received last year.

Craig Biggio, 74.8 percent
Mike Piazza, 62.2
Jeff Bagwell, 54.3
Tim Raines, 46.1
Roger Clemens, 35.4
Barry Bonds, 34.7
Lee Smith, 29.9
Curt Schilling, 29.2
Edgar Martinez, 25.2
Alan Trammell, 20.8
Mike Mussina, 20.3
Jeff Kent, 15.2
Fred McGriff, 11.7
Mark McGwire, 11
Larry Walker, 10.2
Don Mattingly, 8.2
Sammy Sosa, 7.2

The ones in bold are ones that I would vote for right now if I could. The ones in italics are ones I would seriously consider in a year where there weren’t so insanely many qualified candidates. Note that I would have to not vote for a couple of the candidates that I absolutely believe deserve enshrinement because there are more than ten of them. This is nuts, and it’s entirely because of the voters and their head-up-the-butt approach to this over the past few years.

Joe Sheehan calls this “The Ballot Frontlog”:

In 2013, this — not some ballot limitation — is what broke the system. With Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza and Sammy Sosa joining the ballot, more than one in three Hall of Fame votes was used on players who have no chance to be elected by this group of voters, not because they’re unqualified — my god, we’re discussing Jack Morris seriously while dismissing Palmeiro and Sosa? — but because a significant subset of the voting pool rejects them out of hand.

That’s why we have a logjam. In a rational system, five to seven players on this year’s ballot wouldn’t be on it. McGwire would have been elected on his third or fourth try. Bagwell would have been in on his second or third. That would have cleared 435 votes on last year’s ballots to be used on downballot candidates like Palmeiro, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell and Curt Schilling, or better still, to elect three inner-circle Hall of Famers in Bonds, Clemens and Piazza and a fourth mid-tier Hall of Famer in Craig Biggio. (In this parallel universe, Jack Morris probably gets elected in 2012 or 2013 as well.) You would certainly have a deep ballot, perhaps edging towards those seven-votes-per-ballot averages from the 1970s, but nothing the Hall hasn’t handled in the past.

That’s the problem. It’s not that there are 17 players on this ballot with pretty good cases for the Hall. It’s that there are at least six players on this ballot who have no business still being under consideration for the Hall of Fame. This isn’t a talent-depth issue, a ballot-size issue or anything else. It’s a steroids issue. It’s not a backlog, it’s a frontlog. The seven marked players returning from last year’s ballot are again going to eat up 1250-1350 ballot slots, 30-35% of the total. Then they’re going to do it again next year, and the year after that, and for years to come, making it impossible for qualified Hall of Famers who aren’t inner-circle types to gain ground in the voting. There probably won’t be another shutout for a while — you have Ken Griffey Jr., Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and others coming down the pike — but it will be impossible for anyone in the middle of the current ballot to advance, and the 5% rule (which I called for modifying last winter) is going to lop some fully-qualified candidates off the ballot along the way. Palmeiro, McGwire and Sosa, just to name three, are going to struggle to stay on the ballot for 2015.

Expanding the ballot, everyone’s favorite solution, doesn’t come close to addressing that problem. It’s the Hall — to be clear, the BBWAA doesn’t get to make that change on its own — passing the buck as it has now for the better part of a decade. The ten-man ballot works because it gives value to a place on the ballot relative to the number of names under consideration, and changing it to avoid taking a stand on the so-called “Steroid Era” would cheapen the process for political expediency. The Hall, and the Hall alone, is responsible for this, by not issuing clear instructions about how the voters should handle players from the last 20 years. By outsourcing this one to the writers, the Hall has broken the voting system. This is an issue on which the voters want leadership and guidance, and the Hall, deathly afraid of taking a position that will alienate anyone, has walked away from them — and by extension, baseball fans.

The only way to address this is for the Hall to issue clear directions to the voters…and it’s clear what those directions need to be. See, whether your dad likes it or not, some day Barry Bonds is going to be on that wall. So is Roger Clemens. So are Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell and probably the other three guys as well, along with the players like Alex Rodriguez who will come along after them. As steroid hysteria and all of the bad math, history and chemistry that came with it fade into the past, smart people who weren’t invested in our narratives will recognize that a place that honors the greatest players ever, but doesn’t acknowledge these all-time greats, cannot stand; that a Hall of Fame without Bonds and Clemens creates more questions than it answers. There’ll be a committee, maybe in my lifetime, certainly in my daughter’s, that corrects the mistakes being made now, that inducts these players, that acknowledges that in the heat of the moment, a lot of people got it wrong in the early days of the 21st century.

I think Sheehan is a little too easy on the voters, whose fact-free slandering of Jeff Bagwell is beyond shameful, and I don’t share his belief that “clear directions” from the Hall would have settled this. I just don’t think there’s anything short of not being allowed to vote that would keep enough of these moral scolds from blackballing an unacceptably large number of qualified candidates. That said, he’s clearly put his finger on the problem. I for one look forward to that day Sheehan describes when enough time has passed to allow some sanity to reign. I hope I live long enough to see it. Results of this year’s voting will be announced on January 6. I’ll be back to bitch about them afterward as always. Deadspin has more.

Saturday video break: Downtown

A classic from Petula Clark:

Remember how they used that song on Lost to introduce Desmond living in the hatch? Now here’s a typically offbeat cover of it by the B-52s:

I can’t even think of a band that reminds me of the B-52s. Truly one of a kind. And to change things up again, here’s Jackson Browne’s same-name-different-song “Downtown”:

Also an original artist, though a tad bit more conventional than the B-52s. Great live act, too. Which one is your favorite?

Bill King to run for Mayor

Because there aren’t enough candidates for Mayor already.

Bill King

Bill King is inching toward a run for mayor of Houston as the field in next year’s open-seat election continues to grow.

King, an attorney and the former mayor of Kemah, designated a campaign treasurer earlier this month, the initial step needed to start a campaign structure. While the full field is not expected to materialize until around Feb. 1, when candidates can begin raising money for their bids, more and more candidates are beginning to make clear their intentions.

King, who publicly flirted with a run in 2009, is now telling friends he plans to run next year. A former Houston Chronicle op-ed columnist who just unveiled a book, “Unapologetically Moderate,” King likely will run as a centrist, business-minded candidate.

Four other candidates have publicly committed to running for the post: Rep. Sylvester Turner, 2013 mayoral runner-up Ben Hall and Councilmen Steven Costello and Oliver Pennington.

About a dozen more, though, have explored a possible run.

Actually, King was flirting with a 2009 run as far back as 2006. Whatever else you might say, it’s not a snap decision. King’s longstanding hostility to light rail pretty much guarantees that I won’t vote for him, but I’m sure he’ll persevere. I’ll just make one general observation, which I may have made before here or may have just made in conversation, which is that there’s only so much room for candidates in this or any Mayoral race in Houston. There’s only so much campaign funding, so many endorsing organizations worth pursuing, so much volunteer energy, and ultimately only so many voters. As such, I believe that there’s room for only so many viable candidates. Candidates that are fishing from the same pool of voters and donors and all as other candidates will have a harder time staying above water. Some number of the people who say they’re running or thinking about running will ultimately not run, is what I’m saying. They can’t all run. It’s just a matter of who survives the qualifying runs, which is to say who can get enough of those donors and groups and volunteers on board to make themselves viable. I figure by February we’ll have a much clearer idea of what the field will really look like.

Abbott responds to motion to lift same-sex marriage ruling

He’s against it. Try not to be surprised.


Texas officials want a federal judge to uphold the state’s same-sex marriage ban, calling a request by gay couples to be allowed to immediately marry “untimely” and “out of order.”

“The plaintiffs offer no explanation for why they waited so long to file their motion,”Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote in a court document filed Tuesday. “They should not be rewarded for lying behind the log and springing this challenge on the Court and the State at the eleventh hour, demanding immediate relief.”


Abbott, the governor-elect, however, said the plaintiffs should be forced to wait until the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hears the Texas and Louisiana cases on Jan. 9: “Modifying the preliminary-injunction order to remove the stay would interfere with the Fifth Circuit’s appellate jurisdiction.”

Finally, Abbott and his deputies deny that significant problems could befall the plaintiffs if they are not allowed to wed immediately. Nicole Dimetman-DeLeon, who is challening the ban with her wife Cleopatra DeLeon, is pregnant with the couple’s second child and has expressed a concern that her partner could not claim legal parenthood over the baby if she fell ill or died.

“These alleged harms are speculative; they are contingent on death or incapacity of one of the parties, but the plaintiffs do not allege any threat or expectation that these potential tragedies will befall them,” Abbott wrote.

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the state’s response. It’s pretty rich for Abbott to argue that the plaintiffs should have filed this motion earlier if they were serious given how long it took him to file his appellate briefs. The plaintiffs asked for an expedited hearing on that in May, and they asked for an earlier court date for the hearing, neither of which they got. One could argue that they finally ran out of patience. The rest is about what you’d expect. I have no idea what Judge Garcia’s time frame for this may be, but I’ll bet he’s quicker about it than either Abbott or the Fifth Circuit have been.

Houston needs a swimming hole

A fascinating proposal from Gray Matters.

The good idea: Houston needs a great big swimming hole.

Idea guys: Monte Large and Evan O’Neil, of Houston Needs a Swimming Hole.

Where the idea came from: Enduring the Houston heat. Large, an urban real-estate developer, doesn’t have a car and bikes everywhere. One summer day, the friends asked each other a series of questions while sweating in a coffee shop:

“What if Houston still had the Shamrock Hotel pool?

“What if Houston had a Barton Springs?

“Or our own beautiful big swimming hole in the middle of the city?”

Neither Large nor O’Neil is into the sport of swimming. Their hobby, they say, is helping Houston be cool.

Large and O’Neil recognize several realities about their hometown. Houston is a subtropical environment; it is very close to, yet painfully far from the ocean; and improbably, the city has become a leader in the use of green technology.

They researched available technology and decided that an enormous natural pool that filters the water with plant material would be a symbol of “the marvel Houston is becoming.” According to their research, there are more than 20,000 natural pools across Europe. Managed properly, natural swimming pools have clear water and require no chemicals to maintain. Instead, they are self-cleaning: cattails, water lilies and other water plants serve as natural filters.

Their website has more information. I drafted this awhile ago and hadn’t gotten around to scheduling it for publication, and in the meantime the guys behind this idea have created a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough money to do a feasibility study. They hope to collect $30K by January 9, and as of this publication were more than 10% of the way there. I’ll probably toss in a few bucks myself.

Anyway, these things are apparently more common than you might think. I’m sure the idea guys will encounter plenty of skepticism as they present this idea, though they say on that Kickstarter page that they have received a lot of positive feedback, which is encouraging. Hey, if such a thing can be built elsewhere – in Austin, in Minneapolis, in Brisbane – then why not here? What do you think about this? Give their Facebook page a like if you approve. Swamplot and Gray Matters have more.

Friday video break: Black Friday

I have no idea why I haven’t used this on Black Friday before:

I love it when a band successfully reinterprets its own established work, as Steely Dan does here, turning the synth-driven tune into a slowed-down blues rocker. For a band that didn’t tour much in their early days, they’re an awesome live act. I’ve seen them twice now and would see them again tomorrow if they were in town. By the way, if you listened all the way to the end, here is their rendition of Dirty Work that Donald Fagan was introducing. Whether you’re at home, out shopping, or hard at work, I hope you have an excellent Black Friday.

Bell fundraising lawsuit to be heard in January

A busy legal calendar just got a little fuller.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

A judge in January will hear likely mayoral candidate Chris Bell’s request to block Sylvester Turner’s plan to transfer money from his officeholder account to his mayoral account when the fundraising period opens on Feb. 1.

Judge Elizabeth Ray of Harris County’s 165th Civil Court will hear Bell’s request for a temporary injunction on Jan. 12 at 1:30 p.m. A hearing on Bell’s request for a summary judgment likely will follow later.

Turner has been open about his plan to transfer money raised for his unopposed state legislative campaign to his mayoral bid in February. While all other mayoral candidates are not allowed to raise money until then, Turner has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars this fall and can transfer the first $5,000 from each individual donor in February, according to the interpretation of Houston City Attorney Dave Feldman.

Bell disputes that finding.

See here for the background. Bell’s is one of two lawsuits filed over Houston’s campaign finance laws. That other suit argues that the blackout period itself is illegal, so someone is going to be unhappy when all is said and done. Anyway, this one will be heard the week after the Fifth Circuit action. Like I said, a busy month.

Abbott can’t stop talking about suing Obama

It’s what he does.


A state lawsuit challenging President Obama’s executive order shielding as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation could come from Texas in the next two weeks, Gov.-elect Greg Abbott said during a Monday press conference.

“Most everyone agrees that the immigration system in America is broken,” Abbott said. “Similarly, most agree that executive fiat is not the right way to fix it.”

Added Abbott: “The president must follow the law just like everyone else.”


Abbott said he plans to reach out to other state governors and attorneys general over the next two weeks to come up with a plan to counter Obama’s Thursday executive action. Whether or not they sign on will not affect Abbott’s decision. Asked if he will file suit against the federal government, something he has done 33 times before as attorney general, Abbott said the “odds are in favor.” Thirty of those lawsuits have been filed against the Obama administration.

Abbott said Obama “crossed a line” with last week’s announcement; the president’s action has been heavily criticized by Republicans who say he overstepped his constitutional authority. Obama said Congress left him no choice when its members refused to come up with a way to reform immigration and pass a bill.

See here and here for the background. This is about politics first and foremost, and one can hardly blame Greg Abbott for going to back to this particular well; it’s been pretty good to him so far. One might ask him how Obama’s actions compared to those of other Presidents, such as Ronald Reagan, if only for the entertainment value. Be that as it may, if we’re going to talk politics, it’s hard to see this as anything but a win for the President if his goal was to remind Latino voters who is on whose side. Go ahead and feel free to keep reminding them, Greg.

Thanksgiving video break: I’ve done this often enough to call it a tradition

And what a tradition it is:

I plan to be in a turkey coma today, hopefully in front of a football game. Hope you have the Thanksgiving you want as well.

Early voting begins today for SD18

From the inbox:

The early voting period for the December 6, 2014 Special Election to Fill a Vacancy for State Senate District 18 will take place Wednesday, November 26 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Monday and Tuesday, December 1 and December 2, from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

“An estimated 20,000 registered voters who reside in Harris County voting precincts 49, 119, 121, 149, 639, 901, 919 and 920 are eligible to participate in the Special Election in State Senate District 18,” informed Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart. “The SSD18 precincts are situated in west Harris County.”

Harris county registered voters can vote early at any of the three following locations:

1. Main Office: Harris County Administration Bldg., 1001 Preston, 4th Floor, Houston, TX 77002

2. Far West/Katy: Katy City Park Building #3, 2046 Katy City Park Road, Katy, Texas 77493
(NW of Katy Police Department, 5456 Franz Road and South of Mary Jo Peckham Park, 5597 Gardenia Lane)

3. Hockley: Harris County Community Center Hockley, 28515 Old Washington Road, Hockley, Texas 77447
(between Premium Drive and Kermier Road).

There are five candidates vying to replace Glen Hegar who submitted his resignation from the Texas Senate after being elected Comptroller of Public Accounts for the State during the November Election. Senate District 18 spreads through 21 counties in Southeast Texas.

For information about voting by mail, list of acceptable Photo IDs to vote, or other election information, please visit or call 713.755.6965.

Yes, that’s three whole days of early voting, before and after Thanksgiving. Good luck being the field director for one of those candidates. Fort Bend voters, your information for this election is here. My understanding is that there will be Saturday early voting hours in Fort Bend as well. Lucky you.

Not that it’s likely to matter much since there’s a clear frontrunner who has a decent campaign treasury and establishment support, and has been effectively running for this seat for months.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, is seen as the front-runner. She was first elected to House District 13 in 2000, and hasn’t faced a serious challenger since. Kolkhorst pegs border security as a top priority

“Our border surges seemingly work when we do them, so we’re going to have to look at how we secure it — and do something right and good for Texas,” Kolkhorst said. “I don’t think the federal government is going to step up and do that for us.”

The race is Kolkhorst’s to lose, said Renée Cross, associate director at the University of Houston’s Hobby Center for Public Policy and a political science lecturer. Kolkhorst has pulled in endorsements from Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, Hegar and several PACs, including the Conservative Republicans of Texas PAC.

“She’s shown a very conservative record in the house,” Cross said. “She’s a farmer, she’s got somewhat of a suburban link being in Brenham, she’s an athlete, she’s a hunter, she’s a fisher. I mean she’s got all the stereotypical Texas attributes that I think are going to play well, particularly in a very short election period.”

She’s also running a typical scare the old white people campaign, which has always worked well in this kind of election.

Her Republican challengers include Gary Gates, a real estate agent and cattle rancher from Richmond, and Charles Gregory, a businessman and the former mayor pro tem of Simonton.

Should Kolkhorst win, Abbott will have to call a special election for her House district. Kolkhorst has not resigned from her seat, so will stay in the legislature if she loses.


Democrat Christian E. Hawking, a lawyer from Rosenberg said she found out about the election just days before she filed to run. She previously ran unsuccessfully for a city council seat.

“I am optimistic, you have to be,” Hawking said. “I think this is exciting. It is a clean slate; we get to pick someone new. And I think that I’d be good at it.”

Democrat Cynthia Drabek, who recently ran unsuccessfully for Texas House District 85, also filed to run. Both Drabek and Hawking said public education funding is a top priority for them.

I wasn’t sure there would be a Democratic candidate in this race, given the lightning-speed turnaround on it. Bill White scored 35.7% in 2010, so the odds of a Dem even making a runoff are pretty low. Drabek received 9,628 votes for 33.4% in HD85, which was 1,130 fewer votes and 0.2 percentage points less than Linda Chavez-Thompson in 2010. As for Kolkhort’s HD13, in case it opens up, White got 32.1% in 2010, and Michelle Petty was the high scorer in 2012 with 26.0%. Not a whole lot to work with there, but as I said for HD17 it’s not like there’s anything to lose by trying.

On being Ron Reynolds

Just because everyone’s out to get you doesn’t mean your behavior is above reproach.

Rep. Ron Reynolds

To hear Ron Reynolds tell it, the embattled state representative is just plain misunderstood.

Over the past decade, Reynolds has been sanctioned twice by the state bar, fined $10,000 by the Texas Ethics Commission, sued a half-dozen times and investigated twice for ambulance chasing -though he is quick to note he was indicted only once.

Three days after being re-elected to a third term earlier this month, the Missouri City legislator found himself facing possible jail time after a jury convicted him on the second of those lesser barratry charges. Three days later, the judge ruled it a mistrial. He is due back in court in January.

“It doesn’t define my character. It doesn’t define my work ethic. It doesn’t define my dedication to serving as a state representative,” Reynolds said with defiance in an interview last week. “I’ve made mistakes that I regret. I’m not a perfect person.”

Reynolds’ current ignominy is the latest in a record of ethics troubles that have plagued him since he first ran for office in 2008. Reynolds and his supporters contend those marks should not mar his reputation. Instead, they say, consider the job fairs he’s helped plan and the voters he’s helped register.


Reynolds was among eight Houston-area personal injury lawyers indicted by a Montgomery County grand jury, accused of working with a felon to steer accident victims to their law practices, an illegal practice known as barratry. Five of those lawyers have pleaded guilty or no contest to lesser misdemeanor offenses in exchange for fines or probated sentences. Two others are awaiting trial on the felony barratry charges.

A jury earlier this month found Reynolds guilty of six counts of misdemeanor solicitation of professional employment, a lesser barratry charge that could carry a short prison term. The judge later declared a mistrial after a juror confessed to being influenced by outside information about the case.

The judge last week issued a gag order barring any of those connected with the case from discussing it.

“This stuff is nothing new because it’s been played out by every opponent I’ve had,” Reynolds said. “The people who are demonizing me? They have an agenda.”

See my previous posts on Ron Reynolds for the background. I’m not demonizing and I have no agenda here. I like Rep. Reynolds as a person and I think he’s generally done a good job as a State Rep. He’s been out front of a lot of the hot button issues, which I appreciate. He’s also now been indicted twice for barratry, and as the story notes there have been questions about his ethics that go back to his first campaign in 2008. Some of that is just politics, but it doesn’t come from nowhere. Reynolds says he doesn’t want to be defined by these issues. It would help if he took more care to avoid them in the first place.

Fifth Circuit sets their schedule

Mark your calendars.


The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments about the constitutionality of Texas’ tough new abortion restrictions on Jan. 7. The law passed in 2013, known as House Bill 2, banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, placed heavy new restrictions on clinics and doctors who perform the procedure and made it nearly impossible to obtain an abortion using a pill.

The court has twice reversed lower court orders that found HB2 unconstitutional. But abortion providers were in-part heartened after the U.S. Supreme Court put on hold for some clinics and doctors a number of the law’s most stringent mandates.

On Jan. 9, the same three-judge panel will tackle both Texas and Louisiana’s constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. In February, San Antonio-based U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled Texas’ ban unconstitutional because it violated gay couples’ 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection. Attorney General Greg Abbott, now the governor-elect, appealed the ruling to the New Orleans-based appeals court.

See here for the background. The expected January court date is the reason that Texas for Marriage made their debut recently. And with the motion to lift the stay on the original ruling, the stakes are higher now. We’ll likely have to wait a few months for the decisions, but the first week back after New Year’s day just got a lot more exciting.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 24

The Texas Progressive Alliance knows that even in a bad political year it has plenty to be thankful for as it brings you this week’s roundup.


Texas same-sex marriage plaintiffs ask for stay to be lifted

I wish them luck.


Two same-sex couples have asked U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio to allow gay marriages to begin taking place immediately in Texas.

On Monday, couples Mark Phariss and Victor Holmes of Plano and Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra De Leon asked Garcia to lift a stay he imposed this winter on his own ruling that Texas’ gay marriage ban is unconstitutional.

In February, Garcia said the state’s prohibition violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. The district judge, though, held his ruling in abeyance so higher courts could rule in similar cases from other states that were further along.

“The court should immediately lift the stay because the Supreme Court’s actions following entry of the stay no longer support its continuance,” Neel Lane, the two couples’ lawyer, wrote in his motion urging Garcia to lift the stay.

Lane pointed out that last month, the Supreme Court declined to hear various states’ appeals that it rescue their gay-marriage bans from adverse lower court rulings. The Supreme Court’s refusal “dissolved the stays” — or put into effect — the edicts overturning prohibitions on same-sex marriage in states in the 4th Circuit (Richmond), 7th Circuit (Chicago) and 10th Circuit (Denver), he said. Since then, the Supreme Court lifted stays on similar, lower-court rulings in Kansas and South Carolina, he noted.

While Lane conceded that the justices’ refusals to hear appeals “do not have legal significance,” he argued that “the constitutional environment” in which Garcia acted this winter has “now changed radically and permanently. Fully two-thirds of citizens of the United States now have an enforceable federal constitutional right to marry the person of their choice, irrespective of gender.”

I found a copy of the motion here. As the Chron story points out, the stay in this case was originally put in place because there was a stay in place for the Utah ruling – the one that started all these state laws falling – pending review by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. That review has happened, the original ruling that tossed Utah’s law has been affirmed, and as the motion states the Supreme Court refused to take the state’s appeal, thus allowing the stay to expire. Given all that, why must Texas’ ruling be stayed?

That’s the question the motion asks, in addition to pointing out all the harms that these plaintiffs and other same-sex couples whose legal marriages are not recognized by Texas continue to suffer. My non-lawyer’s opinion is that Judge Garcia will be reluctant to lift the stay, on the perfectly reasonable grounds that the Fifth Circuit may put a turd in the punch bowl and overturn his ruling. That would then put all these couples right back into limbo, with some extra chaos mixed in. Of course, I thought the original lawsuit had no chance of succeeding, so what do I know? I’m sure Greg Abbott will file a response, though I have no idea what the time frame for that might be. Regardless, I look forward to the ruling and I wish them all the best.

Henry Martinez named as interim Constable


Victor Trevino

A 23-year veteran of the Houston Community College police department will succeed the disgraced Victor Trevino as constable in Precinct Six, county officials announced Monday, elevating a Latino officer who promises to have no aspirations to become a Latino politician.

Harris County Commissioners Court formally appointed Henry Martinez Jr., who currently leads police operations on HCC’s Northeast campuses, as the constable serving the East End precinct. Commissioner Jack Morman, whose area includes most of Trevino’s old precinct, recommended Martinez to the court at a special meeting on Monday morning.

Dozens of candidates applied to Morman’s office for a job that many constables hold for decades, but many applicants were ruled out almost immediately. Morman had insisted that the winning candidate live in the precinct and promise not to run for the job in 2016. He also was sensitive to the desires of the heavily-Latino district.

Morman seems to have met all three of his preconditions with the selection of Martinez.

“As you can tell, I’m not a political type of person,” Martinez, 52, told reporters, saying there are no circumstances under which he would run in two years. “I’ll do the job and do it well – to the best of my ability – but as far as getting out there and running for a position, I’m not interested.”


Greg Cunningham, the chief of HCC’s police, said the new constable can be a demanding boss.

“He has high expectations of his people and he’s disappointed if they don’t deliver,” said Cunningham, who praised the selection. “He can be a tough guy to work for, but at the end of the day, he’s fair.”

Colleagues of Martinez similarly described him as a hardworking cop who rarely makes errors.

“He’s been one of those quiet leaders, so I think today’s a well-earned opportunity for him,” Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia said.

See here for the background. I wish new Constable Martinez all the success in the world as he embarks on this new journey. I’m just wondering how long it will be before someone else announces his or her candidacy for the 2016 primary. Campos has more.

DCCC wants Gallego for a rematch in 2016

No surprise here.

Pete Gallego

Pete Gallego

Rep. Pete Gallego lost his re-election bid two weeks ago — and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is already pushing for him to run in 2016, Roll Call reports.

Gallego, a freshman Democrat from Alpine, was unseated by Republican Will Hurd by about 2,000 votes. Hurd, a former CIA operative, will now represent the vast West Texas district that runs from San Antonio to El Paso.


Gallego wouldn’t be the first lawmaker ousted by voters in the 23rd District to seek a comeback. The one-term Republican he ousted in 2012, Francisco “Quico” Canseco, lost to Hurd in a primary runoff last May.

Hurd lost the 2010 GOP nomination to Canseco.

Gallego won CD23 in 2012 even though the district was being carried by Mitt Romney. He won 47.66% of the vote this year, which is two percentage points better than Bill White in 2010. Hurd may win over some swing voters between now and then, but the district will be a lot more favorable to Dems in 2016, and Gallego has beaten the spread twice there. He’d surely be the strongest candidate to try to win it back, and would likely have no worse than a 50-50 chance of doing so. And as I’ve said before, if he declines I’ll be the first one on the Mary González bandwagon. Either way is fine by me.

Supreme Court re-upholds strip club tax

Technically, they declined to re-review it, but practically speaking I figure it’ll amount to the same thing.

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday declined to review whether a $5-per-patron fee at live nude entertainment clubs is an occupation tax in disguise, letting stand a lower appeals court ruling that found alcohol-serving Texas strip clubs must pay up when it comes to the “pole tax.”

Last May, the Texas Third Court of Appeals ruled that the fee was not an unconstitutional occupation tax and must be paid by Texas strip clubs that serve alcohol.


It is not clear whether the clubs will continue their legal fight. A call seeking comment from a lawyer for the Texas Entertainment Association, which represents many of the roughly 200 strip clubs in the state, was not immediately returned.

See here and here for the background. The clubs have now lost twice in court. Hard for me to see what the value proposition is for them to give it a third try rather than just collecting and paying the fee at this point, but that’s up to them. I have a feeling there will be another chapter in this story eventually.

Rural counties skeptical of high speed rail plan

This is a bit concerning.

Steve Drake regularly makes the nearly four-hour drive from this city to Houston to visit his fiancée’s family. So he was excited about the news that a private company intended to build a bullet train that would cut that trip to 90 minutes.

“I’m passionate about this. I hope it happens,” Drake said at a recent public meeting. “I don’t want to be driving to Houston for the next 30 years.”

Drake’s sentiment echoed that of others at the first of six meetings held as part of the Federal Railroad Administration’s environmental impact study into Texas Central Railway’s proposed bullet train. The project has also drawn strong support from officials at the other end of the project in Houston.

Yet the reception has been less rosy from rural communities that will be on or near a possible train route. Officials and residents have expressed concern about the noise from trains whizzing past their quiet towns dozens of times a day and about a track dividing farmland and reducing property values.

“I haven’t heard anything positive about it whatsoever,” said Byron Ryder, the county judge in Leon County, which is about halfway between Dallas and Houston. “I’ve talked to other judges and commissioners up and down the line, landowners up and down the line. No one wants it.”

I was a little surprised to read this, as I know from previous communications with Texas Central Railway that they have been doing outreach in the rural communities along I-45. It may be the case that the communities weren’t really paying much attention before – we’ve only been talking about high speed rail in Texas for what, 30 year now? – and thought this was just another piece of pie in the sky. With the Environmental Impact Statement process going on, however, now it’s getting real, and people may be reacting more strongly as a result. In addition, it’s not that long ago that these folks were hearing about a network of privately built and managed toll roads that would be going through rural counties, with little apparent benefit to them. One can imagine why they might have some doubts here. Obviously, I think this is a project that’s worth doing, and I hope these communities can be persuaded there’s something in it for them, or at least that they won’t be harmed. Clearly, TCR has some work to do.

In Grimes County, where the two routes take different paths, Betty Shiflett, the county judge, said many residents felt they did not have enough information to develop an opinion. One factor that would weigh heavily, she said, was whether Texas Central Railway followed through on plans to build a station in Grimes County to allow the bullet train to serve nearby College Station.

“I think people would be a lot more enthusiastic because they would probably take it,” Shiflett said. “I know I would, definitely.”

I’m sure they would. I seriously doubt there would be a station anywhere except Houston and Dallas (and maybe The Woodlands) when it debuts in 2021, assuming all goes well. Stations cost money, and they mean slower overall travel times. Maybe at some point down the line, but not any time soon. Of course, you do have to build the line now to have any hope for one in the future, whenever that may be. It’s your call, Grimes County.

Kleinschmidt to resign in HD17

Just in case you thought there weren’t enough special elections on the horizon.

Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt

Newly elected Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is reaching out to a former House colleague to fill a key staff position in his new administration.

A source close to the Miller transition team said Friday afternoon that Miller reached out to state Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington, to become the agriculture department’s next general counsel.

According to the source, Kleinschmidt agreed to take the job “after careful thought and discussions” with family and his law partners.

Kleinschmidt will resign his House seat effective Jan. 14 and has plans to send a resignation letter to Gov. Rick Perry in the coming days.

Kleinschmidt’s departure from the House would create a vacancy in House District 17, which stretches across five Central Texas counties east of Austin. Kleinschmidt has served in the Texas House since 2009.

A special electionin HD17 presents the same opportunity for Democrats as the special election in SD26 will for Republicans, with about the same odds of success. Kleinschmidt won 64.6% of the vote this November; his Democratic opponent, Carolyn Banks, had 35.4%. In 2010, Bill White got 43.3%, while Linda Chavez-Thompson got 32.8%, though with more total votes than Banks had. In 2012, President Obama took 37.3%, Paul Sadler had 39.8%, and Michelle Petty was the standard-bearer with 40.6%. A surprise win here would almost certainly be a one-term rental, but you never know, and it’s not like there’s anything to lose.

I even have a suggestion for a candidate to recruit: Ronnie McDonald, former three-term Bastrop County Judge and candidate for CD27 in 2012. He considered challenging Kleinschmidt in 2012 before jumping into a crowded field for CD27, so the concept of running for State House has occurred to him. I don’t know what he’s up to and I have no idea if he’d be amenable, but it can’t hurt to try. Whether he’s a viable possibility or not, this would be a good opportunity for Battleground Texas to try to begin their rebuilding process and keep volunteers engaged as they work towards 2016. Find a candidate and support that candidate. There’s nothing to lose.

Ken Paxton is still an ethical morass

He’s just now a statewide ethical morass.

Sen. Ken Paxton

A state judge will determine whether to revoke the securities license of Frederick Mowery, who was linked to the State Securities Board’s May reprimand of Attorney General-elect Ken Paxton, for allegations that included failure to disclose conflicts of interest, plagiarism and lying to investigators.

Mowery was given 20 days to respond to the allegations — announced Tuesday by the securities board — and invited to appear at a Jan. 27 hearing before an administrative law judge in Austin.

Mowery and his McKinney company, Mowery Capital Management, became embroiled in the race for attorney general last May, when Paxton agreed to a securities board reprimand and $1,000 fine for soliciting clients for Mowery’s firm, receiving 30 percent of management fees without registering as an investment adviser representative as required by state law and without disclosing the business relationship to potential clients.


The order notifying Mowery of the allegations did not mention Paxton by name.

However, the order accused Mowery of falsifying disclosure documents for a solicitor who appears to be Paxton — the circumstances and language used to describe the relationship between the unnamed solicitor and Mowery appear verbatim in the security board’s reprimand of Paxton.

According to the allegations, Mowery backdated notices disclosing the solicitor’s compensation arrangement to make it appear that two clients were properly notified about the arrangement.

I don’t know what effect this might have on any of the pending actions against Paxton, but I figure if Mowery has his license revoked it won’t look too good for our AG-to-be. I also strongly suspect there are more shoes to drop here. Should be an interesting year next year.

Dallas gets set to tackle vehicles for hire

Good luck.


Sticking points remain on Dallas’ proposed car-for-hire rules, as the City Council prepares to vote next month on a new ordinance to regulate taxicabs, limos and app-based companies such as Uber and Lyft.

Several council members raised questions Monday at a transportation committee meeting over insurance requirements. And others expressed concerns about nuances, including an effort to encourage more environmentally friendly vehicles.

But it appears the city’s months-long effort to overhaul its transportation-for-hire rules will soon be complete.

Some opponents of the proposed rules conceded they probably don’t have the votes to stop the measure from moving forward. Supporters say that though the proposal isn’t perfect, it represents a compromise that most industry stakeholders can live with.


“It’s as fair and balanced as we could possibly make it at this point,” said council member Sandy Greyson, who has guided much of the city’s work on the issue.

Dallas has wrestled with car-for-hire rules for about a year, after an ordinance that could have driven out app-based companies almost slipped past the council unnoticed. Since then, council members have debated issues including permitting and fare regulations.

Much of the disagreement Monday centered on proposed insurance requirements.

Although some have pushed for around-the-clock commercial insurance — which taxis now must have — the ordinance would require such coverage only when operators are available to accept riders or when they are picking up or carrying riders.

That’s meant to keep insurance costs low enough to allow app-based companies to operate while requiring substantial coverage on behalf of paying passengers who could be hurt in accidents.

Dallas City Council will take this up one week after San Antonio does. It’s been a busy year for this sort of thing, that’s for sure. I don’t know enough about either of these proposed ordinances to know how exactly they compare to Houston, but as far as I am aware there has been no rumbling by Lyft about pulling out of those markets. Make of that what you will. One also has to wonder at this point if last week’s Uber shitstorm will affect the willingness of councils in places like Dallas and San Antonio to pass these ordinances. We’ll see. Unfair Park has more.

Weekend link dump for November 23

Fans of comic art should be sure to check this out.

Duck Dynasty: The Musical. Not a joke, apparently.

When corn mazes get out of control.

Maybe this will help Ted Cruz understand what net neutrality is all about.

Republicans don’t have to show they can govern. Anyone who tells you otherwise is at best being naive.

Some lessons from the fracking ban fights.

“Republicans and outside groups used anonymous Twitter accounts to share internal polling data ahead of the midterm elections, CNN has learned, a practice that raises questions about whether they violated campaign finance laws that prohibit coordination.”

The Milky Way looks lovely tonight.

Anyone who thinks that kids today aren’t at least as smart as grownups is welcome to sit in on Olivia’s fifth grade class and do her homework with her.

Pastafarians, unite!

“The agenda of white evangelical political activists today is not very different from the agenda of the allegedly anti-political white evangelical activists of 1964 and 1856. The defiantly politicized evangelicalism of the early 21st century is simply the shape that same thing has had to take in new circumstances.”

When the self-appointed defenders of the “sanctity of marriage” spend as much time bemoaning this as they do same-sex marriage, then maybe I could be persuaded that they’re not just a bunch of raging homophobes. Maybe.

On the other hand, if you’re fine with that item for whatever the reason, then this may be of interest to you.

What Ryan Cooper says.

Those nasty rape accusations are starting to have an effect on Bill Cosby.

And boy howdy, does this sound creepy.

As always, Ta-Nehisi Coates is essential reading.

“The really big difference between Tea Partiers and environmentalists is that the former are making irrational demands and using irrational tactics, and the latter aren’t.”

What Revolva says. Shame on you, Oprah.

All hail Lisa Saxon, the women who helped change sports writing forever, and for the better.

From the “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of guys” department.

RIP, Mike Nichols, legendary director of The Graduate and so much more.

Throwing a tantrum is not a justification for getting your way.

Can science save chocolate from decline?

“If Republicans wanted more conservative-friendly policy outcomes, they could be getting them. But they prefer more Republican-friendly political outcomes. It’s not unreasonable for conservatives to think that this tradeoff is the right one, all things considered. But what is unreasonable is for conservatives to refuse to recognize that it’s a real choice, a choice that is in their hands, and a choice that they continually make in the direction of worse policy rather than better policy.”

Enjoy your retirement, Jason Collins. Maybe we’ll see you in a broadcast booth some day.

You really must watch this video of Marion Ross, Anson Williams, and Don Most talking about how the idea for Mork came about, the horrible first script and actor, and what happened when Robin Williams showed up. It’s awesome.

RIP, Tex Harrison, legendary member of the Harlem Globetrotters, and a native Houstonian.

For shame, ESPN. Seriously.

The overlap between people who are still attending Bill Cosby’s live shows and so-called “low-information voters” is probably pretty extensive.

“And in speaking from the position of Cicero, [Ted] Cruz presents himself as a decidedly undemocratic oligarch.”

“Every day should be Susan Rice Vindication Day. We should wake every morning to mockery of Darrell Issa and go to sleep each night to ridicule of Mitt Romney. This should go on until all decent people have long ago given up and stopped begging for it to stop. And, sometime in late 2017, we will have reached Fair & Balanced coverage of the tragedy in Benghazi.”

From the “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” department

Every dark cloud has a silver lining, y’all. You just have to know where to look for it.

Metro’s four-month delay in opening two rail lines will give the agency time to obtain enough cars to prevent severe crowding when trains start rolling.

Fourteen of 39 new rail cars that the Metropolitan Transit Authority ordered in 2012 will be ready to carry riders by April 1, Metro CEO Tom Lambert said Thursday. An additional 19 cars will still be in testing.

“We are making very good headway,” Lambert said.

The Green Line, east of downtown along Harrisburg, and the Purple Line connecting southeast neighborhoods to the central business district, are scheduled to open April 4. By that time, with Metro’s 37 existing cars and 14 new ones, Metro officials said they can run constant service, though perhaps not as frequently as envisioned.


When the new lines open, Metro spokesman Jerome Gray said, the expected number of cars will allow for two-car sets along the Red Line every six minutes during peak periods – around 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily – and single trains every 12 minutes along the Green and Purple lines.

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t really have anything to add to that, so I’ll leave you with this.

Remember, if life seems jolly rotten, there’s something you’ve forgotten.

EPA climate change plan would save water

Well, what do you know?


As state regulators fret about how President Obama’s effort to combat climate change would affect the Texas power grid, a new study says the rules would be simpler to adopt than those regulators suggest – and that it would save the state billions of gallons of water annually.

In an analysis released Wednesday, CNA Corporation, a nonprofit research group based in Arlington, Va., said the federal proposal – which requires states to shift from coal power to cut carbon emissions – would slash water use in the Texas power sector by 21 percent. That would save the drought-ridden state more than 28 billion gallons of water each year.

“It’s a surprising finding,” Paul Faeth, the report’s author, said in a statement. “People don’t often associate water conservation with [carbon] cuts, but for Texas, they work together.”


CNA Corporation’s analysis comes two days after the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s grid operator, said the proposal would threaten reliability and raise energy costs by as much as 20 percent by 2020 – not including the cost of new power lines needed to keep the grid running.

The CNA report, which relied on a model ERCOT has used in the past, said shifting away from water-guzzling coal power plants and boosting energy efficiency would ease Texas’ water woes.

Compared to Texas’ grid operator, CNA painted a rosier picture of price and reliability effects. With big investments in natural gas and wind power, Texas is already on pace to meet 70 percent of its target by 2029, according to the study. Improving energy efficiency could move the state the rest of the way.

The federal proposal would increase the per-megawatt cost of electricity by 5 percent by 2029, but cut total system costs by 2 percent, the group said.

“We find that the state will be able to meet the final and interim targets with modest incremental effort,” the study said.

See here for the background. The CNA report page is here, the press release is here, the executive summary is here, and the full report is here. It’s not clear to me if CNA was invited by someone to review the EPA plan as it affects Texas or if they did it on their own, but this is a strong argument for going along with what the EPA recommends rather than filing another frivolous lawsuit. The considerable water savings is enough by itself to make this worthwhile.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtle in trouble


Texas’ official sea turtle is on a slide that could eventually lead to extinction after a spectacular comeback and years of effort to save it, according to figures released Tuesday at a gathering of scientists and environmentalists.

“It was on a rapid road to recovery and the recovery came to an abrupt halt in 2010 and we don’t know why,” Selina Heppell, professor at Oregon State University’s department of fish and wildlife, said in comments before a presentation. “What the modeling suggests is that something very dramatic and unprecedented happened to the survival and reproduction of the species.”

Scientists had worried about the meaning of decreases in the number of turtle nests for 2010, 2013 and this year, the only decreases in the new century. But Heppell, who developed the method used to calculate the turtle’s nesting population, offered the most definitive numbers showing that the Kemp’s ridley was again in trouble.

To understand the reasons for the decline, some say, it’s important for the federal government to restore money it took away this year for the Mexico/U.S. Binational Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Population Restoration Program.

An earlier story has some more details.

The first symposium in Galveston in 1985 came at a time when the Kemp’s ridley was at the edge of extinction and efforts to protect the main nesting grounds in Mexico seemed to make little difference. A series of new efforts followed the symposium, including new laws protecting the turtles from being killed by fishermen. The efforts began to show signs of success by 2000, and by the middle of the last decade the population was increasing by 12 to 17 percent per year.

Then in 2010, a fiery explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil platform killed 11 workers and dumped an estimated 4.1 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The oil boiled into the Gulf just as the Kemp’s ridley nesting season got underway. Oil fouled the area near Louisiana where female turtles normally forage after nesting at the main nesting grounds in Mexico or along the Texas Gulf Coast. Scientists found scores of dead Kemp’s ridley juveniles floating in oil scum in the deep sea among clumps of seaweed. Kemp’s ridley turtles spend the first year of their lives floating at sea in islands of sargassum seaweed.

Scientists count the number of nests laid by sea turtles to determine their long-term prospects rather than estimating the species population. Although the number of nests set a record in 2012, the trend has been downward since 2010 and scientists are worried.

Presentations at the symposium may help explain whether the oil spill is connected to the Kemp’s ridley decline. Donna Shaver, chief of the U.S. Park Service’s sea turtle science division at Padre Island National Seashore, is one of three scientists involved in the Natural Resource Damage Assessment on the Kemp’s ridley since the BP spill who will offer information from the damage study. Kimberly Reich, Sea Turtle Research Laboratory director at Texas A&M University at Galveston, will make public for the first time information about turtle foraging habits in relation to the oil spill.

A later version of the first Chron story linked above adds some more information about that 2010 oil spill and its effects.

A study presented at the Second International Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Symposium found oil in the carapace, or shell, of 29 sea turtles that returned to feed in the spill area in 2011 and 2012.

And while experts say the only way to say with certainty that the oil came from the spill would have been to test the turtles’ blood right after they came in contact with the oil, the finding provides powerful evidence that the environmental disaster dealt a blow to turtle recovery efforts, including a downward trend in nesting since 2010.

“It was on a rapid road to recovery and the recovery came to an abrupt halt in 2010, and we don’t know why,” said Selina Heppell, a professor at Oregon State University who developed the method used to calculate the turtle’s nesting population. “What the modeling suggests is that something very dramatic and unprecedented happened to the survival and reproduction of the species.”


Kimberly Reich, Sea Turtle Research Lab director at Texas A&M University in Galveston, conducted the study that was discussed Tuesday. She pointed out that because turtles nest about every two years, those exposed to oil in 2011 and 2012 would have nested in 2013 and 2014, years that saw steep declines in nesting numbers.

Reich’s study is the first information released from a three-year damage assessment conducted to find out whether the spill affected the Kemp’s ridley, the smallest of five sea turtles found in the Gulf.

Much of the information gathered by Reich is being kept under wraps for use in legal proceedings to determine BP’s liability for the spill. Reich and other researchers signed confidentiality agreements, but she was able to release her study with special permission from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Other studies are underway that are being done either independently or as part of the damage assessment.

“We hope that when we come together, all our research will paint a picture,” Reich said.

So far the picture is dismal, according to an analysis of the Kemp’s ridley nesting numbers presented by Heppell.

That’s just deeply depressing. Here’s the website and Facebook page for the symposium. I sincerely hope that Texas’ elected officials pay heed to this and do their part to take whatever action is needed to help these animals survive.

Saturday video break: Don’t Stop Believin’

You’re not too cool to sing along. Admit it.

That was recorded in Houston, as you could tell from the pandering lyrics edit. The copyright says 2005, but that’s got to be at least 20 years off. My guess this was in the venue formerly known as the Summit, then the home of the Rockets, now the home of Lakewood Church, Joel Osteen’s home court.

There are of course zillions of covers of this, of varying quality. The one I have is by Marnie Stern:

Sorry, but if you want to see the “Glee” version you can find it yourself.

SBOE adopts history textbook changes it hasn’t read


After adopting hundreds of pages in last minute updates and corrections, the Texas State Board of Education approved new social studies textbooks Friday.

All but the five Democrats on the 15-member board voted to accept products from all publishers except Worldview Software, which they rejected because of concerns over factual accuracy.

“When I think of the other publishers, they were on it. They were on the errors. I did not see that here,” Tincy Miller, a Dallas Republican, said of Worldview.

In total, they approved 86 products for eight different social studies courses that will be used in Texas public schools for the next decade. School districts do not have to buy products from the list vetted by the state education board, but many do because it offers a ready guarantee that materials cover state curriculum standards.

The TFN Insider liveblog from Friday’s clown show explains just what this means.

Publishers have been submitting changes to their textbooks since the public hearing on Tuesday. The last batch of changes — listed on more than 800 pages from publisher WorldView Software — was posted on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website mid-afternoon on Thursday. Who has reviewed these and other revisions from publishers? The truth is that there is no official process for doing so. It’s hard to believe that SBOE members had time to do it. They were in meetings Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, for example, they debated important issues such as whether teachers should be thrown in jail if they use instructional materials tied to Common Core standards. (Seriously.) So SBOE members today are being asked to vote on textbooks that they, TEA staff and most Texans haven’t had time to read and scholars haven’t had an opportunity to vet. But millions of public school students will use these textbooks over the next decade.

Better be sure to read your kids’ textbooks along with them for the next ten years. Or better yet, tell your local school board – if they have sane representation – to buy their own textbooks and avoid the SBOE’s shenanigans. TFN’s press release is here, and Newsdesk has more.

Of course Greg Abbott wants to sue

It’s what he does. What else is there to him?


Minutes after President Obama doubled down on his promise to change the country’s immigration system through executive action, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott made a vow of his own: Expect a lawsuit from Texas.

But some legal experts doubt that Abbott, the governor-elect, could successfully challenge the president’s order, which he says he plans to do in federal court.

On Thursday, Obama announced several measures that could shield as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. That figure includes about 533,000 undocumented people in Texas who are parents of children living in the country legally.

In a statement, Abbott said Obama’s order “circumvented Congress and deliberately bypassed the will of the American people.”

“I am prepared to immediately challenge President Obama in court, securing our state’s sovereignty and guaranteeing the rule of law as it was intended under the Constitution,” Abbott added.

Proponents of the executive action claim the president is acting within his powers, and point to more than 35 cases in which similar presidential measures have been taken since 1956. They specifically cite an action by then-President George H.W. Bush — a Republican — in 1990 that shielded 1.5 million undocumented people from deportation.

A spokesman for the attorney general would not elaborate on Abbott’s statement. He said that the governor-elect made an early case for his claim on Wednesday when he told Fox News that the president had violated two provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including one called the “take care” clause “that requires the president to take care to execute the laws and clearly prevents this type of action the president is trying to undertake.” The other, Abbott said, is a violation of a section of the Constitution that gives Congress — not the president — the authority over immigration laws.

“We have seen in Texas the consequences — and we’ve dealt with them from a cost perspective — of the president’s immigration policy,” Abbott said on Fox News referring to this summer’s flood of unaccompanied minors pouring across the Texas-Mexico border. State lawmakers blamed the surge on a 2012 initiative called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that has so far protected hundreds of thousands of younger undocumented immigrants from deportation. That surge, Abbott added, gives the state of Texas standing to file suit.

Whatever. Someone has explained to Abbott that his days are going to be different once he’s not the AG anymore, right? The Trib quoted a couple of legal beagles who didn’t think he was likely to get anywhere with this. Kevin Drum spoke to quite a few more. Of course, this isn’t really about whether or not he can win for Abbott. He figures he wins just by talking tough. Like I said, whatever.

And the dominoes do begin to fall

Game on.

Rep. Mike Villarreal

A calf scramble for legislative seats set off by two lawmakers’ decisions to run for San Antonio mayor could produce a rare shakeup in the Bexar County delegation that reports for duty in Austin on Jan. 13.

As many as three of the county’s 10 Texas House members could be new, along with one of its four senators — the only senator whose district is entirely in Bexar County.

The main catalysts for the upheaval were announcements by state Rep. Mike Villarreal and state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, both D-San Antonio, that they’ll run for the city’s mayorship in 2015, though the filing period isn’t until next year.

Both lawmakers have asked Gov. Rick Perry to call special elections to replace them in the upcoming 84th Legislature. No voting dates have been set.

Villarreal initially made his request to Perry on Nov. 6, but a clarifying letter was requested from him and had not been received late Thursday, state officials said. Election officials said that Villarreal can’t formally decline his office — and thus provide such a letter — until the votes are canvassed, which is expected around Dec. 1

The hiccup fueled speculation that Villarreal was reassessing his path, but he bristled at the suggestion and insisted he’s focused on the mayoral race.

“I’ve been in it for six months. We have built a coalition that is as diverse as our city. We all are in it to win. We all have our oars in the water and we’re pulling,” the District 123 representative said Thursday.

Here’s the letter Villarreal sent to Perry, from the Trib story that I had linked to previously. Note, which I had not done before, that he does not use the word “resign” but instead says he will “decline to assume the office”. I’m not an expert in the finer points of this sort of thing, but one could imagine the possibility of some wiggle room in that statement. I have no reason to doubt Villarreal’s sincerity when he says he’s running. He really has been planning for this for months, and it would be more than a little weird if he were to change his mind just like that. Still, if there’s one lesson we all learn again and again it’s that sometimes weird things happen. It’s not impossible that Villarreal could suddenly find that Sen. Van de Putte’s entry into the race has made his path to victory a lot harder, to the point that maybe it’s not worth giving up a safe legislative seat for it. We’ll know soon enough. Also, I take back the snarky things I’ve been saying about the difference between the pace at which a special election was called in SD18 and (not) in HD123. I can’t say for sure Perry is on the hook to call a special in HD123 just yet, so I’ll back off for now.

Pouncing on the Senate opening Thursday were state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and Jose Menéndez, both D-San Antonio, who declared they would compete in the District 26 special election to finish the remaining two years in Van de Putte’s current term. Neither candidate must vacate his House seat during the Senate race, only upon election, election officials said.

Other Democrats are considering the Senate race, and it wouldn’t surprise party leaders if a Republican enters the fray. Bexar Democratic Party Chairman Manuel Medina said local Republicans appear emboldened by their midterm election gains.

“I’m sure the tea party feels that in a low-turnout election, which this would be, they could be competitive,” Medina said.

Bexar GOP Chairman Robert Stovall confirmed his party is seeking a Senate candidate and probably won’t let the Democrats go unchallenged, despite “difficult” odds in District 26, where Van de Putte has served since 1999.

“There could be an opportunity of us,” Stovall said.

Greg Abbott actually nipped Barbara Radnofsky by 0.3 percentage points in SD26 in 2010, so I would agree that the Bexar GOP has an opportunity there. I’d actually agree even if that weren’t the case – there’s no real downside in trying, after all – but note that every other Dem that year carried SD26 by at least ten points, so I’d say their odds are slim and slimmer. I’d also note that President Obama scored 62% in SD26 in 2012, so if by some fluke a GOP candidate did manage to win a no-turnout special election there, he or she would be doomed in 2016. Be that as it may, I’ll put my money on either Martinez-Fischer or Menendez, both of whom had previously expressed their interest in VdP’s seat. For sure, San Antonio is in for a whirlwind of electoral activity over the next few months, and when all is said and done there ought to be more than a few new faces in new places.

The Woodlands wants to be on the high speed rail route

Can’t blame ’em.

The Woodlands Township is urging federal and state officials to take another look at the potential benefits of adding a high-speed rail corridor along Interstate 45.

Last month, the Federal Railway Administration and the Texas Department of Transportation revealed two potential routes for a proposed bullet train that could one day connect Dallas and Houston by rail, but neither of the routes under review would come down I-45 in fast-growing Montgomery County.

Miles McKinney, legislative affairs and transportation manager for The Woodlands, said there is still time for it and surrounding communities to have some influence on the direction of the project.

“We’ve taken and written a letter asking them to reinstate the I-45 corridor for consideration and to think about it one more time and at least assess it before condemning it,” he said.

State and federal transportation officials recently narrowed the list of potential routes from nine to two. The excluded lines seemed a bit longer, which could prove more costly for a project that already has a price tag of more than $10 billion.

The route that local leaders wants transportation officials to explore is referred to as the Green Field Route. It would begin in Dallas and travel along I-45, passing through Huntsville and Montgomery County before ending in downtown Houston.

The interstate highway runs the length of Montgomery County, whose population is projected to increase from 500,000 to 1.1 million by 2040.

Given the growth of the area, McKinney said, it may be wise to ask transportation officials leading the project to consider adding a rail station north of Houston, near the Grand Parkway and The Woodlands.

See here for the background, and click the embedded image to see all of the proposed routes. I can’t argue with the logic, and in fact in past conversations I’ve had with the Texas Central Railway folks, I myself have suggested that a Woodlands-area station might make sense for them. The two “recommended” routes were chosen because they were the lowest cost, which is a non-trivial consideration in a $10 billion project. A big complicating factor is how routing the trains along I-45 might effect the cost and feasibility of bringing the trains to downtown Houston, where the terminal ought to be and is most likely to be. One possible route into downtown involves the same corridor as a proposed commuter rail line along 290, which obviously isn’t compatible with a Woodlands-friendly location. I don’t know what the best answer is, and unfortunately not everyone can be accommodated. Good luck figuring it all out.

By the way, the Central Japan Railway Company, one of the backers of Texas Central Railway, recently began test runs of a maglev train that can reach 300 miles per hour. By the time this line is finished, it could provide an even quicker ride between Dallas and Houston. Yeah, I’m excited by the prospect.

Friday random ten: Numerology

After the letters come the numbers.

1. Eat For Two – 10,000 Maniacs
2. Somebody’s Been Sleeping – 100 Proof
3. Land of the Laced – 100s
4. Sex – The 1975
5. S.I.M.P (Squirrels In My Pants) – 2 Guys N The Parque
6. Get Ready For This – 2 Unlimited
7. Scarlet – 2:54
8. Wild Eyed Southern Boys – .38 Special
9. Bone China – 50 Foot Wave
10. Go Go Go – The 88

“2 Guys N the Parque” is from Phineas and Ferb so not an actual thing, but good enough for these purposes. I’ll probably take Black Friday off – I may post a video or something like that – and will resume in December with something else. Happy Friday, y’all.