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March 19th, 2016:

Saturday video break: I’m Beginning To See The Light

A classic and a standard, performed by Bobby Darin:

The version I have is from the soundtrack to the movie Swingers, and I feel like Darin enunciates differently in that one. I can’t find a video for that, however, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

When you hear “standard”, that usually means a big band was involved. Here’s Count Basie, with singer Joe Williams, doing their version:

Where there’s the Count, there’s the Duke. Duke Ellington, that is:

That is of course Ella Fitzgerald doing vocals. What more do you want? I do have an a capella version by the Tufts Beelzebubs as well, but there’s no video I can find. So this will have to do.

Third-place Constable candidate alleges fraud in his race

Oh, goodie.

Jasen Rabalais

A Harris County constable chief deputy who narrowly missed making the runoff in the Precinct 3 constable’s primary election earlier this month has sued the top two vote-getters, seeking to annul the results because of alleged violations of election law.

Jasen Rabalais, chief deputy over community services and the Harris County Joint Task Force for Precinct 3 constable, alleged in court papers last week that a campaign worker for Michel Pappillion, a candidate who beat him by 37 votes and edged him out of the runoff, illegally cast votes on behalf of some senior citizens.

Sherman Eagleton was the top vote getter by more than 800 votes of more than 18,000 cast, while Rabalais came in third.

[…]

Rabalais’ complaint states that the worker initially approached his campaign, offering to “deliver votes from seniors through special access to senior living facilities,” guaranteeing 1,000 votes, and Rabalais turned her down.

Rabalais supporters noticed the worker at the polls wearing a Pappillion shirt and telling elderly voters that they had already voted, the complaint alleges.

The Rabalais campaign confronted the worker, who told them she is a nurse, has access to nursing homes and gets seniors to “vote for that person who [she is] working for,” the complaint alleges.

The complaint alleges the worker “deliberately falsified, illegally completed, or unlawfully influenced the ballots and early voting applications of elderly residents” in Precinct 3.

Rabalais’ suit calls for the court to order a new election, subtract illegal votes or “declare the outcome of the election if able to ascertain the true outcome.”

Some of these allegations are unclear to me, but one of them appears to be a charge that this mysterious woman is alleged to have gotten some elderly voters to tick the box for Pappillion instead of doing whatever they would have done in this race on their own, on absentee ballots. If there’s any merit to these charges, then it seems to me that there will be plenty of witnesses to come forward – people who can corroborate her behavior at polling locations, the voters themselves whom she influenced, etc. But let’s put those questions aside for a moment and see if there’s anything in the election returns to suggest something fishy going on. Here are the complete returns from the County Clerk website; scroll to page 23 to see the Constable Precinct 3 race:


Candidate    Abs   Abs %  Early  Early%  E-Day  E-Day%  Total  Total%
=====================================================================
Rabalais     314  14.34%  1,382  19.18%  1,129  12.33%  2,825  15.23%
Pappillion   324  14.80%  1,170  16.23%  1,368  14.94%  2,862  15.43%
Reed         124   5.66%    577   8.01%    948  10.35%  1,649   8.89%
Stewart      449  20.51%    979  13.58%  1,045  11.41%  2,473  13.33%
Eagleton     562  25.67%  1,415  19.63%  1,710  18.67%  3,687  19.87%
Norwood       65   2.97%    259   3.59%    466   5.09%    790   4.26%
Jones        121   5.53%    541   7.51%    740   8.08%  1,402   7.56%
Villarreal   112   5.12%    564   6.99%  1,249  13.64%  1,865  10.05%
Melancon     118   5.39%    380   5.27%    503   5.49%  1,001   5.40%

The first thing I note is that Pappillion collected 324 absentee votes, ten more than Rabalais. The mystery woman “guaranteed” to deliver 1,000 votes, so either she greatly oversold her ability, or she was just lying. Regardless, note that Pappillion’s share of the absentee vote is right in line with his share of the early and E-Day votes. If he had actually gotten an illicit boost in absentee ballots, one would expect to see it reflected in the numbers. Granting that this does not disprove the possibility that he’d have done worse in absentee balloting otherwise, I don’t see anything to indicate that.

Pappillion went into E-Day trailing Rabalais by 202 votes. He then collected 239 votes more than Rabalais, whose E-Day performance greatly lagged his early showing, especially his early in-person showing, to nose into second. When Rabalais says he noticed the Mystery Woman at the polls, does he mean early voting locations, or E-Day locations? In either case, assuming it was just her, I don’t know how many actual voters she could have affected in this fashion. Again though, if this really did happen, there’s got to be plenty of people who can testify to it.

Note that even if we think there’s something funny about any of Rabalais or Pappillion’s numbers, there are oddball results elsewhere that seem to be to be just the vagaries of multi-candidate elections. James Lee Stewart had the second-best absentee ballot total, but dropped out of sight in the early in-person and E-Day totals. Isaac Villarreal came out of nowhere to post strong E-Day numbers, but was too much of a nonentity before that for it to matter. Maybe Stewart had a better mail ballot program, and maybe Villarreal had a better ground game, or the E-Day electorate was more heavily Latino. Who knows? Sometimes an odd result is just an odd result.

So, my initial thought is that it is unlikely there’s anything to these allegations, but we’ll see what the Rabalais team shows the judge. If Rabalais can back up his claims – producing the Mystery Woman and some of the voters she influenced would be a good start – then good on him, he deserves redress. If not, then shame on him for giving Greg Abbott some cheap ammunition, even if none of this has anything to do with voter ID. We’ll see what the judge has to say.

What kind of ruling might we expect in the school finance case?

KUHF explores the possibilities.

BagOfMoney

Four major scenarios to watch for:

  1. The Texas Supreme Court could not rule at all. Instead, it could send the case back to the lower court to see if the latest $2.5 billion dollars to the education budget solves the problem. “And the court could say, you know, we need more fact-finding to determine what the actual impact of those changes were, this case isn’t’ ripe,” said [Marisa] Bono, southwest regional counsel of MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “We think that the likelihood of that is pretty small. But it’s a possibility.”
  2. The justices could make a major sweeping decision in favor of school districts. “And that would require the Legislature to come up with some way of either putting significantly more money in the system, or requiring local taxes to go up, or state taxes to go up or to require wealthy districts to share even more of their wealth with the poorer districts,” explained Al Kauffman, a veteran school finance attorney and also a professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio.
  3. Or the court could rule the opposite. That would be a win for the state, if the court overturns the trial judge’s entire decision that declared the school finance system unconstitutional. “I guess that’s an option that I don’t like to think about,” said Chandra Villanueva, a policy analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank in Austin. “But they can just completely dismiss the case and say it has no standing. But I feel that this is such a strong case that it would be really surprising if they threw out everything.”
  4. In fact, it’s the largest school finance case to ever reach the Texas Supreme Court. It involves the most school districts, the most data and the most legal arguments. That brings the law scenario, which is a combination or piecemeal ruling. The justices could uphold one part of the case and overturn another. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said that’s what he expects. “We can use a good review from the Supreme Court to hit a generational reset button and take all of this into account in the next legislative session,” he said.

Depending on when it arrives, the ruling could force a special summer session or lawmakers could hash out school finance in the next regular session in 2017.

And when will the ruling come?

It could be any day. But Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said definitely by the end of June.

Obviously, scenario 2 is what I’m rooting for. District Court Judge John Dietz already took into consideration the money that was put back into the system in 2013, so I don’t know what purpose option 1 serves. Surely no further evidence is needed to show the inequity between districts. Option 3 is too gruesome to contemplate, while Option 4 is a big “it depends”. I will be disappointed with anything but #2, but the others are all possible to some extent.

Fiesta down

The Durham/North Shepherd strip, from about 11th Street up, has largely been immune to the implacable Heights-area gentrification machine. That may be about to change.

One of the oldest Fiesta stores is closing at the end of this month, leaving a large Inner Loop site potentially available for redevelopment.

The store at 2300 N. Shepherd is closing for “business reasons,” a company spokesman said Friday.

“It’s an older facility, and we just felt like we could invest the money wiser on some of our other stores,” said Fiesta Mart’s David de Kanter, who believes the store may have opened around 1974.

The grocery chain was founded two years earlier by Donald Bonham and O.C. Mendenhall to cater to Hispanic shoppers.

The building spans nearly 68,000 square feet on a roughly 4-acre property in the northern Heights area, where old industrial and retail properties are being torn down or renovated to make way for trendy restaurants and high-density housing.

Some of that is happening, but on the smaller streets, not on Durham and Shepherd, which are still mostly a collection of car lots, self-storage places, and small businesses. Outside of the one square block between 19th and 20th, these two thoroughfares haven’t changed much at all in the almost 20 years I’ve lived in the Heights. The closure and sale of this Fiesta, which sits on a huge piece of land, represents a unique opportunity for change on a big scale. Whether that happens or not depends in large part on what this property gets developed into. I look forward to hearing what the plans are.

Plane sharing

Sure, why not?

Ken Haney has flown in the cockpit of military and commercial planes for more than 35 years. His business partner Steve Geldmacher has logged more than 4 million miles as a traveler. Both say they have watched too many fliers lose valuable time to crowded airports, security lines and flight delays.

“We both basically went through and saw firsthand the difficulties in traditional commercial flying and really wanted to change the dynamics of how that model works,” Geldmacher said.

A better option for business, they decided, lies somewhere between commercial flying and chartering a private aircraft. Their company, Texas Air Shuttle, is the latest in Houston to cater to the burgeoning demand for ride-sharing in the sky. They are set to launch service in the next month or so with all-you-can-fly memberships starting at $1,895 a month that let travelers reserve seats on a plane that runs scheduled flights.

Dallas-based Rise and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based JetSmarter already offer members this semiprivate service to and from the Bayou City.

“It says there’s a huge demand for an alternative service like this to commercial,” Geldmacher said. “It says that people are fed up with commercial flying and the experience that goes along with it.”

[…]

Hans Reigle, director of the Aviation Program at Delaware State University, said memberships for such services are reasonably priced compared with maintaining one’s own flight operations. He agreed that dips in the economy should boost their popularity as corporate flight departments downsize.

“It’s a safe, efficient way to have the benefits of corporate aviation without all of the costs,” Reigle said.

But some worry about the security and regulatory oversight of ride-sharing services.

“Ride-sharing programs that don’t screen passengers and their baggage present a significant risk to the flying public. If a stranger can board an aircraft bristling with weapons or worse, an explosive device, that’s clearly a problem,” Scott Bickford, co-founder of the Air Charter Association of North America, said in a written statement.

“Of course,” he added, “if there are ride-share programs that screen passengers and baggage, then this isn’t an issue. The concern is that it should be a regulatory requirement, not a decision by ride-share companies whether or not to screen passengers and their baggage.”

Flight-sharing companies in Houston emphasized safety, noting that they have various processes for screening passengers. They say they’re Argus Gold Rated or work with operators that have, at minimum, this third-party safety rating for charter operators or the Wyvern Wingman Standard safety benchmarking.

Companies also touted their ability to save time. A 2013 report identifying the impact of stress in business travel found that an average of 5.2 hours are lost per domestic trip, according to consulting firm CWT Solutions Group. This lost time arises from factors such as getting to the airport and flying economy class on medium- and long-haul flights.

Geldmacher estimates he’s spent the equivalent of four years walking in terminals, waiting at gates and sitting in planes as they taxi for takeoff. That’s on top of actual flight time, he said.

Ride-sharing services say they reduce this time by favoring smaller airports over congested hubs. Travelers don’t hunt for parking, and they don’t wait in long security lines.

“It’s all about making them productive,” Haney said. “Time is money.”

Texas Air Shuttle, which is based at Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport, will begin with flights to smaller airports in the Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Midland and Oklahoma City areas. It wants to add flights to Austin, New Orleans, northwest Arkansas, Corpus Christi and Harlingen. The three-year goal is to fly to more than 40 markets and offer 250 flights a day.

The parallels to Uber/Lyft and the cab industry are obvious, though any regulatory fights will play out at another level. It seems to me that a regional high-speed passenger rail system could be the biggest competitor to an outfit like this, since they could be competitive on travel times as well as being a lot cheaper. We’re a long way off from that, even once Texas Central gets rolling, so they have nothing to worry about on that front at this time. It’s more a matter of reaching the market that might be best suited for them.