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May 16th, 2016:

Early voting for primary runoffs begins today

From the Inbox:

EarlyVoting

“The Primary election season is not over. There are several important races that remain to be decided by voters, locally and statewide,” stated Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart whilereminding voters that the Early Voting period for the May 24, 2016, Democratic Party and Republican Party Runoffs Elections begin Monday, May 16 and runs through Friday, May 20.

There will be forty-four Early Voting locations available to Harris County voters.  Voters are strongly encouraged to visit www.HarrisVotes.com and review the Early Voting schedule before heading to a voting location, especially voters residing in areas impacted by recent flooding. “Bear Creek and Glen Cheek locations are unavailable due to the April floods.  Voters near Bear Creek Park Community Center may vote at Lone Star College. Voters near Glen Cheek Education Building may vote at Harris County MUD 81”,asserted Stanart, the chief election officer of the County.  Additionally, there are two new Early Voting  locations, Fallbrook Church to support voters northwest of I-45 and Beltway 8, and SPJST Lodge #88 to support voters near the Memorial Park/Heights area.

To obtain a detailed early voting schedule, a personal sample ballot, election day polling locations, or a list of acceptable forms of photo identification required to vote in person, voters may call 713.755.6965 or visit www.HarrisVotes.com. During the abbreviated Early Voting period, polling locations will be open from 7 am to 7pm.

“Aside from knowing where to vote, there are important guidelines voters should be aware of before voting in a Primary Runoff,” added Stanart. “March 1 Primary voters must vote in the same party’s Primary Runoff Election.  Voter may not cross-over between the Primary and the Primary Runoff ElectionEligible voters who did not vote in March may vote in either political party’s Primary Runoff Election, but not both.”

The Harris County Primary Runoff election ballot for Democrats includes twelve contests and for Republicans, six.   Democratic Primary Runoff Election voters will nominate candidates for Railroad Commission, State Board of Education District 6, State Representative District 139, the 11th, 61st and 215th Judicial District Courts, Sheriff, Justice of the Peace Precincts 1 and 7, and Constable Precincts 2 and 3. Plus, voters in Voting Precinct 398 will determine their chairman. Republican Primary Runoff Election voters will nominate candidates for U.S. Representative District 18, Railroad Commissioner, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 2 and 5, and State Representative District 128. In addition, Republicans will choose the leader (Chairman) of the Harris County Republican Party.

“I encourage every eligible voter to do their homework and then go vote early. Remember, during early voting, a voter can vote at any one of the early voting sites. In contrast, on Election Day, voters must vote at a designated polling location,” concluded Stanart.  

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Harris County, TX – Early Voting Locations
May 24, 2016 Democratic Party and Republican Party Primary Runoff Elections
Location Address City Zip
Acres Home Multi Service Center 6719 W. Montgomery Houston 77091
Alief ISD Administration Building 4250 Cook Road Houston 77072
Alvin D. Baggett Community Center (*) 1302 Keene St. Galena Park 77547
Baldwin Boettcher Branch Library 22248 Aldine Westfield Rd Humble 77338
Bayland Park Community Center 6400 Bissonnet Houston 77074
Baytown Community Center 2407 Market Street Baytown 77520
Champion Forest Baptist Church – Multi Purpose Bldg 4840 Strack Road Houston 77069
Champion Life Centre 3031 FM 2920 Road Spring 77388
City of Jersey Village 16327 Lakeview Drive Jersey Village 77040
Crosby Branch Library 135 Hare Road Crosby 77532
Fallbrook Church (*) 12512 Walters Rd Houston 77014
Fiesta Mart, Inc. 8130 Kirby Houston 77054
Franz Road County Annex 19818 Franz Road Katy 77449
Freeman Branch Library 16616 Diana Lane Houston 77062
H.C.C.S Southeast 6960 Rustic, Parking Garage Houston 77087
Hardy Senior Center 11901 West Hardy Road Houston 77076
Harris County Administration Building 1001 Preston, 1st Floor Houston 77002
Harris County MUD 81 (*) 805 Hidden Canyon Rd Katy 77450
Harris County Public Health Environmental Service 2223 West Loop S Houston 77027
Hiram Clarke MSC 3810 W. Fuqua Houston 77045
John Phelps Courthouse 101 S Richey St Pasadena 77506
Juergen’s Hall Community Center 26026 Hempstead Highway Cypress 77429
Kashmere Multi-Service Center 4802 Lockwood Dr. Houston 77026
Kingwood Branch Library 4400 Bens View Lane Kingwood 77345
Kyle Chapman Courthouse Annex 7330 Spencer Highway Pasadena 77505
Lone Star College – Atascocita Center 15903 W. Lake Houston Parkway Houston 77044
Lone Star College – Creekside 8747 W New Harmony Trail Tomball 77375
Lone Star College – Cypress Center (*) 19710 Clay Rd Katy 77449
Lone Star College – Victory Center 4141 Victory Drive Houston 77088
Metropolitan Multi-Service Center 1475 West Gray Houston 77019
Moody Park 3725 Fulton Street Houston 77009
North Channel Branch Library 15741 Wallisville Road Houston 77049
Northeast Multi-Service Center 9720 Spaulding St, Bldg #4 Houston 77016
Nottingham Park 926 Country Place Drive Houston 77079
Octavia Fields Branch Library 1503 South Houston Avenue Humble 77338
Palm Center 5300 Griggs Road Houston 77021
Prairie View A&M University – Northwest 9449 Grant Road Houston 77070
Richard & Meg Weekley 8440 Greenhouse Road Cypress 77433
Ripley House 4410 Navigation Boulevard Houston 77011
SPJST Lodge #88 (*) 1435 Beall St Houston 77008
Sunnyside Multi-Service Center 4605 Wilmington Houston 77051
Tomball Public Works Building 501B James Street Tomball 77375
Tracy Gee Community Center 3599 Westcenter Drive Houston 77042

Patman shares her vision for Metro

I like what I’m hearing from new Metro Board Chair Carrin Patman.

HoustonMetro

A regional transportation plan is critical, Patman said, because it allows everyone to establish what transit and transportation officials should be doing. Everyone, including counties and cities not part of Metro today, needs to be part of the dialogue and outline needs from new roads to new transit offerings, she said.

“You have to have their input into the transportation plan,” Patman said of the suburban communities. “That’s the only way you are going to develop something broader.”

Part of having that regional conversation is to chart a course for improving transit and possibly adding to it. Though construction is a long way off, Patman said the 2003 referendum approved by voters remains the playbook.

And yes, that includes a Westpark corridor, whatever that may entail. The University Line light rail project is the biggest sticking point between transit skeptics, notably U.S. Rep. John Culberson who represents western Houston and supporters of light rail expansion.

“We definitely need a link between downtown and the Galleria,” Patman said. “We will look at any means we can get that connectivity and any route we can get there.”

The Uptown dedicated bus lanes, which Patman also supports, could be a catalyst for making that connection, and show off an alternative to light rail that could be considered with frequent, dedicated buses.

“We are going to look at all sources of funding,” Patman said, noting her personal interest in possibly expanding public-private partnerships. “But my best prediction is, yes, we will have to go back to the voters and ask for more bonding authority.”

I swear to you, I am still working on a set of posts outlining my own vision for Metro and where I’d like to see it go over the next few years. With all the other stuff going on, it’s been hard to carve out the time to do this writing, but I’ll get there. Some of the things Patman discusses in this story are on my list as well, especially the shift to a broader, more regional approach to transit and transportation. It’s also good to see rail expansion being brought up, but I see that as being a little farther out. If there’s one thing I hope we’ve all learned from past Metro experience, it’s that lack of communication from them is a killer. They need to constantly engage with a wide range of stakeholders or anything they want to do becomes much harder to achieve. The Gilbert Garcia board got a lot done, and along the way repaired a lot of relationships with other agencies, various government entities, and the public. One of Patman’s jobs is to build on that so the rest of what she envisions becomes possible. I wish her all the best. KUHF and Write On Metro have more.

Texas tobacco litigation, 20 years later

Interesting look at something I don’t think about very much.

Twenty years ago, then-Texas Attorney General Dan Morales filed a federal lawsuit accusing the tobacco industry of racketeering and fraud. He said the case would make Big Tobacco change how it did business, force the cigarette companies to make less dangerous products and stop the industry from marketing to teenagers.

The lawsuit, he contended, would require the tobacco companies to fork over billions and billions of dollars, which would be used to reimburse the state of Texas for smoking-related Medicaid costs and fund anti-smoking programs.

“This was the most important health-related litigation in history,” says former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore. “Cigarette smoking was the No. 1 cause of death in the entire world.” He adds, “There will never be a case this big or this important ever again.”

Two decades later, legal experts remain divided over whether to label the Texas litigation a success.

The Texas state treasury pocketed billions of dollars from the litigation, though only pennies on the dollars won in the case went to smoking-cessation efforts. Teen smoking plummeted, but cigarettes are just as addictive and dangerous. The tobacco companies are more profitable than ever. The trial lawyers representing Morales got filthy rich.

As for Morales, he married a former exotic dancer, lost his bid for governor and eventually went to federal prison following a scandal involving misused campaign funds.

“The litigation exposed the tobacco industry’s lies, dramatically reduced teen smoking and resulted in limits in cigarette advertising,” says Matt Myers, general counsel for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “But it is far short of meeting the objectives. We didn’t change the industry’s conduct at all. The product is no safer.”

[…]

In January 1998, the Texas lawsuit settled on the eve of trial for a record $15.3 billion. It’s the largest settlement of a single case in U.S. history.

“The tobacco companies were looking for peace and it was absolutely the right time for the state to push for a settlement,” says Houston trial lawyer Richard Mithoff.

Mithoff represented Harris County in demanding that the cigarette makers also make payments to counties in the state for their smoking-related health care costs.

Mithoff’s efforts, combined with a clever “most favored nation’s” clause that Potter and the state’s outside lawyers included in the Texas settlement agreement, led Big Tobacco to fork over an additional $2.3 billion in July 1998, which increased the overall Texas settlement to $17.6 billion.

The cigarette makers have paid Texas $10.2 billion so far and make annual payments of about $490 million to the state, according to court records.

To pay for the settlement and lawyers’ fees, tobacco companies increased the price of cigarettes by $1.40 per pack, which impacted cash-strapped teenagers the most. As a result, teen smoking plummeted. Surveys showed that nearly 36 percent of teens smoked in 1996, but only 12 percent of them do today.

Myers and others point out that Texas budgeted only $10.2 million, or 2 percent of the $490 million payment to be used for anti-smoking efforts in 2016. At the same time, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids says that the tobacco companies will spend an estimated $630 million on marketing their products in Texas.

The public health group says the annual health care costs for treating sick smokers in Texas will be $8.8 billion this year.

Read the whole thing, it’s worth your time. To me, the single most important thing about this is captured in that sentence about teen smoking rates dropping from 36% to 12% over the past 20 years. The overall impact on public health from that is enormous, well more than enough to outweigh any concerns about what this litigation did or didn’t do. We also now know that increasing the price of a pack of smokes is the single bets way to deter kids from buying them, which has informed our public policy since then; you may recall that a $1-a-pack increase on the cigarette tax was a part of the 2006 property tax reduction deal that resulted from the previous school finance lawsuit. Bottom line, this did a lot of good even if it never did (or, in the case of making “safer” cigarettes, never could have) done all that we were told it would do. I do wonder if we would have even attempted to do something like this if it had happened later in Texas’ political history. John Cornyn became AG in 1998, then Greg Abbott in 2002. Would either of them have pursued this litigation? Maybe Cornyn would have, at least at that time, but I can’t see Greg Abbott giving a damn about it. So count me as being glad that Texas Democrats were still able to win statewide in 1994. Who knows how many more people would be smoking today if Dan Morales hadn’t driven this litigation back then?

We’re going to get more big rain storms

Better get used to it.

The weather is getting worse, says one expert.

Torrential rains fall in the Houston area more often than they used to, according to an unpublished analysis from state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon.

Heavy precipitation of any particular magnitude are twice as likely to fall in the Bayou City today as they were in the early 20th Century. Downpours that struck every two years back then come every year on average now. Deluges that used to drop each 100, 500 or 1000 years should fall more frequently as well.

Nielsen-Gammon, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University who was appointed state climatologist by Gov. George W. Bush in 2000, reviewed data from rainfall gauges across the state, some with records dating to the late 19th Century. For Harris County, he drew from 17 gauges.

“We’ve confirmed that there’s an overall increase in extreme rainfall in Texas over the past century,” he said. “Specifically for Houston the increase has been particularly large.”

[…]

An independent analysis of local rainfall data from the National Weather Service also confirmed the state climatologist’s findings. Of the 100 rainiest days in Houston since 1890, as measured at multiple gauge sites, the wettest of the wet are skewed dramatically towards the last four decades.

You can see the charts and graphs and stuff at the story link. If you’re saying to yourself “weren’t we worried just a few years ago that we’d dry out and turns to dust from lack of rain?”, the answer is yes, and the reason is because we’re getting fewer rain events with more rain in them. Fewer rainstorms, in other words, but more of the storms we do get are big, and they’re more likely to come in groups rather than be spread out more or less evenly over time. Isn’t that awesome? But don’t worry, climate change is still a myth propagated by liberals, so we don’t have anything to worry about and we surely don’t have to change any of our habits in any way.