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Mario Gallegos

Aguilar drops out of HCC Trustee race

I’m guessing the backlash for being a last minute candidate who also happens to be the brother-in-law of the suddenly-stepping-down incumbent must have been pretty strong, because Arturo Aguilar has decided to withdraw from the HCC Trustee race in District 8.

For all everyone knew, Abel Davila was planning to run for re-election to the Houston Community College Board of Trustees, which he serves as chairman.

That’s what he had told supporters and fellow officeholders, and that seemed to explain why he paid $30,000 for five prominent billboards featuring a photo of him and his wife, a Houston ISD trustee, along with the slogan “Partnering for Success.”

He had more than $50,000 in his campaign account as of the latest July accounting — a significant amount for a non-partisan, down-ballot race — and he had the support of other elected and community leaders.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the ballot. Davila never signed up. So when the deadline passed on Wednesday afternoon, the only candidate in the race for the District 8 spot was Arturo Aguilar, who submitted his ballot application 19 minutes before the cutoff.

Aguilar is the brother of Diana Davila, Abel’s wife. But Friday afternoon, the 34-year-old police officer said he is going to withdraw from the race. He did not explain why.

“It’s not in my best interest for me to run,” Aguilar said. “I don’t really want to say more than that. I will leave it as an open seat for those who are more interested.”

Oh, I think we know why Aguilar changed his mind. The rest of the story is quotes from State Sen. Mario Gallegos and the revelation of Eva Loredo as a write-in candidate, both of which I reported yesterday. What is not answered in this story is 1) does this mean Aguilar will not appear on the ballot; and 2) if so, can someone else be added, and under what procedures? I presume that if Aguilar’s name cannot be removed from the ballot that he intends to not take office, in which case there would be a special election to fill the seat. Perhaps some of Abel Davila’s no-longer-needed campaign funds can be used to help pay for that special election if that happens. Does anybody know what the relevant law is regarding who can be on the ballot for this situation?

All in the family, HCC-style

I noted last night and this morning that the HCC Trustee seat in District 8, which was left open at the last minute by Abel Davila, will be filled by his brother-in-law Arturo Aguilar. (Davila is married to HISD Trustee Diana Davila.) It turns out that Aguilar is not the only family member of an elected official who will be inheriting an open HCC Trustee seat. The candidate in District 6 is Sandra Meyers. Like Aguilar, a Google search for her yields basically nothing, but when I looked at her name this morning, I realized it rang a bell. Turns out, if you check the “About” page of HISD Trustee Greg Meyers, his wife’s name is “Sandie”. I have since confirmed that Sandie-wife-of-Greg Meyers and Sandra-soon-to-be-HCC-Trustee Meyers are one and the same. (Campos notes this as well; I figured this out before I saw his post.) And so she, like Aguilar, will walk into an elected position that has a six year term without being vetted by the public. Neither Meyers nor Aguilar has a campaign website I could find, and the Chronicle story that mentioned them was devoid of information beyond their names.

I’m sorry, but this stinks. Meyers, at least, was known to be a candidate before deadline day, and the seat she will occupy was known to be open for longer than that. I don’t know why no one else filed, but at least someone else had the chance. Aguilar got in under the wire when Davila pulled his last-minute retirement act. I have a problem with uncontested open seats, never mind ones that will be handed to the family members of current elected officials. That doesn’t serve democracy, or the interests of the constituents of those districts. And let’s not forget, the position of HCC Trustee has often been a stepping stone to candidacy for other offices. City Council candidates Mills Worsham (whose seat Meyers is getting) and Herman Litt are or were HCC Trustees. Yolanda Navarros Flores, who ran in the special election for District H, is a trustee. Jay Aiyer was a trustee before running for Council in 2005. Jim Murphy, who was succeeded on the Board by Worsham, won election as State Representative in 2006. With a six-year term and no resign-to-run requirement (something that State Sen. Mario Gallegos attempted to address this year), HCC Trustees get numerous opportunities to run for other offices without having to give up their existing gig.

I had a chat with Sen. Gallegos about this today. He was the one I’d heard talking about what had happened in District 8 last night, and to say the least he wasn’t happy about it. To sum up what Sen. Gallegos told me, he said he thought Davila had deceived his constituents and denied them the right to choose the trustee for themselves. He informed me he had no idea who Aguilar was – “I wouldn’t recognize him if he walked into my office right now, or anyone else’s,” he told me – even if Aguilar was Diana Davila’s brother (he is, I learned from another source) or Abel Davila’s sister’s husband. He noted that at least two other people had expressed an interest in filing for the seat, but decided not to run because everyone was supporting Davila. That support is now gone, and I can report that one of those people, a retired HISD principal and lifelong resident of Magnolia Park by the name of Eva Loredo, will file to run as a write-in candidate. I confirmed this with Ms. Loredo, so at least the people who are aware of her will have an option besides skipping the race. It’s better than nothing.

Finally, Campos and commenter JJMB in my earlier post note that something similar happened in HD132 back in 1992, when then-Rep. Paul Colbert stepped down on the day of the filing deadline, and now-Rep. Scott Hochberg, who worked for Colbert, filed in his stead. That was wrong, too, though at least Colbert and Hochberg weren’t related to each other, and the voters had to wait only two years to rectify the situation if they thought it warranted it. Hochberg, of course, is an outstanding State Rep, so the outcome was a good one. Maybe that’ll happen here, who knows? It just would have been nice for the voters to have a say in it, that’s all.

UPDATE: Just got a call from State Sen. Gallegos, who added that he has had a conversation with State Sen. Rodney Ellis, who is equally upset about what happened, and that the two of them plan to prefile legislation next November to allow for an automatic 24 to 48 hour extension of the filing deadline in the case of a non-partisan/non-primary election where an incumbent drops out or announces his or her retirement within 24 hours of the deadline. In other words, the next time this happens, filing for the office would be kept open for another day to allow other candidates to enter. He said a law like this already existed for primaries (Greg alluded to it in response to JJMB’s comment), and this would simply extend the concept to other elections. He said State Sen. John Whitmire was in Austin but he and Sen. Ellis would consult with him and get him on board as well. I think this is a great idea, and support its passage in the next legislative session.

UPDATE: Sandra Meyers’ website is SandieMeyers.com.

Meet the new HISD boss

Here’s more on Terry Grier, the new HISD Superintendent-to-be.

Grier, 59, has been at the helm of the 135,000-student San Diego Unified School District since March 2008. He’s won support for his efforts to boost student achievement and curb dropouts, but his relationship with the teachers’ union and the labor-friendly school board has been rocky.

“Throughout his career Dr. Grier has built a strong reputation for innovation and school reform,” HISD school board President Larry Marshall said in a written statement. “The entire board was impressed with his innovative approach and passion to reform schools and improve student achievement.”

In Houston, Grier will face a larger district with a stubborn dropout problem and a board friendlier to some of his reform ideas, such as performance pay for teachers. The board’s announcement today marks the end of an intense five-month search cloaked in secrecy. The search, which cost taxpayers more than $100,000, intensified in recent weeks with the board interviewing about a dozen people behind closed doors.

[…]

Grier has the misfortune of being hired by a board in San Diego that underwent significant turnover after he signed his contract.

“It’s a different board than the board that hired him,” said San Diego board President Shelia Jackson. “I think he’s used to a board that kind of accepts what he says as gospel, and that’s not particularly true of this board.”

Grier could be walking into a similar situation in Houston, where five of nine school board positions will be on the November ballot. Some of those seats will be occupied by newcomers who won’t have been involved in Grier’s selection. Two incumbents — Natasha Kamrani and Dianne Johnson — have already announced they won’t seek re-election.

Grier’s supporters in San Diego acknowledge his rift with the board and the union, but they praise his leadership and focus on student achievement. Test scores released this week for San Diego rose to an all-time high, although it’s difficult to say how much of that is a result of Grier’s efforts during his short tenure, which covers just one full academic year.

[…]

Camille Zombro, president of the teachers’ union, the San Diego Education Association, said Grier has a “short-attention-span reform style.”

“I’m really sad for Houston,” Zombro said. “It’s not about the particular initiatives or programs he’s put into place or supported. It’s about who he is and his ineffectiveness as a manager.”

One of Grier’s more divisive ideas in San Diego mirrors an ongoing debate in Houston: whether to include student test score data in teachers’ evaluations.

Gayle Fallon, the Houston Federation of Teachers president, reserved judgment.

“I don’t know the man, and we give every superintendent a chance to establish his own relationship with us,” she said. “It’s up to a superintendent to determine whether they want a positive relationship or whether they want to fight.”

Like Gayle Fallon, I’ll reserve judgment for now. I think it’s a good move to hire someone who has had success in lowering dropout rates. If he can do that here, he’ll be a success pretty much no matter what. Hair Balls, School Zone, and Marc Campos have more.

At Large action

We’ve certainly got a fascinating Mayor’s race going on this year, with three viable candidates that can all plausibly claim a path to victory, but it seems to me that there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in the At Large races as well. Marc Campos writes about a development that could affect one of them.

Yesterday, Commentary’s shop sent out an email announcing the supporters for Rick Rodriguez, candidate for H-Town City Council, At Large, Position 1. We will be helping him out this election season. Rodriguez is being taken very seriously. One opposing campaign asked him to consider running in At-Large, Position 4 race – no thanks. Another major interest group asked Rodriguez to run in At-Large, Position 5 – no thanks again. It is pretty obvious to Commentary that local political players know that Rodriguez has a strong base and is a force to deal with. Stay tuned!

Stace made notes of this as well. The email Campos’ shop sent included State Sen. Mario Gallegos, who I’m told made numerous calls on Rodriguez’s behalf, State Rep. and former City Council Member Carol Alvarado, and current City Council Members Ed Gonzalez and James Rodriguez, as supporters. And according to David Ortez, who attended Gene Locke’s event at Doneraki’s on Tuesday, at which Locke announced the endorsement of Gallegos, Alvarado, and several other local Latino leaders, Locke has “informally endorsed” Rodriguez as well. I wish I’d seen that before I conducted my interview with Rodriguez, who was as non-committal about his preferred candidate for Mayor as just about everyone else has been, but oh well. That’s an impressive amount of support for Rodriguez, and established him as someone to watch in a race that already has several strong candidates.

Having said that, Rodriguez still has to establish himself. He finished fourth in the District H special election, with 9.5% of the vote. He entered this race late, and reported essentially no money raised as of July 15. He has not won any endorsements yet; the Tejano Dems went with Herman Litt. All this backing puts Rodriguez on the map, and may position him to get into a runoff, but winning it would be another matter; ask Joe Trevino about that. Let’s not forget, Steve Costello raised a ton of money in the first six months, and has won several endorsements; he announced the support of the Houston Contractors Association and the Houston Apartment Association Better Government Fund today. Herman Litt starts out as a fave among many Dems for all the work he did on things like the Johnson-Rayburn-Richards dinner last year, and he came out of the gate with a lot of endorsements from establishment Dems. Karen Derr has been running longer than anyone in this race, and has raised a pretty respectable amount, though she didn’t have much cash on hand as of July 15. She has won some group endorsements as well. Lonnie Allsbrooks trails in all of these categories, but I sure see a lot of his signs in yards around where I live. Point being, this is a crowded field, and everyone in it has a base.

So I can understand the reasons why there might have been suggestions to Rodriguez that he consider another race. I’m going to guess that one reason why he might prefer At Large #1 to #s 4 or 5 is that he might not want to wind up in a runoff against an African-American candidate when there’s a strong likelihood Gene Locke will also be in a runoff for Mayor. On the other hand, a lot of the votes in this year’s runoff are likely to come from Districts A and G, and while Locke has certainly spent time courting Republican support, it’s not at all clear to me that those folks would go on to vote for C.O. Bradford and/or Jolanda Jones as well.

And that brings me to the other At Large races. Melissa Noriega in #3 is uncontested so far, and will likely get nothing more than token opposition. Pretty much everyone likes her, and nobody likes running against an incumbent, especially one with good fundraising numbers. Sue Lovell in #2 has three opponents, first-timer Roslyn Shorter plus perennials Andrew Burks and Griff Griffin. Unlike 2007, when Lovell spent a lot of her time helping Wanda Adams, James Rodriguez, and Jolanda Jones get elected and wound up in a surprisingly close race against the do-nothing Griff, Lovell is taking her re-election very seriously this time. She’s raising money like never before. I see no reason why she won’t win easily, but I daresay she won’t take anything for granted.

At Large #4 hasn’t changed from the beginning. Bradford and Noel Freeman are fairly evenly matched. Both have won some endorsements. Neither has raised a ton of money. Bradford has more name recognition, but that’s not necessarily a positive for him. I understand the logic that would go into gaming out various runoff scenarios, as described above, but I still don’t quite understand why At Large #1 has five candidates and this race has (for all intents and purposes) two. And I say that as someone who likes both of these gentlemen.

And finally, there’s At Large #5. A month or two ago, I’d have expected Jolanda Jones to cruise to re-election. Carlos Obando, whom I interviewed recently, is a nice guy and I thought he had some good things to say, but he has no money and no obvious backing, and it’s just hard to knock off an incumbent in our system; it’s only happened once since we adopted term limits. Now Jones has two more opponents, and I daresay a larger number of people who would prefer to vote for someone else, but I don’t see any of that translating into support for any one person yet. All three of her opponents have fared poorly in previous elections – Obando lost a GOP primary for HD134 last year, Davetta Daniels lost by a 2-1 margin for HISD Trustee in 2007, and the less said about Jack Christie’s abortive attempt to win this same At Large #5 seat in 2007, the better. I can envision there being enough of a not-Jolanda vote to force a runoff, and I can envision the challenger coming out on top in that scenario, but until one of these folks shows me something, like winning an endorsement that Jones has lost or getting some establishment support on his or her side, I think the smart money stays on the incumbent. Again, while I understand the reasons for running in At Large #1, I can’t help but think there’s an opening here for someone.

Endorsement watch: We take it back

Here’s something you don’t see every election. The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, which had previously endorsed City Council Member Jolanda Jones for re-election to her At Large #5 seat, has now rescinded that endorsement. You can read their letter to CM Jones here (PDF), which is signed by union President Jeff Caynon, who are you know has been sparring with Jones lately. I think this is Round Three, but I could be miscounting that. The HPFFA has not endorsed anyone else in this race, at least as yet.

I couldn’t find a list of other HPFFA endorsements, but I do know that they endorsed Gene Locke for Mayor last week. Locke has racked up a fair number of endorsements lately, mostly from the builders and real estate communities. Today he got the nod from several Latino elected officials, including State Sen. Mario Gallegos, State Rep. Carol Alvarado, Constable Victor Trevino, and HISD Trustee Diana Davila.

Meanwhile, the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats had their endorsement meeting last night, and recommended the following slate:

City of Houston Controller
Ronald Green

City Council At-large 1
Karen Derr

City Council At-large 2
Sue Lovell

City Council At-large 3
Melissa Noriega

City Council At-large 4
Noel Freeman

City Council At-large 5
Jolanda Jones

City Council District A
Lane Lewis

City Council District D
Wanda Adams

Like the HGLBT Political Caucus, the HSYDs had previously endorsed Annise Parker for Mayor. A lot of organizations are doing their screenings and making their choices around now, so look for plenty more of these notices.

Finally, according to a press release I received this afternoon, the Greater Houston Builders Association, which is one of those organizations that has backed Locke, gave its endorsement in At Large #4 to C.O. Bradford. The GHBA’s political advocacy page has not been updated yet to reflect any endorsements. For that matter, neither the HPFFA nor the HSYD pages had current endorsement information up yet. May I suggest y’all get on that, like soon? Thanks.

Once more with the vetoes

Governor Perry explains why he vetoed legislation to improve ethics in Harris County.

“I was never for that bill. Now, there may have been some people on my staff who were of a different mind,” Perry said, responding to a reporter’s question after a campaign event. “If we want to pass a statewide ethics law that deals with cities and counties, then let’s get together during the interim and develop that bill.”

Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, had said the GOP governor’s office told him Friday that Perry would bless the bill, then changed course.

Putting aside the question of the bill’s constitutionality – I’m still dubious of the Governor’s claim – isn’t it a problem when his staffers misrepresent his position like this? At the very least, there was a failure to communicate somewhere along the line. And it appears that it affected more than one bill.

No one likes a bill they worked hard on to die, but there’s particular fury in the environmental community today that Gov. Rick Perry killed House Bill 821, the famous zombie TV recycling legislation. “Perry had no good reason to veto this bill,” Texas Campaign for the Environment Director Robin Schneider said.

[…]

Schneider is particularly frustrated because Perry struck the bill down even though it had wide-spread support (including big industry names like GE, Thomson, Philips and the TechAmerica trade associatiom) that almost exactly mirrored the consensus-backing of the 2007 session’s computer recycling bill. “This bill uses the free market to let the companies come up with their recycling plans, and the fees were modest,” she lamented.

More importantly, Perry’s staff told her he was fine with it – right up to the point he vetoed it.

How many other bills were victimized by bad information from the Governor’s office? This is ridiculous. And I’d still like to know what Ed Emmett thinks about the death of the Harris County bill. Guess I’ll have to call and ask him myself.

Meanwhile, the AusChron looks at vetoes by the number, and determines that Democratic and bipartisan bills were more likely to be killed than Republican bills, and bills from urban areas were killed more often than rural ones. Neither of these observations should come as a surprise.

More on Perry’s vetoes

Governor Perry’s veto of SB2468, the “revolving door” restrictions bill for Harris County, has puzzled its sponsor.

In his veto message, Perry said he rejected the ethics bill, authored by Sen. Mario Gallegos, because it addressed lobbying matters and related criminal penalties only in Harris County, not statewide, and thus characterized it unconstitutional.

Gallegos, a Houston Democrat, said he was surprised at the veto because the bill’s language had been revised to address constitutional issues and further because the governor’s office called him around noon Friday saying Perry was going to bless it.

But around 7:15 p.m., Gallegos said, the governor’s office called again and said the attorney general’s office had declared it unconstitutional.

“I was told several people from Harris County called him (the governor) and told him to the veto the bill. It was a good ethics bill,” Gallegos said.

The so-called “revolving door” restriction required former county employees to wait two years before lobbying.

You would think that a basic concept as a constitutional prohibition on criminal penalties that apply in one part of the state but not in other parts would have come up earlier in the process than this. Sen. Gallegos is suggesting that the people who would be affected by the bill’s restrictions managed to convince Perry to maintain the status quo. I have to say, that strikes me as a much more likely explanation than a sudden discovery that the bill was unconstitutional.

Speaking of bills tailored to specific counties, here’s the story on HB770, which became law by default.

Even though a provision allowing a lawmaker’s beach house — and those nearby — to be rebuilt in an exemption from the Texas Open Beaches Act was not vetoed by the governor, the measure is too flawed to be enforceable, the state land commissioner said Friday.

Commissioner Jerry Patterson said the provision won’t pave the way for the rebuilding of Rep. Wayne Christian’s home or any other one on public beaches.

“It will be the policy of the Texas General Land Office that notwithstanding the Christian amendment, no structure will be rebuilt if it will interfere with the public right to access Texas beaches,” said Patterson, who has railed against the provision but said he agreed with Gov. Rick Perry’s decision.

[…]

In a statement Friday, [Rep. Wayne] Christian said, “I am pleased Governor Perry has agreed with those of us in the Texas Legislature to expedite the post-Ike recovery of Texas families and respect their private property rights.

Patterson, who had urged a veto of the bill, said he had changed his thinking and supports Perry’s decision.

“Two weeks ago, that would have disappointed me. Today, I think the governor did the right thing,” Patterson said, adding that the Christian amendment will change nothing.

“Texas beaches will remain as they have always been, open to all Texans, not just a few,” Patterson said.

Too bad, I was kind of hoping Patterson would go rogue. So what happens if Christian starts rebuilding his house? Who’s going to stop him, and how?

One veto I hadn’t noted yesterday was of HB130, which was a pre-kindergarten bill. As with pretty much all of the vetoes here, this one caught supporters by surprise.

“It’s a bad day for public education and for Texas’ youngest and neediest children,” [bill author Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington] said.

House Bill 130 would have put in place new quality standards for pre-kindergarten classes, including teacher training and class size limits. The classes serve children who are homeless or in foster care, have a parent in the military, have limited English-speaking skills or whose families are low-income.

The original bill would have expanded pre-kindergarten classes from half-day to full-day for the children who now qualify for the program. But the initial $623 million price tag proved too much for the Legislature to swallow in a tight budget.

The final bill that cleared the Legislature, while keeping the quality standards, provided $25 million in grant money for districts that already have full-day pre-kindergarten but were slated to lose state funding.

UPDATE: Perry wrote in his veto statement that the money would be better used to expand the number of children served in the existing program.

“Under the funding formula for the existing grant program, $25 million would serve more than 27,000 students over the next biennium, which is 21,000 students more than the estimated 6,800 students that would have been served under the bill’s proposed program – or a 305 percent increase,” Perry wrote.

But Patrick noted that the $25 million does not provide the districts the full amount needed to offer full-day classes, so the districts will still bear significant costs.

Even with the veto, those districts will get the money but the quality standards will not take effect.

One-hundred House members had signed on to the bill, which had the strong backing of House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts.

“More Republicans supported the bill than not,” Patrick said. “Clearly, many Republicans as well as Democrats understand that pre-k education is an investment for which there is a great return.”

Penny-wise and pound-foolish, which is about what you’d expect from our Governor. Other views on the vetoes: from Grits, who agreed with some but as I expected disliked the rejection of HB3148; and from Eye on Williamson.

Endorsement watch: Three Senators for Locke

Via email from the Gene Locke campaign, the three Democratic State Senators who serve in Houston have all endorsed Locke’s candidacy for Mayor.

“At a time when Houston needs a strong, accomplished leader at City Hall, the right candidate has come forward. We are committed to seeing Gene Locke elected Mayor of Houston,” declared John Whitmire, Dean of the Texas Senate and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice; Rodney Ellis, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Organization and a member of the far-reaching Committee on State Affairs; and Mario Gallegos, Chairman of the Senate Sub-committee on Flooding & Evacuations and Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Jurisprudence. The declaration came in the form of a joint statement issued from Austin where the Texas Legislature is in the final weeks of its biennial session.

I’ve reproduced the email beneath the fold. I wasn’t following endorsements very closely during the 2003 Mayoral campaign, but my recollection is that there weren’t too many of them being given this early on. The campaign cycle starts a lot earlier these days, thanks to things like early voting and a greater emphasis on social networking, but this is still a nice catch for Locke. With the three main contenders all being Democrats, I suspect there will be more of a push for endorsements like these. There’s video of the three statements at Locke’s web page if you want to hear what they say instead of reading it, which you can do by clicking on.

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RIP, statewide smoking ban

I thought it still had a chance after it finally passed out of committee in the Senate, but the statewide smoking ban is officially dead.

[State Sen. Rodney] Ellis held a press conference to announce the death of the statewide smoking ban in public facilities and indoor workplaces after it failed to get enough Senate support.

The announcement comes at the end of a dramatic last minute push over the last two days by Ellis and others, notably Rep. Carol Alvarado who got one bended knee and pleaded with Sen. Mario Gallegos to change his “no” vote. “If you watch the tape you’ll either think I’m a dancer or I was working votes,” said Ellis. “I can assure you, I had very little to dance about.”

Yesterday, Ellis said he was at 20 votes in the Senate, just one short of the 21 needed to bring a bill to the floor. But, things changed between the end of yesterday’s floor session and this morning. “Some of the amendments that I was inclined to take [yesterday] became even more Draconian overnight,” he said. Ellis opted to end the fight rather than “gut the bill to the point where it’s almost meaningless.”

Advocacy groups like Smoke Free Texas vows to continue their fight as they look forward to the 2011 session. “Two years from now, when the Legislature returns,” Smoke Free Texas member and government relations director for the Texas High Plains Division of the American Cancer Society James Gray said in a statement, “more states will be smoke-free, more Texas communities will have passed local moke-free ordinances – and thousands more Texans will be ill or dead from secondhand smoke exposure.”

I thought this was the year for the statewide smoking ban, but it wasn’t to be. It did get farther than last time, so you have to like its chances in 2011. Better luck then, y’all. A statement from Sen. Ellis about this is beneath the fold.

Meanwhile, in other legislative news and notes:

– The handguns-on-campus bill gets new life in the Senate after an identical House bill had been declared dead. I can’t say I’m crazy about this, but given that private schools can opt out, I’m not too worked up about it. I thought at the time of its passage that the original concealed-carry law would be a disaster, and that has not proven to be the case. I suspect in the end this will not be any different. This still has to pass the House, however, and as Floor Pass notes, it may run out of time before that happens.

– Congratulations! It’s a bouncing new state agency.

The Texas Senate, GOP-controlled and usually advocating smaller government, voted this afternoon to create a new state agency — the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles — to help streamline vehicle registrations in the state.

Earlier approved by the House, the measure includes only a transfer of registrations and three other functions from the Texas Department of Transportation.

It does not include vehicle inspection and driver licensing, which legislative leaders had earlier threatened to strip from the embattled Texas Department of Public Safety.

“Maintaining these functions under the TxDOT umbrella does not allow that agency to focus on its core mission” of building and maintaining Texas’ transportation system,” said state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the Senate sponsor of the measure. “By separating these functions into a new agency, we can more rapidly automate the process.”

In addition to the Vehicle Title and Registration Division, the new agency will include the Motor Carrier Division, the Automobile and Vehicle Theft Prevention Division and and Motor Vehicle Division, Corona said. It will not include a transfer of overweight permits.

I thought this was a good idea when I first heard about it. I still do.

– Sen. Patrick’s slightly-watered down sonogram bill got somewhat undiluted in the House State Affairs committee. If we’re lucky, that will make it too rich to pass the Senate again.

HCR50, the states-rights resolution that Governor Perry embraced for the teabagging demonstrations, got derailed, at least for now, on a point of order.

– That burning smell you might have detected earlier today was TxDOT getting grilled by the House over HB300.

– A lot of good environmental bills are still alive.

– When you make a mistake, and you admit you’ve made a mistake, you try to fix it, right? Well, then you’re not the Texas Railroad Commission, which needs for the Lege to clean up after itself.

– And finally, it’s probably a bad idea to imply that your primary opponent’s supporters are somehow akin to prostitutes. Eileen explains. No, that’s not legislative in nature, but I couldn’t pass it up.

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Hey, remember when we were gonna reform county ethics?

How’s that been going?

Efforts to clean up Harris County government appear to be on indefinite hold as any serious debate about ethics reform has been derailed for months by infighting and political gamesmanship.

Commissioners Court has yet to act on a slate of suggestions prepared by an ethics reform task force that County Judge Ed Emmett appointed as scandals involving his colleagues clouded his Republican primary campaign.

The most significant reforms would require legislative approval, but only one bill has been filed as the biennial session’s end quickly approaches.

That legislation, which aims to block county officials from profiting from their connections after they enter the private sector, was drafted at the behest of Commissioner Sylvia Garcia and does not have the backing of the full court.

When asked why the reform package has gone nowhere, locally or in Austin, court members are quick to assign blame to someone else.

Commissioners Steve Radack and Jerry Eversole said it is up to Emmett to bring the package up for a vote since he is the one who appointed the task force. He does not need court’s permission to push his own bills in Austin as long as he does not claim he is speaking for the entire court, Radack added.

“If Emmett doesn’t have the courage to place the proposals on the agenda, he shouldn’t blame me because I would vote for anything constructive and beneficial to Harris County,” Eversole said in a statement.

You may recall that back in September, Commissioner Eversole said he’d back whatever ethics reform bill came before the court because he expected to be busted by the FBI before the new laws would affect him. That’s the last time we’ve heard anything about ethics reform. As it happens, a couple of days after that Hurricane Ike paid us a visit, and the focus of the County Judge race shifted away from ethics, for obvious reasons. But it never went away, and with the legislative session creeping to a close, it’s getting to be now or never.

Ethics reform became a major theme of Emmett’s campaign last year after Eversole came under fire for questionable campaign spending and former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal resigned following the release of e-mails that included racist jokes, sexually explicit images, campaign materials and affectionate messages to his executive assistant.

Emmett promised on the campaign trail to push for legislation authorizing Harris County to establish a board to investigate ethics complaints, to require lobbyists to register and to close the revolving door. He acknowledged, however, he has done little lobbying on the measure since Commissioner El Franco Lee twice referred the package to the County Attorney’s Office for comparisons between current law and the recommendations.

County Attorney Vince Ryan submitted his final report in February. The court took no action, and the package has not reappeared on the agenda.

[…]

Failing to adopt the reforms he touted could provide ammunition to a Republican primary challenger in 2010, when Emmett faces running again for his first full four-year term.

Or, you know, for a Democratic challenger in November. Ethics reform was a big part of David Mincberg’s campaign last year. Emmett eventually co-opted some of Mincberg’s ideas when he formed that task force last May, but since then there’s been nada.

Garcia said she agrees with every element of Emmett’s package and would like to add campaign contribution limits and strengthen other financial reporting requirements.

She said she was the under the impression the court supported her revolving-door bill when she took it to [State Sen. Mario] Gallegos, a Houston Democrat.

She said she did not find out that Radack opposed the bill until Thursday night, minutes before she was supposed to testify about the measure before a Senate committee.

Radack said he would support the bill if it was amended to block city officials from remaining in office while running for a county post. Garcia remained Houston’s city controller while she ran for her current seat in 2002.

And there was Adrian Garcia, now Harris County Sheriff, last year. Council Member Sue Lovell is known to be looking at a run for County Clerk next year. You don’t suppose there might be a partisan motive in Radack’s objection, do you? Nah, surely not.

Senate passes budget

The good news is that the budget presented by the Senate isn’t a big step backwards, which was a real concern given the bleak financial picture and the huge obligation of the property tax cuts, which we continue to be unable to fully pay for. As we know, we have the federal stimulus funding to thank for all of this. The bad news is that the Senate budget is not a step forward either, and it’s not clear that much of those federal dollars will be used in a way that’s actually stimulative.

As it stands, the budget proposal would increase funding for college aid, but not nearly enough to cover all students eligible for Texas grants. It would increase money for human services, but it wouldn’t expand eligibility for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Among spending highlights, it would pour more money into community services for people with disabilities.

Public schools would get a boost, with some funding tied to separate finance system reforms. Universities and health-related institutions would get an increase.

Correctional officers would get pay raises, and a teacher incentive pay program would get an infusion.

The proposal also would increase funding for regulatory agencies to ensure they can properly do their jobs, a move budget-writers advocated because they said insufficient oversight contributed to national economic problems.

Budget supporters also addressed the controversial question of funding for embryonic stem-cell research. Before the Senate’s 26-5 vote approval, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden clarified that his proposal only would prohibit money appropriated by the state budget from being used directly for research that involves the destruction of a human embryo. It would not ban such research.

Overall, the budget sought to balance spending on crucial services and saving for expected harder times to come. Backers said the budget makes progress and critics said it doesn’t go far enough to address critical needs.

There also were questions over whether the budget properly uses nearly $11 billion in stimulus funding for the fiscal period that starts Sept. 1.

About half of the stimulus money would substitute for state funds that otherwise would be needed. That raised questions because the proposal leaves untouched a state savings account known as the rainy day fund. That account is expected to grow to $9.1 billion in a couple of years.

I have some sympathy for Ogden’s position about not spending the money in the rainy day fund, given that sales tax revenues being collected now will be the basis of the next budget. Given how awful I thought this budget was going to be when the session first began, I almost feel a sense of relief at the way it has turned out so far. On the other hand, given how reluctant a lot of Republicans were to dip into the rainy day fund for just about everything, even hurricane relief, before we knew there would be enough federal money to cover whatever we needed, I can’t say I have much faith that we won’t be in an equivalent position in two years’ time, only without any assistance from DC. And I know that the top priority of the Republicans will be maintaining those irresponsible property tax cuts. I’m glad to avoid the problem for now, and I’m glad that the usual budget victims escaped mostly unscathed, but I totally understand why those five Senators (all Democrats – Ellis, Gallego, Watson, Shapleigh, and Davis) voted no.

Of course, this isn’t the final word, not by a longshot. The House still has to do its thing, and then there will be a committee to reconcile the two. As noted at the end of this story, among other things that could mean the Ogden stem cell rider, which was kinda sorta clarified, could be taken out. Here’s Patricia Kilday Hart on what that rider now says:

“I have recently passed around what I think might be better language” which he will substitute in conference committee, Ogden said. The revised rider would prohibit the use of state money “to directly fund embryonic stem cell research” until the state Legislature passes “legislation regulating embryonic stem cell research.”

He said adding the word “directly” would mean that researchers at state universities could continue their work if it is funded by other entities. Opponents of the original rider had been concerned that embryonic stem cell researchers would no longer be able to work in state-supported institutions.

The process by which that rider made it into the budget in the first place was still lousy. I do hope it winds up on the cutting room floor.

One last issue with the budget has to do with money for the Frew settlement. Here’s Kilday Hart again:

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte believes the Senate Finance Committee failed to include enough money in SB 1 to cover the state’s obligations under the settlement of the Frew v. Hawkins lawsuit, in which the state agreed two years ago to significantly improve access to Medicaid services. And she lays the blame for the failure at the feet of Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office.

Van de Putte notes that Frew plaintiff’s attorney Susan Zinn has sent two letters — one dated Jan. 27 and one dated March 16 — to the AG’s office advising it of non-compliance with a 2007 agreement, particularly with a promise to spend $150 million on “strategic initiatives” to increase participation by children in Medicaid services — primarily by increasing participation by health care providers. Zinn’s letters to the AG noted that the Legislative Budget Board’s funding recommendations for the next biennium do not comply with the court order. Van de Putte says Zinn has received no response from the state to her letters.

Further, she said, Senate budget writers were not advised of the plaintiff’s concerns. ”To my knowledge, (no one) in Finance or leadership was given those documents showing what was needed to be compliant,” she said. “There was a disconnect.”

If lawmakers fail to fully fund the settlement, “we will be in violation” of a federal court order, Van de Putte noted. “Our attorneys failed to communicate to budget writers.”

Let’s hope there are no nasty surprises lurking in there. Here’s a statement from Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, one of the No votes, and a statement from Sen. Van de Putte, who voted Yes with reservations, is beneath the fold.

UPDATE: Floor Pass has a nice recap of yesterday’s Senate budget action.

(more…)

Time to throw out the first attack mailer of the season

So we got a weird little piece of mail Saturday. Addressed to both of us, in a plain envelope with no return address was a one-page letter that attacked Carl Whitmarsh, best know for his prodigious Democratic email list, and consultant Marc Campos. Using questionable grammar and a lot of underlining, it basically accused Carl and Marc of being in cahoots, specifically that Marc bankrolls Carl’s email operations, while Carl plugs Marc’s clients to his list. I don’t have a scanner, so I can’t show you the letter just yet, but I can tell you it contained the following closing, reprinted exactly as it appears:

Paid political news brought to you by Don Carpenter & M. Rodriguez – Owners Investigations Inc. Houston, Texas — Marc & Carl your gig is up, the truth is out now.

If this really was a paid piece, I have a feeling it didn’t exactly fulfill state disclosure requirements, but never mind that for now. It was also as plain as can be – nothing but black type, all one font, on ordinary white paper. Printing an email looks fancier than this. If someone was paid to produce this, he or she didn’t waste any effort on production values, that’s for sure. Whatever the case, the letter promises more to come, for which I can hardly wait. Crankery is usually entertaining, and that’s what this looks like. I seriously doubt they can back up their claims.

I don’t know who these guys are – Google searches on “Investigations Inc Houston” and on “Don Carpenter investigations Houston” yielded nothing useful – and I don’t know what their beef is or what interest they may have in the District H race. I assume this has something to do with that since the one clue as to their motivation comes from the following paragraph, again reprinted exactly as it appears:

Marc bashes good Democrats (via Carl’s list) like Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee & Senator Mario Gallegos just to name a couple of recent ones via Carl’s list. Why? Marc did this cause the Senator kicked Marc’s & Carl’s client Yolanda’s arse before. They want a client candidate to run at Sheila & Mario in order for them to make some $.

You know about the Jackson Lee kerfuffle. The other reference is to this Daily Commentary entry from March 12.

The proponents of bi-annual Lone Star State legislative sessions usually don’t have to go far for ammo. Check out what an astute legislative observer sent Commentary yesterday:

“Wanted you to know, because someone may ask, Mario (Gallegos) filed legislation (SB 1895) today that would require any member of HISD or HCC board to resign if they were to become a candidate for a municipal, state or federal office.

He did it last session, and it’s clearly a personal attack bill, but of course it’s not going anywhere. Just a heads up should someone get a hold of it.”

This bill is clearly aimed at HCC Trustee Yolanda Navarro Flores who is running in the H-Town City Council District H Special Election that is scheduled for May 9. I don’t know why anyone up in the legislature would want to weigh in on a local council race. This isn’t exactly a major public policy crisis that needs addressing. If Gallegos was to ever have a hearing on the bill, I sure would love to see the witness list and their talking points. There are quite a few of Gallegos’ constituents that are supporting Yolanda. I wonder what they think. All this bill does is energize Yolanda’s family, friends, and supporters. It sounds like Gallegos has a case of the insecurities if you ask me. Commentary would have a little respect for this if Gallegos had included H-Town city officials. Of course, that would have meant calling out the Mayor. This is clearly one of the silliest bills of this session.

He doesn’t mention it here (though I believe he has done so in previous Commentaries), but Campos is Yolanda Navarro Flores’ campaign consultant for the District H race. That entry drew a long response, which Carl duly forwarded to his list, from Lillian Villarreal, who is Sen. Gallegos’ sister and who said Campos took advantage of the fact that Carl forwards his commentaries to distribute a “political piece” that touted his paid client. Campos responded to that here.

Anyway. I can only presume this has something to do with that. Assuming there is a coherent motive behind all that, that is – as I said, this looks like the work of a crank who is just trying to stir up trouble. Whether there will be more than this, or whether the identity and motivations of the senders comes out, I don’t know either. Heck, I don’t even know how widespread this was – the last time there was this kind of mail related to a District H race, back in the 2003 election, other people who’d gotten the mail emailed me to inquire about it. So far, I’ve heard from one other recipient, so at least I know they didn’t just send it to me. I’ll try to find a scanner this week so I can post the whole thing for your perusal. In the meantime, if anyone else got this, please leave a comment and let me know. Thanks.

One last thing: The reason I’m blogging about this is that I dislike anonymous attack pieces, and I think it’s best to shine light on them. This one had names attached to it, but so far those names don’t tell me anything, so it may as well have been anonymous. I also don’t care for the way this piece went about making its charges but merely teasing about proof. If you’re going to accuse someone of something, show me the evidence. Don’t just claim you’ve got it then say you’ll get back to me. Put up or shut up, and give the people you’re accusing a chance to respond. In the meantime, I say it’s the senders who look bad. If and when I get more on this, I’ll let you know and we’ll go from there.

Candidate interview: Yolanda Navarro Flores

Next up in the District H special election interview series is Yolanda Navarro Flores. As far as I know, she is the only candidate to have been elected to public office before – she served one term in the Lege in HD148 from 1993-95 (she then ran for the open SD06 seat in the Democratic primary in 1994 and lost in a runoff to Sen. Mario Gallegos); she is also the HCC Trustee from District I and Vice Chair of the Board, a position to which she was first elected in 2001. Flores is a resident of Lindale. My interview with her is here. As always, please let me know what you think.

On a side note, please be aware that the location for tomorrow night’s candidate forum has been changed to the HCDP headquarters, 1445 North Loop West, Suite 110, which is just east of Ella. Hope you can make it to this event.

PREVIOUSLY:

Rick Rodriguez

What you can do today to fight against the Voter ID bill

Via email from State Sen. Mario Gallegos:

This Tuesday, March 10, 2009, the Senate Committee of the Whole will conduct a hearing on proposed photo Voter Identification (SB 362 by Fraser) legislation in the Texas Senate Chamber. On behalf of all Texans, your testimony is vital to blocking unnecessary Voter ID legislation. Please come to Austin to voice your opinion.

Here is what we are hearing regarding the specific schedule that day:

9 a.m. – Hearing will begin with invited testimony

Midday – Hearing resumes with public testimony (anyone can sign up to testify) after the daily Senate session

There is no justification for Voter ID, this legislation only address in person voter fraud – a problem which is virtually non-existent. Despite spending millions on a 2005-2006 Voter Fraud crusade, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott did not find or prosecute one case of Voter Impersonation.

Currently, voters can participate in an election by presenting their voter registration card. The Voter ID proposal would require voters to produce an official ID along with their voter registration card in order to cast their vote. This legislation will create a bureaucratic nightmare for voting that will affect the elderly and minority communities across this state.

In fact, after Indiana passed their Voter ID legislation, twelve elderly nuns were denied access to the poles, because they did not have a valid photo ID. Make no mistake this legislation is aimed at all of us.

As you may recall two years ago I risked my life and went against doctor’s orders to block unnecessary partisan legislation, this is how important this issue is to me and to all Texans. This time I am asking you to come to Austin and fight along side me. In order to protect our fundamental right to vote we need everyone to attend this important hearing.

How to testify:

How can YOU be a part of preserving your civic duty to vote? According to the Senate Rules all you have to do in order to testify, is show up and fill out a witness affirmation card. If you want to register your opposition to the bill, but not testify, then just check on the card where it says “does not wish to testify,” and your name will be added to the record as having opposed the legislation, without offering testimony. Unfortunately, there is no way to sign up in advance.

Thank you and see you on March 10th!

If you cannot attend the hearing you can still help the fight against Senate Bill 362 by Fraser:

Call your State Senator

Write a letter to local newspaper

Spread the word to your friends and family

Thank you for your support,

Mario Gallegos, Jr.
Texas Senator
District 6

Remember, Voter ID is the single most important issue facing Texas today, according to the Republican Party, which will have plenty of its own representation (scroll down) at the hearing. We all need to tell them how wrong they are.

Sen. Rodney Ellis is also on this:

When the Texas legislature should be serving the public by addressing the serious issues facing our state today–access to health care, improving education, addressing the serious issues facing our state’s economy– Republicans have chosen to focus on a partisan attempt to deny many the right to vote. Voter identification is a bitterly partisan issue, one that some in the Texas Senate knew would never be heard unless they changed the rules. On the second day of the 81st legislative session, they did just that.

I recently wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, urging the U.S. Department of Justice to review this bill to ensure that Texas is complying with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Voting Rights Act requires Texas, and several other states, to pre-clear any election procedure that may affect minority voters. The Voter Suppression bill will do nothing to ensure the integrity of our election process. It will only serve to suppress thousands of minority and elderly voters from exercising their rights as American citizens.

We need your help. The Voter Suppression bill is coming to the Senate floor to be voted on by the Committee of the Whole Senate on Tuesday, March 10 at 9am. I encourage you to participate in the democratic process that some are trying to suppress by signing up to testify at the Texas Capitol in Austin Tuesday morning.

If you are willing to testify please come to the Texas Capitol on Tuesday, March 10 or email Dallas Jones at [email protected] Please include your:

* Full Name
* Mailing Address
* Email Address
* Contact Phone Number

Thank you for your attention regarding this pressing issue facing our state.

Sincerely,

Senator Rodney Ellis

email: [email protected]
web: http://www.rodneyellis.com

So there you have it. Please do whatever you can to help. Stace and BOR have more.

Here come stimulus money

The first batch of funds is arriving.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development allocated more than $500 million to Texas cities and counties on Monday, part of a wave of stimulus money expected to flow into the state.

Federal officials released $14.4 million more to support 12 Texas health centers, many of which provide care to people with no health insurance. The federal money is expected to create more than 400 jobs in the state, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

[…]

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs received the biggest chunk of money — about $148.4 million for affordable rental housing projects that rely on low-income housing tax credits.

More than 350 public housing authorities in Texas received $119.8 million for public housing projects, including energy-efficient modernization, capital improvements and critical safety repairs. San Antonio and El Paso received the most public housing assistance with about $14.6 million and $12.7 million, respectively.

There’s more, and I’m glad to see it. I suspect most of the agencies that will benefit from these monies haven’t exactly been flush in recent years, if ever. Hopefully, we can get a lot of good done.

Of course, there’s still a fight looming over how much Governor Perry wants the state to accept. Towards that end, a group of Democratic legislators will be calling on Perry to take everything that has been allocated for Texas. From their release:

Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston,) Representative Jim Dunnam (D-Waco), Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin), Senator Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso), Senator Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) and Senator Mario Gallegos (D-Houston) will hold a press conference to urge Governor Perry to accept all available stimulus funds on Tuesday, March 3, 2009, beginning at 9:00 AM, in the Lieutenant Governor’s Press Room.

The press conference will call on state leaders to invest the stimulus funding in programs and priorities which will give a hand-up to as many Texans as possible. The legislators will particularly focus on plans to shore up Texas’ rapidly dwindling Unemployment Insurance System.

While Texas does not yet face double digit unemployment, as Michigan does, the economic forecast is not rosy. According to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, the Texas economy will lose 111,000 jobs in 2009, and the unemployment rate is expected to rise from 6 to 8.2 percent. The recently passed Economic Recovery Act offers $555.7 million to Texas to shore up its shaky unemployment fund, but the state must first pass a series of reforms to be eligible. Unfortunately, even as Texas accepts stimulus funds, some continue to say the state should reject unemployment funding, simply because it requires small changes to the program.

It would be nice to have some Republican legislators doing this as well, but this is a good start. That press conference will be at 9 AM in the Lt. Governor’s press room in the Capitol.

Finally, on a related note, a group of transportation activists will be making a call of their own to TxDOT tomorrow regarding that agency’s plans for its federal stimulus funds.

In February, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) allocated $2.25 billion in federal transportation funds to Texas. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) will allow states up to one year to decide which projects to build.

But the Texas Transportation Commission is poised to ram through $1.7 billion of new stimulus-funded projects at their meeting Thursday. The project list is chock full of controversial projects, including the Grand Parkway in Houston, the US-281 toll road across the Edwards aquifer in San Antonio, roads to nowhere, and sprawl highways through environmentally-sensitive areas. Further, many Texans object to spending stimulus on toll roads.

On Tuesday morning, Texans from across the state will converge at the capitol to demand that Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) slow down and do this right. We must ensure our federal stimulus isn’t wasted on boondoggles!

What: Joint citizen press conference

Who:

* Texans United for Reform and Freedom (TURF), Terri Hall, http://texasturf.org
* Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter, Brandt Mannchen, http://texas.sierraclub.org
* Environment Texas, Alejandro Savransky, http://environmenttexas.org
* IndependentTexans, Linda Curtis, http://indytexans.org
* Houston Tomorrow, Jay Crossley, http://houstontomorrow.org
* Citizens’ Transportation Coalition (CTC), Robin Holzer, http://ctchouston.org

When: Tuesday, Mar 3, 2009 at 9:15 am

Where: East steps of the Texas Capitol, Austin, TX

That would be just like TxDOT, wouldn’t it? I hope they listen to the call to slow down.

UPDATE: The Observer has more about TxDOT and the fast one they’re trying to pull.

Van de Putte profile

Really nice article in the SA Current about San Antonio’s Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic caucus leader and a rising national star who had a pretty busy year in 2008 and may be headed for bigger things next year.

In January, she delivered the Spanish-language response to George W. Bush’s final State of the Union Address. In February, she block-walked on the West Side with Hillary Clinton. In June, she set the stage for Clinton’s withdrawal from the presidential sweepstakes by striking a unifying tone at the Texas Democratic Convention. The following week, she joined 11 other Latino leaders at a Washington meeting with Barack Obama to discuss his relationship with the Latino community.

In August, she co-chaired the third night of the national convention, bringing down the curtain on a night when Obama secured the Democratic nomination and Vice-Presidential nominee Joe Biden delivered his acceptance speech. In October, Texas A&M University Press published Latina Legislator: Leticia Van de Putte and the Road to Leadership, an examination by UTSA political-science professor Sharon Navarro of Van de Putte’s pioneering role as the second Latina senator in Texas history. In December, San Antonio mayoral hopeful Julian Castro publicly introduced Van de Putte as someone who “might be the next Democratic candidate for governor.” That same month, her office had to deny persistent rumors that Barack Obama planned to offer her a position in his administration. And Van de Putte herself has hinted that she might be open to a 2010 run for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s soon-to-be-vacant U.S. Senate seat.

[…]

In recent years, Texas has been brutal to Democrats in state-wide races, and while Van de Putte points out that such a run would be easier for her now that her kids are grown (her youngest is a 19-year-old college student), she doesn’t seem particularly eager to leave the Texas Senate.

“If I can still have that passion in something else, then that’s what I’m going to do,” she says. “But, really, what drives me is my family and the kids. I’ve got great freedom. I have a wonderful district that’s allowed me to do stuff, and they’ve voted me in for another four years, and I’m going to use the voice.”

“We have several well-qualified candidates [for governor and senator],” [Taking Back texas co-founder DeeJay] Johannessen says. “She’s served her constituency well and would be a good candidate.”

[Sen. Mario] Gallegos believes that Van de Putte would alter the game in Texas simply by making a bid for higher office.

“She would get crossover voting, not only because she’s female, but because of the leadership role she’s taken all these years,” he says. “She brings a fresh outlook on things and I think that’s what people are looking for. There’s no doubt in my mind that if she decides to run for the U.S. Senate, or whatever position she decides to run for, that she’ll be able to get her share of the votes.”

I noted the possibility of a Van de Putte candidacy for Governor last week, and nothing I’ve heard since then has changed my perception that she’d generate a lot of excitement if she did run. She doesn’t start out with a lot of money in her campaign coffers, but reading that piece it’s clear she’d have a lot of resources to tap into, including perhaps the President himself. She won re-election last year, so she would not have to give up her Senate seat to make a run for Governor in 2010. Obviously, if either Bill White or John Sharp changed course from the Senate race, that would likely change her calculus. But as things stand now, perhaps the stars are lining up for Sen. Van de Putte to take a crack at it next year. Count me as one who’d be delighted to see this. If you count yourself as well, you can join the Draft Leticia Van de Putte for Governor Facebook group, which has 150 members at the time I published this, and make your preference known. EoW and BOR have more.