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Interview with Richard Carlbom


This week’s interviews are going to be about the referendum for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which the Supreme Court ordered to be on the ballot. It is City of Houston Proposition 1, with a Yes vote being in favor of keeping the ordinance, which as a reminder prohibits discrimination in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment, and housing based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy. Houston Unites is the primary campaign for Proposition 1, so it only made sense for me to speak with the campaign manager for Houston Unites, Richard Carlbom, whose name I unfortunately mangled in the opening of the interview; I had originally read the “m” at the end of his surname as “rn”. I can’t even blame my glasses for that, as I have a new pair with a tighter prescription. Anyway, here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Hillary’s Latino voter push

We’ll see if the reality measures up to the pregame hype.

Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton is ramping up her outreach to Hispanic voters, and Texas is playing a prominent role in the coming push.

The former secretary of state plans to speak Oct. 15 in San Antonio about Hispanic women and her own ties to the Latino community, a campaign aide said Thursday. The speech will be part of a national effort called “Latinos for Hillary” that the campaign is launching to coincide with Hispanic Heritage Month.

The speech is not the only way Texas is factoring into Latinos for Hillary. Texas is also among the several states the campaign plans to host “Latino house parties” during the first Democratic presidential debate, which is scheduled for Oct. 13 in Las Vegas. And the campaign is dispatching U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, to Nevada two days before the debate to stump for her in the early voting state.

In Texas, Clinton will have the opportunity to remind the state’s Latinos of her work helping register Hispanic voters in South Texas after graduating from law school. Endorsing Clinton for president on Wednesday, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis suggested Texans won’t forget her early activism in the state come Election Day.

“I know that Hillary holds Texas in a very dear place in her heart,” Davis said, later telling reporters, “She’s been loyal to this state, and I expect that this state’s going to be loyal to her.”

There was a similar story in the Chron as well. I don’t know how much any of this is factored into the polling numbers we have seen lately, but one way or another it is a factor. It’s not just a Texas thing, of course. Here’s an email I got with some more details about what’s to come:

  • The campaign will launch Latinos for Hillary starting the end of the week for the next several weeks. Hillary Clinton will do an interview with Telemundo while she’s in Florida on Friday.
  • The launch will coincide with Hispanic Heritage Month and will be used to energize, organize and earn the support of the Latino community.
  • In the face of a GOP field that promises to diminish the Latino community, Hillary’s message will be that she will defend and stand with Latinos— because when Latino families are strong, America is strong.
  • The campaign will host a number of organizing activities, including an organizing event in San Antonio on Oct. 15th focused on Latinas and her personal story. This will be her first organizing event in Texas since she announced, and her second public event in Texas.  Hillary previously gave a speech in Houston for how to expand access to the ballot box.  Her connection to the community dates back to when she registered Latino voters in south Texas and along the Rio Grande after graduating from Law School.
  • Hillary Clinton will hold campaign events in Nevada the day after the Democratic debate, where the Latino vote is critical for the caucus and the general election. Rep. Joaquin Castro will campaign forClinton in the state leading up to the debate on Oct. 11th.
  • The campaign will also host a number of Latino house parties around the Democratic debate in key states like Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Texas and Virginia.
  • Hillary Clinton will speak at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s (CHCI) 38th Annual Awards Gala on Thursday, Oct. 8th at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. Hillary has a relationship with CHCI dating back to her time as First Lady and worked to empower Latino youth.  This is the largest Latino gathering in the country.  President Obama will also address the group.
  • Hillary Clinton will do calls over the next week with the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), which represents a coalition of the nation’s 40 prominent Latino organizations; Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) members; and Latino leaders and supporters. Hillary previously met with the CHC this summer where she discussed her policy agenda and issues important to the community.
  • The campaign will roll out endorsements in the coming weeks from community leaders, elected officials and celebrities, and urge voters to tell their stories through digital channels.
  • Director of Latino Outreach Lorella Praeli, an activist and a DREAMer, has a deep understanding of the community.  She developed the plan and will lead these efforts in order to earn the vote of this key constituency.

Read more about her story here:

  • One of the first policy announcements that Hillary Clinton made was on immigration.  Hillary also laid out her vision on expanding access to the ballot box and voting rights. She has also focused on other the issues that matter most to Latinos like the economy and education by speaking to those communities directly when she rolled out her proposals.
  • “Latinos for Hillary” will serve as a platform to highlight Clinton’s agenda to fight for Latinos. Latinos continue to get short-changed on incomes, lag on educational attainment rates, and many live in the shadows in fear that deportation will tear their families apart. Clinton has laid out a vision to help Latinos get ahead and stay ahead, including:

o   She will get incomes rising again for Latino families: On average, Hispanic households earn $500,000 less than the average white household. Hillary will fight to raise incomes for hard working Latino families.


o   She will make college affordable for Latinos: Latino college students are less likely than white students to enroll in a four-year college and nearly 67% of Latino students who do earn bachelor’s degrees leave school with debt. Hillary’s New College Compact will ensure that cost is not a barrier for anyone who wants to attend college.


o   She will make quality, affordable, childcare a reality for families: Nearly 32 percent of Hispanic women in college and almost 18% of Hispanic men in college are balancing school with raising their children. Hillary’s education plan will provide childcare and scholarships to meet the needs of student parents.


o   She will defend and expand the Affordable Care Act for Latinos: In 2009, 32 percent of Latinos were uninsured— that’s higher than any other minority group. Today, under the ACA, millions of Latinos across the country are benefitting from stronger coverage and protections. Hillary will stand up to Republican attempts to roll back the law.


o   She will fight for comprehensive immigration reform: Instead of breaking up law-abiding immigrant families who have enriched America for years, Hillary will offer them a path to full and equal citizenship. She will also protect and implement the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) programs, and do everything possible under the law to ensure that we keep families together.

So there you have it. Honestly, I care more about what will happen after the primaries are over. To whatever extent this campaign operates in Texas, I hope something like it – in support of whoever the nominee is – continues to exist here through November.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Paxton seeks grand jury information

Ken Paxton’s legal team has filed five subpoenas seeking more information relating to the grand jury that indicted him.

Best mugshot ever

The defense seeks a complete transcript and audio recording related to the selection of the grand jurors who indicted him.


The transcripts would reveal what, if anything, came up about Paxton and possible criminal charges during the selection process of grand jurors who were drawn from Republican-dominant Collin County.

In Collin County, two grand juries are picked by district judges from a random pool of registered voters to serve six-month terms. Only one grand jury heard evidence in Paxton’s case and issued the indictments. But Paxton’s defense team applied for records on the selection of both grand juries serving in the July to December 2015 term.

The defense is also seeking the transcript and audio recording for the selection of the two grand juries that served in the first six months of this year.

Those grand jurors were contacted at their work and their home about the Paxton investigation. One grand juror also sent a letter to the Travis County district attorney’s office seeking its investigative file on Paxton. That letter came before Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis requested the Texas Rangers open an investigation.

Shortly after that, Willis recused himself from the case. Houston defense attorneys Kent Schaffer, Brian Wice and Nicole DeBorde were appointed as special prosecutors in the case against Paxton.

The defense’s final subpoena application seeks documents from the county’s Human Resources Department “related to a personnel action involving a deputy district clerk.”

The records don’t offer any further details. It’s unclear whether this involves the clerk who mistakenly sent out an email in July listing the grand jurors’ names.

According to the Chron story, special prosecutors Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer intend to file a motion opposing the subpoenas. I don’t know what Team Paxton hopes to accomplish with this – the story says they’re claiming the jury was stacked against Paxton, which seems like a stretch given how many friends in the county he has, but I suppose anything is possible – but I’m not the one being paid the big bucks to keep his sorry heinie out of jail. We’ll see what the judge makes of it.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

County sues VW for $100 million


Vince Ryan

Vince Ryan

Harris County on Tuesday set in motion a $100 million environmental lawsuit against Volkswagen, claiming emissions from 6,000 diesel cars circulating on roadways in the region have caused harm to the population. County Attorney Vince Ryan said his review of filings indicated this could be the first government suit against the car company since the executives admitted to cheating on emissions monitoring in diesel cars released since 2009.

Commissioners Court approved the suit Tuesday morning and hired three law firms to handle the matter on a contingency basis. The county plans to file the suit Tuesday afternoon, according to Robert Soard, first assistant county attorney.

The county does not have Volkswagens in its central fleet, according to Dre Dupont, who oversees the vehicles. Instead, the focus of this suit will be on the extent to which the car company and its affiliates violated Texas emissions standards, creating a public health hazard for everyone within the borders of Harris County.

The Press is pretty snarky about this, but as Judge Emmett noted in the Chron story, VW has already admitted liability. Why wouldn’t we sue? I don’t know what the likelihood is of collecting a substantial sum, and it may be that our suit gets consolidated with the many others already out there, but VW deserves all the trouble it’s going to get. Good for Vince Ryan for taking the initiative.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Weekend link dump for October 4

What TV executives think about the new fall shows.

Some football physics for your game-watching Sunday.

“An experimental glider that could eventually reach the edge of space without the power of an engine had a successful first test flight over Oregon this week, winning applause on Thursday from Airbus, a major backer of the project.”

How might single payer health care be paid for?

“To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note, and now is the time to honor it.”

Combating obesity in US veterans.

Some helpful hints for (allegedly) racist nightclubs.

“Will Latinos become Republicans? Not if it depends on being religious.”

We are all (branded) individuals. Unless we’re not.

From the Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics department.

“Of the 11 states investigating Planned Parenthood’s alleged mishandling of fetal remains, seven have concluded in a whimper.” Texas is one of the other four. You can be sure that if it had something, we’d have known it by now.

“But there are a lot of things that make me squeamish whose legality I am comfortable with — childbirth, veal, and professional football, to name just a few. Ultimately, when it comes to a legal right, I trust women to choose what’s best for themselves.”

RIP, Phil Woods, legendary jazz saxophonist. You’ve heard him even if you hadn’t heard of him – he did the sax solos on Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are” and Paul Simon’s “Have A Good Time”.

I’d love to see a revival of The 4400, though I’d definitely have to re-watch the whole thing first to remind myself of what had happened and where they were in the story.

Congratulations to Justine Siegal, the first female coach in MLB history.

Three cheers for Susan Berger and AManda Scarpinati and the lifelong friendship they finally got to celebrate.

Look on the bright side. You’re probably having a better day than this guy did.

Better read the fine print on that one.

The Taylor Swift sports curse is a thing that appears to be happening.

“What happens when a state with a tough voter ID law suddenly makes it much harder for minorities to get driver’s licenses? We are about to find out in Alabama.”

RIP, Carolyn Lynch, champion bridge player.

“Here’s an idea: Maybe instead of fundraisers for new band instruments or football uniforms, school kids should hire lobbyists to look after their interests in Congress and state legislatures. I’d bet the kids lobby could get some attention, if they funneled money to the right candidate.”

“Having a group of women taken to task by the broadcast booth during a meaningless game in late September for enjoying themselves is pretty silly.” All I know is that most of my 40-something friends seem to take a lot of pictures of themselves at baseball games, too, often with their kids. Should we all be taken to task for that as well?

The next time someone tells you that the real problem isn’t guns but mental illness, remind them that expanding Medicaid would do more to address the problem of mental illness than anything else.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Oral arguments in birth certificate lawsuit

Here we go.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman heard oral arguments in a lawsuit filed by a group of undocumented parents and their U.S.-citizen children against the state Department of State Health Services, which has effectively blocked the children from obtaining birth certificates.

The families allege that the department has violated the children’s constitutional rights by ordering local county registrars to stop recognizing Mexican consular IDs — known as a matrícula consular — and foreign passports without valid visas, as proof of identification that the parents may use to obtain the vital records. The state argues the documents are susceptible to fraud.

“Is this a solution in search of a problem?” Pitman asked assistant attorney general Thomas Albright, representing the agency, health Commissioner Kirk Cole and State Registrar Geraldine Harris. “What makes this burden necessary?”

Pitman’s remarks came after he told the state’s attorneys he would not allow them to debate the importance of birth certificates, a document he said was “the primary evidence of U.S. citizenship.”

The hearing came after the families asked for an emergency injunction ordering the health department to identify two acceptable forms of identification parents can use to obtain birth certificates.

Attorney Jennifer Harbury, representing the families, reiterated her belief that Texas changed its policies without warning in reaction to the national debate over illegal immigration that reached a fever pitch in 2011. After that, she said, Texas became the only state in the country to prevent undocumented immigrants from getting birth certificates.

But Albright said the families haven’t proven their case enough for Pitman to grant the emergency order, and instead said the issue should play out through a regular trial.

“There is no burden on us to say ‘We’re great. Our rule is perfect,’” he told Pitman. “Today is just one step in what is a longer process. I don’t think they’ve argued the proof that you need.”

Albright also focused on the Mexican matrícula, conceding it has been made more secure and tamper proof but saying it is still susceptible to fraud.

Harbury said the families would be amenable to a ruling that excluded that document from a list of approved items. Her argument, she said, is that nothing else is currently acceptable.

“Forty-nine other states accept another form [of ID],” she said.

Though he seemed to question more than one of the state’s claims, Pitman also appeared hesitant to make a decision without more information. It’s unclear when he will rule.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. If you get the impression that the state didn’t have the strongest argument for its defense, you wouldn’t be alone.

Judge Robert Pittman did not offer many clues about his feelings on the case during the three-hour hearing, but he did grill Albright about the extent of birth certificate fraud, asking several times whether the new state policy was a “solution in search of a problem.”

“If you’re asking if there’s some statistical analysis … I don’t have that,” Albright conceded.

He was quick to add, however: “That’s not my burden.”

Still, the judge did not grant the emergency order, and it is not clear when he will rule. So until then, things will continue to be as they were. The Observer has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

The latest example of how nuts our beer laws are


The latest flashpoint between Texas beer lovers and state beer law is a 32-ounce aluminum can that bars and restaurants fill with beer and sell to be consumed off-site. The can, called a crowler, is praised for its convenience and ability to keep beer fresh for longer than traditional to-go packaging.

The problem, state regulators say, is that the law prohibits retailers who do not have a manufacturing license from operating the filling machine.

On Tuesday, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission made its most forceful statement to date, sending in agents to seize one from a bar that failed to cease operations after being ordered to do so.

The Cuvee Coffee Bar in Austin recounted the event on social media, giving it a Twitter hashtag of #crowlergate and setting the stage for another potential legal fight in the ongoing effort to change the alcohol code in Texas.

The friction began in late spring, when regulators heard about the growing popularity of crowlers and began investigating, often undercover. Several bars and restaurants were told to stop crowler sales and seven, including three in the Houston area, received letters threatening fines and a suspension of their beer and wine licenses.

They were given 30 days to remove the machine, which retails for $3,600.

In announcing Tuesday’s seizure at Cuvee, the TABC acknowledged the likelihood of a legal challenge.

“We know this issue is important to craft beer retailers and their customers, and we support all citizens’ right to petition the Commission, the Legislature or the courts if they feel a provision in the Alcoholic Beverage Code is unfair,” assistant chief for audit and investigations Dexter K. Jones said in a statement.

“However, we do not support the continued violation of the law just because a retailer disagrees with it. Cuvee Coffee ignored our repeated warnings and discussions, and that conduct resulted in TABC seizing the illegal equipment and subjecting its permit to a civil penalty. Other retailers who engage in illegal canning risk similar consequences.”

Local bar owners say crowlers have several advantages over growlers, the glass or metal containers more commonly used for to-go sales. Sealed cans keep beer fresher by insulating it from oxygen and any sunlight, they say, and they are convenient because customers don’t have to plan ahead and bring a growler with them when they go out.

This was the latest chapter in this story, but the first shots were fired back in July, and got heated up earlier this month. At its heart it’s a question of semantics – is a sealed one-use can fundamentally different than a reusable glass bottle? – but however you look at it, the bottom line is that our current laws make something that ought to be allowed illegal. This needs to change, partly because we’re not in 1933 any more, partly because the state allows wineries and distilleries freedom to operate that breweries and brewpubs don’t have, but mostly because it’s a bad deal for consumers. There’s already litigation over the state of Texas beer laws – it’s unclear whether this action will turn into a separate lawsuit or not – and I suppose there’s always hope for further change from the Lege. But one way or the other, this needs to change. Austin 360 and Eater Austin have more.

Posted in: Food, glorious food.

Ethics investigator clears Farenthold

Some good news for a controversial Congressman.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

Ethics investigators struck a blow Monday to an ex-House staffer’s sexual harassment claims against Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, nine months after the fired communications director filed suit in District of Columbia court.

The Office of Congressional Ethics did not find substantial reason to believe Farenthold, 53, sexually harassed Lauren Greene, discriminated against her on the basis of her gender, or retaliated against her for complaining about the alleged unlawful treatment. In accordance with public disclosure rules, the House Ethics Committee shared OCE’s findings and announced it had not yet completed its own review of the matter.

Attorneys from another House entity, the Office of House Employment, are defending Farenthold against Greene’s accusations that the congressman discussed “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her with another one of his employees. Farenthold’s office has admitted the former talk radio host occasionally complimented Greene on her appearance, but denied making improper advances.

“Due to the ongoing nature of the lawsuit, the Committee has not yet been able to complete its review of the matter and therefore is not in a position to dismiss the matter at this time,” Chairman Charlie Dent, R-Pa., and ranking member Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif., said in a joint statement. “The Committee will continue its review and ultimately will take any additional action it deems necessary, consistent with the House and Committee rules.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the OCE’s report. This is as good a result as Farenthold could have wanted, though there’s still the lawsuit and the House Ethics Committee investigation to get through; as the Trib notes, the Committee didn’t concur with the OCE report, so he’s not out of the woods just yet. Whether it dampens any Democratic interest in his seat, assuming that was a thing in the first place, remains to be seen. The Hill, Politico, the WaPo, and the Chron have more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

The Woodlands versus its neighbors

I have three things to say about this.

The Woodlands prides itself on being the best-planned community around, with tree-studded neighborhoods, miles of trails, sprawling parks and a town center with a distinctly urban feel.

Across Montgomery County, however, some see The Woodlands as a snooty, well-off enclave that grouses about its tax dollars subsidizing services elsewhere.

Unfair or not, those hard feelings are coming into view as the county nears a Nov. 3 vote on whether to invest in new and improved roadways. The $280 million bond measure is a slimmed-down version of one that failed four months ago amid heavy opposition in The Woodlands.

After urging county leaders to try again on the coming ballot, the township’s governing board has come out against the revised bond measure, saying that the package is tainted because it was put together in negotiations outside public view.

A special prosecutor is investigating whether the county’s dealings broke the state’s open meetings law. Even then, some local officials and residents are upset by The Woodlands’ hasty turnaround.

“You can’t overcome the fact that we still need the roads,” said Alan Sadler, who recently retired after 24 years as Montgomery County’s judge. “It’s dire. If we wait another year, we won’t have the roads built until 2020, 2021 or 2022. We can’t wait that long.”

The Woodlands board’s opposition to the measure before the investigation is complete has widened a divide between township and county leaders. Sadler, among others, was irked by the township’s sudden decision last year to pull out of a deal to help pay for a new customs facility at Montgomery County’s airport. Township leaders complained about a lack of responsiveness from county leaders.

And in May, voters in The Woodlands rallied to defeat the initial road bond because it included a controversial extension of Woodlands Parkway west of the master-planned community, a project that critics said would worsen traffic woes. Forty percent of the voters in the countywide election came from its largest community, and they opposed it by a 9-1 margin.

Penny Benbow, who resides in southeast Montgomery County, said voters outside The Woodlands listened to its concerns, and many rejected the bond measure, too. But the parkway extension isn’t part of the new bond package, and it’s time for the town to support it, she said.

“We can’t do it without you,” Benbow told the township’s governing board last week. “Your neighbors stood by you in May. Now it’s time for you to stand by your neighbors.”

See here and here for the background. I know I’m a horrible person for saying this, but I find this whole saga to be hilarious. This sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen in the suburbs! You guys should be setting a good example for those benighted city residents! Stop fighting before you make Joel Kotkin cry!

Bruce Tough, the board’s chairman, bristles at the suggestion that The Woodlands isn’t a good neighbor. He noted that the township has supported the Conroe Independent School District’s bond measures and pays “the lion’s share” of taxes in the county.

Of course The Woodlands pays the lion’s share of the property taxes in the county. That would be because the Woodlands has the lion’s share of the property value in the county. If the Woodlands would like for its share of the property taxes to be lower, they’ll need for the rest of the county to be built up more. I don’t know what share of Harris County’s property taxes Houston pays, but I’ll bet it used to be more back when more of Harris County was uninhabited or undeveloped.

The highest priority is Rayford Road, an artery that has become a backed-up pool of frustration for the unincorporated neighborhoods east of The Woodlands. Plans call for widening the road to as many as six lanes and building an overpass over railroad tracks.

“The Woodlands has a good road grid,” said Thomas Gray, a planner for the area council. “The east side doesn’t, so that’s why they’re experiencing the problems they have right now.”

I predict that regardless of what happens with this particular bond issue, the problems won’t go away. In fact, I’d bet the projects that the bond would provide for give little more than temporary relief. This is partly because of the fast growth in Montgomery County – there’s only so much you can do when that many people are moving in – but it’s also partly by design. You pretty much have to drive everywhere in Montgomery County, and that’s not going to change. There are plenty of places you can live in Houston and do a minimal amount of driving. Until that becomes the case in Montgomery County, they’re going to have to keep paving to try to keep up. Good luck with that.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Saturday video break: Hesitation Blues

From their very first album, the Asylum Street Spankers doing this traditional classic:

From the late great Dave Van Ronk:

And finally, a version that’s both more modern and even more old school, from Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel:

I don’t know what took Willie Nelson and Ray Benson so long to work together, but I’m glad they finally did.

Posted in: Music.

No support for a jail administrator

Not without the consent of the Legislature.


The idea of shifting leadership of the Harris County Jail to an administrator may be losing steam, several county leaders said Thursday after reviewing a feasibility study by the sheriff’s office.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack asked newly appointed Sheriff Ron Hickman in May to look into the possibility of appointing a jail head who would report to court members and run the facility with an independent budget.

While the report Hickman commissioned does not deliver a straightforward recommendation, the disadvantages it outlines – including transportation and accountability headaches – far outweigh the advantages. The largest obstacle is Texas law, which places responsibility for county jails with the sheriff.

Five years ago, Radack began angling for a jail administrator to oversee the 9,400-bed behemoth that houses the largest mental health patient population in the state and falls under the purview of a law enforcement officer, the county sheriff. County Attorney Vince Ryan explained in a legal brief then that splitting off the jail was not an option under the state constitution.


The 16-page report by Sheriff’s Lt. Eric Batton reviews various models of urban jails around the country – from Cook County, Ill., to Miami-Dade to Las Vegas – but concludes that for the jail “to operate as an autonomous and independent entity … Harris County would need to pursue tailoring legislation to provide a clear authority with a statute to establish such a department.”

In other words, without changes to state law, part of the job of the sheriff remains as overseer of the jail.

See here for the background. Basically, Lt. Batton’s report agrees with what Vince Ryan said back in May. It’s certainly possible that the county could ask the Lege to modify the laws in question, though I’m sure that folks like Sen. Whitmire would have an awful lot of questions if that happened. I’ll say again, if the county does want to pursue this, and Sheriff Hickman thinks it’s a good idea, then let’s hash it out in the Sheriff’s race next year, and let the result of that election stand as a proxy for whether or not this ought to be taken up. I’m far from sold on this idea, but I could be persuaded.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Highlighting wages in the Mayor’s race

From the inbox:

Coalition Calls on Next Mayor to Raise Minimum Wage for Publicly Funded Projects

Today, a coalition of community and labor organizations staged a tour of of sites that received tax dollars to tell the story of how the city subsidizes the creation of poverty jobs.

“Of the City of Houston’s 35 economic development tax-incentive deals with developers between 2004 – 2014, only 7 had any job promises,” said Feldon Bonner, a member of the Texas Organizing Project at the press conference that kicked off the tour. “None of the deals included language about the quality of the promised jobs, and only one has provided reports to the City on its job creation deliverables. This is unacceptable.”

The tour started at the Westin Downtown, formerly known as the Inn at the Ballpark, for which Landry’s received $2 million dollars in tax giveaways, and despite failing to provide the 125 jobs promised, the city council voted to allow Landry’s to keep the incentives.

“These tax deals are not going to mom and pop businesses. They are not going to small, women-owned, minority owned or disadvantaged businesses,” said Pastor David Madison, a TOP leader. “Tillman Fertitta, CEO, chairman and owner of Landry’s has a net worth of $2.3 billion. Yet Landry’s is one of the region’s largest poverty job creators paying its more than 10,000 service and restaurant workers in the Houston area low wages.”

The next stop was at Ainbinder Heights, a development anchored by Walmart, and includes a McDonald’s and Taco Cabana. The city awarded Ainbinder $6 million in tax breaks for property improvements. The agreement between the city and Ainbinder spans 48 pages, yet the city failed to negotiate any specific commitments for the number and quality of jobs or any other meaningful community benefits.

“Let’s not forget that Walmart is the largest corporation in the world! And the Walton family is the richest family in America with a net worth of $149 billion dollars. Do you think they need our tax incentives?,” Florence Coleman, a TOP leader, asked the community members present. “Do they deserve our tax incentives? The average Walmart associate makes just $8.81 per hour. Nationally, taxpayers are already footing a $6.2 billion bill in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing for Walmart employees who can’t provide for their families because of the low wages Walmart pays them.”

The final stop was at the Astrodome, a project that will probably receive tax dollars. County Judge Ed Emmett has traveled around the world to put together a plan for its reconstruction that includes water park, theater & trails. But there is no plan to assure that the jobs created by this project pay well and have benefits.

“The Astrodome was built by union workers back in the early 1960s, and we’re proud to have contributed to it,” said Paul Puente of the Building Trades Union. “And our elected officials have the obligation to leverage our public dollars effectively so projects like the Astrodome redevelopment provide good jobs that pay at least $15 dollars per hour or prevailing wage, whichever is higher. Jobs that provide training and benefits. And to make sure African American and Latino families in struggling neighborhoods have access to these jobs by including local hire requirements and second chance provisions.”

The coalition staged the tour today to so that Houston’s next mayor makes higher wages a priority.

“We are here today to make sure the mistakes of the past are not repeated with publicly funded development projects like the ones we visited earlier today,” Puente added. “Our local economy cannot afford one more poverty wage job. Our communities cannot accept one more poverty-wage job.”

The following organizations participated in today’s tour: Texas Organizing Project, SEIU Texas, AFL-CIO, Fe y Justicia Worker Center and Working America. Pictures can be downloaded from here:

That came out the same day as this story about Houston not being the affordable city we are used to it being. High housing costs are a big factor in that, but so are low average wages. Attacking that problem can have an effect on the bottom line as well. There’s only so much a Mayor can do directly about this – we already have an executive order in place establishing a higher minimum wage for companies that do business with the city, thanks to Mayor Parker – but talking about the issue and making it a point in negotiations over real estate deals like the ones cited above are two of them. I’m glad to see this coalition call attention to it.

Posted in: Election 2015.

How much do you hate same sex marriage?

Not as much as this guy does.


Ammon J. Taylor of San Antonio is so vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage that he took the unusual step of forming a federal super PAC to fight it.

The 27-year-old salesman is taking a seldom-tried — some would say improbable — approach. He wants to muster a convention of states to amend the Constitution to enable states to quash the Supreme Court’s June ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.

On July 16, Taylor registered the Restore Marriage PAC with the Federal Election Commission, naming himself president and treasurer. Moving methodically, he opened a bank account, issued a news release, created an Internet presence, and began seeking volunteers and support among fellow conservatives of all creeds.

“Most Americans think that since the Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage, the issue is settled. It is not,” Taylor said when he announced the PAC.

With Congress not acting against same-sex unions, a convention of states “is our only constitutional recourse to save marriage,” he said.

For Taylor, the effort is part of living his Mormon faith. As a boy, he watched his father lead Nebraska’s initiative to define marriage as being between a man and a woman, which passed overwhelmingly in 2000 but was nullified by the court decision.


Taylor concedes it’s unlikely that enough states could be persuaded to “pass an amendment that would protect and restore marriage nationwide. We do believe we can get 34 states to come together to hold a convention to propose an amendment that allows each state to define for itself.”

With most states under Republican control, he said, “now is the best time ever to return to the states the right to determine key social and economic events that Washington has allowed to run out of control — like balancing the budget, stopping abortion and protecting traditional marriage,” Taylor said.

“How do we put the pressure on Congress to call for an amendment now? The answer is we hold a mock convention,” he said. Taylor hopes to conduct the “People’s Convention” around a July 2016 meeting of lawmakers at the American Legislative Exchange Council in Indianapolis.

A key motivation for Taylor was a Mormon leader’s prophesy that those outside Washington, D.C., would someday save the Constitution.

I’m not going to waste any time on Amman Taylor’s hateful nonsense, which he of course denies is motivated by hate because how could legally classifying millions of people as second-class citizens be anything but loving? The fact that he hopes to put his grand plan in motion at an ALEC conference is…I can’t even. Seriously. What I will do is go off on a brief rant about the difference between prophecy and prophesy, which are not only two different words that have two different pronunciations, they’re even two different kinds of words. Prophecy is a noun. It is the work product of a prophet. Prophesy is a verb. It is the action taken by a prophet to produce a prophecy. I don’t know if I blame the reporter or the copy editor (if they still have them at newspapers these days) more for this annoying and annoyingly common error, but either way, please get this right. It makes me twitch like Herbert Lom in the Pink Panther movies when I see “prophesy” used as a noun. You don’t want to do that to me, do you? Thanks.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Endorsement watch: The way in J

The Chron endorses CM Mike Laster for re-election in District J.

Mike Laster

Mike Laster

This district has a deep need for important constituent services, and Laster has dedicated his office to providing them. From working with the Urban Land Institute on redesigning Richmond to helping Gulfton youth collaborate on creating a skatepark, Laster puts his longtime City Hall expertise to good use.

In addition to his time on the Sharpstown Civic Association, Laster has worked as a senior city attorney and as former chair of the Sharpstown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. He was a key proponent of the Houston equal rights ordinance – an important tool for his diverse district. On pensions, Laster says that we need a new system for new hires at the Houston Fire Department, but also warns against cuts that could drive needed public safety workers to retire.

Besides [Jim] Bigham, Laster faces two other challengers: Dung Le, who said he is running as a bridge to connect minority voters, and Manny Barrera, a former City Hall staffer perhaps best known for his bizarre anti-gay tirades in the comment sections of local political blogs.

Laster has earned his third term at City Hall, but we hope to see Bigham run again in the next election.

I gotta say, if “perhaps best known for his bizarre anti-gay tirades in the comment sections of local political blogs” is an accurate part of your biography, you have probably wasted your life. Be that as it may, I called this one right, and it was easy enough. Bigham is indeed a good candidate, but CM Laster (interview here) has a fine record and no disqualifying actions. He’s a good guy and I’m rooting for him.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Friday random ten: Revisiting the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs list, part 15

Here’s their list.

1. Shake, Rattle & Roll – Bill Haley and The comets (orig. Big Joe Turner, #127)
2. Will You Love Me Tomorrow? – Carole King (orig. The Shirelles, #126)
3. Go Your Own Way – Fleetwood Mac (#120)
4. Shout – The Beatles (orig. The Isley Brothers, #119; also a version by The MOB)
5. Take Me To The River – Talking Heads (orig. Al Green, #117; also a version by Annie Lennox)
6. Honky Tonk Woman – Ike & Tina Turner (orig. Rolling Stones, #116)
7. Up On The Roof – The Drifters (#114)
8. I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry – Cowboy Junkies (orig. Hank Williams, #112; also a version by Johnny Cash)
9. Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison (#110)
10. Little Red Corvette – Big Daddy (orig. Prince, #109)

Song I don’t have but probably should, part 1: “Changes”, David Bowie (#128). For some reason I’ve never sought out Bowie music, though I did have “Let’s Dance” on vinyl back in the day.
Song I will always unfairly associate with Gilligan’s Island: “House of the Rising Sun”, The Animals (#123). Because of course you can sing it to the theme song from Gilligan’s Island. You can never un-know that fact.
Song I don’t have but probably should, part 2: “Stand By Me”, Ben E. King (#122). I saw the movie Stand By Me while a senior in college, the same weekend that two freshmen at our school were killed in a car accident. When this song started playing at the end, I got all emotional, which was quite out of character for me at the time. I’m a big sap now that I have kids, but back then that never happened. Don’t know why it hit me like that, but it did, and more than 25 years later I still remember it clearly.

Carole King of course wrote “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”. She recorded it and a bunch of other songs she wrote but others had done first on her Tapestry album. And I have way more covers of Prince songs than I have songs by Prince.

Posted in: Music.

2015 Lyceum poll, day two

Once again, here’s the press release:

An independent poll conducted by the Texas Lyceum, a non-partisan, nonprofit statewide leadership group, shows billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump leading U.S. Senator Ted Cruz by five points (21 percent-16 percent) in Texas in the 2016 Republican Presidential nominating contest. The survey also shows former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with a substantial lead in the Democratic primary, but trailing in a November 2016 general election among Texas voters.

“We are proud to publicly share the results of our ninth Texas Lyceum Poll with Texas’ policymakers, scholars and citizens,” said 2015 Lyceum President Jane Cummins. “We included a diverse set of questions ranging from U.S. presidential contenders to a variety of issues facing our state. We will continue to use the poll as a foundation for discussion at our annual public conferences and quarterly meetings, and readily share these valuable data to inform public policy discussions in Texas.”

Trump’s support in the Lyceum Poll remains consistent with national polls across most age groups: including those 65 and older, 45 to 64, and 30 to 44, only trailing retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson by one point (22 percent to 21 percent) among potential Republican Primary voters under the age of 29.

Due to the large field of candidates, the Lyceum poll asked, “who would be your second choice” for president? This question revealed that 37 percent of Trump’s voters would support Ted Cruz, followed by 24 percent for Carson.

On the Democratic side, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leads the Democratic field with 36 percent of the vote followed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (24 percent), Vice President Joe Biden (15 percent), and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb (2 percent).

Looking ahead to the November 2016 general election in Texas, Clinton trails Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump by eight, seven, and two points, respectively. However, she is ahead of Florida Senator Marco Rubio by seven points

“Mrs. Clinton actually polls better in Texas right now than one might have expected,” said Prof. Daron Shaw, who oversees the Lyceum Poll along with Lyceum Research Director, Joshua Blank. “But this is primarily due to her greater name recognition and the divisiveness of the GOP contest at this early stage.”

Texas and National Economy

Despite a declining state unemployment rate of 4.1 percent, down from 4.8 percent this time last year, Texans see the economy as stagnant compared to a year ago. Looking to the national economy, Texans’ attitudes are mixed. A plurality believes we are worse off than last year (34 percent), but an almost equal proportion (31 percent) says that the national economy has improved.

Job Approval

In the poll, which was conducted September 8 – 21, 56 percent of likely voters approve of the job Governor Abbott is doing. Meanwhile, the poll shows a slight bump (eight percent) in approval ratings for President Obama compared to last year’s Lyceum poll. A majority of respondents, 52 percent, indicated that President Obama is either doing a “very good” or “somewhat good” job as president, compared with 44 percent who indicated that the president is doing either a “somewhat poor” or “very poor” job.

Here is the Executive Summary, and here are the poll results, which you can compare to the Texas Pulse poll from last week. If you look at the data, you may note that President Obama has a shockingly good approval rating – 52% positive, which stands in stark contrast to the Texas Pule number of 41% approval. In response to my question, pollster Daron Shaw noted that this is a sample of adults, so it is fairly heavily non-Anglo, and thus more favorable for Obama than a likely-voter or even a registered-voter sample would be. Those of you out there that like to say that Texas isn’t a Republican state so much as it is a non-voting state may feel a little smug now. Not that it changes anything in the here and now, of course.

Let’s take a closer look at those November matchup numbers:

Candidates RVs LVs ======================= Jeb! 32 35 Clinton 27 27 HTMUAI 41 39 Cruz 31 39 Clinton 31 32 HTMUAI 37 29 Rubio 22 27 Clinton 32 34 HTMUAI 44 40 Trump 33 39 Clinton 38 37 HTMUAI 29 25

“HTMUAI” = “Haven’t thought much about it”, which is the “don’t know/no opinion” answer for this poll. The large values for that answer is what you’d expect for this early in the cycle, and as such I wouldn’t make too much of any individual contest. Rubio is the least known – if he does turn out to be the nominee, you can expect his higher profile and normal partisan affiliation will make up the gap. Hard to say if Clinton draws actual crossovers from Trump or if that pairing just gets more people off the fence. File it away for later and see what movement we get once the dust starts to settle in the GOP race.

As for the primary results, there’s nothing here to suggest Hillary Clinton has anything to fear in Texas; the Pulse poll says the same thing. We are of course six months out from said primary, and anything can happen – if Sanders takes the lead nationally and/or starts racking up states, you can be sure the numbers here would reflect that. On the GOP side, one presumes Ted Cruz would prosper if Trump drops out. I can’t help but feel that Cruz has a hard ceiling, sort of like Trump does. It’s hard to be that universally loathed and not have some limits on one’s potential. Again, we’ll know more once that field has been winnowed a bit. What do you make of these numbers?

Posted in: The making of the President.

Uber update, part 4

Here’s the last installment of the Chron/Al Jazeera analysis of how Uber is operating in Houston. Most of the story is about what parts of town have better service from Uber – short answer, inside the Loop – and how Uber is attempting to improve service in parts of town that have not been well served by cab companies in the past, a subject we have discussed before. It’s the section at the end about service for disabled riders that I want to focus on.


Uber gives drivers information about how best to serve blind and hearing-impaired riders, and it caters to people with service animals and elderly patrons with special needs. In many cases, a collapsible wheelchair can be accommodated.

Hancock, however, did not provide a single example of an Uber vehicle in Houston that can accommodate a non-collapsible wheelchair.

Technically, as independent operators using Uber to solicit rides, the drivers are individual providers, and Uber isn’t required by federal law to have wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Cab companies, however, are.

That disparity frustrates some disabled riders, who want the same cheaper and convenient options for rides.

“Let’s say McDonald’s, they don’t own any of the restaurants themselves, but they have franchises. Those franchise owners have to comply with law,” said Michelle Colvard, a Houston resident who uses a wheelchair.

City officials asked Uber to participate in discussions about how to serve disabled riders. Cab companies also had a slot on the task force, along with Lyft, an Uber competitor that remained on the task force even though it is not operating in Houston.

“We started from a difficult place,” Toby Cole, a disability rights advocate who led the task force, told City Council members in August. “There was a huge amount of mistrust between the community, the representatives of the transportation companies and a mistrust of the process.”

After months, the task force settled on proposed regulations that let cabs set a minimum number of wheelchair-accessible vehicles in their fleet, which grows over time, depending on the size of the company. Uber and similar companies, meanwhile, can elect to meet disabled access standards based not on how many vehicles are available but how quickly they can respond to a ride.

Uber most likely would provide service by contracting with another vendor to handle its calls related to disabled clients. The company has a similar arrangement in Austin.

Cole, who called the task force recommendations a “workable solution,” said having rules is just one part of a better system for disabled riders. The rules will not take effect until the City Council approves them.

“Enforcement is one of the strongest areas we need from the city,” he said, responding to a question about Uber’s checkered history following Houston’s rules. “Without enforcement, these regulations mean nothing.”

See here and here for the other installments. I did not know that there was a task force working on this issue – Uber rolled out a solution for riders with disabilities a year ago, so it will be interesting to see what these new regulations are. There’s still a federal lawsuit pending against Uber (and Lyft) over access for disabled riders. I have to think this task force had an eye on that as they crafted the new regulations. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, I completely agree that enforcement is the key. That’s an issue that the city struggles with sometimes, so let’s keep watch on that.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

KTRU returns

On another frequency, with different call letters, and a less powerful signal. Other than that, it’s like it never left.

After five years off the radio dial, Rice University’s popular college radio station KTRU Rice Radio will return to FM on Friday (October 2).

Listeners located within approximately a five-mile radius of the school, stretching from 610 South to the Buffalo Bayou, will be able to enjoy the university’s station on 96.1 FM. After spending four years pursuing a new FCC-approved FM license — an effort spearheaded by Rice students, alumni, staff and community volunteers — the station will be able to broadcast on FM from an antenna placed atop Rice Stadium.

“Returning to the air is truly turning the page to a new chapter in KTRU’s history,” said one of KTRU’s music librarians, George Barrow, in a statement. “We’re returning to our roots with the on-campus, low-power transmitter.

“Not only is this an important step in KTRU’s story, but it’s also extremely important for the Houston music community, since no station on the FM dial right now focuses on exposing local and emerging talent quite like KTRU does. It’s amazing to be a part of this organization during one of its most important transitions.”

The station will also continue to broadcast live on the Internet through its website, as well as apps like i-Heart Radio and Tune-In.


The official call signs for the new Rice radio station are KBLT-LP since the KTRU call signs are currently licensed to a noncommercial station in La Harpe, Kansas, but the station will continue to be referred to as KTRU.

See here for the background. What do you think, travesty or victory? Leave a comment and let us know. The Press, the Chron, and Radio Survivor have more.

Posted in: Music.

Texas blog roundup for the week of September 28

The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes that everyone made it through the blood moon apocalypse all right as it brings you this week’s roundup. (Assuming we’re all still here to read it.)

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Endorsement watch: A bad call

I’m sorry, I don’t get this at all.

Laurie Robinson

Laurie Robinson

The race for the At-Large 4 City Council seat offers two of the most capable candidates running this fall. Amanda Edwards, a municipal finance attorney with Bracewell & Guiliani, and Laurie Robinson, a government oversight contracting auditor who runs her own consulting firm, are thoughtful and knowledgeable about city issues. Both are impressive.


Our choice, and it’s almost a toss-up, is Laurie Robinson, and it’s a choice based on her years of experience with government-related endeavors. Although her opposition to the city’s equal rights ordinance gives us pause – she says she favors an ordinance in principle, but this one has become too divisive – we believe she will be an effective councilmember from her first day in office.

Although we endorse Robinson, we recognize that her chief opponent has the potential to be an influential voice in public affairs and public service for years to come. Whether Amanda Edwards wins or loses this time, it’s a win for Houston if she stays involved.

It’s not that I expected Edwards to get the endorsement. It’s that I expected all of the Chron’s prior editorializing on HERO to mean something. If support for HERO – which Laurie Robinson expressed in her interview with me before doing a 180 for reasons unclear – isn’t enough to serve as a tiebreaker in a case like this, then what exactly does the Chron’s stated support for HERO mean? Why say you support something if you don’t back the candidates that agree with you on it? And I’m sorry, but saying HERO “has become too divisive” is a load of baloney. It’s like saying President Obama is “too divisive” because a significant portion of the Republican Party has gone completely bonkers since his election in 2008. Over 200 cities across the US have equal rights ordinances exactly like Houston’s. It is completely mainstream. One hundred percent of the divisiveness is the fault of the extreme zealotry of people like Jared Woodfill, Dave Welch, and Dave Wilson. Shame on the Chronicle for being so gullible.

The real tragedy of this is that Laurie Robinson is a genuinely well-qualified candidate. She made a bad decision in renouncing her prior support for HERO, and she does not deserve to be rewarded for it. Again, I don’t understand why the Chronicle doesn’t understand that. The time for Amanda Edwards, whose interview is here, to be an influential voice in public affairs and public service is now. I recognize that, and I hope you do too, even if the Chronicle doesn’t.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Interview with Dwight Jefferson

Dwight Jefferson

Dwight Jefferson

We come to the end of our week of interviews with candidates to succeed term limited City Controller Ronald Green. Dwight Jefferson was appointed to the 215th Civil District Court bench in 1995, and when he won a full term in 1996 he became the first African-American to be elected to a District Court in Harris County. He has worked with multiple law firms, including one he founded, as a litigation, arbitration, and mediation specialist, and has been called upon frequently to serve as an ad litem or special master in Harris County State Courts. He was appointed to the Metro board by Mayor Parker in 2010 and served until this year. He was co-captain of the UT Longhorn football team when he played as an offensive lineman. We had a lot to talk about:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Posted in: Election 2015.

2015 Texas Lyceum poll

Issues first, election stuff to come. From the press release:

The 2015 Texas Lyceum Poll Finds: 

  • Immigration remains the most important issue facing the state and Texans support lawmakers’ increased spending on border security.
  • Texans’ views on  gay marriage are changing. Forty nine percent of Texans support gay marriage – up from 29 percent in 2009.
  • Experience with  race-based discriminationshifts greatly depending on the racial or ethnic background of the person polled.
  • Footballrules in Texas. Despite national poll numbers revealing 40 percent of Americans would discourage their children from playing youth football72 percent of Texans would encourage children to play football.
  • A growing number of Texans, 46 percent, support legalizing the use of marijuana (up by 13 percent since 2011) and among those who oppose legalization, 57 percent support decriminalization.
  • Texans are not overly concerned about climate change, but a majority (67 percent) would support new regulations on private companies.


2015 Texas Lyceum Poll Infographic

AUSTIN — An independent statewide poll conducted earlier this month (Sept. 8-21) by the Texas Lyceum, the state’s premier non-partisan, nonprofit statewide leadership group, suggests that Texans believe immigration is the state’s number one issue, continue to love their football, have moderated their opinion on the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage over the years, and support some regulation to reduce global warming.

“As the Texas Lyceum celebrates its 35th anniversary, we are proud to conduct this public service offering the media, policymakers, scholars and the general public an annual snapshot of Texans’ views on key issues,” said 2015 Texas Lyceum President Jane Cummins. “This year the Texas Lyceum held meetings focused on the Texas economy and the war on drugs, among other topics, and next year we will address the big business of football in Texas, showing our programs are on point with what Texans are talking about.”

Border Security / Immigration

Border security and/or immigration has remained one of the top three issues for Texans since the inception of the Lyceum Poll. This year the Lyceum Poll gauged Texans’ thoughts on two related policies – one state and the other federal. At the state level, a majority of Texans (62 percent) favor state lawmakers’ approval to spend $800 million on border security operations over the next two years.

Turning to federal policy, 65 percent of Texans approve of the federal government’s decision to halt deportations of undocumented immigrant youth who attend college or serve in the military while providing them with a work permit. Only 20 percent queried believe this policy did “a lot” to encourage illegal immigration.

Gay Marriage

Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision over the summer that legalized marriage for gay and lesbian couples in all 50 states, more Texans favor allowing same sex marriage than say they oppose it. Our survey shows 49 percent of Texans favor gay marriage, up from 33 percent when asked a similar question in 2011. However, 40 percent are opposed to allowing gay and lesbian couples the right to marry legally.

Racial Discrimination

In light of recent national and Texas race-related controversies, the Lyceum Poll asked respondents two related questions: First, was there ever “a specific instance in which you felt discriminated against by the police because of your racial or ethnic background?” Second, was there ever, “a specific instance in which you felt discriminated against by an employer or a potential employer because of your racial or ethnic background?” Reviewing the total sample with regard to police discrimination, only 17 percent of Texans believed they were discriminated against by police because of their racial or ethnic background. However, on closer inspection, these numbers shift significantly according to the race or ethnicity of the respondent. Four percent of whites, 24 percent of Hispanics and 45 percent of black respondents said they had felt discriminated against by the police. This pattern held with regard to Texans’ attitudes about employer discrimination as well. Only 11 percent of whites indicated they had been discriminated against by an employer, while 27 percent of Hispanics and 42 percent of black Texans felt they had experienced a form of workplace discrimination.

Football Reigns

Despite growing national concern that children who suffer repeated head injuries from tackle football can sustain long-term brain damage, Texans would not discourage their children from playing the contact sport. In fact, 72 percent of those polled said they would encourage children to play football while only 21 percent would discourage it. These numbers contrast with a national NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken last year showing that 40 percent of Americans would steer their children away from playing football due to concerns over concussions.

Legalizing / Decriminalizing Marijuana

As more states either decriminalize or legalize marijuana – with Texas lawmakers passing limited medical marijuana use this past legislative session – a majority of Texans don’t support legalization outright. The survey shows 50 percent of Texans are opposed to legalization, while 46 percent of Texas adults said that they would support legalizing the use of marijuana. However, the numbers are breaking in favor of legalization as support has gone up by 13 points when compared with a question asked in the 2011 Lyceum Poll. Meanwhile, among those who oppose legalization, 57 percent said they would support decriminalization. Specifically, this group agrees on “reducing the maximum punishment for possessing small amounts of marijuana to a citation and a fine.”

Climate Change

Global warming is not a top concern for Texans. When asked if they personally worry about climate change, 50 percent say “only a little” or “not at all.” But when asked “would you support or oppose Congress passing new legislation that would regulate energy output from private companies in an attempt to reduce global warming,” 67 percent of Texans said they would support such regulation.

Daron Shaw, Ph.D., Professor at The University of Texas at Austin and a Texas Lyceum alumnus, oversaw the poll, which was conducted September 8-21, 2015, and queried 1,000 adult Texans. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points. Dr. Shaw and Texas Lyceum Research Director Joshua Blank, used the latest statistically-advisable polling techniques: live interviewers contacted respondents both by landline as well as cell phones (40 percent) and administered the survey in the respondent’s language of choice (English or Spanish).

The executive summary is here. A couple of points of interest:

On immigration: “The second policy that we queried asked respondents to evaluate the policy by which the Department of Justice stops the deportation of any undocumented immigrant youth who attends college or serves in the military and provides them with a legal work permit that is renewable. Despite the perception that Texans have particularly harsh attitudes on illegal immigration, 65% of Texas adults said that they supported this policy with only 28% expressing opposition. Majorities of Democrats (81%), Republicans (54%), and independents (62%) expressed support, as did majorities of Anglos (58%), blacks (63%), and Hispanics (75%).

On same sex marriage: “Majorities of Democrats (69%), Hispanics (53%), and Texans 18 to 29 years old (65%) and 30 to 44 years old (52%) said that they favored allowing gay marriage; pluralities of independents (46%) and Anglos (47%) also said that they favored allowing gay marriage. A majority of Republicans (58%) and a plurality of black respondents (45%) said that they oppose allowing gay marriage.” I would add that only the 65-and-over crowd was truly opposed (34% in favor to 53% against). The 45-64 group was barely in opposition, 43% yes and 44% no.

On marijuana: “A majority of Democrats support legalization (54% support; 42% oppose) while a majority of Republicans oppose legalization (37% support; 61% oppose). Fifty percent of whites support legalization while 51% of blacks and 56% of Hispanics stand in opposition. Eighteen to 29 year olds are the only age group in which a majority supports legalization (66%). Interestingly, when it comes to Democrats and Republicans in opposition to legalization, both groups favor decriminalization (60% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans). Majorities of whites (59%), blacks (52%), and Hispanics (56%) initially opposed to legalization are supportive of decriminalization, as are all age groups.”

On climate change: “Not surprisingly, given the partisan dimensions of this issue, 84% of Democrats said that they would support [new legislation that would regulate energy output from private companies in an attempt to reduce global warming] (60% said that they would strongly support them), while 45% of Republicans said that they would support such regulations, with 48% saying that they would be opposed. These results still display a rather surprising willingness among Texas Republicans to consider regulation to combat global climate change.”

On the Affordable Care Act: “Like in past polling, Democrats held a much more positive attitude toward the ACA than did Republicans. While 63% of the former hold a positive view of the ACA (up from 58% in 2014), 76% of the latter hold a negative opinion (down slightly from 80%). Whites continue to hold negative opinions towards the healthcare law with only 26% expressing a favorable opinion, while a majority of blacks hold a positive view (65%). Hispanics were evenly divided in their opinions of the ACA, with 42% holding a favorable opinion and 39% holding an unfavorable opinion.”

Basically, outside of that last issue, the survey respondents were a lot less in agreement with the Republicans that dominate state government than they were with Democrats. Needless to say, that discrepancy is a function of who actually votes, and increasingly when they vote; Republican primary voters are far more extreme than Republican non-primary voters. The question is when election results will more closely reflect this. Perhaps the higher turnout of a contested Presidential primary will draw some more moderate Republicans to the polls in March; that won’t have any statewide effect but it might make the Lege a pinch saner. Beyond that, all I know is that it won’t happen in its own.

The Lyceum will be releasing election poll data today. I’ll link to it later, and will have a separate post tomorrow.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

DNA mixtures

Grits reports on the latest developments in forensics at a hearing of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, and what it means to the legal system in Texas and elsewhere.

First, a bit of background. DNA testing looks at two metrics on X and Y axes: Whether alleles are present at various loci, and the quantity of DNA available for testing at that spot. (The latter is complicated by allele drop-in, drop-out, and stacking, terms I’m only beginning to understand.) When examining the peak height of DNA quantity on the test results, DPS’ old method did not impose a “stochastic” threshold, which as near as I can tell is akin to the mathematical sin of interpreting a poll without ensuring a random sample. (The word “stochastic” was tossed around blithely as though everyone knew what it meant.) Basically, DPS did not discard data which did not appear in sufficient quantity; their new threshold is more than triple the old one.

That new methodology could change probability ratios for quite a few other cases, the panel predicted. One expert showed slides demonstrating how four different calculation methods could generate wildly different results, to my mind calling into question how accurate any of them are if they’re all considered valid. Applying the stochastic threshold in one real-world case which he included as an example reduced the probability of a match from one in 1.40 x 109 to one in 38.6. You can see where a jury might view those numbers differently.

Not every calculation will change that much and some will change in the other direction. The application of an improper statistical method generates all types of error, not just those which benefit defendants. There may be folks who were excluded that become undetermined, or undetermined samples may become suspects when they’re recalculated. The panel seemed to doubt there were examples where a positive association would flip all the way to excluded, but acknowledged it was mathematically possible.

DPS has identified nearly 25,000 cases where they’ve analyzed DNA mixtures. Since they typically represent about half the state’s caseload, it was estimated, the total statewide may be double that when it’s all said and done. Not all of those are problematic and in some cases the evidence wasn’t used in court. But somebody has to check. Ch. 64 of the Code of Criminal Procedure grants a right to counsel for purposes of seeking a DNA test, including when, “although previously subjected to DNA testing, [the evidence] can be subjected to testing with newer testing techniques that provide a reasonable likelihood of results that are more accurate and probative than the results of the previous test.” So there’s a certain inevitability about the need to recalculate those numbers.

See here for the Texas Tribune story that Grits references – WFAA also covered the hearing – and be sure to read the whole post. There’s a lot of scientific info out there if you google “DNA Mixtures”, but I’m not informed enough to point you to something useful. As noted, DNA is still very exact when comparing known samples, or in isolating a suspect from a rape kit. It’s when there are multiple unknown DNA donors that things get complicated, and there isn’t a single standard for that now. What we do know is that the method that had been used to provide match/elimination probabilities were not accurate, and some number of convictions in Texas and elsewhere will need to be reviewed in light of reinterpreted DNA evidence. Ultimately, questions about what the standards are and how the evidence should be analyzed will be settled by the courts, from the CCA to SCOTUS. This will be a long and occasionally messy process, and we’re at the very beginning of it. On the plus side, this should provide all kinds of fodder for mystery writers and TV showrunners. So at least there’s that.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Endorsement watch: Youth wins out

The Chron endorses Philippe Nassif in At Large #5.

Philippe Nassif

Philippe Nassif

You have to say this about City Councilmember Jack Christie: He’s a conscientious public servant. Holding the At-Large 5 seat, the two-term incumbent is, in his words, “a workhorse, not a show horse,” is always well prepared and seems to get along with others on the council. For those reasons and others, we endorsed him in 2013 for a second term on the council. We cannot endorse him for a third.

Despite his work on the council and his record of service on the State Board of Education and on the Spring Branch school board before being elected to the council in 2011, we find it incongruous that a chiropractic physician who has taken a special interest in health-care plans for city employees opposes vaccinations. He contends that they jeopardize children’s health and that there are other, more effective ways to nurture natural immunity. He’s best known for his comment two years ago that “you don’t die from the flu.” In our view, opposition to vaccinations goes against the overwhelming scientific consensus and is a dangerous position for an elected official to hold, particularly one whose experience is in medicine.


Nassif is our choice for At-Large 5. Granted, the 30-year-old son of Mexican and Lebanese immigrants is young, but he’s been involved in public service for more than a decade. He offers voters detailed positions on transportation and infrastructure, fiscal responsibility and quality-of-life issues. He would work, for example, to address growing income inequality in Houston by advocating for affordable housing and providing incentives for developers to provide controlled-price rental units in developments across the city. He also supports the Houston equal rights ordinance (which Christie opposes).

I had Christie as a 65% favorite in this one, but I will note that I suggested the Chron might go for Nassif because 1) HERO 2) vaccines and 3) he’s good. So, I think I deserve a fair amount of partial credit. Good on Philippe for knocking their socks off.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Interview with Bill Frazer

Bill Frazer

Bill Frazer

Next up on our list of candidates to succeed term limited City Controller Ronald Green is Bill Frazer, who is attempting to build on his respectable showing against Green in 2013. Here’s the 2013 interview I did with Frazer, and in that spirit I’m largely going to quote from what I wrote then. Frazer is a career accountant, having served as President of the Houston CPA Society, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Texas Society of CPAs for the past 20 years. He recently retired as Chief Financial Officer of CB Richard Ellis Capital Markets, and has been a board member of GEMSA Loan Services. Please note that during the interview, Frazer shows me a chart about Houston’s pension payments. A copy of that chart is here, for your reference. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Chron Mayoral profile: Marty McVey

This is the sixth in a series of profiles on the top candidates running for mayor in Houston.

Marty McVey

Marty McVey

Standing in his sparse west Houston office this summer, Marty McVey traced his route to victory across a city map hung on the wall.

The long-shot mayoral candidate began around the edges, pointing to the predominantly minority districts along the city’s southwestern border, before circling in toward downtown.

“I do see a path,” said McVey, 41, who has never held elected office and raised just $60,000 in the first half of the year, though he loaned himself another nearly $1.1 million.

In a city where the political world often feels so small, McVey is the odd exception: an investor who, when he arrived on the local Democratic fundraising scene about a decade ago, was unknown to many of Houston’s longtime political players.

His candidacy, too, took some by surprise.

“He’s been kind of a mystery man,” said former City Councilman Gordon Quan, for whom McVey previously fundraised.

This outsider status is one McVey touts, pitching himself as a businessman with the financial acumen required to spur Houston’s economic development and tackle its looming $126 million budget deficit.

“I see that we’re going to have to make some very tough decisions, and I’ve been through tough decisions,” he said in a recent interview. “I’ve helped companies to turn around and be successful, and I’ve seen the best and worst of a lot of financial situations.”

On the campaign trail, McVey advocates for filling city coffers, in part by bringing more businesses and residents to Houston, though the city’s revenue cap limits how much it can collect in property taxes from that new growth.

He supports issuing bonds to cover the city’s unfunded pension liability – a core issue in this year’s campaign – and often addresses budget gaps with vague references to getting more federal funding.
Throughout, McVey cites his experience creating and saving companies.

“I know what risk is. I know how to manage. I know how to look for opportunities,” McVey said at a recent mayoral forum.

Yet McVey declined to comment on the specifics of many of his investments and companies, saying they were private, and a recent child support case shows his monthly resources were $2,500 as of December 2014.

I’ve met McVey, but in keeping with the theme of this story I don’t really know him – I certainly don’t know him as well as the other candidates, and had never heard of him before he announced his candidacy – so I learned a lot from reading this. McVey has a lot of business experience, but it’s not clear how much any of that experience bolsters his case for Mayor. Honestly, and it gives me no great joy to say this, I don’t know what the case for McVey is. As a first-time candidate who wasn’t particularly well-known to begin with, he has no obvious base of support, and he doesn’t check off any box that Chris Bell doesn’t. He’s loaned himself a million bucks – and again, let’s be honest, that’s what separates him from the “minor” candidates – but he hasn’t spent much if any of that money introducing himself to voters. He could start spending it now, but I doubt there’s enough time to make a difference, and unlike a certain other unknown businessman Mayoral candidate who (at first at least) wrote his own check, he wouldn’t have the airwaves to himself. People run for offices for their own reasons, and in my experience most of those reasons are good. McVey’s reasons for running are honorable. I just don’t know what he expects to get out of the experience at this point.

Posted in: Election 2015.

We’re still #1!

In uninsured people.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

For the first time in more than a decade, Texas’ uninsured rate dipped below 20 percent, analysts said [recently] following the release of U.S. Census data.

Slightly more than 5 million Texans were uninsured in 2014 — a 700,000 decrease from the year before. That represented a 3-point dip in the percentage of Texans without health insurance, to 19 percent — the largest gain in health care coverage in Texas since 1999, according to the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities.

The data released Wednesday marked the first government-provided snapshot of the uninsured rate since the rollout of, the health insurance marketplace created by President Obama’s signature health law.

Texas remains the state with the highest rate of uninsured people, according to the federal survey. Nationwide, the uninsured rate fell from about 15 percent to 12 percent.

And it’s not just in the rate where we lead, it’s also in sheer numbers.

Texas’ decrease was just 40 percent of the size of California’s shrinkage of its uninsured population. It reduced the number of uninsured by 1.73 million folks. That’s out of proportion to population. The bureau’s latest estimates show California has about 1.4 times as many people as Texas — 39 million versus 27 million. California has expanded Medicaid and runs its own online health insurance marketplace.

For many years, the Golden State has had the largest uninsured population. No longer. Texas does.

The Lone Star State has not just the highest percentage but the biggest raw number of uninsured — 5,047,000. In 2013, California had 6.5 million uninsured residents, while Texas had 5.75 million. But last year, California’s number dipped below 4.8 million.

“California has seen robust increases in both private insurance coverage under the [federal law’s] marketplace and public coverage through Medicaid coverage for working poor adults,” said Obamacare supporter Anne Dunkelberg, a veteran health-policy analyst at the center-left think tank the Center for Public Policy Priorities. She noted that California posted a nearly 5 percentage point decrease in its uninsured rate. It dropped from 17.2 to 12.4 percent, compared with only 3-point drop in Texas from 2013 to 2014.

But hey, at least we surpassed California in something, amirite? Woo hoo, high five!

All five of the states with the highest uninsurance rate have one thing in common: They failed to expand Medicaid. Well, two things in common, that and having Republican Governors and legislatures. But if you knew the first part, you could have guessed the second.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Endorsement watch: For Jerry

The Chron makes another easy call by endorsing CM Jerry Davis for a third term in District B.

CM Jerry Davis

CM Jerry Davis

In this race Davis is the only candidate who understands how the system functions and how a council member can pull the levers of power at City Hall to benefit his constituents.

In the private sector, Davis, 42, serves as executive director of Making It Better, a nonprofit youth program.

In his time on council, he has worked to place security cameras to catch illegal dumpers. He also successfully promoted a controversial tax incentive to encourage Krogers to expand its distribution center in northeast Houston. While we question the efficacy of these enticements, it shows that Davis uses every tool at his disposal to fight for District B.


The councilman said he supports the Houston equal rights ordinance, but only came to that position after talking with people and educating himself. It is an education that plenty of other politicians could use.


As Davis faces his third and final term, there is simply nobody else in this race who can match his knowledge and experience. Voters better start looking now for an effective replacement when term limits force him from office.

I agree on all counts. I didn’t do interviews in District B this year, but I have spoken with CM Davis twice before, most recently in 2013. The next Mayor will be glad to have CM Davis on Council with him.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Interview with Chris Brown

Chris Brown

Chris Brown

Continuing with my interviews with candidates for Houston City Controller to succeed the term-limited Ronald Green, today’s subject is Chris Brown. The son of former City Council member and Mayoral candidate Peter Brown, Chris Brown currently serves as the Chief Deputy City Controller, where he manages the day-to-day operations and leads the Executive Division of the Controller’s Office. He has previously served as City Council Chief of Staff, and worked as a trader at an investment bank and co-founded an equities trading firm. He is a fourth-generation Houstonian and graduate of HISD schools and TCU. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Bad choice, Lance

Very disappointing.


Lance Berkman, former Houston Astros star and Texas native, has waded into the fight for LGBT protections, sharing his views in a new ad campaign this week. At the center of Berkman’s concern is Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a nondiscrimination law similar to those on the books in cities across the country and the subject of an intense debate leading up to the November 3 vote.

Berkman is focused on the part of the law that applies to public accommodations like bathrooms; he echoes the anti-trans rhetoric used by HERO’s opponents as he urges Houston residents to vote against the measure, invoking his four daughters and his desire to protect them from “troubled men” going into women’s restrooms.

“Proposition 1, the bathroom ordinance, would allow troubled men to enter women’s public bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms. This would violate their privacy and put them in harm’s way,” he says in the ad, produced by Campaign for Houston.

In an accompanying video Berkman adds, “It’s crazy and it kinda makes me want to say… Wake up, America! That’s what I want to scream at people because I mean, what are we doing here? We have the potential for men going into a women’s bathroom. The very few people that this could even be slanted as discriminating against, is it worth putting the majority of the population at risk?”


Berkman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his opposition to the measure was based on the one equal-access application that would allow trans people to use any bathroom they consider to be consistent with their gender identity. He tried to walk back the reference to “troubled men,” saying it was not in reference to transgender people: “That language refers to that scenario or a voyeur — somebody who goes into a women’s bathroom and just likes to look at people. That to me is troubled.”

The situation Berkman describes is virtually unheard of, however. According to the Advocate, “although hundreds of trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances have been in force in cities around the country for several decades, there has never been a verifiable, reported instance of a trans person harassing a cisgender person, nor have there been any confirmed reports of male predators ‘pretending’ to be transgender to gain access to women’s spaces and commit crimes against them.”

See, that’s what happens when you make statements based on lies. You really look like an idiot when you get called on it. I have no idea where this idea that it’s okay to discriminate against some people, based on a fevered dream of something that might maybe someday happen, but I’m pretty sure that anyone who would say that is fully confident that he himself will never be part of any group that would ever be discriminated against. All I can say is that this attitude is exactly why we need anti-discrimination ordinances.

By the way, I don’t know if anyone has explained this to Lance Berkman, but the city Saint Louis (as well as Saint Louis County), where he played for two seasons and where he was just feted at a Cards game, has the same non-discrimination ordinance that Houston passed. Lots and lots of cities do. There’s a reason why the Houston Association of Realtors has endorsed HERO. It was good for Saint Louis, and it is good for Houston.

In the spirit of dispelling the kind of BS that Lance Berkman has unfortunately chosen to help spread, here’s the newest ad from Houston Unites:

I know that facts have limited capacity to persuade people whose minds are already made up, but they’re still the facts. Why would you trust anyone who would so shamelessly lie to you? OutSports has more.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Uber update, parts 2 and 3

Driving for Uber is a tough way to make a living.


One hundred job applications and still nothing. Jennifer Cantrell, 34, partway through a master’s degree in social work, had depleted her savings and needed a new plan. Through Facebook, she found out about someone subleasing cars to prospective drivers for Uber, the smartphone-based ride service.

It seemed promising: She had a license and was willing to learn the road. Uber offered freedom and flexibility, she’d heard, and an annual full-time income of $90,000. So Cantrell leased a car and signed up.

Yet after several months of working as much as 70 hours a week, she found herself in the red, not only with the owner of her new Toyota but with her landlord as well. Her weekly earnings statements looked decent on their face – after Uber’s cut, around $400 for 35 hours – but she’d somehow be left with just $100 a week once she figured in gas and the lease.

Uber likes to boast that its casual, affordable service is powered by part-time drivers seeking work “outside the 9 to 5.” That sounds like a convenient sideline for people like Cantrell: a cooler, more middle-class population than is usually drawn to taxi driving. For Cantrell, though, Uber became a full-time job that paid less than the minimum wage.

Other Uber drivers interviewed in Houston and elsewhere, speaking on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution from Uber, cited problems including pressure to provide costly amenities or to accept too many passengers in order to get good customer ratings. One driver said immigrants who drive for Uber tend to draw lower ratings.

Others, mostly part-time drivers with other sources of income, said their Uber experience had been positive. Uber maintains most of its drivers are part-time.

“You have to find what works for you,” said Lateefah Eburuche, who lives and drives part-time from the Third Ward, near the University of Houston.

Eburuche said Uber gives her flexibility so she can go out of town for trips related to her clothing design business.

“To me, Uber was the perfect answer for the convenience,” she said.


Uber requires drivers to get a license and to use their personal cars, so long as they meet certain minimum standards: a 2008 model or newer, four doors and under 150,000 miles.

Drivers like Cantrell can’t afford to buy an Uber-compliant vehicle and thus resort to formal or informal leases. Uber itself offers vehicle discounts and financing options. Last year, Uber was criticized for partnering with Santander Consumer USA, a leasing giant investigated by the Department of Justice for illegally repossessing vehicles from military personnel.

“I have seen [Uber] try to finance cars for other people, and I’m like, ‘That’s a disaster. Don’t do it,’ ” Cantrell said. “They offer new drivers these subprime auto loans, to pay over $200 a week on their car note while the car depreciates like crazy.”


On each ride, a passenger chooses a rating between one and five stars, with five being the best. But, drivers say, anything less than a high four average can undermine their ability to get rides.

Such basics as the cost of a fare are similarly unpredictable, Uber drivers say. One Houston driver recalls starting with the company at a rate of $2.50 per mile in 2013, “but eight months later, it was $1.89 and last November, $1.10 a mile,” said the driver, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “Now, to make $200, I need to stay on the app for 15 hours.”

Houston’s current base Uber fare of $1.10 per mile can “surge” to as much as 10 times the regular amount in certain locations during periods of high demand. By offering this boost in fares through driver alert emails and text messages, Uber nudges workers to meet the increased passenger load of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, large conventions and sporting events.

There’s another incentive: “guarantees,” or minimum hourly rates paid to drivers who meet certain conditions.

In general, these surges and guarantees pull drivers into downtown and central Houston, the eight neighborhoods identified by Uber’s technology as having consistently high demand. But when Uber vehicles crowd into these zones in search of higher pay, supply sometimes exceeds demand. A driver may “chase a surge” only to find, upon his arrival, that the area is no longer hot. And those trying to meet the requirements of guarantees may find it difficult to snag the requisite rides-per-hour.

It’s been rough on cabbies, too.

Houston and other big cities have long debated how best to manage vehicles-for-hire. Are taxis private or public transportation, free-market animals or creatures of the state?

Cabs were first licensed during the Great Depression, when thousands of unemployed men flooded the industry, spurring violent competition. City by city, regulators set qualifications, normalized rates and issued permits or medallions to limit the number of cars on the road. Some drivers became owner-operators, while others were company employees paid wages per shift.

Since the 1960s, waves of deregulation and re-regulation have buffeted the industry. Deregulation in the late 1970s and ’80s created real competition, variable fees and new services. On the other hand, deregulation meant that drivers were converted from employees to independent contractors, depriving them of the rights to a minimum wage, overtime and collective bargaining.

Many U.S.-born drivers sold their permits and quit the industry. New immigrants have since taken their place – but mostly as leaseholders. They pay rents to garages that in turn funnel money to permit-owners with hundreds to their name. A study of the Houston taxi market found that “a driver working long hours could be expected to average $210 to $240 per day driving his cab.” Nationwide, the average, full-time taxi driver earns just $23,000 per year.


In cities such as Houston, Austin, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York and Boston, taxi drivers and worker organizers are playing defense. For decades, they’ve wrangled with medallion- and garage-owners; now, all eyes are on Uber.

“Oversupply – Uber’s economic model depends on that,” said Bhairavai Desai, leader of the National Taxi Workers Alliance, an informal union.

Ebrahim Ulu, president of the United Houstonian Taxi Drivers Association, understands a driver’s desire to go with Uber and escape the clutch of traditional taxi companies.

“But what did Uber do in every city?” he said. “They didn’t improve permits or driver conditions.”

In 2013, the association sent Houston a 22-page document listing grievances – lack of time off, abuse by lease owners, poverty-level income – that it says reveals the “slavery” of the lease-to-drive structure. It proposed that the city grant new permits to individual drivers for the purpose of forming a worker cooperative that would offer protections and benefits to owner-employees.

Nothing ever came of this proposal. In taxi-industry time, 2013 is ancient history. Back then, neither the city nor the UHTDA foresaw the effect Uber would have on Houston and beyond.

See here for part one. Both stories are basically anecdotal evidence, so one should be hesitant to draw broad conclusions. The complaints about oversupply are understandable given Uber’s intent to recruit more drivers here, but if it really is the case that its drivers can’t make decent money, that’s going to be hard for them to do. As for Uber’s drivers, the best thing that could happen to them may be for Lyft to be lured back to town, as this would provide competition for their services and a catalyst for their per-mile rates to increase. What might be done to help out cabbies that are having a hard time paying their leases is a harder question, and I have no ideas offhand. Again, this is a subject that maybe the Mayoral candidates should be asked about.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Endorsement watch: Stardig

I’m too lazy to think of a clever title for this one.

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig is on the verge of completing her nonconsecutive second term as district councilwoman, and she has earned a third.

Stardig, 53, came into office with a resume impressive in its breadth and depth of civic involvement. She served on her neighborhood civic club, was head of a superneighborhood, sat on a tax increment reinvestment zone, a chamber of commerce and the Houston-Galveston Area Council. However, she was booted after her first term in a low-turnout election and replaced by Helena Brown. Rather than a constructive member of council, District A found itself with a ineffective rabble-rouser representative. Two years later, voters put Stardig back on council and she started to put important infrastructure projects back on track.


Stardig said she opposed the Houston equal rights ordinance because she believed there were other ways to address discrimination. While we believe that Stardig was wrong in her vote, she fares much better than her opponent. Iesheia K. Ayers-Wilson, a 35-year-old tax preparer, told the editorial board that she thinks businesses should be allowed to discriminate against people based on religion.

I got this one right, though it’s not like there was anything to it. I suppose we all owe Ms. Ayers-Wilson a bit of gratitude for demonstrating so succinctly that it’s always possible to coarsen the debate on a matter of public policy. Do you think it ever occurs to people like that that they could be discriminated against, or is it just the case that they think they already are by not being allowed to discriminate freely against others? And yes, I know I’m saying that about a candidate in the district that once elected Helena Brown. It can always get worse.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Interview with Carroll Robinson

Carroll Robinson

Carroll Robinson

We are coming into the home stretch for interview season. This week will be interviews with candidates for Houston City Controller, currently held by term-limited incumbent Ronald Green. First up is Carroll Robinson, who served three terms as At Large City Council member and three years on the HCC Board of Trustees, stepping down this year to mount his Controller campaign. Robinson is an Associate Professor at the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University and has served as Associate Dean of External Affairs there. He has a long list of board memberships, committees, and associations that’s hard to excerpt but can be seen on his HCC Board biography page, and there’s a long list of policy objectives, some of which we discussed in the interview, on his campaign webpage. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Uber update, part 1

The Chron, in conjunction with Al Jazeera Americas, gives the first of what should be a four-part look at how Uber is doing in Houson.


Less than a year after Houston began regulating so-called transportation network companies, questions persist about safety assurances from Uber, the city’s sole entrant in the field. Uber is testing local officials’ good graces by criticizing the rules it agreed to follow and lobbying for the state to supplant them. In certain instances, Uber has failed to abide by rules that Houston changed to accommodate the company.

Some drivers, meanwhile, say Uber is squeezing them, saturating the market so it’s impossible for most to make a living wage.

“They want to own Houston, and they will,” said one driver, who asked not to be identified because she feared the company would disable her account. “But those of us out here, doing the work… we won’t see a dime they don’t want us to have.”

Yet none of the company’s problems – not even the highly publicized case of a driver accused of sexually assaulting a passenger in Houston – seems to have dented its popularity.

“I use it everywhere,” said Sami Tamska, 30, who moved to Houston last year. “Here, Dallas, whenever I go anywhere. It’s all the same.”

The enthusiasm of customers like Tamska suggests that Uber is likely here to stay. What remains to be seen is how the rules of the road will continue to evolve for the company, and what that will mean for consumers.

“Innovation has gotten out ahead of the public policy environment,” said Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California-Berkeley. “Things haven’t changed in 100 years in this industry, and suddenly, it’s changing rapidly, and I think everyone is still figuring out what that means.”

That includes city officials in Houston, who went through a rigorous process to try to assure customer safety without stifling innovation. Rather than accept Uber’s background checks, the city demanded drivers go through the same, more rigorous process as cab drivers.

Less than six months into the new system, Uber acknowledged hundreds of its drivers were not licensed to drive in Houston and were removed from the platform only after an unlicensed driver with a federal prison record was accused of sexually assaulting a passenger.


In Houston, at least for now, Uber is undercutting cab prices. A typical ride from Bush Intercontinental Airport to downtown in a taxi could top $60, compared to around $40 in UberX, the company’s least-expensive option. Taxi fares, however, are standard and predictable, while Uber often increases its rates when demand is highest.

With Uber’s entry, on top of 2,446 permitted taxi cabs, the number of people offering rides for money is unclear. Uber, via court filings, has resisted public release of information on how many trips it has provided or its number of drivers, calling the data a trade secret.

“It’s safe to assume there are thousands (of drivers),” said Duane Kamins, owner of Lone Star Cab Company, part of a legacy industry that lobbied hard to prevent Uber’s entry into Houston.

It’s a good story, though I can’t say I learned a whole lot of things I didn’t already know. Given that this is the first part of a four-part series, here are some topics I’d like to see explored in the others:

– San Antonio has revisited its vehicles for hire ordinance, as its original version caused both Uber and Lyft to leave town. Lyft has since promised to return there, but it does not operate in Houston as it did not care for Houston’s background check requirements. Does anyone on either side regret Lyft not being here? Do any of the Mayoral candidates think revisiting Houston’s ordinance is a good idea?

– There was an effort in the Lege last session to create statewide regulations on vehicles for hire, which would have overridden city ordinances, at least in its initial form. One can reasonably expect a similar bill to be filed in 2017. What if anything did the city of Houston do to affect the outcome of the 2015 bill, filed by Rep. Chris Paddie? What if anything would the Mayoral candidates do in 2017 when the next such bill gets filed?

– How much business have the cab companies really lost, and how much of Uber’s business here in town is new users? How does this compare to other Texas cities?

– Uber drivers in Dallas recently went on strike to protest new rules promulgated by Uber about fares for UberBlack drivers. What do Houston UberBlack drivers think about this? What if any role should city regulators play in such disputes?

– Is there any local data to corroborate or refute recent claims that ridesharing companies have a positive effect on DUI homicide rates? I know it’s way too early to draw any conclusions, I’m just looking for anecdotal evidence.

What questions would you like to see examined?

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.