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Friday random ten: Dexter’s favorites

We can’t take a tour through the favorite songs of Kuffner family members without including the family dog, can we? So here they are:

1. Walk This Way – Aerosmith
2. Cachorinho (Little Dog Chorinho) – Susanna Sharpe and Samba Police
3. Dog Days – 50 Foot Wave
4. Guinness Dog – The Rogues
5. My Dog’s Still Walkin’ – Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King
6. The Dogs, They Really Miss You – Austin Lounge Lizards
7. Underdog – Lager Rhythms
8. Hair Of The Dog – Nazareth
9. Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog) – Roky Erikson & Bliebalien
10. The Bitch Is Back – Tina Turner

See here and here for the girls’ contributions. Tiffany isn’t as big an iPod fiend as the rest of us, so I don’t have a list from her. If that ever changes, you’ll be the first to know.

Posted in: Music.

Judicial Q&A: JoAnn Storey

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.)

JoAnn Storey

JoAnn Storey

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

JoAnn Storey, 1005 Heights Blvd., Houston, Texas 77008
713-529-0048
storeyj@heightslaw.com
http://joannforjudge.com

I am running for the 215th Civil District Court, Harris County, Texas

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Harris County District Courts have jurisdiction of civil matters involving an amount in controversy of more than $500,exclusive of interest. They do not hear any criminal, family-law, or probate matters.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I personally believe that the circumstances of Judge Palmer’s election to this bench were reprehensible. Vendettas and misleading attack ads against a sitting judge do a terrible disservice to the public.

Since Judge Palmer has been on the bench, the HBA bar poll numbers have not been favorable. In particular, Judge Palmer has been rated mostly poor in these categories: (1) following the law; (2) ruling decisively and timely; (3) demonstrating impartiality; (4) using attorneys’ time efficiently; and (5) working hard and being prepared.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a summa cum laude graduate of South Texas College of Law. I have 35 years of experience as trial and appellate counsel in state and federal courts. In particular, I have tried approximately 20 cases to a verdict and have assisted at trial in as many cases and I have handled, or assisted in handling, at least 75 appeals or original proceedings. I have represented individuals and corporations and clients on both sides of the docket.

I am board certified in Civil Appellate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I have been a Texas Super Lawyer since 2005. I am rated AV-Preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell, which is a testament to the fact that my peers rank me at the highest level of professional excellence. I also am a Life Fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation, one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a member of the State Bar of Texas.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because the public needs to know that honesty and integrity can be restored to a bench that was won as a result of improper vendettas and attack ads and that, since that time, has not had the confidence of the lawyers in Houston.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

Because I am the most qualified person running for this bench. In 35 years of practice, I have pretty much “seen it all.” I have the confidence to do what judges are charged with doing: following the law and ruling fairly and impartially.

I also come from humble beginnings (first person in my family to go to college, worked my way through college and law school) and I have never lost that quality. I am a hard worker and I will continue to work hard if elected.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Video fraudsters offered probation

First the one, on Wednesday.

Right there with them

Right there with them

A California woman charged last week for her role in the production of undercover videos at a Houston Planned Parenthood clinic will be offered probation, a Harris County prosecutor said in court.

Sandra Susan Merritt, of San Jose, Calif., appeared in court Wednesday morning on charges of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony which carried a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

[…]

On Wednesday, Merritt made her bail, was processed by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and turned herself in to state District Judge Brock Thomas. Dressed in her regular clothes, she appeared with a team of defense attorneys. She was also accompanied to and from the court by a handful of sheriff’s deputies because of the intense media scrutiny the case has generated, according to one official.

Merritt, who sat in the gallery with supporters, did not appear before the judge or speak in court. During a scheduling conference at the bench, Assistant District Attorney Sunni Mitchell said she is not considered a flight risk. The prosecutor said Merritt will be offered pre-trial diversion, a form of probation that typically does not require a guilty plea or stringent conditions. Typically reserved for low-level non-violent first offenders, like shoplifters, a suspect is diverted out of the court system. If they stay out of trouble, the charges are eventually dismissed. Merritt’s case was rescheduled until next month to work out the parameters of her probation.

Officials with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office would not discuss whether Daleiden would be offered a similar deal when he appears in court Thursday.

They did offer him a similar deal, and he rejected it.

Anti-abortion activist David Daleiden, one of the videographers indicted after infiltrating a Houston Planned Parenthood facility, on Thursday rejected prosecutors’ offer of a probation deal, according to his attorney.

[…]

County prosecutors this week offered both activists pre-trial diversion, a form of probation. But Daleiden rejected the offer and plans to fight the charges, said attorney Jared Woodfill. It’s unclear whether Merritt has accepted or rejected the deal.

[…]

Pre-trial diversion, a sort of probation, is offered to many first-time nonviolent offenders. If offenders keep a clean record for a predetermined length of time, their charges can be dismissed. Prosecutors have not drawn up a specific contract and conditions for Daleiden and Merritt.

Don’t bother. He ain’t taking it, whatever it is.

“The only thing we’re going to accept is an apology,” said Daleiden’s defense attorney Terry Yates. “We believe the indictments are factually and legally insufficient.”

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson responded that she has offered the videographer and his associate, Sandra Susan Merritt, 62, of San Jose, Calif., an “exit from their legal predicament.”

She also accused the activists of using their criminal charges to grandstand in a case that has drawn national attention due to heated opinions on both sides of the abortion debate.

“Currently, no evidence has been presented to me that gives me legal grounds to dismiss the indictments against Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt,” she said by email. “Among those familiar with criminal prosecution, my offer would be immediately accepted as ‘an offer you can’t refuse;’ unless of course, your goal is not to avoid prosecution, but rather to keep the circus going and going.”

[…]

“It’s unusual because a pre-trial diversion is a pretty sweet outcome for an alleged felony,” said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at South Texas College of Law. He said Daleiden could have several reasons for refusing the offer, including believing that the law is not justified, that a jury would never convict him or that being convicted would add significance to his anti-abortion crusade.

“This guy thinks that what he did is morally justified,” Corn said. “Every now and then you encounter a defendant who, for whatever reason, says ‘I don’t believe in the law.'”

It’s more than fine by me that Daleiden rejected this offer, because I want them to be convicted of something, and I think their “we’re journalists and we did what journalists do” defense is deeply flawed. They don’t need to have jail time – honestly, this is not the sort of crime that really calls for jail time – but there needs to be an example set, to at least make any future copycats think twice. The reason why a conviction really matters is because the real potential for punishment will come from the civil courts, and nothing will help the various lawsuits against these clowns like a guilty plea or verdict. I’m not surprised that Daleiden rejected the plea – these people are believers, and I suspect more than willing to play the martyr – and I won’t be surprised if Merritt does as well. And if/when that happens, I want to see them nailed at trial.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Collin County argues against anti-Paxton prosecutor lawsuit

Reluctantly.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

[Collin County Commissioners] Court on Thursday urged a Dallas judge to drop a lawsuit seeking to block payment to the special prosecutors. The suit, filed in December by local real estate developer and Paxton donor Jeffory Blackard, should be declared moot because the commissioners already had sent the prosecutors their six-figure check, the county argued.

“Texas law is clear a taxpayer cannot bring an action against a local government to recover funds already expended,” the court argued in a brief to Dallas County Court of Law Judge Mark Greenberg. The lawsuit targets the commissioners court, as well as Kent Schaffer, Brian Wice and Nicole DeBorde, three Houston criminal defense attorneys assigned to prosecute Paxton’s felony securities case.

The county and the prosecutors may be fighting for the same outcome, but that does not mean the court is happy about it.

County Judge Keith Self said the Thursday filing does not mean he will stop fighting to cap or block further payment to the prosecutors. The nearly $255,000 they already have received for their first several months of work is enough, he said.

“We paid it, and it’s done. So, we believe that this issue is complete, but I can’t speak for anyone else’s future actions,” said Self, who earlier this month urged the prosecutors to resign. He wants the district attorney from another county to take over the case, believing that would mean there would be more local oversight of the prosecutors’ bills.

See here and here for the background. I’ve been critical of Judge Self’s efforts, but I do have some sympathy for him and the Collin County Commissioners Court. This is an expense they have no control over, and this trial could be done by another county’s DA instead of a special prosecutor. I don’t know the legal technicalities of that – these cases always seem to be assigned to special prosecutors (“attorneys ad litem”) – but there may be a reason why cases like this are handled this way and not in the manner Judge Self prefers. Perhaps that’s a matter for the Legislature to look at. Be that as it may, given that special prosecutors were assigned, and given how much work has already been done and how much evidence would have to be absorbed by any new players in this game, I say keep things as they are and let it play out till the end, however long that takes. Too bad for Collin County’s budget, but it’s too late to change now.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

Sebesta appeals disbarment

This saga that I thought was over still has another chapter in it.

Anthony Graves

Lawyers for Charles Sebesta, the ex-prosecutor who secured the wrongful death sentence of Anthony Graves, told a panel of the State Bar of Texas on Friday that he should not be disbarred based on technicalities in the rules that govern lawyer discipline.

[…]

Jane Webre, who was defending Sebesta before the disciplinary board, argued that bar rules prevent the board from making a different ruling on Graves’ recent complaint after it already determined the former prosecutor wasn’t subject to disbarment for his role in that conviction.

“In order for the system to function properly, it’s important that the bar apply the rules fairly and consistently,” Webre told the Texas State Bar Board of Disciplinary Appeals.

Sebesta argued that the bar dismissed the previous complaint not only because of the time bar but also because they found no merit in the accusations against him.

Cynthia Hamilton, senior appellate lawyer for the commission for lawyer discipline at the State Bar, told the panel that Sebesta’s disbarment should remain in effect. In dismissing the previous claim, she said, the Bar did not address the merits of the claims of misconduct, only the statute of limitations, which lawmakers have since extended.

“It was Mr. Sebesta’s own flawed analysis of the definition of just cause that led him to that conclusion,” Hamilton said.

Additionally, she said, if the disciplinary rules were applied as Sebesta contends they should be, lawyers would not face discipline in instances where additional evidence of serious wrongdoing came to light after an initial complaint was dismissed. That would give lawyers – who are not required to cooperate with bar investigators – an incentive to conceal information, she said.

Further, she argued, lawmakers changed the statute of limitations governing prosecutor discipline in 2013 specifically to allow the kind of sanction Sebesta is facing.

“The Legislature gave the [chief disciplinary counsel] its marching orders,” Hamilton said.

See here for the background. I love how guys like Sebesta always reach for the technicalities when the spotlight turns to their own behavior. I’m sure he was ever so solicitous of those finer points of law when he was DA. Be that as it may, he is entitled to a review, and if his argument is deemed valid, then so be it. I personally think Ms. Hamilton has by far the stronger case, and I hope the State Bar sees it that way as well. I agree completely with what Anthony Graves says:

Graves said he said he is confident the panel will uphold Sebesta’s disbarment. And their decision, he said, will have consequences for prosecutors statewide.

“If they uphold the ruling, it says we’re not going to allow prosecutors to just do what they want in the courtroom and not be held accountable,” Graves said. “If they reinstate him, it says to the public that we really don’t care about you, we just protect our own.”

Amen. I don’t know when the State Bar will rule on this, but I hope they get it right.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Support Jessica Farrar

From Andrea Greer:

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Last week, Senator John Whitmire addressed a crowd of supporters at a fundraiser for Representative Jessica Farrar.

“Jessica, I’m here because until today, I gotta be honest,” he admitted, “I didn’t know you had a challenger.”

Senator Whitmire is hardly the only one caught by surprise by not just the fact that this beloved state representative has a challenger, but that he is running in the primary, claiming to be a Democrat.

What can we say about Dave Wilson?

[…]

Jessica Farrar’s experience and expertise are invaluable. She’s a fierce advocate for civil rights, healthcare, animals, schools, and more, but she also understands that governance means learning how to work together with people whose opinions she may not share. She understands that governance is about finding ways to say yes.

Jessica Farrar is the only responsible choice in the March primary. Let’s keep her in the Texas House.

I’m pretty sure everyone reading this blog knows what can be said about Dave Wilson, but go ahead and click over to refresh your memory. I don’t live in HD148 any more – my neighborhood was split in half in the 2011 redistricting, with my half being placed in HD145 – so I can’t vote for Rep. Farrar in the primary, but if you live in HD148 please make sure that you do. I don’t care who you support for President, just don’t miss this race. The stakes are too high to take any of this for granted.

Posted in: Election 2016.

State of the county 2016

This year’s theme is cooperation and meeting challenges.

Judge Ed Emmett

Judge Ed Emmett

In his ongoing effort to revive the Astrodome, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Tuesday proposed using the aging landmark for an outdoor light show when Houston hosts the Super Bowl next February.

Emmett discussed the future of the Ddome and touched on the challenges the county faces in health care during his ninth “State of the County” address before 1,100 business leaders at NRG Center.

He floated the idea of a projected light show on the exterior of the Astrodome to coincide with the Super Bowl. Emmett also laid out a long-term plan to convert the nine-acre interior into an indoor park with underground parking or storage and retail facilities above.

[…]

He also touched on another of his key themes, the county’s duty to meet fundamental health care needs of residents while it grapples with the cost of providing services without help from expanded Medicaid funds that state leaders refuse to pursue.

“So long as the county property taxpayer has to bear the cost of health care, we will have trouble meeting the challenge. Refusing to accept federal dollars available for indigent health care makes no more sense than turning down federal highway funds,” Emmett said. “Those who now reject federal dollars for health care are not only punishing individuals and families who need access to better care, they are increasing property taxes for all taxpayers.”

Emmett ended by pleading with business leaders to “push back against those who want to play politics with county government.” People vilify government, he said, but then they expect high-quality emergency services, flood control and a smooth commute.

The full speech is here. In his discussion of how senseless it is to reject federal dollars for indigent health care, he recalled his time in the Legislature when some of his colleagues wanted to turn down federal highway dollars because they didn’t want to mandate seat belt usage. It took a visit from Dr. Red Duke to convince them to come to their senses. “We need another Red Duke to bring reason to the issue of indigent health care,” he said. I love the parallel Emmett draws, but I respectfully disagree with his prescription. What we really need is fewer Republicans in Austin, beginning with the Governor and Lt. Governor, who would refuse to listen to what Dr. Red Duke would be telling them. It’s not like we don’t have plenty of other respected authorities – doctors, business folk, economists – who have been saying the same thing. The problem is the hammerheaded and entirely partisan unwillingness to listen.

Anyway. As always, the full speech is worth your time; background on the Dome stuff is here. Judge Emmett was introduced by Mayor Turner, which again bodes well for city/county cooperation going forward. Your Houston News and Swamplot have more.

Posted in: Local politics.

Two more places that Uber won’t operate

Goodbye, Galveston.

Uber

Just days after the City Council passed an ordinance designed to regulate transportation networks, Uber has shut down its service in Galveston.

Monday evening, people in Galveston who tried to use the phone app to order a ride received a message that Uber is no longer available in Galveston

“Due to new regulations passed by Galveston City Council, Uber is no longer available in the city,” the message says. “We hope to resume operations in Galveston under modern ridesharing regulations in the future.”

The council passed those regulations on Thursday.

The rules require that ride-hailing companies apply for operators’ licenses from the city, and require the company’s drivers to apply for chauffeurs’ licenses.

As part of the licensing procedure, drivers have to go through a background check that includes a federal fingerprint analysis.

Uber has objected to cities, including Austin and Houston, who require fingerprint checks from its drivers. In other cities, the company claims that its business model does not allow for the time required to conduct such background checks.

“These new regulations will make it difficult for partners to earn extra money on a flexible schedule and create barriers to entry instead of improving access to reliable transportation options such as ridesharing,” Sharraz Maredia, the general manager of Uber Houston said in an message to drivers sent on Monday evening.

KHOU and the Chron have more coverage on this. I had seen a blurb on this a few days ago when Galveston City Council passed their ordinance, but it was behind a paywall so I didn’t know any of the back story. I did not expect this reaction to the ordinance, but all things considered I should have.

See ya later, Midland.

The rider-sharing sic company Uber has told potential customers it will no longer provide service in Midland County.

[…]

“Uber gives municipalities an ordinance and says pass this or we will leave,” said District 4 Councilman J.Ross Lacy on Monday night. “It is becoming an ongoing battle with cities in state of Texas that they don’t want to follow same rules as someone else.”

Lacy expressed disappointment with the result. He said he personally worked hours on negotiations with Uber. In December, City Council passed the second reading of an ordinance that Lacy said featured work from those negotiations.

[…]

“They (Uber) will not agree to terms of the ordinance because they don’t want to set a precedent,” Lacy said. “I worked a long time and had a handshake agreement, and for them to come back after the fact is disappointing. I negotiated in good faith. They didn’t.”

The Midland ordinance included allowing transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber to conduct their own background checks, which last I looked was a big deal for them. I don’t know if there was more to this story than what this report has, but if these rules were unacceptable them, I don’t know what they would accept. They’re really making the case for statewide regulations for TNCs, which is not a position I ever expected to support.

And here’s another reason to want to get this fight out of the local arena.

A group shrouded in mystery failed to deliver on its promise of a political blockbuster on Monday, in the process digging up new questions to pile upon a tall stack of older unanswered ones. After teasing a big announcement late last week, the group – known as Austin4All – declared that it had gathered enough signatures to force City Council Member Ann Kitchen into a recall election. However, as of Monday evening, the group hadn’t submitted its petition to the city clerk.

Austin4All’s co-directors, Rachel Kania and Tori Moreland, did not respond to an email from the Austin Monitor asking when – or, indeed, if – they plan on turning the petition in. In earlier messages, they explained that they were both in Iowa for the presidential nominating caucuses on Monday night.

The recall effort is purportedly a reaction to Kitchen’s attempts to tighten regulations imposed on transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft. Austin4All’s petition is a separate venture from another petition that aims to bring the regulations to a voter referendum. After announcing that they had collected enough signatures, the organizers of that effort quicklydelivered the petition to the Office of the City Clerk.

If Austin4All’s boasts prove to be true, Kitchen will have five days after verification of the signatures to resign or to face a recall referendum as early as May.

[…]

Austin4All’s existence may predate the city’s new system of geographical representation. In 2014, a group with the same name conducted a petition drive whose aim and organizers raised questions.

The Monitor found documents from January of that year showing that an Austin4All incorporated in Hays County as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit – which are forbidden from participating“in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.” When asked on Monday whether that was the same group, Moreland said, “We had no involvement and cannot speak to any affiliation.”

There are no other records of another Austin4All, let alone one that is filed as a political action committee, as the group appears to claim to be. According to campaign finance rules, any group that spends more than $500 must report the expenditures. As of the most recent filing deadline, no such records exist.

Kitchen said that she views the recall effort as an attack on her constituents, who made Kitchen one of only two Council members who were elected without having to face a runoff. “Now they’ve got someone from the outside,” Kitchen told the gaggle of press outside City Hall. “They don’t know who’s funding it, they’re telling lies throughout the neighborhood, they’re not identifying themselves. So it’s really a threat to the people of District 5 who have the representative that they chose. And I think it is a horrible precedent for this new system that we have and a threat for the entire city.”

Yeah, who doesn’t love a faux-“grassroots” organization with secret donors led by a couple of political pros (Moreland and Kania have ties to Ted Cruz and Rand Paul) coming in to try to overturn an election? Spare me. I’ll say again, I believe that there is an needs to be room for innovation in the vehicles for hire market, and that cities should find a reasonable way to allow such companies to operate. But by the same token, those companies need to actually abide by the legally enacted ordinances, and they need to accept that some oversight is necessary for the process of doing background checks on their drivers. Fingerprint checks aren’t the be-all and end-all, but they’re perfectly sensible in a way that “take our word for it” isn’t. I still don’t want to see a one-size-fits-all approach from the Legislature, but a law mandating some minimal requirements that includes fingerprints or the equivalent is something I do support.

In any event, the Travis County Clerk has certified the petitions to overturn the Austin ridesharing law on the ballot. City Council there will vote on that next week – they could simply ratify the alternate ordinance put forth by the petitioners or possibly some “compromise” ordinance that everyone can agree on, or it goes to the voters. That will make the month of May a lot more interesting around here. The Trib has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Texas blog roundup for the week of February 1

The Texas Progressive Alliance is ready to be able to ignore Iowa again as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Endorsement watch: Succeeding Sylvester

The Chron makes its choice for HD139.

Kimberly Willis

Kimberly Willis

We encourage Democratic Party voters to look for a candidate who will emulate Turner’s successful model of connecting constituents’ interests with the levers of state power in Austin. We believe that Kimberly Willis will be that candidate.

Willis’ experience as a former staffer in the Legislature and as a social worker in Houston gives her a comprehensive view of the ways in which government programs can impact neighborhoods.

“I understand what good public policy does for a community,” she told the Houston Chronicle editorial board.

[…]

Also running for the position are Randy Bates, 66, a former Lone Star College trustee; Jerry Ford Jr., 23, a student activist; and Jarvis Johnson, 44, a former member of Houston City Council.

Ford has an impressive passion and said he is running to spark a movement of youth involvement in politics, but he could use a little more experience. Bates and Johnson both have that experience as elected officials. However, Bates relied too much on vagaries when he talked with the editorial board. Johnson faced allegations of unethical and illegal behavior while on City Council, including allegations of trying to direct city contracts and being charged with evading arrest. He was never indicted or convicted, but too many questions still remain about Johnson’s political ethics.

Here are my interviews with Willia, Ford, and Bates. I’ll just note that Jarvis Johnson had no online campaign presence as my last check, and did not file a January finance report. He does almost certainly have the most name recognition among the foursome, and came dangerously close to winning a seat on the HCDE in 2012, so don’t count him out.

Meanwhile, since I happened to come across it, here are some primary legislative recommendations from San Antonio:

In Texas House District 116, three Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination to replace state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who is vacating the post to run for the Texas Senate.

The three contenders are Diana Arévalo, Martin Golando and Ruby Resendez. All three have the potential to be solid public servants, but Golando has far more relevant experience than the others. And for that reason, we recommend that voters cast their ballots for Golando.

Serving as Martinez Fischer’s chief of staff for almost 10 years, Golando has a vast amount of experience in the legislative process that will enable him to hit the ground running. A lawyer, Golando has served as the general counsel of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which was led by Martinez Fischer.

[…]

We strongly urge Democrats to nominate [Gabe] Farias [in HD118], who has served as president and CEO of the West Side Chamber of Commerce since 2012. Farias has an understanding of business issues that will be helpful in the Legislature. He also has served on the staff of two City Council members and worked in the office of state Rep. Roland Gutierrez.

Additionally, Farias demonstrates a superior knowledge of key legislative matters, advocates expanding Medicaid and is a strong supporter of public education.

[…]

We recommend that voters cast their ballots for Byron Miller, an Edwards Aquifer Authority board member who has been elected to the EAA District 2 post three times. Miller’s EAA experience gives him a strong foundation to be a voice for Bexar County on water policy, which is a crucial issue in the state.

Miller is a lifelong resident of District 120 and has a long record of civic involvement, ranging from being a Boy Scoutmaster to serving on the Carver Cultural Center and Witte Museum boards. Miller also served on the Bexar County Coliseum Advisory board.

[…]

In District 124, we strongly recommend Ina Minjarez, who last spring was elected to the post formerly held by Sen. José Menéndez with only weeks remaining in the legislative session.

Starting at the bottom, Minjarez was the E-N’s preferred candidate in that special election last year, and all the things I’ve heard about her so far have been positive. I don’t know Martin Golando, but people in San Antonio and with connections to the Lege that I respect are all high on him, and that’s good enough for me. The stakes may have been low in that HD118 special election, but Tomas Uresti lost it, and that sure seems like a good reason to support Gabe Farias (also the E-N choice in round one of that special election). Finally, I don’t know the candidates in HD120 (Art Hall ran for Railroad Commissioner in 2008 but finished out of the money in a three-way primary), so I welcome any input from the locals in that race.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Interview with Randy Bates

Randy Bates

Randy Bates

We wrap up our series of interviews with candidates in HD139, the longtime office of now-Mayor Sylvester Turner. Today’s subject is attorney Randy Bates, founder and partner in a firm concentrating in public finance. Bates served for over 20 years on the board of trustees of the Lone Star College System, including seven years as Board Chair. He has also served as the National President of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity for the past four years. 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 2016 Election page.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Judicial Q&A: Rabeea Collier

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.)

Rabeea Collier

Rabeea Collier

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

Rabeea Collier; Judge, 11th Civil District Court in Harris County, Texas

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The civil district court handles civil disputes between two parties, which may involve any combination of private entities, public organizations, or individuals. The civil court often determines liability on the part of one party for the damages caused by the other. Some examples of cases that this court may hear are personal injury, breach of contract, business disputes and malpractice matters.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because not only do we need a judge that is qualified but also we need a judge that is able to bring a diverse perspective to the court. As a native Houstonian, a mother of two boys, first-generation American, and the first person to attend law school and become a lawyer, I understand firsthand the issues that face our communities. With that, I will look to bring those unique perspectives to the bench to help me be a judge that is compassionate but confident in my deliberations and decisions.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am an experienced attorney with nearly a decade of experience working in the legal profession. Through this work, I have represented individuals, non-profits, and large corporations in courtrooms across Harris County. I have also represented both plaintiffs and defendants in litigation at trial before juries and judges in a wide range of the law and industries. Additionally, I have been heavily involved in the community and in politics. Before I decided to run for judge, I have served as Precinct Chair, Senate District 4 Precinct Delegation Chair, Senate District 4 Credentials Committee Member, Senate District 4 Convention Parliamentarian, Senate District 4 Convention Nominations Committee Chair, Senate District 4 Convention Delegation Chair, and as a Texas Democratic Party Neighborhood Volunteer. I am a native Houstonian and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because we need judges – and a justice system – that treats every person that walks into the courtroom with the same level of dignity and respect no matter their background or standing in life. Oftentimes the justice system is only accessible or equitable to those of a higher social status or income class, and I believe that we can help change this dynamic with our vote. Community leaders that are supporters of my campaign for judge have also noted that this race is critically important because this court has never had a woman or a person of color as judge of this Court.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

Democrats should vote for me in the primary because not only do I have the knowledge, skills, and background necessary for me to be an effective judge, but I have also been committed to the Democratic Party for years before I thought about running for elected office. I believe that this unique background and my commitment to Democratic values makes me the best choice to be the Democratic nominee for Judge of the 11th Civil District Court in Harris County.

Posted in: Election 2016.

HPD Chief McClelland to retire

From the inbox:

Chief McClelland

Mayor Sylvester Turner today announced that he has accepted the retirement of Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, effective February 26, 2016. McClelland was sworn in as a police officer in September 1977. He rose through the ranks at HPD and was sworn in by former Mayor Annise Parker as police chief on April 14, 2010.

“I want to thank Chief McClelland for his 39 years of service to the City,” said Mayor Turner. “He is a respected figure in the community who has served this city well and has many accomplishments of which to be proud. The city’s crime rate during his tenure is lower than it was for the previous six years and citizen complaints filed against our officers are at a record low.”

Chief McClelland managed the fifth largest police agency in the nation with a budget of more than $825 million and a staff of 5200 sworn officers and 1200 civilian employees. Whether it is creating new programs aimed at encouraging positive interaction with Houston’s youth, organizing a town hall where residents have the opportunity to ask questions or simply sharing a cup of coffee with residents, Chief McClelland made it a point to focus on taking HPD to the community it serves.

When asked what he considers his proudest accomplishments, he cites the lower crime rate, HPD’s stewardship of its financial resources and improved community relations. He is also very personally proud of having been able to convince former Mayor Parker and City Council to name HPD headquarters after Officer Edward A. Thomas, one of HPD’s first African American officers and the department’s longest serving officer.

This is a decision that was reached after much personal thought and consultation with my family,” said McClelland. “It was not an easy decision, but I know it is the right decision for me personally. I am leaving HPD in a better place than it was six years ago.”

Mayor Turner has not yet selected an interim chief. That decision will be made in the coming days.

And then will follow the search for a full-time Chief, which will take longer, and which will have a significant effect on Mayor Turner’s ability to push through reforms in how HPD operates. It will be interesting to see whether the Mayor prioritizes looking for a successor from within or without, and what kind of input he gets from Council. My best wishes to Chief McClelland as he prepares to begin the next chapter of his life. The Chron and the Press have more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Can you ever truly “fix” the 59/610 interchange?

I kind of think the answer is “No”, but they’re going to try anyway.

With Houston choking on traffic congestion from Clear Lake to Jersey Village, an infusion of $447 million in state funds promises relief sooner than expected at three notorious freeway bottlenecks.

That sum amounts to more than one-third of $1.3 billion allocated to relieve congestion in major Texas cities where officials announced targeted projects Wednesday. As a result, major upgrades to the Loop 610 interchange with U.S. 59 near Uptown and widening of Interstate 45 south of Houston and Interstate 10 west of Katy will happen years before initially predicted.

“The sooner you can get it constructed … chances are it will be a lower price as opposed to a higher price,” Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Raquelle Lewis said. “And the faster drivers receive relief.” Construction will stretch from 2017 to 2021.

Tasked in September by Gov. Greg Abbott to address congestion in the state’s five largest metro areas, state transportation officials directed $1.3 billion to Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and Fort Worth. The spending plan requires approval by the Texas Transportation Commission, likely next month.

Commissioner Bruce Bugg led various sessions in the five metro areas, consulting with local TxDOT officials and others to find projects that could get the state the most bang for its buck now.

[…]

At peak times, some segments of Houston freeways have average speeds slower than most cyclists. Along southbound Loop 610 from Interstate 10 to Post Oak in the Uptown area, the average speed between 4:45 p.m. and 6 p.m. dipped below 12 mph in 2015, down from about 15 mph in 2014 and 18 mph in 2013.

The difference in evening northbound traffic is greater, with average speeds between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. below 20 mph, compared with about 45 mph or more in 2013 and 2014.

Initially, Lewis said, TxDOT planned to rebuild the 610-59 interchange in phases as funding allowed.

The focus on congestion, and voter approval in 2014 and 2015 of new road spending, changed that strategy. The congestion-relief money includes $132 million for this project, making it possible to rebuild the entire interchange at once.

That means new lanes and more effective ramp designs will arrive sooner, although congestion is likely to be even worse during construction.

The three projects were selected because they can provide substantial relief for drivers and were planned and approved so that construction could start in a few months.

I’m pretty sure George Orwell’s actual vision of the future was a human foot stomping on a brake pedal forever, but I could be wrong about that. In any event, my skepticism about this is based on the fact that you can only have so many lanes exiting the first freeway, and only so many lanes entering the second freeway. The 59/610 interchange backs up in all directions because you have multiple lanes of cars trying to cram themselves into one exit lane. TxDOT could certainly add a second exit lane, like it has for I-10 at 610, but that only helps so much if there’s room on 610 for twice as many cars to enter at one time. There’s only so much water you can pour into a bucket, you know? And all of this is before you take into account induced demand or complicating factors like people wanting to enter and exit at Richmond and Westheimer. I’ve no doubt that TxDOT can do things to make this interchange better, though honestly I think they’ve already done a lot with the dedicated flyway to Westheimer and the separation of traffic there. I don’t think they can “solve” it in any meaningful sense, and when you add in the four years of pain from the construction, you have to wonder just what the return on this investment will be. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong. Ask me again in 2021 and we’ll see.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Interview with Kimberly Willis

Kimberly Willis

Kimberly Willis

As noted before, there are four candidates vying to succeed Mayor Sylvester Turner as State Representative in HD139. Kimberly Willis is a licensed social worker who earned her MSW at the University of Houston and is employed by the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department. A native of Acres Homes, Willis served as a Policy Analyst during the 82nd Texas legislative session. She also serves in ministry at The Mouth of God Ministries, where she is the Singles Ministry Leader and volunteers in the youth ministry. Here’s my interview with her:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.

Posted in: Election 2016.

The most interesting statewide primary is for the Court of Criminal Appeals

Too bad no one’s paying attention.

Judge Larry Meyers

Judge Larry Meyers

When the first Republican ever elected to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decided in 2013 to switch parties after 20 years on the bench, the move made national news. Now as the only Democratic statewide official in Texas, Judge Larry Meyers is anticipating a losing battle.

“Oh, not real good,” the 68-year-old said this week, mulling his chances of retaining his seat. His smile-lined eyes unfocused for a second, before he laughed heartily, “Who knows? We might have some luck in the fall.”

Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994, but having an “R” after your name is not enough anymore here, where the tea party continues its five-year surge of influence. Even incumbents once considered dyed-in-the-wool conservatives are now routinely accused of being “Republicans in name only.”

Infighting among Texas’ Republicans has been less pronounced in the judicial races here, however, with candidates focusing more on performance than endorsements. Not so in this year’s fight for “place 2” on the state’s highest criminal court. Like every other race in Texas this primary season, it too has derailed into a battle over the candidates’ conservative bona fides, a fight that encompasses everyone from Attorney General Ken Paxton to the candidates’ spouses.

Meyers and the three Republicans vying to unseat him all acknowledge it’s just politics. But what they can’t agree on is whether it should be for this court, which, in the most real sense, decides who lives and who dies, who spends life in prison and who walks free.

[…]

While judicial campaigns are usually more staid, the vitriol has been flying between the Republicans vying to unseat Meyers. Three will face off in the March 1 primary.

Harris County District Court Judge Mary Lou Keel, a former assistant district attorney who has served on the court for 21 years, has little negative to say about her opponent Collin County District Judge Chris Oldner. Oldner, too, acknowledged, “I don’t have anything bad to say about Mary Lou Keel, I really don’t.”

Their target? Oldner’s colleague on the Collin County District Court, Ray Wheless.

The two north Texas judges sit on either side of the Ken Paxton prosecution. Wheless, a long-time friend and donor to the first-term current attorney general, has been critical of the grand jury process that led to Paxton’s indictment last July.

Oldner, meanwhile, presided over that grand jury. While he has said he has nothing against Paxton, Oldner said the attorney general’s supporters have actively worked to try to push him out of public service. He was accused by Paxton’s lawyers of mishandling the grand jury process – an allegation dismissed by the presiding judge – and now finds himself in a race with a colleague he considers part of the dangerous politicization of the bench.

“If you want somebody who just regurgitates tea party lines, well, then, Ray’s your man,” said Oldner, who was appointed to the district court by then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2003. “But if you want somebody that’s actually living the mantra of the rule of law, personal responsibility, then you look at Mary Lou Keel and myself.”

Keel, who said she has had multiple “run-ins” with Wheless on the campaign trail, simply said, “I find him deceptive and inaccurate.”

Wheless said he’s become the target of criticisms for an obvious reason: he’s the man to beat.

“There’s a reason that the conservatives in Texas are endorsing me,” he said, before listing off nods from Texas Right to Life, the Texas Eagle Forum and Liberty Institute’s Kelly Shackelford. “I am the recognized conservative in the race, and that is why Judge Oldner and Judge Keel can’t get any conservatives.”

Read the whole thing, it’s quite well done. It gives the first real insight I’ve seen as to why Justice Meyers changed parties; given that’s he’s filed a lawsuit against the voter ID law, I can believe that was a breaking point for him. I’m glad to have him on our side, and I wish more people would do the same, but I don’t really consider him a poster child for our cause. His rulings on the CCA are all over the map, too often on what I see as the wrong side of the issue in question. It’s not worth worrying about at this point, but it’s something to keep in mind.

As for the GOP side of things, it’s the same old story where the word “conservative” has lost all meaning in the endless tribal war, and qualifications don’t count. I haven’t been around long enough to say with any authority how all of this resembles the state of the Democratic Party in Texas in the 1970s, but I have to believe that there’s a crackup coming. A party can only exclude so many people for so long before they define themselves down to a minority. As far as that goes, what we need is more people like Larry Meyers to say “enough” and bail out. How long that will take, I have no idea. I may not live long enough to see it. But I believe it’s coming. In the meantime, read the story, and root for Raymond Wheless to lose.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Once again, I spoke too soon about the Ethics Commission and Ken Paxton

I’ll be damned.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

The Texas Ethics Commission declined to pass an opinion that would have said it was okay for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to accept out-of-state gifts from donors to help pay the legal costs for his indictment.

At a meeting on Monday, the Texas Ethics Commission voted 4-3 on an opinion that would have interpreted state law to say that public employees in the attorney general’s office can accept out-of-state gifts from donors as long as the donors have no ties to Texas or the attorney general’s office. Five votes are required to approve an opinion on the Texas Ethics Commission, so the opinion failed to pass.

Texas Ethics Commission Chairman Paul Hobby said the process worked and he would not entertain another motion to pass the opinion.

Paxton could still seek out-of-state donors to help pay his legal fees. The opinion would not have settled the debate once and for all. Opinions from the Texas Ethics Commission are merely interruptions of state law and a defense from prosecution.

[…]

Hobby said banning an attorney general employee from taking out-of-state gifts would go beyond the authority of the Texas Ethics Commission.

“The legislature has prohibited certain things. In the premise of free society, all things are legal till they are not,” Hobby said. “For us to amend the statute and add those words where they don’t exist…that is beyond interpretation.”

See here for the origin story. This is the second time that the TEC has backed off issuing an opinion that would have suggested that out of state donors could contribute to a legal defense fund for Paxton, each time coming on the heels of a draft opinion to that effect. As noted, these opinions don’t carry the weight of law, and Paxton can go ahead and solicit donations to pay his lawyers anyway, but now if a complaint is filed he can’t point to the TEC and say “hey, they think it’s legal”. The best answer is for the Lege to pass a bill clarifying the existing laws and closing this loophole. If Greg Abbott cares as much about ethics reform as he claims to, he should support that. I look forward to someone filing a bill to that effect and seeing what happens. The Trib has more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Endorsement watch: What Brown can do for you

The Chron picks its favorite among the challengers in HD27.

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

[Rep. Ron] Reynolds, a three-term incumbent, was named Freshman of the Year by the House Democratic Caucus at the end of the 2011 session; two years later he landed on Texas Monthly’s “Worst” list. This year he needs to attend to his own problems while someone else takes on the task of representing District 27. The district covers most of Missouri City and parts of Houston and Sugar Land.

Challenging the incumbent are first-time candidate Angelique Bartholomew, 46, a certified mediator and director of compliance for a medical firm; Chris Henderson, 30, an assistant district attorney in Galveston County who also is running for the first time; and Steve Brown, 40, a former White House intern who owns a public affairs firm. The former Democratic Party chairman of Fort Bend County, Brown also worked as a budget analyst for then-state Rep. Sylvester Turner and was the Democratic nominee for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission in 2014.

Our choice for the Democratic primary is Brown. With 15 years of experience in politics and public affairs, including an unsuccessful run for the District 27 seat in 2006, he’s conversant with issues that resonate in this diverse, fast-growing district, including education and school finance, health care and economic development.

My interview with Steve Brown is here, and with Angelique Bartholomoew is here. The Chron has been pretty harsh on Reynolds lately – they begged people to challenge him after he was sentenced to jail time for barratry – so it was just a matter of who they liked. They had some good options here.

And as long as we’re discussing candidates the Chron doesn’t like:

Candance White brings a broad perspective and a wealth of experience to her quest to secure the Democratic party’s nomination for [Justice, 14th Court of Appeals District, Place 2]. White, 49, who graduated from the University of Texas School of Law and obtained a master’s in law from the University of Houston Law Center, began her career as an environmental lawyer. She has worked in private practice, served as a city of Houston municipal court judge, as an attorney for Adult Protective Services and as the inter-regional managing attorney for both Adult Protective Services and Child Protective Services. Currently, White serves as the Child Welfare Director for Protective Services for Harris County. “I know how to make complex decisions. I make them every day,” White told the editorial board. Her record is even more impressive when compared to that of her primary opponent. Former state appellate court judge Jim Sharp – booted out of office by voters following an episode of bullying behavior – lacks the necessary temperament to hold judicial office. Primary voters should unite behind White and give her a chance to serve on this important bench.

That was from last week. Strictly speaking, Sharp lost a general election in which all Democratic candidates for the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeal were defeated, so the Chron is assuming facts not in evidence. Be that as it may, it was clear who they were going to pick in that race.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Interview with Jerry Ford, Jr

Jerry Ford, Jr

Jerry Ford, Jr

There is one Democratic-held open seat in Harris County, and that’s HD139, which has been vacated by now-Mayor Sylvester Turner. Four candidates are running to succeed Turner; I have interviews with three of them. First up is Jerry Ford, Jr, a former all-conference baseball player and student activist at TSU, where he served in the student Senate and co-founded Untouchable Creation INC, a non-profit organization concentrated on bringing interest of other African-Americans back into HBCUs, as well as the Texas Southern Young Democrats. Ford is a radio personality on multiple stations, a political columnist for the Forward Times, a spokesperson for the Black Lives Matter movement in Houston, and would be the youngest member of the Legislature if elected. 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 2016 Election page.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Judicial Q&A: Shawna Reagin

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.)

Shawna Reagin

Shawna Reagin

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Shawna Reagin and I am a Democratic candidate for judge of the 176th Criminal District Court

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is a felony court – it hears cases from death penalty capital murders down to state jail felony offenses, such as low-level drug possessions and thefts.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I was judge of this court from Jan. 1, 2009 – Dec. 31, 2012. I enjoyed the work and was good at it.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

a) I have over 26 years experience handling felony cases, at the trial and appellate levels;
b) I was voted Best Judge in Houston 2009 by The Houston Press;
c) During my previous term on this bench, I greatly reduced a bloated docket and was consistently among the top courts for number of cases tried;
d) The 176th took the “gold” for its division by trying the most cases in the first half of 2012;
e) Certified by the Harris County Board of Judges to represent indigents accused of capital murder;
f) My life experience has enable to see and understand issues from diverse points of view.

5. Why is this race important?

Judicial races and the functions of district courts have more impact on the whole community than many people realize. Although the criminally accused and their families are affected by their individual cases, a judge’s decisions on probable cause, setting bail and conditions, appointment of counsel to the indigent, oversight of a case’s status and the actual trial itself, all have a ripple effect far beyond any one case. As awareness of racial inequities in the criminal justice system, from the street up through conviction and appeal, continues to rise, it important for people to realize that casting an informed, responsible vote and showing up for jury duty both have a greater effect on remedying potential injustice than any other actions.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

In addition to my qualifications and experience as set out above, which are unique to me in this primary race, I was and will be a very hard-working judge who believes the taxpayers deserve a full day’s work by their public servants. I routinely stayed in chambers until at least 6:00 PM or later, to be available to review requests for warrants and orders needed by police officers after hours. I also remained “on call” even when it wasn’t my term, due to living in a central location and not ignoring or harassing prosecutors who needed to find a judge at night. I served on any committee requested by the presiding judges with whom I served, and did my best to bridge the partisan divide, such as I and my fellow Democrats elected in 2008 did to help ensure the Public Defenders Office was instituted.

Criminal court is not a happy place, and a judge’s decisions seldom leave anyone completely happy. However, I did my best to make the most fair and appropriate decisions in every case, based on the information I had. I pledge to the people of Harris County that I will continue to serve in this manner, if they see fit to elect me in the primary and then again in November.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Exxon Mobil fighting its tax bill

Of course they are.

BagOfMoney

Exxon Mobil is fighting the Harris County Appraisal District over the $1.04 billion value placed on its sprawling new office complex in Spring, just south of The Woodlands.

The oil giant, which has been guarded about the campus project, would not provide its own estimation of the property’s value. But its appeal claims the actual value “is substantially below” what was assessed.

The company paid nearly $40 million in 2015 taxes for the property west of Interstate 45 at the Hardy Toll Road, although it continues to dispute the amount. It could be headed to a jury trial to resolve the matter.

Like thousands of commercial property owners do every year, Exxon Mobil protested the appraisal after it received its 2015 tax bill. When a review board maintained the initial assessment, Exxon Mobil filed suit, one of the options a property owner has when not satisfied with the decision.

The company said the valuation was “excessive and unequal in comparison with other similar property in the appraisal district,” according to its lawsuit filed Sept. 16 by Exxon Mobil affiliate Palmetto Transoceanic. The property’s actual value “is substantially below” the appraisal review board’s determination, the company said.

[…]

Exxon Mobil has spent several years developing a state-of-the-art corporate campus on several hundred acres in Spring to house some 10,000 workers.

The Irving-based energy giant recently completed construction on 14 office buildings, three parking garages, four support buildings, a central utility plant and a child care center on 242 acres, according to a document from the Harris County Improvement District No. 18, which was set up to issue bonds and levy taxes for infrastructure improvements in the area.

There’s nothing unusual about this – as the story notes, there are over 2,500 similar protests going on right now in Harris County. The reason for that, and the reason why Exxon Mobil will almost surely win in the end, is because the system is rigged in favor of large commercial property owners. The Legislature did take one small step towards leveling the playing field last year, so Exxon Mobil will have to work a little harder to get its taxes slashed. But barring anything unusual, it will be a big upset if they fail.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

Chron story on the bus map tweaks

A few bits of interest here.

HoustonMetro

Metro leaders hope more frequent service on popular routes will build on the ridership gains the system is experiencing.

“I think as you get higher frequency and people know it is going to come, we are going to see higher ridership,” Metro CEO Tom Lambert told board members Wednesday.

In November, the last full month with verified ridership information, average weekday ridership was up 8 percent compared to the same month in 2014. Sunday ridership – more weekend service was a centerpiece of the bus changes – increased 30 percent to more than 114,000 average boardings.

The comparisons are problematic, however, because they involve different bus systems. Metro officials say they do not believe figures are skewed as a result of the new system requiring more transfers, a criticism skeptics have voiced since the bus network change.

At the same time, Metro is collecting less money from riders, as a result of changes in policy and fewer commuters than expected using park and ride service. From September to December, the first full four months under the new bus system, fare revenue was $1 million below 2014 collections for the same months.

[…]

“How do you have a system where I have to take three buses to get to work?” Ray McClendon asked as he waited for a bus on Antoine.

McClendon, 33, who is transit-dependent as he saves money for a car, blamed his transfers on the lack of a route on T.C. Jester outside Loop 610.

While the numbers show that ridership has increased, it is unclear whether more people are riding or the same number of people are taking more trips. Critics said overcrowding on some routes has driven some to stop taking the bus.

I have sympathy for Mr. McClendon, but this is a challenge for Metro. If you look at a map, much of TC Jester runs alongside the bayou, and even where it isn’t next to the bayou, the street grid around it is mostly cul-de-sacs. Point being, there’s very little potential ridership for a line that runs along TC Jester. In the meeting we bloggers had with Metro, board member Christoph Spieler talked about “frequency” routes versus “coverage” routes for their buses. There are numerous high-frequency routes that intersect with TC Jester, but someone who lives along TC Jester probably would have to take two or three buses to get where they needed to. Maybe someday a low-frequency coverage route can be added on TC Jester to fill this gap. In the meantime, trading a low-ridership, low-frequency route along TC Jester for more buses on Shepherd or Antoine/Washington is a clear win for most people, even if it does suck for people like Mr. McClendon.

There are a number of references to “critics” and the various things they say in the story, though none of them are named other than Mr. McClendon. I have a hard time taking that seriously – are these the same critics who predicted catastrophe for the changes and threatened to file civil rights claims but never followed through? Or are they people who have specific concerns and no axes to grind? A story that talked to some of the latter people, then got responses to their questions and criticisms from Metro would be enlightening, much more so than passive voice generalities. From where I sit, we have a pretty good understanding of what Metro has been doing lately, why they are doing it, and how it has been going. Let’s keep that discussion going, and figure out what they are missing and where else they should be.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Weekend link dump for January 31

Evangelicals deserve Donald Trump.

“Eventually, the two parties may come to agree on the challenges the country faces, and then have actual discussions — and disagreements and competition — over how to address them. That’s bipartisanship. And counterintuitive as it may seem, Obama’s executive actions may be necessary to produce bipartisanship down the road.”

The “Japanese Schindler” gets his own movie.

What makes Walt Disney so remarkable was the fact he was such an ordinary man.”

A horizontal history of the world.

Just how big an asshole is Ted Cruz, anyway?

How the smartphone changed everything, or, the rise of BYOD in the workplace”.

The Bechdel Test continues to be relevant, likely for the foreseeable future.

Good news, wankers. Keep on keeping on.

RIP, Henry Worsley, British explorer who tried to be the first person to cross the Antarctic unaided.

We’re #26!

Natalie Maines is still not ready to make nice.

RIP, Abe Vigoda. Yes, the website has been updated, so it’s official.

RIP, Concepcion Picciotto, longtime White House peace protester.

“The strong dollar, in other words, has become an earnings albatross for Apple.”

What Roy says.

They’re making DeLoreans again. You’re on your own for the flux capacitors, however.

“Bad schools exacerbate the differences in academic achievement between boys and girls.”

Zika is your new Ebola.

Remembering the Challenger, thirty (!) years later.

Your highway sign font news for the week.

RIP, Paul Kantner, founding member of Jefferson Airplane.

RIP, Edgar Froese, founding member of Tangerine Dream.

“Mysterious dude in Iowa is following Ted Cruz around and accusing him of liking Nickelback“.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Mary Beth Rogers’ prescription for Texas Democrats

I’m sure you’ve seen this article by Mary Beth Rogers, onetime campaign manager for Ann Richards, about how Democrats can compete and win statewide again.

DEAR TEXAS DEMOCRATS…

First, let’s get the numbers out of the way. Let’s use the analytics as a backdrop for all that we do, but not as the only factor to consider.

If we don’t get the numbers right, we don’t have a chance to win on any other front.

This is what we know: We have to begin winning at least 35 percent of the white vote statewide to be competitive. That’s a big jump from the 25 percent that Wendy Davis got in 2014. I believe it is doable. If we are lucky — and luck will obviously play a part in all that we do — the 2016 presidential election might help us along. If we presume that Hillary Clinton, or some other relatively appealing Democratic presidential nominee, campaigns on issues that matter to centrist voters, it might be possible to draw up to 30 percent of the white vote in Texas. If that were to happen, then the margin for Republicans over Democrats could dip into the single digits, say, a seven or eight-point advantage. These numbers would not be impossible to overcome in future elections.

Although Barack Obama lost Texas in 2008 and 2012, he carried the African American vote by 98 percent. He got a paltry 26 percent of the white vote. If he had managed to win more than 30 percent of the white vote, as he did in Virginia, Florida, and North Carolina, and if he had invested heavily in a GOTV effort as he did in those states, he might have won Texas too. Hard to believe, isn’t it? If the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate attracts more white Texas voters than Obama did, Democrats would have a larger pool to begin wooing for the 2018 statewide campaigns. There are a lot of “ifs” here, I admit. We just have to keep reminding ourselves that white voters make up about two-thirds of the total electorate in off-year elections, and no Democrat since Ann Richards in the 1990s has succeeded in reaching them.

We Democrats still have to increase our vote totals among our base. That means reaching the 65 percent threshold with Hispanic voters, keeping 95 percent of African American voters, and winning Asian, millennial, and new urban voters who are more in tune with the values and issues of the Democratic Party than with the crazy extremists who hold power in Texas today. So if we can pump up the raw numbers among our solid base of Democratic voters (who can be easily identified after the 2016 presidential election), these are the percentages we need to reach in 2018:

Hispanics — 65 percent
African Americans — 95 percent
Anglos — 35 percent

This is not big news to anyone who studies Texas politics. The larger issue is how to do it. That’s always the rub — not what, but how. Here are ten ways to begin.

Read the whole thing, or buy the book if you really want to dig in. There’s nothing she says in the linked piece that I disagree with – I don’t think anyone would disagree with much of it. How to accomplish some of the things she describes will be easier to discuss than to do, and I’m sure there will be plenty of disagreement about who The Right Leader is/will be, but as a roadmap you could do far worse, and we have to start somewhere. So let’s agree that this is as good a place as any and go from there.

It’s that target of getting 35% of the white vote that is both enticing and elusive that I want to focus on. There will come a day when the non-Anglo portion of the electorate is big enough that we won’t need to worry as much about that number, but that day is not today. Rogers’ implicit distribution of the electorate is 62% Anglo, 26% Hispanic, and 12% African-American; do the math, and her targets above get you to exactly 50% of the vote. You can actually get away with a bit less than that, given the presence of third party candidates, but let’s run with that for now. This is a reasonable if an eensy bit optimistic view of the actual electorate. Looking back at a couple of 2014 polls, YouGov weighted their sample to be 65% Anglo, 19% Hispanic, 12% Af-Am, and 4% “other”, which Lord knows what that actually is. The UT/Trib sample was 63% Anglo, 18% Hispanic, 13% Af-Am, 1% Asian, and 2% multi-racial. Like I said, a bit optimistic but not out of the ballpark, and Dems are going to need to improve their base turnout anyway to be in the orbit of a winning scenario, so this is good enough for our purposes.

So how do we get to 35% of the Anglo vote? That’s the jackpot question. The good news is that there are likely to be multiple paths to this, and all of the things Rogers suggests ought to help a little. The bad news is that no two people are likely to agree on what should be prioritized to get there. Infrastructure, education, the war on women, economic populism, all of the above and then some – who knows? That’s above my pay grade. To some extent, none of it may matter much if the Texas economy is in the dumps in 2018 and enough voters decide to take out their frustrations on the people in charge. That’s a bigger factor in national elections than anyone wants to admit, so why not in a Governor’s race? If we have the right candidate, I feel confident we’ll have the right message.

We’ve got a Presidential election to get through first, and while no one expects Texas to be in play this year, some kind of improvement over 2012 would be nice. Rogers talks about how Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders might improve on President Obama’s performance with white voters. I can see that happening at the margins, but not more than a point or two, and I suspect anyone like that is probably not a solid D voter downballot, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. To whatever extent Clinton or Sanders can persuade a Romney/McCain voter to abandon ship, I’ll leave that to them. The real potential for gain in 2016 is increased turnout. As I’ve noted before, the GOP has plateaued at about 4.5 million Presidential year voters. Dems had a big jump from 2004 to 2008, then slid back from 3.5 million to 3.3 million in 2012. I’m not going to speculate how the Presidential race might affect things in Texas this year, but there’s room for growth just based on the natural increase in total voters:


Year   Voting age pop   Reg voters  Pct reg
===========================================
2008       17,735,442   13,575,062   76.54%
2012       18,279,737   13,646,226   74.65%
2015       19,110,272   13,988,920   73.20%

We’ll get new numbers for 2016 after the primary, but they’re unlikely to be that much different so we’ll stick with the 2015 figures. In 2008, turnout was 8,077,795, or 59.50%, while in 2012 turnout was 7,993,851, or 58.58%. Surely we can do better than that, but let’s aim modestly for now. If turnout in 2016 is at 2008 levels, then 8,323,407 people will vote. (If it’s at 2012 levels, that number will be 8,194,709.) Let’s further assume that the Republican total is what it was in 2012, which is to say 4,569,843 voters. If so, then there will be 3,753,564 other voters, which is 45.1%. Some number of those people would be voting Libertarian or Green, but my point here is to give us something to strive for. Can we get to 3.7 million Dem voters this year? How about 3.8 million? That’s not even 10% growth from 2008, and it’s a long way from a win, but it would be a big step forward, and could get the Republican margin of victory under ten points. I don’t know about you, but I think that might change the narrative a bit and give us a boost going into 2018.

I realize I’m indulging in a bit of fantasy here. There’s no reason why any of this has to happen, but by the same token there’s no reason why any of it can’t happen. The original purpose of Battleground Texas was to build Democratic turnout in Presidential years. Whether they’re still working on this or not, some of that task should be reasonably easy based on population growth. I’d like to think the Presidential campaign will at least offer a little help – leaving their paid staffers in place after the primary would be a start, and more than we got in 2008. I hope someone is thinking about this.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Another legal bill for Texas

That’s what happens when you lose.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to let stand a ruling that awarded more than $1.1 million to lawyers who represented former Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis and several minority-rights groups in a case challenging Texas’ redistricting plans.

The justices this week refused to review the state’s appeal of legal fees granted to opponents of a lawsuit Texas filed seeking federal approval of political maps drawn by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011.

The decision is a blow to Attorney General Ken Paxton and former attorney general Greg Abbott. Combined, the two led the state’s fight against paying the lawyers since it was ordered by a federal judge in Washington, D.C., more than a year and a half ago.

A group of Hispanic voters that sued the state, known as the “Gonzales intervenors,” are due nearly $600,000, according to a court order from June 2014.

Another group led by Davis, a former gubernatorial candidate, and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, both Fort Worth Democrats, was awarded $466,680. The Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches was granted $32,374, according to the court.

Lawyers in the case said the final figure owed by the state will climb once fees for the appeal process and Supreme Court briefings are tallied.

Renea Hicks, an Austin attorney who represented the Gonzalez intervenors, said the state aggressively fought against the legal-fee award.

“It’s the end of the rope,” he said. “No place to turn, except to the checkbook.”

Sorry fellas. You lost, fair and square, so now pay up. Now if we can only get a ruling from the lower court on what the maps should be, we might just be able to wrap this up before we have to start drawing new maps for the next Census.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Lujan wins HD118 special election runoff

I know everyone is focused on the primaries now, but there was an actual election this past week.

Winning in a district long held by Democrats, Republican John Lujan outpolled Tomás Uresti in Tuesday’s special runoff in Texas House District 118.

Filling a seat vacated last year by former state Rep. Joe Farias, D-San Antonio, the GOP candidate will serve out the remainder of Farias’ unexpired term, through the end of the year.

Another election is set for March 1 to fill the seat for a two-year term starting in 2017. Lujan and Uresti are seeking their parties’ nominations in that race, and each has a primary opponent, so the winner won’t be decided until Nov. 8.

“I am so thankful to you,” a jubilant Lujan told about 100 supporters at Don Pedro’s Mexican Restaurant on the South Side.

Lujan, a retired firefighter who works for a tech firm, drew support from firefighters as well as from state and local GOP leaders in his matchup with Uresti. The Democrat was backed by a family network that includes two brothers in elected office — state Sen. Carlos Uresti and Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector Albert Uresti.

You can see the results here and a pre-runoff story here. Republicans are predictably thrilled while Democrats are not, but let’s maintain some perspective here. This election was to fill Rep. Farias’ unexpired term, which ends on December 31, so winning this race gets you nothing except a boost in seniority if you also win in November. And that’s where I would note that while there were about 3600 votes cast for this race, there were over 40,000 votes cast in this district in 2012, and the average margin by which Democrats won it was about 5000 votes. Point being, conditions will be a little different than they are now in January. It’s embarrassing to boot a ground ball, but the most likely result here is that John Lujan will be the 2016 version of Dan Barrett, who captured a longtime Republican seat in Tarrant County in a low-turnout special election runoff in December of 2007, then lost it the following November in a normal-turnout race. Go ahead and get your gripes out, and then let’s move on. The Trib and Newsdesk have more.

Posted in: Election 2016.

The Jolanda Show

Set your DVRs.

Jolanda Jones

Jolanda Jones

The Houston school board just got a little more star power.

Jolanda Jones, the former city councilwoman who joined the board last week, is starring in a new reality show called “Sisters In Law,” set to air in March. As the cable network WE puts it, the Houston-based program follows a “close-knit group of elite high-powered black female lawyers as they juggle their families, busy careers and even more demanding social calendars.”

“The ladies may differ in their fundamental beliefs when it comes to right and wrong,” the station says on its website, “but what they have in common is their ability to win cases in a traditionally white, male-dominated profession.”

Jones broke the news on Twitter and Instagram Friday.

You can see her announcement here. I trust that Tubular will add it to their roster of shows to recap for us. There’s never a dull moment in my line of preoccupation, that’s for sure.

Posted in: TV and movies.

Saturday video break: I Wanna Be With You

Feel the 70s goodness with the Raspberries:

Somewhat forgotten 70s goodness, I suppose. I got that song from a collection CD, and I can’t say I’d ever heard it before. Not even from a K-Tel commercial. I may not have been familiar with it, but you know who is? Bruce Springsteen, that’s who:

That can be found on his for-true-fans collection of B-sides and deep cuts, “Tracks”. That particular video is from 1999, and damn if seeing Clarence Clemons again doesn’t choke me up a bit. Rest in peace, Big Man.

Posted in: Music.

Some Latino political power trends

The Latino electorate keeps on growing.

The Latino electorate is bigger and better-educated than ever before, according to a new report by Pew Research Center.

It’s also young. Adults age 18-35 make up nearly half of the record 27.3 million Latinos eligible to vote in this year’s presidential election, the report found.

But although the number of Latinos eligible to vote is surging – 40 percent higher than it was just eight years ago – and education levels are rising, the percentage likely to actually cast ballots in November continues to lag behind other major racial and ethnic groups, the report found.

That’s partly because young people don’t vote as consistently as older people do, but also because Latino eligible voters are heavily concentrated in states – including California, Texas and New York – that are not prime election battlegrounds.

[…]

The explosive growth of the Latino electorate is largely driven by young people born in the U.S. Between 2012 and November of this year, about 3.2 million U.S.-citizen Latinos will have turned 18 and become eligible to vote, according to the report’s projections.

Millennials – adults born in 1981 or later – will account for 44 percent of the Latino electorate by November, according to the report. By comparison, millennials will make up only 27 percent of the white electorate.

The number of Latino potential voters is also being driven by immigrants who are in the U.S. legally and decide to become U.S. citizens. Between 2012 and 2016, some 1.2 million will have done so, according to the report.

Although most new voters are not immigrants, a majority of Latino voters have a direct connection to the immigrant experience, the report noted. That’s an important fact in an election cycle that has been dominated by debates over what do with the estimated 11 million immigrants who entered the U.S. without authorization.

The full report is here. One result of the harsh rhetoric on immigration, and the specter of a Donald Trump candidacy, is a greater push for gaining citizenship among those who are eligible to do so but had not before now.

In what campaigners are calling a “naturalization blitz”, workshops are being hosted across the country to facilitate Hispanic immigrants who are legal, permanent residents and will only qualify to vote in the 2016 presidential election if they upgrade their immigration status.

Citizenship clinics will take place in Nevada, Colorado, Texas and California later this month, with other states expected to host classes in February and early March in order to make the citizenship deadline required to vote in November.

The Republican frontrunner’s hostile remarks about Latino immigrants is driving people to the workshops.

[…]

“Our messaging will be very sharply tied to the political moment, urging immigrants and Latinos to respond to hate with political action and power,” said Maria Ponce of iAmerica Action, an immigrant rights campaign sponsored by the Service Employees International Union.

Several labor unions and advocacy groups are collaborating on the project. In Las Vegas, organizers also intend to hold mock caucuses to educate new voters on the state’s complicated primary process. Nevada is the first early voting state to feature a large Latino population, and that group is eager to make itself known.

“This is a big deal,” said Jocelyn Sida of Mi Familia Vota, a partner in the Nevada event. “We as Latinos are always being told that we’re taking jobs or we’re anchor babies, and all these things are very hurtful. It’s getting to the point where folks are frustrated with that type of rhetoric. They realize the only way they can stop this is by getting involved civically.”

Efforts to increase minority participation in swing state elections are nothing new. Nevada’s powerful Culinary Union has been holding such events for its 57,000 members and their families since 2001. Yet never before has there been a galvanizing figure of the bogeyman variety quite like Trump.

At least he’s good for something. Getting more Latinos to vote (and Asians, too – the report also touches on that) is one thing. Getting more of them elected to office is another.

A new report from a nonpartisan organization focused on getting more Asian-American and Latinos elected to state and local offices found that the two groups are facing obstacles as they seek to achieve greater representation to match their fast-growing populations.

The report, by the New American Leaders Project, found that the groups’ numbers have not grown substantially in those offices — fewer than 2 percent of the 500,000 seats nationally in state and local offices are held by Asian-Americans or Hispanics. Those voters make up more than 20 percent of the United States population, the report notes. Both groups of voters are considered key to the emerging Democratic coalition in national races.

Among the barriers members of these groups faced is that they were less likely to come up with the idea of running for office themselves — usually only doing so if the idea was suggested by another person. Hispanic women also were likelier to report being discouraged “by their political party more than any other group,” the report noted.

Th candidates also tended to rely strongly on support from unions and community groups to be successful, and they found fund-raising one of the most difficult hurdles. That was particularly true among Hispanic women, according to the report.

The report is here. A lot of the barriers, as well as the recommended solutions (see page 21), are similar to those that have been long reported for female candidates. We know the answers, we just need to actually apply them.

All of these are background for how I think about this.

Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

Months after mounting a passive, ultimately unsuccessful Houston mayoral campaign, Adrian Garcia has swiftly taken on the role of attack dog in his bid to oust longtime U.S. Rep. Gene Green from the 29th District in the Democratic primary.

A Garcia press release out Monday morning proclaimed in all caps, “GENE GREEN SHOULD HAVE BEEN FIRED A LONG TIME AGO,” the latest in a series of statements slamming the incumbent’s record on issues ranging from gun safety to the environment.

Political observers said Garcia’s about-face reflects lessons learned from his recent loss and the nature of a quick primary challenge.

“He needs to give folks a reason not to vote for the entrenched incumbent, so he’s trying to create a differentiation based on policy,” Texas Southern University political scientist Jay Aiyer said of Garcia.

“If you think you lost last time because you were too passive, this time you’re going to be more aggressive, and I think there’s a certain element of that involved, as well.”

[…]

Over the last three weeks, Garcia has criticized Green’s voting record on gun safety and environmental legislation while tying him to the district’s comparatively high poverty rate and low rate of educational attainment, among other issues.

“When you know that you’ve got one in three children living in poverty, you’re expecting some leadership from that point,” Garcia said after a press conference Monday announcing the backing of several Latino community leaders. “I’m just speaking to the record.”

I don’t know if Adrian Garcia can beat Gene Green. Green has been a skillful member of Congress for a long time, and Democrats tend to value seniority and experience a lot more than Republicans do. He also hasn’t had to run a campaign in 20 years, and it is unquestionable that the Houston area should have had a Latino member of Congress by now, one way or another. Green has done all the things you’d expect him to do in this race, and he has a ton of support from Latino elected officials (though not unanimous support) and an overall strong record. If we’ve learned anything by now, it’s that this isn’t a business-as-usual election year. So who knows? I wish there were some trustworthy polling available for this race, but I suspect we’re going to have to wait till voting starts to get a feel for this one.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Paxton can get some help with his legal bills

With some conditions attached, for whatever that’s worth.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton could tap out-of-state supporters to pay his legal defense team but must ensure those funds have not been funneled from any Texas donors, according to a draft advisory opinion from the state’s ethics regulator.

The Texas Ethics Commission is scheduled to vote Monday on legal guidance that would give Paxton, or any employee in the attorney general’s office, the green light to accept gifts from some donors.

If approved, it would clear the way for the embattled attorney general to accept contributions to cover his legal expenses from out-of-state donors, with certain conditions.

State law prohibits agency officials from accepting a “benefit” from someone under the agency’s oversight.

However, the ethics commission has said situations exist in which Paxton and his employees could accept gifts – namely from an out-of-state donor with no pending matters before the attorney general’s office – but that safeguards would have to put in place to prevent potential conflicts of interest.

The draft opinion for the first time addresses the possibility of money bundling and suggests heightened disclosure for gifts to employees of the attorney general’s office to avoid the perception of corruption.

[…]

“We do not think that a person who is subject to the jurisdiction of a public servant or a law enforcement agency can evade the restrictions … using another person as a conduit for making a gift to the public servant (e.g., by giving a benefit to another with the instructions that the benefit then be passed to the public servant),” commission staff wrote in a draft opinion released this week. “Similarly, the public servant would be prohibited from accepting a benefit if the public servant knows that the true source of the benefit is a person who is subject to the jurisdiction of the public servant.”

The draft also proposes a set of “best practices” for disclosure, including recommendations that any such gift, along with its source, value and a description, be revealed publicly within 30 days.

A “diligent inquiry” also would have to be performed by whomever receives a gift to make sure the donor has no connection to Texas and is not under the attorney general’s jurisdiction. That inquiry, according to the latest draft, also would need to verify that the out-of-state donor “is not operating as a conduit” for someone else.

Watchdog groups reacted with swift criticism, saying the latest proposal invites the potential for an already-indicted attorney general to put a “for-sale sign on the AG’s office to pay for his criminal defense.”

“A close reading suggests that the commission has qualms about this convoluted ethical blank check,” said Craig McDonald, director of the left-leaning watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, which has filed multiple criminal complaints against Paxton, including one related to his current indictments. “The opinion should have been written in one word: No!”

See here, here, and here for the background. I agree that the best answer is “No”, and it would be for the Governor or Lt. Governor, but apparently the law that specifies no gifts for them does not include the AG. So let’s make sure that someone files a bill to correct that oversight in 2017. Greg Abbott has claimed he’s all about ethics reform, despite his lack of leadership on the issue last session. Let’s see where he stands on this.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Rep. McClendon resigns her seat

Farewell to a good legislator.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon

State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, who isn’t seeking re-election this year, has submitted a letter of resignation to Gov. Greg Abbott effective Sunday, with 11 months remaining in her term.

McClendon, D-San Antonio, has served in the Texas House representing the East Side district since 1996. She currently serves as chair of the House Committee on Rules and Resolutions, and sits on the Appropriations and Transportation committees.

Last year, amid health woes, she announced she would not seek another two-year term. She acknowledged she had been treated for non-smoker’s lung cancer since 2009.

Her announced retirement prompted six Democrats to join the March 1 primary race in District 120.

See here for some background. One presumes there will be a special election in May to fill the remainder of Rep. McClendon’s term, as there is with HD139, but we won’t know until Greg Abbott announces it. HD120 is solidly Democratic – President Obama took 64.6% of the vote in 2012 – and a check of the SOS 2016 candidate filing page shows that no Republicans filed for the seat, so the primary and runoff will determine Rep. McClendon’s successor. I wish her good health and all the best in retirement. The Trib and the Rivard Report have more.

Posted in: Election 2016.

The Dream takes on The Donald

You tell ’em, Hakeem.

Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images

Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon, a devout Muslim splitting his time between homes in Houston and outside London, England, on Saturday called the proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States “not worthy of a president.”

Olajuwon, who had returned to the United States on Wednesday, had heard of the proposal issued by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Dec. 7 that would prevent Muslims from immigrating to the United States.

“First of all, it’s amazing to see how many people came out to disregard that kind of stand, even internationally,” said Olajuwon, a naturalized United States citizen. “That kind of statement is not worthy of a president. I don’t think it was too wise a statement. It is a complex question. It is something so complex and that just gave it a generic answer to a complex question.”

[…]

“I do not believe that we have come this far that that kind of statement would come out when discussing that kind of issue today,” Olajuwon said. “I think we passed that a long time ago.”

Olajuwon, one of the most beloved figures in Houston sports history and a Hall of Famer considered one of the NBA’s greatest players, immigrated to the United States from Nigeria in 1980 and became a United States citizen in 1993. He played for the 1996 United States Olympic team.

Olajuwon spoke often during his career about the importance of his faith to him and was open about his practices, from using a prayer room installed at the Rockets practice facility to following the dietary restrictions required during Ramadan. He has been a well-known participant in the large Houston Muslim community.

I’ll stand with Hakeem Olajuwon against Donald Trump any day of the week.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Friday random ten: Speak to me

Some songs are more spoken-word pieces set to music, sometimes but not always with a sung refrain, than actual singing. Here are ten examples from my collection:

1. Lisdoovarna – SixMileBridge (video, though not by SixMileBridge)
2. Everything Is Borrowed – The Streets (video)
3. Long Long Time – Guy Forsythe (video)
4. One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer – George Thorogood & The Destroyers (video)
5. The Bus Story – Asylum Street Spankers (video)
6. Albuquerque – Weird Al Yankovic
7. Alice’s Restaurant Massacree – Arlo Guthrie
8. Lobachevsky – Tom Lehrer (video)
9. One Night In Bangkok – Murray Head
10. #SELFIE – The Chainsmokers (video)

I included a few YouTube links for ones you may not be familiar with. “The Bus Story”, from one of the Spankers’ many live albums, was an actual story, of a time when their tour bus’ brakes failed and the band all though they were going to die. Don’t worry, it has a happy ending, and it is in its way one of the more amazing things they’ve ever done. Listening again to the immortal Lobachevsky got me to wondering: Who would play the part of the Hypoteneuse in a movie made today? That’s going to keep me awake tonight. (You can hear Danny Kaye’s “Stanislavsky” routine here, by the way.) What are your favorite examples of this kind of song?

Posted in: Music.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Elaine Palmer

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.)

Judge Elaine Palmer

Judge Elaine Palmer

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Elaine Palmer and I am the presiding Judge of the 215th Civil District Court. Our Civil Justice Court is a tool for righting wrongs, equalizing the disparities between the rich and the poor, leveling the playing field between the powerful and the powerless, and achieving social justice. I understand that our civil courts are often the last resort for those who have suffered physical, mental and/or economic harm, discrimination, wrongful termination, or deprivation of their civil and human rights. It has been my job for the past three (3) years to ensure that my courtroom is a place where people are treated with dignity, respect and a sense of urgency. I am committed to make this happen and to continue to strive to get better.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 215th Civil District Court hearings cases involving disputes between parties who have suffered physical, mental and/or economic harm, discrimination, wrongful termination, or deprivation of their civil or human rights.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for the 215th Civil District Court because this was the first Civil District Court in Harris County that an African American elected to the bench.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have served as the presiding Judge of this Court for the past three (3) years and prior to serving on the bench I practiced law for fifteen (15) years as Solo Practitioner. I represented clients from all financial backgrounds and it was my mission to treat each of them with dignity and respect.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because as I said above our civil justice courts are often the last resort for those who have suffered physical, mental and/or economic harm. Our Civil Justice Court is a tool for righting wrongs, equalizing the disparities between the rich and the poor, leveling the playing field between the powerful and the powerless and achieving social justice.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

My desire to serve the citizens of Harris County and to continue the reforms that I have brought to the 215th Civil District Court. My reforms have improved efficiency, reduced costs and provided certainty for the parties and their lawyers. It is my goal to make sure that all citizens are treated with dignity and respect. I will continue to bring compassion, understanding and reason to my rulings in the 215th.

.

Posted in: Election 2016.