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October 16th, 2012:

RIP, Sen. Mario Gallegos

Sad news.

Sen. Mario Gallegos

State Sen. Mario Gallegos, 62, a Democratic lawmaker whose 22-year career in the Texas Legislature was marked by courage, controversy and dogged commitment to issues of importance to the Hispanic community, died Tuesday afternoon at Methodist Hospital in Houston from complications of liver disease.

Gallegos, the first Hispanic elected to the state Senate from Harris County, took a special interest in public education, minority hiring, criminal justice, redistricting and other issues he believed would have an effect on the lives of the predominantly working-class residents who made up the majority of his state Senate district.

“Sen. Gallegos had a long and dedicated record of service to the people of Houston, both as a firefighter and long-time member of the Texas legislature,” said Houston Mayor Annise Parker in a statement.

In 2007, only weeks after undergoing a liver transplant, a sick and weakened Gallegos ignored a doctor’s call to return to Houston and installed a hospital bed in the office of the Senate sergeant-at-arms so he could cast his vote against a bill requiring voters to show photo identification. Gallegos argued the bill would discriminate against minority voters.

Sen. Gallegos’ courage in 2007, literally putting his life on the line for something he believed in, is one of the most enduring and inspiring political acts of recent memory. I was his constituent since moving into the Heights in 1997, and I had the pleasure of interviewing him a couple of times, most recently in 2010. He was a fighter, a friend of the working man and woman, a trailblazer, and a stalwart defender of progressive values. I am one of many, many people who will miss him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.

I have received numerous statements and tributes to Sen. Gallegos in my inbox, all of which you can see beneath the fold. Harold Cook, the Trib, PDiddie, Burka, and BOR have more. Rest in peace, Sen. Mario Gallegos.

(more…)

30 Day finance reports, Harris County candidates

Here’s a look at the 30 day campaign finance reports for Harris County candidates. All reports can be found by going to the Harris County Clerk campaign finance reports page.

Candidate Office Raised Spent Loans Cash ========================================================== Garcia Sheriff 192,670 120,957 0 388,197 Guthrie Sheriff 158,700 48,633 171,000 98,152 Alessi Sheriff 1,019 2,007 700 1,719 Oliver DA 3,125 6,213 0 3,125 Anderson DA 136,555 41,685 0 128,241 Ryan County Atty 24,775 79,799 0 88,714 Talton County Atty 24,922 3,952 39,250 15,286 Bennett HCTA 6,630 7,220 1,690 3,217 Sullivan HCTA 20,950 23,115 10,000 2,396 Trautman HCDE 1,685 2,704 0 8,090 Wolfe HCDE 100 750 0 109 EF Lee Com Ct 16,543 49,689 0 3,328,226 Maricle Com Ct 1,765 9,811 2,500 1,502 Radack Com Ct 39,750 28,403 0 808,390 McPherson Com Ct 0 0 0 0 Cagle Com Ct 197,106 129,312 0 203,657 Hammerle Com Ct 225 883 1,176 9 Rosen Constable 51,531 55,130 5,000 16,447 Danna Constable 18,800 15,852 0 2,568 Diaz Constable 31,750 34,163 10,815 31,837 McDonald Constable 1,645 2,151 0 0 Jones Constable 6,876 17,314 0 26,221 Cruzan Constable 31,970 7,506 552 20,720 E Lee HCDE 0 1,550 0 0 Pack HCDE 610 550 0 1,625 Mintz HCDE 0 0 0 0 Smith HCDE 500 0 0 530

My thoughts:

– You don’t need me to point out that the Sheriff’s race is the one where the money is. No other race is particularly close; one wonders how the DA race would have played out with a different result in the Democratic primary. Sheriff Garcia has 10 donors that gave at least $5,000 each – nine who gave exactly that amount, and Don McGill, who donated a whopping $50,000. Louis Guthrie has only six $5K+ donors, but each of them gave at least $10K apiece. It’s not clear to me why Guthrie has not spent more.

– Speaking of not spending more, I’m not sure why Mike Anderson is sitting on his cash like that, though I suppose he could be planning to unload it this month. I certainly expect Anderson to win, but given how he says he’d deal with losing, I’d not be taking any chances. A couple of mailers to Democratic voters reminding them of Lloyd Oliver’s idiocy and the fact that even the HCDP didn’t want him on the ticket might not be a bad idea.

– Again on the spending theme, the disparity between Vince Ryan and Robert Talton is notable. Maybe there isn’t much that can be done at the County Attorney level to overcome the predominant partisan tendencies, but we won’t know from this race.

– Wasn’t there more money in the Tax Assessor’s race last time? Checking the July and 30 day reports for Paul Bettencourt and Diane Trautman, the answer is Yes, there was more money in that race in 2008. Your guess as to why that is not the case this year is as good as mine.

– Given all this, that’s a lot of money in the Constable races. Again, you tell me what that’s all about.

– I have no idea why El Franco Lee needs $3 million in his campaign account. What in the world is he ever going to use it on? I can’t think of any good reason why anyone would want to add to that.

That’s all I’ve got. What do you see in these numbers?

What if Oliver wins?

Nothing good, that’s for sure.

The Lloyd Oliver Tree

“If he wins, I’m moving to Fredericksburg” said his GOP opponent, Mike Anderson. “I don’t have anything against him personally, but I can’t imagine what that office would be like.”

His criminal history, unusual sense of humor and the unfounded attacks on Anderson, the darling of county prosecutors, mean there is almost no support for Oliver among the people he would be leading if he wins.

Prosecutors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, called Oliver a “joke” and worse. They were vehement about his lack of qualifications to run the office.

Because Harris County trended Republican in 2010, few of the courthouse lawyers and politicians interviewed thought Oliver would win. None knew of contingency plans for a recall election, heightened scrutiny to force an impeachment or other ways to remove a sitting district attorney.

Anderson said an Oliver victory could spark a mass exodus of as many as 100 of the 240 prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office.

“These are the people we count on to try murders and aggravated sexual assaults and the aggravated robberies,” he said. “It could really be a horrible situation.”

There was a large exodus from the DA’s office after Lykos won in 2008, too. Whether you think that was a bad thing or not probably correlates with whether or not you supported Anderson in this year’s primary. Be that as it may, I don’t dispute the notion that an Oliver victory would be a disaster for the office, precisely because Oliver is a joke and a grifter who has no valid reason for running and has no good vision for how to run the office; indeed, as Patricia Kilday Hart showed last week, the ideas he does have are offensive and harmful. Nothing good comes from an Oliver win, and it’s not just cranky Internet kibitzers like me who think so.

“If he gets elected, I don’t know if he can make it four years without being indicted or removed from office,” said defense attorney Bob Moen. “I don’t wish that upon Lloyd, but after knowing him for all these years, will he make it four years? I think we’d have to check what the office pool is – may have to buy one of the squares.”

Boy, with friends like that, eh? You can still push the straight-ticket Democratic button when you go vote. Just make sure you follow that up by de-selecting Lloyd Oliver before you hit the “cast ballot” button. You can vote for Mike Anderson or not as you see fit, just don’t vote for Lloyd Oliver. And I’ll say again, I sure hope the HCDP is thinking about how to deal with situations like this going forward, because if Oliver doesn’t win he’ll probably file for one of the many available judicial races in 2014, just as he did in 2010 and 2008. We don’t want to have to go through this again in two years’ time, do we?

Arson review moving forward

Good.

A long-awaited review of old Texas arson cases — an unprecedented search for wrongful convictions based on bad fire investigation science — is picking up speed and will probably produce the first results in January, participants said [last] Friday.

One suspect case has been identified and about 26 others are being scrutinized for evidence that investigators relied on now-discredited “myths,” instead of science, to determine that the fires were intentionally set, said Nick Vilbas with the Innocence Project of Texas, which is leading the review.

“We hope to be done pretty soon,” Vilbas told the Texas Forensic Science Commission during Friday’s meeting in Austin.

A panel of fire experts, assembled by new Texas Fire Marshal Chris Connealy, is scheduled to hear details of the first batch of suspect cases in January. Their findings would help determine how each case should proceed in the criminal justice system, Connealy said.

The Star-Telegram provides more details.

“We’re looking at four or five cases,” said Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas. “Those are going to be looked at hard.”

Blackburn is scheduled to appear before the Texas Forensic Science Commission in Austin to report on a records examination of hundreds of arson convictions. The effort is aimed at finding examples of junk science similar to that used to convict Cameron Todd Willingham of killing his three daughters, which resulted in a controversial review by the commission. Willingham was executed in 2004.

Blackburn says one or more of the new cases may involve inmates from North Texas.

At the request of the state’s top forensic panel, the Texas Innocence Project reviewed 1,025 arson-related crimes in Texas from recent years, and concluded that most don’t involve questionable evidence. A small number, maybe a half dozen, may have used scientific processes now deemed to be faulty, Blackburn said.

Blackburn’s work, commission members have said, is expected to send a clear message to fire investigators on the proper protocols for handling arson-related cases.

This has been a very long time in coming – it was two years ago that the Forensic Science Commission agreed to this review, and I think we know how much went on before we got to that point. It’s not a lot of cases to review, but they all sure matter to the possibly innocent convict who’s been in jail for it for however many years. I’ll be interested to see how the prosecutors of these cases react, given how resistant the Willingham prosecutor (among others) have been to this kind of review. Grits has more.

Endorsement watch: Four for four

The Express-News gets on the Keith Hampton bus.

When one of Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller’s Republican colleagues said she had made the court a “national laughingstock,” he was being generous.

Keller’s controversial judicial actions are no laughing matter.

And that’s why we urge Texans to cast ballots in the general election for her opponent, Democrat KeithHampton.

[…]

Hampton, who has been practicing law since 1989, is board certified in criminal law. The Austin-based lawyer is a member of the Pro Bono College of the State Bar of Texas.

Hampton has handled all phases of death penalty cases and has ample experience in trial and appellate work.

Hampton would a bring a refreshing and much-needed change to the state’s highest criminal court.

Of the five major dailies, the only one that has not endorsed Keith Hampton is the Austin American-Statesman, and that’s because as far as I can tell they have not done any endorsements yet. As I said yesterday, I don’t know how much all this will ultimately help Hampton, but as they say, it can’t hurt.