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October 22nd, 2012:

All the interviews for 2012

As we begin early voting for the November election, here are all the interviews I conducted for candidates who are on the ballot as well as for the referenda. These include interviews that were done for the primary as well as the ones done after the primary. I hope you found them useful.

Senate: Paul SadlerWebMP3

CD02: Jim DoughertyWebMP3

CD07: James CargasWebMP3

CD10 – Tawana CadienWebMP3

CD14: Nick LampsonWebMP3

CD20: Joaquin CastroWebMP3

CD21: Candace DuvalWebMP3

CD23: Pete GallegoWebMP3

CD27: Rose Meza HarrisonWebMP3

CD29: Rep. Gene GreenWebMP3

CD33: Marc VeaseyWebMP3

CD36: Max MartinWebMP3

SBOE6: Traci JensenWebMP3

SD10: Sen. Wendy DavisWebMP3

SD25: John CourageWebMP3

HD23: Rep. Craig EilandWebMP3

HD26: Vy NguyenWebMP3

HD127: Cody PogueWebMP3

HD131: Rep. Alma AllenWebMP3

HD134: Ann JohnsonWebMP3

HD137: Gene WuWebMP3

HD144: Mary Ann PerezWebMP3

HD146: Rep. Borris MilesWebMP3

HD147: Rep. Garnet ColemanWebMP3

HD150: Brad NealWebMP3

Harris County Sheriff: Sheriff Adrian GarciaWebMP3

Harris County District Attorney: Mike AndersonWebMP3

Harris County Attorney: Vince RyanWebMP3

Harris County Tax Assessor: Ann Harris BennettWebMP3

HCDE Position 3, At Large: Diane TrautmanWebMP3

HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1: Erica LeeWebMP3

Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 4: Sean HammerleWebMP3

Constable, Precinct 1: Alan RosenWebMP3

HISD Bond Referendum: Interview with Terry GrierMP3

City of Houston Bond and Charter Referenda: Interview with Mayor Annise ParkerMP3

HCC Bond Referendum: Interview with Richard SchechterMP3

Metro Referendum: Interviews with David Crossley, Gilbert Garcia and Christof Spieler, Sue Lovell, and County Commissioner Steve Radack

School finance lawsuit starts today

Ready or not, the latest school finance lawsuit, which Judge John Dietz has called “the granddaddy of them all”, begins today in Travis County. The Statesman takes a look at the history of school finance and associated litigation, and how we got here.

In a 2006 special legislative session, lawmakers reduced local school property tax rates by one-third and dedicated more state money to the schools to replace the local money. So that no district suffered as they rebalanced the share of state and local dollars, legislators temporarily froze districts at the amount of per-student funding they were spending at the time and planned to implement a long-term solution the next year.

But the freeze was never lifted. There was no appetite in 2007 to dive back into school finance after years of tortured debate over the issue, and the problems with the temporary system were not immediately evident to legislators.

For some districts, the freeze came at a bad time. Pflugerville, for example, was in the middle of a growth spurt and a leadership change and had yet to invest in the programs needed to serve the districts burgeoning population of low-income students and English-language learners. Yet the district was locked at a low level of funding.

Compared with neighboring Round Rock, Pflugerville gets about $720 less per student. If funded at the higher level, Pflugerville would have an additional $19 million a year in its $160 million budget — or nearly 12 percent more, Superintendent Charles Dupre said.

There is no rational policy reason for the difference, said Dupre, who is also president of a coalition of more than 430 school districts that are advancing theequity argument.

“Pflugerville has always been fiscally lean. We have never had fluff or waste in our budget,” Dupre said. “Since 2006, we have been living in a stressful, perpetual state of budget reduction. … When they set in stone the target revenue, they basically codified inequity in our system.”

Past court rulings have found a $600 funding gap to be “minimally acceptable,” but the funding disparities now have increased by two and three times that amount, according to MALDEF, which is representing one of the plaintiff groups. Funding now ranges from about $4,000 per student to more than $12,000.

School districts with the most wealth have the most to lose, and they are making a different argument against the current finance system. They have avoided the equity argument in their briefs because of concerns that the potential remedy would probably hurt them without helping the overall public education system, lawyer Mark Trachtenberg said.

“To focus on equity doesn’t really capture the real problem with the current system,” Trachtenberg said. That problem, he said, is inadequate funding: The Legislature is asking districts to get students to ever-higher levels of academic performance without providing them sufficient resources to do so.

“We are making claims that, if successful, will benefit all districts,” said John Turner, another lawyer representing the property-wealthy school districts.

And you thought early voting was the biggest thing going on this week. The stakes here cannot be overstated. We won’t have a final answer until the Supreme Court has its say, but there’s an awful lot hanging in the balance for them.

Early voting begins today

Shamelessly stolen from Greg, here’s a convenient Google map of the early voting locations in Harris County:

For the more traditional view plus hours and other information, visit Harris Votes. I intend to bring the girls with me when I vote this year, so I may have to do it over the weekend or next week, since the hours this week aren’t particularly accommodating for that. What’s your preferred early voting location, and when do you plan to do your duty? Leave a comment and let us know.

I will of course be tracking the daily EV totals as I get them from the County Clerk’s office. Here’s a Google spreadsheet I put together in 2008 that compared early voting that year to 2004. I’ll update this spreadsheet to include 2012 numbers as well.

Endorsement watch: For Wendy Davis

Very nice.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Two state legislators are running to represent a demographically changing senatorial District 10: the incumbent, Democrat Sen. Wendy Davis, and Republican state Rep. Mark Shelton.

Davis, who defeated an entrenched incumbent four years ago, did not take long to make her mark on the Senate, enhancing the populist image she honed as a forceful but consensus-building member of the Fort Worth City Council.

During her first term in Austin, she emerged as one of the best-known and most respected Democrats in the Legislature and, as a result, the most targeted by the political opposition.

Davis is a successful attorney with a powerful personal narrative, the story of a woman who overcame obstacles to achieve at the highest level. At 19, she was a single mother who began to work her way through school beginning at what is now Tarrant County College, eventually earning a law degree from Harvard with honors.

Because she understands the value of education, she fought hard in the last legislative session against large funding cuts for public schools and universities, filibustering a bill that ultimately resulted in the state losing more than 28,000 education jobs.

Davis has also been a champion of women’s health issues, consumer protection and a bill to replenish funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, legislation her opponent — a physician — voted against.

I’d quote the whole thing if I could. It’s as strong an endorsement as you could want, in the most important single race in the state. Go read it, and show your support for Sen. Wendy Davis.

You may also have noticed the Chron’s embarrassing endorsement of Mitt Romney on Sunday. I say “embarrassing” because I have to wonder if the Chron’s editorial writers have been reading their own editorials, never mind following the Presidential campaign. They criticize cuts to Planned Parenthood, but endorse the candidate who would “get rid of” Planned Parenthood. They advocate for expanding Medicaid in order to reduce the number of uninsured people in Texas, yet they endorse the candidate whose promised budget would devastate Medicaid and whose promised repeal of Obamacare would leave millions more uninsured and without access to health care. One wonders if they’re too dumb to understand the issues they claim to support, too easily bamboozled by Romney’s ever-shifting positions, or just too hidebound to overcome their historic preferences. Whatever the case, it’s not one of their prouder moments.

One last thing: The Chron’s page that lists all their endorsements includes a few races for which they have not written an endorsement editorial yet. Those races are CD14, in which they endorse Nick Lampson; HD134, in which they recommend Ann Johnson; and Harris County Tax Assessor, in which they go with Mike Sullivan. I presume we will see the editorials for these this week. Whether they will endorse in other legislative and/or Congressional races, I couldn’t say.