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December 28th, 2012:

Friday random ten: Gone too soon #3

After a recent Coverville episode on Jimi Hendrix, who would have been 70 years old this year, I thought I’d take another trip down Gone Too Soon lane, in which I highlight musicians in my library who died at too young an age. My first two entries are here and here, which I suppose means this is now an annual event. Be that as it may, here’s the list this time:

1. Foxy Lady – Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970)
2. Me and Bobby McGee – Kris Kristofferson (Janis Joplin, 1943-1970)
3. Come As You Are – Midnight Juggernauts (orig. Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, 1967-1994)
4. The Rainbow Connection – Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson, 1936-1990)
5. Rhapsody In Blue – Trinity University Wind Symphony (George Gershwin, 1898-1937)
6. Return of the Grievous Angel – Gram Parsons (1946-1973)
7. Sugar Magnolia – Grateful Dead (Jerry Garcia, 1942-1995)
8. Can’t Stop Killing You – Kirsty MacColl (1959-2000)
9. Self Control – Laura Branigan (1957-2004)
10. Willin’ – Little Feat (Lowell George, 1945-1979)

As always when I compile one of these lists, I find myself wondering what some of these people would be doing if they were still with us today. If the Rolling Stones can embark on a 50th anniversary tour, it’s hard to imagine that the likes of Hendrix and Joplin would not still be out there making music. Maybe from our perspective as music consumers, it’s better that they burned out instead of faded away, but I can’t quite bring myself to believe that. Anyway, I suspect I’ll have enough material to do yet another one of these lists next year, without much if any repetition. I just hope there aren’t any new names to add to the list.

So who’s in for the SD06 special election?

As noted, yesterday was the official filing deadline for the SD06 special election. I didn’t have the chance to call the Secretary of State’s office to ask what filings they had received, and as of last night I had not seen any news accounts of who was in and who was not. In addition to the three candidates that were known to have filed before Christmas – Sylvia Garcia, Carol Alvarado, and Dorothy Olmos, two other names did emerge yesterday. One, via Carl Whitmarsh, is Rodolfo Reyes:

Rodolfo M. Reyes was elected to the League City Council in 1994 and was the first Hispanic Mayor pro tem, and the second Hispanic to serve on the City Council. During his three year term, he worked with his council brethrens to realize the League City Sport Complex; revitalized the Economic Development Corporation; he challenged the City Planning Commission to streamline procedures for dealing with new developers coming into the city; and rolled-back the property tax rate.

He was a member of the Board of Directors of the Harris County Educational Foundation; Member-at-large of the Amateur Athletic Association committee; Vice-President of the Community Housing Resources Board; Member of the Board of the Clear Lake Area Economic Development Foundation; and, worked with the Mentor Program at Bonner Elementary School.

The other, via Stace, is Joaquin Martinez.

Joaquin Martinez, father to Joaquin Edward Martinez, is a native Houstonian and has been a silent community leader in the East End. Joaquin has worked for one of Houston’s oldest and largest non-profits, Neighborhood Centers, for over 10 years within the Community Based Initiatives department. Joaquin’s continued perseverance and personal values have allowed him to continue his education at the University of Houston – Downtown as he pursues a B.A. in Political Science.

Joaquin’s previous role as a Youth Manager has been to build youth programs in the East End, Sunnyside, Independence Heights, Pasadena and La Porte communities in order to build upon the skills of the youth in these communities.He also took on the role of Program Coordinator in the Pasadena and La Porte communities, where civic engagement and education were fundamental in creating a community environment. Joaquin has seen many youths become successful; he continually challenges parents to remain involved their children’s lives. He also worked as Staff under Council Member John Castillo, in which he visited several civic club meetings and was committed to assure that community member’s needs were met.

I assume both have filed, but as yet I have no confirmation of this. Others who previously said they were running but had not filed as of Wednesday include RW Bray, whose campaign Facebook page was last updated on December 21, and Maria Selva, who has an under construction webpage that incorrectly lists the date of the special election as January 22. Oops. As for HCC Trustee Yolanda Navarro Flores, she doesn’t appear to have a Facebook page and I’ve seen nothing in my email or via Google. Now you know what I know. If you know more than this, please leave a comment.

UPDATE: Via Stace and PDiddie, we now know there are eight candidates total in this race. What we don’t know is why there was no one at the Chron or the Trib that bothered to find this out, leaving it instead to a bunch of unpaid bloggers. Be that as it may, I’ll have a post with more information tomorrow.

Time once again to talk about expanded gambling

There’s a legislative session coming up, right? That can only mean one thing: A new effort to expand gambling in Texas.

Track and gaming interests say voters should be allowed to decide whether to give Texas a shot at the benefits of $2.5 billion they say is wagered in surrounding states annually by Texans.

“They are taking our money to fund their programs, and I think they frankly have just been smarter than we have. My hat’s off to ’em,” said John Montford, a former state Senate Finance Committee chairman. He carried the legislation that established Texas’ lottery and now is involved in the casino battle.

Critics doubt the figures and call expanded gaming a losing proposition for Texas, saying gaming would take money from the pockets of people who can ill afford it.

Montford has been hired by the partnership of Penn National Gaming and Sam Houston Race Park to push the gambling expansion under the name of Let Texans Decide.

Among supporters listed on the group’s website are Valley Race Park, the Texas Association of Business, the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, Greater Houston Women’s chamber, Houston Hispanic chamber and Houston Northwest.

Remember the name Let Texans Decide, whose Facebook page is here. Whatever arguments or talking points you hear for expanding gambling in Texas will have come from them.

The Legislature has repeatedly turned down the chance to amend the state constitution to expand gambling, which would require a two-thirds vote of lawmakers before going on a state ballot.

The battle doesn’t look to be any easier this time.

State lawmakers who faced a huge revenue shortfall in their last regular session in 2011 now are seeing a recovering economy, and the House and Senate are no less conservative. Several incoming senators are viewed as further right than their predecessors.

“Before this session, there was probably a shot at passing something like that through the Senate. I think with the new members that we have in the Senate, it’s probably less likely than it was before. And I think it is very unlikely that either one of those proposals would get through the House,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, when asked about slots at tracks or casinos. Williams said he has never voted to expand gaming in Texas, adding that revenue figures presented in years past by supporters of the idea appeared unrealistic.

“I don’t have a big, huge moral objection to it, but I’m not sure it’s for the benefit of the state,” Williams said.

Dale Craymer, president of the business-based Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, said, “One of the considerations for casino gambling is the fact that it raises revenue, and that’s a big issue during a session when they are looking for revenue. This is not going to be a session where they are looking for revenue.”

Yes, God forbid we should seek out any new revenue sources any time outside of a severe crisis, not that we do then either. I’m not saying that more gambling is the way we should go to raise more revenue for the state, I’m just saying we’re a million miles from being at a point where we can say that we don’t need any more revenue sources. Between water, transportation, Medicaid, mental health services, education, and a whole host of other needs, there are plenty of issues in need of more funding.

Texans for Public Justice, which tracks money in politics, found that gambling interests donated $1.6 million to Texas political action committees and candidates going into the 2010 elections.

TPJ, in a check of reports available for this year, found top gambling PACs from 2010 donated more than $904,000 this cycle. The total included only reports covering up until eight days before the election, so the total is sure to be higher.

According to Let Texans Decide, the Chickasaws and Choctaws, which have Oklahoma casino operations, have given Texas candidates five times as much as they gave Oklahoma candidates since 2008 — more than $807,000 in Texas compared to nearly $152,000 in Oklahoma. The Chickasaws also have invested in a Grand Prairie track.

There may not be money for the things Texans need, but there’s always money for the campaigns. As always, keep an eye on that as the debate progresses. There’s a scandal lurking out there somewhere.

You can donate your jury duty pay to charity

As you probably know if you have been called to jury service in Harris County, jurors get paid $6 for showing up, and $28 per day after the first day if they are selected to serve on a jury. What you may not know is that you can donate that pay to charity if you are so inclined, and that doing so benefits the county as well as the charities.

District Clerk Chris Daniel

In fact, Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel said all of those $6 donations added up this year to more than $100,000, which was doled out among six choices according to the giver’s preference.

“This is a way for charities who don’t necessary receive a lot of public spotlight but do a lot of good for the courthouse and for the community to receive donations,” Daniel said. “The reason we focus on court-centric charities is that there is a direct benefit to the taxpayer for what they do to aid the justice community.”

Daniel is working to make the option more visible for prospective jurors, including approving commercials, made by each charity, to run on televisions in the jury assembly rooms that explain the form and each charity’s mission.

He touted the system as a way for civic-minded people to give to a good cause while saving the county money on paper, bank transactions and postage.

According to the story sidebar, you have the choice of the following charities if you wish to donate your juror pay:

Victims of Crime Fund

Children’s Protective Services Child Welfare Service Fund

Child Advocates, Inc.

Crime Stoppers of Houston, Inc.

Casa De Esparanza De Los Ninos, Inc.

Tejano Center for Community Concerns, Inc.

I couldn’t find a link for the Children’s Protective Services Child Welfare Service Fund. Donating juror pay to one of these charities is a fine thing to do, and I plan to do it the next time I’m called for jury service. I do have one suggestion about this for District Clerk Daniel, who I know reads this blog, and that is to include all this information on the District Clerk jury service webpage. The Juror Service General Information page tells you how to apply to be a charity that can receive these donations, but nowhere do I find anything that tells jurors that they can donate their pay. Ideally, there would be a link right there to fill out that form as well. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

CompSci in the curriculum

HISD Trustee Paula Harris coauthors an op-ed in the Chron advocating computer science to be part of the standard school curriculum.

Paula Harris

While STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education is a hot topic in education circles these days, only math and science courses are required for graduation from high school. The few computer science courses that are offered are categorized as electives, not as core courses students need to graduate, so they do not receive the same emphasis as their higher profile STEM counterparts.

We need to start working with students at a young age to spark their interest in technology and computer science. Our children should not just know how to use apps and video games, they should know how to create apps and video games. Some very popular and very profitable apps have been designed by high school students.

We must elevate computer science classes to be part of our core curriculum. We need to train more teachers who are qualified to teach modern state-of-the-art computer science courses, and to find innovative ways to recruit and keep these teachers familiar with the latest technology.

According to Computing in the Core, a nonprofit coalition that advocates for K-12 computer science education, “By 2018, current government projections show that more than 800,000 high-end computing jobs will be created in the economy, making it one of the fastest growing occupational fields.”

We need the support, input and commitment from technology companies to help us educate technology-inspired, innovative thinkers to both fill available jobs and pioneer in the field of computer science.

I agree that computing should be a required part of the curriculum, but I’d like to see a proposal of what’s being required first. There’s a lot more to computing than programming – hardware, networking, mobile computing, security, etc etc etc – so my first question would be what exactly is it that we want to emphasize? What do we really think students need to know? Remember that unlike, say, math, what’s relevant and important in computer science changes rapidly, and sometimes radically. I mean, when I was in college, there was a debate over whether APL or Pascal was the right introductory language to use for programming concepts. How can you ensure that the curriculum you’re designing today will still be worth teaching by the time you’ve finished designing it? Sure, there are plenty of basic ideas in computing that are enduring, but if the idea is to prepare students for the job market, then being up to date on what’s in demand is critical. Are there other school districts already doing something like this? You get the idea. I like this idea and want to see discussion on it. What do you think?