Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

August 2nd, 2013:

Friday random ten: Forget it, I’m gonna be a punk rocker

My inspiration for this week is this Buzzfeed list of 36 pop/punk albums I need to hear before I die. Clearly, I have my work cut out for me, because I have exactly none of those albums. In fact, I only have songs by two of the named artists, plus a parody of a song by a third. So here instead are ten punk songs I do have.

1. Today Is Gonna Be A Great Day – Bowling For Soup
2. Pretty Fly For A Rabbi – Weird Al Yankovic
3. American Idiot – Green Day
4. El Dorado – 50 Foot Wave
5. Anarchy In The UK – Sex Pistols
6. Blitzkrieg Bop – The Ramones
7. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll – Ian Dury & The Blockheads
8. The Modern Dance – Pere Ubu
9. Search And Destroy – The Stooges
10. Human Fly – The Cramps

Bowling For Soup and Green Day are two of the artists on that list; The Offspring is another, and it’s their song, mentioned on the list, that Weird Al is parodying. I’ve never been much of a punk fan, but there are some good tunes here. What are your favorite punk songs?

July campaign finance reports, HISD and HCC

Ericka Mellon did me the favor of the heavy lifting for HISD Trustees.

Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman

Campaign finance reports filed this week show at least two non-incumbents are entering races for the Houston school board this November, while contributions for most trustees generally were smaller following new board-imposed restrictions.

Board president Anna Eastman, who represents District I, which includes the Heights, faces a challenge from Hugo Mojica, executive director of the Greater Northside Chamber of Commerce. Eastman raised more than any other trustee or candidate this reporting period, bringing in nearly $18,300 since January. Mojica, who formerly worked for the Project GRAD nonprofit that contracted with HISD, raised more than $2,100.

In south Houston’s District IX, now represented by Larry Marshall, a former HISD trustee, W. Clyde Lemon, has filed to run. Marshall, entangled in a bribery lawsuit, canceled his fundraiser in late June and raised no money this reporting period, which ran from January through July 15.

It’s unclear if Marshall, first elected in 1997, is seeking re-election. Marshall could not be reached immediately for comment Wednesday.

Lemon, an attorney who represented District IX in the mid-1990s before Marshall’s election, raised $2,550 this reporting period. He has $923 on hand. Marshall has more than $18,000 on hand from prior fundraising.

The other seats on the ballot this November are District V (Mike Lunceford), District VI (Greg Meyers) and District VII (Harvin Moore). No other candidates have filed to run. They have until Aug. 26 to file.

I couldn’t have put it any better than that. Go see the full post for Mellon’s summaries. If you want to see the reports themselves, you have to go to the HISD Trustees webpage, then click the link for the trustee in question, and from there you’ll see a link for their finance reports. The downside to this is that there’s no easy way to find reports for a challenger like Hugo Mojica. To be honest, I’m not even sure where these reports get filed, so I don’t know where to look for them other than on the Trustees’ own pages, which obviously isn’t enough. If it’s HISD that gets the reports, then my request to HISD is this: Please make it possible to find all candidates’ reports online. If Larry Marshall doesn’t run again, there’s likely to be a multitude of candidates. We deserve to know what their funding sources are.

As for HCC, their campaign finance reports page does list one challenger, Kevin Hoffman, and since they have all the reports available via that page they can easily add others as needed or appropriate. However, as of this writing they don’t have the July reports available yet, just the January ones. I’ll check back again later and let you know when those are up.

More on Rep. Poe and the University line

Here’s the Chron story on Rep. Ted Poe’s surprising-to-me support of building the University Line.

Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, whose district shifted earlier this year to include portions of the area where the planned University Line would run along Richmond Avenue, said door-to-door canvassing by his staffers as well as phone and online responses demonstrate his constituents support the line.

In remarks Tuesday on the House floor, Poe said 604 respondents to a Facebook solicitation supported the rail line, compared to 340 opposed to it.

“We’re not saying it is scientific, but it does help let me know what people are thinking,” Poe said. “I believe the area I represent wants light rail.”

Poe’s district includes Richmond from Main Street to Shepherd Drive. The alignment west of Shepherd lies within the district of Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, one of the rail line’s most formidable and implacable foes.


Though some early plans received a favorable environmental review by the Federal Transit Administration, Metro board chairman Gilbert Garcia said the agency’s priorities are focused now on opening the three lines under construction and developing bus rapid transit along Post Oak Boulevard.

“We have our hands full,” Garcia said, noting that Metro isn’t seeking federal funds for the University Line at this time.

Garcia said Poe’s encouragement left the door open to securing federal funds, although it might be years before Metro gets to the point of asking for them.

See here for more. The good news is Rep. Poe’s sensible, constituent-responsive approach, which will be at least somewhat of a counterbalance to Rep. John Culberson’s fanatical opposition. Rep. Poe’s point that if we don’t take the money that we are eligible for someone else will get it is welcome. The bad news is that the most critical part of the University Line is still under Culberson’s thumb. Barring a court-ordered redraw of the Congressional boundaries that puts Culberson on the outside or an upset win over him by a rail supporter, the basic dynamic hasn’t changed much. Given that we’re not likely to turn our attention to the University Line for at least a few years anyway, perhaps this will give fate a chance to intervene in some way we don’t see coming. In the meantime, it’s a small but positive development, and I’ll take those where I can get them.

Show them the data


Terry Grier

Terry Grier

A major donor to HISD’s key school reform effort is putting its remaining $3 million check on hold amid concerns that detailed research about the success of the program is lacking.

The president of the Houston Endowment, Ann Stern, wrote a letter to top school district officials this month criticizing the recent progress report on the Apollo program for not including “meaningful” student performance data.

Stern said in an interview Tuesday that she is optimistic the foundation ultimately will award the remaining money to the Houston Independent School District, but she wants to see more a detailed research report.

“We are hoping to be able to make this payment,” she said. “We have not canceled anything.”

The Houston Endowment pledged $6 million to the Apollo reform program in 2011 – assuming certain conditions were met – and has paid half that amount. The final $3 million payment was scheduled to be made by Wednesday.


On Tuesday, [Harvard researcher Roland] Fryer emailed [Superintendent Terry] Grier to explain that he and his team were working on a final study but are waiting on information such as whether students transferred schools or enrolled in college. The transfer data is crucial to analyzing test scores, he said, because if a student spent, say, six months at a high school and then moved to a new campus before taking the exams, the student’s results should be weighted.

Fryer said he hoped to have the final evaluation complete by Nov. 1.

“In my view, if it’s not good enough to turn in for academic publication, it’s not good enough to show a Board or a funder,” he wrote.

See here for the most recent update on Apollo, and the letter Stern sent to Grier and Eastman is here. I don’t see anything particularly objectionable about this request, and I’m as interested in seeing this data as Stern is. It’s pretty straightforward – if Apollo works as advertised, we should find a way to fund as much of it as we can. If not, there are better ways to spend that money. Let’s let the data help us figure that out.

Abbott and CPRIT

From the Things Greg Abbott Should Have Been Doing Instead Of Filing All Those Lawsuits Against The Obama Administration, But Didn’t Do department.

Still not Greg Abbott

In the more than four years he served on the state cancer agency’s governing board, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott exercised no oversight as the agency made misstep after misstep in awarding tens of millions of dollars to commercial interests.

The state’s top lawyer and watchdog instead appointed one of his deputies, who missed about a third of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Oversight Committee meetings, and, by all accounts, was not much of a presence in the agency’s questionable decision-making.

“It turns out that Abbott sitting on the oversight board was a green light rather than a caution sign,” wrote Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, a Democratic political action committee. “Businesses backed by Abbott contributors – many of whom are partisan Republicans – have received large grants and contracts from CPRIT without fear of any oversight at all.”

The attorney general’s minimalist scrutiny of the cancer institute did not draw much attention when the Legislature lit into the agency during the regular session, but now that he is running for governor it is becoming a significant campaign issue.

“It is surprising to me that someone who is the attorney general would not attend board meetings of a fund that involves $3 billion in taxpayer dollars,” said Tom Pauken, who is vying with Abbott for the nomination for governor in next spring’s Republican primary.

Abbott’s role at the cancer agency has raised additional questions because of the investigation his office is conducting into the agency’s scandals. Critics question how he can objectively investigate alleged conflicts of interest and favoritism at the agency after his office did nothing to stop it. They also ask how he can look into possible impropriety involving donors that made contributions to the agency and later received grants when some of those donors also have given to Abbott and figure to be tapped again as his gubernatorial campaign kicks into gear.


A review of Abbott’s correspondence while his office was on the oversight board, obtained under the Texas Public Information Act, found nothing expressing concern about the agency.

“It’s nice to talk about suing Obama all of the time, but the attorney general has other duties,” Pauken said. “When there’s so much taxpayer money on the table, it is surprising that the attorney general would be asleep at the switch.”

[Abbott’s chief communications officer Jerry] Strickland dismissed criticism of the office’s lack of oversight as political.

“Given the failure of CPRIT staff to follow procedure and properly inform the Oversight Committee, it would have been impossible for any designee to fully brief the attorney general about what was happening because they were left in the dark about critical decisions and mistakes along the way,” Strickland wrote. “Presumably, that’s also why none of the oversight committee members appointed by the Governor, Lt. Governor or the Speaker raised issues about the grants. Despite their varied experiences and expertise, they simply were not provided with information that would have raised red flags.”

That has not stopped critics from noting that some of the agency’s most questionable grants went to companies affiliated with some of Abbott’s major donors.

Since 2001, James Leininger has donated $289,000 to Abbott, campaign finance records show, and Peter O’Donnell has contributed $130,000 during the same time period. Some political activists question these donations, noting that Leininger’s company, Caliber Biotherapuetics, received $12 million from the cancer agency for a scientific proposal despite receiving low scores from reviewers; O’Donnell invested in Peloton, whose $11 million award under­went no institutional review whatsoever.

Among Abbott’s critics is Glenn Smith, director of the liberal Progress Texas PAC, which filed a complaint against the cancer agency with prosecutors in Austin. Noting Abbott never attended a meeting, Smith asked, “Why would he? The scandal-plagued agency was funneling millions to Abbott’s contributors. From Abbott’s point of view the corruption was going swimmingly.”

There’s no dispute that Abbott was completely hands-off as a member of the CPRIT oversight board, that the person he picked as his proxy was lax about attending meetings, or that Abbott’s office never found any of the wrongdoing that was going on. His defense is that 1) he was no more compromised or clueless than any of the other board members, and 2) it’s all politics anyway. Good luck with that first argument is all I can say about that. If you’re trying to abet the case that we need real change in our state leadership and not just a shuffling of the deck, you’re doing fine. As for the complaint that it’s all politics, welcome to the big leagues. I’ve no doubt that politics is a part of this – the Lone Star Project was the originator of much of the information in this story – but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to it. If you don’t have a substantive rebuttal to the charges then your accusation about politics will sound like you’re the one playing politics. Abbott’s not used to being in the spotlight, or to being scrutinized this closely. Time to raise your game, dude.