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August 9th, 2013:

Friday random ten: Climb every mountain

We’re back from a family wedding in Colorado, which included a trip to the top of Pike’s Peak, where the girls got to see snow falling. That’s my inspiration for this week’s Friday Random Ten.

1. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Extreme Party Animals
2. Big Rock Candy Mountain – Harry McClintock
3. Fire On The Mountain – Big Medicine
4. Go Tell It On The Mountain – Christmas On The Border
5. The King Of My Mountain – Trout Fishing In America
6. The Mountain – Heartless Bastards
7. Mountain Town – Asylum Street Spankers
8. River Deep, Mountain High – Ike & Tina Turner
9. Rocky Mountain Way – Joe Walsh
10. Skullcrusher Mountain – Jonathan Coulton

If you’re in Colorado and want to ride the old-fashioned train to the top like we did, go here to reserve your tickets. You can drive or hike up as well – go here for more information. The view from the top is spectacular, definitely worth the visit.

More on FreedomWorks as anti-BGTX

Texas Monthly takes a look.

Texas Democrats have, as we all know, been flailing over the past few decades. They are the minority party in both houses of the Lege and haven’t won a statewide race since 1994. Underdogs, we might call them. And even if they’ve been showing signs of life over the past few months, many observers remain unimpressed: if Democrats don’t start announcing campaigns for the 2014 elections, they won’t even win the Participation Award.

But Matt Kibbe doesn’t scoff at underdogs.

Kibbe is the president and CEO of FreedomWorks, a nonprofit group headquartered in Washington, D.C., which supports grassroots conservative efforts around the country. In June, Kibbe and Co. announced a new campaign to keep Texas red called “Come and Take It.” Its budget is nearly $8 million dollars. Its goal is to send out 250,000 conservative volunteers on the ground around the state.

And its motive is mostly respect, Kibbe said, for the idea that Democrats can actually make some headway in Texas. Whitney Neal, the Director of Grassroots for the campaign, says the plan was originally crowdsourced from activists in Texas who, fearing a blue takeover, called on FreedomWorks for help. Kibbe pointed specifically to Battleground Texas, the progressive nonprofit that set up shop earlier this year, vowing to “turn Texas blue.”

“I take [Battleground’s] threat very much seriously,” Kibbe said in a phone interview with Texas Monthly . “I think we’ve got a greater ability to out-organize the establishment Republican efforts, and if we don’t help the activists do that, I’m just afraid it won’t get done.”


The two major ticket items that “Come and Take It” is pushing are education reform—greater school choice, that is—and economic opportunity. And the whole abortion thing? Out of the picture, according to Kibbe, who said that social issues have never been on FreedomWorks’ agenda and never will be.

In fact, Kibbe insists that the “Come and Take It” campaign is nonpartisan and won’t endorse any specific candidates. “It’s not about electing Republicans,” he said. “This is about creating a constituency for economic freedom and opportunity and real choice of education. And if we do that, the political problems really resolve themselves.” If Democrats were pushing those two principles, he later added, he’d want them to get elected.

Most Democrats might roll their eyes at the idea of finding common ground with FreedomWorks, and some would point out that, despite all the commotion about Battleground Texas, it wasn’t until this summer that the people of Texas showed any unusual interest in the Democratic Party—and the issue at hand was reproductive rights, not jobs. But Kibbe may be right that the “Come and Take It” campaign will appeal to many voters. Texas has always been a small-government state. Its Democrats tend to be more fiscally conservative than their national counterparts, and, for that matter, it would be unlikely for either party to win a statewide campaign by focusing solely on social issues. Regardless of the political activism in Austin, the state of Texas is bigger than the Capitol grounds.

That’s exactly why Texas’s conservatives have been so dismissive of groups like Battleground Texas, with their dreams of turning Texas blue—and it’s why it’s so striking that FreedomWorks, at least, is worried that they’re not just dreaming.

See here for more. I note that original story, in Politico, had a bit about FreedomWorks “hiring 10 to 20 field directors”, which is quite a bit less ambitious than finding a quarter of a million volunteers, who might require a bit more management than that if they can be found. As for the claim that FW will not be Republican-specific, forgive me if I’m a tad bit cynical about that. It’s either a dodge to maintain the veneer of nonpartisanship needed for 501c3 status, which means donor anonymity, or it’s just blowing smoke. But hey, maybe they’ll prove me wrong. In the meantime, I remain unworried about this.

Astrodome referendum headed for the ballot

If you’ve been waiting for the chance to vote on the fate of the Astrodome, your wait will soon be over.

Commissioners Court next Tuesday is expected to approve a measure asking voters to authorize the county to spend as much as $220 million to transform the vacant stadium, County Budget Chief Bill Jackson said Wednesday.

County engineering staff, with the help of hired consultants, determined that the conversion project the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. proposed in June will cost $217 million. The sports corporation, which runs Reliant Park, had estimated its plan to turn the decaying structure into an energy-efficient meeting hall dubbed “The New Dome Experience” would cost $194 million.

Engineers also determined that it would cost $20 million to demolish the Dome and create an open space and identified $8 million worth of additional work – including asbestos abatement and selective demolition – that needs to be done no matter whether the structure is revamped or torn down.

The last demolition estimate, released in March by the NFL’s Texans and Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, showed it would cost $29 million to implode the structure and build a 1,600-space parking lot.

Jackson said the county may be able to come up with other kinds of revenue to offset how many taxpayer dollars would have to be spent.


Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said he not only wants to see the plan on the ballot but that he will vote in favor of it – even if it means a tax rate increase – because it will generate revenue.

“Would I build that building today? No, but it’s an iconic structure, it’s a part of our history, I think we can put it to use,” he said. “We can make Reliant Center, and Houston in general, a unique destination for exhibits and special events, and I think that’s worth doing just for the money that will come our way.”

Whether a bond would pass is debatable, court members and county staff say.

Commissioners Court had previously authorized the budget office to give the HCSCC plan the once over. If Harris County winds up borrowing the full $220 million, there could be an increase in the county’s property tax rate of up to a half of a cent. Because there could be a tax rate increase, you can be sure that there will be some opposition to this, though at this point it’s unclear which of the usual suspects will take the lead. Given that the county spends $2 million annually on Dome maintenance, no one really disputes the need to do something. The question is whether people will openly advocate for demolition, which is the alternative and the much cheaper price tag to renovation. Commissioners Court is set to approve this item on Tuesday, so we’ll get a better idea of the politics of this after that.

The buried lede on sexism in the Legislature

PDiddie thinks that the real shocker in that Observer story on sexism in the Texas Legislature wasn’t given the prominence it deserved.

Even the most powerful women in the Legislature experience it. When I started interviewing women lawmakers, they all—Republican and Democrat, House and Senate, rural and urban—said that being a woman in the statehouse is more difficult than being a man. Some told of senators ogling women on the Senate floor or watching porn on iPads and on state-owned computers, of legislators hitting on female staffers or using them to help them meet women, and of hundreds of little comments in public and private that women had to brush off to go about their day. Some said they often felt marginalized and not listened to—that the sexism in the Legislature made their jobs harder and, at times, produced public policy hostile to women.


Emphasis added by PDiddie. My takes on the story were here and here, though I didn’t mention this aspect. PDiddie correctly notes that getting caught surfing porn at work is very high on the list of things that tends to get one fired. That’s especially the case for government employees using government computers to do said surfing. Now, Senators aren’t government employees and they can’t be fired except by the voters, but I’m pretty sure that being caught visiting or whatever while supposedly conducting the people’s business would not be helpful for one’s re-election prospects.

Of course, we don’t know exactly what happened here. The information is presented in passing as an unsourced allegation, which could be exaggerated, mischaracterized, misremembered, or otherwise not quite what it looked or sounded like. The person in the best position to find out the specifics is story author Olivia Messer – and let’s face it, if there really was one or more Senators or their staffers actually surfing porn on the floor of the Senate, it’s news – but even if this turns out to not be what it was cracked up to be, there are some questions to be answered. Do legislators and their staff use a different network than reporters and other visitors? It must be the case that some form of proxy servers are used, so the next question is what sort of filtering is used, and how long are server logs kept? If someone had credible evidence that Legislator X visited Website Y on thus and such a date, what exactly would one need to do to get one’s hands on the details? I certainly don’t have a problem with people surfing to naughty websites – we’re all grownups here – but do it on your own time, and your own computer or tablet or smartphone. This is not anything that people living in the current century should be confused by. If that turns out to be too much to ask of one or more of our august lawmakers, we ought to know about it.sexism

Unfair pay

Patricia Kilday Hart uncovers some skulduggery in one of Rick Perry’s vetoes.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a bill that would have let victims of wage discrimination sue in state court after receiving letters against the measure from the Texas Retailers Association and five of its members, mostly grocery stores, according to records obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, who authored HB 950 mirroring the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, said she unaware that the group and the businesses opposed her bill, or that they sought a gubernatorial veto.

Among the businesses advocating for a veto was Kroger Food Stores.

“I shop at Kroger’s for my groceries,” Thompson said. “I shopped there just last week. I’m going to have to go to HEB now. I am really shocked.”

Also writing to seek a veto were representatives of Macy’s, the Houston grocery company Gerland Corp., Brookshire Grocery Company, Market Basket, the Texas Association of Business and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Here’s HB950, which received 26 Republican votes in the House on third reading. I take no pride in noting that I predicted the veto, though I did so on the usually reliable grounds of Rick Perry being a jerk. I had no idea that he had help in that department this time.

Two other prominent business groups – the Texas Association of Business and the National Federation of Independent Businesses – also wrote Perry urging a veto, but those groups opposed publicly during committee hearings. Thompson said she heard “not one time” from any of the retailers.

In his veto proclamation, Perry did not mention the opposition of any business groups, but cited Texas’ positive business climate as a reason to oppose the bill: “Texas’ commitment to smart regulations and fair courts is a large part of why we continue to lead the nation in job creation. House Bill 950 duplicates federal law, which already allows employees who feel they have been discriminated against through compensation to file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”

In his request for a veto, Ronnie Volkening, president and CEO of the Texas Retailers, said the bill was “unnecessary, in that existing law provides adequate remedies against employment discrimination; and harmful, in that it undermines opportunities for timely resolution of employment dispute in favor of fomenting expensive and divisive litigation.”


The retailers complained to Perry that under HB 950, the statute of limitations would be reset every time a worker received a retirement check. Not so, said Thompson, who said she rewrote the bill to exclude retirement benefits to win Republican support in the Texas Senate.

“They didn’t read the bill or someone get them the wrong information,” she said.

Gary Huddleston, Kroger’s director of consumer affairs, said he relied on the retailers association for his information on the bill. “I regret that Representative Thompson is upset and I am sure Kroger, along with the Texas Retailers Association, would like to discuss the issue with her,” he said.

Yo, Gary. You think maybe the time to “discuss the issue” with Rep. Thompson might have been during the session, when the bill was being written, heard in committee, and voted on? Because at this point, Rep. Thompson would be fully justified in discussing the issue of putting her foot up your rear end.

Let me refer once again to Nonsequiteuse for the reasons why this bill was a good idea and a necessary law.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a federal law, doesn’t mandate that women should receive equal pay for equal work, and it doesn’t make it illegal to discriminate (another law takes care of that). It is a more technical law that deals with the amount of time someone has to file a lawsuit if they discover that they are facing pay discrimination.

The law used to be that you had a relatively short period of time from the first time you were paid unequally. So, you are hired for a job on January 1st, and get your first paycheck on the 5th (I know, bear with me), and it turns out you are being paid less than a man doing the exact same job. Before this act, you were presumed to know that and to have only 180 days to file a lawsuit to remedy it. If you didn’t discovery the discrimination until the following January (or even the following October, or whenever 180 days is from January 5th), you were out of luck.

Realistically, of course, we all know that no one walks around on day 5 of a new job comparing paychecks. People are socialized not to talk about salary, and some companies (and I’ve always wondered if this is legal) explicitly tell you not to talk about salary.

The outcome, of course, was that if you didn’t learn early in the game that you were being discriminated against, you were out of luck, and your employer got away with it.

The Lilly Ledbetter Act changes the game, and says the statute of limitations starts afresh with each discriminatory paycheck. So, as long as you’re getting a discriminatory paycheck, you have a cause of action.

In other words, as long as the employer is violating your rights, you have a chance to remedy the situation in court.

Seems fair, doesn’t it? I mean, nowhere in life do we say that if you break the rules long enough without anyone noticing that you get a free pass, so why would we do it with discriminatory pay?

Note that this law isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be able to prove discriminatory pay. It merely extends your time frame for filing a lawsuit.

The allowance to file in either state or federal court is important, too. State courts are less expensive and easier to access–consider that every county has a courthouse, but few have federal ones (just 29 places for federal courts to meet in Texas).

It’s about making it just a tad bit harder to screw the little guy. I’m not surprised that Rick Perry couldn’t care less about that – he has a long and established record of not caring about that sort of thing – and his heir apparent Greg Abbott has a similar record of indifference. While I can’t say it’s surprising that these business interests would go skulking about under what they hoped would be the cover of darkness to maintain their unfair advantage over their workers, it is nonetheless shocking and appalling, and it deserves to come with a price tag attached. To that end, there is a push to boycott Macy’s and Kroger until they reverse their stance on this. Rep. Thompson and Sen. Sylvia Garcia have already canceled events at Macy’s having to do with the annual sales tax holiday as a result of this. I never know how much to expect from this kind of action, but I fully support making sure people know what the businesses they support are up to when they think we’re not looking. The long term answer is of course to elect better legislators and especially better Governors, which is much harder to do but will reap much bigger rewards. In the meantime, go ahead and heap all the shame you can on the retailers that pushed for this veto. They deserve every bit of it. BOR, Stace, PDiddie, Texas Leftist, and Progress Texas have more.