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August 16th, 2013:

Friday random ten: For those about to rock

It’s about time to rock isn’t it? This made me realize I’d never done a Random Ten list about “rock” songs. No time like the present, I say.

1. It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me – Billy Joel
2. We Will Rock You – Queen
3. Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo – Rick Derringer
4. R.O.C.K In The U.S.A. – John Cougar Mellencamp
5. Rock Around the Clock – Bill Haley and His Comets
6. Rock And Roll – The Velvet Underground
7. Rock And Roll All Nite – KISS
8. Rock And Roll Music – The Beatles
9. Rock And Roll Never Forgets – Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
10. Rock And Roll Lawyer – Austin Lounge Lizards

We took my in-laws to see the Lounge Lizards some years ago. My father-in-law, a now-retired bankruptcy attorney, told us afterward that “Rock And Roll Lawyer” was his favorite song from their set. Rock on, y’all.

Who would run for SD10 if Wendy runs for Governor?

The DMN considers the possibilities.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Several Democratic contenders have emerged. Topping the list is Fort Worth City Council member Joel Burns, who acknowledged last week that he’s been approached by operatives about a possible campaign to replace Davis.

“It’s something that I’ve thought about,” Burns said. “But until she decides what she wants to do, I can’t give it more than that.”

Burns acknowledged that Davis is a special candidate.

She beat Republican incumbent Kim Brimer for the seat in 2008. Four years later, she won a close race over former Rep. Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth.

But Burns thinks that if he gets into the race, he can meld a winning coalition of minorities, women and moderates.

“Anyone who has shown a history of forging coalitions and can talk about the main street issues facing Texans has a leg up,” he said.

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, has been mentioned frequently as a possible contender, even though he doesn’t live in the Senate district. He would have to move to mount a campaign.

But Turner, a veteran of former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost’s political tree, says he’s not interested in replacing Davis.

“I’m running for re-election to the House,” Turner said. “I decided that a long time ago, and that hasn’t changed.”

Turner’s wife, Democratic strategist Lisa Turner, has also been mentioned as a possible successor, but she said she’s not interested in running.

But there are other interesting options for Democrats.

Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, is in her first term in the House and is considered one of the local party’s rising stars. She could appeal to some of the same constituencies that powered Davis to victory.

Collier could not be reached for comment.

Former Fort Worth City Council member Kathleen Hicks could also mount a campaign.

In 2012, she lost the Democratic primary for the newly created 33rd Congressional District to Marc Veasey. And this spring, she failed in a council comeback bid. But Hicks has a recognizable name and connections in the district.

Some Democrats in Davis’ inner circle, however, are upset that Hicks supported former state Rep. Domingo Garcia of Dallas over Veasey in the 33rd District.

I’m on record saying that I’d like to see Joel Burns run, so I’m glad to see that people have talked to him about it. Rep. Collier would be a good option as well. Like Sen. Davis, she’s an Annie’s List candidate. I like Rep. Turner and he had a fine session this year, but I think he might be best served staying in the House and building up seniority. As long as someone good runs and there isn’t a nasty primary, I’ll be happy. Holding this seat will be tough, but it was always going to be a challenge. I’ve been clear about this being the downside risk of Sen. Davis running for Governor, and it’s equally clear by now that everyone is willing to take that risk. Well, everyone except possibly Sen. Davis herself – we don’t know that yet, though we do hear things. I do agree with PDiddie that the decision is bigger than just being about Sen. Wendy Davis. The universe is telling her to run for Governor. I don’t think she’ll be able to resist, and I’m not sure there’s a good case that she should try.

Endorsement watch: GLBT Caucus and HSYD

We are entering the part of the election cycle where groups are making their endorsements. One of the first out of the box is the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, which held its endorsement meeting on Saturday night. Here’s their press release, sent late Monday night:

150 members of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus met on Saturday to consider endorsements in the November 5, 2013 Houston municipal races and races for Houston Independent School District and Houston Community College System.

Mayor Annise Parker and 25 other candidates attended the four-hour meeting, during which candidate qualifications, campaigns, and support of equality issues were discussed and debated at length. All eligible candidates previously completed an extensive candidate questionnaire and sat for an interview with members of the Caucus Screening Committee.

“As always, our members engaged in spirited and passionate debate over which candidates are best equipped to serve Houstonians and the GLBT community.” said Caucus President Noel Freeman. “It is a very difficult process when you have so many great candidates competing for our support.”

You can see the individual endorsements announced on their Facebook page. Here’s their slate for 2013:

Mayor – Annise Parker (I)
Controller – Ronald Green (I)
At Large #1 – Stephen Costello (I)
At Large #2 – David Robinson
At Large #3 – Jenifer Pool
At Large #4 – C.O. Bradford (I)
At Large #5 – Jack Christie (I)
District A – No endorsement
District B – Jerry Davis (I)
District C – Ellen Cohen (I)
District D – Assata Richards
District E – No endorsement
District F – No endorsement
District G – No endorsement
District H – Ed Gonzalez (I)
District I – Graci Garces
District J – Mike Laster (I)
District K – Larry Green (I)
HISD District 1 – Anna Eastman (I)
HCC District I – Zeph Capo7

Note: (I) = Incumbent.

You can see a photo of their slate here. There are no major surprises on that list. Looking back to 2011, candidates in that election who did not receive the Caucus’ endorsement include Ronald Green (no endorsement in the Controller race that year); David Robinson (they endorsed Jenifer Pool on AL2); and Jack Christie (they endorsed then-incumbent CM Jolanda Jones). First-term CMs Davis, Cohen, Laster, and Larry Green were Caucus-endorsed as candidates.

On Tuesday, the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats announced their endorsements, which you can see here. They mostly overlapped with the Caucus; the only instance in which HSYD made an endorsement that differed from the Caucus was in At Large #3, where HSYD went with Rogene Calvert.

Like I said, endorsement season for groups and organizations is beginning in earnest. I’ve also seen announcements this week about Democracy For Houston and the Tejano Democrats. I expect plenty of others to follow soon. I generally wait to see a press release or some kind of web announcement before I update the Endorsements list on my 2013 Election page. If you’re aware of some endorsement announcement that I’ve missed, please send me the release or link or whatever, and I’ll update appropriately. Thanks very much.

One more ballot item

In addition to the Astrodome and (maybe) Early To Rise referenda, Harris County voters will also get to decide on a jail bond referendum. From the preview story on Tuesday:

go_to_jail

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday also is expected to order a $70 million bond election for a long-discussed facility to process inmates arrested by county and city law enforcement.

The proposed $100 million facility, a significantly pared down version of a project county voters rejected in 2007, would replace the main county jail’s cramped processing center, which has been operating over capacity even as the jail population has fallen.

The proposal also would fulfill the city’s longtime wish to shutter its two aging jails, which cost $25 million a year to operate.

[…]

Voters narrowly rejected a $195 million bond measure to build a much larger jail facility six years ago. That version of the project was a $245 million jail with 2,500 beds and expansive mental health and medical facilities.

Advocates emphasize that the new proposal is not a jail. With 552 short-term beds, the project is designed primarily as a processing facility, aimed at getting inmates in and out more quickly and cheaply by eliminating duplicative city-county law enforcement processes.

The building also would have space for social service agencies to help released inmates, especially the mentally ill, return to society.

“It’s changed, really,” County Judge Ed Emmett said. “We’re talking about a building that will make the current jails much more efficient and that will allow us to address the mental health issues that plague so many of the people that get arrested.”

As you know, I voted against that 2007 referendum. This one is different, and I plan to vote for it. The key point here is that this project will not mean an increase in jail capacity, which was my main point of opposition to the 2007 referendum, but a more efficient way to process short-term inmates. It will also allow the city to close its outmoded and costly jails, which has been a goal for a long time. The county jail is in much better shape now, thanks in large part to the efforts of Sheriff Adrian Garcia, and everyone is on board with the idea of keeping the inmate count down, though there is still much to be done on that front. This proposed facility is in line with the good work that has been done so far, and I’m happy to support it.

Metro gets more money

Good news.

Southeast Line

Congress has appropriated $189 million for two of our light-rail lines – the North/Red Line extension and the Southeast/Purple Line.

Each line will receive $94.5 million. The funds are part of the $900 million Full Funding Grant Agreements signed by federal officials in November 2011.

METRO Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia called this appropriation vital. “This is another key development in our progress towards building light rail for Houston. We want to extend thanks to our Congressional delegation and the many people who have supported efforts to improve the METRO transit system,” he said.

We expect to begin receiving this latest appropriation within the next 30 days. We’ll be spending the money to complete the 5.3-mile extension of the North/Red Line, which is an extension of our current Main Street Line. We’ll also be using the funds to build the Southeast/Purple Line, a 6.6 mile-line traveling through historic African-American communities, connecting to Texas Southern University and the University of Houston.

“Congress is giving us a critical tool with this funding, and we are taking every step we can to make sure these dollars are well spent,” said Tom Lambert, METRO interim president & CEO.

The North/Red Line is scheduled to open in December, and the Southeast/Purple Line and the East End/Green Line are expected to open in 2014. The locally-funded East End/Green Line is 3.3. miles, running from downtown to Magnolia Park Transit Center.

Here’s more on the full funding grant agreement they received from the FTA in 2011. Metro received a similar amount of money in 2012. Nice to know Congress isn’t so dysfunctional yet that simple stuff like this gets derailed, no pun intended.

On a tangential note, The Highwayman ponders the question of how much a ride on a Metro bus or train should cost.

Two concepts seem to bog down any debate about buses and trains.

1. Transit doesn’t pay for itself.

2. The fare system is terrible, so we should just make it free and then more people will ride it.

As a story in Monday’s paper pointed out, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is planning to make all buses and trains free for Labor Day weekend. The agency hopes to lure some riders to try the bus, and it hopes some of them will stay. Many transit agencies do the same thing. So does Netflix. It’s a marketing tool, and the reason I used AOL CDs as drink coasters in college.

It also opens up discussion of the two points noted above, which seem stuck in already-drawn conclusions.

Both premises miss the point of what transit is about and compare it to things it really isn’t. Public transit agencies are not businesses, they are governmental entities. Even in the best of cases, like New York and San Francisco, the systems do not pay for themselves.

Neither do roads, libraries, parks or other amenities that some people think make a community more livable.

Based on 2011 federal data, fares pay for 19 percent of Metro’s operating budget. That’s higher than any other major public transit system in Texas, but far lower than more robust transit systems on the coasts. We score about as well as Phoenix, which like Houston isn’t exactly a transit town yet.

On the other hand, Metro can’t just give it away, though some people argue that fare evasion on light rail is so rampant that the rides might as well be free. Federal officials want to see local officials make some effort to help pay for the system.

I discussed the matter of eliminating fares here; short answer, I think making transit free would cause it to be stigmatized by certain elements as a form of welfare, and that would ultimately be very bad for the concept of mass transit. I don’t have a problem with Metro doing the occasional free-ride promotion, but I think its plans to redesign and extend the bus system will be much more successful at boosting ridership; the addition of the three new rail lines will help, too. I carpool with my wife downtown these days, but I wind up taking the bus home about once a week because she needs the car after work for various errands. It’s convenient and fairly quick, and having that option prevents us from doing stupid and wasteful things like driving (and parking) two cars downtown. I commuted by bus, ferry, and subway for four years of high school in New York, so this idea isn’t strange to me. I think many people are reluctant to be without their car under any circumstances, and that’s an obstacle to be overcome if we want more transit usage in Houston. A lot of younger folks are not getting drivers licenses these days, at least not as early as folks my age did, so perhaps there will be a generational effect to help boost Metro a bit. I wouldn’t expect to see much of that anytime soon, however.