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February 7th, 2014:

Friday random ten: We miss you, Molly

I managed to miss the anniversary of Molly Ivins’ death last week. For my penance, here are ten of my favorite Texas songs. I know she would have approved.

1. Stupid Texas Song – Austin Lounge Lizards
2. Deep Ellum Blues – Asylum Street Spankers
3. That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas) – Lyle Lovett
4. The Rivers Of Texas – Flying Fish Sailors
5. Texas Flood – Stevie Ray Vaughan
6. Odessa – The Mollys
7. Texican Style – Los Lonely Boys
8. La Grange – ZZ Top
9. Beaumont Boys – Ezra Charles
10. I Can’t Tame Wild Women – The Hot Club of Cowtown

The world is a more boring place without you, Molly. Rest in peace.

January campaign finance reports for Houston officeholders

One more set of finance reports to document, from city of Houston officeholders and candidates. I’m not going to link to the individual reports this time, since the city’s system automatically downloads the PDFs and I don’t feel like uploading these all to my Google drive. Here are the basic summaries, with my comments afterwards

Officeholder Office Raised Spent Loan Cash ========================================================== Parker Mayor 121,165 574,185 0 461,089 Green Controller 6,575 39,253 0 14,585 Costello AL1 81,200 62,410 15,000 144,753 Robinson AL2 26,246 33,265 0 32,918 Kubosh AL3 83,691 84,157 15,000 11,452 Bradford AL4 8,050 30,257 0 33,485 Christie AL5 15,275 11,606 0 10,548 Stardig A 5,250 30,393 0 24,238 Davis B 19,300 28,798 0 84,551 Cohen C 47,982 76,405 0 93,364 Boykins D 16,375 49,004 0 6,727 Martin E 45,650 27,968 0 43,423 Nguyen F 21,269 5,795 0 8,750 Pennington G 13,550 30,046 0 192,142 Gonzales H 40,375 33,623 0 90,782 Gallegos I 38,882 18,279 0 22,940 Laster J 3,500 8,081 0 77,408 Green K 10,150 15,455 0 77,366 Hale SD15 0 472 0 0 Noriega HCDE 0 8,690 1,000 9,335 Chavez AL3 3,150 6,652 160 15,716 Calvert AL3 1,600 65,031 10,000 2,654 Brown A 21,969 22,121 0 25,729 Peck A 0 2,811 0 0 Knox A 1,220 17,271 0 931 Richards D 2,000 16,043 0 2,727 Jones, J D 0 0 0 3,203 Provost D 7,960 9,033 0 15 Edwards D 3,745 4,415 0 0 Rodriguez I 0 3,581 0 6,731 Garces I 32,950 49,802 0 0 Ablaza I 380 10,288 0 673 Mendez I 2,050 19,120 0 0

Mayor Parker has a decent amount on hand, not as much as she had after some other elections, but then she won’t be on any ballot until 2018, so there’s no rush. I know she has at least one fundraiser happening, and I’m sure she’ll have a solid start on fundraising for whatever office she might have her eye on in four years’ time.

And speaking of being prepared for the next election, CM Costello is in pretty good shape, too. It’ll take a lot more money than that to mount a successful campaign for Mayor in 2015, and there are likely to be several strong candidates competing for the usual pots of cash, but every little bit helps.

The other At Large incumbents are in reasonable shape. Both Kubosh and Christie have done some degree of self-funding, so their totals aren’t worrisome. While I believe there will be some competitive At Large races in 2015, and not just in the two open seats, I don’t think anyone will be caught short in this department the way Andrew Burks was.

I continue to marvel at the totals in the district seats. Many of those incumbents have been helped by not having well-financed opponents. CMs Gonzales and Pennington are well placed if they have their eyes on another race. Personally, I think CM Gonzales ought to consider running for City Controller. If nothing else, that will likely be less crowded than the Mayor’s race in 2015.

CM Richard Nguyen, who was nicely profiled by Mustafa Tameez recently, received nearly half of his total – $9,500, to be exact – from various PACs after the election; this is called “late train” money. As far as the money he received from individuals, every one of them had a Vietnamese name. That’s some good networking there.

Of the others listed, two of them – Ron Hale and Melissa Noriega – are running for something in 2014. The rest, with one exception, was either an unsuccessful candidate in 2013 or a term-limited Council member. The exception is former CM Jolanda Jones, whose eligibility to run for something else remains disputed. The one notable thing in this bunch is the $25K that now-former CM Helena Brown had on hand. Given that CM Brenda Stardig left a lot of money unspent in 2011 when Brown knocked her off, there’s a certain irony to that. Beyond that, no one left themselves very much for a subsequent campaign if they have one in mind. I won’t be surprised if one or more people on this list runs for something again, perhaps in 2015, but if so they’ll be starting out as they did in 2013.

Making the push to sign people up for health insurance

Harris County is at ground zero for this national effort.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

With less than two months remaining to enroll in the health care marketplace, the federal government is focusing outreach efforts on areas with the largest concentrations of uninsured, including Texas’ Harris and Dallas counties.

According to a study conducted for The Associated Press, half of the nation’s uninsured live in just 113 of the 3,143 counties. Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the U.S. – about 1 in 4 people – and the two biggest concentrations in Texas are Harris and Dallas counties. That sort of data are what brought U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to Dallas last week and why the agency is coordinating with Houston health officials on advertising aimed at spreading the enrollment message.

Martha Blaine, executive director of the Community Council of Greater Dallas, said Texas’ refusal to expand Medicaid is the main factor.

“I think the other reason that we’re not making the headway against the uninsured in Texas is that … with the federal exchange Texas did not receive any of the outreach money. And so we do not have high-profile outreach programs like California has,” Blaine said. “The general public does not have a unified message in Texas.”

Federal officials have identified 25 key metro areas to focus on before the March 31 end of open enrollment, including Dallas and Houston; South Florida and Orlando; the northern New Jersey megalopolis; Phoenix and Tucson; Detroit and Cleveland; Atlanta and Nashville. In mid-January, federal officials reported more than 118,500 Texans had used the health care web site to sign up for insurance.

To some extent, saying that “half of the nation’s uninsured live in just 113 counties” is functionally the same as saying a lot of people live in these counties. By my count, the 100 most populous counties in the US contain more than 40% of the total population, so having half the uninsured population in the top 113 seems right in line with that. On the plus side, having so many of them concentrated in a small number of places makes outreach easier. On the other hand, as Joan McCarter notes, the biggest of these big counties are mostly in states like Texas that didn’t expand Medicaid, which puts a lot of people into the coverage gap, and which are most subject to the resistance/sabotage efforts of their state governments. The people and groups doing the outreach have their work cut out for them.

In Austin, a coalition of activists launched on Wednesday a bilingual campaign to spotlight stories from Texans who cannot afford health care insurance because of the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid coverage to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act.

The initiative, dubbed “Texas Left Me Out,” is being spearheaded by more than 40 health care and community advocacy groups. The activist coalition has set up websites in English and Spanish and a phone line to collect stories from uninsured Texans about their experiences.

The group also said it planned to deliver letters to the offices of every member of the Legislature in an effort to convince state lawmakers “that this problem needs to be fixed and it needs to be fixed as quickly as possible,” said Sister JT Dwye, of the Catholic Church-affiliated Seton Healthcare Family.

I’ve noted the efforts of Texas Left Me Out before. They’re as much about winning elections as anything else, because we won’t be able to make sufficient gains on this problem until the nature of our government changes. Another tough job, but it’s got to be done. Check out the Texas Left Me Out and do what you can to get involved.

The cost of fighting the inevitable

Trib headline: Anti-Regulation Politics May Have Hurt Energy Industry. Oh, the irony.

Houston Ship Channel, 1973

Houston Ship Channel, 1973

Businesses in energy-related industries in Texas say they have been unable to take full advantage of the natural gas boom that is roaring across the state because of a delay in the issuing of greenhouse gas permits — an instance in which Texas’ anti-regulation stance might have actually hurt business.

The Environmental Protection Agency began requiring the permits more than three years ago, but the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality refused to enact the rules, arguing that it was illegal to regulate greenhouse gases. That left the responsibility to the EPA, which is only slightly larger than its Texas counterpart and has a small permitting division. As a result, the backlog of applications grew quickly, as did the complaints.

Texas lawmakers directed the state’s environmental agency last year to begin following the federal regulations. But it will take months for the agency to implement its own rules to take over the permitting.

The state has long fought with the federal government over regulations, especially those from the EPA. The chairman of the Texas agency, Bryan Shaw, who is among the many state officials who question the science of climate change, has repeatedly criticized the EPA for developing rules that could cripple the Texas economy.

Electric power retailers, along with energy transport and chemical companies, have told the TCEQ that the delay has put Texas at a competitive disadvantage against other states that had agreed earlier to issue the permits. Some executives said they have considered building in other states because of the delays.

[…]

Several industry lawyers and consultants estimated that the TCEQ would issue permits several months faster than the EPA, where in some cases the delays have been as long as two years.

“If it takes six months or a year to start a facility, well, then that’s a year you’re not going to be making any money,” said Bill Jamieson, director for air quality at the environmental consulting firm SWCA. “There’s no question that equity firms and large investors look at that as risk.”

[…]

Pamela Giblin, an Austin-based lawyer who represents many oil and chemical companies, said it would have been difficult for the state to follow rules that it had challenged in court. Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Texas’ argument that the EPA’s greenhouse gas permitting program is illegal. “If they had taken up the program, there might have been some pressure then to abandon the arguments and to leave the litigation alone,” Giblin said.

If Texas wins the case, “they’re going to look really astute for having taken a firm position.”

But there is no guarantee that will happen. Supreme Court justices have declined to hear Texas’ argument that greenhouse gases should not be considered a danger to public health and welfare.

Jamieson said companies thrive on regulatory certainty, and fighting rules can be more costly than following them.

“It really comes down to politics as to why this was done the way it was done,” he said. “You can look back on a number of instances in the state of Texas where utilities have challenged some pretty significant EPA regulation, and they’ve spent a lot of money, and the end result is: they have the regulation.”

See here for more on the SCOTUS hearing of that appeal, including some links to more in depth analysis of it. And yes, the state’s long and exhaustive fight against the EPA has been nothing but politics. The industry has finally recognized that the cost of denying reality is more than they care to bear, but the state isn’t there yet. Hopefully, SCOTUS will make it clear to them one more time.

Followup on that report about sexual assault in the Harris County jail

Last month, I blogged about a report by the Justice Department that alleged a high rate of sexual assault in one of the Harris County jail buildings. Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who testified about the report in Congress to a panel of citizen correctional experts, was sharply critical of the study’s methodology. Click the link for the details, including the report and Sheriff Garcia’s written response, which was separate from his oral testimony. Shortly after that came out, I received this followup report, sent to me by the Sheriff’s department, which added some context to the original study. The main fact to note, which wasn’t in the original or in the media accounts of it, was that “In 2011, 902 allegations of sexual victimization (10%) were substantiated (i.e., determined to have occurred upon investigation).” If you look at this report, which is about sexual assaults reported by all adult correctional facilities in the US, there’s a graph that shows that while allegations of sexual assault have increased steadily since 2005, the number of substantiated complaints has been absolutely flat. That doesn’t mean that sexual assault isn’t up in correctional facilities nationwide – we don’t know anything about the quality of the investigations that followed the allegations – but it does show that good data are hard to come by, and that there was more to the story than what was originally presented. Read it all and see for yourself, then read this Observer story about the initial report, which includes a detailed response from the Sheriff’s office.

UPDATE: Two corrections made to the text.