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February 12th, 2014:

Interview with Hugh Fitzsimons

Hugh Fitzsimons

Hugh Fitzsimons

In my previous interview, I mentioned that the two Democratic candidates for Ag Commissioner that I had spoken to were very different from each other. (There is a third candidate in the race, but I have not seen any evidence of campaign activity from him.) Where Kinky Friedman is his iconoclastic self, Hugh Fitzsimons is exactly the sort of person you think of when you hear the words “Texas Agriculture Commissioner”. A native of San Antonio, Fitsimons is a rancher on land that has been in his family for four generations, raising bisons and cultivating wild honey. A former history teacher, Fitzsimons has based his campaign on meeting Texas’ water needs and coping with climate change. His knowledge of the issues gained him the Chronicle endorsement for the primary. We covered a lot of ground in our conversation:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2014 Election page.

Turner for Mayor 3.0

This is what you call a poorly kept secret.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

Just three months after Annise Parker captured a final term as mayor, a major contender has declared his desire to succeed her in the City of Houston’s top job.

“You know I’ve had my challenges. I’ve come through them,” said State Representative Sylvester Turner.

In what can only be viewed as a warning shot aimed at other potential candidates Turner has let his intentions be known. The well regarded 25 year veteran of the Texas Legislature believes his key role writing and balancing state budgets equips him well to tackle Houston’s financial challenges.

At age 60, Turner stands ready to make his case.

“They have to believe that you will be there for this city, not for any one group, not for any one class of individuals, but you will be there for your love of this city. If you can’t convince them that what drives you most of all is your love for the city and your ability to move this city forward in a positive direction. Than you failed the test,” said Turner in an interview with Fox 26.

Barring a reversal of course this will be Turner’s third run for the Mayor’s office having narrowly lost to Bob Lanier in 1991 and later to Bill White in 2003. Having recently played a critical role in securing more than $300 million in additional funding for the state’s mentally challenged Turner believes it’s time to bring his consensus building back to the Bayou City.

Those of us that pay too much attention to this sort of thing have been hearing Turner’s name for awhile now. Makes sense for him to try again now if he’s still got a desire to be Mayor, as there’s no clear frontrunner to inherit the job from Mayor Parker. I’m sure he’ll make a strong contender, and I’m also sure no one who thinks he or she would make a strong contender themselves will concede the field to him. I have no doubt it will make for a great race next year once it gets going, but I’m with Texpatriate: it’s too damn early to start thinking about it. We haven’t even begun early voting for the primaries, for crying out loud. I’ll make note of it when someone makes an announcement, even if it’s just an “I’m thinking about it” announcement, but I have no interest in speculating or in reporting on any of the ridiculously early “polls” that have been floating around. Let’s get through 2014 before we spend too much time worrying about 2015. Greg has more.

Is it all over for the Harrisburg Line underpass?

Despite earlier agreement between Metro, residents, and the city to build an underpass for the far end of the Harrisburg line, it’s not looking too good for that option right now.

Residents of Houston’s East End supported a 2003 transit referendum that included a light rail line through their neighborhood, but they balked six years later when they learned of plans for a large overpass – a “hideous monstrosity,” in the words of one community leader – that would cross freight rail tracks along Harrisburg.

Two years of often contentious negotiations ensued as Metropolitan Transit Authority officials responded to concerns that the overpass would split the neighborhood and inhibit redevelopment. With the city of Houston as peacemaker and financial partner, Metro shelved its overpass plan in 2011 and agreed to build an underpass, winning the wary support of residents.

But now, as work on the so-called Green Line nears completion, the discovery of a vast area of gasoline-polluted soil appears to have scuttled the underpass plan, reopening a wound that Metro, the city and the neighborhood thought had been healed. The city’s $20 million stake in the project is in question, and transit officials are seeking community support for a plan likely to send the light rail trains over the Union Pacific tracks rather than under them.

The crossing is critical to extending the Green Line east of Hughes Road, planned to link downtown with the Magnolia Park Transit Center. The Green Line, which Metro is building with no federal assistance, is one of two Metro rail lines scheduled to open this fall.

“The most important thing is to complete the project,” said Metro board chairman Gilbert Garcia. “We are committed, and have told people we are committed, to go to the Magnolia Park Transit Center.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Apparently, the issue with the contamination has been known for a long time, but it’s only now that we’re hearing about its possible effect on the light rail construction. That’s unfortunate, given the way the folks in the area had to fight against the previous Metro regime against the overpass solution. It was only after the current Board was appointed by Mayor Parker, under then-CEO George Greanias, that Metro agreed to do an underpass, with some financial help from the city. At least this time Metro is thinking about how to mitigate the effects of an overpass.

Neighbors feared the overpass would be a “hideous monstrosity,” [Marilu De La Fuente, president of the Harrisburg Heritage Society] said, that would split the mostly Hispanic community in two, forcing some residents to take circuitous routes around a massive concrete divider.

Metro is working on plans that might soften the impact of an overpass.

Metro might be able to end the overpass before 66th Street, leaving that street open and giving the community a chance to petition for a traffic light at 66th and Harrisburg, officials said. And one design option would send the light rail tracks and two lanes of traffic over the freight line, while keeping a lane in each direction for street-level traffic and sidewalk access.

I hope they can work it out in a way that mollifies the residents. It’s awfully late in the game to be making this kind of change. Campos has more.

If we must have voter ID, let’s make sure people know about it

The Democratic Senators from Harris County write a letter to County Clerk Stan Stanart.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Three Houston state senators are asking Harris County officials to emulate Dallas County’s voter outreach efforts tied to Texas’ new voter identification law.

State Sens. Rodney Ellis, Sylvia Garcia and John Whitmire — all Democrats — wrote a letter on Monday to Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, asking him to reach out to voters to “minimize any issues voters may encounter at the polls” because of the ID law.

The senators offered an example by pointing to Dallas County, which last month sent 195,000 notices to voters to alert them about the law’s provision that a voter’s name on a valid photo ID must exactly match the name listed in the voter registration database.

“With a county as large as Harris County, there is no reason why we should not be able to take the same proactive measures to ensure that our constituents’ constitutional right to vote is adequately protected,” wrote the senators, who made a similar request last year.


In Dallas County, it has taken elections officials several months to comb through databases and flag voters who might have problems. And it’s going to take officials a few more months to complete the additional outreach approved by county commissioners.

But in Harris County, the senators said they were hopeful something still could be done there before the March primary.

“Time is of the essence as the March primaries are fast approaching and high voter turnout is anticipated,” the senators wrote.

You can see the letter at the link above. Dallas County has already spent a bunch of money on voter outreach. I don’t know how much Harris County has spent, but I’ll bet it’s nowhere near that much. We already know that Harris County has had issues with how the law has been enforced, and that was in a low turnout odd year election. Surely we’d like to improve that experience and minimize inconvenience and wait times for voters, right? Houston Politics has more.