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October 10th, 2017:

Interview with Jesse Rodriguez

Jesse Rodriguez

We continue with interviews in HISD Trustee District III, where four candidates vie to fill out the term of the late Manuel Rodriguez. Today’s interview subject is Jesse Rodriguez, no relation to Manuel, also known as DJ Jumpin’ Jess. Rodriguez has a long and varied background in radio and the entertainment business; it’s hard to summarize, so go look at his About page for how he puts it. He has served on multiple non-profit boards, including the Rusk Athletic Club, the National Hispanic Professional Organization, and the Houston Media Source board, to which he was appointed by Mayor Parker. Here’s the interview:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

Lift Up Houston

Hey, you know there are bonds on the ballot, right? And Mayor Turner would like you to vote for them.

Mayor Sylvester Turner spent much of his first year and a half keeping the civic conversation focused on winning legislative approval of his plan to end Houston’s spiraling pension crisis, and then, last May, achieved it.

Then came the historic hurricane. It may take a little time to get the public’s attention back, but local leaders do not have much to spare.

“There are some competing issues and needs out there, but this is one time where we’re going to have to do more than one thing at one time,” Turner said. “This is one issue the city’s been grappling with for the last 17 years and November is the people’s opportunity to put a bow on this pension reform package and for us to turn the page and to really focus on our recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey.”

If the bonds fail, many of the hard-won benefit cuts in the reform bill would be rescinded.

The mayor acknowledged he is concerned at the short window he has to grab voters’ attention – early voting starts Oct. 23 – but University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said local leaders may have just enough time to make their case.

“It’s these kinds of issues where people could change their minds, or see the value of the bonds and vote accordingly,” he said. “Partisan votes don’t happen that way, but on a bond election where people know just a little bit of information, a little bit of communication can go a long way.”

[…]

The Lift Up Houston campaign, which is advocating for the pension bonds and $495 million in city general improvement bonds that also will appear on the ballot, started knocking on doors in August, Turner said. However, he acknowledged the hurricane disrupted those efforts and several political fundraisers that had been planned to support them.

“The unfunded liability is $8.2 billion, is costing the city $1 million a day, and a ‘yes’ vote will reduce that unfunded liability by $3 billion. That is significant. And, let me add, without raising anybody’s taxes,” Turner said. “We’re on the 10-yard-line, but we need to complete the work, and it won’t be completed without a yes vote for the pension obligation bonds. That will complete the full package.”

Rottinghaus said local leaders would be in error if they assume the bond election will glide to victory because most bond elections do or because both Democratic and Republican leaders support it.

“There are still sentiments from the grass roots that reject any big-government initiative, including one that is developed from a Republican legislature to save the city pension system,” he said. “There’s only so much directing that those leaders can do.”

See here for more on Lift Up Houston. The good news is that there doesn’t seem to be any organized opposition to the pension bond issue. The Harris County GOP declined to get involved, while other Republican-oriented groups like the C Club did endorse it (though they oppose the other bonds). That gives the Mayor and Lift Up Houston a clean shot at getting their message out and targeting their voters. You never want to take anything for granted, but they ought to be able to get this done.

More on the courthouse shuffle

The Trib takes a look at how things are going at the flooded-out Harris County Criminal Justice Center.

Since Harvey hit Harris County in late August, one of the busiest criminal court systems in the country has suspended all jury trials. It’s just one of a slate of challenges facing the county’s justice system in the weeks since the storm, but defense attorneys argue that delayed trials — and in dozens of cases, prolonged detention — have the potential to infringe on their clients’ most fundamental rights.

Justice delayed, they argue, has begun to verge on justice denied.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a “speedy” trial, but the law offers no specific guidance on what “speedy” means. And it’s not entirely clear how that right might change in the face of unprecedented natural disaster.

Jury trials could resume in Harris County as soon as Oct. 16, when jurors will be summoned again to a host of makeshift assembly rooms downtown. But at least at first, the county will not be able to assemble nearly the usual number of jurors, and courthouse workers will have to ration those jurors across 22 felony and 16 misdemeanor courts.

[…]

This time, the damage has left a 20-story hole in the county’s justice system, taking out 40 courtrooms, the district attorney’s office and enough holding cells to accommodate 900 inmates. Partial occupancy may be possible in six to eight months, but county engineers say it will likely a take a year and a half — and $30 million — for the building to return to full capacity.

The bigger problem, according to local officials, sits a block southwest of the courthouse. The three-floor jury assembly building at 1201 Congress Ave. saw just as much damage, but the bulk of its business takes place below ground, where on the county’s busiest days, about 800 potential jurors can be assembled.

The subterranean floor was so damaged that it may not even be repaired. That means there’s nowhere to assemble the jurors that the county needs to take cases like Deras’ to trial.

As a result, hundreds of trials have been delayed, and about 100 defendants sit in custody awaiting their turn.

See here and here for some background. As the story notes, while the DA’s office is prioritizing cases where the defendant is in custody and disposing of them as they can, there are still going to be a number of people who will spend significant time in jail before they ever get to a resolution of their case. Even though that includes a lot of felons, given the ongoing litigation over bail practices it would not be surprising if that’s an issue for future appeals. And given that there was flooding during Alison as well as Harvey, the county is going to have to give a lot of thought to how to be better prepared for these events going forward.

Houston Rocks Dayna Steele at Numbers

I don’t mention candidate fundraisers very often in this space, but today I’m going to make a special exception for one of the cooler events I’ve come across.

Dayna Steele

Hilton at 10:30 a.m.

Dayna Steele rocked Houston for years. Now, let’s help Dayna get to Congress and #Rockthe36 at Numbers
October 16th, 6-8PM 300 Westheimer Road

Steeleworkers will reunite and rock as we fundraise for Dayna Steele’s campaign for Congress TX-36 at Houston’s most iconic live music venue located mere steps from the original KLOL studios.

Former Houston mayor Annise Parker joins the Host Committee (forming now) along with KLOL notables (stay tuned) and an all-star jam to close out the evening. Galactic Cowboys’ Dane Sonnier is leading the band and David Bowie guitarist Earl Slick is coming all the way from New York City to rock for Dayna. Lady Liberty may even make an appearance!

Food and drinks will be available. For more information or to RSVP to pay by check at the door, email andigreer@gmail.com. Contact Doug Harris to join the Host Committee and/or KLOL notables list at dough@noisemaker.com

*Ticket/donation levels are nods to Dayna’s rock and roll past. There’s really not a front row or backstage but there is a guaranteed good time to be had. See you there rock stars!

The guest list includes Outlaw Dave Andrews, also of KLOL fame, and Tom Scholz, the lead guitarist and founding father of classic rocker Boston. I mean, how many chances are you going to get to do something like this? Click the link to buy a ticket or make a donation if you can’t make it. And rock on with your bad self.