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October 21st, 2017:

Saturday video break: Smells Like Teen Spirit

I have two covers of the grunge classic. First, the Meat Puppets:

Boy, they really leaned in on their name, didn’t they? That’s from “Newermind”, a tribute to Nirvana on the 20th anniversary of the album release, put out by SPIN magazine. Next up is Tori Amos:

That’s probably the best-known cover of the song. I have to say, I’m a little uncomfortable looking at her posture at the piano – that seems like an ergonomic problem – but I suppose there are only so many options if one want to make eye contact with the audience.

There are lots of other covers out there, but of course the best full-media interpretation of Kurt Cobain is done by Weird Al:

And yes, it does pay to rehearse. See you next time.

30 day campaign finance reports – HISD

The next round of finance reports for the November elections are available now, so let’s take a look at them, beginning with HISD. Here are the July reports for comparison.

Gretchen Himsl
Monica Flores Richart
Elizabeth Santos

Carlos Perrett
Jesse Rodriguez
Rodolfo Reyes
Sergio Lira

Kara DeRocha
Sean Cheben
Sue Deigaard
Sue Shafer

Holly Flynn Vilaseca
Daniel Albert
Robert Lundin

Anne Sung
John Luman

Wanda Adams
Karla Brown
Gerry Monroe


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
I     Himsl            14,805   16,822      500    14,514
I     Flores Richart    5,005    7,946   17,197    13,298
I     Santos           12,538    7,363        0    10,584

III   Perrett           1,250        0        0         0
III   Rodriguez         4,601    1,738        0     3,296
III   Reyes             1,650    1,550      900         0
III   Lira              1,645    1,512        0       138

V     DeRocha           1,935    3,856        0         0
V     Cheben            5,900    5,332    4,200     3,385
V     Deigaard         13,361    9,995        0    25,192
V     Shafer            1,275    6,391        0     1,382

VI    Vilaseca         18,210   12,019        0    11,651
VI    Albert              750   10,965   30,000    19,784
VI    Lundin           13,675    6,665        0    18,925

VII   Sung             12,597   24,563        0    31,245
VII   Luman            17,125    5,352      500    10,221

IX    Adams            23,075    6,627        0    18,317
IX    Brown             3,150    1,771        0     1,379
IX    Monroe              900      900        0         0

Observations:

– Some candidates had not officially entered the race as of June 30, so not all of them have July reports. Only candidates on the ballot are required to post 30 day reports, so incumbents who are not up till 2019 do not have these.

– My general assumption is that people who post a zero or a blank for the Cash On Hand total have filled the form out incorrectly. I don’t know why this happens.

– There are no great surprises in these numbers. Harvey obviously had a dampening effect on fundraising overall, but it’s hard to say what we might have seen if everything had been normal. Maybe in a different year with no city races more money flows to school board candidates because it has to go somewhere, or maybe it doesn’t because those races just aren’t as interesting to the masses.

– Neither Wanda Adams nor John Luman had any fundraising activity to speak of in the July report. Both seem to be engaged in a more expected fashion now. I still have no explanation for their earlier reports, especially Adams’.

– It’s better to have a strong cash position than not, but we are rapidly approaching a point where money has diminishing returns. Some people have already voted, via mail. Others will have voted by the time your ad or mailer or robocall reaches them. Either empty your coffers right now, or commit to a possibly risky strategy of saving a few bucks for a runoff.

How about those price gouging complaints?

You can’t rush these things.

Best mugshot ever

Within weeks of Hurricane Harvey making landfall, Texans lodged more than 3,000 complaints against hundreds of gas stations, hotels and grocery stores, accusing them of selling such essentials as gasoline or water at exorbitant prices.

Despite promises from Attorney General Ken Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott to hold price gougers accountable, few of those complaints have resulted in prosecution, or even an initial investigation, records obtained by the Houston Chronicle show.

When a state of disaster is declared, Texas law prohibits businesses from charging highly inflated prices for necessities. The law is designed to protect consumers who may need to stock up on food, gas or water, or those who need a hotel room to escape a natural disaster.

Several consumers contacted by the Houston Chronicle said they filed complaints because they believed the state would go after the businesses aggressively. State officials say they are taking the accusations seriously, but it takes time to determine whether the complaints are legitimate.

“We are not going to frivolously or unadvisedly enter into any legal action with any company or any entity in any case, even in the instance of price gouging,” said Marc Rylander, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office. He said more legal actions, such as lawsuits, could be filed in coming days.

Paxton’s office received more than 3,340 price gouging complaints against more than 1,000 companies from Aug. 25 to Sept. 8, records show. About 790, or 24 percent, of those came from the Houston area.

At the end of September, Paxton’s office had launched investigations into 82 companies and filed three lawsuits.

Paxton’s office said there now are more than 5,000 complaints logged in its system. The increase comes from consumers reporting excessive pricing for repairs or rebuilding of flood-damaged homes.

Rick McElvaney, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, said there often are not enough lawyers in the attorney general’s office to cull through all the complaints. It also can take many weeks before a lawsuit is filed.

“The attorney general filing three lawsuits within the first two weeks was pretty quick,” McElvaney said. “But I am in a wait-and-see approach to see how many more they will do.”

So it’s a little early to say whether this is A Thing or not. Fair enough. It would be nice to know how things proceeded after Ike and Rita, or how long these things normally take in other states, so we might have a better idea when to check back. I don’t want to cry wolf so I’ll be patient for now, but not for long. Paxton, like Abbott before him, has no trouble being first in line to file a lawsuit against the feds when it suits his purposes, so he deserves no benefit of the doubt on this, a core function of his office. If he doesn’t show some results in a timely fashion, we need to hammer him for it.

Butterflies versus the wall

Go, butterflies!

The National Butterfly Center in South Texas sent a certified letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Wednesday stating its intent to sue over the construction of a border wall on its private property.

In July, Marianna Trevino-Wright, executive director of the center, discovered private contractors working for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) using chainsaws on protected habitat and widening a roadway on the center’s property to make way for the wall.

The letter alleges this is a violation of the center’s private property rights. Though exceptions exist for government workers maintaining levees for flood control, the National Butterfly Center’s attorney says the “conduct is outside the scope” of those permissions. “The express purpose of this entry and destruction is to enable the construction of a border wall,” the letter reads.

“This is a much bigger issue than the National Butterfly Center,” Jeffrey Glassberg, president of the nonprofit, told the Observer in August. “There’s a procedure the government could follow with due process. But they’ve decided — like with so much else — to just ignore the law, trampling on private property rights. The complete disrespect for the legalities of this country is something that ought to concern every American regardless of how they feel about a border wall.”

You can see a copy of the letter at the link. We didn’t need this reason to oppose the wall, but we’ll take it.

Endorsement watch: State propositions and Katy bonds

Hey, did you know that there are constitutional amendments on the ballot? It’s true! (Spoiler alert: There are constitutional amendments on the ballot every odd-numbered year.) The Chron has some recommendations for how to vote on them.

State of Texas, Proposition 1: For

This amendment would allow the Legislature to exempt partially disabled veterans and surviving spouses from paying property taxes on a home received from a charity at less than the market value. An exemption has already been granted when homes are given for free, and this opens the door to some cost sharing.

[…]

State of Texas, Proposition 2: Against

Consider it a form of post-traumatic stress. Any time banks ask for looser rules, we get flashbacks to the 2008 economic crisis. Financial institutions granted bad loans, good loans – some even made fake loans – knowing that the instruments would eventually be wrapped into a package and sold off. If the debt went bust, some other sucker would be stuck holding the bomb.

The global economic system ended up as the big loser in that game of hot potato.

Now the Texas Legislature is asking voters to tear down some regulations that help keep lenders in line. We recommend voting against.

[…]

State of Texas, Proposition 3: Against

The governor selects hundreds of unpaid appointees to serve on state boards and commissions, most of which run for four- or six-year terms. But if the term expires and no replacement is appointed, that volunteer is allowed under the state’s “holdover” provision to remain until the slot is filled. This amendment to the state Constitution would force out the incumbents even if there’s no new appointees and render the positions vacant.

We have no quarrel with the current “holdover” rule and recommend voting against.

There are seven of these in total, so I presume this was part one of two. I did receive a mailer the other day in favor of one of these, so there’s at least one active campaign involved. I don’t remember which one it was, though. This is why you need to send more than one piece of mail to ensure that your message penetrates, kids.

Moving a bit outside the usual boundaries, the Chron casts a virtual vote in favor of Katy ISD’s bond referendum.

Katy needs more schools.

That simple fact becomes obvious to anybody who looks at the Katy Independent School District’s explosive growth. During the decade between 2005 and 2015, Katy ISD’s enrollment rose by a whopping 47 percent.

Take a deep dive into the numbers and you’ll discover another telling insight from the state comptroller’s office, which diligently tracks data on Texas school districts. Between 2006 and 2015, Katy ISD’s tax-supported debt per student actually declined by a little less than 1 percent.

Now one of the fastest growing school districts in Texas wants voters to authorize a bond issue allowing them to borrow another $609 million. Katy ISD officials have earnestly made a compelling case for passing this referendum. Even some longtime activists in the district who’ve opposed previous bond issues fully support this one. Voters should, too.

As the piece notes, despite being one of the hardest-hit areas by Harvey, KISD’s enrollment was up this year, highlighting just how rapid its growth has been. This is one of those “you can pay now, or you can pay later” situations, and paying now – especially when interest rates remain low – is almost always the better choice.