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Obama appeals immigration order ruling to SCOTUS

As expected.


The Obama administration on Friday asked the United States Supreme Court to review a federal appellate court’s ruling that struck down the president’s controversial immigration program.

The request comes exactly one year after the program, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, was announced by the president. It would have allowed more than 4 million undocumented immigrants nationwide to apply for three-year renewable work permits and reprieves from deportation proceedings.

The petition — which the Obama administration said earlier this month it planned to file — states the case “warrants immediate review” and echoes the sense of urgency advocates of the program have expressed for months. If the high court decides to review the case, a ruling could come as late as June, roughly six months before Obama leaves the White House.

See here for the background. It’s hard to imagine SCOTUS not wanting to take this, it’s mostly a question of whether they take it for the next session, so as to have a ruling before the next Presidential election. That’s what I’m hoping for. Not much more to say at this point beyond that. A statement from the Texas Organizing Project is beneath the fold, and Daily Kos has more.

Continue reading →

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.

Mayor will seek texting-while-driving ban

One more agenda item before it’s all over.

It’s not the first time Houston officials have broached the issue; Mayor Annise Parker has long lobbied to impose a Texaswide texting-while-driving ban. But months after another legislative session with no action, term-limited Parker said she would ask council members to consider a local ban before she leaves office at the end of the year.

The danger of using cell phones while driving is well documented, increasing crash risks by more than 23 percent, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. In 46 states and the District of Columbia, texting while driving is already banned. Though Texas is one of the few states without such a law, 40 cities including San Antonio and Austin have already opted to enact a local ban.

The city’s public safety committee considered those statistics and two proposed laws Thursday: the first a citywide ban on texting while driving and the second an effort to enforce the existing state ban on texting and cellular phone use in school zones by posting signs. Parker has faced some criticism in recent months because the city has not installed school zone signs, citing costs, and had issued no citations as of September.

“We ought to ban it citywide, that would certainly be my preference,” Parker said earlier this fall. “But I don’t know where the council is on this, and it is certainly a big policy initiative. I think we should have banned it statewide, so of course I’m supporting it here.”

Posting citywide signage is also significantly cheaper than doing so in school zones, according to Jeffrey Weatherford, deputy public works director. There are nearly 8,000 school-zone entry points, costing between $1 million and $1.4 million to appropriately alert drivers. State law prohibits handheld cell phone use in school zones, but the city has not installed the warning signs to enforce that ban.

But if the city were to opt for a Houstonwide ban, they would need to mark just 44 entry points with two signs, costing about $55,000.

While the Parker administration directed the public works department to study the cost of a texting ban, Weatherford said he would recommend City Council take up a prohibition that covers all cellular phone use while driving.

See here for more on the school zone issue. This is not the first time the subject of texting while driving has come up in Houston. There are questions about how effective such bans are, how they can be reasonably enforced, and whether they just provide another pretext for police officers to pull people over, but no one doubts that texting while driving is a dumb and dangerous thing to do. My thinking is that there are people who will do a given thing when it is legal but who will stop doing it if it becomes illegal, so passing the law against it will reduce the number of people who do it even if enforcement is next to impossible. As such, I support texting-while-driving bans. I suspect the votes will be there on Council to do it, so we’ll see what the recommended ordinance looks like.

Posted in: Local politics.

Some power companies like the Clean Power Plan

Not that you’d ever know it.


Thad Hill, in a split with many fellow power company executives, flatly opposes the lawsuits that Texas and 25 others states have filed to block the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

The plan, which the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled in the summer, seeks to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions at existing power plants. It would affect coal-fired plants most profoundly, because they emit the most carbon dioxide.

It’s no coincidence that the company Hill heads, Houston’s Calpine Corp., owns exactly zero coal plants.

While it’s intuitive that wind and solar power companies, which don’t emit greenhouse gas in generating power, support the Clean Power Plan, opinion within the traditional electricity generation sector is more nuanced.

Calpine, which operates the nation’s largest fleet of natural gas-fired generators, leads a relatively small group supporting the federal rule.

Most companies that generate power with coal oppose it, including Dallas-based Luminant, the state’s largest power generator. It also operates some gas plants and one of Texas’ two nuclear plants.


While the EPA has tightened other emissions regulations under President Barack Obama, the Clean Power Plan is the most sweeping overhaul, said Travis Miller, director of utilities research at Morningstar.

The plan is intended to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants 32 percent from their 2005 levels by 2030.

“The Clean Power Plan is going to have ripple effects throughout the entire energy system in the U.S.,” Miller said. “Utilities need a long runway to adapt, but they’re willing to adapt.”

In the lawsuit challenging the rules put forth by the Democratic Obama administration, Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton calls the plan a massive power grab by the EPA that would increase Texans’ electric bills significantly and threaten the reliability of the electric grid.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages 90 percent of the state’s power grid, has estimated the rule could force the closures of some Texas coal plants and increase electricity prices 16 percent by 2030.

Miller agreed that the Clean Power initiative would affect Texas, though he said that Midwestern, Great Plains and Appalachian states most dependent on coal would feel the greatest effects.

Some of the changes in Texas’ power landscape are occurring anyway, because of cheap shale gas and Texas’ ranking as the largest wind power producer in the nation.

“There’s an impressive pipeline of new gas generation and new wind generation in Texas,” Miller said.

That presents market challenges to coal plants, and could move the state toward compliance with the Clean Power Plan. “Texas might not have to do all that much,” Miller said.

See here for the background. Miller’s statement is consistent with what ERCOT itself has said, and the Clean Power Plan would help conserve water, too. But this is Texas, and our leadership has to do things the hard way. Just remember, they don’t speak for everyone, not even in the power generation business.

Posted in: Bidness.

Transgender acceptance

I have a question to ask about this.

The trans civil rights movement began with stacked odds because it represents such a minority, less than 1 percent of the population, according to various studies. The movement is seen as the frontier beyond gay marriage rights, and trans activists “have moved so much faster than any of these other social justice movements,” said Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “It’s because they’ve all laid the groundwork for us.”

She expects to see a tipping point as more transgender children come out, just as gay rights picked up support from families with openly gay children.

Minneapolis became the first city to pass protections for transgender people 40 years ago, and more than 225 other municipalities and 19 states have followed suit. Houston is one of the only major U.S. cities without such a law.

Despite those ordinances, the rights of transgender people are being disputed in court or considered by federal authorities.


In 2013, the Public Religion Research Institute reported that 9 percent of Americans had a close transgender friend or family member. In 2014, the Human Rights Campaign said 17 percent of American survey respondents knew or worked with a transgender person, increasing to 22 percent this year.

It jumps to about 80 percent when the question is about gays and lesbians.

Remember those “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets that were all the rage a few years back? I always thought they were obnoxious, but it seems to me they might serve a purpose these days. What would Jesus do with transgender people? Would he spit on them and call them perverts and refuse to let them use public restrooms, or would he embrace them as his brothers and sisters under a just and loving God? I’m just asking. I guess you can tell how I feel by the way I framed the question. I also know that this is a matter of life and death for a lot of people. I know that we will become more accepting as a society over time, but for too many people that won’t be soon enough.

Posted in: Society and cultcha.

Friday random eight: Revisiting the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs list, part 21

Here’s their list.

1. Maybelline – Simon and Garfunkel (#18, orig. Chuck Berry)
2. I Want To Hold Your Hand – The Beatles (#16)
3. Blowin’ In The Wind (A Female Perspective) – The Chenille Sisters (#14, orig. Bob Dylan)
4. My Generation – The Who (#11)
5. What’d I Say? – Ray Charles (#10)
6. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Meat Puppets/Tori Amos/of Montreal (#9, orig. Nirvana)
7. Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys (#6)
8. Imagine – John Lennon (#3)

And in the end, there weren’t ten songs out of the top 20 that I had in my library. One of them is a parody, and one was the second half of a live medley (that would be “Kodachrome/Maybelline”, from S&G’s Concert in Central Park). Not sure why that was the case after having such a high percentage of the rest of the top 100, but so be it. I’ve enjoyed this exercise, and now I have a shopping list for iTunes. I’m soliciting a couple of Random Ten lists from Olivia and Audrey, which will run after Thanksgiving. Happy Friday!

Posted in: Music.

Precinct analysis: At Large #5

Last but not least, At Large #5:

Dist  Batteau  Christie  Nassif   Moses
A       1,034     8,302   1,895   2,876
B       2,784     3,157   2,374   6,849
C       1,782    13,555  10,866   4,592
D       5,108     4,098   3,138   7,231
E       1,247    15,479   2,664   3,355
F         811     3,815   1,143   2,545
G       1,079    20,058   4,567   3,203
H       1,349     3,895   2,445   3,502
I       1,372     3,531   1,678   3,062
J         616     2,744     988   1,545
K       2,149     4,891   2,946   5,259
A       7.33%   58.85%   13.43%  20.39%
B      18.36%   20.82%   15.66%  45.17%
C       5.79%   44.02%   35.28%  14.91%
D      26.09%   20.93%   16.03%  36.94%
E       5.48%   68.05%   11.71%  14.75%
F       9.75%   45.89%   13.75%  30.61%
G       3.73%   69.39%   15.80%  11.08%
H      12.05%   34.80%   21.85%  31.29%
I      14.23%   36.62%   17.40%  31.75%
J      10.45%   46.56%   16.77%  26.22%
K      14.10%   32.08%   19.32%  34.50%
Jack Christie

Jack Christie

This is not Jack Christie’s first runoff. It’s his third, in fact: He lost narrowly to then-CM Jolanda Jones in 2009, the defeated her somewhat less narrowly in 2011. He won without a runoff in 2013, and is now back in a familiar position. A review of the precinct data from the two previous runoffs is instructive. The comparison between the two isn’t exact due to the Council redistricting of 2011, but the basics are the same: Christie was clobbered in the African-American parts of town, but did well enough everywhere else. In 2009, the higher overall turnout from the Mayoral runoff was enough to sink his ship by making the margins he had to overcome in B and D that much greater, but the lower turnout of 2011 plus his improved performance in other parts of the city were enough to give him the win. We will be in a turnout environment more like 2009 than 2011 this year, and with Sylvester Turner running that could well boost his opponent and give him problems as was the case in 2009, but this time he’s running against a little-known first-time candidate and not a high-profile incumbent, which ought to work to his benefit. I surely expect a higher undervote rate this year than in 2011 when the AL5 runoff was the main event. I make Christie the favorite, but his re-election is far from assured.

As for Sharon Moses, I’m still getting to know who she is. She sent out a campaign email earlier in the week, which I have pasted beneath the fold. Her challenge and her path to victory are basically the same as they are for Georgia Provost, except that 1) her opponent is a two-term incumbent; 2) her opponent is fairly moderate and has a history of winning crossover support; and 3) she herself is less known than Provost is. Moreover, while Provost has picked up all the Dem-friendly runoff endorsements that I have seen so far, Moses has been a bit less successful in that endeavor. Both Provost and Moses were endorsed by the HCDP and by the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast Action Fund, but only Provost was endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. I can see scenarios where they both get elected and where they both lose, but if only one of them wins I’d bet money it’s Provost and not Moses.

As for Philippe Nassif, it was a good effort by another first-time candidate, but the district view shows that he still had a ways to go. He did well in the friendly confines of District C, though not well enough to outdo Christie, but did not make enough of an impression elsewhere. If he wants to run again in 2019 – and he should, unless he gets elected to something else between now and then or moves to another city – my advice would be to stay engaged seek out opportunities to get his name out there. Take a more prominent and visible role in the 2016 and 2018 elections. Write some op-eds for the Chronicle. Find a cause and throw yourself into it. There are far more ultimately successful candidates who lost their first race (or races) than there are instant winners. Stay engaged, keep yourself out there, and you’ll enter 2019 more prepared than most. I hope to see you on my ballot again.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Election 2015.

Lawsuit filed over term limits referendum

As if on cue, the following hit my inbox on Wednesday afternoon, from Eric Dick:


Phillip Paul Bryant is filing a lawsuit to invalidate Proposition 2 because the ballot language misled Houston voters.

Annise Parker and the City of Houston have a history with misleading voters when it comes to ballot language. Indeed in 2015 alone, Texas Supreme Court has found that Annise Parker and the City of Houston have used inappropriate ballot language at least twice.[1][2]

On November 3, 2015, registered voters of the City of Houston were asked to vote on several propositions, including a proposition extending term limits. (“Proposition 2”). The ballot language for Proposition 2 reads as follows:

“(Relating to Term Limits for City Elective Office) Shall the City Charter of the City of Houston be amended to reduce the number of terms of elective offices to no more than two terms in the same office and limit the length for all terms of elective office to four years, beginning in January 2016; and provide for transition?”

The voters of the City of Houston passed Proposition 2 on November 3, 2015.

The language of Proposition 2 was misleading in one of more of the following ways:

  • The ballot language suggested that it would “limit” term length instead of expanding them from two-year terms to four-year terms;
  • The ballot language suggested that the “limit the length for all terms” to be four years instead of allowing elected municipal officials to serve a total of up to eight or ten years;
  • As admitted by Annise D. Parker in an interview with Houston Public Media, voters thought they were limiting the amount of time for municipal elected officials to serve in office.

See here for the background. Phillip Paul Bryant was a candidate for District B in 2011, and was engaged in the opposition to HERO. A copy of the petition is here; as always, I welcome feedback from the lawyers out there. On the one hand, I voted against the term limits change and feel that two-year terms are the better idea. On the other hand, I’m not particularly awed by Eric Dick’s legal prowess. On the other other hand, Lord only knows what the Supreme Court will do; the two footnotes in that press release refer to the decisions on Renew Houston and the wording of the HERO referendum. So who knows? If history is any guide, we won’t know for several years. The Chron and KUHF have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

On Texas and refugees

Greg Abbott does not speak for Texas.

Tens of thousands of immigrants have come to Texas to escape persecution or political violence, and Texans have often offered their hearts, lands and money to the dispossessed. What has changed that makes it so easy for Governor Greg Abbott to declare Texas closed to Syrian refugees fleeing the murderous violence of ISIS and other rebel factions in their homeland? (Of course, Abbott cannot keep Syrian refugees out of Texas, but he can make certain the state does not cooperate in their re-location.) I spent a few minutes searching old newspaper archives to see how Texas handled refugees in the past.

When Russia began a purge of Jews in 1888, a Texan named J.B. Brown offered to give 100 acres of land to each Jewish family who wanted to relocate to Motley County on the plains of West Texas. Similarly, in 1939, a search was made around Texas for land that might be purchased for the relocation of European Jews. The city of Plainview notified Governor James Allred that 46,000 acres could be made immediately available if needed. There’s no evidence that any families took these offers, but the offers were at least made.

In 1956, when Hungarians revolted against oppressive Soviet control, people in Dallas welcomed refugees. Eighty-seven were greeted at Love Field by a local delegation, with the Southern Methodist University band playing the Hungarian national anthem, and the Lone Star flag of Texas joined by the national flags of the United States and Hungary. As The Dallas Morning News reported: “Refugees from blood-drained Hungary representing such diverse occupations as laborers, musicians, teachers, knitters and typists, Saturday will land in hospitable Dallas—their peaceful haven after bloody riots.” However, one group of six refugees had refused to come to Dallas because they believed the city was still the Wild West that they had seen in Hollywood movies. It was our violence they feared, not us fearing theirs.

(Indeed, Dallas continues to exhibit its welcoming spirit. The Morning News reported yesterday that Mayor Mike Rawlings said “he didn’t see what authority any mayor or governor had to keep legal U.S. residents out of a city or state. He said no one has contacted him about Syrian refugees but, if they did, it would be ‘the spirit of Dallas’ to help in a crisis.”)

When Cuban refugees started arriving in 1961, Texas Methodists, Baptists and the Catholic Diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth organized to find them new homes and new jobs. “No church is too small to help meet the refugee problem,” the Texas Methodist wrote in an editorial. Will the churches of Texas be as welcoming to the Syrians now?

Similarly, Texas Quakers and Catholics in 1982 organized an underground railroad to help those fleeing violence in El Salvador find refuge in Texas by going around federal immigration officials. At one point, it was estimated that 25,000 Salvadorans were living illegally in Houston alone. Both sides in El Salvador’s civil war engaged in terroristic acts and death squads. Nothing could guarantee that some terrorists had not entered the country, nothing except the belief that most, if not all, of these people simply wanted to live their lives in peace, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In the 1970s, Texas welcomed 27,000 refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia.

He does not speak for Christians:

A push by Republican presidential candidates to ban Syrian refugees “does not reflect what we’ve been hearing from our constituencies, which are evangelical churches across the country,” said Jenny Yang, vice president for advocacy at World Relief, an evangelical organization that helps resettle refugees. “Most of the people have been saying we want to continue to work with refugees, that what happened in Paris … doesn’t reflect who refugees are.”


The United States so far has admitted roughly 2,100 Syrians since the conflict in the country began in March 2011. To be allowed in, refugees have to undergo the most stringent security checks of any traveler heading to the United States, according to the State Department. Officials from the Obama administration on Tuesday began reaching out to the media and lawmakers in a bid to explain the screening process, which takes an average of 18-24 months.

Meanwhile, faith-based groups have also stepped up their advocacy efforts for refugees. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement expressing distress over calls by elected officials to halt the resettlement program.

“These refugees are fleeing terror themselves — violence like we have witnessed in Paris,” said the statement by Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the conference’s committee on migration. “Instead of using this tragedy to scapegoat all refugees, I call upon our public officials to work together to end the Syrian conflict peacefully so the close to 4 million Syrian refugees can return to their country and rebuild their homes. Until that goal is achieved, we must work with the world community to provide safe haven to vulnerable and deserving refugees who are simply attempting to survive.”

Since the Paris attacks, World Relief has used a website to urge people to contact their governors to express their support for resettling Syrians. The Anti-Defamation League also has spoken out in favor of helping the Syrian refugees, noting that U.S. wariness to accept Jewish refugees during World War II is an example that must not be repeated.

I don’t know who Greg Abbott thinks he’s speaking for, but he doesn’t speak for them, he doesn’t speak for Fred, and he doesn’t speak for me.

Posted in: Around the world.

Council approves body camera contract

Moving forward.

City Council approved a $3.4 million contract Wednesday to equip Houston Police Department officers with body-worn cameras despite some lingering concerns that key pieces of the city’s policy for the equipment have not been finalized.

Councilmen Mike Laster, C.O. Bradford and Michael Kubosh along with councilwoman Brenda Stardig voted against the contract with the selected company, Watchguard. Officials hope the cameras will provide transparency and evidence in resident-officer interactions, particularly when force is used.

The four council members who voted against the contract said they supported outfitting officers with the cameras, but that they were either concerned that community groups had not been included in the broader body camera discussion or were frustrated that the city’s policy for storing the video data had not yet been finalized.

Mayor Annise Parker said the plan was to split the body camera program up into three parts: the equipment, the protocol for using the equipment and a storage plan. But she said the camera procurement was sound and the best price for the city.

“My only concern about this whole process is the police department being the police department was, ‘We’re the police experts, we’re going to …’ They don’t always think about the fact – and the chief acknowledged it – that this is a highly sensitized issue right now and a lot of scrutiny,” Parker said. “They could have done a little more up-front public information, although I’ll point out there were some council members today who … collective amnesia.”

A committee meeting on Thursday will tackle the question of whether footage from the cameras should be stored in-house or with a third party, a more costly option but one that proponents say would alleviate concerns about video being tampered with or edited.

There are more questions than that that need to be answered. I’m sure there’s time to get those questions answered before the body cameras are fully deployed, and if this was the deal that was on offer, then it needed to be completed. This process does need to move along, but let’s remember that it is a process, and it’s an ongoing one.

Meanwhile on a related note, this interview with Chief McClelland about the need for criminal justice reform is well worth reading. A sample:

How have previous policing policies affected Houston and how might this new response change that?

There are many who believe the criminal justice system is broken. I’m certainly not one to believe it’s broken – it’s producing the results it’s designed to produce. If we want different results, that’s why the system must be reformed. Because it’s doing exactly what it was designed to do. When we have mandatory sentencing laws [for] minor crime offenses, drug offenses, for people who are really not the greatest threat to community safety, and who are using massive amounts of law enforcement resources, there has to be a better way.

And criminal justice reform and what we’re speaking about in our group… to reduce crime and incarceration – we believe we can do both – if we put more resources into substance abuse treatment, treatment of folks suffering from some form of mental illness and also to reduce the homeless population. Because if you think about it – some of people we arrest on a regular and routine, and very frequent, basis for minor crimes – We are sentencing these people to life sentences – but they’re serving just 3-4 days at a time. Those suffering from intoxication, mental illness, homelessness – they commit a minor crime [and] they only stay in jail 2-3 days at a time, but they are being arrested quite frequently. And over a lifetime, we’re sentencing them to a life sentence – they’re just serving it 2-3 days at a time.

It just doesn’t get to the root cause of the problem or the issue the person is suffering from.

Now let me make this very clear – people who pose the greatest threats to our neighborhoods and our communities, especially those who are violent – and repeat violent offenders, we need to lock those people up for long periods of time, and some of those individuals need to be locked up for the rest of their natural lives. But that’s a very, very small portion of folks who make up the criminal justice system, because an overwhelming number – 90 percent of folks who go to prison get released at some point in time.

But if a person has nothing to be released to – no family structure – no opportunity for legitimate employment – no education, no job skills – the system is almost guaranteeing you’re going to get involved in some illegal activity and go back to prison.

Also, the empirical data clearly has shown that the earlier one contacts the criminal justice system, such as a juvenile, the chances increase two- and three-fold you will go to jail or prison.

So if we can prevent the initial contact from occurring, we reduce the likelihood a great deal that you’ll ever be arrested and put into the system.

Lots there for us all, including the next Mayor and police chief, to think about. Go take a look and see what you think.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Precinct analysis: At Large #4

At Large #4 features a newcomer and a multi-time candidate in its runoff.

Dist  Edwards  Hansen  Blackmon  Robinson  Thompson  Murphy  Morales
A       3,707     572       662     2,378     2,565   1,844    2,702
B      10,732     306     1,296     2,109     1,160     327    1,477
C      11,309   1,226     1,189     6,688     3,891   2,967    3,911
D      12,636     400     2,691     2,618     1,559     542    1,902
E       3,612   1,054       960     3,197     5,033   5,288    4,158
F       2,673     438       542     1,368     1,370     713    1,675
G       4,914   1,150       960     7,210     5,746   4,073    4,193
H       4,121     304       475     1,397       982     468    4,664
I       3,187     302       537     1,022       895     418    4,568
J       1,911     281       325     1,031       909     408    1,339
K       8,357     395     1,444     2,555     1,730     646    1,900
A      25.69%   3.96%     4.59%    16.48%    17.78%  12.78%   18.72%
B      61.65%   1.76%     7.45%    12.12%     6.66%   1.88%    8.49%
C      36.27%   3.93%     3.81%    21.45%    12.48%   9.52%   12.54%
D      56.54%   1.79%    12.04%    11.71%     6.98%   2.43%    8.51%
E      15.50%   4.52%     4.12%    13.72%    21.60%  22.69%   17.84%
F      30.45%   4.99%     6.17%    15.58%    15.61%   8.12%   19.08%
G      17.40%   4.07%     3.40%    25.53%    20.34%  14.42%   14.84%
H      33.20%   2.45%     3.83%    11.26%     7.91%   3.77%   37.58%
I      29.16%   2.76%     4.91%     9.35%     8.19%   3.82%   41.80%
J      30.80%   4.53%     5.24%    16.62%    14.65%   6.58%   21.58%
K      49.08%   2.32%     8.48%    15.01%    10.16%   3.79%   11.16%
Amanda Edwards

Amanda Edwards

Amanda Edwards turns in an impressive performance, even more so for being a first time candidate. It occurred to me in looking at these numbers that Edwards has the kind of profile that would make for a strong challenger to Michael Kubosh – a progressive African-American with solid business/establishment credentials. Of course, a candidate with that profile would be a formidable opponent for anyone, which is a big part of the reason she did so well here. Every candidate in the runoff is at least somewhat dependent on the Mayor’s race, as that will do far more to determine who votes and how many of them there are, but Edwards’ first round performance makes her less dependent on that than most.

I suspect a lot of people (I was one) expected Laurie Robinson to do better than she did. She’d run before, she collected a decent number of endorsements, including a few from more conservative groups who apparently weren’t too impressed with the Republican candidates in the race, and it seemed likely she would collect a fair share of the vote in districts B and D. Instead, Edwards blew her out of the water, so much so that Robinson slipped into third place and out of the runoff. Robinson did slightly worse in these districts than she did in 2011, though here there were seven candidates including three African-Americans, while in 2011 there were four and two. One possible explanation for this is that people may have held a grudge against her for opposing then-CM Jolanda Jones, who was forced into a runoff she eventually lost. I have no way to test that hypothesis, so it’s just a guess. Whatever the case, if Robinson wants to take another crack at a Council campaign in 2019, her inability to do well in these districts is an issue she’s going to have to address.

With Roy Morales sneaking ahead of Laurie Robinson into the runoff, this race shapes up as D-versus-R, as are most of the others. In this case, while there were several Rs in the first round, they combined to score almost no endorsements from the Republican/conservative establishment; as noted above, Robinson did better with that crowd than Morales, Matt Murphy, Jonathan Hansen, and Evelyn Husband Thompson combined. They’re pulling together for Morales now, as they did at the tail end of the 2009 Mayor’s race, and Morales does have the advantage of picking up some low-information votes in districts H and I, but this is Morales’ third runoff out of five citywide races (2007 AL3 special election, 2007 AL3 November election, 2009 Mayor, 2013 AL3, and 2015 AL4, with the first, fourth, and fifth being the runoff races) and it’s hard to see him doing any better than he has done before. One should never take anything for granted, but I suspect the Vegas oddsmakers would install Edwards as a strong favorite in this race.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Perry’s day at the CCA

Now we wait to see if he comes out of this a free man or a man still under one or more indictments.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Never mind the corndogs, here comes the CCA

Lawyers for former Gov. Rick Perry fought Wednesday before the highest criminal court in Texas to finish off the 15-month-old indictment against him, while prosecutors argued it was far too early to let Perry off the hook.

At a critical two-hour hearing before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, both sides fielded a slew of hypothetical scenarios and skeptical questions as they tackled a ruling by a lower court earlier this year that dismissed one of the two felony charges against Perry, coercion of a public servant.


Two issues were at play Wednesday. One was whether the remaining charge, abuse of power, should also be thrown out, effectively ending the 15-month-old case against Perry. The other issue was whether a statute should be reinstated that was struck down by the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals in July when it dismissed the coercion charge.

Eight judges listened as those issues were aired out in hour-long blocks split between David Botsford, the lead attorney on Perry’s appeal, and State Prosecuting Attorney Lisa McMinn. Judge Bert Richardson, who oversaw Perry’s case as a district judge and now sits on the Court of Criminal Appeals, did not take part in the Wednesday arguments.

As Perry’s legal team has done from the get-go, Botsford cast the case as having serious implications for First Amendment rights and a chilling effect on elected officials down the line. The indictment, he said, violates three principles to which Perry was entitled as Texas’ longest-serving governor: separation of powers, free speech and legislative immunity.

“The danger of allowing a prosecutor to do this is mind-boggling,” Botsford said as he sought to convince the eight judges present for the arguments that they should immediately end the indictment.

McMinn argued more than once that the defense was “getting ahead of ourselves” with its discussion of dispensing with the indictment before trial, insisting that not all the facts are out. Botsford later countered that such disclosure is not required for the court to dismiss the remaining charge. The questions before the judges, Botsford said, are “issues of law, not issues of fact.”

McMinn specifically sought to poke holes in Botsford’s argument that Perry had legislative immunity because vetoes are legislative acts, an argument she said “strains credibility” when one considers, for example, a member of the Legislature cannot take the same action. In his remarks, Botsford argued Perry was clearly “wearing his legislative hat” and thus protected from prosecution, regardless of any threats that may have accompanied his veto.

This hearing was originally scheduled for November 4, but you know how it goes. What happens next is we wait. The CCA justices (minus Bert Richardson, who is of course the judge in the actual criminal trial) asked more questions of McMinn than of Botsford, but who knows if that means anything. The trial is on hold pending a resolution of these issues by the CCA, so one hopes we won’t have to wait too long. See Trailblazers, the Express-News, and this Trib story for more from before the hearing.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

Susan King suspends Senate campaign

Sorry to hear this.

Rep. Susan King

State Rep. Susan King has suspended her race for an open state Senate seat while she receives treatment for chronic depression, a condition she has battled “for some time,” her campaign announced Monday.

King, R-Abilene, still hopes to appear in the Republican primary to replace retiring GOP Sen. Troy Fraser but won’t make a decision about whether to run until closer to the Dec. 14 filing deadline, campaign spokesman Bryan Eppstein said.

“It has been difficult for Susan to take time out to address her personal battle with depression, but this is a serious condition that simply could not be delayed any longer,” said Eppstein, who praised King’s courage in being “open and public about her situation.”

King will not run if her doctors and family advise against it, he said. “Susan is a dedicated public servant and scrappy campaign fighter,” Eppstein said. “If she’s cleared for the campaign, she will run to win.”

See here and here for the background. I wish Rep. King all the best for a swift and complete recovery.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 16

The Texas Progressive Alliance thinks maybe we should finish celebrating Thanksgiving before we begin the Christmas season as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Precinct analysis: At Large #3

Only one candidate running for citywide office won outright in November. That candidate was first term CM Michael Kubosh in At Large #3. Here’s how he won:

Dist  Kubosh   LaRue  McElligott  Peterson
A      8,782   1,042         835     3,152
B      8,988   1,526       1,251     3,541
C     16,414   2,314       1,409    10,138
D     12,074   1,599       1,367     4,385
E     15,033   1,249       1,217     5,314
F      4,192     973         819     2,274
G     19,632   1,463       1,069     5,433
H      6,149   1,284         925     3,055
I      5,121   1,057         953     2,567
J      3,230     600         492     1,566
K      8,524   1,271         989     4,283
A     63.59%   7.54%       6.05%    22.82%
B     58.72%   9.97%       8.17%    23.13%
C     54.22%   7.64%       4.65%    33.49%
D     62.16%   8.23%       7.04%    22.57%
E     65.90%   5.47%       5.33%    23.29%
F     50.76%  11.78%       9.92%    27.54%
G     71.14%   5.30%       3.87%    19.69%
H     53.88%  11.25%       8.10%    26.77%
I     52.80%  10.90%       9.83%    26.47%
J     54.86%  10.19%       8.36%    26.60%
K     56.57%   8.44%       6.56%    28.43%
CM Michael Kubosh

CM Michael Kubosh

There’s not a whole lot to say here. Kubosh won a majority in every Council district, only coming close to not having a majority in District F. Some of this is a perk of high name ID, but said name ID was earned through work on the red light camera referendum and by being visible on Council. There have been a lot more people running for At Large seats in recent elections, challenging incumbents as well as piling up in open seat races. Since 2009, when CM Melissa Noriega ran unopposed, two At Large members have been dislodged, and every At Large incumbent save Steve Costello and Brad Bradford in 2013 have had at least two opponents. Sue Lovell and Jolanda Jones survived runoffs in 2009, while David Robinson and Jack Christie face them this year. In that context, Kubosh’s achievement as one of only two At Large incumbents to clear 60% against multiple opponents in this time frame (Bradford in 2011 is the other) is even more impressive. Give the man his due.

With all this recent interest in At Large races, and with the next election being four long years away (barring any further intervention from the Supreme Court), one wonders what the landscape will look like the next time these seats are up. As noted once before, CM Christie is the only At Large member whose term would be up in 2019, meaning that if he loses then every citywide officeholder as of January 2, 2016, can be on the ballot in 2019. (Like CM Kubosh, CM Robinson is in his first term, so regardless of the outcome in At Large #2, the incumbent in that seat can run for re-election.) With four years between races, one would think that there will be a lot of pent-up demand for Council offices, which may attract another truckload of citywide hopefuls. On the other hand, districts A, B, C, J (if CM Laster wins), and K will all be open then, so perhaps that will siphon off some of that demand. I really have no idea what it will be like, but barring anything strange, it seems reasonable to say that CM Kubosh will be a favorite to win a third term. Check back with me in January of 2019 and we’ll see how good that statement looks at that time.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Endorsement watch: Bell for King

As the headline notes, this came as a surprise to many.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Former Congressman Chris Bell publicly backed fiscal conservative Bill King in the Houston mayoral runoff Tuesday, a move that could bolster King’s efforts to make inroads with progressive voters.

Bell’s endorsement came as a surprise to many political insiders expecting the progressive former mayoral candidate to support King’s rival, Democrat Sylvester Turner.

Bell cited King’s focus on pension reform, public safety, road repair and flooding as reasons for his endorsement, as well as the businessman’s thoughtful approach to policy issues.

“It might come as a surprise to some because of my political persuasion, but it really shouldn’t,” Bell said alongside King in Meyerland. “Truth be told, we agree much more than we disagree. As far as the major principles of his campaign, we’re in complete agreement.”

If you say so, Chris. From my perspective, the main area of overlap between the two campaigns was an enthusiasm for bashing Adrian Garcia. On a number of issues I can think of, from HERO to the revenue cap to ReBuild Houston to (yes) pensions, there seemed to be little in common. It’s easier for me to see agreement between Steve Costello and Sylvester Turner than it is for me to see concurrence between Bell and King. Perhaps it’s in the eye of the beholder, I don’t know. But really, on a broader level, it’s that Bell positioned himself quite purposefully to Sylvester Turner’s left, with his greater purity on LGBT equality being a main point of differentiation. Though he missed out on getting the Houston GLBT Political Caucus’ endorsement – amid a fair amount of grumbling about Turner buying the recommendation via a slew of last-minute memberships – Bell had a lot of support in the LGBT community; a couple of his fervent supporters courted my vote at the West Gray Multi-Service Center by reminding me of an old Turner legislative vote against same sex foster parenting. This is why it’s hard to believe his claims about there being so much in common between him and King, and why this announcement was met with such an explosion of outrage and cries of betrayal. It’s not a partisan matter so much as it is a strong suspicion that either the prior assertions about being the real champion of equality were lies or that this endorsement had to come with a prize. If Chris Bell honestly believes that Bill King will be the best Mayor, that’s his right and his choice. But no one should be surprised by the reaction to it.

Does this help King? Well, he needs to get some Anglo Dem support to win, and that was Bell’s base. Of course, speaking as someone in that demographic, I’ve seen very little evidence that any of his erstwhile supporters were impressed by this. Quite the reverse, as noted above. I guess it can’t hurt, I just wouldn’t expect it to do much.

In the meantime, various organizations have been issuing new and updated endorsements for the runoffs. A few highlights:

– As previously noted, the HCDP endorsed all Democratic candidates with Republican opponents. That means Sylvester Turner for Mayor, Chris Brown for Controller, Georgia Provost, David Robinson, Amanda Edwards, Sharon Moses, Richard Nguyen, and Mike Laster for Council, and Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Jose Leal for HISD Trustee.

– The Houston GLBT Political Caucus added Georgia Provost and Karla Cisneros to their list of endorsed candidates. Turner, Brown, Edwards, and the incumbents were already on there. They did not take action on Moses and Leal.

– The Meyerland Democrats made their first endorsements in a city election: Turner, Brown, Provost, Robinson, Edwards, Nguyen, and Laster.

– Controller candidate Chris Brown sent out another email touting endorsements, this time from five previous Controllers – Ronald Green, Annise Parker, Sylvia Garcia, George Greanias, and Kathy Whitmire. As you know, I’m glad to see Green support him.

– As noted here, the Harris County GOP Executive Committee endorsed Willie Davis in AL2, though it wasn’t exactly unanimous.

– The Log Cabin Republicans transferred their endorsements to Bill King and Mike Knox, and reiterated their support for David Robinson, Jack Christie, and Steve Le. Guess being staunchly anti-HERO has its drawbacks.

– A group called the Texas Conservative View endorsed the candidates you’d expect them to – King, Frazer, Knox, Davis, Roy Morales, Christie, Steve Le, Jim Bigham – and one I didn’t, Jason Cisneroz. All of them were repeats from November except for Morales; they had previously endorsed Jonathan Hansen.

– Finally, the Houston Association of Realtors gave Bill King an endorsement that does mean something and makes sense, along with Amanda Edwards.

I think that catches me up. I’m sure there will be more to come – in particular, the Chron has a few races to revisit. They need to pick a finalist between Brown and Frazer, and make a new choice in AL1 and AL5. I’ll let you know when they do.

UPDATE: The line I deleted above about “being staunchly anti-HERO” was a reference to Willie Davis not getting the LCR endorsement in At Large #2. It made sense in my head when I wrote it, but I can see now that I didn’t make that clear at all. And given that the LCRs endorsed David Robinson in November, it doesn’t make sense even when I clarify who I intended that to be about. So, I take it back. Sorry for the confusion.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Ken Paxton says Ken Paxton’s arrest video can’t be released

How convenient.

Best mugshot ever

I looked into the unusual situation in which the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was asked to rule on its boss. Here’s what happened.

Media organizations requested the video of Paxton’s recent booking into the Collin County Jail. His office denied the requests.

Talk about a conflict of interest.

The lawyers who issued the ruling work for Paxton. What would happen to them if they ruled against their boss and further damaged his reputation?

It’s a legitimate question, especially since the attorney general is the top arbiter in the state of what’s public and what’s not.

So I reached out to the AG’s office and asked officials there to explain how they handled the conflict.


Cynthia Meyer of the AG’s office told me:

“In this instance, we directed that any open records ruling involving Attorney General Paxton in his personal capacity should obviously be screened from him.

“And to avoid even the appearance of a conflict where none actually exists, we screened such matters from executive staff review.”

Instead, she said, the rulings are handled by longtime career lawyers in the office with extensive open-government experience.

The AG’s office ruled that release of the video would have “interfered with law enforcement.”


Collin County officials argued that the recordings show secure areas of the jail and reveal blind spots not covered by surveillance cameras.

Release of the video could allow the bad guys to develop ways to circumvent the security cameras.

Do you buy that?

Um, no. The justification is lame, the process is sketchy, and in the end all roads lead to the benefit of Ken Paxton. I mean, seriously. All I can say is thank you, Ken Paxton, for making your buffoonish corruption so painfully clear. I just hope that when you run for re-election in 2018, we Democrats have figured out a way to make you own it. The Chron has more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

What people use B-Cycle for

From Rice University:

A new report from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research finds that Sun Belt city residents are most likely to use bike-share programs for recreation, compared with users in the Midwest or Northeast, who regularly use the same programs for their daily commute.

The report, “Shifting Gears: Framing Bike-sharing Trends in Sun Belt Cities,” examines how consumers use bike-sharing programs in Austin, Fort Worth, Houston and Denver. The study is the first of several to be released by the Kinder Institute in the coming months and seeks to advance the understanding of the dynamics already at play in Sun Belt bike-share systems.

Bike-share systems are a growing part of the transportation options and recreational landscape of many cities. They place rentable bikes at a network of kiosks with bike docks and pay stations across a city. At most hours of the day, users can check out bikes from any kiosk after buying a daily pass or purchasing a longer-term membership. Riders can return bikes to any kiosk in the network.

“The flexibility of the system allows riders to use bikes for a variety of reasons – to commute to work, go out for a drink, exercise, run errands or take a relaxing ride,” said Kyle Shelton, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Kinder Institute and the study’s co-author. “Riders can engage in these pursuits without needing to own and maintain a personal bike, wait for transit or drive a car.”

The researchers grouped bike trips into four categories: weekday two-location (starting and ending at different kiosk locations), weekend two-location, weekday round-trip and weekend round-trip. Differentiating among the four types revealed that the four cities have a diverse set of bike-share programs and varied usage.

The study found that bike-sharing varies considerably across individual kiosks. In all four cities, the overwhelming majority of kiosks generate more two-location trips than round-trips. And in all four systems, round-trip activity is concentrated at a handful of kiosks located in parks or along bike trails.

“Recent discussions of bike sharing have focused on the large systems in Northeastern and Midwestern cities and tend to emphasize bike sharing as convenient means of commuting to work,” Shelton said. “While riders in Sun Belt cities make trips for a variety of purposes, including commuting, many riders — especially in the Texas cities – use bike share for recreation. Many of these kiosks near parks or bike trails are among the most heavily used stations in all four cities.”

In Houston and Fort Worth, only about one-third of trips are weekday two-location trips. The remaining two-thirds of the trips in these cities are round-trips or occur on weekends.

“This suggests that these programs cater primarily to recreational users,” said Kelsey Walker, a postbaccalaureate research fellow at the Kinder Institute and the study’s co-author.

However, in Denver and Austin, more than half of users’ trips are weekday two-location trips.

“These trips are most likely to replace peak-hour commuting trips made by other transportation modes,” Walker said.

Shelton and Walker hope the report will provide a richer understanding of how people use bike-share programs in lower-density and traditionally car-centric cities in the Sun Belt. As cities in the Sun Belt and around the country add, expand and implement bike-sharing systems, subsequent studies will examine kiosk characteristics and network dynamics more thoroughly.

“We hope that these findings will lead cities to view bike share not only as a novel form of public transit, but also as an accessible and exciting piece of park programming,” Shelton and Walker said. “Moreover, we hope that a closer look at the bike-sharing activity in these four cities will better equip decision-makers across the country to develop locally appropriate bike-sharing systems that capitalize on their cities’ existing strengths.”

You can see the full report here. There’s a brief video that accompanies it that is embedded at the Kinder Institute homepage and also in the Chron story that was written about this. That story notes that more of the downtown B-Cycle checkouts are one-way trips. With a big expansion coming, the expectation is that there will be more such trips overall in Houston. Not that there’s anything wrong with people using B-Cycle for recreation. I myself have used it entirely for short trips, mostly downtown where it’s a bit too far to walk in a timely manner and no other mode of transportation makes sense. Whatever people are using it for, people are using it, and there’s a lot more to come of it.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Precinct analysis: At Large #2

At Large #2 was one of two such races featuring an incumbent that will go to a runoff.

Dist  Robinson  Rivera    Dick   Davis   Burks
A        3,715   1,679   3,982   3,586   1,281
B        5,283   1,243   1,649   3,405   4,335
C       14,736   2,571   6,379   5,446   2,002
D        6,008   1,644   1,632   4,285   7,131
E        5,247   2,596   7,431   6,012   1,549
F        2,650   1,270   1,512   2,238     920
G        8,492   1,517   7,163   8,440   1,895
H        3,788   3,760   1,393   1,735   1,264
I        2,837   3,578   1,273   1,556   1,226
J        1,918     910   1,150   1,481     586
K        5,676   1,553   1,904   3,596   2,995
A       26.08%  11.79%  27.96%  25.18%   8.99%
B       33.20%   7.81%  10.36%  21.39%  27.24%
C       47.33%   8.26%  20.49%  17.49%   6.43%
D       29.02%   7.94%   7.88%  20.70%  34.45%
E       22.98%  11.37%  32.54%  26.33%   6.78%
F       30.85%  14.78%  17.60%  26.05%  10.71%
G       30.87%   5.51%  26.04%  30.68%   6.89%
H       31.73%  31.49%  11.67%  14.53%  10.59%
I       27.10%  34.17%  12.16%  14.86%  11.71%
J       31.73%  15.05%  19.02%  24.50%   9.69%
K       36.10%   9.88%  12.11%  22.87%  19.05%
CM David Robinson

CM David Robinson

First-term CM David Robinson did all right in his first re-election bid, which was his third citywide race overall, but he didn’t exactly dominate anywhere. He did do reasonably well in Republican districts, and easily carried District C. He led the way in seven districts, including B, which is encouraging for his re-election prospects. The main source of concern is that none of the also-ran candidates have voter bases that would naturally or necessarily transfer to him. He received the HCDP endorsement (more on that later) and had $87K on hand in his 8 day report after showing strong reports earlier, so he ought to have the resources he needs to do voter outreach for the runoff. He’s going to have to work at it, as he’s not been a particularly high-profile Council member, and while he did run in and win a runoff against an African-American candidate in 2013, he did so in an environment that didn’t have a Mayoral race. Basically, Robinson has the flipside of Georgia Provost’s challenge: He can’t win without African-American voters. A couple of days ago, Controller candidate Chris Brown sent out an email that touted the endorsements of City Council members Jerry Davis, Dwight Boykins, and Larry Green. It would surely be a boon for his chances if these three Council members issued a similar endorsement for their At Large #2 colleague.

I’m still not sure what to make of Willie Davis. He not only finished behind former CM Andrew Burks in Districts B and D, he also finished behind Robinson there. He did all right in A, E, and G, but not as well as Eric Dick in A and E, and was a pinch behind Robinson in G. He certainly has room to grow in those districts, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll pick up the voters from other candidates, either. He has a Democratic primary voting history, but the HCDP endorsed Robinson; in other races with two Ds (District H and HISD II), the party gave dual endorsements. That primary voting history may dampen Republican support for him despite his status as the anti-HERO candidate; remember that the Republican establishment attacked Ben Hall during the first round. If he can execute the vaunted Pincer Strategy, he can win. As with Provost in AL1, his next finance report ought to tell the story.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Jon Buice granted parole

This stirs up a lot of emotions.

Paul Broussard

Jon Buice, serving 45 years in state prison for the 1991 gay-bashing murder of Houston banker Paul Broussard, has been granted parole.

Buice, 42, was one of 10 youths from The Woodlands who assaulted Broussard, 27, in the Montrose nightclub district.

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles spokesman Raymond Estrada said a three-member paroles committee Friday voted 2-0 to grant parole. The vote was made by the department’s Angleton office, Estrada said, noting that cases occasionally are assigned to offices with no direct connection to the case.

Buice previously was granted parole in 2011, but subsequent protests led to its reversal.


Estrada said factors leading to the parole included Buice’s “satisfactory institutional adjustment,” including no major disciplinary cases, loss of time or demotion in classification since his last review. Buice also had successfully completed one or more vocational or academic programs while confined. Lastly, Estrada said, Buice was only 17 at the time of his crime.

He will remain under parole supervision until April 9, 2037.

I said my piece on this in 2013. Rereading what I wrote then, I still feel that way. Reasonable people can disagree in good faith on the role of punishment in our criminal justice system, and how much of it is enough, in general and in a particular case. In this particular case, I don’t think there was enough. The Press and Lisa Gray have more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

A new HERO will be up to the next Mayor

As it should be, whether we like it or not.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who championed the city’s ill-fated equal rights ordinance, HERO, said she no longer plans to try to revive it before leaving office at the end of the year.

In the aftermath of HERO’s resounding defeat at the polls November 3, Parker had indicated the current City Council could consider an amended non-discrimination ordinance before her term expires.

But during an appearance Saturday at a major LGBT fundraiser in Dallas, Parker said she now believes it’s too late.

“The problem is, I’m running out of runway,” Parker told the Observer before the annual Black Tie Dinner gala. “I have only so many council meetings left, and so it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to do anything with it. The council members who supported it still support it, and I do hope the the next mayor of Houston will pick it back up again.”


Parker told the Observer she’d be announcing her endorsement of [Sylvester] Turner “in the very near future.”

You know how I feel about this. I don’t have anything to add to that. The task for now is to elect Sylvester Turner and enough decent Council members to be able to take up a revised HERO at some point in the future, and go from there. Everything follows from that. The Mayor’s official statement on this is here.

Posted in: Local politics.

Everybody wants in on the rail action

We’re like a magical land of opportunity for high-speed rail interests.

For more than three years, Japanese-backed Texas Central Partners has drawn attention with its plans to develop a Dallas-Houston bullet train. While that project is furthest along, French and Chinese rail interests are more quietly discussing the prospects for rail projects with state and local officials.

“There comes a time when adding lanes is not a solution anymore, and that’s when you realize you need more public transportation,” said Alain Leray, president of SNCF America, the U.S. subsidiary of French rail operator SNCF. The company has been talking with Texas officials in earnest for about a year about potential rail projects, Leray said.

Chinese-backed rail interests have also approached some transportation officials in Texas about future projects, several transportation officials confirmed.


If passenger rail projects take off in Texas, many international firms will be logical partners, said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

“The people you want to talk to are the people with extensive experience with high-speed rail,” Morris said. “High-speed rail isn’t built in our country, so most of the people with experience in high-speed rail are from other countries.”

Morris has heard from foreign rail firms for years, but solicitations have picked up over the last 12 months, he said, as state and federal studies of the environmental impact of rail projects in Texas have moved forward. The Federal Railroad Administration is studying Texas Central’s proposed Houston-Dallas project and the Texas Department of Transportation is studying the prospects of passenger rail as far north as Oklahoma City and as far south as Monterrey.

“Everyone in the world knows you can’t complete anything without an environmental clearance,” Morris said.

Ross Milloy, executive director of the Lone Star Rail District, which is trying to build a passenger rail line between Austin and San Antonio, said he has also noticed increased interest from international rail firms over the last year and a half.

“I think they view Texas as fertile ground,” Milloy said.


Just because multiple international firms are looking at Texas doesn’t mean they’ll all work together. Leray said he has talked to officials about the importance of developing a robust high-speed rail network in Texas, rather than just the Dallas-Houston segment. Among the concerns he raised in a Texas Tribune interview is that Texas Central’s line would be built specifically for Shinkansen trains and wouldn’t be able to accommodate other trains. SNCF operates rail systems in Europe that support trains by multiple manufacturers.

“If you choose a system which is not technologically neutral, you’re locking the people of Texas into being served by a monopoly,” Leray said. “And I ask, is this what the people of Texas want?”

In response, Keith pointed to the Shinsaken’s safety record — no collisions or derailments in more than 50 years of operation.

“By operating a single train technology, signaling and core operating system, Texas Central can leverage the history and record of the high-speed rail experience in Japan to ensure the safe, predictable operation of its trains,” Keith said.


Beyond Texas Central Partners’ Dallas-Houston line, the project appearing to draw the most interest is a rail line between Dallas and Fort Worth. TxDOT created a special commission last year to look at the prospects for such a project. Bill Meadows, chairman of that commission, said the assumption is that such a project would develop with a private partner.

“The state doesn’t want to be in the high-speed rail business,” Meadows said. “There’s enough private sector and regional interest that I see it moving forward in that fashion.”

The Dallas-Fort Worth line has outsized importance, Meadows argued, because it could someday connect a Dallas-Houston line with a train that travels along the state’s crowded I-35 corridor to Austin and San Antonio.

“It is the linchpin that ties the two corridors together,” Meadows said.

Didn’t know there was a fight over what kind of train technology to use on the line. When the lobbyists start getting involved, that’s when you know it’s gotten real. I don’t have anything to add, I’m just glad to see all this action. The Press and Paradise in Hell have more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Precinct analysis: At Large #1

This week I’m going to look at the five At Large Council races, beginning with At Large #1. Before I get into the district breakdown, here’s a number to consider: In Harris County, there were 76,675 undervotes in this race. The combined vote total for top two finishers Mike Knox (47,456) and Georgia Provost (28,402) was 75,858. In a very real sense, “none of the above” was the winner in At Large #1.

So with that out of the way, here’s what the vote looked like:

Dist  Griff   McCas    Pool  Provost  Oliver    Knox   Lewis  PGalv
A     2,465   1,415   1,138    1,303   1,113   5,560   1,300     575
B     1,314     927   1,799    5,861   3,183     919   1,817     568
C     5,201   7,154   2,530    1,758   1,863   7,375   6,170     799
D     1,509   1,395   1,623    8,152   4,425   1,657   1,867     606
E     3,040   2,346   1,770    1,395   1,774  10,861   1,247     868
F     1,144     959   1,194    1,093   1,114   2,051     699     472
G     5,242   4,910   1,610    1,287   2,002  12,040   1,748     400
H     1,287   1,463   1,414    1,606   1,472   1,451   1,654   1,739
I     1,250     889   1,113    1,619   1,476   1,258   1,176   1,644
J       719     797     682      750     717   1,601     613     318
K     1,555   1,922   1,536    3,573   2,775   2,678   1,773     553
A    16.58%   9.52%   7.65%    8.76%   7.49%  37.39%   8.74%   3.87%
B     8.02%   5.66%  10.98%   35.76%  19.42%   5.61%  11.09%   3.47%
C    15.83%  21.78%   7.70%    5.35%   5.67%  22.45%  18.78%   2.43%
D     7.11%   6.57%   7.64%   38.39%  20.84%   7.80%   8.79%   2.85%
E    13.05%  10.07%   7.60%    5.99%   7.61%  46.61%   5.35%   3.73%
F    13.11%  10.99%  13.68%   12.53%  12.77%  23.50%   8.01%   5.41%
G    17.93%  16.79%   5.51%    4.40%   6.85%  41.18%   5.98%   1.37%
H    10.65%  12.10%  11.70%   13.29%  12.18%  12.01%  13.69%  14.39%
I    11.99%   8.53%  10.68%   15.53%  14.16%  12.07%  11.28%  15.77%
J    11.60%  12.86%  11.01%   12.10%  11.57%  25.84%   9.89%   5.13%
K     9.50%  11.74%   9.39%   21.83%  16.96%  16.36%  10.83%   3.38%
Georgia Provost

Georgia Provost

I’ve previously discussed how if Lane Lewis, Tom McCasland, and Jenifer Pool had been a single candidate instead of three candidates splitting a subset of voters evenly, that candidate would have led the pack. In a slightly different universe, we could be saying the same thing about Georgia Provost and Chris Oliver. In this universe, Provost did sufficiently better than Oliver among their African-American base of voters to break free from the pack and make it to the December election. That gives her a path to build on for the runoff, and with the formal endorsement of the HCDP (sent out on Friday), she stands to inherit the Lewis/McCasland/Pool voters as well. She will need them to win – her base isn’t big enough if Anglo Dems skip this race next month. I didn’t do an interview with Provost for At Large #1 because it never looked like she was running much of a campaign – you can find the interview I did with her in 2013 for District D here – but since Election Day I’ve seen numerous people rallying around her candidacy on Facebook. I’ll be interested to see what her eight day runoff finance report looks like.

It should be noted that if Georgia Provost had split the vote more evenly with Chris Oliver in places like B and D, the immediate beneficiary would have been Griff Griffin. I know a lot of people who were disillusioned by some of the runoff choices they would be facing immediately after the election. Imagine how much worse that would be if the race here were between Griffin and Mike Knox. I have no idea why anyone would vote for Griff, but in a city this size where only a small minority of voters have any idea who the At Large candidates are, let alone have a chance to meet them and get to know them, it’s not surprising that a name the voters have seen every two years since Bill Clinton was President would draw some support. Along those same lines, note that James Partsch-Galvan was the leading vote-getter in Districts H and I. If you don’t know who you’re voting for, vote for a name that sounds familiar. There was a bit of chatter awhile back about eliminating the at large Council seats in favor of an all-district Council. I like the idea of having Council members that represent the whole city, but the data in At Large #1 is as strong an argument in favor of scrapping the at large system that you’ll see.

As for Mike Knox (whose 2013 interview for District A is here), his task is basically that of Bill King, Bill Frazer, and Jack Christie: Run up the score in the Republican boxes, and not do too badly everywhere else. He collected the most endorsements among the late-entry anti-HERO candidates, he had the best overall performance, and he’s run a Council campaign before. I doubt he’ll have much crossover appeal, but his floor is high enough to win if Provost can’t put it together.

Posted in: Election 2015.

UT/TT primary poll: Hillary leads the Dems, Trump and Cruz lead the GOP

For those who care about this sort of thing.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and businessman Donald Trump are in a dead heat for the Republican presidential nomination in Texas, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

With four months to go before the March 1 primary, each had the support of 27 percent of likely Republican voters. Surgeon Ben Carson and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida were well back of the leaders at 13 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the first choice of 61 percent of Texas Democrats, building on her earlier support in the state and remaining well ahead of her rivals, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. Sanders, running second, has been unable to change the fundamental dynamics of a primary where Clinton has the political advantage, as Barack Obama did in 2008.

“I just don’t see any signs of weakness,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin.


The numbers have shifted some since the previous UT/TT survey in June — a poll conducted when a number of official and unofficial exploratory campaigns were still underway.

Clinton led the Democratic field in the June UT/TT Poll with 53 percent support. Sanders’ numbers increased in the current poll, too, in part because two prospective candidates included in that survey — Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — decided not to run.

The two leading Republican candidates in the latest survey — especially Trump — scooped up support that in June was going to two candidates who have since left the race: former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Cruz had 20 percent in that June poll; Trump was back in the dust at 2 percent.

“The summer of Trump had not started when we did the last poll,” Henson said. “He was not really in the race.”

The poll summary is here. Take it for whatever you think it’s worth. I’ve ragged on this poll many times – they wound up being pretty accurate last November, but they sucked rocks in the March primary. I think their Dem sample is likely to be reasonably on target, though there’s still some time for Bernie Sanders to move the needle with his in-state campaign. The GOP side, I have to believe that will continue to be volatile and unpredictable. Who knows if Trump and/or Carson will even still be in the race by the time the primary happens? I suppose for that reason it made no sense to try out any potential November matchups, but it still would have been fun to see Hillary/Trump and Sanders/Carson and whatever else you might want to try. For entertainment purposes only, of course, but it would be entertaining.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Will someone sue over the term limits referendum?



Pre-election polling showed voters slightly favored the change, but not if they were told that it benefits sitting council members.

Rice University political scientist Bob Stein conducted the News 88.7/KHOU 11 News election poll.

“When we informed voters that the adoption of the two four-year (terms) would take place immediately in 2016 and advantage incumbent council members, support swung the other way and it was a deficit of 17 points against,” Stein said.

But that information was not in the ballot language.

In fact, it didn’t even mention that it would actually extend term limits.

Even Houston Mayor Annise Parker acknowledged that this week.

“I don’t know that they realized that they were giving council members more time in office,” she said.

Considering that a judge only a week ago ruled that Houston has to hold a new election on its drainage fund because of misleading ballot language, Stein said theoretically, the same could happen with this vote.

“I wouldn’t be shocked to see somebody complain about it and say, let’s go back and petition and have another referendum, which clearly explains what’s happening,” he said.

We’ve been over this a couple of times already. I honestly don’t remember the exact wording of the proposition, but I knew it meant two four year terms (even if I’d forgotten that it would be enacted immediately), and I knew I was voting against it. I think people likely didn’t fully understand what they were voting on, but that’s almost certainly because they had paid no attention to it. No one ran a campaign for it or against it, and Lord knows only a few of us read the news about what happens at City Hall. For better or worse, people need to do a little homework before they enter the polling place, and if they come out of there not knowing what they did, is that a litigation-worthy offense? If someone could convince the Supreme Court that the voters were too dumb to understand the Renew Houston referendum, who am I to say that they couldn’t do the same with this?

Posted in: Election 2015.

Metro wants to know what you think of bus system reimagining

This ought to be interesting.


Starting Monday, Metro workers will be at bus stops and transit centers surveying riders about the changes, which took effect Aug. 16. The new system altered practically every bus trip in the Houston area, as Metropolitan Transit Authority officials shifted to more frequent service along some lines.

Though some riders have expressed serious concerns about the new system and said Metro made their transit trips unbearable, many said the routes seem quicker and easier to navigate.

The survey focuses on whether wait times for buses and overall travel time has improved with the new network. Respondents are also asked if their trips require a transfer to light rail, how often they ride and whether they have ever attended a Metro public meeting to comment or learn about the transit agency.

“We want accurate, good feedback,” Metro chairman Gilbert Garcia said. “Whether it is tough love or accolades.”

I figure they’ll get it. As I’ve said before, my experience has been positive, though I am not a typical rider and I live in a part of town that is heavily populated and thus well served. The Press has taken on the role of finding people who don’t like the new map. Part of the intent of the new map was to shift resources to where there are more people and businesses, and that means that people in places like the northeast part of town have seen their service decline. I don’t know what can be done about that without throwing a lot more money at the system. We’ll see what the feedback from the riders tells us.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Weekend link dump for November 15

Nancy Lieberman is awesome.

Doing spec work for free is something most people are never asked to do.

Another reason not to eat at Taco Bell, in case you needed one.

Two words: Pyramid truthers. I need a drink.

RIP, Gunnar Hansen, best known as the villain Leatherface in the original 1974 horror film “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”.

“The choice to double-down on that untrustworthy untruth, though, changes one’s relationship to that falsehood. It changes you from being its victim to being its champion. It means that you are no longer merely deceived, but that you are choosing to deceive others — that you have decided that leading others astray would be, for whatever reason, preferable to admitting that you’d ever been led astray yourself.”

Like me, you probably have a few preemie kids in your extended family, so these pictures ought to make you smile.

“The administrators created this world where our universities revolve socially, politically and economically around the exploited labor of big time football. Now let them reap what they sow.”

“The performance art that has loogied [Donald Trump] to the top of the Republican polls is insult comedy, and an insult comic as presidential timber is not something the Founders anticipated, judging from the screams resonating from the Hereafter.”

#BenCarsonWikipedia. Man, I didn’t know half this stuff.

“A conservative Christian group has taken a page out of the Human Rights Campaign’s playbook, releasing a ranking of corporations that are most hostile to LGBT and reproductive rights.”

RIP, Daniel Fleetwood, the terminally ill “Star Wars” fan who last week was granted his dying wish to watch “The Force Awakens”.

RIP, Allen Toussaint, legendary songwriter, producer, arranger and piano player from New Orleans.

more cyclists in a community is the best way to promote bike safety.

“Do we need more welders and less philosophers? This is less clear. Are things going unwelded that should be welded? Those in the know, please comment.”

“The accumulation of these slights suggests that even the world’s best female economists are given second billing too often.”

RIP, Carol Doda, legendary burlesque dancer.

“It’s not just states under right-wing control where abortion clinics are closing their doors”.

How the Bush family misunderstood who and what Dick Cheney is.

“I can’t grasp how an intelligent, well-read man or woman, regardless of ideological commitments, could watch the Republican debate in Milwaukee on Tuesday night and not come away disgusted. I certainly did. It was a familiar feeling.”

Maybe try harvest gold and avocado green next time.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Leave a new HERO to the next Mayor

I hate having to say this.


Opponents of Houston’s repealed equal rights ordinance haved placed 300,000 calls and will release a new TV ad next week warning about a possible City Council revival of the controversial non-discrimination law.

All that despite no certainty that Mayor Annise Parker will find the political will and, most importantly, the time, to bring forward new equal rights legislation in the dwindling weeks before her term is over at the end of December. Several City Council members are battling heated Dec. 12 runoff contests and unlikely to willingly delve into the politically charged law that 61 percent of voters opposed this month.

Shortly after the defeat, Parker said she had no set plan and needed to speak with council members about bringing back similar protections before she leaves office. But foes seized on her statement that some council members had suggested voting on individual protections, such as those offered in housing or employment or public accommodations.

“I’m going to sit down with the council members and see how they want to proceed,” Parker said. “We will also, of course, evaluate what the national and international response from the business community is, because that certainly will make a difference.”


Councilwoman Ellen Cohen, one of the biggest champions of the law, said Friday that she has no plans to broach any non-discrimination legislation before the runoff election and “most likely not” before the end of the year.

“It would be the decision of the mayor but I think right now we need to concentrate on the runoffs and move forward,” Cohen said. “Quite honestly, I’m comfortable taking a breath. I do have plans at some point in the future to make sure that equality is brought to Houston.”

I can’t see any justification for bringing up any part of an equal rights ordinance before the end of the year. The liars won this round. (*) The runoff election presents another opportunity to engage the fight, since Sylvester Turner and Bill King are on record stating opposing views as to whether or not they would introduce a new HERO if they win. Get Sylvester Turner elected in December and there will be a mandate to have a do-over, hopefully this time with a better rollout campaign. I wish it were different, but then if it were we wouldn’t need to be having this discussion at all. The way to change the conversation is to win the next election. Let’s focus on that.

(*) Way to continue to characterize the “debate” over HERO as a he said/she said disagreement about bathrooms and how effective that campaign tactic was, Houston Chronicle. Very Shape of Earth: Views Differ of you.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Red lights on the Green line



Light rail is up and running along Harrisburg on the city’s east side, but Metro’s construction continues to be a sore spot with area residents because it seems at every turn the work is taking longer than promised.

The latest delays come from sluggish work to move utilities and excavate for a planned overpass of freight railroad tracks along Harrisburg near Hughes. The overpass is needed to extend Green Line rail service from its current terminus at Altic to its future endpoint at the Magnolia Park Transit Center.

“There is no way to sugarcoat this. We are behind schedule and we are working to get back on schedule,” said Roberto Trevino, Metro’s executive vice president for planning, engineering and construction.

Construction can catch up, officials said, meaning the overpass remains on track to open in May 2016 as Metro and McCarthy Building Companies – the project’s general contractor – estimated in January. Much of the work occurs in the center of the new street, meaning it doesn’t cut off businesses but does make accessing their driveways trickier.


One of the first steps in the construction – moving utilities – got off to a slow start, Trevino said.

Moving overhead electrical utilities lagged at first, then crews started finding telecommunications and gas lines that weren’t listed on plans and city documents.

That stalls work as gas or phone company crews have to come out and assess the lines and see if they are functioning.

A potentially bigger pitfall comes from prior industrial uses along Harrisburg, Trevino said, specifically underground tanks used to store fuels that were not listed on many site plans and which proved more problematic than Metro thought.

“We are doing some proactive measures to make up as much time as we can,” Trevino said.

To accelerate construction, additional crews have descended on the job site, and McCarthy has plans to move from doing work for 10 hours six days a week, to seven days a week.

If it’s not one thing it’s another with this construction. I don’t think there’s much that could have been done differently based on what the story says, but boy will everyone be glad when this is over. I just hope they can still make the May deadline.

In tangential news, the Wednesday Metro board meeting was where the long-discussed idea of allowing ads on trains and buses was supposed to come up, but I haven’t seen any news item or press release indicating that it did. Anyone know what happened?

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

The struggle is real in The Woodlands

One last opportunity – for this year, at least – to mock the flailing efforts at self-governance in Montgomery County.

[Bruce] Tough believes the tea partiers are after “control’ and, in so doing, could stamp out independent thought.

“I don’t want to see any single group control the fate of our community,” Long said. “We’re bigger than one group. All the folks who live here should have a say.”

Mike Bass, a township director who was opposed in 2012 by tea partiers who had once backed him, agreed.

“They want to win control of the township board and then have us incorporate our township into a city,’ Bass said. “We have a perfect limited government and free marketplace now. But they really don’t want that.”

Community leaders agree on one thing: resident frustration over the area’s rapid growth is driving the discontent. Montgomery County’s population, now a half million, is expected to double over the next half-century.

“The Woodlands is a victim of its own success,” said Tough. “Once people build a house here, they want that one to be the last one built. I heard these special interest people saying, ‘Elect me and I’ll stop development.’ It may play well politically, but legally you can’t tell someone what to do with their land.”

The Texas Patriots’ Turner said that while nobody can stop growth, it could be better managed, possibly through incorporating as a city.

Bass said incorporation was put off three years ago because a study then showed it would triple the property tax rate.

So basically, The Woodlands is like Austin, though perhaps with fewer skinny-jeans-wearing hipsters. And the first-time candidate who defeated Bruce Tough last Tuesday is on a self-appointed mission to rescue America from the clutches of evil leftists, presumably beginning with those Alinsky sympathizers on the Woodlands Township Board of Directors. I’m sorry, but Houston politics just can’t hold a candle to this for sheer ridiculousness.

Posted in: Election 2015.

State to close La Marque ISD

They don’t know what they’re going to do with it, and that’s a problem.

Galveston County’s La Marque ISD will officially be no more as of July 1, 2016, state education officials confirmed.

On Thursday, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams notified La Marque ISD officials of the decision to revoke their accreditation.

“The district will be merged with another school district in the area,” said DeEtta Culbertson, a spokeswoman for the education agency.


The typical practice when a district loses its accreditation is for it to be wholly absorbed into another district rather than being broken up among multiple districts.

Culbertson said the details about the merger were still being worked out.

See here, here, and here for the background. I get the reasoning behind this – La Marque has been at the bottom of state academic rankings for several years, and in August it failed the state fiscal accountability rating. That’s plenty of justification to shutter a district. The problem, as I detailed in that last link, is that there’s no obvious place for La Marque ISD to go. None of its neighbors seem like good candidates to absorb it. This is likely why nine months after the first announcement that La Marque was on the chopping block the TEA still has no confirmed plan for what to do with it. Everyone knew that North Forest would be absorbed by HISD. Nobody knows what will happen to La Marque. That seems to me to be at least as big a problem as the one the TEA is trying to solve by dissolving La Marque ISD.

Posted in: School days.

SCOTUS to hear HB2 appeal

Gird your loins.

Setting up what could be a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to take up a legal challenge to Texas’ 2013 abortion law, which could shut down about half of the state’s 19 remaining abortion clinics.

The restrictions, passed as part of House Bill 2, would require that Texas abortion facilities meet hospital-like ambulatory surgical center standards, including minimum sizes for rooms and doorways, pipelines for anesthesia, and other modifications. A separate provision, which has already gone into effect, requires doctors who perform the procedure to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic.

A coalition of abortion providers has sued the state, saying the restrictions are unconstitutional. State attorneys say the measure was passed to improve the safety of abortions and to ensure women are getting the highest standard of health care.

If the Supreme Court had declined to take up the case, half of the abortion clinics in the state would have been forced to shut down overnight. That would have left Texas with about 10 abortion clinics — all in major metropolitan areas.

The clinics will remain open until the court hears the case and issues a ruling. A decision is expected within the next year.

“Although this is the first step in a much longer process, I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will uphold the rights that have been in place for four decades and reaffirm that every woman should be able to make her own decision about continuing or ending a pregnancy,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, the lead plaintiff in the case.

See here, here, and here for the most recent updates. The stakes are as high as they can be, but for SCOTUS to not hear the appeal means the state wins by default, so there was no better option. We’re just going to have to live with that low-level dread until next June. ThinkProgress, the Observer, the AusChron, RH Reality Check, the Press, Daily Kos, the Current, and PDiddie have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Rep. Ruben Hinojosa to retire

A second open Congressional seat for 2016.

Rep. Ruben Hinojosa

First elected to Congress in 1996, Hinojosa has largely had a dormant campaign operation for most of this cycle, and he drew a Republican challenger this year in former Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben Villarreal.

Hinojosa’s office didn’t immediately return a request to comment for this article. The Monitor, a McAllen newspaper, reported the retirement earlier Thursday. It said that Hinojosa had scheduled an announcement for Friday in McAllen.

Hinojosa is the 12th U.S. House member and second Texan to announce a departure from Congress this term. U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, announced in September that he would not seek re-election.

Congressional District 15, which Hinojosa represents, has traditionally been a reliable seat for Democrats. President Obama carried the district by 16 points in the 2012 presidential election.

As the news of Hinojosa’s retirement broke Thursday, names already began to circulate about possible Democrats who could run to replace them. Names floating among state Democratic operatives included: state Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, Hidalgo County Commissioner Joseph Palacios, Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez and former state Rep. Veronica Gonzales of McAllen.

At least one women’s Hispanic group, Texas Latina List, which bills itself as a progressive political action committee, has its eye on the 15th District.

Rep. Hinojosa has since made it official. CD15 is a slightly purplish blue. Every Dem got at least 54% of the vote in 2012, winning by at least ten points in each case. It was a much closer call in 2014, with John Cornyn and Baby Bush holding their Dem opponents under 50%, but each Dem still got at least a plurality. I’d be more worried about this in an off year than in a Presidential year, but it’s still not a sure thing. I’m rooting for a viable female candidate to emerge – it would be awesome to have the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas in a year where we (hopefully) elect the first female President. Trail Blazers has more.

Elsewhere in Democratic primary news, we have our second contested legislative primary in Harris County, and our first involving an incumbent, as Edward Pollard announced on Facebook and Instagram his candidacy for HD137, against two term Rep. Gene Wu. Pollard’s tag line is “The Conservative Democrat”, which ought to make for an interesting debate. Yes, I’ll be doing primary interviews, which will be on me before I know it, so you’ll get a chance to hear what that means and whatever else I think to ask about. By the way, today is the start of filing season. I’ll do my best to keep track of who is filing for what.

Posted in: Election 2016.

The FRA releases its alignment analysis for the high speed rail line

There will be no downtown Houston station, that much is for sure.

The area around U.S. 290 and Loop 610, anchored by Northwest Mall, is likely to be the end of the line for a proposed Houston-to-Dallas high speed passenger train.

The Federal Railroad Administration has eliminated from consideration both of the paths that would have carried the trains to Houston’s central business district. The agency is overseeing environmental approvals for the multi-billion-dollar line proposed by Texas Central Partners.

The decision essentially gives Texas Central “our target landing zone,” CEO Tim Keith said, although the company still must procure numerous federal approvals, hold public meetings, raise money and acquire land before construction could begin.


Keith said the decision not to bring the line downtown keeps the project within its $10 billion to $12 billion cost estimate.

“Serving downtown Houston directly would require significant community impact and significant cost,” Keith said.

Federal officials eliminated options for a downtown connection because the each of the two proposed paths had numerous areas of concern. Both would have resulted in environmentally-significant damage to the Heights Boulevard Esplanade – part of a national historic district – and Cottage Grove Park west of T.C. Jester.


A decision about where the line would end changes many of the conversations with local officials, Keith said.

“We’re focusing on getting passengers into the (central business district) and allowing us to engage in those discussions with the various entities we can partner with,” Keith said.

The discussions will likely include the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which is planning some projects around Loop 610 and U.S. 290. Metro board member Jim Robinson said Metro officials have suggested the private high-speed rail firm help to pay for a Metro light rail extension to the area.

“They could extend light rail for a fraction of (the high-speed rail cost) and that would certainly better serve their business model,” Robinson said. “I think we should absolutely partner with them.”

Keith said no conversations about Texas Central funding other improvements have taken place.

“We are going to work hard to get something to maximize connectivity,” he said.

You can see a copy of the FRA report here; it’s not exactly light reading, but go for it. The Dallas end of the line is still a work in progress, but the list is short. The idea of HSR-to-light-rail has come up before, though apparently not in a way that Texas Central will officially comment on just yet. I think that would be a win all around, and would add connectivity to the Uptown BRT line, assuming it doesn’t get derailed. It’s mostly a question of how to make the finances work. I do hope Metro pursues this; since everything comes down to the Mayoral runoff these days, I’d be more confident about a Metro board appointed by Sylvester Turner taking that on than I would with a Bill King board. Be that as it may, this doesn’t get real till construction starts, in 2017 if all goes as planned. There’s still time for the Lege to interfere as well, so while this is another step down the path, the finish line is still a long way away. The Press has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

2016 Hall of Fame ballot

The other election of importance going on right now.

Under new voting rules established this summer by the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the annual Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot was released Monday on the earliest date in recent history.

Ken Griffey Jr. and his 630 homers and Trevor Hoffman and his National League-record 601 saves are the top candidates among a bevy of first-time qualifiers for the Class of 2016. Billy Wagner, who had 422 saves in 16 seasons for five teams, is another significant new name on the ballot.
Mike Piazza (69.9 percent of the vote last year), Jeff Bagwell (55.7 percent) and Tim Raines (55 percent) are the returnees with the best chances of being elected this time around.

The Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held on July 24 in Cooperstown, N.Y.


The BBWAA ballot announcement commences the Hall of Fame voting season that includes elections by the 16-member Pre-Integration Committee and nominees for the Ford C. Frick Award and the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, all slated to be unveiled at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., from Dec. 7-10.

This year’s version of the Veterans Committee will vote on six players, three executives and an organizer who were all active in baseball prior to Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947. The Frick Award voters will pick a baseball announcer who was a pioneer during that same period. The BBWAA honors a writer with the Spink Award for meritorious contributions to the baseball writing profession.

The new rules for the BBWAA ballot winnowed the rolls by about 125 voters, a Hall official said. While 625 ballots were sent out last year, about 475 were put in the mail on Monday. The ballots historically had been mailed just prior to Thanksgiving and had to be returned by New Year’s Day. Voters will now have until Dec. 24 to mail their ballots.

The results are to be revealed on MLB Network on Jan. 6, with a news conference involving any of the electees to be held the following day.

In the past, all members of the BBWAA with more than 10 consecutive years of membership received a ballot. Under the new rules passed in July by the Hall’s board of directors, members who have not actively been a member of the BBWAA for 10 years must apply every year for their ballot. The Hall then determines by the number of games an applicant covered in the previous season whether to issue a ballot.

As you know, I’ve had my issues with the way the BBWAA has done its thing in recent years. Perhaps this winnowing will make the process a bit better by eliminating some of the writers who haven’t actually watched a game since the Carter administration. I’m not nearly naive enough to think that this will absolutely be a change for the better, but it’s hard to see how things could get worse.

The full ballot, with the choices I would make highlighted:

Garret Anderson, Brad Ausmus, Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Luis Castillo, Roger Clemens, David Eckstein, Jim Edmonds, Nomar Garciaparra, Troy Glaus, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark Grudzielanek, Mike Hampton, Trevor Hoffman, Jason Kendall, Jeff Kent, Mike Lowell, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Mike Mussina, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, Lee Smith, Sammy Sosa, Mike Sweeney, Alan Trammell, Billy Wagner, Larry Walker, Randy Winn.

I think Trevor Hoffman is a Hall of Famer, but Alan Trammell is running out of time, and as voters are limited to ten selections and there’s still a backlog that needs to be worked through. I’d give more consideration to Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling, and Billy Wagner in a different year, but these are the conditions, so make the best of it as you can. Given the plethora of qualified candidates and the lack of space on the ballot, anyone who votes for the likes of Luis Castillo or Mark Grudzielanek, even as a joke or to pay off a bet, needs to have their privileges forcefully revoked. We’ll know shortly after the new year just what fresh hell the HoF voters have unleashed on us this time. Who would be on your ballot?

Posted in: Baseball.