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Jim Murphy

Making vaccination information public

I support this.

While most parents in Texas vaccinate their children, the number of parents opting out of immunizations for non-medical reasons is on the rise. Since Texas changed its laws to allow parents to opt out citing a conscientious objection, the number of unvaccinated children has shot up more than 1,700 percent in 13 years, to 45,000 from 2,300. In response, parents and health advocates are backing an effort to increase public reporting on how many students who have skipped vaccines attend each school.

Currently, that data is housed at the state level and available via an open-records request. County and school district-level data also is available online.

House Bill 2249 would require the Texas Department of State Health Services to publish school-by-school data that would indicate the total number of students who forgo vaccinations, including those who opt out by choice, such as a religious objection. No names or identifying information would be listed.

Advocates for publishing the data say the information would offer parents insight into their child’s school and help them weigh whether to switch, particularly for parents of medically fragile children like Riki Graves’ daughter, Juliana. Now 3, she received a new heart at 18 days old, and doctors say she will need to attend a school where least 95 percent of the students are immunized.

“My job as a transplant mom is to protect that organ,” said Graves as she drove from her home in Sugar Land to Austin where she plans to testify before the House Public Health Committee on Tuesday. “We have the data … there’s no reason not to publish it.”

Opponents say there are plenty of reasons, including children’s medical privacy.

“If this is truly about keeping children safe, we have to have that honest conversation about keeping all people safe. It puts a target on the backs of children whose parents have chosen to opt out for various different reasons,” said Jackie Schlegel, a mother of three and executive director of Texans for Vaccine Choice, a grass-roots parent group that has ballooned in recent years as the movement against vaccinating children has gained traction. The group is planning a rally at the Capitol on Thursday, dubbed the “freedom fight.”

“At schools where you do have a high number of opt-out, we are creating a witch hunt against families, and that’s just unacceptable,” Schlegel said.

We clearly have a different definition of “unacceptable”. I think knowing that a given school has a high rate of unvaccinated children is something any parent would want to know. HB 2249 has four co-authors, two of whom )JD Sheffield and John Zerwas) are medical doctors, which ought to tell you something. As the story notes, an identical bill passed the House in 2015 but never got a hearing in the Senate. Let’s hope this year’s version meets a better fate. The Trib has more.

Police officers’ pension fund speaks up

The firefighters’ pension fund is the one that gets all the attention, but it’s not the only one the city is responsible for. The Houston Police Officers Pension System (HPOPS) has sent a letter to the city reminding it that they have a deal that restricts what the city can request from the Legislature.

Police pension leaders, in a March 11 letter to Mayor Annise Parker and City Council members, asked for documents proving that city officials are complying with a provision of the 12-year deal, approved in 2011, that requires the city to join the fund in opposing legislation that would affect the terms of the agreement.

The letter named no particular official, but it would be hard to miss the recent actions – and accompanying press releases – of mayoral candidates and City Councilmen Steve Costello and Oliver Pennington, who back a bill filed by Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, that would grant the city local authority over its three pension plans. Today, the plans are controlled in Austin, where lawmakers have stymied repeated attempts at reform. The rising cost of pensions has caused stress at City Hall for more than a decade; Houston is paying $353 million into its pensions this fiscal year, almost twice what it spends on trash pickup, parks and libraries combined.

In writing the mayor, police pension officials also sought a meeting, which they got Friday morning. City Attorney Donna Edmundson said the gathering was cordial and brief, and served simply to confirm that pension leaders and the Parker administration view the agreement similarly and will thus jointly oppose Murphy’s bill, despite the mayor having sought related legislation in years past.

The key, Edmundson said, is that when the agreement refers to “the city” it refers to the executive branch – in this case, the mayor, her top staff and legislative coordinators – and not individual council members in the legislative branch.

“Council member Costello has gone to Austin. But in those trips to Austin, he’s not representing the city of Houston, and they just wanted to be clear on that and make sure we’re on the same page,” Edmundson said. “We can’t stop an individual from going to Austin and expressing his or her views or the views of his or her constituents. They have a First Amendment right.”

Police pension representatives confirmed Edmundson’s characterizations, but declined further comment.

On the fund’s website, however, chairman Terry Bratton on Friday posted that he had met with Parker and that their plans aligned.

“The agreement provides that the city and HPOPS (Houston Police Officers’ Pension System) will work together to oppose bills adversely impacting HPOPS. The mayor is aware of the provision and intends to honor the contract,” Bratton wrote.

Just a reminder that there’s more than one dimension to the pension issue, and that if you think Mayor Parker should be supporting Rep. Murphy’s bill, the 2011 agreement with HPOPS – which as the story notes, both CMs Costello and Pennington voted for – says she cannot. Mayoral candidates Costello and Pennington are free to do what they want, but that agreement with HPOPS will bind them going forward if one of them gets elected.

Meanwhile, the chair of the firefighters’ pension fund sent a letter to the Chronicle to point out a few things regarding the recent deal.

Regarding “Missed chances” (Page B8, Friday), last August, during a special subcommittee meeting of the Houston City Council’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee, several members of City Council challenged the board of the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund (HFRRF) to develop an alternative proposal to Mayor Annise Parker’s plan for newly hired firefighters.

In response to this challenge, HFRRF developed a proposal that addressed several issues. Primarily, it maintained the hard-earned and promised benefits of our active and retired firefighters. Additionally, it addressed the City’s contributions needs during the next three fiscal years and avoids costly litigation for all the parties.

Throughout the months of August and September, members of the HFRRF board, including myself, and staff members personally met with almost all members of the City Council and reviewed our proposal.

During these meetings, each of these members were advised that HFRRF was participating in discussions with the mayor about the proposal. Most members expressed encouragement that we had voluntarily engaged in a discussion with the mayor and hoped that some form of agreement might be reached.

Over the next several months, we participated in many meetings in the mayor’s office. Included in these meetings were the mayor, her staff and some members of Council. The mayor also attended two public board meetings at the HFRRF office.

Traditionally, when two parties attempt to come to mutually agreeable terms, each side receives some benefit for their considerations to the other party.

I believe that both the HFRRF and the mayor recognize that the result of this agreement is a reasonable solution, and it addressed the challenge initiated during the August subcommittee meeting.

Todd Clark, chairman of HFRRF

Here’s a post about that Council meeting in August. Looking for that also reminded me that news of the deal was first reported in September. Clearly, a lot of people, myself included, had forgotten about that. The deal that was agreed to this month doesn’t look all that different from what was proposed six months ago. People may not like the deal, but no one can say they didn’t know about it.

Council’s pension meeting

It was about what you’d expect.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Many City Council members who attended a special meeting Friday to discuss Mayor Annise Parker’s controversial deal with the city’s firefighters pension called the gathering a success, despite two members walking out and breaking a quorum before a vote could be held to support or oppose the agreement.

The meeting’s unusual ending matched the unusual situation. Typically, the mayor alone calls City Council meetings and decides what items will appear on the agenda for a vote, a power that council members can subvert only by teaming up in a group of at least three to force a special meeting.

Council members C.O. Bradford, Michael Kubosh, Brenda Stardig and Dave Martin did that last Monday, saying the council had been excluded as Parker negotiated the three-year agreement to lower the city’s costs and that the deal must be vetted publicly.

The unrealized vote would not have been binding because the council has no legal authority over the agreement, but organizers hoped the resolution would raise public awareness of the city’s pension situation and send a signal to the Legislature, which controls Houston’s three pension funds. State Sen. John Whitmire and mayoral candidate and state Rep. Sylvester Turner, both Houston Democrats, have agreed to carry the legislation in Austin.

“A vote would have sent a signal to the state Legislature, so I’m disappointed that we didn’t get the opportunity to express our opinion to the state,” said Martin, who opposes the deal, “but I thought the discussion was good, so I leave here pleased.”

[…]

Parker spokeswoman Janice Evans said the administration is moving forward on getting the deal passed in Austin, and stressed that the mayor has never claimed the agreement represents true pension reform.

“The meeting turned out as we thought it would … a lot of talking, but no new solutions offered and no new information presented,” Evans said.

See here for the background. The Wednesday Council meeting at which Mayor Parker presented the plan to Council could be characterized similarly. Of interest is that not only will there be a bill to enact the negotiated deal, but also one to give the city the kind of control over the pension fund that Mayor Parker had been pushing for before. From the press release that CM Costello sent out on Friday evening:

City of Houston At-Large Council Member Steve Costello was extremely instrumental in crafting House Bill 2608 which was filed today by State Representative Jim Murphy of Houston. Local control of pensions is key to the citizens of Houston. H.B. 2608 will allow the mayor and city council to directly negotiate with its pension plans to create the most beneficial structure for both taxpayers and retirees.

Council Member Costello has also written and distributed a letter to the local Houston delegation encouraging them to support the bill, local control and vote against the Parker/Turner plan.

“There’s no way for the city to pay our pension benefits as currently structured without severely limiting the city’s ability to provide basic city services to its citizens. Without showing real leadership and tackling the pension benefits themselves, the amount the city owes does not change,” Costello said.

“This bill will provide for a more sustainable and responsible pension program that is good for our city, our brave firefighters and Houston taxpayers. Fortunately, Representative Jim Murphy has filed H. B. 2608, and I am pleased to have played a key role in crafting a bill that actually moves us toward a solution,” according to Costello.

Costello continued, “I’m going to continue to fight hard for local control. The City must be able to fulfill our promise to our public safety and municipal employees in a way that is also fair to Houston taxpayers.”

There was no mention of a bill like this at the beginning of the session, when everyone seemed to want the city and the firefighters to work this out among themselves. It’s interesting to hear people like Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who was at the meeting and who expressed his support of Rep. Murphy’s bill, talk favorably of local control when he’s busy helping Greg Abbott eviscerate it elsewhere. Be that as it may, I guess this answers my question about what Costello thinks he can do differently than Mayor Parker – if he’s able to help get HB2608 to Abbott’s desk, it would be quite an accomplishment. The politics of this are going to be fascinating to watch, that’s for sure. I just hope that the Mayoral candidates that lobby for one bill or the other in Austin get equally and visibly involved in beating back the many bad bills out there.

January campaign finance reports – HCC Trustees

There are nine trustees on the HCC board. With them serving six-year terms, in a normal year three trustees are up for re-election; 2013 was an abnormal year, with two extra races to fill out unexpired terms. We are back to normal this time, so we have three races. As with HISD, at this time all incumbents that are up are currently expected to run for re-election, and no opponents have emerged at this early date. Here are the incumbents in question.

Adriana Tamez, District III

Dr. Tamez won one of those two special elections from 2013, to fill out the term of Mary Ann Perez, who stepped down after winning in HD144 in 2012. The candidate she defeated in the runoff was one of two supported by Dave Wilson, so that was extra sweet. (Speaking of Wilson, he nominated himself for Board President at the start of this year, but had to withdraw after no one seconded him. Then, to add insult to injury, Zeph Capo, who defeated Wilson’s buddy Yolanda Navarro Flores in 2013, was elected Board President. Sucks to be you, Dave.) Tamez was elected Board Secretary for this year.

Sandie Mullins, District VI

Sandie Mullins, formerly Meyers, is serving her first term on the Board. She was elected in 2009 without facing an opponent to fill the seat formerly held by now-State Rep. Jim Murphy. (Mills Worsham was named to replace Murphy in 2007 after his initial election in HD133, then Worsham ran for Council in 2009 instead of a full term on HCC.) Like Murphy and her ex-husband, HISD Trustee Greg Meyers, Mullins is a Republican, one of two on the board along with you-know-who. She is herself an alumna of HCC, and serves or has served on a number of other boards.

Eva Loredo, District VIII

Under normal circumstances, Eva Loredo would not be on the HCC Board. She didn’t file for the race in 2009, against incumbent Abel Davila. No one did, and on filing deadline day Davila was expected to run unopposed for re-election. Except that he decided at the last minute not to run, and instead his brother-in-law Art Aguilar filed. That led to a medium-sized crap storm, which led to Aguilar’s withdrawal. Loredo had by then submitted paperwork to be a write-in candidate, with some assistance from the late Sen. Mario Gallegos, and with no other candidate on the ballot, she won. She would be on the ballot this time.

As for finance reports, you may recall that as recently as 2011 it was damn near impossible to lay one’s hands on HCC Trustee finance reports. I claim a small measure of the credit for changing that situation. Be that as it may, the fact that these reports are now available online at this link doesn’t mean that they’re available in a timely fashion. Despite the fact that the city, the county, the school board, and the state all had theirs up within a day or so of the January 15 deadline, HCC still had nothing more recent than last July’s as of yesterday. So those are the totals I will include, pending them getting off their butts and updating this information.

Name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ==================================================== Tamez 7,150 15,392 7,000 610 Mullins 0 1,878 0 18,400 Loredo 0 492 0 2,004 Oliver 8,225 6,060 0 2,165

So there you have it. I’ve included the totals for Chris Oliver as well, since he is now running for Council. I’ll update all this in July, and ought to have my Election 2015 page up by then as well.

Re-deputizing registrars

Did you undergo the training to become a deputy voter registrar this year, perhaps at the urging of Battleground Texas? Well, you’re going to have to do it again if you want to register people for 2015 and/or 2016.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A decades-old part of Texas’ election code is receiving new attention as Democrats look to chart a path forward and maintain their ranks of volunteers qualified to register voters.

Perhaps no organization is expected to feel the effect more than Battleground Texas, whose thousands of deputy voter registrars will lose their certification Dec. 31, and will have to go through training before they can earn it back in the new year.

“This is wildly burdensome,” said Mimi Marziani, voter protection director at Battleground Texas. “The only logical explanation is that all of those things are aimed at the same goal, which is making it much harder to vote.”

Under state election law, deputy volunteer registrars serve two-year terms that expire at the end of even-numbered years. While the provision has been on the books since the 1980s, Democrats predict this year will bring its most far-reaching consequences yet because the number of deputy volunteer registrars has ballooned in just two years.

Activists cite a trio of bills passed in 2011 that toughened the provision. The new laws narrowed the qualifications to be a registrar, made it a crime for registrars to be compensated on the basis of how many voters they sign up, and ordered the secretary of state’s office to set up a training program for registrars.

Activists especially are frustrated with the training requirement, which they say is yet another impediment to building a stable community of registrars. It is one more hurdle the Democrats say they must overcome if they want to bounce back from their worse-than-expected losses in November.

State Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, sponsored House Bill 1570, which requires training for volunteer deputy registrars. He said the legislation may set up another hurdle for groups like Battleground Texas, but it is worth ensuring the registrars know what they are doing.

“It takes away the defense of ‘I didn’t know I couldn’t do that,'” Murphy said. “Clearly, I would agree it’s additional work, but so is having insurance for your house if it burns down.”

In a statement, Battleground Texas spokeswoman Erica Sackin said the group’s volunteers already are signing up to get re-deputized in 2015. Texas’ tough election laws “may have kept away other voter registration organizations, but they can’t stop our volunteers,” Sackin added.

For what it’s worth, I’m a fire warden at my office. I’m officially certified in high-rise fire safety. That means I attended a training session given by a Houston Fire Department captain, along with a couple hundred other people, and I passed an online test related to this training. That certification was good for five years, and as that five years expired a few months ago, I had to take an online review and re-pass the test. I didn’t have to undergo the four hour, in-person training class, I just had to demonstrate via this online test that I still knew what I was supposed to do. It’s not like anything has changed with the procedures in the interim, though I presume that if something had changed the building operations folks with whom we interact would have let us know about it, and it would have been reflected in the recertification test.

My point is that if this sort of process is good enough to be a city of Houston fire warden, it ought to be good enough to be a deputy vote registrar. I doubt anything has changed in how one goes about registering voters this year, and I’m sure local election admins have better things to do that to retrain a bunch of folks who already know the material. Sure, registrars should kow what they’re doing and what is required of them, but an online certification test would accomplish that, at a lower cost and with less inconvenience for all than making everyone trudge down to an office to be lectured at. You tell me what the purpose of all that is. A statement from Battleground Texas is beneath the fold.

(more…)

Bike trails bill

A bill that will clear the way for bike trails to be built on CenterPoint utility rights of way in Harris County has passed both chambers in the Lege and now awaits Rick Perry’s signature.

“We are really, really pleased to have finally put the ball across the goal line,” [author Rep. Jim] Murphy said. “Now, we can start building these trails that are sorely needed at a fraction of the cost.”

Though CenterPoint spokeswoman Alicia Dixon said there are 923 miles of right of way in the county, including 410 in the city of Houston, Murphy said about 100 miles run under large transmission lines, which make the most sense for trails. Brad Parker, president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, which helped negotiate the compromise bill, said there are 142 such miles of local right of way available.

“If you think about our bayou system, they run west to east, not a whole lot of north-south,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “Using utility easements will allow us to vastly expand the opportunities for hike and bike trails and put some really critical connectors north-south.”

Houston voters last fall approved $100 million in bonds to expand the city’s trail system along bayous, to be combined with private and grant funds as the $205 million Bayou Greenway Initiative.

“What is so important about this is (that) these, along with the bayous, will serve as our bicycle interstates,” said cyclist Tom McCasland, director of the Harris County Housing Authority and former lobbyist for the Houston Parks Board. “For those people who don’t want us out on the busy roads, this is the answer. Let us ride these, and then we’ll jump to the side roads to get to our final destinations.”

Houston Parks Board Executive Director Roksan Okan-Vick said the bill would help put under-utilized land to good use. She said there is much to be done, however, from signing agreements with CenterPoint and determining which utility corridors make sense to funding the trails.

[…]

Clark Martinson, a cyclist and general manager of the Energy Corridor Management District, said his group’s plan for west Houston includes a north-south utility corridor west of Beltway 8 that would go from Brays Bayou all the way into Bear Creek Park.

“There’s an amazing number of people that are riding the existing trails. This just opens up safer routes for more neighborhoods,” Martinson said. “With these utility corridors, we’ll be able to tie in neighborhoods that are north of I-10. It gives closer-to-home, safe routes for families, too, not just the commuters.”

Tom Compson, of Bike Houston, said the extension of a trail along a north-south utility corridor that parallels the railroad tracks through Memorial Park and the Galleria would allow a safer route for Galleria bike commuters, keeping him from “taking my life in my hands” in the bike lane on Wesleyan.

“It’s very encouraging,” Compson said. “I don’t think you could find a bike advocate that would be opposed to it.”

The bill in question is HB200; see here and here for the background. The main question had been the amount of liability that CenterPoint would face for allowing this use of their rights-of-way, and in the end I think a reasonable balance was struck. There are a bunch of these throughout the county, and they’re all fairly wide swaths of green land on which the big transmission towers sit. It makes a whole lot of sense to use them for this purpose, and the timing is excellent after the passage of the bond issue last year. We’re still a ways away from anything actually getting built, but this is an important hurdle to clear, and I expect we’ll begin to see some plans and some activity in the next few months. Kudos to all for getting this done.

Bike trail on utility rights-of-way bills filed

This is a big show of support for making bike trails on CenterPoint’s rights of way happen.

Houston voters last fall approved a $166 million bond measure to expand the city’s trail system, to be matched by $105 million in private donations via the Houston Parks Board. About 78 miles of trails would get built, limited largely to east-west paths that run along bayous. Many of the utility easements run north-south.

Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Dan Patrick, R-Houston, filed Senate Bill 633 and state Reps. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, and Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, filed House Bill 200. Both drafts were filed Monday.

In a prepared statement, the lawmakers cast their proposals as a way to cut time and cost in trail development.

“The people of Houston have said loud and clear that they want more hike and bike trails,” Ellis said in a statement. “But it has become very difficult to acquire the land in urban areas like Houston that is suitable for development of trails. This legislation is a unique and innovative compromise solution to develop new trails without undue delays and excess cost.”

See here for the background. I’m not a lawyer, but comparing the text of the original bills that were filed by Reps. Sarah Davis and Jim Murphy, HB 404 and HB 258, to the updated bills HB 200 and SB 633, the main difference seems to me to be that the original bills basically exempted the utility from any and all liability, while the updated bills “[do] not limit the liability of an electric utility for serious bodily injury or death of a person proximately caused by the electric utility’s wilful or wanton acts or gross negligence with respect to a dangerous condition existing on the premises”. That, frankly, was my main concern, so I’m glad to see that saner heads have prevailed. It may be that CenterPoint is still getting away with something here – again, I Am Not A Lawyer, and I don’t know what level of protection CenterPoint would have without this bill – but on the surface at least this looks better to me. Barring any further revelations, I’ll be happy to see this pass. Hair Balls has more.

How much protection from liability do they need?

State Impact asks a good question.

The electricity industry is among the biggest of the big spenders on lobbying the Texas legislature. So when bills are introduced giving the industry extraordinary protection from law suits, you can bet somebody’s going to cry foul.

“It’s a very unusual bill,” says Andrew Wheat at Texans for Public Justice, a corporate watchdog group in Austin.

Wheat’s talking about HB 404, introduced by a Republican representative from Houston, Sarah Davis. The bill is almost identical to HB 258 introduced by fellow Republican from Houston, Jim Murphy.

Both lawmakers say their bills are to allow the construction of hike and bike trails in Harris County on utility-owned rights-of-way, those big ribbons of green that cut across cities. Though primarily for the tall transmission line towers, the rights-of-way would make perfect places to build trails. (Houston voters recently approved $166 million in bonds to fund new trails.)

The owner of such rights-of-way in the Houston area is CenterPoint Energy. It has refused to allow the trails. Why? In an email to StateImpact, a CenterPoint media liaison said it would permit trails “if — and only if — the Texas Legislature provides additional liability protection to CenterPoint from people entering its rights of way.”

What has resulted, though, are bills that would give what lawyers say is almost blanket immunity to CenterPoint Energy should someone get hurt on company property while using it for recreation, even if CenterPoint was “grossly negligent.”

At the request of StateImpact, Richard Alderman, the associate dean of the University of Texas Law Center, took a look at the proposed legislation.

“It’s extremely broad and offers almost unlimited protection from liability beyond what any other entity doing the exact same thing under the exact same circumstances would have,” said Alderman.

He questioned why a new law was even necessary since Texas already has a “recreational use statute” which he says provides substantial protection for property owners when their land is used by others for things like hunting, hiking or biking.

“Frankly, under the recreational liability statute, I doubt there are very many law suits based on somebody who has a hike and bike trail,” said Alderman.

This came up in the 2011 session, but the bill filed by Rep. Davis didn’t go anywhere. I’d certainly like to see these trails built, but I don’t see why CenterPoint needs any special protection. As the story notes, trails like what would be built here already exist on utility-owned rights of way elsewhere. If CenterPoint already has a significant level of protection from liability, and if Oncor in Dallas didn’t need a law written for them to let its right of way be used for this purpose, then why are we even having this discussion? Perhaps what we really need is a little pressure on CenterPoint to drop the unreasonable demands, not to accommodate them. Via Swamplot.

New map, new opportunities: Harris County

For our last stop on this tour we look at Harris County, which provided several pickup opportunities for Democrats last decade. How will they fare this time around?

Harris County's new districts

Republicans started the last decade with a 14-11 advantage – they intended it to be 15-10 after drawing Scott Hochberg out of his seat, but he moved into HD137, drawn at the time to be a 50-50 district, won it, and watched it grow more Democratic with each election. Democrats picked up seats in 2004, 2006, and 2008, then lost two of them in 2010, ending the decade at a 13-12 disadvantage. This map shrinks the Harris delegation to 24 seats and in doing so forces the only Dem-on-Dem pairing, as Hochberg and Hubert Vo were thrown together. At this point I don’t know who is going to do what. I’ve heard rumors about Hochberg moving to 134, which includes a fair amount of turf from his pre-2001 district, but that’s all they are. We won’t know till much later, and I doubt anyone will commit to a course of action until the Justice Department has weighed in.

Assuming there are no changes, the Republicans had some work to do to shore up their members. With the current map, Jim Murphy in 133 and Sarah Davis in 134 would be heavily targeted, with Dwayne Bohac in 138 and Ken Legler in 144 also likely to face stiff competition. By virtue of shifting districts west, where the population has grown and where the Republicans have more strength, they bought themselves some time. Here’s a look at the 2004 Molina numbers for the old districts versus the 2008 Sam Houston numbers in both the old and the new ones.

Dist 04 Molina Old Houston New Houston ======================================== 126 32.9 42.0 37.9 127 28.3 33.3 32.4 128 35.5 38.9 38.0 129 33.4 36.8 38.6 130 23.6 29.5 26.4 132 30.3 41.4 40.6 133 44.0 51.2 41.6 134 43.3 44.7 42.6 135 35.5 42.1 39.5 136 28.1 31.7 40.0 138 41.1 44.8 40.3 144 39.9 45.1 42.1 150 28.4 36.4 33.0

A couple of massive shifts, in 133 to protect Murphy, and in 136 where Beverly Woolley gave up some turf to help out Bohac and Davis. Some Democratic districts got even bluer, though not all of them; losing a district allowed voters of all stripes to be spread around more. Woolley and Davis’ districts cover neighborhoods that are unlikely to change much, so what you see there is likely to be what you’ll get. Everywhere else, especially in the western territories – 132, 133, 135, and 138 – are likely to see change similar to what we saw last decade. I wouldn’t be surprised if their partisan numbers are already different. The question is how much time have the Republicans bought themselves, and how much effort and resources the Democrats will put into reaching the new residents out there; not much had been done in the past. Other than perhaps Davis, who will surely be attacked for voting mostly in lockstep with the rest of the Republicans, it’s not clear that any of these seats are winnable next year, but the results we get at that time may tell us when they’ll be ripe for the picking. I expect we’ll see some turnover over time, but I don’t know how much.

Solomons State House map 2.0

Go to http://gis1.tlc.state.tx.us/ and check out Plan H134 for a revised State House map from House Redistricting Chair Burt Solomons. Here’s the Harris County view:

Harris County, take two

Still 24 districts, with either Rep. Scott Hochberg or Rep. Hubert Vo on the outside looking in. In this variation, HD143 goes back to being an East End seat, and HD148 regains some of its old territory in the Heights, but my part of the Heights gets moved into HD145, which would make me a constituent of Rep. Carol Alvarado. As with Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna, I would be delighted to be her constituent, but heartbroken not to be Rep. Jessica Farrar’s constituent. HD134 gains a little more outside the Loop territory, but most of the districts on the west side look not too different than they were before. Beyond Harris County, the only thing I looked for was the weird uterus-shaped HD149 that surrounds and passed through Williamson County. It’s still there. You’ve got to be a little desperate to maintain Republican hegemony if you’re drawing districts like that.

Also, State Rep. Garnet Coleman has submitted a plan, Plan H130. The Harris view:

Rep. Coleman's map for Harris County

That one has 25 seats in Harris County, so Reps. Hochberg and Vo can remain. It also puts me back into HD148, which just feels right. And as we turn our eyes to Williamson County, we see no uterine districts. All of which means that this map won’t be given a moment’s thought.

With regards to Rep. Hochberg, I note that someone has been whispering into Burka‘s ear.

I haven’t discussed Hochberg’s plans with him, but I did hear from sources close to Sarah Davis that she expects Hochberg to move into her district and run against her.

I don’t know who his sources are and I don’t know who his sources’ sources are, but I do know that I have not heard anything like this from Democrats as yet. In fact, the reaction many of us had was that it was Rep. Vo who’d gotten the short end of the stick, since the HD137 drawn (in the original map, anyway; I can’t vouch for the revised map just yet) has more of Hochberg’s precincts in it than Vo’s. I personally thought Vo might be better off running against Rep. Jim Murphy in HD133, since as noted before it might be viable for him. Burka’s sources may be right and they may be wrong, I’m just saying that I’m not hearing the same buzz that he is.

Finally, a couple of stories from the Monitor and the Guardian about redistricting in South Texas and the disposition of Hidalgo County. I figure they wind up getting shafted again, which is to say business as usual.

UPDATE: The following was sent out by email from Karen Loper, Rep. Vo’s campaign manager, last night:

Message from Hubert Vo for help with redistricting

The Texas House Committee on Redistricting  has re-drawn the district lines of the State Representatives and  filed the plan as HB150.   District 149 which is Hubert Vo’s district has been eliminated.  Many of the  precincts in his district have been moved to other districts which breaks up the voting strength of all  ethnicities including the Vietnamese.  The only 3 current Vo precincts left after they move the others are combined with District 137.

Letters should be sent as soon as possible to the redistricting committee.  We have attached two sample letters to email or fax – one is for you to use if you live in District 149 and the other should be sent if you live somewhere else.  These letters will be used  for  the committee and also will be sent to the Department of Justice (DOJ) where the redistricting map must be approved .

All you have to do is date the letter and type in your name and address at the bottom.   You can make additions to the letter if you wish to do so. The letters should not argue the Democratic and Republican point because that is not part of the DOJ’s concerns.  You can email or fax the letter. The e-mail address and fax number are listed below.  PLEASE SEND A COPY TO HUBERT VO ALSO

SEND YOUR LETTER TO:

marc.veasey@house.state.tx.us or Fax (512) 463-1516

AND SEND A COPY TO:

hubert.vo@house.state.tx.us or Fax (512) 463-0548

Sample letters were included. You can see them here and here.

You got a license for that downward dog?

How much regulation do yoga teachers need?

In the past few years, the Texas Workforce Commission has begun sending letters to programs that train yoga instructors, advising them they must get certified to operate as a career school or college, or request an exemption. Career schools and colleges are regulated under the state’s education code.

Certification costs $1,000 to $3,000, and schools that don’t comply can be closed or penalized $1,000 a day. Exemptions are allowed for training programs that cost less than $500, last fewer than 24 hours or are designed to teach recreational or avocational subjects.

The amount of training required to become a yoga teacher varies, but the Yoga Alliance , a national education and support organization, has 200-hour or 500-hour standards for teachers. Training generally costs at least $3,000.

Jennifer Buergermeister, who owns two yoga studios in Houston and is founder and executive director of the nonprofit Texas Yoga Association , lobbied state Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, to introduce a bill that would exclude from regulation yoga teacher training programs because they don’t meet the state’s definition of a career school or college — institutions that offer postsecondary instruction that leads to a professional academic career or vocational degree.

That change in language through House Bills 1839 and 2167 , now in committee, would exclude schools that train instructors of yoga, Pilates, karate and other recreational activities from the definition if they do not lead to an educational credential.

[…]

Murphy said his bill is more about limited government than yoga specifically. Training programs that don’t require a high school degree or lead to certification shouldn’t be regulated by the state, he said.

“If you’re going to be a barber, I want those schools licensed or inspected. But if you’re just doing something for gardeners about how to grow vegetables, you don’t need to be regulated. It’s a hobby versus a career,” he said. “At the end of the day, I don’t think (regulation) produces any better of a product.”

Here are HB1839 and HB2167. I disagree with Rep. Murphy’s last sentence, but I do agree with the general sentiment about regulating careers versus hobbies. And I’d actually go a little farther than Rep. Murphy and suggest that some of the licensing requirements we have for certain careers serve not as guardians of public safety but as barriers to entry, and they ought to be reviewed for efficiency and effectiveness. Licensing overreach is a topic that Matthew Yglesias often writes about, and I think he makes some good points. I’d call these bills a step in the right direction.

Harris County minus one?

Despite essentially keeping up with the state growth rate, Harris County may lose a legislative seat in the next round of redistricting.

As Texas lawmakers turn their attention to the complex and contentious task of redrawing their own districts, that loss will set in motion a game of musical chairs to determine who has a place among the 150 House seats. That number does not change despite a 20 percent increase in population statewide, which means the kaleidoscope of voters each lawmaker represents will shift. Harris County is expected to go from 25 to 24 state House seats.

Legislative districts, redrawn every 10 years in the wake of federal census results, must be roughly the same size, somewhere near 167,637 people per district. Although Harris County is home to more people than in 2000, its growth lags behind such suburban areas as Fort Bend and Montgomery counties.

Much of the redistricting process is a legalistic one involving adherence to federal law and state redistricting principles, said Trey Trainor, an Austin lawyer who advises Republicans on redistricting.

“From a political standpoint,” Trainor said, “it gets bloody when you start looking at population loss, and you have members of the Legislature who just don’t have the sheer numbers in their district, and you’ve got to go someplace else to get them. You start cutting into core constituencies of other members.”

In Harris County, the question is, who will be the odd man (or woman) out?

“It’s not necessarily that the seat goes away,” Trainor said, “but you’re going to end up with one or two incumbents in the same district having to run against each other, if they decide to do that. Of course, you know a lot of times what happens in these cases is somebody who’s been here awhile decides to retire and makes it easier on everybody else.”

A few thoughts:

Greg saw this coming months ago. The final Census totals put Harris County right on the knife’s edge of maintaining 25 seats, so I suppose it’s still possible that could happen. We still haven’t heard anything from those that are actually going to draw the maps, and dealmaking is always a possibility. I’m inclined to think that 24 is more likely than 25, however. Remember, for big counties like Harris state law forbids State Rep districts from crossing county boundaries, so sharing a district with Fort Bend or Montgomery is not an option.

– The story suggests that Republicans may target Rep. Scott Hochberg, the only Anglo Democrat currently serving in Harris County, for elimination. I say it’s far too early to write anyone’s political obituary. Hochberg was similarly drawn out of a district in 2001, but found a new home and won there. You just never know.

– Having said that, I might suggest that one person with a reason to be nervous is two-term State Rep. Ken Legler, whose district is centered in Pasadena. While the west, northwest, and north ends of Harris County grew like gangbusters, the eastern portion stagnated or shrunk; what growth there was out that way was mostly nonAnglo. It may be awfully hard to draw two sufficiently Republican districts with enough population out there to support both Legler and Rep. Wayne Smith, whose Baytown area is easily the redder. Again, you never know. My point is that there are a lot of moving parts to this, and you can’t affect one district without affecting all of them.

– Trainor is correct that sometimes these problems solve themselves via a member’s retirement, whether voluntary or not. Retirement isn’t the only way that a member may decide to free up a seat, however. There may be a different office available to them, for instance. Who do you suppose might become Ed Emmett’s bestest buddy in the event that Jerry Eversole gets convicted in his trial, which was actually supposed to begin this past week? Dwayne Bohac has been rumored to be interested in that job; I’m certain he’s not alone in that desire. Keep an eye on this.

– As we’ve seen, electoral results can differ greatly in Presidential and non-Presidential years. If nothing were changing this year, the most endangered incumbent in Harris County would be Jim Murphy, whose track record so far is winning in 2006 and 2010 and losing in 2008. As I said before, figuring out which electoral data to base the boundaries on will be extra challenging this time around, and could lead to some districts whose predisposition is dependent on the year.

All that and we haven’t even had the barest hint of a possible draft map yet. Just wait till that starts to happen. Greg and PDiddie have more.

What about red light cameras elsewhere?

Before the election, I noted a DMN story about how the red light camera referendum in Houston might spur opponents in other cities to try their luck with a similar ban. This DMN story discusses that, but you have to get past a few glaring errors first.

More than 50 Texas communities have installed the cameras since 2003, when Garland became the state’s first city to do so. But growing opposition, buttressed by the same brand of anti-government ire that propelled the tea party this fall, has cast an uncertain future on the cameras.

That includes Dallas, which uses some 60 cameras citywide. Legislators in Austin, who almost passed a statewide camera ban in 2009, have pledged to take up the issue again next year.

First of all, Republican voters in Houston voted for the red light cameras. It was the heavily Democratic, African-American neighborhoods – the opposite of teabaggerdom – that opposed them the most strongly. Second, while it may well be the case that the Lege will take the matter up next year and may well pass a ban, it was two Republican legislators – State Sen. John Carona and State Rep. Jim Murphy – that sponsored the legislation in 2007 that gave cities the official authority to operate the cameras. Things aren’t always as they appear.

A similar petition has yet to surface in Dallas, Fort Worth or the 11 other North Texas cities that use red-light cameras. But one might not be far off.

After voters in Garfield Heights, Ohio, rejected cameras earlier this month, some in neighboring Cleveland began their own ballot drive.

Petition or not, it may be a matter of time before North Texas faces a camera reckoning like Houston. State Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr., D-Corpus Christi, co-sponsored a statewide camera ban in 2009 and says he plans to again.

I’m afraid that’s going to be difficult for Rep. Ortiz to do, since he was defeated in his re-election bid. In fact, both of the main camera opponents from the 2009 Lege, Ortiz and Rep. Carl Isett, who chose not to run for re-election, will be absent in this session. I’m certain there are others who will take up the mantle, but at the very least the face of camera opposition will be different this time around.

Anyway. I won’t be surprised if the Lege takes up a bill to ban the cameras, and I won’t be surprised if that bill passes. I just wish this article had been more useful.

UPDATE: Received the following via Facebook from Stephen Polunsky of Sen. John Carona’s staff:

Hi – this statement from your blog is incorrect, would you mind correcting it? “State Sen. John Carona and State Rep. Jim Murphy – that sponsored the legislation in 2007 that gave cities the official authority to operate the cameras.” It was a floor amendment by Rep. Linda Harper-Brown the previous session that authorized the cameras (see press coverage from the time). Carona/Murphy clarified the authority and placed limits on it. Let me know if I can help further. Steven Polunsky, on Senator Carona’s staff, 463-0365.

My apologies for the confusion. What I recall about the Carona/Murphy bill was that there had been a lawsuit filed by Michael Kubosh that claimed that cities could not issue civil citations for running red lights; state law at the time was not clear on the subject. It was the clarification of that authority in the Carona/Murphy bill that I was referring to. I should have been more specific about that. My larger point was that it was Republicans who passed legislation that gave cities this authority, and as Rep. Harper-Brown is also a Republican, that still stands. Anyway, my thanks to Stephen Polunsky for the feedback.

Thibaut versus Murphy, third time around

We know that the story of HD133, which has now been won twice by Jim Murphy and once by Kristi Thibaut, is one of turnout. With sufficient turnout in the Democratic part of the district – that is, the precincts in Rep. Al Green’s CD09 – it’s a Democratic district. With dominant turnout in the Republican part of the district – the precincts in Rep. John Culberson’s CD07 – it’s a Republican district. How did things look this year?


CD07 - 2010

Pcnct  Votes  Turnout  Murphy Thibaut  T Pct  T Margin
======================================================
130     1483    64.37    1145    285   19.93      -860
356     1456    51.02     978    425   30.29      -553
395     1064    59.64     782    240   23.48      -542
437     1195    60.38     892    270   23.24      -622
438     1132    63.52     879    213   19.51      -666
483     1856    43.85    1075    700   39.44      -375
492     1214    48.39     790    400   33.61      -390
493      962    53.47     696    235   25.24      -461
499     1498    65.56    1146    311   21.35      -835
504     1363    60.82     991    346   25.88      -645
625      990    53.40     646    314   32.71      -332
626     1231    43.22     731    455   38.36      -276
706      213    40.19     130     78   37.50       -52
727      764    31.48     265    466   63.75       201

Total 18,369    50.44  11,146  4,738   29.83    -6,408


CD09 - 2010

Pcnct  Votes  Turnout  Murphy Thibaut  T Pct  T Margin
======================================================
96       323    26.22      38     274  87.82       236
338     1561    33.85     498    1001  66.78       503
429     1142    27.93     278     819  74.66       541
487      966    30.35     340     582  63.12       242
503      402    28.71     131     246  65.25       115
508     1179    36.71     397     728  64.71       431
559     1449    32.14     433     940  68.46       507
565      752    22.49     120     597  83.26       477
620     1948    39.05    1103     783  41.52      -320
765     1335    34.83     608     681  52.83        73

Total 11,057    32.14   3,946   6,651  62.76     2,705

The good news from Thibaut’s perspective is that turnout was up in her good precincts by quite a bit over 2006. The bad news is that it was also up in the bad precincts for her. Both did a little better percentage-wise in their strong areas, with Murphy doing a little better than Thibaut at improving the base rate. In the end, Murphy’s margin was larger in absolute terms than it was in 2006, but slightly smaller in relative terms. That’s not a whole lot of comfort, but given what a wave this was for Republicans, it makes Thibaut’s showing look more respectable.

I wondered what the result might have been in a somewhat more normal year. Out of curiosity, I applied the turnout and voter percentage rates from 2006 to all of the CD07 districts, and left the CD09 districts as they were for this year. This is how it looks in CD07 based on that:


Pcnct  Votes  Turnout  Murphy Thibaut  T Pct  T Margin
======================================================
130     1246    54.09     924     322  25.85      -602
356     1128    39.51     756     371  32.94      -385
395      880    49.32     626     253  28.81      -373
437      997    50.39     748     249  24.98      -499
438      975    54.71     731     244  25.03      -487
483     1464    34.58     873     591  40.35      -282
492      917    36.55     610     307  33.47      -303
493      818    45.46     577     240  29.40      -337
499     1237    54.15     911     326  26.38      -585
504     1153    51.47     797     357  30.93      -440
625      830    44.75     517     313  37.69      -404
626     1049    36.83     611     438  41.72      -173
706      175    33.09     108      68  38.69       -40
727      484    19.96     198     287  59.20        89

      13,354    42.49   8,987   4,366  32.70    -4,621
                       12,933  11,107  46.38           

That last row represents what the total numbers would have been. The overall turnout rate, and Thibaut’s percentage of the vote, are each a bit different than what I showed in the original post for 2006 because I apparently just averaged the percentages back then, instead of adding the actual vote and voter numbers and figuring it out from there. My bad. Anyway, what this shows is that this district was always going to be a tough hold, but was at least within hailing distance of a win under more normal circumstances. It’ll be very interesting to see what happens here in the 2011 redistricting. One obvious “fix” would be to shift some of those CD09 precincts to Hubert Vo’s HD149, while moving some CD07 precincts from there to here. That shores up Murphy while acknowledging that if the Republicans couldn’t take out Vo in 2008 with his apartment issues and a strong candidate opposing him, and they couldn’t take him out in this hundred-year-flood year, they’re not likely to ever take him out. We’ll see about that.

For those who might wonder about Bill White’s ability to attract crossover votes, I should note that he lost this district by all of 15 votes. Here’s how the other statewide candidates who had Democratic opponents did this year and in 2006:


Incumbent   2006%   2010%   06 margin  10 margin
================================================
Dewhurst    62.30   58.94       4,952      4,645
Abbott      63.43   60.33       5,456      5,436
Patterson   59.84   59.03       3,902      4,656
Staples     59.27   58.18       3,688      4,197

Dewhurst and Abbott saw their percentages drop as much as they did because their margins were smaller with more votes being cast. Patterson and to a lesser extent Staples were helped by the increase in straight ticket voting, as both of them had a higher undervote rate in 2006 than in 2010. If you’re curious, you can see how the first three candidates did in 2002 here, on page 131.

Here comes the late money

The 8 days out finance reports are in, and it’s about what you’d expect.

Millions of dollars poured into Texas legislative campaigns during the past month as interest groups tried to maximize their influence and partisans readied for the upcoming fight over the redrawing of House and Senate districts.

Those millions, predominantly from business owners and trial lawyers, have allowed candidates in the Austin area and across the state to clog the television airwaves with their closing pitches before Tuesday’s election.

“Money flows late because late money follows the races that are being run effectively,” said Republican consultant Ted Delisi. “Because we have two weeks of early voting and we have a lot of polling, you can understand which campaigns are gaining traction and which ones aren’t, so you’re not betting blindly.”

Big-dollar donors and interest groups also give late so that the donors themselves don’t become lightning rods in the campaigns. Candidates did not have to publicly disclose contributions they received after Sept. 23 until Monday, when early voting was more than halfway over.

“The general consensus among operatives is, it’s too late to do anything with it,” Delisi said. “The election is 30 to 35 percent over right now.”

Yeah, this is the time to do the stuff you’re least proud of, because the potential for blowback decreases greatly with each passing day. There’s stuff about particular races in that story, and the DMN and EoW have more. As I didn’t see anything specific to Harris County, I figured I’d spot check a few races here to see who’s getting what. Here are the amounts raised since the 30 day reports:

Kristi Thibaut, $119,649
Jim Murphy, $172,222

Ellen Cohen, $100,279
Sarah Davis, $69,116

Dwayne Bohac, $113,955
Kendra Yarbrough Camarena, $36,815

Ken Legler, $178,299
Rick Molina, $85,969

Legler also collected $184,885 as of the 30 days out report after only taking in $82,135 for the first six months of the year. I’ve heard a rumble or two that he’s in a tighter race than originally thought. Make of this what you will.

Hubert Vo, $109,135
Jack O’Connor, $183,938

O’Connor is a great example of how the late money train works. Almost $170,000 of that total comes from five sources:

– Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund, $40,000 cash
– Conservative Republicans of Texas, approximately $35,000 in kind
– Republican Party of Texas, $23,000 cash plus another $2,066 in kind
– Robert Rowling of Irving, TN (that’s Tennessee, not Texas), $25,000 cash
– Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, $40,000 cash plus $2,300 in kind

All for a guy who had raised about $65,000 on his own all year. He’s not the only one, of course – Legler got $125,000 from Speaker Straus. Murphy got a lot of assorted PAC money plus $25,000 from the Republican Party of Texas Texas Victory State Account plus a $9200 mailer from the RPT, $20,000 from Bob Perry, $10,500 from three members of the Trammel Crow family in Dallas, and $10,000 from TLR. Bohac also got help from the Speaker, $25,000 worth. I didn’t notice any other donations larger than $5K for him, nor did I see anything of the magnitude noted here for Davis. Again, draw your own conclusions about who sees what opportunities and threats.

Finally, on a tangential note, one unfamiliar name I saw in four of the five Republican reports (all but O’Connor) was a Curtis Mewbourne, of Mewbourne Oil, who handed out 16 donations of $5K each to various legislative candidates (plus a $75K gift to David Dewhurst) since September 24, all but two (incumbents Joe Heflin and Mark Homer) to Republicans. I note his name for future reference, since you know that sooner or later there’ll be some pro quo for all that quid.

Back to Basics jumps in to HD133

The Back to Basics folks, who must have the busiest website design shop in the Western hemisphere, have jumped into the HD133 race by going after Jim Murphy, the former Rep from HD133 running to win his seat back from incumbent Rep. Kristi Thibaut. This page doesn’t have the bells and whistles that some of their other efforts have had – it looks an awful lot like a mail piece that’s about to get dropped – but it is characteristically aggressive and unapologetic, two things you need in a year where base mobilization is key. And if there’s a single House district in Harris County where that will be critical, it’s HD133. Consider the following chart of Democratic high scores in the district since 2002:

Year Candidate Pct State ============================== 2002 Mirabal 42.7 45.9 2004 Molina 44.0 42.1 2006 Moody 43.8 46.8 2008 Obama 51.9 43.6

This doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Margaret Mirabal, who carried Harris County, was an outlier that year. Only John Sharp, at 40.3%, joined her in cracking 40% in 133, and all other Democrats ran six or seven points behind their state total there. In 2006, four other statewide Democrats topped 40%, with countywide candidates doing even better – Jim Sharp was the high scorer, with 44.7% – and all statewides doing two to three points worse there than overall. I figure the baseline has probably moved another two points or so in the Democratic direction. That’s clearly not enough to win, but now look at the difference between 2004, when then-Rep. “Moldy Joe” Nixon ran without a Democratic opponent and there was precious little going on organizationally to get Democratic votes out, and 2008. The district wasn’t that much bluer in 2008 than in previous years, it just voted like it. If Democrats get their voters out in HD133, they win, simple as that. We’ve got a great candidate at the top of the ticket, we’re vastly better organized than we were even four years ago, and we’ve got a strong candidate running for re-election. The rest is up to us.

Interview with State Rep. Kristi Thibaut

Rep. Kristi Thibaut

State Rep. Kristi Thibaut is a freshman representing HD133 out in west Harris County. She’s a former legislative aide and was a fundraiser for various organizations before winning election in 2008 in her second attempt. Hers is a true swing district and this will be one of the top races in the county as she faces off against former Rep. Jim Murphy for the third straight election. We talked about that and other things in our conversation:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

Fundraising: Harris County State Reps

I’ve collected fundraising reports for Harris County State Rep races of interest; they’re all beneath the fold. Here are the highlights:

– In the rubber match between State Rep. Kristi Thibaut in HD133 and former State Rep. Jim Murphy, Thibaut has a slight lead in fundraising – she collected $116K to Murphy’s $112K – and cash on hand, $150K to $125K. I’m actually a little surprised there wasn’t more money raised in this race, but I figure by the time it’s all done at least double the amount raised so far will have been hauled in.

– Ellen Cohen has a commanding lead over Sarah Davis. Cohen took in $230K and has $265K on hand. Davis collected $54K, but thanks to a total of $114K in loans, all coming from Kent and Edie Adams beginning with the January 15 reporting period, she has $103K on hand.

– In HD138, Kendra Yarbrough Camarena did well, raising $106K, with $120K on hand. Dwayne Bohac clearly wasn’t taking any chances, as he raked in $201K, with $228K on hand.

– Possibly the biggest surprise was in HD144, where challenger Rick Molina out-raised first-term incumbent Ken Legler, $92K to $82K, and also held more cash, $23,597 to $11,545. It’s not clear to me why Molina’s COH figure isn’t higher, since he only spent $36K; Legler spent almost as much as he raised, $81K in all.

– As of last night, the reports for Hubert Vo and Jack O’Connor in HD149 were not available. According to the explanation, “the Ethics Commission may not make a report filed with the Commission available on the Internet unless all candidates and related specific-purpose political committees in a race have filed. To date, all reports in this race have not been filed. Therefore, this report is not currently viewable.” Note that there is a Libertarian candidate in this race as well. I’ll add these reports to the post when I find them.

As I said, other races of interest are posted below. Overall, I’d say the Democratic candidates have done a good job, with Republicans other than Legler and his puzzling cash shortage in decent shape, too. With no Congressional races of interest, and the County Judge race not evenly matched early on, these may be the highest profile contests in the county this year.

UPDATE: Vo and O’Connor’s totals are in. Vo raised $15K and has $37K on hand. He’s always done some self-funding, and has $95K in loans outstanding. O’Connor took in $12K and has $6500 on hand, but those numbers are a bit misleading. $10K of O’Connor’s contributions were two $5K in-kind donations, each for a month’s rent. He also reported $6K in a loan to himself on his detailed report, but for some odd reason that didn’t show up in the summary.

(more…)

Interview with Mills Worsham

Mills WorshamNext up is Mills Worsham, who is a candidate in District G. Worsham is the Houston Community College Trustee representing District 6, succeeding Jim Murphy after the latter’s election to the State Legislature in 2006. He is a native Houstonian who was educated in HISD and who graduated from the University of Houston, and a 20-year partner in Worsham Interests, Ltd. Worsham is a resident of Briargrove Park.

Download the MP3 file

PREVIOUSLY:

Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4
Brenda Stardig, District A
Oliver Pennington, District G
Amy Peck, District A
Herman Litt, At Large #1
Natasha Kamrani, HISD Trustee in District I, not running for re-election
Alex Wathen, District A
Robert Kane, District F
Council Member Melissa Noriega, At Large #3
Jeff Downing, District A
Mike Laster, District F
Council Member Jolanda Jones, At Large #5

Mattress Mack is watching you

Be sure to smile for the cameras if you visit the Westchase District.

A West Houston nonprofit group on Tuesday applied for city permission to install the first of a dozen security cameras it plans to purchase to reduce crime in the affluent neighborhood.

Images from the cameras will be fed to the Houston Police Department as part of an ongoing city initiative to assemble a network of hundreds of security cameras to monitor public streets, stadiums, freeways and the Port of Houston.

Calling it a prime example of a private-public partnership for public safety, HPD Assistant Chief Vickie King said the westside initiative is allowed by city ordinance.

“Communities who want to install cameras that capture movements on the public right of way may do so, so long as private property is shielded from view,” she said.

The proposed camera system was introduced Tuesday by Houston businessman Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale and his wife, Linda, who live in an apartment at the Westside Tennis and Fitness Center, which they own. McIngvale said he became a fan of camera-surveillance technology because it quickly ended auto thefts and burglaries after he installed them at his furniture business.

“Police are stretched on their budgets, so it’s something we wanted to do as merchants,” said McIngvale, a member of the nonprofit Operation Westside Success, which is raising money for the system. “We’ve got a big economic stake in this, and it’s up to us to make our neighborhoods better.”

Dennis Storemski, director of the Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security, said the city has 25 surveillance cameras in the central business district and is using federal grants to tie into state highway-department cameras on Houston freeways, as well as cameras monitoring the Houston Ship Channel and port facilities.

Yes, I remember when the existing downtown cameras became more ubiquitous. At the time, the goal was given as crime reduction as well as better response to emergency calls. While the former is clearly a goal of the Westchase cameras, it’s interesting to note that wasn’t mentioned here as a function of the downtown cameras. Not sure if that reflects an official shift or just the vagaries of editing, but I thought it was worth pointing out. I also rememher that some folks got all freaked out by the downtown cameras, which were an initiative of HPD Chief Harold Hurtt, who is not mentioned in this story. I wonder if there will be a similar reaction to this.

James Murphy, general manager of the Westchase District, said cameras the improvement district installed on private property outside restaurants and shopping malls led to a dramatic reduction in crime.

“We have 11 cameras we’re using, and it’s fantastic,” Murphy said. “We’ve reduced parking-lot crime in those locations 70 percent on average, and in some areas more. We’re talking about auto theft, auto break-ins and robberies.”

Somewhat serendipitously, this story appeared a day after this one, about a study on the CCTV cameras in London.

The use of closed-circuit television in city and town centres and public housing estates does not have a significant effect on crime, according to Home Office-funded research to be distributed to all police forces in England and Wales this summer.

The review of 44 research studies on CCTV schemes by the Campbell Collaboration found that they do have a modest impact on crime overall but are at their most effective in cutting vehicle crime in car parks, especially when used alongside improved lighting and the introduction of security guards.

That seems to jibe with the Westchase experience. As long as they don’t see the cameras as a panacea, they ought to get some benefit from them. Thanks to Grits for the link.

Is the Lege going back on red light cameras?

Last session, after several prior attempts to ban cities from using red light cameras, the Lege passed a bill (SB1119) that granted cities the authority to use them, with some restrictions. Via Matt Stiles, it seems one of the legislators who had made those previous attempts to ban the cameras is still at it.

A bill that would ban local authorities from using red-light cameras like this one at Bellaire and the Southwest Freeway in Houston got a key vote [Thursday] night in the Legislature.

The legislation, authored by state Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, was passed out of the House urban affairs committee on the 6-5 vote.

As we’ve written before, Isett is no fan of red-light cameras. His city actually lost money with them.

The Texas Legislature Online page for HB2639 doesn’t show the committee vote, so I can’t say who did what. I’ve looked at the text of the bill, and it’s not fully clear to me what it does – it substitutes “local authority” for “municipality” as part of its wording, which distinction I don’t really understand. Be that as it may, this may make it to the House floor to a vote, but I think it’s likely to be a calendars casualty in the Senate. I just don’t get the impression that there’s enough sentiment to undo what was done last time. But you never know, so we’ll keep an eye on this.

Fun fact: Three of the four House sponsors of SB1119 are no longer in the House: Jim Murphy, the author of the House companion bill for SB11119, was defeated in November by Rep. Kristi Thibaut; Kevin Bailey was defeated in the Democratic primary by Rep. Armando Walle, who is now on the Urban Affairs committee; and Dianne Delisi retired. I can confidently state that SB1119 had nothing to do with Murphy or Bailey’s defeats, but it’ll be interesting to see how all of their replacements vote on HB2639 if it comes to the floor.

Two legislator stories

The Chron has a nice profile of State Rep. Kristi Thibaut, who had a very busy year last year.

Thibaut first ran for the Legislature in 2006. She had been a state Senate messenger and a government major while in college and a legislative aide for two years. Taught by her father to hunt geese on the coast, she had headed the youth hunting group. She also worked for the Texas Wildlife Foundation and as a campaign fundraiser.

Thibaut got at least one Republican vote: her husband’s. But she lost the race to Republican Jim Murphy in District 133, which includes upper-middle-class homes and modest apartment complexes near Westheimer and the Sam Houston Tollway.

Democrats reloaded on hope for 2008. Thibaut started running again in late 2007. And the candidate, who had suffered a miscarriage months earlier, talked with her husband about starting the adoption process after November’s election.

Then Thibaut got pregnant.

“I was as hysterical as anybody in that position would be,” she recalled. She’d been fearful she would disappoint supporters and contributors who might think she no longer was game for political combat.

But she was. Her husband encouraged her to stay on the campaign trail, as did groups such as Annie’s List, which backs Democratic women seeking Texas offices.

Her son was born June 11, and soon after, Thibaut sought campaign donations with a letter that included a baby photo. On Election Day, she greeted voters at polling places with her son, who wore a T-shirt saying “Vote for my mommy.”

Child exploitation for political gain? “We were shameless,” Thibaut said.

Turnout doubled from 2006. She beat Murphy by fewer than 500 votes.

I remember talking to Thibaut shortly after the news of her pregnancy became public. She was confident at the time that she could run an effective campaign, and more importantly raise the funds she’d need to run that campaign, during and after her pregnancy. The results speak for themselves. Thibaut got a sizable boost from the Democratic wave of 2008, and will be one of the more endangered incumbents in 2010 because of that; Murphy is running again, for the rubber match. She’s a hard worker, she’s already got some good legislative results, and she’s just a super person, so if anyone can hold that seat, it’s her.

Meanwhile, the Statesman has an interesting piece on longtime conservative stalwart Rep. Warren Chisum, who lost power in the Speaker transition but has since morphed into a key player on environmental legislation.

With ever more likely federal rules limiting emissions of carbon dioxide, which have been associated with global warming, Chisum has teamed up with Democrats and some Republicans to make business-friendly proposals that would give subsidies to companies that capture greenhouse gas emissions.

Chisum, in short, has sought out engagement with the federal government over carbon dioxide rules even as some leading Republicans have taken a more confrontational posture.

Gov. Rick Perry, for one, has warned against an activist Environmental Protection Agency and said the greenhouse gas rules could derail the economy in a state that is the nation’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide.

But Chisum has avoided the politically divisive rhetoric of global warming, which most Texas Republican leaders are unwilling to connect to emissions from the state’s power plants and manufacturing facilities.

Instead, he has focused on modest goals aimed at tamping down the state’s carbon emissions by dishing out tax breaks and other incentives to industries. The proposals could save utilities and other industries money, depending on how expensive carbon emissions become under federal limits, and could earn Texas political credit as those limits are shaped.

“There’s not much sympathy for Texas” in Washington, said Chisum, who said the state should try to influence the shape of federal law. “We should try to get a legitimate seat in any rule-making that the federal government is involved in sooner rather than later.”

Chisum gets positive reviews from environmental advocates in the piece, though they note that there’s a whole lot of legislation that hasn’t passed yet. He’s really a good fit for the role he’s taken here, because everyone likes and respects him, and he’s clearly taken a pragmatic, let’s-get-things-done perspective. I wish him well in this pursuit.

Rep. Thibaut

Nice article in the Observer about freshman State Rep. Kristi Thibaut, whom the paper has tagged as a “woman to watch” for this session. I had the pleasure of meeting Rep. Thibaut back before she first ran for office, and I’m really happy to see not only that she made it, but that she’s looking to shake things up a bit. She’ll have a fight for re-election in 2010, in what will be the rubber match against now-former Rep. Jim Murphy, but she’s got the district’s trends (which mirror those of the county as a whole) and the power of incumbency in her favor. Hers may be the top race in the county next year; it will surely be in the top three or so. Keep an eye on Rep. Kristi Thibaut.