Six Debates


Evidently, the Ben Hall campaign sent out a press release (please see image) this morning challenging Mayor Parker to six –yes, I said SIX– debates between Labor Day and Election Day. The exact text of the announcement goes as follows:

The Honorable Annise Parker
Mayor of Houston
901Bagby Street
Houston, TX 77002

Dear Mayor Parker,

I am writing to propose that you and I share our contrasting ideas and vision for the
future of this great city through a series of debates.

Three debates should be held after Labor Day but prior to the start of early voting
and three additional debates after the start of early voting and before our November
election. Too much is at stake for us not to share our plans for Houston with her
citizens, and I hope you agree promptly to debating six times this fall.

I have instructed my staff to contact your campaign staff to begin discussions on the

Please accept this invitation.

Ben Hall

I have a few comments on this. First, it makes absolutely no sense to have three debates during Early Voting. That is literally one of the worst ideas I have heard from the Hall campaign this year, and that is saying something. Over half of regular voters cast their ballots before Election Day, so including half of the debates during that time is a bad idea.

Second, and perhaps this is just my own personal preference, but I am disappointed in the no-debates-until-after-Labor-Day suggestion by Hall’s team. I leave for Boston on August 27th, and won’t be back until after the Runoff Election. However, I do tend to recall an August debate in 2009. That splits up the time a little more efficiently.  Cramming six debates into eight weeks reaches a point of diminishing returns.

Finally, the whole thing smells. Not the Texas Senate smell, but you get the point. I recall something similar back in 2008, when John McCain challenged Barack Obama to 10 town hall debates. The debates, of course, never happened, but there was one town-hall style debate between McCain & Obama. As I recall, Obama wiped the floor with McCain in that debate, as the old opponent had nothing memorable to say, with one key exception.

But the main point is that McCain was desperate, and so he blurted out this unrealistic goal of myriad debates, knowing Obama would have no choice but to rebuff his offer. For the record, McCain made the offer in June, not the last day of July. Ben Hall could be employing a similar tactic here.

I am looking forward to the Mayoral debates, though–although I would much prefer three debates: 1 in August, 1 in September and 1 in October. Parker has never been an especially adept speaker or talented debater. Ben Hall, on the other hand, is a somewhat good debater. I supported Gene Locke in 2009, based in large part, to his debate performance. In that election, however, all three candidates were an equal footing when it came to other issues. In 2013, that is simply not the case between Hall and Parker.

One other major point is who will be included within this debate. The 2009 debates included Brown, Locke, Morales and Parker. In that election, only three other candidates existed, and all of them were far fringe. It is arguable that Eric Dick, Keryl Douglas and Don Cook should be included in these debates.

Texas Leftist has more.

Triple overtime

In the afternoon today, both the House and the Senate gaveled in for 83(3), the Third Special Session. It will run for thirty days, until August 28th. The House quickly created a Select Committee on Transportation, consisting of seven members including Senfronia Thompson, then adjourned until next Monday, August 5th. The Senate, meanwhile, passed an identical measure, SJR1, in the Finance Committee 10-1. The lone dissenting vote was that of Dan Patrick, who still opposed the Conference Committee’s solution of replacing a hard-floor with a LBB recommendation. The Senate also finally passed the bill, then gaveled out.

Now, at this point, only Transportation funding is on the call of the session. But we all know that a single-issue Special Session can fall apart within a couple of days. Among the issues some want Perry to add to 83(3)’s call are TRBs for Campus Construction, as well as “Guns on Campus.”

First, the Texas Tribune reports that members of both houses of the Legislature, from both parties, are pushing for tuition revenue bonds for campus –specifically the campus of UT-Austin– construction. Among those in favor of such a measure are Rep. Donna Howard (D-Travis County), Sen. Judith Zaffrini (D-Bexar County), Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Potter County), Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Travis County) and Rep, John Raney (R-Brazos County). Among those opposed to such action are the usually cupcake cadets, lead by Van Taylor.

Since it is a new session, the exact nature of the bill of this issue will most likely differ from previous versions. That being said, the measure is somewhat common sense, backed by at least 69 members of the House. In the past, Perry has been open about this issue, telling the Tribune, “Once we get the transportation issue addressed and finalized, then we can have a conversation about whether or not there are any other issues that we have the time and inclination to put on the call.”

Next, the Houston Chronicle reports that Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Hood County) is leading the charge to get Governor Perry to add “Guns on Campus,” already known as “Campus Carry” to the call. As loyal readers will recall, I was jumping for joy when this horrible bill died during the regular session. And the Editorial Board member who attends the University of Texas was really, really happy.

Like Perry said, these issues are things that will be dealt with at the conclusion of the transportation issue. I’m still trying to figure out the roll call on SJR1 in the Senate. The true test will now be in the House, which now stands idle until Monday.

Transportation bill death & 83(3)

The Texas Tribune reports that HJR2, the new compromise transportation funding measure the Conference Committee just came up with, was dead on arrival in the House of Representatives late Monday. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso), would have done some interesting things. From the Tribune:

If the compromise plan before lawmakers on Monday had passed, Texas voters in 2014 would have been asked to approve a constitutional amendment to divert half of the oil and gas production tax revenue currently earmarked for the state’s Rainy Day Fund toward road construction and maintenance.

But both Democrats and Republicans found fault with the compromise language hashed out by House and Senate negotiators over the weekend regarding a so-called floor on the Rainy Day Fund. Some Republicans had pushed for a provision that would have blocked the diversion of tax revenue to the state highway fund if the Rainy Day Fund’s balance fell below a certain level. Many Democrats argued that would put a new, tighter restraint on tapping the fund to address the state’s needs.

Under the plan presented to both chambers Monday, the 10-member Legislative Budget Board would periodically set the minimum balance after which the diversions would be blocked.

I tend to recall something about Pickett’s plan funding more of the transportation & infrastructure directly from taxes, revenue normally earmarked for education. In return, the rainy day fund would be drained to pay for education. This might have been thrown out in the Conference Committee.

Anyways, the House only voted 84-40 in favor oft he bill, sixteen short of the supermajority required for passage. Among the 40 dissenting votes, only 13 were Democrats. This means that even if every Democrat in the room had supported the bill, it would have failed. Make no mistake, the Tea Party killed HJR2.

Off the Kuff has more about the Transportation bill unfortunate demise.

At about 2:50 today, the House adjourned sine die. The Senate is expected to do the same somewhat soon. The Dallas Morning News also reports that Perry will be calling a third special session immediately to deal with this issue. Like today immediately, that is.

My grandfather used to tell a joke with all of his old war buddies that ended with the punchline “that’s beautiful, just f—–g beautiful.” I take it, for all of the Legislators who now must extend their leases until the end of August in Austin, a city where the half the population moves in during August, that would pretty much sum up everything right about now.

TPA Roundup (July 29, 2013)

NOTE: The opinions and viewpoints expressed by other blogs are not necessarily the opinions and viewpoints of Noah M. Horwitz or the Texpatriate Editorial Board.

The Texas Progressive Alliance applauds the entry of the Justice Department into the fight to continuing to subject the state to preclearance as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff points out that Greg Abbott would deny the same type of care that he himself has benefited from to millions of people who could not now receive it.

Horwitz at Texpatriate chronicles the unmitigated disaster that occurred when Ben Hall tried to advertise on Facebook.

WCNews at Eye on Williamson says if Texas wants the federal government to stay out of it’s electoral business the solution is easy. All they have to do is stop discriminating, Texas and the DOJ.

Former Democratic state representative Aaron Pena found out the hard way that becoming a Republican doesn’t help much when you’re driving while brown in south Texas. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs observed that not even his Greg Abbott t-shirt could save him from being ICE’d.

After hearing all of the crazy right-wing rhetoric, Texas Leftist wondered what Republicans really say about Immigration Reform away from the glare of talk radio and Fox News. Here’s the interesting result.


And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Mark Bennett maintains that it is foolish to claim that “stand your ground” laws had nothing to do with the Zimmerman verdict.

Austin Contrarian demonstrates why the rent is too damn high in the capital city.

Better Texas asks what can be done to help disadvantaged children succeed in school.

Eileen Smith sorts out the Republican candidates for Lite Guv.

Texas Watch wants us to close the “Six Flags loophole”.

Texas Vox wraps up water legislation from the regular and special sessions.

Texas Redistricting lays out the Section 3 arguments in the fight over the Voting Rights Act and how it should still apply here.

Juanita has had it with the spurious claims about “jars of feces” being brought to the Lege when the final vote on the anti-abortion bill was taking place.

BOR notes that Senate Democrats are demanding a women’s health study during the legislative off-season.

And Tuesday Cain, the 14-year-old girl who held up a provocative sign during the protests against the omnibus anti-abortion bill at the Capitol, would appreciate it if all the so-called grownups on the Internet stopped calling her a whore.

Jackson Lee to the Cabinet?

The Houston Chronicle reports that Sheila Jackson Lee, the loquacious Congresswoman from Houston, is being recommended as a future Cabinet Secretary, specifically the Secretary of Homeland Security, in President Obama’s second term cabinet. The previous Secretary of Homeland Secretary (hereafter, “SOHS”), Janet Napolitano, recently announced she would leave office at the end of August to become the Chancellor of the University of California system.

While the President has not made any public comments on this post, it has not stopped others from speculating, pontificating and recommending. Now, since Obama has been accused of a lack of diversity in some recent cabinet posts (Kerry, Hagel, Lew, etc), groups such as the Congressional Black Caucus have been suggesting nominees of their own. Initially, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) was being spotlighted, but he soon ruled out the idea. This led to Jackson Lee.

The CBC has formally recommended her to the President. I am not sure how recently this happened, but I have not heard Jackson Lee say anything one way or another on the topic. The Chronicle article promises to update when they have more information on the topic.

First of all, I thought I had some sort of deal that this seat wouldn’t open up until I was at least 25 (jokes). Any way you look at it, an open election for the 18th District would be the biggest free-for-all disaster, politically speaking, in my lifetime. The modern incarnation of the 18th District has never had a truly open election. Barbara Jordan faced little opposition to take the seat in 1972, and by the time she retired in 1978, everyone and their mother knew Mickey Leland would be next in line. After Leland’s tragic death, in 1989, Craig Washington did face Anthony Hall in the Special Election, but Washington was always somewhat favored. Jackson Lee then challenged, and beat, Washington in the 1994 primary. There has never been a regular open election in this seat, so it is quite overdue.

This all hinges upon the idea, though, that President Obama will nominate Jackson Lee and the Senate will confirm her. That is a long shot. Congresswoman Jackson Lee is a controversial figure, to say the least. Personally, there are plenty of good and redeeming qualities I have found in the Congresswoman, but they are not the qualities that make one a decent Cabinet secretary.

To be blunt, Sheila Jackson Lee likes to talk, and naturally, being a garrulous individual means plenty of slip-ups. Such slip ups would embarrass an administration, especially if they ran counter to the administration’s position. Additionally, Jackson Lee is significantly more liberal/libertarian than the President on foreign policy. For example, she voted against the Patriot Act, FISA Acts, etc. She did, however, vote against the recent Amash amendment.

Finally, Jackson Lee, because of these slip-ups and the unabashed liberalism, is a favorite for ridicule and denigration by the right wing. This would be a mighty hard confirmation battle for the President. If history has taught us one thing, it is that President Obama is a pathetic eunuch who will avoid battles and all types of confrontation at any cost. This would make the prospect of Jackson Lee getting nominated dead on arrival more than anything else.

All of these qualities make her a good Congresswoman, resulting in a good present situation for Jackson Lee. That glossy present situation could only be harmed by the national spotlight, especially juxtaposed with the current Presidency. Accordingly, it would be in her interest to stay put.

Texpatriate on Municipal Elections

This past week truly marked the start of Municipal campaign season in Houston. As the Legislature enters its waning days, more and more emphasis is being placed on not only the Mayoral election, but open City Council elections as well. While Houston’s great size ensures each individual City Council district is more populous than a Texas House district, the local nature of the office attracts a much different crowd.

Too often in today’s day and age, candidates are bankrolled, backed and often manipulated by the Chamber of Commerce or a Union. Super PACs and an overemphasis on money in today’s age of zero Campaign Finance regulation often cause candidates, both Democratic and Republican, to become corrupted empty shells.

This board remembers when smart legislation to combat “dark money” was initially supported by bipartisan margins in the Legislature, before Chamber of Commerce Super PACs sent lobbyists en masse to change their representatives minds, ultimately resulting in a veto from Governor Perry killing the bill. Likewise, this board remembers when an education reform measure in this year’s legislature became a partisan screaming match, rather than a mature discussion of the future of public education, when Democrats, backed by Teachers’ Unions, threatened to kill any bill including too substantial of changes.

These problems are significantly less pervasive in the Houston City Council, and not just because those offices are filled in a non-partisan manner. What makes municipal elections so great, in the eyes of this board, is the minimal influence of outside interest groups.

This upcoming election, there are three open City Council elections: At-large #3, District D & District I. Similarly, At-large #2 & District A have attracted tons of candidates despite not hosting open seats. Just between the former three seats, there are 21 candidates. Including the latter two contests as well, there are 31 candidates.

These candidates are not running for public office because they have been approached by an interest group, Super PAC or union, they are in the contest purely because of their ambition and self-drive. Each candidate has decided that her or his service to the City would be beneficial, and believe he or she would be helpful to the City of Houston.

In recent Municipal elections, even the most well-funded City Council candidates do not take their advertisements to the airwaves. This creates a wonderful equalizer in campaign expenses that gives even poorly-funded candidates a fighting chance. The minimal expenses of online advertising, specifically on Facebook and Twitter, dwarf that of radio or television advertising.

Over the next few weeks, this board will aim to meet with and interview most, if not all, of these candidates. This board will hold interviews to discuss the reasons these candidates seek public office, and, if they are challenging incumbents, why they could do a better job than any of the other candidates.

An unmitigated disaster

Those are the most polite words I could think to use for Ben Hall’s current Facebook troubles. I would like to tell this story, from the start, because it is quite entertaining. Imagine Annise Parker’s campaign team held a meeting to come up with the absolute worst-case scenario that could arise out of Hall advertising on Facebook. That might as well be what happened, considering how badly Dr Hall’s campaign messed up (again, to use polite words).

First, Dr Hall’s campaign  had a pathetically lackluster showing in the Social Media races.  While Parker had other 50k Facebook likes and 15k Twitter followers, Hall had about 2k likes and 200 followers. At one point, I was keeping track of the race between them, but I eventually quit because it was not anywhere near competitive.

Eventually, the Hall campaign decided (quite rightly so) that a Social Media presence would be invaluable in a 21st Century campaign.  The campaign then invested thousands of dollars into online advertisements, specifically on Facebook and Twitter. Now, the way these sorts of advertisements work is that you come up with some buzz words and select a general geographical location. I have no knowledge of how the Hall campaign answered these questions, but based upon the results, I have an inkling as to what they answered.

Most likely, the buzz words “fed up” or “morass” or “angry” were used. This would have been done, ostensibly, in an attempt to attract all those healthy dissidents who respectfully oppose Mayor Parker’s administration. Instead, the buzz words tended to match up nicely with those who support armed insurrections and the like. Additionally, instead of focusing on Houstonians, the ads targeted individuals from throughout the State.

The result was a sorry collection of Rednecks, Klansmen, Neo-Nazis and McVeigh sympathizers who found their ways to the Ben Hall campaign’s Facebook page. This ended up causing, again, an unmitigated disaster. Ben Hall’s Facebook likes rose from about 2k to 5.7k, causing nearly 2/3 of the supporters to be astroturfed non-Houstonians.

By coincidence, all of this occurred immediately before the George Zimmerman verdict. Shortly after the verdict, Hall posted a long statement condemning the verdict and expressing sympathy with protesters and Trayvon Martin’s family. This was the first public statement Hall’s “new supporters” had seen.


In this example, Mr. Steven Parker Fishing denigrates Dr Hall’s candidacy. The special individual hosts a Confederate Flag as his profile picture. He is from Abilene.


In this second, we have two very special individuals who “like” Dr Hall’s campaign page. The first such individual, Mr Rick Oliver, is a Neo-Nazi. His profile picture is the Iron Cross, the well-known symbol of the German Army before 1945. The second such individual, James Martin, is not an open Neo-Nazi or Klansman, but is quite open about his ignorance. He associates African-Americans and “race baiters” as two in the same, admitting his is too ignorant and racist to support a politician, just because of the colour of her or his skin.

These sorts of ignorant and prejudicial comments are a ubiquitous feature on any and every post by the Ben Hall campaign. Instead of just unliking the page, these bumpkin types decided to stick around and just troll every single post. For example, the Neo-Nazi comments occurred on a completely innocuous post about fundraising. Odds are, every post will garner a dozen hateful comments, and at least one Confederate flag profile picture. Nearly all of these types are not Houstonians, most all of them are from East Texas.

So Ben Hall’s campaign has not only wasted thousands of dollars on internet advertising, but has used money in a way that is actively harmful to his electoral chances. Yet another setback for the campaign.

Transportation deal in the works

The Texas Tribune reports that a very select Conference Committee, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Sen. Finance Cmte. Chair Tommy Williams and Sen. Transportation Cmte. Chair Robert Nichols, has come up with the framework for a deal on Transportation funding. As the astute may recall, this was the issue added immediately after redistricting to the call of the first special session. However, the filibuster and other misplaced priorities on the part of the Republicans lead to the issue dying at sine die. The issue, along with Miller compliance and abortion, was added to this session’s call.

The House and the Senate have both previous passed Transportation funding bills. The key difference between the two bills rest on what money from the rainy day fund (RFD) is used for, as well as how much money to use. The House’s version included a convoluted project which would entangle education funding, by switching around lots of earmarks for RDF-bound taxes.

The Conference Committee’s bill would divert lots of money earmarked for the RDF, originally form oil & gas taxes, for transportation funding, predominantly highway maintenance. While many originally wanted a provision setting a minimum RDF balance at $6 Billion, this new bill requires the Legislative Budget Board (LBB), dominated by Republicans, to set the amount. This bill is a constitutional amendment, meaning it requires 2/3 of both Houses and must be endorsed by a majority of voters in November–although the new bill pushes the referendum back to 2014.

Since 2/3 is required, 5 House Democrats and 2 Senate Democrats are needed for approval. This is not just a rule or a tradition, but part of the State’s Constitution. Dewhurst cannot get around it. Accordingly, it is worth noting that Democrats are somewhat unified in opposition to setting a limit to the RDF balance.

This is somewhat noteworthy, because the session ends on Tuesday. The Houston Chronicle reports that Perry has absolutely no problems calling lawmakers for a third special session on this issue, and this issue alone.

Accordingly, it may be in the Democrats’ interest to compromise.

UPDATE: Off the Kuff has more.

City Council update

The Houston Chronicle reports that the City Council has unanimously passed an ordinance which regulates “group homes,” facilities somewhere in between boarding home and nursing home, and with little-to-no regulation.  From the Chronicle:

The ordinance before the City Council, delayed a week to Wednesday so stricter fire safety requirements Rodriguez suggested could be discussed, would require that home operators pay a fee, register with the city, share information about owners and employees, submit to criminal background checks and report any criminal activity or deaths.

Rodriguez’s amendments would add an annual inspection. Rodriguez said inspections – as well as requiring group homes to have smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers and fire evacuation plans – could help regulators spot unsafe conditions or deter operators’ negligence.

This ordinance has long been in the works, and it has been tagged (a one week delay by a Councilmember) a few times. About a week-and-a-half ago, I even heard the Mayor bragging about the effectiveness of this ordinance. It appears somewhat strange to me that these regulations did not already exist, so they are certainly a step in the right direction. As the Chronicle discusses, these places are often “the housing of last resort for many mentally ill, disabled and elderly…”

In other news, the Chronicle also reports that a Wage Theft ordinance is being discussed, though not voted, by the City Council. The ordinance was introduced to the City Council from the Mayor’s office (well, actually David Felman’s (the CIty Attorney) office) and referred to the Public Safety Commission. The article discusses what the ordinance would do:

The proposed ordinance would empower a wage theft coordinator to maintain the database of offending firms and update the watch list of accused companies, investigate complaints involving city contracts, counsel workers who file complaints against Houston companies not working for the city, and monitor City Council agendas to see if a company up for a contract appears in the database or watch list.

A firm found guilty of wage theft in an administrative or legal proceeding would be ineligible to work for the city and would be unable to receive or renew city permits or licenses. A city department director wanting to grant work to a firm on the watch list would need to review the situation before forwarding the request to the council.

Firms would be removed from the watch list if a complaint is ruled unfounded; companies in the database could be removed if a conviction is overturned on appeal.

Wage theft is essentially, the withholding of salaries by an employer, typically for overtime pay.  The Public Safety Committee is chaired by Ed Gonzalez, and also about 11 more Councilmember. The result is 75% of the Council sitting on this Committee.

The Chronicle interviewed, on the committee, both Gonzalez and Christie, who spoke in favor of the measure. Accordingly, it looks like this good piece of legislation could pass with bipartisan margins, similar to the group home measure.

Off the Kuff and Dos Centavos have more.