There are very few competitive primaries this year within the Harris County Democratic Party, but one of them is the race for the 15th State Senate district. The incumbent, John Whitmire, has served the area for over 40 years. After just 22 years nonstop without a primary challenger, he finally drew one in Damian LaCroix, a local attorney. The LaCroix/Whitmire race looks to be about as exciting as these things go for Democratic contests this next year. Accordingly, I have now met with both LaCroix and Whitmire separately to discuss this upcoming campaign. What I found led me to believe this will be the race to watch if one enjoys watching sparks fly.
Note: The views of the Texas Progressive Alliance or any of its members are not neccessarily those of Texpatriate or its contributors.
The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes everyone a joyful and joyous holiday at it brings you this week’s roundup.
Texpatriate releases a list of Best and Worst members of the Houston City Council.
Back in June, this board came out with a list of the Best and Worst Legislators of the 83rd State Legislature. The list was largely modeled after what Texas Monthly has been doing after sine die for now 40 years. But nobody –at least nowadays– does lists of best and worst members of the City Council; we felt it was time to change all of that.
Theoretically, this list should cover the entire term from the beginning of 2012 to the present, but it is admittedly heavily biased in favor of the actions taken by Councilmembers this year alone, given the recent inception of this board as an institution. That being said, we attempted to use a rather well-rounded method to distinguish the good from the bad. Additionally, given the unmatched power that the Mayor holds at City Hall in unilaterally setting the agenda, dissent is sometimes conflated with obstinate obstructionism. Again, this board has tried its best to separate the emotions and intentions of a Councilmember’s act of disobedience from the breakaway itself.
Much like our June list of Legislators, we have included (ranked) the three best City Councilmembers and the three worst City Councilmembers. Additionally, like Texas Monthly, we have included a further category for the quintessential bellwether. In Monthly, it is referred to as the “Bull of the Brazos,” a politician whom “the line between a scoundrel and a statesman can be hammered too thin to recognize.” We will call it the “Bull of the Bagby,” a whimsical reference to Bagby Street, the location of City Hall. Further, we will also grade the City leadership with a letter grade. Since this board includes a student of Harvard University, considering the recent attention, we have worked very hard to combat any “grade inflation” that Texpatriate may engage in. Not everyone gets “A”s, nor should everyone, so an imperfect mark is not intended to be construed as a sign of failure within this exercise.
This board also entertained the idea of given out some sort of distinction similar to Monthly‘s “furniture” designation, which denotes the lawmakers who participated at similar levels as their desks and chairs. However, we eventually decided such a label would be too harsh for any of the Councilmembers, considering we are now without the likes of a Jolanda Jones, who was notorious for playing hookey.
We know many will disagree with our rationale, some possibly strongly. We invite those to address our hypothetically-alleged shortcomings when they publish their own list of Best and Worst City Councilmembers. This board looks forward to them with great zeal, especially the Houston Chronicle’s.
Accordingly, we present, our list:
The Houston Chronicle reports that Judge Denise Pratt, a family District Judge that had been investigated for wrongdoing, was officially cleared after a grand jury declined to indict her. Back in October, a frontpage article lambasted Judge Pratt for allegedly altering timestamps on her records after falling behind on court records. Shortly thereafter, the Houston Bar Association berated her for the issue, among others.
Judge Pratt has drawn a Democratic opponent next year. Sherri Cothrun, an attorney who previously run for Judge in 2010, will seek the post. Additionally, Pratt drew four Republican challengers in the primary: Donna Detamore, Alicia Franklin, Anthony Magdaleno and Philip Placzek. You see, the Republicans actually understand how elections work and are not so lazy as to pass the buck to others, but I digress.
The Republican Party had been considering kicking Judge Pratt off the ballot if charges went forward on the corruption, but since this ultimately did not happen, she will be free to continue in a grueling knifefight for the party’s nomination. As differences between parties go, Democrats are too chicken to do anything productive, and Republicans are far too caustic to play nicely. Accordingly, even though official criminal wrongdoing has been ruled out, do not expect her political opponents to ease up any time soon. To do so would be extraordinarily naive.
Forgive me for the tardiness, I had a very busy day traveling yesterday, and despite there being Wifi on the airplane, it rarely works well enough to pen an entire post and link it to social media outlets. But without further ado, I have officially left Boston. I will be hanging out in Houston for about three weeks for the holiday, and then will officially make the trip up to the State Capital.
The Houston Chronicle reports that Nandita Berry, a University of Houston Regent, has been appointed by Governor Perry to become the next Texas Secretary of State. Berry will succeed John Steen, an attorney who has decided to return to private practice after serving for roughly one year. Berry, who is also an attorney, is perhaps best known as the wife of former Houston City Councilmember and radio shock-jock Michael Berry.
“I am truly humbled to follow in the footsteps of Stephen F. Austin, Texas’ first secretary of state. Like him, I came to Texas in search of a better life and the limitless opportunities to be found across our great state,” Berry said after being appointed. Given the high profile of state’s new Voter ID Law, the Secretary of State might find greater coverage in the press as the lead-up continues towards next year’s elections.
As many may remember (the article got a lot of views), I broke the news late Wednesday that Councilmember James Rodriguez, after getting hammered in the Houston Chronicle, went on an epic Twitter temper tantrum, in which he made disparaging comments towards both the Mayor and Lisa Falkenberg, as well as especially vitriolic remarks towards another Chronicle writer, Jose Ortiz.
I noted all of these tweets, and wrote a post about it, providing photographic evidence. Councilmember Rodriguez responded by hurling repeated personal attacks against me and my family (as well as, at least once more, towards Ortiz). I may have egged him a little bit, but he was incessant in trying to belittle both me and my family in an extend that was wholly uncalled for. The news must have gotten around, because before I knew it, the Houston Press was interviewing me about the incident. Hair Balls wrote up a full incident report on the subject, complete with the screenshots I sent to them.
Scroll to the bottom to read about Councilmember Rodriguez’s blowup on Twitter against three Chronicle writers, Texpatriate and Noah M. Horwitz
The Houston Chronicle reports that the Payday Lending ordinance, which has been kicked around at the City Council for a few weeks now, has been passed by the City Council in a lopsided vote of 15-2. The strong majority support placated fears that the ordinance would be delayed into next year’s session, complete with a City Council riddled with new (and sometimes unpredictable) individuals.
The ordinance requires payday lenders to register with the City, provide contracts in easy-to-read and straightforward language, limits the amount of a loan and places strict restrictions on the number of times a loan may be refinanced. While a cap on interest is omitted, the ordinance has some real teeth and is noticeably stronger than that initially proposed by the Mayor. It is worth saying that the Mayor has received some pretty generous contributions from Payday Lending PACs over the years, so the new hefty ordinance is a nice precedent to set that you must not always be a slave to who has given you money.
Among some of the ordinance’s detractors were those who believed it was overkill –though still acknowledged something needed to be done. They were led by Councilmember Jack Christie, who proposed an amendment that would have largely gutted the provisions of the act. The amendment garnered six votes, including Andrew Burks, C.O. Bradford and Dave Martin. While all of these individuals gave long pontifications against the regulations earlier, they all ultimately voted in favor. Helena Brown –the dependable ‘no’ vote– and James Rodriguez were the only dissenting voices in the final tally.
Texpatriate has learned that the Harris County Commissioner’s Court has approved new regulations on game rooms in unincorporated portions of the City. The Houston Chronicle noted the background of these measures last night, and went into rather meticulous detail. I recommend giving the Kiah Collier piece a read.
Essentially, the new regulations require that the Game Rooms –defined as those with at least six video poker machines– register with the City of Houston and pay a fee. It also requires the rooms to not be open past 10PM, untint their windows and clearly mark the establishment as a “Game Room.” Distance requirements would also be enacted to require these places be 1500 feet away from churches, homes or schools. What the Chronicle calls “charitable bingo halls” would be fully exempted.
Over Thanksgiving, I noted that Mayor Parker had settled a longstanding dispute with a cabal of adult entertainment facilities (colloquially known as strip clubs). The clubs had been in and out of court nonstop since a 1997 ordinance was enacted to confront many of the perceived excesses therein. Specifically, enforcing a “three-foot rule” between the entertainers and patrons, disallowing nudity and removing private rooms. Ostensibly, these regulations were done to help eradicate shady business at these establishments, such as drugs and prostitution. However, there was also obviously a splash of the morality police in the mix; but that is neither here nor there.
The settlement between the clubs and the Mayor, which allows exemptions for lap dances as well as topless dancing, has now come under fire from both local activists and members of the City Council. The Houston Chronicle reports that Bob Sanborn, the director of a non-profit aimed at protecting at-risk children, blasted the deal agreed to by the Mayor. In addition to providing the exemptions to the ordinance, the deal also requires donations to HPD’s human trafficking fund, information sessions on trafficking and mandatory blacklists for employees convicted of drug or prostitution offenses. The deal only applies to a specific 16 clubs.
Texpatriate has learned that a District Court Judge in Houston has approved a request for a temporary restraining order enjoining enforcement of a recent policy to give full spousal benefits to the same-sex spouses of municipal employees. Just earlier today, we noted that the Harris County Republican Party had sued the City of Houston over the new policy. In a summary ruling before Judge Lisa Millard, enforcement of the measure (which has already gone into effect) is blocked until a hearing may be held on it on January 6th of next year. No word yet on what this means for those couples who have already received the benefits; the Mayor’s office has not released any statement as of press time.
The order, from Judge Lisa Millard of the 310th Family District Court, contends that there is a strong case to be made that plaintiffs (in this case, the HCRP) that they were suffer irrevocable harm if the policy is allowed to continue. Again, I don’t see how in the world these people have standing, as they do not work for the City of Houston. Another interest perspective is that Judge Millard is elected in a partisan election where she affiliates as a Republican, meaning that she is a member in the HCRP, the same organization now with a suit before her court. I should think this would present an argument to relocate the proceedings to either a judge in Harris County NOT affiliated with the HCRP or one from another County.