Archive for the ‘State’ Category

Leonard, Landtroop, and Isett — Oh My!

Today is a big day for local election news.

First, Lubbock City Councilman John Leonard has announced that he will run in the Republican primary for Lubbock County Commissioner Precinct 4, currently held by Patti Jones. Leonard’s push last week to modernize the Lubbock City Charter in a hurry makes more sense in light of this announcement: he’s trying to make it look like he’s accomplished something while in office. I believe that Leonard is a problematic candidate who has lost support even among his base, and a challenger in either the primary or the general will stand a good chance against him.

Next, Representative Joe Heflin (Texas HD85) could be facing Jim Landtroop, the guy he beat the first time around (in 2006), assuming Landtroop wins the Republican primary in HD85 (which is very likely, in my opinion). My prediction for a 2010 Landtroop/Heflin rematch is an even bigger win by Heflin, who has done a wonderful job representing his district in Austin.

Lastly, today KCBD and Pratt on Texas both broke the story that Carl Isett will not seek reelection for Texas HD84. This news is HUGE. With no incumbent, the seat is wide open. With the right voter turnout effort, this house district could turn blue in 2010. We just need some qualified candidates to run an exciting Democratic Party primary in this district to get the ball rolling. I don’t know of any Republicans who have stepped up to run in Isett’s place, but perhaps today’s official announcement will reveal someone in that role. If not, I believe that “unknown Democrat” versus “unknown Republican” in this district will make a very close race.

2010 is shaping up to be an exciting year in Texas politics.

H-Town Elects Openly Gay Mayor

Congratulations to Houston, TX Mayor-elect Annise Parker!

The Third Coast has shown us that sexual orientation is no barrier to high office. Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S., and it is now the largest U.S. city to have elected an openly gay leader.

What is especially encouraging to me is that sexual orientation only became an issue late in the race. I think this suggests that homosexuality is becoming less of a wedge issue. Voters in Houston responded more to Parker’s extensive record in handling government budgets in a fiscally responsible way than they did to last-minute attack ads about her being gay. To put it another way, “fiscal conservatives” lined up behind a candidate that “social conservatives” attacked.

I like this trend. Texas 2010 election season is going to be an exciting one!

Annise Parker campaign website

The People’s Watchdog: Jeff Weems for Railroad Commissioner!

Jeff Weems announced his candidacy for Texas Railroad Commissioner today in Austin, and he was in Lubbock tonight for his very first campaign house party. I got a chance to meet him, and I am impressed.

With Jeff Weems we have a candidate who knows the oil and gas industry inside and out from the point of view of all the involved parties — the companies, the rights owners, the citizens. He is running to return the Texas Railroad Commission to its proper regulatory, unbiased role. He will make the Commission do its job.

The Texas Railroad Commission was created as a watchdog for the people (originally farmers vs. railroad companies, but now utilities in general vs. the little guy). Under Republican rule it has become a do-nothing agency that always rules in favor of the pipeline company or utility company (in that order) — 59 decisions in a row, even.

Jeff spoke passionately about the need to regulate out-of-control fracking that’s going on in Texas. Fracking is where a million+ gallons of water are pumped underground to crack underground rock formations and release trapped natural gas. (The Bluedaze blog by TXSharon is one of the best resources out there for discovering the many dangers of fracking.) This technique is used commonly in the Barnett Shale area around Ft. Worth, and it’s causing all kinds of problems — even earthquakes. The water used in fracking is so chlorinated and otherwise polluted that it can never be potable, and in fact is so toxic that it can’t even be used for subsequent frack jobs. On top of all that, eminent domain claims — which go unchallenged and unregulated by our TX Railroad Commission — are literally running allowing pipelines to run through people’s front yards in the Ft. Worth area.

Weems also talked about the epidemic of wasted natural gas caused by aging equipment in the field. Such waste is bad for the companies, bad for the environment, and deprives the State of Texas of millions of dollars in tax revenue — enough to cover all of SCHIP, in fact. This is another area where a regulatory nudge from the TX Railroad Commission could do wonders for our State.

The negotiations between cities and utility companies on natural gas prices are another area where the Commission needs to change its ways. If a municipality and a utility company can’t work out a price, the dispute comes before the Commission, which hasn’t met a utility company it didn’t like. This phenomenon explains why Houston’s natural gas costs consumers 4 times what ours does out here in Lubbock.

Another major area of reform is with the Commission itself. Texas Railroad Commissioners can accept campaign contributions any time except when the legislature is in session. They serve six-year terms. That means that they can accept money years before or after elections. I believe that it gives the appearance of bribery and corruption, especially with the current Commission receiving big donations from the companies it rules in favor of. Weems wants to make the Commission obey contribution rules like judges, who can only accept contributions near an election.

Weems took a couple of appropriate jabs at his opponent Victor Carrillo. His inaction on the above concerns was mentioned, as was his unethical use of campaign funds to travel to Israel with Governor Perry in 2006.

There is a lot of damage to be undone and positive work to be accomplished on the TX Railroad Commission. The Commission is a powerful check on abuses of power by the energy industry, and the Texas GOP knows this. They run candidates for Commisisoner who do nothing while waiting to run for higher office (e.g. Michael Williams), and they take every opportunity available to limit, shrink, or eliminate powers of the Commission. In the last legislative session, they were nine votes shy of putting a constitutional amendment up for vote that would replace the 3-member Commission with one lone Commissioner.

Jeff Weems is who we need fighting for the people on the Texas Railroad Commission.
Jeff Weems on Facebook

What Senate Race?

According to the Texas Tribune (one of my new favorite sources of news, by the way), Kay Bailey Hutchison won’t resign from the Senate until after the health care and cap-and-trade debates are over in the Senate.

This is the key point regarding her decision:

The filing deadline for next year’s elections is January 4. Waiting until after that date effectively forces everyone else on the ballot to run as if the dominoes won’t fall.

Her decision to wait is already gumming up the works of the Republican parade of advancement in Texas. The Lt. Governor and Attorney General are staying put, as are the others seeking those positions.

The two leading Democratic Senate candidates John Sharp and Bill White are basically unaffected, since both campaigns have indicated that they will run whenever the seat opens up. Whether now or 2012, they’re still in campaign mode.

And, in the meantime, Perry and Hutchison continue to take shots at each other. I love it.

Election Time part two

OK, let’s talk amendments:

Amendment 1 – Bonding authority for cities and counties to buy land around a military base to prevent encroachment

I don’t feel strongly about it, but I think this one is a good idea. Bases are a big deal for the communities they are in, and the communities ought to be able to take reasonable action to accommodate the bases and their projected needs. Some developers might be upset if this passes, but oh well.

Amendment 2 – Mandates taxation of a residential homestead based on the property’s value as a residence and not on whether the “highest and best use” of the property is deemed to be taking place.

This is absolutely a good amendment. If someone’s home just happens to be in an area that has grown into a high-dollar commercial property area, this prevents the home from being appraised as if it were potential high-dollar commercial property.

Amendment 3 – Uniform Standards and procedures for property appraisal

Another good one. Certain appraisal districts have a habit of appraising things, let’s say, a little bit too high a little bit too often. This amendment gives the state more oversight on these practices.

Amendment 4 – National Research University Fund for emerging research universities

This is a big one for Texas Tech, which is basically next-in-line for Tier One status. If you live in or around Lubbock, you need to support this.

Those concerned about extra spending need not worry — it’s actually revenue-neutral. It just shuffles state money around into an endowment for emerging research institutions.

Amendment 5 – Consolidation of appraisal review boards

This is another good one to help rural counties save money and provide better service for appraisal reviews.

Amendment 6 – Expand bonding authority for programs allowing veterans to finance land and home purchases

This one is good because it cuts out red tape when it comes to helping veterans get into a home.

Amendment 7 – Exempt Texas State Guard offices from prohibition against dual office-holding

I don’t feel strongly either way about this amendment. We already make exceptions for dual office-holding for County Commissioners, JPs, National Guard, and US Armed Forces. It does seem like an oversight that Texas State Guard was left out, so it’s probably worth supporting this amendment.

Amendment 8 – Veterans’ Hospital for the Rio Grande Valley

Yes. Texas has a large veteran population, and we need more facilities to support them.

Amendment 9 – Place Open Beaches Act into Constitution

This one is tricky. Public beaches are important and should be preserved, but what happens when your privately-owned house is now underwater thanks to a natural disaster? This is exactly what happened with Hurricane Ike, and it looks like several homeowners are about to see (what’s left of) their homes become public property without compensation.

My inclination is to go for this one. Beach houses and businesses come with a certain amount of risk, and mitigating that risk should not trump the right of the public to access the beaches of Texas.

Amendment 10 – Allow Legislature to extend terms of emergency services districts from two to four years

I don’t feel strongly about this one either. It’s probably not going to hurt anything to have four-year terms instead of two-year terms. But, I don’t see a compelling reason to change it away from two-year terms either.

Amendment 11 – Limit Legislature’s authority to grant power of eminent domain to certain governmental and public purposes, and not for economic development

Yes. This follows eminent domain legislation passed a few years back. Eminent domain for economic development or tax revenue enhancement is an avenue to corruption.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

As always, the wonderful and nonpartisan League of Women Voters voter guide is a great resource. You can take it or any other literature you like with you into the voting booth.

Have at it in the comments.

The Award-Winning Lubbock County

When government does something well, it’s worth noting. (Quick example: Lubbock City Council selecting the old Barnes and Noble location as the new home of Godeke Library.)

A friend clued me in to something that — strangely enough — local media seems to be missing or ignoring completely. And it’s kind of a big deal.

The County of Lubbock has just won (actually, back in August!) three prestigious awards from the Texas Association of Counties. They are part of the 2009 Best Practices Awards. Along with Travis County, Lubbock was the only county to win three awards. (Lubbock County’s awards are way cooler than Travis County’s awards, by the way.) Each of the three awards represents a significant, unique achievement of Lubbock County — unmatched in the State and with only a few peers throughout the whole nation.

Here’s what Lubbock County won:

CourtTools Accountability Program

Lubbock County is the only county in all of Texas to provide accountability through all ten measures of the CourtTools system. Only a few entities in the nation provide this much accountability. And 2009 is not the first year that Lubbock County has published metrics through CourtTools, either — reports go back as far as 2005.

What are the CourtTools metrics? They are:

  1. Access and Fairness
  2. Clearance Rates
  3. Time to Disposition
  4. Age of Active Pending Caseloads
  5. Certainty of Trial Dates
  6. Reliability and Integrity of Case Files
  7. Collection of Monetary Penalties
  8. Effective Use of Jurors
  9. Court Employee Satisfaction
  10. Cost Per Case

Courts Administrator David Slayton and his staff are responsible for compiling these reports.

The especially valuable thing about these reports is that, over time, they provide an objective measure for courts and the judges that run them. We’re fortunate to have a court system that takes these measures seriously.

Vote Centers

As most of you probably know, Lubbock County has been the leader in Texas when it comes to voting anywhere you like on Election Day — a concept known as Vote Centers (formerly Superprecincts). Our November 2006 election was the first such election, and we’ve done it again several times since. The November 2008 election is the one that got Lubbock County this award, not only for remaining the statewide leader in vote centers (Erath County was the only other County to attempt vote centers in November 2008 — prior to that, Lubbock was the only county to do so), but also for innovative ways to help voters find their nearest polling place. The County used text messaging, email, snail mail, radio, TV, websites — the works — to get the word out.

Elections Administrator Dorothy Kennedy and her staff at the Elections Office are responsible for implementing vote centers. (Notice a pattern of nonpartisan, appointed administrators behind these successes?)

An important note — Primary elections will continue to be precinct-driven, due to the nature of internal Party political structure (for all Parties).

Regional Capital Case Public Defender’s Office

Last but not least, Lubbock County hosts the regional public defender’s office for capital cases, for which it also won an award. The public defender’s office serves 70 counties in West Texas.

Why is this such a big deal? The costs involved in bringing a capital murder case to trial can easily bankrupt a rural county. Extra steps have to be taken for a capital trial to take place, and attorneys must have special certification to take part in a capital murder trial. (And they must maintain it as part of their continuing legal education.) Having a regional public defender’s office for capital cases is like life insurance for the counties involved.

Lubbock attorney Jack Stoffregen is the Chief Public Defender of the office, which was created in November of 2007.

Oh, and one more…

As a final note, there is one other area worth mentioning here that Lubbock County does well that didn’t make it to these awards: drug court. The drug court is a special court that hears cases involving nonviolent drug offenders and works to rehabilitate them. By doing so, it can divert the nonviolent drug offenders from the regular courts (and jail system), returning productive citizens to the community and saving taxpayer dollars. Really, the drug court deserves its own post, but I wanted to mention it here because people may not be aware that it even exists.

So, way to go Lubbock County! It’s nice to have non-embarrassing news from our area every now and then.

From the folks that brought us the weekend…

This afternoon’s Labor Day picnic was a blast! Great food and great remarks from candidates, as expected.

FOX Lubbock covered the event in their evening news tonight.

Here are a few pictures of mine, mostly vanity.

Ian with the great Employee Free Choice Act sign that he made at our Lubbock DFA meeting last week. DFA members made and brought signs for Gilbert and White too.

Yours truly with House District 85 Representative Joe Heflin. I expect that his 2010 Republican challenger will be even less qualified than the previous one…

Me again with Houston Mayor and U.S. Senate candidate Bill White. Incidentally, the Bill White campaign has hired many of the good Texas Obama campaign folks — should be a well-run campaign!

I didn’t get a picture with TX Governor candidate Hank Gilbert this time around, but I did shake his hand and wish him luck. Maybe next time!

Video from the Labor Day event will be up later this week.

In the meantime, here is more video of Randy Neugebauer’s Lubbock Town Hall on August 25 from my friend Daniel. It’s properly edited and annotated. The series begins here:

and each subsequent video is a set up as a video response.

Here’s too a good, short work week, courtesy of the Labor movement!

Hank Gilbert for Governor

Finally, a candidate for Governor that I can be excited about!

feedingcattleHank Gilbert, East Texas rancher and former Democratic candidate for Texas Agriculture Commissioner, sent an email to his supporters yesterday pre-announcing his run for Governor. (The official announcement is coming September 21st, according to the email.)

In the 2006 campaign for Ag Commissioner, Hank drove all over the state of Texas in his pickup to get in front of as many voters as possible. He made it up to Lubbock as well (always earning points in my book — statewide candidates don’t always stop here), and I remember being impressed not only by his stump speech but also by his obvious ability to connect with people. He’s a true populist, working especially hard to create and enhance co-op and other community organizations that help ordinary folks. He was also a prominent figure in the fight against the trans-Texas corridor.

If you’re so inclined, you can donate to Hank Gilbert’s campaign via ActBlue. Money is the only obstacle between Hank and an effective run for Governor — he’s got what it takes as a candidate. Hank’s goal is to raise $100,000 between now and then to show his viability. In true populist fashion, he begins with $0 in the campaign coffers. :P

Also, A-J correspondent Enrique Rangel covered Hank Gilbert’s announcement yesterday afternoon (soon after the email went out).

Learn more about Hank Gilbert at his website

Toxic Burritos

Where do we put millions of tons of toxic mud? Why, West Texas of course!

New York’s Hudson River is full of carcinogenic waste in the form of now-illegal PCBs dumped into the river by industry, and it’s coming our way in the form of choo choo trains full of oversize toxic burritos:

Tom W. Jones III, a vice president of Waste Control Specialists, said the Hudson River sludge would be wrapped in heavy plastic, like a burrito, loaded onto open railcars and shipped to the landfill in trains at least 80 cars long. By the third year of the five-year plan, which has been approved by the E.P.A., two to three trains a week will arrive.

Waste like this has to go somewhere, I guess. Certainly it’s better off in the middle of nowhere than in the Hudson river. My biggest concern is that the site is too close to the Ogallala Aquifer (wikipedia entry). Contaminating our only source of water is probably the worst thing that could happen to West Texas.

Just as West Texas is poised to be the wind and solar energy capital of the world, we are also becoming America’s dumping ground for toxic sludge, radioactive waste, and who knows what else on down the line. And hey, while in Texas, why not mine some uranium, inject waste water into oil wells, or build a few more coal-fired plants? Ugh.

You can learn more and get involved over at the Lone Star Sierra Club.

The Texas GOP Split

Currently, the Texas Republican Party seems to be a 50/50 split between the crazies and the not-crazies.

A recent Rasmussen poll (and I only care what Rasmussen — the most Republican-leaning polling group out there — has to say because the poll is about Republicans) shows Perry gaining among likely Republican Primary voters after he made his infamous secession remark on April 15.

A Reseach 2000 poll puts it in perspective:

Yes, half of Texas Republicans think that Gov. Perry’s suggestion to secede was spot-on and that we would be better off for it.


Here’s how the rest of the USA is going to view Texas if we’re not careful:

Meanwhile, I sincerely hope that the Texas Democratic Party will have more to offer as a candidate for governor than Kinky…

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