Wednesday, November 14, 2018

HALV: OF COURSE the proposed Houston fire-fighter layoffs are avoidable.

But that wouldn't allow Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to continue his temper tantrum.

Houston Layoffs Spurred by Prop B are Avoidable. Houston Chronicle.

You're looking at a Mayor who has no problem providing $6.7 Million dollars to his law partner and then claiming it's not a conflict of interest because it's his FORMER law partner, since Turner left the firm after becoming Mayor.

OK then.

Turner's entire political career has been about financially rewarding his patrons while trying (sometimes ineffectually) to punish his political enemies. He's a small man in a big city whose administration is about small ideas.

All he sees is a vote that went against his wishes, due in large part to organization and effective campaigning by a rival organization, so in his mind the only possible recourse is to punish the organization.

That this might actually lead to the deaths, or grave injuries, of some Houstonians doesn't even cross his mind. He doesn't care.  All that matters to him is balancing the political books back to what he perceives is his favor.

The Firefighter's union has to pay.  And pay they will, in the form of layoffs.

But the real people who pay will be Houstonians who should be able to rely on a fire department that has good response times and is sufficiently staffed.  That's not a component of Turner's political calculus however, and it probably never will be given the framework of his political education.

Something to think about during the 2019 Mayoral election.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Election 2018: Faster Danger Train: Kill! Kill!

Houston's light rail has been effective, at taking out cars, bicyclists and pedestrians one person at a time.

And proponents are hoping that the victory by Lindsey Pannill Fletcher over John Culberson will increase the miles of at-grade, Danger Train miles that Houston has to navigate around....

While Fletcher campaigned primarily on inclusiveness and healthcare, one portion of the platforms on her campaign website should not go unnoticed. "We need to partner with cities, counties, and METRO to bring additional resources and improvements to our region," she says on her website. "We need an advocate for policies that both maintain and expand our region’s mobility infrastructure. And we need to make sure that Houston receives its fair share of transportation funding to move our citizens across the region."

Similar hopes were echoed by the unproductive class' transportation Wunderkid on Twitter:

Christof Spieler on Twitter.

So beat longtime incumbent Republican John Culberson for Congress. This is very relevant for transit, since Culberson was unusual in his strong and determined fight to keep federal transit funding out of his district.
It was probably inevitable that this was going to happen post-Culberson, and there are good arguments to be made for increased public transportation, when done the right way.

A continuing argument should be made that a toy-train, built at-grade that doesn't do anything to alleviate congestion from the exburbs and suburbs to Houston's many employment centers is nothing more than a pretty play-thing for wealthy elites to get married and throw parties on.

Also: the rise of Lyft, Uber and the coming of self-driving cars is going to make the car and pedestrian killing Danger Train all but worthless anyway.

Granted, Siemens and the thousands of people who make their living as lampreys on the public teat won't like that too much.  As a Houstonian who gives a shit about getting around the region you probably should.

A better solution would be robust commuter buses coupled with a flexible, efficient last-mile solution would be a much more productive solution than expanding the Danger Train.

Election 2018: Texas New (True?) Blue Suburbs

Are Texas Suburbs Slipping Away From Republicans? Alex Ura, Chris Essig, Darla Cameron, Texas Tribune

Counties that haven’t voted for a Democrat in decades turned out for Beto O’Rourke in his unsuccessful bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and he picked up enough support in ruby red Republican counties to force Cruz into single-digit wins.

There's an interesting bit of political intrigue appearing in Texas right now.  As Democrats long chastised the poor and working class for voting Republican against their interests, it seems that many Texas suburbs voted Democratic this election against theirs.

The Democrats, to an official, are an urban party. Since the rise of Al Gore and his investors they've loathed Suburbia.  Politicians pass laws against it, comedians make jokes about it, TV shows and movies mock it. Suburbia is the gated last-resort of the White elitist, the last refuge of the conservative scoundrel.

Suburbs are overheating the planet, running mom and pop shops out of business, and generally casting a shadow over the vibrancy of an economy based on home-grown, fair-trade, organic, free range donkey dung crackers sourced locally from a collective farming community.

In Houston, especially, the switch is confusing.

The Harris County Democratic Party currently takes its public policy directly from the mind of David Crossley and his non-productive class band of acolytes.  Their solution for Houston?

Empty the suburbs, force everyone to live asshole to elbow inside the Loop and ride the Danger Train everywhere (unless it's raining, then you can ride a bus, IF they go where you want).  From so-called "Complete streets" (which are really streets that make it difficult to get anywhere) to speed limits capped at 30, to bemoaning the existence of the single-occupancy vehicle, the Democrats don't like the relatively mundane, relatively sequestered Suburban lifestyle preferring instead the highly segregated, highly controlled, highly taxed urban one.

Not that Democrats won't take their votes, they're not stupid, but to think that a party that's ran primarily on reducing energy consumption and footprint is all of the sudden going to embrace Mrs. Johnston living in a $500K McMansion (their term) and driving around in her Mercedes to a nail salon, or make policy that helps Mr. Johnston load up in his SUV to go golfing and create policy to promote this lifestyle requires the suspension of disbelief.

Yes, there's the problem with modern Republicans, and the short-sighted anti-immigrant stance they are taking. And the Bronzed Ego sitting in the White House doesn't help.  But if you turn off the Twitter rage machine, block out the media breathlessly acting like every statement el Bronzo utters is "beyond the pale" you get to a place that has to, even begrudgingly, admit that this administration's actual results have been fairly positive, from a conservative perspective.

And this is the problem with politics today. Too much of it is ran through the Social Media outrage prism before being disseminated to people via what should be a calm, rational media. Not an unbiased media mind you, the media has never been that. If you think differently and are longing for some bygone day that never existed I cannot help you.

The media has always been biased to some degree because it's delivered by people. Reporters, journalists and editorialists (we need fewer of the latter) who are people with ideas, views and positions just like you.  To think that some C student can get a bachelor's degree in J-School and suddenly come out as a beacon of neutrality is to ask something of the human condition that is not hard-wired within us.

Am I biased?  You bet. I hold moderately Libertarian views that can be summed up thusly:  The government is responsible for a few things, they should focus on those few things and leave the rest up to us.  Will things be perfect?  No, but that's the cost of living in a free society. Things don't always go as you would like.

The difference here is this:

1. I openly admit my bias. Currently the media does not.  Because of this the Chron can let publicly slip a pro-light rail manifesto and still claim to be reporting on the issue in a neutral manner. Anderson Cooper can get a "tingle up his leg" when Barack Obama speaks but still claim he can moderate a Presidential debate fairly.

2. I'm not a professional media outlet.  This, in case you haven't noticed, is an opinion blog. If you don't LIKE or AGREE with my opinion you can either comment, or start your own, or ignore it. The Chronicle, and other media outlets sell themselves as truth seekers, the last line of defense in the battle for the Republic.

This is a problem because often the reporting that you see doesn't tell the truth. It allows politicians of a certain strip to claim to be for the "working family" despite wanting to raise taxes and fees to levels that will have a real impact on their daily lives. Money taken by the government is NEVER referred to as your money, but as the government's money, as if they have a god-given right to it.

A lot of what people vote on today comes down to plain ignorance.  We're mad that the VA Hospital is in shambles, a government program gone awry, yet we're sold that the solution to the problem is.....more government. People get mad at the banks for issuing sub-prime mortgages, forgetting that it was, in some cases, a government diktat that led and allowed them to do so.

Suburbanites in Texas get angry at the government, and vote for a party that's promising more......government.

Many times elections in America are a large temper tantrum. I think this one in Texas can be described as such, the question is how long it will linger, and if the low-information voter can allow the results to hold?

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Election 2018: Can the Harris County Democrats Govern?

Back in 1999, when the Republicans first started their now two-decade long run in charge of Texas State Government, then Texas Monthly political scribbler Paul "the Clown" Burka asked one of the rare intelligent questions of his career:  "Can the Republicans Govern?"

It was a salient question at the time because many of the newly installed R's had little, if any experience in public office, knew little about the workings of the Texas Government and, for the first time, were looking down the barrel of not being just in opposition but of actually passing bills, and governing.

After a couple of legislative sessions it turned out that they COULD govern, and despite the fact that many on the left didn't like it their transformative approach to State governance (namely: low taxes and light regulation) kicked-off the "Texas Miracle" aided, of course, by the oil and gas shale boom.

What made Burka "The Clown" was that he continued to ask "Can the Republicans Govern?" every two years after that for just about the remainder of his career, despite the fact that it was fairly obvious they could.

Fast forward to 2018....

Harris County has just seen most elected positions switch over to the Democrats, excepting 2 County Commissioner seats, and many of the people elected have never before held public office, nor do they have a background that would suggest they are entirely qualified for the posts they hold.

To whit:

Lina Hidalgo - Harris County Judge (elect)  - Ms. Hidalgo is a 27 year-old graduate student with no prior political experience. She has been elected to the highest administrative office for one of the largest counties in America.  She is a Stanford grad who, for the past few years, has been working toward a joint-graduate degree in law and public policy at NYU and Harvard, so she seems to be intelligent enough, and she has done a lot of advocacy work in public health, criminal justice et al so she should, at the least, be familiar with the nuts and bolts of the issues, but she is going to have to learn on the fly how to be an executive of a large organization with a myriad of departments that provides key services to a lot of constituents. That's a huge difference from being an advocate.

Diane Trautman - Harris County Clerk (Elect) - The politician elected to oversee both Harris County's court records as well as administrate the elections, issue marriage licenses, and a host of other services. She does have some political experience, being elected to the Harris County Board of Education. She has a bachelor's degree in English and a Master's secondary education, both from the University of Houston, and holds a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Sam Houston State University. This office is also in charge of the voter rolls for Harris County.

Marilyn Burgess - Harris County District Clerk (Elect) - Ms. Burgess has an accounting degree from Louisiana State and holds an active CPA certification. As an accountant myself I can tell you that's a good thing for the office she will be holding. The District Clerk's office runs in much the same manner as the County Clerk's office, acting as the official record-keeper for district courts. The District Clerk also administers the jury system and in Harris County is operating a passport office.

It should be pointed out that, in many cases, the clerks will also be providing record-keeping for judges who are brand new, and who might not understand all of the record-keeping requirements, or the procedures. This is going to put more pressure on those Clerk positions to learn quickly.

Dylan Osborne - Harris County Treasurer (Elect)  Mr. Osborne has a degree in Social Sciences from University of Houston - Downtown and a Master's degree in Public Administration. He has worked on the staff of two Houston City Council members so he should be, at least, familiar with the functioning of government. The Harris County Treasurer's Office is a county function that many, including me, believe should be done away with. It's sole job is to handle deposits and issue payments for the county, something that could be easily folded into existing departments.  The last couple of Democratic candidates running for this office ran on a platform of abolishing it. According to Mr. Osborne's campaign site that is not on his agenda.

Adrian Garcia - Harris County Commissioner Precinct 2 (Elect) - Garcia has a long history in Houston politics, unfortunately much of it is not good.  He served on Houston City Council from 2004 - 2008 and was elected as Harris County Sheriff from 2009 - 2015. During his stint as Sheriff he came under fire for a sexual abuse scandal in the Harris County Jail and multiple problems in the sheriff's office were in the media. Since then he's jumped from race to race trying to find a soft-spot to land. It appears he finally found it.

None of the above should be taken to read that these people cannot, or will not, be effective leaders. It is not intended to be snark, belittling or disparaging to them.

What it DOES mean is that the question is fair:  Can the Harris County Democrats GOVERN?

There is an increasingly large chance now that the City and County begin working together in ways that have been hinted at, but only in backrooms.  The City of Houston could begin to exert a bigger influence on its extra-territorial jurisdiction to a point that it begins sucking up tax dollars and government functions for the outlying areas.  A bigger concern is that the County starts pouring more dollars into the areas within the Houston City Limits, providing more services there to supplement Boss Turner's fiscal irresponsibility and residents in the unincorporated hinterlands start to get left out.

Can Harris County Democrats govern?

For their own sake citizens of Harris County had better hope they can.

If they can't then the Houston Area Leadership Vacuum could be legion.

Election 2018: What's left of the Harris County GOP?

Not much to be perfectly honest.

For all of the talk of a "Blue Wave" cresting over Texas, which didn't happen, I think it's pretty safe to say that the County of Harris has flipped almost completely Blue and it's not close.


Straight party voting:

Republicans: 408,413  44.12%
Democrats:   511,282   55.24%
Libertarian:  5,935       00.64%

All local Republican judges were voted out of office.

Harris County Elected officials:

County Judge:

Ed Emmett (R - I)      572,816  48.23%
Lina Hildago (D)       590,524  49.72%
Eric Gatlin (L)             24,379    2.05%

District Clerk:

Chris Daniel (R - I)       529,658  44.97%
Marilyn Burgess (D)     648,097  55.03%

County Clerk:

Stan Stanart (R - I)      507,394   42.92%
Diane Trautman (D)    644,792   54.54%
Abel Chino Gomez (L)  30,127   2.55%

County Treasurer:

Orlando Sanchez (R - I)   540,880   45.85%
Dylan Osborne  (D)          638,825   54.15%

As you can see from the above the defeat was all-encompassing, and total.  All that the Harris County GOP has left in the fold is Texas State Senate District 7  (Paul Bettencourt won with 57.83% of the vote) and some Texas house districts either wholly or partially contained in that geographical area.  US-TX 2 (Won by Dan Crenshaw with around 53% of the vote, has a large part of it's geography contained within, as does US-TX 7 (Won by Fletcher (D) over Culberson (R - I) 52.35% - 47.65%) but not enough to pull Culberson through. There was good news in US - TX 10, where Mike McCaul won re-election with 62.69% of the Harris County vote (the final result in the race though was much closer), but in the statewide races it was even worse....

"Beto" O'Rourke beat Ted Cruz in Harris County by a full 16 points.

No Republican state-wide candidate won Harris County in a race where they were opposed by a Democrat.

The highest Republican vote-getter, by percentage, was Greg Abbott at 46.47% and he was running against someone who couldn't pay their taxes on time.

Despite (or perhaps because of) a slew of robo-calls (I received NINE on Monday evening before the election), scary mailers about an invasion that was coming and how everyone was going to be forced to house violent immigrants and judges releasing dangerous criminals into the population, Harris County voters just said no.

The easy answer for this, for the angry Republican set, is that the "Gimme" voters (everyone but them) voted for the party that promised to give them more.  The harder answer is that the current Harris County GOP is a county party bereft of ideas, leadership, and any sense of a vision for the region that doesn't involve cutting taxes or turning the Astrodome into a high-priced parking garage.

I can't imagine that any of the current officers of the HCGOP get to hang around after this shellacking, but you'd be surprised what the crony system can produce. There is a way Paul Simpson could survive, by (incorrectly) blaming the evil mainstream media and "Betomania" he might just convince enough people that he's the guy to lead them out of the wilderness.

Of course, he's still going to have the problem of all of the pay-to-play slates sending out what basically amounts to scare-mongering and (in some cases) hate-mail to voters, and then there's the issue that on almost none of the local issues does the HCGOP seem to have much of a platform that people understand.

I believe that there are good, conservative policies that urban voters might gravitate toward as they start to understand the blight that is big-government cronyism and the damaging effects it can have on communities.  At the local level especially conservatives should have a laser-like focus on infrastructure (including flood control) better schools (which can include school-choice) through a plan that doesn't involve gutting the public school system and government transparency.

What people WANT from a local government are roads that work, traffic that flows, safe neighborhoods and a government that's not working against them and then trying to cover it up.

I don't see a Harris County Republican Party that's really all that focused on that right now.

Which is why they lost. Not because some greedy people just had their hand out.  That excuse is too easy and should be immediately discarded.

It's either that or be ready for one-party rule in Harris County for a long, long time.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

11/7/2018: OK Harris County, I'm interested.

2018 was an unusual year.

Looking back on it now I have to say that it was probably my best year personally however, but this isn't about me.

It's about you Harris County Texas.

Yes, you. A county that's totally switched party allegiances to the point that the elected Republican will soon be akin to the Dodo within your borders. A county that just elected a 27-year old graduate student with no government experience, and who has never even attended a County Commissioner's meeting to your highest elected position.

Oh, this is going to be fun.

Add to this the continued hegemony of Sylvester "Boss" Turner in the Houston Mayor's office and this has the potential to devolve into quite the mess.

And I'm proud to announce that this blog will (again) be here for it.

For my two remaining readers, welcome back. It's been a while. Yes, my focus will still be on my sports/lifestyle blog for the most part but I can't help but be intrigued by this rising blue wave of ineptitude that's inundated the county in which I reside.

If you're not having a "holy Sh!t!!" moment right now you should, because things are about to get very, very interesting.

So meet Lina Hidalgo your new Harris County Judge.

If it's possible, Harris County now has a more progressive leader than the City of Houston (Turner being more traditional "Crony politicians" than actual "progressive" and you should be ready for a great many things to change.

For his part, Emmett is blaming his loss on straight-party voting and being so far down the ticket. There's probably something to that, but there's also the case that over the past several years his constituent outreach has been....flawed, arrogant and out of touch. He fiddled on top of the Astrodome while Harris County soaked in Harvey floodwaters, he never seemed to take campaigning seriously and, to be honest, he paid the price for it.

Also paying the price?  John Culberson, who lost to Lindsey Panill Fletcher, my leader in the clubhouse for "Newly elected public official most likely to disappoint those who voted for her. Ms. Fletcher's campaign was based on "reaching across the aisle" and "finding solutions" but her victory speech already started the pivot to "holding Trump accountable".

Will there be buyer's remorse here? Probably, but the power of incumbency and the fact that Harris County is now solidly Blue might mean that the only way for voters to find a course correction will be in the Democratic primary.

One last thing:  On the straight ticket issue. It's going to be easy for the Harris County GOP to try and lay this issue solely at the feet of the National media, their fawning over "Beto" O'Rourke and straight ticket voting. Emmett already has.

The flaw in this thinking can be found in Congressional District #2, where Dan Crenshaw ran a credible campaign, provided the voters with something to vote FOR, and ended up with a rare Harris County win in Harris County with 53% of the vote.

Yes, straight party voting played a role*. But it's not the entire story. Neither was it the entire story when Republicans were winning by large margins.  At the end of the day you have to be a good candidate with a good platform to sell to your potential constituents. Crenshaw figured that out, Emmett and Culberson did not.

*In the judicial elections however straight-party voting probably did tell the entire story. Most voters don't have the time or energy to pay attention to those races, and a 6% edge in straight party voting was probably enough to sweep what remains of the Harris County Republican Judge slate off of the bench.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

In Memory: Trent Seibert

I've waited a minute to write this post because this one stings.  Last week my friend Trent Seibert passed away in his home, he was 47.

I met Trent roughly a decade ago through our mutual friend Kevin Whited, author and publisher of BlogHouston.  Trent was a dedicated reporter, vodka tonic drinker, and one of the most driven individuals I've ever met in my life. 

There wasn't a piece of government malfeasance that Trent wasn't interested in, and it didn't matter if the offending official was Republican, OR Democrat he went after them with equal zeal.

Because of this, Mr. Seibert was not a favorite of the local party-blogging set. He had a habit of offending local Democratic sacred-cows which would not stand with the local Democratic Blogosphere.  He also angered Republicans by going after their local champions. As I said, he was an equal opportunity journalist.

I read the e-mail informing me of Trent's death when I got off the plane from a recent trip to Las Vegas. Standing there, in the terminal of Hobby, I had to sit down for a minute, stunned.  Trent was just about my age (he was 47, I'm 45) and he was taken from us way too soon.

When I first met Trent he had just began working on Texas Watchdog, which was a non-profit journalism website whose mission was to root out and shine a light on government corruption. He had an insatiable interest in local politics, something lost on so many reporters today who want to focus too readily on the National scene, and he was always interested in hearing thoughts from pretty much everyone on where a story might lie.

Trent and I shared another love, poker. And we took a couple of poker trips to Lake Charles together with varying degrees of success.  This might surprise some, but Trent was a very tight poker player, even tighter than I at the table.

He was a sharp, funny man who treated everyone fairly, had a quick wit and a temper that was triggered when he felt public officials were not being honest.

I'm going to miss Trent dearly.

I'll close by saying this:  My life is better because Trent was in it, even for a relatively brief time.

That is the highest praise that I can give anyone.

God speed Mr. Seibert.