Friday, May 30, 2014

Election 2014: Why Cornyn why?

I have to admit to being at least a little surprised by this:

Alameel threatens Cornyn campaign with Lawsuit. Aman Batheja, Texas Tribune

I'm surprised not because Alameel is threatening a lawsuit, Texas Democratic candidates have been known to do that (and it should be noted, in the case of Chris Bell, win a financial settlement) so there's a financial incentive in doing so, especially when you're looking down the barrel of a 10-20% electoral drubbing.

No, I'm surprised because I can't see any reason for Cornyn to even mention Alameel by name.

Here's a candidate with zero name ID outside of the hard-core Democratic base, who needed a primary run-off to defeat Kesha Rogers, who hasn't shown any ability to mount an effective campaign and you provide him with both a platform and opportunity to cash in with the TLSPM for some free press?

It's not like Cornyn is running against the 2nd coming of Lyndon Baines Johnson here. Think closer to Rick Noriega. (*snicker*) A candidate so bad John Spong of Texas Monthly felt the need to write an article trying to help him win.

In my view all Cornyn needs to do to win comfortably is keep his eye on the "fight the Obama agenda" ball and run a TV ad or three.

Maybe someone can explain this move to me?

Looking to November: How will they campaign? (Part 2 of a series)

Previous Posts:

Part 1: How will the Democrats campaign?

After taking a look at how I think the Democrats will campaign I'll now try to pivot over to the Republicans and their conservative bloc of candidates who, I feel, will do things just a little differently.  It's going to be important in this election to sever the Abbott campaign from the remaining state-wide Republicans as I'll (hopefully) demonstrate below.

Republicans (Abbott specifically):  Abbott has, and will, run his campaign fully on the Texas Miracle and will attempt to cast himself as the One who has been selected to steer the rudder with a steady hand.  He will promote past successes including his work at Attorney General (glossing over the cases he lost of course) and will ceaselessly promote his "Working Texas" agenda which is in many ways a continuation of the direction the State has been moving.  Abbott's Issues Page on his campaign website read's like a who's who of both republican and business wishes. He will focus on competency, portraying Wendy Davis as an out of touch Washington D.C. politician whose come to Texas to ruin what they have built. His primary message is going to be that his solutions are based on common sense, while Wendy Davis' are nothing more than a plan to raise taxes and throw money at the problems with no hard solutions in place. He will also, as he has already, dedicate campaign resources in an effort to paint Davis and Democrats as unfeeling and uncaring on handicapped issues.

Conservatives: (Taking the lead from Dan Patrick): In contrast to Abbott, the remainder of the candidates on the Republican slate are going to follow Patrick and veer right.  Patrick has already said that the voters gave Republicans a mandate to pursue a conservative agenda and he will campaign heavily on that. Yesterday, on his radio station (AM 700 KSEV) I heard Patrick complain about "personal attacks from Democrats" and it will be curious to see if he spends much time on that rather than the issues.

It will be interesting to see the Republican platform coming out of the 2014 State convention because I have a feeling it will be much more conservative than the 2012 version.  You can expect the remaining candidates, for Attorney General, Comptroller, Agricultural Commissioner and Land Commissioner follow Patrick's lead on all these issues.

Another promise that Patrick has made, and it will be interesting to see if the other Republicans will follow, is that he plans to campaign in traditional Democratic strongholds. Patrick believes that his 'invasion' framing of immigration issues helps him within the Hispanic community. Time will tell if Republicans find this to be an issue or not.

For the remaining campaigns it will be interesting to see how much effort they put into their respective races. So far, George P. Bush has made some insular speeches and has not really been actively engaged. Given his opponent it's very likely he won't need to be.  Ryan Sitton had to campaign hard to win the nomination. He was shunted by the GOP "Pay for Play" slates and had the albatross of newspaper editorial board endorsements weighing him down. He ran a campaign based on his oil and gas industry experience. He'll probably do the same here, but will also focus on what he considers to be his opponent's lack of industry knowledge, and general disdain for the industry at large.

The last campaign worth mentioning specifically is Ken Paxton for Attorney General. In the primary and run-off, ethics questions arose regarding his campaign expenditures and filings. I would imagine that Sam Houston, the Democratic nominee, is going to attempt to gain some traction there. In addition to overcoming a candidate with a historical name (which is typically good for a few percentage points from low-information voters) it will be interesting to see how Paxton deals with this, again, or whether he chooses to ignore it as a settled issue.

Finally, unlike the Democrats, who will run a more coordinated campaign, the Republican campaigns will be mostly driven by the candidates. They can do this because they are both better funded in Texas and have deep bench strength when it comes to running statewide campaigns.  There will be a few over-arching themes that I would expect Republicans to bring forward however. One will be Obamacare which, on a National level, is struggling as cost projections are proving to be under-estimated and for which Texas is being blamed for it's struggles. Expect Republicans to wear the responsibility for this as a badge of honor. Second, is the EPA. This has proven to be a winning issue with voters and is seen, by Republicans, as evidence of Federal overreach into issues protected by the 10th amendment to the Constitution of the United States. As the candidates wage their own campaigns expect to see coordinated Republican attacks continue against Washington D.C. and the Obama agenda. I think it goes without saying, this will be the sole focus of the Cornyn campaign.

Despite being slightly fractured along two lines, I do think the Republicans will all work together to move the slate forward. While I think Abbott is the least likely to strike a firebrand tone, I do think he won't be opposed to coat-tailing on the other candidates to get these fiery messages across. I think the State party, and other affiliated groups, will continue to take their "abortion Barbie" shots at Wendy Davis and will do most of the heavy lifting in terms of painting the Democrats as a progressive group way out of touch with Texas voters.

And that's it for the campaigning.  Next week we'll start with the Governor's race and try and get a picture of what each candidate's governing style would be.

As always, if you have any questions or suggestions please let me know.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

LGBT issues, Houston and the Texas Republican Party

Yesterday there was much cheering and gnashing of teeth as Houston City Council passed the newly minted Equal Rights Ordinance (name changed from the Non-Discrimination Ordinance mainly to make good use of the Twitter handle #HERO and provide for better chanting) on an 11-6 vote which was then signed into law by Mayor Annise Parker.

After weeks of suggesting the ordinance was about all discrimination the mask came off recently as Parker described passage of the act "a personal matter" and "all about me".  After passage even the Houston Chronicle got into the act, running the following story with the following headline.

Council extends rights protection for gays, transgendered. Mike Morris,

The story is behind their pay wall, but it's certainly an editorial change for America's largest big-city daily to have never won a Pulitzer. You have to imagine Mrs. White is sniffling in the corner for titling their editorial "Pass the NDO" instead of HERO.

As for opponents, they have vowed to gather the 17,000 signatures needed to bring a repeal to the ballot in November.  By City statute they have 30 days to do this, I'm betting they could get 50,000 in that time if they so desired.  In other words, this is going to the ballot box, where I'm fairly certain it will be overturned by a wide margin.

In other news relating to the LGBT front, the Texas State Republican Party has denied the Log Cabin Republicans a booth at their upcoming convention.  While I don't think Texas Republicans are in danger of paying any type of electoral price for this, I do think it's rather exclusionary and silly to not let a government group in just because they run counter to a plank in the state party platform.

Of course, I also doubt you'd see a booth at the Texas State Democratic Party convention entitled "Democrats for the defense of traditional marriage" so there's that as well. (And, if you're reading this Dems, you're welcome for the idea)

One thing about the LGBT political fight is that I don't think there is much electoral ground to be gained by either party. Most people with feelings strong enough to base their vote on it are already firmly entrenched in their camp of choice and anyone who could still, realistically, call themselves an undecided (or swing [no pun intended]) voter is typically worried about economic issues or just not really paying attention and they like the attention the media heaps on them come election time. In other words, support might be a mile wide, but I've a feeling it's about an inch deep.

Either way, I suspect we're be hearing about this all the way to the November elections and beyond. Will it matter?  Probably not, from a political perspective that is.

Looking to November: How will they campaign? (Part 1 of a series)

Before getting too deep into how each individual candidate will govern I think it's important to first look at how each party will campaign, what their issues will be, and how, from a general point of view, we can expect this to all play out.

Leading up to November I expect three overlying themes to develop.  I'm going to attempt to break them down here by party and (additionally) by ideology since I think there has to be a separation of Republican and conservative campaign talking points for any of it to make any sense.

All that said, let's start with:

Democrats:  The talking points from the Blue team are already taking shape on several different fronts. It is very clear that Texas Democrats are going to form a massive offensive around the idea that today's Texas Republican Party = the Tea Party and are "unfit to lead". I would expect Texas Dems to double down on this point finding what they consider to be onerous examples of Tea Party members behaving badly and doing their level best to associate various Republicans who drape themselves in the Tea Party banner to these closely. Make no doubt about it, the State party is going to go hard negative early and often. You're also going to hear a lot of talk about education and education funding from Democrats who are going to repeatedly reference the $5 Billion dollars in education cuts that they have vowed to restore, and then surpass. Again their casting of Republicans is going to be as spend-thrift old white mean who don't want poor, predominantly minority children to succeed. Democrats will also focus on abortion rights, continuing to push the War on women message as well as the movement to legalize and provide equal benefits to LGBT couples. 

On fiscal issues expect to see increasing calls for common sense tax reform that, I'm guessing here, will not include a State income tax but will include eliminating exemptions for most oil and gas production severance taxes. Democrats will also push for more green energy subsidies, as well as increased environmental standards for both existing and new oil refining facilities, gas processing plants and energy plants. Also, Democrats have long been asking for the gasoline tax to be indexed to inflation and the extra monies diverted to mass transit projects in lieu of new road construction.

Keeping in sync with National issues, Texas Democrats will continue their long-term pushes for Medicare expansion, an increase in the minimum wage to counter income inequality and rolling back Republican lawsuit reform that they say has deprived citizens of their right to redress corporate wrongs.

Expect the Democrats to hammer the Republicans hard on these issues, issues where they believe the Texas GOP has exposure to the voting public, what Democrats have traditionally termed "lunch pail" issues and have used in an attempt to portray the GOP as elitist and out of touch with mainstream society. That this dovetails nicely with their overall casting of Republicans as mean, far right-wing hate-mongers at war with women and minorities is a bonus in this cycle they feel.

I will say this.  While these points are overarching themes I do expect the Governor's race to be campaigned in a slightly different manner.  I'm unsure that Wendy Davis is going to try and paint Greg Abbott as a Tea-Party pocketed sycophant, but will instead hit him heavily regarding his legislative tendencies as Attorney General and then tie those proclivities to the items above.  The most progressive campaigner is almost sure to be Leticia Van de Putte, who is one of the more progressive candidates on this year's ballot.

Tomorrow we'll take a look at what is sure to be the Republican campaign strategy and how they'll attack/counter-attack the Democrats.  I'll also, at that time, talk about whether or not the Democrats will actively defend against Republican charges.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Looking to November: How would they govern? (Introduction to a series)

While it's no secret to anyone paying attention to this blog, I feel the need to point out here that I am, in fact, a Republican. More important than this however is my self-identification as a movement conservative (a phrase I borrowed from Kevin Whited at BlogHouston.) Most of this, however, is on the fiscal side of things. When it comes to most, not all, social issues I would more rightly be considered a libertarian. (little L intentional) Because of this I'm OK with LGBT marriage, on-board with the legalization of certain drugs (although I don't use them myself, even though some of my prose might suggest that I do) and am extremely worried about the over-criminalization of America.

On the fiscal front I'm very worried about runaway spending at the local, state and federal levels and I'm not thrilled with the amount of corporate welfare that's built into our political system at all levels. And yes, I support lower taxation and reasonable, consistent, effective regulation where needed. I also understand that there are some roles that government must fill with infrastructure, education and public safety being primary.  I often find that most (not all) Texans feel this way and the differences surround the costs, theories and application of fixing these problems.

This is probably more about me politically than I've ever released in a blog post, or any format for that matter, outside of my circle of friends.  As I'm watching election returns come in tonight, I'm struck to do this because, here we go again, I feel the Texas Lock-Step Political Media (TLSPM) and the news-ish organizations are not, or will not be, reporting correctly on the political races to come.

That is why I've decided to take a long, hopefully fair, look at each big, statewide race to determine how each candidate will actually govern if elected. I plan to try and avoid using loaded language in this, and I will try to document this fully through links and, if necessary, additional foot-notes.

If you're a Democrat reading this I invite you to stick around. Yes, I will continue to write things about the City of Houston region that you are probably not going to like. Skip that. For once I am honestly looking forward to your feedback on my fairness here, including whether or not my attempts to delineate your candidate's intentions are accurate or no. I can only promise this. I will refrain from using my typical shoddy-humor in these posts and I will refrain from any analysis other than characterizing policy as either "progressive" or "conservative" which I believe is fair.

As it stands now (10:20 PM Tuesday May, 27th) I have the following order in mind:

1. Texas Governor: Greg Abbott (R)  vs. Wendy Davis (D)
2. TX Lt. Governor: Dan Patrick (R) vs. Leticia Van de Putte (D)
3. Texas Comptroller: Mike Collier (D) vs. Glenn Hegar (R)
4. Texas RRC Commish: Steve Brown (D) vs. Ryan Sitton (R)
5. Texas Atty Gen: Sam Houston (D) vs. Ken Paxton (R)
6. Other Statewide races: Land Commish, (Bush (R) vs. Cook (D)) Ag Commish (Hogan (D) vs. Miller (R))

Note: Above candidates listed by alphabetical order of last name. Also, I will not be covering the US Senate Race between David Alameel (D) and John Cornyn (R). Politics at the federal level is way, way outside the scope of this little blog. If I find a good summary of this race I'll link to it.

Those are the State-wide races I'll be covering.  If you have any other specific (competitive please) races you would like me to take a look at (provided you think what I'm doing is of any value) then please let me know in the comments or via e-mail.

My plan is to churn these out at a rate of one per week.  However, by the time you read this (I'm scheduling it to publish Wednesday afternoon) I might have changed my mind.  If the schedule fells too ambitious given my work schedule at the day job I'll update as needed.

Until then, you have the floor.  Tell me what you want to see and why.

Bombing runs against Houston's revenue cap.

We're not yet at the point where the Parker administration is ready to storm the beaches, but the initial bombing runs are commencing to weaken opposition.

For years Houston has watched as so-called "fiscally responsible" Mayors such as Bill White and Annise Parker have kicked the pension can down the road. We're now at the end of the road and what faces city government is a brick wall.

Strangely enough, as has been the case on several city finance issues, the Council Member making the most sense here is former HPD Chief C.O. Bradford.  It is high time that Houston have a conversation about what are and what are not "core services" and whether or not there are things the city is trying to do that could be better handled in alternative (read: cheaper) ways.

Until we get to that point however the bombing runs will continue, leading up to an eventual stand-off in 2015 when voters get their say on how much revenue the city can collect.

Not mentioned (yet) in this discussion is the flawed property appraisal process which allows for huge raises in revenues that cause revenue-cap problems in the first place. Perhaps the City should partner with lawmakers in State Government who are trying to come up with real solutions to Texas problematic tax structure?

Then there's the issue of spending, which I have addressed before. In a (big) way, I echo Mr. Bradford when I wonder exactly what all of the City monies are going toward?

Don't worry however, these things will be dealt with in time. Now, back to the Grand Urinal Bargain of 2014.

Texas Primary Run-off Post Mortem

This is going to be a long-ish post so bear with me.

In the end there were four things that died last night, The political careers of David Dewhurst and Jerry Patterson, the political relevance of newspaper editorial boards and the political clout of House Speaker Straus and State Rep. Geren.

Dewhurst is perhaps the least surprising. After the loss to Ted Cruz he's been outed as a poor campaigner with little message besides "me too!" when referring to conservative political issues.  While it's true that the media loves them a non-movement conservative Republican in positions of leadership, there's ample evidence that Dewhurst was disconnected from the reality of his campaign and that he let a relatively young and not-battle ready pack of hipsters waste a ton of his money, but also that he just never could grasp what it was that conservative voters found so unappealing in him.

As for Patterson, while his attacks were able to sway some in the Republican-blogger set to take him seriously (There was a robo-call out last night from "Texans for Accountability" that referenced this post specifically in a last-minute attack against Patrick) most Republicans seemed to attack the messenger more than the message which has left Patterson in the unfriendly position of being damaged goods. He's so toxic politically now that I doubt even Van de Putte and the Dems reach out to him in a hope to get a Republican endorsement.

Speaking of endorsements, the only Republican candidate to get a majority of Texas newspaper editorial board endorsements and still win was Ryan Sitton (This doesn't include Abbott and George P. Bush and other candidates who were basically unopposed). I would argue however that Sitton's win had more to do with his campaign, Tea Party support and the fact that Dan Branch was his opponent than did any endorsement in the local fish wraps. If nothing else, we're at a point in history where the gap between the political ideologies of major newspaper editorial boards and Republican voters is so large that an endorsement hurts a candidate rather than helps. I theorized back in 2012 that Rick Perry's strategy of bypassing the Ed boards and speaking directly with voters through his own publicity house-organ was the wave of the future. After this round of primaries I think this theory is strengthened. I wouldn't be surprised to see most Republican state-wide candidates declining invitations to sit and speak with editorial boards as we run up to November.  If I were advising a candidate my reaction would be to pass, or to actively seek my opponent get the nod.

Finally, it was a bad night for House Speaker Straus and his crew as they went 0 fer in four key races where their allies were running for office. Today the spin-mongers are trying to down play the results but what happened was certainly bad for non-movement conservatives and good for the right-wing of the Republican Party. While I don't think this means Straus loses his Speakership (I think there are still enough D's and moderate R's with skins in the game to keep him from getting voted out) I do think the political goings-on in the Texas House will be far more raucous than those in the State Senate.

With the primaries now out of the way we have a short respite until things start heating up for the general election in November. I think the campaigns for some of these races will be better than the actual races themselves.  Here's a quick summary:

John Cornyn vs. David Alameel (US Senate) - This is going to be a snoozer. Alameel was taken to a run-off by LaRouchian Kesha Rogers. Yes, Cornyn struggled in his primary but that's a primary, not a general election against a progressive candidate who would push and back policies against the economic interests of the State. Plus, he did avoid the run-off, something Alameel couldn't do against bad opposition. Alameel has not proven himself to be much of a candidate in the run-up and if he does try to get feisty Cornyn's machine will grind him down. On election day I think Cornyn wins with over 60% of the vote, barring something unforeseen.

Greg Abbott vs. Wendy! Davis (TX Gov) - If we're all going to be honest about this then we have to admit that the heat in this election was extinguished long ago under a wave of Davis gaffes that proved her to be not ready for prime-time. This result will fall under the same 55% (R) 40% (D) range that I discussed yesterday leaving Texas Dems with the same question that they've been asking for the last 20-something years: "When is that demographic change going to happen?"

Dan Patrick vs. Laticia Van de Putte (TX Lt. Gov) - While I think this has the potential to be one of the better campaigns on the ticket I still don't think there's enough of a Democratic base to push Van de Putte over the 45% hump. She'll probably run more on the issues than on Mr. Patrick, especially seeing how the attacks backfired against Dewhurst, unfortunately (for her) I still think the issues of the Texas Democratic Party do not resonate with a majority of voters in Texas.

Ken Paxton vs. Sam Houston (Atty. General) - Despite having a catchy historical name, Sam Houston is relatively unknown by Texas voters. Paxton brings a ton of baggage which is why I view this as the best chance for Texas Democrats to break through. I also think this is going to be among the ugliest of campaigns.  While I still think the Republican structural advantage is enough to carry Paxton through, he is going to have a fight on his hands.

A few more quick thoughts:

In the race for Agricultural Commissioner the Democrats revealed that their problem is still one of bench strength. Their run-off consisted of a politician who's not campaigning and a side-show. The non-campaigner won meaning that in this race, as well as in the races for Land Commissioner and Railroad Commission the Dems are starting in an 0-3 hole in Statewide races. I think they have outside chances in the races for Comptroller (more on that later) and, as I stated above, Attorney General but everything is going to need to break just right for them if they even want to be competitive. If anything, the political buzz surrounding the R run-off vs. the D run-off speaks volumes. Even the media and news-ish sites couldn't get too worked up over the Democratic options.

On the bright side, we should receive a robo-call break for at least the Summer.  That's never a bad thing. And it means that we don't have to sit through endless TV ads breaking into our favorite shows either. People who moan and complain about low voter interest in politics need to take a hard look at the process itself. There are a lot of bad actors in the campaign consulting business. Unfortunately, they are also those who win. For all of the talk about "getting money out of politics" the reality is it has become a large economy in and of itself. Much like casino gambling however it only takes out of society and never puts back in. To begin reform, we need politicians who take hard looks at who they're hiring and stop bringing on the bad actors.

This will happen at about the same time I get elected to public office. In other words, never.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What Burka misses in regards to Texas candidates/voters

The (election day) ballots haven't even been cast, and already Paul Burka is having a pre-emptive sad....

The Silent Majority, Paul (The Clown) Burka, Texas Monthly

The silent majority of Republican voters has allowed the most vocal, and the most radical, elements of the Republican party to take control of the primaries. But the problem isn't with the voters--the problem is the candidates themselves.

The problem with Burka's thesis is that the Republican primary voters, as well as a majority of voters in the general elections, aren't choosing to elect what he terms to be "sensible, moderate" Republicans who are, in reality, Democrat-Lite Republicans or the ideological equivalent to what used to be called conservative Democrats back when Texas being a one-party state was viewed as a positive.

For all of the TLSPM hand-wringing over the dearth of moderates in the Texas Republican Party, it's telling that the same level of angst wasn't leveled toward Democrats when they purged their party of the squishy middle after the Republican ascendancy.

What is really happening, and don't let the blathering of Burka fool you, is that Texas is polarizing in advance of the same trend at the national level. Yes, to some extent, the Tea Party gets credit (blame) for this but it's also reflective of a long-term trend toward polarization as each political side listens to the echo-chamber of their chosen media outlets.

Whether you're a fan of MSNBC (on the left) or FoxNews (on the right) there's no doubt that the views presented on both of those outlets (as well as the increasing amount of online news-ish sites that don't even pretend to report it down the middle) don't pretend to lend themselves to anything approaching moderate tones.

Conservatives, for years frustrated by what they feel to be a persuasive media bias to the left, have all but abandoned traditional media outlets for talk radio, conservative blogs and websites as well as newsletters and magazines that report the news they want to hear. Liberals mock Conservatives for this. Then they head out to MSNBC, Mother Jones, Daily Kos and (recently) Vox to have their biases confirmed while throwing fits over corporate media and all of its ills.

Part of the problem is that America has decided to make politics a game of personal pride. Winning, or losing, an election cannot be the failure of the candidate, or the electorate just selecting the other person, it's now a personal shot against one's moral code. For journalists like Burka, Dewhurst losing isn't the State rejecting a poor candidate who is not a movement conservative, but a personal blow to his belief of how politics should be done and that just can't stand.

It's the same reason people have reacted with hatred toward Bush the Younger and Barack Obama. It's also the same reason partisans defended them with such vigor even when it was pretty clear they were wrong. Bushitler and Barack Hussein Obama sprout from the same place in the human soul.

All of this does make for pretty poor politics, but also for pretty poor political journalism. It's become the norm rather than the exception from the TLSPM. Public policy-based, investigative reporting has been co-opted by Ego's in Chief whose view of journalism is a graph attached to a story suggesting that a policy they don't like is going to turn Texas into a barren, eco-tragic wasteland governed by the dim and gormless whilst the intelligent set work hard to turn cities into mini-replicas of California.

It's easy to point fingers at a low-turnout primary run-off and say that the so-called "silent majority" is not getting their way. It's going to be harder to make that argument however should Patrick win in the general.  Given that Van de Putte is a bad candidate I think this will probably be the case.

Worse still, for Democrats, I believe that Van de Putte is going to go negative which is going to further cast Patrick as a victim in the eyes of Texas voters.  At least, the moderate voters. The 30% of progressive voters could care less how bad of a candidate Van de Putte is. All they care about is breaking the Republican stranglehold on state-wide elections.  Conversely, however, the around 40% of voters who identify as Republicans aren't going to care much about the personal quirks of King Dan, they just want to preserve the long-run of party domination.*

Even worse for the Democrats is this:  The so-called "moderate center" in Texas politics is not the swing vote that many think.  Over time the average margin of Republican victory** has remained fairly constant at around 55% (R) and 40% (D). If you exclude 2006 which had two name independents that skewed the results, trend is pretty consistent in major, statewide races.  What this means is that the so-called swing vote in Texas is staying remarkably constant, suggesting that 'so-called' swing voters aren't as independent as they like to pretend but instead are fairly reliable voters for one party or another.

All of this runs counter to Burka's claim that the silent majority is being hijacked. If anything, the vocal majority is having more of a say in Texas politics and that say is increasingly trending toward the more conservative candidates that the TLSPM likes to suggest are outside the mainstream.

If you define the mainstream as being exclusive of those who vote, then you get a predictable Paul Burka "the will of the people is being subverted" missive. If, on the other hand, you define the mainstream as the majority of Texas voters, you realize that the only wills being subverted are those of Burka and the rest of the TLSPM.

Go vote today, whatever your party. Make sure that the candidates on the general slate in November are the ones you want and not the ones that Burka thinks should be on there because they give him inside information for stories.

*There is a point to be made about the lack of quality in candidates resulting from single-party domination, but it wasn't made when Democrats were in power and it's not really being made now. There are plenty of elected officials in office now who are only there because they can fog a mirror and happen to have the correct letter behind their name. This is a trend that I don't see improving over time.

**I'm referring to state-wide races only.  Clearly in district-specific races the swings are much greater.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mayor Parker crying wolf on the (soft) revenue cap?

Last week there were fired the first, quiet, shots in Mayor Parker's coming offensive against the City revenue cap approved by voters in 2004 and (although pillowy soft) the new sign for what ails the city amongst the increased expenditures crowd. Missing from the argument is that the "cap" places restrictions on revenue but fails do the same for spending. This omission by the local media is a big one. Secretarial journalists are good at regurgitating the truism that the cap might be met, but they're not so good at examining why hitting revenue ceilings might be a problem when there's no problem now meeting needs when revenue falls within limits.

Consider this:  For the 2015 fiscal year budget Houston has not bumped into the cap. This means that revenues (exempting raises in enterprise funds which were excluded in Prop 1) have not yet risen at rates higher than what would be calculated based on population growth and inflation.  In 2016 however, this is expected to change.

The short argument that's already been presented because of this (projected) change are dire warnings that Houston will need to, in some way, (maybe) reduce revenues to those levels prescribed by the cap. This would not mean that the budget would be "cut" only that the increase would be rolled back to the capped limits. It's the same lie that we saw almost daily in the state education funding debate, you know, the one where a reduction in increases morphed to a $4 Billion dollar "cut" in education funding.

The second piece of the cuts puzzle, the one that's not being reported, is that in order for the cap roll-back to be an issue budgeted expenditures must rise at a level that would exceed the revenue ceilings. In 2015 the City is operating under the cap structure just fine. We are being led to believe that this is going to change but there has been nothing outlining what those changing factors might possibly be. True, during the economic down-turn there were budgetary restraints. Those weren't caused by the cap however, they were caused by a sluggish economy. What we're seeing now is an unaccountable local government with no effective fiscal watchdog suggesting that a restriction not previously a concern is suddenly going to become one because......well just because. Because of this because the city will be looking at mass lay-offs, an even worse pot-hole situation and future Mayors being required to take their executive staff to lunch at McDonald's instead of pricey haunts in the Heights.

Yes, it's a harrowing thing to consider.

You can think about this in terms of a vacuum. The default setting of a vacuum is to suck up all debris in it's path leaving nothing hanging around. During the process of this sucking the vacuum bag gets bigger and bigger, expanding to a point that it needs to be emptied out. If a vacuum doesn't suck up all of this debris then we consider the vacuum to be faulty and look for a model that will do a better job sucking.  Should there come a time that the vacuum is forced to return the debris through it's business end, the results are typically loud, dirty and viewed with much dismay.

The City of Houston government has, for several years now, operated in the same manner, expanding (as does a vacuum bag) to suck up all available revenue regardless of actual need. If, on the rare occasion, the vacuum is asked to regurgitate debris, the result is typically messy and comes with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Tax refunds, which are darlings of conservative politicians on the campaign trail but very, very rare, are to progressives the same as asking them to put their lips on the vacuum hose while it's in reverse mode. If you're wondering the biennial budget cycle is the equivalent of changing the bag. (Just to cap the analogy)

In many ways the fight that you're going to see over the revenue cap will be all about asking the vacuum to give back what it's sucked up. Currently city expenditures fit the revenue that's being collected in accordance with the cap. By casting the cap as potentially a creator of job cuts, the Parker administration is admitting that plans are in place for expenditures to rise at a level unauthorized by the cap as well. This would mean a foreseeable increase in city budgets beyond population growth and inflation. What this really means is that Mayor Parker is preparing to roll out several costly initiatives, or that the city is doing a horrific job in controlling costs. Either this or it means that the making of, and sticking to, budgets is not something they're all that interested in. It's much easier to just use the money up, whether you need it or not, than to exercise fiscal discipline.

There's no reason, other than expansive budgeting or poor cost control, that expenditures currently fitting under capped revenues would need to be cut due to the imposition of the latter in future years. A failure to be able to plan for this contingency suggests that the fiscal leadership of Mayor Parker and her staff is out to lunch (probably at great taxpayer expense) while the City decides who can use urinals, when they can use them and what companies with which iPhone apps can allow people to hitch a ride outside the auspices of Yellow Cab. One can't help but wonder when in the course of worrying about Phil from Duck Dynasty, weighing in on Johnny Manziel, closing down Houston streets to car traffic in support of the "things white people like" blog or settling in for awkward photo ops on bicycles did Parker come up with this idea?

One thing is for certain, the leadership and journalism vacuums within the Houston region (I'm looking at you Harris County and your Astrodome, traffic, etc.) are continuing to expand as fewer and fewer outlets provide real, non-secretarial reporting. Investigative journalism forces elected officials to justify their lack of action and chicken-little cries of doom. It is a hedge against the city gorging itself while real needs go unmet. Secretarial journalism searches for crumbs that fall off the table of the ruling class and hopes to keep their invitations intact for the next soiree. One wonders, if the vacuum bag of the city budget under Mayor Parker stretches past the breaking point, just how bad of a loud, cacophonous mess it will be? And, furthermore, will Houston's secretarial journalists even hear the noise as they pat themselves on the back for their Pulitzer nomination selfies?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

An argument without merit in a city without leadership.

Yesterday, when writing about the Grand Urinal Bargain of 2014 I discussed fears of protestors surrounding issues of who can use what bathroom and where:

Let's say a child predator male is willing to put on a dress in order to get into the ladies room and do whatever it is they do, under the wording in the ordinance, the businesses would be powerless to prevent them from going in. Even more concerning was a clause in the paragraph saying businesses could deny the transgendered access to their preferred bathroom if they had a "good faith belief" that the subject's transgender ( was not "genuine".  I'm sorry, but the only real way to tell if a transgendering is "genuine" is to either do a public check of the fun-factory, or request a demonstration. I don't know about you but that's not a job I think would be in high demand.
I thought, upon writing this piece, that it was fairly clear I was not singling out the transgender community as sexual predators.  What concerns me was the wording of the law and how high a bar was set to prove malfeasance on the part of those who were NOT transgendered, but who could use the law as an enabler. In other words, what concerned me was the law of unintended consequences, which never is, but always should, be a discussion point when passing ANY law.

As is their wont, Mrs. White responded today with a carefully constructed straw-man.

Pass the NDO. Mrs. White,

They also should feel ashamed that many of their movement's leaders have resorted to lies and hatred in an attempt to promote their cause - baselessly accusing Houston's transgender community of being a refuge for sexual predators who prey on women and children. Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill, whom Republican voters wisely booted in this year's primary election, has even taken to calling the ordinance the "Sexual Predator Protection Act."

Except that, the problems that these conservative groups are voicing are not about transgender residents picking and choosing the restrooms of their choice, it's about sexual predators posing as transgender to gain access. It very well could be that this issue is a solution looking for a problem. But to prove that point reasoned debate and statistics are needed, not logical fallacies and preaching from an editorial board who is desperately out of touch with it's customer base. It is also highly probable that some are voicing opposition to this ordinance out of a genuine dislike for the GLBT community. However, just because some are forwarding an argument for spurious reasons does not necessarily mean that the argument is invalid.

Secondarily, I had major concerns with the amount of latitude that the proposed ordinance allowed businesses in determining whether or not one's transgender identity was legitimate or no. Were I a member of the transgender community I would have screamed long and hard about that as well.

Now that the clause has been removed by Mayor Parker in an attempt to silence critics, the issue hasn't gone away, in fact, it's been made worse.  Now instead of providing guidelines for protections provided to transgender citizens the new bill is opaque and will spur several calls to HPD who will then be put in the impossible position of determining thought.

IF a business truly believes that the transgender identity of a certain person is not legitimate, they may refuse service without discrimination. However, if they refuse service without these beliefs then they are discriminating. We are going to leave it up to HPD to determine this?

I believe that in the culture wars, the GLBT community has won their case and that the argument is over. I see no reason to deny them marriage rights, benefits or divorce rights for that matter. However, I also don't think the attitude of "inclusion" is aided by a bill that basically makes it easier for the winning side to comb the city picking off the defeated survivors.  That is, in effect, all this ordinance is designed to do. As much as I am firmly in support of equal treatment for the GLBT community, I am ardently against vilifying those who are still opposed due to legitimate reasons of faith and/or morality.  That is not inclusion, it's an attempt to ostracize.

A true leader would understand the difference, would call for open and honest debate about the best way to prevent it from happening. Because neither of them have opted to engage in this debate, but have decided to treat the other side's issues as having zero merit. I'm convinced that Mayor Parker and Mrs. White are not the leaders they imagine themselves to be.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Grand Urinal Bargain of 2014

In Modern Houston, where to potty is a problem.

What's causing the issue is a clause in the proposed non-discrimination ordinance allowing the trans-gendered to use a public restroom of their choosing. 

Unfortunately (but thankfully as well) there's no (legal, public) way to tell whether or not one is REALLY transgendered.  Let's say a child predator male is willing to put on a dress in order to get into the ladies room and do whatever it is they do, under the wording in the ordinance, the businesses would be powerless to prevent them from going in. Even more concerning was a clause in the paragraph saying businesses could deny the transgendered access to their preferred bathroom if they had a "good faith belief" that the subject's transgender ( was not "genuine".  I'm sorry, but the only real way to tell if a transgendering is "genuine" is to either do a public check of the fun-factory, or request a demonstration. I don't know about you but that's not a job I think would be in high demand.

In short, it's a mess of a clause in a mess of an ordinance designed primarily to excite the base and position Parker as a civil rights champion for her eventual state-wide political run. It's a return to business as usual for Parker who (when campaigning) decides to distance herself from what she has described as "being a GLBT advocate for over 40 years".

As you can imagine, upon being told of the existence of this paragraph many are upset, angry even that the public restrooms at Texans games could soon become a new wild West full of skirted, mustachioed men sitting in stalls waiting for the one across from them to swing open, if only for a second. On the other side of the coin, the humor potential of one not properly equipped trying to navigate a urinal is sadly being overlooked.

These are serious issues however, for serious times. Way more serious than the potholes that threaten to homogenize your children when you drive down Houston's streets, more serious than HFD brown-outs which threaten to reduce response times to disasters, and even more serious than addressing Houston's pension, which is always hotly debated but addressed with band-aids over the cancer of future obligations.

This is a big time, and a big issue which Mayor Parker has boldly decided to address by......

.....sticking her fingers in her ears and going "Nyah, Nyah, Nayh. I can't hear you!"

That's correct, the grand plan in the issue of who may stand in front of what urinal is to remove the offending paragraph and let the HPD sort it out when the inevitable discrimination calls come pouring in.

That's right Houston, while all of these major issues are still unaddressed your elected leaders are focusing on who can pee where, and for the most part, doubling down with needless legislation that cannot override, and is made duplicitous by, State and Federal law.

Casting stones at Wallace Hall from glass houses

The TLSPM has been all over the Wallace Hall/UT Board of Regents mess lately. While it's true that they've been bungling the reporting by trying to focus on a non-existant A&M/UT-Austin angle they have been spending an inordinate amount of time on what is basically an internal argument over a Regent poking his nose where some don't want him to, the get Rick Perry angle is proving too hard for them to ignore.

It's easy to see why the TLSPM is after Perry, after all, this is a man who brushed aside the TLSPM during his last campaign for re-election, and won. Thus proving that they're no longer relevant in modern political debate.  This has angered them, and it's led to some curious reporting in the case of Wallace Hall.

It's also opened up a blind spot.  Let us consider the case of Transparency in State Agency Operations Select Committee member State Representative Naomi Gonzales.  Ms. Gonzales, if you remember, was named to the Texas Monthly "worst" legislators list after getting behind the wheel of her car with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit. Ms. Gonzales then proceeded to strike another vehicle, which then hit a bicyclist. In the immediate aftermath of the accident first responders reported that she was dismissive of the injuries of the other parties.

All of this was OK because Ms. Gonzales made a tearful speech which earned her a standing ovation from Democrats, including Committee chair Rep. Carol Alvarado. For her transgressions Ms. Gonzales received a sentence of 15 days in jail and the voters decided, in the March primary, that she should no longer represent them.

This is not to say that Ms. Gonzales should not have been on the committee. That would be an Ad Hominem argument which has no place in the debate.  What it does reflect is the broken string in the instrument of ethics in Texas politics.

After her wreck there was no serious move within the Texas Legislature to either censure or impeach Ms. Gonzales from office.  There was no move to punish her at all.  This is a woman who got drunk, showed no regard for the life and health of her fellow Texans, injured some of them, and then got a standing ovation for tearing up and giving a canned apology.

In contrast, the Transparency in State Agency Operations decided to vote to begin impeachment proceedings against Wallace Hall in a closed-door meeting, shielded from the public eye. Think about that for a moment.

Based on the evidence that I've seen, if Hall was guilty of anything it was a failure to work and play well with others. Perhaps he could have handled his investigation with more tact, could have worked with the board he was appointed to sit on.  These actions reveal a weakness in professional skills but hardly seem like an impeachable offense. Given the discord in today's Texas political system however it makes perfect sense that his actions (which, by the way, seem to have uncovered evidence of financial irregularities) are treated as worse offenses then injuring non-members of the ruling class.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Houston would be great if we could just get rid of those pesky Houstonians.

Houston, the Nation's undisputed leader in job growth since the recession, seems to thrive in spite of itself. Whether it's the unfriendly climate, horrible drivers, streets that closely resemble a moonscape or just a majority of citizens who choose to live in the suburbs the city seems to continually overcome what many consider are challenges to it's greatness.

The problem Houstonians, is you. That's right, you. Especially those of you who have the audacity to work in the regions largest industry for jobs. An industry that the Houston Chronicle's new leadership team has obviously decided is in need of some good old-fashioned journalistic review. That the review inevitably calls for increased regulation and stringent pollution controls that would, by necessity, kill this job growth is a feature not a bug.

Of course, any dissent from the established mantra that prosperity kills Gaia is treated as blasphemy, the idea that economic growth and conservation can co-exist is a heresy punished by banishment from Houston's political conversation.

The reason for this is pretty simple. Those of a "smart-growth" disposition truly feel that Houston's growth has become an undesirable thing, that hordes of working and middle-class, middle-management Suburanites are a detriment and not, as previously assumed, a boon to the economy. A Houston region of 6 Million is automatically viewed as worse than a Houston region of say 2 Million.

Of course, this growth would be OK were it of the approved type: Young, 20-something DINK's willing to shell out premium rents to live in what passes for luxury high-rises built on the foundation of former poor, predominantly minority, neighborhoods. Bonus points are given if you decide to renovate a bungalow that has fallen into disrepair. Those who want to live next to established enclaves of the, predominantly white, and wealthy?  Your growth is not welcome here.

Over the years I've watched with some amusement the contortions of those obsessed with shoe-horning Houston's growth into acceptable parameters as they try to explain why some life choices are good and some are bad.  The word 'unsustainable' gets thrown around, a lot, and it's typically used to heap disdain on lifestyle decisions that don't meet the approval of the unproductive class.

The problem with most of these arguments is that they center on the mistaken belief that there is moral superiority in choosing to live a.) without a car and b.) in a multi-family domicile without a yard. The idea that different housing choices are simply that does not compute with the new-urbanist set. As a matter of fact, it runs so counter to their moral code that they feel the need to chastise others for it (anonymously of course) in newspaper and blog comments. It's much easier to feel good about yourself if you have made the decision that everyone else is morally deficient in some way.

So, that's it then. In order to save Houston and allow her to achieve the greatness that many have planned for her a large portion of you must go away. There's no other option, I'm sorry about your kids and their (comparatively) good suburban schools but you're making HISD look bad and that just can't stand.

Fortunately, I've been thinking about this for about 10 minutes or so and I believe I have a solution. It's not a perfect solution by any means but I think it's the fairest way to cull the Houstonian herd and bring a little sanity back to our roads, schools, living condition.

Everyone who lives outside the Beltway and commutes to a location inside the Loop needs to immediately relocate, preferably to Beaumont. Aggies will be allowed to move to College Station, but SHSU graduates can't choose Huntsville, that would be too close. Of course, you also have the option of moving out of state entirely or to Austin, which opens up a bevvy of options for our progressive friends. The first ones out should be those in the oil and gas industry, you're not wanted anyway.  However, because it gives good slide-show you are allowed to come back temporarily to the Offshore Technology Conference, but you have to stay in one of the Downtown hotels even though there's a good chance you'll get hit by the toy train or step in dog poo.

For those of you staying?

There are going to be new "luxury" apartments built downtown, we will discuss your relocation to those buildings soon.  We will also discuss pet disposal at the time of your move because these buildings, understandably, will be pet-free zones.  Your kids will be placed in the appropriate school and you will be given a 10% off coupon to help with your first bike purchase. All cars will be donated to the Art-car parade which will soon announce it's expansion from one day to an entire week. Attendance will be mandatory.

If you're unable to afford/find an apartment in one of Houston's new luxury spaces guess what?

I've also solved the problem of what to do with the Astrodome.

Monday, May 05, 2014

The Myth of Affordable Houston (Inside the Loop that is)

Last week the Chron stuck an article behind their pay wall asking whether or not Houston's reputation for being affordable was still accurate given the rising cost of real estate. The answer to the question was both yes and no depending on where you were looking to buy.

Inside the Loop, Houston is becoming increasingly unaffordable as prices rise in harmony with falling supply and increasing demand.  Outside of normal market forces, and all but unacknowledged in the article, there is the reality that these rising rents and bevy of subsidized projects focusing on "luxury" multi-family dwellings are specifically designed to reduce the affordability of the urban-core, not increase it.

The new density plans for the area outside the Loop to Beltway 8 will move that circle of increased expense outward.  The article goes on to mention that the middle-class and poor are increasingly looking at homes in the Ex-burbs, beyond Beltway 8 in areas such as the Energy Corridor, Sugar Land, and even Fulshear.

None of this is occurring inside a vacuum. As New Urbanist thinking continues to dominate the conversation surrounding Houston's development future it is becoming clear that certain socio-economic groups need not apply. Sadly, those who work in Houston serving the ruling and creative classes are being priced out of the market by design.

Furthering the problem is the fact that much of the planning for access to the Inner Loop areas include either rising or new tolls or increasingly gridlocked freeways which make for an increasingly expensive living condition for the servant class who will find it difficult to get around.  An additional hurdle is the decidedly commuter-unfriendly vision of the current Metro leadership. This is a leadership which views transit as nothing more than a plaything for the relatively wealthy. Leaving the great unwashed with reduced commuter bus service, no commuter rail to speak of, but some really neat Sepia toned photos of the well-to-do having black-tie wedding parties on the toy-train.

You can find evidence of this trend almost everywhere, from the disputed "Ashby" high-rise that pit developers against a well-off neighborhood who liked the concept of densification in theory, but who balked at the idea that it might interfere with their decidedly un-dense, suburban-style single family neighborhood to Sunday Streets which is less a celebration of neighborhood and place than it is a walking advertisement for things (wealthy) white people like.

The vision of Houston future has morphed from that of a functional city where business gets done to a fuzzy 3D copy of places the courtesans hail from or wish they could live. Instead of upping stakes and moving to say Paris, the Houston elite are trying their level best to re-create it. Minus the couple of thousand years history, a topography and views that could double for God's back-yard, or the suburban riots of the poor who have been omitted from Haussmann's vision.

Or, maybe not. Given the attitude of the current administration toward Houston's poor and the Mayor's penchant for Tweeting out the details of pricey (her words) executive luncheons it's highly probable that the playful elite have identified a friendly leader in Annise Antionette. In Houston however, the poor won't be eating cake because the food-desert crowd has decided they should eat kale.