07.12.07

Cornyn Avoiding Rick Noriega, Attacks Mikal Watts, Preview Of General Election

Posted in US Senate Race, Election 2008, 2008 Primary, Around The State at 9:53 am by wcnews

This SAEN article today, Cornyn comes out swinging let’s Rove do his dirty work ahead of a fundraising jaunt, more than likely is a preview of how a general election campaign will go involving Sen. John Cornyn and the two announced exploring Democratic candidates, Rick Noriega and Mikal Watts.

Cornyn has scheduled a series of fund-raisers for the weekend of July 20, featuring presidential adviser Karl Rove. But an invitation letter for the Harlingen event also plays off Republican reactions to trial lawyers.

“We will also have the opportunity to help the senator begin preparing for what appears to be a wealthy, self-financed personal injury lawyer opponent,” said a Cornyn campaign committee letter signed by James G. Springfield, CEO of Valley Baptist Health System in Harlingen.

A Cornyn fund-raising letter sent out last month by John Nau of Houston noted: “Unfortunately, John appears to have drawn a very wealthy personal injury lawyer Mikal Watts as a potential opponent.” (see text of letter here [.pdf].)

Of course Sen. Cornyn says nothing about Rick Noriega because he can’t smear him with any tried and true GOP talking points. With Cornyn and Rove never having served there’s nothing they can say to attack Noriega that will work to bring in the money donors in with Cornyn’s low approval ratings. He’s a veteran, worked on the border, and has a proven record of getting things done. That will make things much harder for Rove and Cornyn.

But with Mr. Watts it’s business as usual for the Texas GOP. Attack a rich trial lawyer who has millions of dollars, a “wishy-washy” stance on the issues, where he seems to be trying to be everything to everyone, which never works out. Let me say that the rich trial lawyer gambit that Republicans use is not something that EOW believes, but will be lapped up by the GOP base, on the fence supporters and contributors, and the so-called Texas liberal media will be trumpeting it free for the GOP the whole campaign if Watts gets the nomination. I’m not sure that all of Watts’ money can counter that.

That’s what we’re looking at. The same ‘ol GOP campaign we’ve been seeing in Texas for 30 or so years with Watts, or a new kind of campaign where the Republican incumbent may actually have to be held to account and answer for the record of he’s responsible for with Noriega.

07.11.07

Lady Bird Johnson, RIP

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State at 11:09 pm by wcnews

I’m not a native Texan but my parents are. My first memory of Lady Bird Johnson is of my Father attempting to mimic her accent when she urged Americans to “to plant a tree, a shrub or a bush“, in her beautification campaign. My fraternal Grandmother had a reverence for the Johnson’s and what LBJ did for rural Texans/farmers. I remember how awed she was when we vistied LBJ’s Ranch and the Presidential Library.

What I know of Lady Bird Johnson is that she was a gracious women who married into a life of politics that, even though it wasn’t what she may have dreamed of, she made the best of it and made politics better for her having been involved in it.

I’ve always thought of her when driving the roads of Texas in the Spring with the wildflowers in bloom. Thank you Lady Bird Johnson for a life lived.

AAS has a special section remembering her life. BOR has more as well.

One thought I had is that three great Texas Democratic women have passed away in less than a year - Ann Richards, Molly Ivins and now Lady Bird Johnson. No more for a while please.

[UPDATE]: Rick Noriega has postponed his announcement out of respect for her passing via OffTheKuff.

[UPDATE]:
More on Lady Bird from Rick Perlstein, Lady Bird is gone. Here’s the beginning:

I loved her. They’ll tell you about the wildflowers and the crusade against unsightly billboards. They won’t tell you about what a great liberal she was, what a brave warrior against racism she was - that she risked her life for these principles. After the jump, my tribute to her, from my book Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus. Read this astonishing story to honor a great American - and a great Southerner.

Coalition Emerges In Landfill Fight - A Better Wilco

Posted in Take Action, Landfill, Had Enough Yet?, Williamson County at 3:05 pm by wcnews

A Better Wilco is a coalition of groups that want to insure community involvement in the landfill expansion and contract renegotiation in Williamson County. Or, as Zac Trahan of the Texas Campaign for the Environment says:

“Since the county owns this landfill, all county residents and taxpayers have a stake in these discussions,” said Zac Trahan of coalition member Texas Campaign for the Environment. “Citizens in Williamson County should have a right to review any new contract for a minimum of 30 days, and they should have a voice in the decision-making process.”

Again the Williamson County Commissioners Court wants to keep secrets from the citizens. Here’s a list of the groups involved.

Organizations which have passed resolutions requesting public input include the Hutto Citizens Group, Hutto Independent School District, the Jonah Water SUD, the Hutto Chamber of Commerce, the Hutto Economic Development Corporation, and the Mount Hutto Aware Citizens.

The full press release can be read here (.pdf). Their recent mailing can be viewed here. Also, be sure and check out this page - New Coalition Emerging to Fight for Improved Landfill Contract, Expansion - at the Texas Campaign for the Environment. It’s has a bunch more information on this issue.

It’s important to remember that this is not just a NIMBY issue. Not only does the landfill have county wide repercussions for taxpayers but also because of its potential/probability as a regional facility - see CAPCOG - for 10 Central Texas counties.

Next Wednesday is the next meeting of the Hutto Citizens Group.

The next meeting of the Hutto (TEXAS) Citizens Group will be held on Wednesday, July 18, at Carmine’s Pizza in Hutto, beginnng at 6:30 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.

These are groups and an effort worth supporting. Attempting to bring sunlight to our county government and holding our elected officials to account is the American thing to do.

“Insight” premeire on KNCT tomorrow

Posted in District 31, Williamson County at 1:01 pm by dembones

Former Democratic congressional candidate Mary Beth Harrell will be hosting a 12-episode public service television series named “Insight”. The program premieres tomorrow (Thursday, July 12) evening at 7:30 p.m. on PBS affiliate KNCT-TV (channel 46 in Belton). Viewers in Williamson county should be able to pick up the broadcast with a roof-mounted UHF antenna pointed north. A re-broadcast will air Sunday at 10 a.m.

More On Rick Noriega’s Announcement Tomorrow

Posted in Election 2008, 2008 Primary, Democratic Events, Around The State at 1:01 pm by wcnews

Gardner Selby has his post on the event at PFL, Noriega going exploring

Houston Rep. Rick Noriega won’t have mariachis playing, but he plans to launch his formal exploration of a U.S. Senate bid at a press conference outside the Capitol on Thursday.

[…]

Fifty-plus Texas House members, all Democrats, have urged Noriega to enter the race. Now that’s not 50-plus endorsements, Noriega’s camp concedes, but it could reflect wide and deep support, at least among fellow legislators.

Every Austin Democrat in the House, except Rep. Dawnna Dukes, committed to a letter urging Noriega to go for it.

Come on Dawnna “Don’t Wanna Vote Against Craddick” Dukes, join the fun. The support letter can be read here (.pdf) and was originally announced at 49 members, which means he has gained more support since then.

Also the full press release can be read here (.pdf).

Update: Out of respect for Lady Bird Johnson’s passing, Representative Noriega has postponed the announcement of the formation of his U.S. Senate exploratory committee until Monday morning, July 16, 2007, at 11:00 a.m. CDT. Full updated release here (.pdf).

NTTA Executive Director Finalists

Posted in Privatization, Road Issues, Around The State at 12:12 pm by wcnews

I guess it should be expected that all the candidates are from transportation consulting firms, investment firms, or engineering firms.

The five candidates are:

•Rick Herrington, interim deputy executive director at NTTA. He recently spent two years at the private engineering consulting firm HNTB Inc.

•William Dillon, an engineer and a national manager for professional services firm PBS&J. He is a former employee of the Texas Department of Transportation.

•Jorge Figueredo, who is responsible for PBS&J’s toll road business in the central United States, including Texas.

•Stephen McCullough, who was Irving city manager for 12 years. He is now a principal at Dallas-based Public Werks Inc., an investment firm that focuses on public infrastructure construction.

•Douglas Wiersig, an engineer and transportation programs manager for Jacobs Engineering in Houston. He previously worked in transportation for the city of Houston.

Seems incestuous. PBS&J has had issues in the past. From the Denver Post series we know there have been many issues around the country with consultant traffic and revenue (T&R) projections.

The Congestion Pricing Scam

Posted in Privatization, Road Issues, Around The State at 11:06 am by wcnews

(As you read this remember this is what some want to do to Mopac in Austin).

Off The Kuff has a post up on the continuing saga of toll congestion fees, aka “Lexus lanes”, in Harris County, More on tollway congestion pricing. In theory he he has no objection but…

the more I read about the “thinking” behind HCTRA’s recent botched attempt at it, the more I think that the powers that be here don’t have a clue about how to implement it.

Like so many scams, *cough* Amway *cough*, in theory they sound great but in reality…not so much. Via Sal’s link to the HChron article above, that was marked up by CorridorWatch, we learn about what’s really behind congestion pricing.

“Toll roads can’t compete without the presence of congestion and motorist inconvenience on the public highway system,” National Motorists Association president James Baxter wrote on the group’s Web site recently.

The group advocates against various regulatory measures on driving and opposes congestion pricing and toll roads in general.

“Are congestion problems going to be corrected if they threaten the income of the toll road?” Baxter wrote. “Not in our lifetimes!”

It’s a simple as that. Muck up the free roads and force drivers to the toll roads where they can be gouged.

“If you have a commute that should take 18 minutes, and it takes 48, think of the wear and tear on your car, and you may use up half a gallon of gasoline. It reaches a point where it becomes revenue-neutral,” [Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack] said.

“You pay Exxon or you pay the toll.”

The National Motorists Association (NMA) also has this article up on it’s site on tolls and congestion fees, Toll Roads: The Slippery Slope. Here’s a nugget from that:

Anyone who has used the Illinois toll road system knows how badly a toll system can be operated. Traffic jams, toll booth collisions of epidemic proportions, and continual delays as motorists are forced to stop and deposit forty cents every few miles down the road. I marvel that Illinois motorists don’t demand this system be legislated out of existence. The Illinois tollway serves as a towering example of just how much abuse motorists will endure, without demanding rational change. But, like other toll roads, the more obvious shortcomings may not be the most important. State transportation agencies will universally deny this, but the evidence is there for everyone to see. Toll roads retard the development and increase the deterioration of the rest of the highway system. Upgrades and improvement to any highway viewed as “competing” with the toll road are postponed or ignored. Unnecessary congestion, underposted speed limits and arbitrary enforcement on alternative roads are silently condoned by transportation officials and elected officials. Think about it, toll roads can’t compete without the presence of congestion and motorist inconvenience on the existing highway system. Are these problems going to be effectively addressed if that hurts the income potential of the toll road? Not in our lifetimes!

The withering of non-tolled roads was what Sen. John Carona (R - Dallas) was so concerned about before session, with CDA’s, before he lost his will to turn back the tide on toll roads. The scam is to “voluntarily” force people to drive toll roads, by making the non-tolled options a unpalatable as possible. To maximize toll road receipts, or corporate profits, whichever the case. As always don’t forget that raising the gas tax by a couple of cents and indexing it to inflation can end all of this insanity. We just need some politicians with leadership ability to get it done.

Education News

Posted in The Environment, Public Schools, Education, Around The State, Williamson County at 10:12 am by wcnews

First the good news. This looks interesting, Texas education policy board will debut. The Texas Center for Education Policy is a group setup as a “clearing house” for education research by the widow of former state senator and Texas Supreme Court Justice Oscar Mauzy. (Emphasis added).

Angela Valenzuela, an education professor at the University of Texas at Austin, is the director for the Texas Center for Educational Policy based at the university. The center will connect education researchers to each other and provide data for decision makers, including Congress, the Texas Legislature, the State Board of Education and local school boards.

“This center will be a bridge between decision makers and people who are doing the research, filling a necessary gap,” Valenzuela said.

“You won’t have researchers (at the Texas Center for Educational Policy) who are hired to generate a particular result. But rather, you have scholars that dedicate their lives to certain research questions and under a peer review method that makes them accountable,” Valenzuela said.

The 15-member advisory board, which includes liberal Waco philanthropist Bernard Rappoport, former Democratic state Sen. Carlos Truan and former Democratic Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, appears to skew left politically. Valenzuela explained she found it difficult to get any Republicans to serve, but the board won’t be involved in peer-reviewing research.

Board member John Guerra, president of the Texas Association for Mexican American Chambers of Commerce, said a week never passes without corporate leaders expressing anxieties to him about having a quality future work force.

“The Center for Education will have great influence in terms of assuring that we have a curriculum that meets the needs of business today and in the future,” he said.

That’s an important distinction to make that researchers will not be asked to fit the data around a predetermined outcome, like so many, ahem, think tanks do. That part about not being able to get any Republicans to serve is interesting.

Now for the no so good news. Apparently Leander ISD thought it was a good idea to build an elementary school in a former chemical company.

The site of a future elementary school that the Leander district plans to open inside a former chemical company facility is considered a “moderate to high potential hazard” by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The commission, which confirmed the ranking Monday afternoon, began reviewing plans for Grandview Hills Elementary School after parents raised concerns about harmful chemicals, such as mercury and cancer-causing benzene, that have been found at the site. But the potential hazard appears to be unrelated to the fact that the site used to be home to the chemical company.

Why did they do it? To save money, of course. But that’s no longer the case apparently.

The district purchased the 40-acre site, which has six buildings, in September for $14.6 million. District officials said buying a site with existing buildings would be cheaper than building a school.

The school was scheduled to open in the fall but has been delayed, possibly to fall 2008, because mold was found in the main building where students would be.

The district is asking school board members for $3.7 million to remove the mold.

KUT has this audio report on it’s site. Good rule of thumb for the future, no schools on the sites of former chemical companies.

And last, the State Auditor is going to look into the contracting issues at the TEA, State auditor to probe TEA.

Amid all the confusion surrounding an internal investigation at the Texas Education Agency, the state auditor’s office has decided to take its own look at how the agency hands out lucrative contracts.

“Perhaps they can talk to all the parties involved and resolve all this,” said TEA spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe. “Good luck.”

State auditor John Keel confirmed Tuesday that his office had opened an investigation but said that he could not comment further.

Although it will probably be weeks or months before the new investigation is concluded, it could help to settle the confusion that surrounds the internal investigation’s report – in particular one footnote that has implications for Robert Scott, TEA’s acting commissioner.

He was criticized last month when the TEA investigation found evidence he improperly intervened in a contract awarded to a friend of his named Emily Chick Miller.

Mr. Scott vigorously denied the charges, and he responded last week by saying he was the victim of a case of mistaken identity. He said investigators may have confused him with a different education official with the same name – an administrative employee who works in the Waco regional education office that handled the contract.

That second Mr. Scott now also denies he did the things the report alleges the first Mr. Scott did.

(Thankfully for clarity’s sake, the acting education commissioner goes by Robert Scott. The Waco-based official uses the name Rob Scott.)

Hopefully John Keel can tell us who is the real Mr. Scott. For background on this go here and here.

Go See Rick Noriega On Thursday

Posted in 2008 Primary, Democratic Events, Congress, Around The State at 12:13 am by wcnews

Rick Noriega will formally announce the creation of his Exploratory Committee on Thursday on the grounds of the Texas Capitol. Draft Rick Noriega has all the details.

07.10.07

News 8’s Coverage Of The Disaster At The WCRAS

Posted in Animal Shelter, Had Enough Yet?, Williamson County at 4:47 pm by wcnews

News 8’s Chelsea Hover is doing a great job covering this issue. Could there have been a cover-up of the problems at the animal shelter? It’s starting to look that way.

Here is her first report from Monday, Wilco animal shelter struggling with animals, staffing, to get you up to speed. But from today’s article we hear again of people being threatened and told not to “speak ill” of the animal shelter, Wilco animal shelter problems came with warning.

But many say they saw this coming.

It’s a regional shelter, meaning shelters in Round Rock, Hutto, Leander and Cedar Park closed their doors the day it opened.

“We were told once the animals were gone from here it was no longer the city’s problem. We were told not to speak ill of the project or we could potentially be terminated,” Stacey Sherva, former director of the Cedar Park Animal Control Shelter, said.

Sherva was the director of the Cedar Park Animal Control center for eight and a half years. She resigned the day she learned they would be forced to transfer their rescues to the regional shelter.

She and a group of other animal advocates went to their city leaders, pleading with them to reconsider.

“We tried to show them, with documents, that that facility was being built too small. We tried to convince them with the numbers that we had, and Round Rock had, and Leander had that 45 kennels on their first draft was going to be completely inadequate,” Sherva said.

“They did seek input from other entities, and were tyring to get that input to use the best available data that they had,” Williamson County public information officer Connie Watson said.

The county was told of problems before the shelter opened and they did nothing. Then they threatened the people that told them of the problems. That’s not good, but that is what Republicans do. If you’ll remember the first shelter director that she was told not to talk to anyone about the problems either. From Melanie Sobel’s letter:

I was then called by Commissioner Boatright to meet with him at his office where he advised me not to say anything negative about the project to the other city representatives on the committee.

That’s just how our unaccountable elected officials think democracy works in Williamson County. Then we’re told of the non-responsiveness, we’ve all become so accustomed to in Williamson County, by the unaccountable Republicans that run it.

Although many of the county commissioners have claimed to be animal-lovers, those who are dedicating their waking hours to fighting this cause on behalf of these animals, like Moses, said they find that hard to believe.

“I know I’ve written to them, others have written to them, gone to meetings. However, for them, it seems it always goes back to…the money,” Moses said.

News 8 obtained a copy of the shelter’s newly approved budget and it shows that only nine percent of total expenditures are for animal care and medication.

The most significant expenses are staff salaries and euthanasia services.

While the former Cedar Park shelter boasted a kill rate of just 8.9 percent of all animals, the regional facility reports a 34 percent kill rate of just adoptable animals. That means that animals deemed unadoptable are not factored in to that number.

Maybe if there was a check with those letters they would have gotten an answer. From this reporting the story is starting to change from willful ignorance to the possibility of a cover-up of a project that our county leaders know had gone bad and did nothing to correct. The only way to get their attention is to vote them out, let us begin.

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