Friday, August 16, 2013

The Dome is going to come down

As bad as the city's managers are, they look like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos compared to the county's.

I realize now what I should have realized back then: Ed Emmett and the Harris County commissioners don't want to save repurpose the Astrodome, they just want to avoid taking the blame for destroying it.

The Commissioners Court on Tuesday unanimously voted to place a bond election for up to $217 million to convert the iconic stadium into a massive, street-level convention hall and exhibit space, saying residents should take part in deciding the historic structure's fate.

Should voters reject the bonds, County Judge Ed Emmett and Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman said Tuesday they see no other alternative than to demolish the former "Eighth Wonder of the World," which has sat vacant since city inspectors declared it unfit for occupancy in 2009. The Reliant Astrodome has not housed a professional sports team since the Astros moved to Minute Maid Park in 2000.

"If it does not pass in November, then that should be the death knell for the Dome," Morman said.

This has been their intention all along, and I just refused to see it. The scales have fallen from my eyes.

While the vote to put the measure on the ballot was unanimous, court members' personal support for the project is not.

Only Emmett and Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee said they definitely will cast a vote in favor of the bond referendum. Both, however, said they have no plans to launch - or, in Emmett's case, participate in - campaigns to get the measure passed.

"There needs to be some plans made to do it, if it's going to be a success," Lee, who wants to save the Dome, said of a campaign. "The judge is our leadership, so we'll just see what occurs from there."

The Dome suffered benign neglect for decades at the hands of most of these characters already, but this new tack is nothing but passive aggressive demolition in advance of the actual implosion. It is amazing to me that the only one making some sense here is Steve Radack.

If the bond fails in November, Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said it "would make no sense to me at all" to spend millions of dollars demolishing the structure.

"There's another day to have another election," he said. "Why are you going to spend $8 million and then tear it down?"

The vote to call the bond election was made with one condition championed by Radack: That the ballot language explicitly say that the project would require an increase to the county property tax rate, which has not been raised in 17 years.

Increasing the tax rate by as much as half a cent in 2015, if the bonds are approved, is the recommendation of county budget chief Bill Jackson, who still is looking at ways to offset some of the $217 million price tag.

A half-cent hike would mean an $8 increase to the annual tax bill for a $200,000 home with a 20 percent homestead exemption, Jackson told court members Tuesday.

It will cost 8 bucks a year to save an icon. Eight bucks -- barely one day's lunch money -- to the TeaBaggers who live in the far flung exurbs of the city. How do YOU think they will vote?

Lastly, from Charles...

The big question at this point is who lines up to oppose this. The Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, whose renovation plan is what the Court approved for the ballot, will take the lead in communicating the referendum and the reasons to vote for it to the public. I have no idea how much money they’ll have to mount a real campaign, however. It’s certainly possible that some deep-pocketed types could show up to fund a campaign in favor of this, or in opposition to it. It’s also possible that there will be little more than earned media and some online presence to inform the voters.

... and the HCSCC's chairman, Edgar Colón.

Colón said he plans to actively campaign for the referendum, describing it as the sports corporation's "homework" to host town hall meetings and give presentations on the project it has proposed. "We're going to now go into the community and we're going to educate the voters as to the importance of this project, its importance to the region and why they should support this proposition..."

Go into the community with what? PowerPoint presentations? Brochures? Thirty-minute talks at Democratic club meetings?

Let's cut to the chase: what's your budget for the marketing campaign? Most efforts of this type include television, radio, and direct mail advertising. That would put you up to a million bucks right out of the gate, maybe a couple. You're also down to about 75 days remaining to execute your strategy.

Call me skeptimistic, but I don't foresee success. Hell, I don't even see a good faith effort. Can you at least pull out an "old college try"?

Say so long to the Astrodome, everybody. The Party of No wins again because nobody -- and I mean nobody in this case -- has the balls to stand up to them.

Update: OK, there's this...

Reliant Park management officials pitched their plan to turn the Astrodome into a massive convention and exhibition venue to a sympathetic crowd on Thursday: the hospitality industry, mostly hotel owners and managers who are understandably keen on seeing Houston attract more large events that lure out-of-towners who need a place to stay.


During the Q&A, Colón also revealed that plans are in the works to form a political action committee that will raise money to promote the Dome referendum. ...

“There is going to be a more organized political campaign, a political action committee, to which I’m sure you all of you can donate funds,” Colón said, eliciting some hearty laughter.

Still not encouraged.

Still waiting for a little shame to seep in

To the Houston mayoral contest.

Mayor Annise Parker and challenger Ben Hall are debating the meaning of "debate."

Hall two weeks ago called on Parker to join him in six televised debates. Parker said one was enough.

Then on Thursday, Parker tweeted: "Looking forward to the first of many campaign debates this weekend, as well as more forums like last night. Plenty of chances to see us."

Hall's chief strategist John Weaver, also on Twitter, replied, "Phony post Ms. Parker. No 'debates' this weekend. There are forums, but no debates. (Hall) and Houston still waiting."

Parker's tweet referred to a Saturday event hosted by the Baptist Ministers' Association of Houston & Vicinity at 6 p.m. at J.J. Roberson Family Life Center, 4810 Redbud.

A June 5 post on the ministers' Facebook page referred to the event as a forum. So did ads for the event and the candidates' written invitations, said Hall press secretary Julia Smekalina. Parker spokeswoman Sue Davis said she has not seen written materials for the event but said it was referred to as a debate in her conversations with the ministers' group. A member of the group did not return a call Thursday.

There's more at the first link, but I just can't take any more. I've listened to a better exchange of competing ideas at Cub Scout den mothers' meetings. Really; I was a Cub Scout, and those women could throw down with my mom. This geek fighting on Twitter is like watching Dumb and Dumber play checkers.

Maybe some day we'll see some healthy democratic leadership demonstrated in this town, but it doesn't look like it's going to show up in 2013.

Update: With a tip of the chapeau to the Democratic Underground.

From the latest Gallup Poll this guy is gaining. Something like an 80/20 spread...

And all apologies to Sylvia.

Your nobody called today
He hung up when I asked his name
Well I wonder
if he thinks he's being clever
You say nobody tells the truth
The fact is what you say is true
but I can govern like nobody can

Thursday, August 15, 2013

It's not just about Wendy any more

Bless her heart (and I don't mean it in that condescending southern Christian way, either).

In just a few weeks, the Wendy Davis phenomenon has grown exponentially. She is no longer just a rising star in the Democratic Party constellation. She has risen. Democrats in Washington, in Texas and around the nation, marshaled by female activists, are clamoring for her to run for governor in 2014 — no matter that her chances of winning are slim in a state that has not elected a Democratic chief executive in more than 20 years. 

I think she's more like a supernova.

“I want Wendy Davis to run for governor,” Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York told me on Friday. Ms. Gillibrand, who won re-election by a landslide last November, is undeterred by speculation that Ms. Davis cannot win in Texas. She believes that even if Ms. Davis were to lose the race, she would still command a big platform in the nation’s second-largest state, one that would reverberate nationwide, to discuss tough issues like women’s reproductive health, abortion rights, education, jobs and the middle class. “She will elevate the conversation.” 

2014 is finally going to be the Year of the Woman (or female political candidate, as it were).

See, the thing is that Sen. Davis simply cannot say she's not going to run for governor now. She's being compelled to run -- pulled to it by forces within both political parties. The Republican insider POV...

(T)he real winner of Sen. Davis’ decision to run for Governor are Texas Democrats. Without her, they have no credible statewide candidate in 2014. With her, they will likely find other credible Democrats willing to step out and run statewide. She will also provide a race that Battleground Texas, the Obama campaign’s effort to turn Texas blue, can organize around. Finally, she will likely boost Democratic turnout in urban counties such as Dallas and Harris helping down ballot Democrats running for county and judicial offices.

Sen. Davis’ race for Governor is a win for Texas Democrats. It remains to be seen whether it will ultimately be a win for Sen. Davis.

Now I doubt whether Robert Miller has any good Democratic insider information about a decision Wendy Davis has not made yet and won't make for a few more weeks. But he has read the tea leaves accurately in this case. More...

And regardless of whether she wins in 2014, Texas Democrats will be happy to have Davis at the top of their ticket, says Ross Ramsey at The Texas Tribune. They are mostly hoping that she has "some political magic, and that it's contagious" — that the presence of a relatively famous, beloved-by-Democrats candidate for governor will draw other credible candidates statewide and "attract voters who might influence other races below the statewide level."

The "pundits and other self-appointed experts" are hoping Davis jumps in, too, Ramsey adds. "For sheer political theater, a governor's race that includes Davis would be a lot more interesting than one with a very well-financed Republican candidate and no Democrats, which is what the ballot looks like now."

Even Republicans seem kind of excited about the prospect of Davis running for governor. She isn't very popular in GOP circles, and the idea of defeating her must hold some appeal.

We're past the point of no return. For there to be any kind of immediate future for Texas Democrats, she can't take a pass. Davis bears the weight of the entire Texas Democratic Party, some of the burden of other beleaguered Democrats in southern states, and by extension a small portion of the national party's 2014 electoral prospects. That is one heavy lift.

As the saying goes, Democrats have to fall in love with a candidate (while Republicans just fall in line), and everybody loves Wendy. If she decides she's not going to go for it and run for re-election to her state Senate seat instead, all the helium screams out of her balloon. And everybody else's, for that matter. Greg Abbott's bank account, a red-ass exurban/rural Texas, and salivating Republicans holding smears at the ready are the least of her concerns now. She sets Texas back another decade -- not to mention her own political prospects -- if she won't pick up the gauntlet.

There is officially too much at stake for her, Democrats, the state of Texas, and (yes, even) the nation if she chooses not to make a bid for the governor's mansion. I just don't see her backing away from that fight. That's not who she is, not who she has demonstrated herself to be.

It's fait accompli at this point.

Update: Thanks to Daily Kos and Crooks and Liars for helping spread the word. Back to you, Senator Davis.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Annise Parker takes off the gloves

And gives Ben Hall a beating.

Like everybody else, I thought that Hall's introductory video was weird and slightly obnoxious, but I have to say that I didn't expect the response from the mayor to be so harsh.

For the record let's note that we rarely see an incumbent with such a strong opening hand lash back at a fairly weak (yet coffer-filled) challenger like this. I don't think Parker is nervous about Hall after all of his missteps, but this response signals she's not going to take any chances. So does this, quoting from yesterday's presser and apparently before the above spot made its appearance...

"Mr. Hall hasn't been a Houstonian very long, and he has very little name ID. He has to (make a large advertising buy) to introduce himself to Houstonians, and pretty soon I'm going to help him."

Hall's rejoinder -- from the inbox yesterday afternoon -- makes it look as if he's girded for battle.

Well we knew this day would come. We knew Annise Parker would be terrified of a candidate in this race with real leadership and vision, and we knew she would go on the attack.

Today the incumbent’s campaign launched an attack ad questioning my dedication to the city of Houston and ignoring what I’ve done as city attorney and fighting for justice in my private practice.

Let me be clear: Annise Parker will fund this ad and more like it with the millions she’s raised from those benefiting from taxpayer-funded contracts and special interests from out of state. [...]

Annise Parker doesn’t just campaign like a typical professional politician -- she governs like one too. Houston is just learning about the huge raises worth tens of thousands of dollars she gave to her closest advisers after laying off nearly 750 city workers. She put the rest of the municipal workforce on furloughs (with an exception for her own staff).

And now the same politician who fired city workers while padding her close advisers’ pockets is questioning my love for this city? It’s absurd.

This is the first in what will likely be a campaign full of attacks against me. I don’t mind it -- I can take whatever she can dish out...

Blah blah give me money to fight back blah blah.

Campaigns usually reach this stage in late October, not in mid-August. It's nice to see the two front-runners are in championship form with regard to their rapid response. And I suppose we can expect the carpet-bombings on the airwaves to continue until the outside temperatures around here begin to cool off. Or morale improves.

As for those of us who track these developments, Neil's already disgusted.

84 days before the November 5 Election Day, incumbent Mayor Annise Parker and top challenger Ben Hall are polluting the public airwaves and public debate with negative advertising and attacks in the campaign for Mayor of Houston.

I know this is how it is done and how it has often been done in American history. But just because things are normally done in a certain way does not mean you can't move ahead in a different fashion.

I'm really enjoying my brother's direction with his new effort.

In any case, anybody who has had the misfortune of following Houston politics knows how this will all go---

Mayor Parker and Mr. Hall will spend a lot of money. Much of this money will come from big companies and the rich. Issues of poverty and social justice in Houston will be ignored. Turnout will be 15%-20% of eligible adults. There will be ceaseless negative ads and many of them will be stupid. Neither candidate will get 50% of the vote on Election Day and so we will be subjected to more weeks of campaigning with a runoff vote.

None of this reflects the values of hopeful people. Not much of it reflects anything of value to the people of Houston. Mayor Parker and Mr. Hall will go at it and people will tune it out or just think of both of them as equally bad. Only a small percentage of Houstonians will bother to vote.

Without forgetting the many volunteers each campaign will have of committed everyday people, none of this will inspire people to take action for themselves and with others to offer alternatives from the bottom and middle up to a failed and corporate-bought political system.

I'm on the e-mail list of both the Hall and Parker campaigns. Just today I've received three negative e-mails from these two campaigns. I've resolved today that I'm going to donate 25 cents to Amnesty International for every negative e-mail I get from Parker and Hall.

I won't say "this is going to be fun to watch", because it won't be. Houston deserves better than this. We just stand no chance of getting it.

Around the horn: Stace was first with the ad and the quote from the presser. Noah has a good take on this "attack-back" strategy, and Texas Leftist covered the press conference yesterday where Mayor Parker announced she was coming to the rescue of the Thanksgiving Day Parade (with a little help from her deep-pocketed friends).

More as it develops, and if it's not too nasty. Not interested in documenting every salvo fired from these two. Maybe some of the second-tier candidates can offer something more positive in the days to come.