Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Jan. 16, 2004
Quote of the Week: "Yes, there is no question at all. Of course we overreached." -- The nicest man in show business, state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, who feels just terrible about the GOP's success at redistricting.
The Dems sought their last feeble hope of killing redistricting before the March primary -- a stay from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia -- as candidate filing proceeded for the new districts, closing Friday. See "Redistricting: Up to Scalia" and "Capitol Chronicle: Dred Scott, Revisited".
To that end, while old District 10 incumbent Lloyd Doggett has racked up endorsements from his new neighbors in the Rio Grande Valley, his opponent Leticia Hinojosa picked up one from Doggett's old rival Gonzalo Barrientos. See "CD 25: It's a Small District After All".
Under pressure from minority legislators, Texas A&M University President Robert Gates announced the end of TAMU's "legacy" admissions policy favoring family members of graduates. See "Texas A&M's Racial Legacy".
Public health care advocates have added the League of Women Voters to the list of organizations endorsing a proposed health care district that voters will be asked to approve in a May 15 election. The ballot will also include board races for Austin ISD and Austin Community College; district proponents believe that particular election would draw likely supporters of a tax-financed system of caring for the county's poor and uninsured patients. County Probate Judge Guy Herman said organizers plan to gather the 100 signatures required for the Commissioners Court to place the item on the ballot. A campaign team is also being assembled that will include a cross-section of political operatives; Elliott McFadden, former executive director of the Travis Co. Democratic Party, will serve as campaign manager. The LWV joins several other groups, including the Travis County Medical Society and the Capital Area Psychological Association, in supporting the district. -- Amy Smith
The Austin ISD board of trustees discussed a new "principal selection process" Monday, recommended by administrators, that would limit parent and community input to creating a "principal profile" for a particular campus that would then be used by district administrators in evaluating candidates they interview. Under the current procedure, school communities meet directly with and evaluate prospective candidates, but AISD Superintendent Pat Forgione described that process as cumbersome and at times discouraging to good candidates who prefer a more private and streamlined procedure. Both citizens and board members expressed skepticism that the change is necessary; no action was taken. The trustees also amended AISD standards for honors and advanced placement courses (essentially phasing out the former), approved this year's budget calendar, officially ended the 2003 "financial emergency" that was resolved by last fall's adoption of a balanced budget, and completed its purchase of state "attendance credits" under the AISD recapture obligations. -- Michael King
Resistance to a planned home improvement big box in Southwest Austin is gaining momentum with an online petition aimed at Lowe's Home Centers Inc. The City Council last month narrowly approved a settlement agreement with Lowe's, clearing the way for a new 162,000-square-foot store on environmentally sensitive land at Brodie and William Cannon. Opponents of the project include environmental and neighborhood activists as well as the city of Sunset Valley, which tried to circumvent the project by ceding the extraterritorial property to the city of Austin. Austin officials didn't exactly relish the idea of fighting with a major corporation (and its friends in the Lege) so they struck a deal to secure some mitigation dollars and on-site water quality controls. Meanwhile, the Save Our Springs Alliance and Grassroots Solutions, an environmental consulting firm, have launched a new Web site and petition effort at www.stoplowes.com to try and convince Lowe's officials to move its project plans off of the Edwards Aquifer -- the primary drinking-water source for some 50,000 people. -- A.S.
Mike Martinez, newly elected president of the Austin Association of Professional Fire Fighters, the union representing the majority of Austin's firefighters, was sworn into office on Jan. 13. He replaces Scott Toupin as the union's top dog; Toupin continues to serve as a union vice-president. -- Jordan Smith
The Travis County Sheriff's Office is seeking volunteers for its victims services crime-scene response program. Volunteers aid TCSO by offering support and referrals to crime victims at the crime scene. Applicants must be 21 and willing to undergo a complete background check. Volunteer training begins March 22, and runs for 10 weeks, Mondays and Thursdays, 6-9pm. For more info and a volunteer packet, call Marisa Churchin at 854-9709. -- J.S.
Beyond City Limits
According to the Texas secretary of state Web site, Jan. 7 was the "last day candidates may withdraw, die, or be declared ineligible from general primary." We assume that the official ban on death came from the Legislature; Secretary of State Geoff Connor just doesn't have that kind of power. -- Lee Nichols
On Monday, Jan. 12, Gov. Rick Perry announced the appointment of Galena Park ISD Superintendent Shirley Neeley as the first female Texas Education Agency commissioner. Neeley has won praise for bringing her large north Houston district up to "exemplary" status in 2002 state accountability rankings -- Galena Park, with 21,000 students, is the largest Texas district so ranked; 88% of its students are minority and 66% are economically disadvantaged. Neeley has been superintendent since 1995, and last year was designated "Superintendent of the Year" by the Texas Association of School Boards. Officeholders, school administrators, teachers groups, and even Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business were lavish in their praise of Neeley -- the latter perhaps because she, unlike most Texas school leaders, has publicly countenanced dismantling the state's recapture finance system, aka "Robin Hood." Neeley is also known for her frequent recitation of the children's self-improvement rhyme, "Good, better, best; never let it rest, 'til your good is better, and your better best," with which she greeted her appointment. -- M.K.
Also on Monday, Gov. Perry partially backed down from his earlier insistence that any reform of the public school financing system should be "revenue neutral" because the Texas school system -- which has exploded in size during the last decade while state support, in percentage terms, has steadily declined -- doesn't need any more money. Perry had taken a lot of headline flak after a brief "retreat" with House Speaker Tom Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst at the latter's Snaffle Bit Ranch (actually owned by Dewhurst's company Falcon Seaboard, but that's another story). The three leaders are attempting to come up with some consensus before Perry calls a special legislative session, expected in April. Afterward, Perry said he doesn't believe the schools need more money, but then Dewhurst allowed that they might. Perry now says he would listen to new revenue proposals if they're attached to a "merit system" for the schools, e.g., yanking funds for districts that don't meet accountability standards. This has been tried before, mostly with dismal results -- the technical term is "punishing the victims." -- M.K.
Having trouble keeping up with all the political scandals that Texas has to offer? Here's www.cleanuptexaspolitics.com to the rescue. Campaigns for People launched the interactive Web site -- its design resembles a box of heavy-duty detergent -- to help folks stay abreast of the campaign finance foibles of the Texas Association of Business and Texans for a Republican Majority, along with other allegations of political misdeeds. The Web site is part of a grassroots drive to get folks on a new bandwagon called Clean Up Texas Politics Coalition, explains Campaigns for People director Fred Lewis. The site includes everyone's favorite -- a blog -- to encourage public discourse and debate on the scandal du jour. -- A.S.
In the mixed and confusing headlines that are becoming characteristic of the current economic "recovery," statewide sales-tax receipts rose even while job numbers remained stagnant or declined. Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn announced that state sales-tax revenue grew 8.7% in November, including a 7.7% increase in Austin. Local officials were cautious about the change --the comparison is to 2002, the worst year in recent memory -- but the increase put the city some $440,000 ahead of previous projections. Meanwhile, the national employment figures continued to read "jobless recovery" -- profits are moving up again, while workers go begging. The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the creation of only 1,000 new jobs in December (rather than the anticipated 100,000 to 150,000), and 309,000 workers simply disappeared from the workforce altogether. They became part of the 1.1 million in all since last June who have given up looking for work, doing their small but crucial part to lower the unemployment rate from 5.9% to 5.7%. Simultaneously, the feds lowered their job creation estimates for October and November from 143,000 to 94,000, much below the 150,000 per month necessary just to employ new workers entering the market. The good news: If enough people continue to get discouraged and stop looking for jobs, we'll have "full employment" by November. -- M.K.
The Austin-based nonprofit advocacy group Policyholders of America -- founded by Melinda Ballard -- on Jan. 12 endorsed Gen. Wesley Clark for Democratic candidate for president, based on Clark's position on insurance reform and industry abuses, and for his general "electability," according to a POA press release. "I am thrilled to receive the endorsement of the POA," Clark said. "The POA and I share a common goal: the protection of American families. And we will work together to give all Americans a fair deal." -- J.S.
In an effort to help low-income Texans access the civil justice system, the Texas Legal Services Center and Pro Bono Net are hosting an event promoting the www.texaslawhelp.org Web site. Online since last May, the site features information about civil legal issues faced by low-income individuals and families, a referral database to connect individuals with organizations that offer legal assistance, court information, and links to social service agencies. The meeting will be Tuesday, Jan. 20, 3:30-5pm at the Frost Bank building (the old one at 816 Congress, not the shiny new behemoth down the street), in the seventh-floor offices of the Travis Co. Bar Association. To attend, RSVP by Jan. 16 to Neish A. Carroll at email@example.com or 477-6000.
The third annual Texas Observer Rabble-Rouser Roundup and Fat Cat Schmoozefest promises a mighty entertaining night of political rallying and hot music on Sunday, Jan. 18, at La Zona Rosa, 612 W. Fourth. The preshow Schmoozefest, at 6pm, costs $49.95 and lets you rub elbows with Molly Ivins, Jim Hightower, and the Observer staff before enjoying the concert. If you can't afford to be a fat cat, then $20 in advance (or $25 at the door) gets you in 7-11pm to hear music by Joe Ely with David Grissom, Lloyd Maines, Jimmy Pettit, Davis McLarty, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and his son Colin, Terri Hendrix with Paul Pearcy and Glen Fukunaga, and Grupo Fantasma. Buy advance tickets at The Texas Observer offices, 307 W. Seventh, or online at www.texasobserver.org. Proceeds benefit the Observer and kick off the 50-year anniversary of the muckraking progressive newspaper. The event is sponsored by The Austin Chronicle and 107.1 KGSR.
Austin for Democracy Now!, a movement to encourage KUT to carry the syndicated progressive radio show of that name, will be held Friday, Jan. 23, at 7pm, at the Awarehouse, 3800 S. Congress. The benefit, titled Code Orange Dinner, Discussion, Dance Party, includes dinner, a panel discussion about issues of civil liberties and threats to security, and music by Les Afrodeliques. A $10 donation is requested. (A petition asking KUT to air Democracy Now! can be signed online at www.iconmedia.org/democracynow.)
The Third Coast Activist Resource Center will offer a community class titled Amplifying the Message: How to Work With Mainstream Media, hosted by UT journalism professor Robert Jensen. Saturday, Jan. 24, 9:30-11:30am. To attend, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. A $10 donation is requested, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. UT campus, CMA Auditorium (26th and Guadalupe), room 2.320.
The 2004 Austin CROP WALK Weekend to fight hunger will be held March 6-7 at Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Metro Park; a Recruiters Information and Orientation will be held Saturday, Jan. 17, 10-11:30am, at the Capital Area Food Bank, 8201 S. Congress. Attendees will receive their walker packets, get questions answered, and receive tips for effective fund raising. Call 327-3229 or 451-2062 for more info.
The Austin Police Academy is taking applications for the Citizens Policy Academy, featuring 12 weeks of classes on Tuesday afternoons from 1:30 to 4:30pm, at the Austin Learning and Research Center, 2800 Spirit of Texas Dr., Bergstrom Airport. Students will be provided with a working knowledge of the Austin Police Department, including training, communications, canine, patrol, SWAT, and recruiting. The program includes lectures, demonstrations, tours, and a 10-hour patrol shift with an APD officer. Enrollment is limited. Contact Officer Joe Munoz at 974-6202 or email@example.com before Jan. 16, the deadline for applications.