Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., Aug. 20, 2004
Quote of the Week: "Let's ride, and then decide." Capital Metro board member Fred Harless, endorsing (defending?) the agency's restrained commuter-rail plan. See "'All Systems Go!' Very, Very Slowly."
A county exec will take the interim reins at the Travis Co. Hospital District, as city and county financial minds fail to meet. See "Hospital District in County Hands."
Back to school this week, on the streets, and in the courts: Testimony continues in the West Orange-Cove "Robin Hood" trial (see "Chum in the Water at Finance Trial" and "Capitol Chronicle"), while AISD works the crowds to build support for its bond package (see "Labor Backs AISD Bonds"). See "Endorsements" for the Chronicle's endorsements in the AISD bond election; early voting begins Aug. 25.
We'd tell you all about the Lance Armstrong party, but you were all there, so never mind.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks rejected a last-ditch effort Monday to prevent the startup of the Longhorn Pipeline, effectively opening the door for gasoline to begin flowing through South Austin neighborhoods by late September. The city of Austin and other plaintiffs had sought an emergency order to temporarily halt the project pending a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court the plaintiffs' last stop in the appeals process. The battle began back in 1995, when Longhorn Partners Pipeline LP first crafted plans to upgrade an old, unused crude oil line to transport gasoline, diesel, and airplane fuel from Houston to El Paso. Two years ago, the business venture appeared on the verge of financial collapse, creating a lengthy delay that bought opponents more time to strengthen their case against the project. But Sparks' rulings have consistently favored Longhorn; he's made it clear that he's not particularly fond of the pipeline but is bound to follow the law. Longhorn expects to begin a 30-day process of filling the line this week. Amy Smith
UT police are looking for two "light-skinned males" who were caught on videotape using silver spray paint to vandalize the statue of Martin Luther King Jr. on the UT east mall on Aug. 15. Physical Plant employees cleaned the statue shortly after the damage was discovered early Sunday morning, according to a UT press release. The statue "is a symbol of the university's commitment to serve all Texas, regardless of race, ethnicity, or income," said UT President Larry Faulkner. "The two individuals who attacked the statue in darkness only reinforce that commitment." The UTPD is asking that anyone with info about the incident call 471-4441. Jordan Smith
A counter-recall group has organized in support of Mayor Will Wynn and Council Members Brewster McCracken and Danny Thomas. Former Real Estate Council of Austin President Tim Taylor is behind the Citizens for Responsible Community Leadership PAC opposing the recall effort (aka the Austin Toll Party) that stems from the elected officials' "yes" vote on toll roads. The pro-recall PAC, People for Efficient Transportation, needs to collect more than 40,000 signatures from registered voters to have the recall placed on an election ballot. (For more, see "Austin@Large." A.S.
Paying a whirlwind visit to South Austin Tuesday morning to talk about "transportation," Republican congressional candidate Rebecca Armendariz Klein smiled spectacularly and punted deep: "I really applaud the really dynamic debate that's occurring right now regarding the toll roads." Klein unveiled a letter from U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert suggesting that should the CD 25 candidate defeat incumbent Democrat Lloyd Doggett, "the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee would be an appropriate choice" for a committee assignment. This prompted CD 10 candidate Michael McCaul to grouse cheerfully that the House leadership hadn't yet waved such plums at him. Meanwhile, The New York Times reported Tuesday that GOP deep-pockets are contributing heavily to her campaign, expecting her not to beat Doggett in the heavily Dem district but to become a future media or energy regulatory honcho in a second Bush term. Klein, former chair of the Texas Public Utility Commission, said it's all nonsense, and her only focus is CD 25. Michael King
Meanwhile, McCaul's foe Lorenzo Sadun is itching for a fight, but can't get a taker. Last month, the Democratic CD 10 write-in candidate challenged McCaul to a series of debates, but hasn't received a response. "They don't answer the phone, they don't answer their e-mail, and they don't answer their voice mail," said Sadun campaign manager Patti Edelman in a press release. "I don't know whether they are still on vacation or just being rude." In the same release, Sadun asked, "If Mr. McCaul is too busy to engage the voters in the months before the election, what does he plan to do after the election is over?" When "Naked City" last heard from McCaul, his campaign manager said the challenge was being "considered," but calls for this item were not returned as of press time. Lee Nichols
Knowbility a nonprofit organization working to make technology easily available to people with disabilities kicked off its Accessibility Internet Rally (AIR-Austin) Wednesday to raise community awareness of "barrier-free" tech possibilities. A Capitol press conference announcing the effort included Mayor Will Wynn, Grande Communications CEO Bill Morrow, IC2 Deputy Director Alex Cavalli, and Knowbility CEO Sharron Rush. For more on AIR-Austin, see www.knowbility.org. A.S.
The Austin Black Lawyers Association and the Hispanic Bar Association of Austin have jointly released their annual report card grading 25 of Austin's largest firms on their hiring of minority lawyers. Using State Bar of Texas statistics showing that 14% of Texas attorneys are non-Anglo, the report card gives an "A" to any firm exceeding that mark and an "F" to firms below 6.5%. Head of the class is Locke Liddell and Sapp ("outstanding; should be emulated"); others on the honor roll include Bickerstaff Heath Smiley; Andrews Kurth; and Winstead Sechrest and Minick. On the other end of the scale were Akin Gump; Scott Douglass and McConnico (a frequent outside counsel to City Hall); Graves Dougherty Hearon and Moody (ditto); and DuBois Bryant Campbell and Schwartz (whose lawyers include Council Member Brewster McCracken). Tom Albright, managing partner of Scott, Douglass, said, "We're discouraged with the grade and we would prefer to have greater minority representation in the firm, but it's not for a lack of trying." He noted that minorities compose about a third of his firm's law clerks, a fact the report card praises. "We're not proud of the F," Albright said, "and minority recruiting is a high priority. ... We're optimistic. It's difficult, though. There is such a high demand for qualified minority students. It's very competitive." L.N.
Beyond City Limits
Could Michael Badnarik be George Dubya's Ralph Nader in November? Badnarik, the Austinite who won the Libertarian nomination for president, reports he is campaigning hard (at least by third-party standards) in New Mexico, including a $65,000 ad campaign there, and he cites a Rasmussen poll showing 5% support in the Land of Enchantment. Although Badnarik attacks both major parties with glee, the conventional wisdom says that Libertarians take more votes away from Republicans than Democrats and that could be trouble for Bush. New Mexico has only five electoral votes, but in this tight election, neither candidate can afford to give anything away. As of Aug. 4, Rasmussen showed New Mexico leaning toward Kerry, 50%-43%, with Nader polling under 1%. L.N.
Last week Gov. Rick Perry asked the Legislative Budget Board to designate $18 million of Teachers Retirement System funds for reimbursing Aetna Corp. for "administrative fees" to manage the health reimbursement accounts for Texas teachers. Last year the Lege cut the $1,000 insurance stipend for public school teachers and staff in half (or more), and then the TRS announced that administrative fees would take another 8% bite. Teachers' organizations welcomed Perry's recommendation, still pending approval of the LBB, but many are wondering why keeping track of teachers' money should cost anybody $18 million. M.K.
Gov. Perry's political consultant Dave Carney most recently in action coordinating out-of-state money to help elect GOP State Sen. Kevin Eltife has resurfaced in New Hampshire as a Ralph Nader supporter. Wayne Slater reported in The Dallas Morning News last week that Carney hired temp workers in New Hampshire to gather petition signatures for Nader, paying them $12 an hour or $1 per valid signature. The Nader campaign needed to submit 3,000 valid signatures in New Hampshire by Aug. 11, and announced that it had met the deadline with more than 5,500. At press time Wednesday, the Texas Nader campaign was still awaiting a decision from U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel in its lawsuit challenging state ballot access requirements. Naderites have also filed similar suits in Arizona, Illinois, and Michigan. M.K.
According to the latest data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, since Sept. 11, 2001, the overall number of "criminal enforcement actions" taken by the FBI has declined. In fiscal 2001 (ending Oct. 1 of that year), the FBI recommended federal prosecutors bring charges against nearly 40,000 individuals; in FY 2003, the number had dropped to just over 34,000. If the downward trend continues, TRAC notes, the number of referrals will drop below 30K for FY 2004. And although terrorism, anti-terrorism, or so-called "internal security" cases have increased nearly sevenfold to almost 2,600 cases in 2003 figures for the first quarter of this year suggest the number of such cases referred by FBI agents has peaked. Meanwhile, the number of civil rights referrals has dropped nearly 25%, and the number of prosecutions of those cases has dropped by half. For more info plus detailed reports for each federal judicial district go to www.trac.syr.edu. J.S.
Charter school students nationwide are lagging half a year behind regular public-school students, according to U.S. Department of Education figures. The findings, which only became public when the American Federation of Teachers dug the data out of a voluminous annual report, raise problems for those who promise that charters publicly funded, privately run will harness the free market to improve education. It also raises problems for the Texas Education Agency, which used a loophole to avoid rating many Texas charters this year. Critics already suspected the TEA of trying to conceal the schools' poor performances, and the national data lends credence to their claims. Rachel Proctor May
Why do so many people not vote? And what can be done to get them to start? Voting in America is a collection of nine short films that asks that question, including one by Texans Heather Courtney, Laura Varela, and Anne S. Lewis (Chronicle contributor and wife of Editor Louis Black). The films were intended to be aired on PBS this fall, but producers were told that the network would rather air them after the November election; instead, the films are now being distributed on DVD as a voter outreach project. Courtney, Varela, and Lewis' film, "Texas: Majority, Minority," examines how the Latino and African-American communities in Lockhart are fighting back against historical disenfranchisement by registering voters, running for local office, and organizing the town's first ever MLK Day march. To order copies of the film and learn more about the project, go to www.votinginamerica.org. L.N.
Democracy for Texas, the local chapter of the Democracy for America movement that spun out of the Howard Dean presidential campaign, says it expects more than 400 Texans and others including Dean himself to converge on Huston-Tillotson College Aug. 21-22 for workshop training of progressive grassroots activists, taught by the 21st Century Democrats organization. 9am-6pm both days (Dean will speak at 2pm on Sunday), at the King Seabrook Chapel on the HTC campus, 900 Chicon. Registration is $45. Go to www.21stdems.org/training for more info.
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Round Rock will break ground on its first home on Sunday, Aug. 22, 2:30pm, at 1405 Circle Drive. For more info, call 796-5000.
The Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition, Catellus Development, and other players in the airport redevelopment project will host Mueller 201, a community information-sharing and update session, at 6pm Wednesday, Aug. 25, at the Region XIII Education Service Center, 5701 Springdale. Reps from the city, Catellus, the MNC, and city Mueller commission, ROMA Design Group and, yes, Capital Metro will be on hand.
Running in Heels, a political action committee that promotes women's participation in electoral politics, will hold a Code Pink March (in response to recent code orange and yellow terrorist alerts) at noon Thursday, Aug. 26, on the south steps of the state Capitol, to commemorate Women's Suffrage and Equality Day. Wearing pink and high heels is encouraged. See www.womenagainstbush.org or call 349-0334 for more info.
We haven't been listing many events from the Travis Co. GOP's Web site here, but at press time, the calendar listing for Aug. 29 was "Republican National Convention: Protest President Bush's war on Iraq at the Republican National Convention." Wow, maybe we should check with Alan Sager & Co. more often. Glad to have you aboard, fellas.