Headlines and Happenings from Austin and Beyond
"I'm not going to be a whore for Dr. Leininger." State Rep. Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican targeted for defeat by San Antonio millionaire James Leininger because of his (anti-voucher) education votes. Voucher advocate Leininger has donated tens of thousands of dollars, either directly or through PACs, to the campaign of Geren's Republican primary challenger Chris Hatley who lost, along with most of Leininger's other House favorites.
Quote of the Week
Well, some of the dust has settled: Tuesday's primaries ejected incumbent Travis Co. Com-missioner Karen Sonleitner, replacing her with challenger and all-but-elected Democratic nominee Sarah Eckhardt; re-elected Commissioner Margaret Gomez; and left a couple of run-offs pending for both parties in the now-swing state House District 47. See "March 6 Primary Report."
Elsewhere were additional surprises: Former Houston Congressman Chris Bell easily defeated former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Gammage for the Dem Gov nod, and longtime House Public Education Chair Kent Grusendorf, the GOP leadership's go-to guy on squeezing the public schools, lost badly to schools advocate and former state Board of Ed member Diane Patrick. And Voucher Doc James Leininger spent buckets of money to buy maybe two House votes.
The City Council resumes deliberations today (Thursday) on How to Write a Charter Amend-ment and also returns to the dread subject of McMansions, aka How Do You Ban Ugly? See "Beside the Point," and our new online McMansion photo contest.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week on the notorious Texas re-redistricting map, which could decide the future of the U.S. House for the next decade or more. See "Point Austin."
At press time, the Associated Press reported that former Gov. Ann Richards has esophageal cancer, and will be treated at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Deputy Medical Examiner Suzanna Dana resigned last week from her position with the Travis Co. Medical Examiner's Office. Her resignation comes amid a struggle to revamp the office's operations and a push to hire additional staff in an effort to have the office accredited by the National Association of Medical Examiners. (It also means that only two medical examiners Chief Medical Examiner Roberto Bayardo and Deputy ME Elizabeth Peacock remain on staff.) The office has been under increasing scrutiny after several incidents including its analysis of last summer's police shooting death of Daniel Rocha that have raised questions about its competency and ability to handle the large regional workload. In the Rocha case, the office first reported that toxicology testing showed there were no drugs in Rocha's system the night he died, then revised the finding, reporting that additional testing revealed traces of marijuana. (Dana performed Rocha's autopsy.) County Judge Sam Biscoe said that Dana told him it was just "time to move on" and that she plans to go into private consulting. (Biscoe challenged the Austin American-Statesman's March 5 account of Dana's resignation, saying that, contrary to what the daily reported, Dana did not tell him she was "generally dissatisfied" with the office and with the "recent controversies." Still, he said, his assumption is that some dissatisfaction "figures into" her resignation. "It almost has to." Jordan Smith
APD reported the arrests of 80 people during Mardi Gras celebrations on Sixth Street including arrests for carrying weapons and drugs and for fighting. In addition, police "detained" 85 juveniles for violating the downtown entertainment district curfew. Arrests were down from last year when 87 people were popped but up from 2004, when just 56 folks took the ride of shame to the county lockup. J.S.
Austin Community College may grow this May, if San Marcos voters approve a measure to annex San Marcos ISD into the college's taxing district. The measure would allow San Marcos students to pay in-district rates, currently $159 for the average three-credit course, rather than the higher out-of-district tuition of $333 for the same class. ACC would also build a campus in San Marcos, saving those far-flung students currently they number about 600 driving time, plus the cost of gas, vehicle wear and tear, and money for on-the-road Slurpees. If approved, San Marcos homeowners would start paying ACC taxes of nine cents per $100 of assessed value, which ACC expects will bring in about $2.4 million next year. The ACC Board of Trustees set the May 13 election after receiving petitions with 2,000 signatures from San Marcos voters. Rachel Proctor May
According to the recently released "Hunger in America 2006" report, of the 175,000 people receiving food through the Capital Area Food Bank in Central Texas, 35% are children, vs. 23.2% in the rest of the state. In response, the food bank plans to adjust its menus to be both "kid-friendly and healthful" and its outreach, working with parents, for instance, on preparing fruits and vegetables that children like. Based on 52,000 face-to-face interviews, as well as questionnaire responses from 30,000 emergency-food agencies throughout the country, the 2006 report is the largest hunger study ever completed in the United States. America's Second Harvest, a network of food banks that accounts for 80% of those in the U.S., conducts the study every four years and received an unprecedented 81% participation rate this time around, resulting in a more complete picture of the country's hunger problem than was previously available. According to CAFB Chief Operating Officer Michael Guerra, the most surprising result in our area is the child poverty rate. "We knew that children were in need," said Guerra, "but the fact that over one in three are children ... that's like the population of Texas State University." Nora Ankrum
In another encouraging example of big bucks being invested in clean energy, Austin's Cielo Wind Power L.P., the largest independently owned wind-power developer in the Southwestern U.S., has joined with Irvine, Calif., energy investor Edison Mission Group to develop the Wildorado Wind Ranch, located west of Amarillo. The $100 million-plus project is expected to be the largest single wind-power facility in the Southwest Power Pool, the electric grid that serves parts of Texas from Lubbock to Beaumont, as well as New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. The project's 70 450-foot-tall turbines will provide energy for an estimated 50,000 homes served by Southwestern Public Service Company, a subsidiary of Minnesota-based Xcel Energy, among the nation's top buyers of wind energy. Cielo CEO Walt Hornaday said the project will employ 200 people at its peak construction, utilizing many local workers from the oil, gas, and agriculture industries. He expects that between 10 and 20 long-term jobs will be created with salaries comparable to those of highly skilled workers in the telecommunications or electric utility industry. Cielo's trademark "wind ranch" is said to be ecologically friendly, Hornaday says, by having the power lines that connect turbines carefully buried instead of stringing them up, by using UV reflective paint to make the turbines visible to birds, and because there's no water use or industrial waste outflow. Daniel Mottola
Get yourself an early St. Patrick's Day present a cat or a dog! Or both, because the Austin Humane Society is lowering its fees to adopt a cat, kitten, or dog to a mere $90. Puppies under six months continue to cost $150. Yeah, we know you can find some squiggly bundle of drool for 50 bucks in the classifieds. But those backyard puppies don't come home healthy, vaccinated, and sterilized like they do at the AHS, so they end up costing more in the end. Plus, buying animals out of the paper encourages people not to spay and neuter their pets, which is why Austin continues to kill more than 10,000 animals a year at the city-run Town Lake Animal Center. (The Humane Society does not kill on site but does turn away less-desirable animals that later end up at TLAC.) So do your part, and take home a shelter feline or pooch. Shelter hours are noon-7pm on Monday and Wednesday through Saturday, and 1-5pm on Sunday. The shelter is closed on Tuesdays. For more info, call 837-7985 x226 or visit www.austinhumanesociety.org. R.P.M.
Herbivorous publicity hounds People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is out to squash the image of vegetarians as hygienically challenged dirt farmers with its "Sexiest Vegetarian Alive" contest. Switching from a contest of the stars (previous winners include American Idol star Carrie Underwood and Coldplay's Chris Martin) to the "tofutti cuties" and "sultry soy boys" next door, one of the top 10 hothouse tomatoes is Austin's own Jamie Moser, a 22-year-old UT grad who went vegetarian three years ago. To vote for Jamie and see the other contestants, visit GoVeg.com; results will be announced March 31. Wells Dunbar
Former Austin Rep. Glen Maxey is running again this time for chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. Maxey is one of three candidates so far who wants to succeed outgoing chair Charles Soechting; the others are Graham lawyer Boyd Richie, who serves on the party's executive committee, and San Antonio lawyer Charlie Urbina Jones. The field could widen by June, when the party will elect a new leader at its state convention in Fort Worth. A victory for Maxey, who is not only a liberal progressive but openly gay to boot, could signal the start of a "revolution" Maxey's word in how the party is run, starting at the precinct level and working its way up. Maxey is a longtime activist and seasoned political operative, who led the statewide campaign against the Prop. 2 marriage amendment, which Texans passed overwhelmingly in November, and before that served as the Texas coordinator of Howard Dean's presidential campaign. We'll be hearing more about Maxey's latest effort in the coming weeks, but for now, check out his campaign Web site at www.maxeyforchair.com for additional details. Amy Smith
Beyond city limits
On Tuesday, March 7, Al Jazeera aired a video that shows the members of Christian Peacemaker Teams who were kidnapped in Baghdad on Nov. 26 of last year sitting against a wall and speaking, though their voices cannot be heard. Christian Peacemaker Teams has identified the men in the video as 41-year-old Canadian James Loney; 32-year-old Harmeet Singh Sooden, also of Canada; and Norman Kember, 74, of England. Missing from the video is the 54-year-old American Tom Fox. Though no new demands have been given by the captors, known as the Swords of Truth Brigade or the Swords of Righteousness, the last video, which surfaced Jan. 28, called for the release of all Iraqi detainees. CPT has released the following statement on its Web site: "We also hold in our hearts the families of 14,600 Iraqis currently detained illegally by the Multi-National Forces in Iraq, who likewise await the release of their loved ones. These detainees are being held without formal charges, without access to their families and legal advisors, and without recourse to a fair and open judicial process." Diana Welch
Independent candidate for governor Kinky Friedman took the stand in Harris Co. district court last week to testify on behalf of Max Soffar, who was convicted and sentenced to die for a triple murder at a Houston bowling alley in July 1980. After 23 years on death row, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated Soffar's conviction and death sentence in 2004; after a retrial last month, a Harris Co. jury again found Soffar guilty. Friedman, who wrote about Soffar's case in a Texas Monthly column in early 2004, took the stand in Soffar's defense last week, during the punishment phase of the case. Friedman told the Associated Press there's no compelling evidence the now 50-year-old Soffar actually committed the crime and that he "can't even believe he was brought to trial in the first place." Soffar a truck driver, ironworker, police informant, and drug user reportedly had the mental capacity of a 10-year-old when he confessed to police that he'd committed the crime; he later recanted his confession. Nonetheless with no other incriminating evidence jurors sentenced Soffar to death again on March 2. Friedman told jurors that his experience with Soffar's case has changed his views on the death penalty once a staunch supporter, Friedman says he is now sure that the state's capital punishment system is flawed. J.S.
Encounter the people, places, and history of East Austin in a special four-night presentation of East Austin Stories in SXSW. The EAS project is an ongoing collaboration between esteemed UT film prof Andrew Garrison, his students, and the people they get to know east of I-35. March 11-14, 9-11pm at The Hideout, 617 Congress, you too can witness the world's fastest Mexican, Austin's world-champion female boxer, one very tough granny, and other stories from the Eastside. For more info, visit www.eastaustinstories.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org, and turn to our Screens section, p.51.
Veterans for Peace is organizing a march from Mobile, Ala., to New Orleans' Ninth Ward beginning March 14. To help the effort, Austin photographer and VFP member Alan Pogue will host an exhibit and fundraiser on Sunday, March 12, 6pm, at 1604 E. 11th. The exhibit will contain many photos of the Ninth Ward in its current state. Free to the public, but donations to Veterans for Peace are encouraged. See www.veteransforpeace.org for info.
The Austin Public Library and Texas Forums have been hosting public deliberations on "Democracy's Challenge: Reclaiming the Public's Role," a discussion on why citizens increasingly prefer to be spectators of the political process rather than get involved. The last two of the series will be Thursday, March 16, 6:30-8:30pm, at the Yarborough Branch Library, 2200 Hancock, and Wednesday, March 29, 6:30-8:30pm, at the Howson Branch Library, 2500 Exposition. Call 974-7528 for info, or go to www.cityofaustin.org/library.
The Austin chapter of Industrial Workers of the World presents a couple of events this weekend regarding labor organizing, especially regarding Latino workers. Martha Ojeda will speak about her organization, Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, on Friday, March 10, at 8pm. The Coalition is a tri-national coalition of religious, environmental, labor, Latino, and women's organizations supporting worker and community struggles for social, economic, and environmental justice in the maquiladora industry. On Saturday, March 11, at 8pm, activist Sean Sellars will speak about the Coalition of Immakolee Workers, a community-based worker organization of mostly Latino, Haitian, and Mayan Indian immigrants working in low-wage jobs in Florida. The group has successfully targeted Taco Bell and now aims at the rest of the fast-food industry. Both events will be held at the Rhizome Warehouse, 300 Allen. Call 320-8472 or e-mail email@example.com for info.