Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond
"I don't think we have racial bias in Texas any more.
I simply believe you should be able to read, write, and speak English to be a voter in the United States." Congressman John Carter, R-Round Rock, quoted in the Houston Chronicle, explaining a couple of the reasons he helped block a vote to renew the Voting Rights Act last week. Texas Republicans objected to provisions requiring Southern states to get Justice Department preclearance before changing voting procedures and requiring bilingual ballots in jurisdictions with significant populations of citizens with poor English skills.
Quote of the Week
On Wednesday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court released an opinion that upheld mid-decade redistricting in Texas but struck down the lines for Congressional District 23 (Laredo to El Paso), referring to it as a "troubling blend of politics and race." See "Beyond City Limits"
The new City Council takes its annual summer hiatus, not to meet again until July 27. Before council members booked last Thursday, they decided to build one new water plant, hold off on another, and study the feasibility of merging city police forces. See "Point Austin," and "Beside the Point."
At Monday's district board meeting, AISD rolled out its preliminary budget proposal for 2006-2007 and the early numbers look rosy. See "AISD Budget" p.20.
The civil rights division of the Department of Justice ruled that Austin police officer Scott Glasgow did not violate the civil rights of Jesse Lee Owens when the officer shot and killed Owens during a 2003 late-night traffic stop. "Accident, mistake, fear, or bad judgment is not sufficient evidence to establish a criminal violation," said federal prosecutors, saying that they did not believe they could prove Glasgow had shown a willful disregard for the law.
Civil rights group the Advancement Project filed a lawsuit against the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Housing Authority of New Orleans Tuesday on behalf of residents of four public housing complexes damaged during Hurricane Katrina that were recently slated to be demolished. According to the Associated Press, the lawsuit alleges that a HUD plan to get rid of the complexes "is discriminatory and violates international laws that protect people displaced by natural disasters."
"I am not a slogan. I am Grandma," said Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn in response to Secretary of State Roger Williams' decision to reject the name "Grandma" from the November gubernatorial ballot unless Strayhorn can show it is a nickname and not a political slogan. Richard "Kinky" Friedman made the cut; no word on whether "Gov. Goodhair" will pass muster.
Former Mayor Bruce Todd is back in the saddle, crusading for a mandatory bicycle-helmet ordinance. As Mayor, he spearheaded the passage of a helmet law in 1996, but it was amended four months after he left office to include only children under 17. Todd, who believes a helmet saved his life when he fell off his bike last November, said, "The economic impact of even one head injury is enormous, and it's a cost we can help curtail as a community if all cyclists wear helmets." Members of Austin's bicycling community are mounting a spirited attack on the proposed ordinance, set for public hearing at council's Aug. 24 meeting. "If saving lives is the justification, then motorists should wear helmets too. More motorists die from head injuries than do cyclists," wrote Michael Bluejay on his BicycleAustin.info Web site. Taxpayers pick up the tab to a much larger degree when unhelmeted motorists are injured, he said. Other opponents view the effort as a political panacea that's a poor substitute for efforts to actually improve bicycling safety, such as improved, car-free bike facilities, strengthened enforcement against motorists who injure cyclists, and education. "We find it ludicrous that this approach would even be considered, since the city hasn't done anything significant to make our roadways safer for bicyclists, said Rob D'Amico, spokesman for a group of activists opposed to the proposed ordinance. Daniel Mottola
City of Austin administrative offices, the Household Hazardous Waste Facility, the Austin Public Library, and all city-run museums, recreation, and senior activity centers will be closed July 4. Garbage collection will remain on schedule, and all city pools will be open. For info on the Austin Symphony Orchestra's Zilker Park performance (and related street closures) see our Calendar section, p.67. Lee Nichols
The Historic Landmark Commission released a demolition permit on 90 Rainey St. with nary a whimper this week, a possible precursor to the future of a neighborhood that was once the center of an intense fight over historic preservation. Rainey Street was one of the city's first streets, a fertile ground for early Austin. Through much of its history, though, working-class families who had little money to put into serious restoration efforts have owned the houses. The Hardeman-Johnson house at 90 Rainey, built in 1885 and owned by an early Texas military hero, is one of the two original houses on Rainey. Today, the house is abandoned and so filled with rot that the roof has collapsed, the chimney is gone, and you can see through holes in the floor. Deterioration was a big factor in allowing the demolition, but progress was a reason, too. Now that Rainey Street is primed for redevelopment through new zoning, 90 Rainey Street will be the home of a high-rise mixed-use redevelopment project. The developer has agreed to preserve the transom the only piece of the house left intact and provide some kind of plaque on the history of the new building's site. Kimberly Reeves
You're not alone in noticing some new names on the Eastside: Earlier this week, the city renamed a Comal cross street in honor of big-band balladeer Nash Hernandez Sr. as part of the Austin Latino Music Association's "Trail of Tejano Legends" program. A trumpeter and bandleader, Hernandez pioneered a blend of Latino and traditional swing music, garnering accolades not only for his musical achievements but for his community involvement. Hernandez died in 1994, but he now joins several of his contemporaries in the "Trail of Tejano Legends," the ALMA's project highlighting the life and career of several musically and culturally influential Austin Latinos. For information on other nominees, their achievements, and areas to be named after them, visit www.austinlatinomusic.com/trail.html. Wells Dunbar
Jennifer Kim has had a busy month. In addition to relaunching her Web site (see "Beside The Point," facing), she was appointed to the State Democratic Executive Committee of the Texas Democratic Party at its recent convention. The Place 3 council member now holds one of two seats allotted to the Asian American Democrats of Texas. The SDEC says its mission is to "carry on the activities of the Party between State Conventions in compliance with the law and with the directives of the Convention." W.D.
The annual Casey Foundation report on child welfare, "Kids Count," reported this week that child poverty in Texas increased from 22% to 23% between 2000 and 2004; the national average is 18%. One in 10 Texas children lives in extreme poverty (up 10%), and the state also showed a drop in child immunizations (now at 75% of 2-year-olds), a 7% rise in low-birth-weight babies, and a 16% rise in child mortality. For more, see www.cppp.org. Michael King
Shadana Hurd scored with 54 seconds left to give the Austin Outlaws a 31-29 victory over the Dallas Rage last Saturday, earning the team its first trip to the National Women's Football Association playoffs (see "Serious Game," June 2). The team finished its regular season at 6-2, good enough to earn a wild card spot in the Southern Conference. The Outlaws head to Chattanooga this weekend for a first-round game against the Chattanooga Locomotion, which also finished at 6-2. The winner will earn the right to travel to Washington D.C. to face the D.C, Divas in the next round. The playoffs culminate with an Aug. 5 championship game in Pittsburgh. Kevin Brass
The Supreme Court released an opinion Wednesday morning that upheld mid-decade redistricting in Texas but struck down the lines for the Laredo-to-El Paso Congressional District 23. As the justices' line of questioning during the court case in March suggested, the majority of the court rejected the idea that the Texas case, and mid-decade redistricting in particular, constituted partisan gerrymandering. On the other hand, the court was troubled by the idea that Latinos were drawn out of CD 23 and white Republican voters drawn into the district in order to shore up the political fortunes of U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla. The court invalidated the district, calling it a "troubling blend of politics and race" that led to the dilution of Hispanic voting strength. The decision could mean that a number of districts, possibly even CD 25, will need to be redrawn in order to satisfy the court. K.R.
Beyond City Limits
After six weeks of waiting for a decision by Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, on June 21 indie gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman got word that his name will appear on the November general election ballot. Friedman turned in 137,154 valid signatures of Texas voters far more than the roughly 45,000 he needed. (Texas election law requires an independent candidate for statewide office to secure valid signatures from 1% of the total number of voters who voted in the most recent gubernatorial election, and the signatures must be of voters who did not cast a ballot in either party's March primary.) A whopping 81% of the signatures collected during his campaign's two-month petition drive were certified as valid. (State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn turned in some 222,514 petition signatures, 49% of which were deemed valid, enough to get her on the ballot.) Friedman was understandably jazzed by the results, which he considers proof that Texans are ready to shake things up in the Capitol. "The people of Texas have spoken," he said. "They're sick and tired of politics as usual, and they're ready to elect an independent candidate in November." Jordan Smith
Former state Rep. Glen Maxey has joined Chris Bell's campaign for governor. Maxey, an Austin consultant who recently lost his bid to chair the Texas Democratic Party, will put his techno-driven organizing skills to the test as statewide field director for the campaign. Bell trumpeted his new hire in a press statement Tuesday. "All we have to do to win back the Governor's Mansion is to get Democrats to vote for the Democratic nominee," he said, "and Glen can play an important and leading role in that happening." Bell is among a crowded field of hopefuls gunning for the Governor's Mansion, including current occupant Rick Perry, indie candidates Kinky Friedman and Carole Strayhorn, and Libertarian James Werner. Amy Smith
The intrepid reporters at the Chicago Tribune are at it again reporting in a three-part series this week that it appears another Texas death row inmate, Carlos De Luna, was wrongfully executed for the 1983 knife murder of Wanda Lopez at a Corpus Christi convenience store. The Trib series (which began June 25 and was written by the same team who earlier this year revealed that the state had likely executed another innocent, Cameron Todd Willingham, for an arson-murder he didn't commit) reports that prosecutors and police ignored information that another man, Carlos Hernandez a man with a penchant for knife assaults actually killed Lopez. De Luna (who, admittedly, had had his share of run-ins with the law, primarily for nonviolent offenses) was executed Dec. 7, 1989, even though no evidence linked him to the crime, save for identification by two witnesses, one of whom has since said he was persuaded by police that De Luna was the murderer. To read the entire story, go to www.chicagotribune.com/news/specials/broadband/chi-tx-htmlstory,0,7935000.htmlstory. J. S.
Perhaps you've seen the commercial featuring a coughing armadillo overcome by roadside fumes. Those are by the "Drive Clean Across Texas" campaign, which claims to be the nation's first statewide public outreach campaign to raise awareness about air pollution. The group recently recommended five simple steps that it says can increase fuel efficiency by up to 20% while limiting air pollution, which tends to exceed EPA levels in Texas' largest cities. Tips include: Drive less by walking or riding a bicycle, share a ride to work or school, combine errands into one trip, work at home one day a week or, better yet, become a full-time telecommuter; keep your vehicle properly maintained and tires properly inflated; buy a cleaner, low-emissions vehicle when replacing an old one (see www.epa.gov/greenvehicles for a list), possibly taking advantage of a one-time tax deduction for any hybrid put into service prior to Dec. 31, 2006; idle less by avoiding unnecessary drive-through lanes and opt instead to park and go inside; and burn less fuel and reduce tailpipe emissions by driving the speed limit and avoiding aggressive driving, jackrabbit starts, and quick stops. D.M.
Speaking of driver outreach efforts, the Texas Department of Transportation's anti-littering slogan "Don't Mess With Texas" has been nominated for a slot on the Madison Avenue Advertising Walk of Fame, and you get to vote on it. DMWT created by Austin advertising agency GSD&M in 1986 has some tough competition, vying for a mere two slots against the likes of "Got Milk?," "Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute," "This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs," and many other well-known ad icons. To vote, go to advertising.yahoo.com/advertisingweek_06/slogan_poll.html. Winners will be announced Sept. 29. L.N.
Thousands upon thousands of cats and kittens are homeless in the Central Texas area, and they die unnecessarily as a result of malnutrition and starvation, treatable diseases, being hit by cars, being taken into kill shelters, and being poisoned or shot by neighbors who feel it's the only solution to an ever-growing problem, according to a statement from the Central Texas Barn Cat Placement Program, a new coalition that's formed to find a better solution to the area's feral-cat issues. The program seeks to help stray cats brought into local kill shelters and those living in dangerous locations by placing them in safer, healthier barn homes or outdoor home situations. The program will teach people safe trapping techniques, and before being released, every cat will be spayed or neutered, tested for feline AIDS and feline leukemia, vaccinated, and treated for parasites. Kynama Wald of the Humane Society of Williamson County says at least five feral cats per week arrive there and that the program's trap-neuter-release method is effective. Central Texas Barn Cats is looking for volunteers, donations, and people who will welcome cats onto their property. For more, contact Wald at 260-3602 or firstname.lastname@example.org. D.M.
To commemorate the 16th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Mayor's Committee for People With Disabilities is seeking nominations for the third annual Austin Access Awards, recognizing outstanding businesses and places of public accommodation for demonstrated commitment to the ADA. The awards program is July 27; nominations must be received by July 14. For award criteria and a nomination form, contact the city's ADA coordinator at 974-3256 (or 974-2445 TTY) or email@example.com.
All that marching, candle-holding, camping, and blogging, and Cindy Sheehan still hasn't been able to end this frigging war. But, God bless her, she hasn't given up hope yet. In fact, she's ready to take it to another level. This Fourth of July weekend, she along with celebs like Willie Nelson, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, and Danny Glover will join other military family members, activists, and veterans in a hunger strike in front of the White House, calling for an end to the illegal war and occupation of Iraq. Diana Welch
Helen Thomas the woman with the guts, and the know-how, to call Bush the "worst president in the history of the United States" will be in Austin to promote her new book, Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corp and How It Has Failed the Public. The Writer's League of Texas invited the now-retired "Dean of the White House Press Corps" to regale us with tales of her half-century spent covering presidents (every single one since Kennedy), followed by an open Q&A a perfect chance to ask her just how awful this whole thing has become. Thursday, July 6, 7pm. Marriott at the Capitol, 701 E. 11th. $5. D.W.