"That big plan for a permanent Republican majority? It crawled out into the Iraqi desert, rolled onto its bristly back, and died." Salon.com's Andrew O'Hehir
Quote of the Week
Get your tissues and hankies out. Donald Rumsfeld stepped down Wednesday from his post as secretary of defense. Robert Gates, former head of the CIA, is slated to replace him.
It's not all over but the shouting. As the U.S. Congress turns blue, governorships tip as well, and the Bush administration suffers a resounding defeat. For more, see p.20.
In Texas, the Dems gained in the House and held fast in the Senate but remain shut out of statewide offices. Gov. Rick Perry won another four-year term with just 39% of the vote.
The Travis Co. Legislative delegation, chipped away by Republicans in recent years, flipped back blue on Tuesday, with Valinda Bolton's close win in House District 47 the capper on the Dem resurgence. The Dem wave spread at least as far as Hays Co., where the Commissioners Court flipped from majority GOP to majority Democratic.
On the city beat, all the Austin municipal bond propositions passed easily and early, with the lowest victory percentage for Proposition 4 arts and community centers at a comfortable 58%.
After months of stonewalling the neighborhood and independent media, Lincoln Property Co. announced Wednesday by way of an enthusiastic profile in the business section of the Statesman that it intends to plant a new-style, "urban" Wal-Mart in what used to be Northcross Mall, but henceforth will be the trendily renamed "Northcross Center." Lincoln retail VP Robert Dozier told the daily that the new Austin store will be "completely out of the box" referring to its design features, not the corporation's abrupt springing of its plans on the community. In a meeting earlier this week with Liveable City representatives and Councilman Mike Martinez, Leffingwell was quoted by one of the participants, Susan Moffat (wife of Austin Chronicle publisher Nick Barbaro) as saying that he had been briefed by Wal-Mart representatives and was under the impression that the move had been publicly announced that a Wal-Mart was definitely going in at the location. "No I don't have any confirmation that it's definitely coming," Leffingwell told the Chronicle. "I've had discussions with people that are planning it. I know it's being planned, but I know that the people who are planning it have various hoops they want to jump through before they make any firm announcement about it. Certainly talking to the neighborhood reps is part of that. I wouldn't want to characterize anything as a definite plan. When developers start to have an idea about what they want to do, they kind of stop by and brief you on what their initial plans are, and I was in on that. I was surprised it got blown out of proportion because people have been talking about a Wal-Mart there for more than a year." Lee Nichols
Less than two weeks after he dazzled the assembled public mostly lawyers, cops, activists, and city officials during a meet-and-greet session with the three finalists vying to take over as the city's police monitor, city officials late last week tapped former Bronx, N.Y., and Travis Co. prosecutor Cliff Brown for the job. Brown "possesses a variety of strengths that are critical to carrying out the responsibilities of Police Monitor," City Manager Toby Futrell said in a Nov. 7 press release. There's no denying Brown's charisma and apparent determination during the October meet-and-greet, his determined talk about bridging a "schism" of misunderstanding between cops and community members (for example, baggy pants and do-rags are just a "style," he said, and not indicative of illegal intentions; and cops are doing their jobs, he noted, and you get respect when you show respect) earned appreciative nods from both police and police-accountability activists. (Indeed, it might have been the very first time cop watchdog Ann del Llano and Austin Police Association representatives were in the same room and smiling at the same time about the same thing.) Brown told the Chronicle he's excited about taking the job, which he'll start Jan. 2. But only time will tell if Brown will maintain his cache of good vibes while also asking the hard questions and speaking the truth no matter who gets ticked off, a feat no monitor has yet mastered. Jordan Smith
Austin Community College is attracting more high school graduates than any other Texas college or university, according to a report by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Education Agency. The reason could be economic. As UT raises its tuition, it can make sense to start at a less expensive two-year college. The numbers could also reflect ACC's aggressive recruiting effort, dubbed the "College Connection." The program guarantees admission to Central Texas high school graduates and provides mentors to guide seniors through the application process. The trend toward community-college enrollment is echoed statewide; the TEA report shows that 574,775 Texas students enrolled in a state community college in 2005, compared to 490,742 in Texas public universities. Michael May
In other education news, Austin kids bucked their parents' stuffy old politics yesterday and elected Rick Perry as governor in a mock election held by AISD. In contrast, Travis County adults overwhelmingly favored Chris Bell, who garnered 46% of the local vote. Before parents start grounding their kids for voting Republican, however, it's important to note that only 29% of the kids voted for Perry. The big winner among the under-18 crowd was Kinky Friedman, who came close to a mock upset with 25% of the vote. Carole Keeton Strayhorn came in third with 22%, and Chris Bell only took 19%. If the trend holds, Kinky could have a real shot at being mayor of Austin in four years. The students did not vote straight ticket. They also favored Democrat Barbara Ann Radnofsky for the Texas Senate and Republican Representative Michael McCaul for the Texas House. M.M.
Last week's rejection of the environmental permit for the U.S. 290/Highway 71 highway project through Oak Hill by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers means changes, but it's still unclear just how much change. The elevated Oak Hill tollway has been the subject of much debate in the community, where one faction wants a gentler parkway and another wants more minor revisions and to simply get the project done. District Engineer Bob Daigh says adjustments were already under way on the project at the community's request minor changes like the placement of entrances and exits and the revised project already will require a new environmental application. If it's minor, the project could still be on a reasonable schedule. More major changes, under an individual environmental permit, could mean a full-scale environmental review that would mean a two- to three-year delay in the project. Kimberly Reeves
The city of Austin announced this week that it would rename the Boggy Creek Greenbelt pavilion in honor of a neighborhood hero or feature they just don't know what yet. That's where you come in. This week, the city began a 90-day period for accepting public comment on what to name the Eastside institution. Suggestions from the city include community activist Lee Nobles and Rosewood/Glen Oaks advocate Elizabeth "Liz" Snipes. Deadline is Feb. 5. Entries may be submitted at www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks/namingform.htm, picked up at the Parks and Recreation Department, or by calling 974-6745. Forms may be returned online, at PARD, faxed to 974-6756, or mailed to Facilities Naming Nomination, attn: Parks and Recreation Department, Planning, Design and Construction; 200 S. Lamar; Austin, Texas 78704. Wells Dunbar
Want to make a dent in your holiday shopping this weekend while supporting fair trade and learning about the impact globalization has on people in other countries? The American Friends Service Committee's Women and Fair Trade Craft Sale is Saturday and Sunday from 10am-7pm at the Copa Bar & Grill, 217 Congress. Representatives of eight cooperatives of women from Mexico, Guatemala, and Palestine, will sell handmade crafts toys, pottery, jewelry, clothing, textiles, etc. at the event. Also, a panel of Mexican women will speak Saturday morning about their cooperatives' searches "for new ways to provide for their families while preserving their culture," according to an AFSC press release. Various musicians, singers, and poets will perform Saturday night. And local director and producer Heather Courtney will present her documentary Letters From the Other Side Sunday afternoon and then host a question-and-answer session along with Alex Chavez the man behind the film's music and the three Mexican women featured in the piece, structured as a series of "video letters" among loved ones from both sides of the border. It took the women nine months to get visitor visas from the U.S. government to come here, so their appearance this weekend is no small feat. For more info, see www.womenandfairtrade.org. Cheryl Smith
Mindful that giant steps must be taken to address the way energy is used and acquired in Texas and nationwide with climate change looming and power supplies in question the Texas Renewables '06 conference, kicking off in Austin Nov. 13-14, will bring together green luminaries from across the country to discuss ways of strategically and economically bringing renewable energy to the forefront with the goal of energy security and independence. Co-organizer Debrah Dubay said some major new technologies now on the down-low in Washington will be announced at the conference, tied to the 25X'25 initiative, which advocates that 25% of all U.S. energy be renewable by 2025. The conference, organized by the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association, is for anyone interested in where the industry is going, but given its $220 two-day admission, it's probably more geared toward students, teachers, and business folk. Speakers include Dr. Chuck Kutscher of the National Renewable Energy Lab, Ford Motor Company Sustainable Mobility Director Nancy Lee Gioia, Union of Concerned Scientists Energy Analyst Jeff Deyette, and Pat Wood III, former chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission during the Enron era and the Public Utility Commission of Texas during electric deregulation (plus more than 40 more). For more info, see www.treia.org. Daniel Mottola
Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, pictured on the right at a recent Sierra Club-organized demonstration, ended her hunger strike last Friday after 10 days. She was calling on the governor to reverse his executive order, fast-tracking what are now 17 proposed coal-fired power plants that threaten to double Texas' global warming gas emissions and drive cities, including Austin, into federal Clean Air Act violation. Before she resumed munching, Hadden met with Gov. Perry's policy director, asking that energy efficiency be made the state's top priority and that a full investigation be launched into allegations that Dallas utility TXU (proposing 11 of the 17 coal plants) manipulated the state energy market, Enron-style. Hadden called the meeting respectful but not productive, and also expressed infuriation that several public hearings for the coal-plant permits have been scheduled concurrently between Nov. 27 and Dec. 7 with two on the same afternoon, 75 miles apart making attendance by state organizations like SEED, which represents citizens statewide, impossible. D.M.
Irvin DeLuna, 15, of Round Rock the first student to go on trial on charges stemming from participation in a nationwide immigration protest in May was found not guilty on Nov. 3. His trial took place in Round Rock Municipal Court, with the jury deliberating an hour and a half. Austin attorney Travis Williamson, on behalf of the Texas Civil Rights Project, defended DeLuna, assisted by Ernest Saadiq Morris and Michael Rodriguez, also of TCRP. "The students had the courage to stand up for their rights, and the jury vindicated DeLuna," said TCRP director Jim Harrington. Morris said the curfew ordinance has a built-in protection for students exercising their right of free speech. The city has dismissed about a fourth of the cases, Morris noted, due to lack of evidence. About a fourth remain. Prosecutor for the city of Round Rock was Susan Camp-Lee, who was not available for comment. Will Hampton, communications director for the city, declined to comment on specifics of the case. Nine other cases have dates assigned through next May. Because these are jury trials, Morris and other attorneys are making themselves available to defend cases pro bono. More than 200 students received citations for violating curfew or causing a disruption or, as in DeLuna's case, for both. "We feel they made an example of DeLuna," Morris said. Patricia J. Ruland
Beyond City Limits
Officers from the U.S. Marshals and the Texas Youth Commission Apprehension Team on Nov. 3 arrested 18-year-old Nathan Manuel Mendoza, wanted for the attempted sexual assault of a Reagan High School teacher, at a Dallas homeless shelter. Mendoza had been on the lam for just more than a week, after allegedly grabbing teacher Susan Straker, holding a pair of scissors to her neck, and threatening to rape her. Straker fought back and freed herself without incident, but Mendoza fled before AISD police could catch him. Mendoza enrolled at Reagan in mid-October and was living in a nearby halfway house, after serving time in a TYC facility on a 2002 charge of indecency with a 4-year-old in San Antonio. Officials say Mendoza fled to Dallas where he spent five days registered at the Dallas Life Foundation homeless shelter until his arrest on Friday. Mendoza was taken to the Dallas Co. Jail where he will stay until he can be transferred back to Travis Co., where his bail has been set at $50,000. Attempted sexual assault is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. J.S.