Quote of the Week
"It's a free country." – Hillary Clinton, responding to the news that Ralph Nader has decided on another independent run for president
Tuesday, March 4, is primary election day, or, if you hurry, you've got today (Thursday) or tomorrow for early voting. And don't just vote; caucus! Tuesday night, 7:15pm – for details, see "Make Your Vote Count! Twice!"
Meanwhile, the campaigns roll on in Texas – Bill Clinton was at the University of Texas in Austin yesterday (Wednesday), Barack Obama holds a town hall meeting today at the Austin Convention Center at 9:30am and was at Texas State University in San Marcos yesterday, and Hillary Clinton is holding a statewide, interactive town hall meeting March 3 on Fox Sports Network Southwest, 6:30-7:30pm, as well as online at www.hillaryclinton.com. Come next Wednesday ... they'll forget us 'til October.
Almost invisible under the hoopla, City Council meets today (Thursday), with a 2pm presentation on single-member districts and – before that hits the floor – a flanking maneuver from SMD opponents on the dais. See "Beside the Point," p.20.
The disciplinary appeal hearing of Austin Police Department Sgt. Michael Olsen, dismissed after his fatal shooting of Kevin Brown, continues this week, with APD Chief Art Acevedo scheduled to testify today (Thursday) and a decision expected as early as tomorrow. See "Olsen Hearing Raises More Questions Than Answers on APD Policy."
Voters will get to consider three school-bond propositions, totaling $343 million, in the May 10 general election. Austin Independent School District's board of trustees unanimously adopted the call to order an election at its Feb. 25 meeting, putting on the ballot proposals that would fund essential repairs and legally mandated expenditures, as well as a districtwide performing-arts center. While several members raised concerns about projects that had not made the list of final propositions, District 7 trustee Robert Schneider pointed to the strengths of the planned bond, saying, "As [AISD superintendent] Dr. Forgione always tells me, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." In a second resolution, the board also adopted a covenant that says, should the propositions pass, board members will not be able to make major changes to any approved projects without consulting with counsel, as well as holding public hearings. The board also committed itself to forming a citizens' oversight committee to monitor the projects funded by the bonds. – Richard Whittaker
AISD has also called its board of trustees election for May 10, and potential candidates have less than two weeks to file the necessary paperwork. Austinites who hope to have their names on the ballot must file by 5pm March 10, while the deadline for write-in candidates is March 17. (Contact AISD for the paperwork.) Incumbents whose seats will be on the ballot: Sam Guzmán, District 2; Johna Edwards, District 3; board President Mark Williams, District 5; and Annette LoVoi, at-large Place 8. Guzmán has only held the District 2 seat since 2007, when he was elected to complete Rudy Montoya's unfinished term. While several election packets have been collected, no incumbent or challenger had filed as of press time. – R.W.
Two new city projects could soon make Austin a better place to bike, if a convincing case can be made to win federal grant funding through the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. One project has been a longtime goal of cyclists: a bike bridge along MoPac where the expressway crosses Barton Creek. This area is particularly dangerous for cyclists because there's no shoulder in the northbound lane, forcing them to compete for road space with cars traveling 65 mph. The other project is an 8-foot shared-use path on Del Curto and Lightsey roads near South Lamar, a popular bike route. CAMPO is holding the second of two community input meetings in Austin on Monday, March 17, at UT's Thompson Conference Center. – Justin Ward
Speaking of getting around town: After a brief pilot-program, the city is plowing forward with installing red-light cameras. (Another crinkle in the tinfoil-hat brigade or something far more objectionable?) The city has released a list of nine scofflaw intersections slated for cameras in April; the electronic eyes will be operational by May. The intersections are northbound and southbound MoPac at Howard Lane/Wells Branch Parkway, the MoPac southbound service road at eastbound U.S. 290, the northbound I-35 service road at 11th Street, the southbound I-35 service road at 15th, at MLK, Riverside Drive at Pleasant Valley, the westbound/northbound frontage of Lamar at Ben White (or Capital of Texas Highway), and the eastbound frontage of Lamar at the south frontage of Ben White. – Wells Dunbar
Sorry necro-technophiles, the TV-headed zombies wandering Republic Square Park last Monday weren't rallying for acceptance – maybe next year. Rather, they were activists from the Texas Campaign for the Environment, taking part in nationwide demonstrations calling on television producers to establish take-back recycling in honor of the one-year countdown to all-digital broadcasts, set to begin Feb. 17, 2009. E-waste watchdogs believe the digital switch, which forces analog TVs to use a set-top converter box to receive "over the airwaves" broadcasts, will result in the replacement of millions of old sets. With options for TV recycling virtually nonexistent, TCE fears a flood of old idiot boxes, loaded with potent toxic substances and headed for landfills and incinerators – the final destination for an estimated 88% of the 2.6 million tons of e-waste generated annually in the U.S. TCE and the national Electronics TakeBack Coalition are calling on TV makers to join Sony in establishing free, responsible recycling options for all of its products. Panasonic, Sharp, and Philips have lobbied in many states to block mandatory take-back legislation, according to TCE. Texas passed take-back laws for computer products last year. TCE Executive Director Robin Schneider says TV take-back is her group's No. 1 priority next legislative session. For more information, see www.texasenvironment.org and www.takebackmytv.com. – Daniel Mottola
Beyond City Limits
Conservative Barney Maddox has poured $55,000 of his own money into a race to unseat moderate Pat Hardy on the State Board of Education. Maddox, a Cleburne urologist, is challenging Hardy in the Republican primary in District 11, which encompasses four counties on the west side of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. If Maddox wins, the conservatives will be able to claim a majority of the 15-seat board. Hardy, who has served since 2002, has spent substantially less money but says she's relying on her established network of contacts to get out the vote on her behalf. – Kimberly Reeves
Revved up over plans by a South Texas county to allow off-road vehicles access to a 13-mile stretch to the Nueces riverbed, the habitat preservation group Texas Conservation Alliance is hoping to roll over the policy before more damage occurs. Zavala County is seeking Texas Parks & Wildlife Department approval for a local river access plan permitting vehicles with tires up to 38 inches to drive along the gravel bars common to the area. "It would be impossible to traverse this stretch of river without winding up either in the water or on private property," said Janice Bezanson, executive director of Texas Conservation Alliance, in a press release. "It's against state law to drive in the water except to cross the river and of course it's unlawful to trespass on private land." The apparently muddin'-lovin' county is seeking the plan after a 2003 state law outlawed riverbed driving except for crossing. Bezanson says the mudders destroy vegetation, ruin fish spawning beds, disturb nearby residents, and often leave trails of litter. The TCA contends that Zavala County's plan fails to meet state guidelines for river access, which include protection of natural resources, wildlife, and private-property rights, in addition to the provision of law enforcement. The plan is currently under review by the TPWD. For more info and photos, see www.nuecesriver.org and www.tconr.org. – D.M.
The General Land Office has acquired a unique piece of Civil War history with the purchase of the private letters of Confederate Army Pvt. Dudley Ward of the 2nd Texas Infantry. The 34 handwritten letters, costing $11,000 and paid for with private donations to the Save Texas History program, were authenticated by GLO archivists. They will be preserved and made publicly available through the Digital Preservation Project. Explaining the purchase, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said, "Whether or not you agree with the causes of the war, Ward put his life on the line for his family and for Texas, and his story should be shared with future generations of Texans." The letters have a special connection to the GLO: Ward was the son of Thomas William "Peg Leg" Ward, the third commissioner of the Texas General Land Office. Peg Leg was a hero of the Texas Revolution, losing his leg at the siege of Bexar. But he was also famously fired upon by Angelina Eberly and her cannon when he handed state records over to President Sam Houston's troops in the Archives War of 1842. – R.W.
A dim-witted duo in East Texas recently took the snack-food slogan "Get your own bag!" a giant step further. Last week, Longview police arrested and charged a man and a woman in connection with a daring daylight heist of a Lay's potato-chip truck. The vehicle was stolen in Lakeport while the driver was inside stocking a business, according to the Gregg Co. Sheriff's Department. It was later found abandoned and missing a noticeable number of chips. The two suspects, 20-year-old Jeremy Washington and 19-year-old Kiara Sattler, were caught greasy-handed with a car full of Lay's. According to police, the two had returned to the scene of the crime, where police were processing the truck for evidence, and an officer spied the missing loot. Washington was charged with theft under $500 and faces up to 180 days in jail, $2,000 in fines, and/or high cholesterol. – J.W.
U.S. House Democrats came a step closer to ending welfare for Big Oil Wednesday, passing the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008, which redirects nearly $18 billion in oil-industry tax breaks to incentives for new wind, solar, and geothermal energy sources, as well as extends clean-energy tax credits about to expire. The bill also incentivizes noncorn cellulosic ethanol, energy-efficiency assistance for homeowners, and fuel-cell initiatives. The White House has already issued a veto threat, and oil-junkie opponents claim the bill will increase gas prices, though most coherent energy experts believe more costly oil is inevitable. "Our effort this week represents yet another attempt to adopt a realistic energy policy," said Austin Rep. Lloyd Doggett in an e-mail. "This measure contains tax incentives for plug-in hybrids and renewable diesel that I've authored in the past as well as a new provision to encourage geothermal heat pump use. Additionally, I've been actively involved on behalf of solar and wind power tax credits. Ever since Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi came to Austin last fall, she has recognized our community's leadership in offering solutions that will create clean-and-green jobs." – D.M.
On Feb. 26, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved S. 1200, a bill amending the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and providing $35 billion in funding for health-care programs over the next 10 years – an action some believe is long overdue and others say is woefully inadequate. As reported by the Associated Press, Senate Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., called the bill a "first step" in addressing the crisis of higher Native American mortality rates, due to conditions like diabetes. Despite the Senate's enthusiasm for the bill of late, however, Congress has labored (some say languished) a decade on modernizing the act. In fact, activists objected when, just last month, revision of the 2007 draft was overshadowed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and economic stimulus package. The bill "has been negotiated ... wordsmithed and compromised. We want [the Senate] to move the bill," National Indian Health Board President Sally Smith said on Feb. 6. For all its administrative complexities, the bill also packs an astounding moral reckoning, centuries overdue, including a resolution that globally apologizes for historic oppression of Native Americans. The resolution – "a first step toward healing the wounds that have divided us for so long" – sponsored by Sens. Sam Brownback, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, and Daniel K. Inouye in 2004, is available at www.nativevillage.org/Messages%20from%20the%20People/resolution_of_apology_to_native_.htm. – Patricia J. Ruland
According to a report released Feb. 25 by the Public Policy Institute of California, "Immigrants are far less likely than the average U.S. native to commit crime in California. ... For example, among men ages 18-40 – the age group most likely to commit crime – the U.S.-born are 10 times more likely than the foreign-born to be in jail or prison." The institute says the findings of "Crime, Corrections, and California: What Does Immigration Have to Do With It?" "suggest that longstanding fears of immigration as a threat to public safety are unjustified." To read the full report, check out www.ppic.org/main/publication.asp?i=776. – C.S.