Political suicide

Ruh Roh

Austin has a long and tortured history with the perpetually-advertised transportation nirvana that is purported to be commuter/light rail.

Well, I have to admit enjoying a little grin reading in this morning’s Statesman that a cadre of officials from the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Administration in town to discuss granting waivers to operate commuter and freight trains on the same railroad with Capital Metro experienced a minor mishap.

The commuter railcar in which they were riding (at the blazing commuter speed of 5 mph) derailed briefly. Thankfully, no one was injured in the incident, save for maybe the reputation of Capital MetroRail (whose predictable motto is “All Systems Go”).

Thx to the Austinist and the Statesman

Officially incompetent

After the leaders of both houses of the Texas Legislature sent a very strongly-worded to the State Auditor in late February calling for review of TxDOT‘s “questionable accounting procedures,” including TxDOT’s projection of a $3.6 billion shortfall by 2015 without accounting for some $8 billion in already-approved road bonds, and its admission of $1 billion “error” in its budget forecasting, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission (the “Commission”)–charged with recommending every twelve years whether targeted state agencies should be done away with–unsurprisingly issued a stinging rebuke of TxDOT early last month:

Sunset staff found that this atmosphere of distrust permeated most of TxDOT’s actions and determined that it could not be an effective state transportation agency if trust and confidence were not restored …. Significant changes are needed to begin this restoration; tweaking the status quo is simply not enough.

In its report, the Commission called TxDOT “out of control” in pursuing its toll-road agenda. So disgusted with TxDOT was the Commission that it recommended abolishing altogether the five-member Texas Transportation Commission which oversees the agency and replacing it with a leaner executive structure composed only of the agency’s executive director and a single commissioner. The final major recommendation of the Commission was that TxDOT undergo sunset review again in just four years’ time, instead of the normal 12-year review cycle.

Thx to the Statesman


How bad does one’s political blunder have to be to not only force the end of a previously promising gubernatorial bid, but to impact a presidential race almost two decades later? Very, very bad indeed.

Many here in Texas have distant and dusty memories of the West Texas oilcatter and Aggie, Clayton Williams, who ran unsuccessfully for governor against Ann Richards in 1990. His campaign was going fairly well until he started lobbing rape and drinking “jokes” against his opponent who had publicly acknowledged struggles with alcohol.


Perhaps almost as unforgivable as his tasteless broadsides against Governor Richards, Claytie also made headlines when he refused to shake her hand before a debate in Dallas.

Well, John McCain‘s army of vetting wizards apparently failed to uncover these obscure political nuggets in Claytie’s past when they scheduled a fundraiser for Senator McCain at Claytie’s house in Midland. Senator Obama‘s team was quick to point out Claytie’s unsavory past, and McCain rescheduled the fundraiser, but decided to keep the $300,000 or so already raised with Claytie’s assistance.

Thx to the Politico’s Jonathan Martin and Texas on the Potomac


Few who read this blog may be old enough to remember Carole Keeton Strayhorn Rylander McClellan’s 1986 run for Congress, but I do.

Back in ’86, Carole “Keeton McClellan”–as she was then known–made enemies of her Democrat compatriots when she abruptly resigned from the State Board of Insurance with a full three years left on her term, and promptly switched parties so that she could run against the revered and longserving District 10 congressional representative, J.J. Jake Pickle. It wasn’t so much that people begrudged her ambition, but that she would so brazenly and inelegantly attempt to displace an LBJ-era icon in Central Texas politics who was literally beloved by his constituents.

In fact, so deserving of his constitutents’ affection was Congressman Pickle that I remember a tale told at his 2005 funeral that, throughout his years in Congress, he kept his home telephone number listed in the Austin phonebook so he was always—literally—just a phone call away from those who elected him.

Well, the Washington Times reports today that, ‘lo and behold, Mama Carole may have had something to do with her son’s recent partisan about-face with his former boss, 43.


Lil’ Scotty’s on the left.

Thx to the Washington Times and the Austin Chronicle


Ever get the feeling that the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) and TxDOT are flat-out lying to you about the supposed nirvana that will be a future Central Texas criss-crossed by toll roads?

Yeah, me too.

Well, here’s the proof. Austin American Statesman reporter Ben Wear cajoled a colleague to drive I-35 during rush hour while he cruised worry-free down the SH 130 toll road and then record who arrived at the toll road’s southern terminus first. According to Wear:

The tollways have been sold as a speedier alternative to the ravages of I-35 rush hour traffic. Toll road proponents have said that truckers, in particular, will flock to Texas 130 (and, eventually, Texas 45 Southeast) because time is money to them. Even with a $24 cash toll for truckers ($6 cash for passenger cars and pickups, $5.40 with a toll tag), the argument goes, it’s worth it to save the time.

So I decided to test that claim. I’d drive the tollway during rush hour and recruit a colleague to drive I-35 at the same time, then compare notes.

* * *

So last Monday morning, after synchronizing our watches on a frontage road just north of Texas 130’s departure from I-35, and agreeing that both of us would drive no faster than 70 mph in unrestricted traffic, we headed off, me to the tollway and Andrea on I-35. Who got to the intersection of FM 1327 and I-35 first?

* * *

Taking the toll road cost me nine minutes. And the toll I paid. But that’s not all it cost.

My total mileage: 54.8 miles, 11.5 miles more than the direct I-35 route. My Taurus tells me that I got 23.7 miles per gallon, so the extra mileage cost me a little less than a half-gallon of gas. That’s another $1.75 or so. I averaged 60.6 mph, Andrea 57.7 mph.

So, at rush hour, I paid almost $6 to get there 20 percent slower.

Fantastic. Small wonder the brain trust at TxDot was recently forced to admit a $1 billion “error” in its budget forecasting.

Thx to the Statesman’s Ben Wear

Queen Kim

The sky is the limit for first-term Austin City Councilwoman Jennifer Kim. When it comes to allocating the $260,000 a year with which her office is endowed (nominally to pay for the member’s salary and that of their staff), Councilwoman Kim has appropriated generously.

Oh, not on salaries mind you or other public expenses that wouldn’t raise the eyebrows of Austin’s taxpayers, but on questionable items such as:

$921 for a three-night stay at the W hotel in Manhattan
$700 for a membership to Continental Airlines’ ‘President’s Club’
$550 for a Sharper Image air purifier
$400 for 20 copies of Discover Your Strengths
$232 in Crane and Company brand stationary
$86 in Vera Wang barware
$67 for a Steam Wizard from The Sharper Image
$59 each for “Executive Rollerball” pens from The Sharper Image.

Using taxpayer dollars to buy designer barware, and a stay at a trendy Manhattan hotel? Has she been reading the Pedernales Co-op’s guide to fiscal responsibility?

When asked about these expenditures by a local reporter, Kim defended her acquisitional judgment by saying, “I spend what I need to out of my budget to be able to do the job. And in the beginning, it was a brand new office, a brand new staff, there were a lot of things that we needed.”

Like Vera Wang barware. Riiiiight.

I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt on the pens (my Mont Blanc makes those look reasonable), the stationary, the suit steamer, the travel club membership, etc., but–despite being an Aggie–she should know enough not to use public funds to buy any of these items from expensive vendors, if at all.

This is not the first example of Kim’s poor judgment however. In early 2007, she created a furor by indignantly attempting to bypass airport security at ABIA, claiming nonexistent VIP status. When informed her status as a member of the Austin City Council conferred her no special security rights, Kim said “I didn’t know it was a [Transportation Security Administration (TSA)] issue, … I thought since it was our airport and we own it, and if we are pre-cleared, we could get through.”

Uh, ask anyone who has flown since 9/11 if they are aware TSA runs airport security.

As reported elsewhere, Kim’s antics have made her hard to work with, running through at least three executive aides since she took office in 2005.

Her airport shenanigans have even given her electoral opponent a campaign slogan, “I’ll be happy to stand in line with you at the airport anytime.”

Thx to KVUE’s Political Junkie, the Austin Chronicle, News 8 Austin, and PinkDome


I know it is enormously unwise to re-open this can of worms, but here it goes.

The 2000 Presidential Election is back in the news with the announcement that HBO is planning the release of a film dramatizing the 2000 recount , and Vice President Gore‘s recent interview on 60 Minutes in which he reflected:

I strongly disagreed with the decision, but to ascribe low and petty partisan motivations to the five justices who were in the majority, it doesn’t feel right for me to do that.

Just last week while speaking at UVA Law School, Justice Scalia tersely responded to a student’s question, “[h]ow do you reconcile your calls for judicial restraint with the court’s actions in Bush v. Gore,” by chiding, [o]h, get over it … [d]o you really think we weren’t going to grant cert.?”

In light of all the recent and forthcoming brouhaha, I just wanted to quote the Court‘s actual holding in Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000), namely that:

Seven Justices of the Court agree that there are [equal protection] constitutional problems with the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court that demand a remedy …. The only disagreement is as to the remedy.

Id. at 111. Because the majority deferred to the Florida Supreme Court’s own holding that all electors had to be selected by December 12, 2000 (the date Bush v. Gore was handed down), the Court held no recount procedures that would not be violative of the Equal Protection Clause could be put in place in time to comply with Florida’s own laws. Id. at 110.

Therefore, I sill posit that the “low and petty partisan motivations” Vice President Gore ascribes to the majority must also be attributed to the Florida Supreme Court, to which the majority deferred. Moreover, there were actually seven Justices (one of whom was nominated by Mr. Gore’s own administration) who agreed the varying counting standards employed by the many counties in Florida did not secure the equal protection rights of voters in those counties.

Thx to 60 Minutes, Newsbusters, Shenanigans, and Above the Law

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