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April 15, 2005

Vote No On the Smoking Ban

By Andrew Dobbs

This is under Burnt Orange Endorsements not because it is the sentiment of this blog as a whole, but of one of its contributors- your's truly. In the name of full disclosure, I'll come out with it- I am a smoker. It is a nasty, regrettable habit, but it is a choice that I made. Interestingly enough, I really didn't smoke much before college, but now I am a confirmed addict. Yet before that time, I still thought that smoking bans were a bad idea, and this one in particular is idiotic beyond all understanding.

To begin, let's get one thing straight. Smoking is already banned across most of Austin. You can't smoke in any public building, only 7 of the several hundred restaurants allow smoking (and I only know where one of them is- the Baby Acapulco's down the street from my apartment), and 2/3 of the bars in Austin are non-smoking. This ordinance will ban smoking in the minority of bars that still allow smoking, everywhere else is already smoke free.

Having noted this, one of my pet peeves is that every supporter of this referendum throws one line into their speech- "this is a public health issue." But the more you think about it, the less sense that the statement makes. If city government is going to lay down the law in regards to bars in the name of promoting public health, the only sensible thing to do would be to close them all down. Nobody goes to a bar to be healthy- you go there to drink, smoke, fuck and fight. All of those things are bad for you (not to mention listening to very loud music, which can damage your hearing). So either shut down the bars, or leave them alone.

But no. Sanctimonious anti-smokers have to legislate behavior for the rest of us. They talk about how bad smoking is for you, how bad second hand smoke is. What they never seem to mention is who has ever had a gun to their head forcing them to go to Sixth Street. They have also never talked about who in particular is ignorant of the fact that most (though not all) of the bars there allow smoking. In the end, if one wishes to avoid smoke, it is as easy as going to one of the 400 bars in Austin that are completely smoke free as opposed to Maggie Mae's, Bigsby's, the Ritz or Room 710. The sad fact for the anti-smoking crowd is that the vast majority of bar business goes to smoking venues, because the vast majority of people who like to get drunk and find some unsavory type to go home with also like to smoke during the process. Realizing that the whole letting adults make their own decisions thing hasn't worked out in their favor, they have decided that they will make the decision for them.

Perhaps this is a public health issue, but nothing is ever just one type of issue. It is a business issue, it is a rights issue and it is a cultural issue. Businesses will be hurt by the ban. Period. Sure, Hard Rock Cafe will do fine and I'm sure Spiros will still rake in a bunch of 18 year olds, but the smaller bars that are the heart and soul of Austin's live music scene will die. Many of these bars are not profitable, or barely eke out an existence. They are simply the passions of individual owners, few of them rich, who want to be in the bar business. They cater to crowds that tend to smoke- rednecks, punk rockers, hippies, trendsters and metalheads. Take away smoking and these people will go to San Marcos, Round Rock, go to private parties or just stay home, and businesses will close their doors- period.

This may not seem like a big deal, until you realize what kind of town Austin really is. Austin is my home. I love this place. I grew up in a cookie-cutter suburban hell-hole north of Dallas and got out of there as fast as I could. Austin is unique not only in Texas, but really across the South. A liberal town with good race relations (a majority White town, it still manages to elect a Black sheriff, city councilmember and judge, as well as a Latino city council member, State Senator and County Attorney), it has three distinct communities that make it what it is. The first are the academics at the University. The second are state employees. The third are artists. As Austin becomes more than just a government and college town with the tech boom and explosive growth, it is largely the artistic community that "keeps Austin weird." They are drawn here from all over the country because they know they can make a life out of their art here, a life they can make because there are a million opportunities for up-and-coming artists to get gigs, build a fanbase and attract real attention. The math is simple- fewer clubs means fewer gigs, fewer gigs mean fewer opportunities, fewer opportunities mean fewer artists, fewer artists mean Austin is just another Dallas or Houston with a better landscaping job. Smaller audiences (because the fans of marginal music trends will stop going out) also mean less of a chance to build a fan base, and the cycle is repeated. Austin will be fundamentally changed if this ordinance passes.

But finally, this is an issue about business. Austin wants to have a strong business environment because it means more jobs, more revenue, better services and a more livable city. When businesses have an unstable and patently untrustworthy regulatory environment, it discourages investment. Why would you want to risk a lot of money in a place where tomorrow the government could make an unforeseen regulation that will kill your business? Bars and clubs are one of the biggest industries in Austin- this is a service industry kind of town. Houston wouldn't want to constantly jerk the chain of the oil industry, Dallas wouldn't want to slap around the financiers, Pittsburgh wouldn't keep the steel guys guessing all the time, Detroit wouldn't screw with the auto makers' heads. But now Austin wants to move the goalposts yet again after the ink on the compromise ordinance hasn't even dried. It is a shocking display of bad faith on the part of the anti-smoking people, who shook hands on the compromise just before turning around and undermining it. Why anyone would want to do business with a bunch of dishonest con artists is beyond me. Austin is kicking around its bread and butter, and the city will regret it if this ordinance passes.

Austin will become a much less cool place to live if this passes. The gentrification of downtown will be sped along, the death of our live music scene will commence, the artistic community will fall apart, our economy will suffer and one of the things that make this the best damn city in the world- our bar and club scene- will be fundamentally changed. The people behind this effort are dishonest, uninformed, contemptuous fuddy-duddies more interested in legislating my morality than they are checking their own hypocrisy at the door. Please, if you don't vote on anything else in the city elections (Election Day is May 7, early voting starts next week on April 20), vote NO on the smoking ban.

March 22, 2005

Vote for KISS Alec

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

For all of you UT Austin students, I have a rather ridiculous poll for you to vote in. The Engineering Dept. is having a contest in which you can vote for the best "Alec" representation (their mascot). I endorse a vote for the KISS Themed Alec which is currently in 2nd place (about 20 votes behind the first place spot).

So go vote for KISS Themed Alec now (bottom right).

Vote total as of posting was 96-74 (wooden guy v. KISS)
5 minutes later vote total was 96-80.
15 minutes later 99-88
20 minutes 100-92

6:15 Update- KISS candidate now leads with 187-127 votes, garnering 22% of the total 817 votes cast so far in a field of 12 candidates.

(also realize that I'm a college of liberal arts guy, and the engineers are a bit obsessive over their precious alec, and I think the KISS representation is the most 'liberal' artist representation so that's why I'm for it.)

February 28, 2005

SG Endorsements

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

Saturday saw me in the Daily Texan basement for 16 long hours, interviewing candidates for Tuesday and Wednesday's Student Elections. Today I slept, wrote commentary for each and every race, and served on the KVR Presidential Debate Panel (which will be on Monday and Tuesday nights, I'll post specifics tomorrow). Actual voting is Tuesday and Wednesday online here.

I believe that this Panel was one of the most intensive, in-depth, and comprehensive reviews by a group of people for whom each and every member I will champion. I personally look forward to the others' conclusions, few of which I know or can even gauge, (this panel was of that high of quality). And I hope that candidates would have realized the importance of returning their questionaire or showing up for their interview for the Panel. In some races, I think that single factor could determine whether they win or lost due to the Texan endorsements (since Ben Heath the editor was also of course, on the Panel)

There is no election for Pharmacy Rep. as Connect's candidate has dropped out, bringing Ignite's automatic representation in the next Assembly to 2.

Following is my personal Endorsement List following ballot order, with commentary on each race in the Extended Remarks in the same order. Overall, my endorsements split about 60%/40% Ignite over Connect. If you seen me wearing an Ignite T-Shirt in the next few days it is due to this split and the vote in the Pres and VP races. I still plan to vote this ballot as published here.

Websites: Ignite and Connect

IGNITE- Jessica Rice

IGNITE- Colby Hanks

*Two Year At-Large*
IGNITE- Anjali Fleury
CONNECT- Michael Windle
CONNECT- Steven Hardt
IGNITE- Devin Fletcher

*One Year At-Large*
IGNITE- Danielle Rugoff
CONNECT- Jessica Fertitta
IGNITE- Tiffany Jan
CONNECT- Kunal Das

IGNITE- Lane Sealy

CONNECT- Grant Stanis
CONNECT- Maria Rivera
IGNITE- Paul Albrecht

IGNITE- Amanda Johnson
IGNITE- Amy Salek

CONNECT- Rebecca Frankel

CONNECT- Mario Sanchez
IGNITE- Chris Wayman
IGNITE- Jessica Bradley

*Fine Arts*
IGNITE- Henry Baker

IGNITE- Mike Schofield
CONNECT- Marina Del Sol
IGNITE- Alex Pekker
IGNITE- Charlotte Allmon
CONNECT- Chris Seaberg

IGNITE- Chris Lee


*Liberal Arts*
INGITE- Clint Adcox
IGNITE- Nawal Abdeladim
CONNECT- Meg Clifford
IGNITE- Katie Naranjo

*Natural Sciences*
CONNECT- Toyin Falola
IGNITE- Kim Skrobarcek
CONNECT- Nicole Trinh
CONNECT- Eric Longoria

CONNECT- Nicole Capriles

*Social Work*
IGNITE- Jan Carroll

*Union Board*
IGNITE- Wes Carpenter
IGNITE- Fallon McLane

*Student Events Center President*
Julio "JV" Vela

President- Students are fortunate that in the unlikely event of a ticket sweep this year, either President will be able to fully serve their interests. From particular student initiatives to larger legislative or university concerns, neither candidate is lacking in their ability to pursue solutions to which students will be amiable.

That said, Ignite’s Jessica Rice represents the first half of a vision which her running-mate fulfills-- truly connecting students at large to the representative governing body which does affect their lives by making it more open, accessible, and responsible to student concerns. Rice’s desire to have the Assembly respond to student led concerns instead of tabling them is refreshing. Her non-standard entrance into this race driven by the concerns of students around her, instead of the traditional methodically planned advancement many presidents have followed, is also refreshing.

Having worked on the executive committee of SG handling the appropriations process to student groups, Rice knows first hand the diverse range of activism, seen and unseen by the rest of this 50,000 member community, that many times is forgotten about or not known by the Assembly. As Rice has said, it is time to see “an element of service and humility restored to Student Government.”

Vice President- Vice Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Brummett has a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge of Student Government. In fact, many candidates who have run in this and past elections have a lot of experience and knowledge of Student Government. But even so, it seems the same issues and complaints return year after year and little changes in the perception of SG by students at large. While reformers have tried to gain a voice, they often are shut out of the Assembly, most recently by landslide elections.

The opportunity to begin to break this perpetual recycling is now. The opportunity for bridge the gap between insider knowledge and outsider dissatisfaction lies with Ignite’s Colby Hanks, who brings to the second highest elected level of student representation, the voice of over 70% of this campus that will find out in next year’s election why they should have voted in this one. She is right in saying that when “one has been with something a long time, they can become insulated by it.”

The Vice President has the chance to set the tone of the Assembly room as the chair of SG meetings. It is time to shift the tone for the benefit of student engagement at large in SG.

Two-Year at Large- Michael Windle of Connect stands out among those running for this position. His work on issues in this assembly, including that done without recognition, should give us confidence in his commitment to fulfill the workload demanded by the office for which he is running.

Steven Hardt is one of the “big thinkers” which any assembly needs. His personal drive to investigate the restructuring of the entire upper/lower division class structure at UT is certainly a worthwhile multi-year project which would befit both Steven, and the office for which he is running.

Anjali Fleury of Ignite could fulfill the activist progressive voice which should be present in any assembly considering the make-up of the UT campus. This role is best served at the at-large level than lower on the ballot where a self ascribed social activist may have a harder time representing a narrower slice of students.

Deven Fletcher of Ignite rounds out the two-year at large endorsements by being someone interesting in serving as an advocate of underrepresented populations, including those beyond his own. In an Assembly always short in the representation of the African-American voice on campus, Fletcher would be a powerful addition. At an at large level, students should have full confidence in Fletcher’s statement that he will “continue to do what I need to continue to empower my people.”

One-Year at Large- As one of the strongest candidates on last year’s failed RepreZent campaign, Danielle Rugoff, now of Ignite, would be one of any Assembly’s more active participants. Having worked for the past year in SG’s Agency and Director’s community, Rugoff would help to bridge the gap of understanding and respect that sometimes exists between that group, the representatives, and executive committee.

Connect’s Kumal Das brings the issue of funding application standardization for student groups to the table. As a business major and someone who currently runs his own company, Das would be well served to kick start discussion about an issue that would reduce stress and confusion among student group leaders and allow groups to spend more time on events than red tape.

Tiffany Jan of Ignite would initiate discussion as to the lack of a coordinated council for Asian student groups (as well as other categories) similar to the Latino Leadership Council which has served to unite and empower that community. In addition, her proposal to improve Fine Arts practice rooms, extension of room hours, and the tuning of pianos would bring issues to the Assembly not being brought by actual Fine Arts candidates.

Connect’s Jessica Fertitta, as the incoming head of the University Pan-Hellenic Council, would best serve the interests of the Greek community, from the timing of Rush to complaints of SG interference with West Campus life. In an election that could see fewer than average wins by Greek students at lower levels on the ballot, Fertitta as an at large member would balance this absence. Though Jessica Hart of Connect will serve as a solid representative if elected, she receives no specific endorsement due to what seems to be a dependence on past work and a lack of a particular new or defining issue or quality that separates her from these four endorsed candidates.

Architecture- In a race marked by similar candidates with similar concerns and similar platforms, it is difficult to choose the best candidate for Architecture Rep. Though the current Architecture Rep is supporting Ignite, it is Lane Sealy’s academic involvement and honors (compared to spirit involvement) that give her the edge she needs to garner this endorsement in this race.

Business- Though often one of the most controversial members of the Assembly and certainly one of the few active conservative voices, Grant Stanis of Connect has served the interests of Business students in the assembly and deserves re-election to the seat he currently holds.

Paul Albrecht of Ignite brings connections from both outside and business organization at UT and his logical take on issue and good relationship with Stannis would be a major asset to productive work in the Assembly on business issues.

While students would be well served by Ignite’s Ruth Yen, Connect’s Maria Rivera receives the third endorsement due to her personal work on initiating a comprehensive updating and unification of campus resources into a more accessible Resource Guide, which with SG attention, would be widely beneficial to all students.

Communication- While all the candidates understand the major issues facing the College of Communications, Ignite’s Amy Salek and Amanda Johnson have a major edge in one important area, the search for the next Dean. Salek, serving on the Dean search committee brings an unparalleled edge to the understanding and connections needed to make sure her college will be in good hands for years to come. In addition, Johnson appears to have a better understanding of this particular subject as well as others in comparison to her opponents.

Education- Though both candidates are fairly similar and would do a good job, Connect’s Rebecca Frankel appears to have more specifics on her agenda for representing the College of Education, from free student printing to nightly parking passes to more study lounge space.

Engineering- The first of the three votes that should be cast in this race must go to Chris Wayman of Ignite, current President of the Engineering College Council who is the stand out best candidate for this college. Jessica Bradley of Ignite is involved in her college community organizations and would bring a fresh and needed perspective as a woman in engineering. Mario Sanchez of Connect is aware of the issues in his college and was the lone voice among candidates for any position in speaking out against the Ticket System of elections, a voice that should not be silenced.

Fine Arts- Henry Baker of Ignite is endorsed less because of his own qualities but of his opponent being out of step. Connect’s Bryan Kettlewell, also involved in the medical community, focused on issues outside the realm of the fine arts school, from Top 10% to Affirmative Action (which for the most part he is against).

Graduate- Sadly, it appears next year’s assembly will lack the intensity, dedication, and representation that Paul Navratil, Laura Gladney-Lemon, and Yamissette Westerband have given in the last few years. It is hard to endorse in this race considering only 1 in 10 candidates was interviewed by the panel and less than half even returned their questionnaire. Only five even have active profiles on the campaign’s websites.

That being said, two of the “more qualified” candidates are Ignite’s Alex Pekker and Charlotte Allmon, both of whom are involved in their school councils. As a member of GLBT grad, Pekker may be most likely to continue in current Grad Rep Westerband’s footsteps in advocating issues concerning that particular community on campus. Connect’s Mariana Del Sol and Chris Seaberg receive an endorsement due to at least some level of interest or commitment visible by returning their questionnaires.

Ignite’s Mike Scholfield’s membership in the Malt Beverage Appreciation Society will give representation to the often ignored legal consumption of alcohol segment of the student population and his claim to make all of our “wildest dreams come true” should not be dismissed as pure campaign propaganda!

Law- In a race not marked by any standout qualities or candidates, Chris Lee of Ignite garners this endorsement. His service to communities outside of the University and representation of the Korean community in and outside of law would be beneficial to the assembly.

LBJ- Often viewed as an independent college on the East edge of campus, it is only fitting that the single Independent candidate in all student elections receives this endorsement, J. Waite. He says it best in that he may not be “old and wise, but brings more perspectives than the average student” to the assembly.

Liberal Arts- Ignite’s Katie Naranjo brings an impressive level of involvement and knowledge for having been at UT only one semester. In addition, her connections to the state legislature and internships past and current would give SG yet another avenue of access to outside bodies it deals with. Clint Adcox, also of Ignite, brings his connection to the Liberal Arts Council which would be a plus in the ongoing concerns between that body and SG.

Nawal Abdeladim of Ignite would like to see more four year planning for Liberal Arts in advising, in idea that should be explored considering the enormous size of the college. Such planning could help decrease the years spent by Liberal Arts majors as UT as well as the rate of major changing.

Connect’s C.J. Ginn personal idea to push for non-dorm residents to buy into the Dine-In dollar meal plans is one that should be represented in the Assembly. Meg Clifford of Connect speaks well for her ticket’s plank for more Liberal Arts student space on campus. Though this issue may not be the most important to Liberal Arts students, her energy to seek out a solution would benefit SG.

Natural Sciences- Toyin Falola and Eric Longoria of Connect define the issues for their college and provided the most detailed concerns and plans for Natural Sciences making them Representative quality. Kim Skrobarcek of Ignite would bring a needed grassroots oriented style and aggressive role to SG by pushing SG to be more active in its resolutions while standing up communities outside of her own, such as GLBT students. Nicole Trinh, though not the same quality candidate as Falola or Longria, would work well with their plan of action. Her endorsement is due in part though, simply to the lack of interest or information available about the remainder of her opponents.

Nursing- In this race Connect's Nicole Capriles presents a much stronger background of involvement and is on top of her college's issues. Little else needs to be said.

Social Work- With a tradition of activist representatives in past assemblies, Social Work would be best served in electing Jan Carroll of Ignite. She will most certainly be an outspoken advocate of her college as well as the often underrepresented GLBT community on campus.

Union Board- Wes Carpenter and Fallon McLane of the Ignite ticket deserve your vote. Each has more experience with the Union and SEC than either of the other candidates, who lack a certain level of competence and understanding of the job.

SEC President- In various endorsements running up to this election, three different candidates have gained this writer’s vote at various points. Today, that endorsement readily goes to Julio “JV” Vela due to his grander vision punctuated by specific answers and ideas for the SEC.

September 04, 2004

AISD Endorsements

By Byron LaMasters

I just wanted to follow up my post a few days ago on the AISD bond propositions with an official BOR Endorsement (I spoke with Andrew and Karl-Thomas on this - Jim is in Galveston / Houston, so I'm sure he'll forgive me for not consulting him).

The election is September 11th, and the early vote times and locations are here:

Prop 1: Yes
Prop 2: Yes
Prop 3: Yes
Prop 4: Yes
Prop 5: Yes
Prop 6: Yes

Comments: Money for schools is good. Read the proposals (PDF file) to see exactly what the money will be used for. Some groups have opposed Props 1 and 5 because they would build schools on the Edwards aquifer. I'm sympathetic to environmental concerns, but I don't believe that not building schools will prevent sprawl. Not building schools will only make our current schools overcrowded in several years, and in all likelihood, apartment complexes will go up where the schools have first dibs.

Austin Chronicle:
Prop 1: Yes
Prop 2: Yes
Prop 3: Yes
Prop 4: Yes
Prop 5: No
Prop 6: Yes

Capital Area Progressive Democrats:
Prop 1: Yes
Prop 2: Yes
Prop 3: Yes
Prop 4: Yes
Prop 5: Yes
Prop 6: Yes

South Austin Democrats:
Prop 1: No
Prop 2: Yes
Prop 3: Yes
Prop 4: Yes
Prop 5: No
Prop 6: Yes

Travis County Democratic Women's Committee:
Prop 1: Yes
Prop 2: Yes
Prop 3: Yes
Prop 4: Yes
Prop 5: Yes
Prop 6: Yes

Roman Candles (Sarah):
Prop 1: Yes
Prop 2: Yes
Prop 3: Yes
Prop 4: Yes
Prop 5: No
Prop 6: Yes

I'll urge the University Democrats to endorse all six props at their meeting on Wednesday.

May 16, 2004

Veronica Rivera for ACC Place 6

By Byron LaMasters

She's in the run-off against YCT officer Marc Levin.

'Nuff said.

March 02, 2004

Karl-T Campus Wide Elections Endorsements

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

It's Election Day Number 1 here on campus so today and tomorrow, get out and vote at this website.

Daily Texan Editor: Ben Heath

No if, ands, or buts about it. There is no other choice here and I have written about this a couple of days ago.

President: Brent Perdue of Books Not Bombs Ticket

This was a late decision for me. I was not excited about voting for RepreZent's Republican Patrick George or Focus's Institutional "I've been planning this since August" Stalwart Brent Chaney. So vote for the most credible "third party" and see if we can force this race into a run-off.

Vice President: None of the Above

I can't bring myself to vote for RepreZent's former YCT member or Focus's more ditzy choice. So I'm voting for None of the Above. I wonder what they would do if that won.

2 Year at Large, One Year Remaining: Andrew Dobbs of RepreZent

Because BOR needs to be represented on SG. And because his opponent's picture just scares me. Uh oh, don't sue me now because I linked to a public domain picture and you are a woman and want to run to the bathroom and cry now! (Daily Texan Readers on campus may appreciate this humor.)

2 Year at Large: RepreZent's Zach Neumann, Danielle Rugoff, and Verick Cornett as well as Focus's Matt Ross

The Best Diversity, the Least Frats.

1 Year at Large: RepreZent's Coco Benitez, Ben Durham, Summer Nance and Focus's Chris MacLeod.

Communications: RepreZent's John Bazan

Liberal Arts: RepreZent's Taylor Brown, Brandon Chicotsky, Robert Henderson, Vicki Knox, Kyle Larson, and Ali Puente

Natural Science: RepreZent's Nathan Sires

University Co-op Board: Rich Frazier and Michael O'Hanlon

I know these are both Business majors, but I want to elevate either of them over the other Business choices.

February 29, 2004

Endorsements...by Karl-T.

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

After some thought and much hand wringing, I have come to a decision on a number of endorsements on everything from national on down to campus politics.

President: I have been since the beginning, a Howard Dean supporter. Since he is out of the race, I have had some thinking to do. He will remain on the ballot here in Texas and is still trying to gain delegates but I know that my Senate District out in the Hill Country is probably not going to meet the 15% marker. Maybe it will here in Austin, but not likely out there. So I have reached the following conclusion.

I will now endorse John Edwards for President. But, if Dean supporters in Austin want to try to get those delegates, by all mean, vote for Dean. Back home, I will vote for Dean barring Edwards needing my help statewide on March 9 if he is still around. I will try to caucus for Dean but will go with Edwards if I need to in order to make it through the convention process. I know that doesn't seem like much of an endorsement, but if I'm going to give money or time to anyone, it's going to be Edwards because he represents to me at least a fresh positive face in politics, wheras I do not see Kerry doing much new for the party other than using it.

U.S. Congress: I endorse Lloyd Doggett for the new district he is running in that goes to Mexico. While I didn't get to enjoy him for but a year (and will soon be represented by Lamar Smith, the same one I had back in the Hill Country, even though 'back home' has been put in the Midland-Odessa District). He's the best chance for Austin to retain some chance of a congressman because it ain't happening in the other two seats and I believe it is more important to keep Austin values represented in some fashion than be forced to go with a Hispanic candidate just because that's how the seat was Perrymandered.

County Commissioner Precinct One: Celia Israel is my choice. I cannot speak for the precinct as a whole, but those here on the University Campus would be best served by Celia who represents new leadership for Austin. Her primary opponent, Ron Davis, did not spend near the time she has in talking to students and came across as very defensive in his speeches, even when no one was attacking him. In addition, I think it would be a shame for Austin to have no openly gay officials with the departure of the sheriff so Celia gets my vote.

I defer to the University Democrats endorsements (listed to the right) on the rest of the local races. I voted for all of them at our meeting and believe that they are the best candidates for each of their races.

Student Government:
I will post these on Election Day.

October 31, 2003

Bill White, Annise Parker and Rail for Houston

By Byron LaMasters

Both Charles Kuffner and Greg Wythe have good endorsements for any Democrats in Houston. I haven't followed the any of the races in depth, but check out their endorsements for the best progressive / moderate / Democratic candidates for each race. As an outsider, I care most about White, Parker and rail. My short, simplified take on the races are as follows: As for White, he's a moderate consensus builder and good Democrat. I'd never vote for Orlando Sanchez - he's a conservative Republican pushed by the right-wing wanting a Hispanic poster child. As for Sylvester Turner, he's a decent legislator, but he sold out to the Craddick leadership team during session and refused to go to Ardmore, OK. Unacceptable. I'd support him in a run-off against Sanchez, but White is a far better choice. As for Parker, she's extremely well qualified, a good Democrat and openly lesbian. I won't vote for gay candidates because they're gay, but when they're also the best qualified candidate and a good Democrat, then it's an easy choice. As for rail, it's worked for Dallas, and unless Houston wants to remain inferior to Dallas forever (sorry, I'm from Dallas - I can't resist), then they ought to get started on rail of their own (yeah, I know Owen will give me shit for it - remember, I said simplified).

August 30, 2003

Burnt Orange Report Endorsements: Props. 13 & 17

By Jim Dallas

Proposition 13 - No endorsement either way. Vote your conscience -- if you have one.

Proposition 17 - We endorse a "No" vote.

The Houston Chronicle has asked its readers to vote against both propositions, which relate to property tax freezes for seniors and disabled people. The Dallas Morning News suggests a "no" vote on 13 and a "yes" vote on 17. The Austin Chronicle suggests a "yes" on 13 and a "no" on 17.

There are good reasons to be concerned with property taxes, particularly for traditionally disadvantaged groups like senior citizens and those living with disabilities. Coming to a decision on these two ballot items was not easy, particularly given the fact that they were widely supported in the legislature.
HJR 21, the legislation proposing Prop. 17, was passed unanimously out of both House and Senate committees; and unanimously on the floors of both the House and Senate.

However, this is a very bad time for both state and local governments. Although supporters of Proposition 17 argue that the approximately $3 million in revenue tha local school districts would lose in 2004 could be made up from the Foundation School Fund (and, after all, $3 million works out to something like a dollar per student), the effect of the freeze will likely grow rapidly over time as taxes go up and as as more and more people register as disabled.

Moreover, the benefit to each person isn't likely to be all that substantial; the wording of the state Constitution (see Art. 8, §1-b(b))ties eligibility for the tax freeze under Prop. 17 to eligibility for federal disability insurance. According to the Social Security Administration, 257,000 Texans received disability payments in 2000; $3 million dollars spread over 257,000 Texans works out to $11.68 per disabled taxpayer, or just about enough to treat an average family of 4 to a McDonald's dinner on Christmas. And while the costs to education will grow and grow and grow as more people become disabled (and get their 4 Big Macs per year), the benefits won't - unless, of course tax rates continue to rise and rise past 2005.

But property taxes shouldn't rise any more in this state! Proposition 17 handily ignores the bigger problem of school finance by giving a small, band-aid-like break to a small group of people; and compounds that huge problem by taking even more money out of public education (and every dollar counts these days). While it's nice to see our state government trying to do something for disabled people, the logic behind this proposed amendment will end up disabling an entire generation of Texans by ignoring their pressing educational needs.

We suggest as an alternative that the state focus more on providing health services for all Texans (especially the disabled) instead of tossing out open-ended tax subsidies.

And doing something once and for all with our unwieldy school finance system.

Proposition 13 would allow city and county governments (as well as junior college districts) to freeze their local property tax rates for seniors and the disabled. While it also could lead to revenue shortfalls for local governments, the idea of letting localities make case-by-case decisions based on their local needs is better than the blanket, one-size-fits-all rule offered by Proposition 17. You know, power to the people and all that stuff.

Again, here are the BOR endorsements so far: YES on 10, 11 and 15; NO on 3, 8, 12, 17, 18 and 22; and WHATEVER on 13.

August 29, 2003

BOR Endorsement: YES on 15

By Byron LaMasters

Prop 15 reads:

The constitutional amendment providing that certain benefits under certain local public retirement systems may not be reduced or impaired.

Basically Prop 15 would prevent local governments from reducing retirement benefits promised to public servants such as firefighters and police officers. Retired public workers have worked hard for their retirement benefits and ought to be able to enjoy the benefits of retirement without having to worry about local governments cutting their benefits. A YES Vote on Prop 15 will help ensure that. We endorse a YES vote on Prop 15.

Again, here are the BOR endorsements so far: YES on 10, 11 and 15, NO on 3, 8, 12, 18 and 22.

August 28, 2003

Another Endorsement: YES on Prop 10

By Byron LaMasters

Prop 10 reads:

The constitutional amendment authorizing municipalities to donate surplus firefighting equipment or supplies for the benefit of rural volunteer fire departments.

Makes perfect sense to me. Larger population centers have a larger tax base and have a greater risk of high casualty and high economic loss fires. Thus, they'll have more up to date equipment. When they buy new equipment, rural and volunteer fire departments can surely use their old equipment. This amendment makes it easier for urban/suburban departments to get rid of unneeded and outdated equiptment as well as helping out rural / volunteer fire departments attain valueable resources. We endorse a YES Vote on Prop 10.

Again, here are the BOR endorsements so far: YES on 10 and 11, NO on 3, 8, 12, 18 and 22.

More Endorsements: NO on Props 8, 18 and 22

By Byron LaMasters

As promised, here are some more endorsements regarding the upcoming constitutional election on September 13th. Early voting started today. For a list of Early voting locations in Travis County, go here (PDF file). For early voting locations in Dallas, go here.

Prop 8 will read:

The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to permit a person to take office without an election if the person is the only candidate to qualify in an election for that office.

I don't like the idea of cancelling elections in any circumstance, even if it's uncontested. What about write-in candidates? Some argue that this would save money. If Republican majority were really interested in saving money with elections, they would have held this constitutional election on the first Tuesday in November when Houston is having their mayoral election. That would have saved all of the voting locations in Houston from having to pay for an extra election. But I can only conclude that Texas Republicans want to discourage voting. That's why they're holding this election in September when most people aren't thinking about voting, and that's why we have Prop 8. We endorse a NO Vote on Prop 8.

I oppose Prop 18 for the same reasons. It reads:

The constitutional amendment authorizing the Legislature to permit a person to assume an office of a political subdivision without an election if the person is the only candidate to qualify for an election for that office

We endorse a NO Vote on Prop 18.

And here is Prop 22:

When a public official enters active military duty, they must leave the office they hold. Proposition 22 would allow officials to retain their offices while in the military and allows the appointment of temporary replacements.

It seems nice and all. But who gets to appoint a temporary replacement? I might support an amendment that would allow the public official on active military duty to choose a temprorary replacement for him/herself. But the amendment fails to make that indication. I wouldn't want a Democrat on active military duty to be "temporarily replaced" by someone appointed by Gov. Perry (for example). So, while I think this prop has good intentions, I believe that it's flawed. If a public official is unable to serve for any reason, they ought to resign (I'm sure I'll get someone trying to draw a parallel to the Texas 11, here. My state senator Gonzalo Barrientos is serving the majority of his constituents just fine). Again, we endorse a NO Vote on Prop 22.

Anyway, here are the BOR endorsements so far: YES on 11, NO on 3, 8, 12, 18 and 22.

August 13, 2003

BOR Endorsements: No on Prop 3, Yes on 11

By Byron LaMasters

As promised, we're making more endorsements in the upcoming September 13 election. Earlier, we endorsed a NO vote on Prop 12. My father, a doctor, strongly supports this prop, and I, once again offer to post his position on here unedited if he wishes. However, my position goes unchanged. I oppose Prop 12 for the reasons outined in my earlier post.

No on 3: Prop 3 would "authorize the legislature to exempt from taxation land owned by a religious organization that is leased for use as a school...". This is a terrible precedent to start. It basically encourages vouchers and helps to tear down the legal wall of seperation of church and state. We oppose this proposition. Here's the Houston Chronicle Endorsement Against Prop 3. They detail most of our arguement against Prop 3, and we support their position, so read this!

Texas law exempts religious organizations from ad valorem taxation on their place of worship and allows an exemption of up to three years during which a new house of worship or an expansion is under construction. The law further requires no property tax to be paid on land used by a religious group (or anyone else) for the operation of a school.

Proposition 3, which voters will encounter on the Sept. 13 ballot, would amend the Texas Constitution to expand those exemptions to include undeveloped land owned by religious groups for future use as schools or worship facilities. The proposed amendment also would exempt such property from ad valorem taxation if a church leases the land to someone else for school use.

The Chronicle recommends voters reject this overly broad, unfair proposal to grant new and unneeded tax exemptions.

It would be wrong for the government to tax churches, temples, mosques and other centers of worship, and the state has an interest in encouraging education through tax exemptions on schools, including those run by religious societies. But to create new tax loopholes for religious organizations that might some day use a piece of land as a worship center or school would only remove land from tax rolls and shift an even greater burden onto other local property taxpayers.

Both contiguous and noncontiguous land could qualify for the tax exemption.

This proposed amendment suggests Texas legislators have not been listening to their constituents' pleas for relief from skyrocketing property tax bills, especially taxes that fund public education. The more raw land exempted from taxation, the higher the tax bills will be for homeowners and businesses.

More disconcerting still is the amendment's proposed tax exception for land that religious groups would lease to others for use as a school. This would create an unfair distinction in the law between religious affiliations and other people or organizations that lease property for operating schools.

Churches should not be able to buy land, exempt it from taxes and then rent it out for nonreligious purposes. Why should they enjoy this advantage over other landowners who might want to lease property for a school?

According to the proposition's underlying legislation, HB 1278, a religious group would be required to build a worship building or school or lease the land for use as a school within a certain number of years to avoid having to pay back taxes and penalties for misusing the exemption. Although these sanctions would provide taxpayers some protection against abuse, they could be too easily gotten around by a provision in the statute allowing a religious organization to avoid penalties by conveying the land to some other religious group eligible for the tax exemption.

Texas tax law currently provides for tax exemptions based on how a parcel of land is used. If this amendment passes, it would create a category of exemptions based on who owns the land. Defeating Proposition 3 would prevent this unsound proposal to differentiate classes of taxpayers based on religion.

Proposition 3 will appear on the ballot as, "The constitutional amendment to authorize the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation property owned by a religious organization that is leased for use as a school or that is owned with the intent of expanding or constructing a religious facility." It only sounds innocuous. It should be defeated.

The proposition will appear on the ballot as follows: "The constitutional amendment to authorize the legislature to exempt from ad valorem taxation property owned by a religious organization that is leased for use as a school or that is owned with the intent of expanding or constructing a religious facility."

We're not against everything, though.

We support Prop 11. We support Texas wineries, and we support efforts to help our economy, so again, we support the Houston Chronicle position on Prop 11:

Production of Texas wine is increasingly important to the state's agricultural base. Texans are not only growing first-class grapes, they are producing wines at local wineries that gain in attention and appreciation year after year for their quality and taste.

Proposition 11 would facilitate wine production in our state by allowing the Legislature to authorize wineries to make, sell and dispense wine in any area of the state, even in dry counties. Under the amendment, dry areas would still keep local control of other alcoholic beverage sales.

Proposition 11 appears on the Sept. 13 ballot as follows: "A constitutional amendment to allow the Legislature to enact law authorizing and governing the operation of wineries in this state."

The quality of Texas wine has improved greatly over the past 20 years or so and there is reason to hope that wine production could someday become as important to our state's economy as it is to California's. At a time when Texas must press its economic advantages, passage of Proposition 11 on the Sept. 13 statewide ballot will help it along.

And no, we don't agree with the Houston Chronicle on everything.

July 23, 2003

No on 12: A Burnt Orange Endorsement

By Byron LaMasters

On September 13th, yes, everyone September 13th, Texans, ok, a very small percentage of Texans will go to the polls to decide the future of lawsuit damages in Texas. Voters will decide whether to continue to allow juries to award damages in which they see fit, or allow the legislature to take the power to award damages out of the hands of the juries, and cap a value on one's life.

First off, you might wonder why the election is on September 13th. Who holds elections in September? And on a Saturday? Republicans, scared of likely high turnout among Democrats in the November election for mayor of Houston. That aside, what does Proposition 12 really do? Here's the description for the website of the Texas Secretary of State:

HJR 3 would immediately authorize the Legislature to limit non-economic damages assessed against a provider of medical or health care and, after January 1, 2005, to limit awards in all other types of cases.

The proposed amendment will appear on the ballot as follows: "The constitutional amendment concerning civil lawsuits against doctors and health care providers, and other actions, authorizing the legislature to determine limitations on non-economic damages."

You may read the entire text of the joint resolution from the House and the Senate, here. Essentially, this amendment to the Texas constitution would allow the legislature to cap non-economic damages. It's likely that it would cap non-economic damages at $250,000 in most cases. But this amendment gives the power to the legislature (the last group I trust) to decide what a human life is worth, be it 50 cents, $50,000 or $500,000. In some cases, $250,000 is a reasonable amount for non-economic damages. In some cases, it's too much. In other cases, it's not enough. The point is that juries ought to decide what should be awarded in non-economic damages on a case-by-case basis. It's right there in the seventh amendment to our constitution:

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Proposition 12 takes the power away from juries to decide damages, it puts it in the hands of the legislature. The "Yes on 12" folks think that Texans serving on juries are too stupid to decide what damages are appropriate. It's that simple.

Sure, there's arguments from the other side. I hear them every day. My father is a doctor. I think that we'll have to agree to disagree on this issue. Doctors are obviously concerned about their malpractice premiums. They've skyrocketed in recent years, and it's a legitimate concern. However, the blame for those high premiums lies much less with frivolous lawsuits, than it does with the very small minority of bad doctors:

Since malpractice premiums started rising, doctors have surfed on a wave of sympathy, perhaps because Texans also have seen their homeowner and auto policy bills skyrocket.

And just as auto and homeowner premiums didn't rise only for those who filed claims, doctors' premiums didn't increase just for the 2.2 percent responsible for one-fourth of malpractice payouts, or the 6.1 percent responsible for more than half. Even doctors with spotless slates got huge bills.

That's right. Six percent of doctors are responsible for half of all malpractice payouts. Something tells me that that's not an accident. The solution to the problem is two-fold. First, there needs to be insurance reform in order to prevent insurance companies from artificially inflating their rates. Second, doctors ought to do a better job of disciplining the 6% of doctors responsible for one half of malpractice payouts. Those two things will go a lot further to lower malpractice premiums than caps on damages. Take a look at the evidence. Capping non-economic damages has no effect on lowering malpractice premiums:

Fib: Caps on non-economic damages will bring down doctors' malpractice insurance premiums

FACT: Experience in states with caps has shown - and insurers and tort "reformers" admit - that caps and tort "reform" won't lower doctors' premiums.

  • In California, which limits non-economic damages to $250,000, the average actual premium is $27,570, eight percent higher than the average of all states that have no caps on non-economic damages. Medical Liability Monitor, 2001.

  • Malpractice premiums in California increased by 190% during the first 12-years following enactment of the $250,000 MICRA cap. Proposition 103 Enforcement Project Study, 1995. It took California's Proposition 103 - insurance reform - to lower and stabilize malpractice premium rates.

  • "[A]ny limitations placed on the judicial system will nave no immediate effect on the cost of liability insurance for health care providers." Final Report of the Insurance Availability and Medical Malpractice Industry Committee, a bipartisan committee of the West Virginia Legislature, issued January 7, 2003.

  • "Nevada's new medical-liability program won't see immediate improvement in premium rates after a recent legislative initiative. . . . [A]nother company insuring physicians for medical liability, American Physicians Assurance, also wasn't planning any reduction." Best's Insurance News, August 20, 2002.

  • "We wouldn't tell you or anyone that the reason to pass tort reform would be to reduce insurance rates." Sherman Joyce, President of the American Tort Reform Association, "Study Finds No Link Between Tort Reforms and Insurance Rates," Liability Week, July 19, 1999.

  • "Insurers never promised that tort reform would achieve specific premium savings . . ." From a March 13, 2002 press release by the American Insurance Association (AIA).

  • An internal document citing a study written by Florida insurers regarding that state's omnibus tort "reform" law of 1986 said that "The conclusion of the study is that the noneconomic cap . . . [and other tort 'reforms'] will produce little or no savings to the tort system as it pertains to medical malpractice." Medical Professional Liability, State of Florida, St. Paul fire and Marine Insurance Company, St. Paul Mercury Insurance Company.

  • In Missouri, which has caps, the number of claims has been declining, the cost per claim has been declining, yet medical malpractice premiums are going up.

Folks, there's a better way to solve this problem. Proposition 12 is not the answer. This shouldn't be about doctors against lawyers. This is about the constitutional right of a trial by jury, and empowering the jury to make fair decisions in regards to non-economic damages, or taking that right away. Join us in fighting Proposition 12. Want to get involved? Go to Save Texas Courts to donate and get more information. Most importantly, remember to get off your ass that Saturday in September and vote.

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