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Archive for December, 2013

Of Course Credit

Commentary made a full disclosure earlier in the week.

Commentary is all for folks wanting to put out their takes even if some are a bit silly.

The City of H-Town payday lending issue first hit City Hall in late 2011. There was an initial draft, then another draft, then a compromise draft that was laid out in late 2012.

A months or so ago the compromise draft was snatched off of the table and a new ordinance was laid out.

It wasn’t until CM James Rodriguez missed last week’s meeting that folks jumped out of their hammocks and said what the heck.

Lisa Falkenberg of the Chron finally weighed in on the payday loan ordinance on the day of the vote and a number of folks tweeted to give her props when the measure passed at City Council. “Here she comes to save the day!”

Those twitter folks totally disregarded the two years the Mayor, her staff, and other groups put into the effort …tsk, tsk, tsk.

I like Lisa Falkenberg and I have probably given her more props than most folks that tweeted and commented yesterday.

I think yesterday’s piece would have been Ok if she had not published a passed on rumor involving CM Rodriguez and Giovanni Garibay. She could have made her point by just saying she had talked to customers and James had not.

Like I said yesterday, that’s not how James and Gio roll. What I most like about the two is the time they give mentoring young men and women that are interested in a public service or political career. I don’t think anyone out there in the business gives as much of their time. They genuinely care about bringing young folks into this business. Of course, nobody gives a tweet about that.

The “Sandy” in Sandy Koufax is short or nickname for what?

Commentary is looking for a new president of my fan club. The current president isn’t showing me any respect. Here is what he put on my website:

I just don’t think you — of all the people walking this Earth — have any business WHATSOEVER calling anybody else chickenshit. From pdiddie.

Of course, if he paid attention he would know that I didn’t call anyone chicken s__t, I called the column chicken s__t. Oh, well.

I have never watched “Duck Dynasty” and do not know what it is all about. One of the Ducks said something that has gotten him indefinitely suspended. Hey Ducks, change is in the air and unless you create your own hate network, you are not going to get aired.

Sandy stands for Sanford Koufax of course.

Here is from the ‘Stros website:

The Astros continued to fortify their Major League roster on Wednesday, acquiring first baseman/outfielder Jesus Guzman from the San Diego Padres in exchange for infielder Ryan Jackson.

And:

“He’s a right-handed hitter and [Brett] Wallace is a left-handed hitter,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “They can platoon at first or one can win the job with a good spring.”

And:

“He has a chance to have an impact,” Luhnow said. “He should get plenty of at-bats.”

Guzman played in 126 games for the Padres in 2013, collecting 17 doubles, nine home runs and 35 RBIs while batting .226.

.226?

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Chickens__t Drive-By Column

I made my full disclosure yesterday.

The Lisa Falkenberg column today on CM James Rodriguez is a chickens__t drive-by if you ask me. Falkenberg spent an hour or so in a parking lot of one of those payday lending storefronts and decided what James was all about. She has that right but she is also dead wrong.

It would have been nice if she would have spent an hour at the union hall on Freeman and asked the first responders what they thought of James’ six years of service. Maybe spend an hour on a soccer field in the East End and ask the youth soccer league leaders what they thought about James’ involvement in helping them survive budget cuts and then grow. How about spending an hour visiting with civic club leaders throughout the district. She could also spend an hour with the Dynamo to discuss how James has helped the Dynamo build positive relationships in District I. I could go on and on and provide Falkenberg with District I locales where she could spend an hour.

Falkenberg also hints that James relationship with his friend Giovanni Garibay is behind James’ position on this issue. I am proud to say that I gave James and Gio their first political gigs. I know them well and that is not how they roll. James and Gio have never been near a political scandal or ethical violation and for Falkenberg to wonder aloud about this is on the day James attends his last council meeting is BS and a disservice.

At yesterday’s city council meeting James called out local consultant/lobbyist Mustafa Tameez. A few members of the media told James that Tameez told them that James had been bought and paid for by the payday lending industry. I am going to guess that Tameez was Falkenberg’s source.

Tameez doesn’t know James, Gio, their politics, their values, and their personal relationship. For Tameez to spread those mischaracterizations about these two speaks volumes about his own values – which do not amount to much.

I really don’t know where Falkenberg or Tameez have been hanging out the last couple of years when this issue first visited City Hall. James’ position has been consistent from Day 1. He just doesn’t think it is a city service function. Just because you don’t agree that doesn’t mean James has sold out. That’s bush league on Falkenberg’s part. I really expected better.

I will say this. Tameez did his job. He put out garbage and it got picked up in a Chron column this morning. Congratulations!

Name the ‘Stro pitcher that started their first ever MLB playoff game.

Empower Texas has decided to visit Texas House District 145. They sent a mailer asking folks to call State Rep. Carol Alvarado, the Co-Chair of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations.

The committee is holding hearings on the possible impeachment of UT Regent Wallace Hall. Empower Texas wants District 145 voters to call Alvarado and give her their two cents.

I am thinking there is more to this than one mailer. I wonder how many other committee members were targeted.

I am also thinking that other folks may be involved.

I am sure this doesn’t sit well with Megyn Kelly with Fox News. This is from an AP story:

A Houston hotel has created a half-ton dark chocolate sculpture of Santa Claus in a chair, complete with elves.

Pastry experts at the Hilton Americas in downtown Houston used dark chocolate and a special chocolate dough to fashion the exhibit, which is on display until Dec. 30.

On October 7, 1980 in Philly, Ken Forsch started Game 1 of the NLCS of course.

Nothing from The Yard today.

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Today at City Council

Full Disclosure: In the last half of 2011 and first couple of months of 2012 Cash Advance and ACE were clients of Commentary. I am on the sidelines these days.

The ‘Stros announced yesterday that reliever Matt Albers will be coming back to be part of the bullpen. Albers made his MLB pitching debut with the ‘Stros in 2006. We went 82-80. Name the ‘Stros pitcher with the most Ws in 2006?

Today Council will take up the payday lending ordinance. Personally I don’t think this should be a City of H-Town function. We need to spend our time making sure restaurant kitchens are clean, the construction of buildings are within code, Rebuild Houston is efficient and effective, our parks are clean, our drinking water is safe, and illegal trash dumpers are nabbed. It is a philosophical thing with me.

In today’s front page of the Chron that is only available to subscribers or hard copy owners there is a story about spotty enforcement of payday lending ordinances in other Texas cities. Check it out here:

If the Houston City Council passes proposed restrictions on payday and auto title lenders at its Wednesday meeting, Texas’ largest city would lag some of its peers by more than two years in
enacting rules to stop poor borrowers from getting trapped in a cycle of debt.

But, taking a lesson from Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, El Paso and several smaller cities, City Attorney David Feldman and other local officials say Houston will have a plan to enforce the ordinance up front, rather than tripping through a rollout months after the new rules become law. To varying degrees, officials in those cities accept that critique.

It’s not clear when or how council will vote; the ordinance has been the subject of intense lobbying efforts, and plots of parliamentary intrigue suggest the item could be pushed to next year.
Regardless of when or whether the rules become law, Mayor Annise Parker has acknowledged even stringently enforced city-by-city reforms will have only a modest effect given the Legislature’s failure in each of the last three sessions to pass statewide regulations.

The ordinance, which limits the size of a loan and the number of times it can be refinanced and dictates how much principal must be paid down with each installment, is meant to help borrowers like Houston’s Yvonne Norris, who got a title loan to pay for her brother’s funeral and paid almost $5,000 on the $2,100 principal.

Had the ordinance been in place, she would have been able to borrow just $263; Norris said she likely would have sought the rest of the money she needed from friends.

Norris used her rent money to pay the loan off this month, then had to get a second title loan to pay rent. She now is paying $280 a month, more than a third of her income, and fears her late brother’s car will be repossessed.

“I jumped out of the pot and got into the skillet,” Norris said. “I know I can’t pay it off. You can only do so much.”

Few court actions

Though some of the other cities’ rules have been in place for two full years, no one familiar with the issue knew of any more than a few municipal court actions among them, and say only Austin has hired an employee dedicated to enforcing the rules. The cities instead have relied chiefly on consumer complaints.

“Complaints are always going to rely on borrowers. You have to have that education component,” said Brett Merfish of nonprofit Texas Appleseed, which crafted the ordinance as a template, advocates hope, for statewide reform. “Were Houston to put in a different mechanism for enforcement, we would support that.”

Rob Norcross, a lobbyist with payday industry group Consumer Service Alliance of Texas, which has sued several of the cities over the regulations, said Dallas defended itself in court in part by arguing it wasn’t enforcing the ordinance. Businesses that are following the rules, he said, are losing customers to those that are not.

“None of the cities that have passed the Dallas ordinance are enforcing the ordinance,” Norcross said. “There are a couple of cities that have said, ‘If anybody complains, we’ll investigate the complaint.’ Nobody’s complaining if you’re violating the ordinance because it’s business as usual.”

Audits planned

Martha Hernandez, who was hired to handle enforcement of the ordinance for the city of Austin, said four complaints have been referred for prosecution in 19 months. Her staff is nearly done with an analysis showing which lenders are most likely violating the ordinance, based on the accuracy of their reports, complaints and other data. That list will guide compliance audits, she said.

“Our process, we anticipated it would be complaint-driven, but there’s just not very much demand on that. We’re constantly looking at what we can do to better inform the public about the ordinance,” Hernandez said. “The plan has always been to do audits in tandem with the complaint-based investigations.”

Dallas City Councilman Jerry Allen said more than 30 lenders were closed for violating a 2011 ordinance governing where the stores could operate, but agreed Dallas’ enforcement has been slow. The lenders’ lawsuit made the city cautious, he said, and officials paused to see if the Legislature would act.

“I wish it was quicker, but we’ve had a pretty organized approach to it. Without question, it’s now time for enforcement,” Allen said, adding audits could come in weeks. “Dallas is coming. We will find violations, it’ll be $500 a day, and we’re going to keep coming.”

San Antonio Councilman Diego Bernal said his city has hired no staff and acknowledged the first year under the new regime was quiet. However, he said, workers have begun stings, and he said there is enough public awareness that valid complaints are coming in.

“Some of the violations have been rectified: They weren’t registered and so we got them registered. Now we’re at a point where what we’re left with are bad actors that are purposefully violating the ordinance,” Bernal said. “We’re pursuing all enforcement options, one of which is full-on litigation.”

July 1 target date

Houston plans to begin enforcement on its estimated 550 such lenders July 1 to give proper time to staff up, Feldman said.

“Typically you wouldn’t expect that someone who goes in who needs the loan is going to have the wherewithal to say, ‘Wait a minute, you’re violating Houston’s city ordinance, I’m trying to extend my loan for the fifth time but you can’t let me extend my loan for the fifth time,'” Feldman said. “That’s why we’re going in with a plan to actually enforce it. It’s obviously something that requires not just manpower but skilled manpower.”

The city’s Administration & Regulatory Affairs department projects it will need to add four staff to comb through records at a rate that ensures each lender is audited at least once every three years.

The other thing is what is to prevent someone to just go outside of the City limits to get one of these loans.

There was a draft compromise on the table a year ago that the Mayor’s City Attorney drafted. Now it is off of the table. I don’t know why the Mayor snatched it off of the table. Some folks are speculating as to why. Stay tuned!

Ray Price is no longer with us. Every time Ray Price’s name is brought up I fondly remember an evening in Del Rio when I was working on a statewide campaign in the 1970s. My host Del Rio attorney Mike Gonzalez took me to a restaurant bar owned by Ray Price’s piano player Blondie Calderon. Calderon sat at his piano and played his favorite tunes for us. It was a very cool experience.

Roy O. of course won 15 games for the ‘Stros in 2006.

That’s all there is from The Yard!

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Good Morning H-Town!

This is the first time since March of 2012 that I am not thinking about an upcoming election. I think that is probably a good thing. Now I have time to do a little Christmas shopping, catch up on my reading, do a few crossword puzzles, and watch those cheesy made for TV Christmas movies on the Hallmark and Lifetime channels.

MLB Hall of Fame great Rickey Henderson played for nine different teams – name them?

The Chronicle’s lead story today is about the low number of women on the H-Town City Council. I don’t know what to say other than it would have been nice to have this story run a week or so ago, Oh, well. Here it is:

The Houston City Council will have its fewest women in 15 years this January, which political observers called a troublesome regression for one of the most diverse cities in the U.S.

Just two women will remain on the 16-member council. And for the first time in about 25 years, a minority woman will not hold a seat.

“It’s more a step back rather than a step forward for the city of Houston,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. “Women represent slightly over 50 percent of population but will account for less than a fifth of the City Council.”

There are currently four women on the council. Except for 1999, when there were also just two, the council has had at least three females in each of the last 25 years. It peaked at eight in 2005, according to data compiled by Rice University political scientist Bob Stein. Also, from 1989 until 1999, there were at least three women on council.

Political analysts say the makeup, likely a result of chance, is not an optimal mix.

City Council member Ellen Cohen said it would serve the city well to have a better balance. Cohen and Brenda Stardig, who unseated incumbent Helena Brown in the run off, will be the only females.

“When we have a blending of people, it serves us well,” Cohen said. “We want City Council to look like the city of Houston. Right now, with two women, it doesn’t look like the city of Houston.”

Still, she said she is not concerned that her voice won’t be heard. She hopes more qualified women will be inspired to run in the future.

“It’s symbolic, but the fact is it’s significant symbolism,” Cohen said.

Stein said a persistent finding in social science research shows that a higher proportion of women on governing bodies means less gridlock and more efficiency. He said some believe this is a genetic trait in women and also because women have different experiences than men.

Effect on Parker

Stein said this election season saw a diverse group of candidates in the mix, including women, but the turnout was extremely low. He predicted it would be a challenging year for Mayor Annise Parker, who is heading into her final term with her sights on statewide office. In part, this will be because women may be more sympathetic to some of her issues, such as discrimination.

Rice University’s Jones said because Parker will be at the helm of city government, the policy impact will not be dramatic, but that the new council makeup could draw attention to the under-representation of women in governing bodies.

He said these election results were due to bad luck and he does not believe there is any broader anti-woman trends in Houston, noting several races where women were contenders. He also pointed out this low representation of women could persist because incumbents have such an advantage in future elections.

Sue Lovell, who served on council for six years from 2005 to 2011, including the first time there was a majority of women, said the council worked very well during her tenure, even though members had different views and backgrounds.

“It was the first time in history the city had a majority of women. It was very collaborative and effective,” Lovell said. “The city was proud that we had reached that point.”

She said the dynamics on council could change with the new uneven proportion of men and women.
“In some way it will diminish the voices of the women in the city,” she said. “We need to consider what you want your council to look like. You want everyone to be represented.”

Future leaders

This may spark a call for qualified women to consider politics in the future, she said.

“I think you should take into your decision-making, do you want to be reflective of the city?” Lovell said.

Cindy Clifford, who runs a Houston-based public relations company, said she plans to start a group to empower promising women in Houston to consider public office and donate to female candidates. She said women have a harder time raising money and asking for things for themselves. She said she hopes to inspire confidence in promising female leaders.

“It’s important for women to have a seat at the table,” she said. “Women see things differently; there will be a different dialogue and discussion.”

Congrats go to Robert Gallegos for his District I victory. I hope he does a good job.

Team Graci Garces worked very hard but just were not able to get enough of our supporters to the polls on Election Day.

In District I some women had a great opportunity to support an outstanding woman but instead supported the fella. I will be the first to call out any of these that in the future bemoan the lack of female elected officials.

Three women will now sit at the council table. Three from the GLBT community will sit at the council table. Two Latinos will sit at the council table. Four African Americans will now sit at the council table.

Congrats go to my client Adriana Tamez for her outstanding victory. She will do a great job. Team Tamez worked their arses off. Way to go!

Dave Wilson sent a last minute attack letter against Adriana.

We didn’t even hit 4% turnout this past Saturday. More folks voted early than on Election Day.

It looks like Dave Wilson won’t have very many allies over at HCC. That is the way it goes.

Rickey Henderson played for the Angels, A’s, Dodgers, Jays, Mariners, Mets, Padres, Red Sox, and Yankees of course.

The only thing from The Yard this past weekend was a birthday shout out to B-G-O.

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On Pam

My good friend Pam Gardner was featured last night on NBC Nightly News on breast cancer. You need to check it out here: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/3032619/#53815607. You have to wait for the story to pop up.

Here is what Kuffer says about tomorrow:

I’d make David Robinson, Michael Kubosh, Helena Brown, and Dwight Boykins the favorites, with District I too close to call.

I try not to make predictions.

The Chron ran a story on the District I race. Not much breaking news.

The Chron also ran a story on the HCC runoffs and the incumbents in Districts 1 and 3 could not be reached for comment. I guess they are not talking to the Chron because they were not endorsed by the E-Board.

Yesterday I got A Robinson mailer and robo call, a Capo mailer, a squealer mailer, and a Morales mailer and robo call.

Who has the lower career ERA – Tom Glavine or Greg Maddux?

I kind of have to agree a little with what the Chron E-Board put out today. Here are parts:

Even here in Harris County, which has become dark purple swing territory, the Democratic Party failed to run candidates for almost half of the Republican-held criminal district court seats. Whatever your party allegiance, this should be a distressing sign of underwhelming civic engagement.

And:

The right campaign, even if it loses, can lay the foundation for the next generation of politicians. How many of the Republican Party’s leaders got their start on Sen. Barry Goldwater’s failed presidential bid? How many young Republicans are still inspired by Goldwater’s campaign speeches? He may have lost 44 states, but he planted the seed for decades of victories. It is a lesson that Texas Democrats need to learn – it may be expensive, but in their hearts they know it’s right.

Greg Maddux has a 3.16 ERA to Tom Glavine’s 3.54 of course.

The Rockets are now the lead negotiator on the TV deal.

Go vote tomorrow!

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On the At-Larges

Commentary voted the other day and I didn’t skip any races including the At-Large race that has two GOPers so I voted for a GOPer and it didn’t feel good but I still had to do it. I am not going to announce my selection but I did tell a few close associates.

Joe Torre is headed to the Hall of Fame. Name the five teams Torre has managed?

Everybody in the State of Texas knows that the UT Head Coach is resigning except the UT Head Coach. Would somebody please send him a text?

The runoff election is in two days.

The Astrodome is once again in the newspaper today. This time it is about giving it a historic designation or something like that. Last month folks said they didn’t want to spend any money to fix it up so that means put a Miley Cyrus on it.

Joe Torres was the skipper of the Mets, Braves, San Luis, Yankees, and Dodgers of course.

I was at The Yard last night for a Christmas Party.

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In the Books

Early Voting in Person is history. To date 20,026 voted in person or have mailed in ballots. That is a 2.1% turnout.

Commentary was one of the 47 that voted at Holy Name yesterday.

Tony LaRussa is headed to the Hall of Fame. His MLB playing career lasted about 130 games or so. What position did he mostly play?

I am not in the business of making election predictions but I can say that the turnouts at Palm Center and Sunnyside probably help CM Burks and the West Gray turnout probably helps David Robinson.

HISD is now considering doing away with offensive school mascots. Good for them.

Does anyone think the Purple Pups is offensive?

Commentary attended an inaugural gathering of sorts of Democrats interested in education policy. It has held at the home of HISD Trustee Anna Eastman and was attended by a few elected officials and former elected officials.

Tony LaRussa of course mostly played second base during his brief MLB playing career.

The ‘Stros didn’t make any moves yesterday.

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