Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Endorsers

***UPDATE: The Monitor doesn't have the story online (even though its reporter covered the event), but the Brownsville Herald has the article on its website.***

Straight from the campaign website of my fellow Aggie, the list of Rio Grande Valley politicians supporting Gov. Rick Perry for re-election:
  • DONNA: Mayor Ric Morales
  • EDCOUCH: Mayor Ramiro Silva
  • ELSA: Commissioner Cain Cazares
  • HARLINGEN: Mayor Rick Rodriquez
  • HIDALGO: Mayor John David Franz
  • LA VILLA: Mayor Rene Castillo
  • MISSION: Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas
  • McALLEN: Mayor Richard Cortez
  • PHARR: Mayor Polo Palacios
  • PALMHURST: Mayor Ramiro Rodriguez
  • PROGRESO: Mayor Omar Vela
  • RIO GRANDE CITY: Mayor Kevin Hines

Perhaps unaware of the irony, Gov. Goodhair's campaign news release states:

Perry said that this endorsement sends an important message to Valley voters that regardless of what party they belong to, Texas needs a governor that can put partisanship aside for the good of Texas and will seek common ground whenever possible.

Am I wrong when I say this endorsement will hurt these local politicians come Election Day?

For more on the group's support of the Republican candidate for governor, check out Hector Gomez's post at RGV Politics, Valley Politico's thoughts at Rio Grande Valley Politics, and state Rep. Aaron Peña's observations at A Capitol Blog.

You Gotta Be Kidding Me

From the Rio Grande Guardian:

At least 11 mayors from Rio Grande Valley cities will today publicly endorse Gov. Rick Perry, a top Valley Republican tells the Guardian. Perry holds a press conference at the Club at Cimarron in Mission later this afternoon.

Valley Politico at Rio Grande Valley Politics reports that the group includes the mayors of Brownsville, Edcouch, Elsa, Harlingen, Hidalgo, La Villa, McAllen, Mission, Palmhurst, and Rio Grande City and says, "No wonder Chris Bell cannot get any money from the Valley."

If this mass endorsement is true, it explains the reason for Perry's trip to the Valley, which Aaron Peña told us about last night on his blog.

Considering Perry's hand in cramming an unconstitutional redistricting plan down the Valley's throat -- he called all those special sessions on the topic -- I gotta wonder what these politicians are thinking.

Folks, remember Roberto Gutierrez? When most every other Democrat in the Texas House left the state to fight this Republican-led congressional redistricting, Gutierrez stayed home and became Tom Craddick's bitch. Voters remembered this, and booted his ass out of office in the next primary.

I'm sure voters won't forget if their mayor endorses the man who called those redistricting special sessions.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

RGV (Migrant) Life

Many Rio Grande Valley residents live in South Texas only part-time. During the summer, they leave the state to follow the jobs.

For those of us who don't know what it's like to travel north for work each year, Mission blogger Shaine Mata offers a firsthand glimpse of the migrant experience on his blog RGV Life.

He and his family agonize over whether to tough things out in the RGV or take a chance and leave:
My wife, whose opinion matters to me, has effectively given me her blessing. There are other people who matter to me who are opposed to my leaving the RGV. The reason why I believe that my future lies outside of the RGV is that most of the people with whom I grew up have left and made something of themselves. ... The point is, nobody who wasn't already connected has "made it" here. They made it somewhere else and came back.
Shaine describes the fiddly little details that you have to take care of when you travel more than a thousand miles to the other side of the country:
Other things we did included paying our Post Net mailbox through November, depositing the money from the sale of my wife's van, cancel our car insurance, and other little errands for family. My son and I got haircuts. ... Tomorrow, we need to do laundry. ... We also need to pay CPL and T-Mobile.
He shares details of the journey, including a quick post about how they "got pulled over by border patrol north of san manuel because they saw our luggage in plastic bags." There's also photos from a trip to the Mall of America.

Once Shaine arrives in Wisconsin, he begins working for Head Start, leaves that for a better-paying job at a canning facility, and then rejoins Head Start, which really needs bilingual teachers.

Best of all, Shaine lets us know what migrant life is like from an insider's perspective. He describes work at the green bean processing plant:
At first, work was sporadic. We'd work a day or two and have a day or two off. It appears that we are now entering full production. ... The thinking amongst the migrant workers here is "nomas son tres meses". Three months of 80 hour work weeks. Some people are earning minimum wage, which is $6.50/hr in Wisconsin; others are earning more. The work is easy and boring. If you can stand the monotony, there is plenty of overtime available.
In the same post, Shaine tells readers about his coworkers, legal and illegal, from Texas and Mexico:
There are hard workers; and there are some who make you wonder why they came at all, if they don't want to work. There are even families that come to work here together and then go back to Texas or Mexico to live off their earnings. Even at minimum wage, they can earn about $2,400/month each. Those who are returning workers or have jobs higher on the pay scale can take home much more than that.
RGV Life has much more about the migrant experience than I can do justice to in one post, so go check it out for yourselves. Shaine, thanks for giving readers like me an idea of what some families go through, and the best of luck in your endeavors.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Cash To Go

Remember that missing money from La Joya's municipal court? The sheriff busts someone for the theft, The Monitor reports, and it probably won't be the only one:
Angela Flores, the city’s finance department assistant, was charged with stealing between $8,000 and $10,000 in cash payments for fines and fee made to the municipal court. She posted bond about a month ago but remains suspended from her job while the sheriff’s office investigation continues, her supervisor said.

Flores’ arrest will be the first of several, the sheriff predicted. (emphasis added)
In response to the missing money, La Joya won't accept cash payments. While this is understandable from an anti-fraud standpoint, it's also hard on those who don't have bank accounts, although the city is making certain exceptions for the elderly.

But back to what spurred that policy, I wonder who else might be a suspect in this case. Who at La Joya City Hall looks nervous these days?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Flunking the Ethics Test

Watchdog group Texans for Public Justice releases a report on just how carefully politicians comply with a 2003 law calling for candidates to report their donors' jobs and who those contributors work for, and legislators fail miserably:

Texas lawmakers collectively flunked a test of their own campaign reform law, which requires state candidates to use their “best efforts” to report the employers and occupations of individual donors of $500 or more, a Texans for Public Justice report card found.
So how do Rio Grande Valley politicians end up looking in this report card?

Pretty crappy.

Just one of the people we elect from South Texas scores as good as a C. At the head of the class is state Rep. Ryan Guillen of Roma, with a score of 72.2%. Fellow blogger state Rep. Aaron Peña Jr. earns a D with 67.5%. Most of the rest have scores that sound like what Dean Wormer would give to the members of Delta House ("Zero point zero, Mr. Blutarski.").

SENATE: First, our senators show their ability to ignore the rules, as the report card shows:
The Senate’s weakest performances came from Sens. Jon Lindsay (R-Houston), Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) and Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo). These senators collectively reported a total of 306 large contributions totaling $412,150. Yet they left the occupation and employer field blank for every one of their large donors. (emphasis added)
And the one Valley senator who bothers to fill in all the blanks still earns an abysmal score:

  • Eddie Lucio Jr. (Brownsville): 0.0%
  • Judith Zaffirini (Laredo): 0.0%
  • Chuy Hinojosa (McAllen): 22.0%
HOUSE: Next, our representatives -- two of whom didn't even bother to fill in the blanks. As the report card points out:

An extraordinary 28 members of the House (19 percent) not only flunked disclosure but left the occupation and employer fields blank for every one of their large donors. Three members accomplished this feat while raising more than $100,000 apiece in large contributions. They are Reps. Kino Flores (D-Palmview), Veronica Gonzales (D-McAllen) and Sylvester Turner (D-Houston). (emphasis added)
Anyway, the dishonor roll for Valley members of the Texas House:
  • Kino Flores (Mission): 0.0%
  • Veronica Gonzales (McAllen): 0.0%
  • Jim Solis (Harlingen): 0.0%
  • Juan Escobar (Kingsville): 39.0%
  • Mando Martinez (Weslaco): 42.6%
  • Aaron Peña (Edinburg): 67.5%
  • Rene Oliveira (Brownsville): 69.2%
  • Ryan Guillen (Roma): 72.2%
Get this: House Speaker Tom Craddick (74.9%) scores higher than any of our South Texas legislators! In fact, the Republicans beat the Democrats overall, 64% to 48%.

From a section of the report about mystery donors (contributors who are incompletely or misleadingly identified, like calling Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton a "self-employed rancher or investor") comes this tidbit:

Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), a champion of tobacco-control legislation, failed to identify the employers or occupations of three trial lawyers who litigated Texas’ $15 billion lawsuit against the tobacco industry.
To be fair to Zaffirini, she explains in this San Antonio Express-News story that she didn't know about the law and is hiring someone to catch up with all the paperwork. And some politicians take issue with how TPJ scored the report, because the law doesn't say you have to list a person's previous occupation or family tree.

Still, this report shows our elected officials have a long way to go when it comes to complying with campaign donation reporting requirements.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Saving the Park

Cameron County commissioners back off from their plan to hand over public land to developers.

NewsChannel 5 reports that public outcry over the deal (which would have given the developers a 50-year lease that allowed them to do pretty much anything to Isla Blanca Park) makes county officials to change their minds:
Today, commissioners asked legal counsel to keep Isla Blanca on South Padre Island available to the public. After months of lobbying, county commissioners agreed to back out of the controversial project.
Cameron County residents weren't happy with how the commissioners court tried to sneak the plan past them, and began a grassroots effort to keep the park out of developers' hands. It looks like that work might have paid off.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Object of Objectivity

A while back, someone with the screen name Fair & Balanced queried me in the comments section of this post:

Hello Mack Harrision. I would like to ask you one simple question? Are you objective?

MEDIUM ANSWER: I call bullshit when I see it, and if that makes me unobjective in some people's eyes, then so be it.

LONG ANSWER: When I was opinion editor at The Monitor (and in my years as a reporter before that), whenever readers agreed with what I wrote, then according to them I was objective and fair. Whenever they didn't agree with what I wrote, I was horribly, horribly biased.

In other words, if you like what I have to say, you won't complain about lack of objectivity. On the other hand, if you hate what I'm telling you, it means I must have some sort of slant against your beliefs.

So if I slaughter someone's sacred cow, it must be because I'm not objective -- not because their beloved institution or individual screwed up.

LAWYER ANSWER: My dictionary (Webster's II New Riverside University Dictionary, 1984) defines the word "objective" (adj.) as "Uninfluenced by emotion, surmise or personal opinion."

Since the whole point of this blog is for me to rant about "the political idiocy" taking place in the Rio Grande Valley, of course it's influenced by my emotions (I do some of my best writing when I'm pissed off), conjectures (it's easy to put two and two together and make an educated guess about what's going on) and opinions (supplemented by my education and experience). So no, I'm not objective according to that definition.


The dictionary lists another definition for objectivity as "Based on observable phenomena (an objective forecast)." I try to base my posts on facts, whether obtained from the media, other sources on the Internet or my own personal knowledge. However, I also have more than a dozen years experience as a journalist, as well as my time in South Texas and my education and other life experience (including somewhat obscure pop culture references) upon which to draw. So I take what I see and factor all this other stuff into the observation to come up with something (hopefully) relevant.

Just like the weatherman applies his knowledge, observations and experience to make a report, I use what's already in my head to offer a new take on what's going on in the world (after all, a forecast is just the meteorologist's opinion on what the weather holds). I try to add to the conversation, not just parrot what everyone else is saying.

So if you want to apply the second definition of "objective," then yes, I am objective. If that's stretching it a little too far, then see my short answer above.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Mexico picks PAN

At least, that's what the official count in the Mexican presidential election says, according to the Associated Press, but the losing candidate refuses to back down:

With the 41 million votes counted, [Felipe] Calderón of President Vicente Fox's National Action Party [PAN] had 35.89 percent or 15,000,284, to 35.31 percent or 14,756,350, for [Andres Manuel] Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party [PRI].
Calderón edges out Lopez Obrador by less than 0.6 percent of the vote, so you know this race is about as settled as Bush v. Gore in 2000.

The best news about this contest: Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the notoriously corrupt former ruling party, gathered less than 23 percent.

The San Antonio Express-News has a blog about Mexico, Beyond the Border, with more information on the election.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The American Revolution in One Paragraph

"So this Jefferson dude was like, 'Look, the reason we left this England place is 'cause it was so bogus. So if we don't get some primo rules ourselves, pronto -- then we're just gonna be bogus, too.' "

-- Jeff Spiccoli


Monday, July 03, 2006

Too Close To Call

Mexico takes a page from the U.S. playbook, with a tight presidential race that won't be resolved on Election Day. (At least, that's what the wire services are saying at 2:30 in the morning. This could all be resolved by the time you read this.)

It's down to two candidates, current President Vicente Fox's fellow rightie, Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) member Felipe Calderón, and left-winger Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD). Both claim victory. From the Mexico City bureau of the San Antonio Express-News:

The Federal Electoral Institute said counting could continue until Wednesday, leaving the nation on edge.

The election — largely cast as a battle over whether the next president should represent the interests of the rich or the poor — was expected to be tight as Mexicans decide whether this nation should join Latin America's shift to the political left.
Meanwhile, Mexican citizens in the U.S., who had the chance to cast absentee ballots for the first time, ignore the opportunity, Reuters news service tells us:

Of the estimated 6 million to 7 million Mexicans of voting age in the United States, only 40,000 registered to vote by mail in Mexico's presidential election on Sunday -- a lower number than expected after years of calls for a foreign vote.
So what does the winner have to look forward to? He inherits Mexico's bloody (and ultimately unwinnable) drug war.

Anyway, it should prove interesting. Let's just hope Mexico has better election workers than Florida did in 2000.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Rules of Evidence

That's what occupied my time for the past week -- studying for the final exam in my Evidence class. That sense of panic over a looming final kept me from posting to this blog.

Not only did we need to know the Texas Rules of Evidence for this course, but the Federal Rules of Evidence as well. It's a four-credit-hour class, and the test was four hours as well. But it's a required class, so I'm glad I got it out of the way. And it was pretty interesting.

Still, after the test, I needed a few days to just relax and not worry about SICs, privileges or hearsay. So I played StarCraft, a real-time strategy game. Got to the end, too.

Anyway, I'm back, and I noticed that my previous post generated the most comments ever on this blog. A couple of people had questions, and I will answer those queries shortly.