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Good News Dallas
by Tom Pauken    Tue, Jan 3, 2006, 07:15 PM

Carole Strayhorn
She was a Democrat. Then, she was a Republican. Now, she’s an Independent. Carole Strayhorn announced Monday that she is a candidate for Governor of Texas in 2006 as an independent. By the time of the filing deadline, running as an independent was the only avenue for her to take to achieving her long standing ambition of becoming Governor of Texas.

In a December 8th article for DallasBlog, I laid out the reasons why it made sense for Mrs. Strayhorn to run as an independent. (Link here to read that story.) Clearly, she faced a very difficult task in overcoming Perry’s huge lead among likely Republican voters in a March primary. Her other alternative was to run on the Democratic ticket, but that meant persuading Chris Bell and Bob Gammage to drop out of the race. Strayhorn’s political guru, Mark Sanders, along with some of her trial lawyer supporters tried to persuade Bell and Gammage to get out of the race, so that she could run as a Democrat, but it was to no avail.

A source close to the Strayhorn camp tells DallasBlog that a principal concern of her campaign team about running as an independent was the difficulty of getting on the ballot in Texas. It takes more than 45,000 signatures to be certified as a statewide, independent candidate for office. While Kinky Friedman has been laying the groundwork to get on the ballot as an independent for much of 2005, Strayhorn does not have the grassroots organization in place to help get her on the ballot. Thus, it will be a more difficult task for her to put together a team of volunteers and paid workers to get signatures so that she can meet the Texas requirements.

It is no sure thing as Ralph Nader found out in the last Presidential election when he was unable to get enough signatures to qualify as an independent candidate for President. Only registered voters who do not vote in the Republican or Democratic primaries are eligible to sign a petition for either Strayhorn or Friedman.

The lack of professionalism exhibited by the Strayhorn campaign in their press conference announcing her candidacy yesterday was surprising given her reputation for detailed preparation for such event. That is not a good sign about the state of the organization of her campaign.

Assuming that Carole Strayhorn gets on the ballot, what is the political fallout from her decision to run as an independent? Notice how she called herself a Republican even while announcing her candidacy as an independent. Strayhorn will take Republican and independent votes in November that otherwise would have gone to Rick Perry were his only opponents the Democratic nominee (Gammage or Bell) and Kinky Friedman. While Friedman draws votes from likely Democratic voters, Strayhorn will take many or more Republican votes away from Perry. That’s why the Republican State Chairman was quick to bash Strayhorn. Here is what Tina Benkiser had to say about Strayhorn: "Carole Strayhorn has lied, deceived and now abandoned the very people who put her in office all for her own selfish ambition."

Pundits like Gromer Jeffers, Jr. shouldn’t be so quick to write off the Democrats prospects in the Governor’s race, as he does in his front page story Tuesday in the Dallas Morning News, particularly if Bob Gammage turns out to be the Democratic nominee.

Overnight, Carole Strayhorn has changed the dynamics of the race for Governor of Texas in 2006. The final outcome is much less certain than it was two days ago.

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by    Tue, Jan 3, 2006, 11:59 AM

Downtown Dallas.jpg

In 2004 the Dallas Morning News did the seemingly impossible: it united the Dallas City Council. The News published a special section titled “Dallas at the Tipping Point.” Its thesis was that Dallas was a city in rapid decline and that it was fast approaching a “tipping point” from which there would be no turning back. The section was partly reportorial and partly a report by the management consulting firm of Booze Allen Hamilton. It was impressive, well documented, and should have been must reading by anyone who lives and pays taxes in the city. According to the members of the Council it was bunk.

The response of the council to the Morning News effort is perhaps most indicative of why Dallas was a city in decline. The people with the responsibility for managing success couldn’t even see, or maybe admit, failure.

This past year the News published an update. It tried to be a bit kinder by suggesting that changes like a new City Manager and Police Chief and new employees at the street level were taking some small steps and making some incremental progress but on whole the assessment was the same: decline.

It is hard to say that a city with Dallas’ crime rate and poorly performing education system can be in anything but decline. But set aside the volumes of Booze Allen stats. One word captures the decline of Dallas: Haggar. A Dallas brand known nationwide, whose family members have served on every board in town including the City Council, left Dallas for Irving. When is the last time you can recall a name brand company relocating to Dallas from the suburbs or anywhere else. I cannot recall one in 10-years.

Still, all is not doom and gloom. This past year saw the groundbreaking of what will be two spectacular Arts District facilities and a signature bridge across the Trinity. There are construction cranes again over downtown. And the crime rate did edge down. However, encouraging, these are but candles in the gathering darkness. The fact remains that our school district performs terribly, our basic infrastructure is still coming apart, and our crime rate is among the highest in the nation and the FBI is crawling all over City Hall.

One key problem identified by Booze Allen was a lack of accountability at City Hall. Translated from consultant speak the charge was simple: no one is in charge. There were two efforts to correct this problem in the form of two elections to put the Mayor in charge of the city. The first overreached and was opposed by everyone except an increasingly unpopular incumbent. The second was defeated because most people had ceased to care except for the city’s African Americans.

And there lies the problem: racial politics. Black Dallas struggled for decades to get what they considered their rightful piece of the city’s political pie. They got it in the form of four members out of 14 on the present Council. Black Dallas simply didn’t want to give up power on a powerful Council to a Mayor they voted overwhelmingly “no” on both propositions. More, noting that Dallas will soon be a majority Hispanic City many African Americans believed Ron Kirk would be both the first and last African American Mayor the City will ever see. Holding on to 28% of the council seemed preferable to a powerful Mayor they doubted would ever again be black.

And so Dallas is still stuck with a government with no one in charge and absolutely no hope of any change any time in the foreseeable future. No wonder Haggar left.

The Booze Allen study also talked about the lack of strategic direction. Mayor Miller had, of course, brought in a Booze Allen competitor, McKenzie & Company to provide a strategic plan and vision, and at no charge. The plan was fine, and useful and generally ignored.

But does Dallas really need a Strategic Plan? Or does it simply need to do what cities do they way those things are suppose to be done? What are cities about? They are about providing services: protection of life and property, drivable roads, drinkable water, etc. The city’s strategy should simply be to do these things well and efficiently. It requires a mindset among the city’s management and employees that they are to serve the taxpayers. Paving roads and hiring cops doesn’t require grand strategy. It requires trained motivated employees, efficient processes, and money.

There is a simple six step program that can carry Dallas where it needs to go even if the Mayor were elected by the Council.

Step One: Get rid of the city’s Civil Service system. No one gets fired in Dallas. They get paid vacations waiting for the City’s Civil Service Commission to reinstate them. No other Texas’ city operates this way. While the system may have been put in place decades ago for the best of good government reasons it is a failed anachronism. City Hall is full of deadwood that needs to get cleared out. That won’t happen until the Civil Service system is axed. Axing it would be a far more powerful way to change things than bulking up the powers of the Mayor.

However, it would be no less difficult. While the deadwood cuts across all demographics,

Minorities, particularly the city’s African Americans, would have to be convinced this wasn’t simply a way of firing minority city employees. It would also take an initial toll on city employee morale. But the struggle would be worth it. Until know they can lose their jobs for failure to perform there will be no incentive for employees to perform as needed.

Step Two: Create a Privatization Commission. I have no idea if there is single city service that it makes sense to outsource. But I bet there are plenty. Unfortunately, the Mayor is hostile to the concept and few politicians are inclined to outsourcing and while I have no idea what Mary Suhm’s views are on the subject few managers are anxious to shrink their empires. But it is well worth the try. A Citizen’s Commission that could take a clear eyed look at each department and city function could decide if there was tax dollars to be saved or greater efficiency to be had.

Step Three: Replace the City Auditor with an elected three-man Ombudsman Commission with power to investigate reports of wrong doing, poor service, inefficiency, etc. The Ombudsman Commission should have subpoena power. This is no criticism of the City Auditor. But Dallas has a corruption problem that can be solved only when those in power know that someone with the power of the people behind them can look where it wants and find what it will.

Step Four: Conduct a top to bottom productivity and quality review. The kind of consulting Dallas needs is the kind that will look at the city’s processes with a clear eye for efficiency. The Dallas Observer’s Jim Schutze wrote last year about the multi-step process the city employed to fill pot holes. Jim had the right idea: send on truck to see if the hole needed filling and if so shovel in the asphalt, and if didn’t drive on. I have talked to dozens of city employees who want to do well that explain they are hemmed in by absurd processes or no processes at all.

I am a partner in a firm that has helped major corporations get their employees to take responsibility for quality and productivity. Long before I joined it our CEO was doing wonders for companies with budgets the size of Dallas. Obviously, I am not suggesting the city hire us, but I do know what is possible and there are firms that can help Dallas dramatically transform its workforce.

Step Five: Establish a one-time Citizen’s Commission for IT Infrastructure. There is every indication that Dallas government is relatively inefficient because it is technologically deficient. IT done right can in and of itself make an enormous difference. IT done wrong can drive up budgets and do more harm than good. But IT can be done right. It can revolutionize purchasing, dramatically cut losses from theft or incompetence, and cut wait times for services.

Step Six: Offer pay competitive with private industry and tie raises to productivity increases. If City Hall is run efficiently, with the latest IT and processes, it will realize productivity gains that can fund significant pay increases. My bet is that handled right City workers would buy into all of the above if they thought serious raises and public acceptance and a job perceived to be well done were waiting at the end of the rainbow.

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by    Tue, Jan 3, 2006, 11:31 AM

Will Pryor
By unofficial count, 93 Dallas County Democrats filed for county offices by the 6 p.m. deadline on January 2. This is the largest number of Democratic candidates to file in Dallas County in recent memory, perhaps the most in history. When Democrats last dominated the county, there were fewer offices on the ballot.

The mood was more-than-upbeat at a standing-room-only, post-deadline party at Poor David’s Pub on Lamar—the largest in 20 years or more. Judges Sally Montgomery and Dennise Garcia were present as the first countywide Democrats to seek re-election since Judge Ron Chapman.

Democrats will have contested primaries in some 15 races , including those for District Attorney (Larry Jarrett, Craig Watkins, B.D. Howard), County Clerk (Greg Albright, John Warren, Darryl Brigham, Harry Trujillo), Commissioner District 4 (Scott Chase, Rose Renfroe), House District 107 (Andy Smith, Allen Vaught), House District 100 (incumbent Dr. Jesse Jones, Barbara Mallory Caraway), House District 109 (incumbent Helen Giddings and Cedric Davis, Sr.), and a number of countywide judicial ra ces .

Charlie Thompson
Republican Pete Sessions will be challenged by well-known Dallas lawyer Will Pryor in Congressional District 32 and Charlie Thompson will challenge Jeb Hensarling in CD 5.  All but two state house districts are contested by the Democrats. Among those, Phil Shinoda will take on Will Harnett in state house district 114, Harriet Miller will try again in House District 102 against Tony Goolsby, and Katy Hubener will again seek House District 106, which she narrowly lost to Ray Allen (who did not seek re-election) in the last election. She will face the winner of the Republican primary, in which two candidates have filed. (Look for this district, followed by District 107, as potential Republican losses in Dallas County , with the wild card being HD 102 for a potential third.)

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Jack Abramoff: The Bad Guy of the Year Award by Tom Pauken Print E-mail
by Special to    Sun, Jan 1, 2006, 05:34 PM

Jack Abramoff
Indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abromoff symbolizes the worst of what our nation's capitol, Washington, D.C., has become.  In the words of Andrew Stephen of the New Statesman, "the U.S.  capitol is swarming with lobbyists who are paid absurd sums to do shady deals with elected politicians." Abramoff and his associates reportedly pocketed $82.5 million in lobbying fees from Indian tribes to influence casino gambling decisions by the federal, as well as state governments, and that's just the take from one category of Abramoff's clients. 

By the time the investigations into the activities of Abramoff and his associates are completed, it is anticipated that a slew of prominent Republicans as well as some Democrats will be implicated in what former Sen. Alan Simpson calls the worst scandal since the Abscam FBI sting. Good riddance to a bunch of corrupt lobbyists and politicians for whom money and power replaced any committment to principles and ethical behavior.

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by Special to    Sun, Jan 1, 2006, 12:00 AM

George W Bush.jpgGeroge W. Bush. He's the guy: your man of the year whether you like, merely tolerate, or -- as is often the case -- deplore and despise him. Because who, other than our president, sat closer to the malestrom of events in 2005? Iraq, Cindy What's-Her-Name, Katrina, the Social Security debacle, Supreme Court nominations, taxes, deficit spending -- if you looked, there was Bush: not always covering himself with glory, more than occasionally stumbling but not really messing up, save in his failure to fight federal spending and in his cave-in to John McCain on the "torture" measure.

To my own way of thinking, Bush's achievement, in a rather bad year, especially in PR terms, consisted in his sheer endurance. Which is naturally what the media hated him for. The media wanted him to put on sack cloth and ashes and announce his newly discovered consonance with the philosophical positions of Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd. Of course had he done so, the media then would have skewered him for intellectual inconsistency if not political treason.

The media, my longtime profession, was absolutely, grotesquely awful in 2005: these various decaying specimens of the '60s and '70s looking up from their yogurt and fava beans just long enough to aim another kick at a Texas cowboy. Were Bush as bad as his press notices, we'd probably have to impeach him, then hang him from the nearest live oak in Crawford. Fortunately that won't be necessary.

What was overlooked this year, amid the monotonous drone from the Eastern seaboard, was that Bush

1. Stayed steady in pursuit of an Iraqi settlement advantageous both to Americans and Iraqis;

2. Named John Roberts chief justice;

3. Nominated Samuel Alito to succeed Sandra O'Connor;

4. Tapped Ben Bernanke for the Fed;

5. Spoke Truth to Irresponsibility as he sought Social Security reform;

6. Hung in with John Bolton for U.N. ambassador;

7. Presssed hard, if not artfully, for tax cut extensions;

8. Brought a useful (i.e., centrist) immigration reform proposal to the table;

9. Kept his cool;

10. Didn't whine.

Not half-bad, given the obstacles to such a performance.

I think and hope I am not widely celebrated as a Bush (or Karl Rove) apologist. Nevertheless, I think we owe the guy a little more appreciation has been his lot during a year we almost can't help but improve on.

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