Got It, Flaunt It

Those campaign donations aren't buying yard signs and pamphlets

Trying to reform campaign-finance laws in Texas -- home of Tom DeLay -- is a noble, needed effort that will eventually, we're sure, have all the success that state environmental activists have had.

Someone has to do it, though, and thankfully Fred Lewis and the folks at Campaigns for People have jumped into the fray. They've released a study detailing how the 31 state senators spent their campaign funds in the years 2001 to 2003. The study shows, to no one's surprise, that when you give money to a Texas politician's campaign, there's no telling where it will go -- state reps and senators are paid paltry salaries, and campaign laws are loose enough that they can spend their donations on just about anything, like living expenses.

Lewis, of course, is concerned about potential ethical abuses, saying things such as "senators are trying to cope with a broken system" that's rife with potential for influence-peddling.

An' Git Away From My Still! Revenooers, 
Treasury men and other such city slickers are advised 
to stay away from this house on Cortlandt in the 
Heights. Signs -- apparently from the noted boutique 
"Calligraphy By Jed" -- give fair warning that, unlike the 
rest of the neighborhood, this resident is in no hurry to 
gentrify. Whoever lives there didn't respond to our 
attempts to get an interview, and an official at the 
Houston Heights Association said his group was 
unaware of the house. Still, are a couple of signs 
enough to scare away someone determined to give 
Houston even more knockoff town homes?
An' Git Away From My Still!
Revenooers, Treasury men and other such city slickers are advised to stay away from this house on Cortlandt in the Heights. Signs -- apparently from the noted boutique "Calligraphy By Jed" -- give fair warning that, unlike the rest of the neighborhood, this resident is in no hurry to gentrify. Whoever lives there didn't respond to our attempts to get an interview, and an official at the Houston Heights Association said his group was unaware of the house. Still, are a couple of signs enough to scare away someone determined to give Houston even more knockoff town homes?

But who cares about such goody-goody stuff? We want slimy details.

Unfortunately, there are no "staff dinners" at The Men's Club, or anything like that. Still, a few things stand out:

The Healthy Eating Award goes to Senator Teel Bivins, an Amarillo Republican. Forget about the $571 tab to Pinkie's Liquor; Bivins bought food from Pizza Hut, Krispy Kreme, Iron Works BBQ, Shipley's Do-Nuts, Candy And Stuff and Cakes N More. Bivins is expected to sponsor the Carbohydrate Preservation Act in 2005.

The Senate's Best Secret Santa is John Carona, a Dallas Democrat. Under "gifts" he listed expenditures at such places as Tiffany & Co., Neiman-Marcus, Godiva Chocolates, Bailey Banks & Biddle, Williams-Sonoma, FAO Schwarz and some store called Objects of Envy. Not to mention the $12,500 he dropped at the White House Historical Society.

The Senator You Want to Dine With is Houston's own John Whitmire (nominally a Democrat). He spends campaign cash at such high-end places as Vic & Anthony's, Ruth's Chris Steak House, the River Oaks Grill (he's dropped $3,500 there in three years), Morton's Steakhouse and Damian's.

The Senator You Don't Want to Dine With is Eddie Lucio Jr., a Brownsville Democrat. His list of eateries included the unfortunately named Kuntry Korner and a veritable tableau of non-mouthwatering places: Golden Corral, Applebee's, Luby's, Subway and IHOP. Most depressing entry: $4.83 at Whataburger for "lunch for staff member."

Maybe he should get friendly with John Carona. Can a gift certificate to the Mansion on Turtle Creek be far behind?

Stuff Happens

Being a punk-ass street jerk is a shitty job. At least that's what a car full of pseudo-toughs found out on the southwest side of town recently.

Spotting an older guy walking his dog near Braeswood and Hillcroft, they pulled over, pointed a gun and started talking trash. The guy, who did not want his name used, figured it was a robbery.

Being a Vietnam vet -- and the son of a marine Harrier pilot -- he wasn't going to give the thugs the pleasure of robbing him. So he tossed the plastic bag he was holding into the open car and took off. He got hit by a pellet gunshot in the back but is in good shape.

As for the robbers, they sped away with their plastic bag of hard-earned booty. Seeing how it was full of the dog shit the guy had scooped up after his pet had done his business, cops must be looking for brown-spattered occupants and a car that now has five or six of those pine-scented tree deodorants hanging in it.

Come Out of Your Shell

The U.S. Senate has burnished its reputation for trenchant debate with its recent oratory over the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Texas played its usual statesmanlike role, of course. Senator John Cornyn, in a speech prepared for the conservative Heritage Foundation, said, "It does not affect your daily life very much if your neighbor marries a box turtle. But that does not mean it is right. Now you must raise your children in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife."

Cornyn may, of course, have simply been following the GOP line -- led admirably by Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum -- that equates gay sex with bestiality. But in the perhaps vain hope that our state's junior senator could not possibly be so…ummm…mentally challenged, we thought maybe he had some personal experience that would lead him to make such a statement.

So we called his neighbor. Wendall Hirschfeld, 35, lives next door to Cornyn on Austin's west side.

Q. You're John Cornyn's neighbor, right?

A. Huh? Well, yeah, that's right, I am. Why?

Q. This is kind of a strange question, but the senator, in a speech about the gay marriage amendment, talked about neighbors marrying box turtles. Is this something you've ever thought of?

A. Ummm. I don't….uhh…I don't know where you're going with this.

Q. Well, I just wondered where he got the idea, and thought maybe, you know, since you're his neighbor…

A. Yeah. Well, as you said, this is kind of a strange question. [Embarrassing pause, long enough that we begin to wonder whether the reticence might just be due to his actually avoiding the subject of his box-turtle wife.]

Q. Well, it was something the senator said, and I wanted to give you a chance to respond.

A. I don't think I'll get into it. Thanks for calling.

While Hirschfeld seemed like a nice enough guy (before the subject turned to box turtles), and while records indicate he's married to a human being (and she's a female, too!), it must be noted that he did not explicitly deny any box-turtle nuptials.

So maybe Cornyn wasn't pandering. Maybe he just lives in a strange neighborhood.

To Womb It May Concern

With the release of the Will Ferrell epic Anchorman, the Houston Chronicle felt the need to tell readers that unlike many local anchors nationwide, the folks reading the news in Houston are really, really smart, committed journalists who defy stereotypes.

They illustrated their piece with a giant photo of KHOU's Greg Hurst, which would seem to undermine their thesis. Hurst, after all, famously wrote a bizarre two-page rant a few years ago to a reporter who'd criticized him, a rant that was full of grammatical errors and passages in which Hurst described his "sagacity," "professional probity" and "journalistic acumen."

In the Anchorman story, Chron reporter Andrew Guy Jr. also wrote of KTRK's Gina Gaston, who subjected Houstonians to stories and Web updates about the 2003 birth of her triplets.

Not that she wanted that kind of publicity, to be sure. "The only reason I did those stories," the Chron quoted her as saying, "was to put to rest the rumors that we used fertility drugs…I wanted to show that women could get pregnant without fertility drugs."

Women can get pregnant without fertility drugs? Who knew?

We guess Gaston meant to say "women my age" but just couldn't bring herself to do it.

Or maybe someone was confused. The next day a correction appeared saying that "Gaston did use fertility drugs to conceive twins." (Twins? She only has the triplets.) And one of the Web stories Gaston wrote last year about the triplets said, "In my case, fertility drugs helped us conceive…I'm sharing this otherwise private information to give hope to many couples who've tried for years to start a family."

Chron reporter Andrew Guy Jr. did not respond to questions about the story.

Gaston says she has no inkling how Guy came to the conclusion she had not used fertility drugs. "I'm not sure how he got it wrong," she says. "We were on a cell phone that was going in and out, but we were talking about it for some time, I thought."

And the ensuing correction that mentioned twins, not triplets? "How I ended up with one fewer children, I don't know that either," she says.

Kill the Wabbit

Star-crossed lovers, bruised feelings, brides left at the altar, a high-stakes showdown -- you could make an opera out of it. Or a lawsuit.

Houston Grand Opera is suing the English National Opera over this year's production of Jenufa, which as you Linkin Park fans know, is a Czech opera featuring a dead baby, an angry mob and a gal who can't choose between two stepbrothers.

HGO and ENO were supposed to collaborate on the January production -- and HGO spokeswoman Joy Partain says the companies were listed together in the program -- but apparently something went wrong.

Horribly, horribly wrong. Although on the bright side, no dead babies were involved.

HGO alleges ENO promised to pay $130,000 as part of its share of staging the event. "After ENO's repeated assurances that it would satisfy its obligation, however, ENO informed the Houston Opera that due to 'financial circumstances' ENO could not keep the original intentions described in the parties' agreement," says the state court lawsuit.

Geez, if you can't get along when it comes to a dead-baby opera, when can you get along?

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