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Border Cameras: The Sequel

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry gave Texas border sheriffs another $2 million for a virtual border wall of web cameras that in its first full year failed to meet nearly every law enforcement goal his office originally set.

Brandi Grissom, The Texas Tribune

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry gave Texas border sheriffs another $2 million for a virtual border wall of web cameras that in its first full year failed to meet nearly every law enforcement goal his office originally set.

Last week, Perry's Criminal Justice Division notified the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition that it had been awarded a second $2 million grant for the Texas Border Watch program. The program allows anyone, anywhere with an Internet connection to view live footage from cameras trained on the Texas-Mexico border.

"The ultimate goal is to deter, prevent and disrupt crime along the border," said Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger.

Perry hatched the idea for the virtual border watch during his 2006 re-election campaign. He promised then to spend $5 million and line the border with hundreds of surveillance cameras.

After several starts and stops and a test of the program that yielded paltry results, Perry last year awarded the border sheriffs $2 million to run the camera project for one year.

Traffic to the camera Web site, www.blueservo.com, was brisk, with some 40 million people logging onto the site and nearly 125,000 signing up as virtual border deputies.

All those Web hits, though, didn't result in much police work.

Internal grant reports showed that with the initial funding, the coalition was expected to install 200 cameras that would generate about 1,200 arrests and 4,500 illegal immigrant referrals to U.S. Border Patrol.

Year-end reports showed that from June 2008 through June 2009, the coalition — which contracted with BlueServo, a small social networking company —installed just 17 cameras that produced 11 arrests and about 300 immigration referrals.

Perry's office argues that the camera program didn't miss its goals but that the targets were improperly set at the outset of the first $2 million grant. The targets were revised after the first year; after the changes, they closely match that year's actual results.

The governor's office issued a revised year-end report earlier this summer after fielding a reporter's questions about why the initial year-end report showed the cameras did not meet the original goals. The revised report listed goals that were dramatically downsized.

Instead of 200 cameras, the revised report showed the coalition was expected to install only 15, a target the sheriffs exceeded by installing 17 cameras.

The goal for arrests was shifted from 1,200 down to 25, more in line with the 11 arrests the coalition actually reported.

Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said the initial goals should have been adjusted sooner and attributed the lapse to technological glitches.

State Rep. Veronica Gonzales, D-McAllen, said she'd rather see state investment in more boots on the border than in the camera program that seems less effective.

"We welcome monies, and we welcome the Governor paying close attention to our security," Gonzales said. "But we also know these are tough economic times, so we want to make sure the money is spent as effectively as possible."

Don Reay, executive director of the coalition, said despite missing its targets, the camera program was worthwhile.

Success or failure, he said, can't be judged based solely on the numbers.

"You have to look at the community impact, what people feel out there and the fact we're not getting as many complaints there to the sheriffs' offices," Reay said.

During the second year of the grant, Reay said, the coalition expects to install more cameras, to move the cameras more often to various locations along the border and to improve response times to reports from Internet viewers.

The border cameras, he said, are not meant to be the solution to crime and illegal immigration problems on the border. They are just one part of Perry's larger strategy.

Since 2005, the state has spent more than $110 million on border security efforts. Much of that was used to pay state troopers and local police and sheriffs overtime to patrol high-crime areas of the border.

"We've never said we are the panacea... with that camera project," Reay said. "It fits into the overall strategy."

But experts on both sides of the immigration issue agreed that results from the first year of the border camera program showed it was unsuccessful. Some lawmakers called the program a waste.

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, said money that has been used on the border cameras would be better spent on hiring more state troopers and boosting intelligence operations.

The border cameras, Shapleigh said, are more about Perry securing his electoral base ahead of a tough primary election fight than they are about providing security on the border.

"Border cameras are a proven waste of time and money," Shapleigh said, "but his immigrant-bashing base loves them, so that's why he funds them."

Perry: Add Boots on the Border

Brandi Grissom, The Texas Tribune

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry is expanding Operation Border Star, a multi-agency border security effort he launched in 2007, sending teams of Texas Rangers and National Guard troops to curb border crime and prevent spillover violence from Mexico.

"This is the latest in a series of aggressive actions we've taken to fill the gap left by the federal government's ongoing failure to adequately secure our international border," Perry announced in Houston.

He also reissued his call for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to send more National Guard troops to the border and said he has sunk another $2 million into his border Web camera program.

Perry did not say how many Rangers or National Guard troops would be stationed on the 1,254-mile Texas-Mexico border.

Tom Vinger, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman, said there are currently 130 Texas Rangers, and the agency plans to hire 14 more. He declined to say how many Rangers are assigned to the border.

Perry said so-called "Ranger Recon Teams" have been on the border since August, investigating burglaries of rural ranches, homes and hunting camps.

He said the teams would also be key to preventing the Mexican drug war from seeping into the U.S.

Citing the more than 1,500 murders in Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Perry reiterated his call for the federal government to pay to send National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border. He first asked DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano in January to approve the troop surge.

All In, for the Moment

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst sent a note to supporters saying he wants a third term in that post, but didn't do it in a way that prevents him from running for U.S. Senate, should Kay Bailey Hutchison resign to run for governor.

"I wanted you to be one of the first to know that I am running for re-election as Lt. Governor of Texas, and I would like to humbly ask for your endorsement and continued support in my re-election," Dewhurst says in his letter to supporters.

Hutchison has talked about leaving office early, and about announcing that decision as early as next month. But she hasn't committed, and she's not required to quit in order to run for governor (Hutchison's term in the Senate runs through 2012; she could serve it out if she loses the race for governor, or resign later, if she wins).

Dewhurst is on the list of Republicans who might run for the job if Hutchison leaves. Several have said they will run, including Railroad Commissioners Elizabeth Ames Jones and Michael Williams, former Secretary of State Roger Williams, and state Sen. Florence Shapiro. Democrats in the race include Alma Aguado, former Comptroller John Sharp, and Houston Mayor Bill White.

And there's another reason — other than reelection — for the Lite Guv to say he's up for reelection. It lets him raise money for a state account that's trying to retire $2.5 million in loans, and it keeps other wannabes out of the lieutenant governor race while Hutchison and then Dewhurst decide what to do.

It leaves Attorney General Greg Abbott in a bit of a spot. He wants to run for Dewhurst's job and in fact, former Solicitor General Ted Cruz already has a bead on replacing Abbott as AG. Abbott, who's got the biggest campaign treasury of anyone not running for governor, can afford to wait to see how things develop. Hutchison decides or not, Dewhurst decides or not, and there will be plenty of time for Abbott to make his move before the early January filing deadline.

Add one more player to the mix: Austin deli owner Mark Katz, is now telling people he wants to run for lieutenant governor. Katz is locally famous for commercials where he shouts "Katz's Never Kloses!" and bills himself as "The Pastrami King." This marks the restaurant's 30th year in business and has promotional opportunities for the restaurant as well as the candidate.

Katz announced on Facebook over the weekend with this line: "With pride and conviction, I am announcing my candidacy for the position of Lieutenant Governor of the great state of Texas. Katz never quits for Texas. In the coming weeks, I will unveil a platform for the common good. I can't help it I gotta tell ya — together we can make a difference."

Ogden: That's It

Sen. Steve Ogden, chairman of the Texas Senate Finance Committee, won't seek another term in 2010.

"It's been long enough," he said. "Time for new blood."

Ogden's announcement was confined to the decision against reelection. He's not saying he's out of politics, and he's not saying he'll ever run again. But his interest, at the moment, is the federal budget. "I think Texas is in good shape and I think the federal government is a wreck. The deficit, I believe, is a clear and present danger... "

That ends months of speculation about his plans, and frees other candidates to run for the seat. Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, said weeks ago that he'd be in the race if Ogden doesn't want another term. He represents a chunk of the district, and his dad — also a Dan Gattis — is the Williamson County judge. So he'll start with some name ID. Ben Bius of Huntsville filed campaign papers with the state shortly after Ogden broke the news, saying he's been looking at the race for a while and now can openly explore the possibility. Bius ran unsuccessfully for the House in 1998 and again in 2000. Sam Harrison, a Bryan doctor, might also get into the race.

Ogden, a former House member, has been in the Senate since 1997. He'll serve out his term, and says he made his announcement now to give successors time to line up and plan their campaigns. He's not endorsing anyone at this point.

Another Kind of Poll Tax

A special election for the U.S. Senate could cost $18 million to $30 million, depending on whether there's a runoff, according to Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade.

She's an appointee of Gov. Rick Perry, and was asked by a conservative group — Texans for Fiscal Responsibility — to cough up an estimate. And that, in turn, prompted the Kay Bailey Hutchison folks to cry foul, saying Perry's trying to manipulate her out of resigning to run against him.

The TFR folks took a little different tack, saying Hutchison should resign — if at all — before September 28. If she quit before that date, the special election would coincide with the November elections already queued up (including a mess of low-interest constitutional amendments and a high-interest but local race for mayor of Houston). Were she to quit after that September deadline, the election would be held either in May or, if the governor decided to call an emergency election, sometime after November 3 but before May. That's the more expensive proposition, if you're budget-minded.

Rematch? No, and Maybe.

Brandi Grissom, The Texas Tribune

Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, won't face another challenge from wealthy El Paso businessman Dee Margo in 2010, but freshman Rep. Joe Moody might. Margo said Friday he is still mulling another run for the Texas HD-78 seat that was once occupied by Republican Pat Haggerty.

"I haven't made my decision," said Margo, president and CEO of JDW Insurance in El Paso. Margo ran against Shapleigh in 2006 and was handily defeated. Democratic straight-ticket voting in El Paso County, he said, is still too much for a Republican to overcome to win the Senate seat.

"I see probably no point," he said.

The House seat, based in affluent West El Paso, however, could be a different story. In 2008, Margo beat Haggerty in a rough-and-tumble Republican primary race for the district 78 spot. He lost the November general election to Democratic Rep. Moody, a young lawyer and son of well-known El Paso District Judge Bill Moody. The district, though, has long elected Republicans — Haggerty was in office nearly two decades — and in 2010 President Barack Obama won't be on the ballot to drive up the Democratic vote.

Margo said he's still fielding phone calls and hasn't made up his mind about another run for the Legislature. "I just don't know at this time," he said.

Running Shoes

Debra Medina will officially announce her run for governor in Dallas over the weekend.

She's a Republican running against a sitting Republican governor who's being challenged by the state's senior U.S. senator, also a Republican. Medina's line for Rick Perry and Kay Hutchison? "Two politicians who have had plenty of time to make a difference, but didn't..."

Rep. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson, is running for reelection in HD-112. No surprise there; she's in her first term in the House.

Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, says she'll run for a second full term in the Texas House (she took office after a special election in 2006). That's HD-48.

Cindy Burkett, a Republican, says she'll run in HD-101 — the seat now held by Rep. Robert Miklos, D-Mesquite. That's a key target for the GOP; it had been in Republican hands for years when Miklos won it away in 2008. Burkett, a former aide to Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, co-owns a restaurant company.

Add James Bernsen to the growing list of Republicans who want a crack at Rep. Diana Maldonado, D-Round Rock. She won that seat away from the GOP last year. Now, without a hot presidential race to draw Democratic voters to the polls, the GOP tribe is hoping that Williamson County seat will revert to their party. Bernsen is a former political reporter, campaign consultant, aide to officeholders, and a current member of the Navy Reserve.

Abel Bosquez, the chairman of the Potter County Democratic Party, plans to run for the Texas House against Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas. That's Republican turf, but Bosquez has a geographical advantage: He's from Amarillo and Swinford isn't.

U.S. Senate candidate Bill White (his day job is mayor of Houston) got the endorsements of 31 Democratic Texas House members, or just under half of the 74 Democrats in that chamber.

Editor's Note

Reporters joke (sort of) that only their colleagues and their mothers notice their bylines, but you might've spotted Brandi Grissom's name on the top stories this week, followed by "The Texas Tribune." The Tribune, which is purchasing Texas Weekly, will go online in the first week of November. But the Tribune's staff has already started work, and their work, as you can see, is already making its way into TW. And just in case you missed our earlier note on this: Texas Weekly isn't going anywhere. It's just changing owners and gaining a much bigger staff of reporters and writers. Stay tuned!

—Ross Ramsey

Political People and Their Moves

Linda Thomas, chief justice of the 5th District Court of Appeals in Dallas, is resigning at the end of October. She's been a judge for over 30 years — about half of it in her current job. That apparently makes her the longest-serving state judge in Texas. She'll keep teaching at the SMU law school and plans to get into arbitrations and mediations.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is running for reelection, but his new campaign staffers have experience in federal races (just in case Dewhurst runs for, say, Kay Bailey Hutchison's seat?) Josh Robinson will be managing director of the campaign and Vincent Harris will run new media operations. Robinson has been a congressional staffer and worked on John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. Harris has his own media company now but worked for a list of folks that includes U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

Political consultant, writer, and former reporter Glenn Smith has started up a new culture and politics blog (from the left, or blue, end of your political dial). It's called dogcanyon.org.

Quotes of the Week

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie, asked whether he thinks national Democrats will open their treasury to help in Texas races next year: "Given that I think they have an appreciation for what we’ve been able to do and how close we are, then I think at the appropriate time, they will put resources in here to help us get over the hump, so to speak."

Democratic consultant Jason Stanford, quoted in The Dallas Morning News on chances for his party in next year's Texas elections: "There's a feeling in a lot of quarters that it might not be an even shot, we know it's a long shot, but it's definitely a winnable shot."

House Speaker Joe Straus, quoted by the Temple Daily Telegram after a tour of the area with local Rep. Ralph Sheffield: "Nowhere but Texas would you drive down an interstate highway and come to a beautifully restored railroad depot only to get on a bus."

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, on the things he campaigned on in his first bid for office 20 years ago: "By the time I was sworn in, they were either not possible or irrelevant."


Texas Weekly: Volume 26, Issue 34, 14 September 2009. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2009 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (512) 302-5703 or email biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.

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