Dateline Houston

In the three-and-a-half months since Trayvon Martin was killed, Houston courts have heard two cases involving the shooting of unarmed civilians and decided them very differently.

Last night, a Harris County jury found Raul Rodriguez guilty of murder for shooting his neighbor in 2010 over a noisy party. Kelly Danaher, a 36-year-old elementary school teacher, was having a birthday party for his wife and young daughter. Angry about the noise, Rodriguez armed himself with a handgun and video camera and recorded himself telling a police dispatcher, “my life is in danger now,” “these people are going to try and kill me,” and “I’m standing my ground here.” Rodriguez fatally shot Danaher in the street after someone tried to grab his video camera.

Dateline Houston wishes this were a depressing postmodern play about the dangerous, aggrandizing fantasies engendered by constant self-documentation in the social media age—but it’s not. It’s a real news story about a retired firefighter with a concealed carry permit and the Stand Your Ground law that made him think that saying aloud that he believed his life was in danger would protect him from all consequences.

The problem is, Rodriguez wasn’t a cop.

In April, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against two Houston-area cops who shot an unarmed black man, Robbie Tolan, in his driveway in 2008.

Here’s what happened—and please note, these events are not disputed; the issue at stake in the lawsuit was whether these events violated Tolan’s constitutional rights.

Tolan and his cousin were driving home in the wee hours of December 31. Officer John C. Edwards (who is white) was on patrol in the Bellaire neighborhood and ran Cooper’s plates—you know, just because. The plates came back as stolen—because Edwards had entered the plate number wrong.

Edwards called for back-up and confronted Tolan and his cousin on the front lawn, ordering them to the ground. Tolan’s parents heard the commotion and came outside in their pajamas, trying to explain that Tolan lived there and the car was theirs. One of the officers pushed Tolan’s mother toward the garage door and Tolan started to get up, objecting. Sgt. Jeffrey Wayne Cotton, who had been on the scene for 32 seconds, shot Tolan. Per the Chronicle: “Cotton said he thought Tolan was reaching for a gun in his waistband.”

Cotton was charged with first-degree aggravated assault by a public servant and found not guilty at trial in 2010. Naturally. Then the Toban family sued. They lost.

“Sergeant Cotton misinterpreted Robbie Tolan’s intended actions,” the judge wrote, “but his firing on Robbie Tolan did not violate Robbie Tolan’s constitutional rights because Sergeant Cotton feared for his life and could reasonably have believed the shooting was necessary.”

The firing of Jasper’s first black police chief, only a year after his appointment, has brought race tensions to the fore again, and residents are scared.

In June of 1998, three white supremacists in Jasper, dragged James Byrd Jr. behind a pickup truck until his head came off.

Thirteen years later, the city council, which at the time had four black council members and one white, named Rodney Pearson Jasper’s first black police chief. While the town was 46 percent white and 44 percent black, the police force had always been vastly white. Grumbles at the time suggested the pick was racially motivated and that Pearson, who had been Jasper’s first black highway patrolman, was unqualified. Three white candidates sued the city for “reverse discrimination.” Others pointed to the fact that Pearson, when he was 21, had been convicted of a class C misdemeanor for writing a hot check worth less than $20, which he neglected to mention on his application. (This is what conservative outlets claim is Pearson’s main disqualification.)

But Pearson hung on to his post—until now. In the year since Pearson’s appointment, white residents in Jasper organized the city’s first-ever recall election, (in which voter fraud was alleged) ousting three of the four black councilmembers and replacing them with whites, so that now the council’s balance is 4/5 white.

Last night, Pearson was fired. The reason? Job performance, they say, specifically that he allegedly took four unauthorized vacation days. The council is meeting today to discuss the firing. Council members swear up and down that his race is not the reason for the dismissal.

A white Jasper resident, who asked not to be named, told Dateline Houston that the Black Panthers are on their way to the city and that she fears the KKK will also come and there may be violence. “Regardless of what groups come, this is a big deal,” she says. “The white people are saying, ‘This isn’t about race at all!’ But it so obviously is.”

“When it has anything to do with racism, people get really angry. And when people get angry, they get stupid.” She adds, “We’re just going to stay in our house for a few days.”

We’ll keep you posted. 

The LaRouchian from Left Field

Democratic Nominee for Congress Compares Obama to Hitler. A LaRouche Democrat wins primary… again.

“Oh, no! Aliens, bio-duplication, nude conspiracies… Oh my God! Lyndon LaRouche was right!” —Homer Simpson

What do you get when you combine the most entertaining parts of the tea party, libertarianism, and the foil hat club?

A…. Democrat?

Yes. Specifically, a LaRouche Democrat. Lyndon LaRouche is an 89-year-old conspiracy theorist with a cult following that likens Obama to Hitler, advocates a world gold standard, and wants to colonize Mars. Oh, and self-identifies as Democratic.

Fringe, you say?

They became slightly less fringe last week when Spring Branch Democrats (and, likely, a few snickering Republicans) handed the Democratic primary for Texas’ Congressional District 22 to a LaRouche Democrat named Kesha Rogers, whose campaign signs declaim, “Impeach Obama Now!”

But unlike Lloyd Oliver and a few other characters having their 15 minutes this election cycle, Rogers’ win wasn’t a fluke. Running in the same district In 2010, she took more than half the vote in a three-way primary. Fortunately for all those Democrats who believe Obama isn’t Hitler-like, CD 22 is a Republican seat, and Rogers got trounced in the 2010 genera election. She won just south of 30 percent against Congressman Pete Olson. But in doing so, she was just emulating LaRouche himself, who ran unsuccessfully for president eight times between 1976 and 2004. (One of those times, whilst he was in prison for tax evasion.)

Rogers will encounter Olson again in November. The results will probably be similar.

Rogers is a 35-year-old Houston native whose non-political experience I can’t get a fix on, though neither can I locate a political job she’s actually acquired. In 2006, she ran unsuccessfully for chairman of the Texas Democratic Party and credits her deep knowledge of the district to that campaign. That appears to have been her first effort.

The biography on her website, kesharogers.com, raises more questions than it answers. Rogers (presumably) writes, “After graduating college in 2001 with a BA in Political Science and Speech Communications from Texas State University, I realized that my generation and those younger had been given no future, and had been maliciously robbed of the knowledge of principles and methods necessary for building one.” (Which is a pretty stirring version of “What do I do with this degree?”) She continues, “In this context, I joined and became an active leader of the LaRouche Youth Movement over nine eventful years ago.”

The LaRouche Youth Movement probably wrote its own Wikipedia page, which describes its goals as to “promote the revival of classical humanist thought, organize politically to establish a new world economic system based on the power of human creativity to increase the power of the human individual in relation to the universe, and fight for a physical economy which can promote the general welfare of humanity, to develop and move toward better living conditions.”

That last bit, about the general welfare of humanity and better living conditions, is why some LaRouchians identify as Democrats. Rogers and others have said that, much like Republicans have strayed from their roots as the party of Lincoln, the Democrats have ceased to be the party of Roosevelt and Kennedy. But while many may agree, Rogers in particular seems to think the Democrats’ trouble started, and would end, with the Obama presidency. “Prior to Obama,” her website reads, “the Democratic Party has been the party that fought for the rights of the lower 80%, of organized labor, of scientific progress, and the welfare of the nation.”

So, Rogers’ repeat wins might be symptomatic of Democratic disappointment with Obama’s first term, with issues like his failure to close Guantanamo or his authorization of indefinite detention, right?

Again, no. As is so often the case in political theater, the real answer defies paraphrasing. From kesharogers.com: “Mr. Obama is a puppet of the bankrupt financial system, and has pushed policies made notorious by the Adolph Hitler regime, and since condemned by the entire world. His flagrant violations of the U.S. Constitution, national and international law, in addition to posing a clear and present danger of new violations, including thermonuclear war and the threat of violent suppression of peaceful domestic opposition, warrant his immediate removal from the office of the Presidency by impeachment.”

Not convinced? She adds, “The public record of Mr. Obama’s mental state shows that he is incapable of faithfully performing his duties as president,” and should be removed.

But Rogers is one of five LaRouche Democrats running for Congress around the country, and their persistence suggests that a solid mental state is not the most important prerequisite for running for office.

The term “perennial candidate” is never flattering. But this primary season, Texas Democrats picked at least three of them to continue toward election day: Grady Yarbrough, who made it to a run-off with former state lawmaker Paul Sadler for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate; Kesha Rogers of Fort Bend, who was soundly defeated by Pete Olson in Congressional District 22 last year and is now famous-ish for publicly calling for Obama’s impeachment; and Lloyd Oliver, who barely beat the actually-qualified Zack Fertitta in Tuesday night’s Democratic primary for Harris County District Attorney.

Fertitta was the favorite in that race. Like, a lot. Earlier this month, Neil Aquino, a liberal blogger for the Houston Chronicle, described it as an “easy race to call.” He wrote, “Lloyd Oliver has run for office a number of times before in Harris County as a Republican. He has also voted in Republican primaries. Zack Fertitta is the only credible candidate on the Democratic ballot for DA.”

Fertitta is well-liked and respected by Democrats and Republicans. He’s been an Assistant DA in Harris County since 2003. He was endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the Houston Black American Democrats, and the Houston Tejano Democrats. He was an Eagle Scout.

But he lost to Lloyd Oliver, a defense attorney who says he runs regularly because it’s “good for business.” Earlier this year, Oliver was named “Not Qualified” to be DA by a whopping 88 percent of respondents to the annual Houston Bar Association poll.

The Chronicle has a hilarious/depressing profile of Oliver here, with theories about why Oliver won, including his own (“dumb luck”) and that maybe voters mistakenly thought he was black. Highlight: when asked what’s next, Oliver said, “I’m hoping to get a phone call from some Democratic SuperPAC that will send me a lot of money. If so, I’m going to get me a John Edwards $300 haircut. That’s the first thing I’m going to do.”

Did I mention that he won?

But the bottom line is, Oliver will not (unless that luck stays super-dumb) pose much of a challenge to Mike Anderson, who trounced the incumbent Republican DA, Pat Lykos, 63 to 37 percent.

We profiled Lykos’s troubled term here, in which she was investigated by two grand juries but never indicted—investigations she says were politically motivated. Prosecutors and police say they oppose her for two controversial reforms: her “trace” policy, which says you can’t use drugs as evidence if there isn’t enough of them to be tested twice, and her DIVERT program, which put some convicted of DWI through treatment and probation. She and supporters say those policies freed resources and jail space for more dangerous criminals, and that she’s unpopular because she broke up a “frat house” atmosphere at HPD and a “good old boy” network among prosecutors.

But Lykos—and her reforms, for better or worse—are history. Mike Anderson, who spent 17 years as a prosecutor and 12 years as a district court judge, will replace her on the ballot and likely in the role of DA. Anderson has the support of prosecutors, the Houston Police Officers Union, and Johnny Holmes Jr., the longtime DA who preceded the disastrous Chuck Rosenthal, whom Lykos replaced. Holmes was the poster boy for hard-nosed Texas justice, sending thousands to prison and 200 to death row during his 21-year tenure. Anderson is nostalgic for those days.

“There are some things from the good, old days that are very, very important—honor, integrity, ethics,” Anderson told the Chronicle. “I mean all those things should just flow like a heart beat at that office.”

Oliver, who has served in Anderson’s court, is less misty-eyed about his by-the-book, law-and-order opponent for November. Anderson is a “tyrant,” Oliver said. “He’d make a good prison guard.”

Update (10:15)

Thus ends the short saga of reformer Pat Lykos, Harris County DA. The Houston Chronicle has called it for Mike Anderson. With 56 percent of precincts reporting, Anderson leads with 63 percent to Lykos’s 37.

Lykos may have been hurt by last week’s news about graduate of her controversial DIVERT program, which gives a treatment plan and probation to people convicted of DWIs. Erick Charles Erminger completed the DIVERT program in 2009, then was charged last week in his girlfriend’s murder. He was drunk when he allegedly strangled her. On Friday, Anderson remarked, “It’s a shame that (Erminger) didn’t get the treatment he needed.” Lykos blasted Anderson for politicizing the tragedy.

 

Update (9:38 p.m.)

It looks like Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos may not be back for more. She’s getting trounced in early voting with 35 percent to Mike Anderson’s 65 percent.

Meanwhile, Borris Miles, House District 146’s purportedly hard-partying Democratic incumbent, may hold on to his seat by more than eight votes this time. He leads Al Edwards with 57 percent in early voting, though that race could tighten as precincts report.

Over in Fort Bend, Rick Miller has confounded those who thought HD 26 would presage the ascendance of the minority Republican. The one white male in the four-way race has taken home 38 percent of the early vote, a substantial lead over Sonal Buchar (22 percent) and Jacquie Chaumette (27 percent) who were expected to end up in a run-off.

Also unexpectedly, Gene Wu has taken a dramatic lead in HD 137, picking up 45 percent of the early vote. He may even avoid a run-off with Smith and Madden, who have 25 and 20 percent respectively.

 

Posted earlier:

Tonight, the rest of the Observer staff and I will be live-blogging the primary as results come in. The four races I’ll have my eye on:

Harris County District Attorney: Pat Lykos vs. Mike Anderson—Will scandal and two grand jury investigations make besieged reformist Pat Lykos a one-term DA? Nostalgic long-time prosecutor and judge Mike Anderson hopes so. Background from Dateline: Houston here.

House District 146: Borris Miles vs. Al Edwards—Borris and Al, Democrats and demonstrably characters, are facing off for the fourth time in this primary. Last time, Miles won by only eight votes. This year, he outspent Edwards eightfold. Will it matter? Background from Dateline: Houston here.

House District 26: Charlie Howard’s retirement leaves a four-way Republican scramble for the rapidly evolving Fort Bend district. The two front-runners are both women of color: Sonal Bhuchar, former board president of Fort Bend ISD, is from India: Jacquie Chaumette, mayor pro-tem of Sugar Land, is from St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. They spent similarly and have similar cash on hand—unlike their opponents, who are considerably less flush. Rick Miller, former chairman of the Republican Party of Fort Bend, is down to his last five grand, and Diana Miller, real estate agent (no relation to Rick) brought in only $100 in contributions during the last reporting period. This race will likely end in a run-off between Bhuchar and Chaumette—and presage things to come. Susan-Smith Richardson has more here.

House District 137: The counterpart to HD 26 is this west Houston district, where four Democrats are vying replace retiring school finance guru Scott Hochberg. At this point, it’s a toss-up. Joseph Carlos Madden and Jamaal Smith are former Capitol staffers, Gene Wu is a Harris County prosecutor and Sarah Winkler is a Alief Independent School District board member, all with adequate funding and experience. The minority-opportunity district is likely to go Democratic in November.

Stay tuned!

Yesterday, an all-white jury found white Houston police officer Andrew Blomberg not guilty of stomping the head and neck of Chad Holley, a black, unarmed, 15-year-old burglary suspect, in 2010.

You can see surveillance video of Blomberg not stomping Holley here.

Last week, Dateline Houston reported on the Blomberg case, and how Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland told reporters that the behavior seen on the video warranted felony prosecution. Attorneys for the defense moved to hold Chief McClelland in contempt after his public comment, which the judge dismissed Friday.

But after a single day’s deliberation, the jury found Blomberg not guilty even of the one count of misdemeanor official oppression for which he was tried.

The video was shown several times in court. Blomberg is the first officer to reach Holley. It looks like Holley lies on the ground with his hands behind his head and Blomberg stomps his head and neck. Blomberg and his attorneys argued that Holley’s hand was actually beside his temple, and that Blomberg was trying to get his foot into the crook of Holley’s arm to move it.

Blomberg is the first of four officers who’ll be tried for their part in the alleged beating. Chief McClelland fired six officers soon after the incident.

After the verdict, local activist Quanell X told reporters, “What they did today is send a message to black people, to all of us, that our lives aren’t worth a damn in this city.”

Mayor Annise Parker, Houston’s State Senator Rodney Ellis, and U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee disagreed publicly with the verdict. Their responses emphasized, “Hey, he’s still fired you guys.”

A statement from Chief McClelland released after the hearing said in part, “It is important to remember that the officer that was the subject of this trial is no longer a Houston police officer… He will never again be a Houston Police Officer.”

As Blomberg left the courthouse, a reporter asked him what he’d say to people who think the Holley beating was racially motivated.

Blomberg said, “They weren’t there that day.”

Local activist Deric Muhammad told the Observer that this was “par for the course in Harris County.”

“When you look at the dozens of officers who have been on trial not only for beating suspects but for in some cases killing suspects over the past five years or so, I can only remember one being convicted, and the one who was convicted only got probation,” Muhammad said.

He sighed. “I didn’t expect it to turn out any other way, to be honest with you. I don’t even have the energy to pretend otherwise. This is about what we usually get. You’re not surprised when dogs bark. You’re not surprised when cats meow. You’re not surprised when birds chirp. And you’re not surprised when white officers are exonerated for beating, oppressing, and/or murdering black suspects in Harris County.”

The Houston Police Department doesn’t have a stellar reputation for behavior toward suspects. Pop quiz: what public figure thinks violent officers in Houston should be punished more severely?

The chief of police.

HPD Chief Charles McClelland testified Tuesday in the trial of former officer Andrew Blomberg, one of six cops caught on video participating in the March 2010 beat-down of an unarmed black 15-year-old suspected of burglary. Blomberg is the first of four officers being tried for official oppression, a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail. Chief McClelland, recapping his testimony for media after the trial that day, said that’s not enough.

“I just think what they did was felony conduct,” he said. “In my opinion, do I want them charged with a higher penalty? Of course.”

A conviction for official oppression requires only that the prosecution prove “mistreatment” of the subject, whereas for a felony, prosecutors would need to demonstrate “serious bodily injury.”

The video certainly looks serious. View for yourself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdVLMgbQFsI

A less pixilated version appears here, within the context of its original airing by ABC 13 Eyewitness News on KTRK in February 2011.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lvy976QKuS4

The video comes from the surveillance camera of a nearby business. It captures Chad Holley, fleeing, being clipped by a police car, then falling to the ground and lying face-down with his hands behind his head. He is swarmed by officers who appear to stomp, punch and kick his head, legs and back.

Chief McClelland fired six officers in the wake of the beating, although three appealed and two were reinstated by arbitrators.

Arbitrators commonly override the chief’s disciplinary actions. According to KTRK, ‘”For about 15 years, about a third of the cases that actually went to arbitration were overturned in their entirety, about a third were upheld in their entirety and about a third were modified,’ HPD’s lawyer Craig Ferrell said.”

Chief McClelland’s frankness may get him in trouble. On Wednesday, Blomberg’s attorney asked state District Judge Ruben Guerrero to hold Chief McClelland in contempt of court for his Tuesday comments to the media. Judge Guerrero said he would decide the matter Friday.

The arrest was Holley’s first. He was convicted of burglary of a habitation despite no physical evidence linking him to the crime and sentenced to two years’ probation, which he completed in April without incident.

Chief McClelland also spoke out in February about the beating of unarmed black Houstonian Sebastian Prevot, who failed to stop before the white line at a stop sign and continued a few blocks to his home before pulling over. Dateline Houston brought you this story at the time. Prevot was assailed by more than a dozen officers and taken to the hospital for, among other injuries, a torn ear that required stitches. His wife, hearing his screams from the front lawn, said she ran out and started to record the beating with her video phone. But she says an officer assaulted her, took the memory card out of her phone, and arrested her as well.

Chief McClelland met with activists who rallied behind the couple and released a statement assuring the public that recording police activity is legal and reporting police misconduct is encouraged.

Deric Muhammad, one of the activists who met with Chief McClelland, said he felt the chief was sincere, but perhaps out of touch.

“We believe if the police chief spent less time behind his desk and more time on the ground, that he could disturb the culture of corruption that’s on the ground,” Muhammad told KTRK.

In April, a former HPD officer was convicted of taking a bribe to escort narcotic shipments through the Houston area. He was sentenced to more than 15 years in federal prison.

In January, a former HPD officer pled guilty to robbing undocumented immigrants that he stopped while on patrol. He was given two years’ probation and a $500 fine.

PHOTO BY WILLIAM RUB
One of Houston's new B-cycle kiosks.

Observers have long speculated that Houston’s famous weight problem might be due in part to its car dependency. Now we have proof.

A study of Texas drivers published this week in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, shows that—surprise—a long commute can make you sick. Researchers examined more that 4200 adults in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin areas and found long commutes correlated with high blood pressure, increased waist size, decreased heart function and lower likelihood of getting enough exercise. A driver with a commute of 16 to 20 miles is 52 percent more likely to be obese.

The average Houston commute? Twenty-one miles.

Research also shows Houstonians are sick of it. A Kinder Institute survey released in late April reported that 56 percent of Harris County respondents called development of better mass transit “very important” to Houston’s future, and 51 percent preferred taxpayer money go to improved rail and bus systems rather than expanding existing highways.

All of this may make Houston’s latest green move more likely to succeed. Last Wednesday, Mayor Annise Parker kicked off B-cycle, a program that lets riders check out bicycles downtown for up to 90 minutes for free. Full-day rentals are $5 and riders can buy a year-long pass for $50. The program is starting with just 15 bikes at three locations, but the mayor hopes to have 200 bikes available by the end of the year.

Fifteen U.S. cities have bike-share programs, and New York is rolling one out in July. So what if their obesity rate is only 20 percent? We got bikes!

In Houston over the weekend, patriots gathered for the national summit of True the Vote, the tea-party-affiliated poll watching outfit that might be saving democracy or destroying it, depending on whom you ask.

Reality was much in question during the two-day conference, where speakers made a sophisticated argument about the fundamental subjectivity of the human experience. In other words, they argued that if enough people think something, it must be true.

Coverage of the conference in the Nation focused on TTV speakers’ obsession with a recent Rasmussen poll that showed 64 percent of Americans believe that voter fraud exists. (Of course, an April 2011 poll found that a quarter of Americans think Obama was born abroad, so that means he’s definitely native, right?) Three speakers cited the poll as if it were actually evidence of fraud.

“They were stuck in a reality that was unfamiliar to anyone who’s been paying attention to voter issues,” writes the Nation’s Brentin Mock. “Speakers—among them Heritage Foundation’s Hans Von Spakovsky, Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton and former title-challenged DOJ employee J. Christian Adams—spoke about the voter ID cause as if they were failing, as if sixteen states didn’t pass photo voter ID laws, most of them in just the past eighteen months. As if a federal court didn’t just validate a strict photo voter ID law in Arizona the week before the conference.”

True the Vote is a project of the King Street Patriots, a supposedly nonpartisan group founded in Houston in 2009 that recently got called out by a district judge for being an unregistered political action committee (PAC) that illegally aided Republicans during the 2010 elections. True the Vote trained and dispatched about 1000 volunteers to mostly minority neighborhoods to look for voting irregularities and stare down would-be defrauders. As the Observer’s Patrick Michels reported, “[they] combined to send 800 complaints of improper voting to Harris County officials, who investigated a few but ended up taking no legal action.

“While it generated little evidence of voter fraud, the King Street Patriots’ effort did result in complaints about voter intimidation and breached ethics, a lawsuit from the Texas Democratic Party, and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.”

Now True the Vote aspires to send a million volunteers to do the same at this year’s elections.

The progress or failure of voter ID efforts was but one of the conference’s conflicting realities.

A dispatch on Breitbart.com claims, “The event drew protests from paid union protesters and a few known Occupiers,” –which makes one wonder who’s keeping a list of known Occupiers— but adds, “the protesters were largely ignored and left after only an hour or two.”

But Mock reports, “The only people gathered outside the conference hotel were a bunch of African-American motorcycle clubs on their bikes, a few of whom told me they had no idea who True the Vote was or that they had a conference going on.”

Why is the presence of protesters even important? Because it’s so much more exciting be a group of freedom fighters, violently opposed, the underdogs holding back the hordes of evildoers, than to be 200 largely ignored tea partiers in the ballroom of a suburban Sheraton.

“We are talking about the demise of our democracy, and it is slow-motion suicide,” warned speaker Pat Caddell, a longtime Democratic strategist turned Fox News contributor.

But if this is true the way he meant it, the motion is very slow indeed. As the Houston Chronicle noted in March in the amusingly titled, “Facts elusive in Texas voter ID fight,” “Fewer than five complaints involving voter impersonations were filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office from the 2008 and 2010 general elections, which drew more than 13 million voters.”

But that was enough to prompt Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot to pen, in an op-ed in USA Today that month, “In Texas, evidence of voter fraud abounds. In recent years, my office has secured more than 50 voter fraud convictions.”

But hey. Definitions of “abound” abound.

Another contested definition at the conference was “nonpartisan.”

The Chronicle’s Joe Holley reports cannily, “Several speakers were determinedly nonpartisan, or bipartisan, despite the rightward leanings of their audience. ‘We don’t take a position on President Obama’s election. We take a position on free and fair elections,’ said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a Washington-based government watchdog group.

“It was also Fitton, however, who delivered a warning: ‘I fear the Obama gang is setting themselves up to steal the election.’

“He also accused the president of wanting ‘to register the food stamp army to vote for him.’”

It may have been the day’s most reality-based statement—not regarding the president’s intentions, but True the Vote’s.

Poor people voting? Who wants that?

Meet Helena Brown. The zany rookie Houston City Council member from District A has made the news again, this time for the resignations of her two highest ranking staff members. It’s just the latest in the saga of the council’s most conservative and outspoken member, a 34-year-old former receptionist who lives with her parents and sticks to her guns.

The Houston Chronicle reported Monday that Brown’s chief of staff, Leticia Ablaza, and chief deputy director, Rasuali Bray, have resigned. Another staffer resigned in March.

Brown had previously garnered press for having the council’s only part-time staff, two of whom worked 22 hours a week and five of whom worked 39, classifying all as part-time employees, which denies them health insurance, pensions, or vacations.

A statement from her office at the time characterized this as fiscal conservatism, claiming, “The Council Member and all her staff were offered benefits but declined, choosing to opt for their own health care coverage in the private sector where it is more cost effective for employees, and let us not forget, for the City too!”

That enthusiastic budget hawkery has been Brown’s hallmark in the first few months of her two-year term. By February, she had already voted against spending on “the renovation of a women’s shelter, a street’s reconstruction, the purchase of a police boat, payment to caregivers for the chronically ill, a study on people at risk for HIV infection, gas cards and the cleaning of public pools,” noted the Chronicle.

District A is the Spring Branch area, a multi-ethnic blend of working-class and middle class homes, townhomes, and apartments. In its endorsement of the one-term incumbent, Brenda Stardig, the Chronicle observed that Spring Branch is poised for economic growth but struggles with traffic, drainage, and public safety problems. Houston blogger Charles Kuffner wondered presciently, after Brown won the 2011 election with eight percent turn-out, “It will be interesting to see how CM-Elect Helena Brown reconciles her professed political beliefs with the sort of things that constituents tend to expect to get done. Maybe there is such a thing as a Republican pothole.”

Or not.

For someone in city government, Brown seems to have a very limited, tea party-flavored idea of what the government should do. At a recent meeting, she voted against two energy-efficient building projects because she felt they were part of the U.N.’s Agenda 21, a non-binding resolution to combat city sprawl passed in 1992. Conspiracy theorists on the far right have trotted out Agenda 21 as a bogeyman equating green initiatives with foreign control.

“This is the United States of America. We don’t answer to anyone but the good old U. S. of A.,” Brown said during the April 11 meeting, teetering on self-parody. “By this vote, we’re giving $26 million to a non-American initiative and interests.” She also voted for another LEED-certified project because it came in under budget, but intoned, “Let the citizens of Houston hereby know that promoting expensive artwork and conforming to Agenda 21 has priority over their well-being.”

Such pronouncements are common, made for an audience but having little effect, since Brown’s is often the only “no” vote. At the same meeting where she invoked Agenda 21, Brown also voted against funding for a long-standing program that provides birth control and education to low-income women. Her remarks, taken verbatim from video of the meeting, are worth reading in full.

“This item, number 12, an authoritarian type item here. First of all, we do not have the money. We don’t have a printing press at City Hall. The city’s broke, the state is going broke, the federal government is going broke, and to continue throwing money, hard-earned constituent tax dollars on stuff such as this, um. How about showing our young people how to free themselves from the slavery of sexual promiscuity and empowering them through abstinence education? Perhaps for some that’s a shocking consideration, but, you know, our nation needs to return to our foundation of Biblical principles being taught in schools, versus the government trying to educate folks on how to plan a family when they can’t even define a family. Rather sterilize our young girls. My vote’s no on this.”

Brown is a “real conservative,” which is the kind of conservative that questions other conservatives’ conservatism. The Chronicle’s Chris Moran, who’s been on top of the Brown beat, reported in March, “Councilman Mike Sullivan, until January by far the Council’s most conservative member, was so outflanked from the right by a Council newcomer Wednesday that he found himself uttering into his microphone: ‘I am not a communist.’”

At issue was a proposed denial of an electric rate increase in Sullivan’s district. “I understand the folks in Kingwood are conservatives,” Brown said. “They do not believe in the regulation of rates of businesses. That’s communism.”

Sullivan snapped, “Truthfully, I don’t think you have a clue what Kingwood believes in.”

Besides her no votes, Brown has also become notorious for tags. Council members can put an item of city business on hold for a week for any reason simply by tagging it. By the end of February, Brown’s colleagues were so fed up with her frequent tags that they twice voted to override them, a rare parliamentary procedure characterized as a “nuclear option” by Council member Mike Laster.

Brown led the charge against the mayor’s controversial restrictions on feeding the homeless, often chatting with and extending time for the dozens of speakers who attended three City Council meetings to oppose the ordinance. In a press release following the proposal’s passage, Brown stumped for the downtrodden and warned of the dire consequences of their neglect. “This ordinance will discourage an already discouraged people who give and it will further disadvantage an already disadvantaged people who are homeless. Crime will increase as the homeless become hungry and desperate and resort to criminal activity to survive,” she said in the statement.

But at the following week’s meeting, she voted against accepting $1.1 million in federal grants to provide housing and supportive services for the homeless. During her remarks, she claimed that the taxpayers of Houston spend $500 million annually on services to the homeless.

Her office hasn’t responded to requests for comment.

Brown has 20 months left in her term.