Mike Kueber's Blog

April 20, 2013

Candidate questionnaire from KSAT

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 5:21 pm
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Yesterday, I received a candidate questionnaire from KSAT TV 12, which they are using “to profile candidates on air and on our website.”  This is just another example of how some in the media are trying to do the right, civic-minded thing.  In my opinion, this questionnaire is exceptionally well designed, and I found it challenging to complete.  My completed response is as follows:

KSAT questionnaire

Mike Kueber

Age: 59

Occupation: Insurance-compliance lawyer who retired from USAA in 2009

Education: Law degree from the University of Texas and B.A. in political science from the University of North Dakota

Family: father of four sons, all graduates of Clark HS – my oldest graduated from UTSA and is a captain in the Army in San Antonio, my second graduated from UT and St. Louis U Med School and is an E.R. doctor at the Mayo Clinic in MN, my third graduated from UTSA and works in acquisitions for Blackbrush Oil in San Antonio, and my baby is a student at Franciscan University in Ohio.

Why are you running for the city council?  Because I have the time, energy, finances, and inclination to serve and because my background, critical-thinking skills, and governing values (a fiscal conservative who will not mortgage this position to special interests) will enable me to effectively represent the residents of District 8.

Have you run for the City Council before?  No

What previous leadership experience do you have?  During my last five years at USAA, I was in its Executive Management Group.

What do you hope to accomplish if elected to the City Council?  Famed investor Warren Buffett once said, “Our experience has been that the manager of an already high-cost operation frequently is uncommonly resourceful in finding new ways to add overhead, while the manager of a tightly run operation usually continues to find additional methods to curtail costs, even when his costs are already well below those of his competitors.”  My view is that San Antonio government is a high-cost operation and my hope is help transform it into a tightly-run operation.

What are the most difficult challenges facing the city of San Antonio?  The City Council’s most difficult challenge will be converting the police-fire pensions from defined-benefit plans to defined-contribution plans; the city of San Antonio’s most difficult challenge will be to enable socio-economic mobility for disadvantaged kids.

What are the biggest obstacles facing economic growth in San Antonio?  Adequate supply of water is a concern, but the biggest obstacle is an overweening city government that gets in the way of our vital, robust private sector.  If the city persists in using a heavy hand to direct private sector growth toward its southern districts, the private sector is likely to be less robust or it will migrate north of the San Antonio city limits (as this trend was recently reported in the Express-News).  

What can the city council do to help spur economic growth?  Aside from getting out of the way of our private sector and keeping taxes as low as possible, the City Council needs to ensure that San Antonio remains a destination of choice for people and businesses by providing a world-class infrastructure.  Out-of-town businesses should be solicited with incentives that are cost-effective to San Antonio.

Are there any decisions the current city council has made that you strongly disagree with?  (1) The redistricting of City Council districts violated the City Charter and was grossly inequitable; (2) The elimination of race-neutral contracting and implementation of race-based contracting was unjustified and inequitable; and (3) although I support a path to citizenship, San Antonio should not be a sanctuary city and the City Council should not have criticized Arizona for its actions to address illegal immigration.  

What items/programs would you cut from the current city budget?  The city should not be spending tax dollars on culture/arts. 

How did you vote on Pre-K 4 SA?  Although I am concerned with the diminished socio-economic mobility in America, I voted against Pre-K 4 SA because (1) local education policy should be left to our experts in the local school district, and (2) a recent study of the largest and oldest pre-k program (Head Start) revealed that all gains achieved by its students disappeared by the 3rd grade.  Instead of using the sales-tax money to create a 17th school district, I would have distributed it to the already-existing school districts in the form of a pre-k block grant.    

What more should the city do to lower gang activity and crime in San Antonio?  From a macro level, I believe that crime and gang activity are a reflection of declining morals in America and much of this is due to the growing culture of dependency on government and the resulting cycle of poverty.  Our challenge is to retain our safety net while breaking up the culture of dependency.  From a micro level, I as a City Councilperson will rely on the Chief of Police to develop initiatives that can lower gang activity and crime.  

Are there any major infrastructure improvements you would like to see the city undertake?  The city needs to direct additional resources to roads that are already needed instead of to street cars and light rail that are being proposed for the benefit of downtown developers.

April 19, 2013

Campaign update

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:56 pm
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The past week has been challenging.  There were two candidate forums on Tuesday, with the first sponsored by a group of real estate professional at the Sonterra Country Club and the second by a Dominion civic-awareness group.  On Thursday, there was another forum put on by the residents of Precinct 3074 (Woods of Shavano).  And between these events, I went downtown on Wednesday and recorded an interview with an on-line talk show titled “Talk Now SA” with Chris Duel.  The 20-minute segment was supposed to go on-line today, but for some reason it was not.  Chris mentioned that he will try to have a 3-person debate before the election. 

The forums are still a little stressful because we usually get unexpected questions about which I know nothing, but at least now I am developing some responses to deal with them.  At Sonterra, a realtor wanted to know what we could do about the conflict between gated communities and the realtors who want unlimited access.  Huh?  At the Dominion, someone wanted to know what we would do about Reed William’s broken promise to get a road-improvement done.  Huh?

I so much prefer knowing what the questions are in advance, which was the format in some of the early forums.  I doubt this is much value in being able to immediately articulate a response to a totally unexpected question.  And this is especially problematic to me because there are many areas of city policy that I am unfamiliar with, but can easily develop a position with a little research.  Of course, over time the questions become more predictable and my areas of ignorance become smaller.  But learning lessons in front of a crowd is stressful.

I’m getting much more comfortable with my stump speech.  Essentially, I suggest three factors that the voters use to distinguish the candidates:

  1. Experience.  We each claim that our experience qualifies us to serve, but mine is more substantive.  I have 22 years as a lawyer with USAA, getting promoted through the ranks, and ending with 5 years in USAA’s executive management group and being the lead attorney responsible for auto-insurance compliance. 
  2. Political philosophy.  We each claim to be fiscal conservatives, but if you drill down, you will find dramatically different fiscal philosophies.  Ron claims to be a fiscal conservative simply because he will carefully scrutinize the budget to eliminate waste.  How does this distinguish himself from anyone?  Rolando takes police, fire, and roads off the budget-cutting table.  With those off the table, there’s nothing left.  By contrast, I think a fiscal conservative wants to reduce the size of government and taxes, and that is what my mindset will be.  
  3. Money in politics.  My two opponents have raised obscene amounts of money (more than all the other candidates in the other nine district combined), and that money is bound to compromise their ability to make decisions based exclusively on the best interests of the District.  By accepting money, my opponents will be beholden to special interests.  Ron says his “special interests” are neighbors, but his latest financial filing indicates he has a lot of neighbors in 78209 (Alamo Heights) and 78205 (downtown business district).  Plus he has accepted $500 contributions (the maximum legally allowed) from three government-lobbying law firms.  By contrast I have accepted no contributions and this will allow me to make decisions based solely on the interests of our District.

As we head into the homestretch, the choice is getting clearer, at least to me.

 

April 11, 2013

Melissa Harris-Perry on parenting

Filed under: Culture,Issues,Media,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:06 pm
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The last few days, I have been so preoccupied with watching the Jack Bauer TV show “24” that I have seen almost nothing on FOX news.  But, unless I were living under a rock, there is no way that I would have missed the firestorm that Melissa Harris-Perry started with her comments on parenting.  

Harris-Perry has a week-end talk show on MSNBC, and I often see her on my gym TV, but rarely listen to her.  The few times I have listened to her, she seemed to be indistinguishable from MSNBC’s uber-progressive Rachel Maddow. 

MSNBC has a tradition of promoting its talk-show hosts by having them read a lengthy conversational speech describing their progressive philosophy.  Although I rarely watch MSNBC, I recall seeing this type of ad by Lawrence O’Donnell, Ed Schultz, and Rachel Maddow.

The Harris-Perry ad that stirred everything up argued as follows on parenting:

  • We’ve always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours, and your responsibility.  We haven’t had a very collective notion of ‘These are our children.’ So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that ‘kids belong to their parents’ or ‘kids belong to their families,’ and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”

Not surprisingly, conservatives such as Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh are apoplectic about Harris-Perry’s argument.  Palin tweeted, “Unflippingbelievable,” and Limbaugh talked about the nuclear family being under assault again from the communists and leftists. 

Because I consider myself tolerant and socially liberal, I often part company with the Palins and Limbaughs of the world on social issues, but not in this case.  I have for many years felt that the government interfered too frequently and too easily with the rights of the parents. 

Yes, government has a duty to protect children from abusive parents and it has interest in promoting opportunity for disadvantaged kids, but from a philosophical perspective, I think the world works better if parents, not government, feels responsible and accountable for taking care of kids. 

As I ponder how this issue fits into the philosophical spectrum, I suspect that my self-description as a social liberal might more accurately be called social libertarian.  It will be interesting to see if Democrats support Harris-Perry and her big-government, communal philosophy.  I suspect they will support her because that would be consistent with the Dem’s big spending on social programs and the safety net.  But from a political perspective, this defining issue is a huge danger to the Democrats.

April 3, 2013

Questionnaire from Current

Filed under: Media,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 10:32 pm
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I recently responded to a candidate questionnaire submitted to me by San Antonio’s Current, an alternative newsweekly.  The questions are significantly different (more liberal) than those in the Express-News questionnaire.  In fact, the Current questions remind me of those posed at the UTSA forum, while the Express-News questions are more like those posed by a political group.  Here, at least, I had time to think about the appropriate response, but at UTSA I didn’t.  UTSA was tough.

The Current promised that candidates’ answers will appear in an online voter guide and potentially in print in their April 17 issue.

 

Name as it will appear on ballot:  Mike Kueber

Current employment (if retired, please describe your previous career):  A lawyer who took early retirement in 2009 after almost 22 years with USAA.  As an executive attorney, I was responsible for ensuring that Auto Insurance operations (Claims, Underwriting, and Actuary) complied with ever-changing statutes, regulations, and caselaw in 50 states.  For the past three years, I have been an amateur current-affairs blogger at “Mike Kueber’s Blog.”

50-word (max) bio:  Grew up on a farm in North Dakota and obtained a political science degree from UND and a law degree from UT-Austin; lived and worked in District 8 for 25 years; put four boys through Northside schools, including Clark High School; ran for Congress in 2010.

50-word (max) reason for becoming a candidate in this election:  Because I have the time, energy, finances, and inclination to serve and because my background, critical-thinking skills, and governing values (fiscal conservative and equal-opportunity advocate) will enable me to effectively represent the residents of District 8. 

Questions

1)         Could the City’s recent ethics reforms be better enforced? Should there be more of a focus on potential conflicts of interest among City Council members as well as City staff?  Enforcement has been weak and should be strengthened.  And City Councilmen should be subject to stringent conflict-of-interest standards.

2)         What’s your opinion on encouraging economic development and cultural/nature programming via public/private partnerships, especially where public land, such as Hemisfair Park, is concerned?  Public/private partnerships should be utilized when available to accomplish important governmental objectives, but should not be used to effect private-sector objectives.

3)         Should the city establish an independent police monitor to better oversee the San Antonio Police Department? Why or why not?  The City has a Police Chief, and if the Council doesn’t have confidence that he can effectively monitor the police department, he should be replaced.

4)         Do you support the way the health department currently regulates food trucks? If not, how could the regulations be changed to better serve San Antonians?  I am not familiar with the program and am not aware of any deficiencies. 

5)         How can the City support sustainable transportation options?  I don’t see an important role for the City in developing sustainable transportation options, but would be amenable to cost-effective proposals.  Of course, VIA does have an important role.

6)         What value do you think the arts (visual, performing, literary, etc…) bring to San Antonio? In what ways can the City support local arts organizations and individual artists?  A thriving, vibrant arts community is important to San Antonio, but does not require taxpayer support.  Creating a culture of dependency on government is as corrosive to artists as it is to the poor

7)         Is it important for the City to strengthen its non-discrimination ordinances to protect LGBT citizens? Why or why not?  Yes, I support non-discrimination against LGBT citizens, but would need to analyze the language of any proposed ordinance.

8)         Is Animal Care Services doing enough to increase its live-release rate? Is ACS’ public-private partnership model is working? If not, what else could be done?  No, the ACS is not doing enough, and it can be more successful with more effective management.

9)         What would you do to address the high vacancy rate in downtown buildings?  As a District 8 Councilman, my major focus will be on the development of District 8, not the downtown vacancy rate.  Of course, the entire City has an interest in downtown San Antonio remaining Texas’s premier tourist attraction.

10)       Is the City’s million-dollar incentive for the creation of a downtown grocery store appropriate? Why or why not? Is there a better way to bring a grocery store downtown?  No, the incentive is not appropriate.  The location of grocery stores is something for the private sector to determine.  The downtown will have a grocery store as soon as there are enough residents/consumers downtown to cost-justify it.  And it is not the city’s job to produce those residents/consumers.

11)       How can San Antonio balance economic development with historic preservation?  Historic preservation is an important objective, provided it can be accomplished without causing San Antonio to be economically uncompetitive. 

12)       Do you support union organizers’ push for a Tip Integrity Act for the downtown hotel and restaurant industry?  I support the push in principle, but would need to see the language of any proposed ordinance

13)       What is the City’s role in making consumer solar power affordable for residents as well as local businesses?  I don’t see a significant role for the city, but would be amenable to cost-effective proposals.

14)       Is there more the City could do to protect the Edwards Aquifer in terms of building restrictions, funding conservation easements, or other means?  Building restrictions and conservation easements are promising, but would be much more effective if San Antonio didn’t have to act unilaterally.  Joint actions should be developed, either through cooperation with other jurisdictions or state legislation

15)       What are the most critical components to implementing Pre-K 4 SA? Are there any other opportunities for the City to support education?  This question reveals what is fundamentally wrong with Pre-K 4 SA.  A Councilperson should not be expected to become an expert on how to implement a “high quality” pre-K program.  After almost 50 years of trying, Head Start is still trying to figure it out, and San Antonio has 16 different school districts trying to figure it out.  The City should support pre-school education for all of its kids, not just disadvantaged kids, by supporting the efforts of the local school districts.  The Pre-K 4 SA money should have gone to those districts as block grants.         

Additional issues

  • Correcting the travesty committed by the 2012 re-districting.  The City Council violated the City Charter by approving districts with unequal populations.  While progressives become apoplectic about one elderly lady in a rural area who might have difficulty securing a photo ID, they are cavalier about packing an additional 55,000 people in Districts 6-10 as compared to Districts 1-5. 
  • Reforming the employee pensions.  Most of America has transitioned from defined-benefit pensions to defined-contribution pensions.  The American military is even in the process of doing this.  The city of San Antonio needs to move in that direction, too.
  • Eliminating the city’s affirmative action in contracting program.  Earlier this year, the City made a mistake in eliminating its race-neutral practice of awarding contracts and instead instituting a program for racial preferences.  Racial preferences, which rarely make sense, are especially inappropriate for a city government firmly controlled by minorities.
  • Stopping San Antonio’s status as a sanctuary city.  Immigration reform is needed, but in the meantime San Antonio should not be a scofflaw Sanctuary City.
  • Employer incentives.  Employer incentives should be utilized, provided their cost-effectiveness can be shown.  Although this is not a traditional governmental activity, it is now, ironically, a part of the free market and something that the City of San Antonio needs to do to compete with other cities.  But I reject Mayor Castro’s position that it is appropriate for the City to provide more generous abatements/incentives for Southside locations, which he admitted doing a few months ago with Nexolon.    
  • Professional politicians.  Professional politicians have no place on the City Council.  The voters want citizen volunteers.  Yet my opponents have not only compromised themselves by collecting tens of thousands of dollars from special interests, they have gone on record as supporting full-time pay for the Council.  I am not collecting any money from special interests and will oppose full-time pay for the Council.  
  • Experience.  Life experience is an important issue because it is the best way to develop the most important trait of a councilperson – good judgment – and the candidates in District 8 have starkly different life experiences.  My life experience includes raising four sons (three college grads and one in college) and having a high-responsibility career in law and insurance.  High-responsibility and its associated decision-making are essential to honing your good judgment, and in my career I made thousands of decisions affecting thousands of employees, and I never stopped learning from the decisions that turned out right and especially those that turned out wrong.  

April 2, 2013

Compton, California – a cautionary tale for San Antonio

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:04 pm
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Compton, California has been making news as the largest city in America (almost 300,000 people) to receive bankruptcy protection.  According to most reports, the bankruptcy was caused by a combination of extravagant pensions for city employees and declining tax revenues.  On Monday, a California judge held that the city would receive bankruptcy protection, but he deferred deciding whether the city would be allowed to continue paying 100% of its obligations to the state pension fund while forcing all other creditors to accept pennies-on-the-dollar.

From a practical state-wide and nation-wide perspective, this is an important issue because if the city is allowed to cut its payments to the state pension fund, that fund will be put in jeopardy.

From an individual pensioner’s perspective, this issue has reduced importance because most individual pension benefits are guaranteed by state and federal governments.

And finally, from San Antonio’s perspective, Stockton’s predicament is a cautionary tale of what can happen when a city is too generous in providing extravagant pensions. 

How much is extravagant?  Across California, as reported by Bloomberg News last year, cities were providing pensions that paid 90% of public-safety employees’ top salary after working 30 years, so they could retire and take jobs elsewhere while still in their 50s.   

San Antonio wouldn’t be so profligate, would it?  Yes, it would.  According to a city website:

  • The SA Fund‘s defined benefit structure provides benefits based upon the member’s earning history and length of service to the City of San Antonio. Current pension law indicates officers will be paid according to the following schedule:

                        Years of Service                      Percentage of Total Average Salary

                        20                                            45%

                        23                                            60%

                        25                                            70%

                        27                                            80%

                        30                                            86%

  • Keep in mind pension benefits are available regardless of age. A 21 year old can retire at 51 with 30 years of service and receive an 86 percent pension for the rest of his or her life.

How does this affect the City’s finances?  According to Sam Dawson, San Antonio’s 2011 Chamber of Commerce chairman, in a 2012 op-ed piece in the Express-News:

  • At present, police and fire personnel make up approximately 38 percent of our city’s workforce, but consume nearly 62 percent of its general fund. The average annual pension cost per civilian employee is approximately $6,800. The average annual pension cost per uniformed city employee is approximately $18,300. Health care costs and benefits are similarly disproportionate. Additionally, in 2012, the city will pay approximately $25 million toward the civilian pension plan for 6,000 employees and $65 million for 3,800 public safety employees. If these costs are not addressed sooner, rather than later, the end result will be less money to hire future qualified police officers and firefighters, fewer city services and a city that suffers economically. 

My sentiments exactly.

During my interview with the Express-News last week, I strongly expressed my position in favor of transitioning the City from defined-benefits pensions to defined-contribution pensions, which most of the City’s residents feel lucky to have.  As support for that position, I indicated that even the American military is in the process of shifting to a defined-contribution pension. 

When the Express-News asked my District 8 opponent Ron Nirenberg about my position, he lamely responded that the idea was worth exploring, but that it should not be discussed in the campaign because would politicize the subject.  Instead, he would consider quietly exploring the idea with a task force or study after the election.  

Nirenberg’s position reveals a lot about his political philosophy.  He thinks “politics” means something corrupted by special interests and that all disagreements will disappear if elected officials are transparent, accountable, and fair and they do their homework. 

By contrast, I think that conflicts are inevitable, even among elected officials who are acting with utmost honesty and integrity.  Principled differences can’t be resolved by task forces and doing your homework.  Instead, they need to be resolved by the ballot box.  That is what real transparency means.

March 28, 2013

The District 8 race gets dirty

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:07 pm
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With all of the money collected by my two opponents in the District 8 race, it was only a matter of time before the campaign got ugly.  But I am surprised at how quickly that time arrived.

A couple of weeks ago, Rolando Briones mailed a flyer pointing out the Ron Nirenberg wants city taxpayers to bail out financially troubled culture/arts groups.  When I brought this up at a forum, Nirenberg lamented, “Two months out [from the election] and the negative ads have already started.”  At about the same time, Nirenberg wrote the following on his campaign website:

  • It’s less than two months before Election Day, so rather than join my opponent on the low road of misleading attack ads, I believe you deserve honest discussion about issues facing our district and our city.”

That all sounds good.  A candidate under attack has two good options – (1) respond to the substance of the attack or (b) take the high road by ignoring the ad and pressing forward.  Because the attack ad was accurate, Nirenberg’s only good option was to take the high road.

But, according to an excellent Chasnoff column in today’s Express-News, Nirenberg apparently got spooked in the last two weeks and inexplicably decided to take the low road. 

In the column, Chasnoff reports that Nirenberg, because he was upset at being characterized as a Democrat, has published a list that showed Briones to be a prolific contributor to Democratic candidates.  (Nirenberg provided this explanation during the interview that he and I had yesterday with the Express-News editorial board.) 

This disclosure, which substantively appears to be accurate, becomes sleezy, however, because Nirenberg published it on a website with the domain name of RolandoBriones.com.  According to Chasnoff’s column, one of Nirenberg’s operators discovered that the domain name was unused and could be purchased for $50, and that was too big of an opportunity for them to pass up:

  • “Touting himself as a Republican probably was a mistake. Not registering his name online definitely was a mistake.  Take it from Kelton Morgan, who’s helping Nirenberg with his campaign.  ‘I just thought, I wonder what he’s got on rolandobriones.com?  And it was available. And I’m like, Are you kidding me?‘”

My response to Chasnoff and Morgan – Are you kidding me?  Do you think City Council candidates need to buy various domain names to prevent an opponent from misuing them.  Yes, I understand presidential candidates and big companies do this, but we should have to worry about things like that at this level.  You need to do a reality check.

As I read the Chasnoff column, I thought of three questions that I would have for Nirenberg – Why take such offense at being characterized as a Democrat? Why retaliate by accusing Briones of being a closet Democrat? But most troubling of all, why publicize the attack by buying a website called RolandoBriones.com

For a silver lining to this story, their shenanigans improve my chances.

March 27, 2013

Castro’s much ballyhooed seven-figure referral fee

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics,Uncategorized — Mike Kueber @ 3:17 am
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A recent Brian Chasnoff column in the Express-News reported that San Antonio mayor Julian Castro has decided to start collecting speaking fees to help meet personal expenses.  According to the column, this development was prompted by the low mayoral salary in San Antonio (about $4,000 a year) even though Castro’s wife makes $55,000 a year as a teacher and he recently signed a book deal for an undisclosed amount. 

Almost incidentally, Chasnoff mentioned that shortly before becoming mayor, Castro “earned a much-ballyhooed seven-figure referral fee in 2007.”  Much-ballyhooed?  I have been observing Castro for years and don’t recall any public conversation about this subject.  Informally, I had heard that he received a big legal settlement (not a referral, and not seven figures) and that it had been used to help fund his 2009 campaign for mayor, but nothing much more than that. 

Because my curiosity was piqued by Chasnoff’s column, I googled the subject of Castro and seven-figure referral and this is what I found in Current magazine, published during Castro’s successful mayoral campaign:   

  • Julián Castro, 34, is a Harvard Law School graduate, a civil-litigation attorney, and a former two-term Councilmember for District 7. This is his second mayoral bid, following a narrow defeat to Phil Hardberger in 2005.  He’s been criticized for earning a fat referral fee from super-trial lawyer and Dem power donor Mikal Watts. He’s married to Erica Lira Castro; they have one child.

Watts is not only a Dem power donor, he is currently the subject of a federal investigation for potentially illegal lawyering in connection with the BP oil spill in Louisiana.  Coincidentally, my Council opponent  Rolando Briones has already been sanctioned in Louisiana in connection with his engineering efforts to help people hurt by Hurricane Katrina.  Isn’t it ironic how doing God’s work seems to get some people in trouble?  As they say, no good deed will go unpunished.   

A recent article by Guillermo Contreras in the Express-News reported on Watts’ legal troubles and his connection to Castro.  The article included a tidbit about the referral fee:

  • Watts had relocated his family from Corpus to San Antonio, where he took up residence in The Dominion and began pouring more money into races here.  He held at least one major fundraiser for Castro in 2009 as the former councilman battled to become mayor.  During that campaign, Castro’s opponents tried to make political hay of his referral of a drunken-driving lawsuit to Watts’ law firm.  Castro and Watts’ law firm successfully settled the case in 2007, and although the terms of the settlement are confidential, it purportedly netted Castro a sizable fee.

Referral fees, a/k/a forwarding fees, have always been confusing and controversial in Texas because they potentially enable a lawyer to receive an extravagant amount of compensation for very little work, and in the preceding quote, there seems to be such confusion.  First it says that Castro referred the case and then it says Castro and Watts successfully settled the case.  Well, which is it – if Castro referred the case, he wouldn’t have helped to settle it.  And if he helped to settle it, he wouldn’t have referred it; rather, he would have brought in another lawyer to help with the case.

By doing a bit of internet research, I learned that Texas in 2005 modified its referral rule (Rule 1.04 in the DRPC) to create two types of referrals:

  1. The lawyer can refer a case to another lawyer to handle, and thereby receive a referral fee; or
  2. The lawyer can get another lawyer to co-counsel it, and then divide the fee proportionately.

Thus, although the term referral is sometimes loosely used in both contexts, it appears that Castro actually brought in Watts as co-counsel and thereby retained the right to a more generous sharing of the fee.  How generous? – according to reports it was “fat,” “sizable,” or “seven-figure.  Whatever, I don’t think it is much ballyhooed.

March 8, 2013

Council debate/forum #3

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:51 pm
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Debate/forum #3 was held last night by the Oakland Estates Neighborhood Association.  Oakland Estates, which is located just north of Huebner Road between Fredericksburg and Babcock Roads, is an extremely old neighborhood with large lots, some with horses. 

The debate didn’t start until 7:30 pm, and I warned host Sue Snyder in advance that the timing was a bit late for an old-timer like me, so she should expect only my “B” game.  After the event, Sue came up to me and asked if that was my “B” game, and I told her it was “C-.”  

Why the low rating?  Because I was frustrated by some of the questions from the audience near the end of the event.  This was the first campaign event where, after the moderator finished asking questions, the audience was permitted to participate.  Although this sounds like a good idea in the abstract, as a practical matter the questions that came from the audience were remarkably narrow and concerned so-called constituency issues – i.e., a constituent is having a governmental problem and wants to know what you are going to do fix it. 

The problem for me with this type of question is that to talk intelligently about the issue, you have to be familiar with the government program, and I haven’t had a lot of interaction with government programs, and so I can’t speak intelligently about solving the individual’s problem.  By contrast, my opponents appear to have worked with virtually all of the various programs. 

One of tonight’s questions was how I was going to fix Prue Road.  Apparently, travel on Prue Road is difficult, and not only am I supposed to know that, but I am also supposed to know how to fix it, even though none of the responsible parties in San Antonio government has yet figured out how to fix it.  Another question came from an individual with a small, private school who complained that the city was requiring him to install sprinklers because of some mistake that the city made in supplying him with too-low water pressure.  And a third individual wanted to know what we thought was the best way to slow down traffic on neighborhood streets.

Obviously, constituent service is important, and if elected I will have to establish a process for providing that service, but I don’t think a candidate should be evaluated on his working knowledge of nuts-and-bolts issues.  That’s like expecting a congressional candidate to know how to fix an individual’s problem with his delayed Social Security or VA checks.  For some reason, I never received questions like that when I ran for Congress in 2010. 

When I discussed this matter with my host Sue after the debate, she suggested that I should simply worry about how to respond to the question, not necessarily how to solve the person’s riddle.  Excellent point, and I will prepare with that in mind for next week’s debate at Crown Ridge.

With respect to the other 80% of the debate, I think it went well.  Because the questions weren’t provided to us in advance, and because my memory of them is a bit blurred, I can’t now list each question.  Suffice to say, however, that I was able to point out on multiple occasions that Ron and Rolando were from the public sector (community organizer and government contractor) and wanted to be professional politicians, while I was from the private sector and wanted to be a citizen politician.  I also suggested that a gathering of their campaign contributors would “fill an auditorium.”  We discussed Pre-K 4 SA and a living wage for councilpersons, and I was surprised to hear both Ron and Rolando crawfish away from the earlier opposition to the living wage, and now they meekly admit that it is not a bad idea, although they won’t push for it. 

While reading about political campaigning, I have learned that political spouses are forced to listen to their spouses stump speech hundreds of times and laugh at the same jokes.  I appreciate that concept now that I am involved in a debate/forum almost every week.  Although the audience is generally new every week, my two opponents are the same every week and for some strange reason I feel is a tinge of phoniness in repeating the same punchlines to them.  They even cause me to change my wardrobe from debate to debate.  Weird, I know.

February 28, 2013

My second candidate debate/forum

Filed under: People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 3:33 am
Tags: ,

Just returned from my second candidate debate/forum.  This one was put on by the Mockingbird Hill Neighborhood Association, a well-to-do enclave just north of Callahan between Fred Rd. and IH-10.  Briones and Nirenberg also participated.  The format was similar to last week’s Pachyderm forum, except this event was more of a debate because we were each allowed to respond to the initial answers, which enabled us to point out the flaws in those answers.  The questions were suspiciously similar to last week’s, and one of the hosts later admitted that they had called around for help in developing good questions. 

The questions were as follows:

  1. What exactly do you consider to be the responsibilities of a City Councilman and what assets do you bring that you feel make you particularly qualified to do the job?  A councilman serves like a director on a board, but also like a legislator.  I am particularly qualified because of my background (growing up on a farm), my education (UND & UT), my experience (lawyer at USAA), and most importantly my values and politics (limited government, fiscal conservative).
  2. The city capped the only permanent water source for the pond in Denman Estate Park and failed to find a suitable replacement.  This has resulted in very low water levels which endangers the heritage trees and aesthetics of the park.  What would you do to help allocate funds to find a permanent water source for the park?  I don’t know anything about whether I could obtain funds for water.  That is something I would have to investigate.
  3. Discussion of the Express/News coverage of the District 8 race.  The reporting of the Express-News has been appropriate and the information revealed has been relevant to the voters, but the E-N does seem to relish exposing Briones.  By contrast, the coverage for Nirenberg has been cloyingly fulsome and totally lacking in any attempt to vet.
  4. What do you consider to be the responsibility of the city to fund social programs?  As a fiscal conservative, I think city government needs to focus on core responsibilities (streets and public safety), and resist the temptation to social engineer.  But the city does have a responsibility to fill any gaps in the safety net established by state, county, and federal programs.
  5. What are your views on development in the district, the roles of developers and lobbyists in the district an how do you intend to operate the zoning and development process?  Developers have property rights that must be respected, but lobbyists will have no special access to me.  I will listen to all stakeholders, but ultimately I will make decisions based on the best interest of our district as a whole.
  6. What is your view of metrodistricting?  I had never heard of this term, but a preliminary call to the moderator revealed that the term means the same thing as city-county consolidation.  This is obviously a good idea, but not a big priority for me because, as a practical matter, some players with vested interests are usually able to obstruct the consolidation.
  7. Why do you want to obtain the low paying, relatively thankless job of City Councilman?  The politically correct answer is that I want to serve the public and give something back, but the truth is I think the job would be enjoyable and satisfying.  As I recently learned in a book called Drive, the ultimate job affords autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  The job of Councilman is one of those ultimate jobs.

After the debate, I was interviewed by Ryan Lloyd, a reporter for Texas Public Radio, and he asked me if I had a persona while I was debating.  I told him that was an interesting idea, but I hadn’t given it any thought.  Perhaps I was like a boxer who was feeling out his opponent in the first rounds to see what works and what doesn’t. 

While chatting with people after the debate, I was told by some that they appreciated my plain talk and authentic nature.  That prompted me to realize while driving home that my persona was Jimmy Steward in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, with me as the citizen politician who is contending with Briones and Nirenberg as the unauthentic guys who will say whatever will make themselves sound good. 

I called Lloyd and thanked him for my new mindset.  Can’t wait for the next debate to try it out.

February 22, 2013

Disenfranchising Northside voters by Castro’s City Council

Filed under: Issues,People,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 7:13 pm
Tags: , , ,

For the past couple of years, there has been a loud political battle over Voter ID laws, both in Texas and across America.  Republicans claim that a requirement for voters to provide a photo ID is a reasonable precaution against voter fraud.  Democrats counter that there is scant evidence of a voter-fraud problem and that the actual intent of Voter ID laws is to disenfranchise Democrats (and minorities), who are more likely to not have a photo ID.  Regardless of who is right, there is no question that any disenfranchisement related to Voter ID laws is miniscule compared to disenfranchisement of San Antonio’s diverse North and Northwest sides by San Antonio’s version of Tammany Hall, the Hispanic-dominated political machine of the East, South, and West sides headed by Julian Castro.  

According to the 2010 U.S. census, San Antonio’s diverse North and Northwest sides (Districts 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10, whose populations are between 21% and 56% non-Hispanic Anglo) had about 741,000 residents while the Hispanic-dominated East, South, and West sides (Districts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, whose populations are between 3.98% and 19.81% non-Hispanic Anglo) had about 585,000 residents.  Yet each area had five councilpersons.  What a travesty of the one-person, one-vote principle!  The extra 156,000 voters in the North and Northwest sides were essentially denied representation.  My District 8 in 2010 had 50% more residents (159,578) than District 5 (106,608) had, yet each had one councilperson.

Fortunately, this sort of travesty is supposed to end with a redistricting following each census.  San Antonio’s 2010 population of 1,326,721 means that each council district should have 132,672 residents.  (Although congressional redistricting requires that each district have almost exactly the same number of residents, cities are allowed by law to have a deviation of +5% or –5%.)  That sort of flexibility might make sense in the hands of a wise City Council, which could use the flexibility to create compact districts with communities of shared interest and easily identifiable geographic boundaries.  But this flexibility makes no sense when the Castro Council uses it to continue its outrageous disenfranchisement of the North and Northwest sides by massively diluting our votes. 

With the average council district supposed to have 132,672 residents, the heavy-handed Castro Council decided to re-populate Districts 1-5 with between 126,616 residents and 129,002, while Districts 6-10 will have between 134,410 and 139,227.  Thus, Districts 1-5 will have about 636,000 residents while District 6-10s will have about 691,000.  The difference between the most and least populated districts after redistricting is 9.8%, the most possible without breaking the law.  

Perhaps those of us who live in northern San Antonio should be happy that, instead of the 156,000 North and Northwest side residents disenfranchised in 2011, we will only have 55,000 disenfranchised in 2013.  Of course, that is based on the 2010 Census.  Everyone knows that all of San Antonio’s population growth continues in the North and Northwest sides and that the 2020 census will reveal a repeated travesty of the one-person, one-vote principle. 

A wise City Council would have set the populations for Districts 6-10 as slightly lower than Districts 1-5, knowing that population growth would reverse that status by 2020.  (Population growth in San Antonio has been to the North and Northwest for several decades.)  But apparently, we don’t have a wise City Council.  Instead we have a City Council where the Castro machine runs roughshod over the non-Hispanics on the North and Northwest sides.

When I called my councilperson Reed Williams to complain about this inequitable treatment of his district, he responded that there was not much he could do because “they have the votes.”  Well, that’s not what civil-rights advocates said in the early 60s when their voting rights were trampled on.  Instead of turning the other cheek, Williams should be raising hell on behalf of his constituents.    

Further evidence of this bigotry by the Castro Council was recently revealed when it adopted what the Express-News called “a race-conscious approach to awarding contracts put out for bid.”  Apparently, the city’s race-neutral program had resulted in too few contracts going to minorities and women.  Because there was no evidence of discrimination, the Council’s action revealed that it was more interested in equal results than in equal opportunity.  Under its new program, every bidder except white males will receive preferences.

Further evidence of Castro’s prejudice against the North and Northwest sides – in a column last month, Express-News columnist Brian Chasnoff wrote that Castro admitted to him that an employer-incentive package was especially generous because the employer was locating on the South Side – “Are we doing a little more because it’s a South Side investment? Sure,” Castro said.  Why should the creation of jobs on the South Side be more valuable to San Antonio’s mayor than the creation of jobs on the North Side?   

I just finished watching the John Adams miniseries, so I’m especially sensitive to the issue of taxation without representation, and the supercilious attitude of Castro’s Council evokes a similar feeling.  Like the colonies, we are being treated by the crown as its personal ATM machine.  So, the next time you hear about the Republican Party trying to disenfranchise a few voters who don’t have photo IDs, tell them that the Republicans are small-time amateurs compared to the big-time professionals on Castro’s City Council.

The following is District populations before and after redistricting:

District            Before             After

1                      112,466           126,616

2                      123,727           129,002

3                      118,848           127,207

4                      123,256           126,702

5                      106,608           126,228

6                      152,661           134,410

7                      137,292           139,081

8                      159,578           139,169

9                      159,189           139,227

10                    133,096           139,079

http://www.sanantonio.gov/clerk/ReDistricting/index.aspx

 

 

 

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