FrontBurner

A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Local News

Dallas County’s Super Tuesday Was Messy

| 3 weeks ago

On Super Tuesday, nearly 320,000 Dallasites cast their votes in the primaries. Many of those voted without incident. But some didn’t. If this is a run-through for November, the county has a lot of work to do. At some polling locations, election workers simply didn’t show up. At others, the machines were broken. As the clock ticked near 7 p.m., lines—like at the Oak Lawn branch library—snaked past two hours. And late Friday, the county asked for permission to recount the ballots. Election administrator Toni Pippins-Poole said 44 tabulating machines weren’t counted; her office found the flash drives.

On Tuesday, as Shawn reported, a judge approved the recount. They believe they’ll need to cross reference between 7,000 and 8,000 ballots and do not believe that this will change the outcome of any of the races. Both parties basically stood pat until the ruling came. Rodney Anderson, the Republican party chair for the county, told the Texas Tribune, “We anxiously await the explanation from the election department on how this could possibly happen. Until such time when we have this, I’m not going to deal in supposition and what ifs.” On Tuesday, they fired shots at one another from the hallway of the courthouse.

We didn’t know which of the 454 polling locations were affected until Tuesday. But the new machines—which printed out a ballot with a unique barcode for each voter after the selections were entered digitally—weren’t exactly smooth. I voted the Friday before Super Tuesday at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center. After I got my ballot, I tried to feed it into another machine for tabulation. The machine wasn’t working. We slid our ballots into a locked bin instead, and the judge told us they would be counted later. She told us this situation is why there was a paper trail and reiterated that in court on Tuesday.

Read More

Arts & Entertainment

In the Jungles of Borneo, Searching for Dallas’ Lost Political Kingmaker

| 3 weeks ago

Around 7 years ago, I was sitting at Ascension in the Design District with Rob Allyn, the former Dallas political consultant, who was telling me about his new movie idea. That Allyn was working on a film was already something of a novelty. If you follow local politics at all, you know Allyn’s name. The firm he founded still dominates the local political landscape. Allyn left that firm a while back to reinvent himself as a filmmaker. During that time Allyn had managed to produce a string of action films shot in Indonesia. But his new film idea was a different beast.

As Allyn described his film about 19th century British explorer James Brooke, who fought pirates in Borneo and became king of the indigenous head-hunting tribes there, images of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo flashed through my mind. To make that movie, the famous German director drove his cast and crew into the Amazonian jungle where his lead actor went mad and members of the crew died after the director forced them to drag a boat over a mountain. The idea of shooting a film about Brooke in the juggles of Borneo sounded like a similarly madcap escapade, and I told Allyn I wanted to write about his movie. I’d be lying if part of the allure of following the film’s production wasn’t the pure adventure of the thing and the chance that, like Herzog, it might all go up in flames.

We lost touch. I figured Allyn hadn’t managed to convince enough people to invest in his lark of a film. But then, last September, Allyn texted to say they were about to begin shooting the movie, called Rajah, in Borneo. Before I re-pitched the story to Tim, I checked the airfare. Remarkably, it was only $850 or so, which I figured wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. The flight would be long, especially given the time-constricted travel schedule, but it also required a couple of long layovers in Singapore, and, having watched more than a few Anthony Bourdain episodes set there, that didn’t sound like the worst thing in the world.

I got the thumbs up, packed my bags, and headed to the other side of the world. The story about what happened next appears in the March issue of D Magazine and goes online today.

Read More

Local News

Super Tuesday Voting in Dallas County Wasn’t Without Hiccups

| 1 month ago

Overcast skies loomed over Dallas on Super Tuesday as thousands of voters from across the city flocked to the polls to cast their ballots in Texas’ primary elections.

Dallas County offered 14 voting precincts and 243 cumulative voting locations. Before Super Tuesday, 1,085,065 Texan Republicans and 1,000,231 Democrats had taken advantage of early voting. But the big day started with some hiccups.

By 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, 383 voters had cast their ballots at North Dallas High School in Uptown. The location got off to a slow start because of technical difficulties.

Election Judge Bill Barnes said the election volunteers weren’t given the usernames and passwords to login in to the computers and pull up the voting pages. Later in the day, two express voting machines malfunctioned. Another failed mechanically. All three machines were fully functioning by noon. Voters reported similar problems across town at the Lochwood branch library, where none of the machines were running at 7 a.m. The voting machines are a hybrid of a digital and analogue, with voters electronically voting but receiving their ballots on a sheet of paper with a unique bar code. The voter gets a receipt and turns in the ballot to another machine. Other issues weren’t even technical. The Dallas Morning News reported some poll workers just didn’t show up to their locations to run the machines.

But it seemed most of the problems were solved by the afternoon. Dallas resident Danny Tipton said he only waited about 10 minutes in line at North Dallas High, and most of the voters around him seemed content with the wait.

“The guy in front of me was getting a little impatient, but honestly it wasn’t bad,” he said.

Read More

Politics

Troll Neighbor No Fan of Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Candidate

| 1 month ago

It’s Super Tuesday. I hope you’ve voted. If not, go here to find out where you can. The good news is that you don’t have to vote in your designated precinct, so if you want to skip out at lunch and head to your nearest voting location, do it!

Depending on where you live and what party primary you are voting in, you may be confronted with a down ballot battle between current Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Carol Donovan and her opponent, Michelle Espinal-Embler. The race sets up as a stand-off between the local Democrat old guard and a young, insurgent newcomer. Check out Donovan’s list of endorsements. It’s a who’s who of local political players. But then head over and read this Eric Celeste piece from 2017 about how it is exactly those entrenched political leaders who are holding back young and progressive voices in the local party. You’ll begin to understand why Michelle Espinal-Emblar, a young community organizer and activist, is running against Donovan.

A taste from Celeste’s column:

Read More

Politics & Government

Everything You Need To Know For Super Tuesday

| 1 month ago

Today is Super Tuesday, when voters in Texas, 13 other states, and one territory go to the polls to choose their party’s nominees in races ranging from president to constable.

It also means your mailboxes—and my apartment complex’s parking lot—will soon be less cluttered by colorful, joyful, and strange mailers from campaigns and political action committees.

By Wednesday, the onslaught of campaign ads for former Mayor Michael Bloomberg broadcast on everything from television to Shopkick should disappear, at least for a while. Don’t worry, Democrats: you’ll see another round come from two runoffs, one for the U.S. Senate and perhaps for state House District 108, where three Democrats are vying to defeat state Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Highland Park, in the fall.

If the state’s numerous barriers to voting haven’t stopped you from voting, get in line by 7 p.m. and bring one of the approved permitted forms of identification. This year, you’ll be voting electronically but will receive a printed sheet with a barcode and your selections. You’ll submit that paper, creating a trail. On Twitter, there are reports of equipment problems from Mansfield to East Dallas. We’re calling election judges to figure out what’s going on.

According to numbers guru Derek Ryan, 1,085,065 Texan Republicans already voted compared to Democrats’ 1,000,231. Statewide more people voted Republican in 219 counties compared to Democrats’ 35. Collin and Denton are among the 219 while Dallas and Tarrant counties are among the 35.

Primary numbers don’t translate into general election voters, however, much like yard signs don’t vote. But the turnout shows both sides are energized going into the fall.

Read More

Dallas History

Times Uncovers Political Battlefields Hidden in Texas History Textbooks

| 3 months ago

Students in Texas learning about the Harlem Renaissance will read in their high school history textbooks that there were some critics who disparaged the output of the cultural movement. High school students in California will read in their history textbooks that there has been legislation passed over the years that restricts the right to bear arms laid out the second amendment to the Constitution, but that detail is omitted in the Texas version of the exact same textbook.

These are two of the discrepancies between high school textbooks that the New York Times found in an analysis of the books used in Texas and California schools. Their report shows how the highly political process that goes into approving textbooks for American schools can alter the way history is conveyed and interpreted. This isn’t news to anyone who has seen the great documentary The Revisionaries, which takes viewers behind the scenes in the ongoing ideological battles waged over how Texas textbooks are written. Still, the report details how children growing up in different parts of the country will emerge from high school with subtle, if significant differences in how they understand this country.

Here’s how it happens:

Read More

Politics & Government

Today Is Election Day, So Let’s Talk About Voter Turnout

| 5 months ago

There is a funny, sort-of-sad line in this CityLab piece about boosting participation in local elections by two of the higher ups at the National League of Cities: “…in what is supposedly one of the most democratic countries, we can’t get more than half of our population to vote regularly.”

Dallas would kill for those numbers. Today is Election Day, on which you all will have the chance to vote on a bevy of state constitutional amendments. Some will vote on a replacement for former state Rep. Eric Johnson in District 100, the House seat he vacated when he won mayor. There are some local races in Mesquite. But all signs point to this being a disastrous turnout, despite the fact that you can now vote at any county polling location—not just the ones in your district.

In the May election, perhaps the most important mayoral race in recent Dallas history, about 11 percent of registered voters went to the polls. Four years before that, 7.4 percent of registered voters reelected Mayor Mike Rawlings. That was good enough to be the worst turnout in the nation’s 50 largest cities. In the last non-mayoral election, when there was a multi-billion dollar bond package up for a vote as well as some constitutional amendments and the future of the Dallas County Schools busing system, just 6.5 percent of voters cared to express themselves on a ballot.

The CityLab article notes that “our voter registration process is complicated and punitive,” particularly so in Texas. The writers—Brooks Rainwater, a senior executive at the League, and Olivia Snarski, a local democracy program leader—highlight some creative ways to motivate voter turnout: train social services providers on voter registration assistance, give landlords incentives to hand over registration forms, embrace public schools as a convener for such efforts. (Some of those things are already happening here.) Same-day registration, which Rainwater and Snarski say jump turnout by 10 percent in states that offer it, probably won’t fly politically in Texas.

The story is interesting, but it places a lot of responsibility on the backs of mayors. And in Dallas, Mayor Eric Johnson simply isn’t able to enact policies like tax credits to small businesses that give their employees the day off to go vote. (We do have two full weeks of early voting, something not every other state offers.) The weak mayor system puts that power in the hands of the city manager and City Council. That’s not to say we can’t think creatively about this:

Read More

Good Public Transit

Are We Entering the Golden Era of the Bus?

| 5 months ago

Ah, the lowly bus. Whenever I write about buses—and there is good reason to, given that Dallas is about to give its entire bus network a rehaul—someone in the comments sounds-off with some version of this critique: people don’t ride buses because buses suck.

It’s a difficult point to argue against. If you have ever ridden a bus, and especially if your experience of bus travel is limited to Dallas, then you know how bouncing around on a bus through this city’s streets can be an excruciating, sometimes nauseating experience. They’re often too hot or too cold; they can feel like a boat heaving on rough seas; their routes wind round and round; they take forever to reach their destination; there are so many stops it can sometimes feel that you could walk faster than a bus that has to scoop up passengers at every street corner and stop at every stoplight. I get it. Buses are often not fun.

I have ridden some nice buses. Chicago has a good bus system, and it ties into the “L” trains seamlessly. London’s buses are incredibly efficient and wonderful complement to the tube, once you get a handle on the routes. Rome’s buses are rough, but they are often all you have to rely on, so you make them work, which is easier in a city that is so dense. My aunt rode the same bus route from Queens, NY to Midtown nearly every day for decades, so much so that the bus became for her a kind of “third place,” and her stories of bickering and kvetching with her fellow bus regulars became a common topic of conversation at family gatherings. This is all to say that, despite their reputation, buses can work.

But why, then, do people harbor such deep–almost irrational–hatred for the bus?

Read More

Politics

What Can Texas Cities Do When State Legislators Admit to Hating Them?

| 6 months ago

Buried near the 40-minute mark of the surreptitious recording of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and the far-right Empower Texans head Michael Q. Sullivan was a brief exchange that spelled out the antipathy many in the state Legislature feel toward Texas’ cities:

Dennis Bonnen: In this office, in the conference room at that end, any mayor or county judge who’s dumbass enough to come meet with me, I told them with great clarity, my goal is for this to be the worst session in the history of the legislature for cities and counties.

Dustin Burrows: I hope the next session is even worse.

Dennis Bonnen: And I’m all for that.

The quote made it around certain Twitter circles yesterday morning. The plain language explained what plenty of bills have done in recent legislative sessions: kneecap urban areas from passing policy the Lege doesn’t want. Last year came reform bills that capped the rate at which cities can raise property taxes. The Lege banned red light cameras. It blocked cities from charging private telecommunication companies for using public right of way, particularly concerning when you think of all the impending 5G infrastructure.

Houston estimates that not charging telecom companies for right of way will cost it $27 million per year. Taken altogether, the bills passed by the Lege will create a $44 million annual shortfall for the city of Dallas by 2023, according to a budget forecast. Even Moody’s found the property tax reform law would generate “minimal” homeowner savings but would “hurt local governments substantially.” That sounds like a plan to screw local governments more than provide relief to taxpayers.

Burrows, the Lubbock state representative who was also heard spouting off on the tape, later added, “We hate cities and counties.” He told Sullivan he had pitched the governor on taking away what cities can use from sales tax to pay for economic development, public transit, or other services.

These strategies aren’t new.

Read More

Good Public Transit

DART Is (Finally) Ready to Redo Its Bus System

| 6 months ago

Dallas Area Rapid Transit proved it is finally serious about fixing its bus system. On Wednesday, the DART board voted to sign a contract with public transit consultant Jarrett Walker, who will help the public transit agency draw up a new plan for bus service in the region.

Walker is a big name in the world of transit planning—and bus system planning in particular. He and his firm have worked with cities all over the world, and he has proven successful helping low density cities rethink how to organize their public transit systems and improve bus reliability and ridership. Perhaps most notably, in Seattle, Walker helped what CityLab deemed a “transit-backward town” become a national model in implementing smart, efficient bus service. Walker was also deeply involved in Houston’s bus redo. He writes about his ideas about public transit at HumanTransit.org.

That DART is bringing Walker on board is significant not simply because he is a smart transit wonk. Walker is known for being able to lead civic leaders and transit officials through the complicated political calculations that can inhibit transit reform. Earlier this week, I wrote about Steven Higashide’s new book Better Buses, Better Transit, in which the author argues successful conversations around transit need “to include process and politics, not just technology and policy.” That phrase pretty much sums up Walker’s approach.

“If the buses are terrible in your city, you may think that buses are terrible in general,” Walker wrote in a 2018 Atlantic piece. “In truth, a city’s bus service is as good as its leaders and voters want it to be. Where voters have funded better bus services and cities have worked to give them priority, as in Seattle, ridership has soared.”

Read More

Good Public Transit

Why Do American Cities Hate the Bus?

| 6 months ago

A couple of weeks ago, I was driving around Costa Rica, a country known for its challenged infrastructure, when I noticed one simple, if exceptional feature of the Central American country’s roads. Driving in Costa Rica meant battling plenty of dirt, rocky, and unpaved roads; massive potholes; roads that disappeared into swampy bogs; single lane bridges over rivers that occasionally had giant holes in them; towns only accessible via mazes of dirt paths that sometimes led into ditches or creeks; and other obstacles. But on every kind of road, every mile or so, there was a modest shelter demarcating a bus stop.

The bus shelters were often simple affairs—a few posts holding up a corrugated metal roof, a wooden bench or two. But because the bus shelters were there, within a few hours I knew that the region had an extensive bus network. If I missed one of those Swiss cheese bridges and drove my rental into a croc-infested river, I could always jump on a bus and head back to town. The bus shelters did what DART’s tiny yellow bus stop signs fail to do: provide an easy and immediate way to navigate the region’s public transit network. Nearly every time I saw one, I couldn’t help but throw up my hands and shout in exasperation, “Why can’t Dallas build simple, stupid bus shelters?”

Read More

Local Government

This Is How Engineers Ruin Cities

| 7 months ago

On Friday, Tim wrote about the latest shenanigans coming from the North Central Texas Council of Governments and its transportation director Michael Morris, and the absurd plan to funnel millions of federal transportation dollars to prop up an idiotic, and wildly conflicted, idea of building soccer fields under I-345. The incident offers yet another example of how a governmental organization with little actual public oversight is able to advance large-scale public projects without much of a public process. “This isn’t really all transportation related,” Morris admits, almost flaunting the way he can deploy millions in public funds at his own personal discretion. So much for democracy.

This shouldn’t be surprising—this kind of thing happens all the time. How does it happen? Across the country, civil engineers have built up a solid strategy of thwarting public will by relying on a few rhetorical and procedural tricks of the trade. Over on Strong Towns, Charles Marohn breaks down the playbook. As a jumping off point, Marohn’s article uses a letter that traffic engineers in Springfield, Massachusetts, sent in response to three city council members’ request for a new signaled crosswalk near the New England town’s library. In the letter, Marohn, an engineer himself, finds all four of the typical obfuscations that thwart the public process. If you follow city politics, each of these four general strategies will sound all too familiar. Here are some highlights.

Read More