Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

July finance reports for county candidates

Most of the interesting race in Harris County this year are the countywide races. Here’s a look at how the candidates in these races have been doing at fundraising.

District Attorney

Friends of Devon Anderson PAC
Kim Ogg


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Anderson   253,670   55,392         0    368,907
Ogg        143,311   34,417    69,669    108,872

Devon Anderson received a $60K contribution from Richard Anderson; I have no idea if there’s any family connection there. She’s a strong fundraiser, but she’s also had her share of bad publicity, and I suspect it’ll take more money than what she has in the bank to wipe that away. As for Ogg, her biggest single contribution was $13,500 from Nancy Morrison. I feel like Ogg’s totals don’t quite work, since she reported $30K on hand for her February 20 eight-day report, but it’s not that big a deal. This is also a reminder that the totals listed above for Ogg were from the period February 21 through June 30, while Anderson’s are for the full six months.

Sheriff

Ron Hickman
Ed Gonzalez, May runoff report
Ed Gonzalez, July report


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Hickman    127,153  175,247         0    135,868
Gonzalez    38,435   35,587         0     20,117

Hickman had primary opposition, so his report is from February 21 through June 30. He got $21,700 from Suzanne and Keith Moran for his biggest donation. He also spent a bunch of money – $59K to Strategic Media Services for TV ads, $41K too Neumann and Co for mailers, and (my favorite) $10K to Tom’s Pins for “promo items and Golf Promo items”. I bet that’s a lot of pins and little pencils. As for Gonzalez, he had raised $130K from Feb 21 to May 14, during the primary runoff period. His July report is only for May 15 through June 30. In other words, don’t freak out at the disparity in amount raised.

Tax Assessor

Mike Sullivan
Ann Harris Bennett


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Sullivan    70,300   39,196         0    101,564
Bennett     26,190   11,536         0      1,837

Both Sullivan and Bennett were in contested primaries, so both reports cover February 21 through June 30. You could call Sullivan an efficient fundraiser – he raised that $70K from 55 total donors, 52 of whom gave $250 or more, and three of whom gave $100 or less. Bennett has never been much of a fundraiser, and this report bears that out. Some $17K of her raised total was in-kind, which contributed to the extra low cash on hand amount.

County Attorney

Vince Ryan
Jim Leitner


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Ryan         72,400  33,652         0    171,677
Leitner      12,550  10,225     9,500      8,765

Leitner had to win a primary, while Ryan was the one Dem who had a free ride. Ryan is also the one Democratic incumbent, and he built up a bit of a cushion over the past four years. Leitner wins the award for being the one guy to fill out his form by hand rather than electronically. Not a whole lot to see here otherwise.

Commissioners Court, Precinct 3

Steve Radack
Jenifer Pool


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Radack     747,500  177,604         0  1,616,948
Pool        13,750   13,054         0          0

This is the one contested County Commissioner’s Court race. Radack’s Precinct 3 is redder than Jack Morman’s Precinct 2 but less red than Jack Cagle’s Precinct 4. In a normal year, I’d expect Radack to get around 60% of the vote, though downballot candidates have done better than that in recent years; Adrian Garcia topped 47% there in 2008. This is obviously not a normal year, though whether the effect of that is primarily at the top of the ticket or if it goes all the way down remains to be seen. To the extent that there is an effect, Precinct 3 ought to serve as a good microcosm of it.

And for completeness’ sake:

Commissioners Court, Precinct 1

El Franco Lee – Still has $3,774,802 on hand.
Rodney Ellis – $1,959,872 on hand. Same as his state report.
Gene Locke – Raised $258K, spent $182K, still has $115K on hand.

I’m going to step out on a limb and suggest that Gene Locke has run his last campaign. Very little money has been spent from El Franco Lee’s account – one presumes his campaign treasurer hasn’t given the matter any more thought since he was first asked about it in January. Rodney Ellis has promised to give $100K to the HCDP coordinated campaign. I say Gene Locke and J. Kent Friedman (El Franco Lee’s campaign treasurer) should do something like that as well. This year presents a huge opportunity for Harris County Democrats, and it’s not like that money is doing anyone any good sitting in the bank. It’s not my money and I don’t get to say how it gets spent, but I do get to say what I want, and this is it. Put some money into this campaign, guys. There’s absolutely no reason not to.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Harris County DA drops charges against video fraudsters

Disappointing, to say the least.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Criminal charges against the anti-abortion activists behind undercover recordings of a Houston Planned Parenthood facility were dismissed Tuesday.

David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, the videographers who infiltrated Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, had been charged with tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony charge that carries up to 20 years in prison. A court clerk confirmed that the Harris County district attorney’s office filed the motion to dismiss the case against Daleiden and Merritt.

Harris County DA Devon Anderson said in a statement that Texas limits what can be investigated after a grand jury term gets extended, which happened in this case.

“In light of this and after careful research and review, this office dismissed the indictments,” Anderson said.

The misdemeanor charge against Daleiden was dismissed by the judge in June. The defense had filed a motion back in April to dismiss the felony charges on the grounds that the grand jury had not been properly empaneled, and the fraudsters rejected a plea deal later in April. If you’re wondering why now, when there hadn’t yet been a hearing on the defense motions, the DA’s office decided to throw in the towel, you’re not alone.

The decision came as a surprise because the district attorney’s office had argued at length in a 30-page motion filed in May that the issue about the grand jury’s term was “meritless.”

Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s attorney Josh Schaffer said Tuesday’s decision was based on a political calculation by a Republican incumbent who has drawn criticism for pursuing the case. It also came just days after sharp criticism of the DA’s office in an unrelated case over the jailing of a mentally ill rape victim to ensure she would testify.

“I think it smacks of a politically expedient decision made from the highest levels of the office,” Schaffer said. “It was an easy out for a district attorney who had already received a lot of heat from her party over this case and had received a lot of heat this week for the handling of another case, one involving a rape victim.”

If prosecutors were concerned about a technical error over the grand jury extension, he said, they could have remedied it months ago by taking it to another grand jury. The district attorney’s office could still file charges, he noted.

“I do not think what happened in this case was based on law or the facts,” he said. “It was based on politics.”

[…]

The lawyers had scheduled a hearing before state District Judge Brock Thomas in which they were expected to argue the grand jurors were improperly empaneled longer than their standard three-month term, rendering any indictments null and void.

Instead of arguing the point, prosecutors agreed in a surprise move that the defense raised a “colorable claim” and dismissed all of the charges.

[…]

Political and legal observers said the dismissal is understandable given the amount of resources it would have taken to prosecute versus the likely outcome.

“If I were writing the prosecutorial memo, it seems like this case would be a whole lot of work that would, at best, end up with a slap on the wrist,” said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at the newly named Houston College of Law. “There are bigger fish to fry in Houston.”

Corn said Anderson should not be criticized for using her discretion to dismiss a case that would expend county resources for a minor conviction.

“These were a couple of zealots who were overreaching and gaming the system,” he said. “DA’s have to make hard decisions about where to allocate resources. This seems to make sense to me.”

I Am Not A Lawyer, so I cannot evaluate the merits of the defense’s arguments or the reasons why the prosecution decided to buy into them. What Professor Corn says makes some sense, but one might ask why they didn’t make that calculation before taking this to a grand jury in the first place. It’s not like they couldn’t have seen this cost/benefit calculation coming from that vantage point. I can’t say what motivated Devon Anderson to change course now, but the timing of it sure is funny.

One more thing:

“The decision to drop the prosecution on a technicality does not negate the fact that the only people who engaged in wrongdoing are the extremists behind this fraud,” said Melaney Linton, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.

Yep. This is the very definition of “getting off on a technicality”. Let us not lose sight of that. The Press and the Current have more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

There is a Castro thinking about running for office in 2018

It’s Joaquin. And he’s thinking about the Senate.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, has set off a new stir in Texas politics with his remark that he will consider challenging U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018.

Castro, long regarded as a rising star in Democratic politics, has previously not ruled out a run for the seat but seemed to offer more definitive language than usual in a TV interview Tuesday morning.

“I’m going to take a look at it in 2018,” Castro told CBS News, which interviewed him here at the Democratic National Convention with his twin brother, U.S. Housing Secretary Julián Castro.

“I’ll take a look at that and other opportunities,” Joaquin Castro added. “I’ve never been somebody that said in two years I’ve absolutely got to run for Senate or governor, but I will take a look at it.”

[…]

In the interview, Joaquin Castro appeared more interested than his brother in challenging Cruz. Asked by CBS’ Charlie Rose which one of the twins was going to take on Cruz, Julián Castro replied, “Probably zero of us.”

“He’s speaking for himself,” Joaquin Castro said a short time later.

This link generated quite a bit of excitement yesterday on Facebook, I can tell you that much. Joaquin Castro would face the same hurdles as his brother Julian would, whether Julian would consider the Senate or the Governor’s mansion, and the stakes are higher for Joaquin since he’d have to give up his seat in Congress to aim for a promotion. That said, Ted Cruz will likely still be feuding with Donald Trump in 2018, and I strongly suspect he’d be able to raise the money he’d need to make a serious run. I could see him peeling a few votes away from Cruz, if it came to it. But as always the first question is whether he can crack the problem of dismally consistent low Democratic turnout in an off year. if Dem turnout gets a decent boost this year, that may provide both a blueprint and a glimmer of hope. If not, much as it would pain me to say, he might be better off staying put till next time.

Posted in: Election 2018.

State settles birth certificate lawsuit

Good.

After undergoing mediation, the state of Texas has reached an agreement with undocumented families in a lawsuit over its denial to issue birth certificates to children born in the U.S. to undocumented immigrants.

The state will clarify and expand the types of secondary forms undocumented immigrants can use to prove their identity, according to attorneys representing the group of undocumented parents and their U.S-born children who filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Previously, immigrants in Texas could request birth certificates for their children if they had two secondary forms of ID, including Mexican voter registration cards and foreign IDs with a photo.

In the agreement, the state said it would accept voter ID cards received by undocumented immigrants in Texas by mail under recent changes to Mexican law, the attorneys said. Until earlier this year, the Mexican voter registration cards could only be obtained in Mexico.

The state also agreed to accept certain documents Central American parents can obtain from their consulates in the U.S. as secondary forms of ID if they are signed and stamped by consular officials. Under the agreement, the list of acceptable secondary documents was also expanded to include other supporting documents, such as copies of utility bills, paycheck stubs and letters relating to public assistance benefits, according to the families’ lawyers.

“We feel confident that undocumented parents with children born here will be able to access their children’s birth certificates,” said Marinda van Dalen, a staff attorney with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid.

See here and here for the background. The plaintiffs’ argument was that the state had no basis for changing its rules for what ID it would and would not accept, and the state’s defense to that argument didn’t resonate with the judge, so given all that a settlement seems like the best outcome all around. With the exception of the immigration executive order lawsuit, it hasn’t exactly been a great month in the courts for the state of Texas, has it? A statement from the Senate Hispanic Caucus is here, and the NYT and the Observer have more.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.

July finance reports for State Rep candidates

Hey, it’s July, and you know what that means: Campaign finance reports! There aren’t many State Rep races of interest this November, but there are four that I wanted to look at.

HD134

Rep. Sarah Davis
Ben Rose


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Davis       92,972  252,457         0     53,839
Rose        83,047   31,278         0     54,691

I don’t really expect HD134 to be particularly tight – it will never be “safe” in the sense that most districts are, but it also won’t be any closer than 55-45 barring anything odd. Which, to be fair, could happen this year. Ben Rose has been pretty active so far, and he raised a decent amount of money; his campaign sent out an email on Tuesday bragging that they are “currently in 1st place with more cash on hand than our incumbent opponent”, which is true enough but not perhaps the most accurate way of viewing things, given that Davis spent a bunch of money in a contested primary. If he gets to make the same boast after the 30 Day reports come out, I will be genuinely impressed. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if Rep. Davis retains the endorsement she received in 2014 from Equality Texas. She hasn’t done anything to forfeit it as far as I know, but unlike 2014 she has a viable opponent. We’ll see what happens.

HD144

Rep. Gilbert Pena
Mary Ann Perez


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Pena        14,920   15,932         0     13,643
Perez       38,304   37,814         0     48,362

Bear in mind here that Gilbert Pena is the incumbent, not the challenger. How an incumbent, even an accidental one like Pena, could have that little to show for two years in office is a good question, but perhaps the answer is that he’s a clear underdog, based on 2012 results. Mary Ann Perez, who lost to Pena in 2014 by a close margin, had to win a three-way primary and will likely have an incumbent-sized bank account by the time the next report is filed.

HD149

Rep. Hubert Vo
Bryan Chu


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Vo          34,763   44,541    45,119     56,071
Chu         27,668   42,732    46,475     17,593

As with Hd134, I don’t expect anything exciting here, but Republicans sometimes throw a bunch of money at Rep. Vo, and sometimes they find a self-funder to spare them the effort. Chu actually had a decent number of small-dollar donations, but in the end I doubt it will amount to much.

HD137

Rep. Gene Wu
Kendall Baker


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Wu          42,851   35,928    45,000    124,611
Baker           20   23,424         0         20

This district is closer to safe than swing, but Rep. Wu’s opponent was one of the anti-HERO leaders, who ran for District F last year and finished third in a field of three. I was curious to see if any of Kendall Baker’s fellow HERO-haters would show him some love in this race, for old time’s sake if nothing else. I think you can guess what the answer to that is. Baker’s expenditures all came from personal funds, including $20K to Aubrey Taylor Communications for “Election related banners on blog posts thru 11/8/2016”. I’d always heard there was money to be made in blogging, I guess I was just too dumb to figure out how to do it. Maybe next election.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Falkenberg talks to DA Anderson about jailed rape victim

Worth reading, as you would expect. I’m going to quote from the conclusion:

DA Devon Anderson

[Assistant DA Nick] Socias appeared to have diligently tried to help, but he seemed to be trying alone. Anderson’s office said she wasn’t informed about the situation until near the end of trial.

She should have been involved from the start. The sheriff as well. When I asked, Anderson couldn’t think of a single thing the prosecutor could have done better. One is glaringly obvious: ask for help.

In the end, the victim testified, and her bravery helped get a serial rapist off the street.

But the cost to the victim was too high, something Anderson said “we regret very much.”

“We’ve just been crushed by this,” she told me.

I believe her. But a young rape victim has been destroyed by this. It’s not acceptable to say that was unavoidable.

See here for the background, and do read the whole thing. I don’t think Devon Anderson has been a terrible DA. She has done, or at least tried to do, some good things, from better handling of marijuana cases to not being bulldozed by politics in the Planned Parenthood investigation. She’s a clear step up from Chuck Rosenthal. But this case demonstrates an appalling lack of oversight within her office. There’s just no way that an ADA should have been able to make the decision to hold a crime victim, let along a rape victim, in jail without the full knowledge and consent of the DA and the Sheriff. Maybe they would have signed off on it and maybe they would have insisted on finding another answer. Maybe if they had signed off on it there would have been better management of the process that could have avoided the terrible things that happened to the victim while she was inside. Whatever the case, the fact that it did happen without them knowing about it is a problem. That Anderson didn’t see that on her own is an even bigger problem.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

New affidavit procedure implemented for HD120 special election runoff

Seems likely this is what we’re going to get for November.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Now before the Court comes the Consent Motion for Entry of Temporary Remedial Order, filed on July 23, 2016. The Court has considered the motion and determined that it should be GRANTED.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the Motion for Entry of Temporary Remedial Order is GRANTED.

LIMITED INTERIM RELIEF

With regard to the special election for Texas House District No. 120 on August 2, 2016, with early voting to begin on July 25, 2016, if a voter seeking to cast a ballot appears on the official list ofregistered voters but does not possess an acceptable form of photo ID due to a reasonable impediment, the following steps shall be taken by the election officer to allow the voter to cast a provisional ballot:

  • Provide the Reasonable Impediment Affidavit form, attached as Exhibit B, or a Spanish language translation thereof, to the voter, and ask the voter to provide one of the following forms of identification:
    a. A valid voter registration certificate, or
    b. A current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name of the voter.
  • If the voter does not have one of the above forms of identification, they must provide their date of birth and the last four digits of their social security number in the space provided on the Reasonable Impediment Affidavit form.
  • Ask the voter to complete this form by entering their name, address, and, where applicable, date of birth, and last four digits of their social security number, and then ask them to review the “Voter’s Affldavit of Reasonable Impediment,” indicate their impediment, and sign their name.
  • Ask the voter to return the completed form to the election judge. The election judge should indicate at the bottom of the form what type of identification the voter provided. The election judge whould enter the date and sign in the space provided.
  • Provide the “Affidavit ofProvisional Voter” envelope to the voter, and ask them to complete the voter portion on the front side of the envelope.
  • Ask the voter to return the completed envelope, and on the reverse side, the election judge shall complete their portion. The election judge should mark “Other” and indicate that the voter is casting a provisional ballot due to a reasonable impediment. The election judge should enter the date and sign in the space provided.
  • Staple the Reasonable Impediment Affidavit form to the “Affidavit of Provisional Voter” envelope, and the voter shall proceed to cast a provisional ballot.

Upon confirmation that the “Affidavit of Provisional Voter” envelope is complete and that the Reasonable Impediment Affidavit is attached, the ballot shall be counted by the provisional balloting board unless there is conclusive evidence that the affiant is not the person in whose name the ballot is cast.

The Secretary of State will provide the Reasonable Impediment Affidavit form to the Bexar County Elections District for distribution to election officials.

Link via Rick Hasen. This is more or less what we expected after the parameters for “softening” Texas’ voter ID law after the Fifth Circuit ruling was handed down. This order specifies that both sides may still “seek or oppose future orders of relief”, so just because this is the process that the handful of people who will vote in the essentially meaningless runoff for the HD120 special election doesn’t mean it is what we’ll get for November. For that, District Court Judge Nelva Ramos has requested briefs from both sides by August 5, with a hearing on August 17, and a ruling to presumably follow in short order. Early voting for that HD120 runoff happens this week, so we may get a bit of real world data on how this solution works, though given the low stakes of that election and the likelihood of miniscule turnout, I wouldn’t expect much. The briefs and the hearing will tell us what we should expect. The Lone Star Projectand the Trib have more.

UPDATE: From Texas Lawyer:

On July 21, Matt Frederick, the deputy Solicitor General of Texas, responded to the court’s inquiry about any possible appeal of the Fifth Circuit ruling by stating that Texas did not intend to seek a Supreme Court review “at this time.”

[…]

[Deuel Ross, assistant counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who represents plaintiffs challenging the Texas voter ID law], said the challengers were “satisfied” with the voter identification rules that Ramos has established for the Bexar County special election.

“We think the relief is appropriate,” he said.

Kayleigh Lovvorn, a spokeswoman for the Texas Attorney General, said in an email about the state’s plan to response to the Fifth Circuit ruling: “At this time, we are in discussions with the plaintiffs and are evaluating all of our options.”

We’ll see if they come to an agreement for November.

Posted in: Election 2016, Legal matters.

Looking again for a new justice complex

Got to do something about this sooner or later.

hall_of_justice

Mayor Sylvester Turner has formed a committee to study how to acquire a new police headquarters and courts complex for Houston.

Former mayor Annise Parker spent more than two years studying how to replace the city’s aging “justice complex” but ultimately abandoned it without having found a viable funding source or getting City Council support for identifying one.

[…]

“Timing is key for the formation of the Justice Complex Commission as the real estate market is experiencing changes due to the sustained slump in oil prices, which has dramatically impacted commercial real estate in downtown and other business districts around the city,” Turner said in a prepared statement. “The decline in energy prices, the extensive development of new commercial buildings and the downsizing of the private sector have created a perfect storm opportunity for the City to consider leasing or purchasing millions of square feet of office space for a project such as the Justice Complex.”

See here and here for some background, and here for the Mayor’s statement. As with most things, this comes down to the price tag and how to pay for it. With this being a dicey time to be discussing capital projects, those questions are even thornier. They’re unlikely to get any less so the longer we wait, so here we are. Good luck with it.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Voting rights lawsuit filed over Texas statewide judicial elections

This happened on the same day as the Fifth Circuit ruling on voter ID.

[Wednesday], the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), Garza Golando Moran, PLLC, and Dechert LLP filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on behalf of individual Latino voters alleging that the method of electing Texas’s Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals judges violates the Voting Rights Act. The Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals are the two highest courts in the state and decide critical issues of state civil and criminal law, respectively.

“Courts in the state of Texas should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “Instead, the way in which Texas elects judges to two of the state’s highest courts denies Latino voters an equal opportunity to elect judges of their choice. Bringing Texas state courts into compliance with the Voting Rights Act can help instill greater public confidence in the state’s justice system.”

All 18 high court judges in Texas, nine for each court, are elected statewide. Because White Texans comprise the majority of the citizen voting age population in the state, and because Latinos consistently prefer different candidates than do Whites, Latino-preferred candidates are almost never elected to the highest levels of the state’s judiciary. Such vote dilution is prohibited by the Voting Rights Act and the state could develop and implement a more representational electoral method.

Texas’s Latino citizen voting age population (CVAP) comprises 26.5 percent of the state’s CVAP while White Texans comprise 56.4 percent. With Latinos in the minority and voting polarized along racial lines, Latinos have been significantly underrepresented on both courts for decades. Since 1945, only two of the 48 judges to serve on the Court of Criminal Appeals, a mere 4.2 percent, were Latino. Over the same time period, only five of the 77 justices to serve on the Supreme Court, or 6.5 percent, were Latino.

Plaintiffs in the case include six individual voters from Nueces County and an individual voter from El Paso County.

“For too long the voice of the Latino community has been missing from the critical secret conference rooms of the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals,” said Carmen Rodriguez, plaintiff in this case and longtime civil rights attorney and activist from El Paso. “It is vital that we bring the promise of the Voting Rights Act to the selection process of the members of these august judicial bodies.”

Because Texas’s judges largely represent only one subset of Texas voters, there are serious questions as to whether all of the circumstances of a diverse population are fully considered. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals hears all death penalty cases in the state. From 1977 to 2010, of the 92 executions of Latinos nationwide, 78 were executed in Texas. Recent Supreme Court decisions of critical importance to racial minorities, including a May 2016 ruling limiting school funding for English language learners and economically disadvantaged students, were issued without so much as a dissent.

“All Texas citizens should have the right to cast a meaningful, undiluted vote for their most important courts,” said Ezra Rosenberg, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee. “For decades, that right has been denied to Latinos in Texas. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act was designed precisely to deal with this circumstance.”

“For too long, the Latino community in Texas has had no say in who represents them on the highest courts in the state,” said Jose Garza, a civil rights attorney and partner at Garza Golando Moran, PLLC. “The recent school finance ruling is a clarion call to every minority in Texas: Your voice will not be heard by these courts. Now is the time to listen to the millions of Texas minorities who want a seat at the table to help decide the matters important to our community. I am proud to represent these brave clients and work with some of the best legal minds in voting rights to fight for my state and my community.”

“Being able to participate fully in our electoral system is a fundamental right of all citizens,” said Neil Steiner, a partner at Dechert LLP, which is representing the plaintiffs pro bono. “We look forward to vindicating those rights for Texas’s Latino population.”

Here’s the complaint. The introduction gives you an overview of what this is about:

1. The Supreme Court of Texas (“Supreme Court”) and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (“Court of Criminal Appeals”) are the courts of last resort in Texas. They are the final authorities on questions of Texas civil and criminal law, respectively. Together, the two courts render enormously consequential decisions that profoundly affect the lives of all Texans.

2. According to the 2010 Census, Latinos, a significant and rapidly growing racial group, constitute 37.6 percent of Texas’s total population and 26.5 percent of Texas’s citizen voting age population. However, Latinos have been prevented from participating fully in the election of Texas’s high court judges because of the way those judges are elected. That election method, in which all judges for both courts are elected in at-large statewide elections, unlawfully dilutes the voting strength of Latino citizens and prevents them from electing their candidates of choice.

3. The Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals each has nine members. Because voting is racially polarized, that is, white voters as a group and Latino voters as a group consistently
prefer different candidates, the at-large method of election functions to deprive more than one quarter of the State’s eligible voting age population from electing judges of their choice to any of the eighteen seats on the two courts.

4. The Latino population and citizen voting age population are sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in at least two fairly-drawn single-member districts; the State’s Latinos are politically cohesive; and the State’s white citizen voting age majority votes sufficiently as a bloc to enable it usually to defeat Latino voters’ preferred candidates. Because of these circumstances, as well as the historical, socioeconomic, and electoral conditions of Texas, the at-large election method for the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 52 U.S.C. § 10301 (“Section 2”). Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30 (1986).

5. For these reasons, plaintiffs respectfully pray for this Court to issue: (1) a declaratory judgment that the use of at-large elections for the Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act; (2) an injunction against the further use of at-large elections for the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals; (3) an order requiring future elections for the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals to be conducted under a method of election that complies with the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act; (4) an award of costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees to plaintiffs, including expert witness fees; and (5) such additional relief as is appropriate.

I found this on Wednesday afternoon via Rick Hasen while looking at his coverage of the voter ID ruling. Basically, this is the at-large versus single-member-district debate taken statewide. If you scroll down to the end of the complaint and look at the list of lawyers involved, you will see that one of them is Jose Garza, who has successfully argued voter ID and redistricting cases on behalf of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. (Both of Garza’s partners, including Martin Golando, are also involved.) Amy Rudd, the first attorney listed in the complaint, was pro bono counsel for the NAACP Texas State Conference and MALC in the voter ID case as well. Point being, this is an experienced legal team taking this on, and it could wind up being a pretty big deal, yet so far the only news coverage I have seen is from Texas Lawyer, KTSA, and the El Paso Times, which notes that six of the plaintiffs are from Nueces County, with the seventh being El Pasoan Carmen Rodriguez, a civil rights attorney and wife of Texas Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso. I very much look forward to seeing how this plays out.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Fort Worth updates its transgender bathroom policy

Everyone declares victory.

The new guidelines, condensed to two pages, affirm transgender students’ right to accommodations but eliminate a portion of the April guidelines that told schools not to out transgender students to their parents out of concern for their safety.

The new guidelines require parents to be involved with students and administrators in developing a “student individual support plan,” including provisions for bathroom use. Clint Bond, a spokesman for Fort Worth ISD, said the change was insignificant.

“In essence, there’s no change from the original guidelines issued on April 19 compared with the ones issued today,” Bond said. “The wording is a little bit different. We always intended to involve parents in the decision.”

[AG Ken] Paxton seemed to disagree in a Wednesday morning press release cheering the new guidelines, which he said brought Fort Worth in line with the opinion he issued on June 28. Paxton concluded in his opinion that state law did not allow schools to conceal transgender students’ gender identity from their parents.

Jacinto Ramos, president of the Fort Worth school board, called Paxton’s opinion a “good road map” to the revised guidelines. He emphasized that the changes reflected input from parents, students and community members. The district held six town hall forums, and appointed 45 parents, teachers, and community leaders to a Student Safety Advisory Council that met five times.

Ramos said that the guidelines are meant to be comprehensive, and not just address which bathrooms transgender students use.

“The original guidelines were written with every intention to protect all children, and obviously it got twisted up into a so-called bathroom policy, which couldn’t have been further from the truth,” Ramos said.

See here and here for some background. If the policy was amended to conform to the recent AG opinion on the matter, then indeed that represents a small change. The story quotes Lou Weaver of Equality Texas giving approval to the new policy, though I have not seen a statement on EQTX’s Facebook page about this, which strikes me as a bit odd. Whatever, if this previously-expected modification satisfies the pottylust of the Dan Patrick crowd, then huzzah and hallelujah, let us please turn our attention to actual problems. I doubt it really will satisfy their lust because nothing ever does, but I’m hoping for the best.

Posted in: School days.

AG asked to investigate Hill County ballot irregularities

Weird, but we’ll see.

The Texas Attorney General’s office has been asked to launch an investigation into allegations that multiple people voted illegally in the 2016 Republican primary elections in Hill County, despite local officials’ claims that the discrepancies were caused by human error and would not have affected the results of any elections.

The Texas Secretary of State’s office made the request Thursday in response to a complaint from Aaron Harris, executive director of Direct Action Texas, a conservative political advocacy group. Harris noted that there were 1,743 more votes cast in the election than there were voters.

In the most hotly contested race involving the county, eight-term state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, eked out a victory in the House District 8 spring primary, receiving about 360 more votes than political newcomer Thomas McNutt, who is best known for his family’s ownership of the Corsicana-based Collin Street Bakery, a well-known fruitcake purveyor.

Cook did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and a spokesman for McNutt declined to comment. Even if the AG’s office finds evidence of misconduct, it would not change the election results. The time to contest the primaries has passed, said Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office.

Six or seven primary voters are shown to have two ballot dates, and one voter appears to have voted as many as four times, Harris wrote in a letter sent to Hill County election officials in June.

“Our research in Hill County has revealed very significant discrepancies in the 2016 Republican primary election,” Harris said in a statement. “Given the magnitude of this issue, we must reform the election code to restore the integrity of the process.”

Hill County Election Administrator Patsy Damschen said the difference could be explained by human error. While most votes are counted by a machine, early votes and absentee ballots are tallied by hand. The early votes were accidentally counted more than once, Damschen said. They were added to the absentee ballot count, thus inflating the total number of votes.

But the mistake didn’t change the outcome of any elections, Damschen said. Removing the duplicated votes would lower the margin by which candidates won, but the winner in each of the county’s 22 precincts would remain the same.

You can see a copy of the letter here. I can’t reconcile the numbers mentioned with the figures I can see on the SOS webpage, which shows 8,929 votes cast in the GOP Presidential primary in Hill County, and 8,165 votes cast in Hill County, out of 22,300 voters. Cook won that race by 225 votes, per SOS figures, so as noted the total number of actual disputed votes is not enough to make a difference in the outcome. I agree with Mark Jones at the end of the story – this feels like sloppy bookkeeping by Hill County. We’ll see what the AG says.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Buc-ee’s files another logo lawsuit

That’s one litigious beaver.

Buc-ee’s has sued the San Antonio-based operator of Choke Canyon Travel Center for promoting its barbecue and other travel essentials with its grinning, lip-licking, hat-wearing, finger-pointing alligator. The alligator sits in a circle -much like Buc-ee’s beaver — and adorns a wide range of products, from sweet and salty snacks to bags of ice to tee shirts.

The alligator, however, doesn’t have a name.

[…]

The case, which was filed late last year, alleged that the Choke Canyon convenience store, along with Choke Canyon Bar-B-Q and Choke Canyon Exxon, infringed on Buc-ee’s trademark by copying the look and feel of the roadside retailer, which has grown to 27 locations across Texas. Choke Canyon has three locations in and around San Antonio. Neither the owner of Choke Canyon or his lawyer returned calls seeking comment.

Besides the logos, Buc-ee’s alleges that Choke Canyon copied several other features, including oversized bathrooms, numerous fuel pumps, ample parking and a similar looking soda station. Buc-ee’s first learned of its competitor in December when it began receiving inquiries from vendors and customers about the Choke Canyon Travel Center, according to the lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison set the trial for early next year.

Buc-ee’s won its previous logo lawsuit, against a company that also used a beaver in its branding. I get the zeal to protect these images, but I gotta say, this one seems like a stretch to me. We’ll see what happens in court. Whatever does happen in that case, I’d prefer Buc-ee’s stick to suing competitors and suppliers, and not former employees who will be impoverished by the experience. Don’t make me feel dirty about using your clean bathrooms, Buc-ee’s.

Posted in: Bidness.

Weekend link dump for July 24

“In the 17 states with a medical-marijuana law in place by 2013, prescriptions for painkillers and other classes of drugs fell sharply compared with states that did not have a medical-marijuana law. The drops were quite significant: In medical-marijuana states, the average doctor prescribed 265 fewer doses of antidepressants each year, 486 fewer doses of seizure medication, 541 fewer anti-nausea doses and 562 fewer doses of anti-anxiety medication.”

“Based on those loose criteria, here is our complete ranking of 44 fake presidents.” Because, why not?

If cybersquatting were an Olympic event, this guy would be the gold medal winner.

Cash-strapped towns are un-paving roads they can’t afford to fix.

Show this to anyone who claims Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are both awful.

“If I talked like Donald Trump, I’d get sent to the principal’s office immediately.”

“Indeed, based on the mountain of court records churned out over the span of Mr. Trump’s career, it is hard to find a project he touched that did not produce allegations of broken promises, blatant lies or outright fraud.”

I have no love for Tom Brady, but I must agree with this. The lesson here is that Roger Goodell is always the greater evil.

“What would be best, though, is if [Taylor] Swift recognizes the opportunity — favor, really — that Kanye West and Kim Kardashian have presented her for what it is.”

And as always, the lawyers will have their say.

More reasons to be wary of Pokemon Go, in case you needed them.

“But even without the plagiarism, Melania’s speech was bad.”

“We debate the definition of fascism and just what governmental structures it involves. But setting that largely academic and unhelpful debate aside, this is precisely the kind of febrile victimology and demands for aggression and revenge against enemies that gives rise to it.”

“In other words, per pound, fireflies are brighter than the Sun.”

“Indiana Gov. Mike Pence served five terms in Congress and worked his way up to a leadership role in the House. Since he has sealed his Congressional records until December 2022, we’ve done what we can to dig up the best reporting on Donald Trump’s would-be vice president.”

RIP, Garry Marshall, longtime TV and film writer, director, producer, and actor.

The Demon Chipmunk case, which is unfortunately not as exciting as it sounds.

A tiny little wall now surrounds Donald Trump’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

RIP, Rep. Mark Takai, first term Congressman from Hawaii who was diagnosed last year with pancreatic cancer.

An oral history of Big Trouble In Little China, one of my very favorite movies.

RIP, Betsy Bloomingdale, socialite and friend of the Reagans.

RIP, VCRs. You had a good run.

“To put this all into perspective, if Vladimir Putin were simply the CEO of a major American corporation and there was this much money flowing in Trump’s direction, combined with this much solicitousness of Putin’s policy agenda, it would set off alarm bells galore. That is not hyperbole or exaggeration.”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

What next for Julian Castro?

I can think of something for him to do.

Julian Castro

Housing Secretary Julián Castro was long touted as a possible running mate for Hillary Clinton, but when the call came Friday informing him that the presumptive Democratic nominee had picked someone else, he wasn’t entirely surprised.

“It’s disappointing, of course,” Castro said in a telephone interview Saturday morning, “but it’s also easy to put into perspective. When I was 30 years old, I lost a very close mayor’s race. At the time I was completely disappointed and crushed. But a few years later I came back and I became mayor of San Antonio and it actually worked out for the better.”

[…]

In his Saturday telephone interview with The Washington Post, Castro said he had no doubt that Clinton will receive the overwhelming share of the Hispanic vote, even without a Latino on the ticket.

“I believe that Hillary Clinton has a broad vision for America and that the Latino community is very much a part of that vision,” he said. “I’m confident she will get strong support.”

He added: “In the years to come there will be a Latino or Latina president. I believe that’s going to happen in due time. I hope to be alive to see it, and I’m very confident that my kids will.”

It’s not crazy to suggest that person could possibly be Julian Castro. A direct step Castro could take to increase the probability of that outcome would be to run for Texas Governor in 2018. A win would of course be a huge advancement, but even a creditable loss that set him up for a better try in 2022 – as he himself noted, it took him two attempts to get elected Mayor in San Antonio – would suffice. Sure, there’s a huge downside risk attached to this, as there’s no indication Texas is ready to even come close to electing a Democratic governor. But there’s a big risk in playing it safe and waiting for the right opportunity to come along. People may forget who you are in the meantime, or some brash upstart may emerge and cut ahead of you in line. Ask David Dewhurst, or Hillary Clinton for that matter, about that.

In the meantime, if Castro is even slightly inclined towards running for Governor in 2018, he can lay a lot of groundwork for it by working to turn out Latino voters in Texas and help Democratic candidates, especially Latino candidates, get elected this year. There’s Pete Gallego for CD23, Dori Contreras Garza for State Supreme Court, State Rep candidates in Dallas and Bexar Counties, Ed Gonzalez for Harris County Sheriff, etc etc etc. He’s going to be out on the trail anyway, so why not put a little elbow grease into helping out in his own state? If he really wants to get people fired up about a future candidacy, spend a little time in places that aren’t Democratic now but which need to be at least on the way there for him to have something resembling a reasonable shot – Fort Bend, Williamson, Bastrop, Comal, Collin, Denton, Brazoria, you get this idea.

Now maybe Castro isn’t looking at 2018. Maybe he wants to do something different for awhile, maybe he’d like to step out of the spotlight for a few years and spend more time with his young family, maybe he’s given it plenty of thought and concluded that 2018 is hopeless and would do him too much damage. If any of these or something else like them are true, I will understand. But in the meantime, I’m going to root for the ending I want.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Roadside drug tests

Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.

go_to_jail

A Houston police officer pulled Barry Demings over as he headed to work in Beaumont and plucked a spot of white powder off the floorboard of Demings’ year-old Ford Explorer.

Demings had just detailed the SUV – and wondered later if a speck of soap upended his life.

“I never even saw it,” he said, explaining how the officer dropped the speck into a small test kit and said “it came back for cocaine.”

Demings was charged with felony drug possession based on the results of the primitive test that costs about $2 and has been found to have a high error rate. He was told he could face a sentence as long as 30 years based on old prior convictions – no one mentioned waiting for a crime lab to verify the officer’s roadside result.

He insisted he was innocent but got scared and accepted a plea deal. He lost his job, his girlfriend and his Explorer. Upon release, he decided to leave Texas behind forever.

In 2015 – seven years later – the Harris County District Attorney’s Office notified him that Houston’s crime lab found no cocaine in the sample. He filed a writ of habeus corpus with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and was finally exonerated.

He is among 298 people convicted of drug possession even though crime lab tests later found no controlled substances in the samples, according to a far-reaching audit of drug cases by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. So far, 131 of them, like Demings, have had their convictions overturned in cases that go back to 2004. About 100 other cases remain under review for potential dismissal.

In all 298 cases, prosecutors accepted both felony and misdemeanor plea deals before lab tests were performed. The $2 roadside tests, which officers use to help establish probable cause for an arrest, cannot be used at trial as evidence under Texas law.

[…]

The Harris County audit of drug possession convictions and related lab results going back to 2004 was launched in 2014 by Inger Chandler, an assistant district attorney in charge of the DA’s conviction integrity unit, after a reporter from the Austin American-Statesman called her about reversals of several drug convictions by the Court of Criminal Appeals.

The following year, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson changed her policies and directed prosecutors generally to stop accepting guilty pleas in felony drug cases before receiving lab reports confirming the evidence. Plea deals are still accepted prior to lab testing in misdemeanor drug cases, and in some felony cases in which jailed defendants can qualify for probation.

The forensic evidence problems uncovered by Chandler’s unit began around 2005, when Houston’s city crime lab – then overseen by HPD – lost several staff members and simultaneously saw a huge increase in drug cases, which created a backlog.

Lab officials implemented a triage system for drug testing with the DA’s office: Drug cases slated to go to trial would get processed first. For defendants who had accepted plea deals, the crime lab would later go back and test samples, often months or years after the guilty plea had been entered.

Chandler’s audit of wrongful convictions has been possible because the Houston Forensic Science Center, formerly HPD’s crime lab, preserved and tested the evidence even in the plea deal cases.

“We were keeping the evidence, and with the agreement with the District Attorney’s Office that we would continue to process even if it was pled,” said James Miller, manager of the center’s controlled substances section. “Because we both understood there was always the possibility that the substance may not actually be illegal.”

So far, prosecutors have identified and examined 456 flawed cases. Of those, 298 people had been convicted despite having no illegal controlled substances in their possession at all. In 29 of the 298 wrongful convictions, there had been no filing for relief because a defendant declined to pursue the case or faced other legal obstacles.

In other cases among the 456, the types or quantities of controlled substances were misidentified or there was too little evidence left to perform a confirmatory test.

About 78 percent of the 456 flawed cases came from the Houston Police Department, which still uses roadside tests that were developed in the 1970s. Chemicals in small vials turn colors when exposed to cocaine and other illegal drugs but can be easily misinterpreted by officers and can have high false positives, Miller and other experts said.

Emphasis mine. This article is a followup to a much longer ProPublica piece that explored the history and background of these roadside tests; another story, about the chemist who created these kits in 1973, is here. You should read them both – I don’t know about you, but I had no idea about any of this before now. We could have a debate about whether it’s reasonable for police officers to conduct roadside drug tests like this, but the high error rate for this test, which hasn’t been updated sine the 70s, makes it a particularly poor reason to hold people in jail or encourage them to plead out on a charge that is based on a crime that may never have existed. The point, again and again and again, is that there are way too many people in our jails who should not be there. The cost of this, both to the people who have been subjected to this and to us taxpayers who foot the bill for it, is unacceptable. When are we going to do something about it?

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

KUHA sale completed

Say goodbye to classical music on your terrestrial radio.

Houston Public Media’s classical musical station transitions to an all-digital format starting at 9 a.m. Friday, July 15.

It’s a result of Christian radio station KSBJ agreeing to purchase the KUHA 91.7 FM signal from the University of Houston — which holds the license — in February 2016.

“We are happy that the ownership of KUHA will stay in local hands and we are excited about the future,” Houston Public Media Associate Vice President and General Manager Lisa Shumate said in a statement. “Houston Public Media’s commitment to multi-platform arts and culture content, in addition to classical music, is stronger than ever.”

[…]

KUHA 91.7 FM was purchased from Rice University for $9.5 million in 2010. Most of the classical music and arts programming produced by Houston Public Media moved to the new station, along with live broadcasts with the Houston Symphony, the Houston Grand Opera and local performing artists and groups. KUHF then adopted a 24-hour all news and information format.

See here for the background. KUHA continues to exist as an HD station, and of course there’s always streaming. But if you like to listen to classical music in your car, and you don’t have an HD receiver, you’re out of luck. And so it goes.

Posted in: Music.

Saturday video break: Little Saint Nick

Hey, how about a little Christmas music? Here are the Beach Boys with “Little Saint Nick”:

Videos of bands where they all wear the same outfit – especially when they all also have the same haircut – will never get old for me. I don’t always include Christmas songs in these video posts because I have plenty of versions of standards, and that’s kind of boring. This was kind of a lost classic, so I went with it. Also too, I have a cover version of it, by She & Him:

Yes, I know, they’re all hipstery and precious, but I like their rendition of this song. If it were another “Jingle Bell Rock” or (God forbid) “The Little Drummer Boy”, I’d feel distinctly less jolly. This one is OK with me. And before anyone asks, the Christmas-in-summer theme is well established, especially if you grew up in New York in the 70s and 80s.

Posted in: Music.

Why would you even think to put a rape victim in jail?

I am outraged.

The 25-year-old rape victim, frightened and long-suffering from mental illness, agreed in December to testify against the Houston man who brutally assaulted her in 2013.

She hoped to put him behind bars for life.

But that decision landed her in the Harris County jail for more than a month over the Christmas holiday – terrified, helpless and hopeless, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week in Houston.

The woman, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, had a mental breakdown on the witness stand and then was jailed by Harris County prosecutors who feared she wouldn’t come back to court.

“They didn’t care. They got what they wanted,” the woman’s mother said Wednesday about the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. “She was collateral damage and they didn’t care what happened to her.”

News about the case shocked Houston’s defense attorneys and advocates for rape victims.

“That is beyond ludicrous,” said Lavinia Masters, a sexual assault victims advocate. “I’m amazed that a judge would allow that. You’re further victimizing a victim.”

District Attorney Devon Anderson said the woman, who was homeless when she was raped, was going through a “life-threatening mental health crisis” and told prosecutors she was not going to return to testify.

“If nothing was done to prevent the victim from leaving Harris County in the middle of trial, a serial rapist would have gone free – and her life would have been at risk while homeless on the street,” Anderson said in a video statement. “This was an extraordinarily difficult and unusual situation. There were no apparent alternatives that would ensure both the victim’s safety and her appearance in trial.”

She defended the prosecutor named in the lawsuit, Nicholas Socias, and said any claim that her office does not support crime victims is “outrageous.”

[…]

Jailing a witness to ensure they testify is an unusual move in Harris County, especially when the witness is not also facing criminal charges. Over the past two decades, there have been a smattering of published accounts of rape victims being jailed across the country.

Officials with the Houston Area Women’s Center said respecting the dignity of survivors and providing full support are paramount.

“We have no direct knowledge of this particular case, but are concerned that sexual assault is already under-reported and that this may further deter survivors from coming forward,” said Rebecca White, the center’s chief executive officer.

I can’t even begin to imagine the thought process that led to the conclusion that jailing this poor women was a good idea. I mean, I know that the Harris County Jail is called the largest mental health facility in the country, but that doesn’t make it a hospital, and it doesn’t make it an acceptable place to try and treat someone who doesn’t belong in jail. This was just monumentally bad judgment, and Kim Ogg is right to call for an independent investigation of what happened. For shame.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Metro revives US90A commuter rail line

The possibility of it, anyway. No promises or commitments at this time.

HoustonMetro

Metropolitan Transit Authority board members on Thursday approved a resolution authorizing transit officials to “place” the project in the “Federal Transit Administration process” and look for ways to pay for it. When officials essentially placed the project on inactive status in September 2012 after spending $1 million on feasibility studies, it was estimated to cost about $400 million to build the rail line.

Board members stressed restarting the project was not tacit approval of it, or a promise for a single dollar toward building it.

“I just want to make sure we are clear,” Metro board member Cindy Siegel said. “This is to allow the possibility of federal funding, but isn’t a commitment.”

Since voters approved the project in 2003, plans for a train line along U.S. 90A from south Gessner Road to Metro’s Fannin South rail station south of Loop 610 have been the exception among Houston’s contentious rail plans. For example, unlike intense opposition to a proposed rail line on Richmond Avenue that has been a point of contention among lawmakers, the 90A project enjoys robust support from Houston officials, elected officials in smaller cities and the area’s congressional delegation.

Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, who represents the southwest Houston area where the rail line would run, has long called it one of his district’s top transportation priorities.

Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, who has been a constant opponent of the Richmond rail project, last year said the 90A line should be Metro’s first priority once it has sufficient money for rail projects. Culberson’s office on Thursday did not respond to a reporter’s request for comment.

[…]

In reviving the dormant rail project, Metro chairwoman Carrin Patman said it was important to gauge support for it and move forward. Technically, as the project remains approved by voters from the 2003 referendum, Metro officials can talk to federal transit officials anytime about its prospects.

“I don’t think it was absolutely necessary,” Patman said of the fresh resolution, “but I wanted to involve the board in the decision. I wanted to make sure everybody was on the same page.”

The vote, she said, was “a clear mandate for us to get back in the process.”

How to pay for the project, Patman said, will be worked out later. “There is no financial commitment to this point,” she said.

Patman says later in the story that a public/private partnership is possible. We’ll see how that goes. Another question is how much preliminary work would have to be re-done. Metro had been working towards getting a Draft Environmental Impact Statement as recently as 2012, but the project was put on hold in September of that year (the “Current Projects page” on Metro’s website that used to document it and that had announced its suspension no longer exists). There’s also the question of whether the line would have to end at the Harris/Fort Bend County line or if it could be extended (at greater cost) into Fort Bend County. Metro would need to seek legislative approval to expand into Fort Bend, which ought to be doable but is never a guarantee. All of this is to say we’re a ways off from anything happening. I’m glad to see this step being taken, but it’s very much the first step of a long journey, if indeed we embark on that journey.

One more thing: As you know, since Metro reached its detente with Rep. Culberson, I’ve asked about the status of his promises to help change federal laws to allow Metro to apply some funds it has already spent on other rail projects as matching funds for the proposed US90A line. I asked Carrin Patman about that at the meeting a group of us bloggers had with her some weeks ago. She said that Culberson did indeed work towards making that happen, but his efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. C’est la vie, I guess. Perhaps he can try again now, or try some other tactic to help Metro move forward on this. I hadn’t written anything about Metro rail projects since then, so I wanted to note here that he did keep his word on that. KUHF has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

As goes Pasadena

If Texas Democrats ever figure out the secret of getting more Latinos engaged in the voting process, it’ll be in places like Pasadena where they find the key.

When Oscar Del Toro tries to persuade his fellow Pasadena Latinos to vote, he appeals to them on practical and emotional levels.

Practical: If you and your neighbors get the voting numbers up in your precinct, elected officials will start paying attention to your neighborhood even if your candidate doesn’t win.

Emotional: You’ll feel better about yourself if you participate in your community. Del Toro’s parents came to Pasadena from Monterrey, Mexico, and became U.S. citizens years before he did, but they never voted until he took them to the polls.

“You could see the pride in their faces,” he says of that day.

Del Toro, 53, who runs a cartridge toner and laser printer business out of his home, lost a bid for a seat on the Pasadena City Council last year. His adopted hometown, meanwhile, was becoming a national symbol of the struggle to protect and expand voting rights for minorities and to boost the historically low level of Latino participation in elections.

It seems that the “sleeping giant” – the perceived potential of more than 27 million eligible Latino voters nationwide to help swing Texas and other Republican-dominated states toward the Democrats – has yet to be roused.

Take the November 2013 decision by Pasadena voters to change the city council structure from eight single-member district positions to six district seats and two at-large, or citywide, posts. The charter change passed by 79 votes out of more than 6,000 cast.

[…]

The result was discouraging to Del Toro and to like-minded Pasadenans like Councilman Cody Ray Wheeler, who is Latino. Both men are featured in “The Giant Still Sleeps,” a new documentary by Austin-based filmmaker Miguel Alvarez. In the film, Wheeler suggests that the change in the council makeup could strengthen the sense among many Latinos that their vote won’t make a difference. Mayor Johnny Isbell had pushed for the charter changes just weeks after a U.S. Supreme Court decision ended advance federal approval of election-law changes in some states with a history of discrimination.

“It almost validated what I kept hearing – they moved the goal posts back again,” Wheeler says. “It doesn’t matter; they’re going to do what they want to anyway. As we get closer to making this city more equal, they’re going to push back hard on us. It’s very sad, but we have to come back even stronger.”

Wheeler and Del Toro vow to continue their struggle, even as other residents who filed a lawsuit challenging the charter change await their day in court. The documentary includes shots of Del Toro speaking to civic groups and interacting with Pasadena Latinos who tell him that they have never voted – because their jobs and family responsibilities don’t leave them with enough time, or due to cultural differences.

I met Mr. Del Toro at the June 25 County Executive Committee meeting, the one where we picked the two judicial nominees. Nice guy, I enjoyed talking to him. He’s got the right idea for how to get people involved, it’s just that this is a very labor-intensive method. It’s also what I thought Battleground Texas was going to be about when it first appeared on the scene. Regardless, the more of this going on, the better. Click that Trib link and see the Austin Chronicle for more on the documentary.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 5

Wow, we’re still in the B’s.

1. Mad About You – Belinda Carlisle
2. Call It Whatever – Bella Thorne
3. I Could Be Persuaded – Bering Strait (Natasha Borzilova and Lydia Salnikova)
4. Take My Breath Away – Berlin (Terri Nunn)
5. Go Now – Bessie Banks
6. Up The Junction – Beth Madden
7. Dawn Chorus – Beth Orton
8. Stuff Like That There – Bette Midler
9. Slap Bang – BETTY (Elizabeth Ziff, Alyson Palmer, Amy Ziff)
10. I’m Wishing – Betty Carter

Usually I can tell you where a given song came from, but every now and then I stump myself. I have no idea where that Bessie Banks song, which iTunes tells me I acquired in 2011, came from. Bering Strait was a country music group from Russia that briefly made a splash. Beth Madden was from a Coverville collection, Beth Orton from an Amazon sampler, BETTY from a two-disk “funny folk songs” live CD, and Betty Carter was on the “Stay Awake” Disney cover album. Speaking of Disney, I have numerous songs from artists in their stable thanks to the girls, and I will admit that Bella Thorne’s “Call It Whatever” is one of the catchier tunes they produced, one that I’d listen to voluntarily. The other three artists I figure you’ve heard of.

Posted in: Music.

HD146 nomination process to take place on August 6

Mark your calendars.

Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

Last Saturday, State Rep. Borris Miles secured the Democratic nomination to replace Senator Rodney Ellis for Senate District 13. As a result, Rep. Miles will have to vacate his seat in House District 146. Precinct chairs will convene again to select a replacement nominee for House District 146.

The replacement process will take place at the House District 146 Executive Committee Meeting on Saturday, August 6, 2016 at 10 AM. The event is open to the public, however only precinct chairs that reside in the district are allowed to nominate.

House District 146 Executive Committee Meeting
Sunnyside Multi-Service Center (map)
August 6, 2016
10:00 AM-12 PM
9314 Cullen Blvd
Houston, TX 77051

Nominations will be accepted from and voted on by the precinct chairs in attendance at the August 6th meeting. The replacement candidate does not have to register or announce a candidacy; there is no legal filing process. However, any individuals interested in the vacancy are encouraged to contact the Harris County Democratic Party Headquarters to complete an Unofficial Declaration of Interest Form.

This form helps HCDP keep track of all interested candidates and brings some organization to the process. Candidates listed below have either given written notice or expressed interest in the HD 146 seat. There may be other individuals interested in running. Here are the potential candidates:

1. Erica Lee Carter

2. Larry Blackmon

3. Valencia L. Williams

4. Rashad L. Cave

5. Shawn Thierry

6. James Donatto

I should be able to make it to this. Here’s what I can tell you about the candidates:

Erica Lee Carter is the HCDE Trustee in Precinct 1, elected in 2012. Here’s the interview I did with her for that primary. If she wins the nomination and is subsequently elected in November, the HCDE Board would select a new member to fill her seat until her term would be up at the end of 2018. And yes, if you didn’t know, Carter is the daughter of US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

Larry Blackmon has been a candidate for City Council a few times, most recently in 2015 for At Large #4. I have not done any interviews with him, but there are a couple of links to Q&As he did elsewhere on my Election 2015 page.

– Valencia L. Williams – I got nothing.

Rashad Cave – Per his bio, Cave is a “Motivational Speaker, businessman, entrepreneur, and father”.

Shawn Thierry was the runnerup for the 507th Family District Court; her Q&A for that is here. She was supported by the Mostyns during her run for the 507th; we’ll see if that translates to this election.

James Donatto II is as noted before a board member of the Greater Houston Black Chamber, and his father is a committee chair on the Houston Southeast Management District.

There are not a lot of precinct chairs in HD146 – I believe the number I heard at the SD13 event was 27 – so to say the least this will be a tight process. If you have anything to add about any of these candidates, please leave a comment.

Posted in: Election 2016.

What next for voter ID?

Rick Hasen, writing in Slate:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The trial court was ready to throw out the entire law, but the 5th Circuit said such a remedy went too far. The court held that when a trial court finds a law has a discriminatory effect under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, it has to keep as much of the law in place as it can while still fixing the illegal part. In this case, the appeals court told the trial court to keep the voter identification law in place but create an alternative means to vote for those who face a reasonable impediment in producing the right form of identification. For example, the trial court may order that a voter be able to vote after signing a form under penalty of perjury saying he faced a larger barrier to get an ID. The appeals court sent the case back to the trial court to figure out exactly how to soften the law.

This kind of remedy is a win for the plaintiffs, though it’s not as good as what the trial court proposed by throwing the entire law out. Other states, such as South Carolina, have softened their voter ID laws, but in practice this softening doesn’t always work well, in part because voters and poll workers aren’t aware voters can vote without the right ID if they have a reasonable impediment to getting one.

But that softening isn’t the biggest news to come out of the appeals court decision. To find it, you have to read all eight of the opinions together in light of the trial court’s finding that Texas not only violated the Voting Rights Act by passing a law with a racially discriminatory effect but that it also passed the law with a racially discriminatory intent. Upon finding a racially discriminatory intent, the trial court would be free to put Texas back under federal “preclearance” of its voting rules for up to 10 years, the kind of oversight the United States Supreme Court got rid of for a large number of states (including Texas) in the 2013 decision Shelby County v. Holder.

The appeals court divided badly in reviewing the trial court’s finding of racially discriminatory intent. Imagine that the trial court found bad intent from two baskets of evidence, Basket A and Basket B. Counting noses, a majority of 5th Circuit judges believed that the trial court’s analysis went too far in inferring discriminatory intent in considering what was in Basket A, such as statements by the law’s opponents in the state Legislature as to the intent of the legislators who passed the bills. But, again counting noses, a different majority of 5th Circuit judges believes that there is enough evidence in Basket B from which the trial court could indeed infer that Texas passed its law to discriminate against Texans who are Latino or black. It sent the case back for the trial court to reconsider the question looking just at Basket B, and a finding of racially discriminatory intent from the trial judge again seems likely.

The dissenters suggested that at worst the evidence showed an intention by the Republican-dominated state Legislature to discriminate against Democrats, not against blacks or Latinos. A majority of judges, noting an overlap among racial and partisan groups in Texas, didn’t buy it. In a place like Texas, it makes no sense to separate race and party. As the majority explained, “Intentions to achieve partisan gain and to racially discriminate are not mutually exclusive.” And as one of the judges who believed that evidence from both Baskets A and B proved Texas engaged in racial discrimination put it, if Republicans in the Texas Legislature, out of partisan motives, selected a course of action “at least in part because of, and not merely in spite of, its adverse effects on an identifiable group, that is enough” to show racial discrimination.

Zachary Roth notes that while this win wasn’t as big for the plaintiffs as it could have been, it was still pretty big.

Immediate consequences aside, Wednesday’s opinion was noteworthy for painting a picture of Texas’s Republican lawmakers as, at best, indifferent to the struggles of the state’s low-income and minority voters to get an ID. The ruling also offered firm rebuttals to many of the arguments made both by Texas in support of its law, known as SB 14, and by ID proponents more broadly. That it came from Judge Catharina Haynes, a staunch conservative — though one with a reputation for independence — writing for likely the most conservative federal appeals court in the nation, only bolstered its impact.

The appeals court affirmed Gonzales Ramos’s finding that the law’s drafters were aware that it would make it harder for minorities to vote, but they nonetheless rejected a slew of measures that would have softened its impact, largely refusing to explain why. The ruling also swiftly dispatched Texas’ claim that the plaintiffs hadn’t identified a single person who faces a substantial obstacle to voting thanks to the law, noting several people who the district court found were clearly disenfranchised by it. (News reports, including from MSNBC, have turned up many more.) And it slammed the state for devoting “little funding or attention to educating voters about the new voter ID requirements.”

Perhaps most forcefully, the opinion derisively rejected Texas’ claim that the law was needed to prevent voter fraud.

“Ballot integrity is undoubtedly a worthy goal,” Judge Haynes wrote. “But the evidence before the Legislature was that in-person voting, the only concern addressed by SB 14, yielded only two convictions for in-person voter impersonation fraud out of 20 million votes cast in the decade leading up to SB 14’s passage. The bill did nothing to combat mail-in ballot fraud, although record evidence shows that the potential and reality of fraud is much greater in the mail-in ballot context than with in-person voting.”

Haynes also noted that preventing non-citizens from voting was offered as another rationale for the bill “even though two forms of identification approved under SB 14 are available to noncitizens.”

“The provisions of SB 14,” Haynes wrote, “fail to correspond in any meaningful way to the legitimate interests the State claims to have been advancing through SB 14.”

Instead, the court suggested, the law had a different purpose. “The extraordinary measures accompanying the passage of SB 14 occurred in the wake of a ‘seismic demographic shift,'” Haynes wrote, “as minority populations rapidly increased in Texas, such that the district court found that the party currently in power is ‘facing a declining voter base and can gain partisan advantage’ through a strict voter ID law.”

The opinion also took on an argument used more broadly in support of ID laws: That they must not keep people from voting, since turnout rates have increased, compared to previous years, in elections where they’ve been used. As Haynes noted — and as voting rights advocates challenging voting restrictions have been at pains to point out from Texas to North Carolina to Wisconsin — turnout fluctuates for all sorts of reasons. “That does not mean the voters kept away were any less disenfranchised,” Haynes wrote.

Perhaps most far-reachingly, the opinion in several places starkly rejects Texas’ effort throughout the case essentially to narrow Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act so that it would bar only intentional and blatant acts of racial discrimination in voting. That’s a crusade that for decades has been pursued by numerous leading conservative legal minds, as they’ve looked to further weaken the landmark civil rights law.

Instead, the court affirmed, the law must recognize that racial discrimination usually comes in subtler forms. “To require direct evidence of intent would essentially give legislatures free reign [sic] to racially discriminate so long as they do not overtly state discrimination as their purpose and so long as they proffer a seemingly neutral reason for their actions,” Haynes wrote, “This approach would ignore the reality that neutral reasons can and do mask racial intent, a fact we have recognized in other contexts that allow for circumstantial evidence.”

Texas’s interpretation of the law, Haynes added “effectively nullifies the protections of the Voting Rights Act by giving states a free pass to enact needlessly burdensome laws with impermissible racially discriminatory impacts. The Voting Rights Act was enacted to prevent just such invidious, subtle forms of discrimination.”

Reading Section 2 in the way Texas recommends, Haynes wrote, would “cripple” the Voting Rights Act, and “unmoor” it “from its history and decades of well-established interpretations about its protections.”

Stop for a moment and savor the irony here. Texas Republicans passed the odious and now-dead HB2 not just to effectively outlaw abortion in the state, but also as part of a national strategy to render null Roe v. Wade. Indeed, one of the judges at the same Fifth Circuit basically dared SCOTUS to overturn Roe in her opinion. Instead, the ruling by SCOTUS not only upheld Roe v. Wade (more accurately, it upheld Planned Parenthood v. Casey), it basically cut off at the knees the very strategy that anti-abortion forces had been using with HB2 and elsewhere in the country. Large swaths of anti-abortion legislation fell or are falling as a result. Now here with voter ID, the legal strategy in its defense was to gut Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Not only did that fail with a giant thud, Texas may wind up back under preclearance because of how voter ID was adopted. In both cases, the railroading of the opposition to these bills and the utter indifference to any and all objective facts surrounding their effect came back to bite the state and the Republicans responsible for these laws squarely on the ass, and may do more damage to their cause than anything the Democrats (who fought like hell against both bills despite being completely outgunned) could have done. Bravo, ladies and gentlemen. Bravo, Rick Perry and Greg Abbott and David Dewhurst and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton. You all may wind up making a positive contribution to this state’s future after all.

Anyway. We now know what the “softening” of voter ID may look like. Hasen again:

It is further ORDERED that any plan for interim relief must include terms regarding the following:

  • All persons who have SB 14 ID or who have the means to get it in time for the November 8, 2016 election must display that ID in order to vote;
  • No ID that is easily counterfeited may be used in any ameliorative provision;
  • There must be an impediment or indigency exception, which may include reinstatement of the ability to use the voter registration card for such voters;
  • The State must educate the public in a meaningful way about the SB 14 ID requirements and all exceptions to those requirements that are set out in the original law and in the interim plan adopted by this Court;
  • The State must educate and train workers at polling places to fully implement the resulting plan; and
  • The plan shall address only the discriminatory effect holding of the Fifth Circuit’s opinion and shall not include relief that would be available only in the event that this Court finds, upon reweighing the evidence, that SB 14 was enacted with a discriminatory purpose.

Emphasis mine, and you can see the order here. I don’t have any faith in the state’s motivation to “educate the public”, but perhaps the threat of sanctions may light a fire or two. We’ll see how it goes. More from Hasen is here, and Texas Standard, Reuters, the Trib, the Chron, and the Current have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

NBA pulls 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte

Bam!

The NBA issued the following statement Thursday regarding the 2017 NBA All-Star Game:

“The NBA has decided to relocate the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte with the hope of rescheduling for 2019.

“Since March, when North Carolina enacted HB2 and the issue of legal protections for the LGBT community in Charlotte became prominent, the NBA and the Charlotte Hornets have been working diligently to foster constructive dialogue and try to effect positive change. We have been guided in these discussions by the long-standing core values of our league. These include not only diversity, inclusion, fairness and respect for others but also the willingness to listen and consider opposing points of view.

“Our week-long schedule of All-Star events and activities is intended to be a global celebration of basketball, our league, and the values for which we stand, and to bring together all members of the NBA community — current and former players, league and team officials, business partners, and fans. While we recognize that the NBA cannot choose the law in every city, state, and country in which we do business, we do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate created by HB2.

“We are particularly mindful of the impact of this decision on our fans in North Carolina, who are among the most passionate in our league. It is also important to stress that the City of Charlotte and the Hornets organization have sought to provide an inclusive environment and that the Hornets will continue to ensure that all patrons — including members of the LGBT community — feel welcome while attending games and events in their arena.

“We look forward to re-starting plans for our All-Star festivities in Charlotte for 2019 provided there is an appropriate resolution to this matter.

“The NBA will make an announcement on the new location of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game in the coming weeks.”

See here for the background. ESPN, which reports that the Mayor of Charlotte, the Charlotte Hornets, broadcasters ESPN and TNT, and numerous players all supported the decision, suggests there could be more like this to come:

Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford told ESPN on Thursday that as of now the league will keep its December football championship in Charlotte. He did say that the conference will revisit the discussion in October.

Other major sporting events in Charlotte next year include the PGA Championship in August 2017 and a Sprint Cup race in May 2017. State senator Joel Ford (D) of Mecklenburg County said he believes the NBA’s decision will have a trickle-down effect.

“I’m anticipating, from a lot of discussions I’ve had with executives and professionals, that the NBA was the tip of the spear,” he said. “If the NBA took the All-Star Game away, (it is) going to put pressure on other professional sports franchises.”

That would be big indeed. USA Today adds on:

Cyd Zeigler of Outsports told USA TODAY Sports, “The NBA set an example for other leagues to follow. This is a stark contrast to how the NFL has handled its issues, such as the Super Bowl in Houston or its owner meeting in Charlotte. The NFL prints money essentially, but doesn’t prioritize LGBT inclusion. The NBA, with its corporate culture and leadership, took a major stand against discrimination.”

North Carolina general assembly representative and executive director of Equality NC Chris Sgro fought to repeal the bill or change the law. He feared the NBA would relocate if the state did not make significant changes to the law.

“The alarm bells have been going off for three months now at the incredibly economic harm of HB 2 and the NBA has expressed its concern over the safety, security and comfort of all fans,” Sgro told USA TODAY Sports. “We understand that concern, and I just cannot believe that Gov. McCrory is so negligent as to let to the city of Charlotte and state of North Carolina to lose the NBA All-Star Game.”

[…]

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, “Enter the real world I would say to some states. I agree with the league and … everybody else who pulled out.”

Well, one of those states would be Texas. I wonder if having Coach Popovich testify in Austin next year against the likely onslaught of anti-LGBT bills would make a difference. If the NBA’s decision doesn’t do it, I don’t know what would. The Vertical, which broke the story, OutSports, and ThinkProgress have more.

Posted in: Other sports.

Another bad year for Kemp’s ridley turtles

This does not look good.

The nesting season for the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is ending with zero nests found on either Galveston Island or the Bolivar Peninsula for the first time in at least a decade, although the number rose for the entire coast.

The decline in nesting on the Upper Texas Gulf Coast comes as a recent study shows that the nest numbers for Texas’ official sea turtle, whose primary nesting grounds are in Texas and Mexico, are at less than one-tenth of their historic levels.

Only five Kemp’s ridley nests were found on the upper Texas coast – four at Surfside and one at Quintana Beach – during the nesting season that runs from April until the middle of July, although there are always a few late nesters.

“We’ve had some extremely high tides and a lot of flooding this year, and many times the ocean was right up to the base of the dune,” which could have discouraged turtles from digging nests, said Christopher Marshall, lead turtle researcher at Texas A&M University at Galveston.

Nesting numbers were up for the entire Texas Gulf Coast and at the main nesting grounds in Tamaulipas, Mexico, near the Texas border. But scientists and conservationists remain concerned that the increases are far below those prior to the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

“We’ve got two years of increases, however it’s discouraging that we have not gotten back to the numbers we were at in 2009,” said Donna Shaver, chief of the division of sea turtle science and recovery at Padre Island National Seashore.

So far this season, 185 Kemp’s ridley nests have been found on the Texas Coast, said Shaver, who tallies every discovered nest and oversees a turtle egg incubation program on Padre Island. The real indicator of the health of the Kemp’s ridley is the number of nests at the main nesting grounds in Rancho Nuevo, Tamaulipas. The count this year is 17,000 nests, up from 14,000 last year but still far short of the record 22,000 in 2012. The record that year was barely higher than the 2009 number and far less than what scientists expected.

“It came up, but it didn’t come up anywhere close to what we hoped it would if it had grown at the same rate as in 2009 and it didn’t keep going,” said Thane Wibbles, a biologist at the University of Alabama. Wibbles said there should have been more than 30,000 nests in 2012.

“It’s still not back to its historical levels where we were seeing a 12 to 15 percent increase every year,” said Pat Burchfield, who heads the U.S. contingent of the Binational Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Recovery Project and is director of the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville.

[…]

Most scientists speculate that either the oil spill caused a temporary pause in Kemp’s ridley reproduction and that it will rebound, or that conditions in the Gulf have become inhospitable for the turtle’s historic population size, Wibbles said.

“It may be that the carrying capacity of the Gulf of Mexico may not be what it used to be,” Wibbles said. “I would say in five years if it hasn’t got on an exponential recovery trend then we have to look at the possibility that the Gulf of Mexico is not allowing them to come back.”

If the Gulf can’t support as many Kemp’s ridleys as it once did, he said, then the Gulf may be in trouble. Said Wibbles, “The ridley could be considered a metaphoric canary in the coal mine.”

See here for some background. I sure hope things start to look up, but it’s getting harder to feel optimistic. I don’t care how much that oil spill cost BP. It wasn’t enough.

Posted in: Technology, science, and math.

Fifth Circuit affirms voter ID ruling

Made it by the deadline.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas’ voter identification law violates the U.S. law prohibiting racial discrimination in elections, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed previous rulings that the 2011 voter ID law — which stipulates the types of photo identification election officials can and cannot accept at the polls — does not comply with the Voting Rights Act.

The full court’s ruling delivered the strongest blow yet to what is widely viewed as the nation’s strictest voter ID law. Under the law, most citizens (some, like people with disabilities, can be exempt) must show one of a handful of types of identification before their ballots can be counted: a state driver’s license or ID card, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, or a U.S citizenship certificate with a photo.

[…]

The case centered on whether Texas discriminated against Hispanic and African-American voters when it passed the legislation: Senate Bill 14.

Paxton, Gov. Greg Abbott and other proponents argued that the law was needed to bolster security at the ballot box by preventing voter fraud, but opponents cite the paucity of proven in-person voter fraud in the state and argue the intent was to undercut the electoral strength of the state’s growing minority population — people less likely to have photo identification or the means to obtain an election certificate.

Experts have testified that more than 600,000 Texans lack such identification, though not all of them have necessarily tried to vote. Those citizens can obtain “election identification certificates” free of charge, but only if they are able to produce a copy of their birth certificate.

Texas argued that opponents of the law had “failed to identify a single individual who faces a substantial obstacle to voting because of SB 14.” In Wednesday’s ruling, the majority rejected that argument.

“For one thing, the district court found that multiple Plaintiffs were turned away when they attempted to vote, and some of those Plaintiffs were not offered provisional ballots to attempt to resolve the issue,” the ruling stated.

The majority also affirmed the lower court’s finding that Texas’ “lackluster educational efforts resulted in additional burdens on Texas voters.”

Seven of the court’s 15 judges backed the decision in full. Two other judges backed most of the decision. Dissenting judges wrote that the “en banc court is gravely fractured and without a consensus. There is no majority opinion, but only a plurality opinion that draws six separate dissenting opinions and a special concurrence.”

More specific to the Texas law, some of the dissenting judges wrote that “requiring a voter to verify her identity with a photo ID at the polling place is a reasonable requirement widely supported by Texans of all races and members of the public belonging to both political parties.”

Voting rights advocates were quick to praise the appeals court’s overall decision Wednesday.

“We have repeatedly proven – using hard facts – that the Texas voter ID law discriminates against minority voters,” Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center and an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “The 5th Circuit’s full panel of judges now agrees, joining every other federal court that has reviewed this law. We are extremely pleased with this outcome.”

See here and here for some background, and here for a copy of the ruling. I’ve seen several headlines declaring that the Fifth Circuit “struck down” the voter ID law. That’s not the case at all – in fact, they said it should be enforced for the people who have the mandated ID. Rick Hasen explains what they did order:

The bottom line is that the majority of the 5th Circuit has done what the panel opinion had originally held: there is a remand on the question whether Texas acted with a discriminatory purpose, but there is enough evidence of a discriminatory effect so as to render the Texas id law a Voting Rights Act violation.

BUT, and this is a big but, the remedy is NOT going to be to strike the Texas voter id law as a whole, but instead to fashion some kind of relief that give people who have a reasonable impediment to getting an id the chance to get one. This might be like the affidavit requirement just approved yesterday in the Wisconsin case, or something else (like an indigency exception affidavit). Further, given the timing of the election, the trial court has to craft some kind of interim relief and then can figure out a more comprehensive solution after the next election.

BUT, BUT there is a very strong dissent from the 5th Circuit’s most conservative members, and that might give Texas a reason to go to the Supreme Court to try to get this emergency interim relief stayed.

BUT, BUT BUT: the Supreme Court has now lost Justice Scalia, and at best Texas could hope for only 4 votes to reverse what the 5th Circuit has done. Indeed, I’m not sure that even Justice Kennedy/Chief Justice Roberts would be on board. If the court ties, the 5th circuit en banc decision stands. (There’s also the possibility of an argument that the interim relief ordered for this election comes too late under the Purcell Principle, but given that the 5th Circuit acted just within the soft July 20th deadline the Supreme Court set, I think the plaintfiffs will be safe in this regard).

FINALLY, these kinds of softening devices are not all they are cracked up to be, and there’s lots of evidence they are not used by lots of voters who need it. (I discuss this disjunction between theory and practice in Softening Voter ID Laws Through Litigation: Is it Enough?, Wisconsin Law Review Forward (forthcoming 2016) (draft available)). One of the 5th Circuit judges, Judge Higgonson, concurring, has a footnote reading: “I also disagree with the opposite criticism that this interbranch engagement ameliorates too little, though that argument is contributory. See Richard L. Hasen, Softening Voter ID Laws Through Litigation: Is it Enough?, WISC. L. REV. FORWARD (forthcoming 2016), http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2743946 (with apologies to Professor Hasen for my citation of his draft version).”

This is a win for the plaintiffs, no doubt, but not nearly as good as getting the law thrown out for everyone.

Ian Millhiser at Think Progress generally concurs with Hasen:

So the court, after considering a complicated array of factors presented by such cases, held that the law violates the Voting Rights Act. That’s the good news for voting rights. The bad news is two-fold.

First, a majority of the Fifth Circuit determined that “there are infirmities in the district court’s” conclusion that Texas acted with discriminatory intent, although it also returned the case to the lower court to reconsider whether such intent existed. That matters for several reasons, the most potentially significant of which is that Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act permits states that act with racially discriminatory intent to be subjected to continuing federal supervision of their voting laws. If the courts ultimately conclude that Texas acted with discriminatory intent, they could also decide to place Texas under the same kind of supervision that the Supreme Court eliminated in its 2013 decision striking down part of the Voting Rights Act.

Additionally, while the Fifth Circuit found Texas’ voter ID law wanting, it is unclear what the remedy will be for this violation of the law. “We acknowledge that the record establishes that the vast majority of eligible voters possess SB 14 ID, and we do not disturb SB 14’s effect on those voters” the court writes,” adding that “those who have SB 14 ID must show it to vote.” It instructs the lower court that the eventual “remedy must be tailored to rectify only the discriminatory effect on those voters who do not have SB 14 ID or are unable to reasonably obtain such identification.” (One possible solution is that the remedy could match the same one handed down by a Wisconsin federal judge in a similar case on Tuesday.)

So this is a victory for voting rights, but not a total one. Nevertheless, given the Fifth Circuit’s conservatism, it is a surprising decision. And no doubt a welcome one for voting rights supporters.

Here’s more on that Wisconsin decision. The district court may try to craft a solution, but as Andrea Greer notes, it’s not out of the question that Greg Abbott could call a special session to try to “fix” the law. Mostly, it’s a matter of timing. The law as it exists cannot be used – there must be a remedy for the people who don’t have ID. That needs to be in place probably in the next six to eight weeks, to ensure there’s enough time for local election admins to communicate to voters what they will need to be able to vote. Striking the whole thing down would have been better and less confusing, but this is what we’ve got. There’s also still a chance that the district court could find discriminatory intent again under the new standard the Fifth Circuit set, and I presume that one way or another, this will eventually go to SCOTUS. But for now, a decent if not resounding win. The Chron story is here, and Courthouse News, the Brennan Center, the Press, the Rivard Report, and PDiddie have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Feds leave oversight of Texas Central to the state

No change in status.

A proposed high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas will remain a mostly Texas matter following a federal decision which opponents cheered as a blow to the project, while backers said provided a definitive scope of the planning process.

The Surface Transportation Board on Monday determined it has no oversight of the 240-mile line planned by Texas Central Partners that has drawn opposition from rural residents while enjoying support in the two metropolitan areas because the project lies completely within Texas. Texas Central had argued its connectivity to Amtrak gave federal officials some oversight, but the board rejected that.

“Should Texas Central develop concrete plans that would make the Line part of the interstate rail network, such as an actual through ticketing arrangement with Amtrak or a shared station with an interstate passenger rail line, Texas Central could seek board authority at that time,” federal officials wrote in their decision.

[…]

Texans Against High-Speed Rail, formed to oppose the line’s development through rural areas, called the federal decision a major victory, along with a number of local elected leaders.

See here, here, and here for the background. A copy of the STB’s letter is embedded in the Chron story. I’m not sure how much difference this makes, because whatever the STB had decided to do, there will be a renewed effort among Texas Central’s opponents to put insurmountable obstacles in their way in the next legislative session. There’s a group of legislators – mostly rural, with some suburban, all east of I-35 – who oppose the proposed high speed rail line, and there’s a group of legislators – mostly urban, with some suburban, all in the Houston and Metroplex area – who support it. The former group is larger and more driven, but they are not close to a majority. The question is what happens if they manage to get a bill that would cripple the rail line out of committee. We don’t know how open the large number of uncommitted legislators are to either side’s arguments, and we also don’t know what Greg Abbott’s opinion is. If Texas Central can make it through the 2017 session without getting kneecapped, they will be able to start construction as they hope to later that year. I believe that once they do start building the line, it will become a lot harder to kill, though that won’t stop anyone from trying. This will be a big issue to watch in the spring. The Press has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

In which we find another way to suck at textbooks

Oh, good Lord.

If the State Board of Education approves a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook this fall, Texas students could learn that the Aztecs waged war because of “bloodlust,” 19th-century Mexican industrial laborers often drank on the job and slavery was in swift decline just before the Civil War, scholars and activists said at a press conference Monday.

Activist groups and professors with the Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook Coalition gathered Monday at the Texas Education Agency to list their concerns with the book, “Mexican American Heritage,” and call on the board to reject it.

“Excessive errors render the proposed textbook useless and even counterproductive,” said Emilio Zamora, a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin who reviewed the textbook at the request of board member Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville.

The text was the only submission the board received after it issued a call in 2015 for textbooks to be used in Mexican-American studies classes at the high school level. Roughly 10 high schools in Texas currently offer Mexican-American studies; the content of the course varies from school to school, but is often interdisciplinary and includes history, literature and current events. Activists had hoped that a state-approved textbook would make it easier for teachers to start offering the class.

At the press conference, Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, noted that the publisher of “Mexican American Heritage,” Momentum Instruction, LLC, has never published a textbook before, and one of the text’s contributors is Cynthia Dunbar, a conservative former board member.

[…]

At the press conference, Zamora said he found an average of five to seven errors on each page he reviewed. He said the text focuses more on general American and world history than on the experiences of Mexican-Americans, characterizes Mexican-American social justice leaders as a threat to the United States and doesn’t cite professional scholarship in the interdisciplinary field of Mexican-American Studies.

Christopher Carmona, chairman of the Committee on Mexican American Studies in Pre-K-12 at Tejas Foco, the state branch of the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies, said the flawed textbook reflects a broader problem in Texas: the relative paucity of Mexican-American studies courses in public schools where over half of the student body is Hispanic. Currently, about 10 high schools have established such courses through the state’s elective course “Special Topics in Social Studies,” which allows schools to develop their own classes, including ethnic studies.

“The textbook is a symptom of the fact that we don’t have this in place,” said Carmona, who is also an instructor of English at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

The call for textbooks was issued as a compromise when the board debated ethnic studies in 2014. Cortez initially proposed establishing a full-fledged Mexican-American studies course. Instead, the board voted 11-3 to ask publishers to submit textbooks that teachers could use for courses in various ethnic studies classes.

First, let’s be clear that any endeavor involving Cynthia Dunbar is going to be a miasma of toxic wingnuttery. The existence of this textbook has been known for a couple of months, and the SBOE has yet to take up the matter of whether it will be adopted or tossed onto the trash pile where it belongs. (This is the SBOE we’re talking about, so you can probably guess what the likely outcome is.) I – haven’t followed this closely so I can’t tell you a whole lot more about this; go read that Observer link for the basics, and go here if you want to get involved. It sure would be nice if we could avoid embarrassing ourselves again, wouldn’t it? ThinkProgress, the Observer, and the Press have more.

Posted in: School days.

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 18

The Texas Progressive Alliance urges the people of Cleveland to stay strong as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Rick Perry still toadying for Trump

Dude must really need a job.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs are always in demand

Former Gov. Rick Perry says he is open to serving in the administration of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, his former rival in the race for the White House.

“They know that I will come and help if the role is something I’m passionate about, that I’m knowledgeable about,” Perry told reporters Monday morning after addressing Texas delegates here at the Republican National Convention.

Perry, an Air Force veteran, went on to acknowledge that he is “pretty limited” in the expertise he believes he could lend.

“The place that I’m passionate about is our veterans and our military, so somewhere in that area is where I would be” helpful, he said.

[…]

On Monday morning, Perry told reporters that he made clear to the Trump campaign that he was not vice presidential material.

“I told them, ‘Listen, I’m not your guy to be vice president because I don’t know the Washington inside legislative game,'” Perry said.

See here for some background. Just curious here, but did anyone other than Rick Perry ever mention Rick Perry as a potential VP candidate? One also wonders if Perry is aware of how Trump treats the people who align with him, and if he considers it a bug or a feature. (Not to mention if Perry is aware of what his own website says about Trump, which strikes me as the equivalent of posting one’s Spring Break pictures to Facebook while interviewing for an accounting job.) But look, I blame this on the failure of the wingnut gravy train to find a nice little sinecure for Rick Perry. Surely he deserves better than this after all his years of loyal service to the cause.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Alignments proposed for Oklahoma City-South Texas passenger rail

Check ’em out.

TexasOklahomaPassengerRailStudyRoutes

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) have released 10 service and route options for new and improved conventional and high-speed passenger rail service connecting Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, and South Texas.  The options are evaluated in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).

“This corridor is home to major financial, energy, and education centers that people rely on every day,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  “Providing efficient, more reliable, and faster higher-speed passenger rail options to move between cities is crucial for the economy and the population to thrive.  I encourage those along the I-35 corridor to participate in the comment and public hearing opportunities so that they are able to learn more and share their input.”

During a 45-day public comment period, FRA and TxDOT will take comments on the 10 options and the seven recommended preferred options that the two agencies identified.  Four public hearings will also be held to give residents a chance to learn about the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study, understand how their communities may be affected, and provide comments.

Current passenger rail service along the Interstate 35 (I-35) corridor includes three intercity Amtrak services from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth (Heartland Flyer), Fort Worth to San Antonio (Texas Eagle), and Los Angeles to New Orleans through San Antonio (Sunset Limited).

The DEIS addresses the relationships of the major regional markets within the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Program corridor in three geographic sections, and preferred alternatives are recommended for each geographic section separately.  The three sections of study are:

  • Northern Section:  Edmond, Oklahoma, to Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas
  • Central Section:  Dallas and Fort Worth to San Antonio
  • Southern Section:  San Antonio to south Texas (Corpus Christi, Brownsville, Laredo, and the Rio Grande Valley)

More than 10 million people currently live along the 850-mile corridor, which is expected to grow by 39 percent in Texas and 25 percent in Oklahoma City by 2035.  As a state with some of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation, spread out over hundreds of miles, Texas is now in high demand for alternative modes of transportation.  Since the majority of the state’s population is centered in the eastern half of state, along I-35 stretching into Oklahoma City, the highways have experienced increased congestion.

“More passenger rail service will help relieve already congested roads along the I-35 corridor and help this region manage the significant population growth on the way,” said FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg.  “I encourage everyone to provide feedback on the 10 options that FRA and the Texas DOT have presented to continue moving this effort forward.”

In fiscal year 2012, FRA awarded a $5.6 million grant to TxDOT to fund a study of new and improved passenger rail service to meet future intercity travel demand, improve rail facilities, reduce travel times, and improve connections with regional public transit services as an alternative to bus, plane, and private auto travel.  The Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study evaluates routes and types of service for passenger rail service between Oklahoma City, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and South Texas.

More information about the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study can be found here.  The Final EIS is projected to be released by early 2017.

There are three public hearings scheduled to discuss these alignments, on August 9, 10, and 11, in Laredo, Austin, and Arlington, respectively. Relevant documentation is here if you have a few hours to spare and an enjoyment of poring over PDFs, while TxDOT’s page on the project is here. Just looking at the map, which I have embedded above, doesn’t give a clear picture of where the tracks would be. Streetsblog says it wouldn’t actually stop in “urban Austin”, but the map seems to indicate it would go near or by the airport, so perhaps this is a question of terminology.

This project has been kicking around for awhile – Oklahoma got a federal stimulus grant in 2009 to study rail between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, which isn’t actually part of this proposal but may have been the genesis of what we now have – with TxDOT creating the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study page in late 2013; as you can see at that link, there’s a separate project to link this rail line, if it happens, to the Houston-Dallas high speed line, if that happens. An extension into Mexico has also been floated, though I have no idea if we’re even allowed to say that sort of thing out loud any more. As this is a TxDOT project, one presumes that there won’t be any questions about whether or not this qualifies as a real railroad for eminent domain purposes, which is not to say that there won’t be any resistance to the possibility. I’m never sure how seriously to take this, as TxDOT has never been all that interested in anything but roads and there are plenty of ways for the chuckleheads in Congress and the Lege to put up obstacles, but we are at the DEIS stage, and that’s progress. What do you think? See here for the impact statement, and KVUE has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Abbott pushes for hate crime status for targeted killing of police officers

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Gov. Greg Abbott wants the targeted killing of a police officer to be deemed a hate crime in Texas and urged lawmakers to send him such a bill to sign during next year’s legislative session.

Abbott announced Monday his plan to lobby for adding his Police Protection Act to Texas law. Along with extending hate crime protections to law enforcement, the measure would also increase criminal penalties for any crimes in which the victim is a law enforcement officer and “create a culture of respect for law enforcement by organizing a campaign to educate young Texans on the value law enforcement officers bring to their communities,” according to a statement from Abbott’s office.

[…]

“At a time when law enforcement officers increasingly come under assault simply because of the job they hold, Texas must send a resolute message that the State will stand by the men and women who serve and protect our communities,” Abbott said Monday in a statement

Abbott’s proposal comes after U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced legislation on Wednesday that would make killing a police officer a federal crime.

I don’t have a position on these proposals yet; I’d like to see some analysis by policy experts first. What I do know is that the mostly conservative opposition to hate crime bills in the past has been on the grounds that they are redundant and thus unnecessary. The politics in this case are a lot different than they were in the past, and I fully expect to see people espousing very different views on this than they might have 20 years ago. To the extent that Greg Abbott’s views on such legislation of yore can be ascertained, it would be useful to ask him why and how his opinion on hate crime laws have changed, if indeed they have.

UPDATE: Lisa Falkenberg and Murray Newman have some fully-developed thoughts on the subject.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Potholing

The city’s pothole repair program seems to be going well.

Faster response by city crews to resident-reported potholes has saved thousands of drivers a bumpier ride around Houston the past six months, though officials warn there’s a long way to go before local streets are smooth driving.

Since Mayor Sylvester Turner announced on Jan. 4 that resident-reported potholes would be assessed within 24 hours and filled the next business day, more than 3,400 potholes in the city have been patched because of calls to 311 or online reports from residents. That’s at least 600 more filled potholes than all of 2015, based on city records, though some accountings of the number filled differ.

“The voters demanded pothole repair and I think that was a core area in the election and they got it,” said Mark Klein, president of Super Neighborhood 12, bounded by where Loop 610 and U.S. 290 converge and extending north to Pinemont-area neighborhoods.

[…]

The number of potholes filled by the city because of calls from residents, however, is a fraction of the number of potholes actually filled in Houston. By some measures, overall pothole repairs are down from a peak in mid-2015. According to the key performance indicators report prepared by Houston Public Works each month, from February to May the city filled fewer potholes this year than in 2015.

The figures used and verified by the city’s “Pothole Tracker” website, meanwhile, show the total number of potholes increasing. Eric Dargan, deputy public works director over the streets and drainage division, said the calculations are different because the internal performance measures all potholes, while the pothole tracker tracks work orders. Multiple potholes could be filled on a single work order, Dargan said.

Despite differing figures, Dargan said he’s confident Houston’s 16,000 lane miles of street are in better shape, while he cautions there is much more work to do to fill potholes.

“The formula is right, the question is how much funding we have for maintenance,” Dargan said, explaining street repairs vary from simple potholes to complete street rebuilds with sewer pipes, such as the recent work on Shepherd south of Buffalo Bayou. “I would love to get my assets on a 10-year cycle. We are nowhere close to that.”

Here’s the city’s pothole page, if you’re into that sort of thing. Fixing potholes is good, and increasing people’s faith that calling 311 will make something happen is better, but completing the Rebuild Houston project is critical, as it addresses the long-term issues that attention. In the meantime, though, go ahead and call 311 or use the app and report that pothole that’s been bugging you. You’ll feel better once you do.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Can we try this again with nine Justices, please?

Can’t hurt to ask.

The Obama administration on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the legality of the president’s controversial immigration enforcement plan, which stalled last month when the high court deadlocked on an appeal.

The program, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, was announced in November 2014 and would have shielded about 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. It was scheduled to go into effect in February 2015 but was halted that month by U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen of Brownsville.

Hanen ruled that the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal regulations are made and how much input the public has. His decision was upheld by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Justice Department appealed to the Supreme Court, but without a full complement of judges after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia the high court deadlocked 4-4, effectively upholding the 5th Circuit’s ruling. In Monday’s filing, the administration asked the court to hear the case again when it has nine justices.

“This filing is consistent with historical practice and reflects the need for prompt and definitive resolution of this important case,” Department of Justice Spokeswoman Melanie Newman said in a statement.

The filing for rehearing by the Department of Justice concedes the Supreme Court rarely rehears ordinary cases. But it argues it’s not unheard of when the court is missing a justice.

“Ordinarily, it is exceedingly rare for this Court to grant rehearing,” the petition states. “But when this Court has conducted plenary review and then affirmed by vote of an equally divided court because of a vacancy rather than a disqualification, the Court has not infrequently granted rehearing before a full Bench.”

See here for the background. As I understand it, all of the cases for which SCOTUS split 4-4 are still basically undecided, since without a definitive SCOTUS ruling there’s no governing opinion, and there remains the chance of conflicting opinions from appeals courts. As such, they can and in most cases will continue on and find their way back to SCOTUS eventually. Here, the district court hasn’t even had a trial – the fight was over the judge’s injunction that put the DAPA and expanded DACA orders on hold pending the litigation – so it makes sense to ask to jump the line when the Court is back at full strength. Assuming it ever is, of course – these days one needs to be careful about what assumptions one operates under. I have no idea how this is going to work, but as I say it can’t hurt to ask. A copy of the petition is here, and SCOTUSBlog, which characterizes this as a “longshot”, has more.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.