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2014 Day Three EV totals

But first, a little angst.

EarlyVoting

I feel a bit uncomfortable after Day Two of Early Voting in Person. Here are a couple of concerning tweets from yesterday:

Scott Braddock ‏@scottbraddock 2h2 hours ago
Those Harris County early vote totals are not good for Democrats. *If* Texas is a battleground, #Houston is ground zero #TxLege

And:

Teddy Schleifer @teddyschleifer • 5h 5 hours ago
Dems excited by big vote-by-mail numbers here in Harris County, but in-person down 25%. Not good for them. #HOUNews | http://blog.chron.com/houstonpolitics/2014/10/in-person-early-vote-turnout-still-down-in-harris-county/ …

Here is from Chron.com:

The number of voters showing up at Harris County’s 41 early-vote locations was down by 25 percent for the second straight day on Tuesday, according to tallies released by the County Clerk.

A total of 20,380 registered voters cast a ballot on Tuesday, more than 7,000 fewer voters than cast one on the first Tuesday of early voting during the last midterm election in 2010. While Monday’s results revealed a massive increase in the number of mail ballots received this fall, the number received on Tuesday slightly trailed those seen on the corresponding Tuesday in 2010. A majority of the vote-by-mail ballots typically arrive on the first day.

A total of 21,612 votes were cast Tuesday, 1,232 of them mail ballots. On Monday, the first day of the two-week early-voting period, 61,735 total votes were cast.

A Commentary review of Early Voting locations likely frequented by African American and Latino voters shows a slight decrease in voter turnout as compared to the 2010 numbers after Day Two. Sure Dems are doing better with the mail ballots but we have to increase the Early Voting in Person numbers – or else. What is happening out there?

Here are your Day Three totals, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. As was the case with Day Two, in person totals are below what they were in 2010, though there were more absentee ballots received. The grand total so far for 2014 is 107,433, while the comparable total for 2010 was 107,782, so we are now officially a smidgen behind 2010. Does that mean we’re doomed?

Well, that depends on who is turning out. We’ve been through this before, but let’s remember, “turnout” doesn’t just mean Democrats. Republican voters count towards “turnout” too, and as you may recall they turned out like gangbusters in 2010. One of the prerequisites for Democrats doing well, or at least doing better, this year was for Republican turnout to come back down to earth. If what we’re got here is a Democratic increase combined with a Republican decrease, that would be pretty good, no?

Now bear in mind, the early vote gap – both in person and mail ballot – from 2010 in Harris County was pretty massive. A review of the 2010 numbers suggests it was about 59-39 in favor of the GOP, with mail ballots going 68-31 and in person early votes being 58-40. There’s a lot of room for Ds to go up and Rs to go down without the leader changing.

There are two indicators to suggest that the gap has narrowed considerably, though not all the way. One is that while Campos’ observation about Latino EV locations is accurate, it’s not the whole story. Here are the three day totals for the heaviest EV locations in GOP districts, then and now:

Location name SRD 2010 2014 ===================================================== Champion Forest Baptist Church 126 4,110 3,206 Kingwood Branch Library 127 4,075 2,823 Freeman Branch Library 129 4,190 3,044 Cypress Top Park, Cypress 130 3,548 3,052 Trini Mendenhall Community Center 138 3,839 3,048

Those are some pretty steep declines. Some of this I would attribute to the large increase in absentee votes, as I believe some of that represents people changing their behavior from voting early in person to voting by mail. Some of it I would (hopefully) attribute to the surge of 2010 Republican voters abating. Greg’s Day Two analysis, which suggests mail ballots are running about 50-50 and overall turnout being about 46% Dem, supports that. No question, we’d like to see Dem in person performance improve, but those mail ballots count, too, and they’re clearly making a difference. The usual pattern is that Dems turn out big on Saturday and generally participate more in Week 2, so we’ll see if that holds. Right now, all signs clearly point to Dems doing considerably better than they did in 2010. Doing better than 2010 is not that high a bar to clear, of course, so there’s still room to go up. Just don’t fixate on the “total turnout” number without at least considering where that turnout is coming from.

At the state level, the picture is interesting. The two day EV results for 2014 on the SOS webpage show an overall increase over 2010, fueled entirely by the massive uptick in mail ballots. Democratic counties like Dallas, Travis, El Paso, Hidalgo, and Cameron are up a bit. So are Republican counties like Montgomery, Collin, Williamson, and Denton, but Galveston is down and Fort Bend is flat. Tarrant is way up, but that’s Wendy Davis’ home turf. Again, it’s a function of who is showing up. I don’t have enough information to make any guesses.

Bottom line, keep calm and keep working to turn out our voters. There’s a Walk2Vote event at UH-Downtown tomorrow, to turn students out there. If you really want to make a difference, consider helping out with Drive for Democracy, which aims to help people who need a ride to the polls get them. I’m told they have identified around 1000 voters who need a ride to the polls and are recruiting volunteers to help with those rides. I can’t think of a better way to get involved. Check ‘em out, and sign up to help if you can.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Judicial Q&A: Kathy Vossler

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Kathy Vossler

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Kathy Vossler, and I am running for the 309th Family Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears and decides cases involving Divorce, Custody, Child Support, Termination, Adoption, Enforcement, Name Changes and CPS

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Family law cases tend to be very stressful for the parties. For many, it is the most stressful time of their lives. Going through a divorce or custody case is an experience that impacts people both financially and emotionally. It is a big turning point in the lives of the people who come to family court, and one that they remember the rest of their lives. As a family lawyer, I have found that I have the ability to turn down the volume on the drama and rhetoric by focusing on the issues, doing what is in the best interest of the children, and treating everyone in the case with professionalism, dignity and respect. Taking this approach enables the parties to move on with their lives in a positive and productive manner, and helps them to make the best of a difficult situation. It also helps them to focus on what is right for their children, become better parents, and make smarter decisions based on longer term goals.

I am running for this particular bench because I want to bring to the voters of Harris County the same dignity, respect and professionalism that I bring to my cases. I have the experience, the knowledge of the law, the judgment, and the temperament to be a good judge in the 309th, and I hope that the voters of Harris County will entrust me with this very important position.

I will bring a positive change in this court. Some of the changes I will bring include: (1) I will follow the law, including the decisions of the Texas Supreme Court; (2) I will treat people with dignity and respect and exercise judicial temperament that will allow the parties to know that they have been heard, have had a fair trial, and are free to move on with their lives; (3) I will judge each case individually, on its merits, according to the law, without prejudice as to the issues and without regard to the political leanings, power, or contributions of the parties and/or attorneys involved; and (4) I will run the court efficiently, eliminating unnecessary settings and conducting meaningful hearings in a timely manner.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a family lawyer, and have been for seventeen years. I have handled hundreds of family law cases, including all of the kinds of cases that this court hears. I have a good understanding of the law and have always shown good judgment with regard to my cases. The parties that come before a family bench are dealing with all kinds of issues, which may include alcohol or drug addictions, infidelity, the financial woes that are inherent in the abrupt transition from one or two wage earners supporting one household, to stretching that same income to support two households. They may be dealing with Real Estate issues or small business issues. I have experience with all of that as a family lawyer. In addition, before becoming a lawyer, I was in the restaurant business. I worked in having been a small business owner for most of my adult life, in addition to a Business Broker and a Realtor prior to entering into the legal field. All of this experience will help me to be a good Judge in the 309th.

5. Why is this race important?

The 309th Family Court is one of nine family courts in Harris County. The judge of the 309th District Court decides who gets custody of your children, and what kind of visitation the other parent gets. She decides where the children will live, a decision that impacts what school they will likely go to, and what kind of jobs you may accept in the future. She decides how the house, cars and retirement get divided in a divorce, whether a parent’s rights are forever terminated to their children, whether a party or parties are able to adopt children. She decides if one parent will receive financial support from the other parent once a divorce is finalized. There is no other type of court in Harris County that impacts so many parts of your life, in such a personal way. This race is important because of the issues at stake, and the differences between myself and my opponent.

6. Why should people vote for you this November?

I will bring a positive change in this court. Some of the changes I will bring include: (1) I will follow the law, including the decisions of the Texas Supreme Court; (2) I will treat people with dignity and respect and exercise judicial temperament that will allow the parties to know that they have been heard, have had a fair trial, and are free to move on with their lives; (3) I will judge each case individually, on its merits, according to the law, without prejudice as to the issues and without regard to the political leanings, power, or contributions of the parties and/or attorneys involved; and (4) I will run the court efficiently, eliminating unnecessary settings and conducting meaningful hearings in a timely manner.

Posted in: Election 2014.

More on the voter registration numbers

Wayne Slater has a contrarian perspective on the voter registration numbers.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Getting new voters begins with registering new people. When the secretary of state last week announced a record-high 14 million Texans are registered to vote, Battleground Texas trumpeted that number as evidence their efforts are working. Not so much, it turns out, according to the actual numbers.

For example, voter-registration in the top five Democratic-rich South Texas counties where Davis expects to do well is up 5.8 percent from the last time there was a governor’s race – slightly better than the average statewide. But voter registration in five top GOP-rich suburban counties is up a whopping 13.8 percent.

The Davis camp hopes for a good showing in Dallas County and Harris County, especially among Democratic-leaning black and Hispanic voters. Dallas County voter registration is up about 5 percent from four years ago. Harris County is up over 6 percent. And voter registration in Travis County where Battleground Texas has a strong presence is up 8.4 percent.

But the real voter-registration increases this election are in suburban GOP strongholds like Fort Bend County (17.5 percent), Collin County (14.3 percent), Rockwall County (12.9 percent), Denton County (11.6 percent) and Williamson County (14.2 percent).

Does that mean Battleground Texas has failed to deliver on its much-ballyhooed promise to register new voters? Not necessarily. In the big South Texas counties they say they’ve targeted, the increase in registered voters is a lot better this year than four years earlier. For example, in Hidalgo County, voter registration is up 7.5 percent from 2010. Four years earlier, when Democrat Bill White was on the ballot, voter registration grew 5.9 percent in from 2006 to 2010. The same thing for Cameron County, where voter registration this time has grown twice as much as it did between 2006 and 2010, the last governor’s race.

Three things here:

1. Comparing percentage increases can be misleading, because things that are smaller to begin with can have sizable percentage increases without actually increasing all that much. Rockwall County, for example has 51,787 registered voters in it. That’s an increase of 5,944 over their 2010 number of 45,843. That doesn’t crack the top 20 total increases as I noted in my previous post, and the total number of registered voters in Rockwall County is less than the increase in registered voters in Dallas County, which grew by 58,086.

2. We can argue over the numbers all we want, or at least until we start seeing some data about who actually voted, but who was registered matters at least as much as how many of them were. As I’ve said before, some of the increase in voter registration is the natural result of population growth. We know that Battleground Texas has focused a lot of resources on voter registration. One presumes they’re smart enough to target people that will be likely to go Democratic if they vote. There may have been some concerted Republican effort to register like-minded voters – I don’t know, and the story Slater links to doesn’t address the question – but again, one would think that if there were something comparable on the GOP side it might have warranted some attention from the press. Be that as it may, we don’t have to guess, or at least we don’t have to guess blindly on insufficient data. The various county clerks and elections administrators could provide, if asked by a professional reporter, more detailed information about where those new voters came from – what precincts, for example, whose more fine-grained electoral information might provide a richer illustration – and about their racial and ethnic composition. We don’t have enough information here to base a judgment on this, but that doesn’t mean that information doesn’t exist. It’s there if a professional political reporter wants to find out about it.

3. All that said, the burden of proof remains with BGTX. They are trying to do something that hasn’t been done before, and some level of skepticism is warranted until we see evidence of success in the results. A lot of those heavily GOP counties Slater cites have been slowly trending Democratic in Presidential years, but outside of Fort Bend the increase in Democratic votes from 2006 to 2010 failed to keep up with the growth in registered voters. That’s the challenge, and that’s what it will take to move the needle in the GOP strongholds. The good news is that we should have some idea of how this is going as soon as we have data about who is voting early. Whether the good news continues from there, that’s the question.

Posted in: Election 2014.

More lot protections

Good luck.

A stretch of Riverside Terrace, a rebound neighborhood known for its “large lots, mature trees and a view of the downtown skyline,” will be the first residential pocket in Houston where homeowners can use a new city code provision to fend off unwanted townhome, condo or residential tower developments.

The City Council [recently] voted to grant residents in the 68-lot swath the right to establish a “special minimum lot size area,” a tool created by recent changes in the Houston development code to counter some of the tearing down, paving over and skyward building across the region.

The measure allows qualifying residential zones of up to 500 contiguous homes to curtail densely packed projects by setting a minimum lot size for each structure. A townhome developer, for example, could not build multiple units in place of a single-family home.

Previously, neighborhoods could apply for similar protections on a block-by-block basis.

Councilman Brad Bradford, who represents Riverside Terrace, has been watching a slow gentrification of the neighborhood near South MacGregor Way and Texas 288, about 3 miles from downtown, for about a decade. He called protecting lot sizes “very important.”

The neighborhood group granted approval on Wednesday, he said, “worked very hard to maintain the integrity of the neighborhood. Riverside Terrace is one of the last neighborhoods inside Houston proper with large lots, mature trees and a view of the downtown skyline. It’s all there.”

It’s a little odd to speak of an At Large Council member “representing” a specific neighborhood, but never mind that for now. I think the densification of Houston is a positive thing in general, but that doesn’t mean it’s a positive thing everywhere. It’s vital to let neighborhoods that have character preserve it, because once it’s gone you’ll never get it back. Good for the residents of Riverside Terrace for working to achieve this bit of history protection for themselves. Go read this Houston Press article from 2009 and click through the accompanying slideshow to learn a bit more about Riverside Terrace and what they’re fighting to maintain.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

The inadequacy of Prop 1

Better than nothing, but not by much.

The campaign to steer state reserve funds to road projects is not being waged with yard signs and televised debates but, rather, with chamber of commerce lunches and a smattering of direct mailings.

Though largely a quiet campaign, supporters of Prop. 1 said they are optimistic the proposal will pass muster with voters, and, they hope, set up subsequent efforts to shore up Texas’ teetering highway system.

“There is a basic underlying support among longtime Texas voters to funding highways,” said Lawrence Olsen, executive vice president of Texas Good Roads, one of the groups backing Prop. 1.

The measure, if passed by voters Nov. 4, would take half of the money from oil and gas production taxes now filling the state’s economic stabilization fund – also known as the rainy day fund – and redirect it to transportation. Texas Department of Transportation officials would use the money to maintain and expand state roads, many of which are choking because of population growth and rapid expansion of oil and gas production in Texas.

Based on current estimates by the state comptroller, splitting the money between the rainy day fund and transportation projects would mean about $1.7 billion for each in the first year. That figure, however, is dependent upon oil and gas production, which could be affected by recent drops in oil prices.

The money is not nearly enough to meet all of the state’s highway needs, making Prop. 1 more of a first step than a long-term solution, supporters said.

“Everybody is optimistic that the winds are at our back when we head into what will be a challenging legislative session,” said Brandon Janes, chairman of Transportation Advocates of Texas. “It would be nice to say we have a healthy margin on Prop. 1 to show the support to get legislators moving on this.”

To adequately maintain roads and improve those stressed by population and economic growth, TxDOT estimates the state should be spending $5 billion more a year, leaving a $3.3 billion gap even if Prop. 1 passes.

This is the problem with Prop 1 in a nutshell. It’s a painless little band-aid that will alleviate some of the immediate problems but doesn’t really do a damn thing to solve anything. We’re still not ready or willing to have a frank discussion about what our state’s transportation needs are – remember, TxDOT has been throwing around giant numbers for years that represent wish list items and other pie-in-the-sky ventures in addition to genuinely needed projects – or what the best solutions going forward will be – surely I’m not the only one who recognizes that investing gazillions of dollars on road building is kind of a 20th century approach, but it’s all there is from TxDOT and the Lege – never mind how to pay for them. Just about everybody has endorsed Prop 1 – their campaign website is here – and I suppose I’ll be a good soldier and vote for it as well, but I’m not enthusiastic about it. If I thought for a minute that defeating this would send a message of “We want you to work on solving the underlying problems!” and not “We don’t want you to spend any money on anything ever again!”, I’d vote No and feel good about it. As I know full well that’s not how the world works, I’ll vote Yes and bitch about it afterwards, then console myself with the thought that maybe now that the easy answers have been applied, we might be able to gingerly approach the somewhat harder answers. That won’t happen either, but I can tell myself it will. Burka, who is on the same page as I am, has more.

Posted in: Election 2014.

2014 Day Two EV totals

Here’s Houston Politics with the nickel summary.

EarlyVoting

The number of voters showing up at Harris County’s 41 early-vote locations was down by 25 percent for the second straight day on Tuesday, according to tallies released by the County Clerk.

A total of 20,380 registered voters cast a ballot on Tuesday, more than 7,000 fewer voters than cast one on the first Tuesday of early voting during the last midterm election in 2010. While Monday’s results revealed a massive increase in the number of mail ballots received this fall, the number received on Tuesday slightly trailed those seen on the corresponding Tuesday in 2010. A majority of the vote-by-mail ballots typically arrive on the first day.

A total of 21,612 votes were cast Tuesday, 1,232 of them mail ballots. On Monday, the first day of the two-week early-voting period, 61,735 total votes were cast.

For the second straight day, the poll location at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center served the highest number of voters: 1,401.

I would expect that last bit to be true most if not all days of EV. Your Day Two EV totals are here, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. In person totals are down for each of the first two days, but thanks to the massive absentee ballot haul on Day One, overall turnout remains up in Harris County, going from 79,221 after two days in 2010 to 83,347 in 2014. This year may not keep up with 2010 if Wednesday is like Monday and Tuesday, however. In addition, the single biggest day for mail ballots to be returned in 2010 was Thursday of the first week, when 5,825 of them arrived. We’ll keep an eye on those developments.

A couple of reports from Day One around the state. Here’s Zachary Roth:

In Tarrant County, which contains Davis’s home base of Fort Worth, 29,391 people voted Monday, nearly three times the comparable number for 2010. Heavily Hispanic El Paso County also saw a nearly threefold increase.

Harris County, which contains Houston, saw 61,735 voters Monday — an increase of more than 11,000 compared to the number who voted on the first day in 2010. Bexar County, containing San Antonio, saw an increase of nearly 7,000 voters. In Dallas and Travis (Austin) counties, the increases were respectively nearly 3,000 and nearly 1,000.

More than one-third of Texans live in those six counties.

And here’s Ed Sills, from his daily email report:

In 2010, the first-day total was 178,802 voters. In 2014, it was 240,634 voters. The entirety of that improvement is in mail voting, which has more than doubled to date. By most accounts, both Democrats and Republicans have strong mail-in Get Out the Vote programs, so the electoral meaning of the improvement is not clear. But it is clear mail-in voters do not have to flash a “voter ID” for their ballots to count.

As a percentage of registered voters, the first-day turnout this year was 2.68 percent, a 25 percent improvement over the 2.14 percent turnout of 2010. This year, the Secretary of State counts an increase of more than 600,000 registered voters, to 8,978,313, in the large urban counties, so that 2.68 percent comes out of a higher voting universe.

The ultimate 2010 turnout for all of Texas was 38 percent of registered voters. While it is too early to suggest that the first-day turnout is indicative of what the change will be for the entire election, a 25 percent improvement in that percentage would bring turnout to 47 percent this year. The biggest wins for Democrats since 1970 – the sweep of 1982 and Gov. Ann Richards’s victory in 1990 – have involved turnouts of just over 50 percent. The last time a gubernatorial race drew 50 percent of the voters was 1994, when George W. Bush defeated Richards.

No governor’s race since then has even hit the 40 percent turnout mark.

So a potential for change this year is reflected in the first-day numbers, but again, is it enough?

One interesting sign: The largest first-day large-population turnout in terms of percentage was in Hidalgo County, at 3.11 percent, compared to 2.32 percent in 2010. Second largest: Nueces County, at 3.09 percent, compared to 2.01 percent last time.

“Most Astonishing” award goes to Tarrant County, which nearly tripled its first-day total. With hometown Sen. Wendy Davis’s run for Governor and a hot Texas Senate contest, Fort Worth and environs saw a 10,263 first-day vote total in 2010 rise to 29,217 in 2014.

Even traditionally low-turnout early voting counties that tend to go Democratic, like Cameron and El Paso, are up significantly over 2010, though their first-day turnouts remain lower than the other large counties.

Harris County experienced an 11,000-vote Day One increase and cast 61,735 votes, or about a quarter of the big-county total.

The Republican strongholds of Montgomery, Williamson and Collin counties also saw healthy increases in first-day voting, so once again, the big-county totals can’t be used to predict much. But I’m confident another 38 percent turnout would signal inertia and tilt toward the status quo. The prospect of more voters in 2014, in my view, is a necessary ingredient of change.

Still a long way to go, and a lot of possibilities. Have you voted yet? Audrey wants to come with me when I vote, so I’m targeting Saturday for my turn.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Judicial Q&A: Greg Glass

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Greg Glass

Greg Glass

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Greg Glass, and I am running for Judge of the 230th Criminal District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court hears all nature of alleged felony offenses.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I have extensive criminal trial experience which drives my desire to improve at least one felony District Court. My forty-one (41) years of experience have given me an enhanced perspective in fashioning fair, just and meaningful outcomes of cases in that court. I am very much a people person, and it is important that judges recognize that they deal with people, not just cases. Both victims and defendants are people. Too often in the past, docket control has been the focus of many, if not most, of the Republican judges on the criminal felony bench. I also believe there are far too many low level, non-violent offenders (such as drug offenders) who need to be out on bond, as long as they have adequate community ties and do not pose a danger to the community. It is preferable that we not warehouse a large jail population awaiting trial, but provide a means, such as expanded use of personal bonds, for them to get out of jail, obtain or maintain employment, support their dependents and hire private attorneys. This conserves county resources, and encourages individual responsibility. Additionally, I would not always revoke and double bonds, as is the current practice with most felony judges, when an accused submits a positive drug test while on bond. Rather, I might when appropriate, then require the defendant to enroll in an approved outpatient drug treatment program, and successfully participate in it to maintain their bond status.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have tried well over one hundred felony cases, both in State and Federal Courts. I have handled literally thousands of criminal cases, most of them felonies. I have been Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization since 1983. And I feel that I have the requisite judicial temperament for the job. My experience and qualifications are extensive.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because the position of felony district judge is important. The citizens of Harris County are more likely to encounter a local judge than any other elected official. Judges directly affect the lives of many citizens of this county. Based on my years of professional and personal experience with numerous judges all over the state, it is important for both lawyers and laymen alike to know that when they go to court, the judge truly is fair and impartial, and will not show bias in favor of or against either party.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Any judge should, of course, follow the law. But beyond that, my philosophy is that every person who appears before the court, regardless of religion, national origin, race, color, creed, gender or sexual orientation, should have confidence that he or she will be treated with fairness, justice, dignity and respect. I am committed to these core values. That judicial philosophy, combined with my extensive criminal court experience and excellent credentials (I was Board Certified in Criminal Law before my opponent was licensed as an attorney), makes me the ideal candidate for Judge of the 230 Criminal District Court of Harris County, Texas.

Posted in: Election 2014.

KHOU: Abbott 47, Davis 32

A new poll to open Early Voting.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

As early voters head to the polls for a landmark election in Texas, a new survey conducted for KHOU-TV and Houston Public Media shows Republican Greg Abbott with a commanding lead over Democrat Wendy Davis in the race for governor.

Abbott’s supported by 47 percent of likely voters surveyed for the poll, compared to Davis’ 32 percent. Another 15 percent were undecided.

Green Party candidates Brandon Parmer carried 1.4 percent and Libertarian Kathie Glass .7 percent. About 2 percent of surveyed voters wouldn’t say who they’re supporting.

This latest poll dovetails with other surveys conducted earlier this year showing Abbott with a double-digit lead over Davis, indicating few voters have changed their minds during the course of the campaign.

“There always could be a crisis, a major gaffe, something like that,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU analyst who supervised the poll. “But it’s very hard to imagine that you can reverse a double-digit lead.”

In the lieutenant governor’s race, Republican Dan Patrick also has a double-digit lead over his Democratic opponent, Leticia Van de Putte. Patrick’s supported by 36 percent of surveyed voters compared to Van de Putte’s 24 percent.

Libertarian Robert Butler had 1.8 percent in the lieutenant governor poll and Green Party candidate Chandrakantha Courtney .9 percent. Another 3.3 percent said they were voting for someone else, while about 2 percent declined to answer the question.

Democrats hoped Van de Putte’s presence on the ballot would energize Hispanic voters, but the survey indicates that hasn’t happened. About 36 percent of Hispanic voters told pollsters they didn’t know how they were voting for governor, and about 34 percent said they were unsure how they’d vote for lieutenant governor.

“If Leticia Van de Putte has a name that’s recognizable, it’s not moving what we consider to be core Democratic voters,” Stein said. “Self-identified Hispanics and self-identified Democrats are still undecided.”

Clearly, there are a lot of “undecided” voters in this poll. It’s a little hard to know what to make of that this late in the game. Some poll data is here but I can’t find crosstab information, so there’s only so much analysis one can do. I will say that most of the polls KHOU has done in the past have been for Houston Mayoral races, and their results have been mixed, to say the least. They also polled the 2013 Astrodome and inmate processing facility referenda, and the 2012 Presidential race in Harris County, with the latter being fairly accurate and the former two not so much. My main complaint with their non-Presidential year methodology has been having too broad a sample. That may be part of the issue here, though obviously I’d like for as broad a sample as possible to be an accurate reflection of the electorate, but without seeing full data I can only speculate.

One more point: Despite the 15-point lead they show for Abbott statewide, they show Davis leading Harris County by a 40-35 margin. (They have Patrick and Van de Putte tied in Harris County, 30 to 30, and show a meaningless one point lead for Devon Anderson over Kim Ogg, 23-22.) I don’t know how you can reconcile a five-point lead in Harris County for Davis with a 15-point lead statewide for Abbott. But hey, the only poll that matters, as they say, has begun. Greg has the latest look at the mail ballots, and by Friday or so we should have a decent inkling of what’s happening based on the early vote rosters. Get out there and vote.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Time to comment on the proposed high speed rail routes

Check ‘em out, and tell ‘em what you think.

Observers have long known that only a few options were available for the route of the privately funded high-speed train line between Houston and Dallas. Now a firmer picture of where the trains might run is emerging.

As part of the federally required process to evaluate the line, the Federal Railroad Administration and Texas Department of Transportation released maps of the nine routes they are considering and the two chosen for deeper evaluation.

[...]

All follow rights of way of railroads, TxDOT or utilities, which is pretty standard for rail development. Those are the agencies or companies that own long, thin swaths of real estate that are relatively clear. Backers of the train, who are paying for the analysis, would acquire the property.

The route has long had support of elected officials in both metro areas, as well as state transportation leaders.

Looking at the southern end in the Houston area, the real decision — which could quickly get political — is which of the two preferred routes is the top contender. While the BNSF Railway option grabs a lot of Tomball area and then hooks along Loop 610 before coming south, the utility alignment connects with Cypress and follows the crowded U.S. 290 corridor in.

Both routes have also been prime candidates for commuter rail service, which Houston area officials have said would definitely complement any high-speed line, along with local transit.

See here for the background and here for more about those commuter rail proposals, which would be an enticing add-on for this project at some point. There were a total of nine routes proposed, but the embedded image shows the two that were selected for “detailed evaluation” – see here for the other picture. Public meetings begin tonight in Dallas, and continue through October 29 at locations along the potential routes, with the last one on the 29th at the NRG Center beginning with an open house at 4:30. See here for the full schedule and related information. Dallas Transportation and the Star-Telegram have more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

RIP, J. Kent Adams

J. Kent Adams, one of Harris County’s Justices of the Peace, passed away over the weekend.

J. Kent Adams

Judge J. Kent Adams, who presided over one of the Houston area’s busiest justice of the peace courts for 13 years, died Saturday morning at his home on Lake Livingston. He was 74 and had been ill with cancer, his family said.

A lawyer by training, Adams was appointed in March 2001 as presiding judge in Harris County Justice of the Peace Court, precinct 4, position 1. The court, which serves a population of about 1 million in the burgeoning Spring area, is often packed with people involved in cases ranging from traffic tickets to small civil claims.

The Harris County Commissioners Court appointed Adams to the bench, and voters reelected him three times, most recently in 2012 to a four-year term.

Precinct 4 Constable Ron Hickman, who for 13 years worked down the hall from Adams in the courthouse at 6831 Cypresswood Drive in Spring, remembered the judge as a dedicated public servant who treated his three dozen employees like family.

“He cared about kids and wanted to get them on the right path,” Hickman said.

[...]

Adams is survived by his wife, Pauline Adams; three sons, Jon Kevin Adams of Memphis, Tenn., Lee Cameron Adams of San Antonio and Allen Kent Adams of Panama City, Fla.; a daughter, Wenday Adams Riley of Raleigh, N.C.; and a stepson, Jerry Dunlap.

Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at Cypress Creek Christian Church, 6823 Cypresswood Drive.

Here’s the Chron obituary for Judge Adams. My condolences to his family and friends.

Posted in: Local politics.

2014 Day One EV totals

Here they are. For comparison, here are the full 2010 EV totals. The in-person totals are down from 2010, declining from 26,051 to 20,215, but as we have observed the absentee totals are way up, from 24,273 to 41,520. As such, the total turnout for Day One is up, from 50,334 to 61,735.

Here’s the Chron story. I don’t have any information as yet about who voted, but in general you shouldn’t draw too broad a conclusion from Day One. By Day Five or so you’re starting to get an idea. We’ll also need to see what the other counties look like. Anyone vote today? What was your experience? Leave a comment and let us know.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Interview with Navid Zanjani

I do a lot of interviews with candidates, but I also like to take the opportunity to do interviews that aren’t focused on a specific individual’s campaign. Sometimes these are about referendums, sometimes they’re about a given issue, and sometimes they’re about a broader electoral effort. That’s what this conversation with Navid Zanjani, the President of the Harris County Young Democrats is about. We know that there has been a strong focus on Democratic turnout in this election, and we know that one area for this focus is with younger voters, who are likely to vote Democratic if they vote at all. It’s getting the out to vote that’s the question. The Harris County Young Dems have been doing their own work on this issue, and I wanted to know more about their efforts. Here’s what Navid and I talked about:

Early voting has begun, and that signals the end of this interview cycle. There may be more judicial Q&As if I receive further responses, but I’ll be putting away my recorder until it’s time to start talking to 2015 candidates. I hope the interviews I did for this election were useful to you.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Judicial Q&A: Herb Ritchie

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Herb Ritchie

Herb Ritchie

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Herb Ritchie, and I am running for Judge of the 263rd Criminal District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court hears all nature of alleged felony offenses arising anywhere in Harris county. These cases range from theft to capital murder.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I previously served for 4 years as the judge of the 337th Criminal District Court. I will require no “on the job training”, and I can continue to work to insure that all persons regardless of status, receive fair and equal treatment under the law.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

U.T. honor graduate (B.A. 1967, with honors; M.A. 1969; J.D. 1974, with honors); Phi Beta Kappa (Honorary Academics Achievement); Phi Delta Phi (Honorary Legal Achievement); Eta Sigma Phi (Honorary Classics Achievement); past teacher/instructor of Classics at U.T.-Austin and Baylor University; Teacher’s Award-Mortgages; third highest grade-Texas Bar Examination; past counsel Texas Real Estate Commission and Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., past managing partner, Ritchie & Glass, Law Firm; experienced in both civil and criminal cases and appellate procedure; Board Certified in Criminal Law since 1987 by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization; member: Houston Bar Association, College of the State Bar of Texas. Licensed to practice in all Texas Courts, Southern, Western and Eastern District of Texas, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and U.S. Supreme Court. Elected Judge 337th Criminal District Court, 2009-2012.

5. Why is this race important?

It is fundamentally important that the people have experienced, fair and unbiased judges. I have been, and will continue to be, if elected that type of judge.

This race is also important because presently there are only three (3) Democratic criminal district judges, out of twenty-two (22), in Harris County. There needs to be more balance in our judiciary.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the better qualified candidate. Because of this, I have been endorsed over the sitting judge by the following non-partisan organizations: The Houston Chronicle; the Association of Women Attorneys of Houston; the Mexican American Bar Association of Houston; the Pasadena Bar Association; the Houston GLBT Political Caucus; the Harris County AFL-CIO Council.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Mayoral fundraising 2015

Yeah, I know, another post about the 2015 election. I sure am doing a lousy job of not thinking about that just yet, but this raises an interesting point.

Chris Bell

Likely mayoral candidate Chris Bell is asking the city of Houston to reconsider its interpretation of an ordinance that would give Sylvester Turner a major fundraising advantage when he runs for mayor next year.

Bell’s law partner, Geoff Berg, sent City Attorney David Feldman a letter last week arguing that Turner and potential candidate Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia should not be able to raise money for their officeholder accounts and then transfer most of the funds to their mayoral accounts at the start of the race. As detailed in the Chronicle last month, Turner has raised money for his unopposed state legislative race this fall and has plans to eventually transfer the first $5,000 of each donation this winter. That is the limit for individual donations in a city election.

Feldman has signed off on Turner’s plan, but many campaign finance experts do not share his interpretation, instead arguing that candidates should merely be able to make a single $10,000 donation to the mayoral bid from their officeholder account. That is how much an entity like a PAC is allowed to donate under the city’s ordinance.

Bell, like other potential candidates who do not hold non-city offices, is prohibited from raising any money for a mayor’s race until Feb. 1. Berg argues in his letter that this unequal footing is ultimately unfair.

“The Ordinance simply cannot reasonably be read to mean anything other than what it says: the maximum amount which may be transferred from non-city campaign accounts is $10,000,” Berg wrote. “The blackout period was not intended to be a fundraising bonanza for officeholders at the expense of citizens who may wish to get involved in public service.”

The letter from Berg is at the link above. It should be noted that one reason Turner is raising money now is because come January, when the Legislature is in session, he’ll be restricted from doing so by the rules of that body. At least, he’ll be barred from raising money for his State Rep account; I’m actually not sure what the rules would be for him to raise money for a different campaign. It’s probably a can of worms he doesn’t want to have to deal with. Be that as it may, I tend to agree with Texpatriate that a better solution might be to let Bell and the teeming mob of other Mayoral wannabes do their own fundraising now as well. If nothing else, it would help sort out the real candidates from the candidates-only-in-speculative-articles-about-potential-candidates pretty quickly. That would require Council to revisit its 2005 campaign finance reform ordinance, which I feel quite confident saying ain’t gonna happen. I don’t see a compromise that’s likely to be satisfactory to all parties here, so I suspect this issue is going to be decided by a judge. Isn’t that always a great way to kick off a campaign season? Campos has more.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Endorsement watch: Three out of five ain’t bad

The five major papers have made their endorsements in the Governor’s race now. We know about the DMN and their strange belief that it is possible to placate the extremists, so let’s look at the others, starting with the Houston Chronicle:

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

The election in November should not be about abortion or gay marriage or any of the other hot-button issues that campaigns use to ignite the base. It should be about finding a leader with vision and foresight, one who’s willing to tackle tough issues too long ignored. We believe that person is Wendy Davis.

The Republican candidate, Attorney General Greg Abbott, 56, has run a strong campaign, but our fear is that, essentially, he will perpetuate the Perry era, with its fealty to the hard-right social conservative wing of his party.

His Democratic opponent, we believe, will do everything possible to sustain the state’s impressive economic growth, but she also will seek to broaden the state’s focus. We’re confident she’ll work to assure that every Texan has an opportunity to share in the state’s prosperity. And, with Republicans still in the majority in the Legislature, she will have no choice but to reach out to the other side in ways that Abbott is less likely to do.

[...]

If we can’t find leaders willing to engage the hard issues, willing to invest in the state’s future, we’re likely to fall farther behind. Given this prosperous moment in our state’s history, what better time than now to begin living up to our potential? Davis, we believe, will give it a shot.

Whether a Gov. Wendy Davis could get anything done in a state still dominated by a Republican Party fiercely fighting a rear-guard action against social, economic and political change is a question we can’t answer. As a Democrat in this fervid-red state, she faces an uphill battle, to be sure. And yet, there are pivotal moments in political history where the focus shifts and the people decide that enough’s enough. As a senator, Wendy Davis had the courage and strength on more than one occasion not to back down. With challenging times ahead, those same qualities are what we need to lead the state.

After the editorial board wagged a finger at Davis for the wheelchair ad, I was afraid they might endorse Abbott out of petulance. Glad to see I was wrong about that. The Chron also endorsed Republicans for Land Commissioner and Ag Commissioner, so they recommended Dems for the top four offices, and Republicans elsewhere. Which, as I suggested before, might have been a bridge too far for the DMN. Good on you, Chronicle.

The Chron was joined by two other papers in recommending Davis. First up is their sister publication, the Express News.

Texas is in need of decisive leadership that will look at lingering problems in new ways. It’s in need of leadership different from the kind the state has had for much of the last 14 years under Gov. Rick Perry.

Something different than: federal government as boogeyman; responsible regulation of Texas resources and its environment deemed anti-business; international border as threat; raising the minimum wage as anti-jobs; and the notion that public education isn’t in dire need of immediate additional investment.

Because she is simply more on target with solutions to the state’s problems, we recommend Wendy Davis to be Texas’ next governor.

And there’s this: Beyond Texas’ very real infrastructure and funding problems, there’s also need for a fresh look at the state’s notions of fairness.

No, it’s not OK for the state to meddle in who Texans choose to marry on the matter of gay marriage. Nor is it acceptable to get between women and their doctors on abortion.

It is not fair to discriminate against minority voters via voter ID at the ballot box. Or in redistricting to maintain GOP political dominance.

Abbott, defending the state on these cases, has said he is obligated as attorney general to defend Texas laws. But we have not heard anything from the candidate to suggest that his personal views differ from those he espouses as the state’s top lawyer.

There is, of course, a pretty simple explanation for that. I mean, I’m not the only one who remembers that Greg Abbott hired Ted Cruz to be his main litigator, am I? The E-N seems to have a solid grasp of that, so kudos to them as well. With their Friday endorsement of Leticia Van de Putte for Lite Gov – as strong a recommendation as you’ll find, do yourself a favor and read it – the E-N also goes for a full measure of change at the top. They are also the only paper of which I am aware to pick a Dem for one of the lower offices, when they endorsed Steve Brown for Railroad Commissioner.

The other paper to make the right call is the Statesman.

On Nov. 4, Texans will elect a new governor for the first time in 14 years. We think that new governor should be Democrat Wendy Davis.

Davis and her Republican opponent, long-serving Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, offer voters sharp, competing visions for the state’s future. Davis’ positions on education, health care and economic fairness make her the best candidate to meet the looming challenges unparalleled growth has brought the state.

[...]

Abbott’s response when we asked whether he also would veto an attempt to repeal the in-state tuition law was a lawyerly attempt at triangulation. He talked about favoring the law’s concept but said he found the law flawed in its current form and in need of a rewrite.

Abbott, 56, expressed concern that his party’s xenophobic rhetoric on immigration will put off Hispanic voters, whose values he considers consistent with Republican values. He told us he wants to set a tone and vision of inclusion as governor.

The trouble is, Abbott has positioned himself on the tea party end of the Republican spectrum the past several years. So despite producing an admirably detailed policy plan, we’re not confident he is the same candidate we have supported in previous elections.

There was a time we could have assumed Abbott would moderate his party’s worst tendencies on illegal immigration, abortion, same-sex marriage, school choice and other issues, but no more. And recent decisions by his office protecting the source of the state’s execution drugs and clouding information about businesses that store ammonium nitrate and other dangerous chemicals have raised doubts whether he remains an unfailing advocate of open government.

Abbott famously has joked that his typical workday involves going to the office, suing President Barack Obama and the federal government, and going home. Whatever the legal merits of some of Abbott’s lawsuits, he has treated taking on the Obama administration as a game in which political points are scored. The lawsuits symbolize our growing doubts about Abbott.

Good to see them detail the case against Abbott so succinctly. I never cease to be amazed by an editorial board’s willingness to support a candidate they don’t like or used to like on the delusion that said candidate will suddenly stop doing all the things they don’t like once the election is over. You are what your record says you are, in football and in politics. Kudos to the Statesman for recognizing it.

Texas Politics rounds up some other papers’ endorsements. Sam Houston gets a clean sweep, with the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal being the only paper to endorse either Dan Patrick or Glen Hegar.

I figured early on that the endorsements for Governor would be split, and indeed they were. Joining the DMN in going the other way was the Star-Telegram, which made a mostly honest case for Greg Abbott before pulling up short and repeating the DMN’s mistake at the end.

In Davis, Abbott faces a formidable opponent.

A savvy politician with a compelling personal story — despite her campaign’s early stumbles over her biography — she earned a solid reputation in Fort Worth before she rocketed to stardom with her now-famous 2013 filibuster on abortion. During her six years representing District 10 in the Texas Senate, and nine years on the City Council, Davis has served this community well.

As a state legislator, she lead the effort to restore billions of dollars in education funding cut during the 2011 session.

As governor, she proposes a lofty education plan that would expand the state’s pre-K program, increase teacher salaries and expand early college opportunities. But she has declined to put a pricetag on her plan, calling in question its potential viability.

During her time in Austin, she developed a reputation for consensus building, teaming up with Republicans as far afield as Rep. Jonathan Stickland. As a member of the minority party, such collaboration was essential to her political success.

But despite Davis’ history of building bridges in both city and state government, she has run a campaign that is surprisingly divisive and isolating.

We worry that Davis would struggle to effectively represent and serve a state that is still overwhelmingly right of center, without further alienating her party and inciting her opponents.

Yes, we mustn’t actively oppose the wingnuts, as it only encourages them. The Observer has the definitive word on this.

What would a Gov. Davis look like? Well, she would probably have little influence over the Legislature. Assume Davis wins and so does Patrick—Davis would be able to get hardly any of her legislative priorities through. Patrick would be preparing to run against her in 2018, and his Senate would kill or mangle almost anything that bore her personal stamp. But Davis would have a veto which would prevent Patrick’s worst bills and initiatives from getting through.

But the Morning News endorsement anticipates something worse—that the conservative Legislature seizes the levers of state government and goes to war against Davis, refuses to budge on any issue, refuses to put together a budget, refuses to consider new and important legislation, until its demands are met and Davis effectively surrenders. In effect, if the people of the state elect Davis to lead them, conservatives in the Legislature—probably led by Patrick—will take Texas hostage.

So the Morning News’ instinct is to reward the hostage-taker, pay the ransom, and keep the state safely gripped by one-party rule. On the one hand, it feels like a pretty bleak misperception of how small-r republican government is supposed to work. It’s especially odd because the endorsement urges Abbott to be “a moderating influence” for his party—a bit like a liberal urging his radical-left friends to “work inside the system.”

It seems probable that Patrick will be the dominant figure of the 2015 legislative session, not Abbott. It would be very difficult to make the case that a Gov. Abbott will be better at containing Patrick than a Gov. Davis, with a veto stamp and a reason to oppose him openly. It seems like extraordinarily wishful thinking to hope Abbott will turn out to be the state’s version of a Rockefeller Republican.

About as wishful as hoping Sen. Ted Cruz will morph into the second coming of Kay Bailey Hutchison. “Don’t reward the hostage-takers” continues to be sound advice.

Finally, I meant to mention this yesterday, but the League of Women Voters 2014 Guide is now available. Read up and learn, or learn more, about the candidates on your ballot.

UPDATE: Here’s a complete rundown of all Chronicle endorsements, including several races for which they have not yet published the accompanying editorial.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Weekend link dump for October 19

On dealing with horrible bosses, in Hollywood and elsewhere.

We’re using less gasoline. This is a good thing.

“I have a friend who is a police officer and he never watches police procedurals. Even in the years when the Law & Order franchise owned the soul of NBC he wasn’t ever tempted to tune in. He says that he gets too frustrated watching the show get all the details of his job wrong and it just saps all the enjoyment out of watching tv. I never understood his position; there were never any dancing babies in my legal career, yet I was able to enjoy the escapism of Ally McBeal. But watching HTGAWM, I finally understood. There is something just so scream-worthy about a show that can’t bother to even get the basics right.”

I for one welcome our snake-bot overlords.

How not to sound like an idiot when talking about Ebola.

“People dressed as clowns are causing a stir in California’s San Joaquin Valley.”

“Here are five reasons why personal-injury attorneys and insurers should be very, very afraid of autonomous cars.”

“This is a stunning change in the way the Catholic church speaks of gay people”. See The Slacktivist for more on that that really means.

RIP, Tommy Lewis, the Alabama football player who made the famous off-the-bench tackle of Rice’s Dicky Moegle in the 1954 Cotton Bowl.

So now we have Ebola conspiracy theories, which guarantees that no matter what else happens, we’ll all be stupider by the time this plays out.

If only we hadn’t cut the NIH budget. Anyone up for another Ice Bucket Challenge?

Clearly, tighter border security is called for.

“There’s nothing on Orman’s agenda that isn’t on the agenda of every aspiring Democrat who’d get run out of town as a crypto-Socialist in red America. But call yourself an independent, and suddenly it all sounds so sensible.”

As an Italian who grew up in New York, Columbus Day is in my bones. Nevertheless, I can totally get behind this.

If only Jesse Helms had lived to see the legalization of same sex marriage in North Carolina.

The relativity effect on batted balls.

I’d been thinking about giving Jimmy John’s a try, but based on how they treat their employees, I think I’ll stick with Which Wich and Subway.

Go read Ed Kilgore and Judge Richard Posner on the fraud of voter ID.

President Obama’s nominee to lead the civil rights division of the Justice Department is the current director of the ACLU’s Center for Justice and an advocate for legalizing marijuana.

“So while nuttery can be found on the left and right, it is not a bipartisan problem at the national level.”

RIP, Elizabeth Pena, actress whose role I liked best was in the movie “Lone Star”.

Will HBO standalone be the end of cable – or TV – as we know it?

“To put it bluntly: we’ve entrusted our national medical system to the managerial competence and goodwill of the Rick Scotts of the world, and that is much scarier than a podium fan.”

There’s wrong, there’s embarrassingly wrong, and then there’s Amity Shlaes.

“Here is the reality: If judges fear multimillion-dollar campaigns against them, they will have to raise millions themselves, or quietly engineer campaigns by others to do so. Who will contribute, or lead those efforts?”

The fallout from the Shellshock vulnerability may last well beyond the patching stage.

Apparently, Texas’ tort “reform” law is stronger than Ebola.

RIP, Tim Hauser, founder of and visionary behind the legendary jazz vocal group The Manhattan Transfer.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

SCOTUS declines to intervene on voter ID

Unfortunate.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Supreme Court said Saturday that Texas can use its controversial new voter identification law for the November election.

A majority of the justices rejected an emergency request from the Justice Department and civil rights groups to prohibit the state from requiring voters to produce certain forms of photo identification in order to cast ballots. Three justices dissented.

The law was struck down by a federal judge last week, but a federal appeals court had put that ruling on hold. The judge found that roughly 600,000 voters, many of them black or Latino, could be turned away at the polls because they lack acceptable identification. Early voting in Texas begins Monday.

The Supreme Court’s order was unsigned, as it typically is in these situations. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented, saying they would have left the district court decision in place.

“The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” Ginsburg wrote in dissent.

[...]

The court had intervened in three other disputes in recent weeks over Republican-inspired restrictions on voting access. In Wisconsin, the justices blocked a voter ID law from being used in November. In North Carolina and Ohio, the justices allowed limits on same-day registration, early voting and provisional ballots to take or remain in effect.

Ginsburg said the Texas case was different from the clashes in North Carolina and Ohio because a federal judge held a full trial on the Texas election procedures and developed “an extensive record” finding the process discriminated against ballot access.

The order came out early Saturday morning, which makes SCOTUSBlog‘s analysis of it, published at 5:32 AM, all the more impressive. Look, this sucks, but let’s not fall into despair over it. We hadn’t expected there to be a ruling on voter ID before the election, which is why the good guys have been preparing for it to be in place. Neither the Fifth Circuit ruling nor the SCOTUS ruling has anything to do with the merits of Judge Ramos’ opinion. That will come later, as well as a ruling on whether or not Texas should be put back under preclearance via Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. Feel angry all you want about this, but please don’t feel depressed. That just plays into the suppressionists’ hands. PDiddie, Nonsequiteuse, the Texas Election Law Blog, and Newsdesk have more.

What effect will this actually have? It’s hard to say, and no, the earlier elections we had, with turnouts less than ten percent and involving the hardest of the hardcore voters, don’t suggest anything. It would be nice to have some objective data, and we may get it this time around.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro requested Friday that the Government Accountability Office analyze voter turnout in Texas this year to determine if the state’s voter identification law – which earlier this week was reinstated by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – disproportionately impacts the voter turnout of minorities.

In his letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, the San Antonio Democrat asked the GAO to compare voter turnout in Texas to other states; analyze the cost and prevalence of various forms of identification; examine voter outreach; and determine the pervasiveness of in-person voter fraud.

“Regardless of political posturing, the essence of democracy rests in the right to vote – when that right is threatened so is our democracy and freedom,” Castro wrote in his letter.

[...]

The Government Accountability Office said it did receive Castro’s letter but would not make a decision for a few weeks on whether to investigate.

We’ll see what happens. I doubt actual data will sway proponents’ opinions, but it would still be nice to have. Regardless, bring your ID when you vote, and remember that only by voting in sufficient numbers can we prevent terrible laws like that from being passed. Early voting hours and locations for Harris County are here. For those of you in my neck of the woods, please note that the Moody Park location is open again after having been closed for the past two elections due to construction. I’ll be keeping track of the daily totals as they get posted. On the absentee ballot front, there have been 32,128 mail ballots returned so far, with the analysis showing that Democrats in Harris County have the lead. As we have discussed before, that’s a testament to the HCDP’s mail ballot program. I’ll be very interested to see what those numbers look like when they get posted at 7 PM on November 4.

Posted in: Election 2014, Legal matters.

Voter registration numbers top 14 million

Sweet.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

More than 14 millions Texans have registered to vote in the November elections, the secretary of state’s office announced Thursday, calling the number a record high.

The total marks an increase of 2.8 percent since the most recent presidential contest and 5.7 percent since the last time candidates for governor were on the ballot.

More attention than usual is being paid to voter registration this year. Groups such as Battleground Texas have been working to “expand the electorate” to make the state competitive for Democrats.

Oct. 6 was the last day to register to vote. Early voting begins Monday for the elections on Nov. 4.

Far as I can tell, that’s based on this tweet from the Secretary of State’s office. They have not yet updated their Turnout and Voter Registration Figures page, but we do have this page, which gives the total enrollment number as 14,025,441, as well as suspense file numbers and a county-by-county breakdown. I’ll get to the latter in a second, but first here’s a look at the numbers over time:

Date Reg voters % of VAP ============================== Mar 06 12,722,671 76.47 Nov 06 13,074,279 78.58 Mar 08 12,752,417 71.90 Nov 08 13,575,062 76.54 Mar 10 13,023,358 69.31 Nov 10 13,269,233 71.00 Mar 12 13,065,425 71.47 Nov 12 13,646,226 74.65 Mar 14 13,601,324 71.91 Nov 14 14,025,441 74.15

So the number of registered voters is up about a million from this time in 2010. That’s five times the growth from November 2006 to November 2010. Not too shabby. How it translates into turnout and what that turnout looks like is of course still to be determined. But as noted, this was one of the key pillars of the Battleground Texas plan. It’s encouraging to see that this part of it has worked as well as it has so far.

And because I can never leave it at that, here are the 20 counties that saw the greatest increase in registrations since 2010:

County 2014 Voter Reg 2010 Voter Reg Reg Diff ================================================== HARRIS 2,062,792 1,937,850 124,942 TARRANT 999,687 936,735 62,952 COLLIN 485,406 424,672 60,734 DALLAS 1,203,513 1,145,427 58,086 FORT BEND 363,147 309,026 54,121 BEXAR 957,110 905,859 51,251 TRAVIS 655,056 604,374 50,682 DENTON 407,040 364,593 42,447 WILLIAMSON 271,612 237,763 33,849 MONTGOMERY 281,496 249,954 31,542 EL PASO 403,979 379,727 24,252 HIDALGO 318,772 296,510 22,262 BELL 168,877 154,566 14,311 BRAZORIA 183,488 170,784 12,704 CAMERON 186,563 174,188 12,375 GUADALUPE 84,076 74,783 9,293 GALVESTON 191,961 182,802 9,159 COMAL 82,137 73,750 8,387 HAYS 106,581 98,210 8,371 ELLIS 93,126 84,991 8,135

Some of that is the effect of plain old population growth, but it’s still pretty impressive. Note this doesn’t take into account the effect of the suspense files – go here and click on the “I don’t remember seeing my certificate lately. Is that a problem? Don’t I just stay registered?” question for details – but I don’t know how to factor that in, so I’ll just go with this. We’ll have some idea of the turnout effect beginning Monday. In the meantime, make sure you and everyone you know will be voting.

Posted in: Election 2014.

From the “Simple answers to simple questions” department

The Statesman asks “Would Dan Patrick’s tax plan lower your taxes?”

Efforts to shift toward sales tax in lieu of property and income taxes have in recent years gained momentum in Republican-led states — even as economists warn that this sort of tax reform is likely to harm the majority of taxpayers.

Economists point out that sales tax is highly regressive, meaning its net result is savings for wealthy people, who enjoy a lower tax rate overall; poor and middle class taxpayers, however, pay more tax as a proportion of their income and thus bear a heavier burden for funding government services.

Texas’ tax system is already considered regressive because it doesn’t levy a personal income tax and instead relies heavily on sales tax, the state’s single biggest source of nonfederal income, $27.4 billion in fiscal 2014.

Counting both sales and property taxes, Texans who earn less than $19,000 a year are taxed an average of 12.6 percent of their income, according to a 2013 study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.

The institute found that a family earning $32,000 to $52,000 — the middle 20 percent — will be taxed an average of 8.8 percent of their income. The top 1 percent of earners, those earning $437,000 or more, are taxed a much lower average of 3.6 percent.

Matt Gardner, executive director of the nonprofit institute, says this disparity will likely worsen if sales tax is increased to buy down local property taxes, as Patrick has proposed.

“Unless you have some way to offset the increase in sales tax, it’s pretty clear that this is going to hurt low-income people,” Gardner said.

[...]

The Lone Star Card piece of Patrick’s plan appears similar to a failed 2005 proposal, which was nixed from tax reform legislation that cut property taxes paid to school districts and swapped that funding with state sales taxes. This is the measure that allowed the state to cut $5 billion to public schools in later years and spurred a protracted court battle between school districts and the state (a state district judge, citing several reasons, ruled for the second time in August that this financing scheme unconstitutional).

The nixed piece of that plan was a proviso to raise the sales tax rate from 6.25 percent to 6.75 percent, along with a package of other excise taxes and tweaks that would have replaced $4.3 billion in property taxes with $4.8 billion in other taxes.

In the same way that Patrick touts his tax plan would either result in a net neutral or net reduction in total taxes paid by Texans, the Legislative Budget Board in 2005 calculated the fiscal impact of that swap would result in a “net reduction to individuals.”

But beneath that neutrality — the total amount of taxes paid wouldn’t increase — is a stark disparity in distribution. Those with annual incomes in the low $10,000s, the board calculated, would have paid $8.1 million more in taxes by 2007. Middle-income taxpayers, those earning from the $40,000s to low $50,000s, would have paid $151 million more.

Those at the highest income level, $140,000 a year and up? They would have seen a $212 million decrease in their tax liability.

Remember the Legislative Budget Board analysis of that 2005 tax swap plan? It has the answer to the question posed above: Unless you’re in the top five percent, your taxes will be going up. There’s nothing complicated about this. In any “revenue neutral” tax plan, some people win and some people lose. Is anyone surprised at who the winners and losers are in Dan Patrick’s world? I guarantee, this will still be the case when he inevitably comes up with a plan that gets scored as a net tax cut. It will be a big cut for a small number of people, and at best a wash if not an outright increase for everyone else. It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t specified any details yet. They don’t really matter to him anyway – it’s the big picture that counts. This is who he is, and this is what he wants. It’s right there in plain sight.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Classic hip-hop

I got a good chuckle out of this.

News 92 FM, which until last week was the home of veteran newscasters J.P. Pritchard and Lana Hughes, is now Boom 92.1 FM, home of Geto Boys, Beastie Boys, Snoop Dogg and Run-D.M.C.

Radio One, which owns three FM stations in Houston, at 5 p.m. Monday launched what it describes as the nation’s first major-market classic hip hop station on KROI (92.1 FM), which last Wednesday dropped its all-news format and filled out the week playing Beyonce songs.

It’s the newest entry in what remains a competitive but fragmented Houston radio marketplace in terms of dominant formats, and the second urban entry to debut this year, joining IHeartMedia’s KQBT (93.7 FM), which replaced classic rocker KKRW in January.

[...]

“We went from one Houston legend to another Houston legend,” said Doug Abernethy, Radio One’s Houston general manager.

Radio One also operates urban formats at KMJQ (102.1 FM) and KBXX (97.9 FM), which ranked No. 2 and No. 4, respectively, among all Houston stations among listeners 12-plus in the most recent Nielsen Audio ratings, so the addition of a third urban format was not a surprise.

“It solidifies our commitment to urban radio,” Abernethy said. “Hip hop really started in the late 1970s, and we now have better than two decades of music to play.

“If you put it in general terms, you have rock and classic rock stations, country stations and classic country, and the hip hop format has now generated enough history to produce a classic hip hop station.”

Featured artists and songs on Boom 92.1 FM, whose website is boom92houston.com, also will include Salt-N-Pepa (“Push It”), The Notorious B.I.G. (“Hypnotize”), and Queen Latifah (“U.N.I.T.Y.”)

Abernethy expects Boom 92.1 FM to be strongest among listeners ages 25-44, at the younger end of the adults 25-54 demographic that is one of the key buying markets.

Judging by my Facebook feed, I’d say they have a decent start on the 35-44 demographic. Nothing says “impending middle age” like having the music of your youth turned into a “classic” radio format, am I right? I’ve never been a hip-hop fan, but then I was never much of a fan of 80s pop music back in the day, and now my favorite satellite radio station is Sirius First Wave – classic alternative, yo. So who knows, maybe I’ll like hip-hop more now that it’s achieved elder status. Stranger things have happened; I’ll have to give it a listen at some point and see.

So good luck to Boom 92, and for those of you that enjoy this sort of thing, I hope it’s something you’ll like. My one word of caution would be that in my experience, all terrestrial limited-format radio stations eventually begin to suck, for the simple reason that they overdo it. What I mean by this is that over time they all seem to pare down their playlists to the point where any regular listener would be likely to get sick of the same old songs over and over again. It was the case with classic rock, it was the case with “classic 80s” stations like The Point, and it was the case with “like an iPod on shuffle” station Jack FM, which basically boiled down to a combination of the other two. What I said before about “classic rock” stations will, I suspect, hold true for “classic hip-hop”, sooner or later. Maybe I just don’t have any faith in corporate radio to deliver anything remotely fresh or original. Maybe I’m just too far outside the mainstream on this. Whatever the case, I’m becoming convinced that any terrestrial station that doesn’t mix in at least some new music is doomed to eventual mediocrity. Sirius, to its credit, at least has a playlist big enough to keep me from getting bored with First Wave so far, but I’ve only been listening for a few months. Ask me again in a year and I’ll let you know if it still holds true. I wish you Boom 92 listeners a good experience, but I’d advise you to prepare for disappointment down the line. Gray Matters has more.

Posted in: Music.

Saturday video break: Desperado

A live performance by the Eagles during one of their reunion tours.

Can someone explain to me why music writers seem to all hate these guys? I don’t get it. Anyway, the country roots of this song are easy to see, and it was featured on a collection of Eagles covers by country artists called Common Threads. Here’s Clint Black singing it, as he did on that album:

If you want to combine “country version” with “artists lots of people seem to hate” there’s always the Carrie Underwood version. I’ll let you click over to see that one, not because I hate Carrie Underwood – I have no strong feelings about her – but because there’s not much variety in these renditions. The Johnny Cash cover isn’t any different an arrangement, but it is Johnny Cash, so:

He really picked a meaningful set of songs to tackle on his last albums, didn’t he? Rest in peace, Johnny.

Posted in: Music.

City files amended petitions

From the inbox:

RedEquality

As follow up to a promise made earlier in the week, the City of Houston has revised its subpoenas in the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) repeal petition case. The disputed request has been narrowed to focus solely on communications related to HERO and the petition gathering process. There is no mention whatsoever of pastors sermons.

“The original subpoenas for sermons that were filed by pro bono attorneys helping the city prepare for the January trial in this case were far too broad,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “I support the right of the clergy to say whatever they want to say, even if I disagree with them. This is not about what they may be preaching from the pulpit. It is about proving that the petition gathering process organized by these pastors did not meet the requirements of the City Charter. This information is critical to proving the city’s contention that the petition was ineligible for placement on the ballot and that the organizers knew this.”

The city is seeking information from just five pastors who were at the forefront of organizing the petition drive: Pastor Hernan Castano, Ms. Magda Hermida, Pastor Khan Huynh, Pastor Steve Riggle and Pastor David Welch. The revised subpoenas now call for all speeches or presentations related to HERO or the petition prepared by, delivered by, revised by or approved by them or in their possession.

According to the City Charter, a valid petition must contain enough signatures of registered voters to at least equal 10 percent of the total votes cast in the last mayoral election. Each signature must be accompanied by the printed name, address, voter registration number or date of birth and the date signed. Anyone who collected signatures must also have personally signed the petition and have appeared before a notary to acknowledge under oath that the signatures were made in their presence. Thousands of the signatures submitted with the HERO petition failed to meet one or more of these requirements and had to be disregarded. As a result, the petition could not be placed before voters. HERO opponents have filed suit against the city in an effort to reverse this decision and force the issue onto the ballot. The case is set for trial in January.

The press release document is here. One would think this would be the end of it, but that would depend on the opposition being honorable. I wouldn’t count on that.

Conservative leader Jared Woodfill, one of four plaintiffs in the suit, said the revision does not go far enough. The city needs to withdraw any subpoena related to pastors or religious institutions, he said, arguing Houston can build its case from the documents already subpoenaed from the plaintiffs, such as information about the people who circulated the petitions.

“The mayor needs to get the city out of the business of subpoenaing churches. There’s absolutely no reason for this city to be trampling on the First Amendment rights of these pastors,” Woodfill said. “It starts with these five, and then who’s next? There were pastors all across the state talking about the HERO ordinance.”

Woodfill’s thoughts were echoed by national conservative groups.

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins called the revision a “head-fake” that does not remove the city’s infringement of religious liberties, and Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Erik Stanley said the revision “solves nothing.”

Any time the Liar Tony Perkins is involved, you can throw honor and decency out the window. And if Jared Woodfill doesn’t like getting subpoenaed, he can drop the lawsuit. It wasn’t the city that started this fight, after all. I’m glad the city made this adjustment, but everyone needs to chill and the plaintiffs and their sycophants need to get over themselves. Statements from Equality Texas and the Houston GLBT Political Caucus are beneath the fold, and Texas Monthly has more.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Legal matters.

DA race developments

Couple of stories of interest relating to the District Attorney’s race. First, DA Devon Anderson announced the creation of a special court to handle prostitution cases.

Devon Anderson

A new program Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson announced on Thursday targets prostitutes, offering some arrested the opportunity to get out of the world’s oldest profession.

Surrounded by representatives of women’s advocacy groups, Anderson said a program she is implementing, called Safe Court, will help young adults from 17 to 25 who are arrested on misdemeanor prostitution charges in the same way Harris County’s drug courts and other specialty courts work.

“Research has shown that sending the people who are involved in prostitution to jail does not give them the tools to break free from the prostitution business,” Anderson said at a news conference. “We need to recognize that they are long-time victims of abuse and neglect and many have very serious addiction issues.”

[...]

Anderson, appointed in September 2013 to take over the office after the death of her husband, Mike Anderson, has pushed for more focus on illegal trafficking. Mike Anderson created a human trafficking division at the office and hired a special prosecutor to go after those who profit from trafficking and pimping.

Devon Anderson has added a prosecutor and an investigator to the division. On Thursday, she said prostitutes are manipulated by traffickers through intimidation and violence.

“You have to break the connection between the prostitute and the pimp, or the prostitute and the owner,” Anderson said. “Get them to a safe place and help them work on all of their issues.”

She said a specialty court has the resources to individually help prostitutes with drug or alcohol addictions, long-time trauma, a lack of education and other problems.

“Specialty courts in this courthouse work,” Anderson said.

I approve of this idea. Prostitution is a big problem in some parts of the county, and a lot of other crime is associated with the presence of prostitution activity. That doesn’t mean shipping prostitutes off to jail is a good solution, however. Anderson is right that rehab >> punishment in these cases, and that working to help these women is the right way to go. I look forward to seeing what this new court can do.

Meanwhile, Kim Ogg is focusing on burglary.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Harris County District Attorney candidate Kim Ogg on Tuesday rolled out a plan to automatically send convicted burglars to jail, the same day GOP incumbent Devon Anderson unleashed TV and radio ads in which she promised to put criminals in jail or send them to their death.

Being tough on crime appears to be the new focus each candidate has decided to take since they last month outlined their approach to another issue – marijuana.

After both unveiled platforms for leniency for low-level marijuana charges, they want to convey they are not soft on crime because, three weeks from the election, the race is becoming competitive, political analysts said.

“The focus is on a relatively small share of (Republican) voters who are willing to split their ticket,” said Mark Jones, chair of the Political Science Department at Rice University.

“For Anderson,” Jones said, “the key is retaining them as Republican voters, and Ogg’s challenge is to convince them that they can confidently split tickets and not have to worry about her being ‘soft on crime.’ ”

[...]

A representative for Anderson said Ogg’s proposal is not a change, at least when it comes to home burglaries.

“Burglary of a habitation is already a no probation/no deferred adjudication policy,” said Sara Marie Kinney, a spokeswoman for Anderson. “It has been for 30 years.”

She also said the elected district attorney has little control over whether police agencies solve the cases, so the number of burglaries reported far exceeds the number of cases brought to the DA’s office.

However, Ogg said the district attorney has the ability to coordinate criminal investigations countywide and the budget to back it up.

“Our DA’s office needs to lead on the issue of burglary,” she said. “It’s our job to set law enforcement priorities, and we are going to be using assets seized by crooks to catch more crooks.”

In the first article above, Ogg charged that Anderson has the lowest prosecution rate for burglaries over the past six years. Her proposal is to not offer probation plea deals to burglary suspects. I’m not a big fan of taking hard lines like that, and I suspect that reality will intrude on it one way or another. That said, I do agree with putting a higher priority on burglary cases – Lord knows, the people in my neighborhood have been complaining mightily about break-ins and thefts for months now – and I do think the DA can take a leadership role in that. More to the point, this fits with the idea of putting less emphasis on minor drug crimes, since one of the points of that was to free up prosecution resources to focus on other issues.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

First steps in Montgomery County

You can’t win a race if you don’t have a candidate.

Michael Hayles

Democrat Michael Hayles says Montgomery County’s poor have to balance some tough choices, and he extends his arms in a rocking motion to make the point.

“Do I get cars fixed or do I buy food for my family?” Hayles said.

Hayles has been working with the poor for years and now hopes to take that experience to Austin. A candidate for the state legislature, Hayles, 58, is the only Democrat running for office in Montgomery County, one of the most conservative regions in the country.

He is also the first candidate to run against a Republican in the county in six years. No Democrat has beaten a Republican in more than two decades.

While Conroe native Will Metcalf said he is confident he can build on the momentum of his May primary victory and maintain the GOP’s winning streak, Hayles hopes to defy experts, history and fundraising barriers by getting more of those in need to vote.

“They’ve been ignored enough by local politicians,” Hayles said.

The 16th state House district, which is just north of The Woodlands and encompasses the cities of Conroe and Montgomery and communities as far east as Cut and Shoot, was represented by Brandon Creighton, who was elected to the state Senate in a special election last August.

Hayles said he plans to meet with community groups in poorer, outlying areas of the district like Dobbin and Deerwood. He tells residents that he’ll look after their interests.

The Democrat said he will focus on enabling those in need to get jobs through education and also use public dollars to invest in the area’s infrastructure. Texas’s budget surplus needs to be invested in education instead of tax breaks, he said.

Running for office at any level and in any geographic entity is difficult, but some races are tougher than others. To put this race into perspective, Bill White scored 22.48% in HD16 in 2010. Farther down the ballot, Hector Uribe, the Democratic candidate for Land Commissioner, scored 15.40%. Let’s just say this is a long-term project and go from there. Still, the first step on this thousand-mile journey is finding good people to take on this thankless task, and have them find and talk to the people that have been left out by the dominant political culture. I’m sure the vast majority of the people he talks to, however many of them he does get to, will not have had that experience before. That’s important, and it’s something that candidates and groups like Battleground Texas and the Texas Organizing Project can build on. I’ll be interested to see how Hayles does in comparison to that benchmark.

Like I said, Step One is to engage the people that live there and work to turn them into voters. This Chron story from a couple of weeks ago gave another peek into that in Montgomery County.

As accordion-heavy music played in the background, Lucia Mendez hunched over an electronic voting machine under a canopy, learning about the displays and controls she would see on Election Day.

Mendez, 19, said she had never voted before. But on Sunday, at a festival put on by the Montgomery County Democratic Party geared toward the region’s growing Latino population, Mendez registered to vote for the first time.

“If you want something to change you’ve got to be part of it,” Mendez said at the Conroe park where the event was held.

In one of the most conservative regions in the country, where whites dominate most political offices, community leaders say that Hispanics such as Mendez have felt perpetually disenfranchised even though they now make up one-fifth of the population.

Both major parties are trying to tap into the potential Latino voter base, with Democrats hoping they can tip the scale in a county that has been red for decades and Republicans looking to strengthen their supremacy.

Mendez said she wouldn’t commit to a party. But for Democrats in Montgomery County, just recruiting Hispanic voters like Mendez, who lives in Willis and feels strongly about immigration issues, to register is a victory.

“We want them all to come out and vote,” said Bruce Barnes, the county’s Democratic Party chairman.

Over the last 15 years, the Hispanic population in the county has nearly tripled, from around 37,000 in 2000 to more than 100,000 people in 2013, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. People of Hispanic or Latino origin make up more than 20 percent of the county of 500,000, up from 13 percent in 2000, according to the most recent estimates.

Texas will be Massachusetts by the time Montgomery becomes a swing county, but that doesn’t mean efforts like these aren’t important. Turning Montgomery from a 75% GOP county to a 65% county would be a big step forward. Going back to the 2010 Governor’s race, if Bill White had lost by a 65-35 margin there, he would have netted a bit more than 25,000 extra votes. At that less hopeless level, you can seriously talk about winning municipal races, and build a bit of a bench with an eye towards a State Rep seat or a County Commissioner post. This is what the Republicans were doing all over the state forty and fifty years ago. No time like the present for the Democrats to be doing it as well.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Endorsement watch: DMN drops the ball

The Dallas Morning News got off to a good start as it wrapped up its election endorsements by making the crystal-clear case for Leticia Van de Putte.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

There are a couple of ways to keep your house warm this winter. You could choose the reliable heater you’ve known for years. Or you could keep gasoline and matches handy next to a fire pit you dig in the living room.

Most of us are going to pick the heater. The other choice seems … reckless.

Your vote for lieutenant governor isn’t so different. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a San Antonio Democrat, has been a steady legislative hand for two decades. Her opponent, Republican Sen. Dan Patrick, is potentially explosive, impact unclear.

[...]

It’s often hard to know whether Patrick, 64, says what he means and means what he says. He’s a great talker, even a fast talker. Many Democrats find him distasteful, but even some prominent Republicans describe him as untrustworthy.

And when he says things like he pushed to restore funding for Texas schools, double-check. Patrick did seek to restore $1.5 billion of some $5.4 billion in education funds lost in 2011. But when the Senate passed a budget that restored $3.4 billion to Texas’ schoolchildren, Patrick voted no. Tommy Williams, the Senate’s Republican finance chairman at the time, concluded that Patrick was looking out for his political interests over the state’s policy concerns.

Texas’ most conservative voters might be attracted to Patrick’s tough talk about illegal immigrants and his anti-government image. But business-minded Texans might ask what they are really getting in him.

Big talk might be impressive. Quiet results are better.

It would be nice to think that “business-minded Texans” might view this race in that fashion, but as is typical of them the Texas Association of Business has endorsed Patrick, because of course the promise of tax cuts – any tax cuts – easily trumps whatever bromides they tend to burble on about regarding education or immigration reform. But hey, the choice is yours, and no one can say we won’t know what we’re getting.

And then the followed it up with this:

Texas Republicans’ hard-right swing in recent years is troubling. Too many Texans feel alienated by a ruling party that seems indifferent, for example, to the plight of the working poor, the uninsured or youths caught through no fault of their own in immigration limbo.

As governor, Abbott must be a moderating influence and guide a realignment of his party. He has outlined plans that could advance that effort. Where Davis would be likely to encounter ideological battles at every turn, Abbott has the best chance to inspire legislative progress.

Davis has fought valiantly. But for all her progressive promise, and alignment with this newspaper on many issues, Texas cannot afford to provoke the kind of partisan stalemate her victory would probably bring, much like the gridlock that has paralyzed Washington. As much as Texas needs to counterbalance its GOP hard-liners, we fear Davis would only invigorate them.

Wayne and Noah have appropriately indignant responses, so I’ll leave that part of this to them. What I will add is that this smells exactly like the DMN editorial board realizing they had endorsed Democrats in the other three top slots and deciding they didn’t want to deal with the blowback that would come from going with their preferred choice. This election, more than most, comes down to “stay the course” versus “it’s time for a change”. One can certainly make an honest and consistent case for staying the course. I’ll argue with you till our faces turn blue if you do, but that’s politics. What the DMN did here doesn’t even rise to the level of sophistry. It’s pure cowardice, and they should be ashamed of themselves. Intellectually, it’s on par with endorsing Ted Cruz in 2012 on the hope that he might forsake everything he said on the campaign trail and turn into Kay Bailey Hutchison 2.0 once sworn in. They know it’s a pile of crap, everyone reading it knows it’s a pile of crap, and yet there they go printing it anyway. How proud they must be of that endorsement.

I didn’t expect Davis to dominate the endorsements as VdP, Sam Houston, and Mike Collier have. Seeing this turd from the DMN makes me think we might be in for a long weekend of more of the same, for the same reasons. On that note, here’s the Star-Telegram’s endorsement of Van de Putte.

Van de Putte is better suited to be lieutenant governor.

Patrick could very well be running for Texas secretary of defense, if there were such an office, since his emphasis in the campaign is to “defend” his fellow Texans — against threats on the border and in sanctuary cities; dangers on college campuses due to guns being banned there; intrusions from Washington, D.C., particularly by President Barack Obama; and those who threaten “life and traditional marriage.”

He says his top priority will be to protect the state’s southern border, which he insists is being overrun not only by illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America and by vicious drug cartels, but also by Islamic State terrorists who “threaten to cross our border and kill Americans.”

Van de Putte, who proclaims herself a “pro-business Democrat,” describes her opponent as practicing the “politics of fear.”

A mother of six with six grandchildren, Van de Putte criticizes Patrick for wanting to increase the state sales tax as a way to bring down property taxes, and for voting against more funding for public schools while advocating state-supported vouchers for private schools.

“Where Dan Patrick sees our schools and students as an expense, I see them as an investment,” she told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board.

[...]

Texas deserves a strong, reasoned, hardworking and fair individual serving in this top administrative and legislative position.

The Star-Telegram Editorial Board recommends Leticia Van de Putte for lieutenant governor.

As with the others, they go this one right. What will the four non-DMN papers do with the top race? I recommend they read what the Austin Chronicle has to say before they begin typing, but I won’t hold my breath in anticipation.

Elsewhere, the Chron makes its biennial plea for someone, anyone, to rid them of the curse that is John Culberson.

District 7: James Cargas

After seven terms in the congressional seat once held by George Bush, John Culberson remains a backbencher in Washington, more follower than leader. The 58-year-old congressman has marginalized himself by clinging to an antiquated view of government and being more right-wing bomb-thrower than builder. The self-proclaimed “Jeffersonian Republican” has pandered to Obama-hating “birthers,” cavalierly supported government shutdowns and taken up Tom DeLay’s mantle as chief saboteur of Houston’s light rail system. In the 7th district, which goes from Bellaire through the Galleria to the Energy Corridor then north to Jersey Village, it’s time for a change. We endorse Democratic challenger James Cargas, who also ran in 2012. Cargas, 48, is a reasoned moderate more interested in working for the common good than scoring empty political points. He has worked in Congress, the White House, the Department of Energy and currently is Mayor Annise Parker’s “energy” lawyer. He supports light rail, reasonable immigration policy and energy development, including fracking, a big issue in a district thick with oil companies. Unlike Culberson, he’ll be a constructive force in Congress, which would be a welcome change.

Clip and save for 2016 and beyond, that’s my advice. And finally, to end on an even more ridiculous note than the DMN’s hare-brained endorsement of Greg Abbott, I give you this. You’re welcome.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Friday random ten: V for Victory

I’m never sure with these higher-scoring Scrabble letters if I can get ten artist or band names out of them, but V presented no problems.

1. Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love – Van Halen
2. And It Stoned Me – Van Morrison
3. Turning Japanese – The Vapors
4. White Boots – Vaughan Brothers
5. Rock and Roll – Velvet Underground
6. Turn The Beat Around – Vicki Sue Robinson
7. Harbor – Vienna Teng
8. Y.M.C.A. – Village People
9. Linus And Lucy – Vince Guaraldi Trio
10. Add It Up – Violent Femmes

That’s a pretty solid playlist there. Sometimes these lists include a few of my more obscure tunes, but all ten here are ones I can easily conjure up in my mind. Good way to go into the weekend.

Posted in: Music.

Judicial Q&A: Tanner Garth

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Tanner Garth

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Tanner Garth. I am the Democratic candidate for the 281st Civil District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Civil District Courts have a very broad jurisdiction. They basically hear all cases other than family law, probate, juvenile and criminal cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have been very fortunate in my law practice and I feel very strongly the desire to give back to the system that has given me so much. I am passionate about the law and the critical right we all have to have our disputes resolved in an orderly and fair process by a jury. I have watched our system of justice come under attack by those who seek to manipulate the system to protect or insulate themselves from responsibility for their actions. I want to fight to protect our constitutionally guaranteed right to trial by jury and feel that I can best do so from within the system. I believe that our Trial Court Judges are in place in large part to protect the rights of those who come before them.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I received my undergraduate degree in History from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, in 1979. In college I was a member of the Student Senate, a resident assistant and both the pledge class and fraternity President of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity. I received my J.D. from South Texas College of Law in 1987. I excelled in law school where I was a member of The South Texas Law Review, The Order of the Lytae for legal scholarship, The Order of the Barristers for excellence in courtroom advocacy, principal advocate on the National Mock Trial Team and I graduated Cum Laude near the top of my class. I immediately took and passed the Bar Exam and began my legal practice.

In my career I have had the opportunity and privilege to represent both plaintiffs and defendants in a wide variety of cases in varied forums. The types of cases I have handled and tried to conclusion include: divorce and child custody, personal injury (for both plaintiff and defendant), commercial disputes, insurance coverage, oil and gas, whistleblower, libel and slander, mass torts, mass nuisance, construction defect and mass construction defect, product liability, environmental contamination, drug and nursing home and both medical and legal malpractice and many others. This experience has been gained throughout Texas in both Federal and State Courts. I am Board Certified in personal injury trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I am or have been a member of the State Bar of Texas, Houston Bar Association, Houston Trial Lawyers Association (director), Texas Trial Lawyers Association (director) and the American Association of Justice. I am very proud to have been recognized by my peers by being selected to be a member of The American Board of Trial Advocates. I was an adjunct professor at South Texas College of Law teaching trial skills for three years. I have completed the A.A. White Mediation Course and also have begun serving as an arbitration neutral. My practice has been balanced and successful. I will take that excellence and experience to the bench.

5. Why is this race important?

All of the judicial races are important. Citizens come to these courts to protect their rights, property and even their families and future. The Judges that sit on these benches must have the background and capability to fairly preside over these matters which, to the participants, are often of “life and death” importance. We must elect judges who can step into these vital roles immediately, command the respect of the attorneys and parties who come before them and be prepared from day one.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the only candidate in this race with the necessary trial experience, life experience and career background to excel as a trial court judge. Becoming a judge is not a last-minute whim or a career fallback. For me, it is a long time goal and one I have prepared myself for through my education, experience and career. I have worked hard and will continue to work hard to be a source of pride to the party and a champion of the party’s principals and goals. I am a lifelong Democrat and have given freely of myself to support the party and its members. Our trial court judges must have the temperament and demeanor to treat all who come before them with courtesy, respect and dignity. Due to my background and experience, I have this temperament and demeanor. I will return civility to the 281st District Court.

Posted in: Election 2014.

The outrage machine is fully engaged

We’ll see how long they can keep it up.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

A legal battle between the city of Houston and religious leaders has erupted into a national debate this week about religious liberty and freedom of speech, even as Mayor Annise Parker argued the controversy was based on a misunderstanding.

Conservative lawmakers and activists expressed outrage upon learning that lawyers acting on behalf of the city had sent subpoenas this month to pastors who had vocally supported a failed petition drive aimed at repealing Houston’s equal rights ordinance.

[...]

Various public officials, including religious liberty advocates, have condemned the subpoenas as censorship and an attack on religious liberty.

“This week, the government of Houston, Texas, sent a subpoena to silence prayers,” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said Thursday at a news conference in Houston.

Attorney General Greg Abbott sent a letter to Houston City Attorney David Feldman urging him to withdraw the subpoenas.

“No matter what public policy is at stake, government officials must exercise the utmost care when our work touches on religious matters,” Abbott wrote. “If we err, it must be on the side of preserving the autonomy of religious institutions and the liberty of religious believers. Your aggressive and invasive subpoenas show no regard for the very serious First Amendment considerations at stake.”

State Sen. Ken Paxton, the Republican candidate to replace Abbott as attorney general, called the subpeonas “unacceptable.”

“Not only does this infringe upon the right to Freedom of Speech, but it also grossly encroaches upon our Freedom of Religion — both fundamental rights protected by the U.S. Constitution,” Paxton said.

Blah blah blah and so on and so forth. I agree that the subpoenas were too broad. I might have some sympathy for the pastors if there were anything sympathetic about them, but man, the lies lies lies lies. You’d think by now I’d be used to it, but somehow I’m still amazed by these guys and their loudest defenders to just say whatever the hell they think without any regard for its truthfulness. It’s impressive it its way, and it does do the job of getting some people riled up. You’d just think they might be more concerned about the cost to their souls than a heathen like me.

Both Parker and Feldman have said that they did not approve the subpoenas ahead of time and first saw the language used in them on Tuesday. The subpoenas were handled by outside lawyers working on behalf of the city. Both agreed that the language in the subpoenas was overly broad and would be clarified.

“We are not interested at all in what some person may have preached about me or the GLBT community,” Parker said Wednesday at a news conference. “People are rightly concerned if a government entity tries to in any way inhibit religious speech. That is not the intent.”

Parker said the goal of the subpoenas was to see if there were any specific instructions given by pastors about how the petitions should be filled out. She suggested that the outrage over the word “sermon” in the supboneas may have been due to “deliberate misinterpretation.”

“Let me just say that one word in a very long legal document which I know nothing about and would never have read and I’m vilified coast to coast — it’s a normal day at the office for me,” Parker said.

That’s about the right response. Parker and Feldman have addressed the substantive issue. I hope they don’t get intimidated by the BS onslaught. The city should be on firm ground seeking communications about specific petition instructions. Amend the subpoenas as needed, stick to that, and let the blowhards wear themselves out. For some guidance on how to think about this, go read The Slacktivist, and for a straightforward recital of the boring facts, see Media Matters.

Posted in: Local politics.

Chron overview of the AG race

Couple of interesting tidbits in here.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston

A tea party darling with a dozen years in the state Legislature, Sen. Ken Paxton has avoided the media since admitting to a third-degree felony violation of state securities law in late April. Spokesman Anthony Holm serves as his gatekeeper – even once physically blocking a reporter from approaching the candidate – while Paxton refuses to release his public schedule or meet with newspaper editorial boards.

The McKinney Republican refused multiple interview requests for this story.

Democratic opponent Sam Houston is Paxton’s foil in almost every way. So eager to garner media attention and sow unease about his opponent’s past, the Houston lawyer holds press conferences with few or no attendees. He has never held office, though he came closer than anyone expected in a recent bid for the Texas Supreme Court, and only jumped in the attorney general’s race after finding that no other Democrat intended to enter.

The importance of the position cannot be oversold. The attorney general decides what legal battles to wage on behalf of the state, and what information should and can be released to the public by government officials and agencies. This year, Abbott steered the debate over abortion, gay marriage, voter identification and the disclosure of dangerous chemical information. His successor will help determine the future of public school funding and much more.

Paxton has said he would take up Abbott’s mantle to act as a bulwark between Texas and “federal encroachment.” Houston views the office differently. In an interview with the Chronicle, he said he disagreed with many of Abbott’s decisions, but none more than his repeated lawsuits against the federal government: “A lawsuit ought to be your very last resort, and it shouldn’t be a campaign slogan. It doesn’t do any dang good.”

Both men recognize the attorney general’s duty is to the law, but Houston said the office should be an advocate for the entire state and “not just certain interests.”

“I think there might be situations when you say, ‘the state’s acting unconstitutionally. Well, I’m going to take my role as a public official and I’m not going to defend that,’” said Houston. He called Abbott’s insistence that he can’t settle the state’s school finance lawsuit “a cop out,” and said as attorney general he would work on a settlement.

After 12 years in the Legislature, Paxton consistently is described by his Senate and former House colleagues as a soft-spoken, introspective lawmaker, a quiet ideologue. Never a bomb-thrower, he gained notoriety by remaining cordial with his colleagues while challenging moderate Republicans on policy and leadership. He is heavily endorsed by tea party groups and backed by divisive figures like conservative powerbroker Michael Quinn Sullivan, whose Empower Texans PAC helped give Paxton the financial upper hand against Houston by lending his campaign more than $1 million.

[...]

In his early years in the Legislature, Paxton spoke up on education and transparency issues, complaining in 2005 he had been “inundated by government lobbyists” during the session. He opposed tax increases, voted against equal pay efforts and co-sponsored Texas’ 2011 voter identification bill, which a federal judge ruled unconstitutional last week. He has been a leader on anti-abortion legislation, including the state’s pre-abortion sonogram requirement. He voted for requiring drug testing for welfare recipients and was one of only four senators to vote against the 2013 state budget that funneled billions back into public school funding “because it was too big.”

[...]

Paxton consistently is popular with tea party Republicans, but not with more moderate members of his party. Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas and a Branch supporter in the runoff, has thrown his support behind him despite concerns with Paxton’s media strategy and his refusal to debate his opponent. Bob Deuell, another long-time moderate Republican senator ousted by a tea partyer this year, said he could not support Paxton: “I’m just probably not going to vote in that race.”

“He’s not going to stick his neck out on any issues,” Deuell said. “But I don’t lose any sleep about him being attorney general. The world’s not going to come to an end.”

Deuell is a moderate in the same way that I’m an anarcho-syndicalist, but never mind that for now. Most of what’s in this section isn’t new, but it’s good to have a reminder that 1) the AG office is really important, 2) Ken Paxton is fully aware that he’s in deep doo-doo, no matter how hard is poor overworked spokesperson has to issue the same stale denials, and 3) Paxton is a stone ideologue who will continue Greg Abbott’s practice of representing the interests of the Republican Party over everyone else’s, regardless of the cost, correctness, or likelihood of success. I hope Bob Deuell has a lot of company here, because we’re going to need it to get Sam Houston elected.

Speaking of, here’s the smaller section of the story about Sam Houston:

Sam Houston’s name is certainly memorable, but it is not the one he claimed at birth. He was born Samuel Jones in Colorado City in 1963. His parents divorced soon after, and his father disappeared when he was a toddler, Houston said. His mother remarried and he took on his stepfather’s notable moniker.

The grandson of farmers and ranchers, Houston grew up working in his family’s auto shop. He first left the sleepy west Texas town to attend the University of Texas at Austin, after which he proceeded to Baylor for law school. He and Paxton overlapped by one year there, but their paths never crossed.

Houston married his college sweetheart soon after the two moved to Houston in the mid-1980s. But by 1993, she had developed colon cancer and died three years later. Houston said he spiraled emotionally, culminating in a 1997 arrest for driving while intoxicated. He pleaded guilty, served six months probation.

It was meeting and marrying his second wife that likely ended the cycle, Houston said: “I had a couple of really hard years. … I can say Jantha probably pulled me out of it, to be honest with you.”

I must say, I knew none of that before reading this story. That doesn’t happen to me very often these days. It would have been interesting to have seen how some of this information might have been conveyed and received if Ken Paxton had run an actual campaign instead of hiding under a rock. Too bad for him that being out in public and actually talking about things was a risk he couldn’t bear. The Trib, which covered a lot of the same ground as the Chron but with more of a focus on Houston’s campaign and Paxton’s non-campaign, and Texas Politics have more.

Posted in: Election 2014.

TPJ files suit against Abbott over Hecht ethics case

Here we go again.

An Austin legal watchdog group filed suit Wednesday to force action on a $29,000 ethics fine, levied against Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht in 2008, that has languished on appeal for 5½ years.

The motion from Texans for Public Justice seeks to remove Attorney General Greg Abbott from the case, saying Abbott has violated his legal duties by failing to pursue the case on behalf of the Texas Ethics Commission, which levied the fine.

“(Abbott) has helped his friend, former colleague and political ally by allowing the case to be inactive and dormant,” the motion said.

[...]

In Wednesday’s motion to intervene in Hecht’s appeal, Texans for Public Justice asked the court to disqualify Abbott, Republican candidate for governor, as the lawyer representing the ethics commission.

“By permitting, aiding and abetting, and acquiescing in almost six years of delay, Attorney General Abbott has violated his fundamental constitutional and statutory duties to ‘defend the laws’ of Texas and ‘represent the state in litigation’ … and he has failed to collect the fine that should have been collected years ago for the benefit of Texas taxpayers,” the motion said.

See here for a bit of background. The TPJ press release fills in the details.

Hecht’s troubles date to the short-lived 2005 nomination of his ex-flame Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hecht’s promotion of Miers to conservative groups and the media drew a Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct rebuke for violating state prohibitions on political activism by jurists. Arguing that the First Amendment trumps judicial canons, Hecht attorney Chip Babcock overturned the admonishment in 2006.

Hecht’s victory spawned new ethical issues. The Texas Ethics Commission ruled that Babcock’s discounted legal fees amounted to an in-kind contribution to Hecht worth $100,000. Hecht failed to report this contribution, which exceeded judicial campaign limits. Following a rare formal public hearing, commissioners ordered Hecht to pay a $29,000 fine on December 11, 2008. Justice Hecht appealed to a Travis County court on January 27, 2009 and the Attorney General quickly filed a response on behalf of the Ethics Commission. Since those filings in early 2009, the case has languished. Setting a record for the longest appeal of a state ethics fine, the case runs the risk of being dismissed for lack of prosecution.

“Abbott has a duty to prosecute this cold case and collect from Justice Hecht,” said TPJ Director Craig McDonald. “Instead, he has sat on his hands for six years to protect a friend and political crony. Texas law recognizes no crony exception. It’s time for Abbott to act—or to find someone who will.”

TPJ’s motion asks the district court to remove Abbott from the case if necessary and to impose appropriate sanctions for “his extraordinary and egregious pattern of inaction and neglect in apparent deference and favoritism toward his friend and former colleague.”

TPJ’s filing argues that Abbott’s inaction violates provisions of the Texas Rules of Judicial Administration, Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, Texas Lawyers Creed and statutory and constitutional obligations of the Attorney General to promote the timely administration of justice. Abbott’s office, which has absolute discretion to aggressively pursue such matters, claimed in 2014 that plaintiff Hecht alone is responsible for advancing the case. Were this true, any defendant could beat any Ethics Commission rap simply by filing an appeal and then ignoring it.

I noted the five-year anniversary of the case last December. I get that TPJ could have timed the filing of their complaint differently, but come on. Abbott has time to file a zillion lawsuits against the federal government while simultaneously defending losers like the same sex marriage ruling, the school finance ruling, and the voter ID ruling, but he can’t assign a junior attorney or two to push some paper on this? His priorities as AG have always been the interests of the Republican Party first, and everything else second. There’s really no excuse for this. You can see the complaint TPJ filed here, the Ethics Commission order against Hecht from 2008 here, and their timeline of events here.

Posted in: Legal matters.

#GiveToWendy

wendy-button-final-fb-cover

A year ago at about this time, a group of progressive blogs joined forces to raise money for the Wendy Davis campaign, which at that point was only a month old and all of the usual “early money” maxims applied. The only “early” now is early voting, which begins in three days, but late money still helps, too. I’m joining in this push to ask you today to make a contribution to the Davis campaign to help her make that final push to get everyone possible out to the polls.

I know, everyone’s asking for money. Believe me, I get all those desperate begging emails, too. If you want to skip this post and move on to the rest of today’s content, I don’t blame you. But if you’re still here, let me make my case, as briefly and hyperventilation-freely as I can.

Like so many people, I was inspired by Wendy Davis’ courageous actions on the Senate floor last summer, and outraged by the underhanded and small-minded tactics that were used to try to shut her up. I was thrilled when she announced her candidacy for Governor. And like many people, there have been times when I wished her campaign had made other choices. But I’ve never wavered in my belief that the state of Texas will be infinitely better off with Governor Wendy Davis that it would be with Governor Greg Abbott. If you’re reading this blog, I trust that you don’t need me to enumerate the reasons for that. But that’s what it comes down to. And that means we all want to be in a position to wake up on November 5 and say to ourselves, “I did what I could”.

If you’re already doing other things – calling, knocking on doors, talking to family and friends, whatever – then bless you. You’re making a difference. If you’ve already given to your limit, then thank you. It really means something. If you’ve got some capacity left, we still need you. Just click the link or the picture up top, and you’re good to go.

I don’t have a cutesy finish, and I won’t end this with a PS. Please give if you can – any amount will help – and thank you if you do. If you’re inspired to make further contributions to the other fine candidates on the ballot with Wendy – Leticia Van de Putte, Sam Houston, Mike Collier, John Cook, Steve Brown – or if you’d just rather give to one or more of them instead, that’s awesome, too. Every little bit helps, and everyone’s help is needed. Thank you very much.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Judicial Q&A: Randy Roll

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Randy Roll

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am former District Judge Randy Roll.

I am the Democratic candidate for the 180th Criminal District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

4 types of felonies. 1st degree felony punishable from 5 to 99 yrs in TDC, 2nd degree felony punishable from 2 to 20 years in TDC, 3rd degree felony punishable from 2 to 10 years in TDC & State Jail felony punishable from 6 months to 24 months in the State Jail Facility.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I want to give everyone who comes before this bench an equal chance. Undocumented aliens who have permanent contacts with this county and are deserving of probation should not be denied that opportunity. I will try to stop the cronyism between judges and appointed defense attorneys.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

As a former judge, I inherited the worst and highest docket of the 22 different courts. 4 years later I left that court with the 4th best docket. I reduced the wait for a trial from years to 3 months. As an attorney and judge I have handled more than 10,000 felony cases and 100 jury trials. I speak Spanish, Russian, French and German. In 4 years on the bench, I took only 8 days vacation. I was the 1st judge to require experience & competence for attorneys appointed in DNA cases for indigent defendants, which I proposed to the other 21 judges and they adopted my proposal. No trial in my court (179th) was ever reversed by the Appellate Courts.

5. Why is this race important?

Presently, 19 of the 22 felony judges are Republican. We need more diversity on the bench.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have a track record of innovation, hard work and competence. I will work diligently and wisely and I ask for your support.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Subpoenaing sermons

Not sure about this.

PetitionsInvalid

Houston’s embattled equal rights ordinance took another legal turn this week when it surfaced that city attorneys, in an unusual step, subpoenaed sermons given by local pastors who oppose the law and are tied to the conservative Christian activists who have sued the city.

Opponents of the equal rights ordinance are hoping to force a repeal referendum when they get their day in court in January, claiming City Attorney David Feldman wrongly determined they had not gathered enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

City attorneys issued subpoenas last month as part of the case’s discovery phase, seeking, among other communications, “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”

The subpoenas were issued to pastors and religious leaders who have been vocal in opposing the ordinance: Dave Welch, Hernan Castano, Magda Hermida, Khanh Huynh and Steve Riggle. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization known for its role in defending same-sex marriage bans, filed a motion Monday on behalf of the pastors seeking to quash the subpoenas, and in a press announcement called it a “witch hunt.”

The city’s lawyers will face a high bar for proving the information in the sermons is essential to their case, said Charles Rhodes, a South Texas College of Law professor. The pastors are not named parties in the suit, and the “Church Autonomy Doctrine” offers fairly broad protections for internal church deliberations, he said.

Calling it an “unusual but not unprecedented” subpoena request, Rhodes said the city would stand a better chance of getting the sermons if it were a criminal case in which the message or directive in the sermons prompted a specific criminal action.

Still, he said, the city likely will get a boost because many of the sermons are broadcast or recorded and are intended to be shared with the public.

“This is unusual to see it come up in a pure political controversy,” Rhodes said. “The city is going to have to prove there is something very particular in the sermons that does not come up anywhere else.”

Don’t get me wrong, I have zero sympathy for the pastoral haters, whose affinity for lying about the HERO ought to make your average sinner blush. I look forward to them getting crushed in court, or if necessary at the ballot box. I think anything that has been recorded in some form for the purpose of being distributed is fair game here. I guess it’s not clear to me what the city is hoping to find by subpoenaing this stuff. Emails, other written correspondence, phone records, transcripts – these things I understand. I don’t quite see what the city’s goal is.

The other concern is that the HERO haters will do an effective job at portraying themselves as victims. It is the one thing they are really good at, after all. It looks like they succeeded, unfortunately.

Amid outrage from religious groups, Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman on Wednesday appeared to back off a subpoena request for the sermons of certain ministers opposed to the city’s equal rights ordinance, with Parker calling it overly broad.

[...]

“There’s no question the wording was overly broad,” she said. “But I also think there was some misinterpretation on the other side.”

The subpoenas drew national attention this week, prompting Christian conservative groups to condemn the request as governmental overreach. U.S. Sen Ted Cruz issued a statement Wednesday, saying Parker “should be ashamed.”

“Let me just say that one word in a very long legal document which I know nothing about and would never have read and I’m vilified coast to coast,” Parker said. “It’s a normal day at the office for me.”

The intent, Feldman said, was simply to get all communications between pastors about the signature gathering instructions, a key part of a lawsuit opponents have brought against the city. Critics filed suit after Feldman announced they had failed to gather enough valid signatures to force a repeal referendum, claiming the city attorney illegally inserted himself in the signature verification process.

Feldman said the city would clarify what it is looking for in its response to the pastors’ motion.

Glad to hear that, but I think we know what happens from here. I mean, once the website Snopes has to get involved, truth and nuance lose all meaning. Let’s just hope this is a short-term story. If the motion to quash succeeds, or if the city is allowed to go on this document hunt and comes up empty, all bets will be off on that. Campos and Texpatriate have more.

Posted in: Local politics.

Comptroller candidates will debate

It’s a trend!

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Candidates in the race for state comptroller have agreed to one televised debate, though watching the debate requires a Time Warner Cable subscription fo North Texas viewers.

Mike Collier, a Democrat from Houston, and Sen. Glenn Hegar, a Katy Republican, will face off 7 p.m., Oct. 29 in Austin. The 30-minute debate is sponsored by Time Warner Cable News. It will be broadcast to the Austin, San Antonio and Hill Country media markets.

The debate will be viewable statewide through the TWC’s On Demand service, as well as online here: http://sanantonio.twcnews.com/content/politics/.

As chief financial officer, the comptroller’s office collects all taxes owed to the state and estimates the state’s tax revenue for the biennium, among other duties. Lawmakers use the revenue estimate to set the two-year budget.

“Senator Hegar looks forward to discussing the important issues facing our state,” said David White, a spokesman for the campaign.

“Texans deserve to hear from the person who will be accountable for their tax dollars. I’m honored to receive this opportunity to show Texans how I will be their financial watchdog in the Comptroller’s office, not just another career politician,” Collier said.

If you can get past the fact that it happens with two days left in early voting and it’s easily available to only a fraction of the state, this is a good thing. The fact that there’s a debate at all, and that the Dems have a candidate that’s worth having in a debate, makes it worthwhile. Yes, it would be better to have something more widely visible, but given that the baseline for comparison is “nothing”, it’s an improvement. The Trib has more.

By the way, Collier continues to dominate the newspaper endorsements, picking up nods from the Express News and Star-Telegram this week. I thought Collier would do well in the editorial board interviews, but as a first-time candidate going against an experienced legislator who wasn’t weighed down by sixteen tons of ethical baggage, it was hardly a slam dunk that he’d get a string of endorsements. That he’s one paper away from a Sam Houston-style clean sweep says a lot about his qualities as a candidate and as a person. He’s also been sharp in how he has presented himself, as his latest campaign ad attests. I’m hard pressed to think of any way in which Collier could have run a better campaign. I hope the actual viewership of that debate far exceeds my meager expectations.

On a related note, there’s also this.

The only debate scheduled between Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and his Democratic opponent, David Alameel, could end up only being broadcast in Spanish.

Cornyn and Alameel are scheduled to participate in a one-hour debate in Dallas hosted by Univision on Oct. 24. The debate will be conducted in English. Univision will broadcast the debate the next day with the candidates’ remarks dubbed in Spanish at 10 p.m. in eight markets around the state, according to Felicitas Cadena, community affairs manager for Univision Communications.

“The debate will not air in English in any market,” Cadena said in an email.

[...]

Cadena said the channel is open to talking with other media outlets about broadcasting the debate in English on television or online.

“We’re just looking at technical possibilities,” Cadena said. “We’d be more than glad to have that discussion.”

Putting the video online somewhere, pre-dubbed and post-dubbed, should not be too much to ask. I guess we’ll see.

Posted in: Election 2014.