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Thanksgiving video break: I’ve done this often enough to call it a tradition

And what a tradition it is:

I plan to be in a turkey coma today, hopefully in front of a football game. Hope you have the Thanksgiving you want as well.

Posted in: Music.

Early voting begins today for SD18

From the inbox:

The early voting period for the December 6, 2014 Special Election to Fill a Vacancy for State Senate District 18 will take place Wednesday, November 26 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Monday and Tuesday, December 1 and December 2, from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

“An estimated 20,000 registered voters who reside in Harris County voting precincts 49, 119, 121, 149, 639, 901, 919 and 920 are eligible to participate in the Special Election in State Senate District 18,” informed Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart. “The SSD18 precincts are situated in west Harris County.”

Harris county registered voters can vote early at any of the three following locations:

1. Main Office: Harris County Administration Bldg., 1001 Preston, 4th Floor, Houston, TX 77002

2. Far West/Katy: Katy City Park Building #3, 2046 Katy City Park Road, Katy, Texas 77493
(NW of Katy Police Department, 5456 Franz Road and South of Mary Jo Peckham Park, 5597 Gardenia Lane)

3. Hockley: Harris County Community Center Hockley, 28515 Old Washington Road, Hockley, Texas 77447
(between Premium Drive and Kermier Road).

There are five candidates vying to replace Glen Hegar who submitted his resignation from the Texas Senate after being elected Comptroller of Public Accounts for the State during the November Election. Senate District 18 spreads through 21 counties in Southeast Texas.

For information about voting by mail, list of acceptable Photo IDs to vote, or other election information, please visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

Yes, that’s three whole days of early voting, before and after Thanksgiving. Good luck being the field director for one of those candidates. Fort Bend voters, your information for this election is here. My understanding is that there will be Saturday early voting hours in Fort Bend as well. Lucky you.

Not that it’s likely to matter much since there’s a clear frontrunner who has a decent campaign treasury and establishment support, and has been effectively running for this seat for months.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, is seen as the front-runner. She was first elected to House District 13 in 2000, and hasn’t faced a serious challenger since. Kolkhorst pegs border security as a top priority

“Our border surges seemingly work when we do them, so we’re going to have to look at how we secure it — and do something right and good for Texas,” Kolkhorst said. “I don’t think the federal government is going to step up and do that for us.”

The race is Kolkhorst’s to lose, said Renée Cross, associate director at the University of Houston’s Hobby Center for Public Policy and a political science lecturer. Kolkhorst has pulled in endorsements from Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, Hegar and several PACs, including the Conservative Republicans of Texas PAC.

“She’s shown a very conservative record in the house,” Cross said. “She’s a farmer, she’s got somewhat of a suburban link being in Brenham, she’s an athlete, she’s a hunter, she’s a fisher. I mean she’s got all the stereotypical Texas attributes that I think are going to play well, particularly in a very short election period.”

She’s also running a typical scare the old white people campaign, which has always worked well in this kind of election.

Her Republican challengers include Gary Gates, a real estate agent and cattle rancher from Richmond, and Charles Gregory, a businessman and the former mayor pro tem of Simonton.

Should Kolkhorst win, Abbott will have to call a special election for her House district. Kolkhorst has not resigned from her seat, so will stay in the legislature if she loses.

[...]

Democrat Christian E. Hawking, a lawyer from Rosenberg said she found out about the election just days before she filed to run. She previously ran unsuccessfully for a city council seat.

“I am optimistic, you have to be,” Hawking said. “I think this is exciting. It is a clean slate; we get to pick someone new. And I think that I’d be good at it.”

Democrat Cynthia Drabek, who recently ran unsuccessfully for Texas House District 85, also filed to run. Both Drabek and Hawking said public education funding is a top priority for them.

I wasn’t sure there would be a Democratic candidate in this race, given the lightning-speed turnaround on it. Bill White scored 35.7% in 2010, so the odds of a Dem even making a runoff are pretty low. Drabek received 9,628 votes for 33.4% in HD85, which was 1,130 fewer votes and 0.2 percentage points less than Linda Chavez-Thompson in 2010. As for Kolkhort’s HD13, in case it opens up, White got 32.1% in 2010, and Michelle Petty was the high scorer in 2012 with 26.0%. Not a whole lot to work with there, but as I said for HD17 it’s not like there’s anything to lose by trying.

Posted in: Election 2014.

On being Ron Reynolds

Just because everyone’s out to get you doesn’t mean your behavior is above reproach.

Rep. Ron Reynolds

To hear Ron Reynolds tell it, the embattled state representative is just plain misunderstood.

Over the past decade, Reynolds has been sanctioned twice by the state bar, fined $10,000 by the Texas Ethics Commission, sued a half-dozen times and investigated twice for ambulance chasing -though he is quick to note he was indicted only once.

Three days after being re-elected to a third term earlier this month, the Missouri City legislator found himself facing possible jail time after a jury convicted him on the second of those lesser barratry charges. Three days later, the judge ruled it a mistrial. He is due back in court in January.

“It doesn’t define my character. It doesn’t define my work ethic. It doesn’t define my dedication to serving as a state representative,” Reynolds said with defiance in an interview last week. “I’ve made mistakes that I regret. I’m not a perfect person.”

Reynolds’ current ignominy is the latest in a record of ethics troubles that have plagued him since he first ran for office in 2008. Reynolds and his supporters contend those marks should not mar his reputation. Instead, they say, consider the job fairs he’s helped plan and the voters he’s helped register.

[...]

Reynolds was among eight Houston-area personal injury lawyers indicted by a Montgomery County grand jury, accused of working with a felon to steer accident victims to their law practices, an illegal practice known as barratry. Five of those lawyers have pleaded guilty or no contest to lesser misdemeanor offenses in exchange for fines or probated sentences. Two others are awaiting trial on the felony barratry charges.

A jury earlier this month found Reynolds guilty of six counts of misdemeanor solicitation of professional employment, a lesser barratry charge that could carry a short prison term. The judge later declared a mistrial after a juror confessed to being influenced by outside information about the case.

The judge last week issued a gag order barring any of those connected with the case from discussing it.

“This stuff is nothing new because it’s been played out by every opponent I’ve had,” Reynolds said. “The people who are demonizing me? They have an agenda.”

See my previous posts on Ron Reynolds for the background. I’m not demonizing and I have no agenda here. I like Rep. Reynolds as a person and I think he’s generally done a good job as a State Rep. He’s been out front of a lot of the hot button issues, which I appreciate. He’s also now been indicted twice for barratry, and as the story notes there have been questions about his ethics that go back to his first campaign in 2008. Some of that is just politics, but it doesn’t come from nowhere. Reynolds says he doesn’t want to be defined by these issues. It would help if he took more care to avoid them in the first place.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Fifth Circuit sets their schedule

Mark your calendars.

RedEquality

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments about the constitutionality of Texas’ tough new abortion restrictions on Jan. 7. The law passed in 2013, known as House Bill 2, banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, placed heavy new restrictions on clinics and doctors who perform the procedure and made it nearly impossible to obtain an abortion using a pill.

The court has twice reversed lower court orders that found HB2 unconstitutional. But abortion providers were in-part heartened after the U.S. Supreme Court put on hold for some clinics and doctors a number of the law’s most stringent mandates.

On Jan. 9, the same three-judge panel will tackle both Texas and Louisiana’s constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. In February, San Antonio-based U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled Texas’ ban unconstitutional because it violated gay couples’ 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection. Attorney General Greg Abbott, now the governor-elect, appealed the ruling to the New Orleans-based appeals court.

See here for the background. The expected January court date is the reason that Texas for Marriage made their debut recently. And with the motion to lift the stay on the original ruling, the stakes are higher now. We’ll likely have to wait a few months for the decisions, but the first week back after New Year’s day just got a lot more exciting.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 24

The Texas Progressive Alliance knows that even in a bad political year it has plenty to be thankful for as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Texas same-sex marriage plaintiffs ask for stay to be lifted

I wish them luck.

RedEquality

Two same-sex couples have asked U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio to allow gay marriages to begin taking place immediately in Texas.

On Monday, couples Mark Phariss and Victor Holmes of Plano and Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra De Leon asked Garcia to lift a stay he imposed this winter on his own ruling that Texas’ gay marriage ban is unconstitutional.

In February, Garcia said the state’s prohibition violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. The district judge, though, held his ruling in abeyance so higher courts could rule in similar cases from other states that were further along.

“The court should immediately lift the stay because the Supreme Court’s actions following entry of the stay no longer support its continuance,” Neel Lane, the two couples’ lawyer, wrote in his motion urging Garcia to lift the stay.

Lane pointed out that last month, the Supreme Court declined to hear various states’ appeals that it rescue their gay-marriage bans from adverse lower court rulings. The Supreme Court’s refusal “dissolved the stays” — or put into effect — the edicts overturning prohibitions on same-sex marriage in states in the 4th Circuit (Richmond), 7th Circuit (Chicago) and 10th Circuit (Denver), he said. Since then, the Supreme Court lifted stays on similar, lower-court rulings in Kansas and South Carolina, he noted.

While Lane conceded that the justices’ refusals to hear appeals “do not have legal significance,” he argued that “the constitutional environment” in which Garcia acted this winter has “now changed radically and permanently. Fully two-thirds of citizens of the United States now have an enforceable federal constitutional right to marry the person of their choice, irrespective of gender.”

I found a copy of the motion here. As the Chron story points out, the stay in this case was originally put in place because there was a stay in place for the Utah ruling – the one that started all these state laws falling – pending review by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. That review has happened, the original ruling that tossed Utah’s law has been affirmed, and as the motion states the Supreme Court refused to take the state’s appeal, thus allowing the stay to expire. Given all that, why must Texas’ ruling be stayed?

That’s the question the motion asks, in addition to pointing out all the harms that these plaintiffs and other same-sex couples whose legal marriages are not recognized by Texas continue to suffer. My non-lawyer’s opinion is that Judge Garcia will be reluctant to lift the stay, on the perfectly reasonable grounds that the Fifth Circuit may put a turd in the punch bowl and overturn his ruling. That would then put all these couples right back into limbo, with some extra chaos mixed in. Of course, I thought the original lawsuit had no chance of succeeding, so what do I know? I’m sure Greg Abbott will file a response, though I have no idea what the time frame for that might be. Regardless, I look forward to the ruling and I wish them all the best.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Henry Martinez named as interim Constable

Congratulations.

Victor Trevino

A 23-year veteran of the Houston Community College police department will succeed the disgraced Victor Trevino as constable in Precinct Six, county officials announced Monday, elevating a Latino officer who promises to have no aspirations to become a Latino politician.

Harris County Commissioners Court formally appointed Henry Martinez Jr., who currently leads police operations on HCC’s Northeast campuses, as the constable serving the East End precinct. Commissioner Jack Morman, whose area includes most of Trevino’s old precinct, recommended Martinez to the court at a special meeting on Monday morning.

Dozens of candidates applied to Morman’s office for a job that many constables hold for decades, but many applicants were ruled out almost immediately. Morman had insisted that the winning candidate live in the precinct and promise not to run for the job in 2016. He also was sensitive to the desires of the heavily-Latino district.

Morman seems to have met all three of his preconditions with the selection of Martinez.

“As you can tell, I’m not a political type of person,” Martinez, 52, told reporters, saying there are no circumstances under which he would run in two years. “I’ll do the job and do it well – to the best of my ability – but as far as getting out there and running for a position, I’m not interested.”

[...]

Greg Cunningham, the chief of HCC’s police, said the new constable can be a demanding boss.

“He has high expectations of his people and he’s disappointed if they don’t deliver,” said Cunningham, who praised the selection. “He can be a tough guy to work for, but at the end of the day, he’s fair.”

Colleagues of Martinez similarly described him as a hardworking cop who rarely makes errors.

“He’s been one of those quiet leaders, so I think today’s a well-earned opportunity for him,” Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia said.

See here for the background. I wish new Constable Martinez all the success in the world as he embarks on this new journey. I’m just wondering how long it will be before someone else announces his or her candidacy for the 2016 primary. Campos has more.

Posted in: Local politics.

DCCC wants Gallego for a rematch in 2016

No surprise here.

Pete Gallego

Pete Gallego

Rep. Pete Gallego lost his re-election bid two weeks ago — and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is already pushing for him to run in 2016, Roll Call reports.

Gallego, a freshman Democrat from Alpine, was unseated by Republican Will Hurd by about 2,000 votes. Hurd, a former CIA operative, will now represent the vast West Texas district that runs from San Antonio to El Paso.

[...]

Gallego wouldn’t be the first lawmaker ousted by voters in the 23rd District to seek a comeback. The one-term Republican he ousted in 2012, Francisco “Quico” Canseco, lost to Hurd in a primary runoff last May.

Hurd lost the 2010 GOP nomination to Canseco.

Gallego won CD23 in 2012 even though the district was being carried by Mitt Romney. He won 47.66% of the vote this year, which is two percentage points better than Bill White in 2010. Hurd may win over some swing voters between now and then, but the district will be a lot more favorable to Dems in 2016, and Gallego has beaten the spread twice there. He’d surely be the strongest candidate to try to win it back, and would likely have no worse than a 50-50 chance of doing so. And as I’ve said before, if he declines I’ll be the first one on the Mary González bandwagon. Either way is fine by me.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Supreme Court re-upholds strip club tax

Technically, they declined to re-review it, but practically speaking I figure it’ll amount to the same thing.

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday declined to review whether a $5-per-patron fee at live nude entertainment clubs is an occupation tax in disguise, letting stand a lower appeals court ruling that found alcohol-serving Texas strip clubs must pay up when it comes to the “pole tax.”

Last May, the Texas Third Court of Appeals ruled that the fee was not an unconstitutional occupation tax and must be paid by Texas strip clubs that serve alcohol.

[...]

It is not clear whether the clubs will continue their legal fight. A call seeking comment from a lawyer for the Texas Entertainment Association, which represents many of the roughly 200 strip clubs in the state, was not immediately returned.

See here and here for the background. The clubs have now lost twice in court. Hard for me to see what the value proposition is for them to give it a third try rather than just collecting and paying the fee at this point, but that’s up to them. I have a feeling there will be another chapter in this story eventually.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Rural counties skeptical of high speed rail plan

This is a bit concerning.

Steve Drake regularly makes the nearly four-hour drive from this city to Houston to visit his fiancée’s family. So he was excited about the news that a private company intended to build a bullet train that would cut that trip to 90 minutes.

“I’m passionate about this. I hope it happens,” Drake said at a recent public meeting. “I don’t want to be driving to Houston for the next 30 years.”

Drake’s sentiment echoed that of others at the first of six meetings held as part of the Federal Railroad Administration’s environmental impact study into Texas Central Railway’s proposed bullet train. The project has also drawn strong support from officials at the other end of the project in Houston.

Yet the reception has been less rosy from rural communities that will be on or near a possible train route. Officials and residents have expressed concern about the noise from trains whizzing past their quiet towns dozens of times a day and about a track dividing farmland and reducing property values.

“I haven’t heard anything positive about it whatsoever,” said Byron Ryder, the county judge in Leon County, which is about halfway between Dallas and Houston. “I’ve talked to other judges and commissioners up and down the line, landowners up and down the line. No one wants it.”

I was a little surprised to read this, as I know from previous communications with Texas Central Railway that they have been doing outreach in the rural communities along I-45. It may be the case that the communities weren’t really paying much attention before – we’ve only been talking about high speed rail in Texas for what, 30 year now? – and thought this was just another piece of pie in the sky. With the Environmental Impact Statement process going on, however, now it’s getting real, and people may be reacting more strongly as a result. In addition, it’s not that long ago that these folks were hearing about a network of privately built and managed toll roads that would be going through rural counties, with little apparent benefit to them. One can imagine why they might have some doubts here. Obviously, I think this is a project that’s worth doing, and I hope these communities can be persuaded there’s something in it for them, or at least that they won’t be harmed. Clearly, TCR has some work to do.

In Grimes County, where the two routes take different paths, Betty Shiflett, the county judge, said many residents felt they did not have enough information to develop an opinion. One factor that would weigh heavily, she said, was whether Texas Central Railway followed through on plans to build a station in Grimes County to allow the bullet train to serve nearby College Station.

“I think people would be a lot more enthusiastic because they would probably take it,” Shiflett said. “I know I would, definitely.”

I’m sure they would. I seriously doubt there would be a station anywhere except Houston and Dallas (and maybe The Woodlands) when it debuts in 2021, assuming all goes well. Stations cost money, and they mean slower overall travel times. Maybe at some point down the line, but not any time soon. Of course, you do have to build the line now to have any hope for one in the future, whenever that may be. It’s your call, Grimes County.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Kleinschmidt to resign in HD17

Just in case you thought there weren’t enough special elections on the horizon.

Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt

Newly elected Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is reaching out to a former House colleague to fill a key staff position in his new administration.

A source close to the Miller transition team said Friday afternoon that Miller reached out to state Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington, to become the agriculture department’s next general counsel.

According to the source, Kleinschmidt agreed to take the job “after careful thought and discussions” with family and his law partners.

Kleinschmidt will resign his House seat effective Jan. 14 and has plans to send a resignation letter to Gov. Rick Perry in the coming days.

Kleinschmidt’s departure from the House would create a vacancy in House District 17, which stretches across five Central Texas counties east of Austin. Kleinschmidt has served in the Texas House since 2009.

A special electionin HD17 presents the same opportunity for Democrats as the special election in SD26 will for Republicans, with about the same odds of success. Kleinschmidt won 64.6% of the vote this November; his Democratic opponent, Carolyn Banks, had 35.4%. In 2010, Bill White got 43.3%, while Linda Chavez-Thompson got 32.8%, though with more total votes than Banks had. In 2012, President Obama took 37.3%, Paul Sadler had 39.8%, and Michelle Petty was the standard-bearer with 40.6%. A surprise win here would almost certainly be a one-term rental, but you never know, and it’s not like there’s anything to lose.

I even have a suggestion for a candidate to recruit: Ronnie McDonald, former three-term Bastrop County Judge and candidate for CD27 in 2012. He considered challenging Kleinschmidt in 2012 before jumping into a crowded field for CD27, so the concept of running for State House has occurred to him. I don’t know what he’s up to and I have no idea if he’d be amenable, but it can’t hurt to try. Whether he’s a viable possibility or not, this would be a good opportunity for Battleground Texas to try to begin their rebuilding process and keep volunteers engaged as they work towards 2016. Find a candidate and support that candidate. There’s nothing to lose.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Ken Paxton is still an ethical morass

He’s just now a statewide ethical morass.

Sen. Ken Paxton

A state judge will determine whether to revoke the securities license of Frederick Mowery, who was linked to the State Securities Board’s May reprimand of Attorney General-elect Ken Paxton, for allegations that included failure to disclose conflicts of interest, plagiarism and lying to investigators.

Mowery was given 20 days to respond to the allegations — announced Tuesday by the securities board — and invited to appear at a Jan. 27 hearing before an administrative law judge in Austin.

Mowery and his McKinney company, Mowery Capital Management, became embroiled in the race for attorney general last May, when Paxton agreed to a securities board reprimand and $1,000 fine for soliciting clients for Mowery’s firm, receiving 30 percent of management fees without registering as an investment adviser representative as required by state law and without disclosing the business relationship to potential clients.

[...]

The order notifying Mowery of the allegations did not mention Paxton by name.

However, the order accused Mowery of falsifying disclosure documents for a solicitor who appears to be Paxton — the circumstances and language used to describe the relationship between the unnamed solicitor and Mowery appear verbatim in the security board’s reprimand of Paxton.

According to the allegations, Mowery backdated notices disclosing the solicitor’s compensation arrangement to make it appear that two clients were properly notified about the arrangement.

I don’t know what effect this might have on any of the pending actions against Paxton, but I figure if Mowery has his license revoked it won’t look too good for our AG-to-be. I also strongly suspect there are more shoes to drop here. Should be an interesting year next year.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Dallas gets set to tackle vehicles for hire

Good luck.

Uber

Sticking points remain on Dallas’ proposed car-for-hire rules, as the City Council prepares to vote next month on a new ordinance to regulate taxicabs, limos and app-based companies such as Uber and Lyft.

Several council members raised questions Monday at a transportation committee meeting over insurance requirements. And others expressed concerns about nuances, including an effort to encourage more environmentally friendly vehicles.

But it appears the city’s months-long effort to overhaul its transportation-for-hire rules will soon be complete.

Some opponents of the proposed rules conceded they probably don’t have the votes to stop the measure from moving forward. Supporters say that though the proposal isn’t perfect, it represents a compromise that most industry stakeholders can live with.

Lyft

“It’s as fair and balanced as we could possibly make it at this point,” said council member Sandy Greyson, who has guided much of the city’s work on the issue.

Dallas has wrestled with car-for-hire rules for about a year, after an ordinance that could have driven out app-based companies almost slipped past the council unnoticed. Since then, council members have debated issues including permitting and fare regulations.

Much of the disagreement Monday centered on proposed insurance requirements.

Although some have pushed for around-the-clock commercial insurance — which taxis now must have — the ordinance would require such coverage only when operators are available to accept riders or when they are picking up or carrying riders.

That’s meant to keep insurance costs low enough to allow app-based companies to operate while requiring substantial coverage on behalf of paying passengers who could be hurt in accidents.

Dallas City Council will take this up one week after San Antonio does. It’s been a busy year for this sort of thing, that’s for sure. I don’t know enough about either of these proposed ordinances to know how exactly they compare to Houston, but as far as I am aware there has been no rumbling by Lyft about pulling out of those markets. Make of that what you will. One also has to wonder at this point if last week’s Uber shitstorm will affect the willingness of councils in places like Dallas and San Antonio to pass these ordinances. We’ll see. Unfair Park has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Weekend link dump for November 23

Fans of comic art should be sure to check this out.

Duck Dynasty: The Musical. Not a joke, apparently.

When corn mazes get out of control.

Maybe this will help Ted Cruz understand what net neutrality is all about.

Republicans don’t have to show they can govern. Anyone who tells you otherwise is at best being naive.

Some lessons from the fracking ban fights.

“Republicans and outside groups used anonymous Twitter accounts to share internal polling data ahead of the midterm elections, CNN has learned, a practice that raises questions about whether they violated campaign finance laws that prohibit coordination.”

The Milky Way looks lovely tonight.

Anyone who thinks that kids today aren’t at least as smart as grownups is welcome to sit in on Olivia’s fifth grade class and do her homework with her.

Pastafarians, unite!

“The agenda of white evangelical political activists today is not very different from the agenda of the allegedly anti-political white evangelical activists of 1964 and 1856. The defiantly politicized evangelicalism of the early 21st century is simply the shape that same thing has had to take in new circumstances.”

When the self-appointed defenders of the “sanctity of marriage” spend as much time bemoaning this as they do same-sex marriage, then maybe I could be persuaded that they’re not just a bunch of raging homophobes. Maybe.

On the other hand, if you’re fine with that item for whatever the reason, then this may be of interest to you.

What Ryan Cooper says.

Those nasty rape accusations are starting to have an effect on Bill Cosby.

And boy howdy, does this sound creepy.

As always, Ta-Nehisi Coates is essential reading.

“The really big difference between Tea Partiers and environmentalists is that the former are making irrational demands and using irrational tactics, and the latter aren’t.”

What Revolva says. Shame on you, Oprah.

All hail Lisa Saxon, the women who helped change sports writing forever, and for the better.

From the “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of guys” department.

RIP, Mike Nichols, legendary director of The Graduate and so much more.

Throwing a tantrum is not a justification for getting your way.

Can science save chocolate from decline?

“If Republicans wanted more conservative-friendly policy outcomes, they could be getting them. But they prefer more Republican-friendly political outcomes. It’s not unreasonable for conservatives to think that this tradeoff is the right one, all things considered. But what is unreasonable is for conservatives to refuse to recognize that it’s a real choice, a choice that is in their hands, and a choice that they continually make in the direction of worse policy rather than better policy.”

Enjoy your retirement, Jason Collins. Maybe we’ll see you in a broadcast booth some day.

You really must watch this video of Marion Ross, Anson Williams, and Don Most talking about how the idea for Mork came about, the horrible first script and actor, and what happened when Robin Williams showed up. It’s awesome.

RIP, Tex Harrison, legendary member of the Harlem Globetrotters, and a native Houstonian.

For shame, ESPN. Seriously.

The overlap between people who are still attending Bill Cosby’s live shows and so-called “low-information voters” is probably pretty extensive.

“And in speaking from the position of Cicero, [Ted] Cruz presents himself as a decidedly undemocratic oligarch.”

“Every day should be Susan Rice Vindication Day. We should wake every morning to mockery of Darrell Issa and go to sleep each night to ridicule of Mitt Romney. This should go on until all decent people have long ago given up and stopped begging for it to stop. And, sometime in late 2017, we will have reached Fair & Balanced coverage of the tragedy in Benghazi.”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

From the “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” department

Every dark cloud has a silver lining, y’all. You just have to know where to look for it.

Metro’s four-month delay in opening two rail lines will give the agency time to obtain enough cars to prevent severe crowding when trains start rolling.

Fourteen of 39 new rail cars that the Metropolitan Transit Authority ordered in 2012 will be ready to carry riders by April 1, Metro CEO Tom Lambert said Thursday. An additional 19 cars will still be in testing.

“We are making very good headway,” Lambert said.

The Green Line, east of downtown along Harrisburg, and the Purple Line connecting southeast neighborhoods to the central business district, are scheduled to open April 4. By that time, with Metro’s 37 existing cars and 14 new ones, Metro officials said they can run constant service, though perhaps not as frequently as envisioned.

[...]

When the new lines open, Metro spokesman Jerome Gray said, the expected number of cars will allow for two-car sets along the Red Line every six minutes during peak periods – around 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily – and single trains every 12 minutes along the Green and Purple lines.

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t really have anything to add to that, so I’ll leave you with this.

Remember, if life seems jolly rotten, there’s something you’ve forgotten.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

EPA climate change plan would save water

Well, what do you know?

As state regulators fret about how President Obama’s effort to combat climate change would affect the Texas power grid, a new study says the rules would be simpler to adopt than those regulators suggest – and that it would save the state billions of gallons of water annually.

In an analysis released Wednesday, CNA Corporation, a nonprofit research group based in Arlington, Va., said the federal proposal – which requires states to shift from coal power to cut carbon emissions – would slash water use in the Texas power sector by 21 percent. That would save the drought-ridden state more than 28 billion gallons of water each year.

“It’s a surprising finding,” Paul Faeth, the report’s author, said in a statement. “People don’t often associate water conservation with [carbon] cuts, but for Texas, they work together.”

[...]

CNA Corporation’s analysis comes two days after the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s grid operator, said the proposal would threaten reliability and raise energy costs by as much as 20 percent by 2020 – not including the cost of new power lines needed to keep the grid running.

The CNA report, which relied on a model ERCOT has used in the past, said shifting away from water-guzzling coal power plants and boosting energy efficiency would ease Texas’ water woes.

Compared to Texas’ grid operator, CNA painted a rosier picture of price and reliability effects. With big investments in natural gas and wind power, Texas is already on pace to meet 70 percent of its target by 2029, according to the study. Improving energy efficiency could move the state the rest of the way.

The federal proposal would increase the per-megawatt cost of electricity by 5 percent by 2029, but cut total system costs by 2 percent, the group said.

“We find that the state will be able to meet the final and interim targets with modest incremental effort,” the study said.

See here for the background. The CNA report page is here, the press release is here, the executive summary is here, and the full report is here. It’s not clear to me if CNA was invited by someone to review the EPA plan as it affects Texas or if they did it on their own, but this is a strong argument for going along with what the EPA recommends rather than filing another frivolous lawsuit. The considerable water savings is enough by itself to make this worthwhile.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtle in trouble

Dammit.

Texas’ official sea turtle is on a slide that could eventually lead to extinction after a spectacular comeback and years of effort to save it, according to figures released Tuesday at a gathering of scientists and environmentalists.

“It was on a rapid road to recovery and the recovery came to an abrupt halt in 2010 and we don’t know why,” Selina Heppell, professor at Oregon State University’s department of fish and wildlife, said in comments before a presentation. “What the modeling suggests is that something very dramatic and unprecedented happened to the survival and reproduction of the species.”

Scientists had worried about the meaning of decreases in the number of turtle nests for 2010, 2013 and this year, the only decreases in the new century. But Heppell, who developed the method used to calculate the turtle’s nesting population, offered the most definitive numbers showing that the Kemp’s ridley was again in trouble.

To understand the reasons for the decline, some say, it’s important for the federal government to restore money it took away this year for the Mexico/U.S. Binational Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Population Restoration Program.

An earlier story has some more details.

The first symposium in Galveston in 1985 came at a time when the Kemp’s ridley was at the edge of extinction and efforts to protect the main nesting grounds in Mexico seemed to make little difference. A series of new efforts followed the symposium, including new laws protecting the turtles from being killed by fishermen. The efforts began to show signs of success by 2000, and by the middle of the last decade the population was increasing by 12 to 17 percent per year.

Then in 2010, a fiery explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil platform killed 11 workers and dumped an estimated 4.1 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The oil boiled into the Gulf just as the Kemp’s ridley nesting season got underway. Oil fouled the area near Louisiana where female turtles normally forage after nesting at the main nesting grounds in Mexico or along the Texas Gulf Coast. Scientists found scores of dead Kemp’s ridley juveniles floating in oil scum in the deep sea among clumps of seaweed. Kemp’s ridley turtles spend the first year of their lives floating at sea in islands of sargassum seaweed.

Scientists count the number of nests laid by sea turtles to determine their long-term prospects rather than estimating the species population. Although the number of nests set a record in 2012, the trend has been downward since 2010 and scientists are worried.

Presentations at the symposium may help explain whether the oil spill is connected to the Kemp’s ridley decline. Donna Shaver, chief of the U.S. Park Service’s sea turtle science division at Padre Island National Seashore, is one of three scientists involved in the Natural Resource Damage Assessment on the Kemp’s ridley since the BP spill who will offer information from the damage study. Kimberly Reich, Sea Turtle Research Laboratory director at Texas A&M University at Galveston, will make public for the first time information about turtle foraging habits in relation to the oil spill.

A later version of the first Chron story linked above adds some more information about that 2010 oil spill and its effects.

A study presented at the Second International Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Symposium found oil in the carapace, or shell, of 29 sea turtles that returned to feed in the spill area in 2011 and 2012.

And while experts say the only way to say with certainty that the oil came from the spill would have been to test the turtles’ blood right after they came in contact with the oil, the finding provides powerful evidence that the environmental disaster dealt a blow to turtle recovery efforts, including a downward trend in nesting since 2010.

“It was on a rapid road to recovery and the recovery came to an abrupt halt in 2010, and we don’t know why,” said Selina Heppell, a professor at Oregon State University who developed the method used to calculate the turtle’s nesting population. “What the modeling suggests is that something very dramatic and unprecedented happened to the survival and reproduction of the species.”

[...]

Kimberly Reich, Sea Turtle Research Lab director at Texas A&M University in Galveston, conducted the study that was discussed Tuesday. She pointed out that because turtles nest about every two years, those exposed to oil in 2011 and 2012 would have nested in 2013 and 2014, years that saw steep declines in nesting numbers.

Reich’s study is the first information released from a three-year damage assessment conducted to find out whether the spill affected the Kemp’s ridley, the smallest of five sea turtles found in the Gulf.

Much of the information gathered by Reich is being kept under wraps for use in legal proceedings to determine BP’s liability for the spill. Reich and other researchers signed confidentiality agreements, but she was able to release her study with special permission from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Other studies are underway that are being done either independently or as part of the damage assessment.

“We hope that when we come together, all our research will paint a picture,” Reich said.

So far the picture is dismal, according to an analysis of the Kemp’s ridley nesting numbers presented by Heppell.

That’s just deeply depressing. Here’s the website and Facebook page for the symposium. I sincerely hope that Texas’ elected officials pay heed to this and do their part to take whatever action is needed to help these animals survive.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Saturday video break: Don’t Stop Believin’

You’re not too cool to sing along. Admit it.

That was recorded in Houston, as you could tell from the pandering lyrics edit. The copyright says 2005, but that’s got to be at least 20 years off. My guess this was in the venue formerly known as the Summit, then the home of the Rockets, now the home of Lakewood Church, Joel Osteen’s home court.

There are of course zillions of covers of this, of varying quality. The one I have is by Marnie Stern:

Sorry, but if you want to see the “Glee” version you can find it yourself.

Posted in: Music.

SBOE adopts history textbook changes it hasn’t read

Awesome.

After adopting hundreds of pages in last minute updates and corrections, the Texas State Board of Education approved new social studies textbooks Friday.

All but the five Democrats on the 15-member board voted to accept products from all publishers except Worldview Software, which they rejected because of concerns over factual accuracy.

“When I think of the other publishers, they were on it. They were on the errors. I did not see that here,” Tincy Miller, a Dallas Republican, said of Worldview.

In total, they approved 86 products for eight different social studies courses that will be used in Texas public schools for the next decade. School districts do not have to buy products from the list vetted by the state education board, but many do because it offers a ready guarantee that materials cover state curriculum standards.

The TFN Insider liveblog from Friday’s clown show explains just what this means.

Publishers have been submitting changes to their textbooks since the public hearing on Tuesday. The last batch of changes — listed on more than 800 pages from publisher WorldView Software — was posted on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website mid-afternoon on Thursday. Who has reviewed these and other revisions from publishers? The truth is that there is no official process for doing so. It’s hard to believe that SBOE members had time to do it. They were in meetings Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, for example, they debated important issues such as whether teachers should be thrown in jail if they use instructional materials tied to Common Core standards. (Seriously.) So SBOE members today are being asked to vote on textbooks that they, TEA staff and most Texans haven’t had time to read and scholars haven’t had an opportunity to vet. But millions of public school students will use these textbooks over the next decade.

Better be sure to read your kids’ textbooks along with them for the next ten years. Or better yet, tell your local school board – if they have sane representation – to buy their own textbooks and avoid the SBOE’s shenanigans. TFN’s press release is here, and Newsdesk has more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Of course Greg Abbott wants to sue

It’s what he does. What else is there to him?

JustSayNo

Minutes after President Obama doubled down on his promise to change the country’s immigration system through executive action, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott made a vow of his own: Expect a lawsuit from Texas.

But some legal experts doubt that Abbott, the governor-elect, could successfully challenge the president’s order, which he says he plans to do in federal court.

On Thursday, Obama announced several measures that could shield as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. That figure includes about 533,000 undocumented people in Texas who are parents of children living in the country legally.

In a statement, Abbott said Obama’s order “circumvented Congress and deliberately bypassed the will of the American people.”

“I am prepared to immediately challenge President Obama in court, securing our state’s sovereignty and guaranteeing the rule of law as it was intended under the Constitution,” Abbott added.

Proponents of the executive action claim the president is acting within his powers, and point to more than 35 cases in which similar presidential measures have been taken since 1956. They specifically cite an action by then-President George H.W. Bush — a Republican — in 1990 that shielded 1.5 million undocumented people from deportation.

A spokesman for the attorney general would not elaborate on Abbott’s statement. He said that the governor-elect made an early case for his claim on Wednesday when he told Fox News that the president had violated two provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including one called the “take care” clause “that requires the president to take care to execute the laws and clearly prevents this type of action the president is trying to undertake.” The other, Abbott said, is a violation of a section of the Constitution that gives Congress — not the president — the authority over immigration laws.

“We have seen in Texas the consequences — and we’ve dealt with them from a cost perspective — of the president’s immigration policy,” Abbott said on Fox News referring to this summer’s flood of unaccompanied minors pouring across the Texas-Mexico border. State lawmakers blamed the surge on a 2012 initiative called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that has so far protected hundreds of thousands of younger undocumented immigrants from deportation. That surge, Abbott added, gives the state of Texas standing to file suit.

Whatever. Someone has explained to Abbott that his days are going to be different once he’s not the AG anymore, right? The Trib quoted a couple of legal beagles who didn’t think he was likely to get anywhere with this. Kevin Drum spoke to quite a few more. Of course, this isn’t really about whether or not he can win for Abbott. He figures he wins just by talking tough. Like I said, whatever.

Posted in: La Migra.

And the dominoes do begin to fall

Game on.

Rep. Mike Villarreal

A calf scramble for legislative seats set off by two lawmakers’ decisions to run for San Antonio mayor could produce a rare shakeup in the Bexar County delegation that reports for duty in Austin on Jan. 13.

As many as three of the county’s 10 Texas House members could be new, along with one of its four senators — the only senator whose district is entirely in Bexar County.

The main catalysts for the upheaval were announcements by state Rep. Mike Villarreal and state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, both D-San Antonio, that they’ll run for the city’s mayorship in 2015, though the filing period isn’t until next year.

Both lawmakers have asked Gov. Rick Perry to call special elections to replace them in the upcoming 84th Legislature. No voting dates have been set.

Villarreal initially made his request to Perry on Nov. 6, but a clarifying letter was requested from him and had not been received late Thursday, state officials said. Election officials said that Villarreal can’t formally decline his office — and thus provide such a letter — until the votes are canvassed, which is expected around Dec. 1

The hiccup fueled speculation that Villarreal was reassessing his path, but he bristled at the suggestion and insisted he’s focused on the mayoral race.

“I’ve been in it for six months. We have built a coalition that is as diverse as our city. We all are in it to win. We all have our oars in the water and we’re pulling,” the District 123 representative said Thursday.

Here’s the letter Villarreal sent to Perry, from the Trib story that I had linked to previously. Note, which I had not done before, that he does not use the word “resign” but instead says he will “decline to assume the office”. I’m not an expert in the finer points of this sort of thing, but one could imagine the possibility of some wiggle room in that statement. I have no reason to doubt Villarreal’s sincerity when he says he’s running. He really has been planning for this for months, and it would be more than a little weird if he were to change his mind just like that. Still, if there’s one lesson we all learn again and again it’s that sometimes weird things happen. It’s not impossible that Villarreal could suddenly find that Sen. Van de Putte’s entry into the race has made his path to victory a lot harder, to the point that maybe it’s not worth giving up a safe legislative seat for it. We’ll know soon enough. Also, I take back the snarky things I’ve been saying about the difference between the pace at which a special election was called in SD18 and (not) in HD123. I can’t say for sure Perry is on the hook to call a special in HD123 just yet, so I’ll back off for now.

Pouncing on the Senate opening Thursday were state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and Jose Menéndez, both D-San Antonio, who declared they would compete in the District 26 special election to finish the remaining two years in Van de Putte’s current term. Neither candidate must vacate his House seat during the Senate race, only upon election, election officials said.

Other Democrats are considering the Senate race, and it wouldn’t surprise party leaders if a Republican enters the fray. Bexar Democratic Party Chairman Manuel Medina said local Republicans appear emboldened by their midterm election gains.

“I’m sure the tea party feels that in a low-turnout election, which this would be, they could be competitive,” Medina said.

Bexar GOP Chairman Robert Stovall confirmed his party is seeking a Senate candidate and probably won’t let the Democrats go unchallenged, despite “difficult” odds in District 26, where Van de Putte has served since 1999.

“There could be an opportunity of us,” Stovall said.

Greg Abbott actually nipped Barbara Radnofsky by 0.3 percentage points in SD26 in 2010, so I would agree that the Bexar GOP has an opportunity there. I’d actually agree even if that weren’t the case – there’s no real downside in trying, after all – but note that every other Dem that year carried SD26 by at least ten points, so I’d say their odds are slim and slimmer. I’d also note that President Obama scored 62% in SD26 in 2012, so if by some fluke a GOP candidate did manage to win a no-turnout special election there, he or she would be doomed in 2016. Be that as it may, I’ll put my money on either Martinez-Fischer or Menendez, both of whom had previously expressed their interest in VdP’s seat. For sure, San Antonio is in for a whirlwind of electoral activity over the next few months, and when all is said and done there ought to be more than a few new faces in new places.

Posted in: Election 2015.

The Woodlands wants to be on the high speed rail route

Can’t blame ‘em.

The Woodlands Township is urging federal and state officials to take another look at the potential benefits of adding a high-speed rail corridor along Interstate 45.

Last month, the Federal Railway Administration and the Texas Department of Transportation revealed two potential routes for a proposed bullet train that could one day connect Dallas and Houston by rail, but neither of the routes under review would come down I-45 in fast-growing Montgomery County.

Miles McKinney, legislative affairs and transportation manager for The Woodlands, said there is still time for it and surrounding communities to have some influence on the direction of the project.

“We’ve taken and written a letter asking them to reinstate the I-45 corridor for consideration and to think about it one more time and at least assess it before condemning it,” he said.

State and federal transportation officials recently narrowed the list of potential routes from nine to two. The excluded lines seemed a bit longer, which could prove more costly for a project that already has a price tag of more than $10 billion.

The route that local leaders wants transportation officials to explore is referred to as the Green Field Route. It would begin in Dallas and travel along I-45, passing through Huntsville and Montgomery County before ending in downtown Houston.

The interstate highway runs the length of Montgomery County, whose population is projected to increase from 500,000 to 1.1 million by 2040.

Given the growth of the area, McKinney said, it may be wise to ask transportation officials leading the project to consider adding a rail station north of Houston, near the Grand Parkway and The Woodlands.

See here for the background, and click the embedded image to see all of the proposed routes. I can’t argue with the logic, and in fact in past conversations I’ve had with the Texas Central Railway folks, I myself have suggested that a Woodlands-area station might make sense for them. The two “recommended” routes were chosen because they were the lowest cost, which is a non-trivial consideration in a $10 billion project. A big complicating factor is how routing the trains along I-45 might effect the cost and feasibility of bringing the trains to downtown Houston, where the terminal ought to be and is most likely to be. One possible route into downtown involves the same corridor as a proposed commuter rail line along 290, which obviously isn’t compatible with a Woodlands-friendly location. I don’t know what the best answer is, and unfortunately not everyone can be accommodated. Good luck figuring it all out.

By the way, the Central Japan Railway Company, one of the backers of Texas Central Railway, recently began test runs of a maglev train that can reach 300 miles per hour. By the time this line is finished, it could provide an even quicker ride between Dallas and Houston. Yeah, I’m excited by the prospect.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Friday random ten: Numerology

After the letters come the numbers.

1. Eat For Two – 10,000 Maniacs
2. Somebody’s Been Sleeping – 100 Proof
3. Land of the Laced – 100s
4. Sex – The 1975
5. S.I.M.P (Squirrels In My Pants) – 2 Guys N The Parque
6. Get Ready For This – 2 Unlimited
7. Scarlet – 2:54
8. Wild Eyed Southern Boys – .38 Special
9. Bone China – 50 Foot Wave
10. Go Go Go – The 88

“2 Guys N the Parque” is from Phineas and Ferb so not an actual thing, but good enough for these purposes. I’ll probably take Black Friday off – I may post a video or something like that – and will resume in December with something else. Happy Friday, y’all.

Posted in: Music.

It’s OK if energy costs go up for now

That’s my reaction to this.

As Texas regulators weigh a response to President Obama’s proposal to combat climate change, the operator of the state’s main electric grid says the plan would raise energy costs and threaten reliability – particularly in the next few years.

In an analysis released Monday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said the plan — which requires states to shift from coal-power to cut carbon emissions — would significantly increase power prices in the next few years. But those extra costs would fall in the next decades as Texans reaped long-term savings from investments in solar power and energy efficiency. 

Under the federal proposal, Texas would need to slash carbon emissions from its power plants by as much as 195 billion pounds of carbon dioxide in the next 18 years, according to a Texas Tribune analysis. That 43 percent reduction is among the larger percentage of cuts required among states.

The EPA suggests that Texas could meet its goal though a combination of actions: making coal plants more efficient, switching to cleaner-burning natural gas, adding more renewable resources and bolstering energy efficiency. Texas would have until 2016 to submit a plan to meet its carbon target.

The ERCOT analysis comes as Texas regulators prepare to file formal comments to the EPA ahead of the Dec. 1 public comment deadline.

[...]

“Given what we see today, the risk of rotating outages increases,” Warren Lasher, director of system planning at ERCOT, said Monday in a media call.

The changes would hit coal-dependent communities around Dallas and Houston particularly hard, Lasher said. Those areas would quickly need new power lines to connect with new power sources. That could prove costly. For instance, officials project a major transmission project for the Houston area to total $590 million.

“All of those costs could ultimately be born by consumers in the power bills,” Lasher said.

And I’m okay with that. The costs would be borne in the short run and would likely lead to lower costs as more renewable sources came online and became part of the statewide grid. As the Rivard Report reminds us, there’s a lot of that happening already. The pollution reduction benefit from the EPA’s directive would be substantial as well. If ERCOT is trying to scare me, it’s not working. I’m sure the EPA would be willing to be flexible with Texas on the schedule if Texas negotiates in good faith and demonstrates a real commitment to meeting the stated goals. Or Texas can sue and lose and get no help in getting this implemented as smoothly as possible. Seems like a pretty easy choice to me. Texas Clean Air Matters has more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Texas asks for federal funding for pre-k vouchers

Not sure how I feel about this.

BagOfMoney

Teacher groups are up in arms as Texas seeks millions from the federal government to fund a new pre-K voucher program that would begin next fall.

Last month, the Texas Education Agency applied for $30 million in prekindergarten grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education, its share of the $160 million federal Preschool Development Grants Program. If approved, officials plan to use 25 percent of that money to pay for full-day, high-quality preschool for eligible children in Harris, Fort Bend and Brazoria counties.

Currently, the state funds half-day public preschool for children from low-income, educationally disadvantaged, non-English speaking and military families. Under the proposed program, parents with eligible kids would sign up for the public or private pre-K program of their choice through a lottery system. If the program meets the grant’s quality requirements, the full cost of the child’s preschool would be paid for using the grant money. At around $8,000 a year per child, the grant could add an additional 17,900 additional pre-K slots, a 25 percent increase, to the existing system.

According to the grant application, the proposal would be one of four ways the TEA would use the $30 million to “expand” and “enhance” access to full-day, high-quality preschool in Texas. Critics of the proposal, however, said it would amount to little more than the creation of a pre-K school voucher program.

[...]

While the proposal is unpopular among educators, it could find friends in the state’s newly-elected leaders. Gov.-elect Greg Abbott campaigned on smarter and more accountable funding for pre-K programs, while Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick long has been a vouchers champion.

The idea also is likely to find favor with Early Matters, a coalition organized by the Greater Houston Partnership to seek ways to expand local pre-K and child-care programs. A previous effort failed to get off the ground in 2013, when organizers unsuccessfully sought to force a referendum on a 1-cent property tax to fund expanded pre-K programs locally.

The main critic cited in the story is the Coalition for Public Schools, which sent a letter to US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on October 30 outlining their issues. The Coalition’s super-minimalist website is here, and they don’t appear to have a Facebook presence, so I have been unable to find a copy of their letter and learn what their specific beefs are. Fortunately, Lisa Falkenberg was on the job and did some digging to find out more and fill in some of the gaps.

I was initially skeptical of the criticisms. After all, the Texas Workforce Commission has administered a federal subsidy system since the 1990s that essentially provides very low-income parents a voucher to pay for private child care so they can go back to work or school. A Texas Education Agency spokeswoman said this program would serve as a model for the proposed one.

And isn’t it a bit early for complaints anyway? Shouldn’t we all still be singing “Kumbaya” about Texas applying for any program near and dear to President Barack Obama’s heart? After snubbing Common Core and Race to the Top – in part, for good reason, I might add – Texas announced in September that it would apply for the federal grant. Much of it would benefit Harris, Fort Bend and Brazoria counties.

[...]

We need money. The grant proposal, written with the help of the folks at The Children’s Learning Institute at the University of Texas Health Science Center here in Houston, offers some good ideas.

“I guess I was kind of shocked to see the article this morning with the outcry … all about the voucher system,” said April Crawford, the institute’s director of state initiatives. “Certainly, 75 percent of it is not about a voucher approach at all. Twenty-five percent, they might go to a private program, but they also might go to a school near work that they know as a high-quality program. It just gives them more flexibility to pick and choose.”

So, what’s the problem?

For starters, a little reporting revealed I was wrong in thinking Texas had been there, done that with the Workforce Commission program. It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. The Workforce program is about private child care. It has nothing to do with the public education system. So, there’s no risk of a private entity siphoning off dollars intended for public schools.

Then, there’s the Greater Houston Partnership’s beef. The business group, which considers pre-K its No. 1 legislative priority, has been working with Early Matters to expand and improve pre-K in Texas. A critical part of its effort is to create partnerships between school districts and private providers with extra classroom space.

“A voucher system really complicates that and gets in the way of that partnership,” said Jim Postl, former CEO of Pennzoil-Quaker State Company who heads the Partnership’s early childhood committee and is chairman of Early Matters. “The voucher system would bypass the ISDs and potentially go directly to the private providers. So, there’s less incentive for the two groups to work together.”

And then there’s the political taint of the V-word.

“I’m always suspicious when vouchers seem to come out of nowhere,” says Anthony, of Raise Your Hand.

Indeed, no one I talked to could tell me who insisted on including the voucher component. No one could really explain the purpose of it, either.

I basically agree with Falkenberg, and that leaves me back where I started. The v-word, as she puts it, is automatically suspicious, and in this case has a mysterious origin. Until that has been explained, and the concerns raised in her column have been addressed, I will be suspicious. There’s plenty of reason to not give any benefit of the doubt here. As we saw during the gubernatorial campaign, Greg Abbott isn’t interested in fully funding pre-k, so for better or worse we should continue to push for it locally.

Posted in: School days.

SBOE defers new textbook decision

They’re funny even when they’re not trying to be.

After an afternoon spent wrangling over the proper definition of jihad and the influence of Moses on the Founding Fathers, it was Common Core that ultimately derailed the State Board of Education’s initial vote on giving a stamp of approval to new social studies textbooks Tuesday.

An initiative spawned by the National Governor’s Association to set uniform academic standards across U.S. public schools, Common Core has become a frequent punching bag for conservative activists who believe it injects liberal bias into the classroom.

Its specter first emerged Tuesday when one of the more than 20 witnesses testifying at the meeting alerted board members that supplementary materials on the website of Cengage Learning, publisher of a sixth grade social studies textbook, mention the national standards.

“I don’t know how this book even got past anybody,” said Tincy Miller, a Dallas Republican. “I’m not voting for anything that says common core, I can assure you of that.”

Until the last hour of the meeting, it appeared the 15-member board would grant preliminary approval for instructional materials from all publishers except Cengage. Then, some board members balked at that, worried that with changes from publishers still coming in, they would be voting on content without a chance to review it.

With four Republicans abstaining and all five Democrats voting against approval, the motion for preliminary approval failed — leaving only a final vote Friday.

The board is considering 96 products for eight different social studies courses that will be used in Texas classrooms next fall, the culmination of a public review that began this summer.

Throughout the approval process, publishers have faced criticism from groups across the political spectrum for perceived flaws in how books handle topics like climate change, Islam, and the role Christianity played in the American Revolution. The process itself, which allows publishers to make changes in response to public input up until the day of the final vote, has also raised concern.

“Some of it’s some personality, it’s some process. But this process is jacked up when we make decisions at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night for 5 million kids.” said Thomas Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant Republican, after the vote. “We’re getting stuff still coming in and being asked to vote on it.”

You can say that again. The Chron story on the SBOE meeting and its lack of approval is here. Naturally, following the sustained grassroots movement that led to a victory for common sense on climate change, Tuesday’s hearing was partly hijacked by a group of wingnuts called the Truth in Texas Textbooks Coalition that submitted – in late October – a 469-page report detailing 1500 “errors” in textbooks. I’m sure the Board gave it the attention it deserved. Anyway, they’ll try again today. I’m not even sure what I’m rooting for at this point. Newsdesk, K12 Zone, Unfair Park, and TFN Insider, whose liveblog of the hearing will be the most comprehensive thing you read about it, has more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Pro-ride sharing but anti-Uber

Stop what you’re doing and read this.

Uber

A big debate among the Pando staff for the past two years has been over just how morally bankrupt Uber is. Earlier this evening, a bombshell story by Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith proves the reality is way worse than anyone on our team could have expected.

And that’s saying something.

Back in 2012, Paul Carr first raised serious concerns about the company’s view that both riders and drivers are disposable commodities in an all-out Randian battle to maximize profits. He uninstalled the app when he wrote that piece, and he started a drumbeat of press around these concerns.

Then, in 2014, Carmel DeAmicis exposed that an Uber driver accused of assault had a criminal record that should have been uncovered by the background checks Uber claimed to do. She further documented a “blame the passenger” culture at the company when such complaints came up.

It started to snowball: An investigation at The Verge exposed cut throat competitive tactics that the company has taken against its primary competitor Lyft.

Then, a few weeks ago, I wrote a story about the outrageous sexism woven deeply into the culture of the company. We’ve seen it in the company’s PR team discrediting female passengers who accuse drivers of attacking them by whispering that they were “drunk” or “dressed provocatively.”

We’ve seen it in CEO Travis Kalanick’s comments that he calls the company “boober” because of all the tail he gets since running it.

And on October 22, we saw it again with an offensive campaign in Lyon that encouraged riders to get picked up by hot female drivers, essentially a scary invitation to objectify (or worse) any woman working for the company. That ad was taken down once exposed by Buzzfeed, but sources tell us no one was fired for taking that kind of “initiative.” We also heard that Kalanick’s misogyny is such a problem that recently hired political operative David Plouffe had made it a priority to work on the CEO’s behavior. As if that kind of misogyny– and encouragement of it in a corporate culture– is something that careful media training can repair rather than simply disguise.

I have known many of Uber’s key investors and founders personally for six to ten years. Over that time I’ve seen an ever-worsening frat culture where sexist jokes and a blind eye here-or-there have developed into a company where the worst kind of smearing and objectification of women is A-ok. It’s impossible to prove that Kalanick directly ordered things like slut-shaming female passengers or the creepy Lyon ad — and, to be clear, there’s no evidence he was personally involved in either of those scandals — but let’s be clear: The acceptance of this kind of behavior comes from the top.

When I saw the Lyon post, it was finally enough for me. As a woman and mother of two young kids, I no longer felt safe using Uber and deleted the app from my phone.

And yet, somehow, despite years now of Pando carefully chronicling this disturbing escalation of horrible behavior — which has been considered cute by many of the other tech blogs and excused away by the VCs profiting off Uber– the company still has the ability to shock and horrify me.

Today, in his horrifying scoop, Smith writes about the the lengths that at least one Uber executive, Emil Michael, was willing to go to discredit anyone– particularly a woman– who may try to question how Uber operates.

Ruining her life? Manufacturing lies? Going after her family? Apparently it’s all part of what Uber has described as its “political campaign” to build a $30 billion (and counting) tech company. A campaign that David Plouffe was hired to “run,” that’s looking more like a pathetic version of play acting House of Cards than a real campaign run by a real political professional. Because step one of an illegal smear campaign against a woman is: Don’t brag about it to a journalist at a party.

The woman in question? The woman that this Uber executive has vowed to go to nearly any lengths to ruin, to bully into silence? Me.

By the way, as of this posting, the executive in question still works for Uber. As you know, I have been a proponent of so-called ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, and have supported their efforts to get cities to update their municipal codes to allow them to operate, even as they have flouted existing rules while waiting for that to happen. I continue to see enough good in the possibilities of such services to believe they should be allowed to operate, and I also believe they’ll come in whether we want them to or not so it’s better to get ahead of the issue and regulate them as needed rather than react to them.

That doesn’t mean that I think these services are unalloyed good – I’m not nearly naive enough to believe that any large corporate enterprise can be “good” in anything but a limited set of ways – nor does it mean that I’m rooting for either of these companies to be the market standards. There were and are plenty of things about their business model to give one pause, and that’s before the latest string of embarrassing and horrifying stories about Uber began hitting the wires. I hadn’t gotten around to installing one of these apps on my phone – I don’t really have much need for a vehicle for hire – and with Lyft’s departure I see no need to install one now. Given what we have learned about Uber, I could not in good conscience use them or recommend them. There are plenty of ways to get around Houston without your own car, including those stodgy old taxis, and they’re all preferable to the ungodly mess that is Uber. Frankly, the best thing that could happen at this point is for that business to collapse under the weight of its own arrogance and hubris, and have a better business, one that actually cares about its drivers and its riders, emerge to replace it. You brought this on yourself, Uber. May you serve as a lesson to others for a long time.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

What to expect from the DACA announcement

So today is the long-awaited, should-have-happened-months-ago announcement of executive action by President Obama on immigration enforcement and deportation. Stace, the Observer, and Politico have good overviews of what to expect. I personally hope Obama goes big, but whatever he does do the one other thing you can expect is a lawsuit.

Rick Perry said Wednesday afternoon there is a “very real possibility” that Texas sues President Barack Obama over his plan to issue an executive order on immigration, echoing what the governor’s successor has been suggesting for weeks.

In his first public remarks since Obama announced he will detail the action on Thursday night, Perry said the president’s plan “sticks a finger in the eye of the American people with no thought about it” and may hurt Democrats’ long-term prospects of returning to power in Washington.

“I think the president is taking a major, major political chance with what he’s doing,” Perry said. “He’s putting his party in jeopardy, and I think he’s putting members of the Senate and the House in jeopardy.”

Gov.-elect Greg Abbott, who is attorney general for two more months, has floated the idea of filing his 31st lawsuit against the Obama administration if it moves forward with the plan, which is expected to shield from deportation millions of people in the country illegally. Abbott, who is scheduled to participate in a similar event Thursday afternoon at the RGA conference, has said he believes the state has standing in such a case because it can show it has been financially burdened by federal inaction on the border crisis.

Not taking action sure didn’t do Democrats in Congress any good, but never mind that for now. Putting aside the fact that the executive order is likely to benefit the Texas economy since we are so heavily dependent on the contributions from immigrants, the question is whether this lawsuit would be likely to succeed. Given that you can never be sure with this Supreme Court, the answer seems to be no.

Experts agree that the president has wide discretion to decide which migrants to target for deportation under the law enforcement theory of prosecutorial discretion. There are roughly 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally and officials have to prioritize which ones to remove. The Supreme Court reaffirmed that wide latitude in the 2012 ruling Arizona v. US, in which the justices said key provisions of Arizona’s strict immigration law ran afoul of federal supremacy in the area.

“Removal is a civil matter, and one of its principal features is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials, who must decide whether to pursue removal at all,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority decision, joined by four other justices.

The Center for American Progress, an influential liberal think tank, argued in a July 2014 brief: “Even in the civil context, the Supreme Court has made clear that ‘an agency’s decision not to prosecute or enforce, whether through civil or criminal process, is a decision generally committed to an agency’s absolute discretion.’ The Court has repeatedly affirmed the long-standing principle that the executive branch has virtually unfettered discretion in deciding how and whether to enforce the law against individuals.”

Not that the likelihood of failure has ever deterred Rick Perry or Greg Abbott from suing the federal government, of course. Still, this is no slam dunk, and the bigger Obama goes the likelier he is to cross some invisible fence and deliver a shock to Anthony Kennedy, with predictable results. Be that as it may, this action is long overdue, and if the Republicans want to alienate Latino voters even more, they’re welcome to do so. I look forward to seeing what the President has in mind.

Posted in: La Migra.

Van de Putte to run for Mayor of San Antonio

Wow.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Ending weeks of speculation, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte said Wednesday she is running for mayor of San Antonio.

Just two weeks after a crushing defeat in the lieutenant governor ‘s race, Van de Putte — who is credited with running a spirited statewide campaign — is expected to electrify the municipal election.

For months, there had been growing speculation that she would enter the fray, and more recently, she had said she was “praying for guidance” about whether to tackle a mayoral race.

Van de Putte, a third-generation San Antonian and West Side Democrat, told the San Antonio Express-News on Wednesday that since entering elected office in 1990, she has fought for the people of San Antonio.

“I think any leader has to have a basis of a character and of that makeup that makes them strong — and not strong physically and maybe not strong emotionally, but strong in the sense of commitment — and for me, that strength comes from a faith and family,” she said in an interview at the newspaper. “And so the decision that our family has made and that I want is to be the next mayor of San Antonio.”

State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, rolled out his campaign in the wake of then-Mayor Julián Castro’s announcement this summer that he’d be leaving to join President Barack Obama’s Cabinet as secretary of Housing and Urban development.

Van de Putte’s entry into the May 9 mayoral race certainly kills Villarreal’s chances of sailing easily into the office.

[...]

Van de Putte said she intends to send Gov. Rick Perry a letter Thursday asking him to call a special election for her seat, which she will hold until a successor is elected.

Her decision shakes up the Democratic landscape, setting off a scramble for the District 26 Texas Senate seat she’s held since 1999 and possibly affecting other offices that might be vacated.

Two Democrats in the Texas House have expressed interest in the Senate seat — state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and José Menéndez, and other candidacies are likely in the sprawling district.

Martinez Fischer, a longtime ally of Van de Putte, has represented District 116 since 2001. The outspoken chairman of the Mexican America Legislative Caucus would be a leading contender to replace Van de Putte but hasn’t formally declared his intentions.

Here’s the Trib story, which also mentions Van de Putte’s resignation strategy. I don’t think the two-thirds is likely to be much of a factor, but having a full contingent of Democrats is needed as a bulwark against any attempts to put noxious constitutional amendments on next year’s ballot. Rick Perry still hasn’t called a special election to fill Villarreal’s seat, though he broke records calling one for Glenn Hegar. My best guess is that there won’t be one for SD26 until next November, which may trigger the need for at least one more depending on who wins the election to succeed Van de Putte.

I will admit to being surprised by this. I have no insider knowledge, I just figured Sen. Van de Putte wouldn’t want to jump from one bruising campaign to another so quickly, though at least this one won’t have her on the road all the time. I can understand why she might be ready to leave the Senate, which I expect will be a whole lot of no fun for her this spring. Maybe once you’ve accepted the possibility of one big change, the possibility of another is easier to handle. I wish her well, as I also wish Mike Villarreal well; both would make fine Mayors. For at least the next two to four years, the best prospect for progress in this state is at the local level, where Mayors can push for a lot of things that our state government won’t. I hope both Leticia Van de Putte and Mike Villarreal (and anyone else who joins them in that race) embrace that potential and run a spirited, issues-oriented, forward-looking campaign, and may the best candidate win.

One more thing: It will be a sad day when Sen. Van de Putte leaves the Senate, but change is always inevitable and new blood is a good and necessary thing. It’s a great opportunity for some other talented politicians as well, and Democrats can emerge from all these changes just fine. There’s no point in looking back. What comes next is what matters.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Yet another lawsuit against Texas’ ban on same sex marriage

And then there were ten.

RedEquality

Texas now has at least 10 pending lawsuits challenging the state’s bans on same-sex marriage — believed to be the most of any state.

An Austin lesbian widow is the latest to challenge the marriage bans after her late partner’s family sought to exclude her from the estate — an all-too-common scenario in Texas.

Sonemaly Phrasavath says she and her wife, Stella Powell, were together for 10 years, according to a report from KXAN-TV.

They had a domestic partnership and planned to start a family when Powell was diagnosed with cancer last year. Powell died in June before they were able to notarize her will, but Phrasavath is now seeking to have their relationship recognized as a common-law marriage in Texas.

Phrasavath is represented by gay attorney Brian Thompson, a board member for Equality Texas.

[...]

The case is headed to court in January. Although it’s possible Phrasavath will get a favorable ruling from the probate judge, it’s also likely that Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office would intervene and appeal the decision, as it has done in several other cases challenging the marriage bans.

And new AG Ken Paxton will pick up where Abbott leaves off. They’ll appeal and obstruct until they run out of options. Sonemaly Phrasavath and Stella Powell’s story is one of many being told on the new Texas for Marriage site that I wrote about yesterday. Lambda Legal has a description of the nine other current lawsuits involving Texas’ discriminatory law. Our state will be a much better place when that abomination is finally dead and buried.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 17

The Texas Progressive Alliance continues to look forward as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Texas For Marriage

This.

Law enforcement officials, state legislators, faith leaders and a great-grandmother are among those lending their voices to a new campaign to bring marriage equality to Texas.

The national group Freedom to Marry plans to spend $200,000 on the campaign launched Tuesday, in advance of oral arguments before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January in a federal lawsuit challenging Texas’ same-sex marriage bans.

The campaign will be led by Ward Curtin, three-time deputy campaign manager to Houston Mayor Annise Parker, and Mark McKinnon, a former advisor to President George W. Bush.

“Nearly every state and federal court from last year on, more than 50 – with judges appointed by Republican and Democratic presidents and governors – has ruled in favor of the freedom to marry and moving the country forward,” Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson said. “Texas families should not be left behind. Government has no business interfering in important freedoms like who Texans marry, and no business putting obstacles in the path of families and employers trying to do the right thing. Our new campaign will show that Texans are ready for the freedom to marry, and so is America.”

In addition to a website unveiled Tuesday, TxForMarriage.org, the campaign will feature statewide TV ads, townhall meetings and a Republican-led effort by young conservatives.

“Gay marriage was barely a blip on the radar this past election cycle in Texas, as it was in the rest of the country,” McKinnon said. “That’s because discrimination doesn’t sell like it used to — and because Texans from all walks of life, from big cities to small towns, believe strongly in freedom and family. Supporting gay couples marrying is squarely in line with these Texas values.”

I’m delighted to see this. I encourage you to visit TxForMarriage.org and read the stories. Show the website to anyone you may know that doesn’t yet believe in equality. I’d love for everyone to see the justice and rightness in this cause and come around to it on their own, and I agree with Texas Leftist that the religious community needs to be engaged as much and as respectfully as possible, but we all know there will be holdouts, and we all know who they are. So I’ll be just as happy if the Fifth Circuit and/or the Supreme Court fulfills their darkest nightmares and jams marriage equality down their throats, if that’s what it takes. We can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way, either is fine by me. Texas Politics and Equality Texas have more.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

McCrum avoids contempt charge

Whew.

Mike McCrum

Mike McCrum, the special prosecutor in the criminal case against Gov. Rick Perry, was cleared Monday of an attempt to find him in contempt of court stemming from a separate case.

Visiting Judge Dick Alcala declined to find McCrum, a prominent local defense lawyer, in contempt after a daylong hearing.

The district attorney’s office here had accused McCrum of instructing a punishment-phase witness in an October 2013 intoxication manslaughter trial to “get lost for awhile” and turn off her phone to avoid testifying.

Alcala said he was troubled by two things — that the witness, Melanie Little, was kept for more than seven hours in a locked room under threat of prosecution herself when she gave her side of the story to a district attorney’s office investigator the day after she testified, and McCrum’s business practices regarding subpoenaing witnesses.

“I’m concerned with the circumstances” under which the DA’s office obtained Little’s statement, the judge said, adding it was difficult for him to believe they didn’t play a role in what she said.

McCrum said he felt gratified by the ruling.

“I’m glad that it finally came out in the open the horrendous treatment that Melanie Little and her colleagues were put through, being locked up for seven or eight hours — that’s just reprehensible,” he said.

He said he was pleased that Monday’s ruling came before District Attorney Susan Reed left office so it could be a comment on her administration. Reed, a Republican, lost a bid for re-election to Democrat Nico LaHood on Nov. 4.

“When you see the lack of evidence that they had and the circumstances under which it was done, certainly it calls into question the motives of the DA and her supervisors,” McCrum said.

See here for the background. Nice little twist of the knife on Susan Reed there. The contempt charge always seemed like a stretch, but you never know. Now McCrum can focus exclusively on the Perry prosecution. Which has now survived the motion to disqualify McCrum.

The special prosecutor pressing criminal charges against Gov. Rick Perry will not be disqualified from the case over questions around the oath of office he took. A judge ruled Tuesday that the prosecutor was properly sworn into office.

“This court concludes that [Special Prosecutor Michael] McCrum’s authority was not voided by the procedural irregularities in how and when the oath of office were administered and filed,” Visiting Judge Bert Richardson wrote in a 16-page ruling filed in Austin.

On Nov. 6, Perry watched his attorneys argue in court that McCrum was improperly sworn in as special prosecutor more than a year ago. Perry attorney Tony Buzbee said the Texas Constitution required McCrum to sign an anti-bribery statement before taking his oath. McCrum testified that he did the reverse, taking the oath first.

Buzbee said he and co-counsel David Botsford “respectfully disagree with the judge, but as always, will respect the court’s decisions and will await his further rulings.”

Buzbee also said he and Botsford were confident they will prevail on other challenges and “expect a favorable ruling ending this case hopefully by the end of November.”

That ruling is here. We are still waiting on a ruling from Judge Richardson on the other defense motions to dismiss the indictments. I guess we can now assume we’ll know something by Thanksgiving. The defense has filed yet another brief with the court, responding to McCrum’s response to earlier briefs. Hope Judge Richardson knows how to speed read.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Trevino gets probation

Such a shame.

Victor Trevino

Former Harris County Precinct 6 constable Victor Trevino, who pleaded guilty in a public corruption case this month, was sentenced on Monday to 10 years of probation – avoiding incarceration for his criminal activity and capping a 40-year law enforcement career by becoming a felon.

He faced a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Trevino, 62, also was fined $1,000 and ordered to perform 150 hours of community service. Prosecutors and the former constable’s defense team were working to determine a restitution figure.

Before 185th District Criminal Court Judge Susan Brown handed down the sentence, Trevino testified: “I pleaded guilty because I am guilty.”

He said that his admission to a single count of misapplication of fiduciary property, a third-degree felony, was associated with his lack of oversight as the president of CARE, a charity he founded a few years after he was elected constable in 1988.

When asked by prosecutor Bill Moore if he used his position of trust as a public servant and his leadership of the nonprofit for personal gain, Trevino said no, but expressed regret that his actions had caused “suspicion” and “confusion.”

[...]

The three-hour sentencing hearing on Monday included testimony from Harris County District Attorney’s Office fraud examiner George Jordan. He detailed Trevino’s wrongdoing by connecting cashed CARE checks to deposits in Trevino’s personal bank accounts that were closely timed to the constable’s trips to casinos and lottery ticket purchases. The fraud examiner’s testimony also noted the lack of additions to the nonprofit’s account in the weeks before and after certain fundraising events. The analysis showed at least $124,000 in cash deposits to Trevino or his wife’s personal accounts from 2008 to 2011.

The investigation led the fraud examiner to a surprising conclusion about a veteran lawman whose annual household income exceeded $200,000: “He appeared to not be as financially stable as I expected.”

See here, here, and here for the background. As noted, Trevino avoids jail time but did not get deferred adjudication as he sought, and thus will have a felony conviction on his record. Commissioners Court will appoint an interim Constable on Tuesday – or possibly sooner – after they finish canvassing the election results. Several former employees of Precinct 6 who were terminated for various reasons are talking about bringing legal action over their terminations now, so the effect of this case could linger for awhile. All in all, a disgraceful ending to what had once been a distinguished career. Hair Balls has more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.