Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Precinct analysis: Ryan v Leitner

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan was the only non-judicial incumbent elected in November. Here’s how his race looked.


Dist    Leitner     Ryan  Leitner%   Ryan%
==========================================
CD02    158,149  113,363    58.25%  41.75%
CD07    135,129  116,091    53.79%  46.21%
CD09     25,714  106,728    19.42%  80.58%
CD10     80,244   36,703    68.62%  31.38%
CD18     46,062  154,354    22.98%  77.02%
CD29     35,312   93,732    27.36%  72.64%
				
SBOE6   331,484  269,022    55.20%  44.80%
				
HD126    34,999   25,571    57.78%  42.22%
HD127    47,719   24,876    65.73%  34.27%
HD128    40,809   17,464    70.03%  29.97%
HD129    41,206   26,677    60.70%  39.30%
HD130    58,268   21,630    72.93%  27.07%
HD131     6,719   39,011    14.69%  85.31%
HD132    37,294   30,571    54.95%  45.05%
HD133    46,509   28,002    62.42%  37.58%
HD134    42,937   44,634    49.03%  50.97%
HD135    31,651   27,468    53.54%  46.46%
HD137     8,661   17,869    32.65%  67.35%
HD138    26,893   23,486    53.38%  46.62%
HD139    11,874   39,721    23.01%  76.99%
HD140     6,316   20,762    23.33%  76.67%
HD141     4,969   32,887    13.13%  86.87%
HD142    10,179   34,249    22.91%  77.09%
HD143     8,745   23,486    27.13%  72.87%
HD144    10,725   16,024    40.09%  59.91%
HD145    10,858   22,921    32.14%  67.86%
HD146     9,532   38,323    19.92%  80.08%
HD147    11,719   45,087    20.63%  79.37%
HD148    17,529   29,206    37.51%  62.49%
HD149    15,405   27,290    36.08%  63.92%
HD150    48,085   26,950    64.08%  35.92%
				
CC1      70,740  240,579    22.72%  77.28%
CC2     123,739  124,368    49.87%  50.13%
CC3     188,415  160,213    54.04%  45.96%
CC4     206,707  158,990    56.52%  43.48%
Vince Ryan

Vince Ryan

Ryan is the third-longest tenured non-judicial countywide officeholder, trailing County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez and County Judge Ed Emmett. He just barely missed having the third-highest vote total in 2016, trailing Hillary Clinton, Kim Ogg, and (by 317 votes) judicial candidate Kelli Johnson. The precinct data tells the story you would expect it to tell given this – Ryan won in HD134 and Commissioners Court Precinct 2, and he was generally above the baseline wherever you looked. He had been an above average performer in 2012 and 2008 as well, and he had a successful, no-drama second term.

That may not be the case for his third term, and the people who are most likely to give him heartburn, at least in the early days of 2017, are his fellow Democrats, Sheriff-elect Ed Gonzalez and DA-elect Kim Ogg. I refer of course to the bail practices lawsuit, where Ryan is (via outside counsel) defending the county, which includes the Sheriff’s office, even though Gonzalez doesn’t want to fight the litigation. Ogg is likely to be on Gonzalez’s side when she gets sworn in, which will be a little awkward for Ryan. More awkward is that defending the county’s position doesn’t sit well with the Democratic base. I saw a bit of griping about this on Facebook before the election, but for obvious reasons that got buried under other matters. But it will be a focus of attention when the case gets back on track in January, and if it gets drawn out this is the sort of thing that can generate enmity, and quite possibly a primary challenger in four years.

That’s a long way off, and there’s no reason why the case can’t be settled. Then Ryan can get back to doing the things he really gets energized about, like going after polluters and other public nuisances. If he keeps that up, he ought to be in good position to be an above-average performer again in 2020.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Pasadena voting rights case in the judge’s hands now

We await a ruling.

Pasadena City Council

Armed officers guarded a closed-door committee meeting. Discriminatory comments surfaced at City Hall. Latino-backed council members were hustled from chambers by police.

The accounts of perceived intimidation and back-door dealings were detailed during testimony in a closely watched seven-day trial of a federal voting rights lawsuit that wrapped up Friday in a Houston courtroom.

Now, U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal will decide if Pasadena violated the federal Voting Rights Act by reconfiguring its city election system, a ruling that is expected in time for February filing deadlines for May elections in which city council seats and the mayor’s job are up for grabs.

A group of Latino voters filed the federal lawsuit, saying city leaders changed the structure of council elections in a deliberate attempt to quell the Hispanic vote.

“The city moved to dilute voting strength just as Latinos were starting to exercise it,” said Nina Perales, lead attorney in the suit for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in her closing arguments to the court.

City attorneys argued that leaders did not set out to diminish Hispanic representation by presenting an option to voters to change the city election systems. The growing Latino population has an equal chance to participate in the political process to elect their candidate of choice, said C. Robert Heath, a veteran attorney who specializes in voting rights and election law.

“No one said, ‘Vote yes (on the ballot measure) to diminish Hispanic representation,’ ” he said.

See here and here for the background. There were a couple of other stories related to this case published last week. From Monday, when Mayor Isbell took the stand:

The mayor of Pasadena chuckled and shook his head Monday when his defense lawyer asked if he had ever been a member of the Ku Klux Klan, which had its headquarters in the city for many years.

“No. It’s a despicable organization as far as I’m concerned,” Mayor Johnny Isbell, who is white, testified.

He is not racist, nor is Pasadena a racist city, he testified.

[…]

Isbell said he had appointed African-Americans and Hispanics to top jobs in his administration and actively backed a few Hispanic candidates’ campaigns. He said he supported redistricting and switching from eight single-member districts to six single-member districts plus two at-large seats because decades in public office taught him a mixed election system worked best.

He also contradicted testimony last week by Hispanic City Council member Ornaldo Ybarra, who said Isbell was known to have said to like-minded constituents that if they didn’t back his proposed revisions that the city government would be overpowered by “an invasion of Hispanics.”

The mayor testified that the changing demographics of Pasadena don’t bother him, and he quibbled with Ybarra’s portrayal of a north-south split in Pasadena, with Hispanics in the northern sector having to live amid urban blight, poorly maintained streets and subpar drainage.

The judge asked questions to clarify how the city divided.

Isbell said the north was mostly Hispanic and the south was majority white. But Isbell said the charter vote was not a white-versus-Hispanic issue.

“It was a Democrat and Republican issue, that’s the way it ended up,” he said.

The next day one of Isbell’s allies made an embarrassing admission during his testimony.

A top Pasadena official admitted on the witness stand that he violated state ethics laws by campaigning during work hours for the mayor’s re-election bid and for a 2013 charter amendment to change the city’s election system.

Richard Scott, the city’s director of community relations, testified in trial in a federal voting rights lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal that he’d used city workers and resources to do campaign work during business hours and sent campaign-related emails from his city account.

He said he regretted his actions and knew they were in violation of state law.

The statute of limitations has expired on the 2013 admission but Scott could be charged with a crime for working on the mayor’s 2015 campaign, according to Nina Perales, one of the team of attorneys from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund pursuing the lawsuit.

[…]

Scott’s testimony came during questioning by MALDEF attorney Ernest Herrera in the civil trial of a lawsuit filed by Hispanic voters.

Scott, a longtime confidante of Mayor Johnny Isbell, sat up tall and answered the questions without hesitation. Yes, he had used his work email address. Yes, he’d had city employees help him during work hours on the campaigns. Yes, he knew that was a violation of campaign law.

Okay then. Chron reporter Mike Snyder attended the trail and picked out a few key quotes to highlight from it.

“You don’t have to look at the budget to see that one side of town is clearly being treated differently than the other.” – Pasadena Councilman Cody Ray Wheeler.

The councilman, a Latino in his second term who is part of the faction that has opposed the mayor on contentious topics, was discussing the real-world consequences of the issues in the case. Residents of Pasadena’s mostly Latino north side have long complained that the quality of their streets, drainage and other essential services lags far behind conditions on the predominantly Anglo south side.

The most recently adopted council structure of six district seats and two at-large ones replaced a system of eight district positions. If, as the suit alleges, the new system makes it harder for the city’s growing Latino population to elect its preferred candidates, this under-representation is reflected in residents’ daily lives. This trial is not a theoretical exercise.

[…]

“Who are you to vote against me?” – Isbell to Wheeler, according to Wheeler’s testimony.

Wheeler said the mayor posed this question after Wheeler voted against a bond package that Isbell initially supported. Isbell has not confirmed or denied having made the statement, but it’s the kind of thing a longtime public official accustomed to having his way might say to a young, ambitious politician like Wheeler. Isbell, 78, has held elective office in Pasadena almost continuously since 1969 – 16 years before the 31-year-old Wheeler was born. A sense of entitlement can be a byproduct of all that experience.

[…]

“We’ve got to keep Pasadena Pasadena.” – unidentified Anglo precinct judge to Wheeler, explaining his support for the new council system on Nov. 5, 2013 – the day voters narrowly approved it.

I think this comment speaks for itself.

Indeed, though it’s up to Judge Rosenthal to decide if it merits legal redress. She has promised a decision in time to conduct the May elections in Pasadena, which all things considered probably means by February.

Posted in: Legal matters.

More on the overtime rule ruling

From the NYT:

Over the last two years, Federal District Court judges in the state have chipped away at Mr. Obama’s legacy by striking down or suspending no fewer than five regulations, executive orders or actions, and guidelines, including an action that would have allowed illegal immigrants who are parents of United States citizens to remain in the country, and guidance that would have expanded restroom access for transgender students.

The injunction in the overtime case, issued on Tuesday by a judge nominated by Mr. Obama, has many advocates and legal experts concerned.

“It’s a troubling trend because it’s essentially delegating policy oversight to a set of handpicked judges in the South, who can pick and choose which regulations move forward and which do not,” said Matthew Wessler, a principal at the firm Gupta Wessler who has argued multiple cases involving workers before the Supreme Court.

[…]

In an interview, the Nevada attorney general, Adam Paul Laxalt, whose state was the lead plaintiff in the case against the overtime rule, said that the coalition of states it led had elected to file in the Eastern District of Texas because the district had a reputation for handing down rulings quickly.

“That was what is known as a fast docket,” Mr. Laxalt said. “The decision was made based on a bunch of variables, but we thought we may be able to get the quickest answer.” Citing the Dec. 1 effective date for the new regulation, he said, “We were really fighting the clock.”

Mr. Laxalt added that Nevada had been part of multistate litigation that was filed in other states, including a case over a rule regulating waterways, which was filed in North Dakota.

[…]

Even though the federal judge who ruled on the overtime regulation, Amos L. Mazzant III, was formally nominated by Mr. Obama in 2014, the influence of Mr. Cruz and Mr. Cornyn made it unlikely that he would be overly sympathetic to federal regulations, Mr. Levy said.

Still, the sweep of Judge Mazzant’s decision appears to have surprised even skeptics of the regulation.

The Obama regulation raised the annual salary limit below which workers are automatically eligible for overtime pay — something that previous administrations, including George W. Bush’s, had done several times since 1938 — to $47,476, from $23,660.

In his ruling, however, Judge Mazzant suggested not simply that the administration lacked the authority to raise the salary limit so high, but that no administration had the authority to establish and raise a salary limit of any kind.

Nothing in the law, he wrote, “indicates that Congress intended the department to define and delimit with respect to a minimum salary level.”

(Judge Mazzant retreated from the implications of this statement in a footnote asserting that he was determining the legality only of the Obama regulation.)

Asked if he agreed with the judge that the Labor Department lacked the authority to create a salary limit of any kind, not just the new level developed by the administration, Mr. Laxalt, the Nevada attorney general, said, “We do think the judge got it right when he said it’s unclear whether or not they can do an arbitrary salary test,” but confessed that he wouldn’t necessarily follow the ruling to its logical conclusion.

“I’m not prepared to say categorically we’re opposed to the 23,000,” the limit established by George W. Bush, he said.

For his part, Thomas E. Perez, the labor secretary, argued in an interview that it simply was not possible to single out the Obama salary limit as extreme or arbitrary while accepting the previous increases, since the new limit was in line with some of them.

“If we had simply indexed the 1975 threshold to inflation, that number would be well in excess of what our current threshold is,” he said — about $57,000 annually.

The administration is widely expected to appeal the ruling, given the extensive history of such increases, and many management-side lawyers believed that Judge Mazzant was out on a limb.

“The Labor Department has been setting these minimums since 1940,” said Allan Bloom of the law firm Proskauer Rose. “This is the first time that a district court judge is essentially saying you don’t have the authority to do that.”

See here for the background. Kevin Drum brings the charts to show why the Labor Department’s rulemaking was well within the bounds of past precedent and should have been respected. It’s telling that even the lead plaintiff, who got everything he wanted and then some, didn’t quite fully embrace Judge Mazzant’s reasoning. I suppose that’s a small sliver of hope that the Fifth Circuit could reel him in, but you know what what it means to have to rely on the Fifth Circuit.

And of course to some extent this is all play acting at this point. The Trump Labor Department, which will no doubt be run by someone who longs for the days of indentured servitude and who thinks child labor laws are an affront to common decency, can simply repeal this directive at its discretion. And if you’ve been applauding these district court judges essentially making national policy, just remember that two can play this game. I think this is a bad way to run a government, but if it’s the reality we’re now in, then it is what it is.

UPDATE: The Labor Department has asked the Fifth Circuit for a quick hearing of their appeal.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Weekend link dump for December 4

“Richard Painter, Chief Ethics Counsel for George W. Bush, and Norman Eisen, Chief Ethics Counsel for Barack Obama, believe that if Trump continues to retain ownership over his sprawling business interests by the time the electors meet on December 19, they should reject Trump.”

“Those who can only see Obama and Trump’s executive actions in terms of structure are missing most of what matters about them: their actual effect on real people in the real world. People who are, not coincidentally, far more likely to be economically and socially marginalized than the critics themselves.”

President Obama’s 2016 Turkey-Pardon Dad Jokes: The Definitive List. Truly, we will never see his like again. I can’t even imagine Donald Trump making a corny joke.

“We present here a series of recommendations that go above and beyond the classic necessities of security (such as enabling two-factor authentication and encrypting data on disk). If a tech product might be co-opted to target a vulnerable population, now is the time to minimize the harm that can be done. To this end, we recommend technical service providers take the following steps to protect their users, as soon as possible.”

A look at how partisan and pervasive Facebook’s fake news problem really is.

“Speaker Obama” has a nice ring to it.

The reasons for a recount.

“I don’t know anybody in the country who would build another coal plant.”

“The CNN airing porn story is based on one tweet from a now-locked account with 76 followers, if you’re interested in how fake news spreads.”

“Here’s a fun little thought experiment demonstrating the fundamental arbitrariness of the electoral college: Had two state borders been drawn just a little bit differently, shifting a total of four counties from one state to another, Hillary Clinton would have won the election.”

I too would love to see an NFL version of the rouge get implemented.

“Emma Morano, the last known person alive who was born in the 19th century, has celebrated her 117th birthday.”

On narcissistic personality disorder, and how to cope with it.

“[David] Brooks was emblematic of the way the entire bipartisan centrist industry conducted itself throughout the Obama years. It was neither possible for Obama to co-opt the center, nor for Republicans to abandon it, because official centrists would simply relocate themselves to the midpoint of wherever the parties happened to stand. The well-documented reality that the parties were undergoing asymmetric polarization was one they refused to accept, because their jobs was to be bipartisan, and it is difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends upon not understanding it.”

RIP, Michael “Jim” Delligatti, creator of the Big Mac.

Nothing quite says “Christian values” like hiring a guy who coddles rapists.

A more accurate portrayal of journalism in pop culture would not be a bad thing.

If this isn’t cruel and unusual punishment, I don’t know what is.

“The point here is to consider what this new doctrine of human personhood from the moment of conception means in light of the fact that more than half of all pregnancies do not survive the first five weeks, and the additional fact that 10-20 percent of all pregnancies fail thereafter.”

“Hillary Clinton’s popular vote lead has now reached 2.52 million votes. In percentage terms that’s a 1.9 percentage point margin. It will rise at least a bit more. We can likely be confident that her final margin will be at least 2 percentage points. To compare, that’s 5 times the margin of Al Gore’s popular vote win in raw vote terms and 4 times his margin in percentage terms. At this point, not only did Clinton win the popular vote. It wasn’t even all that close. When George W. Bush had another bite at the electoral apple in 2004 and finally did win the popular vote it was by 2.5 percentage points. Barack Obama’s margin in 2012 was 3.9 percentage points.”

“To be able to constantly lie and get people to accept contrary statements is, after all, an assertion of power. And it’s a type of power Trump understands all too well.”

RIP, Andrew Sachs, British actor best known in the US for playing Manuel on Fawlty Towers.

“It certainly does help explain why self-proclaimed followers of the Prince of Peace are attracted to a leader who supports torturing prisoners of war, killing noncombatant relatives of terrorism suspects, and expanding the use of racial and religious profiling. The ideas of loving one’s enemies or turning the other cheek are about as far away from Trump’s worldview as is possible.”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

One HD46 hopeful calls on Rep. Dukes to resign now

From the inbox:

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

This morning, Chito Vela called on current State Representative Dawnna Dukes to immediately resign her position as State Representative for Texas House District 46 instead of waiting until January 10, as she previously announced. If Rep. Dukes waits until January 10 to resign, the seat will likely not be filled until March or even later if there is a runoff election.

“If Rep. Dukes waits until January 10 to resign, families in East Austin, Manor and Pflugerville would go without any representation in the Texas House for most of the legislative session,” Vela said. “I know what it takes to run a Capitol office,” he continued. “It takes time to hire staff, set up shop, and propose legislation. By waiting so long to resign, Rep. Dukes is hurting her successor, her constituents, and all Texas Democrats.”

If Rep. Dukes resigns immediately, the seat can be filled quickly, ensuring working families in District 46 have a voice and providing an important Democratic vote against bad legislation. Vela challenged all other candidates for the seat to join him in calling for Dukes’ immediate resignation.

“Rep. Dukes needs to put the needs of her constituents first and immediately resign her seat,” he added. “The values and interests of our community will be under attack in the coming legislative session. Texas Democrats need every vote they can get.”

Once Rep. Dukes resigns, Governor Abbott has 20 days to call a special election for the seat. Because the vacancy will occur within 60 days of the start of the 85th Legislative Session, the election must be held no earlier than 21 days and no later than 45 days after Gov. Abbott calls the election. If Rep. Dukes resigns immediately, the election would be held well before the bill filing deadline of March 10, 2017. If she resigns on January 10 as she previously announced, it is unlikely the seat would be filled before the bill filing deadline, leaving her successor with little opportunity to propose new legislation.

See here for some background. Vela is echoing the same points I noted about the special election timeline, which will almost certainly include a runoff. There’s no particular reason I can think of why Dukes needs to delay her departure till January 10 – she’s long since been invested in the Lege’s pension, and it’s not like there’s any bills she has to file, since she wouldn’t be there to get them passed. One could argue that her constituents would have been best served if she had stepped down immediately after the election; if she had, the special to replace her would already be on the calendar. I find myself in agreement with Chito Vela on this one. Step down now, Rep. Dukes, and let your successor take office in time to have an effect on the 2017 session. The Austin Chronicle has more.

Posted in: Election 2017.

The costs of the “fetal remains” rule

This is going to cost a lot of people a lot of money.

State health officials have contended that the “minimum costs in complying with the rules” would total $450 a year per health care facility, arguing that those costs would be offset by the elimination of the cost of landfill disposition.

But Michael Land, a funeral home director and spokesman for the [Texas Funeral Directors Association], said that’s unrealistic and that the costs associated with compliance are likely a “higher dollar amount than what they’re projecting.”

Cremations through a third-party crematorium range from $75 to $100 per specimen. If individuals choose burials, the minimum cost of a small space in a cemetery is $500 and caskets of the appropriate size would likely cost $100, Land said.

If you add labor on the part of the funeral home, the fees could go into the thousands of dollars, he added.

Responding to those concerns, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission said the rules don’t require that “these processes” go through funeral homes. Health care providers can work directly with crematoriums or medical waste companies to comply with the rules, said spokeswoman Carrie Williams.

“[Funeral homes] don’t have a mandatory role, and funerals are not required by these rules,” Williams said. “Incineration is still available as an option.”

But the rules indicate that incineration of fetal remains must be followed by interment. State health officials define interment as the “disposition of pathological waste using the process of cremation, entombment, burial, or placement in a niche or by using the process of cremation followed by placement of the ashes in a niche, grave, or scattering of ashes as authorized by law.”

Among the few exceptions to the rule are miscarriages or abortions that occur at home. But fetal remains from miscarriages that occur at health care facilities will still require interment — even if the patient does not desire it.

For those in the funeral business, the increased demand for cremations could mean ending their practice of charitably cremating the tissue from a miscarriage for parents who wished to have a funeral.

“What had always been pretty much a charitable process is now going to become costing quite a bit of money,” Land said. It’s estimated that 10 to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage.

See here for the background. Someone is going to pay for this little unfunded mandate, and there are a lot more women who have miscarriages than abortions. Remember, this only became a thing after HB2 was thrown out by SCOTUS last year. With any luck, this will meet a similar fate after it takes effect on the 19th.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

As go gas prices, so goes interest in transit

It is what it is.

gas-prices-sign

Cheap gasoline has Texans driving more, indicating that efforts to promote mass transit or bicycle commuting are falling short, a new statewide poll suggests.

As folks hit the road, though, they are increasingly supportive of investment in transit and bike safety, even if perhaps they’d rather see others try it first.

“It’s one of those things where everybody thinks it is a good idea, but nobody seems to be using it,” said Tina Geiselbrecht, a co-author of the report and leader of the public engagement planning program at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

The poll, released Tuesday, is the first update to the Texas Transportation Poll since its creation in 2014. In those two years, car-centric Texas became even more devoted to driving, based on responses of more than 4,300 drivers, including more than 1,000 in the Houston region. Among the findings:

93 percent of drivers rely on an automobile as their primary way to travel, up from 91 percent in 2014. Vehicle ownership is also up statewide.

Roughly 1 in 7 Texans, 14 percent, had used public transit in the past month, compared to 25 percent of those polled two years ago. Fewer reported bicycling, walking and carpooling as well.

Gasoline prices, which have remained low in the state, were far less of a factor for drivers. Less than 30 percent of drivers were traveling less because of fuel prices, compared to 61 percent who said they were cutting back in 2014.

Geiselbrecht noted fuel prices in 2016 were about two-thirds what they were when pollsters asked people their opinions two years ago. Opinions on many things remained roughly the same, such as the interest people have in increased transportation spending, despite many thinking public officials squander some of the money.

“While people think there should be increased funding for transportation … nobody wants it to come out of their pocket,” Geiselbrecht said.

A copy of the study is here. I currently have a short commute into downtown, and I carpool with my wife. On the occasions when I have to be in early or when my wife has an after-work errand or appointment, I take the bus. In a few months, I’m going to be moving to another location out on the west side of town, and will be driving solo when that happens. Metro service is mostly nonexistent in this area; there is a bus route nearby, but I’d have to make two transfers to get to or from this location, so it’s just not an option. The main change for me is that this will be the longest commute I’ll have ever had in nearly 30 years of living in Houston. To put it mildly, I’m not thrilled about it. Life is too damn short to spend that much time in the car.

For better or worse, mine is a minority opinion, or at least one that carries little political and policy weight. I’ve said before, we need to come to terms with the fact that at some point we just cannot prioritize optimizing the travel times of single-occupancy vehicles over everything else. There’s only so much road capacity we can create, and the cost of doing so, which heavily subsidizes these solo trips, keeps increasing. That means that at some point, we need to prioritize density and transit, so that people can be closer to the places they most need to be and can get to and from them without having to drive. I have no idea when this might happen – at this point, I doubt I’ll live to see it – but it’s what we’re going to need.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Saturday video break: My Best Friend’s Girl

A classic from The Cars:

Gotta love those period-era live videos, at least when the sound quality and production are reasonably good. Sometimes I wonder what the people who shot the video thought would happen to it. Getting uploaded to the Internet some 30 years later probably wasn’t a possibility they contemplated.Now here’s Hayseed Dixie:

And sometimes I think that the most authentic version of many rock and pop hits are countrified novelty covers of them by the likes of these fellas. The only competition for that would be a Big Daddy 50’s-esque doo-wop mashup. It’s a close call.

Posted in: Music.

Whitmire files complaint against bail-denying magistrates

Good.

Sen. John Whitmire

Sen. John Whitmire

An influential Texas lawmaker on Thursday filed formal complaints against three Harris County magistrate judges after they were captured on videotape rushing misdemeanor defendants to jail without considering no-cost bonds.

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, filed the complaints with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, citing an article published Thursday in the Houston Chronicle about the hearings and videos.

He complaints were lodged against Magistrates Eric Hagstette, Joseph Licata III and Jill Wallace. The hearing officers could not be reached immediately for comment.

Whitmire said he named the magistrates specifically in his complaint because of “obvious failures” to conduct hearings as required by statute.

“The total disregard for citizens and the complete lack of judicial temperament and professionalism are unacceptable,” Whitmire told the Chronicle. “I am requesting a thorough investigation by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to determine if these violations are intentional, individual, or the responsibility of the elected judges who appoint these magistrates,” Whitmire said.

“Texas governing statutes clearly state that a magistrate should exercise their full discretion when conducting probable cause hearings and setting bond amounts,” Whitmire said. “It is clear from the video of their hearings that this is clearly not the case with these magistrates. It appears the probable cause hearings in Harris County not only violate the intent of these statutes, but also the letter of the law.”

See here for the background, and here for Sen. Whitmire’s press release. What we saw on those videos was a disgrace and a mockery of justice. I hope the State Commission on Judicial Conduct takes this seriously. Grits and the Press have more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Here’s your chance to give feedback on special education

The feds are coming to Texas to hear what you have to say about it.

The U.S. Department of Education is sending representatives to tour Texas and take comment from school community members on special education, continuing to look at whether the state is denying services to students with disabilities.

Representatives from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services will join Texas Education Agency officials for “listening sessions” in five Texas cities between Dec. 12 and 15.

[…]

“The sessions provide members of the public an opportunity to comment on the timely identification and evaluation of students with disabilities, as well as the delivery of special education and related services to all eligible children under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA,” the advisory reads.

The federal department is also collecting comment on a blog for those who cannot attend any of the listening sessions.

Officials from the Texas Education Agency have been planning the listening sessions with the federal government, working with regional Education Service Centers to secure meeting sites for the five stops, said agency spokeswoman Lauren Callahan.

“The listening sessions parallel with our ongoing efforts on the state level to continue to get feedback on this important issue,” she wrote in an email to The Texas Tribune. “As a result, TEA will have representatives at each stop.”

See here for previous blogging on this topic. I don’t have anything to add beyond saying that this is a great opportunity to be heard and to make sure there is pressure on the TEA and the Legislature to get this right.

Posted in: School days.

MLB All Star Game will no longer determine World Series home field advantage

Hallelujah.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12944222

By Source, Fair use

The Associated Press reported early Thursday morning that, as a part of the new collective bargaining agreement, home-field advantage in the World Series will no longer be determined by the All-Star Game. Home-field advantage will now be awarded to the pennant winner with the better regular season record.

After the 2002 All-Star Game ended in a 7-7 tie, Major League Baseball and the players’ union agreed to allow the “midsummer classic” to decide home-field advantage for the 2003 and ’04 seasons. That agreement was extended to ’05 and ’06 and then was made permanent.

Critics have rightfully said that the All-Star Game is a rather capricious way to determine home-field advantage, which can sometimes be a big factor in the outcome of the season’s final series. Compared to regular season and playoff games, players are oddly used as position players tend to stay in for about three innings and pitchers only get an inning or two on the mound. Players don’t tend to take the game as seriously as they would a regular season or playoff game.

Thank goodness. This was such a dumb thing to do, done in a panicked way after that tie game and the nonstop chatter about it in 2002. The All Star Game has always been an exhibition game, originating in a time when the American and National Leagues were truly separate entities. Even if there was a legitimate need to make a for-funsies game more competitive and meaningful – which I have always argued was baloney – tying its outcome to the World Series made no sense. This is a much more rational way to determine home field advantage. Kudos to all for finally getting it right. Deadspin and Fangraphs have more.

Posted in: Baseball.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 23

Moving through the letter L.

1. Ant In Alaska – Liz Phair
2. Take It Back – Liza Anne
3. Ill Wind – Lonette McKee
4. Royals – Lorde
5. Cowardly Lion – Loreena McKennitt
6. Stay With Me – Lorraine Ellison
7. The Sad Cafe – Lorrie Morgan
8. Double Yodel – Lou & Peter Berryman
9. Every Night Of The Week – Lou Ann Barton
10. Can’t Let Go – Lucinda Williams

“Ill Wind” is from the soundtrack to The Cotton Club, which I’ve discussed here a few times. I confess to being a bit inconsistent about including soundtrack songs in these lists – I haven’t included any of the songs done by women from Godspell, for example and for no good reason I can think of. It’s just the way this has gone. “The Sad Cafe” is from a CD of Eagles covers done by country music artists. I’m pretty such I just made a music critic somewhere write another thinkpiece about why people hate the Eagles just by mentioning that.

Posted in: Music.

The thing you need to know about the guy behind the “three million illegal votes” claim

He’s a known liar and grifter.

When President-elect Donald Trump tweeted Sunday — without evidence — that “millions” of people voted illegally in the race for the White House, he invited a wrath of condemnation for again stoking doubts about the U.S. election system.

But in Texas, he found at least one fan: Gregg Phillips, a former Health and Human Services Commission executive who appears to be the source of the unsubstantiated claim. In the days following the election, the self-styled voter integrity activist said on Twitter that he has discovered that more than 3 million people who voted were not citizens — a claim which was later highlighted by InfoWars, a conspiracy theory website run by fellow Texan and Trump ally Alex Jones.

Phillips, who described himself on social media as founder of VoteStand, an election fraud reporting app, has declined to provide proof to the media, saying he will instead “release all methodologies, data and analysis directly to the public.” He does not appear to have given any indication when that will happen, and efforts to reach him early Monday were unsuccessful.

While Phillips is re-emerging in the news following Trump’s tweet Sunday, Texans may be more familiar with his tenure as an executive deputy commissioner at the state’s Health and Human Services Commission. According to his LinkedIn profile, he held the position from March 2003 to August 2004, playing a big role in shaping the 2003 bill to privatize large parts of the state’s social safety net.

By 2005, Phillips was beset with allegations of cronyism stemming from contracts signed at both HHSC as well as the Texas Workforce Commission. At the time, a Houston Chronicle investigation found he helped craft the privatization legislation in a way in which he personally profited along with a private consultant.

After leaving HHSC, Phillips went on to run AutoGov, a health care analytics firm where he still works. In 2015, AutoGov was mentioned in reports questioning the state’s $20 million Medicaid fraud tracking software deal with Austin-based 21CT, which was not competitively bid. Jack Stick, the former top HHSC lawyer at the center of the scandal that led to a string of resignations and prompted multiple investigations, briefly worked for AutoGov.

Politifact has already debunked this, not that fact-checking has any meaning anymore. What I want to do here is give you a bit more information about Gregg Phillips, the main character of this story, as he has been mentioned a few times on thi blog in the past. The Trib story does a pretty good job of introducing him and his self-enriching character, so consider this to be some extra reading:

What they didn’t tell you
Let me be your sweetheart dealmaker
Chron investigates Gregg Phillips
Making money on both ends

There are more posts in my archives if you want to search for Gregg Phillips, but you get the idea. Forget about professional fact-checking sites and just ask yourself, is this the kind of person who is basically honest in his words and deeds, or is he not? Let that inform how you perceive anything else he has to say, and anything that others say based on what he said. The Chron has more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Acevedo and Pena confirmed by Council

They’re officially official now.

HoustonSeal

City Council unanimously confirmed Art Acevedo and Samuel Peña as Houston’s new police and fire chiefs Wednesday, clearing the way for the mayoral appointees to take office.

Acevedo, Austin’s former police chief, is poised to take the helm of the city’s police department Thursday, while El Paso Fire Chief Samuel Peña is set to assume local duties in mid-December.

Acevedo said he intends to adopt a model he calls “relational policing.”

“Every person that we contact as members of the Houston Police Department – whether it’s a 911 operator, crime scene tech, police officer on the front line, the detectives – is an opportunity to create a relationship,” Acevedo said. “It’s about the way you treat people. I think you start with transparency. You respect people. … You engage the community. Because the police is not us or them. We are the community.”

[…]

Peña, 47, said he looks forward to working with the Houston Fire Department to “make this community the great community that it should be.”

“It’s not lost on me the trust and responsibility that you guys have placed on me,” Peña told Turner and the council. “I pledge my whole loyalty to the Houston Fire Department and the city of Houston. And what I ask from the Houston firefighters is that they pledge their loyalty to this community, as well.”

See here for the background. Both have some challenges ahead of them, and I look forward to seeing how they tackle them. Welcome aboard, gentlemen. KUHF and the Press have more.

Posted in: Local politics.

Texas v the feds, Endangered Species edition

One more for the road.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

For perhaps the last time before President Barack Obama leaves office, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed suit against the federal government for what he considers federal overreach, this time in an endangered species matter.

[…]

One rule revises the definition of “destruction or adverse modification” of habitat.

Under the old definition, habitat destruction involved “a direct or indirect alteration that appreciably diminishes the value of critical habitat for both the survival and recovery of a listed species.”

But courts found that the definition was wanting. Thus, the new definition holds that destruction is anything that diminishes “the conservation of a listed species.”

Another rule clarifies the procedures and standards used for designating critical habitat.

Federal officials say the changes are meant to increase transparency.

“The Endangered Species Act is the last safety net between our most at-risk species and extinction, and, as such, we want to do everything we can to make sure it functions efficiently and effectively,” Gary Frazer, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s assistant director for ecological services, said in February, when the rules were finalized.

But the suit says the changes would allow the government “to exercise virtually unlimited power to declare land and water critical habitat for endangered and threatened species, regardless of whether that land or water is occupied or unoccupied by the species, regardless of the presence or absence of the physical or biological features necessary to sustain the species, and regardless of whether the land or water is actually essential to the conservation of the species habitat protections for endangered species.”

Whatever else you can say about this strategy of making Texas federal district court judges our lords and masters, it has had its share of success. As the Trump regime is unlikely to do any policymaking that will make Texas want to sue it (though all bets are off for California), this may be Ken Paxton’s last hurrah, modulo the 2018 and 2020 elections. The Chron has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Time once again to discuss Latino political participation

Let’s jump right in.

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez

The long wait continues for Houston and Harris County residents eager for a steep uptick in elected Latino representation.

Hispanic residents last year were 42 percent of the county population, up from 23 percent in 1990, yet Houston has yet to elect a Latino mayor, and no at-large City Council members are Hispanic.

At the county, low-profile Treasurer Orlando Sanchez is the lone countywide Latino elected official, judges aside. Even Harris County’s congressional delegation lacks a Hispanic member.

By January, however, that will change. Four of the area’s most prominent public officials are going to be Latino, thanks to three recent Houston appointments – Police Chief Art Acevedo, Fire Chief Samuel Peña and school Superintendent Richard Carranza – paired with the election of Ed Gonzalez as county sheriff.

University of Houston political scientist Jeronimo Cortina framed the rise of these leaders as providing an opportunity to boost Hispanic civic engagement.

“It’s going to send an empowering message to Latino kids that they can do it. It doesn’t matter how you look or where you come from,” said Cortina, who specializes in American and Latino politics. “People are going to get motivated, especially the young generation.”

Hispanics punch below their weight at the ballot box nationally and locally, where voters with a Spanish surname represent just 21 percent of registered voters despite being a plurality of Harris County residents, according to Hector de Leon, who directs voter outreach for the county clerk’s office.

That relatively low percentage has grown, however, as the region’s young Latino population has come of age.

Spanish-surnamed voters now make up 31 percent of Harris County registered voters between the ages of 18 and 24, according to de Leon, and a quarter of registered voters between ages 25 and 29. The share of Spanish-surnamed registered voters drops below 21 percent only among voters ages 50 and above.

Even so, voters with a Spanish surname made up just 17 percent of Harris County’s early vote this year, de Leon said. Election Day data was not available.

“If you engage Latino voters at this early age and excite them to participate politically, civically, then you’re going to be creating a very robust voting bloc that is going to be the future of the state,” Cortina said.

I don’t have sufficient data to make any firm statements about how Latino voting this year compared to 2012. That really has to be done at the individual precinct level and with the full roster of all voters. What I can do is note that in the most heavily Latino districts, participation was up this year over 2012:

CD29 – 117,291 votes from 239,552 voters in 2012; 136,801 votes from 264,213 voters in 2016

SD06 – 137,993 votes from 284,248 voters in 2012; 158,365 votes from 311,045 voters in 2016

HD140 – 24,213 votes from 53,338 voters in 2012; 28,652 votes from 59,339 voters in 2016
HD143 – 31,334 votes from 62,715 voters in 2012; 34,279 votes from 65,713 voters in 2016
HD144 – 24,673 votes from 54,579 voters in 2012; 28,120 votes from 57,173 voters in 2016
HD145 – 30,346 votes from 60,056 voters in 2012; 35,918 votes from 66,975 voters in 2016
HD148 – 40,230 votes from 71,705 voters in 2012; 49,819 votes from 79,995 voters in 2016

This is a crude measurement in several ways. For one thing, there’s a lot of overlap between CD29, SD06, and the five State Rep districts. For another, just because there were more voters doesn’t mean there were more Latino voters. Voting was up overall in Harris County thanks in large part to a significant increase in voter registrations. I haven’t compared the increases in these districts to the others to see where they fall proportionally. The point I’m making is simply that there were more votes and more voters in each of these districts, with the turnout rate being a bit higher in each place as well. It’s a start, and a step in the right direction.

As for the issue of Latinos in city government, I’ve said this before and i’ll say it again: Part of the issue is that there aren’t many Latinos who run for Council outside of Districts H and I. Roy Morales has made it to the runoff of two At Large races, in #3 in 2013 and in #4 in 2015, but that was because he nudged into second place ahead of a large field of other candidates and behind a clear frontrunner who then easily defeated him in the second round. Moe Rivera ran for At Large #2 in 2013 and 2015, finishing third out of four in 2013 and last out of five in 2015. Roland Chavez was one of the candidates Roy Morales nosed out in 2013. And of course there was Adrian Garcia running for Mayor last year, and I think we all understand by now why he didn’t do as well in that race as he might have hoped.

That’s pretty much it for Latino citywide candidates in the last two elections. Way back in 2009, when we were first talking about expanding Council from nine districts to 11, I asked Vidal Martinez why people like him didn’t do more to support Latino candidates who ran for At Large seats. I still don’t know what the answer to that question is.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Anderson maintains lead after recount

It’s over.

Terry Meza

Terry Meza

After a recount, state Rep. Rodney Anderson, R-Grand Prairie, is still the apparent winner in his re-election battle against Democrat Terry Meza.

It was not immediately clear what the exact official outcome of the recount was, but the Dallas County GOP said in an email that Meza “conceded upon discovering Rep. Anderson would maintain his victory by a margin of 64 votes.” The recount had started Monday and stretched into Tuesday.

[…]

Meza trailed Anderson by 64 votes after all provisional ballots were tallied a week ago. That margin was far less than 10 percent of Anderson’s vote total, the threshold under which a loser can ask for a recount.

See here and here for the background. I didn’t expect anything to come of this because it’s almost never the case that recounts make a difference. It’s worth the effort, just not worth much hope. At this point the best thing to do is make sure whoever runs in 2018 has whatever he or she needs to do the job. Thanks to Terry Meza for her effort, and better luck next time.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Trump’s toll roads

Who wants more toll roads?

Part of president-elect Donald Trump’s promise to create new jobs for Americans relies on a “deficit-neutral plan” to spend $1 trillion on public works projects, including hundreds of billions for roads and rail.

But the strategy could result in something many Texans aren’t going to like: more toll roads.

“Unfortunately that’s the way I’ve read it,” said state Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, vice chair of the Texas Senate transportation committee.

There are also fears the plan could provide few new highway projects or road improvements to the state’s vast rural areas. And the lack of details in the proposal has so far made it unclear how Texas’ urban transit agencies could be affected.

Trump’s plan is already getting some opposition from his own party in Washington, D.C. In the Lone Star State, where residents have balked at a growing number of toll projects, state officials from both political parties are hoping the incoming president backs off reliance on the private sector.

“To be direct, it’s a little scary and kind of contrary to where our current leadership in Texas has been going the last couple of years,” said state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who chairs the Texas House transportation committee.

Under the current proposal, the $1 trillion in infrastructure investment would come not from the government, but from private companies who would receive tax incentives for borrowing funds needed for construction costs, according to Trump’s campaign and transition websites and a paper authored by two of his senior advisors.

The private firms who build the roads, though, would expect a revenue stream to cover principal, interest and operating costs. And the most common way to create a revenue stream on a road is to toll it.

“To suggest public-private partnerships and relying on tolls, we’ve already kind of maxed those out,” Pickett said.

Vocal toll road opponent Terri Hall of San Antonio is the executive director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, a group whose members are contacting Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and asking the transition team to rethink the infrastructure plan.

She said the proposal essentially privatizes the nation’s roadways and opens a door to corruption.

“It reeks of cronyism, which Trump’s campaign promise to ‘drain the swamp’ was supposed to get rid of,” she said.

[…]

Others, though, worry that rural areas will be left behind under the current proposal. Geoff Anderson is the president and CEO of urban planning and development nonprofit Smart Growth America. He said that private firms aren’t likely to view improving access to rural areas or rebuilding aging county roads as financially feasible or worthwhile.

“The projects that address those types of issues seldom have a revenue base,” he said.

Huffines, the Senate transportation committee vice chair, echoed Anderson’s concerns. He also said that toll roads in urban areas will geographically segregate people by income because only those Texans that can afford the added cost will live near such corridors.

“Those that can’t are going to live in those areas where they don’t have to go down toll roads,” Huffines said.

You know we are living in strange times when I find myself agreeing with Don Huffines. The story notes the failure of SH130 as a reminder of what the downside of these schemes are. As for the concerns about corruption and cronyism…yeah, there’s nothing I can say here that doesn’t put my head at risk of exploding. I don’t honestly expect much to come of this because I don’t think Trump has the attention span to push for it, and I know Paul Ryan doesn’t care about infrastructure. But if it gets a bunch of Republicans in Texas all upset, it will have accomplished at least one useful thing.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 28

The Texas Progressive Alliance is more familiar with the word “emolument” than ever before as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Precinct analysis: Gonzalez v Hickman

Ed Gonzalez scored a solid win for Sheriff, knocking out incumbent Ron Hickman to win the office back for Democrats. Let’s break it down.


Dist   Hickman  Gonzalez  Hickman%  Gonzalez%
=============================================
CD02   162,915   111,689    59.33%     40.67%
CD07   139,292   113,853    55.02%     44.98%
CD09    26,869   106,301    20.18%     79.82%
CD10    81,824    36,293    69.27%     30.73%
CD18    48,766   153,342    24.13%     75.87%
CD29    35,526    95,138    27.19%     72.81%
				
SBOE6  341,003   265,358    56.24%     43.76%
				
HD126   36,539    24,813    59.56%     40.44%
HD127   48,891    24,516    66.60%     33.40%
HD128   41,694    17,117    70.89%     29.11%
HD129   41,899    26,686    61.09%     38.91%
HD130   59,556    21,256    73.70%     26.30%
HD131    7,054    38,887    15.35%     84.65%
HD132   38,026    30,397    55.57%     44.43%
HD133   47,648    27,378    63.51%     36.49%
HD134   44,717    43,480    50.70%     49.30%
HD135   32,586    27,180    54.52%     45.48%
HD137    8,893    17,800    33.32%     66.68%
HD138   27,480    23,366    54.05%     45.95%
HD139   12,746    39,223    24.53%     75.47%
HD140    6,376    20,972    23.31%     76.69%
HD141    5,485    32,573    14.41%     85.59%
HD142   10,801    33,924    24.15%     75.85%
HD143    9,078    23,689    27.70%     72.30%
HD144   10,765    16,194    39.93%     60.07%
HD145   10,785    23,462    31.49%     68.51%
HD146   10,144    37,991    21.07%     78.93%
HD147   12,100    45,136    21.14%     78.86%
HD148   17,701    29,776    37.28%     62.72%
HD149   15,702    27,266    36.54%     63.46%
HD150   49,904    26,142    65.62%     34.38%
				
CC1     74,178   239,211    23.67%     76.33%
CC2    125,659   125,416    50.05%     49.95%
CC3    193,214   158,164    54.99%     45.01%
CC4    213,519   156,417    57.72%     42.28%
Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez

Gonzalez received 16K fewer votes than Kim Ogg; his overall total of 680,134 would put him fourth in line among District and county court candidates, behind Kelli Johnson, Mike Engelhart, and Robert Schaffer. I said in my initial reactions that while Ogg received crossover votes, I think Gonzalez merely maxed out the Democratic tally. In retrospect, I think Gonzalez probably drew a few Republican votes, and as usual HD134 is the evidence for that. Overall, though, he wasn’t the draw that Ogg was, which is apparent not just by his lower total but also by a cursory examination of the Republican State Rep districts, where he consistently trailed Ogg by a thousand votes or so. If you look at those districts more closely, though, you will see that Gonzalez didn’t trail Ogg everywhere. In fact, Gonzalez did better than Ogg in five districts – HDs 131, 140, 143, 144, and 145, with the latter providing the biggest difference, 493 votes in Gonzalez’s direction. That’s four of the five predominantly Latino districts, with a fair amount of overlap with Gonzalez’s old City Council District H.

Gonzalez also fell just short of a majority in Commissioners Precinct 2 – I mean, 243 votes short out of 250K cast – where Ogg carried it by over 6,000 votes. Here it’s worth noting that while Ogg carried this precinct on the strength of crossovers, Gonzalez nearly took it merely by not losing Democratic votes. Look again at the judicial average vote totals in CC2. The Republican average judicial vote is less than 500 higher than Hickman’s tally, but the Democratic average judicial vote is nearly 5,000 votes less than what Gonzalez got. Gonzalez outperformed the judicial average in all four Commissioners precincts – the undervote in his race was 3.56%, compared to about five percent in most judicial races – but the point here is that the difference is almost entirely on the Democratic side. One conclusion you might draw from this is that a serious candidate for Commissioners Court in Precinct 2, one who runs a real campaign, ought to do better than the “average Democrat” benchmark for the simple reason that fewer people who are generally voting Democratic will skip the race. Just something to think about.

I have two more in this vein to do, and I have on my list a look at Fort Bend County, too. I’ve got one or two other oddball things to look at if I can find the time, because what’s the fun of having this data if we don’t examine a few rabbit holes? If there are any particular questions you want me to try to address, leave a comment and let me know.

Posted in: Election 2016.

New Sheriff not interested in defending current bail policies

Good.

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez

After defeating Sheriff Ron Hickman in the election this month, Sheriff-elect Ed Gonzalez is already sticking his nose in Hickman’s official business — mainly, the lawsuit filed against him.

Hickman, along with the county, all the county judges and five bail hearing officers, has been sued for participating in what a national civil rights group calls an unconstitutional bail system. The plaintiffs, Civil Rights Corps, argue that poor people in Harris County are being systematically jailed before trial just because they cannot afford to pay an arbitrary bail amount, unlike wealthier people charged with the same crime.

While Hickman has voiced support for bail reform in the past, he and his lawyers have nonetheless insisted he be dismissed from this lawsuit since he is simply complying with court orders from judges to house these people in the jail. Civil Rights Corps, however, argues that since many of these people are being held unconstitutionally, the sheriff is still liable. And it just so happens that Hickman’s successor agrees.

In an affidavit presented before U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal in federal court on Monday, Gonzalez called the county’s bail system unconstitutional and asked Rosenthal to keep the sheriff in the lawsuit — essentially encouraging Civil Rights Corps to continue to [sue] the office he will soon inherit.

[…]

Gonzalez’s premature involvement places the Harris County Attorney’s Office and its hired private attorneys in a somewhat awkward position: Once Gonzalez assumes office, county attorneys will be representing a public official whose views are seriously at odds with their entire argument — that nothing is legally wrong with the county’s bail system.

While the county raised ethical concerns in court yesterday about Gonzalez filing an affidavit apparently in support of the party that is suing him, Judge Rosenthal did not find any problems with it. In fact, one attorney from the Houston law firm Susman Godfrey, which is a plaintiff along with Civil Rights Corps, argued that the greater ethical concern was Gonzalez being “represented” by people who do not represent his views.

Judge Rosenthal is expected to decide soon on which parties will remain in the lawsuit.

The county argued Monday that its bail practices are not in violation of the Constitution since defendants see a magistrate within 48 hours (most of the time). And that magistrates, county attorneys said, have the information in front of them to consider a defendant’s ability to pay, as the Constitution requires. Civil Rights Corps lead attorney Alec Karakatsanis, however, repeatedly argued that the county was missing the mark: The point, he argued, is that magistrates systematically choose not to consider a defendant’s ability to pay bail, sending low-level, low-risk defendants to jail instead of giving them a personal bond.

See here for prior blogging on this. In case you’re curious, this is what Sheriff-elect Gonzalez is refusing to defend:

Anthony Wayne Goffney shuffles toward the floor marker where he is told to stand, wearing light blue pants and a smock top, four days after being jailed for trespassing.

A prosecutor rattles off information about his arrest as Goffney, stooped and gray-haired, appearing confused, gazes over his shoulder.

Court records show Goffney has dementia and a history of homelessness, yet his poverty is not discussed as hearing officer Jill Wallace, appearing via a video link, decides whether to jail him or let him go free.

Wallace says, rapid-fire: “Bond is set at $5,000. You’re denied a pretrial release bond.”

Then she adds: “Are you requesting the court to appoint you a lawyer?”

“Who me?” he asks.

“Yeah, you,” she answers.

Then Wallace sends Goffney to jail.

The videotaped encounter – among thousands that occur 24 hours a day at the Harris County courthouse – is among a cache released by the Texas Organizing Project showing what officials say is judicial indifference to a parade of poverty, homelessness and hopelessness.

“The elderly man [Goffney] has nobody to speak for him,” said Tarsha Jackson, a TOP organizer. “It’s inhumane and it’s not fair.”

There more, including video, at the story link. I don’t know about you, but that sure doesn’t sound like anything that has to do with “justice” to me. The county is arguing that the lawsuit should be dismissed because it has made progress in addressing the issues. Judge Lee Rosenthal has said she will make a final determination in January, after the new officeholders have had a chance to get sworn in. We know where Gonzalez stands, and I’ll be shocked if Kim Ogg isn’t there with him. We’ll see what that means for the case.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Legal matters.

Straus not very excited about Patrick’s potty bill

Take this for what it’s worth.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus doesn’t think passing a transgender bathroom bill is a pressing issue state lawmakers need to address during the 2017 legislative session.

“This isn’t the most urgent concern,” Straus, R-San Antonio, said on Tuesday during an interview with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith. When asked if it was a priority, he added, “It isn’t. But that doesn’t mean the House is going to feel differently than I do.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said passing the bathroom bill is a top priority for him this session. Straus has expressed concern with the proposal, echoing business concerns that it will result in a huge economic loss for the state.

“We don’t want to do anything that jeopardizes that,” Straus said, referring to major events the state risks losing, like San Antonio hosting the NCAA Men’s Final Four in 2018. “I know the lieutenant governor is very enthusiastic about this. Let him run with it. We’ll see what the House wants to do.”

Let’s be clear about two things. One is that Straus can affect the fate of a given bill, if he really wants to. He can affect it by his committee chair appointments, which in turn can affect which committee gets a particular bill. This is old school Lege craft of long standing – the best way to kill a bill is to ensure it never gets out of committee. This can be done in ways that leave no obvious fingerprints, at least none that are visible to anyone who isn’t an obsessive follower of this sort of thing. So if Straus has a tacit understanding with the business lobby that any potty bill must die, he can make it happen without looking like he’s making it happen.

That said, such a style is more of a piece with former Speaker Tom Craddick than it is with Straus. Craddick fell out of favor with some Republicans in part because he put a heavy thumb on the scale of the bill-managing process. Straus’ MO has been to let the will of the House be the determining factor on most bills. He stays out of the way and whatever happens, happens. That’s a bit of an overstatement – all Speakers exert influence when they see fit to do so – but Straus is definitely subtle about it. Whatever does happen, Straus will say that this is how the House wanted it. The Trib has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Re-Endorsement watch: Sung in the special

The Chron reiterates their choice of Anne Sung for the HISD VII special election runoff.

Anne Sung

Anne Sung

Anne Sung will bring a wealth of educational experience to this position, representing a district with boundaries encompassing a broad swath of near-southwest to near-northwest Houston that includes Wisdom High School, formerly Robert E. Lee, one of the most ethnically diverse schools in Houston, and Lamar High School, which sits smack in the middle of River Oaks, one of our city’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

Sung has been a Teach for America Corp member, an award-winning HISD physics teacher, and the cofounder of an education advocacy group, Community Voices for Public Education. Currently, she’s in the educational nonprofit field, serving as the chief strategy officer and vice president of the nonprofit Project GRAD Houston.

The Bellaire High School alumna has walked the talk that “education is the foundation of the American Dream.” Sung went on to graduate from Harvard University with Bachelor of Arts and Master of Physics degrees and from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government with a Master’s in Public Policy.

Sung was involved in public education even before she became a parent. In a screening with our editorial board, her answers were nuanced and thoughtful. This candidate – who speaks Spanish and Mandarin – is the best-qualified person to run for trustee in years.

More or less what they said when they endorsed her in November. Early voting starts tomorrow for this runoff and it only lasts seven days, which is standard for runoffs. Hours and locations are here – basically, there’s downtown, the Metro Multi-Service Center on West Gray, and the Harris County Public Health office at 2223 West Loop South. Runoff Day is next Saturday, December 10. I estimate something like six to eight thousand votes for the runoff, so anything can happen. Get out and make you voice heard.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Precinct analysis: Ogg v Anderson

Kim Ogg had the second highest vote total in Harris County this year. Let’s see how that looked at a more granular level.


Dist  Anderson      Ogg  Anderson%    Ogg%
==========================================
CD02   156,027  117,810     56.98%  43.02%
CD07   135,065  118,837     53.20%  46.80%
CD09    26,881  106,334     20.18%  79.82%
CD10    78,602   38,896     66.90%  33.10%
CD18    47,408  154,503     23.48%  76.52%
CD29    36,581   93,437     28.14%  71.86%
				
SBOE6  328,802  277,271     54.25%  45.75%
				
HD126   34,499   26,495     56.56%  43.44%
HD127   46,819   26,260     64.07%  35.93%
HD128   39,995   18,730     68.11%  31.89%
HD129   40,707   27,844     59.38%  40.62%
HD130   57,073   23,239     71.06%  28.94%
HD131    7,301   38,651     15.89%  84.11%
HD132   36,674   31,478     53.81%  46.19%
HD133   46,242   29,195     61.30%  38.70%
HD134   43,962   45,142     49.34%  50.66%
HD135   31,190   28,312     52.42%  47.58%
HD137    8,728   18,040     32.61%  67.39%
HD138   26,576   24,189     52.35%  47.65%
HD139   12,379   39,537     23.84%  76.16%
HD140    6,613   20,621     24.28%  75.72%
HD141    5,305   32,677     13.97%  86.03%
HD142   10,428   34,242     23.34%  76.66%
HD143    9,100   23,434     27.97%  72.03%
HD144   10,758   16,100     40.06%  59.94%
HD145   11,145   22,949     32.69%  67.31%
HD146   10,090   38,147     20.92%  79.08%
HD147   12,156   45,221     21.19%  78.81%
HD148   17,538   29,848     37.01%  62.99%
HD149   15,352   27,535     35.80%  64.20%
HD150   47,268   28,160     62.67%  37.33%
				
CC1     73,521  240,194     23.44%  76.56%
CC2    123,178  126,996     49.24%  50.76%
CC3    187,095  164,487     53.22%  46.78%
CC4    204,103  164,355     55.39%  44.61%
Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Ogg received 696,955 votes, which is about 11K fewer than Hillary Clinton, while Anderson drew 588,464 votes, or 42.5K more than Donald Trump. I believe the differences can be accounted for as Ogg not getting as many crossovers as Clinton, while Anderson picked up most of the Gary Johnson supporters. Compare the results from the Presidential race and the judicial races to get a feel for this. In particular, compare the Presidential numbers in HD134 to the same numbers above. Ogg got 4,765 fewer votes than Clinton in the district. Add to that the 4,044 Johnson votes for a total of 8,809, and then observe that Anderson did 8,131 votes better than Trump did. Not exact, but pretty close. There are some fudge factors as well – some of those Johnson voters were straight party Libertarian, Ogg may have received some Jill Stein votes, etc. It’s good enough for a back-of-the-envelope approximation, is what I’m saying.

Outside of HD134, Ogg consistently did about two points better across the county, with slightly bigger gains in more Republican districts. Basically, Ogg is to 2016 what Adrian Garcia was to 2008. Garcia maintained his status as Democratic pacesetter in 2012, and I think Ogg will have the chance to do that in 2020 if she does a good job and accomplishes the goals she has laid out. We have seen plenty of examples of county officials and candidates for county office drawing bipartisan support, on both sides. We’ve also seen examples of failed incumbents getting turned out in emphatic fashion. Good performance is good politics in these elections.

I’ll look at the other countywide races in the coming days. Are there any particular questions you’d like me to explore with this data? Let me know.

Posted in: Election 2016.

“Fetal remains” rule goes into effect

Cue up that next lawsuit.

Texas’ proposed rules requiring the cremation or burial of fetal remains will take effect Dec. 19, according to state health officials.

Despite intense outcry from the medical community and reproductive rights advocates, the state will prohibit hospitals, abortion clinics and other health care facilities from disposing of fetal remains in sanitary landfills, instead allowing only cremation or interment of all remains — regardless of the period of gestation.

[…]

Proposed at the direction of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, the health commission had argued the rules would result in “enhanced protection of the health and safety of the public.” Abbott said in a fundraising email that the rules were proposed because he doesn’t believe fetal remains should be “treated like medical waste and disposed of in landfills.”

But the new requirement prompted outrage from the reproductive rights community, which accused state leaders of pushing unnecessary regulations. Women who experienced miscarriages or lost children in utero questioned why the state would make their situations more difficult by enacting the requirements. And medical providers — including the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital Association — had also raised concerns about who would bear the costs associated with cremation or burial — a figure that can reach several thousand dollars in each case.

In response to those concerns, health officials indicated that health care facilities — and not patients — will be responsible for the disposal of fetal remains and related costs. They also wrote that those costs would be “offset by the elimination of some current methods of disposition.”

See here, here, and here for the background. If you think it’s a coincidence that this was proposed within a few weeks of the SCOTUS ruling striking down HB2, I’ve got a carload of diplomas from Trump University to sell you. Let’s get that next lawsuit going so we can maybe have an injunction in place before this atrocity can take effect. (And if you want to help facilitate that, a donation to the Center for Reproductive Rights would be a fine way to do so.) The Austin Chronicle has more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Dropping out of Electoral College

I have some respect for this.

A Texas Republican elector is resigning over the election of Donald Trump, saying he cannot “in good conscience” vote for the incoming president.

The elector, Art Sisneros of Dayton, detailed his decision in a blog post Saturday that said he believed voting for Trump “would bring dishonor to God.” The remaining 537 members of the Electoral College will choose Sisneros’ replacement when they convene Dec. 19 in state capitals across the country.

[…]

Sisneros has previously been critical of Trump, raising the prospect that he could turn into a “faithless elector” — one who votes against the winner of the popular vote in his or her state. He ruled out that option in his blog post, writing that it “would be difficult to justify how being faithless could be a righteous act.”

The post in question is here, and it’s rather wordy but worth a read. Basically, Sisneros felt constrained because the Texas GOP requires people who want to become electors to sign a pledge affirming that they will only vote for the candidate who won the vote in the state, which if you want to get all original-constructionist is a perversion of the intent of the Electoral College. He admits he shouldn’t have signed the pledge (and thus not been chosen as an elector), but sign it he did, and thus was faced with voting for a candidate he couldn’t abide, being a “faithless elector” (a term he says he despises), or resigning. His reasoning comes from a place that I don’t share, but given his starting point, I do agree that this was the honorable path for him to take. Not that any of this matters in the grand scheme of things, nor does it address the underlying tension of the huge disparity between the popular vote and the electoral vote, but there you have it.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Precinct analysis: District courts

Today we will look at the Harris County-specific judicial races, by which I mean the district courts plus two County Court benches. I’m going to begin with something a little different, which is a look at the distribution of how many votes each candidate received. We know that most people know little to nothing about most judicial candidates, yet there’s a surprising range of outcomes even in a year like this where one party swept all the elections. Is there anything we can glean from that? Let’s take a look.


Bench    Democrat    Votes  Bench   Republican    Votes
=======================================================
178th   K Johnson  684,467  165th   Mayfield *  621,070
151st Engelhart *  681,602  CC#16     Garcia *  620,356
152nd  Schaffer *  680,521  337th      Magee *  620,322
129th     Gomez *  677,144  61st   Lunceford *  619,823
127th   Sandill *  673,122  179th     Guiney *  619,027
80th     Weiman *  672,840  176th       Bond *  617,013
125th    Carter *  670,653  177th    Patrick *  615,513
164th   S-Hogan *  670,438  351st      Ellis *  613,151
339th   Jackson *  664,205  333rd    Halbach *  610,904
507th   Maldonado  663,465  338th     Thomas *  610,756
133rd McFarland *  661,240  CC#1    Leuchtag *  607,896
174th     Jones    660,685  334th    Dorfman *  606,184
11th      Hawkins  665,619  174th     McDaniel  605,912
215th    Palmer *  663,604  133rd        Smith  605,601
334th    Kirkland  658,759  11th        Fulton  604,450
CC#1    Barnstone  656,755  507th    Lemkuil *  601,461
333rd       Moore  654,602  339th      McFaden  600,896
338th    Franklin  653,880  215th     Shuchart  600,874
351st      Powell  650,948  125th     Hemphill  598,956
177th   R Johnson  650,703  80th        Archer  597,157
61st     Phillips  650,248  164th         Bail  596,556
176th      Harmon  648,830  127th      Swanson  594,224
CC#16      Jordan  647,122  129th      Mafrige  591,350
165th        Hall  646,314  151st     Hastings  586,609
179th        Roll  645,103  152nd         Self  586,199
337th     Ritchie  643,639  178th      Gommels  580,653

HarrisCounty

Asterisks represent incumbents. Three benches – the 11th (Civil), the 174th and 178th (both Criminal) – are held by incumbents (all Democrats) who chose not to run for another term. The first thing we can tell from this is that incumbents did the best overall. Maybe that’s a name recognition thing, maybe that’s the effect of the legal community crossing party lines to support the judges they know, maybe it’s a random one year phenomenon. Interestingly, all but one Democratic incumbent (Terri Jackson in the 339th) is a Civil Court judge, while the Republicans are on Civil (Mayfield, Lunceford, Halbach, Leuchtag, Dorfman), Criminal (Garcia, Magee, Guiney, Bond, Patrick, Ellis), and Family (Lemkuil) benches. Maybe that means something, and maybe it’s just random.

The top votegetters for each party did about 40K votes better than the bottom. Because there’s an inverse relationship, this means that the margins of victory were very divergent. Herb Ritchie won by 23,317 votes. Kelli Johnson won by 103,786. I have no clear idea why Johnson, running for an open Criminal bench, was the top performer overall, but she was. Speaking as a Democrat, hers was far from the most visible campaign to me. Most of the incumbents were pretty busy with email and social media, with a few doing other things like billboards (Engelhart) and cable TV ads (Sandill). Among the non-incumbents, I’d say Kristin Hawkins and Steven Kirkland were the ones I heard from the most, followed by Hazel Jones and Julia Maldonado.

It’s become a tradition – since 2008, anyway, when Democrats in Harris County first broke through – for their to be calls to Do Something about judicial races after an election. In particular, the call is to Do Something about the effect of straight ticket voting on judicial elections. This year was no exception, though in the past this call has gone unheeded since stakeholders on both sides recognize the pros and cons from their perspective. In Harris County, there were about 71K more Democratic straight ticket votes than there were Republican straight ticket votes, which among other things means that every Democrat from Alex Smoots-Hogan up would have won their race even if we threw out all of the straight party votes. Of course, the people who voted straight ticket did vote, and it’s more than a little presumptuous to think that they would have either skipped the judicial races or done a significant amount of ticket-splitting had they not had that option. They just would have had to spend more time voting, which would have meant longer lines and/or necessitated more voting machines. Somehow, that never seems to be part of the conversation.

Of course, part of this is just another way to complain about the fact that we elect judges via partisan contests. We’ve discussed that plenty of times and I’m not going to get into it here. I’ll just say this: While one may not be able to draw conclusions about how a random person may have voted in the Presidential race this year, it’s highly likely that the Republican judicial candidates this year had previously voted for Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton, Sid Miller, and Ted Cruz, while the Democratic candidates would not have done so. If someone wants to base their vote in these races on how the candidates likely voted in those races, I don’t see why that should be a problem. People are going to vote based on the information they have.

Anyway. Let’s take a look at some districts. Here I’m going to go with the average vote totals for each party’s candidates in the districts that I want to highlight.


Dist    R CJ Avg  D CJ Avg  R CJ Pct  D CJ Pct
==============================================
CD02    162,006    108,132    59.97%    40.03%
CD07    140,809    108,532    56.47%    43.53%

SBOE6   341,855    254,815    57.29%    42.71%

HD126    35,612     24,770    58.98%    41.02%
HD132    37,744     29,907    55.79%    44.21%
HD134    46,749     39,776    54.03%    45.97%
HD135    32,189     26,673    54.69%    45.31%
HD137     8,995     17,430    34.04%    65.96%
HD138    27,529     22,527    55.00%    45.00%
HD144    10,981     15,673    41.20%    58.80%
HD148    18,532     27,741    40.05%    59.95%
HD149    15,724     26,816    36.96%    63.04%

CC1      75,017    234,844    24.21%    75.79%
CC2     126,175    120,814    51.09%    48.91%
CC3     193,936    152,622    55.96%    44.04%
CC4     210,878    153,004    57.95%    42.05%

One point of difference between the district/county court races and the state court races is that these are all straight R-versus-D contests. There were no third-party candidates in any of these matchups. As such, I consider this a better proxy for partisan strength in a given district.

There are four Congressional districts that are entirely contained within Harris County. The Democratic districts are far bluer than the Republican districts are red. These districts are fairly solid for the GOP now, but they’re going to need some bolstering in the 2021 reapportioning to stay that way. It’s not crazy to think that one or both of them may include non-Harris County turf in the next redrawing.

As for the State Rep districts, I will first call your attention to the HD134 numbers, which you may note are just a little different than the Presidential numbers. Are we clear on what I meant by crossover votes? This is why we need to be very careful about using Presidential numbers to evaluate future electoral opportunities. I’d love to believe that HD134 is more Democratic than before, but the evidence just isn’t there.

Against that, I hope the HCDP is beating the bushes now looking for people to run in HDs 135, 138, 132, and 126, in that order. All of them need to be thought of as two-cycle efforts, to account for differing conditions, the slow pace of demographic change, and the fact that these are still steep challenges. There are only so many viable non-judicial targets in 2018 for Democrats, and these four districts should be prioritized.

I ask again: Is it time to stop thinking of HD144 as a swing district? Given that it went Republican in 2014, I suppose the answer has to be No, at least until Rep.-elect-again Mary Ann Perez can demonstrate that she can hold it in 2018. But note that HD144 is a lot more Democratic than before. The Democratic judicial average is six points higher than the top statewide candidates from 2012, and eight points above what President Obama got there in 2012. It’s higher than what Adrian Garcia got. Heck, Perez outdid herself by eight points from 2012. I’m sure Donald Trump had something to do with this, but that’s still a big shift. In 2016, HD144 was nearly as Democratic as HD148 was. Let’s keep that in mind going forward.

There’s a universe in which all four Harris County Commissioners are Democrats. There are more than enough excess Democratic votes in Precinct 1 to tip the other three, if we wanted to draw such a map. Said map would certainly violate the Voting Rights Act, and I am in no way advocating that. I’m just engaging in a little thought experiment, and pushing back in a small way at the notion that the division we have now is How It Should Be. The more tangible way to do that would be to win Precinct 2 in 2018. I’m not going to say that will be easy, but I will say that it’s doable. Like those State Rep districts, it needs to be a priority.

I’ll have a look at the other countywide elections next. As always, let me know what you think.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Two more lawsuit updates

The ban on the transgender bathroom rule remains in place pending appeals.

RedEquality

Continued lack of access in public schools to bathrooms matching transgender persons’ gender identity won’t cause them irreparable harm, a Texas federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Reed O’Connor of Wichita Falls, Texas, made that finding Sunday in ruling against two federal executive branch departments.

O’Connor concluded the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Education had failed to show they will suffer irreparable injury if he allows to continue his nationwide ban on their policy for allowing transgender people in public schools access to the bathrooms assigned to the gender with which they self-identify.

The federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of “sex”—the scope and meaning of which the federal government agencies claim now includes gender identity—were promulgated nearly 40 years ago, O’Connor wrote.

He referred specifically to the time gap between the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and May this year when the federal agencies announced their new transgender bathroom guidelines for public schools. “[T]he Court views this delay as strong evidence that Defendants will suffer no irreparable injury if a stay is denied and enforcement of the [federal agencies’] guidelines delayed until their legality is established,” O’Connor wrote.

See here for the background. I’m sure no one suffered any injury at all during the time between the passage of Title IX and the much more recent recognition of transgender people as actual human beings.

The litigation over the Obama Administration executive order on immigration will be on hold until next year.

The first major litigation effect of the election of Donald Trump took place in a Texas federal district court Friday when the lawyers in the case against the Obama administration’s plan to delay deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants asked the judge to postpone proceedings until Feb. 20.

“Given the change in administration, the parties jointly submit that a brief stay of any further litigation … would serve judicial efficiency and economy so that the parties have a better understanding of how they might choose to move forward,” U.S. Justice Department lawyers wrote in the filing.

[…]

The injunction will remain in place if the judge grants the motion to stay the proceedings. President-elect Trump would have the option of ending the litigation after his inauguration by withdrawing the guidance that authorized the deportation delays.

SCOTUS had declined to intervene in the appeal of the original ruling that halted this order nationwide, so here we are. Both of these cases involve non-legislative action – an executive order in this case, and an updated administrative guideline from the Department of Education in the other – and so in some sense the litigation doesn’t matter, since both of those actions can and almost certainly will be reversed by the next President. I would imagine that once that happens, the Attorneys General who filed these suits will withdraw them. Such will be life for the next four years.

Posted in: Legal matters.

We’re going to be fighting about vaccinations for a while

I wish it weren’t so, but it is.

Texas is one of 18 states that allow non-medical exemptions to the vaccines required for school attendance. California had a similar law allowing non-medical exemptions, until last year when it enacted a law that has one of the strictest requirements in the country after a 2014 outbreak of measles traced to the Disneyland theme park infected more than 100 people around the country.

Many of the parents opting out of the immunizations, which are widely recommended by doctors, say they fear a link between the vaccines and health problems such as autism. But studies that they cite have been widely debunked by public health officials.

“Year after year we’ve seen a steady increase in the number of students with a conscientious exemption from vaccination in Texas,” said Christine Mann, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services. “But overall, the numbers are small.”

Even though statewide levels of vaccinations remain high, at over 98 percent, what concerns public health officials are the growing clusters of geographic areas with high rates of unvaccinated children. Texas went from just 2,314 “conscientious exemptions” in 2003 to 44,716 this year, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Some parents are pressing state officials to let them know how many of their children’s peers are unvaccinated. Jinny Suh, who has a 4-year-old son, is helping spearhead a petition drive asking legislators to change state law so that the number of school exemptions is public. Currently, exemption rates are available for individual private and charter schools, but only district-wide for public schools.

State Rep. César Blanco, a Democrat from El Paso, introduced a bill during the last legislative session that would have required schools to notify parents about vaccination rates at the school level, but the bill was stalled in committee.

“As a parent, there are lots of things that people get very passionate about,” Suh said, “but for some reason, in my experience, vaccinations remains an almost taboo topic besides a few passionate people.”

Yes, the anti-vaxxers are a minority, but they are a vocal and organized minority, which is a recipe for political success. Unfortunately, the end result of that political success is a growing public health problem, which is compounded by a lack of leadership in our state government. Honestly, what we need here is for an organized pushback against the anti-vaxxers, a pro-vaccine Moms Demand Action kind of thing. The main difference here isn’t that there is an anti-vaccination legislative faction that needs to be countered. I doubt there are that many legislators who are truly anti-vaccination, though there are a decent number who are in favor of “conscience” objections to some extent. It’s more that there isn’t a vocal and active pro-vaccination legislative force that can advance the cause and/or defend against attempts to weaken vaccination requirements. People who want to see more kids get vaccinated and fewer kids get exempted from vaccinations need to elect a few of their own. Until that happens, we’re going to see more stories like this one.

Posted in: Technology, science, and math, That's our Lege.

Weekend link dump for November 27

What Larry Summers says.

From August but worth reading if you haven’t already: Why Twitter has such a problem with harassment and abuse, and has never figured out how to mitigate it.

Homer Simpson Is Now the Subject of a College Philosophy Course.

“Politicians do not deserve respect simply on the basis of the fact that they’re politicians. They do, however, deserve to be treated in accordance with their actions.”

How to encrypt your entire life in less than an hour.

“This is a problem that not even a blind trust can solve. Creating blanket conflict-of-interest laws would hamstring the presidency, but the current laws about emoluments are clearly inadequate.”

If you favor marijuana legalization, or even decriminalization, you shouldn’t have voted for Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote over President-elect Donald Trump keeps growing and currently stands at 1.677 million votes.” Just, you know, FYI.

NFL teams should go for two a lot more often.

“We, as a culture, have to stop infantilizing and deifying rural and white working-class Americans. Their experience is not more of a real American experience than anyone else’s, but when we say that it is, we give people a pass from seeing and understanding more of their country.”

If this doesn’t make you ill, there’s something wrong with you.

“This is so obvious, so clear right in front of our faces, that it seems hard to see. These aren’t conflicts of interest. The construct doesn’t work for what we’re dealign with. There is no conflict. Everything is working as planned. He’s leveraging the office like one might leverage a business. When you have your hotel pitch foreign diplomatic delegations on bringing their business to your hotel, that’s not a conflict. That’s a revenue stream tied to owning the presidency.”

“If this is right, the key qualities of presidential politics over the next four years will be instability, frequent policy change, palace intrigues, and Trump looking to reign triumphant above it all, not particularly caring (a la Padgett and Ansell’s Cosimo) about attaining specific goals, but instead looking to preserve his position at the center of an ever shifting spider web of political relations, no matter what consequences this has for the integrity of the web.”

5 Fun Facts About A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, because we could all use that right about now.

Lawyers of the Left, for those who may be interested.

A timeline of fake news on Facebook.

What makes protests work, and what makes them backfire and solidify opinion against the protesters? The answers to these questions, drawn from the research of scholars who have dedicated their careers to in-depth interviews with activists, protesters, and organizers, can both offer guidance to those spearheading the movement against Trump, and offer some interesting glimpses into the surprising political psychology of resistance.”

“Did 2016 represent the biggest gulf between the popular vote results and the electoral college verdict in history?”

“In stretching to paint Bannon as an old-fashioned racist, his critics overshot — and also missed the point. Bannon is more complicated, a whole new political beast. And because of that, he’s more dangerous than his adversaries in both the Democratic and Republican parties yet realize.”

RIP, Ralph Branca, former Dodgers pitcher who gave up Bobby Thomson’s famous home run.

“I love each and every one of you and I am so glad to have yet another holiday together. Come hungry and leave full. Hug one another because you can. Argue if you must, but then agree to disagree. Try something new or let go of something old. Give more. Take less. Oh hell. Listen to me rattle on like I am some sort of philosopher. Screw it. Come for the food and stay for the company. Everything else can be made better with gravy. I mean it. Really.”

RIP, Florence Henderson, most famous TV mom ever.

“What Lessig should have argued is that the Electors should plainly judge Trump a menacing incompetent and reject him with extreme prejudice.”

RIP, Ron Glass, actor best known for roles on Barney Miller and Firefly.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Texting while driving ban bills filed again

We’ll see if this gets a different result.

Drivers know the risks, and in more than 95 Texas counties they live under local cell phone ordinances that ban texting while driving. But the Lone Star State remains one of four states in the country without a statewide ban on the practice.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, hopes to change that with Senate Bill 31, which would make it illegal to text unless the vehicle is stopped. Lawmakers have shot down similar attempts by Zaffirini for four sessions in a row, but she hopes the fifth time’s a charm as lawmakers head back to Austin in January.

“All we can do is try,” she said. “It’s so important because more and more Texans have become aware about the danger that’s posed by texting while driving.”

Zaffirini’s legislation mirrors efforts by Rep. Tom Craddick, the Republican former House speaker from Midland, who filed anti-texting legislation in the last three legislative sessions. He filed his fourth attempt on the first day of bill filing last week. Once again, Zaffirini and Craddick are naming their legislation after Alex Brown, a West Texas high school student who was killed in a crash while texting and driving in 2009.

It will be an uphill climb, however. The legislation was approved by the House in 2015 and 2013but halted by the Senate. Zaffirini was just one senator short of passing the bill through the Senate in 2015. It passed both chambers in 2011, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Rick Perry.

But that veto was unusual, Craddick said, because Perry was in the midst of his first presidential bid. Perry called the anti-texting bill “a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.”

Craddick is hopeful it won’t be vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott if it passes both chambers during the 85th Legislature. He said he’s also heard positive remarks made by Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in Midland.

“(Abbott) has been pretty positive to people that have talked to him about it. I feel like he’ll sign it,” Craddick said. “(Patrick) said he thought the Senate would pass it, too.”

That would be a shift from earlier remarks made by Abbott, who said he opposed the legislationin 2014 and would veto any texting while driving legislation that made it to his desk. After the legislation made it through the House in 2015, Abbott promised to give it the “deep consideration it deserves.”

[…]

AT&T, which has been a big supporter of Craddick’s legislation, released a study that found that the four states without a statewide ban “have a roughly 17 percent higher rate of texting while driving than the 46 states with statewide bans.”

Texas A&M University’s Transportation Institute released similar studies on the state impact of texting while driving. College Station, where the university is located, recently passed its own ordinance that banned the use of a wireless device while driving.

Alva Ferdinand, a faculty member at Texas A&M’s school of public health, led a 2015 study that found a seven percent reduction in crash-related hospitalization in states that have enacted texting while driving bans. An earlier study by Ferdinand found that texting bans led to a 3 percent reduction in traffic fatalities among all age groups.

See here for a bit of background. On the one hand, Craddick’s optimism aside, Abbott has previously expressed opposition to a statewide ban, and I can’t imagine this will be any kind of priority for leadership. On the other hand, this did make it to the Governor’s desk once, and passed the House two other times, so the support is there, and if it does get to Abbott’s desk he may not feel compelled to veto it. I wouldn’t bet on this passing, but it has a chance, and that’s more than you can say for most bills.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Texas settles another lawsuit against VW

Hard to keep track, I know.

Volkswagen will pay the state of Texas $50 million to settle a deceptive trade practices lawsuit brought against the automaker. The settlement is part of an $14.7 billion nationwide agreement to resolve the nation’s largest auto scandal.

Volkswagen mislead consumers by promoting diesel vehicles as “clean” even though the German manufacturer knew the cars were equipped with software to cheat on emissions tests, according to the attorney general’s office.

The carmaker sold nearly 43,000 vehicles in Texas with 2.0 liter and 3.0 liter diesel engines, according to the agreement. The affected VW, Audi and Porsche vehicles include model years 2009 through 2015, according to court documents.

Under the terms of the agreement, VW is prohibited from falsely claiming its vehicles are environmentally friendly, selling cars with devices that can trigger false readings on environmental tests and misrepresenting emission levels.

The carmaker must also establish a $2.7 billion trust fund for projects to lessen the environmental harm caused by excessive Volkswagen emissions. Texas’ share is estimated to be as much as $191 million, according to the attorney general’s office.

See here for some background, and here for the original AG press release on this lawsuit. The FTC also sued a few months after this. The earlier settlement that was announced had to do with the actual environmental damage, which is what the $191 million Texas will get is all about. I presume money from this settlement will go to the defrauded VW vehicle owners, but the details are a little fuzzy to me. I suppose if you were one of those people who bought a VW diesel car, you might contact the AG’s office to see if you’re owed a few bucks now. The Statesman has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Who wants to go to Mars?

I imagine that sounds like a pretty good option to a lot of people right about now.

Wealthy business leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are creating buzz around and making progress toward the exploration of deep space, experts said Wednesday during SpaceCom in downtown Houston.

“I think we’re entering an era of philanthropic private funding of grand visions in space that start with our own solar system and eventually lead to humanity going to the stars,” said Pete Worden, chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and former director of NASA Ames Research Center.

Worden and other panelists discussed going to Mars and beyond during their presentations at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Such exploration, Worden said, will require public-private partnerships between international businesses and governments.

His enthusiasm lies with exploring the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri. To do this, Worden discussed the Breakthrough Starshot project. This involves small, ultra-light nanocraft – miniature space probes attached to lightweight sails – that will be pushed up to 100 million mph by a ground-based light beamer, according to the project’s website.

“I’m hoping sometime here later this century, maybe in 2076, hopefully sooner, we will fly by the nearest star,” Worden said.

Other panelists focused on human space flight to Mars. NASA wants to get people to Mars in the 2030s.

“Why send humans to Mars? It is the closest habitable planet,” said Brian Duffy, vice president and program manager at Orbital ATK. “And if the human race is ever going to be anywhere else in the universe, then Mars makes the most sense.”

2076 is a little out of my reach, and I’d be too old in the 2030s for it to be practical. But even if I’ll never get to do it I support space travel, and often I think it will be necessary for the future viability of the civilization we have now. I just hope we can get the engineering problems solved in time. If you’re sorry you missed out on SpaceCom, don’t worry – it will be back next year, in December.

Posted in: Technology, science, and math.

Saturday video break: Mrs Robinson

Let’s all sing along with Simon and Garfunkel:

Here’s a video of the song playing over scenes from the movie with which it is closely identified, The Graduate. The audio is a little weird or I’d have used it instead, but there it is if you want to watch it. The story of how that song wound up in that movie is worth reading, if only for a good chuckle at what a comedy of near-errors it was.

The Lemonheads have the best-known cover of this song, but I’m more fond of Pomplamoose’s version:

Mostly, I’m a fan of Nataly Dawn’s voice, and she nails the phrasing without being too overt about it. And I’m glad that Joe DiMaggio had the right number of syllables that Paul Simon needed.

Posted in: Music.