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Weekend link dump for November 23

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

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

When corn mazes get out of control.

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

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

Some lessons from the fracking ban fights.

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

The Milky Way looks lovely tonight.

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

Pastafarians, unite!

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

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

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

What Ryan Cooper says.

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

And boy howdy, does this sound creepy.

As always, Ta-Nehisi Coates is essential reading.

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

What Revolva says. Shame on you, Oprah.

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

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

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

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

Can science save chocolate from decline?

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

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

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

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

For shame, ESPN. Seriously.

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

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

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

Posted in: Blog stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

EPA climate change plan would save water

Well, what do you know?

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtle in trouble

Dammit.

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

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

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

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

An earlier story has some more details.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Saturday video break: Don’t Stop Believin’

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Music.

SBOE adopts history textbook changes it hasn’t read

Awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Of course Greg Abbott wants to sue

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

JustSayNo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: La Migra.

And the dominoes do begin to fall

Game on.

Rep. Mike Villarreal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Election 2015.

The Woodlands wants to be on the high speed rail route

Can’t blame ‘em.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Friday random ten: Numerology

After the letters come the numbers.

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

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

Posted in: Music.

It’s OK if energy costs go up for now

That’s my reaction to this.

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Texas asks for federal funding for pre-k vouchers

Not sure how I feel about this.

BagOfMoney

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

So, what’s the problem?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: School days.

SBOE defers new textbook decision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Pro-ride sharing but anti-Uber

Stop what you’re doing and read this.

Uber

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

And that’s saying something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

What to expect from the DACA announcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: La Migra.

Van de Putte to run for Mayor of San Antonio

Wow.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Election 2015.

Yet another lawsuit against Texas’ ban on same sex marriage

And then there were ten.

RedEquality

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

Posted in: Legal matters.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 17

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

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Texas For Marriage

This.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

McCrum avoids contempt charge

Whew.

Mike McCrum

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

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

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

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

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

McCrum said he felt gratified by the ruling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Trevino gets probation

Such a shame.

Victor Trevino

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

He faced a maximum of 10 years in prison.

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Bell ordered to pay $300K to RGA

Ouch.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Unsuccessful 2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, once awarded $2 million in his lawsuit against the Republican Governors Association, has instead been ordered to pay the organization $300,000 in legal fees after losing on appeal.

The case dates to the closing days of the 2006 campaign, when the national association wrote two $500,000 checks to the campaign of Gov. Rick Perry, Bell’s Republican opponent.

After losing to Perry by 9 percentage points, Bell filed suit, arguing that the association violated state law by making political donations without appointing a Texas campaign treasurer or supplying a complete donor list. In 2010, Travis County District Judge John Dietz agreed, awarding Bell $2 million, or double the amount of the disputed contribution, as allowed by state law.

Last year, however, the 3rd Court of Appeals overturned Dietz’s ruling, saying out-of-state organizations cannot be penalized for disclosure violations and are not required to designate a state treasurer. Bell appealed, but the Texas Supreme Court declined to accept the case, leaving the appeals court ruling intact.

The appeals court also returned the case to Dietz to determine how much money — if any — Bell owed the association for attorney fees.

Last week, Dietz signed a judgment ordering Bell to pay $300,000 — with an additional $30,000 due if Bell appeals to the 3rd Court of Appeals, plus another $10,000 if he turns to the Texas Supreme Court.

See here, here, and here for the background. Bell is considering an appeal and has until next month to ask for a retrial on the legal fees issue. Judge Dietz is retiring at the end of the year, though, so a new trial would be in front of a new judge. Can’t say I envy him having this hang over his expected Mayoral campaign for next year. Hope he has better luck if there is a next time.

Posted in: Election 2006.

It’s textbook approval time again

You know what that means, because we can’t do this sort of thing without controversy and a generous side order of knuckleheadedness.

Bowing to public pressure, the world’s largest textbook publisher has revised misleading language on global warming in a proposed Texas reader. But another major imprint has yet to do the same, worrying scientists and educators just a week before new textbooks are approved in the state.

Proposed wording in Pearson Education’s English textbook for Texas fifth-graders described climate change as a concern of “some scientists.” It then went on to say: “Scientists disagree about what is causing climate change.”

That wording rankled several leading scientific organizations, which point out that 97 percent of qualified scientists say that humans are overwhelmingly to blame for climate change.

The American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Center for Science Education raised complaints with the Texas State Board of Education, urging that the language be changed.

“For these textbooks to present climate change as a ‘debate,’ or to suggest that there is scientific uncertainty around the drivers of climate change, is to misrepresent our scientific understanding and do a disservice to our children,” AGU Executive Director Christine McEntee wrote in a recent letter to the board’s leadership.

In response, Pearson submitted a revised text to the Texas education board on Wednesday — less than a week before the agency votes to approve textbooks to be used at the start of the 2015 academic year.

The new language discusses climate change far less equivocally.

“Burning fuels like gasoline releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, which occurs both naturally and through human activities, is called a greenhouse gas, because it traps heat,” it says. “As the amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases increase, the Earth warms. Scientists warn that climate change, caused by this warming, will pose challenges to society. These include rising sea levels and changes in rainfall patterns.”

[...]

Another industry heavyweight — McGraw-Hill — is sticking with language that scientists and some educators find objectionable. The sixth-grade geography text asks students to compare texts from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won a Nobel Prize in 2007, with one from the Heartland Institute, a conservative think-tank that has misrepresented climate science and attacked the reputations of climate researchers.

“It’s certainly encouraging that most of the publishers are making changes and revising their materials on climate change,” Quinn told VICE News. “It would be unfortunate if McGraw-Hill is the lone holdout at the end of all this.”

In the end, McGraw Hill came to their senses. There’s still room for improvement overall, but this was a nice result. Today is the day that the SBOE meets to approve (or not) new textbooks, and there are other bones of contention to be dealt with as they debate. As that Chron story notes, a 2011 law allows school districts to buy their own textbooks and not the SBOE-sanctioned ones if they want to. Local action is an option if you think it’s necessary. TFN, Newsdesk, Grist, and the National Journal have more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Vehicles for hire update moves forward in San Antonio

Back on track after a late summer hiatus.

Uber

Yet another meeting has been scheduled to discuss controversial new rules that would allow rideshare companies to operate in San Antonio. The City Council’s Public Safety Committee voted Wednesday to take up the issue with the full City Council during B Session on Dec. 3

Council members requested that the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) come to that meeting prepared to clarify the insurance policy requirements the rideshare, or transportation network company (TNC), ordinance would include. TNCs connect customers to drivers, who drive their personal vehicles, via a mobile application to pick up fares.

The insurance “grey area” appears when rideshare drivers have switched on the application that makes them ready to acquire rides but are still waiting to accept a fare through the app. If an accident were to happen during those idling moments, or even hours, which insurance policy would be responsible their personal insurance or the commercial insurance provided by the TNC? City Council will find out next month.

Lyft

If approved, City staff recommendations would amend the Vehicle for Hire Ordinance to include exceptions and special requirements for TNCs. A task force composed of industry and community stakeholders also issued recommendations that were, for the most part, less stringent than what staff proposed.

Each council member on the Committee – chaired by District 3 Councilmember Rebecca Viagran and including District 5 Councilmember Shirley Gonzales, District 6 Councilmember Ray Lopez, District 7 Councilmember Cris Medina, and District 10 Councilmember Mike Gallagher – expressed disappointment in Lyft and Uber for disobeying the SAPD’s cease and desist letters. Both services continue to operate in San Antonio. The strongest words came from Lopez. Today’s meeting was his first back on the Committee after a hiatus.

“I’m incredibly disgusted with the approach that was taken by the (rideshare) industry to come into San Antonio,” he said. “They came in here with complete disregard for the rules and regulations that we had in place.”

Lyft and Uber have entered markets across the nation with the same strategy: begin operating, gain an employee and customer base, work with city and state governments to create new rules for rideshare.

Lyft Public Policy Manager April Mims, who is also on the task force, said that Lyft will continue to operate in San Antonio. It’s expected that Uber will as well.

“Our plan is to continue to operate and continue to work with elected officials,” Mims said. “As we understand it right now, our policy team has thoroughly looked at the regulations in Chapter 33, and we believe that there are no regulations in place right now that currently (address) this unique business model.”

See here for the last update. The process in San Antonio has been every bit as intense and controversial as it was in Houston, including the issue of Uber and Lyft operating in the absence of official approval. It will be interesting to see how similar San Antonio’s ordinance winds up being to Houston’s. For what it’s worth, that R Street report on municipal amenity towards the likes of Uber and Lyft gave San Antonio (D+) a lower grade than Houston (C-). We’ll see if they see fit to amend that after December 3.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Connecting the high-speed rail line to Fort Worth

This is encouraging.

State transportation officials this week are unveiling early plans for a high-speed train line from Dallas to Fort Worth. Like Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s plans to expand transit service in downtown, the project is an attempt to take advantage of plans for a high-speed rail line from Dallas to Houston.

The Texas Department of Transportation for years has looked at possible high-speed rail lines across the state. None of those lines, including the Dallas-to-Fort Worth one, have funding. But officials have studied the possibilities and potential routes, which ideally would connect the state’s biggest cities and could eventually run from South Texas to Oklahoma City.

“These projects are part of a larger statewide network,” said Erik Steavens, TxDOT’s rail director. “You obviously want to see the network built out in a manner where it can be built out logically.”

[...]

The route and funding aren’t all the state has to figure out. There’s also the question of what type of train will run on the track. The state could have its own trains, or it could pay the Texas Central Railway to run its trains on TxDOT tracks so passengers from Houston could have a one-seat trip to Fort Worth.

Another key decision is picking and securing a station on the Dallas end of the line. The state wants to tie the line into a private developer’s planned line to Houston.

“It should be something where we have those tied together,” Steavens said.

For sure. It’s good to see that the Texas Central plan has already gotten people to think beyond it, because as with any transportation system a network is much better than a single route. Robert Eckels, the president of Texas Central High-Speed Railway, has already expressed his wish to see the Houston end of that line go on to Galveston. As for the South-Texas-to-Oklahoma-City idea, I haven’t heard much about that project since February but it’s nice to see someone is still talking about it. What else would be nice would be for something to emerge from the next Legislature to move the idea forward in some fashion. That’s clearly not a priority for Greg Abbott, but perhaps as long as there’s no formal opposition a bill or two could move forward. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on this spring.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

The wildlife was here first

Not that it does them any good.

For years, caretakers have tended to injured wildlife displaced by development, which has replaced lush treetops with sprawling rooftops. Now, local suburban wildlife centers face a secondary complication of having a shortage of secluded acreage in which to release rehabilitated animals as islands of shrinking forests in the Houston area dwindle.

“That’s a big issue for us now. We’re running out of places to release,” said Lisa Wolling, Friends of Texas Wildlife executive director.

It’s another price of progress in blossoming counties like Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery, where growth increasingly puts humans and animals in conflict. The result is typically a death sentence for animals and a safety hazard for residents, according to local and state wildlife officials.

“Majority of the animals that come to us are the result of some kind of human interference,” Wolling said.

In the most serious examples, Texas Department of Transportation records reveal that wild animals on the road contributed to more than 2,000 accidents and two human deaths since 2009 in the greater-Houston area. Statewide, they’ve caused more than 24,000 accidents and 103 deaths, often along rural roadways where development is stretching.

In other cases, raccoons and opossum turn up injured at centers when residents trap them in attics. People bring fawns to the center, mistakenly believing the animals were abandoned by their mother, Wolling said.

“We call them kidnap victims,” she said.

Most of these encounters are unnecessary and could be avoided if homeowners were armed with the proper information, experts said. Struggling wildlife centers, already operating at capacity, are making the push to educate residents and developers on how to coexist with wildlife whose habitats they are threatening.

Displacement has been significant, as a recent report by Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources shows that Texas lost nearly 1.1 million acres of privately owned farms, ranches and forests from 1997 to 2012.

I don’t see that trend reversing any time soon. Good luck with the education aspect, but count on steady business from roadside accidents. Consider this another argument for density over sprawl, and about as effective an argument as all the others have ever been.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

While we wait for a ruling in the Rick Perry case

This story about a group of big-name lawyers filing a brief in support of Rick Perry’s motion to dismiss the charges against him ran a week ago. I put off writing about it because it looked like we might get a ruling on the motions from Judge Bert Richardson, but since he’s still thinking about it I figured I’d go ahead and finish what I’d started to write. I have what you might call a stylistic beef with the story as well as a substantive disagreement with the argument these gentlemen have put forward.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

This corndog will not be silenced

A bipartisan group of lawyers and legal scholars is asking a judge to dismiss a criminal indictment against Gov. Rick Perry, arguing their objections to the case transcend politics.

“We have no personal or political stake in this case,” said James Ho, a Dallas lawyer who helped organize an amicus brief filed Monday morning. “We come from different political backgrounds. But Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, what unites us is our commitment to the Constitution, and our belief that this prosecution is profoundly mistaken.”

[...]

The brief filed Monday concludes the “prosecution must end immediately,” calling it “disturbing” that Perry could be indicted for actions he took during a political dispute. The groups cite a few examples of politicians using threats to work their will without facing the same consequences Perry has, most recently President Barack Obama telling congressional Republicans he’d issue an executive order on immigration reform if they didn’t act.

The 24-page brief has the backing of legal experts with Democratic backgrounds such as Jeff Blackburn, founder of the Texas Innocence Project; Paul Coggins, former U.S. attorney in Dallas; and Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, whose skeptical remarks shortly after the indictment were used by Perry to argue even his political opponents think the case is bogus. Republicans on the brief include former U.S. solicitors general Ted Olson and Ken Starr, who now leads Baylor University.

See Texas Politics for more. The stylistic grievance I have is with the description of this group as “bipartisan”, since the term is being used to plant the idea that “see, even Democrats think the case against Rick Perry is bogus”. Look at the names highlighted in the story. One one side, you have three high profile professional Republicans – Ted Olson and Kenneth Starr, both former Solicitors General in Republican administrations, plus James Ho, a former Solicitor General for Texas under Rick Perry. On the “Democratic” side, you have one former US Attorney who – with all due respect – no one who doesn’t already know him has heard of, and two high-profile people that aren’t Democrats in a meaningful sense. Neither Alan Dershowitz now Jeff Blackburn has worked professionally for a Democratic administration or organization as far as I could tell by looking at their bios online. Dershowitz is an outspoken and often controversial academic whose stated beliefs are iconoclastic and not easily pigeon-holed into a left/right dichotomy. Blackburn heads up a well-respected non-profit that by its nature works closely with Democrats and Republicans. Folks in the criminal justice reform business tend to be single-issue focused and will gladly work with whoever supports them – see, for example, this recent Observer story and the remarks within it by Ana Yáñez-Correa, head of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, which include a warm endorsement of the newest Republican State Senator, Charles (no relation to Rick) Perry. Take these two “Democrats” out and you’re left with a group of mostly powerful Republicans standing in support of Rick Perry. There may or may not be merit to what they’re saying, but as a story it’s a lot less sexy this way.

As for my substantive objection, comparing Perry’s action to the standoff over immigration and a threatened executive order on DACA is so laughable I have to wonder if any of these high-profile signatories are even familiar with the case at hand. What this case is about is very simple: An elected official may not use the power of his or her office to try to coerce the resignation of another elected official. It’s not in dispute that this is what Rick Perry did. His defense boils down to 1) the laws that he is charged with violating were not intended for this use and are not applicable in this instance, and 2) he has a First Amendment right to make the kind of veto threats that he made. There may well be merit to point #1 – I have seen attorneys of the Democratic persuasion take pause with this. I’m not qualified to assess the legal fine points, but I recognize that Mike McCrum is tilling a new furrow here. Of course, Rick Perry did something no one had done before, too, so we’ll leave that up to Judge Richardson. As for the First Amendment argument, I claim no expertise but it seems to me that the exception being carved out here is narrow and well-defined. I see a bright line, not a slippery slope. Your mileage may vary, and so may the judge’s. If that’s the case, then so be it. I’m just not impressed by the smoke that these attorneys are trying to blow my way.

Finally, there’s a partisan question, raised in the comments here. Would I be so supportive of this prosecution if I didn’t have such a hearty dislike for Rick Perry? It’s always hard to objectively evaluate one’s own biases, and the partisan contours of this dispute were evident from the beginning, which makes it more difficult. But here’s a thought experiment to consider. We just elected ourselves an Attorney General that has some legal baggage of his own, including a criminal complaint, an SEC complaint, and a state bar grievance. It is possible that in the near future Ken Paxton could be in even more hot water than Rosemary Lehmburg once was. Now imagine that the gubernatorial election had turned out differently. How would you feel if Governor Wendy Davis was threatening to veto some piece of funding to the AG’s office unless Paxton stepped down? I would suggest that how you feel about that and how you feel about the Perry indictment should be about the same. If they’re not the same – in particular, if the way you feel about one is the polar opposite of how you feel about the other – that may mean you’re letting partisan feelings cloud your judgment. Just something to think about.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Diego Bernal to run for HD123

Good.

Diego Bernal

Diego Bernal, a civil rights attorney elected to the District 1 City Council seat in 2011, will leave the office on Tuesday to run in a yet-to-be-called special election for the Texas House of Representatives.

“I’m stepping down,” Bernal told the San Antonio Express-News, “because there’s going to be a vacancy in House District 123.”

Bernal, a Democrat, has his sights set on replacing Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, whose 123rd district overlaps with Bernal’s council district.

Villarreal has sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry saying he intends to complete his current term, which ends Jan. 13, but does not intend to serve in the 2015 term, to which he was elected on Nov. 4.

[...]

Bernal leaves a significant legacy in his nearly two full terms on council.

He spearheaded city policy that cracked down on payday lenders and was the driving force behind the city’s bolstered nondiscrimination ordinance, which now offers protection to people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The nondiscrimination ordinance was easily the most controversial issue the council faced.

He also said he’s proud of the transparency in his office, his open-door policy and communications with District 1 constituents.

Bernal also was a staunch advocate for the inner city.

“I’m proud that we demonstrated that you can start to bring attention to areas that had not seen it in decades,” he said.

But for every mended street, every new sidewalk, there are miles more left unattended.

“If you take your job seriously,” he said, “you’re haunted by what you haven’t gotten to.”

All of that makes me a big fan of CM Bernal and has me excited for the prospect of having him in the Legislature. He has exactly the right attitude for the job. We could use a lot more like him.

Bernal won’t be unopposed in this not-yet-declared special election, of course, so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. The Trib introduces another hopeful for HD123:

San Antonio City Councilman Diego Bernal and public relations consultant Melissa Aguillon have both set their sights on Villarreal’s House seat, which covers downtown and parts of northern San Antonio. Villarreal announced last week that he would resign his seat in the next Legislature in order to focus on running for mayor and give voters time to fill his seat ahead of the upcoming session. State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who just lost her bid for lieutenant governor, is also said to be considering a mayoral run.

Aguillon said she decided to pursue the seat earlier this summer when it became clear that Villarreal would step down from the House.

“When I first heard that Mike was going to be running for mayor, I just decided that this was something that I wanted to do,” Aguillon said. “I’ll use my experience that I’ve already had as a small business owner and put it to work as hopefully a representative for the district.”

Before starting her marketing firm, Aguillon worked for the city’s economic development department. She also worked for state Rep. José Menéndez during his time on the San Antonio City Council. Menéndez said earlier this week that he would consider running for Van de Putte’s Senate seat if she too steps down to run for mayor. If that happens, he’s likely to face state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.

I know nothing more about Ms. Aguillon than that. I’m sure she’d make a fine Representative, but with all due respect Diego Bernal is my first choice. The Rivard Report has more.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Uptown BRT moving forward again

Good news.

Tensions are easing over plans to develop dedicated bus lanes in Uptown, where community leaders want to give commuters and shoppers more transportation options and relieve worsening congestion.

“We’re there and ready to make this project happen,” said John Breeding, president of the Uptown Management District, the agency leading the project to run express buses along Post Oak Boulevard and Loop 610. The buses would connect a future Bellaire Transit Center to the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Northwest Transit Center.

Breeding and others said buses should start rolling on Post Oak in mid-2017.

Lately, the project has been mired in disputes between Metro and Texas Department of Transportation officials. After Metro officials balked at an agreement TxDOT requested to ensure the project was only for buses and would not be converted to rail in the future, state transportation commissioner Jeff Moseley proposed moving $25 million from Uptown to an unrelated project.

The state funds would pay for elevated bus lanes along Loop 610. Moseley had said the disagreement indicated the Loop 610 project wasn’t ready to move forward.

Although its absence would not kill the project, the Loop 610 component would dramatically improve the travel time to the Northwest Transit Center. Faster, more reliable service would increase use of the lanes, said Metro board member Christof Spieler.

On Wednesday, Moseley said TxDOT had agreed to keep its funding for the project on the table until February, providing enough time for Metro to resolve its concerns about agreeing to a bus-only project. Voters in 2003 authorized the agency to build light rail in the corridor.

“Metro has asked for some extra time,” Moseley said. “We support this project and think that is reasonable. That gives us an extra period of time to look at authorizing the money.”

Metro chairman Gilbert Garcia said he was optimistic the various players could agree on issues skeptics have raised about mass transit in the Uptown area.

“I am trying to use this project as an opportunity to put some of those things to rest,” Garcia said during a meeting meant to update board officials on the Uptown project. “Try to bring some of the people together and find out where is the common ground.”

See here for the last update. I’m glad to see Moseley and TxDOT acting more reasonably, though I’m still annoyed that they’re dictating terms that would stand in contradiction to the 2003 Metro referendum. I suppose I can live with that if we can finally get this project off the ground. The Highwayman has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Weekend link dump for November 16

I was always sure that all six of these things were at the very least rude, but it’s good to write them down and make it clear.

Beware Uber’s auto financing scheme.

“Most people can think of someone who is a jerk or a pushover and largely clueless about how they’re seen. Sadly, our results suggest that, often enough, that clueless jerk or pushover is us.”

How maggots help solve crimes. They need more of that on CSI.

More like this, and less like this, please.

“You will be pleased to know that the plaintiff who accuses Rick Springfield of assaulting her with his butt has not given up despite an earlier mistrial.”

“Charity will be condemned with the same rule that condemns welfare, because the ‘dependency’ argument is an intentionally blunt instrument: it doesn’t really have an interest in poor people; it just proposes a premise on which to cease aid.”

How does a prequel to The Sopranos sound to you?

Yellow elephants have supplanted yellow dogs.

Twenty-five will save lives.

Policy, schmolicy. It’s horse races people want to hear about.

Remember those Colorado State Senate recall elections that were spurred by passing gun control legislation? The Senators that ousted the Democrats in that election were themselves ousted last week. It’s about the turnout, y’all.

There were a few other progressive results to celebrate in that otherwise dismal election as well.

“But if Obamacare for the internet isn’t a particularly meaningful concept, a public option for the internet is.”

The Oatmeal explains net neutrality to Ted Cruz far more nicely than he deserves.

RIP Jovian, the lemur who starred as Zoboo on PBS’ hit nature series Zoboomafoo.

The US-China climate agreement undercuts a key Republican argument against taking action on climate change.

Hey, remember when Ebola was a thing?

RIP, Little Joe Washington, Houston blues guitar legend.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver calls for legalization of spors betting.

“Americans who obtained new health insurance policies in 2014 using the government exchanges are roughly as positive about their healthcare coverage and the quality of healthcare they receive as the average insured American, and are more satisfied with the cost of their coverage.”

RIP, Jane Byrne, Chicago’s first (and so far only) female Mayor.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Carroll Robinson announces for City Controller

Not a surprise.

Carroll Robinson

Carroll Robinson

City Controller Race – I Am In – Carroll Robinson

Dear Friends,

As we begin to prepare for another holiday season, I wanted to personally let you know that, after much deliberation and prayer, I will run for City Controller in 2015.

I will officially launch my campaign in March 2015 at my annual Women for Robinson (WFR 2015) Meet, Greet and Network Reception.

Next year, the WFR Reception will be open to all who want to join me in my commitment to: 1) empowering the women of our community; 2) ensuring that all the young people in our city have “An Opportunity To Do Better”, and 3) Making Houston Greater.

[...]

I helped pass the city’s spending “Rev Cap” City Charter Amendment and I still support it. It forces fiscal discipline on City Hall and it is why the City Council Fiscal Affairs Committee is now engaged in the process of defining what “core” city services are and how they should be fully funded.

I support asking city voters to allow the city to keep excess revenue above the “Rev Cap” to speed up paying down the General Fund Debts and fully funding Public Safety Services.

I opposed establishing a city garbage fee when I was a City Council Member and I am still opposed.

I support Early Matters – the Greater Houston Partnership’s Early Childhood Education/Pre-K Initiative; creating the South Main Innovation Zone and putting all existing public infrastructure plans and city building permits into one common 3D GIS Database so that city, neighborhood and business leaders can all see the cumulative impact of what the city, Metro, TxDOT, H-GAC, Gulf Coast Rail District, TIRZs, MUDs and Water Districts are planning to build over the next five (5) to fifty (50) years so we can mitigate traffic congestion, storm water run-off, air pollution and avoid duplication, conflicts and wasting taxpayers money.

The Controller’s office doesn’t really get involved with most of these policy issues, but that’s neither here nor there. What I know and have said before and will keep saying is that I do not plan to support anyone who supports the revenue cap. Carroll Robinson is a smart guy with some good ideas, and I appreciate that he sees some things differently than I do, but the rev cap is a deal breaker for me. I’m sure we’ll have a spirited discussion about it when I do an interview with Carroll down the line. You can hear the interview I did with him for HCC here if you’re interested. Texpatriate, from who I got that Forward Times link, lists Metro board member Dwight Jefferson and 2013 Controller candidate Bill Frazer (candidate interview here) as other possibilities. I for one would like to see CM Ed Gonzalez give this race a try. It’s still very early, so don’t chisel anything into stone just yet. Houston Politics has more.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Another data point on Uber and Republicans

From Josh Barro.

Uber

Republicans have hailed Uber, the smartphone-based car service, as a symbol of entrepreneurial innovation that could be strangled by misplaced government regulation. In August, the Republican National Committee urged supporters to sign a petition in support of the company, warning that “government officials are trying to block Uber from providing services simply because it’s cutting into the taxi unions’ profits.”

But for Republicans, being the party of open and competitive markets is not always easy in practice. Just look at what happened two weeks ago, when UberX, one of Uber’s various ride-sharing options, began in Philadelphia. The local taxi regulator called UberX an illegal taxi service, so several drivers were fined and had their cars impounded.

Mayor Michael Nutter sent a clear message: Don’t blame me.

“I strongly support having Uber/Lyft services in Philly,” the mayor, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter on Oct. 27. “The #PPA, a STATE authority not run by the City, opposes them.” As Mr. Nutter correctly notes, Uber’s fight in Philadelphia is with the Philadelphia Parking Authority, a state agency that regulates taxis and whose board is appointed by the governor. Five of six parking authority board members are Republican appointees.

Anticompetitive business regulations are mostly imposed at the state and local level, and they usually have a strong built-in lobby: the owners of the businesses that are being shielded from competition.

The R.N.C. chairman, Reince Priebus, probably doesn’t get a lot of phone calls from taxi medallion owners, or car dealers, or other businesspeople who want to be insulated from competition.

But local politicians do; Republicans may be especially likely to hear from them because small business owners are a constituency that skews Republican.

As a result, in practice, it’s not clear Republicans are any more pro-market than Democrats when it comes to business regulation.

Andrew Moylan, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute think tank, has examined ride-sharing regulations around the country and doesn’t see a clear partisan divide. On Monday, R Street and Engine, a group advocating policies that support start-ups, [released] a report card rating the 50 largest cities on their friendliness to ride sharing. The eight cities receiving failing grades include ones in blue areas (Philadelphia and Portland, Ore.) and red ones (Omaha, Phoenix and San Antonio).

“There didn’t seem to be any obvious ideological trends,” Mr. Moylan said. “It may have something more to do with population density and consumer demand.”

In the case of Uber, the cities with the most to gain from innovation tend to be large and dense, and often Democratic. So at the local level, the leaders in welcoming Uber are often Democrats. Conservatives like to mock California as anti-business, but the state is one of just two to have enacted a comprehensive, statewide regulatory framework that is friendly to ride sharing. The other is Colorado, also run by Democrats.

But it’s not just about Uber and taxis. Consider state laws that prohibit auto manufacturers like Tesla from selling directly to consumers. Car dealers favor these laws, which interfere with Tesla’s direct sales model. Of 22 states that permit direct sales, 14 voted for President Obama. New York, California and Illinois all have freer markets in auto retailing than Texas. Did I mention that car dealers are a strongly Republican constituency? In 2009, the statistician Nate Silver found that 88 percent of car dealers’ political donations went to Republicans.

See here and here for previous musings on the subject of Uber and partisanship, and see here for the report. Note how California cities scored much better overall than Texas cities. R Street previously put out this press release that expressed their disappointment in Houston’s “onerous” regulations on ride sharing. We did score better than San Anotnio, for what that’s worth, and now you’ll be able to call Uber from the airports. As for Tesla, we all know about Tesla and Texas, right? Funny how that subject never came up during any of Rick Perry’s job-stealing trips. Anyway, I don’t have a lot to add to this, but as I’ve been tracking this sort of thing I thought it was worth mentioning.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

The privilege of voting

It’s not a right if you aren’t allowed to do it.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A day before Texans go to the polls, an unusual group gathered for lunch at a Mexican restaurant not far from downtown: an unemployed African-American grandmother; a University of Houston student originally from Pennsylvania; a pregnant mother who had recently moved back to the area with her family; and a low-income white woman who struggled to make eye contact and kept her money in a pack strapped around her waist.

They had not met each other before, but they had one thing in common: Thanks to Texas’s strict voter ID law, they all faced massive hurdles in casting a vote. Over fish tacos and guacamole, they shared their stories—hesitantly at first, then with growing eagerness as they realized they weren’t alone in being victimized by their state.

Lindsay Gonzales, 36, has an out-of-state driver’s license, which isn’t accepted under the ID law. Despite trying for months, she has been unable to navigate an astonishing bureaucratic thicket in time to get a Texas license she can use to vote. “I’m still a little bit in shock,” said Gonzales, who is white, well-educated, and politically engaged. “Because of all those barriers, the side effect is that I don’t get to participate in the democratic process. That’s something I care deeply about and I’m not going to be able to do it.”

As Texas prepares for its first high-turnout election with the voter ID law in place, the state has scrambled to reassure residents that it’s being proactive in getting IDs to those who need them, and that few voters will ultimately be disenfranchised. But those claims are belied by continued reports of legitimate Texans who, despite often Herculean efforts, still lack the identification required to exercise their most fundamental democratic right.

There’s a depressingly long list of people who have been disenfranchised by Texas’ law at the end of the article. Not theoretical possibilities, real people who were not allowed to vote. There are more and more of these stories out there as well. I’d love for Greg Abbott and Rick Perry and the six Supreme Court justices who thought letting this election proceed with that law in place despite its documented effects to have to look each one of these people in the eye and explain to them why this was necessary. Because the law is working as intended. What happened to these people was a feature, not a bug.

But they could have gotten free election IDs, I hear you say. Maybe, if they knew about that under-publicized option. And if they were able to navigate the bureaucracy successfully and pay their poll tax at the end.

Every document Casper Pryor could think of that bore his name was folded in the back pocket of his jeans. But sitting on a curb Thursday, a can of Sprite in hand, Pryor wasn’t sure whether those papers and the hour-long bus ride he had taken to get to Holman Street would result in a crucial new piece of ID. An ID that would allow the 33-year-old Houston native to vote.

Election identification certificates were designed for the 600,000 to 750,000 voters who lack any of the six officially recognized forms of photo ID needed at the polls, according to estimates developed by the Texas secretary of state and the U.S. Department of Justice. Legislators created the EICs, which are free, in part to quell criticism that enforcing the state’s much-litigated ID law amounted to a poll tax that could disenfranchise low-income and minority voters.

But as of Thursday, only 371 EICs had been issued across Texas since June 2013. By comparison, Georgia issued 2,182 free voter ID cards during its first year enforcing a voter ID law in 2006, and Mississippi has issued 2,539 in the 10 months its new law has been in place. Both states accept more forms of photo identification at polls than Texas does, so fewer voters there would need to apply for election-specific IDs.

In Texas, some would-be voters are hitting roadblocks.

Pryor said he has been spending more than four hours each trip trying to obtain an EIC, and he’s been back and forth several times. Though the cards are free, there are transportation costs and fees for supporting documents.

“It turned into a full-time job,” he said. “Going here, going there, it’ll make you give up.”

[...]

Some voters decided to pursue a Texas state ID card instead of an EIC. The requirements are similar, but the state ID can be used for more purposes than elections.

Money factors in the decision.

Applying for a Texas state ID costs $16, and if an individual does not have a birth certificate, getting that costs another $22. For those who want an EIC, a birth certificate can be obtained for a discounted price of no more than $3.

Another difference: EICs do not require a background check, while a Texas state ID does. For low-income applicants concerned about unpaid traffic tickets, that can be enough to decide on an EIC, said Marianela Acuña Arreaza, the Texas coordinator of VoteRiders, a nonpartisan nonprofit helping eligible voters cast ballots and not engaged in the ongoing litigation.

“Voting is not a luxury item,” Acuña Arreaza said. “It should be something you should be able to do because you’re a citizen and you’re eligible.”

[...]

Abbie Kamin, through the Campaign Legal Center, has been working with people who want to vote at the polls, sometimes driving an hour out of the city to obtain a birth certificate and accompanying them for lengthy waits in DPS offices. The center’s executive director was an attorney for the plaintiffs in the voter ID case, but Kamin’s work is ground-level. Beyond the transportation hurdles and costs for some voters lacking ID, there has been confusion among agencies and individual clerks, she said.

“I’ve had another woman working with me who called the DPS three different times and gotten three different answers,” Kamin said.

During a federal court trial that concluded in Corpus Christi in September, the judge found that the DPS process for granting EICs lacked consistency.

When asked if any training had since been provided, DPS spokesman Vinger responded, “No.”

Training costs money, don’t you know. Greg Abbott wants to take the gas tax money that currently goes to DPS and use it for road building. That means DPS will have to compete with other budget items to get general fund money. What do you think are the odds that extra funds for EIC training would be included in that?

The good news is that Casper Pryor did eventually win the game of running the DPS gamut, and in the end he got his EIC, making him one of the lucky few to do so. One wonders what the reaction would be if a random sampling of voter ID supporters had to go through what he went through to get to do what they take for granted. To end this post on a positive note, here’s another story about people who worked a lot harder to be able to vote than you and I did.

April Fisher walked into a brightly lit, flag-adorned room at the Harris County Administration Building on Wednesday and, for the first time in her life, contemplated a ballot.

“I’ve never voted in my life,” the 30-year-old Louisiana native said with a shrug. “I don’t even understand politics.”

Fisher came to Houston five years ago after her father gambled away their family’s life savings. The choices she made here ended in addiction, prostitution and criminal convictions.

But on this day, with her life on the mend, Fisher found the name of the judge who heard her most recent prostitution charge, a woman she credits with helping get her life back on track. She tapped the voting machine’s selector dial. It felt good.

In a booth next to her was the kind of authority figure who had been an adversary in Fisher’s past life – a sheriff’s deputy.

“I was proud to stand next to that deputy and he didn’t put handcuffs on me,” she said.

Fisher walked out of the downtown building and into a balmy fall day minutes later.

“I feel like my voice was being heard,” she said, before lighting up a cigarette.

A precious right for many Texans, voting for Fisher and a group of about 15 women – recovering drug addicts, former sex workers and others – was about something more: finding their voice.

They were enrolled in (or have graduated from) the “We’ve Been There Done That,” a program run through the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, which seeks to rehabilitate women and help them avoid returning to their criminal past.

“These women have never been empowered, have been victims of sex abuse, of abuse, of imprisonment,” said Jennifer Herring, director of re-entry services for the Sheriff’s Office. “Now, for them to be able to seek for themselves a voice through this voting process, it’s liberating.”

Read the whole thing. No matter how you feel today about the election, I trust that story made you feel a little better.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Saturday video break: Don’t Look Back

It’s a “same name, different song” fourplay. First, Boston:

If you’ve ever listened to a classic rock station, you’ve probably heard that song. Now here’s one you probably haven’t heard, from Bruce Springsteen:

That’s a live version of a tune from his “Tracks” collection of B-sides and other miscellania. Next up, Texas guitar prodigy Charlie Sexton:

Was there a better decade for hair than the 80s? And speaking of the 80s, here are the Fine Young Cannibals:

I’ve decided that FYC was an underrated band. I don’t know what happened to them after “The Raw and The Cooked”, but whatever it was they deserved better.

Posted in: Music.