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Friday random ten: W for the win

Almost done with the alphabet, at which point I’ll have to come up with a new gimmick to get me through a few weeks. But until then, the W names.

1. Dance Hall Days – Wang Chung
2. Casey Jones – Warren Zevon
3. I Can’t Turn You Loose – Was (Not Was)
4. Rainy Day Woman – Waylon Jennings
5. Ships With Holes Will Sink – We Were Promised Jetpacks
6. Waterfall – Wendy & Lisa
7. You May Be Right – What Made Milwaukee Famous
8. Late Night Television – Wild Moccasins
9. Hesitation Blues – Willie Nelson & Asleep At The Wheel
10. This Land Is Your Land – Woody Guthrie

Whatever else may be true about them, We Were Promised Jetpacks and What Made Milwaukee Famous are up there on the All-Band Name team. I know, it’s easy enough to come up with clever band names, but having a clever band name and actually making music that someone might want to listen to, that’s something. What’s your favorite name of a band that has produced at least one worthwhile song?

Posted in: Music.

UT/Trib: Abbott 54, Davis 38

More of the same from the Trib’s pollsters.

Republican Greg Abbott has a 16-point lead over Democrat Wendy Davis in the closing days of this year’s general election for governor, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Abbott has the support of 54 percent of likely voters to Davis’ 38 percent. Libertarian Kathie Glass has the support of 6 percent, and the Green Party’s Brandon Parmer got 2 percent.

“The drama of the outcome is not who wins, but what the margin will be,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “Wendy Davis has not led in a single poll in this race.”

Among men, Abbott holds a 61-32 lead in this survey. And he leads by 2 percentage points — 48 to 46 — among women.

Abbott leads among likely voters who dropped out of high school all the way up to those with post-graduate degrees. Davis leads with voters who said they never attend church services, but Abbott leads with every group that did, no matter how frequently or infrequently. With Anglo voters, he holds a 62 percent to 31 percent advantage. Davis leads 75 to 19 among black voters and narrowly — 48 to 46 — among Hispanic voters.

“It should be a really interesting, contentious race,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at UT-Austin and co-director of the poll. “And yet, it doesn’t seem to have penetrated the public consciousness. Certainly, nothing down-ballot has.”

Most of the statewide races are not as close as this one, the poll found — and Republican candidates hold the lead in each one.

It’s more of the same for the other races as well. You know my issues with their methodology, so I’ll just note two points. One is that since August, Internet-based pollsters UT/TT and YouGov have shown Greg Abbott with a wider lead than the phone-based pollsters have, with the exception of that KHOU poll. It’s either about a 16-point race or about a ten-point race, depending on who you think is more believable. Also, if you take the UT/TT poll’s word for it, Davis’ problem isn’t so much turning out her base as it is holding on to them in the first place. When was the last time a Republican candidate in Texas won nearly 20% of the African-American vote? We’ll see what the exit pollsters have to say about that. In the meantime, early voting continues. Let’s just concern ourselves with taking care of our own business there.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Abbott’s actions in the Hecht ethics case belie his “just doing my job” evasion

More accurately, it’s his lack of action that speaks clearly about his priorities and discretion.

Still not Greg Abbott

Attorney General Greg Abbott, accused of favoritism in his handling of an ethics case involving a Texas Supreme Court justice, says it’s not his duty to press the case that has sat idle for two years.

That reasoning, however, doesn’t stand up, according to an American-Statesman review of state law.

The issue began in 2008, when the Texas Ethics Commission fined Chief Justice Nathan Hecht $29,000 for violating campaign finance rules by getting a $167,200 discount on legal fees. Hecht appealed to Travis County district court, arguing that the agency misinterpreted state law.

With Abbott’s office defending the Ethics Commission, several years of sporadic action followed — until all activity ceased two years ago.

Defending the inactivity, an Abbott spokesman last week said his office wasn’t motivated to press the case because the ruling against Hecht remained in force — placing the onus to act on the chief justice.

But state law says otherwise.

The moment Hecht filed his appeal, the Ethics Commission judgment against him was vacated — or rendered void — to allow a Travis County district judge to conduct an independent review of the charges against him.

Legally, there is no judgment in place against Hecht, placing the onus to act on lawyers with the attorney general’s office.

[...]

Buck Wood, an Austin lawyer specializing in election law — mainly representing Democrats — said appeals of Ethics Commission rulings are rare, but the result is the same in every case.

“Once they appeal it, no enforcement action can be taken because it does vacate the decision,” Wood said. “The ethics fine is basically put on hold, and if (Abbott) doesn’t prosecute it, it’ll never get prosecuted.”

The inactivity is even harder to explain because Abbott’s lawyers believe Hecht’s appeal was improperly filed and should be tossed out.

A motion to dismiss the appeal, filed by the attorney general’s office in June 2012, argued that Hecht lawyer Steve McConnico failed to ask the Ethics Commission to reconsider its judgment against Hecht — a necessary first step before an appeal can be pursued in district court.

McConnico filed a brief rebutting the claim, and the last activity in Hecht’s appeal came in October 2012, when both sides filed responses trying to poke legal holes in each other’s arguments.

See here for the background. The 2012 filings weren’t included in the timeline of events put together by Texans for Public Justice, who has filed suit to toss Abbott off the case and appoint a special prosecutor that will actually do something, but the overall point stands. Nothing can or will happen in this case until one side or the other takes action, and since Team Hecht has no incentive to do anything – he’s in the clear for the time being, after all – that means Abbott needs to quit jerking around and do his job. Keep that in mind the next time you hear Abbott piously muse about how pursuing endless appeals of same sex marriage rulings and the like are “just doing his job”.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Alameel 2018?

Sure, why not?

David Alameel

David Alameel

Even against long odds, David Alameel hasn’t thrown in the towel in his bid to unseat Sen. John Cornyn.

“I’m in it for the long run,” the Dallas investor and dentist told The Dallas Morning News editorial board on Monday.

Cornyn leads by about 20 percentage points in most polls. Alameel says it hasn’t dampened his optimism.

“My aim is not just to win. I want to change the way people think,” he said.

He also sees this year’s effort as a way to position himself to try again in 2018, when freshman Sen. Ted Cruz’s term expires.

“The next one is in four years, and you have to build a base. I’m building a base right now,” Alameel said.

I appreciate the willingness to think beyond this election. Some races need to be viewed as multi-cycle. Most candidates, for good and obvious reasons, don’t have that in them, so kudos to Alameel for taking the long view and seeing Ted Cruz’s re-election bid as an opportunity. That said, I hope Alameel has some fierce competition for the chance to take on our lunatic junior Senator. I hope this election is successful enough that several of our vaunted “rising stars” begin licking their chops and gearing up their fundraising with an eye for being first in line at filing time in December of 2017. A nice, high-profile Senate primary will be an excellent way to start the year in 2018.

By the way, the Alameel-Cornyn debate will be tonight, and it can be viewed on Univision on Saturday dubbed in Spanish. There’s a drinking game in there somewhere, I’m sure of it.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Endorsement watch: Why Orlando?

The Chron has published its full list of endorsements for the 2014 election, but at the time they ran that they had not published all of the accompanying editorials. They began their catch-up on that on Wednesday with another expression of their love for incumbent Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez.

Orlando Sanchez

[Democratic challenger David] Rosen, 29, says he would work to completely revamp the office’s online portal, so that county residents would have a better sense of how their tax dollars are spent.

“I want to make open government a reality in Harris County,” he said. “This office has a real problem with transparency.”

[...]

Sanchez, a once and perhaps future mayoral candidate who’s been treasurer since 2007, told the Chronicle editorial board that he agrees with his opponent about the need for more transparency and has urged commissioners to replace the county’s “antediluvian [computer] system.”

Touting his experience in government, Sanchez said the county treasurer should serve as an “independent set of eyes” on the county checkbook. He said that his oversight of credit interest uncovered bond discrepancies that could have cost the county millions.

Rosen is an articulate and thoughtful candidate, but Sanchez has the experience. We endorse the incumbent.

The Chron has endorsed Orlando Sanchez at every opportunity – in this year’s GOP primary, where they listed him as being five years older than they did in this piece, in 2010, and in 2006. After all this time, and all these paeans to “transparency”, I still have no idea what the dude has done in his eight years in office. That bit about his “oversight of credit interest” is the first mention I’ve seen of that. At this point I see no value in wailing and gnashing teeth about it. Whether it’s his enchantingly blue eyes or knowledge about the placement of buried bodies, Orlando Sanchez has a hold over the Chron editorial board. We’re going to have to find a way to live with that.

The Chron also got around to doing endorsements in the county criminal courts. As has been their way so far, they stuck with incumbents in most cases, but in each of their two-part set of endorsements, they picked one Democratic challenger. Here’s part one:

County Criminal Court at Law No. 6: Linda Geffin

Democratic challenger Linda Geffin, 61, knows firsthand the risks that come from fighting in our courts for justice: In 2011, she was beaten and left unconscious in an attack that Geffin believes was retaliation for her work in the County Attorney’s office against sex trafficking. With a 10-year tenure in the Harris County District Attorney’s office, this graduate of the South Texas College of Law has been active in her community and is a two-time recipient of Children At Risk’s “Hero of the Month” award.

Incumbent Judge Larry Standley, a Republican, took the bench in 1999 after serving as chief felony prosecutor at the Harris County District Attorney’s office. Meeting with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, Standley, 56, said he draws on his own troubled youth and undistinguished high school career as inspiration to help those who may have shared a similarly tough experience.

Both candidates have a good-hearted passion for the job, but Geffin seems better-suited for the duties of judgeship.

And part two:

County Criminal Court of Law No. 14: David L. Singer

Defense attorneys usually air their objections during trial, or perhaps through appeals. But earlier this year, a dozen of Houston’s top criminal defense attorneys took their protest to the hallway outside the courtroom of Judge Mike Fields. Handing out cards that explained defendants’ constitutional rights, these members of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association took aim at Fields, 49, for coercing defendants to waive their constitutional right to an attorney. The deck is already stacked against people who are in our criminal justice system, and Fields’ attempt to speed up the gears of justice pushed his court off the tracks.

Fields, a Republican, first came to this seat in 1998 and graduated from St. Mary’s School of Law.

Voters should cast their ballots for Democratic challenger David L. Singer. A graduate of the South Texas College of Law, Singer, 55, has served as a briefing attorney in the First Court of Appeals, followed by six years as a Harris County prosecutor. He now works as a defense attorney. In a notable accomplishment, Singer received more votes than Fields in the annual Houston Bar Association Judicial Preference Poll. That poll is a clumsy tool at best, reflecting only a tiny slice of lawyers, but rarely does a challenger beat an incumbent. We’ve endorsed Fields before, but the poll results are a sign that he has become a judicial outlier. Voters should give Singer a repeat victory on Election Day.

Also of interest is that for County Criminal Court of Law No. 10, the Chron decided they didn’t like either the Democrat George Barnstone or the Republican Dan Jeffry, so they gave the nod to Libertarian candidate Brad Walters. Putting aside the novelty of having a Libertarian candidate this far down the ballot, if there had been one race this year where I’d have thought a third party candidate might have gotten endorsed, it would have been the Ag Commissioner race. The Chron is just full of surprises, apparently.

Posted in: Election 2014.

2014 Day Four EV totals

EarlyVoting

Here are your Day 4 EV totals and the full 2010 EV totals. Mail ballots continue to be strong, up a bit from Day Four in 2010, but in person totals continue to lag. Overall, 2014 now trails 2010 at this point in the process by about 5,000 votes, with about 142,000 having been cast so far this year. As we discussed last time, the mix of voters is more important than the totals. So far, indications for Harris County say “better than 2010 for Dems, but not where we want to be yet”. If the pattern for this year is like it was in 2012, Saturday is the key day. It would be nice to do better than that before then.

Here are the statewide three day totals and the comparable figures from 2010. As we have seen on other days, overall turnout is up thanks in large part to the strong mail ballot returns. The TDP sent out an email earlier today taking a victory lap for that. I hope they have reason to brag, but I don’t have any data on it.

Finally, a couple of turnout-related news stories. From the Statesman, a reminder that we don’t yet know who it is that is turning out, and from the Monitor a story about strong EV turnout in Hidalgo County. We can’t say yet that more early voting will necessarily mean higher final turnout, but that’s still encouraging to see.

UPDATE: Almost forgot: Check out Drive for Democracy and volunteer to help drive someone to the polls. And for my Heights friends, why not have breakfast with Leticia Van de Putte on Saturday morning before heading to the polls?

Posted in: Election 2014.

Interview index

For your convenience, here is a list of all my interviews and judicial Q&As for the November election. This includes ones I did for the primary and runoff.

Interviews

US SenateDavid Alameel

Attorney GeneralSam Houston
ComptrollerMike Collier
Land CommissionerJohn Cook
Railroad CommissionerSteve Brown

State Senate, SD15Sen. John Whitmire
State Senate, SD17Rita Lucido

State House, HD23Susan Criss
State House, HD75Rep. Mary Gonzalez
State House, HD131Rep. Alma Allen
State House, HD133Laura Nicol
State House, HD145Rep. Carol Alvarado

District AttorneyKim Ogg
County ClerkAnn Harris Bennett
District ClerkJudith Snively
TreasurerDavid Rosen
HCDE Trustee At LargeDebra Kerner
HCDE Trustee At LargeMelissa Noriega

Judicial Q&As

14th Court of AppealsKyle Carter

180th Criminal District CourtRandy Roll
185th Criminal District CourtMack McInnis
230th Criminal District CourtGreg Glass
248th Criminal District CourtShawna Reagin
263rd Criminal District CourtHerb Ritchie

55th Civil District CourtKay Morgan
113th Civil District CourtSteven Kirkland
190th Civil District CourtFarrah Martinez
234th Civil District CourtBarbara Gardner
281st Civil District CourtTanner Garth

246th Family District CourtSandra Peake
247th Family District CourtChip Wells
280th Family District CourtBarbara Stalder
308th Family District CourtJim Evans
309th Family District CourtKathy Vossler
311th Family District CourtSherri Cothrun

313th Juvenile District CourtTracy Good

Harris County Probate Court #1Kim Bohannon Hoesl
Harris County Probate Court #2Josefina Rendon
Harris County Probate Court #4James Horwitz

Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 2Harold Landreneau
Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 10George Barnstone
Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 13Jason Luong

Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 2Scot Dollinger

Posted in: Election 2014.

On Greg Abbott and who gets to get married

As you may have heard, Peggy Fikac got to ask Greg Abbott the obvious question about how exactly the state’s law against same-sex marriage, which Abbott is diligently defending in court, differs from the old laws that once banned interracial marriage, and would he have defended those as well since he claims he’s just doing his job as the state’s lawyer.

RedEquality

It didn’t take Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott any time at all to decide that not answering that question was the best course during a meeting with the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board.

“Right now, if there was a ban on interracial marriage, that’s already been ruled unconstitutional,” Abbott pointed out. “And all I can do is deal with the issues that are before me … The job of an attorney general is to represent and defend in court the laws of their client, which is the state Legislature, unless and until a court strikes it down.”

When I said I wasn’t clear if he was saying he would have defended a ban on interracial marriage, he said, “Actually, the reason why you’re uncertain about it is because I didn’t answer the question. And I can’t go back and answer some hypothetical question like that.”

Asked about the similarities some see between the ban on gay marriage and past prohibitions on interracial marriage, Abbott said, “Well, the Supreme Court has disagreed with that” by holding that sexual orientation isn’t due protected-class status in the way that race is.

[...]

“What kind of state would we live in if the public policies of this state were allowed to be determined by the attorney general? The attorney general would have a super veto over the elected representatives, and that would be a chaotic form of government, contrary to our fundamental constitutional principles,” he said. “It would be way beyond the separation of powers. It would be a dictatorship… by the attorney general.

“Believe me, I would love it,” he added, “The state would look a whole lot more like me right now if I did abandon my role and exercised my magic wand and decided what cases I would defend and which I didn’t, and therefore allowed me to dictate policy in this state.

“But I think that by doing what I do, I am maintaining the policy that I think is appropriate, and that is for each elected official to fulfill their constitutional obligations,” he said.

Not surprisingly, this broke the Internet as people around the globe reacted with gasps, guffaws, facepalms, and sputtering outrage. The Wendy Davis campaign was swift to jump all over this. One reason for the outpouring was the basic fact that Abbott’s answer was, in a word, a crock. The DMN points out one problem with it:

Other attorneys general, citing their oath of office to uphold the Constitution, have refused to defend certain policies, laws and judgments.

John Cornyn, now a Republican U.S. senator, as attorney general voluntarily dropped an appeal of a death penalty case and sought a new punishment hearing. He determined he could not defend the punishment meted out to a black defendant after the state presented an expert witness who had testified that blacks are more inclined to violence.

Former Attorney General Jim Mattox, a Democrat, refused to defend a state law that criminalized homosexual conduct. He dropped the appeal of that law.

In other words, previous attorneys general have felt free to follow their conscience when they thought that the situation merited it. The Observer cites an example of Abbott’s folly by sticking to his mantra.

But while the Attorney General may have to mount some kind of defense of the state, he has “a tremendous amount of discretion” over how aggressively to prosecute those cases, how “effectively” to prosecute cases, and which cases to bring to court. Abbott has been using his stint as AG to campaign for governor for years—he’s brought failed case after failed case against the federal government, costing Texas taxpayers millions. But his hands are tied when it comes to gay marriage and school finance, he insists. He has to aggressively defend bad laws to the last.

Abbott’s tenure has included a number of instances in which he pursued comically bizarre legal arguments in cases for which he could have no reasonable hope of victory—seemingly forfeiting his powers of discretion. In 2008, Abbott chose to defend the state’s ban on the sale of sex toys, a case that emerged from the fallout of Lawrence v. Texas. Over the years, Abbott has deployed novel legal arguments against gay marriage. But this wasn’t a case about gay marriage, a subject that still animates sincere moral disagreements. This was a case about every American’s god-given right to buy dildos.

At the time, anti-sex toy laws were widely understood to be unconstitutional, but Abbott suited up for battle. The state, his lieutenants argued with straight faces before the 5th Circuit, had an interest in “discouraging prurient interests in autonomous sex and the pursuit of sexual gratification unrelated to procreation.” The state of Texas has a pressing interest, Abbott said, in discouraging you from masturbating or blowing your boyfriend. That was just six years ago.

By the way, the law that criminalized gay sex, which was the basis of the Lawrence v. Texas case, is still on the books in Texas, as our Republican-dominated Legislature has not seen fit to repeal it. If the Legislature instead decided to amend that law by offering reparative therapy as an alternate sentencing option for defendants – an action that would clearly be unconstitutional on its face but would nevertheless represent the will of his client – would he feel compelled to defend that?

I know, I know, that’s another hypothetical, and Greg Abbott doesn’t do hypotheticals. So let me ask this instead: Can Greg Abbott name one instance in his time as Attorney General when he had to defend a law or regulation that he didn’t support or approve of? Putting aside the obvious discretion he has used in deciding what lawsuits to file and what defendants to file them against, can he cite an example of a law he didn’t like but had to defend? I kind of suspect the answer to that is “no”. Maybe that’s not fair to him – maybe the opportunity just never arose – but regardless, it would put his “just doing my job” claim into some perspective. It’s a lot easier to just do your job when your job involves doing things you like and want to do. It’s a little different when you do something with the same vigor and diligence for a cause you wouldn’t have chosen to support but are compelled to because it’s your job. BOR and Lone Star Q have more.

Posted in: Election 2014, Legal matters.

Gary Elkins thumbs his nose at local payday lending ordinances

Such a fine example he sets.

Rep. Gary Elkins

As a member of the Texas House of Representatives, Houston Republican Gary Elkins helps make laws. As a businessman, he is an owner of a chain of payday lending stores accused of breaking them.

Elkins opposed payday lending regulations during the 2011 and 2013 legislative sessions, arguing members should defer to his expertise and calling the bills a solution in search of a problem. Efforts at comprehensive statewide reform failed, leading Texas’ three largest cities to adopt their own restrictions on the products payday and auto title lenders can offer.

As the local ordinances have come into force, first in Dallas, then San Antonio and, as of this summer, Houston, Elkins’ Power Finance locations or store employees in all three cities have received citations, accused of ignoring the law by not registering with the cities or allowing regulators to inspect their books.

Elkins’ interests in San Antonio were among the plaintiffs who sued the city of San Antonio over its payday regulations; the case was dismissed last February. The same attorney who represented the lenders in that case, John Dwyre of San Antonio, directed Houston officials in a Sept. 10 letter obtained by the Houston Chronicle not to speak with, ask for identification or request records from Power Finance employees.

Having been blocked from enforcing the ordinance at the firm’s locations, Mayor Annise Parker said, Houston officials now plan to cite Power Finance as a company for failing to comply.

“The city of Houston has worked successfully with Rep. Elkins in other areas, but the fact that he would deliberately flout our local ordinances is not just unfortunate – it sends the wrong signal,” Parker said. “We all understand that the reason that our system of laws works is that people of goodwill voluntarily comply with the law. It undermines the entire system when a public official chooses not to comply with a legally passed law or ordinance.”

[...]

Dallas’ lone Power Finance store in January was issued four citations, three for allegedly violating zoning rules for payday lenders, and one for failing to register with the city. The cases are set for trial next month, said Assistant City Attorney Maureen Milligan.

“Here you have a lawmaker that makes law for everybody else, and then when it comes time for him to follow the law that other people follow, he thumbs his nose at it,” said Dallas City Councilman Jerry Allen, who has championed that city’s regulations. “We’re not going to tolerate it. ”

We should not be surprised by this. Elkins took the lead in fending off payday lending bills in the 2013 Legislature, and has zero shame about it. I don’t quite understand why there hasn’t been an ethics issue relating to this – Sen. Leticia Van de Putte had to sell her pharmacy shortly after being elected in order to avoid a potential conflict of interest, yet there’s Elkins up at the mike pushing his own business interests. It’s nothing new, either. Here’s an excerpt from the Texas Monthly Ten Worst Legislators list from 2001:

In the legislative pond, Gary Elkins is a minnow. he feeds in the shallows, far from the dangerous waters of floor debate and important bills. He’s such a small fish that he escaped the Worst list in 1999 with a onetime catch-and-release exemption—even though no less than the Wall Street Journal had documented his efforts to help the small-loan industry, in which he makes his living (“Legislator’s Slim Agenda Mirrors His Private Interests”). So what does Elkins do this session? He swallows the hook again. Exemption expired.

Elkins’ livelihood is the controversial sale-leaseback business, in which customers, usually low-income, get cash for a household item, which they retain, and pay stiff regular fees until they can repurchase it. The industry claims that these transactions are leases, not loans, and that the fees are not interest payments, which would be subject to regulation. The attorney general’s office has sued Elkins’ company (unsuccessfully), and the Legislature, after several previous attempts, finally gave state regulators authority over the industry this year—but not without some unseemly shenanigans by Elkins. After the chairman of the House Business and Industry Committee, on which Elkins sits, introduced a bill declaring that sale-leaseback transactions are not loans, a lawyer for Elkins’ company testified in favor of the bill—but neither he nor Elkins disclosed the connection. Later, Elkins’ name surfaced again involving a bill backed by the payday-loan industry, a competitor of Elkins’ sale-leaseback industry. A Nevada company with links to Elkins (but no other apparent Texas concerns) had hired a lobbyist to fight the payday-loan bill. Referring to Elkins, an ethics advocate for Common Cause told the Austin American-Statesman, “If I were a member, any bill [he] had would be suspect to me.”

Elkins’ involvement in the issue is not illegal but does create the appearance of self-dealing. It gets in the papers and it lowers public confidence in the Legislature. Perhaps he could be forgiven if he made any noticeable contribution to the public weal, but no. He filed ten bills this session and passed one, making it legal to stop, stand, or park your vehicle in your own driveway in a manner that blocks a sidewalk. If only he had quit while he was ahead.

See also this Observer story from July. The only difference between then and now is that Elkins has since moved into the payday lending business. I don’t know what Houston or other cities that want to rein in payday lenders can do to him. At some point, it will have to be up to the voters to kick him out.

Posted in: Local politics.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 20

“Voting freshens your breath, whitens your teeth, and improves your sex life.” — Molly Ivins

The Texas Progressive Alliance reminds you that EARLY VOTING HAS BEGUN as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Downtown dedicated bike lane delayed a bit

Aiming for the end of the year now.

Conversion of a traffic lane on Lamar into Houston’s main bike route through downtown has been delayed as officials finalize plans and wait for in-demand humps known as “armadillos” to arrive.

Department of Public Works and Engineering officials initially said work would start on the lanes in September and finish in a few weeks. Now they hope to have cyclists cruising the green lane along Lamar by the end of the year, said Jeff Weatherford, the city’s traffic operations director.

One of the last steps will be installing “armadillos” – rubberized humps that separate vehicle lanes from the nine-foot-wide bike path. A European company is the only supplier of armadillos, and with their growing popularity they are on back-order, Weatherford said.

[...]

Creating the lane required some tough choices, Weatherford said, and weeks of work remain. Officials chose Lamar because other streets from Discovery Green to Sam Houston Park either had higher traffic volumes or posed greater risks for cyclists because of drivers entering and exiting Interstate 45 and Allen Parkway.

The bike lane will occupy the southernmost lane of Lamar, a space now used for parking except during peak commuting periods.

The conversion to a two-way bike lane will take about six or seven weeks, Weatherford said, with work occurring on weekends to avoid commuting traffic. Because the bike lane is on the south side of the street, new street crossings are planned near the two parks. City law prohibits cyclists from riding in crosswalks – technically, they should dismount and walk the bike across – though the law is rarely enforced.

“Still, I want it to be something that doesn’t force someone to break the law,” Weatherford said.

See here for the background. I work near where this work is going to be done, and I’m looking forward to it. I plan to take some pictures once the lane has been painted green and those “armadillos” have been installed.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

2014 Day Three EV totals

But first, a little angst.

EarlyVoting

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

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

And:

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

Here is from Chron.com:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Election 2014.

Judicial Q&A: Kathy Vossler

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

Kathy Vossler

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

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

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

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

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

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

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

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

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

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

5. Why is this race important?

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

6. Why should people vote for you this November?

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

Posted in: Election 2014.

More on the voter registration numbers

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

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

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

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

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

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

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

Three things here:

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

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

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

Posted in: Election 2014.

More lot protections

Good luck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

The inadequacy of Prop 1

Better than nothing, but not by much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Election 2014.

2014 Day Two EV totals

Here’s Houston Politics with the nickel summary.

EarlyVoting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Election 2014.

Judicial Q&A: Greg Glass

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

Greg Glass

Greg Glass

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

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

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court hears all nature of alleged felony offenses.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

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

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

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

5. Why is this race important?

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

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

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

Posted in: Election 2014.

KHOU: Abbott 47, Davis 32

A new poll to open Early Voting.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Election 2014.

Time to comment on the proposed high speed rail routes

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

RIP, J. Kent Adams

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

J. Kent Adams

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

Posted in: Local politics.

2014 Day One EV totals

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

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

Posted in: Election 2014.

Interview with Navid Zanjani

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

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

Posted in: Election 2014.

Judicial Q&A: Herb Ritchie

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

Herb Ritchie

Herb Ritchie

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

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

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

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

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

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

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

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

5. Why is this race important?

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

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

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

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

Posted in: Election 2014.

Mayoral fundraising 2015

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

Chris Bell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Election 2015.

Endorsement watch: Three out of five ain’t bad

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

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Davis, Abbott faces a formidable opponent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Election 2014.

Weekend link dump for October 19

On dealing with horrible bosses, in Hollywood and elsewhere.

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

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

I for one welcome our snake-bot overlords.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clearly, tighter border security is called for.

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

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

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

The relativity effect on batted balls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Blog stuff.

SCOTUS declines to intervene on voter ID

Unfortunate.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

Posted in: Election 2014, Legal matters.

Voter registration numbers top 14 million

Sweet.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Election 2014.

From the “Simple answers to simple questions” department

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Election 2014.

Classic hip-hop

I got a good chuckle out of this.

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Music.

Saturday video break: Desperado

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Music.

City files amended petitions

From the inbox:

RedEquality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woodfill’s thoughts were echoed by national conservative groups.

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

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

Continue reading →

Posted in: Legal matters.

DA race developments

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

Devon Anderson

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, Kim Ogg is focusing on burglary.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.