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Senate has mostly completed the Abbott special session agenda

I’m just going to hit the highlights here because this stuff is happening quickly and often late in the day, but most of the Abbott 20-point special session agenda has been turned into bills that have as of this morning passed the Senate. Yesterday’s action included vouchers and still more unconstitutional abortion restrictions, while the weekend saw a lot more. Basically, if it hasn’t passed the Senate yet, it will in the next day or two. They’ll then sit around and wait for either more agenda items to be added or amended bills to come back to them from the House.

As for the House, they’re just getting started. They passed the sunset bill on first reading, which is the one thing they had to do. There are committee hearings scheduled for the week – unlike in the Senate, the House is going to follow its usual process, which means taking a certain amount of time rather than acting like they have ants in their pants while their hair is on fire. How many Senate bills they take up, and how many they vote on, remains to be seen. You can bet that the voucher bill is a non-starter, but most things after that are at least possible. That includes some kind of bathroom bill, though whether they pass anything more than the weakened form of the bill that the Senate rejected in the regular session is anyone’s guess at this point.

In the meantime, the threat of the bathroom bill as well as the reality of the “sanctuary cities” ban continues to cost the state business, and there’s more where that came from. Texas Competes had a small business-focused press conference yesterday, and in their release they totaled the damage so far at over $66 million in canceled conventions, with $200 million set to pull out if Dan Patrick gets his wish, and over a billion that may follow suit. The Charlotte News & Observer sums it up nicely:

The story now is well-known: Bill passes, business vanishes, national disgrace ensues, Republicans stumble through an amateur hour of near repeal and finally, thanks to intervention from business people, a settlement is reached that unfortunately allows Republicans to save a little face by limiting local governments’ rights to pass anti-discrimination ordinances for a period of time. But North Carolina did enough to bounce back and start landing business again.

Ah, but in Texas, pardners, the HB2 lesson has gone unlearned, as Republicans in the Texas legislature prove themselves to be – using a Lone Star expression – “all hat and no cattle.” They’re actually pushing their own version of HB2, even after many Republican states backed away when they witnessed what happened in North Carolina.

[…]

In this age of Republicans driven by the hard-right, or whatever it is, ideology of the “base” that elected Donald Trump, the Texas debate proves that anything (crazy) is absolutely possible. What’s astonishing is that Texas lawmakers had a perfectly clear view of the economic catastrophe that came to North Carolina after HB2 — tens of millions of dollars lost, including $100 million economic impact for Charlotte with loss of the NBA All-Star Game, and thousands of jobs gone, with companies deciding against establishing offices or expanding the ones they had.

It’s as if, pardon the Texas-sized metaphor, Texas lawmakers stood and watched North Carolina Republicans run full-face forward into a cactus, and then turned to one another and said, “Hey, that looks like fun.”

Yes, this is the world we live in these days. Call your representative and let them know you’d really rather we not slam our faces into a cactus.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Lawsuit filed over giving voter data to bogus Trump commission

I missed this last week.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The League of Women Voters of Texas and the Texas NAACP said Thursday they have sued Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos over plans to release voter information to President Donald Trump’s election commission.

Texas law requires that safeguards be met to ensure such data isn’t used improperly, the groups said, and they must be followed before any data is sent to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity.

“The Secretary of State should strictly follow state law if he releases any voter information to the Commission,” Elaine Wiant, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, said in a news release. “Releasing personal information could result in identity theft, causing great harm to Texas voters. Further, we fear that the Commission’s goal is voter suppression, not voter participation.”

See here for the background. This is separate from the open records request made by the ACLU of Texas. The suit was filed in state court in Travis County, and it alleges that the request violates Texas election statutes. . You can see the complaint here – it’s a bit dense for me, so I’ll leave it to the lawyers to offer an opinion. It’s fine by me if these plaintiffs succeed in getting an injunction, and as noted by the Brennan Center, Texas is not the only state where such a lawsuit has been filed. We’ll see how it goes – among other things, I’ll be very interested to see how the state responds to this. How hard will they fight for this if a judge puts a halt to it? It’s not clear to me that it’s in the Republican leadership’s best political interests to go balls to the wall on this one.

Posted in: Legal matters.

You’re never so weak as when you try to act tough

Blake Farenthold, ladies and gentlemen:

A Texas GOP congressman says if the three female Republican senators who oppose a bill repealing Obamacare were men from South Texas, he might challenge them to a duel.

“The fact that the Senate does not have the courage to do some of the things that every Republican in the Senate promised to do is just absolutely repugnant to me,” U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, told his local radio host Bob Jones on Friday.

“Some of the people that are opposed to this, there are female senators from the Northeast… If it was a guy from South Texas, I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style.”

[…]

Duel language is not new in politics. In 2004, then-U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, a Democrat who crossed party lines to campaign for President George W. Bush, invoked it against MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews. The comments were met with widespread mockery at the time.

But there’s little funny about such language in the U.S. Capitol these days, after a deranged man shot and injured a Republican member of Congress during a baseball practice in June. U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, was gravely injured in the incident and remains hospitalized.

Yes, thank goodness we’ve all heeded that call for civility after the shooting on the baseball field. Also, someone might gently tell Farenthold that Alaska is not in the northeast. Tell him thanks for the laugh, too, we all needed it. Juanita and ThinkProgress have more.

Posted in: General snarkiness.

July 2017 campaign finance reports – Congress

It’s July, and that means it’s campaign finance report season. Everyone has reports due at the end of June, so at every level of government there are reports to look at. I’ll be working my way through them, starting today with reports from the many people running for Congress as Democrats this cycle, some of whom have done very well in the fundraising department. I took a look at all of the Q2 FEC reports for Texas Democratic Congressional candidates, and found a few things to talk about. First, here are some of the more interesting reports:

Todd Litton – CD02

Jana Sanchez – CD06

Alex Triantaphyllis – CD07
Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Laura Moser – CD07
Jason Westin – CD07
James Cargas – CD07
Debra Kerner – CD07
Joshua Butler – CD07

Dori Fenenbock – CD16

Joseph Kopser – CD21
Derrick Crowe – CD21
Christopher Perri – CD21
Elliott McFadden – CD21

Christine Mann – CD31

Ed Meier – CD32
Colin Allred – CD32

Dayna Steele – CD36
Jonathan Powell – CD36

And here’s a summary of what’s in them:


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
02    Litton          138,702    6,936        0   131,845

06    Sanchez          51,568   29,479        0    19,728

07    Triantaphyllis  451,165   48,776        0   402,389
07    Fletcher        365,721   22,671        0   343,049
07    Moser           234,901   42,530        0   192,370
07    Westin          152,448   32,560        0   119,888
07    Cargas           35,708   27,575   13,750    14,549
07    Kerner           17,173    3,602    2,700    13,571
07    Butler            9,470    7,371        0     2,099

16    Fenenbock       343,835   15,088   50,000   328,746

21    Kopser          204,639   68,816        0   135,823
21    Crowe            44,648   19,936        0    24,811
21    Perri            41,186   15,876    7,140    25,309
21    McFadden         37,209   18,517      500    18,691

31    Mann             19,771    5,820        0    13,685

32    Meier           344,366   45,996   27,848   298,369
32    Allred          205,591   56,993   25,000   148,597

36    Steele           64,627   19,052    1,231    45,574
36    Powell           27,158    5,153        0    22,004

I don’t have all of the candidates in here – there are over 100 reports, including incumbents, candidates from past races who are not active, and people who raised no money – just the ones I felt like mentioning. It’s a bit arbitrary, but I basically included races that had at least one candidate of interest to me. I did not include every candidate from every race – I skipped people in CDs 02, 21, and 32, in particular. Some candidates of interest are not here, specifically Veronica Escobar in CD16, MJ Hegar in CD31, and Pete Gallego in CD23; Escobar has not made her entry official as yet, and both Hegar and Gallego got in too late to have anything to file about.

With all those preliminaries out of the way, let’s note that the top story here is the large number of large numbers. Four Republican incumbents were outraised last quarter by at least one of their Democratic opponents – Ted Cruz, Ted Poe in CD02, John Culberson in CD07, and Lamar Smith in CD21. Pete Sessions in CD32 only just outraised Ed Meier, and once you add in Colin Allred he trailed the Democratic candidates significantly. Suffice it to say, we have never seen anything like this, certainly not since the DeLay re-redistricting. All of these Republicans have an overall cash on hand advantage, but it won’t be anywhere near the kind of advantage they’re used to. When Hegar and Gallego get up to speed, I expect both of them will be in the same class as their peers in these races.

The redistricting ruling is likely to have an effect on this for the next quarter as well. All of the maps presented by the plaintiffs created another Democratic district in the D/FW area, which was usually drawn as CD24, and significantly reconfigured CD27 as well. Neither of those districts currently has anyone who filed a finance report as a Dem, but if one of these maps or something like them gets adopted for 2018, that will change in a hurry.

Disclaimer time: Money isn’t everything, and fundraising isn’t destiny. But think of all the times you’ve heard people complain – or you yourself have complained – about Texas acting as an ATM for campaigns everywhere else. This is all money being raised for candidates here, and it’s happening in a year where there are and have already been plenty of opportunities to fund campaigns in other states. This is a level of enthusiasm and engagement we are not used to seeing. I don’t know how this will all turn out – these are still Republican districts that will take a major shift in the electorate to be competitive. Right now, a lot of people think that’s possible, and they are literally putting their money where that belief is. I don’t see how this is anything but good news.

Posted in: Election 2018.

ACLU seeks information about state’s compliance with Trump election commission

From the inbox:

Today the ACLU of Texas filed an open records request with the Texas Secretary of State seeking documentation related to the State’s compliance with the federal Election Integrity Commission, which had asked states to submit voters’ full names, the last four digits of their social security numbers, their voting histories and information regarding felony convictions. The ACLU’s request seeks all communications between the Texas Secretary of State and the Election Integrity Commission, including records relating to the “views and recommendations” Texas submitted at the Commission’s request.

“The true threat to electoral integrity is voter suppression, not voter fraud,” said Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “This nonsense of voter fraud is a lie peddled by politicians complicit in a corrupt scheme to rig elections by keeping minority and low-income Americans away from the polls. We are demanding this information of state officials to ensure they are doing everything they can to advance the right to vote, not threaten it.”

The ACLU of Texas’s request comes days after the ACLU national office sued the Trump administration over the Commission’s failure to comply with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, a law that guarantees transparency and public accountability of advisory committees.

“The President’s Election Integrity Commission is a voter suppression machine, pure and simple” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “It threatens our right to privacy, endangers the foundations of our democracy, and its mission is based on a lie. No wonder it conducts its business behind closed doors.”

The Commission’s vice chairman Kris Kobach, who requested the sensitive voter information, was recently fined $1,000 by a federal magistrate judge in a voting-related lawsuit for “deceptive conduct and lack of candor.” The judge said that Kobach and his legal team had “made patently misleading representations to the court.”

The ACLU of Texas is not requesting any information related to private voter information or voter roll data.

See here for a copy of the open records request, and here for a copy of the ACLU’s lawsuit against the Trump Commission, which is one of seven that have been filed so far around the country. This phony commission is all about suppressing the vote. It needs to be resisted on every front.

Posted in: Legal matters.

One side benefit of the continued Republican repeal follies

It depresses the base.

Texas-based Republican political consultant Brendan Steinhauser’s early read of the fallout was that the party has reasons to be worried about next year’s midterm elections.

“I think that you will see that if this fails, Republicans in Congress will get blamed,” he said. “I think you will see a very angry base that will attract some primary challengers to these members of Congress from the right, and I think you’ll see some of these voters stay home in the midterm [general election].”

“I think that is the more dangerous trend for Republicans,” he added. “… In general, the consensus is, ‘You guys have been making this promise for seven years to repeal Obamacare … If you guys can’t achieve it then why did we send you to Washington?'”

This is at the end of a Trib story about the latest Obamacare repeal failure, and the Texas Republicans’ reaction to it. My point here, and I’ve made it before, is that the factors that would contribute to Democrats overperforming next year include high levels of Democratic enthusiasm, with low levels on the Republican side. Both were factors in 2008, and the latter was in play in 2006. There’s a lot of time between now and next November, and things can get better for them and worse for the Dems, but as things stand now, the trends are much more positive for the Dems. Keep an eye on Trump’s approval rating among Republicans, that will be the tell.

Posted in: Election 2018.

The bathroom bill is a threat to Quidditch

How much more do you need to know?

It’s not quite time to get out the broomsticks in Round Rock. A national quidditch tournament headed to town next year has been put on hold while legislators consider the bathroom bill during their special session, said Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan.

U.S. Quidditch recently told the city that it wasn’t going to sign a contract to come to Round Rock until it finds out what happens with the bathroom bill, Morgan said. He said he couldn’t provide further details.

The city announced in early July that the U.S. Quidditch Cup 11 would April 14-15, 2018, at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex.

[…]

If the city starts losing big tournaments because of the bathroom bill, Morgan said, it could have an effect on taxpayers who voted to allocate a half-cent of the sales tax for property tax relief.

“If events start leaving I think we will have to increase taxes or cut services if it becomes a big enough impact,” said Morgan.

Here’s the news story of the announcement that the 2018 Cup would be held in Round Rock, and here’s the US Quidditch webpage about it. Note that Wichita Falls will host the Southwest Regional Championship in partnership with Wichita Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau on February 24-25, 2018, and also that Lubbock – specifically, the West Rec Grass and Turf Complex Fields at Texas Tech University – was the runnerup to Round Rock for the finals. (It was not mentioned in this story if the Wichita Falls event is also in peril, but one assumes so.) My daughters and I saw a Quidditch match at Rice a couple of years ago, with teams from colleges around the country. It’s maybe not quite as exciting as it is in the books and movies, but it’s got a following. And it’s in danger of being taken away by our ongoing potty wars. If you’re a Quidditch fan or a concerned Round Rock taxpayer, you should reach out to Rep. Larry Gonzales and Sen. Charles Schwertner and tell them not to kill off this event.

Posted in: Other sports, That's our Lege.

Weekend link dump for July 23

Same sex marriage is likely to be safe from future SCOTUS rulings even if Justice Kennedy retires in the next couple of years. I’d rather not test that hypothesis, though.

Those hot girls on Twitter who want to follow you? It’s a scam. Don’t fall for it.

“I don’t want to have the Bible debates with you. I don’t want to hear you say you love me, but not my sin. I don’t want to have to sit and defend my humanity to you, but I will defend the humanity of others all day long. It’s how my church raised me.”

Meet your first female Dr. Who. Let the thinkpieces begin!

Oh, and we could have had our first female Doctor thirty years ago. Wonder how many female Doctors we’d have had by now if that had happened?

RIP, Martin Landau, versatile TV and movie star who won an Oscar for his role in Ed Wood.

RIP, George Romero, legendary director of Night of the Living Dead.

“A pair of Apollo-era NASA computers and hundreds of mysterious tape reels have been discovered in a deceased engineer’s basement in Pittsburgh, according to a NASA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report released in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.”

RIP, Maryam Mirzakhani, first female mathematician to win the Fields Medal.

RIP, Bob Wolff, Hall of Fame broadcaster who called Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

“To put this all as clearly as I can, it’s not that somehow Don Jr was so profoundly clueless that he didn’t know this was a problem. He knew enough to lie about it for at least a year. It’s not that he doesn’t know it’s wrong or against the law. It is that in this family having that be a brake or obstacle to action is simply alien. Dad’s good, Hillary’s bad. What’s the problem? Of course he loves it. It’s fits the family’s entire pattern.”

“The fate of the GOP’s health reform plan right now hinges on Sen. John McCain’s recovery from a blood clot surgery. It’s also the perfect reminder of just how critical insurance can be — and how much protection from health emergencies Americans stand to lose with the Better Care Reconcilition Act, the Senate Republicans’ plan to dismantle Obamacare.”

“Perhaps that’s all Sekulow is, a walking Trump tweet wrapped in a law degree. His role is performance. To force everyone to spin around distracted by how foolish his lawyer sounds, while Trump rests on his own confidence that the force of the backlash will feed his narrative that the media are shrill and out to get him, and if that fails, then at the very worst no one will ever care what Sekulow said in July.”

How will the Potty Police know I’m transgender if the Governor doesn’t?”

“As tuition and student debt go up, homeownership rates go down.”

“Don’t worry, everyone. Tropical Storm Don is only expected to hit golf courses.”

Republicans have no one to blame but themselves for their ongoing Obamacare repeal debacles.

“So here’s how it will go down. The commission will create a national database of voters and look for duplicates. As Gupta correctly points out, they won’t be able to tell two people with the same name and birthday apart. So every instance of the same name and birthdate will be counted as a case of fraud.”

The case for and against the forthcoming HBO “Confederate” series.

RIP, John Heard, actor best known for his role as the dad in Home Alone.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Was the Harris County election system hacked?

Wouldn’t you like to know?

Despite widespread alarm over the breadth of Russian cyber attacks on state and local election systems last year, including revelations of Dallas County being targeted, Harris County officials are refusing to say whether hackers similarly took aim at the nation’s third-largest county.

Releasing information on whether Harris County election systems saw attacks from Russian hackers would threaten the county’s cyber security by emboldening hackers to further target local systems, county officials said this week.

The county’s argument was dismissed by experts, who said the secrecy is unnecessary, and could actually downplay the seriousness of the threat and the resources needed to combat it.

“There’s this concept in security called ‘security through obscurity,’ sort of, if they don’t know about it they won’t come after it,” said Pamela Smith, a consultant at Verified Voting, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that promotes voting integrity. “But to really have robust security, you want people to be able to know that it’s there … I think what the public wants to know is that you’re aware of the threat and you’re taking steps to mitigate.”

Bruce High, the chief information officer and executive director of the county’s Central Technology Services, said Harris County overall sees on average more than a million hack attempts every day. He even acknowledged a recent “spike” in attempts to hack Harris County servers from outside of America’s borders.

[…]

Dan Wallach, a Rice University computer science professor and scholar at the Baker Institute for Public Policy, who has testified before Congress about the cyber security threat to elections, said that to an advanced threat like Russia, there likely are no secrets about Harris County elections.

Asked if Harris County had been targeted in a similar manner as Dallas County, High said the county had not received a list of IP addresses from the Department of Homeland Security. He added that both the FBI and the Homeland Security department will flag Harris County when they have concerns about specific IP addresses.

High did not respond to questions seeking details on how often such concerns are brought up, how big of a “spike” in hacking attempts the county was experiencing and over what period of time, whether that spike was election-related or which systems had been targeted.

Wallach said he was concerned about the ability of many local jurisdictions, including Harris County, to protect against a targeted threat from an advanced adversary like Russia. He said he believed it was probable that Russia had at least targeted Harris County servers, but also that in many cases, attackers are so sophisticated that local officials would not even know that their systems had been breached.

“The category of adversary we’re facing now is not something that Harris County government is equipped to deal with,” Wallach said.

I work in IT security and had a few thoughts about this, but then I saw that Dan wrote this piece with a much deeper analysis than I had done, and I figured it was better to outsource this to him.

Computer security experts who deal with nation-state activities use the term “advanced persistent threats” (APT) as a shorthand to indicate that our adversaries have significant capabilities, including both engineering resources and spycraft, to quietly break into our computers, spread out across our networks, and avoid detection. It’s common for APT attacks to last for months to years prior to detection.

Given these threats, we need to conduct a serious analysis of where our elections stand. Harris County’s Hart InterCivic eSlate voting machines, for example, haven’t had any major security updates following studies conducted a decade ago by the states of California and Ohio. (I was part of the California effort.) In short, an attacker need only tamper with a single voting machine. After that, the infection can spread “virally” to every machine in the county.

Compounding the problem, all of our vote-tabulating systems are running Windows 2000, for which Microsoft dropped all software support, including security patches, seven years ago.

In the lead-up to the 2018 election, it may be financially infeasible for a complete replacement of our voting machines. We only just recently purchased our voting machines after a 2010 warehouse fire destroyed our original fleet of eSlate machines, so the funds aren’t likely to be available so soon for replacements.

What’s clearly necessary, since we know the Russians targeted voter registration systems, is a major upgrade to the way our voter registration systems are managed. A redesigned system would still, by necessity, require Internet connections so voters can verify their correct polling places, see sample ballots, and so forth. Most notably, during our early voting period, we need an online database to track which voters have cast ballots.

A modern design, intended to operate even if the entire Internet failed while the election was ongoing, would involve making local copies of the database at every voting center. Unsurprisingly, the needs of Harris County are essentially the same as the needs for every other county in our state, suggesting that a state-level procurement could be an efficient way to improve the voter registration security for every county’s voters.

Another short-term recommendation will be for Harris County to upgrade its systems to the latest versions of Microsoft’s operating systems, even though this will require a waiver from Texas’s election certification requirements. Even though our vote tabulation systems are hopefully never connected to the Internet, they are nonetheless unacceptably weak in the present threat environment.

Likewise, Harris County needs to hire a professional security “penetration testing” firm to identify other soft points in its infrastructure and prioritize repairs; such consultants need to be brought in on a regular basis for check-up exams. We also need forensic security auditors to do a deep dive into our county’s existing systems to make sure they’re as clean as we hope them to be. This isn’t just a matter of running some anti-virus scanner, since APT adversaries use tricks that automated scanners won’t detect.

There’s more, so go read the whole thing. At the very least, I hope we can all agree that any system that is still using Windows 2000 (!!!) needs to be upgraded or replaced. Dan (who as you know is a friend of mine) puts in a plug for the STAR-Vote system that he helped design, and it’s definitely something the county and the state should consider. I just hope we take this seriously before something bad happens.

UPDATE: Hector DeLeon, the Director of Communications and Voter Outreach for the County Clerk, has emailed me to say that the county tabulation system is running on Windows 7, not Windows 2000 as stated in Wallach’s op-ed. He says they have made this same correction to the Chronicle as well. My apologies for the confusion.

Posted in: Local politics.

Cruz gets a primary challenger

Meet Stefano de Stefano.

Stefano de Stefano

With no heavy hitters in the Texas Republican hierarchy emerging to challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for the party’s nomination in 2018, a Houston energy attorney is stepping forward.

Stefano de Stefano, who bills himself as a jilted voter and “free market Republican,” represents a challenge from the center of the Republican firmament, a demographic that has felt increasingly left out of the state’s GOP.

“I have every citizen’s chance in a democracy, although it doesn’t hurt than I’m running against one of the most ineffective legislators in the Senate,” de Stefano said in a statement. “There are millions of jilted voters like me across Texas. I believe, like many of my friends and colleagues, that we’d be better off with a Senator with the experience of negotiating million dollar deals in Texas’ energy industry over someone like Cruz.”

De Stefano, who supported Cruz in his 2012 Senate run, is now taking aim at the former presidential candidate as a national show horse rather than a Texas work horse. He says he will offer a “reasonable method of leadership” over an “extreme one.”

A Cruz spokeswoman declined to comment on de Stefano’s run Wednesday.

De Stefano cites Cruz’s role in the 2013 government shutdown over funding for the Affordable Care Act and what he calls a history of promoting his personal brand over Texas interests.

You can see his website here. I seriously doubt he gets any traction, but there are a few things worth watching. Does he raise any money? Does he echo any criticisms of Cruz that Beto O’Rourke makes? Does he fall in line behind Cruz after he loses the primary or does he continue to criticize him? How high a percentage does he need to get in order for Cruz’s win to be described as “disappointing” or “underwhelming”? I’ll suggest a Cruz score below 80% might get those adjectives, and anything below 70% definitely will. As for the rest, we’ll see. Texas Monthly has more.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Will we have enough candidates for the opportunities?

There’s always something to worry about.

With the Texas case moving forward, the boundaries of the congressional districts remain in question with the 2018 elections less than 18 months away. The Lone Star State’s primary filing deadline is in six months.

So, incumbent lawmakers and potential challengers are watching to see where the districts’ boundaries will fall, and weighing how that could affect the outcomes in next year’s midterms.

[…]

National Democrats have heard from candidates interested in [CD23]. And while they expect strong challengers to emerge, none have so far.

“Everyone’s kind of keeping their powder dry until it makes a little more sense to announce,” said [Colin] Strother, the Democratic consultant.

The court also ruled two other districts were unlawful: the 35th District, which stretches from San Antonio to Austin, and is represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett; and the 27th District along Texas’ central Gulf Coast, represented by Republican Blake Farenthold.

[Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice] speculated that, if the court rules the current map is also invalid, a new congressional map could lead to two or three more Democratic seats. Republicans currently outnumber Democrats, 25 to 11, in the Texas delegation.

But one GOP consultant focused on Texas did not believe a new map would result in a significant shift against the Republicans.

“There’s just not enough Democrats to roll around the state to really have massive amounts of change,” the consultant said. “You may lose one seat.”

The consultant also said the uncertainty would not have an effect on congressional campaigns for incumbents, since they are accustomed to the constant legal battles over the congressional lines.

But Strother said Democrats had to be prepared just in case.

“The nightmare scenario for Democrats is we don’t have people preparing for the emergency that this district or that district suddenly gets great for Democrats … and it’s too late,” he said.

Strother said he didn’t see many Democrats preparing for races just yet, but pointed to Joe Kopser in the 21st District as someone jumping in early in a race rated Solid Republican by Inside Elections.

Kopser, an Army veteran and technology businessman, recently announced that he would challenge GOP Rep. Lamar Smith in the central Texas district. It is possible a new congressional map could have a ripple effect and alter the lines of Smith’s district.

While the district is not on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s list of 2018 targets, the committee is waiting to see how the redistricting case pans out.

I’m not worried about this. Districts that aren’t likely to change or which won’t change that much ether already have candidates or candidates in waiting – Pete Gallego is circling around CD23, for one, and there are other candidates looking at it as well – and in the districts that may change a lot, like CD27, there’s really no choice but to wait and see what they actually look like. Sure, Republican incumbents who are already sitting on a decent pile of campaign cash will have an advantage, but that was always the case, and it may not matter that much in any event, depending on how the districts get drawn. As far as CD21 goes, a look at the FEC reports shows that there are at least three other candidates running against Lamar Smith, one of whom has been out there for a couple of months. We’re going to have plenty of candidates, and some of them will have a decent chance of winning. It’s all good.

Posted in: Election 2018.

War on local control update

Example one:

Sen. Craig Estes’ Senate Bill 18 would require cities and counties to get voter approval if they plan to spend a certain amount more than they did in a previous year. His bill ties such an election trigger to inflation and statewide population growth.

“You ask people about that and they generally think that’s a good thing,” the Wichita Falls Republican said Friday.

But local government officials and advocates for municipal government say the measure will hinder their ability to afford services that residents expect. They also say it will make it hard to keep up with population growth — especially in booming suburbs growing much faster than the state as a whole.

“We’re planning our budgets multiple years in the future because we’ve got so many capital projects that we can’t just look at budgets from year to year,” said Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney, whose North Texas city grew almost four times as fast as Texas did from 2015 to 2016.

Estes’ bill, plus others aimed at giving voters more frequent say over their property tax rates, are on the docket for Senate committees this weekend. They fall in line with several items on Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session call that seek to limit powers cities and counties have long exercised. Other bills being considered Saturday and Sunday would change how and when municipalities regulate land use and annex land outside their borders.

State leaders say they are trying to both respond to Texans’ complaints about rising property tax bills and protect landowners’ rights from local regulations. But local elected officials say lawmakers and top state leaders are unfairly portraying cities and counties as irresponsible stewards of taxpayer money to score political points with voters ahead of next year’s primaries.

Such tensions highlight a growing divide over how much say city and county officials should have over local matters. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the proposed spending cap is another example of lawmakers trying to control officials who are elected to represent Texans at the local level.

“It certainly flies in the face of the very important democratic principle that we’ve adhered to for centuries in self governance,” Nirenberg said.

[…]

Estes couldn’t point to any examples of cities or counties dramatically increasing their spending in recent years. He said his office is currently collecting data from local governments on it. And he said he’s open to tweaking provisions in his bill as it moves through the Legislature.

But he shrugged off the notion that the state shouldn’t be telling local governments what to do. He said counties are extensions of state government, and that cities “reside in the state.”

“I don’t think that’s really an issue, that we don’t have any jurisdiction in what they’re doing,” he said. “We do.”

Don’t bother making the analogy to states and the country, because that’s Totally Different and Not The Same Thing At All, because it just is and that’s that. I would just point out that several of the Mayors who signed that letter opposing stuff like this are Republicans. This is not a partisan issue, it’s one of power and the belief of Abbott and Patrick, enabled by Patrick’s minions in the Senate, that they’re the only legitimate form of government. It’s crazy that we’ve come to this place, but here we are.

Example two:

A bill aimed at protecting property owners’ rights from changing local government regulations could undo years of safety and land use rules and create a building environment in Texas with the potential for bars to pop up in residential neighborhoods, critics say.

Some local officials are calling Senate Bill 12 the “hyper-grandfathering” bill that goes far beyond current state provisions by retroactively applying to each property the land use and safety codes that were in place the last time the property was sold. In the extreme, SB 12 could lead to broad land use possibilities for parcels of land that haven’t changed hands in decades, according to six local government and public policy experts tracking the bill.

[…]

The bill’s author, Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, said in a statement it would protect property owners from new county or city regulations that would upend the plans that people had when they bought the land.

“Since filing Senate Bill 12, I have been working with stakeholder groups across Texas, and I look forward to passing legislation that will protect the rights of Texans to develop their property,” Buckingham said.

In Austin, the passage of SB 12 would drastically undermine the city’s ongoing efforts to rewrite its entire land use code, known as CodeNext. If the City Council signs off next spring as planned on CodeNext, none of its provisions would take effect on a piece of property until the land changed hands, Planning and Zoning Director Greg Guernsey said.

“Let’s say CodeNext gets approved,” Guernsey said “It is not worth a whole lot if I have to deal with property codes from 10, 20 or 30 years (ago).”

I’ll bet the lawyers who specialize in land use codes will make a killing, though. Bear in mind, while the state would impose this requirement, it’s the cities and counties that will get stuck with the costs of implementing and enforcing it. I don’t even know what to say.

Example three:

A Texas Senate committee approved a bill Saturday that would outlaw local restrictions on using a cellphone while driving.

Senate Bill 15 would pre-empt local ordinances on mobile phone usage, effectively rolling back provisions in more than 40 Texas cities that currently post hands-free ordinances stricter than the statewide texting ban. That measure now heads to the full Senate. It was one of several items the Senate Business and Commerce Committee took up Saturday that target local regulations and ordinances.

That committee also passed a bill that would require women to pay a separate premium for insurance coverage of an abortion that is not considered medically necessary.

Gov. Greg Abbott has argued that stricter local cellphone ordinances make for a confusing “patchwork” of regulations across the state, leaving drivers confused as they navigate between areas with different rules. Opponents of SB 15, including police officers from San Antonio and Austin who testified against the measure on Saturday, argue that the state should not pre-empt city ordinances that make people safer.

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, the Senate sponsor of the statewide texting-while-driving ban that goes into effect in September, said SB 15 would be a “huge step back.”

“I’ve never cried as a senator,” said Zaffirini, a senator since 1987. If this passes, “I think I would cry.”

The committee vote on SB 15 was 7-2.

The Buckingham bill was not voted on in committee, with some comments from the author that it could get reworked. Call me crazy, but maybe this is the sort of thing that needs a more deliberate process, if only to see if there is any legitimate purpose for it. If there’s one bit of good news in all this, it’s that the general insider belief is that most of Abbott’s agenda won’t get passed. There’s still plenty of room for damage even if only a few of his items make it through. The House offers the better chance of non-action, so let your representative know what you think.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Anticipating the future bathroom-related litigation

It will be a matter of when, not if, should a bathroom bill passes.

[B]oth sides agree if any version of the bathroom bill becomes law, it will likely trigger a protracted legal battle that could have implications for the transgender community in Texas and nationwide.

“If it does in fact pass, it will be a big test for civil rights organizations,” said Anthony Kreis, an assistant professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law. “It will also be a huge, landmark case in the courts to test the scope and limits of transgender rights in this county.

Senate Bill 3 and Senate Bill 91, authored by Brenham Republican Lois Kolkhorst, are nearly identical. They would both require public and charter schools to ensure that every multiple-occupancy bathroom, shower and locker room “be designated for and used only by persons of the same sex as stated on a person’s birth certificate.”

A few schools in Texas allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, according to Joy Baskin, legal director for the Texas Association of School Boards. But Kolkhorst’s bills would force trans girls, for example, who are born male but identify as female to use either a private, single-stall bathroom or the boys’ restroom.

School districts would also not be able to protect athletes from discrimination, unless they are already covered under state or federal law, such as Title IX. Courts in other parts of the country have ruled Title IX’s prohibitions on sex discrimination against female athletes also apply to transgender students. But there’s been no similar decision that applies here in Texas.

The University Interscholastic League, which regulates most high school sports, already segregates competition based on the sex listed on an athlete’s birth certificate. This year, it famously barred a transgender boy from wrestling other boys; he went on to win the girls state title.

[…]

Legal experts agreed that while the legislation won’t create a state-funded “potty police,” it will likely land Texas in the courtroom if it becomes law.

Dale Carpenter, a constitutional law professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, questioned the legality of Kolkhorst’s bills as well as two pieces of legislation pending debate in the House.

The House bills, pushed by Carrollton Republican Ron Simmons, are far narrower and seek to shift the power over regulating bathroom from municipalities and schools to the state government.

But TASB’s Baskin says Simmons’ schools bill won’t require them to change their current policies because it would not force trans kids out of the multi-stall restrooms that match their gender identity. Simmons disagrees, but understands most schools are already only providing single-stall bathrooms for trans kids.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has called the bathroom debate unnecessary and the legislation anti-business, but one of Simmons’ two bathroom bills already has more than 40 Republican co-sponsors in that chamber.

Carpenter said the Senate bills would be more susceptible to a legal challenge because they restrict rights based on biological sex and gender identity. The House bills don’t explicitly use these terms or limit bathroom use based on “birth certificate,” so they’d be tougher to fight in court, he said.

“The (Senate) bill, it seems to me, is directly aimed at preventing people from using restrooms associated with their gender identity,” Carpenter said. “But, no matter which of these laws passes, it will probably be challenged.”

Obviously, it would be best if it didn’t come to that, but best to be prepared for the worst. My assumption has been that there will be more than one lawsuit, as there will be multiple angles to attack this from. The fact themselves that the bills being considered seem to have a lot of loopholes and room for broad interpretation is also an invitation to litigate. Like so many other things the Lege and our Republican leaders have deemed to be top priorities, this will be tied up in the courts for years.

But first, there’s the hard work to try to stop these bills from becoming law, and a big part of that is the public testimony against them. One takeaway from the fight over HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion legislation that Wendy Davis filibustered and the Supreme Court eventually invalidated, was how much the public testimony contributed to the court case, by showing how indifferent and willfully ignorant the Republicans were to objective fact and contradictory evidence. I feel pretty confident the same sort of thing will happen here with the potty bills, if they make it to the finish line. There’s live coverage of the hearings in the Trib, and there’s plenty of activity going on outside and around the Capitol, as the Texas Association of Business runs anti-bathroom bill ads and the national Episcopal Church comes out against the bills. It’s never a bad idea to call your legislator and let them know how you feel, so make your voice heard. And remember, in the end, the one message every politician receives is losing an election. The Observer, BurkaBlog, the Current, the Rivard Report, and Texas Leftist have more.

UPDATE: In the end, SB3 passed out of committee, as expected. On to the floor of the Senate, then it’s up to the House.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Plaintiffs again ask for voter ID law to be tossed

Again I agree with them.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Minority groups have asked a federal judge to scrap Texas’ voter identification law and place the state under the jurist’s supervision for at least a decade, according to court filings this week.

Not only are the groups taking on the state over the law they say discriminates against blacks and Latinos, but they also want U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi to kick their former ally, the U.S. Justice Department, out of the case.

“The United States’ shameful and disgraceful dismissal of their intent claim for political purposes should disqualify them from participating further in this proceeding; the ideals of equality inculcated in the United States Constitution are not subject to such shabby treatment as demonstrated by this administration,” Rolando Rios, a lawyer representing the Texas Association of Hispanic County Judges and Commissioners, wrote in a court brief.

[…]

There’s no indication of when Gonzales Ramos, who has twice ruled that the original voter ID law was intentionally meant to suppress minority voters and intentionally discriminated, might rule on the plaintiffs’ requests in the voter ID case.

See here for the previous time that Judge Ramos was asked to void the law. It’s not clear to me if this is the same group as that, but in any event this ask comes with the ten-year re-imposition of preclearance. The motion to dismiss the now-antagonistic Justice Department is new, too. I can’t find a copy of this brief, but Rick Hasen has the state’s brief asking the judge to drop out and declare all is now well, and the Trump DOJ brief echoing that position and claiming the state is super trustworthy now. Yeah, sure. The Observer has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Rebidding reycling

Do-over!

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Pummeled by procurement concerns on a 20-year curbside recycling contract, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Friday he will seek a new round of proposals from the four final bidders.

Turner had met with small groups of City Council members Thursday to get a better sense of the concerns they repeatedly have raised since the proposal first was rolled out in late June, and announced his decision early Friday.

“This action is designed to put to rest the concerns raised by members of council, which must approve the contract before it takes effect,” Turner said. “Whatever the result, my only allegiance is to this city and I will always seek what is in its best interest.”

[…]

The four firms that will be invited to submit a new round of final bids are FCC Environmental, Republic Services, Waste Management and Independent Texas Recyclers.

The mayor did not specify how much time the firms would have to submit their proposals or how quickly they would be evaluated.

See here and here for the background, and here for the Mayor’s statement. I don’t know what went wrong in this process, but clearly something had gone off the rails. I’m glad to see this happen, but let’s do review how we got here and figure out how to do it better next time, OK?

Meanwhile, Gray Matters returns to the One Bin For All question with a few words from Roseanne Barone, the Houston Program Director for Texas Campaign for the Environment.

The national Paper Recycling Coalition, Steel Recycling Institute, Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries and others knew that when used materials, food and pet waste are all combined together, it is also known as another name — “trash” — and so they wrote letters to then-Mayor Annise Parker advising her against this policy.

Thankfully, when Mayor Turner took office in 2016, he knew the best practice for Houston is to keep recyclable materials separate and clean so they can be sold to commodity markets and generate revenue for the City.

[…]

According to the Houston-Galveston Area Council, when we include composters, hard-plastics reclaimers, electronics processors, construction- and demolition-debris recyclers and manufacturers of goods made from recycled items, we have 21,550 recycling jobs in our region and an industrial output of $4.5 billion per year.

Who knew recycling was so vital for Houston’s economy? Additionally, throwing all discards into landfills supports a disposable, wasteful culture while doing real damage to our environment. There are 56 leaking landfills in the state of Texas, four in Harris County and one in Fort Bend County. Landfills are also more often than not located in low-income neighborhoods, so trashing valuable materials also perpetuates environmental injustice.

Barone, like her predecessor Melanie Scruggs, advocates for a zero waste policy. At the very least, bringing curbside recycling to apartments and businesses would make a difference. Let’s get the recycling deal done and go from there. The Press has more.

Posted in: Local politics.

Hey lady, wanna referee a high school football game?

Texas could really use you.

The Houston chapter of the Texas Association of Sports Officials is somewhere between 50 and 200 officials short for the 2017 football season.

TASO Executive Director Michael Fitch has referred to the statewide shortfall of referees as ‘crisis-level,’ and the rapid expansion – particularly in Houston – of numerous districts and the opening of new schools has stretched an already-thin roster of officials even further.

The officiating organization, which staffs both UIL and TAPPS contests, needs bodies badly, and there is a very noticeable demographic that isn’t signing up to referee: women.

At a June 24 new-official training at the Campbell Center, only two of the 40 trainees (five percent) were women, which crew chief and trainer Eric Dumatrait said is about par for the course.

Comprising 51 percent of the general population, but just five percent of the TASO workforce, is a pretty startling discrepancy, if that number is accurate organizationally. There is no way to be sure, though, as TASO doesn’t track membership demographic information like gender or race, Fitch said by phone last week.

Fitch said that the primary concern – especially with the deadline to sign up as a new official looming – is getting more bodies in striped shirts, and equipping them to succeed once they’re in them. To that end, he would be delighted if more women signed up to officiate, and he said that, anecdotally, he actually has seen an uptick in interest among women since Sarah Thomas became the NFL’s first full-time referee in April of 2015.

“We just need more people,” Fitch said. “I’ve been officiating high school football since 1973, and even in the seventies, we had females who came in. There’s obviously more now, and the fact that we have a woman officiating in the NFL shines a light on that.”

Officiating for TASO is a fairly lucrative part-time job (Houston-area crew chief Don Martinez estimated that $2,500-$4,000 was a reasonable expectation for 10 weeks of diligent work), and, for someone who loves sports, offers the opportunity to be outside, to work with student-athletes, refine one’s knowledge of the game, etc.

While it’s certainly not for everyone – and Dumatrait, Fitch, Martinez and the rest acknowledge that explicitly – officiating is a relatively high-paying part-time gig with some unique perks.

Why aren’t more women signing up?

See here for the background. I’m going to take a wild guess at that question and suppose that it’s the same reason why more women don’t run for office: Because they need to be asked. I’m sure TASO is a supportive organization, and that the women who go through their training and get certified to work high school football games do just fine and generally consider it a positive experience. I’m just saying that if they want more women to join up, they need to actively recruit them rather than point out how excellent they are and hope for the best. Given that this is the second story we’ve seen in a bit more than a month about the critical shortage of people to officiate the games, you’d think they’d have more of a sense of urgency. Get on it, TASO.

Posted in: Other sports.

Friday random ten – All American

I know it’s past the Fourth of July, but how about some American music?

1. The American And Florence/Nobody’s Side – from “Chess”
2. American Girl – Roger McGuinn
3. American Idiot – Green Day
4. American Land – Bruce Springsteen
5. American Names – Sebastien Grainger
6. American Patrol – Glenn Miller
7. American Pie – Don McLean
8. American Teen – Khalid
9. American Tune – Simon & Garfunkel
10. American Woman – Lenny Kravitz

Yes, I know I cheated a little, using “American” as a noun as well as an adjective. Feel free to do the American thing and sue me. Roger McGuinn was the frontman for The Byrds, and his was the original version of “American Girl”. Quite a few classics on this list, which I suppose is fitting. Don’t sleep on “American Patrol”, which is a highly underrated Glenn Miller tune.

Posted in: Music.

Tom Wakely

As noted in the update and comments to Wednesday’s post about our first Democratic candidate for Governor, we now have a second such candidate, Tom Wakely. PDiddie brings word of Wakely’s announcement, which he made on Down with Tyranny, a more nationally-oriented blog. Wakely ran against Rep. Lamar Smith in 2016, and had been running against him again this year – he filed a Q2 FEC report, and the title of his website, which you can see via Google search for “Tom Wakely”, is “Tom Wakely to run against Lamar Smith in 2018”. The site is now just a placeholder, presumably awaiting a redesign for the change in focus of the campaign, so you’ll have to wait a bit to see what it looks like. For now, if you want to know more about him, go read his announcement or this Gilbert Garcia column from last year about his initial campaign against the odious Smith:

Tom Wakely

How else to describe a Bernie Sanders devotee who helped César Chávez organize grape boycotts in the 1970s, became a Unitarian Universalist pastor in the 1980s, ran a jazz club in Mexico in the 2000s and now uses his white-brick North Side home as a veterans hospice?

Wakely, 62, kicks off his general-election campaign Saturday afternoon at Tilo Mexican Restaurant (two blocks from his campaign headquarters), marking the white-bearded activist’s graduation from a self-described role on the political fringes to a spot closer to the center of the arena.

The only political office he ever sought prior to this year was a Wisconsin school board post he won 25 years ago. That probably would have been the end of his political career if not for the encouragement of Lucy Coffey, a World War II veteran who died last March in San Antonio at the age of 108. Coffey, the country’s oldest living female veteran at the time of her passing, befriended Wakely near the end of her life.

One day, Smith visited Coffey at the hospice run by Wakely and his wife, Lety, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico. After Smith concluded his visit, Coffey realized who he was, and remembered that he had voted against a 2010 bill designed to provide billions of dollars for medical treatment to 9/11 first responders.

“She was so upset with this guy,” Wakely said. “She said, ‘Someone needs to run against him.’”

Wakely decided to be that someone.

His primary victory over businessman Tejas Vakil provides Wakely the honor of being political roadkill for Smith, who has been mowing down Democratic rivals since Donald Trump was on his first marriage. Over a span of 30 years, Smith has never won a general election by a margin of less than 25 percent.

Wakely, it should be noted, did better than losing by 25 points to Smith – he lost by a bit more than 20 in 2016. Wakely notes in his announcement post that he “received more votes than any Democrat in the State of Texas running against a incumbent Republican member of Congress”. True, but that’s at least partly because he ran in the district that had more total votes cast than any other. The flip side of his statement is that Smith received more votes than all his fellow incumbent Republicans except for Kevin Brady (who was unopposed) and Michael Burgess, who was in the district with the second-highest overall turnout. If one wants to play the vote comparison game I prefer to do it by looking at how many votes each candidate from the same party received in a given district. Here’s how that looks in CD21:


Candidate     Votes    Pct
==========================
Clinton     152,515  42.1%
Garza       135,365  38.3%
Burns       133,428  38.1%
Johnson     131,683  37.5%
Wakely      129,765  36.5%
Robinson    129,520  36.8%
Meyers      129,412  36.8%
Westergren  126,623  35.8%
Yarbrough   122,144  34.6%

Right in the middle, literally the median Democrat. No obvious reason based on this to think he’d draw votes away from an opponent, but no reason to think he’d lose them, either. I admire his reason for running last year, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say for himself.

One more point to add, and that’s to correct something in PDiddie’s post, where he refers to the new law to ban straight ticket voting, which was HB25. There may or may not be a lawsuit against this, but none of it matters for 2018 because the law won’t take effect before then. Here’s the key passage in the text of the bill: “As soon as practicable after September 1, 2020, the Secretary of state shall distribute electronically to each county election administrator and the county chair of each political party notice that straight ticket voting has been eliminated”. In other words, we will still be able to vote a straight ticket next year. Possibly for the last time, but we will get at least one more go-round.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Yet another lawsuit filed over yet another unconstitutional anti-abortion law

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Texas is heading to court over a state law going into effect in September banning the most common second-trimester abortion procedure.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood announced on Thursday they’re suing over a provision in Texas’ Senate Bill 8 bill that outlaws dilation and evacuation abortions. In that procedure, a doctor uses surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue. SB 8 only allows the procedure to be done if the fetus is deceased.

Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a news release that Texas legislators “have once again compromised the health and safety of the women they were elected to represent” to appease abortion opponents.

“The law we challenged today in Texas is part of a nationwide scheme to undermine these constitutional rights and ban abortion one restriction at a time,” Northrup said. “We are prepared to fight back using the power of the law wherever politicians compromise a woman’s ability to receive the care she needs.”

Medical professionals deem the method the safest way to perform an abortion on a pregnant woman, and reproductive rights groups have said this change would subject women to an unnecessary medical procedure. Abortion opponents call the procedure “dismemberment” abortions and argue it’s inhumane.

Provisions similar to SB 8 have been halted in Louisiana, Kansas, Oklahoma and Alabama, according to the center’s news release.

See here for the background, and here for the news release. This will be stopped by the courts, and when all is said and done we the taxpayers will get to pick up the tab for the legal fees incurred as the state defends this indefensible monstrosity. Personally, I think it would be more efficient to just make a donation to the CRR directly, but to each their own. Oh, and do keep in mind that the madness never ends, so get ready for even more of this fun in the not too distant future. The Observer and the Current have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Mayors to Abbott: Don’t mess with our cities

Good luck getting through.

Less than 24 hours after Gov. Greg Abbott blasted local government restrictions like tree ordinances as a threat to the “Texas brand,” city government leaders statewide are seeking a meeting with the Republican leader.

“We would like the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the role cities play in attracting jobs and investments to support the prosperity of the State of Texas,” a letter signed by 18 mayors, including Houston mayor Sylvester Turner to Abbott states.

[…]

The letter from the mayors makes clear that they fear the Texas Legislature is overreaching and doing too much harm to local governments.

“Harmful proposals such as revenue and spending caps, limiting annexation authority, and other measures preempting local development ordinances directly harm our ability to plan for future growth and continue to serve as the economic engines of Texas,” the letter states.

The mayors on the letter include those from Houston, Amarillo, Arlington, Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Fort Worth, Frisco, Galveston, Irving, Lubbock, McKinney, Plano, San Antonio, San Marcos, and Sugar Land.

You can see the letter here. You might note that some of the cities in question are Republican suburban kind of places. It’s not just us smug urbanites that would like to have our current level of autonomy left alone. I’m going to say the same thing to these Mayors that I’ve been saying to the business folk that have been working to defeat the bathroom bill, and that’s that they are going to have to follow up all these words with actions, because Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick don’t care what they have to say. If you’re not working to elect better leadership in 2018, which in this case means leadership that is not actively undermining and degrading Texas’ cities, then you’re part of the problem too, and your words have no meaning. The Current and the Press have more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Pasadena has a decision to make

To continue the redistricting appeal, or to drop it and accept the ruling? One factor to consider is the cost involved.

Pasadena has already paid more than $2.5 million to its outside attorneys.

But there’s a complication: Under federal law, if the plaintiffs prevail, the city would be on the hook for their legal fees in addition to its own. The five Latino Pasadena residents who filed the lawsuit have been represented without charge by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“As a nonprofit, we do depend on collecting legal fees when we are entitled to them when we represent plaintiffs who have been found to have been discriminated against,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.

The potential for additional legal fees could support an argument to continue the appeal or to end it.

If the city instructs its lawyers to drop the case now, the two sides would negotiate a payment to MALDEF based on the market rate for this type of legal work in Houston and the number of hours devoted to the case.

If the city appeals and wins, its own legal fees will increase but it will owe nothing to MALDEF. If it loses, the bill goes up even more.

“They can stop the bleeding now or take the risk that it goes even higher,” said Saenz.

First, let’s be clear that however much money Pasadena winds up spending, primary responsibility for it falls on its former Mayor, Johnny Isbell. Of course, Isbell couldn’t have done what he did without four willing Council members, one of whom was new Mayor Jeff Wagner, who gets to decide the course going forward. The state of Texas would like Pasadena to continue the fight, but it’s not like they’re going to pony up some money for the lawyers at the end of it all. Settling now give Pasadena cost certainty, and maybe they can get a good-faith discount from the plaintiffs’ attorneys. Fighting on has the chance of getting to pay less than what they owe now, but good luck calculating an expected value for that outcome. And fighting on and losing is the worst of all worlds. So how risk-averse do you feel today, Mayor Wagner?

Posted in: Legal matters.

Harris County Attorney files amicus brief in SB4 lawsuit

Good.

Last week, Harris County Commissioners Court opted not to join a lawsuit challenging the state’s controversial “sanctuary cities” law as unconstitutional.

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, however, has filed a brief asking a federal court to halt its implementation on Sept. 1.

“S.B. 4 will do irreparable damage to this State’s child welfare process, place county attorneys charged with representing DFPS in an irreconcilable conflict, and do further trauma to children who have been placed in the State’s care. Further, there is no legitimate state purpose in treating children who have an unauthorized immigrant parent or other potential care giver differently in child welfare cases,” states Ryan’s brief, which was filed this month in federal court.

[…]

Special Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke said that come Sept 1., with no injunction stopping SB4’s implementation, the county attorney’s office does not know how it will handle certain child welfare cases.

“That’s an ethical hell that we do not want to experience, and that’s why Vince Ryan has asked the federal court for guidance,” O’ Rourke said.

You can see the specific objections in the story. This is not as good as if Commissioners Court had voted to join the litigation, but it’s something. In the meantime, Cameron County and the city of Laredo have joined the plaintiffs, and there are a couple of bills to repeal SB4 that have been filed for the special session, though of course neither of them will get anywhere. It’s still important to make the stand, and in the better-late-than-never department, business interests are weighing in as well. It’s hard to overstate how much damage the Republicans in charge have done to Texas’ reputation this year, and there’s still more to come. Stace has more.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.

Recycling deal gets a rough reception at Council

Feisty.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston City Council members blasted a proposed 20-year recycling deal Tuesday, questioning the $48 million price tag, the process by which the winning bidder was chosen and Turner administration officials’ reluctance to share information about the deal.

The proposal on the council’s Wednesday agenda would have Houston send all 65,000 tons of bottles, cans and boxes its citizens recycle annually to a new processing facility to be built in northeast Houston by Spanish firm FCC Environmental.

In the city’s request for recycling proposals, documents repeatedly envisioned the contract term as running 10 years, with up to two five-year extensions. FCC, however, was the sole vendor allowed to submit a proposal using a 15-year initial term, with one five-year option; competing vendors said they would have submitted 15-year bids if they had known their proposals would not be rejected.

Some council members also questioned why FCC’s prices had been evaluated favorably when its per-ton fee for processing the city’s recyclables was the second-highest figure among the four responsive bidders. Those concerns were heightened when one of the losing bidders, Dean Gorby of Independent Texas Recyclers, said he had proposed a $63-per-ton fee and had no idea why the city had represented his bid as $76 per ton to the council.

“It just doesn’t smell right,” Councilman Dave Martin told administration officials at a Tuesday committee hearing. “If I were you, I’d go back to square one.”

See here for the background, and either this story or that post for more details about the deal. I’ll be honest, I can’t quite figure it out myself. I don’t understand the price structure or the reason why this one company is being offered something other than a ten-year deal, and I’d like to know more about the other companies’ complaints. I very much want to get a new deal done and it will be nice to be able to put glass out with the green bins again, but I want to be sure it’s a good deal.

Meanwhile, Gray Matters revisits the retreat into oblivion of the One Bin For All proposal, with a link to and commentary on this recent Press story on the matter. Mayor Turner basically had no interest in One Bin – indeed, none of the 2015 Mayoral candidates expressed any commitment to it, and I asked them all about it during interviews. You can read all I’ve had to say on One Bin here. After all this time, I still don’t know what to make of it. It sounded cool and it could have been cool, but the amount of contradictory information I got from its supporters and detractors made my head spin. At this point, I’d just like to see us take recycling more seriously.

UPDATE: The vote has been tagged for a week.

Posted in: Local politics.

RIP, Manuel Rodriguez

Sad news.

Manuel Rodriguez

Every Tuesday at 8 a.m., Houston ISD Trustee Manuel “Manny” Rodriguez, Jr., would roll his maroon mobility scooter up to his favorite table at the Tel-Wink Restaurant & Grill in Southeast Houston.

Rodriguez always left the seat across from him empty. Constituents and complete strangers knew those were his office hours — the hours he set aside to visit with community members with questions about the school district, parents worried about new policies or those who just wanted to get Rodriguez’ opinion on the latest local news. If you were lucky, Rodriguez would buy your breakfast.

“That was like his little home away from home,” said Carlos Calbillo, a Latino community activist who described Rodriguez as a “dear friend.” “He did more work at that breakfast table than he did at his office or the HISD offices. He was a people person, just loved by everyone.”

Rodriguez, an HISD trustee since 2003 and a voice for the city’s Latino community for years before that, died Wednesday morning after suffering a massive heart attack, according to a statement released by the Houston ISD.

His unexpected death stunned the HISD community. Funeral arrangements had not been finalized as of Wednesday evening, and the district did not respond immediately to questions about the selection of a possible successor.

Trustee Anne Sung said Rodriguez’s death was “tremendously sad.”

“Manny has been such a long-standing servant on the HISD board,” said Sung, elected last year to represent District VII. “He is extremely committed to his community and has been a great mentor to me as I’ve joined the HISD board. I’m very sorry to hear about this great loss.”

Houston City Council Member Robert Gallegos announced Rodriguez’ death at Wednesday’s meeting. He, Mayor Sylvester Turner and other council members offered their condolences to Rodriguez’ family.

I interviewed Rodriguez in 2011, and we met at the Tel-Wink for it. I don’t know how audible any of it was over the background noise, but that was clearly his preferred place to hang out and be with people. There are many qualities that can make a person a successful politician, and the community Rodriguez had at the Tel-Wink was a fine example of one. My sincere condolences to his family and friends for their loss.

Rodriguez was last elected in 2015, so he was not going to be on the ballot this November. I expect the Board will appoint someone to serve for now, and that there will be a special election to finish out his term in the fall. We’ll know more after their next meeting.

Posted in: School days.

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 17

The Texas Progressive Alliance will only be discussing Russian adoptions in this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Senate will hold bathroom hearing tomorrow

They just can’t wait. From the inbox:

BREAKING: The Senate State Affairs Committee is pushing for a hearing on anti-transgender “bathroom bill” legislation this Friday at 9AM, Charles.

Intel from the Capitol tells us that Sen. Lois Kolkhorst will introduce a FOURTH discriminatory “bathroom bill” later today. That’s the bill that the Senate State Affairs Committee will consider Friday morning.

That only gives us 24 hours between when the bill is dropped and when it gets a Senate committee vote to stop this anti-transgender measure in its tracks.

With lawmakers moving fast and furious in efforts to ram through legislation that would blatantly legalize discrimination against transgender Texans—we can’t waste a single minute.

Rush a message to Texas lawmakers—right now—and make your voice heard loud and clear: I oppose anti-transgender “bathroom bills!”

 

You remember Sen. Lois Kolkhorst? She’s one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top cronies and the lead sponsor on SB 6—legislation from regular session that would have instated a blanket ban on transgender people in public bathrooms.

Texas’ SB 6 was the near twin to North Carolina’s disastrous HB 2.

And now, the mastermind behind that devastating legislation is coming back for a second shot at making anti-transgender discrimination state law in Texas.

We can’t know how far Sen. Kolkhorst’s new bill (expected to drop tonight) will go. But we know that the only way to defeat it is to mobilize a groundswell grassroots opposition—starting now.

Rush a message to your lawmakers right now and urge them to stand with you and an overwhelming number of Texans and reject discriminatory “bathroom bills.”

Your lawmakers answer to you. Hold them accountable.

You know, Patrick aimed to organize a bunch of wingnut pastors and their congregations in support of this atrocity, but to whatever extent he did that, the people who have been showing up en masse to express their view on this have been overwhelmingly against it. Maybe that effort was more talk than action, and maybe Patrick’s minions figure they don’t have to do any work to get what they want, it will just be done for them, I don’t know. What I do know is that if the Lege has been listening, they’ve heard loud and clear what the people do and don’t want. It’s up to them to act accordingly, and for us to reinforce that lesson at the ballot box next year.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

More on the firefighters’ pay parity proposal

Here’s that full Chron story I mentioned yesterday:

Houston firefighters delivered over 32,000 signatures to City Hall on Monday in support of asking voters in November to mandate parity in pay between firefighter and police officer ranks, a maneuver that could threaten the city’s plans to sell $1 billion in bonds as part of its pension reform plan.

While the two measures are unrelated, both are tied to firefighters’ displeasure with the Turner administration.

As such, a unified voting bloc of firefighters during what is expected to be a low-turnout election in November could spell trouble for Mayor Sylvester Turner’s signature pension reform plan, and potentially thrust the city back into the fiscal quagmire Turner spent his first year in office trying to escape.

“If one issue is a five-alarm fire, both together are a 10-alarm fire,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

[…]

The union originally sought a 21 percent pay raise over three years, according to Turner, but lowered that request to 17 percent. The city, meanwhile, offered 9.5 percent over three years, which Turner said would stretch the city’s financial capabilities.

Houston firefighters have been without a contract for three years. The “evergreen” terms that had governed their employment during that time lapsed last month, reverting to state law and local ordinance. City Council made the terms in that local ordinance less favorable in a unanimous vote on the same morning the union filed its lawsuit.

“This petition drive was necessary because Houston firefighters are at a breaking point,” said Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association at a press conference Monday. “We now are asking the voters to help Houston firefighters because the city refuses to do so.”

The petition seeks to amend the city’s charter to mandate equal pay and benefits between firefighters and police-officers of similar status, but not necessarily title, accounting for varied rank structures between the two departments.

See here for the background. I have a basic question to ask here: Who is going to support the firefighters in this effort? Who will their allies be in this fight? Because I’m having a hard time seeing who is on their side right now.

As noted, Council voted unanimously to impose those less favorable “evergreen” terms under which they now grudgingly labor, and Council approved the pension reform plan on a 16-1 vote, with the only No coming from CM Knox, who wanted to see a bill get filed first. Who on Council is going to endorse the pay parity effort?

If the thinking is that the firefighters might try to tank the pension obligation bonds as payback or leverage as part of this, then please note that the House passed the pension reform bill 103-43, and the Senate passed it 25-5. Of the Harris County contingent, Sen. Sylvia Garcia was a “present, not voting”, while Reps. Jessican Farrar and Briscoe Cain (a pairing I’d never expected to see) were No votes. Everyone else voted Yes. I don’t see Sen. Garcia and Rep. Farrar crossing swords with Mayor Turner on this, and Rep. Cain represents Baytown. Who in the Lege will stand with the firefighters? Maybe Sen. Paul Bettencourt, because he’s a little weasel who likes to stick it to Houston, but he was the one who put the provision in to require a vote on the bonds.

Of the establishment groups that tend to get involved in city politics, the Greater Houston Partnership is all in on pension reform and spending restraint. I can’t see the Realtors opposing the Mayor on this, nor the GLBT Political Caucus, nor any Democratic-aligned groups. The one possible exception is labor, but this proposal would be bad for the police and the city workers. It’s not about a rising tide, it’s just shifting money to the firefighters from the rest of the city employees. Maybe labor backs this, maybe they don’t. The Chronicle will surely endorse a No vote. Who among the big endorsers will be with the firefighters?

I’m sure the firefighters will have some allies. My point is that as I see it, the Mayor already has a lot more. Which brings me to the next point, which is where will the firefighters get the money to run their pro-pay parity campaign? It helps to have allies, who can not only make donations themselves but also hold fundraisers, solicit contributions from their networks, and eventually participate in campaign activities. I think we all agree that Mayor Turner is a good fundraiser, and he can assemble a pretty good get out the vote campaign. While this is certainly likely to be a low turnout election, at least compared to a normal city election, turnout is in part determined by how many people are aware there is something or someone for them to vote on. Who do you think is going to have more resources and a bigger microphone for getting out a message about the need to vote? And bear in mind, even if the firefighters are good at raising money, that in itself can be used against them. I mean, here they are claiming poverty, holding up signs saying they can’t afford to live in the city, but they can spend a bunch of money on a campaign? Yes, I know, the one doesn’t really have anything to do with the other, but do you want to have to explain that to people?

What I think it comes down to is this: Sure, people like firefighters, and they think they should be adequately compensated. In the abstract, their proposal sounds reasonable, and there are probably a lot of people who would feel good about paying our firefighters more. But this isn’t an abstract choice, and there are lots of consequences to making it. The firefighters are asking for something for themselves, something that doesn’t benefit anyone else and which potentially has a large cost attached to it that everyone will pay. They’re doing all this while at the same time spitting on an offer from the city to give them a ten percent raise. Now how positively will people feel about their proposal? That’s what we’ll find out. Campos has more.

Posted in: Local politics.

Jeffrey Payne

There’s at least one person who wants to run for Governor against Greg Abbott.

Jeffrey Payne

Democrat Jeffrey Payne of Dallas says he’s going to try. “I love Dallas, and I love Texas.”

Hours before Abbott’s announcement, Payne filed his paperwork at the Secretary of State’s Office in Austin. He’s a political newcomer who owns five small businesses, and says he will loan his campaign $2.5 million.

Payne says the state is too divided on the issues, and that he’s running to bring Texans together. “If we don’t have compromise, and compassion for one another, we’re never going to reach a resolution, and we’re just going to keep talking about it and kicking the can down the road.”

He says he’s in a same-sex marriage, but doesn’t believe people will focus on that — and instead, thinks they will consider whether he can solve the state’s problems.

Payne says the state doesn’t fund education adequately and believes the state should expand Medicaid, the healthcare program for the poor, and he also opposes the new state law banning sanctuary cities.

While he supports increasing border security, he says those who are in the U.S. illegally should be placed on a path to citizenship.

Payne says he had previously told the Texas Democratic Party he was thinking about running for governor, but hadn’t notified party leaders as of midday Friday.

A party spokesman declined comment about his candidacy.

But in an email Wednesday, Democratic Party Communications Director Tariq Thowfeek said, “The Texas Democratic Party is talking to a number of great leaders, and an announcement will come at the appropriate time. These Texans come from diverse backgrounds with proven track records of leadership, and an unwavering commitment to our shared Democratic values.”

When asked how he would convince millions of Texans to vote for someone they may never have heard of, Payne said, “For the next 16 months, it’s going to be pressing the flesh and getting out there.”

[SMU Political Science Professor Matthew] Wilson says the Texas Democratic Party will find others who have political experience to run against Abbott. “Whoever’s going to be the Democratic nominee, is going to be someone either who is a celebrity or someone with a significant record.”

Payne doesn’t have a website or Facebook page for his candidacy as yet, so there’s not much more I can tell you about him. I am sure that the party is beating the bushes to find someone else, and I feel reasonably confident that someone with a higher profile will emerge. To say the least, this is a tall order and a longshot race. If no no else has popped up by October or so, then I’ll re-evaluate. Until then, I wish Mr. Payne the best of luck. You can see a brief interview with him here, and Stace and the Dallas Voice have more.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, there is now a second candidate in the race, Tom Wakely. Wakely ran against Lamar Smith in CD21 in 2016, and he filed a second-quarter FEC report, so his gubernatorial candidacy is a change of direction for him. I’ll do a separate post on him later.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Long read on the ongoing bathroom bill fight

From the Daily Beast. Covers a lot of ground, some of which is familiar but quite a bit of which is new or at least additive. A small sample:

Two bills, HB 46 and HB 50, have so far been filed for the special session, sponsored by state Rep. Ron Simmons. A further Senate Bill, SB 23, is aimed at prohibiting cities from introducing non-discrimination legislation above and beyond that which has been sanctioned at state level.

HB 46 would stop school boards from enforcing policies that allow transgender youth or staff to use the restrooms of their choice; HB 50 would undo any ordinances passed in specific cities designed to protect the rights of trans people to use the public bathrooms they want.

Simmons told The Daily Beast: “At least in Texas, for 170 years since we’ve been a state, bathroom usage was understood. People used the bathrooms… you know, male used male, female used female.

“All HB 46 and HB 50 does is says this is an issue that needs a lot of debate and a lot of discussion. Right now, we don’t need patchwork of ordinances around the state. We need to keep in place what is currently in place until there is a federal law or a state law change.

“We’re also protecting—just like a transgender woman might feel uncomfortable going into the biological bathroom of her choice; say she’s a biological man, but a transgender woman—a person who is not transgender who might feel very uncomfortable for someone who is biologically male to be in same shower or changing facility as them. We’re protecting their privacy as well.”

Simmons dismissed Speaker Straus’ concerns over trans suicide. “I don’t think there are any statistics that relate trans use in restrooms to suicide rates.” He added he would be happy to study such figures if they existed.

There are, in fact, many statistics showing the high levels of discrimination and prejudice experienced by transgender Texans.

In the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 61 percent of trans Texans reported avoiding public restrooms because they were afraid of confrontations or other problems they might experience. Thirty-six percent limited what they ate or drank so they wouldn’t have to visit a restroom.

There’s a lot more, including further examples of ignorance and made-up statistics from Rep. Simmons. I actually don’t think he’s one of the true bad guys in all this, but he really needs to meet a few trans people and maybe do a little reading outside the right wing bubble. He could start with this article, and I commend you to do the same.

On a tangential note, kudos to Gromer Jeffers of the DMN for saying something that has needed to be said:

Business leaders have been criticized for not doing more to squash the bathroom bill proposals during the regular session. Now that Gov. Greg Abbott has added it to the call for a special session, there’s a likelihood that some sort of legislation will be passed, perhaps one that deals with schools.

The state is at this crossroads in part because business executives didn’t confront Abbott about the proposals with any gusto. They let his position evolve from public indifference to wanting a bill on his desk.

The governor, perhaps, found the arguments made by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and segments of the Republican Party base more persuasive than the faint objections of the business community. That’s extraordinary when you consider that Abbott’s robust campaign war chest includes money he got from influential donors who also oppose bathroom bills.

OK, he’s not the first person to bring this up, but still. Businesses have done an admirable job pushing back against this crap, but there’s a lot more they can do, and they don’t deserve full credit until they do it.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Gallego-Hurd 3.0

It could happen.

Pete Gallego

Pete Gallego

Less than a year after he lost his bid to reclaim his U.S. House seat, former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, is seriously considering another run for Congress, citing shifting political winds in Texas’ 23rd congressional district following the election of President Donald Trump.

A 2018 campaign would be Gallego’s third against U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, who unseated the one-term Gallego in 2014. Gallego then unsuccessfully challenged Hurd two years later, losing by 3,051 votes — an outcome Gallego believes would be much different if the election were held today.

“It’s certainly a different environment out there today than it was six months ago,” Gallego said in an interview. “I have seen a lot of energy and enthusiasm in Democratic ranks — more than I’ve ever seen.”

“Frankly I’m energized about 2018,” Gallego added.

[…]

Gallego could have company in the Democratic primary, where Jay Hulings, an assistant U.S. attorney from San Antonio, and Judy Canales, a former Obama and Clinton appointee from Eagle Pass, are also weighing campaigns. State Rep. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, was seen as a possible candidate for the seat but announced last month he will seek re-election to the Texas House.

Hulings’ name came up in some very early speculation about who might run for what next year; this is the first time I’ve heard Judy Canales’ name. I can tell you that as yet no one has filed an FEC finance report, so as of today there are no actual candidates, just theoretical ones. The story suggests, and I have no doubt, that people are waiting to see what the court will do in the redistricting case, given that CD23 is one of the districts at issue. Time is less of a factor here in that as soon as there are any candidates for CD23 they should have no trouble garnering contributions. The amount of money already coming in to candidates in districts far tougher than CD23 is staggering – the contenders in CD07 combined to raise in excess of $1.2 million, for example. Whoever runs in CD23 will have the resources to run a competitive race. It’s a matter of who that will be and what the district will look like.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Firefighters turn in their petitions

Good for them, but boy is this thing a train wreck.

Houston firefighters delivered over 32,000 signatures to City Hall Monday in support of putting a ballot initiative on the November election mandating parity in pay between firefighter and police-officer ranks.

[…]

“This petition drive was necessary because Houston firefighters are at a breaking point,” said Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association at a press conference Monday morning. “We now are asking the voters to help Houston fire fighters because the city refuses to do so.”

Former Houston City Attorney Dave Feldman, who is advising the petition effort, said a formal cost estimate of the initiative if approved in November has not been determined.

Using average figures for the cost of police and fire personnel without regard to rank, increasing fire base pay to match that of police would cost roughly $40 million in the current fiscal year. The city finance department projects annual budget deficits of more than $100 million for the next five years.

See here for the background, and a long comment thread. I mean look, this isn’t a proposal right now, it’s an idea. There are literally no details. If one were to run for office on this idea, one would expect to be questioned about basic things, like how much will this cost, and how will the city match job titles across two differently-structured departments. Anyone who provided the answers the firefighters are giving now would not be taken seriously, to put it mildly. In addition, while a candidate for office would have until November to come up with satisfying responses, the firefighters have until the end of August, at which time referendum language would have to be written and approved by City Council.

And what do you think that referendum language might say, based on what we know so far? Think of the recent history of ballot referenda and all the ensuing litigation over said language, and ask yourself if there is any possible wording that will satisfy both the proponents and opponents of this idea. The ballot language lawsuit practically writes itself – it will just be a matter of finding the right taxpayers to serve as plaintiffs. If it is written with sufficient detail to explain how it will be done it will be attacked as too complicated for anyone to understand, and if it is stated simply it will be derided as vague to the point of meaninglessness. This is a bad idea on so many levels, and you can take it to the bank that it will be tied up in court for years to come. The Press has more.

UPDATE: Here’s the full Chron story. I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow.

Posted in: Local politics.

Special session starts today

It was a good summer before now, but all of that comes to an end today. In the best case scenario, the sunset bills get passed and nothing else happens. I don’t know what will happen, but at least the ongoing animosity between the House and the Senate gives the “nothing happens” scenario a chance. In the meantime, let us remember the reason, the real reason, why we are here. The Rev. Dr. Larry Bethune and The Rev. Stephanie Cooper call it what it is.

We are calling out the bullying behavior of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his ally Gov. Greg Abbott towards the most vulnerable among us. While the percentage of students who identify as transgender is small, many school districts have found caring ways to support families as they encourage healthy development of these children.

In most ways, these children are no different from any other. They are kids who go to school, get involved in extra-curricular activities, make friends and have hopes and dreams like other kids. And just like all other kids at their school, they simply need to use a restroom.

But like schoolyard bullies, Patrick and Abbott have chosen to pick on these most vulnerable victims and pressured others into joining their cause. May we remind you: These bullies are picking on children.

We are especially offended they have used our Christian faith to defend their bullying behavior. Nothing could be further from the Christian spirit of welcoming the stranger, defending the vulnerable and following the Golden Rule.

As far back as 1990, the people of our church — and many others in Texas — welcomed transgender persons and their families as equals in the household of faith and beloved of God. The signs on our restrooms read “God created and welcomes us in all of our diversity. At University Baptist Church, all are welcome to use the restroom that best fits their gender identity.”

The bullying “bathroom bill” targets the vulnerable in the name of protecting the public from a problem that does not exist. Our transgender congregants are far more likely than the public to be the targets of verbal and physical assault, not to mention exclusion and discrimination. We are offended that Patrick and Abbott use this bill to demonize our friends by creating public fear based on lies to consolidate their power. Their bill places our transgender congregants and their families in deeper danger of discrimination, slander and even violence.

I couldn’t agree more. When I was a kid in Catholic school, we used to sing a song called “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love”. Do you think anyone knows Dan Patrick or Greg Abbot or Ken Paxton by their Christian love? Maybe there are some policy items in their record they can point to that could be described as “loving”, but they’re not the first things you think of with these guys. And no, I don’t believe it’s necessarily the role of government to be “loving”, but if your brand is Extra Strength Christian, then maybe you could be, I don’t know, just a little Christ-like in your behavior? Just a thought. Yes, as we well know, a bathroom bill would be a job killer and businesses universally hate it, but the reasons to oppose this effort are much more fundamental than that.

On a related note, I would be remiss if I did not mention this.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott may have come to San Antonio on Friday to announce his intentions for a second term, but he also, unintentionally, gave one local activist the trolling opportunity of a lifetime.

After his speech Abbott stuck around to meet with supporters. Enter Ashley Smith.

Now, Smith is no supporter of Abbott, but she is someone who has a very vested interest in the outcome of one of Abbott’s pet pieces of legislation, the so called “bathroom bill.”

The longtime San Antonio resident and LGBTQ activist waited through the speech for an opportunity to meet Abbott.

It wasn’t so she could shout insults or spout off at the governor, it is because sometimes a picture is worth far more than words.

“I did not think it (shouting) would work, or that I would be heard and was more interested in the getting the photograph and not getting thrown out,” Smith said.

The picture she ended up taking was of a very happy looking governor next to a beautiful woman.

In large bright lettering in the photo, Smith captioned it with “#Bathroombuddy,” and identified the governor and herself as “Texas Governor Greg Abbott,” and “Ashley Smith Trans-Woman.”

She then posted the photo to her Facebook page where the humor and irony of it quickly caught on and took off.

Click over to see the picture, if you haven’t already. And just remember, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick want people like Ashley Smith to be in the men’s room with them. The DMN has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

News flash: Businesses still hate bathroom bills

IBM hates them.

As state lawmakers return to Austin for legislative overtime, tech giant IBM is stepping up its fight to defeat legislation it says would discriminate against children and harm its Texas recruiting efforts.

In an internal email sent Monday to thousands of employees around the world, IBM’s human resources chief outlined the New York-based company’s opposition to what the letter described as discriminatory proposals to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans. IBM sent the letter to employees the same day it dispatched nearly 20 top executives to the Lone Star State to lobby lawmakers at the state Capitol. A day earlier, it took out full-page ads in major Texas newspapers underlining its opposition to legislation that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and a cadre of far-right lawmakers have deemed a top priority.

“Why Texas? And why now? On July 18th, the Texas legislature will start a thirty-day special session, where it is likely some will try to advance a discriminatory ‘bathroom bill’ similar to the one that passed in North Carolina last year,” wrote Diane Gherson, IBM’s senior vice president for human resources. “It is our goal to convince Texas elected officials to abandon these efforts.”

[…]

The email IBM sent to employees on Monday echoed concerns businesses voiced in their letter to Abbott earlier this year, saying the company — which has more than 10,000 employees in Texas — is focused on defeating the bathroom proposals because they’re detrimental to inclusive business practices and fly in the face of “deep-rooted” values against discrimination targeting LGBT people.

“A bathroom bill like the one in Texas sends a message that it is okay to discriminate against someone just for being who they are,” Gherson, the company’s HR chief, wrote.

As do other companies.

CEOs from 14 leading employers in the Dallas area, including AT&T, American Airlines and Texas Instruments, are taking a public stand against a “bathroom bill” that would discriminate against transgender people in Texas.

On Monday morning, they delivered a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus. A bathroom bill, the letter says, “would seriously hurt the state’s ability to attract new businesses, investment and jobs.”

“Our companies are competing every day to bring the best and brightest talent to Dallas,” the letter says. “To that end, we strongly support diversity and inclusion. This legislation threatens our ability to attract and retain the best talent in Texas, as well as the greatest sporting and cultural attractions in the world.”

The letter is signed by Randall Stephenson of AT&T, Doug Parker of American Airlines, Gary Kelly of Southwest Airlines, Kim Cocklin of Atmos Energy, Matthew Rose of BNSF Railway, Mark Rohr of Celanese, Harlan Crow of Crow Holdings, Sean Donohue of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Emmitt Smith of EJ Smith Enterprises, Fred Perpall of the Beck Group, David Seaton of Fluor, Thomas Falk of Kimberly-Clark, Trevor Fetter of Tenet Healthcare and Richard Templeton of Texas Instruments.

As the story notes, these efforts join other efforts by businesses to stop this thing. Such efforts have been met with an indifference bordering on hostility and contempt by Abbott and especially Patrick. I appreciate what all these companies and groups like TAB and the various chambers of commerce and visitors’ bureaus have done so far, which has been a tremendous help in keeping this awful legislation from reaching Abbott’s desk. But the big question remains what they will do after the special session gavels out, whatever the outcome of these efforts. I’ve had this question for a long time now. Between potty politics and the anti-immigration fervor of SB4, a lot of damage has already been done to our state’s reputation, and the men in charge keep wanting to do more. They’re not going to go away if they lose this session – they have the zealous will and a crap-ton of money powering them. Will these business interests, who have been getting so badly served by politicians they have generally supported, or at least tacitly accepted, in the past, put their money where their press conferences are and actively oppose Abbott and Patrick and their legislative enablers? Or will they bend over and take another lash from the paddle? One wonders at this point what they think they have to lose. The Chron has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Rockets for sale

The end of an era.

Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, among the longest-tenured owners in North American professional sports, has put the franchise up for sale, team president Tad Brown announced Monday in a stunning, hastily-called news conference after Alexander reached his decision.

Brown said Alexander, 73, has no health issues that led to the decision to sell the team nearly 24 years to the day after he purchased it for $85 million from Charlie Thomas. Brown said Alexander reached the decision that shocked the NBA, the organization and even those closest to him Monday morning.

“It’s something he’s been thinking about a little bit,” Brown said. “It can wear on you after so many decades. There are passions in his life now that are becoming more and more clear, his family and his philanthropic efforts.

“He made the decision. Once he makes up his mind, his mind is made up.”

Brown said there is no specific timetable for the sale of the team, but the NBA does have a list of prospective buyers that have shown interest in purchasing a team. Houston billionaire Tilman Fertitta, who bid for the team in 1993, said he would be interested again. The price tag could run as high as the record $2 billion the Los Angeles Clippers sold for three years ago.

Brown will oversee the effort to sell the team in consultation with the league. He said Alexander is committed to finding a buyer that will keep the team in Houston. It would be unlikely that any ownership group would seek to move the team to a considerably smaller market. The Rockets’ lease with Toyota Center runs through 2033.

Forbes in February placed a valuation on the franchise at $1.65 billion, though Brown said those valuations have typically been “very low” when teams have been sold. The Atlanta Hawks were sold for $850 million in 2015, the most recent sale of an NBA team.

Like most people, I am sorry to see Alexander go. Beyond the cachet he gets from being the owner for two championship teams – and though they are now long gone, he gets credit for four Houston Comets championships, too – he was just exactly the kind of owner a fan could want. He put the team first, he didn’t shy away from letting his GM make a big move, and he was a very good public citizen. I’ve never been embarrassed to be a Rockets fan, and that’s something I can’t say about any other team I root for. Godspeed, Les Alexander. I can only hope your successor follows in your footsteps. NBA.com, ESPN, Yahoo, and the Press have more.

Posted in: Other sports.