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July 2018 campaign finance reports: HISD

Every level of government requires finance reports in January and June, whether or not there is an active election cycle in that year. That includes HISD and HCC, which are the last two groups I’ll be examining. I didn’t get to their January reports, in part because they tend to post them later than other entities, and in part because I was hip deep in primary stuff. But that was then and this is now, and today I have the reports for HISD trustees.

Elizabeth Santos
Rhonda Skillern-Jones
Sergio Lira
Jolanda Jones
Sue Deigaard
Holly Flynn Vilaseca
Anne Sung
Diana Davila
Wanda Adams


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
I     Santos              525    1,048        0     4,806
II    Skillern-Jones        0        0        0     2,395
III   Lira              2,500        0        0     4,072
IV    Jones                 0        0        0    12,259
V     Deigaard              0    1,927        0     7,452
VI    Vilaseca          2,500      969        0     4,506
VII   Sung
VIII  Davila                0    1,500   19,178         0
IX    Adams             4,400    6,369        0     2,814

Anne Sung did not have a July report posted as of when I drafted this. As you can see, there’s not much to see here, as nobody did any fundraising in the past period. Diana Davila did not include a cash on hand total in her report, which I think is an error, but not one to worry about too much at this time. Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Sergio Lira, Jolanda Jones, and Diana Davila are up for election in 2019, so I figure we’ll start to see action from them soon. You will eventually see a 2019 Trustee Elections link on the Board of Trustees General Information page – the 2017 election link is still there – so until then I presume there’s no one who has formally declared an intent to run. I’ll have the HCC reports next, so let me know what you think.

Fifth Circuit upholds dismissal of campus carry lawsuit

Not a surprise.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld Texas’ campus carry law, delivering another clear victory to the state in a longshot, long-running lawsuit brought by University of Texas at Austin professors opposed to the law.

In July 2016, three professors claimed that a 2015 state law that allows licensed gun-owners to carry concealed weapons into most public university buildings would have a “chilling effect” on free speech in their classrooms. But a federal district judge threw out their case in July 2017, saying the professors didn’t present any “concrete evidence to substantiate their fears.”

Accepting that logic and advancing it yet further, a three-judge panel on the appeals court this week rebuffed the professors’ free speech claim as well as two other constitutional challenges they had made.

Like the lower court, the 5th Circuit panel found that the professors lacked standing to challenge the law because they had not sufficiently shown how it might harm them.

“[The professors] cannot manufacture standing by self-censoring her speech based on what she alleges to be a reasonable probability that concealed-carry license holders will intimidate professors and students in the classroom,” Judge Leslie Southwick wrote for the unanimous panel.

See here for the background. The plaintiffs’ lawyer is talking about appealing to the Supreme Court, which strikes me as unlikely to succeed, even in the alternate universe of a SCOTUS with Merrick Garland and not-Brent-Kavanaugh. Some problems have to be solved via the ballot box, and this sure seems like one of them.

The firefighter pay parity referendum won’t be decided by the voters

it will be decided by the courts. Here’s a story out of Austin to illustrate.

Former Travis County judge Bill Aleshire has sued the city of Austin in the Texas Supreme Court, challenging the ballot language of a proposition up for a local vote in November.

The lawsuit filed Monday challenges ballot language related to Proposition K, which calls for an outside audit of government efficiency at City HallThe Austin City Council approved the ballot wording last week.

At that council meeting, some supporters of the proposition bristled at the language, which includes a cost estimate for the audit of between $1 million and $5 million. Proposition backers complain the inclusion of the cost estimate will bias voters against the measure because the wording does not mention any possible savings that could result from an audit.

You can follow the links and read the writ, which is embedded in that Statesman. I don’t care about any of that. My point here is that while Council has voted to put the measure on the ballot, we don’t have ballot language yet. Does anyone think for even a minute that the language that Mayor Turner will provide and Council will approve will be satisfactory to all of the stakeholders in this fight? Does anyone think it is possible for this referendum to be a) simple enough for everyone to be clear on what they’re voting on, and b) thorough enough for it to adequately cover all the relevant details? These were the points of contention in the lawsuits over the term limits referendum, and the Renew Houston referendum. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: The losing side in this vote, whichever side it is, will file a lawsuit arguing that the ballot language was inadequate, inaccurate, unintelligible, whatever else. Given the lifespan of the Renew Houston battle – which as you know is still not over – we’ll be handing this fight off to the next Mayor, and that is very much assuming a second term for Mayor Turner. On top of all of the other reasons why this is a bad idea, this is why this is a bad idea.

Weekend link dump for August 19

The cast and crew of The Good Place are all mensches.

“While promises of anonymity once made sperm and egg donations appealing to many, those promises are becoming impossible to keep. Aside from the practical and shockingly easy ways donor-conceived children are finding their donors — like commercial DNA tests, or the trusty ol’ internet — some jurisdictions are changing their laws, and banishing anonymity altogether.”

Bitcoin – still a bad idea.

“As someone who loved the deconstructionist bent of The Last Jedi, and especially the way it brought Luke’s journey to an end, I’d love the new Picard series to do something similar. Not directly literal of course—Jean-Luc doesn’t have to pass on at the end of it, the way Luke quietly dissipates into the Force in The Last Jedi. But in terms of having heroes who so wholly represent the greatest ideals of their respective franchises go through a trauma that leaves them challenged and conflicted, a conflict that lets them grow and develop as deeper characters, while reminding us of the grand ideals they represent? Hell yes.”

While there is some difference of opinion between different Flat Earth groups, I think it’s fair to say that the overall belief is that sustained spaceflight is impossible, or at the very least cost-prohibitive.”

“Yet this particular episode from history carries a clear warning about the poisonous effects of thoughtless bigotry and small-mindedness. It also underscores how, indeed, America has changed, perhaps irrevocably – though not in the way Ingraham sees.”

“So here’s how I think Jaws is a hilarious, great, non-racist, very white movie, that plays around with some of the same emotions explored in the very racist and evil The Birth of a Nation (1915).”

And while we’re on the topic of shark-based movies, here’s how The Meg stacks up against Jaws: The Revenge, and a scientific fact-check of all the shark activities in The Meg.

“Trump is a cretin and a racist and a buffoon. But we fool ourselves if we don’t recognize that he is a sort of savant, a con man but an instinctive political animal who has a deep hold on a big chunk of the country. Language, tone and voice are at the heart of that. Understanding how this happened is well worth our time.”

RIP, Brigadier General Mike P. Cokinos, decorated WWII veteran and member of a longstanding political family from Beaumont.

“This leaves me with a question. Did Noah take Neanderthals on the ark?”

“While some California cities, like Oakland and Berkeley, have no psychic-specific rules, other places care a great deal about how people tell fortunes for money. In San Francisco, the Police Department gets involved.”

“The history of sports is littered with hardass coaches who blur the line between intense discipline and bullying, and become folk heroes when success follows.”

“No one in this exchange is surprised, because they all know Trump so well. Pierson and Manigault-Newman are actually convinced he said it. That’s one of the stranger paradoxes of this political era: Trump’s political opponents know who he is. His aides know who he is. Americans don’t need a tape to know who Trump is, or what he represents. He’s already shown who he is. He shows it every day.”

“Multiple legal experts told TheWrap this week that while Omarosa’s actions may have been duplicitous and underhanded, anyone expecting criminal charges will be waiting a long time as it is perfectly legal in Washington, D.C., for one party in a conversation to record it — even without the permission (or knowledge) of the other parties.”

Rolling the Dice on Ironstache”.

“President Trump’s tax cuts all but guaranteed that 2018 would be a fantastic year for shareholders. Predictably, corporations are taking advantage of this windfall not by funding other companies or boosting worker pay, but by showering their shareholders with cash. Of course, 2017 wasn’t a bad year for shareholders either. Indeed, the last four decades have seen shareholders take home larger and larger slices of the economic pieords. Is this how justice is supposed to work, with TV supplementing the courts in the battle for a criminal’s reputation?”

RIP, Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul.

“When Sarah Sanders and the ACLU Teamed Up for Voting Rights”.

“Importantly, Clinton and Nixon intended to cover their tracks. Lewinsky and the Plumbers, as they were called, knew something each president wanted kept out of sight. So the question not being asked, in the case of Manigault Newman, is: What does she know that Trump wants to keep quiet?”

RIP, Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General.

RIP, Bob Bass, former NBA coach and general manager, mostly with the Spurs.

Woodfill and Hotze take their next shot at same sex employee benefits

Here we go again.

Anti-LGBTQ activists are again asking a Harris County judge to halt benefits for the same-sex spouses of Houston city employees, according to a recently filed motion.

The motion for summary judgment in Pidgeon v. Turner, a five-year-old lawsuit challenging the benefits, states that the city should not subsidize same-sex marriages because gay couples cannot produce offspring, “which are needed to ensure economic growth and the survival of the human race.”

The motion also asks Republican Judge Lisa Millard, of the 310th District Family Court, to order the city to “claw back” taxpayer funds spent on the benefits since November 2013, when former Mayor Annise Parker first extended health and life insurance coverage to same-sex spouses. And the court filing suggests that to comply with both state and federal law, the city should eliminate all spousal benefits, including for opposite-sex couples.

The motion for summary judgment was filed July 2 by Jared Woodfill, an attorney for Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks, two Houston taxpayers who initially brought their lawsuit in December 2013. Woodfill, a former chair of the Harris County Republican Party, is president of the Conservative Republicans of Texas, which is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

In his motion for summary judgment, Woodfill asserts that although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015, that decision does not require the city to treat same-sex couples equally.

“Obergefell does not require taxpayer subsidies for same-sex marriages — any more than Roe v. Wade requires taxpayers subsidies for abortions,” Woodfill’s motion states.

Alan Bernstein, a spokesman for the city, said it will respond to the motion “in a timely fashion.”

“The City hopes the Judge will be persuaded by the law,” Bernstein said in an email. “The Legal Department defers to the arguments it will make in response.”

See here for previous coverage, and here for the last update. It’s hard to know what will happen here because the basic goal of the lawsuit is so ridiculous and harmful, and the immediate reaction of any decent person who hears about it will be “but marriage is marriage and why would anyone want to do that?” The sad and scary fact is that some people are like that, and that includes some judges. Did I mention that the judge in this case, Lisa Millard, is up for re-election in August? Sonya Heath is her opponent. There’s never been a better time to elect some better judges. Think Progress has more.

Beto’s ad strategy

Nothing wrong with a little low-tech outreach.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Over the last year, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has drawn national fanfare as a thoroughly modern, digital-first campaign. He regularly draws an audience of thousands to his Facebook page by livestreaming mundane moments on the campaign trail, and he has outpaced most every other campaign in the country with the millions he’s spent on digital advertising.

Yet the El Paso Democrat has been also waging a more under-the-radar effort via more old-school mediums. For the past few months, O’Rourke’s campaign has been running ads on local radio stations and in certain publications in an effort to court voters he may be less likely to reach online, part of a six-figure investment to supplement his already-robust presence online.

It has unfolded ahead of O’Rourke’s biggest foray into paid, non-digital media yet — a $1.3 million TV buy that is set to begin Wednesday across the state. But in some communities, it will not be the first time they have seen or heard O’Rourke advertising offline.

The radio ads, which have not been previously reported, have fallen into at least two categories: spots that advise listeners of an upcoming O’Rourke appearance in their area and a half-minute commercial in which he introduces himself as the candidate “running against Ted Cruz for the Senate because I believe in the people of Texas.”

[…]

Among the radio ads that O’Rourke has run to get out the word about his events have been in the Rio Grande Valley, where he has acknowledged he needs to do better after losing some counties there to a little-known opponent in the March primary. For example, back in May, O’Rourke ran minute-long radio ads on McAllen stations in the hours before he went block walking and held a town hall in the border city.

At least some of the radio and print ads appear to be aimed at black voters. The 30-second radio spot has aired on urban contemporary stations like KGGR in Dallas and KHVN in Fort Worth, and the print ads have shown up in African-American newspapers such as the Houston Defender and Dallas Examiner, touching on issues including jobs, education and health care.

You can listen to the radio spot and see a print ad at the link above. There’s a lot to like about this. It reaches out to voters who aren’t Internet users or regular TV watchers. It’s consistent with his visit-everywhere strategy. It addresses a weakness from the primary. The ads cross-promote his town halls and rallies, which are where the magic really happens for his campaign. The cost is low, so there’s no negative effect on the budget for larger ad expenditures. Knowing this is happening gives me an extra level of faith in his campaign. Well done.

High schools need to do a better job of making voter registration available to students

As the Texas Civil Rights Project notes, it is the law.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In a report published today by the Texas Civil Rights Project, new data from October 2016 to February 2018 shows that just 34 percent of high schools in Texas requested voter registration forms from the Secretary of State—the key first step in registering students under the process mandated by Texas law. This is up from a mere 14 percent of public high schools in 2016.

“Our schools must prepare young Texans for the future, which includes teaching them how to participate in our democracy. For more than five years, TCRP has attempted to work with the Secretary of State to help schools comply with our unique high school student voter registration law,” said James Slattery, Senior Staff Attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project and author of the report. “Instead of working with civic engagement groups, parents, and students, the Secretary’s office has dragged its feet in implementing common sense reforms to help high schools comply with the law. This means that, every year, more than 180,000 eligible students are not getting the opportunity to register to vote as required by law.”

In addition to the report, TCRP is also releasing the first-ever digital map of nearly 3,000 public and private high schools in Texas that visually displays which schools and school districts have requested high school voter registration forms from the Secretary, pursuant to the law, and those schools for which we have not been able to verify compliance.

Currently 82 out of 232 counties in Texas, or 35 percent of all Texas counties, did not have a single high school request a voter registration form. The digital map will serve as a resource for parents, students, policy makers, and community members in spearheading efforts to register eligible students to vote.

“As the state’s chief elections officer, we encourage Secretary Rolando Pablos to take common sense steps to address the abysmal compliance rate,” continued Slattery. “We owe it to these young Texans to make sure they are equipped with the tools they need to participate in the democracy they will soon inherit from us. That includes making sure that every eligible high school student is offered the opportunity to register to vote as soon as they come of age, and educating them in all the duties of citizenship.”

See here for the report, and here for the map. To me, the answer to the question “why aren’t we doing a better job of this” is simply that there’s no enforcement. If it’s not anyone’s job to make it happen, it’s not going to happen. If we want the SOS to get schools and districts to do what they’re supposed to do, then give the SOS the resources to do that, and then hold the SOS accountable for it. This isn’t rocket science.

Partial halt to bail lawsuit order

Here comes the Fifth Circuit again.

A majority opinion by Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith halted part of an order by Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal which compelled certain defendants to be released immediately on no-cost bail in cases where a person with the money, arrested on the same charge, would be immediately released. Defendants must have an individualized bail determination made by a judge within 48 hours, the ruling says. The newest member of the appeals court, a Trump appointee, Judge Kyle Duncan, concurred with his holding.

They said that despite Rosenthal’s “well-intentioned effort to comply,” the instruction allowing immediate release to qualified poor defendants “easily violates the mandate, which explicitly found that individualized hearings would remedy the identified procedural violations.”

In a dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge James E. Graves Jr. wrote that Rosenthal’s order corrects an inequity that is protected by the constitution.

“However thorough and fair it may be, an individualized hearing 48 hours after arrest cannot ‘fix’ the deprivation of liberty and equal protection suffered by an indigent misdemeanor arrestee who is automatically detained prior to that hearing ‘solely because [she is] too poor to pay’ a preset amount of secured money bail,” Graves wrote.

The majority wrote that Rosenthal’s orders were too expansive, straying from their earlier instructions to “narrowly tailor” her 2017 injunction to address certain deficiencies that were placing pressure on judges to move too quickly. Judges that the 14 judges who questioned this portion of Rosenthal’s ruling were likely to win on the merits, the ruling says.

See here for the background. I disagree with the Fifth Circuit’s ruling here, but again this is about the injunction, not the merits of the case. This is about how these courts will operate until a ruling on the merits is made or a settlement is reached. Or, you know, until we elect some better judges in November. Never forget that part. KUHF has more.

CD32 poll: Sessions 47, Allred 45

Another internal poll, another close race.

Colin Allred

Texas Rep. Pete Sessions’ re-election race is looking increasingly competitive, with Democrat Colin Allred polling close to the longtime Republican lawmaker, according to a new internal Democratic survey.

The Dallas-area 32nd District is traditionally GOP territory. But this year’s race is considered competitive, in part because the 32nd is one of three Republican-held districts in the Lone Star State that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-up.

Sessions led Allred 47 percent to 45 percent in the initial head-to-head matchup, according to the polling memo shared first with Roll Call.

The poll, conducted by GBA Strategies, also showed both Sessions and President Donald Trump with low favorable ratings. Forty-one percent of those surveyed viewed Trump favorably while 38 percent had a favorable view of Sessions.

Twenty-three percent viewed Allred favorably, but only 15 percent viewed him unfavorably, signaling that respondents might not have strong opinions of the Democratic nominee or know much about him.

Standard disclaimers about internal polls apply, and as always it’s just one data point. The main thing I take away from these and other Congressional district polls is that they offer corroborating evidence for the statewide polls we have seen and the closer-than-usual environment we are in. I hope we get enough of these to get a feel for what the trendlines might look like as well.

The autonomous cars/mass transit debate

Seems to me this should be a “both-and” rather than an “either-or”, but you know how I get.

Autonomous vehicles that will outperform buses, cost less than Uber and travel faster than cars stuck in traffic today are two years away. Or 10. Or 30.

But visions of the future they’ll bring have already crept into City Council meetings, political campaigns, state legislation and decisions about what cities should build today. That unnerves some transportation planners and transit advocates, who fear unrealistic hopes for driverless cars — and how soon they’ll get here — could lead cities to mortgage the present for something better they haven’t seen.

“They have imbued autonomous vehicles with the possibility to solve every problem that was ever created in transportation since the beginning of time,” said Beth Osborne, a senior policy adviser with the advocacy group Transportation for America. “That might be a tad bit unrealistic.”

In Indianapolis, Detroit and Nashville, opponents of major transit investments have argued that buses and trains will soon seem antiquated. In Silicon Valley, politicians have suggested something better and cheaper is on the way. As New York’s subway demands repairs, futurists have proposed paving over all that rail instead for underground highways.

Autonomous cars have entered policy debates — if not car lots — with remarkable speed. And everyone agrees that making the wrong bets now would be costly. Cities that abandon transit will come to regret it, advocates warn. Driverless car boosters counter that officials wedded to “19th-century technology” will block innovation and waste billions.

[…]

Highways today can carry about 2,000 cars per lane per hour. Autonomous vehicles might quadruple that. The best rail systems can carry more than 50,000 passengers per lane per hour. They move the most people, using the least space. No technology can overcome that geometry, said Jarrett Walker, a Portland-based transportation consultant.

“Let’s talk about what we can predict,” he said. “The problem of the city is a problem of sharing space. In 2100, the problem of the city will still be a problem of sharing space.”

By that logic, cities should invest even more in high-capacity rail and dedicated bus lanes in key corridors. Autonomous vehicles might handle other kinds of trips — rides from the train station home, or through suburban neighborhoods, or across the parts of Las Vegas without rail.

This possibility is not radically different from today. Uber and Lyft offer the closest approximation to how people will behave in an autonomous future, when consumers use cars they don’t own. Both companies are frequently cited by opponents of transit. But they also now back big transit investments, without which their riders in congested cities would be stuck in even worse traffic.

No system of autonomous cars could be more efficient than the New York subway, said Andrew Salzberg, Uber’s head of transportation policy and research. Uber needs that transit, just as it will need electric scooters and bikes and the congestion pricing it also supports in New York to ensure that cheaper transportation doesn’t simply lead to more traffic.

I see a lot of value in finding ways to use autonomous cars as shuttles to help solve “last-mile” problems. Find places where getting people to and from bus stops across large parking lots or other non-pedestrian-friendly turf as a way to entice more bus usage, for example. Here in Houston, that might also mean connecting people in the farther-flung parts of the Medical Center to the light rail stops. I don’t see any value in claiming that autonomous cars will replace transit, or in arguing that transit projects should be put on hold until autonomous cars are more prevalent. We need solutions for the short term, and this is what can help for now. Let’s focus on that.

It depends what the meaning of “intent” is

Give me a break.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

It has been about three weeks since state Sen. Sylvia Garcia submitted a letter declaring her “intent to resign,” but whether it qualifies as an actual resignation has fallen into dispute — and has threatened to upend the timeline for Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special election for the Houston Democrat’s seat.

[…]

Still, Abbott has held off on calling a special election as his office and Garcia’s remain at odds over the validity of her letter. Abbott’s office does not believe Garcia’s use of the phrase “intent to resign” is good enough to trigger the process by which the governor can call a special election, while Garcia’s staff believes there is nothing wrong with the letter.

The clock is ticking on when Abbott can call the special election so that it coincides with the November general election. If he does not do it before Aug. 24, the next uniform election date on which he could call it is in May of next year. Still, he retains the option of calling an emergency special election that could occur take place on some other date.

In questioning Garcia’s letter, Abbott’s office attributes its reasoning to a 1996 Texas Supreme Court case — Angelini v. Hardberger — that involved a similar situation. Abbott was a judge on the court at the time.

“The governor’s position is that ‘intent’ to resign is insufficient to constitute an official resignation,” Abbott spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said in a statement. “The governor has made clear the only thing the Senator must to do to submit an effective resignation is delete the word ‘intent.’ The ball is in her court.”

Garcia’s office notes that her letter is very similar to the one former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, submitted to then-Gov. Rick Perry when she resigned in November 2014 to run for San Antonio mayor. That letter also used the phrase “intent to resign.” Perry scheduled a special election without any controversy, and Abbott, who took office in January 2015, called the runoff.

“It’s Sen. Garcia’s position that she has submitted a lawful, effective, valid resignation, and it was based on precedent, as recently as 2014, when Sen. Van de Putte submitted a letter of resignation almost identical to Sen. Garcia’s, and [Gov.] Perry called an election, and Sen. Van de Putte fulfilled the duties of her office until a successor was elected,” said John Gorczynski, Garcia’s chief of staff. “And we expect Gov. Abbott to call an election and set an election date by Aug. 20 because a resignation has been submitted and the governor hasn’t said anything to the contrary.”

See here for the background. On the one hand, Abbott is being a jackass. On the other hand, nothing is more important than getting that seat filled in a timely fashion, so if that means indulging Abbott’s pettiness and sending a substitute letter, suck it up and do it. There’s a time to stand on principle, and a time to say “screw it” and do what you have to do, and this is one of the latter. Let’s get this done.

ReBuild re-vote approved

Add another item to the ballot.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

City Council on Wednesday unanimously agreed to put the controversial street and drainage program known as ReBuild Houston before voters again in November, but not before tweaking the ballot language in hopes of avoiding future court challenges.

The Turner administration should find out quickly if they were successful.

The lawyer who represented the conservative plaintiffs who got the Texas Supreme Court to throw out the original 2010 charter amendment already has asked a judge to force the city to include ballot language specifically stating that drainage fees will be imposed on and paid for by property owners.

[…]

Turner, however, has said approval of the charter amendment would be limited, calling it an an affirmation of “what already is,” and saying it simply would solidify a dedicated source of funding to continue the ReBuild Houston program as it is being run today. The drainage fee, which is a key part of the program, is not at risk in the November referendum because it was created via city ordinance, not by the 2010 charter amendment.

“I think we all support a dedicated source (of funding),” Turner said Wednesday. “I think we all support the emphasis being placed on drainage, flooding and streets … We’re all passionate about it, but I think there is more agreement than disagreement around this table.”

See here for the background. I confess, it’s not clear to me what the stakes are in this vote, just as it’s not clear to me what the neverending litigation is about. As the story notes, Council voted to approve an ordinance that instituted the fee. Even with the obscure stakes, I doubt there’s any ballot language short of language written by Andy Taylor himself that would satisfy Andy Taylor and his flood-loving plaintiffs. I’d put something on like “ReBuild is what we say it is, mofos”, but then that’s probably why I’m a blogger and not a public official. Be that as it may, a-voting we will go this fall. KUHF has more.

This will be your last year to vote a straight party ticket

Whether you like it or not. The linked story looks at how this upcoming change, to go into effect in 2020, may affect judicial elections.

Texas elects its judges, leaving the nearly anonymous people in charge of the third branch of state government in the hands of voters who have only the vaguest idea of who they are.

It’s one of the built-in problems of running a big state. Ballots are long. Attention spans are short. Judges are almost as invisible as they are important — a critical part of government located a long way from the noisy and partisan front lines of civics and politics.

The top of the ballot gets the attention. The bottom of the ballot gets leftovers.

When a party’s candidates at the top of the ticket are doing well, it bodes well for that party’s candidates at the bottom — for the time being anyway. For at least one more election, Texans will be able to cast straight-party votes — choosing everybody on their party’s ticket without going race-by-race through sometimes long ballots.

Texas lawmakers decided last year to get rid of the straight-ticket option starting in 2020. It’s a Republican Legislature and governor and straight-ticket Democrats in Dallas and Harris and other big counties have been making early retirees of Republican judges in recent elections.

[…]

When straight-ticket voting comes to an end in Texas, judges will to win by figuring out how to drag their supporters to the bottom of long ballots. For now, they have to worry about how their fellow partisans are doing at the top of the ticket — and whether the big blue counties will spoil their chances.

See here and here for thoughts I have expressed on this subject in the past. No question, turnout for downballot races – not just judicial, but for things like County Clerk and Railroad Commissioner and whatnot – will decrease when the one-button option disappears, though I expect both parties will put a lot of energy into convincing people to vote all the way down. I just want to point out that there’s already more variance than you might think in judicial race vote totals. We’ll see how much that increases in two years, assuming the Lege doesn’t undo itself next year.

HISD avoids sanctions for this year

Big sigh of relief.

Houston ISD will avoid major state sanctions for at least one year after four of its longest-struggling schools met state academic standards this year, according to preliminary results released Wednesday.

The announcement ensures the Texas Education Agency will not replace HISD’s locally elected school board in the coming months or close campuses that repeatedly have failed to meet academic standards before the 2019-20 school year. Under a new state law, commonly known as HB 1842, the TEA would have been required to implement one of the two sanctions if any of the four HISD campuses received another “improvement required” rating this year due to substandard academic performance.

[…]

The four HISD campuses that made standard to avoid triggering sanctions are Mading and Wesley elementary schools, Woodson PK-8 and Worthing High School. Each of those four had failed to meet standard for four to six consecutive years prior to 2018.

Although HISD will avoid sanctions this year, the threat of state-imposed punishment likely will loom throughout the 2018-19 school year.

Four low-performing HISD schools likely will risk triggering sanctions next year if they fail to meet academic standards when results are released in August 2019. Those four campuses are Highland Heights elementary schools, Henry Middle School, Kashmere and Wheatley high schools.

In an interview Wednesday, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath praised HISD’s accomplishment while cautioning more work needs to be done in Texas’ largest school district.

“Houston ISD has made progress, like many school systems across the state. That’s clear and that’s very good news,” Morath said. “But there’s obviously still a number of schools that need greater support throughout Houston, and I know they’re working diligently on that.”

See here for some background. As noted, the schools that qualified for Harvey waivers will need to be up to standard next year or the same sanctions will apply, but at least that gives the district another year to get there. Getting these found schools up to standard is a laudable accomplishment, and an encouraging sign that what the district had been doing has been working. Kudos to all, and let’s keep up the good work. The Trib has more.

Dallas County Republicans still trying to knock all the Dems off the ballot

Here comes the appeal.

Dallas County Republicans will appeal a ruling that blocked efforts to remove scores of Democrats from the November election ballot.

A formal intent to appeal was filed Monday on behalf of Missy Shorey, the chairwoman of the Dallas County Republican Party, with the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas.

Shorey argues that Dallas County Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Donovan did not properly certify candidate petitions and forward them to the Texas Secretary of State’s office. The lawsuit, originally filed in January, showed that Donovan did not sign 127 candidate petitions.

“The case was inappropriately dismissed,” local GOP lawyer Elizabeth Alvarez Bingham said in an email Tuesday night.

But Donovan said nothing had changed with the Dallas County Republican Party’s lawsuit.

“The trial court found the Republican Party’s lawsuit to be frivolous, and their appeal is frivolous as well,” Donovan said in a text message.

[…]

It’s unclear if the appeals court, which is majority Republican, will hear the case before the November general election.

“The case never had any merit,” said Buck Wood, a lawyer for about a dozen Democratic candidates that would be affected if the suit is successful. “It’s way too late to be doing anything. I don’t know why they filed an appeal.”

See here for the previous update. I can understand appealing the dismissal – as noted in the story, the judge did not elaborate on his reason for dismissing the case – but I don’t get waiting four months to file it. The lawsuit has always seemed to be tenuous at best, relying on a very strict reading of election law that nobody seems to adhere to at that level, with the penalty being quite extreme and falling on candidates who themselves did nothing wrong. I would also note that we are fast approaching a deadline for when absentee and overseas ballots have to be printed and mailed, so the court would have to act very quickly if it were going to take action (another reason why the delay in appealing puzzles me). I suspect nothing will come of this, but as always with courts you never can be sure.

What if we held a debate and only one candidate showed up?

Not a rhetorical question.

Mike Collier

The Fox News affiliate in Houston has offered to host a debate between Dan Patrick and his Democratic opponent, but it’s unlikely the lieutenant governor will accept.

“We understand that currently there are no plans for a debate or discussion between the candidates. However, we would be honored to host such an event,” Aprille Meek, executive producer for special projects for Houston’s KRIV-TV said in the invitation, which was sent Monday and provided to The Dallas Morning News by opponent Mike Collier’s campaign. “We feel that it’s important for voters to hear from the candidates themselves on the issues that are of concern to the citizens of Texas.”

Meek suggested a prime-time debate, on any Sunday to Wednesday between Sept. 10 and Oct. 20: “We are open to the various possibilities that you might consider as a format (debate, town hall, panel questions, moderated roundtable discussion, etc.).”

It’s unclear whether Collier asked for the debate or KRIV reached out independently of either campaign.

[…]

Collier has already accepted the KRIV invitation.

“There is no reason for Lt. Governor Patrick to decline this debate. If as he says, he ‘relishes debates’, then he’d come forward,” Collier said in a statement. “I’m ready to debate anytime and anywhere. Bring on the The Good, The Dan, and The Ugly of his 4 years in office.”

We already knew that Dan Patrick is a wimp. He’s too chicken to even offer a statement in these stories, leaving that task plus some ridiculous chest-thumping, to his paid flack. I hope it was Collier who pitched the idea of the debate to KRIV, as that’s just good politics and keeps the “Dan Patrick is a wimp” story in the news for another day. You stay nice and comfy in your ivory tower, Dan. We’ll find a good empty chair to be your proxy if KRIV has the moxie to go ahead with this regardless.

Texas blog roundup for the week of August 13

The Texas Progressive Alliance promises that this week’s roundup is completely asbestos-free.

(more…)

July 2018 finance reports: City of Houston

Every level of government requires finance reports in January and June, whether or not there is an active election cycle in that year. That includes the city of Houston, whose january report data we inspected here. Our next election is in 2019, and while this is still traditionally a little early for there to be much activity, there are the finance reports. Here’s what we’ve got:


Candidate       Office    Raised      Spent     Loan    On Hand
===============================================================
S Turner         Mayor   585,267    137,758        0  2,260,407

C Brown     Controller    13,070     17,650        0     59,164

M Knox      At Large 1    28,225     12,691        0     62,856 
D Robinson  At Large 2    61,650     21,468        0    162,079
M Kubosh    At Large 3    72,475     23,841  276,000     82,360
A Edwards   At Large 4    40,345     26,349        0    147,883
J Christie  At Large 5     3,263      6,055        0     25,918

B Stardig       Dist A    56,439     24,738        0    116,794
J Davis         Dist B    22,750     12,487        0    147,300
E Cohen         Dist C    33,990     18,591        0     57,264
D Boykins       Dist D   126,000     55,556        0     96,400
D Martin        Dist E    43,900     17,226        0    123,730
S Le            Dist F     4,000      6,445   30,823     10,570
G Travis        Dist G    69,468     81,775   21,000     56,571
K Cisneros      Dist H    34,399      5,660        0     49,176
R Gallegos      Dist I    32,875     21,319        0     80,288
M Laster        Dist J    20,330      7,524        0    173,358
M Castex-Tatum  Dist K    15,375        339    3,788     43,822

A Parker                       0     10,383        0     82,854
L Green                    5,500     42,118        0     40,492
Lift the Cap PAC               0          0        0      3,987
Citizens to Keep               0      1,803        0     47,564
 Houston Strong

As you may recall, there wasn’t much in the way of fundraising for anyone except Mayor Turner last time. I don’t know if it’s due to the time of year, the approach of the next election, or the overall political climate, but as you can see nearly all of our elected officials have been busy. The report for Martha Castex-Tatum, who was elected in May to succeed the late Larry Green, is in a shorter period than everyone else since she had to post 30-day and 8-day reports for her cycle; the others are all for the full January through June time frame.

Looking at these numbers, only Jack Christie has acted like the term-limited Member that he is. Brenda Stardig, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, and Mike Laster have been more or less business as usual. I’ve speculated before about the possible future ambitions they may have, and I don’t have anything to add to that. I’m sure there’s a reason why the three non-Cohen members have been stockpiling the loot like this, but until they do something tangible it’s hard to say what that might be.

Which doesn’t mean we can’t speculate at all. I look at what Dwight Boykins and David Robinson are doing and I wonder a little. Both are on the ballot next year for their final terms (as always, modulo future rulings in the interminable term limits litigation), and while Robinson had to fend off four challengers and win in a runoff in 2015, Boykins cruised home unopposed. It could be that Robinson is merely gearing up for the next battle while Boykins is doing his best to keep potential opponents at bay. It could also be that they’re looking beyond their next term to a time when both the Mayor’s office and the Controller’s office will be open seats. I have no idea and no evidence – like I said, I’m just speculating. Dave Martin is also in that “one more term and has a lot of cash” group, but we don’t tend to elect Mayors who fit Martin’s political profile, though perhaps Controller might appeal to him.

Be all that as it may, this is the first time since we switched to four-year terms and no blackout period for fundraising that we’ve seen incumbents establish a clear financial advantage for themselves. No one on the outside has yet taken a concrete step (like designating a campaign treasurer and raising their own money) towards running for a Council seat, but do keep in mind there are several now-former candidates for Congress in town who likely have some cash remaining in their coffers (sorry, I’m only checking on still-active candidates). Surely it would not be a surprise if one or more of them decided to act more locally next year. Given that possibility, it’s hard to blame any of the members who are up for re-election next year to take precautions.

The remaining reports I included because they’re there. As we learned after the death of El Franco Lee, the remaining funds in Larry Green’s campaign account are to be distributed by his campaign treasurer, whose name is Kevin Riles. As we see from Lee’s July report, there’s no particular rush to do whatever that turns out to be. I don’t remember what Citizens to Keep Houston Strong was about, but Bill White is their treasurer. I’m sure we’ll see plenty more PACs and PAC activity as we move towards referenda for firefighters’ pay parity and the revenue cap.

Trump’s Texas beneficiaries

Interesting.

Six Texas Republican in Congress received a show of financial support from their party’s leader this week.

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign announced Thursday that it was donating the maximum contribution possible to around 100 House and Senate Republican candidates ahead of midterm elections in which multiple polls suggest Democrats could be poised for big wins. Republican National Committee spokesperson Christiana Purves confirmed Friday that six of those candidates are incumbents from Texas: U.S. Reps. Michael Burgess of Lewisville, John Carter of Round Rock, Michael Cloud of Victoria, Mike Conaway of Midland, John Culberson of Houston and Pete Sessions of Dallas.

Three of those Republicans – Carter, Culberson and Sessions – recently learned they had been outraised by their Democratic challengers in the second quarter of the year, the latest sign that Democrats are aiming to compete in more Texas congressional districts than they have in a generation.

[…]

Burgess and Conaway are somewhat more surprising picks for being singled out by Trump as both represent solidly Republican districts.

Conaway is the biggest head-scratcher on this list. He has $1.5 million on hand, his opponent has $42K on hand on $48K raised (which to be fair, is a record-setting amount for a Dem in CD11), and is running in a district that Trump won by a 77-19 margin in 2016. There’s literally no definition of “incumbents who need financial support from their president” that includes Mike Conaway.

Even more curious is the omission of Will Hurd, the third member of the “toss-up trio” in Texas. Hurd likes to polish his image of being independent of the president (so don’t go looking at his voting record), and he’s a good fundraiser on his own. My guess is that if Trump’s money was offered rather than thrust upon these recipients, Hurd would probably have said “thanks but no thanks”. Nonetheless, it would be nice to understand the process here.

Day Seven flood bond EV totals

The word of the week is “slow”.

Fewer than 46,000 ballots have been cast in the first week of early voting on Harris County’s $2.5 billion flood bond referendum, but county officials on Monday said they expect many more voters leading up to the Aug. 25 anniversary of Hurricane Harvey’s landfall.

According to the county clerk’s office, 2,692 voters went to the polls in person Monday. Combined with 575 mail-in ballots returned Monday, the first six days of early voting have seen a total of 45,517 ballots.

“Bond elections don’t usually get voters excited, but there are plenty of days of early voting,” Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said.

Last week, Stanart estimated that 230,000 to 300,000 voters would cast ballots on the bond referendum. By Monday, he had dropped his projection to 150,000 to 200,000 total votes by the end of the election, even as he expects turnout to increase closer to the one-year anniversary of Harvey, when media coverage and advertisements in support of the flood bond will increase publicity.

[…]

Rice University political scientist Robert Stein said he is skeptical the number of voters will increase come Aug. 25, but he added that low turnout does not necessarily signal a lack of support for the bond plan. He predicted the bond would pass with at least 60 percent of the votes cast.

A University of Houston poll last week put support for the bond around 62 percent.

Stein said low voter turnout is a “free rider” issue for residents who assume their vote does not matter.

“The public believes this (flood control bond) will pass and want it to pass,” he said. “But the assumption is perfectly reasonable that, ‘I’m not going to vote. Someone else will do it.’”

See here for more on that poll. I tend to agree with Professor Stein on both counts here. I suspect that the bulk of the ballots will be cast early, and I don’t see much in the way of opposition, at least not at a level to push people to the polls.

I suspect Stanart’s initial optimism was based on the number of mail ballots sent out. There were about 68K of them sent out for this election; by comparison, there were about 89K mail ballots sent out for the November 2014 election, of which about 71K were returned. More people vote by mail these days, and an election like this is going to be especially heavy with older voters, but that’s still a significant enough number to suggest a level of turnout that’s a decent fraction of a regular November off-year election. It’s just that the in person EV totals have not been consistent with that.

In any event, here are the EV toitals after one full week. If there’s an uptick coming, it has not yet arrived. After seven days, 16,277 people have voted in person and 34,388 by mail, for 54,665 in total. I do think we will see an upward trend in the last few days, as we usually do, but for now we are just toddling along. And as Campos notes, the original idea was for this to have modest-at-best turnout, so I suppose we are more or less where we should have expected to be. Have you voted yet? I figure I will on Friday.

Chron goes on a road trip with Beto

This covers a lot of ground we’ve been over before, along with some anecdotes of interaction with various voters. It also has a nice, concise summary of the nature of the Beto O’Rourke go-everywhere strategy.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

O’Rourke’s visit came during a sweep of all 254 counties in Texas over the past year. Many of the miles were clocked in a white Dodge Grand Caravan. It was a trip that would have been easy to dismiss as a one-time campaign stunt. But this month, he was back in rural West Texas as he launched a 34-day road trip across the state.

It’s a new playbook, born of Democratic futility in Texas.

The first three days of O’Rourke’s journey took him 765 zig-zagging miles — from a friendly, Latin-flavored send-off in downtown El Paso to sparsely-attended stops in gun-friendly Republican strongholds like Muleshoe, in Bailey County, where he would get quizzed by skeptical locals about the Second Amendment.

The time and effort the El Paso congressman is investing in small-town Texas has become a hallmark of his small-dollar, no-PAC campaign to unseat incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, a former presidential candidate and conservative icon who won the state by 16 points in 2012.

It also represents a quantum shift in Democratic strategy in the Lone Star State, which has always relied on running up the numbers in the large urban enclaves of Austin, Houston and San Antonio. The desolate cow towns that dot the state’s vast expanses make wonderful backdrops for homey political campaigns, but the resources O’Rourke is throwing at his statewide strategy suggest that it’s about more than creating a Norman Rockwell tableau.

Democrats acknowledge that O’Rourke may not win over conservative rural voters in Archer County, near the Oklahoma state line, but he might be able to wrangle a few more votes here and there, enough to make a difference in a race that some polls say has tightened into single digits.

“You can’t get beat 80-20 in Brownwood, Texas, and get elected to the United States Senate,” said former Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, the last Democrat to win statewide office — in 1994. “You have to show people that you are culturally attuned to them, and for Beto that should be easy. There’s nobody more Texan than Beto O’Rourke.”

[…]

All the same, O’Rourke’s long-shot quest to scavenge votes in the state’s most solidly Republican strongholds has its skeptics.

“You don’t have all the time and money in the world,” said Texas GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser, who has done campaign work for former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. “You’re looking at winning a statewide election in Texas, and some 8 million people are going to vote, more or less. How is it an efficient use of your scarce time and money to travel to small towns … to pick up five votes here or 10 votes there? The voters, especially Democratic voters, are still in the cities.”

O’Rourke’s answer is that the old playbook hasn’t been working.

“You’ve got this history where a Democrat hasn’t won statewide in more than 20 years,” said campaign spokesman Chris Evans. “You kind of got this question: What hasn’t been going right?”

Let’s be clear up front that both Mauro and Steinhauser are right, though in an off-year election we’re talking more like five million voters, not eight million. I’ve made all of these points before, and they remain the key aspects to the campaign. What we need to see is what effect the Beto strategy has had, in terms of his performance, and to an extent downballot Democratic performance, in places that have been hostile to Dems. The polls so far suggest some of this must be happening, but we don’t really know how much, and so we can’t begin to evaluate the question of how much value Beto got for the effort. And if we do deem this strategy a success in the end, can it be replicated by other candidates, or is O’Rourke essentially a unicorn? There will be much to analyze and argue about when all is said and done.

Two other points to note. One is that O’Rourke isn’t doing this all by himself – he has a large and growing army of volunteers knocking on doors and making calls for him. That’s a big deal, though how much different this is than what previous well-funded candidates like Wendy Davis and Bill White were able to do, and how easily it can be replicated by candidates to come, are questions I can’t answer at this time. And two, as important as it is for Dems to do better in places other than the big cities and the South Texas/Rio Grande Valley where they normally do well, they need to run up big margins in those places as well if they want to have a chance to win statewide. The good news, as we saw in that recent Trib story, is that O’Rourke is doing well in the urban areas. That’s as much a matter of inspiration and enthusiasm as anything else, and as such it’s not something that is endemic to this campaign. Beto has spent plenty of time in the big cities as well – there was a big rally with him in Houston just this past weekend – so again the question is what is the best allocation of resources between the base areas and the areas where improvement is needed. We’ll be finding out about that in November as well.

SD19 runoff date set

Mark your calendars.

Pete Gallego

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has picked Sept. 18 as the date of the special election runoff to replace convicted former state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.

Early voting will run Sept. 10-14.

The runoff pits Republican Pete Flores against Democrat Pete Gallego. They were the top two finishers in the first round of the special election, which was held July 31 and included six other candidates.

The runoff date was first revealed Monday by lawyers appearing in Travis County court for a case challenging the eligibility of Gallego, the former congressman and longtime state lawmaker from West Texas. Abbott issued a proclamation officially setting the date of the runoff shortly after the hearing was over.

The hearing was in response to a Republican Party motion for a Temporary Restraining Order against the Texas Secretary of State from certifying candidates for the runoff, part of their effort to sue Gallego off the ballot for violating our non-existent residency laws. The motion was denied, so go figure. Anyway, the battle is now joined. Go throw Pete Gallego a few bucks if you want to keep Dan Patrick from increasing his grip on the Senate.

Ted and Trump

Two lousy tastes that taste worse together.

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has asked President Donald Trump to come to Texas to campaign for him.

During a campaign stop in Seguin [last] Monday, Cruz said he has reached out to his former rival for the White House to help him with his re-election effort against Democrat Beto O’Rourke.

“I would certainly welcome his support, and I hope to see him in Texas,” Cruz said, standing outside the Dixie Grill in Seguin. “I think we are likely to see the president down in Texas before the election.”

Cruz said while his relationship with Trump has had its “ups and downs” due to their 2016 GOP primary battle, he has tried to become an ally to the president. He said he has been in constant contact with the White House and Trump directly to offer his help in getting legislation through the Senate.

“Ups and downs” would be one way to describe it. Cruz is at least smart enough to realize that complacency is his enemy and he really is in trouble if The Base isn’t fired up, so if he needs to swallow a little humiliation to avoid that, he will. Of course, bringing in Trump will also serve to fire up the Dems, so Cruz or any other Republican in his position needs to feel secure that this is a net win for their side, which it may or may not be. I don’t buy the argument that this race is a toss-up – I’m going to need to see at least one poll that has O’Rourke in the lead for that – but Cruz clearly has a small margin for error. That may push him to take some higher-risk actions, of the kind that Greg Abbott would feel no need to do. This is one such action, whether he calculates it that way or not.

Flood bond referendum: Interview with Lina Hidalgo

Lina Hidalgo

I do have one more interview to bring you for the flood bond referendum, for which we are already in the early voting period, and that interview is with Lina Hidalgo, the Democratic candidate for Harris County Judge. Had this referendum been on the November ballot, I’d have asked her questions about it as part of a regular interview, but as we have two elections and it didn’t make sense to have this discussion after the referendum was decided, we will have two interviews. My previous interviews, published last week, were with County Judge Ed Emmett, and with Jen Powis on behalf of CEER Houston. I will present the usual biographical information about Hidalgo for the subsequent interview that will be about her candidacy, as this is about the referendum. My goal with these interviews was to do what I could from my little corner of the Internet to make people aware of this election and of the issue at hand. I hope it has been helpful for you. Here’s what we talked about:

I’ll be back with the usual candidate interviews in a couple of weeks.

The end of the voter ID fight

I guess that’s it.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

After seven long years of litigation, opponents of Texas’ voter ID law say the case is over.

In a court filing on Wednesday, opponents of the law requiring Texas voters to present photo identification to vote told a federal district judge that the case was settled and that they would not pursue any other remedies or changes to the law they first challenged in 2011 as discriminatory against voters of color.

Because neither party in the case asked for rehearing or attempted to kick it up to U.S. Supreme Court, “the substantive merits and remedy phases of this long-standing case are over,” they wrote.

The filing follows the state’s June request to U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi to reconsider previous findings that the state’s voter ID law was enacted to purposefully discriminate against Hispanic and black voters. That request came two days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas lawmakers did not intentionally discriminate when they signed off on congressional and state House maps in 2013 — a decision that Texas argued “cast irremovable doubt” on previous decisions against the voter ID law.

[…]

In Wednesday’s filing, opponents of the law asked the court to dismiss the state’s request because there was nothing left to pursue in the case given the 5th Circuit’s ruling that the changes made to law in SB 5 were “an effective remedy” to the original 2011 law that was deemed legally defective.

They also described Texas’s arguments that “new Supreme Court precedent has somehow changed the standard for discriminatory intent that this Court applied in prior holdings” as “frivolous.” The only remaining issues in the case are fees and costs related to the litigation, according to the plaintiffs.

See here and here for the background. We may still be sparring over legal fees when the 2021 Lege convenes with the task of drawing the next decade’s districts, but that’s not going to affect what anyone has to do to vote. As we’ve seen quite a bit lately, this is going to require a political solution. At the federal level, with a new Congress and a new President, a new Voting Rights Act can be passed. At the state level, the voter ID law can be repealed, though at what point the conditions would apply that would allow for that is unclear, to say the least. But this is where we are and where we’ll need to go.

The long range plan for municipal waste

Something you probably missed (I know I did) from recent City Council action.

Last week Houston City Council voted to hire a company that will help local officials create and adopt a long-range waste and recycling plan. This wasn’t all over the news, but it is indeed a big deal—and a significant victory for Texas Campaign for the Environment that was years in the making. It could put Houston on a path to become the largest city in Texas working toward a Zero Waste future!

Most of the rest of the article recounts the fight over One Bin For All, followed by the fight over Mayor Turner’s original proposed recycling deal, which was eventually sent out for a rebid. True to what author Roseanne Barone writes, I couldn’t find any news about this, but you can see the Council agenda item in question here. I don’t know how long this will take to turn into a report for review, but given the way these things go it will either be breathtakingly ambitious but likely infeasible, or overly cautious and thus criticized by disappointed supporters. We’ll keep an eye out for it.

Weekend link dump for August 12

The Ultimate Playlist Of Banned Wedding Songs“, some of which are more deserving than others.

Are you ready for the ALF reboot you didn’t know you needed?

“Behold, the rise of the feel-good feel-bad story.”

This was the year that targeted phishing went mainstream.

RIP, Robert Martin, Tuskegee Airman.

Three words: Mayonnaise ice cream. Oh, hell no.

Meet the scutoid, and new shape discovered in nature.

What took them so long? Seriously.

RIP, Charlotte Rae, best known as Mrs. Garrett from The Facts of Life.

“It’s a five-year-old making mud pies and being praised for it by Fox News and a bunch of Twitter trolls. This makes it news, and thus some explanation must be ginned up.”

“One possible lesson of the many brazen, conspicuous scandals related to President Trump and others in his orbit: The U.S. government has been massively underinvesting in enforcement and prosecution of white-collar crime.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a mensch.

Did you think that the Trump administration hates children? You don’t think it enough.

HGTV won the auction for the Brady Bunch house, outbidding Lance Bass.

“[I]f Russiagate is less an act of Cold War revival theater than a symptom of interlocking oligarchies across post-Soviet kleptocracies and the supposedly liberal West, Manafort’s career is a great way to get the background on how that all went down. Because for decades, he’s seen despots’ need for friends in the United States as his personal ticket to a lifestyle that includes, just for example, nearly a million dollars spent on carpets. Let’s take a walk through his thoroughly scummy career!”

“Luke Heimlich’s shot at professional baseball was short-lived as the Chinese Professional Baseball League terminated his contract with the Lamingo Monkeys less than a week after the former Oregon State star signed on.”

“People Trump accused of secretly taping him: Barack Obama, James Comey. People who actually secretly taped Trump:
Michael Cohen, Omarosa Manigault.”

George Tyndall and USC are the next Larry Nasser and Michigan State.

RIP, A.R. “Babe” Schwartz, Texas State Senator and champion of open beaches.

RIP, Douglas Grindstaff, Emmy Award-winning sound editor who created the iconic effects on the original Star Trek.

The meta-campaign for Senate

Let’s talk about what we talk about when we talk about the Senate campaign.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

It’s the most backhanded of compliments.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for U.S. Senate has caught so much fire throughout the state that the new favorite betting game in Texas politics is “How close can he get to Ted Cruz in November?”

The implication in the question’s phrasing is that O’Rourke’s loss remains a given.

Despite the high enthusiasm the El Paso congressman’s campaign has drawn among Democrats, Texas has not elected a Democrat statewide in over 20 years. An informal round of interviews with well over a dozen political players involved in Texas and national politics suggests that Cruz is expected to extend that streak with a re-election victory in the high single digits.

While such a margin would amount to significant progress for Democrats from past statewide performances, a loss is a loss, and Cruz’s win would likely ensure GOP control of the U.S. Senate for another two years.

Even so, O’Rourke’s 18-month statewide tour could still help significantly rebuild a flagging state party apparatus. The term being thrown around quietly among Democrats is “losing forward.”

In that sense, the stakes are much higher for both parties than a single race.

How this very strange match up of Cruz, a former GOP presidential runner-up, against O’Rourke, a rank-and-file congressman turned political sensation, shakes out could set the trajectory of the next decade in Texas politics.

[…]

More than one operative from both parties brushed off the O’Rourke excitement with a pervasive phrase — “This is still Texas” — a nod to the state’s recent history as the most populous conservative powerhouse in the union.

The enthusiasm for O’Rourke — his bonanza event attendance and record-breaking fundraising, in particular — is something the state has not seen in modern memory. But there remain open questions over whether the three-term congressman can take a punch when the widely expected fall advertising blitz against him begins, whether he can activate the Hispanic vote and whether he can effectively build his name identification in a such a sprawling and populated state.

“We’ve never been in a situation where November matters at a statewide level,” said Jason Stanford, a former Democratic consultant, about the uncertainty of the fall.

So what would a moral victory be, if O’Rourke is unable to close the deal outright? Operatives from both parties suggest a 5- to 6-point spread — or smaller — could send a shockwave through Texas politics.

Such a margin could compel national Democrats to start making serious investments in the state and force local Republicans to re-examine how their own party practices politics going forward.

But that kind of O’Rourke performance could also bear more immediate consequences, potentially scrambling the outcomes of races for other offices this fall.

Only a handful of statewide surveys on the race are floating around the Texas political ether. But one increasing point of alarm for Republicans is what campaign strategists are seeing when they test down-ballot races.

Often campaigns for the U.S. House or the Texas Legislature will include statewide matchups in polling they conduct within a district. Sources from both parties say some of those polls show Cruz underperforming in some state legislative and congressional races — particularly in urban areas.

In effect, O’Rourke could come up short but turn out enough voters in the right communities to push Democrats over the line in races for the Legislature and U.S. House.

I know I discussed this before back in 2014 when we were all high on Battleground Texas, but let’s do this again. What are the consolation prize goals for Texas Democrats in 2018?

– To discuss the consolation prizes, we have to first agree on what the main goals are. Clearly, electing Beto O’Rourke is one of the brass rings, but what about the other statewide campaigns? My guess is that based primarily on visibility and the implications for control of the Senate, the O’Rourke-Cruz race is in a class by itself, so everything after that falls in the “consolation prize” bucket. Thus, I’d posit that winning one or more downballot statewide race would be in the first level of lower-tier goals, with Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Ag Commissioner, and any Supreme Court/CCA bench being the ones that are most in focus.

– Very close behind would be the Congressional races, for which three (CDs 07, 23, and 32) are rated as tossups, a couple more (CDs 21 and 31) are on the radar, and more than we can count are on the fringes. You have to feel like CD23 is winnable in any decent year, so for this to count as a prize we’d need at least one more seat in addition to flip. Very good would be all three tossups, and great would be another seat in addition.

– In the Lege, picking up even one Senate seat would be nice, but picking up two or three means Dems have enough members to block things via the three-fifths (formerly two-thirds) rule. I don’t know how many House seats I’d consider prize-level-worthy, but knocking off a couple of the worst offenders that are in winnable seats, like Matt Rinaldi in HD115, Gary Elkins in HD135, and Tony Dale in HD136, would be sweet.

– Sweeping Harris County, breaking through in Fort Bend County, picking up any kind of victory in places like Collin, Denton, Williamson, Brazoria, you get the idea. And don’t forget the appellate courts, which will require doing well in non-urban counties.

It’s easy enough to say what counts as lower-level goals, it’s harder to put numbers on it. It’s not my place to say what we “should” win in order to feel good about it. Frankly, given recent off-year elections, it’s a bit presumptuous to say that any number of victories in places we haven’t won this decade might be somehow inadequate. I think everyone will have their own perception of how it went once the election is over, and unless there’s a clear rout one way or the other there will be some level of disagreement over how successful Democrats were.

We really need to replace our crappy old voting machines

This is embarrassing.

Local election administrators in Texas are eager to replace voting machines purchased more than a decade ago in time for the 2020 presidential election. Increasingly susceptible to malfunctions, upkeep for the aging machines can exceed $300,000 annually in the biggest counties. Election experts have also raised security concerns about the paperless electronic devices used in most of the state.

The little help Congress has offered comes in the form of recent funding that will be used for cyber updates and training, not voting machines. And state leaders have shown no interest in chipping in, even as scrutiny over the security of the country’s election systems ratchets up in the face of Russian attacks.

In 2017, budget writers in the Texas Legislature seemed lukewarm to the idea of replacing aging equipment. Legislation that would have created a state fund for new voting equipment died without getting a committee vote in the House. The bill received a late-session hearing during which one lawmaker on the panel, Representative Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, asked county officials to shorten their testimony because a college basketball championship game had just tipped off.

“I hope we don’t have to wait until a crisis, but we are walking on thin ice when it comes to the integrity of our voting machines,” said state Representative Celia Israel, an Austin Democrat and the sponsor of the 2017 legislation.

More than 200 of Texas’ 254 counties still need to replace their voting machines and it appears unlikely that all will be able to do so in time for the next presidential election. The full price tag, according to election officials, is around $350 million — and local officials are having to find inventive ways to cover the costs. Travis County, for example, is expected to announce the winner of a new voting machine contract this week and plans to sell local bonds to come up with the anticipated $15 million.

The situation has grown dire. Some counties are using equipment that’s no longer manufactured. Machine failures are growing more common and it’s becoming harder to find replacement parts. County workers often have to scour eBay and Amazon to locate bygone tech relics such as as Zip disks and flash drives compatible with older machines.

Yeah, ZIP drives. Remember them, from the 90s? If you are relying on this kind of technology today, You Are Doing It Wrong. There’s no excuse for this – even if one thinks the counties should pay for the upgrades themselves, the cost cited in that penultimate paragraph is something like 0.3% of the state’s annual expenditures. It would be super easy to solve this if we gave a shit, but clearly our Republican leaders do not. But hey, I’m sure nothing bad will ever happen.

CD06 poll: Wright 48, Sanchez 39

Via Patrick Svitek on Twitter, I learned of a recent PPP poll in CD06. Here’s the polling memo, and here’s the information you’re most interested in:

Q1 Do you approve or disapprove of President Donald Trump’s job performance?


48% Approve
46% Disapprove
 5% Not sure

Q2 If the election for U.S. House of Representatives were held today, would you vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate in your District?


45% Democratic candidate
49% Republican candidate
 6% Not sure

Q3 If the candidates for U.S. House of Representatives this fall were Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez and Republican Ron Wright, who would you vote for?


39% Jana Lynne Sanchez
48% Ron Wright
13% Not sure

Not exactly sure why there’s a dropoff from the generic Democrat to Jana Sanchez, but that’s not a terribly unusual event in polls. Smokey Joe Barton won in 2016 by 19 points, and he won in 2014 by 25 points, so whichever result is closer to the truth represents a much tighter race than we’ve seen recently. As noted in other contexts, this is consistent with statewide polling showing narrower than usual margins. I hope we see more Congessional-level polls in the state going forward.

State GOP sues to toss Gallego off SD19 runoff ballot

Oh, good grief.

Pete Gallego

The Republican Party of Texas filed a lawsuit Friday aiming to kick Democrat Pete Gallego off the ballot in the special election runoff to replace convicted former state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.

Gallego is heading to a runoff election against Republican Pete Flores. However, the state party claims in the lawsuit that Gallego lives in Austin, not in Senate District 19, which includes parts of San Antonio and West Texas.

“Pete Gallego has established a longtime pattern of misleading the voters of Texas regarding his place of residency. It’s common knowledge Gallego does not live in Senate District 19,” Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey said in a statement. “He has for years lived with his family in Austin, where his wife has a homestead exemption; this well-known and well-documented.”

[…]

Under state law, a candidate has to reside in the district he or she hopes to represent for a year before election day. Residency claims are notoriously hard to prove, however, because that doesn’t always mean that a candidate actually lives in the district.

Yeah, good luck with that. Let me add two words here: Brian Birdwell. I honestly can’t remember the last time one of these lawsuits succeeded, for the reason cited above. This is one part Hail Mary pass and one part (successful) gambit to get a bit of publicity for a campaign issue. I wouldn’t give it any more thought than that.

Rape kit lawsuit dismissal will be appealed

To be expected.

Two women who on Friday lost a lawsuit against the City of Houston and a variety of officials over a rape kit backlog will file an appeal, an attorney for the women announced in a news release on Tuesday.

[…]

[Attorney Randall] Kallinen has argued in court that the backlog was “a violation of the due process, equal protection and unreasonable search and seizure clauses of the Texas and United States Constitutions.”

In a news release last Friday, the City of Houston pushed back against those claims, saying that “the plaintiffs did not allege any violations of rights guaranteed by the Constitution, nor did they raise any other legal grounds to hold Houston and its current and former officials responsible.”

The city also argued that there was no longer a rape kit backlog, rendering the women’s legal claims “six years too late.” Two private laboratories eliminated that backlog in 2013 and 2014, the Chronicle previously reported.

In an interview, Kallinen pushed back against this argument, arguing that the women were not aware their rape kits had any problems until police contacted them and that “the statute of limitations should be delayed” as a result, citing what he called “the discovery rule.”

See here for the background. I have no expertise on the legal questions being raised here. My primary interest is in ensuring that we never have another rape kit backlog like this again. It’s shameful enough that it has happened before (twice, in fact). There’s no excuse for it ever happening again.

Deterring dumping

Tough problem, good use of technology.

[Radny] Scales, a Harris County Environmental Crimes Unit lieutenant, and his team of nine investigators depend heavily on video cameras to crack down on illegal dumping, a crime that disproportionally affects the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

The City Council voted last month to add 22 cameras to create a portfolio of nearly 150 total. Precinct 1’s nearly $600,000 program also includes a fleet of drones, as well as several full-time employees.

It’s paying dividends: A two-year program started in 2016 to catch those who illegally dump their trash in remote locations across Houston yielded 694 investigations and 396 charges.

“It’s been working for the city as a whole — better than what we thought,” said Jerry Davis, the councilman for District B, who initiated the program to catch illegal dumping.

The majority are people charged in the crime are private citizens: The average offender is a 50-year-old who dumps 75 pounds of waste, according to statistics the county provided. Contractors looking to dodge the expense of paying to throw away their garbage at a designated facility account for just 20 percent of offenders.

[…]

Beyond just being eyesores, illegal dumping sites present serious consequences, including being safety hazards and serving as a breeding ground for potentially disease-ridden mosquitoes, snakes and other wildlife. Dumping sites can also contribute to flooding and could potentially have a serious impact in future weather disasters.

“When you have drains that have been stopped up because people put furniture and tires and plastic, it’s going to cause flooding,” [Precinct 1 Constable Allen] Rosen said.

Illegal dumping is a big problem in some parts of the city, and has been for a long time. Video cameras are basically the only realistic hope for catching the perpetrators in the act, but it takes a lot of them because stuff gets dumped all over the place. It’s good some real resources being put into this, because it’s a real quality of life issue for a lot of people. I hope this is big enough and sustained enough to put a serious dent in the problem.

The range of Republican anxiety

Some folks are a little scared about all this “blue wave” talk and poll numbers and what have you.

Not Ted Cruz

As Ted Cruz took questions at a Republican women’s event [in Smithville] Saturday evening, Bastrop retiree Ronnie Ann Burt wanted to know: Should she really trust the growing barrage of chatter online that the senator’s re-election bid is in peril?

Cruz’s response: Believe it.

“It’s clear we have a real and contested race where the margin is much too close for comfort,” said Cruz, who’s facing a vigorous, massively funded challenge from U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso.

Cruz’s stop in this small Central Texas town was part of a return to the campaign trail Saturday in which the incumbent cranked up his long-building warnings that Democratic enthusiasm in the era of President Donald Trump should not be discounted, even in a state as red as Texas.

The timing couldn’t have been more fitting: A trio of polls came out this week showing Cruz’s race tightening and a national political forecaster shifted the contest in O’Rourke’s favor. Meanwhile, Cruz launched his first TV ads Friday, including three targeting O’Rourke, and the challenger moved quickly to turn them into a fundraising boon for him.

Appearing Saturday afternoon at the conservative Resurgent Gathering in Austin, Cruz delivered a nearly 10-minute assessment of the uncertain political landscape he faces in November.

“The biggest challenge I have in this race … is complacency,” Cruz said. “People say all the time, ‘Oh, come on, it’s a Texas re-elect. How could you possibly lose?’ Well, in an ordinary cycle, that might be true. But this is not an ordinary cycle. The far left is filled with anger and rage and we underestimate that anger at our peril.”

Cruz added that there is reason to be skeptical of the polls — his campaign has criticized their methodologies — but the trendline “ought to be a cause for concern for everyone.”

[…]

Cruz’s remarks at events Saturday came a day after Gov. Greg Abbott offered a more reassuring forecast for November while addressing the Resurgent conference. He dismissed the idea of a “blue wave” in November as media hype that “sells papers” and reminded the audience that he ended up defeating his much-ballyhooed Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, by over 20 points in 2014.

“Texas is going to stay red,” said Abbott, whose Democratic opponent, Lupe Valdez, has not caught traction in the way O’Rourke has against Cruz.

Cruz did not sound as sure as Abbott on Saturday — and his supporters appeared to get the message.

Cruz and Abbott are two sides of the same coin here. Cruz is quite right that complacency is a big potential problem for him, for the simple reason that if Republican turnout is less energetic than it has been in recent elections, Democrats have a smaller hill to climb to catch them. I’ve talked multiple times about how I’m hoping for Republicans to have a 2006-style year for turnout, as that would mean some 200K to 300K fewer votes than they got in 2014. This is Cruz’s main concern as well, and his message is simply “Don’t take this for granted”.

Abbott, on the other hand, is not wrong to observe that even with the recent polls, Cruz is still in the lead, and that other Republicans (most notably himself, not that he’s bragging or anything) are doing better than Cruz, that one UT/Trib poll result for Ken Paxton aside. Until such time as we start seeing poll results with one or more Dems in the lead, one can quite confidently say that the Republicans are ahead and thus favored to win. While that may run a bit counter to Cruz’s “we have to have a sense of urgency” message, Abbott is aiming at the media (to get them to run something other than a positive story about Beto O’Rourke and Democratic enthusiasm) and also at Dems, to say basically “don’t bother getting your hopes up, you still can’t win”. I don’t think he’s going to demoralize anyone, but it can’t hurt to try.

Finally, a word on the polls. Republican pollster Chris Wilson complained bitterly about that Lyceum poll, saying they had the samples all wrong. I don’t know if he has the same complaint about Quinnipiac and PPP and everyone else who has put out a result on this race, but I do know that he himself hasn’t published a result lately. Maybe he’s just lying low to let us all fall into a false sense of security, I don’t know. The average of all these poll suggests a six-point race, more or less, so go argue against that if you want to. It is certainly possible that pollsters are misreading the electorate this year, and thus skewing the numbers because they’re not polling the right mix of people. It’s also possible that Chris Wilson is one of those misguided pollsters.