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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.

This special session is going to be so much fun

So much repressed hostility

Starring Dan Patrick as Thelma, Greg Abbott as Eunice, and Joe Straus as Vint

Five days before the Texas Legislature is scheduled to open a special session, it is clear the relationship between the leaders of the House and Senate remains as strained as it was at the end of the regular session.

On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick used a press conference to blast fellow Republican and House Speaker Joe Straus, comparing his education funding proposals to a “Ponzi scheme,” accusing him of laying the groundwork for a state income tax, and complaining that Straus won’t even meet with him one-on-one to bridge their differences.

Those comments come almost exactly one month after Straus used a speech in San Antonio to demand the state’s school finance system be added to the special session call and took issue with the Senate’s focus on transgender bathroom issues. And earlier this year Straus had compared the Senate’s budget writing to Enron accounting methods.

Patrick said his news conference on Thursday was to roll out new education proposals, including a bonus system for teachers. But much of the focus of the first 10 minutes was on his counterpart in the House and his continued call to have public school finance added to the special session call.

Patrick said Straus’ was using education funding as “dangerous political stunt” and accused him of having no plan to pay for the billions of additional funding Straus has said the state should be committing to schools.

“Where does that money come from? The only way to do it is a state income tax,” Patrick told reporters.

Later Patrick was even more direct.

“I will not join the Speaker and lay the groundwork for a state income tax,” Patrick said.

[…]

“It’s encouraging to see the Lieutenant Governor’s newfound focus on school finance reform,” Straus responded in a prepared statement.

“Nothing could be more important in this special session than beginning to fix our school finance system so that we improve education, keep more local dollars in local schools, and provide real property tax relief, just as the House overwhelmingly approved in the regular session,” Straus said.

so little time.

“My position is very well known. And let me say this very clearly: I know how to govern without being an extremist,” Straus said. “I know how to govern, trying to bring people together to focus on issues that really matter to all Texans, and I think that’s where our focus ought to be in the special session. It’s where our focus should be in any regular session as well.”

The bathroom proposal would keep transgender people from using multi-occupancy restrooms of the gender with which they identify in government buildings, or at least in public schools.

Straus, along with advocates for transgender people and business groups, has voiced concern about the possible economic effect of boycotts because the bill is viewed as discriminatory. He also has expressed a worry that it could hurt transgender people.

“I see no good reason to promote a divisive bathroom bill when it does nothing but harm to the economy, and some very vulnerable people could be harmed,” Straus said.

[…]

Straus, who has been a thorn in the side of Abbott and Patrick on red-meat issues, said he considered it “actually encouraging” that Patrick was talking about school finance. Straus has said that issue is more worthy of attention than most of those on the special-session agenda.

On Friday, when Abbott was showcasing his record as he announced for re-election in San Antonio, Straus made his point about the need to focus on core issues by citing CNBC’s annual ranking of America’s Top States for Business. In it, Texas fell from No. 1 to No. 4. The No. 1 state was Washington. Its governor and both senators are Democrats.

“While No. 4 is not a terrible place to be, I don’t like the direction. And I think that our Texas political leadership ought to be focused on making Texas No. 1 and reverse that slide,” Straus said.

They’re putting the “special” in “special session”, that’s for sure. The Observer has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Let a thousand hypothetical alternative Texas Congressional maps bloom

Stephen Wolf of Daily Kos Elections takes a crack at drawing a remedial Congressional map for Texas.

Just how effective is GOP gerrymandering in Texas, and what might a redrawn map look like in 2018 as a consequence of a favorable court ruling? To answer these questions, we’ll analyze a hypothetical fully nonpartisan congressional map below as part of our ongoing series on how Republican congressional gerrymandering affected the 2016 elections. We drew this map by balancing traditional nonpartisan redistricting criteria such as preserving communities of interest, minimizing city and county divisions, respect for the Voting Rights Act, and geographic compactness, while ignoring factors like where incumbents live.

To ensure that our hypothetical nonpartisan congressional map complies with the Voting Rights Act and past Supreme Court precedents, we have estimated the Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) according to the 2008-2012 American Community Survey in addition to the official 2010 census population figures. Since Texas has a large and disproportionately Latino non-citizen population, all demographic figures given below refer to CVAP unless noted. We have additionally calculated results by district for every statewide partisan race from 2016 back to 1996 using the Texas Legislative Council’s redistricting data sets, and you can find all of those demographic and election statistics here.

Before we delve into the map, we’ll start with a quick note about what the Voting Rights Act requires. The VRA protects racial or ethnic minority groups in certain districts where there is 1) racially polarized voting, 2) a compact minority population, and 3) a majority population that would otherwise vote as a bloc to defeat candidates chosen by minorities. The VRA does not require that these districts elect a representative who belongs to the protected racial or ethnic group, just that the group can elect its chosen candidates, who may happen to be white.

As the Supreme Court has emphasized in recent racial gerrymandering rulings, a single racial minority group does not actually need to comprise an absolute majority of a protected district’s population so long as the group can reliably elect its candidate choice in that district. Consequently, black VRA districts often do not need to be majority black, while Latino VRA seats sometimes need to be considerably more than 50 percent Latino due to low turnout rates.

With those VRA requirements in mind, here is our proposed nonpartisan Texas congressional map.

[…]

As shown below, our fully nonpartisan congressional map likely would have given Texas Democrats four or five extra House seats in 2016. Those districts include the 2nd in west Houston, the 6th in Ft. Worth, the 10th in central Austin, and the 23rd in San Antonio and El Paso, while the 25th in suburban Austin could’ve gone either way. Additionally, the GOP-held 32nd District in northern Dallas becomes slightly bluer, meaning this map’s impact could grow in future elections.

As we explained above, even if the court strikes down the GOP’s gerrymander and orders the state to draw new districts, it’s likely that Republicans will be able to draw a new gerrymander under additional constraints. Such a scenario would likely see Democrats and Latinos gain at least two seats between South Texas and Austin.

However, it’s an open question whether the court would require a new seat in Dallas-Ft. Worth that would likely elect a third extra Latino Democrat at the expense of a white Republican. The GOP would likely still get to gerrymander in Austin, Houston, and northern Dallas, but two-to-three extra safe seats would be a big deal for Democratic hopes of a House majority in 2018.

Conversely, if Texas Republicans for some reason do not get the opportunity to draw a new map and the court does it for them, the GOP really could be facing the “Armageddon” scenario that it fears. Regardless, we have demonstrated how Republican gerrymandering produces a monumental difference in the Lone Star State’s congressional delegation, and it likely cost Democrats more seats in 2016 than in any other state.

Go read the full writeup, which is very detailed. A 21R/15D split, which this map would produce if the swing CD25 stayed Republican, would be pretty representative of statewide voting patterns, basically giving Republicans 58.3% of the Congressional seats. That’s in line with my own calculations, though of course that will be a moving target over time and across Presidential/non-Presidential years. One local effect of this map would be that the gaggle of contenders in CD07 would need to refile in CD02, if they wanted a winnable race. If nothing else, this particular map is a model of compactness – there are no districts that look like they fell out of a Salvador Dali painting. The trial is now over, so this is more of an academic exercise than anything else; I don’t know if it would have been possible to file something like this as an amicus brief for the trial, but it might have been interesting to have done so. Anyway, take a look and see what you think.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Who still misses the National League?

The Chron’s Brian Smith makes the case for acceptance of the Astros’ league change.

Those were the days

Admit it: You don’t think about the old National League that much anymore.

I devote a lot of my daily brain space to the Astros, and I rarely do.

Saying “Jose Altuve, American League starting second baseman and leadoff hitter” sounds just fine. Seeing George Springer and Carlos Correa in the AL’s lineup against stars from Washington, San Francisco and Cincinnati felt perfectly normal Tuesday.

“Baloney. Houston has always been a National League town. This was all about money and never about the fans,” wrote Glenn, in the same year the rebuilding Lastros lost a franchise-record 111 games. “I cannot in good conscience root for a team that fields a (choke) designated hitter (i.e. washed-up fat guy) and plays the Noo York Yankees on a regular basis. How far a drive is it to Cincinnati?”

About 1,050 long and boring miles, Glenn. And I guarantee you never would think about making that slog now, especially when you can watch the best team in the American League at home and are just three months away from being able to buy a playoff ticket at Minute Maid Park.

Look, the hate was real. I got it then, and I get it now. One of the greatest things about baseball is its history, and any time that’s threatened – steroids, cheating, realignment – all of us believers get very, very serious.

“It became evident the move to the AL was an issue,” owner Jim Crane said in November 2011, after MLB approved the Astros’ sale and dictated the move to the AL, giving each league 15 teams and all divisions five clubs apiece.

Isn’t time funny? And isn’t it crazy what winning – and players and a team you believe in – can do?

The late-night West Coast games are still a chore. Outside of the Texas Rangers – who are 16½ games back, if you haven’t heard – I’m still not sold on any of the Astros’ other AL West opponents.

But Selig’s move is actually helping the AL’s best team in 2017. Four of baseball’s five best clubs are in the NL, and the Astros actually would be second overall in their old league, trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers by half a game.

Selig also helped push the Astros into the postseason in 2015. The two NL wild cards had at least 97 wins. The 86-win Astros needed until Game 162 to clinch the sport’s last playoff spot and wouldn’t have sniffed a Division Series if they still played in the NL Central.

Smith got some passionate feedback on this, as you might imagine. I’m a Yankees fan from Staten Island, so I have no emotional investment in this, though I can certainly understand why longtime fans would not be over it yet. On the plus side, consider that if the Astros make it to the World Series this year, they could be the first team ever to win a pennant in both leagues. For that matter, if they wind up playing the Milwaukee Brewers, then both teams in the World Series would have that distinction – the Brewers won a pennant in 1982 when they were still in the American League. Given that they’re the only two teams to switch leagues, there’s not much competition for that distinction, but it would be pretty cool nonetheless. Whether it makes anyone feel better, or at least less upset, about the league switch, I couldn’t say.

Posted in: Baseball.

Weekend link dump for July 16

What part of DO NOT TOUCH was unclear to you?

Somehow, this is not satire. I got nothing.

“This, of course, presents a problem for marketers: How do you sell food to a group of people that American culture has harassed into a near-universally fraught relationship with your products? It turns out the answer is easy: Just give them something to do with food that isn’t eating it.”

“This is why Senate Republicans are having so much trouble with the health care bill. The Republican health care effort is the most unpopular legislation in three decades — less popular than the Affordable Care Act when it was passed, the widely hated Troubled Asset Relief Program bank bailout bill in 2008, and even President Bill Clinton’s failed health reform effort in the 1990s.”

“The GOP’s health care effort began with the premise that Obamacare is bad and must be repealed and replaced. But repeal and replace is a means to an end, not an end itself. The end, in theory, is the post-replacement health care system — a system that aligns with the GOP’s vision of how health care should work. But that vision is absent. When we asked eight Republican senators to tell us what the health bill was meant to achieve, we got eight different answers, and most of them were incoherent.”

“But in Fayette County and 779 other mostly rural counties across the country — the vast majority of which went for Trump — more than half the children rely for coverage on Medicaid and the related Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, according to a Times analysis of county voting data, census data and Medicaid enrollment data.”

“The head of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit in charge of deportations has directed his officers to take action against all undocumented immigrants they may cross paths with, regardless of criminal histories. The guidance appears to go beyond the Trump administration’s publicly stated aims, and some advocates say may explain a marked increase in immigration arrests.”

That was no ordinary Russian lawyer that Fredo Trump met up with.

Yes, you can safely ignore those Jayden K. Smith Facebook messages.

RIP, Deborah Grayson Carpenter, champion for models with disabilities.

“So I would recommend that Twitter immediately suspend Trump’s account. They should do so not only because it’s in the public interest, but because he has violated many of their own rules.”

“These geniuses may not have constructed an intricate conspiracy, but it’s as if they desperately want everyone to believe they did.”

“This, then, is Junior’s official explanation: I thought we were colluding to ratfck the Democratic candidate, and the presidential election in general, but then she started talking about getting the mobsters’ money back. Bitch set me up.

“The best defense of Trump’s associates, at this point, is they were too dumb to know what they were doing — a defense that doesn’t work when it includes experienced international operators like campaign manager Paul Manafort and ex-Defense Intelligence Agency Director Michael Flynn. Donald Trump Jr.’s own defense of himself is that he attempted to collude with Russian agents but they didn’t have any useful information and so he didn’t.”

“This is what ought to register: The scheme appears to have been put into play by a Putin regime official and a Putin-friendly oligarch who was Trump’s business partner in Russia—and Trump’s son, son-in-law, and campaign manager all joined in. (A pop singer, a Russian lawyer, and a talent manager all had supporting roles.) Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort were looking to collude with a foreign power to gain an advantage in the election—an allegation the Trump team has repeatedly and passionately denied.”

“Trump is saying that he took the meeting because he had, in fact, been promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton from a Russian source, but that it was no big deal because the lawyer didn’t deliver. Interesting way of thinking about it, Don. Let’s ask anyone who appeared on To Catch a Predator how that argument holds up in court. Oh, sorry. They’re not answering the phone. Because they’re probably in jail now.”

“Future historians and present day pundits will have a lot to say about all of this. Many of those things will have great bearing on the future of our nation and on Trump Jr.’s continued freedom. But, I’m afraid that in all that important discussion we’ll lose track of one of the most salient points: This is so embarrassing. Fortunately, I have plenty of time for the curation of schadenfreude. Here’s six petty points about the most embarrassing parts of this whole imbroglio.”

Some casting trivia for Game of Thrones, if you’re into that sort of thing.

RIP, Chuck Blazer, controversial former FIFA executive.

“No matter how Trump Jr. thinks political researchers spend their days, opposition research is not a dark art. (I’m not sure I’d even consider it any kind of art.) When done well, it’s a thoughtful, directed process of compiling known facts and figures about relevant life and career elements of an opponent to bolster an argument. But even when done badly, opposition research still has nothing to do with what Trump Jr. did. There are lines that trained and talented political operatives wouldn’t cross. The emails Trump Jr. released Tuesday show he has no idea where they are.”

“How strong is Aaron Judge? Strong enough to make actual rocket scientists look stupid.”

“These are the facts: Jared Kushner held suspicious meetings with Russians officials and operatives that he failed to disclose when he applied for a security clearance. If he weren’t the president’s son in law, he’d have been frogmarched out of the White House long ago. Why does he still have access to America’s biggest secrets?”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Redistricting trial wraps up

Now we wait.

The state of Texas faced a healthy dose of judicial skepticism on Saturday as its lawyers laid out final arguments in a trial over whether lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minority voters in enacting current Texas House and Congressional district maps.

A three-judge panel peppered lawyers from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office with questions that suggested they were having trouble swallowing the state’s defense of its maps, premised on the argument that lawmakers were merely following court orders in creating them.

The state Legislature adopted the maps in 2013 in an effort to half further legal challenges that began in 2011.

In the final hours of six days of hearings, U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez said he saw “nothing in the record,” to suggest the 2013 Legislature, before approving the boundaries, considered fixing voting rights violations flagged by another federal court identified ahead of time.

He and another district judge, Orlando Garcia, also criticized the state’s unwillingness to offer documents and testimony that might shine a light on lawmakers’ intentions. State lawyers kept such evidence out of court throughout the trial by claiming “legislative privilege,” which allows lawmakers to keep secret their communications on policy along with their “thoughts and mental impressions.”

The plaintiffs “get no documents, because you invoke legislative privilege. They get no testimony because of legislative privilege,” said Rodriguez, a George W. Bush-appointee. “How else are they going to get it?”

[…]

It’s not clear when the judges might rule, but they said they wanted to avoid affecting the 2018 elections which could be pushed back if new maps are not approved in time.

There’s a lot more, so go read the rest. Michael Li notes that however quickly (or not) the judges may rule, there will still be appeals. Lord only knows when we may have a final map – the possibility that primaries will be delayed, as was the case in 2012, cannot be overlooked. Li also rebuts the argument that it’s just not possible to draw additional minority districts.

Consider, for example, the configuration of Dallas-Fort Worth area congressional districts in Plan C286, the demonstration map drawn by Harvard professor Stephen Ansolabehere and offered at trial by the Rodriguez plaintiffs.

Under Plan C286, TX-24 would become a coalition district with a citizen voting age population that is 36.1% Latino, 18.7% African American, and 5.8% Asian (mostly of Indian and Pakistani descent).

The district largely overlaps the Dallas County commissioner district currently represented by Elba Garcia and like that district would in all likelihood elect the Latino preferred candidate in the Democratic primary, although a candidate supported by a cross-ethnic coalition could also win. But, regardless, in the general election, the minority preferred candidate would win overwhelmingly virtually every time.

Compared to the 1991 version of TX-30, Plan C286′s TX-24 is much more compact and confined wholly to western Dallas County.

More importantly, unlike minority districts that in the past drew criticism for splitting cities and towns, TX-24 in Plan C286 keeps the cities of Irving, Grand Prairie, and Farmers Branch intact, joining them seamlessly to heavily Latino parts of the adjacent City of Dallas. (TX-33 a coalition district in neighboring Tarrant County, likewise, closely tracks municipal boundaries).

Li has a couple of maps from the demonstration plans to illustrate his point. Indeed, he says, you have to divide up cities to avoid the creation of minority districts nowadays. There were multiple maps creating such districts on offer, it’s just a question of whether or not the judges will accept one of them. Hopefully, we’ll know soon enough.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Coming home to run

Another Washington Post story about 2018 Congressional candidates that spends a lot of time on a Texas race.

Laura Moser

Before Donald Trump was elected president, Laura Moser was a freelance writer delving into a project about alternative religions in America. In the months after, she became a leader of the resistance against the president, launching a text messaging platform that enabled hundreds of thousands of shellshocked Trump opponents to contact their representatives about a different issue each day.

The success of that effort spurred the 39-year-old Capitol Hill mother of two to think about what else she could do. In the middle of the Trump-red electoral map, she saw an opportunity: The 7th Congressional District in her home town of Houston went blue for the first time, tipping to Democrat Hillary Clinton by one point. Rep. John Abney Culberson was reelected, but Moser saw the conservative Republican losing touch with the fast-growing, increasingly diverse district in which she grew up.

First she started recruiting other people to run. But she said her conversations kept circling back to “What about you?”

So she packed up her rowhouse and moved her three cats, two young children and political consultant husband 1,400 miles away to vie for the Democratic nomination to challenge Culberson in 2018.

“I had to work up the courage to even imagine myself running for Congress,” she said. “But I eventually decided that our country had a moral problem in only letting white men — even the right-minded ones — have a seat at the table.”

[…]

“My grandfather arrived as a Nazi refugee to this district,” she told them.

“I have been trying to get my Yankee husband back there for many years. It took Donald Trump being president to make it happen.”

She talked about why it was worth investing in her campaign and the chance to turn the district blue. After she spoke, Ben Allen, one of the hosts, signaled to the guests to get out their checkbooks.

“If we can’t vote for you, we can support you in other ways,” he said.

Moser’s East Coast connections gave her a boost in the start to her campaign. Within the first five days, she raised about $100,000, more money than Culberson’s previous challenger, lawyer James Cargas, had amassed during his entire 2016 campaign.

But the primary is shaping up to be competitive, with seven Democrats so far contending for the nomination, including two other women.

Moser believes a woman has an advantage in the race. Women constituted many of the swing voters who crossed political lines to vote for Clinton, she said. And if the resistance to Trump has a face, Moser says, it’s clearly female.

See here for a previous example of this kind. Moser hasn’t put out a press release with her Q2 finance numbers yet – she clearly got off to a good start, but she also has some strong competition on that score. Given the size of that primary field it’s a little early to talk about the prospects of a female candidate. For what it’s worth, the woman in Texas who likely has the best shot at being our next female member of Congress is Veronica Escobar. But I sure won’t mind if she has some company.

Posted in: Election 2018.

The broader implications of the Pasadena voting rights lawsuit

Buried in this Trib story about the ongoing saga of Pasadena’s voting rights lawsuit is this nugget about the state getting involved.

The case could reverberate beyond Pasadena’s city limits. Legal experts contend that a decision by the 5th Circuit could guide other courts around the country that are considering similar voting rights cases.

The Pasadena ruling also has the potential to help build a case against the state, which faces its own voting rights challenges in court, said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston who has studied voting rights cases for decades.

In lifting federal electoral oversight for Texas and other jurisdictions in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court noted that conditions for minority voters had “dramatically improved,” but the justices left open the possibility that political jurisdictions could be placed back under preclearance if they committed new discriminatory actions.

Earlier this year, Texas faced a barrage of federal court rulings that found the 2011 Legislature intentionally discriminated against voters of colors by passing a stringent voter ID law and re-drawing the state’s political maps. Those cases are still making their way through federal courts in Corpus Christi and San Antonio.

The Pasadena ruling — “particularly because it was so thoroughly stated and so strong and by a judge that has no history of favoring blacks or Latinos in redistricting cases” — could serve as “another brick in building this case that Texas has a recent history of discriminatory action,” Murray said.

In a sign that Texas leaders also see Pasadena as a potential problem for its own cases, state attorneys filed an amicus brief in support of the city’s appeal, arguing that preclearance “must be sparingly and cautiously applied” to avoid reimposing “unwarranted federal intrusion.”

Judge Rosenthal’s preclearance ruling in the Pasadena case was improper, the state contends, because it was imposed for a single incident of discrimination instead of pervasive and rampant discrimination.

Raise your hand if you’re surprised that the state got involved. I’m surprised it took them this long. It is not yet clear if the city of Pasadena will continue to pursue this appeal. New Mayor Jeff Wagner has said he will abide by the will of Pasadena City Council. He hasn’t said much about it since being elected, including when he might ask them for their opinion. The Fifth Circuit declined to overturn Judge Rosenthal’s injunction on using the 6-2 Council map, but they did not address the merits of the overall ruling, including the bail-in on Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. I don’t know what the time frame for a hearing of that appeal at the Fifth Circuit might be, but broadly speaking it’s likely to be some time in 2018. Unless Pasadena decides to drop it and accept the lower court ruling, of course. Will the state’s intervention have an effect on that? We’ll know when Mayor Wagner asks Council to vote on the appeal.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Saturday video break: Secret

We’re all about the 80s here, and very few things say “the 80s” like Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark.

It’s the hair, the synthesizers, the usage of black and white footage to tell a story about…well, I don’t know exactly, but that’s not the point. The point is, this is what the 80s was all about. Move it forward two decades and here we have Mieke Pauley:

Not 80s at all, but someday when it’s time to create a radio station that caters to the tastes of people who were the same age in the Aughts as I was in the 80s, this song might make the playlist. Assuming there are still such things as radio stations by then.

Posted in: Music.

Redistricting trial update: Invoking privilege

Interesting choice.

Texas’ defense of its electoral maps suffered a setback Friday when a state witness couldn’t defend lawmakers’ intentions for much of his testimony.

[…]

Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, was the chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting in 2013. He invoked legislative privilege for more than 20 minutes Friday during the plaintiffs’ cross-examination.

Legislative privilege, according to the Texas Constitution, protects lawmakers from having to explain their decision process. It prevents them from being called into court to explain every law they pass. But it is used with caution because once invoked, a lawmaker can’t choose to answer any questions on the legislative process.

Nina Perales, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represents a group of Latino lawmakers in the case, asked whether Darby evaluated amendments to the congressional maps based on racial polarization and whether the maps complied with the federal Voting Rights Act.

She asked whether he analyzed the gains of Latino voting power in certain districts and whether court rulings that previously found discriminatory issues with the maps influenced changes made during the 2013 special session. Perales also posed a question about whether an incumbent had proposed changes to his district to preserve his seat.

But because Darby had invoked legislative privilege and could not testify, it effectively ceded ground to Perales, who laid out her argument unchallenged through her line of questioning.

“The fact that he doesn’t testify about his reasons means that the state has no evidence to counter our evidence,” Perales told The Dallas Morning News.

Like I said, interesting choice. This isn’t a criminal case, and there’s no jury, so I presume the judges are free to draw whatever inferences they want from this.

There was more to the state’s defense than that. Both that story and the Trib have those details.

Throughout the week, lawyers representing plaintiffs have offered several alternative House and congressional maps, which they say demonstrate ways to add more opportunity districts and fix violations judges have flagged in past rulings. (The maps were not aimed at maximizing minority representation in Texas, but rather to meet legal standards.)

John Alford, a political science professor at Rice University who the state offered as an expert witness, dismissed those maps as not addressing the problem that the plantiffs claim exist.

“It’s not possible to create an additional majority-minority district in Texas,” Alford said.

[…]

“I don’t think there’s ever been a more exhaustive attempt to redraw a map, than the one here in Texas,” Alford testified.

The state on Friday sought to poke holes in the maps offered by plaintiffs, which rely partly on “coalition” districts where Hispanic and black voters, only in the majority when combined, could elect candidates of their choice — at least in general elections when they overwhelmingly favor Democrats.

Alford, the state’s expert, criticized the plaintiffs’ demonstrated coalition districts, arguing — largely relying on past Democratic primary election results — that Hispanic and black voters in various districts vote differently, preferring candidates of their own race. He underplayed general election data and testimony from voters, which the plaintiffs point to suggest the minority voting groups clearly coalesce around Democrats following primaries.

In that sense, Alford testified, the maps plaintiffs offered would not address Hispanic voters’ statewide underrepresentation.

Lawyers’ for the plaintiffs criticized the minimal value Alford put on general election data, and they highlighted one instance — an even split in black and Hispanic support for U.S. Rep. Mark Veasey, D-Fort Worth, in his 2014 primary win — that did not fit within Alford’s analysis.

The trial is scheduled to wrap up on Saturday. [US Rep. Will] Hurd is expected to testify, and the judges are also expected to pepper lawyers with a lengthy set of lingering questions.

The judges have forty-five questions for the lawyers, which, wow. Alford has been the state’s go-to expert on redistricting for years; he was their expert witness for all of the litigation that followed the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003. Seems to me a claim that you can’t create another majority-minority district in Texas is ludicrous on its face, but that’s for the judges to decide.

Posted in: Legal matters.

HCC Board censures Chris Oliver

It’s the most they can do.

Chris Oliver

The Houston Community College system’s board of trustees decided Thursday to reprimand a 21-year veteran of the elected board who has pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge.

The board’s eight other members decried Christopher W. Oliver’s acceptance of unlawful payments as “reprehensible.” They voted unanimously to formally censure Oliver, strip him of his vice chair role, freeze his spending account and remove him from all committees, including the audit committee he had chaired.

[…]

Trustee Robert Glaser said the board acted as quickly as possible.

“We didn’t leave anything on the table,” he added.

“It affects us all,” said trustee Adriana Tamez. “This totally takes away from the great things that are going on. … There’s no excuse.”

[…]

The board’s bylaws lay out the group’s options in ethics situations: “If the Board finds a violation of this Ethics Code, it can reprimand or censure the Board member, the only sanctions available under Texas law.”

In general, elected officials cannot be removed by their colleagues. The underlying principle is that voters alone get to choose their representatives.

The HCC board’s legal counsel said Oliver still holds his position.

“The Board does not have the authority to remove a Board member from elected office,” the Bracewell law firm said in a statement emailed by HCC spokesman Todd Duplantis. “That process is governed by Texas law.”

The board’s counsel, Bracewell partner Jarvis Hollingsworth, told the Chronicle in 2010 that censure is the harshest punishment available to the board. Elected trustees only can be removed by state district judges, he said.

See here and here for the background. Given that the Board does not have the authority to remove Oliver from office, I agree that they did all they could. Given that Oliver has not yet resigned, I would still like to know what the process is for getting a district court judge to remove him. Is that something the Board can initiate? According to Robert Glaser, the answer to that is No:

[Oliver] is scheduled for sentencing August 28. The act of sentencing will remove him from office. Folks have from July 22 to August 21 to ‘throw their name in the hat’ to run for his seat this November. We may let the sentencing action play out- as that is going to happen in (6) weeks, anyway. It may take that long for anyone to get an action thru state court to get his removal completed. We, as a board, cannot initiate the action. An individual living in Harris County would need to initiate the action. This is from information provided to us by our legal counsel.

Good to know. As for Karun Sreerama, I’m not ready to render a judgment on him just yet. I haven’t called for Ken Paxton to resign as AG because as malignant as I think he is, he is still innocent until proven guilty. Sreerama has not been formally accused of any wrongdoing, nor does it appear he was let off the hook for anything in return for cooperation in the Oliver investigation. That doesn’t mean his behavior isn’t problematic or worthy of consequences, just that we have a lot less information right now about what he actually did and why he did it. Maybe he felt he was being coerced, or maybe he was acting out of a (possibly misguided) sense of compassion, I don’t know. If you want to make like Herodias and call for Sreerama’s head on a platter, you do you. I’d like to hear what he has to say for himself first. The Press has more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Your periodic reminder that non-citizens very rarely vote

I know you don’t need a reminder, being sophisticated followers of the news and all, but here it is anyway.

Since Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote in November, our new commander-in-chief has consistently attacked the legitimacy of popular vote totals that showed his rival, Hillary Clinton, well ahead of him on election day. “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump tweeted in November. Although he has doubled down on the claim in several subsequent statements, offering an estimate of three to five million illegal votes and complaints about specific states, Trump has failed to provide evidence of widespread fraud.

Myrna Pérez, a Texas native and civil rights lawyer, won’t take the president at his word. As head of the Voting Rights and Elections project at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, Pérez has seen states around the country—Texas included—rushing to respond to voter fraud threats. “As someone who’s driven by data, as someone who researches elections, as someone who is in the business of making sure our elections represent the voices of actual Americans, I’m very troubled at the policies we see that seem to not have any science or data behind them,” Pérez says.

Pérez, a graduate of San Antonio’s Douglas MacArthur High School who now teaches at Columbia and NYU law schools, decided to check if Trump’s claims of massive voter fraud had any empirical backing. Her team at the Brennan Center reached out to all 44 counties in the U.S. that are home to more than 100,000 non-citizens. The team also contacted several of the largest and most diverse counties in the three states—California, New Hampshire, and Virginia—where Trump made specific claims of “serious voter fraud.” Forty-two counties responded to Perez’s queries, including Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, Travis, and El Paso counties in Texas. The counties Pérez’s team interviewed accounted for over 23.5 million votes in the 2016 election. However, the county elections administrators reported a combined total of only 30 fraudulent noncitizen votes in 2016—about .00001 percent of the votes totaled.

“Noncitizen voting in Texas, as in the rest of the country, is rare,” Pérez concludes. As for the nationwide total of fraudulent votes, she says her methodology doesn’t offer a reliable estimate, but that there is no way it’s three to five million people. “Not even close,” she says.

Pérez’s criticisms are echoed by elections administrators around Texas—the people work to assure that eligible voters can cast a ballot and ineligible voters cannot. “I have not seen the numbers to support that,” says El Paso County elections administrator Lisa Wise, referring to Trump’s three to five million claim. “The integrity of elections is a priority for this department, and I believe that it is intact until I see differently.” Bexar County elections administrator Jacquelyn Callanen also backs that sentiment. “I welcome the light being shined on this, to show that our records are well-maintained,” Callanen says. “We stand for integrity. We take such pride and we do such, I think, a magnificent job of list maintenance and voter participation.”

You get the idea. I will point out, as I have done with stories about how incredibly rare other forms of voter fraud are, that our current Attorney General and our previous Attorney General would each sell their soul (well, maybe they’d sell your soul) to bust and convict any number of non-citizens they could catch in the act of voting. The fact that they have conspicuously failed to do so over a multi-year and multi-election period of time should tell you something.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Friday random ten – All in, part 4

All good things must come to an end.

1. All The Voices – INXS
2. All The Way To Memphis – Mott the Hoople
3. All The Young Dudes – Billy Bragg
4. All These Years – Solas
5. All Things Dull And Ugly – Lager Rhythms
6. All Through The Night – Peter, Paul & Mary
7. All Together – Dougie MacLean
8. All Too Well – Taylor Swift
9. All Work And No Play – Van Morrison
10. All You Wanna Do Is Dance – Billy Joel

We end where we started, with Billy Joel. I didn’t even include “All For Leyna”. Mott the Hoople, whose name apparently comes from a weird novel about circus freaks, did the original version of “All The Young Dudes”; it was written for them by David Bowie, who had also offered them “Suffragette City” but they turned him down. Someone could probably make a living writing alternative music history novels. I’ll have a new topic word next week.

Posted in: Music.

Who will run statewide for the Dems?

For several statewide offices, it is unclear at this time who might run.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Lillie Schechter, the new chairwoman of the Harris County Democratic Party, has watched in recent months as at least seven candidates have come through the doors of the party headquarters to introduce themselves, eager for their shot at U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston.

That’s seven candidates that she can recall, but she may be forgiven for forgetting: Texas’ 7th Congressional District is one of several that have already drawn a swarm of Democratic candidates for 2018. The bonanza is unfolding not just in districts like the 7th — one of three in Texas that national Democrats are targeting — but also in even redder districts, delighting a state party that is not used to so much so interest so early.

“When we have competitive primaries, we get to engage with more Democrats,” Schechter said. “I do not see that as a negative thing.”

Yet it’s just one part of the picture for Democrats at the outset of the 2018 election cycle. While the congressional races are overflowing with candidates, the party remains without a number of statewide contenders — a reality that is coming into focus ahead of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s anticipated announcement Friday that he’s running for re-election. Barring any last-minute surprises, Abbott will make his second-term bid official without the presence of a serious Democratic rival.

[…]

So far, Democrats have three statewide candidates they see as serious: U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso for U.S. Senate, Houston-area accountant Mike Collier for lieutenant governor and Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, for agriculture commissioner. They are without similarly credible contenders for governor, comptroller, land commissioner, railroad commissioner and attorney general — a seat considered particularly worth targeting because the GOP incumbent, Ken Paxton, is under indictment.

By far the biggest profile belongs to O’Rourke, who announced his challenge to Cruz in March. As the top of the ticket — assuming he wins his party’s primary next year — he stands a chance of being Texas Democrats’ standard-bearer in 2018, regardless of whom they ultimately put up for the other statewide jobs.

In an interview Monday, O’Rourke said he was not worried about the lack of company so far on his party’s statewide ticket.

“I can’t worry about what I can’t control, and so we’re just going to focus on our campaign,” he said.

But he also expressed optimism for the party’s prospects up and down the ballot in 2018 “as more people become aware of how significantly the dynamics have changed in Texas.”

The story notes that former State Rep. Allen Vaught is also looking at Lt. Governor, and it’s not impossible to imagine him running there with Collier shifting over to Comptroller again. I am aware of at least one person looking at the AG race, and if there’s one slot I feel confident will have a name in it, it’s that one. As for Governor, who knows. We wanted Julian Castro, but we’re not going to get Julian Castro. I had been thinking about Trey Martinez-Fischer, but he’s not interested. As with AG, I feel reasonably confident someone will run. I just don’t know how exciting that person will be.

As the story notes, there are many, many people running for Congress. At least five races, in CDs 02, 07, 21, 31, and 32, have multiple candidates, and some of those candidates have already raised a very decent amount of money. There are still plenty of races in need of candidates – CDs 22 and 24 come to mind, as well as SD16 and various State House seats – but I’m not worried about any of them yet. One way of thinking about this is to note that in the last three cycles, the number of Democratic challengers for Republican-held districts in the State House has been 38 in 2016, 37 in 2014, and 39 in 2012, with the latter being inflated by redistricting and the 2010 wipeout. Fewer than half of all Republican State House incumbents have had November opponents in each of these cycles. To be sure, one reason for that is that a large number of these districts are basically hopeless from our perspective, but there is more to it than that. If there’s ever a year to get a larger number of challengers for red districts, this is it. We won’t know the totals for certain until after the filing deadline, but this is something to keep an eye on. The DMN has more.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Finance reports still slowly coming in

From the inbox:

Lizzie Fletcher

Lizzie Pannill Fletcher announced today that she raised more than $365,000 in her first seven weeks of the campaign as a Democratic candidate for Texas’ Seventh Congressional District, a seat currently held by Representative John Culberson.

Fletcher’s report for the 2017 second financial quarter will show strong local support; nearly 90% of contributions came from within Texas and almost 80% of contributions from within the city of Houston.

“I am humbled and proud that so many Houstonians I have known and worked with for many years have supported this campaign in these first few weeks. And I am equally proud that many people I have met on the campaign trial have enthusiastically endorsed its message and supported me,” Fletcher said. “Houston is ready for a change in representation, and this is just the beginning.”

Campaign Treasurer Gordon Center noted, “As a first-time candidate, Lizzie is quickly building up a strong war chest in order to communicate her message effectively to voters in the 7th Congressional District. Lizzie has been an advocate for Houston and Houstonians for years, so it is no surprise that these substantial campaign contributions have come from right here in her hometown.”

I’m not going to report these one by one, but right now the Congressional candidates are the most prevalent, and since the FEC reports likely won’t be available till the end of the month, this is what I’ve got. Fletcher joins Alex Triantaphyllis and the two main contenders in CD32 in posting a strong first number. Also reporting a good first number is Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke:

Our grassroots campaign raised $2.1 million in the second quarter!
➡ $0 from PACs
➡ 46,574 individual donations
➡ 81% of money raised was from Texas
➡ Average contribution was $44

For a bit of perspective, that’s about half the total Rick Noriega raised for his entire 2008 Senate campaign. As the Trib notes, it’s also more than some incumbent Democratic Senators who are up for election in 2018 did in Q2. In other words, not too shabby. It’s still going to take a lot more than that to be able to effectively communicate with voters across the state – remember, most people as of today have never heard of Beto O’Rourke, and it’s kind of hard to persuade someone to vote for you if they have no idea who you are – but this is an excellent start.

There are a lot more candidates out there, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how everyone else does. I plan to review all of the reports, for Houston, HISD, HCC, Harris County, and the state as they come in next week. I’m sure there will be plenty to talk about once we have all the data.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Still a few bugs in the system

A continuing story.

While Harris County officials are complaining that a federal judge’s bail order threatens public safety, the county has failed to provide more than 100 low-level defendants with pretrial services aimed at ensuring they make their court dates.

The latest revelations come amid criticism from District Attorney Kim Ogg, who accused county officials of trying to deliberately undermine the success of defendants released on personal bonds to bolster the county’s argument.

“Clearly the hope is that the reformed bail process fails,” Ogg said in a June 30 email obtained by the Chronicle. “This is necessarily a violation of their ethical duty and certainly not in the best interest of ordinary Harris County citizens.”

Ogg’s email did not identify which officials she believed might be responsible, and her office referred a request for additional comment to a court filing in which she supported changes to the county’s cash-bail system for misdemeanor offenses.

[…]

By missing court, the defendants also miss out on the assistance provided by the county’s Pre-Trial Services Division, such as text reminders about upcoming court dates that other defendants get seven days in advance and again on the day of the hearing.

Kelvin Banks, director of pretrial services, said a vendor, Voice4Net, manages the text messages for the county. He said his office is working with the vendor to set up reminders for those who are released by the sheriff, and is moving forward with plans for an additional staff member and training at the jail.

He said Monday he was reviewing resumes.

“We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can do to give defendants the best opportunity to be succesful on pretrial release,” Banks said.

Another vendor, called Uptrust, met with county officials on June 28, two days before Ogg sent her email, proposing a two-way messaging system that allows defendants to respond and provides information on childcare options and transportation.

It’s a little hard to say what is going on here, based on this story. There’s a lot of he-said/she-said in there. My basic premise all along is that the county has very little credibility on this issue, so I generally discount the complaints from Commissioners and judges about how hard this all is and how they’re Doing Their Very Best and Just Need A Little More Time and so on and so forth. Every action by the county – specifically, by those who continue to fight to support the status quo – is one of foot-dragging and reluctance to make changes, even small ones. I’ve yet to see a show of good faith. If we ever get to that point, then maybe I’ll take their complaints seriously. Until then, I say quit whining and do what the judge ordered you to do.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

There is trouble with the trees

More to the point, there is trouble with the idea that municipal tree ordinances are somehow a bad thing, but that’s where we are, and it’s got some folks worried.

Never turn down an opportunity to reference a Rush song

More than 40,000 trees were lost to [Hurricane] Ike, according to the nonprofit Galveston Island Tree Conservancy. A replanting campaign that began in 2010 has made significant progress: Volunteers have spent more than 17,000 hours planting more than 16,000 trees, including 250 live oaks and 60 palm trees on Broadway.

Now this effort faces a new threat – not from nature, but from politicians in the state Capitol. Gov. Greg Abbott wants the Legislature to strip cities of the authority to regulate – and essentially protect – trees on private property. It’s one of 21 items the Republican governor has placed on the agenda for a special session that begins July 18.

This action would weaken tree-protection ordinances in more than 50 Texas cities.

Local leaders across the state oppose the idea, but the issue has particular resonance in Galveston because of Ike’s devastating effect on its tree canopy.

In the storm’s aftermath, trees became precious jewels. Homeowners agonized for months, hoping in vain that their treasured oak or magnolia would somehow recover, before accepting the inevitable. Every dead tree that was felled and hauled away left the island a little barer, its people a little more sorrowful.

“Everyone was just so devastated by the loss,” said Jackie Cole, president of the nonprofit Galveston Island Tree Conservancy.

To bolster the recovery effort, the City Council passed a tree-protection ordinance in 2015. The measure requires property owners to seek a permit before removing trees considered significant based on their size or other factors. Trees that are unhealthy, that pose a hazard or that meet certain other criteria may be removed without penalty; others may be cut down only if the owner replaces them with trees of a specified size or pays into a local tree fund.

See here for some background. I would point out that for all of Abbott’s tree-hatred, his little vendetta will still require the consent of the Legislature. I hope the people of Galveston have been directing their concerns to Sen. Larry Taylor and Reps. Wayne Faircloth and Greg Bonnen. If local control still means anything, it needs to mean something to them.

By the way, story author Mike Snyder has a sidebar piece about the effort to defend local tree ordinances, which is being led by Defend Texas Trees. Turns out that most of the municipal tree ordinances in the state aren’t about what homeowners can and cannot do but about what developers can and cannot do, with restrictions and incentives in place to preserve mature trees. In other words, Abbott’s intended ordinance isn’t just an attack on trees, it’s a boon for developers. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Redistricting update: It’s all about the emails

Two days into the trial, and there’s more drama.

Plaintiffs challenging Texas’ 2013 redistricting maps Tuesday accused the state of improperly delaying the release of thousands of pages of documents from them, including 113 documents that state lawyers refuse to hand over because they say they are privileged.

The spat may further delay a conclusion to the weeklong trial, which already was frustrating judges because of repetitive questions.

Many of the documents in question pertain to communications of the chairman of the 2013 redistricting committee, Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, with other people involved in the redistricting, according to a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

The documents, under rules imposed by the three-judge panel, should have been disclosed years ago in the six-year old lawsuit, along with what’s known as a “privilege log,” but the apparent failure was recently discovered by Mark Gaber, one of the lawyers representing what’s known as the Quesada group of plaintiffs, according to court papers filed by Gaber.

After Gaber pressed for the documents last week, state lawyers over the weekend released more than 7,000 pages but stopped short of turning over everything. Gaber filed an emergency motion to compel the state to turn over the 113 pages it says are protected by attorney-client privilege.

“They’ve sort of strung it out throughout the weekend,” said José Garza, a lawyer representing another group of plaintiffs, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. “We just got another drop this morning. It was documents that had been requested two years ago.”

That was a Tuesday report, now here’s one from Wednesday.

Minorities in Texas are facing uphill battles in getting proper representation in the state as the Legislature continues passing laws that are biased toward them, according to witnesses for civil rights groups challenging the state’s 2013 political boundaries.

Allan Lichtman, a social scientist and history professor at American University, analyzed patterns in the state, including events leading to the 2013 special session that resulted in the latest congressional and state House maps.

Though Republicans have admitted that prior “redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats,” Lichtman testified that his analysis shows that isn’t true.

“What was done here was to knowingly and intentionally impede the opportunity for African-Americans and Latinos to elect candidates of their choice,” Lichtman testified. “What we see here is intentional discrimination.”

[…]

Lichtman also testified that although Latinos and blacks contributed nearly 90 percent of the state’s explosive growth in recent years, they remain under-represented by nearly four congressional districts. Anglos, whose population decreased, are overrepresented by 5 ½ districts, Licthman said.

The testimony magnified statistics in a graphic Luis Vera , legal counsel for the League of United Latin American Citizens, showed the court: Despite contributing to most of Texas’ explosive growth that resulted in the state gaining four new congressional districts, Latinos today control only 16.7 percent of congressional districts in Texas – the same percentage they held in 1970.

See here for the opening report on the hearings. There may or may not be anything to these emails, but it sure does serve the state’s purposes to run time off the clock. In the Wednesday story, we learn that the judges ordered the state to turn over half of the remaining 113 emails they had refused to hand over before. The plaintiffs are still presenting their case as of yesterday, with the state’s defense to follow. Michael Li continues to live-tweet the proceedings, and the DMN, the Trib, and ThinkProgress have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.