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Paxton courts the business lobby

Not sure what to make of this.

Best mugshot ever

Making his case for the “bathroom bill” to Texas business leaders, Attorney General Ken Paxton said Tuesday that Senate Bill 6 would have a narrow focus, and he urged them to listen to parents “just concerned about the safety of their children.”

[…]

Paxton, who has been battling the federal government in court over transgender student guidelines it issued last year, struck a conciliatory tone Tuesday as he spoke at the association’s meeting. He acknowledged that the group has been involved in the debate before stressing that the bill “doesn’t apply to businesses, from what I can tell.”

SB 6 would pre-empt local ordinances — as applied to bathrooms — that protect transgender individuals from discrimination in public accommodations. Those ordinances effectively require businesses, such as restaurants and retail stores, to allow transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

Paxton also said the legislation “doesn’t apply to entities that are leasing government facilities,” apparently referring to a part of the bill that would, for example, exempt a sports league that rents a publicly owned venue. It is a key component of the legislation in light of concerns the legislation could cause the state to lose out on major athletic events such as the Final Four, which is set to be held in 2018 in San Antonio.

This talk was given during a conference held by the Texas Association of Business. It’s basically the Buckingham pitch, which seems to me to be contradicted by what’s actually in the bill, and is clearly aimed at blunting the opposition to the bill. Plus, of course, the ever-popular Won’t Someone Please Think Of The Children? angle, which very conveniently overlooks the fact that lots of children are already being harmed by this debate, and will be even more harmed by SB6.

There’s nothing in the story to indicate how receptive the audience was to this message, so it’s hard for me to say if any of it may have worked. And as it happens, Paxton wasn’t the only one giving a speech to the TAB about potties.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Wednesday further brought the battle lines over the “bathroom bill” into focus, saying lawmakers should be “very careful” about doing anything that makes the state less economically competitive.

“There’s been a lot of work put into our state’s economic success,” Straus said in a speech to the Texas Association of Business, which has vocally opposed the legislation. “We want to continue that success, and we want Texas to keep attracting the best and the brightest. One way to maintain our edge is to send the right signals about who we are.”

[…]

On Wednesday, Straus emphasized that he was not speaking for all House members but expressing a personal view and reflecting the concerns of constituents in his San Antonio-based district. The city is set to hold the Final Four in 2018, and Straus detailed all it has done to prepare for the college basketball event.

“Many people where I come from get concerned about anything that can slow down our overall job-creating machine,” Straus said. “They are also watching what happened in North Carolina, and they are not enthusiastic about getting that type of attention,” Straus added, referring to the state that incurred controversy when its lawmakers pushed a similar bill.

While Patrick has been outspoken about the legislation, Gov. Greg Abbott has not commented on it since its release. Straus applied some pressure on Abbott to weigh in, saying his view could make a “big difference.”

“If you are concerned — I know many of you are — now is the time to speak up,” Straus told TAB members.

Straus, in his typical way, didn’t say he was taking direct action to kill this bill, just that he’d talk to his members about it. This isn’t the first time he’s poured some cold water on it. Giving Abbott a nudge is a good move, though one that could backfire. He’ll either get some cover, or a doubling of the pressure on him, assuming Abbott ever bothers to grace us with an opinion. RG Ratcliffe adds a few thoughts.

Having said all that, this Observer story suggests that the all-about-the-children pitch may be a harder sell than Ken Paxton and Dan Patrick think.

For Texas Values, a right–wing advocacy group, the small, relatively conservative community of Dripping Springs may have seemed like a good target for its latest anti-transgender bathroom campaign.

But three months after the group stormed into town, Dripping Springs ISD officials were standing firm in their decision to allow a 9-year-old trans girl to use restrooms according to her gender identity.

Soon after Texas Values launched its campaign, a large group of parents formed to support the third-grade student and defend the district. Organized as “Many Stripes, One Tiger,” the group plans to take its fight to Austin to lobby against Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s anti-trans bathroom bill.

“We’re trying to get the message out that our school district is doing just fine without Dan Patrick coming in and regulating our bathrooms,” said Andy Hutton, whose son attends Walnut Springs Elementary School with the trans student.

[…]

Hutton said he believes Texas Values chose Dripping Springs for its proximity to the Capitol and its status as a rural district in which few have been exposed to the debate over LGBT rights. But he doesn’t think the group anticipated the backlash it would receive from parents who personally know the trans girl and trust the judgment of school officials.

“I don’t think anybody questions that her gender identity is true and heartfelt and sincere,” Hutton said, adding that “even a lot of social conservatives” stand behind the girl.

Emphasis mine. Funny how things can change when politicians and special interest groups are saying horrible things about people you know, isn’t it? Let’s hope there’s more like this out there.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Dukes indicted

Boom.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

A grand jury has indicted state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, on abuse-of-office charges, the Travis County District Attorney’s office said Wednesday. She could face up to 28 years in jail and fines of up to $138,000.

The first indictment charges 13 counts of tampering with a governmental record, a felony punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. These charges are based on allegations that Dukes made false entries on travel vouchers to obtain money for expenses she was not entitled to, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said in a news release.

Two separate indictments were also handed down for abuse of official capacity by a public servant, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. These “relate to allegations that Rep. Dukes misused public funds for her personal gain, and that she converted campaign funds to personal use.”

In a Facebook post Wednesday, Dukes said she is “disappointed” with the grand jury’s decision and will “be entering a plea of not guilty.”

On Wednesday afternoon, she went to the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center to get fingerprinted and have her mug shot taken. In brief remarks outside the county courthouse Wednesday afternoon, Dukes, flanked by her lawyers, she said she is “very relieved … to begin the process of getting out the other side of the story that I have not been able to speak about since February.”

“I will focus my time and my energy on the people of District 46 and their issues and their concerns,” Dukes told reporters. “I do not intend at all to allow anyone to get me distracted.”

See here and here for the background. I have not been calling for indicted AG Ken Paxton to resign from his office, partly because as crooked as I think he is, he hasn’t been convicted of anything yet, and partly for the crass political reason that I’d rather have us Dems run against a possible convicted felon than against a clean replacement. I have no crass political reason for wanting Dawnna Dukes to stay in office, and as we know she had originally said she was going to resign for various personal reasons then changed her mind at the last minute. As such, while I remain steadfast in the belief that one is innocent until proven guilty, I’d really like to see Dawnna Dukes resign. She is highly unlikely to be an effective advocate for her constituents this session, and they deserve better. But that’s ultimately their call as much as hers – if the people who have been electing her want her to leave, she should listen to them. I hope they do, and I hope she does.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!, That's our Lege.

Judge affirms Pasadena redistricting order

Back to the previous map, pending appeal.

Pasadena City Council

Hours after candidates began filing paperwork to run for city office, a federal judge Wednesday denied a request by Pasadena officials to delay her order that the city election be run under an 2011 election scheme to protect the rights of Latino voters.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal in Houston said Pasadena should conduct its upcoming May elections based on eight single-member districts, throwing out the six single-member and two at-large districts that the judge ruled had diluted the clout of Hispanics.

The focus now shifts to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where Pasadena officials are challenging the judge’s ruling in a landmark voting rights case that has drawn nationwide attention.

[…]

Pasadena officials filed a request Tuesday to stay Rosenthal’s judgment, which was issued Monday during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. City lawyers also appealed the ruling, challenging the judge’s conclusion that the new voting scheme was put in place with the aim of intentionally stopping Hispanics from gaining a majority of candidates of their choice on council.

See here, here, and here for the background. I have no idea if the Fifth Circuit will overrule Judge Rosenthal and order the 2013 map to be put back in place, but as candidate filing has begun, they would need to be quick about it if they do. I’ll keep an eye on it.

Posted in: Election 2017, Legal matters.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 16

The Texas Progressive Alliance already really misses President Obama as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

What I’m looking for in the next HCDP Chair

Lane Lewis

Following up on yesterday’s post, here are a few issues I’ve been thinking about regarding the position of HCDP Chair.

1. Focus on voter registration

My main takeaway from this past election is that Harris County is now fundamentally blue, with the majority of new voters coming into the county being more likely to be Democrats. By “new voters”, I mean people who move here, people who turn 18, and people who become citizens, so they are eligible to vote but have to actually register to do so. It needs to be our priority to make sure that they do. There are also a lot of people who move within the county every year and need to update their registrations, and there are still people who could be registered but aren’t. It should be the party’s goal, especially now that we have a friendly person overseeing the registration process, to maximize the voter rolls.

2. Expand the vote-by-mail outreach project (maybe)

There has been a focus under Chair Lewis to get more eligible Democrats to vote by mail. It has been successful by any measure, though I don’t know the details behind it. Specifically, I don’t know how many of these mail voters are people who had reliably voted in person before, and how many are new or lower-propensity voters. I’d like to hear how the Chair candidates evaluate this effort and what they would do to improve and expand it, if they think that is a good idea.

3. Continue the focus on “other” elections

Under Chair Lewis, the party has provided basic information about candidates in Houston municipal races – what their voting history is, who is or is not a sustaining member of the HCDP, etc. It has also done some advocacy for candidates in races where there is a clear choice between a lone Democratic candidate and one or more non-Democrats. This should definitely continue, and it should also be expanded, to include the various school board races, HCC and Lone Star College, and municipal races in other Harris County cities. The May elections in Pasadena should be a particular point of interest for the HCDP.

4. Think more regionally

Democrats did about as well as they could have in Harris County in 2016. I feel pretty good about making gains in 2018, though of course there are a lot of things that can and will affect how that election will go that have yet to play out. At some point, to continue the momentum, we are going to need to be more involved in races that go beyond our borders. Examples include the First and 14th Courts of Appeals, and multi-county districts like SD17 and CD22. Fort Bend and to a lesser extent Brazoria County are becoming more Democratic in part because they are more like Harris County in nature – more urban, and more attractive to the kind of person who tends to vote our way. We should seek to work more closely with our counterparts in neighboring counties to help maximize Democratic performance not just in Harris County but in the greater Houston region.

This is all high-level bullet point stuff, and there are more things that need to be in the discussion, but this is what I’ve been thinking about. I do intend to send out a Q&A to Chair hopefuls, to get a better idea of where they stand on things. If nothing else, I’ll need to make up my own mind about whom to support. What do you want the next Chair to focus on?

Posted in: Election 2017.

Here we go again with Planned Parenthood and Medicaid

Rooting for another injunction.

Right there with them

Texas officials are back in federal court this week over abortion-related policy, this time to defend efforts to oust Planned Parenthood from Medicaid.

Planned Parenthood has asked U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks to block the ouster as illegal, unjustified and unfair — an improperly political move that could deprive about 11,000 low-income Texans of access to contraceptives, cancer screening, breast exams and testing for sexually transmitted infections.

Lawyers for Texas argue that a 2015 video, shot by abortion opponents using a hidden camera, showed a pattern of “gross violations of medical and ethical standards” — as well as human decency — in the fetal tissue donation practices of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston.

“The state should not have to wait until it is too late before it can act to protect Medicaid recipients and taxpayers,” lawyers for Attorney General Ken Paxton told Sparks in a legal brief.

Sparks will hear three days of testimony beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday in his Austin courtroom in a case with a tight deadline. Planned Parenthood is scheduled to be dropped from the Texas Medicaid program Saturday.

One option for the judge is a temporary order blocking the ouster — keeping the status quo until he can research and write an opinion.

That’s what Sparks did when abortion providers sued to block a state rule requiring clinics and hospitals to bury or cremate fetal remains from abortions or miscarriages. After hearing two days of testimony earlier this month, Sparks promised a ruling by the end of next week.

No matter how Sparks rules — in either case — the losing side is expected to appeal, meaning it could be months before the fate of Planned Parenthood or the fetal burial rule is determined.

See here for the background. Yes, the state is actually using those utterly fraudulent Center for Medical Progress videos as evidence for tossing Planned Parenthood from Medicaid. This is basically the equivalent of arguing that because you found a dollar under your pillow this morning, the Tooth Fairy must really exist. I don’t think there’s anything one can add to that. The Trib has a first day of testimony report, and Trail Blazers and the Texas Standard have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

“Nixon in China” returns to HGO

This is very cool.

It’s been three decades since the Houston Grand Opera presented John Adams’ “Nixon in China,” the company’s beloved world premiere that changed not only how modern political operas were viewed but signified an audacious move by HGO to put its stamp on the operatic world. 6 This Friday, “Nixon” returns to HGO for the first time since its initial run in October 1987. 6 For all the production’s nostalgic, celebratory sheen, “Nixon” still has resonance. Changes in the United States’ racial, political and artistic attitudes since that initial premiere mean that it remains a hotly relevant opera worthy of both consumption and debate. 6

And that it’s opening on the Inauguration Day of President-elect Donald Trump feels, if nothing else, like an interesting coincidence. The opera examines U.S.-China relations as China commands headlines and dominates Trump’s foreign policy rhetoric.

“Nixon in China” was the first modern opera to study an American president – and is being resurrected at a time when the U.S. grapples with what presidency means.

“The fact that (the opera) continues to be performed widely bears evidence of its continued relevance in contemporary society, as well as its quality,” writes Timothy A. Johnson in “John Adams’s Nixon in China: Musical Analysis, Historical and Political Perspectives.”

[…]

Adams says he doesn’t know how audiences interpret “Nixon” nowadays. More muted responses to the Nixon portrayal, he suggests, might simply indicate just how fiery politics – and discussions on race, China and the Republican Party – have become. Nixon, and how we feel about him, serves as a way to measure the current moment.

“If you look at what’s going on politically now, Nixon doesn’t seem so bad,” Adams says.

Lots of things from the past don’t seem so bad right now, but that’s a discussion for another time. I remember when “Nixon in China” premiered, and while I can’t claim to be a big opera patron, it sounded fascinating to me. I’ll get my chance to find out this time, as my wife and I have tickets for this production. To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about the politics of this going in. I’m still in a muddle of emotions and denial about everything that’s happening right now. Musically, though, I can’t wait. And how cool is it that it was the Houston Grand Opera that premiered this work? As I recall from back in the day, this was the first such premier in a long time. Have you seen a production of this before?

Posted in: Music.

Pasadena will appeal redistricting ruling

Not a surprise.

Pasadena City Council

An attorney representing the city of Pasadena said Tuesday the city will appeal a ruling that found Pasadena deliberately violated the voting rights of its Hispanic population, a move that could have immediate consequences for the city’s upcoming May elections.

The attorney, C. Robert Heath, said the city disagreed with Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s ruling earlier this month that a redistricting scheme adopted in 2014 violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act by diluting the Hispanic vote.

“I think we’re right on the law and ultimately we’ll prevail,” Heath said.

[…]

Heath said the city will seek court approval to temporarily halt execution of Rosenthal’s order, meaning that upcoming elections could be conducted using the redistricting scheme Rosenthal found to be discriminatory. The 2015 elections were also conducted using that scheme.

“I don’t think they were trying to prevent Hispanic success,” Heath said.

City Councilman Ornaldo Ybarra, who supported the goals of the lawsuit that led to Rosenthal’s ruling, called the appeal a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“The legal bill has already surpassed $2 million, but I guess since it’s not the mayor’s money, he doesn’t mind spending it,” Ybarra said, adding that “this council is told nothing” by the administration about the legal process.

See here and here for the background. Candidate filing begins today, so one way or the other we’re going to need a quick ruling on any motions for an injunction. I’ll be keeping an eye on it. The NYT, Rick Hasen, and the Texas Standard have more.

UPDATE: From the longer version of the story:

Timing in the case, now, is critical. Rosenthal must first weigh in on whether to stand firm in her decision to keep the single-member system in place for the May elections – or whether to grant a stay on her own ruling.

The city’s appeal of the full ruling, meanwhile, moves on to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if Judge Rosenthal made a ruling on the stay right away. … It will be a yes or no, probably,” said Elaine Wiant, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas.

She said if Rosenthal denies Pasadena a stay, it is unlikely the city’s lawyers would be able to derail the May election.

Chad Dunn, a lawyer who has represented voters and governmental entities in voting rights cases, agreed.

“It would be out of the ordinary for the court to stop her ruling and let the election go forward under a plan that’s been found to be discriminatory,” said Dunn, who represents council members Ybarra and Cody Ray Wheeler, who vocally opposed changes to the city election system. “It’s more likely than not that Judge Rosenthal’s judgment will carry the day on this election.”

The circuit court can affirm the district judge’s decision, reverse it or remand it back to Rosenthal for additional fact-finding, said Austin attorney Roger B. Borgelt, who specializes in election and campaign law.

We ought to know pretty quickly what the election situation will be for Pasadena.

Posted in: Legal matters.

So who is running to succeed Lane Lewis as HCDP Chair?

Lane Lewis

It has been over a month since Lane Lewis announced his impemding departure as HCDP Chair. Since then, I have been asked by multiple people if I have heard from any potential candidates to replace him. My answer has been, and as of this morning continues to be, no I have not. I presume that with the holidays and the preparations for the Legislative session and the resistance to the Trump regime, this has been somewhat of a back burner item for people. That said, there will be a County Executive Committee meeting for the HCDP in February (date and time not yet scheduled, but we know it’s coming), at which precinct chairs will vote to name a successor. I have to assume that some time between now and then, the interested parties will make themselves known to the chairs and will ask them for their support.

In the meantime, I have now heard a few names mentioned as possibilities. The following are the names I have heard mentioned by more than one person:

Rony Escobar
Dominique Davis
Chris Spellmon
Lillie Schechter
Art Pronin

Lillie Schechter is a political consultant who has worked with Sen. Sylvia Garcia, CM Jerry Davis, former Council candidate Tom McCasland, and others. Her mother Sue Schechter was HCDP Chair in the late 90s-early 2000s, right before Gerry Birnberg. Art Pronin is the President of the Meyerland Democrats club, which is one of the more active clubs in the area. He’s the only person on this list that I have talked to so far, and isn’t committed to running but is thinking about it. He and Schechter are the two potential candidates that I know best. Davis is the Chief of Staff/Director of Operations of the HCDP, so she would clearly have plenty of experience going in. I’m sure I’ve met her but don’t know her beyond that. I don’t know Escobar or Spellmon at all. This email from the Meyerland Dems mentions the names Rob Collier and Tomaro Bell, whom I also don’t know. (The email actually says “Robin Collier”, but I have since received clarification that it is Rob Collier, whose wife Rabea was a candidate for judge in 2016.)

So that’s what I know at this time. I don’t have a preferred candidate yet, as I would like to hear from everyone and get an idea of what they have in mind to do as HCDP Chair. Tomorrow I will post about the sort of things I’d like to see our next HCDP Chair do.

UPDATE: One more name to add, Eartha Jean Johnson, who wins the distinction of being the first HCDP Chair hopeful to send me an official email of her candidacy.

Posted in: Election 2017.

The GLSEN 2015 National School Climate Survey

A lot of the stuff we talk about when we discuss Dan Patrick’s bathroom bill is business – the opposition from businesses, the political ramifications of a GOP/business schism, the economics of the bathroom bill, etc etc etc. But schools and students are a big piece of the picture here, as the lawsuit against the US Department of Education directive on student access to bathrooms and other facilities shows, and the effect of a bathroom bill on schools and students has been in the background. With that in mind, let me direct you to the GLSEN 2015 National School Climate Survey, for which a much more easily read executive summary is here. Let me quote a bit:

In 1999, GLSEN identified that little was known about the school experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth and that LGBTQ youth were nearly absent from national studies of adolescents. We responded to this national need for data by launching the first National School Climate Survey, and we continue to meet this need for current data by conducting the study every two years. Since then, the biennial National School Climate Survey has documented the unique challenges LGBTQ students face and identified interventions that can improve school climate. The survey documents the prevalence of anti-LGBT language and victimization, such as experiences of harassment and assault in school. In addition, the survey examines school policies and practices that may contribute to negative experiences for LGBTQ students and make them feel as if they are not valued by their school communities. The survey also explores the effects that a hostile school climate may have on LGBTQ students’ educational outcomes and well-being. Finally, the survey reports on the availability and the utility of LGBT-related school resources and supports that may offset the negative effects of a hostile school climate and promote a positive learning experience. In addition to collecting this critical data every two years, we also add and adapt survey questions to respond to the changing world for LGBTQ youth. For example, in the 2015 survey we expanded upon the types of discriminatory practices we explore by including questions related to extracurricular activities, school athletics, and gender segregation in school activities. The National School Climate Survey remains one of the few studies to examine the school experiences of LGBTQ students nationally, and its results have been vital to GLSEN’s understanding of the issues that LGBTQ students face, thereby informing our ongoing work to ensure safe and affirming schools for all.

[…]

LGBTQ students who experienced higher levels of victimization because of their sexual orientation:

–Were more than three times as likely to have missed school in the past month than those who experienced lower levels (62.2% vs. 20.1%);

–Had lower grade point averages (GPAs) than students who were less often harassed (2.9 vs. 3.3);

–Were twice as likely to report that they did not plan to pursue any post-secondary education (e.g., college or trade school) than those who experienced lower levels (10.0% vs. 5.2%);

–Were more likely to have been disciplined at school (54.9% vs. 32.1%); and

–Had lower self-esteem and school belonging and higher levels of depression.

LGBTQ students who experienced higher levels of victimization because of their gender expression:

–Were almost three times as likely to have missed school in the past month than those who experienced lower levels (59.6% vs. 20.8%);

–Had lower GPAs than students who were less often harassed (2.9 vs. 3.3);

–Were twice as likely to report that they did not plan to pursue any postsecondary education (e.g., college or trade school; 9.5% vs. 5.4%);

–Were more likely to have been disciplined at school (52.1% vs. 32.7%); and

–Had lower self-esteem and school belonging and higher levels of depression.

42.5% of LGBTQ students who reported that they did not plan to finish high school, or were not sure if they would finish, indicated that they were considering dropping out because of the harassment they faced at school.

I highlight this for three reasons. One is that we as a state and as a society put high expectations on our students, which are reflected in the never-ending and continually-increasing academic standards we demand that they meet. It is therefore on us to ensure that we are doing all we can to remove barriers to their success, of which harassment and discrimination are two of the most pernicious. Two, Dan Patrick presents his bill as a way of “protecting” children. I would challenge him and his minions to explain why this “protection” of some undefined set of children must come at the direct cost of so many other children. And three, to remind the business lobby that is now doing the hard work of opposing this travesty that it is not just about how their employees and customers are treated, but also how the children of their employees and customers are treated, or to put it another way, how their future employees and customers are treated. The Supreme Court is about to hear a case that may force the issue nationally, or it may punt it back to the states. We need to be ready to respond appropriately and compassionately.

Posted in: School days, Society and cultcha.

Professional Integrity

I like this.

David Mendoza

Former judge David Mendoza has been tapped to lead the newly created division of professional integrity for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

He will be advising the 700 employees in the district attorney’s office – including prosecutors, investigators and other staff – on ethics and professionalism, District Attorney Kim Ogg announced Wednesday.

“There are few jobs where judgment is more important than it is as a prosecutor,” Ogg said. “His experience will be a tremendous asset to our office, ensuring that our lawyers and staff always have access to expertise on issues of ethics.”

Mendoza will lead the Office of Professional Integrity, a new division, to address appropriate use of prosecutorial discretion, discovery, immunity and the state’s Michael Morton Act, designed to increase defense access to evidence.

He also will oversee the district attorney’s training section and help revise policies and procedures.

“I’m honored to be part of a team to assist district attorney’s office employees in performing their duties at the highest professional level,” Mendoza said in a statement.

Nice. This is in keeping with Ogg’s promise to de-emphasize winning and focus more on getting it right. Mendoza was elected to the 178th Criminal District Court in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, and chose not to run for re-election last year. I expect he’ll do a great job in this role. The Press has more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Final ruling in Pasadena redistricting lawsuit

It’s official – back to the original map.

Pasadena City Council

With candidate registration set to begin Tuesday, a federal judge Monday prohibited the city of Pasadena from using an unconstitutional redistricting scheme in the upcoming May elections, stating that the scheme violated the voting rights of Latino and Hispanic residents.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal in Houston wrote in the final judgment that the city must use a map the city generated in 2011 that featured eight single-member districts and gave “Latino voters an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidates.”

Rosenthal also ordered the city to face preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice for 6.5 years before changing the election system again.

[…]

Rosenthals’ order Monday – on a federal holiday recognizing the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., whose civil rights crusade led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – came two days before candidate registration opens for Pasadena’s municipal elections. All city council seats and the mayor’s office are up for contention.

See here for the background. There is no word as yet whether the city will appeal or not. The filing period opens tomorrow and runs through February 17, so if there is going to be an appeal and an injunction against using the previous map, the city will need to get its act together quickly. Not that I want them to, mind you, just stating a fact. We’ll see what they do.

UPDATE: Here’s a longer version of the story.

Posted in: Election 2017, Legal matters.

It’s all bathrooms, all the time

People are paying attention to Dan Patrick’s anti-LGBT bathroom bill, and for the most part they do not like it.

In early February, the Super Bowl will be in Houston and in late March, the women’s Final Four will be in Dallas. If Patrick pushes the bathroom bill through the Senate by then, as expected, there will be a lot of unflattering stories.

For a taste of things to come, consider Monday’s subhead in The Economist: “In the toilet.”

How about this comment from a writer at The New York Daily News: “We probably should have stopped playing big-time sports in Texas a long time ago because gay rights have been under siege in Texas for decades.”

Then there’s Rick Riordan, the Texan who wrote the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. After the bathroom bill was filed last week, he turned down an offer to attend a celebration of authors by the Texas Legislature.

“If they want to honor me, they could stop this nonsense,” Riordan wrote on Twitter.

[…]

There’s already been a backlash. Over a dozen large events, slated to bring in roughly 180,000 visitors, have contacted Dallas officials and said they would cancel, said Phillip Jones, CEO of Visit Dallas, the organization that promotes conventions and other tourism business here.

“That’s the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

An education group with about 20,000 members had penciled in Dallas for 2020, he said. Because of the bathroom bill, the group is considering a Midwest city instead.

Jones cited a survey that showed 53 percent of meeting planners are avoiding cities that don’t have universal bathroom use. Many planners are putting off decisions on Dallas until they see what happens with the Lege.

“We’re already suffering because of this negative perception,” Jones said.

Perception is the right word. Patrick pledged to make transgender bathrooms a top priority for the Legislature. He said it’s about safety and privacy, and not giving in to political correctness. But that’s not how others see it.

“The message to transgender people is stark — we do not and will not accept you,” wrote The Economist.

Dan Patrick, of course, disputes the very notion that Texas would lose any business at all due to his bathroom bill. So whatever you do, don’t show him this.

An academic group is threatening to pull an upcoming conference from Houston next year, citing concerns with a bill before the Texas legislature that would require transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to their assigned sex at birth.

The American College Personnel Association, a trade group based in the nation’s capital, expects more than 3,100 people to travel to Houston over three days in March 2018 for the conference. Executive Director Cindi Love cited concern for transgender college students’ and attendees’ safety as a reason for potentially relocating the conference.

“We cannot bring transgender-identified members to a city and risk (discrimination) if they leave the facility where we’ve contracted,” Love said Wednesday morning. The group backed out of a conference in North Carolina scheduled for last summer after that state passed a similar law.

Love said the group’s withdrawal from Houston would mean $5.129 million in lost revenue for the city and state, calculating that figure from airfare, ground transportation, hotels, food, entertainment and other conference arrangements.

Yeah, but they’re a bunch of filthy academics, so their money doesn’t really count, right? Everything can be rationalized if you need it to be.

Meanwhile, the business lobby still wants no part of this.

Chris Wallace, the new president of the Texas Association of Business, said his priorities are better roads, expanded education, smarter taxation, sustainable heath care and no legislation that will tarnish the state’s brand.

“Infrastructure … that’s an issue for every legislative session,” Wallace said. “In any taxation discussion, we want to ensure it is fair for business, because business makes up more than 60 percent of the tax base.”

To improve the future workforce, the association wants to see free full-day pre-kindergarten, implementation of the A-through-F school accountability ratings and a way to link 10 percent of a four-year college’s funding to responsible graduation rates.

“Businesses put a lot of money into the education system, and many are questioning the return on investment,” Wallace said.

Other priorities include lowering health care costs by expanding telemedicine access and giving advanced-practice registered nurses more authority.

Stopping the transgender bathroom bill introduced by Houston-area Sen. Lois Kolkhorst may be the biggest fight to save the state’s reputation.

Former Chronicle reporter R.G. Ratcliffe recently explained in Texas Monthly magazine how Toyota Motor Corp. agreed to move its North American headquarters to Plano only after the city council promised an anti-discrimination ordinance that Kolkhorst’s bill would repeal. A non-discrimination ordinance was also a top priority for Apple when it created thousands of jobs in Austin. Major corporations care about this issue more than lawmakers realize.

“We’ll oppose any kind of legislation that would impact any our members’ abilities to recruit their workforce, or that would negatively impact economic development, such as recruiting corporate relocations,” Wallace said.

The association can’t defend business’s interests by itself, though. Wallace needs business leaders to do their part.

“They’ve got to speak up,” he said. “Whatever the issue is, we encourage businesses to make their voices heard with legislators.”

Look, there are plenty of things the business lobby likes that I don’t. The A-F grading system for schools is at best a very rough work in progress, and of course they’re all about tax cuts. But my argument is that almost by default these guys are more in line with the Democrats these days than they are with the Republicans, and they need to recognize that whatever reservations they may have about the Dems, one-party rule in this state is not a good thing for them. They don’t need to link hands with the SEIU, but a limited strategic alliance could be quite beneficial. The fact is, they may well succeed in killing the bathroom bill this session, but as Patrick himself told the Trib, he’s never going to give up on it. If they want this thing to be well and truly dead, there are two ways to ensure that. One is to defeat Dan Patrick in 2018. The other is to reduce the number of Patrick minions in the Senate.

After the vote rejecting West’s amendment to the rules, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, suggested another solution: “I think what we need to do is elect two more Democrats. Then we’d be forced to work together.”

I don’t have precinct data from the Senate districts that will have elections next year, but the names to look at are Konni Burton, Don Huffines, Joan Huffman, and Kelly Hancock. I guarantee, the 2016 numbers will make those seats look at least somewhat competitive, and winning even one of them would make a real difference. If the business lobby is serious about defeating not just this bill but the next however many incarnations of it, this is what it’s going to take. Are they in or are they not? The Observer has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

The Super Bowl economic impact calculators have figured out it’s all a game

They’ve adjusted their methods in anticipation of your criticisms.

With less than a month to go before the big day, let no one say that Super Bowl LI — as an economic event, not a football game — has been inadequately forecast.

We’ve already seen two studies on the financial boost that the two-week extravaganza is expected to provide to the Houston area: One from a consulting firm hired to figure out how much hospitality tax revenue the state should provide in advance, and another from a local bank. They ranged pretty widely in their predictions and definitions, making it difficult to know what benefits to expect.

Now comes another study from the Host Committee, this one designed to capture the new money that will flow to Houston as a result of the game and all the programming around it. The headline: The city will net $350 million from the whole affair, which appears to be in the middle of the range of windfalls from Super Bowls past.

Aware of the skepticism surrounding previous in-house analyses, the consulting firm that performed it — Pennsylvania-based Rockport Analytics — emphasizes that it doesn’t count anything that shouldn’t be counted. “One of the reasons why we tend to be hired by events like this is that we produce conservative estimates,” says managing director Kenneth McGill.

As such, the firm took the overall expected amount of Super Bowl spending — based on a budget provided by the Host Committee and data from past Super Bowls — and subtracted out both the typical amount of tourism the city sees during this time of year and the spending that’s likely to leak out to other states and cities. It included the amount the city would be spending on the event, about $5.5 million, as a net gain; city officials have said the Host Committee will reimburse all of those costs.

That got them down from from $450 million to the ultimate $350 million, which is slightly more than the $338 million that Rockport is forecasting for next year’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis — a number that has already come under fire from independent sports finance experts — and the $277.9 million it determined that Indianapolis reaped from hosting the event in 2012.

I don’t really have a point to make, I’m just always entertained by these economic impact estimates. It would be nice if we were systematic about comparing the post-event data to the pre-event projections, so that we could make better projections in the future, but we don’t, and I’m not even sure we could. So take these as I do as mostly for entertainment value, and it’s all good.

Posted in: Other sports.

More Paxton-versus-SEC stuff

Keeping the lawyers busy.

Best mugshot ever

Lawyers for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton say the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission cannot “shoot first and investigate later” as they seek to block 15 new subpoenas issued by the SEC.

It is the latest argument by Paxton’s attorneys in their effort to show the SEC is scrambling to save its civil securities fraud case against the attorney general, who is headed to trial later this year on similar criminal charges at the state level. Fighting the SEC charges, his team has already cast doubt on the credibility of a key witness in both cases, State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana.

The new subpoenas, issued Tuesday, largely seek communications Paxton may have had with any other investors in Servergy, the North Texas start-up whose investors Paxton is accused of misleading from a period before he was elected Texas’ top law enforcement official in 2014.

“The SEC cannot now attempt to bolster its faltering case … by fishing around in discovery for information about other potential investors whom the SEC has not pled with any particularity that Mr. Paxton defrauded,” Paxton’s lawyers wrote in their latest filing.

See here, here, and here for some background. This is all separate from the criminal trial that is now scheduled. Such busy days for our AG.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Weekend link dump for January 15

“As a result, a broader array of financial institutions now are in a potentially powerful position over the incoming president. If the Trump businesses were to default on their debts, the giant financial institutions that serve as so-called special servicers of these loan pools would have the power to foreclose on some of Mr. Trump’s marquee properties or seek the tens of millions of dollars that Mr. Trump personally guaranteed on the loans.”

“On the other hand — multiple tech leaders say they or their PR folks have adjusted their schedules to make sure someone is up at 3 a.m. local time to catch the the tweets out of fear that a Trump tweet could crash their stock and put their company into a frenzy.”

Lucasfilm and Disney have a big decision to make about Princess Leia in Star Wars moving IX.

The next Hall of Famer for each MLB team. Some of these are more speculative than others.

RIP, Jeremy Stone, mathematician whose ideas about minimizing the possibility of a nuclear catastrophe influenced arms-control negotiators in the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Now this is how you quit a job.

“Isn’t it time for a little bit of soul searching from the media – Trump-controlled, conservative and mainstream — about how to handle stolen material of shady origins?”

The doula wars are a thing I’m glad I don’t need to be involved in, since we’ve already had our kids.

“Let me review the Republican hypocrisy on Obamacare. Bear with me, this will take awhile.”

“Unless people believe Clayton Kershaw is the only pitcher active who should make the Hall of Fame, then the Hall of Fame needs to adjust their standards to recognize great pitchers.”

“Trump has ordered Under Secretary for Nuclear Security Frank Klotz and his deputy, Madelyn Creedon—both Obama appointees—to leave their posts, even if it means no one is in charge of maintaining the country’s nuclear weapons. According to our Energy Department source, Trump’s team has yet to nominate anyone to succeed them.”

RIP, Retired Archbishop Patrick Flores, who became the first Mexican-American bishop in the United States in 1970.

“Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is a tough and wily operator. But he is opposed by an equally relentless and worthy adversary: Mitch McConnell. Nobody in recent memory has argued so frequently and so passionately against himself as the Kentucky Republican. Oyez, oyez, oyez: Let us hear the case of McConnell v. McConnell.”

There’s a plan in the works to expand the World Cup to 48 teams. I can get behind that.

“Just because something’s ranked #1 doesn’t mean it’s YOUR #1.”

“I believe Barack Obama was the greatest President of my lifetime, but as I heard him talk, I remembered he is about more than political office. At so many times—his amazing speech about race in the first campaign, his powerful words after Sandy Hook, his second inaugural when laid out the imperative of attacking climate change—he has moved us beyond politics to elevate our values. This is his great opportunity now; just as America faces a crisis of values, a great debate about who we really are at our core, he will be speaking not as just a politician, but as a moral leader. In many ways we need that even more today than great politicians.”

Is it just me, or does this make anyone else feel like they’ve stumbled into the plot of a rejected Tom Clancy novel?

“At every turn, when met with efforts to increase diverse representation or reverse the vast racial disparities in the criminal justice system, Jeff Sessions has stood in opposition.”

“The bully has his pulpit.”

You can’t blackmail someone that everyone already knows is a terrible person, I guess.

“Some critics seem to be saying that unless the information in an intelligence briefing or other leaked document can be independently verified by reporters, it shouldn’t be published. But did reporters independently verify all the allegations against Hillary Clinton and her allies contained in the emails released by WikiLeaks?”

Putting it another way, spare me your pearl clutching about this.

What Steve M says.

Repealing Obamacare would provide a tax cut averaging $7 million for each of the 400 highest-earning taxpayers. Hope that’s what you wanted, Trump voters.

“A coalition of university professors and scientists around the United States have taken on a new role in recent weeks: Defenders of facts and truth against the impending antiscience Trump administration.”

Please only ask Dear Leader simple questions. Preferably with short words.

RIP, William Peter Blatty, author and screenwriter of The Exorcist.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Sung and Vilaseca sworn in at HISD

The HISD Board is back at full strength.

Anne Sung

As Anne Sung and Holly Flynn Vilaseca took their oaths of office and became Houston ISD’s newest Board of Education trustees on Thursday, their husbands swaddled their months-old babies in one hand and held holy books in the other.

Sung’s 11-month-old daughter, Sarita, and Flynn Vilaseca’s 13-month-old, Nicolas, hardly made a peep as their mothers became leaders of the nation’s seventh-largest school district.

Sung was elected as the District 7 trustee and will replace Harvin Moore, who resigned from the board last summer. Vilaseca was unanimously appointed by the board Monday to fill the District 6 seat vacated by Greg Meyers, who resigned at the board’s December meeting.

Both new members will serve through 2017. Then their seats will be back up for election.

[…]

Holly Flynn Vilaseca

Sung and Flynn Vilaseca said top priorities include ensuring equity in terms of the number of talented teachers, funding and facilities across Houston’s campuses. Flynn Vilaseca said she would also like to focus on lobbying the state to abandon “recapture,” which takes money from so-called property-rich districts to assist those with lower property values.

Houston ISD officials have argued that because 75 percent of district students are considered low income, the money it pays to the state for recapture would be better spent locally.

Sung also hopes to make sure the board and district are operating ethically and transparently, particularly in the way it spends money.

Both also plan to focus on improving student achievement, especially among the district’s lowest-performing students.

“We need to bring attention back to doing what’s right for students and preparing them for life after high school,” Sung said. “We need to make sure we align what we’re teaching with what’s happening in the world.”

See here for more on Vilaseca. I’ve heard some chatter that she does plan to run for a full term in November, which will be a race to watch. I look forward to interviewing her down the line. In the meantime, the Board (which elected its officers for the year; Wanda Adams is now Board President) has a lot to deal with, including lobbying the Lege to do something about recapture, dealing with the revelations about special education, continuing the bond-funded construction projects, and so on. Welcome aboard, ladies (*), let’s get to work. The Press has more.

(*) In case you hadn’t noticed (I only just did), with the election of Sung and the selection of Vilaseca, the HISD Board is now comprised of seven women and two men.

Posted in: School days.

Where we begin with school finance

A nice overview from the Trib on school finance, where the problems are many and the budget situation is non-optimal.

The current system is held together by a number of short-term fixes that have not been updated or reformed in decades. The Texas Supreme Court upheld the funding system as constitutional in May, and at the same time put the onus on state lawmakers to reform it — but few believe a major overhaul will come without a court order.

Even if legislators decided to tackle an overhaul of the whole system, experts say there is not enough money in state coffers to increase state spending, lower local spending and relieve Texans upset about rising property taxes. For now, some lawmakers are backing a simple plan to increase money to all school districts through the general appropriations bill, instead of taking apart the complex school finance system. Others have filed bills to tweak individual weights in the system, which provide additional money for disadvantaged student populations.

[…]

Legislators will also have to decide this year whether to re-up a program that provides extra funding for fewer than 200 districts that would otherwise have lost money in previous school finance rewrites. When the Legislature reduced property taxes by a third in 2006, it guaranteed school districts at least the same state funding they received for the 2005-06 school year by creating the Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction initiative.

That aid expires Sept. 1, but the districts still receiving the money are clamoring for an extension. “At some point, it does need to go away for the sake of more equity. But it can’t fall off a cliff at this point in time,” said Guy Sconzo, executive director of the Fast Growth School Coalition, which represents the fastest-growing districts in the state. “It does the entire system no good if any part of the system effectively goes bankrupt.”

So far, five legislators have filed bills to extend the funding program. State Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, filed House Bill 811, which would extend funding through 2020-21. Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, proposed an extension through 2022-23. Both lawmakers were members of their chambers’ public education committees last session.

King, who is on the short list to chair the House Public Education Committee this session, said some districts are still getting a large chunk of their overall funding through this program and that they cannot be cut off immediately. “I’m going to put a mechanism in place for school districts to roll off of the aid in 2021 and hopefully replace the dollars with another school funding system,” he said.

Other school finance advocates oppose the extension, calling it a “Band-Aid” that exacerbates the inequity among districts.

“It maintains an already inefficient portion of the system,” said Ray Freeman, deputy executive director of the Equity Center, which represents property-poor districts. Instead, he said, legislators should reform the base formulas so districts have access to a stable source of funds.

The Houston Independent School District will be a major focus this session because its voters in November rejected sending $165 million in local property taxes to poorer school districts. In the Texas finance system, districts with a wealthier tax base spend local money to help educate students in districts with less property tax money, as part of the “Robin Hood” or “recapture” system.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has warned that the state will probably move commercial properties from Houston ISD tax rolls to those of a nearby district. Houston legislators will be under pressure to find a way to ease the burden, as those property owners could face higher tax rates in their newly assigned districts.

David Thompson, an attorney representing Houston ISD, said a legislative win for Houston on school finance could also mean a win for other districts. “There are particular issues that would address some of the concerns in Houston and at the same time be helpful for schools across the state,” he said.

The state should update its formulas for determining which districts get transportation funding, and the state should also provide full-day pre-K funding for all districts, Thompson said.

“Everybody starts by saying, ‘There’s no money.’ There is,” he said. The state should allow the local dollars people are already paying to stay in education, instead of “siphoning local property taxes” for non-education purposes, he said.

But some legislators are saying Houston ISD voters dug themselves deeper into a school funding hole and should live with the repercussions. “I don’t think the Legislature has a lot of appetite to let Harris County out of recapture when everybody else is paying it,” King said.

[…]

School finance experts agree that increasing the basic allotment, the base funding each district receives per student, is likely to be the most popular way of changing the system. The House Public Education Committee recommended this approach in its interim report.

“The amount we set for the basic allotment drives the entire school finance system and, given our current system, increasing that amount would be a prudent move to help all districts,” said State Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin. “It’s important to note, this method can also be achieved through the General Appropriations Act alone, so it may also be the most realistic thing the Legislature can do this session without having to pass a stand-alone bill.”

It’s likely to be a favored proposal in the House, Ashby said. But like many other plans, it requires more dollars to public education, a difficult challenge this session, given that lawmakers have less money to spend than they did when they last met in 2015.

There’s also vouchers, the A-F grading system for accountability ratings, continued discontent with STAAR, curriculum and graduation requirements, etc etc etc. It’s important to remember that the local property tax boom that helped lead HISD and other districts into recapture is also a huge boon for the state budget, and not something legislators will give up easily. I think the best case scenario is some more money from general revenue, adjustments to the funding formula for transportation and pre-K as David Thompson noted, and a temporary extension of the Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction initiative with a plan to fix it next session. HISD will still owe recapture money even if all that is done, but I for one would feel a lot less aggrieved by recapture if these things happened, and would support a recapture re-vote to take place before detachment could begin. We’ll see how it goes.

Posted in: Budget ballyhoo.

Who wants to rent their house out to Super Bowl visitors?

I don’t, but some people hope to make a lot of money renting theirs.

With the Super Bowl heading to Houston next month, locals are starting to see dollar signs as well, hoping to cash in on visitors’ willingness to pay thousands to rent their homes or apartments during the biggest football game of the year.

While Beyonce isn’t likely to hit up Airbnb this year – she’s hails from Houston, after all – plenty of other celebrities will need places to stay. So will countless corporate executives with sky-high lodging budgets, and, of course, all the others simply unable to get a hotel room in town.

Exactly how many takers, and how much they’re willing to spend, will become clearer after the participating teams have been determined. In the meantime, a couple of thousand hopeful Houstonians already are checking their emails waiting for the alert that shows their place has been booked during the game.

“My hope is the market is going to get really tight for premium properties,” said Michael Salinas, a CPA who’s listing his three-bedroom townhouse in Montrose for $3,699 a night during Super Bowl LI.

Local listings on the popular Airbnb rental website have increased 40 percent in just the last two months, the company said.

The city expects about 140,000 out of town guests and there are roughly 84,000 hotel rooms in the metro area, according to A.J. Mistretta, a spokesman for the city’s tourism bureau.

“We believe most properties will be full but there are a lot of factors that play in, including who ends up in the game and how far their fans will travel for the experience,” Mistretta said in an email.

Chris Bisel is listing his four-bedroom Meyerland home for $5,500 per night. With that, Bisel is offering free chauffeur service in his GMC Yukon XL Denali. He hasn’t had any takers yet.

“Frankly, we put it up there at sort of a crazy price just to see what would happen. If we rent the place out for five or six nights, we clear 25 or 30 grand,” he said, enough to pay for the first year of college for his daughter, a high school senior.

[…]

As of Jan. 1, Houston had about 5,700 listings on Airbnb, according to the company’s most recent data, up from about 4,100 listings at the beginning of November.

During Super Bowl weekend last year, Airbnb guests stayed in more than 4,000 listings in the Bay Area, said Laura Spanjian, public policy director for the San Francisco-based company. The average rate was $225 per night.

“There are some very expensive listings, but there are also some very affordable ones,” Spanjian said.

Yes, that’s the same Laura Spanjian who had been the city’s Sustainability Director under Mayor Parker. The wide disparity between what some AirBnB listers in Houston are asking and what people actually got on average in San Francisco makes me think the folks here are dreaming a little too hard, but I guess you never know. Maybe San Francisco had more hotel space available, and maybe fewer people made the kind of last-minute arrangements that can lead to premium prices being charged. I do know people in Austin who have made a bundle renting out their places during SxSW, so it is possible. It’s not practical for me and my family at this time, but if it works for you, go for it. Just avoid renting to Johnny Manziell and you should be fine.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

Saturday video break: Nowhere To Run

Let’s throw it back with Martha and the Vandellas:

I love that music videos were being made in the 60s. MTV was a decade and a half away, something like this might get shown once on an “American Bandstand”-type show, and yet here we are fifty years later watching it on Youtube. What a serendipitous fluke.

Now here are The Commitments, paying homage on their extended soundtrack:

My fellow Orphan Black fans will recognize Maria Doyle “Mrs. S” Kennedy in the front row, second from the right. Last season coming up, I sure hope they tie it all together.

Posted in: Music.

City loses appeal of procedural argument in term limits lawsuit

Stay with me, because this is going to take a bit of explaining.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

A state appeals court on Thursday rejected the city’s procedural challenge to a lawsuit that could force Houston’s mayor and city council members to revert to three two-year terms, from the two four-year terms voters approved in November 2015.

The Texas First Court of Appeals ruling did not address the merits of the underlying case, which centers on whether the city’s ballot language was misleading.

Rather, the court’s decision marks an incremental step in what is likely to be a lengthy appeals process that plaintiffs hope could trigger municipal elections as early as this fall.

Austin election lawyer Buck Wood, however, said he considers November mayoral and city council elections improbable, given the speed with which courts typically move.

[…]

The appellate court’s ruling affirms state District Judge Randy Clapp’s decision last year to reject Houston’s procedural challenge, which sought to get the case thrown out.

Clapp was not considering the substance of the case at the time, though he tipped his hand by calling the city’s ballot language “inartful” but not “invalid.”

Mayoral spokeswoman Janice Evans said Thursday the city attorney’s office is considering whether to appeal the procedural decision to the state Supreme Court.

If the trial court’s 2016 procedural decision holds, the case likely would return to Clapp for a hearing on the substance of whether Houston’s term limits ballot language obscured the nature of the vote by asking whether voters wanted to “limit the length for all terms.”

See here for the background. Where this gets confusing is that the original story didn’t explain all of what was happening in that first hearing. There was a motion by the plaintiffs for summary judgment, which was denied. That was the win for the city, as now a trial is required to settle the question of whether the ballot language was misleading or not. The rest of it was about procedural matters: Whether plaintiff’s attorney Eric Dick properly served the city notice of his lawsuit, whether the court had jurisdiction to hear the case, and whether attorney Andy Taylor could intervene to assist Dick. District Court Judge Clapp ruled against the city’s motion to dismiss on these matters. The city appealed that ruling, and the First Court of Appeals upheld Judge Clapp.

The city can appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court. If they do and they win, the lawsuit will be dismissed. If they lose, or if they choose not to appeal, the matter will be returned to Judge Clapp’s court for a trial on the merits of the lawsuit. The plaintiffs are hoping to get a ruling in time for there to be city elections this November; they claim August is the deadline for that, though I’d argue that more time would be needed for real campaigns to occur. However, as the story notes, even if the plaintiffs win, there’s no guarantee that city elections would follow as a result. What might happen instead is that the city would have to put a differently-worded term limits referendum on the ballot. That maybe could happen this November, or it might happen in 2018. Or even later than that, depending on how long it takes to get a ruling and how long the appeals of that ruling take. Remember how long it took to get a Supreme Court decision in the Renew Houston lawsuit? The 2010 referendum was subsequently voided more than a year ago, and yet here we are, with no new election for it in sight. Mayor Turner has joked that it will be up to his successor to get the term limits issue straightened out because it won’t be settled till after his eight years in office. I’m not sure he’s joking about that.

Posted in: Legal matters.

The coming legislative border battle

Here we go again.

House Republicans on Wednesday said they aren’t backing away from recent efforts to secure the southern border despite an incoming president who made beefed-up immigration enforcement a hallmark of his campaign.

And as a final admonishment of President Obama, they said they intended to bill the federal government more than $2.8 billion for state spending on border security since January 2013. The amount includes a combination of expenses incurred by the Department of Public Safety ($1.4 billion), Texas Parks and Wildlife ($20.2 million), Texas Military Forces ($62.9 million), Texas Health and Human Services ($416.8 million), the Texas Education Agency ($181.1 million) and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission ($671,000), according to House Republicans. Another $723.8 million has been spent by local and state governments related to incarceration, they said.

“We understand the principles of federalism, and while we surely don’t want the federal government meddling in our schools and deciding our environmental policies or setting our health care policies, we sure as heck want them doing their limited duties, which are: enforcing the border, standing up for a strong military and delivering the mail,” said state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

Two years ago, Bonnen was the author of House Bill 11, an omnibus border security measure that increased by 250 the number of Texas Department of Public Safety officers on the border. The legislation was part of the record $800 million lawmakers appropriated for border security during that legislative session.

Lawmakers learned earlier this week they will have billions of dollars less in state revenue to work with this year as they craft the next biennial budget, even as the Department of Public Safety has said it would ask lawmakers for an additional $1 billion for border security. Bonnen said he hadn’t yet reviewed the request.

Although they said they had high hopes that President-elect Trump would fulfill his promise to secure the border and let Texas off the hook, House Republicans reiterated that lawmakers will need to wait and see what the incoming administration does and how soon it acts on border security before making a decision on future expenditures.

“We’ll have to see, [but] I think the Trump administration has made clear that they intend from day one, starting next Friday, to get to work on this issue,” Bonnen said, citing the day of Trump’s scheduled inauguration.

State Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, the chairman of the House Republican Caucus, left the door open to Texas lawmakers approving more funding for state-based border security efforts if necessary.

“Republicans in the Texas House are absolutely committed to continuous border security — be it from the state of Texas and what we’ve been doing all these years or from our federal government,” he said.

Part of Trump’s proposed solution includes building a wall along parts of the southern border. When asked what he would tell a Texas landowner whose property could be seized by the federal government for that effort, Bonnen said: “My response would be whatever we need to do to make our border secure and controlled by the federal government.”

If you’re going to pass the buck, as it were, why not skip the middleman and send the invoice straight to Mexico? It’s what Trump (says he) would do, and it has about the same odds of getting paid. It’s a stunt, so make it as stunt-y as you can. As for the claims that Dear Leader Trump will spend more money on “border security”, thus enabling the state to spend less, who knows? It’s a bad idea in general to believe a word the guy says, but there is certainly enthusiasm in Congress to spend money on it, so I won’t be surprised if it happens. Note that whether or not it does happen, legislative Republicans plan to spend more on it as well, which highlights again the sham nature of their “invoice” for what they (quite happily) spent in the last session. As Rep. Cesar Blanco says in the story, they all have primaries to win. Look for even more speeding tickets to get written in the area.

The Observer highlights the resistance.

Legislators and advocates on Wednesday announced Texas Together — a new effort that aims to resist anti-immigrant proposals in the Texas Legislature, including those that would revoke funding from so-called sanctuary cities and repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students. The campaign is an initiative of the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance, a coalition of immigrant advocates and activists from across the state.

“We are here to stand against the attempt to put anti-immigrant rhetoric into bills,” said state Senator Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, at a Capitol press conference Wednesday. “We oppose these politics that have become poisoned with misinformation about immigrants and border life.”

[…]

Captain Shelly Knight of the Dallas Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that SB 4 would strain law enforcement budgets and damage trust between communities and officers.

“All of that [trust] we’ve built up will be gone,” Knight said. “So therefore they won’t come and report violent crimes, such as family violence.”

Stand and fight, y’all. The Republicans are going to pass whatever they’re going to pass. Don’t give them any help on this.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Fire ant-killing robots

Let’s just luxuriate in the glory of that headline for a moment, shall we?

Harley Myler is working on a “war of the worlds.”

That’s what the Lamar Electrical Engineering Department chair calls his latest project: a walking robot that incinerates red fire ants.

The idea is to use a camera to identify the species the same way computers and sites like Facebook can recognize faces, and then fire at them with a blue laser taken from inside a DVD burner, he said.

Sophomore Qiuyi Ma, who recently received an undergraduate research grant to work on the project with Myler, said they just got the materials for the robot at the end of November. She expects to be working on the project through May.

The ants, which can attack and sting humans and animals, are not native to the United States and, according to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, displace native ant species.

Myler first proposed the project several years ago, but only recently received funding. He’s spent the last year working on another invasive species-targeting robot, which will help control the lionfish population in the Gulf of Mexico.

Though he originally envisioned an underwater vehicle shooting darts at the fish, which has venomous spines and preys on native species, other scientists worried about collateral damage and quickly put a stop to that.

“The marine biologists were [saying], ‘no, no, no, we can’t have a robot swimming around on reefs shooting darts at a lionfish,'” he said. Instead, the goal now is to make it easier and more efficient for humans to capture them, “just like a hunter has a trained dog,” he said.

I just want to say three things. One, Harley Myler is now my favorite scientist ever. Two, the only way this project could be any better is if the ant-killing laser-firing robots were built to resemble Star Wars AT-AT walkers. I mean, it’s obvious, right? And three, for the love of God please don’t let the Defense Department or the NSA give this guy a grant. I can’t wait till May to see what the prototype looks like, but until then if you want some more practical advice about fire ants, here’s the A&M fire ant page for you to peruse. You’re welcome.

Posted in: Technology, science, and math, The great state of Texas.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 28

This is the last one of these during the Obama presidency.

1. Nowhere Man – Of Montreal (Dottie Alexander)
2. Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me – Oleta Adams
3. Magic – Olivia Newton-John
4. The Cap And Bells – Paisley Close (Amy Price, Cidnie MacNamee)
5. Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted – The Patridge Family (Shirley Jones, Susan Dey, Suzanne Crough)
6. Hit Me With Your Best Shot – Pat Benatar
7. Crazy – Patsy Cline
8. Symphony Of Love – Patti Austin
9. Gloria – Patti Smith
10. Useless Desires – Patty Griffin

I was going to say something about these songs, but once the realization of the opening sentence hit me, I lost my train of thought. Maybe next week.

Posted in: Music.

Precinct analysis: Texas Congressional districts

From Daily Kos:

Texas’s GOP-drawn congressional map was designed to create 24 safely red seats and 11 safely Democratic districts, with only the 23rd District in the western part of the state being truly competitive. In 2012, Mitt Romney carried the state 57-41 and won those 24 red seats by double digits, while Barack Obama easily carried the 11 Democratic districts; the 23rd backed Romney 51-48.

Things were a lot more interesting in 2016, with Donald Trump defeating Hillary Clinton by a smaller 52.5-43.5 margin, the closest presidential election in Texas in decades. Clinton won all the Obama districts, as well as the 23rd and two solidly Romney seats, the 7th and 32nd. However, the GOP still holds all the districts that Romney won in 2012, while Democrats have all the Obama/Clinton districts. The map at the top of this post, which shows each district as equally sized, illustrates all this, with the three Romney/Clinton districts standing out in pink.

We’ll start with a look at Texas’s 23rd District, which stretches from El Paso to San Antonio and went from 51-48 Romney to 50-46 Clinton. However, the swing wasn’t quite enough for Democrats downballot. Republican Will Hurd narrowly unseated Democrat Pete Gallego in the 2014 GOP wave, and he won their expensive rematch by a similarly tight 48-47 margin.

Surprisingly, two other Texas Republicans have now found themselves sitting in seats Clinton won. Romney easily carried the 7th, located in the Houston area, by a wide 60-39 spread, but the well-educated seat backed Clinton by a narrow 48.5-47.1. Republican Rep. John Culberson still decisively turned back a challenge from a perennial candidate 56-44, and it remains to be seen if Democrats will be able to field a stronger contender next time—or whether the GOP’s weakness at the top of the ticket was a one-time phenomenon due solely to Trump.

The 32nd in the Dallas area also swung wildly from 57-41 Romney to 49-47 Clinton. However, Democrats didn’t even field an opponent against longtime GOP Rep. Pete Sessions, a former head of the NRCC who’s capable of raising as much money as he needs to in order to win. This is another well-educated seat where we’ll need to see if Democrats will be able to take advantage of Trump’s weaknesses, or if The Donald’s 2016 problems don’t hurt the GOP much downballot in future years.

Seven other Republican-held seats also moved to the left by double digits. The closest result came in Rep. Kenny Marchant’s 24th District in the Dallas-Forth Worth suburbs, which Trump won just 51-45 after Romney cruised to a 60-38 win four years earlier. Marchant beat a penniless opponent 56-39, so this district could also wind up on Democratic watch lists.

They mention a few other districts in which Clinton exceeded Obama’s numbers by a significant amount; I’ll get to that in a minute. I’ve discussed CD07 and CD32 before. We know that while Clinton carried CD07, it was largely due to Republican crossovers, as the average judicial race clocked in at a 56.5% to 43.5%b advantage for Trump. I can now make a similar statement about CD32, as I have been working my way through the canvass data in Dallas County. (CD32 reaches into Collin County as well, but I don’t have canvass data for it. The large majority of the district is in Dallas County, however.) Hillary Clinton won the Dallas County portion of CD32 by ten thousand votes, basically 127K to 117K. No other Democrat in Dallas County carried CD32, however. Looking at the judicial races there, Trump generally led by 20K to 25K votes, so the crossover effect was significant. The closest any Dem came to matching Clinton in CD32 was two-term Sheriff Lupe Valdez, who trailed in the Dallas portion of CD32 by a 125K to 116K margin.

I may go back later and look at CD24, about forty percent of which is in Dallas County, and I will definitely look at CD23 when we have full statewide numbers. If you had told me that Clinton would carry CD23, I’d have been sure that Pete Gallego would reclaim the seat, but that didn’t happen. I’ve got to give credit to Rep. Will Hurd for that, though I doubt he will ever have an easy time of it going forward. As for the other districts, I’ll just say this: Back when we were all getting intoxicated by the alluringly tight poll numbers in Texas, I ran the numbers in every district to see what might happen if you adjusted the 2012 returns to reflect a 50-50 Presidential race. The short answer is that while several Congressional districts become a lot more competitive, none of them swing to majority Dem, even under those much more favorable circumstances. This is a testament to how effective that Republican gerrymander is, and a sobering reminder of how much ground there is to recover before we can make any gains. The 2016 Presidential numbers may tantalize, but they are illusory.

One more thing: The full 2016 Congressional numbers, along with the corresponding 2012 numbers, are here. Let me break them down a bit:


Trump up, Clinton down

Dist   Romney   Trump   Obama  Clinton  R Diff  D Diff
======================================================
CD01     71.6    72.2    27.5     25.3    +0.6    -2.2
CD04     74.0    75.4    24.8     21.8    +1.4    -3.0


Trump down, Clinton down

Dist   Romney   Trump   Obama  Clinton  R Diff  D Diff
======================================================
CD05     64.5    62.7    34.4     34.3    -1.8    -0.1
CD11     79.2    77.8    19.6     19.1    -1.4    -0.5
CD13     80.2    79.9    18.5     16.9    -0.3    -2.6
CD14     59.3    58.2    39.5     38.4    -1.1    -1.1
CD15     41.5    40.0    57.4     56.7    -1.5    -0.7
CD19     73.6    72.5    25.0     23.5    -1.1    -1.5
CD27     60.5    60.1    38.2     36.7    -0.4    -1.5
CD28     38.7    38.5    60.3     58.3    -0.2    -2.0
CD30     19.6    18.3    79.6     79.1    -1.3    -0.5
CD34     38.3    37.7    60.8     59.2    -0.6    -1.6
CD36     73.2    72.0    25.7     25.2    -1.2    -0.5

Trump down, Clinton up

Dist   Romney   Trump   Obama  Clinton  R Diff  D Diff
======================================================
CD02     62.9    52.4    35.6     43.1   -10.5    +7.5
CD03     64.3    54.8    34.2     40.6    -9.5    +6.4
CD06     57.9    54.2    40.8     41.9    -3.7    +1.1
CD07     59.9    48.5    38.6     47.1   -11.4    +8.5
CD08     77.0    72.7    21.7     23.9    -4.3    +2.2
CD09     21.1    18.0    78.0     79.3    -2.9    +1.3
CD10     59.1    52.3    38.8     43.2    -6.8    +4.4
CD12     66.8    62.9    31.7     32.7    -3.9    +1.0
CD16     34.5    27.2    64.2     67.9    -7.3    +3.7
CD17     60.4    56.3    37.7     38.8    -4.1    +1.1
CD18     22.8    20.0    76.1     76.5    -2.8    +0.4
CD20     39.7    34.3    58.9     61.0    -5.4    +2.1
CD21     59.8    52.5    37.9     42.5    -7.3    +4.6
CD22     62.1    52.1    36.7     44.2   -10.0    +7.5
CD23     50.7    46.4    48.1     49.7    -4.3    +1.6
CD24     60.4    50.7    38.0     44.5    -9.7    +6.5
CD25     59.9    55.1    37.8     40.2    -4.8    +2.4
CD26     67.6    60.9    30.7     34.4    -6.7    +3.7
CD29     33.0    25.4    65.9     71.1    -7.6    +5.2
CD31     59.6    53.5    38.3     40.8    -6.1    +2.5
CD32     57.0    46.6    41.5     48.5   -10.4    +7.0
CD33     27.1    23.7    72.0     72.9    -3.4    +0.9
CD35     34.6    30.5    63.0     64.1    -4.1    +1.1

You want to know why we’ll never get rid of Louie Gohmert? He represents CD01, one of two districts where Trump improved on Mitt Romney’s numbers. That’s why we’ll never get rid of Louie Gohmert. In the other districts, the main difference between 2016 and 2012 is the performance of third party candidates, especially Libertarian Gary Johnson. I don’t have vote totals, and the dKos spreadsheet doesn’t include the other candidates, so it’s hard to say exactly what happened at this time. For sure, in some of these districts, there was a shift towards the Democrats. I’ve noted before that the “true” level of Democratic support in CD07 was about 43.5%, but that’s still four or five points better than it was in 2012. When the full statewide numbers come out, probably next month, I’ll be able to do more detailed comparisons. For now, this is what we have. Look over the dKos data and see what you think.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Paxton’s trial date set

Mark your calendars, and stock up on the popcorn.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s trial on criminal securities fraud charges is set to begin May 1.

Jury selection will be held April 20-21 and April 27-28, according to a recent order by George Gallagher, the judge presiding over Paxton’s case. He also scheduled a hearing on pretrial motions for Feb. 16.

The trial will unfold in the heat of the legislative session, which began Tuesday and ends on May 29, and as campaigns get underway for the 2018 elections. Paxton plans to seek another term.

[…]

In the criminal case, Paxton faces three felony charges of breaking Texas securities law. If convicted, he could be sent to prison for five to 99 years.

Last year, Paxton exhausted his options in trying to put an end to the criminal case. The final blow came in October, when Texas’ highest criminal court declined to hear a Paxton appeal.

I think you know the background on this one. I’m not one for making predictions, but I will make one here: If Paxton gets convicted, he will not lose the support of any current statewide incumbent. They will rally around him, they will blame everyone but him for the outcome, and they will endorse him next March when and if he draws a primary opponent. I fully expect that he will be on the ballot next November. What happens if he wins re-election and loses his appeals, and has to serve time in jail? I guess we’ll find out. The DMN, the Chron, and the Lone Star Project have more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

Sheriff Gonzalez’s staff

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez combines diversity with experience in his braintrust.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

New Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has tapped a diverse wave of law enforcement veterans to fill his top command staff, sharply increasing the number of minority leaders and naming the first female assistant chief ever in the sheriff’s office.

In his first week as sheriff, Gonzalez named three Latinos, three African-Americans and two Asians to leadership positions, and promoted Debra Schmidt to assistant chief. Another woman, who is African-American, is also among the new leadership.

Ten of those selected for the 15 top command posts are longtime members of the sheriff’s office, a sharp break with the actions of the two previous administrations. One major’s position is not yet filled.

“There are a lot of wonderful, highly skilled, quality individuals within the sheriff’s office,” Gonzalez said. “Part of being a leader is doing that – identifying bright people that can really help, that are smart and capable.”

Before Gonzalez took office Jan. 1, four of the top command staff retired and nine were asked to leave, according to Ryan Sullivan, a sheriff’s office spokesman. Two officers have been retained.

The appointments are the first indication of how Gonzalez will approach the county’s top law enforcement job. His decision to pick department insiders with knowledge about the operations drew immediate praise for boosting morale.

“By selecting a diverse staff internally he has shown he recognizes the experience and cultural knowledge of those deputies within his own office while also understanding the expectations of the diverse community the department serves,” said Lawrence Karson, assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Houston-Downtown.

David Cuevas, president of the Harris County Deputies Organization, likewise praised the decision to promote from within.

“Morale has instantly skyrocketed,” Cuevas said. “The consensus around the department is we finally have upward mobility and institutional knowledge in place to move the sheriff’s office forward and into the future. … The rank-and-file see that if they are on a promotional list and take their time, their hard work and leadership is not going to be stifled because people outside are brought into command positions.”

[…]

Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack, a Republican, said the moves should help Gonzalez get up to speed quickly on operations at the state’s largest sheriff’s office.

“He is certainly showing he has figured out a way to make up for the fact he hasn’t worked in the sheriff’s office,” he said. “It’s very intelligent of him to take advantage of the vast amount of experience within the department that he doesn’t have yet.”

I presume Steve Radack plays tennis, because that’s quite the backhand he’s got there. Back when Ron Hickman was installing an all white-guy command staff, he responded to criticism about it by saying “Diversity for diversity’s sake is not always effective”, and pointed to his team’s “vast education, experience and devotion to police work”. Turns out, you can have both diversity and experience. Who knew?

Posted in: Election 2016.

Feds officially file appeal in transgender bathroom directive lawsuit

This may be the last stop.

With two weeks left, the Obama administration has asked a federal appeals court to throw out a lower court’s decision that suspended policies designed to protect transgender people’s access to restrooms — a sign the current leadership of the Justice Department will close shop mid-fight on one of its signature LGBT issues.

Federal lawyers said in a brief filed Friday with the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that the previous ruling was incorrect and overly broad.

[…]

With their remedies waning in the lower court — and time running out — the Justice Department’s Civil Division made three arguments to the Fifth Circuit.

The Justice Department said the case is not ripe for judicial review because the government did not violate the Administrative Procedure Act, as Texas and the other states claimed. The guidance for schools and workplaces are not final acts by any agency, the appeal says, and therefore did not require a rule-making process under the APA.

Federal lawyers further contend the states lack standing to bring the case because they “can ignore [the guidance] without legal consequence.” They note that enforcement stems from civil rights laws, not the guidance itself. In the past, the states have bristled at that argument, noting in briefs and oral arguments that the government cited the guidance when threatening to sue school districts that banned transgender students from certain facilities.

Finally, the Justice Department argues that the lower court, under Judge O’Connor, erred by ruling too broadly. O’Connor did so by in applying the injunction nationwide, rather than just within the states that brought the lawsuit, the government lawyers say.

See here and here for the background. As Kerry Eleveld notes, Judge O’Connor cited the fact that this directive did not go through the federal rule-making process in his injunction against it, but other directives, including the health directive that O’Connor also injuncted, did go through that process. As always, it sucks to have to depend on the Fifth Circuit for anything, but there’s not much choice. We’ll see what happens.

Posted in: Legal matters.

The other “faithless elector” speaks up

Meet Bill Greene, political science professor at South Texas College, and the other Texas member of the Electoral College who did not cast a vote for Dear Leader Trump.

Greene, who has kept a low profile since the vote, explained his decision Monday, telling The Texas Tribune he had wanted to “bring the process back into the classroom” and affirm the founders’ view that the Electoral College should not necessarily be a rubber stamp for the popular vote.

“I take very seriously the oath of office that we had to take and what the framers of the Constitution, what the founders, wanted electors to do … to basically come up with their idea for who would be the best person in the entire United States to be the president,” Greene said in a phone interview. “I take the job very seriously, and I did. I felt Ron Paul was the best person in the United States to be president, and that’s who I voted for.”

[…]

Unlike Suprun — who became a well-known Trump critic weeks before the vote — Greene said he “had no desire for publicity or anything like that in advance.” He immediately went on vacation for a week after the vote then fell ill when he came home. He said Monday he was just catching up on emails and calls — which electors were deluged with in the lead-up to the vote, many begging them to vote against Trump. (For the record, Greene said he was “not swayed by the 80-100,000 emails I received.”)

Greene said the “vast majority” of feedback he has gotten since the vote has been positive. Top Texas Republicans, however, have taken a different view, using the defections by Suprun and Greene to push for legislation that would require electors to vote in accordance with statewide popular vote. That’s currently the rule in 29 other states.

Greene made clear he is not a fan of so-called “elector-binding” laws.

“God forbid they actually do what the Constitution bounds them to do,” Greene sarcastically said of electors. The elector-binding bills, he added, are “completely unconstitutional legislation, and my hope is that it does go into the courts.”

See here for the full saga, and here for the first time we heard Bill Greene’s name. Greene has a long history with Ron Paul, whom he supported in past Presidential campaigns. You just knew that there would be a Ron Paul connection, right? It would have been an upset if there hadn’t been at least one elector going full on for Ron. Beyond that, I agree with him about the unconstitutionality of forcing electors to cast their votes for a specific candidate. Whatever you think about the Electoral College, the intent of the framers is pretty clear, and in the absence of an amendment I don’t see how you get around that. I don’t have any particular point to make, I just wanted to note this for the record. What do you think are the odds that the state GOP does a more thorough job of vetting their electors for the 2020 campaign?

Posted in: The making of the President.

Patrick will run for re-election in 2018

In case you were worried that he was planning to “spend more time with his family”, or whatever.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick formally announced Monday he’s running for re-election, looking to finally quell speculation he’s interested in higher office.

“Put it in cement,” Patrick told reporters a day before the start of the 85th legislative session.

Patrick, who’s been beating back such rumors since he took office in 2015, also endorsed Gov. Greg Abbott for re-election. Abbott has not formally announced he is running again but is expected to.

“We are a great team,” Patrick told reporters. “We work well together. We agree 96, 97 percent of the time – I can’t even name the 3 percent we don’t.”

[…]

Patrick has repeatedly said he plans to run for re-election, but has been dogged by rumors he could challenge Abbott, which were the focus of a recent Associated Press story. Patrick emphatically denied Monday he was interested in taking on Abbott, saying he has “never even thought about it.”

“Let me put this to bed once and for all: I’m not running against Greg Abbott — not in ’18, not ever,” Patrick said. “If he wants to be governor for the next 20 years and I’m still running, that’s the same story.”

Whatever. As with most things Dan Patrick-related, there’s a distinct whiff of the-gentleman-doth-protest-too-much about this. I mean, either the rumors that he wants to run for Governor in 2018 are either completely unfounded, in which case sooner or later people will get tired of them, or there really is something to them, in which case all the denials in the world will be dismissed as not meaning anything. All I care about is who else may be running for Lite Gov – anyone know what Trey Martinez-FIscher is thinking about these days? – and there’s plenty of time to worry about that. The Lone Star Project has more.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 9

The Office of Texas Progressive Alliance Ethics remains intact as we bring you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

The Trib looks at Fort Bend’s Democratic trend

It’s worth noting.

Despite long being considered a Republican county, Fort Bend went blue on Nov. 8 when Hillary Clinton won the county with an almost seven-point margin of victory. It wasn’t just an electoral flip — it was a 13-point swing from the 2012 presidential election.

And it marked the third presidential election in which the Republican presidential candidate did not win the county by double digits.

Political observers say it’s still too early to call Fort Bend a battleground county after just one election in which it flipped from red to blue. But given its demographics — and the possibility that those could help it turn reliably purple in the future — they acknowledge that something is afoot in this diverse pocket of Texas.

“This phenomenon is a direct result of the fact that the two population groups Trump did the worst with was college-educated voters and minority voters,” said Jay Aiyer, a Texas Southern University assistant professor of political science and public administration. “Fort Bend is unique in that it has a high share of both.”

Like most suburbs, Fort Bend’s landscape is a combination of affluent neighborhoods, old ranch homes, rows of new subdivisions, strip malls and open space. About 45 percent its residents have bachelor’s degrees — well beyond the state’s overall rate of 28.4 percent.

But unlike most suburban counties, Fort Bend is home to minority working and middle classes — except here they aren’t in the minority.

Black and Asian Texans have long made up a larger share of the county’s population compared to their small numbers statewide. And as the share of the county’s white residents dropped from 40.7 percent in 2005 to 34.5 percent in 2015, the share of Hispanic and Asian residents has steadily grown.

[…]

The numbers are still being crunched, but political observers attribute Clinton’s win in the county to a boost in minority voters, particularly Asian Americans, splitting their tickets to vote against Trump.

Fort Bend County had the highest share of straight-ticket voters in November among the state’s 10 biggest counties, but Democrats outnumbered Republicans among the 76 percent of voters that cast straight-ticket ballots.

At a time when the Republican party both in Texas and nationwide is generally moving farther to the right, the challenge for Fort Bend Republicans in the future will be bringing back those typically Republican voters who switched over this year, said Aiyer, the political scientist.

“That’s the question: Has the shift become more permanent?” he added.

A lot of this is stuff I’ve covered before, so I don’t have any great insights. I do think the shift is more durable, given the numbers in the downballot races, but Fort Bend is a dynamic place, and the steady influx of new residents makes it hard to say what things will look like politically going forward. Democrats will have some opportunities this year to make gains in local elections, and that’s something we need to watch. A big piece of the puzzle here is just believing that it can be done, which maybe the 2016 results have helped to do. Fort Bend is still Republican-dominated, but it is not a Republican stronghold any more. It’s just a matter of time before the first part of that assessment changes as well.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Dawnna Dukes case to go before grand jury

Awesome.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

Travis County prosecutors and Texas Rangers will present evidence to a grand jury that state Rep. Dawnna Dukes abused the power of her office, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore told the American-Statesman.

Among possible charges: abuse of official capacity and tampering with public records, Moore said.

Dukes was sworn into office for a 12th term Tuesday after reneging on a plan to step down before the Legislature convened.

Moore said that the grand jury proceedings will begin next Tuesday.

[…]

The case against Dukes began when members of legislative staff in early 2016 questioned her requiring them to do personal errands for her and work full-time on a nonprofit event. In one instance, Dukes gave a state employee a raise to cover gas money for driving her daughter to and from school.

See here for the background. KXAN was first with the story, and adds some more detail about the resignation that wasn’t.

When asked why she decided to retract her resignation, Dukes told KXAN’s Political Reporter Phil Prazan that she made her decision because her experience and qualifications make her the best person for the job. She said she had to listen to her constituents.

“I listened to the constituents who requested over and over and over again, since my announcement, that I would reconsider that I would come back,” says Dukes, who has served HD 46 since 1995. Dukes says she worked with her doctors to make sure she was healthy enough to make sure she would not be absent from the 2017 session.

[…]

There are currently five people who are vying for House District 46 and all appear to still be moving forward with their campaigns. Former Austin Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole held a news conference Tuesday afternoon to say that she’s still in the race, whether it will be in a special election or the Democratic primary for 2018.

Chito Vela also sent out an advisory for his official campaign kickoff, which is scheduled for Thursday. In his message, he says, “East Austin needs a progressive voice that will fight for the interests of working class voters.”

Gabriel Nila, the only GOP candidate going for the seat, knew he had an uphill battle in a district that typically votes at least 80 percent Democrat.

“Our concern, mine and several other people, is that she will do the exact same thing that she did in 2015—make a couple of appearances here and there, but not take care of the issues that need taking care of,” said Nila.

That sound you hear is me banging my head on my desk. The Trib has more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

HISD Board appoints Meyers replacement

Meet your new Trustee.

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca

Houston ISD’s Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to name former Teach for America staffer Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca as its new District VI trustee.

Flynn Vilaseca, who will replace outgoing Trustee Greg Meyers, will be sworn in at the board’s Thursday regular board meeting along with Anne Sung, the winner of a December special election to replace District VII Trustee Harvin Moore.

Moore submitted his resignation in the summer, and Meyers submitted his in December.

Flynn Vilaseca was the first in her family to attend college and worked for Teach for America in underprivileged HISD and Bryan ISD schools. Most recently, she worked as chief relationship coordinator with ThinkLaw, which aims to enable teachers to teach critical thinking skills through case law. She said she wanted to join the board to help parents and students better navigate the system and their options.

“Public education has played such an important role in my life,” Flynn Vilaseca said. “I found out when I’m a teacher here that my story is not unique. Social capital should be built into the system.”

[…]

Board President Manuel Rodriguez Jr. said of the nine applications the board received, Flynn Vilaseca’s background and understanding of the community in district VI gave her the edge.

“With her education and research backgrounds, being bilingual and having a different cultural experience, having Colombian heritage, those were attributes that gave her an advantage,” he said.

See here and here for the background. The embedded photo is from Ms. Vilaseca’s LinkedIn profile. Here’s a slightly longer bio of her on her employer’s webpage. Among other things, she serves on Mayor Turner’s Hispanic Advisory Board, on the Civic Engagement and Promotions Subcommittee. The official HISD press release announcing her appointment is here. It remains to be seen if she will run for a full term in November or not. Regardless, congratulations and welcome to the Board to Ms. Vilaseca and to Anne Sung, who will also be sworn in on Thursday. Stace has more.

Posted in: School days.