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Endorsement watch: Family courts

The Chronicle gets in the endorsement game by getting started on the long list of judicial races that will be on your 2014 ballot, and it’s a big helping of good news for the Democratic slate of Family Court nominees, as five of the six Dems running get the Chron nod. Here’s a blurb from each:

246th Family District Court:Sandra Peake

By process of elimination, our choice is Democratic candidate Sandra Peake for this bench. A graduate of University of Houston Law Center, Peake has practiced law for 30 years with a concentration on family law. We believe Peake, 59, would do a better job than her Republican opponent Charley Prine in dealing with the cultural, ethnic and religious diversity of Harris County.

247th Family District Court:Clinton “Chip” Wells

Wells, 62, has practiced law in Texas for nearly four decades, from El Paso to Beaumont, Dallas to Brownsville. Wells, a Democrat, has a lifetime of legal experience, with specific focus on family law. Voters should put that knowledge to use in our family courts. His Republican opponent in this race, John Schmude, demonstrates an admirable passion for service. However, his legal resume is distinctly thinner than Wells’, and he has run perhaps the most partisan campaign of any judicial candidate. His website is long on endorsements from groups unrelated to family law, such as anti-abortion advocates and the National Rifle Association, but short on the usual tempered judicial rhetoric. Meeting with the Chronicle editorial board, Schmude, 40, said that such campaigning was necessary to win the primary. Primary season is over. Texans should expect better from their judges.

280th Family District Court:Barbara J. Stalder

During the Democratic primary, we wrote that Barbara Stalder was one of the few people in our state who is prepared to handle the challenges of this court, which hears protective orders that involve domestic violence. In the general election, Stalder, 54, is still uniquely qualified for this bench.

308th Family District Court: Jim Evans

In this closely matched race, we go with Democratic challenger Jim Evans. A graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, Evans, 47, has a pastor’s compassion that comes from working as a Baptist minister, not to mention a master’s degree in religious studies.

311th Family District Court: Sherri Cothrun

When the race to replace disgraced Judge Denise Pratt was crowded with contenders, Sherri Cothrun was the most qualified candidate. Now that the race is finally down to the general election, Cothrun is still the most qualified candidate. With 30 years’ experience practicing family law, she has a full slate of awards and achievements befitting her extensive career, including board certification in family law and certification as a family law arbitrator.

Couple things here. First, it’s interesting and heartening to see the Chron ding the GOP incumbent in the 246th and the GOP nominee in the 247th for touting on their campaign webpages opposition to same-sex marriage in the former case and a plethora of right-wing shibboleths in the latter. You can believe what you want to believe, but as a judge you’re supposed to be fair and impartial, and you’re supposed to look and sound like someone who is fair and impartial. If you’re going to be loud and proud about these things, you shouldn’t expect the benefit of the doubt.

Also of interest: The Chron did not mention the recent troubles of Judge Alicia Franklin in the 311th Family Court, even though they apparently came up during her joint interview with Sherri Cothrun. I guess they only had so much space for this.

Anyway. You can see the Q&A’s I did for the Democratic primary with Sandra Peake here; with Barbara Stalder here; and with Jim Evans here. I will be publishing a Q&A with Cothrun on Tuesday, and will publish one from Wells in two weeks; I hope to receive one from Kathy Vossler, the Democrat in the 309th Family Court race, in the near future. Those of you that have experience with these courts, what do you think of the Chron’s endorsements?

Posted in: Election 2014.

Judicial Q&A: James Horwitz

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

James Horwitz

James Horwitz

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

I am James Horwitz. I have operated my own law firm for 37 years in Houston, Texas. I am the Democratic candidate for Judge in Harris County Probate Court No. Four (4).

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Unfortunately as we all learn sometimes too soon, life is finite and will ultimately end in death. Additionally, age, diseases, and injuries impact our abilities to be self sufficient. Our society, as represented by our legislature, determined that for these reasons, all of us could use assistance in managing some or all of our daily affairs and ultimately our estate after our death. These activities are often managed by the intervention of Probate Courts. The Texas Constitution grants the Texas Legislature the authority to determine which court handles probate matters. As a result of the efforts of our Texas Legislature, 10 of the 15 largest counties (specifically including Harris County) have Probate Courts. These Probate Courts handle matters of:

(i) probate (with or without Wills)

(ii) guardianship issues,

(iii) issues regarding trusts; and

(iv) the determination of involuntary commitments of individuals to mental health institutions

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I believe my experience as a lawyer best matches up with that of my opponent. I began practicing law in 1977. The 4 existing probate judges were licensed respectfully in 1973, 1980, 1982, and my opponent in 1997. My law practice is now spent helping families cope with aging and the transitions required in moving assets between generations. My varied background beginning with my social work experience and legal work with the general public involved in business as well as the court system provides me with the tools necessary to be a judge in probate court.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

There are no short cuts to experience and especially wisdom. I have practiced law for thirty seven (37) years, more than twice as long as my opponent. Before that I was a social worker working with families in crisis. When I began my legal practice, my opponent hadn’t even begun first grade. Experience counts. For thirty-seven (37) years, I have represented thousands of clients in estate planning and probate court as well as at all levels of the civil, criminal, family, and juvenile courts in Harris County, Texas, including also a multitude of other jurisdictions in Texas. Wisdom counts. My sound judgment has been gleaned from nearly four decades of work providing assistance to individuals and their families through my dedication to quality, my understanding of the foibles of people, and my understanding of the law. My experience and wisdom is the result of working, now in my fourth decade, with the grieving, the divorced, the criminal, and the incompetent – all of which provides me with a unique perspective to understand and address the needs of those that come before me as a judge in probate court.

5. Why is this race important?

Everybody sooner or later is involved in probate court-as the deceased, the heir, the guardian, the ward, and/or a creditor. Every family is different and in the next 4 years the definition of what is a family is going to expand. Our society and our community needs individuals with a varied and balanced background as judges to make a fair and impartial decision based on the facts every time, balancing the needs of the individual versus the needs of society.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Voters in Harris County should vote for me to bring an independent voice to the Probate Courts utilizing the law and fairness with compassion. Judges should be impartial but not isolated. Judges are elected from the community and Judges should be involved in the community. It is the civic duty of all elected officials to not only do their job well, but also to educate the public relevant to the governmental functions in their office. I believe one of the obligations of the job of probate judge is to educate the public on the methods by which individuals can use self reliance and simple actions in order to maximize their decision making on their own well being and estates so that the government role’s is minimized as to determining the most personal decisions in a person’s life. That is why I will speak to all interested groups on these topics now and when elected. I will follow Texas law as I know it with the utmost regard to the Constitution of the United States. I need your vote.

Posted in: Election 2014.

HISD should not be on the hook for North Forest’s liabilities

Come on!

Fourteen months after the Texas Education Agency ordered Houston ISD to take over the long-troubled North Forest school district, some unexpected disputes over funding have surfaced.

The Houston school board has authorized its attorneys to challenge a Texas Workforce Commission ruling that the district owes more than $3.7 million in unemployment benefits to former employees of the North Forest Independent School District.

In addition, HISD has not yet received enough state money to rebuild North Forest High School and an early childhood center in the area, though district officials say they expect to have sufficient funds in coming years to complete at least the high school project.


Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams ordered the 6,700-student North Forest school district to be closed and annexed to HISD on July 1, 2013, after years of academic struggles and financial problems.

David Thompson, an attorney who represents HISD, said the district should not be responsible for reimbursing the state for unemployment benefits because the North Forest employees never worked for HISD. The Texas Education Agency did not require HISD to hire any North Forest staff.

The unemployment claims totaled $3.7 million as of June 30, according to HISD.

“We think we’re right on the law,” Thompson said, adding that he expects the district to file a lawsuit against the Texas Workforce Commission to appeal having to reimburse the commission for the claims. “Three million dollars pays for a lot of teachers, a lot of supplies.”

The HISD school board voted Thursday to authorize next steps to appeal the commission’s ruling.

HISD officials said they did not know how many North Forest employees filed unemployment claims, but it’s likely hundreds. North Forest ISD employed about 850 people before it closed.

Look, HISD did not volunteer for the duty of annexing North Forest. It was imposed on them by the state. I’m not arguing the merit of that decision – I happen to think it was a good call – but let’s be honest, this is a challenge for HISD. To add to that challenge by imposing North Forest’s unpaid bills on HISD is unconscionable, and that’s before we take into account the Lege’s draconian cuts to public education in 2011 and the state’s extremely flush coffers at this time. Seriously, why are we even arguing about this? The state should make good on these unemployment claims already.

Posted in: School days.

Metro still tweaking its reimagined bus plan

Still a work in progress.

Sweeping changes to Houston’s bus system are on pace for approval later this month, though some features of the new routes and schedules will be a work in progress.

Five so-called “flex zones” planned in areas where ridership is low but service is crucial will undergo further study and another round of public meetings, Metropolitan Transit Authority officials said. A pilot of the zones where riders will call in for transit trips also is planned.

“I have always known that, unlike the bus route restructuring, the flex zones introduce a new thing,” said Metro board member Christof Spieler, chief proponent of proposed route and system changes. “I have always known we would have to dig into those more.”

Metro already has hosted about 20 public meetings and a dozen sessions at local transit centers to roll out the reimagining plan, aimed at improving service so more people will hop aboard Metro buses. More meetings are planned to work through some of the remaining issues, namely the flex zones.

The plan, which officials say uses existing resources without adding operational costs, relies on heavily-traveled routes along major streets to move people around the area. To get folks to and from those frequent routes, buses that come every 30 or 60 minutes will fill in the gaps.


Flex zones already are in use in other cities, said Nancy Edmonson, one of the consultants working on the redesigned bus system. Edmonson told board members Denver has 24 zones and Dallas maintains nine.

In Denver, the system allows people to call two hours to two weeks in advance of a trip, or book online. During peak commuting times, the bus operates between transit centers and certain spots, like a normal fixed route, meaning no reservations are required.

In Houston’s case, there is some predictable timing built into the plan, despite the flexible timing and some unresolved issues.

“What we are reasonable sure of is the bus is at the transit center every hour and the same time every hour,” Spieler said.

He said other details will be worked out after more public meetings in the neighborhoods affected. Those discussions, however, will come after Metro largely sets itself on a course for the new system.

“We do not feel we need to have the flex zones worked out before we go forward with the system changes,” Spieler said.

Here’s the description and location of the flex zones. There have been some changes made to the overall plan and to the flex zone concept since the original reimagining map was introduced – see here for an updated presentation to the Metro board. Texas Leftist has been following this and had some concerns about the flex zones that Metro has begun to address. Clearly, Metro needs to keep the conversation going with its riders, especially those in these zones. I continue to think the reimagined system has a lot of potential and I’m glad to see Metro incorporate the feedback that it’s been getting. The Highwayman has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Texas blog roundup for the week of September 15

The Texas Progressive Alliance doesn’t need Congressional approval to bring you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Interview with Melissa Noriega

Melissa Noriega

Melissa Noriega

We round out the county races this year with the Harris County Department of Education, a seven-member board that handles federal grants and provides various programs for the many independent school districts in Harris County. It’s hard to believe, but six years ago today there wasn’t a single Democrat on the HCDE. That started to change in 2008, when two Democrats won races for At Large seats against right-wing Republicans that had defeated more moderate incumbents in their primary. (One of those successful primary challengers was our current County Clerk, Stan Stanart.) Of those two winning Democrats, one was Debra Kerner, now running for re-election, and the other was Jim Henley, who stepped down last year leaving his position open for this election. Former At Large Houston City Council member Melissa Noriega is running to succeed Henley. In addition to her six successful years on Council, Noriega has a deep background in education, where she spent 27 years working for HISD in various capacities. We discussed her experience and her desire to help the HCDE continue doing its good works, among other things:

I will have more interviews in the coming weeks.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Next in “What’s wrong with our textbooks”: Climate change

From the inbox:

An examination of how proposed social studies textbooks for Texas public schools address climate change reveals distortions and bias that misrepresent the broad scientific consensus on the phenomenon.

Climate education specialists at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) examined the proposed textbooks, which publishers submitted for consideration by the State Board of Education (SBOE) in April. NCSE identified a number of errors as well as an exercise that absurdly equates a political advocacy group with a leading international science organization.

“The scientific debate over whether climate change is happening and who is responsible has been over for years, and the science textbooks Texas adopted last year make that clear,” explained Dr. Minda Berbeco, a programs and policy director at NCSE. “Climate change will be a key issue that future citizens of Texas will need to understand and confront, and they deserve social studies textbooks that reinforce good science and prepare them for the challenges ahead.”

NCSE’s analysis is available at

The distortions and bias in the proposed social studies textbook are troubling, said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund.

“In too many cases we’re seeing publishers shade and even distort facts to avoid angering politicians who vote on whether their textbooks get approved,” Miller said. “Texas kids deserve textbooks that are based on sound scholarship, not political biases.”

NCSE’s examination of the proposed textbooks noted a number of problematic passages dealing with the science of climate change. Among the problems:

  • McGraw-Hill’s Grade 6 textbook for world cultures and geography equates factually inaccurate arguments from the Heartland Institute, a group funded by Big Tobacco and polluters to attack inconvenient scientific evidence, with information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). IPCC is a highly regarded international science organization that won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
  • A Pearson elementary school textbook tells students: “Scientists disagree about what is causing climate change.” In fact, the vast majority – 97 percent – of actively publishing climatologists and climate science papers agree that humans bear the main responsibility.
  • WorldView Software’s high school economics textbook includes an inaccurate and confusing section that misleadingly links tropical deforestation to the ozone hole.

These distortions of science raise concerns like those expressed in last year’s science textbook adoption, when more than 50 scientific and educational societies signed a letter to the Texas SBOE stating: “climate change should not be undermined in textbooks, whether by minimizing, misrepresenting, or misleadingly singling [it] out as controversial or in need of greater scrutiny than other topics are given.” That statement is available at:

NCSE and the TFN Education Fund are calling on publishers to revise the problematic passages to ensure that political bias doesn’t undermine the education of Texas students. On Tuesday the SBOE will hold its first public hearing on the new textbooks. The board will vote in November.

Last week the TFN Education Fund released a series of reports from scholars who have detailed other serious concerns about the proposed textbooks. An executive summary and those reports are available at

Here’s TFN Insider and the NCSE on the matter. Given the way the SBOE has handled subjects like social studies and evolution in Texas’ textbooks in the past, this hardly counts as a surprise. There’s a petition to sign if you want to add your name to the effort.

Something else to consider here. When I did a Google news search on Texas climate change textbooks, I got a number of results from various national news sites – Politico, Huffington Post, National Journal (be sure to read their quote from SBOE member and part of the problem David Bradley), Ars Technica, io9, among others – but only two from the major Texas dailies, in the Chron’s Texas Politics blog and the Statesman. (The alt-weeklies did themselves proud, as the SA Current, Unfair Park, and Hair Balls also had posts about this.) Maybe I didn’t type in the right combination of search terms to find more Texas coverage on this, but still. We need to do better than that.

Anyway. This is all happening as the SBOE meets to hear testimony about the new social studies textbooks. You can imagine the capacity for unintentional comedy therein, but you don’t have to imagine it because TFN Insider is there liveblogging the madness. Look and see what’s going on and what sorts of things your kid might be taught someday soon. The Trib, which is also covering the hearings, has more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People, Technology, science, and math.

Rest of the single stream bins to be distributed

All Houston homes will be covered.

All Houston residents who get city trash service will be able to roll their recyclables to the curb in 96-gallon green carts by the start of 2015, a milestone that has been years in the making as the city slowly expanded the program, frustrating neighborhoods that sought to be included.

City Council on Wednesday will be asked to approve the purchase of 95,000 recycling bins to cover the 90,000 homes, or about one-quarter of Houston residences, that are without any form of curbside recycling.

Another batch of bins now held in reserve will replace the 18-gallon recycling tubs still used by 5 percent of homes. These smaller bins do not take glass, while the larger cartons take all recyclables.

City officials said they expect the ease of using the wheeled carts will boost Houston’s dismal 6 percent recycling rate, which lags behind the national rate of about 34 percent.

“The beauty of this thing is that everybody will be able to participate in the recycle process,” said Councilman Dwight Boykins, who has been vocal in pushing for the recycling expansion in recent months.

The expanded service will likely go into effect in January, around the same time the city is expected to announce a possible contract for its ambitious “One Bin for All” proposal. That program would offer a wholesale change to Houston’s recycling system, allowing residents to mix waste and recyclables – and perhaps even food and yard waste – together in the same bin to be sorted automatically at a first-of-its-kind facility, built and operated by a private firm.

last expansion of the single stream program was in May. Some neighborhoods have been waiting since 2007 for the big green bins, so this is a momentous occasion. What happens after that depends on what happens with the One Bin program. As the story notes, the big green bins would be the One Bins, with the black bins now used for garbage being collected by the city, presumably to be recycled. I didn’t see a press release from the city for this or any announcement on the Solid Waste webpage, so I presume this means that if you have your garbage collected by the city and you don’t already have one of the big green bins, you should expect to receive one by January. You can find a link to service maps at Houston Politics or just take my word for that. Not surprisingly, One Bin opponents Zero Waste Houston put out a press release praising the expansion of single stream recycling and calling for One Bin to be abandoned. See beneath the fold for their press release. Who out there is still waiting for their big green bin?

Continue reading →

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

Text to 911 option coming locally

Ever wonder why you can’t text 911? Well, in Harris and Fort Bend Counties, you will soon be able to.

By the end of the year, millions of Houston-area residents are expected to have a silent alternative: the Text-to-911 option for emergencies.

Despite the popularity of messaging, the service hasn’t been available in most of the nation and much of Texas for the most life-threatening situations: pleas for fire, police or medical assistance.

In May, the nation’s four major wireless carriers met a voluntary deadline to have their end of the Text-to-911 technology ready to deliver customers’ messages topublic safety agencies that request the service, the Federal Communications Commission reported.

As a result, dozens of call centers nationwide and several in Texas can now receive texts from cellphones on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon networks.

The Greater Harris County 911 Emergency Network, which provides technical support for call centers in Harris and Fort Bend counties that serve more than 5 million residents, will be ready in the coming months to do the same with at least one carrier.

That’s important because most people in the Houston area call for emergency help by cellphone. In the first seven months of this year, 84 percent of emergency calls in Harris and Fort Bend counties originated from wireless lines, Greater Harris County 911 figures show.


FCC rules specify that by year’s end, all wireless carriers – not just the major companies – should be able to provide text messages to call centers that have requested the service.

Those centers, however, are not required to exercise that option, said Brian Fontes, CEO of the National Emergency Number Association – which is known as NENA.

Some states, such as Indiana and Vermont, are deploying the service statewide, he said. Others, such as California, leave the decision to individual public safety call centers or networks.

According to an FCC list dated Aug. 25, 18 states had at least one 911 center that could receive texts, though some were limited to one or two major carriers. The police departments in the Lone Star State which can receive texts are mostly in the Dallas Metroplex. There are none so far in the Houston area.

With the major carriers ready, the last hurdle is preparation at local 911 centers, said NENA government affairs director Trey Forgety.

As we know, text to 911 is currently available in some North Texas counties, which are so far the only places where it has been deployed. Nationally, however, only about two percent of emergency call centers around the country are prepared to handle text messages, and compliance is voluntary at this time. I’d guess that while cell calls are the bulk of 911 contacts, there’s still not much demand for texting emergency services.

All of Collin County supports the service. But it isn’t offered anywhere in Denton County. A handful of police departments in Dallas County can receive emergency texts: Balch Springs, Cockrell Hill, Sachse, Seagoville and Wilmer.

But texts still account for only a fraction of 911 requests in North Texas.

The North Central Texas Council of Governments oversees 44 call centers in a 16-county region that includes Dallas, Denton, Collin and Tarrant counties.

Of those centers, 25 have text-to-911 capability, and the rest will have it by the end of September, said Christy Williams, chief 911 program officer for the agency.

Since the service launched in January 2013, dispatchers at these centers have received only 12 text messages, compared with more than a million 911 calls, she said.

You can see why the rollout is proceeding slowly. To some extent, this is a chicken-and-egg question, and I’ve no doubt that over time usage will grow. There are also still some technical advantages to calling 911, though perhaps over time that will change as well. For now, the potential remains theoretical. For more on the text-to-911 program, see the FCC webpage.

Posted in: Technology, science, and math.

Judicial Q&A: Farrah Martinez

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

Farrah Martinez

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

My name is Farrah Martinez and I am the Democratic Nominee running for Judge of the 190th Civil District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 190th Civil District Court handles civil disputes such as personal injuries cases and contract disputes.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I am passionate about the judicial system and I am excited about the opportunity to serve the public in a different capacity. Also, there are still innovative changes that are needed to make our system more effective and efficient and I am running to bring forth that needed change.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

In 2005, I graduated law school and I started my own law firm and handled a wide range of cases from personal injury to contract disputes to major felony cases. My experience as a sole practitioner enhanced my respect for the law and the legal profession. It was a constant reminder of how my performance truly impacted the lives of my clients and made me continually strive to provide each client with the best representation possible. That same drive transferred to the position that I currently hold as Director of Legislative and Legal Affairs for the Harris County District Clerk’s Office.

I am a multi-dimensional candidate; I have experience in the courtroom, I have experience working for our local government and I have experience working with our legislature. In my current position I help write and propose legislation, analyze and determine how laws enacted every session will impact our office. If a law is passed that will impact our office, I then inform and train staff to ensure correct application of the law to our office standards.

My diverse experience will serve me well as judge.

5. Why is this race important?

There are so many voters who have no experience with the judicial system and those voters may be less inclined to vote in down ballot judicial races. However, at some point in every voter’s life there is a great possibility they will encounter the judicial system either personally or through someone they love and when that time comes the idea that justice matters is then made real and the judge on the bench plays an important role in ensuring justice is attained.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the right choice. I understand that when people are faced with legal challenges and turn to the judicial system for a resolution, they want to be heard and treated with respect no matter what side of the issue they represent; they want their case to be heard by a sound listening ear and they want the law interpreted fairly and expediently. Lawyers want to practice before a judge that respects their time enough to read motions and pleadings prior to the start of the hearing or trial and to rule on those matters timely. Once elected, this is how I intend to run the 190th Civil District Court. For more information or to contribute to my campaign visit

Posted in: Election 2014.

On Gene Green and representing Latino districts

I’ve been meaning to blog about this story about Rep. Gene Green and CD29 and how the Houston area has never sent a Latino to Congress, but I kept getting stuck and I finally decided I was overthinking it.

Rep. Gene Green

Rep. Gene Green

Two decades after local political leaders thought they had solved the demographic puzzle with a new “opportunity district” that is today three-quarters Latino, no Hispanic has represented it.

As of this election cycle, Houston remains the most Hispanic major metropolitan area in the country without a Latino elected to Congress, a distinction that could revitalize concerns about how historic the 1991 redistricting truly was. The dozen congressional lawmakers who represent Greater Houston’s 2.2 million Hispanics can say they are voices for the community, but Latino leaders worry that because none of them are of the community, Hispanics’ voice in Washington may be muffled.

“When people see the growth … where we’re at politically, I think more and more people are opining, ‘Hey, when are we going to do it?’ ” said Democratic consultant Marc Campos. “People are becoming a little bit more sophisticated about the demographics and what it means for our community.”

What it means is that potential Latino candidates, mollified with political savvy and dispirited by political incumbency, have demurred from challenging the non-Hispanic – Gene Green – who represents them in Congress, and according to some, has served his constituents well. But with each successive election, the path to reversing the trend seems increasingly daunting.

And it draws fresh attention to the challenge that animates community organizers, Democratic groups and even apolitical Hispanics who would like to see a more representative Houston metropolitan area, a lawmaker who can bellow into a megaphone in Spanish on the population’s behalf.


And every two years for the past 20, Hispanic voters in the 29th district have sent Green back to Congress. He does not speak Spanish, but political observers note how Green has shrewdly won over the Hispanic community by co-opting threatening Latino leaders and hustling to keep tabs on the community’s pulse. That has kept Hispanic challengers at bay.

“He’s a very smart politician and has done his homework in terms of coming home,” said Maria Jimenez, a longtime Hispanic organizer in Houston.

The district is rich with potential Latino candidates, such as Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and state Sen. Sylvia Garcia and Rep. Carol Alvarado. Hispanic leaders say there is a steady drumbeat of chatter about a Latino challenging Green in a primary, but Green has hired many of these prominent Hispanics over the decades and has built personal loyalties that area Latinos are reluctant to violate.

There is also a harsher political reality: Everyone knows Gene Green.

“If there’s five people meeting in the civic club, I tell you: Gene Green is there,” said Armando Walle, a Hispanic state representative from Houston who once worked for Green. “He can continue to be a member of Congress as long as he wants.”

Green, 66, returns to the district every weekend when Congress is in session and has earned a reputation as a workhorse. Green maintains that is what matters in his district.

“It’s more of a service-oriented district. People want to know what you’re doing to help,” Green said. “I don’t think I’d get re-elected or elected if I wasn’t doing the job.”

That philosophy is echoed in Hispanic Houston, where activists say Green has represented Latinos well in Washington despite not being a member of their community. Politically, that representation means that Green has not created an impetus for change – even if the seat was designed with a Latino lawmaker in mind.

“If you have a good member of Congress that represents their district well, I think it really comes down to – who is clamoring for change?” asked Joaquin Guerra, political director for the Texas Organizing Project in Houston. “When you have a 20-plus congressional incumbent, obviously they seem to be doing something right.”

You should read the whole thing if you missed it the first time around, it’s worth your time. At this point I’d say the betting odds are on Rep. Green representing CD29 until he retires, which would then trigger a gigantic free-for-all to succeed him. You never know with politics, of course, so it’s possible someone could successfully primary him. Campos doesn’t think people will want to wait.

Having a Dem Latino or Latina in Congress from the H-Town area would be empowering to the community. What is missing is an articulate voice for us in Congress like on a day when the immigration issue is front and center. Who is going to argue with that?

I don’t buy into the notion that just because the local Latino leaders aren’t for something, it won’t happen. I can still recall the spontaneous immigration marches a few years ago that local Latino leaders were scrambling to lead.

I can picture a scenario where an articulate bilingual Latino or Latina leader steps up, grabs an issue and captures the attention of the community. That is certainly not racist, that’s politics. This discussion isn’t going away.

Sure, that could happen, and I agree that if it were to happen it would likely be a talented newcomer who can inspire people to pose a serious threat to Rep. Green. The problem is that that’s not sufficient. Look at the recent history of Democratic primary challenges in Texas legislative races, and you’ll see that there are generally two paths to knocking off an incumbent that don’t rely on them getting hosed in redistricting. One is via the self-inflicted wounds of an incumbent with some kind of ethics problems – think Gabi Canales or Naomi Gonzales, for example – or an incumbent that has genuinely lost touch with the base. In the past decade in Texas that has mostly meant Craddick Democrats, though one could argue that Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s win over Silvestre Reyes had elements of that.

What I’m saying is simply that there has to be a reason to dump the current officeholder. Look no further than the other Anglo Texas Democrat in Congress for that. The GOP has marked Rep. Lloyd Doggett for extinction twice, each time drawing him into a heavily Latino district in the hope of seeing him get knocked off in a primary. He survived the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003, then he faced the same kind of challenge again in 2012. His opponent, Sylvia Romo, was an experienced officeholder running in a district that was drawn to elect a Hispanic candidate from Bexar County. Having interviewed her, I can attest that she’d have made a perfectly fine member of Congress. But she never identified a policy item on which she disagreed with Doggett, and she never could give an answer to the question why the voters should replace their existing perfectly good member of Congress and his boatload of seniority with a rookie, however promising.

That’s the question any theoretical opponent to Gene Green will have to answer as well. You need to do that to convince the voters, but even before you get to the voters you need to do that to convince the people who write checks and the people and organizations that offer endorsements, volunteers, credibility, and other kinds of support. I’m not saying that could never happen – anyone can get complacent or can fail to recognize when the political ground has shifted underneath them – I’m saying it has to happen for said candidate to have a chance. In the meantime, I don’t think anyone is going to get rich betting against Gene Green.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

HISD approves its redistricting plan

As we know, HISD now includes all of the former North Forest ISD, and with that new territory came the need to reapportion its Trustee districts. They completed that task last week with a minimum of fuss.

HISD Redistricting Plan

The Houston school board Thursday unanimously approved a redistricting plan that changes all nine trustee districts to accommodate thousands of new voters from the former North Forest school system.

Trustee Greg Meyers, who represents District 6 on the city’s far west side, previously had expressed concerns about the plan, particularly over losing the precinct around Valley West and Milne elementary schools to District 9. Trustees ultimately agreed on a slight change, deciding to keep Valley West Elementary in District 6; the move affects only the campus, not the voters in precinct 525, who now will be represented by trustee Wanda Adams in District 9.

“Throughout this redistricting process, every board member lost and gained,” Meyers said Friday. “This was the best situation that could have occurred.”

The HISD board was required to redraw trustee districts after the state ordered the annexation of North Forest ISD, which added about 53,000 voters in northeast Houston. The plan evens out the number of voters across the nine districts and maintains a majority-minority population in seven of the nine districts.

See here for the background. The post above includes a list of schools that are now in different Trustee districts. You can check here to verify who your Trustee is, though it may not yet be updated to reflect the changes. For the most part, not too much changed, and there will be no special elections to deal with this. Check and see if you were affected, but the odds are that most people will never notice this.

Posted in: School days.

Rearranging the traffic

Not sure how much of an effect this will have.

Among the 200,000 motorists who traverse Interstate 45 just south of downtown every day, a fair number find themselves weaving frantically from lane to lane as they approach the connection with U.S. 59.

State transportation officials hope to reduce the stress felt by these drivers, and to unclog a notorious bottleneck, by changing the design of the spot where two of Houston’s most heavily traveled freeways meet.

An upcoming project will move access to U.S. 59 to the parallel elevated lanes that now connect drivers to downtown. The change will require drivers to head to U.S. 59 about a mile farther south, but officials believe the transitions will be smoother.

“The big thing is to prevent the weaving,” Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Danny Perez said. “Traffic tends to bottleneck there.”

When the U.S. 59 connections move to the existing downtown access ramp, traffic bound for the central business district will shift to a new exit ramp with access to St. Joseph and Pease.

The change also will make it impossible for drivers to enter northbound I-45 from Scott and race across several lanes to access U.S. 59 south.

Officials say the new design will keep traffic moving by eliminating the weaving toward ramps that feed left and right from northbound I-45 – leaving drivers who want to continue north on the freeway in the middle.

This is a good idea, and I do think it will help. It will also be nice to have some new ways to enter and exit the freeway from south of downtown. But let’s maintain some perspective here. Eliminating the weaving and all that is nice, but I-45 will still narrow down to two lanes as it enters the Pierce Elevated, and that will create a bottleneck no matter what they do with the US59 part of it. I’m more than a little curious to know what will become of those two left lanes if they’re not an offramp to 59 and 288. The story doesn’t address either of these points, and I’m left wondering if this is all part of the downtown roundabout plan. Construction may start as soon as December, so I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Interview with Debra Kerner

Debra Kerner

Debra Kerner

We round out the county races this year with the Harris County Department of Education, a seven-member board that handles federal grants and provides various programs for the many independent school districts in Harris County. It’s hard to believe, but six years ago today there wasn’t a single Democrat on the HCDE. That started to change in 2008, when two Democrats won races for At Large seats against right-wing Republicans that had defeated more moderate incumbents in their primary. (One of those successful primary challengers was our current County Clerk, Stan Stanart.) Debra Kerner was one of those two Democrats, and now she’s running for re-election to Place 5, At Large on the HCDE Board. Kerner is a speech pathologist who has run her own consulting firm for over 30 years, and she has brought a wealth of experience and empathy to her job on the HCDE. With pre-kindergarten being so much in the news lately, from the recent efforts to fund a pre-k program in Harris County to the competing proposals from Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott, there was plenty for us to talk about:

I will have more interviews in the coming weeks.

Posted in: Election 2014.

On polls and turnout

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

So as you know, the latest YouGov poll came out on Friday, and it was ugly for Wendy Davis, showing an 18-point lead for Greg Abbott. PDiddie was despondent, EoW was trying to keep the faith, and Texpatriate was somewhere in between. I didn’t have a chance to say much about this poll in my discussion of the Davis internal poll, so let me put my thoughts here. I intend this more as a thought exercise than a deep analysis, so let’s see where this takes us.

1. If this is an accurate result, and assuming that the third party candidates collect about two percent of the vote, it suggests that Abbott is headed for a 58-40 win over Davis. That’s about the margin that Rick Perry defeated Tony Sanchez by in 2002. Do you think Wendy Davis will do no better than Tony Sanchez did? I have a hard time believing that.

2. With the same assumptions as above, if total turnout is about five million votes – basically the same as it was in 2010 – it suggests that Abbott will get 2.9 million votes while Davis gets 2 million, with the rest getting 100,000. Not many Texas Democrats have gotten two million votes in off year elections – John Sharp in 2002, and Bill White in 2010. White got just over 2.1 million in 2010. Do you think Wendy Davis will fail to get as many votes as Bill White? I have a hard time believing that, too.

3. White ran a different campaign than Davis did, aiming more at peeling votes away from Rick Perry. He was quite successful at that as we have discussed, but it ultimately didn’t matter since base turnout was too low. As we have also discussed before, Democratic base turnout in off year elections hasn’t changed since 2002. Davis, in conjunction with Battleground Texas, is working hard on raising base turnout. How successful will that effort be? I really have no idea. With the likely exception of that Davis internal poll, none of the polls we have seen published so far have given any suggestion that they have tried to measure this effect. YouGov, which uses a static sample and applies whatever model it assumes for the election to it, certainly doesn’t. This effort could be hugely successful yet fall well short of victory. The Chron story that Texpatriate cites quotes one expert that suggests this is about a ten-point race. Again giving two percent to third parties, that’s a 54-44 win for Abbott, or 2.7 million votes to 2.2 million in a five million voter turnout scenario. Assuming Davis doesn’t have a significant number of crossover votes – assuming, therefore, that the rest of the Democratic ticket has about that same number of votes as well – that would mean that BGTX’s efforts were worth a boost of about 400,000 or 500,000 over past elections. That’s a lot and ought to be seen as a big step forward and a solid foundation going into 2016 and 2018, but as noted it would not be nearly enough to pull out a win. Is that a reasonable expectation? Again, I don’t know. I really wish we’d get a little bit of reporting on this and less on what the same assortment of political scientists think about the same poll results on the same samples from the same pollsters.

I’m not going to say that Davis is winning, certainly not if her own poll numbers don’t say so. I don’t think the polls that we have seen are an accurate reflection of the race, but I have no evidence to back that up. I really have no idea what to expect, but I do know this much: The more we work on turning out our voters, especially voters the pollsters do not consider “likely” voters, the more wrong we’ll be able to say the polls were. That only happens if we do that work.

Posted in: Election 2014.

The run and hide strategy

Where’s Danno?

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Texas voters [were] treated to a peculiar sight Friday evening: a one-candidate debate.

Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, [answered] questions in a Spanish-language television event without Republican rival Dan Patrick. He’ll be meeting with industry trade groups, his campaign says.

There may be no better illustration of the status of this year’s race for one of the most powerful positions in the state.

Van de Putte, a state senator from San Antonio but little-known statewide, has spent 31/2 months doing everything possible to gain attention for her underdog campaign.

She has inundated reporters with near-daily news releases and has invited some media to watch Spurs playoff basketball on television.

Her campaign has rolled out policies on education, jobs and health care. Last week, it started airing television ads.

Patrick, by contrast, has not yet run ads or held a news conference since winning the Republican runoff in late May. His campaign has put out an advance announcement about exactly one event in that time.

The Houston state senator has done many campaign events, particularly with tea party groups, but has not amplified his message beyond the room.

It may seem like an unusual strategy for a flamboyant radio show host who overwhelmed incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst this spring in part with pastorlike speaking talents.

To political analysts, however, it’s a familiar dynamic for a race with a clear Republican frontrunner in a state that has not elected a Democrat to statewide office in two decades.

There’s nothing mysterious about it. As I said about Ken Paxton, Dan Patrick has already talked to all of the voters he’s interested in talking to. He doesn’t think he needs to talk to anyone else, and he’s not interested in what anyone else thinks. I don’t see why this would be a surprise to anyone. It’s how Republicans have run statewide since 2002. No one noticed in 2006 because other than the bizarre, four-headed Governor’s race there weren’t any competitive races to discuss, and no one noticed in 2010 because it was the year of the teabagger. It’s only noticeable this year because we have a brand new (deeply flawed and thoroughly undistinguished) slate of Republicans and the strongest set of Ds top to bottom since 2002 that anyone has noticed the avoidance strategy. Until such time as Republicans think they might actually lose unless the actively engage voters outside of their primary, this is what we’re going to get.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Congressional Dems request federal investigation of Abbott’s persecution of Houston Votes


Still not Greg Abbott

Democratic congressmen from Texas have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate a raid by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office that targeted a nonprofit voter registration group.

The Dallas Morning News reported Aug. 31 on the attorney general’s criminal investigation of Houston Votes, which was accused of election fraud. The probe was closed one year later, with no charges filed.

Following the armed raid in 2010, the funding for Houston Votes dried up. Its efforts to register more low-income voters in the state’s most populous county, Harris, ended. The group’s records and office equipment were destroyed under a court order obtained by Abbott’s office last year.

In a Sept. 10 letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the 12 Democratic House members from Texas asked the Justice Department to open an investigation into the matter.

“This raid raises serious concerns about the biased use of state resources to prevent Texans from legally registering to vote,” the letter said.

Texas has 36 House districts, with Republicans holding 24 seats.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said the investigation request is being reviewed.

Reached for comment, Jerry Strickland, an Abbott spokesman, said in an email: “If the Texas Democratic Congressional delegation is interested in more than political grandstanding and is genuinely concerned with following and enforcing the law, they should demand the Department of Justice investigate Houston Votes’ illegal activity.

“Houston Votes’ own executive director admitted to attorney general investigators that they fraudulently signed voter registrations and illegally collected information to sell to ACORN-linked Project Vote – that’s precisely the kind of illegal activity the Justice Department needs to investigate,” Strickland added.

No one was charged in the Houston Votes investigation.


Lewis questioned why Abbott through his spokesman on Thursday was accusing Houston Votes of “illegal activity” even though no charges were filed.

“They came in with guns and took our equipment and destroyed it, and they never interviewed me. And now there were a lot of things wrong? It sounds like a gross rationalization,” Lewis said. “They tried to criminalize a voter registration drive where everyone knows people make mistakes and there are errors, because they wanted to stop it. They succeeded.”

Indeed they did. See here for the background. Conducting an armed raid for information that would have been handed over with a subpoena, and justifying it today with boogeyman fearmongering tells us what we need to know. Abbott may have had grounds to open an investigation, but he way overdid it and is trying to distract from the fact that there was nothing there. Let’s turn the spotlight on this and see what else is lurking in the shadows.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Weekend link dump for September 14

“But if policymakers really want to clean up the tax code, they need to look at tax breaks that are embedded in our system. And the best place to start is with some of the most regressive ones: taxes breaks for homeownership.”

Wait, so that silly Budweiser town thing involves a real, actual town? Who knew?

You want to know what the future looks like, look at the demographic trends of your local school district.

“Rather, the point is that the fading of negative headlines — combined with mounting enrollment — are shifting the ways candidates in both parties are talking about the law, potentially allowing Dems to mitigate the damage they might otherwise have sustained from it and to fight it out on other issues. There’s new evidence that this may be what’s happening.”

“Despite fears from some inflation hawks, the fact is that the weak labor market of the last seven years has put enormous downward pressure on wages, and there has been no significant pickup in nominal wage growth in recent years.”

If this doesn’t help spark greater public interest in net neutrality, I don’t know what would.

How is it that Good Omens had never been dramatized before now? I’d prefer a TV adaptation to one for radio, but it’s a start.

Some awesome dinosaur pictures to look at.

Yes, redistricting has an effect on the partisan makeup of the House. It’s not everything, but it’s definitely something.

I personally think that holding umpires accountable for ball and strike calls is a good thing. Batters will adjust, but if the current lack of offense is a real concern, the league can emphasize the actual boundaries of the strike zone to eliminate or at least reduce those low called strikes.

RIP, S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-Fil-A.

Parents who marry differ from parents who don’t in many ways beyond the marriage itself. Today, better-educated, higher-income adults are much more likely to marry. That means their children benefit from the marriage, and the income, and the education of their parents.”

Hey, remember the public option in the Affordable Care Act? It would still be a good idea.

I for one am glad to be living in Ted Cruz’s healthcare dystopia. May it continue to get ever worse for him.

The $15-per-hour minimum wage at SeaTac airport hasn’t caused any economic apocalypses, either. Can’t a conservative ideologue get a break around here?

Of course, wages overall are still stagnant, and there continues to be significant downward pressure on wages.

“All of this points to a flaw in our current credit system: people who may well be avoiding credit cards in order to be financially smart are also encouraged to take on those cards they don’t want in order to get ahead financially in the future as well.”

Congratulations to Vivian Boyack and Alice “Nonie” Dubes on their way, way, way overdue wedding. Mazel tov, you crazy kids.

Remembering Catfish Hunter, the other Yankees Hall of Famer whose life was cut short by ALS.

I love the movie Young Frankenstein. That is all.

Some colleges to avoid.

“A database reportedly containing 4.93 million Google user names and passwords was uploaded late Tuesday to a Russian bitcoin forum, according to reports from Russian news outlets.” You can check to see if one of them was yours here. Probably a good idea to do that.

RIP, Richard Kiel, the towering actor best known for portraying steel-toothed villain Jaws in a pair of James Bond films.

“Here are two things that are also true: Obama has become the greatest terrorist hunter in the history of the presidency; and his successful push to disarm the Assad regime of the bulk of its chemical-weapons stockpiles has removed from the Middle East, and beyond, the possibility of an unparalleled cataclysm.”

RIP, Vincent DiNino, who was to the University of Texas Longhorn Band what Darryl Royal was to the football team.

The hole in the ozone layer is getting smaller. This is a good thing.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Fifth Circuit hears HB2 arguments

As always with anything that involves the Fifth Circuit, pessimism is called for.

Federal appeals court judges who got their first look at the latest challenge to Texas’ tough new abortion law Friday appeared to show support for the law but some reluctance to immediately allow it to be enforced as the legal fight over it continues.

The three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took turns firing questions at lawyers for the state and abortion providers in a hearing over the state’s request for permission to enforce parts of the law that were thrown out by an Austin-based judge last month.

Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell attacked the local judge’s decision, arguing it did not follow precedent and was likely to be reversed on appeal. Stephanie Toti, representing the providers, said the state did not face irreparable harm by not being able to enforce the law immediately.

Both sides seemed to score points at the hearing in New Orleans, which stretched more than 40 minutes past its one-hour allotment.


On Friday, Yeakel’s latest decision was scrutinized in questions from the two judges on the panel appointed by Republicans – Judge Jerry E. Smith, appointed by Ronald Reagan, and Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, appointed by George W. Bush.

Elrod, who served on the panel that upheld the law the first time around, was especially critical of the abortion providers who brought the second lawsuit this spring. At one point, she asked Toti to explain why the number of women unable to get abortions has been lower than the providers claimed in the first suit.


Smith, while generally supportive of the state’s arguments, seemed to show that a quick win for the state was not certain.

The judge interrupted Mitchell less than a minute into his argument to question why the state waited two days to file an “emergency” motion to the appeals court.

“It may appear that I’m just trying to give you a hard time, but I think it really goes to the seriousness of the state’s claim of irreparable harm,” he said.

Before you get any hopes up at that, read the AusChron’s coverage of the hearing.

The decision now falls to a three-judge panel, a mixed-bag in terms of how they rule on reproductive rights restrictions: Justice Jennifer Walker Elrod, a George W. Bush appointee, sat on a panel that previously blocked Yeakel’s ruling and sided with the state on the hospital admitting privileges rule; Justice Stephen Higginson, appointed by Barack Obama, voted against a similar hospital admitting privileges law in Mississippi that would have closed the lone abortion clinic in the state; and then there’s Ronald Reagan-appointee and former Harris County GOP Chairman, Justice Jerry Smith, who upheld Texas’ preabortion sonogram law and single-handedly struck down a decision by Yeakel that banned enforcement of a Texas rule barring Planned Parenthood from a Medicaid program.

Smith may not curry favor with pro-choice advocates for his track record of offending women – while serving as Republican Party chairman, he (ever so charmingly) called feminists a “gaggle of outcasts, misfits, and rejects” and referred to the League of Women Voters as the “Plague of Women Voters,” according to a July 1987 Houston Chronicle article.

Interrupting the beginning of Texas Solicitor General John Mitchell’s argument today, Smith questioned the state claim of “irreparable harm,” and, echoing the 5th Circuit clerk’s response to Abbott, lightly rebuked the A.G.’s office for delaying its motion. Smith said he and the other circuit judges waited “on alert” by their computers all weekend until 11:59pm on Sunday (a whole two days following Yeakel’s expectedly adverse ruling and one day after the state’s notice of appeal) when the motion came in. At that point, there was “no time” for the other side to respond or for the court to read and consider the motion, he said.

“I am a little bit perplexed about the way it was handled by the state,” said Smith. “[...] We thought you felt strongly enough about irreparable harm that you would be filing a motion for stay [...] We waited during the day Saturday, you said the motion for stay would be forthcoming – it didn’t, it was not forthcoming.” (Mitchell said they filed it as quickly as they could.)

Maybe Smith is a better judge than his history suggests. When you’re reaching for stuff like that, you know how thin a reed it is. All we can do at this point is wait and see what they rule. The Current has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Enos files complaint against Judge Franklin

Here we go again.

Alicia Franklin

Lawyer Greg Enos filed a criminal complaint this month with the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division alleging 311th District Court Judge Alicia Franklin submitted false and questionable pay vouchers to the county for court-appointed work in Child Protective Services cases, including one in which she billed for nearly 24 hours of work in a single day and others for work apparently done after she had been sworn in as a judge, a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. She also is accused of billing for trips to the post office and other administrative tasks.

“Taxpayers should not pay attorneys to print documents, e-file pleadings, lick envelopes or drive to the post office to put envelopes in the mail box,” Enos wrote in the complaint. “These amazing time entries are proof that the CPS lawyers submitting invoices have no shame and no fear of their bills being reviewed. It is definite proof that the judges not even read the time entries being submitted before they approve them for payment.”

Enos’ 20-page complaint is based on CPS pay vouchers he obtained from Franklin’s Democratic opponent in the November general election, Sherri Cothrun. The complaint details vouchers filed on four separate days in May when Franklin billed anywhere from 19 hours to 23.5 hours, and show that she billed only in 15-minute increments.

Since filing the complaint, Enos said he has discovered additional vouchers that show Franklin billed for more than 32 hours in a single day, something legal experts say could be either unethical or illegal, if true.

Consultant Jim McGrath, whose public relations firm Franklin hired, was dismissive of Enos’ complaint, calling it a “political smear job” by a “self-described ‘liberal Democrat.’”

“It stinks to high heaven as far as we’re concerned, but it’s the season for politics,” McGrath said.


Outside experts said the evidence in Enos’ complaint is sufficient to warrant an investigation.

“It’s problematic on its face, there’s no doubt about that,” said Robert Schuwerk, professor emeritus at the University of Houston Law Center. “I think it’s got to be looked into.”

Jim McCormack, former general counsel and chief disciplinary counsel of the State Bar of Texas, said the complaint “raises serious questions of fraud, theft and dishonest conduct.”

“Those allegations should be fully investigated by the appropriate prosecutor and the State Bar of Texas,” he said. “Allegations of fraudulent payment requests by a lawyer to a government entity, as well as the alleged charging of unconscionable fees implicate both the criminal laws applicable to everyone and the disciplinary rules governing lawyers.”

See here for the background, see here for the complaint, and see here for invoices submitted by Franklin for work done after June 13, the day she was sworn in as a judge. A sample of the vouchers Franklin submitted with the problems that Enos highlights with them is here. I’ll be very interested to hear what the attorneys out there think of this. As was the case with the complaints filed against now-former Judge Denise Pratt, Enos is requesting that an independent prosecutor be appointed to investigate this. We’ll see what DA Devon Anderson does with this complaint. The latest issue of Enos’ “The Mongoose” newsletter that sums up what he’s got so far on all this is here.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Plaintiffs respond to Abbott’s brief in same sex marriage appeal

They give it the respect it deserves.


Lawyers for two same-sex couples who are trying to overturn Texas’ gay marriage ban said Tuesday that the state’s attempt to defend its prohibition has defied both logic and a stream of recent judicial rulings.

“As numerous courts already concluded, no conceivable basis exists to deny same-sex couples their right to marry or to refuse to recognize their lawful out-of-state marriages,” said the plaintiffs’ brief filed with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. It is one of five federal appellate courts reviewing rulings that overturned gay marriage bans in 11 states.

In their brief, plaintiffs’ lawyers such as Neel Lane and Barry Chasnoff of San Antonio listed state laws that confer benefits on heterosexual married couples. But the laws deny to gay couples key rights, such as a community property right to part of a pension and automatic rights to make health care and burial decisions, the brief said.

The children of same-sex couples also lose out, it said. If not adopted, they may not be entitled to child support if their parents break up, the brief noted.

“Far from encouraging a stable environment for child rearing, [the state's gay marriage ban] denies children of same-sex parents the protections and stability they would enjoy if their parents could marry,” the plaintiffs said.


The newly filed brief cites hardships borne by the four lead plaintiffs, Plano lawyer Mark Phariss and physician assistant Victor Holmes, who tried to obtain a marriage license; and two Austin lesbians, Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman, who want Texas to recognize their out-of-state marriage.

“Texas veterans like Holmes and De Leon cannot share their [Veterans Administration] benefits with a same-sex spouse,” it said.

Via Texas Politics, you can see the plaintiffs’ response here. Abbott’s brief, as we know, was utterly ridiculous, and took a lot longer to get filed than the response. Lord knows, the plaintiffs have all the evidence and the virtue of being right on their side. The state gets to respond to the plaintiffs’ response, no doubt with more baloney, by September 26 – assuming Abbott doesn’t ask for more delays, of course – at which point the Fifth Circuit can finally schedule oral arguments. Let’s get this going already. The Current has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.


As I’m sure you recall, access for the disabled was a major point of debate in the vehicles for hire saga. There was a lawsuit filed by a coalition of Texas disability advocates against Uber and Lyft over their lack of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. I have wondered more than once how these companies, which rely on drivers using their personal vehicles, will meet the requirements set out by Council. Well, that’s still a question to ponder, but here’s Uber’s plan for that.


Uber is evolving the way people move throughout Houston and over 200 other cities around the world. But, until now, transportation options have been limited for those who may require additional assistance.

Today, Uber Houston is announcing a new platform that will allow those needing an extra hand to request safe and reliable rides at the tap of a button.

We’ve partnered with Open Doors Organization, a non-profit organization that works to create a society in which persons of disability have the same consumer opportunities as everyone else. With Open Doors Organization, we are launching UberASSIST. We’ve trained uberX partners on the necessary knowledge and safety requirements for those with accessibility needs.

In just a few weeks we’ll be rolling out UberACCESS. With UberACCESS, we are growing our wheelchair accessible vehicle supply, transforming disabled transit and allowing on demand pickups within minutes instead of days.

They have instructions for how to request UberASSIST at the link above. It sounds promising, but we’ll see how it works in practice. Lyft still has to come up with something as well. Link via The Highwayman.

Elswhere in Uber and Lyft news, the debate is on in Dallas, and will be on again shortly in San Antonio. Have I mentioned lately that I’m glad we finally put this behind us here in Houston? The Leader News had an overview of using Uber, with some price points and quotes from Uber drivers. Finally, if you haven’t read this Offcite piece on how Uber/Lyft and eventually driverless cars will affect walkability in Houston and elsewhere, you should.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Saturday video break: Dance This Mess Around

The B-52′s, who are not easily imitated:

And the Asylum Street Spankers, who are up to the challenge:

I had the privilege of seeing the Spankers many times before they sadly broke up a couple of years ago. I had the privilege of seeing the B-52′s play at the Houston Zoo for their annual fundraiser a couple of years back. Easily two of the best and most fun bands I’ve gotten to see perform live.

Posted in: Music.

Voter ID trial testimony ends

The state of Texas put on its case in the voter ID trial.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Lawyers from the Texas attorney general’s office presented witnesses Wednesday in federal court defending the state voter ID law as necessary and attempting to rebuff claims that it is discriminatory.

The state’s case in the federal trial, now in its second week, relies in part on the written testimony, read in court, of Republican state legislators. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos heard testimony from state Sens. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Dan Patrick, R-Houston, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, who said that the voter ID law had the support of the vast majority of people across that state.


Also Wednesday, witnesses for the state and plaintiffs’ lawyers — representing the U.S. Justice Department, as well as several civil rights groups — sparred over the voter ID law and its effects.

During one exchange, Richard Dellheim, a Justice Department lawyer, tried to discredit an expert witness for the state.

Trey Hood, a University of Georgia political science professor, was called by the state to discuss his study that showed the voter ID law in Georgia resulted in suppressed voter turnout in 2008 among people of all races and ethnicities, compared with the comparable election in 2004 before the law was enacted.

Dellheim asked Hood if the study was valid and applicable in Texas. Hood said he thought so, though he later said he couldn’t empirically prove it was.

Dellheim then pointed to other courts’ opinions about Hood’s work, and noted his studies were called “wholly unreliable,” “suspect” and substantially less credible than other studies.

Oops. There were other embarrassing revelations as well.

Emails from a Department of Public Safety official raised questions Tuesday in federal court about the sincerity of the agency’s voter qualification efforts.

“Zero’s a good number,” Tony Rodriguez, a senior DPS manager wrote in a email presented as evidence in the ongoing voter ID trial. Rodriguez was responding to a subordinate’s report that no election identification certificates had been issued the day before at a DPS location.

Election Identification Certificates, or EICs, are a form of identification provided under the contested law that requires Texans to show certain photo identification before casting a ballot. The EICs are an alternative for citizens who are unable to – or chose not to – get other forms of qualifying photo identification.

The messages were discussed the same day the State of Texas began defending its voter ID law in a trial that has garnered national attention for its potentially wide-reaching implications. The law in question, known as Senate Bill 14, was passed by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011.

Another email from Rodriguez refers to a citizen inquiring about getting an EIC only to change their mind and leave the DPS office as a “close call.” Earlier in that message, it reads that the agency was continuing its “clean sweep.”

“This is getting better by the day,” Rodriguez writes in another when a different report shows no EICs had been issued.

He said that was his way of expressing disappointment over the lack of certificates issued despite extensive man hours going into the program. It was sarcasm, he told a Department of Justice lawyer in court Tuesday.

She wasn’t convinced.

“‘This is getting better by the day’ is a pretty unusual way to express disappointment, yes?” DOJ attorney Anna Baldwin asked Rodriguez during his testimony.

A recent tally shows the state has issued 279 EICs despite having more than 350 locations or entities equipped to distribute the cards, according to court testimony.

That’s an attitude that comes from the top, I’d say. Not hard to understand why it might be pervasive among the folks on the ground as well. See also this Trib story about the lack of places at which to get an acceptable form of voter ID and the fuss that Democratic Senators are raising about it.

By the way, if you’re wondering why testimony from Republican legislators was read into the record from earlier depositions instead of being taken live, you’re not the only one who thought it was odd.

Before resting, the state declined to unseal testimony of other lawmakers and did not read transcripts from their depositions into the record.

Notably, the court did not hear from Speaker Joe Straus, who presided over the House when the voter ID law passed, and Rep. Patricia Harless, a Republican from Spring and author of the House version of the voter ID bill, both of whom were on the state’s list of witnesses.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Gerry Hebert, who is representing U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, and the League of United Latin American Citizens, said he cannot remember — in his 41 years of practicing law — when a state or local government declined to call an elected official to testify in person at a trial, especially when the intent of the legislative body is at stake.

“It’s extraordinary,” he told the American-Statesman.

Herbert said he believed the absence of live testimony from lawmakers signaled that they cannot defend the law in court, Hebert said.

Attorney general spokeswoman Lauren Bean responded to the criticism by saying: “Unlike the plaintiffs, the state will try this case in the courtroom, not the media.”

I’m sure the judge will be duly impressed by the majesty of your retort, Lauren. Abbott has gone to great lengths to prevent any Republican legislator or legislative staff member from testifying. It’s more than fair to speculate as to why. I hope the judge notes this in her opinion.

As always, see the Brennan Center’s coverage – here are their writeups for Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning, and Wednesday afternoon. The state has rested its case as of Thursday, and closing arguments will be held on September 22.

One more interesting bit from Zachary Roth at MSNBC:

Defending the ID measure, lawyers for Texas sought to cast doubt on the credibility of some expert witnesses, but offered little that undermined the broad thrust of the challengers’ case. They said at the close of proceedings Monday that they planned to offer just two witnesses, with their presentation lasting only around a day and half.

The law’s opponents suggested privately that Texas’s laissez-faire approach shows the weakness of its defense. But the state may be relying on a basic reality: Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, the burden of proof is on the challengers to show that the ID law will stop Texas’s racial minorities from voting.

Texas’s voter ID law, passed in 2011, was struck down the following year by a federal court, which ruled that it violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Under Section 5, Texas and other covered areas had to show that their election laws didn’t disproportionately affect racial minorities before they could go into effect. In 2013, the Supreme Court neutered Section 5 in Shelby County v. Holder, and hours later, Texas announced that its ID law was back in force.

It’s now being challenged under Section 2 of the VRA, which was unaffected by Shelby. But under Section 2, the onus is on the law’s challengers to show not just that it hits minorities hardest, but that it does so because of a history of racial discrimination. That’s a relatively high bar to meet—though it’s one that voting rights advocates have met lately, at least for now, in the Wisconsin and Ohio cases.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, an Obama appointee, did little to tip her hand. But lawyers for the plaintiffs said they took her obvious engagement and interest—she took frequent notes, and several times interjected to ask witnesses to clarify points—as a promising sign.


The challengers also continued to attack the main rationale Texas has offered for the ID law: that it’s needed to stop fraud. Lorraine Minnite, a political scientist at Rutgers University who has conducted perhaps the closest analysis of voter fraud claims, testified that voter impersonation fraud—the only kind of fraud that the ID might stop—is vanishingly rare.

Minnite said there have been just four such cases in Texas since 2000—and it’s not clear that any of them would have been prevented by the ID law.

At times, lawyers for Texas seemed disorganized or disengaged. Reed Clay sought to use a U.S. Congressional report to discredit Project Vote, a voter registration group with whom Minnite has been associated in the past, but was unable to find the relevant portion, and gave up.

Later, John B. Scott seemed to think better of a line of questioning about an expert witness’s past clients, and abruptly abandoned it, triggering laughter in the courtroom—and even a faint smile from Judge Gonzales Ramos.

The defense in the redistricting trial has been similar, in that the state hasn’t bothered to do much. This is what happens when the burden of proof is not on you. PDiddie and Texas Leftist have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Endorsement watch: First of many for Sam Houston

The Statesman gets an early start on endorsement season.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston

A famous name can be a mixed blessing in politics. Sam Houston, the Democratic candidate for Texas attorney general, has persuaded us that he is more than just a name, and he is the best person in the race to succeed current Attorney General Greg Abbott.


Houston is clear about the direction that he would take the attorney general’s office, returning its focus to legal matters of the state rather than tilting at windmills by filing lawsuits against federal government agencies. He takes the position of the state’s defender seriously but suggests that there are other tools to be used rather than expensive lawsuits that take resources from the office’s other functions.

“It’s the job of the AG to define what is in the best interest of Texans, and I intend to return the office to that purpose,” he said.

Houston would bring a fresh eye to an office that in our estimation has strayed from its primary functions. In addition to being the state’s primary legal officer, the attorney general is charged with investigating Medicaid fraud, issuing open records rulings, collecting child support, upholding consumer protection statutes and prosecuting white-collar crime.


In the time since [Ken] Paxton’s last visit, troubling reports of ethics violations have come to light, including a pending complaint with the state’s Public Integrity Unit and the State Bar of Texas that Paxton violated conflict-of-interest rules when he failed to register as an investment adviser representative.

Paxton accepted a reprimand and $1,000 fine from the State Securities Board in May for soliciting clients for a Texas investment firm without registering, as required by state law, and without disclosing that he would receive 30 percent of management fees.

He and his campaign have said that it was an oversight, despite the fact that Paxton voted to approve and clarify the state law as a state representative. And the complaints raise the specter of the state’s top attorney facing a possible grand jury investigation and indictment while attempting to carry out the duties of the office. This is unacceptable.

Even without the legal concerns, it would be difficult to endorse Paxton. He appears ready to use the office to fight the battles of national politics at the expense of concerns of the state. His rhetoric about protection of freedoms — state’s rights, reproductive rights and religious freedom — appear to be only applicable to those whom he agrees with.

Note that Paxton declined to meet with the Statesman’s board for this endorsement interview, though he did so during the primary campaign. That will almost certainly be the norm among the top GOP candidates, and as I’ve said before, it’s because they believe they’ve already talked to all the voters they care about. That’s one reason why I expect Dems to do very well in newspaper endorsements this year, for whatever value that brings. I have a hard time imagining any non-ideological reason for any paper to endorse Paxton over Houston given Paxton’s multiple legal and ethical problems. Similarly, I don’t expect any paper to side with Dan Patrick over Leticia Van de Putte, in this case due to his extremeness and obnoxiousness. Mike Collier is definitely better qualified to be Comptroller than Glenn Hegar, but Collier has never run for office before, and his bluntness might be a turnoff to some delicate soul out there in Editorial Board Land. As for Davis versus Abbott, again I think the choice should be clear, but again I figure at least one of the major dailies will find some reason why they don’t like her. I’ll be happy to be wrong about that. Again, I doubt these endorsements means much, but better to have them than not have them.

Posted in: Election 2014.

HISD’s volunteer reading army

HISD’s number one priority is, or at least needs to be, improving reading performance. I really hope this will help.

Leaders of the Houston Independent School District turned to the community on Thursday, launching the district’s largest volunteer recruitment effort in recent years – all to help solve HISD’s intractable literacy problem.

The nation’s seventh-largest school system put out a call for 1,500 volunteers – business professionals, retirees and others – to work weekly with first-graders across the district who are struggling to read.

The volunteer effort is part of Superintendent Terry Grier’s latest literacy plan, which sets a goal that all students will read on grade level by third grade. Last school year, only one-third of HISD’s third-graders hit the state’s recommended level on the reading test; about two-thirds met the easier minimum standards.

“This is a big, big issue, and together we’re going to be able to do this,” Grier said at a news conference at Garcia Elementary, addressing the business and nonprofit executives helping to fund and coordinate the volunteer effort.

Relying on volunteers to read with or tutor students is not a new concept – HISD already has a smaller program targeting male volunteers. Studies have shown such programs can be beneficial, although the quality varies.

“It sounds so wonderful – a way for people to be involved in education – but education is complicated and, especially, teaching reading is complicated,” said Jo Worthy, an education professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

We learned from the Apollo program that focused tutoring can improve math performance, but reading has proven to be a tougher nut to crack. Given that there doesn’t seem to be one silver bullet to solve this problem, I’m fine with taking a multi-pronged approach and seeing what works best. There are other efforts going on as well, so hopefully we will see some results. If you want to get involved, the first thing to do is to go to the HISD Volunteers in Public Schools page and sign up to help. I think we’re going to need as many hands on deck as we can get.

Posted in: School days.

Art Car Parade to move to April

Adjust your calendars accordingly.

The 28th annual Houston Art Car Parade is now set for April 11, 2015, The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, producers of the annual Houston Art Car Parade Weekend, announced today.

This year’s past parade was May 10.

In the past festival goers had expressed that that rain, heat, and humidity in early May dampened the fun of the parade, which sees hundreds of cars driving through downtown Houston decorated to the hilt.

“Securing this date in April for the Houston Art Car Parade is a dream come true. To be able to present the parade then will allow for a greater audience including those who could not or would not brave the heat in May,” said Don Mafrige, Jr., Orange Show Center for Visionary Art Board President-Elect and Chairman of Houston Art Car Weekend.

College graduation and wedding season sometimes caused conflicts for those wanting to attend the parade festivities.

Here’s the press release from the Orange Show about this. It does get hot, no question about it. I don’t know how much cooler it will be in April, but it will be less likely to be 90 degrees, and that’s about as good as it gets without risking genuinely un-parade-like weather. Hope this works out as well as everyone wants it to.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

Friday random ten – Mind your Ps, but not your Qs

Your Qs can do whatever they want, there aren’t enough of them to worry about.

1. Walkin’ After Midnight – Patsy Cline
2. Big Bottom – Paul and Storm
3. Still Crazy After All These Years – Paul Simon
4. Gonna Be An Engineer – Peggy Seeger
5. Brilliant Blues – Pete Townshend
6. Big Time – Peter Gabriel
7. Let Your Love Flow – Petra Haden
8. Happy – Pharrell Williams
9. The Roof Is Leaking – Phil Collins
10. U Got The Look – Prince

Bonus material:

1. Play The Game – Queen
2. Ironside – Quincy Jones

What other Q artists are out there? There’s Queensryche, there’s Quarterflash, there’s…I have no idea. Who can you think of?

Posted in: Music.

Davis’ internal poll

I had been wondering if Wendy Davis was going to release one of these.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis is trailing Republican opponent Greg Abbott by single digits for the first time this year in her campaign’s internal polling, according to a copy of it obtained by the Chronicle.

The Davis campaign’s latest survey, which was conducted last week, shows her taking 38 percent of the vote to Abbott’s 46 percent. A Rasmussen poll released last month also found Davis down by 8 percentage points.

Davis has narrowed Abbott’s lead by nearly two-thirds since January, when her campaign’s internal survey showed him up by 23 points. He led her by 11 in May and 12 in August, according to her campaign’s private polling.

The September survey is the first one Davis’ campaign did since launching a series of TV ads attacking Abbott. The first commercial, which started airing Aug. 8, has drawn the most attention, accusing Abbott of “siding with a corporation over a victim of rape” as a state Supreme Court justice.

A document summarizing the Davis campaign’s internal numbers this year shows the January survey is the only one in which Abbott garnered more than half the vote. The document’s headline reads, ”Davis Chipping Away At Abbott Vote As He Falls Below Critical 50% Mark.”

The Davis campaign’s internal poll suggests a much closer race than a private survey done by Abbott’s people during the last week of August. The Abbott campaign’s internal numbers, which were shared with donors earlier this month, had him beating Davis by 18 points. Most public polls this year have found Abbott leading Davis by double digits.

As with that other poll, which we heard about first from the Ken Paxton campaign, there’s no data or poll questions to examine (not even a polling memo in this case), so I can’t offer any kind of objective analysis. The lack of further information about this poll actually makes it sound a bit more credible to me than the one Abbott touted simply because it makes no claims about subsamples that are hard to reconcile with the overall data. It also fits with my own perceptions about the race, and who doesn’t love a little confirmation bias? Beyond that, take it with the amount of salt with which all internal polls should be taken.

You may wonder why Davis would bother to release an internal poll showing her to be down by eight. Countering that Wilson Perkins poll was surely part of the calculus here. More broadly, this is to try to establish a “she’s gaining momentum” narrative, hopefully to replace the “she’s trailing by double digits” narrative that has pervaded the coverage of the campaign. The Rasmussen poll from last month helped with that, but it’s only one result. With the release of the Abbott internal poll and now the release of another YouGov poll that’s more of the same from their static sample, a different perspective was a good idea. (YouGov also shows Sen. John Cornyn leading David Alameel by 20 points; for a good discussion of how to interpret their overall numbers, see Steve Singiser.)

You may also wonder why her campaign would release a poll showing her at 38 percent. Clearly, the key here was Abbott being under 50, at 46 percent, which was a change from their earlier results and a suggestion that the campaign is having an effect. For what it’s worth, in the large majority of polls that include crosstabs that I’ve seen in recent years, the lion’s share of “undecided” voters come from populations that are generally Dem-friendly, specifically African Americans and Latinos. I presume the same thing is going on in this poll, but of course I don’t have the data, so who really knows.

What would truly be of interest here would be to know how the population Davis is sampling differs from the others we have seen, which I strongly suspect bear a close resemblance to the 2010 electorate. Determining what the electorate will look like is a guessing game that all pollsters must engage in, and when there is a clear failure to accurately predict an election result (think Gallup in 2012), the culprit is often a wrong view of who will be voting. This is one area in which an internal poll can be more accurate than a third party poll, since any viable campaign ought to have a fairly clear view of their voter universe. My favorite example of this was the 2009 Mayor’s race here, where two polls of registered voters gave a lead to Peter Brown (who had been doing a lot of TV advertising) but an internal poll of Annise Parker’s that had a tighter (and in my opinion, more appropriate for that kind of race) voter screen had her leading instead. We know how that turned out. Of course, this can easily turn into an exercise in wishful thinking for a candidate that needs some good news. That’s why election forecasters that use poll averages tend to discount internal polls in some way, since they often represent something like a best case scenario. What makes this particular poll interesting, and why it would no doubt be enlightening to know how its demography compares to other polls, is precisely that there is an unprecedented effort by the Davis campaign and Battleground Texas to boost turnout among less frequent voters. Everyone agrees that will have some effect on the election, but no one knows how much. Knowing what kind of population the Davis team sampled would give us some insight into how they think it’s going. Without that, we’re left with waiting to see the final numbers, as we were before.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Time again to talk textbooks

Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network sounded the alarm in the Sunday op-eds.

The last time Texas adopted social studies textbooks – in 2002 – political activists and members of the state education board themselves demanded scores of changes to content they didn’t like.

Publishers resisted some, such as demands to downplay slavery as the central cause of the Civil War. But they buckled on others, such as rewriting passages in geography textbooks so students learn that landscape features and fossil fuels formed “in the distant past” instead of “millions of years ago.” The latter conflicted with the beliefs of biblical creationists that Earth is just a few thousand years old.

A fundamental problem this time around is that the new textbooks must be based on deeply flawed curriculum standards the board adopted in 2010. How bad are those standards? Even the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in a scathing review published in 2011, called the standards a “politicized distortion of history” filled with “misrepresentations at every turn.”

That political bias is evident in how the standards address topics such as slavery and the Civil War, the civil rights movement and “grossly exaggerated” religious influences on the nation’s founding. Fordham’s report expressed dismay at the treatment of McCarthyism (vindicated!) and even compared the “uncritical celebration” of the free enterprise system in the standards to “Soviet schools harping on the glories of state socialism.”

Despite these flawed standards, you might hope that the state’s official review and adoption process would help ensure that the new textbooks are accurate. Sadly, it’s hard to imagine how that could happen.

See here and here for some background. On Wednesday, as promised in that op-ed, TFN got all academic about it.

Teachers, activists and officials are girding for a renewed battle over Texas school textbooks, as the State Board of Education is set to discuss new social studies instructional materials for the first time in a dozen years.

The first volley came from the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning religious liberties nonprofit group that advocates for the separation of church and state. With the help of three academics and seven doctoral students, the TFN undertook a comprehensive review of 43 of the proposed history, geography and government textbooks available for public perusal.

Their findings released Wednesday assert many of the textbooks exaggerate Judeo-Christian influences, lend “undue legitimacy to neo-Confederate” arguments about states’ rights and slavery and “suffer from an uncritical celebration of the free enterprise system.”


Emile Lester is an associate professor of political science at Virginia’s University of Mary Washington and one of the experts who put together the TFN report: “The SBOE and these textbooks have collaborated to make students’ knowledge of American history a casualty of the culture wars.”

The TFN placed much of the blame on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, new curriculum standards the state board adopted in 2010. They point to studies like that completed in 2011 by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which gave the new U.S. History curriculum a D for “a rigidly thematic and theory-based social studies structure with a politicized distortion of history.”

An index page of their reports is here, the press release is here, and the executive summary, which is quite detailed, is here. You really have to admire TFN for doing this kind of unglamorous but vitally important work, which they do consistently at a high level. Trail Blazers, Newsdesk, the Trib, and K-12 Zone have more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Abbott files complaint with Ethics Commission over Davis book tour


Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

The campaign manager for GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott filed an ethics complaint on Thursday alleging that the book tour of Abbott’s Democratic opponent, state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, represents a conversion of political contributions into personal use.

Wayne Hamilton’s complaint to the Texas Ethics Commission claims that Davis converted political contributions to personal use — a violation of the state’s election code — during a trip to New York City this week where she both promoted her book and made a campaign stop.

The campaign filed a request for a formal opinion on the matter from the Texas Ethics Commission earlier this week; a response could take several months.

Davis’ campaign says she used campaign funds to pay for the airfare to and from New York City, while Davis’ book publisher paid for lodging on Sept. 9. A campaign event was held on Sept. 10.

“We were very careful to follow all legal guidelines,” campaign spokesman Zac Petkanas said. “One way you can tell this is a politically motivated and frivolous complaint is that the Abbott campaign filed it today without waiting for the legal opinion they requested on Monday.”

To be perfectly fair, it should be noted that the request for an opinion was about whether the book tour constituted an illegal corporate campaign contribution, whereas this is about whether Davis personally benefited from the use of campaign funds. That doesn’t mean this isn’t frivolous, but it is at least a different topic. The Texas Election Law Blog provides a useful insight on the original matter. As for this one, I’m not a campaign finance expert, and none of the stories I’ve seen so far have asked anyone who is for their opinion. Anyone out there with actual experience want to take a crack at this?

One more thing:

Several months ago, the commission publicly condemned political campaigns’ use of publicizing complaints they made against an opponent.

Wouldn’t want for these complaints to be publicity stunts, would we? Trail Blazers and the AusChron have more.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Pratt gets a reprimand

From the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Not exactly timely, but at least it’s on the record.

Denise Pratt

The commission found that [Denise] Pratt, who resigned in late March, “failed to be diligent and failed to timely execute the business of the court,” including not making timely rulings in a variety of specific cases, a violation of the state constitution.

“The decisional delays in those cases were unreasonable and unjustified,” commission Chair Steven Seider wrote in the 13-page reprimand. “The Commission notes that Judge Pratt provided no evidence that these cases involved particularly complex legal issues; however, it was evident that Judge Pratt was carrying a particularly heavy caseload, and a very large backlog, due to her own lack of diligence and neglect of her duties.

“Excluding the fact that Judge Pratt was frequently late to court and often missed or canceled court hearings and trials, there does not appear to be a legitimate justification for the pattern of delayed decision-making that occurred during the last years of Judge Pratt’s tenure on the bench,” the document continues.

Doing those things “causes harm and a great disservice to parties, lawyers, witnesses, jurors, and other judges,” Seider wrote.


[Watchdog family attorney Greg] Enos on Tuesday dismissed the reprimand as tardy and a poor reflection on the commission, which lawyers often criticize for moving slowly and going too easy on the judges it investigates.

“This just shows how useless the Commission on Judicial Conduct is,” he wrote in an email. “They did nothing when we needed protection from Pratt and then they waited months after she was off the bench to slap her wrists.”

True enough, but it’s about the best we were going to get. I note with grim satisfaction that no one on Team Pratt could be reached for a comment for the story. Given the amount of yapping and woofing they’ve done in every other chapter of this saga, their silence in this case speaks volumes. You can read the full reprimand here if you’re curious enough.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

The revenue cap has already hit



Houstonians will see their first property tax rate cut in five years as the city runs up against a revenue cap imposed by voters a decade ago.

The modest rollback works out to $12.27 a year for the owner of a $200,000 house with a standard homestead exemption.


The city’s current property tax rate is 63.875 cents per $100 of assessed value. Mayor Annise Parker’s administration is proposing to cut it to 63.108 cents, a reduction of about three-quarters of a cent. The tax rate formally will be set in October.

The rate reduction will not force immediate budget cuts, city Finance Director Kelly Dowe said, because the spending plan City Council passed for the fiscal year that began July 1 assumed property tax revenues would not exceed the cap. However, Dowe said, the cut means the city will collect $12.7 million less than it otherwise would have, and will have that much less on hand to deal with a looming $120 million deficit for the fiscal year that starts next summer.

The revenue cap is expected to have a much larger impact on that coming budget, exacerbated by the rising cost of city debt and pension obligations.

With this challenge in mind, some council members argued residents receive inadequate services today, and expressed dismay at the tax cut.

“I was in my district in the Sunnyside area this morning, and riding through and looking at the different basic services we’re lacking,” Councilman Dwight Boykins said. “And when I see a $12.7 million surplus that we, because of this property tax cap, cannot allow to go into the general fund to address some of the needs of my community, it’s a hard pill to swallow.”

Small government advocate Paul Bettencourt, who helped pass the revenue cap a decade ago, said the measure is working as intended.

“It was designed to trim back the tax load when the increases become too onerous for taxpayers,” Bettencourt said. “What needs to happen is, on an ongoing basis, as values go up, tax rates need to come down.”

Dowe and other city officials have discussed numerous ways of responding to the coming deficit, from amending the revenue cap to levying a garbage fee on homeowners to forcing city employees to pay a larger share of their health care costs to selling city-owned land.

I’ve talked about this before, and you know how I feel. All that this cap does is prioritize one form of spending, because that’s what this rate cut amounts to, over all others. That’s a stupid way to manage the city’s finances. If you think the city needs to spend less money on this or that, then fine – make your proposal and work to get it passed by Council. You get a guaranteed shot at this every year when the budget gets approved. If you think the city needs to prioritize certain types of spending over certain other types of spending, that’s fine too, but note that another priority has just cut ahead of yours in line and there’s nothing you can do about it. If you think the city needs to get serious about pensions and debt service and what have you, your job just got $12.7 million harder. The cuts that are being made now to deal with this can’t be made later to deal with that. The one thing we can do is fix our mistake and undo this dumb policy. I for one am going to have a hard time voting for anyone in 2015 that doesn’t support doing that.

Posted in: Local politics.

Abbott’s health care small ball

Is that all there is?

Increased funding for preventive care and luring medical professionals to Texas are at the center of gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott’s health care plan, unveiled at St. Joseph’s Women’s Medical Center here on Wednesday.

The Republican attorney general, running to replace Gov. Rick Perry, unveiled a proposal that includes a $50 million budget increase for women’s health programs, additional funding for medical school residency slots in Texas, loan forgiveness for aspiring doctors who practice in underserved areas and compensation for doctors who provide care via telephone.

Abbott said the cost of the entire plan would be $175 million every two years, but said it could actually save more than it costs. “It may actually reduce the cost of health care,” he said.

The left-leaning policy group Progress Texas criticized Abbott’s proposal because it does not include Medicaid expansion to cover impoverished adults, a tenet of federal health reform that Texas’ Republican leadership has staunchly opposed. Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation, with about one in every four people lacking health insurance in 2012, according to U.S. Census data. About one million Texans could qualify for Medicaid coverage if the state were to expand the program under current federal guidelines, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“Texans don’t need more small ideas from Abbott — we need and deserve a comprehensive plan for insuring those 1 million Texans, and we need it yesterday,” said Ed Espinoza, the group’s executive director, in response to the candidate’s proposal.

Abbott’s Democratic rival, state Sen. Wendy Davis of Ft. Worth, has endorsed Medicaid expansion.

There’s nothing here that I find objectionable, but let’s be honest – it ain’t much, especially compared to Medicaid expansion and the million or so people it would help. The 2011 cuts to women’s health and family planning services has done such extensive and lasting damage to patients and providers in the state that anything short of a pledge to re-establish a clinic for every one that had to close is inadequate. Even that doesn’t make up for the inconvenience and hassle of finding new doctors and establishing new routines, but it at least makes the attempt. This is little more than a band-aid. Not a surprise, given Abbott’s known priorities, just nothing to write home about.

Posted in: Election 2014.