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2014 Day 10 Early Vote totals

EarlyVoting

Here they are, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. The debate about what the turnout numbers mean continues apace. You already know what I think about that, so let me introduce a different perspective. We’ve been talking about these numbers mostly in the context of 2010. I’ve been saying that’s at least somewhat misleading since so much of the early voting explosion that year came from Republicans. I thought it might be useful to look back at previous to see how Democrats in Harris County performed in them, since as I’ve been saying it’s as much about who turns out as it is how many of them there are. To that end, here are the actual absentee plus in-person early voting numbers for the Land Commissioner race for 2002, 2006, and 2010, taken from harrisvotes.com:

Year Candidate Mail Early Total Pct RvD ======================================================== 2002 Patterson 22,114 79,879 101,993 56.1 58.0 2002 Bernsen 12,607 61,003 73,710 40.6 42.0 2002 Others 634 5,374 6,008 3.3 2006 Patterson 13,640 88,517 102,157 55.2 56.8 2006 Hathcox 7,945 69,703 77,648 42.0 43.2 2006 Others 477 4,629 5,106 2.8 2010 Patterson 36,216 221,145 257,361 59.2 60.3 2010 Uribe 16,450 152,832 169,288 39.0 39.7 2010 Others 733 7,098 7,831 1.8

“RvD” is the straight R versus D percentage. I have used the Railroad Commissioner race for similar purposes in the past; I had no specific reason for using the Land Commish race here, I figure they both recapitulate partisan participation reasonably well. Greg had the R/D number at 54.5/45.5 through Monday. However you feel about the numbers so far, they are better than what we have done in elections past. Does that mean they are as good as they could be? Is this where I thought we’d be as of today? No and no. But it is better than what we have done in past non-Presidential elections, assuming we don’t do any worse till the end of the week. We’ll see how it goes from here.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Parker orders withdrawal of pastor subpoenas

They got what they wanted.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

With local pastors standing with her, Mayor Annise Parker has told the City Legal Department to withdraw the subpoenas filed against five local pastors who have identified themselves as the leaders of the petition drive to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).

“This is an issue that has weighed heavily on my mind for the last two weeks,” said Mayor Parker. “Protecting the HERO from being repealed is important to Houston, but I also understand the concerns of the religious community regarding the subpoenas. After two meetings yesterday, I decided that withdrawing the subpoenas is the right thing to do. It addresses the concerns of ministers across the country who viewed the move as overreaching. It is also the right move for our city.

In a breakfast meeting yesterday, Mayor Parker met with local Pastors Rudy Rasmus, Jim Herrington and Chris Seay. She had a second meeting later in the day with National Clergy Council President Rob Schenck, Reverend Pat Mahoney of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Pastor Myle Crowder from Utah, Pastor David Anderson from Florida, Pastor Sean Sloan from Arkansas and two others.

“These pastors came to me for civil discussions about the issues,” said Parker. They came without political agendas, without hate in their hearts and without any desire to debate the merits of the HERO. They simply wanted to express their passionate and very sincere concerns about the subpoenas. The second meeting group wasn’t from Houston, but they took the Houston approach of civil discourse in presenting their case. We gained an understanding of each other’s positions.”

Thousands of the signatures submitted with the HERO petition failed to meet one or more of the requirements mandated by the City Charter and had to be disregarded. As a result, the petition was not placed on the ballot for voter consideration. HERO opponents have filed suit against the city in an effort to reverse this decision and force the issue to a vote.

Mayor Parker reiterated that this has always been about proving that the petition process used by the five pastors who identified themselves as the organizers of the effort did not meet the requirements of the City Charter. “That got lost in the national debate over the subpoenas,” said Parker. “Today’s move refocuses the discussion and allows us to move forward.”

The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in January.

There was a story in the paper on Tuesday about the meeting Mayor Parker had with these visiting preachers. I didn’t see any evidence of good faith on their part, but I suppose the Mayor did. When I saw this press release my first reaction was that it would not buy any goodwill from the HERO haters. I was right.

The move is in the best interest of Houston, she said, and is not an admission that the requests were in any way illegal or intruded on religious liberties. “I didn’t do this to satisfy them,” Parker said of critics. “I did it because it was not serving Houston.”

Regardless, the mayor’s critics were not quieted. Grace Community Church pastor Steve Riggle, who was among the subpoenaed pastors, said, “If the mayor thought the subpoenas were wrong, she would have pulled them immediately, not waited until she was forced to by national outrage.”

[...]

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Andy Taylor, called Parker’s announcement a “head fake,” and challenged her to not only pull down the subpoenas, but to drop the city’s defense of the lawsuit and put the ordinance to a vote.

“The truth is, she’s using this litigation to try to squelch the voting rights of over a million well-intentioned voters here in the city of Houston,” Taylor said. “It’s very simple why we filed a lawsuit: Because they won’t do what the city constitutional charter requires them to do.”

Plaintiff and conservative activist Jared Woodfill said he was glad the subpoenas were dropped, but he and others said a planned protest rally Sunday at Riggle’s church will proceed.

Quelle surprise. I personally would have said that if you want the subpoenas dropped, there’s an easy way to make that happen: Drop the lawsuit to force a referendum to repeal the Equal Rights Ordinance. No lawsuit, no need for subpoenas of any kind. Instead, I’ll make a prediction that not only will this unilateral action fail to satisfy the bigots, it won’t stop them from claiming that Mayor Parker is continuing to oppress them even though they got exactly what they were demanding. What will you bet that at least one speaker at that rally says something like that? Or that nobody bothers to tell those people sending all those bibles that they can stop now? Why let an inconvenient fact ruin a good victimization tale, especially one with such good fundraising potential? Yeah, I’m not thrilled with this decision – I’d at least have told the preachers to read David Gushee’s new book first – but it is what it is. For everyone else, let me recommend LGBT Positive Impact Day as an appropriate way to respond. Lone Star Q and Hair Balls have more.

Posted in: Local politics.

Endorsement watch: County civil courts

I believe we are finally at the end of the endorsements line. Last to the table are thecounty civil courts, where in a slight change of pace the Democratic challengers were recommended in two out of three contested races:

Civil Court of Law No. 3: Gloria Cantu Minnick

A graduate of South Texas College of Law, Democratic candidate Gloria Cantu Minnick, 69, would bring not only trial experience but sorely needed management skills to this bench with a docket that has grown too long.

Minnick has served as assistant city attorney and senior assistant director for the Public Works and Engineering Department. Republican incumbent Judge Linda Storey has served on the bench since 2006. Also a graduate of South Texas College of Law, Storey, 46, told the Chronicle editorial board that she believed in the election process for judges.

In this case, voters need to vote for a change and support Minnick for this bench.

Civil Court of Law No. 4: Damon Crenshaw

Democratic candidate Damon Crenshaw, 55, is campaigning on the promise to make this court run more efficiently. A graduate of South Texas School of Law, Crenshaw has over 25 years of legal experience.

We agree that it’s time for a change. His opponent, Republican incumbent Judge Roberta Lloyd, received her law degree from Stetson University College of Law and an L.L.M. in taxation from the University of Miami. Her work in animal cruelty resulted in weekly appearances on the television show “Animal Cops-Houston” for several years. Lloyd, 59, has a reputation for being hard to work with on the bench. When you’re a judge, it’s not just about being right, but about how you manage your courtroom. Lloyd has served on this bench since 2004; it’s time for fresh ideas and a new energy.

As has been the norm, the Chron had some nice things to say about the Dem challenger they didn’t endorse, Scot Dollinger, whose Q&A you can see here. I don’t know how much these endorsements matter in the end, and I certainly didn’t agree with all of their choices, but kudos to the Chron for making the effort on all these races. There are a lot of them, and not a lot of sources for voters to learn about the candidates – the endorsements, the League of Women Voters Guide, the HBA Judicial Preference poll, and the various Q&As done by myself, Texpatriate, and Texas Leftist. I hope you feel you had enough information to make sound decisions.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 27

The Texas Progressive Alliance says VOTE VOTE VOTE as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

2014 Day Nine EV totals

Here they are, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. I don’t have it in me to do any analysis, so let me refer you to Greg for the lay of the land. Monday wasn’t as good as I had thought it was, though it was a bit better than the average day last week. Tuesday looks similar to Monday, but I’ve learned my lesson. I’ll wait till Greg does his number-crunching before I make any pronouncements.

Posted in: Election 2014.

The larger issue on voter ID

The Trib reminds us that there are bigger questions that remain to be answered in the voter ID litigation.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The litigation on the state’s voting district maps for legislative and congressional elections is still underway, and the treatment of minority voters and their ability to elect the candidates they choose is at the center of it. A federal court in Washington found that the state had intentionally discriminated in drawing its maps for Texas House districts. That finding has been set aside, but the lawyers suing the state have raised the same issues before another set of judges. The finding could come back.

The voter ID case is infused with some of the same arguments and conclusions that have marked past redistricting and election cases, each adding another brick to the wall of evidence that led the judge in this case to her conclusion.

“This history describes not only a penchant for discrimination in Texas with respect to voting,” she wrote, “but it exhibits a recalcitrance that has persisted over generations despite the repeated intervention of the federal government and its courts on behalf of minority citizens.”

“History” is worth your attention in that sentence. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the part of the federal Voting Rights Act that put Texas and other jurisdictions with histories of discrimination under federal supervision. It required those places to get permission, or preclearance, from the Department of Justice for any changes in voting or election laws before putting those laws into effect.

With the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling, those laws take effect after they are passed, and the Justice Department can come in with other defendants, as it has done in the voter ID case, to try to overturn those laws.

The Supreme Court decision left in place a provision of the Voting Rights Act that could put a state like Texas back under the preclearance provisions — not for historical discrimination, but for current discrimination.

If the voter ID ruling by Gonzales Ramos, an Obama appointee and a Hispanic, stands, it leads in that direction, saying the law’s proponents were motivated at least in part “because of and not merely in spite of the voter ID law’s detrimental effects on the African-American and Hispanic electorate.”

See here, here, and here for more on the Section 3 option for preclearance. Just bear in mind that the whole reason why Texas got to go ahead and implement this discriminatory law is because preclearance under Section 5 was gutted by the Supreme Court. Bringing it back would be huge, and the plaintiffs in both lawsuits can make an argument for it. I very much look forward to the next meeting with the attorneys that Judge Ramos will hold after the election.

Elsewhere, Rick Hasen explains why the SCOTUS ruling on voter ID came down so late.

But every so often court watchers are reminded that these justices are working very hard behind the scenes by reading briefs, exchanging memos, and debating outcomes. Case in point: The justices issued an order and a dissent in a Texas voting rights case at 5 a.m. Saturday morning. Supreme Court reporters stood by all night for the ruling. The holdup apparently was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s six-page dissent, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

[...]

Sometimes justices disagree with emergency court orders such as these and do not even bother to write a formal dissent. And recently, as Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick has noted, the majority has not been explaining its various orders in cases from voting rights, to abortion, to same sex marriage, at all.

So why did Justice Ginsburg keep the court and court-watchers up all night for a relatively lengthy dissent from an order issued with no majority opinion? There is no way to know from the outside, but my guess is that she wanted to make an important statement about how the Supreme Court should handle these voting cases going forward and to publicly flag where she believes the court is going wrong. Like a rare oral dissent from the bench after a written opinion, this middle-of-the-night dissent calls attention to what Justice Ginsburg likely sees as a grave injustice.

Hasen pessimistically thinks that SCOTUS will eventually uphold Texas’ voter ID law. Interestingly, via the Texas Election Law Blog, one of the big cheerleaders for voter ID says there are no valid legal grounds for an appeal by the defendants, and no likelihood of the decision being overturned by an appellate court. In the Fifth Court of Appeals we trust nothing, but I sure hope he’s right.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Fort Bend’s electoral future

Fort Bend County isn’t what it used to be politically, but it’s also not what it ought to be headed for yet.

It has been more than two decades since a Democrat won countywide office in Fort Bend, but swift growth and shifting demographics are prompting the party to take a second look at the traditionally red county west of Houston and forcing Republicans to adapt.

The number of registered voters in Fort Bend has increased by a third since 2008, and non-Hispanic whites no longer comprise a majority.

The Fort Bend County Democratic Party is using digital analysis to target a narrow segment of likely liberal voters. The effort is being bolstered by paid staff from Battleground Texas, a political action committee formed to make Texas competitive for Democrats.

By fielding a candidate to oppose Fort Bend’s longtime Republican district attorney – another first – Democrats hope to test their new strategies.

Also seeking to capitalize on the area’s growth, the Fort Bend County Republican Party has opened its first field office in Katy.

“My goal is to prove that (Battleground Texas) was wasted money,” county GOP Chairman Mike Gibson said. “But am I taking it lightly? No. We’re going to run like we’re 20 points behind with an outside organization trying to influence it.”

Political analysts still place Fort Bend solidly in the GOP column, but say the margin of victory in Fort Bend elections could signal the health of the dominant Republican party and the odds of Democrats keeping their promise to turn Texas blue.

To Donald Bankston, the Fort Bend Democratic chairman, it’s inevitable that his party will regain dominance.

“There’s been a seismic shift in the demographics,” he said. “If this was a highly voting county, this county would be reliably Democratic.”

The share of the population that is non-Hispanic white shrunk from 54 percent in 1990 to 36 percent in 2013, according to Census figures. Because Latino, African-American and Asian voters tend to lean liberal, Bankston hopes to convince them to turn out at the polls as reliably as their white counterparts, giving Democrats a fighting chance.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said the equation for taking over Fort Bend is not so simple.

“Minority doesn’t equal Democrat,” Jones said. “Minorities on average tend to vote Democrat significantly more than Republican, but that varies notably among some groups.”

True, but not that big a factor in this case. It’s about turnout and engagement. Democrats can’t take for granted that turnout among populations friendly to them will continue to rise as their share of the overall population increases, they can’t assume that people who have been turned off by Republicans’ harsh and often racist rhetoric will necessarily flock to them, and they can’t assume that Republican rhetoric will remain that toxic forever. Republicans can’t assume that Asians and Latinos “just don’t know yet” that they’re really Republicans, and sooner or later they really are going to have to figure out how to tame the dominant but shrinking enraged nihilist faction of their party. I have considered Fort Bend to be like Harris politically, just maybe a step or two behind. FB came close to being blue in 2008, and like Harris took a bit of a step backward in 2012 when the excitement wasn’t quit as high as it had been then. In between was 2010, and the less said about that, the better. There are some good candidates running under the Fort Bend Democratic Party banner this year, but sometimes outside forces are too big for that. No matter what happens, there should be plenty of lessons to learn from this election.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Mayor Parker for pot reform

The list of people who think it’s time to talk about reforming our drug laws keeps growing.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Add Houston Mayor Annise Parker to the growing list of officials calling for a new approach to the nation’s drug laws, especially when it comes to marijuana.

She said as much during an interview this week with community public radio’s Dean Becker, for his Cultural Baggage Radio Show.

“I agree with you that we need a complete rethinking of the nation’s drug laws,” she told Becker, according to a transcript of the show. “We have seen over and over again that outright prohibition doesn’t work. We saw that in the 20’s when the prohibition in this country fueled the rise of organized crime.”

Becker, who broadcasts from KPFT in Houston, has made drug legalization his mission.

An audio clip of the interview is posted on this page.

The story links to this earlier Chron article about Becker’s pro-pot activities. We’ve discussed this before, and it’s worth reiterating that “reform” comes in a variety of flavors here, ranging from issuing citations for drug offenses rather than making arrests (something which has already been authorized by the Legislature but which is not in widespread practice in most Texas jurisdictions) to reducing the classification of offenses for possession of small amounts of pot to a Class C misdemeanor, to various rehab or community service alternatives to legalizing medical marijuana and finally to full-bore Colorado-and-Washington legalization. (As Hair Balls notes, the Marijuana Policy Project has a legislative agenda that includes three options like these.) Because of this, pot reform is not like same sex marriage, where you’re either all in or you’re in the way. There are plenty of places to honorably say “this is as far as I’m willing to go”, at least right now. It’s also hard to know what if anything might be doable in the 2015 Legislature, in part because it’s hard to say right now what the priorities of the leadership will be. That said, one does get a sense of inevitability for change, though the time frame is unknown, and given that one should not want to be the last person hopping aboard the bandwagon. The money people are now sniffing around the possibilities, and you know if anyone has influence with the Legislators, it’s the money people. Be that as it may, I’m glad to see Mayor Parker has arrived on this issue and is looking to be a part of the conversation about where we should be going.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

2014 Day Eight EV totals

But first, a few words about the overall picture.

EarlyVoting

The number of Texans voting early at the polls is down significantly in Harris County compared with the last midterm election, a potential warning sign that pundits say may mean Democrats will suffer worse defeats than those seen in the 2010 countywide Republican sweep.

In-person turnout during the first seven days of early voting is 33 percent less than in 2010, a drop masked by a huge surge in vote-by-mail ballots that inflated the first day’s returns. Texas Democrats launched a coordinated vote-by-mail program this year to target the state’s elderly voters, and the Harris County Democratic Party supplemented that effort with its own absentee operation.

Together, the numbers of votes by mail increased by 17,000 on the first day over the last midterm election’s haul, but that increase was quickly been nullified by a daily drop of 5,000 to 8,000 in-person ballots. Vote-by-mail ballots are received and counted mostly on the first day, so it is not expected that the massive uptick seen on day 1 will repeat, while the in-person decline may persist throughout this week.

At the end of the first week, about 195,000 total votes have been cast – 13 percent less than the number at this point in 2010, when former Houston mayor Bill White ran as the Democratic candidate for governor but local Democrats still suffered heavy losses.

Democrats would need a large turnout statewide – especially in Harris County, the epicenter of Texas’ efforts to turn the state blue – to earn surprise victories on Election Day. The lower turnout could spell trouble for Democratic candidates, including Kim Ogg, the district attorney who stands as the Democrats’ best chance to win a countywide offiice this fall.

“Clearly, they’re down in the count,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. “You’ve got this hidden pocket of Democratic voters that voted in 2008 that clearly aren’t deciding to show up in 2014.”

Rottinghaus noted that turnout was weak at the Acres Home and Metropolitan Multi-Service Centers, which typically are heavily Democratic.

Early voting typically increases daily during the second week, which has longer hours, and spikes on Friday, the final day. That gives Democrats a chance to reverse the trend, said Lane Lewis, the county’s Democratic Party chairman.

“The challenge that’s going on right now is our base vote,” said Lewis, “but the second week of early voting is always our strongest week, so I’m very optimistic.”

Here are the Day Eight totals and the full 2010 EV totals. No question, early voting totals are down overall, though as it happens Acres Homes had its best day yesterday while the Metro Multi-Service Center had its second best day. Actually, nearly every EV location in a Democratic State Rep district had its best day yesterday, which was not the case for the GOP SRDs. Dem turnout was similarly up on the second Monday in 2010, but so was GOP turnout.

What I’m saying, and what I have said before, is that “turnout” includes Republicans, too. What matters is who shows up. Republicans have had the best of it so far, no doubt. Dems have done better than they did in 2010, but that’s a low bar to clear, and the general consensus is about a 55-45 lead for the GOP. That said, Dems had their best day on Sunday, and yesterday looks to me like it was pretty good as well. The opportunity is there to make up some ground.

Early voting in the top 15 counties remains up overall compared to 2010, though this continues to be due to strong mail ballot numbers. The Davis campaign has argued that the vote so far has been less white than it was in 2010. The guts of their argument, from the Quorum Report via email:

In what has been a historically strong period for Republicans in early voting because of the truncated hours (8-5), the Davis team counters that 4% more African American voters have participated than in 2010 and 12% more Hispanic voters.

It is Republicans that have faded so far in this mid-term election the Davis people say. Historically, it is women, minorities and young people that vote in presidential years but then disappear two years later. Not so this time.

To bolster their argument, campaign spokesman Zac Petkanas told QR that by their analysis, 602,343 anglos had voted at this point in the anti-Obama tidal wave of 2010. In stark contrast, only 587,098 anglos had voted five days in to this election. In other words, white participation (from which Republicans derive most of their votes) had dropped by around 15,000 votes and minority participation increased by 16,000 votes.

I don’t have access to that data, but even if true that would represent a narrowing of the gap, not a closure of it. And as encouraging as that would be, it’s important to remember that the gap in 2010 was pretty fricking huge, like 25 to 30 points in the non-gubernatorial race. Cut that in half and you’re still looking at a double-digit deficit. The Trib acknowledges the issue in a way that I haven’t seen them do before.

Part of politics is persuasion — getting people who are likely to vote for a particular candidate to turn out. Another strategy is to get people who are not as likely to vote — and who, if they voted, would choose a particular candidate — to go to the polls.

That second group is the target for Democrats this year, and part of their rationale when they complain about political polls that show Republicans winning all of the statewide races. Those surveys concentrate on likely voters. If new people are voting and the pollsters do not have them in sight, the reasoning goes, the outcome on Election Day will be something other than what the pollsters and pundits are forecasting.

Whether that is the case will be clear in less than two weeks.

Ross Ramsey could easily have been giving me the side-eye as he wrote that. I would point out that pollsters have wrestled with that question as well, at least to some extent. That may be why, as I noted before, some have this as about a ten point race while others have it at sixteen or more. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Harris totals as we go to get a better feeling for that.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Lies are worse than missteps

But you know what we’re going to hear more about.

PetitionsInvalid

Conservative outrage over the Parker administration’s admittedly bungled subpoena of five pastors’ sermons last week marked just the latest episode in a messy political saga surrounding the city’s equal rights ordinance, with both critics and supporters making significant blunders.

For example, a recently leaked deposition of City Secretary Anna Russell shows she entered a meeting with Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman having drafted a memo saying there were enough signatures, then left agreeing to tack on a paragraph from Feldman saying the effort had failed.

Similarly, opponents of the non-discrimination ordinance have struggled to explain a video showing one of their leaders explaining the very rules the city says they violated to those who would be gathering petition signatures as the effort got underway.

“If you’re going to undertake these efforts, you want to drill people pretty carefully,” said Richard Murray, a University of Houston political science professor. “You don’t want to waste people’s time.”

For her part, Parker has handled the back-and-forth around the case “clumsily,” Murray said, pointing to the subpoena of the pastors’ sermons that drew national attention and criticism. “Usually, she shows pretty good political judgment. She let her political guard down a bit with this.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I’ll stipulate that the subpoenas should have been better, and I’ll leave the petition questions to the court. But the outrage over those subpoenas is vastly out of proportion with the magnitude of the sin committed by the city’s lawyers, and that outrage is fueled by a relentless barrage of bald-faced lies, the same kind of lies that have underpinned the opposition to the HERO from the beginning. Lies, it should be noted, that are being peddled by members of the clergy, the kind of people whose behavior might reasonably be held to a high standard. I’m not talking about exaggerations or spin or the like but provably false statements that are intended to be factual. You wouldn’t know it from most of the stories you’ll read about the HERO and the attempts to repeal it, though. I have no idea why that is.

Posted in: Local politics.

Chron overview of DA race

There’s a simple question at the core of the race for Harris County District Attorney.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

For two years, in the early 1990s, Kim Ogg and Devon Anderson worked in the same office under legendary Harris County District Attorney Johnny Holmes.

Houston at the time was in the throes of a crime spike that sent the city’s homicide numbers soaring as crack cocaine and drug-related violence were roiling cities across the nation. Harris County led the country in death penalty verdicts, cementing the reputations of Holmes and the district attorney’s office as among America’s toughest and most aggressive prosecutors.

Ogg already was a senior prosecutor when Anderson joined the office in 1992 as a “baby DA.” Though they rarely crossed paths at the time – the office employs more than 200 lawyers – the two carved out reputations as hard-charging assistant district attorneys with more than 100 prosecutions to their names.

Whatever experience they may have shared as prosecutors, the two have taken widely divergent paths since getting their starts in the office they now want to lead. And it is those differing paths that inform their ideas on how the office should be run.

[...]

Her long experience at the office is one of the reasons former district attorney Chuck Rosenthal is supporting Anderson.

“I just think she’s a better candidate and would do a better job,” he said. By working as a prosecutor, then as a judge, he said, Anderson has stayed in the courthouse and knows more about how the office should be run.

Robert Scardino, a criminal defense lawyer for more than 40 years, said he is supporting Ogg because he hopes she will modernize the office.

“I think that office needs to have a change in its entire perspective and approach,” he said. “It’s been going in the same direction for many, many years. I think she’ll bring it into the modern age with some ideas on how to make it run more efficiently.”

That last bit encapsulates what I’ve said before about this race. Putting all partisan considerations aside, if you like the way the DA’s office has been run for however long it’s been since Johnny Holmes was first elected, minus the four years that Pat Lykos was in office, then Devon Anderson is the DA for you. If you think it’s time for a change, and/or if you liked Lykos, then you should vote for Kim Ogg. That’s about all there is to it. Partisan considerations may overshadow that dynamic, in which case it may get re-litigated in 2016. If not – if Harris is close to 50-50 overall – then we’ll at least have an answer to that question.

Posted in: Election 2014.

The battle over booze sales comes to Tomball

I always enjoy a good story about when a county or town votes on whether or not to repeal Prohibition-era restrictions on local alcohol sales.

Eight decades ago, the oil started flowing in Tomball and the whiskey soon followed. The boomtown began attracting a rough and rowdy crowd, prompting the town’s leaders a few years later to pass a law prohibiting the sale of hard liquor.

Two world wars, several social revolutions and a digital age later, the statute remains on the books. Only now, residents call this part of town historic “Old Town Tomball” and count the trendy shops and restaurants where one might imagine enjoying a Margarita or a Bloody Mary, in addition to the beer and wine sales that are now permitted.

That’s why many around town are looking with anticipation to Nov. 4, when voters will have a chance to repeal the Depression-era restriction.

“We would really be only going from moist to wet. We were never completely dry,” explains Bruce Hillegeist, president of the Greater Tomball Chamber of Commerce.

[...]

Tomball garnered the nickname “Oiltown USA” as the oil started gushing in 1933, the same year that Prohibition was repealed. Saloons and brothels soon sprouted up along the railroad tracks near the train depot, residents said.

“Boys were being bad. The area was getting too wild. So the town leaders decided to take control and ban the sale of all distilled spirits except beer or wine,” Wilson said.

Both the oil boom and brothels have long since gone bust.

“I don’t think the statute ever really toned things down back then,” she said. “They probably just drank more beer.”

The town’s mayor and chamber of commerce fully support this change as another step to draw people to Old Town Tomball, which is being revitalized by the opening of quaint shops and restaurants and the restoration of historic buildings.

As it happens, Tomball is named after a prohibitionist and fervent opponent of the demon rum, Thomas Ball. That’s because Ball – a lawyer and congressman credited with being the “father” of the Port of Houston – was responsible for routing the railroad tracks through this tiny community 32 miles northwest of Houston. The citizens of the town, which was then called Peck, were so grateful for their own train depot in 1907 that they changed the town’s name to honor him.

His connection to Tomball would later thwart an attempt to be elected governor, though. His opponent, James Ferguson, obtained photos of the town that bore his name. The images showed four saloons boasting nickel beer and 10-cent shots as well as houses of ill repute doing a brisk business.

Awesome. If there’s any organized opposition to this proposal, it went unreported in the story. Some of these referenda have been pretty hotly contested, but that doesn’t appear to be the case here. As I’ve said before, I don’t really understand the point of these laws and I support the efforts to repeal them. Good luck, Tomball.

Posted in: Election 2014.

2014 first week EV totals

EarlyVoting

Here they are, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. Democrats still have a lot of work to do, at least in Harris County. I sure hope it happens, that’s all I can say.

We’re already seeing postmortems for this election – I guess some people like to be ahead of the game – and so we have this effort from yesterday’s op-ed pages. Author William Thorburn makes some valid points, but I think he’s reaching a bit here:

Battleground Texas, with its commitment to expanding the Democratic base by registering more voters and turning them out, had its first test with the 2014 Democratic primary. This year, 555,000 Texans cast a ballot in the Democratic primary, a total that for the third straight election year has been decreasing rather than increasing. In fact, this year’s total of Democratic primary voters is lower than in any year since 1920 when 450,000 voted. In 1920, however, the state’s total population was only 4,723,000, as contrasted with a current population of 26 million plus.

Having failed to recruit candidates for many county and state legislative offices, with no one willing to conduct a primary in 22 counties, and the lowest primary turnout in more than 90 years, the remaining test for Battleground Texas and the state Democratic Party is the performance of its statewide candidates next week. Should this year’s slate of candidates fail to do much better than those in recent elections, one must wonder whether Democratic big-dollar donors will continue to pour money into Battleground Texas or move their contributions and resources to more favorable territory.

I don’t recall candidate recruitment being part of BGTX’s mission statement. In fact, I’m pretty sure the county parties would have resented it like hell if they had tried. Be that as it may, his point about primary turnout is a bit weak. In 2002, with hot races for Governor and US Senate, Dem primary turnout topped one million; in 2006, with snoozers across the board, it was half that; and in 2010, with Bill White duking it out with Farouk Shami, it about 700K. Yet as we know, base Democratic turnout in each year was about the same. In 2008, during the most exciting Democratic primary in at least a generation, turnout was 2.8 million. In 2012, it was less than one fifth of that. In each case, November turnout was about the same. I don’t dispute his larger points, but there’s no correlation here.

Anyway. It’s the last five days of early voting. No time to lose. Let’s hope the numbers improve.

Posted in: Election 2014.

What they didn’t tell us about voter ID

Republicans knew fully well that their voter ID bill would disenfranchise a lot of people. They just didn’t care.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Republican state officials working to pass a voter photo ID law in 2011 knew that more than 500,000 of the state’s registered voters did not have the credentials needed to cast ballots under the new requirement. But they did not share that information with lawmakers rushing to pass the legislation.

Now that the bill is law, in-person voters must present one of seven specified forms of photo identification in order to have their votes counted.

A federal judge in Corpus Christi has found the law unconstitutional, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the state can leave it in place for the November election while appeals proceed.

The details about the number of voters affected emerged during the challenge to the law, and were included in the findings of U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos.

During the 2011 legislative struggle to pass the voter ID law, she wrote, Republican lawmakers asked the Texas secretary of state, who runs elections, and the Texas Department of Public Safety, which maintains driver’s license information, for the number of registered voters who did not have state-issued photo identification.

The answer: at least a half-million.

There was evidence, the judge wrote, that Sen. Tommy Williams asked the Texas Department of Public Safety to compare its ID databases with the list of registered voters to find out how many people would not have the most common of the photo IDs required by the law. No match was done to see how many people did not have other acceptable IDs. “That database match was performed by the SOS, but the results showing 504,000 to 844,000 voters being without Texas photo ID were not released to the Legislature.”

Gonzales Ramos sourced that finding in a footnote, noting that in a deposition, Williams, a Republican from The Woodlands who has since left the state Senate, said he requested that information and then did not share it with fellow lawmakers.

Clearly, that was too inconvenient to share. Look, the Republicans could have passed a voter ID bill with broad bipartisan support if they had addressed two issues. One was the other facets of ballot integrity that they left out, like better procedures for mail ballots and improvements to electronic voting machines, like what Travis County is pursuing on its own. The other was taking real steps to ensure that everyone could still vote, by allowing more forms of ID, funding a real outreach program to those half-million-plus people, maybe making it easier to register to vote. One could argue that if you have to show a valid photo ID to vote, there’s no point in also requiring a voter registration card, for example. But of course they didn’t do any of that since the whole point of this law was to make it harder to vote, especially for certain classes of people. Repblicans across the country are perfectly willing to disenfranchise people in pursuit of their vision of “ballot integrity”. It’s a feature, not a bug, and they were called out for it by Judge Ramos. Only a deeply flawed ruling by SCOTUS has saved them for now. But we know the truth. It’s right there in the ruling.

Posted in: Legal matters.

It shouldn’t be this hard to get a driver’s license

And for most people it isn’t that hard. But for some people, it is.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Daniela Parker has two mothers, a circumstance that turned a typically routine matter – scheduling a road test for a Texas driver’s license – into a lengthy hassle.

Parker, Mayor Annise Parker’s daughter, was turned away from taking the road test on Thursday because, according to the mayor, there are inconsistencies on her personal identification documents.

In a tweet, the mayor said that in some documents she is listed as the girl’s mother, while in others Annise Parker’s wife, Kathy Hubbard, is listed as the mother. They adopted Daniela and younger sister Marquitta in 2003. Parker and Hubbard married earlier this year in California.

Two previous trips by Daniela to the Department of Public Safety were unsuccessful. A third trip Friday to the Rosenberg office did the trick.

“I’m just glad that on the third try someone cared enough to sort it out,” Parker said.

According to the Texas DPS website, information on documents used to verify identity must match. If, say, a name is different, the person must provide documents proving a legal name change.

As Hair Balls notes, getting a driver’s license has also proven a challenge for Connie Wilson, the California transplant who took her wife’s name when they got married out there. DPS did not recognize her California marriage license as being valid and thus turned her away because her legal name doesn’t match what is on her birth certificate. I don’t want to be too harsh on DPS here, as they are implementing the rules they have been given. The issue is that the rules are wrong and need to be changed, because Daniela Parker and Connie Wilson and everyone else in a similar situation deserves better. They deserve to be treated the same way I would be. I will never understand the reasons why anyone would disagree with that. I very much look forward to the day when stuff like this never happens again. Lone Star Q has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Location, location, location

At the first public meeting about the proposed Dallas-Houston high speed railroad line, the main focus was the endpoints.

More than 100 people were in attendance on Tuesday for the first of six public meetings being held jointly by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Texas Department of Transportation on Texas Central Railway’s plan. The FRA is leading a federally required environmental impact study of the proposed project, which aims to connect Dallas and Houston in 90 minutes or less with Japanese-manufactured trains traveling at more than 200 miles per hour.

At the meeting, federal officials revealed some details on the leading routes and station locations under consideration, though they said everything was still subject to change.

[...]

Attendees who spoke at the meeting were almost universally focused on where the rail stations will end up. FRA officials did not reveal the exact addresses of station locations but did offer up areas being considered. For both Dallas and Houston, the locations included spots in each city’s downtown as well as some several miles outside of them.

Most speakers stressed an interest in seeing the Dallas station at or near downtown’s Union Station, where it could seamlessly connect with other public transit, including the city’s light rail.

“Union Station is the opportunity for high-speed rail to engage with our area,” Dallas City Councilman Lee Kleinman said.

Ken Dublé of Dallas said putting the station downtown will make more sense if the rail line ends up becoming one piece of a larger system.

“We need to be able to think past Houston and Dallas and think to the day when we’re going to want to extend it to Oklahoma City,” he said.

No Texas Central Railway officials spoke at the meeting, though company officials did speak with attendees and reporters before and after the hearing.

Travis Kelly, the company’s vice president of government relations, said Union Station was likely “too built out” for the train to have its station there, but he added that five other downtown Dallas locations were under review. He said the company considered potential ridership demand a central factor in selecting station locations, but that other issues — such as the company’s ability to develop land around a station — were also playing into its decisions.

Dallas resident Paul Carden stressed the need for the train to go “from downtown to downtown.” If the company ends up choosing a spot too far outside of downtown Houston, he said, he would probably drive or fly instead.

“I’m more concerned about the Houston side than the Dallas side,” Carden said after the meeting. “I hope they don’t underestimate what I think would be induced demand just by having a route that goes to downtown Houston.”

See here for the background. I can’t speak to the Dallas station options, but downtown is the only place that makes sense for the Houston end. It’s centrally located, it’s where a lot of business travelers would want to wind up anyway, and it offers connections via light rail to Midtown, the Medical Center, Rice University, UH, and maybe someday if the Unversities Line ever gets built, to Greenway Plaza and the Galleria/Uptown area. There are also potential commuter rail connections that would extend the network of the Texas Central Railway line even further. Sure, people want to go places other than downtown, but no other place offers all of these benefits for a rail station. It just makes sense. Hair Balls has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Weekend link dump for October 26

Placebo power should not be underestimated.

You’re no Brooklyn, you know.

In her spare time, Laurie Holden, aka Andrea from The Walking Dead, rescues sex slaves. And what have you done this weekend?

Are you looking for a good way to ascertain that you are in fact old and out of touch with pop culture? See how many of these songs you’ve even heard of, much less know by heart. You’re welcome.

Did you ever wish you had scented crayons? Alas, you’re about 20 years too late.

“When something is late, don’t always assume you know who is at fault.”

Raising the minimum wage would save the taxpayers money, in addition to being the right thing to do.

From the “Nice work if you can find enough people to sucker” department.

Saying that you’re not a scientist is not an answer.

I’m old enough to remember when the PG-13 rating was created, in response to parental complaints that the distinction between PG and R had lost all meaning.

“Campaigns spend an incredible amount of time, money and effort trying to get their people to the polls. What if that just wasn’t an issue?”

“After all, while it’s true that the right to access contraception has been the law of the land for more than 40 years so has the right to have an abortion. And I don’t think even George Will is so out of touch that he doesn’t know that Republicans are as serious as a heart attack about reversing that right.”

This is as good an example as you’ll find of the maxim that oral agreements aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

Three words: Puppy-sized spider. Those of you that are now recoiling in terror should not click this link to see the pictures and description of the encounter. Though if you do, this fellow’s blog has some amazing pics of other animals that you’ve probably never seen or heard of before.

“Also, when the serfs were bound to the land, there was nobody on welfare, I’ll tell you that.”

The war on voting is going as planned.

“Republicans would probably hold the House — and still have a real chance to retake the Senate — if they lost every single Hispanic voter in the country, according to an analysis by The Upshot.”

“This rejected New Yorker cartoon might just be the best New Yorker cartoon of all time.”

RIP, Ben Bradlee, former Washington Post editor.

The Gamergate debacle is as outrageous as it is soul-crushing.

“Lost episodes from a television sketch show that featured John Cleese and fellow member of Monty Python Graham Chapman have been found after 47 years.”

“Turns out it’s my neighbor’s water buffalo.” This sort of thing never happens to me.

I join the Washington Monthly in wishing Kevin Drum a full and fast recovery from cancer. I had the pleasure of meeting Kevin way back in 2002 when he was doing his thing on Blogspot. (Those of you who are well versed in the prehistoric era of blogging will nod your heads when I say it was Brian Linse who introduced us.) He’s a good guy and an excellent writer. Get well soon, Kevin!

Especially given that news, this picture made my week. Now let’s please get Nina Pham and her dog back together again as soon as possible.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Suing for same-sex death benefits

Married people receive death benefits when their spouses die. Unless your marriage isn’t recognized as legal by the state you live in. That’s the basis of this lawsuit.

RedEquality

An Austin woman filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking to halt the Social Security Administration’s practice of withholding spousal benefits from gay couples who reside in states, like Texas, that ban same-sex marriage.

Kathy Murphy’s lawsuit argued that the practice perpetuates discrimination and unconstitutionally deprives same-sex couples of equal treatment under the law.

“With increasing frequency, state and federal executives and courts — including the United States Supreme Court — have recognized the patent discrimination and affront to dignity faced by same-sex couples whose families are denied the protections of marriage,” the lawsuit said.

Murphy and Sara Barker, Austin residents since 1984, were married in Massachusetts, where same-sex unions are legal, in 2010 after 30 years as a couple.

But after Barker died of cancer in 2012 at age 62, Murphy was denied spousal and death benefits because the Social Security agency determines whether couples are married based on the laws of the state where they live, not where they were married, according to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“SSA’s incorporation of discriminatory state laws tells same-sex couples living in those states that their valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition and equal treatment,” said the lawsuit, filed by lawyers with Lambda Legal, a national gay-rights legal advocacy organization.

Texas Politics has a copy of the suit. There are three other federal lawsuits against Texas’ same sex marriage ban that have been filed and are still active in the courts. One is DeLeon v. Perry, in which the ban was ruled unconstitutional and is awaiting an appellate hearing from the Fifth Circuit. The other two were filed in Austin and are separate from DeLeon despite Greg Abbott’s efforts to combine them. I’m assuming the two Austin suits have been combined, but I couldn’t verify that. Yet another lawsuit, this one filed in state court and having to do with parental and custodial rights, also resulted in a ruling that declared Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. That one is awaiting appeal in the state’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. One would think this one would be straightforward given all that has gone on before it, but you never know. The one thing we do know is that Greg Abbott can’t wait to “just do his job”, which in this case involves defending the federal government. So ironic. Anyway, here’s Lambda Legal’s blog post and press release about the lawsuit, and Lone Star Q has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Council approves meaningless tax cut

Such awful policy.

The Houston City Council unanimously passed a nominal property tax cut Tuesday afternoon, the first rate reduction in five years, as the city for the first time runs into a revenue cap imposed by voters a decade ago.

The modest rollback equates to $12.27 a year for the owner of a $200,000 house with a standard homestead exemption. Many Houston property owners will not pay less in overall property taxes, however, as appraisals continue to rise.

The city’s new property tax rate is 63.108 cents per $100 of assessed value, a reduction of about three-quarters of a cent. State law requires the city to adopt its tax rate within 60 days of receiving the certified tax roll, so the approval came Tuesday rather than Wednesday, when the council typically votes.

Officials in Mayor Annise Parker’s administration have said the rate reduction will not force immediate budget cuts because the spending plan the council passed for the fiscal year that began July 1 assumed property tax revenues would not exceed the cap.

However, the cut does mean the city will collect an estimated $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 starting next summer.

Basically, thanks to the stupid revenue cap, the city is forced to spend $12.7 million and get nothing in return for it. May as well withdraw it all in cash and set it on fire. I’ll say again, I will not support any candidate for Mayor next year that does not support repealing the revenue cap.

Posted in: Local politics.

Wilvin Carter

As we know, there are interesting races for District Attorney in Harris, Dallas, and Bexar Counties. Turns out there’s one in Fort Bend County, too.

Wilvin Carter

As Fort Bend County District Attorney, John Healey has faced competitive elections before.

Since a Democrat hasn’t won a countywide election in decades, those races were generally against fellow Republicans in primaries. For the first time since 1994, Healey will square off against a Democratic challenger – his former employee, Wilvin Carter – in a general election race that may be his tightest yet.

The campaign has included allegations that Healey violated responsibilities of his office when he waited months longer than other colleagues to inform defense attorneys and defendants that their cases may have been affected by a state chemist found to have fabricated results.

[...]

Carter grew up in Birmingham, Ala., in a neighborhood where police and prosecutors were treated with suspicion. Through a circuitous route that included doing legal research at CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta and eventually graduating law school at Texas Southern University, Carter was drawn to the work, interning in the Harris County District Attorney’s office, the state Attorney General’s office and his school’s Earl Carl Institute.

Carter, who lives in Missouri City but has practiced law in Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties, decided to run because of one particular case where a child was charged with assault for pushing his teacher at school.

“It was just one of those cases that had fallen into my lap one too many times,” explained Carter. The district attorney has a great deal of discretion when it comes to accepting and pursuing charges in a case, and Carter felt that Healey’s decision to accept charges in this case was wrong. “The school didn’t want to deal with him, his teachers didn’t want to deal with it and when they put him in the system, their solution was to punish him for his behavior,” said Carter.

Instead, he wants to expand the number and scope of pretrial diversion programs in the county, particularly for first-time, non-violent offenders. “As the district attorney, I would be able to build relationships with these schools and school board members, the superintendent and say, ‘What can we do?’ ” said Carter. More options will help clear case loads and allow the office to focus on more serious crimes, according to Carter.

I like the sound of that. DA seems like an office where even strong partisans might be willing to cross over given the right circumstances. I don’t know anything about the allegations against Healey, but that is the sort of thing that could sway people. There’s also been a strong effort to turn out Democrats in Fort Bend this year, which of course wouldn’t hurt Carter’s prospects. I haven’t followed this race so I won’t venture a guess as to what the odds are of a Wilvin Carter victory, but I’ll be keeping an eye on this one on Election Day.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Endorsement watch: State Senate

The Chron makes another curious choice.

District 17: Joan Huffman

In District 17, which includes parts of Harris County and counties to the east, Republican incumbent Joan Hoffman has a credible Democratic opponent in Rita Lucido, 58, a family law attorney and activist with such organizations as the Houston Area Women’s Center and Planned Parenthood.

Huffman, also 58, who initially won her seat in a 2008 special election, is vice chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and has built strong working relationships with members of both parties. She is a strong advocate for mental health issues, particularly as they intersect with criminal justice, and she’s gaining in seniority.

Although Lucido is a strong candidate with an impressive command of the issues, we endorse Huffman.

Perhaps they missed what Texas Monthly had to say about Sen. Huffman’s tenure on the Criminal Justice Committee.

Sen. Joan Huffman

Intransigence, thy name is Joan Huffman. Consider, if you will, the evidence. She initially opposed one of the session’s most celebrated bills, the Michael Morton Act, named for a Williamson County man who served nearly 25 years after being wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. Huffman’s concerns about the bill, which requires prosecutors to share evidence with a defendant’s legal team, endangered the bill’s prospects for passage. Then there was a measure to create an innocence commission to review the convictions of the 117 people who have been exonerated in Texas, which was supported by Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson and passed the House handily 115–28. What was Huffman’s opinion of the proposed legislation? “There’s nothing you can do to fix this bill for me,” she fumed as she closed out her ten-minute speech in a Criminal Justice Committee hearing. Huffman, the committee’s vice chair, had rattled off twenty pieces of legislation that, in her estimation, adequately reformed Texas’s criminal justice system, making the creation of the commission unnecessary. Cory Session, the brother of Tim Cole, the state’s first posthumous DNA exoneree, was especially incensed by Huffman’s remarks: “That’s your job—to figure out what went wrong in this state,” he said. “You don’t like it? Go find another.” (Session ultimately stormed out of the hearing room, calling Huffman a name for which he later apologized.)

Huffman’s monologue, which she began by saying, “ ’Cause I’m chair, I can take as much time as I want,” helped kill the bill in committee, making her guilty of Behavior Unbecoming a Senator. But the former prosecutor and district judge, who exerts a huge influence on her colleagues when it comes to criminal justice issues, received her own punishment for practicing such bad politics. The House sponsor of the innocence commission bill, Democrat Ruth Jones McClendon, talked to death several of Huffman’s bills on the local and consent calendar. Here’s a case where an eye for an eye made perfect sense.

Now Texas Monthly isn’t the final arbiter of things, and one could make a case that Huffman’s other contributions have outweighed this bit of petty bullying. But if you’re going to laud her for her ability to work with people, you might at least acknowledge that it isn’t always the case. My interview with Rita Lucido is here if you’d like to consider the alternative, and my interview with Sen. John Whitmire is here if you missed it back in January.

Posted in: Election 2014.

2014 Day Five EV totals

Here they are. I’ll save commentary for after the weekend, but suffice it to say that today needs to be a good day for the Democrats in Harris County.

Posted in: Election 2014.

KHOU poll shows little support for Astrodome Park plan

Another result of interest from that KHOU/KUHF poll.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

The plan to turn the Astrodome into the world’s largest indoor park is politically unpopular with Harris County voters if the transformation requires any taxpayer dollars, according to a new poll released this week.

Fifty-one percent of those surveyed by KHOU/Houston Public Media said they opposed spending any public money to convert the stadium. The plan hatched by County Judge Ed Emmett could include both public and private dollars if approved, but the poll suggests that voters would only support something that is entirely privately funded.

Thirty-one percent of Harris County voters said they would support spending taxpayer dollars to create the park, and 17 percent said they didn’t know. The poll of 325 likely voters has a margin of error of 5.4 percentage points.

To be clear, this is about the Ed Emmett Astrodome Park plan, in which the Dome would be transformed into a giant indoor park. It differs from the original Astrodome Park plan in that it would not involve demolishing the Astrodome. It also doesn’t have much in the way of specifics, which may be why people are skeptical of it. KHOU takes a closer look.

“Voters in this county are simply not comfortable spending any money on the renovation or restoration of The Astrodome,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU analyst who supervised the survey.

Polls conducted by KHOU and Houston Public Media in years past have shown an interesting divide, indicating people old enough to have seen events at the Astrodome were more likely to support saving the stadium. Now that generation gap has disappeared.

“It’s pretty much across the board,” Stein said. “We couldn’t find a group of voters who are significantly more likely to support spending county money on the renovation of the Astrodome as an indoor park.”

Another curious statistic popped out in the poll. Almost all of the undecided voters were people who didn’t vote in the 2013 Astrodome referendum. As Stein crunched the numbers, he came to an interesting conclusion: If the dome park plan were put on the ballot next month, it would probably fail by roughly the same margin as last year’s proposal.

Of course, Emmett’s idea hasn’t yet been fleshed out and, most important, nobody knows its proposed cost. But the survey indicates voters are wary of any plan to spend more money on The Astrodome.

My concerns about this poll aside, this makes sense to me. As I suggested before, it’s going to take a detailed and specific plan, which clearly shows the benefits of the proposed park or whatever they decide to call it, and a sustained persuasion effort to get voter approval. It should be noted that the Rodeo and the Texans put out their own poll in August that claimed widespread support for their plan. It was basically a push poll, and their description of what was being proposed was not entirely accurate, but the point is that an effective sales job combined with a worthwhile product could be a winner. There’s a lot of work to be done, both in putting together a plan that can be sold to the public and in getting all of the players on board with a commitment to make it work, before any campaign can get off the ground with a hope to succeed. If the goal is to do something in time for the Super Bowl in 2017, time is of the essence. Swamplot has more.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

HPOU wades into the DA race

They’re all in for incumbent Devon Anderson.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

The already intense race for Harris County district attorney became more heated Wednesday with the Houston Police Officer’s Union attacking Democratic candidate Kim Ogg, saying that during her time at Crime Stoppers she violated the privacy of victims she was supposed to help support.

The 5,300-member group is endorsing GOP incumbent Devon Anderson, who declined to comment about the attack, which included a radio ad that was released earlier in the day.

At her news conference later Wednesday, Ogg called the attack a “desperate act,” then accused Anderson of making backroom deals involving a former judge and at least one former police officer, allowing them to avoid prosecution.

“The union’s support of Ms. Anderson, launching an ad 13 days before the election is a desperate act by this incumbent,” Ogg told reporters. She denied any wrongdoing and said the ad was not true.

At the union news conference, Anderson touted her record and thanked area law enforcement agencies for their endorsements.

“Since I’ve been in office, we’ve tried almost 700 jury trials,” Anderson said. “And of those, over 70 percent are violent criminals, the rest are property crimes and a very small percentage are drug cases.”

[...]

During the union’s news conference, Hunt said Ogg’s style was similar to former district attorney Pat Lykos, who was ousted in the 2012 GOP primary by Mike Anderson.

“It’s going to be very much like it was under Pat Lykos,” Hunt said of an Ogg administration. “It would make our job a lot more difficult.”

The union has long protested the so-called “trace case policy” instituted by Lykos, then repealed by Anderson. The police unions want crack cocaine users caught with powder-covered crack pipes to be arrested on felony charges. Citing clogged courts, overcrowded jails and the inability for the defense to re-test the scant amount of evidence, Lykos directed police to ticket those offenders for misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia. The policy was applauded by criminal justice system reformers and derided by law enforcement agencies.

“There’s a direct correlation between the trace case people and the amount of burglaries we have,” Hunt said.

Ogg denied the claims made by Hunt and the HPOU and pressed her own charges against Anderson, but that last bit above is what all this really comes down to. Anderson, even with her willingness to make incremental changes in how pot prosecutions are handled, represents the way things have always been done in the Harris County DA’s office. Ogg, like Lykos, represents change. As is always the case with change, not everyone likes the idea. As you know, I agreed with Lykos’ trace case policy, and I do think the DA’s office could stand to do things a little differently. I look forward to seeing what Kim Ogg can do in that position. Ray Hunt would disagree, and that’s fine. That’s why we have elections. Hair Balls has more.

Posted in: Election 2014.

There’s an app for birth control

I’m sure this won’t controversial at all.

“Isn’t there an app for that?”

Turns out there is, if what you’re after is birth control or a test for a sexually transmitted infection.

In the latest example of fast-growing “telemedicine,” video conferencing that virtually extends medical expertise, Planned Parenthood is rolling out a pilot project for real-time “office visits” that bring patient and medical provider face to face on a smartphone, tablet or personal computer.

Fueling the Planned Parenthood Care project, under way in Washington and Minnesota, is a “horrible statistic,” says Chris Charbonneau, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest: “People are sexually active for six to nine months before they get a really reliable birth-control method.”

One result: an estimated 52,500 unintended pregnancies in Washington in 2010, according to the state Department of Health.

Combine that with the prevalence of chlamydia, the most commonly reported sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the U.S., and gonorrhea — both primarily affecting people ages 15 to 24 — and Planned Parenthood hatched a plan to meet young people where they live: on their phones and mobile devices.

For now, the virtual visits create a streamlined process for getting mail-order birth control — and soon, test kits for two common sexually transmitted infections.

Along with convenience, the virtual visits provide a technological answer to this question, Charbonneau says: “How do we see people who either can’t or have difficulty walking into bricks-and-mortar sites, to at least get them started on birth control” or begin investigating a potential sexually transmitted infection?

The national Planned Parenthood organization chose Washington as one of the first states for the project because of its long history of support for women’s reproductive rights and its strong local chapter, according to the local organization.

Planned Parenthood hopes the project will expand next to Alaska and eventually go nationwide. Obstacles include state laws — and possibly some controversy in the wake of a telemedicine controversy in Iowa.

[...]

Some [anti-abortion] activists also worry that webcam visits, though solely for birth control, may ultimately lead to more abortions.

“We know how these things start,” says Dan Kennedy, CEO of Human Life of Washington. “Who is honestly going to believe that’s as far as it goes?”

I’m sure you can imagine how the “argument” will go from there. I’m posting this partly because it’s a great idea, and partly so we’re all familiar with the background when someone in the Lege inevitably files a bill to ban this. In the name of women’s health, of course. Tech Times has more.

Posted in: Technology, science, and math.

Friday random ten: W for the win

Almost done with the alphabet, at which point I’ll have to come up with a new gimmick to get me through a few weeks. But until then, the W names.

1. Dance Hall Days – Wang Chung
2. Casey Jones – Warren Zevon
3. I Can’t Turn You Loose – Was (Not Was)
4. Rainy Day Woman – Waylon Jennings
5. Ships With Holes Will Sink – We Were Promised Jetpacks
6. Waterfall – Wendy & Lisa
7. You May Be Right – What Made Milwaukee Famous
8. Late Night Television – Wild Moccasins
9. Hesitation Blues – Willie Nelson & Asleep At The Wheel
10. This Land Is Your Land – Woody Guthrie

Whatever else may be true about them, We Were Promised Jetpacks and What Made Milwaukee Famous are up there on the All-Band Name team. I know, it’s easy enough to come up with clever band names, but having a clever band name and actually making music that someone might want to listen to, that’s something. What’s your favorite name of a band that has produced at least one worthwhile song?

Posted in: Music.

UT/Trib: Abbott 54, Davis 38

More of the same from the Trib’s pollsters.

Republican Greg Abbott has a 16-point lead over Democrat Wendy Davis in the closing days of this year’s general election for governor, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Abbott has the support of 54 percent of likely voters to Davis’ 38 percent. Libertarian Kathie Glass has the support of 6 percent, and the Green Party’s Brandon Parmer got 2 percent.

“The drama of the outcome is not who wins, but what the margin will be,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “Wendy Davis has not led in a single poll in this race.”

Among men, Abbott holds a 61-32 lead in this survey. And he leads by 2 percentage points — 48 to 46 — among women.

Abbott leads among likely voters who dropped out of high school all the way up to those with post-graduate degrees. Davis leads with voters who said they never attend church services, but Abbott leads with every group that did, no matter how frequently or infrequently. With Anglo voters, he holds a 62 percent to 31 percent advantage. Davis leads 75 to 19 among black voters and narrowly — 48 to 46 — among Hispanic voters.

“It should be a really interesting, contentious race,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at UT-Austin and co-director of the poll. “And yet, it doesn’t seem to have penetrated the public consciousness. Certainly, nothing down-ballot has.”

Most of the statewide races are not as close as this one, the poll found — and Republican candidates hold the lead in each one.

It’s more of the same for the other races as well. You know my issues with their methodology, so I’ll just note two points. One is that since August, Internet-based pollsters UT/TT and YouGov have shown Greg Abbott with a wider lead than the phone-based pollsters have, with the exception of that KHOU poll. It’s either about a 16-point race or about a ten-point race, depending on who you think is more believable. Also, if you take the UT/TT poll’s word for it, Davis’ problem isn’t so much turning out her base as it is holding on to them in the first place. When was the last time a Republican candidate in Texas won nearly 20% of the African-American vote? We’ll see what the exit pollsters have to say about that. In the meantime, early voting continues. Let’s just concern ourselves with taking care of our own business there.

Posted in: Election 2014.

Abbott’s actions in the Hecht ethics case belie his “just doing my job” evasion

More accurately, it’s his lack of action that speaks clearly about his priorities and discretion.

Still not Greg Abbott

Attorney General Greg Abbott, accused of favoritism in his handling of an ethics case involving a Texas Supreme Court justice, says it’s not his duty to press the case that has sat idle for two years.

That reasoning, however, doesn’t stand up, according to an American-Statesman review of state law.

The issue began in 2008, when the Texas Ethics Commission fined Chief Justice Nathan Hecht $29,000 for violating campaign finance rules by getting a $167,200 discount on legal fees. Hecht appealed to Travis County district court, arguing that the agency misinterpreted state law.

With Abbott’s office defending the Ethics Commission, several years of sporadic action followed — until all activity ceased two years ago.

Defending the inactivity, an Abbott spokesman last week said his office wasn’t motivated to press the case because the ruling against Hecht remained in force — placing the onus to act on the chief justice.

But state law says otherwise.

The moment Hecht filed his appeal, the Ethics Commission judgment against him was vacated — or rendered void — to allow a Travis County district judge to conduct an independent review of the charges against him.

Legally, there is no judgment in place against Hecht, placing the onus to act on lawyers with the attorney general’s office.

[...]

Buck Wood, an Austin lawyer specializing in election law — mainly representing Democrats — said appeals of Ethics Commission rulings are rare, but the result is the same in every case.

“Once they appeal it, no enforcement action can be taken because it does vacate the decision,” Wood said. “The ethics fine is basically put on hold, and if (Abbott) doesn’t prosecute it, it’ll never get prosecuted.”

The inactivity is even harder to explain because Abbott’s lawyers believe Hecht’s appeal was improperly filed and should be tossed out.

A motion to dismiss the appeal, filed by the attorney general’s office in June 2012, argued that Hecht lawyer Steve McConnico failed to ask the Ethics Commission to reconsider its judgment against Hecht — a necessary first step before an appeal can be pursued in district court.

McConnico filed a brief rebutting the claim, and the last activity in Hecht’s appeal came in October 2012, when both sides filed responses trying to poke legal holes in each other’s arguments.

See here for the background. The 2012 filings weren’t included in the timeline of events put together by Texans for Public Justice, who has filed suit to toss Abbott off the case and appoint a special prosecutor that will actually do something, but the overall point stands. Nothing can or will happen in this case until one side or the other takes action, and since Team Hecht has no incentive to do anything – he’s in the clear for the time being, after all – that means Abbott needs to quit jerking around and do his job. Keep that in mind the next time you hear Abbott piously muse about how pursuing endless appeals of same sex marriage rulings and the like are “just doing his job”.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Alameel 2018?

Sure, why not?

David Alameel

David Alameel

Even against long odds, David Alameel hasn’t thrown in the towel in his bid to unseat Sen. John Cornyn.

“I’m in it for the long run,” the Dallas investor and dentist told The Dallas Morning News editorial board on Monday.

Cornyn leads by about 20 percentage points in most polls. Alameel says it hasn’t dampened his optimism.

“My aim is not just to win. I want to change the way people think,” he said.

He also sees this year’s effort as a way to position himself to try again in 2018, when freshman Sen. Ted Cruz’s term expires.

“The next one is in four years, and you have to build a base. I’m building a base right now,” Alameel said.

I appreciate the willingness to think beyond this election. Some races need to be viewed as multi-cycle. Most candidates, for good and obvious reasons, don’t have that in them, so kudos to Alameel for taking the long view and seeing Ted Cruz’s re-election bid as an opportunity. That said, I hope Alameel has some fierce competition for the chance to take on our lunatic junior Senator. I hope this election is successful enough that several of our vaunted “rising stars” begin licking their chops and gearing up their fundraising with an eye for being first in line at filing time in December of 2017. A nice, high-profile Senate primary will be an excellent way to start the year in 2018.

By the way, the Alameel-Cornyn debate will be tonight, and it can be viewed on Univision on Saturday dubbed in Spanish. There’s a drinking game in there somewhere, I’m sure of it.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Endorsement watch: Why Orlando?

The Chron has published its full list of endorsements for the 2014 election, but at the time they ran that they had not published all of the accompanying editorials. They began their catch-up on that on Wednesday with another expression of their love for incumbent Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez.

Orlando Sanchez

[Democratic challenger David] Rosen, 29, says he would work to completely revamp the office’s online portal, so that county residents would have a better sense of how their tax dollars are spent.

“I want to make open government a reality in Harris County,” he said. “This office has a real problem with transparency.”

[...]

Sanchez, a once and perhaps future mayoral candidate who’s been treasurer since 2007, told the Chronicle editorial board that he agrees with his opponent about the need for more transparency and has urged commissioners to replace the county’s “antediluvian [computer] system.”

Touting his experience in government, Sanchez said the county treasurer should serve as an “independent set of eyes” on the county checkbook. He said that his oversight of credit interest uncovered bond discrepancies that could have cost the county millions.

Rosen is an articulate and thoughtful candidate, but Sanchez has the experience. We endorse the incumbent.

The Chron has endorsed Orlando Sanchez at every opportunity – in this year’s GOP primary, where they listed him as being five years older than they did in this piece, in 2010, and in 2006. After all this time, and all these paeans to “transparency”, I still have no idea what the dude has done in his eight years in office. That bit about his “oversight of credit interest” is the first mention I’ve seen of that. At this point I see no value in wailing and gnashing teeth about it. Whether it’s his enchantingly blue eyes or knowledge about the placement of buried bodies, Orlando Sanchez has a hold over the Chron editorial board. We’re going to have to find a way to live with that.

The Chron also got around to doing endorsements in the county criminal courts. As has been their way so far, they stuck with incumbents in most cases, but in each of their two-part set of endorsements, they picked one Democratic challenger. Here’s part one:

County Criminal Court at Law No. 6: Linda Geffin

Democratic challenger Linda Geffin, 61, knows firsthand the risks that come from fighting in our courts for justice: In 2011, she was beaten and left unconscious in an attack that Geffin believes was retaliation for her work in the County Attorney’s office against sex trafficking. With a 10-year tenure in the Harris County District Attorney’s office, this graduate of the South Texas College of Law has been active in her community and is a two-time recipient of Children At Risk’s “Hero of the Month” award.

Incumbent Judge Larry Standley, a Republican, took the bench in 1999 after serving as chief felony prosecutor at the Harris County District Attorney’s office. Meeting with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, Standley, 56, said he draws on his own troubled youth and undistinguished high school career as inspiration to help those who may have shared a similarly tough experience.

Both candidates have a good-hearted passion for the job, but Geffin seems better-suited for the duties of judgeship.

And part two:

County Criminal Court of Law No. 14: David L. Singer

Defense attorneys usually air their objections during trial, or perhaps through appeals. But earlier this year, a dozen of Houston’s top criminal defense attorneys took their protest to the hallway outside the courtroom of Judge Mike Fields. Handing out cards that explained defendants’ constitutional rights, these members of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association took aim at Fields, 49, for coercing defendants to waive their constitutional right to an attorney. The deck is already stacked against people who are in our criminal justice system, and Fields’ attempt to speed up the gears of justice pushed his court off the tracks.

Fields, a Republican, first came to this seat in 1998 and graduated from St. Mary’s School of Law.

Voters should cast their ballots for Democratic challenger David L. Singer. A graduate of the South Texas College of Law, Singer, 55, has served as a briefing attorney in the First Court of Appeals, followed by six years as a Harris County prosecutor. He now works as a defense attorney. In a notable accomplishment, Singer received more votes than Fields in the annual Houston Bar Association Judicial Preference Poll. That poll is a clumsy tool at best, reflecting only a tiny slice of lawyers, but rarely does a challenger beat an incumbent. We’ve endorsed Fields before, but the poll results are a sign that he has become a judicial outlier. Voters should give Singer a repeat victory on Election Day.

Also of interest is that for County Criminal Court of Law No. 10, the Chron decided they didn’t like either the Democrat George Barnstone or the Republican Dan Jeffry, so they gave the nod to Libertarian candidate Brad Walters. Putting aside the novelty of having a Libertarian candidate this far down the ballot, if there had been one race this year where I’d have thought a third party candidate might have gotten endorsed, it would have been the Ag Commissioner race. The Chron is just full of surprises, apparently.

Posted in: Election 2014.

2014 Day Four EV totals

EarlyVoting

Here are your Day 4 EV totals and the full 2010 EV totals. Mail ballots continue to be strong, up a bit from Day Four in 2010, but in person totals continue to lag. Overall, 2014 now trails 2010 at this point in the process by about 5,000 votes, with about 142,000 having been cast so far this year. As we discussed last time, the mix of voters is more important than the totals. So far, indications for Harris County say “better than 2010 for Dems, but not where we want to be yet”. If the pattern for this year is like it was in 2012, Saturday is the key day. It would be nice to do better than that before then.

Here are the statewide three day totals and the comparable figures from 2010. As we have seen on other days, overall turnout is up thanks in large part to the strong mail ballot returns. The TDP sent out an email earlier today taking a victory lap for that. I hope they have reason to brag, but I don’t have any data on it.

Finally, a couple of turnout-related news stories. From the Statesman, a reminder that we don’t yet know who it is that is turning out, and from the Monitor a story about strong EV turnout in Hidalgo County. We can’t say yet that more early voting will necessarily mean higher final turnout, but that’s still encouraging to see.

UPDATE: Almost forgot: Check out Drive for Democracy and volunteer to help drive someone to the polls. And for my Heights friends, why not have breakfast with Leticia Van de Putte on Saturday morning before heading to the polls?

Posted in: Election 2014.

Interview index

For your convenience, here is a list of all my interviews and judicial Q&As for the November election. This includes ones I did for the primary and runoff.

Interviews

US SenateDavid Alameel

Attorney GeneralSam Houston
ComptrollerMike Collier
Land CommissionerJohn Cook
Railroad CommissionerSteve Brown

State Senate, SD15Sen. John Whitmire
State Senate, SD17Rita Lucido

State House, HD23Susan Criss
State House, HD75Rep. Mary Gonzalez
State House, HD131Rep. Alma Allen
State House, HD133Laura Nicol
State House, HD145Rep. Carol Alvarado

District AttorneyKim Ogg
County ClerkAnn Harris Bennett
District ClerkJudith Snively
TreasurerDavid Rosen
HCDE Trustee At LargeDebra Kerner
HCDE Trustee At LargeMelissa Noriega

Judicial Q&As

14th Court of AppealsKyle Carter

180th Criminal District CourtRandy Roll
185th Criminal District CourtMack McInnis
230th Criminal District CourtGreg Glass
248th Criminal District CourtShawna Reagin
263rd Criminal District CourtHerb Ritchie

55th Civil District CourtKay Morgan
113th Civil District CourtSteven Kirkland
190th Civil District CourtFarrah Martinez
234th Civil District CourtBarbara Gardner
281st Civil District CourtTanner Garth

246th Family District CourtSandra Peake
247th Family District CourtChip Wells
280th Family District CourtBarbara Stalder
308th Family District CourtJim Evans
309th Family District CourtKathy Vossler
311th Family District CourtSherri Cothrun

313th Juvenile District CourtTracy Good

Harris County Probate Court #1Kim Bohannon Hoesl
Harris County Probate Court #2Josefina Rendon
Harris County Probate Court #4James Horwitz

Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 2Harold Landreneau
Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 10George Barnstone
Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 13Jason Luong

Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 2Scot Dollinger

Posted in: Election 2014.

On Greg Abbott and who gets to get married

As you may have heard, Peggy Fikac got to ask Greg Abbott the obvious question about how exactly the state’s law against same-sex marriage, which Abbott is diligently defending in court, differs from the old laws that once banned interracial marriage, and would he have defended those as well since he claims he’s just doing his job as the state’s lawyer.

RedEquality

It didn’t take Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott any time at all to decide that not answering that question was the best course during a meeting with the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board.

“Right now, if there was a ban on interracial marriage, that’s already been ruled unconstitutional,” Abbott pointed out. “And all I can do is deal with the issues that are before me … The job of an attorney general is to represent and defend in court the laws of their client, which is the state Legislature, unless and until a court strikes it down.”

When I said I wasn’t clear if he was saying he would have defended a ban on interracial marriage, he said, “Actually, the reason why you’re uncertain about it is because I didn’t answer the question. And I can’t go back and answer some hypothetical question like that.”

Asked about the similarities some see between the ban on gay marriage and past prohibitions on interracial marriage, Abbott said, “Well, the Supreme Court has disagreed with that” by holding that sexual orientation isn’t due protected-class status in the way that race is.

[...]

“What kind of state would we live in if the public policies of this state were allowed to be determined by the attorney general? The attorney general would have a super veto over the elected representatives, and that would be a chaotic form of government, contrary to our fundamental constitutional principles,” he said. “It would be way beyond the separation of powers. It would be a dictatorship… by the attorney general.

“Believe me, I would love it,” he added, “The state would look a whole lot more like me right now if I did abandon my role and exercised my magic wand and decided what cases I would defend and which I didn’t, and therefore allowed me to dictate policy in this state.

“But I think that by doing what I do, I am maintaining the policy that I think is appropriate, and that is for each elected official to fulfill their constitutional obligations,” he said.

Not surprisingly, this broke the Internet as people around the globe reacted with gasps, guffaws, facepalms, and sputtering outrage. The Wendy Davis campaign was swift to jump all over this. One reason for the outpouring was the basic fact that Abbott’s answer was, in a word, a crock. The DMN points out one problem with it:

Other attorneys general, citing their oath of office to uphold the Constitution, have refused to defend certain policies, laws and judgments.

John Cornyn, now a Republican U.S. senator, as attorney general voluntarily dropped an appeal of a death penalty case and sought a new punishment hearing. He determined he could not defend the punishment meted out to a black defendant after the state presented an expert witness who had testified that blacks are more inclined to violence.

Former Attorney General Jim Mattox, a Democrat, refused to defend a state law that criminalized homosexual conduct. He dropped the appeal of that law.

In other words, previous attorneys general have felt free to follow their conscience when they thought that the situation merited it. The Observer cites an example of Abbott’s folly by sticking to his mantra.

But while the Attorney General may have to mount some kind of defense of the state, he has “a tremendous amount of discretion” over how aggressively to prosecute those cases, how “effectively” to prosecute cases, and which cases to bring to court. Abbott has been using his stint as AG to campaign for governor for years—he’s brought failed case after failed case against the federal government, costing Texas taxpayers millions. But his hands are tied when it comes to gay marriage and school finance, he insists. He has to aggressively defend bad laws to the last.

Abbott’s tenure has included a number of instances in which he pursued comically bizarre legal arguments in cases for which he could have no reasonable hope of victory—seemingly forfeiting his powers of discretion. In 2008, Abbott chose to defend the state’s ban on the sale of sex toys, a case that emerged from the fallout of Lawrence v. Texas. Over the years, Abbott has deployed novel legal arguments against gay marriage. But this wasn’t a case about gay marriage, a subject that still animates sincere moral disagreements. This was a case about every American’s god-given right to buy dildos.

At the time, anti-sex toy laws were widely understood to be unconstitutional, but Abbott suited up for battle. The state, his lieutenants argued with straight faces before the 5th Circuit, had an interest in “discouraging prurient interests in autonomous sex and the pursuit of sexual gratification unrelated to procreation.” The state of Texas has a pressing interest, Abbott said, in discouraging you from masturbating or blowing your boyfriend. That was just six years ago.

By the way, the law that criminalized gay sex, which was the basis of the Lawrence v. Texas case, is still on the books in Texas, as our Republican-dominated Legislature has not seen fit to repeal it. If the Legislature instead decided to amend that law by offering reparative therapy as an alternate sentencing option for defendants – an action that would clearly be unconstitutional on its face but would nevertheless represent the will of his client – would he feel compelled to defend that?

I know, I know, that’s another hypothetical, and Greg Abbott doesn’t do hypotheticals. So let me ask this instead: Can Greg Abbott name one instance in his time as Attorney General when he had to defend a law or regulation that he didn’t support or approve of? Putting aside the obvious discretion he has used in deciding what lawsuits to file and what defendants to file them against, can he cite an example of a law he didn’t like but had to defend? I kind of suspect the answer to that is “no”. Maybe that’s not fair to him – maybe the opportunity just never arose – but regardless, it would put his “just doing my job” claim into some perspective. It’s a lot easier to just do your job when your job involves doing things you like and want to do. It’s a little different when you do something with the same vigor and diligence for a cause you wouldn’t have chosen to support but are compelled to because it’s your job. BOR and Lone Star Q have more.

Posted in: Election 2014, Legal matters.

Gary Elkins thumbs his nose at local payday lending ordinances

Such a fine example he sets.

Rep. Gary Elkins

As a member of the Texas House of Representatives, Houston Republican Gary Elkins helps make laws. As a businessman, he is an owner of a chain of payday lending stores accused of breaking them.

Elkins opposed payday lending regulations during the 2011 and 2013 legislative sessions, arguing members should defer to his expertise and calling the bills a solution in search of a problem. Efforts at comprehensive statewide reform failed, leading Texas’ three largest cities to adopt their own restrictions on the products payday and auto title lenders can offer.

As the local ordinances have come into force, first in Dallas, then San Antonio and, as of this summer, Houston, Elkins’ Power Finance locations or store employees in all three cities have received citations, accused of ignoring the law by not registering with the cities or allowing regulators to inspect their books.

Elkins’ interests in San Antonio were among the plaintiffs who sued the city of San Antonio over its payday regulations; the case was dismissed last February. The same attorney who represented the lenders in that case, John Dwyre of San Antonio, directed Houston officials in a Sept. 10 letter obtained by the Houston Chronicle not to speak with, ask for identification or request records from Power Finance employees.

Having been blocked from enforcing the ordinance at the firm’s locations, Mayor Annise Parker said, Houston officials now plan to cite Power Finance as a company for failing to comply.

“The city of Houston has worked successfully with Rep. Elkins in other areas, but the fact that he would deliberately flout our local ordinances is not just unfortunate – it sends the wrong signal,” Parker said. “We all understand that the reason that our system of laws works is that people of goodwill voluntarily comply with the law. It undermines the entire system when a public official chooses not to comply with a legally passed law or ordinance.”

[...]

Dallas’ lone Power Finance store in January was issued four citations, three for allegedly violating zoning rules for payday lenders, and one for failing to register with the city. The cases are set for trial next month, said Assistant City Attorney Maureen Milligan.

“Here you have a lawmaker that makes law for everybody else, and then when it comes time for him to follow the law that other people follow, he thumbs his nose at it,” said Dallas City Councilman Jerry Allen, who has championed that city’s regulations. “We’re not going to tolerate it. ”

We should not be surprised by this. Elkins took the lead in fending off payday lending bills in the 2013 Legislature, and has zero shame about it. I don’t quite understand why there hasn’t been an ethics issue relating to this – Sen. Leticia Van de Putte had to sell her pharmacy shortly after being elected in order to avoid a potential conflict of interest, yet there’s Elkins up at the mike pushing his own business interests. It’s nothing new, either. Here’s an excerpt from the Texas Monthly Ten Worst Legislators list from 2001:

In the legislative pond, Gary Elkins is a minnow. he feeds in the shallows, far from the dangerous waters of floor debate and important bills. He’s such a small fish that he escaped the Worst list in 1999 with a onetime catch-and-release exemption—even though no less than the Wall Street Journal had documented his efforts to help the small-loan industry, in which he makes his living (“Legislator’s Slim Agenda Mirrors His Private Interests”). So what does Elkins do this session? He swallows the hook again. Exemption expired.

Elkins’ livelihood is the controversial sale-leaseback business, in which customers, usually low-income, get cash for a household item, which they retain, and pay stiff regular fees until they can repurchase it. The industry claims that these transactions are leases, not loans, and that the fees are not interest payments, which would be subject to regulation. The attorney general’s office has sued Elkins’ company (unsuccessfully), and the Legislature, after several previous attempts, finally gave state regulators authority over the industry this year—but not without some unseemly shenanigans by Elkins. After the chairman of the House Business and Industry Committee, on which Elkins sits, introduced a bill declaring that sale-leaseback transactions are not loans, a lawyer for Elkins’ company testified in favor of the bill—but neither he nor Elkins disclosed the connection. Later, Elkins’ name surfaced again involving a bill backed by the payday-loan industry, a competitor of Elkins’ sale-leaseback industry. A Nevada company with links to Elkins (but no other apparent Texas concerns) had hired a lobbyist to fight the payday-loan bill. Referring to Elkins, an ethics advocate for Common Cause told the Austin American-Statesman, “If I were a member, any bill [he] had would be suspect to me.”

Elkins’ involvement in the issue is not illegal but does create the appearance of self-dealing. It gets in the papers and it lowers public confidence in the Legislature. Perhaps he could be forgiven if he made any noticeable contribution to the public weal, but no. He filed ten bills this session and passed one, making it legal to stop, stand, or park your vehicle in your own driveway in a manner that blocks a sidewalk. If only he had quit while he was ahead.

See also this Observer story from July. The only difference between then and now is that Elkins has since moved into the payday lending business. I don’t know what Houston or other cities that want to rein in payday lenders can do to him. At some point, it will have to be up to the voters to kick him out.

Posted in: Local politics.