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Paxton continues his war on transgender people

This is just ugly.

RedEquality

Ramping up its fight over the rights of transgender people, Texas filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the federal government over a regulation prohibiting discrimination against transgender individuals in some health programs.

Texas, on behalf of Franciscan Alliance, a religious hospital network, and four other states are claiming the new federal regulation would force doctors to perform gender transition procedures on children and requested the court to block the federal government from enforcing the regulation. The federal rule on nondiscrimination in health care prohibits denying or limiting coverage for transgender individuals, including health services related to gender transition.

The lawsuit was announced by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the Franciscan Alliance. It was filed Tuesday morning in the Wichita Falls-based District Court for the Western District of Texas.

The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, who on Monday sided with the state and blocked the Obama administration’s guidelines to accommodate transgender students. Those guidelines say that schools must treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for the purposes of complying with federal nondiscrimination statutes.

[…]

Among several legal claims, they argued that the new rule violates the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act because it compels religiously affiliated health organizations to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. The federal government is “forcing them to choose between federal funding and their livelihood as healthcare providers and their exercise of religion,” the wrote in a court filing.

You can see a copy of the lawsuit here. Think Progress pulls out some of the highlights:

Essentially, this suit is akin to Hobby Lobby, except it objects to transgender care instead of birth control.

The complaint repeatedly refers to standards of care, and the need for states and physicians to be able to maintain “standards of care that rely upon the medical judgment of health professionals as to what is in the best interests of their patients.” Requiring doctors to perform procedures that they do not believe are in the best interest of the patient would turn “the venerable medical oath to ‘do no harm’ on its head.” Physicians should have the ability “to offer a contrary view” to HHS’s conclusions that transition-related treatments are no longer “experimental.” The plaintiffs in the suit believe that transition care is not only still experimental, but also “ethically questionable and potentially harmful.”

Building standards of care around this belief, the complaint assures, does not compromise patients’ respect:

Every person should be treated with dignity and respect, especially when in need of medical attention. The standard of care established in Texas, and around the country, enables patients to obtain quality healthcare as determined by medical professionals, and not those outside the doctor-patient relationship. The Regulation, however, usurps this standard of care. It discards independent medical judgment and a physician’s duty to his or her patient’s permanent well-being and replaces them with rigid commands.

Nowhere, however, does the suit acknowledge the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), which has maintained research-informed standards of care for transgender people for nearly 40 years. The WPATH standards, first proposed in 1979 and updated several times since, are based on “the best available science and expert professional consensus.” They recommend affirming transgender people’s identities and recognize that gender transition improves their well-being.

The plaintiffs in the suit make no secret of the fact that they reject this science in favor of their own religious beliefs. For example, the suit cites CMDA’s “Transgender Identification Ethics Statement,” which takes the literal opposite position of the WPATH standards, because validating transsexual “desires” is “contrary to a Christian worldview:

In contrast to the current culture, CMDA believes that finding one’s identity within God’s design will result in a more healthy and fulfilled life. CMDA believes, moreover, that social movements which contend that gender is decided by choice are mistaken in defining gender, not by nature, but according to desire. Authentic personal identity consists in social gender expression that is congruent with one’s natural biological sex. CMDA recognizes that this traditional view has become counter-cultural; however, CMDA affirms that God’s design transcends culture.

CMDA’s statement also claims that affirming children’s gender identity and allowing them to delay puberty has “lifelong physical, psychological, and social consequences,” even though the available evidence says the exact opposite — that delaying puberty is safe and totally reversible.

Like CMDA, Franciscan similarly rejects the existence of transgender identities:

Franciscan holds religious beliefs that sexual identity is an objective fact rooted in nature as male or female persons. Like the Catholic Church it serves, Franciscan believes that a person’s sex is ascertained biologically, and not by one’s beliefs, desires, or feelings. Franciscan believes that part of the image of God is an organic part of every man and woman, and that women and men reflect God’s image in unique, and uniquely dignified, ways. Franciscan does not believe that government has either the power or the authority to redefine sex.

The suit claims that even providing “psychiatric support” as part of a medical transition would violate its “best medical judgment and its religious beliefs.” Even simply providing insurance coverage for such procedures would “constitute impermissible material cooperation with evil.”

I can’t even wrap my mind around this. Substitute “gay” for “transgender” in the paragraphs above, and ask yourself if this would come close passing legal muster, let alone common decency and medical ethics. And yes, this is the same judge who granted a national injunction in the bathroom case. Give Ken Paxton his due – he knows who the friendly judges are. The Current has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Three more candidates announce campaigns for open HISD Trustee seat

From the inbox, candidate number 1:

Victoria Bryant

Victoria Bryant

Victoria Bryant, an entrepreneur and businesswoman, announced her candidacy today, August 15, for Houston ISD Trustee in District VII. The position is up for election this November with the resignation of Harvin Moore, one of the board’s longest-serving members.

District VII includes River Oaks, Memorial, and Briargrove, and is home to some of the best schools in the state. But this year the district faces the daunting budgetary challenge of funding school operations without disrupting classroom standards.

“Education is key to keeping Houston and Texas an economic powerhouse,” Bryant said. “As a mother with children enrolled in HISD schools, I will fight for a quality education system that will give them the tools they need to compete in a global economy.”

Bryant is the founder and president of Ambassadors Caregivers, a home health care business serving seniors, the disabled, and the elderly. She currently serves as President of the World Chamber of Commerce of Texas and on the Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital Women’s Advisory Council. She is also a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council for the University of Houston’s College of Education and its College of Business.

“Victoria Bryant is an advocate for education with extensive experience in medicine and health care,” said Tony Buzbee, attorney and River Oaks resident. “Her business background will be crucial to solving the district’s budget shortfalls and modernizing our schools.”

Years ago education opened many windows of opportunity for Bryant, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees who resettled in Houston in the 1970’s. Bryant attended Carnegie High School and the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, where she earned her Doctorate of Pharmacy. “My dad did everything he could to make sure I had every opportunity in the world – and it started with a great education,” said Bryant. “Here in our district, we have incredible teachers and involved parents. That said, we have much more to do to educate and empower our children for success. As we invest in their future, I am your voice on the board.”

See here for the background. Anne Sung, who ran against Moore in 2013, has also announced her intention to run for the seat. I found this 2014 Houston Business Journal story on Victoria Bryant while googling around for her.

Sung and Bryant are joined by two others: John F. Luman, III and Danielle Paulus are also listed as candidates on the HISD webpage about the special election. Paulus, as you can see from her LinkiedIn profile, is also known as Danielle Paulus-Dick, and appears to be the wife of Eric Dick, which made my eyes roll so hard. I asked around and learned that both Bryant and Luman have Republican primary voting histories – Danielle Paulus appeared on this list after I had done that, but we do all know about Eric Dick – while Sung is a Democrat, so the basic contours of this campaign are clear, if there are no others jumping in. The filing deadline is tomorrow, August 25, so the clock is ticking. Whoever emerges victorious, in November or a December runoff, will have to do it again in 2017 for a full term. I’ll check back afterwards to see what the final lineup will be.

Posted in: Election 2016.

STAAR test lawsuit survives motion to dismiss

On to trial.

After a group of parents sued the Texas Education Agency over the 2016 administration of STAAR exams, state lawyers argued this summer that the parents had no standing and asked the courts to drop the case.

This week, the first day of school for many Texas children, Travis County District Court Judge Stephen Yelenosky denied their request in a one-page order with no further explanation.

The decision, which comes after a recent hearing, means the lawsuit brought by parents from Houston, Wimberley, Austin and Orangefield — whose children were in the third, fifth and eighth grades last school year — will be able to proceed.

[…]

Education Commissioner Mike Morath, listed as the primary defendant in the suit, threw out all grade promotion consequences for fifth- and eighth-graders this year because of score delays under a new testing vendor, the filings note. They also say that students could have been advanced to the next grade by a graduation committee regardless of Morath’s decision, and that there are no such consequences for third-graders. The filing also says there is “no allegation any of the plaintiffs failed or were specifically harmed by the allegedly noncompliant test — or even that the length of the test affected the child’s performance in any way.”

But the parents would like to see all scores thrown out. Their lawyer Austin-area lawyer, Scott Placek, who hailed Monday’s decision as a “big victory,” said they will keep fighting until that happens.

“The judge said without qualifications they have the right to be there and they have the right to have their case heard and so we’re in the position now where the case can really go forward,” he said. “I think we’ll look to move the discovery expeditiously and get to trial as quickly as we can because kids are being impacted already as they head back to school.”

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the judge’s order. The plaintiffs’ crowdfunded group The Committee to Stop STAAR has two posts on its webpage concerning TEA reports that they say show the STAAR test was not administered in compliance with the law. This ought to get very interesting.

Posted in: Legal matters.

What can we do to increase the odds of a downballot Democratic victory?

Yesterday, I raised the possibility of downballot Democrats winning statewide races if 1) polling in the Trump/Clinton matchup remained at or below the six point spread in the recent PPP poll and 2) Democrats did a better job voting all the way down the ballot than Republicans, as has been the case in recent Presidential elections. What can Democrats do to increase the odds of this happening?

Let’s start by recognizing what we can’t do. Trump’s gonna Trump, Clinton is going to do what she does, and the numbers will be what they are. If you’re reading this and you know how you’re voting, you’re not part of this equation – you’re already factored in. We also can’t affect what Republicans, whether NeverTrumpers or not, do downballot. It’s my supposition that conditions are favorable for Republicans to see fewer votes in downballot races this year than they might normally expect, but that’s all that it is. Even if I’m right about that, it may not be enough to make a difference. All Democrats can reasonably do is try to position themselves as best they can to take advantage of this if there is something to take advantage of.

So what can we do? The good new is, this isn’t complicated.

1. Vote all the way down the ballot – I presume you already do that, but nothing is too obvious that it need not be stated. Vote all the way down the ballot, and vote for Democrats. I’ve been addressing the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals in these two posts, and before that I’ve been harping on the lower appeals courts. Don’t forget the district and county courts, too.

2. Spend your money and volunteer energy here in Texas – How much more incentive do you need than the prospect of winning a statewide race for the first time since 1994? Give a few bucks to your local party/coordinated campaign, volunteer to phonebank, you know the drill. Do something to spread the message. It doesn’t matter if there aren’t any local races of interest, either. If there can be a grassroots GOTV effort in Lubbock, there can be one anywhere. Find one and be a part of it.

3. Support the candidates in question – Here are the Democratic candidates running for Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals:

Mike Westergren – Justice, Supreme Court, Place 3
Dori Contreras Garza – Justice, Supreme Court, Place 5
Savannah Robinson – Justice, Supreme Court, Place 9

Lawrence “Larry” Meyers – Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 2
Betsy Johnson – Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 5
Robert Burns – Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 6

Meyers is an incumbent, having switched parties prior to the 2014 election; the rest are challengers. You could send them a few bucks to help them get their names out – even a little bit of extra name recognition may translate to a few extra people not skipping their race – or talk about them in your social circle. The name of the game is name recognition.

4. Reach out to left-leaning friends and family who won’t support Hillary Clinton – We all have people like this in our lives. A gentle suggestion that they vote for some downballot Democrats probably can’t hurt.

Like I said, not exactly rocket science. Everything I’ve said here is intuitive, and would have an effect on the margins, since that’s where an effect can be had. I think the key here is just thinking that it really may be possible. Again, I stress the “may be” part – I don’t want to over-promise, but I do want people thinking about this.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Preliminary injunction granted in transgender bathroom directive case

Ugh.

RedEquality

A federal judge in Fort Worth has blocked Obama administration guidelines directing the nation’s public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and other facilities that align with their gender identity.

In a 38-page order released Sunday, U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor said the “status quo” should remain in place nationwide until the court rules on the case, or a federal appeals court provides further guidance.

[…]

“This case presents the difficult issue of balancing the protection of students’ rights and that of personal privacy while using school bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and other intimate facilities, while ensuring that no student is unnecessarily marginalized while attending school,” O’Connor wrote in the order. He added: “The sensitivity to this matter is heightened because Defendant’s actions apply to the youngest child attending school and continues every year throughout each child’s educational career.”

“The resolution of this difficult policy decision is not, however, the subject of this order,” he said.

You can see a copy of the court order here. We had expected a ruling before school started, though I honestly didn’t think that would mean Sunday. The question now is what does this mean, since there wasn’t a law in place, just a recommendation. ThinkProgress offers one explanation:

The scope of O’Connor’s order is vast. It dictates that the federal government can not intervene on behalf of trans students in any school nationwide. If the departments were already investigating claims of anti-trans discrimination, they must suspend those investigations immediately. In other words, so long as this injunction is in place, it’s as if the guidance protecting trans students doesn’t exist at all. It doesn’t, however, prevent schools from continuing to follow the guidance.

The ACLU, which was one of the filers of a joint amicus brief in the case, had the following to say:

“A ruling by a single judge in one circuit cannot and does not undo the years of clear legal precedent nationwide establishing that transgender students have the right to go to school without being singled out for discrimination. This unfortunate and premature ruling may, however, confuse school districts that are simply trying to support their students, including their transgender students. So let us make it clear to those districts: your obligations under the law have not changed, and you are still not only allowed but required to treat transgender students fairly. The scope of this injunction has no effect on the ability of other courts or lawyers representing transgender people to continue to rely on the federal government’s interpretations of Title IX or on prior decisions that have reached similar conclusions about the scope of federal sex discrimination laws.

“The court’s misguided decision targets a small, vulnerable group of young people – transgender elementary and high school students – for potential continued harassment, stigma and abuse.”

Although the court failed to consider the interests of the very students the federal laws were intended to protect, the five civil rights organizations who advocated on their behalf avowed, “We will continue to file lawsuits representing transgender students and litigate them to the fullest extent of the law—regardless of what happens with this particular federal guidance.”

The one thing that is clear is that this will be appealed. One should never get one’s hopes up where the Fifth Circuit is concerned, but this is what we’ve got for now. The DMN, the Austin Chronicle, the Current, and the Press have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Getting ready for the new voter ID universe

It’s a scramble.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

With roughly two months before early voting starts, Texas election officials are facing the difficult task of training thousands of poll workers and educating the public about court-ordered changes to a voter ID law – all while under an intense microscope.

That process is expected to be exacerbated by the sheer size of Texas, the volume of county election offices – 254 in all – an extreme time crunch and a politically-charged environment.

The heavy lifting starts now.

The Texas Secretary of State’s office late this week circulated final instructions to county officials about identification requirements for the Nov. 8 election – materials that will serve as guidance for local election administrators doing training.

In less than two weeks, Secretary of State Carlos Cascos is planning to embark on a statewide tour, where, according to court documents, he could visit San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley, among a list of potential sites, to talk voter ID.

And around the same time, Texas is poised to start recording television and radio spots set to air in October, court documents say, the first steps in an estimated $1.3 million advertising campaign. That will also include digital, print and social media ads slated to start appearing by the first week of September.

[…]

“It’s going to be a real challenge. It takes a long time to get this election machinery moving, and the closer it gets to the election the more likely the implementation of the changes will get screwed up in various places,” said Joseph Fishkin, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in constitutional and election law. “You have so many poll workers in Texas that are well meaning but not necessarily well trained. There’s going to be a lot of low-level questions about how to implement the ruling successfully.”

As we know, all of this is part of the agreement that was hammered out between plaintiffs and the AG’s office, and approved by the federal district court judge. I agree with Professor Fishkin’s assessment, and we will need to be tolerant of well-meaning but misinformed election workers, at least this year. The main danger here isn’t for people who have voted before and who have an accepted form of ID to show. The concern is for the three or four million people who will show up in November who haven’t cast a vote during the voter ID era, including a significant number of people who will be voting for the first time. What happens when someone gives them bad information, and maybe causes them to decide they can’t vote at all? And let’s not forget, not everyone has good intentions. This quote here is troubling:

Harris County Clerk and chief election official Stan Stanart, who oversees one of the largest county election operations in the nation, said Friday he does not expect any problems with putting in place changes to the law. That’s mostly because he is not expecting much of an influx of people lacking one of the state-approved ID.

“The numbers are going to be small,” said Stanart, who estimates 6,000 election workers will be trained in Harris County before November. “That’s our experience with voter ID.”

But Stanart also issued a warning: his office will look into those signing affidavits claiming they don’t have required identification. He said voters who lied will be turned over to the district attorney.

“People are signing an oath. They are swearing they don’t have an ID,” he said. “If they think they can come in and vote without an ID when they have one sitting in their pocket, that’s going to be a problem.”

Stan Stanart is one of those people who doesn’t have good intentions. That sounds an awful lot like a threat the treat people who show up with a form of ID that is on the agreement with suspicion. It’s one thing to have tolerance for honest mistakes. How much tolerance are we going to have for that?

Posted in: Election 2016.

No injunction for campus carry

So much for that.

A federal judge has denied three University of Texas at Austin professors’ initial attempt to keep guns out of their classrooms under the state’s campus carry law.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the professors, who had sought a preliminary injunction to block implementation of the law, had failed to establish their likelihood for success. UT students resume classes on Wednesday, and the professors’ case will continue to work its way through the court while the law remains in effect.

The professors, Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore and Mia Carter, filed their lawsuit against the university and the attorney general’s office. In the suit, the professors said the possibility of guns on campus could stifle class discussion in their courses, which touch on emotional issues like gay rights and abortion. They argued that was a violation of students’ First Amendment right to free speech.

[…]

In an e-mail, Renea Hicks, the lawyer for the professors, said he was “disappointed” by the decision.

“We’ll just have to pull together more facts for trial and hope things go smoothly on campus in the meantime,” he said. “Sometimes, public policies are so terrible and extreme that it takes the law and courts a little while to catch up.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for the judge’s order. On the bright side, the lawsuit wasn’t dismissed, at least not yet. As I’ve said before, I would not bet my own money on the plaintiffs ultimately prevailing on this one.

Posted in: Legal matters.

It’s not crazy to think that a downballot Democrat could win statewide this year

I’ll get to that headline in a minute. I’ve got some reading to sort through first. We’ll start with the most pessimistic, or perhaps the least blue-sky, story of how things are likely to go.

Arizona. Georgia. Utah. Indiana. Is Texas next?

Across the country in recent days, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has suffered polling collapses in a slew of traditionally conservative states. The deterioration raises the question: Is Trump such a catastrophic Republican standard-bearer that Democrats could actually poach their ultimate white whale, the Lone Star State?

No.

That’s the consensus of a raft of state and national Democratic insiders who discussed with the Tribune the possibility of Hillary Clinton winning Texas in November.

“I think that it could set off a little bit of a panic among Republicans, but you’re not going to see banners flying and people marching into Texas saying, ‘We’re gonna turn Texas blue,'” said Matt Angle, a Democratic operative with Texas roots.

[…]

So, what would an incremental victory look like for Texas Democrats on Election Day?

Party infrastructure was the mantra in several interviews. The aim is to excite dormant Texas Democratic voters into volunteering for the first time in a generation, even if it is out of distaste for Trump. Even now, Texas volunteers are phone banking to battleground state voters elsewhere in the country.

“We know it’s going to be a multi-cycle endeavor, but these numbers reinforce that we are making significant movement, particularly with Texas’ diverse new majority,” said Manny Garcia, the deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.

State Democrats are also cautiously hopeful they can make gains in the Legislature, and maybe lay the groundwork for a viable campaign against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 when he is up for re-election.

Amid the cautious optimism, Democrats are willing to concede that anything is believable given the erratic nature of the Trump campaign.

Former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, an Arlington Democrat, echoed many Democratic insiders when he said he has heard no chatter about competing for Texas in the fall.

“This is a crazy election,” he said. “Anything can happen, but I still think Texas is a reach.”

A more optimistic take on where things stand.

The [PPP] poll shows Trump leading Clinton by a 44-to-38 percent margin, with his strongest support among senior-age Texans, especially men. Among that group, the New York business tycoon holds a 63-33 percent lead.

With voters under age 65, Clinton leads 49-35. For those under 45, she leads Trump 60-35.

Among nonwhite voters in Texas, Clinton has a 73-21 percent lead, according to the poll conducted by the Democrat-leaning polling firm Friday through Sunday of 944 likely voters; the poll has a margin of error of plus- or minus-3.2 percentage points.

That split, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, who has studied how the changing generational demographics of voters affects elections, could be the most significant statistic from the poll and other recent surveys that have highlighted a similar trend in Texas.

“This election is an outlier because Trump in many ways transcends ideology and party,” Jones said. “The older the voters, the more likely they are to vote Republican. The younger the voters, the more likely they are to vote Democratic. And the Republicans’ base in Texas is growing older.”

[…]

Statewide, an estimated 14 million Texans are registered to vote, an increase of about 1 million voters over the last four years, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees elections. Whether those are new Republicans or Democrats or independents is unknown, and party affiliation is determined by which primary a voter casts his or her ballot.

Officials in fast-growing Williamson County, in staunchly conservative GOP territory just north of Austin, said their registration numbers are up significantly.

During the 2008 presidential race, Williamson County accounted for just more than 220,000 of the state’s registered voters. The most current figures put Williamson County’s voter total at 294,329.

In Fort Bend County, a fast-growing GOP suburban stronghold southwest of Houston, elections administrator John Oldham said registrations have grown by 25 percent since 2008. That has added nearly 100,000 new voters to the rolls in just under eight years, he said.

Oldham estimated that about half of recently registered have not had Anglo or Hispanic surnames. Many have last names traditionally associated with Asian, Middle Eastern and African heritages, he said.

“That’s where we’re seeing a lot of growth,” he said.

For Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, surburban areas like Fort Bend County are the places to watch in November.

“Republicans in Texas have dominated the suburban vote, and that’s been one reason for their success,” Rottinghaus said. “But in this election, Trump is doing poorly among these voters – the suburban women, college-educated voters who are younger. (Gov. Greg) Abbott and (U.S. Sen. Ted) Cruz still do well there, but crossover voting in the suburbs could cause a moment that might allow the Democrats to do better.

“That is how the Republicans got their foot in the door in congressional elections years ago,” he added.

And finally, an X factor to consider.

There are now 272 electoral votes in states that RCP rates as leaning toward Clinton, likely to go to her or solidly in her column. Another 112 come from states rated as tossups (plus Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, from which an elector is chosen independent of the statewide result). On Wednesday morning, Clinton had a lead in six of those eight states, including a statistically insignificant three-tenths-of-a-point edge in Deep South Georgia.

Furthermore, in talking to Democratic and Republican strategists in recent days, it has become clear that the polls could be significantly underestimating the Clinton margins that we’ll see on Election Day. Here’s why: Clinton has poured money into both television advertising and field organizing even in states where she has an outside chance of winning while Trump has been inactive.

Republican and Democratic experts in field organizing say that a tiptop organization can make a small but significant difference — maybe as many as four or five percentage points — in a particular state. That is, where Clinton’s building an operation and Trump isn’t, polls are likely underrepresentative of her strength.

In a chat last week on the social media platform Sidewire, former Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn and GOP strategist Doug Heye lamented the absence of a Trump field operation on the ground in the battleground Hawkeye State.

“The boots have largely been outsourced to the RNC staff that’s been on [the] ground. They are hustling to staff up,” Strawn said. “And as everyone learned watching Hillary [and] Bernie battle during caucuses, if it comes down to mechanics versus message at the end … well, we know how that turned out.”

That last one isn’t about Texas at all, and it may be irrelevant to the discussion at hand, since Republican Presidential campaigns don’t bother investing in Texas for the same reason that Democratic ones don’t – there’s no reason to. But there is a correlation between the national level and the state level, and if there are concerns about Republican turnout nationally – and there are, and they go beyond worries about campaign infrastructure – then there are concerns about it here as well, if not necessarily as great.

Which leads me to a conclusion that I’ve seen only articulated once, briefly, in the Beatty memo, which is this: It’s not crazy to think that Texas Democrats could win a statewide race or two this November.

Note that I am not talking about the Presidential race. The Beatty memo suggests that the Railroad Commissioner’s race could go either way, as nobody knows who the candidates are. I’m thinking more about the races for Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals, for which the Dems have a full slate of candidates. The same argument about nobody knowing who the candidates are holds, but there’s also the numbers, for all of these races.

Look at it this way: A six-point Trump win in Texas, which is consistent with that PPP poll, translates to roughly a 400,000-vote margin for Trump. To pick some numbers out of the sky, a victory by Trump of 4,000,000 votes to 3,600,000 votes – a drop of about 12.5% for Trump from Mitt Romney’s 2012 total, with an increase of about nine percent for Hillary Clinton over President Obama in 2012 – would translate to 52.6% for Trump to 47.4% for Clinton in a two-person race. That’s a little less than six percent, but grant me that much optimism. (For the record, 4.1 million votes for Trump to 3.6 million for Clinton would be 53.2% to 46.8%, or a 6.4 point difference, so assume we’re somewhere in the middle if you want.) All disclaimers aside, I think we can all agree that as things stand today, a result like this is in the ballpark.

Now here’s the thing: There’s always some level of dropoff from the Presidential level to the downballot level. In the three most recent Presidential elections, there has been much more dropoff on the Republican side than on the Democratic side.


2004

Bush -  4,526,917
Kerry - 2,832,704

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Carrillo      3,891,482   635,435    14.0%
Brister       4,093,854   433,063     9.6%
Keasler       3,990,315   536,602    11.9%

Scarborough   2,872,717       N/A      N/A
Van Os        2,817,700    15,004     0.5%
Molina        2,906,720       N/A      N/A


2008

McCain - 4,479,328
Obama  - 3,528,633

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Williams      4,003,789   475,539    10.6%
Jefferson     4,092,181   387,147     8.6%
Wainwright    3,926,015   553,313    12.4%
Johnson       4,018,396   460,932    10.3%
Price         3,948,722   530,606    11.8%

Thompson      3,406,174   122,459     3.5%
Jordan        3,374,433   154,200     4.4%
Houston       3,525,141     3,492     0.0%
Yanez         3,428,179   100,454     2.8%
Strawn        3,482,718    45,915     1.3%


2012

Romney - 4,569,843
Obama  - 3,308,124

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Craddick      4,336,499    233,344    5.1%
Hecht         4,127,493    442,350    9.7%
Keller        4,257,024    312,819    6.8%

Henry         3,057,733    250,391    7.6%
Petty         3,219,948     88,176    2.7%
Hampton       3,163,825    144,299    4.4%

Republicans did better in 2012 than in 2008, to which I attribute greater enthusiasm on their part, which led to more straight-ticket and general downballot voting. They obviously had a lot of enthusiasm in 2004, but they also had some crossover votes at the Presidential level, as well as (I believe) a decent number of people who turned out just to vote for President. Dems, on the other hand, had less dropoff in every race except one, and in most cases the difference between R dropoff and D dropoff was large. I attribute that in one part to good messaging about straight-ticket voting, especially in 2008, and one part being that if you bothered to show up and vote for a Democratic Presidential candidate in Texas, you were probably pretty committed to the party as a whole.

I think this year combines the lack of enthusiasm on the Republican side that we saw in 2008, plus the possibility of people showing up to just vote for Trump and nobody else, like in 2004. Against that, some number of people who normally vote for Republican Presidential candidates will do something else in that race this year, then vote normally after that. Put it all together, and I think the likelihood of Republican dropoff in the 2004 and 2008 ranges is a reasonably likely outcome this year.

If that is the case, and if we are indeed headed for a Presidential race with roughly a six-point differential between Trump and Clinton, then the math is clear. Four million less ten percent is 3.6 million, or what I’m projecting Clinton to get. Sure, there will be some Democratic dropoff as well, but you could have 11 or 12 percent loss on the R side, with only one percent or so for a given D. That will vary from candidate to candidate for reasons none of us can predict or will understand, but that’s my whole point: Under these conditions, we’re basically at a coin toss for downballot statewide races. And if that happens, we could see one or more Democrats squeak past their opponents and win their races. Looking at the numbers for the two most recent elections above, Sam Houston and Susan Strawn would have won in this environment, with Mark Thompson, Linda Yanez, and Michelle Petty (2012) falling just short. All they needed was for the Presidential race to have been sufficiently close.

Now as always, this comes with a pile of caveats – the election is still three months away, this is based on one poll, even a seven or eight point lead for Trump would almost certainly render all this moot, there could be a whole lot of Johnson-plus-downballot-GOP voters, etc etc etc. I’m absolutely not saying this will happen, nor am I saying it is likely to happen. I am saying it is possible, and conditions could become better for it rather than worse. I wouldn’t have said this a month ago, and the next poll result may make me want to throw this whole post into the trash, but my original statement stands: As things look right now, it’s not crazy to consider the possibility that at least one downballot statewide Democrat could win this fall.

So now that we’ve had this thought, what are we going to do about it? I’ll address that in the next post.

Posted in: The making of the President.

More focus on bail practices

Something needs to be done, whether via the ongoing lawsuit or other means.

go_to_jail

Sandra Thompson, a University of Houston law professor, has spent hundreds of dollars bailing her cousin out of jail for minor offenses.

“I get steamed under the collar when I think about this issue,” Thompson said. “I’m really mad and I’m ready to see some change. ”

Thompson and several other community members gathered Saturday afternoon at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University to discuss bail reform issues in Harris County and suggest potential solutions. The Earl Carl Institute for Legal and Social Policy Inc., a city organization that seeks justice for minorities, hosted the event. Community leaders expressed concern about poor individuals jailed for nonviolent crimes because they can’t afford to make bail.

“You have a system that gets it wrong all across the spectrum,” Thompson said. “You got low-risk people stuck in jail because they’re poor. You got high-risk people getting out because they’re rich.”

[…]

Community leaders at the meeting on Saturday said the ongoing lawsuit would be one solution regarding the bail reform issue, but also urged local court officials to assess the risk of the individual when setting bail. In Harris County, the average bail is between $500 and $5,000 for misdemeanors.

“If someone is taken to jail on a minor, nonviolent offense like trespassing or theft, bail shouldn’t be determined by a schedule that doesn’t consider risk or ability to pay,” said Mary Moreno, a representative from Texas Organizing Project, a nonprofit advocacy group for low-income people in Houston.

Moreno announced the group’s new campaign Saturday to decriminalize poverty in Houston. The group seeks to reform the criminal justice system in Harris County and one of its initiatives concerns bail reform.

“For those living paycheck to paycheck, two or three days of being in jail means losing hours at work and can start a domino effect of unfortunate events that can cause serious financial hardships taking months or years to recover from,” she said.

Moreno also stressed the importance of not jailing people for being unable to pay traffic tickets. She said other options could be community service, payment plans, and the deduction of fines.

See here and here for more on the lawsuit, for which we should get a ruling on who should be defendants this week. This lawsuit may force some changes, but ultimately it’s going to come down to the judges and the DA, with some responsibility for the Lege as well. In the meantime, go back to what Professor Thompson said about risk, and reflect on the fact that Robert Durst was granted bail after being arrested for the murder and dismemberment of Morris Black. Surely people arrested for misdemeanors represent no bigger threat to anyone’s safety than he did.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Who watches the election watchers?

What could possibly go wrong with this?

In 2012, Greg Abbott caused a stir when he issued this warning to international election observers: Don’t set foot inside Texas polling places.

Abbott, then the attorney general, was worried the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe — which routinely dispatches election monitors to the United States and other countries and had met with opponents of Texas’ voter ID law — could interfere with general election voting.

“Our concern is that this isn’t some benign observation but something intended to be far more prying and maybe even an attempt to suppress voter integrity,” he told Reuters at the time. He even threatened to “bring criminal charges if needed.”

But four years and one presidential cycle later, Texas officials are so far silent about a possible fleet of partisan election observers Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is urging to the polls.

“Help Me Stop Crooked Hillary From Rigging This Election!” pleads a volunteer sign-up form on the real estate mogul’s website.

Trump’s campaign — which did not respond to requests for comment for this article — has not released details on its poll-watching strategy, or how it plans to ensure volunteers abide by state and federal laws. Texas law allows candidates and political parties to appoint a limited number of poll watchers as long as they follow a litany of rules. But a robust monitoring effort like the one Trump is calling for is rare in the United States.

“It’s something you’re more likely to find in the developing world,” said Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute.

“You’re more likely to have people that disrupt the process than actually monitor,” he added.

Do tell. The good news is that the dumpster fire that is the Trump campaign is unlikely to actually execute a program of putting “poll watchers” into place. That’s way too much detail work for them. The bad news is that Trump’s rhetoric about “rigged elections” is likely to spur lone-wolf activism, which has the potential to be awful and even violent. The worse news is that Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton are unlikely to do anything about that. It’s not their concern. I don’t really know what to suggest here.

Posted in: Election 2016.

SH 130 operator to give up its ownership stake

Another step on the road to bankruptcy.

Speed Limit 85

SH 130 Concession Co. filed a bankruptcy reorganization plan Friday that proposes transferring company ownership to its largest lenders, which include the Federal Highway Administration and a group of European banks. The company owes more than $1.6 billion. It is owned by Spanish road developer Cintra, the majority stakeholder, and San Antonio-based Zachry American Infrastructure.

[…]

The company paid TxDOT $125 million upfront for the rights to operate the road, which was built to bypass Interstate 35 traffic between San Antonio and Austin and then became state property. It also agreed to share some of its toll revenue with the state as part of the lease agreement.

Texas 130’s southern section, which connects to a state-operated section that ends in Georgetown, opened in 2012 and became known for its 85-mph speed limit, the highest in the country. But it immediately missed the company’s traffic projections, and Moody’s Investors Service assigned its debt a junk-bond rating three years ago as a result.

The company issued a substantial amount of debt to finance the $1.3 billion project. It owes about $551 million on a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation loan from the Federal Highway Administration, and about $721 million on its bank loans, according to court filings.

A FHWA spokeswoman was not available for comment Friday afternoon.

The reorganization plan proposes that SH 130 Concession Co., under its lenders’ ownership, would continue to operate and maintain the road. The plan has yet to be approved by the court.

“It’s important to understand that we don’t expect any sudden changes,” Guy Russell, SH 130’s chief operating officer, said in an email. “The plan calls for a smooth transition period of up to 18 months during which SH 130 Concession Company will continue to operate the facility per usual.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Cintra and Zachry will take a bath if this goes forward, which is fine by me. I’m less fine with the Federal Highway Administration getting stiffed, though it’s not clear from this story if that may happen. I’m not sure there’s any lesson to be learned here beyond the obvious one of not building roads where there are no people, but I hope we at least grasp that one.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Weekend link dump for August 21

“What’s really most important is that each of these people believe that the center of gravity in the GOP is pro-Trump and that their political futures would be damaged by turning against him. That is the big deal, far more important than this or that single person being admirable by bucking the tide.”

Meet the chork, the latest innovation in hybrid cutlery.

Wait, there are still people who take John “Sock Puppet” Lott seriously?

How do we turn coal jobs into solar jobs?

“Clinton may have lost an election against a different candidate; she’s by no means guaranteed to win this one. But to assume it was Republicans’ to lose, you must first blind yourself to quantitative facts and strong assumptions about our politics that weaken the idea fatally.”

Three words: Deep fried Twinkies. You’re welcome.

“Since Donald Trump wants to impose new tests on immigrants, he should take the one test every immigrant has to pass to become a United States citizen. He would almost certainly fail, given his general ignorance and weak grasp of basic facts about American history, principles and functioning of our government.”

RIP, Fyvush Finkel, multi-faceted actor.

“In other words, where Trump in this speech is talking about actual national security policies, he puts forth an angry, semi-literate expression of a set of consensus ideas that are largely already in practice.”

“But why focus on immigrants? Why not follow Trump’s mantra of “America First” and apply this test to American citizens? Yes, if you were born here, you had the luck of the draw. Which is a lucky thing for Trump, because if the test could be applied to natural-born citizens, the result would be that over half of the Republican Party—and most of Trump’s voters—would be banned from the United States.”

“But it is just as illusory to claim that liberals manufactured panic about Romney, and in turn inured Republican voters to similar complaints about Trump, as it is to claim the stars cease to exist each morning at sunrise. In reality, liberal complaints about Romney four years ago were mostly in proper proportion to current, graver warnings about Trump today. Just as liberals were more apt than conservatives to be clear-eyed about Trump’s appeal to Republican voters, liberal misgivings about Romney’s politics were prescient and accurate. And if conservatives had heeded them at the time, they might’ve been equipped to preempt Trumpism before it destroyed their movement.”

“I Kickstarted my first novel, sold 1,319 books, and made $4,369.14 (so far) — and so can you (maybe) (under fairly specific circumstances)”.

“So time for a Brexit update, to remind you what a real politician looks like digging herself out of a deep hole.”

RIP, John McLaughlin, former political gabfest host.

“Seven years after that cable, disclosed by WikiLeaks, the Berlusconi-Putin bromance has acquired a new resonance, as foreign policy analysts and even some U.S. officials see unsettling echoes in the recent long-distance kinship between the Russian leader and Donald J. Trump.”

Wishing all the best to Bob Watson as he battles Stage 4 kidney disease.

RIP, Gawker. Go fuck yourself, Peter Thiel.

If “Omaha dad finds pot brownies, eats 4 of them, says mean things to cat” isn’t the greatest headline of all time, I need to know what is. And if you read that, you should read this, too.

“The theory making the rounds is that Trump’s latest campaign reshuffle isn’t really about trying to win the election. In bringing in Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, and recruiting Roger Ailes, the disgraced former head of Fox News, as an adviser, Trump is making a business play: he’s laying the groundwork for a new conservative media empire to challenge Fox.”

RIP, Donald “D.A.” Henderson, American epidemiologist who led the international war on smallpox that resulted in its eradication in 1980.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Voter registration numbers keep increasing

Always good news, though it’s hard to say anything definitive.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

County elections officials across Texas are reporting a spike in registered voters this election cycle, with one county now exceeding one million registered voters for the first time ever. Earlier this week, Bexar County Elections said they surpassed 1 million registered voters, according to News 4 Television in San Antonio.

That makes Bexar the fourth county in the state with one million or more registered voters. Harris County tops the list at 2 million followed by Dallas and Tarrant.

“Normally we anticipate spikes closer to the elections. We really exceed in September and the first week of October,” said Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole. “But we’re seeing a spike because of different organizations registering voters.”

According to data provided by Pippins-Poole’s office, nearly 113,000 new voters registered in Dallas by the end of July. She noted an uptick in registrations during historically slower times. In February alone her office received 29,922 voter applications, an increase of 186 percent compared to 2012.

Of the county’s eight Republican state representatives, four are vulnerable in a presidential election.

[…]

Heather Evans, an associate professor of political science at Sam Houston State University, suggested Democrats tend to focus on voter registration more than Republicans, which might help explain the uptick in Bexar and Dallas Counties.

“My research over the past four years shows that Democrats are the ones who always talk about/focus on increasing voter registration,” Evans said in an email to Quorum Report.

But two of the fastest growing counties in the country, Tarrant and Fort Bend, have also seen a spike in registration.

I believe that all adult citizens who are not currently under a felony conviction should be allowed to vote, so I’m always glad to see voter registration numbers go up. We would need a lot more information to draw any conclusions about what if anything the numbers might mean. Texas is a growing state, so voter reg numbers should generally increase, though they have often not kept up with the increase in the adult citizen population. Where people live is a huge factor, and for counties of any size that means going down to the precinct level, to see what the ambient proclivities are. It would be nice to know how many of these people are brand new to voting, and how many are new arrivals to the state who have an established history of voting somewhere else. And to the extent that people are being registered as part of an organized effort, it would be nice to know after the fact how many of these people eventually turned out to vote. In general, newly registered voters participate at roughly the same levels as other voters, but that’s in the aggregate. I’m sure some groups are better at this than others; I’d like to know which ones fall into which category. For now, file this away till early voting begins.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Bail practices lawsuit update

There was a hearing in court this week, and the judge was skeptical.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal declined Thursday to rule on whether Harris County should be dismissed from a lawsuit intended to force officials to reform a tough bail system in which more than 70 percent of jail inmates are being held pretrial.

Maranda Lynn Odonnell, a single mom jailed for driving without a valid license and held for two days because she couldn’t afford $2,500 bail, has been put forward as the plaintiff in the civil rights lawsuit as a representative of thousands of poor people who suffered undue hardship because of their inability to pay bail in Harris County.

Her claim was consolidated Thursday by Rosenthal with similar complaints by a pregnant woman and a man arrested for shoplifting cosmetics who were both jailed because they could not pay for bail.

But lawyers for Harris County have argued that the county itself – and its elected county commissioners – don’t control decisions made by judges. Under the current system, only about 8 percent of misdemeanor offenders were released without having to pay bail in 2015, according to county statistics.

In court, Rosenthal questioned whether lawyers representing poor former detainees are pursuing the right parties by targeting the county sheriff, county hearing officers and the county itself when it is county court at law judges who act as policymakers and set the bail bond schedule that’s been challenged.

She gave Odonnell’s attorneys a week to decide whether to add judges as additional defendants and hinted that she considered it a “dicey proposition” to hold the sheriff responsible for bail-driven injustices.

See here for the background. I tend to agree that the judges should be included as defendants, as they are the root of the problem. That said, it’s not like the various county officials have no influence here. Thay have always been free – and, I would argue, obliged – to speak up on this and apply pressure to the judges and District Attorneys who have caused the problem. They are complicit, even if they aren’t a fit as defendants.

In the meantime, the Justice Department has gotten involved as well.

The Obama administration has joined the fight against the American bail industry, telling a federal appeals court that bail practices that keep poor defendants locked up because they cannot afford to purchase their freedom are unconstitutional.

“Bail practices that do not account for indigence result in the unnecessary incarceration of numerous individuals who are presumed innocent,” the Justice Department wrote in an amicus brief filed Friday.

The brief marks the first time DOJ has weighed in on the constitutional requirements of bail systems in a federal appeals court.

[…]

Maurice Walker is at the center of the case at issue. The 54-year-old was arrested by the Calhoun Police Department in Georgia in September 2015 for allegedly being a “pedestrian under the influence.” Walker, who has limited income and serious mental health issues, was told he would not be released unless he came up with $160, the fixed amount set by bond for someone charged with being a pedestrian under the influence.

Court was held just once a week in Calhoun, and Walker was arrested on a Thursday before Labor Day when there was no court. He remained in jail for six days, and would have been there longer ― but he was released after lawyers with Equal Justice Under Law and the Southern Center for Human Rights filed a class action lawsuit on his behalf while he was still behind bars.

A lower court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in that case; it is being appealed. There will be a hearing in September on a motion for an injunction against Harris County’s bail practices. Stay tuned.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Legal matters.

State sues Alabama-Coushatta tribe over casino

Here we go again.

A new legal salvo was fired this week in the state’s long-running battle against Indian gambling with a filing in federal court that seeks to close the gaming hall on the Alabama-Coushatta Reservation.

A motion for contempt and injunctive relief was filed Monday by Attorney General Ken Paxton, claiming that the Naskila Entertainment Center, which has offered electronic bingo since reopening in May, violates an existing court injunction.

It asks that the small East Texas tribe be ordered to halt the gaming operation, remove all gaming equipment and pay a civil penalty of $10,000 a day from June 2 until all gaming ceases.

On Tuesday, the log cabin-style hall on the 10,000-acre reservation in the Piney Woods east of Livingston was still open to the gaming public.

“We definitely think we’re in the right. The federal government and the National Indian Gaming Commission gave us the authority, so we think we’re on good legal grounds,” said tribal spokesman Carlos Bullock after conferring Tuesday with members of the tribal council.

[…]

The legal landscape for the Tigua and Alabama-Coushatta appeared to improve last year when both the Interior Department and the NIGC issued administrative opinions that the two small tribes could offer certain types of gaming.

But earlier this year, the state won a marathon legal battle with the Tigua when a federal judge in El Paso ruled that the tribe’s entertainment center was really a thinly disguised gambling hall.

The Tigua now plan on offering permitted bingo-hall-style games that are legal in Texas.

In ordering the Tigua to cease offering “sweepstakes,” U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone also ruled that federal case law, which prohibited the gaming, trumped the opinions of the two federal agencies.

See here, here, and here for some background. This action by the state was completely expected, given past litigation and the noises the AG’s office had been making since the casino reopened. Both the Alabama-Coushatta and the Tigua tribes had tried again with their casinos under new administrative guidelines from the National Indian Gaming Commission, but the subsequent loss in court by the Tigua does not bode well for the Alabama-Coushatta. We’ll see how it goes.

Posted in: Jackpot!, Legal matters.

Endorsement watch: Optimism for the future

WIRED does what it has never done before.

Hillary Clinton

For nearly a quarter of a century, this organization has championed a specific way of thinking about tomorrow. If it’s true, as the writer William Gibson once had it, that the future is already here, just unevenly distributed, then our task has been to locate the places where various futures break through to our present and identify which one we hope for.

Our founders—Louis Rossetto, Jane Metcalfe, and Kevin Kelly—all supported a strain of optimistic libertarianism native to Silicon Valley. The future they endorsed was the one they saw manifested in the early Internet: one where self-organizing networks would replace old hierarchies. To them, the US government was one of those kludgy, inefficient legacy systems that mainly just get in the way.

Over the past couple of decades, we’ve gotten to watch their future play out: We’ve seen the creative energies of countless previously invisible communities unleashed—and, well, we’ve watched networks become just as good at concentrating wealth and influence in the hands of a few people as the old hierarchies were. We’ve seen geeks become billionaires, autocrats become hackers, and our readers (people curious about how technology is shaping the world) become the American mainstream. Like any sane group of thinkers, we’ve calibrated our judgments along the way. But much of our worldview hasn’t changed. We value freedom: open systems, open markets, free people, free information, free inquiry. We’ve become even more dedicated to scientific rigor, good data, and evidence-driven thinking. And we’ve never lost our optimism.

I bring all this up because, for all of its opinions and enthu­siasms, WIRED has never made a practice of endorsing candidates for president of the United States. Through five election cycles we’ve written about politics and politicians and held them up against our ideals. But we’ve avoided telling you, our readers, who WIRED viewed as the best choice.

Today we will. WIRED sees only one person running for president who can do the job: Hillary Clinton.

Read the whole thing, it’s well worth your time. I don’t claim the WIRED ethos as my own, though I do have a fair amount of overlap with it. I’ve made my living in IT, and I’ve been on the Internet since before WIRED existed, so the way they think and how they view the world are very familiar to me. It’s deeply satisfying to me to see this exemplar of the techno-libertarian class, which is often needlessly hostile to the progressive worldview, get this one right in so complete a fashion. Donald Trump is a uniquely dangerous threat to this country (and the rest of the world), and the one thing we can do to ensure that threat is neutralized is to support Hillary Clinton. They picked the right time to pick a side, and they picked the right side. Well done, WIRED.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Saturday video break: Magic Bus

Get on the bus with The Who, y’all.

And as I threatened promised last week, here’s Pete Townshend doing this solo, at The Deep End:

Who needs backup vocalists when the whole audience sings along? Also, too: windmilling. I swear, I’ll have a non-Pete Townshend song next week.

Posted in: Music.

Why are so many pregnant women dying in Texas?

Better yet, what are we going to do about it?

The rate of Texas women dying of pregnancy-related causes nearly doubled from 2010 to 2014, with the state seeing more than 600 such deaths in the four-year span.

In a new study, set to be published in the September issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers found that Texas experienced a dramatic increase in pregnancy-related deaths from 2010 to 2012. While the rest of the country also experienced an increase, no other state saw the rate nearly double like it did in Texas.

Some health experts complain that the state has been slow to respond to the problem. A state task force on the issue is nearly three years into its work and has released no recommendations.

“We’re really seeing this is a serious problem with maternal mortality,” said Dr. Daniel Grossman, an OB-GYN who studies the effects of recent reproductive health legislation in Texas with the Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “It really seems like that’s where the state officials should be focusing on trying to improve health and safety.”

From 2006 to 2010, the rate of Texas women who died while pregnant or within 42 days of being pregnant due to causes related to their pregnancies fluctuated between 18.1 and 18.6 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the study. In 2011, the rate jumped to 33, and by 2014, it was 35.8.

In 2012, 148 women died from such causes, up from 72 deaths two years before.

The findings stumped the national researchers and have prompted them to begin a further study into maternal mortality in Texas. Vital statistics officials on both state and national levels “did not identify” any change in the data recording processes that could have resulted in the dramatic increase, according to the study.

The Texas Legislature created a task force in 2013 to study pregnancy-related deaths and severe complications in the state. It’s set to release its first report to lawmakers on Sept. 1.

[…]

The rise in pregnancy-related deaths in 2011 coincided with the beginning of major budget cuts in Texas. In September of that year, health care providers across the state began to feel the effects of a family planning budget reduced by two-thirds.

Sarah Wheat, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said many of the family planning clinics that lost funding or closed were an “entry point into the health care system” for women.

“Chances are they’re going to have a harder time finding somewhere to go to get that first appointment,” Wheat said. “They may be delayed in getting that initial pregnancy test and then a prenatal referral.”

The study mentioned changes to women’s health services and clinic closures but didn’t go so far as to suggest there was a correlation between that and the uptick in pregnancy-related deaths.

“Still, in the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval, the doubling of a mortality rate within a two year period in a state with almost 400,000 annual births seems unlikely,” the study said.

I’m going to wait and see what that task force finally says on September 1. It took them three years to come up with something, so one hopes it will be worth the wait. In the meantime, I wonder why we haven’t heard more from the “pro-life” forces in this state, whom we know are legion and not at all the quiet types. One would certainly think that a sharp, unexplained rise in the rate of pregnant women dying would be the sort of thing that might attract their attention and at least some of their energy. Wouldn’t one? The Current has more.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

More on the latest voting rights lawsuit ruling

Coverage from the Chron:

In contrast to the discourse over the voter ID law, it’s not clear there are many political stakes over the law [Judge Robert] Pitman tossed out Friday.

There are enough Hispanic and Latino voters in every county in Texas to mandate Spanish-language assistance at polls across the state, so Friday’s ruling does not apply to that segment of the population.

Instead, the interpreter case largely hones in on Asian Americans and other minorities in Texas, who in the vast majority of counties do not comprise enough of the population to require language-assistance at the polls, and thus often rely on interpreters. Many times, these voters are elderly and grew up speaking another language, [Jerry Vattamala, director of the Democracy Program at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and one of the attorneys on the case] said, and rely on children, sometimes even minors, to be their interpreters and helpers at the polls.

Vattamala said that in Texas, Asian Americans vote equally for both Republicans and Democrats.

[…]

Pitman’s ruling Friday may be particularly significant in the Houston area, which has a large Asian population. While he did not have specific numbers, testimony in the case indicated that several voters in the Houston area have not been allowed to bring interpreters into the polls.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon responding to questions about the case and its impact on Harris County, a spokesman for county clerk Stan Stanart’s office said Stanart is “in favor of following the law. He has asked that we follow the law as mandated by the court and required by the Secretary of State.”

The statement indicates that voters will now be able to use “interpreters of their choosing” barring limitations prescribed by other laws that prohibit a voter’s employer or labor union representative to be their interpreter.

The spokesman, Hector DeLeon, said in the statement that the county makes ballots and elections materials available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese.

“We also have advisory groups for Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese that engage the leadership in those communities to help educate the registered voters about the election process,” DeLeon said. “These groups meet to maintain close contact to engage the community, to find bilingual poll workers and to educate the public during an election cycle.”

See here and here for the background. Vattamala’s statement about how Asian-Americans vote in Texas is one for which I’d be very curious to see some detailed polling data, which unfortunately I rather doubt exists. We know that nationally in 2012, Asian-Americans voted for President Obama at a higher rate than Latinos did, something like 78-21 in the President’s favor. That doesn’t mean it was the same here – “Asian-American” is a very wide designation, covering many diverse nationalities, and as Latinos in Texas vote Republican at a higher rate than their counterparts elsewhere, it’s certainly possible the same holds true for Asian-Americans. I don’t know, and with all due respect I’m not sure that Jerry Vattamala has access to anything more than a deeper well of anecdotal data. I’m just saying I’d love to see some real data, with sufficient samples of varying nationalities to be able to draw good conclusions.

Back to the decision itself, the Texas Election Law Blog gives us some historical context on this:

The Texas Election Code is a mess, as I’ve pointed out before. Our election laws are a cruel jumble born of mean-spirited political expediency, sloth, torpor, and ignorance. One particular piece of work within this ramshackle edifice of vote suppression and general discouragement of the democratic process is Section 61.033 of the Election Code, which states that in order to serve as an interpreter for a voter who requires language assistance, “a person must be a registered voter of the county in which the voter needing the interpreter resides.”

The law, such as it is, has a long pedigree stretching back to 1918, (Act of March 23, 1918, 35th Leg., 4th C.S. Ch. 30 (H.B. 104), although a requirement that election officials could only communicate via English in the polling place was added by the Act of March 13, 1919, 36th Leg. Ch. 55 (S.B. 244), 1919 Tex. Gen. Laws p. 94), The 1919 law reflected a longstanding nativist fear (pumped up by anti-immigration sentiment after World War One) that some language other than English might intrude into the polling place; that fear is still reflected in Section 61.031(a) of the Election Code, which more-or-less tracks the xenophobia of the old 1919 law.

After the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the state law was softened to permit language assistance at the same time that multilingual ballots were provided.

But … while Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act provides that voters should be able to make use of language assistance of their own choosing, the state law still exhibits a weird reluctance to help voters out by imposing that pesky “have to be registered to vote in the same county as the voter” requirement on interpreters.

That restriction found in the state law was never defensible (given that it directly contradicts federal law), but it’s interesting that it took so long for a group of plaintiffs to find a test case to knock it down.

Here’s a copy of the ruling, from that post. The key here is that the original plaintiff who needed the assistance, Mallika Das, was voting in Williamson County, while her son/interpreter, Saurabh Das, was registered in Travis County. When he told the election officials that, he was not allowed to act as interpreter for his mother. Everything else followed from there.

Anyway, it is unclear at this time if the state will appeal Judge Pitman’s ruling, so barring any further action people who need some language help at the ballot box can bring an interpreter of their choosing with them. Which is how it should have been all along.

Posted in: Legal matters.

New study questions Uber effect on DUI

Interesting.

Uber

The introduction of ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft hasn’t had any impact on the number of fatalities related to drunken driving, a newly published study finds.

Researchers at the University of Southern California and Oxford University looked at the 100 most populated metropolitan areas, analyzing data from before and after the introduction of Uber and its competitors, and found that access to ride-sharing apps had no effect on traffic fatalities related to drinking alcohol.

Uber has repeatedly pointed to drunken-driving reduction as a benefit of its service. A 2015 blog post on its website, titled “Making Our Roads Safer For Everyone,” notes a survey Uber conducted with the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving that found anecdotal evidence that people believe their friends are less likely to drive drunk since the introduction of Uber.

[…]

In the latest study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the researchers analyzed county-level data from 100 metropolitan areas in dozens of states and controlled for the effects of state laws that could affect drunk driving fatalities, such as bans on texting while driving, marijuana-related legislation and taxes on alcohol.

The authors also separated total alcohol-related traffic fatalities from those that occurred on weekends or holidays, and found no reduction in deaths with the introduction of Uber in either case.

So, why? The authors of the study speculated that drunk people might not want to shell out for the services.

The abstract is here; it looks like the full study is not freely available. I tend to give Uber and its ilk the benefit of the doubt here, as they do provide an option for people who may not have, or may not think they have, any alternative to driving. It may be a few years before we can feel confident in an answer to this. In the meantime, add this to the pile.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Endorsement watch: The early work continues

The Chron continues its way-early rollout of general election endorsements by giving their blessing to four Justice of the Peace candidates.

HarrisCounty

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 1: Eric William Carter

The Democratic candidate Eric William Carter, 33, is our choice to replace vacating Judge Dale Gorczynski. This quick yet soft-spoken graduate of South Texas College of Law has the professional credentials and temperament to run this people’s court. An approachable demeanor is particularly important in a venue where many of the litigants are representing themselves. Carter promises to work with the community to develop a teen court to interest young people in the justice system and to educate them about how it works.

Justice of the Peace Precinct 3,Place 1: Joe Stephens

We traditionally view a law license as a prerequisite to serving as a justice of the peace, but Galena ISD School Board Trustee Joe Stephens has earned our endorsement because of his commitment to his community, his support from the outgoing judge and his opponent’s problems with legal ethics.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4, Place 1: Lincoln Goodwin

Republican Lincoln Goodwin – appointed to this bench in December 2014 by Commissioners Court – deserves a full elected term.

Justice of the Peace Precinct 5, Place 1: William “Bill” McLeod

Our vote for this bench goes to the only lawyer in the race: William “Bill” McLeod, a former special needs counselor who graduated from Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law. This court encompasses west Harris County and deserves a judge who is a licensed lawyer in good standing with the State Bar of Texas.

Well, that answers the question I asked last week about whether the Chron was legitimately starting early on endorsements. I think we can expect a regular schedule of these from now on, which is cool. That should allow for more focus on individual races. Good for them for being this organized.

As for the endorsements themselves, Stephens and McLeod are also Democrats. McLeod’s opponent is an incumbent, Russ Ridgway. The precinct in question is definitely Republican – I have 2008 data on it here – but not so much that it couldn’t be competitive in a year like this. These endorsements represent half of the JP races on the ballot this fall, though these are the only contested ones. Democrats have incumbents in precincts 2, 6, and 7, while a Republican presides in precinct 8.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 9

Musicals! Silly folk songs!

1. Got To Be Real – Cheryl Lynn
2. Potato – Cheryl Wheeler
3. The Foggy Dew – The Chieftains & Sinéad O’Connor
4. Something Real – China Anne McClain & Kelli Berglund
5. Any Moment – Chris Pine & Emily Blunt (from “Into The Woods”)
6. Darling Nikki – Christina Marrs
7. Does Your Mother Know – Christine Baranski & Philip Michael (from “Mamma Mia!”)
8. Bald Headed Men – Christine Lavin
9. Downtown – Petula Clark
10. The Little Things – Colbie Caillat

We have a lot of soundtrack music, since the girls like to get songs from movies that they watch. A lot of those songs are sung by women, because of the movies they like to see. The silly folk songs, one by Christine Lavin and one on an album (double album, actually) produced by Christine Lavin, is more my thing.

Posted in: Music.

Taking on Ted

Rep. Mike McCaul isn’t saying that he will, but he isn’t saying that he won’t, either.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, is not ruling out challenging U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018, but he’s emphasizing that he is not focused on it for now.

“Like Reagan said, never say never, but it’s not something I’m spending a whole lot of time thinking about right now,” McCaul told reporters Wednesday in Austin.

McCaul, the House Homeland Security Committee chairman, has been encouraged to take on Cruz following the Texas senator’s controversial showing last month at the Republican National Convention, where Cruz declined to endorse GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. Speaking with reporters at a book signing, McCaul acknowledged that “a lot of people” have urged him to challenge Cruz and said he was flattered by their support, but stressed he has nothing to do with the effort.

“It’s, I think, been sort of organic, an effort to draft, if you will,” said McCaul, who is advising Trump on national security. “But right now I’m really focused on my re-election to the Congress. I’m focused on advising the nominee to regain the White House and also maintaining a majority in the House of Representatives, which is critically important to the nation.”

Asked whether he has been satisfied with Cruz’s tenure in the Senate, McCaul said Cruz has “for the most part spent a lot of time running for president.”

“I think he also represents the state of Texas in the Senate,” McCaul told reporters. “I think that’s an important job as well, and so I think the presidential campaign’s over and it’s time to — I think governance is important. I think in Washington getting things for the great people of Texas done is an important job.”

Pressed on whether he was suggesting Cruz has not always been focused on Texas, McCaul replied, “Again, I think he’s been focused on his ambition running for president.”

Nice. The Trib reported on this chatter before, and I’ll say what I was thinking at the time – it’s nice to imagine, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Like Rep. Joaquin Castro, who is also considering a challenge to Cruz in 2018, McCaul would have to give up his seat in Congress to try to take the step up. That’s not nothing, especially given that McCaul, now in his seventh term, has accrued some seniority. He’s also filthy rich, so if he decides he’s in he’d be able to pay for it, regardless of how fundraising goes. PPP has some not-terribly-encouraging news for both of them, slightly better for Castro than McCaul though I personally wouldn’t put too much stock in anything 2018-related at this early date. Maybe McCaul could win, and maybe he couldn’t – “moderate” Republicans do still win primaries in this state, though that’s a proposition I’m seldom willing to wager on. Whatever the case, it’s best to recall that “moderate” here is relative. McCaul would almost certainly be John Cornyn 2.0 if elected to the Senate, right down to his Cornynesque executive-style hair. Temper your expectations accordingly.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Laredo plastic bag ban overturned

Ugh.

plastic-bag

The Fourth Court of Appeals on Wednesday sided with merchants and free-market groups who argued that Laredo’s ban on single-use bags is illegal because it is pre-empted by state law regulating solid waste disposal.

The 2-1 ruling overturned a lower court’s decision, the latest setback for environmentalists and advocates of local control in Texas.

Laredo, which estimates it once went through some 120 million plastic bags each year, is among several Texas cities — including Austin, Fort Stockton and Port Aransas — that have sought to regulate them to reduce waste.

The city argued that its ban was designed to beautify the city and reduce clogs in storm drains, not to manage solid waste as barred by the state law.

The lawsuit, filed by the Laredo Merchants Association, was the first challenge to such a ban to be heard in court. And it triggered briefs from 20 Texas lawmakers, a prominent free-market group and the Texas Municipal League — who squabbled over cities’ power to regulate commerce.

Wednesday’s ruling only affects Laredo’s ordinance for now, but it gives legal momentum to bag ban opponents elsewhere.

[…]

The state law in question is a small piece of Texas’ Health and Safety Code. Local governments, it says, can’t adopt a regulation to “prohibit or restrict, for solid waste management purposes, the sale or use of a container or package in a manner not authorized by state law.”

Laredo contended that its bag ban’s purpose — “prevention of litter” — did not fall within the “management purposes” barred under the law.

The appeals court disagreed.

“The Ordinance does exactly what the Act intends to prevent — regulate the sale or use of plastic bags for solid waste management purposes,” Justice Marialyn Barnard wrote for the majority.

See here for the background. I’m sorry, I know I’m not a lawyer, but this is a ridiculous reading of the law. You can see here for the bill in question, and see here for its text. I’d bet you a dollar right now that if you tracked down the key people on that bill – author, sponsor, and conference committee members – none of them would claim it was their intent to forbid cities from banning or taxing plastic bags. The idea never would have occurred to them. It just boggles my mind that people who claim to be “conservatives”, who claim to decry “judicial activism”, who claim to oppose “big government meddling”, could view this as a victory for their principles. Do we want the Legislature to set the solid waste pickup schedules for cities like Laredo, too? I don’t get this at all. But here we are, and far too many of our Republican legislative overlords can’t wait to get to Austin in January and pass bills to do more things like this. This is where we are these days.

By the way, to continue with my hobby horse about the appeals courts and the opportunity that this year’s election provides: That 2-1 decision? The two are both Republicans, and the one is a Democrat. Now, there’s nothing that would keep the Supreme Court from overruling a 2-1 decision that had gone the other way, but still. This is what I’m talking about.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Senate whinefest about ballot propositions

Spare me.

crybaby

Members of a state Senate committee called Monday for changes in Texas law to prevent cities from thwarting or blocking citizen petition drives, a key issue for conservative and tea party groups in Houston and other cities in recent years.

At a meeting of the Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee, members made it clear they support changes to ensure that ballot language is not deceptive or misleading and to keep cities from using outside law firms already doing city business to drag out legal proceedings against citizen petitioners.

Representatives of Texas’ approximately 300 home-rule cities cautioned against making changes to the current process or tipping the laws too far in favor of citizen groups, saying that could dilute local control in favor of state mandates.

Tension between citizen activists and local officials who often are the targets of their ire has been bubbling across Texas in recent years, thanks to a boost of tea party activism. Much of the testimony at Monday’s hearing centered on contentious petition drives and ballot fights in Houston, including the city’s controversial drainage fee levied more than decade ago and the repeal of Houston’s equal rights ordinance, known as HERO, in 2015.

[…]

Austin lawyer Andy Taylor, who fought the City of Houston before the Texas Supreme Court on ballot issues such HERO and the city’s drainage fee, told the committee how citizens who have had to go to court on their petition drives have had to pay hefty legal fees even though they won the legal battles.

Taylor testified that the cost of one case alone totalled $650,000. Bruce Hotze, a Houston businessman who has fought the City of Houston in another case, said he has spent well over $350,000 and the case is not over yet, because the city will not implement a charter change approved by voters.

Witnesses testified that other issues include petition signatures being invalidated in questionable ways, and cities using outside attorneys to increase the costs to citizen petitioners, a move that could discourage them from pursuing an action the city leadership opposes.

Let’s remember three things:

1. Andy Taylor’s fight over the drainage fee has been about nullifying the petition-driven referendum that was approved by the voters. The claims about “confusing language”, which were rejected by a district and appeals court before finally being bought by a credulous and activist Supreme Court, were raised after the election, by people who didn’t like the outcome.

2. That same Supreme Court put the anti-HERO referendum on the ballot without considering a lower court ruling that the petition effort had been rife with petition sheets that did not meet state law and widespread forgery. It never even held a hearing to allow an argument from the city, but ruled solely on a motion from the plaintiffs.

3. Apparently, this entire hearing occurred without anyone mentioning the Denton fracking referendum, in which yet another petition-driven referendum that was ratified by the voters was nullified, first by a judge and then by legislators like Paul Bettencourt.

The point here is that this isn’t about process, and it sure isn’t about The Will Of The People being stifled. It’s about the voters doing things that state Republicans don’t like. It’s about cities having a different vision and priorities for themselves than Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and the Legislature do. Abbott et al don’t accept the authority of the federal government, and they don’t accept the authority of local government. That’s what this is about.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Metro celebrates ridership increase one year after new bus network rollout

Leah Binkovitz reports.

HoustonMetro

From September 2015 (the first full month after the switch was implemented) to July 2016 (the most recent complete month), METRO saw its ridership on local bus and light-rail add an additional 4.5 million boardings — a 6.8 percent increase.

The numbers are more modest when looking at local bus ridership alone, which saw a 1.2 percent growth in ridership during that period. The light-rail system’s Red Line saw a more sizable 16.6 percent increase.

“METRO clearly views the buses and rails as an entire system, not separate entities, which is a really productive frame,” said Kyle Shelton, program manager at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research. “They are mutually beneficial and improving the service level on both will likely keep ridership going up.”

Shelton said the lower rate of growth for the local bus routes was unsurprising. “Many of the routes didn’t change that much for many people, and those that did may have resulted in loss of riders — so overall an increase is a good first step.”

[…]

Indeed, local weekend bus ridership is one of the new system’s strongest areas, continuing a trend that begun almost immediately after the redesign was implemented. From June 2015 to June 2016 — the most recent METRO has released more detailed ridership data — local buses saw a 13 percent increase in ridership on Saturdays and a 34 percent increase on Sundays, according to METRO, with similarly strong numbers for rail as well.

Local weekday bus ridership actually dropped over that same time period by 1 percent. However, a 14 percent increase in light-rail ridership amounted to an overall weekday ridership increase of 3 percent. The growth in rail supports Patman’s focus on the new bus system’s strong connections to the growing network of lines. And she said, there’s more to come for the system.

METRO’s data charts boardings, and not trips. Someone who transfers once – in other words, someone who takes two buses – is counted twice. This is because METRO relies on automatic counters on buses and rail cars for these numbers. Because the New Bus Network was intended, in part, to reduce the need for transfers, then theoretically that increased efficiency could also contribute to lower ridership figures.

Overall, total METRO ridership increased from 39.5 million boardings in the first half of 2015 to 42.5 million boardings in the first half of 2016. That’s an increase of 7.5 percent. Jarrett Walker, a consultant who aided with the bus network design, as well as METRO officials, have previously said the aim of the bus network overhaul was to increase ridership by 20 percent after two years of operation.

“We’re focused on better bus stops, more bus shelters [and] improved accessibility,” Patman said. The agency plans to ask for funding for 25 percent more bus shelters in in its next budget.

Spieler said the agency is also in the early stages of planning for more express service. “I’m really thinking of how we built on it,” Spieler said of the one-year old network. “One of the things we’ve talked about is adding more express service, adding more signature routes, [bus rapid transit] routes to sort of make trips faster,” he said. Those routes would likely strengthen major corridors, including along Westheimer Road, the Energy Corridor, downtown and the Medical Center. “That’s an overlay on the network and it’s really possible because of the network,” he said.

I don’t have a whole lot to add to this. We’ve been seeing the numbers as we’ve gone along, and they had all been pointing in this direction. I expect continued growth, with jumps possible when the Harrisburg Line extension is finished and (assuming it doesn’t get sidetracked) the Uptown BRT line debuts. The other BRT possibilities that Christoph Spieler mentions are exciting, if not yet formed. In the meantime, focusing on better bus stops, and the sidewalks around them, will go a long way towards ensuring this trend continues. Well done.

On a personal note, I can say that I take the bus a lot more often now than I did a year ago. I work downtown and carpool with my wife, and had always taken the bus home one day a week because of a regular after-work errand she runs. With the new bus network, I find it completely takes the concern out of pretty much all other variations in our schedules, because one of us can always take the bus home with a minimum of fuss. I’ve taken the bus home from after-work social outings, and I’ve taken the bus to and from after work doctor’s appointments; my wife took the bus one time to a lunch appointment, when I needed the car during that time. None of this was possible before the change. I can’t speak for anyone else, but from my perspective this change has been a big win.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Evan McMullin to sue for ballot access in Texas

You know, that guy who recently turned up as the latest NeverTrump dreamboat? He wants on the ballot in Texas.

Will not be on the ballot

Will not be on the ballot

Independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, an ex-CIA officer and congressional policy wonk who launched his campaign last week to offer “Never Trump” Republicans a conservative option, faces a steep political challenge gaining enough support to affect the November election.

And by jumping into the race so late, McMullin will need to clear significant legal hurdles, as well. Filing deadlines for independent candidates in more than half of the states have already passed, and several more deadlines are fast approaching.

That will mean going to court — including in Texas, where an independent had to gather nearly 80,000 signatures by May.

“Our intention in Texas is to file a legal challenge, and we think that the great people of Texas will agree with us that there shouldn’t be artificial boundaries on the kinds of people that can run for president,” said Joel Searby, the campaign’s chief strategist.

Noting that Texas’ May 9 petition deadline — by far the earliest in the country — fell long before the Democratic and Republican nominating conventions, Searby argues that prospective independent candidates were unable to take into consideration the choices of the two major parties before deciding whether to run.

“There’s just so many restrictions on ballot access in Texas, and Texas is generally a very open and independent and free-thinking kind of place,” Searby said. “So we don’t think the people of Texas are going to want to keep that law.”

A general counsel is coordinating the campaign’s ballot access efforts across multiple states, Searby said, and the campaign has also been in touch with Texas lawyers. Garland attorney Matthew Sawyer, who worked on Texas business magnate Ross Perot’s Reform Party presidential run in 1996, has reportedly been involved with the effort. Reached by phone last week, Sawyer directed all questions to the campaign.

Ballot access experts are split on McMullin’s chances of winning a federal lawsuit. To Richard Winger, the editor of Ballot Access News and a longtime activist on the issue, McMullin’s case is a slam dunk, particularly in Texas.

“Texas is in a class by itself. The Texas deadline is impossible to defend,” Winger said. Pointing to the later deadline for independent candidates running for offices in Texas other than president, Winger contends there is “powerful evidence that the presidential deadline is unconstitutional, and that’s all he needs to show.”

But prominent Texas election attorney Buck Wood, who has represented several state-level candidates challenging independent ballot restrictions in the past, sees it exactly the other way.

“I don’t see any possibility of him getting on the ballot in Texas,” Wood said. “Just because you made your decision too late is not an excuse. You have to go back and say, even had we made the decision back then, it still would have been so onerous as to have been unconstitutional, and the chances of that are nil.”

The story recounts the process for getting on the ballot as an independent in Texas, and also notes that Ralph Nader tried and failed to sue his way onto the ballot in 2004 after coming up short in the signature-collecting process. My money’s with Buck Wood on this one, but I don’t really care one way or another. Nobody knows who Evan McMullin is – he basically got zero percent in that PPP poll – and he’s extremely unlikely to raise the kind of dough to become any better known to Texas voters. If I had to guess, I’d say that any votes he does get will come primarily at the expense of Gary Johnson, who is already an alternative for some NeverTrumpers who can’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton. McMullin could do what Nader ultimately did in Texas and file a declaration to be counted as a write-in candidate, but the deadline for that is Monday, and he doesn’t have a running mate yet as required. So, you know, tick tock tick tock. I’ll keep an eye on this because that’s what I do, but I don’t expect anything interesting to come of it. Link via Burkablog.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Pension reform update

Things are happening.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Longtime firefighters pension fund chairman Todd Clark has retired from the department and resigned his post, a move City Hall observers interpret as perhaps the clearest sign yet that Mayor Sylvester Turner’s push for pension reform may succeed.

The municipal pension also is in upheaval, having bought out former director Rhonda Smith’s contract for nearly $438,700 and replaced her with David Long, a controversial figure who played a central role in the 2001 benefit changes that created the city’s pension funding shortfall, a gap that has now reached $5.6 billion.

The mayor last week sidestepped questions about whether Clark or Smith’s departures were harbingers of reform, saying the results of his negotiations matter more than who is at the table. Though sources with knowledge of the talks say they have intensified in recent months, Turner gave a cautious assessment of his progress.

“We’re having conversations, and I think the conversations have been constructive,” Turner said. “This is not an easy subject matter, and I’m under no illusions. I mean, it’s hard. It’s hard. Since 2002, no previous mayor has resolved it, especially on a long-term basis. But we shall see. I’ll take it one day at a time.”

[…]

Sources with knowledge of the talks said Clark was upset when he put forward a reform proposal earlier this year that went further than any of his previous offers, only to have Turner seek further changes.

Seeking more optimistic news from Austin, Clark then met with state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston. But the sources said Clark came away from that discussion having concluded that hoping for the best in Austin during next year’s legislative session would be even riskier.

Confronted with the choice of agreeing to unpalatable changes or risking an even less palatable outcome in Austin, the sources said, Clark chose to step down.

Huffman said she learned of Clark’s retirement, which came shortly after their meeting, only when he announced it publicly. But Huffman said in her meetings with all three pension boards she has urged them to strike a deal with Turner.

“I’ve made it clear to them that I strongly urge them to sit down and to work this out, that the politics-as-usual was not going to work and that it was only fair to their members and to their people that are going to retire one day that this system be sound,” Huffman said. “I was firm about it and will continue to be firm about it, because they have to work it out.”

Huffman said she has tried to act as an arbiter, saying she would prefer the funds “fix what they have” rather than switching to a 401(k)-style system abhorred by workers as much as it is loved by some conservative lawmakers.

“There is a feeling that there will be good-faith efforts to get something done. The tough part, of course, is always bringing along the membership of these groups,” she said. “I understand that’s the tough part, but they need to, given the facts – and the facts are that the system is unsustainable. It hurts to fix it, but it would hurt a lot more if the system were to collapse.”

Todd Clark was a strong defender of the status quo for the HFRRF, so his departure could indeed be an indicator of how the wind is blowing these days. That probably suggests that the firefighters themselves are – ready for? resigned to? some other verb? – change as well. Mayor Turner seems to keep things like this close to his vest, so we’ll know more when he’s ready to make an announcement. In the meantime, this is your Conventional Wisdom Update for the week.

Posted in: Local politics.

Too many kids are not getting vaccinated

We let this happen, thanks to the fervor of a vocal minority.

The number of Texans who exempt their children from vaccination for non-medical reasons rose nearly 9 percent last school year, continuing a now 12-year-long trend that public health officials worry could eventually leave communities vulnerable to outbreaks of preventable diseases.

The new numbers represent a 19-fold increase since 2003, the first year that Texas law allowed parents to decline state immunization requirements for “reasons of conscience.” The number of such exemptions are still small, a little under 45,000 of the state’s roughly 5.5 million schoolchildren, but they’ve spiked from less than 3,000 that first year, according to the new state data.

“The trend is going in the wrong direction,” said Anna C. Dragsbaek, president and CEO of The Immunization Partnership, a pro-vaccine group. “It’s time for the community to step up and take action on this very troubling trend.”

Concern has picked up in recent years amid the re-emergence of diseases such as measles and whooping cough. A large measles outbreak last year, linked to an initial exposure at Disneyland in California, sparked particular distress.

Texas is one of 18 states that allows waivers of school vaccine requirements based on parents’ conscience or personal beliefs. Only two states – Mississippi and West Virginia – don’t grant exemptions from immunization requirements on religious grounds, and all states allow exemptions for medical conditions, such as a compromised immune system.

[…]

Pushed by the Immunization Partnership, the 2015 Legislature considered a bill that would have required the Texas Department of State Health Services to post the exemption numbers of every school on its website.

Under the current law, the department is only required to post aggregate numbers for each school district.

The bill passed the House but died in the Senate. Dragsbaek, impressed at the traction the legislation got, said the partnership will push hard on behalf of any such bill again in 2017.

The bill to require school-specific information called for the inclusion of delinquency numbers, also a big problem. At HISD, for instance, more than 3 percent of children in 2015-2016 – who hadn’t obtained a conscientious exemption – had not received at least one of each vaccine by the district’s age-specified deadline. Enforcement of such deadlines is up to the principal.

“Eleven percent of HISD’s prekindergarten students hadn’t received their first dose of measles vaccine 90 days into the school year,” said Dr. Susan Wootton, a pediatrician at University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston who is leading an HISD task force on immunization delinquency. “That needs to be fixed. Nepal does better than that.”

Harris County’s overall conscientious exemption rate is still relatively low, just 0.62 percent, but it’s doubled in the last five years. So has Montgomery County’s, now 1.73 percent. Brazoria County has gone from 0.30 to 0.80. Gaines County in West Texas has the state’s highest conscientious exemption rate, nearly 5 percent.

That would be a worthwhile bill, but the real goal needs to be to eliminate the “personal belief” exemptions, which are an increasing threat to public health. Unfortunately, the pushback on that last session was ferocious, and that has emboldened the anti-vaxxers. I don’t know how much optimism I have about the school-specific information bill as a result. There are plenty of people who would like to see better vaccination laws, but the energy and organization is on the other side. It would help to get some leadership from, say, the Governor’s office, but he has none to offer, so the rest of us are on our own.

Posted in: Technology, science, and math.

Texas blog roundup for the week of August 15

The Texas Progressive Alliance announces that all of its members have renamed themselves “Simone” as we bring you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Texas to appeal voter ID ruling to SCOTUS

Sure, whatever.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas plans to file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging a lower court decision that found the state’s voter ID law discriminates against minorities.

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office said Tuesday it will appeal the ruling to the high court “to protect the integrity of voting in the State of Texas.”

[…]

Texas had yet to file its appeal with the Supreme Court as of early Tuesday afternoon.

Chad Dunn, a lawyer representing U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, and the League of United Latin American Citizens in the case, said the state’s appeal will lead to more taxpayer money being wasted on litigation. The state has spent around $3.5 million on legal fees related to its voter ID law.

“Every court that has reviewed this case so far has ruled against Texas,” said Dunn.

Just a reminder, the Fifth Circuit ruling was handed down on July 20, nearly four weeks ago. Since then, the state and the plaintiffs have agreed to a remediation plan to conform to the ruling, and yesterday the state released its detailed plan for voter education and elected official training on the new ruling. The timing of this is, shall we say, odd. Rick Hasen speculates:

Seemed clear from the filings there would be no emergency SCOTUS action. And if there were, I’m sure the SCOTUS emergency review would be denied because (1) Texas waited too long given the imminent election; (2) it has started an education program for voters and training of election officials on how the new rules work; and (3) there are not 5 votes on the 4-4 Supreme Court for such relief.

I also expect cert. will be denied eventually. Liberals will like the rulings. And conservatives won’t find a fifth vote to overturn this finding on the merits.

This is so even though there is something of a Circuit split on how to apply Section 2 of the VRA to new vote denial claims.

I guess this is a matter of playing the long game, hoping to get a reversal at some point in the future? Also in the “curious timing” department is the fact that North Carolina filed an “emergency” appeal to SCOTUS over its voter ID law, which they took 17 days to get to. Not that much of an emergency, it would seem, but what do I know? Anything is possible, but the most likely outcome at this point is that nothing will change for either state, at least for this election. After that, we’ll see who gets inaugurated next January 21 and (one hopes) finally gets a ninth Justice confirmed. The DMN, the Lone Star Project, Think Progress, and SCOTUSBlog have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

PPP: Trump 44, Clinton 38

We knew this poll was coming, and it confirms what we have been seeing elsewhere.

PPP’s new Texas poll finds a relatively tight race, at least on the curve of recent Presidential election results in the state. Donald Trump leads with 44% to 38% for Hillary Clinton, 6% for Gary Johnson, 2% for Jill Stein, and less than half a percent (0) for Evan McMullin. In a head to head contest Trump leads Clinton 50-44 in the state, which Mitt Romney won by 16 points in 2012.

A Democratic victory in Texas this year remains a stretch but within the numbers there are signs of Democrats being positioned to become seriously competitive there in the years ahead. Trump’s lead is based entirely on his holding a 63-33 advantage among seniors. With voters under 65, Clinton leads him 49-45. And when you look just specifically at voters under 45, Clinton leads Trump 60-35. Older voters are overwhelmingly responsible for the Republican advantage in Texas, and generational change is likely to help Democrats become more competitive.

A big piece of that generational change is the increasing racial diversity of the electorate in Texas. Trump has a 69/25 lead with white voters but the reason the state’s so competitive overall is that among non-white voters Clinton has a 73-21 lead, including a 68-27 edge with the state’s booming Hispanic population.

Clinton’s unpopular in Texas, as you would expect, with a 36/59 favorability rating. But Trump’s not a whole lot better off with only 40% of voters seeing him favorably to 53% with a negative opinion. The tax return issue continues to plague Trump with 64% of voters thinking he needs to release his returns to only 25% who don’t think it’s necessary for him to. Even Trump’s supporters, by a 43/41 spread, think he should release them. Another issue that has the potential to cause Trump problems down the road is if he refuses to participate in the debates as scheduled. 77% of voters think he needs to do that to only 14% who don’t think he needs to and among his own supporters there’s an even stronger sentiment- 82/12- that Trump needs to participate. If Trump is stubborn about that it could cause the bottom to fall out on his support even further.

The full polling memo is here. A few thoughts:

– If President Obama were running against Trump, he would be trailing by only two points, 48-46. Let that sink in for a moment. Obama’s approval/disapproval numbers are 42/54, which is a tiny bit better than Trump’s favorable/unfavorable numbers of 40/53.

– This is Clinton’s high-water mark in Texas so far, which puts her in Obama’s polling range from 2012, while Trump continues to lag way behind Romney’s poll numbers. All this is of course consistent with the race being closer now than it was four years ago, but it’s not yet suggestive of Clinton doing better than Obama did. PPP did poll Trump/Clinton straight up, and the result there was 50/44, which is more in line with her exceeding the 2012 level, but it’s not a two-candidate race, so all that shows is that she has the potential to grow.

– Trump’s numbers among white voters are closer to what Romney got, but still a few points behind it. The 69-25 figure cited about is from the Trump/Clinton two-person choice; with all four candidates listed he leads by a more modest 64-21 among whites. He does have the potential to grow as well, as Gary Johnson gets 5% and 8% are undecided. It’s also well within reason that this just portends a decrease in Republican turnout. It’s still too early to say.

– This is the first poll of Texas I’ve seen that includes all four candidates. Johnson’s 6% and Stein’s 2% would significantly exceed their numbers from 2012 if they hold up, but as we know from national polling data, third party numbers tend to be exaggerated in polls compared to what ultimately happens at the ballot box. This is a weird year, of course, so one wants to tread carefully in making any broad claims. Unfortunately, there’s no basis for comparison in the 2012 numbers, as none of the polls from September onward included Johnson or Stein, who represented the L and G parties that year as well. The one data point we have is in the UT/Trib poll from October 12, 2012, in the Senate race (see page 3), where Lib candidate John Jay Myers polled at 3% and Green David Collins was at 2%. In actual voting, Myers wound up with 2.06% and Collins with 0.86%, higher than their Presidential counterparts but lower than their poll totals. Make of that what you will.

– The age split is encouraging from a Democratic perspective, but old people vote, and a 20-year timeline as suggested in the polling memo is forever. The Democrats’ base problem remains the same – base turnout hasn’t grown, at least in non-Presidential years, since 2002. If Democratic turnout increases this year, then perhaps there is some hope to get an increase in 2018. Of course, one could have made the same claim after 2008, and we know how that went. Solving the base turnout issue is the Hilbert problem for Texas Dems.

PDiddie has more.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Strange HISD referendum to be on the ballot

This will be weird.

BagOfMoney

Because of the state’s byzantine financing system, HISD will have to either send almost $162 million in local taxpayers’ money to the state or stand by to see some of the district’s most valuable properties assigned to other school districts by the Texas Education Agency. (Local businesses aren’t too wild about the idea either; HISD has some of the lowest tax rates around.)

In addition, as trustee Mike Lunceford pointed out, losing those properties would just pile on the debt for HISD taxpayers. “We have bonds we have sold based on some of those assets, and [without them] we’re going to have to raise taxes again,” he said.

The board could decide to do nothing and hope it could lobby the upcoming session of the Legislature to change its mind — although attempts to change the school financing system in this state have failed for years — but as Lunceford put it: “If we vote it down, we’re betting that the Legislature will do something right.”

The other sticking point was that if trustees don’t adopt one of the options offered by state law, they can’t set a tax rate. The only way to get the measure before voters was for trustees to vote to send the money to the state, which gives taxpayers a chance to say yes or no to that in the general election on November 8.

So after much gnashing of teeth that the state could do this to a district that has so many kids on free- or reduced-price lunches, school board members passed the measure on a 6-0 vote (by that time three trustees had left) calling for voters to decide the issue. The measure, with admittedly confusing language (set by the state), asks voters to give the district permission to purchase $162 million in tax credits from the state. As trustee Greg Meyers pointed out, the word “credits” sounds great and voters may completely misinterpret what they’re being asked to do.

See here, here, and here for some background. This Chron story from last week adds some details.

If voters say “no” to sending money to the state, the Texas education commissioner then has the power to detach the Houston Independent School District’s highest-value properties and to assign them to property-poor districts. That means the owners of these properties – likely downtown high-rises – would be paying taxes to another school district.

The detachment, however, would not be immediate. The commissioner’s actions would not take effect until July 3, 2017, according to a timeline spelled out in a Texas Education Agency manual.

The Houston school board’s attorney, David Thompson, said during a board meeting Monday that the state Legislature reconvenes in January, before the education commissioner would act. That timeline would give lawmakers the opportunity to adjust the school-finance system if they wanted to do so, Thompson said.

[…]

The district would have to start paying the state in February, if voters approve the recapture measure.

Houston-area districts that paid recapture last year include Galveston, Spring Branch, Deer Park and Sheldon. Galveston ISD paid the most among those, totaling $12.3 million.

HISD officials argue that while the district has significant property wealth, about three-quarters of the students in the public school system come from low-income families.

HISD board member Greg Meyers called a funding system that punishes the state’s largest district “criminal.”

“You can count on it that I will speak my mind,” Meyers said, adding later that he is conflicted about how people should vote. He said he has “serious angst” about having to send money to the state but is concerned that the district could lose property for taxing purposes to repay bonds if the commissioner is forced to act.

Just remember, this is the Legislature’s fault, with a big assist from our gutless Supreme Court. The thought of doing an interview about this ballot item is already giving me a nosebleed. I can’t wait to see what organizations form to support and/or oppose this.

Posted in: School days.

Microbrewery lawsuit heard in court

I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

beer

Just how much is it worth for that Velvet Hammer or other local craft brew to make it to your favorite bar or convenience store?

That’s one of several key questions that came before a state district court Monday, as a group of craft brewers — including Peticolas Brewing of Dallas and Revolver Brewing of Granbury — challenged a contentious component of the state’s arcane alcohol regulations.

Namely, the craft brewers want to overturn a 2013 law that says they cannot accept financial compensation for their distribution rights.

In Texas and in many other states, the alcohol industry operates under a three-tier system: producers, distributors and retailers. That arrangement, which dates to the end of Prohibition, seeks to eliminate potential problems by keeping each operation independent from the others.

[…]

In 2013, the Legislature passed several new alcohol laws, many involving the burgeoning craft beer scene. Though multiple bills helped the upstarts, particularly brew pubs, there’s little doubt that the distribution rights piece boosted that middle tier of the system.

Consider that at least one brewery — Live Oak Brewing in Austin — sold its distribution rights for the Houston area for $250,000 before the law went into effect. Now, that would be impossible.

Some craft brewers, if they meet certain criteria, can use what’s called self-distribution as a work-around. But the restrictions that come along with that practice can make it difficult for some brewers to expand their reach, particularly across the state.

Adding to the frustration of the craft brewers is that a distributor, once it has the territorial rights to a certain brewery, can then sell those rights to another distributor. So what can’t be measured, by law, in dollars on the front end carries significant value on the back end.

“There’s just no rational basis for the law,” Michael Peticolas, owner of his eponymous brewery in the Design District, said in an interview after Monday’s hearing.

See here for some background. The lawsuit was filed in 2014, and its root is in SB639, which passed during the 2013 session at the same time as the other bills that allowed microbreweries to sell their wares at their home locations. The Statesman adds on:

Karen Watkins, a lawyer from the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, defended the law on behalf of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and said the state must not weaken the current regulatory system.

In Texas, the sales of beer and liquor are governed by post-Prohibition rules that maintain strict boundaries between manufacturers, distributors and retailers. In the three-tier system, makers of beer, wine and spirits create their products, distributors sell them, and bars and other retailers peddle the beverages to the public.

“The government’s interest is in preserving the integrity to the three tier system,” Watkins said. She said the state intends to prevent any overlap between the manufacturing tier and the distributing tier.

Watkins said the law helps the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, for example, quickly remove tainted products from store shelves, if needed.

Arguing the case for the brewers, Matt Miller, an attorney for the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice, said the case isn’t about the three tier system, but about fairness.

“It enriches distributors at the expense of craft brewers,” Miller said.

Miller said the law prevents many brewers from selling their products in some markets, which has the effect of providing less choice to consumers and fewer opportunities to expand for craft brewers that choose not to give away distribution rights.

As you know, I think the three-tier system is an archaic holdout from the Prohibition days that do nothing to enhance competition. Quite the reverse, in fact. Attorney Watkins went so far as to imply that success by the plaintiffs in this case would lead to organized crime, which thankfully the judge pushed back on. I’m rooting for the plaintiffs, as I’m sure you could guess. The judge says she expects to make a ruling in the next few weeks.

Posted in: Food, glorious food, Legal matters.