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Show Business for Ugly People

Someone needs to sue Blake Farenthold

That’s my response to this.

Blake Farenthold

Four months after U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold promised to repay an $84,000 sexual harassment settlement funded by taxpayers — and 11 days after the Republican resigned his Corpus Christi seat — he has yet to write a check. And with Farenthold out of public office and increasingly out of the public eye, there’s little anyone can do to force him.

Farenthold pledged last winter to personally repay the cash paid out by the federal government to a former staffer, Lauren Greene, who sued him for sexual harassment in 2014. When news of the settlement surfaced in December, Farenthold told a local TV station he’d reimburse the money that same week, saying “I didn’t do anything wrong, but I also don’t want taxpayers to be on the hook for this.” In January, he said he would wait to repay the money after seeing what changes Congress would make to policies around the issue, saying he wanted to seek legal counsel.

Then, he resigned abruptly on April 6 — days before the House Ethics Committee, which was investigating his misconduct, would have released its findings in his case, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who has led efforts to reform Congress’s sexual harassment complaint process. After leaving public office, he immediately shut down his social media accounts and went silent. Requests for comment to his former staff were not returned.

The House committee no longer has jurisdiction to investigate Farenthold, though its members called on him “in the strongest possible terms” to return the money. But there’s no legal avenue to force Farenthold to repay the money — meaning the only option is “public shame,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

“He does not seem like someone who is easily shamed,” Libowitz said. “When this came to light, he said that he would pay it back, then started looking for more and more reasons to delay the payment. It became pretty clear that if he wasn’t forced to pay it back — which legally he’s not required to — he didn’t seem all that interested in it.”

See here and here for the background. The story doesn’t even mention the possibility of a lawsuit, so I could be completely out to lunch here – as we well know, I Am Not A Lawyer. All I can say is that some crazier lawsuits than what I am suggesting have gotten traction in the courts lately, so why not take a shot at it? Surely there’s a taxpayer out there with some time on their hands and the desire to throw a little sand in Blake Farenthold’s gears.

Sid Miller and the unqualified creep

I missed this when it came out last Friday, and now that I’ve seen it I wish I was still blissfully ignorant of it.

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller in late 2016 appointed to the state’s Rural Health Task Force a former physician and Miller campaign donor who had his medical license revoked or suspended in three states.

In Iowa, Rick Ray Redalen’s medical license was first suspended when he was convicted of perjury in a case involving his marriage to his 15-year-old former stepdaughter. The license was later revoked for good for failure to report a malpractice suit, medical board records show.

Redalen, who calls himself “the Maverick Doctor,” said he was introduced to Miller several years ago by Todd M. Smith, a lobbyist who has reported making hundreds of thousands of dollars from Redalen’s company and is Miller’s longtime political strategist.

Redalen, who donated heavily to Miller’s campaign months before his appointment, said he has used the unpaid task force position to advocate for expanded access to telemedicine — a service offered by one of his companies. Redalen said he never expected any favors in exchange for his contributions to Miller.

Miller “is one of the first actual political people that I have met that talks constantly about improving health care in rural Texas and among rural Texans. Most people aren’t interested in that,” Redalen, 75, said.

[…]

Redalen has not practiced medicine for years but hit it big in the medical business nonetheless. In 1996, he founded a company called QuestRx, which now goes by ExitCare and was sold to Elsevier in 2012. The company provides a widely used tool that provides information to patients as they are discharged from medical facilities.

As a doctor, Redalen worked in emergency rooms and as a primary care doctor and has had his license suspended or revoked in Minnesota, Iowa and Louisiana.

The disciplinary action against Redalen by Minnesota’s medical board was due to “psychiatric and drug problems,” according to a 1995 Des Moines Register article.

Redalen’s legal troubles in Iowa stemmed from his relationship with his stepdaughter, whom he married in Tarrant County while on a trip to Texas in September 1988. He had been married to her mother, who committed suicide in 1987. In 1986, Redalen pleaded guilty to assault after authorities said he struck his wife with a rifle butt and pointed a gun at sheriff’s deputies, according to the Register article.

Emphasis mine. There’s more, mostly about Redalen’s financial contributions to Miller, so go read it. I highlighted the bits I did because I want to focus on the fact that in 1988, when he was 45 years old, this man married his 15-year-old former stepdaughter, whose mother had committed suicide the year before, when she was 14. One can debate, as some experts do in the Statesman story, whether these financial arrangements constitute a violation of campaign finance regulations, and one can discuss, as Erica Greider does, Miller’s long history of not caring about his mostly rural consituents, if one wants. I can’t get past the fact that Rick Ray Redalen was a 45-year-old man who married a 15-year-old girl, a 15-year-old girl who used to be his STEPDAUGHTER. I’m unable to think of a good reason why a decent person would want to form a relationship with such a man, whether political or financial or otherwise. Sid Miller is quite infamous for questioning on social media the morals of people who are not like him. Frankly, anyone whose morals are different than Sid Miller’s should be happy about that.

Abbott’s anti-anti-redistricting task force

Alternate title: Dude with deep pockets gives Greg Abbott a wad of cash to stop those evil Democrats.

As Gov. Greg Abbott sounds the alarm about Democratic efforts to influence the post-2020 redistricting process, he is being backed up by a new super PAC led by a key ally.

The super PAC, #ProjectRedTX, has quietly raised a half a million dollars — from a single donor — as it looks to ensure Republican dominance in Texas through the next round of redistricting. Those efforts are ramping up as the state prepares to defend its current congressional and state House district maps before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The group is being helmed by Wayne Hamilton, Abbott’s 2014 campaign manager, according to a person familiar with the effort. Hamilton, a former longtime executive director of the Texas GOP, has been involved in politics for the past three redistricting cycles.

“Our Mission is to create and support effective efforts to secure Republican representation in redistricting across the state,” the super PAC says on its website. “This mission includes making expenditures to support candidates. Additionally, we will provide support for redistricting effort with expert demographers, statisticians and legal counsel.”

[…]

The super PAC was formed in April of last year but did not show any activity until more recently. At the end of January, it reported collecting two donations — $200,000 in November and $300,000 in December — from a single person: Michael Porter, a retiree from the tiny Hill Country town of Doss.

See here for the background. This dude has written a big check to Greg Abbott before, and I’m sure he’ll do it again the next time Abbott sends him a scary email. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Congressional maps from an alternate universe

FiveThirtyEight goes a little nuts.

The max Dem map

Drawing clever political districts is one way politicians in Texas and elsewhere avoid accountability — by protecting themselves from voters who disagree with them. They do this by stuffing weirdly shaped geographic districts with voters who agree with them.

A new examination of redistricting shows how effective legislators have done that nationally — and in Texas, and how changing the rules for drawing political maps could dramatically change who represents you at the state and federal Capitols.

FiveThirtyEight unleashed a fascinating series of maps for their Gerrymandering Project series Thursday as the U.S. Supreme Court considers several cases that could solidify or disrupt redistricting practices in Texas and other states. In two closely watched cases, the court is deciding whether it’s possible — as a matter of law — to draw political districts that are so partisan they strip voters of their constitutional rights.

The data-centric news site crunched the numbers and lines and devised seven different ways to draw congressional maps for all 50 states: maximizing Republican seats; maximizing Democratic seats; matching each district’s partisan lean to that of the state overall; maximizing the number of highly competitive seats; drawing the greatest possible number of seats with minority-majority populations; drawing the most compact districts possible, using a computer algorithm; and drawing the most compact districts possible while crossing county lines as few times as possible.

They also offered up a full explanation of how they did it. It’s worth noting that they make no claims as to the legality of their maps — whether federal judges would approve of either their assumptions or the results.

What’s really interesting is how each set of new rules would change the maps.

The Trib story goes on to summarize the results for Texas, but I’d say at this point you should just click over and view the maps yourself. As you can see, it is possible (among other things) to draw a map where Democrats win a majority of the seats. As I recall from way back in 2003, during the DeLay re-redistricting saga, someone – it may have been Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, I don’t recall and don’t feel like looking – submitted a map that would have done something similar. Some of these maps would likely be illegal, some are aesthetically unpleasing, some would leave a large number of voters feeling disenfranchised, but all are at least theoretically possible. Take a look and see what you think.

I will just add, redistricting is a multi-dimensional task. Sure, if all you care about is partisan maximization, there’s not much else to consider. But in the aspirational world of non-partisan redistricting committees, there are a number of factors to consider. Districts still have to obey the Voting Rights Act, which can lead to some odd district shapes (see, for instance CDs 18 and 33 in our current map) as neighborhoods with high levels of minority voters are stitched together to ensure compliance. Other considerations like communities of interest, compactness, and competitiveness can pull things in opposing directions. Is it better to keep cities whole as much as possible, or is it better to have more members of Congress who have constituents that live in that city? There’s room for debate. Check it out and have fun.

The life and times of Kinky Friedman

I have feelings about this.

Kinky Friedman

With Friedman, it’s showtime most of the time. On this occasion, he’s in town with Mary Lou Sullivan, his biographer, who attempted to condense his strange life into 300 pages. Hers was an unenviable task.

“A lot of people try to be themselves,” Friedman says. “That’s the hardest thing to be.”

So he’s been many selves, which Sullivan documented in the book, such as the garrulous raconteur who asks outright, “What all do you want to know?” A pause. “Can I smoke this mother (expletive) in here? I guess I could just do it and plead ignorance.”

Sullivan’s book, which was released last month, is called “Everything’s Bigger in Texas: The Life and Times of Kinky Friedman.”

“I Guess I Could Just Do It and Plead Ignorance” also would have worked as a title.

A successful writer himself, Friedman acknowledges he needed a biographer. “The first half of my life I don’t remember.”

So he relied on Sullivan to do the homework. She researched his childhood in Houston as a Jewish outcast in West University Place. His Peace Corps run in Borneo. A wild run as a misunderstood songwriter in the ’70s. Getting lost in a snowstorm of cocaine in the ’80s. A reinvention as novelist and humorist in the ’90s and a gubernatorial candidate in the 2000s.

[…]

Sullivan found a few cracks that let a different side of Richard Samet Friedman show. Particularly with regard to his parents: Tom, an Air Force pilot who flew dozens of missions over Germany, who studied psychology upon his return from the war; and Minnie, who taught Shakespeare and loved the stage.

They’re almost like the Greek chorus of Sullivan’s book, appearing and reappearing with words of encouragement and advice. For all of Friedman’s bluster, when he talks about his parents – in the book or conversation – the quips cease.

“I guess if your father runs off when you’re 2 like Obama’s did, you build a myth about him,” he says. “But my parents were my two best friends. If you grow up like that, it really devastates you when you lose them. They were my heroes.”

Then, finally, an oft-repeated quip.

“I always say a happy childhood is the worst possible preparation for life.”

The implication of the last statement is that Friedman is a failure whose recognition will likely come after he’s gone, though he’s been successful enough to fund habits ranging from cocaine to cigars to gambling.

By some measures, the failure argument could be made: Friedman’s albums were misunderstood in their day and didn’t really sell, even though they impressed some formidable songwriters. The cover of Sullivan’s book bears a quote from Dylan: “I don’t understand music. I understand Lightnin’ Hopkins. I understand Leadbelly, John Lee Hooker, Woody Guthrie, Kinky Friedman.”

Despite the high praise, Friedman stepped away from writing songs and reinvented himself as an author in the ’90s. His mystery novels found an audience, but he never achieved the success of a Carl Hiassen; Friedman’s former editor attributes it to laziness in the book. And Friedman’s runs for public office never resulted in holding public office.

“My shrink told me if you fail at something long enough, you become a legend,” he says. “That’s one way of doing it. Politics, I think I can safely say I failed. That’s really how I see myself commercially, professionally. But I think I’m in good company. John Lennon, Winston Churchill: They didn’t feel like life’s winners. But it really is about the rainbow. That’s the key. There was a guy who was the Justin Bieber of the art world in Van Gogh’s day. We don’t know his name today, but he sold a lot of his (expletive) art, and Van Gogh didn’t. So I’ll take a little success late in life.”

I was once a fan of Kinky Friedman’s. Bought several CDs, read his mystery books, saw him at the Laff Stop in the early 90’s – it was a great show. His candidacy for Governor in 2006 ended all that. I’d forgotten till I read this story and started thinking about what I was going to write, but I’ve never ripped any of my Kinky Friedman CDs to iTunes. I was too mad at him to enjoy the music any more. I’ve mellowed a bit since then, but it’s safe to say I’ll never be that kind of fan again.

The thing that struck me in this story is the bit in that penultimate paragraph about Friedman’s books not being as successful as they perhaps could have been. I feel like the same could be said about Friedman’s political career. One thing I noticed early on in his 2006 campaign is that in each feature story written about his candidacy he was cracking the same jokes. Politicians repeat themselves all the time, of course, but someone whose claim to fame is being an entertainer ought to do better than that, especially if he never really bothers to become proficient in policy. Indeed, if humor is a substitute for policy, the last thing it can do is get stale. Later on, Friedman did make an effort to become better at policy; in his 2014 run for Ag Commissioner, he reasonably and somewhat presciently latched onto the issue of legalizing hemp in Texas, as a potential boon for farmers. Not a bad idea, but he never developed it beyond basic talking points, and there was nothing more to his platform than that. On his third attempt to win statewide office, surely he could have done better than that.

So anyway, I’m sure the forthcoming biography will be an engaging read. Whatever else you can say about Kinky Friedman, he’s never been boring, and I’ve no doubt he has some great stories to tell. But there could have been more. We’ll never know how much more.

The Nation on Our Revolution in Texas

Here’s a feature story in The Nation from before the holidays about Our Revolution, one of the many grassroots groups that have become prominent post-Trump to organize and get better people elected. The focus of this story is on what OR is doing in Texas.

When Jim Hightower, Nina Turner, and the Our Revolution road show rolled into Tyler, Texas, Ed Moore liked what he heard. “This is basically what we’ve all been needing,” explained the retired factory worker and union leader, who lives in a town where factories and unions have taken a lot of hits in recent years. Moore, a city councilman who represents working-class neighborhoods shaken by deindustrialization, nodded in agreement as Hightower channeled old-school Texas populism into a warning: “The powers that be…are knocking down the middle class. They are holding down the poor” and attacking “the essential ethic that holds America together—and that is the notion that we are all in this together.”

Our Revolution is the national group created by backers of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential run with the goal of transforming the Democratic Party. When Turner, a former Ohio state senator who now leads the organization, finished her address by declaring, “We can change the world—one community at a time, one state at a time…. Tyler, Texas, can we do this?,” Moore joined the enthusiastic multiracial, multiethnic crowd, which was packed into an activity center on the local college campus, in answering: “Yes!”

[…]

Of the many resistance and rebuilding groups that are working on the ground to renew Democratic fortunes in the states, Our Revolution has made a notable decision: It’s betting big on Texas. As soon as the Sanders campaign gave way to the organization—with its slogan “Campaigns End, Revolutions Endure” and its promise to “transform American politics”—Hightower and a new generation of Lone Star populists vowed that they would make Texas Our Revolution’s most engaged, active, and, they hope, politically successful state branch. And after a shaky start, Our Revolution is developing into a muscular grassroots organization with nearly 500 chapters in 49 states and a burgeoning capacity to organize on behalf of issues and to help win elections. This is about the recognition of a need: Political movements that evolve out of presidential campaigns often have a hard time defining themselves as more than a reflection of a particular candidate and a particular moment in history. To get to that broader definition, groups that seek to fundamentally change parties and politics must deliver successful examples of how the politics of an insurgent presidential campaign can elect candidates in other races.

[…]

Designated by Our Revolution’s national board as the organization’s first state affiliate, the Lone Star group has hired staff; used Sanders-campaign lists to connect with grassroots activists; and begun organizing chapters at the local, county, and regional levels. It has spelled out a progressive agenda—a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All, worker rights, support for immigrants, policies to address climate change, and a commitment to get big money out of politics—and it is encouraging political newcomers who came of age in the Sanders campaign, as well as the worker-rights, immigrant-rights, and Black Lives Matter movements, to start running in Democratic primaries and nonpartisan local elections.

Some of these newcomers have already won. Activist La’Shadion Shemwell, 30, was elected in June to the McKinney City Council in conservative Collin County, north of Dallas. “If I can do it,” Shemwell says, “having been arrested, being a minority, having tattoos and dreadlocks, being a poor person with all the odds against me—if I can do it, then anybody can do it.” In San Antonio, history teacher John Courage surprised nearly everyone by winning his uphill run for a City Council seat. “We can’t overstate how huge an upset this is,” said Our Revolution, which backed him. “Education activist John Courage has won his race in San Antonio’s most conservative district!”

The group plans to endorse candidates in 2018 for posts like state commissioner of agriculture—where Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel and rancher who has become a dynamic advocate for sustainable food production, seeks the Democratic nod—as well as in hundreds of down-ballot contests that have often been neglected in recent years. And it’s exploring the possibility of endorsing for governor and US Senate. There will be some primary fights, but in many parts of Texas, Our Revolution activists are working with local Democrats and stepping up as candidates supported not just by Sanders backers but by 2016 Clinton backers. “They’re bringing energy and a lot of young people into the party,” says Lorraine Broll, president of the Circle-C Area Democrats club in Central Texas. She isn’t a member of Our Revolution, but she’s pleased the group is organizing in places like Hays County, an area between Austin and San Antonio where Trump narrowly won in 2016 but where Democrats hope to make dramatic progress in 2018.

Part of the Our Revolution Texas strategy is to run in places where Democrats aren’t supposed to have a chance. To that end, it’s organizing not just frustrated Democrats but also independents and members of the largest political group in the state: nonvoters. This emphasis on expanding the voter roll and the candidate list intrigues Texans who have grown cynical after years of hearing that the demographics of this minority-majority state will soon make Democrats dominant.

It’s always interesting to get an outsider’s perspective on things in Texas. Sometimes they see things we don’t, sometimes they provide a reality check on our warped perspective. And sometimes you shake your head and say “you really should have run this past someone who knows something about Texas”. I have a few admittedly nitpicky examples of the latter to discuss.

First, a genuine question: What practical experience does Jim Hightower have in grassroots organization, and turning that into an effective means of not just communicating but actually winning elections? All due respect, but I can’t think of any prominent recent efforts he’s been involved in. He does his pundit/humorist thing, and that’s fine, but my perception here is that his main function is eminance grise and “Texas liberal person whose name non-Texan readers of The Nation will recognize”. Maybe I’m selling him short and if so I apologize, but it might have been nice to have had his recent accomplishments listed in the story.

The story does mention a couple of recent wins by OR-affiliated candidates, and that’s really where my observation about getting some input from a local applies. I mean, calling John Courage a “newcomer” is more than a little silly. Courage, who I interviewed in 2012 when he ran for State Senate, had previously run for Congress in 2006, and served on the Alamo Community College District Board of Trustees in the 1980s. I think highly of John Courage and am delighted that he won his race for San Antonio City Council, but he’s not a newcomer.

To be sure, there haven’t been that many opportunities for any group to exert influence in an election this year in Texas. The May elections were the main event – it would have been interesting to have seen what might have happened in a Houston election, but we won’t get that until 2019 – and there have been no legislative special elections as yet. The upcoming primaries will offer some opportunities. Kim Olson is unopposed in March, so that won’t tell us anything. The race to watch if you want to see what OR can do is in CD21, where OR has endorsed Derrick Crowe, who faces three opponents including one (Joseph Kopser) who has a lot of establishment support and has raised a bunch of money. I looked at the Our Revolution Texas Facebook page and didn’t see any other endorsement announcements – I don’t recall seeing any others while looking at all those Congressional candidate Facebook pages, either – but there’s still time and plenty of races to choose from. I will definitely be interested in that, and I expect there will be other players looking to leave their mark on the races in 2018 as well.

Anyway, read it and see what you think. Olson and Crowe were the only 2018 candidates mentioned by name, so I hope there will be more to be said about what OR is doing.

That sexual harassment day of reckoning in Texas politics has begun

The Daily Beast follows up its initial reporting about the secret sexual predators of Texas politics with a story that names names. Two names, in particular. Rather than excerpt at length, allow me to quote the Texas Monthly Daily Post summary of the article:

Two Texas state lawmakers face new sexual harassment allegations. Democratic state Representatives Borris Miles and Carlos Uresti were both named in detailed claims of sexual harassment by several people, including former staffers and interns, in a story published by the Daily Beast late Wednesday night. One woman said that when she was a Texas legislative intern, Miles approached her and offered her cash, saying, “Bitch, you want to fuck with me tonight?” In a separate alleged incident, a Democratic state representative said that he witnessed Miles leaning out of a bus and loudly cat-calling women on the streets of downtown Austin. A former legislative staffer said he saw Miles forcibly kiss a woman at the W Hotel in Austin. “He offered to buy her a drink, kept trying to kiss her, and she kept trying to push him away,” the staffer told the Daily Beast. “He kept laughing about it. It was so creepy, and he had this big smile . . . He also has a tendency to call women out of their name when they turn him down. ‘Bitch,’ ‘ho,’ ‘whore.’ He doesn’t like being told ‘no.’” Uresti, meanwhile, apparently had gained a reputation for harassing women. “[Uresti] was one of the worst,” former Texas political reporter Karen Brooks told the Daily Beast. “He would check me out all the time . . . He gave me inappropriate hugs. He put his hands on me, he ogled me. I would not get in an elevator with him. If members were having dinner and he was going to be there, I stopped going.” Another former reporter said Uresti “put his tongue down my throat” without her consent after they went out for happy hour drinks. Uresti denied the allegations to the Daily Beast; Miles’s office did not return requests for comment.

Go read the whole thing. It’s clear these two are not the only offenders – Wendy Davis mentions but does not name a Republican legislator who groped her at the Capitol, and there are strong implications that there are many horror stories about lobbyists to be told, all just for starters – but for now we must reckon with Sens. Miles and Uresti. The fact that this story came out on the same day that US Senator Al Franken announced his resignation in response to allegations that were not as harrowing as the ones made here should not be lost on us. I’ve known Sen. Miles since he first ran for the Lege in 2006 against Al Edwards. I’ve never met Sen. Uresti, but I was glad to see him defeat the late Frank Madla in 2006. Both of them were improvements over the incumbents they ousted, and both have done good work in Austin. But both of them need to be held accountable for their actions. Both of them need to resign, and the sooner the better.

It brings me no joy to say any of this, but here we are. There are no excuses or justifications for their actions. It’s an eternal stain on all of us that the system in place at the Capitol allowed this sort of behavior – which, again, is very much not limited to Borris Miles and Carlos Uresti – with no consequences for anyone but the victims. Resigning won’t undo what has been done and it won’t give justice to those that Miles and Uresti are alleged to have harassed and assaulted, but it will at least be a small step in the direction of bringing those days and those ways to an end. We as Democrats and as decent human beings have a responsibility to the people our officials represent and to ourselves to lead the way on changing behavior. If it grates on Sens. Miles and Uresti, as it did on Sen. Franklin, that they are being pushed out when the likes of Donald Trump and Roy Moore and Blake Farenthold seem to be getting a pass, I understand. That is indeed an injustice. But this is what I have the power to affect right now.

Of course, nobody really cares what some guy on the Internet thinks. For the right thing to happen, Democratic elected officials and other high profile individuals must act as well. Annie’s List got the ball rolling by urging the two Senators to resign. Others need to follow their lead. The people who are peers and colleagues and donors and other influencers of Sens. Miles and Uresti need to use that influence and give the same message to them. Their behavior was completely unacceptable. They need to step down. And note that on a practical level, neither is on the ballot this year, so simply not filing for re-election in 2020 isn’t enough. The right answer is to step down now, so successors can be elected in time for the beginning of the 2019 session. Both Miles and Uresti have since put out statements denying the allegations, so this isn’t going to happen without a fight. It’s ugly and it’s discouraging, but there’s no other choice.

Just a reminder, CHIP is still running out

In case you were wondering.

Nearly 400,000 Texas children could lose healthcare coverage in late January unless Congress renews funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a decades-old federal program that provides health care to millions of children across the country.

Texas officials have asked the federal government for $90 million to keep CHIP alive through February, but without that funding, letters could go out later this month from state officials alerting parents that their children’s benefits could be at risk.

Congress allowed the program to expire on Sept. 30, leaving Texas and other states with dwindling coffers. CHIP typically receives bipartisan support, but lawmakers have failed to agree in recent months on how to fund it.

“We’re closely monitoring congressional efforts to reauthorize the program and are hopeful that it will be extended prior to the exhaustion of our current allotment,” said Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman with the Texas of State Health Services. “Based on our conversations with [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] … we are confident that a redistribution of funds will happen.”

[…]

If the state doesn’t get additional funding soon, it will have to begin shutting down the program, officials said. State law requires termination notices go out to parents a month before they lose coverage; those letters would likely go out days before Christmas.

Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston, said many children on CHIP have chronic diseases and rely on regular, monthly appointments.

“That’ll put a lot of stress on families who don’t know if they are going to be able to continue to get that kind of care,” she said.

Unlike other states, Texas doesn’t currently have any plans to fund the program. If the state runs out of money, it will send all CHIP recipients to the federal government’s health care marketplace.

See here and here for the background. This is 100% the fault of Congressional Republicans, who let this lapse during their months-long obsession with Obamacare repeal. They’re not paying attention to it now because of the need to cut taxes for millionaires. Better grow up to be rich, kids. It’s your only hope.

Rep. Al Green’s revelation

Not totally sure what to make of this.

Rep. Al Green

More than a decade ago, Congressman Al Green had a “romantic encounter” with a former aide in Houston, which later led to an allegation of sexual assault and talk of lawsuits and employee discrimination.

As quickly as the incident popped up, it quieted down in a 2008 agreement between the two.

Resolved or not, the episode was back in the news Monday as Green put out a statement explaining that he and the woman, Lucinda Daniels, are “consenting friends” and “regret (their) former claims” – and that there was no payment ever made in the case.

“In the present climate, we wish to jointly quiet any curious minds about our former and present relationship with one another,” Green and Daniels said in a joint statement, which Green signed in trademark green ink. “We are friends, and have long been friends. At an unfortunate time in our lives, when both of our feelings were hurt, we hastily made allegations against one another that have been absolutely resolved.”

[…]

[An] aide said the decade-old allegations were not secret and did not involve Green’s congressional office nor the taxpayer-funded Office of House Employment Counsel.

Green publicly withdrew a lawsuit in December 2008 that he had filed three-months earlier asking a federal judge to find that he never discriminated against Daniels, the former director of his Houston office.

Apparently, this was in response to some stories on a “conservative” “news” site, which didn’t like Rep. Green’s impeachment actions. From the story presented here, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything nefarious – the former aide in question co-authored the statement, after all. I suppose someone else could pop up to dispute the story or add something unsavory to it, or some other incidents could come to light. I hesitate to make any definitive statement at this time, since there is so often more to this kind of story, but until or unless something else comes to light, this doesn’t seem like much.

The secret sexual predators of Texas politics

Come in, sit down, make yourself comfortable. Maybe a nice cup of hot tea? There now, all settled in? Good. Now steel yourselves and read this.

More than a year before the now-infamous “shitty media men” list, women in Texas’s statehouse secretly created their own online whisper network to document sexual harassment and assault in their industry.

This spreadsheet, called the “Burn Book of Bad Men,” lists 38 men, named by an unknown number of women who contributed anonymously to the document. Its accusations run the gamut from pay discrimination to creepy comments and sexual assault.

The men in the document include campaign workers, legislative staffers, and lawmakers. Some of the allegations are recent; others stretch back 20 years. Most of the women who contributed to the list and circulated it early on worked for Democrats, so most of the accused men are also Democratic officials or staffers.

More than one sexual-assault allegation on the list involves a man on a Democratic political campaign, according to women who contributed to the spreadsheet.

Excerpts of the document, but not the full list, were reviewed by The Daily Beast this week.

For years before the document existed online, this type of information “just kind of lived in whisper circles,” said Rebecca*, who started the list in the fall of 2016.

Rebecca told The Daily Beast that she worked in Texas politics for about two years before giving up and leaving the state because the political environment was “toxic and horrible.”

Sexism in the Texas state legislature is well-documented, in both vague and explicit terms.

In 2005, Republican State Sen. Craig Estes allegedly propositioned an intern at my former publication, The Texas Observer, on her first day in the Capitol. He let her know that if she needed any “adult supervision,” she was welcome to “see him in his office,” according to the magazine. The implication was clear, and it was included in the magazine’s list of notable quotes that year.

In 2013, I wrote a lengthy story about how men were—in addition to regularly making crude jokes at work—caught looking at porn on the Texas House and Senate floor. Others asked about their colleagues’ breasts during debates. Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving female state legislator in Texas history, once told me a horrifying tale about a lawmaker who nicknamed her his “black mistress.”

(Depressingly, there’s a long list of similarly toxic situations in other statehouses, including in CaliforniaMassachusettsKentuckyFloridaIllinoisOregon, and Kansas.)

My story documented the misogyny of the “good ol’ boys’ club,” but it didn’t cover even a fraction of the previously unreported accusations in Rebecca’s living document.

Now go read the rest of the story, which contains a few names and a lot more personal accounts. Then go read RG Ratcliffe for a bit of historical perspective; in short, things aren’t much better now than they were thirty years ago. Keep in mind that the list in question was put together mostly by Democratic women, so there are undoubtedly a bunch of Republican stories to tell, too.

Finished reading them? Good. Now let’s talk about what we can do about it. A few thoughts:

– First and foremost, listen to women when they tell you their stories. (Actually, even before that, be the kind of person that women will trust to tell their stories.) Know what is happening and what has been happening.

– When you see or hear about stuff like this, take action to stop it. Call out the bad behavior and the men who are committing it. It won’t be easy. I know I’ve missed plenty of opportunities in my life to do this, through obliviousness or cowardice. All of us, me very much included, have to do better.

– We really can’t give a pass to anyone, even if they have done good work and otherwise fought the good fight. That’s going to be hard and painful, but it’s the only way. Everyone has to be accountable for their actions.

– Ultimately, the way to make something less of a “boys’ club” is to improve the gender balance. There’s plenty of social science research to back that up. I’m not claiming this is some kind of panacea – among other things, I’m not nearly naive enough to think that given truly equal access and opportunity, women will be any less conniving, dishonest, or generally shitty than men are. Human nature is what it is, after all. I am saying that a legislature that is closer to fifty-fifty – right now, less than twenty percent of legislators in Texas are female – will at the very least be a better place for women to work. There’s a vicious cycle at work here – we need more women involved, not just as legislators but also as staffers, political operatives, lobbyists, reporters, and so forth, but the existing hostile climate drives them away and makes it that much harder to achieve the balance we need. Maybe, just maybe, if the men who are the biggest part of the problem come to understand that their bad behavior can and will be made public, that will make it a little easier.

(Yes, I know, I wrote this whole piece without mentioning Roy Moore. I’ll have something to say about him tomorrow. For now, let’s concentrate on that mote in our own eye.)

By the way, CHIP is still running out

Just in case you were wondering.

Advocates say Texas will run out of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program sooner than they thought. The program, which Congress failed to reauthorize last month, covers nearly 400,000 children from working-class families in the state.

“It’s expected that Texas will run out of CHIP funding in January,” said Adriana Koehler, a policy associate with the advocacy group Texans Care for Children. “With the holidays coming up in the next few months, we really need Congress to get the job done now.”

Just a few months ago, advocates said it was unclear when the state would run out of CHIP funds. Some advocates expected the state had until next September; others said funds would run out in February.

Carrie Williams, a spokesperson with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said the funding could run out as early as January.

Williams said the agency pushed up the timeline because of reduced income from co-pays. After Hurricane Harvey hit, the federal government waived co-pays and enrollment fees for CHIP recipients. That meant less money was coming into the program than expected.

“So funds may be exhausted a bit sooner than February,” she said.

See here for the background. One might think that such a fanatically and performatively “pro-life” state like Texas would be full of leaders who would care deeply about 400,000 children losing access to health care, but one would have to be deeply naive to believe it. At this time, it looks like the best bet for action will be CHIP reauthorization as a part of a successful government shutdown hostage negotiation. There’s a sentence I hope I never have to type again. Remember when we had a government that was interested in actually, you know, governing? Those were the days, I tell you.

Now is not a good time for HHSC to be dysfunctional

And yet here we are.

Under Charles Smith, the longtime ally of Gov. Greg Abbott picked to lead the state’s Health and Human Services Commission, Texas’ government health care infrastructure is hemorrhaging veteran employees and facing criticism for its response to the humanitarian crisis caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Dozens of experienced senior staff members have left the agency since Smith took over last year. Current and former employees attribute the exodus to widespread dissatisfaction with the executive commissioner, who they say lacks technical knowledge of the agency and pushes a political agenda backed by the governor.

Interviews with 11 current and former long-serving health commission staff, ranging from senior executives to mid-level managers, paint a picture of a state agency in disarray, with veteran staff clashing regularly with Smith and his supporters in the governor’s office. The internal conflict has spurred a wave of resignations, leaving the agency with a void of talent that critics say is hampering the state’s ability to aid victims of Hurricane Harvey.

“It’s hard to watch,” said one former high-ranking health commission official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of an ongoing professional relationship with the health commission. “Anybody with any knowledge or experience is not going to stay.”

[…]

Critics point to the agency’s actions in the month after Hurricane Harvey as evidence of its dysfunction.

Specifically, sources inside and outside of the commission told the Tribune that the agency was slow to act in providing guidance and assistance to Texans affected by Harvey who qualify for public programs such as food stamps and Medicaid.

Doctors have complained that basic information, such as whether displaced Medicaid patients could seek care outside of their insurance network or get prescription medications refilled, was slow to emerge from the agency, and advocates for low-income Texans were frustrated to see a flurry of revisions to information posted on the agency’s website as victims sought government assistance.

Others pointed to the delay in rolling out disaster food stamps benefits. Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on Aug. 25, and the health commission began rolling out disaster food stamps on Sept. 13, nearly three weeks later, but only in some counties. Houston, Corpus Christi and other areas that suffered some of the most extensive damage from the storm were not included in the initial rollout.

By comparison, when Hurricane Ike struck Galveston in 2008, then-Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins announced the agency would provide emergency food stamps five days after the storm made landfall.

“When I see the response to Harvey, I am quite concerned about the level of expertise in the agency,” said one former commission official who has closely followed the hurricane response. “This stuff is not rocket science. We’ve had disasters before. There are templates for this.”

The Texas State Employees Union said this week that falling employee morale and a shortage of workers has hampered the state’s ability to provide recovery after Hurricane Harvey. Union officials say the health commission has lost nearly 11 percent of its eligibility operations staff — the workers who help connect Texans with public benefits.

In a statement for the union, Rashel Richardson, a caseworker in Houston, asked, “How are we supposed to work this much forced overtime week after week while our homes have been destroyed? How are we supposed to concentrate and get people services when we need services ourselves? It’s as if the state has no sympathy for workers who lost everything.”

There’s more, so read the whole thing. Not that there’s ever a good time for such a large agency that affects so many people to be dysfunctional, but in the aftermath of a huge natural disaster that has done so much damage? That’s a really bad time. Of course, HHSC has been a problem child for a long time, so none of this should be a big surprise. On the other hand, the HHSC under Greg Abbott has been particularly hostile to women’s health, so it’s all good as far as he’s concerned.

Trump nominates two to the Fifth Circuit

This is why Republicans put aside their doubts to vote for Trump, and it’s why they stick with him. This is the prize they kept their eyes on, and it’s paying off for them bigtime.

Don Willett

President Donald Trump on Thursday said he is nominating two Texans to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett and Dallas attorney James Ho.

“Both of these gentlemen, I think, will do an outstanding job,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said during a conference call with reporters.

They would need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Willett, a well-known Twitter user, has served on the state Supreme Court since 2005. During the 2016 presidential race, Trump had named Willett as a potential choice for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ho is the former solicitor general of Texas. He has also served as chief counsel for Cornyn.

[…]

Even after Thursday’s announcements, Trump has a host of vacancies left to fill in Texas. He has yet to fill two U.S. attorney positions, including the post in the Southern District, which is the busiest in the country. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s son Ryan Patrick is rumored to be the president’s choice for that post.

Trump also has six federal district court seats to fill, several of which have been classified as judicial emergencies. One of those seats has been open since 2011.

Neil Gorsuch gets all the attention as a tainted selection that resulted from extreme partisan obstruction, but don’t overlook all those district court and appellate court positions that have been open for years, with our two Senators refusing to allow any Obama nominations to be considered, let alone voted on. Willett and Ho are the beneficiaries of this from a professional standpoint, but one young and reliably conservative guy in a robe is as good as any other. This isn’t about qualifications – Willett and Ho are perfectly credible choices – it’s about opportunity, and about partisan cohesion. Don Willett and James Ho will be affecting public policy way longer than Donald Trump will. The Chron has more.

As I said, Willett and Ho are qualified to be judges – they’re not who I’d pick, but they fall within accepted norms for the job. Some nominees do not, but it’s going to take recognition of that in the right places to keep them out.

Texas U.S. Sen. John Cornyn raised fresh doubts Thursday about the White House nomination of assistant state Attorney General Jeff Mateer to be a federal judge in Texas.

Mateer, in a pair of speeches in 2015, reportedly referred to the rights of transgender children as part of “Satan’s plan” and defended the controversial practice of “conversion therapy” for gays.

Cornyn, commenting publicly for the first time since Mateer’s speeches were unearthed this month by CNN, said the speeches apparently were not disclosed to him as they should have been under a screening process set up by him and Sen. Ted Cruz.

“We requested that sort of information about speeches and the like on his application,” said Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate. “And to my knowledge there was no information given about those, so it’s fair to say I was surprised.”

[…]

Cornyn said Thursday that he is reevaluating Mateer’s nomination in light of the undisclosed speeches as well as other public utterances.

“I am evaluating that information, and I understand there may be even addition information other than that which has previously been disclosed,” he said in a conference call with Texas reporters.

Cornyn, formerly a Texas Supreme Court Justice, said there should be no “religious test” for judges. “But it is important,” he added, “that all of our judges be people who can administer equal justice under the law and can separate their personal views from their duties as a judge.”

He added: “Because the information had not been previously disclosed, we were not able to have that kind of conversation with Mr. Mateer, so we’ve got some work to do.”

Ted Cruz, of course, has no such qualms, because he’s Ted Cruz. Note that Cornyn has left himself a lot of wiggle room here. His primary concern here is that Mateer may have more such, let’s say “intemperate”, remarks in his past that he hasn’t told the likes of Cornyn about. Big John can handle a little gay-bashing, but he doesn’t like to be surprised. As long as Mateer makes a few perfunctory statements about how of course he believes in equal justice for all and would never ever ever treat anyone unfairly in his courtroom, and as long as no more embarrassing video turns up, Cornyn will be happy to support him. Eyes on the prize, you know.

So were we targeted by Russian hackers or not?

Depends who you ask, I guess.

A top state official is pushing back against the federal government’s claim that Texas was among states whose election systems were targeted by Russian hackers ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

“At no point were any election-related systems, software, or information compromised by malicious cyber actors,” Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos wrote in a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Thursday.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security said the election infrastructure of 21 states, including Texas, was targeted by Russian hackers. Being targeted does not mean that votes were changed but that a system was scanned.

Shortly after the announcement, officials in California and Wisconsin said they’d received contradictory information from the department that suggested they’d been incorrectly included on that list.

Pablos, in his letter, made a similar claim and asked the department to “correct its erroneous notification” that the state agency’s website had been the target of malicious hackers. Pablos argued that federal officials had based their assessment on “incorrect information” and that an investigation by his office with the state’s Department of Information Resources had found no such targeting.

“In order to restore public confidence in the integrity of our elections systems, it is imperative for DHS to further clarify the information provided,” the letter says. “Our office understands that you have provided similar clarification to election officials in Wisconsin and California. We respectfully request you provide the same clarification to the State of Texas.”

A Department of Homeland Security spokesman told Reuters Thursday that “additional information and clarity” had been provided to several states, and that the department stood by its assessment “that Internet-connected networks in 21 states were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure.”

See here for the background. I’d need to see the specifics before I can make a judgment here. Saying the SOS systems weren’t “compromised” isn’t a contradiction of what was said by Homeland Security, which merely said the SOS website had been “scanned and probed”. That’s basically background noise on the Internet, though depending on the source of the probe it can be of interest. It would be nice for everyone to get their story straight so we know for sure who is claiming what.

Texas was a hacking target in 2016

We’re just finding out about this now?

Hackers targeted Texas and 20 other states prior to the 2016 presidential election, the United States Department of Homeland Security has formally informed the states.

But the hackers who tried to mess with Texas didn’t get far, officials with the Texas Secretary of State’s office said Monday.

The federal agents said instead of targeting the state’s voter registration database during the 2016 elections, hackers searched for a vulnerability on the Secretary of State’s public-facing website, according to Sam Taylor, an agency spokesman.

“If anyone was trying to get into the elections system, they were apparently targeting the wrong website,” Taylor said.

The website, http://www.sos.state.tx.us, is devoid of voter information, he said, and hackers never find a way to crack into it.

[…]

According to testimony before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, the Department of Homeland Security began finding incidents of scanning and probing of state and local election systems in August 2016. A declassified report from national intelligence officials released in January stated that “Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards.”

“There is no complacency in Texas when it comes to protecting the security of our elections system,” Secretary Rolando Pablos said. “We take our responsibility to guard against any and all threats to the integrity of elections extremely seriously and will continue to do so moving forward.”

Here’s what bothers me about this. It’s not that our Secretary of State websites may have been attacked – that’s a matter of when, not if – and it’s not even that they might not have known about it until the feds informed them of it – it may have been a new vulnerability being exploited. What bothers me is the assertion that because there was nothing of value on the server that was hacked, there was nothing to worry about. Low-value servers, ones that are public facing and have no proprietary or confidential information on them, are often targets for hackers. The reason for this is that once you have access to such a machine, you have the opportunity to look for vulnerabilities inside the network, to do things like try to crack passwords on higher-privilege accounts so that you can gain access to more valuable resources. A spokesperson like Sam Taylor may not understand this, but I sure hope someone at the SOS office does.

Also, too: It’s not possible to stop every attack – any IT professional worth their salt will tell you this – but what is possible and very necessary is to detect as quickly as you can abnormal system activity so you can tell when you’ve been breached and take steps to stop it. As I said, the SOS may not have known about these particular attacks at the time. Some of this is cutting edge stuff, and the majority of us only find out about them in retrospect. But now that they do know, I sure hope they’re reviewing all their logs and their various monitoring tools to see what they might have missed and how they can detect this sort of attack going forward. I also hope they’re sharing this information with every elections administrator to ensure they are aware of this and can perform the same reviews. That is something I’d expect a spokesperson to address.

Ballot order

Kevin Drum finds this paper, entitled “The Ballot Order Effect is Huge: Evidence from Texas”, by a professor at Sam Houston State, and notes that it confirms what we have all long believed, that being first on the ballot in a non-partisan race like a primary or a municipal election is an advantage. From the paper:

Across all twenty-four contests, the effect is invariably positive and, with two exceptions in runoff elections, statistically significant. The smallest effects are found in high-profile, high information races: the Republican primary for U.S. Senator, which featured the incumbent, John Cornyn; the governor’s race, which featured long-time Attorney General Greg Abbott; and Land Commissioner, which featured well-known political newcomer George P. Bush. In these races the ballot order effect is only one or two percentage points.

Larger estimates obtain for most “medium-profile, medium-information” races such as Comptroller, Railroad Commissioner, or the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator. Most of these fall in a fairly tight band that ranges from three to five percentage points. Estimates are even larger in the low-profile, low-information judicial elections, generally ranging from seven to ten percentage points. Overall, the ballot order effect tends to be larger in contests that receive less attention and in which voters are likely to know less about the candidates on the ballot.

[…]

In an ironic twist of fate, we were recently able to [test our hypothesis] with the March, 2016 Texas Republican primary, held just after the first draft of this paper was completed. Featuring a highly visible Presidential race, it drew twice as many voters as in 2014—and had contests for three Supreme Court positions, one of which was between Paul Green and Rick Green, two men with common first names and identical last names. It was The Perfect Storm, and our logic implies that this should lead to large ballot order effects. This is immediately evident in the histogram of county vote shares presented in Figure 2(a), without even looking at ballot order: in a race won with 52.1% of the statewide vote, virtually no county’s vote was nearly evenly split. Instead Paul Green’s vote shares are bifurcated into two clusters, one around 40%, and another around 60%, suggesting a ballot order effect approaching twenty percentage points. The regression results in Figure 2(c) confirm this: the coefficient estimate is 19.4 percentage points. We have never seen a ballot order effect this large, and may never again.

Drum concludes that randomizing ballot order for each voter, which is something that is certainly feasible with electronic voting machines, is the best answer to this. I’ve been on that hobby horse for a long time, so it’s nice to have some empirical evidence in my corner, but in the absence of a new law from the Lege, nothing will change. But we persist in highlighting the problem, in the hope that some day our cries will be heard.

I should note that while the first-on-the-ballot effect is largest in low-information races like judicial primaries and executive offices like Railroad Commissioner, some races defy that effect. I will always cite the three-way Democratic primary for RRC in 2008, between gentlemen with basic, simple names, as Exhibit A for counterexamples. Mark Thompson, who nearly won the race on the first go, basically carried every county regardless of where he was on the ballot. Here’s Harris County:


Dale Henry       85,153  32.00%
Art Hall         69,377  26.07%
Mark Thompson   111,598  41.93%

Travis County:


Art Hall         37,444  30.87%
Mark Thompson    57,909  47.74%
Dale Henry       25,959  21.40%

Dallas County:


Art Hall         45,670  24.84%
Dale Henry       57,234  31.13%
Mark Thompson    80,980  44.04%

Three different orders, Mark Thompson was second or third on all three, and yet he easily led in all three counties, despite being a first time candidate with no money. Henry had been the Democratic nominee for Railroad Commissioner in 2006, and Hall had been a City Council member in San Antonio (Hall did carry Bexar County, though Thompson came in second), yet Thompson overcame it all and ran away with the nomination. Till the day I die, I will never understand that result.

Yes, cities need lobbyists

Every few years, this argument heats up.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

In the run-up to this year’s Texas legislative session, Mayor Sylvester Turner decided to switch Capitol lobbying firms.

In was Hillco Partners, considered by many the most powerful player in Austin lobbying. Out was a firm led by a political adviser to House Speaker Joe Straus.

What didn’t change was the monthly fee that the city pays when legislators are in session – $110,639. In return for that hefty fee, city officials expect representation for Houston taxpayers by lobbyists with expertise, clout and deep ties to legislators and high-ranking state officials.

Houston isn’t alone in paying big bucks to lobby state government. San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, and Fort Worth all also use outside lobbyists, commonly referred to as “hired guns,” to advance their legislative agendas and kill bills they oppose.

Taxpayers in those five cities collectively have paid about $5 million to lobbying firms since 2015, but information is sparse because the state does not maintain a database on lobbyist expenditures by local governments. Businesses and other special interests spend vastly larger amounts on influencing the executive and legislative branches, but the state keeps no data on that either.

Houston also spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on governmental relations staffers who are not registered as lobbyists.

Just as a reminder, all this is happening while the state government is becoming increasingly hostile to cities and their interests, and we just had a special session where half the items on the agenda were about curbing cities’ powers. You want cities to spend less on lobbyists? Start by installing a state government that doesn’t treat cities as annoying obstacles or worse.

Pastoral malignancy

Know your enemy.

A day before the Texas Legislature ended its special session this week, a session that included a high-profile fight over a “bathroom bill” that appeared almost certainly dead, David Welch had a message for Gov. Greg Abbott: call lawmakers back to Austin. Again.

For years, Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, has worked to pass a bill that would ban local policies that ensured transgender individuals’ right to use restrooms in public schools and government buildings that match their gender identity. The summer special session, which was quickly coming to a close, had been Welch and other social conservatives’ second chance, an overtime round after the bill — denounced by critics as discriminatory and unnecessary — failed during the regular session that ended in May.

But with the Texas House unlikely to vote on a bathroom bill, Welch gathered with some of the most conservative Republicans in that chamber to make a final plea. The bill, they argued without any evidence, would prevent men from entering bathrooms to sexually assault or harass women.

“If this does not pass during this special session, we are asking for, urgently on behalf of all these pastors across the state of Texas, that we do hold a second special session until the job is done,” Welch said at the press event, hosted by Texas Values, a socially conservative group.

Though the group of lawmakers, religious leaders and activists were still coming to terms with their failure to get a bill to Abbott’s desk, for Welch’s Pastor Council, the years-long fight over bathroom restrictions has nonetheless been a galvanizing campaign.

The group, which Welch founded in 2003, has grown from a local organization to a burgeoning statewide apparatus with eyes on someday becoming a nationwide force, one able to mobilize conservative Christians around the country into future political battles. If Abbott doesn’t call lawmakers back for another special session to pass a bathroom bill, the group is likely to shift its attention to the 2018 elections.

“Our role in this process shouldn’t be restricted just because people attend church,” Welch told The Texas Tribune. “Active voting, informed voting, is a legitimate ministry of the church.”

[…]

With primary season approaching, members of the Pastor Council are preparing to take their campaign to the ballot box and unseat Republicans who did not do enough to challenge Straus’ opposition to a “bathroom bill.” Steve Riggle, a pastor to a congregation of more than 20,000 at Grace Community Church in Houston and a member of the Pastor Council, said he and others are talking about “how in the world do we have 90-some Republicans [in the 150-member Texas House] who won’t stand behind what they say they believe.”

“They’re more afraid of Straus than they are of us,” he said. “It’s about time they’re more afraid of us.”

First, let me commend the Trib for noting that the push for the bathroom bill was based on a lie, and for reporting that Welch and his squadron of ideologues are far from a representative voice in the Christian community. Both of these points are often overlooked in reporting about so-called “Christian” conservatives, so kudos to the Trib for getting it right. I would just add that what people like Dave Welch and Steve Riggle believe, and want the Lege and the Congress to legalize, is that they have a right to discriminate against anyone they want, as long as they can claim “religious” reasons for it.

As such, I really hope that Chris Wallace and the rest of the business community absorbs what these bad hombres are saying. I want them to understand that the power dynamic in the Republican Party has greatly shifted, in a way that threatens to leave them on the sidelines. It used to be that the Republican legislative caucus was owned and operated by business interests, with the religious zealots providing votes and logistical support. The zealots are now in charge, or at least they are trying to be. Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and increasingly Greg Abbott are on their side, and now they want to take out Joe Straus and enforce complete control. Either the business lobby fights back by supporting a mix of non-wacko Republicans in primaries and Democrats in winnable November races, or this is what the agenda for 2019 will look like. I hope you’re paying attention, because there may not be a second chance to get this right. The DMN has more.

Confederate monuments in the Capitol

Get rid of them, too.

A state lawmaker wants all Confederate symbols removed from the Texas Capitol grounds, including a plaque that is 40 steps away from his office that rejects the idea that the South seceded from the Union over slavery.

Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, sent a letter to the State Preservation Board Wednesday asking that it immediately remove the plaque, which was mounted in 1959. It reads, in part, “We … pledge ourselves … to study and teach the truth of history (one of the most important of which is, that the war between the state was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery).”

“The plaque is not historically accurate in the slightest,” Johnson said in his letter. He called on the board, which maintains the Capitol’s artifacts, to immediately remove the plaque and asked for meeting with House Speaker Joe Straus, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to discuss the removal of all Confederate symbols.

“Given the recent tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, I cannot think of a better time than the present to discuss the removal of all Confederate iconography from the Texas Capitol Complex,” Johnson said.

You can see the full letter Rep. Johnson sent to the State Preservation Board here. I doubt this will go anywhere, and he certainly won’t get any support from Greg Abbott, but I stand with Rep. Johnson.

Meantime, over the weekend there was a protest at Sam Houston Park about the “spirit of the Confederacy” statue there. Mayor Turner has requested a study of artwork at city parks after people asked for that statue to be removed at last week’s Council meeting. My expectations for action are a lot higher than they are at the Capitol. It would be nice to know what the timeline on this will be.

What’s next for the now-canceled white nationalist rally at A&M

The legal experts are weighing in.

Saunie Schuster, an attorney for The NCHERM Group, which provides consulting for schools on First Amendment issues, said that was the organizer’s big mistake.

“You can be here and you can speak even if we hate what you’re saying, but you can’t disrupt the function of Texas A&M,” Schuster said. “Because a person was killed and people were seriously injured in Charlottesville, the potential for harm is not just speculative. If he’s linking the two events together, he’s seeing that as an outcome.”

Southern Methodist University constitutional law professor Dale Carpenter said the school’s position — that the rally presents a huge public safety risk and could disrupt normal activities on campus — is “legitimate,” but the school may face some legal backlash anyway. On Monday evening, rally organizer Wiginton said as much: “I guess my lawyers will now be suing the state of Texas.”

Carpenter said the university “can’t simply ban a controversial speaker because others might react violently.” He said blocking speech is an absolute last resort to prevent violence, not a first resort. He suggested the university may be able to negotiate a different time or place for the rally but said he doubts A&M will “succeed in simply prohibiting this event and its subject matter on campus.”

“That billing is too vague to constitute a true threat of violence, in my view. Indeed, the fact that Texas A&M specifically cited that billing as a justification may weaken its claim that the cancellation was for content-neutral reasons,” Carpenter added.

Meanwhile, Schuster said, “if the people coming to do a ‘White Lives Matter’ rally remain in a public area or do so in a manner that doesn’t disrupt the educational function of the institution, the school is going to be highly unlikely to be able to shut it down or restrict it.”

See here for the background. The racist organizer had talked about having a march on campus instead, which might be harder to restrict, but in the end decided to call it off, at least for now. He’s still talking lawsuit, however. My layman’s opinion of what A&M did was that it was defensible on public safety grounds, but that is no guarantee they would prevail in court if it comes down to it, which it may yet do. Other legal experts were less sanguine.

“If all it took to shut down a speaker was to threaten a riot, we would all find ourselves with very little free speech at all,” said Ari Cohn, the director of the Individual Rights Defense Program, a campus civil rights watchdog group. “Allowing the possibility of a bottle-throwing mob to justify curtailing speech only incentivizes violence. That is an untenable result, from a legal and practical standpoint.”

Cohn said that the [racist jerk]’s link between Charlottesville and the planned A&M rally—a main reason the university gave for canceling the event—is protected under free speech. “Under applicable constitutional precedent, it constitutes neither incitement to imminent lawless action nor a true threat, and without more, that notice does not justify canceling the event,” Cohn said. “Moreover, violence committed in one place does not justify curtailing freedom of expression in other places. We do not discard the First Amendment’s protections because someone, somewhere reacted inappropriately to speech—and to be clear, violence is never an acceptable response to speech. But to sacrifice our First Amendment rights on the altar of preventing violence is incompatible with our understanding of free speech.”

[…]

“[Texas A&M], in denying White Lives Matters [and other racist jerk]’s access to public areas to engage in speech—notwithstanding how deplorable and lacking in value that speech may be—more likely than not is violating the First Amendment by engaging in viewpoint-based discrimination,” JT Morris, an Austin-based attorney specializing in First Amendment law, said in an email. Morris said [racist jerk] could file a lawsuit immediately seeking an emergency temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction, asking a judge to force the university to grant [racist jerk]’s group access to campus for the rally. “This is a really tough situation to balance First Amendment rights and public safety,” Morris said. “We’re looking at protecting speech of minimal value—to put it gently—that is espoused by a very small group of people, at the risk of serious harm to public safety.” As Morris notes, the First Amendment protects what most of us consider to be hate speech, unless that speech crosses the line and incites violence. “I’m not sure the White Lives Matter [and] [other racist jerk] stuff is quite there—yet,” Morris said.

As I’ve said, I support A&M’s actions here. If they wind up losing in court, that would be unfortunate, but at least they tried. Slate, which takes a national look at this issue, has more.

White nationalist rally at A&M canceled

I’ve been on the road with limited Internet access, so I’m just now catching up on recent events. Unlike our garbage president, I wholeheartedly condemn the appalling racist violence committed in Charlottesville by a bunch of Nazi scum. As such, I was heartened to see this.

A white nationalist rally planned on Texas A&M University’s campus has been canceled, apparently out of concern for student safety, officials confirmed Monday.

The school made the decision after consulting law enforcement and “considerable study” because of “concerns about the safety of its students, faculty, staff and the public.”

“Texas A&M’s support of the First Amendment and the freedom of speech cannot be questioned,” the university said in a statement Monday afternoon.

“However, in this case circumstances and information relating to the event have changed and the risks of threat to life and safety compel us to cancel the event.”

You can learn the details of this now-canceled event here; I have no desire to give these jackwads any mentions. The asshole who organized this thing says in the story that he plans to sue. I think based on the deplorable events in Charlottesville that A&M has a pretty good public safety argument to make, but I guess we’ll see what the courts have to say. It’s certainly possible A&M could get overruled. Given that, you might want to make note of this Maroon Wall counterprotest, which had been prepped to go on at the same time, just in case it is still needed. It would be best for this to now be obsolete, but if that is not the case then it sure would be nice to completely overwhelm these fascists with huge numbers of actual decent people. Beyond that, kudos to the legislators who called on A&M Chancellor John Sharp to cancel the event, and to Sharp for heeding the call. In the meantime, if you need something to do now, there are things that can be done in Austin, in Missouri City, and in Houston. People need to speak up, but we also need to take action. The Rivard Report has more.

Dan Patrick hates Texas’ cities

I have so many things to say about this.

City governments, particularly those led by Democrats, are to blame for problems nationwide, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said during a nationally televised interview Friday.

“People are happy with their governments at their state level, they’re not with the city,” said Patrick, a Republican, in an interview with Fox Business Network. He was responding to a question about gubernatorial races.

“Our cities are still controlled by Democrats,” he added. “And where do we have all our problems in America? Not at the state level run by Republicans, but in our cities that are mostly controlled by Democrat mayors and Democrat city council men and women. That’s where you see liberal policies. That’s where you see high taxes. That’s where you see street crime.”

1. Just as a reminder, the Mayors of Fort Worth and El Paso are Republicans, and the previous Mayor of Dallas ran in the Republican primary for US Senate in 2012. Among the Mayors who signed a letter to Greg Abbott complaining about his anti-city agenda are those of Amarillo, Arlington, Denton, Frisco, Irving, Lubbock, McKinney, Plano, and Sugar Land.

2. Also as a reminder, the five biggest metro areas in Texas are among the best economic performers in the state, with the Austin/Round Rock MSA leading the way. Yes, that’s the entire metro area and not just the city of Austin, but let’s be honest – if Austin weren’t the thriving economic hub that it is, Round Rock would still be the sleepy little rural town it was as recently as 1990.

3. Is anyone still wondering what our state leadership was going to do once they no longer had a Democratic President to scapegoat? I think this has been obvious for a few months now, but there should not be any doubt if there had been any. I do wonder how vigorous the anti-city jihad would be if Hillary Clinton – clearly the greater evil to them in any equation – had won.

4. For all the attacks on local control that Abbott and Patrick have been leveling so far, there’s nothing stopping them from going whole hog and abolishing the concept of a home rule city, which is what gives cities the authority to write their own ordinances. Indeed, one of Patrick’s pet Angry Old Man Senators – I forget if it was Don Huffines or Bob Hall; they’re both basically the same person – filed a bill this session to do just that. If cities are so lousy at governance and the state is so great at it, then why not just get rid of them and let everything they do now fall to the state, the counties, and the private sector? I’ll bet that would do wonders for the state’s economy.

5. Going back to point #1, Democrats need to figure out how to make more inroads in these more Republican cities. It doesn’t have to be an explicitly partisan thing – the old saw about potholes being neither Democratic nor Republican still means something – just put some effort into identifying and encouraging people who might make good candidates to run. Having such people get elected and do a good job will if nothing else provide local examples of successful Democrats in heavily Republican areas.

6. How many different constituencies can Dan Patrick (and to a slightly lesser extent Greg Abbott) insult and ignore and vilify before he starts to lose a significant level of support? To put it another way, how many members of these “vilified and insulted by Dan Patrick” constituencies will continue to vote for him anyway, and how many will decide that enough is enough? I feel like there needs to be some carefully targeted polling done.

7. Having said all this, I can’t help but feel like I’ve been trolled, and that this whole exercise was the talk radio equivalent of one of those “best/worst cities for x” clickbait stories that no one can seem to resist. If so, then I admit it: You got me, Dan Patrick. Well played. RG Ratcliffe has more.

Your periodic reminder that non-citizens very rarely vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who wants to give Greg Abbott power over their health insurance?

I sure don’t, but then I’m not the median voter in this state.

The Senate Republicans’ health care plan would give governors virtually unchecked discretion over health insurance plans. In red states with governors hostile to health care expansion, such as Texas, that could mean loss of coverage and skyrocketing costs for patients. Governor Greg Abbott would be able to determine what is covered in Texans’ health insurance, and how much they pay.

Nestled near the bottom of the Senate legislation is a provision that would allow governors and state insurance commissioners to waive health insurance requirements without the consent of the state’s legislative body. The bill would require federal officials to approve proposed changes as long as they don’t add to the deficit, even if they would result in price increases or coverage losses for constituents.

“It’s very easy to spend less on health care, you can cut benefits and save a lot of money,” said Stacey Pogue, senior policy analyst at the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities. “It’s kind of shocking the degree to which this waiver includes no insurance standards. The state could submit a waiver without legislative approval, kick millions off their insurance and the federal government would have to approve it.”

These waivers could include allowing insurers to stop covering essential health benefits such as maternity care and emergency services, or getting rid of caps on out-of-pocket costs.

[…]

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in a report Monday that most of the people affected by these additional waivers would be in states that limit the health benefits insurers are required to cover. This would lead to lower premiums overall, but coverage for high-cost services like maternity care and mental health care “would become extremely expensive,” CBO said. The waivers could also allow states to use the federal funds for purposes outside health care, the agency notes.

Once the waiver is granted it can’t be taken back for several years, even if there’s evidence that a state egregiously misused its funds. Even if “state officials blow the Obamacare money on cocaine and hookers, there’s apparently nothing the federal government can do about it,” wrote University of Michigan Law School professor Nicholas Bagley.

This topic was discussed on a recent Slate podcast called the Trumpcare Tracker. As we know at this point, the Senate bill got pulled from consideration after a tidal wave of criticism, but there’s plenty of time for something nearly as hideous to achieve majority support. In the meantime, as we try to adjust to a universe in which Ted Cruz is attempting to play dealmaker, keep an eye on this. Abbott likes power, and he’s not nearly as susceptible to public opinion as some Republican Senators are. If we get to a point where this is a live possibility, nothing good will result from it.

Denton County returns to paper ballots

I hadn’t realized this.

Denton has been using a hybrid voting system that employs both electronic and paper ballots for about a decade. But county officials recently approved spending just shy of $9 million to buy new voting equipment from Austin-based Hart InterCivic that will return to an entirely paper-based system in time for this year’s November elections. Even disabled voters, who will cast their votes on touch-screen machines, will have their ballots printed out and tallied through a print scanner.

The move comes months after a disastrous election day for Denton County in November, with machines inadvertently set to “test mode” instead of “election mode,” long lines, problems with scanning paper ballots, and, ultimately, incorrect tabulations. [Frank Phillips, Denton County’s elections administrator] — who was working in nearby Tarrant County at the time — said it was the personnel, not the machines, that caused chaos last fall. But voters in town, as well as leaders with the local Democratic and Republican parties, called for a return to paper ballots in the months following election day.

“The question always comes: ‘How do I know that when I cast my ballot it’s recorded electronically?’” Phillips said. “We know it’s recorded correctly because of our testing methods, but that question has persisted ever since we started using electronic voting. With the political climate these days, it’s even more heightened right now.”

And these aren’t just any paper ballots, Phillips emphasized. The new Hart system Denton purchased allows election administrators to print ballots on demand, eliminating the waste and cost of over-printing paper ballots in advance of an election and then having to expend resources storing those unused ballots afterward to comply with state regulations. It also prevents the problem of under-printing paper ballots — an issue that emerged last year when Titus County saw a higher-than-expected turnout for the presidential primary, and officials were forced to create and hand-count ballots on election day.

I gather what this means is that when you show up, you will get a printed-for-you ballot, then (I presume) fill it out with a pen or pencil. It will then be read by an optical scanner to tally the votes. Which is fine, but it’s not the way I’d prefer it. The system they have for disabled voters, where you vote on a touch screen then have your ballot printed out, would be better. Frankly, having the vote recorded electronically then having a paper ballot that serves as your receipt is better still. This is basically what the STAR voter system that Travis County has been working on does.

The main problem with filling out a paper ballot is that some people will fill it out incorrectly. Have you ever looked at the election returns on the Harris County Clerk website and wondered how there could possibly be overvotes in a race? It happens with the paper-based absentee ballots, where one can accidentally or purposefully select more than one candidate in a contest. Electronic voting machines don’t allow for this to happen. While this will almost always spoil a ballot for that race, some of the time with these overvotes, the voter’s intent is clear. In the infamous 2000 Florida election, some counties used a paper ballot with optical scan system, and there were documented instances of a person filling in the bubble for a specific candidate, then also putting that same candidate’s name in the write-in space. This is hardly an insurmountable problem, but it would help to have clear policies in place for when a ballot is truly spoiled and when a voter’s intent can be inferred.

There are other potential issues here – do we have any idea if it will take people longer to vote on paper than on a screen, for instance – but again, I don’t think they’re insurmountable. I don’t care for the fearfulness behind the “how do I know that when I cast my ballot it’s recorded electronically?” premise – the same way you know that when you buy something from Amazon it will arrive on your doorstep and your credit card will get charged – but whatever. If this is what the people of Denton County want, then so be it. The Lewisville Texan has more.

Another look at redistricting in Texas

We’re in the spotlight right now.

The odd shapes tell the story.

A huge Republican majority in the Houston-area 2nd congressional district represented by Ted Poe curls around the region from Lake Houston, northeast of the city, makes a meandering, snakelike loop out to the western suburbs, and ends south of downtown near Loop 610.

Nearby, the 29th congressional district has a big Democratic majority and is represented by Gene Green. It resembles a partially-eaten doughnut, forming an undulating shape from north to east to south.

Like virtually all 36 congressional districts in Texas – Republican Will Hurd’s West Texas district being the only exception – neither Poe’s nor Green’s district is particularly competitive in general elections.

The political art of drawing boundaries to protect incumbents is called gerrymandering – a word derived from salamanders, lizard-like creatures known for their slender bodies and short limbs. The whole idea behind the practice is to carve up the political map for partisan advantage.

It happens everywhere, and has been the subject of legal challenges for years.

And now the U.S. Supreme Court has signaled it may take a fresh look in a Wisconsin redistricting case that has the potential to fundamentally alter the political landscape from Texas to Washington, D.C.

[…]

“Clearly the Texas congressional map, and the state House map and state Senate map, are partisanly gerrymandered, and they are way out of balance with the political performance of the state,” said Matt Angle, head of the Lone Star Project, which seeks to make Democratic gains in Texas.

Some Republicans downplay the significance of the Wisconsin case, saying that they believe Texas’ political boundaries are already fair and, most importantly, legal.

“Unless the court does some serious overreach, we shouldn’t be facing needing to redraw those lines at all,” said James Dickey, the newly-elected chairman of the Texas Republican Party.

The problem for Texas Republicans is that the state’s congressional district boundaries already are under legal challenge over alleged racial discrimination for the way minorities were packed into a limited number of urban districts.

Some of the boundaries drawn in 2011 already have been ruled intentionally discriminatory, and a federal court is set to hear a challenge next month on a new map drawn in 2013.

Unlike the Texas challenge, which focuses in the racial makeup of political districts, the legal fight in Wisconsin is over the partisan makeup of the state’s boundaries, which also favor Republicans.

But the two criteria are closely related. “If you correct for the racial discrimination in Texas, you go a long way toward balancing the partisan makeup of these districts,” Angle said.

[…]

In Texas, Angle argues, “There’s no question what’s happened is you’ve got safe districts created, Democrats packed into as few districts as possible, and the rest of them cracked into as many safe Republican districts as possible, and what that’s done is it’s made the primaries matter the most, and primaries are driven by the most ideological people within their party.”

In the Wisconsin case, Gill v. Whitford, the court will be asked to look at the allegedly skewed results of the state’s recent elections. In 2012, Republicans won 60 of 99 legislative seats despite winning only 48.6 percent of the state’s two-party statewide vote. In 2014, Republicans won 63 seats with only 52 percent of the statewide vote.

Texas Democrats say they could make the same case. While Democratic presidential candidates won more than 40 percent of the statewide vote in the past three elections, Democratic voters were distributed in such a way that their party controls only about a third of the state’s legislative and congressional seats.

Critics call that an “efficiency gap,” which can only be explained by partisan gerrymandering. Now before the high court, they hope to find a way to close the gap.

“This is a historic opportunity to address one of the biggest problems in our electoral system,” said Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice, a left-leaning law and public policy institute at the New York University School of Law. “Gerrymandering has become so aggressive, extreme and effective that there is an urgent need for the Supreme Court to step in and set boundaries.”

Conservative groups argue that there is no way to estimate what each party “should” win in a fair election. The redistricting tests that have been proposed to close the “efficiency gap” in Wisconsin, they say, are arbitrary.

See here for more on the Wisconsin case, which will not affect the ongoing Texas litigation at this time. Poe’s district is certainly a Republican one, and for most of this decade it was deep red, but after a significant Democratic shift in 2016, it’s still very favorable to Republicans but not overwhelmingly so. Given the overall trends in Harris County, I suspect that the fate of CD02 in the 2021 redistricting cycle will be to take on a piece of Montgomery County in order to keep it sufficiently Republican, much as Pete Sessions’ CD32 needed to incorporate some of Collin County in 2011 to stay red.

It’s really hard to say what will happen going forward. Between the Texas case and the Wisconsin and North Carolina cases, the range of outcomes stretches from “no real difference” to multiple seats flipping this year with fewer ways for the Republicans to put their thumb on the scale in 2021. As I’ve noted before, Texas isn’t all that out of whack in terms of how many seats each party wins, but Republicans have gained a huge advantage in multiple swing states thanks to having gained control of those states’ legislatures in 2010. SCOTUS could put a stop to that going forward, or they could just apply a remedy to Texas for its own brand of egregious gerrymandering, or they could shrug their shoulders and decline to get involved. We’ll just have to wait and see.

An interesting shift in approval ratings for state leaders

More UT/Trib poll data:

The figurative wrestling match between the state’s top three officials jiggled their approval ratings, but not by much, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Gov. Greg Abbott remains the highest rated of the state’s high officials, with 45 percent of voters saying they approve his job performance and 38 saying they disapprove. That’s slightly higher than the 33 percent who disapproved in February’s UT/TT Poll, but he continues to get more positive than negative reviews.

The same can’t be said for his legislative colleagues. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus have more negative than positive reviews, though the margins are small. Patrick got good reviews from 34 percent of voters and bad ones from 36 percent; Straus had 25 percent good reviews and 29 percent negative ones. The speaker, as is ordinarily the case, remains the least well-known of the three, with 46 percent of voters either giving him neutral or no ratings.

Republican voters clearly have a favorite in Abbott, with 83 percent approving his job performance. Patrick gets good marks from 68 percent of those voters. Among Tea Party Republicans, Abbott gets approving nods from 90 percent; Patrick from 78 percent.

The most popular U.S. senator from Texas is Ted Cruz, with 38 percent of Texas voters saying they approve of the job he’s doing, while 28 percent approve of John Cornyn’s work in the Senate. But Cruz is also the leader in negative reviews, getting those from 44 percent of voters. Cornyn got negative marks from 41 percent. That said, the margins are important, and Cornyn had a wider gap — 13 percentage points — between his bad notices and his favorable ones.

They also polled Beto O’Rourke’s favorability numbers, but 55% of respondents didn’t know him, so that’s not very useful. The poll summary is here and it conveniently includes the numbers from previous efforts, so as I did on Friday I’m going to do a little comparing between February and now:


Incumbent     StrongApp  SomeApp  Neutral  SomeDis  StrongDis  DontKnow
=======================================================================
Abbott June          27       18       12        9         29         4
Abbott Feb           27       18       17        9         24         5

Patrick June         15       19       18        8         28        11
Patrick Feb          16       16       24        8         23        14

Cornyn June           9       19       18       14         27        12
Cornyn Feb           11       19       22       12         22        14

Cruz June            21       17       12        9         35         6
Cruz Feb             20       18       14       10         29         9

I’m skipping Joe Straus because he’s not elected statewide like the others are. The Strongly Approve and Somewhat Approve numbers are basically identical for all. The one place where you see a change is in the Strongly Disapprove numbers, where everyone got a five or six point increase, with a corresponding decrease in the “neither approve nor disapprove” numbers; in Ted Cruz’s case, in that category plus the “don’t know” option. My guess is that the people who went from “meh” to “I can’t stand that guy” are mostly Democrats, and that the change represents a higher level of interest and engagement by them. I don’t know how much that might mean, and it’s possible this is more a function of the legislature being in session than anything else, meaning that it could vanish by October. Who knows? That will be worth keeping an eye on. I just thought it was worth noting.

Yet another report about how much our voter ID law sucked

Keep ’em coming.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Hundreds were delayed from voting and others nearly turned away entirely during the presidential election because of confusion over the status Texas voter ID laws, a new report from a voting rights advocacy group shows.

It’s just one of numerous problems Texas voters — particularly minority groups — faced during the 2016 election cycle, the report from the Texas Civil Rights Project detailed on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, throughout the state, voters faced numerous obstacles that complicated the process,” said Beth Stevens, voting rights director at the Texas Civil Rights Project which put out the report on Thursday. “Through our Election Protection Coalition, we heard directly from thousands of voters about the barriers they faced in our electoral system.”

The first of its kind Texas-based report on voter issues was limited in scope to just over 4,000 incidents that we logged. But Stevens said it’s safe to assume there are many more Texans who experienced similar obstacles in voting that simply did not know who to turn to.

“Common sense says that there is whole subset of voters that didn’t know who to call and just walked away,” she said.

Of the 4,000 incidents that were tracked by a coalition of voting advocacy groups during the presidential election most were issues related to polling place problems, voter registration status or voter ID requirements.

The Texas Civil Rights Project press release is here, and the full report is here. Confusion and discouragement were the point of the voter ID law. The only just and sensible way to address that is to throw the whole thing out.

Texas Republicans still mostly like Trump

There are a few cracks in the surface, however.

Most voters in the country’s biggest red state are wary of President Donald Trump — but Republican voters remain strongly supportive of him, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

More than half of the voters said Trump does not have the temperament to serve as president, but that number reflects strong Democratic antipathy to the president. Only 5 percent of self-identified Democrats said he has the temperament for the office, while 68 percent of self-identified Republicans said he does have the proper temperament.

Other assessments of the president carry the same partisan seasoning: Only 4 percent of Democrats said Trump is honest and trustworthy, and just 9 percent said he is competent. Republicans in Texas are still satisfied, with 66 percent saying Trump is honest and trustworthy and 80 percent saying he’s competent.

Overall, 43 percent approve of the job Trump is doing in office, while 51 percent disapprove. Among Republicans, 80 percent approve. Among Democrats, 90 percent disapprove.

Texas voters’ views of Trump roughly track the findings of the February UT/TT Poll. “If anyone has had a rough launch, it’s Donald Trump,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “But Texas Republicans are holding steady. They continue to embrace him.”

See here for the UT/Trib February numbers. A brief comparison:


Category           Feb   June
=============================
Approve             46     43
Disapprove          44     51

Good Temperament    39     38
Bad Temperament     48     53

Is Honest           38     35
Is Not Honest       50     55

So there’s decline across the board, though by a modest amount. There’s a chart in the February Trib story that breaks approve/disapprove down by partisan ID (you can also dig through the February crosstabs), and we can see that Democratic disapproval went from 85% to 90%. That’s not enough to boost his overall “disapprove” number from 44 to 51, and since we only have the “approve” number for Republicans for June and no data on independents, I surmise a small shift for Republicans from “neutral” to “disapprove” as well as an erosion in approve/disapprove numbers for the indies. The same is likely true for the other indicators. It’s a small shift, which as I said before is what we’re likely to see until either Republican support softens or indies completely abandon him, but it’s still a shift in the negative direction. As before, we should keep an eye on this. See the Texas Lyceum poll results from April for more.

An SB4 threefer

We have our first SB4 casualty.

A 15,000-member association of attorneys and law professors said on Wednesday that it is relocating its 2018 convention out of Texas in response to the state legislature passing Senate bill 4, a sweeping and controversial immigration enforcement measure.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association was scheduled to hold its 3-day event in Grapevine next year, but said the bill’s “dangerous, destructive and counter productive proposals” go against the group’s mission. About 3,000 people were expected to attend the convention.

“One of the issues that drove the board’s decision was concern on behalf of quite a number of our members that they might not be willing to bring themselves or their families to Texas,” AILA president Bill Stock told reporters during a conference call. “Our members are US citizens and green card holders but many of them come from ethnic communities where they felt that they [would] being unfairly targeted.”

[…]

The AILA Grapevine conference was booked years ago. The organization could face financial penalties for relocating, Stock said, but the group chose to cancel the event anyway due to the new law.

I don’t think it should surprise anyone that an association of immigration attorneys would want to take its business elsewhere after SB4 passed. Will other groups do likewise? It’s hard to say, especially given the vastly greater attention given to SB6, which will be re-focused on the state during the special session. With all the lawsuits getting filed, and with SB4 not officially taking effect until September 1 barring an injunction, perhaps that will change.

In the meantime, SxSW has come under some pressure to think about relocating. For now, at least, they are standing firm.

[SXSW CEO Roland] Swenson’s position is reasonable—and it’s notable that he doesn’t make the argument that leaving Austin is unrealistic, which while true, would come off as a smidge hypocritical from an organization that’s floated such ideas themselves. As the 2017 regular session proved, and which Abbott’s comments at a reception in Belton about the smell of the air in “the People’s Republic of Austin” on Wednesday confirmed, bashing Austin is good for politics if you’re a Texas Republican. Leading SXSW to pull out of Austin might have a negative economic impact on the city to the tune of $320 million a year, but it’s a safe bet that any politician who voted for SB 4 would probably get cheers from their base for chasing it out of town.

All of which highlights the actual issue that SXSW—and any business whose values involve a fairly progressive worldview—face in operating in Texas in 2017. Austin leads the state in startups, venture capital, and patents. The sort of industries that are likely to form the basis of Texas’s modern economy are growing out of a city that the state’s leaders are quick to bash. At some point, Austin, SXSW, and all of the constituencies that those two entities represent are going to have to make some decisions about whether the animosity coming from the state to their interests is mutual—and if so, what to do about it.

See the Chron for more. It’s crazy to think that our Republican overlords, who like to tout every business relocation to Texas, would cheer for a $300 million economic loss, but this is the world we live in. Texas’ urban areas are big engines of growth, but their politics differ from those of the state leadership, which has been doing all it can to stick it to them.

All of that is bad for business, and business is wondering when it lost its influence.

Dennis Nixon is the CEO of the International Bank of Commerce, the ninth biggest bank in Texas, the kind of person the state’s Republicans used to listen to. These days, however, he’s feeling woefully neglected.

“I personally think it’s a disaster,” Nixon says, about the legislative session that just ended. “They basically disregarded the business community of Texas, just threw us under the bus.”

Nixon is particularly exasperated by the passage of Senate Bill 4, which directs local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigration officials in arresting and detaining undocumented immigrants. He says the immigrant workforce is essential to the state’s economic health, and that driving them out is self-sabotage.

He pointed to Arizona, where anti-immigration laws drove out workers, created labor shortages and hurt economic growth.

“This could have really serious consequences for Texas,” he says. “”My argument is, we have to have these people. They’re working already.”

It’s not just the immigration issue: Nixon is also fuming at the Texas legislature’s focus on social issues like abortion and transgender bathroom access, its failure to address high property taxes, and the Trump administration’s determination to build a wall on the border with Mexico. He says he’s brought these issues up with lawmakers, to no avail.

“I don’t get it,” Nixon says. “I’m just one guy in the night, screaming.”

[…]

“No amount of misinformation and fear-mongering about a law that keeps dangerous criminals off the street, and that a majority of Texans support, will stop business from thriving in Texas,” said Abbott spokesman John Wittman, of the sanctuary cities bill. He also expressed confidence that the bathroom bill wouldn’t hurt the state’s economy.

“The truth is that businesses look at what is best for their bottom line, and Texas is that place,” Wittman says.

Nixon disagrees, and worries that Texas’ open-for-business reputation isn’t indestructible.

“That’s a very slippery slope to get on, when the government disregards the business message, you’re really getting yourself into trouble,” Nixon says. “Especially if you’re a Republican state, you want to retain the business community as a political ally.”

Still, businesses are in a little bit of a box: Democrats aren’t exactly their cup of tea either, with their preference for higher taxes and tighter regulations.

“They’ve moved to the left, and gotten so crazy out of whack,” Nixon says. “And we’ve got the Republicans who’ve moved far to the right, they’ve gotten crazy out of whack. So we’ve got to get back to the middle here.”

Sorry, dude, but you’re going to have to make a choice. You could try to elect some less-fanatical Republicans via the primaries, but good luck with that. Alternately, you can accept that while Democrats can, will, and should oppose you on some important things, they at least won’t work to destroy the state’s economy and reputation through legislative means. Last we checked, businesses were doing pretty well in Democratic-run states like California, too. What do you have to lose here?

Rep. Al Green gets death threats

sad, but hardly surprising.

Rep. Al Green

During a town hall meeting Saturday, Congressman Al Green played recordings of threatening voicemail messages left for him after he demanded the impeachment of President Donald Trump on the House floor earlier this week.

“You’ll be hanging from a tree,” one caller said.

The calls use graphic racial slurs, some calling Green the n-word. “You ain’t going to impeach nobody. Try it and we will lynch all of you,” the caller said.

[…]

“It does not deter us,” Green said of the threats. “We are not going to be intimidated. We are not going to allow this to cause us to deviate from what we believe to be the right thing to do and that is to proceed with the impeachment of President Trump.”

See here for the background. There are embedded recordings of the voice mails at the story, if you have the stomach for them. People like this suck, and I wish they’d stay under their rocks, but this is the world we live in. I’m sure Rep. Green is unimpressed, but I hope he has some extra protection for at least the next couple of weeks. The Trib has more.

Warning labels, schmarning labels

Sid Miller, ladies and gentlemen, addressing the concerns of rancher Bruce Hunnicutt about the use of poison to try to control the feral hog population.

Hunnicutt, 58, operates a hog hunting business on 30,000 acres — he owns 600 and leases another 24,000 — in Northeast Texas. He regularly sends the meat of the pigs they kill home with his clients.

When he couldn’t find answers online, he called the agriculture department to get more information. To his surprise, he got a return call from Commissioner Sid Miller, who assured Hunnicutt the poison would be safe to humans and other wildlife, and directed him to his Facebook page for more information on the poison that’s marketed under the name Kaput.

When Hunnicutt found the product’s label, he was so alarmed he called his state representative.

“That label didn’t look anything like what the man [Miller] told me on the phone —I thought, ‘My god, that can’t be right — people can’t eat this,’ ” he said. “How in the world can you put something in the human food chain that can kill somebody, to kill an animal that people eat?”

When he traveled to Austin to meet with Rep. Gary VanDeaver, he got the chance to address Miller in person.

In the March 3 meeting set up by VanDeaver’s office, which was recorded with Miller’s permission, the commissioner responded to some of Hunnicutt’s safety concerns by saying that his agency could change the poison’s federally approved label to eliminate an important warning — as well as a requirement to bury the carcasses of poisoned hogs, which Miller said simply wasn’t “doable.”

In the recording, which Hunnicutt provided to The Texas Tribune, Hunnicutt says: “That product label right there says ‘all animals’ … every one of them has to be recovered and put 18 inches under the ground. How you going to do that? … How you going to find all of them, Mr. Miller?”

“I guess we should take that off the label, it’s not doable,” Miller says. “We’ll take it off.”

Hunnicutt then referred to the label’s warnings about the dangers of the poison to other wildlife and domesticated animals.

“Animals that feed on those carcasses are going to die. It can kill them,” he told Miller. “Whether you say it or not, the label says it will.”

Miller responded: “We can adjust that too.”

The meeting lasted about 30 minutes, growing increasingly tense, before Miller finally stood up and walked out.

“It’s like he wasn’t listening to me, he had his mind made up, he had his little dog and pony show he’s been putting on this whole time,” Hunnicutt said.

See here for the background. I mean, who even reads warning labels, am I right? They can say whatever you want them to, no one will be the wiser. I have no idea how ol’ Sid didn’t get picked to be Trump’s ag secretary. They’re two unregulated peas in a pod. The Press has more.

Culberson’s stock purchase

Interesting.

Rep. John Culberson

In a heated confirmation hearing for then-Georgia U.S. Rep. Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Democrats raised pointed questions about the congressman’s trading in stocks of companies regulated by the House committees he serves on.

One in particular, Innate Immunotherapeutics, a small Australian biotech firm, generated particular attention because it had sold nearly $1 million in discounted shares to two House members: Price and New York Republican Chris Collins, who turned out to be the firm’s biggest investor.

Amid the controversy in January, Price said everything he did was “ethical, aboveboard, legal and transparent,” though he agreed to divest himself of that and other stocks that could raise ethics questions.

Collins also denied any wrongdoing, though he is now reportedly being investigated by the Office of Congressional Ethics for his role in touting the stock to investors from the halls of Congress.

But the public heat did not dissuade two Texas congressmen from quietly buying into the Australian company Jan. 26, two days after the Price hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, records show. John Culberson of Houston and Mike Conaway of Midland, are among at least seven Republican House members who have invested in the company. The two Texans bought in at what was then close to a 52-week peak in the stock price on the Australian Securities Exchange. The transactions were first reported by Politico.

[…]

Culberson’s stock buy, which he valued at between $1,000 and $15,000, was particularly unusual, because by the congressman’s own account, he is not an active stock trader.

Beside his stake in Innate Immunotherapeutics, his most recent financial reports to Congress list holdings in Apple stock and some past investments in “military collectibles.”

In a statement, Culberson offered this motive for the stock purchase in the fairly obscure foreign company that works to develop treatments for multiple sclerosis: “One of my father’s best friends died of MS, and we have a family friend with multiple sclerosis, so I’m always on the lookout for breakthroughs on treating MS. This one looks promising. I rarely buy or sell stock.”

He declined interview requests this week and staffers offered no details about the exact amount and timing of his stock purchase, which coincided with that of Conaway. Nor have they explained why Culberson waited until April 6 to report the stock buy, well beyond the 30-day window required to inform the House clerk’s office.

Through a spokeswoman, however, Culberson dismissed Democrats’ accusations that he might have used non-public information.

“Representative Culberson originally learned of the company through press reports,” his spokeswoman, Emily Taylor, said Thursday. “He continued his own research on their promising MS treatment, which is an issue important to him, and that led to the purchase.”

I don’t know how big a deal this is. The circumstances are fishy and Culberson’s explanation is weak, but unless Tom Price gets into a heap of trouble for his actions, I don’t see much happening to Culberson. That said, having stuff like this turn into blaring headlines seems to me to portend a rough campaign season. If nothing else, having all these candidates and a national focus on CD07 guarantees that every little thing will be news, and that’s not something Culberson has had to deal with lately. Better get used to it.

State seeks Medicaid money it gave up over Planned Parenthood ban

Ugh.

Right there with them

Four years after Texas gave up millions of dollars in federal Medicaid funds so it could ban Planned Parenthood from participating in a family planning program for low-income women, the state is asking the Trump administration for the money back.

The request presents an important early test for the administration of President Trump, who recently appointed an anti-abortion official to oversee federal family planning programs. Under President Obama, federal health officials would not allow Medicaid funds to flow to the Texas program after it excluded Planned Parenthood, because federal law requires states to give Medicaid beneficiaries their choice of “any willing provider.”

If the administration agrees to restore the funding for Texas, it could effectively give states the greenlight to ban Planned Parenthood from Medicaid family planning programs with no financial consequences.

“They’re asking the federal government to do a 180 on its Medicaid program rules,” said Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, a research center that supports abortion rights. “And depending how this shakes out, you could see a number of other states follow suit.”

[…]

In its draft waiver application, the state said it hoped that by turning Healthy Texas Women back into a Medicaid waiver program, it would improve access and participation. The application noted that Texas had the nation’s highest birthrate, with more than 400,000 births in 2015, more than half of which were paid for by Medicaid. It also noted than more than one-third of pregnancies in the state were reported as unintended, and that Texas had one of the highest teen birthrates in the country.

On Monday, at a public hearing on the plan in Austin, several women and representatives of health advocacy groups expressed concern about the request.

“A strong Healthy Texas Women program should include Planned Parenthood,” said Blanca Murillo, 25, who said she relied on Planned Parenthood for contraception that helped treat her polycystic ovary syndrome when she was a student at the University of Texas. “I’m asking the state to choose the health of Texas women — which it has a duty to protect — over scoring political points.”

Stacey Pogue, senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a liberal research group, pointed to the so-called freedom of choice provision in Medicaid and said she was concerned that “submitting the waiver as is would invite litigation.”

A spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or C.M.S., which oversees Medicaid waiver programs, declined to comment.

Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said, “We’re been encouraged to present new and innovative ideas to C.M.S. for discussion for possible funding. This is a new administration, and we’re looking at what funding opportunities may exist for us.”

Texas is also seeking to cut off all Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood; a federal judge blocked the effort earlier this year, but the state is appealing the decision.

It’s for stuff like this that Republicans have remained loyal to Trump regardless of the disaster he creates everywhere. They want their shiny ideological objects, and it doesn’t get much shinier than shivving Planned Parenthood. Who cares if some of the money winds up going to frauds? It’s not like they actually cared about women’s health in the first place. So yes, I expect this request to be granted in short order, and then replicated in other states. The only way to undo that is going to be to undo who is in charge of the government. The Associated Press, the Trib, and the Current have more.