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Whitley’s “apology”

He can do a lot better than this. He should do a lot better than this if he wants to get confirmed.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Facing an uncertain path to confirmation after ordering a deeply flawed voter citizenship review that seemingly focused on naturalized citizens, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley is apologizing to state lawmakers for the way his office bungled its rollout of the review — but he is still holding firm behind the overall effort.

In a letter sent to state lawmakers late Wednesday, Whitley largely defended the review efforts as a legally sound exercise, and he did not admit that his office had erred when it mistakenly threw into question the eligibility of tens of thousands of U.S. citizens or when it sent counties lists of voters it knew very likely included naturalized citizens.

Instead, Whitley vaguely admitted there were some shortcomings to the data his office used to flag almost 100,000 registered voters for citizenship reviews and noted his office should have devoted more time to “additional communication” with local and state officials to “further eliminate anyone from our original list who is, in fact, eligible to vote.”

“After close consultation with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), the counties, and members of the Texas Legislature, I have discovered that additional refining of the data my office provides to county voter registrars, both in substance and in timing, is necessary to ensure a more accurate and efficient list maintenance process,” Whitley wrote in the letter obtained by The Texas Tribune.

[…]

In his letter to lawmakers, Whitley said his announcement “could have been communicated better” by including “more substance” from the advisory his office sent out to counties detailing the release of the data and “by emphasizing my goal to ensure that no qualified voters are removed from the rolls.”

“I recognize this caused some confusion about our intentions, which were at all times aimed at maintaining the accuracy and integrity of the voter rolls,” Whitley wrote. “To the extent my actions missed that mark, I apologize.”

You can click over and see the letter if you want – I see no real value in that, given the clear lack of substance. Nothing about this should inspire any confidence in David Whitley’s ability to do the job. At the very least, we deserve an explanation of how this shoddy list was constructed, why there were no controls in place to properly vet it, why it was referred to the AG’s office despite these obvious shortcomings, and what is being done to prevent anything like this from happening again. Oh, and an apology to the people who have been wrongly accused. Come back after that and then we can talk.

In the meantime:

The confusion and chaos caused by Texas’ bombastic voter fraud allegations has manifested in almost every element of the fallout.

The latest example is a voter purge notice sent out by one Texas county that lacked basic contact information or even an official letterhead.

The notice left one citizen mistakenly flagged by the stake feeling “very worried” and a “sense of fear,” according to court documents filed Monday.

[…]

In Wood County, those notices went out with the space left blank where the phone number of the local elections office should have been. The notices also lacked the response form the recipients were asked to use to reply, and there was no letterhead on the notices.

A woman in the court docs known as “Jane Doe #2” — who received the notice despite being naturalized in March 2018 and voting legally in that year — recounted in a declaration her frustration and her “sense of fear,” given that she could not tell if the letter was fake or real.

“I questioned whether I had done something wrong, or if somebody was trying to prank me.” Jane Doe #2 wrote in the declaration. “I did not know where to go or who to call to receive answers to my questions.”

She first tried to call the county clerk’s office, where the staff member who answered her call said the letter might be fake and that the person whose name was on the notice didn’t work for the county clerk, according to Jane Doe #2’s statement. She finally got in touch with the county elections administrator, Lisa Wise, who explained that the notices had been sent out without the contact information by mistake. Jane Doe #2 eventually traveled to meet Wise in person and showed Wise a copy of her naturalization certificate.

This was part of a filing by MALDEF in their lawsuit against the SOS. What would David Whitley say to Jane Doe? What he has said so far is completely inadequate.

Paxton double-talks on that SOS advisory

Ken Paxton really can’t be trusted. Not exactly earth-shattering, I know, but always good to remember.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton assured lawmakers on Friday that his office hadn’t launched criminal investigations into nearly 100,000 voters flagged by the secretary of state’s office for citizenship review.

But email correspondence obtained by The Texas Tribune between an assistant county attorney and a Paxton deputy who cites “pending criminal investigations related to these issues” appears to contradict the attorney general’s claim.

The two opposing statements were put into writing within a week. Paxton made his assurance in a letter received by the Senate Nominations Committee, which had grilled Secretary of State David Whitley a day earlier over his decision to hand over to the attorney general’s office the list of voters whose citizenship he was questioning. Whitley’s confirmation is in doubt, in part because of questions from Democrats about whether he knew there were naturalized citizens on the list but referred the names to the state’s top prosecutor anyway.

Paxton wrote that it would “not be possible to investigate tens of thousands of [secretary of state] matters” before local voter registrars had reviewed the lists they received from the state.

“We plan to begin our investigations only once some counties have completed their list maintenance,” Paxton said.

But the Friday before, Assistant Attorney General Lauren Downey wrote the opposite in an email to Guadalupe County’s assistant county attorney: “The Office of the Attorney General has pending criminal investigations related to these issues.”

See here for the background. Never trust a word Ken Paxton says. I don’t have anything to add to this, so let me turn the microphone over to Julieta Garibay:

Finally, 26 years after I had migrated to the United States and made Austin my home. After all the trials and tribulations as an undocumented immigrant. After being a survivor of domestic violence and getting my green card because of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Justice had prevailed — I would be a U.S. citizen.

In April 2018, my family and friends joined me as I took my citizenship oath. I couldn’t help but cry in joy and excitement as I waved my American flag. A month later, I proudly cast my first vote in the United States — one of the new rights I was most excited about. At the polls, I thought of all the people in the immigrant community who were counting on my vote to ensure we are treated with dignity and respect.

But a couple weeks ago, when I saw Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton proclaim “VOTER FRAUD ALERT,” my heart sank. It was clear to me that the Secretary of State’s office hadn’t thoroughly investigated the data it had released on 95,000 potential non-citizen voters. Frightened, I emailed the Travis County Voter Registrar to ask if I was on the list. A couple of days later, I received a call that confirmed my fear — my right to vote was being questioned.

She goes on to call for Secretary of State David Whitley to resign. Failing that, not confirming him would be adequate. I’m with her on this.

Equality Texas poll on non-discrimination laws

From the inbox:

New data released by national polling organization Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows majority support from every major demographic group for laws to protect LGBTQ Texans from discrimination.

“This poll shows that Texas has turned the corner, and equality for LGBTQ Texans is solidly a mainstream Texas value. The majority of Texans of every region, religion and major ethnic group–including white evangelical Protestants–support legal protections against discrimination.

“Despite overwhelming support for these laws, most Texans don’t know that in Texas you can still legally be fired for who you are or who you love. It’s time to change that by passing comprehensive non-discrimination protections this year,” said Samantha Smoot, Interim Executive Director of Equality Texas.

Comprehensive non-discrimination bills have been filed by Senator Rodriguez (SB 151) Rep. Farrar (HB 244) and Rep. Bernal (HB 254).

The new, in-depth analysis comes from nationally recognized polling firm PRRI, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy. PRRI’s sample size includes nearly 3000 Texas interviews.

64% of all Texans oppose discrimination against LGBTQ Texans, including majority support from white evangelical Protestants, 54% of whom oppose discrimination. In a breakdown by region of the state, the numbers are highest in Austin, El Paso and the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex.

  • Austin/Round Rock 78%
  • El Paso 73%
  • Dallas/Ft. Worth/ Arlington 68%
  • Houston/Woodlands/Sugar Land 64%
  • San Antonio/New Braunfels 64%

The research shows support across a broad range of subgroups for laws to protect lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual people from discrimination in jobs, public spaces and housing. Notably, there is bipartisan and cross-denominational support among Texans for LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws, as well as majority support across five major Texas metropolitan areas.

The new analysis also finds that 57% of all Texans oppose allowing a small business owner to refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people based on the owner’s religious beliefs. To date, three bills (HB 1035 by Zedler, SB 444 by Perry and SB 85 by Hall) have been filed in the Texas legislature that would create a license to discriminate against LGBTQ Texans for special groups.

You can see the poll data here. For marriage equality, the numbers are 55% favor, 34% oppose. This is a poll of adults, not registered voters and thus certainly not actual voters, a bit of skepticism on top of the usual amount given for an individual poll is called for. It also helps to have other poll results to compare to, so I went looking and found this from 2017, when the entire state was being held hostage by Dan Patrick’s desire to be the potty police.

Some voters like the [proposed “bathroom bill”] more than others. Overall, 44 percent consider it important and 47 percent do not. Among all Republicans — including those who identify with the Tea Party and those who don’t — 57 percent said such a bill is important, and among Tea Party Republicans, 70 percent said so. Democrats are on the other side of this one, with 53 percent saying the legislation is either “not very important” or “not important at all.”

[…]

That was one of several cultural questions in the June UT/TT Poll. A majority of voters — 55 percent — say gays and lesbians should have the right to marry, a view shared by 77 percent of Democrats, but rejected by 52 percent of Republicans. Across those and most other subgroups in the poll, opposition to same-sex marriage in Texas is softening and support is growing. In June 2015, 66 percent of Democrats approved of same-sex marriages and 60 percent of Republicans did not. Overall, 44 percent of Texans were supportive while 41 percent were not. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled two years ago that gay marriage bans are unconstitutional.

“It’s going to take time,” said Daron Shaw, who co-directs the poll and teaches government at UT-Austin. “But there’s a broader push to inclusivity and diversity, particularly among young people.”

Click through to the poll summary, and you see that support for marriage equality was 55% in favor, and 32% oppose. Which is to say, right in line with this EqTX poll. That’s encouraging, but also a reminder that Texas isn’t quite voting in line with those numbers yet. 2018 was a big step in that direction, and with a slate of candidates that were up front about their support for LGBT equality, but still short of winning. What we should take from these numbers is that we truly are in the majority, and we need to keep pushing. We didn’t win last time, but we’re on our way.

Paxton manages to restrain himself from prosecuting anyone on the SOS list – yet

Mighty decent of you there, Kenny boy.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told lawmakers Friday that his office has yet to take action on a deeply flawed list of nearly 100,000 Texas voters flagged last month for citizenship review.

Paxton wrote a letter to the Senate Nominations Committee the day after a hearing in which David Whitley, the governor’s nominee to be the state’s top election official, conceded that he was aware of potential problems with the list before he referred it to the state’s top prosecutors.

[…]

Paxton assured senators in the Friday letter that his agency would undertake such probes “only once some counties have completed their list maintenance.”

“To us, justice means charging and prosecuting only if the facts show the person committed the offense and had the required criminal state of mind,” Paxton wrote in the letter, which was first reported by the Austin American-Statesman and obtained by The Texas Tribune. “Charging a defendant without that evidence is injustice.”

But Paxton’s letter also made clear that the delay in initiating prosecutions is largely due to a lack of resources.

“Our undersized Election Fraud Unit was experiencing a backlog of over 80 complex cases even before the SOS notification,” Paxton wrote. “Simply put, even utilizing every resource we have, it would not be possible to investigate tens of thousands of SOS matters before the voter registrars should be able to complete their list maintenance activity.”

Paxton’s agency has asked the Legislature for $2 million and 10 full-time staff members to investigate and prosecute election fraud cases, saying it has too many investigations and too few resources already.

See here for more on Whitley’s super fun day of admitting to the committee that he doesn’t know his rear end from his elbow. I’m sure this all must be grinding Paxton’s gears, poor baby. It has to be just a wee bit harder to justify all that money for his political vendettas when the numbers are so obviously wrong even he can’t act on them. As the story notes, he may never get any actual names from county election administrators, at least not any time soon. The lesson here is that it’s so much better to be right slowly than to be wrong quickly. And like many important lessons in life, it needed to be learned the hard way.

SOS advisory lawsuit update

Add another plaintiff, litigate till done.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A naturalized citizen — who immigrated to Texas from the United Kingdom and is a registered voter — is joining a Latino civil rights group in suing top Texas officials after her voter registration was flagged by the state for a citizenship check.

Signing onto a lawsuit filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens, Atascosa County resident Julie Hilberg on Friday alleged that Texas Secretary of State David Whitley’s move to question the legality of tens of thousands of registered voters in Texas was an unconstitutional, discriminatory burden on the right to vote.

Hilberg — who also joined the League of United Latin American Citizens in its claims that Whitley and Attorney General Ken Paxton have violated a provision of the federal Voting Rights that prohibits the intimidation of voters — added her name to the suit, but she is also seeking to represent all of the legitimately registered voters who appear on the state’s list as a plaintiff class.

“The burden imposed by Defendant Whitley’s new voter purge program — both the current list of 95,000 registrants flagged for potential removal and the plan to continue this practice on a monthly basis — imposes a severe and plainly discriminatory burden on naturalized citizens who wish to exercise their right to vote,” the complaint reads.

[…]

After learning about the citizenship checks in the news, Hilberg on Thursday went to the local elections office with her naturalization certificate in hand to figure out if she was among those voters.

Hilberg suspected she would be on the list because she had most recently renewed her driver’s license in 2014 — the year before she took her oath of citizenship at a naturalization ceremony in San Antonio. She had registered to vote in Atascosa County in June 2015, and then voted in several elections from 2016 to 2018.

When Atascosa County’s election administrator, Janice Ruple, confirmed Hilberg was on the list they had received from the state, Hilberg assumed any questions about her citizenship status would be resolved in that moment because Ruple knows Hilberg — and her citizenship status — personally, according to the complaint.

Instead, “Ms. Ruple was unable or unwilling to give Ms. Hilberg any information or assurances about whether her registration would be in jeopardy because her name was on Defendant Whitley’s list,” the lawsuit reads.

See here for the background. I don’t know what difference it makes from a legal standpoint to include a plaintiff who was directly affected, but I presume it can’t hurt. Ms. Hilberg was done wrong, and she deserves redress for it.

SOS walks its advisory back even more

Just rescind the whole damn list and let’s pretend this never happened.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A week after it flagged tens of thousands of voters for citizenship checks, the Texas secretary of state’s office is now advising counties on how to check their lists for naturalized citizens — an indirect acknowledgment that legitimate voters could have been on the list from the beginning.

Those voters are in addition to the more than 20,000 others who should have been removed from the list earlier this week after state officials found they had been mistakenly included.

In a mass email sent to local election officials on Friday, the secretary of state’s director of elections, Keith Ingram, offered up additional guidance to counties looking to clear voters from their lists without sending notices demanding proof of citizenship. Among the advice he offered to those election officials “after speaking to a number of counties” was to review registration application files collected at ceremonies in which immigrants become citizens.

“Some county voter registrars or [volunteer deputy registrars] participate in naturalization ceremonies and maintain lists of naturalized citizens or can identify which applications were completed at a naturalization ceremony,” Ingram wrote in the email, which was obtained by The Texas Tribune.

[…]

“Like many other election and voter registration activities, we are working together on this,” Ingram wrote in the email. “We thank you for your feedback and continue to welcome any further feedback so that we can work together to ensure an effective and efficient process of maintaining an accurate list of registered voters going forward.”

The additional guidance to counties comes as civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers continue to call on the state to rescind its original advisory to local election officials regarding the voters flagged for citizenship checks, pointing to the errors that have already been discovered in the state’s data.

“We told the SOS what was going to happen, and this week we all saw that what we cautioned against has become true,” Andre Segura, legal director of the ACLU of Texas, said on a press call on Friday. “The list is entirely flawed.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Seems like the SOS is doing everything it can to disavow its original advisory without publicly admitting their initial advisory was trash. They also haven’t said whether they’ve given a less-bogus list of names to the AG’s office. They couldn’t have been more incompetent and buffoonish if they’d tried.

And it’s quite clear, they tried.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia had been alarmed by the actions of the Texas secretary of state’s office for days by the time the agency’s chief, David Whitley, walked into the Dallas Democrat’s Capitol office on Monday.

The Friday before, Whitley’s staff had issued a press release calling into question the citizenship of 95,000 registered voters in Texas. In the days since, advocacy groups and Democratic lawmakers were raising serious questions about whether the majority of people on that list would soon be proven to be eligible voters.

But before those doubts emerged, Whitley, the top election officer in the state, had handed over information about those registered voters to the Texas attorney general, which has the jurisdiction to prosecute them for felony crimes.

So as he sat at the end of his green, glass-topped conference table, Anchia — the chair of the Texas House’s Mexican American Legislative Caucus — wanted to know: Did Whitley know for sure that any of the names on his list had committed crimes by voting as noncitizens?

“No,” Whitley answered, according to Anchia.

“And I said, ‘Well, isn’t it the protocol that you investigate and, if you find facts, you turn it over to the AG?”

“I do not have an answer for that,” Whitley responded, according to Anchia’s recollection of the Monday meeting.

[…]

The citizenship check effort went public this week, but the seeds for it were planted in 2013. That year, Texas lawmakers quietly passed a law granting the secretary of state’s office access to personal information maintained by the Department of Public Safety.

During legislative hearings at the time, Keith Ingram, director of elections for the secretary of state’s office, told lawmakers that the information would help his office verify the voter rolls. The state had had a recent misstep when it tried remove dead people from the rolls and ended up sending “potential deceased” notices to Texans who were still alive.

One of the DPS records that the 2013 law granted the secretary of state’s office access to was a list of people who had turned in documentation indicating they weren’t citizens — such as a green card or a work visa — when they obtained a driver’s license or an ID in Texas.

But it appears that the secretary of state’s office held off for years before comparing that list with its list of registered voters. Former Secretary of State Carlos Cascos, a self-proclaimed skeptic of Republican claims of rampant voter fraud, said he had no memory of even considering using the DPS data when he served from 2015 to 2017.

“I don’t recall it ever coming to my desk,” Cascos said. “I don’t even recall having any informal discussions of that.”

And there was reason to be careful with the “lawful presence list.” Driver’s licenses don’t have to be renewed for several years. In between renewals, Texans aren’t required to notify DPS about a change in citizenship status. That means many of the people on the list could have become citizens and registered to vote without DPS knowing.

Other states learned the hard way that basing similar checks on driver’s license data was risky.

In Florida, officials in 2012 first drew up a list of about 180,000 possible noncitizens. It was later culled to about 2,600 names, but even then that data was found to include errors. Ultimately, only about 85 voters were nixed from the rolls.

Around the same time, officials in Colorado started with a list of 11,805 individuals on the voter rolls who they said were noncitizens when they got their driver’s licenses. In the end, state officials said they had found about 141 noncitizens on the rolls — 35 of whom had a voting history — but those still needed to be verified by local election officials.

But it was under the helm of former Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, who took over in 2017, that the state began processing the DPS list. That happened even though at least some people in the office knew the risk. Officials in the secretary of state’s office early last year acknowledged to reporters for The Texas Tribune that similar checks in other states using driver’s license data had run into issues with naturalized citizens. Pablos didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Still, on Dec. 5, Betsy Schonhoff, voter registration manager for the secretary of state’s office, told local officials that her office had been working with DPS “this past year” to “evaluate information regarding individuals identified by DPS to not be citizens.” In a mass email sent to Texas counties — and obtained by the Tribune — Schonhoff informed them that the secretary of state’s office would be obtaining additional information from DPS in monthly files and sending out lists of matches starting in mid-January.

The next day, Pablos announced he would resign after two years in office. In his place, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Whitley, a longtime Abbott aide who at the time served as the governor’s deputy chief of staff.

Makes you wonder if he saw this coming and hopped off the train while he still could. Texas is in the process of learning the same lesson that Florida and Colorado did. I just have no faith that it will stick, at least as long as the current crew is in charge.

Eh, what’s a few thousand mis-identified non-citizens among friends?

No biggie.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott downplayed concerns Thursday about the voter citizenship review initiated last week by his secretary of state, even though it has since become clear that the state’s list of flagged voters swept up thousands of U.S. citizens who should not have been scrutinized.

“This is what you would categorize as a process, a work [in progress],” Abbott said. “They’ll get it right, but I do want to be emphatic: It is essential that the secretary of state, [the Department of Public Safety], counties, anybody with any authority over this whatsoever work collaboratively and swiftly together to make sure our voter rolls are accurate, to ensure integrity in the election process.”

Last Friday, Abbott’s newly named secretary of state, David Whitley, flagged a list of about 95,000 registered voters whom his office said had provided DPS with some form of documentation that showed they were not citizens when they obtained their driver’s licenses or IDs.

[…]

Reacting to Whitley’s announcement Friday, Abbott thanked him for “uncovering and investigating this illegal vote registration,” promising legislation to address it.

But when he was asked about the fiasco Thursday at an unrelated news conference, the governor recast the effort.

“They were clear that it was a weak match, and they were reaching out to counties saying, ‘Listen, this isn’t a hard-and-fast list,” Abbott said. “This is a list that we need to work on together to make sure that those who do not have the legal authority to vote are not going to be able to vote.”

Abbott’s remarks come two days after it became clear secretary of state’s office had mistakenly called into question the citizenship status of thousands of voters who were, in fact, citizens.

See here and here for the background. That is some relentless commitment to quality right there. Abbott sets a sterling example from the top.

In Bastrop County, Elections Administrator Bridgette Escobedo said she had worked her way through about one-third of a list of 145 names, finding 15 that did not belong there. She said she also found several names of people who had become naturalized citizens.

Also Wednesday, county officials said they have had little luck connecting with the secretary of state’s office to clarify the situation.

Escobedo said she asked Whitley’s office to provide a “clean” list of suspected noncitizen voters but had heard no response by early Thursday evening.

“We’re wasting a lot of resources and energy on nonissues,” she said. “Don’t make me go through all 145 people on my list if you know some shouldn’t be on there.”

In Williamson County, Davis said the secretary of state’s office had not responded to his request for written instructions on how to cull the list of suspected noncitizens — information Whitley’s office provided by telephone Tuesday.

Travis County also received no response to its request that Whitley revise his initial advisory, county spokeswoman Tiffany Seward said Wednesday.

[…]

While counties have begun removing names from their lists, the secretary of state’s website continues to promote — without revision or correction — its Friday notice claiming that 95,000 people were identified as registered voters who are possible noncitizens, a violation of state law, and that 58,000 of those people had voted in one or more elections, a potential felony.

Whitley’s office has not responded to questions posed Tuesday and Wednesday asking if there are plans to update the numbers or publicly acknowledge that the original list included U.S. citizens who were mistakenly included.

We joke, because we must in order to cope, but this is all clearly setting the stage to purge voter rolls as much as possible. Republicans saw what happened in 2018. They will do what they can to stop the same thing from happening in 2020. Texas Monthly, who quotes former SOS Carlos Cascos saying the whole list should be rescinded, and the Chron, have more.

As the SOS advisory numbers get revised down

This really can’t be emphasized enough.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

State officials on Tuesday acknowledged widespread errors in their list of 95,000 Texas voters flagged as potential non-citizens, reinforcing the concerns of advocates who say the state’s effort amounts to illegal voter suppression.

In Harris County alone, officials said, more than 60 percent of nearly 30,000 names on a list the state supplied last week are being removed after new guidance from state officials. Voter registrars in several other counties reported getting similar calls Tuesday from the Texas Secretary of State’s office, which last week said its review showed that 95,000 registered voters did not appear to be U.S. citizens.

[…]

On Tuesday, officials in Harris County and several other counties were told to remove from their lists names of people who registered to vote at Texas Department of Public Safety offices. Harris County officials also were advised to remove those who registered to vote at a naturalization ceremony, said Douglas Ray, a special assistant county attorney who specializes in election issues.

With the new criteria, Harris County was able to remove more than 60 percent of the names off the nearly 30,000-voter list it was sent. Only about 11,000 names remain.

“Our experience with these mass lists from the secretary of state’s office is that they’re very questionable, so we have to treat them very carefully,” Ray said.

I included that bit at the tail end of yesterday’s post, but it needed to be its own entry. More than sixty percent of the names the SOS gave Harris County had to be removed because the SOS had failed to do any kind of due diligence. I’ve checked around and we don’t have solid numbers for this kind of correction elsewhere in the state (not that I can find, anyway), so perhaps Harris County was an outlier. I see no reason to give the SOS any benefit of that doubt. They need to recall the entire list, do their actual freaking job to vet it properly, and then get back to the counties with whatever is left. And put out a big statement walking back everything they said on Friday, which has been trumpeted far and wide by Republicans who desperately want to believe they need to take drastic measures to stop hordes of non-citizens from voting. This was both 100% grade A bullshit and some extremely convenient cover for whatever anti-voting bills that get pushed this session. Like I said yesterday, we can’t sue them hard enough.

A trio of updates about that bogus SOS letter

Most counties reacted skeptically, as well they should.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Texas Tribune reached out to 13 of the 15 counties with the most registered voters on Monday; Galveston was the only one that indicated it would immediately send out letters, even as more than a dozen civil rights groups warned the state and local election officials that they risked violating federal law by scrutinizing the voters flagged by the state.

[…]

Bruce Elfant, Travis County’s tax assessor-collector and voter registrar, indicated he was concerned about the accuracy of the data because the county has previously received data from DPS that was “less than pristine.” County officials vowed to review the list of 4,547 registered voters they received but were still trying to convert the data into a usable format.

He said he also wanted more information about the methodology the Texas Secretary of State’s office used to compile the list, pointing out that naturalized citizens may have obtained their driver licenses before becoming citizens.

“The state is responsible for vetting for citizenship” during the voter registration process, Elfant said. “I would be surprised if that many people got through it.”

Other county officials echoed Elfant’s point about naturalized citizens. Collin County’s election administrator, Bruce Sherbert, said they had received a list of approximately 4,700 names and would consider them on a case-by-case basis, checking for cases in which a voter might have already provided some form of proof they are citizens.

“It can be a process that takes several months to go through,” Sherbert said. “We’re just at the front side of it.”

Facing a list of 2,033 individuals, Williamson County officials said they were considering ways in which they could determine citizenship without sending notices to voters. Chris Davis, the county’s election administrator, said some naturalized citizens could have registered to vote at naturalization ceremonies in other counties, so their files might indicate their registration applications were mailed in from there.

“We want to try to avoid sending notices to folks if we can find proof of their citizenship, thereby they don’t have to come in and prove it themselves or mail it,” Davis said.

Election officials in Fort Bend County said they had received a list of about 8,400 voters, though they noted some may be duplicates. El Paso County officials said their list included 4,152 voters.

Harris County officials did not provide a count of voters the state flagged on its rolls, but Douglas Ray, a special assistant county attorney, said they were treading carefully because of previous missteps by the state.

“To be quite frank, several years ago the secretary of state did something very similar claiming there were people who were deceased,” Ray said. “They sent us a list and the voter registrar sent confirmation notices and it turned out a lot of people identified on the list were misidentified. A lot of the people who received notices were very much alive.”

See here and here for the background. I’m certainly glad we have county officials now in Harris County that care about protecting the right to vote, but the reaction from places like Collin and Williamson was a pleasant surprise. As for Galveston, well. There’s one in every crowd.

If common sense and a principled commitment to the right to vote wasn’t enough to treat the SOS advisory with skepticism, there’s also this.

After flagging tens of thousands of registered voters for citizenship reviews, the Texas secretary of state’s office is now telling counties that some of those voters don’t belong on the lists it sent out.

Officials in five large counties — Harris, Travis, Fort Bend, Collin and Williamson — told The Texas Tribune they had received calls Tuesday from the secretary of state’s office indicating that some of the voters whose citizenship status the state said counties should consider checking should not actually be on those lists.

The secretary of state’s office incorrectly included some voters who had submitted their voting registration applications at Texas Department of Public Safety offices, according to county officials. Now, the secretary of state is instructing counties to remove them from the list of flagged voters.

[…]

It’s unclear at this point how many counties have received these calls. County officials said Tuesday they had not received anything in writing about the mistake. It’s also unclear how many people will be removed from the original list of approximately 95,000 individuals flagged by the state. The secretary of state’s office did not respond to questions Tuesday about how much this would reduce the initial count.

In a statement Tuesday, Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the secretary of state, said the state was providing counties with information as “part of the process of ensuring no eligible voters were impacted by any list maintenance activity.”

“This is to ensure that any registered voters who provided proof of citizenship at the time they registered to vote will not be required to provide proof of citizenship as part of the counties’ examination,” Taylor said.

I dunno, maybe next time check for that sort of thing before rushing to publish? Just a thought. I’m sure Ken Paxton et al will duly correct any now-inaccurate assertions they may have made about the initial advisory.

And then, the least surprising update to all this.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in San Antonio, lawyers for the League of United Latin American Citizens’ national and Texas arms alleged that Texas Secretary of State David Whitley and Attorney General Ken Paxton violated a portion of the federal Voting Rights Act that prohibits the intimidation of voters.

They point to an advisory issued Friday in which Whitley’s office said it was flagging individuals who had provided the Texas Department of Public Safety with some form of documentation — including a work visa or a green card — that showed they were not citizens when they were obtaining driver’s licenses or ID cards. The state put the number of registered voters who fell into that category at approximately 95,000 — 58,000 of whom had voted in one or more elections from 1996 to 2018.

In its announcement, the secretary of state’s office said it had immediately turned over the data to Paxton’s office. On the same day, Paxton posted the news on Twitter prefaced with “VOTER FRAUD ALERT,” the lawyers noted in the lawsuit.

“These two Texas officials have carefully crafted and orchestrated a program that combines an election advisory ostensibly directed at ensuring that all those registered to vote in the May election are citizens eligible to vote with the use of data that is suspect on its face and a blackout on public access to the data,” LULAC’s lawyers wrote in the complaint.

I mean, someone was going to have to sue eventually. Why wait? Texas Monthly and the Observer have more.

Before you go, here’s a little story from my archives that might be of interest to you. It involves an actual, by-God case of a non-citizen voting, right here in Harris County, in a high profile and hotly contested election. You might be surprised how it turns out. Enjoy!

UPDATE: How bad was that original list of alleged non-citizens? This bad:

State officials on Tuesday acknowledged widespread errors in their list of 95,000 Texas voters flagged as potential non-citizens, reinforcing the concerns of advocates who say the state’s effort amounts to illegal voter suppression.

In Harris County alone, officials said, more than 60 percent of nearly 30,000 names on a list the state supplied last week are being removed after new guidance from state officials. Voter registrars in several other counties reported getting similar calls Tuesday from the Texas Secretary of State’s office, which last week said its review showed that 95,000 registered voters did not appear to be U.S. citizens.

[…]

On Tuesday, officials in Harris County and several other counties were told to remove from their lists names of people who registered to vote at Texas Department of Public Safety offices. Harris County officials also were advised to remove those who registered to vote at a naturalization ceremony, said Douglas Ray, a special assistant county attorney who specializes in election issues.

With the new criteria, Harris County was able to remove more than 60 percent of the names off the nearly 30,000-voter list it was sent. Only about 11,000 names remain.

“Our experience with these mass lists from the secretary of state’s office is that they’re very questionable, so we have to treat them very carefully,” Ray said.

And that’s before any of the counties do their own checking. We can’t sue these clowns hard enough.

Civil rights groups push back on bogus SOS letter

Good.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Lawyers with 13 organizations — including the Texas Civil Rights Project, the ACLU of Texas, the League of Women Voters of Texas and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund — are demanding that the state rescind an advisory sent to local election officials regarding the individuals whose citizenship status the state says the counties should consider checking. In a letter sent Monday, the groups requested a response by Jan. 30, claiming that the state’s data was flawed and demanding more information about the methodology it used.

Some of the groups are considering litigation against the state, said Beth Stevens, voting rights legal director for the Texas Civil Rights Project.

The letter comes three days after the Texas secretary of state’s office announced it would send local election officials a list of 95,000 registered voters who had provided the Texas Department of Safety some form of documentation, such as a green card or a work visa, that showed they were not citizens when they were obtaining driver’s licenses or an ID cards.

“Using such a data set to review the current citizenship status of anyone is inherently flawed because it fails to account for individuals who became naturalized citizens and registered to vote at any point after having obtained their driver license or personal identification card,” the lawyers wrote.

In their letter, the groups point to efforts in Florida that used similar methodology to create a list of approximately 180,000 registered voters that officials claimed were noncitizens based on records used when they obtained driver’s licenses. That fight ended up in federal court after more than 2,600 were mistakenly removed from the rolls after being classified as noncitizens. About 85 voters “ultimately proved actionable,” the lawyers wrote.

See here for the background. The letter to the SOS is here, and the letter they sent to all 254 county election administrators is here. The latter is both a public information request for “all records relating to the Advisory, including but not limited to the list of all individuals identified by the Secretary of State or Department of Public Safety as potential non-citizens, the Voter Unique Identifier for each of those individuals, and all communications and correspondence with the Secretary of State concerning the Advisory”, and a plea to not take any action “unless and until the Secretary of State has provided greater transparency on its procedures and ensured there are adequate safeguards for not identifying lawfully registered naturalized citizens.” The letter to the SOS lays out their demands for more information, and drops a little math on them:

Given that Texas Driver Licenses and ID Cards do not expire for a full six years after they are issued, the odds are quite high that this list of purported non-citizens includes tens of thousands of people who are now US citizens entitled to vote. Indeed, each year, between 52,000-63,000 Texans become naturalized citizens (roughly the same number of potential non-citizens you claim have voted in Texas elections over a 22-year period).1 Given that newly naturalized citizens have voter registration rates around 50%,2 it is reasonable to conclude that at least 25,000 newly naturalized Texans are lawfully registering to vote each year. Even if one assumes that not all naturalized citizens previously obtained driver licenses, and not all registered naturalized citizens registered immediately, it is easy to see how this would result in your office obtaining over 90,000 incorrectly identified matches.

Read them both. Given that Ken Paxton was sending out email earlier the same day screaming about thousands of illegal voters, I think the odds are very high this will wind up in court.

It’s “Let’s lie about vote fraud” season again

The Trib wrote about this in the best possible way, but the shrieking ghouls are out there in force doing what they can to whip up fear.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Texas secretary of state’s office announced Friday it would send local election officials a list of 95,000 registered voters who the state says counties should consider checking to see whether they are U.S. citizens and, therefore, legally eligible to vote.

In an advisory released Friday afternoon, the office said it was flagging individuals who had provided the Texas Department of Public Safety with some form of documentation — including a work visa or a green card — that showed they were not a citizen when they were obtaining a driver’s license or an ID card. Among the individuals flagged, about 58,000 individuals cast a ballot in one or more elections from 1996 to 2018, the secretary of state’s office said.

It’s unclear exactly how many of those individuals are not actually U.S. citizens and whether that number will be available in the future. In its notice to counties, the secretary of state’s office said the names should be considered “WEAK” matches, using all capital letters for emphasis.

That means counties may now choose to investigate the eligibility of the individuals who were flagged, which would require them to send a notice asking for proof of citizenship within 30 days, or take no action. By law, the counties aren’t allowed to automatically revoke a voter’s registration without sending out such a notice.

It’s possible that individuals flagged by the state — who provided DPS with documentation that indicated they were authorized to be in the country — could have become naturalized citizens since they obtained their driver’s license or ID card. A spokesman for the secretary of state said officials are “very confident” that the data received from DPS is “current.”

In announcing the review of the rolls, Secretary of State David Whitley — who was appointed to the post last month after serving as deputy chief of staff to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — immediately handed the data over to the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican who said his office will “spare no effort in assisting with these troubling cases.”

But without additional verification, you can’t say these individuals all engaged in illegal voting, said Chris Davis, the head of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators.

“People get naturalized,” Davis said. “It’s entirely too early to say that.”

You should also read the Trib’s Twitter thread about this story, which sums it all up nicely.

First things first: This came out on Friday afternoon, which is usually the dumping ground for news that people want to bury. Do you think that if the Texas Secretary of State, a man appointed by Greg Abbott, had credible evidence of thousands of people voting illegally, this is how and when he would have announced it? Yeah, me neither.

Second, note the sentence that contains “about 58,000 individuals cast a ballot in one or more elections from 1996 to 2018”. That’s 23 years’ worth of elections. This doesn’t say 58,000 people last year – which, even if it did, would be about 0.7% of all votes cast. The average number per year is about 2,500, and that’s before we consider the possibility of false postives.

Why might there be false positives? See that line about “WEAK” matches. There’s likely to be a bunch of false positives based on the match criteria, which is mostly going to be name and county. Lots of people have the same name. Right here in Houston is another woman with the same name as my wife. We know all about her because we’ve gotten phone calls for years from creditors trying to track her down. That’s why the call from the SOS is for counties to look into the possibility that there may be non-citizens among the names, not for them to be removed immediately.

And finally, there’s the fact that despite DPS’ claims about this data being current, there’s no process to change one’s citizenship status with DPS if and when one gets naturalized at a later date. Some people have already spoken up on Twitter to say they voted after becoming citizens and thus might be on that DPS list.

Bottom line, this is a big old nothingburger. The Republicans are screaming about it – I’ve gotten multiple press releases over the weekend from the Republican Party of Texas about this – but they know full well there’s diddly squat to this. I’ll put it to you this way: Six months or a year from now, how many prosecutions for illegal voting as a result of this advisory do you think Ken Paxton will announce? The over/under on that is maybe ten, and I’m being generous. Mother Jones has more.

The Russia-Texas-secession connection

So many people got played.

A sprawling Russian disinformation campaign aimed at influencing the 2016 elections found success with social media accounts promoting the idea of Texas secession, according to a report commissioned by the U.S. Senate that was released Monday.

When it came to stirring up social divisions and exerting political influence, two accounts about the Lone Star State proved especially effective: a “Heart of Texas” Facebook page and a @rebeltexas account on Instagram.

Both accounts were created and managed by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company that’s been characterized by the U.S. government as a “troll farm” and was indicted by a federal grand jury.

Heart of Texas, which amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook, promoted an image of the state as a land of barbecue and guns while sharing posts that attacked immigration.

The page had the most shares of all IRA Facebook accounts, at 4.8 million, according to the report, which was prepared by an Austin-based company, New Knowledge.

“Heart of Texas visual clusters included a wide swath of shapes of Texas, landscape photos of flowers, and memes about secession and refugees,” the report said.

Posts by the Facebook page cited in the report include a truck with a giant state flag and a photo of Texas wildflowers as well as another laying out the “economic grounds for Texas secession.” The page also shared memes criticizing immigration.

You can read that report here. The extent of this activity is mind-boggling, and in just about any other context we’d call it highly aggressive, if not warlike. Every now and then I see one of these yahoos with a “Secede” sticker on their car, and I wonder if they have any idea. We’re doing this to ourselves, that’s the really scary part.

Yeah, we’re still talking about the risk to our elections

And when we talk about these things, we talk to Dan Wallach.

When we think about those who defend the territorial integrity of our nation and state, we tend to imagine well-equipped members of the U.S. armed forces, or perhaps a square-jawed detachment of Texas Rangers. Increasingly, however, the twenty-first century battle for control of the American homeland is being fought in the computerized elections systems overseen by our humble county clerks.

Here in Texas, votes in federal and state elections are tallied independently by 254 local officials, one in each county seat, from big cities like Houston and Dallas to tiny courthouse towns like Tahoka and Floydada. If a hostile country decides to hack an election in Texas, that means pitting Russia’s (or Iran’s or North Korea’s or China’s) most skilled hackers against a group of officials and volunteers who may not even know their way around an iPhone.

“We’re asking county clerks, and for that matter local poll workers, to defend against a nation-state adversary,” says Dan Wallach, computer science professor at Rice and expert on election security issues. “That’s not a fair fight.”

Wallach, a graduate of J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson as well as U.C. Berkeley and Princeton, has made it his mission to assist local election administrators by helping to develop and advocate for the adoption of foolproof, verifiable election systems and policies in Texas. From 2011 to 2015, Wallach served on the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board; before that he led the National Science Foundation–funded ACCURATE (A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable, and Transparent Elections). Most recently, he’s been seen testifying before the Texas Senate on issues related to election security.

“From a security perspective, the systems that we use, these electronic voting systems, were never engineered with the threat model of foreign nation-state actors,” Wallach says of the status quo in Texas. “I have no idea if anybody’s planning to exploit them, but there’s no question that the vulnerabilities are present.”

That’s the bad news. The good news is that remedies are within reach, if Texas is willing to invest money and other state-level resources to improve election security. Experts like Wallach have identified best practices that can make elections reliably secure for the current threat horizon. Wallach proposes what amounts to a three-step plan for improved election security: better machines, better oversight, and better contingency planning.

The rest of the story delves into those three steps; it begins of course with auditable voting machines that include printed ballots. Speaking from my perspective in the IT security field, I can confirm that every big company that wants to stay in business past tomorrow zealously captures, indexes, and monitors its systems’ log files, both to look for real-time anomalies and to provide a written record of what happened in the event of a breach or other failure. It’s just standard practice in the real world. Why our state government is so resistant to it for our election systems is a question for which they really need to be held accountable. I would also note that the $350 million price tag to replace every obsolete voting machine in the state, which apparently we can’t do unless the feds pick up the tab, is something we could easily afford if we wanted to do it. For now, assuming we don’t get a state government that’s willing to do this, our best bet is to work towards a federal government that will do it, presumably after 2020. And hope like hell in the meantime that nothing goes horribly wrong.

Planning to fail

Big surprise.

Right there with them

Anti-abortion activist Carol Everett had no experience running a family planning program when the state of Texas awarded her millions in taxpayer funds to help rebuild a network of low-income women’s health providers. The state knew that. So it should have been no surprise when Everett’s organization, the Heidi Group, failed to provide services to thousands of women after the Legislature slashed family planning funds and kicked out Planned Parenthood.

Last year, officials with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) acknowledged that the Heidi Group hadn’t met its contractual obligations, and the agency clawed back some of the money. But, until now, HHSC has refused to reveal how many patients Everett served, or just how much was spent on their care. Data obtained by the Observer shows that in fiscal year 2017, the Heidi Group served just over 3,300 clients, less than 5 percent of the nearly 70,000 Everett had pledged to cover. Nonetheless, the state renewed the group’s multimillion-dollar contracts for a third year.

“It’s outrageous. In what other area of state government would this kind of incompetence be rewarded over and over and over again?” said Dan Quinn, communications director at Texas Freedom Network, which called for an investigation into the Heidi Group contracts. “It’s a betrayal of taxpayers and especially of women who need these services and aren’t getting them.”

[…]

One of Heidi Group’s contracts is for the Healthy Texas Women program, which provides family planning services and preventive screenings for poor Texans. For fiscal year 2017, Heidi was initially awarded about $1.6 million to build a network of providers — a mix of clinics, individual doctors and crisis pregnancy centers — to serve nearly 51,000 patients enrolled in Healthy Texas Women. Despite spending more than $1.3 million, Heidi Group only managed to serve 2,300 clients, according to the new data.

Through a second contract, HHSC awarded the Heidi Group $5.1 million to serve nearly 18,000 clients through the Family Planning Program, the state’s other reproductive health program. Last year, the health agency conceded that the Heidi Group was falling short and cut back its contract by just over $4 million, reducing Heidi’s proposed client totals to about 3,500 and reallocating the remaining funds to other contractors. The Heidi Group missed that mark too, spending about $605,000 to serve just over 1,000 clients.

The Heidi Group was the only contractor in either program to have funds revoked in 2017.

See here and here for the background. We need to be clear that the Heidi Group’s incompetence, in conjunction with its anti-choice pedigree, is a feature and not a bug. As such, from the perspective of our state leadership, they’re doing a heck of a job. The Trib has more.

There are reasons why “suspect addresses” may be legit

Real talk here.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas law requires voters to register where they live. At the same time, state law requires counties to take voters at their word that their voter registration applications are truthful.

Registrars who suspect an address may be invalid can send letters to voters asking them to confirm where the live. If residents re-submit the same address, however, registrars must process the application. Sam Taylor, spokesman for the Texas secretary of state, said the only other remedy registrars have is to refer cases to district attorneys for prosecution.

“The Texas Election Code does not grant any sort of additional investigative authority to a voter registrar in that situation,” Taylor said. “That’s where investigators and/or law enforcement get involved.”

Taylor said the secretary of state’s office has received complaints about the issue in the past, but said instances in which voters insist they live at an address that appears commercial are not a widespread problem.

“It does occur occasionally and we do occasionally hear frustrations from county voter registrars,” Taylor said.

See here for some background. Let’s state up front again that elected officials routinely game the “home address” requirement, with far less scrutiny. Let’s also state that the election process for many utility districts is a sham, again with far less attention and outcry than a few votes with PO box addresses. We could be a little more consistent about this sort of thing, is what I’m saying.

Having said all that, let’s talk about why some people might legitimately not want to put their residential address on their voter registration. Some people are dealing with stalkers and abusive exes, and thus do not want their home locations to be publicly searchable. Some people are homeless, or in transitional situations. Some people may be on temporary assignments out of state or out of the country. I have a friend from college who spent several years as a road-warrior employee for a company that provided software and training services for law firms. She literally lived in hotels or at friends’ houses year-round, and used her employer’s New York office as her mailing address. Some people live in Winnebagos and drive around the country.

I would argue that all these people have a right to vote that should not be challenged by some busybody party apparatchiks. It may be that some folks have dishonorable reasons for not using a “true” residential address on their registrations, but let’s keep some perspective here. Four thousand of them may sound like a lot, but there are 2.3 million registered voters in Harris County, so we’re talking less than 0.2% of the total. It’s basically a rounding error, even if you refuse to grant that there are any legitimate reasons for doing this. Maybe instead of obsessing over this tiny number of technical violations, we could grant ordinary voters the same deference we insist on giving elected officials when it comes to where they say they live.

(If instead we want to crack down on elected officials with dubious residential situations, I know who I’d start with. But we both know that’s not going to happen.)

High schools need to do a better job of making voter registration available to students

As the Texas Civil Rights Project notes, it is the law.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In a report published today by the Texas Civil Rights Project, new data from October 2016 to February 2018 shows that just 34 percent of high schools in Texas requested voter registration forms from the Secretary of State—the key first step in registering students under the process mandated by Texas law. This is up from a mere 14 percent of public high schools in 2016.

“Our schools must prepare young Texans for the future, which includes teaching them how to participate in our democracy. For more than five years, TCRP has attempted to work with the Secretary of State to help schools comply with our unique high school student voter registration law,” said James Slattery, Senior Staff Attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project and author of the report. “Instead of working with civic engagement groups, parents, and students, the Secretary’s office has dragged its feet in implementing common sense reforms to help high schools comply with the law. This means that, every year, more than 180,000 eligible students are not getting the opportunity to register to vote as required by law.”

In addition to the report, TCRP is also releasing the first-ever digital map of nearly 3,000 public and private high schools in Texas that visually displays which schools and school districts have requested high school voter registration forms from the Secretary, pursuant to the law, and those schools for which we have not been able to verify compliance.

Currently 82 out of 232 counties in Texas, or 35 percent of all Texas counties, did not have a single high school request a voter registration form. The digital map will serve as a resource for parents, students, policy makers, and community members in spearheading efforts to register eligible students to vote.

“As the state’s chief elections officer, we encourage Secretary Rolando Pablos to take common sense steps to address the abysmal compliance rate,” continued Slattery. “We owe it to these young Texans to make sure they are equipped with the tools they need to participate in the democracy they will soon inherit from us. That includes making sure that every eligible high school student is offered the opportunity to register to vote as soon as they come of age, and educating them in all the duties of citizenship.”

See here for the report, and here for the map. To me, the answer to the question “why aren’t we doing a better job of this” is simply that there’s no enforcement. If it’s not anyone’s job to make it happen, it’s not going to happen. If we want the SOS to get schools and districts to do what they’re supposed to do, then give the SOS the resources to do that, and then hold the SOS accountable for it. This isn’t rocket science.

We really need to replace our crappy old voting machines

This is embarrassing.

Local election administrators in Texas are eager to replace voting machines purchased more than a decade ago in time for the 2020 presidential election. Increasingly susceptible to malfunctions, upkeep for the aging machines can exceed $300,000 annually in the biggest counties. Election experts have also raised security concerns about the paperless electronic devices used in most of the state.

The little help Congress has offered comes in the form of recent funding that will be used for cyber updates and training, not voting machines. And state leaders have shown no interest in chipping in, even as scrutiny over the security of the country’s election systems ratchets up in the face of Russian attacks.

In 2017, budget writers in the Texas Legislature seemed lukewarm to the idea of replacing aging equipment. Legislation that would have created a state fund for new voting equipment died without getting a committee vote in the House. The bill received a late-session hearing during which one lawmaker on the panel, Representative Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, asked county officials to shorten their testimony because a college basketball championship game had just tipped off.

“I hope we don’t have to wait until a crisis, but we are walking on thin ice when it comes to the integrity of our voting machines,” said state Representative Celia Israel, an Austin Democrat and the sponsor of the 2017 legislation.

More than 200 of Texas’ 254 counties still need to replace their voting machines and it appears unlikely that all will be able to do so in time for the next presidential election. The full price tag, according to election officials, is around $350 million — and local officials are having to find inventive ways to cover the costs. Travis County, for example, is expected to announce the winner of a new voting machine contract this week and plans to sell local bonds to come up with the anticipated $15 million.

The situation has grown dire. Some counties are using equipment that’s no longer manufactured. Machine failures are growing more common and it’s becoming harder to find replacement parts. County workers often have to scour eBay and Amazon to locate bygone tech relics such as as Zip disks and flash drives compatible with older machines.

Yeah, ZIP drives. Remember them, from the 90s? If you are relying on this kind of technology today, You Are Doing It Wrong. There’s no excuse for this – even if one thinks the counties should pay for the upgrades themselves, the cost cited in that penultimate paragraph is something like 0.3% of the state’s annual expenditures. It would be super easy to solve this if we gave a shit, but clearly our Republican leaders do not. But hey, I’m sure nothing bad will ever happen.

If we actually wanted to increase voter participation

Here’s what we’d do, courtesy of the Center for American Progress:

This report examines the problem of low voter participation in America, which includes structural barriers that keep Americans from having their voices heard as well as widespread disillusionment with the political process. As this report shows, obstacles to voting and distrust in government have repercussions for representational democracy, leading to participation gaps across demographics as well as elected bodies that are unrepresentative of the broader population of American citizens.

To increase voter participation and expand voting opportunities for eligible voters, states have a number of tools available, including those detailed in this report. Taken together, the policies and practices explored in the sections below are proven to increase voter participation and make voting more convenient. The success of these programs depends largely on states’ commitment—as well as that of campaigns and grassroots organizations—to inform eligible voters of their availability, how to use them, and why exercising their power as voters can make a difference in their lives. In addition to analyzing the contributing factors to low voter turnout and the effectiveness of pro-voter policies in increasing participation, this report examines the impact of civics education and voter engagement work.

This report also outlines the following recommendations to drive voter participation and make the process of voting more convenient for eligible Americans:

  1. Streamline voter registration with automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration (SDR),11 preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds, and online voter registration
  2. Make voting more convenient with in-person early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and vote-at-home with vote centers
  3. Provide sufficient resources in elections and ensure voting is accessible
  4. Restore rights for formerly incarcerated people
  5. Strengthen civics education in schools
  6. Invest in integrated voter engagement (IVE) and outreach

This report also highlights the success of these policies based on existing literature. Where possible, gains in voter participation were projected using current impact data. Of course, demographics and voting cultures differ across states and even by jurisdiction, so these projections are not exact. However, they do provide an idea of how many of America’s missing voters could be engaged through these policies. There were some policies for which the authors were unable to project gains because key data points were unavailable. For these policies, more research must be done to determine their potential impact on voter participation in future elections.

There’s a lot more, so go read the rest. For obvious reasons, none of the things that we don’t already have in Texas (namely, in-person early voting) are going to happen here while we are governed by the regime that is now in charge. We can sure start a push for them at the federal level, though, and all of these items should be on the agenda in the states where they are doable. You know how Greg Abbott likes to bloviate about calling a constitutional convention? Well, my fantasy do-over Constitution contains an affirmative right to vote that jackasses like Greg Abbott can’t arbitrarily screw with. All the resisting we’re doing is great, but if we’re not also thinking about the things we want to accomplish after we win, we’re doing it wrong. The Current has more.

Killing Obamacare softly

With cuts to the budget for state outreach programs. Which doesn’t scan well lyrically, and I doubt any of the people on the pointy end of this will care about how it came to be, but here we are.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The Trump administration recently announced big cuts to a program that helps people sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Ahead of open enrollment, which starts later this year, the money Texas gets to hire navigators – people who help residents find insurance plans – is getting slashed 86 percent. For the enrollment period ending in January, Texas groups will be able to apply for only up to $1.25 million in federal funds.

“That’s a drop in the bucket,” says Stacey Pogue, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities. “That is a tiny amount. It would not go very far when you’re talking about more than 4 million uninsured Texans.”

Pogue says it’s also a small number compared to how much the state has been given in years prior. According to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Texas was allotted $9.2 million in navigator grants during the 2016-17 enrollment period.

[…]

Pogue says these cuts are part of the Trump administration’s larger effort to weaken the health care law.

She says this particular cut, though, hurts people who are vulnerable and live in hard-to-reach areas. Cities like Austin, which have groups like Foundation Communities, won’t feel the cuts as much as rural parts of the state.

In other words, people in the parts of the state that voted the most heavily for Trump. It’s like tariffs for sick people. I mean look, this is and has been the playbook from the beginning. The only way forward is to get back to electing candidates who want people to be able to access health care. Until then, I feel like we need a video, to clear the palate a bit:

I feel better now.

Farenthold finds a trough

It’s the circle of life.

Blake Farenthold

Former Republican U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold has accepted a lucrative position lobbying for a port in his ex-Texas district — mere weeks after resigning in disgrace amid fallout from using public funds to settle a past sexual harassment complaint.

The Calhoun Port Authority announced Monday that Farenthold would promote its interests in Washington and assist “in resolving funding issues.”

“Blake has always been a strong supporter of the Calhoun Port Authority and is familiar with the issues facing the port,” it said in a statement. Port Director Charles R. Hausmann said Farenthold’s annual salary will be $160,000.

The port is located in the Gulf Coast community of Point Comfort, an area hit by Hurricane Harvey last summer.

A former Farenthold congressional staffer didn’t return messages seeking comment Monday, but the ex-congressman himself told radio station KKTX that he’d taken a job about a 90-minute drive from his home in Corpus Christi.

We should all be so fortuitous with our employment prospects. And just to prove that it’s better to be lucky than good, there’s this:

Former House members are prohibited from acting as lobbyists for at least one year after leaving office. But there’s a loophole: The lobbying restrictions do not apply to employees or officials of federal, state or local governments. Since the port is run by the government, Farenthold does not have to abide by the mandatory one-year “cooling-off” period.

Life sure is beautiful, ain’t it?

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.