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March 8th, 2012:

Interview with Sean Hammerle

Sean Hammerle

Sean Hammerle is running to be the Democratic nominee for Harris County Commissioner in Precinct 4, the seat formerly held by the now-convicted Jerry Eversole and now by Jack Cagle. Hammerle is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE), and has worked as a development director and board member of various local charities. He now owns his own consulting business for non-profits. He is also a Democratic precinct chair and a lifetime member of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, having served as its President in 2000-01. These things are important to note because his opponent in this race is the loathesome hatemeister Dave Wilson, who is again running as a Democrat for this nomination as a middle-finger gesture to the HCDP. It’s vitally important that Hammerle and not Wilson be the nominee, and it’s the job of all good Democrats to help spread the word about this race. Heres’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

Filings and un-filings

Tomorrow is the re-filing deadline, the last day that candidates have to jump into a district that now looks good to them, or to withdraw from one that no longer does. There is still a possibility of further map changes, however, which would require yet another filing period and almost certainly another delay to the primaries. The reason for this is that there are still unsettled issues with the DC court, and its ruling could make their San Antonio counterparts go back to the drawing board one more time.

I just wanted to post this picture one more time

In the ongoing redistricting saga, the Washington, D.C., court asked for briefs by March 13 on Congressional District 25, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. The three-judge panel seems to be struggling with a contentious issue that has divided plaintiffs’ groups suing the state in a San Antonio federal court over redistricting maps drawn by the Legislature last year; the plaintiffs say the maps are racially and ethnically discriminatory.

At issue is whether District 25 is a minority district protected by the Voting Rights Act or a white district that would not require protection. Some plaintiffs in the redistricting fight argue that Hispanics and blacks join with whites in District 25 to elect a candidate of their choice, while other plaintiffs say it is a majority Anglo district that has long elected Doggett, a white Democrat.

If the D.C. court issues an opinion saying that District 25 deserves protection, it could throw Texas’ election schedule into turmoil again. That’s because the San Antonio court adopted the Legislature’s boundaries for District 25 in drawing the congressional map to be used for this year’s elections.

Assuming the D.C. court will allow enough time to produce new maps by March 31, the San Antonio court could redraw new boundaries for District 25 and the surrounding districts, said Michael Li, a redistricting expert and author of a Texas redistricting blog. But because of tight timetables, any changes would force the court to push back the primary until June 29, almost four months after the original date of March 6.

But if the D.C. court does not allow for new maps to be drawn by March 31, then the primary would have to be pushed back to July with a runoff in September — a move that would be problematic because of general election deadlines, Li said.

There is another — perhaps more likely — option if the Washington court has problems with District 25: The San Antonio judges could shrug off their colleagues in Washington and simply say that they’ll make changes to a remedial map for the 2014 elections.

Michael Li has more on that here and here. It is my non-lawyer’s opinion that the DC court is going to find substantial problems with the Lege-drawn maps, most of which have not been corrected in the interim maps. However, I don’t think their required changes will be made for this election. Still, what I’ve been telling people lately is that until we actually start voting, anything can happen.

Until then, however, one of the effects of the court-ordered maps was to convince CD10 candidate Dan Grant to drop out. Here’s his statement:

Today, Dan Grant, Congressional candidate in the 10th District of Texas, announced he will withdraw from the race citing the most recent changes to the district lines made by the San Antonio Federal Court.

“In the latest version of Congressional maps the 10th District has been redrawn to solidly protect Congressman McCaul. This latest iteration of CD-10 is the same as in the illegal map drafted by the Republican-controlled state legislature last year whose primary goal was to disenfranchise minority voters, dilute Democratic voting strength, and protect Republican incumbents,” Dan Grant said.

“I will continue to do all that I can to support the principles of our campaign: real representation for all Americans, a government that is focused on the people and not on personal politics, and working for the future of our great country. The support that our campaign received shows that all Texans are hungry for these principles, and I’ll continue to work for them,” he added.

“I cannot thank enough all the people who have made this effort possible: my family, friends, supporters and allies. This rested on their shoulders, and I’m deeply grateful for and humbled by what they’ve given.”

Here’s a comparison of CD10 as it is under the 2003 map and as it will be under the interim map:

Plan McCain Obama Wainwright Houston =========================================== Current 54.8 44.0 52.5 44.0 C235 56.2 42.6 53.1 43.2

Not that much redder, but just enough to make an already-daunting task look impossible. If the DC court doesn’t intervene for this year, there’s always 2014.

As Grant looks to the future, a fellow former Congressional candidate gets in to a different race this year. Former CD21 candidate John Courage sent out an email announcing that he had filed for the State Senate. From his email:

I am running for the Texas Senate for District 25.

I am running in opposition to everything Perry, Dewhurst and Abbott have espoused and forced on us. I am running for a stronger, better public education system for all Texans; for a healthcare system that protects our most vulnerable citizens – our children and our seniors, and for the right of every Texas woman to have access to the healthcare she needs and wants. I will fight for a real Citizens Commission for Redistricting our legislative boundaries, to take the process out of the hands of the self-serving politicians who are only interested in their own reelection. I am running to change the way we do business in the Texas Senate, to change the good old boy, back slapping, backroom deal making, that has corrupted our Legislature.

This is the tip of the iceberg I want to take to Austin, and with your help and support we will make it happen.

SD25 is currently held by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, who is frankly not that bad from a Dem perspective. He’s that nearly-extinct subspecies known as the pro-choice Republican – he actually voted against the awful sonogram bill, which would have been enough to derail it if one of Sens. Eddie Lucio, Judith Zaffirini, or Carlos Uresti had had the decency to join him. It would not be the worst thing in the world for Wentworth to return to the Senate. But he’s got opposition from the radical wing of the GOP, and could well be knocked off in the primary. Even in a district that voted 61% for McCain in 2008, you can’t let that go unchallenged.

By the way, the TDP is tracking filings that it has received here; sort it by date to see what’s new. Note that most filings take place with the respective county party office, so don’t sweat not seeing a given name. The most interesting addition to the pool of candidates on that list so far is former State Rep. Dora Olivo, who lost to Rep. Ron Reynolds in the HD27 primary in 2010 and who has thrown her hat into the ring for the new HD85.

More good news on the State House side of things as former Rep. Joe Moody will try to win back HD78. Moody defeated Rep. Dee Margo by a fairly comfortable margin in 2008, then got caught up in the 2010 wave. The redrawn district was won by all statewide Dems in 2008, so Moody should have an excellent shot at taking the tie-breaker. It was a bit of a question if he’s run in HD78, however, because the interim map drew him out of it and into HD77, which gave rise to some speculation that Moody would stay there and primary freshman Rep. Marissa Marquez. But he chose to fight it out in his old district, which I think everyone was rooting for him to do. Here’s his statement on getting back in.

Finally, here’s a little quiz for you. The following are the 2008 numbers for a couple of mystery State House districts. See if you can guess which is which:

Dist McCain Obama Wainwright Houston ======================================== "A" 51.45 47.94 42.24 54.68 "B" 51.04 47.95 43.02 54.53

Figured it out yet? District “A” is HD43, in which the turncoat Rep. JM Lozano decided he’d be better off running as a Republican. District “B” is HD144, in which two-term Rep. Ken Legler decided he couldn’t win it as a Republican.

State Rep. Ken Legler, R-Pasadena, has decided to pack it in. The two-term incumbent from District 144 in southeast Harris County announced today that he would not seek reelection in 2012. He blamed the redistricting controversy for his decision.

“Those that know me know I do not back down from a fight,” Legler said in a statement. “I seem to always enter a contest as the underdog and exit the victor. I have no reason to believe that 2012 would be any different. However, the sad fact is that the Federal Court has seen fit to give me a district that will be a constant electoral struggle every two years throughout the decade. That is a political distraction from legislative responsibilities that I choose not to accept.”

I’ll leave it to you to decide who’s the genius and who’s the chump. Burka reacts to Legler’s decision. I had said that I was hoping for former HD43 Rep. Juan Escobar to jump in against Lozano. I won’t get that, but according to the Trib, former Rep. Yvonne Gonzales Toureilles, who was another 2010 wipeout in HD35, will take up the challenge. As that Trib story notes, HDs 43 and 35 were paired, so YGT should be on familiar ground. This is obviously now a top priority for Dems, so it’s good to have an experienced candidate in place.

Still more dedicated funds not being dedicated

I keep wondering when we’re going to discover the last dedicated fund that is not being used for its original purpose but for general revenue. All I know is that we keep finding more of them, in this case fees collected from defendants in the criminal courts.

While courts assess fines to punish defendants, in theory, the dizzying array of fees and court costs, which can reach more than $600, is meant to ensure that those who use the judicial system help pay for it. But an American-Statesman analysis shows that’s not the case.

Over the years, legislators have used tens of millions of dollars collected from criminals to fund a slew of projects, many with only the faintest connection to the courts. Texas judicial administrators estimate that 1 in every 3 dollars raised through such state fees is spent on projects outside the court system — a practice critics say amounts to an undeclared tax on the state’s poor that might violate the law. Cities and counties whose courts raise much of the state money, meanwhile, complain that their courts are drastically underfunded.

Today, court costs pay for the rehabilitation of patients with head injuries. They fund research on obesity among minority children in Houston and cover the salaries of game wardens. They support three academic centers at state universities and after-school programs for kids. And they were used to pay a private company $2 million to install cameras along the Mexico border so citizen “virtual deputies” could watch online and report illegal crossings.

Last year, elected officials raided a $20 million pot collected from criminal defendants to pay for state employee pensions.

Thanks to such maneuvering, in Texas courts, a “DNA collection fee” does not necessarily pay for DNA tests, a “breath alcohol testing fee” does not always cover breath alcohol tests, and people judged guilty of victimless crimes contribute millions of dollars every year to “victims compensation.”

“We have a ‘school crossing fee’ that nobody — nobody — can tell me what comes of it,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Jurisprudence Committee.

Some say requiring defendants to cover so many expenses makes sense because crime creates broad social costs encompassing police work, prisons and social programs.

“Courts do not stand alone,” said Rep. Jim Jackson, R-Carrollton, chairman of the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee.

And nobody disputes that many of the programs are worthy of government support.

At worst, though, such under-the-radar diversions of so-called dedicated court money could be against the law. Some judges have ruled that using fees for purposes other than that for which they were collected is unconstitutional. At that point, the money is more accurately described as a general tax.

At the very least, it is dishonest for the government to tell taxpayers it is collecting money for one thing and then use it for another, said Jim Allison of the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas.

“If we’re not going to use a fee for a particular purpose,” he said, “we shouldn’t collect it.”

Of course, we do this all the time. See once again the System Benefit Fund that gets frozen, hunting and fishing license fee funds, the sale of specialty license plates, and red light camera funds. I’ve beaten this horse over and over again, so other than the specifics of this case – you should definitely read the story for the details – there’s nothing new here. The budget is all sleight of hand and misdirection because the Lege is desperate to avoid having to confront the real problems, our tax system is screwed up, and people are paying for things they’re not getting. Same story, different dedicated fund. Grits has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of March 5

The Texas Progressive Alliance would never have made the mistake of advertising on the Rush Limbaugh show in the first place as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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