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November, 2012:

Dan Patrick wants to play doctor

Clearly, the man missed his calling.

Before Texas’ abortion sonogram law passed last legislative session, some women seeking to end pregnancies in rural communities relied on telemedicine, with physicians — working in partnership with medical technicians or nurses — administering prescription drugs via videoconference to induce early-stage abortions.

If new legislation filed by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, passes in 2013, women in remote corners of the state may have even fewer options to get the procedure.

2011’s abortion sonogram law — another measure Patrick championed — requires that a physician, as opposed to a technician or nurse, perform a sonogram on a woman seeking an abortion at least 24 hours ahead of the procedure. That in effect prohibits the use of telemedicine for drug-induced abortions, which opponents of the procedure call a welcome consequence for a little-discussed practice.

SB 97, Patrick’s latest measure, would further increase the in-person requirements for physicians. In addition to the in-person sonogram 24 hours ahead of the abortion, doctors would have to personally administer both of the two medications used for drug-induced abortions, and see the patient again for a follow-up appointment within 14 days, a particular challenge for the roving doctors who treat women in the state’s rural counties.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of the abortion provider Whole Women’s Health, said that before last session’s sonogram law took effect in February, her clinics in Beaumont, McAllen and Fort Worth relied on telemedicine. A technician would perform the sonogram and a physician based in Austin would review the patient’s medical records, then videoconference with the patient to answer any questions.

“Through telemedicine we were able to serve women in communities, mainly more rural communities, where access to abortion was much more difficult,” she said.

Silly woman. Don’t know you know Dan Patrick knows what’s best for you and your patients? Don’t make him have to pass a bill requiring his express written consent for anyone to get an abortion in this state, because he will if you make him mad enough. This would be a good time for those of you whose Senators are Eddie Lucio, Judith Zaffirini, or Carlos Uresti to start calling their offices and telling them not to vote to bring this travesty to the floor, like they did in 2011 with the sonogram bill. With the defeat of Jeff Wentworth, the last pro-choice Republican in the state, we’ll need at least two and possibly all three of them to stand with their fellow Democrats in opposing this, depending on when the election to succeed the late Mario Gallegos is concluded. This would also be a good time for so-called “moderates” like Sarah Davis to do something to earn that designation and actively oppose this ridiculous intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship, instead of waiting till the bill comes to the floor of the House and casting a token vote against it.

Rodeo kicks in for tree replanting

Trail riders coming into Houston for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo traditionally camp overnight in Memorial Park on their way to the event. Last year they did this as many of the trees around them were dying from the drought. This year, the HSLR is giving back to help with that problem.

On Monday, [HSLR board chairman Steve] Stevens presented a $250,000 check from the rodeo to Mayor Annise Parker and Memorial Park Conservancy board chairman Jim Porter to help reforest the beloved park.

“For more than 50 years, thousands of trail riders have gathered in the park, so I thought this was a nice way to pay back,” Stevens said. “We’ve got to get it going again. The city and county are great to us. … This was the easiest thing we’ve approved this year.”

The donation is for reforestation, which will include planting thousands of trees in the park, said the conservancy’s Claire Caudill. However, before any major planting takes place, the conservancy and Houston Parks and Recreation must remove about 20,000 dead trees and create conditions that will ensure greater seedling success.

Nice. Other work that needs to be done prior to any planting includes getting rid of the various invasive species that have taken up residence in the park. The conservancy expects trees to be put in the ground beginning next November. Let’s hope the current dry conditions don’t make things worse between now and then.

How’s that GOP Latino outreach going?

There are issues.

On Election Day, it became clearer than ever how important Hispanics, as the fastest growing portion of the U.S. population, are to national political success. Republican Mitt Romney earned only 27 percent of Latinos’ support in his failed bid for the presidency.

Now, as Republicans in Texas examine Romney’s loss, they are confronting a serious conflict within their own ranks.

On one side, the party leadership wants to court Latinos with outreach efforts and a kinder message about immigration, which polls consistently show as one of the top issues among Hispanics.

“I just don’t want the party to be toast,” said Steve Munisteri, the Republican Party of Texas chairman, who has made the issue a top priority.

Meanwhile, a big part of the Republican base wants to keep driving the party’s ideology to the uber-conservative side of the political spectrum, which means passing tough immigration bills.

Katrina Pierson, a political activist and member of the Dallas Tea Party, said many of the rank-and-file Republicans want to see less pandering to an ethnic group and more work to pass strict immigration laws in Texas, laws like the one in Arizona that requires police officers to check the immigration status of people they think might be in the country illegally.

“It’s one thing to be inclusive,” Pierson said. “But it is another thing to abandon your principles.”

This is the conflict in a nutshell. Some GOP leaders like Steve Munisteri want the party to be more inclusive, or at least less inflammatory, but the rank and file ain’t buying it. The tell is that it’s very hard to win a Republican primary as anything but a hard-liner on immigration. I can’t say it’s “impossible”, I don’t follow GOP primaries closely enough to draw that broad a conclusion, but we all watched the Presidential primary, and we all saw Cruz versus Dewhurst. The people in the GOP who are talking about this are not being listened to by the people who vote in the GOP. And just as a reminder, “sanctuary cities” legislation will be a top priority this spring, as it was two years ago. In fact, a bill repealing the Texas DREAM Act that Rick Perry signed in 2001 and was raked over the coals for by Mitt Romney has already been filed, and the author of the failed 2011 “sanctuary cities” bill warns that what comes out of this year’s Lege “may turn out to be a much harsher bill”.

And even when legislation might not be seen as overtly hostile to Latinos, Democrats in the Texas Legislature have become adept at painting it as such. For example, Democrats portrayed as discriminatory the 2011 redistricting law, which Republicans say was meant simply to elect as many Republicans as possible, not hamper minorities’ voting power. And Democrats cast the GOP-led voter ID effort as discriminatory, even though lawmakers who supported it said it was a common-sense move to protect the sanctity of the ballot.

Of course, the DC federal court also said that the redistricting and voter ID bills were discriminatory in intent and effect, so there’s more to this than just a “some people say” media dodge. Everyone can say what they want about these bills, Democrats have two federal court rulings on their side.

Cal Jillson, a Southern Methodist University political science professor , said messaging is important, but Texas Republicans need to do more than adjust their words and pass a guest worker plank, if they want to remain relevant.

“If that’s what they are doing, that’s dumb politics,” Jillson said.

Jillson said Munisteri and the GOP must substantially address issues such as jobs, education and health care, which are vitally important to Hispanics. “Until that happens, they (Hispanics) are not going to be interested in Republican messaging,” Jillson said.

Again, as I said before, Latino voters have a stronger belief in the role of government and by a sizable majority support the Affordable Care Act and believe that the federal government should ensure that all people have access to health insurance. They tend to be big supporters of public education, too. What’s the GOP got for that? Toning down the anti-immigrant stuff is a necessary first step for them, but it’s far from sufficient.

This is all assuming that they care about competing for Latino votes, of course. The Anglo-centric model is still working pretty well for them here in Texas, even as we heard its likely death knell nationally. As long as Latino voting rates lag behind those of other states, which is another way of saying “as long as there’s no concerted, fully-funded, long-term effort to engage and turn out Latino voters in Texas”, the current model could be good to go for several more cycles. Despite the Munisteris of the world, I suspect the Texas GOP won’t really take this seriously until they have no other choice. See this Ryan Lizza story for more.

When will we have truly electronic voting?

When will there be an app to cast a vote in a US election?

So at a time when we can see video shot by a robot on Mars, when there are cars that can drive themselves, and when we can deposit checks on our smartphones without going to a bank, why do most people still have to go to a polling place to vote?

That’s because, security experts say, letting people vote through their phones or computers could have disastrous consequences.

“I think it’s a terrible idea,” said Barbara Simons, a former I.B.M. researcher and co-author of the book “Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count?”

Ms. Simons then ran through a list of calamitous events that could occur if we voted by Internet. Viruses could be used to take over voters’ phones; rogue countries like Iran could commandeer computers and change results without our knowledge; government insiders could write software that decides who wins; denial-of-service attacks could take down the Internet on Election Day.

“It’s a national security issue,” Ms. Simons said. “We really don’t want our enemies to be able to determine our government for us — or even our friends for that matter.”

[…]

Ronald L. Rivest, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that for now, the best technology out there is the one we’ve been using.

“Winston Churchill had a famous saying that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried before,” Mr. Rivest said. “You can apply the same statement to paper ballots, which are the worst form of voting, but better than all the others that have been tried before.”

Mr. Rivest, who is the R in the name of the RSA encryption system, which is used by government institutions and banks, said that if things went wrong on Election Day, chaos could ensue, because doubts about the results would rattle the foundations of our democracy.

“One of the main goals of the election is to produce credible evidence to the loser that he’s really lost,” he said. “When you have complicated technology, you really do have to worry about election fraud.”

So what’s the solution? Ms. Simons and Mr. Rivest both seemed certain that the best alternative was to stick with a technology that’s a couple of thousand years old. “Paper,” they both said, as if reading from the same script. “Paper ballots.”

Voting by mail, which some cite as an option, lets people avoid the lines, but it is not so easy on the vote counters. In states where this is allowed, envelopes have to be opened and ballots sorted into precincts. Then the signature needs to be matched with that on the voter registration card. None of this is terribly efficient.

So in 10, 20 or 100 years, when our cars have been replaced with self-flying spaceships, robots take our children to school, and our smartphones are chips in our heads, will we still be using a pen and paper to choose our president? I sure hope not.

I presume the people who object to early voting are sputtering incoherently about now. There’s a fundamental tradeoff in the computing world between convenience and security. That which is more convenient is inherently less secure, and vice versa. I would not be so arrogant as to contradict Simons or Rivest on the concerns about conducting an election over the Internet or via smartphone. But I have a real hard time believing that forty years from now when my daughters are my age that they’ll be voting by the same means I do today. What do you think?

Precinct data: County Commissioner precincts

I wish they called County Commissioner precincts by some other name, because it’s confusing to refer to them as such when one is discussing canvass data, which is data from the thousand-plus voting precincts in Harris County. But that’s the name we’re stuck with, so make sure the clutch on your context-shifter is in good shape. Before I get to the data, I’ve been looking for a formal story on the end of the county redistricting trial, but this Houston Politics post from Friday appears to be all I’m going to get.

Commissioners Court interim map

The court’s first Hispanic member, Democrat Sylvia Garcia, represented Precinct 2 for two terms before losing to Republican Jack Morman in 2010. She took the stand Thursday and testified about discrimination against Latinos. The plaintiffs have to prove that point (and several others) in order to get Precinct 2 declared a protected minority-opportunity district under the Voting Rights Act, which likely would produce a more favorable Precinct 2 for a Hispanic candidate than the map the county adopted.

“I think discrimination still exists. It just may be more subtle, it’s more creative, more clever, but it’s there,” Garcia said, adding that deficits Latinos face in education, housing and health care, and that local and state governments dissuade Latinos from participating in the political process.

[…]

The plaintiffs’ attorney Chad Dunn pressed [Morman’s chief of staff Dave] Walden on why, during the redistricting process, he had requested information about the politics, prevalence of straight-ticket voting, ethnic makeup and voter turnout in various voting precincts being considered for inclusion in Precinct 2. The data showed the precinct would have a higher share of white voters, and a higher share of Republican votes.

Dunn asked Walden if removing Latinos from a close district makes it harder for Latinos to elect a “candidate of their choice” (language from the Voting Rights Act).

“I really believe this: It depends on factors in addition to their ethnicity before I could give you a hard and fast judgment,” Walden said. “But going by ethnicity alone, you could probably say that.”

Dunn asked whether Walden knew that by making those changes Morman’s electoral advantage would increase. “True,” Walden said. Dunn asked whether Walden had an interest in making the district more Republican. “Absolutely,” he said.

The defendants have stressed that these gripes are about politics (a permissible factor in redistricting), not discrimination. They say the plaintiffs must “negate partisanship” to prove their claims.

The trial, or at least the testimony, wrapped on Friday. No clue when a ruling may come. Be that as it may, let’s take a look at the data. With three of the four Commissioners on the ballot, it was easy to sort out the data from all four precincts. I’ve divided the presentation below into two groups, one for the five statewide candidates, and one for the five non-judicial countywide candidates.

CCP Obama Sadler Henry Petty Hampton Tot votes ====================================================== 1 76.74% 75.90% 75.79% 77.57% 77.24% 293,101 2 48.63% 47.59% 48.40% 50.62% 49.78% 210,222 3 40.62% 39.93% 37.97% 40.66% 40.92% 317,331 4 36.99% 36.21% 35.15% 37.58% 37.20% 349,526 CCP Garcia Ryan Trautman Bennett Oliver ============================================== 1 79.05% 77.66% 77.62% 76.68% 74.35% 2 54.21% 50.75% 50.83% 49.21% 47.43% 3 44.83% 42.21% 41.70% 39.71% 37.37% 4 40.99% 38.22% 38.21% 36.59% 34.70%

The “Total votes” figure is simply the Romney plus Obama total for each precinct. I put that in for some perspective. Adrian Garcia had the largest margin of victory in Morman’s Precinct 2, defeating Louis Guthrie there by over 17,000 votes. Keith Hampton missed carrying Precinct 2 by 868 votes. It’s fair to say that in a Presidential year, the map used for this election makes Precinct 2 highly competitive. How things may play out in a non-Presidential year under a possibly different map is anyone’s guess at this time. For what it’s worth, I did the computations for all 34 District, County, and Circuit Court of Appeals races as well, and found that Democrats won 13 and lost 21. Of possible interest is the list of the top five vote-getters in Precinct 2 among the judicial candidates:

Candidate Votes Pct ======================================= David Mendoza 104,404 51.28% Julia Maldonado 104,389 51.08% Ruben Guerrero 103,474 50.80% Alexandra Smoots-Hogan 103,378 51.01% Michael Gomez 103,240 50.64%

I’m going to step out on a limb here and suggest that maybe it would be wise for the Democrats to run a Latino/Latina candidate here in two years. Just a thought, you know? Oh, hell, I’ll quit being coy: There’s no doubt in my mind that Sylvia Garcia would be the strongest candidate against Morman, if she chose to run. That would require her to lose in the special election in SD06, then want to get right back in the saddle again (likely with a depleted campaign treasury) and have a crack at a rematch with Morman. I have absolutely no idea how probable that scenario is.

Anyway, the other point of interest is Precinct 3, which as I recall was made slightly more Republican after swapping some turf with Precinct 1 in order to boost the latter’s overall population. That plus the decline in Democratic turnout from 2008 meant that Adrian Garcia lost about two and a half points from that year. On the plus side, this is the beginning of the decade, not the end of it, so if demographic change continues as it has been, I’d think there’s a decent chance of Precinct 3 being competitive in 2016. As always, this assumes a Democrat who can raise a few bucks steps up to run. It’s never too early to start recruiting.

If eliminating straight ticket voting is the solution, then what’s the problem?

With the opening day of bill-filing season comes the recurrence of a not-so-old chestnut that like many other bills is a solution in search of a problem.

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said he wants to end straight-ticket voting for judges because the political winds often determine the fate of a judicial candidate instead of qualifications.

“Most voters have no idea of who they are voting for, for judges,” Patrick said.

Patricia Kilday Hart calls Sen. Patrick’s bill a “step in the right direction”. Sorry, but I can’t agree with that. I’ll stipulate that most voters don’t know who they’re voting for in judicial races. Unless you’re a lawyer or otherwise have regular business with the legal system, how can you possibly evaluate judges and wannabe judges? The problem I have with Sen. Patrick’s solution is that it does nothing to add to the publicly-available body of knowledge about judicial candidates. If anything, it subtracts from it. Partisan identity is a blunt instrument to be sure, but it does at least tell you something about Judge Johnson or Attorney/Candidate Smith. How is taking away that bit of information going to help the average voter know who they’re voting for?

As I see it there are more pressing problems with the way we elect judges in this state, and Sen. Patrick’s bill does nothing to address them. As I’ve said before, big players like the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and especially Texans for Lawsuit Reform, of which the state Supreme Court is a wholly owned subsidiary, will not be constrained in any way by Sen. Patrick’s proposal, or by non-partisan judicial elections, or by retention elections in an appoint-and-retain system. For that matter, the ability of a crank with a grievance against a sitting judge to finance an opponent for that judge would also be left unmolested. If the concern is about the effect of money on our judicial elections – and Lord knows, there needs to be concern about this – then making judicial elections publicly financed is likely to be the optimal solution, assuming they can withstand the inevitable lawsuit and a suitable funding mechanism can be found. If you think that electing judges at all is the problem, I can sympathize with that, but then you need to propose a system that can handle the appointment of nearly 2000 non-municipal judges statewide that isn’t likely to become a patronage mill. Again, I agree that our system of partisan election of judges is problematic. It’s just that all of the proposed solutions I’ve seen so far do nothing to actually address those problems.

Maryland to join the Big Ten

The dominoes have resumed falling.

Maryland is joining the Big Ten, leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference in a shocker of a move in the world of conference realignment that was driven by the school’s budget woes.

The announcement came Monday at a news conference with school President Wallace D. Loh, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and athletic director Kevin Anderson.

“The membership of the Big Ten enables us to guarantee the financial sustainability of Maryland athletics for a long, long, long time,” Loh said.

Loh added that Maryland athletics has been living “paycheck to paycheck.” The school had eliminated seven sports programs earlier this year.

“The director and I are absolutely committed to begin the process to reinstate some of the teams we had to terminate,” Loh said.

Maryland will become the southernmost member of the Big Ten member starting in 2014.

“Really in the last year it’s become so obvious that major conferences are expanding outside of their regions,” Delany told the AP in an interview before Maryland’s news conference on campus in College Park. “You have multiple major conferences all in multiple regions.

“It seemed to us that there was a paradigm shift occurring around us. And therefore the question is how do you respond to that in a way that stay true to yourself, but is also only responsive not to the world you want but the world that you live in.”

And Rutgers will apparently join them, meaning the Big Ten will technically be the Big Fourteen. Connecticut is now reportedly going to join the ACC to fill Maryland’s slot, meaning that the Big East will at the very least have to redo its divisions before a single game has been played. Did you think we were done with all the conference-hopping? Yeah, me neither. Now we wait to see who’s next. Again.

The helium shortage gets real

It could affect Thanksgiving.

“We’ve secured helium to meet some of our parade needs, and we are working to secure more,” Kim Stoilis, president and chief executive officer of the Houston Festival Foundation, said in an email Wednesday. “We’re excited about this holiday tradition and our parade director assures me that all of our balloons will be flying high on Thanksgiving morning.”

But the full impact of the helium shortage on the parade remains unclear. Parade organizers declined to specify how much more helium is needed or whether the shortage would translate into fewer floats along this year’s parade route.

“Due to the severe shortage of helium and our continuing negotiations to procure the resource we’d rather not discuss specifics,” Stoilis stated in the email.

[…]

The Bureau of Land Management, which maintains much of the nation’s helium supply, held about 43 billion cubic feet (bcf) of helium in 1960, but today holds only 13 bcf because the nation’s supply has been privatized, said Joseph Peterson, assistant field manager of field resources at the bureau’s Amarillo office.

Under the 1996 Helium Privatization Act, the land management agency has been charged with selling off the remaining supply of helium on federal lands as private industry and overseas production plants take over the role of helium extraction, he said.

But today, Peterson said, the worldwide supply of helium has not kept pace with the demand.

“The past few years (the shortage) has been crucial because everyone wants the helium for their parades,” he said. “In the past there have been a couple of suppliers that were able to meet that demand. There is still some helium available but there may not be a lot of balloons in this year’s parades (nationwide).”

I wrote about this last year. It’s all fun and games until the parade floats start being affected.

Precinct analysis: City and county

If you know a little something about Excel (or in my case, OpenOffice Calc, which has the same basic functionality), it’s fairly straightforward to calculate the vote totals and percentages for various candidates in various county, state, or federal districts. These districts are well-defined, and by that I mean they contain a certain number of precincts in their entirity, and two districts of the same classification (i.e., two State Rep districts) have no overlap between them. (That actually isn’t exactly right, but it’s close enough to not worry about.) It’s not the same for determining the vote in the city of Houston versus the rest of Harris County. City boundaries do not conform to precinct boundaries. There are numerous precincts that are part Houston and part not-Houston. When I first tried to do this, after the 2008 election, I wound up counting a number of non-Houston votes as being from the city, which had the effect of underestimating the Democratic percentage by two or three points. After getting some feedback on this, I refined my methodology and got a result that I thought was more accurate. It’s definitely an estimate, but I’m confident it’s in the ballpark.

This year, I have the benefit of the city of Houston bonds and charter amendments on the ballot, which identify all of the precincts that contain city of Houston voters. Obviously, I don’t want to count all of the votes in each of those precincts as being city of Houston, for the reasons given above. You can look at the individual precincts and see a handful of bond votes but hundreds or thousands of Presidential votes, so you know you can’t count the whole precincts. What I wound up doing was counting the votes in any precinct that had at least ten Yes votes for Proposition B, the parks bond that was the biggest winner among the bonds, as Houston precincts. It’s not exact, but it’s close enough. Here’s what I got from doing that:

Candidate Votes R Votes Pct ===================================== Garcia 381,103 211,886 64.3% Obama 371,755 242,953 60.7% Ryan 370,181 225,952 62.1% Trautman 367,587 226,185 61.9% Hampton 359,110 227,134 61.2% Sadler 356,630 242,658 59.5% Petty 356,110 225,061 61.3% Bennett 353,317 234,256 60.5% Henry 342,986 240,103 58.8% Oliver 342,701 252,168 57.6%

By this calculation, which remember is as much approximation as anything else, Obama lost 0.3 percentage points from 2008, while Adrian Garcia lost about a point and a half. This is consistent with the amount they lost overall from 2008, so again I feel pretty confident. You can see that Garcia, Vince Ryan, and Diane Trautman all attracted some Republican support, while Mike Anderson, Christi Craddick, and Mike Sullivan all drew Democratic support.

Here’s the flipside, non-Houston Harris County, which is simply the totals above subtracted from the overalls:

Candidate Votes R Votes Pct ===================================== Garcia 230,860 310,551 42.6% Ryan 215,781 326,609 39.8% Trautman 214,896 326,012 39.7% Obama 213,696 341,913 38.5% Petty 208,702 321,146 39.4% Hampton 207,229 326,415 38.1% Bennett 206,689 328,248 38.6% Sadler 206,325 338,539 37.9% Oliver 199,443 343,351 36.7% Henry 198,206 334,588 37.2%

Pretty much what you’d expect based on the first set of results, with the exception of Paul Sadler sliding down a few spots, for which I’d blame – again – his lack of resources. I read these amazing stories about the turnout effort in Ohio, and I ask myself again what that might look like if it were ever tried here. I don’t really have anything more to add to this, so I’ll leave it here and we’ll continue with more analysis later.

We need infrastructure, yes we do

But paying for it is often a problem. That doesn’t work very well for a chant, I’m afraid.

The American Society of Civil Engineers Houston branch assessed the structural and economic viability of roads, transit, solid waste, wastewater and drinking water facilities.

Drinking water systems received a D, and roads and highways got a D+. Bridges, flood control and transit scored a C-, while solid waste received a C and heavy rail systems – freight rail and Amtrak – a C+.

The report is the first local assessment done by a Texas branch of the national engineering society. Houston is the 11th region nationally to look at local infrastructure. Most regions fared slightly better than Houston, with most categories in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, for example, receiving B and C grades.

Houston drinking water systems in particular are behind on needed maintenance, said Clay Forister, chairman of the engineering society committee that produced the report.

“I think everyone remembers last summer and all the water-main breaks,” Forister said, referring to the drought-related line failures around Houston, which peaked at 1,000 in a single day in August 2011.

[…]

Future demand is great, the report found. The combined population of Harris, Galveston, Brazoria, Fort Bend, Waller, Montgomery, Liberty and Chambers counties is expected to grow by 3 million, to 8.8 million, by 2035, the engineers said.

Without improvements, the 422 miles of local highways will not accommodate that growth, and water and sewer plants will strain to serve an increasing number of people.

You can see the report card and related information here. As the story notes, the city is taking some steps to fund infrastructure renewal – Rebuild Houston is the obvious thing we’ve got going on, but there was also that water rate hike from 2010 that was done in part to fund infrastructure projects for Houston’s water system. Houston’s problems are hardly unique, of course, as are their concerns about how to pay for what needs to be done. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the federal government needs to put up a few billion dollars for infrastructure projects around the country. Water systems everywhere are in desperate need of upgrade, and this would serve as economic stimulus at a time when it’s still a good idea. Unfortunately, that won’t happen any time soon, most likely not until we’re past the point of crisis.

Shall we wait for SCOTUS?

Texas Redistricting:

The three-judge panel in San Antonio overseeing redrawing of Texas’ redistricting plans has signaled that it is at least considering the possibility of delaying action on new maps until the Supreme Court decides questions about the constitutionality of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, asking the parties to brief by December 3 “whether this court should place this case in an administrative stay pending a decision.”

The court’s order is here, and background on the Shelby County case is here. If I had to guess, I’d think the state would like the court to wait for SCOTUS, and the plaintiffs would like them to get a move on already. We’ll see.

Mount Rush Hour Park

It’s actually called American Statesmanship Park, but either way it’s awesome.

Mount Rush Hour

Harris County on Tuesday accepted a donation of a small plot of land near the intersection of Interstates 10 and 45 where 18-foot concrete busts of Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington sit.

Each bust by Houston artist David Adickes, 83, was valued at $100,00, plus $87,000 for the land. Precinct 2 parks superintendent Gilbert Smith said there are plans to name the plot American Statesmanship Park, after words inscribed on the base of the sculptures.

In addition to oversized presidents and dignitaries, Adickes also is known for the 67-foot-tall Sam Houston statue in Huntsville and the 36-foot-tall cellist at downtown’s Lyric Centre. A plaque on the site will identify him as the busts’ creator and Quinita and Christopher LaPorte as the donors.

“We’re going to work on some kind of a nicer signage for the front, something low that will look nice, and mow it on a regular basis and the pay the light bill to light it at night,” Smith said, adding that he’s been told the occasional coat of white paint and some intermittent power washing also will be needed.

There’s an aerial photo at the Chron link, and here’s a Google map if you want to get a closer look. You can get there easily via the Heights Bike Trail – head east to Houston Avenue, turn right towards downtown, then turn left (east) on Edwards Street, and you’ll see the statues as the road veers around towards Bingham. David Adickes is a national treasure, and we are so lucky to have him in our town.

Weekend link dump for November 18

Isn’t it nice to be able to watch live TV again without having to dread the political ads?

More early voting, and more voting by mail, would do a lot to make voting easier.

The Internet withstood Hurricane Sandy.

One reason we know why voter fraud is not a big problem is that those who commit it so often get caught doing so.

Forty years of “A Thief In The Night”, the story that “Left Behind” should have been.

“What can be worse than to sell your soul and find it not valuable enough to get anything for it?”

Republicans had polling problems in addition to everything else.

“If there is a single plank in the Democratic platform on which Obama can claim to have won, it is taxing the rich. Obama ignored vast swaths of his agenda, barely mentioning climate change or education reform, but by God did he hammer home the fact that his winning would bring higher taxes on the rich.”

Financiers may be smart, but that doesn’t make them “numbers guys”.

Not all slopes are slippery. Sometimes you have to take a couple of steps back before you can move forward.

Sixty years of MAD Magazine.

We should just let TBogg be the Official Journalist of L’Affaire Petraeus. It’ll be way more fun.

Amazon doit 252 millions de dollars à la France.

Those darned “urban voters” and their urban voting.

Texting is up, but the use of SMS to send texts is declining. Yeah, this too is Apple’s doing.

I’m certainly not above bribing my kids with junk food, but I don’t think schools should institutionalize the practice.

I’m glad Nancy Pelosi will stay around on the Dems’ leadership team.

Apparently, God hates F1. Who knew?

With Steve Stockman heading back to Congress, Louie Gohmert knows he has to up his game to continue to be considered Texas’ craziest Congressman. Fortunately, he’s equal to the challenge, as I was sure he would be.

“How can you let a young woman go to save a baby who will die anyway?”

If Democrats can compete for Cuban-American votes in Florida, it’s a big deal.

One last reminder why it’s a very good thing Mitt Romney was not elected President.

How President Obama should have responded to that ridiculous secession petition.

Looking for a gift for the Romney voter in your life?

Constable Trevino indicted

Lovely.

Constable Victor Trevino

Longtime Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino was indicted Friday, accused of failing to report cash campaign contributions, diverting money from his youth charity for personal use and using deputies to serve eviction notices and then keeping the delivery fees.

Trevino was charged in four felony indictments alleging abuse of official capacity, misapplication of fiduciary property and tampering with a government document. He faces 10 years in prison if convicted, said Harris County District Attorney’s Office prosecutors who investigated the constable for more than a year and interviewed 165 witnesses.

Defense attorney Chip Lewis said Trevino will not step down as he fights charges he described as a hodgepodge of technical violations.

“What you see today is a product of what I call old-school law enforcement meets modern-day regulations,” Lewis said. “All of the allegations involve either inadequate bookkeeping, (or) failure to technically satisfy very technical laws.”

[…]

[County Attorney Vince] Ryan declined to address whether his office would seek to remove Trevino. The county attorney represents the state in a removal trial, which can be brought against any county officer on allegations of official misconduct, incompetency or intoxication.

[County Judge Ed] Emmett said Trevino should step aside until the case is done, though he did not call for the constable’s resignation.

“Being a law enforcement officer, him being under a cloud really complicates his ability to serve, I think,” Emmett said. “The best thing for him to do at this point would be to step aside and turn over operations of the precinct to somebody else until it gets resolved.”

Not been a good year for Constables, has it? We had now-former Constable Jack Abercia’s resignation and arrest to kick the year off, and this is like a bookend to that. Ryan released a report on the Constables’ offices in May that didn’t go into much detail but which was apparently used as part of the investigation of Trevino. I agree with Judge Emmett, it would be best if Trevino took a leave of absence or something, and let someone else handle the daily operations until this matter is resolved.

A third act for Jolanda?

Maybe.

CM Jolanda Jones

Jolanda Jones, who lost her at-large position 5 seat in last December’s runoff election, may run in next year’s elections to win a third term on Council — but this time it would be representing District D.

The seat will be open next year because Councilwoman Wanda Adams is termed out.

“I’m keeping my options open,” Jones said Friday when asked if she is running for District D, which extends south of downtown. She lives in the district and her family goes way back in the district, she said.

Jones would have one more obstacle than any other candidate who files for District D: The city attorney says she can’t do it.

Term limits call for a maximum of three two-year terms on Council. However, city law also states: “No person, who has already served two full terms, shall be eligible to file for that same office.”

City Attorney David Feldman opined last year that this precludes people from a non-consecutive third term. Peter Brown resigned in 2009 just days before the end of his second term in attempt to circumvent the prohibition and remain eligible for a third term. It didn’t pass muster with Feldman.

Nor would Jones moving from At-Large 5 to District D, Feldman said in an email Friday, “since a council member is a council member is a council member.”

Jones said simply, “Feldman’s been wrong before.”

I am, of course, Not A Lawyer. So, I’d like for someone who is a lawyer to explain to me the difference between Jolanda Jones and former Council Member Mark Ellis. Ellis was elected as Council Member in District F in 1999, re-elected in 2001, then after serving two full terms ran for and was elected to At Large #1 in 2003. The ordinance in question doesn’t have anything more to it than what was quoted, so I don’t know what else to say. Why Ellis and not Jones or Brown? I welcome your feedback on this.

Washington Avenue parking

The city of Houston has been trying to tackle the problem of insufficient parking in the busy Washington Avenue entertainment corridor.

What to do about Washington Avenue is Houston’s latest public policy discussion of what government’s role should be in growing business, in helping a fledgling business strip turn into a destination district.

The players all seem to want the same thing: Turnover at the restaurant tables, safe revelry in bars and clubs, pedestrians strolling a well-kept avenue and sprinkling their cash at the storefronts. All the while, people should be able to sleep through it two blocks away.

The city’s parking czar is rolling out plans for what he calls a parking benefit district, which would include residential parking permits to protect nearby homes, better lighting and security, and spruced-up sidewalks. It would be paid for by charging for spaces along the curb.

Don Pagel, whose official title is deputy director of Houston’s Department of Administration and Regulatory Affairs, says the avenue’s very success threatens to undermine its future. It is a Yogi Berra philosophy summed up in the Yankee legend’s oft-quoted remark that a New York restaurant “is so crowded nobody goes there anymore.”

Parking is a commodity, Pagel said, just like groceries or furniture, and should be priced accordingly to derive the maximum economic benefit. In practice, this means it should cost more when it is scarce. Charging for parking will not only bring in money that can be reinvested into the neighborhood, Pagel said, but it will ensure that the folks who have money to spend will get the premium spots at the curb. Someone who tries to avoid a $2 parking charge, Pagel suggests, is unlikely to spend $50 on dinner.

“Folks with the most money have the least amount of patience,” Pagel said. They will make one pass along Washington, he speculated, and if they don’t find a space they’ll move on to Montrose or Midtown.

I’m not particularly thrilled about residential parking permits, but everything else sounds pretty good. It’s particularly encouraging to hear officials like Pagel talk about parking as a valuable commodity, one that should be priced accordingly. Among other things, the sidewalks on Washington Avenue are atrocious, so if this parking benefit district can genuinely raise some money, perhaps that can finally be addressed. I have to think that any long-term solution must include better ways to get to Washington Avenue’s recreations without driving and parking – i.e., bikes, mass transit, and remote parking areas with shuttle service. But this sounds like a good start and the right direction, so let’s see how it goes. The Chron’s editorial page has more.

Beer is still a job creator

We really owe a debt of gratitude to beer, in particular to microbrewers.

Saint Arnold Brewing Co., the city’s oldest craft, has 43 employees and is in the midst of hiring at least three more, founder Brock Wagner said. That is about double the staff before production shifted to a new brewery with more capacity 2½ years ago.

“We’ve been able to turn it into a place where you can have a career,” Wagner said, noting such benefits as fully paid health care, a generous 401(k)-match program and paid vacations.

The employment growth is actually greater considering that several volunteers who used to help set up Saturday tours at the original brewery were given paid part-time positions to handle the weekday and Saturday tours at the new place.

Karbach Brewing, which marked its one-year anniversary Sept. 1, already has tripled its staff, from the original seven.

“Obviously, our growth was higher than anticipated,” marketing chief David Graham said.

An ongoing boom in craft-beer sales is boosting hiring nationwide.

In a speech during last month’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper noted this statistic from the Colorado Brewers Guild: While craft beer accounts for less than 5 percent of beer produced in that state, the 150 craft breweries there provide 64 percent of the brewing jobs.

That’s because major breweries, like Houston’s Anheuser-Busch plant, produce millions of barrels annually, compared with the Saint Arnolds and Karbachs in the tens of thousands of barrels. The difference in scale enables the big players to utilize a lot of cost-saving efficiencies.

In contrast, said Dave Fougeron, founder of Conroe-based Southern Star Brewing, “We do things backward and slow.”

Fougeron and other supporters say this laborious process results in better-tasting beers and more diversity for consumers.

In other words, the big breweries rely on automation, while the microbreweries rely on people. That’s a formula for more jobs, many of which are for skilled people. This story refers to a study of the economic impact of microbreweries, which could be a lot if the Legislature would finally do something about those archaic restrictions on selling beer. The microbrewers have a strategy, and they’ve done a good job getting their story told in the media. It’s got to happen one of these days, doesn’t it?

Saturday video break: Blue Suede Shoes

Song #43 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “Blue Suede Shoes”, originally by Carl Perkins and covered by Elvis Presley. Here’s the original:

And here’s Elvis:

I’m just going to quote the Popdose writer here, because I can’t add anything to this:

“Blue Suede Shoes”” is such an early rock song that it seems definitive. It was the first big hit for the first big rocker, Elvis Presley. It was also a cover, written by rockabilly star Carl Perkins. Perkins was always bitter that Presley got the stardom that he wanted, although he was no slouch; the rights were controlled by Sam Perkins, so neither singer made much money off of it. This was my number one pick because it’s fascinating that the earliest rock song was a cover, involved a feud, and had rights that belonged to someone other than the writer. Is there anything more rock and roll?

Indeed.

It’s all about 2014

This is very easy to understand.

So sad about the things the state needs

Signaling austerity despite improving state revenues and a push by some to undo cuts to key programs, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and leading GOP senators said they plan to write a budget for the next two years that is smaller than allowed under a spending cap adopted Thursday.

The announcement was met with caution from House GOP leaders, who said the budget-writing process has yet to take its course.

Some Democrats, meanwhile, voiced concern that even the adopted cap could constrain efforts to restore money to programs such as public education even as Texas faces a school funding lawsuit.

Under the Texas Constitution, state leaders are required to limit certain state spending to economic growth; the cap applies to state tax revenues that are not constitutionally dedicated to other purposes, about $70.4 billion of the state’s current two-year budget of $173.5 billion.

The 10.7 percent cap adopted by the Legislative Budget Board is based on personal income, which would allow $7.5 billion in spending above the current budget. The existing budget is $14 billion less than the previous two-year state budget due to a revenue shortfall.

[…]

Dewhurst and the GOP senators’ position raised eyebrows among leading House members who serve on the budget board.

“We’ve written very conservative budgets, and we’ll continue to do that, but right now, we don’t know what we’ll have to pay for and how much revenue we’ll be getting from the comptroller,” said House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said his chamber will follow its usual budget process, noting dozens of incoming members have not yet had a chance to weigh in.

Pretty much everything David Dewhurst will do in the coming months has to do with the fact that he has at least three potential primary opponents, and he will not be outflanked on the right again as he was with Ted Cruz this year. He’ll do the full Mitt Romney on any inconveniently moderate or sane thing he ever did or believed before, and hope it’s enough to hold back the pitchfork mob. Doesn’t matter if it makes sense, it just has to make the robber barons at TPPF twirl their mustaches with glee. This may or may not be enough to stave off a second humiliating defeat at the polls, but it’s his only chance.

Sumners for Controller?

Yeah, I don’t know about that.

County tax assessor-collector Don Sumners, who lost his bid for re-election in the May GOP primary, said Wednesday he is considering running for city controller next year.

“The part that has to be decided is whether I can actually win. I’m not a spring chicken,” said Sumners, 73.

Controller Ronald Green did not draw an opponent for re-election in 2011. He is eligible to run for a third and final two-year term in 2013.

For whatever the reason, incumbent City Controllers have been unopposed for re-election in recent cycles. The last sitting Controller to have an opponent was Lloyd Kelley, who was ousted by Sylvia Garcia in 1997. Since then – Garcia in 1999 and 2001; Annise Parker in 2005 and 2007; Green in 2011 – Controllers have gotten free rides after their initial elections. Sumners ran for Controller once before, in 1993, drawing less than 10% of the vote as one of three unsuccessful challengers to George Greanias. Green had some bad press earlier this year, but he can’t hold a candle to Sumners on that score. Plus, not to put too fine a point on it, this is a heavily Democratic city. I’ll have more on this on Monday, but as was the case in 2008 the city of Houston voted over 60% for President Obama. Obviously, the electorate is very different in an odd-numbered year, but the point is that someone like Sumners has a much lower ceiling than Ronald Green has. So let’s just say I don’t think Green will lose any sleep over this.

Amazon comes to Schertz

Hello, Schertz!

After about six months of negotiations, this city, the Schertz Economic Development Corp. and Guadalupe County have approved about $7.6 million in direct tax incentives to land a $166 million distribution warehouse for Amazon.com.

The 1.26 million-square-foot warehouse, called a fulfillment center, will become the largest facility in Schertz and Guadalupe County, Schertz EDC executive director David Gwin said. It’s expected that the project will create 350 new jobs that will generate about $11 million in annual payroll.

What jobs would pay was not disclosed, but Gwin said that the wage would exceed the minimum standards set by law.

[…]

According to the Amazon Fulfillment website, jobs at Amazon’s fulfillment centers pay about 30 percent more than traditional retail jobs.

As part of a deal with the state comptroller’s office to resolve the e-commerce giant’s past tax liabilities with the state, Amazon pledged to create 2,500 jobs and make $200 million in capital investment in the state. Amazon has been rapidly opening more fulfillment centers around the nation and Canada to increase its same-day delivery capabilities.

Schertz is just north of San Antonio, and used to pair with Selma as two of the biggest speed traps in the state. This is clearly a better way to generate revenue for the town. Hope it works out well for them.

Friday random ten: For the ladies, part 6

More ladies’ names as song titles. Let’s get to it:

1. Margot Fonteyn – Eddie From Ohio
2. Mari Mac – Great Big Sea
3. Marie – Randy Newman
4. Mary Ann – Ben Arthur
5. Minnie The Moocher – from “The Cotton Club”
6. Miss Amanda Rae – Clandestine
7. Miss Fritchie – Eddie From Ohio
8. Miss Kate Rusby – Battlefield Band
9. Miss P – The Rogues
10. Miss Shepherd – Silly Wizard

Kind of formal this week. I may or may not skip this series next Friday, we’ll see if I’m inspired to do something else or not. In any event, there’s still more to come in later weeks.

Precinct analysis: Sadler v Noriega and Sadler v Obama

Day Two of precinct analysis, in which we take a look at the Senate results. As I did with the Presidential results, I’m going to compare the candidates from this year to the candidates from 2008.

Dist Cruz Sadler Cornyn Noriega ======================================== HD126 63.86% 36.14% 62.26% 37.74% HD127 70.57% 29.43% 67.93% 32.07% HD128 72.95% 27.05% 66.87% 33.13% HD129 65.92% 34.08% 61.64% 38.36% HD130 77.23% 22.77% 74.54% 26.46% HD131 16.84% 83.16% 17.37% 82.63% HD132 60.83% 39.17% 60.02% 39.98% HD133 68.91% 31.09% 67.19% 32.81% HD134 57.28% 42.72% 55.21% 44.79% HD135 60.51% 39.49% 61.04% 38.99% HD137 36.31% 63.69% 36.85% 63.15% HD138 61.32% 38.68% 59.72% 40.28% HD139 24.74% 75.26% 23.36% 76.64% HD140 31.36% 68.64% 28.00% 72.00% HD141 13.22% 86.78% 14.11% 85.89% HD142 23.00% 77.00% 20.27% 79.73% HD143 33.60% 66.40% 28.89% 71.11% HD144 49.50% 50.50% 45.22% 54.78% HD145 41.21% 58.79% 34.99% 65.01% HD146 21.07% 78.93% 21.56% 78.44% HD147 21.64% 78.36% 18.50% 81.50% HD148 43.49% 56.51% 38.34% 61.66% HD149 43.47% 56.53% 43.88% 56.12% HD150 69.92% 30.08% 67.33% 32.67%

As before, I’m omitting the third party candidates and just giving the two-party percentages. Even with that, this isn’t a perfect comparison, since the candidates are different. Rick Noriega, running in a year with maximal Democratic turnout, scored a majority of the vote in the county, while Paul Sadler trailed Ted Cruz. Also, while Noriega wasn’t exactly swimming in campaign cash, he did raise over $4 million in his race, or about ten times what Sadler collected. Noriega had actual staffers on his campaign, Sadler was basically a one-man show. As such, one should expect better performance from Noriega overall; among other things, Noriega only lost about 7000 votes from Obama’s total, while the lesser-known Sadler dropped 23,000 votes from Obama. Still, it’s interesting to see the range of percentages in the Latino districts, to compare the two Latino candidates, one from each party. All things considered, Cruz didn’t do that much better than John Cornyn. His name may have given him a boost in the Latino areas, but the overall decline in Latino support for Republicans was a drag on that.

But how much of a boost did Cruz get? The number we’ve heard tossed around is six percent, so let’s compare Sadler’s share of the Obama vote to Cruz’s share of the Romney vote:

Dist Sadler Obama Ratio ================================ CD29 64.73% 66.60% 0.97 SD06 65.26% 67.14% 0.97 HD140 68.64% 70.74% 0.97 HD143 66.40% 67.82% 0.98 HD144 50.50% 51.47% 0.98 HD145 58.79% 61.13% 0.96 HD148 56.51% 57.92% 0.98 Dist Cruz Romney Ratio ================================ CD29 35.27% 33.40% 1.06 SD06 34.74% 32.86% 1.06 HD140 31.36% 29.26% 1.07 HD143 33.60% 32.18% 1.04 HD144 49.50% 48.53% 1.02 HD145 41.21% 38.87% 1.06 HD148 43.49% 42.08% 1.03

So Sadler got between 96 and 98 percent of Obama’s vote, while Cruz improved on Romney by two to seven percent. A six percent boost is therefore plausible, but notice what I’ve done here: I’ve compared percentages, not raw vote totals. This actually makes it look better for Cruz, for two reasons. One is that the sheer number of votes is fairly small. Add up all the votes in the five State Rep districts above (CD29 and SD06 largely overlap those districts, so including them would double- and triple-count a lot of votes) and you get the following:

Romney 55,839 votes, Obama 89,709 votes, meaning Romney got 38.36% of the vote overall.
Cruz 56,605 votes, Sadler 84,891 voters, which is 40.00% for Cruz.

Putting it another way, Cruz’s percentage was 4.29% better than Romney’s, but his vote total was only 1.37% better. While Cruz clearly picked up some Obama voters, what largely drove his improvement over Romney in percentage of the vote was undervoting on the Democratic side. It’s fair to blame some of this on Sadler’s lack of finances, though how much is hard to say. Still, my point is that depending on how you look at it, Cruz’s improvement on Romney is pretty modest, at least in Harris County.

You may be looking at those percentages above and thinking “Hey, these guys did pretty well in Latino areas. I thought Republicans were supposed to have sucked wind this cycle with Latinos.” Remember that this kind of analysis is a very blunt instrument. There’s still a lot of non-Latino voters in these districts, and for what it’s worth the most heavily Latino district (HD140) is the one where Cruz and Romney did the worst. You can see population and voting age population (VAP) totals for each district here, but even that only tells you so much since it doesn’t say what the citizen voting age population (CVAP) is, and of course we don’t know what the Latino versus non-Latino turnout in each district was. This is what I’ve got to work with, so this is what I can tell you.

One last point to make is that Cruz actually got more votes than Romney in nearly all of the Democratic state rep districts:

Dist Cruz Romney Ratio ================================ HD131 7,144 6,851 1.04 HD137 8,488 8,468 1.00 HD139 12,382 12,138 1.02 HD140 7,160 6,846 1.05 HD141 4,949 4,617 1.07 HD142 9,366 9,194 1.02 HD143 9,916 9,771 1.01 HD145 11,674 11,374 1.03 HD146 10,261 10,112 1.01 HD147 11,340 11,107 1.02 HD148 16,325 16,268 1.00 Total 109,005 106,746 1.02

Cruz trailed Romney in vote totals in HDs 144 and 149. Overall, Cruz got 2.11% more votes than Romney in these Democratic districts. He did not lead Romney in any Republican district. It should be noted that while the others listed here aren’t officially “Latino” districts, Latinos comprise a majority of the VAP in HD137 and a significant minority in all the others, at least 27% in each case. Again, though, we’re talking VAP and not CVAP, so tread carefully. We can only guess about who the Obama/Cruz voters were and why they chose to split the ticket in that fashion.

That’s all for today. More on these and other races next week and after Thanksgiving.

On peeing in a cup

Another solution in search of a problem from the Republican leadership.

Out of the more than 250 bills filed Monday, the first possible day to file legislation for the 83rd session, one measure — concerning drug testing for welfare applicants — is already drawing the support of the state’s top lawmakers and the criticism of civil liberties advocates.

Senate Bill 11 would require applicants to the Texas Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to undergo a drug test. If applicants fail the test, they would not be eligible to apply again for a full year, unless they attended a substance abuse treatment program. The bill was written by state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and several other Republican lawmakers.

“This will help prevent tax dollars from going into the pockets of drug abusers,” Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday at a news conference. He said that the goal of the bill is to “empower every Texan to reach their potential,” because “being on drugs makes it harder to begin the journey to independence.”

“It is a legitimate function of government to help people that are not able to help themselves,” added Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. He said that because “virtually every” business he has encountered uses random drug testing on employees, it’s a good idea for the state and will lead to reduced unemployment by proving to employers that the people they are hiring have been certified by the state as drug-free.

“We owe it to all Texans to structure our welfare and unemployment programs in a way that guarantees that recipients are serious about getting back to work,” he said.

“This is not all about punishment,” Perry added. “This is also an incentive to get people off of these drugs.”

But critics of the bill say the bill is needlessly punitive and will mainly harm innocent children, whose parents are found to have even a minor amount of drugs. “The purpose of TANF was really to help children,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Texas. “If you don’t give the moms the money, then the children lose out.”

She pointed specifically to the bill’s provision that would require the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to report applicants with drug abuse problems to Child Protective Services. “Now we’re going to take the child of a parent who has smoked a couple of joints and give them to CPS,” she said. “If there’s a genuine concern about drug abuse, let’s do something about it. There’s no evidence that poor people abuse drugs more than other folks, but we keep coming up with bills that target poor people.”

“Adding insult to injury,” Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said in a press release, “is that Perry would pay for the drug testing out of the very TANF funds that should go to provide assistance to people. In other words, he’s taking about $350,000 worth food and assistance from all families from the general TANF grant just to try to find a few violators. This is simply callous and perverse.”

I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said by Lisa Falkenberg, Burka, Jason Stanford, BOR, Stace, or EoW. I’m particularly fond of Rep. Joe Deshotel’s response, noted in that BOR post, which was a call to add a drug test requirement to the application to run for state office in Texas. Lord knows, for the amount we spend on Rick Perry’s travel detail, we ought to get some assurance he’s not taking the opportunity to toke up while out on the road.

All other concerns aside, the bottom line is that this has been done in other states, most notably Florida, and there were no savings to be had and very few users getting caught. Burka astutely noted the parallel to the failed program of steroid testing for high school athletes, another expensive way for the state to (if you’ll pardon the expression) piss its money away chasing something that wasn’t there in the first place. For a gang that likes to rhapsodize about getting government out of people’s lives, they sure sing a different tune when it comes to the lives of people they don’t like.

Will health insurance exchanges be on the Lege’s agenda?

The deadline was today for states to decide what they want to do about implementing health insurance exchanges.

It's constitutional - deal with it

At least eight Republican governors vowed not to implement the health-care law until after the November election. “I will make that decision number one after the election,” Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley told a local television station in September.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said in late October, “I’ll make decisions when I have to.”

In the wake of President Obama’s reelection, and with the Affordable Care Act’s future secured, Republican-led states are scrambling to figure out what comes next for the law they squarely oppose.

“The folks who need to restrategize at this point are going to be the Republican governors, for the most part,” says Cheryl Smith, a director at Leavitt Partners, the health consulting firm founded by former Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt.

“They can’t just say no anymore. They have to accept that the Supreme Court ruling was what it was, and that the status quo is not sustainable.”

What, exactly, happens next is far from clear. States face a Nov. 16 deadline to inform Health and Human Services. That’s when they need to decide what they’ll do with their health exchange, a new insurance marketplace that each state will have in 2014.

I say it was today, because it’s now been postponed till January 1. Be that as it may, I don’t expect Rick Perry to accept anything that doesn’t fit into his worldview. It should be noted that there’s a decent argument for letting the feds do it.

Just for a minute, put yourself in the shoes of a Republican governor who has done very little to prepare for the health-care law. You think Obamacare’s the wrong direction for America and see public opinion data suggesting that half of the country agrees with you.

You waited out the Supreme Court decision, hoping they’d overturn the law, then the election, hoping the law would get repealed, and, all of a sudden, the law is here to stay and you barely have any time to implement it.

You could slap together a health insurance exchange at warp speed, hiring all the consultants you can find in the next few weeks. This decision is risky: If the health insurance exchange malfunctions (and it might, given the time constraints), the blame lands squarely at your feet. It’s also time- and energy-consuming.

[…]

Option two is leave the task to the federal government. They already promised that they’ll make sure every state has an insurance exchange standing by Jan. 1, 2014. They have a huge interest in making sure these exchanges work really, really well: This is, after all, the Obama administration’s signature legislative achievement.

We don’t quite know how well the federal exchange will work, but that’s almost irrelevant to a governor. If it functions really well, then the health law rolls out smoothly. Perhaps the state even takes control of the exchange within a year or two. If it bombs, the finger-pointing is directed toward the federal government — and not at the governor.

To an extent, Rick Perry and his crew are between a rock and a hard place, but I can’t honestly see them taking any proactive step to implement Obamacare even if the alternative is to invite the feds in to do it for them. Perry said he would not create an exchange after SCOTUS handed down its ruling, and he reaffirmed that stance yesterday. Still, I don’t think it matters. We’re too far behind on it already, and the Lege has plenty of other things on its plate. While I’m sure someone will file a bill to create an exchange, I’ll be very, very surprised if it even gets a committee hearing.

Not on the Ben Hall bandwagon

Ouch.

Ben Hall

Ben Hall is talking about running for mayor — again.

He won’t do it, and if he does do it, he won’t win, says one local African-American political consultant.

Bethel Nathan is a veteran of local politics. His recent clients include Elaine Palmer, who last week won the general election for the 215th District Court after knocking off an incumbent in the Democratic primary.

Hall has no moment of historic import going for him, Nathan explains.

“What’s the cry going to be? ‘Elect one of us?’” Nathan asked. “We already elected one of us,” Lee Brown, who served as mayor from 1998 to 2003.

[…]

Nathan said he believes local voters essentially take turns with their firsts as mayor. First there was the first female, Kathy Whitmire, in the 1980s and 1990s. Then there was Brown. Now, Mayor Annise Parker is the city’s first gay mayor. There has not been a Hispanic mayor of Houston.

“I think a Hispanic will get to be mayor of Houston before another African-American gets it,” Nathan said.

“There’s nothing emotional that’s driving me to turn out in mass numbers for Ben Hall,” Nathan said. “The only thing Ben Hall does is take African-American votes from Annise Parker and make it possible for a white conservative” to win.

Hall hasn’t made his announcement yet, so who knows what he’ll do. This probably isn’t the kind of greeting for that announcement he would have wanted. I’m just guessing.

Precinct analysis: Obama v Obama

So as mentioned before I now have a draft canvass for Harris County. There’s a lot of data to go through, and I’ll probably publish most of what I find after the holiday. One thing I’d like to share for now is a comparison of how President Obama did in the various redrawn districts versus how he was predicted to do based on 2008 results in the precincts that make up these districts. In the table below, reading from left to right, “Romney” and “Obama” give the two-party percentage of each candidate’s vote from 2012, while “McCain” and “Obama” do the same for 2008. Third party votes and undervotes are ignored, this is just a straight up comparison of the ratio of GOP votes to Obama votes.

Dist Romney Obama McCain Obama ======================================== CD02 63.93% 36.07% 62.32% 37.68% CD07 60.87% 39.13% 59.22% 40.78% CD18 23.06% 76.94% 23.02% 76.98% CD29 33.40% 66.60% 37.32% 62.68% SBOE6 60.67% 39.33% 58.88% 41.12% SD06 32.86% 67.14% 36.08% 63.92% SD07 67.64% 32.36% 65.32% 34.68% SD15 40.26% 59.74% 39.68% 60.32% HD126 62.85% 37.15% 62.32% 37.68% HD127 70.07% 29.93% 68.32% 31.68% HD128 73.15% 26.85% 70.42% 29.58% HD129 65.59% 34.41% 62.88% 37.12% HD130 76.92% 23.08% 74.50% 26.50% HD131 15.80% 84.20% 18.00% 82.00% HD132 59.71% 40.29% 60.12% 39.88% HD133 68.58% 31.42% 65.37% 34.63% HD134 57.51% 42.49% 53.02% 46.98% HD135 59.63% 40.37% 61.01% 38.99% HD137 34.75% 65.25% 37.14% 62.86% HD138 60.13% 39.87% 59.82% 40.18% HD139 23.79% 76.21% 24.10% 75.90% HD140 29.26% 70.74% 33.36% 66.64% HD141 12.13% 87.87% 14.40% 85.60% HD142 22.12% 77.88% 21.41% 78.59% HD143 32.18% 67.82% 35.45% 64.55% HD144 48.53% 51.47% 51.56% 48.44% HD145 38.87% 61.13% 42.36% 57.64% HD146 20.26% 79.74% 21.43% 78.57% HD147 20.62% 79.38% 19.07% 80.93% HD148 42.08% 57.92% 41.88% 58.12% HD149 42.28% 57.72% 44.12% 55.88% HD150 69.39% 30.61% 68.09% 31.91%

In case you’re wondering, the 2008 data comes from the FTP directory of the Texas Legislative Council – click on the plan in question (note: C = Congress; E = Education, as in State Board Of; H = House; S = Senate), then Reports, then your preferred format, then finally on the link that has “RED206_2008G_Statewide” in it. The districts I analyzed are ones that are entirely contained within Harris County. There’s no point in comparing, say, the results in SD17 or HD36 to the TLC reports, since these districts run into other counties and thus would render such a comparison moot.

The first thing that should strike you is that the map-drawers knew what they were doing. There’s not a lot of variation between what was predicted based on 2008 results and what actually happened in 2012. Romney generally did a little better than McCain in Republican districts. The exceptions are HDs 132 and 135 where he underperformed by a little, and HD134 where he had his biggest gain over McCain. Obama generally did a little better in the Democratic districts, with his biggest gains in the Latino districts. I have not gotten far enough in the analysis to determine how Obama did compared to other countywide Democrats in these districts – as we know, he lagged behind other Dems in Latino districts in 2008, but what we see here is consistent with what we saw in heavily Latino counties around the state. I’ll come back to this issue later after I’ve filled in more of the blanks.

While I haven’t yet completed filling in the relevant numbers for other candidates on the countywide ballot, I can compare Obama to the relevant Democratic candidate for each of these districts. Here’s how that looks, omitting candidates such as Rep. Gene Green who were not challenged by a Republican:

Dist Candidate Votes Pct ================================= CD02 Daugherty 80,262 33.49% CD02 Obama 88,451 36.07% CD07 Cargas 85,253 37.44% CD07 Obama 92,128 39.13% CD18 Lee 145,893 77.11% CD18 Obama 149,775 76.94% SBOE6 Jensen 207,697 40.58% SBOE6 Obama 215,053 39.33% SD06 Gallegos 93,136 70.94% SD06 Obama 89,584 67.14% SD07 Texas 90,606 31.59% SD07 Obama 93,774 32.36% SD15 Whitmire 135,595 62.34% SD15 Obama 131,838 59.74% HD127 Pogue 19,389 29.77% HD127 Obama 19,660 29.93% HD134 Johnson 36,366 45.66% HD134 Obama 34,561 42.49% HD137 Wu 15,789 65.72% HD137 Obama 15,899 65.25% HD144 Perez 12,425 53.47% HD144 Obama 12,281 51.47% HD149 Vo 25,967 61.12% HD149 Obama 24,770 57.72% HD150 Neal 19,308 30.30% HD150 Obama 19,668 30.61%

It shouldn’t be a surprise to see longtime officials such as Sens. John Whitmire and the late Mario Gallegos overperform. Voters tend to be happier with their own representatives than with whatever legislative body those representatives belong to. I figure good constituent service accounts for a lot of that. In fairness, I note that Republicans Dan Patrick, Ted Poe, and John Culberson also appear to have beaten the spread, something Culberson decidedly did not do in 2006 and 2008.

I noted Traci Jensen’s challenge before the election, and unfortunately she was not able to eat into that 100,000 vote deficit that she faced. I think a 2008 level of turnout on the Democratic side would have added a couple thousand more votes to her total and pushed her into the “overperformer” group. Her two-party percentage was a bit higher than Obama’s despite her lower raw vote number due to larger influence of third party candidates in her race and probably more undervoting on the Republican side. The SBOE, like the Senate, has everyone run in the first post-redistricting election, then they draw lots to see who goes again in two years and who gets to wait for four. I hope the latter is the case for SBOE6, and I hope that 20+ years of unopposed Republicans someone continues Jensen’s work in the next election.

Ann Johnson in HD134 also faced an uphill climb, which turned out to be steeper than we thought. She did do what she needed to do – she collected some 2000 crossover votes in outperforming Obama by three points – it just wasn’t enough. Unlike many legislative districts, HD134 does not get noticeably bluer in presidential years – if anything, based on what we saw from 2006 and 2008, it gets a little redder – so it’s likely the case that 2014 at least won’t be any harder than this year was. It’s all about working to change people’s minds, which may be easier after another legislative session. We’ll see about that. Johnson ran a strong race, the wall was just too high for her. Mary Ann Perez also did very well running in a district that turned out to be a little more friendly than we originally expected. The boost Obama got from Latino voters likely helped, but she went above and beyond that. If the district isn’t redrawn by the San Antonio court, Perez will surely face a strong challenge in 2014, but she’s already proven she can swim against the tide. As for Gene Wu in HD137, there’s nothing I can say that Greg hasn’t already said, so go read him.

I do have data about the County Commissioner precincts, but this post is long enough. I’ll get to that and to other matters in subsequent entries. Let me know what you think about this.

Speeding tickets and vehicle registration

I confess, I’m puzzled by this.

Municipal Court Presiding Judge Barbara Hartle has a proposal on Wednesday’s City Council agenda to sign an agreement with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles that would have the state refuse to issue vehicle registrations to people who have outstanding traffic fines.

As proposed by Hartle, by investing about $20,000 a year into compiling lists of scofflaws and coordinating with the state, the city could reap a windfall of $432,000 a year in higher collections.

Two years ago, a similar proposal involving red-light camera runners was rebuffed by the county. City officials had proposed registration holds on red-light runners caught on camera. It required the buy-in of the county tax assessor-collector, who issues license plates and stickers. Leo Vasquez, then the tax collector, agreed to the deal and made the pitch to Commissioners Court. Because the county gets a cut of the fee when it issues a registration and would, essentially, be forfeiting revenue for cracking down on city scofflaws, Commissioners Court rejected the deal.

This time, the tax collector who would be in charge of placing the holds sits on the council, and he does not like Hartle’s plan. District E Councilman Mike Sullivan was elected tax assessor-collector this month and will leave the council in January when he is sworn in at the county.

“In my mind, it’s nothing more than an attempt to have the county collect fees and fines that the city should collect on their own,” Sullivan said. “It looks like the mayor wants to push this over to the county as another layer of enforcement to collect money for the city.”

Sullivan said he opposes the arrangement as he intends to fulfill campaign promises to shorten the lines at the tax office windows. In addition, he said he is worried that holds could mistakenly be placed on people who do not owe fines.

I understood the county not wanting to help with enforcing the collection of red light camera fines. This I have a harder time with. There’s no policy dispute about the legitimacy of the fines being imposed as there was with red light cameras. I appreciate Sullivan’s concerns about possibly ensnaring someone who doesn’t owe a fine, but surely this is a less intrusive approach than involving a collection agency or filing a lawsuit, which would be the options left to the city. This would also be by far the least expensive way to collect outstanding fines, which makes it the most efficient use of taxpayer money. I don’t get the reluctance to get involved. I note that the last time this issue came up, the ultimate decision rested with Commissioners Court, who overruled then-Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez on red light camera fine enforcement. Tax Assessor-Elect Sullivan’s disapproval may therefore not be the final word on this.

UPDATE: Today’s story, from after Council approved the plan on a 14-1 vote, adds some more detail and shows a possible path forward.

Council’s action essentially means scofflaws will not be able to renew their registrations on the DMV website. Instead, they will have to go to the window at the tax office, where tax assessor Don Sumners said he will continue to issue registrations even if the state prints the word “scofflaw” on their renewal forms.

“I don’t think they (the city) could pay us enough for the services it would cause.We don’t have enough people as it is,” Sumners said.

[…]

Sullivan said he also believes the city should not offload its collections operations onto county government. He left the door open to a deal after he is sworn in as tax assessor in January, though, if City Attorney David Feldman is the city’s broker.

“He’s apolitical,” Sullivan said. “This administration is nothing but political and has not been honest and direct and transparent with me as a council member. However, Mr. Feldman has always been fair with me in all of my dealings.”

So there you have it.

Buses and trains, not buses or trains

I have a lot of emotion about this, but I’m still working through how to express it.

Metropolitan Transit Authority officials say the agency is on firmer financial footing than it has been in years. They plan to add shelters at 100 bus stops in the next year, replace aging buses with larger and smaller vehicles in some cases and rethink how the Houston area is served by bus.

The refocus is a shift for the agency, as rail has dominated the political discussion since a 2003 vote for transit improvements that included five light rail lines, three of which are under construction now.

“What got focused on and what got done was the rail component,” said George Greanias, Metro’s president and CEO. “That has not always worked to the benefit of the system. … We’ve not focused as much as we should on buses.”

Metro board members and local officials, notably Houston Mayor Annise Parker, lauded the chance to correct years of underinvestment in the bus system.

“They began paring back on the bus system, dropping off the lower ridership routes, rerouting the buses, saving money, saving money so they could do rail,” Parker said Wednesday.

[…]

Around the same time Metro placed the referendum in front of voters, officials also created a strategic planning committee. One of the committee’s main tasks will be to determine how Metro’s 1,300-square-mile area can best be served by buses, including how to tie them to the rail lines, said Metro board member Christof Spieler.

“Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if it is steel wheels or rubber wheels, it is all transit and it needs to work for the rider,” Spieler said. “What I would like to see is a better job of putting the whole network together.”

Some of that paring back of the bus system was necessary and correct. The main advantage to buses as transit is their lack of infrastructure, which thus enables routes to be redrawn at will and as needed to cope with shifting populations. Metro did a good job of identifying low-performing bus routes, but it hasn’t done nearly enough to improve the bus system and attract new riders to it. Part of their thinking behind this referendum and the “no incremental sales tax revenue on rail” deal, as expressed by Metro Chair Gilbert Garcia in the interview he and Spieler did with me, is that by working to get Metro’s overall numbers up they can build more public approval of the system as a whole, which will benefit future rail expansion. It feels a bit like a bank shot, but the bus system does have unaddressed needs, and as I said before taking care of those needs will remove a key pillar of the anti-rail contingent’s argument against more rail. I still think a big part of the problem here is that those who are the most vociferously anti-rail are not equivalently pro-bus, or pro-transit in general. The focus in this region has always been on roads uber alles, and getting any change in that focus has been hard fought and very incremental. Still, I continue to believe that there is a lot of potential for moving the region’s transportation and mobility forward if the stakeholders can agree to work together for once. Metro needs to maintain its commitment to fulfilling the 2003 referendum and building the University Line, and we all need to tell our elected officials, loudly and often, that we expect them to work with Metro to make that happen. Nothing about this referendum should change that.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 12

The Texas Progressive Alliance congratulates President Obama on his re-election as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

The third parties

While I work my way through the precinct data in Harris County, we can keep looking at the county data for Texas from last week’s election. Here are the top and bottom ten counties by percentage of the vote for Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson:

County Johnson % County Johnson % ============================================== Travis 2.72% Throckmorton 0.00% Hays 2.46% Brooks 0.25% Brewster 2.35% Kimble 0.32% Williamson 2.22% Lipscomb 0.34% Jeff Davis 2.02% Parmer 0.35% Bastrop 1.90% Refugio 0.37% Brazos 1.87% Bailey 0.39% Caldwell 1.84% Zapata 0.40% Terrell 1.80% Dimmit 0.41% Blanco 1.71% Deaf Smith 0.42%

Travis County is a hotbed for third-party voting, and apparently that fever has spread to some of its neighbors. My guess is that more people there consider their Presidential vote to be meaningless, so they feel freer to use it for personal expression. I will add that the #12 county on the “most Libertarian” list is Loving County, where Johnson collected 1.56% of the vote. Of course, there were only 64 total votes cast in Loving County (2010 population: 82 residents), so that 1.56% represents exactly one voter. How would you like to say that you’re the only voter of your kind in your entire county? For what it’s worth, Travis was the only blue county in the top ten, while Brooks, Zapata, and Dimmit are all deep-blue Rio Grande counties. Only Blanco County was more than 70% red, while five of the top ten counties were between 50% and 60% Republican; of the bottom ten counties, all but Refugio among the Republican counties were at least 70% so.

By the way, Johnson did something that no other Libertarian Presidential candidate had ever done in Texas: He got more than 1% of the vote, 1.10% to be exact.

Here are the same lists for Green Party candidate Jill Stein:

County Stein % County Stein % ============================================== Brewster 0.91% Loving 0.00% Travis 0.87% Hudspeth 0.00% Borden 0.83% Hemphill 0.00% Foard 0.81% McMullen 0.00% Presidio 0.66% Oldham 0.00% Dallam 0.65% Sherman 0.00% Kinney 0.63% King 0.00% Delta 0.59% Kenedy 0.00% Jeff Davis 0.59% Floyd 0.00% Blanco 0.58% Martin 0.00%

Note: that’s “Dallam” County in Stein’s top ten list, not “Dallas”. There is Travis again, giving Stein not just a relatively high percentage but also a huge share of her total vote: The 3,360 Greenies in Travis County represented nearly one-seventh of Stein’s final total of 24,450 votes. Only three other counties appeared on both Stein and Johnson’s lists, and outside of Travis they’re all small to tiny; besides Brewster (35 votes for Stein) and Blanco (29 votes), none provided more than 12 Green votes. Serendipitously, there were exactly ten counties that pitched a Green shutout. Hays (0.57%, #11 on the list) and Jefferson (0.13%) were the high and low Green scorers among counties with at least 100,000 registered voters, while El Paso (0.37%) and Fort Bend (0.21%) were at the top and bottom of counties where at least 100,000 votes were cast.

And finally, the same lists for John Jay Myers and David Collins, the Libertarian and Green candidates for Senate, respectively.

County Myers % County Myers % ============================================== Cottle 4.67% Glasscock 0.55% Brewster 4.62% Brooks 0.64% Travis 4.30% Sutton 0.70% Hays 4.21% Martin 0.71% Williamson 4.09% Jim Hogg 0.81% Hudspeth 3.96% King 0.82% Terrell 3.75% Dickens 0.83% Bastrop 3.53% Wheeler 0.83% Culberson 3.42% Rusk 0.85% Kenedy 3.29% Jefferson 0.96% County Collins % County Collins % ============================================== Maverick 2.34% Glasscock 0.00% Johnson 2.27% King 0.00% Presidio 2.09% Floyd 0.24% Jeff Davis 1.95% Borden 0.29% Brewster 1.87% Hartley 0.32% Culberson 1.85% Madison 0.32% Webb 1.84% Garza 0.34% Willacy 1.71% Hemphill 0.34% Loving 1.67% Lamb 0.35% Zapata 1.65% Camp 0.37%

There’s a lot of overlap between Johnson and Myers’ top lists – Hudspeth was #11 for Johnson, and Culberson was #26. Cottle and Kenedy are both tiny counties, and the differences are small but pronounced given the minimal number of voters. 31 people in Cottle votes Myers, but only 5 for Johnson, while in Kenedy it was 5 for Myers and 1 for Johnson. As for Collins, just as there was one Libertarian in Loving County, so is there one Green there. I wonder if they know each other.

Garcia and Alvarado and everyone they know

It’s not just Sylvia Garcia versus Carol Alvarado to succeed the late Sen. Mario Gallegos in SD06. It’s also everyone else that’s getting involved in the race.

In this corner…

Alvarado’s chief rival for the Senate seat is expected to be former Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, who announced her candidacy last week. Garcia, 62, the first Hispanic woman elected to the court, served for eight years and was defeated for a third term in 2010. She and Alvarado are roughly equal in terms of name identification in the district and financial resources.

The contest has local officials already taking sides. Backing Garcia, an attorney and former social worker, are Alvarado’s fellow House members, state Reps. Armando Walle, Jessica Farrar and Ana Hernandez Luna.

And in this corner…

“Sylvia has never stopped working for us,” said Farrar, the House Democratic Caucus leader, in a statement.

A lifelong resident of the East End, Alvarado boasts endorsements from former Houston mayors Lee Brown and Bill White, state senators Rodney Ellis, of Houston, and Leticia Van de Putte, of San Antonio, and former Congressman Chris Bell, among others.

“Carol has lived in the district her entire life and never forgotten where she came from,” White said. “She is a tough, effective lawmaker who will represent her district and work to improve public education.”

At this point, it may already be easier to keep track of who has not taken a side than who has. Add in the fact that former State Rep. and 2008 candidate for US Senate Rick Noriega is also considering this race and it may become impossible to find a local Democratic official who isn’t on someone’s endorsement list. I’m thinking there may be a few awkward moments at holiday parties this year. The best thing that can happen is for this race to be held as quickly as possible, which of course means it won’t be since the timing is up to Rick Perry. Be that as it may, Robert Miller helpfully lays out the process and potential calendar for this event. Ready or not, here it comes.

Harris County redistricting lawsuit kicks off

Remember the lawsuit that was filed over the redistricting map for Harris County Commissioners Court? It’s been on hold since the beginning of the year, after an interim map was drawn to get us through this election and since the main point of contention in the new map was not an issue yet. Now that the 2012 election is in the rearview mirror, it’s time to get this lawsuit going. The hearing began yesterday, and as always it comes down to the numbers.

Commissioners Court interim map

The county’s map added a bloc of reliably conservative voters in the northeast to Precinct 2, and reduced the precinct’s concentration of Hispanic citizens of voting age from 34.9 percent to 33.8 percent, [plaintiffs’ attorney Chad] Dunn said. An interim map for use in this fall’s elections, drawn as part of the lawsuit by U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore last year, put that number at 40.4 percent.

County officials say the need to protect Precinct 1, a black-opportunity district under the Voting Rights Act, made it difficult to add Latinos to Precinct 2 because they share a long border. Dunn said he will show both precincts can be drawn as minority-opportunity districts.

Dunn said taxpayers, essentially, are footing the bill for [Commissioner Jack] Morman’s campaign, saying only “illegal redistricting” would allow Morman to retain the seat he earned in an “outlier” election.

“We’re happy with a map very similar to what the judge drew, but it appears Harris County is unwilling to come to a map along those lines,” Dunn said. “A majority of Harris County Commissioners Court has determined they’re willing to spend large amounts of taxpayer funds in order to drown out the voices of Latino voters.”

[…]

The U.S. Department of Justice “pre-cleared” Harris County’s redistricting map last year, saying it did not violate Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Dunn and Ray said that is because the Justice Department agreed Precinct 2 did not have protected status and could be altered. Dunn said he will argue, under Section 2 of the act, that the precinct should be declared a protected district.

Ray said going to trial could result in a rougher road to re-election for Morman than under the interim map the plaintiffs say they would accept.

“The map drawn by the judge, should the plaintiffs prevail, could be a lot more favorable for a Hispanic being elected in Precinct 2 than it is at present,” Ray said. “The real risky gamble of going forward is for Precinct 2.”

More on the preclearance of the map is here, and of course Greg has the numbers from the original map, the do-over map that Harris County is defending, and the interim map from whence the image embedded in the post comes. Now that I have a draft canvass for Harris County I’ll be looking at the relevant numbers for the Commissioners Court precincts. The nice thing about the special election in Precinct 4 is that I can easily suss out the numbers for all four CC precincts, since three of the Commissioners were on the ballot. Look for a post on that in the coming days, possibly after Thanksgiving.

Time for another Speaker’s race

It’s like a rite of spring, except it happens in alternate Januaries.

Joe Straus

House Speaker Joe Straus’ bid for a third term as leader of the 150-member state House may not come as quickly or as easily as he had anticipated.

The San Antonio Republican finds himself caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place: His re-election path is complicated by a challenge from the hard conservative wing of his own GOP, combined with growing unease among some Democratic legislators upset with how Straus handled last year’s redistricting and other issues affecting minorities.

Straus faces a challenge from Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who is drawing support from tea party Republicans, FreedomWorks and some of the chamber’s more conservative members.

Straus, confident of prevailing, is content to let the process play out.

“I have a broad-based bipartisan coalition of supporters in the House that spans the ideological spectrum,” he said. “The members know that I have presided over the House in a way that is fair.”

We had one of these in 2011, and it fizzled out without anything serious transpiring. Maybe this time it will be different, maybe not. PDiddie is correct that if Straus can hang on to Democratic support – and he should, since it’s hard to imagine Hughes going after them; the whole point of this insurgency is that Straus sleeps with the enemy – then he ought to be able to survive. But who knows what the 93 Republicans who aren’t Hughes or Straus will do.