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June, 2013:

Weekend link dump for June 30

A photographic look at Staten Island in the 1980s. Really takes me back, I have to say.

“Scientists are in awe after discovering a Queensland lake that has barely been affected by changes in climate for 7,000 years.”

The NBA teams up with the White House to promote Obamacare.

If Jean-Paul Sartre were an app developer.

Will someone please make this into a Lifetime movie?

Corporations are people, my friend! Yeah, I’ll believe it when Texas puts one on death row.

The periodic table of the Muppets. Kermit is hydrogen.

I’m not a member of The 15 Percent, but a number of my relatives are. If you think about it that way, the number is surely a lot bigger.

Our long national Twinkie nightmare is coming to an end.

The AOL Reader is out. The Digg Reader is out. NetNewsWire now has one. There are still others out there. I’ve been using Feedly. What are you doing to replace Google Reader?

“But the truth stalks us like bad credit.”

The more Paula Deen talks, the worse she sounds.

“They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work”. Or, to put it another way, what Dilbert said.

Turns out the IRS wasn’t just targeting conservative groups, but was actually trying to enforce the law about political activity by non-profits. And the genesis of the scandal was a grossly misleading report from a Bush-appointed Inspector General.

“You’ll probably be surprised to hear that golf, in fact, accounted for surprisingly few lighting deaths, with a total of just 8 fatalities between 2006 and 2012″.

On kids and business travel. I agree, the barrier for the mother to travel is likely to be at the father’s workplace.

All hail Bull Durham.

In addition to everything else, Mariano Rivera is now an honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters.

“Why has gold been such an abysmal investment, if you can even call it that?”

To seek out new life and new civilizations.

As is so often the case, The Onion speaks the truth.

Remember how Ronald Reagan once said that Latinos are Republicans, they just don’t know it yet? Yeah, not so much anymore.

The top nine moments from this crazy week in the Texas legislature.

The Internet demands that Connie Britton play Wendy Davis in the movie about the filibuster, y’all.

Full speed ahead for Parks By You

Excellent.

Houston City Council on Wednesday approved an agreement with the Houston Parks Board to tackle the ambitious trails plan voters approved in a $166 million bond issue last November.

The Bayou Greenways 2020 project fulfills a century-old vision first laid out by urban planner Arthur Comey in 1912, with a $205 million, 160-mile connected networks of citywide trails. As the name implies, the goal is to finish the work in 7 years.

For a sense of where the trails are going, check out this map.

[…]

The Houston Parks Board has committed to raising $105 million to accompany the $100 million from the bond issue (the other $66 million is for other projects), and already has raised $20.3 million. Parks board director Roksan Okan-Vick said bulldozers will start moving in a few months, starting along White Oak Bayou.

“This is a transformational project,” Okan-Vick said. “It will change the way we think about our city and change the way others view and think about our city.”

I can’t wait. Here’s more from the Mayor’s press release.

Mayor Annise Parker, the Houston Parks Board and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department (HPARD) announced the start of the $205 million Bayou Greenways 2020 initiative designed to create a 150-mile greenway system within the city limits. The project is a result of the 2012 proposition B bond election passed this past November with overwhelming voter support (68% voting margin).

“Thank you Houston! Because of your support the Bayou Greenways 2020 project will create a 150-mile system of parks and trails within the city limits on the banks of our bayous,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “This project is truly a partnership project with city, county, nonprofits, businesses and many more interested parties joining together to connect trails and parks. Bayou Greenways 2020 demonstrates our combined commitment to parkland and greenspace that has been shown repeatedly to enhance our quality of life and competitiveness here in Houston. This project truly showcases Houston’s can-do attitude.”

[…]

“This is the largest urban park project in the nation; but, the beauty of it relies on its simplicity,” said Roksan Okan-Vick, Executive Director of the Houston Parks Board. “Our mission is to secure the equitable distribution of parkland for our entire region, and these bayous have no boundaries, connecting neighbor to neighbor, and homes to businesses throughout our area. We are so grateful to be a part of this historic effort by this administration.”

The completion of Bayou Greenways 2020 fulfills a 100-year-old vision presented by urban planner Arthur Comey in 1912. His vision to unite the city with grand greenspaces along the bayous will come into being by creating 150 miles of continuous and accessible parks and trails along the major bayous within the city. Those bayous reflect Houston diversity and crisscross the entire region. They include: Brays Bayou, Buffalo Bayou, Greens Bayou, Halls Bayou, Hunting Bayou and White Oak Bayou. In addition, Clear Creek and the San Jacinto River are included in this project. Bayou Greenways 2020 will be completed in multiple phases over seven years (expected to be completed in 2020) and will positively impact every council district.

Today’s agreement also provides for transparency and accountability. All construction plans, trail alignments and design of trails and/or trail related facilities are subject to HPARD approval. All construction contracts are subject to approval by City of Houston Legal and General Services Departments. A reliable long-term maintenance agreement between the City of Houston and the Houston Parks Board is also envisioned, and will establish reliable long term funding sources for ongoing maintenance of the Bayou Greenways 2020 trail system. This agreement will be negotiated between the City of Houston and the Houston Parks Board and presented to City Council for approval no later than December 31, 2013, with implementation set by July 1, 2014. Contractors will comply with MWSBE requirements according to Chapter 15 of City Code.

This document has more details and maps of the project locations.

This is going to be awesome. No city in America has anything quite like this. If you want a sneak peek at the White Oak construction, go here to sign up for a short walking tour of a key part of it on July 20.

Burnam to re-file marriage equality bill for Special Session 2

From the inbox:

Upon the announcement [Wednesday] of a second special legislative session by Governor Rick Perry, as well as the Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, State Representative Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) today announced his intention to re-file his Marriage Equality bill from the 83rd regular Legislative Session, HB 1300.

“The Supreme Court found today that the federal government acted to ‘impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages.’ I can assure you the Texas Legislature did the same. As such, it is time to renounce our homophobic state laws and usher in marriage equality in Texas,” said Rep. Burnam.

Governor Perry announced his intention on Wednesday to call a special session to deal with all unfinished business from the first session, including the abortion bill killed by Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) in her historic filibuster. However, in the first special session, Governor Perry had also added several issues throughout the session.

“I call on Governor Perry to add marriage equality to the special session call,” said Rep. Burnam. “Clearly granting equal rights to all Texans is more urgent than imposing restrictions on women’s health and liberty based on junk science and sham medical research.”

“It is the shame of our state that we continually have to wait for a federal judge to make us do the right thing. It happened with segregated schools, segregated parks and segregated housing. Let’s not let it happen with segregated marriage rights.”

In the 83rd Legislative Session, Rep. Burnam had introduced but had failed to even get a hearing for the bill. The bill is not a constitutional amendment, but rather amends key parts of Texas state law to extend parental, property and other legal rights of marriage to same-sex couples.

Here’s HB1300. This is absolutely the right thing to do, and I salute Rep. Burnam for doing it. That said, Rick Perry will host a fundraiser for Wendy Davis before he’ll put this on the special session agenda. Democrats did a good job introducing marriage equality bills during the regular session, and I expect them to be back in a big way on this in 2015, but regardless of any Supreme Court decisions, this is unfortunately not going to happen now.

Enrolling the uninsured

This is going to be such a huge job.

Get Covered America

Fresh produce wasn’t the only thing you could find at the Farmers Market [last] Saturday.

Volunteers with the Get Covered America campaign were passing out flyers and letting people know that starting Oct. 1, American citizens can enroll for low-cost health insurance as part of the Affordable Care Act.

“Get Covered America is a national grassroots campaign to educate people about the enrollment opportunities made possible by the affordable health care act,” volunteer Ian Davis said. “The enrollment period will start in October and today marks the 100 day countdown, so we’re doing a national day of action.”

Davis, an organizer with Get Covered Texas, says it’s important Texas is included.

“Texas has the most uninsured of any state in the country, so this is ground zero of really solving the health care problem,” Davis said.

Musician Daniel Smith is someone who doesn’t have health insurance.

“It’s just kind of like, don’t get hurt or sick you know,” Smith said.

Davis says there are plenty of people like Smith who don’t know they’re eligible.

“Over half the folks that are eligible for those benefits are unaware,” he said.

There were kickoff events like this around the country last weekend. BOR was at the Austin event. There was an event in Houston on Saturday the 22nd, right here in the Heights, but the only information I saw about it was an email that same morning. I hope we can do a better job of getting the word out than that. This is the only thing I saw in the Chronicle, so when I say “we”, I mean them, too. They did have a story on the federal push to get people enrolled on Tuesday, so perhaps they’ll be on the case going forward. We’ll see.

The actual enrollment period for the health insurance exchanges begins on October 1, and the race is on to get the word out. Something like 2.6 million Texans may qualify for insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, but they have to know about it and they have to know what to do to get the subsidies and enroll in an insurance plan. This is a massive national undertaking that will be done without the assistance of the state government here, for obvious reasons. One organization that may be helping to promote the exchanges will be the NBA, and I for one look forward to seeing what the Houston Rockets will do as part of that effort. (The NFL, and thus the Houston Texans are also in play.) Let’s hope we hear a little bit more about it between now and then.

Saturday video break: Proud Mary

Song #13 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “Proud Mary”, originally by Creedence Clearwater Revival and covered by Ike & Tina Turner. Here’s CCR:

Great band, and I love John Fogerty’s voice, even if some of his enunciations are a bit weird. Still, an awesome song that is also in my vocal range. Now here are Ike and Tina:

Man, if you weren’t dancing, or at least grooving, to that, you really ought to verify that you have a pulse. You’ve got to be playing at a very high level to take CCR’s “Proud Mary” to such a different place musically and improve it in the process. All hail Tina Turner.

Time to lace up your Mizunos and head back to the Capitol

Special Session 2 starts today. If you can be there to watch the proceedings in the Legislature, that would be great.

RSVP here, and while you’re at it, give a Like to the Stand With Texas Women Facebook page. The rally on the Capitol steps will be Monday, July 1, from 12 to 2 PM. Let’s have a big crowd, but please remember that it will be hot. Dress accordingly, wear sunscreen and a hat, and drink lots of water. No heatstroke, please. As Stace notes, there’s also an event in Houston on Monday evening, so there’s something you can do even if you can’t make it to Austin.

What happened last week was huge, but what happens next is critical. Make your voice heard. Juanita has more.

Commissioners Court approves HCSCC Astrodome plan for further review

I noted this briefly in an update to my interview with Willie Loston, but on Tuesday Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved the proposal by the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation to redevelop the Astrodome for further study.

Commissioners did not comment on the proposal before or after the vote, but County Judge Ed Emmett said the court wanted to refer it to budget staff “to analyze what exactly the financial impact is, because if there is a bond, there will be a tax and everybody needs to understand that, but the level of that tax right now is still undetermined.”

County Budget Chief Bill Jackson said he and his staff will review the cost of building, maintaining and operating the facility, and then look at ways to pay for it, focusing on the “non-public property tax items first” in an effort to lessen the amount of any bond referendum sent to voters.

Court members said Tuesday they would like to see a plan on the ballot this November so the 30-month project could be completed in time for the 2017 Super Bowl at Reliant Stadium.

Jackson said options to be examined include naming rights and selling salvaged parts, including the nearly 60,000 seats.

When Astroworld was dismantled about eight years ago, Jackson noted, “people were paying ridiculous amounts for things that they remembered as kids.”

“I just feel that people, if they do take parts and pieces out of this thing, people will be willing to spend something for that,” he said.

The review should be complete by Aug. 1, Jackson said.

That would cut it close for the deadline to place an item on the November 6 ballot, but there would be sufficient time to do so. The Infrastructure Office and the County Attorney’s office were also asked to review the plan. This is basically what Loston said would happen in the interview. Hair Balls elaborates.

The court voted unanimously to send the plan to the county budget office, the county attorney and the public infrastructure department. The budget office will tell them how much this plan will actually cost tax payers, and the county attorney’s office will tell them how quickly everything needs to move to get this on the November ballot, if that’s possible. It’s going to the infrastructure department because Pct. 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle asked that it be sent to that department as well. Now the court has to see what the budget office, the county attorney and the public infrastructure department all have to say before looking at the issue again.

Back in April, the HCSCC said tearing the Dome down would become an option again if whatever option they ended up recommending (which ended up being this one) failed to get approved. Now, [HCSCC Chair Edgardo] Colon notes that if the commissioners decided not to vote for the plan or voters decided against it, demolishing the building would be one of the options, but they would still be looking to the court for guidance and other options for what to do with the building.

Once things really get rolling, Colon says his organization will move in and start working to get the public informed on this project enough to vote on it if and when it gets on the ballot.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said he wanted to see a variety of bond referenda on the ballot, according to the Chron story, including a demolition option. I’m not exactly sure how that would work, though he is correct to note that just because a bond referendum is approved that doesn’t mean the money has to be borrowed and spent. Still, if we’re going to ask the people to vote we ought to be giving them the final say, not just narrowing the choices for a final determination by Commissioners Court. Let’s have one up-or-down item on the HCSCC proposal, and if it fails then Commissioners Court can then decide what the next move is.

In the meantime, County Judge Ed Emmett met with the Chron editorial board to discuss the plan and its status. Two items of interest from their talk. Item one:

In a somewhat heated meeting with the Houston Chronicle editorial board on Wednesday, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett took credit for the timeline the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. set in April for deciding what to do with the decaying Reliant Astrodome, describing it as an attempt to put an end to a nonstop stream of private reuse ideas that don’t have financial backing — and to force a decision on what to do with the vacant stadium.

“The private groups kept coming and coming and coming and I started chewing on… the Sports and Convention Corp. to set a deadline,” Emmett, who took office in 2007, explained. “This was more a deadline to make sure that those who kept talking actually came to some end and namely that they either had money or they didn’t have money or they had a definite plan or they didn’t have a definite plan.”

Rebuking a Chronicle editorial last Thursday that described the process as rushed and set up to end in demolition, Emmett went on to say that “there’s no plot that I’m aware of.”

“It wasn’t anything to try to short circuit the system,” he said. “In fact, it was trying to put an end to a system that had been going on for years.”

See here for my previous comments on that Chron editorial. As I said earlier, it’s fair to question whether the HCSCC plan will have the full political backing of Commissioners Court, which could be a difference maker in getting a referendum to fund the proposal passed. Judge Emmett appears to be on board, but as we know, the Court is composed of individuals with their own agendas. If one or more Commissioners actively works to undermine the referendum, or otherwise works towards a goal of demolition, people will have a right to be upset about how the process has played out. It’s too early to know how this will play out.

Point two:

Emmett said he “wasn’t keen on the idea” of having the vote this year because there won’t be any other county issues on the November ballot, other than state constitutional amendments. But he said it has to happen if the project is to be done in time for the 2017 Super Bowl at Reliant Stadium. It also has the greatest chance of passing, he said.

“If we don’t have it this year it won’t be ready in time for the Final Four and the Super Bowl and I hate to miss those opportunities,” Emmett said. “And the political reality is I think it’s more likely to pass when you don’t have the whole county voting because I think the people in the city of Houston probably have more of an attachment to the dome than people out of the suburbs. It’s just a guess; We haven’t polled that yet.”

Having a vote this year is the right thing to do. This has gone on long enough, and having the 2017 Super Bowl as a deadline for completing the necessary work ought to keep everyone’s eyes on the ball. The bit about whether there’s a difference of opinion between the city and the ‘burbs is fascinating, and I for one would love to see some polling data on it. I hope whoever does the eventual Chronicle/KHOU poll makes a note of that. Anyone want to critique Judge Emmett’s hypothesis?

Clock strikes midnight for North Forest

This was a tough blow for NFISD.

North Forest school officials lost one of their final court battles Wednesday, making the district’s state-ordered merger into HISD five days from now increasingly likely.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner rejected the last-ditch claims by North Forest that the school system’s takeover by the Houston Independent School District would violate the rights of minority voters under federal law.

North Forest has two more long shots to halt the shut down of the school district, with motions in state appellate court and the Texas Supreme Court.

State Education Commissioner Michael Williams has expressed complete confidence that his order to shut down North Forest after decades of academic struggles and financial problems would stick. He issued a statement this week saying he had no doubt the merger with HISD would happen Monday after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling about voting rights eliminated a remaining hurdle.

In his order, Hittner noted the “well-documented educational struggles” in North Forest and said that granting a temporary restraining order to halt the annexation was not in the best interest of students.

“In short,” he wrote, “the affected children, the educators, and the state would be severely harmed by the issuance of a TRO.”

Williams’ reference to the SCOTUS ruling on the Voting Rights Act drew a rebuke from Clay Robison of the TSTA, but he’s right that Justice Department engagement in the North Forest closure was a potential obstacle, and now it’s not any more. Chris Tritico, the attorney representing the NFISD school board members, said in this story that their litigation can continue even after the district and its Board of Trustees is dissolved, since they sued as private citizens as well. However, on Friday the State Supreme Court declined to hear their case, and Tritico conceded defeat. On Monday, the annexation officially begins. Hair Balls has more.

One thing Wal-Mart could be good for

They could wreak havoc on payday lenders.

Raj Date says that with modern data analysis banks could offer payday loans on much less extortionate terms. Felix Salmon retorts that banks don’t actually want to do business with poor people unless they can scrape them for high fees. Otherwise the costs of dealing with the accounts exceeds the profits to be made by having them as customers.

The solution to this problem, I think, would be for banking services to be performed by a firm that already has low-income clients and would have an interest in increasing its level of engagement with them even if the payday lending operation wasn’t profitable per se. In a word, you need Wal-Mart. A few years back, Wal-Mart started offering check-cashing services that were much cheaper than the prices charged by stand-alone check-cashing places. And it’s no surprise that this worked. If your whole business is cashing checks, then your check-cashing fees have to be high. But if check cashing is basically just another way to get people in the door of your store, then it makes business sense to offer attractive terms. Wal-Mart once applied for a banking license and was turned down so it can’t lend money. But if low-end retail chains were allowed to get bank charters, you could imagine one or more of them wanting to offer discount payday lending services for similar reasons—it’s a great way to get customers in the door at a time when you know they have money to spend.

The embedded link about Wal-Mart in the check cashing business is worth reading. For that and for the payday lending industry, having WalMart come in and crush the existing players with the force of low prices would be a good thing. Frankly, letting Wal-Mart have a banking license, which would immediately give access to basic checking and savings account services for millions of adults that don’t currently have them. That could have a major effect right here in Houston.

The Houston area is now the sixth-most unbanked major metropolitan statistical area in the country, as 11.9 percent, or 264,000 households in the region, do not have access to a bank account, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. About 8.2 percent of U.S. households are unbanked.

It’s also the fifth-most underbanked major metro in the U.S., meaning the 28.4 percent, or 630,000 households, that fall into this category have bank accounts but rely heavily on alternative financial products, such as payday lending.

Even after the city of Houston in 2009 established Bank on Houston, a program to draw the unbanked to bank accounts, the numbers of the city’s unbanked and underbanked have increased. In 2009, when Houston was the seventh-most unbanked metro area in the U.S., 10.5 percent of the city’s households were unbanked and 21.4 percent were underbanked.

“Part of it is the population increase,” Alexander Obregon, special projects coordinator for the city controller’s office and chair of the financial education committee for Bank on Houston. “There aren’t enough service providers out there that can reach all the people who need a financial education. Houston’s population continues to grow, and demand for its safety-net services continues to grow,” outpacing the growth of those services, he said.

Roger Widmeyer, spokesman for the Houston controller’s office, added that the unbanked can be a challenging demographic group to draw to the financial services industry, as many have a generational or cultural distrust of banks.

“Houston is a mecca for skilled labor, and many of these folks get paid in cash, and they prefer it that way,” Widmeyer said. “We’re attracting a lot of new residents who are coming here without a bank.”

I’m willing to bet that if Bank On Houston could partner with Wal-Mart, that would make a major dent in those numbers. Hey, I dislike and distrust Wal-Mart as much as the next liberal do-gooder. No question, Wal-Mart is evil. Compared to the payday lending industry, though, they’re clearly the lesser evil. I’m not particularly sanguine about a legislative fix for payday lending, and while the city of Houston is likely to take action to restrict payday lending here, that can only cover the city. Bigger action than that is needed. I say let WalMart come in and squeeze all the profit out of payday lending. That’s one industry where there’s no downside to lower prices.

Friday random ten: Going deep

My inspiration this week comes from John Scalzi:


Name a favorite “deep cut” from a band you like.
A “deep cut” meaning a track that was never a single or radio/video hit and wouldn’t generally be known to people who are not already huge fans of that particular band.

His commenters left a ton of deep cut suggestions. Here are ten that I have:

1. Mr. Blue Sky – Parthenon Huxley (org. ELO)
2. Your Racist Friend – They Might Be Giants
3. Helpless Automaton – Men At Work
4. Canary In A Coalmine – The Police
5. Summer, Highland Falls – Billy Joel
6. Madman Across The Water – Bruce Hornsby (org. Elton John)
7. The Roof Is Leaking – Phil Collins
8. The Sweetest Thing – U2
9. Nightswimming – You Say Party! We Say Die! (org. REM)
10. Theo & Weird Henry – John Mellencamp

As usual, I have a mix of cover versions in there. These are all really good songs, too, so kudos to Scalzi’s readers for having exemplary taste. I myself might suggest “Candy’s Room” by Bruce Springsteen, “Cruise” by David Gilmour, and “Up The Junction” by Squeeze – actually, the acoustic/countrified version that Chris Difford does on “From New Cross to Nashville” is even better. What deep cuts would you add to this list?

What the future may hold for Wendy Davis

Patricia Kilday Hart has her take on the Wendy Davis phenomenon, including the reaction of some Republicans to it.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

For both proponents and opponents of SB 5, the legislation that would have banned abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy and required costly upgrades to abortion facilities, one point was irrefutable: The filibuster created a new star for Texas Democrats.

“She’s the real deal. Humble beginnings … and she’s wickedly smart. The fact is, she does her best against the greatest odds,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. “Her future is whatever she wants it to be.” Agreed Sen. Rodney Ellis: “The sky is the limit.”

Republican campaign consultant Matt Mackowiak said Republican strategic errors carried a real cost for his party. “We now have a Wendy Davis problem,” he acknowledged. “We created an unbelievable opportunity to launch a first-tier Democrat.”

Still, given Davis’ liberal record and the state’s solid Republican bent, he said those who think a Democratic candidate can defeat Gov. Rick Perry or Attorney General Greg Abbott in 2014 are delusional. “I don’t think that person exists,” he said.

Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, a physician who challenged Davis’ position during Tuesday’s filibuster, agreed that better Republican planning could have prevented Davis’ moment in the limelight. He had advocated passing two other pieces of legislation, and adjourning, leaving the abortion bill for a second special session.

He also does not believe that Davis “will ever be governor of Texas.” In fact, she may have difficulty hanging onto her Texas Senate seat, when she runs in 2014 in a non-presidential year,” he said.

“Obama is not on the ticket,” he noted, and her last race was a tough, expensive ordeal.

Glad to know I’m not the only one who thought the Republicans’ strategy on Tuesday was nuts. But let’s knock down this idea that Davis necessarily has a harder time holding onto her State Senate seat next year because it’s not a Presidential year. You can find all the electoral reports for the State Senate map here – look for the RED206 Statewide files. Here are the best Democratic results in SD10 for each election going back to 2002:

Year Race R Vote D Vote R Pct D Pct ================================================ 2002 Lt Gov 92,324 81,771 53.0 47.0 2004 CCA 6 151,278 111,000 57.7 42.3 2006 Sup Ct 2 79,897 71,640 52.7 47.3 2008 Sup Ct 7 146,726 138,650 50.2 47.4 2010 Gov 90,897 76,920 52.7 44.6 2012 Sup Ct 6 143,816 128,484 50.8 45.4

2008 was less hostile to Dems than other years, but 2012 is basically on par with 2006 and 2002, in terms of margin of victory. 2012 was also a lot more challenging for Davis than 2008 was. John McCain won SD10 in 2008 by 15,000 votes and a 52.1 – 47.1 margin. Mitt Romney won SD10 by 23,000 votes and a 53.3 – 45.4 margin. Despite that, Davis won by 6,500 votes in 2012, which is almost as wide as the 7,000 vote margin she had in 2008, in a friendlier atmosphere. Turnout helped her in 2008, but it’s hard to argue it was much help 2012, as President Obama received 11,000 fewer votes in 2012 than he did in 2008 in SD10. Davis’ vote total, on the other hand, was nearly identical – 147,832 in 2008, 147,103 in 2012. She was one of only three candidates to win in a district that was not carried by her party’s Presidential candidate – Craig Eiland and Pete Gallego were the other two. She got 4,000 more votes than President Obama did in 2008, and a whopping 15,000 more votes than he did in 2012. That’s pretty strong evidence of her ability to attract crossover votes. Dismiss her if you want, but this is exactly the profile of someone who could be competitive statewide. Plus, as a plaintiff in the redistricting litigation, she offered to settle by accepting the 2012 interim map for the Senate. Maybe there’s some hubris in there, but if she thought she was doomed in 2014, I daresay she’d have continued to fight for more changes to the map. We already know she doesn’t back down from a fight, no matter how long and drawn-out it may be.

Now, this doesn’t mean that she couldn’t lose in 2014. SD10 is still a red-leaning district. If 2014 is a sufficiently GOP year, the hill could become too steep for her. Her elevated profile could work against her as well in that it might make her look more like a partisan Democrat to her Republican supporters, thus making her less attractive to them. It’s usually not that hard to convince people to vote for the home team. I suspect her profile is already pretty high in her district and the voters there already know what team she plays for, after two high-profile Presidential year elections, but crossover appeal can be a fickle thing. On the other hand, if she thinks there may be reason to be concerned about her prospects in SD10, that would serve as incentive to roll the dice on a statewide run. Be careful what you wish for, Sen. Deuell.

I suspect the bravado about her never being Governor masks a certain nervousness, too. Republicans must know that what happened on Tuesday is something they can’t control. Forget the political junkies and their yapping about parliamentary procedures, and forget the Internet junkies and their incessant memes. Focus on the fact that Wendy Davis is getting positive attention from lifestyle columnists and Amazon shoe reviewers, all of which will contribute to making Davis a known and likable figure among the lower-information folks. Don’t underestimate the power of the shoes here to help get the word out. If I hear my mother-in-law mention the name Wendy Davis, I’ll know for sure this is working.

On a more basic level, the fact that Rick Perry felt the need to take a cheap shot at her is mighty telling. As Wayne Slater notes, Perry has just elevated Davis to his political level, implying that she is this fearsome adversary he must fight. Not to mention the fact that he sounded like an arrogant, patronizing jerk – exactly the sort of behavior Kyrie O’Connor was talking about in her column. Maybe no one has ever told Rick Perry this, but the vast majority of women really really don’t like that kind of crap. Remember Sandra Fluke? Or Clayton Williams? During the marathon #StandWithWendy filibuster on Tuesday, I saw a tweet from someone who wondered how long it would be before Rush Limbaugh called Sen. Davis a slut. That hasn’t happened yet, but there are a lot of Rush acolytes out there, and I find it impossible to believe that one of them won’t follow Perry’s insult with something really nasty sooner or later. That sort of thing didn’t work out very well for the GOP in 2012. Davis herself was a beneficiary of that in her 2012 race. It’s fine by me if the GOP wants to go there. I just don’t think they’ve thought it through if they do.

Anyway. Sen. Davis has responded to Perry, and I’m quite certain this is not the end of it. Sen. Davis is leaving the door open to running for Governor in 2014. There’s certainly a lot of interest in her walking through that door. She’d need some stars to align for her to take that risk, but right now at least it looks to me like they just might be moving in that direction.

UPDATE: And when someone says something vile about Sen. Davis, Roy will be there to document it.

UPDATE: Fantasy casting the Wendy Davis biopic. Yeah, this is bigger than you think.

The 2011 maps are officially dead

Rick Perry has signed the redistricting bills, thus making the 2012 interim maps the official state-sanctioned maps and thus dropping any further pursuit of the maps drawn by the 2011 Lege.

On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Perry signed all three redistricting bills that lawmakers sent to him.

With his signature, Perry set the district boundaries for the U.S. House of Representatives, the state Senate and the Texas House, his office confirmed.

Capitol gossipers had been whispering that the governor might try to find a way to shove state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, into a Republican district as punishment for her filibuster that led to the death of a strict abortion measure in the Senate early Wednesday.

But by signing off on the redistricting maps, Perry silenced the rumors that he might veto the new state Senate map and seek to put into place the more Republican-friendly maps passed by the Legislature in 2011.

Texas Redistricting had the early call on that. Speculation had been about more than just the Senate map, and Lord only knows what kind of chaos could have been caused by Perry vetoing the only bills that came out of the special session that had originally been called just to pass those specific bills, but that is now consigned to an alternate universe.

Not wanting to take any chances, the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force had filed a motion asking the court to modify and extend the injunction that had been in place barring the use of the 2011 maps. That’s moot now, so the battle shifts back to the formerly-interim maps and the argument over what if anything the San Antonio court needs to do with them given the DC court ruling from 2012 – you know, the one that found evidence of discriminatory intent in the maps – and the SCOTUS ruling on the Voting Rights Act. The last San Antonio court hearing was on May 29, and there’s a status conference on Monday, July 1, but it’s not clear when the next hearing will be. So stay patient, there’s still a lot of this game left to be played.

Patrick is in for Lite Gov

And then there were three challengers to David Dewhurst.

Sen. Dan Patrick

Citing the need for “authentic conservative leadership” in Texas, state Sen. Dan Patrick announced on Thursday that he would run for lieutenant governor against incumbent David Dewhurst.

“Today begins roughly 18 months of hard work,” said Patrick, a Houston Republican who was joined by his wife at the news conference. “I think the people in Texas sense that it is a time for change. 2014 is going to be a change election.”

Patrick came out swinging against current GOP leadership, placing the blame at their feet for the failure to pass omnibus abortion legislation during the recently ended special session. Armed with a list of endorsements from county party officials affiliated with Tea Party groups and the results of a recent internal poll, Patrick also emphasized his widespread support in the Houston area.

“We are going to win Harris County. We are going to win Montgomery County,” he said.

Fort Worth Democrat Wendy Davis’ Tuesday filibuster of an abortion bill, which Patrick cited as an example of why voters should put someone new in office, was a backdrop to many of his comments.

“It was pretty clear to the world who was watching that it happened because of a lack of leadership,” said Patrick. “We allowed someone to stand on the floor for 12 hours and give one side of the story.”

Yes, Wendy Davis is officially Public Enemy #1 to the Texas GOP. There’s video of Patrick’s announcement here if you’re into that sort of thing. Patrick drew a short term at the start of the session, so he will be abandoning his Senate seat in order to run for Lite Gov. Former Harris County Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt has already announced his candidacy to succeed Patrick. I am confident there will be others joining him.

There was a time when the thought of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made me nervous. That time was back when Dewhurst could still pass as something resembling a serious public official that cared about getting things done rather than advancing ideological interests first. Now that Dewhurst has completed his transition to an angry, pratfalling clown, it’s hard to see what the difference would be. Patrick’s antipathy for the two thirds rule was menacing once, but now that the two thirds rule gets jettisoned whenever it’s convenient, again I ask what exactly there is at risk. (Burka is more alarmed about this.) Patrick could hardly make worse rulings on points of order than Dewhurst. Whatever it was I was worried about before, it’s already here. Patrick may be a more competent Lite Gov than Dewhurst has been, but on the other hand the potential for Real Housewives-style personality conflicts with his former colleagues would at least make it all the more entertaining. So go ahead and run, Danno. You don’t scare me any more.

Endorsement watch: The firefighters still don’t like the Mayor

Last week, the Ben Hall campaign teased on its Facebook page that it was about to get a “game-changer” endorsement. This week, that endorsement was announced.

Ben Hall

The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association announced they will be endorsing Ben Hall in his challenge to incumbent Mayor Annise Parker in this year’s mayoral campaign. This comes well after the Houston Police Officers’ Union endorsed the incumbent mayor back in March and just weeks after a fire that killed more firefighters than any single incident in Houston history.

Despite the fact that both organizations represent those who protect and serve the community, it is not surprising to see the HPOU and the HPFFA supporting different local candidates. It has happened numerous times in the past and usually has to do with how the current regime has supported both organizations. In this case, firefighters clearly believe Mayor Parker has not provided the department with the kind of support they need.

[…]

Hall was a city attorney and he seems to be fairly well organized with a good coalition of backers, but his challenge of the mayor is likely a long shot, as with most incumbents, particularly ones who were in office during an economic upswing. But the endorsement of the firefighters will no doubt help Hall boost his chances.

Perhaps. Generally speaking with endorsements, it’s better to have them than not to have them. However, a “game-changer” to me is one that is unexpected, particularly if the endorser in question had previously supported the other candidate, or otherwise would not have been expected to make this endorsement. That’s not really the case with the firefighters, since they endorsed Fernando Herrera in 2011, and endorsed Gene Locke in 2009. Mayor Parker won both of those elections without their support, so it’s not clear why this time is different. Good for Ben Hall, but it’s not in the same league as winning the endorsement of a previous supporter.

Speaking of which, if one is going to claim the endorsement of someone who had previously supported one’s opponent, it’s best to actually have the endorsement of that person. And when mistakes about endorsements happen, as they sometimes do during campaign, it’s best to correct them quickly lest they remain on the Internet long after they’re first noticed. I’m just saying. Texpatriate has more.

Still standing with Wendy

Let me just say that I hope Sen. Wendy Davis slept in yesterday, and did nothing more strenuous than channel surfing and ordering takeout. She’s earned a lazy day, and a lot more than that. And while she (hopefully) took a well-deserved rest, the media spotlight continued to shine on her.

KillTheBill

State Sen. Wendy Davis has held the Texas spotlight before. But Tuesday night’s marathon abortion filibuster propelled her into the national spotlight.

By the time the Senate unsuccessfully forced the vote on some of the nation’s strictest abortion regulations, the 13 hours Davis had spent on her feet challenging the measure had gone viral, drawing praise on social media from President Obama, U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and celebrities like author Judy Blume and actors Lena Dunham and Henry Winkler.

“I have never seen a Texas senator suddenly make world news over the course of 13 hours,” said longtime Democratic consultant Harold Cook. “I’m not sure it was possible before Twitter, honestly. At the start of the day, this was a local story. By the end, it was an international story.”

The attention has prompted even more speculation that the Fort Worth Democrat, who was first elected to the Senate in 2008, could be a future statewide contender — even a gubernatorial candidate. At a minimum, she is poised to have a wider fundraising base if she seeks re-election in 2014.

Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak predicted that her fundraising potential was now “unlimited.”

“If they were doing really smart things — some of the things Ted Cruz‘s campaign did in the last U.S. Senate race — she can raise millions of dollars over the next couple of months online alone,” he said. “I think she may be able to do that anyway.”

[…]

As of late Tuesday night, roughly 200,000 people were watching the proceedings on The Texas Tribune’s YouTube feed. Obama tweeted, “Something special is happening in Austin tonight,” followed by the hashtag “#StandWithWendy.” Even filmmaker Michael Moore and comedian Sarah Silverman got in on the social media action.

Davis started the day with just 1,200 twitter followers; by early Wednesday morning she had more than 46,000.

“Because of the way this worked out, from a procedural and strategic standpoint,” Mackowiak said, “I think the Republican leadership in both chambers of the Legislature unwittingly helped create a national Texas Democratic star.”

Way many reactions from the day after:

PDiddie
Nonsequiteuse
Harold Cook
Greg
BOR
Juanita
Texas Leftist
Hair Balls
Burka
HuffPo
TPM
Kos
Kos again, with a “Draft Wendy?” post
The Fix
Texas Politics
The Slacktivist, who would like there to be singing the next time this happens. I think he’s onto something there.

And pretty much everywhere else on the Internet. Mashable has a nice social media roundup, Buzzfeed did its Buzzfeed-y thing, and the Observer and Trib have excellent slideshows from the chamber. I think the one with the five forlorn (white male) Republican State Reps from the Trib is my favorite. And if you still can’t get enough, here’s the interview I did with Sen. Davis prior to the 2012 election. Oh, and because the Internet clearly demanded it, here’s the Texas Senate Clock’s Twitter feed. You’re welcome.

At the end of the day yesterday, Rick Perry announced Special Session 2, to finish the issues that were killed by Davis’ heroic filibuster. That will give Davis another chance to fight, however unlikely her success will be, and to give David Dewhurst another chance to make a fool of himself. We all knew this was coming – as I said yesterday, I don’t understand why the Rs didn’t cut bait in the evening and have Perry make the announcement then. If this makes you mad, that’s good, as long as you channel it into something productive. If this makes you feel in despair, please snap out of it. If Wendy Davis can stand and talk for 11 hours straight without any kind of break to make sure that her voice and the voices of women across Texas were heard, the least we can do is honor her effort by not moping about this inevitable piece of news.

We need everyone who has paid even cursory attention to this story to hold onto it at least until next November. Midterm elections are all about who shows up. The Republicans showed us the key to winning in 2010. Like they did then, we need a bunch of our every-four-year voters to break that pattern next year and show up to make their voices heard. I’ve said before that if the same number of people who voted for John Kerry in Texas in 2004 turned out in 2014, Democrats would likely sweep the statewide offices. It’s not rocket science. We still need the candidates, but Lord knows we ought to have all the incentive we could need. You want to #StandWithWendy? Make sure everyone you know that needs to vote next year does so. Winning elections is the best revenge. Hair Balls, BOR, and Stace have more.

Patrick and Williams keep squabbling

Just as a reminder that Senate Republicans don’t need Democrats to stir up trouble, here’s a flare-up of an earlier kerfuffle. Fire one.

In this corner…

In a recent interview with The Texas Tribune, my colleague, state Sen. Dan Patrick, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, attempted to explain his vote against our no-new-tax balanced state budget that was approved by a supermajority of Republicans.

In part, Patrick, R-Houston, said he opposed the budget due to his concerns about specific public education programs not being funded.

The problem with these comments is that Patrick was directly responsible for these same education programs not being funded. Such revisionism cannot go unchallenged.

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I appointed Patrick to lead the committee’s public education workgroup. The full committee adopted, in whole, his public education budget recommendations. These recommendations did not include funding for PSAT/SAT/ACT tests. Supplemental pre-K funding of $40 million was included in the adopted recommendations. Conference committee actions reduced the supplemental pre-K funding by $10 million, which was partially offset by an overall increase in public education formula funding.

Additionally, Patrick lamented in his Tribune interview that the new state budget lacked sufficient Career and Technical Education (CTE) funding. But he failed to acknowledge that he offered the Senate floor amendment that eliminated new CTE funding in House Bill 5.

Patrick was the Senate’s lead negotiator on that bill’s conference committee. I also served on the HB 5 conference committee, along with Sens. Robert Duncan, Kel Seliger and Leticia Van de Putte. I specifically told Patrick I would fund eighth-grade CTE (at a cost of $36.1 million) in the budget if he could get the House to agree. Ultimately, he asked me and the other conferees to sign a Conference Committee report which did not include new CTE funding.

[…]

Every member of the Legislature has the right and the duty to vote the interests of their district and their conscience. Patrick consistently supported virtually every decision made during the process of writing the appropriations bill. His unannounced opposition to the final version of Senate Bill 1 was a betrayal of every member of the finance committee who worked in good faith to prepare this budget.

I can only conclude he was looking for an excuse to distance himself from our good work to advance his own political interests.

Fire two.

And in this corner...

Patrick said Friday that he read Williams’ column “with amusement.”

“His attack on me is a classic example of a politician who has forgotten that we represent the people first and foremost,” Patrick said in a statement. “I don’t have to explain my vote to Tommy Williams. I have to explain my vote to the people and I’m happy to do that.”

Patrick described Williams’ arguments in his column as “wrong … or disingenuous at best.” He specifically refuted Williams’ suggestion that Patrick’s vote on the budget was unexpected.

“He had no reason to be surprised by my ‘no’ vote,” Patrick said. “I told him I would be a ‘no’ vote on the budget several days before the bill came to the floor.”

Patrick said Williams’ column is in line with the Senate finance chairman’s recent “attacks” on groups that have criticized the budget, including the Wall Street Journal editorial board. Following the regular session, Williams also tried to strip Patrick of his chairmanship of the education committee.

“His attacks have been personal in nature and offensive,” Patrick said.

See here for the opening salvo. I have two thoughts about this. One, Dan Patrick is probably going to run for Lite Guv – he has a press conference scheduled for today to discuss his 2014 electoral plans – and in a field with David Dewhurst, Todd Staples, and Jerry Patterson he’s got to have a decent chance to make a runoff. Given how many intramural fights he’s gotten into lately, I have to wonder if stuff like this helps him or hurts him with the seething masses of the GOP primary electorate. Being “anti-establishment”, even as a multi-term incumbent, is generally a positive in those races, and that’s been his brand. Do these quarrels help fire up his base or does it drive people who might otherwise agree with him away? I have no idea, but perhaps the reaction to Patrick’s announcement, if it is what we think it might be, will give us a clue.

Two, I wonder if these high-profile personality clashes between people who have little ideological distance between them is a sign of healthy debate for a party that hasn’t been greatly challenged at the state level, or a sign of an impending fall by a longstanding hegemon that may be getting a tad stale because it hasn’t needed for years to talk to voters who don’t participate in their increasingly parochial primary elections? In other words, is this further evidence that the Texas GOP of 2013 looks a lot like the Texas Democrats of 1983? (This is the flip side of Colin Strother’s thesis.) I wasn’t around for much of the Texas Dems’ fall, and I wasn’t paying close attention for the time that I was here, but I do remember how nasty the Jim Mattox/Ann Richards primary of 1990 was, and as I recall it went beyond the usual nastiness of politics. Williams/Patrick is on a smaller scale than that – among other things, they’re not both running for the same office – but it’s still pretty similar. They’re also not the only ones talking to a small subset of the electorate to the exclusion of anyone else – everyone from empty suits like Barry Smitherman and longstanding ideologues like Greg Abbott to people with more balanced records of policy and engagement like Dan Branch and Jerry Patterson are doing it. I know, everyone has a primary to win, but does anyone expect anything different after the nominations are settled? I don’t. Like the Dems of the late 80s and early 90s, the inability to talk to voters who aren’t already on your side – and may not be if someone else manages to get through to them – will come back to bite these guys. The question is when. Harold makes a similar point in discussing the SB5 debate, and Burka has more on Patrick v Williams.

Not so fast on voter ID enforcement

Oops.

Still not Greg Abbott

Top Texas leaders acted without legal authority when they claimed to be moving forward with implementing the state’s controversial voter ID law, a veteran Supreme Court watcher said today.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Secretary of State John Steen both said after the Supreme Court struck down the core of the country’s voting rights law Tuesday that the state would begin enforcing laws requiring photo identification for voters.

But Lyle Denniston, a legal scholar who has covered the Supreme Court for 55 years, said the Texas voter ID law cannot take effect immediately.

“This is one of the dumbest statements I’ve heard from an attorney general in a long time,” Denniston, a contributor to the widely read SCOTUSBlog, said.

The state’s voter ID law — as well as any new redistricting plan — cannot be unilaterally implemented, he said.

“[Abbott] has a judgment against him, and that judgment has to be removed before the law can be enforced,” Denniston said. “He cannot do anything while its pending before the Supreme Court unless he withdraws his own petition, and he’s obviously not going to do that.”

[…]

In wake of [the SCOTUS Voting Rights Act] ruling, several Texas officials pledged enforce the voter ID bill, which a federal court barred the state from enforcing last August.

But Denniston said that case was not immediately settled Tuesday, because the court struck down a section of the law unrelated to the Texas challenge. He called the attorney general “legally ignorant” for thinking he could advance the laws without the court’s ruling.

Well, we already knew that Greg Abbott’s legal skills were lacking. But that sort of thing never stopped a guy like him. I said when the ruling came down that there would be a lawsuit filed against Texas’ voter ID law. I was right.

Congressman Marc Veasey and other African-American and Hispanic plaintiffs filed a lawsuit this morning in federal court in Corpus Christi to bar the enforcement of Texas’ voter ID law.

Last year, a three-judge panel in Washington had declined to preclear the law under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and, as a result, the law could not be enforced.

With yesterday’s Shelby Co. decision, however, the state became free to begin to take the steps that would be necessary for it to be in a legal position to enforce the law.

The new suit alleges, though, that even if section 5 no longer bars enforcement of the law, the law’s discriminatory effect on minority voters violates section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and that the Texas Legislature enacted the law with a discriminatory purpose in violation of the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution.

The suit also makes a claim that the law violates the Constitution’s 1st amendment by inhibiting free speech and meaningful political association.

The papers asked to the court to issue preliminary and permanent injunctions barred the law’s enforcement.

Rep. Veasey, of course, was one of the intervenors in both the redistricting and voter ID preclearance lawsuits, so I’m sure he’s well prepared for this. Don’t be surprised if this winds up back before the Supreme Court again some day. Unfair Park has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of June 24

The Texas Progressive Alliance is once again ready to wish the Legislature a happy summer as far away from Austin as possible as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Smitherman says he’s in for Attorney General

Whatever.

Barry Smitherman

Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman is running for the 2014 Republican nomination for Attorney General, he confirmed to the Tribune. Public announcements via social media are planned for Monday.

Smitherman told the Tribune he hopes to continue the “great work” of current Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has yet to declare his own political intentions but is widely believed to have his eye on the Governor’s Mansion.

“In particular,” Smitherman said, “I am focused and interested in continuing to prosecute the federal government, in particular the [Environmental Protection Agency].”

In his capacity as chair of the Railroad Commission, which oversees the state’s oil and gas industry, Smitherman has signed on to multiple lawsuits Abbott has filed against the EPA.

Asked about other priorities, the candidate-to-be highlighted second amendment rights, saying he would fight any federal attempts to ban assault rifles or extended ammo clips, and also immigration. “We have got to do everything within the power of the AG’s office to stop illegal immigration, and I think there are some things to be done there,” he said.

Smitherman grew up near Houston and spent the early part of his career as an investment banker. He later served briefly in the Harris County district attorney’s office before being appointed to the Public Utility Commission, which regulates the electric and telephone industries, in 2004 by Gov. Rick Perry. He was appointed to the Railroad Commission in 2011 and was elected to a full term in 2012.

My aunt worked in the OAG for a number of years before retiring in the late 90s. Do you know what the main function of the AG’s office was back then? Pursuing people who failed to pay child support, and enforcing child support agreements. Pretty quaint, no?

I presume Smitherman’s announcement is predicated on the belief that Greg Abbott is in fact running for Governor. Everyone still thinks that’s what he’s going to do, and while everyone concedes that nobody really knows what Rick Perry is up to or what the decision about his future that he’s supposedly going to make on July 1 will be, the assumption continues to be that the AG’s office will be open. With the announcement of Special Session 2 to begin on July 1, it is possible Perry’s announcement, and thus Abbott’s, may be delayed a bit. Still, barring anything unexpected at this time, we’ll just be trading one grandstanding empty suit for another, and that will be true whether Smitherman wins the GOP nomination or not. I wonder how the child support collections are going these days.

A woman for the Governor’s Mansion

Annie’s List sent out the following email last week:

We’ve had it with Rick Perry. 

First he added insulting anti-choice legislation to the Special Session agenda while ignoring funding for our schools.

Then he did the unthinkable–vetoing the Texas Lilly Ledbetter Bill. 

Perry has it in for Texas women. He’s waging war on our right to equal pay for equal work and access to reproductive healthcare. And we’re not going to take it anymore.

Perry on Notice

Here at Annie’s List, we’re officially putting Rick Perry on notice.

Two years ago, we created the Statewide Opportunity Fund for just this purpose–to set aside a war chest for the first Democratic woman ready to run statewide, and to make a significant impact in her campaign.

Help us elect Perry’s replacementgive to the Statewide Opportunity Fund to put a woman in the Governor’s Mansion.

End Rick Perry’s reign of anti-woman extremism, and defeat his shameful policies for good. 

Give to Annie’s List today and let us know you’re ready to elect the next woman Governor of Texas to send Perry packing.

BOR has a question about that.

That brings to question: can we make that happen in 2014? One has to wonder who Annie’s List has in mind. The most notable female Democrats in Texas are State Senator Wendy Davis and Houston Mayor Annise Parker, but both have indicated that they will not run statewide, focusing on reelection, instead.

Annie’s List’s Communications Director Mitra Salasel told me that due to the organization’s past successes, “we have our eye on a long list of women that would be fantastic contenders.”

Annie’s List’s Statewide Opportunity Fund was created two years ago, and the organization is hoping to build it with this campaign. Salasel told me that any conversation about future Democratic leaders of the state must include our great women leaders. That will certainly be welcomed in the future, and as with a barren ticket for 2014, it would be welcomed with the utmost excitement just right now.

After Sen. Wendy Davisepic filibuster yesterday, I think we know who just about everyone would like to see take a shot at it. As of last report, however, she was planning to run for re-election in SD10 next year. Who knows what happens now, but it might be nice to have a contingency plan in case Sen. Davis decides to stay where she is. As such, I have a question: Has anyone talked to Cecile Richards lately? I don’t know how much of that “long list of women” is just marketing, but unless Sen. Davis changes her mind about running for re-election next year, any such list really ought to begin with Cecile. She’s even right here in Austin. (There is a Draft Wendy movement out there, but you know how these things tend to go.) At this point, just getting someone to say she’s thinking about a run would be a nice boost and a welcome distraction from the seemingly endless list of Republicans who are jockeying for one statewide office or another. Lord knows, there will be no better time to harness all the energy Sen. Davis created than right now. Is there anybody out there? It sure would be good to know.

Filibusted

I figure this is about how the Republicans think of Sen. Wendy Davis right now:

Well, they probably think a few more things, too, but this is a family blog.

If you didn’t stay up late last night and follow the Wendy Davis filibuster by one means or another – I’m pretty sure the Senate livestream would have gotten higher ratings than half of NBC’s fall lineup – I doubt I can explain to you what happened. Go read the Trib and Observer liveblogs, and check the StadWithWendy Twitter hashtag. I spent more time on Twitter last night than I had in the previous six months combined.

It should be noted that the Senate had other business to attend besides SB5 yesterday.

A proposal from Senate Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, that raises nearly $1 billion annually for state road construction and maintenance is within striking distance of heading to Texas voters for approval. Senate Joint Resolution 2 would ask voters to approve amending the state constitution to divert half of the oil and gas severance taxes currently earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund to the State Highway Fund. The measure passed the House Monday after House Transportation Chairman Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, amended it to, in part, address concerns about the Rainy Day Fund’s future. Under the amendment, severance tax revenue would only be diverted from the Rainy Day Fund for roads in years when the fund has a balance of at least one-third of its legislative cap, a figure that varies over time. If senators approve the changes Tuesday, the proposed constitutional amendment will be placed on the November ballot. Nichols has requested that the Senate take up the measure before SB 5, the abortion bill, to ensure that a possible filibuster doesn’t doom both bills.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Despite Sen. Nichols’ request, SB5 was first on the agenda. As such, both it and SB23, the bill dealing with capitol murder sentencing for 17-year-olds, also were snuffed out by the filibuster and the ensuing chaos. Make no mistake, putting them behind SB5 was by design, so that if Rick Perry needed to order double overtime, he could blame the unfinished business on those nefarious Democrats. I’m sure Dan Patrick would be happy to go along with that.

Sen. Davis successfully talked for 11 straight hours, without stopping or even pausing for more than a few seconds, without eating or drinking or relieving herself or leaning on anything, before the farcical third ruling that she was talking about something not germane to SB5. (She was talking about sonograms, which of course have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO with abortion and its restrictions in this state.) It’s a massively tall order, and from the beginning it likely would have been for naught, at least if stopping SB5 were the only goal. We all know that the Republicans hold the cards. Rick Perry can order another special session five minutes after this one ends, and without redistricting to clog the calendar a bill like SB5 would pass with plenty of time to spare. But some fights aren’t about whether you win or lose, they’re about whether you fought or rolled over. Say what else you want, Democrats didn’t roll over. Wendy Davis sure as hell didn’t roll over. Oh, and she kept standing after her filibuster was interrupted by that last point of order.

And as with the Killer Ds in 2003, Davis and the Dems have received loads of national attention for their refusal to go quietly. Slate tweeted that however this ends, Wendy Davis is going to be a hero for women around the country. Damn right she will.

Here’s some background on Sen. Davis if you’re not familiar with her already, and here are five contributions you can make to support the cause of reproductive freedom. Everybody was fundraising off of this last night, so I’ll leave it at that.

All other points aside, if you want a reminder of what this is all about, read stina’s very personal story. Sen. Wendy Davis read many stories like that as part of her filibuster, because that’s what this was all about. If you’re not inspired, I don’t know what could inspire you. For the ironic last word, see Texas Redistricting.

UPDATE: The final verdict after the chaos died down is that SB5 did not pass because it was not voted on until after midnight, so by the state Constitution it could not have been voted on and thus cannot be enrolled. Nice to know that at least one rule was still in effect for the Senate.

I really have to wonder what Dewhurst et al were thinking. Everyone knew they were ultimately going to win – it was just a matter of how long it took and how they got there. Imagine if at 6 PM or so, after Davis had been talking for seven hours, instead of trying to stop her via ridiculous points of order, they simply announced that SB5 had been withdrawn, brought the other measures to a vote, and adjourned. Then, while everyone who had been Standing With Wendy began to celebrate, Rick Perry announced that Special Session #2 would begin tomorrow, and abortion restrictions would be the only agenda item. Sure, that would take another week or so to get done, but it would have avoided last night’s clusterfsck, kept Davis from becoming a national icon (while also preventing Sen.s Watson and Van de Putte from raising their profiles as well), and completely crushed the energy and spirit of Davis’ supporters. Now they have to have a second session anyway, and the Republican leadership looks like a Keystone Kops tribute band. Tell me that wouldn’t have been a vastly better outcome for them. Texpatriate, BOR, and Wonkblog have more.

RIP, Section 5

By now you are well aware that SCOTUS has dealt a blow to the Voting Rights Act. They actually left Section 5, which is what requires certain parts of the country (including Texas) to get preclearance on voting-related changes, intact, but instead ruled that Section 4, which defined who was under the purview of Section 5, was unconstitutional. While Congress could update the VRA to fix this, I think we all know that ain’t gonna happen with the House under GOP control and the Republicans going full-bore on a white voter strategy. As such, the practical effect is that Section 5 is dead, or at least in a long-term coma.

There’s a ton of coverage out there – Greg has a good link roundup – and there’s not much I can say about the overall implications of this that someone else hasn’t said already. I want to focus on the Texas effects, and for that we turn to Texas Redistricting, who covers two of the three things I want to focus on.

Redistricting

The Texas Legislature completed the process this weekend of adopting the 2012 interim maps as permanent maps (with just the most minor of changes to the state house map). Those bills now are on Gov. Perry’s desk, awaiting signature.

On the other hand, right now, there is no longer any preclearance bar, and the maps passed by the Texas Legislature back in 2011 are technically legally operative (Plan C185, Plan S148, Plan H283).

Governor Perry now has to decide what to do next.

In some Republican quarters, there conceivably could be a call for return to those maps.

At the same time, if the state’s goal is to minimize the risk of litigation and the possibility of yet another delayed primary, moving forward with the interim maps is the state’s best hope of doing so – short of a full settlement with minority groups.

That’s because the interim maps incorporated changes based, in part, on what the San Antonio court found were non-section 5 problems with the maps (e.g., fracturing of non-Anglo communities in Dallas and Tarrant counties addressed through the creation of CD-33).

But internal party politics can be unpredictable, and it remains to be seen how things play out.

Regardless, whatever the maps end up being, they will head back to the San Antonio court which, over the next few weeks (months) will decide what additional changes need to be made to the maps to fully address constitutional and section 2 claims, including claims of intentional discrimination.

If the court cannot complete the process by early September (or end of September at the very latest), it may need to put another set of interim maps in place to allow the 2014 election cycle to go forward with minimal disruption.

Voter ID

The situation on the voter ID front is a bit less convoluted.

Texas’ voter ID law now can be legally implemented.

To be sure, the Department of Public Safety and election officials will have to take steps to be implement the law, but it is very possible those steps can be completed in time for the law to be in place for municipal and constitutional amendment elections in November 2013. If not, the law will almost certainly be fully operative by the 2014 Texas primary in March.

Don’t count on the litigation to be over, however. It is possible that groups opposing the law could bring a suit to enjoin enforcement of the law on section 2 or constitutional grounds. To get an injunction, though, they would have to meet the high standard for injunctive relief (irreparable harm, substantial likelihood of success on the merits, etc.)

I’d say it’s a lead pipe cinch that a lawsuit to block or overturn Texas’ voter ID law will be filed. It was far more restrictive than many other such laws, some of which were struck down in the courts on non-Section 5 grounds last year. The preclearance lawsuit also established that there was discriminatory intent in the law, which ought to help the eventual plaintiffs’ case. AG Greg Abbott has already announced that the law will go into effect “immediately”, so I’d say it’s just a matter of time before that lawsuit gets filed. For sure, the first goal will be to get an injunction against enforcing the law before this November’s election. In the meantime, DPS will provide free voter ID cards for people who don’t have drivers’ licenses, assuming they can get to a DPS office and can scrounge up a copy of their birth certificate or concealed handgun license. While you ponder that, go sign the petition in favor of making voting a right and not just a privilege that can be taken away by legislative or judicial whim.

As for redistricting, this goes back to my original puzzlement about Abbott pushing for the interim maps to be legislatively ratified. Everyone was betting all along that Section 5 was doomed, so why give up the maximalist strategy for the maps? From a timing perspective, this could hardly be worse for the Texas GOP. They went through all this trouble to get these maps passed, are they possibly going to say “oh, never mind” and go back to pushing for what they passed in 2011? I kind of doubt that they will – as Texas Redistricting noted, the interim maps were a stab at addressing Section 2 problems, not Section 5 issues – but you have to wonder what might have happened if this decision had been in the first batch, before all the bills were voted on. And as always, you never know what Rick Perry will do.

The third point I wanted to touch on was addressed by K12 Zone.

One of the few remaining hurdles the state faces in shutting down the North Forest school district appears to have been removed with the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a key part of the Voting Rights Act on Tuesday.

Houston attorney Chad Dunn, who specializes in voting rights, said the court’s 5-4 ruling means that the Texas Education Agency no longer needs to get pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department to dissolve North Forest and annex it into the Houston Independent School District on Monday.

“Now they can move forward with annexation unless or until a judge enjoins it,” said Dunn, who was in the Washington, D.C., courtroom when the ruling was issued Tuesday.

There is still litigation ongoing, plus a new motion filed with the State Supreme Court to hold things off. But the Justice Department involvement in the annexation was a wild card that is now off the table. The odds of North Forest going away on Monday just got a little better. PDiddie, Daily Kos, Wonkblog, Texpatriate, Political Animal, the Observer, and the Trib have more.

UPDATE: One more great link roundup from Slactivist.

HISD budgets for teacher pay raise and more Apollo

Whether that will mean a tax hike, and if so how much, remains undetermined.

Houston ISD employees will see a 2 percent pay raise and many schools will receive more money to help struggling students under the budget that trustees approved on a 6-3 vote Monday.

Left unsettled was whether property owners will face an increase in the tax rate next year. The school board won’t adopt the rate until October.

The district’s financial chief, Ken Huewitt, said after the board meeting that the budget will require a 4-cent increase in the tax rate unless circumstances change. Property values may rise more than expected, for example, or the board could agree to cut programs or dip into savings.

“We’re talking 4 cents if nothing changes,” Huewitt said.

[…]

Trustees Juliet Stipeche and Mike Lunceford, who voted against the budget, expressed concerns about the effectiveness of Grier’s reform program called Apollo. The spending plan continues the program at 20 schools while giving another 126 campuses with low test scores extra money to spend on tutoring or other efforts to boost achievement.

Board president Anna Eastman, who also opposed the budget, said she disagreed with distributing money based on overall school results rather than tying funds to needy students at any campus.

See here for the background. There won’t need to be an increase to cover the construction bonds that were issued last year, thanks to rising property values, so any increase will be driven by these items. The pay raise was a must – among other things, some nearby school districts have bumped their teachers’ pay, so HISD needed to keep up or risk losing talent. Sure is nice when a job market operates like that, isn’t it? As for Apollo, it remains controversial. There’s a lot more one can say about it, but that about sums it up.

Interview with Willie Loston

Willie Loston is the Executive Director of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, which is the not-for-profit company that operates and maintains the public facilities at Reliant Park, including Reliant Stadium and the Astrodome. It was the HCSCC that called for and evaluated the private proposals for the Astrodome, and the HCSCC that ultimately presented the plan for a publicly-funded renovation of the Dome into a multi-purpose event facility. Of course, the process of coming up with a sustainable plan for the Dome goes back well before this year, but after a few false starts it has traction now. As you know, not everyone is on board with HCSCC’s idea, which must be approved by Commissioners Court and then ratified by popular vote, and there are still a lot of questions about why it was the HCSCC plan that was put forward, why has this taken so long, and so on. Mr. Loston reached out to me after one of my (many) posts about the Dome, and agreed to let me throw a few of these questions at him for my blog. Here’s what we talked about:

Willie Loston interview

Just as a point of clarification, the interview was conducted yesterday, so when Loston refers to the Commissioners Court meeting tomorrow, he means today, Tuesday. I believe this is the link Loston refers to when he mentions searching for the master plan. We’ll see what Commissioners Court does today; I’m sure there will be plenty more opportunities to write about this before all is said and done.

UPDATE: Commissioners Court has unanimously approved the HCSCC proposal, and sent it to the county budget office, county attorney and infrastructure department for further review.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said he expects to hear back on the proposal in about a month.

The budget office will look at ways to finance the project, including revenue generators to offset the price tag of any bond referendum sent to voters. The project could end up on the ballot in the form of a bond referendum as early as November.

Commissioners had no comment on the proposal before voting to send it to staff.

Emmett, however, explained that they were referring it to the budget office “to analyze what exactly the financial impact is because if there is a bond, there will be a tax and everybody needs to understand that, but the level of that tax right now is still undetermined.”

The county attorney, he said, will determine what deadlines have to be met to get the item on the ballot.

So far so good. Now that the T-word has been invoked, we’ll see who pops up to oppose this.

No action on SB5 in the Senate

The name of the game is running out the clock.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Texas Democrats, far outnumbered by Republicans in both the House and the Senate, are nonetheless on the verge of killing one of the most restrictive abortion proposals in the nation — at least for now.

Using delaying tactics and parliamentary rules, the minority party argued into the wee hours in the state House on Monday morning and then stuck together to keep the GOP from jamming Senate Bill 5 through the Senate in the afternoon. Republicans vowed to try to try to muster enough support to push the bill through again Monday night, but it was unclear if they could change any minds.

SB 5, by state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, would make abortion illegal after 20 weeks and would establish stringent new requirements for facilities that perform abortions. Supporters of the bill say it would make the procedures safer for women and protect unborn babies. Abortion rights proponents say the legislation would shut down most of the abortion facilities in Texas.

With barely more than a day left in the 30-day special session called by Gov. Rick Perry at the end of May, that means Democrats have moved much closer to putting the controversial measure within the range of a filibuster.

“I think we are now in a position to try to do what’s right for the women of this state,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “We need to be protecting women’s health in this state, and we need to be protecting a woman’s right to make choices about her body.”

Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat and rising star in the party, has vowed to launch a filibuster. Unless Republicans can change some votes, the abortion measure can’t be brought up for debate until Tuesday morning at about 11 a.m. Since the session ends at midnight Tuesday, that means she could kill the legislation by talking nonstop for about 13 hours.

The Democrats won a test vote at about 4 p.m., turning away a GOP attempt to fast track the abortion legislation by suspending a 24-hour layout rule. It takes a supermajority — two-thirds of those present — to suspend that rule. The Democrats voted as a bloc and stopped debate on the measure.

There was a second attempt to get a motion to suspend but it failed as well. The Senate is in recess until 10 AM today. As noted, from that point on it’s a matter of someone talking till midnight, at which point the session expires. There could, of course, be a second session called, but you take your victories where you can.

In the meantime, let the blame game begin!

Accusations of who’s to blame for the anti-abortion proposal’s potential demise already are starting to fly.

Look no further than the always vocal Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who blasted leadership after the Senate recessed Monday afternoon.

In a short back-and-forth with reporters, Patrick said “very clearly it does not look like there was coordination between the people who lead the majority” when it comes to Senate Bill 5.

“It’s just clear that we appear to be flying a little bit by the seat of our pants. These are important bills. You don’t fly by the seat of your pants when you try to pass important bill.”

Patrick added: “We’re the majority if the majority can’t pass the legislation they think is important and the people think is important then that’s a great concern to me.”

In response, Lt. Gov David Dewhurst said Patrick misrepresented leadership’s strategy and that he “had a very clear plan” to “pass good pro life legislation.”

Dewhurst quickly turned the table to focus on the House, which passed SB5 Monday morning.

After passing the bill, the House sent SB5 to the Senate for the upper chamber to concur with a change it made when the lower chamber put back language to ban abortions at 20-weeks.Concurring with the House change is the final step for the Senate before sending the bill to Gov. Rick Perry.

But because the House wrestled with SB5 from Sunday evening all the way into Monday morning, it delayed the Senate’s ability to move forward and cut short the potential for an even longer filibuster from Democrats.

“I asked the House ‘please don’t send it to us at the last minute, please,’” Dewhurst said. “Send it out at the latest on Sunday afternoon, so we’ll be able to take it up outside of filibuster range. “

Dewhurst added: “The House, by passing this out late this morning, it means that we can’t bring the bill up until tomorrow at 11 o’clock … most of us … could stand up for 13 hours and talk. That’s the reason why I wanted Senate Bill 5 passed out of the House by late afternoon Sunday, so we could bring it up this afternoon, and I think out of filibuster range where its difficult for most people to talk for 36 hours in a row.”

I don’t know, I might have included Rick Perry in the blame, since he sets the session agenda and all. But then, Dan Patrick isn’t (possibly) running against Perry. And it must be noted, Dewhurst did try to go the extra mile.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told Sen. Leticia Van de Putte in a letter Monday that the he plans to move forward with a package of strict abortion restrictions even if the San Antonio Democrat is away attending services for her recently deceased father.

“I cannot in good conscience delay the people’s work on these important matters,” Dewhurst wrote Monday.

[…]

Van de Putte’s vote could be what determines whether Democrats can block Republican efforts to suspend the 24-hour layout rule. Without her, Democrats don’t have enough votes to block it.

And Van de Putte is scheduled to be in San Antonio on Monday attending services for her father, Daniel San Miguel Jr., who was killed in a car accident last week. Van de Putte lobbed a letter at Dewhurst a day earlier (rumors have been swirling all day at the Capitol about Van De Putte potentially showing up; her office declined to comment).

In his letter, Dewhurst offered condolences but made clear the Senate cannot wait because time is running out on the special session.

“I believe we can fulfill our obligation to the people of Texas while honoring your beloved father’s memory,” he wrote.

The wild card in the equation: Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville.

Lucio supports the package of anti-abortion bills, and he’s also planning to vote in favor of a motion to suspend the 24-hour layout rule. But he’s said he won’t cast that vote unless Van De Putte is on the floor.

“Senator Van de Putte asked me directly — knowing I support Senate Bill 5—to nonetheless vote no on suspending the 24-hour posting rule on the bill until she can be in the Senate chamber to cast her vote against it.” Lucio said. “I am honoring Senator Van de Putte’s request.”

Heck of a guy, that David Dewhurst. Remember when he tried to take advantage of John Whitmire being in the bathroom to push through a vote on voter ID during Mario Gallegos’ convalescence after his liver transplant? Good times. Lucio thankfully stuck to his word, and Dewhurst was thwarted – for now – having ruined Sen. Kevin Eltife’s vacation for nothing.

So it comes down to today, and there will be filibustering. Maybe the Rs have something up their sleeve to overcome that – after 10 AM, all they’ll need is a majority vote – and as noted, maybe Rick Perry will call another session. But this is a win, and as was the case ten years ago with the Killer Ds, it’s a galvanizing event. If you’re in Austin today, you can be there to see it for yourself. And wherever you are, you can keep the ball moving after sine die, whenever that may be.

Finally, I can’t let this go without a tip of the hat to Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, who demonstrated that one does not have to be a man to say something profoundly stupid and offensive about rape. As they say, sometimes no sarcastic remark seems adequate. PDiddie has more.

Chron wonders where B-Cycle is going

Last week in an unsigned editorial, the Chron asked a provocative question about B-Cycle.

Are bicycle rental programs supposed to be legitimate transportation or merely toys for urban bohemians? New York Times writer Ginia Bellafante revealed Friday that her city’s attempts to make bike share more affordable, such as distributing free helmets and subsidizing Citi Bike memberships for low-income New Yorkers, have so far reached few people.

Houston’s policies don’t paint a better picture. We do have a bicycle helmet fund, which was created to raise money to provide bicycle helmets for very low-income families. But the list seems to stop there. We lack a program to subsidize B-Cycle memberships for needy families, though one has to wonder how much of an impact that program would have. After all, there are no B-Cycle stations in the poor neighborhoods surrounding downtown’s B-Cycle core. It is not as if these neighborhoods aren’t bike-friendly. The Fourth Ward is accessible by West Dallas St., a designated bike-share road that connects directly with downtown. And the Columbia Tap bicycle trail stretches from east of downtown through the Third Ward to Brays Bayou – one of the most convenient bicycle paths in the city, utterly wanting for a B-Cycle station.

Here’s that NYT article the editorial refers to. I can’t speak to Citi Bike, which is a new program and has its share of kinks to be worked out, but the point about making B-Cycle more accessible to more Houstonians is very much a valid one. I sent an inquiry to Sustainability Director Laura Spanjian about the editorial, but she had already sent a letter to the editor in response, which she pointed me to.

Houston B-Cycle appreciates the Chronicle’s calling attention to a wonderful three-month old program – and the call for more bikes and greater coverage. When first launched, some thought this could never work in Houston.

But Houstonians are proving the skeptics wrong. Houston B-cycle is well ahead of projections with over 5,000 unique users and an average of 1,300 bikes checked out each week. And in a city accused of being too fat, these riders have burned an estimated 4 million calories! But we recognize that we have more work to do.

The Houston bike share system, like successful programs in other cities, has used a proven formula, placing the first bikes in the densest part of our city … the downtown urban core and dense adjacent neighborhoods. We want to expand the program across the city, and the Chronicle is right to push for broader coverage.

B-cycle’s growth will build off of the current network. The existing program is a great example of private and public partnership, built with zero local tax dollars. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas has been a key partner and financial supporter. They share our goal of making Houston B-cycle the best in the nation.

We need more partners to continue expansion plans. If you want to help, please visit us at http://houston.bcycle.com/.

Laura Spanjian, director, city of Houston Sustainability

Michael Skelly board member, Houston Bike Share

I agree with what Spanjian and Skelly say here, but they don’t exactly get into specifics in their response. I think there’s a more fundamental point that needs to be addressed, but before I get to that, let me point to the story that I suspect was the genesis of the Chron editorial, which was in one of the neighborhood section and thus probably wasn’t widely noticed. (I only saw it because it was on the B-Cycle Facebook page.)

As cycling’s popularity rises in Houston, city officials and planners see the west side of the Inner Loop as the logical next place to focus energy on developing a more prominent role for the quiet, eco-friendly mode of transportation.

Rice University, the Texas Medical Center and area shopping districts already attract cyclists, said Laura Spanjian, sustainability director for Mayor Annise Parker.

“There’s a lot of bike commuters to Rice,” she said. “There’s already some good infrastructure there.”

The city is looking at ways to expand offerings in the neighborhood, with one option being a project where certain streets will close to vehicles and open only for bicycles on Sundays, Spanjian said.

Will Rub, director of Houston Bike Share, hopes that the city’s B-cycle bike rental program can become more established in the area.

“We have very high hopes of expanding the bike share program into the medical center,” he said. “Bike share is an ideal supplement to the Texas Medical Center environment and would go a long way towards reducing a significant number of ‘intra-center’ car rides and eventually reducing some of the shuttle trips.”

He said the next natural step would be to expand the program to Rice Village and at Rice University.

“I’ve had discussions with a few representatives from the school, but no plans or commitments at this time,” he said.

Spanjian said the mayor’s office is working to expand bicycle routes into the medical center and other neighborhoods by year’s end.

I talked about the logical next steps for B-Cycle expansion, and this story makes sense to me. Ideally, as Spanjian and Skelly said, B-Cycle is going to go where the biggest bang for the buck will be – dense places where parking is at a premium and it’s often not convenient or practical to retrieve your car for a short trip. B-Cycle will mostly be a convenience in these locations, helping to reduce short-trip driving, which in turn helps relieve parking congestion, while extending the range of places that a non-driver can get to. This is all to the good.

What we need to keep sight of is that at its core, B-Cycle is a transit network. Extending that network by adding more stations makes it more useful and valuable, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The B-Cycle network can and should integrate well with our existing transit network.

Last month, we recorded 15,232 bikes on buses – that’s 15 percent more than the same month a year ago. And that’s 28 percent more than the previous month of April’s boardings.

Now, no one is going to put a B-Cycle bike aboard a Metro bus. But if we locate some B-Cycle kiosks near bus stops in parts of town that are heavily dependent on buses for local transit, that not only makes both networks more extensive, it also helps to address the Chron’s concern about who is being served by B-Cycle. As we know, Metro is re-imagining its bus system. I say this redesign needs to be done in conjunction with B-Cycle and its future expansion plans. Having these two networks – and the light rail network, and the Uptown BRT line – complement each other will make the whole that much greater than the sum of the parts. To address the question about the helmet fund, perhaps Metro could kick in a little something for that, and perhaps there’s some H-GAC mobility money available to help as well. The point I’m (finally) making here is that we need all these components to work together. I’m sure I’m not the first person to think about this, but I haven’t seen it addressed anywhere else. We have an opportunity here to really make non-car transit in Houston a lot more convenient and attractive. Let’s take full advantage of it.

Skilling gets resentenced

He got the minimum of what he could have gotten.

The long-running battle between federal prosecutors and former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling formally came to an end Friday when U.S. District Judge Sim Lake signed off on a negotiated sentence agreement that will end Skilling’s incarceration in about four years.

In agreeing to the minimum sentence within the range of 168 and 210 months, Lake said the interest of justice would not be served by having Skilling serve longer. He noted that the architect of Enron’s rise from an obscure pipeline company to an innovative and diverse energy giant will end up spending more time in prison than anyone else connected to the company’s stunning 2001 collapse into bankruptcy.

“This is not an easy decision to make,” Lake said about the number of months to choose.

“The two most significant factors are the need for the sentence to deter others from similar action and to reflect the seriousness of the offense — 168 months adequately reflects both concerns. The court is not persuaded a longer sentence is necessary.”

Appellate reversals of part of the government’s case against Skilling, as well as one of grounds used by Lake in setting the original sentence of 24 years, meant that Skilling already was entitled to a reduced sentence. The agreement knocked about 20 months off the lower end of the revised sentence range, in exchange for which Skilling agreed to forgo any further appeals.

That finality, which brings the Enron saga to a close, frees up about $40 million in Skilling’s assets to be divided among investors, protects the government from the possibility of more appeals reversals and assures Skilling of at least the possibility of having an extended period of time as a free man before he dies.

See here and here for the background. 168 months is 14 years, but he’s been in the clink for seven already, so as noted in my previous post he’d be freed in 2020. All things considered, a reasonable deal for everyone involved, though some former Enron workers are not happy about it.

Two contradictory polls about abortion

The UT/Texas Trib poll painted a not-so-rosy picture for reproductive choice in Texas.

Texas voters remain split on the permissibility of abortion but favor banning the procedure after 20 weeks of a pregnancy, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

The survey also found a divergence of opinion about public schools: Voters with school-age children give schools much better ratings than all voters as a group.

The divide on abortion — evident in past UT/TT polls — persists. Forty-six percent of Texas voters say it should never be permitted or permitted only in cases involving incest, rape or when the woman’s life is in danger. On the other hand, 49 percent say it should be allowed after the need for an abortion has been clearly established, or that the choice should be completely left to the woman. Within those numbers, 16 percent said abortion should never be allowed, and 36 percent said that a woman should always be able to get an abortion as a matter of personal choice.

Laws restricting abortion should be stricter, according to 38 percent of the respondents, while 26 percent said the laws should be less strict and 21 percent said they should be left as they are now.

“What you see is what you would expect in a relatively red state,” said poll co-director Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s a slight pro-life lean. It’s probably pushed a little bit because of the question about late-term abortions.”

The poll split a question about abortions after 20 weeks — an effort to see whether talking in the context of fetal pain changed the responses of Texas voters. It didn’t: 62 percent said they would support “prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks based on the argument that a fetus can feel pain at that point,” and that same percentage said they support “prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks.” Nearly half — 49 percent in the first question and 47 percent in the second — said they would strongly support those prohibitions.

“In terms of substantive policy, most of this is not particularly right-wing,” Shaw said. “Maybe the abortion stuff. These are abortion positions that are actually not strongly opposed — there is a 2-to-1 preference for that.”

I would dispute Daron Shaw’s assertion that the question about laws restricting abortion have a pro-life lean. I mean, by a 47-38 margin, respondents said that the laws did not need to be any more restrictive. For that matter, a 49-46 plurality expressed a preference for abortion to be available as needed. (I have no idea what “once a clear need has been established” means; it’s not a phrasing option I’ve ever seen before. I see nothing wrong with interpreting it to mean something like “once a woman has consulted her doctor” or something similarly mush-mouthed.) For a “red state” like Texas, that’s not too shabby.

It’s the question about banning abortions at 20 weeks that stands out. You would think that if 47% of respondents said abortion laws should be either left as is or made less strict there wouldn’t be room for 62% of respondents to support this extreme new restriction. That brings us to our other poll, from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, and it also offers a lesson in why question wording matters.

Major findings include:

  • Nearly three quarters of voters (74 percent) in the state say personal, private medical decisions about whether to have an abortion should be made by a woman, her family, and her doctor, not by politicians; just 19 percent of voters think government has a right and an obligation to pass restrictions on abortion. Support for a woman’s ability to make decisions on abortion for herself is both broad and deep, including among Independents (76 percent) and Republicans (61 percent).
  • Fifty-two percent of Texas voters think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 39 percent who say it should be illegal in all or most cases. Even among those who think abortion should be illegal, a majority (51 percent) believe that personal, private medical decisions about whether to have an abortion should be made by a woman, her family, and her doctor, not by politicians.
  • Eight in ten voters agree that the special session should be focused on issues like “education, jobs, and economy instead of bringing up social issues like abortion”; 71 percent think that the Governor and the legislature should spend less time passing laws restricting abortion. Again, both Independent and Republican voters share this view.
  • Overall, a majority (51 percent) oppose the current legislation in the legislature, which “would place new restrictions and regulation on abortion providers that would likely result in the closure of all but five abortion clinics in the state of Texas, all of which are located along the I-35 corridor and would ban most abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy.”
  • While voters are split on whether or not women’s access to healthcare is being threatened in the state (43 percent each threatened and not threatened), 57 percent do not trust the Governor or the legislature to make decisions about women’s healthcare.
  • In sum, this legislation is not a reflection of any voter sentiment that this is an important issue for the Governor and legislature to take up or any desire for further restrictions on abortion. Indeed, a majority opposes this legislation, being devised by politicians they do not particularly trust on women’s health issues.

You can see GQRR’s questions and the percentages here. The penultimate question above is asking about the same legislation as the UT/TT poll, but it gets majority disapproval. The GQRR question highlights the likely practical effect of the legislation, while the UT/TT question echoes the (medically highly dubious) claim about fetal pain. One mirrors the Democratic position, the other the Republican position. Question wording matters, y’all. By the way, the GQRR sample seems to be perfectly plausible – 50% GOP, 37% Dem; 46% conservative, 33% moderate, 15% liberal. All things considered, given the percentages on the first two UT/TT poll questions, it’s hard to conclude that the people are crying out for the abortion legislation currently under consideration in the House.

That of course is a matter to be settled on the playing field. Ultimately, Dems are just going to have to win more elections. I hope that the huge crowd that turned out to testify against the House bill can serve as a catalyst for action in 2014 and beyond, and I hope that the national vote on a 20-week ban that took place at about the same time galvanizes people, too. The pro-choice position is certainly capable of persuading people. We need for that to translate into results.

More on the rejected Dome ideas

The Chron pays some attention to the 19 ideas that were submitted to the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation for what to do with the Astrodome.

Willie Loston, executive director of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp., said much of the plan it outlined features ideas and suggestions from 19 proposals it got from the public.

However, Loston said many of the pitches were not sophisticated. Most were for various types of museums. There were also suggestions for – naturally – shopping centers. Indoor recreation areas were popular, as well.

Ideas for amusement parks were thrown about, as was one for an indoor water park. The least sexy ideas apparently came from transportation hawks who wanted the iconic stadium turned into a transit station.

“The great majority of these are from citizens who were concerned and not in the business of making financial or formal proposals,” Loston said. He added that the submissions, with the exception of a couple, did not mention realistic or specific financing options.

“A lot would say things like, ‘The public ought to be willing …’ or ‘We could find someone who can … ‘” Loston said. “There were more ideas of how to use the building, not ideas of how to pay for it.”

[…]

Developer John Tuschman said he and his partners were among the 19 groups to submit plans to the county. He said he was disappointed that Loston dismissed what he said was a detailed financial plan.

Tuschman’s group proposed converting the space into a multipurpose center complete with a movie theater, a hotel and several sports museums. Their plan also called for a Texas dance floor with an “infinity pool” surrounded by waterfalls in the center of the ground floor.

Tuschman hopes to work with the sports corporation to meld some of his group’s ideas into the final proposal. He believes the county plan “lacks a focal point,” which he thinks could be a sports museum.

“Their concept fits into our concept,” Tuschman said. “We want to make Houston the capital of the world.”

You can see a bit more about some of the 19 plans here. It’s just stadium designs, no details or business plans, so I can’t evaluate Tuschman’s claim. As it happens, I’m going to be interviewing Willie Loston later today, so I’ll get a chance to ask about that. If there’s anything you’d like for me to ask him about the New Dome Experience, leave a comment or drop me a note.

Last redistricting bill passes Senate, House debates abortion bills

It was destiny.

The Texas Senate on Sunday wrapped up final redistricting loose ends by concurring with changes made by the House to political boundaries for the lower chamber.

In an 18-11 vote, the Senate signed off on a series of small tweaks to the House maps — changes that swap a couple of precincts in Dallas, Webb and Harris counties.

[…]

Bills outlining state Senate and congressional maps were approved by both chambers with no changes. Only the proposal containing the House maps underwent minute tweaks.

All three bills now await Perry’s signature. Democrats have said they plan to challenge in the court the maps the Legislature passed during the special session on the basis that they still discriminate against minority voters.

Greg fills in a few details. The main show for Sunday of course was the anti-abortion bills, but other items were on the calendar before it. The order of business itself caused outrage and a point of order, but things resumed in the evening. The Trib covered that on a blow-by-blow basis. As of the time that I called it a night, amendments were being filed and fought over on SB5. As that bill has passed the Senate, if the House passes it unchanged it can go straight to Rick Perry for a signature. If it gets amended, the Senate has to concur; there won’t be time for a conference committee. The House may try to pass some of its own bills, which would be one way of resurrecting the 20-week prohibition, but with the session ending Tuesday and the rules requiring a 24-hour wait before the Senate could take up any such bills, Democrats would have a good chance to kill them via filibuster, to run out the clock. Of course, there could then be a second special session. We won’t know what happens until very late, so I’ll update this after I wake up and see what ultimately transpired. Assuming they’re finished by the, of course. BOR and RH Reality Check have more.

UPDATE: Sometime around 3:30 AM, SB5 was brought to a vote and passed. From TrailBlazers:

With a sweeping 97-33, the House voted to tentatively pass the Senate’s catch-all abortion bill largely along party lines after 13.5 hours of debates, parliamentary inquiries and stalling. Instant cheers and jeers exploded on the floor and in the gallery where people have been waiting for a vote since 2 p.m.

While applause rang out among conservatives, the shouts of “Shame” were much louder and many in the gallery were escorted out. In her speech, Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, said the war on women was alive and called SB 5 the second missile fired by Gov. Rick Perry this year.

Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, brought up at 2 a.m. a motion to halt the overall debate on SB 5. It required 25 signatures — he had 40. About 16 amendments went unheard because of the motion.

“Anyone who has been here for the last several hours would not describe this as being rushed by any means,” Hughes said. “The people of Texas expect us to take a position on this bill, pro or con. We’re still miles before we sleep.”

Many Democrats were missing from the chamber when the House moved on to debate the juvenile justice bill.

Outside the doors, Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, commanded a stairwell full of opponents to the bill.

“Your being here says that the people who come to Austin who are elected officials have to be held accountable and I know you will hold people accountable in the next election,”Turner said “I’ve never ever seen this kind of outpouring on a Sunday afternoon, Sunday night, early Monday morning in late June.”

It now requires a final vote from the House before going over to the Senate, which will more than likely accept the 20-week ban provision and put it up for a vote. Senate Democrats have said they are ready to use whatever tools they can under the law to prevent the bill’s passage.

“If this issue was so important, then it deserves the right — when people come from across this state when they sign up — for every one of them to be heard, to have their say, to stay all night and listen to everyone of our constituents from across the state,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, to loud applause from the 100 or so orange shirts still in the gallery.

“All of a sudden to make somebody else’s agenda, we’re doing everything we can to rush through this process,” he said. “If one has the majority that doesn’t mean they should exercise the majority with an arrogance of power.”

The House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, who had been missing from the front microphone since around 11:50 p.m., came up around 3:20 a.m. to close on her bill. By not debating and instead asking the chair to make motions to table amendments, Republicans saved about 10 minutes per amendment.

The House is in recess until 6:46 AM, which is the earliest that it can reconvene after adjourning at 4:46, at which point it will need to pass SB5 on third reading. Once that has been done, it must go back to the Senate for a vote to accept the 20-week “fetal pain” provision. From the Trib:

To reach the Governor before the special ends, the House must approve SB 5 on third reading on Monday, as the Senate must wait 24 hours to layout the legislation and confirm the changes to the legislation approved by the House. The longer the bill has in the Senate, the longer a Democratic senator would have to filibuster the bill to prevent its passage.

So there’s still some hope, but remember that a second special session is always an option. Just as was the case with putting this crap on the call for this session, it’s entirely up to Rick Perry. I have a hard time believing he will allow this to fail by missing the deadline. My deep appreciation to everyone who showed up to fight against this atrocity, even if you did make poor widdle Rep. Jonathan Stickland wet his pants with fear at having to face people who don’t agree with him. Now let’s channel this energy into 2014. PDiddie, who stayed awake till the bitter end, has more.

UPDATE: There was actually one more thing accomplished last night. From the Trib, same link as before:

With a vote of 86-17 and two present not voting, the House tentatively approved Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would ask voters to approve amending the state constitution to divert half of the oil and gas severance taxes currently earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund to the State Highway Fund. It is estimated to raise close $1 billion a year for road construction and maintenance.

“This will not solve the problem, this is a start to solve the problem,” said state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, the sponsor of SJR 2.

Perry added transportation funding to the special session call after efforts to find extra money for the Texas Department of Transportation failed in the regular session. TxDOT has said it needs an additional $4 billion a year just to maintain current congestion levels.

An amendment by state Rep. Linda Harper Brown, R-Irving, was added to the bill. It would devote one-third of the growth in motor vehicle sales taxes to the transportation fund.

Critics of the measure have noted, among other things, that the revenue will dry up whenever the current oil drilling boom ends. Phillips added a “perfecting amendment” to ensure the money was not used for toll roads and to make the balance needed in the Rainy Day Fund a floating target instead of a fixed $6 billion.

I presume this has to go back to the Senate as well, so unless it is taken up before SB5, it too would be vulnerable to a filibuster.

UPDATE: Via Michael Li on Facebook, a reminder that to the likes of Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, “pro-life” means what she says it means, no more, no less.

A priceless exchange occurred between Harper-Brown cohort Jodie Laubenberg of Rockwall and Dallas Dem Rafael Anchia. Laubenberg proposed to enforce a three-month waiting period before expectant mothers could begin receiving prenatal and perinatal care under CHIP. Anchia pointed out that the eligibility change would kick nearly 100,000 children out of the CHIP program. “That is absolutely untrue!” Laubenberg shot back, proving her point by waving a sheet of paper. Then again, “That is absolutely untrue!”

“You know,” Anchia replied, “I can hear you yelling, but just because you yelled, it doesn’t make it true.” Anchía pointed out the consequences of denying health care to the unborn. “You do know, don’t you, that these are U.S. citizens?”

“But they’re not born yet,” Laubenberg, a “family values” conservative, retorted. Dukes, standing behind Anchia at the back mic, whipped her head around in a shocked double take. Anchia, smelling blood, observed, “You have an anti-life amendment,” which set Laubenberg off on a loud tirade in which she claimed to be the most pro-life member of the House.

Yeah.

Patrick versus Ratliff

TFN Insider:

Texas State Board of Education Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, has already made clear his disgust over the political witch hunt that forced the state’s Education Service Centers to stop writing lesson plans in their CSCOPE curriculum management system. In May, for example, he tore into Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, for his role in those attacks on CSCOPE, which hundreds of Texas school districts have been using. Now Ratliff has written another scathing piece, this time about Patrick’s efforts to bully and harass teachers into not using CSCOPE lessons that have already been created.

This is a “must read.” Ratliff isn’t pulling any punches. (Links, italics, boldface and underlining in original.)

Go click over and read. To say the least, Ratliff isn’t kidding around. As for Dan Patrick, he’s now best buddies with John Carona and Tommy Williams in addition to Ratliff. One more like that and I believe he gets to be promoted to “arch-nemesis”. On a slightly more serious note, if you go back and watch that Trib video discussion of the Texas Monthly Ten Best/Ten Worst list, this is why Patrick landed on the Worst list despite an objectively impressive array of legislative accomplishments. He was able to get stuff done, but alienated a lot of people along the way. The TM criteria for inclusion on these lists is certainly open to debate, but if you accept their premise then the conclusion readily follows. TFN Insider link via Hair Balls.

Weekend link dump for June 23

Summertime, summertime, sum sum summertime…

We may never get the flying cars we were once promised, but flying bicycles appear to be a possibility.

Vota por un gato! I’ll bet Eric Dick is wondering how it is that he didn’t think of that.

When animals attack news reporters, on live TV.

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas think the current business model for the moviemaking industry is in deep trouble.

“A vast array of heart defibrillators, drug infusion pumps, and other medical devices contain backdoors that make them vulnerable to potentially life-threatening hacks, federal officials have warned.”

Turns out throwing children in prison is a bad idea.

“It was custom-designed to communicate with a similar antenna that would be floating by in the stratosphere, over 60,000 feet above sea level. On a solar-powered balloon. Oh, and the men work for Google.” It’s called Project Loon.

Classical sculptures dressed in hipster clothes. Because, sure, why not.

RIP, Mott Green, whom I knew a million years ago as David Friedman, when we both played the saxophone in the IS61 Morning Band. What an interesting and unorthodox life he led.

“I want to stress this again: In many, many parts of the country right now, if you want to go to see a movie in the theater and see a current movie about a woman — any story about any woman that isn’t a documentary or a cartoon — you can’t. You cannot. There are not any. You cannot take yourself to one, take your friend to one, take your daughter to one. There are not any.”

“For the first time, a constituency group to whom the GOP normally pays close attention—religious institutions—is asking for a legislative fix of the Affordable Care Act to make it work as intended.”

But until it actually does provably cost them electoral support, I don’t see the GOP budging.

“Let that sink in. When your religious beliefs and actions cause you to lose the moral high ground to Howard Stern, then something has gone horribly wrong with your religion.”

The Heartland Institute gets pwned by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“The problem isn’t so much that we haven’t set up a legal architecture to preserve our online privacy from the government; it’s that we haven’t set up a legal architecture to preserve our online privacy from anyone at all.”

Nate Silver versus Politico. Not a fair fight, if you ask me.

Remember when we thought that Bobby Jindal was the smart Republican? Good times.

Among other things, immigration reform would be very good for the economy. No surprise if you’ve been paying attention.

RIP, telegrams. It was a pretty good 150 or so years for the service.

Perlstein versus Greenwald and his fans. It’s not the first time that people who are otherwise sympathetic to Glenn Greenwald have had problems constructively engaging with him.

Oh, Serena. I hope you were badly misquoted here. Because you really should know better.

RIP, James Gandolfini, dead of a hart attack at the much too young age of 51.

RIP, Kim Thompson, co-publisher of Fantagraphics, who brought us Love and Rockets and Usagi Yojimbo, among others.

Maybe Ted Cruz is right about the link between immigration and criminal behavior.

By all means, raise the cigarette tax.

What’s at stake with the farm bill.

What’s the matter with Kansas now? Too many low-wage jobs, for one thing.

I’m from New Yew Tree Village. How about you?

What Ed Kilgore says about Paula Deen.

No override of Public Integrity Unit funding veto

Alas.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

A legislative move to restore state funding for the ethics-enforcing Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County district attorney’s office died Friday afternoon.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said no vote is expected on House Concurrent Resolution 6 — the attempt by state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, to override Gov. Rick Perry’s veto of more than $7 million in state funding to the unit over two years.

[…]

Turner insisted that he had the votes for the committee to approve the resolution, but he said members were eager to leave Austin on Friday and did not want to stick around and vote.

He told reporters he won’t ask for a vote before the special legislative session ends Tuesday.

See here, here, and here for the background. I didn’t really think this was possible – Rep. Turner may have had the tacit support of Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts and Speaker Straus, but getting to a two-thirds majority in each chamber to override seems like a pretty big stretch. The legality of this unprecedented move – normally, veto overrides happen in the same session as the vetoes themselves – was not established, either. It would have been a fascinating exercise in government theory to pursue it, but it’s hardly a surprise that it went nowhere. Attention now turns back to Travis County Commissioners Court, which will likely consider the matter of filling in the funding gap in the next couple of weeks, and to the TPJ complaint against Rick Perry for the veto threat, for which I have not seen any updates as yet.

More on the HCDE pre-k proposal

Some more details on that pre-k proposal being pitched to the HCDE. It raises more questions than it answers.

pre-k

Members applauded the effort by the recently formed Harris County School Readiness Corp., a non-profit group whose membership includes business, philanthropic and community leaders, including former Houston first lady Andrea White. At the end of the meeting, they voted 6-1 to allow Superintendent John Sawyer, who was absent Tuesday, to further study the plan and bring back a recommendation for how to proceed.

The tone of the discussion, however, took a drastic turn during a question-and-answer session after a member of the corporation, former Houston city attorney Jonathan Day, presented the plan to the board with Carol Shattuck, president and CEO of partner group Collaborative for Children.

New trustee Howard Jefferson, who had just been sworn in, asked Day to describe the proposed terms of any agreement between the department and the corporation, and what responsibilities the department may have.

Explaining “work will be done by non-profit service providers,” Day told him “the control of the program in terms of allocation to various providers would be in the hands of the non-profit,” not the agency.

He went onto explain, admitting his bluntness, that the group wanted to avoid having the education department board handle the program because of its reputation as a stepping stone for higher political office. He also alluded to recent criticism the agency has faced for hiring lobbyists, including former county commissioner Jerry Eversole, who resigned in October 2011 after being accused of taking cash bribes in exchange for contracts.

“I think this kind of a structure will really work well,” Day said. “I’ll be very blunt with you, we are aware of the criticism about the structure of this board… But we thought that a nonprofit is a way to provide stability and to provide the assurance of the public that this is going to be mired down in partisan controversy.”

[…]

Board President Angie Chesnut and Board Vice President Debra Kerner, alluding to an earlier discussion, then asked Day, whether the the trustees would be able to appoint a member to the corporation’s board.

“Is that something we were still considering?” Kerner asked.

“That’s a matter we need to discuss,” Day replied. “It’s something that we are open to, but to be very blunt… we would like to avoid to the maximum extent possible the problems and perceptions of the partisanship and disagreements, we do not want to import that into our board.”

Chesnut then told Day: “I have to be honest with you, also. I will not support this process without having participation on your board.”

A clarification: In my previous post, I said that the HCDE approved the plan. As you can see from the first paragraph quoted above, all they approved was for Superintendent Sawyer to study the plan. I just misread the story on which I based that statement. My apologies for the confusion.

From this post, and from Big Jolly’s account of the HCDE meeting, it sounds like this idea isn’t fully formed yet. It would certainly help if the Harris County School Readiness Corporation would get their website and Facebook pages up so we can examine their plan in more detail, and give them feedback directly. I do think the HCDE Board needs to appoint at least one member to the School Readiness Corp’s board – at least two would be better. But really, just getting all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed would go a long way. I think this is fated to wind up in court one way or another, so while Judge Emmett is soliciting opinions from the County Attorney and the Attorney General about the legalities of all this, it would be wise for the HCSRC to get and publish its own opinion. Who knows, maybe there’s a less dicey way to make this happen. But let’s get some more information, no matter what else. Stace has more.