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July 15th, 2013:

Interview with CM Ellen Cohen

CM Ellen Cohen

CM Ellen Cohen

Welcome to the start of the 2013 interview season. Things are going to be a little different for me this year, because my personal schedule is not as flexible as it has been in years past. What that means is that it’s going to be more of a challenge for me to schedule interviews, and at this time I can’t make any guarantees about what interviews I’ll be able to do. I’ll do my best as always, but I’ll get to what I get to, and that’s about all there is to it.

Kicking things off this year is a person I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing several times in the past, first term District C Council Member Ellen Cohen. Cohen is a former two-term State Representative who was elected to the new District C in 2011, scoring a solid majority in a five-candidate race. As was the case in the Capitol, Cohen has jumped right in and gotten busy at City Hall, staying on top of the concerns of her demanding district and working to create a Parking Benefit District in the Washington Avenue corridor, among other things. Here’s what we talked about:

Ellen Cohen Interview

Putting together a dedicated page for my interviews and the candidates’ campaign finance reports is somewhere near the top of my to do list, but it’s not been done yet. Check back later for that.

Mayoral multitude

Campos has an update on who’s running for what.

Keryl Douglas

Keryl Douglas

Commentary dropped by the City Secretary Office a couple of days ago to check out the latest campaign treasurer designations.

Here is who I will add to my political page later on today:

For Mayor: Keryl Douglas, Eric Dick, Michael Fitzsimmons, and Victoria Lane.

For At-Large 2: David Robinson, Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, and Brent Gordon.

For At-Large 3: As reported yesterday, Al Edwards.

For District B: Joe Joseph.

For District C: Pete Sosa.

For District D: Lana Edwards, Larry McKenzie, and Anthony Robinson.

For District G: Ben Taef.

Of course, these folks still have to plunk down the filing fee when the time comes.

Yes, former HCDP Chair candidate Keryl Douglas is running for Mayor. I’d heard about this from two different people before Campos did his digging at the City Secretary’s office. I have no idea why Keryl Douglas thinks she can be elected Mayor, but then the same can be said for everyone not named Annise Parker and Ben Hall. Speaking of whom, you have to figure Hall is not happy about this. Douglas will be competing with him directly for African-American voters. I’m sure he’d prefer to not have that competition.

You can see Campos’ list of candidates who have filed designation of treasurer papers here. This week is when campaign finance reports for the period ending June 30 will be appearing on the city’s reporting website. That will give a good indication about who’s running for what as well. I’ll be keeping an eye on those and will write about what I find. First order of business will be to see what Parker and Hall’s reports look like. Stay tuned.

Redistricting plaintiffs go for Section 3

It’s a brand new world out there.

Minority-rights groups are charting “new territory” in the fight against Texas’ redistricting plan, using a provision of the Voting Rights Act that cites discriminatory intent as part of an effort to maintain federal oversight of the state’s congressional maps.

The NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens filed a motion here Tuesday, asking that Texas again be placed under federal requirements for changes made to voting maps, per Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act.

State authorities labeled the move a “desperate effort” following recent Supreme Court decisions that strike down regulatory provisions of the 1965 act.

Luis Vera, a LULAC lawyer in San Antonio, said that because Section 3 was untouched by the court, it allows any state to be subject to federal preclearance if discriminatory intent or a demonstrated effort to disenfranchise is found in new voting laws or maps.

Last August, a D.C. court panel found Texas intentionally discriminated against minorities when it adopted new redistricting maps.

The ruling rejected the state’s claim that the changes did not require Justice Department preclearance approval.

The D.C. court ruling was vacated last month, following the Supreme Court’s decision.

Vera said that while the Supreme Court ruling was a huge blow, consideration of Section 3 by the court would give hope of a remedy to groups.

“We are still in the game,” he said.

Vera conceded that the claim of discrimination must now be proved by the groups filing the motion, whereas the state previously had to prove it did not discriminate when it changed laws or maps.

“In the past, the burden was on the state. Now, the burden is on us,” Vera said. “The good thing for us is that the D.C. court already found discriminatory intent.”

As noted, there are already Section 3 claims before the San Antonio court. The burden may be higher for the plaintiffs now, but Lord knows there’s no shortage of evidence – correct me if I’m wrong here, but I believe the state of Texas has never successfully defended any of its decennial redistricting efforts. There’s definitely reason for hope here, and that’s before we get into the Section 2 claims that are also being pressed.

Needless to say, Texas Redistricting has been all over this:

San Antonio court starts process for deciding if Texas should preclear maps under section 3 of Voting Rights Act, from July 1.

Section 3 and the 2013 Texas maps: How this might work, also from July 1.

Bail-in claim for Texas under section 3 also filed in D.C. court, from July 3. Note that the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus and Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force are not part of the new motion before the DC court, though they could join later if they want to, or they could file their own separate motions.

Q&A on the new section 3 claim about Texas redistricting, also from July 3. The answer to pretty much every question you might ask right now is “it’s unclear at this time” because this is all entirely new legal territory.

Press round up: Maneuvering on Texas redistricting & voter ID, from July 8. Be sure also to read this Election Law Blog post about how Section 3 could be an “easy, but powerful” way to amend the Voting Rights Act.

On Friday, a whole bunch more complaints were filed with the San Antonio court, regarding the maps that were passed in the special session, and including Section 3 claims. The state has till the 19th to respond. We’ll see how it goes from here.

Special election set in HD50

Mark Strama announced his resignation from the Lege in February to go and run Google Fiber in Austin. Last week, Rick Perry set November 5 as the special election date to replace him.

Mark Strama

The race to serve out the remainder of former state Rep. Mark Strama’s current term got an official election date Thursday as Gov. Rick Perry set a Nov. 5 special election.

Known for his work on education and clean-technology issues, Strama, D-Austin, announced in February that he was leaving his House seat. Strama, who had considered a run for Austin mayor, announced in June that he had accepted a position leading Austin’s Google Fiber operations. Google announced in April that Austin would be among the first places to try out the high-speed internet service.

With Strama’s departure looming on the horizon for several months, the field of candidates vying to take his House District 50 seat already begun to fill up. Early hopefuls to announce included businesswoman Jade Chang Sheppard, associate municipal court judge Ramey Ko, prosecutor Rico Reyes and Celia Israel, a former aide to Gov. Ann Richards.

“They are all really good candidates, and the district will be served by any of them,” Strama told Texas Weekly in May.

I agree with Strama’s assessment of the candidates to be his successor. The special election matters for two reasons: One, there will likely be another special session next year to sort out the school finance situation, once the retrial and the appeal to the Supreme Court have been resolved. Two, whoever wins, assuming he or she wins again in 2014, will have a leg up on other freshmen in 2015 in seniority. As BOR noted, the seat is Democratic, but a Republican could have a chance in a low-turnout election and runoff. One would hope that after all that has gone on over the past few weeks that generating some excitement on the D side for this would not be too challenging.

Strama and Rep. Craig Eiland are the first two legislators to announce that they will not be back in 2015. With the special session all over but for transportation funding in the House, you can expect there to be more such announcements in the coming weeks. As I noted a few months back, the Lege has seen quite a bit of turnover in the past decade, much of which has been self-imposed. I see no reason why this year will be any different.