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August 1st, 2013:

Obama pledges to keep fighting for the Voting Rights Act

Let’s hold him to that.

President Barack Obama assured civil rights leaders Monday that he will aggressively protect minority voters in Texas and other states, a month after the Supreme Court ended decades of federal election scrutiny.

“The Supreme Court struck down one provision, not the entire act,” said Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, after a meeting with Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder. He said they reaffirmed “the federal government’s overriding responsibility to protect democracy and the right to vote for all Americans.”

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, joined him and two dozen other activists for the private White House meeting.

He also came away optimistic, even if Congress — as most analysts expect — doesn’t restore federal oversight.

“If you look at an issue as contentious as the Voting Rights Act, you want an all-of-the-above strategy,” said Martinez Fischer, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. The group has challenged the state of Texas over redistricting and a 2011 law to require voters to show photo IDs. “You want to have a congressional plan. You want to have an outreach plan. You want to have a litigation plan.”

[…]

On Thursday, Holder announced that the Justice Department would invoke an obscure provision of the law, Section 3, to ask a court to restore special oversight for Texas for a decade.

Gov. Rick Perry, state Attorney General Greg Abbott and other GOP leaders in Texas denounced the move as an effort to circumvent the Supreme Court.

Texas has a long history of voting rights violations. But state GOP leaders say its relatively high turnout among minority voters shows that ongoing scrutiny is unfair.

To borrow from our Vice President, that allegations that pursuing Section 3 claims is somehow “circumventing” the Supreme Court is pure malarkey. SCOTUS did not throw out Section 5, the preclearance section of the VRA, it threw out Section 4, which was the historic formula for determining who was subject to preclearance. Section 3 has been there all along, it was just not needed in Texas before now. All that’s happened is that the plaintiffs and now the Justice Department have filed motions with the federal courts that argue Texas should continue to be subject to preclearance under Section 3 of the VRA. Whatever the ruling, you can be sure that the matter will find its way back before the Supreme Court again. How that can possibly be considered “circumventing” is beyond me. And if the state of Texas really wants to end being subjected to this kind of scrutiny, perhaps it could put more effort into not passing discriminatory laws related to voting.

Texas Redistricting deals with this question as well.

In the eyes of the Supreme Court, the failure of Congress to update that formula when it renewed section 5 in 2006 created fatal constitutional problems for the formula because it treated states differently without – in the view of the Supreme Court – an any-longer valid reason for doing so.

But section 3 is different.

For starters, section 3 looks not at 1972 but at recent intentionally discriminatory behavior to decide if a state should be put under preclearance review. And it makes that determination on a case by case basis – letting courts tailor the remedy to the situation.

But, as importantly, it applies throughout the nation.

If Vermont engages in intentionally discriminatory behavior, it too could be placed under section 3 review. That makes section 3 very different from section 5, where the list of covered jurisdictions was effectively set in stone by a rigid, time-based coverage formula.

When elected officials complain – as a number have – that section 3 treats states differently, that’s tantamount to complaining that drunk-driving laws treat people who drink-and-drive differently from those who don’t. They do – but for good reason.

It’s worth your time as always to read in full. The comparisons to Texas as a drunk driver and a shoplifter are dead on.

In the meantime, I’m going to take freakouts like this as evidence that Perry, Abbott, et al are genuinely worried about the outcome.

Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general and candidate for governor, today ramped up his attack on the president, accusing him of wielding the Justice Department for political purposes.

“Mr. Obama’s attorneys conceal this partisan agenda with lofty rhetoric about minority voting rights,” Abbott writes today in an anti-Obama screed in the conservative Washington Times.

Abbott’s commentary, published a day after the president assured civil rights leaders that he’ll press Texas and other states aggressively on minority voter rights, gets featured display in the Times.

[…]

Abbott argues that Democrats have used Voting Rights Act litigation to stymie GOP inroads with Hispanics. He blames redistricting litigation for forcing from office several Hispanic Republicans – state Reps. Jose Aliseda, Raul Torres, Aaron Pena and John Garza, and U.S. Rep. Quico Canseco.

Hilarious. The Republicans’ own efforts to woo Hispanic voters are stymieing enough; they don’t need any extra help in that department. As for that fabulous five of Republican Latinos, four were elected in the 2010 landslide, the other switched parties in a district that voted 70%+ Democratic. Even the Republicans’ heroic efforts to draw him a district he could win weren’t enough to keep Aaron Pena from chickening out before trying to run under his new colors. Quico Canseco was such an inept candidate that despite the various illegal methods employed to help him, he still wound up as the only GOP incumbent to lose in a district carried by Mitt Romney. They needed to cheat for him to win, and they couldn’t quite cheat enough, poor babies. Daily Kos has more.

Maybe the same failed approach will work this time

It could happen, right?

Same hair and same amount of crazy as Rick Perry

Transportation experts now estimate that the state needs $5billion a year to keep Texas moving. The proposal that fell apart in the House this week would add less than a billion annually.

And after months of wrangling, relations between the House and Senate have grown increasingly testy. Republicans, who control both handily, have split between fiscal conservatives concerned over government spending and business-backers concerned over growth and infrastructure.

The House created a special committee to look at the issue. The Senate immediately passed the same measure that failed in the House, to siphon part of the state’s rainy day fund for the Department of Transportation.

“We’re beginning with the House and its working group at the same point where we left it off,” said Sen. Robert Nichols, the Jacksonville Republican leading the effort.

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, had a different term for it: “This is like legislative Groundhog Day.”

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, also predicted more of the same. He said he doubted the required two-thirds of House members would support the Senate bill.

“I don’t think that you can keep pushing uphill the same bill that was losing support, not gaining, as the summer wore on,” Straus said. He has decried the effort to address a major threat to the state’s economic health without considering new revenue sources.

“The governor has made it clear that this isn’t an issue that he is willing to allow us to step back and take a more comprehensive approach to,” Straus said. “So we’re here. We should do what we can that attracts the necessary votes — and take it piecemeal if that is what he is asking us to do.”

The divisions are deep on any proposal, and getting 100 of the 150 members to coalesce behind any plan will be difficult, Straus said, pledging a “good-faith effort.”

During the regular session, legislators rejected any suggestion to hike gas taxes or increase fees on car registrations.

As Paul Burka likes to put it, we don’t have policy in this state, we have ideology. An approach that relied on policy might suggest some combination of right-sizing the gas tax, floating bonds, enabling toll roads where reasonable, and – I know this will sound crazy, but stick with me – seeking sensible alternatives to building more roads. The ideological approach insists that there is blood in this stone, we’re just not squeezing it hard enough. Good luck with that. To be fair, while Speaker Straus clearly recognizes the problem here, it’s not clear that there would be enough support for the sensible approach. Even if Rick Perry were to be replaced by an alien that preferred sensibility to sloganeering, I don’t know that you could find a majority in the House and two-thirds of the Senate to back an increase in the gas tax, no matter what other provisions were in there. (What’s that you say? We don’t need a two-thirds majority in the Senate in a special session? Silly rabbit, we only drop the two thirds rule for important things, like voter ID and abortion restrictions.) As with many other things, nothing will change until the composition of our government changes.

Waco equality update

From the Dallas Voice:

Waco’s LGBT city employees may soon be protected from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

With four of six members present, the city’s Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee voted unanimously Thursday to recommend to the city manager that the protections be added to the city’s EEO policy.

LGBT activist Carmen Saenz, who addressed the committee, said the proposal will go to the city manger pending the city attorney’s approval in the coming weeks.

There was confusion back in January when Waco resident Susan Duty said she and a few others were trying to add LGBT protections to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance instead of its EEO policy. Waco doesn’t have a citywide nondiscrimination ordinance.

The initial plan was to go before the committee and have them vote on a recommendation to have the Waco City Council look into an ordinance, which would protect LGBT workers citywide. But that meeting was delayed until April and then July. By then, Duty said she’d found out the committee only deals with city employees, so the ordinance would have to be presented directly to the City Council.

Saenz said despite the mix-up, “this was our original plan.”

See here for the background. Duty may still push for the city ordinance, but this is a nice step forward regardless. Here’s the Waco Trib story:

The policy would allow LGBT employees to take any discrimination complaints that can’t be resolved by their superiors to a specially convened panel that would include a member of the equal employment committee, City Attorney Jennifer Richie said.

The city already officially bars employment discrimination and harassment based on race, sex, religion, color, national origin, age, marital status and disability. But no state or federal laws prohibit employers from discriminating against transgender or gay employees.

Carmen Saenz, a Waco psychology worker who presented the proposal to the committee, said the aims of the policy are modest.

“We had no intention of asking for benefits or anything like that,” she said. “All it means is that your sexual orientation is not a factor in hiring you or firing you.”

City Manager Larry Groth could not be reached for comment for this story, but he said in an interview earlier this year that the city does not consider sexual orientation or gender identity in its employment decisions.

Saenz said she knows of no cases of employment discrimination against LBGT workers in Waco city government. Nor has she ever faced 
discrimination living openly as a lesbian for 11 years in Waco.

But she said a written policy would ease the fears of city workers who now feel they have to stay closeted.

“I can guarantee that there are people who work for the city who live in fear of their bosses finding out they are gay,” she said.

[…]

Erma Ballenger, a Baylor University social work lecturer who heads the Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee, supports the policy. She said the city doesn’t need to have hard evidence of discrimination to justify a nondiscrimination policy.

“We’re acknowledging there is no factual data, but there’s no way of collecting that data,” she said.

Committee member Sherry Perkins, who works in corporate human resources, said it just made sense to widen the nondiscrimination policy to assure that everyone is treated equally.

“I think it’s certainly in line with what we’ve been asked to do,” she said.

Seems pretty straightforward to me, and I guarantee it will make a lot of people think a lot more favorably of Waco. Saenz, who as noted before was a high school classmate of mine, had this to say in addition, which she put on that Voice post and sent to me via Facebook:

Every single member of the City of Waco Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee (EEOAC) was thoughtful, respectful, and insightful in their questions and discussion. The City of Waco EEOAC made a powerful statement, at least to me, by their vote. As Waco grows progressively larger and continues to offer new employment opportunities, it is right and fair to extend existing protections to cover all citizens.

I am so grateful to Dr. Paul Derrick, who eloquently and passionately spoke before the EEOAC, all who worked so hard to help make this meeting possible, and for all of the wonderful messages, emails and phone calls since the meeting on Thursday. Thank you for helping to make Waco, Texas a safer, kinder, and welcoming place for me and all other LGBT residents.

A small group of active citizens can make a difference and effect change.

This initiative is a direct result of the Waco Equality Project conducted at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waco by Daniel Williams of EqualityTexas.

Daniel Williams and Chuck Smith of Equality Texas, along with Rafael McDonnell of Resource Center Dallas have provided guidance, support and resources.

The Social Action Committee and Welcoming Congregation Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waco have hosted multiple forums, educating and advocating for LGBT equality.

Without the work, support, and resources of these amazing people and organizations this work would not have occurred. I am grateful for their past and continued support and energy.

May more cities in Texas follow Waco’s lead. Well done, y’all.

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 29

The Texas Progressive Alliance applauds the entry of the Justice Department into the fight to continuing to subject the state to preclearance as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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Rep. Poe supports rail on Richmond

He supports something, anyway, and that’s a step forward.

After seeking input from Houstonians, Congressman Ted Poe has spoken out in favor of building “something” in the University transit corridor. A statement outlining his position was released on Facebook yesterday:

“On Monday, I asked for your opinion on whether or not federal funds should be prohibited from helping to build the Richmond Rail in Houston. Over the past few days, my office has received dozens of phone calls, hundreds of emails and over one thousand Facebook comments on this issue. Many of you even took the time to speak to my staff in-person when they went door to door in the district to talk to those of you in the affected area. I thank you for all of your input on this issue. It’s simple: blocking federal funds from coming to Houston will not save any money. Instead, your money will be spent on building infrastructure in other cities. I look forward to working with Congressman Culberson, the Houston Congressional Delegation and METRO to find a solution that serves both the interests of our constituents and the City of Houston.”

Poe reports in the video that a majority of his constituents support the light rail line on Richmond.

Click over to see the video. I am quite pleasantly surprised to hear this from Rep. Poe, and more than a little smug about the fact that the anti-rail fanatics were outvoted. They always were the minority, but effectively masked that by being loud. There’s a lesson in there for the rest of us. Anyway, I was set to publish a couple of the alerts I got about this, but clearly I wasn’t quick enough on the trigger. See below the fold for them; no point in ripping all that text out. Kudos to everyone who answered the call, and to Rep. Poe and his staff for genuinely listening.

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