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February 5th, 2014:

What’s at stake in the Democratic primaries

I’ve had my fun poking holes in Mark Jones’ ridiculous argument that we should all just vote in the Republican primary, but now it’s time to talk about the Democratic primary and why these races matter.

US Senate

David Alameel

David Alameel

On Monday and Tuesday I published interviews with Mike Fjetland and Maxey Scherr. I wish I could present an interview with David Alameel today, but as you can see I don’t have one. I made contact with his campaign manager, but after some initial back and forth I heard nothing for a couple of weeks, then got an email out of the blue late last week from another campaign staffer; after replying to him I heard nothing further. Team Alameel is welcome to contact me any time between now and Primary Day and I’ll do my best to accommodate his schedule, and run the interview the next weekday. Y’all have my email address and my cell number. I’m not going anywhere.

There are twenty-one candidates running for the Senate, including the incumbent, and five of them are Democrats. Two of them, Fjetland and Scherr, are clearly worthy of your consideration. I personally lean towards Scherr because I have a preference for younger candidates and I think there would be value in having three women at the top of the ticket, but both of them are honorable and will run respectable campaigns. One candidate, Harry Kim, is largely unknown to me and I daresay to most people reading this. He has a website now, though the content is generic to the point of being formless, his campaign Facebook page was last updated on January 7 when he uploaded a cover photo, and his campaign Twitter account has yet to tweet anything. I don’t think I’m asking too much of first time candidates operating on a shoestring to at least take advantage of the free tools that are available to them so those of us that will not otherwise get to interact with them can learn a little something about them.

One candidate should come with glaring spotlights and screaming klaxons, to warn everyone in her path to stay the hell away. I speak of course of the LaRouche nutball Kesha Rogers, who for the last two elections managed to get herself and her message of impeaching President Obama nominated in CD22. That’s mortifying to say the least, but in the end neither nomination had any effect on anything. Nominating her for the Senate – even allowing her to slip into the runoff – would make all of us a laughingstock on a national scale with the force to knock Chris Christie out of the news cycle and with the potential to administer real damage to Wendy Davis’ campaign. This is what we get with Kesha Rogers. She has thrived in the past on obscurity in low profile, low turnout elections. The only antidote to this is a sufficiently informed electorate. Make sure everyone you know knows about Kesha Rogers.

And then there’s Alameel, who despite plastering the entire Internet with his ads, remains an enigma. Forget my own inability to get an interview with him, I’ve yet to see a profile of him in some other news source. We all know that he made a lot of contributions to Republicans in years past but has been Democratic-only since 2008. We know there are questions about his commitment to reproductive rights, given past and possibly ongoing connections to a Catholic pro-life group. We know that despite these things, both Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte saw fit to endorse him. But we don’t know the answers to these questions, and until someone with a microphone or notebook gets to pose those questions to him, we won’t know any more than we do right now. The Davis and LVdP endorsements carry some weight, but without knowing more about him I can’t recommend even considering a vote for him at this time. If I get the opportunity to interview him, even if I just get the opportunity to read something written by someone who has had the opportunity to speak to him, I may change my mind about that. I’ll let you know if that happens.

Governor

We’re all voting for Wendy in the primary, right? I mean, whatever misgivings you may have about her campaign at this time aside, Ray Madrigal has done no campaigning that I can see, he has no online presence, and he offers zero odds of competing against Greg Abbott, let alone winning. The only real item of interest here is Davis’ vote share. If she fails to get above some arbitrary number – I don’t know what that arbitrary number is, but I do know that it will be decided after her vote total is in – there will be some number of stories written about Democratic “discontent” with her, or maybe just “trepidation” about her. The number of such stories is inversely proportional to her actual vote share, as it the number of “unnamed Democratic insiders/strategists” quoted in those stories. To paraphrase those DirecTV ads, don’t let there be lots of stories written about Democratic “discontent” – or “disenchantment”, there’s another good word – with Wendy Davis, with multiple quotes from “unnamed Democratic insiders/strategists”. Vote for her in the primary and do your part to head that off.

By the way, I do presume there is an arbitrary number for Greg Abbott as well. Partly because he has a gaggle of opponents, and partly because he’s not Wendy Davis, I presume his arbitrary number is lower than her arbitrary number. I also presume the tone of those stories, if they get to be written, will be more of surprise than an opportunity to pile on and air grievances. This is of course an untestable hypothesis – like I said, we don’t know what each candidate’s arbitrary numbers are – but however you want to slice it, I’d bet Abbott would get more slack for a lower-than-you-might-have-expected vote share than Davis would get. Assuming either of them gets less than one might expect, whatever that is.

Ag Commissioner

The stakes here are pretty basic: A well-known candidate that can generate his own press and who is running on a sexy issue but whom basically no one trusts to be a good Democrat, versus a highly qualified and much more acceptable to the base candidate who will be utterly ignored by the press. Dumb ideas aside, Mark Jones did at least characterize this race correctly. Kinky is clearly higher risk, but at least potentially higher upside. Hugh Fitzsimons is solid and trustworthy, but again will get absolutely no attention from the press save for a cursory campaign overview story some time in October. Which do you prefer? Again, I’m ignoring the third candidate, Jim Hogan, who does not appear to be doing much of anything. Maybe that’s foolish after Mark Thompson came out of nowhere to win the Railroad Commissioner nomination in 2008 over two more experienced candidates, but it’s what I’m doing.

Railroad Commissioner

No one is going to claim that this race will be on anyone’s radar, but there’s still a choice, and in my consideration it’s a clear choice. Dale Henry is by all accounts a well-qualified candidate, having been the Democratic nominee for RRC in 2006 and 2012. He’s also, to put it gently, old school in his campaign style and methods. Steve Brown is young, dynamic, an outsider for an agency that could use a fresh perspective, a modern campaigner who will work hard for himself and the top of the ticket, and has a future even if all he gets out of this election is the experience of running statewide. I think he’s the obvious call to make, but in a low profile campaign anything can happen. But if you’re paying attention and you want a better slate overall, you’ll be sure to vote for Steve Brown.

Local races

Here’s where Mark Jones’ idea really makes no sense. Pretty much every county where Democrats are strong features important primaries. We already know about Harris County, where the need to nominate Kim Ogg outweighs Jones’ suggestion all by itself. Travis County is electing a County Judge, as is El Paso County, which also features three hot legislative races. Bexar County has races for County Judge, County Clerk, District Attorney, District Clerk, and a slew of District Court judges. Dallas County has a power struggle between current DA Craig Watkins and Party Chair Darlene Ewing, with the former running his own slate of candidates, including one against Ewing. Tarrant County will be key to Rep. Mark Veasey’s re-election. And those are just the big counties.

Bottom line: We have some important, consequential decisions to make beginning on February 18. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Abbott outraises Davis on 30 day report

Would have been nice to have done better.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott outraised Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis by more than 3-to-1 in the first three weeks in January in the race for governor, according to figures reported by each campaign Monday.

The $3.1 million-plus that Abbott raised from Jan. 1 through Jan. 23, the period covered by campaign finance reports due Monday, gave him $29.4 million in cash on hand for the race against Davis.

Davis, of Fort Worth, raised $912,996 over the same period, counting two of her committees and a joint effort with Battleground Texas, which is dedicated to making Texas competitive for Democrats. She reported she has $10.2 million in cash on hand.

The comparison could take off some of the shine from the big money that Davis hauled in during the last six months of 2013 when, counting the same three fundraising committees, she took in $12.2 million compared with $11.5 million for Abbott, long a top fundraiser.

“With the previous announcement, she got a lot of positive attention because she had raised more than people expected and had more relative to Abbott than anyone expected,” said University of Texas-Pan American political scientist Jerry Polinard. “This is another way (for Abbott) of reminding people, ‘Wait a minute, we are still in a very red state. I’ve got more money.'”

It’s also a way for the media to rehash its stories about Davis from the past two weeks, since apparently there isn’t anything else to report on. Candidates in contested primaries have to make 30 day and 8 day reports; candidates like Leticia Van de Putte, who are unopposed in the primary, get to go till July before their next reporting deadline. At this pace, Davis would raise about $10 million for the rest of the year, which ain’t nothing but which would only get her a bit more than halfway to her stated goal of $40 million. The great thing about having a large donor base, as she does, is that you can go back to them and ask for more. Maybe not so quickly, however. As for Abbott, it sure is nice to have a bunch of panicky zillionaires in your corner; hr took in more from five deep-pocketed benefactors than Davis did overall. I’m sure that was the message they meant to send.

On a side note, we find that Greg Abbott received even more contributions than we first thought from payday lenders last year. My guess is he’s taken in more in the current report. Maybe someone can check that when the reports are posted. Like I said, nice to have some deep pockets you can reach into. Campos has more.

School districts deal with ACA paperwork

The headline for this story says that Texas school districts are “struggling” to deal with requirements of the Affordable Care Act, but there’s not much evidence of actual struggles in the story itself.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Texas school districts are scrambling to meet an Affordable Care Act provision that requires them to offer health insurance to thousands of substitute teachers, bus drivers and other workers who clock at least 30 hours a week.

While many of these workers are already eligible for health insurance, tracking compliance is proving cumbersome for administrators. Compared with traditional employers, school systems rely on more variable-hour workers and follow an unusual calendar.

“It’s kind of a nightmare. It’s extremely complex,” said Holly Murphy, senior attorney for the Texas Association of School Boards, who is touring the state to address school administrators’ questions about the new requirement.

How districts choose to handle the mandate could spell either good or bad news for employees. Some school systems may cap part-time employees’ hours, while others appear to be creating new full-time positions to ease the demand from hourly workers. Both options should make the bookkeeping aspect of compliance prior to the Jan. 1 deadline simpler, officials said.

The Fort Bend Independent School District posted job openings for 74 educational assistants – one at each campus – who will essentially be full-time substitutes eligible for benefits. Those positions should help take pressure off the district’s pool of 1,000 part-time substitutes, administrators said, although the district would still face the increased cost of providing benefits to more employees.

“We basically solved the issue around the Affordable Care Act,” said Kermit Spears, chief human resources officer at Fort Bend ISD.

Groups of suburban and rural school districts are considering creating co-ops that could share and provide benefits for full-time substitutes, Murphy said.

[…]

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said limiting hours isn’t in the spirit of the law and wouldn’t even be an option in the Houston ISD, which already struggles with substitute shortages.

“That’s the sort of shoddy behavior we were worried about,” she said.

She applauded the Houston ISD’s move to begin offering this month a basic $5-a-month health insurance plan to employees earning under $25,000 a year.

“HISD did very early compliance,” Fallon said. “We have paraprofessionals and clerks and food service and custodial (employees) who can afford insurance for the first time, and we got told instantly it was the Affordable Care Act that did this.”

Sounds more like “School districts have a variety of options for meeting the requirements that workers’ hours are documented and that everyone who works at least 30 hours per week receives a health insurance plan” to me. Limiting some workers to a maximum of 29 hours per week, which a number of unscrupulous businesses in food service and similar industries have tried to avoid offering health insurance at all, is an option for school districts as well. The vast majority of these employees are already eligible for health insurance under the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, so the situation is very different here. School districts will have to do some more paperwork to be in compliance with the ACA, but if anyone is equipped to deal with paperwork it’s school districts, and the net effect will be that more employees wind up with health insurance. I’m okay with that.

On, Wisconsin

From the ACLU of Wisconsin:

RedEquality

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and the law firm of Mayer Brown filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of four same-sex couples who wish to marry in Wisconsin or are seeking recognition for their legal out-of-state marriages.

The plaintiffs include Roy Badger and Garth Wangemann of Milwaukee, who have been together 37 years. Three years ago Wangemann had much of his right lung removed after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Following the operation, a complication occurred and he was put into a medically induced coma for nearly a month. His progress was uncertain, and Wangemann’s father attempted to override Badger’s power of attorney to have his son taken off life support. Before that could happen, Wangemann recovered.

“What upset me the most was that after all of our time together, our relationship was not fully recognized by my family and there was a real danger that my wish to give Roy the ability to make decisions about my care could be stripped away,” Wangemann said. “Thankfully, our wishes held in this case. But without the protections that come with marriage, the consequences can literally be a matter of life or death.”

Other plaintiffs in the case are Carol Schumacher and Virginia Wolf of Eau Claire; Charvonne Kemp and Marie Carlson of Milwaukee; and Judi Trampf and Katy Heyning of Madison. Read their stories.

Wisconsin’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples prevents them from securing the hundreds of protections that state law provides to married couples. Wisconsin law subjects same-sex couples to an additional harm that is unique among states that deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry. The only way for Wisconsin couples to get the federal protections that come with marriage is for them to go out of state to marry. But Wisconsin law says that may be a crime punishable by nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Among the plaintiff couples, Schumacher and Wolf were legally married in another state, raising the possibility of prosecution back at home. The lawsuit challenges the overall ban as well as the application of this criminal law to same-sex couples who are forced to choose between being denied federal protections and the risk of criminal prosecution.

“These families simply want the security and recognition that only marriage provides,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “They have built their lives and raised children here. It is wrong for the state to treat these loving and committed couples as second-class citizens, and it is cruel to place them in a catch-22 where they can’t even travel elsewhere to obtain federal protections without their marriage being labeled a crime.”

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. The plaintiffs allege that the state’s constitutional marriage ban sends a message that lesbians, gay men, and their children are viewed as second-class citizens who are undeserving of the legal sanction, respect, protections, and support that heterosexuals and their families are able to enjoy through marriage.

Criminalizing out of state marriages is a nasty little twist. I’m surprised there wasn’t a lawsuit sooner.

Meanwhile, the Virginia case was heard yesterday.

The ban on same-sex marriage is just like an old Virginia law that made interracial marriages illegal, and it’s time for Virginia to stop discriminating against gays and lesbians, a state attorney told a federal judge Tuesday.

But lawyers who support the ban said if the law is to change, it should be done by the legislature. They also argue that there has never been a fundamental right to same-sex marriage.

“We have marriage laws in society because we have children, not because we have adults,” said attorney David Nimocks of the religious group Alliance Defending Freedom.

The case is the first one in the South to reach oral arguments before a federal judge. Recently elected Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring announced Jan. 23 that he would not defend the state in the lawsuit because he believed it violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

In overturning bans in Utah and Oklahoma, federal judges have also said those laws violate the 14th amendment.

Virginia Solicitor General Stuart Raphael told the judge Virginia had frequently been on the wrong side of history, citing the state’s ban on interracial marriages, its defense of segregation as well as its opposition to allowing female students into the Virginia Military Institute.

Raphael said supporters of the ban have failed to prove how allowing gay marriage would make opposite sex couples less likely to marry.

“That’s the Achilles heel in the argument,” he said.

[…]

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen said she would rule soon. If Wright Allen finds Virginia’s law unconstitutional, Raphael asked her to issue a stay so that nobody can get married until the case is heard on appeal.

He said the state wanted to avoid the situation Utah found itself in after marriages were briefly allowed to occur there before a stay was issued.

With Herring’s office deciding to side with the plaintiffs, the job of defending the law fell to the legal team of Norfolk’s Circuit Court clerk.

Attorney David Oakley said the court should respect the legislative process that created the law. If the law is to be changed, it should be done through the legislature, he said.

In addition, an attorney for the religious group Alliance Defending Freedom argued on behalf of the Prince William County’s clerk, which was allowed to intervene in the case. The clerk asked to intervene because of worries the attorney general’s office wouldn’t do an adequate job defending the law.

And there was some action in Utah as well.

The state of Utah offered a tailored defense of its ban on same-sex marriage in a brief filed late Monday evening with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing its laws are all about the long-term interests of children.

Utah has chosen a definition of marriage that is “principally a child-centered institution, one focused first and foremost on the welfare of children rather than the emotional interests of adults,” the state said. “And by reinforcing that understanding, the state gently encourages parents to routinely sacrifice their own interests to the legitimate needs and interests of their children.”

That definition is not designed to demean other family structures “any more than giving an ‘A’ to some students demeans others,” the state said.

But redefining marriage in “genderless” terms likely would result in lower reproductive rates and fewer children being raised in the ideal environment provided by biological, opposite-sex parents, the state said.

[…]

Attorneys for the three same-sex couples who are challenging Utah’s ban have until Feb. 25 to file a response, and the state’s final filing must be submitted by March 4.

Oral arguments are scheduled for April 10 in Denver. The three-judge panel that will hear the case — as well as an appeal from the state of Oklahoma involving a similar ban — will be picked 10 days before the hearing.

You can see the full brief here. I’m pretty sure these are the same basic arguments that were made in the Prop 8 case in California. There may be some differences, but I’m not a lawyer so this is just my impression. I am sure we’ll hear more of the same when Texas’ case gets heard.