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February 11th, 2014:

Interview with Kinky Friedman

Kinky Friedman

Kinky Friedman

We come to my last set of interviews for the primary season, the Democratic race for Ag Commissioner. Some primaries feature candidates that don’t differ all that much. This race is not one of those. Making his second run for Ag Commissioner and third statewide campaign is musician/comedian/entrepreneur Kinky Friedman. As you’ve likely heard, Friedman has based his candidacy on advocacy for the legalization of marijuana. He’s passionate and sincere about it, but it’s fair to say that he faces a skeptical primary electorate, given his 2006 run for Governor as an independent. I’ve certainly been one of those skeptics, but in a year with an open seat and an opponent that will likely have no statewide profile, he might be in a good position to leverage his celebrity and his unorthodox issue advocacy for good. These were the things we discussed in the interview:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2014 Election page.

Hearing for the Texas federal same sex marriage lawsuit is tomorrow

All eyes will be on San Antonio on Wednesday.

RedEquality

Like most new parents, Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra De Leon plan their days around their small child. Theirs is an ordinary family life, they say, but it is by no means easy.

Although married in 2009 in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal, they live in Texas, a state that doesn’t recognize their union. When De Leon delivered their child in 2012, Dimetman’s name wasn’t allowed on the birth certificate.

“There was that time period that I was the only parent,” De Leon said, a situation that never affects married heterosexual couples. “If something happened to me during his birth, he would have been considered an orphan.”

In October, the women, along with another couple, filed a federal lawsuit in San Antonio challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. On Wednesday, they will go before U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, who will consider a preliminary injunction, a court order that would bar Texas from enforcing the ban while the suit continues to be litigated.

As the nation’s second-most populous state, “any decision that affects the marriage equality in Texas has national implications,” said San Antonio-based attorney Neel Lane, who represents the couples.

Indeed, the implications of the Texas cases could transform the national debate over gay marriage.

[…]

To prevail on the injunction request, the couples have to show they are likely to win when the full suit is litigated, and that they “are being harmed right now,” according to attorney Lane.

“Our belief is the arc of equal protection cases … points directly to recognizing that people have the right to marry regardless of gender,” Lane said. “Gays and lesbians are not afforded access to marriage and all the benefits from it. That is a denial of equal protection of the law. It is unequal when some people are not permitted to do what most others are permitted to do. And there’s no basis for denying them that right.”

See here and here for the background on the Texas case. As you can see from the latter link, I was rather pessimistic about this at the time that the hearing date was set. Then along came the rulings in Utah and Oklahoma and Ohio, and the decision by Virginia AG Marc Herring to not defend that state’s law, and just like that things look a whole lot different. There’s still a ton of decisions to be made, by the district court in Virginia and the appeals court for Utah and Oklahoma. Ohio, the site of a narrower decision concerning death benefits, is now on the clock with its own lawsuit (via Scalzi). And I’d still bet money on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals doing something hideous when they get the opportunity to weigh in. But it’s clear that the ground has shifted, and that the plaintiffs have by far the stronger argument. I don’t know what’s going to happen in court tomorrow, but it’s mind-boggling to think that we’re at this point barely eight years after that horrible, discriminatory amendment was passed. I truly hope we can start the countdown till its final day. Lone Star Q has more.

UPDATE: And late yesterday, the Democratic Attorney General of Nevada, with the agreement of the Republican Governor of Nevada, has announced the state will not defend its ban on same sex marriage against litigation there. Another nail in the coffin.

School finance retrial wraps

We’re back where it all began.

The Texas Legislature failed to bridge funding gaps between wealthy and poor school districts despite partial restoration of funds that were cut, lawyers representing schools told a state district judge Friday.

“They have put a Band-aid on a Band-aid on a Band-aid,” said Rick Gray, attorney for the Texas Taxpayer Student Fairness Coalition, during closing arguments in the second phase of a school finance trial. “We have a constitutionally and fundamentally broken system, and it’s time that that be repaired and be repaired on a non-Band-aid approach.”

State lawyers countered that previous actions have addressed the plaintiffs’ concerns and the system is constitutional.

Hundreds of schooldistricts sued the state in 2012 after the Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public school funding during the 2011 session.

State District Judge John Dietz ruled the finance system unconstitutional last February. He reopened the trial in January to examine the effects of House Bill 5, an overhaul of the state’s graduation standards passed by the Legislature in 2013, and the state’s new biennial budget, which injected about $3.4 billion back into the school finance system.

Dietz could rule by mid-March.

It remains the case that public education is down $2 billion from the 2009 budget, and that’s before factoring in enrollment growth. It remains the case that many property-poor districts receive far less money per pupil than many property-rich districts despite having a higher property tax rate. It remains the case that the state of Texas thinks everything is hunky dory, just as it was in 2011 after $5.4 billion had been cut from public ed. And it remains the case that it will ultimately be the State Supreme Court that settles this. Assuming there isn’t a settlement, of course.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

State Sen. Wendy Davis, the leading Democratic candidate for governor, called on her likely Republican opponent Monday to use his power as Texas attorney general to settle a massive school finance lawsuit instead of defending the troubled funding system in court.

“Attorney General Greg Abbott continues to defend the indefensible,” the Fort Worth Democrat said at an Austin news conference. “He’s wasting time and taxpayer money on a frivolous lawsuit that hurts Texas.”

[…]

Davis said Monday that Abbott should have instructed the Legislature last year how to avoid the litigation. She said lawmakers could have avoided cuts that she said caused teacher layoffs, increased classroom sizes and led to the elimination of vital programs.

“As our lawyer, it was Greg Abbott’s job to come and work with the Legislature to stave off yet another lawsuit. We knew that this lawsuit was coming,” Davis said. “And yet Greg Abbott remained silent.”

The Davis campaign distributed a memo outlining past cases in which the state settled litigation, ranging from prison overcrowding issues to redistricting. It was written by Dave Richards, who has been tangling with Texas in court for decades on issues including civil rights and voting rights. (Richards is the ex-husband of the late Gov. Ann Richards).

“Texas’ Constitution and case-law provide clear precedent that establishes the attorney general’s discretionary power to settle cases,” Richards wrote. “Based on precedent, past actions and any informed interpretation of law, it is absolutely within the power of the attorney general to settle cases of this nature.”

Davis was asked during the news conference how Abbott would settle a case that ultimately requires legislative action. She said he should advise lawmakers, probably in a special session, to consider changes to the complicated school finance system.

I don’t think that would be terribly complicated, but it ain’t gonna happen. As has always been the case, Texas will have to be forced to do what is right. My guess is that Judge Dietz will rule in substantially the same was as he did last January, which is to say in favor of the plaintiffs on all counts. This time he’ll release a full opinion, which will be for the Supreme Court to suss out. Just keep in mind that if the ruling I think Dietz will deliver is upheld, the Legislature is going to have to find billions of dollars more for public education. Who do you trust as Governor to work with the Legislature to do that? The Observer and BOR have more.

Where to see Bigfoot

And by “Bigfoot”, I mean whatever the huckster Rick Dyer has faked up to look like a “Bigfoot”. Be that as it may, the place to go is the Alamo Drafthouse.

Steve Austin knows the truth

Anyone who doubts a Texas man’s claim that he shot Bigfoot near San Antonio will have a chance, two actually, to check out the carcass at close range.

Rick Dyer, who says he shot the ape-human creature in 2012, is scheduled to make two evening appearances later this month at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.

At 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24, Dyer will be at the Mason Park location, 531 S. Mason Road in Katy, and at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25, he will be at the Vintage Park site, 114 Vintage Park Blvd., in northwest Houston.

The $20 admission includes a “mystery” Bigfoot movie to be announced and a 30-minute Question-and-Answer session with Dyer, to be moderated by a comedian, said Alamo Drafthouse programming director Robert Saucedo.

“We’re guaranteeing audience members are going to get their money’s worth in entertainment and have an amazing time,” Saucedo said Thursday. “We’re going to go all out to make sure no stone is unturned to offer up a fun event. After that, it’s up to the audience member to make up their own mind, whether Mr. Dyer is (for) real or not.”

Saucedo said he hadn’t yet seen the Bigfoot carcass, which Dyer described as being in a glass coffin.

“He’s talked about how he has some kind of refrigerated trailer,” Saucedo said. “I still need to work out the details about how we’re going to display it in our theater. I know the audience will have a change to get up close and take a look at this creature.”

See here and here for the background, and here for the Alamo Theater’s take. They’re selling this as entertainment, and I can’t argue with that. If anyone reading this does go, by all means tell us about it afterward.