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March 19th, 2014:

How I’ll be voting in the runoffs

David Alameel

David Alameel

This is pretty straightforward, as there are only two races in the runoff for me to consider.

Senate – This is the definition of a no-brainer. David Alameel wasn’t my first choice. I voted for Maxey Scherr, and didn’t recommend a vote for Alameel in March because of questions about his past (and possibly present) political activities that I didn’t have the chance to ask and didn’t see get answered elsewhere. None of that matters now. Alameel’s ubiquitous web ads have put him firmly on the right side of issues I care about, and while there are still questions I’d like to ask Alameel – and I plan to try again to set up an interview with him – I’m satisfied with that. Just as I didn’t believe Mark Jones when he tried to convince me there were stealth moderates in the GOP primaries, I will take Alameel at his word on these issues. And not to belabor the obvious, but the alternative is unthinkable. I speculated before that perhaps the reason the establishment all lined up with Alameel early on is because someone foresaw the Kesha Rogers problem and reasonably concluded that Alameel and his bankroll were a solution to it. Whether that was by accident or design, it seems to be working pretty well and almost closed things out in the first round. I’ll be voting for David Alameel in the runoff.

Ag Commissioner – I feel terrible for Hugh Fitzsimons, who was clearly the best and most qualified candidate running in either party. I wish I had an answer to that; I do have a couple of thoughts that I’ll get back to later. I think I’ve been pretty clear about my view of Kinky Friedman and the pros and cons of his candidacy. I ultimately voted for Fitzsimons because I wasn’t fully sold on Kinky and his one-note crusade, but at least Kinky can articulate a reason why he’s running and is actually trying to win. That’s more that can be said for Jim Hogan. Here’s Hogan in his own words in the Trib:

Hogan said he did not spend money during the campaign because “it’d be silly to raise money.” He added that there was no need for a campaign website, which he doesn’t have, because “somebody’s going to Google you anyway.”

And in the Observer:

I talked to Hogan today, and he attributes his victory to the Almighty.

“It was a miracle and only God could’ve pulled it off,” he told me. “That doesn’t sell papers and you may think that’s corny but I truly believe it.”

I can understand why God wouldn’t want the atheistic Kinky Friedman representing God’s Party but what about Fitzsimons, who actually campaigned?

Hogan scoffs at the idea that “the Establishment” has anything to teach him.

“When I called Democrats and told them I was gonna be on the ticket first thing they said was, ‘How long you been in politics?’ I said, ‘I’m not no politician.’ They said, ‘Let me tell you something: It takes a lot of money to win a state race and you can’t win.’ I said, ‘Let me tell you something, y’all haven’t won since 1994.’”

And that’s true enough. Democrats have lost every single one of the last 100 or so statewide races since 1994. Hogan thought he’d try something a little different: He wouldn’t really campaign.

“Basically I run on the internet and a phone,” he said. “My motto is: My phone and Internet can outrun any jet plane or car across the state of Texas. I don’t have to be there.”

But how did voters know about him at all? Details about his candidacy only appear in a handful of small-town papers.

“All you gotta do is Google my name—’jim hogan ag commissioner’—and there’s enough on there.”

Sorry, but I refuse to vote for someone who doesn’t campaign. If Hogan wants to be the next coming of Gene Kelly, he can do it without my help. If the result of the Ag Commissioner primaries has you looking elsewhere or sitting it out, I understand. But you can’t beat something with nothing, and Hogan is nothing. I’ll be voting for Kinky.

As I said, I’m sad this happened to Hugh Fitzsimons. Frankly, we’re lucky it didn’t also happen to Steve Brown, but one random result is enough. Someone needs to be thinking how to deal with this in 2018, because unless everyone is running for re-election, Dems are going to have to try to fill out another slate with quality candidates. Getting such people for the top of the ticket shouldn’t be too hard (we hope), but we still need those Commissioners and Supreme Court/CCA justices, and raising statewide money for those offices is a huge challenge. It shouldn’t be that expensive in a primary to establish enough name ID for someone to avoid this scenario. Some targeted mail, some online ads, maybe a spot of cable TV – I saw plenty of ads for Nathan Hecht and Glenn Hegar on ESPN and CSN-Houston during early voting. Maybe if some people would quit screwing around with Republican primaries and questionable PACs they might realize such a thing wouldn’t be all that expensive and it might just help the next Hugh Fitzsimons make it through to November. Our bench isn’t nearly deep enough to burn candidates like that, and it won’t be deep enough in four years’ time. If we can’t figure out a way to invest in these guys, we’ll face the same problem then. BOR has more.

The “grassroots” Republican Ladies Against Wendy movement

Christopher Hooks asks and answers a good question.

Who the heck are RedState Women? So far, they appear to be a motley collection of politically-connected lobbyists, ex-lobbyists and staffers of legislators who haven’t exactly distinguished themselves on women’s issues.

This morning, the Dallas Morning News‘ Wayne Slater noted the connection between RedState Women, Mike Toomey and Dave Carney—the latter two being longtime GOP insiders. But the RedState Women’s staff and board feature an even more eclectic crew.

There’s Lara Laneri Keel, the president of the group’s board, who writes in her bio that she’s “regarded as one of the top female lobbyist (sic) in Austin.” One of her clients: the private prison industry. Keel is a partner at the Texas Lobby Group, whose most prominent member is Toomey, a former Perry chief of staff and one of the governor’s closest associates. Keel is the cousin of Terry Keel, a former state representative and House parliamentarian, and wife of John Keel, former head of the Legislative Budget Board and current state auditor. Both Terry and John Keel were close associates of former House Speaker Tom Craddick.

There’s Cristen Wohlgemuth, a former lobbyist who now serves as chief of staff to state Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth), a tea party rep who voted against last session’s equal pay bill and co-sponsored the sweeping abortion restrictions that passed the Lege last summer. Wohlgemuth, the daughter of former state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, worked for famously fundamentalist former state Rep. Warren Chisum before Goldman. Both Chisum and Arlene Wohlgemuth were top Craddick lieutenants. Arlene Wohlgemuth is now executive director of the corporate-funded Texas Public Policy Foundation.

And there’s Mia McCord, a former fundraiser with the state GOP who’s the current chief of staff for state Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills).  As chairman of the Republican Policy Caucus in 2011, Hancock played an important role in decimating state funding for women’s health care programs.

Christman herself is the chief of staff to state Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) who was a key supporter of the effort to “defund Planned Parenthood” that ended up capsizing the whole system of women’s health care in the state.

Then there’s Tony Hernandez, the group’s treasurer, according to the only financial report. Hernandez is another lobbyist (he works with Keel at the Texas Lobby Group) and the only XY chromosome in the bunch. Hernandez has an even more eclectic past—before he came to Texas, he worked for Andrew Laming, the bro-tastic Australian politician, most famous for calling out Aborigines and Pacific Islanders for an addiction to “welfare on tap” and chugging beers while doing handstands for Australia Day this year. (“This is the way I chose to celebrate Australia Day,” Laming said, Australian-ly. “I chose to drink my beer upside down.”)

It’s a strange group—not the dream team you might have assembled for a Texas women’s advocacy group. But they’ve been earning a lot of headlines. RedState Women launched its website on Wednesday after giving Politico a sneak peek, and earned a cameo in a recent Wall Street Journal story about women voters. As a PAC, the group will presumably be raising and spending money on candidates. But the most important role RedState Women will play this election cycle, it seems, will be in messaging.

“Christman” is Cari Christman, of “ladies are too busy for equality” fame. Between that and the “ladies should learn to be better negotiators” claim, the more messaging we get from folks like this, the better. Be that as it may, the point here is that this isn’t some genuine movement by real people who feel their voices aren’t being heard. It’s the usual assortment of privileged and connected people claiming to speak for people whose interests they don’t actually represent. In the meantime, we still don’t know what Greg Abbott himself thinks about this; he’s been too busy to speak for himself. Keep trotting those surrogates out there, Greg, they’re doing a heck of a job for you. Daily Kos has more.

The backlash to marriage equality

It’s been almost two weeks since a federal judge struck down Texas’ anti-gay marriage law. The sky hasn’t fallen, rivers continue to run downstream, dogs and cats are not cohabitating, and strangest of all, the Republican Party of Texas has not gone into full freakout mode. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a backlash coming, of course. The Observer gives us a preview.


To say the gay rights movement in the United States is experiencing a period of success is an understatement—even if the blowback to that success poses risks. Yet here in Texas, where you might expect more conflict about what remains a momentous social issue, you haven’t seen much yet beyond grandstanding. That’s partially a result of the fact that the Texas Legislature won’t meet again for another nine months. Texas groups agitated about the ruling haven’t had any space to float policy proposals or legislation.

But I was curious about what anti-gay marriage activists might have in store. So I called Jonathan Saenz, the president of Texas Values, the group which says it stands “for biblical, Judeo-Christian values by ensuring Texas is a state in which religious liberty flourishes, families prosper, and every human life is valued.”

Saenz, who responded to activists trying to strip anti-sodomy provisions out of Texas law last week by arguing that gay people only want gay rights because they’re gay, flatly denies the “homosexuals” are making any progress at all, and says his movement and Christians in the state won’t give up without a fight. What’s more, he left the door open to pushing for a bill, like the one recently vetoed in Arizona, that makes it legal for businesses to discriminate against gay people if serving them conflicts with a “deeply held religious belief.”

“This is the beginning of an epic battle,” Saenz told me. “There’s a strong likelihood that the Fifth Circuit [Court of Appeals] is going to overturn this decision. If Texas’ gay marriage laws are not constitutional, there’s no guarantee that the court won’t open up marriage to polygamy and polyandry.”

There’s definitely a chance the traditionally conservative Fifth Circuit overturns the Texas decision, but gay rights lawyers in Texas and elsewhere know these cases will be appealed and are laying the groundwork for the Supreme Court to take up the issue. That’s the reason U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia stayed his own ruling, as has happened in many states. It puts the ruling on hold until a higher court can weigh in. But even in that, Saenz sees encouragement.

The fact that Garcia stayed his ruling, Saenz says, “shows some hesitation on his part. I think the homosexual advocates were ready to go on down to the clerk’s office” and get married, he says cheerily, “and he put a stop to that.”

Link via Lone Star Q, who has another example of how obsessed Saenz is about this. I don’t know when the courts will take action again, but with Wendy Davis officially supporting same sex marriage while Greg Abbott files an appeal with the Fifth Circuit, there’s no escaping this issue, and the broader issue of equality, this election. I will be shocked if we don’t hear about some legislators and candidates proposing laws like the one that passed in Arizona before getting vetoed by the governor, and I will be shocked if the culture warriors of education don’t turn their gaze to the gay curriculum as they did a couple of years ago with social studies and its lack of sufficient-to-them deference to white people. Despite galloping advances in public opinion about gay rights and marriage equality, people often have a skewed view about how other people think, leading them to believe that the pro-equality side is a minority when in fact it is not. Things may be quiet on the surface now, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that the resentment and the resistance aren’t there.

How much will science advance in the courts?

It’s up to the CCA to decide.

Texas’ highest criminal court will hear arguments Wednesday in a case that could affect how evolving scientific evidence is used in courtrooms across the state.

For Neal H. Robbins, the high court’s decision will determine whether he gets another shot at arguing his innocence.

In 1999, a jury convicted Robbins of killing his girlfriend’s 17-month-old infant. A key witness in the case was Patricia Moore, a Harris County medical examiner who ruled the child’s death was homicide by asphyxiation.

But in 2007, after a different medical examiner reviewed the original findings and disagreed, Moore recanted her trial testimony. In a letter to the district attorney, she wrote that while the infant’s death remained “suspicious,” she had come to believe that “a cause and manner of death of ‘undetermined’ is best for this case,” rather than homicide.

Robbins appealed, but in 2011, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, denied a new trial by a vote of 5-4. In the majority opinion, Justice Larry Meyers wrote that despite her recantation, Moore’s original trial testimony had not been “proven false.”

Now, Robbins is hoping a new law passed by the Legislature in 2013 will cause the court to change course and give him another shot to prove his innocence. The law, Senate Bill 344, by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, allows courts to grant post-conviction relief in cases where scientific testimony that was essential to a conviction has been contradicted. A lower court judge has recommended that Robbins be granted a new trial, but the CCA will make the final call.

Scott Henson, who was quoted in the story, adds some context.

[I]t was the CCA’s ruling in exactly this case that caused prosecutors to back off and agree to the bill’s passage. The court’s ruling in Ex Parte Robbins made clear the CCA would allow convictions based on junk science to stand if the Legislature didn’t change the law. After Robbins, the Harris County DA’s office (which had been the only significant opposition) acquiesced and helped negotiate the final language that’s now in the statute. It would be ironic if Robbins did not now prevail, since this particular case was the one that pushed the bill over the finish line at the Lege.

This is the same new statute under which the San Antonio Four and Fran and Dan Keller were released – they’re now out on bail though the CCA hasn’t given final approval in those cases yet. Those junk science cases are considered more likely to be easily approved, while the Robbins case – which involves an ME who gave erroneous testimony and changed her opinion after she learned more science – is considered the first test case that will provide an indication how the CCA will interpret the new writ.

He has more links and information in his post, so go read it. It’s clear what the CCA needs to do in this case, it’s just a matter of them doing it. I’m not sure what else the Legislature could do if they don’t do their job here. Hair Balls has more.