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June 4th, 2014:

The Latino Victory Project

I like the sound of this.

Building on record-breaking fundraising numbers, an expanded donor base and a historically high number of Latino voters in the 2012 presidential election, a progressive Latino group is set to officially begin efforts to expand the reach of Latino voters and candidates in the 2014 cycle and beyond.

Founded by actress and advocate Eva Longoria and Henry R. Munoz III, a businessman and finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee, the Latino Victory Project includes the Latino Victory PAC, a political arm that will back a slate of candidates who embody “a pro-Latino agenda and values” on issues such as immigration reform, the environment, the economy and health care.

“We want to build political power within the Latino community and institutionalize what happened in 2012. There needs to be a movement right now,” Longoria said. “We can really exercise the potential, because people see the demographic shift and are now saying, ‘Hi, Mr. Garcia. Hi, Mrs. Lopez.’ We want to make sure the names on the ballot reflect that power.”

To that end, the PAC will back a slate of seven Latino candidates — Reps. Joe Garcia (Fla.), Pete Gallegos (Tex.) and Raul Ruiz (Calif.); Amanda Renteria, who is running for Congress in California; and Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, who is running for lieutenant governor; Texas state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, who also is running for lieutenant governor; and Angel Taveras, the mayor of Providence, R.I., who is running for governor.

Charlie Crist, who is running for his old job as governor of Latino-heavy Florida, also will receive the group’s support.

Although 11 million Latinos cast ballots in the 2012 election, about 12 million stayed away, and Latinos still vote at a lower rate than any other group. That same year, Latino elected officials did make gains nationwide, in state legislatures and in Congress, with a record 31 now serving in Congress, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

Yet their representation in Congress is below 17 percent, the make-up of Latinos in the general population.

“The disparity is so stark and that’s why we have to begin developing the pipeline now, not only for 2014 but laying groundwork that will take us to 2016 and then to 2020,” said Cristobal Alex, president of the Latino Victory Project. “That is the year for us when Latinos will be in a position to influence the Oval Office. Our vision for 2020 is that we will have a record number of Latino voters to help influence redistricting and to help drive and influence policy for the balance of the century. This will take some time.”

[…]

The group grew out of the Futuro Fund, which raised $30 million for Obama’s reelection and created a new cadre of high- and low-dollar donors, with 150,000 Latinos contributing.

Among the specific initiatives is a program called “The Firsts,” which will focus on Latinos who are the first in their families and communities to reach educational and professional milestones, a designation that often falls to the eldest daughter, who Alex said is often the “CEO in the family.”

“By 2016, we want 100,000 of the firsts,” Alex said. “And they will elevate the first Lucy Flores, the first Leticia Van De Putte.”

Indeed, sparking the kind of movement Longoria envisions means engaging Latinas.

“Women definitely make the household decisions, economic decisions, educational decisions, and in turn, that correlates with the political decisions,” she said.

See here for their website, and here for a bit of background. It sounds like they’ve got a Battleground Texas-like model, which is all about engaging neighbors and friends to spread the word. I’m delighted to see that they’ll be supporting Sen. Van de Putte and Rep. Gallego, both of whom could use all the involvement they can get. They’re right that this will take time, so who knows how much effect it may have this year, but there’s no time like the present to get started. Stace has more.

One more thing:

Texas, with its 38 electoral votes, remains the biggest political prize for Democrats, yet the Lone Star state has remained solidly red. The state’s brightest stars are Latinos, among them Sen. Ted Cruz; George P. Bush, who is running for Texas land commissioner; and twin brothers Joaquin Castro, a congressman, and Julian, who is mayor of San Antonio.

In Texas, Democrats don’t have a solid lock on Latinos; 40 percent backed Gov. Rick Perry in 2010.

groan Where do these not-based-in-Texas writers come up with these numbers. No citation is given, so one presumes it’s little more than someone’s idea of conventional wisdom. As I’ve said many times before, this sort of thing can be easily checked with actual election data. Here’s how Rick Perry did in the most heavily Latino State Rep districts in 2010.

Dist SSVR% Perry White Perry% White% ============================================ 31 75.77 10,135 13,454 42.01% 55.77% 35 73.67 6,465 10,663 37.19% 61.34% 36 82.58 4,035 9,459 29.55% 69.26% 37 77.19 6,245 10,273 36.96% 60.79% 38 77.01 6,420 9,144 39.11% 59.26% 39 81.43 5,278 13,987 27.03% 71.64% 40 85.44 3,086 8,898 25.37% 73.16% 42 85.76 4,992 16,985 22.41% 76.24% 75 80.97 3,042 7,260 29.04% 69.31% 76 80.69 4,033 12,758 23.57% 74.57% 80 78.50 7,320 13,486 34.58% 63.70% Total 61,051 126,367 32.57% 67.43%

Election and SSVR data can be found here. As with the claims that Mitt Romney took 36% of the Latino vote in Texas and Ted Cruz took 40%, the empirical evidence does not bear this unsupported, context-free claim out. As always, this sort of analysis is limited and somewhat hazy, as the actual percentage of Latino voters in these districts in any given election may be considerably less than the Spanish Surname Registered Voter (SSRV) percentage. Given that most of the non-Latino voters in these districts will be Anglo, whose support for Rick Perry or whichever other Republican we’re looking at is likely to be a lot higher than these numbers, that suggests Perry’s actual level of Latino support in these districts is lower that what you see here. This represents less than twenty percent of the total statewide Latino vote, but to get from here to 40% overall would mean that Latinos everywhere else voted for Perry at much higher rates than what we’re seeing in these districts. I’ve yet to see any credible evidence suggesting that might indeed be the case. Anyway, the bottom line is that the evidence we have implies Rick Perry’s actual level of support among Latinos is a fairly unremarkable 30% or so. I’ve shown you my numbers, so if you want to claim otherwise, you show me yours.

Who stands with Jared?

I noted yesterday that soon-to-be-former Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill is busy trying to gather petition signatures to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Here’s the beginning of his pitch:

Jared Woodfill

I want to thank all of you who stood against Mayor Parker’s Sexual Predator Protection Act. The battle to repeal this ordinance has begun. I encourage each of you to join me in taking a stand against the ordinance proposed by a Mayor who admits that the ordinance is all about her personal agenda and the campaign promises she made to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (“LGBT”) community. The next step in this battle is to promote and circulate a petition that would force a city-wide referendum to repeal Mayor Parker’s Sexual Predator Protection Act.

There should be no special privileges for her special interests. Parker’s Unequal Rights Ordinance is 34 pages long and creates two new “protected classes” in the city charter’s anti-discrimination provisions. This new city ordinance would grant minority status for “sexual orientation” and “gender identification.” Mayor Parker’s ordinance would include minority status for transvestites, allowing men who dress as women to enter women’s public bathrooms and locker room areas. For example, if a biological male, who believes he is a female, wants to use the women’s restroom and you do not allow them to use the female restroom, then the leaders of the business, restaurant, church or other establishment could be prosecuted criminally for discrimination under the Mayor’s ordinance. Additionally, it forces these same entities to recognize same sex marriage or be prosecuted for refusing to do so.

The ordinance is really about Mayor Parker’s personal, social, LGBT agenda for the city, state, and country. She must be stopped!

Blah blah blah hurt feelings entitlement rage lots of lies and so forth. You get the idea. What I want to know is simply this: If this is the official position of the Harris County Republican Party, as well as of the statewide Republican slate, where do all of the Republican candidates running for office stand on this? There’s a lot of Republican judges running for re-election this fall. How many of them will stand with Jared and sign his petition? That’s something I think we ought to know. And yes, I’d like to know the same for the Democrats running against those judges; I’m thinking I’ll add a question to my usual judicial Q&A this year to inquire about that.

What about the other Republican officeholders in Harris County? Well, County Clerk Stan Stanart has participated in the anti-HERO rallies at City Hall, so I think we know where he stands. And while I don’t know his personal opinions on the subject, I’d venture to guess that County Judge Ed Emmett will not be involved in this effort. I suspect he sees no reason to meddle in the affairs of the city of Houston, he’s never given any indication that he’s motivated by so-called social issues, and he just spent over $100K to defeat Woodfill in the primary. So yeah, I expect Judge Emmett will take a pass. That leaves County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, whom I expect will stand with Jared, District Clerk Chris Daniel, and District Attorney Devon Anderson. I won’t venture a guess about the latter two. Someone ought to ask them, for the record.

Anyway. Jared’s little petition is here, and it says that petitions with notarized signatures must be received (by them) no later than June 27. Circle that date on your calendar, we’ll know by then if we might have another item on the ballot this fall.

And we circle back to Uber and Lyft

Took longer than we thought it would, but on we move to the next contentious debate.

Companies that connect riders with drivers via smartphone and tablet applications could operate legally in Houston, subject to certain conditions, under a proposal to be considered Wednesday by the City Council.

The suggested changes to Houston’s taxi and limousine laws follow more than a year of discussions among city staff, taxi and limo operators and the new companies, Uber and Lyft.

Lyft’s future in Houston, however, remains uncertain. A spokeswoman said the company was unwilling to use the driver background check system required by the city, believing its own procedure is better.

Local cab and limo companies sought to keep Uber and Lyft out of the Houston market, citing concerns about their safety and insurance. Cabbies said they felt unfairly burdened by some city rules that the upstart companies wanted to ignore.

Greater Houston Transportation Company, owner of the local Yellow Cab and United Cab businesses and the city’s largest taxi company, remains opposed to the proposal, spokeswoman Cindy Clifford said.

Taxis must provide trips for disabled passengers, but the same demand is not placed on the so-called transportation networking companies, Clifford said.

Part of the discussion includes a rule that would require the transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft to guarantee that five percent of their drivers can accommodate wheelchair passengers. For what it’s worth, a good friend of mine who now lives in North Carolina suffers from multiple sclerosis and spends most of her time in a wheelchair. When she and her husband (who is from Houston; she grew up in Sealy) last visited, they drove a normal rental car, some four-door sedan. Her folding wheelchair fit easily into the trunk. The challenge was getting her from the wheelchair into the car and vice versa. Her husband was well-practiced in this, and though it took a couple of minutes at each end, he got the job done. Anyone could have done this, with some patience and a bit of upper body strength. I’m saying all this because I’m wondering what such a requirement by the city would look like. Is it about the capability of the vehicles, or of the drivers, or both?

In revising its rules, Houston built on policies in other parts of the country, then “closed a gap in some areas,” said Christopher Newport, chief of staff to Mayor Annise Parker.

As in other cities, the new companies have pressed into Houston on shaky footing. Uber and Lyft launched preemptively in February, despite city officials urging them to be patient. The companies continued discussions with the city to change the taxi laws.

“The biggest takeaway is when everyone comes together to work, we end up coming to a great resolution that is going to be best for riders and for drivers,” said Chris Nakutis, a Midwest general manager for Uber who oversees operations in eight cities, including Houston.

However, a Lyft spokesperson, Chelsea Wilson, said the city’s code would still inhibit its operations, in part because the city requires a criminal background check that includes fingerprinting. Lyft’s system of background checks is more thorough, Wilson said.

Changes to the taxi and limo laws also would forbid Uber and Lyft drivers from soliciting rides through means other than their online systems, and would ban them from cab stands “near any passenger depot, hotel, airport, ship or ferry landing, bus stop or station.”

Rules regarding commercial use of Houston’s passenger airports mean drivers for Uber and Lyft cannot pick up or drop off passengers without a city permit. Cab and limo companies, as well as airport shuttles, pay for annual permits to come to the airport, and also pay a per-trip fee.

I’m okay with the restrictions on soliciting rides, the ban on using cab stands, and the permit requirements for going to and from the airport. I wouldn’t have thought people would use these services for airport rides, but apparently they do. As far as the concerns expressed by Lyft spokesperson Chelsea Wilson go, I can’t see why it wouldn’t be acceptable under the proposed ordinance for a TNC to have stricter background check requirements, as long as theirs contain the city’s requirements. It’s not clear to me what the stumbling block is there.

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you know that I am generally favorable towards revising the existing vehicle for hire code to allow Uber and Lyft and the like to operate in Houston. I have some reservations, mostly stemming from the disdain that Uber in particular has shown towards the existing code while the process was in the works, but overall I think the addition of TNCs will be a net positive. A few weeks ago I noted some objections raised by Lauren Barrash, founder and CEO of The Wave, in one of the many stories on Uber and Lyft. She contacted me after that post came out, and we corresponded via email and had a longish phone conversation, in which she went into a lot more detail about her concerns. I was going to write a full post about all we discussed, but between the high volume of activity lately and life in general (cue tiny violins), I never quite got around to it. So, I’m going to take this opportunity here to boil it all down to two points that had some resonance with me and that I haven’t seen discussed much here or elsewhere.

1. How exactly is enforcement going to work? This is one part lack of resources – Barrash says the city doesn’t have enough inspectors now, and as we know there’s a looming budget crunch that may put even more pressure on this – and one part the fact that unlike cabs, Uber and Lyft vehicles aren’t necessarily readily identifiable. Yes, I know about the Lyft pink mustaches, but right now at least some Lyft drivers aren’t using them, either to avoid being cited or to avoid harassment. However you slice it, there will be a lot more vehicles subject to city ordinances, but no more inspectors or police officers to oversee them.

2. Other safety issues. This includes a range of concerns, such as drivers having access to customers’ cell numbers, drivers being heavily dependent on smartphones for dispatches and directions, drivers contributing to congestion and general chaos at large events like the Rodeo, and drivers potentially competing with each other (since they can know where their peers are) for pickups in the hot zones. Also a potential problem is that there are no shift limits or rest requirements for Uber and Lyft drivers.

There’s more, and I may return to this subject now that vehicles for hire are back on the front burner, but you get the gist of it. I’m sure there won’t be a vote this week, so we have at least a few more days to talk about this. The Highwayman has more.

State wants judge removed from school finance case

Keep an eye on this.

Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office on Monday sought to remove the judge presiding over the public school finance case, contending that his impartiality is in question due to email exchanges with lawyers that filed the lawsuit.

A lawyer for one group of the school districts that sued over the funding system, David Thompson, said state District Judge John Dietz has been impartial and that state lawyers have had the same opportunity to communicate with the judge. Abbott’s office said the state wasn’t notified of the communications with plaintiffs or given a chance to respond.

[…]

The attorney general’s motion cited a series of e-mails between the judge or his staff and lawyers for those who sued regarding the merits of the litigation, particularly the judgment, findings of fact and conclusions of law.

The exchange occurred between March 19 and mid-May, said the motion, contending that “some of the emails’ content suggest that the judge is coaching the plaintiffs’ counsel in order to improve their case.”

That raises a question about his impartiality, the motion said.

[…]

The motion asks that Dietz recuse from the case or that the matter be referred to the regional presiding judge for consideration.

Thompson said plaintiffs will be filing a response soon.

“We don’t think there is a solid basis for it,” Thompson said of the state’s motion. “Certainly nothing has been done that the state was in the dark about.”

The DMN fills in a few blanks.

On May 14, Dietz invited all the attorneys from both sides to meet privately in his chambers to discuss his final ruling, which is expected to be issued later this summer. The session, which was closed to the public, included lawyers from Abbott’s office who have been defending the state in the case.

“That the record in this matter is still open, that defendants’ counsel was not notified of the communications or given an opportunity to respond, and that some of the emails’ content suggest that the judge is coaching the plaintiffs’ counsel in order to improve their case, raise a reasonable question regarding the judge’s impartiality,” state attorneys said in the motion.

The motion will be ruled on by a separate judge in the 3rd Administrative Judicial Region of Texas. The presiding judge for the region is Billy Ray Stubblefield of Georgetown.

Houston attorney David Thompson, who represents one group of plaintiffs that includes the Dallas school district, disputed the state’s allegations and said the plaintiffs will vigorously contest the motion.

“We very strongly believe all the communications that have occurred in the case have been appropriate and consistent with the rules of procedure for Texas courts,” Thompson said.

He pointed out that state attorneys previously agreed that each side would submit proposed findings of fact to the judge that would not be shared — at least initially — with the opposing side.

“We hope this motion will be considered and ruled on expeditiously so that a final judgment can be entered and process moved forward,” Thompson said. “We believe Judge Dietz has conducted a very thorough and very fair trial on an issue of extreme importance to all citizens of Texas.”

Engaging in ex parte communication is a serious accusation, and if substantiated then recusal is a suitable remedy. As the facts are in dispute here, it’s too early to say if anything untoward happened. I look forward to the Thompson plaintiffs’ response – I wonder what if anything other plaintiff groups will have to say about this as well – and to Judge Stubblefield’s ruling.