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August 5th, 2014:

HERO repeal effort falls short

Too bad, so sad (not really).

PetitionsInvalid

Opponents of Houston’s new non-discrimination ordinance did not get enough valid signatures to force a November repeal referendum, Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman announced Monday.

“With respect to the referendum petition filed to repeal the ‘HERO’ ordinance, there are simply too many documents with irregularities and problems to overlook,” Feldman said. “The petition is simply invalid. There is no other conclusion.”

The council approved the ordinance on an 11-6 vote in May. Opponents who took issue with the protections extended to gay and transgender people under the ordinance promised to send the issue to the voters. On July 3, they claimed to have delivered more than 50,000 signatures to the city secretary’s office.

Opponents needed a minimum of 17,269 valid signatures – 10 percent of the ballots cast in the last mayoral election – to put a referendum on the November ballot. Feldman said some of the petition gatherers did not satisfy the requirements set out for such petitions in the city charter, such as by not being registered Houston voters or by not signing the petition themselves. If such requirements were not met, he said, all the signatures the circulator gathered were invalid.

Less than half of the more than 5,000 pages opponents submitted were valid, Feldman said, leaving the final valid tally at 15,249 signatures.

The bad guys may have claimed to have turned in over 50,000 signatures, but as noted yesterday, the number they subsequently claimed to have validated on their own was much lower than that. You can see the memo from the City Secretary and City Attorney’s offices here, with the latter spelling out the reasons why each individual page was invalidated and how many signatures were on them.

Needless to say, there will be litigation to force this onto the ballot. Mayor Parker has acknowledged the inevitability of this before and does so again in her press release. We are rapidly approaching the deadline for any referendum or measure to be put on a ballot – according to the Secretary of State, that deadline is Monday, August 18, 78 days before Election Day. I have no idea what the chances are of getting a definitive answer by then. I do find it amusing that one of the head haters, Dave Welch of the Houston Area Pastors Council, is claiming that they have “already assembled the top elections law attorneys in the state to review this” because by all the accounts I’ve heard the petition effort was incredibly sloppy. I mean, go back and look at those memos – you’ve got page after page of petitions being invalidated for not being signed by the circulator, or having only an illegible signature with no corresponding printed name by a circulator. How amateur night is that? They really needed to have those Top Men working on this at the beginning, not just now.

Anyway. You can still see the petitions themselves by searching Scribd for “hero petition” if you want to cross-check the City Attorney’s work. This isn’t over by a long shot – it’s certainly possible that a court could decide that the city was being too nitpicky in its review, or that some of the requirements in the charter are unconstitutional, or just that we should cut these poor bastards some slack, I don’t know. We’ll know more when we see the lawsuit that they file. KTRK, Equality Texas, Equal Rights Houston, Lone Star Q, Texas Leftist, and BOR have more.

UPDATE: More from ThinkProgress. And no, CultureMap, it’s not a bad thing that voters won’t be “allowed” to vote on whether or not to let discrimination continue to be legal.

Next lawsuit against HB2 is underway

We’ll see if the result this time is any better.

Texas abortion providers’ next attempt to block strict abortion regulations that the Republican-led Legislature passed last year begins Monday in Austin, where a federal court is considering whether to block a provision of the law that could shutter all but a handful of abortion clinics.

The lawsuit, brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of several abortion providers, seeks to prevent the state from requiring abortion facilities to meet the same regulations as ambulatory surgical centers, or ASCs. Abortion providers are asking the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas to block the provision, which they say will leave fewer than 10 facilities operating in the state — and no abortion providers south or west of San Antonio.

The clinics argue that the measure will create an unconstitutional barrier for women seeking access to abortion. State attorneys contend that there isn’t enough evidence that the rules create an “undue burden” for the majority of women seeking abortion services.

The ASC requirement takes effect Sept. 1 and mandates that clinics have specific room and doorway sizes, along with locker rooms and infrastructure such as pipelines for general anesthesia. It’s the last remaining provision to be implemented after the passage last year of House Bill 2, which began to take effect in October.

[…]

Abortion providers say regulations that have been implemented since HB 2 took effect have already caused about a dozen abortion clinics to close. The provisions include a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of gestation and a requirement that all doctors who perform abortion procedures have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of an abortion clinic. The law also requires doctors to follow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s protocol for drug-induced abortions, rather than evidence-based protocol.

As of April, there were 24 active abortion clinics in Texas, down from 40 before the bill took effect. Several more clinics have shuttered since then, and more are expected to close when the ASC requirements provision goes into effect.

Abortion providers previously unsuccessfully challenged the law’s admitting privileges provision. In March, a three-judge panel decided that abortion providers had not proven that the requirement for doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals would create an “undue burden.”

The panel’s ruling overturned a decision by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel that had temporarily blocked the law last October. Yeakel will preside over this week’s trial, which is scheduled to last through Thursday.

Lawyers for the abortion providers said it should be easier to prove that the ASC requirement imposes an undue burden because the effect of the provision will be immediately felt when most of the remaining clinics shutter.

“This is a little different, because we’re talking about building facilities that cost millions of dollars. Either they already exist, or they’re not going to magically appear on Sept. 1,” said Esha Bhandari, an attorney representing the abortion providers.

See here for the background. I was, as you might expect, not exactly overflowing with optimism when this lawsuit was filed, given the past history and the looming specter of the Fifth Circuit. However, since then the Fifth Circuit refused to allow a similar law in Mississippi to close the last clinic in that state. They didn’t overturn the law, because of course they didn’t, but they did that much, even if all told it’s not saying much. I don’t know what that might mean in this case, but at least there’s some hope that it might be a little better than the usual sharp stick in the eye. TPM, Trail Blazers, the Current, and RH Reality Check have more.

Do we really have to talk about the 2015 Mayoral race right now?

sigh All right, all right, if you insist. But let’s make it quick.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The list of possible candidates thus far includes mainly those who have held or sought public office before, though analysts said the guessing game at this point is difficult.

“There are always people who get in the race who no one expected and people everyone expects to run who don’t,” said Houston political consultant Mustafa Tameez. “At this early stage, rumors are often floated about people as an insider game.”

The list of rumored or confirmed candidates includes:

  • Chris Bell, a lawyer who was elected to City Council in 1997, to one term in the U.S. Congress in 2002, was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2006, and ran unsuccessfully for Houston mayor in 2001;
  • City Councilman Jack Christie, a chiropractor in his second term;
  • City Councilman Stephen Costello, an engineer in his third term who chairs the council’s budget committee;
  • Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who is in his second term, having served on City Council and, for 23 years, in the Houston Police Department;
  • City Councilman Ed Gonzalez, who spent 18 years with HPD before being elected to City Council in 2009;
  • Ben Hall, an attorney and ordained minister who was city attorney from 1992 to 1994 and who lost to Parker in last year’s mayoral race;
  • City Councilman Michael Kubosh, a bail bondsman in his first term who has helped lead several petition drives to overturn city policies;
  • Laura Murillo, the president and CEO of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce since 2007;
  • City Councilman Oliver Pennington, a retired attorney in his third term who chairs the council’s ethics committee.
  • State Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Democrat and a Harvard-educated lawyer who was first elected to the House in 1988 and who is vice chair of its appropriations committee; he ran unsuccessfully for Houston mayor in 1991 and 2003.

[…]

The bottom line, [UH poli sci professor Brandon] Rottinghaus said, is that speculation about next year’s politics are, perhaps, better left to next year.

“It’s like trying to predict what the Texans’ record is going to be,” he said. “It’s shaping up – there’s no doubt there are some blocks that have been put in place here. But we still don’t know about so much of this.”

There are a few things we do know. One is that if Sheriff Garcia makes any official move towards running for Mayor, he’ll have to resign as Sheriff. Other people can talk about him all they want, but once he joins them he runs into the state electoral code. If he does resign to run, Commissioners Court gets to appoint a new Sheriff, who would almost certainly be a Republican. I know of a few Democrats that aren’t very happy with that scenario.

What else do we know? Well, after my post about Laura Murillo, I have been informed that she is registered to vote in Pearland. You know how I feel about that. I presume if there is anything to her inclusion on lists like this, the first indicator that there’s something to it will be an update to her voter registration information.

CMs Kubosh and Christie may have made themselves some friends with their anti-HERO votes, but they definitely made themselves some enemies with that vote. I figured that would translate to them getting strong challenges for re-election. I suppose running for something else instead is one way to deal with that.

Beyond that and more generally, this much I know: There’s only so much room available for Mayoral candidates. There are only so many donors, there are only so many endorsing organizations, there are only so many constituencies to court for votes and volunteer energy. Look at that list above and ask yourself who will be competing against whom for which slices of the electorate and a shot at a runoff. Sure, there are people on that list that have demonstrated various levels of ability to draw support from other parts of the political spectrum, but how well will they do when they’re up against someone for whom those parts of the spectrum are their base? This isn’t a buffet line – you can only choose one. Most of the people on this list, if they really are interested in perhaps running for Mayor and aren’t just a name some insider is floating around, will run into that reality. File this list away and take it out again next July when the first finance reports are in for 2015. That will tell you the story.

Maybe the Hall of Fame voting procedure changes aren’t so bad

I admit, when I heard the news that the MLB Hall of Fame changed its voting procedures to reduce eligibility from 15 years to 10, I was outraged. That’s my usual reaction to things the HOF does, since most of them are indeed outrageous. But Joe Sheehan has just about convinced me that maybe this time it wasn’t such a bad move.

The 15-year number stems from a time when we didn’t have the access to the tools to evaluate a player’s career that we do today. Given the number of players eligible for election and the greater reliance on contemporary observation and oral history, a long window for reflection and discussion made sense. Now, it no longer does. We’re not writing letters and publishing columns in newspapers and digging through Total Baseball anymore. For one, the Hall passes judgment on almost all players in the first ten years; in the past 30 elections, just three players have been elected to the Hall past their tenth year on the ballot. That includes two of the BBWAA’s worst picks — Jim Rice and Bruce Sutter — and Bert Blyleven, who may have ended up a ridiculous omission but for the work of Rich Lederer. That’s one par-or-better Hall of Famer elected after the tenth year since 1985. It seems quite clear that the BBWAA doesn’t need those last five years.

(Based on history, you might even want to cut that down to eight years. Hall of Famers elected in years 9-10 on the ballot over the past 30 years include Andre Dawson, Rich Gossage and Tony Perez. With due respect to Dawson, five of the last six players elected after Year Eight on the ballot are among the weakest ever selected by the BBWAA. If they had instituted an eight-year cutoff in 1985, the Hall would be stronger than it is today.)

Think about the conversations we have about these players. Nowadays, we pass judgment on Hall cases 20 minutes after a player retires, and those judgments don’t change much over 20 years. Look at the players on last year’s ballot. Do we need more time to talk about Don Mattingly or Lee Smith or Alan Trammell? This isn’t 1948. We have scads of data, and we have huge video archives, and we have a series of tubes through which we talk about this stuff incessantly. We just don’t need to talk about these players every year for 15 years. As I note above, eight might very well be plenty. I’d actually have gone one step further and shortened the time from retirement to the ballot as well, probably from five to three years in a couple of steps. These arguments can be had, and had well, over 10-15 years. They can generally be had over 10-15 months. This change was a boon to the process.

The one mistake the BBWAA did make is in not grandfathering in more players. Not that Trammell, Smith or Mattingly are getting in, but it would have been unfair to just remove them from next year’s ballot. However, the same courtesy should have been extended to everyone on last year’s ballot. The negative reaction to the change is correlated to the strong feelings many people have about candidates such as Tim Raines (entering his eighth year), Edgar Martinez (sixth) and Larry Walker (fifth). Those players will have less time to advance through the process now, with Raines in particular — a fully-qualified candidate now down to three years with which to advance — getting shafted. The BBWAA undercut its good decision by not extending the grace period to all players who reached the ballot under the 15-year rule. Changing a player’s eligibility retroactively is bad form, and gives support to the idea that this change — which, again, is a good one and long overdue — is actually more about ridding the group of the Barry Bonds Question than improving the process. This is a correctable error, one I hope they will address next year.

Sheehan argues that the logjam created recently by the writers’ mulish refusal to elect anyone one year and to be stingy in the next year after that should work itself out over the next three years (Andrew Mearns disagrees on this), and that the real problem we face continues to be with voters that don’t know how to properly evaluate players. I remain a little skeptical of all this because it’s the Hall of Fame’s job to do stupid and reactionary things, but at the very least Sheehan has tempered my indignation. What do you think?