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August 20th, 2014:

Possibly the last thing I’m going to say about the Perry indictment for now

Certainly not the last thing I’ll ever say, since there’s a vast amount of the story left to be told, and I reserve the right to change my mind. But for now, since the indictment came down on Friday there’s been very little actual news. There’s been the over-the-top response from Perry’s legal team, there’s been the predictable tribal responses, there’s been a crap-ton of woefully ignorant pontificating from mostly non-Texas writers, but not much else worth talking about. So, until there is a new development, I’m going to leave with these two thoughts.

This Trib story about Texans for Public Justice, the group that filed the complaint that led to the indictment, contains a little tidbit of information that even I hadn’t realized but which ought to be a required inclusion in everything anybody writes about this saga from here on out.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

TPJ didn’t plan to delve into the complex game of political chicken going on between Perry and Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg near the end of last year’s legislative session. Lehmberg had been immersed in a political scandal since April, when a video of her aggressive behavior during her drunken driving arrest drew national attention. TPJ had stayed out of the drama until June 10, when [TPJ Director Craig] McDonald read in the Austin-American Statesman that Perry was threatening to veto the state’s funding of the Public Integrity Unit, housed in the Travis County DA’s office, unless Lehmberg resigned. Perry has said he only acted within the authority he has under the state Constitution.

“We decided [to get involved] that Tuesday morning,” McDonald said. “I said to Andrew [Wheat, TPJ research director], ‘This has got to be illegal. The governor can’t threaten the district attorney to do something that is out of his power. She doesn’t work for him. Never has.’”

Soon after, TPJ filed its complaint against Perry, hours before Perry vetoed the PIU’s $7.5 million budget.

Perry and his legal team have made his right as governor to veto state funding, and Lehmberg’s behavior during her drunken driving arrest, as central to the indictment. Various national political reporters and pundits have dismissed the indictment as overreaching or politically motivated, often pointing, like Perry, to a governor’s right to use his veto power.

McDonald said those critics are missing a crucial point: TPJ’s original complaint was filed before Perry implemented his veto because the veto is irrelevant.

“The threats are the issue, and I think that’s what the grand jury listened to,” McDonald said. “The only role the veto played and the only reason it’s relevant is that’s the club he held over his head to try to get her to leave her job. The veto is a side player to this. It’s not the subject of the charges.”

Emphasis mine. Did we all catch that? The complaint was filed before the veto was made. Let me repeat that, with formatting and an active voice construction: TPJ filed their complaint before Rick Perry vetoed the Public Integrity Unit funds. It wasn’t about the veto, it was about the threat, the coercion, of a duly elected public official that did not answer to Rick Perry. Anyone who opines about this in any fashion and doesn’t grasp that fact has no frigging idea what they’re talking about and should be ignored.

Another test for ignorance by those who bloviate about this case, in particular those who go on about Rosemary Lehmberg’s DUI arrest and of course it was sensible for Rick Perry to want a drunk DA to step down: Rosemary Lehmberg was the third District Attorney in Texas to be arrested for drunk driving during Rick Perry’s time as Governor. She was the first such DA to come under any pressure from Rick Perry about it. She was also the first such DA to be a Democrat. And yet it’s Rick Perry who’s the victim of a partisan vendetta, by a non-partisan special prosecutor appointed by a Republican judge who was appointed to hear the case by another Republican judge.

Oh, and one more thing, from Lisa Falkenberg:

In Harris County and other Texas jurisdictions where judges use the “pick-a-pal” system to empanel grand jurors, bias and corruption are natural byproducts. The judge picks a pal, called a “commissioner,” to go out and find some more pals to serve on a grand jury and supposedly mete out justice. The process, as I’ve written, has been outlawed in the federal system, and is still only used in Texas and California.

But it wasn’t used in this case.

[judge Bert] Richardson didn’t ask a buddy to empanel the grand jurors. The members were randomly selected from Travis County jurors who answered a summons – a similar process to the one used to select regular trial juries.

See this story as well. Grand juries are the prosecutors’ show, and we all know what they say about them. But still, a jury of ordinary citizens thought there was sufficient evidence of a crime to return two indictments. Mike McCrum didn’t indict Rick Perry, the grand jurors did.

Now it’s certainly possible for an informed observer to examine the indictments and think they’re a stretch. We really have never seen anything like this before, and generally speaking our laws about official misconduct have to do with money and/or influence in fairly direct ways. It’s fair to say that the laws Perry is accused of breaking weren’t really written with this situation in mind, probably because no one ever imagined this sort of situation might happen. That doesn’t mean that these laws don’t apply or that a fair jury couldn’t find Rick Perry guilty. It does mean that the appeals courts are someday going to perform fine surgery on some legal hairs, and one way or another we’ll have a clearer understanding of what these laws do mean, at least based on this experience.

But once we start down that path, we are – to borrow a legal phrase we all know from “Law and Order” – assuming facts not in evidence. We don’t know what Mike McCrum’s case is yet. We’ve heard plenty from Rick Perry and his high-priced legal team – the best lawyers the taxpayers can provide for him – and from his hackish sycophants in the national press. What have we heard from Mike McCrum, other than the indictment itself? Not much.

McCrum, asked in an interview earlier Monday about criticism that the case is weak, calmly defended it.

“The case is going to bear itself out in the long run, both from a legal standpoint and from a factual standpoint,” he said.

I’ll say it again: We just don’t know what cards Mike McCrum is holding. It’s certainly possible that he’s gone off on a wild hunt against Rick Perry for some reason. It’s possible he’s tendentiously misreading the law in an attempt for, I don’t know, fame and glory and a lifetime of being a legal expert on CNN or something. It’s possible he’s shooting from the hip and didn’t really think through how his actions would be scrutinized by criminal defense attorneys. There’s nothing in his history to suggest these things are true, but I don’t know Mike McCrum and I have no idea what’s in his head right now. What I do know is that we don’t know what his case will look like once it’s all been laid out in a courtroom. Maybe we’ll look back someday and say “Holy moly that was a load of crap, what in the world was Mike McCrum thinking?”, maybe we’ll say “That was a strong case but ultimately the jury/the Court of Criminal Appeals/SCOTUS didn’t buy it”, or maybe we’ll say “Where were you when Rick Perry was hauled off to the slammer?”. I for one am not making any predictions. And until there’s something new to talk about, I’m going to let it rest.

The debate over handling drug cases in the DA race

An update from the Chron.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Incumbent Devon Anderson and challenger Kim Ogg have somewhat similar thoughts on dealing with misdemeanor marijuana possession, but are on polar opposites when it comes to trace amounts of crack cocaine, a perennial debate in Harris County.

On marijuana, both are proposing a diversion program, which offers the opportunity for offenders to avoid conviction and jail time.

Earlier this month, Anderson, a Republican, released to the Houston Chronicle general contours of a pilot plan for first-time marijuana offenders, which is still being developed with the Houston Police Department, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and other county law enforcement offices.

The biggest difference between Anderson’s plan and the one announced last month by Ogg is whether those caught with the drug will be arrested and taken into custody.

Ogg also says her plan will save taxpayers millions.


The benefit to Ogg’s plan, advocates said, is keeping police officers on the street instead of spending time bringing in low-level offenders.

“It doesn’t make sense for people who are going to be released anyway to be driven across the county,” said Joe Ptak, who heads Texans Smart on Crime, a group working to implement “Cite & Summons” across the state. “Having police on patrol is the most effective way to protect communities, and Cite & Summons gives communities the opportunity to do that.”

Under Anderson’s plan, scheduled to go into effect this fall, every suspect will be taken to a police substation, where they will be booked in to the system and evaluated.

If deemed a low-risk, first-time offender, the person will be eligible for the program, which dismisses the case pending completion of community service and possibly, classroom instruction. If the requirements are successfully completed, no conviction appears on the person’s record.

Repeat offenders and those with prior convictions will be booked into jail and will not be eligible for the program.

“The new program still allows for the police to make an arrest,” Anderson said in an email response to questions. A former felony court judge who presided over a drug court docket.

Under both plans, those who fail to comply with any of the requirements would be charged with the original case and arrested.

Ogg unveiled her plan last month, though she has been talking about it for a lot longer than that. I’m glad to see that DA Devon Anderson is partially on board with the idea, but 1) carting arrestees to police substations isn’t really that much of a savings in time and effort over hauling them downtown, and 2) given that Anderson was originally opposed to making any changes in handling pot cases, you have to give Ogg credit for changing the nature of the debate. She’s been the leader here, Anderson is trying to catch up.

And the election will raise again the different opinions on handling trace amounts of crack cocaine.

If elected, Ogg said, her first order of business will be to stop accepting criminal charges for people caught with cocaine residue in their mouths, on crack pipes and on other drug paraphernalia. The so-called “trace case” policy has see-sawed among the DAs. In 2012, GOP challenger Mike Anderson unseated incumbent Pat Lykos in part by attacking her policy of issuing misdemeanor tickets instead of arresting drug users for felonies in cases where police found tiny amounts of cocaine residue.

The issue was especially important to law enforcement agencies in 2012 and hinges on whether police officers should spend time and resources taking crack addicts to jail to be prosecuted.

He had argued that arresting low-level drug users was an effective tool for police to go after kingpins and high-level drug dealers. He also said it reduces crimes like burglaries, especially car break-ins, a position that was widely embraced by law enforcement unions.

Anderson reversed Lykos’ policy shortly after taking office. His wife, who was appointed to the post after his death last year, adopted his stance.

“How the courts and (assistant district attorneys) handle these cases in court can help address the offender’s problem with addiction,” Anderson said in a written response. She said her administration offers treatment options and deferred adjudication when appropriate.

As you know, I support the trace case policy, first implemented by Pat Lykos. I don’t believe ditching that policy has led to better outcomes, and I don’t believe being hardnosed about it is worth the cost. Ogg is also quite correct to point out the disparate effect that trace case arrests have on people of color. She’s on the leading edge of the trend, and I support the direction she wants to go.

Transforming the GRB Convention Center

I don’t think I’d realized that there was a renovation of the George R. Brown Convention Center in the works, but after reading this story, I’m excited about it.

George R. Brown Convention Center

By late next year, people strolling the George R. Brown Convention Center plaza can take in restaurants, sidewalk cafes, landscaped walk-ways and a water fountain. At night, if all goes according to plan, they’ll be treated to a fog and light display.

By the time the Super Bowl rolls around in 2017, the plaza is expected to host a party for 100,000.

Those plans are much grander than when the project was initially bid a year ago. They evolved into a full-blown re-imagining of the area surrounding eastern downtown’s Discovery Green park.

Marie Hoke, a principal at WHR Architects and the project’s lead architect, says she has never worked on a design job that has expanded as much as this one – fitting, perhaps, given the 48-year-old Houstonian’s self-described penchant for “stretching, reaching and not leaving well enough alone.”

Hoke spent her earliest years in her mother’s hometown of Quito, Ecuador. She said she feels at home in a melting pot city like Houston, a place “where you don’t have to leave your culture of origin behind.”

“There is an opportunity to synthesize who you are into something new. We’re all kind of hybrids in Houston, comfortable with each other’s cultures.”


The original proposal Houston First sent to the architectural firms was more modest, Hoke said. It called for a mixed-use parking garage with some office space, and it included a vague reference to making the convention center more pedestrian-friendly.

After Hoke’s team won the bid, she and representatives of WHR and Houston First visited convention centers in other U.S. cities and came back with “game-changing” ideas, she said.

In Anaheim, Calif., they realized they could take buses off the front of the convention center and have drop-offs at the building’s sides, she said. In Chicago, they saw beautifully integrated public art.

A plan to add three restaurants in the area has grown to eight or nine.

And after Hoke brought SWA landscape architects on board, the project “caught fire” with ideas for the plaza, she said.

The city’s Public Works Division and Houston First are in talks to change the lane configurations on Avenida De Las Americas to allow more room for people to roam in the plaza, she said.

Once completed, the plaza “will take on the feeling you have in Discovery Green and extend it to the convention center,” Central Houston president Bob Eury said.

David Crossley, president of Houston Tomorrow, a group focused on local quality-of-life issues, said: “This is really beautiful stuff and revolutionary in Houston.”

That’s quite the endorsement. Discovery Green has been transformative, not just in the sense of turning an ugly vacant lot in an unloved part of downtown into a beautiful and heavily used city park, but also in the sense of spawning a lot of good construction around it, some of which is still underway. As someone who works within walking distance – or at least B-cycling distance – from Discovery Green and the GRB, I’m definitely intrigued by that news about the eight or nine restaurants. We’ve been hearing about this for almost three years now, and we’re still a ways off from its completion. I’m really eager to see how it all turns out.

Once again, voter fraud by impersonation just doesn’t exist

From the Washington Post:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Election fraud happens. But ID laws are not aimed at the fraud you’ll actually hear about. Most current ID laws (Wisconsin is a rare exception) aren’t designed to stop fraud with absentee ballots (indeed, laws requiring ID at the polls push more people into the absentee system, where there are plenty of real dangers). Or vote buying. Or coercion. Or fake registration forms. Or voting from the wrong address. Or ballot box stuffing by officials in on the scam. In the 243-page document that Mississippi State Sen. Chris McDaniel filed on Monday with evidence of allegedly illegal votes in the Mississippi Republican primary, there were no allegations of the kind of fraud that ID can stop.

Instead, requirements to show ID at the polls are designed for pretty much one thing: people showing up at the polls pretending to be somebody else in order to each cast one incremental fake ballot. This is a slow, clunky way to steal an election. Which is why it rarely happens.

I’ve been tracking allegations of fraud for years now, including the fraud ID laws are designed to stop. In 2008, when the Supreme Court weighed in on voter ID, I looked at every single allegation put before the Court. And since then, I’ve been following reports wherever they crop up.

To be clear, I’m not just talking about prosecutions. I track any specific, credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix.

So far, I’ve found about 31 different incidents (some of which involve multiple ballots) since 2000, anywhere in the country. If you want to check my work, you can read a comprehensive list of the incidents below.

To put this in perspective, the 31 incidents below come in the context of general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014. In general and primary elections alone, more than 1 billion ballots were cast in that period.

Some of these 31 incidents have been thoroughly investigated (including some prosecutions). But many have not. Based on how other claims have turned out, I’d bet that some of the 31 will end up debunked: a problem with matching people from one big computer list to another, or a data entry error, or confusion between two different people with the same name, or someone signing in on the wrong line of a pollbook.

In just four states that have held just a few elections under the harshest ID laws, more than 3,000 votes (in general elections alone) have reportedly been affirmatively rejected for lack of ID. (That doesn’t include voters without ID who didn’t show up, or recordkeeping mistakes by officials.) Some of those 3,000 may have been fraudulent ballots. But how many legitimate voters have already been turned away?

So that’s at most two possibly fraudulent ballots per year nationwide that voter ID laws might have helped prevent. See why people say voter ID is a “solution” in search of a problem? The goal of voter ID legislation is to make it harder to vote, period. If we were really interested in protecting the integrity of the ballot, there are much bigger targets to aim for and much broader reforms that could be made, but these would cost money and not have a disproportionate effect on people who tend to vote Democratic. That’s all there is to it. Kevin Drum has more.