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January, 2017:

Precinct analysis: Dallas County Presidential numbers

News flash: Hillary Clinton won every Dallas County State Rep district. See for yourself:


Dist      Trump  Clinton  Johnson  Stein
========================================
CD32    117,758  127,824    5,751  1,056
				
HD100     8,405   33,647      647    217
HD102    24,768   30,291    1,312    287
HD103     8,710   28,689      683    205
HD104     6,941   25,168      414    200
HD105    20,979   25,087      855    246
HD107    24,162   29,159      991    274
HD108    34,621   39,583    2,106    290
HD109    10,714   53,220      573    247
HD110     4,006   31,137      248    128
HD111    11,700   44,926      599    262
HD112    26,081   26,735    1,119    231
HD113    26,468   27,530      898    261
HD114    29,221   35,259    1,586    246
HD115    26,158   30,895    1,501    319

CD32     46.66%   50.65%    2.28%  0.42%
				
HD100    19.58%   78.40%    1.51%  0.51%
HD102    43.71%   53.46%    2.32%  0.51%
HD103    22.75%   74.93%    1.78%  0.54%
HD104    21.21%   76.91%    1.27%  0.61%
HD105    44.48%   53.19%    1.81%  0.52%
HD107    44.26%   53.42%    1.82%  0.50%
HD108    45.20%   51.67%    2.75%  0.38%
HD109    16.55%   82.19%    0.88%  0.38%
HD110    11.28%   87.66%    0.70%  0.36%
HD111    20.35%   78.15%    1.04%  0.46%
HD112    48.15%   49.36%    2.07%  0.43%
HD113    47.99%   49.91%    1.63%  0.47%
HD114    44.07%   53.17%    2.39%  0.37%
HD115    44.43%   52.48%    2.55%  0.54%

I included the CD32 numbers as well since we were just discussing CD32. As before, remember that CD32 also includes part of Collin County, so this is not all of CD32.

You know by now that the Clinton numbers do not tell the most accurate story about the partisan levels in a given district. I have relied on judicial race numbers to highlight swings, trends, and opportunities, and I will do the same here in subsequent posts. I can tell you from the numbers that you will see in these posts that there were probably 20K to 25K crossover voters for Clinton, and it seems clear that a lot of them came in the most Republican districts in Dallas. A big difference between Dallas and Harris is that while the latter has several untouchably red districts, Dallas really doesn’t. HD108 is the closest thing Dallas has to that, and it was 59-39 for Romney in 2012. By contrast, eight of the 11 districts won by Romney in Harris County were redder than that, three of them by double digits. Dallas is a solid blue county (57-42 for Obama over Romney in 2012) drawn to give the Republicans an 8-6 majority of their legislative caucus. There’s no margin for error here.

And they didn’t have that margin in this election. Dems picked up HD107, and lost HD105 by 64 votes. As you will see, three other districts – HDs 102, 113, and 115 – present strong opportunities to accompany HD105 going forward. The Republicans are going to have some interesting decisions to make when it comes time to redraw the lines in 2021.

Look for the helpers

They’re at the airports now.

Luis Ruiz, an immigration attorney with his own practice, set up shop early Sunday at Bush Intercontinental Airport.

He’d seen news of attorneys around the country flocking to airports to help people detained under the terms of the executive order President Donald Trump issued Friday, and he figured duty called. So he arrived at IAH around 9 a.m., the first attorney of what would become a sizable legal operation, and set off searching for clients to counsel pro bono.

“It’s been escalating,” he said Sunday night. “People just started showing up.”

By the evening, they ran an impromptu law office at the tables of a Starbucks amid deafening chants of hundreds of protesters in the arrivals area of the international terminal. More than 30 Houston lawyers specializing in immigration, personal injury, consumer protection, environment, civil law and more, pecked away on keyboards and interviewed family members of those who’d been detained inside the terminal.

[…]

The lawyers gathered at Starbucks fanned out in search of waiting worried people who might be relatives of those detained. They offered their services and helped put them in touch with U.S. Customs and Border Protection for answers on the status of their loved ones. In isolated cases, lawyers said they were willing to electronically file an emergency habeas petition to a federal court to ask a judge to immediately stop a detention.

Aside from that, however, they acknowledged they have few effective options.

“The problem is there is no right to counsel. We don’t have ability to access potential clients,” [Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the immigration clinic at the University of Houston Law Center] said.

People who couldn’t help in that fashion gathered elsewhere.

Hundreds of chanting anti-Trump protesters swarmed George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Sunday, packing Terminal E to capacity until police barred entry to non-ticket holders. Dozens of pro-bono lawyers set up camp at a nearby Starbucks to help passengers who had gotten detained.

“There’s a lot of fear in the community,” said Arsalan Safiuallah, an attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations who attended the IAH protest. “I’m upset because I don’t think this is constitutional.”

Yehiya Aljuboory, a 29-year-old Iraqi man detained en route to Houston after traveling abroad, was held at IAH for nearly four hours Sunday. “Is it a crime to travel to visit your family?” asked his worried friend, 28-year-old Mohammed Jalil. “Only because he is Muslim.”

Earlier in the day, roughly 1,000 people gathered in downtown, just steps away from Super Bowl festivities, to make their voices heard. The divisive order resonated deeply in Houston, where more than 20 percent of people were foreign-born in 2013, according to nonpartisan think tank the Migration Policy Institute.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the city as galvanized as this,” said Houston resident Bev Caplan, 39, who protested at Discovery Green.

A small reminder of who is being hurt by the actions of our deranged “leader”:

A woman traveling to Indiana to care for her cancer-stricken mother, a family physician who has lived in the U.S. for two decades, and a Minneapolis woman about to become a U.S. citizen were among those caught in the net cast by President Donald Trump when he banned travelers from entering the country from Muslim-majority nations.

We should heed the words of former Bush administration official Eliot Cohen.

To friends still thinking of serving as political appointees in this administration, beware: When you sell your soul to the Devil, he prefers to collect his purchase on the installment plan. Trump’s disregard for either Secretary of Defense Mattis or Secretary-designate Tillerson in his disastrous policy salvos this week, in favor of his White House advisers, tells you all you need to know about who is really in charge. To be associated with these people is going to be, for all but the strongest characters, an exercise in moral self-destruction.

For the community of conservative thinkers and experts, and more importantly, conservative politicians, this is a testing time. Either you stand up for your principles and for what you know is decent behavior, or you go down, if not now, then years from now, as a coward or opportunist. Your reputation will never recover, nor should it.

[…]

There is in this week’s events the foretaste of things to come. We have yet to see what happens when Trump tries to use the Internal Revenue Service or the Federal Bureau of Investigation to destroy his opponents. He thinks he has succeeded in bullying companies, and he has no compunction about bullying individuals, including those with infinitely less power than himself. His advisers are already calling for journalists critical of the administration to be fired: Expect more efforts at personal retribution. He has demonstrated that he intends to govern by executive orders that will replace the laws passed by the people’s representatives.

In the end, however, he will fail. He will fail because however shrewd his tactics are, his strategy is terrible—The New York Times, the CIA, Mexican Americans, and all the others he has attacked are not going away. With every act he makes new enemies for himself and strengthens their commitment; he has his followers, but he gains no new friends. He will fail because he cannot corrupt the courts, and because even the most timid senator sooner or later will say “enough.” He will fail most of all because at the end of the day most Americans, including most of those who voted for him, are decent people who have no desire to live in an American version of Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, or Viktor Orban’s Hungary, or Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

There are things we can do. Show up and protest if you have the capability. Offer your professional services if they are relevant – see this handy resource from the Houston Bar Association if you’re an attorney. Donate money to groups like the ACLU and the International Rescue Committee; there are other good options as well. Call John Cornyn and Ted Cruz at one of their local offices and tell them what you think. (If you can get through – it was nothing but busy signals for me today, and all the postings I see on Facebook say it’s either that or full voicemail boxes. Try anyway, you never know.) Add Mike McCaul to that list, too, especially if you live in CD10. Do something while you still can. Texas Monthly, Political Animal, ThinkProgress, and the Press have more.

State fails to respond to voter registration lawsuit

Here’s an update on a different voting rights lawsuit from last year.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Civil rights lawyers suing Texas over its voter registration practices are asking a federal judge to sanction the state for allegedly blowing past deadlines and ignoring a court order to hand over thousands of pages of documents related to the case.

The Texas Civil Rights Project last March sued on behalf of four Texans who allege the Department of Public Safety denied them the opportunity to cast a ballot — and violated federal law — by failing to update their voter registration records online.

The plaintiffs say they were hoping for quick action as the 2018 election cycle looms, but claim the state is dragging its feet.

State lawyers turned over less than 2 percent of the 55,000 pages by Jan. 17 — a court-ordered deadline set after Texas requested multiple extensions, according to a filing this week in a U.S. District Court in San Antonio.

“It’s hampering our ability to prepare for the case,” said Cassie Champion, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “The timing is so important.”

The filing asked Judge Orlando Garcia to hold Texas in contempt and order its lawyers to immediately produce the documents and pay any fees “resulting from their failure to comply” with his previous order. Champion said she wasn’t sure what such fees would total.

[…]

No one disputes that Department of Public Safety follows the law when Texans handle that business in person, but it’s a different story for folks who update their license information online, the lawsuit argues.

The DPS website eventually directs Texans who check “yes” to the statement “I want to register to vote” to the Secretary of State’s website. There, they can find a registration form that they must print out and send to their county registrar.

Though the website specifies that checking yes “does not register you to vote,” the process has spurred “widespread confusion” among Texans who erroneously thought the state had automatically updated their registrations, the lawsuit alleges.

Over a 20-month stretch ending in May 2015, the state fielded more than 1,800 complaints from Texans who erroneously thought their voter registration records were up-to-date after they dealt with their driver’s licenses online, according to court filings.

The lawsuit argues the Motor Voter law applies to all voters — regardless of how they deal with their driver’s licenses — and Texas violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause by treating them differently.

See here and here for the background. I know, it’s hard to believe that Ken Paxton’s office would be uncooperative on something like this. Maybe this motion will shame them into action, and maybe it will require a slap on the wrist from the judge. Either way, I agree that it would be nice to get something accomplished before the 2018 cycle gets underway. KUT has more.

Welcome to Houston, y’all

Lots of visitors in town this week. Our goal is for them to leave with a positive impression.

With the city’s third Super Bowl a week away, Houston appears ready for its close- up.

The national press has taken turns lauding America’s fourth-largest city as a burgeoning 21st century cosmopolis. No longer is Houston dismissed as a frumpy, misbegotten oil town lacking class or curb appeal.

Mayor Sylvester Turner predicts a big revelation for those unfamiliar with the city’s evolution.

“They’ll be surprised with the parks, the green space, the museums, the amount of attention that we give to the arts,” Turner said. “They’ll be surprised by how downtown, for example, has been transformed. I think they’re going to be really blown away by the 10,000-plus restaurants and everything that we have to offer in this city.”

For someone who spends most of his days dealing with problems, Turner clearly loves the opportunity to play booster-in-chief. For so long, Houston has had to take it on the chin, slapped with one insult after another for all the things it is not. This week, he plays offense.

“Most people assume that we are a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, oil-and-gas town,” Turner said. “We are that, and so much more.”

It feels kind of perverse to be talking about this stuff when there’s so much to be outraged about, but Houston will be around a lot longer than Dear Leader will, and the Super Bowl really is a unique opportunity for a city to market itself. And if one of the impressions that our visitors come away with is that we as a city care about social justice, well, that’s a fine thing. So let’s show our guests all the ways that Houston shines.

Interview with Jose Garza

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

So it’s been a busy couple of weeks for the voter ID litigation. There was the motion by the Justice Department to delay the hearing on whether the law was passed with discriminatory intent, which everyone expects is a prelude to them switching sides in the case. Then there was the decision by the Supreme Court to not hear an appeal of the original ruling that found a discriminatory effect of the law, given with a promise by Chief Justice Roberts that they will be back later. With so much going on, I wanted to make sure I understood it all, and to that end I have for you an interview with Jose Garza, who serves as counsel for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, one of the plaintiffs in this suit. We talked about both of these events in the case and what they may mean, and a few other items besides. Here’s our conversation:

I feel like I have a better handle on what’s happening, and I hope you feel the same. Let me know what you think.

Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi

This is who the now-injuncted executive order suspending refugee resettlement and immigration visas from certain countries was supposed to “protect” us from.

The lawyers said that one of the Iraqis detained at Kennedy Airport, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, had worked on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq for 10 years. The other, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, was coming to the United States to join his wife, who had worked for a U.S. contractor, and young son, the lawyers said. They said both men were detained at the airport Friday night after arriving on separate flights.

[…]

In the arrivals hall at Terminal 4 of Kennedy Airport, Doss and two other lawyers fought fatigue as they tried to learn the status of their clients on the other side of the security perimeter.

“We’ve never had an issue once one of our clients was at a port of entry in the United States,” Doss said. “To see people being detained indefinitely in the country that’s supposed to welcome them is a total shock.”

“These are people with valid visas and legitimate refugee claims who have already been determined by the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to be admissible and to be allowed to enter the U.S. and now are being unlawfully detained,” Doss said.

[…]

According to the filing, Hameed Khalid Darweesh was granted a special immigrant visa on Jan. 20, the same day as Trump’s inauguration. He worked with the United States in Iraq in a variety of jobs — as an interpreter, engineer and contractor — over the course of roughly a decade.

Darweesh worked as an interpreter for the Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Baghdad and Mosul starting shortly after the invasion of Iraq on April 1, 2003. The filing said that he was directly targeted twice for working with the U.S. military.

A husband and father of three, he arrived at Kennedy Airport Friday evening with his family. Darweesh’s wife and children made it through passport control and customs, but agents of Customs and Border Protection stopped and detained him.

Alshawi was supposed to be reunited with his wife, who has been living in Texas. The wife, who asked to be identified by her first initial of D. out of concern for her and her family’s safety, wiped away tears as she sat on a couch in her sister’s house early Saturday, in a Houston suburb.

The woman, a 32-year-old who was born in Iraq, met her husband while both were students at a Baghdad college. The couple has one child — a 7-year-old son who is in first grade. The boy was asleep in the house at 3 a.m. Eastern time Saturday, oblivious to the fact that his father was in the United States, but under detention and the possible threat of return to Iraq.

Relatives crowded the living room in their pajamas and slippers, making and receiving phone calls to and from other relatives and the refugee’s lawyers. At times, D. was so emotional she had trouble speaking about her husband’s predicament.

She pulled out her cellphone and flipped through her pictures while seated on the couch. She wanted to show a reporter a picture she took of her son’s letter to Santa Claus. In November, at a Macy’s Santa-letter display at a nearby mall, the boy wrote out his wish: “Dear Santa: Can you bring my Dad from Sweden pls.” He has not seen his father in three years.

“I’m really breaking down, because I don’t know what to do,” she said. “It’s not fair.”

She and her relatives had not told her son that his father was finally coming to Houston and that his wish to Santa was about to come true. “It was a surprise for him,” she said.

Thankfully, there is a good ending to this particular story.

An Iraqi refugee bound for Houston was released on Saturday night after being detained for 22 hours at JFK Airport. He was one of the first people prevented from entering the U.S. under President Donald Trump’s executive orders restricting immigration and is central to a lawsuit challenging the order.

A temporary stay was granted by a federal judge in the case late Saturday that allows detainees with visas at airports to stay in the country temporarily.

Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi was on his way to live with his wife and 7-year-old son, who had previously come to Houston as refugees. “I’m very happy,” he told a small group of reporters at the Terminal 4 arrivals hall through an interpreter. He wore a black jacket and gray shirt and had a full face of stubble. “I’m very tired, but I’m very happy,” he said.

[…]

Alshawi was one of two Iraqi refugees named as plaintiffs in an ACLU lawsuit on Saturday morning against the Trump administration, alleging that the executive orders violated the Fifth Amendment and the Immigration and Nationality Act. The other plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, a former interpreter for the U.S. Army, was released from JFK after 17 hours of detention and an intervention from two members of Congress.

The ACLU lawyer handling the case, Andre Segura, said he hadn’t been allowed to meet with Alshawi at all before his release. It’s not clear exactly who made the decision to let Alshawi go free— Segura said about 30 minutes before Alshawi was released, a Customs and Border Protection official told him the order had come “from the top.”

Alshawi is staying in New York Saturday and flying to Houston to meet his family Sunday. “I’m going to hug them for a very long time,” he said.

All this happened because of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and a swift ruling by a judge. That any of this happened at all is a national disgrace, though sadly not a surprise. We can argue the politics and legalities of this all we want, but I’m going to close with this:

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’

“The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

“Then they will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’

“Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most certainly I tell you, because you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Were you a sheep or a goat in this story?

Astrodome gains antiquities status

Nice.

All this and antiquities landmark status too

The aging behemoth billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World has joined the revered ranks of the Alamo and State Capitol as an honored historical site.

Just days before a crowd of more than 70,000 files past for Super Bowl LI in neighboring NRG Stadium, the long-vacant Astrodome has won the coveted designation as a state antiquities landmark.

The distinction – which has been awarded to the Alamo, the Capitol and the Cotton Bowl, among others – brings special protection against demolition for the nation’s first fully enclosed, domed sports stadium.

But it won’t hinder the $105 million plan to renovate the once-proud facility, which has been officially closed to the public since 2009, officials said.

“It is an iconic structure,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who has long championed the venue. “The Astrodome literally changed the world of sports and entertainment and it helped put Houston and Harris County on the global scene.”

The Texas Historical Commission voted unanimously Friday to grant antiquities status, which had been sought for nearly three years by two Houston-area residents who hoped to preserve the facility.

“I was jumping up and down and running around my house telling my husband and everybody when I saw it on Twitter,” said Cynthia Neely, a writer and film producer who along with former Exxon engineer Ted Powell of La Porte filed the voluminous application, paid the fee and lobbied around the state to save the dome.

“It was a total surprise,” she said. “We’re just your average citizens.”

[…]

The designation will mean the dome cannot be “removed, altered, damaged, salvaged or excavated” without first obtaining permission from the commission, officials have said.

This process got started back in 2014, though it’s been in limbo since then as well. I’m not sure what the practical effect of this designation is since there are no current discussions about demolishing the Dome, but if that does ever come up again, it will be a lot harder to do. In the meantime, the parking lot plan moves forward, presumably with the blessing of the Historical Commission, and the Dome will play a minor part during the Super Bowl. So at least there’s one nice thing happening in the world. Swamplot and Houstonia have more.

The Observer talks to Rep. Beto O’Rourke

I wish this were longer, and I’d have definitely asked about how he plans to win a Senate election in 2018, if indeed he does run, but it’s worth reading nonetheless.

Re. Beto O’Rourke

You mentioned how incredibly expensive congressional elections have become. Do you see this as a real barrier to reform?

I remember my first official meeting at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — I’d just been sworn in. Steve Israel, who was the chair and a member of Congress from Long Island, laid out for [newly elected members] how we should do our job. When you broke down his daily agenda as to how we should be spending our time, more than half of it was fundraising. It showed me just how screwed up the place was. Because the opening conversation wasn’t, “Hey, I know you came here to improve [health care] access for veterans or pursue a smarter foreign policy or fix health care” — it was all about how to stay in office. It was absolutely disgusting to me. It’s probably disgusting to Steve Israel. I don’t think anybody likes it.

But it’s the system into which people were elected. I think that’s the way most people look at it: to be reelected and to have any weight with the caucus they need to do these things, even if they find them distasteful. I spent about a half-session trying to figure out how to play that game, and then I gave up and stopped taking PAC checks. I decided I was going to sacrifice my ability to be a player in that large-dollar world and just focus on the issues I was excited to be there for.

I think with America’s disgust with politicians in general and congressional members in particular, and part of that connected to the obsession with money and with being re-elected, I think there’s a golden opportunity for the Democratic Party to set itself apart and renounce Big Money. It’s counterintuitive. It means you leave some big bucks on the table, but I think it could be inspirational and could become the brand that will set us apart.

What do you expect will happen in the first congressional session under the new Trump administration?

I’m very concerned by some of his nominees. Jeff Sessions is a perfect example of someone who in every way is opposed to the promise that immigration and communities like El Paso and Texas hold for the rest of the country.

One thing I’ve learned is that very rarely does the moral argument, which is the compelling one for me, persuade anybody. So I try to make the strongest economic argument that immigration is in America’s self-interest. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals beneficiaries, for example, will earn $4 trillion in taxable income over their lifetimes, and I’ve looked at what it would cost to deport them and what it would do to our economy should we lose them.

Those are things hopefully I can get Republicans to pay attention to. No state would be hurt more than Texas should we take a draconian turn on immigration enforcement, and it’s hard to imagine a more draconian turn than what we saw during the Obama administration, which deported more people than any previous administration.

I agree with what he says about how expensive it is to run for Congress and how awful the endless fundraising cycle is, but it’s also very expensive to run statewide in Texas, and he had $211,923 on hand as of his December finance report. If he hopes to ride a small-dollar wave to finance a Senate campaign, he’ll need to get cracking on it. As for DACA, well, we knew what was coming. Read the rest, and if he really is serious about running against Ted Cruz next year, I look forward to hearing a lot more from him.

Weekend link dump for January 29

10 Actions for the first 100 Days.

Neanderthals were people, too.

“Iceland knows how to stop teen substance abuse but the rest of the world isn’t listening”.

The Dallas Stars Jumbotron operator is the best person in Dallas.

#Seanspicersays I get more readers than the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal combined.

Six surprising health items that could disappear with Obamacare repeal.

All you need is love. That, and copyright interest in your early work.

“On no day will he be a better president than he is today”.

“Thank you for calling the White House comments line. The comment line is currently closed.”

BBC News showed the wrong subtitles during the inauguration, and the result is hilarious.

Donald Trump’s real legitimacy problem.

“Another reason for promoting lying is what economists sometimes call loyalty filters. If you want to ascertain if someone is truly loyal to you, ask them to do something outrageous or stupid. If they balk, then you know right away they aren’t fully with you.”

Sean Spicer versus Dippin’ Dots. I got nothing.

If there is a “death spiral” coming for Obamacare, it will be one that was engineered by the Republicans.

“Nearly a dozen of Trump’s closest confidantes helped plant an embarrassing news story about how their boss can’t handle embarrassing news stories. Which is to say: A president who prizes loyalty in his subordinates has already been betrayed by a huge swath of his inner circle.”

“Silicon Valley’s rank and file prepare to fight Trump“.

“You cannot shame the shameless; you can’t appeal to an inborn trait someone doesn’t have.”

“But while Teen Vogue’s coverage is praiseworthy, it is not all that exceptional. Women’s publications have been offering substantive, worthwhile political takes for years now.”

“We already know from research that the Bush-era Global Gag Rule resulted in a sharp decline in the availability of contraceptives in some of the poorest places on earth, which in turn hindered the fight against maternal death and increased abortion raters. Now, this one change may profoundly undermine not only progress on maternal health worldwide but also the US government’s ability to fight HIV/AIDS, big childhood killers like malaria, and prevent infectious diseases like Zika and Ebola from reaching US shores.”

The scientists will be marching on Washington, too.

“Voter fraud” just doesn’t exist in anything more than the tiniest numbers. It’s all about vote suppression.

“So, it appears that Trump’s strategy for defeating ISIS is to give them a huge recruitment tool and to turn our Muslim allies against us.”

RIP, Mary Tyler Moore, iconic TV star.

Dan Aykroyd’s tribute to Carrie Fisher.

“Gonzales and NPR are correct that we need to be careful not to presume the existence of bad faith beforehand. It is a conclusion that has to be arrived at, step by step, and not one we can confidently or honestly jump to. But we can and must go through those steps and we can and must follow where they lead. And when those steps lead us, conclusively, to a conclusion of bad faith, we can and must accept that conclusion and not try to jump away from it.”

“The Christian right has never been about actual faith. Like any other interest group, they just want what they want: abortion restrictions, money for private schools, opposition to gays, and so forth. As long as you’re on board, they don’t care what’s in your heart. They never have, and that’s why the suggestion that Democrats need to be more publicly devout has always been so misguided.”

The resistance will be Twitterfied.

As Brent Musberger moves to the next phase of his life, let us recall an old wrong of his that he has still never attempted to make right.

RIP, Sir John Hurt, versatile actor best known for roles in Alien and The Elephant Man.

RIP, Barbara Hale, actor best known for playing Della Street in the Perry Mason TV show and movies.

“Fetal remains” rule blocked

Good.

U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks ruled Texas cannot require health providers to bury or cremate fetuses, delivering another blow to state leaders in the reproductive rights debate.

On Friday afternoon, Sparks wrote in his ruling that Texas Department of State Health Services’ fetal remains burial rule’s vagueness, undue burden and potential for irreparable harm were factors in his decision. He also wrote that the state had proposed the new rule “before the ink on the Supreme Court’s opinion in Whole Woman’s Health was dry.”

“The lack of clarity in the Amendments inviting such interpretation allows DSHS to exercise arbitrary, and potentially discriminatory, enforcement on an issue connected to abortion and therefore sensitive and hotly contested,” Sparks said.

[…]

During two public hearings, department leaders heard stories of abortions, miscarriages, and general grief over losing a baby. While anti-abortion groups argued that the rule was a means to bring human dignity to the fetuses, reproductive rights advocates said the rule was another way for Texas to punish women who chose an abortion, saying the cost of the burials would be passed on to patients, making abortions harder to obtain for low-income Texans.

During multi-day court hearings earlier this month, state attorneys said the rule was designed to provide aborted or miscarried fetuses a better resting place than a landfill. They also argued that there would be no cost for patients to worry about and only miniscule costs for providers. The state also said that there were multiple groups willing to help with costs.

But Center for Reproductive Rights lawyers argued the rule had no public health merits and no clear directions on how it would work for providers. Providers who testified noted it was unclear if they would be on the hook for fines and disciplinary action from Texas if the nonprofit groups mishandled the fetuses. They also said separating fetuses away from other medical waste would likely mean an uptick in costs for transportation and new disposal procedures.

Sparks expressed frustration throughout the court proceedings that neither side could provide a firm estimate of the costs of implementing the rule. He also, one point, agreed with Center for Reproductive Rights attorneys’ argument that there would be no public health benefits.

In his ruling, Sparks wrote that the department’s estimates don’t know “the true impact” of the rule and that their “simple math” is “unsupported by research and relies heavily on assumptions.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the order; the full order is here. Note that this is just an injunction pending the actual lawsuit to overturn the ruling. The injunction strongly suggests that Judge Sparks thinks the plaintiffs will prevail, but that matter has not been decided yet. Now a trial date will be set and we will proceed from there, while the state will pursue an appeal to rescind the injunction and allow the rule, which had been scheduled to take effect on Friday, to be put in place for the duration of the trial.

Republicans like Ken Paxton are predictably gnashing their teeth about this, but if this rule was so important for the sanctity of life and dignity of the mothers and whatever else, then why wasn’t it proposed earlier than last year in the immediate wake of the HB2 ruling? Rick Perry could have proposed this a decade or more ago. Greg Abbott could have proposed it in 2015. If it was so damn important, why did they wait so long? Who had even heard of such a thing before last year? The timing of the rule gives the show away. It deserves the fate it got from Judge Sparks. A press release from the Center for Reproductive Rights is here, and the Chron, the Statesman, the Current, and the Austin Chronicle have more.

SB6 will hurt people

It will hurt transgender people, who despite what Dan Patrick would have you think, are people like you and me.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has said his so-called bathroom bill isn’t discriminatory because transgender people can update their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity.

However, statistics obtained by the Observer from the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) suggest that fewer than 1 percent of transgender Texans have updated their birth certificates, meaning the overwhelming majority could be forced to use restrooms that don’t match their gender identity under Senate Bill 6.

LGBT advocates said the DSHS statistics, which have not before been made public, underscore the obstacles transgender Texans face if they seek to correct their gender markers on state identification documents.

[…]

According to DSHS, a total of 497 Texas natives updated their birth certificates “to reflect a medical or surgical sex change” from 2006 to 2016. Last year, the Williams Institute at UCLA estimated that 125,000 transgender adults reside in Texas.

DSHS spokesperson Chris Van Deusen said the department doesn’t specifically track the number of transgender people who’ve corrected their birth certificates. However, in response to a request from the Observer, the state agency compiled the data based on how many people have updated their birth certificates using a court order.

“A court order is required to change the sex due to a medical or surgical sex change but not for a change due to an error,” Van Deusen said. “We’re reasonably confident this captures all changes to sex on birth certificates due to a court order.”

Texas has no standardized procedure for transgender people to update their birth certificates or driver’s licenses, and judges in only three of the state’s 254 counties — Bexar, Dallas and Travis — routinely issue court orders granting gender-marker changes, according to LGBT advocates. Last year, a Texas appeals court in Harris County rejected a trans man’s petition for a gender-marker change on his driver’s license.

There’s no standard procedure for updating one’s birth records. If you were born in another state, which may or may not even allow for this kind of correction, you may be out of luck. If you’re under 18, you are definitely out of luck. Even if all of these procedural issues could be resolved, this would still be discriminatory. Why should trans people have to go through all of this time and expense to be able to use a public restroom?

By the way, this is somewhat parallel to the experience of gays and lesbians before the Obergefell decision, in that in order to mimic the legal rights and protections granted under the law to straight married couples, they had to jump through dozens of legal hoops, often spending hundreds or thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees to achieve it. Requiring a class of people to expend time and money on things that everyone else gets to have for free no questions asked is the definition of discrimination.

Trans people have been using bathrooms without any fuss for decades. It was never a problem until Dan Patrick decided it was one. His “remedy” to this non-problem will help no one, but it will hurt many people. There are lots of valid business and economic reasons to oppose SB6, and I thank the people in the business community who have helped lead the fight against it. But at the end of the day, this is about treating people as people. Dan Patrick wants to treat some people as something less. I cannot abide that.

So what will the Justice Department do with voter ID now?

We don’t know yet.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Hours after President Donald Trump was inaugurated, the Department of Justice filed to postpone a hearing on the Texas Voter ID law. The request was granted. The DOJ had previously argued that the law intentionally discriminated against minority voters, but told the court it needed additional time for the new administration to “brief the new leadership of the Department on this case and the issues to be addressed at that hearing before making any representations to the Court.”

Chad Dunn, attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, expects Trump’s Department of Justice to reverse course. “I figure the government will spend the next 30 days figuring out how to change its mind,” he said, adding that now he expects the DOJ to argue on behalf of the state of Texas, which has held that there was no intent to discriminate against minorities. “The facts did not change – just the personnel.”

The new hearing date has been set for Feb. 28.

Myrna Perez is the deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and leader of the center’s Voting Rights and Elections project. The Brennan Center was also set to offer oral arguments against the ID law on Tuesday, and Perez said she was “disappointed” with the DOJ’s decision to postpone the hearing. “Numerous courts have held that this law harms minority voters in Texas and we think delaying resolution of this case in that matter isn’t good for Texans,” she said.

[…]

The DOJ had previously argued that the law violated the Voting Rights Act and was intended to directly impact the abilities of minorities to vote, as more than 600,000 of them lacked the ID necessary under state law to vote. Dunn now expects the agency to reverse course.

Trump has not yet had an opportunity to nominate, let alone see confirmed, new judges.

“I don’t expect the outcome of this case to change because we’ve elected a new president,” Dunn said. “For people like me who handle civil rights case and the many who came before me to who did the same, we’re used to fighting against government at all its levels.”

See here for the background. It would be a shame, though it would hardly be a surprise, if the Justice Department changed course. I mean, this is GOP doctrine now, and you can’t send any clearer a signal than appointing Jefferson Beauregard Sessions as AG. It would be nice for the Justice Department to stay on the right side of this, but in the end I think Chad Dunn is correct. The facts haven’t changed, and the plaintiffs have had plenty of experience fighting against the government. Vox has more.

Saturday video break: One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer

Ladies and gentlemen, the one and only John Lee Hooker:

We should all achieve that level of coolness at least once in our lifetimes. Now here’s George Thorogood with the version you’ve probably heard:

So, did Jersey party as good as they did in Philly? I love the narrative he adds to the song. The spoken-word song is an underrated tool in the musical toolbox, if you ask me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m thirsty.

Yes, SB6 targets transgender people

That is its purpose.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

The author of the so-called bathroom bill said she is working on potential changes after listening to people “from all walks of life,” emphasizing that her measure is aimed not at the transgender people it would affect but at men who might assert a right to go into women’s restrooms for perhaps nefarious purposes.

“It’s really not about the transgender. It’s about other people that will abuse that. And that side of it’s not been told very well,” Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Bren-ham, said, citing discussions with “lots of women.”

There is no evidence of a transgender person assaulting anyone in a restroom in Texas, and transgender advocates see the measure as indisputably targeting them.

[…]

Chuck Smith, chief executive officer of Equality Texas, said of Kolkhorst’s remarks, “I think it’s probably certainly indicative that she is getting a lot of feedback/pushback related to it. I’m happy that she’s recognizing that there are concerns with the legislation, and I’d welcome the opportunity to share our concerns with her as well.”

Let’s be very clear: By definition, the reference in SB6 to “biological sex” targets transgender people. There’s no way around that. Whatever the intent of the bill, the only way to not target transgender people is to not have any part of the bill apply to people based on their “biological sex”. Take that out and then we can talk. I too am glad that Sen. Kolkhorst recognizes that her bill is problematic. Now do something about that, Senator. The Press has more.

Dan Patrick and the wall tax

Hey, you know who’s going to pay for Dear Leader’s wall? You and me and everyone else in the country.

The Trump administration sparked widespread surprise Thursday by announcing it intended to implement a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports to pay for a coming border wall — followed by extreme confusion when it appeared to walk back the statement later that afternoon.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made the initial announcement Thursday afternoon aboard Air Force One, as President Trump returned from a meeting with House Republicans in Philadelphia.

“Right now, our country’s policy is to tax exports and let imports flow freely in, which is ridiculous,” he told reporters. “By [imposing the tax], we can do $10 billion a year and easily pay for the wall just through that mechanism alone. That’s really going to provide the funding.”

Spicer further indicated that the administration has “been in close contact with both houses” of Congress.

“It clearly provides the funding, and does so in a way that the American taxpayer is wholly respected,” he added.

Later on Thursday, however, White House officials sought to characterize the tariff as one of several options to fund the wall, according to multiple news reports.

If passed by Congress, such a move is all but certain to have a dramatic affect on the U.S. economy and particularly in Texas, which imports far more from Mexico than from any other country, according to U.S. Census data.

Hmm, so that would be bad for the Texas economy. What does Dan Patrick think about that?

Many business and political leaders in trade-dependent Texas already have expressed reservations about the proposed import tax proposal itself, even without linking it to the wall.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who has championed increased trade with Texas’ southern neighbor since he became governor a year ago, had no immediate comment on Spicer’s suggestion.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, an outspoken supporter of the wall who served as Trump’s campaign chairman in Texas, told Fox News that he was “not too concerned” about any adverse impact of such a tax. He suggested the proposal could be “the first warning shot across the bow” fired by Trump, and that the tax could end up being something less.

It’s only a little tax. You won’t even notice it. Also, of course Greg Abbott had no comment. I don’t know why anyone bothers to ask any more.

Now here’s a statement I got from the Texas Association of Business about this idea:

The following statement may be attributed to Texas Association of Business President Chris Wallace.

“Texas’ number one trading partner by far is Mexico, and imposing a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports to fund a border wall would hurt the Texas economy. This proposal could mean a loss of jobs and a hit to state tax revenues. We look forward to working with our Texas congressional delegation and our TAB members to address this proposal and I would encourage our state leaders to make the economic ramifications of this proposal known.”

Dear Chris Wallace and TAB: Dan Patrick cares way more about his pet ideological obsessions than he does about your interests. What are you going to do about that? The Rivard Report and RG Ratcliffe have more.

(Patrick has since said in a Facebook comment about his TV appearance discussing the wall tax that he is not concerned about it because it won’t happen, and he doesn’t actually support it. Which isn’t what he said on TV, and doesn’t say that he would oppose it if it does become a thing that might happen. I think that’s pretty wishy-washy, but in the interests of accuracy, there you have it.)

Trump and the train

This could be interesting.

A privately-funded bullet train between Dallas and Houston and a passenger rail line connecting suburban North Texas are among a litany of transportation projects considered priorities by President Donald Trump’s administration, according to The Kansas City Star.

But what that means for the projects either financially or in a regulatory sense wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday.

The Star reported that the document doesn’t detail how the listed projects “would be funded, how the federal government prioritized these projects or any timeline for completion.” It is not known if the document is finalized or a draft, according to The Star.

Trump earlier in the day signed an executive order that aims to expedite the environmental review process of infrastructure projects, something that can often take years and cost millions of dollars.

[…]

In a statement, Texas Central said it was “pleased” to be considered a priority.

“Texans are looking for safe, reliable and productive transportation options,” the statement said. “The high-speed train answers that call for the region, state and country. We look forward to working with the new administration, moving ahead with the project’s free-market approach.”

To the extent that one believes Trump actually intends to push for an infrastructure bill (*), this is the sort of thing that would be appealing to him, and independent of that scaling back on environmental regulations may well help speed this along. That said, one should remember that Texas Central has some high profile opponents among Texas’ Republican caucus, and I doubt that they will be swayed by any of this. That said, TCR can use and will be happy to have all the help it can get. We’ll see what comes of it. The Press has more.

(*) – For what it’s worth, Democrats have their own infrastructure proposal, which differs in a few key respects from the as-yet-unspecific Trump plan. I don’t know how or if Texas Central would fit into that, and there’s a zero percent chance that it gets taken up for a vote in Congress, but it’s there if you want an eventual point of comparison.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 30

One week down, 195 to go…

1. We Crawl – The Polyphonic Spree (many members)
2. September – Pomplamoose (Nataly Dawn)
3. The Resurrected Lover – The Poor Clares (Betsy McGovern)
4. Brass In Pocket – The Pretenders (Chrissie Hynde)
5. Hole In The Washtub – The Priestess and The Fool (Meredith DiMenna)
6. Harden My Heart – Quarterflash (Rindy Ross)
7. Wayfaring Stranger – The Quebe Sisters
8. Tomorrow – Quvenzhané Wallis (from “Annie”)
9. Better Than Me – Rachael Davis
10. Fight Song – Rachel Platten

I like that I have three representatives for the letter Q. I didn’t realize till I looked up Rindy Ross’ name that she was also the sax player in Quarterflash. Outside of her and Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull, how many lead singers in pop/rock bands play a wind instrument? I can’t think of any others offhand.

Pasadena appellate hearing set

Mark your calendars.

Pasadena City Council

With deadlines looming for the upcoming May elections, a federal appeals court has agreed to hear arguments Feb. 1 in a voting rights lawsuit that overturned the Pasadena election system.

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will consider whether to temporarily halt the order from the Houston judge until after the appeals are exhausted. But that would leave in place an election system that has been found discriminatory against Latinos.

The Fifth Circuit court set an expedited hearing at the Bob Casey Courthouse in Houston for lawyers to present argument as to why the city should or should not proceed with its May elections for city council positions using a 2011 map of eight single-member district seats as directed by a federal judge in Houston.

The appellate court will focus on a request by Pasadena’s lead attorney in the high-profile voting rights case to temporarily halt the district court’s order for Pasadena to hold its May election using eight district positions, instead of a 2014 scheme that passed by a narrow margin of voters that uses six single-member and two at-large seats.

See here and here for the background. Candidates are already filing for office in Pasadena, so this really does have to be done quickly. The court would be deciding whether to use the current map, with six districts and two At Large seats, or the previous map with eight districts, which is what Judge Rosenthal ordered. We ought to know soon enough. Texas Monthly, which delves more into Judge Rosenthal’s ruling, has more.

Sheriff Hernandez not backing down

Good for her.

Sheriff Sally Hernandez

Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez indicated Thursday she is not backing away from her recently introduced “sanctuary” policy.

Her comments came a day after Gov. Greg Abbott proposed the removal of Hernandez, who announced Friday she would reduce her department’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities when they request an inmate be flagged for possible deportation.

“Our community is safer when people can report crimes without fear of deportation,” Hernandez, whose jurisdiction includes Austin, said in a statement. “I trust the court system and our judges to assess the risks and set appropriate bonds and conditions for all who are incarcerated.”

Hernandez, who was elected in November, has said her department would honor requests from federal immigration officials only if they obtain a warrant from a judge ordering the confinement.

See here and here for the background. Sheriff Hernandez clearly has the moral high ground here – people shouldn’t be held without a warrant, minor offenses should not result in deportation, law enforcement needs the cooperation of the people they police in order to be effective, etc etc etc. Abbott, meanwhile, keeps ratcheting up the pressure. Something is going to have to give here. It’s one thing to pick on Travis County, which is a traditional punching bag for Texas Republicans, but will they go after Harris County, too?

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez appeared at this morning’s rally against 287(g), a flawed immigrant removal program.

Gonzalez reiterated his support of immigrant rights and his promise to rid Harris County of the controversial program. He did, however, ask for patience and time to study and navigate its ending because of its ties to federal and state funding, and because he wants to ensure that such a program targets violent and serious criminals. During the press conference, he also reiterated that the program is run within the jail and not out in the field and that his deputies will not be targeting individual suspects because of immigration status.

Local immigrant rights activists are seeking policy changes and strong statements of support to undo programs that target immigrants and have run amok of their stated intents. Programs which basically federalize local law enforcement are flawed and have been a cause for racial profiling, wasted resources, family separation, and downgraded local economies.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, also sought out by immigrant rights activists recently responded with his strongest statement yet.

I certainly wouldn’t put it past Abbott et al to lash out at anyone and everyone who defies him, but at some point it’s not a good luck for him to be fighting with so many big cities and counties. I don’t know how this plays out, but I suspect it will get messy. And kudos to Mayor Turner for standing up and doing the right thing, as numerous Mayors around the country are doing. We’re going to be in for a lot more of this from Trump, so we’d better be ready for it.

More flood mitigation coming

This is ambitious.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

After local leaders stood on the banks of Brays Bayou to celebrate a creative agreement that is expected to speed up work on a long-delayed effort to lessen the risk of flooding in southwest Houston, some angry Meyerland-area flood victims peppered them with questions.

The press conference was called to tout a plan under which the city of Houston would borrow $46 million from the state, give the cash to the county to speed up work on Project Brays, then be reimbursed later with federal dollars.

City officials hope to repeat that process for two other bayous – White Oak and Hunting- ultimately forwarding the county about $130  million.

For more background on this effort, click here. For more information on another recent flooding initiative Mayor Sylvester Turner and his “flood czar,” Steve Costello, announced, click here.

And for more information about Project Brays, visit this county Flood Control District page.

[…]

Turner — who, like flood control officials — was mobbed by residents after he stepped down from the podium, answered questions for several minutes before departing.

“There’s no question that there are frustrations and I understand the frustrations,” the mayor said. “Nobody wants their homes flooded once, four times or seven times. And that’s why the city, in an unprecedented move, took the lead and borrowed the $43 million. Now we have certainty that this project will be completed.”

Harris County Flood Control District Director Russ Poppe said his agency expects to complete channel widening through Meyerland to Fondren in the next two years. The city loan, which will be used chiefly for downstream bridge replacements, is important, he said, because bridges that are too low can create significant backups, heightening the flooding risk for those upstream.

The Mayor’s press release is here, and as you can see there are statements from multiple other elected officials, at different levels of government. The plan, which has received preliminary approval from Council, is a bit convoluted, but it’s also an example of Mayor Turner leveraging his experience in the Legislature to forge complex agreements. Homeowners who have been badly harmed by recent floods had some understandable questions about how all this will affect them, not all of which are addressed by this plan. Still, I think we can all agree that bayou improvements are a key component in flood mitigation, and streamlining the process to make it happen more quickly will help. It would be nice if we could come to a similar consensus about preserving flood plains and wetlands, but one step at a time. The Press has more.

More on the STAR Voting System

The Chron updates us on the latest in modern voting technology.

The drumbeat of election rigging and foreign hacking of voting machines have energized ongoing efforts to develop a new model of digital election equipment designed to produce instantly verifiable results and dual records for security.

Election experts say this emerging system, one of three publicly funded voting machine projects across the country, shows potential to help restore confidence in the country’s election infrastructure, most of which hasn’t been updated in more than a decade.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s taken years and years to get it done,” said Dana DeBeauvoir, the Travis County clerk and leader of the voting machine project. “Now that we’ve had this election, there’s renewed interest.”

A prototype of the system, dubbed STAR Vote, sits in an engineering lab at Rice University, and bidding is open for manufacturers who want to produce it wholesale. Similar efforts to innovate voting systems are in the works in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“County clerks in these jurisdictions are the rock stars of running elections,” said Joe Kiniry, CEO of Free & Fair, an election systems supplier currently bidding on contracts to manufacture the designs of both Travis and Los Angeles counties. “If they have success in what they do, it will have, in my opinion, a massive impact on the whole U.S.”

Like any aging digital device, the voting machines are eventually bound to stumble, said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. He pointed to Detroit, where the number of votes counted didn’t match the number of voters who signed in. And he noted that reports of machines flipping votes more likely result from aged touch screens than a conspiracy to rig the election.

Yet there is seldom space in county budgets to replace the machines, which cost usually between $3,000 and $5,000 each. The vast majority of electronic voting equipment was purchased with federal funds from the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Most money reached the states by 2004, and there’s no foreseeable second wave of federal aid.

“This is really an oncoming crisis,” said Norden, who interviewed more than 100 election officials for a 2015 report about aging voting equipment published by the Brennan center. “A lot of election officials have been unhappy with the choices that the major vendors are providing.”

[…]

STAR Vote runs automatic audits, comparing a statistical sample of the paper ballots with the digital records to verify results.

“The savings are just enormous over doing a recount,” Stark said.

While other systems allow for comparison of precinct-level data, STAR Vote can compare paper ballots with individual voters’ digital ballots, which are encrypted and posted online.

Officials could take a small sample of printed ballots and compare them with digital results to conclude with high confidence that election results were correct.

The system itself is also inexpensive, built with off-the-shelf tablet computers and printers, which Wallach said will cut the price down to half of the current norm. Advanced software makes up for the cheap hardware, designers said, and they plan to make the software open-source, meaning it is free to use and, unlike current systems, can be serviced by any provider without exclusive long-term contracts.

I’ve written about this before, and while I love the design of the STAR machine, I don’t have much hope of getting to vote on one any time soon. The political climate just doesn’t seem conducive to any effort to improve the voting experience, and the lip service we got from Greg Abbott back during the peak Trump-whining-about-rigged-elections period has surely gone down the memory hole. The one possible way in that I can see for these devices is their lower cost. At some point, enough of the current voting machines will become sufficiently inoperable that replacement will be needed, and a cheaper device ought to have an advantage. Let’s hope the process of getting a manufacturer in place goes smoothly.

(NB: “Wallach” is Rice professor Dan Wallach, who as I have noted before is a friend of mine.)

HCDP Chair Q&A: Robert Collier

(Note: I have sent out a brief Q&A to all of the announced HCDP Chair candidates for whom I could find contact information. I will run the responses I get in the order I receive them. While only precinct chairs will vote on the new Chair, I believe everyone should have some basic information about the candidates.)

Rob Collier

1. Who are you, and what is your background/experience in Democratic politics?

I am Robert Collier. I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi and I am one of three siblings of Donnell and Dorothy Ann Collier. I am a product of a long list of staunch Democrats, civil rights activist, and community organizations such as Upward Bound. As a child, I witnessed KKK rallies in Jackson and the oppression of those without the means to fight back. I wanted to fight back, and the Democratic Party became my hammer. Like so many others, I became active in the Democratic Party in college, where I eventually became President. As President, I organized and mobilized students around issues such as police brutality, elections, and protests. I even managed to convince Jane Goodall to come to campus to promote her Roots and Shoots program to highlight the significance of environmental issues. I also wanted to become an attorney to hone my skills as an advocate. After college, I enrolled in law school.

In 2005, while in law school, I founded the Thurgood Marshall Democratic Club. I clerked for U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson and the U.S. Homeland Security Committee. I had an opportunity to work there full-time, but declined because I realized D.C. politics was very different than local politics. After law school, I became a member of Meyerland Dems and eventually a Precinct Chair. I also served on the standing committee as Finance and Fundraising Chair for over 2 1⁄2 years. Moreover, in the last five years, I have hosted fundraisers and contributed to support candidates and advance the Democratic agenda. Most recently, I supported my wife, Rabeea Collier, in her campaign to become a judge in Harris County.

2. Why are you running to be HCDP Chair?

We are the last line of defense for so many working families. If we fail, it will have a direct impact on families. Further, I don’t want to see the Party used to narrowly further the agenda of an individual or group of individuals. I want to see the Party flourish and advance all of our mutual interests; and to serve as a reminder of why we do what we do. Moreover, we have to transform into more than a political party, we have to become a community-service oriented organization. We have to show the community that we not only care about their vote, but we care about them. That’s why I’m running and I need your support.

3. What is your assessment of the HCDP today, and what does it need to do going forward?

Operationally, the Party is almost in the same position it has been in for years. We are under-utilizing our supporters’ talents. I believe the membership of most clubs and associations are burnt-out; and the current problems with the Party are accelerating that frustration and fatigue. We have to use technology to assist with a coordinated effort and communication. The Party is understaffed and under-capitalized, and we have to develop a long-term business plan of our goals and how we plan to grow as an organization.

Fragmented Effort. Due to the lack of strategic leadership and communication of our vision, our supporters are involved in so many different groups and grassroots issues. We have to provide a clear focus and road map of how we become successful. Our members are constantly being pulled in several directions, therefore it is imperative we communicate to them in advance when and how the Party will rely on their support. Further, due to limited resources, time, and volunteers, we have to become focused. I believe we can solve that by providing tactical and strategic leadership to our members.

Campaign Strategy. In my opinion, we have relied on two main strategies that I will refer to as the “top-of-the-ticket” and “straight-ticket” strategies, and for good reason. I believe the mid-term elections are a really good gauge of the effectiveness of our campaign strategy. The victory margins for Republicans have been roughly between 2%-10%, with the last election being roughly 2%. We have focused on multi-cultural issues, and that has helped us build strong coalitions, but it has also divided the Party. How do we advance the interest of one demographic of the Party without alienating another? We reclaim our identity as the Party for working families and labor. If I am elected, we will focus our campaigning, branding and messaging around working families and the economic realities that we all face. We have to tackle pocketbook and kitchen table issues.

My grassroots target audience will be the 18-40 age demographic, blue-collar workers, and women. My geographic focus will be Kingwood, Spring and Katy areas. If we can penetrate the suburban areas of Harris County with strong messaging regarding the Republicans’ attack on public education and working families, we can win.

Lastly, building on the momentum of the presidential campaigns, I want to heavily focus on the 18-35 generation. We’ve been talking about increasing the involvement of young people for some time, but our membership of this demographic hasn’t changed in a meaningful way. If there was ever a time to have a significant outreach effort to this demographic, it would be right now.

Throughout 2017, we will be planning, recruiting and training candidates and precinct chairs; fundraising; and expanding our community engagement. In 2018, we will begin to focus on our core base and implementing our GOTV strategy. We don’t have a lot of time, and there is a lot of work to do. I have the experience and skill set to hit the ground running.

Fundraising. As a former Finance and Fundraising HCDP Chair, I have coordinated and assisted in organizing small dollar events for the Party across Harris County. That experience has taught me that the strategy cannot be the cornerstone of growing the Party. Additionally, we are severely exhausting the resources of our members when we only target our candidates, elected officials and members to support our fundraising events and campaigns. We have to align our fundraising events with our community engagement; and target an expanded community for fundraising.

I recently served as the national Finance and Fundraising Chair for the National Bar Association, the association of black attorneys that advocates for civil rights. I coordinated and assisted the organization in raising roughly $2.5 million dollars. I highlight this experience because it involved developing a strategy, building a consensus among strong personalities, and effectively executing that strategy. For my efforts, I was awarded the NBA’s highest award, the President’s Award. If elected, I will explore similar fundamental strategies that will lead to our success.

4. How do you use social media? How should the HCDP be using social media?

My plan is to utilize our members and young supporters who are technologically inclined and to start a committee whose sole focus will be to expand our social media and online campaign efforts.

5. What kind of involvement should the HCDP have in non-partisan races (city council, school board, etc)?

Our Party is based on our values and ideas. They bind us together. We exists not just to get candidates elected, but to get Democratic candidates elected who will help us advance our values. There are a lot of non-partisan races that directly touch issues we care about such as public education and affordable property taxes. Furthermore, if I’m elected, we will get more involved in policy issues in a systematic and strategic way.

6. What is your plan to improve Democratic turnout in 2018?

We have 8-10 months in 2017 to develop a strategy, recruit candidates and precinct chairs, and educate supporters why mid-term elections matter. The branding and messaging that we implement in 2017 will be the branding and messaging for the 2018 elections. We will focus on an issue-oriented campaign and Trump’s policies that attack our core base. I want to focus on the issues that matter to the 18-40 age demographic, blue-collar workers, and women. In addition to the “top-of-the-ticket” strategy, I want us to dig deeper and develop a segmented campaign, both geographically and demographically, that will address the issues that matter most to our core base and Democratic leaning supporters. Further, I will work to develop and implement a coordination strategy among our progressive groups that will help us all to utilize our resources effectively. You can learn more at www.robcollier.com.

7. Why should precinct chairs support you to be the next HCDP Chair and not one of your opponents?

I am product of HCDP. In addition to serving in leadership positions within HCDP, I serve and have served in leadership positions in Houston and nationally. I’m ready to hit the ground running.

Based upon my experience in the HCDP office and working with the coordinated campaign political director, I have an appreciation for the Party dynamics and the Chair’s responsibilities including not only managing a campaign and outreach, but also managing state and federal regulatory compliance, balancing a budget, managing cash flow, fundraising, coordinating primary elections and etc. I think a lot of the candidates have passion, but I think my experience and clear vision sets me apart.

Further, there are candidates that have a skill set, but they have an agenda that I think will ultimately be corrosive to the Party. We are a Party that volunteers and makes change happen from the bottom up, and the election of our Chair should be no different. I think the Chair should be an idealist, skilled, and experienced Party volunteer.

I believe Precinct Chairs should support me because I have the passion, leadership and experience, both professionally and within the Democratic Party, to lead the Party. I have served HCDP as a Precinct Chair, a Fundraising Chair, Recount Committee Chair, pro-bono attorney, donor, senate district delegate and convention organizer, among other capacities. I recently supported my wife in running for judge from beginning to end, so I know how the Party can better serve our candidates. In all my years of being involved with the Party, I have never asked a candidate nor the Party to pay for my professional services or time provided to the Party. Moreover, I have raised thousands of dollars for candidates and I have never asked a single candidate for something in return, other than to serve well. I don’t have an agenda, other than to serve the Party faithfully. If you are looking for such a candidate, I ask for your support. Let’s move forward, not backwards.

Abbott goes authoritarian

I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me, but it is still shocking, even in the world we now inhabit.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that he and state lawmakers will pursue legislation that would “remove from office any officeholder who promotes sanctuary cities,” raising a new consequence as Republicans crack down on local officials who do not fully cooperate with federal immigration officials.

Abbott is threatening to cut off state funding to Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez after she announced Friday she would reduce her department’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities when they request an inmate be flagged for possible deportation. If she continues with the policy, Abbott suggested a more serious punishment.

“We will remove her from office,” Abbott said in an interview on Fox News.

It was not immediately clear how legislation would remove Hernandez from office. She won her election last year. Sanctuary cities opponents view such officials’ immigration policies as a violation of their oaths of office.

The Fox News interview appears to be the first time Abbott has suggested officials like Hernandez could lose their jobs under sanctuary cities legislation. Abbott is expected to prioritize the legislation in his State of the State address on Tuesday.

[…]

Hernandez’s office did not have an immediate comment on Abbott’s remarks. The governor’s comments, however, quickly drew ire from other Democrats, with the state party saying in a statement that Abbott was “launching a new assault on the will of Texans.”

“I don’t know how the governor would suggest to do that,” state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, said at a news conference that was called to push back on sanctuary cities legislation. “Unless the governor wants to be king and remove people from office unilaterally, then I think the people of Travis County will have an opportunity to speak on the sheriff, the governor and all other elected officials when they stand for re-election.”

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, suggested another remedy. “How about removing those from office who make up the law to suit their own political needs!” he said in a statement.

See here for some background. It’s abundantly clear by now that Abbott and his cohort have no respect for the will of local voters and that the only authority they recognize is their own, so it’s a small step from stomping down on local control to overruling an election. I think back on some of the things that people said about President Obama when he lawfully exercised executive power and I wonder, was it fear or longing in their words? The latter seems much more likely. I suppose it’s possible Abbott was just preening for the Fox News cameras, but we have been advised to take authoritarians at their word, and Lord knows Dear Leader Trump has lived up to that. So yeah, I expect to see a bill come out of this. After that, we’ll see.

(All this was happening, by the way, as Harris County residents were being urged to call Sheriff Ed Gonzalez’s office to ask about when he plans to end 287(g) as promised during the campaign. Like it or not, people are going to have to pick a side on this.)

Speaking of Il Duce, a federal crackdown on “sanctuary cities” is coming as well. Again, one can only wonder at the thought of President Obama making similar threats to Texas cities – just how quickly could Abbott or Paxton file a lawsuit in a friendly court? We may soon see how the shoe fits on the other foot. A statement from the Travis County legislative delegation is here, a statement from the El Paso delegation is here, and the Current and the Observer have more.

Yale Street Bridge reopens

Woo hoo!

Heights area residents woke up Tuesday to a bright sunny day in more ways than one, finding that crews had opened the new Yale Bridge spanning White Oak Bayou.

The opening late Monday is roughly 10 months ahead of the original schedule laid out by Texas Department of Transportation officials when the old bridge closed in April. During the lengthy detour, traffic often bottled up along Heights Boulevard between Interstate 10 and Allen Parkway.

[…]

The new bridge has two lanes in each direction and eight-foot sidewalks on each side to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists, separated from vehicles by a metal railing. Lighting and railings on the edges of the bridge mimic those from the original bridge.

See here for the background. We were actually expecting it to reopen in February, so this is even earlier than we thought. Isn’t it nice to get some good construction news every now and then? Swamplot has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 23

The Texas Progressive Alliance marches with the resistance as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Senate to begin studying school finance changes

We’ll see what this looks like.

Leaders in the Texas Senate are vowing to find ways to overhaul the state’s school finance system, saying a recent Texas Supreme Court decision granted them a prime opportunity to shake up the heavily criticized status quo.

On Monday, they announced the creation of a Senate budget working group — led by Friendswood Republican Larry Taylor — to tackle the issue. That group will work with the Senate Education Committee, which Taylor chairs, to propose replacements for the current school finance system.

“The opportunity is huge for us to get it right,” said Jane Nelson, chairwoman of the Senate’s powerful Finance Committee. “We need a whole new method of school finance.”

They’ll face an uphill climb in a session where legislators face several obstacles to major reform, not the least of which is money. The announcement comes a week after the Senate unveiled its preliminary budget, which did not include additional funding for public education.

During the Finance Committee’s first hearing of the 2017 legislative session on Monday, Nelson, R-Flower Mound, advised the newly formed working group to “start with a clean slate” in recommending a new school finance scheme. “It should be less complicated, innovative and should meet the needs of our students,” she added.

[…]

“We’re left with a question mark as to what this effort will mean by the Senate,” said Lynn Moak, a school finance expert at the Austin-based consulting firm Moak, Casey & Associates. The main question is “whether they’re trying to reform school finance within existing dollars or looking for possible additional dollars to fund the system.”

Nelson last week unveiled the Senate’s $213.4 billion two-year budget proposal, calling it a bare-bones starting point for financial discussions in what promises to be a particularly tight-fisted year. That proposal did not touch funding formulas for public education.

The House’s base budget — also released last week — included an additional $1.5 billion that could be spent on public education only if the Legislature reforms the school finance system.

Here’s the Chron story, which has the local angle.

In Houston, where voters last November overwhelmingly rejected having local taxpayers pay the state for $162 million in so-called “recapture” of school funds, HISD Trustee Jolanda Jones said the creation of the Senate group signaled that the message from the ballot initiative had been heard in Austin.

“They’ve done more with HISD pushing back than they have in 24 years of hearing school districts complain about it,” Jones, a vocal opponent of “recapture,” said Monday. “Recapture is based on the premise of Robin Hood, taking from the rich and giving to the poor, but that’s never what it did. It took from the poor and reallocated to the poor. Help me understand why 75 percent of our kids are poor, really poor, receiving free and reduced-priced meals, and you’re taking money from us? It makes no sense; we need more money, not less.”

Because the district will refuse to pay the recapture fee, the Texas Education Agency has threatened to remove commercial buildings from HISD’s taxing district this July so it can give the money to other “property poor” districts.

HISD Trustee Anna Eastman said she hopes lawmakers will act before the TEA takes the property tax revenue from local commercial properties, though she is not sure overhauling the school finance system can be done in one session. But she was heartened to see the Senate look at the funding system.

“School finance can’t be based on some kind of cryptic formula that makes it so kids in a certain pocket are getting lots of money and others are getting little,” Eastman said. “Areas such as ours shouldn’t be picking up all the slack for areas that can’t generate revenue off property growth. It shouldn’t be that big of a gap.”

In Pearland, where local schools receive $9,358 per student, the lowest share in the Houston area, Superintendent John Kelly said that if the state does not increase its share, his district may have to dip into reserve funds to provide any kind of an increase to employees or to meet rising costs. He said lawmakers have been disingenuous in saying they want to lower taxes while requiring districts to raise more local taxes.

“They talk out of one side of their mouth ‘tax cuts’ for people, but on the other side they’re confiscating the increase in tax values across the state,” Kelly said of the Legislature.

That would need to be a part of any overhaul for it to be worth the name. I’m more wary than optimistic. I fear what we will get will be another shuffling of existing funds that will mostly change who’s getting screwed less. I don’t have any faith that Dan Patrick’s Senate will put more money into the system, or that they will alter it in a way that allows for, let alone mandates, covering the costs of growth in a sensible fashion. Let’s not forget that at the same time this is going on, there will be a renewed push for private school vouchers, which will only drain more money from public education. They could surprise me in a good way, and I will reserve judgment until I see what they come up with, but I do not start out feeling very hopeful about this. The track record of the players involved argues otherwise. RG Ratcliffe, who also sees vouchers in this, has more.

Abbott versus Travis County

This could get ugly.

Sheriff Sally Hernandez

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is formally demanding that Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez reverse her new policy on cooperation with federal immigration authorities or lose state dollars, further escalating a showdown over “sanctuary cities” that have been in the crosshairs of Republican officials.

“This is not a pronouncement of sound public policy; it is a dangerous game of political Russian roulette — with the lives of Texans at stake,” Abbott wrote to Hernandez — whose jurisdiction includes Austin — in a letter dated Monday.

The newly elected sheriff, who campaigned on the issue, announced Friday that her department would reduce its cooperation with federal immigration authorities when they request an inmate be flagged for possible deportation. Her office said it would continue to hold people charged with very serious crimes, such as capital murder.

But that was not enough for Abbott, whose letter calls the policy, which is set to go into effect Feb. 1, “shortsighted” and backed by “frivolous” justifications. He quickly reacted Friday on Twitter, saying that his office “will cut funding for Travis County adopting sanctuary. Stiffer penalties coming.”

Abbott’s threat targets Criminal Justice Division grant money that is administered by his office. Travis County got almost $1.8 million from the division over the past year “based upon the commitment that federal immigration law would be enforced,” according to the letter.

“Your policy is in violation of that commitment,” Abbott told Hernandez. “Unless you reverse your policy prior to its effective date, your unilateral decision will cost the people of Travis County money that was meant to be used to protect them.”

In the letter, Abbott also made clear that he intends to make an example out of Hernandez during the 85th Legislative Session that started earlier this month. Abbott is set to lay out his priorities in his State of the State address, which is scheduled for Jan. 31.

Let’s pause for a moment to marvel at the glory of Greg Abbott – Greg Abbott! – demanding that federal law be obeyed and enforced. It’s almost as if all of his previous blathering about “states rights” and “federal overreach” was based not on principle but crass partisan politics. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

While basically everyone agrees that violent criminals who are undocumented should be deported, they represent a tiny fraction of the people who have been expelled from the country. The vast overwhelming majority are just ordinary people, including a lot of children who get swept up with their parents; many others get left behind without one or both parents. The Chron goes into some of the issues.

Though Travis County could be the first jurisdiction in Texas to lose funding over its immigration detainer policy, it’s not the first time Abbott has threatened to cut money over the issue. After Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez made minor changes to her county’s policy last year, he also promised to slash funding. It ultimately stayed in place because the county never declined an immigration detainer.

Harris County Sheriff-elect Ed Gonzalez has said that he is also concerned about holding inmates without pending charges for immigration enforcement, but will continue working with the federal government while he studies the issue.

Political fighting over so-called sanctuary cities has waged for years.

Though it is strictly the federal government who enforces immigration law, Washington and local entities began cooperating on the issue in 2008. The program matches the fingerprints of every person booked into jail against a sweeping law enforcement database, including immigration information from the Department of Homeland Security.

After they determined someone was here illegally, federal officials could request that local authorities detain those immigrants even if they were otherwise eligible for release, say by posting bond or having their criminal charges dropped.

Roughly one-sixth of the record 2.5 million immigrants President Barack Obama deported between 2008 and 2015 were removed through this program, many of them after being booked into jail on misdemeanor crimes.

Critics said it encouraged racial profiling and deported immigrants accused of minor crimes such as traffic offenses rather than focusing the government’s limited resources on violent immigrants. Several federal courts, none in Texas, also found that it could violate the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Five states and more than 500 counties have scaled back on cooperating with the federal government on the issue, according to a tally by the National Immigration Law Center, an advocacy group in Los Angeles.

Though the Obama administration overhauled the program in 2015 to try to address constitutional concerns, they remain. Last summer, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office was sued for holding a man for more than two months after officials dismissed the misdemeanor assault charge that had him flagged by immigration officials to begin with.

Lena Graber, an attorney for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, a national immigrant advocacy group in San Francisco, said federal detainer requests are civil orders, not arrest warrants meeting Fourth Amendment requirements.

You know all those arguments we’ve been having about why bail reform is needed to ensure our county jail isn’t stuffed full of people who aren’t a threat to anyone and who in many cases have never been (and never will be) convicted of a crime? The same is true for immigrant detention centers, and the stakes are a lot higher. That doesn’t even get into the whole sordid private prison industry, which has been the driving force behind the construction of many of those detention centers. Requiring local police to enforce federal immigration law is a huge drain on their resources, and has been devastating to a lot of people who have done nothing harmful. And as Sheriff Hernandez fights this battle in Travis County, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez made his own promises about 287(g), which he says he is still working on. People are going to expect an answer soon. Campos and Stace have more.

Ready for driverless cars, Houston?

Well, they’re coming, ready or not.

Researchers, business leaders and elected officials are about to turn Texas into the biggest laboratory for connected cars in the nation, with the likeliest place to spot a self-driving car in Houston along the high occupancy vehicle and toll lanes along some of the region’s busiest freeways.

Officials are moving quickly to create a welcoming environment for the vehicles and the scientists and engineers who will fine tune them, though safety standards and even testing methods remain a work in progress.

“We want companies to come to Texas and develop (autonomous and connected vehicle) technologies,” said Christopher Poe, assistant director of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and head of the agency’s connected and automated vehicle program.

[…]

In the Houston area, some of the first tests could be along high occupancy vehicle and high occupancy toll lanes where the cars could drive themselves in typical situations and then cede control to a person for stop-and-go traffic, Poe and others said.

To prepare for the cars, the A&M transportation institute and the Texas Department of Transportation earlier this month forged an agreement that allows researchers to test wireless-connected and automated vehicle technologies on state highways. The agreement will pave the way for installing devices on state highway rights of way such as signs readable by automated vehicles and even detectors that can communicate with cars to provide traffic information and even control traffic signals.

The development will take automated cars from closed areas such as the Texas A&M’s RELLIS campus west of College Station to the streets of Texas cities.

Before that, however, researchers and local officials in various Texas cities will develop locations where certain driverless vehicle technologies can be tested. In Houston, officials have identified the Texas Medical Center, high occupancy vehicle lanes maintained by Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Port of Houston as potential live testing locations. Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and El Paso also are readying for live testing.

Plans are to test facets of connected cars, such as traffic signals that could relay information and communicate in the Texas Medical Center, or autonomous vehicles that could lug freight from the docks of the Port of Houston to a central sorting operation.

Freight, along with public transit, are two transportation sectors in which businesses and local governments see the most potential for connected and autonomous vehicles. Texas, meanwhile, is ripe with opportunities for both, with increasing demand predicted for both trucks, freight rail and options other than solo driving in the state’s largest metro regions.

Local officials, especially Metro transit leaders, are particularly eyeing a western stretch of Westheimer, said Terence Fontaine, the transit agency’s executive vice president and chief innovation officer. The 12 miles of road between Loop 610 and Texas 6 – technically part of the state highway system as FM 1093 – is a major thoroughfare and big headache for drivers, with stops and starts because of traffic flow and seemingly ill-timed traffic lights.

There’s a lot more, so go read the whole thing. Much of this isn’t about fully autonomous vehicles but about integrating traffic and transportation systems to be able to work with those vehicles when the are ready, and as noted above there’s a light-synchronization piece for Metro. In the meantime, there’s a pilot program coming.

A program piloting self-driving vehicles around Texas, starting at closed facilities but one day moving to busy streets, will join nine others as the first proving grounds in the U.S. for autonomous vehicles.

U.S. Department of Transportation officials made the announcement late last week, among a dash of decisions in the last days of the Obama Administration before federal offices handed power to Donald Trump and his cabinet.

The proving grounds are a significant step in helping develop cars and trucks that can safely travel on American roads, including setting the standards for what regulations will oversee vehicles moving autonomously.

“This group will openly share best practices for the safe conduct of testing and operations as they are developed, enabling the participants and the general public to learn at a faster rate and accelerating the pace of safe deployment,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Thursday.

[…]

Under terms of the proving ground program overseen by federal officials, the proving grounds will be operational by Jan. 1, 2018.

Can’t wait to see what that looks like. Beyond this, consumer testing is farther out because Texas law hasn’t been updated to accommodate it. One such attempt in the last session went down to defeat after Google and other manufacturers didn’t like what was in it. I’m sure something else will get introduced this year, so we’ll see if it is more successful this time. Are you ready to look over at the car next to you and not see someone in the driver’s seat?

Time to pay attention to the HCDE again

Some highlights from the HCDE meeting agenda for this Thursday at 1 PM, as emailed to me:

1. Changing board meeting dates.

2. Michael Wolfe wants to name our Post Oak facility for his deceased mother.

3. Create a Home School Division.

4. Create a School Choice Division.

5. Create a board services division that reports directly to the board. Transparency anyone?

6. Create a new travel policy for superintendent and board – no reimbursement for out of town travel or training. Most board training conferences are out of town.

7. Change superintendent’s spending authority without board approval from $50,000 to $5,000. If something were to happen at one of our schools and they needed emergency repairs, etc., the superintendents hands would be tied.

8. Fire current attorney and hire a new one.

9. New construction for special ed school and recovery high school are still on hold.

The meeting is tomorrow, Thursday, at 1:00pm at the main HCDE Administration building, 6300 Irvington. We had a couple of blissful years of sanity with the HCDE after 2008, but the craziness came back in 2014 when Michael Wolfe and Don Sumners were elected to at large positions. If you have the time and capacity to attend and keep an eye on them and their shenanigans, that would be a good thing to do.

SCOTUS will not review voter ID ruling

For now.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Supreme Court issued orders from its January 19 conference this morning. After granting review in two cases from that conference last week, the justices did not add any new cases to their merits docket today. But there was one notable denial on today’s order list: Abbott v. Veasey, the challenge to a Texas law that requires voters to present specific forms of government-issued photo IDs to cast a ballot. The plaintiffs, including the federal government, argued that the law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bars voting practices or procedures that discriminate based on race. The lower courts agreed, and the state asked the Supreme Court to take up the case, but (after considering the case at three consecutive conferences) the justices declined to do so.

In a relatively unusual move, Chief Justice John Roberts issued a separate statement regarding today’s denial of review. Roberts suggested that, although the court will not take up the case right now, it could still do so in the future. He emphasized that the issues on which the state had asked the justices to weigh in – whether the legislature passed the voter ID law with an intent to discriminate and whether the law violates the federal Voting Rights Act – have not yet been finally determined by the lower courts, where proceedings are still ongoing. When those issues have been decided, Roberts noted, the state can always come back to the Supreme Court. At that point, he stressed, the two issues “will be better suited” for the court’s review – and, although he did not acknowledge it, the court is likely to have a ninth justice, appointed by President Donald Trump.

If the case does eventually return to the Supreme Court, the state could also have an important new ally: the federal government. Although the Obama administration had been one of the plaintiffs challenging the Texas law, on Friday the U.S. Department of Justice asked the federal district court handling the case to delay a hearing, scheduled for tomorrow, for 30 days. “Because of the change in administration,” the Department of Justice explained, the department “also experienced a change in leadership. The United States requires additional time to brief the new leadership of the Department on this case and the issues to be addressed at that hearing before making any representations to the Court.” Although there is no way to know for certain until the Department of Justice makes additional filings, Friday’s filing seems to at least leave open the possibility that the federal government could change its position on the Texas voter ID law.

See here for the background. In the short term, this means that elections will continue to be conducted as they were this past November, with more options available for people who do not have one of the “approved” forms of ID. The forthcoming hearing on voter ID in Corpus Christie is for a ruling on the intent of the law, which could have the effect of negating it altogether. However, there is a lot more in play here, as Rick Hasen explains.

In the short term this is good news for Texas voters (who get the benefit of the softened Texas voter id rules ordered by the Fifth Circuit and trial court) and for voting rights activists, who have the benefit of a Section 2 precedent from the Fifth Circuit that helps to strike down some of these more restrictive laws. And the trial court gets to make the record on whether Texas passed its law with a discriminatory purpose.

In the long run, however, things are much less certain. Either in this case, and/or in the North Carolina voting case (cert. petition now pending), the Court could eventually rein in the meaning of Section 2 (both intent and effect) to deal with restrictive voting laws. Within a few years, I expect the Court will likely do so, making it harder to challenge these laws and encouraging more Republican legislatures to enact similar laws.

So we’ll just have to see. That next hearing in February will tell us a lot about what may happen next. A statement from the Lone Star Project is here, a statement from MALC is here, and the Chron, Daily Kos, and the Press have more.

Pat Van Houte for Pasadena Mayor

This is the local race to watch this May.

Pat Van Houte

A Pasadena councilwoman who became a key witness in a recent federal lawsuit contesting the city’s redrawn voting districts said she will run for mayor in the upcoming election.

Pat Van Houte, who holds an at-large seat, made her announcement Friday, Jan. 6, the same day a federal judge’s decision overturning the city’s 2013 redistricting measure was released.

[…]

Van Houte was in the middle of the political fray nearly four years ago when the council, led by Mayor Johnny Isbell, pushed for the redistricting and a switch to two at-large positions and six-single member districts. However, Van Houte found herself in the council’s minority opposing the changes and ultimately went on to win election to an at-large position in 2015.

“The position of mayor is not something I had considered before; but since serving as an at-large council member, I’ve been traveling and seeing many different parts of the city. Over the last year, as I’ve been out meeting with residents, many people have offered their support and asked me to run for mayor,” Van Houte said. “I’m not running because of this ruling. However, serving as an at-large council member has put me in contact with a lot more people and has made me think more about stepping to the next level as far as leadership and the direction of the city.”

All eight single-member districts, based on the May 2013 election map and plan, will be on the ballot in the upcoming election. Filing for candidates runs from Jan. 18 through Feb. 17.

Van Houte, who was first elected to serve as the District D council member in 2009, said she anticipated the ruling.

“I was hoping for this outcome. From some of the questions that the judge asked during my testimony and a few things I heard after that point, I wasn’t surprised. I could not assume this would be the decision but I was certainly hopeful and I’m pleased with the decision,” said Van Houte, who testified during the trial.

It’s not been easy finding news about the Pasadena elections so far, though Chron columnist Mike Snyder continues to do a fine job writing about the redistricting case and its related effects. Van Houte doesn’t have a website or Facebook page yet, but she was the Council member that Mayor Johnny Isbell threw out of the meeting where the redistricting plan was adopted for exceeding the three-minute speaking time he had imposed on everyone. I’m pretty sure her willingness to take a stand like that will be a campaign theme.

Other candidates that have filed or will file, according to my Pasadena-base blogging colleague Gary Denton, include Jeff Wagner, JR Moon, Robert Talton, and Gilbert Pena. All are Republicans, with the latter two being former State Reps in HD144. I will be keeping an eye on this race going forward.

Now is the time to rent out your house

If it was your plan to do that, anyway.

The teams playing in next month’s Super Bowl [are now set] and the final rush for last-minute lodging will be in full swing.

That also means more house and apartment rentals will hit websites like Airbnb, VRBO and Austin-based HomeAway, which says demand for Houston-area vacation rentals has shot up by more than 1,300 percent. Rates for homes near NRG Stadium are averaging $2,000 per night.

HomeAway listings include an array of properties, from a “mini yacht” docked in Kemah for $375 per night to a three-bedroom traditional in West University with a pool for $4,600.

Local listings on Airbnb have also shot up, increasing 50 percent from Oct. 1 to Jan. 1 to 5,700 listings.

On HomeAway, there are 637 properties listed and as of Thursday, 84 percent were booked.

See here for the background. Looking at the chart at the end of the story, there are a lot of my Heights neighbors renting out their houses, with even more folks in Montrose doing so. Hope the money’s worth the trouble.

Interview with Jessica Shortall of Texas Competes

We are very familiar with the fight over Dan Patrick’s bathroom bill, which is encapsulated in SB6 but also exists in a larger sense in several other bills. A major component in this fight is the business community, which sees such legislation as a threat to its ability to attract and retain talent, especially younger talent, as well as a more immediate threat to the bottom line. We have all seen the North Carolina experience, even if Patrick refuses to accept it. One of the players in the fight is Texas Competes, which as they state on their website is “a partnership of business leaders committed to a Texas that is economically vibrant and welcoming of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people”. They’re not a lobbying group, which I confess I was not clear about going into this interview, but an engagement and education group, aiming to win hearts and minds to their cause. I spoke to their Managing Director Jessica Shortall last week about Texas Competes and how it is working to stop bad legislation like SB6 and promote a Texas that is welcoming and inclusive. Here’s what we talked about:

One useful point to add is their comparison of SB6 and HB2, the North Carolina law that has caused so much trouble for that state. The particulars of SB6 may change as Patrick tries to get enough votes to pass it, but the fundamentals remain.

Marching

In Austin.

Up to 50,000 activists swarmed the Capitol grounds on Saturday to fight for women’s rights on the heels of Trump’s inauguration. The high-spirited crowd joined more than a million protesters nationwide. The Austin march was so large that the front of the rally, which left from the Capitol and traveled down Congress Avenue, returned before thousands had even begun marching. Many long-time Austinites said it was the largest rally they’d ever seen in the capital city.

The protesters descended on downtown Austin, filling the air with chants and whistles that ricocheted among the highrises. They carried signs reading: “Nasty women unite”; “This pussy grabs back”; “Girls just wanna have fundamental rights”; “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries”; and “A woman’s place is in the revolution.”

“As you can see from the historic crowd, voters are paying attention,” said Sarah Wheat of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. “And we’re here to tell Trump, ‘Not on our watch.’”

[…]

Former state Senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat, highlighted the slate of speakers, opening her 20-minute speech with a reference to her 13-hour filibuster of sweeping abortion regulations that ultimately passed in 2013.

“Today, and though I do not do it very often, I am wearing those same pink sneakers that I did three years ago,” she said to booming applause. “I am wearing them not to remind you of something I did. But to remind myself of something you did.”

Giving no hints of her own political plans, Davis called on the thousands of activists to “fight like hell” to stay involved beyond the march through local organizing, contacting representatives and running for office. She called for equal pay for women as a means to improve the economy.

“In some ways we have been complicit in giving up our own power,” she said. “Well, I don’t know about you, my fellow nasty women warriors, but I have had enough of that. … We will not yield our bodies to be objectified, assaulted and trafficked.”

In Houston.

More than 20,000 singing, sign-waving protesters packed Hermann Square to roar their opposition to newly inaugurated President Donald Trump and show their solidarity with marching women across the nation Saturday.

The speaker line-up included Mayor Sylvester Turner, State Rep. Gene Wu and U.S. Rep. Al Green, who addressed a sea of people one organizer described as “the biggest crowd ever.”

“There is no room for hate in our state,” Turner told the enthusiastic masses.

Organized at the last minute, the march drew a massive and diverse crowd – even in a city not known for large protest turnout.

Planning started just over a week before the event, and the Facebook event only garnered around 5,000 responses.

“So elected officials take note,” one organizer said. “This is what could happen in 10 days.”

And there were a lot more of these around the country. (Around the world, too.) My Facebook feed on Saturday was jammed full of reports and pictures and videos, including more than a few from people I hadn’t known to be political before now. It’s encouraging and heartening, and a lot of people were energized by the experience. I’m certainly impressed by what I saw. My main concern is that we’ve seen energetic and uplifting demonstration before, most recently in 2013 with the Wendy Davis filibuster. As great as they are, they don’t mean much if they don’t translate into subsequent electoral victory, which in the end is what really matters. Circumstances are different now, and I feel like these marches will be building blocks for future action rather than one off events. They have definitely already delivered a message of resistance and accountability to the Republicans in Washington. It’s up to us from here to make sure they keep getting that message. The Austin Chronicle and the Current have more.