Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

March 6th, 2017:

Lillie Schechter elected HCDP Chair

Lillie Schechter

Six candidates were nominated for HCDP Chair at Sunday’s County Executive Committee meeting: Dominique Davis, Johnathan Miller, Chris Spellmon, Keryl Douglass, Eartha Jean Johnson, and Lillie Schechter. Each candidate was given two minutes for a speech in a pre-determined order, and the most interesting thing to come out of those speeches was candidates Spellmon and Douglass urging their supporters to cast their votes for Johnson. I presume this was a strategic move, to not split the vote among the three of them and give one candidate – Johnson – the best possible odds of making to a runoff. You may ask, as I did, why they just didn’t decline the nomination. Assuming they could decline the nominations, which may or may not be the case under the rules, being nominated meant they got to deliver those speeches and thus advocate for Johnson.

Not a bad plan, but it wasn’t enough. There were 359 current precinct chairs in attendance – afterwards, in the regular meeting, a bunch of new precinct chairs were inaugurated, but they were not eligible to vote in this election – and via the “division of the room” method we are all familiar with by now, Schechter emerged victorious in the first round, collecting 190 votes to Johnson’s 118; Miller had 30 and Davis 21. She was then sworn in by TDP Chair Gilberto Hinojosa, who was present for the meeting.

In the end, I supported Schechter. It was a tough choice – I liked all four of the candidates who asked for our votes – but in the end I decided Schechter had the best combination of priorities, experience, and fundraising abilities. She got off to a good start, calling all of the Chair candidates up to the dais and thanking them for their dedication. There’s always the possibility of bitterness after an election like this, but I didn’t get the sense there was any after this one. I hope that remains the case.

One promise all of the candidates made was to ensure the Party is fully funded for its day-to-day and campaign efforts, and to fill the empty precinct chair positions. The 359 chairs who voted were about 75% of active chairs at the time. There were others sworn in following the election as noted, but the grand total is still only about half of the total number of precincts, or maybe 60% of the precincts that have any real population in them. There’s plenty of room to grow, and that’s without mentioning the fact that some precinct chairs are more active than others. We will definitely have some objective data by which to judge Schechter’s tenure as Chair.

All in all, it was a good experience. I hope it’s a long time before I’m called upon again as a precinct chair to select someone for office. I’ve exercised enough power to last a lifetime, thanks. My thanks to now-former Chair Lane Lewis, and congratulations to Lillie Schechter. I think I speak for many when I say we hope for big things from you. The Chron has more.

Patrick versus the House

The Texas House isn’t all onboard with Dan Patrick’s agenda, and our Lite Guv has his shorts in a bunch about it.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick celebrated a milestone Wednesday: His Senate had acted on all four of Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency items with many more days to go in the 85th legislative session.

“It’s the earliest ever that anyone knows of that either body… has already passed all the emergency items,” Patrick said in a radio interview. Abbott’s top priorities are “out and done” in the Senate, Patrick boasted — a not-so-subtle contrast with the Texas House, which tackled its first emergency item this week.

It’s not the only bone Patrick has to pick with the House these days. As its resistance to some of his top priorities has come into focus in recent weeks, the lieutenant governor has become increasingly vocal about the tension between the two chambers.

“The brow-beating — I think the volume’s up a lot higher than we’ve seen in the past,” said state Rep. Lyle Larson, an ally of House Speaker Joe Straus, a fellow San Antonio Republican. “Using a brow-beating approach in governing never bodes well for anybody.

In recent media appearances, Patrick has stopped short of directly criticizing the House. But he has hardly concealed his irritation with a chamber that has shown little appetite for some of the issues he cares most about. The latest exhibit came Tuesday, when state Rep. Dan Huberty, the Houston Republican who chairs the House Public Education Committee, bluntly stated that Patrick’s school voucher bill will be dead on arrival in the lower chamber.

“They’ve said they’re against school choice, which is a high priority,” Patrick said in a radio interview on Monday. “We’re going to pass the Texas Privacy Act, which keeps men out of bathrooms and stops boys and girls from showering together in high schools. The House has said they’re not interested in that bill. I don’t know where they are on property tax relief, but… conservatives in the Senate have made a pledge that we’re going to get our job done.”

“What I always ask for is just bring a bill to the floor,” Patrick added. “We have 94 out of 150… House members [who] are Republicans. You need 76 to pass a bill. I believe there will be 76 out of 94 Republicans, if given a vote, on the House floor to pass all the legislation that we’re going to pass.”

The House has not responded in kind to most of Patrick’s public volleys, which date back to his panning of the lower chamber’s budget proposal in January — “I can’t explain the House budget” — and demand on the Capitol steps that same month that the House give school choice a vote this session. “It’s easy to kill a bill when no one gets to vote on it,” he said, joining Abbott at a school choice rally.

Then there is Patrick’s highest-profile priority, the so-called “bathroom bill” that would require transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their “biological sex” in public schools, government buildings and public universities. Straus made clear early in the session that he has serious concerns with the legislation, which is set for a committee hearing Tuesday amid mounting opposition from the business community.

[…]

Those familiar with House leadership say Patrick’s recent comments probably aren’t helping him make his case across the hall. If anything, they’re solidifying the House’s resolve to chart its own path this session.

“With all due respect, I think they could care less,” said former state Rep. Jim Keffer, an Eastland Republican close to Straus. “Sitting there pounding your chest and pointing your fingers and trying to kick sand in someone’s face — that’s pretty childish to me.”

That’s one word for it. It’s also basically how Patrick came into the Senate ten years ago, full of bluster and glory-hounding and expecting everyone to do what he says because he’s Dan Patrick. After realizing the limits of that approach, he spent the next couple of sessions being more of a work horse and getting some stuff done. Then after most of the conventional Republicans in the Senate got replaced by people more like him and the upper chamber became the place where the crazy happened, he got a promotion and reverted to form. While it’s never comfortable depending on the House for sanity – Speaker Straus aside, the lower chamber has more than its fair share of lunatics and bad actors – it still remains true that people who think they’re important really don’t like other people who think they’re even more important. So keep raging against the machine, Dan. I’m sure that will be very effective.

The long-term future of public transit

By “long-term” I mean by 2050 or so.

For an agency that’s spent decades guiding freeway expansion, it was a stark admission for members of the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s transportation policy council.

“Future growth and the resulting travel is expected to surpass our ability to meet regional mobility needs by relying solely on increased roadway capacity,” the agency’s staff wrote.

Facing a future in which 14.2 million people will live in the eight-county Houston area in 2050, transportation planners are proposing a special task force that will work on the region’s long-range transportation plan so that high-capacity transit can start to gain a foothold after years – perhaps decades in some cases – without traction in car-crazed Houston.

The regional transportation plan is updated every five years, for a 25-year period. The current plan, approved in 2015, covers until 2040. The next version will reflect plans for highway, transit, bicycle and maritime projects for 2020 to 2045.

Though plans always have some bold transit components – ranging from commuter trains to major expansions of Metropolitan Transit Authority’s light rail system – they rarely proceed in earnest.

“Some of them have been in three or four editions of our plan and they are no farther along than they were 15 years ago,” said Alan Clark, director of transportation planning for the area council, which acts as the local metropolitan planning organization responsible for doling out federal transportation funds.

On the one hand, it’s very encouraging to see official recognition of the reality that road capacity is a finite thing, and that expanding transit in the greater region is going to be vital to meeting our mobility needs. On the other hand, I’m going to be 79 years old in 2045, so my expectations are necessarily modest. Gotta start somewhere, I guess.

Ogg sides with bail reformers

As well she should.

Kim Ogg

District Attorney Kim Ogg on Friday filed a brief supporting bail reform in the lawsuit brought against Harris County’s misdemeanor judges to change the bail system.

The civil rights lawsuit, filed in federal court, is expected to begin a three-day hearing on Monday about whether the judge should issue an injunction.

Ogg, whose office is not a party to the litigation, filed a four-page amicus brief saying bail reform is necessary and long overdue.

“It makes no sense to spend public funds to house misdemeanor offenders in a high-security penal facility when the crimes themselves may not merit jail time,” she wrote in the brief. “These secure beds and expensive resources should be prioritized for the truly dangerous offenders and ‘flight risks’ who need to be separated from the community.”

[…]

Ogg said the issue is whether defendants charged with minor offenses are being held in the Harris County jail solely because of their inability to pay bondsmen’s fees, not because of legitimate concerns about their willingness to appear in court.

“Our primary concern is public safety. We do that by being smart on crime,” Ogg said. “When people are charged with minor offenses and do not present significant risks of flight or danger to the community, releasing them on their own recognizance – or with minimal restrictions – is called for by both the Texas and U.S. constitutions.”

Tom Berg, Ogg’s First Assistant, said the office is not “taking sides” but just explaining that they want to see change.

“These are major changes that we believe are long overdue,” he said. Berg noted that the office is also supporting county-funded defense attorneys at magistrate courts that run 24 hours a day with a prosecutor and a judge but no lawyer at that initial appearance. That issue has run into hurdles because of several issues but mostly because of the cost of staffing the initiative.

Ogg joins Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, whose office is party to the lawsuit, in siding with the reformers. I presume an amicus brief coming from the District Attorney in this matter would carry some weight. The next round of hearings begins today, so we should know soon enough what the effect of Ogg’s intervention will be.