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April, 2017:

Weekend link dump for April 30

Other Congressional districts that could be as competitive as the 6th District in Georgia was.

The evolution of the TV mom.

From the archives, how to deal with a psychopath. (Spoiler: If at all possible, don’t.)

“It’s hard to call these meetings political, at least in the narrow sense of partisan politics (save, perhaps, for those cases where campaign donations were involved). But they weren’t without meaning; who a president brought to the White House said something about the image he sought to project and the people he tried to speak for.”

“For months, Mr. Kalanick had pulled a fast one on Apple by directing his employees to help camouflage the ride-hailing app from Apple’s engineers. The reason? So Apple would not find out that Uber had been secretly identifying and tagging iPhones even after its app had been deleted and the devices erased — a fraud detection maneuver that violated Apple’s privacy guidelines.”

“For most people, the luxury of living in a relatively stable democracy is the luxury of not following politics with a nerve-racked constancy. Trump does not afford this.”

Is Sean Hannity the next Bill O’Reilly?

There’s a lot of junk orbiting the earth, and it’s becoming a problem.

“Greek yogurt giant Chobani filed a lawsuit Monday against right-wing radio host Alex Jones, accusing the conspiracy theorist of publishing false information about the company.”

“Any enterprise run by a group of adults obsessing over the sexuality of teenage girls is bound to be deeply creepy.”

To hug or not to hug at work.

I’m a big Houston Rockets fan, but I confess to having a soft spot for the San Antonio Spurs as well. Stuff like this is one reason why.

“The big question in American politics is whether Trump’s opponents can find a platform and set of candidates that unite the diverse and somewhat diffuse anti-Trump majority, not whether the president’s fans continue to celebrate him.”

RIP, Jonathan Demme, Oscar-winning director of The Silence of the Lambs.

“The lowly caterpillar Galleria mellonella, also known as the wax worm, can digest a type of plastic commonly found in packaging, according to a paper published Monday in Current Biology. The finding continues a string of recently discovered plastic-eating organisms that has some scientists hoping nature might share some of its tricks and help us rid the environment of the alien materials.”

Now that is how you deal with a troll.

Eleven reasons for ESPN’s layoffs.

Why is the Trump administration arguing that it should be able to deport people like Melania Trump?

“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

I told them I’d been abducted by a UFO. There was a long pause. I heard them do a big sigh. And they closed out the conversation saying that they’d make a note of it and I should wait for the DHS to investigate my report.”

“Please note that monkey-wrenching a despicably white nationalist Trump initiative with phone calls is not the paramount duty of patriots and neighbors at this time. We shouldn’t be making calls like that until after we’ve called our senators and representatives and flooded those phone-lines with sincere, passionately civil statements to hold those members of Congress accountable for holding Trump accountable.”

RIP, Richard “Racehorse” Haynes, legendary Houston defense attorney.

Harris County bail system ruled unconstitutional

Damn right.

A federal judge in Houston Friday issued a scathing denouncement of Harris County’s cash bail system, saying it is fundamentally unfair to detain indigent people arrested for low-level offenses simply because they can’t afford to pay bail.

In a 193-page ruling released Friday, Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ordered the county to begin releasing indigent inmates May 15 while they await trial on misdemeanor offenses.

Rosenthal concluded the county’s bail policy violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution.

“Liberty is precious to Americans and any deprivation must be scrutinized,” the order states, citing a comment from Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht.

The judge also granted “class-action” status to the case, meaning that her findings will apply to all misdemeanor defendants taken into custody.

The ruling – a temporary injunction that will remain in place until the lawsuit is resolved pending appeal – will not apply to those charged with felonies, or those who are being detained on other charges or holds.

First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said late Friday officials are reviewing the orders.

“No decision has been made at this time concerning an appeal of the preliminary injunction,” he said.

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the ruling. Grits highlights a key aspect of it.

Judge Rosenthal heard testimony from the Hearing Officers setting bail amounts on the front lines and poignantly found them non-credible: “The Hearing Officers’ testimony that they do not ‘know’ whether imposing secured money bail will have the effect of detention in any given case … and their testimony that they do not intend that secured money bail have that effect, is not credible.” In fact, she attributed “little to no credibility in the Hearing Officers’ claims of careful case-by-case consideration.” In the hearings she watched, they “treat the bail schedule, if not binding, then as a nearly irrebuttable presumption in favor of applying secured money bail at the prescheduled amount.”

If Judge Rosenthal were Politfact columnist, she’d be giving the Hearing Officers a “Pants on Fire” rating. To the extent that appellate courts must rely on her credibility assessments, and on many topics, they must, those lines may well preclude quite a few appellate paths for the defendants.

Her critique extended beyond the Hearing Officers, though to elected judges acting as “policymakers” overseeing Harris’ County pretrial-detention mill, whom she found to be willfully and conveniently ignorant about the human impact of they system they’re running:

policymakers are apparently unaware of important facts about the bail-bond system in Harris County, yet they have devised and implemented bail practices and customs, having the force of policy, with no inquiry into whether the bail policy is a reasonable way to achieve the goals of assuring appearance at trial or law-abiding behavior before trial. In addition to the absence of any information about the relative performance of secured and unsecured conditions of release to achieve these goals, the policymakers have testified under oath that their policy would not change despite evidence showing that release on unsecured personal bonds or with no financial conditions is no less effective than release on secured money bail at achieving the goals of appearance at trial or avoidance of new criminal activity during pretrial release.

That’s exactly right – they’re not going to change unless somebody makes them, and Judge Rosenthal clearly has decided she’s that somebody.

I would note that all of those elected judges are Republicans (*), and they are all up for re-election next year, so there is another way to force a change here. In the meantime, I have to ask again, why are we even still fighting this? What principle are we defending? Why are we writing checks to fat cat Washington DC Republican lawyers to “advise” on whether or not to appeal? Stop the madness and stop wasting my tax dollars on this crap, and settle the damn lawsuit already. It’s the right thing to do on every level. District Attorney Kim Ogg wants to settle. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez wants to settle. Commissioner Rodney Ellis wants to settle. Everyone else needs to get in line.

(*) The judges in question preside over the County Courts, where misdemeanors are heard. County Court Judge Darrell Jordan, who was elected in 2016 to fill a newly-created bench, is the lone Democrat. He also is the lone judge to favor settling.

House approves bill to kill margins tax


The Texas House on Thursday approved a proposal that would phase out an unpopular business tax that provides funding for public schools.

The proposal by state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, would not reduce the state’s franchise tax during the current penny-pinching legislative session, but it would do so in future years. Under Bonnen’s bill, economic growth would trigger reductions in the tax, which currently brings in about $8 billion every two-year budget cycle, until it ultimately disappears.

About $1.8 billion in franchise tax revenue in the current two-year budget cycle goes to the Property Tax Relief Fund, which pays for public schools. Democrats, arguing that the tax cut would cause lawmakers in later years to underfund crucial public programs, railed against the proposal for nearly two hours. They offered a series of amendments that would have lessened the extent of the tax cut or redirected funds for college tuition, pre-kindergarten and other priorities, but all were defeated.

The final vote took place late Thursday evening at the end of a long day on the House floor, which followed a marathon debate Wednesday over “sanctuary” jurisdictions that lasted until roughly 3 a.m. When Bonnen’s proposal finally hit the floor, few Republicans offered any remarks in response to Democrats’ outrage; most lawmakers in the chamber appeared to be paying little attention.


Businesses dislike the franchise tax, often called a “margin tax,” because they say it’s overly complicated and can punish them in less-prosperous years. Because it’s based on a business’s gross receipts, a business can still be required to pay the tax even in years it takes a loss. Many call the tax, which was passed as a way to reform the state’s school finance system, an unnecessary burden, and high-profile Republicans including Gov. Greg Abbott have sought its demise.

Lawmakers in 2015 cut the tax rate by 25 percent, which gave them $2.6 billion less revenue to help craft a budget this year. Proponents of the tax’s elimination argue it would stimulate the state’s economy and create jobs.

In the short term, it’s difficult to say just how much revenue is at stake in Bonnen’s proposal because the tax is highly dependent on economic conditions. A fiscal note written by the state’s Legislative Budget Board estimated it could cut public school funds by up to $3.5 billion in the 2020-2021 biennium.

I mean, look, I know the margins tax was a poorly conceived kludge that everyone hates (or at least claims to) and which has been a top GOP whipping boy for a couple of sessions, but please do keep two things in mind. One, this tax, which replaced the also-hated and seldom-paid franchise tax, was created in 2006 to help fill the revenue void left by the Supreme Court school finance decision in 2005 that led to a mandated across-the-board property tax cut. It was never going to fully fill that void, and indeed its poor design and regular underperformance has been a problem, but it at least made up for some of the funding for schools that disappeared when the previous system was declared to have been an unconstitutional statewide property tax. Something is going to need to replace the revenue lost to this tax being (eventually) eliminated, and all we have right now is wishful thinking about economic growth, a continued reliance on local property taxes, and a handful of magic beans. And two, it’s probably not a coincidence that the amount of revenue lost in this biennium to the previous one’s margins tax cut is almost precisely the amount the House and Senate are arguing about in order to make this session’s budget “balance”. Cause and effect, y’all. You should have one of your interns Google it.

Winning the battles but losing the war

That’s the story of reproductive rights, and access to reproductive health care in general, in Texas.

Right there with them

“We have made tremendous gains,” said Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life. He hopes that someday, perhaps under Trump, the Supreme Court will overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling upholding abortion rights. In the meantime, when he surveys abortion trends in Texas, he sees “huge progress.”

Abortion rights advocates ruefully agree they have lost ground.

“What makes Texas unique is that the clinic system was undercut so quickly,” said Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research group. “Texas has taken what might have happened in a decade or more in another state and collapsed it into a year.”

Texas has “eroded the fabric of care once in place to serve women and make the current landscape extremely difficult to navigate,” Whole Women’s Health CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller wrote in an email. “As a result of these laws, there are fewer abortion providers in the state and many women have to travel hundreds of miles to receive care.”

Whole Woman’s Health had five clinics in the state a few years ago. After Texas imposed new restrictions, the group shuttered two and decided to challenge the law in court. One clinic is finally set to reopen in Austin in the next couple of weeks. The other, in Beaumont on the Gulf Coast, will remain closed


More than half the clinics and abortion facilities in the state had already shut down. Just 17 abortion facilities remained in six counties — down from 41 centers in 17 counties in 2012, according to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, a university group that tracks legislation’s impact on reproductive rights.

About half of the Planned Parenthood clinics in the state are among those that have closed. The clinics that are still open face new restrictions and onerous administrative requirements for them and their patients. Women seeking abortion services face travel distances that have increased by four times over the past few years, according to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project.

A few abortion providers are making plans to re-open: Northpark Medical Group in Dallas started performing abortions again in February after a three-year hiatus. Planned Parenthood will reopen its clinic in Waco by the summer. And Whole Woman’s Health, the Supreme Court plaintiff, will reopen soon in Austin.

But access is unlikely to get back to where it was. Planned Parenthood has no plans to re-open its six shuttered clinics, though it has also resumed services at its San Antonio clinic in 2015. That’s the closest clinic for a woman in the Lower Rio Grande Valley — 250 miles away.

Read the whole depressing thing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, nothing will change until we change who gets elected. There’s a bottomless appetite for bills to restrict abortion in any number of crazy ways, and while they can sometimes be defeated in court, they do a lot of damage in the meantime and cost a bunch of money to litigate away. The only way to stop this is going to be to have a Legislature that doesn’t pass these bills and/or a Governor who will veto them. Nothing will change until that happens.

Texas asks for Ike Dike money from the feds

Good luck with that.

Almost a decade after Hurricane Ike killed dozens of people and caused $30 billion in damage, a group of Texas politicians and business leaders say they finally have “all the support necessary” to break ground on a massive coastal barrier that would protect the Houston area from another devastating hurricane.

Now they just need $15 billion to build it. And that’s what they urged the federal government to provide in a recent letter to President Donald Trump.

Signers of the letter include Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, more than 20 area mayors, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, and several Houston-area members of the Texas Legislature.


Even for a president that has pledged to restore the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, the barrier will be a tough sell. Such an ambitious public works project has never been built in anticipation of a natural catastrophe. It took the Great Storm of 1900, which killed thousands of people in Galveston, to get a seawall constructed on the island; New Orleans’ failing levee system was not fixed until after Hurricane Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people in 2005; and only after Hurricane Sandy devastated New York did Congress allocate a significant amount of money to pay for storm protection studies.

The massive projects that do get funding also usually require years of planning and federal studies. In December, then-President Barack Obama signed a law that might help speed up that process for the Ike Dike, but there is still no official consensus plan on exactly what to build. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will have the final say on what plan to pursue and is conducting its own study of the issue, has estimated that construction on any such system for Texas couldn’t begin until 2024 at the earliest.

And it might take far more than $15 billion to get the coastal spine up and running. Some have estimated it will actually cost twice that to build it, not including the money necessary for continued maintenance and operation of the barrier system.

We know what Trump’s promises are worth, so take that “pledge” with an appropriate amount of sea salt. That said, there’s no real precedent for this as noted in the story, and it’s not like the Republican Congress is inclined to spend money on anything but the Pentagon and tax cuts for the rich. So yeah, go ahead and ask – it costs nothing to ask – but don’t get your hopes up. The Chron has more.

Saturday video break: Reason To Believe

Here he is, in all his cheesy glory, Rod Stewart:

As much as I love 70s music, I’ve never much cared for Rod Stewart. It’s just too much, you know? I know, we were never meant to take any of it seriously, but I’m still left cold by Rod Stewart. That said, this is one of his tunes that I like, and it’s a nice version of it. Now here also in acoustic mode, is Bruce Springsteen:

That song is from his dark, moody, mostly acoustic Nebraska album, also known as “the one before Born In The USA“. It may be the lightest song on that album, which tells you all you need to know about the rest of it, which is really good but not something you’d put on at a party.

Early voting Day Five: Can we make any guesses yet?

Mike Snyder wonders about the turnout so far in the May elections.

When Pasadena last chose a mayor, in 2013, about 7 percent of its registered voters determined who would lead the industrial port city of 150,000. Mayor Johnny Isbell, who won re-election by an overwhelming margin, attributed the paltry turnout to public satisfaction with “the direction the city is headed.”

Four years later, there is ample reason to question that sanguine assessment. But history suggests that turnout will again be low as voters in Pasadena, Pearland and other Houston-area communities choose mayors, council members and school trustees. Early voting started Monday, and election day is May 6.


In Pasadena, for example, the mayor who was returned to office by 3,599 voters was the driving force behind a change in the City Council structure that a federal judge found intentionally diluted the influence of the city’s Latino majority. And reporting by some of my Houston Chronicle colleagues will provide new details about the inequitable allocation of city services on Isbell’s watch.

Low turnout in local elections is not limited to Pasadena.

A year ago, just 2,744 Pearland residents – 4.3 percent of the fast-growing city’s registered voters – cast ballots in an election that included three City Council seats and three school trustee positions, according to the Community Impact newspaper. In Friendswood, 9 percent of voters – 2,422 residents – cast ballots for two city council seats and two sales tax increases.

It’s really hard to find information about past Pasadena elections, because before this year the city conducted their own elections, and the Pasadena city website sucks eggs. You can find returns on the 2015 election in Pasadena here, but note that Mayor Isbell was not on the ballot. The only data I can find from the May 2013 election, which Snyder references in his piece, is in this Chron story, which notes that Isbell defeated Gilbert Pena by 3,599 (83 percent) to 751 (17 percent), for a total turnout (not counting undervotes) of 4,350. In that 2015 election, again without knowing how many people may have skipped the two At Large Council races, the District G At Large race received 4,150 votes. So let’s make 4,350 the mark to beat for Pasadena this year.

As you can see from the updated Harris County EV totals, after five days 1,611 in person votes have been cast in Pasadena. If the next four days are proportional to the first five, then about 2,900 in person early votes will be cast. I have no way of knowing how many mail ballots received by the Clerk are Pasadena ballots – the proportion of Pasadena votes to total votes is about 1/4, so with 4,362 mail ballots so far there may be between 1,000 and 1,100 Pasadena mail votes. Which, if true – and please note that I’m really guessing here – would put Pasadena’s total so far at roughly 2,700 cumulative votes, which is on pace to reach or exceed 4,000 before Election Day. I don’t know what the actual number of Pasadena mail ballots is, I don’t know if the next fours days will meet, exceed, or fall short of the pace of the first five, and I don’t know what the share of Pasadena’s votes are usually cast early, so I could be way off, but if I had to bet right now, I’d put my money on the over for turnout. I’ll review this projection after early voting ends, but that’s my guess at this time.

As for Pearland, you can see the daily EV totals for Brazoria County here. It is broken down by location, and I assume (though I don’t know for sure) that the Pearland East and Pearland West locations are the only ones we care about for this purpose. There were 3,387 votes cast in May of 2014, which is the better comparison for this year since there was a Mayoral race then as well. Pearland ISD had 2,868 voters that year. In each case, about two thirds of the total final vote was cast early, so when we have a cumulative early vote total for Pearland, we can take a reasonable guess at final turnout. The Brazoria elections site only has three days’ worth of data at this time, so I’m not going to go out on any limbs here, but I will venture to propose that whatever the final EV total is for Pearland and Pearland ISD, the ultimate number will be about half again that much. Feel free to mock any and all of my numbers in the comments.

Get ready for the “sanctuary cities” lawsuits

It’s just a matter of time.

Now that Senate Bill 4 is on its way to becoming law, opponents are looking to the courts for relief – and a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case is giving them hope.
The high court struck down parts of a controversial 2010 immigration law in Arizona on the grounds that Congress, not the states, has the power to create immigration law. Experts say that argument could come into play with Texas’ SB 4, which requires local jails to comply with immigration detention requests that federal officials have said are voluntary.

“My opinion is the state is regulating in the immigration field,” said Barbara Hines, senior fellow at the immigration reform group the Emerson Collective. “What the state of Texas is doing is they are creating their own detainer program. That is pre-empted. Immigration is a federal area.”

Among other things, SB 4 would create civil and criminal penalties for officials who disregard requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to extend the detention of jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally. Those detention requests, or detainers, help facilitate possible deportation proceedings.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, predicted that the bill will follow the same course as Arizona’s SB 1070, better known as the “papers please” law because it required law enforcement officers in Arizona to demand the documentation of anyone they believed was in the country illegally.

Texas’ SB 4 doesn’t require officers to ask, but it prohibits sheriffs or police chiefs from keeping their officers from doing so.

“It allows local law enforcement to ask anybody on the street for their immigration status,” said Anchia, who chairs the Democrat-dominated Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which is fighting the state in court over redistricting maps it says are racially discriminatory.


Critics have argued the bill would separate families, deport well-meaning immigrants and create a fear in immigrant communities that might undermine their safety.

They picked up a legal argument this week after a group of mayors, including Austin Mayor Steve Adler, met with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for clarity on the ramifications for so-called “sanctuary cities.”

Sessions confirmed Tuesday to the mayors that compliance with the federal immigration detention requests sent to local jails — the central requirement of SB 4 — isn’t mandated under federal law. Rather, the jails can choose whether to hold inmates longer at the request of ICE, Sessions said.

That the comments came from such a high-ranking Trump administration official deflated the notion often associated with SB 4: that local officials like Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez are breaking federal law by choosing to ignore some ICE detention requests.

It also raised questions over whether the state could step in and create an immigration law making the detainers mandatory.

“It is inevitable that you will see cities and counties across the state suing the state. The overreach is unprecedented,” Austin City Council Member Greg Casar said. “I don’t know who died and made Greg Abbott (into) Putin, but our cities are going to fight back.”

See here for the background, and here for more on what Mayor Adler said about his meeting with Sessions. I hope opponents of this lousy bill flood the zone with lawsuits. It’s clear from the HB2 experience that setbacks in court will not stop the Lege from trying the same things again in the future, but it’s still necessary. Also, I say Greg Abbott has always had authoritarian inclinations, he’s just more comfortable expressing them in public now.

There will also be many headaches for law enforcement agencies, which strongly opposed SB4.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo spoke vehemently against Senate Bill 4 Thursday afternoon, calling it a dangerous move by the state Legislature because it would redirect limited HPD resources from crime fighting efforts to an initiative that does not improve public safety.

Acevedo did not share if HPD would alter its policies if SB 4 were to become law. However, he made it clear during the afternoon presser he would make public safety a priority over policies he believe are unrelated.

“I am carrying out my sworn duty and moral duty to speak out on matters of public safety. And I’m not here to keep a job to do it,” he said.


The legislation would force police to honor all federal requests to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally until federal authorities can investigate the person’s status. It also would prohibit local jurisdictions from passing or enforcing an ordinance that prohibits police officers from inquiring about a detained person’s immigration status, which would nullify the Houston Police Department’s 1990 policy on the matter.

“If that language does not get removed … we’re going to have some negative consequences,” Acevedo said.

Police departments across the state, including Houston, are understaffed, he said. And the bill would diminish those already limited resources, he added. Just this year Acevedo announced plans to target high-crime areas and violent documented gang members.

He also announced a joint effort with the Texas Department of Public Safety to decrease violent crime in the area by creating two squad assigned to the initiative.

However, he believes SB4 may affect those plans.

“We don’t have the resources, nor do we have the bandwidth nor the desire to be ICE agents. If I wanted to work for ICE, I would’ve applied for ICE,” he said.

Acevedo’s worry is that a police officer’s duty and the proposed policy will create a divide among departments throughout the state. While police officers are sworn to protect, he says the bill could open the door for harassment.

“I will lose my ability and authority to direct (my officers) workflow,” he said. “ … And all of sudden I’ll have a police officer that wants to go off and play ICE agent all day.”

He went on to add he hopes that isn’t the case, but that perception would be damaging for Houston – particularly on immigrant communities.

It’s not about what local officials want, it’s about what Greg Abbott wants. Sorry, Chief. The Chron, ThinkProgress, and the Press have more.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a flying car!


Uber is looking to North Texas as a testing ground for its initiative to make intra-urban flying vehicle rides a reality. The company announced Tuesday that Dallas and Fort Worth are its first U.S. partner cities for what its dubbing the “Uber Elevate Network.”

The company hopes to have the first demonstration of how such a network of flying, hailed vehicles would work in three years.

Uber is also working with Dallas’ Hillwood Properties to plan vertiports, sites where the aircraft would pick up and drop off passengers. Fort Worth’s Bell Helicopter is among companies partnering with Uber to help develop the actual vehicles, called VTOLs because they would vertically take off and land.

The announcement was made at a three-day Uber Elevate Summit being held in Dallas.

“This is an opportunity for our city to show leaders from around the world and across industries why Dallas should be a part of building a better future for urban mobility,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said in a prepared statement.


The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Bell is developing propulsion technology to build electric airborne vehicles “that are quieter than the usual helicopter.”

“It’s not going to happen right away, tomorrow, but the technology is definitely there,” Bell chief executive Mitch Snyder told the newspaper. “We definitely believe the hybrid electric is something we could go make and fly right now. But I think full electric, to give it the range and everything you want out of it, is not quite there.”

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said in a prepared statement that she is “thrilled” her city is part of the Elevate initiative.

“Being in the North Texas region, which encourages innovation and responsible businesses to thrive, we trust that this will be a beneficial choice for the development of the Elevate project,” she said.

Fast Company reported that Uber is portraying Elevate as “a cheap alternative to building new roads and expanding public transit” but noted that Rawlings maintains Dallas has to provide as many transportation options as possible.

“Anytime there’s innovation in the marketplace, I don’t think anybody truly knows the results of these things, or the costs,” Rawlings told Fast Company. “We’ve got to be multimodal — there’s no question — in this city.”

Well, that’s one way to avoid traffic, I suppose. Someone should call up Avery Brooks and tell him his question may soon be getting an answer. Uber has a former NASA engineer working on this idea, for which they released a white paper last October, and they say they hope to have it off the ground (as it were) by 2020. How likely is that? Wired asked the same question.

If that sounds ambitious, you possess a basic understanding of the challenges involved here. The kind of aircraft Uber envisions shuttling customers through the air—electric, with vertical takeoff and landing capability, and capable of flying 100 miles in just 40 minutes—don’t exist yet. Nor does the infrastructure to support them. The FAA, an agency not known for speed, must ensure these aircraft meet all federal safety regulations and figure out where and how they fit into a complex air traffic control system.

Instead of cracking those problems on its own, Uber plans to punt. It hopes to play the role of a catalyst, spurring manufacturers to build the aircraft, the FAA to figure out the regulations, and cities to wave them in. Company CEO Travis Kalanick apparently wants to play the role of Elon Musk, who came up with the idea for hyperloop and is letting everyone else figure out how to make it work. The reward for playing Kalanick’s game? Accessing Uber’s 55 million monthly active riders in nearly 600 cities worldwide.

And here’s the crazy part: Uber could make it happen. “I think 2020 is realistic for a vehicle that is not replacing an airplane but replacing a car,” says Richard Pat Anderson, director of the Flight Research Center at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. A purely electric aircraft might remain elusive, but a serial hybrid setup—where the aircraft carries a fuel-burning turbine to keep the juice flowing, much like the Chevrolet Volt—could work.

Which is not to say there aren’t other obstacles.

“If there are flying cars, then well obviously you have added this additional dimension where a car could potentially fall on your head and would be susceptible to weather,” [Tesla CEO] Musk said. “And of course you’d have to have a flying car [that operates by] autopilot because otherwise, forget it.”

Think weaving through traffic on a busy day is frustrating? Try adding an entirely new dimension to the mix. “Essentially with a flying car you’re talking about going 3-D,” Musk says. “There’s a fundamental flaw with cities where you’ve got dense office buildings and apartment buildings and duplexes, and they’re operating on three dimensions, but then you go to the street, and suddenly they’re two-dimensional.”

Getting your 3-D driving license from the DMV isn’t the only challenge a future of flying cars would have to overcome, Musk added. While Tesla has announced an update that promises to ease drivers’ “range anxiety,” seeing a flashing empty light while your car is in midair might cause more of a range heart attack. And just imagine being one of the poor street-bound souls if two-ton automobiles start falling out of the sky.

“Even in autopilot, and even if you’ve got redundant motors and blades, you’ve still gone from near-zero chance of something falling on your head to something greater than that,” Musk said.

So good luck with that, Dallas. I guess we may soon find out what a few billion dollars in venture capital and an utter disregard for the rule of law or the norms of society can do. The Verge and the Dallas Observer have more.

Friday random eleven: Ladies’ night, part 43

We come to the end of this long-lived theme.

1. I Wonder – Yma Sumac
2. Walking On Thin Ice – Yoko Ono
3. How ‘Bout You – Yonder Mountain String Band (Allie Kral)
4. Nightswimming – You Say Party! We Say Die! (Carissa Ropponen)
5. Credit In The Straight World – Young Marble Giants (Alison Statton)
6. If I Can’t Have You – Yvonne Elliman
7. Never Forget You – Zara Larsson & MNEK
8. Reply – Zendaya
9. Seekir – Zola Jesus (Nika Roza Danilova)
10. Eat For Two – 10,000 Maniacs (Natalie Merchant)
11. Bone China – 50 Foot Wave (Kristin Hersh)

Yeah, Zendaya. Have I mentioned that I have daughters? As for the two numeric groups at the end, that’s just how iTunes sorts things. This particular theme took the better part of a year, which means that now I have to come up with something else. I’ll ponder that over the next few days, and you’ll know in a week if I came up with something or if I’m just stalling for time. Happy Friday, y’all.

House passes its “sanctuary cities” bill


After more than 16 hours of debate, the Texas House of Representatives early Thursday morning tentatively gave a nod to the latest version of a Senate bill that would ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas.

The 93-54 vote on second reading fell along party lines and came after one of the slowest moving but most emotional legislative days at the state Capitol.

The vote came at 3 a.m. after state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, successfully made an what some Democratic members called an unprecedented motion to group all of the remaining amendments — more than 100 — and record them as failed. He said he made that suggestion so members wouldn’t be forced to pull their amendments. The motion passed 114 to 29, with about a third of Democrats approving the measure.

Members voted on the bill after adding back a controversial provision that extends the scope of the bill and allows local peace officers to question the immigration status of people they legally detain. The original House version of the bill only allowed officers to inquire about status during a lawful arrest.

That detainment language was included in what the Senate passed out of its chamber in February but was later removed by state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, the bill’s House sponsor.

The amendment to add that provision back into the bill was offered by Tyler Republican Rep. Matt Schaefer, who was in the middle of a back-and-forth, deal-making struggle that stopped debate for more than hour. Both parties’ members caucused as they tried to hammer out a deal whereby Schaefer would pull his amendment and Democrats would limit the number of proposals they would offer.

But no compromise was reached, despite several high-profile Republicans, including Geren and House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, telling members they would vote against the Schaefer proposal.

The intent of bill is “getting dangerous criminals off the street. That’s the mission. Shouldn’t be anymore than that,” Cook said.

The bill keeps a provision that makes sheriffs, constables and police chiefs subject to a Class A misdemeanor for failing to cooperate with federal authorities and honor requests from immigration agents to hold noncitizen inmates subject to removal. It also keeps civil penalties for entities in violation of the provision that begin at $1,000 for a first offense and swell to as high as $25,500 for each subsequent infraction.”


One point of major contention was a controversial amendment that moves the House version closer to the bill that passed the Senate.

The amendment would make police eligible to question the status of any person detained for an investigation of a criminal infraction, no matter how serious. The House had originally gutted that language and limited the questioning to police officers making an arrest.

The 81-64 vote came after key Republicans, including Geren, said came out against the change. Geren was one of nine Republicans joining Democrats in voting against the amendment.

SB4 was given final approval yesterday and will head back to the Senate for concurrence. Remember how the revised House version was supposed to be less awful than the original Senate version? Thanks to the Schaefer amendment, that is no longer the case. This bill was a top priority of the Republicans, and it was always going to pass. The only real question was how harmful it was going to be, and now we have an answer to that. I still don’t know what public policy goals the Republicans have in mind for this bill, but I’m confident they will not achieve them. What they will get is a bunch of lawsuits, so get ready for that.

Two more things. One, there’s this:

Legislation designed to limit the ability of cities for issuing ID cards to undocumented immigrants and onetime criminals was tentatively approved Thursday by the Texas Senate.

Supporters insisted Senate Bill 1733 was designed to standardize ID across Texas, and ensure that they meet federal homeland-security standards.

Opponents said the measure is designed to make it harder for minority populations to get access to services, and targets immigrants since many of them use locally issued ID cards for that purpose.


Sen. Jose Rodriguez, an El Paso Democrat who chairs the minority caucus in the Republican-controlled Senate, said he fears “various groups would be restricted from accessing services” because the bill appears to limit local officials from issuing cards and restricts the types of cards that can be accepted for identification by a government official.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, expressed similar concerns.

“They’re more worried about this being used for voting than anything else,” she said after the debate ended. “It’s all made up. It’s a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Many problems that don’t exist have been getting solved this session. I’d say it’s the Republicans’ core competency.

Two, I usually put statements I receive in email about this bill or that news item beneath the fold, but in this case I want it on the main page. So here are some reactions to the House passage of SB4.

From the ACLU, which had a press call with several Texas leaders:

The State of Texas is on the verge of enacting legislation that could make the state a pariah in the eyes of the nation.

Today, local elected officials and advocates gathered on a press call to condemn this legislation and outline the varied consequences, including: 1) promoting racial profiling based on appearance, background and accent that will affect U.S. citizens and immigrants alike; 2) hurting public safety policies that encourage all residents, including immigrants, to report crimes and serve as witnesses; and 3) dictating to elected officials and law enforcement that they must follow state mandates or else face jail time.

A recording of today’s call is available here.

When Arizona enacted draconian legislation in 2010, it resulted in boycotts, lost revenue and a devastating blow to the reputation of the state. Texas is on the verge of repeating that mistake.

As the United States courts continue to uphold the Constitution and block Trump’s overarching, un-American and anti-immigrant executive orders — including his attempts to cut funding from so-called sanctuary cities — legislation, such as this bill, allows states to circumvent the courts and enlarge Trump’s Deportation Force.

Greg Casar, Austin Council Member
“The Legislature is attempting to blackmail cities into violating our residents’ constitutional rights. We must not comply with this unconstitutional, discriminatory and dangerous mandate. We will fight this bill to the end — at City Hall, in the courts, and protesting in the streets.”

​Terri Burke, executive director for the ACLU of Texas
“I am deeply grieved but wholly unsurprised that anti-immigrant lawmakers in the Texas House have taken a wrongheaded, racist piece of legislation and made it a ‘show me your papers’ bill. They have stated as clearly as they can that they’re willing to target innocent children, break up families, encourage constitutional violations like racial profiling and endanger Texas communities solely to make immigrants feel unwelcome in Texas. But the members of our immigrant communities should know that you are welcome in Texas, and you’re not alone. The ACLU stands ready to fight the inevitable excesses and abuses of this inhumane, wasteful, hateful bill. We stand with Texas immigrants.”​

State Representative Victoria Neave
“This issue is very personal to me. It will impact families on a level some people just don’t understand. This bill will make us less safe and cause a chilling effect among communities in our state.”

Jose P. Garza, executive director of Workers Defense Project
“Today, Texas officially became the front line of resistance against racist and discriminatory immigration policies. SB 4 will result in increased racial profiling, communities that are less safe and a more stagnant economy. On behalf of working families across the state, we vow to fight this policy in the streets, in the courtroom and at the ballot box until we prevail.”

Karla Perez, statewide coordinator for United We Dream UndocuTexas Campaign
“Anti-immigrant legislators in Texas have directed their hate at the immigrant children and families of this state, people of color and our LGBTQ community by criminalizing us and our families, and by passing legislation that will tear apart families like mine. They have shown that they do not care about dignity and respect for immigrants in our state. It is no surprise that under anti-immigrant leadership, Texas is advancing yet another proposal couched in discriminatory intent to the aide of their white supremacist agenda. We will hold accountable those causing pain and fear in our state, and history will not judge them well. Our fight does not end here. When our immigrant community is under attack, we unite and we fight back. Our diverse communities will continue to organize and build our networks of local defenses across the state to move us forward. This is our resilience, this is our strength, and this is our home — we are here to stay.​

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice Education Fund
“Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the state Legislature are turbocharging the radical mass deportation strategy of President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. If not reversed or resisted, the combination of ‘unshackled’ federal deportation force agents and state-mandated collusion with those agents by local jurisdictions could result in one of the darkest chapters in American history. Texas has a population of 1.5 million undocumented immigrants, second only to California. The prospect of a Trump-Abbott mass deportation strategy taking root is as terrifying as it is despicable. People of goodwill from throughout America, and from throughout the world, are not going to stand by in silence as the state of Texas unleashes a campaign of discrimination against people based on their color, national origin or accent. Nor are they going to continue embracing a state that is about to unleash a campaign of terror aimed at immigrant families with deep roots in the state.”

From the Texas Organizing Project:

The following is a statement from Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, on the passage of SB4 by the Texas House early this morning:

“This morning’s vote by the Texas House is disheartening and disgraceful, and puts Texas closer to passing a show-me-your-papers law that will promote racial profiling of Latinos. The amendments added during the debate that will allow police to question the immigration status ofr children and people detained, not arrested, are especially troublesome and cruel.

“If SB4 becomes law, it will also make Texas less safe by further driving undocumented immigrants into the shadows, afraid of all interactions with police, whether they’re the victims or witnesses. It will also hurt the state’s economy by making us a target for economic boycotts and the loss of productivity that an increase in deportations this law would surely cause.

“No one except Republicans in the state’s leadership wants this racist, divisive and inhumane bill to become law; not police, not local elected officials and certainly not a majority of Texans.

“This bill, combined with the voter ID law and redistricting maps that have been repeatedly deemed to be intentionally discriminatory by federal courts, prove that our state’s legislature wants to erase and marginalize people of color. But we will not succumb to their will. We will not disappear. We will rise up. We will vote. We will claim our power. This is our Texas.

“As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Justice will prevail. We will prevail.”

From State Rep. Gene Wu:

Today’s passage of Senate Bill 4 is a solution in search of a problem. This is a bill that has been crafted out of fear and hatred of immigrants. Not a single Texas city refuses to comply with voluntary ICE Detainers. Not a single Texas city can be called a “Sanctuary City.” The bill as passed, would not just detain criminals, but would target children, victims of crimes, and even immigrants who served in our armed forces. The Texas Legislature has, today, passed a Arizona-style, “Show-me-your-papers” law that will disproportionately affect communities such as those that make up District 137 — hardworking communities made up of native and non-native Texans, refugees, and immigrants both documented and undocumented.

This legislation is cruel. When it was made clear this bill would cause American citizens to be jailed and detained, the proponents of the bill shrugged it off as an unfortunate inconvenience. When Democrats offered amendments to exempt children and victims going to testify in court, those measures were repeatedly defeated on purely party lines. Democrats also asked to exempt religious-based schools who may object with deeply held beliefs; that too was defeated on partisan lines.

When I first spoke on this bill I couldn’t stop thinking about my boys. This bill and other laws like it are a constant reminder that, despite being born in this nation, they will be seen as outsiders because of the way they look; that the law will treat them with suspicion; and they will have to fight just to be treated equally. I was reminded that this is not the first time laws were passed against immigrants based on fear and hatred. And, it will not be the last.

Democrats were united in their opposition to the legislation because this felt like an attack on the diverse communities that we represent and that make Texas great. At the end of the day, all we asked for was mercy for our communities; mercy for our families; and mercy for our children. But no mercy was given.

From the Texas AFL-CIO:

Approval of a harsh, “show me your papers”-style bill that drafts local criminal justice officials into becoming an arm of the federal immigration system marks one of the saddest days I have ever spent around the Texas Legislature.

This bill will harm all working people. Immigrants do some of the hardest jobs in our state and are net contributors not just to our economy but to our future. SB 4 will not only make it easier for unscrupulous employers to deny important workplace rights to immigrants, but will also undermine important labor standards for all workers.

SB 4 is also bad for our Brothers and Sisters in law enforcement who depend on the trust of those who live in the communities they police. That trust could become all but unobtainable under SB 4.

Worst of all, SB 4 will broadly discriminate against minorities in Texas, regardless of immigration status. It will increase the number of times American citizens are asked about their immigration status because of their appearance or language. By making mere detention, rather than arrest, the threshold for questioning immigration status, the law will ensnare people who are not even suspected of committing a crime.

We believe there is broad consensus that the U.S. immigration system is broken. But SB 4 will simply increase discrimination and hardship rather than point toward comprehensive immigration reform.

The DMN, the Texas Observer, the Dallas Observer, and the Current have more.

Trial to be set to determine 2018 maps

Some questions answered, still more raised.

As the 2018 election cycle nears, it appears Texas and its legal foes are headed for a trial — yet again — over what the state’s House and congressional boundaries will look like, and it will likely come this summer.

“I think the trial is certain,” said Jose Garza, an attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, a lead plaintiff in the years-long challenge of the state’s political boundaries. “At the end of the day, we’re going to get new political maps, and the court’s going to draw them.”

His comments followed a lengthy and complicated hearing Thursday over the fate of the state’s 2013 House and congressional maps — a high-profile status conference that followed a pair of federal rulings that Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minority voters in initially drawing each map in 2011.

Judge Orlando Garcia, one of the three judges presiding over the case here, said the panel would issue an order Monday “covering several matters that have been raised today.”

That order, Garza said, would likely include a target date for the trial, setting up the latest battle amid six years of wrangling — laced with confusion — over the state’s recently drawn maps. Attorneys on both sides Thursday suggested they could be ready in July or August.

Local elections administrators say they need clarity by October to meet deadlines for sending out voter registration cards, and December is the filing deadline for candidates.

See here for the previous update. The state argues that the 2013 map fixes all the ills of the 2011 map, while the plaintiffs point out that several of the districts in both current maps that were cited in the decisions are identical or nearly identical to the 2011 version. So off to trial we will go, and I would assume the order on Monday will spell out a schedule. In the meantime, the Republican strategy will be to stall and delay and hope to run out the clock, and not just for this cycle. We’ll see what the court says on Monday.

Where are the marijuana bills?

There have been no hearings on two bills to expand the usage of medical marijuana in Texas.

[Dr. Robert S.] Marks was among about two dozen advocates for so-called medical marijuana, including health-care professionals and patients, who gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday. They said they are hoping to jump-start momentum for two bills — Senate Bill 269 and House Bill 2107 — that would make the use of marijuana legal as a treatment for any doctor-corroborated debilitating health condition, such as cancer, chronic pain, autism or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The companion bills, filed more than two months ago, have languished in committees without being granted hearings as the clock ticks down on the current session of the state Legislature. SB 269 is in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, while HB 2107 is in the House Public Health Committee, chaired by state Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo.

“Chairman Price, Chairman Schwertner, please schedule a hearing,” Keith Crook, a New Braunfels resident and military veteran, said during the event Tuesday. “Please take this first positive step to save lives.”

Crook and other participants said they have tried to contact Price and Schwertner but haven’t received responses. Neither Price nor Schwertner responded to requests for comment Tuesday.

Two years ago, Texas lawmakers approved what’s known as the Compassionate Use Act, legalizing oils made from cannabidiol for medical purposes. Cannabidiol, commonly called CBD, is found in marijuana plants but doesn’t produce euphoria or a high.

However, that law, which has yet to have any impact because the first Texas CBD dispensaries won’t be licensed until this summer, restricts the compound’s use only to certain patients suffering from a rare form of epilepsy, and only after they’ve first tried two conventional drugs that prove to be ineffective.

Advocates for medical marijuana said Tuesday that the Compassionate Use Act is so restrictive it’s useless for most people. They also said increased availability of medical marijuana is essential for Texans suffering from chronic pain and other debilitating health conditions, illustrating the point with their own wrenching personal stories and those of family members and friends.

Medical marijuana “is a life saver,” said Crook, who volunteers to help fellow veterans. “It is stopping people from putting guns in their mouths and pulling the triggers.”

See here for more on the 2015 Compassionate Use Act, which we knew at the time was a very limited step forward. There’s an increasing level of public support for marijuana use, but as yet that has not translated into legislation of any significance. There’s been one bill to reduce pot penalties that has been passed out of a House committee, and as the story notes another bill that would allow people to cite a doctor’s recommendation as “an affirmative defense” against prosecution that has had a hearing, but that’s it so far. Maybe these two bills will get hearings in due time, but that time is running short, and the deadline for bills to be passed out of committee will be upon us before you know it. I don’t really know why the Lege is so reluctant to engage on this issue.

Stockman trial delayed


Best newspaper graphic ever

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman’s trial on federal corruption charges has been pushed back to next year.

The trial, originally scheduled to begin June 5, will now kick off on Jan. 29, 2018, according to an order issued Wednesday by Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal.

Stockman’s lawyer had requested the delay last week, asking the judge to put off the trial until “at least January 2018.” The motion to push back the trial had been unopposed.

The lawyer, Richard Kuniansky, said he needed more time to review 142,378 pages of evidence, apparently gathered by the government over the past three and a half years. Kuniansky said he may need the help of a forensic accountant and paralegal.

See here for the background. The request is fair enough, as lawyer Kuniansky is new to the case. I think Stockman is guilty, guilty, guilty, but that’s my opinion and the man deserves a fair trial just like anyone else. Let his attorney get up to speed, we can wait till January.

Paxton still pushing for a new judge

Still, he persisted, I guess.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawyers are not giving up in their bid to get a new judge in his securities fraud case.

Earlier this month, Judge George Gallagher ordered Paxton’s trial be moved to Harris County from Collin County, where Paxton lives, after prosecutors argued Paxton and his allies had tainted the jury pool there. Paxton’s team wrote Friday to Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel requesting that he assign the case to a new judge. Paxton “has not and will not give” his permission for the current judge to follow the case to Harris County, Paxton’s lawyers wrote to Daniel.

The letter, which was filed in court Monday, is the latest development in a standoff between Paxton’s team and Gallagher, whose spokeswoman said last week he will remain on the case. The spokeswoman, Melody McDonald Lanier, also said Gallagher does not need to rule on a motion Paxton’s lawyers made earlier this month that amounted to their initial request for a new judge.

In the letter to Daniel, Paxton’s lawyers continued to cite a part of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure that says a judge ordering a change of venue may only continue to preside over the case with the consent of both sides. Gallagher, who is from Tarrant County, has been presiding over the case since its early days in 2015.

See here and here for the background. I know that the District Clerk assigns district court judges in new cases, but this is a continuation of a previous case, and it’s one where the judge was assigned from another county after the original judge recused himself. Is there anything in existing law to suggest that the District Clerk has the authority to assign a new judge after the venue was changed to the Clerk’s county? I have no idea, and based on the prior reports, this is something no one has asked for before. I’m kind of wondering why Team Paxton hasn’t gone to the 1st or 14th Courts of Appeals with this request; maybe he wants to show that he exhausted all other avenues first. Whatever the case, I have to assume the question will eventually wind up there. And I have to wonder, is this all worth it? Do they really think they’ve been screwed by Judge Gallagher so far, and that the risk of making things really awkward in his court is worth the possibility of getting a different judge, one who may not have any more tolerance for his lawyers’ tactics? Again, I have no idea. But it sure is fun to watch. The Chron has more.

Federal court blocks Trump “sanctuary cities” order


A federal judge in San Francisco dealt the Trump administration another legal blow Tuesday, temporarily halting President Donald Trump’s threat to withhold federal funding from cities and towns that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick imposed a nationwide injunction against a Jan. 25 executive order authorizing the attorney general to withhold federal grant money from what are called sanctuary jurisdictions that do not cooperate with U.S. immigration officials.

Orrick called the order “broad” and “vague” and said the plaintiffs, the city of San Francisco and Santa Clara County, were likely to succeed on the merits of lawsuits challenging it.

In the 49-page ruling, Orrick pointed to discrepancies in the Trump administration’s interpretation of the executive order. In court, the government’s lawyers suggested that cities and towns were overreacting to the order because federal officials have not yet defined sanctuary cities or moved to withhold funding from them.

But on television and in news conferences, the judge pointed out, the president and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have threatened to sanction cities and towns that do not cooperate with immigration officials, leaving local officials nationwide fearful that they will lose funding for vital services.

“The result of this schizophrenic approach to the Order is that the Counties’ worst fears are not allayed and the Counties reasonably fear enforcement under the Order,” the judge wrote.

“The threat of the Order and the uncertainty it is causing impermissibly interferes with the Counties’ ability to operate, to provide key services, to plan for the future, and to budget.”

So another order not only stopped by the courts, but stopped in part because the judge hearing the motion paid attention to what Trump and his minions had been saying about it. Justice doesn’t get much more poetic than that. This happened a day before the House began debate on its version of the “sanctuary cities” bill. That debate lasted well into the night, and promised to be hotly contested and highly emotional, with the bill eventually passing because it’s something Republicans will vote for. And then eventually, it too will be challenged in court. One hopes it will meet the same fate.

No more feral hog poison

It was not to be.

The manufacturer of a controversial bait used to kill feral hogs withdrew its state registration for the poison, putting Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s plans for a Texas “Hog Apocalypse” on hold.

“We have received tremendous support from farmers and ranchers in the State of Texas, and have empathy for the environmental devastation, endangered species predation, and crop damage being inflicted there by a non-native animal,” Colorado-based company Scimetrics wrote in a news release Monday. “However, under the threat of many lawsuits, our family owned company cannot at this time risk the disruption of our business and continue to compete with special interests in Texas that have larger resources to sustain a lengthy legal battle.”

Earlier this year, Miller announced that he wanted to use the poison to take out the state’s invasive feral hog population and that using the poison could save the Department of Agriculture $900,000 that was designated for feral hog control. He wrote that the poison could mean “the ‘Hog Apocalypse’ may finally be on the horizon.”

The poison was classified as a “state-limited use pesticide,” which means anyone wishing to use it must be licensed by the department. Scimetrics withdrawing its registration means the department can no longer license people to use the poison — a move Miller called a “kick in the teeth for rural Texas.”

“Unfortunately, it seems that once again the hard working folks who turn the dirt and work from sunup to sundown have fallen victim to lawyers, environmental radicals and the misinformed,” Miller said in a prepared statement. “Once again, politically correct urban media hacks and naysayers win out against the rural folks who produce the food and fiber everyone needs.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Just for the record, the bill to require a state study of the use of any pesticide in this manner – which was filed by a Republican from Denton – passed the House by a vote of 128-13. Who knew there were so many “environmental radicals” in the Legislature? Clearly, the place has gone to hell since ol’ Sid was there. This doesn’t have to be the end for warfarin, the poison in question. There’s no reason why a study on its environmental effects couldn’t be done. Maybe a Texas governmental agency with an interest in such a study – like, say, oh, I don’t know, the Texas Department of Agriculture – could put up some grant money to fund one. Just a thought. The Trib has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of April 24

The Texas Progressive Alliance knows why the alligator crossed the road as it brings you this week’s roundup.


Big day for redistricting in court

Tomorrow the questions of what happens next in the redistricting lawsuits begin to get answered.

Will Texas soon see new political maps that are friendlier to Latino and black voters and, in turn, Democrats? If so, who would draw them: the scolded Republican-led Legislature or the courts themselves? Will the maps land ahead of the 2018 elections?

A three-judge panel based in San Antonio will start wading through such questions on Thursday as lawyers for each side of the redistricting dispute return to court for a high-profile status conference.

“This hearing is a very important event in the sequence of what’s going to happen,” said Jose Garza, an attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, a plaintiff in the case.

In a 2-1 March ruling, the San Antonio panel ruled that Texas lawmakers knowingly discriminated in drawing three of the state’s 36 congressional districts: CD-23, represented by Will Hurd, R-Helotes; CD-27, represented by Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi; and CD-35, represented by Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

And last week the same judges found fault with the 2011 state House map, finding that lawmakers intentionally diluted the clout of minority voters statewide and in districts encompassing areas including El Paso, Bexar, Nueces, Harris, Dallas and Bell counties.

Each ruling matters mightily because, if they withstand appeals, they could ultimately land Texas — which has a well-documented history of racial discrimination in elections — back on a list of states needing outside approvalto change their election laws.

More immediate questions, however, surround what the rulings mean for the 2018 elections since new district lines could affect both voters and candidates. Already, one potential U.S. House candidate — former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego — told The Texsas Tribune he would consider running again for Hurd’s CD-23 seat, but perhaps only under new boundaries.


Civil rights groups and other plaintiffs argue that 2011’s discrimination carried over to the maps currently in use.

Nina Perales, representing the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in the lawsuit, suggests the case against the 2013 congressional maps is more straightforward partly because there are fewer districts in play and also because the court’s decision more clearly identified discrimination that carried over into the new maps. For instance, the boundaries of two of its districts — Farenthold’s 27th and Doggett’s 35th — are identical to those drawn in 2011.

“We get a better picture on the Congress decision about where the court thinks the map is still flawed,” Perales said. “We do not get a sense in the House opinion where the court thinks the 2013 map is flawed.”

See here and here for some background. There are a lot of questions for the court to address – Michael Li rounds up and summarizes the remaining disputes for the Congressional plan; there are no doubt at least as many issues still in contention for the State House plan – and not a lot of time to get something in place for the 2018 filing season, which begins in a bit more than six months. The plaintiffs had previously proposed a schedule that would have the state submit a remedial map by May 5, with a final decision in place by July 1. A similar schedule for the State House districts would mean a state-proposed remedial map by the beginning of June, with a final decision by early August. That actually gives the Legislature enough time to pass new maps if they want to, but with little room for delay. I can’t wait to see what the judges say.

Uber and Lyft speak on the “biological sex” amendment in statewide rideshare bill

It’s a start.

Five days after a controversial amendment defining “sex” as “male or female” was added to a statewide ride-hailing bill, representatives from Uber and Lyft called the addition disappointing and unnecessary — though both companies stopped short of saying they’d withdraw their support.

“We are disappointed that this unnecessary amendment was added to legislation that should be focused on adopting a consistent statewide framework for ride sharing,” Uber spokesman Travis Considine said. “Uber’s comprehensive national nondiscrimination policy will not change.”

“The adopted amendment is unnecessary, as Lyft’s strong nondiscrimination policy remains in effect no matter what local or state statutes exist,” Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison said.

Neither Considine nor Harrison said their respective companies would pull back support of the bill over the amendment, which would define “sex” as the “physical condition of being male or female.” Considine said Uber’s existing nondiscrimination policy won’t change — it prohibits “discrimination against riders or drivers based on race, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, sex, marital status, gender identity and age, among other things.”

See here for the background. It would have been nice if they would have spoken up sooner, but at least they have now done so. I’m glad they have reiterated their nondiscrimination policies, which I suppose makes that Tinderholt amendment moot for them, but the door is open for a company that would discriminate on the basis of gender presentation or identity if this bill gets passed in the Senate as is. The goal here is to take that out of the final version. The statements from Uber and Lyft help, but it’s going to take more than that.

Business groups endorse a Yes on recapture re-vote

It’s a very different campaign this time around.

The Greater Houston Partnership and other local organizations whose members own some of the city’s priciest commercial real estate have come out in support of a ballot measure over whether the Houston Independent School District should pay its share of property taxes to the state as part of the so-called Robin Hood system of school finance.

The business coalition, which also includes Central Houston, the Houston Building Owners and Management Association, Uptown Houston, the Houston Business Realty Coalition and the “C” Club, said the school district should pay the $77.5 million it owes to the state.

If not, it faces having $8 billion of the city’s highest-valued commercial properties permanently reassigned to another school district, a process referred to as “detachment.”

The detachment process would affect more than 80 commercial properties in the Galleria, Greenway Plaza, and downtown Houston, the coalition said in a statement Monday afternoon. While the value of commercial property slated for detachment this year is $8 billion, HISD estimates it would climb to $22 billion in 2018.

“No one in our community wins under detachment,” Greater Houston Partnership president and CEO Bob Harvey said in the statement. “We are encouraging a vote in support of Proposition 1 so that Houston businesses can continue to help fund Houston’s public schools and its future leaders.”

BOMA supported recapture last November, one of not too many groups or officials to do so. (If the other groups took a position last time, I don’t know what it was.) Very simply, most of the endorsements I saw last year were against the recapture, and most of the ones I am seeing now are in favor. In fact, as I was drafting this post, I saw an ad on TV (on ESPN during the Cubs-Pirates game) in favor of the recapture referendum, paid for by a group called “Houston Taxpayers for Quality Education”. None of this is any guarantee of success for the Yes side – this whole election is too much of an oddball to feel secure in any prediction – but for what it’s worth, the most consistent message I have seen is a message of voting for recapture.

Early voting so far

The Chron looks at the first day of early voting and some area races.

Early voting began Monday for local elections next month that will determine who leads increasingly diverse Pasadena, the fate of a major school bond referendum in League City and whether Houston’s largest school district pays tens of millions to the state to comply with a controversial policy and avoid a potentially bigger financial hit.

Across Harris County, 1,153 voters turned out Monday for the elections, figures show. They included many who live within the Houston Independent School District and voted for a second time on “recapture,” a process through which so-called property tax-wealthy school districts pay the state to help fund districts that collect less.


Two candidates, Bill Benton and Edmund Samora, are seeking to unseat Rosenberg Mayor Cynthia McConathy, who stirred debate last year after sending an email to city employees inviting them to participate in prayer at the start of the new year. Richmond Mayor Evalyn Moore has been serving in her post since the 2012 death of her husband, Hilmar Moore, who had been the city’s mayor for 63 years. She now faces Tres Davis, who is running what an online fundraiser calls a “People’s Campaign.”

Meanwhile, in Stafford, longtime Mayor Leonard Scarcella, who has held his seat since 1969, is running unopposed.

Sugar Land has only one contested seat: that to fill the position of Harish Jajoo, a city councilman who ran unsuccessfully in 2016 to be the city’s first South Asian mayor. He chose not to seek re-election as a councilman.

Of note among school district trustee races, Lamar Consolidated ISD’s Anna Gonzales, who was indicted on charges related to bribery in a case that was dismissed last year, faces an opponent in Joe Hubenak, the son of the late state representative and LCISD board member by the same name.

In Brazoria County, Pearland voters are heading to the polls to vote for mayor, City Council and school trustees. A letter from a real estate agent denouncing “liberal gay rights Democrats” trying to take over the city and school board elections there – which are nonpartisan – drew ire from many progressive groups, as well as longtime Mayor Tom Reid and two other candidates endorsed by the letter.

In Clear Creek ISD, the district is asking voters to approve a $487 million bond that officials say is needed to build new schools and keep up with growing student populations. But conservative groups are concerned that the bond’s steep price tag includes too many unnecessary frills, such as $13.7 million to renovate Clear Creek High School’s auditorium.

Consternation over the bond has set up a showdown between two warring political action committees, or PACs, which have spread from national races down to municipal races and local bond referenda.

The Harris County Clerk is sending out its daily EV reports as usual, with a new feature this time – they are posting that report online, which you can find here. As that is a generic URL, I presume it will simply be updated each day, so be sure to hit Refresh if you’re going back at a later date. The vast majority of the vote in the usual places should be for the HISD recapture referendum. There’s no way to tell how many of the mail ballots are for that and how many are for the other races. I may venture some guesses at overall turnout later in the process, but for now I’m just going to shrug and say this is all too new and unprecedented to make anything resembling an educated guess. Have you voted yet (I have not yet), and if so how are you voting on the HISD issue, if that’s on your ballot?

What will Joaquin do?

Getting to be close to decision time.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

After U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro wrapped up speaking here Wednesday, completing the latest stop on his statewide tour ahead of a potential Senate run, one man in the crowd turned to another and voiced some ambivalence.

“I don’t know if he should do it,” the man said, alluding to what would be an uphill battle against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “He’s got a good thing going.”

It’s the question hanging over the San Antonio Democrat as he nears an announcement on his plans for 2018: Is it worth giving up his seat in Congress, where he has had a steadily growing profile, for a long-shot challenge of Cruz, particularly when another Democrat, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, is already running?

“At the end of the day, it’s all about what’s in his gut,” said Julián Castro, Joaquin Castro’s twin brother and the former U.S. housing secretary. “Is this something where he can best serve the people of Texas and his constituents, and that’s not an easy decision because he’s done a lot of great work in Congress and he has significant committee assignments that allow him to serve his constituents and the American people well.”


O’Rourke, for his part, has plowed ahead full-steam with his campaign as Castro continues mulling a run. Since announcing his bid on March 31, O’Rourke has held campaign events in 12 cities across the state. He is scheduled to hit another seven cities through Monday. Castro has made public appearances in at least five Texas cities during the same period, including four outside of his congressional district.

Asked about Castro’s potential candidacy at events, O’Rourke has largely expressed deference, saying that the two have long shared their interest in the race with one another and that if Castro runs, they will compete in a way that “makes Texas proud.” O’Rourke said Friday he has no problem if Castro wants to take longer than his original timeline to make up his mind, saying he wants the San Antonio congressman “to do what’s right for him, for his family and what he thinks is best for the country.”

At the same time, however, O’Rourke has shown awareness that a strong start to his campaign could have an impact on the trajectory of the primary.

“If you don’t want anybody else to run and you want to make sure we’re concentrating all our resources, all of our focus, all of our dollars, on seizing a historic, once-in-a-30-year opportunity,” O’Rourke said this month during a campaign stop in San Marcos, “then get behind me.”

The encouragement is “less about anyone else than our effort,” O’Rourke said Friday.

Whoever runs on the Democratic side, national Republicans continue to express confidence that the seat will easily hold for the party in 2018. Democrats have mostly put Texas on the back burner, as the party remains concerned about 10 Senate incumbents who represent states Donald Trump carried last year.

Senate races are frequently so highly organized that they can often resemble the sophistication of a presidential campaign. It is difficult to quietly plan a Senate campaign — and the chatter around Castro in both House Democratic and Senate circles is remarkably quiet in Washington.

My guess continues to be that Castro will not run. If the Dems retake the House, he ought to be in a position to be far more influential there. It’s not clear that he would be anything other than a longshot to win, or that he would be any less of a longshot than O’Rourke. On the other hand, it may be a long time before conditions may be as favorable for a win as they appear to be today, and when they are that favorable again there will be others jockeying for position to take advantage of it. I don’t know what the “right” answer is for Rep. Castro, but whatever it is we ought to know it soon.

Two more redistricting updates

From KUT, will we have a new Congressional map for next year?

[Gerry Hebert, one of the plaintiff attorneys], says he’s hopeful there won’t be yet another election with the old maps.

“The timing of the court’s decision is absolutely giving us an opportunity to get a new congressional redistricting plan for the 2018 election,” he says.

There are still quite a few steps between that decision and new maps, though. First up: a court hearing at the end of the month. Michael Li with the Brennan Center for Justice, another member of the plaintiffs’ legal team, says it should answer some of the “what happens next” kind of questions.

“We need to know when the parties are supposed to file briefs, when they are supposed to propose maps. Is the Legislature going to be given a chance? Is it not?” he says. “All of that is going to have to be decided.”

Li says at some point, both sides might also have to settle whether the 2013 interim map the state is currently using should be thrown out. Li, like Hebert, argues the interim map is not totally different than the 2011 map that the court struck down.


There has already been one unforeseen twist in the case since the ruling.

The state recently filed a motion asking the trial court to give it permission to appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is unusual. Typically such cases are appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

So, Li, Hebert and others will have to make the case for why the decision on the 2011 map should not be overturned.

See here, here, and here for some background. As noted, the status conference next Thursday the 27th is where these issues will begin to get hashed out. The timeline proposed by the plaintiffs would have a final map in place by July 1. Lots of things can and surely will happen between now and then, but that’s the goal and we should have some clue how attainable it will be next week.

As we have discussed before, all of this activity so far is around the Congressional map. We now have a decision in the case involving the original State House map, but will we get a new map drawn in time for 2018 in that case as well?

The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to hear the Texas redistricting case in which a three-judge federal panel ruled against the state in a 2-1 decision.

“The state of Texas purposely and intentionally, with full knowledge of what they were doing, discriminated against Latinos and African-American voters,” said Luis Vera, the national general counsel of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, who has argued the case over the last several years.


Vera said it’s expected if Governor Greg Abbott calls a special legislative session, Texas lawmakers will have the first crack at fixing the 2011 map. If not, the federal judges will step in, Vera said.

Vera said there also could be a state and federal compromise.

Vera said the lines must be redrawn by 2018. He said even then, a new map is required after the U.S. Census in 2020.

I’m glad to hear that the plaintiffs’ attorneys believe there will be a new map in place for 2018, but I’m sure the state will argue that the 2013 map fixed all the problems and will do everything in their power to delay any further action. SCOTUS already has a different gerrymandering case on its spring docket, which may or may not have any overlapping effect on this. As always, we should know a lot more after that status call on the 27th.

Senate approves special ed reform bill


The Texas Senate moved Wednesday to ban state officials from ever again imposing a cap on the percentage of students allowed to receive special education services.

The chamber voted unanimously in favor of Senate Bill 160, putting the legislation just one step away from the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott, who already has indicated his support of the measure.

That last step, a vote on the floor of the Texas House, is expected to take place soon.

The legislation was filed in response to “Denied,” a 2016 Houston Chronicle investigation that exposed the state’s decade-old cap and revealed that it had denied services like tutoring and therapy to tens of thousands of children with disabilities.

As a result of the arbitrary 2004 policy, which the Texas Education Agency enacted while facing a $1.1 billion state budget cut and without notifying lawmakers, federal officials or the public, Texas now provides special education services to the lowest percentage of any state in the country – by far.

Now, with the Senate passage of Senate Bill 160, the state might be able to erase that ugly distinction, according to the proposal’s sponsor, Senate Minority Leader Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso.

See here for previous blogging on the topic. The Senate hasn’t done much to commend this session, but this one they got right. Let’s get it passed in the House and signed into law.

Endorsement watch: Project LIFT

The Texas Democratic Party has endorsed a slew of progressive candidates enrolled in their Project LIFT (Local Investment in the Future of Texas) program. There were five rounds of endorsements, beginning on March 10:

Round 1
Round 2
Round 3
Round 4
Round 5

The endorsements cover races all over the state. I’m going to highlight candidates on these lists from races in the greater Houston area. The accompanying text comes from the endorsement pages.

Mike Floyd, Pearland ISD Position 2

As an 18 year old senior who has attended Pearland ISD schools for 13 years, he has deep knowledge of and personal experience with Pearland schools. With public education under attack, Mike knows we need strong progressive solutions on our school boards. Mike is running to bring real change and new leadership.

Quentin Wiltz, Pearland Mayor

Quentin works professionally as a certified project manager, and he truly embodies public service. He chairs the Brazoria County Alliance for Children and a key influencer for public policy for NACE International. He is past chair of Pearland Parks & Rec Board, and served as a director for the Pearland Chamber and the president of the Pearland Democrats. Proud husband to Monique, Quentin seeks to provide “Leadership for All” to the next generation of Pearland residents, including his sons Ethan and Evan.

J. Darnell Jones, Pearland City Council, Position 3

J. Darnell is a recently retired Naval Officer with 24 years of military service. He is a lawyer with a strong passion for civil and constitutional rights for all people. He graduated from the University of Memphis with a B.A. in Political Science and earned his J.D. at John Marshall Law School.

Steven Halvorson, Pasadena City Council District B

A former U.S. Army Engineer Officer, Steven served his country for 15 years, and has been a Scientific Research Director for 27 years. He is currently the Texas Organizing Project Treasurer, Harris County Democratic Precinct Chair 188, and Pasadena Area 5 Democratic Member.

Sammy Casados, Pasadena City Council District D

Sammy was raised in Pasadena’s Deepwater neighborhood and graduated from Deer Park High. He is a community-oriented family man who has passionately served the City of Pasadena. His priorities are improving the local economy, government transparency, and city services and infrastructure.

Felipe Villarreal, Pasadena City Council District A

Felipe is a Pasadena resident of more than 18 years, and is currently working as a code enforcement officer with City of Galena Park.

Oscar Del Toro, Pasadena City Council District G

Oscar and his family immigrated from Mexico in 2000, and became citizens in 2006. Oscar and his wife manage a local small business. He knows what it takes to fulfill the American dream and he wants everyone in Pasadena to have the same opportunity he had.

Chris Herron, Humble ISD Position 3

Chris is standing up for the belief that public funds should be used for public schools. He has the business acumen and community organization experience to help the district’s kids succeed.

Abby Whitmire, Humble ISD Position 4

Abby is proud to be a product of Texas public schools, from kindergarten through college. A mom who moved to Kingwood in 2014 for the schools, Abby’s work as a nonprofit fundraiser in New Orleans reinforced her commitment to public schools having seen the weaknesses of charter schools and vouchers.

Very early speculation about Congressional campaigns

The Trib rounded up all the scuttlebutt about who may be running for various Congressional districts next year. I’ve picked out a few to comment on.


National Democrats are interested in Houston attorney Collin Cox and Alex Triantaphyllis, the director of Immigration and Economic Opportunity at Neighborhood Centers Inc., a Houston nonprofit, as possible recruits.

Conservative groups have also hinted at a possible primary challenge to Culberson. The Club for Growth just announced it was launching a TV ad in his district urging him to oppose a border adjustment tax.

There are four other candidates orbiting around CD07 that I know of; this is the first I’ve heard these two names. I’ve met Cox, who I know has been a contributor in numerous city races. I’ve not met Alex Triantaphyllis, but I assume he is related to Tasso Triantaphyllis, who was a Democratic candidate for district court judge in 2002. I don’t think there’s enough room in a Democratic primary for a traditionally Republican Congressional seat for six candidates, but who knows? And while Cox and Triantaphyllis may have caught the eye of the DCCC, this is one of those times where that probably doesn’t matter much, at least not for March. People are paying attention to this race now – there’s already a candidate forum for May 9 – and I daresay anyone who wants to make it to a runoff next year needs to be out there attending meetings and rallies and talking to people. Don’t sleep on this.


El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar, a Democrat, is at the center of local and Washington speculation but is taking her time deciding on making a run official.

Other contenders are watching her movements, and they may soon get impatient. Other frequently mentioned names include state Rep. Cesar Blanco, who is well-regarded in Washington from his days as a staffer in the U.S. House to Democrat Pete Gallego. He is also mentioned as a potential Democratic recruit for the 23rd District.

This is the seat that Beto O’Rourke will be vacating. It makes sense for this Democratic seat to have a crowded primary, so assume there are plenty of other hopefuls looking at it. I’ve been impressed by Rep. Blanco, but it’s way early to speculate.


The key here, in the Democratic worldview, is whether the 23rd District’s lines are redrawn amid ongoing redistricting litigation. Should new lines make this district easier for Democrats, look for a competitive primary.

Hurd’s rival from the past two cycles, Democratic former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, told the Tribune he would consider running for the seat again under new lines.

“If there’s a new map, then there’s a new race,” Gallego said. Other Democrats are likely to give the seat a serious look, including Blanco, the El Paso-based state representative.

But national Democrats are also looking into an up-and-comer in San Antonio: Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Hulings. A former Capitol Hill staffer on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Hulings is a member of the Castro twins’ Harvard Law School class.

Whether there are changes to this district or not, Rep. Hurd will be a tough opponent. He may get swamped by national conditions, but it will take some work to tie him to Trump. I’ve always liked Pete Gallego but after two straight losses it might be time for a different candidate.


This is the general election race most reliant on external factors.

Former state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr. told the Tribune he is considering a Democratic run for this Corpus Christi-based seat — but on the condition that the district’s lines change amid ongoing redistricting litigation.

This one is only interesting if the state’s attempts to delay or deny a new map are successful. I wish it were different, but CD27 was slightly redder in 2016 than it was in 2012, so new lines are the only real hope.


There is no shortage of Democrats considering a challenge to Sessions. Dallas school board member Miguel Solis, Children’s Medical Center senior vice president Regina Montoya, former NFL player Colin Allred and former Hillary Clinton staffer Ed Meier are frequently named as possible recruits.

Allred is officially in.

Civil rights attorney Colin Allred has launched a campaign to unseat Rep. Pete Sessions of Dallas.

But first the former NFL player will have to run in a potentially crowded Democratic primary for the 32nd Congressional District. A former Hillcrest High School standout, he hopes his connection to the North Dallas district attracts him to voters.

“I was born and raised in this district by a single mother who taught in Dallas public schools for 27 years,” Allred said. “This community — my mom, my teachers, and my coaches — gave me the opportunity to succeed, play in the NFL, become a civil rights attorney and work for President Obama. I want to make sure future generations have the same opportunities and to make sure those values are being represented in D.C.”

Allred, 34, told The Dallas Morning News that he was inspired to challenge Sessions by the “grassroots energy” displayed after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump.

Sounds pretty good to me, but as noted he will not have a clear field. One primary opponent he won’t have is Miguel Solis, who says in the story that he will not be a candidate. We’ll see who else gets in, but I am looking forward to hearing more from Colin Allred.

UPDATE: I am informed that Regina Montoya is not at Children’s Medical Center any more. That bit of information came from the Texas Tribune story that I was quoting from, so I am noting it here as well.

Petitions submitted to force another pension vote

Oh, good grief.

Voters soon could decide whether to close Houston’s traditional pension plans to new employees after political activists submitted a petition to City Hall to force a referendum this November.

The petition further complicates Mayor Sylvester Turner’s efforts to pass a pension reform bill, which already had hit a hurdle in the state Senate this week on precisely the same issue of whether new hires should be put into “defined contribution” plans similar to 401(k)s instead of one of the city’s three employee pension systems.

The petition, which began circulating at college campuses, grocery stores and elsewhere in February, calls for a public vote to require a shift to defined contribution plans for all city workers hired after the start of 2018.

Under traditional pension plans, the city promises employees specific payments based on their years of service and salaries and makes up for market losses by putting in more money. Defined contribution plans are those in which the city and employee set money aside in an account that rises and falls with the market.

Windi Grimes, a public pension critic and donor to the Megaphone political action committee that sponsored the petition drive, said the group submitted 35,000 signatures to the city secretary’s office Thursday. That easily would clear the 20,000 signatures required by law to trigger a charter referendum, provided City Secretary Anna Russell verifies the names.

Grimes, who also works with Texans for Local Control, a political group that wants Houston, not the Texas Legislature, to control city pensions, had described the petition effort as an “insurance policy” in case the Legislature does not move to defined contribution plans for new city employees.


Houston Republican Sen. Joan Huffman ended weeks of negotiations with city officials, union leaders and conservatives over whether and how to incorporate defined contributions plans by releasing a new draft of the pension bill Wednesday. It said the city and workers could agree to move to a defined contribution plan, but did not require that change.

In response, Sen. Paul Bettencourt, another Houston Republican, said he would propose an amendment to ensure the result of any city charter change to defined contribution plans would be binding. That wording is necessary, he and others said, because some lawyers say amending the city charter alone would be insufficient, since Houston’s pensions are controlled by state statute.

“I’m just trying to stay on a public policy position I’ve had for over a decade,” Bettencourt said, adding that he is not working with Megaphone or Texans for Local Control and that he already had filed a separate bill mirroring the language of his amendment.

The Houston reform bill had been expected to reach a Senate vote Thursday, but Bettencourt’s amendment created an impasse: some bill supporters, led by the chamber’s Democrats, were unwilling to let the item come to a vote, fearing they lacked the votes to torpedo Bettencourt’s proposal.

“If he brings it up, (Huffman) says she won’t accept it, but she’s going to need about five or six Republicans to go with us to block it,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. “That’s a tough vote for them.”

Turner accused Bettencourt of seeking to kill the pension reform proposal for political gain.

“Quite frankly, what he wants is not a pension resolution. It seems like he’s asking for a re-vote of the mayoral race in 2015, and that’s unfortunate because he’s not putting Houston first,” Turner said. Bettencourt in 2015 supported mayoral runner-up Bill King, who has spent months publicly criticizing Turner’s pension reform plan and calling for a switch to defined contribution plans for new city workers.

I found this story so annoying that I had a hard time putting my thoughts together about it. So I’m just going to say these four things for now:

1. We have already had an election on this question, in 2015 when Sylvester Turner won the Mayor’s race. A lot of people, led by Mayor Turner, have put in a ton of work, including political work, to put forth a workable solution for the city’s pension issues. You can feel however you want about the Mayor’s proposal – the firefighters are certainly not very happy about it – but it represents a Houston solution to a Houston problem, which the voters have already had a say on. These efforts to undermine it are the opposite of that, and the people pushing it are doing so because they don’t like the solution Houston and Mayor Turner have crafted for its problem. They would rather see the whole effort fail, and that is what they are working for.

2. You have to admire the shamelessness in calling this group that has come out of nowhere and is in no way complementary to the Turner plan “Texans for Local Control”. Who wants to bet that it’s funded by a bunch of rich conservative activists who are mostly not from Houston and will go to court to keep their identities secret?

3. The story quotes HPOU President Ray Hunt as saying the petition collection effort is a “sham” and that they have evidence of people signing the petitions multiple times. You’d think that would be a big deal, but then you remember that the Supreme Court ruled in the mandamus that forced the HERO vote in 2015 that the city secretary could only check that a signature belonged to a registered voter. It’s OK if it’s forged – the city secretary is not empowered to check that – as long as the forgery in question belongs to a valid voter.

4. There sure could be a lot of referenda on the ballot this November.

ADA voting rights lawsuit update


A federal judge in Houston put Harris County on notice Friday that the scope of accessibility violations at local polling places could be so vast that a special master may be needed to sort them out.

U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett said he is considering an independent review of the county’s 765 polling locations to ensure they are accessible to disabled voters.

The revelation, which could have far-reaching consequences for the county’s voting system, came to light during a routine hearing Friday in a civil rights suit filed several months before the November general election.

“We’re talking about something that really needs an intensive review,” the judge told the teams of lawyers in the courtroom. “There’s no blanket order I can give. We’re going to have to look at almost each of these sites or on a site-by-site basis.”

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit last year, accusing Harris County of violating the constitutional mandate that voting sites comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Among the violations cited in the lawsuit – in a county with more than 400,000 people with disabilities – are a lack of appropriate parking, ramps, sidewalks, entry ways, voting space and other mandatory accommodations.

The judge’s remarks drew praise from disability rights advocates.

“Bringing in a special master is monumental because you’re saying there is a problem and it needs to be watched,” said Toby Cole, a Houston attorney who has closely watched the case. “It would be a significant move to make sure that the rights of people with disabilities are protected, and voting is probably the most fundamental of those rights.”


Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, who oversees local elections, said the lawsuit is frivolous, politically motivated and centered on insignificant technicalities at sites the county doesn’t own.

“When the DOJ brought this lawsuit they had zero people who were complaining,” he said. “To the best of my knowledge, we don’t know of anyone who had an issue.”

Among the locations the Justice Department cited was the multiservice center at West Gray, which Stanart said was supposedly in violation “because if you were a 6 ½-foot blind person who came in the back door, your head would brush a limb.”

In another case, Stanart said, a handicapped parking spot had stripes painted, but the handicap sign wasn’t in the right place.

“Do they think these voters are idiots?” he said.

Stanart said his office picks the best location to serve voters in each precinct and believes, overall, that the county is largely in compliance.

Lex Frieden, a professor of rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine who helped President George H.W. Bush with early drafts of the Americans with Disabilities Act, said he thinks the county should be proactive about fixing problems or amenable to making the changes the Justice Department has identified.

“I’m mystified about the defensiveness of the county,” said Frieden, who uses a wheelchair.

See here and here for the background. I have some sympathy for the county’s position. The original complaint indicates that most of the voting sites are compliant or can be made compliant with temporary fixes. There are only so many places that can be used for voting sites, and there may not be good alternatives in some places that would also satisfy requirements for minority voter access. On the other hand, the Americans with Disabilities Act is over 25 years old, and to say the least the county has a spotty record of civil rights compliance in other areas, like, say, bail practices. There’s only so much benefit of the doubt that they deserve, and given that a number of these problems could be fixed by basic infrastructure upgrades like sidewalks, there’s no reason why the county can’t take a proactive approach to resolving this. And yes, I know, these are city sidewalks and streets, but last I checked they were also in Harris County. Let’s get a comprehensive review of what the problems really are and how much it would cost to fix them, and figure it out from there.

Endorsement watch: Chron for Van Houte and recapture

Here are your Chronicle endorsements for the May election. First, for Mayor of Pasadena:

Pat Van Houte

Of the five candidates who met with the Chronicle editorial board – two declined – only Van Houte was willing to bluntly and accurately diagnose the challenges facing Harris County’s second-largest city. Legacies of favoritism, opacity and, yes, discrimination continue to hamper progress at Pasadena’s City Hall. A petrochemical boom is driving growth all across east Harris County, yet Pasadena remains constrained by a political leadership that, as Judge Lee H. Rosenthal wrote in her recent opinion, has denied equal opportunity to all of its citizens.

Plenty of Pasadena residents certainly won’t enjoy reading Rosenthal’s words. Every other mayoral candidate preferred to pick up the pom-poms and cheer on the city’s blue-skies future. But discrimination is like a cancer that can fester beneath the friendly surface of civil society, from a road plan that ignores Hispanic neighborhoods to a redistricting scheme intentionally designed to disenfranchise Hispanic voters. Structural discrimination won’t go away by ignoring it. Pasadena needs a mayor who is willing to confront these challenges. Chemotherapy is never pleasant.

Van Houte has a record of standing up for the hard fight during her eight years on City Council – and like so much of Pasadena politics, it all began with street construction.

Back in 2006, Van Houte was part of a successful campaign opposing a road expansion project through her neighborhood. That activism led her to represent the northeast District D at Pasadena City Hall. Van Houte, 60, eventually worked with other representatives to block an infrastructure bond that failed to properly address dilapidated northside neighborhoods. Mayor Isbell responded by shoving an unconstitutional redistricting scheme down Council’s throat and trying to silence his opponents. Nevertheless, Van Houte persisted. She was forced out of a City Council meeting and saw her seat redistricted away, but that didn’t stop Van Houte from winning her current at-large position.

Now she wants to replace the term-limited Isbell and run a city government that’s open to all of Pasadena instead of merely the well-connected. This means fairness in contracting, competitive bidding, soliciting community input and promoting transparency. Van Houte also said that she wants to reinstate a public transit circulator for senior citizens that the city had stopped funding.

My interview with Van Houte is here; I also interviewed Gloria Gallegos, who was not mentioned in the endorsement article. I’d love to know who the two no-shows were. I was chatting with someone about the Pasadena Mayoral race the other day and we observed that it was relatively low profile, which likely would be the case most years but maybe not so this year, given the court case and the sea change from the Isbell era and the large field of candidates. I think it just may be the case that with seven candidates, this race will surely go to a runoff, and that’s when the real excitement will happen.

Closer to home (for me, anyway), the Chron endorses a Yes vote on the recapture re-referendum.

In November, we urged HISD voters to cast ballots AGAINST purchasing attendance credits, and voters agreed.

Now, HISD voters are being asked to come back to the polls on May 6 to respond to the same question, and no doubt are wondering why.

The answer is dizzyingly complex, but the choice is simple. In November we urged you to hold your nose and vote AGAINST on Proposition 1. On May 6, we urge you to hold your nose and vote FOR. Early voting begins Monday and ends May 2.

As in November, May voters have to decide between two lousy choices – either authorize HISD to write a big check to the state government every year for the foreseeable future, or give away a huge chunk of Houston’s tax base forever.


If AGAINST voters prevail, the district will lose future tax collections on detached properties. This matters in particular because some of those tax revenues are used to pay back the district’s bond debt. As more and more commercial properties are detached, a larger percentage of the responsibility to fund public education would shift to homeowners and remaining business owners.

A FOR vote won’t fix school finance. But it makes the best of a bad situation.

The Chron endorsed a vote against recapture last year not once but twice. As you know, I agreed with them then, and I agree with them now. In my observation, most people and groups making endorsements on this issue are on the Yes side as well, whether they had been that way to begin with or not. That ought to help, but I think a lot of people are still confused by this whole issue, and if they are still confused and voted No last time, I’d have to think they’d vote No this time. If they do vote, of course, which maybe they won’t since we’re not used to voting in May. This is going to be a very weird election. Be that as it may, my re-interview with David Thompson on the matter is here. I hope it helps clear up any lingering questions you may have.

I don’t know if the Chron intends to do any further endorsements or not. They have not traditionally done so in May elections before, but as we know, This Time It’s Different. Plus, there are contested Mayors races in Katy and Pearland, where as in Pasadena that has not usually been the case. I’ll understand if this it, but I’ll still hold out some hope that it’s not.

Weekend link dump for April 23

Meet Jean Afterman, the highest-ranking woman in MLB’s front offices.

“So now, 133 years later, in a 7-1 game in the ninth, you have to watch some 27-year-old failed starter huff and puff for 23 seconds, catching his breath while deciding between his fastball and his fastball, all because Pud Galvin and his ilk cheated so effectively that the game gave up trying to stop them.”

“But this assumption has tended to hide an extremely relevant story in plain site: namely, Donald Trump had and continues to have extensive and deep ties and business dependence on organized crime figures in the US, Russia, Ukraine and a host of other countries. If we’d never heard about Russian intelligence hacking of the 2016 election or Carter Page or Paul Manafort or Sergei Kislyak this would seem like an extraordinarily big deal. And indeed it is an extraordinarily big deal.”

“To have countries with their own distinct corruption issues laughing at our current issues—it’s embarrassing.”

That United flight wasn’t actually overbooked, which makes what they did to Dr. Dao illegal.

RIP, Emma Morano, last known person to have been born in the 1800s.

“Jesus says four times in four different places: do not divorce. Does divorce bother evangelicals? No, absolutely not. Does adultery bother evangelicals? No, not really, because if so they wouldn’t have voted for Donald Trump. So what bothers them? Abortion and same-sex marriage. Beyond that, there’s no longer an agenda.”

“More workers in general merchandise stores have been laid off since October, about 89,000 Americans. That is more than all of the people employed in the United States coal industry, which [Trump] championed during the campaign as a prime example of the workers who have been left behind in the economic recovery.”

“A 20-year-old Syracuse University journalism student made history in 1967 by becoming the first woman to officially enter the Boston Marathon. Now, 50 years later, Kathrine Switzer will return to the Boston Marathon starting line wearing the same number an official tried to rip off her clothing in the 1967 race.”

“While the popularity of Shape Of You and made-up first names is simply beyond comprehension, there is an answer to why flying is the worst: the lawyers.”

Monty Python star Terry Jones is coping with a form of dementia called FTD.

“But then they went ahead and took the data anyway.”

“What’s going on? Well, Trump’s populists don’t know enough about how Washington works, and Trump’s populism isn’t real enough for him to care.”

Undocumented immigrants pay their share of taxes, too.

Captain Kirk, the Green Woman, and the Bible. It all makes sense, trust.

“[MST3K creator and original host Joel] Hodgson believes that fans sharing the show online was partly what made the Netflix revival even possible.”

“Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end who was serving a life sentence for a murder conviction, was found dead early Wednesday of an apparent suicide inside his prison cell”.

“If Trump does not get us all killed, I expect his presidency will look surprisingly unimportant in retrospect.”

From the “anything you say can and will be used against you in a (civil) court of law” department.

RIP, Lyda Ann Thomas, former Mayor of Galveston who served during Hurricane Ike.

“But when you’re talking tough and getting into stand offs over nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and a major global city vulnerable to overwhelming artillery fire, you’ve got to have your shit together.”

“It isn’t just that Trump wasn’t sincere in his desire to make Washington more responsive to the public (though he wasn’t). It’s also that for a president to make a truly meaningful impact on the kinds of Washington habits and mores that people object to, he’d need extraordinary political skills. He’d have to be able to convince lawmakers to get beyond their individual interests to pass reforms that might threaten their livelihoods. He’d have to have a deep understanding of the workings of the executive branch so he could figure out why things work the way they do, what should and shouldn’t be changed, and how you’d go about it. We may never have had a president less possessed of that skill and knowledge than Trump.”

RIP, Bart Truxillo, longtime advocate for preserving Houston’s historic buildings.

The last orca whale to be born at Sea World made its debut this week.

“Wall Street is like the last kid on the block to figure out that Santa isn’t real.”

RIP, Erin Moran, best known as Joanie on Happy Days.

Early voting for May elections begins tomorrow

Tomorrow is the first day of the nine-day early voting period for the May 6 election. I’ve generally not paid a great deal of attention to these May elections, but it’s safe to say that This Time It’s Different, and not just because I myself have an election to vote in. The people who live in the following political jurisdictions in Harris County have a reason to vote as well: City of Humble, City of Pasadena, Houston Independent School District, Humble Independent School District, Northgate Crossing Municipal Utility District 2, Northwest Harris County Municipal Utility District 28, Oakmont Public Utility District, Harris County Water Control & Improvement District 91. You can see the locations and schedule for Harris County early voting here.

Note that there are other elections within Harris County that are not being conducted by the Harris County Clerk. This means that they have their own polling places and early voting schedules, which may or may not include Saturday the 29th and Sunday the 30th. Among them are:

Pasadena ISD – a list of their candidates with a link to their 30 day finance reports is here.

Katy ISD – see their list of candidates here.

San Jacinto College – locations and schedules are here, list of candidates is here.

City of Katy, which also has some charter amendments. Here’s some information about their candidates for Mayor and City Council Ward B. There was no election held in Katy in 2015 because no one filed to run against any of the incumbents, so they decided not to bother with it.

Other elections of local interest are in Fort Bend County and Brazoria County. For Fort Bend, note that the different locations have different hours, with some of them being open each day while some others are not. Check the links before heading out.

And of course there’s the HISD recapture re-vote. I am voting for recapture and recommend you do the same. The No vote last November accomplished what I hoped it would. Now is the time to move forward.

So there you have it. There are other elections around the state, the most interesting of which is surely the San Antonio Mayor’s race in which incumbent Ivy Taylor is seeking a second full term, but these are the local races of interest that I know of. Most of these elections get comically low turnout, so your vote counts for a lot if you actually go an cast it. We’ll see if it really is different this year or not.

Investigation requested into voucher astroturfing

From the Quorum Report:

Rep. Gina Hinojosa

Following a criminal complaint by a GOP former lawmaker, an Austin representative has asked the Travis County District Attorney’s Office to look a letter-writing campaign that has deeply troubled rural Republicans in the Texas House who are opposed to school vouchers.

In a letter obtained by Quorum Report this evening, Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, told prosecutors that she’s heard from many of her Republican colleagues who cannot believe the way in which many of their constituents’ names were used.

As QR readers who have followed this are aware, rural Republicans from East Texas to West Texas have received about 17,000 letters orchestrated by a group called Texans for Education Opportunity. The group claimed credit for the letter campaign but has said everything was done properly.

The problem, though, is that many of those letters utilized the names of people who are opposed to school vouchers in any form and, in fact, some of them have raised concerns about whether their identities were stolen for this campaign.

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, has said he thinks lawmakers are being “defrauded” by these letters. One of the letters Seliger received, but the way, was sent in the name of someone who had died months before the letter was sent.

“I am writing to ask you and your office to immediately open an investigation into a massive letter writing campaign that appears to be fraudulent,” Rep. Hinojosa wrote to the Travis County DA Margaret Moore.

See here for some background, and here for a copy of the letter. Rep. Hinojosa is the second person to ask a DA to investigate this, following former Rep. Rick Hardacstle, who was one of the people claimed to be a voucher supporter by this phony campaign. I Am Not A Lawyer so I have no opinion as to whether the civil code or the criminal code would be the more appropriate remedy for this, but it’s definitely fraud of some form, and if my name had been on one of those faked letters I’d want someone in power to Do Something about it, too. We’ll see what happens.

UPDATE: Scott Braddock has more.

The post-Uber Austin rideshare experience

Texas Monthly notes the issues that some people faced during SxSW hailing a ride, and considers the rideshare landscape in Austin post-Uber and Lyft.

But the thesis that Austin is experiencing a crisis around ride-hailing apps is an old one, and it’s incomplete. RideAustin, which as a non-profit makes all of its numbers public, gave its millionth ride in February. Drivers are happy with the rates they make on RideAustin (which gives them the full amount of the ride) and Fasten (which takes a flat fee out of each ride, rather than a percentage like Lyft does). Most of the year, the companies’ servers can handle the load, and it’s likely that they’ll each be improving their servers based on what happened at SXSW.

Still, despite the fact that the city seems much happier with the current state of its ride app regulations than the tech fellas who come in for SXSW, things might end up getting a lot friendlier for Lyft and Uber anyway. That’s because the disruptive innovators in the tech world have an ally in the Texas Legislature, which seems increasingly likely to pass statewide regulations that would prevent cities like Austin (and Houston, which has a similar ordinance—and which keeps Lyft, but not Uber, from choosing to operate in the city) from determining what the rules that drivers and the companies through which they find passengers will have to follow will be in each city.

There are three different bills in the Lege, all of which would create a statewide rule that would supersede local regulations, and the Senate began debating them last month. (Similar legislation was proposed in 2015, though it ended up dying without a vote.) This time, though, momentum is on the side of the companies that hope to see the legislation passed—the Texas Tribune reports that “at least one of the bills is widely expected to eventually move on to the full Senate for a vote,” which, in an environment that’s increasingly hostile to the idea of local control, has a strong chance of passing.

All of which is to say that the question of whether or not Austin’s leadership “ruined” ridesharing is ultimately the wrong thing to focus on. It’s true both that Austin tends to get around pretty well without Uber and Lyft, and that the two companies are pushing hard for legislation that would change the dynamic there dramatically. Perhaps the real question, then, is what happens to Fasten, RideAustin, and the rest if Uber and Lyft come back?

That’s a tougher question to answer, but it’s the one on which the future of ride-hailing in Austin hinges. For now, RideAustin and Fasten are doing a job that satisfies customers and drivers. But if Uber and Lyft decide to cut costs to consumers for six months, eating the expense of the service, they could easily make RideAustin and Fasten seem like overpriced relics of a bizarre moment in the city’s history. It may not prove sustainable (currently, Uber’s passengers pay for only 41 percent of each ride, and the company was projected to lose $3 billion in 2016), but it doesn’t have to be sustainable: it only has to chase away the competition.

I have mostly resigned myself to the fact that the Lege is going to pass a statewide rideshare law that will forcibly overrule the ordinances passed in cities like Austin and Houston regarding these services. The bills that are being considered have some good points to them, and there is certainly an argument to be made that a uniform statewide approach makes more sense and will serve customers better. But I think that latter part will only be true if there is robust competition among multiple rideshare companies, ant not just an Uber/Lyft duopoly with a legacy cab service for a declining share of riders. As such, I have two hopes for what happens after Uber and Lyft make their mandated returns to Austin. One is that they will find a market that isn’t as into them as before thanks to the presence of many other viable services, which forces them to innovate and compete not just for riders but also for drivers. And two, if Uber and Lyft take the approach of trying to kill off their competition instead by leveraging their billions in market capitalization to subsidize their service until they’re the only players left standing, that the Legislature recognizes this anti-free market in a way that some people say taxi regulations are, and take action to correct it. Let’s just say I have more hope for the former than for the latter.