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April 12th, 2017:

Paxton trial moved to Harris County

The circus is coming to town, with none of those morally questionable animal acts to get all angsty about.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton will face a jury in Harris County on felony criminal charges he committed securities fraud and failed to register with the state as an investment advisor, a district judge ruled Tuesday.

District Judge George Gallagher opted to relocate Paxton’s criminal trial across county lines last month after citing concern that political influences are strong in the attorney general’s home of Collin County where he originally was set to be tried.

“Harris County was selected because the lead counsel for the state and the defense are located there. Harris County also has the facilities to accommodate the trial,” Gallagher said in a statement.

Paxton’s lawyers have opposed the change of venue and say a recent poll shows possible jurists in Collin County are largely undecided about the case. However, attorneys on both sides agreed to allow the court to relocate the trial to a county not adjacent to Paxton’s home county, according to the ruling.

See here for the background. If you live in Harris County and receive a jury summons in the next few weeks, that may end up being a more exciting experience than you’d normally expect.

And with the change in venue, it appears there will be a change of judge as well.

Paxton’s attorneys filed a motion hours later asking that a new judge from Harris County be assigned to the case.

“By this motion, Paxton respectfully advises the Court that he will not be giving the statutorily-required written consent… to allow the Honorable George Gallagher or his court staff to continue to preside over the matter in Harris County,” the motion reads.

Needless to say, there’s no trial date set yet. The questions of who will preside over the case and in which courtroom will have to be settled first, and the new judge will have to get up to speed. I may have to reconsider my original expectation that there will be a verdict before next November. Anyway, time to stock up on popcorn and get ready for the show. You can see copies of the judge’s order and the Paxton motion here, and the Trib and the Dallas Observer have more.

Voter ID education was a massive failure

This is outrageous.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs recently completed a report, “The Texas Voter ID Law and the 2016 Election,” based on surveys of registered voters who sat out the 2016 elections in the state’s two highest profile battleground jurisdictions: Harris County and Congressional District 23 (CD-23), which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso.

We found almost all registered voters who did not vote had a valid photo ID, and virtually no one was prevented from voting for lack of one of the seven state-approved forms of photo ID needed to vote in person.

However, these registered voters were poorly informed about the photo ID regulations, which are the foundation for revised ID legislation now being considered in the Legislature.

It’s no surprise that the Texas Secretary of State’s 2016 public education campaign left some voters uninformed about the voter ID law, given that only $2.5 million was allocated for the effort and the requirements changed just months before the election.

But legislators can correct that problem, even as they consider other changes to the law. We urge them to take that responsibility seriously in light of what we discovered.

Thirty-seven percent of registered voters in Harris County and 45 percent of those in CD-23 did not vote in November. But almost all of them could have. Altogether, 97 percent of registered non-voters in Harris County and 98 percent of those in CD-23 had an unexpired, state-approved photo ID. That rose to 99 percent in Harris County and remained at 98 percent in CD-23 when acceptable expired IDs were considered.

[…]

Only 20 percent of non-voters could accurately identify the photo ID rules. Three out of five incorrectly believed all voters were required to provide a state-approved photo ID to vote in person, unaware that people could also vote by signing an affidavit and providing one of several supporting documents.

Latino non-voters were significantly less likely than Anglo and Harris County African American non-voters to accurately understand the rules. Latino non-voters in both locales were also significantly more likely to believe the photo ID rules were more restrictive than they actually were.

Three out of four non-voters incorrectly believed only a valid, unexpired Texas driver’s license qualified as a state-approved form of photo ID, and only 1 in 7 knew a license that had expired within four years qualified.

You can see the study here. You can’t tell me that this kind of confusion isn’t a part of the appeal for Republicans who advocate for voter ID, especially strict voter ID laws like Texas’. There’s a reason why that law was ruled to have been passed with discriminatory intent. That confusion will continue to be a factor going forward as well even as the law is invalidated (which may or may not continue to be the case as the appeals process gets underway). It’s going to take a large investment in voter education to counteract that effect, unlike the pathetically puny effort the state grudgingly put forward last year.

The Trib adds some reporting to the op-ed that the study’s authors published.

“If [Texas] just used rules similar to those enforced in 2016 but did a better job educating voters, we would see only very modest adverse effects on participation,” Jones said.

The survey results tracked similarly to findings in a 2015 joint Rice University and University of Houston study of CD-23 that found eligible voters stayed home because they erroneously thought they lacked proper IDs — possibly factoring into the outcome of Hurd’s close win over Democrat Pete Gallego.

Jones called it unrealistic to expect the secretary of state’s office, previously led by Carlos Cascos, to educate would-be voters across the vast state with just $2.5 million — a sum better suited to reach folks in just one of Texas’ 36 congressional districts.

A federal judge ordered Texas to launch the voter education effort just three months before Election Day last November, and the campaign hit an early speed bump when that same judge ordered the secretary of state’s office to correct and re-issue press materials following allegations that the office inaccurately described fixes to the ID rules.

The agency at the time called educating voters its top objective.

Researchers can’t analyze how effectively the agency has used its scarce resources for education because it has refused to release key details about where it purchased television and radio advertisements to publicize the relaxation to ID requirements in the run-up to the elections — secrecy supported by a ruling from Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The justification for that ruling and for the secrecy in the first place is that the work done by these overpriced consultants on behalf of the state was a “trade secret” on their part, which is bullshit on so many levels I can’t even begin to categorize them. Rep. Justin Rodriguez filed a bill to force transparency on this, which I suppose may now be moot in light of the ruling from Corpus Christi. What needs to happen, regardless of what becomes of that ruling, is that a crap-ton of money needs to be spent to undo the toxic effects of the voter ID law and make sure everyone who is eligible to vote knows it. Since the state isn’t going to spend that money, someone else needs to do it. If the Texas Democratic Party wants a cause to rally people to, that would be my recommendation.

Castro will decide this month

We should know soon if there are two Democratic challengers to Sen. Ted Cruz.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

After Joaquin Castro exhorted a room full of Dallas-area activists Sunday to mobilize against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, a man asked the San Antonio congressman the most pressing question: “You gonna run?”

A grinning Castro said he would make a decision on a Senate campaign by the end of April.

“Beating Ted Cruz in Texas is a tough hill to climb,” he said. “We’re going to need all the energy we can get.”

Meanwhile in Fort Worth, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, already a candidate to challenge Cruz, was making his pitch to Cowtown voters.

“The fact that you have a member of Congress that’s already announced and filed, and another member of Congress who is weeks away from making his decision, that is a sign of health and vitality,” O’Rourke said before his campaign stop. “This is becoming a two-party state.”

[…]

The potential of two Democrats vying to meet Cruz in an uphill battle has the party faithful excited. Cruz is the most popular Republican in Texas, and beating him will be tough for anyone, let alone a Democrat in a GOP-controlled state.

“Competition is good,” said DeSoto City Council member Candice Quarles, who attended Sunday’s march. “A competitive Senate race will get Democrats excited again. If you want it, you’ve got to earn it, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Quarles said the fresh faces of Castro and O’Rourke would inspire younger voters who have grown tired of the same faces that often discourage new involvement in the political process.
State Rep. Victoria Neave, who in 2016 upset incumbent Republican Kenneth Sheets in Dallas-based House District 107, said voters were excited about both candidates.

“People are excited about the change we can have here in Texas,” Neave said. “Both of the candidates are exciting and they are getting people engaged. Anytime we have dialogue and discourse about issues in our community, it’s a good thing.”

I’ve discussed the primary question before, mostly in the context of it being Beto O’Rourke versus some nobody or nobodies that he could (hopefully) crush as a warmup exercise. A primary against Castro would be a whole ‘nother thing. No question, it would energize a lot of people, it would bring a ton of attention to the Democratic ticket, and it would be great exposure and experience for the winner, and quite possibly for the loser if he’d consider a 2020 challenge to John Cornyn as a Plan B. And right now at least, everyone is being cordial and focusing on the big prize. Castro and O’Rourke have been appearing at events together and openly talk about their respect for each other. But let’s not kid ourselves, primaries are competitions in which someone wins and someone loses, and the more competitive it is the harder and more personally everyone takes it. This isn’t an argument against Castro getting in – by all means, if that’s his intention, he should go for it – just a reminder that the laws of primary elections have not been repealed. Whatever people are saying now, if Castro/O’Rourke does happen, they will all be glad when it’s over.

Stockman trial date set

Mark your calendar.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman is set to go to trial June 5 on federal corruption charges.

Stockman, a Houston-area Republican, has pleaded not guilty to charges of funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable donations to himself and his congressional campaign. He was arraigned Monday.

The trial is expected to last one month, according to a scheduling order filed Tuesday. Pretrial motions are due May 12 and responses two weeks later.

[…]

Stockman has cycled through a number of lawyers since his arrest last month. On Thursday, he was given a court-appointed attorney, Richard Kuniansky.

See here for the previous update. How long this actually takes will depend in large part on what happens with the pretrial motions. The Tom DeLay and Ken Paxton sagas were and are as drawn out as they were because the indictments were challenged in the pretrial hearing, and the trial judges’ rulings upholding them were then appealed. I don’t think that will be the case here – there’s nothing so far to suggest that the charges themselves are in any way a stretch – but you never know. If nothing interesting comes out of that, then expect the trial itself to be on the schedule suggested by the story.