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May 2nd, 2017:

Castro will not run for Senate in 2018

Well, that’s settled.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, has decided not to challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018.

He announced the decision in an email to supporters Monday, saying he wants to remain focused on his work in the House. The decision leaves U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, as Cruz’s main competition.

“I’ve kept my pledge to fight for hard-working Texans, and I’ll keep doing that,” Castro said in the email. “However, with the threats posed by Russia and North Korea, coupled with the reckless behavior of this Administration and their failure to invest in economic opportunity for the American people, at this time I believe I can best continue that work by focusing on my duties in the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees.”

Castro, seen as a rising star among Texas Democrats, had been mulling a Senate run for several months. In recent weeks, he promised to announce his decision by the end of April. As recently as last week, he was non-committal to House colleagues.

As you know, I am not surprised by this. I’ve said all along, Castro would be giving up a lot for what is at best a longshot bid for the Senate, and now he’d have to win a primary against someone who got there first just to be able to make that longshot bid. It just didn’t add up, and that’s before you throw the possibility of being part of a Congressional majority in 2019. Life is full of unquantifiable risks and decisions that have to be made on insufficient evidence. Whatever Castro chose would have been understandable and defensible, and whatever he chose will open him up to criticism. I respect the decision he made as I would have respected the decision he didn’t make, and I wish him the best. Maybe we’ll see him on the ballot for Senate in 2020. In the meantime, get on the Beto train. He’s going to need everyone’s help next year. RG Ratcliffe and the Chron have more.

Senate passes pension reform bill

Progress.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston’s pension reform package passed the Texas Senate by a 25-5 margin Monday, as a possible political blockade dissolved to provide the landmark proposal a speedy passage.

Mayor Sylvester Turner’s reforms now await a hearing in the state House on Saturday.

“I believe this current version is our best chance at significant pension reform and, members, be assured: This is significant pension reform,” said Sen. Joan Huffman, the Houston Republican who carried the measure in the upper chamber. “Without this reform, the city might head toward bankruptcy.”

Sen. Paul Bettencourt, another Houston Republican, had indicated he planned to offer an amendment to allow voters to impose 401(k)-style “defined contribution” plans on future city employees, which worker groups view as providing insufficient security in retirement.

Bettencourt stood down and praised the final version of the legislation, however, thanks to a compromise — negotiated among business groups, city leaders and pension officials over the weekend — that added a pathway to “cash balance” plans, a typically less generous type of traditional pension plan.

New hires would be forced into those plans only if the existing pensions financial health eroded to a specified point.

Here’s the Mayor’s press release. I’m sure there will be a longer Chron story this morning – I’ll link to it when it’s up – but this is sufficient for now. This “failsafe” that was grafted on as an alternative to the Bettencourt forced-401(k)-vote amendment, which bubbled up to the surface over the weekend, may or may not ever amount to anything and I’m not sure what I think of it, but it’s probably better than the Bettencourt amendment, so I’ll take it for now.

The House companion bill is on the calendar for Saturday, so this is where the rubber meets the road. This bill already differs in that it doesn’t have the provision requiring a vote on the pension obligation bonds. We’ll see what happens with this amendment as well. The Trib has more.

UPDATE: Here’s that longer Chron story.

Court denies motion for appeals in redistricting case and sets trial date

We are moving along in this process after such a long long looooooooooooooooong wait to get here.

A three-judge panel on Monday denied Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s request to appeal a March ruling that said the Legislature intentionally discriminated against minority voters when it approved new congressional districts in 2011.

Texas needed the federal court’s permission to appeal because the ruling was not a final order in the case.

During a hearing Thursday in San Antonio, the judges voiced skepticism about letting a separate appeal move forward on the 2011 map while the panel began the final phase of the case — a claim that the current U.S. House and Texas House maps, adopted in 2013, also discriminated against African-American and Latino voters.

The court also rejected Paxton’s request to toss out claims that the 2013 maps were drawn to intentionally discriminate against minority voters in violation of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

Paxton had argued that the maps adopted by the Legislature in 2013 had originally been drawn by the three-judge court to cure voting rights problems found in the 2011 maps.

“The Legislature was entitled to presume that this court acted in good faith and without a racially discriminatory purpose,” Paxton argued.

But, the court ruled, the legal challenges focus on the intent of lawmakers, not judges, in adopting the U.S. House and Texas House district maps. Resolving those claims involves matters not appropriately decided on summary judgment, the order said.

See here and here for the background. The DMN adds on:

The court denied the state’s motions for summary judgments on its failure to create districts where there would be more Latino and black voting strength, and on assertions that the state used its “county line rule” to avoid doing so.

The county line rule stipulates that counties apportioned to districts must remain within that district. But plaintiffs argued that the state used the rule as a shield to avoid its obligation under the federal Voting Rights Act to create districts that would increase minority voting strength.

The judges denied a motion to resolve whether the state’s 2013 redrawing of House District 90 in Tarrant County violated the Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment. Plaintiffs argued that the district was drawn to dilute Latino voting strength, but the state said the district has a contingent of active Latino voters and elected one, U.S. Rep. Ramon Romero, to its congressional seat.

The panel still needs to resolve the state’s requests and could issue a trial date this week. An attorney for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, one of the lead plaintiffs in the case, said last week he was confident there would be a summer trial. When asked Monday if that confidence remained, Jose Garza said: “You bet!”

Texas had also asked to appeal the court’s findings on the 2011 maps to the conservative-leaning 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, where presumably it would have a more favorable audience. Because the case is being handled by a special panel, the court denied that motion, and any appeals will go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

At the time those stories came out, the judges had not released an order specifying a trial date. Now they have.

With the 2018 election cycle looming, a federal judge panel has set July 10 as the start date for a trial over the state’s House and congressional political maps.

In an order filed Monday, the three judges presiding over the case scheduled the five-day trial following a pair of rulings that found Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minority voters in initially drawing each map in 2011.

“The Court is aware of the condensed schedule that must be implemented in light of the 2018 election deadlines, and expects counsel and the parties to work diligently to meet the deadlines contained herein,” the panel wrote.

Rick Hasen has a copy of the scheduling order, which lays out all of the deadlines, the scope of evidence, how many maps each side can propose, and more. Any appeals will go straight to SCOTUS. Lord willing we’ll have ourselves some maps by the end of September or so. Michael Li has more.

The SB4 protests

I admire the hell out of this.

At least two dozen protesters on the grounds of the Texas Capitol on Monday evening were charged with misdemeanor trespassing, the culmination of a day-long sit-in.

The demonstration began around 10 a.m. Monday morning when about 50 protesters took over the lobby of the State Insurance Building to protest Senate Bill 4, a measure that would outlaw “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas that passed out of the Texas House last week.

Attorney George Lobb, with the Austin Lawyers Guild, told The Texas Tribune that protesters inside were charged with trespassing. According to Lobb, Travis County Magistrate Nicholas Chu apparently issued citations to those inside the insurance building. Lobb said he and five other attorneys tried to get inside the building to speak with their clients but were barred from entry by state troopers.

Lobb said some of those charged must appear for a court date, although it’s not immediately clear how many protesters that applies to.

One of those handcuffed with a zip tie included Jim Rigby, a pastor at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Austin. He was part of the original group of protestors that descended on the state building Monday morning. Upon his release, Rigby told the crowd, who greeted him with thunderous applause, that they were all in this together now. “We are family,” he told the crowd.

Austin City Council member Greg Casar, a staunch opponent of state-based immigration proposals, was also released and told protesters the fight on SB 4 was only beginning.

“We know [Gov. Greg Abbott] has set his stake into passing this unconstitutional and anti-immigrant law,” Casar said. “This community, we are gonna rise up. The day he signs the bill is only the real beginning of the fight on SB 4.”

Just read the whole thing, and this Observer story, and look at the videos as well. Find inspiration from what these people did yesterday, and find something to do to support and stand with them.