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May 3rd, 2017:

Trib overview of the Pasadena elections

Good stuff.

Pasadena City Council

When voters head to the polls here Saturday, their city council and mayoral picks could have repercussions well beyond this working-class Houston suburb.

It will be the first election since a federal judge struck down the city’s 2013 redistricting plan as discriminatory, paving the way for a new balance of power at City Hall.

It comes as Texas Democrats redouble their efforts on the local level after a 2016 election that gave them ample reason to be optimistic about their future, especially in Harris County.

And it could offer a gauge of just how far down the ballot President Donald Trump, unpopular in even a deep-red state like Texas, is energizing Democrats.

For Pasadena, a city whose representation has long lagged its majority-Hispanic population — much like Texas writ large — it could actually be the “new day” that multiple candidates are promising.

“You have racial discord undergirding partisan politics,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “You’ve got one side trying to use the rules of the vote to change the structure of elections. And the other side is using the legal process … to fight the electoral damage that might result.”

“That,” Rottinghaus added, “sets the stage for Pasadena as an important part of the story in Texas’ transition to a new racial electorate.”

[…]

The Texas Democratic Party has endorsed five city council candidates in Pasadena — more than it has endorsed in any other municipality for the May 6 elections. Other Democratic groups are on the ground in the city, including Battleground Texas, which has been working to make the state more competitive for Democrats since the 2014 election cycle.

Much of their efforts are focused on two council races — in District A and District B — that are considered key to ushering in a new Democratic, predominantly Hispanic majority at City Hall. Battleground Texas is specifically working with District A candidate Felipe Villarreal and District B candidate Steve Halvorson, husband of Area 5 Democrats President Jennifer Halvorson, the only instances this election cycle where the group has directly partnered with candidates.

In those districts, which cover the heavily Hispanic north side of Pasadena, Democrats face a test similar to the one they face statewide: turnout.

“Those two districts — they vote overwhelmingly Democratic in November elections,” Jennifer Halvorson said. “Those voters don’t typically vote in May elections.”

See here for those endorsed candidates, among others. I’ll have one more look at early voting turnout tomorrow, though it will be limited in that I can’t tell you where the voters are coming from. Republicans are paying attention to the Pasadena elections as well, and the chair of the Harris County GOP, which as we know had such a stellar showing last year, says they are fully engaged. I don’t want to put too much emphasis on one election, but this is our first chance to vote in the Trump era, and it will tell us something one way or another. In the meantime, if you live in Pasadena or know someone who does, make sure you and they get out to vote on Saturday.

County considers its bail options

I can think of one, if they need some help.

With just two weeks until the 193-page order from Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal kicks in May 15, county officials are working to draft a plan to deal with the hundreds of misdemeanor offenders now behind bars and the new cases filed each day.

County officials and more than a dozen lawyers spent Monday in meetings deciding whether to appeal the order, said Robert Soard, first assistant at the Harris County Attorney’s Office. He said he anticipates the legal team will have a recommendation about whether to appeal before the next Commissioners Court session May 9.

Jason Spencer, spokesman for Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, said the changes will require collaboration among multiple agencies to comply with the ruling so quickly.

“It’s not just a flipping of a switch and now we can do these things,” he said. “It takes time and planning to put new systems in place that weren’t there before.”

Paula Goodhart, administrative judge for the misdemeanor courts, was also among those in the meetings.

“Like everyone else, we’re still trying to process it,” Goodhart said.

Goodhart declined to answer questions specific to the lawsuit, because she is one of the defendants. Instead, she spoke about changes that have been in the works for the past two years to reform the county bail system.

“We do recognize that low- and moderate-risk people should be out pending trial,” she said. “We just want to balance public safety with individual liberty interests.”

On any given day, between 350 and 500 people-about 5.5 percent-of the jail population are awaiting trial on misdemeanors. But about 50,000 people are arrested in Harris County on misdemeanors each year, so the number of people who would not have to pay a bondsman or plead guilty to get out of jail could be in the tens of thousands.

County budget officer Bill Jackson said his office is working to understand how many people may be released by the judge’s order and how much that could reduce the cost of incarceration at the overcrowded jail.

“This is such a moving target,” Jackson said. “There’s just way too many ‘what-ifs’ and variables.”

See here for the background. I can’t help with the what-ifs and the variables, but I can give them one solid piece of advice: Don’t appeal. Save your money on the high-priced lawyers and start implementing what the judge ordered. The county will save a bunch of money by not having so many people in jail, and with that there will be fewer deaths, fewer rapes, fewer allegations of brutality against the guards, and so on. There will also be a higher general level of justice in the county, with fewer people forced out of work and fewer people spending money they don’t have on bail bondsmen and court costs. Less cost, less death, more justice. Someone help me out here, what is it we have to think about here?

Some officials, however, bristled Monday at the judge’s opinion,which was handed down late Friday.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said the ruling was an example of a federal judge changing Texas law. Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack wondered whether the release of inmates could impact public safety.

“Just because somebody has been charged with a Class B or A misdemeanor doesn’t mean that’s a person that’s a real nice person, that’s real trustworthy and hasn’t been involved in an active assault,” Radack said.

Take your two-bit scare tactics and tell it to Judges Hecht and Keller, guys. And settle the damn lawsuit.

Senate passes “driverless car” bill

This is a first.

Sen. Kelly Hancock

Texas took a step toward self-driving vehicles zipping up and down its highways and streets under a first-of-its-kind measure approved Thursday by the Texas Senate.

Approved by a 31-0 vote, Senate Bill 1622 would implement minimum safety standards for so-called “autonomous vehicles” and “automated driving systems” — the first time the new technology will be regulated in the Lone Star State.

Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, said oversight is needed to ensure the rapidly-evolving technology — some of which involve human navigators and others that are fully automated — remains safe on Texas streets and highways.

He said the legislation defines “automated driving system” to mirror current requirements of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has set nationwide safety standards.

The bill also pre-empts local officials in Texas from imposing their own rules or requiring a franchise for companies to operate autonomous vehicles — the latest such measure approved in this legislative session to curb local regulations on a variety of issues.

Owners of “autonomous” vehicles would have comply with state registration and title laws and follow traffic and motor-vehicle laws; the vehicles must be equipped with a data-recording system, meet federal safety standards and have insurance.

In the event of an accident, the “autonomous” vehicle immediately would have to stop and notify the proper authorities.

The bill number listed in the story is incorrect – SB1622 is a completely different piece of legislation, authored by Sen. Carlos Uresti, though as you can see it too passed the Senate on Thursday. The correct bill appears to be SB2205. As noted before, this is the third session in which a driverless car bill has been introduced. A bill by then-Sen. Rodney Ellis in 2015 failed to pass after being opposed by Google. Either Google has changed its tune, or this bill satisfied its objections from last time, or this time the Senate didn’t care, I can’t tell. A similar House bill has not yet received a hearing, so if this is going anywhere, it will surely be via Hancock’s SB2205.

As for the by now standard pre-emption of local regulations, at least in this case I’d say it’s appropriate. The state has been the regulator of vehicles in the past and has the infrastructure in place to deal with those regulations. My fear is that we’re creating a new norm here, and that bills that don’t contain local pre-emption clauses are going to be seen as the exceptions. Be that as it may, this bill overall seems like a good idea. We’ll see what happens to it in the House.

Someone really doesn’t like the Paxton case judge

It’s dirty tricks time.

Best mugshot ever

An anonymous campaign-like piece of mail has begun appearing in Texas attacking the judge overseeing Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal securities fraud trial, discrediting the Tarrant County jurist who has said he plans to stay with the case as it moves to Houston this fall.

The sepia tone flier that alleges state District Judge George Gallagher’s court is “rigged against Texas” comes as Paxton fights to remove the judge from the bench overseeing his case.

“It’s definitely done with the goal of affecting the Paxton case,” said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, citing Gallagher’s next election is three years away. “It’s probably an attempt to either get Gallagher to resign from the case or to begin to affect the jury pool.”

[…]

First reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the mailer has been sighted in Tarrant County and elsewhere in the state.

Absent from the flier is a reference to who sent it, which is information required on political mailers that advocate people “vote for,” “elect,” “support,” “defeat” or “reject” a candidate or proposition. The flier uses none of those words, nor does it encourage people take a specific action.

“The general guideline is that political advertising that includes an express advocacy has to include a disclosure statement,” said Ian Steusloff, general counsel for the Texas Ethics Commission, which examines complaints about political mailers. He declined to comment on whether the anonymous mailer is legal and said he cannot comment on whether the agency has received a complaint on the flier.

The mailer alleges Gallagher is “trying to Fix” the attorney general’s trial and cites a series of rulings by the 2nd and 7th Courts of Appeals dating to 2003 saying he “abused” his discretion.

Empower Texans, a conservative Republican group, embraced the message of the flier, but denied it had any involvement with it.

“The Paxton prosecution is a travesty and an embarrassment to the Texas criminal justice system. Whatever the source, Gallagher deserves the criticism he is receiving for his role in it,” read an essay from Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of the conservative group and defender of Paxton.

Yes, I’m sure those upstanding citizens at Empower Texans have nothing at all to do with this, and you can’t prove that they did. There’s a reason why they fight like crazed wolverines against any attempt to increase disclosure requirements. Bud Kennedy has a partial image of one of the flyers, which is right out of the ominous-voiceover-TV-attack-ad school. I doubt even these jokers would try to blanket the county with their lame hit pieces, but keep an eye on your mailboxes anyway. Why they think the judge is the root of Ken Paxton’s problems is beyond me, but they do have an investment to protect so here we are. The Press, which has further images of the mailer and some context to the BS charges it raises, has more.