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May 12th, 2017:

Friday random ten: Fluxblog 1980

It’s all about 1980 this week:

1. The Tilt – 7th Wonder
2. Everybody Wants Some! – Van Halen
3. I Got You – Split Enz
4. My Sick Mind – The Roches
5. Another Brick In The Wall Part 2 – Pink Floyd
6. Joy And Pain – Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly
7. Mister Softee – Kid Creole & The Coconuts
8. That’s Entertainment – The Jam
9. Black Woman – Fred Anderson Quartet
10. I’m Coming Out – Diana Ross

All this comes from the Fluxblog 1980s survey mixes, a gigantic free download of music from each year in the 80’s that you really should check out. I’ve mentioned it before, and it’s been a tremendous find. (There’s now the first few years of a similar survey of the 1990’s, which I need to start downloading.) It covers everything from big hits of all genres to the stuff that only the cool kids knew about to novelties to really obscure songs, all of which combine to give a good picture of what music was like that year.

As for the list above, I have two movie-related comments. One, I remember watching Pink Floyd: The Wall back in the 80s, and it’s every bit as weird and disturbing and psychedelic as you’d expect, even if you’re not stoned while watching it. And two, “Everybody Wants Some!” will always remind me of John Cusack flipping burgers at the world’s worst fast food joint.

Interview with Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman has served two terms as HISD Trustee in District I, which is where I live. She has been a leading advocate for having strong accountability measures in place for schools, she was a frequent critic of former Superintendent Terry Grier, and she was the most outspoken Trustee for passing the recapture referendum, both the one that failed in November and the one that passed on Saturday. Her term expires this year, and she has decided that she will not run for a third term. As I did with her predecessor Natasha Kamrani, Eastman wanted to do one last interview to talk about what has happened while she was in office, where things are now and where they are headed going forward. I was happy to oblige, so here’s what we talked about.

(Note: we were interrupted twice by the Eastman dogs barking. I paused the recorder till we could restore order, so if there are a couple of places where it sounds a little weird, that would be why.)

I should note there are two candidates already in for HISD District I, and I expect there will be at least one or two more. I’ve got a post on who’s running for what in HISD planned for the near future. I will of course be interviewing candidates in the fall.

Bill to ban straight-ticket voting advances in the Senate

This could happen.

Rep. Ron Simmons

A Texas Senate panel approved legislation Thursday that would end straight-ticket voting in all elections.

The Senate Committee on Business & Commerce voted 7-0 to send House Bill 25 for potential consideration by the full chamber. Two members, the only Democrats on the panel, were absent.

The vote came less than a week after the House passed the legislation, mostly along party lines. Starting with the 2018 elections, the bill would take away the option for voters to automatically cast their ballot for every candidate from a single party.

[…]

In the Thursday hearing, proponents of the bill — including its Senate sponsor, Hancock — said it would force voters to make more informed decisions when casting their ballots. Critics suggested it could lead to voting rights violations.

“We believe that this takes away one method of voting that minority voters overwhelmingly use to choose the candidates of their choice,” said Glen Maxey, legislative affairs director for the Texas Democratic Party.

Maxey also questioned why the bill wound up in the Business & Commerce Committee, not the State Affairs Committee. Such a maneuver is “what the federal courts have noted as abnormal legislative procedure,” Maxey said.

A federal judge blocked a similar law last year in Michigan, saying it would disproportionately affect black voters. After that ruling came up in Thursday’s hearing, Hancock noted that the Michigan law moved through a “completely different court system than we’ll move through” if HB 25 becomes law and it is challenged.

Hancock also sought to reassure critics of the bill who said it would lead to longer lines at polling places, saying more locations would solve the problem.

See here for the background. Sen. Hancock is correct that more locations – and more machines per location – can solve the problems, but those words are meaningless without funding from the state to cover the costs. Not covering costs, going through a different committee, taking a vote when the two Dems on the committee were absent – none of this is going to look good when the inevitable lawsuit is filed.

House Democrats on Friday argued eliminating the “one-punch” choice would constitute an attack on Texans’ voting rights, particularly the disabled, the elderly and voters in large cities, where ballots and lines are longer and more people rely on public transportation.

Multiple lawmakers said minority voters rely on the straight-ticket option more than Anglos, evidence that was used as the basis of a 2016 federal court ruling that blocked a similar law in Michigan.

“This bill hasn’t been vetted,” said Representative Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City. “We don’t know how much it will cost; we don’t know if it will violate the Voting Rights Act of 1964. What we do know is that federal courts have ruled recently that laws passed by Texas discriminated against African-American and Hispanic voters.”

Three federal court rulings since March have found that Texas intentionally discriminated against African-American and Hispanic voters in voter ID and redistricting cases. The author of HB 25, Representative Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, said repeatedly during debate Friday night that he was not aware of the rulings.

“I’ve been busy down here,” he said on the House floor, defending his lack of knowledge of the widely reported court decisions.

Representative Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, predicted the bill would be challenged “as a voter suppression bill.”

In the Michigan ruling last July, a federal judge wrote that abolishing the straight-ticket option would disproportionately impact African-American voters, who use it more often and already face longer voting lines in urban areas. The measure was designed “to require voters to spend more time filling more bubbles,” which could “discourage voting,” wrote Judge Gershwin A. Drain. The Supreme Court declined to hear Michigan’s appeal in September.

We’ll see what happens. There’s still time for the bill to be amended to address the concerns that Democrats have raised. I don’t expect that – why should the Republicans change their ways now? – but at least they can’t say they weren’t warned.

Paxton tries again – and fails – to get a new judge

Never give up, never surrender, I guess.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal defense lawyers filed a motion Wednesday arguing the judge assigned to oversee his securities fraud trial is ineligible to oversee the case because his appointment was temporary.

Legal experts say the argument appears dubious as Paxton’s legal team looks for ways to secure a new judge in a high-profile legal battle that could decide the political fate of the state’s most embattled Republican.

“Big firms fight for every inch,” said Edward Mallett, a Houston criminal defense lawyer. “I admire the lawyers for being scrappy.”

The motion argues that any rulings District Judge George Gallagher has made in the attorney general’s case since in 2017 should be “vacated and declared void,” including his decision to move the trial out of Paxton’s back yard of Collin County and into Harris County. The case should be reassigned to a new Collin County jurist who assumed office in January, according to the motion.

[…]

Paxton’s legal team filed the motion with Judge Mary Murphy, the presiding judge of the First Administrative Judicial Region, arguing she had assigned Gallagher to her region until Dec. 31, 2016, which should render rulings he’s made since then null and void.

She assigned Gallagher to hear cases in the region on July 29, 2015 to last “until the plenary power has expired or the undersigned Presiding Judge has terminated this assignment in writing, whichever occurs first.”

“Plenary power” refers to a court’s power to dispose of a matter before it, according to Black’s Law Dictionary. That means Gallagher likely has the power to stay with the case until the end, regardless when his time in the judicial region expires, said Mallett, past president of the national, state and county association of criminal defense lawyers. He said the filing’s lack of reference to case law likely reveals that Paxton’s legal team is looking for creative ways to remove the judge without past precedent to back up their arguments.

“This is Texas: issues not clearly controlled by precedent are influenced by politics. The law is art and science combined,” said Mallett.

See here, here, and here for the background. The Trib adds some details.

In their Wednesday filing, Paxton’s lawyers said Gallagher had “no authority” to make rulings in 2017 because his assignment to the case expired at midnight on Dec. 31, 2016. They base that claim on an assignment order that has not previously come to light in the case.

In addition to the order to change the venue, Gallagher’s rulings this year included denials of motions to dismiss and to delay until prosecutors can get paid. The judge declined to comment through a spokeswoman on the Wednesday filing.

Gallagher, who is from Tarrant County, has presided over the case since its early days in 2015, when Collin County’s Chris Oldner stepped aside due to his ties to Paxton. Oldner did not seek re-election in 2016, instead running for a seat on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, a race he lost. Oldner was succeeded by Andrea Thompson.

The case should now return to Thompson, Paxton’s team said in its Wednesday filing, which was addressed to Mary Murphy, the presiding judge of the First Administrative Judicial Region of Texas.

I Am Not A Lawyer, so I can’t tell you how good an argument this was, but I can tell you that it didn’t work.

On Thursday morning, Paxton’s attorneys were told their latest request that Judge George Gallagher be forced to step down could not be honored. Why? The court they asked does not have the authority to make this decision.

“The undersigned does not have that power,” Judge Mary Murphy, presiding judge in the First Administrative Judicial Region, wrote in an email. The decision, she said, lies with “the trial court and the appellate courts.”

My take on this is that the administrative judge Murphy says Paxton should be taking this up with judges Gallagher (who has already expressed his opinion) and Thompson in the 416th Court in Collin County, where this whole thing originated. Assuming Judge Thompson has no interest in taking this case back to her court, then the next step for Paxton would be to ask the appellate court, which could be the Fourth Court (which has jurisdiction over Collin County) or one of the First and 14th Courts, which rule for Harris County. I’ll bet a dollar we’ll see that happen in short order.

Senate rejects House changes to Houston pension reform bill

Conference committee, here we come.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

The Texas Senate on Wednesday refused to concur with House-passed amendments to a reform bill designed to resolve financial problems for Houston’s pension system.

Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican who is the author of the legislation, said the House changes would be too costly and would derail a tentative agreement brokered by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Huffman, saying the passage of the bill “is absolutely essential to the city’s future,” said one of the House amendments alone would add an additional $26.7 million to the cost of the reforms, an unaffordable amount.

Huffman was appointed chair for Senate negotiators assigned to negotiate a final version of the bill, joined by Sens. Jane Nelson, Charles Schwertner, Kelly Hancock and Carlos Uresti.

See here for the background. The amendment in question was authored by Rep. Dwayne Bohac; the Chron called for its removal, so there’s that. My guess is that the final version of the bill will be more or less the Senate version, and it ought to be approved without too much difficulty.