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July, 2017:

July 2017 campaign finance reports – City of Houston

Let’s continue our survey of campaign finance reports with reports from the city of Houston.


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Turner     520,430  138,068         0  1,643,519

Stardig     59,470   36,402         0    102,289
Davis        5,500   13,231         0    147,050
Cohen        5,000    8,382         0     63,120
Boykins     93,839   40,547         0     57,358
Martin      20,092    8,221         0    106,427
Le          12,250    1,788    31,823      1,951
Travis      51,751   25,051    76,000     51,109
Cisneros    24,043    5,203         0     25,336
Gallegos    30,600    7,048         0     50,366
Laster      31,650    8,104         0    170,714
Green       17,150   39,770         0     84,627

Knox        21,185   13,373         0     23,149
Robinson    63,850   14,932         0     92,520
Kubosh      26,725   17,388   276,000     30,557
Edwards     73,843   31,295         0    144,198
Christie    33,090   20,323         0     31,458

Brown       59,220   19,494         0     79,101


HHRC        55,000   47,500         0     23,250
HTPR         3,625    1,652         0      3,624

As we now know, there will be no city elections of the non-referendum kind on the ballot this November. That would be one reason why there are no reports from anyone who has not already been a candidate. Only a couple of the reports belong to people who are not current or term-limited officeholders. These are folks like Bill Frazer, and none of them have any cash on hand worth mentioning. Actually, there is one person who may be of interest here, and that’s Helena Brown, who could run again in District A to succeed Brenda Stardig. Brown has $18,911.19 on hand, which would not be a bad start if she were so inclined.

I don’t want to dwell too much on this, but had the State Supreme Court dropped an election on us out of the blue, there was basically nobody outside of the current incumbents who have any resources for it. Usually, at this time of an odd numbered year, there are a lot of non-incumbent candidates, mostly circling around the offices that will be vacant. Whether people didn’t think the Supreme Court would take action, or if we were all just in denial about it, there were no candidates out there raising money. In a world where the Supremes had intervened, incumbents and people who can provide at least startup capital for themselves would have had a sizable advantage.

Now for those incumbents. We all knew Mayor Turner could raise money, right? All Houston Mayors can, it kind of comes with the office. Don’t underestimate the resources he could bring to a campaign over the firefighters’ pay parity proposal.

Despite the advantages for incumbents I talked about, four of the seven biggest cash on hand balances belong to those who can’t run – term-limited CMs Starding, Davis, Laster, and Green. Starding in particular makes me wonder what she was up to, raising all that cash this year. Usually, that makes one think maybe she’s looking at her next opportunity to run for something. I have no idea what that might be, but feel free to speculate wildly in the comments. Mike Laster has been mentioned as a county candidate once his time on Council ends. Maybe County Commissioner in Precinct 3 in 2020? I can speculate wildly too, you know.

I have a couple of PAC reports in there. HHRC is the Houston Heights Restaurant Coalition, gearing up for the next Heights alcohol referendum. HTPR is the Houston Taxpayers for Pension Reform, with Bill King as its Treasurer. Maybe that was for a vote on forcing a switch to defined-contribution system that is not in the works? They didn’t have much activity, and most of their expenditures went to an outfit called PinkCilantro for advertising. Other PACs of note with reports are Campaign for Houston, which I believe was an anti-HERO group from 2015 and have a $50,000 outstanding loan, and Citizens to Keep Houston Strong, which belongs to Bill White and which has $56,734.11 on hand.

Finally, two reports from former officeholders. Anne Clutterbuck, who was last a candidate in 2009, filed a final report, to dispose of the remaining funds in her account. She donated the balance – $5,094.55 – to the Hermann Park Conservancy. Last but not least is former Mayor Annise Parker, whose account still has $126,013.31 on hand. She may or may not run for County Judge next year – she has talked about it but so far has taken no action – and if she does that’s her starter’s kit. I’ll have more reports in the coming days.

Pushing the NFL Draft angle

Every angle is going to be needed, and this is one that ought to speak to some folks.

The Cowboys’ efforts to land the NFL draft and how it could be derailed by the legislative push for a bathroom bill is part of a $1 million ad buy that will begin to play on radio stations Tuesday.

The Texas Association of Business is behind the ads. The Cowboys aren’t associated with the campaign, but they are featured.

A woman describes herself as a lifelong Cowboys fan and talks about how she’s thrilled that the 2018 draft could be in North Texas. She then says the NFL could reject the club’s bid to host the festivities, costing Texas “millions of dollars in lost revenue and leaving a lot of Cowboys fans angry” if the bathroom bill passes in Texas.

The one-minute ad ends by asking fans to contact their legislators to tell them to reject the bill and bring the NFL draft to Texas. The spot, which will run on 26 stations in the Dallas area, is designed to expand the debate and spotlight potential consequences.

“The bathroom bill distracts from the real challenges we face and would result in terrible economic consequences–on sporting events, talent, on tourism, on investment, on growth, and on small businesses,” said Jeff Moseley, CEO of the Texas Association of Business. “That’s why TAB and the Keep Texas Open for Business coalition are investing heavily in radio ads in DFW and focusing on potentially losing the NFL Draft and remain steadfastly opposed to this unnecessary legislation.”

[…]

Behind the scenes, multiple sources say the Cowboys are letting lawmakers know how passage of this bill could negatively impact the franchise’s ability to book sporting and entertainment events at AT&T Stadium and The Star in Frisco. One source described the club’s lobbying efforts against the bill’s passage as “quiet and aggressive.”

The club, like so many other businesses, finds itself in a delicate position. It doesn’t want to antagonize Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the bill’s primary proponent, since there will be a variety of bills down the road that can aid the Cowboys and officials will seek support from the two. But the Cowboys want to get across how they believe altering existing law will impact their bottom line.

Corporations outside the state can threaten not to build or move existing projects and operations out of Texas if the bill passes. The Cowboys don’t have that sort of leverage.

What will Jones do if the bill passes? Move the franchise to Little Rock?

No. But club officials can discreetly point out that the U2 concert that recently took place at AT&T Stadium would not have found its way to Texas if this bill had been law. It can question whether the Big 12 Championship Game and other marquee college matchups and events will be staged in Arlington going forward.

There’s embedded audio of the ad in the piece linked above if you want to hear it. The NFL Draft and the Cowboys’ efforts to bring it to Dallas next year has come up before; this is just a way to bring more attention to that. Whether this campaign will affect how any member of the House votes on bathroom bills I can’t say, but I can say this: AT&T Stadium is located in Arlington, and it is represented in Austin by a total of six people: Sens. Kelly Hancock and Konni Burton, and Reps. Jonathan Stickland, Matt Krause, Tony Tinderholt, and Chris Turner. All but Turner are Republicans, and all but Turner are Yes votes on potty-related legislation. In fact, Stickland and Krause and Tinderholt are all members of the lunatic House Freedom Caucus, whose bill-killing maneuvers at the end of the regular session allowed Dan Patrick to take the sunset bills hostage and force the special session we are now enduring. So, while I greatly appreciate the Cowboys’ lobbying efforts, which no doubt carry far more weight than most, there very much is something they can do afterwards, whether one of these bills passes or not: They can put some of that weight behind an effort to get themselves better representation in the Legislature. It’s not a high bar to clear in this case. Just a reminder that the fight doesn’t end at sine die. The Chron has more.

The Observer talks to Kim Ogg

A good read:

Kim Ogg

You decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Jeff Sessions has signaled that he seeks to ramp up the war on drugs. What power does the federal government hold over your policy decisions?

I enjoy total discretion under Texas law as to who I charge and with what crime. The federal government has never been able or even really wanted to influence local prosecutors in terms of individual charging decisions. I don’t fear Sessions’ interference, although I think that states — certainly states where marijuana is legal — may face states’ rights battles with the federal government.

What pushback have you faced in Texas?

The lieutenant governor accused me of creating a sanctuary city. I think he’s looking to pick a fight with Houston. It seemed like a partisan attack more than a substantive one. He said Houston would become a drug-user sanctuary, and then I heard the same language being used by [DA] Brett Ligon of Montgomery County. They have the same political consultant, Allen Blakemore.

I think it was posturing simply because I did something that was popular and pragmatic. The program will save about $27 million a year — either save it or redirect it. I think this presents a clear and present threat to the Republican power structure, the fact that local Democratic government in Harris County is moving forward on this reform agenda that has bipartisan support. They’ve got an eye toward the 2018 election cycle.

Will this attack have any impact on Harris County? Or is this all just noise and politics?

Anything is possible, but the evidence will speak for itself. In the first six weeks of the program we’ve diverted 576 people [from jail], and the savings is over $1.5 million. The program will rise and fall based on whether we’re continuing to save lives and money. Of those 576 people that have been diverted so far, I know that none of them have lost their job because of an arrest for a misdemeanor amount of marijuana. I know that none of them have been turned away from a housing opportunity because of the marijuana conviction. So far, so good on both the human and the fiscal front.

There’s more, so go read the rest. One thing to observe, eight months into Ogg’s first term of office, is how tranquil things have been. Kim Ogg has cleaned house, made major changes to how low-level drug cases are handled, has sided with the plaintiffs in the lawsuit over the county’s bail practices, and inherited a controversial murder case (David Temple) that requires a retry–or-dismiss decision. Yet so far there has been little controversy, and basically no news stories of the “what is going on with the DA’s office” variety. She’s had a lot to do, she’s had a lot that she wanted to do and promised to do, and so far she’s done it with a minimum of fuss. That’s quite an accomplishment.

That said, once the Legislature is out and election season kicks in, the politics of this will get interesting. Ogg is in opposition to Republican judges and County Commissioners on the bail issue, and she opposes the “sanctuary cities” law, which will put her even more in Dan Patrick’s crosshairs. And not to put too fine a point on it, but with Annise Parker in the private sector (modulo a decision on her part to run for County Judge next year), Kim Ogg is now the most high profile gay person holding political office in Texas. That in and of itself would make her a target. Don’t be surprised when – not if – she is prominently featured in some ugly attack ads next year.

Weekend link dump for July 30

“There’s no public indication yet what Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort specifically hoped to receive from the Russians. But if they were aware of (and believed) these conspiracy-theory reports regarding the Russians and Clinton’s emails—real-life fake news that had been bolstered by right-wing media and Trump’s own social media guru—they probably would have been particularly excited to sit down with a Russian lawyer whom they were told was bearing derogatory material on Clinton.”

The Rule of 3 and how to use it.

“This self-perpetuating, self-inflicted death spiral turns the Constitution on its head. And thus states like New York, which have already intervened to save other aspects of Obamacare, would be well within their rights to take Trump to court over a law that he’s duty-bound to execute.”

RIP, John Kundla, Hall of Fame basketball coach who led the Minneapolis Lakers to five NBA championships.

“[W]e find no Trump transgression so foul that Spicer would not grovel before it.”

“A recent analysis by The Trace, a nonprofit news organization focused on gun violence, suggests road rage cases involving guns has more than doubled across the country since 2014, and that states with large numbers of concealed-carry permit holders such as Texas had a higher number of cases.”

“I didn’t think Michael Phelps would actually race the shark, but I’m kind of disappointed he’s not going to race the shark.”

“The BCRA would end the Medicaid program as we know it by taking lifesaving healthcare away from millions. The BCRA takes hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid and gives it to the very wealthiest individuals and corporations in the form of tax breaks. This is simply immoral and contrary to the teachings of our Catholic faith.”

Microsoft Paint is reaching the end of the line.

RIP, Bo Pilgrim, poultry magnate and poster boy for campaign finance reform.

A poop emoji on you, Emoji Movie.

Where the best places to see the solar eclipse are.

Your Roomba knows what your house looks like, and that information will be for sale.

RIP, Barbara Sinatra, widow of Frank Sinatra.

“The result both for the insured and the uninsured would be more people going bankrupt, amassing debt, dipping into their savings, selling assets, and otherwise facing financial ruin when dealing with calamitous health problems—health problems, it is worth noting, that often destroy earning power at the same time as they require costly treatments.”

A federal judge agrees that Kris Kobach is a lying liar who lies a lot.

Trump is exposing our collective rot. The rotten flock to him. And there’s so much rot to go around.”

RIP, June Foray, legendary voiceover and cartoon voice actor.

“So far, Ivanka’s allyship with queer people has consisted of self-congratulatory posts and unverified claims to political action no one can see.”

Here’s What’s Happening In The White House As Explained By “Mean Girls”. Now I need the same sort of thing for the epic Trumpcare Senate fail.

The bathroom bill would affect disabled people, too

Yet another problem caused by this harmful “solution”.

As lawmakers this summer debate yet another controversial measure regulating bathroom use based on biological sex, disabled Texans say they — like many transgender men and women — believe the Legislature is further complicating something that’s already difficult to navigate.

On Tuesday, the Texas Senate advanced Senate Bill 3, which would restrict bathroom use in local government buildings and public schools based on the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate or DPS-issued ID, and gut parts of local nondiscrimination ordinances meant to allow transgender people to use public bathrooms of their choice.

The bill’s author, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, argues her measure is meant to protect privacy in the bathroom and would dissuade sexual predators from taking advantage of trans-inclusive bathrooms policies.

But for many caretakers and disabled Texans, the issue goes much deeper. Rosanna Armendariz said she fears if a “bathroom bill” passes, people might think her [8-year-old autistic] son is breaking the law — even though the Senate’s version of the measure exempts people with disabilities.

“As my son gets older, someone might get upset and call the police if they see him in the women’s room,” she said. “It’s horrifying to think me or my disabled son could be subject to criminal prosecution just for using the toilet.”

In an effort to address this exact issue, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, tacked an amendment on to Kolkhorst’s bill on Tuesday exempting disabled Texans from having to use the bathroom matching their biological sex.

Advocates for the disabled say it’s not enough: Not all disabilities are obvious, and even with Lucio’s amendment, they say, a person with a disability would be forced to prove they have one.

“When you look at the word ‘disability,’ it covers a very broad scope of people — from mental illness to physical disabilities to someone who might be in a wheelchair,” said Chase Bearden, director of advocacy and engagement for the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. “You don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.”

It should be noted that the version of SB3 that was introduced contained no exemptions for people with disabilities, not even the exemptions that had been in the bathroom bill that the Senate passed during the regular session. “Because of some of the signals we received from the governor’s office, we left [those exemptions] out” was how bill author Sen. Lois Kolkhorst described it. That’s some kid of compassion and empathy right there. The point here is that even with this exemption, the bill is still bad for people with disabilities because it further singles them out and increases the burden on them. It’s bad for a lot of people, in a lot of different ways. I keep thinking we’re going to run out of ways to say that, and then we keep finding new ones.

More on Jeffrey Payne

The Trib talks to the first declared Democratic candidate for Governor.

Jeffrey Payne

The Tribune spoke to Payne about his ideas for the state and how he plans on building momentum ahead of the election to mobilize Texans. The following is an edited and condensed version of the interview.

What changes would you try to implement as governor?

Our educational system is very much underfunded, and we need to get back to the basics. We have too many rules and regulations in place and we need to give the power back to the professionals — those are the teachers and the parents. We also need to make our colleges and universities more accessible to everyone and stop the huge increases in tuition happening each and every year.

Currently we have 2.2 million undocumented individuals in Texas. We need to provide a compassionate, and strict, policy to allow those undocumented individuals a pathway to citizenship. We need to stop treating undocumented individuals with the venom that we’ve been treating them with.

We also need to bring Medicaid expansion to Texas and ensure that women’s health is brought back to the forefront.

I support and uphold the Second Amendment wholeheartedly, but we need to continue to design policies that will provide more education and the promotion of gun safety.

Gerrymandering is not democracy, as far as I’m concerned. I believe our districts should be designed by an independent group so that they’re fair to all Texans and not just a particular group of individuals.

The last thing I’ll tackle is foster care. We had a law come down this past regular legislative session that allows adoption agencies to actually turn people away. There’s already a small group of people within our state who want to adopt or are eligible to adopt, and to limit that sends a horrible message to those children who need adopting. As someone who came out of the foster care system myself, that’s a law I would work to change almost immediately.

See here for some background. There’s more to the interview, but that’s the most important bit. Payne has company in the race from Tom Wakely, whose website has now been updated to accurately reflect his candidacy. I saw a bit of chatter on Facebook over the weekend that Mike Collier, who is now running for Lt. Governor, is thinking about switching to this race. Whether he does or not I feel reasonably confident that Payne and Wakely won’t be the only candidates running. For now, see what you think about Jeffrey Payne.

From the “we don’t want those people coming here” files

Stay classy, Spring.

The headline wasn’t subtle: “Stop Metro from coming to Spring.”

The article,published July 15 on the website Spring Happenings, warned that bus service would “give criminals an easy way in and out” of the north Harris County suburb.

A range of experts I interviewed this week agreed that little evidence supports the “buses lead to crime” idea. (This is also true of its cousin, “Low-income housing leads to crime,” the subject of a column I wrote last year.)

Yet the perception persists that mass transit is the first step in the ruination of a community. It’s an attitude that could complicate the challenge of meeting the mobility needs of the vast, rapidly growing Houston region.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority is holding public meetings to gather input on a new regional transit plan. Metro officials say the plan is needed to prioritize options for adding bus and rail service, along with van pools and potentially bus-only lanes or high-occupancy toll lanes.

More than 300 people showed up Tuesday night at a Metro meeting in Spring. My colleague Dug Begley, who attended, said many residents expressed the same concerns as those reflected in the Spring Happenings article.

[…]

Notwithstanding the concern on the near north side, suburbs are where opposition to mass transit seems to find its fullest expression. Transit researcher Todd Litman has an idea about why this is the case.

“Automobile dependency has been used for generations as a moat to keep poor people away from certain areas,” said Litman, the founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, an independent research organization.

Crimes involving vehicles – car thefts, vandalism, road-rage violence – are far more common than those associated with public transportation, Litman said. Imagine the reception a campaign to keep cars out of a neighborhood would receive in Houston.

Nonsequieteuse says what needs to be said about this. I’ll just add one thing, which is that if the people of Spring are that concerned about evildoers coming in from the outside world and defiling their pristine community, then they’re not thinking big enough. If they really want to defend their borders, they’ll need to petition TxDOT and HCTRA to tear up the exits to Spring from I-45, the Hardy Toll Road, and the Grand Parkway. I mean, that’s how everyone gets around in these parts, and that includes the bad guys as well as they good guys. If Spring wants to isolate itself, then let it isolate itself. Just as long as there are no half measures employed, that’s all I’m saying.

Saturday video break: September

The only thing that can rival the 80s for video awesomeness is the 70s, and when you think of the 70s, you should think of Earth, Wind & Fire:

The glitter, the dashikis, the groovy video effects – it’s all there, in one spectacular package. The vocals and the horns are pretty great, too. A more modern take on this comes from Pomplamoose:

I like how they sped up the tempo, and of course the dancing grandma is fabulous. It’s not as funky as EWF – how could it be? – but it’s peppy and joyful and it works.

House takes a different direction on trees

Better than the Senate version, for sure.

The Texas House added a potential wrinkle to Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda on Thursday, giving early approval to a bill that would allow property owners to plant new trees to offset municipal fees for tree removal on their land.

The initial 132-11 vote on House Bill 7, a compromise between builder groups and conservationists, is a replica of legislation from this spring’s regular legislative session that Abbott ultimately vetoed, saying the bill did not go far enough. His preference: barring cities altogether from regulating what residential homeowners do with trees on their property.

[…]

State Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont and the author of HB 7, said the bill was the result of months of negotiations between developers, conservationists and city officials. He said his bill and laws that go further to undercut local tree ordinances could coexist.

“This isn’t a Republican or Democrat bill, this isn’t a liberal or conservative bill, this is where people choose to live,” Phelan said at a Tuesday committee hearing. “They know it’s there when they decide to live there.”

See here and here for some background. I can’t see the Senate accepting this bill in place of the one it passed, a House version of which is in the House Urban Affairs Committee, whose Chair, Rep. Carol Alvarado, says there’s no need for it now that HB7 has been passed. The remaining options are a conference committee, in which we get to see which chamber caves to the other, and letting the matter drop. Good luck with that, Dan Patrick.

By the way, if you want to get a feel for how ridiculous that Senate bill and the whole idea of a glorious fight against socialistic tree ordinances are, here’s a little story to illustrate:

On Wednesday, during floor debate over SB 14, [bill author Sen. Bob] Hall answered a Democratic senator’s half-serious question about why he hated trees by saying, “I love trees … I also love liberty.” Hall has lived in Texas less than a decade and is perhaps best remembered as the guy who claimed that “Satan” had a “stranglehold” on his GOP opponent, former Senator Bob Deuell. In Hall’s statement of intent on SB 14, he played constitutional scholar, claiming that “private property rights are foundational to all other rights of a free people” and that “ownership gives an individual the right to enjoy and develop the property as they see fit.” Therefore, placing any restrictions on when a property owner can prune or remove a tree “thwarts the right to the use of the property.”

This absolutist formulation, which in casual speech is reduced to “I luv liberty,” would seem to disallow virtually any restrictions on what property owners can do to their property. What exception is possibly allowed here?

Well, plenty, if you’re a Republican who has very special trees in her district that must be protected from personal liberty. It was a minor moment on the floor on Wednesday, but it was a telling one: Senator Lois Kolkhorst, she of bathroom bill fame, got assurance from Hall that his bill wouldn’t touch Section 240.909 of the Texas Local Government Code, a statute that “applies only to a county with a population of 50,000 or less that borders the Gulf of Mexico and in which is located at least one state park and one national wildlife refuge.” That’s Lege-speak for Aransas County, whose beautiful and iconic windswept oak trees you may have seen if you’ve ever vacationed in Rockport.

In 2009, Representative Geanie Morrison and Kolkhorst’s predecessor, Glenn Hegar, passed a bill allowing the Aransas County Commissioners Court to “prohibit or restrict the clear-cutting of live oak trees in the unincorporated area of the county.” It seems some unscrupulous people were clear-cutting the oak trees, upsetting the locals, diminishing property values and harming the tourist economy. Something had to be done: Personal liberties were chainsawing the shared values of the community.

Hall assured Kolkhorst that his bill wouldn’t touch Aransas County, an apparent exception to Liberty’s purchase on the other 253 counties in the state that he didn’t bother to explain. But when Senator Jose Menendez, a San Antonio Democrat, asked if an exception could be made for San Antonio’s ordinance, which he said helps keep the air clean, Hall balked.

And thus, the important Constitutional principle of “my trees are better than yours” is upheld. God bless Texas, y’all.

Public Works Director Sreerama is out

From the inbox, a Friday afternoon special:

Statement by Mayor Sylvester Turner on city Public Works and Engineering director

“Karun Sreerama has accomplished much in Houston as a businessman and involved citizen. I am sure he will continue to be an asset to our community. However he and I have agreed that it would be best for the city for him to step down as director of the city Public Works and Engineering Department.

“Carol Haddock will continue to serve as acting director until I choose a new director.”

See here and here for the background. This followed in the wake of a Chron story that gave a lot more detail.

According to a transcript released Thursday in the case against Oliver, Sreerama allegedly paid the HCC trustee about $12,000 in cash and Visa gift cards between June 2015 and February 2016 in exchange for Oliver’s influence over HCC contracts.

Oliver pleaded guilty to bribery in connection with accepting the more recent payments totaling $12,000, court records show, and in exchange the acting U.S. attorney agreed to dismiss the separate extortion charge tied to Sreerama’s earlier payments totaling $77,143.

Sreerama’s attorney Chip Lewis said federal authorities directed Sreerama to pay Oliver the $12,000 in 2015 and 2016 after confronting Sreerama about his earlier, independent payments to the trustee.

“What he was doing was created, directed and funded by the FBI,” Lewis said. “Karun was a cooperating witness as a result of being a victim of Oliver’s scheme.”

[…]

Sreerama, identified as “K.S.” in Oliver’s indictment and re-arraignment transcript, wrote three checks to Oliver between late 2010 and mid-2013 in response to the trustee’s solicitations, Lewis said.

As Lewis described the payments, the first two were made because Oliver claimed he was going through a costly divorce, and then claimed he needed funds to complete the process of adopting a child. Both payments were presented as loans and were not repaid. The third payment took the form of an exorbitant fee Oliver charged after his company cleaned the parking lot at Sreerama’s business.

“By the time we get to the third payment and he hadn’t been repaid the loans, Karun became worried that saying, ‘No, no I’ve got somebody who already does the cleaning, etc.’ could adversely affect his position down the road,” Lewis said.

Federal authorities confronted Sreerama in March 2015, a year and a half after he made that final payment, and asked for his cooperation in their investigation, Lewis said.

Two months later – at the FBI’s behest, Lewis said – Sreerama began a series of meetings with Oliver that lasted through May 2016.

The FBI declined to comment to the Chron, so we just have attorney Lewis’ word for all of this, which is also the reason why Sreerama was apparently unable to tell the Mayor about it. I’d still like to hear Sreerama say in his own words why he did what he did, but it seems unlikely that will ever happen. I do hope there are no more shoes to drop. Whatever the case, this was the right outcome.

New county risk assessment system coming

We’ve been waiting.

Harris County officials on Tuesday touted their revamped strategy for deciding whether tens-of-thousands of individuals should be jailed before their criminal trials, a process that critics and a federal judge say disproportionately affects the poor who are unable to come up with the money to make bail.

On July 29, the county plans to implement the “public safety assessment,” to grade individuals arrested in Harris County each year on their risk of re-offending, committing a violent crime or failing to show up for court.

The tool is intended to recommend to judges and hearing officers that low-risk individuals – both felony and misdemeanor – be let out of jail on personal bonds. Higher-risk individuals would be required to post bail according to an established bail schedule, as well as face additional supervision such as round-the-clock monitoring or regular check-ins with probation officers.

“This is the biggest change in criminal justice reform that Harris County has ever seen,” said Kelvin Banks, the county’s director of pretrial services.

[…]

[Federal judge Lee] Rosenthal weighed in on the county’s new risk assessment tool earlier this month, writing that the new rules “do not change much.”

The system imposes a fee schedule ranging from $500 to $5,000 for misdemeanors and recommends up-front payment from most people.

“Like the old schedule … secured money bail is the standard recommendation for most categories of misdemeanor arrestees,” the judge wrote. “The approved changes are hardly different.”

Elizabeth Rossi, an attorney with Civil Rights Corps, said the risk assessment does not eliminate the use of a bail schedule, and despite its goal, will continue to ensure that those without means will be routinely jailed.

“It doesn’t solve the constitutional problem,” Rossi said.

See here and here for some background. I hope this helps, but it doesn’t sound like it moves us closer to a resolution. Maybe it will at least keep a few people out of jail who don’t need to be there. In the meantime, we wait for the appeals process to play out.

Friday random ten – Another one

Hey, it’s another list!

1. Another Brick In The Wall Part 2 – Pink Floyd
2. Another Christmas Song – Stephen Colbert
3. Another Day – Sting
4. Another Day In Paradise – Phil Collins
5. Another Man’s Cause – SixMileBridge
6. Another Nail For My Heart – Squeeze
7. Another One Bites The Dust – Queen
8. Another Place To Fall – KT Tunstall
9. Another Saturday Night – Cat Stevens
10. Another World – Joe Jackson

I can never tell when it comes on the radio which is Another Brick In The Wall Part 1 and which is Part 2. The Colbert Christmas song, which was a free download when it came out (I don’t know if it still is), is a reminder of how brilliant the guy is. Go find it and give it a listen if you haven’t done so before, it’s worth it even in the summertime.

Stanart pushes back on election security claims

Our County Clerk is not happy with recent stories about the potential for vulnerability in our election systems.

Despite reports from federal intelligence agencies and media outlets of Russia’s widespread targeting of state and local elections around the country and in Texas, election administrators in the nation’s third-largest county say Vladimir Putin’s government does not pose a unique or heightened cybersecurity threat.

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said his office, which runs local elections, has a slew of checks in place to prevent hackers from tampering with the vote, including multiple backed-up voter registration databases that are kept offline. He said reports produced by voting machines before every election ensure the machines do not come pre-loaded with votes and after the election allow the county to cross-check against final tallies to make sure the vote is not manipulated.

While most observers and experts agree Russia exemplifies a new threat to election infrastructure nationwide, Stanart said the county faces no greater risk from Russia today than threats going back to the 1980s. He also challenged the veracity of reports that the Kremlin had attempted to coordinate widespread attacks on state and local election systems in 2016.

“Where’s the evidence?” Stanart said. “I would really question that.”

[…]

Bloomberg reported in June that Russian hackers “hit” voter databases and software systems in 39 states, in some cases penetrating campaign finance databases and software used by poll workers, and attempted to alter or delete voter data in Illinois.

Also last month, the Dallas Morning News published a story that election officials there had found attempts to hack their election system ahead of the November election. The newspaper reported that election officials there cross-referenced hundreds of suspicious or possibly Russian-linked IP addresses provided to them by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security against those that had attempted to access Dallas County servers in early October and found 17 matches.

Stanart said his office has not seen that list of IP addresses. Dallas County election officials did not respond to a request for comment.

[…]

Harris County officials refuse to answer whether they saw any attempts to penetrate the county’s systems. While Stanart himself said he has not found that Russian-linked hackers targeted the local election system, he acknowledged that other county security officials could have found and stopped such attempts before they reached his office.

Those officials repeatedly have not answered questions about whether they saw such a threat.

Bruce High, the chief information officer and executive director of the county’s Central Technology Services, has acknowledged a recent “spike” in attempts to hack Harris County servers from outside of America’s borders, but has declined to explain when the spike began, what is being targeted and where the hack attempts are coming from.

See here for the background. I received some feedback from the County Clerk’s office following the publication of that piece, including a fuller response from Stan Stanart that I believe is intended to be an op-ed in the Chronicle that specifically disputed several of the claims made by Dan Wallach. I’m printing it here beneath the fold for your perusal. Beyond that, I don’t understand why the County Clerk says it has not seen the aforementioned list of Russian IP addresses, nor do I understand the reluctance by Harris County to discuss their cybersecurity measures in any depth. I don’t expect them to lay out their defense plans in detail, but some reassurance beyond “trust me” that they’re on the job would be nice. Maybe trot someone out who can at least speak the lingo or something like that, I don’t know. This is a legitimate thing for voters to be concerned about, and we have a right to expect those concerns to be addressed in a more responsive fashion than what we are getting.

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The bathroom bill in the House

Mostly good news here.

Dangerous. Discriminatory. Chilling. Hurtful.

Those are words used by House State Affairs Chairman Byron Cook to describe bathroom legislation headed to his committee in the Texas House in the coming days.

The Republican from Corsicana said legislation that would force transgender people to use bathrooms in line with their birth sex “puts people at risk,” but stopped short of saying what he plans to do with the bills headed to his committee during the special legislative session.

“Requiring those people to go to the women’s restroom when they look like men, that can be dangerous. Requiring men who are trans women and wear dresses and makeup and look just like women, requiring them to go to the men’s room creates a dangerous situation,” he said.

[…]

The State Affairs Committee, considered the gatekeeper to control whether the bathroom bill advances to the House floor, will “try to do what is in the best interest in the state of Texas,” said Cook. “That’s what we always try to do.”

Cook on Wednesday walked a careful line on his stance on bathroom legislation in an essay on Texas GOP Vote, a Republican website that serves as a community forum on issues before the Legislature.

“As for my position on the ‘bathroom’ bill, I support legislation that limits admittance (based on gender at birth) to multi-stall bathrooms and locker rooms in our schools and requires local school districts to develop single-stall bathroom policies for its transgender students,” he wrote. “Beyond clarifying this policy for our public schools, we already have strong laws in Texas against sexual predators. Therefore, I do not condone duplicitous grandstanding on this issue and/or discriminatory legislation; nor do I support laws that will adversely affect our state’s economy.”

Like I said, mostly good news. There’s room in there for something like the watered-down bathroom bill that passed the House in the regular session to emerge, and if it does maybe this time the Senate agrees to take it to a conference committee and see what happens. It’s not over till adjournment, and you can be sure there will be attempts to attach something like the Kolkhorst bill to other legislation. At least the good news there is that the opportunities to do that are necessarily limited. Keep those calls to your legislators coming.

Paxton’s trial date set

Mark your calendars.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will face trial in December for the first of three criminal charges, a Houston judge ruled Thursday.

Jury selection will begin Dec. 1 and testimony will start on Dec. 11 for the single count of failing to register as an investment adviser with the state.

Paxton, who was indicted in 2015, also faces two first-degree felony charges of securities fraud.

The hearing Thursday was the second in the case for state District Judge Robert Johnson of the 177th Criminal Court, a freshman jurist assigned to oversee Paxton’s case after it was moved from the attorney general’s home of Collin County.

Paxton’s trial was originally scheduled for May, then moved to September. Both those dates were scrapped amid upheaval over where the trial should be held and whether the visiting judge would remain at the bench.

See here and here for the background. The start date for the trial also happens to be the filing deadline for 2018, so Republicans could be a bit out of luck if Paxton has no primary opponent. The issue of who is paying for the special prosecutors remains unresolved, though there may be a further hearing from Judge Johnson on the matter. For now at least, we have a trial date. The DMN and the Trib have more.

Abbott versus the cities

The continuing story.

If Gov. Greg Abbott has disdain for how local Texas officials govern their cities, it didn’t show in a Wednesday sit-down with three mayors who were among 18 who jointly requested a meeting to discuss legislation that aims to limit or override several municipal powers.

“Whether we changed anybody’s mind or not, you never know,” said Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough. “But I will say it was a healthy conversation.”

What also remained to be seen Wednesday: whether Abbott plans to meet with mayors from the state’s five largest cities — who were also among those who requested to meet with the governor. So far, Abbott hasn’t responded to the requests from the mayors of Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

[…]

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a press conference Wednesday that when he was a member of the Texas House, Republican lawmakers repeatedly complained about government growing and overstepping its bounds.

“And now we find that the state government is really reaching down and telling local governments what they can or cannot do and pretty much trying to treat all cities as if we are all the same,” Turner said.

During invited testimony to the House Urban Affairs committee on Tuesday, several city officials and at least one lawmaker denounced what they said were overreaching and undemocratic attempts to subvert local governance.

“If people don’t like what you’re doing, then there are things called elections. I don’t see it as our job to overreach and try to govern your city,” said State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg testified that it felt like the state was waging a war on Texas cities.

“The fundamental truth about the whole debate over local control is that taking authority away from cities — preventing us from carrying out the wishes of our constituents — is subverting the will of the voter,” Nirenberg said.

At Wednesday’s meeting with Abbott, Yarbrough said he and his counterparts from Corpus Christi and San Marcos told the governor that local officials have a better finger on the pulse of city residents’ expectations and demands.

“We wanted to make sure we preserved the ability for local municipalities to be able to adjust and react to the needs of their community,” he said.

See here for some background. It’s mighty nice of Abbott to take a few minutes out of his busy schedule of threatening legislators to meet with these concerned constituents, but they shouldn’t have had to take time out of their busy schedules to try to persuade the Governor to leave over a century of accepted governance in place and butt out of their business. And not for nothing, but the cities whose Mayors Abbott has been ignoring are the reason he can make elaborate claims about how awesome the Texas economy is.

Let’s begin with population. The five counties that contain the state’s five largest cities have a combined 12,309,787 residents, which is 44 percent of the state’s total. If you want to talk about elections, the registered voters in those counties make up 42 percent of Texas’ electorate.

Those counties out-perform the rest of the state economically. Texas’ five biggest urban counties constitute 53.5 percent of total Texas employment. If you broaden it out to the metropolitan statistical areas, which include the suburbs as well, the proportion becomes 75.8 percent — and growth in those regions has outpaced growth in the state overall since the recession.

Not convinced Texas’ cities drive the state? Let’s look at gross domestic product: The state’s five biggest MSAs contribute 71 percent of the state’s economic output, a proportion that has increased by two percentage points over the past decade. Focusing just on counties again, workers in the ones that contain Texas’ largest cities earn 60 percent of the state’s wages.

If you look at the embedded chart in that story, you’ll see that the metro area that is doing the best economically is the Austin-Round Rock MSA, and it’s not close. It’s even more impressive when you take into account how busy the city of Austin has been systematically destroying Texas with its regulations and liberalness and what have you.

As I said in my previous post on this subject, quite a few of the Mayors that are pleading with Abbott to back off are themselves Republicans, and represent Republican turf. It’s good that they are trying to talk some sense into him, but I’d advise them to temper their expectations. Abbott and Dan Patrick and a squadron of Republican legislators, especially in the Senate, don’t seem to have any interest in listening. The one thing that will get their attention is losing some elections. What action do these Mayors plan to take next year when they will have a chance to deliver that message?

House committee hears largely pointless property tax bills

Something will probably come out of this, but it’s hard to understand why.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

A Texas House committee on Tuesday spent more than seven hours plowing through more than 30 bills that aim to tackle rising property tax bills — months after similar legislation died amid an intra-GOP war over how conservatively state officials should govern.

And while the Senate spent the past five days — including the weekend— tearing through the 20 issues Gov. Greg Abbott wants addressed in the special legislative session, the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday tackled property taxes from several angles that collectively go far beyond the upper chamber’s major property tax bill that’s poised to pass this week.

Among the legislation debated was House Bill 4 by state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, the committee’s chair, which includes a provision that requires cities, counties and special purpose districts to get voter approval if they plan to increase property tax revenues on existing land and buildings by 5 percent or more.

During the regular session, such an election provision died in Bonnen’s committee. Its absence from property tax legislation led to an impasse between the two chambers that — along with the House’s refusal to pass legislation regulating bathrooms that transgender Texans can use — eventually resulted in Abbott calling lawmakers back to Austin this summer.

The dozens of bills that House members discussed Tuesday aim to slow property tax growth, overhaul the appraisal process, simplify tax notices and increase or provide exemptions to some elderly and disabled Texans and military members.

Bonnen, R-Angleton, repeatedly asked fellow lawmakers how legislation that was introduced had fared during the regular session, highlighting how some of the matters died either in the Senate or at the hands of Tea Party-aligned House members.

He vehemently defended HB 4 against criticism from city and county leaders but also admitted it would do nothing to lower individual Texans’ tax bills. Instead, it would only allow them to slow the growth in property tax increases that are often largely driven by rising property values.

“None of this reduces property taxes at all,” he said. “It’s sort of ridiculous that there’s any level of suggestion … that there is.”

There’s more, but that quote sums it all up pretty well. It’s a Potemkin bill designed to allow Republican legislators to tell the seething hordes of primary voters that they Did Something About Taxes, without really doing anything substantive or beneficial about taxes. It’s probable that one of these bills will pass, and if it does it’s not the end of the world, but it will be another brick in the wall of stupid policymaking whose main goal is to shift the burden and deflect the blame from Austin to the locals. That goal, at least, it has a chance of achieving.

The process for I-45

This time it’s different, more or less.

The region’s largest looming highway project – a massive rebuild of Interstate 45 from the Sam Houston Tollway to downtown Houston – has a lot of people looking into the rear-view mirror, pressing officials to make sure the job does not come with some of the downsides of its predecessors.

Even with the worries, however, the mega-project planned by the Texas Department of Transportation hasn’t been like many others, from the time it has taken to develop to the types of new lanes proposed.

Though often characterized as a bureaucratic behemoth, the state transportation agency has gone to unprecedented levels of public engagement the past three years, taking the designs for adding two managed lanes in each direction to public meetings, community groups, even sitting down with interested stakeholders for one-on-one meetings.

“We’re doing a lot of listening,” said Quincy Allen, district director for TxDOT. “We want to be a good partner, with others, in every sense of the word.”

[…]

Though the goal of many of the proposed changes is to tear down barriers, notably the Pierce Elevated, previous Houston freeway projects around downtown – including Interstate 10, Loop 610 and U.S. 59 – have left some neighborhoods cleaved. The north side, also divided by Buffalo Bayou, has not enjoyed downtown-centered investment as much as Midtown and the Fourth Ward. Bellaire residents and leaders still have bad feelings over how Loop 610 cut through the small city.

Drivers do not want that to happen with the I-45 project, which officials have called a generational project that commuters still could be using 40 years from now. Cutting off neighborhoods or restricting transit options could have devastating consequences.

“The easiest way to destroy a neighborhood is to divide it,” said Seth Hopkins, who lives at Emancipation and Polk, where residents worry they will lose easy access to downtown if Polk and other streets are cut off by the freeway.

There’s a lot more, so go read the rest. I’ll agree that TxDOT has done a pretty good job taking its time and listening to feedback about the project. I suspect one difference between this and the Katy Freeway widening of 15 years ago is that project had a lot of pressure, from John Culberson and the Harris County Toll Road Authority, to get it done, while the pressure in this one is to slow down and not break anything. But for all that, at some point ground will be broken and people who live and work in the targeted area on the east side of downtown will be affected in ways we don’t know yet. It’s going to be a huge mess, one that may take a decade from start to finish. I appreciate what TxDOT is doing now, but there’s only so much that can be done to soften the impact of this kind of project.

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 24

The Texas Progressive Alliance is dancing like nobody’s watching them delete their old tweets as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

There will be no city elections this November

Here’s the early version of the story. I’ll add a link to the full story in the morning.

The Texas Supreme Court on Monday denied plantiffs’ attempts to expedite their case challenging the [2015 term limits referendum] ballot language that lengthened city officials’ terms two years ago, making it unlikely the matter will be resolved before the state’s August 21 deadline to order a fall election.

Instead, the case is positioned to return to trial court for a hearing on whether the wording of the city’s proposition authorizing two four-year terms, instead of three two-year terms, was too obscure.

“There’s no way,” Austin election lawyer Buck Wood said. “I don’t see any way that they’re going to get any final order in time for the filing deadline.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney Eric Dick conceded the timing makes a November mayoral election “unlikely.”

“But I don’t think it’s impossible,” Dick added, saying he plans to ask the high court to reconsider its decision.

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the court’s order, which actually came down on Monday. We were getting dangerously close to what I figured would be the functional deadline for a ruling on the mandamus, in order to ensure enough time for people to file for office if they needed to. This doesn’t mean that we won’t get another election until 2019 – I’ve heard many people speculate about a special election next May, which I suppose could happen – but barring anything unexpected at this point, the case will plod on through the appeals process, which suggests that the people who were elected in 2015 will get to serve out most if not all of that four-year term.

UPDATE: Interestingly, there doesn’t appear to be a fuller version of this story on the website, and there was nothing I could find in the print edition this morning. Maybe tomorrow.

Law enforcement against the bathroom bill

Add another group to an ever-expanding list.

Police chiefs from three of the five biggest cities in the state gathered at the Texas Capitol on Tuesday to spurn proponents’ claims that such legislation is needed to protect privacy, arguing that proposals being considered by the Legislature are discriminatory, won’t keep people safe and would divert law enforcement resources.

“It may be great political theater,” said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, “but it is bad on public safety.”

The police chiefs were joined by public school officials, advocates for sexual assault survivors, representatives for the Harris County and El Paso sheriff’s offices, the Corpus Christi ISD chief of police and other members of the law enforcement community.

“If a bill like this were to be passed that would pull police officers’ time away from combating violent crime into enforcing a bathroom bill, it makes communities less safe,” said Austin Police Chief Brian Manley. “It is time not spent ensuring community safety.”

[…]

“I asked my department to go through the record. What we found is this: There were no known incidents of bathroom assaults performed by men posing as transgender women,” San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said Tuesday. “I am a believer that if you propose a bill to address a criminal justice concern, it is important to determine if there is an actual problem you are trying to solve.”

Corpus Christi ISD chief of police Kirby Warnke added: “School districts face multiple issues that the Legislature could help us with, but the bathroom bill is not one of them.”

As the story notes, this is the first time law enforcement has organized to speak out against the bill. I’m trying to think of any group that isn’t associated with professional conservatives who supports it, and I just can’t. In a sense, none of this matters, as the Senate went ahead and passed a bill that is basically identical to what they had passed in the regular session, by the same 21-10 vote as before (all Rs plus the insufferable Eddie Lucio), but that’s the wrong way to look at it. As I look at it, everyone who votes for this abomination is giving more and more people a good reason to vote against them next year, with a lot of those people being strongly motivated to see them get voted out. It’s also given a lot of people the chance to stand up and speak out for doing the right thing, which is always welcome. We’re going to lose battles along the way, but this is a fight we will win. The Press has more.

The “death by a thousand cuts” strategy

How To Kill A Health Insurance Market, Non-Legislative Division:

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The move by the White House to quietly end the contracts of two companies key to assisting people enrolling for insurance under the Affordable Care Act caught Houston health advocates off guard – but not by surprise.

Given the temperature in Washington these days and efforts by Congress and President Donald Trump’s administration to let the law fail, they said it was just the latest in a string of actions to sabotage the law known as Obamacare.

“It’s clearly by design,” said Elena Marks, president and CEO of Episcopal Health Foundation and proponent of the ACA and its impact on the uninsured and health access for Texans.

Last week, contracts for Cognosante LLC and CSRA Inc., which helped in signup efforts for the past four enrollment periods in 18 cities, including Houston, were not renewed for a final option year, the Associated Press reported.

[…]

Tiffany Hogue, policy director for Texas Organizing Project, an advocacy group for low- and moderate-income Texans, said she had not heard about the contract cancellations but felt, “in the scheme of things it’s not really a surprise.”

“The intent is to let the law die,” she said.

She said the administration from its first day has seemed determined to undercut the law. Hours after inauguration, the new president signed an executive order directing federal agencies to loosen any regulations surrounding the law that were considered “burdensome.”

Days later, as the 2017 enrollment period was coming to a close, the new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services withdrew funding for the final advertising push traditionally aimed to lure a surge of last-minute enrollees.

Additionally, the 2018 enrollment period is being shortened, cut in half to run from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15 instead of until Jan. 31.

The idea is to push enrollment down so that when it does go down you can point at it and say “look, see, it’s in a death spiral” and then take more obvious action to finish the job. Which may not be necessary now, but it’s Plan B as needed. And all those people who will be sicker and poorer as a result? Just a bit of collateral damage. I’m sure they’ll understand.

Collins responds to Farenthold

Please keep this up forever.

On Monday, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) offered a novel — and sexist — explanation and solution for the Republican health care bill’s struggles: He blamed “some female senators from the Northeast” for holding up the legislation. Then he went on to argue that “if it was a guy from south Texas, I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style” — a reference to Burr’s fatal duel with Alexander Hamilton in 1804.

In a hot mic moment, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), one of the senators who opposes the Senate health care bill because it would lead to big losses in insurance coverage, was very blunt in her thoughts about Farenthold.

First, she asked Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), “Did you see the one who challenged me to a duel?”

Reed said, “You could beat the shit out of him.”

Collins responded: “He’s so unattractive. It’s unbelievable. … Did you see the picture of him in his pajamas next to this bunny?”

The recording is then cut off.

See here for the background. You can hear the recording at the link above. I don’t think there’s anything I could possibly add to this. Gray Matters has more.

Senate has mostly completed the Abbott special session agenda

I’m just going to hit the highlights here because this stuff is happening quickly and often late in the day, but most of the Abbott 20-point special session agenda has been turned into bills that have as of this morning passed the Senate. Yesterday’s action included vouchers and still more unconstitutional abortion restrictions, while the weekend saw a lot more. Basically, if it hasn’t passed the Senate yet, it will in the next day or two. They’ll then sit around and wait for either more agenda items to be added or amended bills to come back to them from the House.

As for the House, they’re just getting started. They passed the sunset bill on first reading, which is the one thing they had to do. There are committee hearings scheduled for the week – unlike in the Senate, the House is going to follow its usual process, which means taking a certain amount of time rather than acting like they have ants in their pants while their hair is on fire. How many Senate bills they take up, and how many they vote on, remains to be seen. You can bet that the voucher bill is a non-starter, but most things after that are at least possible. That includes some kind of bathroom bill, though whether they pass anything more than the weakened form of the bill that the Senate rejected in the regular session is anyone’s guess at this point.

In the meantime, the threat of the bathroom bill as well as the reality of the “sanctuary cities” ban continues to cost the state business, and there’s more where that came from. Texas Competes had a small business-focused press conference yesterday, and in their release they totaled the damage so far at over $66 million in canceled conventions, with $200 million set to pull out if Dan Patrick gets his wish, and over a billion that may follow suit. The Charlotte News & Observer sums it up nicely:

The story now is well-known: Bill passes, business vanishes, national disgrace ensues, Republicans stumble through an amateur hour of near repeal and finally, thanks to intervention from business people, a settlement is reached that unfortunately allows Republicans to save a little face by limiting local governments’ rights to pass anti-discrimination ordinances for a period of time. But North Carolina did enough to bounce back and start landing business again.

Ah, but in Texas, pardners, the HB2 lesson has gone unlearned, as Republicans in the Texas legislature prove themselves to be – using a Lone Star expression – “all hat and no cattle.” They’re actually pushing their own version of HB2, even after many Republican states backed away when they witnessed what happened in North Carolina.

[…]

In this age of Republicans driven by the hard-right, or whatever it is, ideology of the “base” that elected Donald Trump, the Texas debate proves that anything (crazy) is absolutely possible. What’s astonishing is that Texas lawmakers had a perfectly clear view of the economic catastrophe that came to North Carolina after HB2 — tens of millions of dollars lost, including $100 million economic impact for Charlotte with loss of the NBA All-Star Game, and thousands of jobs gone, with companies deciding against establishing offices or expanding the ones they had.

It’s as if, pardon the Texas-sized metaphor, Texas lawmakers stood and watched North Carolina Republicans run full-face forward into a cactus, and then turned to one another and said, “Hey, that looks like fun.”

Yes, this is the world we live in these days. Call your representative and let them know you’d really rather we not slam our faces into a cactus.

Lawsuit filed over giving voter data to bogus Trump commission

I missed this last week.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The League of Women Voters of Texas and the Texas NAACP said Thursday they have sued Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos over plans to release voter information to President Donald Trump’s election commission.

Texas law requires that safeguards be met to ensure such data isn’t used improperly, the groups said, and they must be followed before any data is sent to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity.

“The Secretary of State should strictly follow state law if he releases any voter information to the Commission,” Elaine Wiant, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, said in a news release. “Releasing personal information could result in identity theft, causing great harm to Texas voters. Further, we fear that the Commission’s goal is voter suppression, not voter participation.”

See here for the background. This is separate from the open records request made by the ACLU of Texas. The suit was filed in state court in Travis County, and it alleges that the request violates Texas election statutes. . You can see the complaint here – it’s a bit dense for me, so I’ll leave it to the lawyers to offer an opinion. It’s fine by me if these plaintiffs succeed in getting an injunction, and as noted by the Brennan Center, Texas is not the only state where such a lawsuit has been filed. We’ll see how it goes – among other things, I’ll be very interested to see how the state responds to this. How hard will they fight for this if a judge puts a halt to it? It’s not clear to me that it’s in the Republican leadership’s best political interests to go balls to the wall on this one.

You’re never so weak as when you try to act tough

Blake Farenthold, ladies and gentlemen:

A Texas GOP congressman says if the three female Republican senators who oppose a bill repealing Obamacare were men from South Texas, he might challenge them to a duel.

“The fact that the Senate does not have the courage to do some of the things that every Republican in the Senate promised to do is just absolutely repugnant to me,” U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, told his local radio host Bob Jones on Friday.

“Some of the people that are opposed to this, there are female senators from the Northeast… If it was a guy from South Texas, I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style.”

[…]

Duel language is not new in politics. In 2004, then-U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, a Democrat who crossed party lines to campaign for President George W. Bush, invoked it against MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews. The comments were met with widespread mockery at the time.

But there’s little funny about such language in the U.S. Capitol these days, after a deranged man shot and injured a Republican member of Congress during a baseball practice in June. U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, was gravely injured in the incident and remains hospitalized.

Yes, thank goodness we’ve all heeded that call for civility after the shooting on the baseball field. Also, someone might gently tell Farenthold that Alaska is not in the northeast. Tell him thanks for the laugh, too, we all needed it. Juanita and ThinkProgress have more.

July 2017 campaign finance reports – Congress

It’s July, and that means it’s campaign finance report season. Everyone has reports due at the end of June, so at every level of government there are reports to look at. I’ll be working my way through them, starting today with reports from the many people running for Congress as Democrats this cycle, some of whom have done very well in the fundraising department. I took a look at all of the Q2 FEC reports for Texas Democratic Congressional candidates, and found a few things to talk about. First, here are some of the more interesting reports:

Todd Litton – CD02

Jana Sanchez – CD06

Alex Triantaphyllis – CD07
Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Laura Moser – CD07
Jason Westin – CD07
James Cargas – CD07
Debra Kerner – CD07
Joshua Butler – CD07

Dori Fenenbock – CD16

Joseph Kopser – CD21
Derrick Crowe – CD21
Christopher Perri – CD21
Elliott McFadden – CD21

Christine Mann – CD31

Ed Meier – CD32
Colin Allred – CD32

Dayna Steele – CD36
Jonathan Powell – CD36

And here’s a summary of what’s in them:


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
02    Litton          138,702    6,936        0   131,845

06    Sanchez          51,568   29,479        0    19,728

07    Triantaphyllis  451,165   48,776        0   402,389
07    Fletcher        365,721   22,671        0   343,049
07    Moser           234,901   42,530        0   192,370
07    Westin          152,448   32,560        0   119,888
07    Cargas           35,708   27,575   13,750    14,549
07    Kerner           17,173    3,602    2,700    13,571
07    Butler            9,470    7,371        0     2,099

16    Fenenbock       343,835   15,088   50,000   328,746

21    Kopser          204,639   68,816        0   135,823
21    Crowe            44,648   19,936        0    24,811
21    Perri            41,186   15,876    7,140    25,309
21    McFadden         37,209   18,517      500    18,691

31    Mann             19,771    5,820        0    13,685

32    Meier           344,366   45,996   27,848   298,369
32    Allred          205,591   56,993   25,000   148,597

36    Steele           64,627   19,052    1,231    45,574
36    Powell           27,158    5,153        0    22,004

I don’t have all of the candidates in here – there are over 100 reports, including incumbents, candidates from past races who are not active, and people who raised no money – just the ones I felt like mentioning. It’s a bit arbitrary, but I basically included races that had at least one candidate of interest to me. I did not include every candidate from every race – I skipped people in CDs 02, 21, and 32, in particular. Some candidates of interest are not here, specifically Veronica Escobar in CD16, MJ Hegar in CD31, and Pete Gallego in CD23; Escobar has not made her entry official as yet, and both Hegar and Gallego got in too late to have anything to file about.

With all those preliminaries out of the way, let’s note that the top story here is the large number of large numbers. Four Republican incumbents were outraised last quarter by at least one of their Democratic opponents – Ted Cruz, Ted Poe in CD02, John Culberson in CD07, and Lamar Smith in CD21. Pete Sessions in CD32 only just outraised Ed Meier, and once you add in Colin Allred he trailed the Democratic candidates significantly. Suffice it to say, we have never seen anything like this, certainly not since the DeLay re-redistricting. All of these Republicans have an overall cash on hand advantage, but it won’t be anywhere near the kind of advantage they’re used to. When Hegar and Gallego get up to speed, I expect both of them will be in the same class as their peers in these races.

The redistricting ruling is likely to have an effect on this for the next quarter as well. All of the maps presented by the plaintiffs created another Democratic district in the D/FW area, which was usually drawn as CD24, and significantly reconfigured CD27 as well. Neither of those districts currently has anyone who filed a finance report as a Dem, but if one of these maps or something like them gets adopted for 2018, that will change in a hurry.

Disclaimer time: Money isn’t everything, and fundraising isn’t destiny. But think of all the times you’ve heard people complain – or you yourself have complained – about Texas acting as an ATM for campaigns everywhere else. This is all money being raised for candidates here, and it’s happening in a year where there are and have already been plenty of opportunities to fund campaigns in other states. This is a level of enthusiasm and engagement we are not used to seeing. I don’t know how this will all turn out – these are still Republican districts that will take a major shift in the electorate to be competitive. Right now, a lot of people think that’s possible, and they are literally putting their money where that belief is. I don’t see how this is anything but good news.

ACLU seeks information about state’s compliance with Trump election commission

From the inbox:

Today the ACLU of Texas filed an open records request with the Texas Secretary of State seeking documentation related to the State’s compliance with the federal Election Integrity Commission, which had asked states to submit voters’ full names, the last four digits of their social security numbers, their voting histories and information regarding felony convictions. The ACLU’s request seeks all communications between the Texas Secretary of State and the Election Integrity Commission, including records relating to the “views and recommendations” Texas submitted at the Commission’s request.

“The true threat to electoral integrity is voter suppression, not voter fraud,” said Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “This nonsense of voter fraud is a lie peddled by politicians complicit in a corrupt scheme to rig elections by keeping minority and low-income Americans away from the polls. We are demanding this information of state officials to ensure they are doing everything they can to advance the right to vote, not threaten it.”

The ACLU of Texas’s request comes days after the ACLU national office sued the Trump administration over the Commission’s failure to comply with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, a law that guarantees transparency and public accountability of advisory committees.

“The President’s Election Integrity Commission is a voter suppression machine, pure and simple” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “It threatens our right to privacy, endangers the foundations of our democracy, and its mission is based on a lie. No wonder it conducts its business behind closed doors.”

The Commission’s vice chairman Kris Kobach, who requested the sensitive voter information, was recently fined $1,000 by a federal magistrate judge in a voting-related lawsuit for “deceptive conduct and lack of candor.” The judge said that Kobach and his legal team had “made patently misleading representations to the court.”

The ACLU of Texas is not requesting any information related to private voter information or voter roll data.

See here for a copy of the open records request, and here for a copy of the ACLU’s lawsuit against the Trump Commission, which is one of seven that have been filed so far around the country. This phony commission is all about suppressing the vote. It needs to be resisted on every front.

One side benefit of the continued Republican repeal follies

It depresses the base.

Texas-based Republican political consultant Brendan Steinhauser’s early read of the fallout was that the party has reasons to be worried about next year’s midterm elections.

“I think that you will see that if this fails, Republicans in Congress will get blamed,” he said. “I think you will see a very angry base that will attract some primary challengers to these members of Congress from the right, and I think you’ll see some of these voters stay home in the midterm [general election].”

“I think that is the more dangerous trend for Republicans,” he added. “… In general, the consensus is, ‘You guys have been making this promise for seven years to repeal Obamacare … If you guys can’t achieve it then why did we send you to Washington?'”

This is at the end of a Trib story about the latest Obamacare repeal failure, and the Texas Republicans’ reaction to it. My point here, and I’ve made it before, is that the factors that would contribute to Democrats overperforming next year include high levels of Democratic enthusiasm, with low levels on the Republican side. Both were factors in 2008, and the latter was in play in 2006. There’s a lot of time between now and next November, and things can get better for them and worse for the Dems, but as things stand now, the trends are much more positive for the Dems. Keep an eye on Trump’s approval rating among Republicans, that will be the tell.

The bathroom bill is a threat to Quidditch

How much more do you need to know?

It’s not quite time to get out the broomsticks in Round Rock. A national quidditch tournament headed to town next year has been put on hold while legislators consider the bathroom bill during their special session, said Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan.

U.S. Quidditch recently told the city that it wasn’t going to sign a contract to come to Round Rock until it finds out what happens with the bathroom bill, Morgan said. He said he couldn’t provide further details.

The city announced in early July that the U.S. Quidditch Cup 11 would April 14-15, 2018, at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex.

[…]

If the city starts losing big tournaments because of the bathroom bill, Morgan said, it could have an effect on taxpayers who voted to allocate a half-cent of the sales tax for property tax relief.

“If events start leaving I think we will have to increase taxes or cut services if it becomes a big enough impact,” said Morgan.

Here’s the news story of the announcement that the 2018 Cup would be held in Round Rock, and here’s the US Quidditch webpage about it. Note that Wichita Falls will host the Southwest Regional Championship in partnership with Wichita Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau on February 24-25, 2018, and also that Lubbock – specifically, the West Rec Grass and Turf Complex Fields at Texas Tech University – was the runnerup to Round Rock for the finals. (It was not mentioned in this story if the Wichita Falls event is also in peril, but one assumes so.) My daughters and I saw a Quidditch match at Rice a couple of years ago, with teams from colleges around the country. It’s maybe not quite as exciting as it is in the books and movies, but it’s got a following. And it’s in danger of being taken away by our ongoing potty wars. If you’re a Quidditch fan or a concerned Round Rock taxpayer, you should reach out to Rep. Larry Gonzales and Sen. Charles Schwertner and tell them not to kill off this event.

Weekend link dump for July 23

Same sex marriage is likely to be safe from future SCOTUS rulings even if Justice Kennedy retires in the next couple of years. I’d rather not test that hypothesis, though.

Those hot girls on Twitter who want to follow you? It’s a scam. Don’t fall for it.

“I don’t want to have the Bible debates with you. I don’t want to hear you say you love me, but not my sin. I don’t want to have to sit and defend my humanity to you, but I will defend the humanity of others all day long. It’s how my church raised me.”

Meet your first female Dr. Who. Let the thinkpieces begin!

Oh, and we could have had our first female Doctor thirty years ago. Wonder how many female Doctors we’d have had by now if that had happened?

RIP, Martin Landau, versatile TV and movie star who won an Oscar for his role in Ed Wood.

RIP, George Romero, legendary director of Night of the Living Dead.

“A pair of Apollo-era NASA computers and hundreds of mysterious tape reels have been discovered in a deceased engineer’s basement in Pittsburgh, according to a NASA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report released in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.”

RIP, Maryam Mirzakhani, first female mathematician to win the Fields Medal.

RIP, Bob Wolff, Hall of Fame broadcaster who called Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

“To put this all as clearly as I can, it’s not that somehow Don Jr was so profoundly clueless that he didn’t know this was a problem. He knew enough to lie about it for at least a year. It’s not that he doesn’t know it’s wrong or against the law. It is that in this family having that be a brake or obstacle to action is simply alien. Dad’s good, Hillary’s bad. What’s the problem? Of course he loves it. It’s fits the family’s entire pattern.”

“The fate of the GOP’s health reform plan right now hinges on Sen. John McCain’s recovery from a blood clot surgery. It’s also the perfect reminder of just how critical insurance can be — and how much protection from health emergencies Americans stand to lose with the Better Care Reconcilition Act, the Senate Republicans’ plan to dismantle Obamacare.”

“Perhaps that’s all Sekulow is, a walking Trump tweet wrapped in a law degree. His role is performance. To force everyone to spin around distracted by how foolish his lawyer sounds, while Trump rests on his own confidence that the force of the backlash will feed his narrative that the media are shrill and out to get him, and if that fails, then at the very worst no one will ever care what Sekulow said in July.”

How will the Potty Police know I’m transgender if the Governor doesn’t?”

“As tuition and student debt go up, homeownership rates go down.”

“Don’t worry, everyone. Tropical Storm Don is only expected to hit golf courses.”

Republicans have no one to blame but themselves for their ongoing Obamacare repeal debacles.

“So here’s how it will go down. The commission will create a national database of voters and look for duplicates. As Gupta correctly points out, they won’t be able to tell two people with the same name and birthday apart. So every instance of the same name and birthdate will be counted as a case of fraud.”

The case for and against the forthcoming HBO “Confederate” series.

RIP, John Heard, actor best known for his role as the dad in Home Alone.

Was the Harris County election system hacked?

Wouldn’t you like to know?

Despite widespread alarm over the breadth of Russian cyber attacks on state and local election systems last year, including revelations of Dallas County being targeted, Harris County officials are refusing to say whether hackers similarly took aim at the nation’s third-largest county.

Releasing information on whether Harris County election systems saw attacks from Russian hackers would threaten the county’s cyber security by emboldening hackers to further target local systems, county officials said this week.

The county’s argument was dismissed by experts, who said the secrecy is unnecessary, and could actually downplay the seriousness of the threat and the resources needed to combat it.

“There’s this concept in security called ‘security through obscurity,’ sort of, if they don’t know about it they won’t come after it,” said Pamela Smith, a consultant at Verified Voting, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that promotes voting integrity. “But to really have robust security, you want people to be able to know that it’s there … I think what the public wants to know is that you’re aware of the threat and you’re taking steps to mitigate.”

Bruce High, the chief information officer and executive director of the county’s Central Technology Services, said Harris County overall sees on average more than a million hack attempts every day. He even acknowledged a recent “spike” in attempts to hack Harris County servers from outside of America’s borders.

[…]

Dan Wallach, a Rice University computer science professor and scholar at the Baker Institute for Public Policy, who has testified before Congress about the cyber security threat to elections, said that to an advanced threat like Russia, there likely are no secrets about Harris County elections.

Asked if Harris County had been targeted in a similar manner as Dallas County, High said the county had not received a list of IP addresses from the Department of Homeland Security. He added that both the FBI and the Homeland Security department will flag Harris County when they have concerns about specific IP addresses.

High did not respond to questions seeking details on how often such concerns are brought up, how big of a “spike” in hacking attempts the county was experiencing and over what period of time, whether that spike was election-related or which systems had been targeted.

Wallach said he was concerned about the ability of many local jurisdictions, including Harris County, to protect against a targeted threat from an advanced adversary like Russia. He said he believed it was probable that Russia had at least targeted Harris County servers, but also that in many cases, attackers are so sophisticated that local officials would not even know that their systems had been breached.

“The category of adversary we’re facing now is not something that Harris County government is equipped to deal with,” Wallach said.

I work in IT security and had a few thoughts about this, but then I saw that Dan wrote this piece with a much deeper analysis than I had done, and I figured it was better to outsource this to him.

Computer security experts who deal with nation-state activities use the term “advanced persistent threats” (APT) as a shorthand to indicate that our adversaries have significant capabilities, including both engineering resources and spycraft, to quietly break into our computers, spread out across our networks, and avoid detection. It’s common for APT attacks to last for months to years prior to detection.

Given these threats, we need to conduct a serious analysis of where our elections stand. Harris County’s Hart InterCivic eSlate voting machines, for example, haven’t had any major security updates following studies conducted a decade ago by the states of California and Ohio. (I was part of the California effort.) In short, an attacker need only tamper with a single voting machine. After that, the infection can spread “virally” to every machine in the county.

Compounding the problem, all of our vote-tabulating systems are running Windows 2000, for which Microsoft dropped all software support, including security patches, seven years ago.

In the lead-up to the 2018 election, it may be financially infeasible for a complete replacement of our voting machines. We only just recently purchased our voting machines after a 2010 warehouse fire destroyed our original fleet of eSlate machines, so the funds aren’t likely to be available so soon for replacements.

What’s clearly necessary, since we know the Russians targeted voter registration systems, is a major upgrade to the way our voter registration systems are managed. A redesigned system would still, by necessity, require Internet connections so voters can verify their correct polling places, see sample ballots, and so forth. Most notably, during our early voting period, we need an online database to track which voters have cast ballots.

A modern design, intended to operate even if the entire Internet failed while the election was ongoing, would involve making local copies of the database at every voting center. Unsurprisingly, the needs of Harris County are essentially the same as the needs for every other county in our state, suggesting that a state-level procurement could be an efficient way to improve the voter registration security for every county’s voters.

Another short-term recommendation will be for Harris County to upgrade its systems to the latest versions of Microsoft’s operating systems, even though this will require a waiver from Texas’s election certification requirements. Even though our vote tabulation systems are hopefully never connected to the Internet, they are nonetheless unacceptably weak in the present threat environment.

Likewise, Harris County needs to hire a professional security “penetration testing” firm to identify other soft points in its infrastructure and prioritize repairs; such consultants need to be brought in on a regular basis for check-up exams. We also need forensic security auditors to do a deep dive into our county’s existing systems to make sure they’re as clean as we hope them to be. This isn’t just a matter of running some anti-virus scanner, since APT adversaries use tricks that automated scanners won’t detect.

There’s more, so go read the whole thing. At the very least, I hope we can all agree that any system that is still using Windows 2000 (!!!) needs to be upgraded or replaced. Dan (who as you know is a friend of mine) puts in a plug for the STAR-Vote system that he helped design, and it’s definitely something the county and the state should consider. I just hope we take this seriously before something bad happens.

UPDATE: Hector DeLeon, the Director of Communications and Voter Outreach for the County Clerk, has emailed me to say that the county tabulation system is running on Windows 7, not Windows 2000 as stated in Wallach’s op-ed. He says they have made this same correction to the Chronicle as well. My apologies for the confusion.

Cruz gets a primary challenger

Meet Stefano de Stefano.

Stefano de Stefano

With no heavy hitters in the Texas Republican hierarchy emerging to challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz for the party’s nomination in 2018, a Houston energy attorney is stepping forward.

Stefano de Stefano, who bills himself as a jilted voter and “free market Republican,” represents a challenge from the center of the Republican firmament, a demographic that has felt increasingly left out of the state’s GOP.

“I have every citizen’s chance in a democracy, although it doesn’t hurt than I’m running against one of the most ineffective legislators in the Senate,” de Stefano said in a statement. “There are millions of jilted voters like me across Texas. I believe, like many of my friends and colleagues, that we’d be better off with a Senator with the experience of negotiating million dollar deals in Texas’ energy industry over someone like Cruz.”

De Stefano, who supported Cruz in his 2012 Senate run, is now taking aim at the former presidential candidate as a national show horse rather than a Texas work horse. He says he will offer a “reasonable method of leadership” over an “extreme one.”

A Cruz spokeswoman declined to comment on de Stefano’s run Wednesday.

De Stefano cites Cruz’s role in the 2013 government shutdown over funding for the Affordable Care Act and what he calls a history of promoting his personal brand over Texas interests.

You can see his website here. I seriously doubt he gets any traction, but there are a few things worth watching. Does he raise any money? Does he echo any criticisms of Cruz that Beto O’Rourke makes? Does he fall in line behind Cruz after he loses the primary or does he continue to criticize him? How high a percentage does he need to get in order for Cruz’s win to be described as “disappointing” or “underwhelming”? I’ll suggest a Cruz score below 80% might get those adjectives, and anything below 70% definitely will. As for the rest, we’ll see. Texas Monthly has more.

Will we have enough candidates for the opportunities?

There’s always something to worry about.

With the Texas case moving forward, the boundaries of the congressional districts remain in question with the 2018 elections less than 18 months away. The Lone Star State’s primary filing deadline is in six months.

So, incumbent lawmakers and potential challengers are watching to see where the districts’ boundaries will fall, and weighing how that could affect the outcomes in next year’s midterms.

[…]

National Democrats have heard from candidates interested in [CD23]. And while they expect strong challengers to emerge, none have so far.

“Everyone’s kind of keeping their powder dry until it makes a little more sense to announce,” said [Colin] Strother, the Democratic consultant.

The court also ruled two other districts were unlawful: the 35th District, which stretches from San Antonio to Austin, and is represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett; and the 27th District along Texas’ central Gulf Coast, represented by Republican Blake Farenthold.

[Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice] speculated that, if the court rules the current map is also invalid, a new congressional map could lead to two or three more Democratic seats. Republicans currently outnumber Democrats, 25 to 11, in the Texas delegation.

But one GOP consultant focused on Texas did not believe a new map would result in a significant shift against the Republicans.

“There’s just not enough Democrats to roll around the state to really have massive amounts of change,” the consultant said. “You may lose one seat.”

The consultant also said the uncertainty would not have an effect on congressional campaigns for incumbents, since they are accustomed to the constant legal battles over the congressional lines.

But Strother said Democrats had to be prepared just in case.

“The nightmare scenario for Democrats is we don’t have people preparing for the emergency that this district or that district suddenly gets great for Democrats … and it’s too late,” he said.

Strother said he didn’t see many Democrats preparing for races just yet, but pointed to Joe Kopser in the 21st District as someone jumping in early in a race rated Solid Republican by Inside Elections.

Kopser, an Army veteran and technology businessman, recently announced that he would challenge GOP Rep. Lamar Smith in the central Texas district. It is possible a new congressional map could have a ripple effect and alter the lines of Smith’s district.

While the district is not on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s list of 2018 targets, the committee is waiting to see how the redistricting case pans out.

I’m not worried about this. Districts that aren’t likely to change or which won’t change that much ether already have candidates or candidates in waiting – Pete Gallego is circling around CD23, for one, and there are other candidates looking at it as well – and in the districts that may change a lot, like CD27, there’s really no choice but to wait and see what they actually look like. Sure, Republican incumbents who are already sitting on a decent pile of campaign cash will have an advantage, but that was always the case, and it may not matter that much in any event, depending on how the districts get drawn. As far as CD21 goes, a look at the FEC reports shows that there are at least three other candidates running against Lamar Smith, one of whom has been out there for a couple of months. We’re going to have plenty of candidates, and some of them will have a decent chance of winning. It’s all good.