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July 15th, 2017:

Saturday video break: Secret

We’re all about the 80s here, and very few things say “the 80s” like Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark.

It’s the hair, the synthesizers, the usage of black and white footage to tell a story about…well, I don’t know exactly, but that’s not the point. The point is, this is what the 80s was all about. Move it forward two decades and here we have Mieke Pauley:

Not 80s at all, but someday when it’s time to create a radio station that caters to the tastes of people who were the same age in the Aughts as I was in the 80s, this song might make the playlist. Assuming there are still such things as radio stations by then.

Redistricting trial update: Invoking privilege

Interesting choice.

Texas’ defense of its electoral maps suffered a setback Friday when a state witness couldn’t defend lawmakers’ intentions for much of his testimony.

[…]

Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, was the chairman of the House Select Committee on Redistricting in 2013. He invoked legislative privilege for more than 20 minutes Friday during the plaintiffs’ cross-examination.

Legislative privilege, according to the Texas Constitution, protects lawmakers from having to explain their decision process. It prevents them from being called into court to explain every law they pass. But it is used with caution because once invoked, a lawmaker can’t choose to answer any questions on the legislative process.

Nina Perales, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represents a group of Latino lawmakers in the case, asked whether Darby evaluated amendments to the congressional maps based on racial polarization and whether the maps complied with the federal Voting Rights Act.

She asked whether he analyzed the gains of Latino voting power in certain districts and whether court rulings that previously found discriminatory issues with the maps influenced changes made during the 2013 special session. Perales also posed a question about whether an incumbent had proposed changes to his district to preserve his seat.

But because Darby had invoked legislative privilege and could not testify, it effectively ceded ground to Perales, who laid out her argument unchallenged through her line of questioning.

“The fact that he doesn’t testify about his reasons means that the state has no evidence to counter our evidence,” Perales told The Dallas Morning News.

Like I said, interesting choice. This isn’t a criminal case, and there’s no jury, so I presume the judges are free to draw whatever inferences they want from this.

There was more to the state’s defense than that. Both that story and the Trib have those details.

Throughout the week, lawyers representing plaintiffs have offered several alternative House and congressional maps, which they say demonstrate ways to add more opportunity districts and fix violations judges have flagged in past rulings. (The maps were not aimed at maximizing minority representation in Texas, but rather to meet legal standards.)

John Alford, a political science professor at Rice University who the state offered as an expert witness, dismissed those maps as not addressing the problem that the plantiffs claim exist.

“It’s not possible to create an additional majority-minority district in Texas,” Alford said.

[…]

“I don’t think there’s ever been a more exhaustive attempt to redraw a map, than the one here in Texas,” Alford testified.

The state on Friday sought to poke holes in the maps offered by plaintiffs, which rely partly on “coalition” districts where Hispanic and black voters, only in the majority when combined, could elect candidates of their choice — at least in general elections when they overwhelmingly favor Democrats.

Alford, the state’s expert, criticized the plaintiffs’ demonstrated coalition districts, arguing — largely relying on past Democratic primary election results — that Hispanic and black voters in various districts vote differently, preferring candidates of their own race. He underplayed general election data and testimony from voters, which the plaintiffs point to suggest the minority voting groups clearly coalesce around Democrats following primaries.

In that sense, Alford testified, the maps plaintiffs offered would not address Hispanic voters’ statewide underrepresentation.

Lawyers’ for the plaintiffs criticized the minimal value Alford put on general election data, and they highlighted one instance — an even split in black and Hispanic support for U.S. Rep. Mark Veasey, D-Fort Worth, in his 2014 primary win — that did not fit within Alford’s analysis.

The trial is scheduled to wrap up on Saturday. [US Rep. Will] Hurd is expected to testify, and the judges are also expected to pepper lawyers with a lengthy set of lingering questions.

The judges have forty-five questions for the lawyers, which, wow. Alford has been the state’s go-to expert on redistricting for years; he was their expert witness for all of the litigation that followed the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003. Seems to me a claim that you can’t create another majority-minority district in Texas is ludicrous on its face, but that’s for the judges to decide.

HCC Board censures Chris Oliver

It’s the most they can do.

Chris Oliver

The Houston Community College system’s board of trustees decided Thursday to reprimand a 21-year veteran of the elected board who has pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge.

The board’s eight other members decried Christopher W. Oliver’s acceptance of unlawful payments as “reprehensible.” They voted unanimously to formally censure Oliver, strip him of his vice chair role, freeze his spending account and remove him from all committees, including the audit committee he had chaired.

[…]

Trustee Robert Glaser said the board acted as quickly as possible.

“We didn’t leave anything on the table,” he added.

“It affects us all,” said trustee Adriana Tamez. “This totally takes away from the great things that are going on. … There’s no excuse.”

[…]

The board’s bylaws lay out the group’s options in ethics situations: “If the Board finds a violation of this Ethics Code, it can reprimand or censure the Board member, the only sanctions available under Texas law.”

In general, elected officials cannot be removed by their colleagues. The underlying principle is that voters alone get to choose their representatives.

The HCC board’s legal counsel said Oliver still holds his position.

“The Board does not have the authority to remove a Board member from elected office,” the Bracewell law firm said in a statement emailed by HCC spokesman Todd Duplantis. “That process is governed by Texas law.”

The board’s counsel, Bracewell partner Jarvis Hollingsworth, told the Chronicle in 2010 that censure is the harshest punishment available to the board. Elected trustees only can be removed by state district judges, he said.

See here and here for the background. Given that the Board does not have the authority to remove Oliver from office, I agree that they did all they could. Given that Oliver has not yet resigned, I would still like to know what the process is for getting a district court judge to remove him. Is that something the Board can initiate? According to Robert Glaser, the answer to that is No:

[Oliver] is scheduled for sentencing August 28. The act of sentencing will remove him from office. Folks have from July 22 to August 21 to ‘throw their name in the hat’ to run for his seat this November. We may let the sentencing action play out- as that is going to happen in (6) weeks, anyway. It may take that long for anyone to get an action thru state court to get his removal completed. We, as a board, cannot initiate the action. An individual living in Harris County would need to initiate the action. This is from information provided to us by our legal counsel.

Good to know. As for Karun Sreerama, I’m not ready to render a judgment on him just yet. I haven’t called for Ken Paxton to resign as AG because as malignant as I think he is, he is still innocent until proven guilty. Sreerama has not been formally accused of any wrongdoing, nor does it appear he was let off the hook for anything in return for cooperation in the Oliver investigation. That doesn’t mean his behavior isn’t problematic or worthy of consequences, just that we have a lot less information right now about what he actually did and why he did it. Maybe he felt he was being coerced, or maybe he was acting out of a (possibly misguided) sense of compassion, I don’t know. If you want to make like Herodias and call for Sreerama’s head on a platter, you do you. I’d like to hear what he has to say for himself first. The Press has more.

Your periodic reminder that non-citizens very rarely vote

I know you don’t need a reminder, being sophisticated followers of the news and all, but here it is anyway.

Since Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote in November, our new commander-in-chief has consistently attacked the legitimacy of popular vote totals that showed his rival, Hillary Clinton, well ahead of him on election day. “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump tweeted in November. Although he has doubled down on the claim in several subsequent statements, offering an estimate of three to five million illegal votes and complaints about specific states, Trump has failed to provide evidence of widespread fraud.

Myrna Pérez, a Texas native and civil rights lawyer, won’t take the president at his word. As head of the Voting Rights and Elections project at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, Pérez has seen states around the country—Texas included—rushing to respond to voter fraud threats. “As someone who’s driven by data, as someone who researches elections, as someone who is in the business of making sure our elections represent the voices of actual Americans, I’m very troubled at the policies we see that seem to not have any science or data behind them,” Pérez says.

Pérez, a graduate of San Antonio’s Douglas MacArthur High School who now teaches at Columbia and NYU law schools, decided to check if Trump’s claims of massive voter fraud had any empirical backing. Her team at the Brennan Center reached out to all 44 counties in the U.S. that are home to more than 100,000 non-citizens. The team also contacted several of the largest and most diverse counties in the three states—California, New Hampshire, and Virginia—where Trump made specific claims of “serious voter fraud.” Forty-two counties responded to Perez’s queries, including Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, Travis, and El Paso counties in Texas. The counties Pérez’s team interviewed accounted for over 23.5 million votes in the 2016 election. However, the county elections administrators reported a combined total of only 30 fraudulent noncitizen votes in 2016—about .00001 percent of the votes totaled.

“Noncitizen voting in Texas, as in the rest of the country, is rare,” Pérez concludes. As for the nationwide total of fraudulent votes, she says her methodology doesn’t offer a reliable estimate, but that there is no way it’s three to five million people. “Not even close,” she says.

Pérez’s criticisms are echoed by elections administrators around Texas—the people work to assure that eligible voters can cast a ballot and ineligible voters cannot. “I have not seen the numbers to support that,” says El Paso County elections administrator Lisa Wise, referring to Trump’s three to five million claim. “The integrity of elections is a priority for this department, and I believe that it is intact until I see differently.” Bexar County elections administrator Jacquelyn Callanen also backs that sentiment. “I welcome the light being shined on this, to show that our records are well-maintained,” Callanen says. “We stand for integrity. We take such pride and we do such, I think, a magnificent job of list maintenance and voter participation.”

You get the idea. I will point out, as I have done with stories about how incredibly rare other forms of voter fraud are, that our current Attorney General and our previous Attorney General would each sell their soul (well, maybe they’d sell your soul) to bust and convict any number of non-citizens they could catch in the act of voting. The fact that they have conspicuously failed to do so over a multi-year and multi-election period of time should tell you something.