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December, 2017:

RIP, Ruth Jones McClendon

She will be missed.

Ruth Jones McClendon

Ruth Jones McClendon, the former longtime state representative from San Antonio, has died. She was 74.

State Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, McClendon’s successor, said she died this morning at her home in San Antonio.

“I think she’s best remembered by her candor, her ability to know what was needed in her community and to work with folks across the aisle,” Gervin-Hawkins said. “I am very proud to be part of what she’s left, and hopefully I can carry it on.”

McClendon resigned from the House last year after a years-long battle with cancer. She used a motorized scooter during the 2015 legislative session.

I’ve had some dealings with Rep. McClendon’s office, and I have nothing but good things to say about her. She was one of those people who worked hard, did what she could to make things better, and generally didn’t get much attention for it. I want to highlight this Statesman story that came out at the end of the 2015 session, as then-Rep. McClendon capped a long effort to get a bill that created a state panel to study wrongful convictions passed. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever read about the Legislature.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, was helped to the front microphone Thursday to move final approval of her HB 48. A cancer survivor, McClendon now is struggling with health issues that have affected her mobility and speech. In December, she underwent surgery to remove water from her brain.

Supported on her left by Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville, and her right by Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, McClendon needed help to get the bill across the finish line.

“You move to concur in Senate amendments,” Bonnen said quietly into her ear, followed by an awkward pause as the House waited for McClendon to form the words.

“You can do it,” Bonnen told McClendon. “We got you.”

They did, literally.

“You’re going to say, ‘Members, I move to concur,’” Sheffield told McClendon.

“Members,” McClendon, surrounded by supportive colleagues, said slowly, “I move to concur with Senate amendments.”

The voting bell rang. Bonnen again assured McClendon, “We got you,” and HB 48 was approved, to applause, by a 137-5 margin.

His right arm around McClendon, co-sponsor Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, called the vote “a tremendous victory for this House, for the Legislature and for this lady right here whom all of us know and love.”

“This is a wonderful, wonderful lady and many, many lives are going to be saved and changed because of her work on this issue,” said Leach, adding that serving with McClendon, with whom he shares little political common ground, “has been the honor of a lifetime.”

McClendon then spoke about this legislation in particular and legislative life in general.

“I just want to briefly say that I appreciate those who stuck with me,” she said slowly as a legislative battle she began seven years ago headed to successful conclusion. “Some said it wasn’t going to work, that we couldn’t do it.”

A class act and a damn good legislator. All respect to Ruth Jones McClendon. May she rest in peace. The Current has more.

Filing roundup: State Senate

In 2014, Democrats contested five of the eleven Republican-held State Senate seats on the ballot, plus the seat that was vacated by Wendy Davis, which was won by Republican Konni Burton. This year, Democrats have candidates in eleven of these twelve districts. I wanted to take a closer look at some of these folks. For convenience, I collected the filing info for Senate and House candidates from the SOS page and put it all in this spreadsheet.

Kendall Scudder

SD02Kendall Scudder (Facebook)

SD03 – Shirley Layton

SD05Brian Cronin (Facebook)
SD05Glenn “Grumpy” Williams
SD05Meg Walsh

SD07David Romero

SD08Brian Chaput
SD08 – Mark Phariss

SD09Gwenn Burud

SD10Allison Campolo (Facebook)
SD10Beverly Powell (Facebook)

SD16Joe Bogen (Facebook)
SD16Nathan Johnson (Facebook)

SD17Fran Watson (Facebook)
SD17Rita Lucido (Facebook)
SD17 – Ahmad Hassan

SD25Jack Guerra (Facebook)
SD25Steven Kling (Facebook)

SD30Kevin Lopez

I skipped SDs 14, 15, and 23, which are held by Democrats Kirk Watson, John Whitmire, and Royce West. Whitmire has two primary opponents, the others are unopposed. Let’s look at who we have here.

Kendall Scudder is a promising young candidate running in a tough district against a truly awful incumbent. First-term Sen. Bob Hall is basically Abe Simpson after a couple years of listening to Alex Jones. If he runs a good race, regardless of outcome, Scudder’s got a future in politics if he wants it.

Shirley Layton is the Chair of the Angelina County Democratic Party, which includes Lufkin. Robert Nichols is the incumbent.

All of the contested primaries look like they will present some good choices for the voters. In SD05, Brian Cronin, who has extensive experience in state government, looks like the most polished candidate to take on Charles Schwertner. Grumpy Williams is easily the most colorful candidate in any of these races. There wasn’t enough information about Meg Walsh for me to make a judgment about her.

I’ve previously mentioned Mark Phariss’ entry into the SD08 race at the filing deadline. He doesn’t have a website or Facebook page up yet, but you could read this Texas Monthly story about him and his husband for a reminder of who Phariss is and why he matters. This seat is being vacated by Van Taylor, and the demonic duo of Angela Paxton and Phillip Huffines are running for it on the GOP side.

I couldn’t find much about either David Romero or Gwenn Burud, but in searching for the latter I did find this Star-Telegram story, which tells me that the Tarrant County Democratic Party did a great job filling out their slate. The incumbent here is Kelly Hancock.

Elsewhere in Tarrant County, the primary for SD10, which is overall the most closely divided district, ought to be salty. Powell is clearly the establishment candidate, having been endorsed by folks like Wendy Davis and Congressman Mark Veasey. Campolo identifies herself as a Bernie Sanders supporter. I expect there will be some elbows thrown. The winner gets to try to knock out Konni Burton.

Joe Bogen and Nathan Johnson seem pretty evenly matched to me. They’re battling for the right to take on the awful Don Huffines, whose SD16 is probably the second most vulnerable to takeover.

In SD17, Fran Watson, who is a former President of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, has been in the race for a few months. Rita Lucido, who was the candidate against Joan Huffman in 2014, filed on deadline day. The presence of perennial candidate Ahmad Hassan means this one could go to a runoff.

Both Jack Guerra and Steven Kling look like good guys in SD25. No doubt, both would be a big improvement over the zealot incumbent Donna Campbell.

Last but not least, Kevin Lopez is a City Council member in the town of Bridgeport. He joins Beverly Powell, who serves on the Burleson ISD Board of Trustees, as the only current elected officials running for one of these offices. The incumbent in SD30 is Craig Estes, and he is being challenged in the Republican primary.

Winning even one of these seats would be great. Winning two would bring the ratio to 18-13 R/D, which would be a big deal because the old two thirds rule is now a “sixty percent” rule, meaning that 19 Senators are enough to bring a bill to the floor, where 21 had been needed before. Needless to say, getting the Republicans under that would be a big deal, though of course they could throw that rule out all together if they want to. Be that as it may, more Dems would mean less power for Dan Patrick. I think we can all agree that would be a good thing. None of this will be easy – Dems are underdogs in each district, with more than half of them being very unfavorable – but at least we’re competing. National conditions, and individual candidates, will determine how we do.

Inevitable lawsuit over pension bond ballot language filed

Like night follows day, like flies garbage.

Mayor Sylvester Turner misled voters into approving a $1 billion pension bond referendum last month, a new lawsuit alleges, claiming that city officials plan to use the bonds’ passage to sidestep a voter-approved limit on the property tax revenue Houston can collect.

A local businessman and former Houston housing department director, James Noteware, sued the city on Friday in state district court, contesting the Nov. 7 election on the grounds that the ballot language was “materially misleading.”

The full language, rather than the summary listed for voters on the ballot, stated that the taxes levied to repay the bonds would not be “limited by any provision of the city home rule charter limiting or otherwise restricting the city’s combined ad valorem tax rates or combined revenues from all city operations.”

The suit claims that phrasing means the taxes levied to pay for the bonds will be exempted from the 13-year-old revenue cap, which limits the annual growth of property tax revenue to the combined rates of inflation and population growth, or 4.5 percent, whichever is lower.

“Omitting the fact that the proposition created a billion-dollar exception to default limits on the city’s taxing authority renders the proposition materially misleading and void,” the suit states.

More coverage from the Chron here. This is, in a word, nonsense. I mean look, Paul Bettencourt, who insisted on the pension bond referendum and who loves the revenue cap and the spotlight more than his own children, had nothing to say about this during the campaign. Nobody complained about the ballot language. At this point, this kind of lawsuit is basically pro forma, and serves as nothing more than an attempt by the losing side to get bailed out by the Supreme Court. If you have the resources to hire a lawyer to file this kind of crap, you have the resources to mount some kind of campaign against the referendum before the election, even if it’s nothing more than sending an incendiary press release to a gaggle of reporters. If James Noteware, who by the way was a Mayoral candidate for about 15 minutes in 2013, did anything like that, he failed spectacularly to get a news story out of it. If this thing goes anywhere, it can only mean that the Supreme Court is now an official part of the referendum process, and we may as well ask their opinion before we bother wasting our time voting on anything.

(Also, too: Yet another reason to kill the awful, terrible, no good, very bad revenue cap. I’m just saying.)

The climate change effect on storms like Harvey

More likely and more extreme is the tl;dr version of this.

The research presented Wednesday began soon after Harvey dumped feet of rain on the Houston area. World Weather Attribution — an international effort to analyze the potential influence of climate change on extreme weather events — decided to look at how greenhouse gases might have contributed to that extreme rainfall.

Studies have consistently shown that greenhouse gas-induced warming should increase the amount of rain that falls during a tropical cyclone, according to the paper.

“In general, the maximum moisture content of air increases with 6% to 8.5% per degree warming,” the paper states. “If relative humidity stays the same, which is the norm near oceans, the actual amount of water vapour in the air increases by the same amount.”

To examine this idea, scientists used multiple climate models to analyze the amount of rain that fell over a three day period (Aug. 26-28) in Baytown, compared to other three-day rain events dating back to 1880.

For the purposes of the paper, they focused on extreme rainfall as the main cause of the flooding and did not take into account the impact of other factors such as Galveston Bay’s sea level rise or the effect of Houston’s urban development on flood plains.

Those models showed that global warming over the past century has increased the severity of three-day rain events on the Gulf Coast, according to the paper.

The intensity of rainfall increased 15 percent during that time, the paper states, while the likelihood that this much rain would fall was increased three fold.

The paper itself is here. We’ve seen other research in recent weeks with similar conclusions, so this should come as no surprise. If you don’t believe the world is changing after what happened this summer, I honestly don’t know what might convince you. The Trib has more.

Early polling on the AG race

It looks sexy, but keep your salt handy.

Justin Nelson

The 2018 election for the job of the state’s top lawyer could be a tight race if voters go to the polls knowing about Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal indictment, according to a Democratic pollster.

GBA Strategies, a Democratic polling operation based in Washington D.C., surveyed 500 likely Texas voters and found Paxton, the Republican incumbent, enjoyed a 7 percentage point lead over Austin attorney Justin Nelson, a Democratic newcomer, the firm reported in a memo Wednesday released by the Nelson campaign.

Once voters were informed of Paxton’s 2015 felony indictment and attacks on Nelson, respondents shifted their support, giving Nelson a 1 point lead, according to the firm. The survey, which was conducted Oct. 9 through Oct. 12, has a 4.4 percentage point margin of error and 95 percent confidence interval.

[…]

The poll also found Texas voters split on whether they approve of President Trump, finding 49 percent approve and 49 percent disapprove.

You can see Nelson’s statement about the poll here and the polling memo here. The key passages:

• Paxton starts with a narrow lead against a largely unknown opponent. Paxton carries 46 percent of the electorate in the initial vote with Justin Nelson garnering 40 percent. After undecided are asked which way they lean, Paxton leads 50 – 43 percent. Given Texas’ Republican leaning and Nelson being unknown, this is a weak starting point for Paxton.

• Paxton’s corrupt behavior is very damaging and moves Justin Nelson into the lead. When voters are informed about Paxton’s indictment, 62 percent say it raises serious doubts about him. After voters hear positive statements about both candidates and learning about Paxton’s indictment, the race moves from a 7-point Paxton advantage to a 5-point Nelson lead (49 – 44 percent). The additional information dramatically shifts Independents to Nelson’s side, while he also makes inroads with Republicans. Even after voters hear attacks against Nelson, he maintains a 1-point lead.

This is an internal poll and there’s no detailed data available, so the skepticism level is high to begin with. A few specific things to note:

– The number of undecided voters in this sample is amazingly low. For a point of comparison, look at the UT/Trib poll from June of 2014. They surveyed all of the statewide races, as the primary runoffs had concluded in May. I quote: “In the race for attorney general, Republican Ken Paxton leads Democrat Sam Houston 40 percent to 27 percent, with 27 percent undecided.” That’s a lot more undecided voters, in a poll conducted six months later into the race. With all due respect to Justin Nelson, not nearly enough people know who he is to get to forty percent in any poll.

Now to be sure, people are way more engaged than they were at this point in the 2014 cycle, and given that Paxton has been a high-profile miscreant since even before he was officially nominated. It may just be that people are expressing a strong level of disapproval of Paxton, which translated into a higher than usual amount of support for a newbie candidate like Nelson. I can’t discount that possibility, but I’ll want to see similar numbers from other polls before I buy it.

– The 49/49 approval numbers for Donald Trump are noteworthy, and as I’ve said before the fact that we’re operating in an environment where Democrats have more intense opinions about the President than Republicans do should have a real effect on 2018. That said, these numbers are actually a little better for Trump than what we’ve seen before – he was at 45/49 in an October UT/Trib poll, and at 42-54 in an April Texas Lyceum poll. I don’t want to read too much into any of this – different polls, different methodologies – but that’s very much a factor to watch.

– Finally, note the “when voters were informed” bit in the polling memo. You know what it takes to inform voters? Money, to fund an effective communications strategy in a big state with more than two dozen media markets. Of course, Ken Paxton goes on trial for a felony charge next year, with more charges in reserve depending on how that trial goes, so there’s a chance that Nelson will get a big, free assist in communicating that information. Or Paxton could beat the rap and turn that liability into a big ol’ rallying cry.

Anyway. I do think Ken Paxton is vulnerable, and I’m glad to see Justin Nelson be aggressive right out of the gate. But I would like to see some other polls before I get too excited about this one.

One small piece of relief for Harvey-affected school districts

It’s not much, but it’s something.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath is not changing state standardized test dates for students affected by Hurricane Harvey, but he is waiving some requirements for certain students, his agency said Thursday.

Students across the state will be still required to take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, as scheduled in March and May. But after pressure from Gov. Greg Abbott, Morath sent a letter to Harvey-affected school districts today saying students who fail required standardized state tests in fifth and eighth grade twice can graduate, as long as their local districts officials agree they are ready.

Normally, fifth- and eighth-grade students, who must pass the STAAR reading and math tests to graduate, must take the tests up to three times if they fail. If a student doesn’t pass on the third try, he or she cannot graduate unless a committee of his or her educators and parents unanimously agrees to promote the student.

With Morath’s announcement, Harvey-affected districts will have more leeway to decide whether to require students to take the test a third time and to decide locally whether students who fail the tests can graduate.

Rescheduling the STAAR tests was never really an option, as it would have been disruptive to many school districts. Indeed, a large majority of superintendents were opposed to rescheduling the STAAR. This at least gives some kids who have been traumatized in one way or another by Harvey a chance to stay on track, with their classmates. Morath may still make further adjustments to the accountability system later, which if it does happen will probably be after the tests are taken and we get some idea of how the scores were affected. At least the TEA is being open to suggestion.

The war on coal is over in Texas

Coal lost, and good riddance.

Wind power capacity edged out coal for the first time in the Texas history last week after a new 155-megawatt wind farm in Scurry County came online. The farm in question is the Fluvanna Wind Energy Project, located on some 32,000 acres leased from more than 130 landowners.

Fluvanna pushed total wind power capacity in the state to more than 20,000 megawatts, while coal capacity stands at 19,800 megawatts and is slated to fall to 14,700 megawatts by the end of 2018 thanks to planned coal powerplant closures. Next year, Luminant will shutter three coal-fired plants—Monticello, Sandow, and Big Brown—and San Antonio’s CPS Energy will close J.T. Deely Station. Wind capacity in the state will reach 24,400 megawatts by the end of 2018, according to projections from Joshua Rhodes, a research fellow at UT Austin’s Energy Institute.

But capacity is one thing, electricity generation is another. In the first ten months of 2017, wind generated 17.2 percent of power in the state, and coal 31.9 percent, according to ERCOT. But wind should soon see large gains there. “By our analysis, in 2019 we’ll have more energy from wind than coal,” Rhodes said.

Don’t anyone tell Donald Trump.

Weekend link dump for December 17

The Democratic Party is the most united American party in modern political history.

The real-life Bada Bing Club will be closing its doors in New Jersey.

What can go wrong when you give Amazon your house key.

It’s harder than you might think to accurately count violent crimes in the US.

Safer avocados for fewer hand injuries.

Poor babies: “A bad dream for U.S. firearms producers has become reality: The fear-based motivation for gun purchases has evaporated and is being replaced by bargain hunting.”

“This is the Elmore Leonard/Frank Peretti mash-up I didn’t even realize I’d been waiting for.”

“Democrats cannot shut down the government. They are the minority party and have neither the power nor the responsibility to keep the lights on and the government open.”

You can’t snitch on golfers any more.

An already outdated list of TV shows that have been affected by the wave of sexual harassment allegations.

RIP, Ed Lee, former Mayor of San Francisco.

Future generations will be taught about Roy Moore’s final campaign rally in Alabama as the sort of thing that we are glad never happens any more.

“The larger issue is that the Republican Party is led by an unpopular president and unpopular congressional leaders who are pursuing an unpopular agenda, and it’s putting them in massive electoral peril.”

“Not every race is going to go as badly for Republicans as this Alabama Senate election — but if enough go half as badly, or even a third as badly, they’re still in for a rough time next year.”

RIP, Pat DiNizio, lead singer of The Smithereens.

Disney buys most of Fox. But not Fox News. That would have been interesting.

“Rosenstein is clearly trying to thread the needle: protecting Mueller’s lawful and correct investigation while also kicking enough dirt and rubble into the gears of the rule of law to serve or perhaps keep at bay his ultimate master, President Trump. It’s comparable to his role in James Comey’s firing: writing a nominally reasonable memo which he knew would be used for an unreasonable, quite possibly illegal purpose. It is almost the definition of complicity – a largely passive and perhaps incomplete participation in corrupt acts.”

The castle grounds snarled with a wave of magically magnified wind. The sky outside was a great black ceiling, which was full of blood. The only sounds drifting from Hagrid’s hut were the disdainful shrieks of his own furniture. Magic: it was something that Harry Potter thought was very good.”

Republican Party sues to get Farenthold off the ballot

Now here‘s something you don’t see every day.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

The Texas GOP is suing the Texas secretary of state to keep embattled U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold off the 2018 primary ballot — one day after the Corpus Christi Republican announced he will not seek re-election in 2018.

Farenthold, who’s facing a raft of allegations that he sexually harassed staffers and created a hostile work environment, had filed for re-election by the Monday deadline and missed the deadline the next day to withdraw. Still, he asked Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey on Friday not to include him on the ballot, according to the lawsuit, which notes Dickey has until Tuesday to submit the names of all primary candidates to the secretary of state.

Filed late Friday in federal court, the lawsuit calls into question the “incongruity” between the separate deadlines to withdraw and to hand over the names, while arguing Farenthold’s appearance on the ballot at this point would violate the “First Amendment associational rights” of the party.

“In short, the State cannot constitutionally force any political party to be represented on the primary election ballot by a candidate with whom it does not wish to associate,” the lawsuit said.

See here for the background. As you know, I Am Not A Lawyer. I am, however, a sentient carbon-based life form, and I am highly dubious of this claim. Candidates who are not representative of a given political party run for office in the primary of that party all the time. Dave Wilson has filed as a Democrat numerous times, for instance, most recently in 2016 when he challenged Rep. Jessica Farrar in HD148. Keisha Rogers and Lloyd Oliver, both of whom have had success in primaries, have done this as well. The reason Farenthold is still on the ballot is because he resisted the pressure from national Republicans to step aside until it was too late to legally withdraw his filing. The fact that he’s had a change of heart now is nobody’s problem but his own. There are other Republican candidates running for CD27, and working to ensure that one of those candidates defeats him in March is a perfectly viable option. Farenthold can abet this by not campaigning, or even endorsing one of his opponents. If the people choose to support him anyway, that’s just too damn bad. He can stay on the ballot and hope all is forgiven, or he can withdraw at that time and leave it up to the RPT to find a suitable write-in candidate, a la Tom DeLay and Shelley Sekula Gibbs in 2006. The RPT can also remember that it has total control of state government, and lobby for a change to that portion of the electoral code in 2019. Until then, I say tough luck. We’ll see what the courts say.

High speed rail line route finalist chosen

Here’d where the Texas Central rail route will be, modulo some possible final tweaks and any further political obstacles.

Federal officials narrowed the possible paths for a Dallas-Houston bullet train down to one likely route Friday, providing an unknown number of rural Texans the most definitive answer so far as to whether their land will be in the path of the controversial project.

Much of the planned route had already been largely solidified. But documents released Friday by the Federal Railroad Administration filled in the rest of the gaps, favoring a more westerly route that runs through Navarro, Freestone, Leon, Madison and Limestone counties. Another potential route that was dropped from consideration would have avoided Limestone County.

[…]

The release of the draft Friday marked a major step toward getting federal clearance for the project. While it provides a clearer picture of the expected route, the path could slightly change in some areas as development and federal oversight continues.

The study also provided new details about stations planned in Grimes County and Houston. The Grimes County station is planned for State Highway 30 between Huntsville and College Station. There are three potential Houston station locations: land where Northwest Mall currently sits, an industrial area across from that shopping center and an industrial area closer to the nearby Northwest Transit Center.

The planned Dallas station remains just south of downtown.

The report is here. The original report, which listed six possible routes, came out two years ago – the environmental review process is not intended to be quick, but to be thorough. The station in Grimes County is intended to serve the Bryan/College Station area; the Texas Central summary of the report notes that “direct shuttle service to Texas A&M University” will be included, so you Aggie fans might make note of that. What I notice is that the route avoids Montgomery County, where a lot of the opposition to the line was based. Maybe some of those folks will lose interest now that they’re not in consideration any more. Grimes County, where the midpoint station will be located, is also a hotbed of resistance to TCR; Ben Leman, chair of Texans Against High-Speed Rail, just stepped down as Grimes County Judge to run for the Lege. If all goes well for TCR, they’ll have construction going before the next Lege gavels in.

Anyway. This is a big step forward for Texas Central. There’s still a 60-day public feedback period, and then the final route will be determined. Both DART and Metro will need to make some decisions about how they will connect to the terminals, and the Houston end has to be chosen. But we’re getting close. With a bit of luck, by this time next year we’ll have had a groundbreaking. I’m looking forward to it. The DMN has more.

You can’t legislate from jail

That’s the Ron Reynolds story.

Rep. Ron Reynolds

There’s a chance state Rep. Ron Reynolds could be sentenced to serve a year in jail next year. If that happens, he wouldn’t have to resign, according to state officials.

The Houston-area Democrat recently lost his appeal to a 2016 conviction of five misdemeanor barratry charges for illegal solicitation of legal clients. Reynolds, a once-practicing personal injury lawyer, says his attorney is working to submit a petition to the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals to review the opinions issued by Texas’ 8th Court of Appeals, which upheld his conviction. It’s a last-ditch attempt to avoid serving his sentence of a year in jail.

In an interview with the Tribune, Reynolds refused to address what he would do if his final appeal fails.

“We’re very – and I’ve even got a second opinion – are very confident that we’ll prevail, so I don’t think it will get to that point,” Reynolds said in a phone interview.

Should Reynolds end up in jail next year, the four-term lawmaker could still hold office and continue to run for re-election. According to Sec. 141.001 of the Texas Election Code, the only criminal misconduct that would require an elected official to resign would be a felony conviction. Reynolds’ convictions qualify as misdemeanors.

“So technically, the representative could be serving out his sentence for a misdemeanor and still be a state representative,” said Sam Taylor, communications director for the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.

[…]

Joel Daniels, a Montgomery County assistant district attorney who was among the lawyers who tried Reynolds’ case, noted that the opinions issued by the three-judge Eighth Court of Appeals on Nov. 29 were unanimous for each of the five charges. That bodes well for the prosecution’s case, he said.

“We are greatly gratified by the appeals court rejecting Mr. Reynolds’ attempt to overturn a jury’s verdict,” Daniels said. “This important decision brings Mr. Reynolds one step closer to justice.”

See here for the last update. I honestly don’t know what Reynolds’ end game is. I understand having hope, but you gotta be realistic, too. Reynolds received a decent amount of establishment support in his re-election bid two years ago. I got the sense at that time that patience was running out for him. In this environment, I have a hard time seeing how anyone could endorse him again, regardless of his voting record and their past personal relationship. Wilvin Carter is Reynolds’ opponent this time around. Perhaps the voters will render moot any concern about how Rep. Reynolds could perform his legislative duties while in jail.

Saturday video break: Somebody Loves Me

I feel like we could use a little sax music, so here are Al Cohn and Zoot Sims:

I’m pretty sure it’s the law that you have to be a musician to be nicknamed “Zoot”. Where there’s jazz there’s western swing, and where there’s western swing there’s the Hot Club of Cowtown:

Sadly, there was not a live version of this, but I encourage you to search around YouTube for the live performances they do have. If you don’t already like this kind of music, you will after you watch a few of their videos.

Senate has a hearing on its sexual harassment policy

The babiest of baby steps.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

There has only been one official sexual harassment complaint in the Texas Senate since 2001, the secretary of the Senate said Thursday.

The Senate Administration Committee debated possible ways to revise current sexual harassment policy Thursday. The meeting comes a week after online publication The Daily Beast reported on multiple alleged instances of sexual misconduct by Sens. Borris Miles of Houston and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio, both Democrats.

The news outlet based its accounts on interviews and communications with an unnamed female political consultant, current and former legislative employees and current and former journalists. An unnamed Democratic state representative corroborated one of the women’s stories, it said.

After the report, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, the head of a Senate panel that handles internal matters, whether the chamber is doing all it should to shield lawmakers and Senate employees from lurid and “inappropriate behavior.”

Senators quizzed secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw and director of human resources Delicia Sams on what current policy dictates for people complaining of sexual harassment and people accused of sexual harassment.

Spaw confirmed that the single official sexual harassment complaint in the Senate she received did not involve a lawmaker. She also said she knows there have been instances where chiefs of staff deal with “inappropriate conduct” within a senator’s office.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who is not a member of the Senate Administration Committee but attended Thursday’s hearing, expressed surprise at Spaw’s number. The Houston Democrat cited media reports that led her to believe sexual harassment was a bigger problem than official records may show.

“There’s got to be a flaw in our system if people feel more free to talk to the press than they do to us,” Garcia said. “And it has to be a process that’s open and that’s independent, and one that’s going to ensure fairness and accountability to anyone who’s accused no matter who they are.”

Senators who are accused of sexual harassment will be dealt with according to the severity of their actions, Sams explained. For instance, if a senator made an inappropriate comment, the secretary of the Senate would talk to him or her about it. If the offense was worse, the secretary would then take the complaint to the Senate Administration Committee and lieutenant governor to how to proceed.

While the recent reporting about rampant sexual harassment at the Capitol came up, no one was mentioned by name. The Chron adds on.

During Thursday’s hearing, lawmakers learned that while the Senate offers sexual harassment prevention training once every two years, not all Senators and their staffs get the training. It is mandatory training for the staff of the secretary of the Senate and for the lieutenant governor’s office. But individual senators and their staffs do not have to attend the training.

Also, lawmakers got assurances from the Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw that there is no secret fund to pay out sexual harassment claims in Texas as was the case in Congress. In addition, she said that as far as she knew, there have been no payments made to settle sexual harassment claims since she became the Secretary of the Senate in 2001.

Spaw assured lawmakers that her office takes any issues on the topic with sincerity.

“I know I have always taken it seriously,” Spaw said.

After the hearing, Spaw said some individual Senate offices may have handled sexual harassment issues on their own but she did not provide details. She said the only formal complaint handled by her office was in 2001, but she refused make public details of that case. She only said people lost their jobs and it was an issue between staff members and didn’t involve elected senators.

One of the problems with the current system is that there is no accountability or reporting procedure for how individual Senate offices are handling sexual harassment issues, Garcia said.

“No one is tracking those numbers,” she said.

That seems like a pretty obvious place to begin. You can’t hope to fix something that you can’t measure. Of course, you have to have a reliable reporting system to get good data first. The House just updated its policies, so maybe that’s a place for the Senate to start.

And for now at least that may be all we’re going to get. No one is willing to talk about the specific people who have been named as a part of the problem just yet. I can think of a variety of possible explanations for that, but the one I’m settling on is that there isn’t enough pressure on anyone to talk in anything but generalities. Our attention is split a million ways – I mean, the national scene is dumpster fires everywhere you look – and partly because of that our state scandals tend to have a much harder time penetrating the consciousness. I don’t know what exactly it will take for this to become a higher profile issue. I just know that at some point, perhaps when we least expect it, it will become one. The Observer and the Current have more.

The Paul Pressler lawsuit

Here‘s a thing to keep an eye on.

A former Texas state judge and lawmaker has been accused of sexually abusing a young man for several decades starting when the boy was just 14, according to a lawsuit filed in October in Harris County.

The lawsuit alleges that Paul Pressler, a former justice on the 14th Court of Appeals who served in the Texas state house from 1957–59, sexually assaulted Duane Rollins, his former bible study student, several times per month over a period of years. According to the filing, the abuse started in the late 1970s and continued less frequently after Rollins left Houston for college in 1983.

In a November court filing, Pressler “generally and categorically [denied] each and every allegation” in Rollins’ petition.

The abuse, which consisted of anal penetration, took place in Pressler’s master bedroom study, the suit alleges. According to the lawsuit, Pressler told Rollins he was “special” and that the sexual contact was their God-sanctioned secret.

Pressler is a leading figure on the religious right in Texas and was a key player in the “conservative resurgence” of Southern Baptism, a movement in the 1970s and 1980s that aimed to oust liberals and moderates from the church’s organizational structure. Pressler’s wife Nancy, his former law partner Jared Woodfill, Woodfill Law Firm, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and First Baptist Church of Houston are also named as defendants in the suit.

Rollins seeks damages of over $1 million.

It’s ugly stuff. The original reporting was in the Quorum Report, which has a few more details:

Rollins regularly saw Patterson and Pressler. At one point, the three travelled abroad together, the suit says.

Following the trip, Rollins was arrested for driving while intoxicated in Houston, leading to a string of felonies and ultimately back to prison. He was finally released in November of 2015 after telling a psychologist about being molested.

Rollins sought professional help and a lawyer, Daniel Shea of Houston.

A psychiatric evaluation of Rollins provided in the filing revealed he suffered from undiagnosed Posttraumatic Stress Disorder as a result of being molested.

The petition also questions the dogmas and beliefs of Pressler, Rev. Patterson and others with the goal of discrediting the theology of the resurgence, which advocates a literal interpretation of Scripture within the SBC, as a smokescreen for “one of the most pernicious philosophical and theological dogmas afoot in this country. It is known as ‘Calvinism’,” the case reads.

The lawsuit is here.

Letters from Judge Pressler vouching for the plaintiff are here and here.

The psychiatric evaluation of the plaintiff can be downloaded here.

Keep an eye on this one, I have a feeling it’s going to be big.

Thinking big about fighting flooding

Christof Spieler, on behalf of the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium, comments on a proposal to move forward post-Harvey.

On Oct. 25, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett released 15 recommendations for mitigating damages from future flood events. The researchers collaborating through the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium appreciate his willingness to release his priorities for public review and discussion.

The consortium was established by the Houston Endowment, Kinder Foundation and Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation to provide the public and decision-makers with important information so that Harris County and related watersheds can be rebuilt as a stronger, more resilient, more equitable and more livable region.

We found Judge Emmett’s list to have many merits. The consortium is thoroughly assessing the implications of the 15 recommendations and plans to share our conclusions soon. In advance of detailed conclusions, we have organized the issues into six broad themes.

See here for the background. You should read the whole thing, but I’ll give you those six broad themes: Structural projects, green infrastructure, risk education, development and buildings, planning, and governance. There’s a lot to do, but there’s a lot to talk about first, and the conversation is just beginning. Read and see what you think.

Friday random ten: Bring it

It has been brought.

1. Bring Back That Leroy Brown – Queen
2. Bring ‘Em Home – Bruce Springsteen
3. Bring It Back Again – Stray Cats
4. Bring It On Down To My House – Willie Nelson & Asleep At The Wheel
5. Bring It On Home To Me – The Commitments
6. Bring Me Some Water – Melissa Etheridge
7. Bring On The Dancing Horses – Echo & The Bunnymen
8. Bring On The Night/When The World Is Running Down – Sting
9. Bringin’ On The Heartbreak – Def Leppard
10. Bringing Home The Bacon – Procol Harem

“Bring ‘Em Home” is from the Seeger Sessions. “Bring On The Night/When The World Is Running Down” is from the Bring On The Night concert CD, which came out after Sting’s first solo CD. There was a movie in there somewhere, too – I remember seeing it in the theater, because that’s what wannabe hip music fans did back in the 80s.

From Alabama to Texas

Here are two numbers from Sen.-elect Doug Jones’ victory over garbage human Roy Moore: 92.0% and 49.3%. Jones received 92.0% of the total vote that Hillary Clinton received in Alabama in 2016. Moore received 49.3% of Donald Trump’s vote total. Put that together and you see what you get.

Now of course Alabama was an extreme case, and there were some number of Republicans who voted for Doug Jones. We can’t really say how many since there weren’t ant other elections on that ballot for comparison, but it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that in Alabama, like in Virginia and New Jersey and multiple special elections around the country, Democratic turnout has been stronger than Republican turnout. In some places that was enough to push Democrats to victory, in others it merely reduced the gap. But it’s there, and it’s been there all year. Remember all those special Congressional elections, where Dems came close but couldn’t quite overcome the large Republican advantage in each? Here’s how they look by that metric of comparing candidates’ results in 2017 to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016. All Congressional data comes from Daily Kos.

Kansas 04:

James Thompson, 62.2% of Clinton
Ron Estes, 38.4% of Trump

Montana at large:

Rob Quist, 93.7% of Clinton
Greg Gianforte, 67.9% of Trump

Georgia 06 runoff:

Jon Ossoff, 80.5% of Clinton
Karen Handel, 84.1% of Trump

South Carolina 05:

Archie Parnell, 35.4% of Clinton
Ralph Norman, 25.6% of Trump

Utah 03:

Kathie Allen, 43.7% of Clinton
John Curtis, 45.7% of Trump

Not every election had this characteristic – GA-06 was an outlier because Republicans were able to get their voters out, while I don’t think anyone outside Utah even noticed the UT-03 race – but most of them were, and the same was true in non-Congressional elections, too. This dKos spreadsheet has tracked every election since November of 2016, and documented the partisan shift in each, with a bonus comparison to 2012 as well. The overall trend is clear.

My point for bringing all this up is simply this: The national environment, and the resulting effect on enthusiasm levels for Democrats and Republicans, is and will be a factor in the 2018 election in Texas, just as it was in 2010 and 2014 to Republicans’ benefit and 2006 and 2008 to Democrats’. Alabama may be the most shocking example of this – well, the most shocking example since last month’s elections in Virginia, anyway – yet it seems to be discounted in the discussion of how the 2018 elections may play out here. It’s easy to talk about the lack of “name” candidates at the statewide level for Dems, and the amount of money that people like Greg Abbott have, and so on and so forth, but the bottom line is that base turnout level has been the Dems’ biggest problem in Texas, going back to 2002. I’ve harped on this multiple times, as you know. If that problem is solved, or at least mitigated, in 2018, in part by Democratic motivation to repudiate Trump and in part by a conscious decision noted by RG Ratcliffe to go bottom-up rather than top-down, then that’s a big step in the right direction. Yes, yes, yes, all the usual caveats apply. All I’m saying is that the national mood affects Texas, and right now that is working hard in Democrats’ favor. We all need to keep that in mind.

Another step in the Uptown BRT process

Gotta build those bus lanes on the Loop, too.

A bus guideway along Loop 610 will cost slightly more than anticipated, based on bids opened Wednesday in Austin.

Williams Brothers Construction, a mainstay of highway building in the area, was the apparent low bidder at $57.2 million, for the project to add two elevated bus lanes along Loop 610 from where Post Oak Boulevard curves beneath the freeway to a planned transit center north of Interstate 10.

The project is separate but aligned with the current construction along Post Oak that will add dedicated bus lanes along the road.

TxDOT estimated the project would cost $54.9 million, meaning the Williams Brothers bid is 4.1 percent over state predictions. Four other companies bid between $57.5 million and $64.7 million for the job.

The lanes would run atop the southbound frontage road of Loop 610 before shifting to the center of the freeway. Construction is expected to take 27 months, officials said last year, meaning an opening of mid-2020 by the time construction starts in a few months.

The rest of the project is scheduled to be finished in 2019. That sound you’re hearing is the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the usual suspects, who are rending their garments at the news that the proposed cost of this piece of the project is a few bucks higher than anticipated. I find this alternately hilarious and infuriating. I mean, 290 and the Loop just north of I-10 is a multi-year and multi-billion dollar disaster area, we’re about to embark on a six-year project to rebuild the 59/610 interchange, and at some point we are going to do unspeakable things to downtown in the name of completely redoing 45 and 59 in that area. Yet with all that, some people lose their minds at the idea of adding a bus lane to one street in the Galleria area. Perspective, y’all. Try it sometime.

Farenthold changes course

Sort of.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, will retire from Congress after finishing his current term, a source close to the congressman told The Tribune Thursday morning. Farenthold soon confirmed the decision in an emotional video posted on Facebook.The decision came after a difficult December for the four-term congressman. Farenthold, one of the quieter members of the Texas delegation, found himself embroiled in a charged atmosphere of sexual harassment allegations in Washington, D.C.

The final blow came in the form of a CNN report on Wednesday night highlighting new sexual harassment allegations that included former employees describing the congressman as verbally abusive and sexually demeaning.

“I’d never served in public office before,” Farenthold said of the allegations in his video Thursday. “I had no idea how to run a Congressional office and, as a result, I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional. It accommodated destructive gossip, off-hand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that in general was less than professional.

“And I allowed the personal stress of the job to manifest itself in angry outbursts and too often a failure to treat people with the respect that they deserved,” he added. “That was wrong. Clearly, it’s not how I was raised, it’s not who I am and for that situation, I am profoundly sorry.”

While he “expected a tough primary campaign” and “was looking forward to it,” Farenthold said he would retire instead.

“I would be forced to engage in a month-long campaign for personal vindication,” he said. “That’s not why I came to Congress. Quite simply, my constituents deserve better.”

See here and here for some background. There’s a big complicating factor in all this that I will get to in a moment, but first let’s take a closer look at those latest allegations.

A former senior aide to Rep. Blake Farenthold has approached the House Ethics Committee to share a damning account of working for the Texas Republican, with the intent of describing the congressman as verbally abusive and sexually demeaning — and his congressional office as an intensely hostile environment that drove the aide to physical and emotional distress.

Michael Rekola, who was Farenthold’s communications director in 2015, described in an interview with CNN new details of the congressman’s abusive behavior. It ranged from making sexually graphic jokes to berating aides — bullying that Rekola says led him to seek medical treatment and psychological counseling, and at one point, caused him to vomit daily.

One comment from the congressman was especially personal. Rekola was about to leave town to get married in July 2015, when, he said, Farenthold, standing within earshot of other staffers in his Capitol Hill office, said to the groom-to-be: “Better have your fiancée blow you before she walks down the aisle — it will be the last time.” He then proceeded to joke about whether Rekola’s now-wife could wear white on her wedding day — a clear reference, Rekola said, to whether she had had premarital sex.

“I was disgusted and I left. I walked out,” Rekola said. Almost immediately after returning from his wedding, he gave his two-weeks notice.

Boy, he must have been a hell of a boss to work for, don’t you think? And good Lord that “I’d never run a Congressional office before” baloney. Simple human decency is more than enough to prevent most people from saying and doing these things to coworkers and colleagues, and that’s before you factor in the power you had to fire them. What a total jackass.

So what about that complicating factor? Well, you may recall that the filing deadline was Monday. State law allows a 24-hour period after that to reconsider and withdraw. Guess what? It’s too late for Farenthold to do that.

Farenthold’s decision comes two days too late to remove his name from next year’s Republican primary ballot, according to state officials.

Monday was the deadline for candidates to file for a spot on the ballots for the Republican and Democratic primaries. Candidates have until the day after the regular filing deadline – which was Tuesday – to withdraw from their race, according to the Texas Election Code.

The party can also reject a candidate’s application for a place on the primary ballot. But when a party chooses to do this, it happens at the outset rather than after the candidate was already accepted on the ballot.

Since Farenthold missed the Tuesday deadline to withdraw, his name will still remain on the Republican primary ballot on March 6, according to Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

“Barring any challenge to the candidate’s application before the mail-in ballots go out in late January, his name will still be on the ballot,” Taylor said.

According to the Texas Election Code, a challenge to a candidate’s application “must state with specificity how the application does not comply with the applicable requirements as to form, content, and procedure.” A challenge to Farenthold’s application would need to be brought into the Secretary of State’s office prior to Jan. 19 — before any mail-in ballots are mailed out to Texas voters.

A successful challenge would need to prove Farenthold’s application did not comply with state law – like providing an incorrect permanent residence or mailing address.

Farenthold’s plans to resign isn’t enough to challenge his application, Taylor said.

As RG Ratcliffe puts it, this is Farenthold’s “final screwup” as an accidental Congressman. He’s still on the March ballot, and that means there’s at least a chance that he could win that election and be the Republican nominee in CD27 next November. Which would leave him and the Republican leadership that put pressure on him to quit the choice of leaving him there and letting him be a campaign issue for the rest of the year, or having him withdraw and concede the seat to the Democratic nominee. Well, as we saw in CD22 in 2006, you could try to run a write-in candidate, and who knows, maybe the district is Republican enough to still win in that fashion. Let’s just say the Republicans would rather not have to find out. Way to go, Blake. Mother Jones has more.

The statewide lineups

Here’s the statewide lineup for Democrats. I’ll add in some notes afterwards.

U. S. Senator Beto O’Rourke
U. S. Senator Edward Kimbrough
U. S. Senator Sema Hernandez
Governor Adrian Ocegueda
Governor Andrew White
Governor Cedric Davis, Sr.
Governor Demetria Smith
Governor Grady Yarbrough
Governor James Jolly Clark
Governor Jeffrey Payne
Governor Joe Mumbach
Governor Lupe Valdez
Governor Tom Wakely
Lieutenant Governor Michael Cooper
Lieutenant Governor Mike Collier
Attorney General Justin Nelson
Comptroller of Public Accounts Joi Chevalier
Comptroller of Public Accounts Tim Mahoney
Commissioner of the General Land Office Miguel Suazo
Commissioner of the General Land Office Tex Morgan
Commissioner of Agriculture Kim Olson
Railroad Commissioner Chris Spellmon
Railroad Commissioner Roman McAllen
Justice, Supreme Court, Place 2 Steven Kirkland
Justice, Supreme Court, Place 4 R.K. Sandill
Justice, Supreme Court, Place 6 Kathy Cheng
Presiding Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Maria T. (Terri) Jackson
Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 7 Ramona Franklin

Just a few tidbits about some of the later entrants into the races:

Sema Hernandez was on the SOS filing page for a day or two, then disappeared from it until deadline day. I have no idea what was up with that.

Edward Kimbrough is apparently from Houston. I can’t find anything online about him.

There were two late filers in the Governor’s race, because apparently eight was not enough. James Jolly Clark is from Austin and appears to have been involved in some interesting lawsuits. Demetria Smith is a perennial candidate from Houston.

Joi Chevalier is a culinary entrepreneur. At first glance at least, she appears to have an interesting profile. It would have been nice to have heard of her before now.

Tex Morgan is a programmer in San Antonio who serves as a VIA Metropolitan Transit trustee, and has an even more interesting profile.

Chris Spellmon was a candidate for HCDP Chair who ultimately endorsed Eartha Jean Johnson in that race.

Some of these races are perhaps a bit more interesting than I expected them to be. I’ll do a separate post looking at Congressional and legislative candidates later.

There weren’t any late entrants of interest for statewide races on the Republican side. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing is that Baby Bush got multiple challengers but no one opposed Ken Paxton. Given that there is a nonzero chance he could get convicted of a felony next year, that seems like a curious outcome. Hey, their problem, not mine.

The TDP touted its ginormous candidate tally late Monday. I’ll summarize as follows:

All 36 Congressional seats are contested, with 110 total candidates.
14 of 15 State Senate seats are contested, with 24 total candidates.
133 of 150 State House seats are contested, with 189 total candidates.

Someone with a much more in depth knowledge of Texas’ political history will have to say when the last time was that we had a similar set of Democratic primary races. I’ll try to do a similar let-me-Google-that-for-you overview of these folks in the coming days, as time allows.

Finally, one more news item of interest:

Former U.S. Congressman Nick Lampson just filed to run as a Democrat for Jefferson County judge, KFDM/Fox 4 has learned.

The deadline to file was 6 p.m. Lampson will not face an opponent in the primary, but is challenging Republican incumbent Jeff Branick in next November’s general election.

I’m a longtime fan of Nick Lampson’s, so I’m happy to see him stay involved. The incumbent switched from D to R this year, so it would be nice to send him packing. Stace and RG Ratcliffe have more.

Recycling deal held up again

I’ll take Unexpected Effects of Hurricane Harvey for $200, Alex.

Chris Brown

Chris Brown

A 20-year, $37 million recycling deal for Houston is in limbo after City Controller Chris Brown said his office was not prepared to sign off on the proposal, citing concerns with the procurement process and the winning bidder’s proposed subcontractor.

The controller, the city’s elected financial watchdog, chiefly is responsible for certifying that sufficient funds are on hand to make the payments associated with items City Council is asked to approve each week.

Brown’s Monday afternoon memo to Mayor Sylvester Turner, however, noted “concerns pertaining to the transparency of the procurement process and the MWBE sub-contractor’s status as the defendant in several federal lawsuits.”

Specifically, he said several sets of documents from the initial procurement stages were kept only on paper and were destroyed when Hurricane Harvey flooded City Hall, leaving his office unable to compare documents from the two final rounds of bid evaluations.

Turner threw out the first round of final bids last summer amid questions from council about the process used to select Spanish firm FCC as the winning firm; FCC again was announced late last month as the winner of the second round of final bidding, prompting more questions from council.

Brown said his staff was able to review documents from the two final bidding rounds only after signing “unusual” non-disclosure agreements for which he said “no legal reasoning has been provided.”

FCC’s proposed subcontractor, Taylor Smith Consulting, he added, has been named as a defendant in four recent lawsuits, three under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“In the interest of full transparency, I thought it important to bring these concerns forward,” Brown wrote.

See here and here for the background. Who knew people still used paper documents? The Council vote had been scheduled for this week but will be pushed back after the holidays now. From the story it doesn’t sound like there were any actual problems with the bid, though the losing firms were griping about it, just that it was delayed. We’ll see if it gets any better a reception from Council this time around.

Some pushback on Jeff Mateer

A small bit of sanity.

Even as President Donald Trump rushes to fill federal judge openings across the nation, a top Senate Republican is urging the White House to put the brakes on an outspoken nominee from Texas.

Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday that he told Trump to “reconsider” two controversial judicial nominees:

Jeff Mateer of Texas and Brett Talley of Alabama.

“I’ve advised the White House they ought to reconsider,” Grassley told CNN. “I would advise the White House not to proceed.”

Mateer, a top aide to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, was nominated by Trump to be federal judge in Texas. He has faced bipartisan criticism for a series of speeches in 2015 on homosexuality, including a reference to transgender children as part of “Satan’s plan.”

Talley, a Justice Department lawyer and candidate for a federal judge position in Alabama, has come under fire for urging readers in a 2013 blog post to join the National Rifle Association while attacking gun control legislation after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre as “the greatest attack on our constitutional freedoms in our lifetime.”

With no previous judicial experience, Talley became the third judicial nominee since 1989 to receive a unanimous rating of “not qualified” from the American Bar Association, a move that Republicans have decried as partisan.

See here for some background. That appeared on Tuesday, and by Wednesday Sen. Grassley had had enough.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Republican said Wednesday that two of President Trump’s nominees for open seats on the federal bench will not be confirmed, just a day after urging the White House to “reconsider” them.

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said that based on his discussions with the White House, the nominations of Jeff Mateer and Brett Talley would not move forward through the confirmation process. The decision comes after reports that both nominees made public comments celebrating groups or policies that were discriminatory.

Good. Look, if you’re a Republican, surely you can see that you can do better than these two clowns. There are plenty of severely conservative potential judges out there who are also well-qualified for the job and are capable of acting like normal human beings. It’s really not much to ask, even from Donald Trump. Well, maybe it is too much to ask from Trump. In which case, voting losers like Mateer and Talley down might get the message across. Advise but don’t consent, in other words. Score one for a smidgeon of sanity.

Texas blog roundup for the week of December 11

The Texas Progressive Alliance wonders if Donald Trump has ever heard of Krampus as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

The Harris County slates

Let’s talk about the filings for Harris County. The SOS filings page is still the best source of information, but they don’t provide shareable links, so in the name of ease and convenience I copied the Democratic filing information for Harris County to this spreadsheet. I took out the statewide candidates, and I didn’t include Republicans because they have not updated the SOS office with their slate. Their primary filing site is still the best source for that. So review those and then come back so we can discuss.

Ready? Here we go.

– If there was an announcement I missed it, but HCDE Trustee Erica Lee, in Position 6, Precinct 1, did not file for re-election. Three candidates did file, Danyahel Norris, an attorney and associate director at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law; John F. Miller, who was a candidate for HCDE Chair earlier this year; and Prince Bryant.

– While there are contested races up and down the ballot, there’s one race that is no longer contested. Mike Nichols withdrew his filing for Harris County Judge, leaving Lina Hidalgo as the sole candidate to oppose Judge Ed Emmett next fall.

– The SOS page also shows that Sammy Casados withdrew his filing for County Commissioner. However, his campaign Facebook page makes no such announcement, and there’s no evidence I can find to confirm that. It’s possible this is a mistake on the SOS page. We’ll know soon enough, when the HCDP publishes its official final list. Anyway, the cast for Commissioner in Precinct 2 also includes Adrian Garcia, Daniel Box, Roger Garcia, and Ken Melancon, who was previously a candidate for Constable in Precinct 3 (note that Constable precincts, like Justice of the Peace precincts, do not correspond to Commissioner precincts). Also, there are now two candidates for Commissioner in Precinct 4, Penny Shaw and Jeff Stauber, who was a candidate for Sheriff in 2016.

– All other county races save one are contested. Diane Trautman has two opponents for County Clerk: Gayle Mitchell, who ran for the same office in 2014, losing to Ann Harris Bennett in the primary, and Nat West, who is the SDEC Chair for Senate District 13 and who ran for County Commissioner in Precinct 1 in that weird precinct chair-run election. Two candidates joined Marilyn Burgess and Kevin Howard for District Clerk, Michael Jordan and former Council candidate Rozzy Shorter. Dylan Osborne, Cosme Garcia, and Nile Copeland, who ran for judge as a Dem in 2010, are in for County Treasurer. HCDE Trustee Position 3 At Large has Josh Wallenstein, Elvonte Patton, and Richard Cantu, who may be the same Richard Cantu that ran for HISD Trustee in District I in 2005. Only Andrea Duhon, the candidate for HCDE Trustee for Position 4 in Precinct 3, has a free pass to November.

– I will go through the late filings for legislative offices in a minute, but first you need to know that Lloyd Oliver filed in HD134. Whatever you do, do not vote for Lloyd Oliver. Make sure everyone you know who lives in HD134 knows to vote for Alison Sawyer and not Lloyd Oliver. That is all.

– Now then. SBOE member Lawrence Allen drew an opponent, Steven Chambers, who is a senior manager at HISD. That’s a race worth watching.

– Sen. John Whitmire has two primary opponents, Damien LaCroix, who ran against him in 2014, and Hank Segelke, about whom I know nothing. Rita Lucido, who ran for SD17, threw her hat in the ring to join Fran Watson and Ahmad Hassan.

– Carlos Pena (my google fu fails me on him) joins Gina Calanni for HD132. Ricardo Soliz made HD146 a three-candidate race, against Rep. Shawn Thierry and Roy Owens. There are also three candidates in HD133: Marty Schexnayder, Sandra Moore, and someone you should not vote for under any circumstances. He’s another perennial candidate with lousy views, just like Lloyd Oliver. Wh you should also not vote for under any circumstances.

– The Republican side is boring. Stan Stanart has a primary opponent. Rep. Briscoe Cain no longer does. There’s some drama at the JP level, where Precinct 5 incumbent Jeff Williams faces two challengers. Williams continued to perform weddings after the Obergefell decision, meaning he did (or at least was willing to do) same sex weddings as well. You do the math. Unfortunately, there’s no Democrat in this race – it’s one of the few that went unfilled. There was a Dem who filed, but for reasons unknown to me the filing was rejected. Alas.

I’ll have more in subsequent posts. Here’s a Chron story from Monday, and Campos has more.

UPDATE: Two people have confirmed to me that Sammy Casados has withdrawn from the Commissioners Court race.

HISD proposes to rebuild four schools damaged by Harvey

Seems reasonable.

Students at four storm-damaged Houston ISD elementary schools wouldn’t return to their home campuses until at least 2020 under a district proposal for replacing the structures announced Monday.

The $126-million plan calls for the four campuses — Braeburn, Kolter, Mitchell and Scarborough elementary schools — to be demolished and rebuilt at their current locations. The properties would be elevated to prevent the type of flooding that occurred after Hurricane Harvey, district officials said.

Houston ISD’s Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote on the plan Thursday.

“Based on the catastrophic flood damage and the elevation increase each campus would need to prevent future flooding, we’ve decided that the best use of HISD resources is to rebuild these four buildings,” the district’s chief operating officer, Brian Busby, said in a statement.

Students attending the four schools have been in temporary locations since September, traveling distances ranging from four to 11 miles away from their home campus. It’s not immediately known whether students would remain at the same temporary campuses until the new buildings are constructed.

[…]

District officials expect that virtually all storm-related costs will be covered through insurance, Federal Emergency Management Agency funds and state aid. As the district awaits reimbursement for costs, the $126 million for reconstruction would be paid out of the district’s “rainy day” reserves and Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone funds.

Trustee Mike Lunceford, whose district includes Braeburn and Kolter elementary schools, said decisions about rebuilding schools should be made now, rather than waiting for payments from FEMA and the state. He said he’s supportive of the district’s plan, though he has a few questions about the cost and a separate proposal to change the district’s policies for maintaining reserve funds.

“A lot of people are talking to me, asking if we’re going to rebuild the schools,” Lunceford said. “They definitely need to be rebuilt. Both schools (in my district) have more than adequate population.”

Not using these schools is not an option, and not doing something to mitigate against future flooding, however unlikely another Harvey may be, is irresponsible. The funding should be there, but if in the end HISD has to float some bonds for this, it’s worth it. The Press has more.

RIP, Peter Brown

A dedicated public servant and a heck of a nice guy.

Peter Brown

Former Houston city councilman, mayoral candidate and civic leader Peter Brown has died, his family said Tuesday.

Brown, an architect and urban planner, was 81.

“A loving father, committed public servant, and fearless advocate, former Council Member Brown passed on to the next life the same way he lived in this one – surrounded by his family in the city he loved most,” his son, the elected City Controller Chris Brown, said in a statement.

“The Brown family would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers, and asks for privacy during this very difficult time.”

You can see Chris Brown’s statement here. After the 2009 Mayoral election, Peter Brown went back to his roots, talking about urban design and making city streets safer and more user-friendly for people on his Pedestrian Pete website. He was a visionary and an advocate for building a better city to the end. Rest in peace, Pedestrian Pete.

Filing news: A few tidbits while we wait for the dust to clear

As you know, yesterday was the filing deadline for the primaries. Lots of things happen at the last minute, and the SOS filings page isn’t always a hundred percent up to date, so I’m hesitant to make final pronouncements about things right now. Here are a few things I do know about or have heard about, some of which I will double back to tomorrow, to suss out how they ended up.

– The one candidate who ultimately declined to run for Governor was Dwight Boykins, who announced over the weekend that he would stay put on City Council.

– Mark Phariss was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the overthrow of Texas’ anti-same sex marriage law. I noticed on the SOS page, and then saw it confirmed on Facebook, he is also now a candidate for office:

My Texas Senate District is District 8, formerly represented by Van Taylor. He has chosen not to run for re-election, but instead to run for the U.S. Congress to replace the retiring Rep. Sam Johnson. Republicans running to replace Van Taylor are Angela Paxton, Texas’ AG Ken Paxton’s wife, and Phillip Huffines, the twin brother of Don Huffines, who is already in the Texas Senate. Both of these candidates will, as you might suspect, work to enact Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s agenda, which, sadly and wrongly, will include legislative measures, like bathroom bills, that will hurt the State of Texas and its most innocent citizens.

No longer willing just to stand by, this past Thursday with the encouragement and support of my wonderful husband, Vic, I filed to run as a Democrat for the Texas Senate, District 8. While District 8 is a conservative district, a win is doable. Trump only carried it by 8 percentage points in 2016. With a big enough Blue Wave and your support, we can win, and I intend to do what is necessary to win.

There is another democratic opponent, a very nice fellow. The primary is March 6, so I have to get very busy and need all of your support in order to be able to challenge Paxton or Huffines.

On Friday, I obtained a tax i.d. number and set up a checking account. And I am in the process of setting up an account with ActBlue to accept online contributions, but it it will be a couple of days before it is operational. If anyone doesn’t want to wait (or if someone prefers not to make online contributions), checks can be mailed to Mark Phariss Campaign, 6009 West Parker Road, Suite 149-126, Plano, TX 75093. My campaign e-mail address is markphariss4district8@gmail.com.

SD08 will be a very challenging fight, but the value proposition in supporting a genuine leader like Mark Phariss over atrocities like Angela Paxton or Phillip Huffines more than outweighs it. If you’re making your 2018 campaign contributions budget, put in a line item for Mark Phariss’ campaign.

Ivan Sanchez stepped down from the Houston Millennials group he founded to announce his entry into the field for CD07. That’s a daunting race to enter, as all the candidates that are already there have been there for months, long enough to have filed Q2 and Q3 finance reports. He starts out well behind in fundraising, but if even half the people who liked and shared his post and congratulated him on Facebook live in CD07, he already has a decent base of support.

Progress Texas was keeping track of the races where a candidate was still needed:

Unchallenged Republicans

State House (click here to check out a Texas House district map to see who’s running – and not running – where)

  • HD 1: Gary VanDeaver (R)

  • HD 2: Dan Flynn (R)

  • HD 7: Jay Dean (R)

  • HD 9: Chris Paddie (R)

  • HD 21: Dade Phelan (R)

  • HD 25: Dennis Bonnen (R)

  • HD 30: Geanie Morrison (R)

  • HD 32: Todd Hunter (R)

  • HD 54: Scott Cosper (R)

  • HD 55: Hugh Shine (R)

  • HD 58: Dewayne Burns (R)

  • HD 59: Tan Parker (R)

  • HD 60: Mike Lang (R)

  • HD 68: Drew Springer (R)

  • HD 69: James Frank (R)

  • HD 72: Drew Darby (R)

  • HD 82: Tom Craddick (R)

  • HD 86: John Smithee (R)

  • HD 87: Four Price (R)

  • HD 128: Briscoe Cain (R)

  • HD 135: Gary Elkins (R)

  • HD 150: Valorie Swanson (R)

State Senate:

  • SD 31: Kel Seliger (R)

Judicial:

  • Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals Place 8: Elsa Alcala (R)

  • Chief Justice, 2nd Court of Appeals: Terrie Livingston (R)

  • Chief Justice, 10th Court of Appeals: Steve Smith (R)

  • Chief Justice, 11th Court of Appeals: Jim R. Wright (R)

  • Justice, 2nd Court of Appeals, Pl. 4: Bob McCoy (R)

  • Justice, 2nd Court of Appeals, Pl. 5: Sue Walker (R)

  • Justice, 2nd Court of Appeals, Pl. 6: Lee Ann Campbell Dauphinot (R)

  • Justice, 4th Court of Appeals, Pl. 2: Marialyn Barnard (R)

  • Justice, 4th Court of Appeals, Pl. 5: Karen Angelini (R)

I’ve crossed out the ones for which candidates have since appeared. I’m so glad someone finally filed in HD135.

– You know who else filed? This guy, that’s who.

In the face of a storm of controversy and a slew of challengers, U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold indicated Monday he’s still running for re-election.

This time around, it will likely be a lonely battle for the Corpus Christi Republican.

“It’s lonelier than it’s been in past times, but he’s not alone,” said Farenthold’s chief of staff, Bob Haueter, on Monday evening.

I hope that means he’s under constant adult supervision. Have fun defending your record, bubba. I’ll have more tomorrow. In the meantime, here are the early recaps from the Chron and the Trib.

Morris and Trammell elected to the Hall of Fame

The Modern Era committee has spoken.

Fittingly, Jack Morris reached the Hall of Fame in extra innings.

Morris was elected to the Hall by its Modern Era committee on Sunday along with former Detroit Tigers teammate Alan Trammell, completing a joint journey from Motown to Cooperstown.

The big-game pitcher and star shortstop were picked by 16 voters who considered 10 candidates whose biggest contributions came from 1970-87. Morris got 14 votes and Trammell drew 13, one more than the minimum needed.

They will be enshrined on July 29, and they’ll go in together. They both began their big league careers in 1977 with Detroit and played 13 seasons alongside each other with the Tigers.

See here for the background. Like many others, I just don’t have it in me to argue the Jack Morris issue any longer. It is what it is. As Jay Jaffe, the go-to person for all things Hall of Fame, says, whatever else you may think of Morris and the controversy over his candidacy, his election lowers the bar for Hall of Fame pitchers and serves as a slight to numerous contemporaries such as Bret Saberhagen, Dave Stieb, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser and David Cone. I’ll add Kevin Appier and Frank Tanana and Tim Hudson and Wes Ferrell and Tommy John, all of whom have at least a career WAR at least ten wins higher than Morris. And that’s before we get to Mike Mussina, whose career WAR of 83.0 is nearly double Morris’ 44.1. Oh, and the continued exclusion of Marvin Miller is an utter travesty, too. But there I go arguing again. The Hall of Fame is just a museum and none of this matters. I’m going to go find my happy place now. Deadspin, which wisely focuses on Trammell’s well-deserved enshrinement, has more.

The dolphins in the bay

Dolphins in Galveston Bay are having health issues.

Kristi Fazioli first spotted the pair of dolphins swimming behind a shrimp trawler near Morgan’s Point, eager to get a mouthful of breakfast.

They appeared healthy as they popped in and out of the choppy waters typical for a November day on Galveston Bay. But a second glance showed the truth: Their skin was mottled and blotchy, covered in a patchwork of white lesions that stood in stark contrast to the gray coloring characteristic of bottlenose dolphins.

Where some might have winced at the dolphins’ sickly appearance, Fazioli, a research associate at the University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Environmental Institute of Houston, calmly snapped photos of the lesions, documenting the time, date and place of the sighting.

This is the post-Hurricane Harvey reality for the popular bay dolphins, known to swim alongside boats and ferries throughout Galveston Bay. Nearly three months after the storm’s destruction, the more than 500 dolphins she’s documented in Upper Galveston Bay still are struggling to recover.

After the storm, some dolphins turned up with excessive skin lesions. Others were skinny and malnourished. Still others vacated the bay and have not returned for the season.

These changes in dolphin health and behavior have been observed in other areas after hurricanes, but Fazioli said little is known about the short- and long-term impacts of such an event.

Excess amounts of freshwater, and higher levels of pollution, are considered possible causes. Both resulted from the rain and runoff in Hurricane Harvey. Researchers are trying to get a better handle on it now, and they should have a lot of data to work with. I wish them the best.

So now that names have been named, now what?

Maybe some hearings? I don’t know.

Texas leaders called for a review of sexual harassment policies at the state Legislature following a Texas Tribune story detailing how current procedures offered little protection for victims and describing a wide range of harassment at the Capitol. The Texas House approved changes to its policy last week. The Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has asked state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst to lead a review of the chamber’s policy, has yet to hold any public hearings on the matter.

“These are serious allegations that have been denied by the senators,” Patrick said in a statement responding to the calls for resignation Thursday, adding that he had asked Kolkhorst to “determine if there are additional steps we should take.”

“I know she has been meeting with senators and staffers over the past several weeks and I expect that she will post a hearing notice soon to be sure that we are doing all we can to make sure every staff member and every elected official is protected from sexual harassment and all other inappropriate behavior,” Patrick said.

Earlier today, state Sen. José Rodríguez, chairman of the chamber’s Democratic caucus, said the behavior alleged in the Daily Beast article is “unacceptable” in any situation, but especially so for an elected official.

“Any person in a position of power who engages in such deplorable conduct should be fired or removed,” he said in a statement before Annie’s List announced their call for resignation.

State Senator Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said in a statement that she finds the recent stories in the media “very alarming.”

“It’s a sad state of affairs when people feel their only option is talking to the press,” she said.

Rodríguez and Garcia both called for independent investigations of sexual misconduct at the Capitol. The Texas Tribune previously reported that those in charge of investigating and resolving sexual harassment complaints have little to no authority over lawmakers. Garcia said she is also calling for a hotline to report abuse.

“As this discussion continues at both the national and state levels, I applaud those who have come forward and encourage more women to continue shedding light on the culture of many of our industries and institutions, including the legislature, so we can create a culture shift where these incidents can be fully investigated, and hopefully, prevented,” Rodríguez said.

See here for the background. Since this story was published, Sen. Kolkhorst has agreed to hold a public hearing, on December 14. Details are here. According to Equality Texas, testimony is by invitation only, but the hearing is open. What if anything will come out of this is unclear, but it’s something.

I want to add that since that Daily Beast story was published, two friends of mine have posted on Facebook about their experiences with Sen. Miles. One reported that Miles “grabbed me and kissed me on the mouth”, the other said “I was “hugged” so closely, for so long and so…ummm….thoroughly (??) that I joked with one of my colleagues upon recounting the incident that I might ought to take a pregnancy test”. I’m not naming them because I didn’t ask them if I could name them here, but as I said they’re both friends of mine. I have no doubt that there are plenty of others with similar stories. This isn’t going away, and no number of complaints about anonymous allegations or “powerful enemies” will change the fact that there are real women out there with real stories to tell. What are we going to do about that? You know what I think. We need to know what our leaders think.

A look at past primaries

I think we can all agree that the 2018 Democratic primary season is already unlike anything we’ve seen in recent memory. And since I like putting expressions like that into numbers, I thought I’d try to do it here. First, let’s compare the number of contested Democratic primaries across non-Presidential years:


Year   State  Congress  Lege
============================
1994      10        11    33
1998       3         6    19
2002       6         8    26
2006       4         5    20
2010       4         5    11
2014       4         6    13
2018       3        20    37

“Lege” includes both the Senate and the House. We only have three contested statewide primaries, but we do have an eight-candidate race for Governor, so that’s something different. The number of contested primaries for Congress and the Lege are higher than we’ve ever seen, and there’s still a day left to file. Remember also that there were a lot more Democrats in the Lege in 1994 than now. We have a lot of multi-candidate races this year for the right to face a Republican opponent or fill a Republican open seat.

The number of contested races is one thing, but the most visible measure of interest in an election is how many people vote in it. Here are the turnout levels for Democratic primaries going back to 1994:


Year      Total    Pct RV
=========================
1994  1,036,907    11.47%
1998    664,532     5.95%
2002  1,003,388     8.21%
2006    508,602     3.99%
2010    680,548     5.23%
2014    560,033     4.12%

“Pct RV” is the percentage of Democratic primary voters to all registered voters. There were more RVs in 2002 than there were in 1994, so even though the total number of voters was about the same, the share of RVs is lower. We don’t know what the turnout total will be for 2018 yet, but this should give us a goal, which I’d peg at one million votes at a minimum. There were just over 15 million registered voters as of this November – that number will like increase for March – so a goal of ten percent participation would set the target at 1.5 million. This is something I’ll be keeping an eye on. A new high water mark here would further the narrative of Democratic excitement. The same old thing will not.

Lamenting the lost rail opportunity

What could have been.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett’s speech Tuesday may have included jabs at state lawmakers, but it was a hit with transit advocates for a single line.

“We cannot go back in time and undo some poor decisions, but we can learn from those decisions,” Emmett said in his prepared remarks, alluding to freeway projects that have exacerbated flooding woes. “One of the most glaring mistakes was the failure to convert the abandoned Katy rail line to commuter rail.”

[…]

Though the rail line was removed, Metropolitan Transit Authority paid for overpasses along I-10 to be built to rail standards, meaning that if the region ever wanted to use the freeway for light rail, that is possible. Larger, commuter, trains, however would not be able to operate in the freeway.

Still, the regret voiced by Emmett – whom many consider a proponent of road building as a champion of the Grand Parkway – demonstrates a shift, if only in tone, regarding regional transportation.

“I totally think what the Judge said is important,” said Maureen Crocker, executive director of the Gulf Coast Rail District, which has pressed for commuter rail development. “Judge Emmett has always been a supporter of the rail district, but it is important when you hear him say there was an opportunity for commuter rail.”

Yes, we could have had a rail component to the I-10 expansion. It was a choice not to do that. It wasn’t hard to see that at some point after the initial expansion, the new capacity would be exhausted. Having a means to move people that didn’t rely on that capacity would have been helpful. The powers that be – read: Harris County and John Culberson – were not interested in that. We won’t have as many options going forward – it’s not like there’s a bunch of available space to build more lanes, after all.

To be sure, Metro express buses make heavy use of the HOV lanes, which move a lot of people and didn’t require a big capital investment on Metro’s part. One commenter on Swamplot thinks that’s a perfectly fine outcome.

The train isn’t going to travel that much faster than buses, if at all. Also, buses in the Katy corridor make just one stop at most between the burbs and Downtown (the major route is express from the Park-and-Ride lot direct to Downtown). And people play on their phones on the bus (have you never been on one? the park-and-ride vehicles have nice cushy seats and baggage racks). And unless one’s destination is outside the CBD, no transfers are required; you are likely dropped off within a few blocks of your destination, an easy walk. Furthermore, on the highly used Park-and-Ride routes the buses leave every several minutes; you don’t have to time your arrival, the wait time to depart is minimal. Commuter rail never works like that (though light rail can). The assumption that rail is going to provide superior service simply isn’t true. In fact, it’s likely to be worse service for the patrons than what we have now with the Park-and-Ride buses. Especially since most everyone will have to drive to the station anyway, so no difference there.”

I agree that the park and ride experience is a good one, and a lot of people use it. But even with a rail corridor built in, there would still have been HOV lanes, so we could have had both rail and express buses. Build it as light rail and you can have local service, too. Lots of people are using I-10 for shorter trips that neither begin nor end in downtown. We didn’t know it at the time, but the subsequent local bus system redesign would have provided a lot of connections to and from this could-have-been light rail line, thus reducing the need for parking around the stations. It’s not a question of whether rail would have provided superior service to express buses, it’s that rail plus express buses would have been better. But we’ll probably never get to see that for ourselves, thanks to short-sighted decision making more than a decade ago.

Weekend link dump for December 10

You’ve probably been playing Monopoly incorrectly your whole life.

Basically, Yetis are bears. I’ll bet the same is true for Bigfoot.

“The Satanic baby-killers have always been with us, even though they have never actually existed. We reinvent them over and over, adapting the old lies in new forms.”

“Trump’s tweets don’t advance a consistent policy agenda. They don’t make a cogent case for the administration’s position on this or that topic. They don’t articulate a direction for the nation’s foreign policy or communicate a coherent message for the wider world. They exist solely to antagonize, provoke, and polarize. Only his most extreme, uncritical admirers like these outrageous assertions. Everyone else ends up appalled — and that negative response ends up being a good part of why those extreme, uncritical admirers liked them in the first place. It’s all about reaction, all the way down.”

Here’s the best Astros-themed Christmas light display you will see.

“About those chopped-down potentates and lords: many of them, one couldn’t help but notice, were not the most attractive specimens on the block: bulbous, jowly men; fat men who told women they needed to lose weight; ugly men drawn to industries organized around female appearance. Men with weird hair. Is it wrong of me to bring this up? We do, after all, move through the world as embodied creatures. I wondered what it felt like, if you’re such a guy, one who’s managed to accrue some significant portion of power in the world but you’re still you—coercing sex out of underlings. When you look in the mirror, is it a great white hunter you see staring back, with women as your game of choice? Sure you’ve won, you’re on top, but isn’t every win a tiny jab of confirmation about your a priori loathsomeness? If sexual domination assuages something for certain men, is it because somewhere inside lives a puny threatened runt, and extracting sexual compliance is some form of recompense?”

“We do not come at this issue as political partisans; though we are registered Democrats, we have supported Republicans, consider ourselves moderates and have worked with key figures in both parties to improve political processes. Still, we can’t help seeing the Republican Party as the root cause of today’s political instability.”

“A column written by the immortal Art Buchwald about Watergate-era Nixon defenders has a certain resonance as Robert Mueller’s investigation proceeds.”

The millennials are coming, and they will have an effect on elections going forward.

RIP, John Anderson, former Republican Congressman from Illinois who ran for President as an independent in 1980.

Bitcoin is terrible for the environment.

“The evidence is now irrefutable that Trump, his associates, and Republican leadership more broadly conspired to give Moscow a pass despite (or perhaps because of) Russia’s attack on our democracy.”

“If you want the tax cuts and the judges, you’ve also signed up for the racism, the misogyny, the amorality, the lawlessness, the deranged tweets, possibly even something close to treason. Trump supporters own it all.”

Russia has been banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“Europe and Asia have taken a significant lead over the United States in the race to field the next generation of high-intensity lasers for use in medicine, nuclear weapons development, manufacturing and science”. But don’t worry, because we have the world’s greatest coal mines and pass-through tax codes.

Look, there are millions of women out there who weren’t murdered by Ted Bundy, so you can’t go judging him by the women he did murder. Allegedly. I don’t believe any of them are actually dead.

“I don’t know how big a role [Erik] Prince plays in the larger Russia story. But he and his various companies, whatever name they’re now operating under, are a dangerous and malevolent force in our current moment, even more than they were a dozen years ago when Blackwater was playing such a big role in America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

“Are you struggling to buy a toy for your child this year holidays? Are you wanting to help others? Do you like ecstatic taxidermied heads in Santa hats? If any of these apply then you are in the right place, because today marks the eighth (EIGHTH!?) annual James Garfield Miracle.”

The rise and fall of Michael Flynn.

RIP, Alice Lok Cahana, artist and Holocaust survivor.

Santos, Lira, and Stallworth win runoffs

Congratulations to all, and on to 2018.

Elizabeth Santos

Two current educators, Elizabeth Santos and Sergio Lira, won seats on the Houston ISD school board, according to preliminary results from Saturday’s runoff election.

Voters also chose Pretta VanDible Stallworth, a business consultant and adjunct professor, to fill the final seat on the Houston Community College board, based on the unofficial results.

[…]

Santos, an English literature teacher at Northside High School, appeared to cruise to victory over Gretchen Himsl, a policy analyst for Children at Risk, an education and child-welfare advocacy nonprofit. She would represent District I on Houston’s northwest and north sides.

Santos campaigned on allocating more funding for teachers and classroom instruction, emphasizing the community schools model and offering a diverse voice from the district’s east side, which is largely Latino. The 35-year-old Houston ISD schools graduate had the endorsement and financial backing of the largest national and local teachers unions.

Sergio Lira

“It’s been incredibly special to me, to be able to really anchor myself inside the community,” Santos said. “Not everyone has had their voice heard in this district, and to be able to have that voice, that’s one thing I’m absolutely hopeful and excited about.”

In November’s three-candidate general election for District I, Santos earned 45 percent of the vote, with Himsl receiving 34 percent.

Lira, an assistant principal at Bellaire High School, looked to score a come-from-behind victory Saturday after finishing in second in the general election for District III, which represents the district’s southeast side. Challenger Jesse Rodriguez earned 40 percent of the general election vote to Lira’s 34 percent.

Lira, 56, emphasized his experience as an educator on the campaign trail, contrasting it Rodriguez, a customer care manager and volunteer radio host.

You can see the numbers here. Both boards have their work cut out for them. The stakes are especially high for HISD, as they try to stave off intervention from the TEA. Best of luck to all the winners, now let’s get to work.