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January 17th, 2018:

Interview with Todd Litton

Todd Litton

CD02 hasn’t drawn quite as much attention as CD07 has – it has fewer Democratic candidates, and the district is more Republican-leaning – but one thing it had in common with CD07 was a Democratic challenger that had outraised the incumbent. There’s no more incumbent in this district, but there is Todd Litton, the candidate who held that distinction. A native of Houston with a law degree from UT and an MBA from Rice, Litton has mostly worked in the education and nonprofit world, with stints at the Children’s Defense Fund, the Texas Lyceum, and Center for Houston’s Future, among others. He was a delegate for John Kerry in 2004 and for Barack Obama in 2008. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my Congressional interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Congressional Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Margaret Poissant

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Margaret Poissant

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Margaret Poissant and I am running for 14th Court of Appeals Place 8.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 14th Court of Appeals hears both civil and criminal appeals of cases tried in 10 counties in Texas, with the exception of death penalty cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because Texas needs independent thinkers with strong experience in several areas of the law to ensure justice for all Texas citizens. Justices should work hard, be fair, and follow the law.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

My qualifications for this very important position are detailed on my website, poissantforjustice.com, and include my experience in hundreds of cases, both civil and criminal, (primarily civil cases in Harris County), which has given me a strong understanding of various legal issues; Martindale-Hubbell ratings for highest ethical standards by my peers and by judicial rating; trial and mediation experience, as well as the handling of hundreds of cases without resort to litigation; my understanding of community issues and volunteer work, including assisting SN 22 with the drafting of city ordinances to submit to the City of Houston; and bar licenses in both Texas and New York. I have run two businesses successfully.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because the rulings by the 14th Court of Appeals affects all citizens in the State of Texas.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

People should vote for me because I am well grounded, have the necessary experience to perform the job, have a strong ethical background, am respected by my peers, and will follow the law. I have support for my candidacy by individuals in Texas and my peers.

SCOTUS will not hear Texas partisan gerrymandering appeal

Not really a big deal.

Texas, for now, will not join the list of states fighting in court over the limits of partisan gerrymandering.

As it considers cases out of other states over whether extreme practices of partisan gerrymandering can be deemed unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the efforts of Texas Democrats and other plaintiffs to revive a related legal claim in the ongoing litigation over the state’s political boundaries.

The high court’s dismissal comes just days after it agreed to hear a case over whether Texas’ congressional and House district boundaries discriminate against voters of color. In that case, the state appealed a three-judge panel’s ruling against the state that included findings of intentional discrimination by state lawmakers, unconstitutional racial gerrymandering and violations of the Voting Rights Act.

[…]

Pointing to Texas’ “stark admission” that lawmakers were “motivated by the Legislature’s desire to dilute the voting strength of Democratic voters,” the Texas Democratic Party and other plaintiffs had asked the Supreme Court to reconsider the three-judge panel’s decision to dismiss partisan gerrymandering claims in the case in 2011 and 2014 without any discovery or trial. But the Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed with state attorneys who had argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the party’s appeal.

See here for the background. Hey, it was worth a shot. There are other cases ongoing, and as Michael Li notes, there will be other opportunities for the TDP or some other interested party to try again later. The Chron and Rick Hasen have more.

Who’s to blame for the special education limits

The Lege gets a finger pointed at it.

After a federal report blasted Texas for failing kids with disabilities, educators and public education advocates are pointing the finger directly at state legislators who, they argue, first suggested capping special education to keep costs low.

The U.S. Department of Education last week released a monitoring report, after a 15-month investigation, finding that the Texas Education Agency effectively capped the statewide percentage of students who could receive special education services and incentivized school districts to deny services to eligible students. Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement soon after that criticized local school districts for their “dereliction of duty” in failing to serve students — which touched a nerve for educators.

“We weren’t derelict: the state of Texas was derelict, the Texas Education Agency was derelict,” said HD Chambers, superintendent of Alief ISD and president of the Texas School Alliance, an advocacy group. “We were following what they put in place.”

In a statement sent to TEA and Abbott on Sunday, the Texas School Alliance and school administrator groups dated the creation of a special education cap back to a 2004 Texas House Public Education Committee interim report, which surveyed how other states fund special education and which made recommendations to the Legislature for how to discourage identifying too many students with disabilities.

[…]

The committee’s report recommended the Legislature “determine what aspects of our current funding mechanism for special education encourage overidentification; and then investigate alternative methods for funding special education that decrease any incentives to overidentify students as needing special education services.”

It also recommended reducing state and local administrative costs in overseeing special education in order to direct more money to students with disabilities.

That same year, TEA implemented a system to monitor and evaluate how school districts were serving kids with disabilities. The percentage of students with disabilities served plunged from 11.6 percent in 2004 to 8.6 percent in 2016. The U.S. Department of Education found last week that the agency was more likely to intervene in school districts that provided services for more students with disabilities, incentivizing administrators to cut back on services.

Chambers was a central office administrator at Cypress-Fairbanks ISD in 2004 and recalls receiving direct and indirect instruction from the state to serve fewer students. “We were under the impression that we were out of compliance if we were identifying more than 8.5 percent of our population,” he said.

See here for past blogging on the topic, and here for the Trib story on the federal report. I will note that the Chair of the House Public Education Committee at the time of the 2004 interim report was none other then Kent Grusendorf, a man who was so anti-public education that he was basically the inspiration for (and first real victory won by) the Texas Parent PAC. So yeah, I have no trouble believing this. As to when it might get fixed, that’s a topic for November.