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April, 2018:

Interview with Letitia Plummer

Letitia Plummer

As you know, I did not do interviews in all of the contested Democratic primaries this year. There were just too many of them, with too many candidates, for me to be able to get to them all in the limited time frame available. I figured for at least some of these races that I could return to them in the runoffs, and so that’s what I’m doing here. I’ll have interviews with candidates in some Democratic Congressional runoffs, starting this week with CD22. Letitia Plummer, who came in second in that field of five, is a Houston native and first-time candidate. She is a dentist who owns two offices in the district, and while there’s not a whole lot of biographical information about her on her campaign website, I found this Forward Times story from early 2016 before she was a candidate and this Reddit post from last year when she was that will give you a lot more about her background. Here’s what she had to say with me:

You can still find information about Congressional candidates on my 2018 Congressional webpage. I hope to have more of these interviews between now and the start of early voting.

The timing of a Harvey bond referendum

How does August grab you?

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday will consider calling a special election for August 25 — the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey — to ask voters to OK a massive bond referendum for flood control projects.

The amount of the referendum has yet to be determined as the county continues to assess its needs and as other funds, including as federal grants, become available. At least three members of Commissioners Court said Friday they envision a measure that could reach $2.5 billion.

[…]

The referendum could help finance property buyouts, as well as a range of infrastructure projects, such as the widening and deepening of bayous or the construction of a much-discussed third reservoir in northwest Harris County.

Tuesday’s vote follows months of wrangling over the logistics of holding the bond election, including the cost of holding a special election and the ideal date to ensure voters turn out to support the measure.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis on Friday said he supports presenting the bond referendum to voters during the November general election, when turnout is expected to be considerable as voters weigh in on mid-term congressional elections.

“Without evidence of a clear path to victory for a summer-time bond election, which is likely to have low turnout, I have serious reservations about the proposed August date,” Ellis said. “The future of Harris County hinges on the success of this flood bond.”

It also is not yet clear what the bond referendum will include. Harris County Flood Control District Director of Operations Matt Zeve said that would be determined after Tuesday’s discussion at Commissioners Court.

County officials have said the necessity for bond money grows as federal grants pour in to prepare the Houston area for future floods or to recover from Harvey, many of which require a sometimes hefty financial match from local governments.

“The risk is that they may allocate the funds elsewhere and, thus, become unavailable for our region,” Emmett states in the proposed letter to Abbott.

See here, here, and here for the background. I get the reason for wanting to do this as quickly as possible, as grant money may get grabbed up by other places before we could approve a November referendum. August is a weird time for an election – looking at the County Clerk election result archives, the only August date I see is in 2014, for a special election runoff in SD04, which is only part of the county.

The last election that wasn’t in March or May or November that included the entire county was the 2003 Constitutional Amendment special election, which included the infamous tort “reform” measure and which was done in September specifically to reduce turnout from the Houston area, since we had an open seat Mayoral race that November. Turnout for that, which was a state election and not a county election, was 238,334, or 13.38% of registered voters. We have more registered voters now, but that percentage would still put us south of 300K. Compare that to the November 2014 general election, which had 688,018 voters, which was still only 33.65% turnout. I’d bet on November this year being closer to 800K voters, and likely a lot more Democratic than either of those other two contexts.

So on the one hand, you’ve got a need to get this done, and the one year anniversary of Harvey as a rallying cry, but a smaller electorate that may be more likely to not support any kind of spending measure. You also need Greg Abbott’s approval to hold this election, which you’ll probably get but is still an unknown factor. On the other hand, you could have a November vote with a bigger and likely friendlier electorate, but you risk losing out on some grant money, and maybe that much farther away from Harvey people will feel less of a sense of urgency to do something, or at least something that may be historically big. All things considered, my preference is still November, but we’ll see what Commissioners Court decides.

Alvarado claims poll lead in SD06

From the inbox:

Rep. Carol Alvarado

A new Public Policy Polling survey of 589 voters in Texas’s 6th Senate District shows Carol Alvarado leading Ana Hernandez by a 2-1 margin, 38% to 22%. 41% of voters are undecided.

Alvarado’s margin is driven by leads among several demographic subsets – she leads 38-22 among women and 38-21 among men. She leads among Democrats 48-24 and among independents 26-17. Alvarado leads among Hispanics 41-28, among whites 27-12, and she leads among African-Americans by a 46-11 margin.

Public Policy Polling surveyed 589 voters in Texas’s 6th Senate District from April 9th to 11th, 2018. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.7%. The survey was conducted in English and Spanish using automated telephone interviews. This survey was conducted on behalf of the Carol Alvarado Campaign.

Just so we’re clear:

1. We still don’t know when this election will be, though right now signs point to “later” rather than “sooner”.

2. There will be other candidates in this race. Even if they’re all no-names, that will skew things.

3. Modeling turnout in special elections is really tricky.

Having said all that, feel free to enjoy or complain about this poll as you see fit.

Weekend link dump for April 29

Some potential advantages for gender-swapping a character in a TV or movie production.

Who even knew that the Nancy comic was still a thing, much less that it was generating a ton of controversy over its recent changes?

10 TV Characters Who Actually Really Suck at Their Jobs

“Williamson specializes in a dance move I like to call the Troll Three-Step. One: Say something vile Two: When challenged, say that wasn’t what you meant, only joking etc. Step three: Go back to saying something vile.”

“As someone who lived through the Bush era, I can attest that Bush was able to impose pretty strict party loyalty on the right. But by April 2006, his approval rating among Republicans was hovering around 80 percent—not too far from where Trump is now. Those midterm elections were a disaster for the GOP. And it went downhill fast from there.”

“Everything suggests Hannity has professionals investing and managing this portfolio of real estate properties. So why would he be seeking the counsel of Michael Cohen? Whatever he claims, there’s very little evidence Cohen has any legal or business acumen or even experience doing this kind of real estate investing – that is to say competent, professional investing for extremely high net worth individuals as opposed to high stakes ‘deals’ and finding purchases for people looking to stash or launder money.”

“The President is going to congratulate him no matter what you say.”

“The ‘weird’ fringe is the biggest part of white evangelicalism”.

Did you know there was an actual real-life murder mystery that inspired Twin Peaks? Well, now you do.

RIP, Verne Troyer, actor best know for playing Mini Me in the Austin Powers movies.

“Do we really need to see what Cohen has to say to know that something is already catastrophically wrong with this picture?”

Keep an eye on this lawsuit against Facebook over its handling of fake ads.

“If a guy like that is sending out anti-Trump tweets while his wife is going on TV serially offering alternative facts in defense of the President, it’s bound to pique the interest of people around Washington. I don’t know if you’d call it Capital-N News, but it’s certainly fair game for an end-of-segment question on a Sunday show.”

“But let’s be clear, presidents who have approval ratings of 40% usually don’t get reelected. That’s especially the case when their favorability rating (a slightly different measure) is also in the same area.”

More than you wanted to know about that guy in Toronto who killed all those people and the toxic and misogynistic subculture he marinated in.

A comprehensive taxonomy of the women in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Congratulations to Jenny Cavnar, the first woman to do play by play for a game on MLB TV. And good on the Rockies for not putting up with any sexist BS about the job she did.

RIP, Bob Dorough, musician best known for composing many Schoolhouse Rock songs. He was a hairy bear, he was a scary bear…

George R.R. Martin will have his Game of Thrones prequel book published before the next actual Game of Thrones is finished. That sound you hear is a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth.

“She’s a 5-year-old fox red Labrador retriever on assignment at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Pennsylvania. Turks is specially trained and certified to appear in courtrooms, where she often snuggles next to victims, especially children, to help them get through the trauma of testifying. These past two weeks she has had an additional assignment: Keep the jury that has been sequestered in the Bill Cosby trial in good spirits as they spend time away from their families.”

The sisterhood of Cosby survivors is an amazing thing.

If it hadn’t been for his decision to scold poor black Americans for their moral failures while decades of sexual-assault allegations had remained hidden, it’s possible that none of Cosby’s victims would have gotten their day in court.”

Pete Souza continues to be a national treasure.

Fifth Circuit upholds voter ID changes

Ugh.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Amid efforts to prove Texas’ embattled voter ID law is discriminatory, a federal appeals panel on Friday OK’d state lawmakers’ efforts to rewrite the law last year to address faults previously identified by the courts.

On a 2-1 vote, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling that tossed out the state’s revisions through Senate Bill 5. The lower court had said the changes did not absolve Texas lawmakers from responsibility for discriminating against voters of color when they crafted one of the nation’s strictest voter ID laws in 2011.

But the Legislature “succeeded in its goal” of addressing flaws in the voter ID law in 2017, Judge Edith Jones wrote in the majority opinion for the divided panel, and the lower court acted prematurely when it “abused its discretion” in ruling to invalidate SB 5.

The 5th Circuit panel’s ruling is a major victory for the state after years of losses in an almost seven-year legal battle over its restrictions on what forms of identification are accepted at the polls.

[…]

Key to the state’s defense was a change in the 2017 law that allows Texans without photo ID to vote if they present alternate forms of ID and sign affidavits swearing a “reasonable impediment” kept them from obtaining the proper ID. Those voters could present documents such as utility bills, bank statements or paychecks to confirm their identification, but lawmakers also wrote into law that those found to have lied about not possessing the proper photo ID could be charged with a state jail felony.

Arguing before the 5th Circuit in December, attorneys representing the voting and civil rights groups suing the state said the “reasonable impediment” provision was a faulty remedy because of the possibility that voting “under the express threat of going to jail” would have a “chilling effect” on voters without photo ID.

They also pointed out that the list of permissible IDs remains unchanged under the state’s new ID law: a state driver’s license or ID card, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, a U.S. citizenship certificate or an election identification certificate.

On Friday, the 5th Circuit panel sided with the state’s argument that Ramos’ decision to reject its revisions to the voter ID law was improper because a new law would require a new legal challenge, but the court did note that opponents of the law could still separately challenge SB 5 in the future.

Judge James Graves Jr. employed striking imagery to lay out his dissent to the majority opinion. “A hog in a silk waistcoat is still a hog,” he wrote before explaining that the original voter ID law was an “unconstitutional disenfranchisement of duly qualified voters.”

“SB 5 is merely its adorned alter ego,” he added.

With a loss in hand, opponents could be derailed in their efforts to persuade the courts to place Texas back under federal oversight of its election laws — a process called preclearance.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the opinion. The plaintiffs can and almost certainly will ask for an en banc rehearing, though the partisan makeup of the Fifth Circuit does not inspire confidence. They can also start the whole process over by filing a new lawsuit against SB5. This litigation began in 2011 after the original bill SB14 was passed, and it’s not over yet, so you can get some idea of how much longer this might get dragged out if we go down that path.

As usual, Rick Hasen has a good analysis of the ruling and its effect. The bottom line is that despite two findings by the district court of intentional discrimination, the Fifth Circuit has now said that the technical fixes of SB5, which were enacted under court pressure by the Lege, washes that sin away completely. Ross Ramsey recently wrote that no matter what ultimately happens at SCOTUS with redistricting, the Republicans have already won, because they will get four cycles out of maps that are basically what they drew and may at worst have one cycle with court-mandated “faier” maps. No matter what happens from here, we’ve been operating under the original voter ID law or something not that far from it. There’s not price to pay for passing a discriminatory law, or potentially for passing discriminatory Congressional and legislative maps. Why wouldn’t any other Republican-controlled legislature do the same, given Texas’ experience?

As such, the only reliable solution going forward is a political one. We need to elect enough people who oppose voter ID to repeal this discriminatory, anti-democratic law. This is of course a long-term solution, but then a new lawsuit against SB5 would have something like a seven or eight year timeline based on the SB14 experience, with no guarantee of success. In the interim, we need to out more effort and resources into ensuring that people have what they need in order to be able to vote. It’s a travesty, but it’s our reality. We have no other choice.

Nine for CD27

And they’re off.

Blake Farenthold

Nine candidates have filed for the June 30 special election to finish former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold’s term, according to the secretary of state’s office. The deadline was 5 p.m. Friday.

As expected, the group includes the four candidates who are currently in the May 22 runoffs for the November election: Democrats Raul “Roy” Barrera and Eric Holguin, as well as Republicans Bech Bruun and Michael Cloud. The other five candidates who filed for the special election are Democrat Mike Westergren, Republican Marty Perez, independent Judith Cutright, Libertarian Daniel Tinus and independent Christopher Suprun.

Of the five candidates who are not also in the runoffs, Suprun, who is from Dallas, is perhaps best known — he refused to vote for Donald Trump at Texas’ Electoral College meeting following the 2016 presidential election. Westergren, meanwhile, is a Corpus Christi lawyer who unsuccessfully ran for Texas Supreme Court in 2016.

[…]

Before the June 30 special election to finish Farenthold’s term, voters in the district will primary runoffs will take place on May 22 to determine Democratic and Republican nominees for the seat in the fall. The winner of that contest will serve a full term beginning in January 2019.

See here for the background. Let’s be clear that only the candidates who are in the primary runoffs have a chance to hold this seat beyond the end of this year, if he or she wins both their runoff and then again in November. The others can aspire to be little more than a slightly extended version of Shelley Sekula Gibbs. Which isn’t nothing, but isn’t more than that. My guess is that any involvement from national Democrats would occur in the runoff for this race, assuming one of the three Dems that filed makes it that far. We’ll see how it goes.

It’s hard being pregnant in Harris County

We need to figure this out.

Life-threatening, pregnancy-related complications — the iceberg beneath the surface of the U.S. maternal health crisis — are on the rise in Harris County, according to a new report.

The report not only confirmed the Harris County rate is worse than that of the state and nation, it found that it increased more than 50 percent between 2008 and 2015. Texas’ rate of life-threatening, pregnancy-related complications went up 15 percent in the same time period.

“In subtle and unintentional ways, women’s health in Harris County has been subjugated to the health of babies so profoundly that the health of women of childbearing age is often not prioritized,” says the report, a project of the Houston Endowment.

Dr. Lisa Hollier, a Houston obstetrician-gynecologist and a co-chair of the task force that produced the report, said Harris County’s high rates “point to the need for greater intervention to promote safety around the time of delivery. Such complications are 50 times more common than pregnancy-related deaths, but don’t get near the amount of attention.”

Hollier and Dr. Cecilia Cazaban, the report’s principal investigator, said it is unclear why Harris County’s rate is increasing at such a high rate. They said that analysis is next on tap for the task force.

[…]

The new report focuses on severe maternal morbidity, the term for conditions that require such treatment as a respirator or blood transfusions or hysterectomy during delivery or in the immediate hours thereafter. It can lead to maternal death, but even when the patient survives, it can cause damage, such as kidney or heart failure, sometimes requiring lifelong treatment. It also is costly to the patient and health care system.

Harris County’s rate of severe maternal morbidity in 2015 was 2.4 percent, meaning there were 238 cases for every 10,000 deliveries. The 2015 rate was 1.97 in Texas and 1.46 in the United States.

See here for some background. The task force website is here, though I don’t think this report is on there. I hope there’s no need for me to say anything more than we really need to understand this problem so we can solve it.

The case against expediting the CD27 special election

Erica Greider does not approve of Greg Abbott’s actions in CD27.

Blake Farenthold

All things considered, then, I find it hard to believe that Abbott’s decision was motivated by his altruistic concern for the Texans who live in this district.

What disturbs me, however, is that under the laws of Texas, the 27th Congressional District probably shouldn’t have a representative in Congress at all until January, when the candidate who wins the general election will be sworn into office.

I’ve always believed that the laws of Texas should not be dismissed as a technicality, or taken lightly, or suspended by the governor of Texas, whoever that might be.

Abbott has always cast himself as someone who believes in the rule of law. But in calling for this emergency special election, he has acted in a way that might — by his own account — exceed his constitutional authority.

“May I utilize my authority under section 418.016 of the Government Code to suspend relevant state election laws and order an emergency special election?” he asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a letter sent on Friday, April 19.

In Paxton’s opinion, Abbott may suspend state election laws. And in the opinion he issued on Monday, in response to the governor’s letter, he concluded that a court would likely agree.

Perhaps. But we don’t know that. And neither does Abbott, who responded to Paxton’s opinion by acting unilaterally on Tuesday.

See here for the background. I take her point, and Lord knows the rule of law could use all the support it can get these days. I just believe that the default preference in all cases should be to get these elections scheduled as soon as reasonably possible. Having this one in November is essentially pointless. Have it now, so that even a temporary representative will be able to, you know, represent the people of CD27. Remember when Rick Perry chose to keep a vacancy in HD143 through two special sessions he called? Greg Abbott and his lapdog Ken Paxton may have pushed the envelope here, but the urge to let the voters fill an empty seat is one I’ll defend.

Count of firefighters’ pay parity petitions needs to be done by Friday

Or else. Not sure what follows the “or else”, but maybe we won’t have to find out.

City Secretary Anna Russell has one week to finish verifying a petition Houston firefighters submitted last summer seeking pay parity with police or risk being hauled into court, a state district judge said Friday.

Judge Dan Hinde had given Russell until Friday at 5 p.m. to verify whether the firefighters had reached the minimum threshold of 20,000 signatures needed for the item to appear before voters.

City attorneys asked the judge for an extension Friday morning, however, saying that, after a slow start, the count had reached 14,000 names and was proceeding briskly with the help of eight staffers who were assigned from other departments about two weeks ago and approved for overtime pay.

The judge denied the city’s request. However, he asked only that the firefighters’ attorneys submit a draft writ for him to issue by May 4, indicating that if he got word the count had finished before then, he would leave the paperwork unsigned.

“I understand the city has a variety of services and duties to its citizens. I don’t discount those,” Hinde said. “But it was not apparent that the city secretary was emphasizing enough the importance of the electoral franchise and referendum power, the legislative power, the citizens are entitled to.”

[…]

At the hearing Friday, Hinde asked why the count had not begun in earnest immediately after his March order was issued.

“Why didn’t she use the extra time I already gave her?” he asked Assistant City Attorney Brian Amis.

Amis said the secretary’s office began preparing the paperwork on which the formal count would be recorded on the day the judge’s order was issued, a process that includes individually numbering each signature line and stamping each page. Within a week of the order, Amis said, Russell asked Turner to approve money for overtime pay and to lend her additional staff.

Russell and her staff must verify that a sufficient number of the names on the petition are those of registered voters who live inside the city of Houston.

“With the diversion of resources from other departments, along with the expenditure of unbudgeted overtime, the city believes it can finish counting the petitions by or before next Friday,” mayoral spokeswoman Mary Benton said, adding it was unclear how much the effort would cost.

“We see no need for an extension,” said Troy Blakeney, an attorney for the firefighters. “We’re not standing before the court to ask that Ms. Russell be brought over here on a writ, but we think timing is really important.”

It is unclear when the petition, if validated, would appear before voters.

City attorneys have indicated that Mayor Sylvester Turner intends to schedule a vote on the petition, if it is validated, during the next municipal election cycle in November 2019. Blakeney has said, he expects to wind up in court again to accelerate the vote.

See here for the previous update. You know how I feel about this, so let me just say that if there are sufficient valid signatures to force a vote, it should happen this November. Enough is enough already, let’s get this over with so we can skip to the part that really matters, the litigation.

Smart Cities Collaborative

It’s a thing we are part of.

Houston will join 21 other cities in a national partnership aimed at addressing persistent transportation challenges as technology and mobility choices have planners rethinking how streets, sidewalks and private spaces interact.

The upcoming Smart Cities Collaborative, organized by the Transportation For America advocacy group, will last for a year and include four gatherings of the cities selected. They will focus on the topic areas of “ride-sourcing technology, curbside delivery, dockless bike and scooter systems, and the increasing desirability of sidewalk space and some of the hottest real estate in cities.”

[…]

Houston’s participation will involve its public works and parking management departments. The goal, officials said, is to build on current projects such as the city’s flood warning and traffic management systems, while readying Houston for increased transit and vehicles that drive themselves.

“The big matzo ball hanging out there is automated vehicles,” said Russell Brooks, director of Transportation For America’s Smart Cities Initiative.

To handle self-driving cars, cities will need to rethink how streets operate, with traffic devices that could relay information to vehicles and protect pedestrians. Autonomous cars also are expected to upend parking in job centers such as downtown Houston, the Texas Medical Center and Energy Corridor, while perhaps increasing the need for electric charging stations.

Here’s a report from the first meeting, which happened last week, and a Transportation for America blog post about the collaborative. The next meeting will be in July. I figure it’s never a bad idea to talk about transportation solutions, because we sure could use them.

Still waiting for those other special elections

Ross Ramsey returned to a frequent topic a few days ago.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, was found guilty of 11 felonies earlier this year. He has not yet faced sentencing and says he will appeal the convictions on charges including money laundering and fraud. He’s not required to quit the Senate in the face of that, but it’s safe to say many of his colleagues are eager to see him go. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stripped him of his committee assignments, and the Senate Democratic Caucus called on him to quit.

The other potential resignation is a happier story: State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, won her party’s nomination to succeed the retiring Gene Green in the U.S. House. It’s a Democratic district, but she’ll face the winner of a Republican primary in November’s election. And in the unlikely event that Garcia were to lose that race, she would still be a state senator; her term in the current job doesn’t end until 2021.

Without putting their names to their words, many of Garcia’s colleagues are hoping she’ll quit early, allowing a replacement to be seated before the Legislature convenes in January.

“A vacancy is never politically helpful, but no one is more harmed than the constituents who are in that district, who have zero representation,” said Harold Cook, a longtime Democratic operative and one-time staffer to the Senate’s Democratic Caucus. “Aside from the fact that it kind of screws with a few majority votes, and that is not unimportant, you’re leaving Texans with no representation — and you don’t have to.”

The idea is that Garcia’s election to Congress is all but certain and that her timely resignation would position Democrats in the Texas Senate at full strength next year, instead of leaving them waiting on a special election to fill her seat. Or Uresti’s seat, for that matter.

Since he wrote that, we have gotten an update on SD06. Also from Ross Ramsey:

A one-seat pickup [in the Senate] would leave the Democrats one vote short of the number needed to force debate. It would also put them in position, if they could hold their own folks together, to block debate by luring one Republican to their side.

Another way to put it: Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats would have any wiggle room — a generally rotten prospect for a group since it empowers any one member to hold an issue hostage by saying, “Do it my way or lose my vote.”

If the Democrats were to win more than one seat now held by Republicans, the Texas Senate would be back in the position it was in for years — when nobody could get an issue to the floor without brokering enough of a compromise to convince a supermajority that the issue is worth hearing.

That’s been used to keep all kinds of things — not all of them partisan, by the way — from coming to the Senate floor for a vote. For a moment, think like one of the swamp creatures; sometimes, it’s safer not to vote on something controversial than it is to take a stand. The three-fifths rule provides a way to either work on a compromise or just walk away without any political bruises.

One needn’t agree with that to appreciate its political value.

But even a big Democratic day in November could leave crafty Republicans with some breathing room. Two Democratic senators who aren’t on the ballot this year — Sylvia Garcia of Houston and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio — are contemplating resignation.

Garcia won the Democratic nomination for a congressional seat in a district unlikely to elect a Republican to Congress. But she said [last] Thursday, in an interview with The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith, that she won’t resign until after the Nov. 6 election. She said she’s doing that out of consideration for the voters and doesn’t want to presume what they’ll do. If she wins and then resigns, it’ll take a special election to replace her — one that would likely leave her seat in the Senate empty for the early days of the legislative session.

Gotta say, I’m disappointed to hear that. I really believed Sen. Garcia would step down in a timely fashion, perhaps after the May 22 primary runoffs, to allow a successor to be in place by January. If she does wait till November to step down, then the Leticia Van de Putte experience kicks in, where the special election is in January and the successor is installed in March/a>; that runoff actually happened in February, but the swearing-in didn’t take place till after the official canvass. As Ramsey goes on to say, even if the Dems have picked up one or more seats, they’d lose the numerical advantage if the Garcia and Uresti seats are empty.

So yeah, the timing up front can have a big effect on the back end, and that’s before we take into account the subsequent vacancies that may be caused by the Garcia and Uresti specials. I appreciate Sen. Garcia’s position. It’s honorable and respectful. It’s also completely impractical, and potentially very damaging. I really, really hope she reconsiders.

Why do business groups want to force sick people to go to work?

This is bad for society.

The city’s new ordinance mandating that most private businesses in Austin provide paid sick leave to employees — heralded by supporters as the most progressive labor policy in Texas when it won approval two months ago — is facing a legal challenge to prevent it from ever taking effect.

Proponents of Austin’s sick-leave rules, which are slated to begin Oct. 1, already faced the likelihood that some conservative state lawmakers would try to supersede the city’s authority by filing bills to overturn the new ordinance when the Legislature convenes again in January.

But a coalition of business organizations, including the Texas Association of Business and the National Federation of Independent Business, are aiming to render the rules toothless regardless. The group — with legal representation from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank — filed a lawsuit in Travis County state District Court on Tuesday, seeking temporary and permanent injunctions against city enforcement.

“We needed to move quickly and stop any bleeding that might occur from this ordinance,” said Jeff Moseley, chief executive of the Texas Association of Business, which is the state’s most powerful business lobbying group. “It’s overreaching (by the city government), and it’s hard-hitting to small employers.”

Work Strong Austin, an activist group that supported the ordinance, called the lawsuit frivolous and said the business groups involved in it are “seeking to undermine the democratic process and take away this basic human right and public health protection right from 223,000 working families” in the city.

The ordinance requires that most private Austin employers give each worker up to 64 hours — or eight full eight-hour workdays — of paid sick leave per year. Small businesses with 15 or fewer employees are required to meet a lower cap of 48 hours of paid sick leave per year, or six workdays.

I’m going to let Ed Sills, in his email newsletter from Wednesday, break this one down:

The public policy rationales are solid as a rock. The public health argument alone should resonate for everyone. Who wants flu victims preparing food at a restaurant because they can’t afford to sit out an illness? Who wants to sit next to someone on a bus if they have a cold?

The arguments in the lawsuit are frivolous and fatuous. TPPF is saying the ordinance violates the state’s prohibition on local minimum wage increases because paid sick leave is a form of a wage increase. That is utter nonsense.

If a benefit like paid sick leave counted toward fulfilling the minimum wage, employers right and left would pay less than $7.25 an hour and count the value of benefits they already offer toward the wage floor. Employers know they would be laughed out of court and roasted in the court of public opinion if they tried that.

The other “big idea” from TPPF is something called “substantive due process,” and therein lies a danger. Substantive due process reasoning was used by some judges in the first few decades of the 20th Century to strike down minimum wage, maximum hour and other laws. Unlike procedural due process, which guarantees fair trials and other safeguards that enable people in our legal system to make their cases, “substantive due process” was historically a card for employers to play when they didn’t like laws enacted by majorities to protect working people.

The U.S. Supreme Court occasionally recognized substantive due process, and a few examples are instructive. In 1905, the high court overturned a New York law limiting bakery employees to 60 hour a week. In 1923, the high court struck down minimum-wage laws using substantive due process analysis. In 1925, the court struck down laws banning “yellow-dog contracts” that required employees to agree not to join a labor union (this was in the pre-National Labor Relations Act days).

A changing majority on the Supreme Court during the Franklin Roosevelt era eventually flushed away substantive due process. By 1955, a unanimous court declared in Williamson v. Lee Optical of Oklahoma, “The day is gone when this Court uses the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to strike down state laws, regulatory of business and industrial conditions, because they may be unwise, improvident, or out of harmony with a particular school of thought.” The law upheld in the case was a state requirement that eyeglasses be fitted and duplicated by licensed optometrists or ophthalmologists.

The law is on the side of the paid sick leave ordinance, but the infection of the law by politics may be a different story. I would not bet my house, my car or even my fidget spinner that the Texas Supreme Court would uphold a paid sick leave ordinance. The high civil court is a haven for the business community in Texas. Moreover, Gov. Greg Abbott and elements of the Texas Legislature will take a shot at the ordinance – and potentially at ordinances that voters in San Antonio and Dallas might be considering in November – in the next legislative session.

One argument the business community will make to overturn Austin’s ordinance, and to preempt other cities from following suit, is that it’s just too hard on businesses that operate statewide to comply with different rules in different cities. (As if the more-than-statewide businesses don’t already have to do that outside Texas.) But fine, if that’s the problem, then pass a sick leave law at the state level, or even better in Congress. Sick people should be home getting better and not infecting everyone around them, so take away the economic incentive for them to drag their contagious selves to work. I do not understand the argument against that. KUT and Fox 7 Austin have more.

Reinventing Jones Plaza

Big changes coming to downtown.

Jones Plaza, the often-empty, 1.5-acre public space at the heart of Houston’s Theater District, may finally become a true people magnet courtesy of the second face-lift in its 51-year history.

This time, Houston First Corporation, which operates the plaza for the city, hopes to create an event and dining area that reflects the artful vitality of the plaza’s prime location — a place that will be welcoming day and night for area employees as well as theater patrons and downtown residents.

[…]

Officials said the redevelopment will cost about $25 million, most of which will be raised privately. The Downtown Redevelopment Authority has contributed $5 million. Houston Astros owner Jim Crane and his wife Whitney, along with the Astros Foundation, have contributed $1 million and will spearhead a capital campaign to raise the remaining funds.

With construction slated to begin next month, the project could be complete by late 2020.

Mayor Sylvester Turner called the plaza project a “game-changer” for downtown.

A major initiative of the Theater District Master Plan adopted in 2015, this redevelopment may finally solve a conundrum that has dogged the plaza from since it opened in 1967, in spite of its location next to the Alley Theatre and Jones Hall. Jones Plaza has long been like a forgotten ornament in the city’s jewel box because it was built above the district’s parking garage. Its stepped plaza design, necessary to accommodate the structure below, made access difficult for some. And it’s always been a hard place to beautify with shade trees and plants, since there’s not much soil to work with.

The site was best utilized from the late 1980s through the 1990s as the venue for Thursday night Party on the Plaza concerts that were not a particularly good fit for the surrounding fine arts venues. The Party on the Plaza brand has since been revived and relocated to Avenida Houston in front of the George R. Brown Convention Center.

I have some fond memories of those old Party on the Plaza events. Sure would be nice to find a purpose for Jones Plaza again. I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

HISD nixes charter partnership

First there was this.

Houston ISD board members adjourned late Tuesday without voting on a controversial measure to give up control over 10 low-performing schools after the meeting turned physical and police escorted members of the public — nearly all of whom opposed the plan — out of the room.

Chanting “no more sellouts” and shouting at trustees, most of the roughly 100 community members in attendance watched angrily as officers began physically pulling disruptive residents out of the room. The skirmish came after HISD Board of Trustees President Rhonda Skillern-Jones declared a recess in the middle of the meeting and ordered the room cleared due to repeated public outbursts.

If trustees choose to meet again, they likely will not return until Saturday at the earliest. Trustees typically provide at least 72 hours advance notice of any public board meeting. The vote had been expected to be narrow, with several trustees already voicing support or opposition for the proposal.

The uproar reflects the heated nature of HISD’s proposal to allow Energized For STEM Academy Inc., which already runs four in-district charter schools, to take over operations of the 10 campuses for five years. Without the agreement, HISD would likely face forced campus closures or a state takeover of the district’s locally elected school board due to its failure to improve academics at the schools.

HISD Interim Police Chief Paul Cordova said one person was arrested on a misdemeanor criminal trespass charge, one person was arrested on a charge of interfering with duties of a public servant and one person was detained but not arrested.

[…]

In the district’s first public statement since Energized For STEM Academy was named Friday as the potential partner, Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said the organization “will help our students to reach the level of achievement that we know is possible.”

“Data shows Energized for STEM Academy has successfully led students to high levels of academic achievement as well as prepared them for college and careers since first partnering with HISD 10 years ago,” Lathan said in a statement. She has not granted any interview requests in recent days.

The choice, however, faced immediate resistance. Multiple trustees said they lacked enough information to properly evaluate Energized For STEM Academy’s academic and governance history.

Several education advocates and leaders, including the Houston Federation of Teachers, also raised several questions about Energized For STEM Academy’s ethics. They’ve particularly focused on Energized For STEM Academy’s head of schools, Lois Bullock, who serves as both employee and landlord at another in-district HISD charter organization. It’s not immediately clear whether Bullock has improperly profited off the highly unusual arrangement.

All speakers at Tuesday’s school board meeting opposed the district’s plan. Many advocated for suing the state over the 2015 law that imposed sanctions. Several questioned whether Energized For STEM Academy is dedicated to special education students, noting that the organization has a disproportionately low special education population at its current schools. A few students implored trustees to maintain current operations at their schools.

See here for the background. I was going to tell you to go read Stace and Campos before getting into my own thoughts, but then this happened.

Houston ISD leaders will not turn over control of its 10 longest-struggling schools to any outside organizations, the district’s administration announced Wednesday, a decision that puts HISD at risk of forced campus closures or a state takeover of its locally elected school board.

[…]

In a statement Wednesday, HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said the district is “not bringing another partnership proposal to the board, nor will there be another meeting to consider partnerships for the 10 schools.” She said the district will continue to carry out its current plans for improving academic performance at the campuses.

Under a law passed in 2015, known as HB 1842, the Texas Education Agency must close schools or replace HISD’s school board if any of the district’s schools receive a fifth straight “improvement required” rating for poor academic performance this year. The 10 schools all risk triggering the law, and it’s unlikely all 10 will meet state academic standards this year.

With partnerships off the table, attention now will turn to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath, who has yet to announce whether any schools or districts will receive accountability rating waivers due to Hurricane Harvey. Agency officials have not said whether HISD still would be subject to sanctions if the 10 schools receive waivers that assure they are not rated “improvement required” this year.

“Any and all decisions by Commissioner Morath regarding accountability exemptions or waivers for campuses affected by Hurricane Harvey will be announced in June,” TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said in a statement.

[…]

In interviews prior to Tuesday’s scheduled vote, trustees Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, Sue Deigaard and Anne Sung said they were uncomfortable with the amount of information and time they had to vet Energized For STEM Academy. Two other board members, [Sergio] Lira and Jolanda Jones, said Wednesday that they would vote against charter partnership agreements. Trustee Elizabeth Santos had earlier said she opposed giving control of schools to charter organizations.

Many of the most vocal community members involved in the partnership debate have advocated litigation over HB 1842. To date, only one HISD trustee, Jones, has voiced support for a lawsuit. Board members have received legal advice surrounding potential litigation, though they’ve been reluctant to divulge details of those conversations because they took place in closed session.

“Suing TEA is more of a longshot at being successful,” Lira said. “From a historical precedent, there have been very few successful cases when the district files against TEA.”

The announcement that HISD would not pursue partnerships came about two hours after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he supports “HISD simply standing down.” Turner, who hinted at getting involved in partnership plans but ultimately opted against it, said he plans to contact Morath to ask for a one-year waiver.

I’m going to say the same thing I would have said if the Energized for STEM proposal had passed: I sure hope this works. It’s certainly possible that Energized for STEM could have been a successful partner, but it’s equally certain that there was precious little time to consider the idea, and not much community input. The community spoke loudly that they didn’t want that arrangement, and now they have gotten what they wanted. They had ample reason to not like that option, and to not give the HISD leadership the benefit of the doubt. Now we all need to send that same message to the Legislature, because that’s where this mess got started. The Press has more.

Paxton versus Miller on barbecue

Just embrace the fact that this is the world we live in.

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

A nonbinding opinion issued Monday by Attorney General Ken Paxton continues a battle between lawmakers, restaurants and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller over regulation of scales used to measure food.

Under state law, roughly 17,725 retailers, including grocery store chains, airlines, coffee houses, laundries and brisket purveyors, are required to use scales to measure what they sell to the public. Those scales are also supposed to be registered with the state so inspectors can ensure that they’re not tipped in the seller’s favor.

A law passed during last year’s legislative session, however, carved out exemptions for scales “exclusively used to weigh food sold for immediate consumption,” meaning places such as yogurt shops and barbecue joints won’t have to get their scales registered.

Miller called the law “horse hockey.”

[…]

Miller’s agency, which was charged with verifying the accuracy of the retailers’ scales, decided that businesses would only be exempt from regulation if they weighed foods to be eaten “on the premises.” But the barbecue bill’s authors argued that in determining how to implement the law, Miller’s agency misinterpreted its intent. So Miller asked Paxton for a written opinion.

Paxton sided with the barbecue joints in his opinion Monday, saying Miller’s agency went too far.

See here for the background. As I said before and as I may never say again, I think Miller had the better argument, but at least we know Ken Paxton remains consistent about siding with the moneyed interests whenever the opportunity presents itself. But who cares about any of that? This calls for a song:

Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear some brisket calling my name.

Abbott wants to send Farenthold a bill for the CD27 special election

Good luck with that.

Blake Farenthold

Gov. Greg Abbott is demanding that former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold “cover all costs” of the special election to fill his seat using the $84,000 the Corpus Christi Republican used to settle a sexual harassment claim years ago.

Farenthold, who abruptly resigned earlier this month, had promised to pay back the $84,000 — which came out of a taxpayer-funded account — after that settlement was made public last year but hasn’t so far.

In a letter to Farenthold on Wednesday, Abbott said the former congressman should return the money to taxpayers by funding the June 30 special election to finish his term.

“While you have publicly offered to reimburse the $84,000 in taxpayer funds you wrongly used to settle a sexual harassment claim, there is no legal recourse requiring you to give that money back to Congress,” Abbott wrote. “I am urging you to give those funds back to the counties in your district to cover the costs of the June 30, 2018, special election.”

“This seat must be filled, and the counties and taxpayers in the 27th Congressional District should not again pay the price for your actions,” Abbott added. He requested a response from Farenthold by May 2.

See here and here for the background. We all understand that this is just a stunt by Abbott, right? He has no more leverage over Farenthold than the Office of Congressional Ethics does at this point. Farenthold was never afflicted with a sense of shame before, and there’s no reason to think he will be afflicted by it going forward. It’s a feel-good maneuver by Abbott, and honestly I can’t blame him for it – if Wendy Davis were Governor today, she might well have sent a similar letter – but that’s all it is. That letter will have as much effect on Faranthold’s actions as any of my blog posts have had.

Texas blog roundup for the week of April 23

The Texas Progressive Alliance salutes the students who walked out in protest of gun violence as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

SCOTUS hears the redistricting arguments

It’s in their hands now.

Much of the argument concerned the issue of whether the case was properly before the justices at all.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the Federal District Court for the Western District of Texas, in San Antonio, ruled that a congressional district including Corpus Christi denied Hispanic voters “their opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.” The district court also rejected a second congressional district stretching from San Antonio to Austin, saying that race had been the primary factor in drawing it.

In a separate decision, the district court found similar flaws in several state legislative districts.

But the court did not issue an injunction compelling the state to do anything, and only instructed Texas officials to promptly advise it about whether they would try to draw new maps.

[…]

The question for the justices, [Allison J. Riggs, a lawyer for the challengers] said, was, “Did the Legislature adopt the interim plan for race-neutral reasons, or did it use the adoption of that interim plan as a mask for the discriminatory intent that had manifested itself just two years ago?”

Later in the argument, she answered her own question. “They wanted to end the litigation,” she said, “by maintaining the discrimination against black and Latino voters, muffling their growing political voice in a state where black and Latino voters’ population is exploding.”

See here for the previous update. I’ll be honest, I’m a little unclear as to what exactly SCOTUS may be ruling on. The DMN has the most concise summary of that:

If the justices side with the state:
The lower court’s ruling could be vacated and Texas’ electoral maps would stay the same until they are next redrawn in 2021.

A victory for the state would also benefit Republican lawmakers, who would start their next redistricting session with more districts that are favorable to Anglo voters, who tend to vote Republican. That would slow the growth of districts with majority minority populations, which tend to vote Democrat, and whose numbers are fueling the state’s population growth.

If the court sides with the map’s challengers:
The case would be sent back to the San Antonio court, which would start hearings on how to redraw new maps that could also be appealed to the Supreme Court. Changing the challenged districts could have a ripple effect on surrounding districts and lead to more Democrats being elected.

A victory for them could spell deeper trouble for Texas. The San Antonio court could consider whether to place the state back under federal supervision for changes made to its election laws and maps. Texas and several other states with a history of discrimination were under “pre-clearance” — a protection under the Voting Rights Act for minorities who were historically disenfranchised — until a Supreme Court ruling in 2013.

If the justices rule it’s out of their jurisdiction:
The Supreme Court could send the case back to San Antonio because — despite the state’s argument that the order is in essence an injunction — the court hasn’t blocked the use of the current maps yet. Then the case could play out in much the same way as if the Supreme Court had sided with maps’ challengers, and the state could again appeal to the Supreme Court if the court formally blocks the maps.

In that latter case, I presume we[‘d go through the motions of getting a final ruling from the lower court, then going back to SCOTUS since surely there would be another appeal. From the way the hearing went it sounds like at least some of the justices think now is not the time for them to get involved, so be prepared for this to not be over yet. Whatever it is they do, they’ll do it by the summertime, so at least we won’t have to wait that long. CNN, NBC, SCOTUSBlog, Justin Levitt, the WaPo, and the Chron have more.

Special election set in CD27

Here we go.

Blake Farenthold

Gov. Greg Abbott has called a June 30 special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi.

The candidate filing deadline is Friday, and early voting will run from June 13-26, according to the governor’s proclamation.

[…]

Democratic and Republican runoffs are currently underway in the race to represent the district for a full term starting in January 2019. Raul “Roy” Barrera and Eric Holguin are running for the Democratic nomination, while Bech Bruun and Michael Cloud are competing for the Republican nod. The runoffs are May 22.

See here for the background, and here for the governor’s press release. Yes, that really is this Friday, as in two days from today, for the filing deadline. My guess is that the four candidates currently in the primary runoffs will file for this, with maybe a stray or two joining in. I would also guess that unless the loser of the Democratic primary runoff subsequently drops out, there won’t be much national attention paid to this race, not because it’s less winnable than the other special elections but because there won’t be a single candidate to focus on.

Anyway. Prior to this, Abbott had gotten an okey dokey from Ken Paxton to issue this proclamation in the first place.

Gov. Greg Abbott got the go-ahead Monday from Attorney General Ken Paxton to suspend state law so the governor can call a special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, as soon as possible.

Responding to a request from Abbott submitted Thursday, Paxton issued a nonbinding opinion saying a court would agree Abbott could set aside the election rules under a part of Texas law that lets the governor suspend certain statutes if they interfere with disaster recovery. Abbott said last week he wanted Farenthold’s former constituents to have new representation “as quickly as possible” because the Coastal Bend-area’s Congressional District 27 is still reeling from Hurricane Harvey.

“If the Governor determines the situation in Congressional District 27 constitutes an emergency warranting a special election before November 6, 2018, a court would likely conclude that section 41.0011 of the Election Code authorizes calling an expedited special election to fill the vacancy in that district,” Paxton wrote.

Paxton’s nonbinding opinion paves the way for Abbott to work around state and federal laws that he said are in conflict and make it “practically impossible to hold an emergency special election … before the end of September.” The governor’s office did not immediately say what he planned to do in light of Paxton’s opinion.

I was going to post that yesterday, but there were too many other things, and I figured I’d be okay waiting another day. Life comes at you fast, obviously. I suppose someone could file a lawsuit if they objected to this – maybe an overseas voter who might not have enough time to participate? I dunno – but speaking as a non-lawyer, this seems like the right call. The public interest is served by having the election sooner rather than later. The Chron has more.

Ellis puts up money for city’s bike projects

I like this plan.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis on Monday announced a one-year $10 million commitment to bicycling projects in Houston, in the hopes of jump-starting the city’s transformation into a bike-friendly place.

“Working together, we can better leverage scarce resources from governmental entities and the private sector and share our collective expertise to serve the people in this region,” Ellis said.

A year after Houston leaders approved an ambitious plan for hundreds of miles of protected, safe bike trails, little progress has been made, something cycling supporters said Ellis’ pledge will change. Officials estimated the money would build at least 50 miles of protected bike lanes considered crucial to providing usable bike access to neighborhoods and jobs.

“​This really gives us a boost we needed,” Houston Planning Director Patrick Walsh said.

The money, along with city funds from its capital improvement plan, will go toward repainting bike lanes, developing safer intersections and other improvements aimed at making riding a bike in Houston easier and safer.

[…]

Projects will be chosen for their ability to start soon. Ellis stressed officials have one year to spend the money he committed, and any unspent funds will return to other priorities in his precinct.

[Mayor Sylvester] Turner said the funding, along with $1.1 million the city plans to spend in each of the next five years, will act as seed money for upcoming projects, including planned bike lanes along Austin and Caroline and new space for cyclists along Hardy and Elysian on the city’s Near Northside.

See here for some background. This is about putting up some money for projects that are already in the pipeline but have been delayed for a variety of reasons. Commissioner Ellis is an avid cyclist himself, so it’s not a surprise to see him make this a priority. Much of his precinct intersects with the city, and as you know I’m delighted to see some county investment in the not-unincorporated territories. I hope the city takes full advantage of this.

Today is Texas redistricting day at SCOTUS

The Chron sets the table.

The nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will take their seats Tuesday morning to hear a case that could remake the political map of Texas.

Hidden in the legalese of “interlocutory injunctions” and “statutory defects” is this simple question for the justices to dissect: Did the Republican-led state Legislature purposely draw its last legislative and congressional boundaries to subvert the voting power of Latino and African-American voters?

The answer, expected by June, could influence the racial and partisan makeup of the state’s political districts, culminating a long, high-stakes legal battle that has the potential to turn Texas a little more blue.

A possible finding of voting rights violations also could force the Lone Star State back under federal supervision for future election disputes, a civil rights remedy associated with the state’s segregationist past. Texas only got removed from federal preclearance requirements in 2013. Restrictions requiring strict federal scrutiny of all elections had been in place since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“The Texas case thus could be in a position to break new ground and will be closely watched for that reason,” said legal court analyst Michael Li, writing for the New York University Law School Brennan School of Justice.

See here for the last update. While the Chron story mostly covers familiar ground, it does note that thanks to other cases currently being considered by SCOTUS, the state is probably not going to use the “it was just a partisan matter” defense. Michael Li discusses that in this Q&A he did with the Observer:

What should we know about the other two redistricting cases before the Supreme Court?

In Texas, the claims are about racial fairness, but in the other two cases — in Wisconsin and Maryland — the claims are about partisan gerrymanders.

The Supreme Court has never put partisan gerrymandering out of bounds in the way it has racial gerrymandering, which has left a really big loophole for states to claim they’re only discriminating based on partisanship. It’s become this sort of strange defense you see playing out in states like Texas, where lawmakers essentially argue they’re discriminating against Democrats and not African Americans. That’s because it’s perfectly OK to discriminate against Democrats when you draw the lines. But if [the court] limits partisan gerrymandering, it could shut down the excuse that a lot of places in the South, including Texas, have used.

The two cases being argued on Tuesday are not the Texas maps’ first trip to the Supreme Court. They were also before the Court in 2012, which triggered a bit of a judicial fire drill at the time.

What the state will probably argue is that the current map, which was adopted in 2013, is legal and needs no changes made. Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress breaks that down.

Texas initially drew its gerrymandered maps in 2011, before the Supreme Court struck down much of the Voting Rights Act. Under the fully armed and operational Act, any new Texas voting law had to be submitted to federal officials in Washington, DC for “preclearance” before it could take effect, and a federal court in DC ultimately concluded that the state’s maps were not legal.

Meanwhile, the 2012 election was drawing closer and closer, and Texas still did not have any valid maps it could use to conduct that election.

With this deadline drawing nigh, a federal district court drew its own maps that Texas could use for 2012, but the Supreme Court vacated those maps. In an ominous statement that plays a starring role in Texas’ Perez brief, the Supreme Court explained that “redistricting is ‘primarily the duty and responsibility of the State.’” The district court’s maps, at least according to the justices, needed to be reconsidered because they may not have shown sufficient deference to state lawmakers.

“A district court,” the Supreme Court concluded, “should take guidance from the State’s recently enacted plan in drafting an interim plan.” Thus, even when state lawmakers draw legally dubious maps for the very purpose of giving some voters more power than others, courts should be reluctant to make sweeping changes to those maps.

In fairness, this was not an especially novel holding. The Court proclaimed in 1975that “reapportionment is primarily the duty and responsibility of the State.” But such a holding takes on chilling implications when a state legislature is actively trying to rig elections. Should courts really defer to lawmakers who are a straight up trying to undercut democracy?

It’s likely that a majority of the Supreme Court’s answer to this question in Perezwill be an emphatic “yes!” and that the Court will effectively allow much of Texas’ gerrymander to endure without any meaningful judicial review at all.

After the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision striking down the district court’s maps, the case went back down to the district court with instructions to try again. By this point, it was late January. Texas still had no valid maps, and a primary election was looming. Candidates had no idea where to campaign. Incumbents did not know who their constituents would be.

The result was a rushed, March 2012 order which laid out interim maps that closely resembled the maps drawn by the state legislature. “This interim map is not a final ruling on the merits of any claims asserted by the Plaintiffs in this case or any of the other cases consolidated with this case,” the court warned when it handed down the hastily drawn maps. Nevertheless, the court understood “the need to have the primaries as soon as possible, and the resulting need for the Court to produce an interim map with sufficient time to allow officials to implement the map.”

With few good options, the district court allowed several of Texas’ districts to remain unchanged, even though there were serious concerns that those districts were racial gerrymanders.

Flash forward to 2018, and the Perez cases involve several of these unchanged districts that the district court later held to be illegally gerrymandered. But there’s a catch! The Texas legislature, seeing a potential opportunity to shut down this litigation altogether, took the district court’s inadequately scrutinized, rush-job maps, and wrote them into state law in 2013. They now claim that these maps are immune from judicial review because they were drawn by a court.

“There are few things a legislature can do to avoid protracted litigation over its redistricting legislation,” Texas claims in its brief. “But if the nearly inevitable litigation comes to pass, one would have thought there was one reasonably safe course available to bring it to an end—namely, enacting the three-judge court’s remedial redistricting plan as the legislature’s own.”

It’s a stunning, arrogant claim. The only reason why the district court blessed its interim maps is because it felt it had no choice — a deadline was looming, and the Supreme Court left it with little time to act and an order to defer to the state legislature’s maps whenever possible. The districts at issue in Tuesday’s oral argument never received meaningful judicial scrutiny before they were whisked into action as a matter of necessity.

And yet, it is highly likely that a majority of the Court will agree with Texas’ claim that its maps are immune from review. Though the district court struck down portions of the Texas maps (again), the Supreme Court voted along party lines to reinstate those maps for the 2018 election last September.

One way or the other, we ought to have a clearer idea of what is and is not allowed when maps are drawn. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and Travis County Tax Assessor Bruce Elfant, in this Statesman op-ed, explain their motivation for pursuing this litigation, and the Trib has more.

Lawsuit against Dallas County Democratic candidates dismissed

Good.

A judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit that would have removed more than 80 Democrats from the November general election ballot, putting to rest a controversy that threatened to toss Dallas County elections into chaos.

State District Judge Eric Moyé issued an order tossing out Dallas County Republican Party Chairwoman Missy Shorey’s lawsuit against Democratic Party Chairwoman Carol Donovan and 127 Democrats originally listed on the March 6 primary election ballot. After the primary, the names of the candidates that were in jeopardy dwindled to 82.

The lawsuit contended that Donovan did not sign the candidate applications of 127 Democrats before they were forwarded to the Texas Secretary of State’s office. That signature, according the lawsuit, was needed in order to certify the candidates for the election.

But Moyé on Monday sided with the defense and dismissed the claims. In a hearing Friday a team of lawyers, led by Randy Johnston, argued that Shorey did not have standing to bring the suit. They also said Donovan isn’t required by law to sign candidate petitions and that the matter is moot because the election is already underway.

[…]

Now Moyé will determine if the GOP will be on the hook for legal fees. About 16 Democrats plus the local party retained lawyers.

“The Republican Party must now pay the attorney’s fees incurred by the Dallas County Democratic Party for having to defend a lawsuit that has no basis in law or fact,” according to a news release from Dallas County Democrats.

See here, here, and here for the background. This lawsuit always seemed spurious, but you never can tell. It’s possible there could be an appeal – the lawyer for the Dallas County GOP said they were reviewing the decision and deciding on their next step – but that seems like an even longer longshot. Hopefully, this is the end of it, and hopefully the matter of “signing” the affidavit can be clarified in the next Legislature so as to avoid this kind of silliness going forward. The Trib has more.

HISD considers charter partnership

They’ve got to do something to keep the TEA at bay.

Energized For STEM Academy Inc., an organization run by NAACP Houston Branch President James Douglas and former Houston ISD trustee Paula Harris, has been selected as the potential partner to run 10 long-struggling HISD schools at risk of triggering major state sanctions this year.

HISD trustees are scheduled to vote Tuesday on negotiating and executing a contract with Energized For STEM Academy, which already runs seven in-district charter schools in HISD, to take over operations of the 10 schools ahead of the 2018-19 school year, according to a public meeting notice posted Friday. District officials haven’t released terms of a contract, but it’s expected Energized For STEM Academy would be responsible for hiring, governance and operations at each school.

District officials have recommended temporarily surrendering control over the 10 schools as part of an effort to stave off sanctions due to chronically low academic performance. In exchange for relinquishing control, HISD would get a two-year reprieve from a potential state takeover of the district’s locally elected school board or forced campus closures.

[…]

Douglas, who has previously served as president of Texas Southern University and helped form Energized For STEM Academy’s governing board in 2008, said he’s been in discussion with HISD leaders about the arrangement for three weeks. A contract hasn’t been drawn up, and many details will be worked out in the coming days ahead of an April 30 deadline to submit partnership plans to the Texas Education Agency, Douglas said.

“We know we have to do in a few days what normally would take months to do,” Douglas said. “But that’s what has been handed to us, and that’s what we have to deal with. We can’t waste time worrying about what we need.”

There’s not a lot to go on here, but then it’s not like there are a ton of other great options out there. Reaction is mixed, as you might expect.

A long-awaited proposal from Houston ISD to temporarily surrender control over 10 of its lowest-performing schools is facing mixed reviews ahead of a crucial vote Tuesday.

Case in point: the president of Houston’s largest teachers union, Zeph Capo, blasted the proposal to allow Energized For STEM Academy to run all 10 schools as ill-conceived and hastily arranged, saying he has “no confidence that this is in the best interest of children.” Meanwhile, Board of Trustees President Rhonda Skillern-Jones defended the arrangement as “the best choice of all the bad choices” available to HISD, which faces forced campus closures or a state takeover of its locally elected school board without a partnership.

[…]

Energized For STEM Academy currently operates middle and high schools with roughly 1,000 students combined. The campuses are overseen by Lois Bullock, who has operated in-district HISD charters since 1998. Its two high schools had graduation rates, state standardized test scores and SAT scores that were well above HISD averages in 2016-17. However, one of its middle schools was rated “improvement required” by the state in 2014 and 2016.

Douglas and Bullock oversee three additional in-district HISD charter schools with a similar name, Energized For Excellence Academy, but those campuses have a different governing board.

Capo, who heads the Houston Federation of Teachers, said he has deep concerns about Energized For STEM Academy’s ability to improve academic performance after conducting initial research. He questioned how an organization educating about 1,000 students can oversee an additional 6,000-plus students.

“What evidence do we have that says they can actually do the job?” Capo said.

Capo added that residents and local education advocates, including his union, haven’t had enough time to vet Energized For STEM Academy for possible improper ties to for-profit entities or other conflicts of interest. The organization has filed annual 990 tax forms, which detail many spending patterns, but they don’t post annual financial audits or governing board meeting minutes on their website.

“(Trustees) need to grow a backbone and pay deep, close attention to what’s happening before they vote,” Capo said. “There are far too many questions left unanswered before they vote on Tuesday.”

Skillern-Jones said she supports forming partnerships if it means keeping local control and avoiding campus closures, which she called “devastating” to neighborhoods that are predominately black and Hispanic. She said her constituents, who make up six of the 10 schools, wanted a partner with local ties. The only other organization under consideration for a partnership, Generation Schools Network, is based in New York.

“I’m still looking through all the information, but I know they have a good track record in the district for 20 years, which says to me that we’ve kept them around for a reason,” Skillern-Jones said.

See here for the last update. I get Zeph Capo’s concerns – this is all happening very fast, with not much public input, and while Energized For STEM seems to have a decent track record this is asking a lot from them with no guarantee that their methods will translate or scale to a larger group of students. On the other hand, the remaining options are to find a different charter operator, to close the affected schools and reconstitute them as smaller institutions (which is really unpopular with the affected communities), and hope for the best with this year’s STAAR results. Some activists are calling for HISD to sue the TEA; I’m not qualified to assess the merits of such a strategy, but if it works it would at least buy some time. Energized For STEM may well be the best of a bad lot, but that’s not the same as being good.

CD07 candidate forum

Happening tomorrow, at the Trini Mendenhall Community Center, 1414 Wirt Road, Houston, Texas 77055, from 6:15 to 8:45. My guess, as this is the way these things tend to go, is that there will be some mix-and-mingle time with the candidates up front, with the main event to follow. I’m just guessing, you might want to post something on the Facebook event page if you need to know. The event moderator is an old friend and college classmate of mine, Patrick Pringle. Should be a good event, so if you voted for one of the other candidates in March and need to figure out who deserves your vote in May, this is a good chance to do that.

April 2018 campaign finance reports: Congress

Here are the Q2 finance reports, here are the Q3 finance reports, here are the January 2018 finance reports, and here’s the FEC summary page for Democratic Congressional candidates in Texas. Let’s get to it.

Todd Litton – CD02

Lori Burch – CD03
Sam Johnson – CD03

Jana Sanchez – CD06
Ruby Faye Wooldridge – CD06

Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Laura Moser – CD07

Mike Siegel – CD10
Tawana Cadien – CD10

Joseph Kopser – CD21
Mary Wilson – CD21

Letitia Plummer – CD22
Sri Kulkarni – CD22

Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Rick Trevino – CD23

Jan McDowell – CD24

Christopher Perri – CD25
Julie Oliver – CD25

MJ Hegar – CD31
Christine Mann – CD31

Colin Allred – CD32
Lillian Salerno – CD32

Dayna Steele – CD36


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
02    Litton          546,503  304,139        0   242,363

03    Burch           104,700  116,639   25,649    14,085
03    Johnson          62,473   59,143    3,100     6,490

06    Sanchez         241,893  188,313        0    56,456
06    Woolridge        75,440   45,016   15,000    47,708    

07    Fletcher      1,261,314  874,619        0   391,899
07    Moser         1,067,837  975,659        0    92,177

10    Siegel           80,319   65,496    5,000    19,823
10    Cadien            

21    Kopser        1,100,451  846,895   25,000   278,556
21    Wilson           44,772   51,041   26,653    20,384

22    Plummer         108,732   99,153        0     9,578
22    Kulkarni        178,925  158,369   35,510    56,067

23    Ortiz Jones   1,025,194  703,481        0   321,713
23    Trevino          16,892   20,416    3,285     3,915

24    McDowell         33,452   16,100        0    17,470

25    Perri           139,016  133,443   24,890    30,603
25    Oliver           78,841   37,812    3,125    40,860

31    Hegar           458,085  316,854        0   141,240
31    Mann             56,814   58,856    2,276         0

32    Allred          828,565  608,938   25,000   219,626
32    Salerno         596,406  439,384        0   157,022

36    Steele          294,891  216,030    1,231    80,061

For comparison purposes, here’s what the 2008 cycle fundraising numbers looked like for Texas Democrats. Remember, those numbers are all the way through November, and nearly everyone in the top part of the list was an incumbent. Daily Kos has some of the same numbers I have – they picked a slightly different set of races to focus on – as well as the comparable totals for Republicans. Note that in several races, at least one Democratic candidate has outraised the Republican competition, either overall or in Q1 2018. This is yet another way of saying we’ve never seen anything like this cycle before.

As of this writing, Tawana Cadien had not filed her Q1 report. Christine Mann’s report showed a negative cash balance; I have chosen to represent that as a loan owed by the campaign. Everything else is up to date.

I continue to be blown away by the amount of money raised by these candidates. Already there are five who have exceeded one million dollars raised – Alex Triantaphyllis, who did not make the runoff in CD07, had topped the $1 million mark as of March – with Colin Allred sure to follow, and Todd Litton and MJ Hegar on track if Hegar wins her runoff. In some ways, I’m most impressed by the almost $300K raised by Dayna Steele, who has the advantage of being a well-known radio DJ and the disadvantage of running in a 70%+ Trump district. When was the last time you saw a non-self-funder do that? I’ll be very interested to see how the eventual nominees in the districts that are lower on the national priority lists do going forward. How can you ignore a CD06 or a CD22 if the candidates there keep raking it in? It will also be interesting to see what happens in CD21 going forward if the runoff winner is not big raiser Joseph Kopser but Mary Wilson instead. Does she inherit the effort that had been earmarked for CD21, or do those resources get deployed elsewhere, not necessarily in Texas?

Republican candidates have been raising a lot of money as well, and national groups are pouring in more, with CDs 07 and 23 their targets so far. We may see more districts added to their must-protect list, or they may make a decision to cut back in some places to try to save others. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

Early voting for the May 5 elections begins today

From the inbox:

EARLY VOTING BEGINS FOR HOUSTON COUNCIL DISTRICT K 

Local jurisdictions, including schools, emergency, and utility districts, also holding May 5 Elections

Houston, TX –Early Voting for the May 5, 2018 City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election begins Monday, April 23rd.  The Early Voting period for this election cycle runs thru Tuesday, May 1st.

In Harris County, four sites will be available for 86,000 District K registered voters to cast a ballot in person before Election Day.  The Early Voting locations include, the Harris County Administrative Bldg. (1001 Preston, 4th  Floor), Fiesta Mart (8130 Kirby Dr.), Hiram Clarke Multi-Service Center  (3810 W. Fuqua St.), and Platou Community Center (11655 Chimney Rock Rd.).

“The Harris County Early Voting locations are only available to individuals who are registered to vote in Harris County within Houston’s Council District K,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, the chief election officer of the County. The hours of operation for the Harris County Early Voting sites are as follows:

·         April 23 – 27: 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
·         April 28: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
·         April 29: 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
·         April 30 – May 1: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

The majority of Houston Council District K is located between Brays Bayou and Almeda in Southwest Harris County.  However, a portion of District K which comprises a fifth of the electorate is located in Fort Bend County.  District K registered voters residing in Fort Bend County must contact the Fort Bend County Election Office for information regarding the May 5th Election.

Aside from the City of Houston election, over 70 political entities in Harris County, including school, emergency, and utility districts, are conducting an election on May 5th.

“While my office is only conducting the City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election, all Harris County registered voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com to determine if they reside in one of the 70 jurisdictions that are holding an election on May 5th,” informed Stanart.

For more information about the May 5th City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election and the May 22nd Democratic and Republican Primary Runoff Elections voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.  Voters may also visit the website to determine if theyare eligible to vote in an upcoming election or review the list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the polls.

You can see the map and schedule for Harris County, which is to say District K, here. Fort Bend County voters, including those in District K, you can find your early voting information here.

The District K special election is the only election being conducted by the Harris County Clerk. There are some local elections being held in Harris County, including Deer Park ISD and Galena Park municipal elections. There’s just one race for Deer Park ISD, and you can find information about that here, including a nice profile of candidate Monique Rodriguez, who has the endorsement of both the Harris County AFL-CIO and the Area 5 Democrats. For Galena Park, that information can be found here. I know nothing about those candidates.

A little farther out, the city of Pearland and Pearland ISD have regularly scheduled elections. Here’s the information for the city of Pearland and for Pearland ISD. These elections are being conducted by the Brazoria County Clerk, so early voting information for each can be found here. One candidate in each race has been Texas Democratic Party: Dalia Kasseb for Pearland City Council Position 4 – she fell short in a runoff for Council last year – and Daniel Hernandez for Pearland ISD School Board Trustee Position 4. There are also elections in Friendswood – a list of candidates there and in Pearland is here – but as with Galena Park I know nothing about any of them.

There are other elections around the state, as well as the special election in HD13 featuring Cecil Webster. I suggest you check with your county clerk or elections administrator if you’re not sure if there’s a reason for you to vote. Hot on the heels of this are the primary runoffs, on May 22, so if you’re not voting now you’ll be able to soon.

Endorsement watch: District K special election

The Chron makes its choice in the District K special election.

Martha Castex Tatum

Larry Blackmon, 68, has spent decades serving on various boards and advisory committees under the leadership of three Houston mayors. Martha Castex-Tatum, 48, is the director of constituent services in the late Councilman Green’s office. Carl David Evans, 63, works for an accounting firm and serves as the president of a super neighborhood group. Pat Frazier, 58, is a politically active educator who ran for this office in 2011 and served on Mayor Sylvester Turner’s transition team. Anthony Freddie, 55, spent almost 30 years working in municipal government, including stints as an assistant to Mayor Lee Brown’s chief of staff and chairman of the Super Neighborhood Alliance committee. Elisabeth Johnson, 32, is a Texas Southern University graduate student who’s about to graduate with a master’s degree in public administration. Gerry Vander-Lyn, 68, is an accounting firm records management worker who’s been involved in Republican politics for at least 50 years.

Two candidates didn’t meet with the editorial board. Lawrence McGaffie, 30, is a disabled Army veteran who founded a nonprofit encouraging young people in low-income neighborhoods to become community leaders. Aisha Savoy, 40, works in the city’s floodplain management office.

Castex-Tatum and Frazier are the stand-out candidates. Both of them have deep roots in the area, and they’re passionately familiar with the district. But Castex-Tatum’s breadth of experience makes her the better candidate for City Council.

As a top level aide to Green, Castex-Tatum can hit the ground running. Nobody will need to brief her on any of the arcane issues and myriad capital improvement projects Green worked on until his untimely death. Unlike any of the other candidates in this race, she already commands a detailed knowledge not only of what’s happening in the district but also what city government is doing about it. For example, while other candidates offered our editorial board only vague notions about tackling flooding problems, Castex-Tatum specifically cited how improvements to a parking lot in the district made it more permeable for soaking up floodwaters.

What’s more, Castex-Tatum will bring to the council table a unique credential: She’s already served on a city council. She not only earned a master’s degree in public administration at Texas State University in San Marcos, she also unseated a 12-year incumbent to become the first African-American woman elected to the San Marcos City Council.

As a reminder, here are all the interviews I did for this race:

Anthony Freddie
Lawrence McGaffie
Martha Castex-Tatum
Larry Blackmon
Elisabeth Johnson
Pat Frazier
Aisha Savoy

Early voting begins today. This feels like a single-digit-turnout kind of race, which means that if you live in the district your vote really counts. Don’t miss your chance to make it.

Weekend link dump for April 22

If the words “Eurovision in space” fill your heart with glee, then this will be of interest to you.

“A.M.I.’s thirty-thousand-dollar payment to Sajudin appears to be the third instance of Trump associates paying to suppress embarrassing stories about the candidate during the 2016 Presidential race.”

“In a move that is equal parts activism, investigative journalism, and performance art, and is rooted in one strange man’s performative loyalty to the least lovable franchise in baseball, Marlins Man apparently flew to the British Virgin Islands and sought the location of the corporate home of the Miami Marlins, to discover what he could about his team’s foreign citizenship.”

That Second City TV reunion looks good.

This is the best Twitter thread about a stolen office lunch you’ll ever read.

RIP, R. Lee Ermey, actor best known for his role as the gunnery sergeant in Full Metal Jacket.

RIP, Art Bell, AM radio pioneer and “late night chaplain to America’s crackpots”.

“However, I am unaware of anybody who has taken a serious look at Trump’s business who doesn’t believe that there is a high likelihood of rampant criminality.”

“Companies and firms who used to recruit from presidential administrations and brag when they were successful in poaching an aide are making the calculation that the risks of bringing on a Trump administration official outweigh the rewards, according to interviews with 10 current and former administration officials, top recruiters, and lobbyists who did not want to be named to talk candidly.”

RIP, Harry Anderson, magician and comedian who starred on TV’s Night Court.

Sean Hannity sure spent a lot of time defending Michael Cohen without ever disclosing that Cohen was his own attorney.

I’d never heard of the Shorty Awards before now. I’m guessing Adam Pally wishes he never had.

RIP, Hal Greer, basketball Hall of Famer and the alltime leading scorer for the Philadelphia 76ers.

RIP, Carl Kasell, NPR broadcaster and scorekeeper emeritus from Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

“The truth is that Comey is once again injecting himself into an election cycle. This time he could end up inadvertently helping Democrats in their fight to win control of Congress in November. But it’s just as possible he will drive conservative as well as liberal turnout, and thereby help Republicans. It’s Comey’s law of unanticipated political consequences. Either he hasn’t learned they are inevitable, or he doesn’t care.”

We should remember Larry Doby as much as we remember Jackie Robinson.

RIP, Erin Popovich, wife of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

What Fox News employees think of l’affaire Hannity.

Interview with Aisha Savoy

Aisha Savoy

As you know, I have published a series of interviews with candidates in the special election for Houston City Council District K, to fill the vacancy left by the untimely death of CM Larry Green. As you also know, sometimes when I am done with these I hear from a candidate that I had not heard from earlier, and when that happens I do my best to accommodate them. Such is the case here with Aisha Savoy, who reached out to me later in the week. Savoy is a first-time candidate and graduate of Texas Southern. She is an employee of the city of Houston in the Public Works department, in Flood Plain Management. She told me she has a campaign Facebook page, but I have been unable to find it – if I get any further information about that, I’ll update this post. (UPDATE: Here’s the campaign Facebook page.) In the meantime, here’s the interview:

PREVIOUSLY:

Anthony Freddie
Lawrence McGaffie
Martha Castex-Tatum
Larry Blackmon
Elisabeth Johnson
Pat Frazier

I will have some interviews with primary runoff candidates next.

Houston Youth Walkout

Good work, y’all.

Chanting for gun-law reform and reduced firearm violence, an estimated 2,000-plus students marched to City Hall Friday morning as part of nationwide school walkouts.

The Houston Youth Walkout, believed to be the largest local out-of-class gathering to mark the April 20 protests, attracted students from across the region for a 1.2-mile march. They joined thousands of students from Greater Houston who demonstrated at their schools Friday morning, advocating for changes to gun laws and honoring victims of gun violence.

“To see so many students from different high schools come together brought tears to my eyes,” said Elena Margolin, a march organizer and senior at Houston ISD’s High School For The Performing And Visual Arts. “We realize we’re all in it together and all fighting for the same cause.”

School districts across the area prepared for demonstrations Friday, with many campus principals coordinating plans with students. They sought to balance free-speech rights with student safety and orderly continuation of classes.

Several demonstrations remained indoors, with students leading assemblies or rallies in gymnasiums, while others stayed confined to school grounds.

In recent days, students and campus principals across the region have been coordinating walkout events, as school districts try to minmize disruptions and safety concerns associated with walkouts. Several districts said they had empowered principals to allow events on campus grounds, encouraging them to speak with student organizers in advance.

See here for the group’s webpage, and here for their Instagram feed. There were similar events elsewhere in the state – see the Trib and the Rivard Report for other stories. April 20 was the 19th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, in case you were wondering what significance there was to the date. I appreciate the approach that school administrators took to this – no one appears to have overreacted in some ridiculous way – and hope that’s a model for events like this going forward. Next up, registering and voting for candidates that will listen to what these students are saying, and against those who won’t. Keep it going, kids.

Testimony ends in Dallas County “oppressed white voters” trial

It’ll be awhile before we have a verdict.

Testimony ended Thursday in the landmark redistricting case over whether Dallas County discriminates against white voters.

The four-day trial — Ann Harding vs. Dallas County — featured analysis by local and national redistricting experts and video of two raucous county Commissioners Court meetings.

U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater will wade through the evidence and issue a ruling. That could take months because the judge will receive 50-page closing arguments from lawyers on both sides and hear final oral arguments in late May or early June.

The lawsuit, filed in 2015, contends that the electoral boundaries county commissioners developed in 2011 dilute the white vote. Democrats enjoy a 4-1 advantage on the Commissioners Court. The districts are led by three Democrats — John Wiley Price, who is black; Elba Garcia, who is Hispanic; and Theresa Daniel, who is white. County Judge Clay Jenkins, also a Democrat, is white and is elected countywide. Mike Cantrell, also white, is the only Republican on the court.

See here for the background. I don’t really have anything to add to what I wrote before. I can’t imagine this will get anywhere, but we do live in strange times.

Texas blog roundup for the week of April 16

The Texas Progressive Alliance has never needed a taint team as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Abbott does want a special election in CD27

Well all righty then.

Blake Farenthold

Gov. Greg Abbott wants to hold a special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, as soon as possible.That’s according to a letter he sent Thursday to Attorney General Ken Paxton, seeking guidance on whether the governor can suspend certain laws he believes are standing in the way of a timely special election.

The letter amounts to Abbott’s first public comments on the subject since Farenthold suddenly resigned earlier this month, leaving the governor to ponder how long the Coastal Bend-area district could go without representation given that it is still reeling from Hurricane Harvey. Abbott made clear Thursday he believes there is no time to waste.

“It is imperative to restore representation for the people of that district as quickly as possible,” Abbott told Paxton in the letter. “I am acutely concerned about this issue because many of the district’s residents are still recovering from the ravages of Hurricane Harvey.”

The problem, according to the governor, is that state and federal law are in conflict, making it “practically impossible to hold an emergency special election and to replace Representative Farenthold before the end of September.” Therefore, Abbott asked Paxton if he could use his executive authority to “suspend relevant state election laws and order an emergency special election.”

In posing the question, Abbott cited a part of the Texas Government Code that allows the governor to temporarily set aside certain statutes if they hinder “necessary action in coping with a disaster.”

See here for the background. I’d been wondering about this, because it sure seemed like an obvious thing to call an election. The crux of Abbott’s legal question is as follows:

“It is impossible to order an election, allow candidates to file, print ballots, mail them in accordance with federal law, and hold an emergency election within the statutorily prescribed 50-day window. Complicating the issue is that if an emergency election for District 27 results in a runoff election, the date for the runoff election cannot be sooner than the 70th day after the final canvas of the emergency election.”

I’ll leave it to the lawyers to hash out the details. I’m wondering how long it will take Paxton to get back with an answer – the question may wind up being moot if he isn’t sufficiently snappy about it. In the meantime, the answer to my original question is yes, there will be a special election in CD27. It’s just a matter of when.

No Houston-HISD partnership

Probably just as well.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner has ruled out any partnership with Houston ISD to turn around 10 chronically under-performing schools, saying Wednesday he will not be part of the school district’s forthcoming proposal aimed at avoiding a state takeover.

HISD administrators have recommended temporarily giving up power over governance, hiring and other operations at the 10 campuses to an outside organization in an attempt to stave off school closures or replacement of the district’s school board. The district’s proposal is due to the Texas Education Agency by April 30. Administrators have not named any potential partners that would take control, and trustees are not expected to vote on proposals until next week.

Turner said last month that he had been asked to get “very, very, very involved” in the district’s efforts, and he did not rule out the possibility of some kind of partnership with HISD. On Wednesday, he said after the City Council meeting that neither he nor the city would be partnering with HISD.

“I will not be in that proposal,” the mayor said of the plan due this month. “Depending on whether or not schools remain in IR status after this academic year will in large part determine what will be the extent of my role.”

[…]

HISD administrators have released little information about their recommendations for the 10 schools as the April 30 deadline nears. Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan verbally has recommended forming three-year partnerships, though terms of any potential contracts have not been released. HISD did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday on its partnership plans.

Turner said he has been speaking weekly with Education Commissioner Mike Morath, whose agency is expected to approve or reject partnership contracts by early June.

See here for the background. We don’t really know much about HISD’s intentions here, which is a bit alarming considering the deadline they’re facing. Surely there was room for more public engagement on this. Be that as it may, I do hope they get this right.