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March 15th, 2019:

Beto is in for President

Ready or not, here he comes.

Beto O’Rourke

After months of intense speculation, Beto O’Rourke is entering the presidential race Thursday, marking an extraordinary rise from little-known El Paso congressman a few years ago to potentially formidable White House contender.

“Amy and I are happy to share with you that I’m running to serve you as the next president of the United States of America,” O’Rourke says in a video with his wife released Thursday morning. “This is a defining moment of truth for this country and for every single one of us.”

O’Rourke is making the announcement ahead of a three-day trip to Iowa that begins Thursday afternoon. In the video, O’Rourke says he will travel the country before returning to El Paso on March 30 for a kickoff rally.

“This is going to be a positive campaign that seeks to bring out the very best from every single one of us, that seeks to unite a very divided country,” O’Rourke says in the announcement. “We saw the power of this in Texas.”

My position has not changed. If it had been up to me, Beto would be running for Senate again, which is what national Dems would have preferred as well. It’s clear by now that we’ll have a good Dem running against John Cornyn, which makes this easier to accept, but it’s hard to argue at this time (though we will revisit that question later) that anyone would have been a stronger challenger to Cornyn than Beto. That said, I’m putting a lot of value in the question of how much each Democratic Presidential wannabe will contest Texas in 2020 as I make up my mind who to vote for in the primary. Beto – who, like basically every other Dem, should beat Trump like a drum if he gets nominated – puts extra pressure on the non-Julian Castro parts of the field to make that kind of commitment. Everything else I’ll sort out later. For now, what I want to know is what these candidates are going to do to turn Texas blue in 2020.

For more reactions on Beto for President, see the Chron, Mother Jones, Texas Monthly, Slate, Daily Kos, Decision Desk, TPM, and the Observer. You tell me, what do you think of this?

Fifth Circuit wants to see how much it can gut abortion rights before it acts

That’s the takeaway you should have from this.

A Texas law banning a common second-trimester abortion procedure will remain blocked after federal judges Wednesday postponed a decision until the Supreme Court takes action on a similar case.

A federal district court in 2017 struck down the ban, which was passed as part of state Senate Bill 8. Attorney General Ken Paxton and other officials then appealed the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

[…]

But the Supreme Court has yet to decide whether it will take up that case, which was launched by abortion provider June Medical Services. The case challenges a Louisiana law that required doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges.

See here for some background. Rewire brings the details.

In November 2017, a federal district court declared the provision of SB 8 that bans D and E abortions unconstitutional and permanently blocked the measure from taking effect. The decision, authored by Judge Lee Yeakel, was a rock-solid win for abortion rights. Yeakel determined that Texas had failed to offer any evidence to support its claims that banning D and E abortions promoted its interest in fetal life without unduly burdening a patient’s right to choose. According to Yeakel’s findings, the evidence failed to show that the other methods advanced by the state for terminating an abortion were available and safe. Therefore, Yeakel ruled, the D and E ban had the effect of banning most second-trimester abortions and was an undue burden on abortion rights.

Naturally, the state of Texas appealed Yeakel’s decision. During oral arguments in November, it was clear the conservative members of the Fifth Circuit were looking for a way to reverse Yeakel’s decision and allow the D and E ban to take effect. But then came the Roberts Court’s order in [June Medical Services v.] Gee in February: a reprimand, of sorts, to the Fifth Circuit for trying to unilaterally overturn a district’s court factual findings in order to allow a patently unconstitutional abortion restriction to take effect. The judges on the Fifth Circuit are conservative and bold, but they are not stupid. They are not going to risk setting themselves up for another opportunity for the Roberts Court to reel them in, just a month later.

At issue in Gee—the case the Fifth Circuit is waiting on the Roberts Court to resolve—is Act 620, a Louisiana law that would require any physician providing abortion services in Louisiana to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the procedure. Act 620 was specifically modeled after one of the provisions in Texas’ HB 2 that was eventually declared unconstitutional in 2016 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

A federal district court blocked Act 620 from taking effect following a six-day trial, issuing detailed findings of fact as to the undue burden Act 620 would place on abortion rights. But the Fifth Circuit disagreed and reversed the district court, ruling the law should take effect.

[…]

When the Supreme Court decided in February to stay the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Gee, it likely did so not because it disagreed with the court on the merits of its decision, but to send a message. The Fifth Circuit had so wildly and intentionally flouted abortion rights jurisprudence in its application of Whole Woman’s Health to uphold Act 620 that Chief Justice John Roberts joined with his liberal colleagues to temporarily block their ruling. Roberts’ voting record makes it clear he is no fan of abortion rights. So it’s reasonable to interpret his decision as a message to appellate courts like the Fifth Circuit that if anyone is going to be rewriting abortion rights jurisprudence, it will be the conservative justices on the Supreme Court under his guidance.

All this could explain Wednesday’s short order in Whole Woman’s Health v. Paxton delaying any decision in that case pending an outcome at the Supreme Court in Gee.Gee is allowed to take effect. Presumably, the Fifth Circuit would rule in short order to allow Texas’ D and E ban to take effect as well.

Should the Roberts Court take Gee, then the outcome of the Whole Woman’s Health v. Paxton remains in limbo until Gee is resolved.

I noted this in passing when I wrote about how whatever else happens, some new bit of anti-abortion legislation will pass this session. It’s just a matter of whether things get worse from there, and if so by how much.

It’s hard out here on a small theater company

It’s rough going in Houston right now.

Horse Head ended operations earlier this month. But it was far from an isolated case. Many other small theater companies in Houston are also fighting for survival, battling gentrification, donor apathy and increasingly competitive public grants.

In the past two years, one other professional company, 4th Wall Theatre, has announced its closure — before being rescued by a donor. Three others — Mildred’s Umbrella, Landing Theatre and Classical Theatre Co. — have been forced out from their homes. Established mid-tier theaters are seeing no growth. Rents inside the loop continue to rise, while revenue and fundraising have plateaued.

If theaters like these continue to shutter, it would be an enormous blow to the performing arts in Houston, leaving the scene without the vital second-rung of talent to supplement what’s available on the better-funded main stages. The trends have raised concerns among local artists.

“Small to mid-size companies can no longer survive in this climate,” said Matt Hune, artistic director of Rec Room, a theater in East Downtown founded in 2016. “We’re seeing dwindling or capped funding, while prices keep rising.”

Last December, Mildred’s Umbrella and Classical Theatre Company were forced out of their shared space in the Chelsea Market shopping center near the Museum District. The development was sold, to be torn down and replaced with high-end apartment complexes.

This has left both companies homeless, in a search for space. But the Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston (MATCH), built in 2015 to address the need of Houston’s smaller galleries, music ensembles, dance companies and theater groups for affordable performance spaces, is at capacity. Studio 101 at Spring Street Studios, Mildred’s Umbrella’s former home, became too expensive after then-co-tenant 4th Wall Theatre temporarily shut down in 2017.

Local theaters sometimes help by renting out their spaces to other companies at a discount — the Alley Theatre is housing Mildred’s Umbrella’s performances for two weeks. But artists say they need a permanent solution.

“Inside the loop, there’s nothing affordable,” said Jennifer Decker, artistic director of Mildred’s Umbrella.

Obviously, the sharp rise in property values in what were once cheap inner-city areas is a problem for these theater companies, all of which operate on tight margins. Audience sizes haven’t been great lately, either – one theory I’ve heard is that the type of people who go to smaller and independent theater productions are also the type of people who have been spending a lot more time and energy on politics lately, with the decline in theater-going being a casualty of that. Perhaps that will turn out to be a cyclical thing. I agree with the view that having a thriving local theater scene is a big deal for a city’s overall quality of life and ability to attract high-end jobs. People who have a choice for where to live want to live someplace where there are lots of things to see and do, and especially in a city without natural attractions a strong arts scene is a critical component. There’s still plenty of donor money available for arts, but it tends to be very concentrated at the top. We need to figure out a way to spread the wealth around more, to find more places where theaters can be, and to just generally keep the scene healthy. It will be bad for us all if this ecosystem collapses.