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HPD Chief McClelland to retire

From the inbox:

Chief McClelland

Mayor Sylvester Turner today announced that he has accepted the retirement of Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, effective February 26, 2016. McClelland was sworn in as a police officer in September 1977. He rose through the ranks at HPD and was sworn in by former Mayor Annise Parker as police chief on April 14, 2010.

“I want to thank Chief McClelland for his 39 years of service to the City,” said Mayor Turner. “He is a respected figure in the community who has served this city well and has many accomplishments of which to be proud. The city’s crime rate during his tenure is lower than it was for the previous six years and citizen complaints filed against our officers are at a record low.”

Chief McClelland managed the fifth largest police agency in the nation with a budget of more than $825 million and a staff of 5200 sworn officers and 1200 civilian employees. Whether it is creating new programs aimed at encouraging positive interaction with Houston’s youth, organizing a town hall where residents have the opportunity to ask questions or simply sharing a cup of coffee with residents, Chief McClelland made it a point to focus on taking HPD to the community it serves.

When asked what he considers his proudest accomplishments, he cites the lower crime rate, HPD’s stewardship of its financial resources and improved community relations. He is also very personally proud of having been able to convince former Mayor Parker and City Council to name HPD headquarters after Officer Edward A. Thomas, one of HPD’s first African American officers and the department’s longest serving officer.

This is a decision that was reached after much personal thought and consultation with my family,” said McClelland. “It was not an easy decision, but I know it is the right decision for me personally. I am leaving HPD in a better place than it was six years ago.”

Mayor Turner has not yet selected an interim chief. That decision will be made in the coming days.

And then will follow the search for a full-time Chief, which will take longer, and which will have a significant effect on Mayor Turner’s ability to push through reforms in how HPD operates. It will be interesting to see whether the Mayor prioritizes looking for a successor from within or without, and what kind of input he gets from Council. My best wishes to Chief McClelland as he prepares to begin the next chapter of his life. The Chron and the Press have more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Can you ever truly “fix” the 59/610 interchange?

I kind of think the answer is “No”, but they’re going to try anyway.

With Houston choking on traffic congestion from Clear Lake to Jersey Village, an infusion of $447 million in state funds promises relief sooner than expected at three notorious freeway bottlenecks.

That sum amounts to more than one-third of $1.3 billion allocated to relieve congestion in major Texas cities where officials announced targeted projects Wednesday. As a result, major upgrades to the Loop 610 interchange with U.S. 59 near Uptown and widening of Interstate 45 south of Houston and Interstate 10 west of Katy will happen years before initially predicted.

“The sooner you can get it constructed … chances are it will be a lower price as opposed to a higher price,” Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Raquelle Lewis said. “And the faster drivers receive relief.” Construction will stretch from 2017 to 2021.

Tasked in September by Gov. Greg Abbott to address congestion in the state’s five largest metro areas, state transportation officials directed $1.3 billion to Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin and Fort Worth. The spending plan requires approval by the Texas Transportation Commission, likely next month.

Commissioner Bruce Bugg led various sessions in the five metro areas, consulting with local TxDOT officials and others to find projects that could get the state the most bang for its buck now.

[…]

At peak times, some segments of Houston freeways have average speeds slower than most cyclists. Along southbound Loop 610 from Interstate 10 to Post Oak in the Uptown area, the average speed between 4:45 p.m. and 6 p.m. dipped below 12 mph in 2015, down from about 15 mph in 2014 and 18 mph in 2013.

The difference in evening northbound traffic is greater, with average speeds between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. below 20 mph, compared with about 45 mph or more in 2013 and 2014.

Initially, Lewis said, TxDOT planned to rebuild the 610-59 interchange in phases as funding allowed.

The focus on congestion, and voter approval in 2014 and 2015 of new road spending, changed that strategy. The congestion-relief money includes $132 million for this project, making it possible to rebuild the entire interchange at once.

That means new lanes and more effective ramp designs will arrive sooner, although congestion is likely to be even worse during construction.

The three projects were selected because they can provide substantial relief for drivers and were planned and approved so that construction could start in a few months.

I’m pretty sure George Orwell’s actual vision of the future was a human foot stomping on a brake pedal forever, but I could be wrong about that. In any event, my skepticism about this is based on the fact that you can only have so many lanes exiting the first freeway, and only so many lanes entering the second freeway. The 59/610 interchange backs up in all directions because you have multiple lanes of cars trying to cram themselves into one exit lane. TxDOT could certainly add a second exit lane, like it has for I-10 at 610, but that only helps so much if there’s room on 610 for twice as many cars to enter at one time. There’s only so much water you can pour into a bucket, you know? And all of this is before you take into account induced demand or complicating factors like people wanting to enter and exit at Richmond and Westheimer. I’ve no doubt that TxDOT can do things to make this interchange better, though honestly I think they’ve already done a lot with the dedicated flyway to Westheimer and the separation of traffic there. I don’t think they can “solve” it in any meaningful sense, and when you add in the four years of pain from the construction, you have to wonder just what the return on this investment will be. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong. Ask me again in 2021 and we’ll see.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Interview with Kimberly Willis

Kimberly Willis

Kimberly Willis

As noted before, there are four candidates vying to succeed Mayor Sylvester Turner as State Representative in HD139. Kimberly Willis is a licensed social worker who earned her MSW at the University of Houston and is employed by the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department. A native of Acres Homes, Willis served as a Policy Analyst during the 82nd Texas legislative session. She also serves in ministry at The Mouth of God Ministries, where she is the Singles Ministry Leader and volunteers in the youth ministry. Here’s my interview with her:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.

Posted in: Election 2016.

The most interesting statewide primary is for the Court of Criminal Appeals

Too bad no one’s paying attention.

Judge Larry Meyers

Judge Larry Meyers

When the first Republican ever elected to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decided in 2013 to switch parties after 20 years on the bench, the move made national news. Now as the only Democratic statewide official in Texas, Judge Larry Meyers is anticipating a losing battle.

“Oh, not real good,” the 68-year-old said this week, mulling his chances of retaining his seat. His smile-lined eyes unfocused for a second, before he laughed heartily, “Who knows? We might have some luck in the fall.”

Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994, but having an “R” after your name is not enough anymore here, where the tea party continues its five-year surge of influence. Even incumbents once considered dyed-in-the-wool conservatives are now routinely accused of being “Republicans in name only.”

Infighting among Texas’ Republicans has been less pronounced in the judicial races here, however, with candidates focusing more on performance than endorsements. Not so in this year’s fight for “place 2” on the state’s highest criminal court. Like every other race in Texas this primary season, it too has derailed into a battle over the candidates’ conservative bona fides, a fight that encompasses everyone from Attorney General Ken Paxton to the candidates’ spouses.

Meyers and the three Republicans vying to unseat him all acknowledge it’s just politics. But what they can’t agree on is whether it should be for this court, which, in the most real sense, decides who lives and who dies, who spends life in prison and who walks free.

[…]

While judicial campaigns are usually more staid, the vitriol has been flying between the Republicans vying to unseat Meyers. Three will face off in the March 1 primary.

Harris County District Court Judge Mary Lou Keel, a former assistant district attorney who has served on the court for 21 years, has little negative to say about her opponent Collin County District Judge Chris Oldner. Oldner, too, acknowledged, “I don’t have anything bad to say about Mary Lou Keel, I really don’t.”

Their target? Oldner’s colleague on the Collin County District Court, Ray Wheless.

The two north Texas judges sit on either side of the Ken Paxton prosecution. Wheless, a long-time friend and donor to the first-term current attorney general, has been critical of the grand jury process that led to Paxton’s indictment last July.

Oldner, meanwhile, presided over that grand jury. While he has said he has nothing against Paxton, Oldner said the attorney general’s supporters have actively worked to try to push him out of public service. He was accused by Paxton’s lawyers of mishandling the grand jury process – an allegation dismissed by the presiding judge – and now finds himself in a race with a colleague he considers part of the dangerous politicization of the bench.

“If you want somebody who just regurgitates tea party lines, well, then, Ray’s your man,” said Oldner, who was appointed to the district court by then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2003. “But if you want somebody that’s actually living the mantra of the rule of law, personal responsibility, then you look at Mary Lou Keel and myself.”

Keel, who said she has had multiple “run-ins” with Wheless on the campaign trail, simply said, “I find him deceptive and inaccurate.”

Wheless said he’s become the target of criticisms for an obvious reason: he’s the man to beat.

“There’s a reason that the conservatives in Texas are endorsing me,” he said, before listing off nods from Texas Right to Life, the Texas Eagle Forum and Liberty Institute’s Kelly Shackelford. “I am the recognized conservative in the race, and that is why Judge Oldner and Judge Keel can’t get any conservatives.”

Read the whole thing, it’s quite well done. It gives the first real insight I’ve seen as to why Justice Meyers changed parties; given that’s he’s filed a lawsuit against the voter ID law, I can believe that was a breaking point for him. I’m glad to have him on our side, and I wish more people would do the same, but I don’t really consider him a poster child for our cause. His rulings on the CCA are all over the map, too often on what I see as the wrong side of the issue in question. It’s not worth worrying about at this point, but it’s something to keep in mind.

As for the GOP side of things, it’s the same old story where the word “conservative” has lost all meaning in the endless tribal war, and qualifications don’t count. I haven’t been around long enough to say with any authority how all of this resembles the state of the Democratic Party in Texas in the 1970s, but I have to believe that there’s a crackup coming. A party can only exclude so many people for so long before they define themselves down to a minority. As far as that goes, what we need is more people like Larry Meyers to say “enough” and bail out. How long that will take, I have no idea. I may not live long enough to see it. But I believe it’s coming. In the meantime, read the story, and root for Raymond Wheless to lose.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Once again, I spoke too soon about the Ethics Commission and Ken Paxton

I’ll be damned.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

The Texas Ethics Commission declined to pass an opinion that would have said it was okay for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to accept out-of-state gifts from donors to help pay the legal costs for his indictment.

At a meeting on Monday, the Texas Ethics Commission voted 4-3 on an opinion that would have interpreted state law to say that public employees in the attorney general’s office can accept out-of-state gifts from donors as long as the donors have no ties to Texas or the attorney general’s office. Five votes are required to approve an opinion on the Texas Ethics Commission, so the opinion failed to pass.

Texas Ethics Commission Chairman Paul Hobby said the process worked and he would not entertain another motion to pass the opinion.

Paxton could still seek out-of-state donors to help pay his legal fees. The opinion would not have settled the debate once and for all. Opinions from the Texas Ethics Commission are merely interruptions of state law and a defense from prosecution.

[…]

Hobby said banning an attorney general employee from taking out-of-state gifts would go beyond the authority of the Texas Ethics Commission.

“The legislature has prohibited certain things. In the premise of free society, all things are legal till they are not,” Hobby said. “For us to amend the statute and add those words where they don’t exist…that is beyond interpretation.”

See here for the origin story. This is the second time that the TEC has backed off issuing an opinion that would have suggested that out of state donors could contribute to a legal defense fund for Paxton, each time coming on the heels of a draft opinion to that effect. As noted, these opinions don’t carry the weight of law, and Paxton can go ahead and solicit donations to pay his lawyers anyway, but now if a complaint is filed he can’t point to the TEC and say “hey, they think it’s legal”. The best answer is for the Lege to pass a bill clarifying the existing laws and closing this loophole. If Greg Abbott cares as much about ethics reform as he claims to, he should support that. I look forward to someone filing a bill to that effect and seeing what happens. The Trib has more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Endorsement watch: What Brown can do for you

The Chron picks its favorite among the challengers in HD27.

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

[Rep. Ron] Reynolds, a three-term incumbent, was named Freshman of the Year by the House Democratic Caucus at the end of the 2011 session; two years later he landed on Texas Monthly’s “Worst” list. This year he needs to attend to his own problems while someone else takes on the task of representing District 27. The district covers most of Missouri City and parts of Houston and Sugar Land.

Challenging the incumbent are first-time candidate Angelique Bartholomew, 46, a certified mediator and director of compliance for a medical firm; Chris Henderson, 30, an assistant district attorney in Galveston County who also is running for the first time; and Steve Brown, 40, a former White House intern who owns a public affairs firm. The former Democratic Party chairman of Fort Bend County, Brown also worked as a budget analyst for then-state Rep. Sylvester Turner and was the Democratic nominee for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission in 2014.

Our choice for the Democratic primary is Brown. With 15 years of experience in politics and public affairs, including an unsuccessful run for the District 27 seat in 2006, he’s conversant with issues that resonate in this diverse, fast-growing district, including education and school finance, health care and economic development.

My interview with Steve Brown is here, and with Angelique Bartholomoew is here. The Chron has been pretty harsh on Reynolds lately – they begged people to challenge him after he was sentenced to jail time for barratry – so it was just a matter of who they liked. They had some good options here.

And as long as we’re discussing candidates the Chron doesn’t like:

Candance White brings a broad perspective and a wealth of experience to her quest to secure the Democratic party’s nomination for [Justice, 14th Court of Appeals District, Place 2]. White, 49, who graduated from the University of Texas School of Law and obtained a master’s in law from the University of Houston Law Center, began her career as an environmental lawyer. She has worked in private practice, served as a city of Houston municipal court judge, as an attorney for Adult Protective Services and as the inter-regional managing attorney for both Adult Protective Services and Child Protective Services. Currently, White serves as the Child Welfare Director for Protective Services for Harris County. “I know how to make complex decisions. I make them every day,” White told the editorial board. Her record is even more impressive when compared to that of her primary opponent. Former state appellate court judge Jim Sharp – booted out of office by voters following an episode of bullying behavior – lacks the necessary temperament to hold judicial office. Primary voters should unite behind White and give her a chance to serve on this important bench.

That was from last week. Strictly speaking, Sharp lost a general election in which all Democratic candidates for the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeal were defeated, so the Chron is assuming facts not in evidence. Be that as it may, it was clear who they were going to pick in that race.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Interview with Jerry Ford, Jr

Jerry Ford, Jr

Jerry Ford, Jr

There is one Democratic-held open seat in Harris County, and that’s HD139, which has been vacated by now-Mayor Sylvester Turner. Four candidates are running to succeed Turner; I have interviews with three of them. First up is Jerry Ford, Jr, a former all-conference baseball player and student activist at TSU, where he served in the student Senate and co-founded Untouchable Creation INC, a non-profit organization concentrated on bringing interest of other African-Americans back into HBCUs, as well as the Texas Southern Young Democrats. Ford is a radio personality on multiple stations, a political columnist for the Forward Times, a spokesperson for the Black Lives Matter movement in Houston, and would be the youngest member of the Legislature if elected. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Judicial Q&A: Shawna Reagin

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.)

Shawna Reagin

Shawna Reagin

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

My name is Shawna Reagin and I am a Democratic candidate for judge of the 176th Criminal District Court

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is a felony court – it hears cases from death penalty capital murders down to state jail felony offenses, such as low-level drug possessions and thefts.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I was judge of this court from Jan. 1, 2009 – Dec. 31, 2012. I enjoyed the work and was good at it.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

a) I have over 26 years experience handling felony cases, at the trial and appellate levels;
b) I was voted Best Judge in Houston 2009 by The Houston Press;
c) During my previous term on this bench, I greatly reduced a bloated docket and was consistently among the top courts for number of cases tried;
d) The 176th took the “gold” for its division by trying the most cases in the first half of 2012;
e) Certified by the Harris County Board of Judges to represent indigents accused of capital murder;
f) My life experience has enable to see and understand issues from diverse points of view.

5. Why is this race important?

Judicial races and the functions of district courts have more impact on the whole community than many people realize. Although the criminally accused and their families are affected by their individual cases, a judge’s decisions on probable cause, setting bail and conditions, appointment of counsel to the indigent, oversight of a case’s status and the actual trial itself, all have a ripple effect far beyond any one case. As awareness of racial inequities in the criminal justice system, from the street up through conviction and appeal, continues to rise, it important for people to realize that casting an informed, responsible vote and showing up for jury duty both have a greater effect on remedying potential injustice than any other actions.

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

In addition to my qualifications and experience as set out above, which are unique to me in this primary race, I was and will be a very hard-working judge who believes the taxpayers deserve a full day’s work by their public servants. I routinely stayed in chambers until at least 6:00 PM or later, to be available to review requests for warrants and orders needed by police officers after hours. I also remained “on call” even when it wasn’t my term, due to living in a central location and not ignoring or harassing prosecutors who needed to find a judge at night. I served on any committee requested by the presiding judges with whom I served, and did my best to bridge the partisan divide, such as I and my fellow Democrats elected in 2008 did to help ensure the Public Defenders Office was instituted.

Criminal court is not a happy place, and a judge’s decisions seldom leave anyone completely happy. However, I did my best to make the most fair and appropriate decisions in every case, based on the information I had. I pledge to the people of Harris County that I will continue to serve in this manner, if they see fit to elect me in the primary and then again in November.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Exxon Mobil fighting its tax bill

Of course they are.

BagOfMoney

Exxon Mobil is fighting the Harris County Appraisal District over the $1.04 billion value placed on its sprawling new office complex in Spring, just south of The Woodlands.

The oil giant, which has been guarded about the campus project, would not provide its own estimation of the property’s value. But its appeal claims the actual value “is substantially below” what was assessed.

The company paid nearly $40 million in 2015 taxes for the property west of Interstate 45 at the Hardy Toll Road, although it continues to dispute the amount. It could be headed to a jury trial to resolve the matter.

Like thousands of commercial property owners do every year, Exxon Mobil protested the appraisal after it received its 2015 tax bill. When a review board maintained the initial assessment, Exxon Mobil filed suit, one of the options a property owner has when not satisfied with the decision.

The company said the valuation was “excessive and unequal in comparison with other similar property in the appraisal district,” according to its lawsuit filed Sept. 16 by Exxon Mobil affiliate Palmetto Transoceanic. The property’s actual value “is substantially below” the appraisal review board’s determination, the company said.

[…]

Exxon Mobil has spent several years developing a state-of-the-art corporate campus on several hundred acres in Spring to house some 10,000 workers.

The Irving-based energy giant recently completed construction on 14 office buildings, three parking garages, four support buildings, a central utility plant and a child care center on 242 acres, according to a document from the Harris County Improvement District No. 18, which was set up to issue bonds and levy taxes for infrastructure improvements in the area.

There’s nothing unusual about this – as the story notes, there are over 2,500 similar protests going on right now in Harris County. The reason for that, and the reason why Exxon Mobil will almost surely win in the end, is because the system is rigged in favor of large commercial property owners. The Legislature did take one small step towards leveling the playing field last year, so Exxon Mobil will have to work a little harder to get its taxes slashed. But barring anything unusual, it will be a big upset if they fail.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

Chron story on the bus map tweaks

A few bits of interest here.

HoustonMetro

Metro leaders hope more frequent service on popular routes will build on the ridership gains the system is experiencing.

“I think as you get higher frequency and people know it is going to come, we are going to see higher ridership,” Metro CEO Tom Lambert told board members Wednesday.

In November, the last full month with verified ridership information, average weekday ridership was up 8 percent compared to the same month in 2014. Sunday ridership – more weekend service was a centerpiece of the bus changes – increased 30 percent to more than 114,000 average boardings.

The comparisons are problematic, however, because they involve different bus systems. Metro officials say they do not believe figures are skewed as a result of the new system requiring more transfers, a criticism skeptics have voiced since the bus network change.

At the same time, Metro is collecting less money from riders, as a result of changes in policy and fewer commuters than expected using park and ride service. From September to December, the first full four months under the new bus system, fare revenue was $1 million below 2014 collections for the same months.

[…]

“How do you have a system where I have to take three buses to get to work?” Ray McClendon asked as he waited for a bus on Antoine.

McClendon, 33, who is transit-dependent as he saves money for a car, blamed his transfers on the lack of a route on T.C. Jester outside Loop 610.

While the numbers show that ridership has increased, it is unclear whether more people are riding or the same number of people are taking more trips. Critics said overcrowding on some routes has driven some to stop taking the bus.

I have sympathy for Mr. McClendon, but this is a challenge for Metro. If you look at a map, much of TC Jester runs alongside the bayou, and even where it isn’t next to the bayou, the street grid around it is mostly cul-de-sacs. Point being, there’s very little potential ridership for a line that runs along TC Jester. In the meeting we bloggers had with Metro, board member Christoph Spieler talked about “frequency” routes versus “coverage” routes for their buses. There are numerous high-frequency routes that intersect with TC Jester, but someone who lives along TC Jester probably would have to take two or three buses to get where they needed to. Maybe someday a low-frequency coverage route can be added on TC Jester to fill this gap. In the meantime, trading a low-ridership, low-frequency route along TC Jester for more buses on Shepherd or Antoine/Washington is a clear win for most people, even if it does suck for people like Mr. McClendon.

There are a number of references to “critics” and the various things they say in the story, though none of them are named other than Mr. McClendon. I have a hard time taking that seriously – are these the same critics who predicted catastrophe for the changes and threatened to file civil rights claims but never followed through? Or are they people who have specific concerns and no axes to grind? A story that talked to some of the latter people, then got responses to their questions and criticisms from Metro would be enlightening, much more so than passive voice generalities. From where I sit, we have a pretty good understanding of what Metro has been doing lately, why they are doing it, and how it has been going. Let’s keep that discussion going, and figure out what they are missing and where else they should be.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Weekend link dump for January 31

Evangelicals deserve Donald Trump.

“Eventually, the two parties may come to agree on the challenges the country faces, and then have actual discussions — and disagreements and competition — over how to address them. That’s bipartisanship. And counterintuitive as it may seem, Obama’s executive actions may be necessary to produce bipartisanship down the road.”

The “Japanese Schindler” gets his own movie.

What makes Walt Disney so remarkable was the fact he was such an ordinary man.”

A horizontal history of the world.

Just how big an asshole is Ted Cruz, anyway?

How the smartphone changed everything, or, the rise of BYOD in the workplace”.

The Bechdel Test continues to be relevant, likely for the foreseeable future.

Good news, wankers. Keep on keeping on.

RIP, Henry Worsley, British explorer who tried to be the first person to cross the Antarctic unaided.

We’re #26!

Natalie Maines is still not ready to make nice.

RIP, Abe Vigoda. Yes, the website has been updated, so it’s official.

RIP, Concepcion Picciotto, longtime White House peace protester.

“The strong dollar, in other words, has become an earnings albatross for Apple.”

What Roy says.

They’re making DeLoreans again. You’re on your own for the flux capacitors, however.

“Bad schools exacerbate the differences in academic achievement between boys and girls.”

Zika is your new Ebola.

Remembering the Challenger, thirty (!) years later.

Your highway sign font news for the week.

RIP, Paul Kantner, founding member of Jefferson Airplane.

RIP, Edgar Froese, founding member of Tangerine Dream.

“Mysterious dude in Iowa is following Ted Cruz around and accusing him of liking Nickelback“.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Mary Beth Rogers’ prescription for Texas Democrats

I’m sure you’ve seen this article by Mary Beth Rogers, onetime campaign manager for Ann Richards, about how Democrats can compete and win statewide again.

DEAR TEXAS DEMOCRATS…

First, let’s get the numbers out of the way. Let’s use the analytics as a backdrop for all that we do, but not as the only factor to consider.

If we don’t get the numbers right, we don’t have a chance to win on any other front.

This is what we know: We have to begin winning at least 35 percent of the white vote statewide to be competitive. That’s a big jump from the 25 percent that Wendy Davis got in 2014. I believe it is doable. If we are lucky — and luck will obviously play a part in all that we do — the 2016 presidential election might help us along. If we presume that Hillary Clinton, or some other relatively appealing Democratic presidential nominee, campaigns on issues that matter to centrist voters, it might be possible to draw up to 30 percent of the white vote in Texas. If that were to happen, then the margin for Republicans over Democrats could dip into the single digits, say, a seven or eight-point advantage. These numbers would not be impossible to overcome in future elections.

Although Barack Obama lost Texas in 2008 and 2012, he carried the African American vote by 98 percent. He got a paltry 26 percent of the white vote. If he had managed to win more than 30 percent of the white vote, as he did in Virginia, Florida, and North Carolina, and if he had invested heavily in a GOTV effort as he did in those states, he might have won Texas too. Hard to believe, isn’t it? If the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate attracts more white Texas voters than Obama did, Democrats would have a larger pool to begin wooing for the 2018 statewide campaigns. There are a lot of “ifs” here, I admit. We just have to keep reminding ourselves that white voters make up about two-thirds of the total electorate in off-year elections, and no Democrat since Ann Richards in the 1990s has succeeded in reaching them.

We Democrats still have to increase our vote totals among our base. That means reaching the 65 percent threshold with Hispanic voters, keeping 95 percent of African American voters, and winning Asian, millennial, and new urban voters who are more in tune with the values and issues of the Democratic Party than with the crazy extremists who hold power in Texas today. So if we can pump up the raw numbers among our solid base of Democratic voters (who can be easily identified after the 2016 presidential election), these are the percentages we need to reach in 2018:

Hispanics — 65 percent
African Americans — 95 percent
Anglos — 35 percent

This is not big news to anyone who studies Texas politics. The larger issue is how to do it. That’s always the rub — not what, but how. Here are ten ways to begin.

Read the whole thing, or buy the book if you really want to dig in. There’s nothing she says in the linked piece that I disagree with – I don’t think anyone would disagree with much of it. How to accomplish some of the things she describes will be easier to discuss than to do, and I’m sure there will be plenty of disagreement about who The Right Leader is/will be, but as a roadmap you could do far worse, and we have to start somewhere. So let’s agree that this is as good a place as any and go from there.

It’s that target of getting 35% of the white vote that is both enticing and elusive that I want to focus on. There will come a day when the non-Anglo portion of the electorate is big enough that we won’t need to worry as much about that number, but that day is not today. Rogers’ implicit distribution of the electorate is 62% Anglo, 26% Hispanic, and 12% African-American; do the math, and her targets above get you to exactly 50% of the vote. You can actually get away with a bit less than that, given the presence of third party candidates, but let’s run with that for now. This is a reasonable if an eensy bit optimistic view of the actual electorate. Looking back at a couple of 2014 polls, YouGov weighted their sample to be 65% Anglo, 19% Hispanic, 12% Af-Am, and 4% “other”, which Lord knows what that actually is. The UT/Trib sample was 63% Anglo, 18% Hispanic, 13% Af-Am, 1% Asian, and 2% multi-racial. Like I said, a bit optimistic but not out of the ballpark, and Dems are going to need to improve their base turnout anyway to be in the orbit of a winning scenario, so this is good enough for our purposes.

So how do we get to 35% of the Anglo vote? That’s the jackpot question. The good news is that there are likely to be multiple paths to this, and all of the things Rogers suggests ought to help a little. The bad news is that no two people are likely to agree on what should be prioritized to get there. Infrastructure, education, the war on women, economic populism, all of the above and then some – who knows? That’s above my pay grade. To some extent, none of it may matter much if the Texas economy is in the dumps in 2018 and enough voters decide to take out their frustrations on the people in charge. That’s a bigger factor in national elections than anyone wants to admit, so why not in a Governor’s race? If we have the right candidate, I feel confident we’ll have the right message.

We’ve got a Presidential election to get through first, and while no one expects Texas to be in play this year, some kind of improvement over 2012 would be nice. Rogers talks about how Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders might improve on President Obama’s performance with white voters. I can see that happening at the margins, but not more than a point or two, and I suspect anyone like that is probably not a solid D voter downballot, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. To whatever extent Clinton or Sanders can persuade a Romney/McCain voter to abandon ship, I’ll leave that to them. The real potential for gain in 2016 is increased turnout. As I’ve noted before, the GOP has plateaued at about 4.5 million Presidential year voters. Dems had a big jump from 2004 to 2008, then slid back from 3.5 million to 3.3 million in 2012. I’m not going to speculate how the Presidential race might affect things in Texas this year, but there’s room for growth just based on the natural increase in total voters:


Year   Voting age pop   Reg voters  Pct reg
===========================================
2008       17,735,442   13,575,062   76.54%
2012       18,279,737   13,646,226   74.65%
2015       19,110,272   13,988,920   73.20%

We’ll get new numbers for 2016 after the primary, but they’re unlikely to be that much different so we’ll stick with the 2015 figures. In 2008, turnout was 8,077,795, or 59.50%, while in 2012 turnout was 7,993,851, or 58.58%. Surely we can do better than that, but let’s aim modestly for now. If turnout in 2016 is at 2008 levels, then 8,323,407 people will vote. (If it’s at 2012 levels, that number will be 8,194,709.) Let’s further assume that the Republican total is what it was in 2012, which is to say 4,569,843 voters. If so, then there will be 3,753,564 other voters, which is 45.1%. Some number of those people would be voting Libertarian or Green, but my point here is to give us something to strive for. Can we get to 3.7 million Dem voters this year? How about 3.8 million? That’s not even 10% growth from 2008, and it’s a long way from a win, but it would be a big step forward, and could get the Republican margin of victory under ten points. I don’t know about you, but I think that might change the narrative a bit and give us a boost going into 2018.

I realize I’m indulging in a bit of fantasy here. There’s no reason why any of this has to happen, but by the same token there’s no reason why any of it can’t happen. The original purpose of Battleground Texas was to build Democratic turnout in Presidential years. Whether they’re still working on this or not, some of that task should be reasonably easy based on population growth. I’d like to think the Presidential campaign will at least offer a little help – leaving their paid staffers in place after the primary would be a start, and more than we got in 2008. I hope someone is thinking about this.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Another legal bill for Texas

That’s what happens when you lose.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to let stand a ruling that awarded more than $1.1 million to lawyers who represented former Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis and several minority-rights groups in a case challenging Texas’ redistricting plans.

The justices this week refused to review the state’s appeal of legal fees granted to opponents of a lawsuit Texas filed seeking federal approval of political maps drawn by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011.

The decision is a blow to Attorney General Ken Paxton and former attorney general Greg Abbott. Combined, the two led the state’s fight against paying the lawyers since it was ordered by a federal judge in Washington, D.C., more than a year and a half ago.

A group of Hispanic voters that sued the state, known as the “Gonzales intervenors,” are due nearly $600,000, according to a court order from June 2014.

Another group led by Davis, a former gubernatorial candidate, and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, both Fort Worth Democrats, was awarded $466,680. The Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches was granted $32,374, according to the court.

Lawyers in the case said the final figure owed by the state will climb once fees for the appeal process and Supreme Court briefings are tallied.

Renea Hicks, an Austin attorney who represented the Gonzalez intervenors, said the state aggressively fought against the legal-fee award.

“It’s the end of the rope,” he said. “No place to turn, except to the checkbook.”

Sorry fellas. You lost, fair and square, so now pay up. Now if we can only get a ruling from the lower court on what the maps should be, we might just be able to wrap this up before we have to start drawing new maps for the next Census.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Lujan wins HD118 special election runoff

I know everyone is focused on the primaries now, but there was an actual election this past week.

Winning in a district long held by Democrats, Republican John Lujan outpolled Tomás Uresti in Tuesday’s special runoff in Texas House District 118.

Filling a seat vacated last year by former state Rep. Joe Farias, D-San Antonio, the GOP candidate will serve out the remainder of Farias’ unexpired term, through the end of the year.

Another election is set for March 1 to fill the seat for a two-year term starting in 2017. Lujan and Uresti are seeking their parties’ nominations in that race, and each has a primary opponent, so the winner won’t be decided until Nov. 8.

“I am so thankful to you,” a jubilant Lujan told about 100 supporters at Don Pedro’s Mexican Restaurant on the South Side.

Lujan, a retired firefighter who works for a tech firm, drew support from firefighters as well as from state and local GOP leaders in his matchup with Uresti. The Democrat was backed by a family network that includes two brothers in elected office — state Sen. Carlos Uresti and Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector Albert Uresti.

You can see the results here and a pre-runoff story here. Republicans are predictably thrilled while Democrats are not, but let’s maintain some perspective here. This election was to fill Rep. Farias’ unexpired term, which ends on December 31, so winning this race gets you nothing except a boost in seniority if you also win in November. And that’s where I would note that while there were about 3600 votes cast for this race, there were over 40,000 votes cast in this district in 2012, and the average margin by which Democrats won it was about 5000 votes. Point being, conditions will be a little different than they are now in January. It’s embarrassing to boot a ground ball, but the most likely result here is that John Lujan will be the 2016 version of Dan Barrett, who captured a longtime Republican seat in Tarrant County in a low-turnout special election runoff in December of 2007, then lost it the following November in a normal-turnout race. Go ahead and get your gripes out, and then let’s move on. The Trib and Newsdesk have more.

Posted in: Election 2016.

The Jolanda Show

Set your DVRs.

Jolanda Jones

Jolanda Jones

The Houston school board just got a little more star power.

Jolanda Jones, the former city councilwoman who joined the board last week, is starring in a new reality show called “Sisters In Law,” set to air in March. As the cable network WE puts it, the Houston-based program follows a “close-knit group of elite high-powered black female lawyers as they juggle their families, busy careers and even more demanding social calendars.”

“The ladies may differ in their fundamental beliefs when it comes to right and wrong,” the station says on its website, “but what they have in common is their ability to win cases in a traditionally white, male-dominated profession.”

Jones broke the news on Twitter and Instagram Friday.

You can see her announcement here. I trust that Tubular will add it to their roster of shows to recap for us. There’s never a dull moment in my line of preoccupation, that’s for sure.

Posted in: TV and movies.

Saturday video break: I Wanna Be With You

Feel the 70s goodness with the Raspberries:

Somewhat forgotten 70s goodness, I suppose. I got that song from a collection CD, and I can’t say I’d ever heard it before. Not even from a K-Tel commercial. I may not have been familiar with it, but you know who is? Bruce Springsteen, that’s who:

That can be found on his for-true-fans collection of B-sides and deep cuts, “Tracks”. That particular video is from 1999, and damn if seeing Clarence Clemons again doesn’t choke me up a bit. Rest in peace, Big Man.

Posted in: Music.

Some Latino political power trends

The Latino electorate keeps on growing.

The Latino electorate is bigger and better-educated than ever before, according to a new report by Pew Research Center.

It’s also young. Adults age 18-35 make up nearly half of the record 27.3 million Latinos eligible to vote in this year’s presidential election, the report found.

But although the number of Latinos eligible to vote is surging – 40 percent higher than it was just eight years ago – and education levels are rising, the percentage likely to actually cast ballots in November continues to lag behind other major racial and ethnic groups, the report found.

That’s partly because young people don’t vote as consistently as older people do, but also because Latino eligible voters are heavily concentrated in states – including California, Texas and New York – that are not prime election battlegrounds.

[…]

The explosive growth of the Latino electorate is largely driven by young people born in the U.S. Between 2012 and November of this year, about 3.2 million U.S.-citizen Latinos will have turned 18 and become eligible to vote, according to the report’s projections.

Millennials – adults born in 1981 or later – will account for 44 percent of the Latino electorate by November, according to the report. By comparison, millennials will make up only 27 percent of the white electorate.

The number of Latino potential voters is also being driven by immigrants who are in the U.S. legally and decide to become U.S. citizens. Between 2012 and 2016, some 1.2 million will have done so, according to the report.

Although most new voters are not immigrants, a majority of Latino voters have a direct connection to the immigrant experience, the report noted. That’s an important fact in an election cycle that has been dominated by debates over what do with the estimated 11 million immigrants who entered the U.S. without authorization.

The full report is here. One result of the harsh rhetoric on immigration, and the specter of a Donald Trump candidacy, is a greater push for gaining citizenship among those who are eligible to do so but had not before now.

In what campaigners are calling a “naturalization blitz”, workshops are being hosted across the country to facilitate Hispanic immigrants who are legal, permanent residents and will only qualify to vote in the 2016 presidential election if they upgrade their immigration status.

Citizenship clinics will take place in Nevada, Colorado, Texas and California later this month, with other states expected to host classes in February and early March in order to make the citizenship deadline required to vote in November.

The Republican frontrunner’s hostile remarks about Latino immigrants is driving people to the workshops.

[…]

“Our messaging will be very sharply tied to the political moment, urging immigrants and Latinos to respond to hate with political action and power,” said Maria Ponce of iAmerica Action, an immigrant rights campaign sponsored by the Service Employees International Union.

Several labor unions and advocacy groups are collaborating on the project. In Las Vegas, organizers also intend to hold mock caucuses to educate new voters on the state’s complicated primary process. Nevada is the first early voting state to feature a large Latino population, and that group is eager to make itself known.

“This is a big deal,” said Jocelyn Sida of Mi Familia Vota, a partner in the Nevada event. “We as Latinos are always being told that we’re taking jobs or we’re anchor babies, and all these things are very hurtful. It’s getting to the point where folks are frustrated with that type of rhetoric. They realize the only way they can stop this is by getting involved civically.”

Efforts to increase minority participation in swing state elections are nothing new. Nevada’s powerful Culinary Union has been holding such events for its 57,000 members and their families since 2001. Yet never before has there been a galvanizing figure of the bogeyman variety quite like Trump.

At least he’s good for something. Getting more Latinos to vote (and Asians, too – the report also touches on that) is one thing. Getting more of them elected to office is another.

A new report from a nonpartisan organization focused on getting more Asian-American and Latinos elected to state and local offices found that the two groups are facing obstacles as they seek to achieve greater representation to match their fast-growing populations.

The report, by the New American Leaders Project, found that the groups’ numbers have not grown substantially in those offices — fewer than 2 percent of the 500,000 seats nationally in state and local offices are held by Asian-Americans or Hispanics. Those voters make up more than 20 percent of the United States population, the report notes. Both groups of voters are considered key to the emerging Democratic coalition in national races.

Among the barriers members of these groups faced is that they were less likely to come up with the idea of running for office themselves — usually only doing so if the idea was suggested by another person. Hispanic women also were likelier to report being discouraged “by their political party more than any other group,” the report noted.

Th candidates also tended to rely strongly on support from unions and community groups to be successful, and they found fund-raising one of the most difficult hurdles. That was particularly true among Hispanic women, according to the report.

The report is here. A lot of the barriers, as well as the recommended solutions (see page 21), are similar to those that have been long reported for female candidates. We know the answers, we just need to actually apply them.

All of these are background for how I think about this.

Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

Months after mounting a passive, ultimately unsuccessful Houston mayoral campaign, Adrian Garcia has swiftly taken on the role of attack dog in his bid to oust longtime U.S. Rep. Gene Green from the 29th District in the Democratic primary.

A Garcia press release out Monday morning proclaimed in all caps, “GENE GREEN SHOULD HAVE BEEN FIRED A LONG TIME AGO,” the latest in a series of statements slamming the incumbent’s record on issues ranging from gun safety to the environment.

Political observers said Garcia’s about-face reflects lessons learned from his recent loss and the nature of a quick primary challenge.

“He needs to give folks a reason not to vote for the entrenched incumbent, so he’s trying to create a differentiation based on policy,” Texas Southern University political scientist Jay Aiyer said of Garcia.

“If you think you lost last time because you were too passive, this time you’re going to be more aggressive, and I think there’s a certain element of that involved, as well.”

[…]

Over the last three weeks, Garcia has criticized Green’s voting record on gun safety and environmental legislation while tying him to the district’s comparatively high poverty rate and low rate of educational attainment, among other issues.

“When you know that you’ve got one in three children living in poverty, you’re expecting some leadership from that point,” Garcia said after a press conference Monday announcing the backing of several Latino community leaders. “I’m just speaking to the record.”

I don’t know if Adrian Garcia can beat Gene Green. Green has been a skillful member of Congress for a long time, and Democrats tend to value seniority and experience a lot more than Republicans do. He also hasn’t had to run a campaign in 20 years, and it is unquestionable that the Houston area should have had a Latino member of Congress by now, one way or another. Green has done all the things you’d expect him to do in this race, and he has a ton of support from Latino elected officials (though not unanimous support) and an overall strong record. If we’ve learned anything by now, it’s that this isn’t a business-as-usual election year. So who knows? I wish there were some trustworthy polling available for this race, but I suspect we’re going to have to wait till voting starts to get a feel for this one.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Paxton can get some help with his legal bills

With some conditions attached, for whatever that’s worth.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton could tap out-of-state supporters to pay his legal defense team but must ensure those funds have not been funneled from any Texas donors, according to a draft advisory opinion from the state’s ethics regulator.

The Texas Ethics Commission is scheduled to vote Monday on legal guidance that would give Paxton, or any employee in the attorney general’s office, the green light to accept gifts from some donors.

If approved, it would clear the way for the embattled attorney general to accept contributions to cover his legal expenses from out-of-state donors, with certain conditions.

State law prohibits agency officials from accepting a “benefit” from someone under the agency’s oversight.

However, the ethics commission has said situations exist in which Paxton and his employees could accept gifts – namely from an out-of-state donor with no pending matters before the attorney general’s office – but that safeguards would have to put in place to prevent potential conflicts of interest.

The draft opinion for the first time addresses the possibility of money bundling and suggests heightened disclosure for gifts to employees of the attorney general’s office to avoid the perception of corruption.

[…]

“We do not think that a person who is subject to the jurisdiction of a public servant or a law enforcement agency can evade the restrictions … using another person as a conduit for making a gift to the public servant (e.g., by giving a benefit to another with the instructions that the benefit then be passed to the public servant),” commission staff wrote in a draft opinion released this week. “Similarly, the public servant would be prohibited from accepting a benefit if the public servant knows that the true source of the benefit is a person who is subject to the jurisdiction of the public servant.”

The draft also proposes a set of “best practices” for disclosure, including recommendations that any such gift, along with its source, value and a description, be revealed publicly within 30 days.

A “diligent inquiry” also would have to be performed by whomever receives a gift to make sure the donor has no connection to Texas and is not under the attorney general’s jurisdiction. That inquiry, according to the latest draft, also would need to verify that the out-of-state donor “is not operating as a conduit” for someone else.

Watchdog groups reacted with swift criticism, saying the latest proposal invites the potential for an already-indicted attorney general to put a “for-sale sign on the AG’s office to pay for his criminal defense.”

“A close reading suggests that the commission has qualms about this convoluted ethical blank check,” said Craig McDonald, director of the left-leaning watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, which has filed multiple criminal complaints against Paxton, including one related to his current indictments. “The opinion should have been written in one word: No!”

See here, here, and here for the background. I agree that the best answer is “No”, and it would be for the Governor or Lt. Governor, but apparently the law that specifies no gifts for them does not include the AG. So let’s make sure that someone files a bill to correct that oversight in 2017. Greg Abbott has claimed he’s all about ethics reform, despite his lack of leadership on the issue last session. Let’s see where he stands on this.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Rep. McClendon resigns her seat

Farewell to a good legislator.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon

State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, who isn’t seeking re-election this year, has submitted a letter of resignation to Gov. Greg Abbott effective Sunday, with 11 months remaining in her term.

McClendon, D-San Antonio, has served in the Texas House representing the East Side district since 1996. She currently serves as chair of the House Committee on Rules and Resolutions, and sits on the Appropriations and Transportation committees.

Last year, amid health woes, she announced she would not seek another two-year term. She acknowledged she had been treated for non-smoker’s lung cancer since 2009.

Her announced retirement prompted six Democrats to join the March 1 primary race in District 120.

See here for some background. One presumes there will be a special election in May to fill the remainder of Rep. McClendon’s term, as there is with HD139, but we won’t know until Greg Abbott announces it. HD120 is solidly Democratic – President Obama took 64.6% of the vote in 2012 – and a check of the SOS 2016 candidate filing page shows that no Republicans filed for the seat, so the primary and runoff will determine Rep. McClendon’s successor. I wish her good health and all the best in retirement. The Trib and the Rivard Report have more.

Posted in: Election 2016.

The Dream takes on The Donald

You tell ’em, Hakeem.

Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images

Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon, a devout Muslim splitting his time between homes in Houston and outside London, England, on Saturday called the proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States “not worthy of a president.”

Olajuwon, who had returned to the United States on Wednesday, had heard of the proposal issued by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Dec. 7 that would prevent Muslims from immigrating to the United States.

“First of all, it’s amazing to see how many people came out to disregard that kind of stand, even internationally,” said Olajuwon, a naturalized United States citizen. “That kind of statement is not worthy of a president. I don’t think it was too wise a statement. It is a complex question. It is something so complex and that just gave it a generic answer to a complex question.”

[…]

“I do not believe that we have come this far that that kind of statement would come out when discussing that kind of issue today,” Olajuwon said. “I think we passed that a long time ago.”

Olajuwon, one of the most beloved figures in Houston sports history and a Hall of Famer considered one of the NBA’s greatest players, immigrated to the United States from Nigeria in 1980 and became a United States citizen in 1993. He played for the 1996 United States Olympic team.

Olajuwon spoke often during his career about the importance of his faith to him and was open about his practices, from using a prayer room installed at the Rockets practice facility to following the dietary restrictions required during Ramadan. He has been a well-known participant in the large Houston Muslim community.

I’ll stand with Hakeem Olajuwon against Donald Trump any day of the week.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Friday random ten: Speak to me

Some songs are more spoken-word pieces set to music, sometimes but not always with a sung refrain, than actual singing. Here are ten examples from my collection:

1. Lisdoovarna – SixMileBridge (video, though not by SixMileBridge)
2. Everything Is Borrowed – The Streets (video)
3. Long Long Time – Guy Forsythe (video)
4. One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer – George Thorogood & The Destroyers (video)
5. The Bus Story – Asylum Street Spankers (video)
6. Albuquerque – Weird Al Yankovic
7. Alice’s Restaurant Massacree – Arlo Guthrie
8. Lobachevsky – Tom Lehrer (video)
9. One Night In Bangkok – Murray Head
10. #SELFIE – The Chainsmokers (video)

I included a few YouTube links for ones you may not be familiar with. “The Bus Story”, from one of the Spankers’ many live albums, was an actual story, of a time when their tour bus’ brakes failed and the band all though they were going to die. Don’t worry, it has a happy ending, and it is in its way one of the more amazing things they’ve ever done. Listening again to the immortal Lobachevsky got me to wondering: Who would play the part of the Hypoteneuse in a movie made today? That’s going to keep me awake tonight. (You can hear Danny Kaye’s “Stanislavsky” routine here, by the way.) What are your favorite examples of this kind of song?

Posted in: Music.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Elaine Palmer

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.)

Judge Elaine Palmer

Judge Elaine Palmer

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

My name is Elaine Palmer and I am the presiding Judge of the 215th Civil District Court. Our Civil Justice Court is a tool for righting wrongs, equalizing the disparities between the rich and the poor, leveling the playing field between the powerful and the powerless, and achieving social justice. I understand that our civil courts are often the last resort for those who have suffered physical, mental and/or economic harm, discrimination, wrongful termination, or deprivation of their civil and human rights. It has been my job for the past three (3) years to ensure that my courtroom is a place where people are treated with dignity, respect and a sense of urgency. I am committed to make this happen and to continue to strive to get better.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 215th Civil District Court hearings cases involving disputes between parties who have suffered physical, mental and/or economic harm, discrimination, wrongful termination, or deprivation of their civil or human rights.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for the 215th Civil District Court because this was the first Civil District Court in Harris County that an African American elected to the bench.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have served as the presiding Judge of this Court for the past three (3) years and prior to serving on the bench I practiced law for fifteen (15) years as Solo Practitioner. I represented clients from all financial backgrounds and it was my mission to treat each of them with dignity and respect.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because as I said above our civil justice courts are often the last resort for those who have suffered physical, mental and/or economic harm. Our Civil Justice Court is a tool for righting wrongs, equalizing the disparities between the rich and the poor, leveling the playing field between the powerful and the powerless and achieving social justice.

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

My desire to serve the citizens of Harris County and to continue the reforms that I have brought to the 215th Civil District Court. My reforms have improved efficiency, reduced costs and provided certainty for the parties and their lawyers. It is my goal to make sure that all citizens are treated with dignity and respect. I will continue to bring compassion, understanding and reason to my rulings in the 215th.

.

Posted in: Election 2016.

How the tables got turned on the video fraudsters

A must read.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Planned Parenthood’s legal strategy was in some ways similar to how corporations facing major white-collar criminal investigations often cooperate closely with prosecutors to try to influence the outcome.

From the start, Planned Parenthood and its Houston lawyer Josh Schaffer settled on a strategy of cooperating with investigators, said Rochelle Tafolla, a spokeswoman for the affiliate. It included volunteering documents and encouraging prosecutors to interview employees, as well as giving prosecutors tours of the Houston facility, according to Schaffer.

“We certainly began the process as suspects of a crime, and the tables got turned and we ended up victims of a crime,” Schaffer told Reuters in an interview.

Schaffer was retained by Planned Parenthood last summer when Texas officials demanded it face a criminal investigation after the anti-abortion activists posted videos online purporting to show the organization’s employees discussing the sale of aborted fetal tissue, which is illegal in the United States if done for a profit.

[…]

Although what happened during the grand jury’s secret deliberations may never be known, Schaffer said it did not vote on whether to indict Planned Parenthood.

That is because the grand jury’s focus shifted to a case against the anti-abortion campaigners, Schaffer said on a conference call with reporters, citing information he said he received from a prosecutor.

Planned Parenthood said that Daleiden and Merritt used fake driver’s licenses in April 2015 when they posed as executives from a fictitious company to secretly film conversations at the Houston facility. That led to the charges they used fake government documents with the intent to defraud.

One critical juncture in the case may have occurred when Planned Parenthood gave law enforcement an important tip: Merritt’s true name, according to Schaffer.

Her identity remained unknown from the time she visited Planned Parenthood with a fake California driver’s license until about December when Daleiden revealed it during a deposition as part of a separate civil lawsuit in state court in Los Angeles, Schaffer said.

As part of his strategy, Schaffer said he explicitly pushed prosecutors to charge Daleiden and Merritt.

“I made the argument regarding the charges that the grand jury returned,” Schaffer said in the interview, “but I did not have to make them very forcefully because it was self-evident to the prosecutors that they engaged in this conduct.”

Fascinating, and I expect it will just enrage the people who are already losing their minds over this, but as I said before a lie can only be sustained for so long. Sooner or later, you have to put your cards on the table. It’s not like we couldn’t have guessed that these guys were liars – there’s a long evidence trail of people like them saying and doing similar things. It’s not even the first time that DA Devon Anderson has been called upon to investigate some wild claims about an abortion provider that turned out to be complete fabrications and lurid fantasies. It’s one thing to believe these stories even though the objective evidence suggests they’re too outrageous to be true (as Daniel Davies has said, there’s no fancy Latin phrase for giving a known liar the benefit of the doubt), but it’s another thing entirely (as Fred Clark often reminds us) to want to believe them, to fervently hope that they really are true, and to keep on believing them even when any reasonable person knows they are not true.

Which brings us to the fraudsters’ defense attorneys, who have their own impossible things to believe.

“We believe this is a runaway grand jury that has acted contrary to the law,” former Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill told reporters Wednesday. “They’ve gone after the whistle-blowers.”

Woodfill and prominent criminal defense attorney Terry Yates announced they will represent the two activists and said their defense will turn on First Amendment protections afforded to undercover journalists and focus on the activists’ “intent” when they created fake identifications and offered to buy fetal tissue from a Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast office last year.

On Wednesday, Woodfill and Yates conceded that Daleiden, 27, and Merritt, 62, used fake California driver’s licenses to conceal their identities to gain entry to Planned Parenthood offices and corresponded with officials.

“These are techniques that investigative journalists have used for years,” Woodfill said. “If they were to criminalize this conduct, most investigative journalists would be prosecuted for doing the exact same or similar things.”

Fred Brown, an ethics expert for the Society of Professional Journalists, said reporters rarely falsify their identities and said it is “frowned upon.”

“It should be considered a last resort and it’s not really ethical,” Brown said.

Most major newspapers have rules against reporters concealing their identities or using fake names.

Law professor Eugene Volokh would take issue with what Woodfill says, too. It’s interesting to read the story and see how many times they retracted or walked back something they initially asserted. The amount of mental gymnastics they are doing must be quite tiresome.

One more thing:

Daleiden also is charged with trying to purchase human organs, namely fetal tissue, a Class A misdemeanor.

Woodfill scoffed at the charge, saying, “It’s going to be very difficult for prosecutors to say that they intended to actually purchase human body parts.”

Um, wasn’t the whole point of their exercise to prove that body parts were being sold? How could they do that if they didn’t also believe they could buy them? I know, that’s not quite the same as “intent” in a legal sense, but I think their story will be a little harder for a jury to believe if the claim is they were just trying to get Planned Parenthood to give them their price list. Murray Newman, the Wall Street Journal, the Press, Campos, and David Ortez have more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Resign to run has kicked in for Council members

Another change that our new term limits law has wrought.

Houston elected officials who become a candidate for another elected office are now automatically required to resign their current seat, uncharted territory for city officeholders who previously had not been subject to the so-called “resign-to-run” provision of the Texas Constitution.

The requirement that has long applied to county officials also covers officeholders in municipalities whose terms are longer than two years. Voters extended the terms of Houston elected officials to four years, from two, last November, triggering the change.

The “resign-to-run” clause pertains to those with more than one year and 30 days left in their terms who announce their candidacy or become a candidate in any general, special or primary election.

The provision does not appear immediately to affect three City Council members – Dwight Boykins, Jerry Davis and Larry Green – who have expressed interest in the late Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee’s seat, because it would not kick in until Democratic precinct chairs select someone to replace Lee on the November ballot.

[…]

Executive committee nominations aside, a memo sent Tuesday by City Attorney Donna Edmundson and obtained by the Chronicle defines “announcing candidacy for office” as “making a written or oral statement from which a reasonable person may conclude that the individual intends, without qualification, to run for an office.”

Edmundson added: “A statement made in a private conversation does not constitute an announcement of candidacy for the purposes of the ‘resign to run’ provision. Likewise, a statement indicating an interest in an office is not considered an announcement of candidacy.”

[Mark] Jones said the new rules further constrain elected city officials.

“Previously, they effectively could have their cake and eat it, too, in that they could run while keeping their City Council position,” Jones said. “Now, they’re going to have to actually make a hard choice, which in some cases may be a risky move.”

Yes, but let’s not go overboard. Not that many people that would have been affected by resign-to-run took advantage of their prior exemption from it. Going back a decade, I can think of six sitting municipal officeholders who were also candidates for other offices. Three of them were in the last year of their final term – Bill White in 2009, Wanda Adams in 2013, and Ed Gonzalez in 2015 – and thus had less than a year and a month remaining in office. Only three people would have had to resign to run – Shelley Sekula Gibbs, who ran for Congress in 2006; Adrian Garcia, who ran for Sheriff in 2008; and Mike Sullivan, who ran for Tax Assessor in 2012. Sekula Gibbs and Garcia resigned after winning their November elections, thus triggering special elections to succeed them the following May, while Sullivan resigned after winning his primary, which allowed the special election to fill his seat to happen that same November.

The rest of the story is about filling Commissioner El Franco Lee’s spot on the November ballot, and it’s mostly stuff we already know. The main thing here is that this change probably won’t have much effect, though it could alter how some incumbents view the rest of the election cycle. If anyone decides to run for something in 2018, we’ll know.

Posted in: Local politics.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the Paxton appeals process to play out

Better settle in and get comfy, because this could take awhile.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

An appeal by Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is seeking to dismiss charges that he violated state securities laws, will extend at least into spring, with a strong chance of a ruling being delayed until summer or later.

The Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals has given Paxton’s lawyers until Feb. 22 to file a brief arguing why they believe the felony charges should be thrown out.

Prosecutors will have until March 14 to counter the arguments.

This type of pretrial appeal is expedited under state law, making it less likely that either side will seek a deadline extension.

But if the court decides to hear oral arguments instead of ruling based solely on the briefs, resolution of the appeal would be pushed further back.

[…]

Defense lawyers have informed the Dallas appeals court that their challenge will focus on four arguments that Gallagher had rejected in December:

  • The charge of failing to register as an investment adviser representative should be dismissed because Paxton was registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, trumping the state registration requirement.
  • The state failure-to-register law should be thrown out as unconstitutionally vague because it does not provide sufficient notice about what acts are prohibited.
  • The failure-to-register law should be thrown out because it unconstitutionally infringes on commercial speech by “regulating who and when a person may solicit clients for an investment adviser.”
  • All three charges should be tossed out because the Collin County grand jury that indicted Paxton was improperly formed.

Paxton’s indictments were upheld by trial judge George Gallagher in December, so this is the next step in the process. If the 5th Court rejects the appeal just on the briefs then things may speed up, but if not then remember we are potentially measuring the time frame in years before we get a resolution. The trial itself is on hold until these appeals have played out. Stay patient, we’ll get there eventually.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

Interview with Angelique Bartholomew

Angelique Bartholomew

Angelique Bartholomew

As noted, three-term Rep. Ron Reynolds has drawn three challengers in HD27. You’re aware of Rep. Reynolds’ recent issues, and he is aware of what I have said about him here. As such, he declined to be interviewed. You can check out the interview I did with him for his first campaign in 2008 here if you’re interested. My interview for today is with Angelique Bartholomew, who is a certified mediator and director of compliance at a medical firm. A resident of Missouri City and the mother of five, Bartholomew has led the Angels of Education Auxiliary and served as a community mediator for the Houston Police Department. She was also recently endorsed by Annie’s List. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Under the Dome

The latest plan to save the Dome takes a step forward.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

Harris County Commissioners Court moved forward on Tuesday with one piece of the Astrodome revival that needs to happen whether or not the park plan is achieved, according to County Judge Ed Emmett.

The court asked for an internal cost assessment for building two floors of underground parking, or a large underground storage facility, beneath the ground floor of the Astrodome.

[…]

Edgar Colon, an attorney who serves as the appointed volunteer chair of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, has been managing this undertaking. He estimated the task force of engineers, architects, designers, cost estimators and financial advisers has logged more than 200 hours on Astrodome conversion planning.

He said Emmett took the lead, and the late Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee also took great interest in the process.

Under the broader plan, the Astrodome would remain county property, and the park inside it would be a county park. The conservancy would help raise the funds for the project and assist in designing it.

By the end of June, Colon said, the plan for the conservancy’s structure and its role in developing an indoor park should be finalized.

But first, Emmett wants to address the more pressing matter of raising the floor of the Astrodome to ground level and making use of the 30 feet of space underneath it.

“My first goal is to put the Dome into usable condition, whether it be for the rodeo for their food court or the Offshore Technology Conference, or for festivals, gatherings or merely for picnickers in the park,” Emmett said.

“The Dome’s a building. We can’t just leave a building sitting there unusable.”

See here for the background. Basically, the plan is a public-private partnership overseen by a conservancy, similar to Discovery Green, but with more moving parts. Among the attractions of this setup would be the ability to fundraise as a non-profit, which would sidestep the need to put another bond issue before the public. I can’t wait to see what the structure of the conservancy will look like. One presumes the incoming County Commissioner (the Dome resides in Precinct 1) will take a lead role in getting this off the ground, and one presumes that Judge Emmett, who is known to want to retire after this term is up at the end of 2018, will want to have it well in motion by then. KUHF has more.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

Paxton takes another shot at Syrian refugees

Whatever.

In the latest controversy over Syrians seeking refuge in Texas, the state’s top lawyer on Tuesday again asked a federal judge to halt the resettlement of people fleeing the war-torn country.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told a U.S. district judge that the federal government should be temporarily barred from placing Syrian refugees in Texas after federal officials admitted they failed to provide the state with advance notice of a refugee family resettled in the state last week.

In a filing to Dallas-based U.S. District Judge David C. Godbey, Paxton said the Obama administration failed to notify Texas leaders about the resettlement of a seven-person family at least seven days in advance of their arrival — contrary to a federal court’s order, according to the attorney general’s office.

The government instead informed the judge about the resettlement the day the family arrived in Houston on Jan. 22.

In their notice to the court, lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice said they “acknowledge and sincerely apologize” for not providing state leaders with notice about the resettlement.

“The failure to provide the required notice on the instant occasion was inadvertent, not intentional, and apparently occurred because of miscommunications among personnel within the Department of State,” they wrote.

Paxton also said the federal government broke the law by failing to provide adequate information about a new group of Syrian refugees that were scheduled to arrive in Texas on Monday.

The U.S. State Department’s list of refugee arrival shows 10 Syrians have resettled in Texas so far this year, all in Houston. The agency did provide adequate notice for three of those 10 refugees, according to court documents.

“The Obama administration continues settling Syrian refugees in our neighborhoods and communities under a cloak of secrecy,” Paxton said in a prepared statement. “The threat to our communities by foreign terrorists is real.”

See here for all past blogging on this topic. I’ll stipulate that the Justice Department screwed up here, and have earned a rap on the knuckles from the judge. But jeez, the bed-wetting fear from Paxton in that brief is just unbecoming. I guess it’s a good thing no one wears those “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets any more, because I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t like the answer.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 25

The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes everyone stays safe in the snow as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Endorsement watch: Dudley and Sullivan

The Chron makes its endorsements in the Tax Assessor primaries.

Brandon Dudley

Brandon Dudley

It is the time of year when the Harris County tax assessor-collector gains sudden prominence: Jan. 31 is the due date to pay property taxes, and Feb. 1 is the last day to register for party primary elections. Both of those duties are handled by the tax assessor-collector’s office, in addition to vehicle registrations and title transactions. These basic services demand that the office be run with customer satisfaction and ease as the highest goals. With these priorities in mind, we endorse incumbent Mike Sullivan in the Republican primary and Brandon Dudley in the Democratic primary.

This year’s Republican primary for Harris County tax assessor-collector is a rematch from four years ago, when Mike Sullivan ousted incumbent Don Sumners. At the time, Sullivan offered a customer-focused alternative to Sumners’ office, which faced accusations of being overly politicized. The battlelines haven’t changed since. Sumners, 76, says he is running to serve as a self-proclaimed taxpayer advocate and watchdog.

“If you want an administrator, Sullivan is your man,” Sumners told the Houston Chronicle editorial board.

Mike Sullivan

Mike Sullivan

That’s exactly what we want. An administrator can ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently and effectively, and focus on the duties of office.

[…]

When she met with the editorial board, Democratic candidate Ann Harris Bennett, 62, had no difficulty listing the litany of problems she saw with the current incumbent tax assessor-collector. Brandon Dudley, however, listed the solutions. Dudley currently serves as chief of staff and general counsel for state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and that experience in the state Legislature is apparent. A graduate of the University of Houston Law Center with a background in social work, Dudley is a regular policy wonk. He is quick to point out the ways that wealthy commercial landowners can exploit loopholes in the property appraisal system, which shifts the tax burden onto average homeowners. Dudley, 42, has even reached out to other tax assessor-collectors across the state in search of innovative ideas and best practices for the office.

Bennett has run for this office once before, and she has a firm grasp of where it is today. Dudley has a vision for the future.

The Chron is far too kind to Sumners, who wasn’t just an overly political Tax Assessor, but also a massively incompetent Tax Assessor. I mean, any random third grader in HISD would do a better job than Sumners did in his two-year reign of error. To call this a no-brainer is to greatly understate the matter.

As for the Democratic side, my interview with Brandon Dudley is here and my interview with Ann Harris Bennett is here. One suspects that the Chron would be happy to endorse a random third grader over Don Sumners in November if he manages to win the GOP primary, but they will have a tougher choice if Mike Sullivan prevails. They did slap him on the wrist for not supporting online voter registration, so that may be the fulcrum on which their decision turns for the fall. But please, Republicans, don’t make it easy on them. You know as well as the rest of us what an idiot Sumners is. Let’s not take any chances that he could get his old job back.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Interview with Steve Brown

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

While HD137 is the only Democratic legislative primary in Harris County that features an incumbent and a serious opponent, it’s not the only one in the greater area. Over in Fort Bend, three-term Rep. Ron Reynolds has drawn three challengers in HD27. You’re aware of Rep. Reynolds’ recent issues, and he is aware of what I have said about him here. As such, he declined to be interviewed. You can check out the interview I did with him for his first campaign in 2008 here if you’re interested. Steve Brown was the first person to declare his candidacy against Reynolds this cycle. A former White House intern and legislative staffer, Brown owns a public affairs firm that has counted Houston Metro as a client. He served two terms as the Fort Bend County Democratic Party chair, ran for Railroad Commissioner in 2014 (you can listen to that interview here), and made a previous run for HD27 back in 2006. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Judicial Q&A: Randy Roll

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.)

Randy Roll

Randy Roll

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

I am Randy Roll, former judge of the 179th Criminal District Court. I am now running in the Democratic Primary for that court.

I am a former teacher & translator. Originally from Port Arthur, I have lived in Houston since 1974. I have been practicing Criminal Law for 28 years.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This felony district court hears only criminal cases. From felony assault to murder, drug cases, theft, burglary, sexual assault and many more.

The penalties for felonies began with State Jail Felony punishable by not less than 180 days in State Jail Facility nor more than 24 months. 3rd degree felony punishable by 2-10 years in the penitentiary (TDC), 2nd degree 2 to 20 years, 1st degree 5 to 99 years.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I was the judge of this court (179th) from 2009 to 2012. I brought innovation and new administration to the bench. I was the first to require attorneys handling DNA to have special knowledge and training. Reformed the grand jury makeup to reflect the county’s diversity. Instituted new bond procedures for 1st time offenders. The present judge more than doubled the docket that I left, this has slowed the judicial process where defendants now must remain in jail much longer than before to have their day in court.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have 28 years experience with criminal law exclusively. More than 110 trials to verdict. I have a good work ethic. In the 4 years I had this bench, I took only 8 days vacation. We worked longer hours than other courts and reduced the wait for trial from years to 3 months. I was never reversed on any trial.

5. Why is this race important?

We need to put fairness back in the courthouse. Of the 37 judges there, we have only 3 Democrats. Everyone should have the same opportunities from the court. Presently that is not the case. Hispanics and African Americans face different standards of justice from an all Republican judiciary. We Democratic judges pushed through and supported the Public Defender’s Office against the wishes of the republican judges.

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

I have a track record as a sitting judge. I followed the law and gave everyone equal access to the court. I was never reversed by the appellate courts and that is a singular accomplishment among the 22 felony judges. We had the most multilingual court of the 22. I am fluent in Russian, German, French and Spanish. I reformed, the Grand Jury makeup, DNA use in court, and popularized bond specific cases and pretrial bonds. I want to continue these reforms that have suffered under an almost all republican judiciary. I am the best candidate in the primary to institute these reforms. In the Democratic Primary, voters should support me because of my deep Democratic Party roots as evidenced by my long term (since 2002) involvement in the Democratic party, my history of running as a Democrat and my extensive contribution of time and money to Democratic Party causes.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Every investigation on Planned Parenthood has cleared them

From Think Progress:

After a months-long investigation, a Texas grand jury decided not to indict Planned Parenthood on Monday — providing more confirmation that there’s no solid evidence to support the accusations against the national women’s health organization.

This trend goes far beyond Texas. Across the country, GOP-led investigations into Planned Parenthood’s activities haven’t turned up any proof that the organization is breaking the law.

Planned Parenthood has been under fire thanks to a series of undercover videos secretly filmed byanti-abortion activists affiliated with a sting group called the Center for Medical Progress. After those videos were released, right-wing lawmakers rushed to accuse Planned Parenthood of illegally trafficking in aborted baby parts, and GOP officials launched investigations into the group at both the state and federal levels. This fall, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards was required to testify before Congress to defend her organization’s activities.

Despite the increased scrutiny on Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation program, however, Republican officials are coming up empty.

In addition to the grand jury in Texas, officials in 11 other states — Kansas, Florida, Ohio, Washington, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, and South Dakota — have also concluded their investigations into Planned Parenthood by clearing the organizationof any wrongdoing. Many of these investigations have been quite extensive and time consuming. In Missouri, for example, the state attorney general confirmed there’s no evidence of misconduct at the state’s only Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis after reviewing more than 3,500 pages of documents and conducting multiple interviews with the clinic’s employees.

Eight additional states, meanwhile, have determined they don’t have enough evidence against Planned Parenthood to justify conducting an investigation in the first place. Although politicians there pushed for a probe, officials ultimately concluded that it would be a waste of time.

See here for the background. The Harris County District Clerk has released scans of the indictments – the “tampering with a government document” indictments are here, and the “knowingly offer to buy human body parts” indictment is here; this Trib story adds some details. Basically, the two CMP clowns presented fake California drivers’ licenses to the Planned Parenthood people they interacted with, and they did this for the purpose of proving to them that they were not on PP’s internal list of known bad guys. That’s “intent to defraud and harm another”, which is what made this more serious than your average underage kid showing fake ID to get into a bar. I’m sure their defense attorneys will vigorously contest the indictments – this Trib story suggests they will claim a First Amendment justification for creating the fake IDs – and it’s certainly possible they’ll succeed, but that’s what the charges are about.

Again, the larger point is that the practices that these liars accused Planned Parenthood of engaging in – selling fetal tissue for profit – has been investigated coast to coast by nearly two dozen different state entities, and every single one of them has concluded that those claims are false. A normal person, one with a modicum of honesty and integrity, might reasonably conclude that the weight of the evidence so far more than exonerates Planned Parenthood. A dishonest person who lacks any integrity will keep trying to prove that the lies are true.

The Harris County investigation was one of several that began in the state after the center released footage of a Houston clinic executive casually discussing the methods and costs of preserving fetal tissue, which Republican state officials said was proof the organization was making a profit.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a tea party firebrand from Houston, was the first to call for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to investigate. He also directed a state Senate committee to conduct its own probe.

On Monday, Patrick issued a statement saying the Senate probe would continue because “the horrific nature of these videos demand scrutiny and investigation.”

Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who also ordered their own investigations, released statements saying they would continue.

“The fact remains that the videos exposed the horrific nature of abortion and the shameful disregard for human life of the abortion industry,” Paxton said.

You guys are going to have to clap harder than that. Tinker Bell will never get better unless you really, really mean it. What I believe is that while one can win transient battles based on lies, sooner or later it falls apart and the truth comes out. When that happens, there is a price to be paid. I look forward to seeing the tab for this one. BOR, the Trib, Vox, RH Reality Check, Dan Solomon, TPM, Lisa Falkenberg, and Andrea Grimes, who has a decidedly more pessimistic take than I do, have more.

UPDATE: Another Chron story, noting that 1) a lot of damage has already been done to Planned Parenthood, and 2) the fanatical opponents aren’t going anywhere. Meanwhile, DA Devon Anderson is probably happy all this happened after the filing deadline for the primaries, and Dahlia Lithwick weighs in.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

MALDEF sues over provision of border bill

Worth watching.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, filed suit Sunday against Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw and the Texas Public Safety Commission, which oversees the DPS. The group alleges that the state has violated the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause because immigration enforcement is only a federal responsibility. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of two San Antonio landlords and the director of an immigrant services agency, also says the new provision violates the plaintiffs’ guarantee to due process.

The provision in question is part of House Bill 11, a sweeping border security measure that went into effect in September.

Under that provision, people commit a crime if they “encourage or induce a person to enter or remain in this country in violation of federal law by concealing, harboring, or shielding that person from detection.”

MALDEF said the law was “enacted on dubious advice” because lawmakers were warned that the harboring provision would not withstand a constitutional challenge.

“The U.S. Supreme Court, as well as federal courts in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina have all struck down, as unconstitutional, state-enacted immigrant harboring laws like the one in HB 11,” Nina Perales, MALDEF’s vice president of litigation and the plaintiffs’ lead counsel, said in a statement. “Texas already has enough laws to protect us from human smuggling without targeting religious and nonprofit organizations that care for immigrants.”

[…]

Perales said recent testimony by McCraw at the state Capitol made filing the litigation more urgent.

“We do know from public statements that were made by Director McCaw that they are moving forward to implement the harboring law so now was the time to challenge it,” she said.

The lawsuit specifically cites McCraw’s testimony from last week where he told lawmakers about the agency’s preparations to further implement HB 11.

“Yes, we’ve educated [and] we’ve trained,” the filing quotes McCraw as telling the committee.

TrailBlazers has a copy of the lawsuit and some further detail.

Lawmakers said their goal was to target those engaged in the criminal business of smuggling. But codifying that intent proved difficult, as many raised concerns that pastors, immigration-rights groups and others could be roped in with felony charges.

“The bill that was filed … didn’t account for a lot situations that could put family members or people innocently going about their day in the sights of prosecution,” said Rep. Poncho Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass.

So Republicans and Democrats – along with a spate of attorneys – teamed up to allay those concerns.

They ended up focusing on those who “encourage or induce a person to enter or remain in this country in violation of federal law by concealing, harboring, or shielding that person from detection.” The person would have to have the intent of obtaining financial gain.

That work helped the bill receive significant Democratic support. But it didn’t erase all worries.

“We needed to rifle shot that thing a little bit more,” said Nevarez, who worked on the language and still voted for the bill. “We tried, and it may be that this lawsuit is a good way of showing us how we need to tailor the statute a little bit better.”

[…]

The MALDEF suit focuses on two landlords – one in Farmers Branch – who don’t ask their tenants to prove their immigration status before renting, along with an aid group that provides shelter and legal services to those who are in the country illegally.

Rep. Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat who also worked on the bill , said a prosecutor would be “ill-advised” to pursue those cases. He added: “The goal was to be precise in targeting people that were part of smuggling networks, part of a criminal element.”

That’s certainly a reasonable goal, but it sounds like it may not have been met. We know that immigration issues will be on the front burner for the 2017 Legislature, though much of that is about pandering and fearmongering. If we can get past that, perhaps this issue can be addressed constructively, whether or not the court has ruled on it by then. I hope so, anyway. The Current has more.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters, That's our Lege.