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UIL punts again on transgender athletes

I say again, please reconsider this.

The debate over the University Interscholastic League’s policy for transgender athletes continues after the organization’s legislative council took no action during Tuesday’s meeting in Round Rock.

The UIL rule stating a student’s gender is identified by his or her birth certificate is scheduled to go into effect Aug. 1 after district superintendents and athletic directors voted 409-25 in favor in February, but LGBT advocates believe the rule violates Title IX and the UIL Constitution.

The UIL is part of the University of Texas at Austin and abides by its constitution, which prohibits gender identity discrimination.

LGBT advocates are lobbying to allow students to participate in sports under whichever gender they identify with and delay implementation of the new policy. The UIL opted to table the debate for a later date considering pending litigation.

See here, here, and here for the background. Given the current climate of potty hysteria, I don’t expect the UIL to reconsider. I almost can’t blame them, however un-courageous they’re being. This one will be resolved in the courts, sometime after the policy becomes official in August. It’s just where we are these days.

Posted in: Other sports.

Saturday video break: Let’s Get Married

I give you the great Rev. Al Green:

Makes you want to rush out and buy a ring, doesn’t it? Now for a Scottish twist on that, here’s The Proclaimers:

If someone in that audience didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to pop the question, then I just don’t know what we’re even doing here.

Posted in: Music.

What’s the roadmap for ridesharing regulations look like?

This is going to be a challenge, no matter how you feel about it.

Uber

Several state legislators have made it clear they’re eager to take control of rules for ride-hailing companies in Texas, shifting power from individual cities to the state. But with six months until the next legislative session, there’s no clear consensus on how exactly to go about it.

The Legislature has tried before — and failed — to come up with statewide regulations sought by industry heavyweights Uber and Lyft to free them from conflicting local rules.

But the recent decision by voters in Austin — the conservative state’s liberal capital — to reject rules sought by the ride-hailing giants has been a rallying cry for lawmakers.

“We don’t live in a democracy,” said. Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas. “All the authority cities have comes from the Legislature. They exist by the mercy of the Legislature. So we have a distinct role in overseeing all political subdivisions that we create, and we’ve got to make sure that they don’t trample economic liberty, personal liberty and freedoms.”

After the Austin election, Huffines immediately called for state regulations, or what he called “deregulations,” and was unconcerned with overriding the will of local voters.

Lyft

“People get riled up, and they pick up their pitchforks and they run to the ballot box or they run to the barn and tar and feather or lynch someone,” he said. “We have rules of law relating to protecting the views of the minority.”

Huffines wasn’t the only state legislator whose ears perked up at news that Austin voters upheld city rules for ride-hailing companies over those backed by Uber and Lyft. His Senate colleague, Georgetown Republican Charles Schwertner, also pledged to draft legislation.

“We’re exploring all options,” Schwertner said. “There’s the background check and then there’s fingerprinting, those are two separate issues. There’s competing discussions … I personally have not made any decisions as to what is the best statutory language to put in the bill.”

[…]

For Schwertner, the layered concerns of ride-hailing companies, drivers, riders and municipalities indicate that statewide regulations would be the best route forward.

“I think the safety issue in my mind is paramount,” he said, pointing to concerns with drunk driving. “[There is] the mobility issue, economic issue — it’s multi-tiered. It’s not just a local control versus state regulation issue. It’s all those things. When you look at the totality of the concerns, it favors statewide, uniform, consistent and fair regulation.”

I’m glad to hear that from Sen. Schwertner, since his initial statements following the rejection of Prop 1 were mostly bombast. I’m still not convinced that the Legislature needs to step in on what has traditionally been a local issue, but if we can have a reasonably serious discussion about what we want ridesharing regulations to accomplish, and if we can get Uber and Lyft to be more forthcoming with their data, then this could be a positive experience. My personal preference, if this must happen, is for the state to provide a minimum set of standards that cities and counties are then allowed to add onto as they see fit. And if we really care about having a free market and not just a greased skid for the two major players, then let’s be sure to not impede the new players who are trying to fill the niche that Uber and Lyft voluntarily left behind.

On the matter of overriding municipal ordinances, that appears to now be on the table:

After a visit Wednesday from top Uber brass, Texas state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, appeared to soften his position against a possible statewide bill that would replace city ordinances regulating rideshare companies.

As the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Pickett’s position on the matter is crucial. Any bill regulating how companies such as Uber screen their drivers likely would be assigned to his committee, where Pickett would have power to block them.

[…]

Immediately after [the Austin Prop 1 rideshare vote], two Republican lawmakers said they would introduce bills in the 2017 legislative session that would overturn fingerprint requirements in Austin and Houston. Pickett said he would oppose such bills since they would thwart the will of local voters.

However, the El Paso lawmaker this week said there might be some room for compromise.

Houston Chronicle business columnist Chris Tomlinson in May speculated that the real reason Uber and Lyft are opposed to fingerprinting drivers is that their turnover rate is so high that many drivers won’t wait the 10 or so days it takes for the checks to be completed.

An Uber spokeswoman Thursday did not respond directly when asked if that is the case.

But Pickett said that on Wednesday he discussed a compromise with Uber brass that might solve that problem. Under it, riders could specifically request drivers who had undergone fingerprint-based FBI background checks.

“I told them that on the surface, it seemed like a hybrid that could work,” Pickett said.

Pickett goes on to say that he’d want to see if this idea is acceptable to cities and his colleagues first. It’s also not clear if Uber and Lyft would go for this; the basic idea has been floated in Austin with no apparent interest. There’s still a lot of moving parts here, and it’s not clear what if anything will be the consensus position, or at least the position that a majority will approve.

On a side note, good Lord is Don Huffines an idiot. Please, Dallas Democrats, find someone who can run against him in 2018. I know that’s an off-year and all, but his district isn’t that red. Even in the dumpster fire of 2014, SD16 was what passes for competitive, with Greg Abbott leading Wendy Davis by a 57.5-41.0 margin; not close, obviously, but slightly less Republican than the state as a whole. Please find a decent candidate and put some money into that race. Surely we can do better than this.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, That's our Lege.

Where’s the abortion data?

The ACLU would like to know.

Right there with them

Right there with them

With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to decide the biggest abortion case in nearly a decade, the ACLU of Texas is demanding that the Department of State Health Services “stop concealing” abortion statistics for 2014 and make the information public.

In a letter sent Wednesday to department Commissioner John Hellerstedt, the ACLU accused the state agency of purposely withholding statistics that would show patterns of abortion across the state in 2014, including the number of Texan women who had abortions, the procedures they used and the types of facilities they visited.

The 2014 data is particularly significant, the ACLU said, because it was the first full year during which the state implemented provisions of the controversial abortion law known as House Bill 2. That law, which is the subject of a Supreme Court case, requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of an abortion clinic and also requires clinics to maintain the same standards as hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers.

“It has come to our attention that your agency completed the relevant statistical tables in March 2016,” the ACLU letter said. “Since that time, upper-level supervisors within DSHS have instructed employees to mislead the public about whether these statistical tables are complete, and to refrain from sending email about the statistics in order to avoid creating a paper trail.”

The Department of State Health Services said the data remained incomplete.

“If the data were final, we would release it,” a department spokeswoman said in an email. “The detailed data for 2014 isn’t final yet for Texas. We released the provisional total as soon as it was ready several months ago, but the underlying details are being reviewed for accuracy. For the last several years, Texas abortion data was typically finalized and published between March and June.”

Yeah, I’m afraid the state doesn’t get any benefit of the doubt here. No question, if the data made their legal case look weaker, they’d do whatever they felt like doing to obfuscate for as long as possible. Sure, the DSHS could be telling the truth here, and under normal circumstances I’d counsel patience. But these aren’t normal circumstances, and there’s no basis for trust. Show us the numbers ASAP.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Hey, look, it’s another Astrodome proposal

Meet A-Dome Park.

A Houston architect is touting a new idea for the Astrodome’s overhaul, urging the county to avoid an indoor park concept and instead strip the structure down to its bones.

The concept, dubbed “A-Dome Park,” is being advanced by James Richards and Ben Olschner, architects who previously worked at Herzog & de Meuron, the firm behind London’s Tate Modern and the Olympics stadium in Beijing.

As Richards sees it, Harris County’s current plans for the stadium — essentially, an indoor park and events space — aren’t particularly unique, especially given the proliferation of world-class parks in Houston and abundant event space that already exists at the NRG Center complex.

[…]

Richards, who moved to Houston in 2014, isn’t a fan of the current concept, with its emphasis on indoor activity, and he thinks the 2013 vote is a testament to the fact that Harris County residents aren’t either.

He believes that despite the region’s brutal summer heat, few Houstonians will want to spend their free time within an indoor park — especially given the relatively mild weather Houston enjoys the rest of the year — and he’s skeptical that the plans for vast amounts of plant life inside the facility are realistic. He also doesn’t think restaurants and others vendors on the first floor of the Dome (part of the ULI proposal) will actually be financially viable, based on the number of people who will visit the indoor park on a regular basis.

So instead, Richards and his partners on the “A-Dome park” proposal are envisioning something totally different. The idea isn’t to just preserve the Astrodome but to highlight — and even expose — the architectural elements that made it world famous.

Richards wants to strip the structure down to its steel bones. The idea is to remove the non-structural surfaces of both the Astrodome exterior and interior, leaving only the dramatic steel frame, which would be painted to prevent decay. The plan, Richards argues, highlights the innovative engineering that went into the dome structure itself while also creating a space that offers a completely unique experience.

The A-Dome Park website is here, and you can see plenty of pictures of the proposal at the Urban Edge post. If some of this sounds familiar, it’s because it is similar in nature to Ryan Slattery’s strip-the-Dome-to-its-skeleton idea from 2013. The first comment on the Urban Edge post deals with that, so good look and see what you think. I’m not enough of a design nerd to comment on the merits of one versus the other or the current Harris County plan. I will just say again, generating ideas for the Dome is easy enough – I’ve long since lost count of the plans and proposals that have been floated, and every time anyone writes about the Dome more people will chime in with “what about this…” suggestions. The hard part is finding one proposal that can get enough support to be politically and financially viable, since the stumbling block all along has been how to pay for it. Maybe this is it, maybe the county’s plan is it, maybe it’s something else, who knows? I’m sure Judge Emmett would like to have whatever it is in motion by the time he steps down. Swamplot has more.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

Let’s please get the children covered

Surely that’s not too much to ask.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Five nonprofit organizations and community groups in Texas, including three in the Houston area, have been awarded a combined $4.78 million by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to boost efforts to enroll the state’s nearly three-quarters of a million uninsured children, the federal agency announced on Monday.

Texas leads the nation not only in the number of overall uninsured but also in the number of children under age 18 who lack health insurance coverage. More than one in 10 Texas children 18 and younger remain uninsured, according to an U.S. Census analysis and other studies.

The awards to Texas organizations are designed to get more eligible children enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, commonly known as CHIP.

The Texas groups receiving funds are Gateway to Care, a Houston-based collaborative assisting in access to health care; Lone Star Legal Aid, also of Houston; Children’s Defense Fund-Texas in Bellaire; the Bexar County Hospital District’s University Health System in San Antonio; and the Community Council of Greater Dallas.

Surely we can all agree that having healthy children is in everyone’s best interest. That means ensuring that all children have access to health care, including dental care, which in turn means getting all eligible children enrolled in CHIP. The return on the investment is pretty good, but beyond that, it’s just the right thing to do. This is a concrete and relatively inexpensive thing we can do for the children that we claim as a society to value. You would think that for the political party that is obsessed with “unborn” children and imaginary predators in public bathrooms, that enrolling as many eligible children as possible in CHIP would be a no-brainer. Sadly, that self-proclaimed concern form children never seems to extend that far. It’s a good thing we have the federal government and a passel of caring non-profits to step in and fill the gap.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Friday random ten: In the city, part 15

We come to the end of another theme.

1. Weekend In Cincinnati – The Bobs
2. Welcome To New York – Taylor Swift
3. Werewolfs Of London – Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon
4. The Wexford Carol – The Chieftains
5. The Wharton UFO – Flying Fish Sailors
6. When In Rome – Billy Joel
7. Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell
8. You & Me In A Rowboat To Rio – Eddie From Ohio
9. Youngstown – Bruce Springsteen
10. 4th Of July, Asbury Park – Bruce Springsteen

One more New York song for the road. I don’t usually do two songs by the same artist on one of these lists, but when you’re at the end these things happen. I don’t know what my next theme is yet, but I’ll figure something out.

Posted in: Music.

Judicial Q&A revisited: Chip Wells

As you know, in addition to selecting a Democratic nominee for County Commissioners Court in Precinct 1, precinct chairs everywhere in Harris County will get to select two judicial nominees, for newly-created courts. There are six people who have expressed an interest in the new 507th Family District Court. Five of them have submitted judicial Q&As to me for prior candidacies; the sixth will send in responses separately. I had considered soliciting new Q&A responses from the candidates that I knew about, but ultimately decided that there was not likely to be much difference in the responses, so I’m going with reruns from those past candidacies.

Chip Wells was a candidate for the 247th Family District Court in 2014 and 2010. Here are the responses he sent to me for the 2014 primary.

Chip Wells

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

I am Clinton “Chip” Wells and I am the Democratic nominee for Judge in the 247th Family District Court of Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court presides over divorces, suits affecting the parent-child relationship, adoptions and enforcement matters.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for Judge in this particular Court because in 2010 this Court had become one of the most inhospitable Court in the Family courthouse. Judge Hellums was seeking re-election in 2010 and I entered the Democratic primary for the opportunity to challenge her on that Bench. I lost that primary. I was approached again in 2014 and asked to consider running for a Family Bench again. I chose to seek election in the 247th District Court because Judge Hellums was retiring from the Bench after many years of service and I believed that I could bring my experience and willingness to serve to that Court for a positive improvement.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been practicing law in the State of Texas for more than 37 years. I have handled cases across this State from El Paso to Beaumont and Brownsville to Dallas. I have tried many cases with and without juries in matters involving family law, plaintiff’s personal injury law, civil litigation, criminal law and probate. In addition to my legal experience I am a certified mediator having received training at the AA White Dispute Resolution Center. In addition to my mediation training I am certified in family mediation.

5. Why is this race important?

The race in the 247th Judicial District Court is important for many reasons. You are more likely to find yourself, your friends, family members or neighbors in a family law court than any other court in this State. Because these courts deal with our most precious possessions, our children and our families, these courts require a Judge who has the experience and training to render a fair and impartial judgment. Justice matters. Experience, compassion, and a common sense approach to problem resolution is required for any Judge elected to serve in our Family District Courts.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the choice for Judge in the 247th Family District Court. I have the training and experience that I have gained over 37 years practicing law representing individuals and families across this State. I have a reputation for compassion, equality and common sense resolution necessary to sit in Judgment of disputed matters. I have the life experiences that assure a compassionate, understanding approach to oversee the resolution of these disputed matters. If justice and experience matter then Clinton “Chip” Wells is the choice to serve as a Judge in the 247th Family District Court of Harris County, Texas.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Texas anti-refugee lawsuit dismissed

Good.

Texas on Thursday lost its fight against the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state, ending a months-long battle during which refugees from the war-torn country continued to arrive.

Dealing the final blow to Gov. Greg Abbott’s effort to keep Syrian refugees out of the state, a federal judge dismissed Texas’ lawsuit against the federal government and a refugee resettlement agency over the resettlement of the refugees.

In an order dated Wednesday and released Thursday, Dallas-based U.S. District Judge David Godbey said the state did not have grounds to sue the federal government over this and failed to provide a “plausible claim” that a refugee resettlement nonprofit breached its contract.

The judge’s dismissal comes after several failed attempts by state Attorney General Ken Paxton to block the arrival of Syrian refugees to the state. Texas first filed suit in December against the federal government and the International Rescue Committee — one of about 20 private nonprofits that have a state contract to resettle refugees in Texas — saying they were violating federal law by moving forward with the planned resettlement of Syrian refugees.

[…]

Paxton’s office in December dropped its first request for an order to block the resettlement of two Syrian families that arrived in Houston and Dallas that month. Godbey then knocked down a second request to bar nine other Syrian refugees from arriving in Texas. But the state moved forward with its lawsuit, saying the federal government was required to consult with the state in advance of any additional refugee placements.

Godbey on Thursday reiterated in his ruling that the state “lacks a cause of action” to enforce that consultation requirement.

Meanwhile, the International Rescue Committee celebrated the win. The judge’s dismissal “upholds and affirms” the United States’ history of providing refuge for those fleeing violence, Jennifer Sime, a senior vice president with the International Rescue Committee, said in a statement.

“The court is unequivocal in validating the lawfulness of the refugee resettlement program and reaffirms Texas’ legacy in welcoming refugees,” Sime added.

See here for the background. Just a reminder, it’s faith-based organizations that have been the ones working to resettle the refugees in Texas. It all has to do with that biblical what-would-Jesus-do stuff that Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton love to talk about when it suits their political agenda, but only then. In the meantime, over 200 Syrian refugees have been relocated to Texas, and the earth has continued to rotate on its axis. Let this now be the end of this foolishness.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.

How much would you pay to fix Houston’s sewer system?

Whatever your answer to that question is, the real answer is that it could be quite a lot.

Years of Houston’s cracked, clogged or flooded sewer pipes belching raw waste into residents’ yards and city streets have City Hall facing a federal decree that sources say could force the city to invest $5 billion in upgrades.

As in dozens of cities across the country, the looming Environmental Protection Agency mandate likely will force Houstonians to pay sharply higher water bills to fund the improvements.

[…]

As is the case in Wood Shadows, many of Houston’s sewer overflows reach local bayous and breed bacteria. These violations of the Clean Water Act create health risks severe enough that experts advise against swimming in local waterways, 80 percent of which fall short of water quality standards for fecal bacteria.

Rather than face a lawsuit from the EPA, which enforces the Clean Water Act, city officials have spent the last few years negotiating a so-called consent decree, a binding agreement that specifies projects aimed at reducing spills by upgrading pipes, ramping up maintenance and educating the public on how they can avoid clogging Houston’s 6,700 miles of sewers, such as not pouring grease down the drain.

EPA officials declined comment, and city leaders have resisted discussing details of the talks, but three sources with knowledge of the negotiations say the efforts expected to be required under the mandate could cost an estimated $5 billion.

Mayor Sylvester Turner has acknowledged the negotiations are “significant,” and said he has discussed the decree directly with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and plans to soon meet with Houston’s Congressional delegation on the issue.

“We are not opposed to making improvements, but we want the costs to be reasonable and spread out over the next 20 years so we can avoid any dramatic spiking of ratepayer rates,” Turner said. “Negotiations are ongoing on all fronts.”

Brent Fewell, an environmental consultant and former top official in the EPA’s water division, agreed that getting more time to comply with a decree can curtail a rate hike. Still, he said, Houstonians should expect to pay more.

“These are big-ticket items. They’re not cheap, and it definitely has an impact,” Fewell said. “There are some communities that have seen as much as 100 percent to 150 percent increases in their water rates based on these consent decrees.”

Houston’s sewers have lagged since the city’s first postwar boom, with City Hall, critics say, tending to make fixes only when forced to by regulators.

Whatever sewage treatment plants could not handle in the 1960s was dumped straight into the bayous, making Houston for decades the region’s single worst water polluter. The Texas Attorney General took the city to court over the issue in 1974, securing a judgment that restricted Houston’s development until new plants were built.

Those investments did not end the spills, however, so another round of decrees spurred a mid-1990s effort that repaired a quarter of the city’s sewer pipes and upgraded many treatment plants and pump stations.

Even that $1.2 billion program didn’t fix the problem, leading to another 2005 state mandate that Houston is scheduled to satisfy this month. That mandate was to replace 1,800 miles of pipe, clean twice that much, and cut grease clogs by passing an ordinance requiring restaurants to clean their grease traps.

For a bit of extra credit, do some reading over at the city’s Wastewater Operations page. I’m reminded of a story I heard from the professor of an urban history class I took in college. He talked about how in New York, specifically in Manhattan, the upper classes lived farther north in the pre-indoor plumbing days, and thus were first in line to both cook and wash with, and dump their waste into, the Hudson and East Rivers. Those of lesser means, who lived south – that is, downstream – from there, were thus “literally eating shit”, as he put it.

Try to keep that in mind when you read this story, because it’s our sewer system and wastewater treatment plants that allow us to avoid a similar fate. Whatever the city negotiates with the EPA, the cost of building more capacity and fixing old leaks will be passed on to all of us, and no one will like it. If you want to blame someone for it, blame all the public officials og generations past that failed to maintain the city’s water infrastructure, and the voters who let them get away with it. It will not be much fun fixing this problem, but the alternatives are all much worse.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

What do you get when you cut off funds for HIV testing?

You get no HIV testing, of course.

Right there with them

Right there with them

When Texas abruptly ended its $600,000 HIV prevention contract with Planned Parenthood’s Houston affiliate in late December, state health officials promisedthat there would be no interruption in services. The Department of State Health Services parceled the money out to three county health departments in the Houston area and insisted at the time that the counties would have the capacity to pick up where Planned Parenthood left off.

But the Observer has learned that as of early June, Harris County’s health department has yet to perform a single HIV test with the money.

So far, the department has received about $250,000 in state funding but is still in the planning stages for its program. The Fort Bend and Galveston County health departments also received smaller portions of the money — Galveston began providing testing in March; Fort Bend hired its staff and began testing in May.

In the five months since losing its contract, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast (PPGC) estimates that it would have provided 2,900 HIV tests and distributed around 165,000 condoms. Rochelle Tafolla, PPGC’s spokesperson, said most of its testing was conducted in Harris County, the most populous in Texas and home to nearly 23,000 Texans living with HIV. According to state data, Harris County is home to one in four new Texas HIV cases every year and its diagnosis rate is nearly double the state average. Among the state’s five largest urban counties, only Dallas County has a higher new diagnosis rate.

Martha Marquez, spokesperson for the Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services Department, told the Observer that the department plans to hire three staff members and begin testing “in the coming weeks.”

[…]

Testing individuals at risk for HIV as quickly as possible is “key” for reducing new infection rates, said Daniel Williams, policy and regional field coordinator atEquality Texas.

“It’s unfortunate that an organization that had a proven track record in doing exactly what this contract was intended to do was removed from it,” he said. “It’s doubly unfortunate that the contract was then sent to an agency that doesn’t have the resources to pick it right up without the delay.”

Williams pointed to other organizations in the Houston area that provide HIV testing and might have been better prepared than the county health department to pick up where PPGC left off, such as Legacy Community Health or The Montrose Center.

“Harris County has lagged behind the rest of the state in reducing its HIV infection rate, and this six-month gap in performing testing and getting people into treatment is making the situation worse,” he said.

See here for the background. You know who doesn’t care about any of this? Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, that’s who. I guarantee, we’ll never hear them talk about this in any way that suggests they recognize there was a problem. They really do care about the sanctity of life, don’t they? Slate has more.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Benjamin Elder

Meet Benjamin Elder, a better and braver person than Dan Patrick will ever be.

Spend a few hours in Benjamin Elder’s company and you’ll realize he’s an average, bubbly 10-year-old kid.

All lanky limbs and wavy chestnut-colored hair, he’s easy to pick out of a room by his infectious laughter and toothy grin.

His favorite food is mac and cheese — really any kind of pasta dish — and he loves to play outside. He wants to be a scientist when he grows up, but he’s also interested in gymnastics. His favorite color is blue.

He’s a massive fan of American Ninja Warrior, an obstacle competition show. He has a pet hamster named Princess and two sweet dogs named Pepper and Maple. And his room is a shrine to Minecraft, stuffed animals, Pokemon figures and his martial arts medals.

Most people don’t realize he is transgender. And that’s kind of the point, his mother Ann Elder often repeats.

[…]

Despite the fight over which bathroom transgender kids can use, Ben’s doing just fine. A lot of other transgender kids have fears about even using the bathrooms in school, said Robbie Sharp, a Houston developmental psychologist and Ben’s gender therapist.

“For the kids, it’s not a matter of what’s on the bathroom door,” Sharp said. “It’s, ‘This is who I am, and this is the bathroom I go into.’”

Ben, in the meantime, breaks into laughter when he thinks about bathrooms. He struggles to get through his giggles while recounting a story about his best friend accidentally using the girls’ bathroom once.

In addressing the push against transgender-inclusive bathroom policies, he responds just like any other 10-year-old might address a serious issue — with short answers and humor.

“So Ben, what do you think about the Texas [lieutenant] governor wanting to make you use the girls’ bathroom?” his mother asks on the drive back home from dinner.

Ben quickly responds: “One word: Bad.”

“If you could talk to him, what would you say?” she follows up.

He’s pensive for a few seconds before his lips slip into a sly smirk and he prepares to address the non-present lieutenant governor. “You’re mean!” he says loudly. Then he erupts into a fit of giggles.

Ben’s mom Ann is one of the parents who called out Dan Patrick for putting their children in danger with his potty obsession. I’ll be as blunt as I can about this: If Dan Patrick, who has admitted that he doesn’t actually know any transgender people, is not willing to meet with Ben Elder and tell him to his face why he cannot use the boys’ bathroom at his school, then Dan Patrick is a coward. So what’s it going to be, Dan? What are you afraid of?

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Judicial Q&A revisited: Sandra Peake

As you know, in addition to selecting a Democratic nominee for County Commissioners Court in Precinct 1, precinct chairs everywhere in Harris County will get to select two judicial nominees, for newly-created courts. There are six people who have expressed an interest in the new 507th Family District Court. Five of them have submitted judicial Q&As to me for prior candidacies; the sixth will send in responses separately. I had considered soliciting new Q&A responses from the candidates that I knew about, but ultimately decided that there was not likely to be much difference in the responses, so I’m going with reruns from those past candidacies.

Sandra Peake was a candidate for the 246th Family District Court in 2014; she also ran for the 257th Family Court in 2010. Here are the responses she sent to me for the 2014 primary.

Sandra Peake

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

My name is Sandra Peake, and I am running for the 246th Family District Court

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court hears family law related cases: divorce, child custody disputes, child support establishment, enforcement and modification, adoptions, name changes, post divorce property disputes, etc.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this particular bench because the Judge York is not seeking re-election. I wanted to have the experience of running for an open bench.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced before these Courts for the past 30 years and am sensitive to the unique issues that arise in family law cases, particularly giving consideration to the culturally and religiously diverse families who make up a significant proportion of the population in Harris County. The citizens of this county deserve consistent application of the law, courtesy and fairness. I am up to the challenge of ensuring judicial excellence by ruling decisively with impartiality; and, by respecting the time constraints of the litigants and their lawyers.

5. Why is this race important?

All of the races on the ballot are important. However, those races which are more likely to impact an average family, it is more likely than not that the average person will have occasion to have a case pending in family court because of the high rate of divorce and the number of children being raised in single parent households. Children will primarily reside with a parent or extended family member. Parents will get divorced, need post divorce changed circumstance modifications, enforcement of their existing orders. The definition of the family is constantly evolving and the statutes defining the family relationship will eventually evolve as well.

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

I think people should vote for me in the primary because I am an experienced family lawyer with over 30 years of experience handling the type of typically handled by family court judges. I have also mediated and number of cases and endorse alternate dispute resolution as a means of opening up the lines of communication between disputing family members. I believe I have run a principled practice with focus on not only the client being represented, but with goal toward how this particular family can be salvaged so that going forward, there is a working relationship if at all possible, for the children’s sake.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Sen. Ellis claims a majority of Precinct 1 endorsements

This may end the suspense for the June 25 precinct convention.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Senator Rodney Ellis has won the public support of 65 of the 125 Precinct One precinct chairs eligible to vote in the June 25 selection process for the Democratic nominee for Harris County Commissioner, Precinct One.

Today’s announcement followed the endorsement of Ellis last week by Kaye Lee, the widow of the late Commissioner El Franco Lee, and the endorsements of many community leaders and a super-majority of Democratic elected officials representing Harris County.

Senator Ellis made the following statement:

“I am very grateful and very honored to have the support of these leaders who are tasked with the responsibility of selecting the Democratic Party’s nominee for Precinct One Commissioner.

“To the these 65 precinct chairs, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support. And to those who have yet to make a decision, I will continue to work hard to earn your vote.

“The next elected commissioner will stand on the shoulders of the late, great Commissioner El Franco Lee and must honor and build on his legacy. If selected, I look forward to working in partnership with our precinct chairs to do just that and to make Harris County a better place for all of us. Roads and bridges are important, but our increasingly urbanized county needs a Democratic commissioner who will fight for so much more.

“Going along to get along won’t stop people from dying in our jail, won’t increase the local minimum wage, won’t fix our roads or prevent flooding, won’t deliver mental health care services or bring new economic opportunity to those who have been left behind.

“If we want to make those things happen, we need to fight for them – that’s what I’ve done in the State Senate and that’s the kind of Democratic spirit I’ll bring to the Commissioner’s Court.”

This was posted to Sen. Ellis’ Facebook page yesterday morning; interestingly, the first comment was an expression of doubt from Dwight Boykins, who of course is also seeking the Commissioner nomination. The chairs who have endorsed Ellis are listed in both places, which as Campos notes means that Boykins and serving Commissioner Gene Locke now know which chairs they need to target. It is also possible that some people may just change their minds, but if their experience has been anything like mine then I can say that Team Ellis has been pretty diligent about checking with them to see if anything has changed in their status. A more pressing concern may be that for whatever the reason, some of these folks may not show up on June 25. If there was ever an election in which turnout was paramount, it would be this one. Beyond that, we’ll know soon enough how accurate this count is. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: Here’s Commissioner Locke’s response to Sen. Ellis’ statement.

Posted in: Election 2016.

What should the goals for 2016 be for Texas Dems?

Given that carrying the state is highly unlikely, what else is there to aim for this year?

So will Democrats make a presidential play for Texas or not?

Presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton stoked the issue last month by saying she could win the Lone Star State. Texas Republicans responded with ridicule, pointing to their party’s longstanding dominance at the state level.

And on Tuesday, some key Democrats took a more measured approach.

“We’re not a battleground state,” said Garry Mauro, a former state land commissioner who’s a top leader in Clinton’s Texas campaign. “You won’t see the Democratic Party or Hillary Clinton spend a hundred million dollars in Texas.”

But, Mauro and others said, the bellicose talk of GOP nominee Donald Trump has presented Texas Democrats with opening – if they are willing to seize it.

“We’re going to have to do it ourselves,” interjected Jacob Limon, the Texas director for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

[…]

So does that include a real Democratic push this fall in Texas, where Democrats haven’t won statewide since 1994? Mauro insisted that Trump’s comments about minorities – and the state’s demographic mix – could make it difficult for him to carry Texas.

Crystal Perkins, the Texas Democratic Party’s executive director, didn’t disagree. But she also made sure to point to the future.

“We’re thinking about 2018 and 2020,” she said. “We have big priorities in Texas.”

I certainly agree with that last sentence, and the more we can tie Donald Trump to the state leadership, the better. Regardless of anything else, the main goal here should be to increase turnout over 2012, ideally over 2008. The conditions are right to bring a bunch of new voters to the polls, and then maybe – just maybe – a few of them will be persuaded to come out again in two years’ time. It’s nice to think, isn’t it? The first step needs to be taken before that can happen, and that’s voting this year. What’s a good number to set as a goal? I’ll let a Republican make a suggestion.

The last time a Democratic presidential candidate lost to a Republican by only single digits in Texas was the 1996 Bill Clinton-Bob Dole race, and Ross Perot that year got nearly 7 percent of the vote.

“It’s hard for me to see how Hillary breaks a 45 percent ceiling,” said Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak. “I would tend to respect Garry Mauro’s expert opinion about Texas a hell of a lot more than I would respect Hillary’s.”

Forty-five percent may sound daunting – you can count on your fingers the number of Dems who have reached that level since 2002 – but it’s not that far off. Obama got 43.68% in 2008, after all. To reach 45% would mean Hillary Clinton would need to collect 3.8 million votes if the total number of Republican and others remains the same – in other words, a 500,000 vote increase (15%) on 2012’s mark of 3.3 million. If Clinton can steal votes from Trump, or if he has the effect of depressing Republican turnout, then fewer votes are needed. Clinton would have to reach 3.6 million if total turnout remains at 8 million as it was 2012. That’s a 300,000 vote increase, or 9% higher than it was in 2012. I wouldn’t suggest that either of these targets will be easy to hit, but they’re hardly insurmountable.

The prize for this is twofold. One, an overall increase in turnout means an increase in places where it will swing elections, like Harris County, maybe Fort Bend County, CD23, the attainable competitive legislative districts, et cetera. Beyond that is the change of narrative that will come if Texas is not a double-digit win for the Rs as it has been and as they are confident it will continue to be. Even a nine-point gap will make people think “hey, that’s not THAT much”. If we want to get to the point where it does seem reasonable for a Presidential campaign to pump a few million bucks into the state, that’s the cover charge. Is this likely? It would be nice to know that there’s a plan in place with the strategy and resources to achieve it – I’ll say again, for whatever it’s worth, this was the original idea behind Battleground Texas – rather than just point to the Trump dumpster fire and hope it’s enough to move the needle. Is it doable? I certainly believe so. In the meantime, and until we finally get some polling for the state, let’s keep up the pressure on Trump’s local lackeys. In addition everything else, that’s fun.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Texas blog roundup for the week of June 13

The Texas Progressive Alliance mourns with the people of Orlando as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Judicial Q&A revisited: Julia Maldonado

As you know, in addition to selecting a Democratic nominee for County Commissioners Court in Precinct 1, precinct chairs everywhere in Harris County will get to select two judicial nominees, for newly-created courts. There are six people who have expressed an interest in the new 507th Family District Court. Five of them have submitted judicial Q&As to me for prior candidacies; the sixth will send in responses separately. I had considered soliciting new Q&A responses from the candidates that I knew about, but ultimately decided that there was not likely to be much difference in the responses, so I’m going with reruns from those past candidacies. I will be publishing them over the next two weeks.

Julia Maldonado was a candidate for the 246th Family District Court in 2014. Here are the responses she sent to me for the primary that March.

Julia Maldonado

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

I am Julia Maldonado and I am a Democrat running for the 246th Family District Court. I’m a family lawyer who has been in private practice since the start of my career over fifteen years ago. Since then, I’ve built a successful small business serving families in Harris and surrounding counties.

Although born in Mexico, I have spent my life here in Houston as part of a family who sought and achieved the American Dream. After graduating from Houston public schools, I received a Business degree from the University of Houston-Downtown and a law degree from Texas Southern University. I’m a proud mother to two grown men, and just recently became a grandmother. While my eldest, Vic, graduated from the University of Houston, my youngest, Aaron, is a Freshman at Baylor University. My sons are my best accomplishment to date.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The court primarily hears cases dealing with divorce, custody, visitation, adoptions and other family matters.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

After building a private practice and serving clients on both sides of a case, I have earned the experience and temperament to serve as District Judge in this family court. This calling is something I do not approach lightly and I look forward to serving the people of Harris County.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have spent my career practicing family law. During my 2012 campaign for the Court of Appeals, I found a little bit of time to study and pass the state examination to become Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and I’m proud to say that I am the only candidate in either Party with such a designation. I have built a successful practice and I am diligent in all facets of a case. The 246th needs an impartial jurist who will ensure fairness for all parties, and I know that I am able to meet the highest ethical standards.

5. Why is this race important?

The 246th District Court needs a judge who comes to each case with no biases and high standards of jurisprudence. As a family lawyer who has represented clients in these courts, these qualities have sometimes been lacking in some of our judges. As a member of a political party that is open-minded and appreciative of diversity, I will ensure fairness and justice for all.

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

Any candidate for a family court will likely boast about their experience in the field, and I’m no different. Beyond experience, though, voters must seek the best candidates–candidates who are willing to put in the sweat and hard work of earning the vote. I was proud of my campaign in 2012 in which I was among the top vote-getters in Harris County, winning the county by over 12,000 votes. This kind of work is not easy and Democrats deserve candidates who work hard for every vote, rather than just serve as fixtures on the ballot. I am committed to putting in the hard work, raising the campaign cash, and deploying an effective campaign to earn the support of Harris County voters.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Misdemeanor charge dropped against video fraudster Daleiden

Just the misdemeanor charge, not the felony.

Right there with them

Right there with them

A Harris County judge has dropped one of the criminal charges against an anti-abortion activist who was indicted after making undercover recordings of a Houston Planned Parenthood facility.

David Daleiden, one of the videographers who infiltrated Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, had been charged with the very crime he tried to secretly catch Planned Parenthood committing — a misdemeanor charge for offering to sell or buy fetal tissue. But that charge was dismissed on Monday, according to the Harris County District Clerk website.

[…]

Daleiden’s team in April asked the judge to dismiss his indictments, alleging they were a result of improper proceedings by prosecutors and that the grand jury — originally asked to investigate Planned Parenthood, not the videographers — exceeded its authority.

In a statement Tuesday, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said the judge’s ruling was not based on Daleiden’s motion to quash the indictments.

“The basis for the judge’s ruling was not raised by the defense at any time,” Anderson said. “We do not intend to appeal the judge’s decision. Our office remains focused on the felony charge pending in the 338th District Court.”

See here and here for some background. The Press explains why the misdemeanor indictment for offering to sell or buy fetal tissue was tossed:

Judge Bull reasoned that the indictment was defective because prosecutors did not list an “exception” to the criminal charge—essentially, prosecutors didn’t list a few scenarios in which the defendants’ actions would in fact be legal. One of those exceptions that prosecutors failed to list? It just so happens to be the very defense that Planned Parenthood mounted against the radical right’s attacks: “reimbursement of expenses…incurred by the donor of a human organ in connection with the donation of the organ.”

Yes, because prosecutors didn’t write down that exception in the formal indictment, Judge Bull says the case is void.

I’m not particularly concerned about this. It’s the felony charges that matter, and those are still in place for both Daleiden and Merritt, who apparently has not yet made a decision about whether or not to accept the offer of probation from the DA. As long as Daleiden in particular goes down in a blaze of self-righteous baloney at the end of all this, I’m good. The Chron, the Observer, and Trail Blazers have more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

On Dan Patrick’s hostility to the LGBT community

Ross Ramsey sums up the Dan Patrick tweetorrhea situation and tries to make sense of it.

Not Dan Patrick…yet

Lately, the lieutenant governor has been focused on transgender Texans and which bathrooms they should use — those of their identity or those of the gender listed on their birth certificates. His argument is that perverts — men, to be specific — will find their way into women’s restrooms and locker rooms if the lines that separate the genders are blurred by recognition of transgender rights.

Patrick is not alone in this. It’s a hot issue in conservative circles with recent flashpoints in Houston, where the city’s Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was voted down last year; in North Carolina, where the backlash against a state law has included canceled conventions, concerts and corporate relocations; and in Texas, where the Fort Worth school district’s policy accommodating transgender students raised Patrick’s ire and led him to call for new leadership at the school district.

Patrick was using social media as recently as last Friday to beat the drum on the bathroom policies in Fort Worth schools. He’s been pushing that school district on one hand while shaking the other at federal education officials whose policies line up with Fort Worth ISD’s.

And Patrick is a longtime foe of same-sex marriage. His mis-tweet on that subject — “MARRIAGE= ONE MAN & ONE MAN…” brought him some social media ridicule in February 2014, when he was running for his current job. He meant one man and one woman. His real point was in the next lines: “Enough of these activist judges. FAVORITE if you agree. I know the silent majority out there is with us!”

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled bans on those marriages are unconstitutional, Patrick responded by asking the state’s top lawyer whether local officials could be forced to perform the ceremonies.

The lieutenant governor has a track record with the LGBT community. They have him marked as an opponent. He seems to have them marked the same way. Whatever else might be said about it, they don’t trust each other.

No wonder they read his Sunday morning post the way they did, assuming the worst. Their mutual history taught them to expect it.

I don’t disagree with Ramsey’s diagnosis, but the whole thing is so bloodless I feel like I’m reading about mannequins. This isn’t a dry policy dispute over tax credits or land use or what have you. It’s about people and their inclusion in society. To put it simply, Dan Patrick does not want LGBT people to exist. He wants them all to go back into the closet where he never has to see or hear or think about them again, or better yet to have their gayness or trans-ness prayed away. It doesn’t get any more fundamental than this. The article doesn’t convey that.

There’s another aspect to this that has to be said: Dan Patrick is wrong. He’s wrong on any number of levels, but most importantly he’s wrong as a matter of basic American values, in that “all men (sic) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” We have been down this road many times in our history, to remind ourselves that “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” apply to all of us, we continue down that road today, and we will still be on that road years from now. Look at it this way: In 20 or 30 years’ time, when today’s children are trying to explain our current events to whatever they’ll be calling the millennials of the future, will Dan Patrick be seen as a brave defender of America’s values, or will he be seen as another incarnation of Bull Connor? I know which outcome I’d bet on.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Pension progress report

Our favorite subject, back in the news.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner and the leaders of the city’s three pension boards made clear to a visiting group of state lawmakers on Monday that they agree a fix to the city’s growing pension burden must be found, perhaps by the mayor’s deadline of year’s end.

The state House committee on pensions set up camp at City Hall Monday to hear testimony from the mayor, his rival in last fall’s mayoral contest, Bill King, city workers and various pension experts about the challenges presented by Houston’s retiree benefits.

[…]

The chairs of the municipal (Sherry Mose), police (Terry Bratton) and fire (Todd Clark) pension boards all stressed their commitments to continuing to work with Turner in the coming months.
Even Clark, who rarely missed an opportunity to accuse former mayor Annise Parker of “attacking firefighters,” struck a conciliatory tone.

“We will continue the dialogue going forward, and we do believe by the end of the year we will have an agreement,” Clark said. “We agree that the city should be healthy and we’re willing to do our part.”

Granted, the pensions’ leaders pushed back a bit. Municipal and police leaders stressed that the city must be forced to meet its obligations, since the city’s failure to make its full payments has helped create those plans’ poor funding levels.

Both also stressed that they already have sacrificed by cutting benefits for new hires, with Mose saying, “Reform plus time equals success.” Bratton, for his part, pointedly noted that firefighters have not been similarly accommodating. Clark declined comment on that.

Clark, for his part, noted that firefighter retirement costs amount to only a few percentage points of the $2.3 billion general fund budget.

In general, however, it was clear the pension boards planned, at least publicly, to embrace “change” at the hearing.

“We see this as an opportunity. We really don’t want to come back in 2019,” Bratton said. “Our members have worried too long about the most important benefit they have and it’s time to allow them peace of mind in knowing that their benefits are secure and the plan is sustainable.”

There are plenty of people of varying degrees of trustworthiness out there who are happy to get into the gory details of this and tell us all just how DOOMED, DOOMED we are, so I’ll leave that to them. What I know is that politically speaking, Mayor Turner has staked an awful lot on his ability to get the pension funds to agree to some fundamental changes to help ease Houston’s short-term fiscal problems while ensuring the long-term future of these funds that will then be ratified by the Legislature. This is obviously a very narrow and perilous path to walk, though just getting everyone to the table to talk was a big achievement. I don’t want to say that Mayor Turner’s term in office will be judged a success or failure depending on the outcome of all this, but I think it’s fair to say that a significant part of his grade is riding on it. We’ll see what we get later this year.

Posted in: Local politics.

Judicial Q&A revisited: Jim Evans

As you know, in addition to selecting a Democratic nominee for County Commissioners Court in Precinct 1, precinct chairs everywhere in Harris County will get to select two judicial nominees, for newly-created courts. There are six people who have expressed an interest in the new 507th Family District Court. Five of them have submitted judicial Q&As to me for prior candidacies; the sixth will send in responses separately. I had considered soliciting new Q&A responses from the candidates that I knew about, but ultimately decided that there was not likely to be much difference in the responses, so I’m going with reruns from those past candidacies. I will be publishing them over the next two weeks.

Jim Evans was a candidate for the 308th Family District Court in 2014. Here are the responses he sent to me for the primary that March.

Jim Evans

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

My name is Jim Evans, and I am running for the position of Judge in the 308th Family District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court, like each of the nine Harris County family district courts, hears family law matters such as divorces, child custody disputes, child support cases, child support enforcement actions, name changes, and adoptions.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I am qualified to do the work required of a judge and because I am passionate about doing that work with integrity and with an understanding of the enormous consequences of my decisions.

Furthermore, I am running for this bench because it belongs to the people of Harris County, and it should not be used as a means to provide financial benefits to my political benefactors and cohorts. The presiding judge in this court has the ability to appoint ad litem attorneys, amicus attorneys, and receivers in hundreds of cases each year. The current Republican presiding judge, James Lombardino, appoints almost exclusively people who have donated to his campaign. Additionally, in the three years that he has been on the bench, he has appointed Jared Woodfill, the Harris County Republican Party chairman, numerous times (and more than any other family judge in Harris County). This sort of favor is inappropriate and not in the best interest of the children who are the subjects of the cases before the court.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I understand Texas family law, the culture of Harris County, and the legal environment in Harris County. I am a Harris County native, a graduate of Houston Baptist University, and the University of Houston Law Center. I have practiced law for over 10 years. For the last five years, I have practiced family law almost exclusively. I know the family judges in Harris County, the family attorneys in Harris County, and the statutory and common law bases for family law decision-making in Texas. I currently maintain my law practice in downtown Houston.

While in law school, I graded onto and served as the Research Editor on the Houston Law Review, which shows that I am diligent and a hard worker. At the beginning of my legal career, I practiced chapter 7, 11, and 13 bankruptcy law, so I have a necessary understanding of the complicated property issues that sometimes arise in divorces. In 2009, I obtained certification as a family law mediator, and I understand the value and the limitations of mediation as a tool that can be used to resolve family law disputes.

Prior to attending law school, I taught in Louisiana public schools and worked as a Baptist minister for a number of years serving churches in Texas, Maryland, and Louisiana. These prior careers gave me an appreciation of the enormity of the pressures that people face with regard to their family lives and decision-making. This appreciation will inform my rulings on the bench as I strive for fairness and justice.

I have a life outside of the practice of law, and I believe that this will help me make decisions that are practical and that have good long-term results. I am a parent, divorced parent, step-parent, and adoptive parent. I married my husband, William Flowers, in Connecticut in 2010. I teach Sunday School at Deer Park United Methodist Church, and I serve on the church’s Staff-Parish Relations Committee.

5. Why is this race important?

If elected, I will be the first openly gay family judge in Texas (and probably the first in the South). While this, in and of itself, does not qualify me to be a family judge, it will be significant to have an openly gay person on the bench. Currently, the family courts in Harris County negatively discriminate against gay and lesbian people. For example, none of the family judges, all of whom are Republican, will grant an adoption in a case where the prospective adoptive parent is an “out” gay or lesbian. If I am elected, I believe it will create a moral imperative for the other judges to do the right thing and either grant or deny an adoption based on the best interest of the child instead of the sexual orientation of the prospective adoptive parent. Moreover, my promise, if I am elected, is that I will do nothing for the gay community except that I will not discriminate based upon a litigant’s sexual orientation.

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

People should vote for me in the primary because I am energetic and a hard worker as evidenced by my successful campaign efforts collecting almost 1300 signatures on my petition to be placed on the ballot; and I intend, if I win the Democratic primary election, to work hard and run a winning general election campaign.

Additionally, I believe that my candidacy in the general election will inspire greater volunteerism and voter turnout for me and other Democratic candidates among members of the Houston GLBT community. This is particularly so because, if I am elected, I will be the first openly gay family district judge in Texas. I have already personally spoken to over one thousand GLBT people in Houston about this possibility; and their response is universally positive and enthusiastic.

Democrats in Harris County know that our county is fairly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Moving even a few thousand voters from the Republican column to the Democratic column could have a significant impact on election night. I am a native of and a current resident of Deer Park, generally considered to be a Republican stronghold. I have already done block walking in parts of Deer Park and have found many Democrats who are discouraged because they believe that they are the only Democrats in town; I have also found Republicans who are excited about the possibility of voting for a Deer Park “local boy.” If I win the primary, I will consider it my job to get Deer Park Democrats to vote and to get Deer Park Republicans to cross the aisle and vote for me and other Democrats on the ballot. I believe that my intentional efforts to engage with Deer Park people will yield those successful results.

Finally, while my opponent is a good man and a good attorney, between the two of us, I am the only strong Democrat.

Posted in: Election 2016.

You support Trump, you own Trump

This is what I’m talking about.

A group of Democratic state lawmakers from along the Texas-Mexico border is applying pressure to a bank whose CEO is helping raise money for Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

In a letter dated Saturday, Rep. César Blanco, an El Paso Democrat who chairs the House Border Caucus, told the IBC Bank board of directors that it is “unfathomable” that president Dennis Nixon is supporting Trump, whom Blanco called the “first racist presidential candidate since Reconstruction.” Trump has angered many Latinos with his incendiary comments on illegal immigration and more recently, remarks suggesting a federal judge cannot be fair due to his Mexican heritage.

“We will not stand quietly as Mr. Nixon allows this un-American hatred to permeate into the lives of Texans and damage the positive image of IBC Bank,” Blanco wrote. “We leave it in the hands of the IBC Board of Directors to take action and correct this unacceptable representation of your institution. Our state and our nation have come too far and I trust IBC will represent its constituency and be on the right side of history.”

Nixon has not responded to multiple requests for comment on his involvement in Trump’s campaign in Texas. Nixon’s fundraising role had already drawn attention because he is a longtime proponent of the kinds of immigration and trade policies Trump has spent much of his campaign criticizing.

When I say that this is what I mean, I’m talking about two things. One is to hold the elected officials who have endorsed Donald Trump – in particular, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick – accountable for that choice. Abbott made a big deal out of campaigning in South Texas and trotting out his madrina in TV ads, to try to attract Latino support in 2014. Well, Donald Trump would deport Greg Abbott’s madrina if he had the chance, and we need to make sure every one of those voters Greg Abbott sought to win two years ago knows who Abbott is supporting today. Let’s see how much campaigning he wants to do south of I-10 in 2018.

I’m also talking about holding business interests that consistently support politicians who oppose things they claim to favor, like immigration reform, accountable for supporting their own apparent enemies. I’ve harped ad infinitum about Bill Hammond and the Texas Association of Business and their crocodile-tears support of things like immigration reform, as they write checks to the likes of Dan Patrick. They get what they want out of this deal, which is political cover and all the we-wish-it-were-different-but-we’re-too-helpless-to-do-anything-about-it quotes they can get in news stories. That free ride needs to end, and that starts with them being called out on it.

To be fair to the TAB, they would say that they exert influence behind the scenes to keep some of the worst stuff from getting passed in the Legislature. I have my doubts that they’ll be able to make that same claim after the next session, but it’s what they’ve got for now. As for Trump, the bottom line is that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say you oppose this horrible thing he’s said or that awful thing that he says he’ll do and at the same time support him anyway. He is uniquely bad among Presidential candidates, and anyone who embraces him is forever tainted by it. Good on Rep. Blanco for putting that onus squarely on IBC and Dennis Nixon. Now let’s not let them forget about it.

Posted in: The making of the President.

What a free market in ridesharing looks like

It looks like Austin right now.

Uber

When Uber and Lyft left Austin last month, they thought they were sending a message to the Austin City Council and other local governments looking to regulate them. Instead, their departure may pave the way for a revamp of ride-hailing in Austin that could draw the notice of other cities.

At least six new companies have launched in Austin, all emerging from the ashes of the Proposition 1 election that left the capital city without the two industry giants in vehicle-for-hire apps, which are also sometimes referred to as transportation networking companies.

“What [Uber and Lyft] have left us with appears to be the only open TNC market in a major city in the world, maybe,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. “In the marketplace, when you have a monopoly, or in our case a duopoly, that leaves town, what you would expect to see in the market is innovation and competition. And that’s what we’re now seeing happening in Austin.”

[…]

While other companies offering similar services had operated alongside Uber and Lyft, none had seen anywhere near the same level of success. An estimated 10,000 drivers found themselves out of work after the two companies ceased operations.

Newer faces have quickly flooded the market. There’s Arcade City, getme and Fare. There’s also Fasten, Wingz, zTrip and RideAustin. And InstaRyde will have its official Austin launch later this week.

Many of these companies, most of which have business models similar to those of Uber and Lyft, are still finding their footing, rushing to get drivers on the road and apps on Austinites’ phones in the race to emerge as the face of peer-to-peer transactions in the city. Some sprouted roots in Austin before Uber and Lyft left but have seen a recent boost in business.

Yet all of these firms still operate in the shadow of the two ride-hailing giants, struggling to distance themselves from their competitors while still offering comparable services. Even now, it’s unclear if any of these new companies will be able to offer the same level of coverage or see similar success.

[…]

Despite the turmoil from the election, Adler said he stands by the council’s decisions, even as the fallout has captured national attention.

“I have talked to mayors from around the country about this issue,” Adler said. “My position on this is that cities need to be as innovative and creative as are the industries and businesses and economies that it intersects with … There’s a suggestion that what’s happened here demonstrates that Austin is not an innovative city, and I don’t think what happened here indicates that at all … Austin is where ideas go to become real.”

Adler said it was unclear what the ride-hailing environment will look like down the line, but he said he is certain there will be “choices operating at scale in the city.”

The future could depend on whether the Legislature decides to take action on the issue next year. Immediately following the departures of Uber and Lyft, Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said he will file legislation on the issue next session that emphasized a free market. Other GOP lawmakers expressed similar concerns on social media after the election.

Adler said while statewide regulation is “certainly an option” the Legislature can use, the atmosphere in Austin has already significantly shifted since the election.

“I think that when some of the legislators initially spoke, it was uncertain as to whether or not Austin had adopted something that would prevent the market to function,” Adler said. “I would say the evidence at this point would at least suggest that the market is working well.”

There’s little the Legislature can do until the 2017 session, but the House Committee on Business and Industry is holding an interim hearing on Wednesday to discuss “how Texas can support shared economy growth in the state.” Uber General Manager Sarfraz Maredia has been invited to testify.

In the meantime, the future of Austin ride-hailing will be determined by the market, Adler said, “as opposed to government deciding.”

Boy, wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants? I wonder if Sen. Schwertner and his Republican colleagues will recognize it if it is happening. I’ve been harping on all this for awhile, so I’ll try to restrain myself here. I don’t expect all these companies to be successful – frankly, if one or two of them make it, that will be great. Austin represents a unique opportunity for these companies. Let’s see what they can do.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

What do you want in the next Precinct 1 County Commissioner?

Here’s one way to figure it out if you’re not sure.

El Franco Lee

Harris County Democrats have sent a questionnaire to Precinct 1 commissioners candidates, setting up one of the few instances in an unusual race where the public can compare candidates’ political and policy stances.

The questionnaire covers topics including how candidates propose to prioritize funds inside versus outside city limits, how candidates will continue longtime commissioner El Franco Lee’s senior programs, and the burdened county criminal justice system.

The party is seeking answers to the questionnaire by June 16.

[…]

The task of picking a commissioner who will represent 1.2 million people – more than the populations of nine states – and control a $200 million budget falls to a group of 125 Democratic precinct chairs.

Which as you well know happens on June 25. I’m sure our letter carrier will appreciate the lighter load she will get to carry once this race is over and the avalanche of mail I’ve been getting ceases. The questionnaire is embedded in the story – these are fairly involved questions, so I hope the candidates got them before Monday, because it will take some time to write thorough answers – and I will be eager to see the responses. I’ve said what my preferences are, but these questions go into quite a bit more depth. I’ll have a report on the answers once they are posted.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Interview with Steve Reilley

By now you are aware of the effort to alter the historic regulations that keep the part of town that was once the independent city of the Houston Heights dry. The dry designation, in the area you see in the embedded picture – see here if you’d like a more modern context – was part of the annexation agreement between the Houston Heights and Houston. It could only be overturned by an election. Well, that election appears to be slated for this November, as a group called the Houston Heights Beverage Coalition says it has collected enough signatures from relevant residents to put this on the November ballot. The issue has already attracted a great deal of attention, and no small amount of misinformation, from residents and folks nearby, some who want to keep things as they are and some who can’t wait to have an HEB built nearby. To try to clarify things and get some answers to my own questions about the process, I sat down for an interview with Steve Reilley, who is heading the effort for the HHBC. Reilley is an attorney and a resident of the affected area, and he was a Democratic candidate for civil court judge in 2010. Here’s what we talked about:

As I said, there is definitely some opposition to this, as well as some enthusiastic support, but as yet I am not aware of an organized effort to oppose the ballot measure. When I do learn of such a group or organization, I will reach out to them for an interview as well. What are your thoughts on this?

Posted in: Election 2016.

Former drivers sue Uber and Lyft over leaving Austin

This ought to be interesting.

Uber

A pair of former drivers for Uber and Lyft filed dual class action lawsuits Thursday against the ride-hailing companies over their abrupt exit last month from the Austin market.

The lawsuits, filed in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, claim that Uber and Lyft violated the federal Worker Adjustment, Retraining and Notification Act when they pulled out of Austin in May because they failed to properly notify their employees. Uber and Lyft have long maintained that their drivers are independent contractors and not employees.

[…]

Lyft

Todd Johnston, the driver behind the suit against Uber, drove for the company since May 2015 while David Thornton, the driver on the Lyft suit, drove for Lyft since October 2015. According to the suits, Johnson and Thornton, along with other Austin ride-hailing drivers, “lost their jobs” after the companies left Austin.

“Lost in the political theater surrounding the Uber and Lyft versus Austin City Council battle was the real-world effect on the thousands of Austinites who suddenly lost their incomes when Uber and Lyft abandoned Austin,” said Michael Slack, an attorney for Johnston and Thornton.

The federal notification act cited in the suits requires employers to notify their employees before any mass layoffs or the closure of a “facility” or “operating unit.”

I Am Not A Lawyer, so I have no idea if this suit has any merit or not. We do know, as the story says, that Uber and Lyft are very adamant about the whole worker-classification thing, so you can be sure that will be a key to their argument against the plaintiffs. How successful they are, and how successful the plaintiffs are at getting terms like “facility” to be interpreted in their favor, will determine how far this gets. Any actual attorneys want to comment on this?

Posted in: Legal matters, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Hotze and Woodfill take their hate statewide

These guys, I swear.

The conservative organizers who helped topple Houston’s equal rights ordinance are pledging a $2 million advertising campaign against Target over the big box store’s transgender bathroom policy.

Jared Woodfill and Steven Hotze of Conservative Republicans of Texas on Thursday launched the new “Campaign for USA” in what they described as an effort to keep men out of women’s restrooms. The duo had already called for a nationwide boycott of Target.

“We must stand up for the rights of our grandmothers, mothers, wives and daughters,” said Woodfill, who recently lost a bid to become chairman of the state GOP.

[…]

Woodfill, a frequent LGBT foe, on Thursday released a new TV ad that mirrors a provocative ad from the effort to defeat the Houston ordinance. His group also launched a new website, which says “transgender” is a just euphemism for “pervert.”

Blah blah blah. I’d note that this is pretty much the same sort of thing that was regularly said about gays not too long ago. Hell, it’s the same sort of crap Hotze and Woodfill say about gays today. My point is that this kind of hysteria can only be effective for so long. Woodfill and Hotze’s problem is that transgender people are, you know, people. People with family and friends and coworkers and neighbors, who go about their lives. The reality doesn’t measure up to the fearmongering, as people figured out about the gays and lesbians that Hotze and Woodfill and the like kept trying to make them despise. It may take awhile and there will surely be setbacks along the way, but lies eventually lose to the truth. It won’t be easy, and these guys will never stop trying to hurt the people they hate, but they will lose in the end. Just keep that in mind. Juanita has more.

POSTSCRIPT: I drafted this before the horrible mass murder in Orlando, and when I looked at it again as I scheduled it for publication, it was difficult to fight down the revulsion that I feel for these two hateful bastards. What happened in Orlando is the effect of stigmatization and dehumanization. I don’t care what drove this particular gunman to do what he did. The root cause is hatred and fear of The Other. Jared Woodfill and Steven Hotze bear a piece of the responsibility for that.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Woodland Heights neighborhood traffic management plan

Of primary interest to the folks in my neighborhood only, though I will note that as Mayor Turner has made it easier for neighborhoods to request traffic-calming measures like speed cushions, this could be in your future as well. Tonight at 7 PM there will be a public meeting in the cafeteria at Hogg Middle School to discuss the very-hotly-debated neighborhood traffic management plan (NTMP) for the Woodland Heights. A copy of the letter sent to residents about the meeting is here. A map of the affected area is embedded in this post and viewable in larger form here; a larger version, from the back of that letter than I scanned and uploaded, is here. An FAQ for residents who haven’t been following this as closely as some is here.

As I understand it, there are three main issues: People speeding on Pecore, people not slowing down at the school crossings at Bayland and Helen and at Bayland at Morrison, and cut-through traffic on Watson and Beauchamp, both of which provide alternate routes to the freeway exchanges at I-10 and I-45. There’s a lot of concern that the forthcoming changes to I-45 in the area will create incentives for more cut-through traffic, and this is designed to remove those incentives. You may or may not care for the solutions being proffered, but this discussion has been going on for a long time and there have been plenty of opportunities to have your voice heard. None of what is being proposed should come as a surprise. If you have anything further to add, tonight at 7 PM at Hogg Middle School is your chance to add it.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

Weekend link dump for June 12

Meet the family of Syrian refugees that freaked so many people out a few months ago.

“After controlling for other factors known to affect health, especially tobacco use and socioeconomic status, marijuana use had no negative effect on any measure of health, except for dental health. People who smoked more weed had a higher incidence of gum disease.”

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has a species of praying mantis named after her, and you don’t.

The most valuable nose in North Dakota.

Chewbacca Mom meets Chewbacca.

Did you celebrate Ferris Bueller Day last weekend? Assuming you believe Ferris actually existed, of course.

“Your attorney has repeatedly pointed out, well we don’t know exactly when she became unconscious. And you’re right, maybe I was still fluttering my eyes and wasn’t completely limp yet. That was never the point. I was too drunk to speak English, too drunk to consent way before I was on the ground. I should have never been touched in the first place.”

“There is no scenario where your son should be the sympathetic figure here. He is the assailant. He is the rapist. I can’t image as a father how gut wrenching such a reality is for you, but it is still true.”

“What Brock Turner did was sickening; what he received as punishment is far less than what he deserved. But eroding due process and threatening judicial independence is not the way to bring his victim justice.”

Don’t tell JK Rowling who and what Hermione can’t be.

Taylor Swift is a mensch.

“You own his politics. You own his policies, even the ones that only last as long as the next contradiction. You own the racial animus that started out as a bug, became a feature and is now the defining characteristic of his campaign. You own every crazy, vile chunk of word vomit that spews from his mouth.”

Karl Rove is still a jerk.

Luxembourg aims to be the asteroid mining capital of the world.

“For the vast majority of working Americans, wages have been almost flat for the past 35 years. How can regular working people get more money? Organize. And strike.”

For example, amazon workers could really benefit from a big-ass strike.

If you’re a password-reuser, you may get nagged to change one or more of them.

RIP, Bretagne, last living search-and-rescue dog from 9/11. Major Kleenex warning for this one. See here for more on Bretagne.

RIP, Helen Chavez, labor activist and widow of Cesar Chavez.

RIP, Kimbo Slice, MMA star.

“A few weeks ago, in a fit of frustration over the history of Hollywood whitewashing, I felt an urge to do something. I started taking pictures of myself. Not just random pictures. I took pictures of myself as Asian characters who were played by white women in film. And it felt sooooo good.”

Don’t believe the Twitters – Roger Goodell was never dead.

Man, I can’t wait to see the new Harry Potter production, in whatever form it will be available.

When Muhammad Ali met Billy Graham.

RIP, Gordie Howe, greatest hockey player of all time.

“In fact, after his two strikeout, one sac bunt performance against Brewers pitching last night, Bartolo Colon now holds the record for most career plate appearances without drawing a single walk.”

RIP, Christina Grimmie, singer and former contestant on The Voice, murdered by yet another asshole with a gun, one day before an even bigger asshole with multiple guns killed FIFTY people in Orlando. This shit has got to stop.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Uptown BRT construction officially begins

Here we go.

Crews are relocating trees in preparation for two years of construction, starting in July.

The Uptown Dedicated Bus Lanes Project will unfold in three phases, moving from north to south and starting with the West Loop to San Felipe segment. Designed to solve the area’s crushing mobility problem, the $121.5 million boulevard project is one part of a three-prong plan to make it easier for 80,000 employees to get to work.

“We’ve done about all we can with the freeway, but we need to improve how automobiles move through the area. We essentially have no commuter bus service,” said Uptown Houston District president John Breeding.

The boulevard will be widened from 120 to just over 136 feet. Buses will be moved to central lanes, with landscaping and sleek shelters, replacing the current esplanades. The project preserves six auto traffic lanes and their signalized left turn lanes.

The Uptown TIRZ is contributing $76.5 million and getting $45 million in federal funds for the boulevard. An additional $25 million in TxDot funds and nearly $70 million in federal funds will be spent to tie the boulevard’s buses to the Northwest Transit Center and a new Bellaire/Uptown Transit Center that will tap into the Westpark Tollway and the Southwest Freeway HOV lanes.

“We’re going to have the level and quality of service that the light rail system has with all the flexibility that the bus system offers,” said Uptown Houston District president John Breeding, whose group is also working with Metro to develop a new bus prototype for the boulevard that will be a hybrid of commuter rail vehicles and current buses. Giving the buses their own roadway will reduce travel time along the boulevard by 40 percent, Breeding said.

But his group also wants to create a more walkable environment for growing numbers of residents and visitors in the area.

The district estimates that Uptown’s current population of more than 45,000 people will mushroom to more than 69,000 by 2040.

To that end, the sidewalks are being expanded from four to 12 feet and planted with a shady canopy from two rows of new trees.

“If we can get people to walk to lunch, it really does take cars out of the intersections,” Breeding said. “We will not be successful just by adding mobility improvements. We have to make it a better place.”

Sleek light towers will also make the sidewalks more inviting at night. The boulevard’s trademark steel “ring” signage will remain, and its shiny arches will be re-engineered to accommodate the wider sidewalks.

“We don’t want you to walk out of a restaurant or an office building and go, ‘That’s a really great bus street,'” Breeding said. “We want you to think about how beautiful the environment is.”

There was a symbolic groundbreaking almost exactly a year ago. I guess I hadn’t realized there hadn’t been much done since then, other than more legal thrust and parry, anyway. My opinion on this project remains the same: I think it’s a good idea, I think it’s necessary, and I think that if it provides a good service, people will use it. I’d feel better about its short term prospects if the University line hadn’t been reset to zero, but if the Uptown line can be viable and useful, then that will make the case for trying again on the University line that much stronger. In the meantime, having express bus service go into the Galleria area will help provide some level of potential Uptown Line riders, and if the high speed rail line really does get built with a terminal at the Northwest Transit Center, then that’s another way to connect in. As with pretty much every rail or rail-like project ever, if it can overcome the hurdles people keep putting in the way of its construction, I think in the end we will be happy it got built. But first we have to get there. This is the beginning of that.

One more thing:

Breeding admits the project has one serious shortfall: No bike lanes are included.

“That’s an important, emerging issue,” he said, calling access for bikes “a holy grail” that couldn’t be accommodated, given “the national mood on the widths of thoroughfares.” He said the district is developing a master plan that could encourage bike traffic on other streets in the area.

That is unfortunate. I’ve been an advocate for integrating bikes into the plan for Uptown (and for transit in general), so I’m sorry to see this. I hope that master plan can find some decent alternatives that will still work well with what they’re doing.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

An early look ahead to the legislative races

The Trib takes a look at the legislative races that could end with a seat changing parties.

vote-button

• HD-23. Freshman state Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R-Dickinson, against former state Rep. Lloyd Criss, R-La Marque.

• HD-43. State Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, will face Democratic challenger Marisa Yvette Garcia-Utley.

• HD-54. State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, decided not to seek reelection in a district where Republicans have only a narrow advantage over Democrats in presidential election years like this one. Killeen Mayor Scott Cosper apparently won the Republican runoff, but his 43-vote margin over Austin Ruiz has prompted a recount. The winner will face Democrat Sandra Blankenship in November.

• HD-78. State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, will contend with Jeffrey Lane, a Republican in a district where Democrats have demonstrated a slight advantage.

• HD-102. Freshman Rep. Linda Koop, R-Dallas, will face Democrat Laura Irvin.

• HD-105. State Rep. Rodney Anderson, R-Grand Prairie, currently holds this swing district. He’ll battle Democrat Terry Meza in November.

• HD-107. State Rep. Ken Sheets, R-Dallas, has fended off a series of challenges in his narrowly Republican district; this time, the chief opponent is Democrat Victoria Neave.

• HD-113. Like Sheets in the district next door, state Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, has a district where the incumbent is always under attack. Her Democratic opponent this time is Rhetta Andrews Bowers.

• HD-117. State Rep. Rick Galindo, R-San Antonio, is one of two House Republicans defending a district where Democrats generally win statewide races. He’ll face the guy he beat, former Rep. Philip Cortez, a Democrat, in November.

• HD-118. The other of those Republicans is John Luhan, also of San Antonio, who won a special election earlier this year to replace Democrat Joe Farias, who retired. He’ll face Democrat Tomás Uresti — the loser of that special election — in a November rematch.

• HD-144. State Rep. Gilbert Peña, R-Pasadena, represents a district that has gone for Republicans in some years and Democrats in others. And it’s another rematch: He will face former Rep. Mary Ann Perez, the Democrat who lost in 2014 by 152 votes out of 11,878 cast.

Several incumbents got free passes in districts where an able opponent might have been dangerous. In HD-34, state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, drew no Republican challenger. In HD-45, Republican Jason Isaac didn’t draw a Democratic opponent.

That’s a pretty comprehensive list. Because I like numbers, I went and dug up the 2012 district results so you can get some idea of how steep a hill these are to climb for the Democrats:


Dist    Romney    Obama    Romney%   Obama%    Diff   Boost
===========================================================
023     31,282   25,365     54.56%   44.24%   5,917   23.3%
043     25,017   22,554     52.05%   46.92%   2,463   10.9%
054     25,343   21,909     52.90%   45.73%   3,434   15.7%
102     29,198   24,958     53.01%   45.31%   4,240   17.0%
105     23,228   20,710     52.11%   46.46%   2,518   12.2%
107     27,185   24,593     51.81%   46.87%   2,592   10.5%
112     28,221   22,308     55.01%   43.48%   5,913   26.5%
113     27,098   23,893     52.51%   46.30%   3,205   13.4%
114     35,975   28,182     55.21%   43.47%   7,793   27.7%
115     29,861   23,353     55.26%   43.22%   6,508   27.9%
136     35,296   26,423     55.06%   41.22%   8,873   33.6%

“Diff” is just the difference between the Romney and Obama totals. “Boost” is my way of quantifying how wide that gap really is. It’s the ratio of the Diff to the Obama total, which put another way is how big a turnout boost Democrats would need in 2016 over 2012 to match the Republican total. That doesn’t take into account any other factors, of course, it’s just intended as a bit of context. Note that for HDs 78 (where Obama won by more than ten points in 2012), 117, 118, and 144, Democrats already had a majority of the vote in 2012, so in theory all that is needed is to hold serve. Individual candidates matter as well, of course, though in 2012 there was literally only on State House race in which the winner was not from the party whose Presidential candidate carried the district, that being then-Rep. Craig Eiland in HD23. Point being, you can swim against the tide but it’s a lot more challenging to do so these days. I went and added a couple more races to the list that the Trib put together just for completeness and a sense of how big the difference is between the top tier and the next tier. I don’t have a point to make beyond this, I’m just noting all this for the record.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Driverless trucks

Coming to a highway near you?

Picture an 18-wheel truck barreling down the highway with 80,000 pounds of cargo and no one but a robot at the wheel.

To many, that might seem a frightening idea, even at a time when a few dozen of Google’s driverless cars are cruising city streets in California, Texas, Washington and Arizona.

But Anthony Levandowski, a robot-loving engineer who helped steer Google’s self-driving technology, is convinced autonomous big rigs will be the next big thing on the road to a safer transportation system.

Levandowski left Google earlier this year to pursue his vision at Otto, a San Francisco startup the he co-founded with two other former Google employees, Lior Ron and Don Burnette, and another robotics expert, Claire Delaunay.

Otto is aiming to equip trucks with software, sensors, lasers and cameras so they eventually will be able to navigate the more than 220,000 miles of U.S. highways on their own, while a human driver naps in the back of the cab or handles other tasks.

For now, the robot truckers would only take control on the highways, leaving humans to handle the tougher task of wending through city streets. The idea is similar to the automated pilots that fly jets at high altitudes while leaving the takeoffs and landings to humans.

“Our goal is to make trucks drive as humanly as possible, but with the reliability of machines,” Levandowski says.

[…]

Otto hasn’t set a timetable for completing its tests, but hopes to eventually retrofit all the U.S. trucks on the road. That would encompass more than 4.7 million trucks, according to the American Trucking Associations.

The startup touts its technology as way to make up for a worsening shortage of truck drivers as more of them retire without enough younger drivers to replace them. Last year, the shortage stood at 47,500 and, unless recent trends change, will rise to nearly 175,000 by 2024, according to the American Trucking Associations.

The trade group hasn’t taken a stand on self-driving technology, but may draw up a policy later this year, said Dave Osiecki, executive vice president and chief of national advocacy.

“We are paying close attention because this could be huge for trucking in terms of labor costs and safety,” Osiecki says.

Levandowski insists self-driving trucks aren’t as scary as they might sound. Robot truckers are less likely to speed or continue to drive in unsafe conditions than a human, and will never get tired. Between 10 and 20 percent of the roughly 4,000 fatal accidents in the U.S. each year involving trucks and buses are linked to driver fatigue, based on estimates gathered by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

“It’s really silly to have a person steering a truck for eight hours just to keep it between two lines on the highway,” Levandowski says.

Here’s Otto’s website if you want to learn more. There’s a lot of logic to this idea – a lot of highway driving is open road, with little skill needed to keep things rolling. Having a human driver on board who can rest during the long, boring parts and be ready for the more challenging segments of the drive makes sense, and with the human driver still in the picture it won’t threaten the parts of the rural economy that depends on truck traffic. It’ll be interesting to see how this goes, especially if Otto markets itself at the drivers.

One curious bit from this NYT writeup.

California motor vehicle regulations prohibit Otto’s vision of a truck traveling on the freeway with only a sleeping driver in the cab, for example. But many states would permit that technical advance.

“Right now, if you want to drive across Texas with nobody at the wheel, you’re 100 percent legal,” said Mr. Levandowski, who as a Google engineer, helped write draft legislation that permitted self-driving vehicles, which later became law in Nevada.

Not sure where they get that idea, because bills relating to driverless cars have not made it out of the Legislature. It may be that this relates to state and federal roads – i.e., the highways – and not local roads, for which legislation is needed to allow access. I’d have to do more research on that. In any event, this is something to keep an eye on, even if the name Otto has some possibly unwanted connotations, at least for people of my generation. Tech Crunch has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Endorsement watch: Rodney racks ’em up

One more to a long list.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

The widow of the late Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee has endorsed state Sen. Rodney Ellis for the seat that her husband held for decades, the senator said Friday.

A letter dated Tuesday and signed by Kaye Lee urges Democratic party district chairs to select Ellis, the longtime Democratic state senator, when they gather later this month. Ellis’s top rival in the race for the Precinct 1 seat is Commissioner Gene Locke, a Democrat who was appointed in January to fill Lee’s seat by County Judge Ed Emmett, a Republican.

Kaye Lee has not confirmed the authenticity of the letter and did not respond to several phone calls, messages passed through intermediaries and a written note seeking confirmation of her endorsement. Ellis said Friday he had spoken with Kaye Lee after the letter was sent out and said it was genuine.

The letter stresses that Ellis is a “loyal Democrat” and family friend with a track record of electoral success.

“Your vote is much more than electing a replacement for an unopposed term,” the letter says. “On June 25, 2016, you will determine if we as a party will continue to have a voice and presence on Commissioners Court for years to come.”

“I think it’s extremely important,” Ellis said by phone Friday of the endorsement, which he called a game-changer. “I’m very honored to have it.”

Locke said in a statement this week that he was “surprised” by Kaye Lee’s decision, but he added, “I respect her right to endorse whomever she wishes.”

Locke’s campaign consultant, Keir Murray, added that the commissioner has been unable to reach Kaye Lee to discuss the letter.

I received a copy of the letter on Wednesday. Gotta say, it didn’t occur to me that it needed to be confirmed. For what it’w worth, I don’t think this endorsement, or any of the multiple others that Sen. Ellis has collected, means that much. I figure endorsements mean more when a significant portion of the electorate doesn’t have a strong opinion about the candidates involved, or when they just don’t know that much about them and are looking for some direction. That surely isn’t the case here, in an election to be determined by 125 or so precinct chairs. That hasn’t stopped Sen. Ellis from collecting a lot of them, with each endorser sending a letter on his behalf. How much of an effect they may have, I couldn’t say. They’re nice to have, to be sure, I just have a hard time believing they will change anyone’s mind.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Saturday video break: Lady Luck

A couple of newer songs from my collection. The first one called “Lady Luck” is by Pickwick, featuring Sharon van Etten:

That’s from a South by Southwest sampler I got via Paste magazine. Don’t ask me how I came to be offered some of these samplers, the original impetus for them is lost to the mists of time. Another song called “Lady Luck” is from an actual CD collection of Texas music, by Dean Seltzer:

Again, I don’t recall where the original CD came from, but I’m glad I have it. And because I feel like it, here’s my favorite personification of the concept of luck:

I know that everyone associates that song with Frank Sinatra, but it was Marlon Brando who had it in the movie. Luck if you ever were a lacy to begin with, luck be a lady tonight.

Posted in: Music.