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Interview with CM Mike Laster

Mike Laster

Mike Laster

In addition to the two open District Council seats, there are several District Council members who have drawn opponents for November. I am going to focus on two of these races, with the first one being District J this week. Council Member Mike Laster has represented District J since its creation in 2011. An attorney and and founding Board Member of the Greater Sharpstown Management District (GSMD), CM Laster currently serves as Chair of the Housing, Sustainable Growth and Development Committee, and as a member of the Public Safety and the Transportation, Technology and Infrastructure Committees. He previously served in the City Attorney’s office in the Real Estate division. We had quite a few things to talk about:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

UPDATE: Fixed the problem with the wrong file. Sorry about that.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Hall for all the haters

He is who we thought he was.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall said Thursday he signed a petition seeking to define gender identity and prevent men “who perceive or express themselves as women” from entering women’s restrooms because he wants to protect the right to vote.

Hall’s press conference at his Montrose law firm comes three days after an LGBT blog reported that Hall signed the request, which it framed as “anti-gay.”

“I’m trying to correct the record about people who are mischaracterizing why we signed the petition. I want to make sure we change that narrative,” said Hall, who was accompanied by his wife. “We signed this petition because everybody has the right to vote, whether you like the outcome or not.”

Hall added that he “will protect all our citizens from illegal discrimination, gay or straight.”

Of this year’s crowded slate of mayoral contenders, Hall, the 2013 mayoral runner-up, is the most vocal opponent of the city’s equal rights ordinance, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy, genetic information, and family, marital or military status.

A picture of Hall’s signature was posted to the HOUEquality Facebook page a few days ago; Hair Balls confirmed it was in fact Hall’s autograph. I think everyone would agree that the one sure beneficiary of Friday’s Supreme Court ruling is Hall, who is the one Mayoral candidate with any visibility who is full-on for repeal. He’s got Wilson and the Hotzes in his camp, and where else are these voters going to go? Bill King isn’t a HERO supporter, but I don’t see him lining up with the repeal forces, not if he wants business support. Oliver Pennington voted against HERO on Council, but he’s not in the race any more. Who else is there? As David Ortez reported, at least one fringe candidate is rabidly pro-repeal as well, but there’s a reason why fringe candidates are on the fringe. Hall is the choice of those who think that HERO was crammed down their throats, and who want very badly to stick it to Mayor Parker. And yes, that choice of words is quite deliberate.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Texas Central Railway gets some initial funding

They’ll need more than this, but it’s a start.

Texas Central Partners, which aims to build a bullet train between Texas’ two biggest cities, announced Wednesday they had raised $75 million in private investments in the company’s first round of fundraising.

That funds are intended to allow the ambitious $10 billion project to move forward from feasibility studies to development planning.

The company also hired a new CEO: Tim Keith, former CEO of RREEF/Deutsche Bank Infrastructure Investments.

“It’s an enormous boost for the project. The first capital to raise is the hardest to raise,” he said in an interview. “It’s a terrific day for me but it’s a historic day for the project and for Houston.”

[…]

The funds will help move to the second phase: development planning. Keith said the $75 million will be used to wrap up the environmental study, work with federal authorities to settle on rules for high-speed rail in Texas, grow the company with key hires, expand its consulting base and sponsor more ridership studies.

[…]

The $75 million raised is more than the company sought for the first round of investments.

While it allows the project to move forward, the funds are small change compared to the final $10 billion price tag. Keith says the rest will come through big private investment from private equity funds, large pension funds and large real estate and asset investors.

“It’s a big project, it’s a big idea, it has a big cost to build, but it will deliver lots of benefits to the state,” Keith said.

Glad to hear it. There’s still a long way to go and a lot of obstacles to clear, however.

Keith and his company have plenty of obstacles to overcome before the project becomes a reality. State and federal authorities are still evaluating the line. And organized opposition from rural Texans who farm and live in the large expanse between Dallas and Houston that nearly derailed the project during this year’s legislative session has not died down.

Many landowners oppose the fact that Texas Central is allowed to use eminent domain for the project. Company officials say they plan to work with residents and will only use eminent domain as a last resort, when a land deal simply can’t be reached.

But Kyle Workman, president of Texans Against High Speed Rail, said that eminent domain will have to be used in most cases.

“Because nobody wants to sell their land,” he said.

Remember, the opponents are still organizing even with the Lege not in session. TCR is going to need to make all the gains it can before 2017, to make it that much harder to put up obstacles for them. We’ll see how far this takes them.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

BP settlement cash

Nice.

BagOfMoney

The city of Houston, Harris County and Metro netted $23 million in compensation from BP for revenue they could not collect in the wake of the company’s 2010 Gulf oil spill, officials announced Thursday.

Houston will pocket about $12.2 million from the costliest environmental lawsuit in U.S. history to cover hotel and sales tax shortfalls. The Metropolitan Transit Authority will receive more than $9.2 million for lost sales tax revenue, and Harris County will get $2.1 million for lost hotel occupancy tax revenues, officials announced in a joint statement.

However, expenses for the case and fees for two outside lawyers who represented the city, county and Metro will carve off nearly 40 percent of those totals.

Nearby communities and government entities, including the city of Galveston, Jefferson County, the city of Beaumont, and Orange Port Authority also are among the 511 entities that said the spill caused an economic shortfall.

The payouts are part of the $18.7 billion that BP agreed to pay earlier this month for damages and penalties resulting from the Deepwater Horizon spill – the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

[…]

Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Harris County Commissioners Steve Radack and Jack Morman said they were satisfied with the settlement. Commissioners Court has not yet determined how the county will split the money.

“Frankly, I wish we would have gotten more, but certainly it was a worthwhile lawsuit,” Radack said.

Several commissioners received a total of 1,700 identical emails from BP employees, via a server in United Arab Emirates, urging them not to pursue legal action against the company, according to Soard at the County Attorney’s office.

County Judge Ed Emmett, who voted in Commissioners Court against seeking damages, said, “I thought it was a stretch to say that we lost so much revenue because people didn’t rent hotel rooms here because of the BP spill.”

“Am I glad the county won? Sure. Would we have been part of the lawsuit if it had been just up to me? Probably not.”

He said he was disappointed the county would only to realize $1.3 million after the lawyers took their cut. Commissioner R. Jack Cagle had also voted against entering the lawsuit, in his case because he thought the county attorney could handle the case.

As to whether it was appropriate to seek damages, Janice Evans, spokeswoman for the mayor, said, “We raised the same exact issues as more than 500 other governmental entities and all parties have agreed to this, as has the court, so we would not characterize it as opportunist.”

Whether the amount that these three entities will receive is “enough” is not one I can answer, nor can I answer it for the 500 others involved in the litigation, not to mention BP itself. It’s something, and I’m quite sure it will be put to good use.

Posted in: Local politics.

Weekend link dump for July 26

If you can’t read this you are, like me, old.

How long will premium providers like HBO allow password sharing for their streaming services?

The dark side of barbecue.

Excited about the return of Bloom County? Here’s an interview with Berke Breathed from last year that’s worth reading.

“Current strategies to tackle obesity, which mainly focus on cutting calories and boosting physical activity, are failing to help the majority of obese patients to shed weight and maintain that weight loss.”

“Oregonians will be able to buy birth control at a pharmacy without a doctor’s prescription beginning next year, potentially making the state the first in the nation to allow the practice.”

So if you have an account on AshleyMadison.com, you might want to consider changing your password. And hoping your spouse is the forgiving type.

“What we’re trying to stop is the phenomenon of people buying buildings and evicting tenants so they can rent to tourists for three to four times as much.”

Hidecki Matsui is a mensch.

“If Republican leaders want to argue that attacks on Americans’ military service are simply beyond the pale, perhaps party officials can take this opportunity to apologize to John Kerry, who was smeared by Swiftboat lies in the 2004 cycle – lies that were celebrated at the time by 2016 candidates like Jeb Bush and Rick Perry – and who saw the spectacle at the Republican National Convention of party activists mocking Purple Hearts. While they’re it, Republicans can express some regret for related smears directed at former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.).”

What BlueGirl says.

Butt dialing brings no expectation of privacy with it.

RIP, Theodore Bikel, award-winning actor, musician, and author, best known for playing Tevye onstage.

RIP, Tom Moore, longtime “Archie” comics artist.

Please don’t take selfies with the wildlife.

Shatner v. Cruz. Shatner wins.

Manhattan Clam Chowder Con Gulf Oysters. Served with pea-infused guacamole.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

“Let’s just be real” about charter schools

Very interesting.

Chirs Barbic

“Let’s just be real,” Chris Barbic wrote last week when announcing his resignation as superintendent of Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

Then Barbic admitted what skeptics of charter schools have preached for years — “achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment.”

Barbic, as founder of the highly acclaimed YES Prep charter school network in Houston, was used to starting schools from scratch, enrolling students whose parents chose to send them there instead of to their zoned school. Charter schools in Texas are supposed to be open-enrollment, meaning they can’t set admission criteria, but some people argue that charters benefit simply from enrolling children with more motivated parents.

Tennessee presented a different challenge for Barbic. There, he was charged with launching a special school district that included the state’s lowest-performing schools. A key part of Barbic’s mission was to recruit charter networks to step in and improve the schools. However, he ran into some trouble as most charter operators have a start-from-scratch model, rather than taking over existing schools. Even YES Prep withdrew from the experiment.

“As a charter school founder,” Barbic wrote in his resignation letter, “I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.”

Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier picked up on Barbic’s comments and tweeted, “Chris Barbic — courage to tell truth!”

The Houston advocacy group Community Voices for Public Education also weighed in, taking Barbic’s statement as an admission that his success was “due more to smoke and mirrors.”

In fact, Barbic’s resignation letter does not go that far. He stands by his philosophy that good teachers and principals can make a significant difference in improving student achievement, despite the challenges of poverty.

“The ‘poverty trumps education’ argument sells our educators, and more importantly, our kids way too short,” Barbic wrote. “And it is perhaps one of the most dangerous propositions that exists in our country today.”

Read the whole thing, and be sure to read Barbic’s letter of resignation. Barbic is still very much an advocate for the charter model, but his words about the challenges of replicating the kind of success that some charters have had should be heeded. Tennessee’s Achievement School District experiment is one of only a couple like it around the country, but it’s an idea that has attracted attention, including here in Texas. There was a bill by Sen. Larry Taylor, chair of the Senate Education Committee, to establish Achievement School Districts, also called “Opportunity School Districts” here, in Texas, but it didn’t get anywhere. A “parent trigger” bill that would have allowed “parents of students at underperforming public schools to demand fixes from the state commissioner of education including hiring new staff, contracting with a charter school operator to take over management or closing the school altogether” did clear the Senate but did not get a vote in the House. I feel confident that Dan Patrick isn’t going to give up on either of these ideas in 2017, and Greg Abbott is a fan as well. Barbic himself defended the ASD concept in response to a Lisa Falkenberg column that was critical of an Abbott plan for some form of ASDs in Texas. I trust Barbic’s more recent words will come up when this idea inevitably comes up again in two years.

Posted in: School days.

Revisiting the historic preservation ordinance

This sort of thing is always fun.

Houstonians who live in historic districts, including the Old Sixth Ward, the Heights and the High First Ward, weighed in this week on proposed updates to the city’s rules that create areas preserved from most demolition and new construction, agreeing with some proposed changes, pointing out loopholes for unwanted development and taking the opportunity to complain about the current process.

The proposed revisions to the historic ordinance, which would enable creation of a process to create and manage historic districts, were presented in summary at a public hearing Wednesday night. The meeting was part of the efforts of the Planning and Development Department and the Houston Archaeological and Historical Commission to refine the ordinance.

[…]

The ordinance, updated in 2010, created permanent protections for historic structures in the 22 designated districts and established a process for creating a district. The proposed changes strive to streamline approvals for requested changes within a district, provide guidance to the commission and create a more efficient process.

Many of those issues came to light Wednesday, even as it was acknowledged that historic districts are some of the strongest land-use laws Houston offers to property owners. A large contingency showed up from the Old Sixth Ward, one of the oldest districts. The neighborhood is near downtown, with houses dating back to the 1800s.

Resident Jane West asked the panel to consider how new construction is monitored in historic districts. She cited an instance in which a noncontributing structure was demolished but then replaced with a building that was larger than what was there before.

“We want to make sure the districts are a shield for neighborhoods, not a sword for developers,” West said.

Others from various districts in Montrose, the Heights and First Ward complained of the vague design requirements, the lack of term limits on the historic commission panel and the seemingly arbitrary process for approvals.

See here for the last update. All things considered, this has been fairly low-key. People can get mighty exercised about this, but at least by this story it sounds more like grumbling than outrage. I suppose that could change when the HAHC presents its recommendations at the next meeting, on August 5. But for now, this seems manageable.

Meanwhile, in other preservation news:

The Heights Theatre anchors a strip of vintage buildings converted into restaurants and small shops on buzzing 19th Street, its red-and-white Art Moderne sign a beacon to the neighborhood since the theater opened its doors nearly 90 years ago and screened a silent Western for 20 cents a ticket. Today, it’s a home for art exhibits and special events and could soon be hosting concerts.

In downtown Houston, the three-story building at 308 Main blends in on its block of colorful and thriving Victorian commercial buildings, the last vestiges of Main Street’s 19th century past. Evenings these days, its balcony and downstairs bar draw young professionals to the to the nightlife offerings along the street.

Both the downtown and Heights buildings survived fires over the decades and have seen many businesses and concepts come and go, as interest waxed and waned in their respective neighborhoods. Both survive as destinations, thanks in part to their historic feel.

On Wednesday, a unanimous Houston City Council granted both structures the strongest form of historic protection in free-wheeling, tear-down Houston. Members voted to make the Heights Theatre, 339 W. 19th, and the Victorian at 308 Main protected landmarks. Two houses built by famed architects also were granted landmark status.

The commercial buildings on Main and on 19th received the highest level of protection in the city with “protected landmark” designation. This means the facade of the structures cannot be altered without approval and they cannot be torn down, except in cases of extreme hardship for the property owner.

The protected status is more sweeping than historic landmark, in which owners can tear down or alter their properties after a 90-day waiting period to allow time for negotiations with preservationists.

Built in 1929 with a Mission-style stucco façade, and updated in 1935 with an Art Moderne-style exterior, the Heights Theatre was partially destroyed by arson in 1969 and sat vacant until the late 1980s. It has since gone through a series of uses, including an antique store.

The property will soon be sold and become a music venue, said current owner Gus Kopriva, a Heights resident who has owned the property with his wife Sharon for 25 years.

The couple sought the landmark status to make sure the property was protected before it was sold to another owner. It currently serves as an art gallery and event space. Preservation was a stipulation in the sale of the building.

“The theater has always been an icon of the Heights,” Kopriva said. “It was important to us to make sure it was preserved.”

Cool. I’d love to see that place get used for something along the lines of its original purpose. And it’s great when the owners see historic designation as an asset. I look forward to seeing what its next phase looks like.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

To the moon with David Adickes

Awesome.

Before David Adickes walked out his door to get to a news conference Wednesday, he decided to paint a 12-13 inch model of an Apollo astronaut perched on a roughly 5-inch base that he was holding.

The 88-year-old artist and sculptor had used colors of the American flag. His right hand reaching for the sky, the astronaut was “wearing” a white suit with a red stripe on each limb, red and blue buttons on the front and an American flag on the left shoulder. Tucked to his side with his left hand was a white helmet, complete with a gold visor.

“And then the phone started ringing,” Adickes said. “So, I’m late,” he added before walking upstairs into a conference room where some project backers were gathered to hear more details about the enterprise.

The model in Adickes’ hands foreshadowed what he hopes will be done in “about a year plus” – a 100-foot version of it in statue form. It will be in what will become a Webster business park catering to the aerospace sector.

If everything goes right, the statue will be bigger than Adickes’ Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin statues.

[…]

Adickes added that his latest statue will be done in 10-foot sections brought to the site and hoisted up by two cranes and let down over two big pieces of strong steel, like a “skeleton in each leg.” The process will be “pretty much seamless,” but any seams will be fixed throughout the process. He is working on an 8-foot model of the statue he says will be done soon.

“I’m going to then cast two plaster versions of it,” Adickes said. “One of them will be portable, and we’ll use it for gala events … and the other one will be the one that we’ll use at the shop.”

Originally, the astronaut was to have a backpack, its right arm raised to its head in a salute. However, Adickes got rid of the backpack and decided to have the astronaut’s hand wave instead.

“Because when he got back from the moon, in the case of Neil Armstrong, or all of them, they leave the backpack behind and they wave and say, moon, very cool, everybody should go there,” Adickes said to the amusement of some in the conference room.

I don’t really have anything to say here. I’m just an unabashed fan of David Adickes, and it makes me happy to know that he’s in the process of creating another one of his signature statues. I can’t wait to see the finished work.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

Saturday video break: Hallelujah

I know, this song has been covered forty jillion times. But you know what I’d never heard before now? Leonard Cohen’s original version. Here it is:

Different from what you’re used to, right? Here’s a live version that’s a bit more like what you’ve heard before. There was a great article on the interwebs a few years ago that I’ve linked to before that discussed this song’s journey and how everyone is really covering Jeff Buckley, but it’s been moved around and I didn’t feel like hunting for it. This Atlantic story will give you a good historic overview if you want it. Anyway, speaking of Jeff Buckley, here’s his iconic version:

Rest in peace, Jeff. Here’s John Cale, whose version is what you heard in the movie Shrek:

They also included a Rufus Wainwright cover on the soundtrack, and off it went into pop music history. You got a few hours to kill, climb down the YouTube rabbit hole for Hallelujah covers.

(Out of order again. I’ll be back where I should have been next week.)

Posted in: Music.

Supreme Court rules HERO must be repealed or voted on

Ugh.

PetitionsInvalid

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that Houston City Council must repeal the city’s equal rights ordinance or place it on the November ballot.

The ruling comes three months after a state district judge ruled that opponents of Houston’s contentious non-discrimination ordinance passed last year failed to gather enough valid signatures to force a repeal referendum.

“We agree with the Relators that the City Secretary certified their petition and thereby invoked the City Council’s ministerial duty to reconsider and repeal the ordinance or submit it to popular vote,” the Texas Supreme Court wrote in a per curiam opinion. “The legislative power reserved to the people of Houston is not being honored.”

The city’s equal right ordinance bans discrimination based not just on sexual orientation and gender identity but also, as federal laws do, sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status.

Houston City Council has 30 days to repeal the ordinance or place it on the November ballot.

[…]

A “disappointed” Parker said she thought the court had erred in its “eleventh hour ruling” and said her team was consulting with the city’s pro bono outside counsel on “any possible available legal actions.” She said the ordinance resembles measures passed by other major U.S. cities and many local companies.

“No matter the color of your skin, your age, gender, physical limitations, or sexual orientation, every Houstonian deserves the right to be treated equally,” Parker said. “To do otherwise, hurts Houston’s well-known image as a city that is tolerant, accepting, inclusive and embracing of its diversity. Our citizens fully support and understand this and I have never been afraid to take it to the voters. We will win!”

You can read the opinion here. To be clear, this was not an appeal of the trial court verdict that declared the number of petitions collected to be insufficient. It’s a ruling on a writ of mandamus filed last August to force the city to accept the City Secretary’s initial count, which only looked at registrations and didn’t consider whether petition pages were proper or whether any signatures had been forged. I personally think it’s perverse to ignore the findings of widespread forgery and general not following the rules, which to me just rewards bad actors, and if that’s what they were going to do they could have issued this ruling back in April and given the city and the HERO defenders more time to prepare for a campaign. As with the ReBuild Houston ruling, I’m having a hard time seeing this as anything but political in nature. It’s a screw job and there’s not much we can do about it.

As to what happens next, I don’t have any faith in the “possible available legal actions” the Mayor alluded to in her statement, so we’ll see what Council does on Wednesday. It’s theoretically possible that the decision could be made to repeal the ordinance and then try again next year, so as not to disrupt this year’s election and have to run a campaign on little time. That obviously requires electing a “good” Mayor, and it of course gives the haters another shot at collecting repeal petitions, this time with full knowledge of the boneheaded mistakes they made last year. I don’t know that I’d go that route, but it is an option.

Regardless of that decision, this will have an effect on the Mayor’s race, and thus on the rest of them. I’ve been asking about HERO in the At Large races where I’ve done interviews, but in the context of it being a settled issue. I’m going to have to put a note on most of them to indicate I did them before today’s ruling was made, as there’s no convenient fence-straddling position any more. Where one could have said something to the effect of “well, I didn’t support it then, but it’s the law now and I don’t see any reason to repeal it” before, now everyone needs to give a straight up keep-or-repeal answer. Five Mayoral candidates – Sylvester Turner, Steve Costello, Adrian Garcia, Chris Bell, and Marty McVey – are known HERO supporters. One – Ben Hall, of course – is not. One – Bill King – has been a fence-straddler. If the repeal referendum is on the ballot, how will you vote? If the decision is made to pass the question to the next Mayor and Council, what will you do? Everyone needs to ask that of all their candidates. I assure you, in the interviews I have left to do, I will be asking.

In the meantime, you should assume that this will be on the ballot, and you should do whatever you can to ensure it doesn’t get repealed. HOUEquality is your one stop shop for information and ways to help. Lane Lewis in his role as HCDP Chair has sent out emails vowing support for HERO. Find something you can do to help and do it. The Trib, Hair Balls, Think Progress, TPM, and Texas Leftist have more.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Perry wins one and loses one at the appeals court

He’s still under indictment.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

This little corndog has only one felony charge against it

Former Gov. Rick Perry must face one criminal count in the abuse-of-power case against him but another would be dismissed under a Friday ruling by an appeals court.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin gives Perry a partial victory but, at least for now, leaves the cloud of an indictment over him as he seeks the GOP nomination for president.

[…]

The former governor repeatedly failed in efforts get the indictment dismissed by state Judge Bert Richardson. Perry then took his case to the 3rd Court.

The 3rd Court agreed with Richardson that it was too early in the case to decide whether one count against Perry, charging abuse of official capacity, was unconstitutional as applied to the former governor.

But the appeals court rejected the second count, coercion of a public servant, saying that the law on which it is based violates the First Amendment.

The count remaining against Perry has been presented and described as a first-degree felony, but [defense attorney Tony] Buzbee said Friday he believes it’s a misdemeanor.

“We believe the only remaining count is a misdemeanor, and raises the question of whether the exercise of a veto can ever be illegal in the absence of bribery. The appeals court is bound by precedent, meaning that the timing of this challenge they believe to be premature. We think when we put that timing question in front of the highest criminal court we will win on that. This thing is hanging by a thread, and in my view is very near to being over,” Buzbee said.

[Special prosecutor Mike] McCrum, of San Antonio, said he believes the remaining count is a felony.

“The bottom line is that he committed a crime, and you shouldn’t have sitting governors committing crimes,” McCrum said.

A 3rd Court decision can be appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Richardson was elected to the Court of Criminal Appeals after the case began but would recuse himself from deciding on the appeal as part of that high court.

In his opinion, Justice Bob Pemberton of the 3rd Court of Appeals pointed out that the case at this point turns on legal issues as opposed to the headline-grabbing facts.

“This appeal arises from an ongoing criminal prosecution that, as the district court observed, involves ‘unique circumstances’ that ‘have been widely reported, argued, and discussed by many with no standing in the case.’ Whatever the focus of such commentary, our disposition of this appeal turns on legal issues — primarily procedural in nature — that may be of somewhat less public renown,” Pemberton wrote.

A copy of the 97-page opinion is here. That post, by Robert Wilonsky, highlights the key bits of the ruling neatly:

To summarize the proceedings below, the appellant — James Richard “Rick” Perry, who until recently served as Governor of Texas — sought dismissal, through a pretrial writ of habeas corpus, of two pending criminal charges (“abuse of official capacity” and “coercion of a public servant”) that are predicated on alleged acts preceding or relating to his line-item veto of a proposed legislative funding appropriation. In seeking dismissal, Perry has contended chiefly that the statutes on which each charge is based, “as applied” to him, violate constitutional protections related to free expression and the separation of powers. Even while terming these “as applied” constitutional challenges “compelling,” the district court determined that it could not decide their merits at that juncture, let alone grant relief, due to procedural limitations the Court of Criminal Appeals has imposed on the ability of lower courts to address such “as applied” challenges when raised through pretrial habeas corpus, as Perry has attempted here. While Perry contends this ruling was error, we reach the same conclusion that the district court did—under the Court of Criminal Appeals’s binding precedents, Perry cannot bring his “as applied” constitutional challenges through pretrial habeas corpus.

Perry has also asserted that the statute on which the “coercion of a public servant” charge is based “facially” violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. While recognizing that defendants may bring such facial constitutional challenges through pretrial habeas corpus, the district court rejected Perry’s claims on the merits. As to this ruling we respectfully disagree with the district court—the statute on which the “coercion of a public servant” is based, as written, and as we are bound to construe it, violates the First Amendment and, accordingly, cannot be enforced.

As a consequence of these holdings, we affirm the district court’s denial of relief as to the “abuse of official capacity” charge, because Perry’s “as-applied” constitutional challenges cannot be addressed through pretrial habeas corpus under current Texas law. However, because the First Amendment bars enforcement of the statute on which the “coercion of a public servant” charge is based, that charge must be dismissed.

The good news for Perry, beyond the fact that one of the counts against him was dismissed – though that can be appealed by McCrum, and I expect that it will – is that the merits of his claims have not yet been decided. He can say, with some justification, that he still expects to get the charges dismissed, and he may be right. Of course, he’s still under a legal cloud, and the next step of the process could take months, by which time his Presidential campaign could be turned to dust. If he was hoping for a clean win, he didn’t get it. He’s still going to be paying those legal bills for the foreseeable future. Trail Blazers, Hair Balls, the Current, Juanita, and the Trib have more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Sandra Bland’s death ruled a suicide

That’s only part of this tragic story.

Sandra Bland

Waller County prosecutors said Thursday that a preliminary autopsy found that Sandra Bland committed suicide, but they pledged to continue investigating the circumstances surrounding her controversial arrest by a state trooper as well as her death in a county jail cell.

“The pathological findings … conclude that the cause of death was hanging and the manner of death was a suicide,” Assistant District Attorney Warren Diepraam said at a news conference focused on the forensic findings so far. “The evidence that we’ve reviewed up to this point supports those findings … However this is an ongoing investigation.”

Prosecutors also confirmed that a screening test had revealed marijuana in the system of the 28-year-old Bland at the time of her death on July 13, and a catalogue of injuries that included some 30 healing cuts on her forearm that may have been self-inflicted two to four weeks before she died.

But Diepraam repeatedly stressed that none of the injuries found on Bland’s body was consistent with a struggle. Some relatives have disputed the notion that Bland committed suicide, a death that occurred against the backdrop of a growing national movement to end police violence against African-Americans.

“At this particular time, I have not seen any evidence that indicates this was a homicide,” Diepraam said.

After the district attorney’s office released details from the autopsy report, the sheriff’s office in the rural county west of Houston released its own statement, which said that Bland had never been placed on suicide watch. The sheriff’s office on Wednesday released intake forms showing that Bland had told police after her arrest that she had attempted suicide in 2014 with pills following a miscarriage and that she had previously struggled with depression.

At Thursday’s news conference, District Attorney Elton Mathis generally steered clear of discussing the jail’s handling of Bland. But asked by CNN a day earlier if the sheriff’s office should have taken more precautions, he said, “It does appear she indicated to the sheriff’s office she’d tried to kill herself at least once. From a commonsense standpoint, I would think that would be something that would of course be important by jail commission standards when assessing inmates for potential care once they come under the control of the jail.”

You can find a copy of the autopsy report here. Sandra Bland’s family is pursuing its own postmortem, and we’ll see what comes of that. Whatever the case, let’s be clear about a few things.

Sandra Bland should never have been in jail in the first place.

As the video of Sandra Bland’s arrest makes its way into homes and offices around the country, people are aghast that the failure to use a turn signal led to a woman’s arrest and, ultimately, her death by what officials have identified as suicide. People want to know if the officer’s actions—asking that Bland put out her cigarette and demanding that she step out of her car—were legal. But that’s the wrong question. Instead, we should be asking whether it was good policing.

As a former police officer, and now as a legal scholar who studies policing, I know the law is not a moral compass. An officer’s actions can be entirely lawful, and yet fail to meet the high standards that we should expect from our law enforcement professionals, our community guardians. When we focus on whether the police acted lawfully, we are missing the chance to ask whether they acted appropriately. As I watch the dash camera video of the traffic stop, I can’t help but think of the distinction between lawful policing and rightful policing.

[…]

It is right here that Encinia has an opportunity to alleviate some of the tension of the encounter. He could, for example, thank her for moving out of the way, but explain how important signaling is, especially near an intersection. He could let her know that he has written her a warning, not a ticket (a fact that does not become clear until much later in the encounter). He could try to connect with her on a personal level, perhaps by telling her that he’d hate to welcome her to Texas with a traffic ticket.

In short, he has a chance to engage with Bland in a way that reduces antagonism and builds goodwill. It isn’t hard, and can be summed up in three words: Receive, respect, respond. Receive what someone is telling you, respect their position, and respond appropriately.

But he doesn’t. Instead, Encinia is silent. A couple of seconds pass. Then he says, “Are you done?” Those three short words send a powerful signal: “What you said does not matter.” This is the first failure in this encounter. It is not a legal failure—there is no law that requires officers to meaningfully engage with people—but it is a failure nonetheless. It is a missed opportunity for good policing.

As you know, I agree with that assessment.

But let’s say you think the officer’s conduct was acceptable and the arrest was justified. In that case, Sandra Bland should not have been in jail for as long as she was.

The reason Sandra Bland was still in jail three days after being arrested was that she hadn’t posted the $5,000 bond that had been set for her by a Waller County, Texas judge. Posting that bond would have required Bland to come up with $500—10 percent of the full sum—in exchange for her freedom. According to a lawyer for the Bland family, they were working on securing the necessary funds when Bland was found dead in her cell on the morning of July 13.

If Bland had been able to pay her bail on the spot, she would have been released immediately following her arraignment, which took place on Saturday, July 11, the day after she was pulled over on a traffic violation and detained for allegedly assaulting a police officer. A representative for the Waller County Sheriff’s Office told me they could have processed Bland’s bail at any time Saturday or Sunday.

The point of bail is to make sure that someone who has been accused of a crime appears in court when the time comes for a judge to hear her case. The money acts as an insurance policy for the judicial system: If you show up for your court date, the money is returned to you. If you don’t appear, you have to pay the court the full amount of your bond. How much you’re required to pay in bail up front is supposed to be based on whether a judge or a magistrate considers a defendant a flight risk, and whether he believes the defendant to be dangerous.

In practice, the bail system is particularly hard on poor people, who frequently get stuck behind bars because they can’t afford to post bond, while those with greater means pay their bail and go home. According to one study, five out of six people in jail are there because they could not afford to pay their bail.

That’s a problem in a lot of jails, including and especially Harris County, where we continue to tolerate judges who lock up scads of people who haven’t been convicted of anything and aren’t a danger to anyone. It’s a nationwide problem, which we’re just beginning to talk about.

But suppose you think that $5K was a reasonable bail for the charge in question. In that case, we come back to the failure of oversight at the jail, which is a problem not just for Waller County.

When Sandra Bland was booked at the Waller County Jail, she told the staff she had attempted suicide before — a staff, it turns out, who had not been sufficiently trained on how to safeguard the well-being of inmates who are mentally ill, suicidal or pose a risk to themselves.

Three days later, the 28-year-old was found dead in her cell — an apparent suicide, according to a Harris County autopsy. Now, mental health watchdogs and advocates for criminal justice reform are sounding the alarm, saying Bland’s case spotlights deficiencies in jail monitoring and oversight that can sometimes have deadly consequences.

Had Bland’s jailers followed through on mental health training and complied with minimum state standards for inmate monitoring — including checking on her at least once an hour — they might have been better prepared to prevent her apparent suicide, mental heath advocates and criminal justice experts said. But they said the lack of sufficient mental health training for jail staff is widespread in Texas.

With an annual budget of about $1 million, the watchdog agency that sets standards for the state’s disparate network of 244 county and private jails employs four people to inspect those local lockups each year, and one inspector to respond to inmate complaints. The agency is chronically underfunded and understaffed, experts say, meaning citations for jails found out of compliance often come only after a tragedy.

The commission’s annual budget is, in many cases, one-third those of comparable agencies in other large states, The Texas Tribune has found. Its much smaller staff of inspectors, until recently, had to share motel rooms because of a limited travel budget.

“I think any advocate would tell you that the jail commission is not adequately resourced to do the kind of preventative inspections that we would like for them to do,” said Matt Simpson, a senior policy strategist at the ACLU of Texas.

The great irony here is that Texas is actually exceptional for having such a commission in the first place – most states don’t. It just doesn’t have the resources it needs to do the job, and as we’ve already discussed, that job is made harder by the presence of so many people who shouldn’t be in jail in the first place.

The system failed Sandra Bland in a lot of ways, and I haven’t even touched on any of the racial aspects of her case. I’ll leave you to find writers who are smarter and better informed than I am to tackle that subject, which deserves all the attention it’s getting. There are many things we must do to prevent future tragedies like Sandra Bland’s and ensure that we live up to our own ideals about everyone being equal. I’m just highlighting a few of the obvious ones.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

The conservative case for more rail transit

Noted for the record.

HoustonMetro

As conservatives, we find it odd that many people expect us to oppose public transportation, especially rail. In fact, high-quality transit, which usually means rail, benefits conservatives in a number of important ways. It spurs development, something conservatives generally favor, especially in Texas. It saves people, including conservatives, precious time, because those who ride rail transit can work or read on the train instead of wasting hours stuck in traffic. Transit of all kinds helps poor people get to jobs, which conservatives prefer over paying welfare. And rail transit, especially streetcars, helps support retail in downtowns by increasing the number of middle-class people on sidewalks.

Libertarians’ arguments against rail transit mostly boil down to one criticism: It’s subsidized. Yes, it is. So is all other transportation. Highway user fees now cover only 47.5 percent of the cost of highways. Nationally, rail transit of all types covers 50 percent of its operating costs from fares. It’s a veritable wash. In contrast, bus systems, which libertarians often favor over rail, cover only 28 percent of their operating costs from the farebox.

Regrettably, conservatives’ tendency to accept libertarians’ arguments against rail transit (without checking their numbers) may deprive Texas conservatives of more chances to escape traffic congestion. Austin, for instance, may be different from other Texas cities in many ways, but not when it comes to traffic. The city’s rapidly growing population has packed its freeways at rush hours. And as other cities have found, building more freeways is not the answer. New lanes fill up as soon as they’re opened, and limited-access freeways in urban areas slice up and kill surrounding communities.

[…]

As rail transit spreads throughout the state, Texans also have another big transit opportunity on the horizon: connecting cities with high-speed rail. A private company, Texas Central Railway, plans to build a line that will connect Dallas and Houston (though projects connecting other cities could follow). Unlike the massive government boondoggle in California, which we oppose, the Texas line will be built without government money. And it’s not just any company providing the technology; it’s Central Japan Railway Co., which runs the world’s first and most successful high-speed rail line, the Shinkasen, connecting Tokyo and Osaka in Japan.

By every standard, Texas’ high-speed rail proposal is something conservatives should support enthusiastically. It exemplifies what conservatives like best: private enterprise acting to make money by providing a service people want and need.

If you’re thinking that most of this sounds a lot like the progressive/liberal case for rail transit, I would agree with you. Objectively good ideas ought to cross ideological boundaries. For those of you who followed the legislative session at all, the opposition to the proposed high speed rail line came almost exclusively from Republicans, though to be fair that’s because the mostly rural areas (plus Montgomery County) that led the opposition are represented in the Lege entirely by Republicans. Where there were votes case, Dallas-area Republicans supported the Texas Central Railway proposal, and if there were any Democratic reps or Senators in the affected areas I’m sure they would have voted with their constituents. Given the pushback some inner Loopers have given here to possible routes into downtown, we might have seen some votes against by Houston-area Dems if it had come to that. Anyway, there’s nothing really new here – hardcore movement conservatives like Paul Weyrich have long supported rail transit for the same kind of reasons authors Lind and Bottoms outline in this piece – just a reminder that support for rail isn’t and needn’t be a partisan issue.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Friday random ten: Revisiting the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs list, part 5

Here’s their list.

1. The Wind Cries Mary – The Bobs (#379, orig. Jimi Hendrix)
2. Personal Jesus – Johnny Cash (#377, orig. Depeche Mode)
3. White Room – The Bobs (#376, orig. Cream)
4. Unchained Melody – U2/The Manhattan Transfer/Elvis Presley (#374, orig. The Righteous Brothers)
5. Highway 61 Revisited – Johnny Winter (#373, orig. Bob Dylan)
6. Got My Mojo Workin’ – Asylum Street Spankers (#368, orig. Muddy Waters)
7. Little Wing – Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble (#366, orig. Jimi Hendrix)
8. Bad Moon Rising – Creedence Clearwater Revival (#364)
9. Tears In Heaven – Eric Clapton (#362)
10. Spanish Harlem – Ben E. King (#358)

Song I don’t have but should, part 1: “The Letter”, orig. The Box Tops but Joe Cocker is certainly acceptable (#372). No explanation needed, I trust.
Song I don’t have but should, part 2: “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), Eurythmics (#365). Honestly, I should just have more Eurythmics.
Song the girls would probably like if I played it for them: “The Loco-Motion”, Little Eva (#359). I could see them dancing to it.

Posted in: Music.

State wants birth certificate lawsuit dropped

I don’t know about that.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Wednesday asked a federal district judge to dismiss a lawsuit that claims a state agency violated the U.S. Constitution by denying birth certificates to U.S.-citizen children of immigrant parents.

Attorneys with Paxton’s office said that the Texas Department of State Health Services, which is being sued by 17 families living in Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr counties, has sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment and cannot be sued in federal court because it has not waived that right, according to court documents.

The immunity extends to interim DSHS Commissioner Kirk Cole and State Registrar Geraldine Harris, who are also named as defendants in the suit, Paxton’s office argues.

A spokesperson in Paxton’s office would not discuss the filing further, saying the “motion speaks for itself.” A spokesperson for the health agency was not available to comment.

See here and here for the background. This sounds specious, more like an ideological argument than a legal one, and a get-out-of-jail-free card if it’s upheld. But I’m not a lawyer, so what do I know?

[Lead plaintiffs’ attorney Jennifer] Harbury said Wednesday afternoon that her team would file a response after reading the state’s motion. The problem appears more widespread than just the families in the lawsuit, she said.

“What I know is there is a very large number of people who are afraid to come forward,” she said.

That would not surprise me. The Chron and the Observer have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

It’s a little easier to run for a statewide judicial office now

From the Quorum Report:

"Objection Overruled", by Charles Bragg

“Objection Overruled”, by Charles Bragg

In a change that flew under the radar for most and was signed by Gov. Abbott, candidates for statewide judicial offices will no longer be required to gather petition signatures from around the state before they can file. One of the changes quietly made by the Texas Legislature this year will make it significantly easier for candidates to qualify for the ballot in statewide judicial races, Quorum Report has learned.

Starting this fall, those wishing to run for the Texas Supreme Court or the Court of Criminal Appeals will no longer be required to travel around the state gathering signatures from each of the state’s 14 appellate court districts before they can file.

Slipped into the language of Senate Bill 1073 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, is a line that repeals the section of the Texas Election Code that forced the gathering of the signatures. The part of the bill that removed the petition requirement was at the very end of the legislation. The text simply states that several election code sections would be repealed without describing what those sections actually do.”

Here’s SB 1073 and here’s the bill text, with the un-annotated repeal bits at the end. I’m too lazy to look up which repealed section is the one dealing with petition signatures, but feel free to do it yourself if you want to.

I found this on Sondra Haltom’s Facebook page, where she half-jokingly asks Glen Maxey if he was responsible for this. Maxey went on to explain as best he could what happened in the comments:

I drafted SB 1073 and asked [Sen. Judith] Zaffirini to carry it. In the House, it was amended with two other bills that I drafted. One of those was a rewrite of the laws about canvasses. Rep. [Craig] Goldman had sponsored that bill. It got caught up in the Thursday night chub a thon on gay marriage. I asked Rep. [Eddie] Rodriguez to amend SB 1073 with HB 3118 by Goldman.

Somewhere in all that last minute shuffle, this repealer language got added. It was a drafting mistake somewhere along the line…. but in this case a good mistake. These petitions are a pain and don’t serve the ostensible reason they were done: to keep unqualified people from running for judge. We have learned that even idiots can get petition signatures. It did more to thwart good candidates than protect them. Good riddance to an anti-democratic piece of legislative crap.

Your government at work, y’all. This sort of confusion has been known to happen at the end of a legislative session when everything is in a rush to beat various deadlines. As Maxey says, at least this time it was a beneficial mistake. If more candidates sign up to run for statewide benches in 2016, now you’ll know why.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Montgomery County hasn’t given up the fight against the high-speed rail line

Keep hope alive, I guess.

A newly formed regional planning commission will enable Montgomery County and the city of Magnolia to monitor and work against any high speed rail projects that may cut through western Montgomery County, said County Judge Craig Doyal.

The county and area communities have expressed concerns about Texas Central Rail’s proposal to build a high-speed rail line from Houston to Dallas; initially, one of the proposed routes would have taken the train through the western portion of Montgomery County, potentially cutting through large tracts of privately owned land.

That route has since been rejected in favor of another alternative west of Montgomery County, but the county and an area city decided to form a regional planning commission in the event Texas Central Railway changes its options and reverts to the Montgomery County route.

“We are committed to opposing any routing of high speed rail through western Montgomery County, and the regional planning commission is a tool that will help us in that goal” said Judge Doyal.

Not really clear what they can do, but until actual tracks get dedicated, I suppose anything can happen. Texas Central had a very close call in this legislative session, and there’s no reason to believe they’ll be at a point of no turning back before the 2017 session begins. So who knows? If you want to see TCR get going, keep an eye on this.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Auditing HCDE

We’ll see about this.

Later this summer, state auditors are expected to release their final report on the Harris County Department of Education. They’ve been examining the agency since last December.

Superintendent James Colbert told lawmakers about it at a hearing in April.

“We should have absolutely nothing to hide as far as I’m concerned and really they provide a free service for us for things that we need to fix. And so, that’s something that I’m open to,” Colbert said.

Critics contend the Harris County Department of Education has plenty to fix, from handling records requests to duplicating services with other agencies.

Its services include early learning, special education and adult education.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said he wants to have a hearing in Austin after the audit is released.

“What I want this to come out with is an idea of ‘Do we have a model that works in Harris County, or do we need to change it?’” he said.

See here for some background. HCDE has long been a political target, so an audit like this could provide ammunition for its detractors, or it could provide evidence that there’s nothing of substance for them to attack. The Chron story I linked to in that earlier post certainly suggests there are some things going on at HCDE that need scrutiny. Hopefully, this audit will show that they have been addressed.

Posted in: Local politics.

Mayoral finance reports: Out of town cash and max donors

You may have noticed that there’s a lot of money in the Mayoral race this year, even after subtracting what the candidates have given or loaned to themselves. You may be wondering where all that money came from. This post aims to shed a little light on that.

First question: How much of the money raised by Mayoral candidates came from Houston donors, and how much came from outside Houston?

Candidate Non-Hou $ Total $ Pct % ========================================== Garcia 539,949 1,441,792 37.4% Costello 312,660 1,276,281 24.5% Turner 296,588 747,793 39.7% King 103,501 721,250 14.4% Bell 51,288 366,770 14.0% Hall 35,925 69,025 52.0% McVey 21,750 43,927 49.5%

Disclaimer time: All reports can be seen here. My methodology was ridiculously simple. All donations for which the city listed in the report entry was something other than “Houston” was counted for this. Obviously, not all “Houston” addresses are actually within the city – mail sent to all of unincorporated Harris County and such small cities as West U and Southside Place say “Houston, TX” on the envelope – but I wanted to complete this exercise before the election took place, so I followed this guideline for ease of use. As with all totals presented here and elsewhere, this was a manual process, which means I looked over the reports and counted up the totals myself. It is highly likely that I goofed here and there, so consider these numbers to be reasonable estimates and not gospel truth. Finally, also as before, the “Total $” figures represent the cash money raised by each candidate, thus excluding in kind donations, loans, and (in the case of Costello) contributions from the candidate himself.

Having done this exercise, I (reluctantly) feel like I should go back and review Mayor Parker’s July forms from 2009, 2011, and 2013, as well as Gene Locke and Peter Brown’s from 2009, to see if what we’re seeing here is completely out of whack with past results or not. I know Mayor Parker had a strong national fundraising network, but I’ve no idea offhand what that meant in total dollars and proportional amounts. Whatever the case, I feel confident saying that Adrian Garcia knocked it out of the park here. He raised more from outside Houston than Chris Bell, Ben Hall, and Marty McVey raised in total combined; his non-Houston total is 75% of Bill King’s overall total. And that still left $900K from in Houston. Holy smokes.

One thing I noticed while perusing Garcia’s report: He received a ton of contributions from people with Asian names, both in Houston and not. He also had a lot of contributions from Latino/a donors, but the sheer number of Asian supporters surprised me. Make of that what you will.

I am curious what motivates someone to donate to a Mayoral candidate they can’t vote for. I get why people contribute to Congressional and Senate candidates from other places – laws made in DC affect them regardless, and partisan control matters a lot – but the justification here is somewhat less clear. To be fair, the vast majority of these non-Houston donations came from places like Katy, the Woodlands, Sugar Land, and so forth. For all the griping I did about non-Houstonians driving the red light camera referendum, it’s clear that folks who work here but live elsewhere have a stake in the outcome of elections like this. And of course some of these out of towners are in the personal networks of the candidates – friends, family, in-laws, colleagues (Sylvester Turner received several contributions from other members of the Legislature, for example), and so forth. I’d still like to understand this phenomenon a little better. Surely one of our Professional Political Pundits can put a grad student on it.

Next item: In Houston, an individual can give a maximum of $5000 to a city candidate in a given cycle, and a PAC maxes out at $10K. Having an army of small-dollar donors is a great thing in many ways, but those big checks sure add up in a hurry. How much of these hauls came from the deep pockets?

Candidate # Maxes Max $ Total $ Pct % ===================================================== Garcia 148 745,000 1,441,792 51.7% Costello 138 720,000 1,276,281 56.4% Turner 76 410,000 747,793 54.8% King 71 365,000 721,250 50.6% Bell 25 125,000 366,770 34.1% Hall 11 55,000 69,025 79.7% McVey 2 10,000 43,927 22.8%

Again with the disclaimers: Same manual process as above. Not all max donors give $5K at once. There were several gifts of $2500 each, and other combinations I observed as well. “# Maxes” is the count of all max donors, both individuals and PACs, which I also counted as one even though they could give twice as much. Multiply “# Maxes” by 5,000 and the difference will tell you how many max PAC donations that candidate got.

With the large amounts of money collected, the large number of donors who gave their all should not be surprising. One reason why I did this was to see who might have a harder time replicating their success between now and the beginning of October, when the 30 day reports come due. You can’t hit up those who are tapped out for a repeat performance, after all. I guess this leaves Chris Bell in better shape than some others, but I’m not sure how much effect that will have.

I should note here that two of Ben Hall’s max donors were named Hotze, an “SM Hotze” and a “JS Hotze”. Hall has gone all in with the haters, despite his weak sauce denials. This could actually present a bit of a problem for King and to a lesser extent Costello, as both of them are in their own way wooing Republican voters. Clearly, some of those Republicans are not going to be open to them. I presume Hotze still has some sway among GOP voters (a subset of them, at least), so if he actively pushes for Hall via mail/robocall/whatever as the One True Candidate Who Will Stand Up To The Gays, then I think that has to put a ceiling on King and Costello. How much that might be I don’t know – if I were forced to guess right now I’d say “maybe two or three points” – but as we’ve been saying all along, this is likely to be a close race where not too many votes could make a big difference in the outcome. Hall is a threat to Turner as well, of course, I just wanted to point this possibility out.

I think that’s about all the patience I have for scouring the Mayoral reports. I may take a closer look at the other candidates’ reports as my copious spare time allows.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Seeking GLBT support in the Mayor’s race

In a crowded field where a small number of votes could be the difference between making the runoff and not, endorsements will be of greater importance. One endorsement that several Mayoral candidates would really like to have if the endorsement of the HGLBT Political Caucus.

Houston’s mayoral candidates are angling for the GLBT Caucus’ coveted support, with state Rep. Sylvester Turner’s campaign purchasing dozens of memberships and others urging supporters to sign up ahead of the group’s August endorsement meeting.

In the last month, caucus membership jumped by about 200 people, from 325 to 525, leaving some longtime members, particularly supporters of former congressman Chris Bell, concerned that this year’s endorsement already may have been bought.

Caucus President Maverick Welsh, however, said the campaigns’ efforts will not be enough to tip the scales.

“We know campaigns actively try to push as many people into the room as possible, and that’s why we’ve strategically tried to grow our membership over the last year and a half,” Welsh said. “I don’t think any candidate has enough members to be able to buy an endorsement.”

[…]

Former congressman Chris Bell has been actively encouraging supporters to join and show up for the August meeting, while City Councilman Stephen Costello has pursued what his campaign described as a “low-key effort” to get people to join the caucus’ ranks.

Turner, on the other hand, opted to write the group a $3,040 check two weeks ago – enough for at least 76 memberships, according to spokeswoman Sue Davis.

“It’s something that’s done every year,” Davis said.

All three candidates, as well as former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, are seen as contenders for the caucus endorsement.

I wouldn’t want to try to guess who will come away with it. Based on what I’ve been seeing in my inbox and Facebook feed, we should start seeing a bunch of endorsements come down in the next few weeks. There’s a lot of races, not just the Mayor’s race, where those decisions aren’t going to be easy. I’ll be tracking them on the 2015 Election page as I see them.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Vetoes: You’re doing it wrong

Oops.

NO

Some of Gov. Greg Abbott’s line-item vetoes in the state budget might be invalid, the state’s Legislative Budget Board said in a 14-page letter sent Tuesday to Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar.

The director of the LBB said the governor’s veto proclamation, listing line items he chose to excise from the new budget, doesn’t have the effect Abbott apparently intended.

“The Proclamation from June 20, 2015 seeks to veto the appropriation for a number of purposes and programs contained in House Bill 1,” LBB Director Ursula Parks wrote. “However, in nearly all instances the Proclamation does not veto the actual appropriation but rather seeks either to veto non-appropriating rider language or informational items. As it is the case that the Governor may only veto items of appropriation, for the reasons outlined below I believe that many of the items in HB 1 referenced in the Proclamation remain valid provisions.”

That letter amounts to a rebuke of sorts from the leaders of the Legislature to the new governor. The LBB is co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, and its members include the chairs of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees who write the budget, along with six other legislative leaders from both chambers.

“In our analysis, most of the actions in the Proclamation have the effect neither of actually reducing agency or institution appropriations, nor indeed of eliminating legislative direction on the use of funds,” Parks wrote. “The Proclamation seeks to go beyond what is authorized in the Texas Constitution, is in many respects unprecedented, and is contrary to both practice and expectation since adoption of the Texas Constitution in 1876.”

Abbott’s office received the letter Tuesday afternoon and did not have an immediate comment, but argued in a memo last month that the governor’s vetoes were within the law. Lauren Willis, a spokeswoman for Hegar, said the comptroller’s office is still reviewing the LBB letter.

It says, in effect, that the governor vetoed items in the budget that he doesn’t have the power to veto, an assertion Parks sourced back to Abbott himself. In his proposed budget earlier this year, Abbott said that he wanted to expand the governor’s line-item veto authority and suggested amending the state constitution to take care of that. The Legislature made no such amendment.

“The implication in this statement supports the analysis that the Constitution currently provides limited and specific authority in this area; authority that the Proclamation seeks to extend,” Parks wrote.

The LBB letter is here, and the Abbott memo on which it was based is here. Nothing like having your own words used against you, is there? This isn’t a LePage level of failure, but it would be pretty embarrassing if it holds up. On the plus side for Abbott, his buddy Dan Patrick is there for him, even though he is also on the LBB. Intrigue! Ross Ramsay has more.

Posted in: Budget ballyhoo.

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 20

The Texas Progressive Alliance asks #WhatHappenedToSandraBland as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Interview with Greg Travis

Greg Travis

Greg Travis

We come now to our second and final interview in District G. There are only two candidates for this open seat, which is a lot fewer than you might normally expect. It’s quality that matters more than quantity, of course, and both contenders here are well qualified. Today’s interview subject is Greg Travis. Travis is a former officer in the Air Force who is now an attorney managing his own firm. He has taught Business Law at Houston Community College, and has served on the board of directors of Justice for All. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Dashcam video from Sandra Bland arrest released

The Press has a good writeup. I’m just going to quote the two bits of transcript they provided:

Sandra Bland

“What’s wrong?” the trooper asked as he delivered Bland her ticket. “You seem very irritated.”

“I really am, because I feel like it’s crap for what I’m getting a ticket for,” Bland said. “I was getting out of your way. You were speeding and tailing me, so I move over and you stop me. So yeah, I am a little irritated.”

“Are you done?” the trooper said.

“You asked me what was wrong and I told you,” Bland said.

“OK,” the officer said. “You mind putting out your cigarette please?”

“I’m in my car, why do I have to put out my cigarette?”

“Well,” the officer said, “you can step out now.”

“I don’t have to,” Bland said.

“Step out.”

Emphasis mine. Right there, the cop should have said “Have a nice day” and walked away. I’m sorry, but any cop who can’t handle a little mouthy frustration from someone who just got a ticket they don’t think they deserved shouldn’t have a badge and a gun. He escalated the situation. There was no need to tell her to put out her cigarette, and no justification at all for telling her to get out of the car when she justifiably told him No. And it gets worse from there:

“You do not have the right to do that,” Bland says.

“I do have the right, now step out or I will remove you,” the officer says.

“I am getting removed for a failure to signal?”

“I am giving you a lawful order. Get outta the car now.”

“I’m calling my lawyer.”

“I’m gonna yank you out of here,” the officer said, while leaning over and reaching into the car.

“Don’t touch me! I’m not under arrest,” Bland says.

“You are under arrest,” the officer says.

“For what? For what?”

There’s a pause. The officer does not answer.

“Get out of the car, now!”

Bland walks out of the car and around the back, as directed by the officer. The rest takes place off camera, though you can hear what’s going on.

“You feeling good about yourself?” she says. “You feel good about yourself? Why will you not tell me what’s going on? Ya’ll bitch asses scared. That’s it.”

Then there is a shuffling sound, and Bland screams, “You’re about to fucking break my wrist!”

Then Bland screams.

“Stop… moving… now!” the officer shouts. “Stop it!”

Bland begins to cry. Through sobs, she says, “For a traffic signal… for a fucking traffic signal. I can’t feel my arm.”

“You’re going to jail,” the officer says. “For resisting arrest.”

Unbelievable. And completely unacceptable. Even more, as the Trib reports, what can be seen contradicts the officer’s account of what happened. I don’t know what happened to Sandra Bland – we may never know for sure – but the one thing I do know is that Sandra Bland should never have been in jail in the first place. That is the root cause of what happened. And it’s as clear an illustration of what the #BlackLivesMatter protesters have been talking about all along as one could see. This is what needs to be fixed. Daily Kos has more.

UPDATE: Lisa Falkenberg has more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Paxton concedes FMLA lawsuit

Excellent.

RedEquality

Almost a month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton quietly conceded a case against the federal government over medical leave benefits for certain same-sex couples.

Paxton and the attorneys general of Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Nebraska filed a voluntary dismissal on Friday with the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Texas, where the states had sued the Obama administration over a rule change to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA. That change was intended to grant time off to legally married same-sex couples, even if they lived in a state like Texas that at the time did not recognize same-sex marriage.

[…]

Asked for comment on the dismissal, Cynthia Meyer, a spokeswoman for the AG’s office, said, “Our filing speaks for itself.” The state had spent at least $26,881 on the case, according to legal costs obtained from the AG’s office.

This is the second case related to same-sex marriage that Texas has dropped in light of the high court’s ruling. This month, Paxton’s office ended its defense of the state’s now-defunct ban on same-sex marriage.

See here and here for the background. Reality’s a bitch, ain’t it, Kenny? I’m just glad this got resolved in such a relatively short period of time, as that will minimize the pain and inconvenience for the affected employees. And no one will ever have to worry about it again.

Posted in: Legal matters.

The future of Fort Bend transit

Public transportation in Fort Bend County has grown quite a bit since its inception, and there’s a lot of potential for future growth if the pieces can be put into place.

On Tuesday, county leaders, staff and transit partners gathered in Richmond to celebrate the rapid evolution of the Fort Bend Public Transportation Department since it was formed 10 years ago. They marked projects that moved from the initially limited efforts of the 1990s, which benefited a few hundred people a month, into a system that serves tens of thousands of riders. Leaders also talked about what might be next for public transportation in the suburban county west of Houston.

“In 2003, we were providing 300 rides per month,” Patterson said. “This last six months, we transported 33,000 rides per month.”

This year, the transit department will create a master plan to outline priorities and possibilities through 2040, coordinating with the roads department to anticipate future needs.

“Where is the growth going to be in Fort Bend County? Will it be residential or commercial? What will the overlay of transportation needs be?” Transportation Director Paulette Shelton asked, listing the core questions to be considered as the plan is developed. “We pull out 37 buses every day to do service. If I look ahead five years, we’ll probably be around 60 or 70 buses.”

How the system expands will depend on “where the development happens and the needs in the cities,” she said.

County Judge Bob Hebert said he does not intend for the county to ever operate a major bus system with fixed routes, but still expects to add new services. The future of the department will hinge “to some extent on where Harris County goes,” he said.

Because Fort Bend’s future is linked to the wider region – with about 60 percent of residents working in Houston, according to Census figures – many transportation and roads projects will require coordination with Harris County and the Metropolitan Transit Authority, known as Metro.

Hebert said the most common question about public transit that he is asked is, “When are we going to have commuter rail?” He compared the undertaking to the construction of Fort Bend toll roads.

“They have to be tied into a bigger system,” he said. “When Harris County started building the Westpark Tollway, our Westpark Tollway became viable. It gave you a path somewhere people wanted to be in large numbers. We will not put in rail until we know for certain there is rail coming out to the Harris County line.”

Commissioner Richard Morrison lists a commuter rail out to Missouri City and along Highway 90 as a top priority, but said a more practical concern must be considered first: funding.

Here’s the FBPTD website. Note that their buses are “demand response service”, which means you call at least a day in advance to schedule a stop by your house or wherever, and they take you where you want to go as long as it’s within their service area. Sounds an awful lot like the Flex Zones in Metro’s reimagined bus network, which have caused so much anxiety. I wonder how well this service has worked for Fort Bend. Might be nice for their to be some reporting on that, to get a better feel for what Houston Flex Zone riders might expect.

As for commuter rail into Fort Bend, that may well hinge on the Metro/Culberson peace treaty, as working to secure funding for that line was among the goodies Rep. Culberson promised to work on. The Lege may need to get involved to authorize Metro to operate in Fort Bend, but if there is a plan in place to get that rail line going, I would expect such authorization to be a formality. Mostly, I’m glad that this is such a persistent question for Judge Hebert, as that is surely a key component to moving this along. For now, I’d say the ball is in Congress’ court, and there is some motion (finally) on a transportation bill, so we’ll see what happens.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Mayoral finance reports: PACs and consultants

Let’s take a deeper dive into Mayoral candidate fundraising by examining one of the main categories of raised funds, and one of the main categories of spent funds. I speak of PAC money for the former, and consultant fees/staff salaries for the other. Here’s how much each candidate raised in PAC funds in their July report:

Candidate PAC $ Total $ PAC % ========================================= Turner 127,650 747,793 17.1% Costello 124,500 1,276,281 9.8% Garcia 87,150 1,441,792 6.0% King 41,000 721,250 5.7% Bell 5,500 366,770 1.5% McVey 3,000 43,927 6.8% Hall 0 69,025 0.0%

As a reminder, you can see all the finance reports that have been submitted on my Election 2015 page. I considered any contributor identified as a PAC or a business of some kind to be a “PAC” for these purposes. If you want to be technical, I’m adding up the contributions that didn’t come from individuals or couples. I also did not include in kind contributions in these totals. For most candidates, I found the value represented in the “Total $” column on the new Subtotals page, which is the modification to the forms that caused all of the trouble this cycle. Ben Hall, of course, didn’t bother with that page, and also included the $850,000 he loaned himself in his “Total Political Contributions” entry. His form was pretty short and it was easy enough to sort it out. Steve Costello’s total above is lower than what you’ll find on his report. This is because he contributed $175K to his campaign – it was reported as a contribution, not a loan – and his PAC donated an additional $10K. For the purposes of this post, I excluded them from his total amount, and didn’t add the PAC contribution to the “PAC $” figure. Sylvester Turner definitely gets the benefit of being a long-term office holder. We’ll see other effects of that in subsequent reports. I expect Adrian Garcia will pull in more PAC money for the 30 day report. As impressive as his haul is, he’s still catching up in some ways.

Now let’s look at the other side of the ledger:

Candidate Salary $ Consult $ Sum $ Raised Pct ========================================================== King 67,289 306,400 373,689 721,250 51.8% Turner 131,192 224,000 355,192 747,793 47.5% Costello 120,932 181,800 302,732 1,276,281 23.7% Bell 102,226 30,350 132,576 366,770 36.1% Garcia 52,427 31,300 83,727 1,441,792 5.8% McVey 60,500 9,000 69,500 43,927 158.2% Hall 0 24,200 24,200 69,025 35.1%

There are two basic categories of paying for people to do stuff – “Salaries/Wages/Contract Labor” and “Consulting”. I added all of the former to “Salary $”, and I also included anything classified as health insurance for staffers and payroll taxes. I did not include fees paid to payroll management services like ADI, because I’m just obstreperous like that. Here you can see the advantage of Adrian Garcia’s late entry into the race – unlike several of his competitors, he hasn’t been paying for staffers and consultants since January. Bill King raised a decent amount of money, but man that’s a big burn rate. If he’s going to hire all those people and run an air campaign, he’s going to have to keep writing checks to himself. Turner’s burn rate is almost as high, but he started out with (and still has) a lot of cash, and his strategy seems to be more targeted, and thus less likely to run into five- and six-figure media buys. Costello spent almost as much as those two did on people, but his much bigger haul gives him a lot of cushion. Bell is going to need to figure out how to run a lean and cost-effective campaign, because he’s not living in the same ZIP code as those four. While multiple candidates are doing at least some self-financing, Marty McVey shows what the edge case for that looks like. He literally wouldn’t have a campaign without his own money, and he still has plenty of it to spend. It will be interesting to see what he does with it. As for Ben Hall, all I will say is that he paid $12,500 to the Hall Law Firm for legal expenses. Hey, if you want something done right, you do it yourself, amirite?

In the next entry in this series, I’ll take another look at where all this money is coming from. You’re not at all wrong to think we’re swimming in it in a way that we weren’t in 2009 or 2003.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Sandra Bland’s death being investigated as a homicide

Doesn’t mean that’s how it will be ruled, but it’s at least a sign that it’s being taken with appropriate seriousness.

Sandra Bland

The probe into Sandra Bland’s hanging death inside a Texas jail — which a medical examiner ruled a suicide last week — now includes the possibility of murder.

“This is being treated like a murder investigation,” Elton Mathis, Waller County’s district attorney, said at a press conference Monday.

Mathis said he made the determination after talking to Bland’s family and to those who saw her last, including the bail bondsman, who was among the last to hear from her alive.

[…]

While the Harris County medical examiner ruled her death consistent with a suicide, Mathis said it is now being treated as a murder.

“There are too many questions that need to be resolved. Ms. Bland’s family does make valid points. She did have a lot of things going on in her life for good,” Mathis said.

The district attorney also said the dashboard video of the traffic stop in Prairie View that was retrieved from Encinia’s patrol car would be released on Tuesday.

After viewing the video, Mathis said Bland was not “compliant” with the officer’s directions.

“Sandra Bland was very combative. It was not a model traffic stop. It was not a model person that was stopped,” Mathis said.

See here for some background. I am sure that dashcam video will be all over social media later today. The Chron story provides a different assessment of its contents.

Mathis said he has requested scientific testing from the jail, including touch DNA evidence on the plastic trash bag that medical examiners in Harris County said Bland used to kill herself.

Mathis outlined some of the details of his investigation at a news conference Monday afternoon, hours after a separate news conference, where advocates for Bland raised questions into her death.

Advocates representing Bland’s relatives also said dash cam footage of her traffic stop in Prairie View contradicted information provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The family also called for the Department of Justice to investigate the circumstances of her arrest on July 10 and death three days later in the Waller County Jail, which officials have ruled a suicide.

“We know we’re standing at a crime scene,” said Jamal Bryant, an advocate for Bland’s relatives, outside the jail.

At a news conference, Bryant, a pastor at the Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore, said the footage, which had been shown to Bland’s relatives and their lawyer, but which has not yet been released publicly, showed the DPS trooper stopping her, walking to her car, and then speaking to her while she smoked a cigarette.

The trooper, 30-year-old Brian Encinia, told her to put it out, and she refused, Bryant said.

Bland began videotaping the stop with her cell phone, which enraged the trooper, Bryant said.

“You can’t see at any point where Bland attacks the officer,” Bryant said.

DPS officials have said that during the stop, Bland became “uncooperative” and kicked the officer. She was arrested and charged with assault of a public servant.

Cannon Lambert, a Chicago-based attorney representing the family, said Sunday on a Washington D.C. radio show that Encinia tried to pull Bland from the car when she reached for her cell phone. When that didn’t work, he pulled out a TASER and pointed it at her, and she voluntarily got out of the car, he said.

The dash cam did not record the entire encounter between the trooper and Bland.

I hope it’s enough to settle the arguments, but I suspect it will intensify them instead. We’ll see what it has to tell us.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Controller philosophies

Here’s a Chron story from a candidate forum for Controller candidates at which the main subject was the relationship that Controllers have with Mayors.

City Controller Ronald Green

City Controller Ronald Green

“It’s the second-highest elected official in city government, and it needs to be independent to provide a check and balance on the office in power,” said former City Councilman Jew Don Boney, who went on to say the controller must not be an ally or lapdog to the mayor.

The city’s chief financial officer is tasked with performing audits, preparing financial statements and managing Houston’s investments and debt, though the office holder has no vote on City Council.

Still, Boney stressed the controller ought not approach the role bureaucratically.

“This is not an election for the chief bookkeeper of Houston,” Boney said. “We hire CPAs.”

Bill Frazer, 2013 controller runner-up, who touts himself as the only certified public accountant in the race, was not in attendance. Former Houston Community College board member Carroll Robinson also missed the bulk of the forum, walking in during closing remarks.

Meanwhile, deputy controller Chris Brown edged closer to the idea of a controller at odds with the mayor, albeit more gingerly.

Brown said the relationship between mayor and controller should depend on the state of the city’s fiscal affairs.

“In times of great surplus, where there’s a lot of money, I think the mayor and the controller should be adversaries, because that’s the time when the mayor’s gonna say, ‘Hey, we’ve got tons of money. Let’s just go spend it,’ ” Brown said.

“But,” he added, “I think in the times when we have difficult financial problems, there needs to be more of a concerted effort to work together to solve the financial problems in the city.”

Controller is kind of a strange office, as it has no authority to set agenda items or vote on Council. One can certainly argue that it should have more authority, as a counterbalance to the Mayor – this is a question I have asked before in interviews with Controller candidates, and will ask again – but as the story suggests, the Controller can always be a semi-official pain in the rear to the Mayor as needed. I personally think the Controller should focus more energy on audits and thinking up creative ways to save money. Beyond that, we’ll see what they have to say for themselves when I talk to them. For what is the second-most important office in the city, it sure doesn’t get a lot of attention.

Posted in: Election 2015.

More allegations against Kelly Siegler

Here they come.

Kelly Siegler

Howard Guidry was 18 years old when he was charged being the triggerman in a 1994 murder-for-hire case that involved a Missouri City police officer and his estranged wife. Twice he was convicted and sent to death row, and both times the prosecutor who sent him there was Kelly Siegler, the legendary Houston attorney who has been accused of withholding evidence in another high-profile murder case.

Now Guidry’s attorneys are saying she used the same tactics when she prosecuted their client, both in the original trial, which was overturned on appeal, and again when he was retried.

“Here it is – the same patterns and practices,” said Gwendolyn Payton, a lawyer at Lane Powell PC, a Seattle law firm that took on Guidry’s case pro bono. “And how many more are out there? It’s just really troubling.”

In the wake of District Judge Larry Gist’s ruling earlier this month, which said Siegler withheld evidence in the trial of David Temple and recommended a new trial for the Katy man, lawyers for Guidry are preparing to file amendments to a 2013 appeal explaining how her behavior in Guidry’s case is similar to what she did in the Temple case.

“We are alleging the same acts, independent of the Temple case,” Payton said. “We didn’t even know about the Temple case until that ruling.”

[…]

There are several striking resemblances between the Brady material that was not released in Temple’s 2007 trial and Guidry’s two death penalty trials, including evidence of other suspects and exculpatory evidence about the murder weapon.

In what may be the most damning example, Guidry’s lawyers were never told that crime scene investigators found fingerprints that were not Guidry’s on Farah Fratta’s car door and front fender where the shooter would have stood. The fingerprints were from another man who resembled Guidry and was friends with one of the suspects in the case.

The fingerprints that were found next to the body of the estranged wife were never disclosed to Guidry’s defense lawyers. The man resembling Guidry, who was part of the ring of suspects in the case, was never charged. Police investigating the slaying found human blood in the car he owned, which matched the description of the getaway car that witnesses saw, including having only one headlight.

In an appeal with hundreds of pages of arguments and sworn affidavits, Guidry’s lawyers allege numerous instances of misconduct. They contend Siegler hid the identity of the suspect resembling Guidry, his fingerprints and the fact that there was blood on the seat of his car.

In the Temple ruling, Gist took Siegler to task after she testified that Brady material did not need to be disclosed if she didn’t believe it.

“Of enormous significance was the prosecutor’s testimony at the habeas hearing that apparently favorable evidence did not need to be disclosed if the state did not believe it was true,” Gist wrote.

Lawyers for Guidry say the investigation of the man whose fingerprints were found is just one of the many pieces of evidence that was withheld.

“The trial counsel for sure never got that evidence,” Payton said. “It should have been disclosed under Brady, I don’t think anyone can argue unless you’re using the ‘Kelly Siegler rule’ that she didn’t find it credible.”

See here for some background. I vaguely remember this case, though I don’t recall any details or that there was a controversy about how the trial was conducted. As such, I have no insight as to the merit of these allegations. I do think the so-called “Kelly Siegler rule” is wrong and cannot be allowed to serve as a standard for what qualifies as Brady material. I don’t know what the standard should be, but it needs to be more inclusive than what the prosecution thinks the defense might need. I hope the generally prosecution-friendly Court of Criminal Appeals can provide some better guidance, because I strongly suspect Kelly Siegler isn’t the only prosecutor, and David Temple and Howard Guidry aren’t the only defendants, to whom this would need to apply. Hair Balls has more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Interview with Sandie Mullins Moger

Sandie Mullins Moger

Sandie Mullins Moger

We move on now to the other open district seat, which is District G, currently held by CM Oliver Pennington. G is a Republican district stretching out to the west, just south of I-10, encompassing the Energy Corridor, the Galleria, and Memorial Park inside the Loop. There are two candidates running, and I have interviews with both of them. First up is Sandie Mullins Moger, who is completing a term of office as HCC Trustee. Moger a longtime neighborhood and community activist, having served as President for Super Neighborhood 17 and the Houston West Chamber of Commerce, among others. She is now a member of the executive team of MogerMedia Advertising Agency, which produces HomeShow Radio with Tom Tynan. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Will there be TMF-Menendez round 2?

Maybe. Who knows?

Sen. Jose Menendez

Last February, Jose Menendez beat Trey Martinez Fischer to serve the remainder of Leticia Van De Putte’s term when she decided to run for mayor.

Campaign finance reports filed Wednesday may point to a rematch this fall.

“Without money you don’t get your message out, so that’s why having money is important,” says Senator Menendez.

“It’s quite a compliment and a testament to the work I do in Austin, and that believe in my public service,” says Martinez Fischer.

Combined the two men have raised more than $400,000 , according to their campaigns and finance reports.

[…]

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

“There’s no doubt about it, I’m giving it some very serious consideration. The special election was just in very recent memory, but there isn’t a day goes by in San Antonio that I’m not stopped in the street, or talking to people in a restaurant where they don’t ask about this race,” says Martinez Fischer.

“I can’t worry about who’s going to run, I have to worry about doing my job, and at the end of the day, come Election Day if I’ve done my job then the voters I believe will send me back to Austin,” says Menendez.

[…]

Menendez came in second in the general election, and then won handily in the runoff, and he admits he had Republican Party backing, he’s not sure he’ll need it if he and Martinez Fischer meet again.

“At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how many slick ads are cut, it doesn’t matter how many fliers you have, or how many signs are out there. What matters is that people believe that you care enough to work on what matters to them,” says Menendez.

Anything is possible, but let’s remember two things. One, for all the hullabaloo and self-loathing among some Democrats for the way Menendez won the runoff, the fact remains that even TMF’s post-election analysis showed Menendez had significant Democratic support. Republican voters preferred him over TMF, but that was likely more about them disliking TMF and his combative personality, as there was no ideological reason for them to have a preference. And that’s point two: For all the hue and cry about Menendez being more “conservative” than TMF, there’s nothing I know of in his voting record, in the House or in his short term so far in the Senate, to back that up. If TMF challenges Menendez in March – and I say this as someone who likes TMF and would have voted for him in SD26 if I had lived there – what does he have to use against him in that race? My guess is this would be one of those all-heat, little-light races that everyone hates. This is how it goes when two candidates that have no real difference between them on the issues battle it out. I have no opinion about whether or not TMF should challenge Menendez in March. If he does it’s fine and if he doesn’t it’s fine. All I’m saying is that the special election runoff from this year has nothing to tell us about how such a race might go next year.

Posted in: Election 2016.

We don’t want to share marriage with those icky gay people

Ed Kilgore detects a new trend.

Now that the Christian Right has been reduced to the sputtering defiance of Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal or to the sullen silence of many others, one can hope that conservative acceptance of same-sex marriage will follow as rapidly as it did for the public as a whole.

But then there’s another possibility, signaled [recently] by Rand Paul in an op-ed at Time:

RedEquality

Perhaps the time has come to examine whether or not governmental recognition of marriage is a good idea, for either party.

Since government has been involved in marriage, they have done what they always do — taxed it, regulated it, and now redefined it. It is hard to argue that government’s involvement in marriage has made it better, a fact also not surprising to those who believe government does little right.

So now, states such as Alabama are beginning to understand this as they begin to get out of the marriage licensing business altogether. Will others follow?….

[T]he questions now before us are: What are those rights? What does government convey along with marriage, and should it do so? Should the government care, or allocate any benefits based on marital status?

And can the government do its main job in the aftermath of this ruling — the protection of liberty, particularly religious liberty and free speech?

We shall see. I will fight to ensure it does both, along with taking part in a discussion on the role of government in our lives.

Well, the idea of “privatizing” marriage carries all sorts of unsavory associations, such as previous efforts to avoid racial discrimination laws via “private clubs” and “segregation academies,” and even to avoid African-American voting rights via “white primaries” understood as private arrangements.

Beyond that, since conservative social policy in this country has become heavily associated with the practice of attaching all sorts of benefits—especially tax deductions and credits—to married couples with or without children, how is that supposed to work if marriage no longer exists as a state-defined status? What are reformicons supposed to do?

I’ve noted this before, though I’m still not sure what to make of it. There’s long been a libertarian argument for “privatizing” marriage, which I also have never quite gotten. I agree with the Cato author that marriage is fundamentally a civil contract. This is, at one level, what the LGBT community has been fighting about, since the act of getting married confers all kinds of rights and privileges on each spouse. There’s also a religious component to marriage – Catholics consider it a sacrament – that one may or may not participate in. If the religious folks want to argue for a complete separation of the two, that’s fine by me as long as that means that the religious-not-civil/”government” marriage no longer confers any of the legal benefits that civil marriage does. Treat it legally like any other domestic partnership and see how they like it.

The possibility that concerns me is that there will be pressure on state legislatures to elevate religious marriage to some higher status than civil marriage, or conversely to deprecate the value of civil marriage. One way or the other, they don’t want to be the same kind of “married” as same-sex couples. Again, I don’t get it, but it seems to me this is something to watch out for. The conservative iconoclast State Rep. David Simpson has called on Greg Abbott to convene a special session to end marriage licensing in Texas. Abbott has already ignored pleas from other social cons to do a special session to re-outlaw same-sex marriage, as if that were possible, and I doubt Simpson’s request will find any more sympathy. You can be sure this will be an issue in next March’s primaries, however. I don’t know what the final form of this mania will look like, but the outlines are clear. The Rivard Report and Newsdesk have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Abbott sides with auto dealers

Sorry, Tesla.

Giving a nod to long-established franchised auto dealerships, Gov. Greg Abbott says Texas doesn’t need to carve out a loophole in its laws that would allow Tesla to sell its high-end electric cars directly to consumers.

“Texas has a very robust, very open, very effective automobile sector that seems like it’s working quite well the way that it is,” the Republican told Bloomberg Radio on Tuesday. “If you’re going to have a breakdown in a car, you need to have a car dealership there to make sure that the vehicle is going to be taken care of. We haven’t seen that from Tesla.”

Tesla’s business model is to sell directly to consumers, bypassing the middleman dealers as it does in many states. But a longstanding law bars that practice in Texas.

[…]

Tesla has refused to call last session a failure. The company says it educated more consumers and lawmakers and will continue its fight to enter the country’s second-largest automobile market. And on Tuesday, it said it wasn’t discouraged by Abbott’s comments.

“As a growing company, we are optimistic about the governor’s pro-business position and hope to be selling direct soon,” Ricardo Reyes, a spokesman, said in a statement.

Abbott’s comments contrast with those of his predecessor. Last year, Gov. Rick Perry suggested in an interview with the Fox Business channel that the state’s dealership laws were “antiquated protections” that should be revisited. Those comments came as Texas was trying to entice Tesla to build its $5 billion lithium-ion battery plant here. The company ultimately chose Nevada.

See here for previous Tesla bloggage. They’ve struck out in the last two legislative sessions trying to get a bill passed to change the franchise model, with no one even sponsoring a bill last time. Abbott may be “pro-business” in some sense, but he surely knows where his bread is buttered. It will be interesting to see what if anything Tesla does in the next session.

Posted in: Bidness.