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Steve Stockman gets busted

Well, lookie here.

Steve Stockman

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, has been charged with violating federal election law.

Stockman conspired with former congressional employees to funnel money intended for a charity to his campaign, according to a sworn statement from an FBI agent unsealed Thursday. He is also accused of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission.

The allegations center on a $350,000 donation Stockman solicited from an unnamed businessman shortly after taking office in 2013, according to the statement. The money was supposed to go to a Las Vegas-based nonprofit called Life Without Limits, but Stockman instead “secretly diverted the funds to pay for a variety of personal expenses and to fund illegal contributions to Stockman’s campaigns for public office,” the statement said.

See here for my extensive Stockman archives. Here’s a longer story from the Chron:

Stockman said after the hearing that he had been targeted for speaking out against the Internal Revenue Service, and cited the right-wing conspiracy theory that contends bureaucrats are secretly running the U.S. government.

“This is part of a deep state that’s continuing to progress,” he said.

[…]

In court documents filed with the criminal complaint, the FBI agent said that shortly after Stockman took office for the second time in January 2013, he solicited a $350,000 donation from an unidentified “wealthy businessman” from Chicago on behalf of a Las Vegas-based nonprofit, Life Without Limits, which had been set up to help people through traumatic events.

The donation ostensibly was for renovation of a so-called Freedom House to serve as a meeting and training facility in Washington, D.C. The businessman’s charitable organization issued a check the same day.

Instead of going to the house project, however, the check was deposited six few days later in a Webster bank account set up by Stockman doing business as Life Without Limits – an account that had a balance of only $33.48 at the time, according to the agent.

“Beginning shortly after the $350,000 charitable donation was deposited into his Life Without Limits account, rather than spending the money on the ‘Freedom House,’ Stockman secretly diverted the funds to pay for a variety of personal expenses and to fund illegal contributions to Stockman’s campaigns for public office,” the agent stated.

Records show he made no “significant” contributions toward the renovations and that the Freedom House never opened.

According to the agent, some of the funds were funneled directly into the campaign through “conduit contributors,” who received cash from the Life Without Limits account and then made contributions to Stockman’s campaign.

Outside of court on Friday, Stockman said the amount in dispute is $15,000 – not the $350,000 described in court. He did not explain the higher dollar amount.

He said he has been investigated by at least three grand juries over the past three years after he tried to have Lois Lerner of the IRS arrested for contempt of congress in July 2014.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from a nonprofit group that wanted to sue Lerner and other individual IRS officials for allegedly harassing tea party groups that applied for tax-exempt status with burdensome scrutiny in 2014.

As trouble follows Steve Stockman like flies follow a garbage truck, Stockman was investigated for ethical issues in 2014, during his one-term return to Congress after winning a multi-candidate primary for the new CD36. By the end of his term, he and three of his staffers had been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury, which is what I presume led to this. There were also investigations by the House Ethics Committee, the Office of Congressional Ethics, and the Federal Elections Commission, which is an impressive amount of activity for one otherwise inconsequential single-term Congressperson. I’ll say again, he remains one of the most brilliant and underrated political performance artists of our time. We may never see his like again, though we may see his ass in jail by the time this is all said and done. Click2Houston, ThinkProgress, the Press, and Juanita have more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

Senate committee hears rideshare bills

One of these, in some form, is likely to become law.

Senate Bill 176, by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, and Senate Bill 361 by state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, received a joint hearing after [Senate Business & Commerce Committee] chairman Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, noted their similarities. Both bills establish a statewide framework to regulate ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft and undo local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models.

A majority of about 30 witnesses supported the bills at Tuesday’s hearing, including representatives with Uber and Lyft. Austin councilwoman Ellen Troxclair, who opposed the city’s ride-hailing rules last year, testified in favor of a state law that would override them. Troxclair said the departure of both ride-hailing companies hurt Austin businesses and led to a rise of a transportation black market.

“A Facebook group with over 40,000 members offers to connect people, anybody who wants a ride or anybody who’s willing to give one, regardless of an affiliation to a ride-sharing platform or a background check required,” she said.

Critics of the bills included the Texas Municipal League and Austin City Council member Ann Kitchen. Kitchen, the City Council member who introduced the rules establishing the Austin fingerprinting requirements that prompted Lyft and Uber to leave the city, defended the city’s fingerprinting requirement, and said that the city has fingerprinted 8,000 drivers. At the time the city adopted the rules, she said, the city’s police chief, Art Acevedo, told the council that fingerprinting increased security.

“Fingerprinting is the most effective means to make sure the person you are checking is the person who they say they are,” she said.

See here for some background. Both bills were left pending, but as noted I expect one of them to get a floor vote and to pass. There’s a very similar bill to these two in the House, authored by Rep. Chris Paddie. Any of them could wind up crossing the finish line, and I’ll be surprised if that doesn’t happen.

And on a somewhat tangential note:

Uber and Lyft ramped up their Texas lobby expenditures after Austin voters invited the ride-hailing giants to leave their hi-tech city in 2016 if they refused to comply with a local law requiring them to fingerprint their drivers.

With Texas lawmakers [Tuesday] considering several bills to block cities from regulating such ride companies,1 Uber has increased its state lobby spending 23 percent over last year. It now is spending up to $1.6 million on 26 lobbyists. Lyft meanwhile boosted its lobby spending 88 percent, to pay 14 lobbyists up to $760,000. Together, the two San Francisco-based
companies are spending up to $2.3 million to preempt the powers of local Texas governments.

The two ride giants handed out a total of $40,500 in corporate contributions in 2016 to Texas’ two dominant political parties and to several legislative caucuses.

[Tuesday] the Senate Business and Commerce Committee also is hearing proposals to prevent local governments from curtailing the use of plastic grocery bags or to regulate short-term property rentals.

You can think whatever you want about these bills, but you can’t argue that they don’t come cheap. The Austin Chronicle has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 37

So put me on the highway, and show me the sign.

1. Giver – The Suffers (Kam Franklin)
2. Back In My Arms Again – The Supremes (Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, Diana Ross, Barbara Martin)
3. Oh My Soul – Susan Marshall
4. In London So Fair – Susan McKeown
5. Alone – Susan Tedeschi
6. This Is The Place – Susanna Hoffs
7. Ataio – Susanna Sharpe and Samba Police
8. Cassidy – Suzanne Vega
9. Take It To The Limit – Suzy Bogguss
10. Love More Than Anything – Sweetwater & The Satisfaction (Alana Sweetwater)

The Suffers (Houston) and Susanna Sharpe (Austin) are the local connections in this list. I always want to claim Susan Tedeschi as a local every time I hear her sing, but her bio says she was born in Boston, so.

Posted in: Music.

Athletes against SB6

From Athlete Ally:

Dear Texas,

The love of sport is in part what makes Texas great. The passion and competitive spirit that reverberates throughout the Texas athletic community is hard to match across the United States. It’s that passion – and the storied history of Texas athletics – that often makes the state a go-to destination for major sporting events and why we love to compete in the Lone Star state.

As members of the athletic community, we’re committed to upholding the very values that sport instills in each of us. Values like fair play, equality, inclusion and respect. We believe that everyone should be afforded the same access, opportunity and experience both in sport and under the law. This is why we’re joining together to speak out against Senate Bill 6 (SB6), and the dozen more anti-LGBT bills already filed, and the harm they would do to the state of Texas, to the transgender community, and to the sports we have come to know and love.

SB6 would require transgender people to use bathrooms based on “biological sex,” and would preempt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender Texans and visitors to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Other bills filed would prevent same-sex couples from getting married, allow campus groups to reject LGBT members, nullify local non-discrimination protections, allow healthcare professionals and educators to discriminate against LGBT people, and more.

As long as bills like these remain a possibility, Texas is sending a clear signal that LGBT players, fans, coaches and administrators are not welcomed or respected, both on and off the field. This should worry Texas, as the athletic community has clearly stood by its LGBT constituents and against discriminatory legislation. We have seen this story unfold in North Carolina, and we do not want it to be repeated in Texas.

Over the next year, Texas is slated to host the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four, the World Golf Championships, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, and many more. A recent economic impact study showed that the local San Antonio economy will receive a boost of $135 million in direct spending as a result of hosting the Men’s Basketball Final Four. Additionally, the study predicts an influx of 71,000 out-of-town visitors to the San Antonio area, resulting in a rise in spending at local businesses such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores and entertainment venues. Texas will likely not have the honor of hosting such prestigious events should bills like SB6 become law. This would be a shame for the state of Texas, but it can be avoided.

Texas can choose to uphold the values of sport by rejecting SB6 and other anti-LGBT bills, and the negative impact they would have. These bills are answers in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. SB6 isolates, excludes, and others the transgender community and exacerbates many of the issues transgender Texans already face. The only solution that embodies the spirit of sport is to expand equality by embracing diversity. That diversity is inclusive of the LGBT community and is why we hope you will do the right thing and reject these discriminatory bills.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned Members of the Athletic Community

There are some 55 signatories, and if I have one complaint about this otherwise fine letter it’s that the large majority of them are not from Texas. Former Baylor star Brittney Griner is the most notable Texan, and I am delighted beyond words to see five people from my alma mater on there – three coaches, one administrator, and one current student. I wish there had been more, but let’s view this as a starting point and go from there. Link via ThinkProgress.

Of more immediate interest is this:

A top Republican in the Texas House has confirmed he will hold a public debate on the so-called bathroom bill, but he said he doesn’t see any reason for it to become law.

“In all the years I’ve been on [the House Committee on] State Affairs, we’ve never seen an issue that would indicate there’s a need to address a bathroom bill,” Byron Cook, the Corsicana Republican who chairs the committee that will next take up the measure, told The Dallas Morning News on Thursday. “There’s no evidence of a problem.”

[…]

The bathroom bill has become one of the chief areas of disagreement this year between the House and Senate. Both chambers are dominated by Republicans, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made the measure one of his top priorities, just as [House Speaker Joe] Straus said it wasn’t one of his. The House speaker said it’s more crucial that lawmakers grapple with how to fund public schools and an ailing child welfare system in a tight budget year.

“Clearly, I’m not a fan of the bill that they’re discussing in the Senate,” Straus said last week when a Senate committee debated the bill.”They have their agenda; we have ours.”

Hard to know for sure what that means in practice. As the story notes, we don’t know when – or even if – Rep. Cook will schedule this for a committee hearing and possible vote. That’s what you need to keep your eye on, and it wouldn’t hurt to reach out to the State Affairs Committee members and tell them what you think about SB6.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

“Sanctuary cities” bill modified by House committee

It’s less bad than the Senate version, but it’s still not good.

A Texas House committee on Wednesday began debate on the lower chamber’s version of the controversial proposal to outlaw “sanctuary” jurisdictions, making few but significant changes to the bill the Senate passed out last month.

Outlawing “sanctuary” entities, the common term for state and local governments and college campuses that don’t enforce federal immigration laws, has been deemed must-pass legislation by Gov. Greg Abbott. It’s likely a bill will make it to his desk before lawmakers gavel out in late May.

But members of the House State Affairs Committee also told witnesses and other lawmakers that Senate Bill 4 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, will likely be revised several more times before it’s presented to the full House for a vote.

“It’s not perfect, it’s not complete and we will continue to work on it,” Fort Worth Republican state Rep. Charlie Geren, the bill’s House sponsor, said during the hearing.

One major change to the proposal is that the House version makes inquiring into the status of an undocumented immigrant allowable only if that person is arrested. The Senate version is broader in that it applies to immigrants that are arrested or detained. Perry said during the Senate debate that meant a police officer could question a person’s status during even routine traffic stops.

Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, said he appreciated Geren listening to his concerns and working with the members, but added that a person could still be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents for a class C misdemeanor, which normally would only require them to pay a fine.

[…]

After a suggestion by state Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission, the House committee is also working on a change that would prevent bail bond agents from charging a large amount of cash up front to bond out an undocumented immigrant. Geren said that currently, bondsmen can take advantage of an arrested person by knowingly accepting their money up front even though that person will likely be transferred to ICE agents for subsequent deportation.

See here and here for the background. A lot of people showed up to testify against this bill.

As the lawmakers debated the language, hundreds pleaded with them to scrap the proposal altogether.

In all, 638 people registered to speak about the bill. Of those, 619 registered to voice opposition to the legislation, while just 11 registered in support. Eight were neutral.

The opponents included the Houston Police Department, which called the plan “short-sighted” and Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who said it would strain relations with immigrant communities and make minorities less likely to report crimes. Despite the fierce opposition, neither Houston nor Harris County has adopted “sanctuary city” policies.

Others spoke of the impact on the lives of immigrants.

Sergio Govea, a 9-year-old, choked back tears as he told a reporter before the hearing about the constant fear that plagued him that his parents won’t return “every time they leave the house.”

“I haven’t lost my parents physically but they are not the same as they were before this,” he said. “They are scared to go to H-E-B to get food, a basic necessity. … I don’t even know if they will be there today when I get back home.”

The bill was left pending in committee, but it will come back (possibly with more changes) and when it gets voted on it will get sent to the full House. How long that will take is unclear at this time.

Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the chairman of the House State Affairs committee, said he is in no hurry to rush through the process.

“We’ve got a long ways to go to get this right,” Cook said at the Capitol the morning after a marathon hearing on the current measure, Senate bill 4 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock. The legislative session ends on May 29.

[…]

Abbott called banning sanctuary jurisdictions a priority after Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, a Democrat, announced following her 2016 election victory that she would only honor detainer requests on a very limited basis. As punishment, Abbott yanked state-grant funding for all county programs.

Cook said Thursday he thinks the bill could be consolidated to only include the detainer provision. Testimony from hundreds of witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing reflected a sentiment that allowing officers to question a person’s immigration status without arresting them would create a chilling effect that would erode the public’s confidence in law enforcement.

Cook took note of those concerns, he said.

“If you look at this on the big picture [level], all we’re really needing to do, all that’s really been said is that local jurisdictions need to honor federal detainer requests,” he said, noting Hernandez was the only outlier. “And what the testimony indicated once again last night is that though one sheriff deviated for a short period of time, all our law enforcement agencies across the state are in fact honoring detainer requests, as they’re supposed to.”

Rep. Cook also indicated that the state should pay for detainer costs, not the counties. I appreciate the effort that Cook has made to make the bill less bad, but it’s still a bad bill that serves no good purpose.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, said he’s on board with Cook’s desire to limit the scope of the bill and said the issue has become a political football more than anything else.

“If it was just dealing with detainers in the jails, it addresses [the Republicans’] issue, which is really just to get a vote on an immigration issue,” he said. “Because this is all politics, as far as I’m concerned. We’ll still vote against it but at least it’s not as bad as it can be.”

Indeed. The danger here is that when the House version passes, the modifications made by the House could get gutted by the conference committee, with something close to the original Senate version passing. The only right answer is to keep opposing this bill.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

This is why you leave women’s health to the professionals

Because amateurs and zealots do a lousy job.

Right there with them

In pushing a replacement for the Affordable Care Act that cuts off funds for Planned Parenthood, Republicans are out to reassure women who rely on the major health care organization that other clinics will step up to provide their low-cost breast exams, contraception and cancer screenings.

Texas is already trying to prove it. But one big bet is quietly sputtering, and in danger of teaching the opposite lesson conservatives are after.

Last summer, Texas gave $1.6 million to an anti-abortion organization called the Heidi Group to help strengthen small clinics that specialize in women’s health like Planned Parenthood but don’t offer abortions. The goal was to help the clinics boost their patient rolls and show there would be no gap in services if the nation’s largest abortion provider had to scale back.

The effort offered a model other conservative states could follow if Republicans make their long-sought dream of defunding Planned Parenthood a reality under President Donald Trump. Several states are already moving to curtail the organization’s funds.

But eight months later, the Heidi Group has little to show for its work. An Associated Press review found the nonprofit has done little of the outreach it promised, such as helping clinics promote their services on Facebook, or airing public service announcements. It hasn’t made good on plans to establish a 1-800 number to help women find providers or ensure that all clinics have updated websites.

Neither the group nor state officials would say how many patients have been served so far by the private clinics.

The Heidi Group is led by Carol Everett, a prominent anti-abortion activist and influential conservative force in the Texas Legislature.

In a brief interview, Everett said some of the community clinics aren’t cooperating despite her best efforts to attract more clients.

“We worked on one Facebook site for three months and they didn’t want to do it. And we worked on websites and they didn’t want to do it,” Everett said of the clinics. “We can’t force them. We’re not forcing them.”

Everett said that advertising she planned was stalled by delays in a separate $5.1 million family planning contract.

Everett proposed helping two dozen selected clinics serve 50,000 women overall in a year, more than such small facilities would normally handle. Clinic officials contacted by the AP either did not return phone calls or would not speak on the record.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which awarded the funding to the Heidi Group, acknowledged the problems. Spokeswoman Carrie Williams said in an email that the agency had to provide “quite a bit” of technical support for the effort and make many site visits. She disputed that the contract funding has been as slow as Everett alleged.

“The bottom line is that we are holding our contractors accountable, and will do everything we can to help them make themselves successful,” she said.

See here and here for some background on the Heidi Group. I’m thinking that maybe the reason these clinics didn’t want Carol Everett’s help is because she’s incompetent. Nothing in her history suggests she has any of the relevant skills, and clearly promoting women’s health isn’t her main focus. Anti-abortion activists tend to be pretty hostile to things like contraception, and often are quite ignorant of basic biology, so who can blame the clinics for keeping her at arm’s length. But let’s let Carol Everett herself sum this up:

Asked whether the Heidi Group would meet the patient targets in her contract, Everett said her own goal was to serve 70,000 women.

However, “it’s not as easy as it looks because we are not Planned Parenthood. We are working with private physicians and providers,” Everett said after leaving a committee hearing this week at the Texas Capitol. She said the clinics she is working with are busy seeing 40 to 50 women a day. “They don’t have time to go out and do some of the things that we would really like to help them do. But we’re there if they want to. And we’re there when the need it. And we’re in their offices and we’re helping them.”

Emphasis mine. No, you’re not. And you never will be. Link via the Current.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Mike Floyd for Pearland ISD

What were you doing when you were 18 years old? Probably not running for school board.

Mike Floyd

Michael Floyd isn’t your typical high school senior.

The Dawson High School student says he’s been involved in politics since he was in fourth grade.

“I was the one kid who had a Barack Obama bumper sticker on my bike as I rode around town,” Floyd said. “Since then, I’ve worked on two Congressional campaigns, I’ve managed a state representative race, and I worked on a presidential campaign, managing it for our county.”

This spring break, while his classmates are enjoying their time off, he’s campaigning for a position on the Pearland ISD Board of Trustees.

“As a student, I’ve seen a lot more than the trustees have,” Floyd said. “I’ve been with teachers, students and faculty members for nine and a half months out of the year for 40 hours a week. I just see flagrant issues in our district.”

The 18-year-old is running against two-term incumbent Rusty DeBorde, who served as president during four of his six years on the board.

The Chron has also taken notice.

Floyd said one of his goals as a trustee is to improve the district’s communications efforts and allow improved access to information for tax payers.

“We need to open up and be as transparent as possible,” Floyd said. “I firmly believe that our district needs to be far more transparent than they are today both in regards to posting videos of board workshops online as well as disclosing what’s going on during closed-door meetings. Now, I understand there are several things that the State of Texas will not allow school board members to talk about publicly. But, I want to reduce the amount of business that the district does behind closed doors. We are a district that is funded publicly and I firmly believe that tax payers have a right to know how the district is operating.”

Unlike the Pearland City Council, Pearland ISD does not post videos of board workshops on their website. If elected, Floyd said he would work to change that. In addition, he said he supports posting more information on the district website such as the names of trustee candidates and campaign finance reports.

You know I support those last two items. Floyd’s campaign webpage is here, and his campaign Facebook page is here. His issues page addresses student rights, among other things, which is a topic I doubt you’ll see covered by other candidates. One issue I would have liked to have seen addressed there is Pearland’s pro-potty bill superintendent, whom Mike Floyd would have a role in overseeing if he gets elected. Having said that, he has made his opposition to SB6 and his support for transgender students very clear on his campaign Facebook page. Floyd was endorsed by the Texas Democratic Party in its first round of support for local candidates in the May elections. His father John Floyd was a candidate for State Rep in HD29 last November, so despite his young age he at least has some campaign experience. I wish him good luck, and I’ll be keeping an eye on this one on May 6.

Posted in: Election 2017.

So what does that redistricting ruling really mean?

The Trib has a good explainer.

So will the Legislature redraw the congressional map? And if so, when?

Here’s where it gets tricky. Friday’s order made it clear that the 2011 map cannot stand, but it did not order anyone to immediately redraw it. That might be because that map wasn’t actually in effect.

Amid the legal wrangling, Texas has conducted elections with a court-approved interim map. [Michael] Li, the redistricting expert [with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School], said the court must still rule on that map, drawn in 2013. It’s not clear when that will happen. Striking down the 2013 map is something of a formality, Li said, because the boundaries of two of its districts — Farenthold’s 27th and Doggett’s 35th — are identical to those drawn in 2011.

It’s anybody’s guess when Texas will get new maps — or even who will draw them. Generally, courts will give lawmakers another crack at drawing a map that’s been struck down. But plaintiffs could argue that Texas can’t be trusted to try again, pushing instead for an alternative fix.

Can Texas appeal Friday’s ruling?

Sure. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton could ask the U.S Supreme Court to weigh in on the case. But it’s not clear when or whether the Republican will do that — largely because of how open-ended the ruling is.

“Since this is an interim order that does not propose any relief, the State is evaluating its options, which may be impacted by any future court rulings,” Kayleigh Lovvorn, a Paxton spokeswoman, told the Texas Tribune on Monday.

What about Texas’ state House and Senate maps?

The courts have settled squabbles over the state Senate map, but a challenge to the House boundaries is still pending. It’s not clear when the judges will rule.

What are the larger implications of Friday’s ruling?

Experts call it huge that the judges found “intentional” discrimination in the congressional map — a condition that could ultimately put Texas back on the list of states that need permission to change their election laws.

A 2013 Supreme Court ruling — Shelby County v. Holder — sprung Texas and other states with a history of discrimination from that list. But Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act includes a “bail-in” provision allowing courts to put a state back under supervision (a process called “preclearance”) if it is found to have knowingly discriminated in changing its election laws.

“This is a big test of whether the Voting Rights Act still has some teeth,” Li said.

Before the Shelby County ruling, Texas needed the U.S. Department of Justice’s signoff to change its election laws. If courts again ordered such supervision, Texas could find a sympathetic ear from the current U.S. attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who applauded the Shelby County decision in 2013.

But if the judges give Texas a supervisor, they could choose someone other than the Justice Department — another court, for instance.

“The court has broad discretion in defining how preclearance will work,” Li said. “Section 3 [of the Voting Rights Act] is very untested, and this case will help define what a court can and cannot do.”

See here for the background. If you want even more from Michael Li on this, see what he has to say at Rick Hasen‘s place. I didn’t know that about Section 3. I had been skeptical about bail-in to preclearance having much effect since the Sessions Justice Department is a cruel joke, but if Texas has to get pre-approval on any changes from a federal court, that changes things. And with this ruling, there may be two cases that require preclearance again. Maybe this time, crime really didn’t pay. In any event, at this point we need 1) a remedy for the Voting Rights Act violations, which begins with a new map; 2) some process for drawing that new map – it could be the court, if the plaintiffs can argue that the Lege cannot be trusted; 3) a ruling on the State House map, and a remedy for it if it too is ruled to be illegal; and 4) a ruling on Section 3 bail-in. Time is officially of the essence, so let’s hope we start getting answers to these questions soon.

Posted in: Legal matters.

County will use public defenders at bail hearings

Good.

Harris County commissioners on Tuesday approved a pilot program to make public defenders available at bail hearings, a step aimed at retooling a criminal justice system that has increasingly drawn criticism for jailing thousands of poor, low-risk offenders.

Within months, county officials anticipate that two public defenders will be present at bail hearings for those accused of misdemeanors and felonies. The vast majority of the roughly 80,000 defendants at these hearings each year does not now have legal representation, and the change means that defendants of limited means charged with a Class B misdemeanor or above will be able to have access to a lawyer when a judge sets bail.

The pilot represents a major change in the way Harris County processes those accused of crimes. The move also makes it the first county in Texas to create such a program, though one official noted that the county lags behind other major metro areas – New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago – in making attorneys available at bail hearings.

“I think it’s a huge step forward that will assure that people’s rights are protected at these hearings,” said Alexander Bunin, Harris County’s chief public defender, whose office developed the pilot program.

The attorneys would provide information on the defendants’ financial situations to hearing officers who set bail, with the goal of releasing those who cannot make bail, pose a low risk to society and have not been convicted of a crime.

[…]

Several top Harris County officials – including County Judge Ed Emmett, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and District Attorney Kim Ogg – have also said recently that the bail system should be restructured so that it doesn’t differentiate between rich and poor defendants.

“This is a positive step forward on the long road to fixing a broken criminal justice system,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, a former state senator who has sharply criticized the county’s bail bond system.

Emmett, a Republican, also praised the pilot program’s creation Tuesday.

“It’s going in the right direction,” he said. “This is one of those things we needed to do.”

See here for the background. This makes sense on so many levels. It will be cost-controlled, as he public defender’s office budget is approved by Commissioners Court. The defenders assigned to bail hearings will always be there. There will be no concerns about quality or conflict of interest with public defenders, which as we know from long and painful history is not always the case with court-appointed attorneys. It will help prevent defendants from incriminating themselves out of ignorance and lack of representation. And not to put too fine a point on it but it greatly reduces the problem of people getting thrown in jail for no reason other than not being able to pay bail. It’s not a complete solution, in that there are still issues to be resolved in the bail practices lawsuit, but it’s a big positive step. Kudos all around.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

A really dumb “Trump and the train” article

Ugh.

Texas is closer than ever to building the first high-speed train in the United States, thanks to President Donald Trump’s fascination with these transportation projects and a well-timed pitch to his administration.

Now developers nationwide are looking to the privately owned Texas Central Railway as a test case of what can get done with Trump in the White House.

Former Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr., a member of the company’s board of directors, met recently with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in Washington. He wasn’t seeking any of the taxpayer-funded grants sought by high-speed rail projects in California and the Northeast.

What the $10 billion Texas Central Railway really needs is a green light from the agency Chao oversees.

“It was an opportunity to make a first impression,” said Tim Keith, president of Texas Central Railway.

The meeting clearly stuck. Soon after, Chao mentioned the Texas Central Railway at the National Governors Association winter conference as an example of the kind of “very impressive” project the administration is interested in.

The question now is whether private investment — coupled with regulatory relief — is a model the Trump administration could use to finance and expedite his promised $1 trillion infrastructure push, and not just in Texas.

[…]

California is building a 220-mph high-speed rail system, but that project has been delayed by political opposition. Its trains also have to meet more rigorous federal standards for crash protection because they will share tracks with commuter trains, Amtrak and some freight.

By building a self-contained system where trains will not intersect with street traffic or encounter slower trains, the Texas project can employ off-the-shelf technology in use in Japan for more than 50 years.

“It’s going to be a lot easier than the California project,” said Peter LeCody, president of Texas Rail Advocates and chairman of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, both advocacy groups that support the Texas project. “They’ll have a little harder way to go in California than in Texas.”

[…]

High-speed rail has been a topic in Texas for 30 years, but Keith thinks its moment has come.

“What’s happening in Texas is private entrepreneurs are saying, look there’s demand, there’s pent-up demand,” he said. “We can meet the demand.”

The biggest obstacles for the railway could be back home in Texas. Some landowners along the route want to derail the project, and they have help from allies in the state Legislature.

“You’re talking about property rights. In Texas, we love our land,” said LeCody with Texas Rail Advocates.

LeCody said Texas was changing and needed a transportation system that addressed road congestion and population growth.

“We’re such a growing state,” he said. “We’ve got to learn how to move people from point A to point B without highways.”

See here for previous Trump-and-the-train coverage. Where to begin with this article?

1. The article makes it sound like interest in high speed rail is something unique to Dear Leader Trump. In fact, President Obama had national high speed rail ambitions, which included plans for Texas that unfortunately didn’t pan out due to our own lack of initiative. To be sure, that was government funding for high speed rail, while Texas Central is all about private funding. I’m just saying that the idea of high speed rail here did not originate with Trump.

2. The opposition to Texas Central is barely acknowledged in this story, much less analyzed. There’s a full court press in the Legislature, which Texas Central itself acknowledges as an existential threat. I’ve always been somewhat skeptical of the likelihood of success for the Texas Central opponents, mostly because they don’t appear to have grown their base beyond the mostly rural counties in East and Central Texas, but they are working hard at this and they have some powerful and influential Senators on their side. Not talking to a Brandon Creighton or Lois Kolkhorst about Texas Central is at the least a disservice to the readers. For crying out loud, the story uses a Texas Central booster to discuss the opposition. Even as a Texas Central supporter myself, I say that’s just lousy journalism.

3. Outside the Legislature, there is a fervent grassroots opposition to Texas Central as well, with a lot of that coming from county and municipal governments in the affected areas as well as from private citizens. There’s already been litigation over access to the land needed for the TCR right of way, and there will surely be more for as long as this project is in its planning and construction phase. One might also note that this opposition comes from places in the state that voted heavily for Trump. Maybe this isn’t the sort of thing that might get a voter to change their mind about a President, but again, not at least acknowledging this leaves the reader with a false impression.

4. Finally, the opposition to TCR includes two powerful Republican Congressmen from Texas, one of whom chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. If you don’t think it’s possible that Rep. Kevin Brady could slip a rider into the budget that guts Texas Central, much like Rep. John Culberson did to Metro and the Universities line, you’ve got an insufficiently active imagination.

Other than that, it was a fine article.

And as if to prove my point, we have this.

The Texas Senate’s chief budget writers Wednesday added a provision to its proposed state budget aimed at limiting state assistance in a private firm’s efforts to build a Dallas-Houston bullet train.

The budget rider approved by the Senate Finance Committee would prohibit the Texas Department of Transportation from spending funds to help plan, build or operate a high-speed train.

The company developing a 205-mph bullet train between Dallas and Houston called the language a “job killer.” Texas Central Partners has vowed it won’t take any state funds to develop the 240-mile line between Texas’ two largest metropolitan areas. But, the company said, it still needs to work with state transportation officials.

“Texas Central engineers and employees need to be able to coordinate with TxDOT on the planning, engineering and construction of the high-speed train to accommodate the state’s growth,” said in a statement released by the company Wednesday.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, denied that the budget rider he wrote was meant to kill the project.

“If we are being told that this is never going to take any bailouts, they need to put their money where their mouth is,” he said.

A similar amendment nearly killed the project two years ago, but was eventually omitted from the state’s final budget.

See here and here for the background. Note that it was Sen. Schwertner who tried this trick in 2015 as well. We’ll see what happens with it. I trust you see my point about why this article sucked.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Texas blog roundup for the week of March 13

The Texas Progressive Alliance was fake before but is very real now as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Senate passes bathroom bill

Take your victory lap, Dan Patrick.

The Texas Senate on Tuesday tentatively signed off on the so-called “bathroom bill” on a 21-10 vote with one Democrat — state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville — voting in favor of the bill.

Senate Bill 6, a legislative priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and other publicly-owned facilities that match their “biological sex” and not gender identity. And it would preempt local anti-discrimination laws meant to allow transgender residents to use public bathrooms that match their gender identity.

The vote on the controversial legislation came after a four-and-a-half-hour debate over discrimination against transgender Texans, local control and whether the proposed regulations would actually deter men from entering women’s restrooms.

Before passing the bill, senators considered 22 amendments. Republican senators joined the bill’s author, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, in rejecting all but three amendments that make minor tweaks to the legislation but did not alter the main bathroom policies proposed in the legislation.

More than a dozen amendments were rejected including one that would have added discrimination protections for transgender individuals to the bill and another that would have prohibited individuals from personally investigating the gender identity of someone using a public bathroom. The Senate also rejected amendments that would have required the state to study the bill’s economic impact as well as crimes that occur in bathrooms.

You know the story by now, so I’ll just skip ahead. The Senate has to take one more vote on this, but that will be a formality. All the Republicans and the one Democrat who sorely needs to be primaried supported this atrocity. It’s up to the House to kill it, whether by neglect or by voting it down. Two things to call your attention to: One is the statement from the Texas Association of Business.

“We’re disappointed the Texas Senate would choose to pass discriminatory legislation like Senate Bill 6, despite clear indications that its passage will have an economic impact in Texas. TAB remains committed to fighting and defending the Texas economy against bills that discriminate and run counter to Texas values.

“Our members believe everyone deserves to be treated fairly and equally, and we have heard what they know- equity and non-discrimination is a twenty-first century economic imperative. Senate Bill 6 is simply not worth the risk, and it will do nothing to improve personal safety.

“Given the overwhelming economic evidence, and the clear rejection of the public safety argument from Texas law enforcement, Senate Bill 6 is a solution in search of a problem, and we hope that the Texas House will strongly reject this measure.”

RG Ratcliffe notes how business has lost control of the Republican Party. I’ll just say it again, if the TAB doesn’t work to defeat at least a few of the SB6 advocates, starting with Dan Patrick, then their opposition to SB6 basically meant nothing. Yes, there is a risk in trying to kill the king. This, and bills worse than it, is the risk of doing nothing. Your choice, TAB. And two, I give you this Statesman story on Jessica Shortall of Texas Competes:

Jessica Shortall, head of a Texas business group that advocates for LGBT rights, delivered a thoughtful and impassioned speech about the transgender bathroom debate at the South by Southwest conference on Sunday. It was the kind of speech that brought the crowd to its feet for a standing ovation — twice.

[…]

Shortall’s speech sprinkled anecdotes of her own life, touched on the Texas Competes mission, and worked in themes such as why it’s important to find common ground with political opponents.

“Assume there are no monoliths,” Shortall said. “The second you do that and label a whole group, you miss all the opportunities to find allies and build bridges.”

[…]

On Sunday, with a notepad in one hand and a handful of photos and data points projected on to a screen, she emphasized the need to build bridges with people who hold different beliefs, of finding common ground by rooting arguments in data, not emotion.

Midway through the speech she told the story of a trasngender girl who had an accident in a hallway at school because teachers couldn’t figure out which bathroom she should use.

“I wanted to shout,” Shortall said. “But I took a breath.” She noted that it feels good to be ideological and righteous, and isn’t as fun to stick to a strategy that involves talking to the other side and find common ground.

“Do you think I wanted to be the most boring, most data-driven LGBT advocate in the country?” Shortall said. “I am half-Venezuelan, raised in New Jersey, a very loud person. I like things big. But my job is to create this delicate new space for the business community to get involved in something risky. If I burn that down with my anger, I’d be at zero. I don’t matter. What matters is the goal.”

But she noted that arguments based on data and facts can only get you so far. To create change, you have to tap into empathy and love, she said. “Love is the only bridge that lets us see the people around us simply as people,” she said.

You can see a video of her speech here. I’ll take ten Jessica Shortalls over all 21 Senators who voted Yes on this piece of crap. A statement from Sen. Jose Rodriguez is here, a statement from Sen. Borris Miles is here, and the Chron has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Some men just can’t take a joke

Poor babies.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

State Rep. Jessica Farrar accused some Republican men in the Texas House of engaging in “a retaliatory effort”

against her over her filing of a bill that would fine men $100 for masturbating.

On Tuesday, a separate and unrelated bill from Farrar — a measure that would allow attorneys’ fees to be recovered from other legal entities in the state — was taken up on the House floor. As Farrar laid out that measure, House Bill 744,she was asked by state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, whether it was a “satirical bill.”

“I’m specifically focused on this bill and whether or not this is one of the satirical bills you filed,” Rinaldi said to Farrar.

Last week, Farrar filed House Bill 4260, a set of “proposed satirical regulations” that would penalize men for masturbating and create a required booklet with information about benefits and concerns regarding men seeking a vasectomy, a Viagra prescription or a colonoscopy. In explaining her motivation for the bill, Farrar said men in Texas should be subject to the same “unnecessary” and “invasive” procedures women in the state often had.

[…]

In a statement to The Texas Tribune, Rinaldi said, “When a representative admits to filing bills for satire and treats serious matters of life and death like abortion as a laughing matter, it calls into question the intent behind their entire body of work.”

“While [Farrar] is filing bills for comedy,” Rinaldi said, “Republicans are busy working on a budget, securing our borders, and providing tax relief.”

Farrar said HB 744 was a “simple fix” to ensure consistency for all government entities. The modern business climate, she said, allowed some legal entities to collect attorneys’ fees from corporations, but not the other way around. She added HB 744 was unrelated to HB 4260.

“Unfortunately, we have to deal with these shenanigans,” Farrar said. “We are telling young women you can grow up to be anything you want to be, except when you disagree with certain Republican men.”

See here for the background. I always thought it was women who were supposed to have no sense of humor, but clearly Rep. Rinaldi was busy passing budgets and securing borders when the good Lord was handing them out. We should all try to be nicer to Rep. Rinaldi, you know how he gets when people are being mean to him. Speaking of such things, I should note that Rinaldi represents HD115, which is a district that ought to be quite competitive next year. You know, in case someone wants to recruit a strong female candidate to run against him. But please no one tell Rinaldi about this. We don’t want him falling to pieces on us again.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

More reasons not to put people in jail

We shouldn’t put people in jail for owing fines.

In January, state Rep. James White, R-Hillister, filed House Bill 1125, which would ban Texas judges from jailing people for an offense that is punishable only by a fine. State Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, soon signed on as a joint author. On Thursday, White also filed House Bill 3729, which would require courts to ask whether a defendant can afford to pay a fine and offer alternatives to payment.

Bernal said representing a district with people from different socioeconomic backgrounds made him realize how a simple traffic ticket could dramatically affect someone’s life. HB 1125 would “level the playing field” and “give people some dignity,” he said.

Thousands of Texans are at risk of being arrested at any given moment for not paying fines related to traffic offenses or other city ordinance violations, according to a recently released report by Texas Appleseed and the Texas Fair Defense Project. Those who can’t afford to pay often find themselves hit with additional fines or other restrictions such as being blocked from renewing their driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations.

More than 200,000 Texans can’t renew their licenses and approximately 400,000 have holds on vehicle registrations due to unpaid fines, according to the report. In 2015, almost 3 million warrants were issued in cases where the punishment was originally just a fine.

“What happens is that the current system is counterproductive, and it drives people further into debt because they’re accumulating more tickets for driving illegally and on top of those tickets are all of the costs and fees that start snowballing as well,” said Mary Mergler, criminal justice project director with Texas Appleseed. “So it drives people further into debt … and impedes people’s abilities to make a living.”

Courts generally don’t offer alternatives to jailing or ask about a defendant’s ability to pay, the study found. In 2015, judges rarely used community service to resolve “fine-only” cases – just 1.3 percent of the time. In fewer than 1 percent of cases, they waived fines or reduced payments owed because the defendant couldn’t afford to pay, according to the study.

Many drivers feel a sense of helplessness related to paying off their mounting fines, said Emily Gerrick, a staff attorney with the Texas Fair Defense Project.

“It’s very easy for people to accumulate thousands of dollars in ticket debt even if they’re not bad drivers, just because they have to get their kids to school, they have to go to the doctor,” she said. “There’s no choice but to drive, so they’re going to keep getting these tickets and then eventually, what ends up happening is they get their warrant, they go to jail.”

That kind of disruption puts families, jobs and housing at risk, studies and individual accounts have shown.

“They’re usually very distressed,” Gerrick said, describing clients behind bars. “I’ve had them not know where their kids were when I saw them.”

Mergler added that the situation undermines, rather than improves, public safety.

“People with outstanding warrants who are afraid of being arrested on those warrants are inclined to avoid contact with law enforcement, whether that’s to report a crime or even to ask for help when they themselves are a victim of crime,” she said.

I agree with this, and I agree that we should not jail people for having unpaid fines. I’m sure there are some exceptional circumstances under which jailing is the best option, but it should be the exception and not the rule. Otherwise, people should always be given alternative means of complying – payment plans, community service, some other means that people smarter than I am can come up with – and should not have additional violations and fines piled on top of their existing ones if they are in the process of paying them off. It’s not justice, and it’s not right. I support these bills and I hope to see them become laws.

(By the way, that same argument at the end of this story, about how this situation undermines public safety, is basically the same argument made by police chiefs and sheriffs against so-called “sanctuary cities”. Just wanted to point that out.)

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Another voter ID update

From the Lone Star Project:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Last week, the Trump Department of Justice brought press attention to the ongoing Texas voter ID lawsuit that remains pending before Federal District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi. The Trump DOJ withdrew long-standing federal government claims that the Texas law was adopted with the intent to discriminate against Hispanic and African American Texans.

By withdrawing its claims of discriminatory intent in the Texas case, the Trump DOJ, led by embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions, sent its first clear signal that the DOJ under Trump will not responsibly defend the U.S. Voting Rights Act or block discrimination against minority citizens.

Moreover, in their brief to Judge Ramos, the Trump DOJ argued that she should delay her ruling on discriminatory intent until the current Texas Legislature decides on the adoption of a new Texas voter ID law.  The argument is extraordinary in that it somehow reasons that the intentions of a Legislature convened in 2017 can repair or erase the discriminatory intentions of a different Legislature convened in 2011.

On Tuesday, allied plaintiffs challenging the Texas voter ID law, who include U.S. Congressman Marc Veasey (TX33 – Dallas/Fort Worth), filed their brief responding to the Trump DOJ.  The brief is relatively short and easy to follow.  The key points made are:

  • The Trump DOJ withdrew its claims of discriminatory intent based on political rather than substantive legal considerations.  They failed to cite any new evidence refuting discriminatory intent.
  • Action by the current Texas Legislature to consider or pass a new voter ID law does not reflect on the intent of the Legislature five years ago, and should not affect Judge Ramos’ actions or ruling on discriminatory intent now.
  • Judge Ramos should issue her ruling on discriminatory intent now, while holding her final judgement and prescribing a remedy until the Legislature completes whatever actions it may take on new voter ID legislation.

Judge Ramos is expected to issue her response to the briefs filed soon.

See here for the background. I didn’t think much of the state and DOJ’s arguments last week, and I don’t think any more of them now. Between this and the redistricting decision, the potential to substantially roll back some of the most egregiously restrictive voting laws of this decade is great.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Voter ID 2.0 clears Senate committee

Seems likely this will go the distance.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A Texas Senate panel cleared legislation Monday that would overhaul the state’s voter identification rules, an effort to comply with court rulings that the current law discriminates against black and Latino voters.

The Senate State Affairs Committee voted 7-0 to send the legislation to the full chamber.

Filed by Committee Chairwoman Joan Huffman, Senate Bill 5 would add options for Texas voters who say they cannot “reasonably” obtain one of seven forms of ID currently required at the polls. It would also create harsh criminal penalties for those who falsely claim they need to choose from the expanded list of options.

Huffman’s bill would allow voters older than 70 to cast ballots using expired but otherwise acceptable photo IDs. The bill would also require the Texas secretary of state to create a mobile program for issuing election identification certificates.

“The people of the state of Texas demand integrity at the ballot box,” Huffman said Monday. “I am committed to constitutionally sound voter ID.”

Voting rights advocates call the expanded list of options an improvement over the current embattled law, but have raised concerns over the strict penalties for false claims.

[…]

Huffman’s bill would follow that format, allowing voters without photo identification to present documents such as a utility bill, bank statement or paycheck. And election officers could not question the “reasonableness” of the excuse for not having photo ID. But those found to have lied about not possessing photo ID could be charged with a third-degree felony under Huffman’s bill. Such crimes carry penalties of two to 10 years in prison.

Celina Moreno, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, testified Monday that Huffman’s bill was a “major improvement” over the current law. But she pressed lawmakers to remove the felony penalties, calling them “voter intimidation.”

Matthew Simpson, with the ACLU of Texas, suggested that a third-degree felony is often reserved for violent conduct.

See here, here, and here for some background. Let me state up front that voter ID is and will always be hogwash, a non-solution to a non-existent problem whose primary purpose is making it harder for some people to vote. A real fix for voter ID, if we must have voter ID, requires allowing more forms of acceptable ID and ensuring that everyone who is eligible to vote has easy access to at least one form of acceptable ID. This bill doesn’t do that. It does make our existing and now-illegal system of voter ID slightly better, and as such I agree with Moreno and Simpson. If SB5 does pass in this form it won’t surprise me if someone eventually sues over the harshness of the penalties. And if it does pass, even in a form that is much more to my preferences, it does not affect the big question of whether or not the Republicans who passed it in 2011 did so with discriminatory intent. I’d rather see SB5 pass than fail, but my first choice will always be for it to not be needed at all.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

The “Man’s Right To Know” Act

This is some high-quality trolling.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Texas State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, filed a bill Friday that would penalize men for “unregulated masturbatory emissions.”

The satirical House Bill 4260 would encourage men to remain “fully abstinent” and only allow the “occasional masturbatory emissions inside health care and medical facilities,” which are described in the legislation as the best way to ensure men’s health.

Farrar said she created the bill after feeling fed up with the various legislative bills introduced by men addressing women’s healthcare.

“A lot of people find the bill funny,” Farrar said in a phone interview. “What’s not funny are the obstacles that Texas women face every day, that were placed there by legislatures making it very difficult for them to access healthcare.”

A man would face a $100 penalty for each emission made outside of a vagina or medical facility. Such an emission would be considered “an act against an unborn child, and failing to preserve the sanctity of life,” according to the legislation.

The money would benefit children in the care of the Department of Family and Protective Services.

A registry would be created of non-profit organizations and hospitals that provide “fully-abstinent encouragement counseling, supervising physicians for masturbatory emissions, and storage for the semen.”

[…]

Her latest bill also seeks to provide men with a safe and healthy environment during vasectomies, Viagra uses and colonoscopies by creating “A Man’s Right to Know” booklet that should “exactly follow the rules and procedures of the informational booklet “A Woman’s Right To Know,” required to be given of women terminating pregnancies.

During the consultation, the physician would verbally review the booklet with men and would be required to “administer a medically-unnecessary digital rectal exam and magnetic resonance imagining of the rectum,” according to the bill.

Farrar said she included this part of the bill to mimic the trans-vaginal ultrasound woman have when they are seeking an abortion. She also described the doctor reading the “Woman’s Right To Know” pamphlet as a “guilt mechanism.”

“It’s to show how invasive this medically unnecessary procedure is,” She said. “When a woman has to have a trans-vaginal ultrasound, it has nothing to do with her healthcare. One of the state’s objectives is to guilt her into changing her mind.”

A doctor would also have the right to “to invoke their personal, moralistic, or religious beliefs” if they refuse to perform a vasectomy or prescribe Viagra.

And then you’d have to wait 24 hours to get it, because obviously. Other bills of this nature have been filed in other states; this as far as I know was a first for Texas, and in true Texas fashion it’s a lot bigger than anything like it. Needless to say, some people don’t get the joke.

Farrar has criticized several anti-women’s health bills that have been filed this session, primarily a measure filed by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, that would require Texas hospitals to bury or cremate fetal remains and another by state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, that would charge both abortion providers and women who receive an abortion with murder.

At a House State Affairs committee hearing Wednesday, Cook was challenged by Farrar and other House Democrats who questioned how his bill would impact women’s mental health and how much it would cost. Cook said his measure would create a registry of organizations that can help pay for burial or cremation of fetal remains. That way, the cost associated with burials would not fall on women, Cook said.

“Let me be clear: this bill has nothing to do with abortion procedures whatsoever. It has everything to do with ensuring the dignity of the deceased,” Cook said Wednesday. “We believe Texas can do better than this.”

Cook did not immediately respond to the Tribune’s request for comment Sunday.

In a statement, Tinderholt said Farrar lacked “a basic understanding of human biology.”

“I’m embarrassed for Representative Farrar,” Tinderholt said. “Her attempt to compare [HB 4260] to the abortion issue shows a lack of a basic understanding of human biology. I would recommend that she consider taking a high school biology class from a local public or charter school before filing another bill on the matter.”

This is Tony Tinderholt. To steal from Molly Ivins, I’d say that being insulted by Tony Tinderholt is like being gummed by a newt, though in this case I’d say it would be an old, frail newt. I hope that the filing of HB4260 results in a lot of legislators who are suddenly unable to make eye contact with Rep. Farrar. Andrea Greer, who does get the joke, and the Austin Chronicle have more.

Posted in: General snarkiness, That's our Lege.

Once again with driverless car legislation

Third time’s the charm, right?

Rep. Charlie Geren

State Rep. Charlie Geren isn’t about to let Texas get left in the dust when driverless vehicles start easing their way into everyday life. Especially since car manufacturers need somewhere to test them and could one day need someplace to mass produce them.

“I don’t want General Motors, or Ford, or Volkswagen, or Uber or anybody going anywhere else because Texas isn’t quite ready for this yet,” Geren told The Texas Tribune late Thursday.

The Fort Worth Republican this week filed House Bill 3475, which seeks to lay the framework for driving autonomous vehicles on Texas roads. Geren’s under no impression that the technology is well tested — or well trusted — enough that Texans are going to be walking into dealerships and buying driverless cars anytime soon. But he wants to get the ball rolling so car companies can expand testing of the technology in the state.

[…]

Among other things, the current version of Geren’s bill would require the owner or operator of an autonomous vehicle obtain a surety bond or insurance worth $10 million. The vehicles would have to be able to operate in compliance with existing traffic laws.

The automobiles would also be equipped with devices that could provide data on the vehicle’s automated driving system, speed, direction and location before at the time it’s involved in an accident.

Geren said his bill could change as those in the vehicle industry weigh in on it.

“I’m trying to get everybody in the business together on one bill,” Geren said.

It was industry opposition that stalled a 2015 bill by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, authored in hopes of setting some guidelines for autonomous vehicles in Texas. Among other things, it would have directed the Texas Department of Public Safety to create minimum safety requirements for driverless cars.

Google opposed that bill two years ago but declined to publicly explain why at the time. Months later, the company began using a Lexus RX 450h SUV outfitted with self-driving equipment to test driverless cars in Austin. The tech giant’s autonomous vehicle efforts have since spun off into their own company called Waymo, which opposes Geren’s bill.

“Waymo continues to work with legislators who have an interest in the safe development of fully self-driving cars,” a company spokeswoman said late Thursday. “We believe this legislation is unnecessary and may inadvertently delay access to technology that will save lives and make transportation safer and easier.”

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers also opposed the 2015 legislation out of fear that rules could have unintended consequences that would stymie development of the technology. The group echoed that sentiment on Friday, but did not speak specifically to Geren’s placeholder bill.

“If a state chooses to take legislative or regulatory action with respect to [autonomous vehicles], it is imperative that such action be focused on removing impediments to the safe testing and deployment of this technology,” said Dan Gage, a spokesman for the Alliance.

Some car manufacturers would prefer more guidelines.

“We think the right path is to come up with legislation that deals with where we are today and for the foreseeable future,” said Harry Lightsey, a public policy executive director for General Motors.

He said that autonomous technology has a long way to go before Americans trust it enough to give up control of the wheel but the landscape is changing so fast that some sort of framework would aid testing. That is key to gaining the kind of safety and performance data that would earn the public’s trust in the technology, Lightsey said.

“All of us have a lot to learn about full, self-driving cars and their impact on the urban landscape,” Lightsey said.

See here and here for more on Ellis’ 2015 bill. Believe it or not, there was a driverless car bill filed in 2013 as well. We’ve been talking about this for longer than you might remember. I don’t know that Rep. Geren’s bill will do any better than those two did, but it’s there just in case a consensus can be reached.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

TOP responds to Chron story on Mayor Turner

Via the inbox, we come full circle:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

The following is a statement by Tarsha Jackson, Harris County director of the Texas Organizing Project, in reaction to the article “Progressives fret over Turner’s focus”:

“Far from fretting over Mayor Sylvester Turner’s focus, I am energized that the mayor of the third-largest city in America is committed to rolling up his sleeves and working with organizations like TOP to make Houston a city where everyone is treated fairly and has access to opportunity.

“TOP agrees with Mayor Turner’s reaction to the Chronicle article, ‘Progressives fret over Turner’s focus.’ There are major fights ahead of us that will determine who we are as a city, and we all need to work together to win them.

“From protecting our immigrant communities, to reforming our criminal justice system, to expanding affordable housing and making real progress on closing the gap between rich and poor, we are proud to be working with this mayor to move Houston forward.

“There is much work to be done, including tackling decades-old problems like providing secure pensions for our retirees and protecting taxpayers, but I am excited by our progress so far and optimistic that we can tackle the work ahead.”

See here for the background. Seems to me we’ve written an awful lot about something that isn’t much of a story, but there you have it. I do agree with Campos that while TOP and the AFL-CIO represent a part of the progressive coalition, they are only a part of it. Even without this followup from TOP, it would have been nice to have heard from some other parts of that coalition before declaring that “progressives” are (maybe) fretting about Mayor Turner.

Posted in: Local politics.

Is there some fretting about Mayor Turner?

Maybe? I don’t know. I guess it depends on how you define “fretting”.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

The resignation of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s top deputy – a social justice advocate and one of the mayor’s few confidants in a sea of senior staff appointed by the previous mayor – is fueling worry among aides and allies about the administration’s commitment to the progressive policy goals on which he campaigned.

Turner for months has downplayed his unusual decision to entrust much of the implementation and communication of his policies to his predecessor’s staff, urging focus on big-ticket accomplishments, such as bringing a pension reform deal to the state legislature, soothing tempers on City Council and closing last year’s $160 million budget gap.

However, chief of staff Alison Brock’s departure just 15 months into Turner’s term has stoked renewed angst among supporters who think Turner has not championed the progressive platform for which they worked to get him elected.

“We’re a little concerned, because she was that voice at the table, so we were confident our concerns were being heard,” said Tarsha Jackson of the Texas Organizing Project. “Now, we’re just hopeful the mayor gets someone that shares his vision, the vision that he had when he ran for office. We don’t have an ally in the mayor’s office right now.”

Jackson, who met and befriended Brock in 2004 when she was Turner’s legislative aide, said TOP’s attempts to reform city economic development policies have stalled, despite Brock’s support.

Labor leader Linda Morales said the same of her efforts to push an ordinance asking city contractors to provide better wages, community engagement and job training.

“Labor wants to be a partner with the mayor,” she said. “We want him to speak to his staff and get on the program with us because it’s his agenda we’re trying to push.”

Turner distinguished himself as a candidate on such issues, calling for a higher minimum wage and pushing the city to require recipients of tax incentives to pay higher salaries. He also decried Houston’s economic inequality, stressing the need to “build a city for the middle class.”

Despite maintaining similar rhetoric in office, the mayor has hesitated to bring forward sweeping progressive policy proposals. His much-hyped “Complete Communities” plan aimed at revitalizing Houston’s under-served neighborhoods, for example, still awaits implementation. As for employee benefits, the city passed an ordinance last year suggesting companies seeking tax breaks offer additional benefits but did not require them to do so.

“The mayor is being cautious, in my opinion maybe too cautious. He’s got issues he wants to pass at the state Legislature, so he’s trying to make his way through the land mines without having folks hurt his possibility of passing pension reform,” said Morales, of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. “I understand that totally, but there’s other things I know, as a collective, progressives want to move.”

The mayor bristled at any perception of sluggish progress.

“Compare my track record with any previous mayor, and if they did as much. Name me one mayor in the last 20 years that has brought forth a pension reform package to this point. … Name me one mayor that has attended more events than I have,” Turner told reporters. “Even though I came in on a very close vote, I have governed in a very uniform, universal fashion.”

Texas Southern University political scientist Jay Aiyer largely agreed.

“Other than (former Mayor Bob) Lanier, he’s probably the most successful first-term mayor I’ve seen,” said Aiyer, who served as former mayor Lee Brown’s chief of staff.

I get Tarsha Jackson and Linda Morales’ concerns. Mayor Turner did run a progressive campaign, and he did talk about a lot of non-pension things. To be fair, that was in part because the other guy was talking about it more than enough for everyone. Mayor Turner was always going to have to deal with that, and I feel like lots of things are sort of waiting in the wings until a pension bill gets through the Legislature. (Assuming one does; if that doesn’t happen, it’s hard to say what comes next.) That was basically the theme of look back at Year One story on the Mayor. I think it’s fair to say that if he gets a win on this big issue, it not only restores a lot of oxygen for everything else, it gives him some momentum and capital to push for things that will generate significant political opposition, which includes a lot of the agenda Jackson and Morales are hoping to see get enacted.

I recognize that it sucks to hear that these progressive items that Mayor Turner campaigned on have to wait. It’s far from the first time that has been the message, and I’m sure Jackson and Morales have lost count of the number of times they have heard it. I don’t know what else to suggest other than if you think Mayor Turner is still basically the same person as Candidate Turner was, you’ll need to have faith that he will do as he said he would. Easy for me to say, I know. The other thing I could add is that given the anti-local control nature of this legislative session, there are strategic reasons for waiting till after sine die to roll out a plan for an increased minimum wage or the like. Again, I know what that sounds like. Jackson and Morales clearly understand how and why things are. A little reminder to the Mayor that they’re still here seems like a reasonable strategy. A press release from the Mayor in response to this story is here.

Posted in: Local politics.

Bill to restore some budget flexibility filed

Call it the Law of Unintended Consequences Act of 2017.

The Texas House’s chief budget writer filed legislation Friday that would allow lawmakers to claw back billions of dollars that voters approved for state highways, freeing them up for other budget needs.

Texans overwhelmingly voted in 2015 to boost funding for the state’s public roadways and bridges, which have strained under a growing population. Proposition 7 amended the Texas Constitution to route some taxes collected on car sales to the State Highway Fund.

But House Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas, R-Richmond, filed a resolution Friday that would cut that initial cash infusion, aiming to free up money at a time when cash is tight.

House Concurrent Resolution 108 could cut the first transfer under Proposition 7 of nearly $5 billion in half, but only if two-thirds of lawmakers in both the House and Senate support such a move.

It’s a prospect made possible by what some lawmakers have called a “safety valve” in Senate Joint Resolution 5, the legislation that the Legislature approved in 2015 to send Proposition 7 to voters later that year.

See here for the background. I don’t expect this to pass – I really don’t think two thirds of the Senate will go for it – but I will be very amused if it does. Whether this is more or less likely to happen than tapping the Rainy Day Fund is now something we can test empirically. If nothing else, that’s a victory for science.

Posted in: Budget ballyhoo.

Why shouldn’t court records be made available online?

Seems clear to me that they should. What’s the case against?

Nathan Hecht, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, has noticed a curious trend in the state’s legal system: Folks are increasingly representing themselves in legal disputes, forgoing lawyers altogether.

“They really need legal help, but they don’t feel like they can afford it,” Hecht said.

But ditching a lawyer doesn’t make justice free. Obtaining legal records can be a big hurdle — time away from work, trips to a courthouse that may be far from home and copying fees that can run a dollar per page for documents that often run hundreds of pages.

“We’re talking about tens of thousands of people for whom getting a court record is probably impossible, at least practically,” said Hecht, who has long sought to help poor Texans navigate the legal system.

That’s just one reason he’s excited about efforts to deliver court records from all 254 counties to Texans’ fingertips through an online portal. Some urban counties — Dallas, Harris, Travis and Tarrant, for instance — individually put their records online. But scores of other counties rely only on old-fashioned paper, necessitating trips to the courthouse and making statewide research next to impossible.

The Texas Supreme Court, through its Office of Court Administration, has worked for years on a one-stop legal records shop. Called re:SearchTX, the project is coming out in phases, with plans to eventually provide widespread public access.

The Office of Court Administration last September extended a contract with Tyler Technologies, a Plano-based company that already has integrated every Texas county into a filing system allowing attorneys to electronically send documents to the clerks. Under that four-year $72 million extension, Tyler would keep that system running through 2021 and eventually open it to the public.

The public portal would be funded through fees that attorneys pay to use the system. It would function like PACER, a widely used federal portal that charges subscribers small fees for access.

“It’s just crucial,” Hecht said. “It’s important for transparency. The media and the public at large have a very fundamental interest in the public justice system.”

But county and district clerks are fuming. They’re pushing to kill the project in a wonky battle involving local control and privacy concerns, multimillion-dollar contracts and confusion about how the portal would ultimately work.

“Clerks have been doing this forever,” Tarrant County District Clerk Tom Wilder said last week at rollicking meeting of the Judicial Committee on Information Technology, which advises the state Supreme Court. “It’s a duplication of effort.”

If the records get breached, he later told a reporter, “it’s our ass.”

At least 168 counties have adopted resolutions opposing re:SearchTX. They’ve found friendly ears in a Legislature that often shrugs off arguments for more local control on other issues, such as oil and gas drilling and penalizing polluters.

Court records are public documents, and they should be available online. That doesn’t mean they need to be unsecured or indexed by Google – it’s fine to require a logon account with a verifiable password to view records – but the days of having to trek to a District Clerk’s office to retrive paper files, for which one needs to pay a per-page printing fee, need to be over. I’m sympathetic to Clerk Wilder’s position, so if a county has already digitized its court records, that should be sufficient. It’s the counties that haven’t taken this basic step that need to be brought into re:SearchTX. Of course, one reason why many of those counties are reluctant to do so, and why HB1258 has been filed to kill the data project, is because these counties make money retrieving and printing those paper files. Sorry, y’all, but that’s not a good enough reason to lag behind the times. Justice Hecht is correct. Court records should be available online. If a county isn’t already doing that and has no plans to do it in the short-term future, they should be made to participate in re:SearchTX.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Let’s have a study of that hog apocalypse first

Maybe we should figure out what the effects of poisoning feral hogs might be before we start poisoning them.

Two bills from Texas lawmakers — state Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton, and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin — would require state agency or university research before the use of lethal pesticides on wild pigs.

The legislation comes after outcry from Texas hog hunters and meat processors over state approval of a new feral hog poison called Kaput, which they say would hurt their businesses and contaminate other game animals and livestock. A state judge issued a temporary restraining order against the rule on March 2. Wild Boar Meat, the Hubbard-based company that sued to stop use of the poison, processes hog meat to sell to pet food companies.

Kaput contains a chemical called Warfarin, which at varying concentrations is used as a rat poison and a blood thinner in humans. It causes hogs that consume it to die of internal bleeding, a process that takes four to seven days.

House Bill 3451 and Senate Bill 1454, both filed this week, would require scientific studies of the poison to include controlled field trials and assess the economic consequences to the state’s property owners, hunters, and agriculture industry.

[…]

When Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced a state rule change in February that allowed the use of Kaput — which the Environmental Protection Agency approved for feral hog control earlier this year — he called the poison a “long overdue” solution to the extensive damage the wild pigs cause every year.

“The ‘Hog Apocalypse’ may finally be on the horizon,” said Miller, who as a state legislator passed a measure known as the “pork-chopper bill” that allowed the hunting of hogs by helicopter in 2011.

The department has defended the new rule, saying it imposes licensing restrictions to protect against misuse of the poison.

See here for the background. On the one hand, it’s long been clear that hunting the hogs, even with no restrictions or bag limits and even from helicopters, will never be enough to slow down the population growth. Warfarin is approved by the EPA, and it just might work. On the other hand, it’s hard to take seriously any claim by Sid Miller that’s he’s being a careful and conscientious steward of the environment. On balance, I’d say it’s better to be a bit more deliberate with this.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Weekend link dump for March 12

Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered on TV 20 years ago. Yes, we are old.

“Scientists announced on March 1, 2017 that they’ve identified the remains of 3,770-million-year-old microorganisms, now the oldest known microfossils on Earth. The discovery is in the form of tiny filaments and tubes – formed by bacteria – that lived on iron. They were found encased in quartz layers in what scientists call the Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt, on the eastern shore of Hudson Bay, in Quebec, Canada. This region was already known to contain some of Earth’s oldest rocks.”

Google just cracked one of the building blocks of web encryption. Thankfully, it was already mostly obsolete.

This is the future liberals want.

“Alas, the Gospel writers didn’t realize that their words would also be read, thousands of years later, in translation, by stiff-necked greedheads on another continent whose culture, religious practice, and prideful obstinance would conspire to prevent them from ever noticing this massive, central theme in Jesus’ teachings.”

“But as lawyers at the Justice Department and attorneys in private practice who have represented individuals accused in such cases, we can state with assurance: Federal prosecutors have brought charges in cases involving far more trivial misstatements and situations far less consequential than whether a nominee to be the nation’s chief law enforcement officer misled fellow senators during his confirmation hearings.”

Mapping belief in climate change in America.

“To accomplish this, traditional media needs to reorient, not by developing better viral content and clickbait to compete in the social media environment, but by recognizing that it is operating in a propaganda and disinformation-rich environment. This, not Macedonian teenagers or Facebook, is the real challenge of the coming years.”

Speaking as someone who has always had a facility for numbers and a good understanding of how it all works, I too like the Common Core method for teaching math. If nothing else, I can help my kids with their math homework in a way that makes sense to me.

Happy 80th birthday to Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space.

“Is this the dawn of a new, robust interpretation of the Sixth Amendment? I don’t know, but I LOVE IT when the Court does exactly what conservatives always bitch about: adopting a new interpretation of an old standard because it’s just the right thing to do.”

The story of Fanny Meiselman, who escaped an arranged marriage and crossed the ocean for a new life in America, at the age of 13. The author of this lovely tale is a high school classmate of mine.

“The power of Sauron is but one vector in the network of power relations in Middle Earth. The institutions of the elves both predate and surpass Sauron in their scope and magnitude.”

“In considering the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010, the House held 79 hearings over the course of a year, heard from 181 witnesses and accepted 121 amendments. The current House leadership hopes to get the repeal and replacement legislation through the House in three weeks. The Senate adopted the Affordable Care Act only after approximately 100 hearings, roundtables, walkthroughs and other meetings, and after 25 consecutive days in continuous session debating the bill. It is expected that the current House bill will go directly to the floor of the Senate for a vote.”

Health care costs way, way more than iPhones.

RIP, Captain William “Iron Bill” Dowling, beloved former Houston fire captain who lost both his legs battling a five-alarm blaze that killed four firefighters in 2013.

This is what happens when a woman tries to mansplain something.

What the cast of The Americans thinks about our current political situation with Russia.

The single biggest difference between the Obamacare rollout and the Trump/Ryan/YouLoseYourCare rollout.

“The people who stand to lose the most in tax credits under the House Republican health plan tended to support Donald J. Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election”.

“Trump ran and won promising to cover everyone, avoid Medicaid cuts, and boost funding for opioid abuse treatment. He is now lobbying Congress to pass a bill that does none of those things. Instead, millions will lose insurance and Medicaid spending will be sacrificed on the altar of tax cuts for the rich.”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Court rules several Congressional districts were illegally drawn

Bam!

Some of Texas’ 36 congressional districts violate either the U.S. Constitution or the federal Voting Rights Act, a panel of federal judges ruled Friday.

In a long-delayed ruling, the judges ruled 2-1 that the Texas Legislature must redraw the political maps it most recently used for the 2016 elections.

Specifically, they pointed to Congressional District 23, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso, takes in most of the Texas-Mexico border and is represented by Republican Will Hurd of Helotes; Congressional District 27, represented by Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi; and Congressional District 35, a Central Texas district represented by Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

The 166-page ruling by the San Antonio-based district was the latest in a complicated case that dates back to 2011, and comes just two election cycles away from the next U.S. Census — when the state would draw a new map under normal circumstances.

In 2013, the district court found evidence that lawmakers intentionally discriminated when redrawing the boundaries. But the U.S. Supreme Court soon complicated the case when it struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act that had forced Texas to seek permission before making changes to election procedures.

But that didn’t end the legal battle. The U.S. Department of Justice and other plaintiffs pressed on in the case, and Texas held elections using interim maps drawn by judges.

In its decision Friday, the court still found that “mapdrawers acted with an impermissible intent to dilute minority voting strength or otherwise violated the Fourteenth Amendment” of the Constitution.

“The Court finds that this evidence persuasively demonstrates that mapdrawers intentionally packed [concentrated certain populations] and cracked [diluted certain populations] on the basis of race (using race as a proxy for voting behavior) with the intent to dilute minority voting strength,” U.S. District Judges Orlando Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez wrote in the majority opinion.

In his dissenting opinion, Judge Jerry Smith of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals called the case moot under previous rulings, and he  sharply criticized the Justice Department.

Tale about a Friday news dump – I literally saw this on Facebook just before going to bed Friday night. We have been waiting forever for a ruling in this case. Note that this is only half of what we have been waiting for – there is still a ruling to come on the State House map, too. But for now, the status of the 2018 elections has changed. The Lone Star Project adds on.

The court singled out violations in the Corpus Christi region involving District 27 (Farenthold – R), in the South Texas/Border region involving District 23 (Hurd – R) and in the Austin to San Antonio region involving District 35 (Doggett – D). The Court also ruled that minority voters in the Dallas/Fort Worth area were illegally cracked under the 2011 map.

While it is too early to know exactly what changes will be made, it is fair to read the opinion as requiring that Hispanic voters put into Anglo-controlled CD27 in the current map must be returned to an effective Hispanic district, that Hispanic voting strength weakened in District 23 must be restored, and that District 35 in the Austin to San Antonio corridor will have to be modified to reunite minority voters in a far less fragmented district centered in Austin.

In Dallas/Fort Worth, the creation of District 33 (Veasey – D) in the current map may have resolved some of the blatant violations under the 2011 map; however, arguments will be made to repair remaining cracked Hispanic and African American neighborhoods in Dallas and Tarrant counties.

The ruling is a major victory for minority citizens and their advocates before the court. Minority advocacy groups including LULAC, NAACP, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and citizen plaintiff groups led by Congressman Marc Veasey and State Representative Eddie Rodriguez had the courage to challenge the GOP map and the tenacity to stay with a long and difficult court battle. Their efforts have defended and protected the voting rights of thousands of otherwise disenfranchised Texas citizens. The Lone Star Project has been engaged in the Texas redistricting battle from the onset and will continue to provide support to key plaintiffs in this important effort.

We should expect the San Antonio Court to schedule a hearing soon to discuss the additional deliberations needed to fully resolve the case and to reach a final remedy. It is also likely that Governor Greg Abbott will refuse give up Texas GOP efforts to protect a discriminatory redistricting process and will direct state attorneys to explore appeal options.

I’d say it’s not “likely” that Abbott appeals, it’s a 100% gold-plated certainty. Rick Hasen quotes from the majority decision to explain what that “minority voters in the Dallas/Fort Worth area were illegally cracked under the 2011 map” means:

Plaintiffs have established a § 2 violation, both in terms of intent and effect, in South/West Texas. Plaintiffs have shown that seven compact majority-HCVAP districts could and should be drawn there that would substantially address the § 2 rights of Hispanic voters in South/West Texas, including Nueces County. Defendants’ decision to place Nueces County Hispanic voters in an Anglo district had the effect and was intended to dilute their opportunity to elect their candidate of choice.

Meanwhile, race predominated in the drawing of CD35, and Defendants’ decision to place majority- in Travis County was not to comply with the VRA but to minimize the number of Democrat districts in the plan overall. Plaintiffs have established a Shaw-type equal protection violation with regard to CD35. Plaintiffs also establish a Shaw-type equal protection violation with regard to CD23. In addition, Defendants’ manipulation of Latino voter turnout and cohesion in CD23 denied Latino voters equal opportunity and had the intent and effect of diluting Latino voter opportunity. Nueces County Hispanics and Hispanic voters in CD23 have proved their § 2 results and intentional vote dilution claims. The configurations of CD23, CD27, and CD35 in Plan C185 are therefore invalid.

Plaintiffs fail to proffer a demonstration plan accompanied by sufficient evidence to demonstrate that additional compact minority districts could be drawn in DFW or Houston, taking into account traditional redistricting principles and communities of interest. However, they are not precluded from raising § 2 results claims with regard to Plan C235 during the trial on that plan. Plaintiffs have proved intentional vote dilution through packing and cracking in DFW and also establish a Shaw-type racial gerrymandering claim with regard to CD26, but not CD6. However, they fail to prove intentional vote dilution in the Houston area, and fail to prove that mapdrawers acted with racially discriminatory purpose when drawing the districts represented by the African-American Congresspersons.

Well, okay, we’ll need to see a proposed remedy to understand what that means, but the bottom line is that four districts could be directly affected – CDs 23, 26, 27, and 35 – with ancillary changes to some number of adjoining districts. In a subsequent post, Hasen provides some extra guidance to this decision.

2. Bail in. It probably is not obvious to those not steeped in this area, but the big fight here is not about these particular districts (although that is important) but whether Texas gets put back under Section 5 preclearance for up to 10 years. That is possible under Section 3, the “bail-in” provision of the VRA which gives a court the ability to impose preclearance after a finding of intentional race discrimination. That finding is here, and the case is still going to go forward on that issue (as well as some other issues). Further, the finding of intentional race discrimination will almost certainly be relied on if, as I expect, the trial court in the Texas voter id case, finds intentional racial discrimination and orders bail in. So this is huge. (The caveat is how a Trump DOJ would enforce such rights if Trump is still in office. I’m not optimistic, and there’s no appeal of a DOJ decision to grant preclearance. Preclearance of post-2020 redistricting will depend on who wins the 2020 presidential elections.)

3. Race or party. I have been writing a lot about the race or party question: what to do about claims of racial discrimination when, as in the American South, race and party are so closely correlated. The majority approach, is subtle and sophisticated on this question, and seems to fall mostly on the party as a proxy for race (“party as race”) approach to the question. When you make it harder for minority voters to exercise political power for your own political reasons (such as protecting incumbents or your party), this counts as intentional race discrimination. Judge Smith takes the “race or party” approach, and he believes he knows what’s “really” going on: this is all about party, rather than race. It is either blind to the realities or ignoring the fact that these two criteria are really inseparable in Texas.

4. The remedy and what comes next. The trial court does not order anything to happen right now. The parties will fight about the remedy. Likely Texas will get a chance to redraw districts with some deference to Texas as to that which is not a violation. The parties will fight over the plans. And this will get dragged out. But presumably there will be new maps in place for the 2018 congressional elections, unless the Supreme Court intervenes. I fully expect Texas to try to get the Supreme Court to intervene in the interim. At most these lines would last 2 elections, and then we are back to a new round of redistricting. And this shows what is lost by preclearance. We’ve now had three elections that arguably should never have taken place under these lines.

There’s more, so read the rest. If this case proceeds from here as the post-2003 redistricting litigation did, we will get a bunch of November of 2018 special elections in these Congressional districts, with the possibility of special elections in some number of redrawn State House districts as well. If that doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, then you’re reading the wrong blog. Daily Kos and the Chron have more.

Posted in: Election 2018, Legal matters.

The updated bill for recapture and detachment

Here are the numbers as we now face them.

Houston ISD voters will face a choice of either paying the state’s $77.5 million recapture fee, or risk losing $98.4 million in tax revenue over the next fiscal year, according to new dollar figures given to trustees.

Those were the options presented to HISD trustees Thursday when for the first time school district officials gave firm numbers on both scenarios since voters last November told district officials to not pay the state’s recapture fee. Recapture involves the state’s mandate that the district pay millions to help subsidize poor districts.

Houston ISD faces recapture because, according to the state’s funding formula, the district is deemed property wealthy even though most of its student population is economically disadvantaged.

Glenn Reed, general manager of HISD’s Budgeting and Financial Planning, said the district would end up with less money over time if the state detaches property than if it pays the state’s recapture fee. That’s largely because Houston commercial real estate values are expected to grow in the next five years. If the state takes away some of those properties, Reed said the district will lose out on both those property taxes and any increases in taxes realized through higher property values.

“For HISD, our investment is our properties,” Reed said. “As our properties’ (values) continue to grow, that helps us build schools and fix costs and so on.”

[…]

During the meeting, Reed also reviewed the language that would appear in May’s referendum. It would ask: “Authorizing the board of trustees of Houston Independent School District to purchase attendance credits from the state with local tax revenues.” A vote “for” purchasing attendance credits would mean the district would willingly pay the state’s recapture fee. A vote “against” would mean the state would detach some local personal property.

If HISD keeps all its commercial properties and benefits from increased property values, Reed estimated the district could see its budget continue to grow over the next five years by $66.8 million after the recapture payment is made. If the commercial properties are detached, he said the district could see a loss of $98.4 million in 2017-2018 and would lose any future property value growth.

See here and here for the background. As noted before, I voted No on the November 2016 referendum on the hope that rejecting recapture might spur some legislative action and the knowledge that we could vote again if we needed to. I figured a re-vote would be to possibly reconsider the consequences of detachment if nothing good happened; I honestly didn’t expect a re-vote after a positive development like the TEA reinterpretation of the Robin Hood law. But here we are, and I believe that having achieved a substantial victory, albeit not a complete one, we should grab onto it and move forward. So I will vote in favor of recapture this time around, which by the way will be less than eight weeks from today. I figure the encore vote will have much lower turnout than the original did. Has any of what happened since November changed your mind, and your vote, on this?

Posted in: Election 2017.

Bail reform bills

Glad to see this.

Sen. John Whitmire

An unusual bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and judges has teamed up to back broad reforms in Texas that could eliminate cash bail for nonviolent offenders who are not deemed dangerous or a flight risk.

Bills introduced simultaneously in the House and the Senate this week by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston and state Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, would require all judges statewide to use a proven risk assessment tool and quickly determine within 48 hours whether a defendant accused of a nonviolent crime might be eligible for a so-called personal bond — a measure that carries a financial penalty only if the person fails to how up for court. Now, defendants who can’t afford to pay bail are left in jail, even for minor crimes.

The proposals have been hammered out by jurists and legislators following reports that show more than 1,100 people died in Texas jails in the last decade – most of them pretrial detainees such as Sandra Bland, who committed suicide in the Waller County jail after being locked up after a traffic stop.

Nonviolent defendants detained after the first hearing would be re-evaluated within 10 days. And judges would be required to seek alternatives for those deemed mentally ill or disabled.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, who is backing the measures, said he and other members of the National Conference of Chief Justices of the United States generally have concluded that America’s bail bond system “simply doesn’t make any sense.”

He said he’d like to see Texas follow the model of New Jersey, Washington D.C., Kentucky, Arizona and other states in pursuing reforms that restrict or eliminate monetary bail for defendants who pose no real risks.

Hecht said bail reforms elsewhere already have saved taxpayers’ money by eliminating unnecessary jail expenses and spared hardships for low-risk defendants who often lose jobs, homes or their health while being locked-up awaiting trial.

“There are constitutional problems, there are practical problems, there’s a burden on taxpayers — change is just the right thing to do,” he said. “We’re just talking about low-level crimes —we’re not talking about crimes of violence. So across the country, there’s been an effort to change bail procedures to get away from high bond and jail time in all of these low-level crimes.”

Hecht chairs the Texas Judicial Council, 22-member group that includes Murr. Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is vice chair. He said the council studied bail reforms and recommended changes last fall.

See here for some background. Via Grits, the bills in question are HB3011 and SB1338. Grits also notes that the bail bondsmen are fighting these bills, which is not surprising. A later version of this Chron story goes into that.

“We have a very conservative governor, lieutenant governor, Senate and House,” said Michael Kubosh, a Houston City Council member and long-time commercial bondsman. “To get all that through, there’s going to be a real battle, and our lobbyists are talking to them. They’re not going to want to let crime run rampant and give everybody free bonds.”

Kubosh and other industry supporters say bondsmen help make sure low-level defendants appear in court – and track them down when they fail to appear. They say they also get families involved, since relatives often must post cash or property to back bail bonds even when commercial bondsman are involved. He and other advocates are simultaneously monitoring a federal court challenge to a fairly rigid bail schedule used for years by Harris County judges even for low-level misdemeanor offenses.

[…]

The legislation also says that defendants are entitled to have lawyers present at pretrial detention hearings – not a common practice today.

On any given day, the Harris County Jail is crowded with 1,500 or more misdemeanor offenders awaiting trial. The county has spent more than $1.2 million in legal fees so far defending county court-at-law judges and hearing officers in the federal civil rights case before Judge Rosenthal.

Kubosh, the commercial bondsman, said he agrees that truly indigent defendants often don’t get personal bonds in Harris County. But he argues that bondsmen routinely save the county money by helping ensure that those who are released on commercial bond follow court conditions and by tracking down those who fail to appear. With fewer commercial bonds, he argues, “you’re going to see a spike in people thumbing their noses at the courts … you’ll see huge increases in warrants.”

No question, this would affect the bail bond business, and I can’t blame them for opposing these bills. I don’t agree with CM Kubosh’s assessment of what may happen if these bills pass, but there ought to be an objective way to evaluate it. Personal recognizance bonds are used with far greater frequency in other states. Is there any evidence to suggest that crime “runs rampant” where PR bonds are more the norm? Show me some numbers, or this is just going to sound like scaremongering.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Saturday video break: Our Lips Are Sealed

It’s peak 80’s with the Go-Gos:

I’m so old, I’m watching them drive around in that convertible and all I can think is “PUT YOUR SEAT BELTS ON! ARE YOU CRAZY?” Different times, they were. Now here are favored cover artists Matthew Sweet and Susannah Hoffs:

As one of the commenters said, a double bill of the Go-Gos and the Bangles would have been awesome. Maybe in another life.

Posted in: Music.

We could be at the end of the road of the Pasadena redistricting case

Mike Snyder continues his reporting on the Pasadena redistricting litigation. He notes that while the whole thing was concocted and pushed forward by current Mayor Johnny Isbel, several of the candidates to succeed Isbell are not interesting in picking up where he will leave off.

Pasadena City Council

Attorneys in the case say the city’s appeal is likely to be unresolved when Pasadena voters choose a new mayor on May 6. Seven candidates are seeking to replace Isbell, who has led the city off and on over 26 years but can’t run this year because of term limits. And at least three of the candidates say they’ll drop the appeal if they win.

U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal “spent a week and a half hearing from many witnesses, looking at a lot of information, and made a decision,” Councilwoman Pat Van Houte, a candidate for mayor, told my colleague Kristi Nix. “The city has spent almost $2 million on the lawsuit already, and I don’t think it is in our best interest to spend more public money on this.”

Another candidate, former state Rep. Gilbert Peña, agreed: “If elected, I definitely would stop the appeal process,” he said. “There’s a lot of other things we could do with this money other than give it to lawyers.”

Candidate David Flores, a former city employee who runs a construction company, told Nix that the city’s money would be better spent on infrastructure than on additional legal fees.

Councilman Jeff Wagner, a retired Houston police officer, told me he would ask the City Council to vote on whether to continue the appeal if his bid for the mayor’s office is successful. Pasadena, like Houston, has a strong-mayor form of government, and Isbell has exercised his authority on this issue without consulting the council. But Wagner said he has a different leadership style.

“I’ll put this in front of the council, we’ll have a discussion and we’ll make a decision,” said Wagner, who was one of four council members who voted with Isbell to put the new council structure on the ballot in 2013. (Van Houte cast one of the four votes against the plan.)

I couldn’t reach the other three candidates: San Jacinto College trustee John Moon, former state Rep. Robert Talton, and Gloria Gallegos, a Pasadena school district administrator.

See here, here, and here for some background. If I had to guess, I’d posit that Gallegos is in the same camp as Van Houte, Pena, and Flores, while Talton is either on board with the appeal or would put it before Council, as does Wagner. It would be good if all three candidates stated their position for the record, and for all interested voters in Pasadena to know where all the candidates stand.

Posted in: Election 2017.

House hears “fetal remains” bill

Seriously?

Rep. Byron Cook

[House Bill 35] would create a registry of organizations that can help pay for burial or cremation of fetal remains. That way, the cost associated with burials would not fall on women, [bill author Rep. Byron] Cook said.

The measure would not apply to miscarriages that happen at home.

“Let me be clear: this bill has nothing to do with abortion procedures whatsoever. It has everything to do with ensuring the dignity of the deceased,” Cook said Wednesday. “We believe Texas can do better than this.”

Cook said he’s opposed to a current method of disposal that allows for grinding up fetuses and disposing of them in sanitary landfills.

“What we’re doing is removing a very objectionable method of disposal. The good news is I haven’t talked to anyone who thinks grinding would be an acceptable method [of disposal],” Cook said. “We’re just really taking off the books something that should be objectionable to everybody.”

However, Cook was challenged during the hearing by state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, who said the Republican should revise his bill to outlaw the disposal methods he doesn’t like without mandating burial.

“I think if you want to delete that language, you can delete that language without creating a burial requirement,” Farrar said. “I think we can find a way that is, in some people’s minds, more humane without creating burdens for women.”

[…]

Wednesday’s hearing comes weeks after U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks ruled Texas cannot require health providers to bury or cremate fetuses.

Sparks wrote in January that a fetal remains burial rule the Texas Department of State Health Services planned to implement was vague and had the potential for irreparable harm.

Yes, that would be the main sticking point, I presume. I also presume that it would be possible to write a bill to address this never-considered-a-problem-before-HB2-was-struck-down issue in a way that complies with Judge Sparks’ order. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t say if this bill might do that, but I do know that the lawyers who represent the clinics that would be affected by this law, as they would have been affected by the State Health Services rule that Judge Sparks blocked, will be able to say. And to do, if it comes to that.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Bike plan vote delayed

What’s another two weeks?

Houston’s long-term plan for improving bicycle routes around town will wait a couple more weeks after a handful of elected officials voiced various concerns.

City Council members Greg Travis, Michael Kubosh, Steve Le, Mike Knox and Dave Martin tagged the proposed Houston Bike Plan on Wednesday morning, delaying its approval for at least two weeks.

The plan, which doesn’t commit money but does guide future projects as the city proceeds with road work, lays out an ambitious plan for hundreds of miles of high-comfort bike lanes in Houston, meant to make bicycling safer and more appealing to residents.

Work on the plan began roughly 18 months ago and has been through various drafts with input from city and community officials.

See here for some background, and here for the plan itself. If you’d like a more executive-summary view of it, see this Offcite post from last year, and this Kinder Institute blog post from Wednesday. At some point, part of the solution for traffic has to be getting some cars off the road, and the best way to do that is to give more people more non-car options for their daily travels. Note that you don’t need someone to completely give up their car to have an effect here – trading in some of your car trips for non-car travel helps, too. Let’s get this done, y’all. The Chron editorial board agrees with me on this.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Border walls are bad for the environment

Not that anyone pushing for a border wall cares, but just so you know.

There’s been a lot of debate about how effective the Bush-era barrier has been at keeping out illegal crossers and drug smugglers. Some data indicates the barriers have encouraged people to cross in places where there isn’t one. But the handprints show that a determined person can still easily scale it.

What the border fence has kept out instead, according to environmentalists, scientists and local officials, is wildlife. And the people who have spent decades acquiring and restoring border habitat say that if President Donald Trump makes good on his promise to turn the border fence into a continuous, 40-foot concrete wall, the situation for wildlife along the border — one of the most biodiverse areas in North America — will only get worse.

Right now, a mix of vehicle barriers and pedestrian fencing covers only about one-third of the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Even with all those gaps, experts say the barriers have made it harder for animals to find food, water and mates. Many of them, like jaguars, gray wolves and ocelots, are already endangered.

Aaron Flesch, a biologist at the University of Arizona, said most border animals are already squeezed into small, fragmented patches of habitat.

“If you just go and you cut movements off,” he said, “you can potentially destabilize these entire networks of population.”

Still, the impacts of the border fence on wildlife aren’t totally understood. That’s in large part because Congress let the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ignore all the environmental laws that would’ve required the agency to fully study how the barrier would affect wildlife.

Flesch and other scientists say the federal government also has made almost no research money available to support independent studies. Most of the studies that have been done are limited in scope, but their findings are pretty clear: Impeding animal movements puts them on a faster path to extinction.

Environmentalists and conservation groups say the border fence also has compromised the federal government’s own efforts to protect those vulnerable species, pitting the U.S. Department of Homeland Security against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The latter agency bought large tracts of land along the border decades ago and turned them into national wildlife refuges.

It’s a long story, so click over to read it, and see also the border fence slideshow that accompanies it. But just reading those few paragraphs above, we all know there’s literally nothing here that would deter Dear Leader or any of the fervent wall zealots. What do they care about a bunch of stupid animals, or the scientists who say we’re hurting them? There are some fights you can win by being right and having the evidence on your side. This isn’t one of them.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 36

We built these Friday random ten lists on rock and roll. And other types of music.

1. Ditch Diggin’ – Southern Culture On The Skids (Mary Huff)
2. I Want To Be Relieved – Spirit Family Reunion (Maggie Carson)
3. Wishin’ & Hopin’ – Dusty Springfield
4. Flight Of The Passing Fancy – Squirrel Nut Zippers (Katharine Whalen)
5. I’ll Take You There – The Staple Singers (Mavis, Cleotha, Yvonne Staples)
6. We Built This City – Starship (Grace Slick)
7. Blackleg Miner – Steeleye Span (Maddy Prior)
8. Sinners By The Mouth – Stephanie Briggs
9. Landslide – Stevie Nicks
10. Different Drum – The Stone Poneys (Linda Ronstadt)

Not just “We Built This City”, but the extended dance remix of “We Built This City”. I don’t mess around, y’all. I had wondered if The Stone Poneys were named for the famous New Jerset music venue despite the spelling difference, but apparently not. I am not aware of any extended dance remixes of any of their songs.

Posted in: Music.

Two unsatisfying articles about the 2016 Democratic sweep in Harris County

The Democratic sweep in Harris County has drawn some national attention, as writers from the left and right try to analyze what happened here last year and why Hillary Clinton carried the county by such a large margin. Unfortunately, as is often the case with stories about Texas by people not from Texas, the results are not quite recognizable to those of us who are here. Let’s begin with this story in Harper’s, which focuses on the efforts of the Texas Organizing Project.

Amid the happy lawyers, journalists, and other movers and shakers at the victory parties, one group of seventy-five men and women, who had arrived on a chartered bus, stood out. Most of them were Latinos, like Petra Vargas, a Mexican-born hotel worker who had spent the day walking her fellow immigrants to the polls. Others were African Americans, such as Rosie McCutcheon, who had campaigned relentlessly for the ticket while raising six grandchildren on a tiny income. All of them wore turquoise T-shirts bearing the logo top. Not only had they made a key contribution to the day’s results — they represented a new and entirely promising way of doing politics in Texas.

The Texas Organizing Project was launched in 2009 by a small group of veteran community organizers. Michelle Tremillo, a fourth-generation Tejana (a Texan of Mexican descent), grew up in public housing in San Antonio, where her single mother worked as a janitor. Making it to Stanford on a scholarship, she was quickly drawn into politics, beginning with a student walkout in protest of Proposition 187, California’s infamous anti-immigrant ballot measure. By the time she graduated, the elite university had changed her view of the world. “I always knew I was poor growing up, and I even understood that I was poorer than some of my peers that I went to school with,” Tremillo told me. What she eventually came to understand was the sheer accumulation of wealth in America and its leveling effect on the rest of the population: “We were all poor.”

Both Tremillo and her TOP cofounder Ginny Goldman, a Long Island native, had worked for ACORN, the progressive national community organization that enjoyed considerable success — registering, for example, half a million minority voters in 2008 — before becoming a target of calculated assaults by right-wing operatives. By 2009, the group was foundering, and it was dissolved a year later.

In response, the activists came up with TOP. Goldman, who was its first executive director, told me that TOP was designed to focus on specific Texan needs and realities and thereby avoid the “national cookie-cutter approach.” The organization would work on three levels: doorstep canvassing, intense research on policy and strategy, and mobilizing voter turnout among people customarily neglected by the powers that be.

[…]

The TOP founders and their colleagues, including another Stanford graduate, Crystal Zermeno, a Tejana math whiz whose mother grew up sleeping on the floor, began to ponder ways to change that. Might it be possible to mobilize enough voters to elect progressives to statewide office? For non-Republicans in Texas and elsewhere, the most galling aspect of recurrent electoral defeat has been the persistent failure of supposedly natural allies, specifically Latinos and African Americans, to show up at the polls. For years, Democratic officials and commentators had cherished the notion that natural growth in the minority population, which rose from 20 percent to nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population between 1985 and 2015, would inevitably put the party back in power. Yet these designated agents of change seemed reluctant to play their part. As I was incessantly reminded in Houston, “Demographics are not destiny.”

The problem has been especially acute in Texas, which produced the lowest overall turnout of any state in the 2010 midterm elections. Three million registered African-American and Latino voters stayed home that year, not to mention the 2 million who were unregistered. The result was a state government subservient to the demands and prejudices of Republican primary voters, and unrepresentative of the majority in a state where almost one in four children lived in poverty, 60 percent of public-school students qualified for free or subsidized lunches, and the overall poverty rate was growing faster than the national average. Following the crushing Republican victory in 2010, TOP launched an ambitious project to discover, as Zermeno put it, “who was not voting, and why.”

Digging deep into voter files and other databases, Zermeno confirmed that Texas contained a “wealth of non-voting people of color.” Most of them were registered, but seldom (if ever) turned up at the polls. The problem, she noted, was especially acute with Latinos, only 15 percent of whom were regular voters. In her detailed report, she calculated precisely how many extra voters needed to turn out to elect someone who would represent the interests of all Texans: a minimum of 1.1 million. Fortuitously, these reluctant voters were concentrated in just nine big urban counties, led by Harris.

Ever since the era of Ann Richards, Democrats had been focusing their efforts (without success) on winning back white swing voters outside the big cities. But Zermeno realized that there was no reason “to beat our heads against the wall for that group of people anymore, not when we’ve got a million-voter gap and as many as four million non-voting people of color in the big cities, who are likely Democrats.” By relentlessly appealing to that shadow electorate, and gradually turning them into habitual voters, TOP could whittle down and eliminate the Republican advantage in elections for statewide offices such as governor and lieutenant governor, not to mention the state’s thirty-eight votes in the presidential Electoral College. In other words, since the existing Texas electorate was never going to generate a satisfactory result, TOP was going to have to grow a new one.

There was, however, still another question to answer. Why were those 4 million people declining to vote? TOP embarked on a series of intensive focus groups, which were largely financed by Amber and Steve Mostyn, a pair of progressive Houston claims attorneys. (Their string of lucrative settlements included some with insurance companies who had balked at paying claims for Ike-related house damage.) Year after year, the Mostyns had loyally stumped up hefty donations to middle-of-the-road Democrats who doggedly pursued existing voters while ignoring the multitude who sat out elections all or most of the time. When TOP asked these reluctant voters about their abstention, the answer was almost always the same: “When I have voted for Democrats in the past, nothing has changed, so it’s not worth my time.” There was one telling exception: in San Antonio, voters said that the only Texas Democrat they trusted was Julián Castro, who ran for mayor in 2009 on a platform of bringing universal pre-K to the city, and delivered on his promise when he won.

“There’s this misunderstanding that people don’t care, that people are apathetic,” Goldman told me. “It’s so not true. People are mad and they want to do something about it. People want fighters that will deliver real change for them. That’s why year-round community organizing is so critical. People see that you can deliver real impact, and that you need the right candidates in office to do it, and connect it back to the importance of voting. It’s the ongoing cycle. We see winning the election as only the first step toward the real win, which is changing the policies that are going to make people’s lives better.”

Beginning with the 2012 election, TOP canvassers — volunteers and paid employees working their own neighborhoods — were trained to open a doorstep interview not with statements about a candidate but with a question: “What issue do you care about?” The answer, whether it was the minimum wage or schools or potholes, shaped the conversation as the canvasser explained that TOP had endorsed a particular candidate (after an intensive screening) because of his or her position on those very issues. These were not hit-and-run encounters. Potential voters were talked to “pretty much nonstop for about eight to ten weeks leading to the election,” according to Goldman. “They got their doors knocked three to five times. They got called five to seven times. They signed a postcard saying, ‘I pledge to vote.’ They circled which day they were going to vote on a little calendar on the postcard, and we mailed those postcards back to them. We offered them free rides to the polls. We answered all of their questions, gave them all the information they needed, until they cast a ballot. And what we saw was that the Latino vote grew by five percentage points in Harris County in 2012.”

Link via Political Animal. I love TOP and I think they do great work, but this article leaves a lot of questions unasked as well as unanswered. When Ginny Goldman says that the Latino vote grew by five percent in Harris County in 2012, I need more context for that. How does that compare to the growth of Latino registered voters in the same time period (which I presume is since 2008)? What was the growth rate in areas where TOP was doing its outreach versus areas where it was not? Do we have the same data for 2016? I want to be impressed by that number, but I need this information before I can say how impressed I am.

For all that TOP should be rightly proud of their efforts, it should be clear from the description that it’s labor intensive. If the goal is to close a 1.1 million voter gap at the state level, how well does the TOP model scale up? What’s the vision for taking this out of Harris County (and parts of Dallas; the story also includes a bit about the Democratic win in HD107, which as we know was less Dem-friendly than HD105, which remained Republican) and into other places where it can do some good?

I mean, with all due respect, the TOP model of identifying low-propensity Dem-likely voters and pushing them to the polls with frequent neighbor-driven contact sounds a lot like the model that Battleground Texas was talking about when they first showed up. One of the complaints I heard from a dedicated BGTX volunteer was that both the people doing the contact and the people being contacted grew frustrated by it over time. That gets back to my earlier question about how well this might scale, since one size seldom fits all. To the extent that it does work I say great! Let’s raise some money and put all the necessary resources into making it work. I just have a hard time believing that it’s the One Thing that will turn the tide. It’s necessary – very necessary – to be sure. I doubt that it is sufficient.

Also, too, in an article that praises the local grassroots effort of a TOP while denigrating top-down campaigns, I find it fascinating that the one political consultant quoted is a guy based in Washington, DC. Could the author not find a single local consultant to talk about TOP’s work?

Again, I love TOP and I’m glad that they’re getting some national attention. I just wish the author of this story had paid more of that attention to the details. With all that said, the TOP story is a masterpiece compared to this Weekly Standard article about how things looked from the Republican perspective.

Gary Polland, a three-time Harris County Republican party chairman, can’t remember a time the GOP has done so poorly. “It could be back to the 60’s.” Jared Woodfill, who lost the chairmanship in 2014, does remember. “This is the worst defeat for Republicans in the 71-year history of Republican party of Harris County,” he said.

But crushing Republicans in a county of 4.5 million people doesn’t mean Democrats are on the verge of capturing Texas. In fact, Democratic leaders were as surprised as Republicans by the Harris sweep. But it does show there’s a political tide running in their direction.

Democratic strategists are relying on a one-word political panacea to boost the party in overtaking Republicans: Hispanics. They’re already a plurality—42 percent—in Harris County. Whites are 31 percent, blacks 20 percent, and Asians 7 percent. And the Hispanic population continues to grow. Democrats control the big Texas cities—Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso, to name three—thanks to Hispanic voters.

But in Houston, at least, Democrats have another factor in their favor: Republican incompetence. It was in full bloom in 2016. Though it was the year of a change election, GOP leaders chose a status quo slogan, “Harris County Works.” Whatever that was supposed to signal, it wasn’t change.

“It doesn’t exactly have the aspirational ring of ‘Make America Great Again’ or even Hillary’s ‘Stronger Together,'” Woodfill said. “It is very much a message of ‘everything is okay here, let’s maintain the status quo.’ People were confused and uninspired.”

A separate decision was just as ruinous. GOP leaders, led by chairman Paul Simpson, panicked at the thought of Trump at the top of the ticket. So they decided to pretend Trump was not on the ticket. They kept his name off campaign literature. They didn’t talk about him. And Trump, assured of winning Texas, didn’t spend a nickel in the Houston media market. It became an “invisible campaign,” Polland said. “There were votes to be had,” Polland told me. They were Trump votes. They weren’t sought.

This strategy defied reason and history. Disunited parties usually do poorly. GOP leaders gambled that their candidates would do better if the Trump connection were minimized. That may have eased the qualms of some about voting Republican. But it’s bound to have prompted others to stay at home on Election Day. We know one thing about the gamble: It didn’t work. Republicans were slaughtered, and it wasn’t because the candidates were bad.

“Our overall ticket was of high quality, but no casual voter would know it since the campaign focus was on ‘Harris County Works,’ and Houston doesn’t,” Polland insisted. “Did we read about any of the high-quality women running? Not much. Did we read about issues raised by Donald Trump that were resonating with voters? Nope. Did the Simpson-led party even mention Trump? Nope.”

[…]

Republican Rep. Kevin Brady, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the “holy grail” for Democrats, both in Texas and nationally, is winning the Hispanic vote. “They did that somewhat successfully” in 2016, he said in an interview. Unless Democrats attract significantly more Hispanic voters in 2018, Brady thinks Republicans should recover. His district north of Houston lies partly in Harris County.

For this to happen, they will need to attract more Hispanic voters themselves. They recruited a number of Hispanics to run in 2016, several of them impressive candidates. All were defeated in the Democratic landslide.

I have no idea what the author means by “a number of Hispanics” being recruited, because by my count of the countywide candidates, there were exactly two – Debra Ibarra Mayfield and Linda Garcia, both judges who had been appointed to the benches on which they sat. Now I agree that two is a number, but come on.

Like the first story, this one talks about the increase in Latino voting in Harris County in 2016 as well. Usually, in this kind of article, some Republican will talk about how Latinos aren’t automatically Democrats, how it’s different in Texas, and so on. In this one, the turnout increase is met with a resigned shrug and some vague assurances that things will be better for them in 2018. Maybe no one had anything more insightful than that to say – it’s not like Jared Woodfill is a deep thinker – but it sure seems to me like that might have been a worthwhile subject to explore.

As for the griping about the county GOP’s strategy of not mentioning Trump, a lot of that is the two previous GOP chairs dumping on the current chair, which is fine by me. But honestly, what was the local GOP supposed to do? Not only was their Presidential candidate singularly unappealing, their two main incumbents, Devon Anderson and Ron Hickman, weren’t exactly easy to rally behind, either. Focusing on the judges seems to me to have been the least bad of a bunch of rotten options. Be that as it may, no one in this story appeared to notice or care that some thirty thousand people who otherwise voted Republican crossed over for Hillary Clinton, with a few thousand more voting Libertarian or write-in. Does anyone think that may be a problem for them in 2018? A better writer might have examined that a bit, as well as pushed back on the assertion that more Trump was the best plan. It may be that, as suggested by the recent Trib poll, some of these non-Trumpers are warming up to the guy now that he’s been elected. That would suggest at least some return to normalcy for the GOP, but the alternate possibility is that they’re just as disgusted with him and might be open to staying home or voting against some other Republicans next year as a protest. That would be a problem, but not one that anyone in this story is thinking about.

So there you have it. At least with the first story, I learned something about TOP. In the second one, I mostly learned that Gary Polland and Jared Woodfill don’t like Paul Simpson and have him in their sights for next year. That will provide a little mindless entertainment for the rest of us, which I think we’ll all appreciate. It still would have been nice to have gotten something more of substance.

Posted in: Election 2016.